The Friday Afternoon Movie: House On Haunted Hill

It’s October, that time of the year when, with Fall in full…fall, we are sanctioned to gorge ourselves on a year’s worth of high fructose corn syrup. Knowing you’ll no doubt take care of that on your own, today the FAM provides you, instead, with a healthy heaping of camp and Vincent Price as we present House on Haunted Hill from 1959, directed by William Castle.

The setup is fairly simple: Eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren (Price) has invited five strangers to attend a “party” for his fourth wife Annabelle at a supposedly haunted house. The power will be off and the doors will be locked at midnight. Each of the guests is given a .45 pistol for protection. Any guest that makes it until morning will receive ten thousand dollars. As the night progresses his guests will learn that there is more to fear than ghosts.

Two things really make House on Haunted Hill: Price, of course, at his schlocky best and the house itself. Say what you want about the acting or the special effects, but the atmosphere conjured up by those sets is strikingly foreboding, especially the wine cellar, home of perhaps the films most famous apparition, the old crone who twice scares the crap out of poor Nora.

Castle was well known for heavily promoting his films with a number of gimmicks, and this one was no different. House on Haunted Hill was marketing as being filmed in “Emergo” or “Emerg-O” in some theaters. What this meant was, during the film’s penultimate scene (in which the scheming Annabelle meets her demise) a glowing, inflatable skeleton would emerge from above the screen and float above the audience via wires. This was known to elicit more laughs than scares and the skeleton often became a target of flying confections.

House on Haunted Hill is a quintessential Halloween movie. It is a typical, haunted house experience put to film (it even starts out with a series of generic haunted-house-spooky sounds) hosted by Vincent Fucking Price. If you’re in the mood for some B-movie thrills, it doesn’t get much better than that.

The Friday Afternoon Movie: 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s

Another week another FAM. Time to FAM it up FAM style. FAM to the MAX! FAMtacular FAMmery.

Ok, that’s enough of that. (Editors Note: Please PLEASE, stop drinking at work.)

Today we present 1979’s 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s, directed by Gary Weis of All You Need Is Cash and Saturday Night Live fame. I first found this movie three years ago and it still fascinates me. Following two gangs from the South Bronx, the Savage Skulls and the Nomads, it provides a fascinating snapshot of New York as it limped out of one of it’s worst decades. It plays much better as a time capsule, I think, then a gang documentary. If you ever wondered how anyone could come up with the aesthetics of a movie like The Warriors, here’s your answer.

Uncontacted Amazon Tribe Disappears

You may recall photos from February of this year, showing a previously uncontacted tribe in the rainforest of Brazil. Pretty amazing stuff. Tragically, it was announced earlier this week that the 200 members of this community have disappeared, under particularly terrifying circumstances. Brazilian officials are saying that the guard post meant to protect the tribe’s village was over-run by heavily armed men, thought to be drug traffickers, who now occupy the base and the area around where the village stood:

Fears are now mounting for the welfare of the Indians after workers from FUNAI (the government’s Indian Affairs Department) found one of the traffickers’ rucksacks with a broken arrow inside. A rapid survey by government officials has shown no trace of the Indians, who made worldwide headlines in February.

Police have reportedly found a package containing 20kg of cocaine nearby. It is feared the Envira River, where the post is located, has become an entry point into Brazil for cocaine smugglers from Peru.

[...]

Carlos Travassos, the head of the Brazilian government’s isolated Indians department, said today, ‘Arrows are like the identity card of uncontacted Indians. We think the Peruvians made the Indians flee. Now we have good proof. We are more worried than ever. This situation could be one of the biggest blows we have ever seen in the protection of uncontacted Indians in recent decades. It’s a catastrophe.’

Via Survival International : Gawker

The Friday Afternoon Movie: Riki-Oh: The Story Of Ricky

I got far too little sleep last night. For what reason, I do not know, but I was simply unable to get more than two or three hours of real rest and, as such, I am not all here at the moment. And while this is normally a bad thing, it does allow me to at least place the blame for this week’s FAM upon my delirium.

