You don’t have to follow a trail of breadcrumbs to understand the current cinema trends. Fairy tales are fairly enormous box office draws at the moment. But you can’t just narratively mutter your way from “once upon a time” to “happily ever after.” These days, you have to go back to the source and find some element around which to base an imaginative re-imagining. Tired of simply writing about the revised fairy tales we saw in theaters, we decided it was high time to make one of our own. The problem is that we’ve only really seen the Disney versions.
Luckily, we have an ace in the hole. Actually, we shouldn’t call the library at the local college a hole, they frown on that. We made an appointment to consult with a bona fide fairy tale expert. Catherine Burke O’Malley, in addition to being a contributor to Spill.com and a regular cast member on their League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen podcast, holds a MA in Medieval History from Syracuse University. She inexplicably agreed to meet with us as we ran through our best pitches. She…had a few notes.
How about a movie centering on the queen from Snow White? I know what you're thinking; there have already been multiple Snow White re-imagings, right? This one is going to examine the idea that maybe she was just misunderstood, and that the spoiled Snow White was the real villain. How do we know that apple was poisoned? Couldn't it have just been a peace offering and Snow White was simply overcome by the queen's generosity?
Cat: Are you kidding me? Who has ever been so "overcome by generosity" that they passed out? I mean, even the Hope Diamond wouldn't have that effect...
Snow White invented The Hope Diamond?
Cat: No! Besides, we've already got evidence that the Queen had it out for Snow White all along. Along with that apple fiasco, The Queen made two previous attempts on her life. First, she tried to asphyxiate her with new corset ribbons, then she tried an absorbed poison via a hair comb. The woman is insane; when Snow White is revived, and marries the Prince, the Queen chokes on her own rage, and dies from a self-induced stroke. If anything, what you've got here is a good idea for a movie about a crazy royal who is actually a serial killer and master of disguise...
Easy there, don’t want you to choke on your own rage or anything.
I didn’t say anything. Idea two! Let's go back to the source and do The Little Mermaid as it was intended...an 80s body swap comedy. She was a fish at the aquarium, but she trades places with the most popular girl at school to try and get with Joey Prince. A kindly night janitor, who studies magic, assists her. It'll be a laugh riot.
Cat: No, no, no. This story is the farthest from a comedy you can get. It's absolute tragedy! If you want to go back to the source, it's about a girl who is so in love with a man and desperate for immortality that she lets a woman cut out her tongue and assumes a form that causes her excruciating pain with every step she takes.
Her tongue is cut out? Super gross.
Cat: What, you thought her voice was just "magically" removed?
No, I thought it had to do with a locket and a song about being a part of their world.
Cat: (Rolling her eyes all the way around) Then, when it turns out that he was in love with someone else all along, she refuses to return to her former life, as that would have meant murdering the man she loved, and commits suicide instead. Yeah, that's a laugh riot right there.
I get the sense that you’re being sarcastic so let’s move on. We’re toying with a version of Sleeping Beauty that focuses on the wonderful dreams she had under the spell. I mean seriously, how bad could a long nap really be?
Cat: You do know how that one really ends, right?
Let’s assume I know practically nothing.
Cat: Yeah, I'm sure she had great dreams while she was asleep. Dreams of a handsome Prince, dreams in which a virginal Princess could indulge in some sexytimes that she wouldn't actually be able to have in real life...
Cat: Except THOSE WEREN'T DREAMS! She didn't wake to "love's first kiss," she woke to labor pains, because she was in the process of giving birth to twins!
But if she was asleep how did she get pre—OH! Ok, let's get serious for a moment. We tell the story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, but paint him as he really was: the greatest children's rights advocate in history. We're thinking Liam Neeson as the Piper, saving kids from workhouses.
Cat: Have you even read this story? Have you read any of these stories? Or have you just been watching cartoons all day?
If I’m being totally honest? Cartoons.
Cat: The Pied Piper actually led all those kids off to be sold as slaves. Workhouses would have been mansions compared to what those kids probably went through. Okay, I'll have to give you a little more leeway on this one; you couldn't have known about the background to that story just by reading it. But still, you have to do some research on these! Fairy tales aren't kid stuff! Now, if you want to talk about working these up into a horror series, I'm all in!
