Monday, April 2, 2012

Watch Tons of Free Flicks from the Criterion Collection on Hulu Now!

The Criterion Collection has made a bunch of its movies available to watch free and instantly on Hulu. Yes, there are commercial interruptions, but I repeat--free and instant--so quit your belly aching!

Here are some direct links to the most Psychobabbley movies available in this groovy new deal, plus some bonus reviews that have appeared on this site in the past:

Carnival of Souls (1962)

Roger Corman and William Castle were clever enough to drape their cheapest movies with a shroud of daffy humor. Delightful as much of their work is, they didn’t necessarily need to be so self-conscious just because their budgets were next to nil. Case in point: Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls was made for around thirty grand— the majority of which was probably spent on film stock and white grease paint— and is the most effectively creepy B-movie of the early ‘60s. After walking away from a drag race accident, Mary the Church Organist starts seeing dead people. Decades before The Sixth Sense, audiences likely knew exactly where this plot was headed, as the inevitable twist had been done many times before in various ghost stories and installments of “The Twilight Zone”. Yet the predictability of Carnival of Souls doesn’t hurt it, nor does the Halloween-costume quality of the phantoms Mary encounters, because Harvey strikes such an eerie tone. The film swells with funereal dread abetted by Gene Moore’s appropriate pipe organ score. Candace Hilligoss is suitably soulless as Mary. As her lecherous hipster neighbor, John Linden provides some welcome period humor without defusing Harvey’s chilling stillness. Proving a low-budget horror picture could get away with being deathly serious, Carnival of Souls mesmerized a new crop of genre filmmakers, and its influence would be palpable in the debut film of young George Romero a few years later.

originally published in Psychobabble’s 120 Essential Horror Movies: The 1960s

The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)

Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Hammer may have upped the level of horror movie gore in the previous decade, but nothing the studio produced reached the graphic heights of Blood of the Beasts, Georges Franju’s 1949 documentary about a slaughterhouse outside Paris. Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage) does not repeat that short’s realism, but it does display the same icy, graphic violence in ways Hammer would never dare try. The film involves a doctor suffering terrible guilt after causing a car accident that monstrously scarred his daughter, Christiane. Convinced he can restore her beauty and prove his own godly powers as a physician, Docteur Génessier makes numerous attempts at the world’s first face transplant with skin from young women procured by his assistant, Edna. Franju executes this potentially schlocky plot with hardcore explicitness and mesmerizing poetry. The operation scenes still have the power to disturb, particularly since contemporary audiences would never expect such graphic material in a black and white, French film from 1960. Those sequences are potent, but it is Edith Scob’s ethereal portrayal of Christiane and Alida Valli’s Edna that are most impressive. Like the classic monsters, both are frightening and sympathetic, though not in equal measure. The climax of the film in which Christiane commits some unexpected acts of vengeance, as well as real heroism, is only topped by the haunting final image of her floating into a dark forest and an uncertain future with a white dove perched on her finger. The beautiful, horrible, and artistically rich Eyes Without a Face received notoriously shabby treatment in the U.S., where it was dubbed into English, given the idiotic title The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, and run as a double-feature with a cheapie called The Manster. In the ensuing years it achieved cult classic status, but Eyes Without a Face deserves to be regarded on the same level as any of its contemporary art films by Fellini or Bergman. Regardless of its reputation, Eyes Without a Face got one of horror’s most fruitful decades—and one of its most spectacular years—off to a striking start.

originally published in Psychobabble’s 120 Essential Horror Movies: The 1960s

Hausu (1977)