With that out of the way, allow me to present Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky from 1991, directed by Lam Nai-choi and starring Fan Siu-wong as the titular hero. Truthfully, that is all I would like to say about it, letting those who have not seen it just stumble in blindly but that would be, perhaps, irresponsible of me. So, as far as plot goes: The year is 2001 and all government institutions have been privatized. At the beginning of the film our hero, Riki-Oh Saiga, martial arts master, arrives at a prison to serve a ten year sentence for manslaughter, for killing the man indirectly responsible for the death of Riki’s girlfriend.

That’s all you get. However, I must warn viewers that the draw of this particular film (besides the amazing/bad dubbing) is, frankly, its outlandish violence. Saying The Story of Ricky contains some blood and gore is like saying Bill Gates has a few bucks. The movie is soaked through with gallons of fake blood. It is an orgy of ludicrous, cartoonish violence. If you aren’t down for watching a man punch the jaw off a laughably fake head, then don’t click the play button. If, however, that level of disgusting camp appeals to you, and you haven’t already seen this fine movie, then prepare yourself for an hour and a half of the most ridiculous martial arts mayhem ever recorded.

American Comics Reader Facing Criminal Charges In Canada

Attacks on comics are getting worse and worse. Border searches are on the rise, and have are growing more invasive all the time.

Via Warren Ellis, here’s a verbatim press release from Charles Brownstein (charles.brownstein@cbldf.org) and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund:

CBLDF Forms Coalition to Defend American Comics Reader Facing Criminal Charges In Canada

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund today announces that it is forming a coalition to support the legal defense of an American citizen who is facing criminal charges in Canada that could result in a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison for comics brought into the country on his laptop.  This incident is the most serious in a trend the CBLDF has been tracking involving the search and seizure of the print and electronic comic books carried by travelers crossing borders.

CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein says, “Although the CBLDF can’t protect comic fans everywhere in every situation, we want to join this effort to protect an American comic fan being prosecuted literally as he stood on the border of our country for behavior the First Amendment protects here, and its analogues in Canadian law should protect there.”

The CBLDF has agreed to assist in the case by contributing funds towards the defense, which has been estimated to cost $150,000 CDN.  The CBLDF will also provide access to experts and assistance on legal strategy.  The CBLDF’s efforts are joined by the recently re-formed Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund, a Canadian organization that will contribute to the fundraising effort.  Please contribute to this endeavor by making a tax deductible contribution here.

The facts of the case involve an American citizen, computer programmer, and comic book enthusiast in his mid-twenties who was flying from his home in the United States to Canada to visit a friend.  Upon arrival at Canadian Customs a customs officer conducted a search of the American and his personal belongings, including his laptop, iPad, and iPhone. The customs officer discovered manga on the laptop and considered it to be child pornography.  The client’s name is being withheld on the request of counsel for reasons relating to legal strategy.

The images at issue are all comics in the manga style.  No photographic evidence of criminal behavior is at issue.  Nevertheless, a warrant was issued and the laptop was turned over to police.  Consequently, the American has been charged with both the possession of child pornography as well as its importation into Canada. As a result, if convicted at trial, the American faces a minimum of one year in prison. This case could have far reaching implications for comic books and manga in North America.

The CBLDF’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to aid the case by raising funds to contribute to the defense and to help the defense with strategy and expert resources.

Brownstein says, “This is an important case that impacts the rights of everyone who reads, publishes, and makes comics and manga in North America. It underscores the dangers facing everyone traveling with comics, and it can establish important precedents regarding travelers rights.  It also relates to the increasingly urgent issue of authorities prosecuting art as child pornography.  While this case won’t set a US precedent, it can inform whatever precedent is eventually set.  This case is also important with respect to artistic merit in the Canadian courts, and a good decision could bring Canadian law closer to US law in that respect.  With the help of our supporters, we hope to raise the funds to wage a fight that yields good decisions and to create tools to help prevent these sorts of cases from continuing to spread.”

Find out more on the case here. To help support the case, you can make a monetary contribution here.

About CBLDF
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1986 as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights for members of the comics community. They have defended dozens of Free Expression cases in courts across the United States, and led important education initiatives promoting comics literacy and free expression. For additional information, donations, and other inquiries call 800-99-CBLDF or visit them online at www.cbldf.org.

