A Century of Black Filmmakersūüéě

PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA

Directed by Richard Norman, Richard Maurice, Spencer Williams and Oscar Micheaux

This collection of the works of America’s legendary first African-American filmmakers is the only one of its kind. Funded in part by a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, the packaged set includes no fewer than a dozen feature-length films and nearly twice as many shorts and rare fragments. Subject matter includes race issues that went unaddressed by Hollywood for decades.

Spencer Williams Films

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Spencer Williams

Spencer Williams (July 14, 1893 ‚Äď December 13, 1969) was an American actor and filmmaker. He was best known for playing Andy in the Amos ‘n Andy¬†television show and for directing the 1941 race film “The Blood of Jesus”. Williams was a pioneer African-American film producer and director.¬†(Wikipedia)

The Pioneers of African-American Cinema collection includes new digital restorations of over a dozen feature films, plus shorts, fragments, trailers, documentary footage, archival interviews, and audio recordings.

This clip is a scene from Richard Maurice’s ELEVEN P.M. (circa 1928). It is regarded by historian Henry T. Sampson as one of the most outstanding black films of the silent era and is Maurice’s second and only surviving film.

Eleven P. M is one of more than a dozen feature films showcased in Kino Lorber’s five-disc collection PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA, now available at KinoLorber.com and Amazon.com. Music is by Rob Gal. Mastered from 35mm film elements preserved by the Library of Congress.

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Oscar Micheaux

Oscar Devereaux Micheaux¬†(January 2, 1884 ‚Äď March 25, 1951) was an African American author, film director and independent producer of more than 44 films. Although the short-lived Micheaux Book & Film Company produced some films, he is regarded as the first major African-American feature filmmaker, the most successful African-American filmmaker of the first half of the 20th century¬†and the most prominent producer of race films.¬†He produced both silent films and sound films when the industry changed to incorporate speaking actors. (Wikipedia)

These films and filmmakers deserve to be remembered, honored and explored. Their contributions play a significant role in the development of the American cinema.

For more on the history of African-American Cinema:

 

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“May the Schwartz¬†Be With You” – Off-the-Wall Movies

 

Spaceballs

 

Like Galaxy Quest was an homage to Star Trek, Mel Brooks off-the-wall comedy Spaceballs (1987) was a send-off of Star Wars. Its setting and characters parody the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as other sci-fi franchises including Star Trek, Alien, and the Planet of the Apes films.

The plot is set in a distant galaxy, planet Spaceball which has depleted its air supply, leaving its citizens reliant on a product called “Perri-Air.” (See, I told you off-the-wall)

Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks

In desperation, Spaceball’s leader President Skroob (Mel Brooks) orders the evil Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) to kidnap Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) of oxygen-rich Druidia and hold her hostage in exchange for air.

Rick Moranis (Dark Helmet)

Rick Moranis (Dark Helmet)

But help arrives for the Princess in the form of renegade space pilot Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his half-man, half-dog partner, Barf (John Candy). (IMDb)

 

Spaceballs is a 1987 American science fiction parody film co-written, produced and directed by Mel Brooks. Starring Brooks, Bill Pullman, John Candy, and Rick Moranis, the film also features Daphne Zuniga, Dick Van Patten, and the voice of Joan Rivers as Dot Matrix. (Wikipedia)

 

The film was met with a mixed reception but I think it can be classified as a cult classic, definitely an off the-wall-classic.

Going back and researching this film I almost forgot the funniest scene that had me on the floor. When I first saw this I literally screamed! Which I’m sure had the cleaning lady a the Residence Inn, where I was staying, shaking her head. (This chick is nuts!)

 

OMG, that was hilarious!! Who would have thought you could turn that incredibly terrifying moment in Alien into this “spit your milk out” moment.

Once again, Rick Moranis is absolutely brilliant! Just looking at him in that ginormous helmet, you can’t help but crack-up. Portraying the embodiment of the “Napoleon complex” his action playing with his dolls is too precious.

Trivia:

  • IT WASN‚ÄôT THE FIRST STAR WARS PARODY FILM.

