Thursday, November 12, 2015

ROBERT A. MITCHELL Watches SHIA LaBEOUF Watching #AllMyMovies

As Shia LeBeouf sits in a movie theater at the Angelika Film Center in New York City surrounded by other film watchers and curious on-lookers Robert A. Mitchell was sitting in the dining room at The Penguin House in Toronto watching Shia watching his movies.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015

31 DAYS OF HORROR, HALLOWEEN: The Films I've Watched Part 2

This second round of films I've watched during the 31 Days of Horror seems to have found some connecting themes. Alienation, loneliness, films that blur the line between reality and fantasy as well as characters who are some of the last beings on Earth. For the most part I have randomly picked films to watch and it is interesting to see some common themes and similarities emerge. Enjoy films 11 to 20. -- Robert A. Mitchell

CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) Directed By: Herk Harvey

A film that upon it's initial release came and went very quickly. Once it wound up on late night showings on television found a cult audience that appreciated the film. Carnival is a well made psychological horror film. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) survives a horrific car crash and then moves to a new town for a fresh start. At this new town she sees a mysterious man (played by Director Herk Harvey) and is drawn to an abandoned carnival. There are some wonderfully creepy moments in the film and some beautiful surrealistic imagery. This film would ultimately be Mr. Harvey's first and only feature length film. He made a lot of short films before Carnival and after. It would have been great to see other feature films from him.

BARON BLOOD (1972) Directed By: Mario Bava

One thing I have learned in my years on this planet is NOT to read aloud ancient incantations on tattered parchment paper. The characters in this Bava film had not had that life experience yet. For a lark Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) in an ancient Austrian castle of one of his ancestors and does exactly that. As the last utterance is spoken it awakens an ancient evil the Baron dubbed Baron Blood. He goes about what he was doing four hundred years prior. Kill and kill again. The film also features Joseph Cotton (Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons) and the always striking Elke Sommer (Deadlier Than The Male). The film looks extremely beautiful and lush in all it's technicolor glory. The set designs and decoration are wonderful. I'm sure it is no small task to fill the rooms of a castle. There is something that I have always enjoyed about these films, way before buzz words such as globalization and Transformers 4 being made because of a giant overseas market. This Italian movie has an American, German and Italian leads and was made in Vienna, Austria. As with these movies they have there own pace and style that you are either going to be on board with or not.

THE HAND (1981) Directed By: Oliver Stone

Way before Oliver Stone took himself and his films way too seriously he wrote some good to great screenplays (Scarface 1983) among them. As the old saying often goes you either start in "B" movies or end up in them. As is the case with Mr. Stone he very much started in "B" movies. The Hand marks his second feature film as a director, his first the seldom seen horror film Seizure (1974).

Jon Lansdale (Michael Caine) which made me think of prolific author Joe R. Lansdale. The Lansdale in the film is a comic book artist who is in the midst of a problematic marriage. The on-going strife calumniates in an argument on the road while his wife is driving. She swerves into the on-coming lane with disastrous results. Lansdale's arm is inexplicably out of the passenger side window and subsequently his hand is ripped off in a freak accident. Of course the hand he loses is his drawing hand which further complicates the rocky marriage as his very livelihood is threatened, which in turn threatens his art as new artist is taking over his comic strip.

The Hand feels very much like a Ripley's Believe It Or Not tale or a Twilight Zone episode. It features some great horror elements such as the accident that causes Jon Lansdale (Michael Caine) to lose his hand. If as seeing the accident once was not enough we get to see it later in flashback from a different angle in slow-motion. There is also some great psychological visual imagery as Jon Lansdale slowly descends into madness. The central conceit kept me interested. Was it The Hand doing the murders or Lansdale? This film is a good one to fire up at one in the morning.

