Thursday, October 31, 2013

White Cat, Black Cat

Halloween seems like a good time to talk about cats. They cover the spectrum in Japan so I'll talk about a Japanese white cat and a Japanese black cat.

1977's House is about a white cat named Shiro, which means "white" though subtitles of the copy I watched called her "Snowy". Wikipedia refers to her as "Blanche" which is a little better but not quite the same as calling a cat by its colour in the common tongue. This is a very strange, very effective film. It's very post-modern but I like it anyway.

It's about a haunted house and maybe it'd be accurate to call it a haunted movie. Much of what it conveys is dependent upon the delusions of the viewer who seems to be the ghost. That is, a woman whose fiancé died in World War II and now her spirit inhabits the old house motivated by bitterness harboured for all pretty, marriageable women, including, or most especially, her niece.

Wikipedia translates the niece's name as "Gorgeous", the copy I viewed called her "Angel," but her name is actually Oshare (オシャレ-). Google translates the word as "Fashion"--it's not a word I'm familiar with so I'm not sure whether Gorgeous or Angel is the more appropriate substitute.

She and her friends at school all have names reflecting their very broad, cartoonish personalities--there's Mac, whose name is short for the English word "stomach" because she likes to eat, there's Sweet, who's sweet, Kung Fu, who's a martial arts expert, and Melody, who plays piano. Oshare's best friend is Fanta, short for the English word "Fantasy", who's a bit of an extreme daydreamer. The movie begins with them giggling and hugging and skipping together.

The broadness of the characters and their relationships is a little shrill and one has the impression that this is more the spirit's conception of these people. Shiro, the cat, is the spirit's familiar and shows up on Oshare's mailbox when she receives a letter from her aunt. This is in response to her own letter, asking the aunt she hasn't seen since she was a child if she and her school friends can spend their vacation at her home.

Oshare's in a snit over her father's new girlfriend, a beautiful woman who's often shown with a wind effect and a billowing scarf. Again, a distinctly stylised portrayal and we sense the spirit hates both Oshare and the potential step mother equally--they are both, after all, eligible young women.

Shiro mysteriously follows the girls to the house where each girl is killed off one at a time, each death more bizarre than the last. Wikipedia says the filmmakers got several of their ideas from a child and there is a certain child logic to the broad humour portrayed for horror, like when Sweet is killed by several futons falling off a shelf.

But there's definitely an adult sensibility at play as well, as when one of the girls tries to take a picture of the aunt and her camera seems to be thrown to the ground by an invisible hand. Among all the groans and whines of disappointment from the girls a disembodied voice ambiguously says, "Sexy." There are a lot of lingering shots of the girls' bodies and their personalities begin to suggest fetishes. One begins to wonder if the spirit's motives are quite what she thinks they are.

Nine years earlier, Kaneto Shindo made a movie about a black cat called Yabu no Naka no Kuroneko, 藪の中の黒猫, ("A Black Cat in a Bamboo Grove") or simply Kuroneko (黒猫) ("Black Cat"). This is a much more straightforward horror movie--a very nice and surprisingly political one.

Two peasant women--a beautiful young woman and her attractive mother-in-law--are raped and murdered by a group of rampaging samurai. They had a pet black cat who decides to resurrect them as instruments of revenge against all samurai. They begin to lure unsuspecting samurai to a large, ghostly home in the guise of two wealthy women. Sometimes they seem to have black fur and move as cats. The evening always ends with the younger woman taking the samurai to bed and drinking every last drop of blood in his body.

Meanwhile, the husband of the younger woman, who was conscripted forcibly early on in the war, has brought back the head of an enemy general and thereby won the title of samurai and a high status from his lord. Soon, the lord charges the young man with investigating the murders of samurai and executing whoever or whatever's responsible.

The movie ends up being an interesting platform for discussing the difference between aristocracy and the lower class and seems to condemn nobility as inevitably seeing peasants as expendable. In one fascinating speech of all too insightful hypocrisy, the lordexplains to the young samurai that they have this right because they are the ones who protect the peasants.

