Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

I have really been avoiding the addition of this movie to Cultarama, mostly because an explanation of it is just too damned tiring. Like Eraserhead, this movie can be endlessly discussed and critiqued because of the sheer amount of plot vagueness and surrealistic symbolism involved. Y'know, the whole "was it a dream/fantasy/real life distortion/etc?" Made in 1920 germany, a silent movie of course, therefore the lip reading you can do on American silent films is totally lost here because the actors are speaking in german. You have to rely on facial expression and the rare written text to make heads or tails of this incredibly dreamlike movie. Most dreamlike of all has got to be the sets, which are totally bizarre. Mostly made of paper, there are crooked houses, warped streets, and the trees look like cheap silhouettes made from construction paper. Probably one of the cheapest sets ever made, yet mesmerizing in it's puzzling appearance. This strange atmosphere dramatically enhances the feeling of being in a dream, a fantasy, a delusion, or whatever the hell this movie is supposed to be. The bare bones of the story is this: Francis is sitting on a bench telling someone his story. A glassy eyed woman drifts in front of them, Francis remarks that this is his fiancee. One look at her and you know somethin' ain't right. Francis tells the story of how he and his best friend Alan are in love with the same woman, Jane. A creepy carnival (is there any other kind?) comes to town. With this carnival is a creepy old man named Dr. Caligari, presenting as his exhibit, a somnambulist (a sleep walker) named Cesare who has been sleeping for the past 23 years. When awoken, Cesare can tell your future. Cesare, by the way, is the creepiest looking dude imaginable, with solid black eyes and a mouth that looks like a cross between Joan Crawford and Mick Jagger (blood red and HUGE!). Anyway, Alan asks Cesare "How long will I live?" Cesare informs Alan that he'll die by tomorrow morning. Naturally, Alan freaks. That night, a murder by stabbing takes place. The next morning comes and Alan's fortune comes true when he is found stabbed to death as well. We see a shadow of the murderer which looks an awful lot like Cesare. Soon, Jane is kidnapped by a man that looks like Cesare, yet Cesare's whereabouts are confirmed by police to have been sleeping in his cabinet/coffin/bed, whatever it is. This proves very puzzling until Cesare is to be inspected a little more closely by police and a dummy is found in the cabinet instead. Francis is enraged and chases Dr. Caligari who flees to an asylum. Francis asks if a patient named Caligari is a resident of the asylum. He is met with confusion and brought to the asylum Director's office. Guess who the asylum Director is... that's right, Dr. Caligari. That night while Dr. Caligari is asleep, an investigation ensues. Francis and some friends raid Caligari's office and read his diary. They learn that his main course of study is somnambulism. They also find a book containing information about a mystic named Dr. Caligari, who in 1703 toured with a carnival, exhibiting a somnambulist who he had enslaved into doing his bidding and committing crimes that kept many towns in a panic for months on end. Having the sleep walker committing Caligari's crimes proved beneficial in relieving Caligari from being caught as the actual killer. The present day Dr. Caligari (his real name is never given) begins to obsess over his idol, the Dr. Caligari from 1703 that could make a sleep walker do all his bidding. His diary reveals his desire to become Caligari and his elation that a somnambulist has finally been committed to the asylum in which he is the Director of. This means that he can finally study and unravel the secrets of how the Dr. Caligari from 1703 succeeded in making somnambulists do his will. The present day doctor's plans are finally discovered, he is put in a straight jacket and hauled off to his crooked paper cell. In the next scene, we see what seems to be the inside of the asylum. Francis is there telling another inmate not to talk to Cesare or you'll end up dead. He then asks a comatose Jane to marry him. She responds with a nonsensical answer that an asylum inmate would definitely come up with. When the doctor approaches, Francis exclaims "I'm not crazy, he IS Caligari!" The doctor then mumbles something to himself about how he now knows what the cause of his mania is and how to cure him. OK, so we're left asking ourselves... Was Francis also an inmate at the asylum? Did he simply fabricate a story using other inmates as the characters? Was the present asylum Director really obsessed with an old mystic named Caligari? Was Francis just displaying his own insanity by accusing the Director of being the real Dr. Caligari? Who exactly was the insane one? My guess is that it's a little of all of those possibilities. Whether it makes sense to you or not, it's still a cinematic masterpiece. Made in 1920, it's often regarded as the first horror movie. It didn't really scare me, but for the time, a twist ending like that was not at all common. The sets definitely give you that surrealistic dreamland sort of feeling, and are at sometimes almost dizzying. Common sense tells you that this was a black and white film, but on the DVD release, almost every scene is tinted by a wide range of colors. Tense scenes were tinted brown, tender scenes in pink or purple, and asylum scenes in various shades of blue. Overall, it's one of the most artistic and beautifully conceived movie I've ever seen. A little confusing, but what a boring world it would be if every movie was plain and bluntly predictable. Being quite the opposite, this movie can be watched and discussed over and over again... and maybe with the right drugs, it could actually make sense. A side note for Rob Zombie fans, Zombie used this film as his inspiration for the video of his hit song "Living Dead Girl". He plays Caligari and his wife Kitty plays a combination character of Jane and Cesare.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Entity

