Christine

Christine. Polar Film 1983.

Before watching the movie:

This is a horror movie about a possessed car. Even though it’s based on a Stephen King novel, I think the chances are good that it’s going to be more silly than actually scary. Maybe it’s just my frame of reference, but when people refer to a story about a living car, they’ll go for a lighter story like The Love Bug or “My Mother The Car” (that one’s almost certainly my reference pools), because the concept really does seem to be better suited for comedy than horror. A car can kill you, and we’ve built our cities with a little too much focus on car accessibility, but ultimately a car is only dangerous to a person under a very specific set of circumstance.

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Holiday Rewind: The Bishop’s Wife

I thought I had originally selected The Bishop’s Wife as a Christmas viewing, but I originally reviewed it in a September, so clearly not. I remember it as being less about Christmas than I had expected, which is strange if I hadn’t gone out of my way for it.

I also remember it being a quiet and almost thoughtful movie. It was light and feel-good more than being about the comedy or the drama. The busy man has to feel in danger of losing his wife to a man in tune with her needs to remember to value life outside of his ambitions. Merry Christmas, take nothing for granted. If I didn’t know that It’s A Wonderful Life only got popular much later because it could be run on TV for cheap, I’d suspect that this movie that came two years later was trying to capitalize on it.

The Bishop’s Wife. RKO Radio Pictures 1948.

Harry Brougham used to be the reverend of a small church in a poor part of the city, but not too long ago was appointed as the local bishop and tasked with overseeing the fundraising and construction of a new cathedral, which he’s become obsessed with building as a glorious edifice, but in order to get the money for such a grand work, must brown nose with the area’s wealthy elite, especially Mrs. Agnes Hamilton, who wants to leverage her donation to make the cathedral a monument to her late husband. But with his constant negotiation and planning meetings with the big donors, Bishop Brougham has not only lost all joy and charity, but also any time to love his wife Julia and daughter Debby. Strained by the tension between his principles and his desire to realize the magnificent cathedral of his dreams, Henry prays for guidance, and into his life pops Dudley, an angel who’s come to pose as Henry’s assistant and help him find his path. Though Henry doesn’t want to believe Dudley is who he says he is, particularly as Dudley won’t perform any miracles with witnesses, he does begrudgingly believe that Dudley may be supernatural. But instead of a helper to raise a cathedral from nothing with the wave of a wing, Dudley spends most of his time raising the spirits of Julia and Debby by “representing” Henry in his roles as husband and father. As Julia is lifted out of the misery of her existence since Henry’s duties took him away from his family life, Dudley’s relationship with her begins to resemble something wholly inappropriate.

This gets billed as a comedy, but it seems more like a light feel-good melodrama. Or really, it’s an unorthodox romance, where the central tension is that not only can the central couple really not be allowed to end up together, but the whole point of them getting dangerously close to falling in love is as a wakeup call to the protagonist. Dudley’s lies of omission and other interactions with the secondary and tertiary cast bring some levity, but it really feels more like comic relief than something intended as a comedy. Although perhaps in its day it was entering comedy territory just to put the pair into situations that lend themselves to misinterpretation from the outside. Definitely there’s a mild laugh a couple of times from people getting the wrong idea, but it’s very mild.

One may almost be tempted to consider it interesting that Cary Grant is not here as a romantic lead, only that’s not actually true, since again, the main shape of the movie is a romance story, only Dudley and Julia can’t actually be together. What makes it unusual is that the tragedy of them not being able to be together isn’t really foregrounded, it’s more of a postscript to the morality play of staging a crisis in Henry’s life.

I’m impressed with myself that in the original review I summed up the movie as feeling like a Christmas card, because I came up with the same imagery in organizing what I expected to write this time. Both times I was probably inspired by It’s A Wonderful Life originating as a short story in a Christmas card, even though I didn’t reference that movie directly in the original review. This came from a novella, as most movies with an unusual amount of texture do.

I also think I was pretty harsh on the diversions from the plot for entertainment value. Does the scene with Dudley, Julia, and their cab driver advance the plot the whole time? No, but it advances the theme of brightening the world with understanding and unconventionality. Does the boys’ choir scene advance the plot? No, but it illustrates some Christmas magic. I don’t know why I remembered it as barely a Christmas story, since so many scenes are steeped in at least being in early winter and the climax is on Christmas Eve, as well as having a very Christmas message of love, generosity, and fellowship. This could easily be among the movies left on repeat on cable channels that send everyone home for Christmas week.

The Shaggy Dog

The Shaggy Dog. Walt Disney Productions 1959.

Before watching the movie:

While I’d seen brief promos for this movie before with other Disney home video rereleases, I never really got an idea of what it was like beyond somebody turning into a dog. I did see the Tim Allen remake, but if that draws on anything past the “human turned into a dog” idea, it looks like it has more to do with the sequel The Shaggy D.A. I do see that where that remake used genetic research as the catalyst for the metamorphosis, I’m kind of amused that this is just “a magic ring”. Or rather, a magic ring the Borgias had, because dropping random historical names makes things sound more legitimate.

I know a few more details now but I still don’t really know what shape the story will take. It’s always nice to see Fred MacMurray though.

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Jack Frost

Jack Frost. The Canton Company 1998.

Before watching the movie:

I saw one trailer for this movie very many times because it was on the tape for Thomas and the Magic Railroad or something else that played a lot at our house, but I don’t think I’ve actually seen the whole movie.

I completely spaced who played the father and somehow got to thinking it was Jack Nicholson, which would’ve been pretty late for Nicholson to take a role like this.

