Friday Video: A Sci-Fi Tell-tale Heart

I’ve been on an unintentional Edgar Allan Poe roll lately: first some of Horacio Quiroga’s fictional homages to Poe, then the Dario Argento/George Romero cinematic tribute to Poe. Now another cinematic tribute: Orbit, a futuristic sci-fi update of “The Tell-tale Heart.”

This is an almost verbatim retelling of the tale, by which I mean that the narration is literally a reading of the short story, with only minor tweaks. It works quite well.

Length: 9 minutes, 6 seconds

I’ve been really impressed by the quality of the films from DUST. I’m not sure what their business model is, but I’m keeping an eye on their YouTube channel, for sure.

Enjoy.

Watching Two Evil Eyes

Sometime around the late ’80s, Italian director Dario Argento, who is a huge Edgar Allan Poe fan, called up George Romero with the idea of making a multi-director anthology film based on Poe’s tales[1]. The original plan was to have four segments, one each by Romero, Argento, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven. In a 2009 interview, Argento also mentions considering Stephen King as a possible contributor.

Two Evil Eyes
Source: IMDB

Unfortunately, neither Carpenter nor Craven were available, and so Romero and Argento decided to do a diptych, for lack of a better term, to be filmed in Romero’s home town of Pittsburgh, and set in the present day. Romero adapted “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar;” Argento chose “The Black Cat.” The resulting film, which was released in Europe first, was Due occhi diabolici, aka Two Evil Eyes.

I’ve only just heard of this film. It had only a limited theater release around 1990-1991 (I’m not sure why), and fell into relative obscurity. Of course once my husband and I found out about it, we had to see it. We’re both huge fans of Corman’s Poe films, and I love the anthology format, so I’m especially fond of Tales of Terror (1962), which also includes versions of “Valdemar” and the “The Black Cat.” How interesting to see new versions of these stories!

As a bonus, the movie was shot in Pittsburgh in 1989, just before I moved there for grad school. So I had the extra treat of recalling the Pittsburgh scenery as it appeared in the background of the film.

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Watching Horror Hotel

I had nothing to do last night and wasn’t in the mood to read, so I killed a little time watching a movie I discovered on archive.org: Horror Hotel, aka The City of the Dead (1960).

Poster for City of the Dead (Horror Hotel), 1960
Source: IMDb

This could be considered the first film from what would become Amicus Productions, the “not Hammer” British horror house, famous for their series of quite fun horror anthology films in the 1960s and early 1970s. It’s not a bad first offering, at all.

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What’s in a (Film) Name?

Continuing my fascination with translation…

It amuses and bemuses me, sometimes, to watch the titles of books and films move from language to language. I imagine most titles get translated pretty closely, but sometimes there is the odd exception.

Tengoku to Jigoku

For example, if I look at the IMDb page for the international titles of the Akira Kurosawa film Tengoku to Jigoku, I see that for most languages where I can readily work out the meaning, the titles have stuck pretty close to the original Heaven and Hell. France seems to have also used Between Heaven and Hell, which is almost the same idea. A common English language title is High and Low: similar, but it loses the feeling of unbearable heat that was so much a motif of the film (down there in the slums of Tokyo was “hell” for a reason).

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Science Fiction, Horror, the Uncanny

Adapted from some ramblings on Twitter.

I watched Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires the other night. I’ve been exploring Bava’s early giallos and proto-giallos, and my husband is an enthusiast of schlock 50’s style sci-fi and horror (“quantity cinema” is what he calls it). Planet of the Vampires was in his collection, but neither of us had noticed it was a Bava. Until now.

Planet of the Vampires 1965 Terrore Nello Spazio MSS poster 6
Terror in Space is a much better title. Source: moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

It’s not as groundbreaking as Bava’s giallos; it really is a schlock B movie. But it’s a fun movie. Terrible title, though.

The set design was mimimal, and very much of the genre, but it was well done, considering the teeny tiny budget Bava had: something like $200,000. Yes, it showed. My husband pointed out the thermofax machine that was doubling as a piece of instrumentation. The “captain’s log” (some years before Star Trek) also looked to be a copier or blueprint printer or something, and the periscope-style viewer on the bridge looked like it was cobbled together from a salon hairdryer. But it was endearing. And the elevator hatch thing to bring the astronauts down to the planet’s surface was clever.

I loved the costumes.

Planet of the Vampires
C’mon, these are great spacesuits. Source: IMDB

Considering Bava’s budget, the effects and production values were impressive. Supposedly the set for the planet’s surface was literally two styrofoam rocks, smoke and mirrors, along with some well done in-camera effects. But on screen, it looks pretty good.

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Watching Tales from the Hood

I love old horror anthology films. Dead of Night, from 1945; the Amicus anthologies from the late 1960s and ’70s; Creepshow; Tales from the Darkside. So I’d been meaning to watch Tales from the Hood (1995) for a while.

