The Haunting

Last night I was lucky enough to catch a screening of a 16mm print of the 1963 version of The Haunting. It had long been on my list of my films to see. It’s one of three adaptations based on Shirley Jackson’s original novel, The Haunting of Hill House.

Dr. Markway, doing research to prove the existence of ghosts, investigates Hill House, a large, eerie mansion with a lurid history of violent death and insanity.

Letterboxd description

The story was adapted again in 1999, albeit loosely.

Mike Flanagan also adapted the story, though changed the characters to a family with some aspects of the original characters.

Dario Argento II

In my last post, I talked about watching Dario Argento’s Suspiria, Opera, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Inferno, and Deep Red. In addition to those films, I’ve since watched Tenebrae, Cat o’ Nine Tails, The Stendhal Syndrome, Phenomena, Dark Glasses, and even both Demons films! Because they aren’t streaming, I’ve also ordered Four Flies on Gray Velvet and a couple lesser-known of his films.

I’ll spare breaking down the films one by one, but I do have some observations. The most interesting part of this process has been watching someone direct films starting in the early ’70s all the way to this year. Other than Sam Raimi, Spielberg, and Scorsese, there are very few people who have directed across that many decades (Argento’s been writing films since the ’60s).

I want to be kind here – I will say the films have lessened over the years. I won’t even say in they’ve lessened in quality; Dark Glasses looks great and it’s interesting to have Italians speaking Italian. There’s something about a lot of his films in any decade that make me think “it’s so close, but not quite there.”

Demons and Demons 2 were co-written with others, including director Lamberto Brava. There’s something fun about these films; including the ’80s rock and pop music and cast members playing different roles across the two films.

While I’ve been at it, I’ve watched a few films by Lucio Fulci (Zombie, City of the Living Dead, and The Beyond). My free trials of Shudder and Mubi, where I’ve watched most of these films, have been worth every penny!

Dario Argento

In all of my horror film watching over the last several years, one filmmaker stands out over all of the others – Dario Argento. While I have my quibbles with some of his techniques, the visuals alone are astonishing. So far, I’ve watched Suspiria, Deep Red, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Inferno, and Opera. Other than Inferno, the films listed above tend to be his most highly praised.

For the uninitiated, many of his films fall under the Italian horror/thriller subgenre or Giallo. Giallo, Italian for yellow, takes its name from the typical color of the country’s pulp novel book covers. The genre will usually include a black-gloved killer. While Suspiria doesn’t technically fall under this thematically, it’s often included in lists of Giallo films. There’s a clear throughline from Hitchcock to Argento and, despite his claims otherwise, a similarity to the films of Brian De Palma.

For Argento, there are other calling cards to his films beyond the visuals and Giallo tenets; the protagonist is usually someone creative (a writer, singer, dancer, etc.), a score by Italian prog rock band Goblin, violent and unexpected murders, and a twist ending.

About those visuals – Suspiria and Inferno share a sense of color and set design. While the latter is the weaker of the two as a film, it looks as good as the other. Even if saturated colors aren’t present (as is the case with 1987’s Opera), innovative camera moves and set design will be.

For all this praise, there are negatives. The films are typically dubbed (even with English-speaking actors speaking English dialog), as was the fashion in both these films and Spaghetti Westerns. The films can also be a bit repetitive – for example, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Deep Red have very similar endings. That said, the films are creative enough that it’s not a huge problem and it feels like he’s trying to improve each time. Let’s talk about music. Throughout most of these films, the music is great and fits well. But when there’s a horror moment, you’ll know it because the music by Goblin (or their keyboardist, Claudio Simonetti) will tell you how. This criticism may be a bit thin, but like Hitchcock and De Palma, women in his films are used, shall we say, interestingly. Even if the film contains a female lead (Suspiria, Opera), they are often damsels in distress or objects of desire.

I’d also recommend the Luca Guadagnino Suspiria remake. While they share many of the same themes and plot points (and even a cast member or two), they differ signifigantly.

Sunday

In preparation for the (rather interesting) Oscar ceremony this year, I watched several nominated films. This included the Jonathan Larson musical tick, tick,… BOOM! Knowing that I was going to see that film, I watched Rent for the first time as well. I didn’t really know Larson’s story going into it either musical.

I was impressed when hearing Andrew Garfield had not really sung before and learned a few songs on piano for the part. He’s come a long way from the first time I saw him – in an episode of Doctor Who (which included pig men in 1940’s New York).

One particular song and scene from tick, tick,… BOOM! was interesting to me for a few reasons. Although I’ve seen quite a few Sondheim musicals, Sunday in the Park with George was not one of them. Learning the song Sunday was homage to the identically named song from George made a lot of sense – the song felt different from others in tick, tick… BOOM! (and Rent, for that matter). (On a side note, I highly recommend Six by Sondheim, which I also watched after these films).

Not only was the Sondheim connection interesting to me, but also the number of cameos in the scene. This post from CBR.com gives a good breakdown of the cameos in the scene. Joel Gray, Chita Rivera, Bebe Neuwirth, Phylicia Rashad, original Rent and Hamilton cast members, and more all appear in the scene. Lin Manuel Miranda, who directed this version and has starred in past productions of TTB, also makes a cameo.

