Tuesday, June 02, 2009

TO DRIVE-IN HELL AND BACK!


UPDATED! 6/2/09 2:54 p.m.


It is my happy duty to report that the first SLIFR Night at the Drive-in, which took place this past Saturday night at the Mission Tiki Drive-in, was, in my humble estimation, a rousing success. Much of that success had to do with the feature entertainment being as perfect for a gathering under the outdoor big screen as was Grindhouse over two years ago—more about Drag Me to Hell in a moment. But I think it had a whole lot more to do with being part of a genial and enthusiastic crowd of people, some friends, some virtual friends and readers of this blog whom I had never occasion to meet before, and many folks who responded to the open invite just because it sounded like it might be fun. And because of each and every one that came out to celebrate the drive-in with us Saturday, that’s exactly what it was.


Members of the Phantom Coaches Hearse Club get a good spot on the lot.

I arrived around 5:45, after discovering an annoying glitch in the directions I had provided to everyone that instructed drivers to turn down not the proper road to approach the theater from the back, but instead down a scary, dead-end alley from where there would seem to be, once you got down there, no safe or sure return. (Drag me to hell, indeed.) Fortunately, the folks who made the journey to Montclair that night were, to a driver, far smart enough to make the adjustment and figure out for themselves what I couldn’t manage to convey. By 6:00 I was setting up tables and chairs next to the evening’s very first arriving guest, the current president of the Phantom Coaches Hearse Club, Kerri and her husband (whose name I cannot recall, to my ultimate discredit), who parked next to my van and, as dusk approached, brought out their vintage Coleman oil-pump lantern (the kind that hisses as the fuel glides through its intricate machinery), which added immensely to the nighttime ambiance already brought to the darkening lot by their awesomely restored Caddy coffin wagon.


Paul Reilly anticipates the general reaction to the evening's second feature. In the ever-resonating words of Marty Feldman, coulda been worse-- coulda been rainin'!

The next guest to arrive was Anne Thompson, who has fast become one of the favorite people I’ve met in the world of film blogging and criticism. She is extremely warm and friendly, as well as an engaging conversationalist, and the two times I’ve met her she has been so welcoming to me that it was a real honor to be able to welcome her in a similar fashion. Anne made it a family affair by attending our little soiree with her daughter Nora and husband David Chute, whose writing I have respected for many years in Film Comment, the Village Voice and countless other publications (many of which also provided my introduction to Anne’s work). David is (not much of a surprise here) a very gregarious and quick-witted fellow and a lot of fun to spend time with at a drive-in. The evening afforded me several opportunities to step back and privately marvel that I was here in this wonderful, casual situation with two people I never thought I’d chance to meet, let alone see a movie with, and their presence added a unique and special element to the evening.


Pictured (from left): Robert Fiore, videographer Ruben, Anne Thompson, Erin Maher and friends, Christian Brackett, Michelle Brien

But then you know what? So did the entire cast of characters. They are, in no particular order, most excellent friend Andy Torres, his son Will and stepson Christian Brackett; an old pal from the early days of closed-captioning, Erin Maher, who brought along her sisters and her writing partner, five in all; SLIFR readers Chris Oliver, along with his lovely wife, and Robert Fiore, neither of whom I had ever met; friend and Internet radio king Paul Reilly, who brought with him one of my favorite people, Michelle Brien (who brought along two friends too!); Mike Goldstein and his son Ben, who heard about the party through L.A. Observed; co-workers and exceptional good sports Kim Braasch and Sean Newcombe (Newk, keep repeating to yourself, it’s only a movie… it’s only a movie…); the lovely and sweet-spirited Sammi Chang and her husband David (a prize-winner, but more about that in a second); SLIFR reader Charlie Dicus, who I managed to miss, dammit, although I did briefly see one of his friends— Nayla, I believe it was?— just before the movie started (Charlie, where‘d y’all go during intermission?); longtime writer pal Bob Westal; my fellow traveler in Dodger fandom, screenwriter Mike Werb, easily one of the nicest, friendliest people I know, and his partner, the exceptionally keen Brian Roskam; my pal Sal’s cousin Ruben, who brought a carload out to join in the fun and served as the official videographer of the event; and several more members of the Phantom Coaches car club, who did VERY well in the prize giveaways— Sophie, Eric, Dee, Bobbie, Judas Trina, Kay Eddie and Diane Fiorelli, Lorin, Terri, Robert. You guys were so much fun and added so much to perfect the atmosphere of the surroundings with your cars. Thanks for coming!

