Blood and Black Lace (1964, Directed by Mario Bava) English 5

Starring Eva Bartok, Cameron Mitchell, Thomas Reiner, Mary Arden, Lea Lander, Arianna Gorini, Dante DiPaolo

Image result for blood and black lace 1964

(5-Okay Film)

Gruesome. Skilled. Disjointed.

A killer in a blank mask. A damsel in distress. I’ve seen enough of these films to know that no one is coming to save her. She’ll die. Much of the director, Mario Bava’s, skill lies in how creatively and artfully he kills off his cast (primarily women from what I’ve seen). By the way, that wasn’t just one scene from Blood and Black Lace that I was describing. That’s about six or seven consecutive scenes. That’s the whole movie, and it would become so influential that it spawned dozens of like-minded pictures to the point that these films became their own sub-genre (specific to Italian cinema) known as Giallo films.

  I’ve seen about a dozen now of varying quality and there are certain details that you find in most, if not all of them. Large cast of female characters. This one isn’t true of all Giallo films but it’s true of some of the best I’ve seen (Suspiria, What Have You Done to Solange, Phenomena). You find this a lot in American horror films as well and I don’t think it’s a matter of pure misogyny. I’ve always defended horror films on this matter. I think a woman (or a child) in peril is simply more terrifying than a grown man, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. The gratuitous nudity in American horror films is a different matter but I haven’t noticed any of that in the Giallo pictures I’ve seen, although the women characters are always gorgeous, regardless of the setting. Another common characteristic is the whodunnit, killer in a mask aspect of all these movies. It’s a gruesome shift from the friendly, witty whodunnit pictures of classic Hollywood that were entertaining but devoid of any malice or horror. Also, Giallo films all emphasize color. Lush, over-saturated color. Even the ones from the ’60s when most films were still using black and white. They all seem to have the same strengths and weaknesses too. Though they may differ in overall quality, all of these films eschew witty dialogue, character development, plot logic, and believable acting in favor of fluid camera movement, mise en scène, set pieces, lighting, and gore. Mario Bava and Dario Argento are masters of the latter crafts. 

Blood and Black Lace features an ensemble cast of beautiful women and creepy looking men all working at a fashion house in…Italy, I suppose. The top-billed character, played by Eva Bartok, is named Countess Christina Como, but then the rest of the characters are Nicole, Peggy, and Greta so I don’t know. I’ll have to pay more attention to the location next time. In any case, one of the girls is killed, and everyone working there is a suspect. Everyone working there is in danger for that matter. You can’t have a slasher film (which Giallo films ushered in) and have only one victim. The majority of Blood and Black Lace is extended scenes of random female characters (all the characters feel random with the complete disregard for development) being killed off. If there’s a plot, it wasn’t understood by me, and the final act, rather than upping the ante, simmers down to a dull rather unsatisfying conclusion. The dialogue and acting are unsurprisingly asinine, and the previously mentioned, generously deemed ensemble acting is actually just an exercise in episodic horror that amounts to an awfully disjointed whole. What stands out and what’s positive about Blood and Black Lace is the visual elements. The killer’s mask, the elegant camera movement, the command of space. Bava is great and he’s done better than this film. What I appreciate most about Blood and Black Lace is the obvious influence it had on much better pictures. As an early example of the Giallo film, it seemed to spark something deeply appealing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Crossroads (2002, Directed by Tamra Davis) English 3

Starring Britney Spears, Zoe Saldana, Taryn Manning, Dan Aykroyd, Kim Cattrall, Anson Mount, Justin Long

(3-Horrible Film)

Awkward. Clichéd. Poor.

Three teenage girls and a brooding older guy take a soul searching road trip across the deep south. Meant to be a dramatic vehicle for pop star Britney Spears, the film is just way too much. There are plenty of clichés, but worse still, they’re lifetime channel clichés; date-rape, cheating boyfriends, pregnant teens, distant mothers, a girl’s first time. It alternates between laughable and hard to watch. That being said, the film is much better than fellow pop star, Mariah Carey’s debut Glitter (2001), and that does count for something.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Pensées #10: Christmas Challenge (2019)

I love Christmas and I love Christmas movies. Though there are only a handful of Christmas films that I consider great, binge-watching more than my share of Holiday flicks is my favorite way to anticipate December 25th. Last year, I attempted to watch 25 Christmas movies from the beginning of November to Christmas Day, and, despite a late push, I fell short by 4 films, eagerly awaiting this new holiday season in order to try again. Same mission: 55 days to watch 25 Christmas movies. This time, I am confident I will succeed. Like last year, I hope to have a good mix of classics like Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, etc. with a host of new movies that I haven’t seen yet. Films like Holiday Affair, Joyeux Noel, and We’re No Angels are on the top of my yet-to-see list.  Netflix has really found a niche in lightweight holiday entertainment and a fair percentage of the movies I watched for the first time last year were on their streaming service. That will likely be the case this year as well. I got a quick start this year, watching both The Nightmare Before Christmas and Netflix’s latest Holiday in the Wild yesterday. That’s 2 down, 23 to go.