Twitter Sonnet #561

Witch nebula wigs twisted the scalp point.
Locust wings dry out the pink tongue bouquet.
Leather queries resound from the sore joint.
Tired bones are exploited for croquet.
Mould forests swing from deep shadows above.
The cheap highway's made from recycled tombs.
Faded lime cubes were a ghost's type of love.
Spools of twine lay on a tall spider's loom.
Parallel orange sixes spin the weather.
Foggy diamond tombstones drift on a raft.
Emerald eyes burn through the woollen tether.
Drains don't function through good guile or craft.
Green crows point at a slightly dipping sky.
Grey roots rearrange the moor on the sly.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Return of Notepad

It's nice to be using a PC like this again. Last night I stayed at an apartment belonging to my sister and her boyfriend and they have a Mac. I was rather at a loss as to how to get anywhere with it, the one button mouse in itself perplexed me. I suppose even most PC users aren't addicted to using Notepad the way I am. I couldn't find the Mac equivalent and I suspect a programme like Notepad may be too simple for Apple.

So, yes, I was thrown out yesterday. For reasons more complicated than I probably ought to explain. I'd been living with my grandmother for over ten years. Lately some large scale family drama has resulted in bizarre, behind the scenes manoeuvrings. I heard an aunt I've barely spoken to for many years telling my grandmother on speaker phone what an awful person I was and how I was psychologically manipulating her. To do what, I have no idea.

For about a month now my grandmother had been picking fights with me with no provocation until it finally came to a head yesterday. Of course several Republican family members were there to help expel the liberal cancer from my grandmother's home, the weird asshole who had the gall to live there rent free just because he couldn't afford to pay rent and he happened to be family.

Anyway. Now I'm looking for a new place to live. Another relative, living in another part of the state, has agreed to help me with rent at a new place. I'm also looking for work though, if it goes anything like the last time I looked for work, I'm not very optimistic about it. But it can't hurt to try.

I'm at the Tech Mall at school--most of my things are being stored in the garage at my sister's place, including my computer. On my way back from there to-day I stopped in a grocery store and as I was crossing the parking lot a large man wearing a U.S. Navy sweater came up to me and said, "Excuse me, sir, I'm not asking for money but could you please let me wash your windshield so I can get something to eat?"

I said, "My windows are clean, thanks, but I can give you a couple dollars anyway--not much, I'm afraid, I just got thrown out myself." I suspect I'm still a lot luckier than that guy.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I've been abruptly thrown out of the place where live. It's a long story. I'm staying with my sister to-night. But it could be a while before I can make regular entries here again.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Shifting Lairs

I think I got more than four hours sleep last night, I'm not sure. Certainly not more than five. After a day spent vacuuming and dusting and moving furniture that hadn't been moved in a decade I was forcibly reminded that I have allergies. Sleeping in that room was difficult. I have no medication for allergies of any kind. The best I could do was make myself a hot toddy and watch a horror movie, which seemed to help.

I didn't take apart my computer until I got up at 6:20am. A couple hours later it was realised that since having my modem and router unplugged meant there was no WiFi, and therefore inconvenienced people who are not me, my computer had to be put back together immediately. So now I'm in an upstairs room where I'll be staying for a week. Since I never actually believed assurances work on my room would be finished in one day I wasn't surprised when grudgingly told the truth.

So here I am, tired, sneezing, coughing, and hoping I can be lucid at school to-night.

I'm starting to get quite a backlog of horror movies I've watched. At some point last week I watched The Abominable Dr. Phibes, a decent horror/comedy from 1971. Vincent Price stars as Phibes, a famous organist who lost his face in a car accident and now wears rubber prosthetics and speaks through some kind of tube and grammar phone rig.

He's sworn revenge against, and is systematically killing, a team of surgeons who failed to save his wife's life during a critical operation. Joseph Cotten plays Dr. Vesalius, the head surgeon and the film's protagonist to Phibes' villain.

This was the newest Joseph Cotten movie I've seen and it was nice to see he was still in good form. Still, most people probably went to see the movie for the top billed Vincent Price. I've often though how strange it is that Joseph Cotten was in so many great films (Citizen Kane, Shadow of a Doubt, The Third Man, Portrait of Jennie, Niagara) but his name doesn't often seem to come up when discussing classic Hollywood actors.