Amateur filmmaker, Ernie Fosselius was so enamored with Star Wars in 1977 that he cobbled together a 12-minute short, Hardware Wars, which he shot for just $8,000 in an abandoned laundromat. It was even declared a ‚Äúcute little film‚ÄĚ by George Lucas.

  • LUCAS GAVE HIS (CONDITIONAL) BLESSING.

Based on Brooks not doing any merchandising.¬†The Lucas people were just upset about one aspect of Spaceballs,‚ÄĚ Brooks told Starlog in 1987. ‚ÄúThey didn‚Äôt think it was fair for us to do a take-off and then merchandise the characters.‚ÄĚ

  • BILL PULLMAN WAS BROOKS‚Äô THIRD CHOICE.

According to Pullman, the actor‚ÄĒwho had not yet had a starring role‚ÄĒwas approached by Brooks only after Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks turned down the role of Lone Starr, the Han Solo-esque lead of the film. Pullman said that hiring Rick Moranis and John Candy freed Brooks up to cast a relative unknown.

  • BARF‚ÄôS EARS UPSTAGED THE ACTORS.

John Candy, who played half-dog/half-man Barf, was usually trailed on-set by Effects artist Rick Lazzarini and the effects crew, who had to control both his tail and his ears.¬†At one point, Lazzarini was told¬†by Brooks that he didn‚Äôt ‚Äúhave to move the ears so much!‚ÄĚ They were too active in scenes focused on other characters. (Candy, incidentally, performed with a 40-pound battery backpack strapped to him to control the animatronics.)

(Jake Rossen-(mental_floss)

 

John Candy - Barf

John Candy – Barf

So, if you’re looking for a good laugh and a total mind distraction, I recommend “Spaceballs” as the perfect gag-filled tonic.

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Favorite Trailers That Make The Cut!ūüé¨

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I was working on a post the other day and the TV show Nothing but Trailers was on in the background. It got me thinking about some of my all-time favorites and what constitutes a great trailer.

First of all, it can’t just be a series of scenes from the movie. That really irks me! What’s the point of me going if you’ve already given me your best shots? Just lazy.

An excellent trailer peaks your curiosity¬†gets your heart-stirring and demands that you’re first in line to see it. An incredible trailer gives you minimal information but builds the anticipation with atmospheric music, punctuation¬†shots, and an ending that¬†elicits the core emotion of the film.

This is the criteria I applied to the following trailers and is the basis for them being some of the most memorable.

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Number One has got to be the 1979¬†sci-fi classic – Alien. “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

Starring Sigourney¬†Weaver, director Ridley Scott scared the crap out of me and the little boy sitting in front of me at the theater. Oh, and to make matters worse, I was pregnant at the time. Yikes! (if you’ve seen it you understand if you haven’t, what?? You must!) And my girl Sigourney Weaver showed the world what a badass woman in space looks like.

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Sigourney Weaver

This is the epitome of an incredible trailer. Little bits and moments and truly haunting music. My heart was racing and I had no idea of what I’d just seen.

The visuals were outstanding! There was absolutely¬†nothing familiar in the images coming off the screen.¬†The Alien and its accompanying elements were designed by Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger. (I don’t know how he slept with those images in his head) The film¬†received both critical acclaim and box office success, receiving an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

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Number Two is the sci-fi thriller –The Dark Knight¬†(2008) – “Why So Serious?”

First of all, Heath Ledger. Second of all, Heath Ledger!! Even in the trailer, his intensity shines thru. He draws you in and you’re compelled to see more. His Oscar-winning¬†performance was incredible and the most talked about that year.

Ledger¬†almost made a¬†complete sweep of over twenty awards for acting, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor, the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor ‚Äď Motion Picture, and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Heath Ledger

Unfortunately, we lost him, but his genius as The Joker lives on. Starring Christian Bale as the caped crusader and directed by Christopher Nolan, when I saw this trailer I knew where I was going to be on opening night. Totally lived up to the hype.

