Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special What's In a Name? Edition)

on April 10, 2009 by Steve Simels
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Video Event of the Week: Is it Fox's deluxe edition of Keanu Reeves 's surprisingly whoa-less sci-fi spectacular The Day the Earth Stood Still (complete with a remastered version of the great 50s original?) Might the Miramax DVD of the sumo wrestling acting duel that is Meryl Streep versus Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt perhaps get the nod? Or against all sense and reason, could the Disney Blu-ray of the Adam Sandler FX-driven kiddie flick Bedtime Stories actually be The One?

All worthy, to be sure, and I'm definitely going to have something to say about Keanu next week, but for my money, it's got to be the quite amazing MPI/Dark Sky DVD release of The She-Beast, the Barbara Steele vampire flick that's also the debut of the tragically doomed Brit auteur Michael Reeves (no relation).

If you were perusing these pages a few weeks ago, you may recall that I sang the praises of Reeves, writer/director of the astoundingly assured 1968 British horror film Witchfinder General (American title: The Conqueror Worm), who died (at the tender age of 25) the next year, thus cutting short one of the most promising careers of 60s cinema. The film occasioned the following immortal exchange between the young director (who had wanted to cast Donald Pleasence) and his star Vincent Price (imposed on Reeves by the studio).
Price: "Young man, I have made eighty-four films. What have you done?"
Reeves: "I've made two good ones."

That's quite a boast for a guy Reeves age, but he was right, and The She-Beast, for all its flaws -- an inconsistent tone, principally -- is definitely a good one.

The plot:

 

Present day (60s) Romania: Elderly Count Von Helsing (yes, a descendent of you know who) is in a cave reading an account of a murderous witch who lived in the area 200 years before. In a flashback, we see the witch being attacked by villagers who impale her on a spike and drown her; as she dies, she swears to return to revenge herself upon the descendants of those who have killed her. The film then cuts back to the present, where a British couple, (Steele and Reeve's good friend Ian Ogilvie) are vacationing. The couple stop at a B&B (run by Roger Corman regular Mel Welles as an innkeeper with a penchant for voyeurism and porn) and meet Von Helsing. The next day, the couple lose control of their car and drive into the lake where the witch was killed; when Steele climbs back on shore, we see that -- surprise, surprise -- she's been possessed by the witch's vengeful spirit. Eventually, after the requisite pitchforks and torches stuff (and some bogus comic relief by a trio of Romanian cops) she's freed from the evil spell -- or is she? The End.

 

Nonsense, obviously, and the whole thing was shot very quickly and very cheaply (star Steele was only available for a day's work), but Reeves, cribbing effectively from lots of better known directors including Louis Malle and Ingmar Bergman (you'll recognize the scene when you see it) invests it all with enough conviction and atmosphere for it to work like gangbusters. And Steele, of course, is as always remarkable (and off camera charmingly foul-mouthed, but that's another story).

Here's a scratchy version of the original trailer (note alternate equally bogus title -- Revenge of the Blood Beast) to give you an idea.

MPI's new disc version derives from an absolutely pristine print and the widescreen transfer is superb; chances are the film hasn't looked this good since it first played theatrically in 1965. There's also a running audio commentary by Steele, Ogilvie and original producer Paul Maslansky, who's quite a character; it's frequently very funny and a genuine treasure trove of info on the business of genre movie making, early 60s style.

Bottom line: An exemplary presentation of a film that behooves beholding -- you can (and should) pre-order it here.

 

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Okay, that said, and because things will be relatively quiet around here till Monday, here's an obviously relevant little project for us all:

Worst Title For a Fiction (Non-Documentary) Film Ever!!!

Bonus points if the film itself is actually pretty good.

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. Freddy Got Fingered (Tom Green, 2001)

Probably the most morally reprehensible film of the century so far. Yes, the title refers to exactly what you hope it doesn't. And yes, it's supposed to be a comedy.

4. I Eat Your Skin (Del Tenny, 1964)
An actually not too bad zombie flick that sat in the can until years later, when producer Jerry Gross retitled it to play on a double bill with the truly wretched I Drink Your Blood. Tenny also directed the immortal Horror of Party Beach, so I've pretty much forgiven him for this one.

3. Life is Beautiful (Roberto Benigni, 1997)

 

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Yes, the title itself is unobjectionable in the abstract, but once you've seen the movie it becomes obnoxious beyond belief. Six million Jews had to die so this schmuck could tell his kid everything's hunky-dory? Screw him.

2. The Hudsucker Proxy (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1994)
You think the title is annoying? Wait untill you see the performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

And the most bone-headed moniker to ever grace 60 plus minutes of celluloid obviously is...

1. The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Serpent (Roger Corman, 1957)

There was a brief vogue in the early 70s for exceptionally long and stupid film titles -- Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? being my favorite example -- but Corman, bless his heart, beat 'em all to it.

Awrighty then -- what would your choices be?

 

Tags: Keanu Reeves, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt, The She-Beast, The Conqueror Worm, Freddy Got Fingered, I Eat Your Skin, Life is Beautiful, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Serpent
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