QUEEN & SLIM (2019) – More Love Story Than Crime Story

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queen and slim

In QUEEN & SLIM (2019), the two main characters are referred to once in the movie as “the black Bonnie & Clyde.” This really isn’t accurate. Bonnie & Clyde were criminals with a violent agenda. The two main characters here have no agenda. They just happened to shoot a cop in self-defense.

When they go on the run, they find themselves unexpectedly with a following, as people see their action against an aggressive white police officer as justified and necessary, and worthy of both applause and protection.

The strongest part about QUEEN & SLIM is what it says about society in the here and now, that folks are so distraught and afraid of police brutality, they find themselves rallying around folks like the two main characters in the movie. This part of the movie resonates throughout. Black Lives Matter is a real movement, and this movie taps into those emotions.

On the other hand, since the two main characters really just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, their story, in terms of dramatic impact, the longer it goes on, doesn’t work as well, and the film struggles to reach its final reel with the same edge with which it began.

Another reason the drama diminishes is the two characters aren’t interested really in the movement they’ve created. They were just out on a date. Their story arc has less to do with societal matters and much more to do with simple survival, and the fact that they find themselves liking each other a lot, so much so, that by film’s end, they’ve fallen in love.

In a way, QUEEN & SLIM is much more a love story than it is a crime story, although you can’t really take the crime out of the plot. Without it, the date ends, and Queen and Slim probably don’t see each other again.

QUEEN & SLIM opens on a first date between Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) at a restaurant in one of the film’s best written scenes. Indeed, based on the writing alone, the movie gets off to a strong start.

On the car ride after the date, the couple gets pulled over by a very aggressive white police officer who we learn later shot a black man and was found innocent of any wrongdoing. This officer eventually pulls a gun on Slim and shoots Queen in the leg. In the ensuing scuffle, Slim shoots the officer. Dead.

Not knowing what to do next, the couple just decides to drive away, and they pretty much make things up as they go along. The rest of the movie follows their efforts to elude a nationwide manhunt. While doing so, they fall in love.  They eventually decide to flee to Cuba, and to get there, they receive lots of help from folks who see them as heroes.

I liked QUEEN AND SLIM for the most part, and I definitely enjoyed the first half better than the second. The plight of these two characters, who didn’t ask to be in the situation they find themselves in, simply isn’t strong enough to carry an entire movie.

It ultimately is a very sad story. It’s also quite maddening. Right after Slim shoots the officer, his first inclination is to stay there and call the police, to do the right thing. But Queen tells him if he does that, he won’t survive the night. This advice generally makes no sense. However, in this case, could anyone argue that Queen is wrong?

And that’s the best part of the screenplay by Lena Waithe. It taps into real racial tensions that are prevalent throughout the film. It also boasts really good dialogue, especially between the two main players.

I really enjoyed the two leads, Daniel Kaluuya as Slim and Jodie Turner-Smith as Queen. Kaluuya was excellent in GET OUT (2017). I think his performance stood out more in that film, but he’s nearly as good here.

Jody Turner-Smith delivers a potent performance at Queen. Her character has a devastating back story, and Turner-Smith captures the brokenness of the character. She and Kaluuya work well together and share some strong chemistry. One of the best scenes in the movie is when he takes her dancing at a local club. Sparks fly between them.

Bokeem Woodbine has a field day as Queen’s Uncle Earl. He enjoys some of the liveliest bits in the movie.

Director Melina Matsoukas keeps the film riveting early on, but towards the end things slow down a bit. There are some really impressive sequences, from the initial tense traffic stop with the combative cop, to the aforementioned dance scene, to the sequence where a community marches against the police in protest, to the sequence where Queen and Slim have to jump from a very high second story window.

But things do slow down towards the end, mostly because Queen and Slim aren’t really protagonists. Instead, they react to events around them, as they lay low from the authorities while trying to escape to Cuba.