This is one of the more mainstream (translation for mainstream-they had a little bit of money to spend on production and had a rising newcomer, Barbara Hershey) cult films out there. A little more well known due to the DVD release. I have to admit, this movie used to scare the piss out of me. Probably because I knew that it had been partially based on a true event. I've been a believer in ghosts, poltergeists, and other such phenomenon all my life and I knew the basics of this particular case, before seeing the film. Barbara Hershey made us all believe that she really was going through one hell of an incident that proved to us that a living person can be haunted just as easily as old houses can. The first half of the movie is very close to the truth and the second half of the film is completely fiction. We'll of course start with the first half including occasional inserts of what really happened. Carla Moran (real name was not given at the time of the movie release, but we now know that her real name was Doris Bither) has a hectic life. She's a single mother struggling to keep a job, go to night school, deal with three children and a boyfriend who is almost never in town due to his job. One day she is raped. When the rape was over, there was no one there to call the police on. The attacker simply disappeared. people assume that she dreamt it, but Carla knows it really happened. Another attack ensues while Carla is trying to take a bath. Again she is brutally raped, this time the invisible attacker seems to have two smaller, yet very strong helpers. Carla seeks the help of a doctor, clearly displaying bruises and bite marks in places that Carla could not have possibly bitten herself. Like usual, the doctors aren't much help and are determined to convince Carla that the attacks are a result of Carla's checkered past. Frustrated with being told that she's just crazy, she abandons her doctor in favor of parapsychology. When other people start to witness the phenomenon and even capture photographic proof of it, things finally start to look up for Carla. Finally someone believes her and are trained (as best as someone could be, I guess) to help her. OK, end of the first half. All of the above is true, even the photographic proof, most photography experts say are one of the most authentic photos of this type, witnessed and photographed by many people. Unfortunately, the real Carla Moran's story ends here. After the "big showdown" that was photographed by several people, the well ran dry. The photographers helped people believe her, but it didn't stop the attacks. Carla moved her family from state to state, but was never able to escape her ruthless entity. It followed her and the attacks continued. After some ten years, Carla Moran was no longer able to be found. Efforts to locate her continue unsuccessfully. OK, now part two of "the movie part" of the story, which in my opinion is kinda stupid, but what the hell, it's Hollywood ('nuff said). The parapsychology team that investigated and witnessed the entity at Carla's house have decided to try to capture this being, using Carla as bait, since it seems to follow her outside of her home. They build a rough draft of Carla's real home, consisting of a chemical toilet, hot plate, and some furniture to make her feel more at home. They also have added a special little ghost catching device, that shoots liquid nitrogen, which we all know, freezes virtually anything on contact. Their theory is to catch a ghost in a block of ice. Poor Carla not only is bait for the entity, but has only a glass "safe room" to keep the liquid nitrogen from killing her instantly (which by the way doesn't work). The annoying doctor that says he cares so much for Carla interferes endlessly at this point, trying to convince her of the dangers of liquid nitrogen. She simply states that she would rather die that go on living the way she's been living. And with that he's thrown out for good. The entity finally shows up and takes control of the nitrogen machine and destroys just about everything. The huge tanks of liquid nitrogen that are stored above are ruptured and encases the entire place in ice. Carla survives by running for her life, when she can obviously see that all hell is breaking loose. The ice glows green, shakes for a moment and the entity bursts loose. The end. There's a brief epilogue about how the attacks on Carla and her family, though decreased in frequency and violence, continue to this day.

