Life Lessons From Horror Movies: Halloween

Greetings, readers! I hope many of you are enjoying quality horror movies abt the month of October in general. Continuing my series of entries on life lessons from horror movies, this week my spotlight is on John Carpenter’sy Halloween.

1. Take cardio seriously

One of my favorite inexplicable things about Michael Myers, is that no matter how fast you run, he can walk faster. So make cardio a cornerstone of your workout program. Running is still useful. But power walking might be the difference between life and death.

2. Avoid babysitting like the plague!

None of this would have happened to Laurie Strode if she had chosen another way to make extra money instead of babysitting. Offer to walk dogs, mow lawns, wash cars…anything else! Besides, if Halloween is any indication, kids are useless in an emergency. That segues perfectly into lesson number 3.

3. Don’t expect neighbors to be helpful in emergencies

You might think that screaming and going to the nearest house you know would be a good plan when running from a killer. Wrong! Laurie pleaded with the neighbors to let her in and they just ignored her cries for help. Assume you’re on your own and map out your survival plan accordingly.

4. Closets are not good hiding places

When running from a killer, pick a better hiding place than a linen closet. The scariest scene to me in Halloween is when Laurie barricades herself in the closet and Michael Myers breaks in. She escapes by putting a coat hanger in his eye. The closet may seem like a good escape place. But it’s very confined and not secure. Look for a spot that keeps the killer out while giving you an easy escape route.

5. Make sure the killer is actually dead

This isn’t just a lesson from Halloween. A lot of characters in horror movies would be alive today if they had bothered to make sure the killer was actually dead. Don’t just assume you’re safe when your assailant appears out for the count. That’s one reason so many slasher movies have lots of sequels. People walk away when they think they’re safe. Don’t make that mistake!

Life Lessons From Horror Movies: The Shining

Happy October, readers! Have you ever watched a horror movie and marveled at the poor decisions the characters make? I know I have. So this month I’ll be doing weekly blog entries on life lessons you can learn from various horror movies. My first entry’s focus? The Shining. Here are 5 life lessons I learned from the iconic 80s horror movie.

1. Choose your travel companions wisely

Whether going on a road trip, a cruise, or a family vacation, it’s important to ask yourself, “will these people be fun to cohabitate with for hours on end?” If the answer is no, then maybe you should travel solo. I’m no family dynamic expert. But, it seems to me, a family with as troubled of a history as the Torrances shouldn’t be around each other in an isolated space. There’s already been alcoholism and physical abuse. Vacation to a hotel in the middle of nowhere? Bad idea!

2. Set Ground Rules and Boundaries

While I cannot in any way defend Jack Torrance’s behavior, I can sympathize with the fact that he was just trying to get some writing done. But his family kept invading his work space. Lives could have been saved if Jack had set ground rules for his work time and set aside a specific place to work so there would also be physical boundaries. In other words, Jack Torrance could have benefited from social distancing.

3. Always have backup communication devices

When the blizzard hits and the already strained family dynamic goes to pot, it would have behooved Wendy and Danny to have backup communication devices to alert the authorities to the situation. Imagine if they had had cell phones to communicate with the police. Bottom line: have a fully stocked emergency kit at all times.

4. Carefully research your accommodations beforehand

When Jack found out about the previous caretaker having a breakdown and chopping his family to bits, that should have been a red flag right there. I love a good haunted house excursion as much as the next version. But I don’t think I’d want to work somewhere with that grizzly of a history.

5. Always have a hedge maze exit strategy

Remember how I said to have a stocked emergency kit? You should also know where your emergency exits are. Danny nearly got lost forever in the Overlook’s hedge maze. Don’t dig yourself further into a trap. Always know the quickest path to the exit, especially when you’re on the run from a deranged relative.

10 Thoughts I Had While Watching Psycho

I’ve seen Psycho umpteen times. But since my Halloween viewing is in full swing, this week I decided to revisit the Hitchcock masterpiece. Here are 10 thoughts I had while watching it. WARNING! Spoilers are ahead.

1. That close up of the police officer’s face in Marion’s car window when she pulls over to take a break? One of the most underrated scary moments of the movie.

2. The more times I watch Psycho, the more I appreciate the way it uses internal monologues, especially the ones as Marion drives around after embezzling the money.

3. Remember when steering wheels were almost as wide as the cars? Pepperidge Farm remembers.

4. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the Bates Motel doesn’t have very good reviews on Trip Advisor.

5. One of the things that makes Psycho so terrifying is that Norman Bates seems like such a regular, down to earth, nice guy. Anthony Perkins really played the role perfectly.