After Toho, the studio responsible for all those terrifically cheesy Godzilla movies, approached Nobuhiko Obayashi about making Japan’s answer to Jaws, the filmmaker took a rather novel approach. He recalled seven of his school-age daughter’s worst fears and crammed them into a haunted house movie that plays like Suspiria reimagined by Sid and Marty Krofft. A severed head flies from a water well and bites a schoolgirl on her bottom. A piano consumes human flesh and disembodied fingers pound on its keys. A girl gets into a kung-fu brawl with firewood. A cat’s eyes glimmer with cartoon sparkles. And there isn’t a single shark in sight. Naturally, Toho was baffled by Hausu (House), as were critics, but the film became a huge hit in its homeland because kids instantly recognized its candied horrors and psychedelic flights of fancy as reflective of their own whimsical imaginations. As gruesome as this story of seven schoolgirls who meet varying fates in an old dark house can be, the delivery is more cartoonish than the average episode of “Scooby Doo”. Teeny-bop pop chirps cheerily on the soundtrack, and the actresses play their parts as though they may break out into The Partridge Family’s Greatest Hits at any moment. Those characters are just as transparently farcical as their adventures, each one named for the stock stereotype that dictates her every move: there’s Fantasy, Gorgeous, Kung Fu, Prof (as in “Professor”), Mac (as in “Stomach”…she’s always eating!), Melody (the musician), and Sweet. Collect them all! The scares are on the level of those in The Wizard of Oz, which means they will particularly disturb kids. The special effects are non-stop, ranging from primitive video manipulation to “How the Hell did they do that?” magic. Nonsensically whimsical as a toddler telling tales on the fly, House is a puzzling delight.

originally published in Psychobabble’s 120 Essential Horror Movies: The 1970s

I Married a Witch (1942)

Haven't seen this one yet, but as soon as I do, you'll be the first to know!

Jigoku (1960)

Shintōhō was essentially the Japanese equivalent of Britain’s Hammer, grinding out bloody, low-budget exploitation with offbeat audacity. After a mere eleven years of moviemaking, the studio was in dire shape. In 1960, Nobuo Nakagawa made his final picture for Shintōhō. Jigoku delivers much of the shock for which the studio was known, but it does so in a completely unexpected package. The first half of the film follows Shirô Shimizu, a theology student with the worst luck in the world, beginning with his involvement in a tragic hit-and-run accident. The supernatural element of this opening movement is limited to a general air of uncanny unease and an encounter with a doppelgänger. In the second half, Shirô has his own fatal encounter, after which he is demoted to Hell where he is set loose in an environmental straight out of the right-hand panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights. Nakagawa unleashes his imagination to fashion the most disturbing portrait of Hell yet to be splattered across a cinema screen. There’s a field of needles, brutish blue demons baring truncheons, surreal decapitations, a screeching baby floating on a river of blood. Ferocious as all of this is, Nakagawa realizes his nightmare images with great artistry. The film’s jarring movement from relative normalcy to utter horror heightens its power to unnerve and presages the work of a filmmaker born less than a month after its release: Takashi Miike, who would grow up to make the similarly plotted and even more disturbing Audition twenty nine years later.

originally published in Psychobabble’s 120 Essential Horror Movies: The 1960s

Quadrophenia (1979)

Anyone who has seen Ken Russell’s complete travesty Tommy knows that turning a rock album into a movie is no easy task, especially when you’re dealing with a group as bombastic as The Who. The genius thing about Quadrophenia, a film version of one of The Who’s more bombastic albums, is that Franc Roddam completely tones down the bombast in favor of character development and capturing a very specific period in British culture when gangs of sharp-dressed, scooter-riding mods and leather-clad, motorcycle-riding rockers engaged in a bloody, riotous rivalry. Thankfully, Roddam didn’t try to turn this into an opera. The music from the Quadrophenia album (glorious as it is, but hardly sounding as though it hails from 1965) is only used as background, while actual period music from Booker T. & the MG’s, The Chiffons, and The Kingsmen spins out from D.J. booths and turntables. If you want complete historical accuracy, this isn’t the best place to start because the film is loaded with gaffs (a Who record from the mid ‘70s is shown sitting next to a phonograph; some of the rockers have hippie-style long hair; a cinema marquee shows that Heaven Can Wait is playing). These anachronisms only point to how relevant this film was when it was released. It’s as much a product of the punk era as it is an early ‘60’s period piece, showing how little things had changed. The grim, impoverished, violent England depicted in the film was no different from Thatcher’s England of 1979. So, it was hardly surprising that a mod-revival followed and that the film’s central character Jimmy became something of a punk icon. Phil Daniels is incredible in the role, playing Jimmy with an appropriately schizoid combination of romanticism, childishness, rage, and desperation—the four sides of the “quadrophenic” personality Pete Townshend describes on the album. The film itself is incredible as well: moving, exciting, sexy, funny, furious, and youthful—everything The Who were when they were at their best.

originally published in The 15 Greatest Rock & Roll Movies!

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)
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