Friday, October 31, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Halloween (1978)

Tonight I'm having cocktails at the Rabbit In Red Cocktail Lounge...

I don't think HALLOWEEN is the scariest movie ever made, but it's the film of the day. Saw it when it first came out - and probably saw it the next night, too. Here's what HALLOWEEN did - it wasn't the first stalk and slash film, but it was the first one to get it right... so all of the ones that came after it copied and stole from it without mercy. The cavalcade of bodies scenes comes from this film - even though PSYCHO kind of sets the stage with Mrs. Bates in the fruit cellar. And one of the reasons why we all saw it was because it was Janet Leigh's daughter.



Carpenter really took the time to *build* the suspense and create the dread - and the film sticks with you. He also came up with story details that made it seem real... and frightening. And, unlike the stupid remake, Carpenter knew the way to scare the crap out of you was to show a perfectly normal suburban family and world... and have the killer come from that world. The cute little kid who knocks at your door tonight? Michael Myers. He's sweet and polite and maybe a *member of your family* - and he could just take a knife and stab the life out of you...

If he saw you having sex. It's not about family (stupid sequels), it's not about some pagan cult crap (stupid sequels), Michael sees his sister naked and kills her. Michael sees PJ and Nancy in sexual situations - and kills them. Dude doesn't like sexual situations!

Carpenter's shots are elegant, he makes Michael into a ghost - he's there one minute and gone the next... so you never know when or where he will pop up. This film still works (unlike the remake). The film was made for $300k... and made $58 million.

Happy Halloween!

- Bill




Thursday, October 30, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
The Haunting (1963)

"It was an evil house from the beginning - a house that was born bad."

I first saw this film in grade school on a rainy day when instead of going out to play we went to the multi-purpose room for a movie... and instead of just getting wet outside, all of us got scared to death and probably scarred for life. This film scares me *now*.



THE HAUNTING doesn't have any blood at all... yet it has regular scares throughout the film - and lots of DIRECT CONFLICT between the source of the scares and the protagonists. This is tricky, because THE HAUNTING is about ghosts and has no special effects - no guys in sheets, no double exposure FXs, nothing we can *see*.

The biggest mistake of the remake was turning it into a CGI fest... we fear the unknown, when we see a bunch of FX, it isn't unknown anymore.

"'Unknown.' That's the key word. 'Unknown.' When we become involved in a supernatural event, we're scared out of our wits just because it's unknown. The night cry of a child. A face on the wall. Knockings, bangings. What's there to be afraid of? You weren't threatened. It was harmless, like a joke that doesn't come out."

Though we can't see the ghosts in the original, we CAN see what they do. The original version of THE HAUNTING has five characters and only one of them dies - at the very end. But they are constantly in peril throughout the film, and often in conflict with each other. Even though nobody dies for 99% of the film's running time, there are a bunch of big scary scenes - it's as much fun to have a character *almost* killed as it is to have them killed.

"Haven't you noticed how nothing in this house seems to move until you look away and then you just... catch something out of the corner of your eye?"




It's a haunted house story about a team of ghostbusters who are going to "cleanse" a very haunted house. Richard Johnson is the professor leading the expedition into the world's most haunted house. Claire Bloom and Julie
Harris are two different kinds of psychics, Rusty Tamblin (from my INVISIBLE MOM movie) represents the owner of the house and the actress playing Johnson's wife (can't remember her name). The scares are (brilliantly directed) scenes with ghosts pounding on the walls or doors samming on their own or people almost being swept off balconies by the wind or spiral staircases becoming untethered and almost falling over or people having to walk down long hallways in the dark while wind or shadows chase them. The ghosts are constantly chasing our heroes! The ghosts are looking for fresh blood - and our five ghostbusters are in peril from the moment they enter that house. The ghosts don't just call on the phone and breathe heavy, they actively try to kill every member of the team!

"Look, I know the supernatural is something that isn't supposed to happen, but it does happen."

Though the most famous scary scene is probably that spiral staircase sequence, my favorite couple of minutes of absolute terror is a scene where ghosts pounding on the door to Harris and Bloom's bedroom actually begin to push the door inwards - bending it to the breaking point! The door just keeps bending inwards. Will the ghosts break through the door to get our team of psychics? This scene goes on so long you almost pass out from holding your breath in fear! And that door bows so far inwards you know it will break any minute! No blood (but the scene will drain the blood from *you*!) but scary as hell! This is the kind of "old school horror" audiences
are looking for - direct conflict between the terrifying and the protagonists... and when a movie like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (1,2,3) comes along, the reason why it's a success is that it builds that sense of dread that gets us on a primal level...