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And, Now Presenting… “The Master of Suspense”!

In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock shocked the world with his groundbreaking thriller. Unsuspecting moviegoers stood in lines that wrapped around the block with no one being allowed admittance after the movie began. Intensifying the anticipation, each patron’s directive was to NOT reveal the ending.

Watch this legend pull on your tension string. From the “Master of Suspense”, Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s¬†– Psycho (1960)¬†“…she just goes a little mad sometimes.”

This trailer shows Alfred Hitchcock taught the world just how horror is done. Fits all my criteria for an incredible movie trailer and then some. Starring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, my heart is racing right now re-visiting this magnificent piece of cinema.

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Sir Alfred Hitchcock – (13 August 1899 ‚Äď 29 April 1980)

Hitch’s stylistic trademarks include the use of camera movement that mimics a person’s gaze,¬†forcing viewers to engage in a form of voyeurism.¬†In addition, he framed shots to maximize anxiety, fear, or empathy¬†and used innovative forms of film editing. (Wikipedia)

To quote me, “An incredible trailer gives you minimal information but builds the anticipation with atmospheric music, punctuation¬†shots, and an ending that¬†elicits the core emotion of the film.”

An unquestionable classic!

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Now that I’ve shared some of my faves, I’d love to hear some of yours! ūüėé

 

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The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

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I love this film because of its unequivocal message to man. Earth, get your¬†act together or you will be destroyed! If your inability to understand the gravity of your nuclear capability bleeds over into the galaxy, we will end this planet’s existence. Boom – Drop the mike!

The fact that humans continue to¬†measure power by how many times over we can destroy the earth as if there’s a planet B¬†never ceases to floor me!

Obviously, the need continues to heed Klaatu’s warning.¬†“Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration”

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” was released in 1951 during the Cold War period. (It could be argued that it never ended.) It stands as a classic sci-fi cautionary tale as relevant today as it was then, as we continue to deal with¬†the tensions that arise daily by the ongoing threat of a nuclear war.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (a.k.a. Farewell to the Master and Journey to the World) is an American black-and-white science fiction film from 20th Century Fox, produced by Julian Blaustein, directed by Robert Wise, that stars Michael Rennie,(Klaatu) Patricia Neal, Billy Gray, Hugh Marlowe, and Sam Jaffe.

 

The screenplay was written by¬†Edmund H. North, based on the 1940 science fiction short story “Farewell to the Master” by¬†Harry Bates. The score was composed by¬†Bernard Herrmann.

The plot involves a humanoid alien visitor named Klaatu who comes to Earth accompanied by a powerful eight-foot-tall robot, Gort, to deliver an important message that will affect the entire human race.

But, when Klaatu’s flying saucer lands, a nervous soldier mistakes a gift for the President as a weapon and fires, injuring Klaatu. Gort has his back and immediately begins to disintegrate the tanks and weapons. Cue the pandemonium!

Klaatu is taken to Walter Reed Hospital but escapes and lodges at a¬†boarding house¬†as “Mr. Carpenter”, the name on the¬†dry cleaner’s¬†tag on a suit he took. Among the residents include young widow Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) and her son Bobby (Billy Gray). The next morning, Klaatu overhears the boarders speculate about the alien’s motivations.

Not unexpectantly the talk turns to Communism and the “Red Scare”. And, of course, it’s a conspiracy because you can’t trust the government.

Producer Julian Blaustein set out to make a film under the working titles of Farewell to the Master and Journey to the World that illustrated the fear and suspicion that characterized the early Cold War and Atomic Age. He reviewed more than 200 science fiction short stories and novels in search of a storyline that could be used since this film genre was well suited for a metaphorical discussion of such grave issues.

