Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Very Belated Accompaniment

This time nearly a year ago I wrote a short piece about Sappho and walking in moonlight (here). I only wish that I had had the following photo (taken this evening on Morriscastle Strand) to illustrate it with back then, but better late than never. (I hope this displays properly on your computer; it's quite dark!)
Here's the same scene without the shadowy figure (my partner, who was very obliging about having to stand still quite a few times while I cursed and tried to get the shot right).

And finally, here's a jolly pumpkin in the window of Chez Doubtful! (I'm off to watch some more horror films now...)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

As It's Halloween...

Seeing as it's Halloween, and therefore everyone's blathering on about 'orror, I felt that I should stick my oar in and make a list of a few interesting films for the discerning fan of cinema's dark side. However, my definition of a good horror film is based on its power to unsettle or disturb me rather than by its ability to frighten me. After all, anyone can yell "boo!" in your face and make you jump; for me, the really good stuff gets under your skin and stays there, like a bad dream. This is why I found The Exorcist or The Silence of the Lambs laughable rather than terrifying; they were so overwrought, obvious, and just plain silly that these days I couldn't even sit through them. But the following ten films have a real sense of flair and imagination, a genuine brush with the downright eerie and disturbing, and/or a nightmarish descent into the dark depths of the soul, and are highly recommended for those who haven't yet seen them. And if you have seen them, why not watch them again? (These are just off the top of my head; this list could change as I rifle through my video collection!)
1) The Haunting (1963 version)
Definitely the best haunted house film ever made, and one of the spookiest, most intelligent horror films of all time (which was remade as a ludicrous atrocity by Jan de Bont in the 1990s; for shame!). 
2) Carnival of Souls (1962).
This is one of the oddest B-movie horror films from the era and a wonderfully imaginative, strange little film. Often touted as an influence on George Romero, but I can imagine that a certain D. Lynch was also paying attention when this little gem first appeared.
3) Night of the Living Dead (1968).
The original, and still one of the best, of the modern-era horror films, as well as being the best zombie film ever made. Thought-provoking, visceral, and with the most audacious endings in the genre. 
4) Deep Red (1975).
Everyone's favourite Italian madman/auteur, Dario Argento, has been off the boil for some time now (since the late seventies, many would say, and even then his ouevre was an acquired taste: lots of style and nightmarish imagery, but let down by terrible acting, preposterous plots, and gaps in logic excessive even for the seventies) but if you're only going to watch one, make it this one: a very weird and convoluted murder mystery with some extremely startling moments and a general atmosphere of twisted decadence. May be too grisly for some, though.
5) Vertigo (1958).
Some might argue against including this as a horror film; however, I've always seen Vertigo as a ghost story (which just happens to have no real ghost). Certainly, it has moments which are truly haunting, and is one of the bleakest, darkest, and most disturbing films I've seen. (It also makes no sense whatsoever...)
6) The Innocents (1961).
This film version of The Turn of the Screw scared the bejaysus out of me when I saw it one evening many years ago, and it ranks up there with The Haunting as one of the best ghost stories on film.
7) Witchfinder General (1968).
Michael Reeves' extraordinarily dark and pessimistic tale of nasty doings in the Cromwellian era remains the best film Hammer never made, and has the performance of a lifetime from Vincent Price (although I have a great fondness for the Corman Poe films as well).
8) Brain Dead (1992).
The ultimate zombie splatter comedy, with possibly the best line ever from a kung-fu priest ("I kick arse for the Lord!") and a no-holds-barred approach to zombie dismemberment that's both utterly revolting and totally hilarious. The best horror comedy since The Evil Dead II ("groovy!"). Strong stomachs are definitely required for this one!
9) Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan (1960).
A wonderfully filmed Gothic tale has atmosphere so ripe you could slice it with a cheese knife and serve it on crackers, and the deathly beautiful Barbara Steele. The other best film that Hammer never made...
10) King Kong (1933).
Need I say more? (The original Kong, like Frankenstein, might not be scary any more, but they're still the best monster films ever. And I hated the recent remake of Kong, which was three times as long and, despite 70 years' worth of special effects' advances, still lacked the charm and pathos of the original (insofar as that which can be possessed by a film about a giant gorilla). When 1933 Kong falls to his doom, I still get a lump in my throat; when 2005 Kong finally plunges to earth, I yell "About bloody time!" )
Having recently watched The Devil Rides Out, with a magnetic Christopher Lee fighting the forces of Satan, I'm keeping the horror vibe going by watching the little-known but recommended Night of the Eagle (from 1962, I think, and about witches) and The Haunted Palace with Vincent Price (based on Lovecraft's Charles Dexter Ward). Happy Halloween, y'all! And here's a suitable song and video:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Turning 100...