As QUEEN & SLIM moves towards its inevitable conclusion, things become sadder and more tragic, but they also become slower and less compelling. Don’t expect shoot-outs from characters who suddenly embrace violence to get their message across.

The only thing Queen and Slim are interested in embracing is each other, which is highly commendable, but not exactly a gold mine for riveting storytelling.

—END—

 

William Shatner Live! – Captain Kirk Beams Down to Concord, New Hampshire.

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18020 Fidelity Clearing & Custody Solutions Portriats

The photo op with Willam Shatner. That’s me on the left (yours truly, Michael Arruda), my son Jonny, William Shatner, and my son Lucas.

KHAAAAAHNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!

Yup, one of William Shatner’s iconic moments from the movie STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982), and we got to hear it twice, once in the movie and once live, roared by the man himself, William Shatner, in person, as part of William Shatner Live on Stage! an event which my two sons and I were fortunate to attend the other night at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, NH.

The event was comprised of two parts, the screening of STAR TREK II, and then Shatner’s appearance on stage.

It was fun to see STAR TREK II back on the big screen again.  The last time that happened for me was probably in 1985 or so, when waaay back when I was in college, it was part of a film series at my dorm at Boston University. It was probably a 16 mm print. And while back in the day we college students were certainly Star Trek fans, the audience at the Capitol Center was jam-packed with enthusiastic and very vocal Star Trek fans which made watching the film even more rewarding.

Cheers erupted at each star’s name in the opening credits and on their initial appearances, as well as during their most memorable lines. The aforementioned cry of “Khan!!!” had the theater rocking.

Still, this Star Trek enthusiasm at the movies was hardly a first for me. I’m old enough to have seen the first film, STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) on the big screen and remember the audience cheering out loud at the actors’ names during the opening credits and during their initial appearances, since this was the first time we had seen these characters since the original 1960s TV show. I also remember waiting in a long line for tickets in Boston to see STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986) which probably received the most hype, all of it deserved, of any Star Trek film other than the first one.

It was fun to watch STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN to be sure, but the reason the auditorium was filled was not for the movie, but for the man, William Shatner who came out on stage after the film to be interviewed and answer pre-selected questions from the audience.

If you’ve seen Shatner speak when he’s not in character, you know he’s full of energy and is a gifted storyteller.  Making this even more amazing is his age.  He’s 87. You wouldn’t know it by the vigor he displayed on stage.  He seemed considerably younger.

As I said, Shatner is a gifted storyteller, and he spoke for just under an hour after the movie, and it was a lively, humorous, and highly entertaining event.  For me, the best part were his recollections and anecdotes from his time as Captain Kirk, and even though I had heard some of the stories before, as I’ve read the books he’s written on his Star Trek memories, they were still laugh out loud funny, like when he told the story of how he used to prank De Forest Kelley.

He also spoke of his friendship with Leonard Nimoy, and shared interesting tidbits on Star Trek, like how after every movie the studio would destroy the sets because they believed it would be the last movie in the series, but the films kept making money.

Shatner also spoke on his love of horses, motorcycle riding, race car driving, and his work on other shows, including BOSTON LEGAL (2004-2008), T.J. HOOKER (1982-1986), and THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-1964).  He spoke of his friendship with James Spader, and used it as an example of how most showbiz friendships work, in that actors intend to stay in touch but usually don’t because they are so busy. As such, Shatner said as much as he enjoyed his friendship with Spader, he hasn’t seen him since the show ended.  Shatner said this would have happened between him and Leonard Nimoy, but the films kept bringing them back together, enabling the two to establish a much longer friendship.

Shatner also spoke of his famous TWILIGHT ZONE episode, with the humorous anecdote of how his children used to ask him to show them “the look,” which was his frightened expression from that TWILIGHT ZONE episode, an expression he delighted the audience with by springing it on us at just the right time.

And, as I said, he bellowed out to us, “Khaaaann!!!” in person, which once more produced thunderous applause.