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Studio head¬†Darryl F. Zanuck¬†gave the go-ahead for this project, and Blaustein hired Edmund North to write the screenplay based on elements from Harry Bates’s 1940 short story “Farewell to the Master“. The revised final screenplay was completed on February 21, 1951. Science fiction writer¬†Raymond F. Jones¬†worked as an uncredited adviser. (Wikipedia)

Trivia:

The robot Gort, who serves Klaatu, was played by¬†Lock Martin, who worked as an usher at¬†Grauman’s Chinese Theater¬†and stood seven feet, seven inches tall. Not used to being in such a confining, heat-inducing costume, he worked carefully when wearing the two oversize, laced-up-the-front or back, foamed¬†neoprene¬†suits needed for creating the illusion on the screen of a seamless metallic Gort.

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Wise decided that Martin’s on-screen shooting time would be limited to half-hour intervals so Martin would face no more than minor discomfort. These segments, in turn, were then edited together into film’s final print. (Wikipedia)

In a commentary track on¬†DVD, interviewed by fellow director¬†Nicholas Meyer, Wise stated that he wanted the film to appear as realistic and believable as possible, in order to drive home the motion picture’s core message against armed conflict in the real world.

Also mentioned in the DVD’s documentary interview was the original title for the film, “The Day the World Stops”. Blaustein said his aim with the film was to promote a “strong¬†United Nations“.

 

The Music:

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The music score was composed by Bernard Herrmann in August 1951 and was his first score after he moved from New York to Hollywood. Herrmann chose unusual instrumentation for the film: violin, cello, and bass (all three electric), two theremin electronic instruments (played by Dr. Samuel Hoffman and Paul Shure).

By using the theremin, Herrmann made one of music’s first forays into electronic music.

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The Day the Earth Stood Still¬†was well received by critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1951.¬†The film¬†is ranked seventh in¬†Arthur C. Clarke‘s list of the best science fiction films of all time, just above¬†Stanley Kubrick‘s¬†2001: A Space Odyssey, which Clarke himself co-wrote.

The Day the Earth Stood Still¬†holds a 94% “Certified Fresh” rating at the film¬†review aggregator¬†website¬†Rotten Tomatoes.

In 1995, the film was selected for preservation in the United States¬†National Film Registry¬†as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

 

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Klaatu made an excellent case for using Gort as the “interplanetary police” – accountability. Governments need to be held accountable for the death and destruction they are capable of wielding.

No individual has the right to take another’s life and no country or planet has the right to end our existence! I think we could use some Gort right about now!

 

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The Evil Men Do – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

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The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

“I am jealous of everything whose beauty does not die. I am jealous of the portrait you have painted of me. Why should it keep what I must lose? Every moment that passes takes something from me and gives something to it. Oh, if it were only the other way! If the picture could change, and I could be always what I am now! Why did you paint it? It will mock me some day — mock me horribly!” The hot tears welled into his eyes; he tore his hand away and, flinging himself on the divan, he buried his face in the cushions, as though he was praying.”

“Dorian Gray” – Oscar Wilde’s -“The Picture of Dorian Gray”

 

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Dorian Gray

If you could, would you, sell your soul for eternal youth?

That was the choice made by Dorian Gray. His story is a classic cautionary tale. Be careful what you wish for.

Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) is a striking and wealthy young man living in 19th century London. While posing for his portrait with his artist friend Basil Hallward (Lowell Gilmore), he meets the cynical and audacious Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders) who tells him that youth and beauty are fleeting and while he’s young he should entertain every worldly pleasure. Dorian is naive and in the presence¬†of an enchanted Egyptian cat wishes he would stay forever young and only his portrait would age.

 

 

While visiting a local pub, The Two Turtles, he meets the beautiful and demure Sybil Vane. She sweetly sings “Goodbye Little Yellow Bird” and Dorian is totally enamored. Falling in love, he asks Miss Vale for her hand in marriage and invites both Basil and Lord Wotton to the pub to meet his love.

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Sybil Vane

When Dorian informs Lord Wotton of his intention to marry Sybil, Wotton suggests he tests her virtue by inviting her to spend the evening with him. If she rebukes him then she’s chaste if she accepts she’s a tramp and as the saying goes “why pay for the cow when you can have the milk for free.” Dorian buys into this plan thus beginning his downward spiral into narcissism and pleasures of the flesh.

