Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The First Annual Decaying Hollywood Mansions Halloween Horror Marathon!

From 12 AM Saturday until 6 AM Sunday (US Central Time) 
on the DHM Facebook Page!

Over 24 Straight Hours of Gruesome Visual Delights, Blood-Chilling Music, Coagulated Cartoons, Rare Memorabilia & Diabolical Door Prizes (Minus the Door)!

Also featuring blog madness from ghoulish artist-in-residence Tess Emily Rodriguez, pithy epitaphs from the morbidly louche Frank Howard, besotted bons mots from DHM crypt-licker Charles Lieurance & mordant semi-pornographic aphorisms from the world's crankiest spirit medium, Chuck Stephens (channeling Roderick Usher & Moe Howard).

-The Schedule-

(Subject to Last-Minute Changes)


Midnight to 1:30 
Dracula's Daughter (Lambert Hillyer, 1936)
1:30 to 3:30
Deathdream (Bob Clark, 1974)
3:30 to 5:30
Spider Baby (Jack Hill, 1964)
5:30 to 7:30
The Nanny (Seth Holt, 1965)
7:30 to 9:00
The Mad Ghoul (James Hogan, 1943)
9:00 to 11:00
Two on a Guillotine (William Conrad, 1965)
11:00 to 12:30
The Cat Creature (Curtis Harrington, 1973)
12:30 to 2:30
Seance on a Wet Afternoon (Bryan Forbes, 1964)
2:30 to 4:30
Black Zoo (Robert Gordon, 1963)
4:30 to 6:00
The Mad Magician (John Brahm, 1954)
6:00 to 7:30
Supernatural (Victor Halperin, 1933)
7:30 to 9:00
Black Moon (Roy William Neill, 1934)
9:00 to 10:30
The Seventh Victim (Mark Robson, 1943)
10:30 to Midnight
Private Parts (Paul Bartel, 1972)

*Sunday Bonus Round*

Midnight to 2:00
Velvet Vampire (Stephanie Rothman, 1971)
2:00 to 4:00
Simon, King of the Witches (Bruce Kessler, 1971)
4 to 5:30
Mystery of the Wax Museum (Michael Curtiz, 1933)

All films will be posted to the DHM Facebook page, but feel free to rent nice copies from your local video store & watch them in the comfort of your home theater. Just be sure to come back & check in with us after for conversation, trivia & prizes!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Kiddie Pool by Frank Howard

The year was 1978.  Two young actors, raised just a few miles apart, both sharing the same agent, are the two final candidates for a lead part in a major film set to begin production in a matter of weeks.  One of those actors was me, a seven year old with some theater roles and a handful of television credits under my belt.  I have patchy memories about that final audition.  I do remember a room with fluorescent lighting and no windows.  I was being videotaped.  The man conducting the proceedings was a soft-spoken British gentleman with a smushed-up face and beady eyes, I must've assumed he was the director. He asked me questions about school, my father, and if I got along with the other boys.  I hated school, was afraid of my father, and had no friends.  I then began to talk about my best friend, an imaginary one.  His name was Pika, and he would communicate via my index finger, which I would bend whenever he spoke.  This led to hours of videotaped conversation with the auditor.  Two weeks later my agent informed my mother that they had decided to cast the other actor, Danny Lloyd.  The film was The Shining, of course.

Tony, Danny's imaginary friend, is touched upon in the book (the Danny character's middle name is Anthony, same as mine).  However, the voice and the finger were MY imaginary friend.  Never mind that Danny Lloyd and I had the same agent, she knew one of her clients was going to get the part, so she just sat back and didn't fight for me (or him as far as I know).  But Stanley Kubrick obviously watched my audition and used my mannerisms as a convenient little device to give voice to Danny's inner monologue…when we saw the film, my mother was furious.  

