It’s August, and you know what that means, right? It’s time for the American Cinematheque’s annual Festival of Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction Films. This is the festival’s ninth year, and as always it is filled with classics, cult films, rarities, and personal appearances. All that, plus the Los Angeles premiere of SEVENTH MOON, the new supernatural thriller from Eduardo Sanchez (co-creator of the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, which will be given a 10th annivesary screening).
The festival takes place at the Cinematheque’s two theatres, starting at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica and winding up at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Films screen at the Aero from Thursday, August 13 through Sunday, August 16. Films screen at the Egyptian from Thursday, August 20 through Sunday, August 30.
9th ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF FANTASY, HORROR AND SCIENCE FICTION AT THE AERO THEATRE
Thursday, August 13 – 7:30pm – Fantasy & Fairies Double Bill
- DRAGONSLAYER, 1981, Paramount, 109 min. Dir. Matthew Robbins. The festival gets off to a ho-hum start with this box office bomb about a bumbling young wizard Galen (Peter MacNicol) who sets out to rescue a medieval kingdom from a dragon. Fortunately, Galen’s mentor (the great Ralph Richardson) is around to clean up the mess. There are some great go-motion effects of the dragon, but you have to wait forever to see them.
- LEGEND, 1985, Universal, 89 min. Dir. Ridley Scott. This is a glossy but somewhat empty effort from Scott, starring Tom Cruise as a boy out to rescue a princes (Mia Sara) from Darkness (Tim Curry). The production design, costumes, and makeup are astounding, but the story and characterizations are thin. “A fairy tale produced on a grand scale, a classic tale of the struggle between darkness and light” – Variety. This is the U.S. release version of LEGEND with a score by Tangerine Dream, not the original European cut with a much more appropriate soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith.
Friday, August 14 – 7:30pm – Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones Double Bill
- JABBERWOCKY, 1977, MPA, 105 min. Dir. Terry Gilliam. Gilliam’s first solo directorial effort (after co-directing MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL) stars Michael Palin stars a woodworker who faces a series of challenges, eventually slaying (more or less accidentally) the titular beast. Loaded with gore and beheadings, and terminally unfunny, this adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical poem offers little hint of what Gilliam would later do with TIME BANDITS.
- ERIK THE VIKING, 1989, MGM Repertory, 107 min. Dir. Terry Jones. Told by village wise woman Freya (Eartha Kitt) that Fenrir the wolf has swallowed the sun and plunged the world into the dark age of Ragnarok, Erik (Tim Robbins) gathers warriors from his village to petition the gods to end the darkness. Terry Jones’ attempt at whimsical humor fantasy falls flat more often than not. Fans of his work for Monty Python will find themselves wondering what went wrong.
Saturday, August 15 – 7:30pm – Sword & Sorcer Double Bill
- CONAN THE BARBARIAN, 1982, Universal, 129 min. Dir. John Milius. This heavy-handed, pretentious verion of Robert E. Howard’s sword-and-sorcery tales stars Arnold Schwarzengger. Milius seems to think he is making something on the level of Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI; he doesn’t realize it’s really a teen-action-flick on which the philosophical pretentions seem frankly ridiculous.
- RED SONJA, 1985, Warner Bros., 89 min. Director Richard Fleischer (CONAN THE DESTROYER) reprises his vision of the fantastic realms of Robert E. Howard’s novels, unleashing the Amazon warrior princess, Red Sonja, in the form of 6’11″ Brigitte Nielsen. This film was not a big hit, but Fleisher, unlike Milius, knew he was making a fun adventure movie; despite some awkward performances and rough patches, the film delivers as an undemanding popcorn entertainment.
Sunday, August 16 – 5:00pm – Muppet Fantasy Double Bill
- LABYRINTH, 1986, Sony Repertory, 101 min. Dir. Jim Henson. After the somewhat disappointing reaction to THE DARK CRYSTAL, Jim Henson misfired with this follow-up, which is to fragile to hold attention for its full length. It’s colorful, and Brian Froud’s fantasy creature designs are wonderful, but the whole thing is too much kiddie film, lacking the slightly more serious tone of CRYSTAL. Even David Bowie, as the Goblin King, looks bored.
- THE DARK CRYSTAL, 1982, Universal, 93 min. Dir. Jim Henson, Frank Oz. Muppets creator Jim Henson offers up this visually amazing fantasy tale, populated entirely by puppett and marionette characters. Not a fantasy classic perhaps, yet the film does a wonderful job of creating its own world.
9th ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF FANTASY, HORROR AND SCIENCE FICTION AT THE EGYPTIAN THEATRE
Thursday, August 20 – 7:30pm – 10th Anniversary Screening!
- THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, 1999, Lionsgate, 86 min. Directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick struck gold with this low-budget, hand-held tale of some documentarians who come to a bad end while out shooting footage on location for a movie about the legendary Blair Witch. Not a bad film, exactly, but wildly over-rated. Discussion following with directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick, producers Gregg Hale, Mike Monello and Robin Cowie, and cast members (TBA).
Friday, August 21 – 7:30pm Euro Thriller Tripple Feature:
- TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE, 1965, 85 min. Rare Archival 35mm Print! “They rise from dank coffins in the dead of night, murdering their victims in an orgy of slaughter!” Queen of Horror Barbara Steele is the widow of the recently deceased occultist. Lawyer Albert (Walter Brandi) arrives to finalize his will, but those who were present at Jeronimus’ deathbed begin dying in horrible “accidents.” This is a fairly typical Italian thriller from the period, with nice photography and a good look but pedestrian plotting and characterization. Steele’s presence makes it worthwhile, although the material is not really worthy of her. This is a rare, original 35mm print screening of the Italian cult film.
- RETURN OF DR. MABUSE, 1961, 89 min. Rare Archival 35mm Print! Director Harald Reinl (TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM) was one of the unsung masters of German pulp cinema in the 1950s and 60s, making scores of krimis (Germany’s rough equivalent to Italy’s giallo genre). Fritz Lang had just resurrected his 1930s archvillain in THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR. MABUSE, and pulp master Reinl stepped in to direct this riproaring sequel, with Gert Frobe (Goldfinger in GOLDFINGER) as Mabuse’s tireless nemesis, the blustery and efficient police kommissar Lohmann. Lex Barker is Joe Como, crack FBI undercover man also on the trail of the shadowy fiend, and Daliah Lavi (THE WHIP AND THE BODY) is the beautiful heroine. With a supporting cast of stand-out German character actors, including Wolfgang Preiss and Werner Peters.
- WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS’ DORMITORY, 1961, 83 min. Despite the ridiculous title, this hybrid Italian/German co-production yields a surprisingly high quotient of chills. Directed by Paolo Heusch and scripted by later giallo maestro Ernesto Gastaldi (aka Julian Berry), the film has an astounding number of red herrings (typical of later giallo pix) contending as the marauding werewolf rampaging through the lonely woods outside a teen girls’ reformatory. But everyone zeroes in on handsome new teacher Carl Schell (lesser-known brother to Maximilian and Maria), who seems to have a dark secret in his past. Co-starring the Italian Peter Lorre, Luciano Pigozzi (aka Alan Collins). Barbara Lass is the comely girl lead, heading up a supporting cast of nubile Euro starlets. Listen for the absurd theme song “Ghoul in School” during the title credits.
Saturday, August 22 – 6:00pm – Indiana Jones Marathon
- RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, 1981, Paramount, 115 min. Archaeologist Harrison Ford battles occult-obsessed Nazis and former girlfriend Karen Allen as he attempts to wrest the Ark of the Covenant from the lost Egyptian city of Tanis. This is one of those box office blockbusters whose success overwhelms all critical opposition, however justified. It’s just not all it’s cracked up to be, and there is a nasty strain of American fascism underlying the Jones character.
- INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, 1984, Paramount, 118 min. Harrison Ford returns as adventurer Indiana Jones in the second installment of director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas’ tribute to the bygone era of cliffhanger movie serials. Most viewers seem to realize that this one is a big dud, thanks in large part to the juvenile tone (instead of former flame Marion Crane, Jones sidekick is a kid). Dig that scene when Indy suddenly gets religion while dangling from the end of a rope (“You betrayed Shiva!”)
- INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, 1989, Paramount, 127 min. Director Steven Spielberg returns for the third entry in the trilogy with Indiana (Harrison Ford) searching for his ill-humored father (Sean Connery) after the brilliant archaeologist is kidnapped by the Nazis for his knowledge of the whereabouts of the Holy Grail, a sacred artifact that, like the first installment’s Ark of the Covenant, supposedly holds supernatural powers to redeem or destroy the world. Thanks to the interplay between Connery and Ford, this is probably the best of the RAIDERS movies, although Allison Doody makes a weak Nazi vixen.