It must also be pointed out that the Moondance Diner makes an appearance in a non-Garfield Spider-man movie AND Jake Gyllenhaal (who plays Mysterio in yet another Spider-man movie) also has a connection here.

Additionally, I’m including renditions by Raul Esparza who sang both Sundays in productions of these shows.

Food in Korean film and TV

I’ve been on a bit of a kick lately with Korean food, TV, and movies. Interestingly, food plays a major role in most of the Korean films I’ve seen.

The original Oldboy is the first Korean movie I remember seeing years ago. The lead actor famously eats a live octopus – something he did four times. Second, mandu (Korean dumplings) play heavily into the plot.

Even Joon-Ho’s The Host features food fairly heavily. The main family owns a small river-side food shack, selling beer and grilled squid. Instant ramen is seen a few times; from an empty container being used as a piggy bank to the means of showing family bonds. I wouldn’t exactly call the movie, uhm, appetizing.

You probably don’t think about food first with Snowpiercer, but thinking back – it’s a huge part of the Bong Joon-Ho flick. The poor people of the back of the train with protein bars and the “balance” that’s maintained in the other sections with sushi, steak, etc.

From the main family’s food struggles, to a housekeeper’s food allergies; food is seen throughout Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite. The best known food from the movie is ram-don, a mixture of jajangmyeon and jjampong topped with expensive steak. The name, ram-don, was a creation for the film and is usually called jjapaguri. But similar to his earlier movie The Host, food, and the struggle to get it, is a symbol for family.

Lastly, Squid Game, features a few instances of food, the most well known of which is dalonga. But, like some of the other films above, steak is again used a symbol of wealth and success.

Thankfully, I have a great Korean restaurant here in Portland, Maine called N-to-Tail. I’ve been able to sample bulgogi, Korean fried chicken, kimchi pancakes, and more. At home I’ve been making Buldak spicy ramen by Samyang. My “recipe” of late has been to toss in some kewpie, chicken, and egg, and a vegetable. While not as as good as N-to-nail, Bibigo offers frozen Korean fried chicken, mandu, kimchi fried rice, and more.

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Bonus: I have yet to see Minari, but A24 released this cool series of recipe cards from the cast.

Thankfully, Binging with Babish has featured a few of these recipes, along with other Korean dishes.

Halloween V

I managed to squeeze in a few more horror / semi-horror movies and TV shows for October/November. Gotta say, House, the Haunting series, and Squid Game are probably the standouts from this batch. Mike Flanagan might be a new favorite!

Halloween IV

I’m bit behind on my October/November horror movie watching compared to last year (see posts Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween III) where I hit 30+ movies. I may have been distracted by Dune (both versions!), No Time to Die, Shang Chi, and other new movies (some of which I saw in a real theater!!!).

I’ll concede that some of these lean towards Sci-Fi or psychological thrillers and maybe even outside October and November… my blog, my rules!

  • Dark Star (1974)
  • Martin (1977)
  • Phantasm (1979)
  • Halloween II (1981)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
  • Slither (2006)
  • Attack the Block (2011)
  • Fright Night (2011)
  • The Lighthouse (2019)
  • Parasite (2019)
  • Bit (2019)
  • Love and Monsters (2020)
  • Shadow in the Cloud (2020)
  • The Forever Purge (2021)
  • Midnight Mass (2021)
  • American Horror Story: Double Feature (2021)

I’ll also be updating this list on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/captainq/list/2021-horror-binge

Tip: if you’re looking for something scary to watch, I’ve noticed Shout Factory TV has old episodes of Elvira Movie Macabre, VHS rips, Cult films, and more!

Mini Movie Marathon: Breathless

  • Breathless/À bout de souffle (1960)
    Bonnie & Clyde in France with a dash of noir and Bogart by Jean Luc Godard. 
  • Breathless (1983)
    A remake with Richard Gere where the nationalities of the protagonists and location are flipped (American and French) and made visually interesting. It can’t hold a candle to the original, but it’s an interesting watch to compare the two.
  • True Romance (1993)
    Written by Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott, this film was for sure influenced by both the ’60s and ’80s versions of Breathless. Cars, guns, comic books,
  • Alphaville (1965) 
    French sci-fi noir, also from Godard.
  • Code 46 (2003)
    Michael Winterbottom is a favorite filmmaker.  Code 46 basically a sci-fi take on Breathless (think Alphaville meets Breathless), right down to Samantha Morton’s hair.

Honorable mention: I love 24 Hour Party People by Michael Winterbottom. It’s about the Manchester UK music scene in the late ‘70s to early ‘90s (Joy Division, New Order, etc.).  It doesn’t actually fit in this marathon fest, but my blog, my rules!

The Amusement Park

It’s not every day that you get to see a newly discovered film from a director you love. Recently, I attended a screening of a previously-thought lost film by George Romero. Romero is of course known for making Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Monkey Shines, Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy, and more.

The film was funded by a Pennsylvania Lutheran church as an anti-elder abuse informational film. It’s very hard to describe, but if you’re a fan of George Romero, I’d absolutely recommend watching it.

A (Not So) Quiet Place

I saw A Quiet Place II in the theater last night and, as someone who loves film, it was great to be back! I’ll probably stick to seeing any films I can see at home actually at home, but what a treat to see something up on the big screen once again. Vaccines/science are great! The sequel was also just as good as the first one, in my opinion. Are you excited to see something in person?