After the film was released, Danny and I had a passing acquaintance,  we'd bump into each other at my agent's office and occasionally be up for the same parts.  A few years later we were both whisked off to Los Angeles for two weeks while they cast a new series about a military school, run by a hard-nosed colonel played by Robert Conrad.  Again, we were up for the same part.  When not being interviewed, our days were spent by the Universal City Hilton's pool (with Lloyd's father always nearby and watching him like a hawk).  He seemed a painfully shy kid who hated being away from home.  I got that part.  In fact, I ended winning nearly every part that he was up for (in mostly shitty movies) and made a lot more money for my agent than Danny Lloyd ever did.  He never worked after The Shining.  Maybe he was unable to live that film down, but I think his heart wasn't in it.  He didn't crave attention like I did, he never wanted to be an actor.

Me in 1978
For years Stephen King was frequently asked "What ever happened to Danny?"  His answer was last year's Shining sequel, the novel Doctor Sleep.  The book's success has prompted journalists to ask "What ever happened to Danny Lloyd?"  A 2013 interview in the New York Daily News revealed he's a teacher in Kentucky leading a happy and quiet life with his family.  As far as the probable film adaptation of Doctor Sleep, Lloyd says: "I would be up for a cameo for sure…that would be fun."  He says he's never recognized, which I think is a lie…just look at this recent photo and you'll see he pretty much looks the same.

If you're detecting sour grapes you'd be wrong.  I love the film, but have never regretted missing out on an extended stay at The Overlook.  If I had played Danny, no matter what I ended up doing in life I'd still always be "that kid from The Shining"…I'd have probably ended up on Celebrity Rehab (I'm not as centered as Mr. Lloyd seems to be).  Also, for a kid, being an actor in movies fucks with your head a little. I'm sure after being trapped in England for over a year with the chilly Mr. Kubrick barking orders at me I'd still be using my index finger to speak.  My mother (who's still pissed about it) has asked me "Wouldn't you have loved to have been in a classic like The Shining?"  But I am in The Shining.  Well, Pika is anyway.

Frank Howard is an actor & louche ranconteur of the first order. His early adolescent charm landed him roles in Sixteen CandlesSister Act 2One More Saturday NightThat Was Then...This is Now & Clockstoppers. Now he mainly luxuriates by the pool in much-too-short shorts & gives bourbon its due. 

Five Reasons to Live by Charles Lieurance

1. Salt Flats/Yellow Sky (William A. Wellman, 1948)

Serving as the storm-tossed sea in William Wellman & screenwriter Lamar Trotti's oddball Western retooling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, the Death Valley salt flats are a desolate dividing line between Gregory Peck & his gang of rootless Confederate wash-outs becoming full-fledged criminals or perhaps reclaiming lost honor. While it's a long trek to take in search of a plotline, cinematographer Joseph MacDonald imbues the flats with a metaphysical intensity. At night the lunar surface -- veined with fissures that seem to slither in high-contrast relief -- glows ominously around the sleeping figures of the outlaws & their horses. And as these insignificant ridge-runners plod through the endlessness of it all, the audience begins to sort the unwitting noblemen (Peck, of course) from the career criminals (Richard Widmark, of course), the fools (Harry Morgan & Charles Kemper) from the psychopaths (John Russell as Lengthy). By the time we reach the ghost town of Yellow Sky, Anne Baxter's haughty & slightly gun-crazy Miranda & James Barton's doddering Prospero, it's pretty evident how this scenario will play out. The hostile desert mapped out the ritual in advance. 

2. Gerhardt Maier, The Swastika Kid: Second Complaint/A Foreign Affair (Billy Wilder, 1948)

Flagrant opportunist Captain John Pringle (John Lund) takes his turn at the bench adjudicating domestic affairs for the residents of the bombed-out ruins of post-war Berlin & for the second time he's faced with little Gerhardt Maier (Ted Cottle), a boy who simply will not abstain from scrawling swastikas on every available surface, much to the distress of his politically suspect father (Richard Ryen). Herr Maier promises Captain Pringle he'll break the boy's arm if he does it again & then then proceeds to threaten the boy with summary starvation. Pringle, with drowsy sarcasm, suggests the father simply shove the boy in a gas chamber, to which Herr Maier promptly snaps to attention & shouts, "Yes, Herr Captain!", barely containing a reflexive Hitlergruss. The captain pragmatically suggests baseball as a curative: "A little more baseball & a little less heel-clicking is what he needs." Of course, when Pringle dismisses them, both father & son click their heels together & bow at the waist like two hinges on a rapidly closing door.
Richard Ryen was a German actor & stage director of some note in the Weimar era & he fled to the U.S. shortly before the war. Like so many others he spent the war years in Hollywood playing Nazi officers almost exclusively, including a Lt. Schmidt, a Colonel Mueller, a General Pulzer, and, most famously, a Colonel Heinz, second fiddle to Conrad Veidt's Major Strasser in Casablanca. This brief, but memorable, bit in A Foreign Affair was his last role before returning to Germany & eventually becoming a popular freelance journalist.

