For the first time in several years, I've managed to get poison ivy. I’m really quite allergic to it and I remember getting it numerous times as a kid. When I was maybe 10 or 11, I can remember waking up one morning barely able to open my eyes because they had become so swollen, my face covered in the stuff. Luckily as an adult, I generally stay indoors and away from wooded areas in which the stuff grows. Not so lucky this week. We built a house out in a very rural, wooded area. I’ve been watering the new grass lately and I must have dragged a water hose through the ivy and then gotten it on me. I’ve managed to keep it mostly located on my arms and knees, but it's still miserable. It itches constantly. To keep me from scratching, I’m covering myself - always wearing blue jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt, but as I’ve mentioned before, it is Oklahoma in July and it's hot. Very hot. The heat exasperates the welts so I’m not sure if the long sleeves actually help but it's what I’m doing. To compensate, I’m showering about four times a day.
Anyways, in-between scratching, I watched some movies and started an old TV show. This is what they were.
Cat People (1942)
My movie-loving social media people have been randomly abuzz about this classic horror film from Val Newton the last couple of months. It is about a young Serbian woman who believes she’ll turn into a killer cat when sexually aroused. Naturally, she falls in love with a young man and must keep him from getting too affectionate. Because its budget was tiny it had to use unseen fear and a sense of dread to keep people in their seats. Its use of light, darkness and shadow would influence horror film for decades to come. Paul Schrader loosely remade it in 1982, I suspect he’ll be much more overt in his use of sex and violence. Netflix just sent me a copy so I’ll let you know what I think next week.
Several months ago, I watched (and wrote about) this excellent giallo from Dario Argento. The local arthouse did a late night showing of its 4K restoration last weekend and I just had to go. There isn’t much more to say about it except that the restoration looks and sounds fantastic. It was the sound that really knocked me out. Last time, I watched I had to keep the volume down a bit to keep from waking my daughter up. Hearing Goblin's incredible score at full volume was most excellent.
A Blade in the Dark
If you dive a little deep into Amazon’s streaming options you’ll find all sorts of cool things. After watching Deep Red, I needed another Italian horror fix and found this little slasher from Lamberto Bava. It has one of the most ridiculous weapons in all of giallos and one of the more gruesome deaths.
The weapon is a box cutter. That’s one of this retractable blades you use to cut packing tape to open your packages from Amazon. This particular one was the type that has a long blade perforated into multiple little blades so that when one spot gets dull you can break the top off and get a fresh blade. Those things are awesome if you are, oh I don’t know, cutting boxes, but pretty terrible if your plans are more along the lines of multiple murders. They aren’t designed to stab, would probably break off if you tried. This would be painful but probably not deadly. The film seems to recognize those as the one death this blade actually creates involves a whole lot of minor cuts. But this doesn’t stop Bava from giving us lots of close-ups of the blade slowly retracting out as if this would somehow scare anything other than some taped up cardboard.
Thankfully, that knife is exchanged for a much more realistic, if incredibly long one which proceeds to give us the gruesome death. It involves a knife going into and then slicing out of a hand, face smashing into the corner of the table, and a plastic-bag asphyxiation.
The rest of the movie is pretty standard slasher movie stuff but Bava elevates it with some really nice direction and a very distinctive musical score.
It is impossible to watch this Werner Herzog film about an obsessed artist trying to do the impossible to fulfill his dreams without thinking about Burden of Dreams, the Les Blank documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo. The dramatic film stars Klaus Kinski as an man who dreams of building an opera house in the middle of the Amazonian jungle. In order to get the money, he buys a plot of land filled with rubber trees. The only trouble is the one river that goes to his land is too dangerous to traverse. His idea is to take his boat down a much gentler river then somehow move the ship across a large hill to the other river, past the rapids, and collect the rubber. Herzog, mad genius that he is, basically had the same plan in making the movie. He decided that for authenticity's sake he too had to move a large ship over a hill deep in the Amazonian jungle. Watching Fitzcarraldo, I kept thinking about Herzog and how any other director would have given up making the film. But Herzog seems to thrive on the extreme. This in turn makes Fitzcarraldo a better movie. Both films are remarkable exploration of what men will do in pursuit of their dreams. Both films ultimately show how that pursuit despite all costs can ultimately be futile.
Life on Mars
Several years ago, I started this English series about a modern copper who has an accident that transports him back in time to the 1970s. Maybe. It's possible that his accident has led to serious brain damage and he’s simply fantasizing he’s time travelled. For whatever reason, I only made it about halfway through the first season before stopping and then ultimately losing whatever access I had to the show. This week, I realized it was now streaming on BritBox and having recently purchased a subscription to that service I’m poised to give the show another go.
The series has a lot of fun messing with the ways policing has changed in the last decade. John Simms plays the lead as a by-the-books kind of guy constantly butting heads with the rest of the police force and their antiquated (and often rather brutal) ways. The show is also very mysterious as to whether what he is experiencing is real or hallucinations. I’ve pretty much forgotten everything I watched the first go ‘round so I’m having lots of fun catching back up with it.
M. Night Shyamalan has become something of a joke in the nearly two decades since his breakout debut The Sixth Sense. His films became increasingly silly and his reliance on twist endings became a bore. I was actually never a big fan of The Sixth Sense but I rather loved Unbreakable. It was such a unique take on the superhero story. I've often wished they’d make a sequel. I guess they finally did. The trailer looks interesting. I’m not entirely sold especially since apparently characters from Split (which I haven’t seen) play an internal part and I’m not at all convinced Shyamalan can make another good movie, but I’m hopeful. It should at least be a nice change from the constant deluge of Marvel and DC films.