Celebrate The Ghosts

With all my blogs about Halloween movies this month, I seem to have overlooked one of the best subjects. Never fear! We still have a few days left to catch some good ghost stories.

One of my favorite contemporary classics is the original Ghostbusters from 1984. I love the scene in the library, especially when the spectral librarian shushes the Ghostbusters. The only scene that beats that, in my opinion, is when Ray
(Dan Aykroyd) “chooses” the form of the Destructor.

This film spawned two video games, a cartoon series, a 1989 sequel, and the universal response to the question, “Who ya gonna call?” Imdb.com reports that next year will bring Ghostbusters III to the big screen.

Over the years, Hollywood has created dozens of giggle-generating ghost stories. One family friendly flick stars Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard as a couple in a haunted castle in Cuba, in 1940’s The Ghost Breakers.

An adorable ghost tale is 1944’s The Canterville Ghost, starring Charles Laughton, Robert Young and Margaret O’Brien. O’Brien’s Lady Jessica turns on the cute like nobody’s business. Another film about a child’s encounter with the spirit world is 1995’s Casper, starring Bill Pullman and Christina Ricci.

The quintessential ghost romance is 1947’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, with Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison. If you need a more contemporary spirit romance, try out Ghost from 1990. This tearjerker, suspense, love-story has a
nice measure of humor sprinkled throughout. Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg star.

For a goof-ball comedy, watch The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. This 1966 classic stars Don Knotts in his Adam’s apple-bobbing-bow-tie. His silliness still delights. If you love this one, watch 1980’s The Private Eyes. Tim Conway joins Knotts,
and together they investigate a haunted mansion in England.

If you prefer something creepy without the gore, I recommend 2001’s The Others with Nicole Kidman. This movie has the feel of classic Hollywood and incorporates all the universal fright elements: a dark gothic house, old photographs and furnishings under dust covers.

If you need an all-out scare for Halloween, I have a few frightful options.

Let’s start with a couple of cinema essentials. The Shining (1980) stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, and both are seriously scary stars. Another is The Amityville Horror, originally made in 1979 and then remade in 2005. Either
version will scare your socks off, especially when you learn that the story is based on true events. Psst…once you see these movies you will “get” more jokes.

Next, you must watch 1982’s Poltergeist. The cast is phenomenal. The story revolves around a normal family in a normal house, suddenly dealing with supernatural forces. I’ve seen this movie several times and I still hide my eyes during a few scenes. If you want to be really freaked out, read about the behind-the-scenes occurrences for this movie.

Lastly watch M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 The Sixth Sense. When the “twist” revealed itself at the end, my immediate response was, “I have to see that again.”

My favorite part about all of these films is that every one explores the dynamics of relationships—couples, spouses, parents, siblings, friends, associates—set against the backdrop of the spectral plane. These characters are meaty. They
have valid problems and realistic faults.

The stories help these films stand the test of time to become annual traditions.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!

October is Scary Fun!

For the month of October, my family reviews and re-orders our movie queue to include some good fun scares. We don’t do the slasher films—plenty of those on late night TV already.

We like to compose a Halloween medley of cinematic masterpieces that include both horror classics and contemporary frights. We invite our friends over, make a little popcorn, and then enjoy the fear fest. Last year we watched our Friday Night Frights on TCM, with a sampling of aliens, vampires, werewolves, and other creature features.

We enjoyed these 50’s and 60’s movies so much, that this year I’ve included Earth Vs. Flying Saucers (1956) and Rocketship X-M (1950). Also on board is the original 1951 film, The Thing From Another World. I loved the 1982 version of The Thing, which starred Kurt Russell and Wilford Brimley. With a new version coming out, I like to get a refresher for comparison.

What other movies made my short list?

Of course we have the monsters—The Mummy, both classic and recent. We included a variety of Frankenstein flicks, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein, and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. That should cover just about every way to look at the quilted beast. And we can’t have October without Van Helsing to meet our werewolf and vampire quota.

In case you wonder, last year’s The Wolfman impressed me. If you can, rent the edition that includes the original 1941 The Wolf Man, and watch them both. (You’re welcome!)

We want to keep the classic thrillers in the mix, so we added Hitchcock’s Life Boat, and Orson Welles’ 1944 version of Jane Eyre. We maintain a family tradition of enjoying the Halloween treat of Arsenic and Old Lace. I’ve seen it dozens of times, and I still giggle all the way through.

For some new classic tongue-in-cheek fun, rent The Lost Skeleton of Cadavara, The Lost Skeleton Returns Again, and Dark and Stormy Night, all by comic genius Larry Blamire and his crew.

My guys and I will enjoy a date night or two at the movie theatre as well. I want to see Dream House, which opens this first weekend, and The Thing, which has a mid-month release.

I could recommend many other suspense films. Hitch has dozens, with varying degrees of fright factor. M. Night Shyamalan created a few good ones, too. I loved The Sixth Sense and Signs, and while I enjoyed The Village, it is not scary.

There are plenty of monster movies to enjoy. If you need some crazy blasts from the past, you might like Once Bitten, Earth Girls Are Easy, Weird Science, or Teen Wolf, all from the 80’s. For the scarier side of the 80’s, catch American Werewolf in London, Poltergeist, and The Howling. The 70’s brought us creepy films like The Stepford Wives and Dracula.

What’s on your October list? Please share!

That’s a wrap for this toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!

The More Things Change…

My sons are movie fans, too, and we often spend family nights watching DVDs. They especially enjoy the “teen” films from the ‘80’s—I don’t know whether it’s because of the zany nature of these films or the opportunity to make fun of the clothes and hair.

Last night we watched Mannequin (1987) and I found myself reciting a disclaimer before the movie began. “Now keep in mind, this was the eighties. The hair and clothes you are about to see will be really bad.”

As the story continued, I added little asides.

“This was before riding a Harley was cool.”

“Back then a portable phone meant having a really long cord.”

“Yeah, that’s what skateboarding looked like when I was a kid.”

“That is what you call sexual harassment in the workplace.”

“Yes, it’s the ‘80’s tradition of a music video in the middle of the film.”

The soundtrack includes great songs like “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” by Starship, “Do You Dream about Me,” by Alisha, “In My Wildest Dreams,” by Belinda Carlisle, and “My Girl,” by Smokey Robinson. Even if you don’t love the movie, the music is great!

They liked the show. It was funny and romantic. They recognized Andrew McCarthy from the villainous recurring role he plays on White Collar. They identified Kim Cattrall from her “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter” commercials and from Big Trouble in Little China. They raised their eyebrows when they realized that James Spader (Mr. Richards) is the same actor that played in Stargate. He looks a tad different in this one.

I laugh when I think about how much has changed in two decades. But then I think about a week ago, when our family watched The Maltese Falcon (1941), and realize how little things have changed in 70 years.

The clothes are a bit different, but nothing Bogey or Mary Astor wore would be completely out of place today—her furs would be faux, but that’s about it. Her hairstyle in the film is “old-fashioned” because it’s crimped and waved and parted oddly, but asymmetric styles are all the rage now, so what do I know?

The story of the bad-boy detective wading through an ocean of manipulative women and murderous, greedy treasure hunters still holds up today. So too, the plot of an artistic dreamer seeking aid and love from a beautiful muse seems a timeless tale.

Clothes change. Hairstyles change. Technology changes. People stay the same. Maybe we laugh at them because they show how much we struggle to change, and never really do.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema! Thanks for reading!