NOSFERATU: Phantom der Nacht (1979) Directed By: Werner Herzog

Soldier of Cinema Werner Herzog's now classic film on the classic tale of Dracula aka Nosferatu. Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) against the misgivings of his wife Lucy, warnings from Gypsys and the unwillingness of the locals to give him a lift with their horses and coaches heads to Count Dracula's castle to help him complete a real estate deal.  (That must be one hell of a commission.) In true Herzog fashion Harker having no other means of getting to the castle hikes up a mountain as a roaring waterfall rushes past him while the beautiful score composed by Popol Vuh plays.

Nosferatu is played by Klaus Kinski (Herzog's often early collaborator/adversary). It goes without saying that Kinski is absolutely amazing as Count Dracula. You are equally drawn to and repulsed by the Count's presence. His gaze is constant, unblinking and unnerving. As Harker explores the castle we see it's enormity and sparseness. The castle far a top the mountain looks more like ruins. This is a Dracula that has not given into the trappings of material possessions as a bridge to the living beings he shares a parallel existence to. "Time is an abyss, profound as a thousand nights. Centuries come and go, to be unable to grow old is terrible."

The scene with the coffins stacked upon a raft that is being navigated down a river by two underlings is wonderful imagery that is pure Herzog. There is also the sequences of the ship of death carrying The Lord of the Rats as it sails to and mysteriously docks in Wismar. A lone dead man slumped over the ship's wheel as thousands of rats scurry off the ship and into the town. Herzog has coined the term "unprocessed imagery and this film does not disappoint. Many great images that stay in your imagination. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht is a meditation of the true curse of a vampire. Never dying, never truly living and never feeling love.

NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984) Directed By: Thom Eberhardt

A comet passing by Earth has created a grand spectacle. Almost everyone is outside to witness this celestial event. Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) works at the El Rey movie theater as the comet passes she's in the projection booth hanging out with bad boy projectionist Larry (Michael Bowen). The next morning they wake up. Larry is going to head out to collect a film print he lent out over night. As he opens the back door of the theater he is quickly and brutally killed by what can only be described as someone who is no longer human. Regina quickly finds out that most people are gone. Reduced to red dust surrounding piles of clothes. She heads back to her house and finds her sister still alive. The look of this film is great. The reddish sky and the abandoned city of Los Angeles are images that stay with you. This film combines sci-fi, horror and comedy and does a good job.

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) Directed By: Ubaldo Ragona & Sidney Salkow (Uncredited)

I wanted to get a Vincent Price film in during this 31 Days of Horror marathon. I think I made a good choice. Last Man is based on the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend. A disease has swept the land killing everyone. Only Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) survived.

The story is very effective in black and white. The scenes of Dr. Morgan driving a black station wagon which now doubles as a hearse through abandoned, empty streets lined with the corpses of the dead are very haunting and creepy. The doctor leaves his abode only during the day and goes about the task of trying to secure supplies he needs to stay alive and also trying to collect the dead and dispose of the corpses. A task which seems to have no end insight. He must hurry back because at night the "vampires"/"zombies" come out and are trying to kill Dr. Morgan. Adding to the creepiness factor the undead entities know Morgan's name and as they arrive every night at his house and try to get in and murmur "Morgan, Morgan are you there?"

The film is also a major influence on George A. Romero who would go on to make The Night of the Living Dead four years later. Last Man is a film that is dark in tone and full of despair. It is a heavy burden to be the last living human on Earth. 

BRUISER (2000) Directed By: George A. Romero

I think Mr. Romero wanted to make all kinds of films spanning many genres, stories and characters. All one has to do watch Martin (1977) the year prior to Dawn of the Dead to see that. Romero's zombie films became so synonymous with his name that I think it became very difficult for to him secure financing for different films. Perhaps conversations went like this, "That's a great idea George, I'm not sure how viable it would be. Is there anyway you could put zombies in it?" Of course this is only speculation on my part but could explain all the "Of Dead" films, especially his last three films.

