Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Criterion Channel Presents 29 Film 1970s Horror Showcase: Oct 4 | Genre Streaming for Cinephiles


This year's seasonal genre film offerings will be quite a different beast. Where in past decades we've consistently seen horror, sci-fi, cult, psychotronic, fantasy and B-movie showcases from our local independent cinemas, the conditions of the pandemic make none of the complexity of that programming practical for a virtual theatrical setting. Nor is there significant scientific rationale yet to be returning to cinemas. In years past there seemingly couldn't be enough in the way of All Hallows' Eve theme programming and repertory series in the local independent movie houses. The months of October and November could be filled to the point of overflowing with the season's disorienting frights, crepuscular surrealism, and discomfiting atmospheres, and I'd be left wanting for more. Thankfully a set of both real-world and virtual alternatives are available this year. Recently reopened to the public, Scarecrow Video steps up with their curated Halloween section of domestic and expansive horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and psychotronic selections. This year continuing their tradition of the Psychotronic Challenge now in its fifth installment, challenging viewers to select a new theme category for every day in October from the deep trivia of the cues on offer. While we're here, let's talk the incomparable one-of-a-kind resource that is Scarecrow, and how if you live in the Northwest and are a fan of cinema (regardless of genre, era or style), it's essentially your personal obligation to ensure their doors stay open for business. For horror and genre aficionados, there is no other resource in North America like that of their abundant catalog of obscure, foreign releases, out of print, and ultra-rare editions in the depths of their archive. With nearly 130,000 films on offer, there is no singular online streaming resource that can compare.
 
In previous years, the annual citywide cinematic offerings for the months of October and November have seen a great set of films exploring desolate worlds, classic Japanese horror, a vampiric romaticism double feature and a night of music from a maestro of Italian horror. Also in the way of recent Halloween seasons of note, we saw an abundance on the theme of the haunted house in 2015, and 2013 presented no small number of invaders from beyond. 2017 was heavy on 1970s psychedelic and psychological horror from Europe, particularly from the subgenres of French Fantastique and Italian Giallo. 2018's regional programming took a cue from Nick Pinkerton's feature for Sight & Sound, and their "The Other Side of 80s America" focus on the decade of independent and genre cinema issuing from the United States. Concurrent with the pop culture revelry of Reaganite family-oriented dramas, action, teen movies, and sci-fi blockbusters, a more rebellious and independent strain of US movie making explored the darkness on the edge of mainstream society. These manic explorations of class conflict, Cold War dread, ecological disaster and suburban paranoia also featured in Northwest Film Forum's monthlong assembly of, Shock & Awe: Horror During the Reagan Years. One of the longest running, and most consistently satisfying of the local Halloween series has been The Grand Illusion Cinema's monthlong All Monsters Attack calendar of horror, creature features, classic thrillers, sci-fi, and cult cinema. Last year's offerings were bolstered by the recently opened The Beacon Cinema, and it's mapping a deep cartography of genre film in two concurrent series, The October Country, and Folklore Phantasmagoria. Titled after a Ray Bradbury collection of macabre short stories, the lowering gloam of the season's shift from late summer into fall evidently inspired The Beacon's programmer, Tommy Swenson. Their Folklore Phantasmagoria series also delivered on the promise of its title with a set of stylistically vibrant works from across the globe that put to test the parameters of the psychotronic.
 
But with both The Beacon and The Grand Illusion Cinema remaining closed, we can be thankful of options available both inside and outside of the dominant commercial streaming platforms. Shudder remains the home for horror online. Their offerings alone could fill any avid viewer's calendar month, and while its more than a bit hyperbolic, Screenrant isn't too far off base proposing "How Shudder Is Single-Handedly Keeping 2020 Horror Movies Alive". The excellent Arrow Films, and their genre imprint, Arrow Video, have also entered the game this year, inviting us to "Join the Cult: The Arrow Video Channel", and don't overlook Shout Factory TV's  "31 Nights of Horror 2020". Annually the online cinema that is Mubi offer up a selection of arthouse and deep cult cinema cuts on their platform spanning October. This year the Trick or Flick: Halloween Horror series found in their Library section, is complimented with a ongoing mini-retrospective from the Japanese auteur of the unnerving, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Nestled in the bounty of The Criterion Channel's October lineup, you'll find the motherload of a 29 film deep dive into the decade that began it all for the now-burgeoning genre. Their 1970s Horror showcase highlights the explosive decade of cult film issuing from an era that was itself transgressive, politically voracious, and boundary-pushing. From the Criterion Channel; "In the 1970s, everything was wilder, weirder, and more far-out - and horror movies were no exception. In North America, a new generation of maverick directors like Tobe Hooper, George A. Romero, Wes Craven, Brian De Palma, Bill Gunn, and David Cronenberg (offered here in a triple dose) responded to the decade’s heightened political anxieties and Vietnam War-era sense of disillusionment by pushing the genre’s psychological intensity and visceral violence to shocking new heights. Across the Atlantic, Britain’s legendary Hammer Films continued to serve up old-school gothic spine-tinglers, while auteurs like Robert Altman and Nicolas Roeg wedded spellbinding terror to art-house experimentation. Bringing together some of the decade’s most iconic slashers, chillers, and killer thrillers alongside low-budget cult rarities and camp-tastic oddities this tour through the 1970s nightmare realm is a veritable blood feast of perverse pleasures from a time when gore, grime, and sleaze found a permanent home in horror."

