Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why I'm Messed Up: Laughter in the Dark

One day in the late 1990s, I was reading a book written by Vladimir Nabokov in 1932 called Laughter in the Dark. That isn't really special. If it was the late 1990s, I was either reading Henry Miller, Nabokov, or the wildly underrated Heinrich Böll. Anyway, as I got to the end of the book, I had a massive wave of déjà vu when the amazing climax started to unfold. Sometime as a kid, I had seen the film adaption of Laughter in the Dark on cable and that ending had been buried deep in my brain just waiting for me to remember it.

Years later, I found the listing for the film version of Laughter in the Dark that was directed by Tony Richardson and was released in 1969. Finding the film proved to be another matter entirely. Forget DVD, I couldn't even track down a damn VHS copy. Then I turned to my usual sites for a download. Nothing. Son of a bitch! Other than some lobby cards and a poster, I couldn't find the film.

Now here's where complaining online helps. (I've been an advocate of online complaining since the first time I did it back in 1998.) I blogged right here on this very blog about how I couldn't find Laughter in the Dark. Then, in the summer of last year, someone read my post and contacted me. It was Rand C. He offered to send me a copy of the film if I promised to review it. Of course, I said yes. What Rand didn't know is that when I'm really excited about a film, I put it off. And since I'd been looking for this film since the end of the last century, my excitement was so huge that I I didn't watch Laughter in the Dark for 6 months. What can I say? I'm quirky.

Nicol Williamson plays Sir Edward More, a wealthy art dealer who is bored with his family and work. One day, a female usher named Margot (Anna Karina) catches his eye at the cinema. He becomes obsessed with the beautiful young woman and attempts to woo her while using an assumed name. Margot reverse-stalks Edward once she catches sight of his fancy car and chauffeur. Edward was hoping for an easy lay but Margot has got plans for this fool. With a well-timed telegram and a three day sex binge, she destroys his marriage and invades his life.

Unfortunately for Edward, Margot proves to be impossible to please and she's quickly seduced by his colleague Herve (Jean-Claude Drouot), a much younger and more dashing fellow. Margot convinces Edward that Herve is gay and encourages him to include the rogue on their vacation in Spain. When he finally catches on to the affair, Edward goes ballistic and demands that she never see Herve again. While driving through some mountain roads, he and Margot's arguing causes a car accident that leaves Edward blind.

Margot and Herve concoct a scheme to bleed Edward dry while continuing their affair. She rents a remote villa with a secret room where Herve will live and where they can get it on at night. As weeks go by, the embezzlement of Edward's money continues as she has the poor bastard signing blank checks. Worse still, Herve begins to get stir crazy to keep their twisted game going and plays tricks on the blind man for amusement. The cruelty escalates and -don't worry, I won't spoil it!

Director Tony Richardson was no stranger to adapting literature for the big screen but there's two things working against him. 1. Vladimir Nabokov's characters are total dickheads and 2. Richard Burton was an alcoholic. Burton was fired for being too drunk to work and was replaced by Nicol Williamson after filming had began. Williamson, who's played everyone from Merlin to Hamlet to Sherlock frickin' Holmes is a fine actor and does a great job here. But man oh man, his character is hard to sympathize with, especially with the word "SUCKER" tattooed on his forehead like that.

Transplanting Nabokov's novel from 1930s Berlin and Switzerland to 1960s England and Spain is easy when you throw miniskirts, hippies, inflatable furniture, and cacti into the mix. Cinematographer Dick Bush (Tommy, Sorcerer) brings some serious talent to the table which makes the fact that this film hasn't landed on Blu-ray yet even more frustrating. I love the setting in the Spanish mountains in the latter bits of the film. I kept waiting for Paul Naschy to show up and wolf out.

I think the film would have been served better if Margot hadn't been such a blatantly manipulative jerkwad and been more sly and seductive to the viewer. Anna Karina is lovely but the moment she started whining, I wanted to shut the movie off. Edward too should have been more likable right out of the gate but if memory serves, the screenplay follows Nabokov's version of these characters pretty closely aside from making them British. But if all of the blame landed squarely on the handsome but devious Herve, it would hurt the film. These three assholes kind of deserve each other.

How does the old saying go? "A fool and his money are soon parted shortly before that fool is destroyed by the brazen malice of two psychopaths." Edward's treatment at the hands of Margot and especially Herve is heartbreaking. Even if you despise the guy for his simpering foolishness, you still root for him by the final reel.

Before we get to the finale, let me just talk about how Laughter in the Dark affected me. Right at the beginning of the film where Edward is at the cinema. The film that the packed house is viewing is never shown but the sounds of a woman in peril and gunfire can be heard through the theater. These sounds cause uproarious laughter in the audience and Edward looks rather disturbed for a moment. Then he lays eyes on Margot for the first time. This brilliant piece of foreshadowing is how I knew I was in for a treat even though it would be a painful one.