My sons and I had purchased the special VIP ticket, which enabled us to go back stage afterwards for a special photo-op with Mr. Shatner (see photo above.) By the size of the line, I would say that at least half of the audience had also purchased these tickets.

It was a special moment to be sure. Yeah, it lasted only a couple of seconds, but to be able to stand next to William Shatner, say hello and thank him, and have him respond, that’s special.  I was so caught up in the moment I can’t honestly remember what he said in response, but it was gracious and warm, and it was a gratifying moment.

I was fortunate enough to have met James Doohan who played Scotty on STAR TREK back in 1986 when he visited Boston University, and so I’m happy to have met two members of the original Starship Enterprise.

I know, it’s just a TV show, and William Shatner is just an actor, a celebrity.

But STAR TREK is more than just a show, for so many reasons, and the biggest is its positive view of the future, and William Shatner with his iconic portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk had a lot to do with shaping that view.

For so many of us, STAR TREK is a major part of our lives, not only as a form of entertainment, but as way of thinking and seeing the future, an open-mindedness and acceptance that sadly does not always exist in the real world today.

But let’s not get too deep here.

The bottom line is seeing William Shatner live on stage was a good time, and honestly I’m amazed at how good Shatner looked and how much energy he had throughout the interview.

It was certainly a night I won’t forget any time soon.

Live long and prosper!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: DRACULA (1974)

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DanCurtisDraculaHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, published in this month’s HWA Newsletter, on the Dan Curtis made-for-television shocker DRACULA (1974).

—Michael

 IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

Dan Curtis, the man behind the original “Dark Shadows” TV show, and THE NIGHT STALKER (1972), the film that introduced Carl Kolchak to the world, and a bunch of other above average TV horror movies from the 1970s, including TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975), produced and directed today’s movie, DRACULA (1974), a made-for-television retelling of the Bram Stoker tale with Jack Palance cast as the King of the Undead, Dracula.

My first memory of DRACULA was not a good one.  It was 1973, and I was nine years old.  I had aggressively lobbied my parents to let me stay up to watch the new DRACULA movie that had been advertised all week, and to my delight, they said yes!  Unfortunately, Richard Nixon also chose that night to announce to the nation in an hour long news conference covered by all three networks that he had selected Gerald Ford as his new Vice President.  In doing so, he pre-empted the showing of DRACULA.  My plans had been thwarted.  But I got the last laugh, as DRACULA was finally shown a few months later (thus the 1974 release date), and well, we all know what happened to Tricky Dick.

DRACULA is a decent enough movie, although it’s nowhere near as good as Curtis’ prior vampire efforts, THE NIGHT STALKER and “Dark Shadows.”  My favorite part of this movie is that it looks and plays like a Hammer Film, only not as good.

In fact, DRACULA shares some similarities with Hammer’s HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).  As in HORROR OF DRACULA, the character of Renfield is noticeably absent, and Van Helsing is portrayed once again as a medical doctor instead of the old professor from the novel.  We also don’t see Dracula change into a bat.

One difference between DRACULA and HORROR OF DRACULA—and Stoker’s novel as well— is the beefier role for Arthur Holmwood (Simon Ward.)  Perhaps this was because Simon Ward was an up and coming star, and they wanted to give him plenty of screen time.

DRACULA boasts a decent enough cast, but unfortunately no one really stands out.

You’d think Jack Palance with his experience playing villains in the movies would have made an excellent Dracula, but he really doesn’t. One reason for this is the script emphasizes the romantic element, as we find Dracula in love with Lucy (Fiona Lewis) as she is the splitting image of his long lost love.  So, we get to see some romantic flashbacks with Palance and his love, and I don’t know about you, but I just don’t see Palance as the leading man type.  He’s much more the straight villain, and unfortunately, he doesn’t really get the opportunity to be all that evil in this one.  He fared much better in the evil department when he played Mr. Hyde in THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1968).