(I also have to acknowledge the four folks who could not be in attendance, the presence of whom would have made an already exceptional night even better: my wife Patty, who made the altogether reasonable decision to shield herself and our daughters from the expected agonies that would befall Alison Lohman this night; old drive-in pal Katie, a.k.a. psaga, who withstood the grisly horrors of Earth Day with me and who would have had the time of her life with us on Saturday night; my fine friend Don Mancini, with whom I’ve already discussed the movie and with whom I can’t wait to dig into it again; and my best friend, Bruce, who I know will thrill to DMTH no matter where he sees it, but who would have loved it even more if he’d been outside with us.)


From left, Michelle Brien, Mike Werb and Robert Fiore anticipate the chills of the movie, as well as the literal chills of a cool not-quite-summer night, in the darkest minutes before being dragged to hell.


David Chute models his exclusive Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule T-shirt, which I don't think I remembered to press him to wear around the UCLA campus-- Exposure! Exposure! (Please forgive the photographer unfamiliar with his new camera-- me-- for the blurry image.)

As we all began to coalesce around the general area near the front of the lot, get our spots laid out, migrate back and forth from there to the snack bar and back, and settle in as dusk and the movie grew nearer, I really began to appreciate the fact that so many people—all in all, nearly 40—came together to share this movie experience, and I was very honored that it happened under my watch. It was a real thrill to look around and see a real party atmosphere taking shape—it really did provide a great lead-in for the high spirited movie we were about to see. Just before show time, we all gathered around the general area where most everyone was parked, with just enough time for me to hold a drawing for some Drag Me to Hell-Sam Raimi-related prizes. Sammi’s husband David picked up a Three Stooges DVD set in a lunchbox container (the Stooges being an obvious influence on the style of slapstick that has been a linchpin of Raimi’s visual style since Evil Dead 2); there were a couple of other cool DVDs—quadruple features from Warner Bros. including a Hammer Dracula foursome that was highly coveted, and one of Raimi’s amusing western pastiche The Quick and the Dead; a couple of very nice Drag Me to Hell one-sheets; and several one-of-a-kind, get ‘em while they’re hot Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule T-shirts! (David Chute is modeling his in the picture above, and I’m very pleased that Anne and Brian took home the others.)


Apparently Satan himself stuck a claw in for a little taste (lower right-hand corner) before the rest of us got a chance! (Photo courtesy of Mike Werb)

And with mere minutes to go before show time, as I was handing out prizes, Brian and Mike were cutting slices of the evening’s customized dessert, a spectacular Drag Me to Hell chocolate cake with strawberry and custard filling that I had specially made for the occasion by the fine folks at Portos Bakery. These ingenious cake artists lasered an edible image of the movie’s one-sheet art, taken from a .jpg, onto the top of the cake, instantly creating a sugary conversation piece that was enjoyed by all, except me—no sugar allowed! I did get some of that orange border frosting on my fingers, however, and I’m here to tell you it puts the stain-making properties of Cheetos to shame. (One of my favorite overheard comments of the evening came as a retort to a suggestion that Universal would be impressed by the unique marketing possibility created with the cake—more likely, said the unknown quipster, they'd be lightning-quick to slap me with a cease and desist order.)

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Once the lights of the sky were properly dimmed, it was time for the feature attraction. Speaking as a big fan of Evil Dead 2, but one who was quite indifferent to Raimi’s other comic book horror movies, including the original Evil Dead and also Darkman and particularly Army of Darkness, I was unable to quell the involuntary impulse to temper my excitement as the rave reviews for Drag Me to Hell began to pile up with my memories of dissatisfaction with Raimi films past. I happen to think (and still do) that his adaptation of Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan is the director’s best movie, but nothing that has come since Raimi’s Hollywood arrival has come close to the sheer go-for-broke entertainment value of Evil Dead 2. Until this new movie.

