Saturday, October 07, 2006


Last night's horror movie: Hammer Films' silky psycho-scape Nightmare (1967).* This movie begins by chronicling the last several days before Janet's seventeenth birthday, which also happens to be the sixth anniversary of the day she stumbled upon her mother holding the bloody cake knife over her father's corpse. Amidst burgeoning concerns that she might have inherited, um, madness from her mother, Janet's having horrible nightmares every evening, making sleeping difficult for her nubile preparatory bunkmates. Frightened of being psychoanalyzed further by school doctors, she opts to return to the crime scene, retreating to her family home midway through winter semester. Before her sweet seventeen celebration, she'll endure a rapid disintegration of the wall between her reality and her nightmares. This time, Hammer forwent the usual period timestamp and palate, trading the pastel teddies for something in creamy high-contrast B&W, orange blood for black, really picking up the deep shadows of fallow Victorian places. Hammer cinematographer Freddie Francis (who lensed David Lynch's beautiful Elephant Man,* but who is also responsible for Trog*) stepped into the director's chair and did this right. This black and white photography is the prettiest I have seen in any Hammer Horror film: rich, silvery, and austere; the picture pops right out of the frame. The "Hammerscope" widescreen yawns so vast that quick pans suffer a carousel of parallax. The plot suffers from the occasional, what do you call it?, predictability, as it slides from psycho horror to psycho thriller in a fourth act of sheer Brit noir. No matter, the filmmaking itself more than makes up for the sops to rote "asylumed heiress" movie tropes: any freeze-frame can hang on a gallery wall. Oh, and it's scary too: headlights went by the window unexpectedly last night, and I almost jumped out of my headphones. [Cavin]

Friday, October 06, 2006


I entirely forgot to mention this, but recently we ate at popular Monterrey restaurant Los Arcos. The place is famous for its grilled Tacos Gobernador, which are filled with cheese and shrimp. It's infamous for an all-out gunfight between narcos that once happened there. Tough: I finally went to the location of an actual shootout and about halfway through dinner realized that I was sitting with my back to the door. About halfway through last night's after-midnight-thon movie, Night of the Demon*, Dana Andrews tells fellow scientists about a song stuck in his head. I had sympathy for him since the lyrics of the Rocky Horror Picture Show theme song were looping continuously through mine:

Dana Andrews said prunes/ Gave him the runes/ And passing them used lots of skills... *

Night of the Demon starts as a man drives haphazardly along a pitch-dark tree-lined road. He is on his way to reconcile with the neighborhood black magician. The man is a scientist and skeptic who had planned to participate in an upcoming joint debunking of the magician's dubious abilities. Recent developments, however, have prompted newfound credulity, and tonight he's begging the devil worshipper to call off his dogs. But it's too late: a devil comes from the trees and rips him to shreds. Oops. Meanwhile, on a prop-plane over the Atlantic, Dana Andrews tries to sleep before the upcoming joint debunking in England. Night of the Demon is a great movie, filled with the kind of brooding quasi-historical witchiness and armchair psychoanalyzing that makes the best science vs. nature fright films. I think the film is doubly notable for arriving in 1957, when science was more often cast as the badguy when pitted against nature on the silver screen. Directed with weighty fatalism by master Jacques Tourneur. [Cavin]

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Last night's after-midnight movie was Werewolf of Washington (1973)*, a disjointed horror spoof starring Dean Stockwell's eyebrows. They play Jack, an up-and-coming press corps hotshot so favored by the administration that when he relocates to Budapest, to avoid breaking-up with the First Daughter, he's offered a job in the press corps. It's too late, of course. While leaving Hungary he swerves into a tree avoiding a gypsy motorcyclist, only to be bitten by a wolf in a foggy headlight-lit attack! The police are no help, but the dead wolf's mother offers him an anti-werewolf charm, junky jewelry he later flushes down a White House toilet. Thus begins a string of daily full-moon murders and clunky seventies political-climate send-ups. Werewolf makeup is in the classical underbite tradition, looking more like the Shaggy Dog* than the Wolf-Man* due to frosty coloration. There are wonderful horror moments: a victim is stalked across a grocery store parking lot collage of price advertisement posters; a survivor suffers through an attack while trapped in a phone booth. There are instances of the truly bizarre, too: after one romp though the aggressively expressionist and labyrinthine White House, wolf-Jack comes across a laboratory hidden behind a toilet stall. Here among giants on slabs and women in cages, he pauses to lick the midget Doctor Kiss on the mouth like a puppy. One particularly funny slapstick bit has Jack's transforming fingers getting stuck in his bowling ball (how many movies have a scene in the White House bowling alley?). The resulting movie is very uneven, very amateur: there are no master or establishing shots, and the scenes don't logically narrate the plot. Who cares? The movie certainly is a hoot. The Alpha Video DVD of this movie is not recommended due to watery-looking sights and watery-sounding sounds. [Cavin]

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Last night's after-midnight October film fest screening in my den was Fiend Without a Face*, an independent British production living in the hysterical landscape of technophobia during the Cold War. In 1958, US theaters were showing the Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman and the Blob, so Fiend opened in a market saturated with the like-minded radioactive nightmares somewhat under-addressed in contemporary British sci-fi. Near the US border in Canada, a fictional Army base is conducting joint defense radar experiments (fictionalizing NORAD, which also premiered in '58). The movie opens with a natural documentary feel, possibly using stock footage, lending ominous gravitas to spinning communications dishes and towering steam pressure vents. Soon, during an experiment to boost global radar effectiveness through the use of their nuclear power plant, things start to get a bit shlockier around the base. An invisible Fiend, for example, begins attacking the medullae oblongata of the local citizenry, killing them off and leaving behind their brainless husks. Priceless for it's extensive portrayal of stop-motion brains inch-worming around on prehensile spinal cords, the movie is also notable for its amazingly satisfying dialogue: "if it wasn’t crazy, I'd say this looked like the work of some... Mental Vampire!" This movie doesn't stop at the horror of technology, but goes so far as to demonize intellectual thoughts themselves. Recommended. Around the house today: the G8 plus 5 summit landed in Monterrey and San Pedro yesterday* after several months of location obfuscation rumored to be defensive posturing against the inevitable organized protests.* Exciting. And people tired of losing US jobs to Mexicans may want to consider a bill to build a two-layer security fence around Whirlpool Corporation now that they have decided to lay off employees in Arkansas and Indiana, and are expanding refrigeration manufacturing in México.* Damn immigrants. [Cavin]

