Deadline passed on the information that the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress has announced its annual addition of 25 films to be preserved for posterity as movies that are significant to American culture and times.
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (1976)
THE BARGAIN (1914)
CRY OF JAZZ (1959)
Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138-4EB (1967) pictured
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
THE EXORCIST (1973)
THE FRONT PAGE (1931)
GREY GARDENS (1976)
I AM JOAQUIN (1969)
IT’S A GIFT (1934)
LET THERE BE LIGHT (1946)
MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937)
MALCOM X (1992)
McCABE AND MRS. MILLER (1971)
NEWARK ATHELET (1891)
OUR LADY OF THE SPHERE (1969)
THE PINK PANTHER (1964)
PRESERVATION OF THE SIGN LANGUAGE (1913)
SATURADY NIGHT FEVER (1977)
STUDY OF A RIVER (1996)
A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945)
A TRIP DOWN MARKET STREET (1906)
Interesting that George Lucas’s rarely-seen student film for USC, THX 1138-4EB, was chosen, rather than the feature version, THX 1138. Of course, it’s the first sign of his future works. Pleased to see that the late Irvin Kershner’s entry for the STAR WARS saga was selected for the honor.
THE EXORCIST was of course a cultural phenomenon of its time, causing huge controversy, and expanding the boundries of horror cinema.
Deadline passed on the information that the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress has announced its annual addition of 25 films to be preserved for posterity as movies that are significant to American culture and times.
Want to own a high-definition copy of THE EXORCIST? Thanks to Warner Brothers Home Video, you can enjoy an evening of Halloween horror at home, shivering in fear over the plight of Regan Theresa MacNeil. All you have to do to win a Blu-ray disc/digital download of the 1973 classic is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Write “The Exorcist” in the subject line; include your full name and address; and include a sentence or two about why you think THE EXORCIST is the greatest horror movie ever made. The contest runs until midnight, October 31 (Halloween night).
THE EXORCIST recently made its Blu-ray debut in a 2-Disc Edition featuring high-def transfers of the original 1973 Theatrical Version and the 2000 Extended Director’s Cut. The film is also available via digital download from iTunes with bonus material. The extra features include TO HELL AND BACK, the fine new documentary about the making of THE EXORCIST. Besides interviews with cast and crew, TO HELL IN BACK includes fascinating never-before-seen screen tests and behind-the-scenes footage shot by cinematographer Owen Roizman on the set, depicting how many of the effects were done.
UPDATE: The contest is now closed. Thanks to everyone who participated!
Also coming out on home video this week: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, CAPRICA SEASON 1.0, STARGATE UNIVERS: COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, THE SECRET OF KELLS, GRINDHOUSE SPECIAL EDITION BLU-RAY, and DOCTOR WHO: DREAMLAND
Tuesday, October 5 is overflowing with horror, fantasy, and science fiction titles of all shapes and sizes arriving on home video in various formats: DVD, Blu-ray, and iTunes downloads. The best of the new releases is SPLICE, which arrives in two versions, DVD and Blu-ray. When it hit theatres earlier this year, Vincenzo Natali’s sci-fi horror opus was a bit misrepresented by its advertising campaign, which suggested a SPECIES-type monster movie. Instead, audiences got a thoughtful science fiction film with an overlay of dark satire.
Also out this week is A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, the unnecessary (and unnecessarily dull) remake of writer-director Wes Craven’s 1984 classic. The new version is slickly made but typically soulless. Somewhat less typically, it is also almost entirely devoid of shocks and suspense. Give this one a pass.
This is one of those rare weeks when classic titles are overwhelming new releases, thanks to some deluxe editions that surpass and eclipse previous home video versions. Horror fans disappointed by the ELM STREET remake can take solace in Warner Brothers Home Video release a two-disc Blu-ray of THE EXORCIST (1973), which includes the original theatrical cut and the so-called “Extended Director’s Cut,” plus three new documentaries. The film is also being made available for download via iTunes for the first time. The extended cut is just a new name for the 2000 theatrical re-issue of the film, which at the time was dubbed “The Version You ‘ve Never Seen” – a sobriquet that hardly makes sense ten years later. Even if (like me) you have previously purchased both versions of the film on DVD (including the excellent 25th anniversary edition), you will find much worth viewing on this disc, thanks to previously unreleased behind-the-scenes footage that provides an amazing glimpse at the making of this horror classic.
If your tastes run more toward fairy tale fantasy, you are in luck: Walt Disney Home Video is releasing a 3-disc Diamond Edition of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, their 1991 Oscar-nominated blockbuster, which has been unavailable in any form since 2003. (This combo pack will be followed seven weeks later by a 2-Disc standard definition DVD on November 23.) The 3-disc set includes one DVD and two Blu-rays. The DVD features an all-new digital restoration, three versions of the film, sing-along mode (with subtitles for the lyrics), and an audio commentary. The first Blu-ray disc includes the DVD bonus features and the three versions of the film (in high-def, of course), plus more extras, including previously unseen alternate opening and a deleted scene. The second Blu-ray disc offers the bonus features from the old Platinum Edition DVD, plus some new Blu-ray extras, including “Beyond Beauty – The Untold Stories,” “Enchanted Musical Challenge Game,” and “Bonjour, Who is This” – a game in which you use your phone to receive secret messages and guess players’ identities before they guess yours.
In a move no one could ever have expected, the abysmal TROLL 2 receives a Blu-ray release this week; the format seems altogether too refined by the cheezy little movie, which has gained some cult notoriety this year, thanks to the art house release of BEST WORST MOVIE, the documentary tracing the lives and reunion of some of the TROLL 2 cast members.
MGM Home Video offers the MGM Sci-Fi Movie Collection. Unfortunately, the company’s 1956 classic FORBIDDEN PLANET is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we get one (WAR GAMES) and a bunch of forgettable duds (SOLAR BABIES, ALIEN FROM L.A. with Kathy Ireland, HACKERS with a young Angelina Jolie film, SPACE CAMP, and a WAR GAMES sequel).
Apparently, bargain days have arrived this week, with several previous available titles re-released in two-packs: GROUNDHOG DAY and SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER, HANCOCK and GHOST RIDER, THE GRUDGE and SILENT HILL, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA and WOLF, FANTASTIC FOUR and X-MEN, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and I ROBOT, plus several others.