Anyway, I remember not being very interested at the time because the trailer leaned heavily on some sophomoric humor, but trailers rarely represent their movies well, especially when they have that kind of heavy reliance on a single note that isn’t at the core of the genre.

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The Ghoul

The Ghoul.
Gaumont British Pictures 1933.

Before watching the movie:

It never really seemed consistent to me what kind of supernatural entity a ghoul is. I kind of settled on a subtype of ghost that’s more corporeal than a spectre. I looked up the definition and it wasn’t very helpful. “A monstrous humanoid associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh” is broad enough to include zombies, only this is from pre-Islamic Arabia instead of from Haitian Vodou.

In this movie, Boris Karloff comes back from the dead to get revenge on those who wronged him, but I don’t think he eats flesh, just strangles or snaps necks or something. I expect a lot of overwrought tension that comes off as corny today.

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Fright Night

Fright Night. Vistar Films 1985.

Before watching the movie:

I somehow got the sense that there’s a whole blend of spooky stuff going on in this movie to the point that it might be an anthology movie or at least have an episodic progression. Turns out it’s just “there’s a vampire next door”. I guess the broad title comes from the horror show that the main character likes to watch that he eventually recruits the host from after nobody else believes him.

I’ve also gotten the impression this is really campy in just the right way, but it doesn’t seem to actually be considered a comedy, so I think I probably know what kind of tone to expect, but I thought this was a completely different movie until earlier today.

After watching the movie:

Charley Brewster is obsessed with two things: the late night horror movie show Fright Night, hosted by Peter Vincent the former star of cheesy vampire movies, and getting his girlfriend of over a year Amy to do more than kiss with him. He notices a coffin being carried into the basement of the house next door, and the next day sees a woman entering that house, and later sees the neighbor in the window brandish fangs and begin to bite her. Charley sees her appear on the news the next day as the second killing in town that week. After a failed attempt to get the police to intervene, Charley realizes he’s tipped his hand and now the vampire, “Jerry”, will be coming for him. Charley tries to solicit Peter Vincent’s help, but Vincent dismisses him too. Concerned with Charley’s obsession, Amy and their friend “Evil” Ed pay Vincent to help them prove to Charley that Jerry isn’t a vampire, but Vincent gets spooked off when, after Jerry passes the staged tests, Vincent sees that Jerry has no reflection in a mirror.

The first half of the movie seems very disconnected from the title, since Vincent only appears on TV and Charley is completely alone in his knowledge of Jerry’s secret. Even though this isn’t much more than 90 minutes, it felt like it was an hour of Charley alone and then an hour of Charley with his friends and Vincent. Eventually it comes to the point where it feels like it’s been building to make the title meaningful, but for a long time, it seemed like an afterthought title.

When I read that the horror host’s name was “Peter Vincent”, my immediate thought was that he would be a legally distinct echo of Vincent Price, but Roddy McDowall completely removed any impression of Price from my mind. He has an entirely different take on playing a former B-horror hero.

Jerry Dandridge seems to be an early step in modernizing vampire depictions. There’s a visible line running from him to the characters in Interview with The Vampire to the Twilight vampires. He’s aggressively normal, at least until his illusion slips. Charismatic in a modern sensibility. And they do take advantage of the R rating to demonstrate his seductive abilities. But I don’t think there’s any name that strikes less of a “vampire” chord than “Jerry Dandridge”.

This is just a little short of the true classic quality, but I can definitely see its merit as a cult classic, and it’s not surprising there’s an extensive franchise underneath it. The charm is there, there’s an inventiveness (or reinventiveness) to it, but it doesn’t quite have the polish it could have.

The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion.
Walt Disney Pictures 2003.

Before watching the movie:

I’m pretty sure this was greenlit on the success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. That there were no sequels or further “movies based on Disneyland attractions” projects (until Tomorrowland much much later) to my knowledge suggests it did not do as well as they hoped.

I didn’t even realize that Wallace Shawn is in this. I just knew there’s Eddie Murphy, and a house full of ghosts. Presumably there are some important ghosts.

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Spirited Away

Spirited Away
(Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi). Studio Ghibli 2001.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t know anything about this movie except that it seems to pretty consistently be considered the best Studio Ghibli movie. And I recall the title refers to something about the character being stuck in a place of spirits. I’ve seen most of Kiki’s Delivery Service, but that’s all of Ghibli I’ve seen despite having several friends and former roommates who have extensive collections.

I rarely go into movies as cold as this. Usually I have descriptions from boxes or streaming platforms, but with this one, I just decided “we’re going to watch this movie everyone loves”.

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Down To Earth

Down to Earth. Village Roadshow Pictures 2001.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t know what I would’ve been there to see, but I’m pretty sure I saw a trailer for this movie in the theater. I don’t think I got from the trailer that he was a comic, but they might as well make it thoroughly a Chris Rock vehicle by giving him a stand up career.

I’m interested to find out what reason the movie comes up with for why Lance can come back but not as himself.

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Monster House

Monster House. ImageMovers 2006.

Before watching the movie:

Part of the original concept for this blog was revisiting movies that I missed when they came around. I definitely remember Monster House being around in 2006. I think I even went to a theater for a different movie while this one was being screened there. I think it looked like more horror than I wanted in a movie at the time, but I can see more clearly now that it’s a children’s scary adventure movie.

I also have vague memories of it coming up in connection with the entertainment news show I worked with all through college, but I would have only started there over a year after it was released.

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