3. Max Buda Loves Dr. Schwartzbacher/The V.I.P.s (Anthony Asquith, 1963)

Aside from the dazzlingly opulent opening credits & the presence of the always reliable Margaret Rutherford as a pill-popping, down & out duchess waxing romantic about daffodils, there isn't much to recommend this airport lounge version of Grand Hotel. But it's difficult to completely discount the mugging of Orson Welles in anything from this era & as pompous snoot Max Buda, he's infinitely more worthy of your attention than the musty contretemps of Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor & Louis Jourdan. Miserly Buda spends most of the film spouting the kind of arrogant aphorisms to the press one can easily imagine Welles himself spouting in better days, but behind closed doors Buda is instantly transformed into a moaning penny-pincher at the mercy of his, um, accountant (?), one Dr. Schwartzbacher (Martin Miller). Throughout The V.I.P.s, Buda is either throwing up his hands & blustering at the gods over having to pay taxes, or playing smoochy-face with Schwartzbacher every time the diminutive doctor finds a legal loophole big enough for the cinematic behemoth to wiggle through. Though Buda is engaged to voluptuous actress Gloria Gritti (Elsa Martinelli), he obviously finds her curves distasteful & even a peck to her perfect cheekbones seems to bring him pain. Quite the opposite with Dr. Schwartzbacher however. As they commiserate over tax shelters, the two giggle rapturously, embrace ecstatically & give one another the cutest little kisses this side of duty-free, wobble-headed oriental kissing dolls. 

Moravian actor Martin Miller played all manner of effete foreign doctors (including Dr. Rosen in Michael Powell's infamous Peeping Tom) & put-upon rocket scientists throughout the 50s & 60s, so playing a half-mad, mincing accountant opposite Orson Welles must have seemed like a welcome stretch.

4. Glacier Park Cocktail Party, Dress: Barn-Dance Formal - Dangerous Mission (Louis King, 1954)

Black and white characters are lighter than air. They speak in quick witty bursts or are brutally perfunctory, rattling off coarse threats or stammering, desperate pleas for mercy as if the clock is ticking. They dance in word & deed. Even when black & white films brood, the characters are more likely to drift away across the landscape as ghosts than to become petroforms.

Color -- especially Technicolor & its taxonomic forebears -- is the language of weight. Characters become mildly sentient rock formations on endless blazing highways, deserts & plains, seem to ossify in rooms gaudy with hue & tint, rooms whose furniture & bric-a-brac have great presence now & feud like tethered divas with Max Factor's often garish idea of human flesh tones. They brood like prisoners overgrown with green & brown until they may as well be coal deposits, never allowed the ministrations of monochrome clerestory light beams which could at any moment pull them gently from the barstool & up to that silvery filmic afterlife promised to all denizens of black & white. Or they are simply transformed by the light or the shadow into wisps. But actors in Technicolor are earthbound, tied to whatever colors sizzle. They are separate from production design & landscape only by virtue of speech, so they speak in a code, or with their heads turned,  or in urgent whispers so you'll know they aren't an armoire or Chimney Rock.

Those movie vehicles made strictly to blister the retina with Technicolor -- and Louis King's Dangerous Mission is certainly one of those -- are so overburdened with saturated color that the action seems played out in a tub of radioactive tar. Actors move & stand only where the colors say they can. When they dress for cocktails, bronc-riding or a hike in the woods, they are forced to dress beyond the natural limits of a closet. When they arrive, they stand in tableaux whenever possible, waiting for the Technicolor dye to set. Those directors proficient in the process -- Sirk, Siodmak, Donen, Tashlin, Hawks -- either wallowed in the splashiness & created brilliant Post-War moving comic books, or employed actors writ so large on the American consciousness that even this brazen bully of a palette could not weight them down.

