Wednesday, 14 December 2011


I love Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho". It's a great horror flick (and a great flick regardless of genre) with a couple of twists that sent audiences around the bend back in 1960. It's been imitated, parodied, remade, paid homage to, deconstructed, reviled and revered.

A movie this famous can't help but generate its share of stories and myths. One of those myths, however, has never sat right with me. That's the notion that the infamous shower scene never once shows the killer's knife slashing its victim's skin. Untrue, as this still from the movie proves:

Still, Hitchcock had no trouble making us think we've seen even more than we actually have. Just one of The Master's charms.

Monday, 21 November 2011


The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957, 81 min.)

Just like most great sci-fi and horror films, The Incredible Shrinking Man has bigger things going on than first meets the eye. In this case, at its core, Shrinking Man is a metaphor about facing death.

Scott Carey (Grant Williams) passes though a radioactive cloud and soon finds himself getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller… His doctors race to find a cure, and his wife (Randy Stuart) sticks by his side while Carey, frustrated, scared and helpless, becomes a S.O.B. and even flirts with having an affair. Putting his dignity aside, Carey is forced to sell his story to the media in order to generate income.

(SPOILERS) Eventually his fate is sealed, even if he doesn’t realize it yet, when he becomes trapped in the basement of his home. Believing him dead, his wife exits the house (and the movie), and Carey falls victim to everyday household inhabitants and occurrences that wouldn’t pose a threat to an average sized/healthy individual. He continues to fight against fate, but in the end, he gives himself over to the inevitability of the experience. (END SPOILERS)

Based on Richard Matheson’s novel The Shrinking Man, the film is notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is treating its premise and individual scenes as serious stuff, emphasizing their impact on characters rather than presenting them solely as (potentially silly) spectacle. Check out the screen shot below for an example of how ridiculous this film could be if take out of context, or if the filmmakers didn't bother to humanize the characters.

That’s not to say that the film is lacking suspense or excitement – in fact, it contains some of the most exciting scenes and effective special effects in all of 1950’s science fiction, but the film takes time in its brisk 81-minute running time to go beyond wonderment to wisely explore the way in which events register with its characters. It also allows its protagonist to become unlikeable at points – quick to anger, selfish, and cruel to his wife – a rarity in an Atomic Age leading man, but these are also traits that make Carey more human than your typical square-jawed hero.

The real trick of Shrinking Man, however, is that it’s able to sell its theme and heady ideas through pure entertainment. No grandstanding speeches here; just a fantastic (in the fantasy sense) scenario and memorable battles with a housecat and a spider that have become giants. It’s something Alfred Hitchcock was adept at – conveying big ideas via entertainment in such a way that the audience doesn’t know it’s being encouraged to think. Here, director Jack Arnold (back again from the previous two entries in this series of Ultimate Collection posts) does the same.

The film’s ending also resonates (See it to find out exactly what I mean). It’s a fitting conclusion to a film that ponders big issues, and it leaves the viewer feeling contemplative after the thrills. A classic.

Friday, 28 October 2011


It’s been a long time coming, but here's the second flick my partner and I watched in Universal's The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 & 2:

Monster on the Campus (1958, 77 min.)

Did Paddy Chayefsky maybe see this flick before he wrote Altered States?

Jack Arnold is again at the helm, this time directing a much-maligned Jekyll & Hyde-at-college monster movie. Maybe it was my lowered expectations based on the negative comments I’d read about Monster on the Campus (the addition of “the” makes this title more awkward that it needs to be, don’t you think?), but I enjoyed this short ‘n sweet programmer.

Simply stated, Monster is about a college professor (Arthur Franz) who pricks his finger on the tooth of a prehistoric fish and regresses to Neanderthal Man status for brief periods of time, killing folks, destroying property, and terrorizing the campus. A German Shepard and a dragonfly get in on the prof’s prehistoric monster act, adding bonus creature thrills, and Troy Donahue shows up as a student/dog owner/lab assistant, adding teen heartthrob thrills to the proceedings.

Monster has pretty much everything I look for from 50’s Saturday matinee entertainment: creatures, science, the prerequisite romance (courtesy of movie fiancĂ©e Joanna Moore), a sense of do-or-die, a short running time that leaves no room for padding, and a couple of genuinely creepy moments (i.e. the discovery of one of the prof’s victims, found dead and hanging by her hair). It’s also got making-monsters-out-of-nothing-at-all makeup by genre stalwarts Bud Westmore and an uncredited Jack Kevan (It Came from Outer Space, Creature from the Black Lagoon).

But more than all that, Monster provides an interesting character arc for its combination protagonist/antagonist that starts with his excitement at scientific discovery, turns into his sneaking suspicion that he might be responsible for the deaths of innocent people, and culminates in his realization that he has to do something to stop himself. It’s a level of pathos that approaches that of the superior The Wolfman, and adds weight to this creature feature. When Franz started to doubt himself, I was hit with that “uh-oh” fated feeling that says in essence, “Well pal, we’re doomed. It’s only going to get worse for us from here on in, so let’s just go through the paces until our time is up.”

