Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre:
- Sat 11 at 7.00: The Ghost Ship (1943) / I Walked With A Zombie (1943)
- Sat 11 at 10.15: The Brood (1979)
- Sun 12 at 2.00: Freaks (1932) (presented Art Spiegelman!)
- Wed 15 at 8.00: The Unknown (1927)
It’s all-horror October at the Silent Movie Theatre, and why not? You may recall from last week that I rather like Val Lewton, and so I am pleased to see a couple more of his pictures popping up. He ran the RKO horror unit for ten years in the forties (before an early death) and produced a highly effective string of imaginative low-budget pictures, most successfully with director Jacques Tourneur.
He also worked with Mark Robson an several that were not quite so good, but only by comparison: The Ghost Ship is still a highly atmospheric chiller with a poetic tone somewhere between Moby Dick and The Ancient Mariner and an eerie deaf-mute sailor hovering throughout (also, look out for the magnificent Laurence Tierney as a random seaman!). I Walked With A Zombie is one of the greatest collaborations with Jacques Tourneur, however, and once again they pull off Tourneur’s specialty of making something incredible (demons, cat people, zombies..) all too unsettlingly believable. A plantation owner’s wife in the West Indies is under a voodoo curse and it looks as though only a horrifying recourse to voodoo on the part of her nurse is the only possiblity of a cure. Voodoo is treated with anthropological seriousness, and the detail and feeling for the subject give the film an unexpected richness. Plus the camerawork is fantastic, all shadows and shapes, there’s lots of good Haitian drums, and the actual scenes of walking with a zombie, through endless moonlit fields of sugar cane, are electrifying.
A substrand of this month’s programming is the evil children screenings, which is a small but rewarding genre. The Brood is David Cronenberg’s insane nightmare of motherhood, boosted by Oliver Reed on creepily charismatic form as a loony doctor and some grody effects. As usual, Cronenberg’s lurid material carries some harsh but valid insights into our relationship with the body, but Roger Ebert sums it up best: “Samantha Eggar eats her own afterbirth while midget clones beat grandparents and lovely young schoolteachers to death with mallets.”
If your curiosity was piqued by this hymn to Tod Browning’s Freaks a couple of weeks ago, then here’s a rare chance to catch it on the big screen. See real carnival freaks in a sour backstage melodrama that’s equal parts touching, fascinating and horrifying and quite unlike any other movie. It is being presented by Art Spiegelman (you may remember him from such holocaust comic books as Maus and illustrations for the reprinted and awesome The Wild Party by Joseph Moncure March); he’ll be burbling afterwards, then taking everyone down the road to a book signing of his latest opus (which looks rather good, actually).
And finally, the pinnacle of the Lon Chaney season: The Unknown. It’s another circus picture from ex-carny Browning, this time with Chaney as Alonso the Armless, doing a knife-throwing act with his feet, attended by a dwarf familiar and helplessly in love with bareback rider Joan Crawford (still young and still very pretty). He’s actually in hiding from the police, and it turns out he has arms after all. Problem is, she has an overwhelming neurosis about being touched by men. Can you guess what he he’s going to ask of the shady doctor? Alonso looks a bit of a mug when she decides after all that she can put up with the muscular arms of the Malabar the Mighty, the resident strongman; the terrific denouement sees his act with two wild horses going horribly wrong. Macabre and marvelous.
- Wed 15 at 7.30: Night Of The Demon (1957)
And another great Jacques Tourneur film, although this time made in London for a couple of fly-by-night producers who spoiled the point of the movie by adding footage of said demon the start of the film (and releasing it as Curse of the Demon). In its intended form (Night of..) Tourneur completely sweeps the audience along with his hero Dana Andrews, arrived in England for a symposium to debunk black magic and one of its most notorious practitioners; the deep chills are in Andrews break-up from resolute disbelief, to uneasy suspicion, to terrified uncertainty, culminating in a terrifically suspenseful scene on a train with a talismanic slip of paper which will spell death-by-demon for the bearer at midnight. Andrews is always fine as a bit of an earnest dullard, and it’s fun to see him given a fright; Niall MacGinnis is outrageous as the devil-worshipping doctor with a terrific country seat; but best of all is gorgeous sexy Peggy Cummins as the love interest, who should have been in far more films.
- Wed 15 at 9.25: Faust (1926)
Captivating pictorialism from one of the greatest film-makers period, F.W. Murnau, who more or less perfected silent cinema before dying in a car wreck on PCH (according to Kenneth Anger, whilst sucking off his 14 year old valet!). In his last film before leaving Germany he weaves an intoxicating spell of light and shadow, art direction and camera movement, around what the film’s subtitle describes as “A German folk tale” (following Lang’s successful Nibelungen). Not as resonant as his more human dramas (nor as sleek and startling as Nosferatu) but an astounding piece of visual cinema. The German film industry of the twenties sparkled not least for its fantastically imaginative special effects boffins, but where Lang employed them in the cause of action, Murnau uses them for poetry.