Archive for the Criterion Collection Category

Criterion Cat People!

Posted in Criterion Collection with tags , on June 22, 2016 by MONSTERMINIONS

September 2016 Release! Puuurfect for Halloween. I am stoked about this. Some people find Lewton bland, but the Tourneur films are sublime. I consider this film top horror.

Criterion Cat People

Criterion, Things To Come (1936) Blu-ray

Posted in Criterion Collection, Sci-Fi with tags , , on June 23, 2013 by MONSTERMINIONS


I first read about the Bauhaus design movement after reading Danny Peary’s Cult Movies entry on The Black Cat (1934). Low-budget film maestro Edgar Ulmer was a fan of the minimalistic style; with a paucity of distractions and rectilinear compositions the design of Hjalmar Poelzig’s (Boris Karloff) castle is pure Bauhaus. Peary remarks that the staircase at Poelzig’s domicile seems to belong in a Fred Astaire Ginger Roger’s film rather than in a Universal thriller. The look of The Black Cat is unmistakeable -it is a remarkable movie to look at. Ulmer even names Karloff’s satanic protagonist after real life architect Hans Poelzig.

I appreciate films for different reasons. I have had more than a few comments that Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is not a very good film (Tarantino allegedly hated it). I rank it right up there a notch below Blade Runner and Alien -the cliched characters and dumb portrayals of scientists didn’t bother me. For me, the look and spectacle of the film compensated for the weaknesses. I watch movies for entertainment. I also appreciate the look of a film. I think that is why I love the Toho-Honda-Tsuburaya films of the 50’s and 60’s. Nothing looks like them. Of the modern films I think Guillermo del Toro certainly captures a distinct feel. I consider Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) the finest fantasy film the last 20 years.

Oddly, I am not a huge fan of Alexander Korda’s Things To Come (1936). Wells socialist precepts seem buried under stark and impressive special effects, and typical of British films of this era the characters talk and talk endlessly ad nauseum. To me the film is preachy but doesn’t deliver a message. The look of the film is impressive and the depiction of future devices (e.g. flat screen televisions) is extraordinary.

The new Criterion HD-BR print of the film is the best I have seen. I particularly like film historian David Kalat’s commentary (we’ve heard him before on the Criterion Testament of Dr. Mabuse disc) and Christopher Frayling’s commentary on the look of the film. We learn a bit about the influence of the Bauhaus movement on the film’s design. Also watch the unused special effects (double exposures predominate) developed by László Moholy-Nagy, who taught at the Bauhaus.

This is a disc I picked up as a completist. I recognize that the film is a masterful triumph on the use of miniatures and photo-stacking optical effects. But it is also one where I will use the scan option. For genre purists only. Fans of the Bauhaus should also check out People on Sunday (1930).

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

Posted in Criterion Collection with tags , , , , on January 12, 2013 by MONSTERMINIONS

Like many, I was first introduced to Frankenstein (1931) through a television broadcast. Nixon was President and every friday night I eagerly awaiting the opening chords of Henry Mancini’s Experiment in Terror as WGN’s Creature Features unfolded before my gaping eyes. Those were different times. Back then horror film tikes would scour the Sunday TV guides and circle all upcoming cowboy, sci-fi, monster and jungle flicks (yes, I loved Tarzan). The first appearance of Frankenstein’s monster so traumatized me that I watched the remainder of the film through the protective but porous webbing of an afghan cover. Karloff had scared the liver out of me. Years later I shared these anecdotes with Sara Karloff. She smiled. She had heard the story before and was taking no liability for the emotional distress brought upon my shattered soul. Karloff’s Frankenstein impacted my life. This all brings us to the Spanish film El Espíritu de la Colmena / The Spirit of the Beehive (1973).

The movie has been touted as the greatest of the Spanish films of the 70’s. I’ve only seen one and it is “Beehive”. I can attest that the film is a classic and in my humble opinion a masterpiece. It’s also one of the finest films about children ever made, and also works as a benchmark film about a film.

The setting is a village in rural Spain, around 1940 and after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Young impressionable Ana (Ana Torrent) lives with her older sister Isabel (Isabel Telleria), a housekeeper and two academic parents. Dad is a beekeeper, amateur mycologist and lover of books. Mom plays the piano. One day a beat up old truck drives into the village. The children exclaim “The movie’s coming! The movie’s coming!” A vender/projectionist tells the public about this extraordinary movie. “It’s tremendous! The best I’ve ever shown in this town. You can’t even imagine”. It is Frankenstein (1931). Ana and Isabel gather with several villagers to watch the film. The girls pay two reales each.

These scenes are special. Cinematographer Luis Cuadrado composed the shots in subdued lighting, focusing on the reactions and expressions of elderly villagers and children. Young Ana watches, mesmerized by the appearance of Karloff’s monster. She questions her sister Isabel why the monster kills the little girl. Later, Isabel tells Ana the monster is not real, “Everything in the movies is fake… It’s all a trick. Besides, I’ve seen him alive. He’s a spirit.”

Ana will have none of that and goes on a quest to confirm her suspicions. Ana is a hero in the classical sense of a person on a lengthy journey with obstacles. She could be any of the many protagonists straight out of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. To me, Beehive is at its finest in several scenes sans dialogue. During these moments the film is poetic. It really is art.

The Spirit of the Beehive is unique, but there is an odd familiarity to it. The movie certainly influenced Guillermo del Toro, who is also a gifted director with children. I can envision young Ana being in a del Toro film. Also, the opening portions of the film remind me of Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1988). The Spirit of the Beehive is essentially viewing and should be rightfully discussed as a classic.