Many, slyly succumbing to the petrifying quality of Technicolor, managed to create a cinema of symbols & undercurrents, in which the actors, suspended in this delirious aspic, consummated their boilerplate rituals on sets & in landscapes that all but tore at their costumes & well-appointed pomp like harpies. While the cast, decked out in couture clown suits, made with the histrionic grief & soapy rage using a minimal amount of facial muscles so as not to crack the paint on their faces, the director set their stultifying pageant in front of a tree full of crows or a vase of dying flowers or an enormous window shaped like an egg or sickly violet shadows from a hedge of lilacs or the sudden violent, misshapen shadow of a chapel cross on the crib of a bastard child. My favorite film in this category -- other than Sirk's "weepies" of course, because that's another continent entirely -- is Lewis Allen's Desert Fury from 1947. While there's nothing spectacular in the plot proper & the performances are stiff as prison linen, worms wriggle beneath the chic Hollywood Cowboy surface, from the aforementioned bizarre egg-shaped window at which Lizabeth Scott holds vigil for her gangster lover, to the jittery hothouse in which her gangster lover (John Hodiak) plays sweaty, dangerous homosexual tag with "companion" Wendell Corey. Thanks to Allen's subversive talent, the actors don't even need to move (and alleged hero Burt Lancaster moves less than most) to turn this peacock feather into a shiv.

Ahem. The movie at hand, though, is Dangerous Mission, where the dazzlingly artificial View-Master panoramas of Montana's Glacier National Park & environs ARE the picture. Though the screenwriter here is the great Horace McCoy (it's painfully simple to see which elements are his -- the milk-drinking assassin, for one) this is a color film about the color. If there are undercurrents or symbols at work here, they are the traditional symbols & undercurrents of a hack thriller. The cast is beyond sturdy -- Tyrone Power, Vincent Price, Piper Laurie, William Bendix -- but they wince, surrender & sleepwalk as the Technicolor cotton candy suffocates them.

Once the actors bow gracefully out of the equation so Hollywood can prove it's got more to offer than television, it becomes easier to view this as a cinematic aesthete, completely gorging on the sumptuous nothingness of the colors, costumes, sets, liquor bottles, cocktail shakers, weird jade statues, rodeo cowboy lamps, fierce blue neon, luminescent bolo-tie clasps & each of the tiny postcards on the rack at the Glacier Park Visitor's Center, which can never be enlarged enough to see clearly, but promise a weird meta-film of their own...

Which is by way of saying that watching Dangerous Mission is not without its compensations. Not at all. First & foremost are these goddamn Nudie suits (by way of costumer Michael Woulfe) from the cocktail party (at a "house built smack into the side of a mountain") that unite all of the main players at the beginning of the film. If, after mingling in this group of weekend cowpokes, you're still unsure of who's the crazy killer & who's the cop sent to nab him, you may want to stick with puppet shows. Having been to Glacier National Park & parks like it on innumerable family vacations in the early '60s, I can tell you that most of what you see on screen seems fairly accurate (the film naturally errs on the side of cleanliness, crowd-control & sheer visual polish), though the atomic glow & cocktail vibe was always missing & I never saw even a hint of these magnificent suits & dresses.

Uh-Oh, snowslide...

5. Festival of the Unsettling Plaster Masks, La Cumbre -- Second Chance (Rudolph Mate, 1953)

Here's another film at the mercy of Technicolor, its artificial vistas completely overpowering the plot & the somnolent cast. Still, the vistas are exotic bordering on the surreal (a magical town perched atop a thread of stone) & Mitchum & Palance really do their best to actually MOVE through the slog of that florid palette. So much so that their fisticuffs -- especially atop the very odd tram -- resemble experimental cinema. It's almost impossible to get good screen captures of these titanic battles, a good sign for a Technicolor programmer, but this odd little folk festival in Mitchum & Linda Darnell's Mexican Shangri-La holds a creepy fascination.