Anyway, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is pretty unabashedly campy with Phibes killing his victims with rats hidden on a plane, locusts dropped onto a sleeper from a hole in the ceiling, and, course, some big, adorable bats.

The movie has a nice look--Phibe's lair is very art nouveau. For some reason he has a house band of mechanical men and a beautiful, silent female assistant whose costumes combine with the music to give the film something of the distinctly late 60s/early 70s nostalgia for the 1920s.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

To the Satellite

I woke up this morning in the mood to listen to "Sunday Morning" by The Velvet Underground. I used to get that song in my head every Sunday morning but this happened to be the one when Lou Reed died.

Reed's music and lyrics hit your perceptions from a weird angle, a great thing for art to do. He brought grace to the strange but normal. Listening to his work can help you remember it's lazy to see anything as normal.

I've been up since 6:30 this morning--I only got four hours sleep. I've spent most of the day getting stuff out of my room, after having done that for most of the week. I still have a lot to do--at the end of the day I'll have to take out my computer so if I make an entry to-morrow it's likely to be late.

Here are some pictures I've taken lately of trees with tentacles and eyes.

Twitter Sonnet #561

Collarbones bolster the grey cloud cockscomb.
Receding mud revealed granite molars.
Vinyl scratches draw rain on the box home.
Lightning cackles at the cosmic bowlers.
Copper canopies are lies through amber.
Golden skies dim for a green candle flame.
Gnarls on the naked oak form a number.
Sycamores are bending to spell a name.
Decayed mucus clots the open grave's bed.
Sensual xenomorphs curl on the tree.
Boundless barrows let loose the drifting dead.
Eyes at the bottom of the glass can see.
Venus illuminates a black garter.
Mannequin shades take shadows like water.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Learning to Smile as You Kill

Vampire cliques are just the worst. At least that's the idea in 1987's The Lost Boys in which a scowling Corey Feldman and a smirking Corey Haim use their imaginations to rescue a Jim Morrison-ish Jason Patric from the bullshit of adolescence. It's a charming film that allows its characters to mostly not be stupid.

It's a very 80s film, not just for the soundtrack which includes a number of nice, distinctly 80s tunes but for the plot which is sort of like The Breakfast Club being rescued by the kids from E.T. Sam (Haim) and Michael (Patric) are brothers who've moved to a small town with their recently divorced mother. They don't know yet that the town is ruled by a gang of teenage vampires.

The vampires represent the frightening potential threats against the brothers' budding masculinity. Edward Herrmann plays Max, their mother's new boss at the video store who threatens to become the boys' new father which means he might be the head vampire.

Michael's the first one to encounter the vampires directly when he falls for a girl, Star (Jami Gertz), who is already half vampire (or, as a teenager, half adult). They meet at a concert for a band with an oddly muscular lead singer.

She agrees to take a trip with Michael on his motorcycle but then the vampire David (Keifer Sutherland), leader of the gang, shows up with his better motorcycle and Star sheepishly goes back to his seat.

Michael's then put through a series of initiation rituals to see if he's worthy of becoming one of them. Meanwhile, Sam meets Edgar and Alan Frog (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) at a comic book store. They have an understated pissing contest over their knowledge of comic books and we learn the Frogs see themselves as the ones responsible for guarding the town against vampires. In other words, the kids are the ones who can still dream and therefore ward off the evils of growing up.

The movie has a lot of cute moments like when the kids use squirt guns filled with holy water against the vampires and Sam, discovering Michael's becoming a vampire, rebukes the older boy with, "Wait 'til Mom finds out!"

And the film has a decent aesthetic, not falling into the infamous, decadent camp of Schumacher's Batman films, finding instead a good balance between artificial lighting and realism.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Gingerbread Closet

I came across this Rasputina poster while cleaning out my closet to-day. Melora Creager signed her ass for me. That's why we love her.