But wait, there’s more! Also on store shelves this week:
- CAPRICA: SEASON 1.0 on DVD
- SGU: STARGATE UNIVERS – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON on DVD and Blu-ray
- THE SECRET OF KELLS on DVD and Blu-ray
- GRINDHOUSE two-disc collector’s edition on Blu-ray
- THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE COLLECTION on DVD
- DOCTOR WHO: DREAMLAND on DVD
- DELGO on DVD and two-disc Blu-ray and DVD combo
- THE EVIL/TWICE DEAD, a two-pack of Roger Corman Cult Classics
- FINGERPRINTS on Blu-ray
- THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS, a deluxe edition
- THE RIG
- SISTERS on Blu-ray (no not the Brian DePalma original but an unnecessary remake)
And the list goes on and on… All are available in the Cinefantastique Online Store. Click the links below to check them out, or go here.
Last night I attended one of the nationwide Fathom screenings of THE EXORCIST (1973), featuring the new documentary TO HELL AND BACK, which charts the making of the classic horror film. Never having attended a Fathom event before (it’s a bit like watching television in a theatre, with digital image projected on select screens around the country), I am pleased to report that the picture quality was very impressive: with colors that were sharp and clear, the film looked as good as it ever has. It is also reassuring to note that not too much digital restoration has been performed: the photography retains the slightly grainy 1970s look that lends a documentary atmosphere to the proceedings. Assuming that the upcoming Blu-ray disc and iTunes download (which become available on Tuesday, October 5) are transferred from the same source, this bodes very well: THE EXORCIST has been preserved, not cosmetically embalmed.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the documentary TO HELL AND BACK. Not that I expected it to be bad, but after decades of reading about THE EXORCIST, I doubted there was much new to learn – especially after the wonderful behind-the-scenes features on the 25th anniversary DVD. However, TO HELL AND BACK has a devilishly good ace up its sleeve: besides interviews with producer William Peter Blatty, director William Friedkin, actress Linda Blair, and cinematographer Owen Roizman, the documentary includes never-before-seen screen tests and behind-the-scenes footage shot by Roizman on the set, depicting how many of the effects were done (the projectile vomiting – a brief startling shock in the film itself – goes on for what seems like minutes during rehearsals). Again, the presence of this short but insightful featurette bodes well for the home video release; though I already own two versions on DVD (the 1973 original and the 2000 “Version You’ve Never Seen”), I am seriously considering triple-dipping on this one.
All that, however, is secondary to the experience of revisiting THE EXORCIST on the big screen, along with an appreciative audience. In a way, the screening was something of a personal achievement for me: it was the first time I was able to sit through the film without becoming seriously disturbed. (For the record, I almost achieved this in 2000, but then the new footage – i.e., the Spider Walk – showed up, and my nerve faltered once again.)
I suspect that modern audiences will wonder what all the screaming was about; is this really the film that allegedly made people pass out and/or throw-up? But as William Friedkin told me, people who go just to get off on the effects, don’t. THE EXORCIST works because it takes a serious approach, asking you to buy into the possibility of possession – and, by extension – the existence of God and the Devil – on a deep, dramatic level.
Now that that shocks have worn off after all the years, it is pleasantly ironic (for those of us who were there when the film made its debut) to note how subtle THE EXORCIST is, in many ways. There are long stretches when little happens, except for the recurring sound of rustling in the attic. Big chunks of screen time are occupied with the personal lives of the characters, such as Father Damien Karras’s trip to see his mother in New York. Much of the horror derives not from demonic possession but from the medical science used in a vain attempt to locate the etiology of Regan’s illness.
I also remain impressed with the way the William Friedkin managed to avoid going archetypal while depicting THE EXORCIST’s battle between Good and Evil. There is a fine review of Moby Dick – written by D. H. Lawrence, I think – that praises Melville for keeping the novel grounded in the semblance of a believable story about a hunt for a whale, even as the book piles on metaphors and symbolism that could have rendered the whole tale as an abstract allegory. Friedkin achieves something similar here: THE EXORCIST, we can see clearly now, is a film about people, who feel lost and helpless, who are trying to do their best, whether or not they are certain that God is watching over them. The film has a very scaled-down, credible tone, quite different from the adult fairy tale stylings of, for instance, HORROR OF DRACULA.
This leads me to my final point. From time to time, some critic will complain that THE EXORCIST’s view of evil is too small scale to mean anything (Stephen Thrower in his book Beyond Terror: The Flims of Lucio Fulci, comes to mind). Why, they ask rhetorically, does the Devil waste time tormenting a little girl in a room? The very fact that the question is asked shows that these viewers have missed the point.
Leave aside for a moment that the revised 2000 version (which is the one screened last night, which will be available on Blu-ray along with the original cut) offered an explanation in a restored bit of dialogue between Father Merrin and Father Karras. Focus instead on the entire vision of the world as it is presented in THE EXORCIST.
Everywhere the camera turns, we see examples of Satan’s work: the former alter boy, now a drunk sitting in his own urine and vomit in a subway; the pathetic inmates of an insane asylum, staring into space, helpless and lost in their own psychosis; the priest-psychiatrist – Karras – who has lost his faith because he has seen too many wounded souls that he could not repair. As if that were not enough, THE EXORCIST throws in a film-within-a-film, depicting campus unrest (with hints of potential political violence). Although never mentioned, the echo of Vietnam reverberates silently somewhere in the distance, and the the Georgetown setting tacitly reminds us of corruption in Washington, D.C. (this was the era of Watergate). Evil, if we only open our eyes and look, is everywhere present; the Devil’s fingerprints are scattered everywhere throughout the film, as the Evil One strives to breed despair in the human race.
Even if we do not believe in a literal Devil, the symbolism is clear: Evil is at work in the world. What happens to Regan Theresa MacNeil is only one manifestation, a small microcosm that brings the larger world into clearer focus. That’s what good dramas do. Although I dislike the oft-heard claim “It’s not a horror film,” in the case of THE EXORCIST I can accept it to the extent of saying, “It’s not just a horror film.” As shocking as it once was, hopefully we can now see more clearly that it truly is, as Friedkin has often said, a film about the mystery of faith – a faith all the more mysterious when set against the weary world view depicted in THE EXORCIST.
Watch out, THE LAST EXORCISM! The grand-daddy of possession flicks, the Oscar-winning 1973 classic THE EXORCIST will be back in select theatres later this month – for a special one-night-only pair of screenings on September 30. The event is presented by NCM Fathom, which broadcasts video to an network of affiliated theatres, creating “live” nationwide events rather like watching television on the big screen (previous examples include the RiffTrax crew performing live commentary for screenings of PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE). Warner Brothers Home Video is using the event as a platform to promote the upcoming release of a two-disc Blu-ray on October 5, which will include the original theatrical cut and the so-called “Extended Director’s Cut,” plus three new documentaries; also on October 5, the film will be available for download via iTunes.
