REPOST: Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy (2005)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally ran on March 12, 2021 on our site, but with Val Lewton’s birthday being today, we’ve re-running it.

Part of The Val Lewton Horror Collection, this documentary explains the magic of Val Lewton. Directed by Constantine Nasr (who has created many featurettes for DVDs), it unites William Friedkin, Joe Dante, John Landis, Mick Garris, Guillermo del Toro, Kim Newman, George Romero and many more to help tell the story.

Lewton was only alive for 47 years, but in that time — working late into the night — he created a shadow world of noir and suggestion that was the funhouse mirror of the Universal big monster shows. Lewton always wrote the final draft of the screenplays. Movies like Cat PeopleI Walked With A ZombieThe Body SnatcherThe Seventh VictimIsle of the DeadThe Curse of the Cat People and Bedlam are part of the language that we use to bring horror to film.

Lewton’s films may have been horror movies that only cost $150,000, but unlike many in Hollywood, he was giving artistic freedom within those confines. Before even starting to work at RKO, he said, “They may think I’m going to do the usual chiller stuff which’ll make a quick profit, be laughed at, and be forgotten, but I’m going to fool them…I’m going to do the kind of suspense movie I like.”

Unlike those aforementioned films, Lewton understood that true terror remained in the shadows and never showed its face. “If you make the screen dark enough,” he said, “the mind’s eye will read into it anything you want.”

Who else could have produced a film that featured the line “We’ve found that there is no Heaven on Earth, so we must worship evil for evil’s own sake.”?*

You’ll learn just enough about Lewton by watching this. You’ll get so much more actually watching his movies.

*The Seventh Victim, an astoundingly dark film.

Lee Majors Week: Hell to Pay (2005)

This movie promises ten legendary Western stars.

Those stars would be Buck Taylor (Newly on Gunsmoke), James Drury (The Virginian), Denny Miller (Duke Shannon from Wagon Train), Andrew Prine (who was on numerous cowboy shows but was also Simon King of the Witches), William Smith (who as we all know makes any movie better; he was also Joe Riley on Laredo), Bo Svenson, Peter Brown (Chad Cooper on Laredo), Tom Thomerson (who was Theodore Ogilvie on Gun Shy, the TV spinoff of The Apple Dumpling Gang) and our featured actor this week, Lee Majors (Heath from The Big Valley). And look out! It’s Stella Stevens!

Wait a second. That’s nine cowboys (and Stella). I guess maybe competitive shooter Gene Pearcey is another one? Or Rico Nance, who was an extra on Deadwood after this? Maybe Griff Furst, who was in the remake of The Magnificent Seven?

Any way you look at it, this is the cowboy version of the streaming slashers that come my way every day. It’s legitimately one of the worst-sounding movies I’ve ever heard and you know a movie is bad when it has William Smith, Lee Majors and Tim Thomerson in it and I still can’t stand it.

An utter failure on every level.

Director Chris McIntyre made a movie called Gang Warz with Chino XL and Coolio, as well as Captured Alive with Pat Morita, Backstreet Justice with Viveca Lindfors, Paul Sorvino and Hector Elizondo, plus Hammerlock, another Pat Morita project.

I shall watch none of these.

You can watch this on Tubi.

KAUJI DAY MARATHON: Kong: King of Atlantis (2005)

This film reunites the cast from Kong: The Animated Series and even had a Game Boy Advance video game made from it. It’s all about Queen Reptilla raising the kingdom of Atlantis back from the ocean floor and her trying to convince King Kong into becoming its ruler.

There’s a really great scene in the beginning as the shaman Lua has a nightmare about Kong climbing the Empire State Building and New York City flooding around him. Just as suddenly, black tar begins appearing all over Kong Island, taking many of the animals away with it.

Jason, the adopted human brother of Kong, and Lua argue between saving Kong Island and rescuing its animals. She refuses to tell him that a dark prophecy is here, which begins with an eclipse and will end with Kong bringing back the lizard race that once ruled the planet. Oh yeah — the original Kong, who this one is cloned from, is the one who sunk Atlantis in the first place.

This is a surprisingly dark entry in the Kong cartoon series, with the titular ape worrying about proving himself, dark elder gods returning to Earth and baby cubs watching their mothers be pulled into tar pits. I enjoyed it, but you may want to discuss it with your kids after they enjoy it. Or you know, just let them watch Jess Franco movies and let them become maniacs.

You can watch this on the official Kong: The Animated Series YouTube page or on Tubi.

Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy (2005)

Part of The Val Lewton Horror Collection, this documentary explains the magic of Val Lewton. Directed by Constantine Nasr (who has created many featurettes for DVDs), it unites William Friedkin, Joe Dante, John Landis, Mick Garris, Guillermo del Toro, Kim Newman, George Romero and many more to help tell the story.

Lewton was only alive for 47 years, but in that time — working late into the night — he created a shadow world of noir and suggestion that was the funhouse mirror of the Universal big monster shows. Lewton always wrote the final draft of the screenplays. Movies like Cat PeopleI Walked With A ZombieThe Body SnatcherThe Seventh VictimIsle of the DeadThe Curse of the Cat People and Bedlam are part of the language that we use to bring horror to film.

Lewton’s films may have been horror movies that only cost $150,000, but unlike many in Hollywood, he was giving artistic freedom within those confines. Before even starting to work at RKO, he said, “They may think I’m going to do the usual chiller stuff which’ll make a quick profit, be laughed at, and be forgotten, but I’m going to fool them…I’m going to do the kind of suspense movie I like.”

Unlike those aforementioned films, Lewton understood that true terror remained in the shadows and never showed its face. “If you make the screen dark enough,” he said, “the mind’s eye will read into it anything you want.”

Who else could have produced a film that featured the line “We’ve found that there is no Heaven on Earth, so we must worship evil for evil’s own sake.”?*

You’ll learn just enough about Lewton by watching this. You’ll get so much more actually watching his movies.

*The Seventh Victim, an astoundingly dark film.

Tomie: Revenge (2005)

Another Ataru Okiawa directed entry in the Tomie film series, this one is all about a young female doctor who hits a naked woman with her car one night. As she searches for the women through the woods, she finds an abandoned house filled with bodies and one unconscious girl. And oh yeah — the one she hit with her car just happened to have a mole under her eye.

This episode is based on Junji Ito’s manga Tomie Chapter 5:Revenge. In that story, a crew of hikers are looking for a missing man on a frozen mountain and, as often happens around frozen mountains, cannibalism ensues.

The same thing goes on here, except Tomie lives in a cabin with all her male servants, who she occasionally eats when she isn’t screaming stuff that sounds a lot like The Scum Manifesto.

I would advise not watching every Tomie movie in one week, but if you haven’t learned how strong my film-watching endurance is, you don’t know me.

Tomie: Beginning (2005)

Ataru Oikawa, who directed the first Tomie film, returns with the fifth installment, which is really the first direct sequel, just to prove that it isn’t just American and Italian film franchises that get screwy.

This is a sequel, sure, but also an explanation of what happened before the first film, with Tomie showing up as a transfer student and getting all the boys hotto under the collar. The difference this time is that one of the teachers has pledged to kill her, no matter how many times he has to murder her.

Unlike some of the Tomie films, this is told through the eyes of a female narrator, Matsubara Reiko, who befriends Tomie when she enters school as a new student. We start the film with her and another student — Yamamoto, who is missing an eye — as they stand in what was once their classroom.

Tomie is no victim in this one. Instead, she’s using the obsession that the boys feel to turn them into her servants while the fear that she radiates holds the girls in her sway too, forcing them to drink her cockroach-ridden tea.

It all ends the way it always does, but this time with uber-violence, as an entire class ritualistically murders Tomie, fondling her exposed organs and snapping her head clean off her body. It feels good, sure, but not as good as she feels the next day, showing up looking good as new.

This movie also tries to explain how Tomie can be centuries old by suggesting that she’s sentient blood or something. I really don’t need to know where this soliloquy spouting schoolgirl came from, to be perfectly frank. After all, I’m a big enough supporter of her work that I watched like six or seven of these so far.

Replica (2005)

Yes, they let James Nguyen, the man who made Birdemic, film another movie. Somehow, he stretched stock footage out to sixty-six minutes this time to tell the story of Joe, a computer chip salesman who gets a new kidney from Dr. Evelyn Tyler, who he soon becomes obsessed with before she dies. Then, he meets her exact double.

If Birdemic is The Birds, this is Vertigo. Sure. Whatever you say, James.

There’s also cloning, which has the weird meta result of Evelyn’s clone becoming an actress and getting a role in Nguyen’s Julie and Jack.

Honestly, this is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen and I watch Jess Franco movies on twenty-four hour binges and have a shrine to Joe D’Amato in my basement.