This was from a show in San Diego I think from when Rasputina was touring to promote Cabin Fever which would have been 2002. Eleven years ago, damn. I went with Trisa who had the determination to wait behind the building after the show so we could meet Creager. I remember gushing to her about her instincts as a vocalist.

That was one of the nice things about having Trisa around, she kept up with concerts, who was coming to town and when. Also in my closet to-day I found paperwork relating to my car being towed and stored in West Hollywood while Trisa and I were seeing Rasputina at the Troubadour. There's a history in my closet that can be read in layers of Rasputina concerts.

Here's something even older:

Tim would recognise this, if he's reading. Too bad I don't have a floppy disk drive or I'd be tempted to try to get Doom II working again so I could play this old mod I worked on for ages when I was a teenager. The original concept was to create a complicated labyrinth with just one Cyberdemon but it gradually became something I just made up as I went along. The old editor Tim and I used to use for Doom had a tendency to zoom out a bit without telling you each time you loaded a mod you'd previously worked on so the rooms in the Doom map gradually got larger and larger depending on how new they were. It was kind of a hodgepodge of Grecian marble and hellscape.

Yesterday I spent all day on my math homework, to-day I see will have been spent entirely on trying to prepare my room for Monday's new floor and I'm pretty sure I won't be done by evening.

A few days ago, I read "Study for The Witch House", the new story in the Sirenia Digest. It's a nice little study of a conversation and how the undercurrents of strangely effective paintings subtly colour the conversation. Another nice piece of work.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Profane Life

One of the best horror movies I've ever seen is 1962's Carnival of Souls. It succeeds in connecting supernatural horror intimately with the human mind like a disease whose infection is so complete and goes so deep it feels like it was always there, and maybe it was. Ghosts and demons aren't metaphors in this movie, they're simply true things. It's frightening and beautiful.

The story of a young woman, Mary, who survives a car accident, crawling out of the river into which the car with her friends and her had plunged during an impromptu drag race, recalls Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. Like the protagonist of that book, Esther Greenwood, Mary finds herself psychically isolated in her world. When asked if she's afraid of men, she replies that she's not, she's just not interested, she wants to be alone.

Of course, the transparent motives of the guy asking might not help. When he knocks on the door while she's in the bath, she tells him to come in thinking he's the landlady. He's thoroughly charmed by her mistake and thinks nothing of trying to peep at her, not disguising his lust. Yet he seems surprised when she doesn't respond to his advances. He presents the disturbing desire for physical intimacy labelled emotional intimacy while completely failing to empathise on a fundamental level. It's no wonder this exacerbates, or compliments, Mary's confused feelings of isolation.

Twice in the movie, Mary, in a public place, discovers she can't hear anything and no-one can see her. She runs about frantically trying to attract attention but nothing works until she stops under a tree and hears a bird. The sound of the bird brings back all the other sounds. And people are able to see her again--there's something nicely Buddhist about this and it's also one of the points where the film's influence on David Lynch is apparent.

A more distinctly Lynchian element is the ghoulish man with dark eyes who seems to appear in impossible places, visible only to Mary, throughout the film. He never speaks. Usually he's smiling. In one very effective appearance, Mary is driving at night and he appears, looking in at her through the passenger side window.

Of course the effect is simply achieved--the passing landscape outside is, as usual for films of the time, a rear projection. Mary's car isn't actually moving, so the actor (who also happens to be the film's director, Herk Harvey) is obviously just kneeling beside the car. It could be funny but it isn't, perhaps because Mary's anxiety and personality had been so effectively established by actress Candace Hilligoss. What the scene achieves instead, in an instant, is something like a puncture in reality. We accept the reality of Mary driving the car, and when that's violated we're just as startled as she is.

That's just one of the ways the movie gets across its primary statement. Mary's sense, as she tells a psychiatrist at one point, that she doesn't have a place in this world. He tells her it's in her mind. But the mystery man doesn't even have to speak to tell her the psychiatrist is wrong.

