H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2015

Several of the films in this set leave me with a distinct “What the hell was that about?” feeling even after multiple viewings. Some of them, however, even the WTH ones,  are excellent. There’s definitely an aquatic theme running through this batch of winning films.

The Night Ocean

This beautiful short film was the Winner for Judges’ Choice in 2015. It’s Spanish, but the voiceover is in English over animation in a style that looks like watercolor paintings or drawings in a sketchbook, just the sort of thing an artist would do, and accompanied by a melancholy piano composition.

Night Ocean

The narration is taken from the short story of the same name, Robert Hayward Barlow’s collaboration with Lovecraft when the former was a boy of 18. It’s been edited to remove some of the more purple-prose phrases to become a series of elliptical and poetic statements, and there’s a least one addition that I can’t find in the original text.

An artist has rented a secluded house on the beach for a month’s vacation, beginning at the end of summer. At first, he enjoys swimming during the warm and sunny days, and there are late-summer parties dancing to jazz music on the pier.

Then the sunny days come to an end and the summer tourists are gone. Autumn swiftly sets in. The narrator is alone, walking on the empty beach now, and strange things begin to happen.

Small creature on the beach

“I found a small creature on the beach. I’d never seen anything like it.”

 

One rainy day, he sees what looks like a group of people in black swimsuits out in the turbulent water and shouts to them and waves his arms. They ignore him. Another is standing closer to the shore, but does not appear to be human–then a wave crashes up on the rocks and all of them disappear.

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Dr. Who: The 10th Planet, Part 4

William Hartnell’s final episode of Doctor Who is regrettably among the lost. Even into the 1970s, the BBC was more concerned with conserving storage space and reusing videotape than preserving its archive, and the survival of those episodes that still exist is a matter of chance. When the BBC began to care about the historical importance of its old programs, restoration work often depended on still photographs or audio recordings made by early, devoted fans (See, for example, Marco Polo). In some cases, such as this, they were recreated by animation.

Part 4 picks up where Part 3 left off, with the countdown for the Z-bomb missile launch–but this time it’s in striking black-and-white toon form. The audio is a fan recording from the original episode, and the artwork is based on photos and a few video fragments. It looks very good, like a graphic novel in motion.

Animated Cybermen

The big question is: was Ben successful at sabotaging the missile’s launch before General Cutler caught him, or will both the Earth and Mondas suffer from planet-destroying level of radiation when the Z-bomb goes off?

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In My Mind

In My Mind

It was like a dream, a dream that had become fabulous reality.

Here I am in America for the very first time in 1983 on a mission to get an interview with Patrick McGoohan about his groundbreaking television series, The Prisoner.

A dream because the series had changed my life back in 1969 when it was first shown in Britain.

A dream that you almost never get to meet your heroes.

A dream because an infant Channel 4 Chris and Patrick Television in London had commissioned a documentary about its making. A dream because I knew nothing about making television programs. As a director, this would be my first…

In 1983, Chris Rodley sought to interview Patrick McGoohan for a documentary commissioned by Britain’s then new Channel 4 about The Prisoner. McGoohan, who was living in Los Angeles at that time, agreed to talk; Rodley came out from the UK with a film crew.

There were two filmed interviews, one that eventually played a part in the 1984 documentary titled Six Into One, and one not used and not seen until this, Rodley’s second documentary about Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner, and the making of Six Into One 35 years later. Supplemented by a recent interview with McGoohan’s daughter Catherine and clips from other interviews and sources, In My Mind is a love letter to two of its subjects, but not the third.

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Dr. Who: The 10th Planet, Part 3

You’ve probably noticed in my descriptions of Part 1 and Part 2 that the Doctor doesn’t do much in this story. He recognized Mondas before he even saw it and knew to expect the Cybermen, and once they’ve arrived, he doesn’t seem too concerned about them; he tells the bewildered General Cutler to wait it out. But Ben and the Doctorit’s his companions Ben and Polly and the Antarctic base personnel who take the bulk of the exposition and action.

In this episode, more so than the previous two. William Hartnell was taken ill with bronchitis and went away for a week’s rest and recuperation. He isn’t even in this one.

Early on in Part 3, while the base is preparing its defense against the hundreds of Cyberships headed from Mondas toward Earth intent on siphoning off the planet’s energy and cyberizing the population, the Doctor (a stand-in with his back carefully toward the camera) collapses and is taken out of the control room. We’ll see him lying on a bunk under a blanket a little later in the episode.

Dr. Barclay takes over for the DoctorWhile this was unfortunate for poor Mr. Hartnell, it provides some foreshadowing in character, suggesting that the Doctor’s health is deteriorating as well.

Everything that was scripted for the Doctor to have done in this episode, including most of his lines, is given to Dr. Barclay.

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Dr. Who: The 10th Planet, Part 2

At the end of Part 1, the Cybermen have landed on Antarctica in the not-too-distant future year of 1986, right on top of the underground UN research and space-control base, and killed the handful of luckless soldiers who happened to be up on the snowy and windswept surface at the time.