6. I wouldn’t eat in an office decorated with stuffed birds. Kind of ruins the ambiance.

7. Bernard Herrmann’s score is the icing on the cake. The use of string instruments during the shower scene in particular just dials the terror up to 11.

8. Norman Bates might be a murderer. But at least he cleans up after himself.

9. While Janet Leigh’s death is rightfully regarded as an iconic/terrifying death scene, Martin Balsam’s gives it a run for its money. The shot of him falling backwards down the stairs after being stabbed? Absolutely genius!

10. Some people hate the monologue at the end by the psychiatrist. But I think it just adds to the whole unsettling feeling of the movie.

10 Thoughts I Had While Watching Night of the Living Dead

It’s Halloween season. So this week my blog entry will be thoughts I had while watching Night of the Living Dead.

1. I’m so used to seeing grainy prints of this cult classic. The people at the Museum of Modern Art and Criterion have really outdone themselves. This print looks pristine!

2. Is it an unwritten rule of horror that people can never find their house/car keys when creatures/killers are stalking them? It seems to be.

3. Pro-tip: Don’t joke around in a cemetery. That almost never ends well.

4. It’s really a shame Duane Jones didn’t have a long career after this. His performance is just stellar.

5. Bold of Romero to cast an African American in the lead role, especially at the height of the civil rights movement. On the surface his series is just a bunch of zombie movies. But he always finds inventive ways to sneak in social commentary.

6. The shambling zombies of the Romero universe I feel like I could handle. The lightning fast ones of 28 Days Later? I’d be scared.

7. I’d give that slap Ben gave Barbara a 2/4 on the Veda scale.

8. Not sure which would be worse: running from the zombies outside or being stuck in a boarded up house with someone like Mr. Cooper.

9. The scene where the zombified little girl kills her mother remains one of the most shocking things I’ve seen in any horror movie.

10. Ben’s senseless death at the end still guts me after multiple viewings.

10 Thoughts I Had Watching Ed Wood

Greetings, readers! Continuing my blog entries on thoughts I had while watching movies, here are 10 I had while revisiting Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

1. Everything about this movie is a living tribute to the cult director. Even the score by Howard Shore. It has a vibe that harkens back to the one for Plan 9 From Outer Space.

2. This is my favorite Tim Burton movie. And I’m a big fan of his movies, especially Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and the underrated Corpse Bride.

3. Johnny Depp not being nominated for an Oscar? Absolute travesty! He brings such warmth and humanity to the character. Makes it impossible to hate him, in spite of the cheesy movies he makes.

4. Apparently Tim Burton shopped the project around to other studios when his first choice wouldn’t allow it to be filmed in black and white. That was the right call. Helps capture the spirit of Hollywood in the 1950s.

5. I like to think Bela Lugosi would have been honored by Landau’s portrayal. It’s a brilliant performance! Glad he won an Oscar at least, along with makeup artist Rick Baker.

6. Seeing Bill Murray always makes me happy. He’s a treasure.

7. I know the scene where Ed Wood meets Orson Welles in the bar didn’t happen in real life. But I don’t care. It’s one of the best parts of a great movie.

8. I can’t see Tor Johnson without thinking of MST3K. “Time for go to bed.” Classic!

9. The recreations of the Plan 9 sets and taking us through the whole production of the cult classic? Flawless!

10. Ed Wood is one of the best movies about making movies. I could watch it every day and never tire of it.

5 Thoughts I Had While Watching Shine A Light

Throughout September I’ll be bringing you my reactions to movies in the form of lists of thoughts I had while watching them. To kick things off, here are five thoughts I had while watching The Rolling Stones concert movie Shine A Light.

1. “We can not burn Mick Jagger.” Hearing that from Martin Scorsese made me almost spit out my tea.

2. Kudos to Robert Richardson, the movie’s cinematographer. You can feel the energy radiating from the Beacon Theater throughout the movie.

3. Mick Jagger still has the moves to be one of the most commanding stage presences out there. Respect.

4. I do believe that is Jack White joining them onstage to play acoustic guitar for Loving Cup. Fantastic!

5. That rendition of As Tears Go By hit me right in the feels. Just beautiful!

Summer Under The Stars Viewing Guide: 8/23-8/29

It’s hard to believe that Summer Under The Stars is almost over. August is flying by! Here are my picks for the last full week of the festival.

Day 23: Olivia de Havilland

Recently we lost Olivia de Havilland at the age of 104. While she may be gone, she will never be forgotten. The fact that it’s darn near impossible to pick just one movie for her SUTS day is a testament to what a superb talent she was. Part of me wants to pick The Adventures of Robin Hood, a definitive swashbuckling movie. But, since it shows her full range as an actress, my pick is The Heiress.