Twitter Sonnet #560

Chopsticks impale the wet asphalt golem.
Pineapple stars scratch the anxious, thin night.
Rotten candy stains the crooked column.
Mosquitoes just observe the grave delight.
Olives are stuck with pins in provolone.
Ink floods wash the scaly brick dragon shop.
Vacant stores deal in false instrument loan.
Charred and empty skateboards can never stop.
Blackened grids cut through the white tortured wax.
Minor keys scratch tiles from the old roof.
The delicate worlds are stolen in sacks.
Solemn shadow thieves trip ceilings on hoof.
Churchyard questions corrupt giggling soil.
Robust jackets start the tombs to boil.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Frustrated Anagrams and Cold Spots

The fearful tendrils of manipulation can remain woven into the collective psyche of a family long after the manipulator has died. That's the very effective idea behind 1944's The Uninvited, a haunted house tale that works more for the understated ways in which the living characters reflect the motives of the dead than for any of the special effects portraying the ghosts. As Martin Scorsese said of the film, "the tone is very delicate, and the sense of fear is woven into the setting, the gentility of the characters."

The film stars Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey as a pair of siblings from London who discover a magnificent, empty mansion while vacationing on the coast. They quickly decide to buy it and move in.

Milland was English and Hussey was American but almost everyone in this movie, set in England, speaks with an American accent. This is an interesting contrast with The City of the Dead, a British film with a cast almost entirely composed of British actors set in the U.S. and everyone put on American accents for authenticity. Sixteen years separate the two films, but it's interesting how intolerant to any foreign flavour us yanks were deemed.

The siblings find the home is owned by Commander Beech who sells it to them despite the pleas from his granddaughter that he not. He'd originally had the home built for his daughter, Mary, but the woman had died, fallen off a cliff near the house under mysterious circumstances related to her husband, who was a painter, and her husband's model, a Spanish woman named Carmel, who also died soon after.

From the upstairs studio which inspires intense discomfort in anyone who enters it and the sound of sobbing every night downstairs one gets a sense of the anger and sadness of the two ghosts but little concrete details of their story. These details emerge slowly from the granddaughter's half remembered impressions and gossip from the nearby town. The strongest stuff comes from Mary's friend, Ms. Holloway, whose feelings about the dead woman are rather clear from how she speaks of her:

"Mary was a goddess. Her skin was radiant and that bright, bright hair. How this room brings her back to me. The nights we spent talking in front of that fireplace, planning our whole lives. It wasn't flirtations and dresses we talked about. We were no silly, giggling girls. We intended to conquer life."

Holloway's cruelty and starchiness are reflections of the lesbian stereotype of the time yet her attempts to manipulate the Commander and his granddaughter, Stella, have a fascinating subtlety. She convinces the Commander to have Stella admitted to Holloway's asylum which she prefers not to call an asylum. Her preference for not calling things by name goes further than that. When Stella wakes up there, she finds herself imprisoned in her room and the staff treating her with caution.

STELLA: "I'm being treated as though I were insane!"

HOLLOWAY: "Has anyone used that word? Oh, I've told them a thousand times . . ."

One starts to get the impression that what few facts are known about the two dead women are inaccurate and that Holloway is probably the one primarily responsible for spreading misinformation. The characters in the film are written naturally enough that one starts to feel a real frustration at not knowing the truth. The fact that this frustration correlates with the feelings of the ghosts lends a great deal of effectiveness to the pages turning in a book or a glass moving on its own in an amateur séance.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Faith in Knives and Crosses

In a quiet little unassuming Massachusetts town filled with shadow and curling mist a centuries old community of immortal witches has thrived since the days of the infamous witch trials. That's the premise of the nicely eerie 1960 film The City of the Dead.

Their leader is Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel), who centuries before was saved from burning at the stake by the graces of Satan. But, as striking as the opening scene set in the seventeenth century is, it's when the film goes to Christopher Lee as Professor Alan Driscoll, giving a lecture on witchcraft in colonial America, that the film really takes hold.

Naturally no-one makes much of the fact that the professor seems peculiarly and passionately concerned with the plight of the witches. Except one pretty blonde called Nan (Venetia Stevenson) who seems to have a crush on him and readily takes his advice to travel alone to Whitewood to conduct research for her paper.

