Friday, October 31, 2008

Top 50 Halloween movies: Part 5

Today is Halloween, and we conclude our countdown of the top 50 Halloween movies of all time. The list consists of new and classic films from all horror sub-genres as well as horror themed comedies.

10. “Young Frankenstein” (1974)
Writer/director Mel Brooks is at his absolute best in this spot-on parody of the classic Universal monster movies. The hilarious Gene Wilder is the grandson of the infamous Dr. Frankenstein, who follows in granddad’s footsteps. The pitch-perfect cast includes Peter Boyle as the monster, Marty Feldman as Igor and Madeline Kahn as the bride of Frankenstein. Brooks used the same castle and laboratory props that appeared in 1931’s “Frankenstein.”

9. “Frankenstein” (1931)
Forget all other versions, especially Kenneth Branagh's bloated 1994 adaptation starring Robert DeNiro, this is still the best version of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Throughout his career Boris Karloff played many creepy villains and monsters, but his best work is as Frankenstein’s monster. He is able to create a monster that is complex, creepy and even sympathetic. Gothic and expressionist set and lighting design raise the story to unforgettable epic proportions.

8. “Dracula” (1931)
Frank Langella, Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman among others have all put their own stamp on the role of Dracula, but Bela Lugosi still remains the quintessential Count. His thick Austrian-Hungarian accent made Lugosi the perfect Transylvanian vampire. Some of the effects are dated, but the film’s great lighting creates excellent atmosphere that in combination with Lugosi's seminal performance make this as effective and eerie today as when it first came out.

7. “Silence of the Lambs” (1991)
FBI agent in training Clarice Starling (the excellent Jodie Foster) is recruited to get information from the imprisoned Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) on how to catch the serial killer Buffalo Bill. The climatic encounter with Buffalo Bill is a pulse-pounding experience, and the psychological mind games between Foster and Hopkins are fascinating. Hopkins’ Lector is terrifying not just for his actions, but more for his cold intellect and ability to get in people’s heads.

6. “Ghostbusters” (1984)
College professors decide to become paranormal investigators just as ghosts begin to run wild in New York. Bill Murray spits out one classic one-liner after another while the film’s screenwriters Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis are excellent straight-men to Murray’s antics. Sigourney Weaver is funny and sexy as the love interested turned ghost dog, and Rick Moranis, as Weaver’s nerdy neighbor, provides comic relief, as if the film needed any more.

5. “Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)
This musical, horror spoof is the cult classic above all others. Newlyweds Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) are forced to stop at a house full of weirdoes during a rainstorm leading to all kinds of bizarre and kinky events. Tim Curry’s Frank N. Futter Transylvania is a one-of-a-kind character that Curry plays to perfection. Memorably odd songs like “Time Warp” and “Dammit Janet” make this one of most unique musicals ever created.

4. “Night of the Living Dead” (1968)
George A. Romero’s low-budget gem established the rules and set the standard for the zombie movie. The plot is simple: The dead are raising and eating the living. A group of survivors hole up in a house and try to endure the night. While disturbing upon its original release, by today’s standard the gore is tame, but the film has a raw power that can still make you jump.

3. “Halloween” (1978)
You know the routine: a masked killer, in this case the iconic Michael Myers, is on the loose. The film opens with an ingenious and horrifying concept: the camera is behind the mask. The film created the formula for all the vastly inferior sequels and rip offs, but they all missed the point. Director John Carpenter wasn’t interested in grisly deaths and high body count, but in building a relentless tension that finally snaps.

2. “The Exorcist” (1973)
When little Regan (Linda Blair) gets the devil inside her, all hell literally breaks loose. Pea-soup vomit and obscenities flow out of her like a river and she does exceptionally wrong things with a crucifix. Ellen Burstyn, Lee J. Cobbs, Jason Miller and Max Von Sydow fill out the superb cast. William Friedkin’s moody direction in combination with Blair’s makeup and sound and visual effects enhance the performance and make this one of the scariest films ever.

1. “Psycho” (1960)
There was a reason Alfred Hitchcock was called the master of suspense, and “Psycho” makes it absolutely clear why. From the film’s score to its lighting to its pacing to the infamous shower scene, everything is perfection. Anthony Perkins’ brilliant performance as the perennial momma’s boy, Norman Bates, is one of the most memorable characterizations to grace the screen. The roots of the slasher films can easily be tied back to this film, as can psychological thrillers like “Silence of the Lambs.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

Top 50 Halloween movies: Part 4

Welcome to the fourth installment of the top 50 Halloween movies. The list is a mix of classic and contemporary films that includes any horror sub-genre as well horror themed comedies.

