Horror on the Lens: Dementia 13 (dir by Francis Ford Coppola)


(I originally shared this film back in 2011 — can you believe we’ve been doing this for that long? — but the YouTube vid was taken down.  So, I’m resharing it today!)

For today’s excursion into the world of public domain horror, I offer up the film debut of Francis Ford Coppola.  Before Coppola directed the Godfathers and Apocalypse Now, he directed a low-budget, black-and-white thriller that was called Dementia 13.  (Though, in a sign of things to come, producer Roger Corman and Coppola ended up disagreeing on the film’s final cut and Corman reportedly brought in director Jack Hill to film and, in some cases, re-film additional scenes.)

Regardless of whether the credit should go to Coppola, Corman, or Hill, Dementia 13 is a brutally effective little film that is full of moody photography and which clearly served as an influence on the slasher films that would follow it in the future.  Speaking of influence,Dementia 13 itself is obviously influenced by the Italian giallo films that, in 1963, were just now starting to make their way into the drive-ins and grindhouses of America.

In the cast, keep an eye out for Patrick Magee, who later appeared as Mr. Alexander in A Clockwork Orange as well as giving a memorable performance in Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat.  Luana Anders, who plays the duplicitous wife in this film, showed up in just about every other exploitation film made in the 60s and yes, the scene where she’s swimming freaks me out to no end.

(One final note: I just love the title Dementia 13.  Seriously, is that a great one or what?)

Creature Double Feature 5: THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (AIP 1964) and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (AIP 1965)


cracked rear viewer

Boston’s WLVI-TV 56 ran it’s ‘Creature Double Feature’ series from 1972 to 1983. Though fans remember it mostly for those fabulous giant monster movies starring Godzilla and friends, CDF occasionally featured some monsters of a different kind… 

Roger Corman and Vincent Price had teamed to make five successful Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American-International Pictures, beginning with 1960’s HOUSE OF USHER (there was a sixth, THE PREMATURE BURIAL, that starred Ray Milland rather than Price). Studio execs James Nicholson and Sam Arkoff, always on the lookout for ways to cut costs, joined forces with Britain’s Anglo-Amalgamated Productions (makers of the CARRY ON comedies) and shipped Corman and company to jolly ol’ England for the final two, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA. Both turned out to be high points in the Corman/Price/Poe series.

1964’s MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is a sadistic, psychedelic nightmare of…

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A Movie A Day #175: Telefon (1977, directed by Don Siegel)


Across America, strange things are happening.  Seemingly ordinary, middle-aged citizens are, without explanation, attacking formerly top secret government facilities.  The attackers are from all different walks of life.  One was an auto mechanic.  Another was a priest.  There was even a housewife who, after blowing up a power station, committed suicide with a poison pill that the KGB stopped issuing a decade ago.  Before launching their attacks, each one of them received a phone call in which a Russian man recited a poem by Robert Frost.

The Americans may not understand what is happening but the Soviets do.  Immediately after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the KGB planted sleeper agents across the United States.  They hypnotized and brainwashed the agents so thoroughly that they no longer remember that they are agents.  The Frost poem was the trigger designed to activate the agents, all of whom were meant to attack what were then valuable parts of America’s infrastructure.  With the arrival of détente, the program was abandoned and the sleeper agents were simply left behind in the United States.  But now, a former hardliner (Donald Pleasence), is activating the agents one by one.  Because he has a photographic memory, KGB colonel Charles Bronson is sent to the United States to track down and kill Pleasence before the United States discovers the truth about what is happening.  Lee Remick, as an American KGB agent, is assigned to work with him but is also ordered to kill him once the assignment has been completed.

That Telfon is one of Charles Bronson’s better post-Death Wish films is largely due to the presence of Don Siegel in the director’s chair.  As a director who specialized in intelligent genre films and who helped to make Clint Eastwood one of the world’s biggest stars with Dirty Harry, Coogan’s Bluff, The Beguiled, and Escape from Alcatraz, Don Siegel was the ideal director to bring out the best in Bronson.  Like St. Ives, Telefon features Bronson in an uncharacteristically cerebral role.  For once, he spends more time analyzing clues than he does shooting people and Bronson is surprisingly credible as a man with a photographic memory.