There's the standard gas station attendant she stops to ask for directions, then there's the mysterious man who appears at the fork in the road before calmly asking for a ride.

The town sits in a perpetual blanket of mist and beyond the rotten wood of the ancient buildings is the pure black of perfect darkness making the place seem unreal or at least completely cut off from the rest of the world.

Innocent young Nan stays at the Raven Inn where her suspicions are slowly aroused by things like a trapdoor in her room with no handle and a dead bird left in one of her dresser drawers. When the landlady, who we can plainly see is the reincarnated Elizabeth Selwyn, invites innocent young Nan to dance with the other guests one evening Nan eventually agrees and takes off her nightgown to get back into her clothes.

And we see she's inexplicably in the undergarments of a burlesque performer. Absolutely no mention is made or explanation is given for this though perhaps it's the sign of horror movie morality at play.

Though actually one is struck by the feeling, watching the film, that no-one is safe from the powers of Satan. There is a really impressive climax involving a crucifix inflicting damage on witches but that didn't stop the local priest from being assaulted by the forces of the Devil.

The impression one has watching is that the supernatural forces at play, both holy and Satanic, are savage manifestations of human spite. The fear is invoked more from the sense that a set of laws founded on false premises rule and provide excuses for bloodlust. Seeing the drama play out gives the impression that God's order is a vain illusion over a real chaos.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Moving Along

Not much sleep last night. Mostly from thinking of the week ahead. I'm going to need to move everything out of the room I've lived in for over ten years to make way for new wooden flooring I don't want. I really wish I could afford to live alone. I think back to the humiliating and hopeless effort at getting a job last year that, if I had gotten one, wouldn't have even put me halfway to that goal. On top of that I have people around talking to me like it's because I haven't made any effort that I'm not making any money. It's funny not one of them has managed to offer one single piece of constructive advice. It's amazing how many people seem to think all one still needs to do is apply and follow-up. I couldn't even get a job in fast food last year and I applied and followed-up at all of the stores in town. And of course getting a job in something I'm particularly good at seems an impossibly distant goal, a distant goal accompanied by the knowledge that most people who do reach that goal are in miserable living conditions.

Anyway. Last night I watched the last episode of Hit & Miss. It was a good series, very much about emotion. It's something you have to keep in mind as you watch, that the writer is making an emotional point requiring the viewer to let some things pass that may not make sense.

For example, in the third to last episode I think it was, the silent stalker guy who'd observed the isolated Irish farming family in secret reveals himself to the family having brought back the little girl who's gone missing. Mia, the protagonist, head of the family who is secretly an assassin for hire, watches with pleasure the two young boys of the family start to beat the shit out of the quiet man. Her boyfriend, Ben, stops the boys and accuses Mia, who is a transwoman, of being mannish for enjoying inflicting violence.

Here I thought of two things Mia could have said; "Well, you stopped the fight, does that make you a woman, Ben?" or "So you're the Irishman who never heard of Margaret Thatcher?" Instead Mia just replies that she's not a man and the two spend time apart.

First of all, I didn't really buy that Mia would just let the kids attack the guy for no reason. The man wasn't making any aggressive movements and any halfway rational person would've had to have considered the possibility that this was a nice man who found the lost little girl and led her home.

But there are emotional points to be made here about Mia's reflexive need for violence and a more fundamental idea brought out more in the last couple episodes about identity, about what one can infer about a person based on his or her actions. In another scene built on an unlikely premise, Mia goes home to her mother and brother who live and work in a carnival. The brother is violent and transphobic and somehow physically gets the better of the trained assassin and cuts her long hair while she's conscious and crying. But the point the writer, Paul Abbott, is making turns out to be about how both Mia and her brother's propensity for violence were inherited from an abusive father.

The show is beautifully shot and Cloe Sevigny is good in the role--though I still would have preferred an actual transwoman. The show is frequently awkward in the paths it takes to get to the interesting places it wants to go. There's too much reliance on characters doing embarrassing and complicated things in private, like when Mia buys a false pregnant stomach for herself. Worse was the moment where Mia, who's pre-op and unhappy with her penis, takes a bath and leaves the door unlocked. There are a lot of moments on the show where you feel like the character would be a little more guarded in the specific situation.