20. "Freaks" (1932)
After directing "Dracula," Todd Browning was asked to top both that film and "Frankenstein." His answer was to use real sideshow circus "freaks," including midgets, Siamese twins and limbless people. The story centers on a gold-digger, who marries one of the so-called freaks. The freaks get their revenge when she tries to kill their fellow oddity for his money. It is a truly unique film experience that is funny, heartbreaking and scary, but what makes the film so successful is that the scares and laughs never feel cruel or exploitive.

19. “Edward Scissorhands” (1990)
Obviously not a horror movie, although a solid case can be made that there is nothing more frightening than suburbia. Tim Burton’s expressionistic fantasy is a heartbreaker full of Burton’s trademark dark, oddball sensibilities. Johnny Depp is exceptional in the title role of the boy who was never finished by his creator (Vincent Price, in his final role). The rest of the cast, including Winona Ryder, Alan Arkin, Dianne Wiest and Anthony Michael Hall, are all also top-notch.

18. "Rosemary's Baby" (1968)
Roman Polanski's stylistic film starts out like cheery romance and then slowly builds into taut, nerve-racking thriller. Mia Farrow's Rosemary is pregnant, but her husband, neighbors and doctor are all acting a little odd and it becomes clear that this is no ordinary baby. Polanski gets in the viewer's head, by not showing anything and leaving the viewer to imagine the worst.

17. "Beetlejuice" (1988)
A recently deceased couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) has to deal with an obnoxious new family in their former home, and, after a series of unsuccessful hauntings, they hire Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice to get the job done. Director Burton's wildly inventive set design and stop-motion animation in combination with Keaton's show-stopping, madcap performance and strong support from Winona Ryder and Catherine O'Hara make this a wild ride.

16. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)
How do you stop a serial killer who stalks you in your dreams? Writer/director Wes Craven created one of the most iconic boogeymen of film history with Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund.) More imaginative than most slasher franchises because the dream world allows anything to go, and for those who like unique and varied deaths it is hard to beat Freddy.

15. “Alien” (1979)
It is easy to forget that before morphing into an action franchise, the first of the series was a white-knuckle sci-fi horror film. Sigourney Weaver established the female heroine who is now a staple of Hollywood in a star-making performance. The infamous alien “chest buster” scene is still as shocking as ever, and director Ridley Scott creates maximum suspense by not fully revealing the alien to the very end of the film.

14. “Jaws” (1975)
Spielberg’s rousing combination of suspense, drama, comedy and adventure films turned people off going to the ocean for years. The film grabs attention and scares from the start with one of the best openings of all time, but Spielberg is more interested in character development than body count. The shark isn’t revealed until more than half way in, and the wait makes it all the more potent when we finally see it.

13. "The Evil Dead" (1981)
The first installment of Sam Riami's immensely popular trilogy centers on a group of college buddies at an isolated cabin in the woods who accidentally unleash evil spirits. Riami's stylish direction full of unique camera angles and excellent lighting makes his low budget go far. Bruce Campbell's Ash wouldn't turn into the one-liner-spouting, slapstick action hero until the worthy comedy/horror sequels, but for pure horror, the first is still tops.

12. "The Shining" (1980)
The combination of Jack Nicholson's astoundingly over-the-top performance and Stanley Kubrick's quietly grandiose direction make this version of Stephen King's novel an amazing film experience. Nicholson and family become caretakers at a large, isolated and haunted hotel for the winter. It isn't long before "all work and no play" and the sinister goings-on at the hotel drive Nicholson nuts. Kubrick creates perhaps the most surreal and disturbing haunted house ever, and Nicholson is equal parts shocking and comic.

11. "The Wolf Man" (1941)
One of the best of the Universal monster movies set the standard for all werewolf films to follow. After being bitten by a wolf, a man (Lon Chaney Jr.) has to deal with the horrible curse of turning into a werewolf every full moon. The film's transformation effects hold up remarkably well, and Chaney's desperate, tragic performance adds dimensions to the monster. There is also wonderful support from Bela Lugosi and Claude Rains.

'Rabbit Hole' looks at grief with heart, wit and honesty

M&D's first production in its new location continues its run

“Rabbit Hole,” M&D Productions' first show at its new Your Theatre location in Willow Common in North Conway, N.H. has no connection to Lewis Carroll, Alice, a wonderland or a looking glass. Rather it is a story of a couple dealing with the loss of their 4-year-old son following a tragic accident.