About CLLDF
The Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1987 to raise money for the defense of a Calgary, Alberta comic shop whose owners were charged with selling obscene materials. The CLLDF has since been maintained on an ad hoc basis to provide financial relief for Canadian comics retailers, publishers, professionals, or readers whose right to free speech has been infringed by civil authorities.  Largely dormant since the early 1990s, the CLLDF is reforming to provide support for this case, and reorganizing to ensure that help will be readily available for future cases involving Canadian citizens or authorities.  To help the CLLDF in this mission, please go to www.clldf.ca.

The Friday Afternoon Movie: “Until The Light Takes Us”


Fenriz of Darkthrone. Still via Black Metal Movie.

[Video removed in response to copyright infringement complaint. Buy the film here.]

Screaming and corpse paint on this entry of The FAM as we take a look at Until the Light Takes Us, the 2009 documentary directed by Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell which details the goings on of a small group of individuals who took the Norwegian black metal scene and propelled it into infamy with vandalism, church burnings, and, eventually, murder. It specifically sets its sights on two of the individuals: Darkthrone drummer and producer Gylve “Fenriz” Nagell and ex Mayhem member and one man band Burzum creator Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes who, at the time, was finishing out a 21 year sentence (the maximum under Norwegian law) for four of the aforementioned church burnings, as well as the murder of fellow Mayhem band-mate Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth.

The reasons for this decision are apparent from the start, as they are almost diametrically opposed to one another. Nagell continues to remain active in the scene, making music with Darkthrone and running his record label. He is also, seemingly, apolitical. Vikernes, on the other hand, is anything but. He waxes at great length about the ills his country and culture have suffered under the tyranny of everything from McDonald’s to Christianity. Indeed, of the two, he is far more charismatic. He is also the most problematic.

Critics have pointed out that Vikernes may have charmed his interviewers into complacency, and I can’t help but agree. Little is done to expand his views of Christianity, and yet it seems that most of those issues revolve around the fact that it is an offshoot of Judaism. It is also not mentioned that, for a number of years after his conviction, he identified as a neo-Nazi. (He has since created the term “odalism” to differentiate his beliefs, though those differences do not pertain to either racism or anti-Semitism.)

In a sense, then, Until the Light Takes Us serves much better as a history lesson, a snapshot of the early days of Norway’s burgeoning black metal scene. It serves little in the way of critique save to ponder how society has co-opted the scene, rendering it somewhat toothless in the eyes of its forefathers; and while this is an interesting diversion it is more observation than analysis. In the end, it could have used a more insightful vision. Aites and Ewell spent two years in Norway making this documentary and getting to know their subjects. It may have helped to get some distance.

Birdwatcher Arrested, Subjected to Strip and Body Cavity Searches For Possession of… Sage?

Probably one of the more despicable leads you’ll read in American news this week, via the Orlando Sentinel:

Bird watcher wrongly arrested for possession of pot had sage in backpack. Deputy thought herb was marijuana; State Attorney’s Office ordered arrest without lab test.

Robin Brown was thrown in a Florida jail on felony charges of marijuana possession three months after sheriff deputy Dominic Raimondi mistook the sage she had in her backpack for pot. A field test had yielded a false positive, and after Raimondi filed his report, the State Attorney’s Office ordered for Brown’s arrest without ever conducting a crime lab narcotics test.

The 49 year old birdwatcher was taken out of her place of work in handcuffs and driven down to the station to be stripped, subjected to a body cavity search, and spend the night in jail. Such was Brown’s punishment for possession of a personal use-sized amount of marijuana plant… that wasn’t actually marijuana plant.

News of this story came to my attention via my friend Stephen, who comments: “Body cavity searches are getting to be a disturbingly common occurrence. Folks complain about sex education corrupting children, but when law enforcement wants to poke around inside your orifices, that’s just patriotic.”

There are many, many different ways in which Robin Brown’s story disturbs me. I’m not even sure what aspect to focus on; I just know that I owe it to myself to think actively and critically about what an increase in occurrences like this might mean, and that reportage of incidents like this should be shared as widely as possible.

The Friday Afternoon Movie: Man Bites Dog

What a week, huh? Yeah, pretty crazy. It’s Friday though, so it’s almost over. And since it is Friday, how about some FAM?