Sunday, August 23 – 7:30pm – Star Trek Double Feature:
- STAR TREK III: IN SEARCH OF SPOCK, 1984, Paramount, 105 min. 25th Anniversary! Leonard Nimoy steps into the director’s chair but remains mostly off-screen as Spock’s companions seek to rescue his revived body and reunify it with his “katra,’ which is currently in the possession of Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelly). Meanwhile, some Klingons show up to provide a convenient villain, and for some reason, Kirk’s love interest from the previous films has disappeared. Fans seem to like this one, but it is not a great TREK film, trying to hard to emulate the series and recreate what worked in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. Destroying the Enterprise seems a desperate manuver to do something memorable.
- STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, 1991, Paramount, 110 min. One of the best TREK features. Director Nicholas Meyer (who co-wrote the script from a story co-written by Leonard Nimoy) provides a grand send off that works hard to do justice to the old familiar charactes while using the science fiction setting for a none-too-subtle politcal allegory. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) goes on a diplomatic misson to the Klingons but ends up framed for murder thanks to a villainous Klingon (Chistopher Plummer) out to scuttle the diplomatic effort. Iman, Christian Slater, Kim Cattrall co-star. “Meyer’s direction and dialogue are among the most fluid and exciting of the whole series, and he manages a lovely “final” feel, saying goodbye to the old crew and embracing the future at the same time.” – Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid.
Wednesday, August 26 – 7:30pm – Medieval Tortures Double Feature:
- THE DEVILS, 1971, Warner Bros., 111 min. One of Ken Russell’s best movies, this shocking adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s play “Devils of Loudun” is just the right kind of material to justify the filmmaker’s excessive style. Oliver Reed plays a priest targeted by political machinations in the 17th century. When Mother Superior Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) begins having erotic dreams about him, she accuses him of sorcery, giving his enemies just the amunition they need to destroy him. This film is not on DVD, and it demands to be seen.
- BEATRICE CENCI, 1969, 99 min. Gore meister director Lucio Fulci (THE BEYOND, ZOMBIE) tackles literary giant Stendahl’s masterpiece of bloody familial treachery in 16th century Italy in this surprisingly faithful adaptation (which itself was based on a true story). Wealthy Francesco Cenci (George Wilson) is a sadistic landowner who regularly abuses his family and tenants, but is in good standing with his powerful cleric friends. He also has depraved designs on his own beautiful daughter, Beatrice (Adrienne Larussa). After one too many nightmarish evenings trying to keep her patriarch’s hands off of her, Beatrice plots with her servant lover Olimpo (Tomas Milian) to murder her evil parent. But after his demise, things quickly unravel, with noblemen and powerful clergy ensnaring Beatrice and her hapless accomplices for rounds of gruesome torture. One of Fulci’s comparatively unknown and best efforts. (Screened from a digital source).
Thursday, August 27 – 7:30pm – Ghostly Love Double Feature:
- PORTRAIT OF JENNIE, 1948, Disney, 86 min. Producer David O. Selznick (GONE WITH THE WIND) hired William Dieterle (THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER) to direct this wistful love story in New York City locations, focusing on struggling artist Joseph Cotten as he gradually falls in love with Jennie (Jennifer Jones), a strange young girl he meets in Central Park. As Cotten periodically runs into her over a period of months, she seems to grow up before his eyes, and he slowly comes to understand his new muse is the restless spirit of a long-dead woman. The score by Bernard Herrmann and Dimitri Tiomkin tugs at the heartstrings without overt sentimentality, and the film won a 1949 Oscar for Special Effects. With sterling support from Ethel Barrymore, David Wayne, Lillian Gish and Cecil Kellaway. Don’t miss the beautiful and nightmarish green-and-sepia-tinted climactic sequence, a truly magical experience. “Jennifer Jones’ performance is standout. Her miming ability gives a quality to the four ages she portrays — from a small girl through the flowering woman. Ingenuity in makeup also figures importantly in sharpening the portrayal.” — Variety
- THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR, 1947, 20th Century Fox, 104 min. Directed by the great Joseph L. Mankiewicz (ALL ABOUT EVE), this classic ghost story is much more romantic-comedy than horror, but the early scenes – when Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney) moves into the old house and realizes it is haunted by the ghost of an old sea captain (Rex Harrison) are as effective as any genuine haunted-house movie. The ghost’s first appearance – a shadowy, out-of-focus silhouette – sends a shiver or two down the spine, and his later full-blown revelation -when Mrs. Muir lights and candle, revealing him standing next to her – is a genuine shock. After this, the film segues into a great romantic story levened with humor; Tierney and Harrison are absolutely wonderful, and the film will charm the hearts of everyone who sees it.