Real suspense based on a real threat.

"When people believed the earth was flat, the idea of a round world scared them silly. Then they found out how the round world works. It's the same with the world of the supernatural. Until we know how it works, we'll continue to carry around this unnecessary burden of fear."

The best part about the original HAUNTING is that between these great bloodless scare scenes, you get to "catch your breath" with scenes of mentally unbalanced romance as Julie Harris interprets everything that Richard Johnson does as proof that he's secretly in love with her. The guy's married and doesn't even flirt with her - but she's so delusional that she's sure it's love. This is almost as creepy as the ghost attacks (just in a different way). So the "valleys" in the ghost story are "peaks" in the twisted romance story (kind of Harris's character coming of age late in life - she's been sheltered since that incident where stones rained on the family home when she was a kid... and has never been on her own or in love before). There are no slow spots in a (good) movie, just different kinds of excitement.

Robert Wise, the director, got his start as editor of a little film called CITIZEN KANE... and went on to direct CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE and BODY SNATCHER for Val Lewton. After that, he directed a string of great films - everything from ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW to WEST SIDE STORY to THE SOUND OF MUSIC to ANDROMEDA STRAIN. I think he kind pf blows apart the autuer theory because all of his films are just *good* - but I don't see much connection between them other than - *good*. THE HAUNTING was the height of his career - and it's a million times for frightening than the remake.

It was totally cool working with Rusty Tamblyn on INVISIBLE MOM - I made sure to show up on his days. It was totally cool.

Though THE HAUNTING is okay for kids - no sex, no blood, no gore - know that it is damned scary...

- Bill

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
The Exorcist (1973)

My first job (other than mowing lawns and delivering papers and helping my dad) was at the Century Movie Theater in Pleasant Hill... when THE EXORCIST opened. I was too young to see the film, but old enough to work in the cinema... so I ended up seeing it 144 times. I can tell you how each scene works, how many shots are in the stair roll at the end, and all kinds of little details about the film.

But the big details are what make it scary.

The film (and novel) was a product of its time - but has also seemed to stand the test of time. The turbulent late 60s and early 70s, when children grew up too fast and became fouled mouthed hippies who believed in free love. Your kid was having sex and doing drugs and saying words that would make a sailor blush. So a film about a kid who goes through all of that - because they are possessed by Satan - connected with the audience on a primal level. The perfect film for parents.



But one of the reasons why it is with us today is that it's also a perfect film for kids. You reach puberty, and all of these crazy things happen to you - and it's as if you are possessed. You are not in control. I think the best horror films are the ones that take some real life problem and twist it - so that you can imagine this (impossible) thing happening to you, or someone you love. THE EXORCIST manages to work for parents of teens *and* teens. Plus, people who used to be teens and have had parents. The idea of someone you love turning into a monster is *emotional* and scary.



It's amazing how much fear a few gallons of split pea soup can produce.

- Bill

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Rosemary's Baby (1968)

ROSEMARY'S BABY deals with a first pregnancy... and all of the unexpected feeling and side effects. Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is a typical New York newlywed - her husband (John Cassavettes) is an actor in commercials, not famous, more the struggling type. She's quit her job so that they can start a family. When she becomes pregnant, it's a joyous occasion, but she isn't quite sure what to expect - are these odd pains she keeps having normal? What about the weight loss? The strange cravings for raw meat? Hey, pickles and ice cream is one thing, but raw meat? Is that normal? Her new doctor tells Rosemary that every pregnancy is an individual experience, you can't compare it to your friend's pregnancies. It's impossible to know what to expect. Some pregnancies are easy, some are hard... some are painful. Feeling it kick is one thing, but did it just *bite* her? What's growing inside Rosemary? It's a baby, but a baby *what*?



The great thing about this film is how it takes a normal thing and twists it - even if you have never been pregnant, you know someone who has - and nothing that happens is *that* strange. But just enough strange that Rosemary wonders what the hell is going on.

Did the nice old couple next door give her a glass of unusually potent wine which lead to a not-so-immaculate conception involving Satan? Was she drunk, or did that guy really have horns? Was it all a dream? She wakes up with claw marks on her back and there's this thing growing inside of her causing strange cravings, dizziness, nausea, and depression. Rosemary's husband and the next door neighbors seem to be controlling her life - telling her what she should do for the sake of the baby. Pregnant for the first time, she doesn't want to do anything that might harm the baby. When she stops drinking those strange tanis root "vitamin drinks" the baby begins twisting her guts - making her so sick she can't even stand up. The baby is controlling her! Hey, it could be worse - she just gets ultra-morning sickness... her husband's business rival is suddenly struck blind the day before his job interview!




