Friday Fearback: 31 Screams

Scream 31

A number of years ago, for reasons that seem a bit hazy to me now, I began a pseudonymous film blog called Arbogast on Film.  (I’m often asked why I chose the name Arbogast, an obvious allusion to Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. I have always just loved that name and back in the 80s I thought of throwing down a ‘zine with that name as a sort of catchall for the obscure and weird. Never got around to doing that and yet the name popped back into my mind when I was dicking around on Blogger and thinking to myself “I don’t have a personal blog, but if I were to have one it might look something like this…”) I already had the Movie Morlocks working for me and back then I was blogging twice a week rather than once, so it’s not as though I was itching for more work. No, as I recall, I wanted to do some writing apart from my established community, well away from the blognoscenti, where I could please myself and throw down some chancy stuff. I didn’t expect anyone to follow me and yet the site turned out to be popular. I kept it going for four or five years before pulling the plug. I was just too busy and couldn’t really afford to indulge myself in a spate of free writing… especially not when I had already dedicated several Octobers to a series I called “31 Screams.” I was bored with all the horror blogs that pulled out the same old titles year after year for the requisite Halloween Top Ten lists and so I thought it might be unusual and fun to review, not movies themselves, but some of the greatest screams in genre history. And so I did that, 31 of them every October, year after year, with the final tally being somewhere in the low triple digits. I think some of that work is among my best and it always kind of killed me that, as I’d sworn myself to pseudonymity, no one would ever know it was my hand moving the pen. So now, with your indulgence, I offer a look back at some of the great screams of all time, along with my eggheaded observations, inane asides and occasional bad language… [...MORE]

And Now Let’s All Agree to Never Discuss This Movie Again

Janet Leigh is TCM’s Star of the Month and that is, to say the least, kind of fitting.  After all, Janet Leigh is the most famous cinematic slasher victim of all time in one of the most famous and influential horror films of all time, Psycho, and this is October, the month most movie writers celebrate the horror film.  Psycho is also the only film for which Leigh was nominated for an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress, by the way, but she lost to Shirley Jones for Elmer Gantry) and practically the only film in which she was ever asked about in interviews.  Boy, I bet she got sick of talking about Psycho.  Frankly, I’m kind of sick of talking about it, too.

Smooth Cement


EARTHQUAKE! – An Update From the Trenches


Imagine if you will (spoken in my best Rod Serling voice), it’s 3:20am on a Sunday morning in the small city of Napa. You’d gone to bed a few hours earlier after enjoying a few glasses of home grown wine while catching up with the latest offering from Hammer Films (THE QUIET ONES; 2014) but just as the onset of deep REM sleep begins to take hold of your body and brain, you’re jolted awake by what sounds like a locomotive crashing into your house. This is followed by what feels like King Kong picking you up and tossing you in the air for 20 seconds. It’s pitch black because there is no electricity in town and you’re being pummeled by your belongings as they fly off the walls and shelves. In the chaos you can hear the shouts and screams of your neighbors and every dog in town seems to be barking and howling in confusion. Your natural instinct is to run outside before the walls come crashing down but you can barely move because your entire house is littered with debris, including lots of broken glass, ceramics and damaged electronics that could easily cause serious injuries. When you do finally make it outside the sound of wailing sirens begins to fill the air. You have no internet connection and phones are barely functioning so information is nearly impossible to come by. This information blackout will go on for another five hours as you attempt to check on your elderly neighbors, look for missing pets and try to find that emergency kit with a much needed flashlight that is buried somewhere underneath the wreckage that you once called home sweet home. Did the state of California just crack in half and break away from North America? Did Godzilla attack San Francisco? Did the zombie apocalypse start? Has a long dormant volcano erupted? These are just a few of the crazy thoughts that will race through your head seconds after the quake. Thankfully you’ll be wrong on all counts but you did just experience the most powerful earthquake to strike Northern California in 25 years.


Update the Classics? Sure, Why Not?

As I was scrolling through TCM’s schedule this week, I noticed the 1946 Sherlock Holmes movie, Dressed to Kill, which aired yesterday morning.  Years ago, when I first saw the Basil Rathbone series, I was dismayed by the later films in the series that updated the story to the present day.  There was something about seeing modern vehicles and appliances in a Sherlock Holmes story.  Now, of course, the story has been done in the time period it was written, in the present day of the 21st century and with both genders in the lead role.  And it no longer bothers me one bit.



“Weep no more my lady” Arch Oboler’s BEWITCHED (1945) on DVD!

