Anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, who self-identifies as “the Margaret Mead of the weapons labs” has written a thorough debunking of the myth that the disk-misplacing “cowboys and buttheads” (i.e., scientists) at Los Alamos National Labs live in a rarified “culture of arrogance.” (Either that, or he’s their sock puppet, as some have suggested.) What’s interesting is that he mostly blames the ham-fisted interference of the Bush administration. If you remember the series of embarrassing security-breach headlines that started with Wen Ho Lee and ended with a takeover of the lab’s management by a for-profit consortium, Gusterson’s brief three-act revisionist history is totally worth reading. (A tip of the hat to Slashdot for blogging this story in the first place.)
Cast: Anton Diffring, Erika Remberg, Yvonne Monlaur, Donald Pleasence, Jane Hylton, Kenneth Griffith, Conrad Phillips, Jack Gwillim, Vanda Hudson, Colette Wilde, William Mervyn
Are you an insane plastic surgeon on the run for pursuing your unethical experiments? Have you directed your own facial reconstructive surgery in a mirror using only a local anesthesic? Do you enjoy dallying with the lovely ladies whose deformed features your skill has made whole again? Are you willing to cut down anyone in your path who dares defy your iron will? Well, have you ever considered running a circus?
Hawk-faced Anton Diffring (Fahrenheit 451, The Blue Max) excels as the cruel, oddly sympathetic and totally bonkers Dr. Schüler (or is it Rossiter?), mad doctor turned circus master, in this outrageous, non-supernatural, vibrantly technicolor horror film (from the producers of Michael Powell’s notorious Peeping Tom). The ridiculousness of the scenario (Schüler collects scarred criminals—mostly women—heals them and binds them to perpetual service in his circus) is made compelling by its twisted character studies, particularly the doctor’s toady-like accomplices (Kenneth Griffith and Jane Hylton) who seethe with mixed worship and revulsion for their master. Hurried exposition (especially at the beginning) and laughable animal costumery detract only slightly from psychodrama, blood and intrigue. Great actual circus performances and a genuine pop hit (“Look for a Star”) round out the lurid entertainment.
Cast: Clive Revill, Gayle Hunnicutt, Peter Bowles, Roddy McDowall, Roland Culver, Pamela Franklin
For this ludicrous-yet-effective haunted house film, Richard Matheson adapted his own down-and-dirty novel for the screen, somehow managing to create a reasonable PG version from the NC-17 source material. The scenario is very deliberately a sexed-up ’70s remix of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (not Hell House, got it?), itself filmed quite effectively in 1961 as The Haunting.
Some of that nice composition I was talking about.
The setup is archetypal. Four quirky characters investigate a haunted house: The physicist and his wife (Clive Revill and Gayle Hunnicutt), the touchy-feely medium (Pamela Franklin, formerly haunted as a child actress in The Innocents) and the sole survivor of a previous expedition (Roddy McDowall). The cast is great and utters potentially clunky lines about “ectoplasm” and “multiple hauntings” with so much in-character authority that they totally work.
My previous VHS viewing of this film did not include the pleasure of beholding the awesome wide-angle, widescreen frame composition employed throughout (and especially during the opening sequences). Creepy exterior shots of the fogbound house with datestamps presage each supernatural incident, creating both quickie verisimilitude and a rhythm of suspense. The general aura of competency and class—plus Delia Derbyshire/Brian Hodgson’s extra-delicious electronic score—makes Hell House an excellent Halloween A/V treat. (Well, aside from the overwrought ending.) I watched it twice.
Cast: John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Richard Backus, Henderson Forsythe
This low-budget riff on the W.W. Jacobs short story “The Monkey’s Paw” begins where the original ends: Instead of wishing the undead son away, his family invites him in. Sure, he seems a little weird, preferring to sit silently in his room all day and waiting for dark before he emerges with mod sunglasses and white turtleneck to prey upon the living. But that’s how it is when you’ve been dragged back from the grave by a mother’s love.
