#SatMat Live Tweet movie for Sat., Feb. 27: EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958)

EarthVsTheSpiderAd

How does a single, abnormally-sized spider turn up in a random cave for no reason? How is it that, after the spider has been knocked out with poison, rock-and-roll music brings it back to life? And worst of all, how can they name a movie Earth vs. the Spider when it’s not an entire planet that’s being threatened but merely a nondescript, white-bread town that probably deserves to be obliterated anyway?

These are just some of the many questions that won’t be answered this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST. Join us at Twitter.com and use the hashtag #SatMat to enjoy a movie you’ll never forget laughing at!

RE-ANIMATOR (1985) -A sci-fi movie with sparks of genius

movie-scientist-frankenstein1

The following is my entry in the Movie Scientist Blogathon, being co-hosted Feb. 19-21, 2016 by Christina Wehner at her self-named blog and by Silver Screenings. Click on the above banner, and read a rich variety of blogs devoted to movie scientists of all kinds!

1985 reanimator

Poor Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). It was the first misfortune of his life to be cursed with a conscience. When we first see this medical student, he is doing everything possible to revive a dead patient long after his peers have given up hope. “Your optimism is touching,” one of his superiors tells him, “but a good doctor knows when to stop.”

Dan’s second misfortune is to take in, as his roommate, fellow med-school alumnus Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs). Herbert is regarded as a promising new student by the med school’s dean. But Dan and his girlfriend Meg (Barbara Crampton) regard Herbert as condescending, aloof, and mysterious – and with good reason.

5449486772469760

Dan, Meg, and Herbert.

We learn that Herbert was kicked out of a Switzerland medical school for his unregulated experiments in the reanimation of dead human tissue. It turns out that Herbert has a fluid that can bring the dead back to life, but only for a few moments at a time. What must Herbert do in order to prolong the resurrection process? Can he coerce naïve Dan into using his minor clout at the medical school to help him? And by the way, where has Meg’s cat gone to lately?

It seemed a daunting task, but co-writer/director Stuart Gordon, taking off from a story by H.P. Lovecraft, has created a riveting and plausible (albeit very gory) modern-day mad-scientist tale. We can truly believe that Herbert is singularly driven to make his wild dream of re-animation come true – not for fame or fortune’s sake, but simply because fate has decreed it must be done, laws and morals be damned. And we can also believe that Dan, given pause as he is every so often by that darned conscience of his, is compelled to help Herbert see his vision through.

Even if you’re willing to give yourself over to the movie’s Grand Guignol vision (which I was, surprisingly), the film has its troublesome elements. Richard Band’s score is haunting yet plagiaristic, slavishly aping Bernard Herrmann’s strings of Psycho.

And while Barbara Crampton is likable enough as Meg, her underwritten, shrieking-meemie characterization does the women of cinema no favors. By the time you see her bound, helpless, and naked in the movie’s climactic scene, all you can think is, “I sure hope they paid that actress well for what she went through.”  (Maybe what cinema needs is a mad-scientist woman inflicting this kind of stuff on men as the payback for all of the movie misogyny that women have endured over the years.)

The amazing thing is how the movie transcends its guts-and-gore origins and really gives you a stake in these characters’ outcomes. For 104 minutes, Re-Animator breathes fresh air into what seemed to be a moribund genre. Herbert West would be proud.

The movie’s trailer is embedded below. (WARNING: It’s redband.)

MargaretPerry.org’s CURATE MY LIFE Flash Blogathon

CurateMyLife

Looking for something film-related, easy, and fun to do this weekend? Click on the above banner to learn more about and participate in Margaret Perry’s Curate My Life Flash Blogathon, being held this weekend only (Feb. 20-21, 2016) at her website, margaretperry.org. I think it’s a fantastic idea!

#SatMat Live Tweet movie for Sat., Feb. 20: WILLARD (1971)

 

Willard2

This week, #SatMat reaches back into the curdled excesses of the early 1970’s to bring you Willard, the touching story of a boy and his rats.