Day 24: George Raft

Shockingly George Raft day doesn’t include his best performance: Scarface. So my pick is They Drive By Night. Raft gets top billing. But the supporting cast, especially Ida Lupino and Humphrey Bogart, really make this film noir shine.

Day 25: Anne Shirley

Day 25’s pick is one of the best noir films ever made: Murder, My Sweet. Bogart to me is the definitive Philip Marlowe. But Dick Powell really brings a grittiness to the part that subverts your expectations if you’ve only seen him in musicals. Anne Shirley is part of the rich supporting cast, along with Claire Trevor.

Day 26: Laurence Olivier

Few people could bring Shakespeare to life like Laurence Olivier. And my choice for his SUTS day is Hamlet. It’s the definitive film version of the classic, with Olivier excelling both in front of and behind the camera.

Day 27: Claudette Colbert

For Claudette Colbert day, my pick is The Palm Beach Story. Just edging out another favorite of mine, It Happened One Night, this is exhibit A why Preston Sturges was the master of screwball comedy. You’ll laugh so much your sides will ache.

Day 28: Paul Henreid

No matter how many times I see Casablanca, it never loses its power. Paul Henreid’s performance as resistance fighter Victor Laszlo is part of what makes the movie timeless. He manages to stand out in a cast that’s loaded with talent.

Day 29: Eva Marie Saint

For Eva Marie Saint day, I recommend North By Northwest. A definitive Hitchcock classic, I find something new to appreciate with each viewing. Eva Marie Saint’s performance is one of many reasons the movie endures.

I hope you enjoy the last few days of the festival!

Summer Under The Stars Viewing Guide: 8/16-8/22

Not sure what to watch for week three of Summer Under The Stars? Here are my picks.

Day 16: Cary Grant

There’s really no bad movie to watch in Cary Grant’s SUTS day. Most would expect my pick of the day to be His Girl Friday, given that it’s my favorite comedy ever. And people should definitely watch that. But, because I haven’t seen it in ages, my pick of the day is To Catch A Thief. Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock brought out the best in each other. And this movie is a great example of that.

Day 17: Maureen O’ Hara

For day 17 devoted to Maureen O’ Hara, my pick is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Brilliant adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel. The chemistry between O’ Hara and Charles Laughton is something to behold. The movie really captures the humanity of the source material.

Day 18: Warren Beatty

Like Cary Grant’s day, the day devoted to Warren Beatty is loaded with great viewing options. Of the movies on the schedule, I recommend McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Robert Altman made many masterpieces during his career. But this gritty western might be his crowning achievement, right up there with Nashville, The Player and Gosford Park.

Day 19: Delores del Rio

One of 2020’s first time SUTS honorees is Delores del Rio. My selection for her day is Flying Down To Rio. It’s a light movie about a band leader who keeps getting his group fired due to his womanizing ways. The film is notable for being the first pairing of Astaire and Rogers. They have small supporting roles. But the chemistry is undeniable.

Day 20: William Powell

For me, one of the all around most charming actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood is William Powell. So it’s great to see him honored this year. And, my pick is The Thin Man. This to me is the quintessential William Powell movie. It´┐╝ shows off his ability to do screwball comedy, drama (especially during the long monologue at the dinner party towards the end) and it pairs him with the equally charming Myrna Loy. The Thin Man was my introduction to cinema. And I’m eternally thankful for that. If you need a movie to pick you up anytime, this is one of the best options.

Day 21: Diana Dors

I’m a sucker for a horror anthology movie. So my pick for day 21 devoted to Diana Dors is From Beyond The Grave. Dors is featured in the second segment: An Act of Kindness. Dors chews the scenery as the overbearing wife of Donald Pleasence.

Day 22: Natalie Wood

Natalie Wood is a more versatile actress than she gets credit for. And, one of her movies that doesn’t get shown as often as it should is Love With The Proper Stranger. It was ahead of its time in the way it handled the taboo subject of abortion. Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen play beautifully off of each other. It’s a bittersweet but lovely movie that deserves a wider audience.

Summer Under The Stars Viewing Guide: 8/9-8/15

Hope everyone is enjoying Summer Under The Stars! Here’s my viewing guide for week 2.

Day 9: Goldie Hawn

One of the new SUTS is Goldie Hawn. For that day, I recommend the offbeat comedy Cactus Flower. In addition to Hawn, there’s Walter Matthau and Ingrid Bergman. Trust me, you haven’t seen anything like it before.