When he’s allowed to be angry, Palance is very good as Dracula.  However, there’s a difference between anger and evil, and strangely, in this film, Palance doesn’t do evil all that well.  There’s something lacking in his performance, and it’s almost as if Palance, Curtis, and screenwriter Richard Matheson were trying to make Dracula more human and less supernatural.  It makes one appreciate just how good Christopher Lee was as Dracula.  Lee has always been able to capture the essence of evil in his performances as the Prince of Darkness.

Speaking of Christopher Lee, in 1974 producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted Jack Palance to play the villain in their latest James Bond movie, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), but Palance had to turn them down because he was contracted to do DRACULA.  So Broccoli and Saltzman were forced to look elsewhere.  The part of villainous hit man Scaramanga eventually went to Christopher Lee.  So, you might say Lee could thank Dracula for landing him a role in a James Bond movie.

Simon Ward makes for a decent Arthur Holmwood, although I liked him better as Karl, the young doctor blackmailed by Peter Cushing’s evil Baron Frankenstein into helping the Baron transplant people’s brains in the superior Hammer shocker FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).

The rest of the cast is rather blah.  Nigel Davenport is OK as Van Helsing, but compared to Peter Cushing, he’s rather dull.  And neither Fiona Lewis as Lucy or Penelope Horner as Mina makes for very effective heroines.  Murray Brown is wooden as Jonathan Harker.

I do like the direction by Dan Curtis.  DRACULA is probably the best looking “Hammer Film that’s not really a Hammer Film” ever made!  From beginning to end, it looks and plays like a Hammer Dracula movie.  While Curtis crafts plenty of good looking scenes, taking full advantage of the color red throughout, unfortunately one thing he forgot to do was make this one scary.  DRACULA doesn’t come close to being as effective, memorable, or as flat out frightening as Curtis’ earlier hit THE NIGHT STALKER.

There’s a neat scene where Dracula shows off his superior strength when he’s confronted by a group of men.  Drac goes into action star mode and makes short work of these guys.  The film could have used more scenes like this.

The screenplay by Richard Matheson does include a neat bit from the novel which before then hadn’t really made it into any of the movies, where Van Helsing hypnotizes Mina and is able to tap into her psychic connection with Dracula in order to gain insight into his thoughts.  It’s through this process that they are able to learn of Dracula’s plans to return to his castle.

However, the script does a lousy job with Mina and Lucy.  Lucy is supposed to be Dracula’s great love in this movie, but she’s killed off with a stake in the heart early on, and so that love affair goes nowhere, and Mina isn’t the strong heroine she is in the novel.  Her part is greatly reduced here.

And again, while Jack Palance isn’t bad as Dracula, he’s not great either.  He lacks Christopher Lee’s ability to personify evil, and he’s certainly not the romantic lead we’d find in Frank Langella as Dracula five years later in the 1979 John Badham film.

DRACULA is a mediocre film version of Bram Stoker’s iconic novel.  It’s beautifully photographed and it features a decent performance by Jack Palance as the Count, but the rest of the cast isn’t up to snuff.  It ultimately plays like “Hammer Lite.”

Dracula should have sharpened his fangs for this one.

It could have used more bite.

—END—

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR Now Available In Print Edition

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For The Love Of Horror coverI’m happy to announce that my short story collection, FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, previously available as an EBook, is now available for sale as a print edition at
https://www.createspace.com/4294076.

So, if you don’t have an e-reader yet, or if you just prefer the printed page and like the feel of an old-fashioned book in your hands, now you too can own a copy of FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR contains 15 short stories, 7 reprints and 8 original stories, plus a wraparound story that ties everything together. I wrote this with the old Amicus anthology horror movies in mind, films like DR. TERRORS HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965) and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971).

Here’s a look at the book’s table of contents with a brief line on each story:

The Stories

1. LITTLE BOYS WITH FROGS © 2012 Michael J. Arruda

A young couple is terrorized by a giant.