When this film ended the other day after seeing it for the first time after all those years, I was left with a profound sense of dread and a renewed fear of human beings. Though it's not as good as the book, I think Laughter in the Dark absolutely deserves to be seen by film fans and Nabokov fans alike. The ending is a real crackerjack of a scene that I won't spoil here since this film is still unavailable on home video and I'm hoping people will seek it out. It occurred to me that maybe I only caught the end of this one when I was a kid. But it's entirely possible that I saw this whole movie which explains why I'm so messed up.

Special thanks to Rand C. for hooking me up with this film!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Bag (Or Sack) Of Reviews

My pal Scott of has been kind of enough to let me review some films over at his sexy site. You should read my contributions and then work your way through the rest of the amazing content over there.

Metamorphosis/Beyond Darkness

Over Your Dead Body

Nikkatsu Diamond Guys

Savage Weekend

Stray Cat Rock

Luther the Geek

Sheba, Baby

Monday, February 15, 2016

Three Times I Guestied

Because of my disturbing ego, I managed to convince three unsuspecting podcasts that I'd make a good guest on their shows. They were kind enough to invite me but really, it was me all along sending my psycho-egomaniacal thought waves. Please check out my appearances on The Podcast Under the Stairs, Good Movies for Bad People, and Uncommon Interests but I urge that you check dig on these shows and support them! They provide great content for your ears and everyone involved are super nice people.

The Podcast Under the Stairs #76 - Peanut Butter & Gialli

Good Movies for Bad People #10 - Hello! This is the Guest Show

Uncommon Interests #20.5 - Hello Doomed Show

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Dawn Of The Dead On The Big Screen

This happened five years ago. I guess I'm ready to talk about it now.

Before I start badmouthing Tampa Pitcher Show, let me just say that I do think it’s a cool place. Any old theater that still does The Rocky Horror Picture Show on a regular basis has something good going for it. My experience at their Dawn of the Dead screening was embarrassing and mostly terrible. You can probably write all of the following off as a weird old guy who should just the shut the hell up.

I read somewhere that there was going to be a screening of the original Dawn of the Dead (oh, there was a remake?) accompanied by zombie video games, zombie strippers (I didn’t expect this part to be true), and Mike Christopher AKA the Hare Krishna zombie from the 1978 film. I was really, really excited about this event. Seeing Dawn of the Dead -a movie that was hugely important to my development as a horror movie fan- on the big screen was paramount. Of course, I was headed for disaster.

Before we get to the screening, let me share this little story. My first encounter with this classic film was due to this stuttering kid at our school. Seemed like a nice enough chap so I would stand up for him when my loser classmates would make fun of his speech impediment. This kid was way into horror movies or so he professed and I was impressed as hell by his Dawn of the Dead t-shirt. It featured a person's exploding head.

When I asked this kid about what was going on with his t-shirt, he told me that in Dawn of the Dead there were all these zombies. Check! He then told me that the figure on his t-shirt was the king zombie. Um... wait a second. He related to me how bullets wouldn't stop this creature and that the heroes had to use a rocket launcher to destroy it. That's how its head exploded. Holy shit! I wish Dawn of the Dead had that in it! A couple of years later, when I finally watched Dawn of the Dead, I remembered that kid and just felt kind of stupid. In order to make up for his stuttering, he was just a bold faced liar who’d probably never even seen the dang film.

Okay, back to 2010. It was a Saturday night in early January and it was a friggin’ cold night in Tampa. I know what you’re saying, Florida gets cold? It does and when it does, us thin-blooded Floridians are screwed. Lows in the 30s might be nothing to a lot of people but it feels like the end of the world to us keepin’ it real in the dong-shaped state. But more about that later.

I showed up too early to Tampa Pitcher Show due to my unbearable excitement. The ticket window was closed so I went inside. Sherlock Holmes (the one with Harry Connick Jr. and Rufus Sewell) was still playing on their only screen so I had to wait in the lobby for a while. I got something to eat and a soda. There were some teens playing zombie themed video games on televisions around. I didn’t know anybody so I just kind of watched people playing for a while. At some point, the ticket window was open so I went outside and got in line to pay admission.

Right in front of me in line were these two odd dudes. I’m pretty sure they were a couple and it was a May-December thing. The younger guy was skittish as shit and I swear he looked at me about 90 times before he urged his partner to look at me. His request was so urgent that when the older dude turned to look at me, he was immediately confused. He gave his boyfriend a glare as if to say, ‘what the fuck is wrong with you?’ Maybe the younger guy thought I was cute or especially ugly or I had piss stains on my pants, who knows?

When I got back inside, Sherlock Holmes was still playing. The time for the event to start had already passed and one of the employees told me that the previous film had started late. For the next half hour, I sat and watched people playing video games some more. People started showing up dressed as zombie hunters with Nerf guns and plastic swords. I attempted to talk to some folks but I got the cold shoulder. Something was just wrong.

Finally, the auditorium emptied out and I got to go inside. A wave of nostalgia hit me like a ton of bricks. The cheap furniture and the garbage carpeting brought me back to every dollar theater I’d ever set foot in. I felt like I was right at home. Don’t worry, it didn’t last long. I marched right up front to a table, took off my jacket, and flopped down in a chair, giddy with excitement.