Trust me, whether or not you like riffing on movies, there’s no way you’re getting out of this without help. I recommend the Rifftrax version on Tubi if you feel that you absolutely need to see the most insipid movie ever made about cloning.

SLASHER MONTH: House of Wax (2005)

A remake of the 1953 Vincent Price movie, which is itself a remake of 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum, this is one of the few slashers this month that has moments that bother me, mainly because of the moment when a character nearly falls into the pit where all the highway’s roadkill is stacked up high.

It’s directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, whose Orphan has equally as upsetting moments. He’s also directed Liam Neeson in three movies (UnknownNon-Stop and The Commuter), as well as the COVID-19 delayed Disney movie Jungle Cruise and the upcoming Black Adam.

A group of friends — Carly (Elisha Cuthbert, 24), her brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray, One Tree Hill), her boyfriend Wade (Jared Padalecki, Supernatural) and friends Paige (Paris Hilton), Blake (Robert Ri’chard) and Dalton (Jon Abrahams) — are on their way to a football game when they decide to camp overnight. A truck comes to screw with them and leaves when Nick smashes out one of its lights.

The next morning, their truck can’t start and they’re stuck in the town of Ambrose, which doesn’t have much except for Trudy’s House of Wax, the home of formerly cojoined twins — and current maniacs — Bo and Vincent Sinclair (Brian Van Holt).

If you know the story of, well, any wax museum movie, you know what’s coming next. What the film does have that many of those are missing are incredible art direction and a willingness to fill the screen with gore, including impaling Paris Holton directly through the forehead (Becca said that when this happened during a teenage viewing of this in theater, there was a standing ovation). The end, as the entire museum melts*, is astounding.

Hilton won that year’s Golden Raspberry Award for worst actress, which really just feels like an attack on her for even making this movie. She’s not all that bad and really all she has to do is show up and get killed. It is a slasher, after all.**

*Village Roadshow Studios and Warner Brothers Movie World Australia sued special effects expert David Fletcher and Wax Productions because of a fire on the set during production, which destroyed part of the Gold Coast’s Warner Bros. Movie World studios.

**That said, it has one of the better soundtracks for a slasher this side of Dream Warriors, if you were into the newer metal of 2005. There’s “Mineva” by the Deftones, “Dried Up, Tied and Dead to the World” by Marilyn Manson and, in defiance of my previous statement, “New Dawn Fades” by Joy Division and “Dirt” by The Stooges.

Last Days (2005)

When considering the legalities of music publishing and the licensing of music for films—especially a film shining an unfavorable light on persons and corporations connected to Kurt Cobain’s estate, a biographically-accurate (and not an inspired-by-events) screenplay about a Generation X’s “Jim Morrison” seems a production impossibility.

The best explanation of this screenplay-to-film improbability of a narrative Cobain career chronicle sets in the work of Oliver Stone, who brought the tale of Jim Morrison and the Doors to the silver screen. When Mr. Stone began developing his football expose, Any Given Sunday, the unfavorable light the screenplay shed on the National Football League led to the organization rebuffing Stone’s request for involvement; Stone dreamed up an ersatz professional football league for the film.

A faux biopic analogous to Rock Star, a film loosely inspired by the career of Judas Priest’s Tim “Ripper” Owens—and not akin to the critically acclaimed box office bonanza biographies of Ray Charles or Johnny Cash—is the only way, it seems, a true Cobain biopic can appear on screen. (His daughter, Frances Bean, has since produced 2015’s Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, which is considered the most-accurate of the many Cobain-Nirvana chronicles, but it is still a documentary and not a narrative piece.)

Film productions have music consultants who prepare a film’s soundtrack; a film about the life of a controversial musician with an estate controlled by a widow who’s partial to filing lawsuitsand going on expletive-riddled rants on The Howard Stern Show about how everyone (including ex-bandmates) manipulates her ex-husband’s work, opens a plethora of legalities; as such, business entities cast in an unfavorable position are not licensing their music for such a film.

During our first “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” in July we reviewed Down on Us, the low-budget, exploitive tale on the Doors by Larry Buchanan that experienced similar licensing issues regarding the music of the Doors, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix; Buchanan contracted musicians to forge replicates of those artists for the film. Thus, Oscar nominated and award-winning director Gus Van Sant exceptionally and effectively executed this same approach with Last Days, his faux-Kurt Cobain docudrama concerning actor Michael Pitt’s eerily portrayed pseudo-grunge rocker, Blake, fronting the film’s scripted Nirvana substitute, Pagoda—featuring stunning Nirvana simulations composed by Pitt. (It all goes back to poet William Blake, one of Jim Morrison’s lyrical inspirations. The circle completes.)