2. THAT THING WHICH CAN NEVER BE SATISFIED © 2012 Michael J. Arruda
A date goes awry.
3. BLACK HEART OF THE WOLF © 2012 Michael J. Arruda
There’s a bloodthirsty wolf on the loose.
4. THE HORROR CURSE © 2002 Michael J. Arruda (originally published in THE STEEL CAVES)
Strange murders at a school haunt a former horror movie actor turned teacher.

5. GOOD TO THE LAST DROP © 2002 Michael J. Arruda (originally published in E-THOUGHT)
Coffee addict has one cup too many.

6. KISSES © 2012 Michael J. Arruda
How deadly can one kiss be?

7. THE PAINTING © 2000 Michael J. Arruda (First prize winner in the Horror Fiction category of THE SALIVAN SHORT STORY CONTEST and originally published on THE SALIVAN WEB SITE in 2000).
There’s evil in that painting.

8. FRIENDS FOREVER © 2001 Michael J. Arruda (originally published in MORBID MUSINGS.)
Sometimes it’s not what you do, but what you don’t do.
9. ON THE ROCKS © 2012 Michael J. Arruda
Rick is so fed up with his girlfriend he thinks about killing her, but he wouldn’t really do that— would he?
10. RECONCILIATION © 1998 Michael J. Arruda (originally published in the anthology THE DARKEST THIRST.)
A vampire seeks religious redemption.

11. CURSE OF THE KRAGONAKS © 2012 Michael J. Arruda
A demonic race asserts itself.
12. THE MONSTER WHO LOVED WOMEN © 2012 Michael J. Arruda
He lives through the centuries, loving and killing.
13. THE HOUSE OF MR. MORBIDIKUS © 2001 Michael J. Arruda (originally published in the anthology THE DEAD INN.)

You don’t want to stay at Morbidikus’ house.

14. HE CAME UPON A MIDNIGHT CLEAR © 2001 Michael J. Arruda (originally published in THE ETERNAL NIGHT CHRONICLE.)
It’s Christmas Eve, and there’s a menace in the house.
15. FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR © 2012 Michael J. Arruda
What do you love most? Would it be horror?

If you’re in the mood for some old school horror tales, feel free to check out my short story collection FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR.

Thanks!

—Michael

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: HALLOWEEN (1978)

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halloween_posterMEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES:  HALLOWEEN (1978)

By

Michael Arruda

 

Since I’ve had so much fun writing THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, the column where we look at some of Peter Cushing’s best lines in the movies, I’ve decided to branch out, to look at memorable quotes from other movies as well.  So, on that note, welcome to MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES.

 

First up today we’ll check out some quotes from the horror classic HALLOWEEN (1978), John Carpenter’s groundbreaking horror flick which pretty much single-handedly launched the slasher movie subgenre.  The strength of HALLOWEEN has always been the stylish direction by John Carpenter, and his memorable music score.  The screenplay by Carpenter and Debra Hill isn’t as strong, as it tells a rather silly story when you think about it.  That being said, there are lots of memorable lines in HALLOWEEN, and so truth be told you can’t really knock the script that much.

Here are some examples:

Early in the movie, insane killer Michael Myers escapes from the sanitarium, attacking a nurse and stealing her car, as Myers’ doctor, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) watches helplessly.  The next day, Loomis is arguing with another doctor over Myers’ escape.

DOCTOR: I’m not responsible, Sam.

LOOMIS: Oh, no.

DOCTOR: I told them how dangerous he was.

LOOMIS: You couldn’t have, two roadblocks and an all-points bulletin wouldn’t stop a five year old.

DOCTOR: Well, he’s your patient, if you knew that the precautions weren’t strong enough, you should have told somebody.

LOOMIS: I told everybody! Nobody listened.

DOCTOR: There’s nothing else I can do.

LOOMIS: You can get back in there and get back on that telephone and tell them exactly who walked out of here last night and tell them exactly where he’s going.

