Archive for Joe Dante

It’s Getting Eerie Around Here

Posted in Sites of Interest with tags , , , , , , on April 12, 2011 by Andrew T. Smith

Sorry for the lack of any new posts recently, I promise to clear out those cobwebs and oil that creaking door soon. The truth is I’ve been cheating on you with Tachyon TV. My latest offering for that illustrious site, a tribute to the fantastic and unduly neglected Eerie Indiana, can be found here.

Kevin McCarthy RIP

Posted in Sites of Interest with tags , , , , , , , on September 20, 2010 by Andrew T. Smith

A few days ago the film industry lost a fine actor, the SF and Horror community lost a fine ambassador, and by all accounts the world lost a fine gentlemen. Kevin McCarthy, star of the iconic Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, the classic Twilight Zone episode ‘Long Live Walter Jameson’ and Joe Dante’s Piranha amongst many other things, passed away at the impressive age of 96.

Thanks to the chaps at Trailers From Hell I was able to ask Dante about his relationship with McCarthy. My thanks go out to Joe for a well-considered and affectionate response.

The Great Unwatched #5: Invasion of the Bodysnatchers

Posted in The Great Unwatched with tags , , , , , , , on July 7, 2010 by Andrew T. Smith

Warning: If you pay enough attention, this trailer features spoilers, as does my review below.

Although it didn’t perform particularly well upon its initial release, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1956) is one of those films that has seeped into the public consciousness through television repeats, remakes and parodies. Indeed, when I finally got around to watch it I pretty much knew what to expect. This might explain why I was a little dissapointed by this, one of the most highly acclaimed science-fiction films ever made.

Returning to his hometown after a trip away, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is confronted by a number of patients convinced that their relatives are somehow not the people they seem. At first this  is attributed to some sort of mass hysteria but when a good friend of the Doctors stumbles across his own sinister duplicate the race is on escape the town and let the world know that the earth is facing an invasion of pod people.

There are aspects of this film I liked a lot, the cast in particular are universally excellent and director Don Siegel turns in some really creepy moments and suspensful chases. In fact the film as it originally stood under his vision is an effective Twilight Zone-ish parrable of cold-war paranoia. What is really unfortunate though, is that the film was tampered with by nervous studio executives. Originally the film ended with McCarthy, the last of the townspeople not to be replaced by a duplicate, frantically running between traffic on a freeway trying desperatley to alert somebody, anybody, of the threat posed and for all intents and purposes looking like he has lost his mind.  Wary that such a pessemistic ending would isolate audience members , executives at Allied Artists tacked on a prologue and epilogue that framed the film as a flashback told by Miles to his psychiatrists in a mental institution. What this served to do however, was to undercut a lot of the film’s suspence. Why should we worry about our main character when we know from the outset that he escapes the clutches of the villains? Even worse, the film’s epilogue sees the FBI being alerted to the danger of the pod people and the plans for the domination of earth presumably being thwarted.

As it stands in its theatrically released form Invasion of the Bodysnatchers is a good film; had it been left untampered I speculate it would have been near-great.

For more information of the film you could do no better than making a trip over to the ever intreaging Trailers From Hell where Joe Dante offers his thoughts on the film.

Anything Can Happen And It Probably Will…

Posted in Marx Brothers, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2010 by Andrew T. Smith

Having just returned from a successful screening of this film to an appreciative audience, the time seems right to expound a little upon one of my favourite film comedies, Hellzapoppin’. This obscure title certainly deserves to be better known and here is my own attempt to make this happen.

Hellzapoppin’ tells the story – well, sort of tells the story – of a Hollywood producer trying to film a movie about Hellzapoppin‘. Does that make sense? Good. Despite his best efforts at describing a potential storyline the film is constantly hijacked by Olsen and Johnson, a master of disguise private detective and even the projectionist at the back of the very cinema in which you sit watching the film. Basically, a thin romantic subplot is used an excuse for eighty minutes on non stop puns, innovative visual gags and metatextual anarchy. No matter how many ways I think up to describe the film nothing seems to do it justice. It’s that weird. The best I can come up with is the description, “Wathching Hellzapoppin’ is like watching the Marx Brothers on speed.”

Based on a hit Broadway play, Hellzapoppin’ is the type of film to throw a lot of elements into a bucket, stir them with a big stick, and then pour the mixture into your eyeballs. Verbal gags, slapstick comedy, romance, musical numbers, fourth wall breaking, dance sequences and special effects are all incorporated and the result is one of the weirdest films ever to be produced during the ‘golden age’ of the Hollywood studio system.

Thanks to the rights to the Broadway play complicating any plans to re-release the film in America, Hellzapoppin’ has been quite difficult to see until fairly recently when it was released on Region 2 DVD. Yet, despite being so difficult to see for so long, it isn’t hard to see the influence it has exerted over certain strains of  American film comedy that were to follow. In particular, parallels can be drawn between this and the work of Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs) or early efforts from the Zucker Brothers (Airplane!, Kentucky Fried Movie). Joe Dante, the director of Hollywood Boulevard, Gremlins, Gremlins 2, Matinée and Small Soldiers amongst other films, freely admits that he steals from Hellzapoppin’ in order to lace his own films with gags; his perfectly justified reasoning being if nobody has seen it, why let a good gag go to waste!