But the fact that I get anxious when the characters leave themselves vulnerable for reasons that seem unrealistic to me is certainly a sign that I care about the characters. It's a shame the show ended after only six episodes. I would have liked to have seen a somewhat more relaxed examination of these characters.

I think maybe the part I liked most was what eventually transpired between Riley and the landlord, especially the aftermath and the contrast between Mia and Riley's reactions.

Twitter Sonnet #559

Blurred green windows winking from black forests.
Hissing wind sews letters in a monster.
Needles type bubbles in scarecrow harvests.
Skulls crack grins in a grim hollow roster.
Orange cold chains scratch the styrofoam bloody.
Moaning green eyes slam the splintered porch stair.
Claws fast caught in vaults turn all too ruddy.
A soggy moon fixes a solemn glare.
The sternum sits incongruous on ice.
Smoky black slugs are gliding up the wall.
A green gold clock at ten fathoms breaks twice.
Cool space conjures drag for unburnt brain's fall.
Mist faces chill easels drowning in light.
Mimosa scent chokes the unquiet night.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Gloom from the Deserts

I wonder if it was Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee who was so attractive Anne Rice felt compelled to write her own version of The Mummy which reads like a romance novel where the mummy gets the girl. It wasn't her best work by any means though I suspect it would triumph easily in competition with to-day's paranormal romances. In any case, I would certainly argue the mummy is a rather magnetic fellow in both the 1932 Universal film and in the 1959 Hammer film. Though neither movie is flawless and the 1932 film is by far the superior of the two.

The 1932 film is the sexier, too. It introduces the female lead, a reincarnation of Imhotep's love, a priestess of Isis, as a young woman staying in Cairo with her psychiatrist. Imhotep is the mummy played by Karloff--he's resurrected, of course, when some archaeologists tamper with artefacts they don't understand.

Though one of the men warns against opening the magic scroll with the power to raise the dead--this is Doctor Muller played by Edward Van Sloan, the same guy who plays Van Helsing in Todd Browning's Dracula and he plays basically the same role. He's an important part of the film's weakest plot point, when he goes abruptly from trying to appease the agent of the ancient curse to fighting him. At the same moment, Imhotep for no reason decides not to take back the scroll he's been murdering people to get when he knows it's just in the next room.

But the scenes between him and Helen (Zita Johann) are wonderfully bittersweet. As usual, the good normal human fellow she's supposed to end up with is tremendously dull. Sometimes I wonder if Francis Ford Coppola didn't know what he was doing when he cast Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker.

Helen is confused when being put in costume returns all her memory of being the Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon as well as well as the memory of loving Imhotep. For some reason she rebuffs the big reanimated corpse.

Karloff only wears the famous bandages at the beginning of the film, spending most of the rest of it in fez and robe. And he's perfectly capable of speaking. He plays Imhotep with restraint allowing feelings to subtly play over his enormous features. One watching him has the impression of unimaginable fatigue, sadness, and a sort of hopeless but unshakable resolve.

I'd say Christopher Lee does just as well in the 1959 film though since his mummy's tongue was cut out before death he's deprived of his famous bass. There's an interesting flashback sequence to his life with the priestess but her reincarnated, present day self isn't introduced until an hour into the hour and a half film. This is when Peter Cushing as the certainly more interesting male lead suddenly looks up from his desk and realises his wife who the audience has never seen before looks exactly like the Egyptian princess he's spent a good part of his career researching.

She barely has enough time to be recognised and carried off by the mummy, though we do get this classic image.

This is when she faints after realising she has complete control over the homicidal dead man. The fainting spells do seem to strike some gothic ladies at the most inopportune times.

Where the 1932 film looks like it was at least partially shot in Egypt, the 1959 film was clearly shot entirely in England, making copious use of an indoor set for desert exteriors.

There's a lot of coloured lighting in the film, a lot of inexplicable lighting. Sometimes it looks cheap, sometimes it has that big, artificial charm of a Hammer film.