“Everything's fine, Bob.”
Director Bob Clark (himself now one of the undead) made a handful of notable indie horror films in the ’70s (not to mention an all-star Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper flick) before hitting box office paydirt with Porky’s and A Christmas Story. Much of the credit for Deathdream’s effectiveness must go to screenwriter (and monster-makeup artist) Alan Ormsby for creating a queasy sense of doom, Richard Backus who rocks it as the deadpan, unwillingly-revived son, as well as actors John Marley and Lynn Carlin for convincingly transplanting their troubled-married-couple routine from John Cassavetes’ 1968 film Faces into this weird little horror movie. How long can a family stay together under these conditions? Answer: not long. The downer ending manages to be both sad and horrifying, the lesson of the Monkey’s Paw learned the hard way.
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Andrea Rau, Danielle Ouimet, John Karlen, Fons Rademakers
This truly strange Belgian vampire film (original title Les Lèvres Rouges or The Red Lips) oozes style, dread and languid sensuality, not to mention an unhinged sense of humor. The dreamlike scenario: Newlywed innocents—or maybe not-so-innocents—Stefan (John Karlen, from TV’s then-smash-hit “Dark Shadows”) and Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) decide to linger in an opulent beachside hotel when their train is delayed. Too bad it’s the middle of winter and the only other guests are the glamorous Countess Bathory (Delphine Seyrig, The Day of the Jackal, Last Year at Marienbad) and her sultry personal assistant Ilona. Before you can say “Carmilla” the oh-so-charming Countess infiltrates herself into the lovers’ troubled honeymoon and encourages the emergence of Stefan’s barely-suppressed dark side. (Just what is he hiding about his mother, anyhow?) You know what happens next.
The Countess approaches.
The glorious, desolate backdrop of an off-season resort is almost a character in itself, swallowing up the machinations and psychodramas of the tiny cast of good-looking vampires and victims. Extra points also awarded for smashing ’70s fashions, slick editing, inspired location shooting (done entirely after dark or at dusk), letting the foreign actors dub their own lines, and a sinister-yet-groovy score from French soundtrack composer François de Roubaix. Unlike other lesbian vampire films from the same time period (cough Jess Francocough), Daughters of Darkness is an intelligent, warped pleasure, equal parts art and exploitation film. The HD version on Netflix is terrific, the very definition of eye candy.
Japanese psych rock has a special unhinged urgency, as this clip of a Pikacyu-Makoto show from May 2 ably demonstrates (see the rest of ’em here). For more of this lunacy, visit The Kosmos tonight as Pikacyu (ex-Afrirampo) and Makoto Kawabata (of Acid Mothers Temple) join Mugu Guymen and Albuquerque’s own Tendorizer plus a raft of local noiseniks for one of those rare harmonic convergences you’ll kick yourself for not attending. A little bird sez pre-sale tickets are marked down until 7 p.m. tonight.
As it is, I have to base my observations on that partially-cheesy, partially-compelling, pre-DMCA-notice first episode that I also did not download from anywhere at any time and which, despite its charms, totally failed the crucial can-I-watch-it-with-my-wife litmus test. Sadness. Some thoughts:
1. The snow is not cold at The Wall. Breath is not visible. Wish I hadn’t noticed that, but I just watched Quintet where everyone is really, truly, convincingly cold (as well as really, truly, convincingly stoned out of their gourds).
2. The show, like Martin’s book, throws a lot of characters and cryptic references at you without explaining them. In a fantasy novel, this works. In a 60-minute TV show, it bugs. E.g., casual viewers might not get that Jaime Lannister and the queen are twins (this is dashed off in a single line of exposition and become very important later in the episode) or who the hell the Targaryens are. On the other hand, the only way to solve this problem is to make the show twice as long and I’m not sure I want that either.