Drag Me To Hell is about as much rollicking, demonically-bent, condemned-by-the-Church fun as could reasonably be expected, and I say that without registering even a smidgen of disappointment. For once the raves were right. The movie takes great black-comic pleasure laying out in delicious detail exactly why it’s not a good idea to deny an extension on a loan to a milky-eyed old lady with a thick Eastern European accent and very bad dentures. The woman (Lorna Raver) who makes her way to the desk of up-and-coming banker Lohman is either pure evil or has an even worse dental plan than she does a relationship with her lending institution. But Lohman takes cues from her boss (David Paymer) that suggest only those who can make the tough decisions will make the short list of promotion candidates, and soon Lohman, with a queasy corporate smile, decides to deny the woman her extension. One humiliating, horrifying display in the bank office leads to an even more horrifying encounter between Lohman and Raver in the bank’s underground parking garage, and we’re off and running. The woman visits a curse on Lohman (“Soon it will be you who will be begging to me!”) that consists of a day or two being toyed with by a demon from hell before being forced to take the titular subterranean trip for all eternity, and the great perverse joy that Raimi’s movie offers is in watching him pull out all the stops as that process of being toyed with escalates. It’s a joy directly connected to being in the hands of someone whose command of the medium is so confident that each blunt shock, each inspired gross-out, comes gilded with an unexpected frisson of style that burns the shocks into your memory and makes you rediscover the exquisite pleasure of a good scream. (The single shot where we slowly become aware of the old woman’s presence in the back seat of Lohman’s car in that parking garage is a small masterpiece of slow-revealing terror that will reconnect you with the childlike sensation of not being able to get your hands up over your face fast enough, while being unable to resist the temptation to peek at the same time.)


For all the praise Raimi has received for his mastery as a director of comic horror, of set pieces that recall his own Three Stooges-influenced style of go-for-broke, kitchen-sink comedy (this is, after all, a movie featuring a séance at one point presided over by a demonic talking goat-- Drag Me to Hell’s most obvious link to the spirit of Evil Dead 2), not much has really been said about his facility as an architect of sustained mood and suggestive imagery. There are sequences midway through this movie that would make Val Lewton, Robert Wise and Jacques Tourneur stand up and salute, so effective is Raimi’s employment of shadowy night creatures and well-timed bumps (and creaks, and groans) in the night. It's not really the director's game to make us worry about whether Lohman will survive her various ordeals at this stage—we know she will, because the supposedly inevitable transport to hell is not scheduled, according to the movie’s legend, until the third day. So Raimi’s movie becomes not a saga of moment-to-moment survival, but instead a showcase for all the ways in which Lamia, the demon coming after this poor, not entirely innocent girl, chooses to fuck with her head and her body, particularly her poor abused mouth, which takes in and spews out an incredible array of disgusting substances over the course of the playing out of the curse.


Raimi’s achievement here as a writer (the movie was produced from a long-shelved script by the director and his brother Ivan) is not so much in the movie’s stake in originality, or its much-ballyhooed connection to the current zeitgeist of economic despair—as one writer has observed, our real-life dire straits were precipitated not by stinginess and rigidity on the part of banks, but instead by giving away too much credit and too many loans—but instead its attendance to storytelling detail. Hints both visual and in the dialogue and character development are dropped throughout as to the thematic significance of money, and those hints come roaring back to the forefront of importance when we least expect it. (If you can fully anticipate how Lohman’s generically underwritten, coin-collecting Boyfriend X, played with charm by Justin Long, will figure into the fate of his girlfriend, whom he supports even though he thinks she’s delusional, then you’re a sharper viewer than I.) And Raimi takes a huge gamble regarding the limits of audience identification with his put-upon heroine when at one point she must decide whether or not to follow an instruction manual given to her by a consulting psychic (Deelip Rao) entitled The Sacrifice of Animals Toward the Appeasing of Deities. (I think he gets away with it and enriches the movie’s tangential theme of having to deal with owning up to the possibly damning ramifications of one’s own decisions in the process.)

The bottom line is, if you have any fondness for the horror genre, you will likely greet Drag Me to Hell as some kind of miracle. The movie is spectacularly good, very clever, very scary, and despite all the wild flights of imagination it never succumbs to becoming the big CGI blowout that most movies of this kind thunder inevitably toward, with little regard to whether the end result is actually in any way frightening. With Drag Me to Hell Raimi honors the best this EC Comics-influenced genre has ever had to offer. The movie is funny-scary right up to the last frame.