Bruiser is notable for the very fact that is not a film you would readily think was a Romero picture. It was also his first feature film in several years. Prior to this film was The Dark Half (1993). Also worth mentioning is that it would be the first film he would make in Toronto. His now place of residence and where he has made the last three "Of Dead" films.

The film centers around Henry Creedlow (Jason Flemyng), who works for a fashion magazine. A man who has been taken advantage of most people close to him. Henry often drifts into flights of very violent reverie. One day he wakes up with a mask on his face, or is it a mask? Henry then gives into his violent reveries and turns them into reality.

THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988) Directed By: Wes Craven

With the recent passing of Mr. Craven I wanted to watch one of the master's films for this years thirty one days of horror. Notable classics A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream I have watched many times. I opted for Serpent. A film I had not watched before. 

Bill Pullman plays anthropologist Dennis Alan who heads to Haiti on behalf a pharmaceutical  company to find a rumored drug that black magic practitioners are using to bring back the dead. Dennis learns early on that not every thing in the jungle is what it seems.

After landing in Haiti Dennis meets up with doctor Marielle Duchamp. She takes him to meet a woman who died several years ago and yet was recently found wandering the streets. Dennis looks at the woman and tries to communicate in French to her. She stares at him. Dennis remarks in his journal: "A warning that's it what I found in those eyes, I did not know what, but it chilled me to my bones."  Meeting another local who tells him "Be careful. In Haiti my friend there are secrets we keep even from ourselves" Not heeding these warnings he pushes on.

The film is based off an actual ethnographic account by Wade Davis. I'm not sure where the actual account ends and the film begins. That the fact the film is based off of actual ethnographic research works very well. What is true? What is film fiction? As the film unfolds we have many great moments of not knowing what is real or what is imagined. At the end of the day The Serpent and the Rainbow is a horror film and a good one at that with some great imagery.


I was strolling through my local county library looking for some films I had not seen to watch for this marathon and saw the spine of this. What a great title and directed by Bob Clark (Black Christmas, A Christmas Story, Porky's)

The film follows a theater troupe who travel by boat to an island graveyard for buried criminals. The director of the theater group is Alan. He is played by Alan Ormsby who wrote the screenplay for Cat People (1982), The Substitute.

The troupe or more apt Alan the theater director wants to raise the dead because it's is such a transgressive idea that can only help the acting of this troupe. He invokes a seance to accomplish this. "Oh God this is getting worst all the time!" One of the characters exclaims. Yes, yes it is. In a classic case of be careful what you wish for the dead FINALLY raise from their graves. A film that was definitely inspired by Romero's Night of the Living Dead.

It's great that Bob Clark went onto bigger and better films. Watching this film is like getting invited by an acquaintance who is a really shitty actor to their fringe festival play and you actually show up to find out they know five other equally shitty actors who also happen to be in the same play.

THE BAD SEED (1956) Directed By: Mervyn LeRoy

Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) is a precocious, smart and sweet child. She is also head strong and an over achiever who is quick to anger when things don't get her way, who is also manipulative, and a compulsive liar. When a boy in Rhoda's class get awarded a gold medal for penmanship that she thought was hers she gets very upset. The boy then turns up dead. There is no way Rhoda had anything to with the boy's tragic death.....or is there?

A movie that originated on stage, Nancy Kelly also acts in this film version. She plays the mother of Rhoda and won a Tony award for her performance in the play. Ellen Heckart who plays the mother of the dead boy turns in a great performance. The Bad Seed is a great mystery. The horror of the film lies in the possibility and the notion that a child could kill another child.