Day 10. Norma Shearer

Norma Shearer is an actress who really deserves more recognition. There are a lot of great movies to pick from on her SUTS day. Part of me wants to pick The Women, as it’s one of my favorite comedies. But my selection is a pre-code gem called The Divorcee. It tackled the issues of infidelity and female sexuality in a way that was way ahead of its time. An essential pre-code movie.

Day 11: Sammy Davis Jr.

There was a clear winner for me for Sammy Davis Jr. day. I love a good heist film and I love the Rat Pack. Ocean’s 11 covers both bases. Stylish, funny and just plain fun, it’s a blast from start to finish. One if the definitive movies of the decade.

Day 12: Lana Turner

For the SUTS day honoring Lana Turner, my pick is The Bad And The Beautiful. It’s an unvarnished look at show business, particularly the movie business. The movie shows what people will do to get ahead in the industry.

Day 13. John Barrymore

The 13th day of the festival honors the versatile John Barrymore. I recommend Grand Hotel. Filled with an all-star cast that includes Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and Lionel Barrymore, it tells the stories of various people staying at a Berlin hotel. Bonus? It has some of the best Art Deco design you’ll ever see in a movie.

Day 14: Steve McQueen

If you look up the word cool in the dictionary, Steve McQueen’s picture next to it. There’s a lot of great movies on the schedule. But, I have to go with Bullitt. It’s my favorite of all his movies, just ahead of The Great Escape. It’s a stylish crime movie. And it features, for my money, the best movie car chase ever.

Day 15: Nina Foch

Day 15 celebrates Nina Foch. My pick that day is Executive Suite. Another home run from the versatile director Robert Wise, it’s a fascinating boardroom drama about people battling it out to become the head of a manufacturing firm when the current one dies of a stroke. It’s much more interesting than it sounds.

See you next time for week 3!

Summer Under The Stars Viewing Guide: 8/1-8/8

It’s that time of the year again! TCM’s Summer Under The Stars Festival kicks off Saturday. Here is my pick for each day of the first week.

Day 1. Barbara Stanwyck

One of the first things that jumped out at me when the SUTS schedule came out was that Barbara Stanwyck was kicking off the festival. Anyone that knows me knows that she’s one of my absolute favorite actresses. So, which one movie do I recommend people see? Double Indemnity. I’m a huge fan of film noir. And Double Indemnity is one of he definitive noir films. In it, Stanwyck plays the ultimate femme fatale. It’s an absolutely chilling performance. She should have won an Oscar for it.

Day 2. Rock Hudson

Day 2 brings us 24 hours of Rock Hudson. And, for that day, my pick is Pillow Talk. It’s a quintessential romantic comedy and the best of the multiple films Hudson made with Doris Day. Add in wonderful supporting performances from Thelma Ritter and Tony Randall, and you have one of the most charming comedies ever made.

Day 3. Rita Hayworth

For the day devoted to Rita Hayworth, my selection is another film noir. It’s Gilda from 1946. It’s worth it for Hayworth’s sultry rendition of Put The Blame On Mame alone. But the whole movie has a great noir atmosphere.

Day 4. S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall

I love seeing which new honorees get put on the schedule each year. And this year one of the newbies is the versatile character actor S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall. If you don’t know his name, you certainly know his face. My pick for that day is one that I discovered recently on TCM: Romance On The High Seas. Directed by the versatile Michael Curtiz, it’s a delightful screwball comedy set on a cruise ship starring Doris Day. If you need pure escape, this is the movie for you.

Day 5. Ann Miller

For whatever reason, Ann Miller has never gotten the recognition of Astaire, Rogers, Kelly, etc. But she’s every bit as amazing of a dancer. So it’s great to see her get a SUTS day. If you watch one of her movies, make it On The Town. Loaded with talent, including Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra and featuring some marvelous song and dance numbers, it’s a pure delight. Look for Miller’s scene stealing performance of Prehistoric Man.

Day 6. Burt Lancaster

For the day devoted to Burt Lancaster, I recommend Seven Days In May. John Frankenheimer’s political thriller from 1964 is eerily relevant in today’s political climate. The cast also includes Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner and Fredric March.

Day 7. Sylvia Sidney

The 7th day of the festival honors Sylvia Sidney. My pick for that day is Alfred Hitchcock’s underrated Sabotage. The plot involves a Scotland Yard detective put on the trail of a saboteur who is part of a plot to set off a bomb in London. It’s a masterful thriller that should be shown more often.

Day 8. Charlie Chaplin

Picking just one movie for Charlie Chaplin’s day is a real challenge. But my selection is The Great Dictator. Chaplin’s satire of Nazi Germany was way ahead of its time. And Chaplin gives a speech towards the end that resonates loud and clear 80 years after its release.

That’s my guide to week one. See you next week for week two!