As directed by Siegel, Telefon is almost a satire of the type of violent action films that Bronson usually made for directors like Michael Winner. In Telefon, both the bad guys and the good guys are equally clueless.  All of the KGB sleeper agents are dumpy and middle-aged and the film continually emphasizes that they’ve all been brainwashed to attack targets that are no longer strategically important.    Donald Pleasence, playing one of his raving villains, wears a blonde, Beatles-style wig for much of the film.

Though the ending is a let down, Telefon is still one of the best of Bronson’s late 70s films.

Horror on the Lens: Dementia 13 (dir by Francis Ford Coppola)


(I originally shared this film back in 2011 — can you believe we’ve been doing this for that long? — but the YouTube vid was taken down.  So, I’m resharing it today!)

For today’s excursion into the world of public domain horror, I offer up the film debut of Francis Ford Coppola.  Before Coppola directed the Godfathers and Apocalypse Now, he directed a low-budget, black-and-white thriller that was called Dementia 13.  (Though, in a sign of things to come, producer Roger Corman and Coppola ended up disagreeing on the film’s final cut and Corman reportedly brought in director Jack Hill to film and, in some cases, re-film additional scenes.)

Regardless of whether the credit should go to Coppola, Corman, or Hill, Dementia 13 is a brutally effective little film that is full of moody photography and which clearly served as an influence on the slasher films that would follow it in the future.  Speaking of influence,Dementia 13 itself is obviously influenced by the Italian giallo films that, in 1963, were just now starting to make their way into the drive-ins and grindhouses of America.

In the cast, keep an eye out for Patrick Magee, who later appeared as Mr. Alexander in A Clockwork Orange as well as giving a memorable performance in Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat.  Luana Anders, who plays the duplicitous wife in this film, showed up in just about every other exploitation film made in the 60s and yes, the scene where she’s swimming freaks me out to no end.

(One final note: I just love the title Dementia 13.  Seriously, is that a great one or what?)

Back to School Part II #5: A Clockwork Orange (dir by Stanley Kubrick)


It may seem strange, at first, that I am including the 1971 best picture nominee, A Clockwork Orange, in a series of Back to School reviews.  Certainly, Stanley Kubrick’s iconic adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel is not usually described as being a film about juvenile delinquency but that’s exactly what it is.

Many viewers tend to forget that Alex (played by Malcolm McDowell, who was nearly 30 at the time) and his three droogs are all meant to be teenagers.  (Only Michael Tarn, who played Pete, was actually a teenager at the time the film was shot.  Warren “Dim” Clarke and James “Georgie” Marcus were both in their late 20s.)  There’s even a lengthy scene in which Alex is interrogated by a social worker, P.R. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris).  Viewers are usually so surprised when Deltoid suddenly grabs Alex’s crotch that they forget that the whole reason Deltoid even came to the flat was to find out why Alex had been skipping school.  (“Pain in my gulliver,” was Alex’s oft-quoted excuse.)

So, make no mistake about it.  Among other things, A Clockwork Orange is a film about both the problem of juvenile delinquency and the continuing debate concerning what the authorities should do about it.  Stylistic and philosophical differences aside, A Clockwork Orange comes from the same cinematic family tree that’s given us everything from Rebel Without A Cause to Bully to Spring Breakers.

Of course, that’s not all that A Clockwork Orange is about.  It’s a Kubrick film, which means that there’s several different layers to work through and multiple interpretations for what we see on-screen.  For those who may not be familiar with the film, it takes place in a recognizable but futuristic England.  (One of my favorite theories is that A Clockwork Orange was about what was happening on Earth while David Bowman was becoming the starchild in 2001: A Space Odyssey.)  It’s a violent world, one where there appears to be significantly fewer people around than in the past.  The streets are deserted and bombed out.  Occasionally, when Alex returns to his home, he passes a mural of idealized working men creating a new world.  This rather banal work of Socialist realism has been defaced by obscene drawings and mocking graffiti.

Teenage Alex spends his nights hanging out with his friends (or, as he calls them, droogs), Pete, Georgie, and Dim.  They drink at the Korova Milk Bar and wear obscenely oversized codpieces, signifying this society’s obsession with outsized masculinity. When they speak (and when Alex narrates the film), they do so in a rhyming slang called Nadsat.  Under Alex’s sociopathic leadership, they spend their nights raping women, beating the homeless, and fighting with other gangs.  When Alex is not with his droogs, he enjoys lying around the house and listening to Beethoven (or “Ludwig Van” as he calls him).