Tales from the Hood

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. At best, I thought, it would be the same fun but cheesy, EC Comics-like fare as all the other movies above (except Dead of Night), only with more black actors. Not that cheesy is bad, mind you. I like cheesy horror. But at worst, and what I actually feared, the movie would be an In Living Color style parody of a classic horror anthology.

Thankfully, it was the real thing.

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Invasion of the Grey Ones

I recently saw the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the first time. It’s much better than I thought it would be. My husband loves cheesy 1950’s sci-fi B-movies, and that was what I expected Body Snatchers to be. But it’s really not that cheesy at all. It’s fairly suspenseful, and its moody cinematography makes the film feel more noir than sci-fi. The inevitable romantic relationship between the male and female leads felt refreshingly adult, and quite relevant to the story. Drop the “happy ending” frame story (which both the producer and director objected to), and make the alien pods look a bit less like giant Belgian endive, and the film would be even closer to perfect.

Pod vs Endive
Left: A pod. Right: A Belgian Endive. I rest my case. Screenshot: moviescreenshots.blogspot.com. Endive: Wikimedia

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On the Obligations of the Reader

Adapted from some ramblings of mine on Twitter.

I recently came across the essay “Let Me Tell You,” by author Cecilia Tan. It’s a response to the old writing dictum “show, don’t tell,” and in the process of arguing against it (specifically in the SF/Fantasy genres), the essay also takes a shot at the myth of “universality” that underlies the dictums of writing “quality” (read: literary) fiction.

I highly recommend the essay to you. But in addition to what it says to writers/readers of SF/Fantasy, it crystallized some other thoughts of my own – a reader, not a writer, and not generally an SF/Fantasy reader either – about the obligations of the reader.

NewImage

Clumsy exposition (“as you know…”) is one of my pet peeves. And I’ve noticed that I sometimes prefer reading works from an X writer to those of an X-American or otherwise hyphenated writer (X-British, X-Canadian, etc.), and this is kinda why: X-Americans often feel an obligation to write to “Americans”. That is, they feel the need to explain bits of X culture or history to the mainstream “American” reader.  X writers write only to X-ians.

A Filipinx author can leave the fraught relationship/history between the Philippines and US unsaid, even when that relationship is central to their themes or to their characters, because readers in the Philippines know. But not all Americans do, so a Fil-American author might feel the need to somehow work a little history lesson into their narrative.

But is it always necessary?

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(Not) Friday Video: Ubasuteyama

In which I (sort of) revive my old Friday Video series…

I found this charming 1925 anime today; I was randomly websurfing while waiting for a long computation to return (it was either websurf or fold the laundry…): Ubasuteyama by Yamamoto Sanae.

A feudal lord considers old people a drain on society, so he has them forcibly shipped off and fed to a giant bird. A farmer, fearing his sixty year old mother will be taken away, takes matters into his own hands.

Ubasuteyama deals with ubasute/oyasute, the probably mythical practice of carrying ones elderly parents (or other relatives) to a remote place, and leaving them there to die. Sumerias Fain (aka Sumerian Otaku), who restored and posted the video that I’m sharing, translates ubasuteyama as:

uba: old woman
sute: get rid of
yama: mountain

So ubasuteyama means something like “abandoning the old woman on the mountain.” I said the farmer would take things into his own hands. But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending.

The film appears to have a bit of it missing: we learn that the feudal lord hates old people, and some sort of ghost appears in the lord’s room, then disappears. Then we jump straight to the farmer fretting about his mother. I feel as if there ought to be another scene between these two where the lord makes a law or issues an edict about shipping off the elderly. Nor is the ghost ever explained. But these are just nitpicks; it’s a wonderful animation and an entertaining story. Also, the film includes the cutest animated wolf. The horses are darling, too.

Length: 18 minutes, 10 seconds. Make sure that the subtitles are on.

After you’ve seen it, you might want to watch Sumerian Otaku’s commentary, which includes some history of the film and of Yamamoto Sanae (I’ve linked to the video about six-and-a-half minutes in; the first part is just summarizing the story).

Enjoy.

Creepy TV and other Thanksgiving Fun

Back from Thanksgiving weekend with my parents: four days of non-stop eating and family and wine (I blame my sister for that last part). It was the first time in a long time that we, my parents, my sister’s family and my closest first cousin’s family were all in the same place at the same time, to celebrate the birth of my youngest nephew (or whatever the proper term is for my first cousin’s child).

We happen to be a family with strong introvert tendencies, even the men who married into the family, and we are also very loud, in that stereotypical ethnic family sort of way. So periodically, certain people would disappear from the gathering, to be found hiding in another room with a device of some kind…

Which is a long-winded way of saying that my ten year old niece has started me down a wormhole of recreational reading and tv-watching time sinks, just in time for the holidays. Follow me down the path: Continue reading