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I will say, though, I am beyond surprised that Drag Me to Hell has a PG-13 rating. I don’t think it’s a reactionary, pooh-poohing kind of a thing to observe that the world of what constitutes a PG-13 these days is noticeably different than it was in 1984, when Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and its relatively grotesque imagery (everything from ripping a beating heart out of a man’s chest to being gleefully served a bowlful of chilled monkey brains) got concerned citizens like Jack Valenti all steamy under the collar and inspired the MPAA to create the subdivision of the “parental guidance” rating. Even though Drag Me to Hell operates in very much the same adolescent world of cheap thrills and dirty laughs by way of variations on every gross-out in a kid’s imaginary arsenal, the truth is, over the distance of 25 years now Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a cake walk (and a Disneyland ride), graphic images-wise, compared to Raimi’s new movie, a movie I think any sane person, despite the lack of actual bloodletting, would have rated R.

It's my suspicion that the MPAA bowed down to Universal in deference to Sam Raimi's Spider-Man box-office clout and went wa-a-a-a-ay easy on this film, expecting that the PG-13 would induce greater crowds at the box office. What “they” (meaning the MPAA and the marketing suits at Universal) seem to have misunderstood is how a movie marketed as a horror comedy, even one whose humor is as black as it is here, is apparently automatically less appealing to the core horror crowd, who much prefer the type of sadism unmarred by a sense of humor that is usually associated with a hard R. (The movie’s fourth-place showing, behind Up and two other week-old movies-- Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Terminator: Salvation-- seems to bear this theory out.) So the movie comes out, does less well than expected, theoretically because of the resistance of the core horror audience to what they perceive as a watered-down movie due to the rating, and everybody on the studio lot ends up scratching their heads over their misfortune. A friend of mine insists that playing up the horror-comedy angle is death to a movie’s chances with ticket-buyers these days, and it’s hard to disagree—I personally know at least three people who begged off seeing the movie, despite the near-across-the board raves, based entirely on that PG-13 and the idea that if it was funny, then how could it be scary?

If the MPAA had been honest, with themselves, with Raimi, and with the movie, it would have rated the movie appropriately, the movie would have gotten the same raves, and I suspect it would have done better at the box office, as The Strangers did almost a year ago even with a more restrictive rating. Whatever it is rated, Drag Me to Hell is a terrific movie, but I think it's fundamentally dishonest that it has been rated PG-13 by those ever-vigilant keepers of the scrolls of parental guidance. If any other movie not directed by the guy who made Sony over a billion dollars with the Spider-Man series had the kind of creative splatter, projectile vomiting, oral violation and general spirit of demonic manifestation that is the hallmark of this movie, it would have been an automatic R. For crying out loud, Raimi's own Evil Dead 2, Darkman and Army of Darkness were all rated R, back in the day when Sam Raimi was a box-office nobody and no one had anything at stake in what his next movie might be, and not one of those movies was as grim and visually grisly as this one. (Well, maybe Evil Dead 2, but the comic element in that one was even more pronounced than it is here.)

Any parent should be smart enough not to let their impressionable children anywhere near a movie called Drag Me to Hell and to not take a corrupt institution like the MPAA’s word for anything about its content. But I wonder if there might not be grown adults who will barrel into the movie ill-prepared by the relatively innocuously connotations of the PG-13 for the slam-bang horror fest they’ll be subjected to, and stumble out of it dazed and confused by the level of genuine shocks Raimi delivers while the rest of us are chortling and screaming and not daring to look up out of our popcorn bags.

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At 1:00 a.m., the screen #1 projector at the Mission Tiki fires up for the evening's second showing of Drag Me To Hell and bids the hearty folks who stayed for the evening's second feature, Angels and Demons, a fond farewell.

Once again, thanks so much to everybody who made going to Hell this past Saturday night such a blast. To those of you who wrote in wishing you could have been there, I hope this report brings a little of it home to you and will inspire you to somehow join us for the next one. (I’ve got a very good idea, but it all depends on whether or not there’s a drive-in screen nearby that will be showing Black Dynamite.) Most of all, it’s nice to know there are so many genuinely fine people who read this blog and would choose to share their Saturday evening with me for this event. I am honored and so glad that the memory of this fun night will thankfully last much longer than the actual event. (I even had a nightmare Saturday night after I got home, and it was almost as much fun as the movie!) Thanks for reading and coming out, everybody. In the immortal words of Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby, let’s do it again… real soon!

