Friday, November 28, 2008

Perchance to Dream (1959)

Edward Hall has a few problems. First, he has a heart condition. Too much excitement can cause cardiac arrest. Second, he has insomnia. Or more accurately, he can't let himself fall to sleep, because he is haunted by increasingly terrifying nightmares that can trigger the kind of excitement he must avoid to stay alive.

In one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, ("Perchance to Dream", Season 1) Hall (Richard Conte) finally seeks help from a psychiatrist after going without sleep for several days.

At the doctor's request, Hall describes several variations of his nightmares, including a recurring one at a surreal amusement park. It's the imagery of the amusement park that makes this episode stand out--footage of real carnival rides (it's actually Santa Monica's legendary and long gone Pacific Ocean Park) combined with stylized sets that could only come from Hall's imagination.
"I was at an amusement was the kind of place you see only in nightmares. Everything warped and twisted out of shape. But it was real, too. Very real." -Edward Hall

Step right up and see Maya the Cat Girl...perhaps a bit too exciting for our Mr. Hall?

After the show, Maya approaches Hall and lures him to the funhouse, a nightmarish gallery of bizarre exhibits.

Finally, Maya pressures Hall into riding the roller coaster, despite his protests.

Maya seems to be enjoying herself!

Hall, not so much...

I won't reveal the ending, other than to say it is terrifying and comes with a twist.

This episode was written by genre author Charles Beaumont, based on his short story of the same name, which can be found in the collection "The Magic Man". Unfortunately Beaumont's entire body of work seems to be out of print as of this writing.

The episode can be found on DVD in the Twilight Zone: Season One (or, if you didn't want to invest in an entire season, it is available on a single-disc, 4-episode collection called The Twilight Zone: Volume 7.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery (1962)

By the time I'd reached third grade, I knew the names of exactly three film directors: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Alfred Hitchcock. I'd seen "The Birds" and "Rear Window", and was aware of "Psycho" (although had not yet seen the entire film), and had seen several reruns of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents". So his name was not new to me when I first came across this anthology of "eleven spooky stories for young people" from nine authors, illustrated by Fred Banbery and with an introduction by Hitchcock.

Hitchcock's tradition of cameo appearances in his films extended to the cover of this book as well.

(As a brief aside, the phrase "ghostly gallery" was already familiar to me from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion attraction, specifically the long-playing record "The Story and Song From The Haunted Mansion". In Hitchcock's first-person introduction to this book, he describes himself as a "ghost host", and just like the Haunted Mansion's ghost host, he begins his monologue with two words: "Good evening." Could Hitchcock's "Ghostly Gallery" have been among the Disney scriptwriters' research materials?)

The complete contents of the book are:

Introduction (Alfred Hitchcock)
Miss Emmeline Takes Off (Walter Brooks)
The Valley of the Beasts (Algernon Blackwood)
The Haunted Trailer (Robert Arthur)
The Upper Berth (F. Marion Crawford)
The Wonderful Day (Robert Arthur)
The Truth About Pyecraft (H.G. Wells)
Housing Problem (Henry Kuttner)
In A Dim Room (Lord Dunsany)
Obstinate Uncle Otis (Robert Arthur)
The Waxwork (A.M. Burrage)
The Isle of Voices (Robert Louis Stevenson)

My favorite is "The Waxwork" (A.M. Burrage), about a journalist who wishes to spend the night in the Murderers' Den section of a creepy wax museum, hoping to parlay the experience into an interesting article. One of the figures depicts a Dr. Bourdette, a hypnosis expert who mesmerized, then murdered, several women, but was never apprehended.

Several times throughout the night, the journalist thinks he sees the figure moving slightly in his peripheral vision, and things only get scarier from there.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Ed Wood" vs. "Plan 9 From Outer Space"

I developed an appreciation for "camp" (The tragically ludicrous? The ludicrously tragic?) at a pretty young age, probably as a result of having stayed up late too many evenings to watch the weekend creature-feature only to land on a turd like "Robot Monster" or "Son of Blob"...and managing to salvage a fun experience by laughing at an otherwise disappointing film.

So by the time Tim Burton's film "Ed Wood" (1994) opened, I had long been familiar with the works of Edward D. Wood, Jr., particularly "Plan 9 From Outer Space"(1959), which I'd had on VHS for at least a decade prior.

You could of course still enjoy the hilarious and occasionally touching "Ed Wood" without having seen "Plan 9", but those who had were privy to an extra layer of enjoyment in seeing scenes and elements from that film painstakingly recreated.

Since much of Wood's oeuvre seems to be in the public domain, I was hoping when "Ed Wood" finally premiered on DVD (after many frustrating delays...) that it might include side-by-side comparison's of Wood's original films alongside Burton's spot-on recreations. Alas, it was not to be. But take a look at these screen-cap comparisons to appreciate the lengths Burton went to replicating the awesomely awful "Plan 9":

This imposing mothership with orbiting saucers... (Plan 9)

...gets a nod in the opening titles. (Ed Wood)

Criswell predicts...... (Plan 9)

...dramatic lighting! (Ed Wood)

This footage of Bela Lugosi as "The Old Man"... (Plan 9) being reviewed by director Wood in the screening room. (Ed Wood)

Saucers Seen Over Hollywood! (Plan 9)

..and slightly lower over Hollywood. (Ed Wood)

The "aliens" greet their leader aboard the mothership. (Plan 9 and Ed Wood)

Wrestler Tor Johnson as the Police Chief investigates the graveyard! (Plan 9 and Ed Wood)

"The Old Man" (played by a stand-in after Lugosi's death) emerges from a crypt! (Plan 9 and Ed Wood)

Tor rises from the grave. This shot ends in an abrupt jump cut as he struggles to stand. (Plan 9)

But a peek behind the scenes lets us see how Tor finally managed to get to his feet with a little help.(Ed Wood)

Tor and Vampira on the move! (Plan 9 and Ed Wood)

Tor menaces an unwary policeman! (Plan 9 and Ed Wood)

Finally, the saucer meets a fiery end. (Plan 9)

And a slightly lower fiery end... (Ed Wood)

Honestly, if it wasn't for the different aspect ratio, I'd be hard pressed to tell Wood from Burton at a glance. Like "Night of the Living Dead", "Plan 9" has been subject to so many releases of varying quality, it can be frustrating trying to choose a version to buy on DVD. I recommend Legend Films "Plan 9 From Outer Space - In Color". It features a restored print viewable either in the original black and white or in a decent colorized version, along with some Ed Wood trailers, and a humorous commentary track by MST3K's Mike Nelson, if you like that sort of thing.