Someone rolled out a laptop and a projector and my heart sunk. No fucking way were they going to show Dawn of the Dead with a tiny little projector when they had this huge screen. The urge to bolt was immediately quelled when a bunch of unfunny zombie memes started showing up on the screen. Whew, I thought, that was a close call.

So while these terrible zero cultural farts are just rolling along through a Windows slide show of doom and my intelligence is being zapped from my brain, I notice that I’m sitting alone. Everyone at the theater except for me is sitting in the back. I’m the only person who appears to have arrived alone and the only one who doesn’t know everyone else. That’s when it hit me, I had stumbled into a clique-hole. The Rocky Horror kids wanted nothing to do with me! I was just some uncool dude who was crashing their party. Suddenly, I was very depressed and embarrassed for myself. My body felt as heavy as a stone while a steamroller of social anxiety crushed me down into the filthy carpet.

Then the show started. Some ghoulish rock music kicked in and the zombie strippers came out to strut their stuff. Wow, there really is truth in advertising! Girls in zombie makeup, fishnets, frilly panties, strategically placed electrical tape, and very little else started doing their act. It wasn’t just burlesque bouncing either, they actually had a victim whose guts they tore out. I had to applaud. This was good.

Once the strippers had done their bit, it was time for Mike Christopher to give a little speech. He seemed like a nice guy. He complained about how cold it was in Florida and that got a laugh. It would probably be 80 degrees in a few days. That’s what makes all of us psychotic around here. When he was done, I should have left. I’m telling you, my friends, I should have walked out the fucking door.

So the film starts. They were indeed using the laptop and the tiny projector. This resulted in Dawn of the Dead taking up less than 20% of the available screen. The debate in my mind went like this: Is this an actual print of the film? Hell no. How important is that to me? Moderately. Is this bigger than my TV at home? Yes. Then fine, I’ll stay.

Around this time, I noticed that I needed to put my jacket back on. Tampa Pitcher Show was probably trying to save money by not turning the heat on. The temperature inside the place was starting to plummet. I had a wool cap in the pocket of my jacket. I took that out and put it on. Then I zipped up my jacket. Then I had to put my hands in my pockets. Holy shit, I was cold. Really, really cold.

Then the ‘your virus detection software is out of date’ window popped up over George Romero’s classic with a loud ding that echoed through the theater. My jaw dropped. That’s right, whoever owned the laptop in question was a complete asshole who didn’t know his/her ass from a hole in the ground. I felt so stupid for sticking through this shit show that my urge to weep or start screeching at the top of my lungs in venomous rage was deflated. I just sat there and took it like a grownup, a thoroughly disappointed grownup.

When the film ended, I got up to leave with nothing in my heart but a feeling of profound foolishness and a love for Dawn of the Dead that no crappy night out (and no shite remake) can shake. It was freezing outside. I ran to the car and hopped in. As the heat failed and only cold air was blowing out, I started laughing. It was after 2 in the morning, I was cold as balls, and I’d just wasted 4 hours of my life. I drove home shivering and making a pact with myself to never return to Tampa Pitcher Show ever again.

So in the end, Dawn of the Dead still haunts me. The film is urgently important in my heart. Seeing it when I was 13 and seeing it at that abominable screening were the same. The setting didn't matter. I was creeped out and depressed by the film. Even when I was a kid, it made me morose and I loved it. I had never felt that way from a movie before. It made me listless and thoroughly freaked me out the more I thought about it. The world looked bent, distorted and yet somehow even more real afterward. This is what good horror movies do. Tampa Pitcher Show, leave me alone. I don't want to talk to you right now.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Films I Watched - January 2016

I haven't been tracking my films that I've watched for a long time. I thought it might be fun (for me) to get back into the habit.

Films marked with a * are first time viewings!

Here we go!

January 2016

Count Dracula (BBC)*
The Last Circus*
The Woman in the Window*
Godzilla 2000*
Big Trouble in Little China
The Amazing Spider-Man
Green Lantern
Over Your Dead Body*
The Lost Boys
Ex Machina*
When Marnie was There*
The Gift*
Zorro: The Gay Blade
Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown
Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown
Godzilla: Final Wars*
Godzilla (2014)
The Loreley's Grasp
The Runaways*
Withnail & I*
The Black Cat (1981)
Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
The Church
Total Recall (2012)*
Yakuza Apocalypse*
Pump Up the Volume
The Dead Pit
Without Warning
Grease 2
The Guardians of the Galaxy
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
Gone Girl*
The Final Girls*
A Thousand Clowns
Voice without a Shadow*
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Remains of the Day*
Satan's Children*
Seven Bloodstained Orchids
The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue
Terror (1978)
Red Pier*
The Rambling Guitarist*
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains

That's it! I wonder what I'll watch in February.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Nude Episodes Of The Podcast!

Sometimes we podcast. Okay, not sometimes! Check out the newness right here.

Do you like oldies? I do too! Visit the archives for the old Shirley.

In related news, I was also lucky enough to be asked to guest host on the mighty The Podcast Under the Stairs. Duncan is a rad dude. He and I talked about Lucio Fulci's The Black Cat and Sergio Martino's Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. Check out that fine episode with me right here.