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Draw of the Gothic & "No Rest for the Eerie: A Paean to the Haunted House" | The New York Times


The month of October has arrived and with it All Hallows' Eve nods to the Olde World traditions of seasonal harvest rights and festivities, like the Gaelic Samhain and Celtic Hop-tu-Naa, which themselves bear some relationship to the Ancient Greek festival of Thesmophoria. Part and parcel with the changes of Autumn, come abundant celebrations of the gloomily crepuscular and gloaming eerie in literature, film, and popular culture. In recognition of this season of ominous portent, The New York Times annually whip up sinister concoctions like "A House of Horror Films" their interactive history, trivia, and guessing game on Haunted Houses by Tommi Musturi. Rather than the difficulty of hunting down regional options due to the global pandemic, Halloween this year has become more a question of whether any of its traditions can be observed at all. Erik Vance wonders if there will be opportunities even while observing pandemic social protocol, "Please Let Me Terrify Some Kids on Halloween", all the while the New York Times offering yard decorating tips, while musing on, "Will the Coronovirus Cancel Halloween?". Turning back the clock, last year's features for the season included a set of writers, directors and various artistic creators detailing their own personal recipes for making the night a memorable one in, "Hoping for a Spooky Halloween? We Have Some Suggestions". Which is followed up by a horror litmus test of sorts in which self proclaimed horror aficionado Fahima Haque takes a sampling of three very different Manhattan and Brooklyn haunted house offerings, and comes away with some insight inter her own threshold for the fearsome season, "‘Not Much Scares Me.’ Then She Entered the Haunted House.". Other annual highlights have included Steven Kurutz' gorgeous little, "No Rest for the Eerie: A Paean to the Haunted House". In which he did more than an admirable job, going as far as to cite John Tibbetts' anthology of essays and interviews “The Gothic Imagination”, which is essential reading for anyone who wants to plumb the depths of "uncertainty, anxiety, and fear" that is the art of the Gothic literary tradition.

The undeniable, and very real, fears surrounding the choices that were left to us in 2016's election cycle and its fallout have been fertile ground for Halloween, "Spooked by Real Life? Bring On the Halloween Frights". No one has quite exploited those fears to the extent of Pedro Reyes' "Doomocracy" wherein, "Brooklyn Put the Politics of Fear on Display". Steven Kurutz has also delivered a brilliant Home & Garden feature, "House Haunters" on seasonal real-world Haunted Houses like Kopelman's 30-year running institution near Phoenix which also acts as ground zero to America's Best Haunts. A directory that includes Ben Armstrong's Netherworld, Kohout's long-running Hauntworld house near St. Louis, Phil Anselmo's New Orleans House of Shock, Los Angeles and New York's Blackout, and the immense, preposterous undertaking that is Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare. Sadly none of our local Northwest haunts make that list, but there's a good number of them to be found throughout the state. The Haunted House and it's offspring have long been a staple of western literature and folklore, movies and pulp storytelling. Their origins in the 18th Century speak to an era equally fascinated by science as the supernatural, with mesmerism and the phantasmagoric in vogue, it's little wonder, "Ghost Stories: Why the Victorians were so Spookily Good at Them". Some memorable manifestations of the Gothic tradition in cinema come to mind, from Ti West's contemporary "House of the Devil", to the campier mid-century side seen in William Castle's B-movie “House on Haunted Hill”. There remain a set of classics in the genre, few of which can rival the adaptation of Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" that is Robert Wise' "The Haunting".

A select number of silent era representations also stand out like Jean Epstein's 1928 surreal, claustrophobic adaptation of the Poe classic, "The Fall of the House of Usher", and the early 1930's horror-comedy talkie of James Whale's "Old Dark House". Later decades produced Roger Corman's B-movie Vincent Price vehicles like "The Haunted Palace", and 1970s Italian Giallo works in the genre represented by Lucio Fulci's H.P. Lovecraft-inspired "The House by the Cemetery". The 1980s saw the Pacific Northwest set "The Changeling" by Peter Medak, and by the 1990s, examples like the unhinged "Sweet Home" by a young Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The late 1970's and early 80s hit their stride with the Japanese insanity of "Hausu" co-conceived by Nobuhiko Obayashi and his 11 year old daughter, Stuart Rosenberg's “Amityville Horror”, and of course no one who's seen it can forget Stanley Kubrick's singular, unnerving horror entry, "The Shining". Digging deeper there were 60's and 70's genre variations like Dan Curtis' “Burnt Offerings", the erotic horror of Elio Petri's "A Quiet Place in the Country", and Carlos Enrique Taboada's haunted schoolhouse-set "Even the Wind is Afraid". But of course the Haunted House owes it's origins to much, much older traditions in literature, as purviewed in The Guardian's, "Halloween Spirits: Literature's Haunted Houses". Traceable back to the 18th century bit of disquieting paranoia and creeping melancholy that is Horace Walpole's “Castle of Otranto”. Predating Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier, M.R. James, Ann Radcliffe, H.P. Lovecraft, and as The Paris Review notes, "The Draw of the Gothic", in all who would follow in their footsteps over the centuries since. Photo credit: Simon Marsden