Rosemary's loving husband starts out thinking her strange beliefs about their neighbors are just a side effect of her pregnancy. The more weird stuff she uncovers, the more he believes she's just imagining things. Of course, her loving husband is a member of the Satanic cult. He's turned against her - allowed Satan to have his way with her in exchange for a role on a TV series... let's hope it wasn't the CHARLIE'S ANGELS revamp.

ROSEMARY'S BABY is not a scream-outloud scare movie - it's all slow build and things that are slightly creepy. But because it seems like something happening in the real world, it gets under your skin - this could really happen!

The locations then and now: http://www.scoutingny.com/?p=1135

- Bill

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lancelot Link: Board Games Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! OUIJI is based on a Milton Bradley board game... the people who make Monopoly are helping you invite Satan into your house! While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




Here are ten links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Ouiji........................... $20,006,000
2 John Wick....................... $14,150,000
3 Fury............................ $13,000,000
4 Gone Girl....................... $11,100,000
5 Book Of Life..................... $9,800,000
6 St Vincent....................... $8,058,000
7 Alexander Terrible............... $7,023,000
8 Best Of Me....................... $4,736,000
9 Judge............................ $4,345,000
10 Dracula Untold................... $4,302,000


2) The Brown List: Which Execs Are Mean, Nasty, Shitty?

3) Isaac Asimov on Creativity.

4) The Next Generation Of Female Screenwriters... are here *now*!

5) David Fincher's DP With SIX Tips For Low Budget Cinematography.

6) Everything You Need To Know About Digital Cameras!

7) Ted has Hope that HBO & Netflix will lead to quality films.

8) My Portland pal Daniel Wilson says ROBOPOCALYPSE is on Spielberg's schedule.

9) Someone else I know: Larry Wilson on BEETLEJUICE sequel!

10) Keanu On JOHN WICK! Your Must See Film!

And the Car Chase Of The Week!



Okay, horror movie chase scenes...

Bill

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004)

So, I'm not usually one for remakes - and I'm a big fan of Romero's original DAWN OF THE DEAD because it's all about how consumerism has turned us all into zombies wandering through the mall mindlessly shopping - but the 2004 remake with a script by SLITHER's James Gunn works on its own terms. When I first did my Horror Screenwriting class at the Raindance Film Festival in London, I didn't bring any clips... but *did* have the DVD of DAWN OF THE DEAD in my luggage, and found an illustration of almost every point I was going to make in the film.

The opening scene is *textbook* horror - we start out in suburbia on a normal morning...




As you can see, in very little time we have gone from order to chaos, and the police and authorities are powerless, and the monster could be anyone - the little girl next door, the man you love - ANYONE. You are not safe.

The great thing about zombie movies is that they take people you know and love and turn them into monsters, which creates a huge emotional turmoil for the protagonist(s). You love them... but they want to kill you - what do you do? You have to kill them, but...

- Bill

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

When I was a kid this was one of my favorite movies... because it was funny *and* scary. And it was so scary when I was a kid that parts of it were seen through the fingers covering my eyes. Though Bob Hope had made a comedy horror film before, this is the movie that does it best - and I think inspires most of the others. The great thing about the film is that it never makes fun of the monsters and treats the horror elements seriously. So there are *real* scares.



Universal studios had their two big box office draws fading fast - the monsters from their monster movie series and their comedy team Abbott & Costello - and some genius at the studio decided to combine them in the kind of "MEETS" movie that we might come up with as a joke today (HANGOVER MEETS JASON?). But the studio wanted to protect their monsters and not have them ridiculed, and that resulted in a great film where the comedy team ends up in a horror movie and cracks jokes in response to the situations. They never laugh at the monsters - they never make fun of them... they are real, and the conflict - the danger - is the fuel for the gags.



In that clip Lou Costello is not making fun of Dracula - he believes in him! He believes he is real danger.

In my horror class I talk about this film, and how the comedy makes the horror more frightening and the horror makes the comedy more funny. They compliment each other. In successful modern horror comedies they treat the horror elements seriously - but the characters are funny. Everything from PIRANHA to THE HOWLING to AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON to SLITHER to BLACK SHEEP to SHAUN OF THE DEAD to SCREAM keep the scares real but has funny characters making jokes while they are in danger.