“THE EXORCIST EXTENDED DIRECTOR’S CUT” RETURNS TO THEATERS WITH NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN FOOTAGE FOR THRILLING ONE-NIGHT EVENT
NCM Fathom, Warner Home Video and CHUD.com Bring Academy Award®-winning Thriller Back to Select Movie Theaters Nationwide September 30
Centennial, Colo. – September 2, 2010 – The scariest movie of all time, The Exorcist Extended Director’s Cut, returns to theaters nationwide for a one-night special event on Thursday, September 30 at 7:00 p.m. local time and again for a second showing at 10:30 p.m. in select theaters. The thrilling special in-theater event, shown in more than 450 select movie theaters nationwide, will feature never-before-seen on-set footage and interviews with Academy Award® winning director William Friedkin, writer William Peter Blatty and actress Linda Blair as well as members of the original cast and crew. Following The Exorcist Extended Director’s Cut, audiences will also be treated to a look behind-the-scenes showing how many of the legendary scenes were shot in this classic and thrilling tale of good vs. evil.
Tickets for The Exorcist Extended Director’s Cut are available at participating box offices and online at www.FathomEvents.com. For a complete list of theater locations and prices, please visit the website (theaters and participants may be subject to change).
Released in 1973, “The Exorcist” caused a cultural earthquake that is still felt today, shocking and enthralling audiences who had never seen anything like it. Many viewers were frightened out of their wits – and literally out of their seats. Some ran out of the theater; others got physically ill or couldn’t sleep for weeks. Now audiences may experience the same visceral emotions again in their local movie theater with this masterpiece of suspense that haunted, intrigued and thrilled the world.
Adapted from the best-selling 1971 novel inspired by an actual exorcism case, “The Exorcist” tells the now-famous story of a young girl’s demonic possession, and her mother’s (Ellen Burstyn) desperate attempts to save her. Blair, in a breakout role, plays the possessed Regan, caught in a gripping fight between good and evil which culminated with an exorcism conducted by two priests. Terrifying audiences and chilling them to the bone, the theological thriller also starred Max von Sydow, Kitty Winn, Lee J. Cobb, Jason Miller and Mercedes McCambridge. “The Exorcist” is still considered one of the most successful feature films of all time, grossing $440 million worldwide and earning 10 Academy Award® nominations (winning Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound).
“The cultural impact of this truly frightening thriller cannot be understated and to experience it in movie theaters on giant, 40-foot screens is amazing,” said Dan Diamond, vice president of NCM Fathom. “With the stunning quality of this special event, fans will be on the edge of their seats like never before.”
Presented by NCM Fathom and Warner Home Video, in association with CHUD.com, The Exorcist Extended Director’s Cut will appear in 457 select U.S. movie theaters, including AMC Entertainment Inc., Celebration! Cinema, Cinemark Holdings, Inc., Clearview Cinemas, Cobb Theatres, Kerasotes Showplace Theatres, National Amusements, Rave Motion Pictures and Regal Entertainment Group movie theaters, as well as Arlington Theatre (Santa Barbara, CA), The Carolina (Asheville, NC), The Majestic 10 (Williston, VT) and Penn Cinema (Lititz, PA).
“The Exorcist” will be available from Warner Home Video on Blu-ray in a two-disc, high-definition set featuring both the original theatrical version and Extended Director’s Cut of the film plus three new documentaries on October 5. For more information, visit www.warnerhomevideo.com.
About National CineMedia (NCM)
NCM operates NCM Media Networks, a leading integrated media company reaching U.S. consumers in movie theaters, online and through mobile technology. The NCM Cinema Network and NCM Fathom present cinema advertising and events across the nation’s largest digital in-theater network, comprised of theaters owned by AMC Entertainment Inc., Cinemark Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: CNK), Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE: RGC) and other leading regional theater circuits. NCM’s theater network covers 172 Designated Market Areas® (49 of the top 50) and includes approximately 17,100 screens (15,600 digital). During 2009, over 680 million patrons attended movies shown in theaters currently included in NCM’s network (excluding Consolidated Theatres). The NCM Fathom Events broadcast network is comprised of approximately 550 locations in 154 Designated Market Areas® (49 of the top 50). The NCM Interactive Network offers 360-degree integrated marketing opportunities in combination with cinema, encompassing over 40 entertainment-related web sites, online widgets and mobile applications. National CineMedia, Inc. (NASDAQ: NCMI) owns a 48.0% interest in and is the managing member of National CineMedia LLC. For more information, visit www.ncm.com or www.fathomevents.com.
Please note that the press release’s use of the phrase “Never-Before Seen Footage” refers to “on-set footage and interviews.” That, plus the appellation “Extended Director’s Cut” might lure viewers into expecting to see a different version of the film, when in fact this appears to be the revised version released to theatres in the year 2000. At that time, the film was billed as “THE EXORCIST: THE VERSION YOU’VE NEVER SEEN” – a title that makes no sense now, as interested viewers have seen that version in theatres and on DVD.
After casting the devil out of THE LAST EXORCISM, Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski exercise their analytic on other possession movies in the latest episode of Cinefantastique’s weekly Post-Mortem Podcast. What are the best and worst the genre has to offer: THE EXORCIST, THE EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, THE EXORCIST III, HOUSE OF EXORCISM?
Also this week: an exploration of the questions:
- What do THE LAST EXORCISM and AFTER.LIFE have in common?
- Is PREDATORS this year’s most entertaining horror, fantasy, or science fiction film?
- What’s up with trailers for films like PIRANHA 3D and PREDATORS, which promise scenes not in the movie?
- Does A MATTER OF LOAF AND DEATH, the latest animated adventure starring plasticene pals Wallace and Gromit, live up to their previous, Oscar-winning work?
In the year 2000, twenty-seven years after its initial release, William Peter Blatty finally gave his complete seal of approval to the film version of THE EXORCIST, which he scripted and produced, based upon his novel. Ever since the film came out in 1973, the author has expressed his disappointment with William Friedkin`s final cut, even going so far as to enumerate those flaws in his book The Exorcist: From Novel to Film. Basically, nearly twenty minutes of material was removed in order to get running time down to two hours and two minutes, and the result “to my mind at least,” Blatty once told me, “are some glaring construction flaws.” For the film’s re-release in 2000, eleven minutes were restored; plus, new shots were added, and some footage enhanced with brief, nearly subliminal special effects. The question for viewers, of course, is whether or not this new material makes a substantial difference to the viewing experience.
The answer is a definite yes: the revised cut is substantially enhanced by the restorations. Whether this is enough to convert those who never liked the film is another matter, but those sitting on the fence post might be swayed, and longtime fans should be pleased to see a fuller rendering of the material, containing some brief but crucial moments that lay a more solid foundation for the thematic underpinnings of the story.
