The Reel Less Traveled – October 2020

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“Life’s no Fun Without a Good Scare.” From 1993’s Nightmare Before Christmas – “This is Halloween”

    This is a column I’ve wanted to write for quite some time. In ordinary times, I reported on the special movies the Orinda and Rheem Theatres played. Regrettably, more often than not, very few of them had anything to do with the month in which they were presented. Since October is best known for horror with its Halloween ending, one piece of good news in these Covid-19 times is that I can recommend films that are worth your while and readily available while, at the same time, thematically working for this month!
    In columns past, I have liberally mentioned Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, and I’ll devote just a little more space to it now. It not only made a lasting impression on me when I first saw it but also left me with a feeling of unease lasting for weeks. Isolation was a recurring theme with Polanski’s early works, and he revisited that theme in two other films: The Tenant and the far more famous Rosemary’s Baby, but Repulsion really drives the theme home. For the optimum viewing experience, turn off all other distractions and watch this in a quiet room by yourself. I dare you.
    At the risk of showing my age, I will admit that I prefer older horror films. A sort of insidious subtlety was a key element then, and often, the horror and fear were ambiguous at best and, possibly, imaginary at worst. Films like The Innocents and The Haunting wormed their way into your subconscious and, like Repulsion, stayed there well after you left the theatre. The real horror winner here though would have to be Black Sabbath (1963). Originally titled I Tre Volti Della Paura [Three Faces of Fear], this is one of those anthology films with three short vignettes guaranteed to get on your nerves – in a good way. The most notable story of the three is “The Drop of Water.” Hosted by none other than Boris Karloff and directed by Mario Bava, this one will have you listening for the distant bark of a dog while making absolutely certain that all your plumbing is working right.
    If, on the other hand, you want to keep things light, it should come as no surprise that comedy and horror often intersect. From Abbott & Costello meeting nearly every type of monster to the more recent Tucker and Dale vs Evil, our nervous laughter gets intermingled with genuine mirth in a number of horror tales. Films like Young Frankenstein and Shaun of the Dead approached the horrific with self-awareness at the ludicrousness of it all, but no film that I can think of has been more conscious of its own conceits than Cabin in the Woods. This is a multi-layered movie that takes time unveiling its secrets. To get its full impact, you’d need a pretty good knowledge of movie lore, though it’s still captivating without it. Written and directed by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, this one pulls out all the stops and manages to keep your emotions in a constant state of flux, alternately keeping you amused at its wit while at the same time horrified by its extremes. Ordinarily, I don’t go for many of the modern conceits in horror films, but this one finds a way around that in a very clever way.
    And lest you think I’ve completely forgotten about what is actually going on in the outside world beyond reels, I’ll remind you that Derek Zemrak and Leonard Pirkle are still fighting the good fight. The even better news is, thanks to all of you, they are winning! The contributions are continuing to pour in, so much so that, our Grand Lady, The Orinda Theatre, is managing very well. But don’t take my word for it. Go to facebook.com/orindatheatre/ to keep informed about how the theater is doing and what is in store for the future. This, by no means, should be taken as a sign that we can rest on our laurels. Many projections (clever in a film column, no?) predict the Orinda Theatre may not open at all for the rest of this year, and though Derek and his crew are working diligently on its maintenance (learn more about that on the aforementioned Facebook page!), this does not mean it’s out of the woods just yet. Go to gofundme.com/f/orinda-theatre and help out all you can.
    Another Facebook page worth visiting is facebook.com/INTFS, which is the home of the International Film Showcase. They too are soldiering on with their virtual film festival which enables you to stream all their wonderful foreign films. Because schedules are always changing, another on-line place to check movie availability out would be internationalshowcase.org.
    So, that’s it for the month. I know I usually try to leave you with my usual tag line, but as it’s the month of Ghosties and Ghoulies, instead I offer the closing words of Orson Welles from his famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast: “That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian,
. . . it’s Hallowe’en.”

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