As with his previous effort, Elephant, which was a thinly-veiled account of the Columbine tragedy, Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) crafted this faux-bioflick of Cobain’s “last days”; until his take, the only cinematic document on the troubled Nirvana leader was Nick Broomfield’s 1998 pseudo-document Kurt & Courtney (a chronicle, courtesy of Courtney Love’s perpetual legalese, turned what was to be a Cobain tribute into a tale of the sad hanger-ons of Grunge’s Sid & Nancy). It was Sant’s indie-pedigree and Oscar success, in conjunction with the Cobain subject matter, that led to Last Days becoming the debut release for Picturehouse, a joint-shingle between Time Warner, New Line Cinema, and HBO Films (which is why it plays incessantly on that channel) to create domestic art house, independent foreign, and documentary films.

And Last Days is definitely an “art house” film—to the point of being an “independent foreign film,” courtesy of its Felliniesque minimalism; this is Oliver Stone’s The Doors reflecting through a Michelangelo Antonioni transom. So, don’t expect flash; expect dead-pan scripting that concentrates on haunting cinematography and quasi-over-the-head symbolisms.

The narrative dispenses with the usual rise-and-fall tales of Taylor Hackford’s and James Mangold’s respective major-studio bios Ray or Walk the Line—with Michael Pitt (Hedwig and the Angry Itch) as the mythical-rocker, Blake, of grunge superstars Pagoda, living his last days in his Pacific Northwest home. The tale beings with Blake sneaking out of a rehab clinic and taking up residence in a forest with a makeshift, lakeside campfire; he walks around with a shotgun in his house pointing it at his band/roommates; he hangs up on phone-harassing record executives droning about tour date obligations. The story meanders through its entrancing simplicity (e.g., extended scenes of Blake making and eating a bowl of cereal, long, pondering (but beautiful) tracking shots across lawns and through windows, extended, stagnant shots of Blake writing-recording a song) until an electrician discovers Blake’s body in an apartment above the home’s garage.

Fans of Sonic Youth and watchers of the concert document 1991: The Year Punk Broke will notice bassist Kim Gordon in her dramatic acting debut (as a concerned record executive) while her band mate-husband, Thurston Moore (We Jam Econo), supervised the soundtrack (Sonic Youth also scored the French-made Demonlover, along with the Beatles “what if” Backbeat, Heavy, and Made in the USA).

Moore’s supervision assisted Michael Pitt in his crafting two Cobainesque songs for the film: “That Day,” the acoustic “Death to Birth,” along with an extended electric jam, “Fetus.” Lukas Haas (in the “Krist Novoselic” role) composed “Untitled,” while Rodriqo Lopresti (of fellow “Seattle band” The Hermitt) composed “Seen as None” and “Pointless Ride.” The DVD release features an additional song, “Happy Song,” along with a mock video for Blake’s Pagoda, which is a nostalgic return to the Seattle-styled videos that permeated MTV’s airwaves in the 120 Minutes-crazed ’90s. The film also features a soundscape “Doors of Perception” (know your Jim Morrison trivia).

There’s more grunge-era films to be had with our “Exploring: 50 Gen-X Grunge Films of the Alt-Rock ‘90s” featurette.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Saw II (2005)

For the second Saw film, Darren Lynn Bousman (he also directed Saw III, Saw IV and Repo! The Genetic Opera) joined Leigh Whannell to create the further story of Jigsaw. Bousman had been trying to sell a similar story called The Desperate that became the initial script for this film (Wan was making the underrated Dead Silence).

This time, the traps got bigger and more horrifying, the result of the increased budget. The puppet Billy had been made by Wan out of papier-mâché, but now he was a high tech creation able to deliver all of Jigsaw’s instructions.

Detective Allison Kerry (the returning Dina Meyer) finds a message for her old partner Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) at one of Jigsaw’s crime scenes. There, they find John Kramer (Tobin Bell), who has eight people trapped in a house, including Eric’s son Daniel and the only person to survive one of Jigsaw’s games, Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith). The other six are all connected because Eric has framed them for crimes.

All John Kramer asks of Eric is to talk to him and he’ll make sure that his son survives. But come on. If it was that easy, why would we have a film?

None of the actors were given the last 25 pages of the script and five different endings were shot. That’s how crazy everyone was about keeping the plot a secret.