DOCTOR: Where he’s probably going.

LOOMIS: I’ve wasted my time.

DOCTOR: Sam, Haddonfield is 150 miles away from here, for God’s sake, he can’t even drive a car!

LOOMIS: He was doing very well last night! Maybe someone around here gave him lessons.

Later, in Haddonfield, Dr. Loomis goes to the cemetery in search of Michael Myers’ sister’s grave.  He’s accompanied by the Graveyard Keeper.  On their walk towards the grave, the Keeper has a rather morbid story to tell, in one of the movie’s more memorable scenes of dialogue.

GRAVEYARD KEEPER:   Yeah, you know every town has something like this happen… I remember over in Russellville, old Charlie Bowles, about fifteen years ago… One night, he finished dinner, and he excused himself from the table. He went out to the garage, and got himself a hacksaw. Then he went back into the house, kissed his wife and his two children goodbye, and then he proceeded to…

LOOMIS:  Where are we?

GRAVEYARD KEEPER: Eh? Oh, it’s, uh, right over here…

And of course, they discover the headstone for Judith Myers’ grave has been stolen, and the Graveyard Keeper never gets to finish his story.

And who can forget the scene where Loomis is camped outside the Myers’ house, waiting for Michael Myers’ return, when a group of kids show up and dare their friend Lonnie to go inside the house.  As Lonnie takes the bait, Loomis steps from the shadow, cups his hands in front of his mouth, and says,

LOOMIS:  Hey!  Hey, Lonnie!  Get your ass away from there!

It was probably because the theater audience was scared out of their wits and wound so tight they couldn’t swallow their popcorn, but I remember the theater erupting in laughter over this line.  I mean, it’s funny, but it’s not that funny.

_____________________________________________________

It seems that no one will listen to Dr. Loomis, as he tries to warn everyone around him that Michael Myers is unbelievably dangerous.  Perhaps one of the reasons no one listens to him is the lines he delivers in this movie makes him sound like a crackpot.

LOOMIS:  I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.

Still, Donald Pleasence is such a strong presence as Dr. Loomis that to the movie audience, anyway, he comes off as credible, heroic, and even humorous.

This exchange between Loomis and Sheriff Brackett, where Loomis again tries to warn the sheriff about Michael Myers, shows a little of each.

SHERIFF:  I have a feeling that you’re way off on this.

LOOMIS: You have the wrong feeling.

SHERIFF: You’re not doing very much to prove me wrong!

LOOMIS: What more do you need?

SHERIFF: Well, it’s going to take a lot more than fancy talk to keep me up all night crawling around these bushes.

LOOMIS: I watched him for fifteen years, sitting in a room, staring at a wall, not seeing the wall, looking past the wall – looking at this night, inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off. Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it.

SHERIFF: More fancy talk.

And to finish up, one of the more memorable lines from the movie comes at the end, when Loomis rushes into the house to save Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) from Michael Myers.  After seemingly killing Myers (of course we know now that you can’t keep a good masked killer down!) Loomis turns to Laurie, and she says to him,

LAURIE:  Was it the boogeyman?

LOOMIS:  As a matter of fact, it was.

Great lines, great movie, great fun.

Thanks for joining me today on MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES. See you next time with quotes from another fun movie.

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

RAY HARRYHAUSEN Stop-Motion Animation Master Passes at 92

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Ray Harryhausen with some "friends" from CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)

Ray Harryhausen with some “friends” from CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)

A Tribute to RAY HARRYHAUSEN

By

Michael Arruda

Ray Harryhausen, the greatest stop-motion animator in the history of motion pictures, passed away on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.  He was 92.

I had the pleasure of meeting Harryhausen at a con in the late 1990s, and the thing I remember most about the experience— besides the fact that he was a classy guy and that he brought many of his miniature creature models with him— was Harryhausen’s love for telling stories.  It wasn’t just about the special effects with Harryhausen.  It was about the story.  It was important for him that his creatures lived in a world that seemed real yet magical at the same time.  On the movies that Harryhausen worked, much time was spent hammering out background stories, imaginative settings, and exciting conflicts.