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UPDATE! 6/2/09 2:54 p.m.

Ruben, the videographer for the SLIFR Night at the Drive-in, has turned in his interpretation of the evening’s events, and as a certain beloved late-night vampire TV host might have said, “This one is re-e-e-eally sc-a-a-r-r-r-ry, folks!” Nice production values and maximum fright is squeezed out of this 4½-minute program which documents the early twilight portion of our fun evening under the stars. Why, there’s even footage of Anne snapping a pic of me holding the cake! And lots of frightening hearse footage too-- FNLRIDE, indeed! A good time was scared up by all, and now we’ve got the evidence to prove it… unto all eternity. Many thanks to Ruben and Sal Gomez of the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society for taking on the assignment of this important historical document. Nice job, demons!



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30 comments:

Generic said...

Thank you so much, Dennis, for inviting us into your inner circle of "Hell"!

As one who is old enough to have actually seen mainstream, first-run movies at drive-ins ("A Hard Days Night," "Patton") I have to say that it was the concession stand that really brought it all back. Just as no hot dog with slowly caramelized onions ever tastes better than than those purchased from a cart on the sidewalks of New York, no chili dog with cheese and jalpenos could compete with the ones dribbled down your shirt while wedged behind the wheel of a car.

Well done!

Bob Westal said...

Dennis --

Thanks again for the way fun night...and the name check just now (but what, no link?:))

Anyhow, extremely interesting point about the rating. For whatever reason, that really didn't occur to me, probably because I'm not a parent. Being less of a horror fan than many, I also haven't been keeping up the huge numbers of PG-13 Asian-adapted horror flicks of late, so my basis for comparison here may be off. I'm not 100% sure I would have argued strongly for an "R" rating for this (of course, I'm also not 100% sure I'm completely a sane person).

I was under the impression that the way the film divorced clever gross-outs from violence was what did the trick, though I also assumed that a little known indie director would have a harder time getting this out as PG-13. In any case, I do agree that a lot of 10 year olds might secretly be sorry they were allowed to see this one.

I just don't know...which is worse, tearing out a guy's heart or being drenched by embalming fluid from a corpse? Personally, I'll take the embalming fluid, but I'm sure the greater realism makes that a lot more upsetting for some people. That's the problem with rating a movie for being scary as opposed to being violent, it's not at all objective.

But you're definitely right that overall the ratings system is corrupt and has always been wonky. You probably remember that Robert Wise's low-key and profanity/sex free but absolutely disturbing/suspenseful "The Andromeda Strain" went out with an actual G-rating (though in a funny shaped text box and with a special warning).

As for the commercial effects, I'm almost surprised filmmakers don't pursue an R-rating in the same way that George Lucas deliberately avoided a G rating for "Star Wars" with the dismemberment in the cantina, even considering how it limits the potential audience. We may get to that point soon, now.

On the other hand, the perfectly enjoyable, R-rated "Slither" did awful business, presumably because it was openly marketed as a horror comedy (it wasn't half as scary as "Drag Me", though it was more violent, clearly). I've said it before, but it really does seem to me that a lot modern horror fans don't consider that they've gotten their money's worth if they're not suffering PTSD on the way out of the theater. They are a different breed than I.

Steve Swanson said...

Thanks for the report, I'm seeing it this weekend with Fast & Furious at the Valley 6. You nake a good point with the ratings game.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Generic: My pleasure! You wear it well! And yes, next time sample the dogs. They are, specially for drive-in fare, pretty delicious, and the tacos are quite especial too.

Bob: Like ships passing in the night... I was in the process of adding your link (I was too tired last night) when your comment came across. Are you watching me out of the corner of your milky right eye??!!

"I was under the impression that the way the film divorced clever gross-outs from violence was what did the trick..."

I suspect this is the key, and that level of fright being so subjective, as you point out, makes the rating process even slipperier than usual. And yes, Slither was a big flop (and much gorier), but it was also tilted much further in the direction of comedy (like Evil Dead 2), and I think it suffered because of that identification. I really think the people who passed on that one might have enjoyed it a lot, but how you gonna get 'em down on the farm for a gory romp when they've been duly terrorized (and I presume satisfied) by the likes of Rob Zombie? All this being said, remember, by someone who has no general objection to violence (even excessive violence) in films. I just wonder about the standards brought to bear on this particular movie.