Well, he’s not really a boy, just a put-upon milquetoast named Willard (Bruce Davison) . His boss is a hulking bully played by Ernest Borgnine, so you know this can’t end well. When lonely Willard ends up befriending some rats that his mother had ordered him to round up from their yard and kill, Willard starts using the rodents for his own nefarious purposes.

As lurid as the movie is, it’s rated PG and bespeaks of a simpler time in cinema, where even gruesome subject matter wasn’t dealt with as gorily as it soon came to be. Plus, you gotta love the casting. Besides Borgnine, there’s Elsa Lanchester in one of her last roles, and Sondra Locke in one of her first. What would Dirty Harry have made of all this?

So come with popcorn on one hand and rat poison on the other, and savor the guilty pleasures of Willard with us at Twitter.com this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST!

 

 

 

Melissa McCarthy in THE BOSS

Boss

I usually don’t display my old-fogeyism this flagrantly. But yesterday, I found that the trailer for Melissa McCarthy’s new movie comedy, The Boss, had been embedded into my Twitter account’s feed. I’m not any McCarthy fan, but since the preview was there anyway, I figured I’d check it out.

Much has been made of critic Leonard Maltin’s recent admission that his review of Zoolander 2 is incomplete because he walked out on the movie before it was finished. I found this trailer so repugnant, I wanted to walk out on it, and it was on my home computer. But I sat through the entire thing.

Not only did I not laugh, I was downright offended by it. Right from the get-go, the preview intends to get laughs by calling its protagonist every offensive name in the book. Does anybody try to get “honest” laughs anymore without resorting to playground-level cursing?

Then we’re supposed to be tickled silly when McCarthy and her sidekick tell Kristen Bell’s character that they’re shocked that any man would deign to have sexual intercourse with her. Kristen Bell is a charming actress, and I don’t mind admitting that I felt personally insulted for Bell at having to earn a paycheck from such a cheap shot.

From there, McCarthy’s character (for reasons not worth going into here) decides to create the ultimate Girl Scout troop from some inner-city girls, resulting in a violent scene that goes far beyond slapstick and well into pity territory.

I’m sure this will be the box-office hit of the week, until McCarthy’s fans stop turning out for it and it ends up on Netflix or the like three weeks later. But what does it say for women’s legacy in cinema that one of the top female comedy box-office draws can earn such status only by being as gross and brain-dead as the unfunniest guys in movie comedy?

Here’s the trailer. (WARNING: Much adult language!) Judge for yourself, and feel free to agree or disagree with me in the “Comments” section below.

Chill Willis and his ALAMO Oscar campaign

31days-3

This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, being co-hosted by Aurora at Once Upon a Screen, Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club as a month-long salute to the Academy Awards.

Each week has a different theme: THE ACTORS! (February 6), OSCAR SNUBS! (February 13), THE CRAFTS! (February 20), and THE MOTION PICTURES and THE DIRECTORS! (February 27). (My blog entry, which follows, is related to OSCAR SNUBS.) Click on the above banner for a terrific variety of blogs related to the history of Oscars!

*

If you were a movie actor, what would you do to try to win an Oscar? Chill Wills did nothing less than invoke God Almighty.

ChillWills

Theodore Childress “Chill” Wills (1902-1978) was a performer from early childhood, forming and leading the Avalon Boys singing group before disbanding them in 1938 to pursue a solo acting career.

(Laurel & Hardy fans are well familiar with Wills and the Avalon Boys. They provide the back-up singing for the famous softshoe number “At the Ball, That’s All” in the L&H comedy Way Out West. Wills can be seen as the yodeler in the group.)

