Someone said to me the other day, “It’s too bad ghost story (Winter Tales) season is over.” It’s always great to hear that someone enjoys what I post! So here’s another story (and a mini film review). Arjan, this post is for you.
In case any other readers are feeling ghost story withdrawal, here’s where I remind you that all my Dark Tales Sleuth posts also link to a copy of the (usually supernatural) story/stories that I’m discussing, either at the Internet Archive or to a PDF I’ve transcribed myself. And most of my posts to Ephemera are ghost stories, too. Whenever I post to one of those blogs, I eventually post about it here, too, so if you follow Multo, you’ll be up to date on all my blogs.
Anyway, today’s post involves vampires, of sorts. First, the vetala, a ghoul-like Indian revenant that haunts cemeteries and can possess dead bodies. And secondly the jiangshi, or Chinese hopping vampire, which consumes the qi, or life force of their victims, rather than their blood.
I’m more of a reader than a movie buff, but there are times (especially this past year, and—whoo-boy!— this past week) when my mind is too unquiet to focus on a book. At times like that, or times when I’m just too tired to attend to a text, I reach for an easy-watch movie. By this I mean a movie that’s not too heavy or weighty or intellectual, that’s fun and light and easy to follow, and preferably one that doesn’t overstimulate the senses: not too much gore or violence, no dizzying action (unless it’s silly), no cacophonic soundscape. A movie I can watch with a bowl of popcorn and my brain turned to “low.”
I think everyone has a set of movies or TV shows that they turn to in times of stress; different people find comfort in different genres. I often find that B-movies or “programmers” from the 1950s and 1960s do the trick nicely.
Every so often, though, I’ll turn on a movie that I think is of that type, only to realize — Hey! This movie is actually good! Yes, I have to turn my brain back on, but that’s probably a good thing anyway. These discoveries are always a pleasant surprise.
So here’s a short list of some movies I’ve stumbled on this way. I’m sure film buffs will read the list and say, “Duh!”, but hey—they were delights to discover for me.
What will you do to get what you want? What will you do, for you?
I found the short-lived TV series The Booth at the End on Amazon Prime some time back, and finally got around to watching. I’m so glad I did. I clicked on the first episode on a foggy Friday afternoon, meaning just to watch one, and then move on with my day. Instead, I sat curled up on the couch and binged the entire first season (5 episodes, 25 minutes each), enthralled.
A mysterious man (played by Xander Berkeley) sits at the corner booth of an all-night diner, with his notebook. Desperate people come to him with desperate desires: for their son to be cured of cancer, for their husband to be cured of Alzheimers. The Man can grant them anything they ask of him, if they strike a bargain with him. No, not anything so obvious as their soul (well, not exactly). The deal is that they must execute the task that he finds for them in his notebook, and they must come to him regularly to report on their progress, which The Man writes down in the notebook. Once the task is done, the wish is granted.
Sometimes the task is somewhat related to the wish: to see his son cured of cancer, James must kill someone else’s child. Sometimes, it seems arbitrary: in order to become prettier, Jenny must rob a bank of $101,043. And while some of the tasks are horrific, others are difficult but relatively benign.
The installation uses pieces from the museum’s own permanent collection to explore the theme of doubling and the doppelganger — the perfect theme for a museum housed in a building which is itself a replica of a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris. The installation, full of mirrors and symmetries, features duplicates from the permanent collection: prints and even sculptures of which the museum owns multiple copies, almost but not perfectly identical, like human identical twins. The space also serves as an anteroom for a small screening room, playing Singh’s short film, The Appointment.
The Appointment is a nightmarish little weird tale, exploring duality (of course) and transmigration. The protagonist, Henry Salt, is an author who seems to have a fascination with the idea of The Double. He wakes up one day, completely disoriented, and finds in his diary a note for a lunch appointment. Only he doesn’t remember making the appointment, nor can he make out the name of the person whom he’s meeting….
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. 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.