That said, one must still acknowledge that, even with the enhancements, the film is not and never will be a replacement for the book. Blatty’s novel runs some four hundred pages and contains voluminous material that could (and probably should) never be filmed—much of it relating to mental illness and psychic phenomena, in an effort to establish possible alternate explanations for Regan’s “possession.” The truth of the matter is that the film never really diverged that much from the book, except in terms of omissions. Now some of those omissions have been reinstated. They don’t really change one’s interpretation of the film (especially if you were familiar with the source material to begin with), but they do make the interpretation much more clear to people who perhaps were too disturbed by the power of the shock effects to see past them and to the message of faith that was intended.
The changes fall into three categories: restorations, remixing, and additions. Taking the middle one first, the new soundtrack is rendered in wonderfully atmospheric multi-channel stereo that often seems to put the audio in the middle of the action. This works especially well not only in the shock sequences but more particularly in the quiet moments, when subtle audience cues seem to surround the viewer with a sense of omni-present evil. If there is a flaw here, it is that the remixed track may layer the sound on a bit too thick. The old version effectively juxtaposed loud outbursts with moments of near-dead silence. The new version sometimes seems to obliterate the silence, making the juxtaposition less effective. Instead of loud contrasted with silent, we now have loud contrasted with not-so-loud.
The impact of the restored scenes varies. Still missing is Regan and Chris MacNeil’s walking tour of Washington, D.C., and it’s probably just as well. Even Blatty, in The Exorcist: Novel to Film, admitted that the early omitted scenes were “boring”; his problem with their removal was that they left continuity gaps. One of those gaps is filled by the inclusion of an initial visit to the doctor, but a new gap is created. Whereas the old version contained dialogue references to a missing doctor scene, we now see the doctor’s office first; unfortunately, it is not altogether clear why Chris (Ellen Burstyn) thinks her daughter (Linda Blair) needs medical attention. Sure, there have been ever-so-slight hints of manic-depressive behavior, along with one dialogue reference to a shaking bed, but the film really relies on the dialogue in the doctor’s office to explain what’s been going wrong with Regan. If there is an upside to this sequence, it is that the examination scenes themselves have a slightly creepy, foreboding quality, showing us the first images of Regan displaying behavior that, while not Satanic, is certainly odd and upsetting coming from a previously innocent-looking young girl.
Later additions are more impressive. The spiderwalk, cut because the effects didn’t work in their day, has been rendered now (thanks to digital touching up) in completely convincing imagery. Brief but extremely effective, this scene will surely become the “must see” moment of this version, joining the crucifix scene as one of cinema’s most memorably horrifying moments (which is all the more impressive when you realize that we’re talking about just a few shots running maybe twenty seconds).
A few additional lines of dialogue with Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) allow the character to show a sense of humor that helps humanize him, instead of leaving him as the archetypal white-hated hero who rides in to save the day. Offered some brandy for his coffee, he jokes, “The doctors say I shouldn’t, but thank God, my will is weak.” Ellen Burstyn`s blank-faced reaction (she doesn`t get the joke) is priceless. It`s a nice moment of comic relief just before the intensity of the scenes that will follow.
Even more brief, but far more crucial, is the dialogue between Merrin and the confused Father Karras (Jason Miller). The lines, an attempt to give a possible explanation for the possession, are already being dismissed by some critics as pretentious exposition, but in truth they form the crux of a moving dramatic moment. You almost literally see the light go on in Karras’s eyes as the import of Merrin’s words sinks in: “I think the point is to make us despair… to see ourselves as animal and ugly… to reject the possibility that God could love us.” This is exactly Karras’ problem, and this realization makes his renewed strength five minutes later much more understandable. When a distraught Chris asks whether her daughter is going to die, there is a wonderful cut from a two shot to a reverse angle close-up of the priest, who much to his own surprise says, “No” with a kind of unexpected confidence that can only be attributed to faith. Now at last, we have some kind of clue as to the reason for the transition.
Of all the footage removed from the film, this is the bit that hurt the most, and its restoration is the most important reason returning to The Exorcist (the spiderwalk notwithstanding). The reason for the removal was supposedly to speed up the pace, but the scene itself remained in the previous cut (minus dialogue), with the priests sitting on the stairs in between bouts of the exorcism ritual. The inclusion of the actual dialogue adds only a few seconds—hardly enough to affect the film’s overall pace—and the dramatic impact is easily worth the extra running time.
The final addition is the inclusion of Blatty’s “Casablanca” ending, with Detective Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb) befriending Father Dyer (Reverend William O’Malley), the implication being that even after the horror and sacrifice that have occurred, there is still a chance for hope and happiness in the world. Back in 1973, leaving Dyer staring in seeming despair down the Hitchcock steps might have fit with the mood of the nation, but only the most cynical critic would insist that this was a more profound or powerful ending. The restored coda, presumably, will send viewers of the theatre realizing that the film was not intended to bombard them with a sense of hopeless despair.
So much for the restorations; what about the additions? As often is the case with new editions (be they books or films), the artists seem unable to resist the temptation to rethink the material instead of merely correcting past errors. In this case, a few new and/or enhanced shots have been added. Mostly they are effective, but some show definite signs of reappraisal. It’s rather like musicians playing an old hit twenty years later: they add a new lick here or there to refresh the material, but the new performance only makes sense in context of the original; it’s a variation on a theme, a new touch added to an old standard, but it’s not necessarily something that should have been there from the beginning.
Case in point: the new opening scene. A moody tracking shot from the Georgetown townhouse that dissolves to a statue of the Virgin Mary (one that will be desecrated later in the film), the scene makes no sense out of context. If you haven’t watched The Exorcist or at least seen stills from the film, you have no idea what the significance is supposed to be, whereas familiar viewers immediately recognize, “That’s the place where it all will happen,” while sensing a familiar nostalgic thrill of anticipation. It doesn’t exactly hurt the film, but it doesn’t help much, either. It’s most important impact, perhaps, is to state from the opening frame that you are indeed seeing a new version; otherwise, audiences might get worried waiting through that first half hour for a sign of something new.
Later additions consist not so much of new footage as of old footage that has been enhanced with new special effects to convey a stronger sense of a demonic presence. During the restored first doctor’s examination, there is an additional “subliminal” image of the demonic face previously glimpsed only twice in the film. The new cut is clearly in color, whereas the old ones looked like black-and-white.