Finally, I do remember that "G" rating for The Andromeda Strain, from back when "General Audiences" wasn't a euphemism for "kids" and the "X" hadn't quite come of age as a social stigma. I remember the comparatively bloody John Wayne western Big Jake getting off with a "G" too. As is, those movies would be automatic PGs today. I guess in some ways the rating system is better... but I really do think that if Drag Me to Hell was directed by Schlomo Frightmeister instead of Sam Raimi, there wouldn't be much doubt, for intensity and shocks alone, as to the rating it would have received.

I wonder if Raimi played Scorsese's game and shot scenes that were, in fact, even more gross than what ended up in the finished film, the easier to make cuts for an MPAA all too willing to give him the less restrictive rating if he were only to play ball just a little.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Steve: Now that's an excellent drive-in double bill! Perhaps less overtly devilish than the one we saw, but much closer in spirit to the B-movie drive-in aesthetic overall. (I bet the budgets for Drag Me to Hell and Fast and Furious combined could have paid for about 50 similar drive-in double bills from the '50s!)

Enjoy! You've got a good one coming up!

Fox said...

Raimi’s achievement here as a writer (the movie was produced from a long-shelved script by the director and his brother Ivan) is not so much in the movie’s stake in originality, or its much-ballyhooed connection to the current zeitgeist of economic despair—as one writer has observed, our real-life dire straits were precipitated not by stinginess and rigidity on the part of banks, but instead by giving away too much credit and too many loans—but instead its attendance to storytelling detail.Dennis-

I'm glad you said this. I was one that went into Drag Me to Hell expecting a tired socio-political commentary from someone who probably isn't of astute enough economic mind to do so, but was delighted that Raimi stepped away from that. I think he knew it wasn't his area of expertise.

Yes, it's touched on, but so is the comeuppance of the thievery of the young Mexican boy who steals a necklace from a gypsy. Is this commentary on young Mexican boys? I think not. Raimi uses the mortgage issue as an identifiable touchstone and nothing more. Well-played on his part because it allows Drag Me to Hell be what it is, an excellent, unbounded achievement not only in horror cinema (this decade) but one of the best visaually tight films of the year.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Fox: I'm all for horror films reflecting their times and acting as flexible social commentary-- it's one of the things this rather conservative genre can do better than almost any other. But I think it's clear that the application to the current crisis in one that, in this case, owes more to coincidence than clairvoyance, given the fact that the screenplay was originally written some 10 years ago or more.

And you're right-- the economic references are used as a touchstone, and the themes of money and payment of dues and owning up to one's (bad?) decisions resonate within the action, but they don't cut deep as social observation here. And that's perfectly okay, as you suggest. Raimi is in his wheelhouse as a filmmaker here, and just off the top of my head I'd say the only other corollary in his work is the black hole of greed down which the protagonists of A Simple Plan plunge. Otherwise, Raimi doesn't strike me, in his overtly horror-oriented work, as much of a social satirist.

Fox said...

Dennis-

Agreed on horror and social commentary... when it's done well. That's subjective of course, but I sometimes feel that horror filmmakers lean on the crutch of social-commentary in order to justify their violence.

For instance, I don't buy the premise in that documentary American Nightmare, that films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and The Hills Have Eyes were born of some supressed anger from the Viet Nam/Nuclear paranoia era. (Further, I don't buy that Hostel, Saw, etc. are born of the war on terror/torture era). I think the writers & directors of these films simply tag that association on because the think it's cute and/or gives them further legitimacy.

However, I do think Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Craven's The People Under the Stairs, and much of the work of Frank Henenlotter, Joe Dante, and Stuart Gordon hit the mark on social commentary. And as far as a Viet Nam horror film, I've still never seen one that can best Bob Clark's Deathdream, which is just fantastic (and touching) in my opinion.

With Raimi, I was just worried that he was gonna venture into that "commentary" arena when he isn't really that type of filmmaker. I was worried it could have been a disaster. But it wasn't. It's a brilliant film. I had no idea that teh script was that old either. That even makes things clearer.