 

 

Sybil accepts Dorian’s request to stay with him and the following day Dorian sends her a breakup letter expressing his disappointment in her. Heartbroken, Sybil is devastated and Dorian becomes aware of the first signs of cruelty to appear upon his portrait’s face.

 

 

Years pass with his peers aging, but Dorian’s youth remains. Gossip swirls and his friends begin to shun him; questioning why his appearance is the same. Dorian goes full tilt debauchery until he finally reaches rock bottom.

There are people today who could benefit from heeding the lesson in the “Picture of Dorian Gray.” The evil you do comes back to bite. Karma is a bitch.

 

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Red Pill vs Blue Pill – What’s Your Flavor?

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The Matrix is a sci-fi adventure ride in “bullet time” and one of the most significant films in the realm of philosophy and religion. Questions about self, life, what is real? Totally worth the journey!

 

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Ever get that nagging feeling that something’s not quite right but, you can’t put your finger on it? Well, welcome to Neo’s nightmare.

Thomas A. Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a man living two lives. By day he is an average computer programmer and by night a hacker known as Neo.

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Keanu Reeves

The Matrix is a 1999 science fiction action film written and directed by The Wachowskis (credited as The Wachowski Brothers) and starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, and Joe Pantoliano.

The film depicts a¬†dystopian¬†future in which reality, as perceived by most humans, is actually a¬†simulated reality¬†called the Matrix, created by sentient machines to subdue the human population, while their bodies’ heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source.

Neo has always questioned his reality, (yeh, and for me lately on a daily basis) but the truth is far beyond his imagination. Finding himself targeted by the police, he is contacted by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), a legendary computer hacker branded a terrorist by the government.

Morpheus awakens Neo to the “real world”, a ravaged wasteland where most of humanity have been captured by a race of machines that live off of the humans’ body heat and electrochemical energy and who imprison their minds within an artificial reality known as the Matrix. (Wikipedia)

The actors of the film were required to be able to understand and explain The Matrix. The book  Simulacra and Simulation was required reading for most of the principal cast and crew.

Reeves stated that the Wachowskis had him read Simulacra and Simulation, Out of Control, and Dylan Evans’s Introducing Evolutionary Psychology even before they opened up the script, and eventually he was able to explain all the philosophical nuances involved. (Wikipedia)

What would you do if offered the choice of a red pill, which will show you the truth about the Matrix, or a blue pill, which will return you to your former life?

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Red Pill or Blue Pill?

In truth, I believe we’re presented with this choice every day. Do we attempt to affect the condition of our society, or do we prefer to believe it’s not our problem and you can’t fight the system anyway?

Trivia:

  • Prior to the pre-production, Reeves suffered a two-level fusion of his cervical spine which had begun to cause paralysis in his legs, requiring him to undergo neck surgery. He was still recovering by the time of pre-production, but he insisted on training,

  • Hugo¬†Weaving had to undergo a hip surgery after he sustained an injury during the training process.

  • During the rehearsal of the lobby scene, in which Trinity runs on a wall, Carrie-Anne Moss injured her leg and was ultimately unable to film the shot in one take.

The Matrix¬†is known for popularizing a visual effect known as “bullet time“, in which the heightened perception of certain characters is represented by allowing the action within a¬†shot¬†to progress in¬†slow-motion¬†while the camera’s viewpoint appears to move through the scene at normal speed. The film is an example of the¬†cyberpunk¬†subgenre.

“Bullet Time”

The Matrix received Academy Awards for film editing, sound effects editing, visual effects, and sound. The filmmakers were competing against other films with established franchises, like Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, yet they won all four of their nominations.

The Matrix also received BAFTA awards for Best Sound and Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects, in addition to nominations in the cinematography, production design and editing categories. In 1999, it won Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film and Best Direction.

The Matrix received acclaim from most critics and is widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time.

 

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Remake or Not to Remake -“House on Haunted Hill”

I usually hate remakes, check out a previous post on this very subject – “To Remake or Not to Remake, That is the Question”¬†– especially when the original says it all, you can’t imagine any other actors (think Casablanca) and is iconic.