This perhaps counts more as a “restoration” than an addition, but the image ties in with other later ones that clearly are additions: this face is seen again, like an afterimage of something briefly glimpsed, when Chris MacNeil returns to an apparently empty home and finds the lights flickering on and off for no apparent reason. The impact of this previously unseen image is truly remarkable, and the effect is pumped up even further by the gradual revelation of yet another near-subliminal image, a faintly discernable silhouette of the statue of the demon Pazuzu, glimpsed in the shadowy darkness of Regan’s room as her mother looks in the door. The effect is genuinely unnerving, provoking as much verbal reaction from the audience as any of the more overblown shocks that the film throws at them.
On top of this, just before Regan attacks the psychiatrist attempting to hypnotize her, there is also a brief morphing type effect that superimposes a demonic countenance over her features, clearly indicating that her actions are the result of the evil influence inside her. The image somewhat foreshadows the climax, wherein Father Karras’s face briefly assumes a similar look. In that case, the transition back to his normal countenance seems to have been smoothed over a bit with a digital enhancement; in the old version, it somewhat resembled a simple jump-cut. (This last enhancement may actually have been done for the DVD; either way, this is the first time it has reached the big screen.)
The end result of all this imagery is to increase the surreal quality of the film, the sense not only of physical shocks but also of spiritual evil lurking in the dark. The impact is impressive, but even more than before it emphasizes the supernatural explanation for the phenomenon of possession—an element that was left open to debate in the novel. At first, the new cut seems to be hewing closer to the book, with the initial doctor’s exam seeming to lay the groundwork for a psychological explanation, but the new imagery undercuts this interpretation completely.
Of course, the power of the special effects always had audiences convinced that the Devil was at work in the film, but previously much of the imagery was presented in a way that was at least somewhat open to another interpretation; for example, the infamous 360-degree head-spinning shot was bracketed by reaction shots of Jason Miller, implying that what we’re seeing is a hallucination in his mind. Likewise, when the statue of Pazuzu manifested itself in the old cut during the exorcism, the shot in no way matched with the objective shots surrounding it; again, we were left feeling that what we were being shown was a vision perceived by the characters, not an objective reality. These new images, however, are not directed at the characters; they are aimed straight out of the scene toward the viewing audience. With no possible subjective interpretation, the only way to read them is as evidence of an actual demonic presence. Not that anyone ever really doubted, but now even a tentative alternate interpretation is pretty much untenable.
So what’s the bottom line? From the day of its first release in 1973, The Exorcist was the greatest horror film ever made, and it remains so to this day. The restored version alters the classic in noticeable ways. Sometimes, the film is obviously better; in other cases, it is merely different. To some extent one might consider it closer to the perfect realization of what it was meant to be; on the other hand, it sometimes plays like an extended variation on a familiar theme. One way or the other, the film remains worth seeing, and it’s safe to say that, as it was in 1973, so also will The Exorcist be the best horror film released in the year 2000.
THE EXORCIST (originally released 1973; revised version released 2000). Directed by William Friedkin. Screenplay by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel. Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, William O’Malley, Barton Heyman, Peter Masterson, Rudolf Schundler, Gina Petrushka, Robert Symonds, Arthur Storch, Thomas Bermingham.
Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski
I come from a generation of fantastic film fans who wanted a greater depth of knowledge about the films we loved. This moved beyond knowing who the actors and even the directors were. We knew about the special effects technicians, the make up artists, the matte painters, the model makers, stop-motion animators, and even who composed the scores. Some of my favorites included Bernard Herrmann, James Bernard, Jerry Goldsmith, and of course John Williams.
A few moments reflection on the movie going experience, especially in regards to the horror genre, reveals how important music is. Some of the more noteworthy examples are the shower scene in PSYCHO, the main theme for JAWS, and the memorable music for John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. Unfortunately, while the images of horror have been the focus of much critical and academic discussion, little attention has been paid to the music. Addressing this deficit, Neil Lerner has edited the book Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear (Routledge, 2010). Lerner is Professor of Music at Davidson College, where he teaches courses in music as well as film and media studies. His work on film music has been published in numerous journals, essay collections, and encyclopedias. Lerner discusses horror film music in this special interview for Cinefantastique Online.
John Morehead: Neil, thank you for being willing to discuss your book here. Can you begin by sharing a little of your background in music, and why, on a personal level, you chose horror as the genre of film for analysis in terms of music’s significance and impact?
Neil Lerner: First of all, I want to you thank you and Cinefantastique for your interest in this work. As a longtime fan of Cinefantastique, it’s a great honor to get to discuss these things with you.
My professional background is as a musicologist, and my dissertation studied music in some U.S. government documentary films. At the time I started working on my dissertation, there were only a handful of music scholars who were taking film music seriously. So that’s partly why I went with these documentary film scores, by established concert hall composers like Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland: because they were in many ways safer to the academy. It was also a case where I was confident I could get to the relevant archival material, like score manuscripts and production papers, something that’s still not easy to do with Hollywood scores.
One question that I found myself drawn to throughout that research on documentary scores was whether or not a composer could do more experimental things in a score for a documentary than in a Hollywood fictional narrative. I actually found several instances where composers could push the compositional envelope in a documentary film score—like using extended dissonances, or writing fugues, things that didn’t happen too much in Hollywood’s mainstream scores—and that question of where and how modernist strategies enter into film music continues to interest me.
Finally, I’ve always been a fan of horror films, but I started studying film more seriously in college, which, believe it or not, was at Transylvania University. I had one particularly brilliant professor there who took great pleasure in talking about vampire films in his film courses, and his intellectual curiosity was contagious. In many ways, then, I’ve been on a crash course with this topic.
John Morehead: Can you sketch how music developed in terms of its inclusion in the horror film? Viewers take its presence for granted in contemporary cinema, but may forget that there was a process of development as it was included in film, and in horror as well, beyond the jump from silent films to sound.
Neil Lerner: I think studying music in horror films brings with it the same challenges as in other genres in that transitional period between “silent” and sound film: composers had multiple strategies for dealing with different kinds of dramatic situations; it’s often difficult or impossible to reconstruct with certainty what early musicians did (in cases of live accompaniment); and it’s too easy to over-generalize based on just a few examples. There’s still a good deal of basic research to be done in trying to map out just what was done in horror films in the 1920s, but we have some important clues in a book like Ernö Rapée’s Encyclopedia of Music for Pictures (1925), which lists all kinds of categories and topics that musicians accompanying film could have used. That book doesn’t have notated music, but rather it has lists of possible pieces that would fit each topic, giving us now an idea of what music was considered appropriate (at least according to Rapée) for different genres. If you look up “horror” in the Rapée, it directs you to the topics of “gruesome” and “outcry,” which themselves then direct out to other categories like “dwarfs, ghosts, spooks, and mysteriosos” (for “gruesome”) or to “dramatic” in the case of “outcry.” It ends up suggesting quite a wide spectrum of music that was available to someone accompanying a scary scene, but certain basic ideas tend to surface over and over again in these pieces, and these are things that aren’t unique to music for horror film, but rather things that fall in a much longer tradition of ways that composers could create a sense of fear or dread: extended unresolved dissonances, surprising bursts of sound, unfamiliar timbres, etc.
