Monday, August 31, 2009

FEAR NO EVIL (TVM) (1969) (shown July, 1991)

If you're scratching your head right about now, a TVM is a TV Movie, or a movie made for TV (i.e., not released in theaters). Among the 250+ features I was slogging through from the estate sale (see my previous post) was a 16mm print of this TVM. I DISTINCTLY remember seeing this when it first aired (I was 11 years old at the time), and it creeped the hell out of me then! :) It was the very first "Movie of the Week" made for TV, and was a huge ratings hit at the time. It began life as the first of two pilot films for a possible TV series to be called BEDEVILED, and starred Louis Jourdan as "occult investigator" Dr. David Sorell - in this one, Dr. Sorell is called in to help newly widowed Lynda Day George after her husband (played by Bradford Dillman) dies in an auto accident in his antique car ... but not before leaving her a mysterious full-length oval mirror. What's so mysterious about that? Only that he returns each night from the dead in the mirror, and beckons her to join him - and she can feel her will giving away. Demon possession, cursed mirrors, and a spooky-as-hell score by Billy Goldenberg helped to knock this one out of the park. Jourdan is eminently believable as Sorell, and the supporting cast is effectively creepy, especially Caroll O'Connor as the late husband's sinister 'friend' who knows more about his death than he's telling. The effect with the mirror and the 'possession' was quite unsettling, and very impressive in those pre-CGI days. I asked Byron Chudnow, the editor on the film, how the effect was achieved:

"In regard to the special effects, we spent a lot of time experimenting with color polarization and other techniques with the technicians in the Universal Optical Department, trying to come up with something special. Although interesting electronic effects could be produced with the equipment then available, there wasn't an effective way of transferring them to film since the only projection system was with CRT with the rasters clearly visible, a throwback to the old kinescopes. I proposed a mechanical wheel (do you believe?) with the images of the various actors sent spinning faster and faster, the effect you can see in the film.

A lot of the mirror scenes were matte shots and for others we used rear projection. I prepared the images of the bedroom or the infinity mirrors along with the optical effects (the characters appearing and disappearing, the fluttering transition from the bedroom to the infinity room), and we used a projector on the stage throwing its image on a screen which was then reflected in the mirror. The problem was that the projector's lens needed to be a certain distance from the screen for it to remain in focus and the screen needed to be a certain distance from the mirror for everything to remain in scale. We never did get the dimensions right and the bed behind the actress is proportionately too large. We hoped the audience wouldn't notice ... Needless to say, they would be considerably simpler now with the advent of digital imaging and the perfection of electronic-to-film transfer."

The film was so well-received that a second pilot film was ordered, entitled RITUAL OF EVIL, and, yes, we showed THAT at Conjure Cinema, as well ... but that's another story (coming soon!) - sadly, as of this writing, neither film is officially available on DVD, but with Warner Brothers Archives now releasing some of THEIR TVMs, hopefully Universal will see the light (as well as the $$$ signs) and release these long-lost shudderfests for old and new fans alike.

Next Time: We Watch The Skies as CC revels in the lunacy of it's Annual UFO Party!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

THE WITCHES (aka THE DEVIL'S OWN) (1966) (shown June, 1991)

With the success of our first show (and the accompanying donations for the shelters), we decided this could work on a regular basis, and moved on to our second feature. June 15th, 1991, saw our presentation of THE WITCHES (aka THE DEVIL'S OWN) , from Hammer Film Studios, made in 1966. It starred Joan Fontaine (younger sister of Olivia de Havilland) as a English school teacher who is recovering from a nervous breakdown in Africa and takes a post in England, only to find the small town she's moved to is home to a witches' coven with plans to sacrifice one of her students! The screenplay was by Nigel Kneale (famous for the Quatermass character and series) and Miss Fontaine both owned the rights to the story and wanted to star in it, so the deal was made with Hammer. Sadly, the film did not do well and was her last role before retiring.

I showed this title from a 16mm print in my collection. An interesting story, that: I had met up with a lady who had an entire estate collection of 16mm films she wanted to get rid of. The father had been a collector, but the rest of the family wasn't interested in the prints, and just wanted them gone. I said I'd be happy to help, but needed to see the prints first, so I could grade them and give a proper description of the film's condition. I drove our tiny car up to her place, thinking it was going to be 5 - 10 prints, tops. Imagine my surprise when she took me to the outdoor shed, opened the door and it is filled FLOOR TO CEILING with 16mm prints! By the time it was finished, I had sold approximately 250 different features (of all types of genres, comedy to romance to sci-fi to horror to Westerns, etc. - all of which I had to watch first). The lady offered me a comission to sell them, but just after taking a spot-check of the titles listed, we agreed that instead I could have first pick of any of the titles they had, and that would serve as my commission. That's how THE DEVIL'S OWN (since this was an American print) came to be our second show. Due to this being on 16mm film, there was one more short break built in, as I had only one projector and an average 90 minute 16mm feature is on two 1600' reels, holding app. 45 minutes of film per reel. Update: Twenty-six years later (in 2017), I was helping retired friends of mine move to a new house. They were downsizing their massive book collection and what was one of the books I inherited? The UK Hammer Films tie-in novelization to - THE WITCHES! Next: The Debut Of The TVM.

How I Choose The Films

Conjure Cinema has now been going strong for 18 years (with a break for the birth of our son), and I have often been asked, "Where do you get all those weird films?" or "How do you choose what to show?" Well, to answer the first, I have been an avid film collector since 1973, when I was 16 years old. I had been an avid film WATCHER for as long as I can remember, but on Christmas, 1973, my mother got me a Super 8mm projector, a folding screen, and three Super 8mm digest films (a cartoon, a second film which I don't recall, and the digest print of THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN which I ran over and over). That's what started my collecting mania - it was one thing to watch the films when they ran on TV - but to actually OWN the films and learn how to splice and project them was a whole different thrill! I collected many more Super 8mm films over the years, then eventually moved up to 16mm sound films, and briefly even toyed with the idea of a 35mm portable projection system (not as odd as it sounds: I actually have a friend who has one in his basement! The main downside: you have to change reels every 20 minutes!)