(My first produced script, the Oscar nominated NINJA BUSTERS, was inspired by this film... and even has a version of the Dracula coffin scene above... just with Ninjas.)




I don't remember whether the first time I saw this film as a kid was on TV or at one of the Bob Wilkins Creature Features roadshow screenings he did during the summer at the middle school behind my house. They would take over the multipurpose room and show films for kids and raffle off prizes. I'm sure the purpose was to keep us from getting into trouble, but these films were an important part of my life growing up. We didn't have much money when I was a kid so the only time I ever saw a movie was either at the drive in (reflected off the back window of the car while I was *supposed* to be asleep on the back seat) or those rare times we saw a Disney film at the cinema where my Aunt Norma worked (she'd sneak us in). But just going to the movies? Didn't happen. So these weekly summer showings were like heaven - it was all of the kids from my neighborhood - all of my friends (Mickey Gillan, Mike Webb, Bob Hayes, John Thomas, etc) and we'd sit together and scream at the monsters and laugh at the jokes. Once I won an autographed picture of Godzilla!

Now that I'm writing movies, I often write funny horror movies inspired by ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN...

- Bill

PS: Here's John Landis talking about the film on TRAILERS FROM HELL:

Friday, October 24, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning was one of the most gifted silent directors, with films like THE UNHOLY THREE and THE UNKNOWN to his credit when he was hired to direct DRACULA - which became a massive hit. His follow up movie pretty much ended his career. FREAKS was his pet project, a story that takes place in a carnival freak show and starred actual freaks. Even though this was a pre-code movie (no censorship or ratings existed for films) the studio demanded that it be cut and cut and cut... and the version released was too disturbing for the audience at the time. The film was officially banned in England and unofficially banned in the United States (MGM locked it away) until the late 60s, early 70s when the legend of the film resulted in some prints and a midnight showings... and a new audience. I saw it sometime in the late 70s, and it was most disturbing.

A Fan Made Trailer...



The film is now part of our culture - the "Gobble-Gobble One Of Us" scene pops up in everything from SOUTH PARK to DePalma's SISTERS. Interesting that DePalma was inspired by the film for SISTERS because the story has some similarities to CARRIE which he would also direct...




The freak show for a travelling carnival are like a family - they all watch out for each other. The film shows you the every day life of the freaks - and it's fascinating. The Human Torso - a guy with no arms or legs - lights his own cigarette. Armless woman uses her feet as hands. The Siamese Twins date. When hot trapeeze artist Cleopatra learns that midget Hans is rich, she seduces him, marries him... and then slowly poisons him so that she can inherit his fortune and run away with the Strong Man. Only, what you do to one of the Freaks, you do to all... and they may seem harmless, but they get their revenge for being abused by Cleopatra and the Strong Man.

One of us...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C4uTEEOJlM

Like CARRIE, the film is a slow build to a big finish when they get their revenge... but that end is the stuff of nightmares!

- Bill



Today's Amazon ranking:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Don't Look Now (1973)

Fridays With Hitchcock has included three films like REBECCA based on a novel by Daphne DuMaurier... and this film is also based on one of her stories (like THE BIRDS). And here we have another one of my favorite directors Nic Roeg - who began as a cinematographer on films like Richard Lester's brilliant PETULIA starring the always beautiful Julie Christie... who also stars in DON'T LOOK NOW along with Donald Sutherland. This is one of those creepy movies that gets under your skin - you may watch it and only be scared at the end and think it's not so bad... but days later it will flash back into your memory.



And memory is what the film is about - Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie lose their little girl in a tragic accident and it tears them apart. Sutherland takes a job in Venice, Italy - hoping that they can use the time away from home to put their marriage back together again. But everywhere he looks in Venice he keeps seeing his dead daughter... and the two strange women they meet in a restaurant have seen her, too. One is psychic - and has seen their daughter's ghost. Oh, and there is a serial killer on the loose in Venice as well - bodies popping up everywhere. All of these things are connected, but we don't understand the connection until the very end.




Roeg is an amazing stylist - he loves to connect elements by *image* instead of chronology. This gives the film a poetic feel. It's a beautiful horror film. Oh, and there's a famous sex scene that rumor has it was not staged but real. This is not a *scary* film, it's a *creepy* one.

- Bill

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Dead Of Night (1945)

James Wan who directed SAW has a thing about killer puppet movies, and I'll bet it can all be traced back to seeing this film as a kid on TV. I know *my* fear of killer puppets stems from this, and the knowledge that Grover on Sesame Street is really a serial killer. But all of the ventriloquist dummy movies like William Goldman's MAGIC come from this creepy film.