Down inside the base, General Cutler is scoffing at the Doctor’s statement that there will be visitors from that other planet that’s approaching Earth and looks just like it, except upside-down to our traditional north/south perspective. Both the Doctor and General are unaware that the visitors have already arrived.

Up on surface, the Cybermen throw the winter cloaks they’ve taken from the dead men over their shoulders and distinctive headgear as a sort of makeshift disguise, and head down through the hatch into the base. It’s not a very good disguise, but it does the trick; no one notices them coming down the stairs into the control room until they throw off the coverings. Polly screams.

Cybermen invasion

I’ve never cared much for the Cybermen later on, either in the Doctor Whos I watched growing up, or in the New Whos. They seemed like clunkier Borg without the Cenobite S&M panache.

But I like these very first Cybermen as they introduce themselves after zapping another soldier or two. They are believably what they say they are–people who were once very like the Earth’s humans, but they’ve had to modify themselves and replace some body parts to survive as the environment on their own world, Mondas, grew more hostile to life. Their hands are bare and still obviously human. The extra features on the DVD tell me this was a mistake and the costume department forgot to order silver gloves, but I think it’s a very good touch, intentional or not.

The voices of the Cybermen are done by other actors offscreen, which creates another nice touch: the Cyberman “speaking” only drops his stocking-covered mouth open and doesn’t move or close his jaw until his speech is completed. What we hear is a creepy, high-pitched, sing-song voice that sounds electronically modulated, emphasizing syllables at random and breaking words or sentences up in weird places. It’s my favorite thing about these first Cybermen, and I think it’s a pity that this style of speech was dropped when they returned in later episodes. It’s as distinctive in its way as the hysterical Dalek shrieks.

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Dr. Who: The 10th Planet, Part 1

I’ve been watching a lot of the William Hartnell episodes lately. There are several I’d like to review, but if I don’t get on with it I’ll never make it to any of the later Doctors. So I’ve decided to skip ahead to this final Hartnell story and may go back to earlier episodes later.

As described in my review of An Adventure in Space and Time, William Hartnell’s health was affecting his ability to carry on the demanding work required as the main character on a weekly series. During 1966, this problem had become such threat to both the actor’s wellbeing and the show’s continued success that the producers decided to replace him. Instead of pulling a Darrin Stevens and bringing in another, similar actor, they did it in an innovative way that not only changed the nature of the Doctor’s character, but became as an essential a part of the very long-running series as the Tardis.

But that event is still three episodes in the future.

Part 1 starts off with a rocket blasting into space. The United Nations Polar Base at Antarctica Astronautsis monitoring and chatting with the two astronauts aboard the capsule.

A couple of interesting things about the actors playing the astronauts.

First, I recognized them right away; both Alan White and Earl Cameron would appear in episodes of The Prisoner soon after this–White as No. 6’s doomed friend Roland Dutton in “Dance of the Dead,” and Cameron as one of the Village Supervisors, No. 106 (an age Mr. Cameron, still alive today, is coming close to attaining). Second, Star Trek made its debut a couple of months before this aired, and much has been made of the interracial casting of the Enterprise crew 200 years in the future; this Doctor Who, set only 22 years ahead, gives us TV’s first black astronaut.

The base is underground. The Antarctic surface above it is, not surprisingly, a snowy landscape (and a pretty impressive set for the show). The Tardis appears, its usual wheezy, groaning landing noise drowned out by the fierce winds.

Inside the Tardis, the Doctor and his two latest companions, Polly and Ben, are getting into heavy-weather coats, hats, and gloves before they venture out into the blizzard. The Doctor, Ben, and PollyThe trio exit the Tardis; the Doctor remains in the background (disguising the fact that it’s a stand-in for William Hartnell on this set with so much fake snow being blasted around), while the two young people make note of the aerials and other man-made objects jutting out of snow-covered ground. One of these items is a periscope.

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Madhouse

This 1974 film is on the flip slide of the Theatre of Blood DVD. If not for that, I don’t suppose I would’ve known about it or been able to watch it repeatedly. I’m certain I never saw it when I watched these kinds of movies on late-night TV in the 1970s and ‘80s. It’s an AIP/Amicus collaboration, featuring one major horror-film icon from each studio: Vincent Price and Peter Cushing.

Dr. DeathWe start with a scene set 12 years ago at a New Year’s Eve party in Hollywood, although it doesn’t look much like the early ‘60s. Horror-film star Paul Toombes (Price) is showing the latest film from his wildly successful series of Dr. Death movies.

AIP’s contribution to this film wasn’t just Vincent Price for the current project, but Price’s earlier work. The clips from the Dr. Death movies that we’ll see throughout Madhouse are actually from Roger Corman’s mostly Poe-based AIP films. These were the movies I did watch on late-night TV in my youth, so part of the fun in watching this is being able to identify them.

The film shown here is the ending of that Poe’d-up adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” Haunted Palace (which I really am going to review one of these days; I’ve been saying so for years). It’s been edited to dub in a line or two about Dr. Death and to insert shots of Price in his distinctive Dr. Death makeup.