I was late to the show for the advent of the home video revolution, missing Beta video entirely (I was in school and had very little spending money), but did eventually get on the VHS bandwagon. I was much more intrigued, however, with the new technology of videodiscs ... and promptly got on the wrong horse there by throwing my money into the CED VideoDisc system. To explain: before there were DVDs (yes, Virginia, there was such a time in the Dark Ages), there were two competing video disc technologies: laserdiscs (the direct precursor to DVDs, using the same laser technology, hence the name LASERDISC) and CED discs, or Capacitance Electronic Disc {see their Wiki entry here: The CED disc was doomed to failure out of the gate, due to the fact it was a needle-based technology, just like the 12 inch vinyl LP records you (or your Mom or Dad) used to play, and had the same skipping problems old LPs did. Irritating doesn't even BEGIN to cover watching a skipping CED disc. Anyways ... after CED died a grisly death, I threw in the towel and embraced the competition of laserdisc, only to have IT die a horrible death, due to a combination of a pressing plant error called laser rot (Google it: it's fun!) and the advent of the new kid on the block: the DVD. Remember when I said at the beginnning how my collection is known as the Museum of Failed Technology? Well, this will give you some idea why: between 6000+ VHS tapes, 100+ laserdiscs, 50+ 16mm films, and 1000+ DVDs later, you can see I don't lack for WHAT to show.

As for HOW I choose what feature to show for Conjure Cinema, there are a few criteria I always follow: 1). The feature MUST have some sort of magic or witchcraft theme (hence the name); 2). The feature MUST be 90 minutes or less. Why? Because in addition to the feature itself, I usually show 30 minutes of short subjects ahead of time, followed by a brief intermission. So a typical evening goes like this: doors open at 6PM, with people bringing an item for potluck and two hours of socializing, then the shorts at 8PM, brief intermission (10 - 20 minutes), then the feature (90 minutes). This way we're not straining the patience of either the host or the audience to the snapping point; 3). My final criteria - the RARER the BETTER. I am a student of world cinema, interested in films from ALL different points of the globe, and love to find and show something my audience have either never seen before or (in many cases) never HEARD of! What is the point of having a film get-together just to see something that everyone has ALREADY SEEN? It's much more memorable to show people something they are not familiar with (and will stick in their minds more readily) than something EVERYONE is well aware of. With this in mind, I have tracked down titles from around the globe, as well as going far back into my childhood and adolescence for those features (and made-for-TV-movies) that resonated with me back then. Those are usually my favorites to show, as I have a personal connection with them that I can then share with the audience. So there you have it: how these few, these lucky few, are chosen. Next: Our Second Show.

SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES (1971) (shown May, 1991)

Conjure Cinema came about due to my wife, Laura. She had heard about a group of people out in California called P.A.N., the Pagan Assistance Network, who were staging various events in order to raise money and goods for the homeless in their area. We both thought this was a fantastic idea, and wanted to do something similar here on the East Coast. I had already been writing a series of articles entitled Conjure Cinema, which was a history of witchcraft and magic in the movies. Since I have a life-long interest in/obsession with movies of all kinds and have an ever-expanding collection of films in all formats (and I mean ALL formats - Laura calls my collection "The Museum of Failed Technology" :) ), the obvious answer was to host a monthly film party, with the admission price being something that could be donated to the various shelters in the Boston area. Laura pulled that all together, contacting the different shelters, including Pine Street Inn (for men), Rosie's Place (for women), and a homeless family shelter. What she found was interesting: mainly that they needed different items for different times of the year, and not just the obvious (e.g., toys at Christmas time for the family shelter, etc.) - so we worked out a list of the most-needed items, and posted this along with our announcement of what we were showing. Laura also contacted the original P.A.N. folks, and got their blessing to use the name, so we were off and running.

To kick things off in style, our first show (which took place on May 18th, 1991) was 1971's SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES. It starred Andrew Prince and Brenda Scott, and tells the tragic tale of a male witch who lives in a L.A. storm sewer and makes his living selling charms and amulets, all the while having run-ins with other occultists, disbelievers and 'The Man' (well, it WAS the '70s, after all). Best line (spoken by a nude blonde lying on an altar), "Don't touch me ... I'm a religious object!" SIMON also has the distinction of being the only film that we have shown more than once at CC. I'll talk more about this title, including my meeting with Andrew Prine and the AMAZING tie-in novelization to the film, later on in this blog. NEXT: How I Choose The Films.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Welcome to Conjure Cinema!

Cinematic Salutations and Welcome to the long-overdue Conjure Cinema website! I am finally bowing to the wishes of all the CC viewers, past and present alike, who have told me time and again, "You really need to have a blog!" So be it, your wish is my command! In the posts to come, I'll outline the history of how CC came to be, the films we have shown in the past, WHY we showed certain of those titles (as I'm sure many of you head-shakers out there would like to know! :)), the criteria I use to pick each title, and some trivia of interest behind each of our cinematic wonders. You'll also get an advance look at what's coming up in the future, as well as tangents on other films and shorts I've seen that I think you'll find interesting, and whatever else comes to mind in the Random Synapse Department. So thank you for coming, enjoy my site and I look forward to your comments. Next: How It All Began, with a look at our very first feature ever shown, 1971's Simon, KING OF THE WITCHES!