My only real beef with Monster is when it turns particularly silly on a couple of occasions (and I freely admit that these goofy moments may have actually added to my enjoyment); once when the prof accidentally drips prehistoric fish blood into his pipe and smokes it (!), and again when he devises a solution for stopping his alter ego that is elementary and needlessly convoluted all at the same time (no spoilers here). Despite these moments that make it seem as if screenwriter David Duncan were running out of time and just needed to make a couple of events happen, Monster gave me what I wanted. And in less than 80 minutes. Try that, James Cameron.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


Back in 2008, Universal Studios released The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 & 2, a complete 10-movie, 6-disc compilation of their previously released multi-movie sets. Eventually, I got around to picking it up, as it contains a number of movies I've either always wanted to see or that I've wanted to revisit. My partner and I have just started to go through the collection, and we began with one of those movies I'd always wanted to see - Tarantula.

Tarantula (1955, 81 min.)
John Agar is a small town doctor and Mara Corday is a scientist-in-training newly arrived in town to assist scientist Leo G. Carroll. Carroll is very secretive about what's going on in his lab (Don't tell him I told you, but it's got something to do with using radiation to increase our food supply), so much so that when the deformed corpse of his former colleague is found in the desert, Carroll dismisses it as the result of an atypical rapidly progressing disease of the thyroid. It's only a matter of time before Agar and Corday are falling in love, one of Carroll's lab creatures escapes (hint: check out the movie's title), and Carroll himself becomes affected by radiation via another victim of his lab work. From there on in, it's a race to defeat the massive and quickly growing arachnid before it can destroy Smalltown, USA.

Directed and co-written by Jack Arnold, Tarantula is a fun movie that drags only rarely due to familiarity with the giant-bug-on-the-loose formula. The special effects hold up for the most part, and the cast delivers solid performances all around. The subplot involving Carroll's quickly advancing illness adds a unique touch to the aforementioned formula plot, as well as the opportunity for some mild shock moments as the stages of his condition are revealed. Clint Eastwood is also on hand, obscured by military gear, in an early and brief appearance as an air force pilot.

Director Arnold is responsible for some of the most fondly remembered Sci-Fi flicks of the 1950's, yet he hasn't received the level of attention he deserves. Perhaps The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 & 2 will do its part over time to help rectify this. Stay tuned. Arnold will turn up again as we delve further into this collection.

Monday, 29 August 2011


When I was a kid in the 1970's, I couldn't wait to get my hands on our local paper every Saturday. I'd tear though the thin edition of The Guardian to find the movie ads, specifically the matinees we kids could take in without adult accompaniment. More often than not, I'd come across something lurid, something that I couldn't wait to see. It was a win-win situation; my parents, and the parents of some of my friends, were happy to get rid of us for a couple of hours (or more if it were a double bill) for only a buck, plus 35 cents for popcorn topped with real butter that actually tasted like butter.

One of the great things about these matinees was that the films the Capitol Theatre (then the Prince Edward Cinemas and The Charlottetown Cinemas) would screen seemed to be selected at random, and frequently they were "inappropriate" for kids. It was these inappropriate movies that I'd hope to find advertised in the Saturday movie listings, and usually I found them. The other kids could keep their family movies; I wanted Scream and Scream Again and Frankenstein's Bloody Terror! And that's what I got.

A few short years later I was in Junior High, and my friend Mike Prokopec and I started clipping all the ads from the movies we'd see. We'd glue them into scribblers that are now long gone. Feeling nostalgic for these collections, I started visiting Charlottetown's Public Archives where I could access microfische copies of The Guardian and have photocopies of the ads made.

What follows here are scans of these movie ads beginning back in 1974 when I was in Grade 4. I saw each of the screenings advertised below, save one. The Prince Edward Cinemas ad for The Exorcist advertised a screening I desperately wanted to attend, but was forbidden to by my father (a good call). My inability to see this movie fueled my obsession with it that wouldn't be consummated until a couple of years later, as documented here. The ad for that fateful drive-in screening of The Exorcist is included here as well.

As my friend Darrin Dunsford said after I sent him some of these scans: "They brought back all the same excited feeling that I used to get checking out the movie listings, but don't much any more. And that "ONE SHOW ONLY" (Towering Inferno)... That made the movie seem all the more special and eventful. Now, when there's only 1 showing per evening, I immediately think "Oh great, another over-long, indulgent windbag of a movie where the editor can't do his job". When did I become so jaded???"

Please note: The scans for Earthquake, Munsters Go Home and The Fury are hard to make out, but I've included them for posterity. Click on images to enlarge.