Or, the movie is just horrible, to begin with, and we don’t need to be put through that torture again. WHY??!!!

However, there are a few exceptions to this rule and I’m going to put the remake of the 1959 classic “House on Haunted Hill” by legendary film director, William Castle on the EXCEPTION list.

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William Castle April 24, 1914 – May 31, 1977

The film was written by¬†Robb White and stars the incomparable¬†Vincent Price¬†as¬†eccentric¬†millionaire¬†Frederick Loren and (Carol Ohmart) as his wife Annabelle, who have invited five people to the house for a “haunted house” party. (Wikipedia)

Whoever stays in the house for one night will earn $10,000. As the night progresses, all the guests are trapped inside the house with ghosts, murderers, and other terrors.

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Elisha Cook – Watson Pritchard

The owner of the house, Watson Pritchard’s vivid descriptions of all the deaths and heads in the house is awesome! The more he drinks the more colorful the tales become.

Vincent Price’s disembodied head narrating during the opening credits is (sorry, had to do it) Priceless!¬†ūüėĀ

I’m a huge fan of the B-Movie Director because he personifies the “show” in show business. His movie gimmicks are¬†legendary! In my favorite, “House on Haunted Hill”, it was Emergo (A skeleton with red lighted eye sockets that floated over the audience in the final moments of the film).¬†

Once word spread about the skeleton, kids had to get in on the act by trying to knock it down with candy boxes, soda cups, or any other objects at hand.

I saw the film at a Halloween special performance and the skeleton floating across overhead was Fantastic! Classic Castle!

If it weren’t for my kids, I probably wouldn’t have sought out the remake but, when I walked into the family room and caught a glimpse of the action on the big screen, I was¬†immediately drawn into the atmospheric effects.

Didn’t think I’d ever say this because William Castle films are sacred but, the remake is awesome, ratchets up the effects, and is creepy as HELL!!

Geoffrey Rush was fantastic as the sinister Steven Price (I believe the name change is an homage to Vincent), an amusement park mogul with a wicked sense of humor.  As in the original, his spoiled trophy wife, Evelyn Stockard-Price (Famke Janssen), in a disintegrating marriage with Steven insists on a haunted house themed birthday party. Capitulating to his wife, Price leases the house from the owner, Watson Pritchett (Chris Kattan).

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Geoffrey Rush

Evelyn gives Price a lengthy guest list which he promptly shreds to spite her and then creates one of his own. Five guests arrive for the party РJennifer Jenzen (Ali Larter), Eddie Baker (super-fine Taye Diggs), Melissa Margaret Marr (Bridgette Wilson), Dr. Donald Blackburn (Peter Gallagher), and Pritchett himself. The guests are not those Price invited and neither Evelyn nor Price know who they are. (Wikipedia)

Despite this, Price continues the party’s theme, offering $1 million to each guest who stays in the house and survives until morning. Those who die forfeit the $1 million to the survivors.

Setting the house as a former insane asylum with a totally twisted Dr. at the helm, manifested a disturbing backdrop. Nothing worse than psycho ghosts trying to make you one of them.

With the remake of the 1963 haunted house classic, “The Haunting”, the 1999 version starring¬†Liam Neeson, and¬†Catherine Zeta-Jones, this updated “House on Haunted Hill” needed to insert a lot more horror and gore.

Produced by¬†Robert Zemeckis¬†and¬†Joel Silver, it features special effects by famed make-up artists¬†Gregory Nicotero¬†and¬†Dick Smith. Terry Castle (William Castle’s daughter) was also a co-producer on the project.

In keeping with the spirit of¬†William Castle‘s tradition of releasing each of his films with a marketing gimmick, Warner Bros, and Dark Castle supplied movie theatres with scratch-off tickets that would be given to anyone who paid to see the film. The scratch-off ticket would give each movie patron a chance to win money much like the characters in the film. (Wikipedia)

Although not my beloved original, I found this remake to be a creepy fun time.

 

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