Ric’s Picks, by Ric Pantale

April is here, and believe me, it couldn’t come fast enough. Here are the top picks coming out on DVD and On Demand.

• LABOR DAY (PG-13) Drama
Due April 8. Kate Winslet stars with Josh Brolin in the story of a young man who tries to be the man of the house to his reclusive mother. On a back-to-school shopping trip, they meet a man (who is clearly in need of help) who convinces them to take him home. All is well until the man is revealed to be an escaped convict. This film was very well received by all the critics.

• ANCHORMAN 2 (PG-13) Comedy
Due April 8. Unless you’ve been vacationing on Mars for a few years, you know this is the sequel to the highly successful Anchorman. Now they’re into the funny 80s and most of the old crew is back. This time they are on a 24-hour News Network in New York City. Funny and crude, but still funny.

• THE HOBBIT (PG-13) Adventure
Due April 8. I’m a big Martin Freeman fan so I was happy to see this rendition of the enduring masterpiece. Here we follow Bilbo and Gandalf and the thirteen dwarves (little people) as they go on an epic journey to reclaim the Kingdom of Erebor.

Due April 8. A great cast led by Meryl Streep, with Ewan McGregor, Julia Roberts, and Benedict Cumberbatch. The strong-willed women of the Weston family return to deal with a family crisis to the Midwest home they grew up in and to the dysfunctional mother who raised them Dark, funny, and very touching.
Due April 15. Not exactly a remake of the famous 1948 film starring Danny Kaye—that wasn’t exactly faithful to the short story by James Thurber. This has Ben Stiller with Kristen Wiig and Sean Penn. Basically the plot is the same as the oldie, about a man who spends much of his time day-dreaming to escape his boring life. But in real life his job is threatened by a layoff and he embarks on a journey of his own, that even surpasses anything he could have imagined.

Netflix Streaming is an excellent way to catch up on movies you might have missed On Demand or movies that just slipped by you theatrically.

Remember folks if you have Cablevision / Optimum, you have 2 months free use of Movie Pak Channel 510, because of the outage last month.

• THE RETURNED (M) 8-part series
The Returned is simply one of the best miniseries ever made for television. It is a French Production in 8 parts. You can binge and watch them all in one sitting.

It is horror, but without the scares. It is moody, well acted, beautifully photographed and well told.

In a Mountain Village near the French Alps, people suddenly begin to show up one day who were once dead—not like zombies with rotting flesh; they look exactly as they did when they were alive.

To the townspeople who loved them, their resurrection is believed to be a miracle of sorts. Different stories play out through the series each following a specific character and their travails. None of the resurrected has any idea where they were or where they came from, but they do have memories of their families—as if nothing ever happened. See it and plan to be mesmerized from the first episode to the eighth.

• THE SCENIC ROUTE (R) Dark comedy
Although The Scenic Route has only two characters, is is miraculously never boring, The writing is just that good and the acting superb in this U.S. made series.

Two lifelong friends take a road trip through Death Valley. When their car breaks down, they have time to reflect on their lives and the situations they’ve gotten into over the years. Soon they start to be annoyed with one another—the truth hurts—and how they put themselves in a precarious situation. It’s actually pretty funny, but is also dark. The ending will surprise you.

• SMASHED (R) Drama

If Smashed wasn’t so darn serious about a serious subject, it would almost seem comedic. No one laughs at Alcoholics Anonymous; the people who attend these meeting are commendable. But some stories have a way of touching you more than others.

Kate and Charlie have a carefree existence living day to day as drunks. They live in a nice house because Charlie has wealthy parents. Kate is a teacher, a damn good one, but her bouts with alcohol have increasingly been affecting her attendance at school. Charlie stays home and plays video games all day, waiting for the time Kate comes home so they can go on a delirious binge together. But a situation at school makes Kate aware that her life is spinning out of control. She finds a support group that helps her overcome her addiction. However as she sobers, she also realizes her husband is deteriorating more each day. See this because, if you enjoy good independent film making, it will astound you.

History of Horror Films
Part 2

by Ric Pantale

Before the 1930s Hollywood rarely made what we would call horror films.

Most were one or two-reelers that were not very graphic in the physical aspects of horror. Blood was rarely shown, death usually consisted of a person lying prone, eyes closed and fully dressed; no matter how many times the victim was shot, there were never any bullet holes. Although women were always in danger, they were never actually harmed much less killed.

During the 1920s America’s biggest scary- movie star was Lon Chaney Sr. He was known as the man with the thousand faces because he relished donning weird and unusual make-up—no matter how painful—to scare his audiences.

His most memorable portrayal was as the Phantom in the 1925 version of Phantom Of The Opera. People were fainting and screaming when the time came in the movie for him to take off his mask. He also played the first vampire in London After Midnight (1927). Unfortunately the film is lost but parts of it were found in New Zealand and pieced together to make a very short series of still pictures for video. Somewhere in some lost and deserted trunk, in some part of the world, might lie the original version. Today it’s monetary value would be in the millions of dollars. A popular saying at the time was, “Don’t step on it—it might be Lon Chaney.”

When sound arrived a whole new dimension was added to the horror film. Now music and creepy sounds were used to heighten the tension. New techniques emerged, such as using the slow time dissolve to change a person’s physical appearance. This was used to great effect in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) and later of course in the werewolf films.

By the 1930s Hollywood entered the classic phase of films with Dracula and Frankenstein, two old and reliable chestnuts to be dusted off by Universal Pictures. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the character most frequently played in horror films is the vampire.

Bela Lugosi, a bit-playing Hungarian actor was chosen to play the lead after first choice Lon Chaney died. It worked out extremely well, because his smooth-tongued Hungarian delivery only added to the eeriness of the film.

Women in the audience didn’t know whether to fear him or love him. The dark atmospheric sets heightened the mood. At the time Universal worried a lot about the sexual implications of a evil man entering the bedroom of a woman at night and made the decision to tone down what the audience could actually see as far as how the lady was dressed. So they made sure she was covered from toe to her neck with a garment. An interesting fact is that a racier Spanish version of the film was shot simultaneously. They used different actors and crew but the same sets and they filmed it at night when the ‘first team’ went home to sleep. Over the years many critics have said that the Spanish version was better.

Bela Lugosi became so popular that he was immediately approached to follow up his success with another horror film—Frankenstein. Bela read the script and was annoyed that the part he was to play would be a monster—and worse yet—a monster without any lines so he turned it down. Weeks later James Whale, a British director assigned to direct Frankenstein, was strolling through the Universal Commissary when he noticed a bit actor with a head of unusual shape and an interesting face. He sat down at his table and was elated to find the actor was also English. As far as Whale was concerned, this little-known actor would be perfect to play the part. The actor introduced himself as William Pratt, also known as Boris Karloff.

Next Month: History of Horror Films, Part 3: the 1930s & 40s.