Bewitched DVDRemembered today as a radio pioneer, and as the creator of the creepy anthology series LIGHTS OUT! (an influence on Rod Serling’s TWILIGHT ZONE and NIGHT GALLERY), Arch Oboler turned his hand in 1944 to the medium of motion pictures. His second go as a writer-director was BEWITCHED, a trim little B film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in July of 1945. The Warner Brothers Archive has included this forgotten gem in their collection, which makes this as good an occasion as any to reassess the film and to discuss it as a link in the chain of pictures (horror and non) that focus on a female protagonist whose sensitivities put her in harm’s way. First, some history. Oboler had conceived of the piece as a vehicle for Bette Davis, who headlined a production of the tale in October 1938, for the inaugural episode of Texaco Star Theatre. Then titled “Alter-Ego,” the story featured Davis as a young woman dealing, on the cusp of her engagement to a perfectly acceptable young man, with the manifestation of voices in her head — specifically one Carmen, a malignant bitch who goads her towards a tragic downward spiral. Oboler mounted the production again for the airwaves in 1939 for ARCH OBLER’S PLAYS, having retitled the play “Another World” and cast stage actress Betty Garde in the dual role of high-strung Joan and the needling Carmen. Between shooting BEWITCHED in November and December of 1944 and its summer release the following year, Oboler would revive the radio play in April 1945 for ARCH OBOLER’S YOUR RADIO HALL OF FAME, with Ann Shepard playing Joan and Mercedes McCambridge as Carmen — prescient casting if you remember (who could forget?) that McCambridge later provided the voice (or a significant portion thereof) of the demon Pazuzu in THE EXORCIST (1973). [...MORE]

Is Genre Served Best by Convention?

When someone praises a movie by commenting that it “rises above its genre’s conventions,” I usually get more than a little annoyed.  Personally, I like genre conventions but more than that, the comment seems designed as a backhanded insult.   It’s basically saying “this movie is so good because it’s not much like other movies in this genre at all.”  And that may be true but don’t dismiss the rest of the genre because of it.   Many times, a movie considered the best in a genre isn’t defying conventions but using them in a surer way.  Without convention, genre quickly falls apart.

colt 45


The Other Great Scene in the Movie

A few months back I wrote a post on The Other Great Performance in the Movie, about great performances (usually by supporting actors) in movies with famously great lead performances.  I’d like to further that theme now, only with great scenes.   Last night, my wife, daughter and I took in Black Narcissus at the AFI Silver and enjoyed it as much as we always have (only more so because it was in the gorgeous main theater projected on a huge screen) and afterwards I started thinking about movies with very famous scenes, so famous that most casual film goers might know it (or have a vague sense of familiarity with it) even if they don’t know the movie.  But for every great scene in a great movie, there is often another scene just as powerful but perhaps not as famous, or revered.

Black Narcissus 01


A Sense of Place and Time

When a movie is made, that is, the actual dates in time in which the movie is completed,  is often of little value to the plot.  A story with well drawn characters may or may not be much affected by what year it takes place in anymore than where.  Many movies of all genres have been remade or adapted into television shows multiple times with simple updating of technologies and terminologies to fit the times.  The Seven Samurai works in feudal Japan, the old American west or with a bunch of insects in an animated setting.  It’s an archetypal story that can be translated into many different places and times.  But what of the stories that have a deep connection to their time and place?   Some stories just don’t work well if they don’t take place in the universe of their making.   And for some, the when and where is as important as anything in the story.

Norman 01


Rio – Rififi Style! GRAND SLAM (1967)


I love a good heist film. They’re often formulaic and follow a well-worn path originally etched out by classic capers such as John Huston’s THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950), Jules Dassin’s RIFIFI (1955), Alexander Mackendrick’s THE LADYKILLERS (1955), Jean-Pierre Melville’s BOB LE FLAMBEUR (1955) and Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING (1956) but the best heist films take unexpected turns and leave their own special mark on a genre that seems to find new ways to define itself every decade. My favorite heist films usually involve a ragtag group of down on their luck ne’er-do-wells, outsiders and lone wolves who come together in an attempt to steal a fortune. Mistakes are made, alliances are formed and shattered, but the end goal is always the same. These career criminals all want a chance at a better life and they assume, rightly or wrongly, that ill-gained riches will buy them a first-class ticket to a brighter future. Unfortunately for these misbegotten dreamers crime rarely pays and when it does, it demands its own kind of compensation.


Natural or Supernatural? Name Your Poison

Movie genres are notoriously malleable things.  We all know what a western is until someone mentions that Star Wars is a horse opera in space or Outland is a remake of High Noon in a futuristic setting, and suddenly it doesn’t seem as clear anymore.  Genres also cross streams constantly.  A crime film can be a noir (Out of the Past), an epic drama (Once Upon a Time in America), a gangster film (Public Enemy), a comedy (Some Like it Hot, which also manages to work in rom-com while it’s at it) or any other number of multiple genre mash-ups with “crime” as the umbrella covering all the different subsets.  In the end, horror is no different but no matter how many subgenres of horror there are (and there are plenty), horror can be efficiently broken down into two categories: Natural and Supernatural.  Which side are you on?


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