Dead Of Night (1945)
Directed by: Cavalcanti ("Christmas Party", "The Ventriloquist's Dummy"), Charles Crichton ("Golfing Story"), Basil Dearden ("Hearse Driver", "Linking Narrative"), Robert Hamer ("The Haunted Mirror")
Written by: John Baines & Angus MacPhail.
Starring: Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver, Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne, Googie Withers.

An architect arrives at a country estate and has a strange feeling of deja vu. The group of people at the estate each tell stories of terror... while the architect's deja vu increases. Has he been here before? He feels as if he has heard each story before... and feels like something terrible will happen when the last tale has been told. Each of the stories is frightening, but the ventriloquist and the dummy that controls him is the one most people remember...



The cast is worth noting, since most of them were in Hitchcock's LADY VANISHES. Not only do we get a variation on Caldecott & Charters, we get Bridesmaid Googie Withers and leading man Michael Redgrave! It's the whole gang! The cast is great, the film is spooky... yet realistic enough that you believe everything that happens no matter how crazy. The film was from Ealing Studios, famous for comedies... but this may be their most famous non-comedy film.




Five great stories of terror, with the "wrap" at the country house with our group. Directed by 4 different directors.
1) "Christmas Party" is about a girl at a Christmas Party who finds a hidden staircase that leads to...
2) "The Haunted Mirror" is about an newlywed couple - the wife buys a mirror that is... haunted.
3) "The Hearse Driver" is about a man who dreams a hearse drives by him and the driver says: "There's room for one more"... and then his dream seems to come true.
4) "Golfing Story" is about two golfers (Wayne & Radford) make a bet on the golf course - winner gets to marry the girl they both love, and the loser must die.
5) "The Ventriloquist" is the most frightening of all, about a ventriloquist who thinks his dummy is out to get him... and he is.
Often stories like this peter out at the end, but DEAD OF NIGHT has an ending that will give you nightmares!

"There's room for one more."

- Bill

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Black Christmas (1974)

Before there was John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN there was Bob Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS - the original "We've traced the call... it's coming from INSIDE the house!" movie. I caught this at a drive in on a double bill with Larry Cohen's IT'S ALIVE - and IT'S ALIVE was the "A" feature! But this film really creeped me out, and also had me laughing outloud. Margot Kidder's phone number had me laughing for months - because this was a time when people didn't say things like that in the movies.



But the main thing about BLACK CHRISTMAS is that it's spooky and probably the first "kill a bunch of people in a house" movie. Okay, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was released the same year, so it may have technically been the second movie with that basic plot - but BLACK CHRISTMAS is the version of that basic plot that you can trace through HALLOWEEN to SCREAM. In fact, HALLOWEEN began as a sequel to BLACK CHRISTMAS.




The great thing about this film - other than the call coming from inside the house - is the way the characters turn against each other when the bodies begin to pop up. Also a great cast - Olivia Hussey who was Juliet in ROMEO & JULIET plays the lead, Keir Dullea from some damned Kubrick movie was her boyfriend, John Saxon plays the cop in a horror movie for the first time, Andrea Martin from SECOND CITY is one of the gals, Margot Kidder is *hot* as one of the other gals - she had already starred in Brian DePalma's SISTERS and the next year would play the female lead in THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER opposite some guy named Redford. SISTERS is coming up in a couple of days...

What the heck, I love Larry Cohen, so let's look at the trailer for the "A" film on the double bill many years ago...



What I love about Larry Cohen movies is that the guy always has a social or political message in his weirdass horror films. His films like THE STUFF are complete cult flicks, but underneath it all are about something important. Here we have mutant killer babies caused by prescription drug side effects - kind of the ultimate Thalidomide baby. By the time Cohen got to IT'S ALIVE 3: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE he was doing a cult horror film that dealt with AIDS babies (except they were the killer mutant babies in the series).




He's one of my favorite filmmakers and one of those prolific screenwriters who is hit and miss - but when he hits he knocks it out of the park. Still alive and kicking and making films. He wrote PHONE BOOTH and CELLULAR! His last screenwriting credit was a couple of years ago... but his first writing credit was 1958. Oh, and he created the TV show THE INVADERS.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: EVERY STORY ASKS A QUESTION - Is yours asking the *right* question?
Dinner: Chicken, potatos, corn at Boston Market.
Pages: Almost finished another chapter - but got sidetracked.
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