Friday, August 28 – 7:30pm – Actress Diane Baker In-Person – Double Feature:
- STRAIT-JACKET, 1964, Sony Repertory, 93 min. One of the most entertaining chillers from shock-show auteur William Castle (THE TINGLER, the original HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL). Joan Crawford is a gal from the wrong side of the tracks, jailed for taking a hatchet to her hubby after finding him in bed with a local floozy. Decades later she’s released from the asylum, hopefully cured, but still wrapped very tight. Traumatized daughter Diane Baker, who witnessed the gory episode as a tyke, has been living with her uncle and aunt (Leif Erickson, Rochelle Hudson) and is about to get married to a young man unaware of the family history. Awkward moments prevail and, before long, more family acquaintances are getting the axe treatment! But is it really Joan who’s up to her old tricks? With great support from George Kennedy (who should have gotten some kind of award for playing the world’s sleaziest handyman), plus tons of desolate Inland Empire on-location exteriors shot in Riverside, California.
- MIRAGE, 1965, Universal, 108 min. Director Edward Dmytryk (MURDER, MY SWEET) delivers one of his best later pictures, expertly returning to thriller territory with a modern sensibility and Hitchcockian style. During a New York skyscraper blackout, a high-powered executive falls to his death, and accountant Gregory Peck loses 90% of his memory. He enlists the help of new acquaintance Diane Baker and private eye Walter Matthau to help him uncover his past. Peck can only remember a couple of people who know him, and they inevitably turn up dead. From then on, all bets are off – the killers and corporate honchos (amongst them George Kennedy and Kevin McCarthy) want Peck out of the way, too. A marvelous puzzler with brain-twisting turns that point the way to later thrillers like MEMENTO. NOT ON DVD Trailer Discussion in between films with actress Diane Baker.
Saturday, August 29 – 7:30pm – John Carpenter Double Feature:
- THE THING, 1982, Universal, 108 min. John Carpenter’s remake of producer Howard Hawks’ 1951 THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD is an honorable attempt to hew closer to the original Joseph Campbell story, but its special effects-heavy approach to the shape-shifting alien is less intense and dramatic than the original film, which relied on anticipation and suggestion to generate suspense. The new version is also a bit more complex than the Hawks classic, which featured a simple conflict between the military commander (who rightly wants to kill the Thing) and a scientist (who naively wants to communicate with alien invader, even as it’s trying to kill them). Unfortunately for Carpenter, the simplicity of the original actually made for a more dramatic story, and the new version lacks the rapid-fire dialogue that propelled the Hawks production at such a heady pace. Nevertheless, THE THING is a favorite among Carpenter fans because it creates a creepy sense of paranoia (and Rob Bottin’s special effects are pretty impressive).
- THEY LIVE, 1988, Universal, 97 min. Dir. John Carpenter. Construction worker Roddy Piper realizes that the Reagan revolution around him is actually the work of aliens – who look like ordinary people until you view them through a special set of specs. This is a lively combination of political allegory, science fiction, and action, notable for the ridiculously extended – but quite enjoyable – fight scene when Piper tries to convince his friend to wear the glasses and see the truth.
Sunday, August 30 – 7:30pm – Los Angeles Premiere:
- SEVENTH MOON, 2008, Lionsgate, 87 min. Director Eduardo Sanchez (THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT) helms his latest unnerving chiller. Melissa and Yul (Amy Smart and Tim Chiou), Americans honeymooning in China, happen upon the exotic “Hungry Ghost” festival that honors spirits in the market of a small town. But as night falls, they find themselves abandoned by their driver in a remote village, and soon realize the legends are all too real. Plunged into an ancient custom they cannot comprehend, the couple must find a way to survive the night of the Seventh Moon. “The other highlight is the creature design. Simple and uncomplicated…From a distance they echo the monsters of THE DESCENT or perhaps the Morlocks of H.G. Wells’ TIME MACHINE — Fearsome, formidable and ultimately terrifying despite their relative familiarity — hats off to the FX crew at Spectral Motion for demonstrating that even pasty Asian ghosts can get a startling upgrade given the right light.” – BloodyDisgusting.com Discussion following with director Eduardo Sanchez and cast and crew members (TBD).
NOTE: As I have not seen most of the films scheduled this year, much of the program notes in italics have been borrowed from the Cinematheque’s websites.
More in this series:
- American Cinematheque's 9th Annual Festival of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction - Complete Schedule
- 9th Festival of Fantasy, Horror & Science Fiction at Aero Theatre
- 9th Annual Festival of Fantasy, Horror & Science Fiction at Egyptian Theatre
- Blair Witch - 10th Anniversary Screening with Cast & Crew
- The Devils & Beatrice Cenci at Egyptian
- Seventh Moon - Los Angeles Premiere, with Guests