I do think Robert Spadoni’s recent book on horror film and the transition into the sound era makes a strong case for the significance of the sound track and how it could make films more horrific. The success of horror films coming out of Hollywood (starting in 1931) really does overlap in interesting ways with the coming of synchronized, recorded sound to the cinematic experience.
John Morehead: Your book begins appropriately with a consideration of the organ in CARNIVAL OF SOULS in a chapter by Julie Brown, with a comparison of the same instrument in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Was this the first major instrument to be used in horror films, and how significant is it in associations with the genre today?
Neil Lerner: I don’t know if we can say that it was the first major instrument of horror films, just because I’m not certain we know enough yet about music in horror film in the 1920s, but Julie Brown’s work makes a compelling case for why the organ would recur so much in horror films. Namely, the instrument’s connections with certain kinds of religious spaces as well as its associations with funerals are all rich things to explore in a genre (horror) that probes at our sublimated anxieties. The tradition of the baroque organ is one where its huge sound was supposed to overpower its listener through sheer volume and acoustic weight, in ways that Robert Walser has compared with heavy metal music (and how heavy metal music works in horror films, when it starts to appear, etc., is another topic that needs work).
The film that I researched for the book, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931), makes the organ a central icon connected with Henry Jekyll, adding a musical dimension that doesn’t occur in Stevenson’s novella. I believe it’s there to provide a quick and efficient clue to Jekyll’s character: he has a certain level of wealth and high culture sophistication in that he plays Bach organ works for pleasure at his home, and it also suggests something of Jekyll’s piety and goodness (towards the end of the film he cries out to God).
Yet there’s another component to Jekyll’s organ playing that I explore in my essay, and that’s the possibility that Rouben Mamoulian’s conception of Jekyll & Hyde might set the entire narrative up as a dream occurring in the midst of Jekyll’s organ playing. The film opens with Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, a piece that recurs in the middle of the film—with some of the middle of the organ piece—and then the film closes with the final measures of the organ work. I know it’s a fairly radical way to read the film, but I found some other clues in the literary references that I believe at least complicate some of our assumptions about that film and how it works.
John Morehead: Of course, PSYCHO is perhaps the horror film most associated with striking music, as in the infamous shower scene. In the interesting chapter on this film, Ross Fenimore connects the film’s “aural fragments” of imagined and real voices with the musical “screams” of Marion’s (Janet Leigh) death as she is stabbed in the shower. Most viewers are familiar with the significance of Bernard Herrmann’s score to the film, but may not have connected this as part of a bigger aural whole that paints a picture of terror. How do these elements come together under the direction of Hitchcock?
Neil Lerner: I agree with you that the shower scene music from PSYCHO has become an iconic example of horror music, but I’d extend it even further, to say that it’s become one of the most iconic examples of all film music. Ross Fenimore’s essay raises some important questions about the music and to whom it might be connected (to Marion? to Norman? to Mother? to someone else?), which becomes really interesting when you start to factor in the film’s trickery in regards to connecting voices to characters.
I don’t know, however, how much credit should go to Hitchcock’s direction. I mean no disrespect to Hitchcock here, but I think it’s important to remember that Hitchcock originally wanted that shower scene to have only natural sound effects (like shower and knife sounds) without music. Herrmann lobbied to put music into it, and Hitchcock acquiesced, but Herrmann probably paid a heavy price later with Hitchcock for upstaging his director with a better idea. Herrmann’s score here is just brilliant; he was a composer at the peak of his powers, creating music that continues to yield new readings and interpretations. It’s just so marvelously simple and effective in its blend of extended, unresolved dissonances (major sevenths and minor seconds), descending registral gestures (moving from high to low), and repetition. Plus there’s the effect of having the string instruments play the quick portamento, the sliding up on the string, which creates a terrible ripping or tearing effect; it fills in the blanks of what’s happening because visually, we never actually see the knife ripping through flesh, but aurally, we get a clear idea of what’s happening.
John Morehead: As a long-time horror fan I should have been aware of this, but it was not until I read Music in the Horror Film, and Claire Sisco King’s chapter on music in THE EXORCIST, that I realized that the film includes an unconventional approach to musical scoring at the insistence of director William Friedkin. Why did he approach music in the film in this way, and how is this reflective of cultural anxieties of the time as well as the film’s narrative?
Neil Lerner: It’s hard to try and get inside a director’s head, but Claire Sisco King does a fabulous job of collecting all sorts of evidence from the production of the film, thereby giving us clues to what might have been motivating him. I was struck at Friedkin’s resistance to thinking of THE EXORCIST as a horror film, because it reminded me of Rouben Mamoulian’s similar remarks about DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. I have a hunch both of these directors might have felt that horror as a genre was perhaps too undignified for the kinds of larger ideas they were addressing, and appropriately enough, both of them ended up transforming and complicating the genre in pretty important ways. Friedkin was motivated by a kind of documentary impulse in THE EXORCIST, and Claire Sisco King argues how this probably led to the unconventional musical choices he made. She then goes on to read the music in relation to the larger cultural anxiety of a widely perceived crisis of masculinity. I think her essay can help viewers to see THE EXORCIST in a new and different way—note the visual metaphors here, it’s just tough to escape them—but the underlying goal behind all of the essays in the book is the idea that by paying closer attention to the music, the ear can lead us to see these films in new ways.
John Morehead: I was raised on the fantastic scores of folks like Bernard Hermann, James Horner, and a little later John Williams. But one of the others I enjoyed was director John Carpenter with his synthesizer music. Your book includes a chapter discussing Carpenter’s music in THE FOG, and I wonder how original and significant you see his electronic scoring in this and other films like HALLOWEEN and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK?
Neil Lerner: I think there’s still a good deal of basic work that needs to be done on this question, but K. J. Donnelly’s essay makes a strong case for the potential returns in giving close attention to film scores that might be thought of as too simple or basic. A good deal of scholarship on film music has tended to focus on fully notated orchestral film scores, but of course there’s a much wider spectrum of musical strategies out there, like rock or jazz, and Donnelly has been an important scholarly pioneer in this regard.
The synthesizer timbres weren’t original to John Carpenter—several of the important Vietnam-era horror films, like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, or LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, have some prominent use of electronic instruments—but Carpenter does seem to have done something that worked well and proved influential with the synthesizer scoring in HALLOWEEN (1978). Plus I just think those early modular synths were incredibly cool, so I’m happy we got a picture of a Moog in the book.