Today we have 1992’s Man Bites Dog (French: C’est Arrivé Près de Chez Vous, It Happened in Your Neighborhood), directed by Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde. A mockumentary, the story follows a crew of filmmakers, including director Rémy (Belvaux) and cameraman André (Bonzel) as they record the day to day adventures of Ben (Poelvoorde), a prolific serial killer. Ben brings them along on his excursions, introduces the crew to his friends and family, and discusses the ins and outs of his “craft”, as well as pontificating on subjects ranging from philosophy to architecture. Soon, however, the crew is drawn in to participating in Ben’s increasingly random and violent crimes.

I recently re-watched this with someone who had not seen it previously and it is definitely a movie of two halves. The first half of Man Bites Dog can be very funny, in a way that only dark comedies can be. There’s even an homage to the running gag in Rob Reiner’s seminal mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, with the crew losing a number of sound men during filming (due to “occupational hazards”), with each receiving the same eulogy from Rémy. It is a cynical humor to be sure. The shift occurs 2/3rds through the film (Editor’s Note: Oh for— You said this was a movie of two halves and now you’re speaking in thirds. What is wrong with you? Must you be terrible at everything?), with a brutal scene that heralds the active participation of the film crew. It’s a powerful moment and it works by both removing the distance the crew afforded themselves from what they were filming, as well as removing the distance the viewer was afforded from what they were watching. In that moment, all the laughter sort of gets sucked out of the room.

Watching it again, over a decade since I first saw it, I was struck by how well it still holds up. The cast is superb, especially Poelvoorde who plays Ben as a man simply making a living, regardless of how monstrous the means may actually be. It is a manic, bizarre movie; violent, cruel, and funny. And yet, despite that last bit, it never feels like it condones what is happening on screen. In the end, all involved are judged guilty, and all pay for it.

Weegee Tells How:


Via Siege, thanks!

Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee, was a New York city freelance news photographer from the 1930s to the 1950s. Here he talks about his career and gives advice to those wanting to become news photographers.”

Weegee’s a phonetic version of Ouija. The cigar-gnawing Fellig earned his nickname “because of his frequent, seemingly prescient arrivals at scenes only minutes after crimes, fires or other emergencies were reported to authorities.”

Crassly manipulative at times, and an unapologetic opportunist, Fellig also claimed (as heard in the interview above) to be a humanist at heart. As questionable as some of the paparazzo’s methods might have been, the human pathos of his imagery, whether it features tenement fire survivors, public drunks, murdered gangsters or smooching space cadets (seen below) is unquestionably powerful indeed.


© Weegee

Other great Weegee related stuff:

Niche Market

It’s hard to imagine who the intended audience was for the “Stuffed” Girl’s Heads* from Honor House Products Corp. Certainly, there was and, no doubt, still is a well entrenched consumer base comprised of misogynists who would perhaps guffaw at the site of such an item or nod sagely, in possession of the belief that women are, indeed, nothing more than trophies. Despite this unfortunate reality, I have a hard time believing that anyone would actually buy something like this. No, this strikes me as the perfect gift for the laziest of movie serial killers; the star of some Grunge-era slasher film in which the villain is too stoned and jaded to actually get up off the couch in his parents’s basement to slay a cheerleader.

Regardless, for the low price of $3.35 you get the complete array of hair colors, those being blond, brunette, and redhead, affixed to a genuine mahogany base (notice no quotation marks there, so you know that shit is real.) The downer here, of course, is that the head is only 3/4 scale which may not completely sate your blood lust unless you have a Beetlejuice inspired fetish to go along with the murderous psychopathy. It also has the unfortunate side effect of putting a damper on the “realism” touted so often in the copy. That said, as the article suggests, it would no doubt be a conversation starter, though that conversation may take the form of a hushed exchange with authorities over the phone while the owner is in the other room.

Via Vintage Ads

*Also, who decided on the placement of those quotation marks. I mean, “Stuffed”? Shouldn’t they be around “Girl’s Head”? Shouldn’t the implication be that the head in question is not a real goddamn head and not that it isn’t actually stuffed? Maybe I’m over-thinking this.