After being betrayed by his droogs (who have tired of Alex’s cockiness), Alex ends up imprisoned for murder.  However, Alex is offered an early release if he’s willing to take part in the Ludovico Treatment.  For two weeks, Alex is drugged and forced to watch violent and sexual films while the music of Beethoven plays in the background.  As a result of the treatment, Alex grows physically ill at the thought of both violence and sex but he can also no longer listen to Beethoven.  Arguably, as a result of being cursed of his anti-social tendencies, he has lost the only non-destructive thing that he enjoyed.

Over the objections of the prison chaplain (who argues that robbing Alex of his free will is not the same as rehabilitating him), Alex is sent back into the real world and he quickly discovers that he now has no place in it.  His parents have rented his room out to a boarder who is now more of a son to them than Alex ever was.  The streets are full of men who were previously tormented by Alex and who now wants revenge.  In perhaps the film’s most brilliant moment, Alex discovers that his former droogs are now members of the police force.  Though they may now be wearing uniforms, Dim and Georgie are still as destructive and dangerous as Alex once was.  The difference is that Alex was caught and cured whereas Dim and Georgie discovered they could do just as much damage as authority figures as they did as juvenile delinquents.

In fact, the only people who now care about Alex are the political dissidents who hope to use Alex to discredit the government.  However, the dissidents aren’t particularly worried about Alex’s well-being either.  He’s just a prop to be used for their own ambitions.  Even worse, for Alex, is the fact that one of the dissidents is Mr. Alexander (Patrick Magee), a writer who lost both his ability to walk and his wife to an earlier assault committed by Alex…

(Interestingly enough, Mr. Alexander’s boyguard is played by David Prowse, who later become the ultimate symbol of government oppression when he was cast as Darth Vader in Star Wars.)

A Clockwork Orange is a brilliant film but it’s one about which I have very mixed feelings.  On the one hand, you can’t deny the power of the film’s imagery.  How many times has just the opening shot — of McDowell staring at us while wearing one fake eyelash — been imitated on TV and in other movies?  How much of the film’s dialogue — from “pain in my gulliver” to “the old in-out” — has lived on long past the movie?  Regardless of how many times I’ve seen A Clockwork Orange, the film’s electronic score (from Wendy Carlos) never ceases to amaze me.  Finally, it’s a film that argues that free will is so important that even a sociopath like Alex must be allowed to have it and that, as the chaplain argues, true goodness comes from within and cannot be manufactured or regulated by a government agency.  (It’s also a film that suggests that the government would be just as quick to use the Ludovico Treatment not just on the evil Alexes on the world but on anyone who dared to dissent from the party line.)  As I’m something of a “Freedom of Choice” absolutist, that’s a message to which I responded.

(At the same time, A Clockwork Orange does not argue that Alex’s actions should be free of consequences.  If anything, the film’s message seems to be that things would have been better for literally everyone if the government had just left Alex in jail, as opposed to trying to “fix” what was wrong with him.)

And yet, I have mixed feelings about A Clockwork Orange.  I guess my main issue is that the film doesn’t always play fair.  Malcolm McDowell is allowed to give a charismatic and well-rounded performance as Alex but nearly everyone else in the film is directed and written as a one-dimensional caricature.  Whereas Anthony Burgess’s novel emphasized the very real damage that Alex did to his victims, the film tends to surround Alex with comedic grotesqueries.  By both making Alex the only fully developed character in the entire film and then casting the energetic and charismatic Malcolm McDowell in the role, the film seems, at times, to come dangerously close to letting Alex off the hook for his worst crimes.  It also leaves the film open to the oft-repeated charge of glamorizing sex and violence.  (According to Roger Lewis’s biography of the author, that was Anthony Burgess’s opinion of the film.)  For the record, I don’t think A Clockwork Orange is an immoral film but I understand why some people disagree.

For that reason, A Clockwork Orange remains a controversial film.  In fact, I’m somewhat surprised that this subversive and deliberately confrontational film was nominated for best picture.  It was only the 2nd (and last) X-rated film to receive a best picture nomination.  Though it lost to The French Connection, A Clockwork Orange continues to be a powerful and controversial film to this day.  Perhaps the biggest indication of A Clockwork Orange‘s success is that it’s still being debated 45 years after it was first released.