John Morehead: It is understandable that, since film is a visual medium, the image has been the primary focus of film analysis, but given the significance of sound and music to film, particularly to horror (not to mention science fiction and fantasy), why has musical analysis been largely ignored? And is this situation starting to change?
Neil Lerner: My college film courses emphasized that film is a visual medium, and of course much of the writing about film does that also, but maybe because I was studying music while taking film classes I was more attenuated to what was happening in the soundtrack. I’ve always found it interesting that so much of the attention in film goes to the visual elements, but the experience of film (and now television and video games) is almost always tied together with a soundtrack. One might speculate that there’s a larger cultural bias against the acoustic, that there’s a hegemony of the visual; what we consider basic educational skills dwell largely if not exclusively on things that are visual, like reading, but where in our culture do we teach about the sonic and the musical? I believe most of us are self taught in regards to knowing how to interpret the music we encounter with a film or video game—if we’re raised watching these things, we figure it out from the context—and most people can interpret these musical codes with a great deal of nuance, even if they aren’t trained in music and have no idea how the music is doing what it does. It’s useful, therefore, to have music scholars devoted to studying music in screen media as a way of providing students and devotees with another tool in their own lifelong encounters with these things.
As a music historian, I’ve long heard the truism that concert hall music in the twentieth century, particularly the experimental, avant-garde styles, hit a kind of impasse where audiences became disinterested in it and where many of these musical languages then found their way into film genres like fantasy and horror. One of my goals with the book was to help to provide some examples of that, whether it be through the radical sound collage that Mamoulian created for the first transformation scene in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE or the later appropriations of Penderecki in THE EXORCIST or THE SHINING. There’s still a great deal of work to be done in tracking all of these musical languages, and that’s exciting for musicologists, film scholars, and folks who love movies.
(Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor, performed by Frederich Magle, courtesy of Magle International Music Forums)
Last month, we ran a list of the American Film Institute’s nominees for the best Fantasy and Science-Fiction Films of all time. Many readers were angry over the exclusion of horror from the genres under consideration; some were unhappy about certain titles that made or did not make it onto the A.F.I.’s lists; a few were offended by our caustic comments about the more dubious inclusions. Well, we all have our favorites. Neither the A.F.I. nor Cinefantastique Online is the sole arbiter of what constitutes the best of the best in movie magic. Therefore, we thought it would be a good idea to present a gallery of expert opinions from people working behind the scenes. What films rank as favorites among industry insiders who made your favorite films? What films frightened or amazed the directors, writers, actors, and authors who make a living in the genres of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror? What films stirred their sense of wonder or made them want to make movies? You’ll find a sample of their answers below…
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN (Director of THE EXORCIST)
The horror films that I admire are ROSEMARY’S BABY, ALIEN, DIABOLIQUE, PSYCHO – that’s about it. I would say those are horror films, but they totally transcend the genre. They’re every bit as good as stories as horror films: the stories are believable; the characters are believable; the situations they’re put in, the style of performance, is believable. There’s also a Japanese film that I love called Onibaba, another wonderful film of fantasy and imagination, worked very carefully into a fairly realistic story. Whereas in something like Nightmare on Elm Street or Jason, it isn’t believable. There’s an automatic distance there—between what’s on the screen and the audience’s perception of real people in real situations.
I like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. I applaud its ingenuity. It was something different, and it was pure to what it was—it did not break the focus. It was a documentary. When people set the camera down, all it showed you was shoes or sometimes nothing. I have to tell you, I sat there with my then fourteen-year-old son, and it scared the hell out of us. That picture scared me. I thought it was really good, because I love documentaries. I love that somebody took the horror genre, and did almost a pure documentary with it. I think Blair Witch is a helluva a film, a good film.
RIDLEY SCOTT (Director of ALIEN)
The thing I always worried about doing a monster movie—I was frightened that the monster wouldn’t be good, because they very rarely are. Probably the last great monster before that was the little girl in the bed in The Exorcist. But all you had to put on her was the voice—of Mercedes McCambridge—and that one trick was chilling. I decided to see THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THEM and IT [THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE]—which actually were good fun at the time, used to scare the living daylights out of me as a kid, and now are kind of collector’s items. Funnily enough, as a child, I was always brought up not to see horror movies, because my parents classified them along with sex movies, so I wasn’t allowed to see them. I saw this poster in Piccadilly of this guy standing there with the face-mask on and the buzz saw, and I just decided not to see the film—that [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ] was pretty tough stuff.
DIRECTOR GEORGE A ROMERO (Director of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and MARTIN)
Martin is my all-time favorite. When you make films, it’s hard to decide which among them is your favorite. When and if you make a choice, there are many factors that go into it—the experience, memories of the people working with you. On that film I had my first chance to work with Tom Savini, John Amplas. The crew numbered fifteen, including the cast. We had no money. A handful of people made it possible for me to make the movie. We made it on spit and a prayer. I think it’s my most successful effort, in that it comes closer than anything I’ve done to what I intended when I wrote the script. It turned out almost exactly the way I originally envisioned it.
I read my share of Poe. I collected EC Comics, and I’m old enough to have seen FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA on the big screen—when they were re-released. I’m not that old! I saw THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD in its first run, also on the big screen The movie that made me want to make movies is—you’ll probably be surprised by this—is The Tales of Hoffman, an adaptation of Orfenbach’s opera. It’s sung in English, but the words don’t matter much; it’s the imagery that grabs you, and it never lets go. I was one of the few who saw this particular film when it played in a theatre on a big screen and in color. The film has action and adventure, and it was way serious to an eleven year old. It was released in the same year as The Thing from Another World—big competition—but this film made more of an impression than James Arness ever could. I love some of Dario Argento’s early ones, Deep Red and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Those were probably my favorites, and Suspiria—it’s operatic and beautiful—like The Tales of Hoffman. Repulsion is the most frightening film that I’ve ever seen. Lapsed Catholics—not practicing Catholics, but those who have strayed—like me—stained our jockeys when we first saw The Exorcist. As far as I’m concerned, that is the only film that dealt with Pure Evil and managed to pull it off.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO (Director of PAN’S LABYRINTH)
My favorites of my own films are PAN’S LABYRINTH, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, and HELLBOY.
I started watching horror films without caring much about their origin. We got some Mario Bava films. Of course, we have the Mexican wrestler/masked avengers type of horror film. Then every Sunday there was a local channel that showed all the Universal monster movies: everything from the classics Frankenstein to Bride of Frankenstein and so forth. Then at the matinee, my mother took me to see the Hammer films: DRACULA, HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, all of them. So I really got every single thing on the spectrum fed into my brain at this very tender age.