Olsen and Johnson, however, are an odd team. Their role in Hellzapoppin’ is to literally draw the viewer in to this crazy world, the humour of which relies very little upon the interaction between the two. They’re likeable, not loveable, and have no particularly distinguishing characteristics that stick in the mind. In my experience the team’s other films, while on the whole enjoyable, really strongly on strong writers to gain laughs. In fact only one of their movies, Crazy House, is generally thought of as coming anywhere near the standard set by Hellzapoppin’. Still, they must have had something, and I in know way intend to knock their performances, which are first rate. Clearly too they were capable of writing great material for themselves, as they are credited as having written the original broadway book for the Hellzapoppin’. Perhaps studios insisted on outside writers.

But I digress, simply put, more people should see this film. And now that it’s out on DVD there is no excuse. Watch it. Love it. Spread the word! I’m working on my own secret project to help raise the profile of the film in some small way.

Further Reading

Shooting Down Pictures

Eight Legged Freaks: Hiding Under the Toilet Seat of Film Appreciation

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2009 by Andrew T. Smith

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Eight Legged Freaks one of those films I have been meaning to get around to for a long time. I remember seeing the trailer for the film at the start of an unrelated VHS back in the days when I still regularly bothered with tape. The image that really stuck in my mind then was of a giant spider raising itself up and extending hairy arms behind an old man sitting in a lazy-boy style arm chair who is completely unaware of the danger he is in. At once it seemed scary and funny.

Having finally gotten around to seeing the film I can tell you that the full feature carries on much in this silly yet scary vein and is quite satisfying as a result.  Nuclear waste, random killings, doomed pets, a wicked sense of humour and giant spiders of all shapes and sizes abound. From the offset the film’s influences are obvious, Them!, Tarantula, The Incredible Shrinking Man and even The Birds are referenced visually and in the storytelling via character archetypes like the take charge sheriff, the corrupt official and the hormonal teen. The film isn’t simply a modern copy of these popular monster movies though; the characters feel refreshingly different and our expectations are exceeded on several occasions. Take for example the aforementioned horny teenagers. At one point the sheriff’s daughter tells her would be lover that things are moving too fast and enough is enough. When he takes no heed and continues to try and claim his prize she shocks him with a tazer gun sending him fleeing from the car causing him to pee his pants. Often this might be enough of a comeuppance for a threatening paper thin character but in Eight Legged Freaks writer-director Ellory Elkayem consistently refuses to allow his characters to remain one dimensional. Instead we launch from this scene immediately into a chase scene involving this same young man and through some solid suspense film making we find ourselves caring for his fate and cheering him on to escape the clutches of some deadly hopping spiders! 

Films of the 1950s and 60s are not the only point of  reference for Eight Legged Freaks. I was surprised and pleased to note the influence of the work of director Joe Dante – one of my favorite filmmakers – and not only through featuring creepy crawlies run amok ala Gremlins.  It may be unconscious on Elkayem’s part but the character of Mike Parker – the sheriff’s son and child prodigy – seems particularly Dante-esque recalling similar children in Gremlins, Explorers and Small Soldiers. It seems a shame that the above trailer, however effective it was on me, seems to target an adult cult horror audience and doesn’t take into account that Eight Legged Freaks could easily have appealed to youngsters on the cusp of adolescence and perhaps it would have performed better at the box office as a result

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The only disappointing aspect of the film I found was a lack of subtext. It is a roller-coaster ride with some good laughs along the way but I was left wondering what it was about.  There are slight hints towards government secrecy, a relevant theme considering Freaks was released during the first term of the W. Bush presidency, but little is made of it. In Dante’s case the films were almost always political in some way; Small Soldiers for example takes shots at the cynical nature of the modern toy industry and the self importance of the US military and doesn’t let the fact it is a blockbuster flick about murderous robots stop the filmmakers making a point. I would have liked a little more of this subversive undercurrent to Eight Legged Freaks.

When all is said and done  Eight Legged Freaks is that it is fun and I don’t know how it took me so long to get around to. More like this please Hollywood.

Robert Prosky 1930-2008

Posted in Ramblings with tags , , , , , , on December 10, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith

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Another day, another sad loss. Robert Prosky wasn’t particularly well know actor but he was one of those fine character players who turned up in countless films.

As a kid I adored Grandpa Fred, the character Prosky played in the film Gremlins 2. It wasn’t a showy performance. He could have hammed it up a little given the zany nature of the picture but instead he delivers a sympathetic and believable turn. I think in some ways he contributed to my interest in the ins and outs of television production; if a washed up horror host and a fish-out-of-water Japanese tourist could put on a show under these conditions then why couldn’t I? 

For another great performance check out his turn in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street or take a look at the man’s IMDB resume.

RIP

NOTE: Thanks to Allen for the heads up on this sad announcement. 

Away For A Bit

Posted in Sites of Interest with tags , , , , , on August 28, 2008 by Andrew T. Smith

I’m off to Amsterdam for the weekend. To celebrate my absence please enjoy this trailer for Confessions of an Opium Eater starring the sublime Vincent Price courtesy of the equally wonderful Trailers From Hell website. What’s more you can choose to watch the trailer with or without a commentary from the fabulous Joe Dante!

CLICKY HERE!