Monday, October 19, 2015

THE MIND'S EYE World Premiere Interviews Joe Begos, John Speredakos, Graham Skipper & Larry Fessenden

Joe Begos returned to the 2015 Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival with his second feature film The Mind's Eye. His first film Almost Human premiered in Toronto at 2013 program. Robert A. Mitchell was on the red carpet and spoke with Joe about his follow up telekinetic horror film. Robert also spoke with actors John Speredakos, Graham Skipper and Larry Fessenden.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

31 DAYS OF HORROR, HALLOWEEN: The Films I've Watched Part One

I decided this year I would join in the fun and watch and write down some thoughts on horror films during the 31 Days of Halloween marathon in this fine month of October. Embarking upon such a venture one realizes how many horror films are worthy of a rewatch or a first time viewing. Here are the first ten films I watched. -- Robert A. Mitchell

MURDER PARTY (2007) Directed By: Jeremy Saulnier

Having recently gotten back from the 2015 Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International film festival which had the North American premiere of Jeremy Saulnier's latest film Green Room I have had a hankering to rewatch his first film Murder Party for quite some time. A friend of mine Jay was recently in Bloomington for the last Diabolique film festival. He has an extensive collection of VHS tapes and maintains a horror blog called The Horror Section that was born out of his working at a video store many years ago. My current local of Southern Indiana has many independent video stores still running. One such is Video To Go in nearby Ellettsville. Long story short, I lost my copy quite some time ago. At our visit at this video store I found a DVD of Murder Party which I bought. Believing in kismet I began my 31 Days of Halloween with this film!

MULBERRY STREET (2006) Directed By: Jim Mickle

The second film I viewed was Jim Mickle's first film Mulberry Street. For me this film and Murder Party are linked, they are both films by first time feature film directors that I first watched at the Toronto After Dark film festival. Viewing this film several years later and having the knowledge of the of films Jim has crafted since, Mulberry is still such a strong first film. A film that was very much willed into existence and fighting it's limitations of time and budget. Initially watching Mulberry at After Dark and talking with Jim after the screening I had the forethought Jim was going to continue to be a talented filmmaker that would grow and he very much has.

PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987) Directed By: John Carpenter

John Carpenter is my favorite filmmaker. I revisit his film many times and such is the case with Prince of Darkness. I love the atmospheric, slow burn that is this film. I also love films where people are all in the same environment under siege working together. There is something magical about watching a film where an ensemble cast can really play off of one another. As someone who really began his film watching in the mid-Eighties this era will always have a spot in my heart. As will practical effects of which Prince of Darkness features some great ones!

AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000) Directed By: Mary Harron

This has been on my mental list to rewatch for quite some time. My wife had never seen it. During the first scenes when Patrick (Christian Bale) is talking about his daily routine involving a face mask my wife thought that was a great idea and applied her own face mask. I thought this scene was extremely effective in both the novel and film as it is a way to draw us into the psychopath's mindset. As we remarked while watching the movie it does a really great job capturing the feel and look of an eighties movie. The film as is the Bret Easton Ellis novel is set in the 80s. The era of Reagan economics, large cellphones and larger cocaine habits. It is always strange to spend two hours in a world lead by such an unnerving, evil character. Bale turns in one of his best performances in his cinematic journey, which in no small part is because of director Mary Harron. In the scenes with Patrick and Detective Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe) Mary asked Bale to portray his character three different ways. Firstly that the Detective knew Patrick killed Paul Allen. Second, The Detective did not know Patrick committed the murder and lastly Detective Kimball was unsure if Patrick Bateman committed the murder.

VANISHING ON 7th STREET (2010) Directed By: Brad Anderson

This rewatch came about from heading over to friend's house on a Sunday night for dinner and to watch a film afterwards. I did not want to take something over that was too steeped in violence and gore so choose this film. Once again a film that is very much atmospheric and involving people under siege from an unseen and unknown entity. Looking at the image I choose it reminds me of another favorite film Miracle Mile,  an Eighties film with people under siege this time from a nuclear war. Vanishing very much divided the Midnight Madness crowd where I first saw the film. For me I like the feel and vibe of Vanishing. A film such as this is predicated on the characters, since you are very much spending a lot of time with them. These are regular people with realized backstories now faced with extraordinary circumstances that I did not mind spending time with.