Clockwork_orangeA

Horror on the Lens: Dementia 13 (dir by Francis Ford Coppola)


(I originally shared this film back in 2011 — can you believe we’ve been doing this for that long? — but the YouTube vid was taken down.  So, I’m resharing it today!)

For today’s excursion into the world of public domain horror, I offer up the film debut of Francis Ford Coppola.  Before Coppola directed the Godfathers and Apocalypse Now, he directed a low-budget, black-and-white thriller that was called Dementia 13.  (Though, in a sign of things to come, producer Roger Corman and Coppola ended up disagreeing on the film’s final cut and Corman reportedly brought in director Jack Hill to film and, in some cases, re-film additional scenes.)

Regardless of whether the credit should go to Coppola, Corman, or Hill, Dementia 13 is a brutally effective little film that is full of moody photography and which clearly served as an influence on the slasher films that would follow it in the future.  Speaking of influence, Dementia 13 itself is obviously influenced by the Italian giallo films that, in 1963, were just now starting to make their way into the drive-ins and grindhouses of America.

In the cast, keep an eye out for Patrick Magee, who later appeared as Mr. Alexander in A Clockwork Orange as well as giving a memorable performance in Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat.  Luana Anders, who plays the duplicitous wife in this film, showed up in just about every other exploitation film made in the 60s and yes, the scene where she’s swimming freaks me out to no end.

(One final note: I just love the title Dementia 13.  Seriously, is that a great one or what?)

Lisa Watches An Oscar Winner: Chariots of Fire (dir by Hugh Hudson)


Chariots_of_fire

It took me two viewings to really appreciate the film Chariot of Fire.

First released in 1981, Chariots of Fire won the Oscar for best picture.  It’s also one of the few British productions to take the top award.  (British films are regularly nominated but the winner is usually an American production.)  A few nights ago, it was broadcast on TCM and I watched it for the first time.  And I have to admit that I struggled to follow the film.

It’s not that the film’s story was exceptionally complicated.  At heart, it’s an inspirational sports film and it features all of the clichés that one usually associates with inspirational sports films — i.e., come-from-behind victories, eccentric trainers, athletes who are determined to compete under their own terms, training montages, and a memorable score.  (The score for Chariots of Fire was so effective that it’s still used as the background music for countless Olympic specials.)

No, I struggled to follow the film because it really was just so extremely British, featuring everything from Cambridge to Gilbert and Sullivan to a rigidly enforced class system to casual anti-Semitism,  This may have been a sports film but it was a very reserved sports film.  If Chariots of Fire had been an American film, we would have gotten countless shots of people screaming, “YESSSSS!  GO! GO! GO! GO!” Instead, the characters in Chariots of Fire are far more likely to say, “Good show, old boy.”  Whereas an American sports film would have scored a montage of competition to the sound of “Eye of the Tiger,” Chariots of Fire features a men’s chorus singing, “For he is an Englishman….”

It takes a bit of getting used to and perhaps I knew that because, even as I was watching Chariots of Fire, I still set the DVR to record it.  The first time I watched the film, I was overwhelmed by the culture shock and the resolute Britishness of it all.  My reaction was to think that, much like The Big Chill, Chariots of Fire was a “you just had to be there” type of film, the type of film that was once impressive but now just inspires you to go “meh.”

And I was prepared to write a review stating just that.  But, somehow, in the back of my mind, I knew that I should give Chariots of Fire another chance before I dismissed it.  Maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t get the damn music out of my head.  Who knows?  But I couldn’t think about the film’s opening — with all those men running on the beach and getting mud all over their white uniforms — without smiling.

So, seeing as how I am currently snowed in for the weekend, I spent this morning watching Chariots of Fire for a second time and I’m glad that I did.  Because you know what?  Chariots of Fire is actually a pretty good film.  It tells the story of Eric Lidell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), two British runners who competed at the 1924 Olympics.  Harold is a student at Cambridge.  He’s an angry young man who is running to prove all of the anti-Semites wrong.  (Of course, Harold is angry in a very sort of upper class British way).  Eric is the son of missionaries who views running as a mission from God and who refuses to run on a Sunday.  The film looks gorgeous, Charleson and Cross both give good performances, and that music demands an emotional response.  While Chariots of Fire may not be a great film, it’s definitely a likable film and there’s something to be said for that.

Plus, did I mention that the music’s great?