Every month A Place for Film will bring you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series will reflect the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema, as well as demonstrate the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | House (1977)
I’ve had a lot of great experiences at IU Cinema. One of my favorites was watching House for the first time on Halloween night in 2015. It tells the story of Gorgeous, a Japanese teenage girl who is devastated by her father’s remarriage. Instead of going on vacation with him and her new stepmother, she decides to take a trip to her aunt’s house with her friends. But when she gets there, she discovers that her aunt has some deadly secrets…
Sometimes, when I describe House to people, I feel like the SNL character Stefon (played by House fan Bill Hader). That’s because this movie has everything. A brief list of spooky stuff that makes an appearance includes ghosts, a flying severed head, an old woman sharing a dance with a skeleton, and a piano with a taste for human flesh. Director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, who had mostly directed TV commercials before making this movie, doesn’t just throw everything but the kitchen sink into this movie. He throws everything else in the room, then the kitchen sink, and cackles like a madman as it explodes into a million pieces.
But House is more than a collection of bizarre moments. At various moments in its 87 minute running time it is a coming of age story, a portrait of grief, and an examination of Japanese history from World War II to the 1970s. There’s also a flashback that is as innovative as anything I’ve ever seen in a movie. No matter what you think of House, there’s no chance that you will forget this brilliantly bizarre and bizarrely brilliant film.
Michaela Owens, editor | The Cat and the Canary (1939) and The Ghost Breakers (1940)
The “old dark house” subgenre is one of my favorite things to watch around Halloween. You’ve got the spooky home filled with cobwebs and hidden passageways, an eccentric cast of characters, bizarre circumstances, and a mysterious killer who won’t stop until they discover whatever secret the house is holding. Two of the best of these films come from the underrated teaming of Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. The pair first worked together on The Cat and the Canary, a horror-comedy with a wonderful wit and a good amount of genuine creepiness. The last five minutes are particularly excellent, thanks to Charles Lang’s moody cinematography and the fantastic reveal of who the film’s real hero is.
After the success of Cat and the Canary, Paramount wasted no time in trying to repeat the formula with The Ghost Breakers. Like Cat…, this film was based on a popular play and had been adapted to the screen before (once by Cecil B. DeMille!). The plots were very similar, too: a beautiful woman is targeted by a shadowy figure after she inherits a haunted house, but with the help of her resourceful leading man, she discovers who (or what) has been leaving behind a trail of bodies.
Both of these movies are great entertainment, in large part because of Hope and Goddard. Hope’s persona as a brave coward is in full force here, which is perfectly balanced with Goddard’s vivacity and courage. They share such an easy, charming chemistry. In fact, I’d argue that Goddard was one of Hope’s best partners — this wasn’t a woman who blended into the background and let the comedian have all the fun. And trust me when I say The Cat and the Canary and The Ghost Breakers are a lot of fun.
Caleb Allison, contributor | Prom Night (1980)
In 1980 Leslie Nielsen was in Airplane! and Prom Night. Why? How? Under whose authority? These are all valid questions. I believe it might just sum up everything that is misguided about the second-class slasher citizen, Prom Night. Mr. Nielsen does a fine job as a high school principle and Jamie Lee Curtis’ dad, but his comedic prowess bubbles just under the barely serious film. We just keep waiting for a deadpan one-liner that never arrives.
Of course, it didn’t help that just two years earlier, John Carpenter’s horror icon, Halloween (1978), gave new Shape to the genre. The depraved Force of Nature that is Michael Myers is meekly replaced in Prom Night by a running, jumping, bumbling, ski mask-wearing stalker. It’s as if Marty McFly decided to take a stab at slashing in Hill Valley High School. To top it all off, Prom Night indulges in a fully choreographed disco sequence, which is then sustained for the remainder of the film.
The saving grace of the film is Jamie Lee Curtis, who’s able to bring a kind of gravity back to the neurotic disco aesthetic. Prom Night has all of the conventions Halloween introduced us to without any of its unstoppable dread. Alas, ’tis the season for slashers, and if you like yours with a little ironic comedy (and stop comparing it to Halloween!) then this one has its own funky charms.
David Carter, contributor | Deep Rising (1998)
You know, I was originally going to talk about two films from the director as I am wont to do. This time it would have been Paul Schrader and his films First Reformed (2018) and Blue Collar (1978) and how these are both masterpieces about the heavy topics of fatalism and corruption taking root in places specifically designed to combat corruption. However, things are pretty bad out there in the ol’ world and the idea of recommending or even writing 500 words about these movies would have been a little too much of a bummer. So instead I wanna talk about a big, dumb, but incredibly fun hidden gem of a movie that slaps so hard it left a comical red handprint on my face. I want to talk about Stephen Sommers’s big-budget, bloodcurdling B-movie bonanza, Deep Rising.
This is the precursor to his smash hit The Mummy, which would follow a year later, but it retains all the same hallmarks of his specific brand of high-concept schlock: generic Han Solo-esque hero played by leading men with faces you wouldn’t consider generic; wisecracking side men; a group of agro dudes serving a secondary conflict; and a deeply derivative setting and idea. In Deep Rising‘s case, the idea is “what if we remade Aliens but set it on the set of The Titanic but instead of Aliens it’s a more tentically Lovecraftian horror?”
It would be easy to look at a movie with that pitch and think it’s direct-to-video garbage and you wouldn’t be wrong, but you would be missing out on a rare, late era B-movie that existed before these things became cloyingly self-aware. This movie is knowingly dumb. At one point the group of sea mercenaries comprised of tough-guy-actors-you-have-seen-in-films-of-the-’90s-but-don’t-know-their names are handed guns that, I kid you not, are said to hold 1,000 rounds of ammunition each. You don’t write the line unless you’re a 7-year-old boy or someone who’s having a bit of fun for the sake of script convenience. But it never tips into the manufactured “badness” of Sharknado or the “aiming for B-movie but just making a bad movie” of The Meg (real B-movies aim to be as good as the feature but have a quarter of the tools). I say if you like fun, want to have some friends over and want to be nostalgic for a type of movie that would play on the USA channel on a Saturday night once in like 2001 and have all the violence and swears edited out, this is the movie for you.