TAKASHI SHIMIZU (Director of THE GRUDGE)
I am influenced by lots of filmmakers and movies, so it’s hard to name everything. I like art films like Decalogue and big-budget Hollywood movies like SPIDER-MAN 2, but I fell asleep in SPIDER-MAN. Sorry, Sam! (referring to SPIDER-MAN director Sam Raimi, who produced THE GRUDGE)
SCOTT DERRICKSON (Director of THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE)
In cinema, you have to be crazy [to make an exorcism film] after THE EXORCIST. It’s my favorite horror film; I think it’s the best horror film ever made. You’re not going to make a better movie than that. People who tried to imitate that movie have pretty notoriously failed. It’s daunting.
ADAM GREEN (Writer-director of HATCHET, whose festival tag-line was: “It’s not a remake; it’s not a sequel; and it’s not based on a Japanese one.’)
In fact I like Japanese horror films, and some of my favorite films are remakes. John Carpenter’s THE THING is my Top Five of all time, and I love THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE [remake] – as much as a lot of people would want to kill me for saying that. I wanted to hate that when I saw it, and I really liked it. Even the second time – because I thought, ‘Maybe it’s just Jessica Biel’s boobs,’ but it wasn’t; it was really that good.
HALLOWEEN to me is still [great] – nothing will ever touch that one. [Slasher films] created villains with great mythologies behind them that were very simple stories that you could easily explain to your friend while you’re lying on the floor in sleeping bags at night, having a sleepover. That was the real joy of these films for me. The villains were these anti-superheroes; they were just these total bad-asses. As much as you were afraid of them, you were kind of rooting for them because they were so cool.
WILLIAM MALONE (Director of THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL)
Of recent ilk, one of my favorites was ALIEN, which is just a brilliant movie. I still love CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON: there’s something evocative about it that really works. I love things like THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and FRANKENSTEIN, which is a wonderful picture; the original still really holds up. MAD LOVE is a really cool movie, with Peter Lorre. And some other stuff has been overlooked like PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, the Mario Bava picture, which I think is a wonderful film. I was heavily influenced by THE BLACK CAT , which is one of my favorite films. I love that movie. When I first met Geoffrey [Rush, whom Malone directed in House], he’d just gone to see THE BLACK CAT, and he talked about how much he loved it. It’s got this perversity, this weird, dark undertone. What’s great about it is that you can’t put your finger on it, except if you actually look at the plot of that movie, you could never do that today. It’s too twisted: the fact that Karloff kills Lugosi’s wife and then keeps her body preserved in the basement, and then marries her daughter! I’m a big fan of [director Edgar G.] Ulmer’s work.
JEAN-PIERRE JEUNET (Director of ALIEN: RESURRECTION and AMALIE)
I love American Beauty, Memento, Happiness. I have two films in my life: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE from Stanley Kubrick and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. I saw it when I was a teen, and I couldn’t eat or sleep for three days. My parents were, “What? What? Are you sick?” “No no, you can’t understand!”
MAZAAKI TEZUKA (Director of GODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S.)
The first GODZILLA (1954) … [is] a masterpiece, but KING KONG VS. GODZILLA is my favorite.
ROLFE KANEFSKY (Writer-director of NIGHTMARE MAN)
I saw Frankenstein and all the monster movies when I was four years old, but I became a huge horror fan when I was fourteen, when I really started watching horror films and seeing all the conventions and the clichés. All the really good horror films were – except when the studios decided to stay out of it, like THE EXORCSIT – they were not studio films. They were independent films: HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.
LEONARD WOLF (Author of Dracula: A Connoisseurs Guide)
I am very drawn, curiously enough, to the silent film, NOSFERATU (1922). When Count Orlock comes to—her name is either Nina or Ellen, depending on the subtitles—they exchange looks across the areaway. It is so charged with complex implications. Clearly, he is now going to be in the role of the demon lover, making love to a woman who sends her husband away—it’s got elements of French comedy in it. At the same time it’s a ghoulish moment, when this guy who’s not really living shows up in her bedroom and crouches at the side of her bed. You never know what they’re doing, but whatever they’re doing is so silent and so horrible and so Christian and so appalling—I’ve said somewhere in my book that the silence is intensified. We know we’re in a silent film, but somehow that scene takes on a terror because it’s so utterly still.
SUZY MCKEE CHARNAS (Author of The Vampire Tapestry)
I think that one thing that happens when you are raised as a reader rather than a visual consumer is that when you do go to films, they’re really pretty overwhelming. I remember being really impressed by silly things like ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. It is wonderful, but it shouldn’t send you screaming! It did influence me, to put it mildly. For a very long time, the whole vampire thing was very tightly attached to the Hungarian actor whose name we all know. I still kind of balk when people get too far away from a basic sort of dignity. I don’t really go for BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER-type of vampires, and the punk rocker ones really turn me off.
BARBARA STEEL (Star of BLACK SUNDAY, a.k.a. Mask of the Demon)
Black Sunday is the best of the genre films I made—the final result was most perfected in terms of the whole film, but I don’t feel it was best for me as an actress. I never saw a completed script for BLACK SUNDAY. We were given the pages day to day. We had hardly any idea of what was ever going down on that film. We had no idea of the end or the beginning, either. I’m sure he [director Mario Bava] had, or maybe he hadn’t. He really geared it to play out all his cinematographic-visual fantasies, and I think that one of the strongest points of the movie is the look of it. It’s just fortuitous for an actress to find herself in something that well structured.
CHRISTINA RICCI (star of SLEEPY HOLLOW)
I’ve always loved [Tim Burton’s] movies. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS is one of my favorite movies of all time. His movies are so different. His movies are so beautiful and really elegant. They’re also told with such an innocence and a goodness. People say his movies are dark, but they’re really about Good and Evil, and the Good is always so good and so strong—they’re actually really sweet stories.
PATRICK MACNEE (Star of THE HOWLING)
You just can’t get a more stunning film. My darling wife and my friends sat there watching it like that [grips the armrest of his chair and forms his mouth into a silent scream to demonstrate]. It’s a wonderful, wonderful film. Now all my other films— THE CREATURE WASN’T NICE, LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS —I have been in more movies of that type. I’m not saying we weren’t good in them, but they were movies you never see again, hopefully. When Dennis Bartok [of American Cinematheque] said, ‘We’re going to do a retrospective of your movies,’ I said, ‘Which one? There’s only one worth seeing, and this is it!’
JOE DANTE (Director of THE HOWLING)
There are too many monster movies for me to pick. I spent a misspent youth watching monster movies, and then I spent a misspent adulthood making them. So I would refer you to any list of decent monster movies, and I’m sure my favorites will be on there.