LHChill

For two decades, Wills’ film work ranged from the serious (Uncle Bawley in the James Dean movie Giant) to the ridiculous (he was the uncredited voice of Francis the Talking Mule in Universal’s long-running comedy series). But for reasons we’ll explain, Wills’ most notorious role was probably “Beekeeper,” the alcoholic sidekick to Davy Crockett (John Wayne), in the Wayne-produced-and-directed Western The Alamo (1960).

p

The Alamo, based of course on the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, was a pet project of Wayne’s. He wanted so much to get the movie made that he put up $1.5 million of his own money for the budget, and he starred in the movie when he would have preferred a supporting role or no role at all (other backers refused to help fund the movie without Wayne’s star power as insurance). Despite Wayne’s fondness for the subject matter, historians and critics complained loudly about the movie’s lack of factual accuracy.

And as it turned out, Wayne’s love of a good Western story was nothing compared to Chill Wills’ passion for a golden statuette.

Chill Wills the alamo

Despite the movie’s mixed notices, Wills’ performance got him rave reviews and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. At age 58, Wills was not about to let his only shot at an Academy Award slip through his leathery fingers.

Wills enlisted the aid of veteran press agent W.S. “Bow-Wow” Wojciechowicz to mount an Oscar bid for him. While Wills took the heat for this self-serving campaign, Bow-Wow later admitted that Wills knew nothing about it and that it was entirely his doing. And Bow-Wow certainly earned his salary.

The campaign’s first ad read, “We of The Alamo cast are praying harder than the real Texans prayed for their lives at The Alamo — for Chill Wills to win the Oscar. Cousin Chill’s acting was great. [Signed,] Your Alamo cousins.”

FINAL

The straw that broke the Academy’s back was the ad with Wills declaring, “Win, lose, or draw, you’re still my cousins and I love you all.” It was Wills’ hard luck that Hollywood’s master of sarcasm, Groucho Marx, was one of the Academy’s Oscar voters. Noting that Sal Mineo was also up for a Supporting Actor Oscar (for the movie Exodus), Groucho posted his own ad that read, “Dear Mr. Chill Wills: I am delighted to be your cousin but I voted for Sal Mineo.”

JohnWayne

The back-and-forth did not end there. John Wayne was quite eager to distance himself and Batjac, his production company, from Wills’ campaign. Wayne ran an ad in Variety which stated: “No one in Batjac or in the Russell Birdwell office [Wayne’s publicist] had been a party to [Wills’] trade paper advertising. I refrain from using stronger language because I am sure his intentions are not as bad as his taste.”

Groucho Marx couldn’t resist taking a crack at Wayne’s sanctimoniousness either, remarking publicly, “For John Wayne to impugn Chill Wills’ taste is tantamount to Jayne Mansfield criticizing Sabrina for too much exposure.”

And that was about the last that The Alamo heard about any Oscars. The Best Supporting Actor award went to neither Wills nor Mineo, but to Peter Ustinov for Spartacus. Despite a total of seven nominations (including Best Picture), the only Oscar garnered by The Alamo was for Best Sound. Wayne himself would win his only Oscar, not for directing his prized project, but for his lead acting role in True Grit nearly a decade later.

Wills’ elaborate Oscar adventure is proof that money and publicity alone are not enough to nab someone an Academy Award. But as we’ve seen in the 55 years since The Alamo, that doesn’t stop plenty of wanna-bes from trying.

*

Sources:

Emmanuel Levy Cinema 24/7. “Oscar Scandals: Wills, Chill (The Alamo).” Dec. 31, 2005. http://emanuellevy.com/oscar/oscar-scandals-chill-wills-9/

Los Angeles Times. “‘The Alamo’ Mission.” Jan. 6, 2010. http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jan/06/news/la-en-archives6-2010jan06

The Oscar Buzz. “Failed Oscar Campaigns: ‘The Alamo’ (1960).” http://theoscarbuzz.blogspot.com/2014/12/failed-oscar-campaigns-alamo-1960.html

Wikipedia. “‘The Alamo’ (1960 film).” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Alamo_(1960_film)

Wikipedia. “Chill Wills.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chill_Wills