#1: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Image result for the nightmare before christmas1993, Directed by Henry Selick

(9-Great Film)

I opened with this film last year. Availability is partly the reason but it’s also obviously appropriate for both Halloween and Christmas. For people like me who like to start Christmas season entirely too early, the Nightmare Before Christmas is perfect for transitioning. It’s also just a wonderful movie. Technically stunning, if you’ve watched it enough times, you might find it interesting to really absorb the visuals frame by frame to consider what exactly the filmmakers had to do to achieve just that one shot. Then consider the seamless movement of the figures. Then the indelible soundtrack. Finally, the story. Jack Skeleton (voiced by Danny Elfman when singing and Chris Sarandon otherwise) reigns over Halloweentown, suffocated by his peers’ admiration and respect. He’s bored with his position in life. Having something close to a midlife crisis, he discovers a world outside Halloweentown which includes Christmastown, leaving Jack instantly smitten. Jack decides he wants to try his hand at being Santa which results in Christmas turmoil before he realizes to appreciate who he is and to be himself.

#2: Holiday in the Wild

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2019, Directed by Ernie Barbarash

(5-Okay Film)

This lowkey romantic drama stars Kristin Davis as Kate Conrad, devoted mother, and socialite wife to a successful businessman, Drew, who asks for a divorce not long after their son departs for college. Left reeling, Kate travels to Zambia where she meets the handsome Derek (Lowe), a local pilot, and the two fall for each other over the course of her extended holiday as she, a former veterinarian, connects with the wildlife, specifically an elephant she helps rescue. I would say the film is way more passionate about animals and wildlife than it is about Christmas. That’s not a criticism. It’s simply that Holiday in the Wild didn’t make much of an impression on me as a Christmas film. It’s a perfectly pleasant but unspectacular hour-an-a-half. About what you would expect. I did like how low maintenance it was, eschewing the trumped-up drama of most films of its ilk.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

The Glass Key (1942, Directed by Stuart Heisler) English 7

Starring Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Brian Donlevy, Joseph Calleia, William Bendix, Bonita Granville

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(7-Very Good Film)

Gripping. Enticing. Cool.

Early adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel featuring Donlevy as Paul Madvig, a big-time crook and political organizer, and Alan Ladd as his right-hand man and best friend, Beaumont. Their small empire runs into trouble when Paul alienates another powerful crook, Nick Varna, at the same time falling in love with a politician’s daughter named Janet (Veronica Lake), who happens to be the sister of a man he’s thought to have killed. It’s up to Beaumont to clean up the mess, and untangle the mystery, as he fights off the growing attraction between himself and his best friend’s girlfriend. Slick noir, with excellent supporting turns from Joseph Calleia and William Bendix. Ladd and Lake are justifiably a classic screen couple. Their smoldering makes the all too neat ending not only passable but completely satisfying.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Happy Death Day (2017, Directed by Christopher B. Landon) English 6

Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Phil Vu, Charles Aitken, Rachel Matthews

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(6-Good Film)

Silly. Entertaining. Derivative.

By its own implied admission, Happy Death Day borrows/steals heavily from the Bill Murray classic, Groundhog Day. That’s not a problem though since the premise (an unexplained time loop that causes its selfish protagonist to repeat the same day) is so good, it could go in a dozen possible directions. Here, reworked for the horror genre, a college sorority girl named Tree is stuck on Monday, September 18th, which happens to be her birthday. Repeating your birthday wouldn’t seem so bad, if not for the brutal serial killer murdering her at the end of every loop. I enjoy a good slasher-whodunit, and Happy Death Day delivers on that count, although it’s more funny than scary. Suffers from downright silliness at times, but is engaging enough to be passable entertainment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Vikings (1958, Directed by Richard Fleischer) English 8

Starring Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Janet Leigh, Ernest Borgnine, Frank Thring, James Donald, Alexander Knox, Orson Welles (narrator)

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Spectacular. Exciting. Engrossing.

The Vikings seems influenced more by comic strips and pulp novels than actual history but that’s certainly not a complaint; not from me. Set around the 9th century, a group of plundering Vikings, led by Ragnar (Borgnine), and his handsome but vain son, Einar (Douglas), prepare to invade England. Tony Curtis plays Eric, a slave with a mysterious but powerful origin, and Janet Leigh plays English princess, Morgana, the object of the male leads’ desire. Beautifully, vibrantly photographed by Jack Cardiff, The Vikings is a spirited adventure film with many surprises and a corny but appealing romance. Douglas and Borgnine relish their scene-chewing roles, while Curtis and Leigh ground the picture and have great chemistry.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Fire and Ice (1983, Directed by Ralph Bakshi) English 7

Voices of Susan Tyrell, Maggie Roswell, William Ostrander

(7-Very Good Film)

Entertaining. Vivid. Cool.

Adult animated fantasy in the vein of a lot of other great cheesy ’80s epics like Conan the Barbarian (1982), Excalibur (1981), and The Beastmaster (1982). The story is barebones. Two kingdoms-one of fire and one of ice-duke it out for supremacy; fire kingdom is content to live in harmony but ice wants everything. A stray warrior, a princess from the fire kingdom, and a mysterious man known as Darkwolf battle to stop the evil ice lord from taking over the land. This film has some truly spectacular animated sequences and action scenes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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