No, I don’t see a horror movie selling tickets. Very well, we’ll go with our best one yet. Cinderella: The Foot Fetish Files.
Cat: Get out of my office. [Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures]
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No doubt as you make final preparations for this the most wonderful holiday on the calendar, you are looking at your tried-and-true horror shelf and mentally scheduling your yearly movie marathon. If you find you tend to revisit the same three or four titles every year and feel the itch to branch out this Halloween, here are a few recently-released horror films, both modern and classic and mostly Blu-ray, that should spice up your drab festivities and put the treat back in your trick-or-treat.
Available From: Blue Underground
Over the last few years, zombie fiction has permeated nearly every form of media from film to television to videogames. While most people may crack open that same copy of Dawn of the Dead they’ve had on their shelf for just this singular holiday occasion, a great film to be certain, I humbly submit this incredible Italian zombie film as a substitute. Based on equal parts Dracula and…an apparent gore-filled fever dream, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie features two of the most seminal moments in any zombie film. One involves a woman’s head—or more specifically her eyeball—being pulled toward a splinter of wood, and the other features a zombie fighting a shark. Watch all the Walking Dead or Shaun of the Dead you want, but you won’t find a moment that tops either of those.
Available From: Warner Archives (Standard Only)
Warner Archive is a very handy tool for anyone wishing to branch out into obscure cinema. It is a service that prints DVD copies of the innumerable films in the Warner Brothers archive by request. One such film is 1986’s Killer Party. While the lewd humor and nudity of something like Piranha 3D was not as extreme in the late 80s, that same cheesiness is bred of the b-movies of this era. Killer Party is a true schlocky gem for those who enjoy that genre specific silliness. Also, the film features a pair of fake out false openings very reminiscent of this year’s heavily self-aware Scream 4.
Available From: Synapse Films
For those who like a healthy dose of action with their horror, Maniac Cop comes highly recommended. This is the story of an ace New York police officer framed for a crime and murdered in prison who begins to exact revenge on the lawless and the law-abiding alike from beyond the grave. The Blu-ray transfer here is extremely crisp and the film matches the same crowd-pleasing mix of horror and wild action sequences as something like Zombieland or From Dusk Till Dawn. Tom Atkins, who recently appeared in My Bloody Valentine 3D, stars alongside The Evil Dead’s Bruce Campbell.
Island of Lost Souls
Available From: Criterion
One of the first incarnations of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, Island of Lost Souls is a somewhat lost classic from the glory days of Universal horror. If you have that stalwart friend who still keeps Dracula and Frankenstein in the regular Halloween rotation, and they’re getting a bit stale for you, Island of Lost Souls retains much of that gothic Universal Monsters style while incorporating the man-made-monster/science-gone-awry themes that were most recently explored in 2009’s Splice as well as, to much poorer results, any number of SyFy channel original films. The Criterion Blu allows for such a clear, sharp picture as to alleviate much of the aversion people can harbor toward watching black-and-white horror films.
Available From: Oscilloscope Laboratories
A movie about Santa Claus as part of a Halloween movie marathon? Have I been dipping into the spiked eggnog a touch early this year? Actually the 2010 Finnish holiday tale Rare Exports is about the true origin of Santa Claus, and the ancient evil threat he represents. The film is dark, suspenseful, but also stocking-stuffed with humor. If you enjoy Christmas-themed horror films like Black Christmas or Gremlins, you will eat up Rare Exports like so many gingerbread men.
Dark Night of the Scarecrow
Available From: VCI Entertainment
Sometimes it seems modern horror films are far more interested in shocking audiences with extreme violence than they are telling a decent story. If you find yourself cringing at, more than actually enjoying, say, the Saw sequels, you should definitely give Dark Night of the Scarecrow a spin.
Made for television in 1981, the film is quite limited in how explicit it is allowed to be with its violence. Luckily, it has a truly great horror story to tell and creatively dances around its restrained rating. A mentally challenged man is wrongfully accused of a crime and murdered. Years later, his spirit inhabits a scarecrow and returns to take revenge. The film features several legitimately creepy scenes and the performances from its cast are incredibly strong. If you have younger or slightly squeamish attendees due at your Halloween party, Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a winning selection.
