Saturday, January 26, 2008

My Alibi: I Was Revisiting CLOVERFIELD

I went back to see CLOVERFIELD again this afternoon with a couple of friends. We got to talking about how long it had been since the last time we'd been to a monster movie matinee, and I traced my last back to the early 1970s, when I saw things like DRACULA A.D. 1972 and THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA at Cincinnati's RKO Albee Theater. After this second viewing, I'm still very impressed by the film's sense of vision, its technical achievements, and its commercial assimilation of the best ideas in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but this time I noticed Jason Cerbone (THE SOPRANOS) and Chris Mulkey (TWIN PEAKS) appear fleetingly onscreen; recognizing them, as they flashed by, served to mitigate some of the documentary-like tension and realism of the piece for me. All the other faces in the film were new to me, which is something I feel was as important to the film's particular impact as any of its deliberate contrivances. I still believe that CLOVERFIELD marks a whole new ballgame for the giant monster movie, but only time will tell if it's also the death knell for what monster movies used to be. I also feel that its brevity (72 minutes, minus the end titles), its urgency and confusion, and its almost complete lack of any sense of loss (those lead characters who perish do so offscreen) ultimately deprive it of the gravitas and sorrow that a true counterbalance to GOJIRA should have. This faux-realist "found footage" approach is pretty darned captivating, but when push comes to shove, drama still does it best.

Consequently, my second viewing of CLOVERFIELD felt less like the apocalyptic arrival I described in my previous column and more like a bracingly tense, disconcerting, out-of-control entertainment -- which, of course, is all it really needs to be. The end credits music, which is definitely worth staying seated for, may be partly responsible: it's a wonderful amalgam of Max Steiner- and Akira Ifukube-like themes that bring all our classic giant monster memories back home to roost, including everything from the Mothra twins to the Giant Claw. Delightful as it is, these associations help to dissipate the grim mood the film has worked so hard to achieve. Mind you, most people will want that before they step back out into the mall. Me, I'm different.

On another note: a free sampling of contents from the current February 2008 issue of SIGHT & SOUND is now posted at their website, including my review of Roland West's early talkie ALIBI (Kino on Video).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"Run! Run! Run! Run!"

Seeing CLOVERFIELD has put me in an unusual position: I'm a little wary of saying anything about it. That's partly because I felt such unabashed enthusiasm and emotion for it -- it made me feel a monster movie again the way I felt them as a very young child (something uncommon in my adult experience, to say the least) -- and partly because I know the party stuff at the beginning is going to seem twice as long the next time I see it.

I know it has its faults, but they're fairly minor when one considers how well it reflects its time and America's post-9/11 mind-set of confusion and powerlessness. Time may well prove it to be, as Steve Bissette has already pronounced on his MYRANT blog, the American counterbalance to Japan's trauma-purging GOJIRA. The way the Japanese characters of GOJIRA regard its monster with almost reverent awe, and the noble ways in which they accept death, respect their dead, and band together for reconstruction, are not found in CLOVERFIELD, which is more of a disorienting whirl of action and chaos and military might, in which the characters -- already technologically distanced from reality -- haven't the social or spiritual reservoirs to cope with such a catastrophe.

I can't think of anything that the film borrows that it doesn't improve upon: the "found footage" origins and harrowing dropped camera realism of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, the grainy camcorded textures of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, every storytelling trick that Brian DePalma has called into service between SNAKE EYES and REDACTED. And it succeeds at reinventing the giant monster movie in ways that the American GODZILLA didn't (with the same tools at its disposal -- it's the movie that used the dropped camcorder view of the monster's attack as a throwaway shot!), as well as incorporating 9/11 imagery in more visceral ways than Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS or indeed the pre-9/11 INDEPENDENCE DAY. It's like the great idea that all of these movies had but failed to fully grasp, so archetypally perfect that one can easily imagine all the parodies to come. All the more reason to see it now, before its impact can be diminished.

In my heart of hearts, I have a creeping suspicion that CLOVERFIELD may be the most important horror movie (or horrifying movie) I've seen in a long time, maybe since THE EXORCIST or TAXI DRIVER or CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, because it gave me the same apocalyptic feeling those films did when I first saw them -- a sense that movies, as I knew them, would never be the same again.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Resting Place for Vampira

I get a lot of e-mail from publicists and other people with various causes they would like this blog to promote and, generally, I turn a blind eye to all of them. But I feel that Gabrielle Geiselman's attempt to raise a memorial fund for her late friend (and ours) Maila "Vampira" Nurmi is such a worthy one, I've swiped it from the Classic Horror Film Boards to repost here. Click to enlarge and read the details, and please contribute whatever you can -- if her work or example has inspired you in any way.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Rondo VI: VW & Co. Receive 9 Nominations!

The final ballot for the Sixth Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards has been posted, and I'm proud to announce that VIDEO WATCHDOG and its contributors have received a total of nine (9) nominations this year. In the order in which they appear on the ballot, our nominations are:

-- MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUMES 1 and 2 (Anchor Bay Entertainment), five new commentaries by Tim Lucas
(Furthermore, ABE's MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUMES 1 and 2 have been nominated for Best Classic DVD Collection.)


-- VIDEO WATCHDOG, published by Tim & Donna Lucas

BEST MAGAZINE ARTICLE OF 2007 (Voters may pick two)
-- 'Edgar Wallace: Your Pocket Guide to the Rialto Krimi Series,' by Kim Newman, VIDEO WATCHDOG #134. A film-by-film, 30-page look at the German crime mysteries (krimi), from 1959-71.

-- 'In Remembrance of Freddie Francis,' by Ted Newsom, VIDEO WATCHDOG #130. A eulogy for the Hammer director.

-- 'THESE ARE THE DAMNED: The Restored Director's Cut Examined,' by Tim Lucas, VIDEO WATCHDOG #133. 'Old school' VW approach dissects ever excised scene, shows what was restored and makes a new case for this once-butchered film.

-- 'THE WILD WILD WEST: Second Season,' by David J. Schow, VIDEO WATCHDOG #132. Karloff and Victor Buono are among the guest stars in this episode by episode recap.

-- VIDEO WATCHDOG #134, cover (pictured) by Charlie Largent

-- Video WatchBlog by Tim Lucas (you're reading it!)

There are also four special "write-in" categories for WRITER OF THE YEAR, ARTIST OF THE YEAR, MONSTER KID OF THE YEAR, and THE MONSTER KID HALL OF FAME.

You can access the ballot and instructions for the very simple voting procedure by going to the Rondo page here. There are 27 categories in all and it's a fun, tighter, more comprehensive ballot this year. While it's not necessary to vote in every category, it is advisable to check the Rondo RULES page before casting your ballot to ensure that your selections are properly counted. If our work has pleased you this past year, we ask that you remember us with your vote. But the important thing is to participate, and to vote for those nominees whose work you feel is most deserving of recognition.

Donna joins me in sending our heartiest congratulations to VW contributors Kim Newman, Ted Newsom and David J. Schow for their Best Article nominations, and to charmin' Charlie Largent for his Best Cover nomination!