After the film is over, Paul announces his engagement to Ellen, an actress much younger than himself. Among the people there to congratulate the couple is an old acquaintance of the prospective bride, Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry); he’s is a slimy producer who makes adult films, and he immediately spoils things by cheerfully informing Paul that Ellen began her career by working for him in nudie movies. Paul is horrified and takes this to mean that she’s “on the make” and only marrying him for his money. The engagement is off, which puts a damper on the party.

Paul goes off to sulk and Ellen goes upstairs to cry and powder her nose at a fancy and well-lit vanity table—and then get murdered by someone dressed in the Dr. Death cloak, fedora, and black gloves, wearing a skull-mask.

Dead Ellen

After the opening credits, Paul realizes that his fiancée’s early career has nothing to do with her feelings for him and goes to apologize to her for being an ass. He finds her sitting at the vanity table just at the stroke of midnight, but when he touches her, her head falls off.

This beheading has left surprisingly little blood on the fluffy white carpet or furniture.

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The Witches

Also known as The Devil’s Own, which was the title of the book this film was based on.

The Witches is a fairly obscure and peculiar little mid-60s film from the British Hammer Studio. The screenplay was written by Nigel Kneale, but it’s not his original material. It stars an actress one doesn’t normally associate with horror films: Joan Fontaine. Yes, that Joan Fontaine, of Rebecca, Suspicion, and Jane Eyre. The great actresses of her generation did dabble in horror during this period, late in their careers, and this is her turn. IMDB has a story that she bought the rights to the book so she could star in the movie version, then retired when it flopped. I’ve no idea how much of that’s true.

African knifeThere’s one other very peculiar peculiarity about this film, but I’ll get to that later.

Joan plays Gwen Mayfield, a missionary / teacher. We meet her in the opening scenes in an unnamed African country; the local witch-doctor has turned  his tribe against the missionaries, and the school where Gwen teaches is under attack. Gwen is packing up the school to make her escape, but she doesn’t get out in time. A group of men in enormous decorated masks come into the school, and the witch-doctor does something undefined but horrible to her. That he’d “eat your soul” is what the native men who worked for Gwen were afraid of, and she pooh-poohed that idea as nonsense only minutes before.

A year or so later, after recovering from a nervous breakdown following this incident, Gwen is back in England. She takes up a job teaching at the small and remote village of Heddaby, and finds that she hasn’t gotten away from witchcraft after all.

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The Fog

Midnight til one belongs to the dead.Not John Carpenter’s best film (that would probably be The Thing), or my favorite of his (which is Prince of Darkness), but it’s the one that’s got a ghost story in it, so I’m including this one in my blogs for the Halloween season.

We start right off with the story, as told to us and a group of children gathered on a beach by an elderly man (John Houseman, who won’t be seen again after this introduction). As the hour of midnight approaches, he says that they have time for just one more tale.

It’s April 20, 1980; the 21st–which is about 5 minutes off–will be the 100th anniversary of the wreck of the Elizabeth Dane. The clipper ship lost its way in a sudden and unnaturally thick fog off nearby Spivey Point, when the crew spotted a light shining through the fog. The ship sailed toward it, perhaps mistaking it for the Point’s lighthouse, but the light was actually that of a bonfire–much like the one they’re all seated around. The Elizabeth Dane foundered on the sharp coastal rocks and sank. The old man makes much of the crew’s drowning, how their lungs filled with salt water and their eyes remained open as they sunk into the depths of the bay. After the ship had gone down with all aboard, the remarkably thick fog disappeared as quickly as it had come.

He concludes:

“But it is told by the fishermen, and their fathers and grandfathers, that when the fog returns to Antonio Bay, the men at the bottom of the sea, out in the water by Spivey Point, will rise up and search for the campfire that led them to their dark and icy death.”

Telling ghost stories around the campfire

Goodnight, kids! Sleep well.

Nothing horrible happens to the group on the beach, but all over the town of Antonio Bay, strange things begin to happen after midnight.
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H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2016

There are a lot of subtitles on this batch of best short films from the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival–nearly half of the selected films were foreign languages. This gives me a chance to keep up with the French I learned in highschool eons ago.

It’s hard to pick out a favorite from this batch. There are three I like very much, and others are pretty good.

Something unseen calls me...Before we get to the films, there’s a bonus music video of a song titled “The Calling,” from a band named Infinite Spectrum; it’s part of a thematically connected series of songs that musically retell Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark.

“The Calling” is about Blake’s search for the church on Federal Hill. A sample of the lyrics:

The distant view I spied for months.
No landmarks can I find.
Like in a dream, but stranger still.
Were they figments of my mind?

I ask a merchant about the church
Of Gothic stone and tall dark spire.
He makes the cross and turns away.
My query draws his ire.

Through a maze of alleyways,
And streets of cobblestone,
A test of my endurance,
To find the church of stone.

Since I’ve watched this DVD several times recently, this song has gotten into my head and I go around the house singing the chorus.

The last verse ends when Blake finds the church. “God heard my prayer.” Um, not quite.

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