Y’know, those cigarettes aren’t good for you
I’ve been away from the Bat cave for a few days, so I’ll try to get caught back up. This post should’ve been launched last week.
Trick or treat. Yep, I’m continuing with the Halloween Movie Extravaganze recap, which continued on November 1st, All Saints’ Day. I’m a little bit behind, seeing as how this is November 11th.
We cranked things up at 3 PM, this movie-fest being a tribute to the made-for-TV era. Everyone gathered and proceeded to the Bat cave, slapped a few deli sandwiches together, grabbed some leftover Halloween candy, as we started in sort of a reverse chronological order, watching a little-known spooker from the early years of HBO-produced films titled Cast a Deadly Spell (1991). I saw Spell back when it first came out on HBO and fell in love with it. Somewhere along the line I recorded it. I don’t think I watched it any during the intervening years ‘til Saturday. The copy’s still in fairly good shape, except near the end of the tape, where it would blank out for a few seconds. Need to see if I can scoop up a DVD copy somewhere.
Spell, as several of my friends pointed out, had the look and feel of a pilot episode for a possibly planned series that never got off the ground. And they’re right. It really does look that way, and it should have been made into a series. But that was 1991. X-Files was three years off, and sci-fi/horror/fantasy TV shows and movies still weren’t full-on mainstream yet. Up till then we had the occasional show that would last for a while, sometime a season or two. Back in ’74 and ’75 we had Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with the late, great Darren McGavin, one of the first of the new batch of prime-time investigative spook shows. Well, actually, that’s not entirely correct. In 1972 there was a show called The Sixth Sense (long before the movie) with Gary Collins as a paranormal investigator. I remember watching this show, a spin-off from Night Gallery. Dr. Michael Rhodes, the Gary Collins character, had ESP, and used his skills mainly for tracking down possessions and other ectoplasmic happenings. No monsters that I recall.
Anyway, trying to get back on track, we zoom through the 80’s with a handful of spooker shows achieving cult status – Amazing Stories, Friday the 13th: The Series (aka Friday the 13th or Friday’s Curse – no connection to the movies), Probe, and Tales from the Darkside. But nothing truly mainstream. Not like all the vampire, zombie, and other bumpy things in the night like we have today.
Enter Cast a Deadly Spell. I’d forgotten just how good, clever, and fun it was until I saw it again with the Scoobies. It’s a step into the past, a supernatural past, as we’re back in 1940’s Los Angeles, following the exploits of a Philip Marlowe-style detective named… Harry Philip Lovecraft. Yep, it’s that kind of movie, it knows it’s that kind of movie, and it has fun all the way through. There are inside jokes us geeks, plus plenty of sight gags that anyone can enjoy. This should have been a series, but the time wasn’t right. And Fred Ward was perfect for the role of “Phil” Lovecraft. And I do mean perfect. Wearing the hard-working P. I. suit and fedora and throwing in his first-person narrative, we were there with him. One of few remaining honest men in L. A. Also the only one who doesn’t use black magic. “Personal reasons”, he says. Get with the program, Phil, everyone else is doing it, they say. Nope, Phil has no use for it.
He takes a case for a client. Retrieve an ancient, leather-and-gold book, the client says. Turns out what the client wants, what everyone wants (or doesn’t want) is the Necronomicon, the legendary book concocted by the real H. P. Lovecraft. It’s the old story of “if it falls into the wrong hands…”, and Phil’s right smack dab in the middle of the whole mess, getting beaten up, tempted by temptresses, chasing down one clue after another the old-fashioned way, while everyone else takes the easy way out. I absolutely loved the mix of bad guys and black spells. Plus it was just so much fun watching little bits of magic pop up here and there in the background. Phil getting info from someone in a nightclub as a waiter pours from a levitating bottle of bubbly. Julianne Moore plays the love interest (“the one woman…”), David Warner (bad guy from Tron) is the client, and there are all those other folks we’ve seen in other films and shows. It’s a shame this one didn’t become a series or at least generate a sequel. Then again, maybe it’s for the better we have this one golden (or black) film.
After a brief break to refuel, we next went back in time to a 1976 film with Bette Davis, Oliver Reed, Karen Black, and Burgess Meredith called Burnt Offerings. As far as I recall I never saw this one when it first came out, but the title is one of those that’s had, at least in my mind, a reputation. Call it a shadow of a reputation (doing a cheap Lovecraft impression here), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. Depending on when it came out in ’76, I was either 20 or 21, and definitely feeling my oats. I was most likely out running around somewhere, not in front of the tube.
Now, here’s the thing. With this kind of star collection, this film could’ve done a total Fantasy Island or Poseidon Adventure and nose-dived. Not even sure how it did in the ratings back then. And it did have some plot holes. But this was a true creep-fest. It went from Twilight Zone territory straight into the Night Gallery where we just didn’t know how it was going to turn out. Mom (Karen Black) and Dad (Oliver Reed) with kid in tow, along with the sweet old Aunt (Bette Davis) get a too-good-to-be-true summer rental deal on a huge old country HOUSE (oh, no, it wouldn’t be possessed or anything like that…) from creepy brother and sister (Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart). Only deal is the renters have to take care of their dear old invalid Mum who lives upstairs (you know… up there…). Okay, none of that sounds unusual at all, does it? What I love about the setup is that none of our major players are strangers to the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genre. Ms. Black and Mr. Reed, in particular, have both sported sharp teeth at least once, and Ms. Davis has had her turn, too. Of course, Mr. Meredith was on at least two Twilight Zone episodes, and who can ever forget him as the Penguin? Wah wah wah….
The situation heads further down the ol’ possessed house trail as Mom and Dad start behaving oddly, Mom in particular. The house begins making all these demands, and Mom gets weirder as she won’t let anyone else take care of creepy brother and sister’s Mum. Hmmm…
Burnt Offerings is a classic, despite a few plot holes. Overall, a good, chilling watch.
Got long-winded again.
‘til next time… Adios.