And you're right, it is a movie about ethics, ethical choice and moral choice (again, going back to when the boy stole from the gypsy). But damn! The gypsy's sure as hell come of worse because they don't forgive for anything!

Bob Westal said...

Hey Dennis -- thanks for correcting the earth shattering era [insert "Drag Me to Hell" inspired revenge joke here.]

It would be interesting to see exactly when and how the MPAA made that transition between G truly meaning "general audiences" and it becoming the kid-friendly rating -- was it exhibitor pressure and marketing, kinda sorta like what happened with X? Other still G-rated movies I've seen recently that would be automatic PGs todays, despite nothing overtly "objectionable" would be "The Odd Couple" (divorce, suicide, subtle sexual innuendo, etc.) and my old favorite, "Sweet Charity" (quasi-prostitution and accompanying innuendo, gratuitous Fosse-ism).

Dennis Cozzalio said...

"Gratuitous Fosse-ism"! Now, there's a phrase that could be applied with a very broad brush! :)

Speaking of ratings, my favorite was always the now-nearly-forgotten "M" (Suggested for MATURE Audiences), which afforded me my first glimpse of frontal nudity, at age 8-- it was Catherine Deneuve disrobing in front of Omar Sharif in Mayerling. I was bored stiff by the movie itself, but I'll never forget this one part where...

Fox said...

"bored stiff"That's one way of putting it!

Also... Netflix just saw a surpising increase in demand for Mayerling.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ha! Just another gratuitous Fosse-ism, I say, insinuating its way into a perfectly innocent comment.

BTW, my copy of Mayerling arrives by FedEx tonight!

le0pard13 said...

Dennis, what a night you all had! Wish I could have been there (out of town in the desert). A wonderful post. Some thoughts:

Nice to know that someone else enjoyed the movie Slither as much as I.

I recall when I first saw Big Jake, I couldn't believe it was a Wayne western. But then again, it was 1971. The time of the coined ultra violence period (Dirty Harry, A Clockwork Orange, etc.). Though much of it was implied, BJ was a jolt to those of us who grew up on his oaters (and that G rating). But, it did have the much underrated Richard Boone as its villain. Which goes a long way in my book.

I have to tee up A Simple Plan, again. You've reminded me how good that film was.

Based on this post's comments, I've queued up (may he rest in peace) Bob Clark's Deathdream via Netflix right now. Too bad Mayerling is not there, though. But then again, I'm still waiting on my boyhood thrill to come to DVD. Ah... Sophia Loren coming out of the water in Boy on a Dolphin.

And Dennis, there are those old enough amongst us here that fondly remember rated M movies. If it wasn't for them, my high school years would have been even more uninteresting. Thank you.

larry aydlette said...

Man, I wish I could have been there! And, waaaaaaah, I want a T-shirt! (Maybe for Xmas: Hint, hint?)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

leOpard 13: You are most welcome!

And I remember Boy on a Dolphin well. My own personal favorite encounter with Loren, however-- again, around age 8 at a drive-in, and again with Omar Sharif riding shotgun-- was More Than a Miracle. If you don't recall that one, may I direct your attention...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Funny, Mr. Aydlette, but I just happen to have one transfer left with your name on it!

larry aydlette said...

Woo-hoo!

Erin said...

This was indeed a fabulous night! Thanks so much for organizing it!

Interesting point about the ratings too... but I remember as a kid being able to go see second or third-run stuff like "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" without an accompanying adult. I am still haunted by visions of Mariclare Costello and her creepy, creepy eyes...

blaaagh said...

Mmmmm....MAYERLING. I will have to put it on my queue right away! So sorry I couldn't be there for what sounds like a grand night. Can't wait to see DRAG ME TO HELL, though!

The Voracious Filmgoer said...

Your second feature, "Angels and Demons," is another movie that gets a PG-13 despite some fairly gruesome imagery. And yet "Slumdog" and gets an R?

The Voracious Filmgoer said...

Please disregard the extra "and" in the last sentence. That's what quick commenting gets you.

bill r. said...

I'm really sorry to be going off-topic here, Dennis -- I haven't even seen Drag Me to Hell (though I want to very much) -- and maybe I should just e-mail this to you, but:

YOU LIKED HOMICIDE!!! WOO-HOO!! I am perhaps unreasonably excited by this news...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Yes, Bill, it's true.