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


On Saturday, military airplanes and helicopters began regularly flying over Oaxaca City. These flyovers persisted throughout the weekend and have increased today. Troop carriers arrived in nearby Huatulco over the weekend.* Protest groups have begun fortifying barricades with tree trunks. Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal insists that the military presence is routine stuff, and yet tension mounts. Today, bellicose protestors have been lighting off fireworks; on Sunday several banks were burnt. Fox is now saying that he is willing to resolve this the easy way or the hard way. It is a pitch black stroke of--what, irony? tragedy?--that today is the thirty-eighth anniversary of the student massacre in México City’s Tlatelolco Square in 1968,* where as many as three hundred students were killed when federal troops opened fire on political demonstrators. Far to the north, Americans and Mexicans are coming together to denounce the border fence. México urges Bush to veto the bill* (he's never liked it much), and US environmentalists continue to tally the possible ecological impact. Apparently, several publicly-funded initiatives, including conservation areas, will be curtailed, or scrapped altogether, because of this scheme.* Last night's horror festival screening was Deer Woman,* directed by John Landis for Showtime's Masters of Horror series. I've long had a love/hate relationship with Landis, whose core motivations in filmmaking seems to be to find the pop jokey veneer over whatever cultural perspective he has decided to adopt. His normal milieu is quirk Americana rather than horror, but the times when these labels have elided, he's churned out some notable stuff: An American Werewolf in London, the underappreciated Innocent Blood, and now this. Deer Woman is one of the best things he's done, as usual underlining the ridiculous qualities of creature feature horror, relying on well-performed solid characters and impertinent mischief. [Cavin]

Monday, October 02, 2006


Happy October first. The first entire October I'd spent abroad left me feeling homesick, last year, so now I plan to overcompensate for my 2005 lack of participation. Last night, after midnight, I inaugurated a month-long horror movie festival. I love Hammer horror. I love the baroque, oversaturated, and gilded, anachronistically nineteenth-century lushness of their sixties horror: thrilling raven ingénues clutching pastel nighties to heaving bosoms, bug-eyed before the foppish theatricality of some hissing villain. Brides of Dracula* is an excellent example of the subtlety that earned Hammer its name: though the master is dead, one member of his ratpack remains chained in the florid Meinster Chapeau amongst colorfully billowing curtains. Happenstance lures a nubile French teacher within his sphere of manipulation. Horror ensues. Is anyone more rakish than Peter Cushing's Van Helsing? How can he look great in blood-colored tweed (that's orange in a Hammer movie) and blue tie? How about that green Bavarian hat with snow brush? This movie has the most inspired burning windmill climax I've ever seen. Less inspired is Hammer's The Curse of the Werewolf,* a convoluted soap operetta that begins when a beggar tragically encounters a rotten Spanish Marquise and is imprisoned, forgotten by all but the turnscrew's steadily-ripening daughter. Angering her monstrous master, she's imprisoned with the now-feral beggar, who immediately dies upon ravishing her. Later, she escapes to live like an animal in the woods, eventually rescued, inevitably pregnant, by a bachelor and his benevolent housekeeper. Thus, halfway into the movie begins the Omen-esque tale of a wolf-boy destined to grow into dashing wolf-man Oliver Reed. But why is Spain the color of sand? The Hapsburg's Imperial Romania was a riot of color in Brides; but Curse's Spain, usually a merrily hued locale, is presented like a drab legionnaire’s encampment. [Cavin]

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Votes are in. Congress has now approved legislation that might lead to a nearly seven-hundred mile fence along particularly porous and undermanned portions of the US border with México. This comes as a blow to President Vicente Fox who has struggled throughout his presidency to soften immigration laws between these two countries.* Not that this is a worse case scenario. Immigration is the current domestic cause celebré among certain Americans, and we've seen schemes bandied about that would make undocumented status in the US a felony, or give police the right to arrest foreign nationals suspected of being undocumented. One crank lawman even suggested concentration camps for nationals with illegal status. This has sparked vitriolic jingoistic debate, quasi-militant citizen borderlands-guarding, billion-dollar deals for surveillance and enforcement equipment, and the old "English is the national language" ratification that attempts to make it impossible to sing the US anthem in Spanish. In the long run, the seven hundred miles of nationalistic isolationism we are extending to our southern neighbors is by far the lesser of many evils. And the Canadian border? Well, we don't even know exactly where that is.* Border areas between the US and Canada are so badly tended that it will take Boeing millions of dollars in chainsaws and weed whackers to dig it out. Score one for Oaxacan protestors: the two-day thousand-businesses shutdown of the capital ended halfway through Friday when business reopened either a) because that little bit of money is better than nothing at all, or b) protestors called the proper numbers and threatened to burn shops that were closed. In Mexico City, the secretary of the interior today called for a halt to this "kidnapping" of central Oaxaca, and even suggested that there might be support for a referendum on Governor Ruiz.* Interesting. [Cavin]