V/H/S (2012) Directed By: Radio Silence, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard

By this time I really wanted to watch some films I had not seen. V/H/S really made the festival rounds and has long been on my radar however I had not had the opportunity to see it yet. The film is a horror anthology directed by several people. As is the case with such endeavors some of the short films hit the mark and others miss it. The film is very ambitious and tries to shake up the anthology format. At times it feels like an experimental art film which is not a bad thing. However the overall movie felt long this is probably due to the fact that it is a film with a lot of voices involved.

STARRY EYES (2014) Directed By: Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer

Another film that has been on my radar for quite some time that I was finally able to sit down and watch. For a movie that is very much rooted in the present era with smartphones, Instagram etc the film felt timeless. Alex Essoe the lead actress turns in a phenomenal performance, one that should really become a breakout role. The film is slow burn punctuated with very intense moments. There are many moments in this film that will not be easily forgotten. A very strong film that although it is far too early to say such a thing, I feel will be destined to be a horror classic.

 CHRISTINE (1983) Directed By: John Carpenter

Once again a visit by a film by Mr. Carpenter. I think when one thinks on John Carpenter's filmography Christine is a film that is not always at the top of ones mind. However every time you sit down with the film you instantly recognize how fun the movie is right from the title sequence of the car on the assembly line with George Thorogood and The Destroyers song Bad To The Bone playing. Keith Gordon has phenomenal turn as his character transforms from nerdy guy into someone much more self assured but far more darker and dangerous. Speaking of transformations, the scenes involving the destruction and rebirth of Christine are absolutely amazing, they don't just hold up but look like they were created yesterday and very much makes one long for practical effects and stop-motion.

 DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) Is there any other? Directed By: George A. Romero

This was another film my wife had not seen and warranted a revisit from myself. Once again, upon reflection and writing about these films here is another group of people under siege and working together, however not from unseen circumstances but the walking dead. A film crafted by the master of the modern zombie Mr. Romero. It is interesting to watch this film in this era with the huge success of The Walking Dead franchise. Dawn was very much a subversive work commenting on consumerism, racism, the failure and breakdown of society.  Much has been said and written on this film. I will say this Dawn of the Dead is very much worthy of the term classic. A film which showed the horror genre can be much more than just scares, blood and gore although it has that a plenty!

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) Directed By: Freddie Francis

How can one not watch a Hammer Film or twenty during a 31 Days of Halloween marathon? Watching a Hammer Film instantly takes me back to a random Saturday afternoon of my youth. These movies are very much a sensory experience and a wonderful visit with effects from cinema's past. Great lighting and painting on the very film print. The film is very much part of cinematic history as being the first film that received a rating from the MPAA.

Monday, October 12, 2015

THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPHS Interviews Nick Simon, Kal Penn, Claudia Lee, Luke Baines, Autumn Kendrick with Robert A. Mitchell

The Girl in the Photographs had it's world premiere on September 14th, 2015 at the Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival. Robert A. Mitchell was on the red carpet and interviewed director/co-writer Nick Simon and some of the cast including Kal Penn, Claudia Lee, Luke Baines, Autumn Kendrick and Kenny Wormald. The film has the distinction to be Executive Produced by the late Wes Craven. The film was also shot by legendary cinematographer Dean Cundey. (John Carpenter's Halloween, Jurassic Park)

Monday, October 5, 2015

THE DEVIL'S CANDY World Premiere Interviews Director Sean Byrne, Actor Ethan Embry with Robert A. Mitchell

It took six long years for Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones) to fully realize his sophomore feature film The Devil's Candy but the wait was worth it. Sean is a consummate gentlemen and a film craftsman. His first feature The Loved Ones was so well received at the Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival that it won the inaugural Midnight Madness People's Choice award. The anticipation was high at the World Premiere and the film delivered. Robert A. Mitchell spoke with Mr. Byrne and actor Ethan Embry about The Devil's Candy.