One hundred posts here at Chez Doubtful ... If you're in the mood for something interesting, please watch the following and see what you think (be warned that it's 18 minutes long). I think it's fascinating, and more information can be found here. (The Dailymotion video isn't as good as the one found at the link, but that video wouldn't embed properly, and the YouTube videos have an annoying habit of putting the title onscreen, thus spoiling any surprise.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Joy of Cooking for Zombies...

You know how it is. You've dined well, perhaps having quaffed a few glasses of ruddy plonk or a wee dram or two, and are sprawled out in front of the telly beside a roaring and horribly environmentally unfriendly fire (while more delicate users of English blanch at such an inelegant set of adjectives). You are at one with the world and radiating contentment like a Fianna Fail TD with a fat brown envelope. Then without warning comes an irregular pounding and scraping at the door, as of several hands beating and clawing its surface, accompanied by a low glottal grunting. A quick glance through the curtains confirms your worst suspicion. Once again, the shambling, brain-eating, ambulatory cadavers known as zombies are massing outside, with one instinct pulsing through their decomposed minds: to feast on your quivering and succulent brains. What to do? While the usual response in this situation is to hammer planks of wood across the windows, grab on to your trusty chainsaw, and once your defenses are breached you start lopping off limbs and heads like a psychotic topiarist on steroids. It's all very tiring, wears out the links on your chainsaw, and covers you with gory goo. A much better strategy, and one rarely seen in zombie films, is to offer the rotting horde a tasty and well-cooked dinner. And what better repast is there for the horrible creatures than Baked Brains and Eggs? Of course, you'll need a lot of frozen brains on standby, but these will defrost while the undead are vainly trying to figure how to break into the house. Here's the recipe (taken from 1931's stupendously exhaustive The Joy of Cooking, written by Irma S Rombauer. Suffice to say that if you ever come into the possession of a porcupine or a woodchuck, this book tells you how to cook 'em. More about the book here.)
1) Preheat oven to 350 (degrees Fahrenheit, I presumes).
2) Soak, skin and blanch two sets of brains (or however many you feel you need).
3) Cut into one-inch dice and place in four small greased casseroles.
4) Skin, seed and dice four tomatoes.
5) Combine the tomatoes with one and a half tbls of hot olive oil, one tsp chopped parsley, one tsp of chopped onion or chives, salt, paprika, and one tsp of brown sugar. 
6) Pour these ingredients into the casseroles.
7) Break into each one egg.
8) Bake for about eight minutes, or until the eggs are firm.
9) Melt and brown lightly one-quarter of a cup of butter and mix with two tsps of lemon juice. 10) Pour this mixture over the eggs.
11) Garnish with parsley.
12) Serve at once (not really a problem if the hungry dead are beating down your door!)
Of course, a huge plate of raw, steaming offal would probably satisfy the more crude and uncouth zombie (and any inebriated Irishmen who'd joined the horde by accident), but the beauty of this dish is that you can partake of it yourself if needs be (not that I've ever eaten brains, in black butter or served any other way). And, of course, while the dead are wolfing down their dinner and snarling at each other for grabbing the last tasty portion, you can heft your trusty pickaxe and bury it in the skulls of the awful creatures. It may not be the best manners to kill your guests while they're eating, but they are zombies!
And for something completely different, I'm not sure why I like this song (by a performer who I know nothing about) so much, but I can't seem to get it out of my head (and it has a very clever video).