Like I said earlier, the real Carla Moran has been identified as Doris Bither. Author Frank DeFelitta, who originally wrote the book "The Entity" kept in touch with Ms. Bither. The events originated in her house in Culver City, California. To escape the attacks of her entity, she moved to San Bernardino. Again unsuccessful at evading the entity, she moved to Texas. By now convinced that the entity would follow her wherever she goes, she decided to move back to California. The parapsychologists who investigated this case, had lost track of Doris' whereabouts after her move to Texas. But, Frank DeFelitta managed to track her down once she moved back to California. Since the investigation and the release of his book that inspired the movie, they had become friends. It's been reported that Doris Bither died in 2006, due to to liver failure (she drank quite heavily... but wouldn't you too?!).

Trick or Treat

This is a great 80's period piece. I saw this as a teenager and I loved it, mostly because it's a "revenge against your high school tormentors" type of movie. Sort of a "Carrie" for guys. Something I and probably thousands of other people can relate to back in those awkward (and sometimes traumatic and insanity inducing) teenage years. The story centers around Eddie Weinbaur... metal head, mullet sporter, torn denim wearer, dressed in a never ending selection of Metallica t-shirts. Needless to say, he's an obvious target for these overly preppy guys at his school. It always amazed me how preps wearing pink (and a various assortment of other pastels), playing polo, using gobs of hair gel to enhance their fake highlights, and throwing pool parties could possibly have the nerve to call us "fags". Did they not have mirrors or something? Anyway, Eddie is actually a pretty cool guy, loves all the best metal bands... Judas Priest, Megadeth, Anthrax, etc. But his favorite is (the fictional) Sammi Curr. Eddie absolutely loves Sammi Curr and writes him tons of fan letters under the pseudonym "Ragman". Mostly bitching about his lousy high school existence. One day, the unthinkable happens. Sammi Curr dies in a mysterious hotel fire. Eddie is crushed. He seeks empathy from his radio DJ friend (appropriately played by Gene Simmons of the band "Kiss"). His friend presents Eddie with a one of a kind gift. Sammi's new album that was scheduled to be released, but delayed because of his untimely death, was to be played at midnight on Halloween, and the DJ has the only master copy. He presents Eddie with the master album, because he's made a tape recording of the album of which he plans to play at midnight. Thrilled shitless, Eddie takes the album home, presses play and listens to the album over and over till he falls asleep. Eddie wakes up to the sound of the record skipping. The short bits of music between the skips sound like language in reverse. Eddie begins to play the album backwards and hears the voice of Sammi Curr leaving vague messages that seem directed at Ragman (Eddie). Eddie plays the rest of the album backwards and discovers instructions for a revenge plan to get back at his preppy bullies. He executes the plan as directed and it works perfectly. Eddie begins an ongoing conversation with Sammi Curr through the album. Eddie asks in forward mode and Sammi replies in reverse. Soon, Eddie is all powerful... that is until he realizes that he's just a tool for Sammi to be "reborn" as such. Using electricity as his general vehicle, Sammi Curr terrorizes the Halloween dance at Eddie's school, killing more than just the preps. And has plans to reach an even bigger killing ground (I mean audience) by his new album being played at midnight. It's up to Eddie and some hussy he picks up along the way to stop the playing of the album. They succeed in shutting off the power, by smashing a transformer or something. A pretty predictable ending, but still a good film. Don't miss Ozzy Osbourne's cameo as a Christian televangelist, bitching about the sexually suggestive lyrics of heavy metal music. Nice touch.