3. The dramatic theme song and SimCity-style title visuals: nice. The canned medieval lute music during the feasting scene: aarrrgh!
4. Every scene not pulled directly from the book: aarrrgh!
5. Casting is largely pretty good. Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, Ned Stark, Jorah Mormont: yay; Arya Stark: we’ll see; Jaime Lannister: not crazy enough; Cersei Lannister: not evil enough; Khal Drogo: too much mascara.
6. Pentos = Penthouse. Half-naked women submitting to the lust of barbarians is not necessarily a bad thing, but there is a prurient Heavy Metal-magazine gloss to these scenes that makes them a bit ridiculous and pretty much substantiates critic Ginia Bellfante’s claim that the story is “boy fiction”. Yet if nipples are inherently entertaining (they are), these scenes rock.
7. I guess we’ve decided that every quasi-medieval fantasy world is filled with miscellaneous British accents. OK, I guess I’ll have to accept that.
8. Who the hell keeps all those candles lit in Winterfell? They must have a Captain of the Candles who runs his staff ragged.
“Lord Snow,” Game of Thrones episode 3, airs in New Mexico Sunday, May 1, at 7 p.m. and immediately thereafter throughout the universe on torrent sites that I do not now and will never visit.
Cast: Beau Bridges, Lee Grant, Diana Sands, Pearl Bailey, Walter Brooke, Louis Gossett Jr., Susan Anspach, Robert Klein, Trish Van Devere, Hector Elizondo
Oscar-winning editor Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude) cut his teeth as a director on this exuberant satire set in a pre-gentrification Park Slope, Brooklyn that no longer exists. By turns whimsical, dark, slapstick and surreal, The Landlord is both a hopelessly dated artifact of its times and a total dead-ringer for the kind of relentlessly quirky films guys like Wes Anderson have been passing off as original work. The script by Bill Gunn (writer-director of the cult classic black vampire film Ganja & Hess) drips with juicy irony as mop-topped Beau Bridges buys a slum tenement building as an act of rebellion against his upper-crust family and (wouldn’t ya know it?) finds himself drawn into far more intimate relationships with his tenants than originally planned. Lee Grant is a standout as Beau’s waspy mother (in an Oscar-nominated performance), but this is a true ensemble piece with great character work throughout. Netflix copy is a nice widescreen transfer, but not HD.
To me, the fluttering plastic banners all around town that say “Welcome Balloonist” (singular) conjure up an image of a solitary traveler arriving in his lonely airship. I mean, it just seems like a paucity of hospitality to welcome only one. Imagine the awkward situation of two balloonists showing up at the same time. Which is the welcomed balloonist and which the unwelcome? I suppose “Yankee Go Home” is singular too, so maybe I’ve got this all wrong.
For balloonists, Yankees, and out-of-town visitors of all kinds, our Chowtown Restaurant Guide offers a special hand-selected list of 52 local restaurants from Albuquerque, Santa Fe and parts in-between for your dining consideration. Full contact info, menus, maps and more are available for your iPhone, iPod, Android smart phone or any old web browser. Delicious!
Virtual reality pioneer (and native New Mexican) Jaron Lanier delivers a public lecture at Albuquerque Academy this Thursday, Sep. 30 at 6:30 p.m. The content of the talk—entitled “You Are Not A Gadget: What Happens When We Stop Shaping Technology and Technology Starts Shaping Us?”—seems likely to be drawn from his new book You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, a highly critical look at how the Internet of today “aggregate[s] the expressions of people into dehumanized data.” Expect fiery rhetoric and large-scale ideas, if his recent op-ed in the New York Times is any indication:
“Nothing kills music for me as much as having some algorithm calculate what music I will want to hear. That seems to miss the whole point. Inventing your musical taste is the point, isn’t it? Bringing computers into the middle of that is like paying someone to program a robot to have sex on your behalf so you don’t have to.”
Tell it like it is, brother. The lecture is free and open to the public, but registration is required.