Thursday, October 30, 2014

Horror of Dracula Has Risen From the Grave!

Five years ago, Kevin B. Lee invited Christianne Benedict and me to talk about Horror of Dracula (1958) for a podcast on his now-dormant blog Shooting Down Pictures.

Man, it’s fun to talk about Dracula!

During our 25-minute horror geek-out, Christianne and I ranged freely across the broad vampiric landscape, with fun tangents on the Hammer Dracula’s similarity to James Bond, low-cut inspirations for Victoria’s Secret, the professionalization of the vampire stalking business, the threat from the east, and Bram Stoker’s ever-lurking anti-Semitism and misogyny.

Going into this podcast, I was more than a little intimidated by the prospect of playing Siskel/Roeper to Christianne Benedict.  She is my favorite living film critic.  When I watch a movie and then want to sample an intelligent critical response, I take a beeline to her blog first.  At Krell Labs, I can always depend on being challenged and delighted by unexpected insights backed by solid film scholarship.

This remains my one-and-only podcast, which probably says much about my performance.  I drawl, stutter, repeat myself, and say ummmm way too much.  But the content’s pretty good, rendering the total podcast respectable enough to deserve a chance to rise from the grave again this Halloween season.

Christianne, Kevin Lee, and I bonded years ago on the IMDb (International Movie Database) Classic Film Board.  These days, Christianne and I primarily express our love for movies through our blogs.  Meanwhile, Kevin is a rising star.  After completing the Shooting Down Pictures project (where he blogged himself through the 1,000 greatest films of all time as compiled by the website They Shoot Pictures Don’t They?), Kevin became a filmmaker himself—swiftly gaining a reputation as an innovative master of the emerging video essay format.

This week, it would be worth a trip to Austria to catch Kevin’s remarkable short documentary Transformers: The Premake at the prestigious Viennale (Vienna International Film Festival) 2014.  This 25-minute film is an intoxicating joyride that wickedly dissects film production, promotion, and fandom.  And if you can’t make it to Vienna, enjoy a viewing below in its most natural setting: YouTube.

So gorge yourself on the podcast and video treats... and whether you go trick-or-treating this year as the Prince of Darkness or as a shape-shifting robot monster, Happy Halloween to all!

© 2014 Lee Price

Monday, October 6, 2014

Halloween Tips from Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game (1939)

Seventy-five years ago,
Jean Renoir filmed
The Rules of the Game (1939) ...

Jean Renoir as a bear, with Nora Gregor and
Marcel Dalio to his right in folk costume.
In the spirit of the season, I offer some Halloween costume ideas inspired by Jean Renoir’s classic film The Rules of the Game (1939):  bear costumes, Austrian folk clothes, traditionally-sheeted ghosts, and a classic skeletal Death.

In The Rules of the Game, a masquerade is announced at the country estate of La Colinière—a time for the elite to play dress-up, Halloween-style.  Jean Renoir, genius director and pratfalling actor, dresses as his alter ego, a bear.  The party’s hosts are in the colorful Tyrolean getups.

Then, as things really start getting wild and weird, Death takes the stage.

The Master of Ceremonies arrives.

Screams followed by laughter.
Like guests touring a modern-day haunted house attraction, the high society regulars at La Colinière enjoy the domesticated thrill of an encounter with the inexplicable.  The ghosts that dance with Death leave the stage and playfully terrorize the appreciative audience.  We all love to be frightened, provided it’s a predictable scare at a designated hour in a safe place.

Of course, this being a film masterpiece, the scene functions on several levels, simultaneously launching farce while foreshadowing tragedy.  The gliding camera picks up on numerous subplots, deepening and commenting upon them.

For Death’s set piece, a player piano slips into Camille Saint-SaënsDanse Macabre.  Backstage, four men don their costumes—three as ghosts and the fourth as Death.  The curtain drops and the cavorting ghosts are revealed against a black background, each dancing with an umbrella frame like a prescient undead version of Singin in the Rain.

Leaping and prancing, Death leads the ghosts in the dance.  When the ghosts descend into the audience, Death appears to be looking for something in particular.  He spots the two playful lovers whose actions will trigger the climactic tragedy.

Death spies the lovers, played by Julien Carette and Paulette Dubost.

The Rules of the Game offers the classic Halloween ghost costume:  white sheets with cutout eyes.  Under the sheets, they wear black clothes (as well as black gloves and shoes) so as to blend in with the background behind them.  The umbrella frames, stripped of their fabric, are an inspired touch.

And The Rules of the Games offers a classic Death:  a black leotard with an artistically painted skeleton.  The skull is a pull-over mask.  The crisp white of the bones makes them seem to glow in the dark.

It’s a charming Halloween ensemble, best played against a black stage and a soundtrack of Saint-Saëns.

Death dresses while the ghosts perform.

Here are some other classic film ideas for dressing up as ever-popular Death this Halloween season:

© 2014 Lee Price