Harryhausen’s genius wasn’t only that he was a master of stop-motion animation effects, but that the creatures he created using these effects lived and breathed in stories that were as memorable as the creatures themselves.  Of course, it helped that he was a master animator.  His movie creations are like no others.  He gave them sculpted bodies, facial expressions and incredible movement, bringing them to life long before CGI technology.

To watch a movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen is to enter another world.

From MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), the first major movie he worked on, under the direction of his teacher and mentor, King Kong creator Willis O’Brien, to CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981), Ray Harryhausen’s movie magic has no equal.  O’Brien may have created the most memorable stop-motion effects ever in KING KONG (1933), but by sheer volume alone, Harryhausen is king.  He dominated the special effects scene from the 1950s through the 1970s, and during these decades, no one else came close to achieving the consistency and quality of stop-motion animation effects.  Simply put, he was the best at it.

And the argument can be made that in a couple of his films his animation rivals O’Brien’s work in KING KONG, in films like THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) (arguably his best), and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1962).  The sword fight between Jason and his men and the army of skeletons in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS  is one of the most exciting and ambitious stop-motion effects sequences ever put on film.

Here’s a partial look at Harryhausen’s movies:

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) – other than Kong, Joe is the most remarkable giant ape in the movies.  Fiery climax in which Joe rescues children from burning building is must-see cinema!

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) – rivals GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956) as one of the scariest prehistoric-beasts-on-the-loose movies ever.  Memorable conclusion involving Coney Island roller coaster.  That’s Lee Van Cleef as the marksman at the end taking aim at the monster.

IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) – Ray Harryhausen destroys Washington D.C.!   See his alien spaceships attack the nation’s capital!

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) – attack of the Ymir!  Yep, that extraordinary monster from Venus, one of my favorite Ray Harryhausen creations, the Ymir was unnamed in the movie, and only picked up the name “Ymir” later from fans.

THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) – my pick for the best Ray Harryhausen movie of all time.  It contains his finest special effects, one of his most memorable creations, the Cyclops, it’s briskly directed by Nathan Juran, has a phenomenal villainous performance by Torin Thatcher as Sokurah, the magician, and a rousing music score by Bernard Herrmann.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961) – that animated crab is the real thing!  Harryhausen used a real crab in the giant crab sequence, animating it like one of his models.

-JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) – my second favorite Ray Harryhausen movie.  The sword fight with the skeletons is spectacular!

FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964) – I’ve always loved this story by HG Wells, and Harryhausen’s effects here don’t disappoint.

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) – Harryhausen joins the Hammer Films family and animates dinosaurs that chase scantily clad Raquel Welch in this Hammer prehistoric adventure.

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) – in the subgenre of horror westerns, this film ranks among the best.

THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974)-  Harryhausen’s follow-up to THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD is nearly as good and contains some of Harryhausen’s best special effects, including a great sword fight between Sinbad and the goddess Kali.

SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977) – released the same year as STAR WARS (1977) it was criticized for having outdated special effects.  Suddenly, Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation was passé.

CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)- Harryhausen’s last feature, one of my least favorites, yet still features some fine moments, including a very creepy Medusa sequence.

In my family, we all know who Ray Harryhausen is, but it pains me that Ray Harryhausen is not a household name.  He should be.

For me, there are few moviemakers who have been as influential as Ray Harryhausen.  The movies he’s worked on have been some of the most imaginative innovative creative films I have ever seen.  They are the real deal.  Movies that captivate fascinate and entertain.

To watch a Ray Harryhausen movie is to arouse your imagination.

Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation, maker of movie monsters and fantasy worlds, of movies that will live in imaginations for years to come, thank you for sharing your genius with the world.