Attack the Block
Available From: Screen Gems
To cap this list of classic horror that you’ll enjoy based on modern fare, I offer a new film that harkens back to classic films of several different genres. Though it made a tremendous splash at every film festival it played, this sci-fi/horror darling never got a wide theatrical release so its recent Blu-ray release represents the first opportunity many of you will have had to see it. The movie follows a group of youths in a South London projects who must single-handedly fend off an alien invasion. If you are a fan of any of the classic Amblin films (E.T., The Goonies) mixed with a healthy dose of Aliens, then Attack the Block is going to fit you like a glove.
When one encounters a DVD combo pack on the shelves of any given electronics store, one harbors certain prejudices. Especially if the two films bundled together are unfamiliar titles, the hesitance to even give it a second glance is powerful, and therefore its neglect upon the shelf is nothing surprising. But if there is one company that knows how to package great films together, it’s Shout! Factory.
Over the last several months, Shout has been doing a particularly stellar job releasing the lesser-known Roger Corman films in a way that taps into his most idiosyncratic trends. One of my favorites is the triple feature highlighting his foray into truly awful sci-fi: Not of this Earth, War of the Satellites, and Attack of the Crab Monsters. But that’s not to say they are limited to one artist in this regard. Next Tuesday sees the release of one of the greatest one-two punches ever made available on home video: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Race with the Devil.
Race with the Devil is not only an incredibly awesome piece of cinema, it’s also not an easy DVD to obtain. The original DVD went out of print long ago, and purchasing a used one on Amazon will cost you anywhere from $20-$50 with no guarantee as to its condition or the quality of the transfer. I have been hoping and praying that it would find rerelease imminently, and now it seems my patience has been rewarded with interest. Race with the Devil is the story of two couples who decide to take a cross-country road trip in a Winnebago. Everything is going as well as can be expected on a pseudo-swinger vacation until the two male components of the couples witness the ritualistic killing of a young woman near their campsite. Suddenly, they are besieged by psychotic Satanists as their happy little excursion turns into a nightmarish fight for survival.
There are so many things to love about Race with the Devil, it’s almost unholy. Peter Fonda and Warren Oates are the perfect '70s heroic duo. They play off of each other so well and personify the gritty, freewheeling spirit of the decade’s cinematic landscape. They are tough and incurably cool, but there is nothing overtly “movie star” about them. The horror elements of the film are fantastically understated and rely more on atmosphere and mood at first before exploding into some of the coolest auto stunts I’ve ever seen. Race with the Devil was directed by exploitation mainstay Jack Starrett, but the film is far better than anything that typifies '70s exploitation. The characters are genuine and likable, the terror is organic, it’s well shot, and has a phenomenal ending. If you haven’t seen Race with the Devil, this is the time to do so.
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, the other featured film in the set, also stars Peter Fonda as a racecar driver (Larry) who enters into a relationship with a fiery young groupie named…well, I’m sure you can guess. Along with Larry’s mechanic, Ace, the unbalanced couple knocks off a grocery store and begins a cross-country run from the law in a stunt that both of them are illogically convinced will garner them fame on the NASCAR circuit. They are stalked at every turn by a hard-nosed, tenacious lawman, played the incomparable Vic Morrow.
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry is, in many ways, the perfect companion piece to Race with the Devil. Both films celebrate the highway culture as an extension of the raging independent spirit of the '70s, and they actually both explore the dangers of that open road in different ways. Obviously, the blue ribbon for driving scenes goes to Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, as the furious, iconic white Dodge Charger rips asphalt apart with wanton abandon. Here, too, the cinematography is immaculate and the characters are fascinating, but the added benefit of Vic Morrow makes it impossible for me to choose a favorite between the two. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry also features an insane ending that perfectly caps off the lunacy of the previous 90 minutes.
If this release is anything like the Shout! Factory double features that have preceded it, hardcore film geeks are in for a real treat. Its commitment to gorgeous film print transfers is heart-warming for cinephiles like me, but more importantly, Shout is making it possible for novice movie lovers to discover films they may never have otherwise heard of -- something I can definitely appreciate. In this case, it allows them to dive headfirst into two of the coolest, most high-octane '70s carsploitation (yes, that's a real subgenre) films of all time. If you can at all manage it, I would recommend watching these two films projected against the side of a house while sitting atop the hood of an American muscle car; a comfy couch would serve as a suitable fallback.