I had an encounter with the movie this week (can't say much more than that yet), but I was delighted to discover how compelling the whole thing was. My delight sprung from my involvement in the narrative, for sure, but also from recognition of the fact that I was involved to the degree I was even though I still have problems with Mamet's sort of canned filmmaking style, which I think is in evidence here too--everything seems too laid out, prefigured, predesigned, in terms of the dialogue and the way the actors are instructed to deliver it. But the movie is a model of freewheeling improvisation compared to House of Games.

This is one of the reasons I found Redbelt so engaging-- it was clearly a Mamet movie thematically, but he seems to have learned how to direct with the camera and editors with the recent film in a way that I think he's beginning to figure out with Homicide. Over the course of making two previous films Mamet is starting to find his sea legs here, and some of the scenes are just spectacular. I'm thinking of the way the movie introduces us to Mantegna and Macy with that racial confrontation with the police chief's toadie. But best of all I love how the movie becomes about how Mantegna's character is ultimately about a man without allegiances, a man without people, and how in the existential scheme of things this is quite the opposite from how it's usually portrayed in hard-boiled crime films, as a good thing. Jesus, that scene where he is overheard by Rebecca Pidgeon talking on the phone to Macy in the parlor of the family of Jews he's there to ostensibly protect is devastating. Some of Mamet's laying out of the thematic strands of this branch of the movie are a little too on-the-nose for me, but still I appreciated this left turn from a typical crime film into the darker territory of Mantegna's dilemma of the soul.

Gee, maybe I'd better hurry up and rent Spartan, eh?

bill r. said...

But best of all I love how the movie becomes about how Mantegna's character is ultimately about a man without allegiances, a man without people, and how in the existential scheme of things this is quite the opposite from how it's usually portrayed in hard-boiled crime films, as a good thing...

That's a really excellent point. I'm no expert on Mamet's biography, but it always felt to me that this film grew out of his own return (a very STRONG return) to his Jewish faith. Before Homicide, Judaism -- or maybe "Jewishness" -- was portrayed more or less indifferently in his work, as just a fact in the lives of some of his characters. After Homicide, Judaism almost took over his work for a very long time (not a criticism, by the way). That's fallen away lately, but it was a strong presence for a while. I think Mamet used to be a bit like Gold.

Which is funny, considering where the film ends up. Gold scrambles and guilts his way into an even bigger mess. And that final revelation somehow manages to be both hard to swallow and spectacular. A neat trick.

You're right, the overheard conversation is devestating, as is pretty much the whole final 20 minutes or so. And there are so many little things I love, like Gold's interaction with the man who killed his family with a deer rifle, and the final shot of that man (which I don't quite "get", but which somehow works for me anyway).

You might be interesting to know that "Bobby Gold" has appeared as a character, sort of, as "Bobby Gould" in many of Mamet's plays. He's a morally conflicted film producer in Speed-the-Plow, his life is up for judgment in the short play Bobby Gould in Hell, and as a kind of observer of other people's lives in The Old Neighborhood (his role in this last play is more complicated than I'm leading you to believe, but it's been a while since I read it).

Another thing about the film: How about that score by Alaric Jans? No one ever talks about it, but it's one of my all-time favorite film scores.

I had an encounter with the movie this week (can't say much more than that yet)...

I think I know what you mean by this. I won't let on, but if I'm right, it makes me VERY happy...

And yes, you should rent Spartan. ASAP. His directing improves very clearly from film to film. It's weird how precisely you can tell that. And Spartan is one of his best in that regard. Someone in Film Comment -- Kent Jones, maybe? -- really raved about his work on that one.

Bob Westal said...

"Spartan" is actually the only Mamet film I've missed, for some reason.

I loved "House of Games" despite the rough spots (it's been quite a long time however), similarly with "Homicide," which hits close to home, though I appear to have come to a very opposite conclusion about the issues it brings up than Mamet.

My memory is foggy (I haven't seen it in probably at least a decade or more), but the movie implies a sort of false choice by making Bobby Gold so wholly disconnected. It's possible to be entirely proud of your ethnicity while pretty much disregarding the religion (though the Talmudic traditions was a nice step forward for humanity, I believe) and the narrowness it can engender sometimes.

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