You will be missed.

—Michael

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING: THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959)

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Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes

THE QUOTABLE CUSHING

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome to another edition of THE QUOTABLE CUSHING, that column where we look at some of Peter Cushing’s best lines in the movies.

Today we look at Cushing’s first performance as Sherlock Holmes, in the Hammer Film THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959), screenplay by Peter Bryan, based on the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Since this is a Hammer Film, this version of the famous Sherlock Holmes story emphasizes the supernatural and suspense elements.  It’s actually a great little movie, and I’ve always felt sad that Hammer didn’t make a series of Sherlock Holmes movies starring Peter Cushing. This was the only one they did.  Evidently, it didn’t do all that well at the box office.

Anyway, Peter Cushing makes for a phenomenal Sherlock Holmes, and he gets to deliver a host of memorable lines along the way.

We’ll start off with a Peter Cushing signature line, the type of line he might say in any number of his movies.  Van Helsing, for instance, easily could have uttered this line.

Watson (Andre Morell) has just discovered that Holmes (Peter Cushing) has secretly been investigating the moors outside Baskerville Hall gathering information.  Holmes turns to Watson and utters a grave warning to his friend.

HOLMES:  “There is more evil around us here than I have ever encountered before.”

I’ll say!  The Hound from Hell is patrolling these moors!

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Later in the movie, Holmes believes Sir Henry Baskerville’s (Christopher Lee) life to be in danger if he visits the Stapleton family.  Now, the Stapletons have invited Sir Henry, Holmes, and Watson to dinner, and since Sir Henry has feelings for Stapleton’s daughter, he’s eager to go.  Holmes needs to avoid joining them so he can be free to protect Sir Henry from a distance.

To do this, he’s purposely rude to Sir Henry, mocking him for socializing with poor peasants.

SIR HENRY: I wouldn’t dream of going without you.

HOLMES:  My dear Sir Henry, if you really wanted us to come with you, you’d have told us about the invitation much sooner than this.  You’d better be off.  You mustn’t be late for your peasant friends.

SIR HENRY:  I don’t like that Holmes.

HOLMES:  I don’t like the people you’re mixing with.  I should have thought in your new position you would have cultivated worthier friends.  I hope you enjoy their rabbit pie.

 Ouch!

Cushing has such a way with lines like this.  When Christopher Lee’s Sir Henry storms off in an angry huff, you know exactly how he feels.

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When Holmes is confronting the irritating pompous Dr. Mortimer (Francis De Wolff) he has had all he can take from the annoying man. He sets up the doctor for a dramatic revelation.

 HOLMES:  Strange things are to be found on the moors.  Like this, for instance!”

 Upon which Holmes hurls a dagger onto the table, its sharp point stabbing the wood.

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Early in the movie, as Holmes and Watson agree to honor Dr. Mortimer’s request to travel to Baskerville Hall to protect Sir Henry Baskerville, the wheels of how he will handle this case are already turning inside Holmes’ head.  He sets up the situation so that Watson will go on ahead, leaving him free to conduct undercover work.

When Sir Henry suggests they leave today, Holmes feigns disappointment, but then comes up with a brilliant suggestion.

SIR HENRY: If you attach so much importance to this, why don’t you come down to Dartmoor with me today?  You can pack before the train leaves.

HOLMES (shocked): “You’re going today?  I can’t possibly leave town until the end of the week at least.   (But then, the brilliant suggestion.)  Watson? You’re free at the moment, aren’t you?

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And we wrap things up with a look at Holmes’ dire warning to Sir Henry, about keeping off the moors.

HOLMES: I must insist upon one thing. Under no circumstances are you to go out onto the moors at night.

Wise advice, echoed years later in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981):  Stay off the moors!

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Hammer Films’ THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959) is highly recommended.  It features one of Peter Cushing’s best performances, as Sherlock Holmes.

That’s it for now.  See you again next time.

—Michael