“Rabbit Hole,” which will be running Oct. 24, Oct. 25, Oct. 30, Nov. 1, Nov. 6. Nov. 7 and Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m., won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2007. Tickets range from $15 to $20 and can be purchased by calling 662-7591. Discounts are available for students, patrons under 18 and seniors. For more information visit

The script by David Lindsay-Abraire is not nearly as depressing as the subject matter would have you believe. Oh, there are scenes with the potential to yield tears, but there is also a surprising amount of humor. The way the script addresses themes of finding comfort and how to grieve doesn’t feel cloying or manipulative. There is truth and honesty to the show that is never preachy or heavy-handed.

As the play opens, it is eight months after the death of Becca and Howie Corbett’s (Jane Duggan and Kevin O’Neil) son, Danny. Becca’s rebellious sister Izzy (Carrie Engfer) has just become pregnant, which stirs up mixed emotions. Nat (Jill Davis), Becca’s well-intentioned mother, desperately tries to help her daughter find solace, but her efforts are often rebuked with frustrated anger.

In the production notes, director Richard Russo described the experience of first reading the play as if he were “hiding in the Corbett’s house, eavesdropping on their most intimate conversations.” Russo brings that quality to his production by having an intimate set that audience members could walk right into if they had the nerve. Clearly this is not advised.

The set, designed by M&D executive director Mark Delancey, is a realistic depiction of a house with what appears to be a fully functional kitchen, a quaint living room and Danny’s bedroom left unchanged and always behind the characters.

Realistic is the keyword in describing the play. Often theater dialogue sounds scripted or stylized, which is fine, but it can create a certain distance between the show and audience. Lindsay-Abraire’s dialogue has an unforced, natural flow that includes all the ums, yeahs and ya knows and awkward pauses that fill average everyday speech. It is easy to be drawn into these characters’ lives.

The cast delivers this dialogue with a just-right naturalistic rhythm and handles the complex emotional shifts with a light touch. Duggan’s Becca is not dealing with her grief well, which is manifesting itself in a bitterness that slowly subsides as the show proceeds.

O’Neil’s Howie at first seems to have it together. He hides behind a dry, sarcastic wit that masks the tumultuous grief that he is still dealing with. This fa├žade begins to crack when an accident destroys one of Howie’s favorite reminders of Danny. It is shattered when Jason (Ged Owen), the teen that killed Danny in a car accident, comes by the house in an attempt to make amends and deal with his own anguish.

These are not easy emotions to deal with, and Duggan and O’Neil, who both break down and cry at points in the show, address them with a lot of humanity. Their performances and emotions feel genuine.

Their supporting cast is equal to them. Engfer brings an appropriate level of blunt but not-unsympathetic attitude to Izzy, and Davis makes Nat kooky and sweet. Davis has a powerful monologue about how the pain of a lost child never goes away, but changes and in an odd way becomes reassuring.

Owen shares a great scene with Duggan that gives the play its name and its sense of closure. Lindsay-Abraire doesn’t tie everything together neatly; after all, there are no easy answers when it comes to grief. Instead, he ends the show with a quietly uplifting hope that life will be able to go on.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Top 50 Halloween movies: Part 3

You are about to enter the third installment of the top 50 Halloween movies list. The rules are simple: Any horror sub-genre or horror based comedies are fair game. Contemporary and classic films are all in the mix.

30. "The Omen" (1976)
Little Damien (Harvey Stephens) is literally the anti-Christ in this film that effectively follows in the footsteps of its similarly themed predecessors, "The Exorcist" and "Rosemary's Baby.” Gregory Peck is the father who slowly comes to believe that his son is evil incarnate and ultimately comes to the horrifying realization that he will have to kill him. Little Stephens is one creepy kid, and director Richard Donner keeps the film tense throughout.

29. “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)
A little girl escapes into a dark, dangerous fantasy world that still remains safer than the real world: war torn Spain in the 1940s. Writer/director Guillermo Del Toro uses his boundless imagination to craft a fairy tale in the tradition of such writers as the Brothers Grimm. After years of sanitizing such stories, we have forgotten how twisted and tormented fairy tales could be. This is fantasy that is very much for adults.

28. “The Birds” (1963)
Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense classic is sure to make anyone do a double take whenever they see birds en masse. It is a credit to Hitchcock’s talent that he was able to squeeze every ounce of tension out of a silly premise of birds of the world uniting and attacking humanity. While some of the effects are dated, the film still manages to scare in a big way.

27. “Topper” (1937)
Not all ghosts are scary. Some are out for a good time. A high-spirited couple (Cary Grant and Constance Bennett) become genuine spirits after a car accident and decide that, to get to heaven, they must do a good deed. They set out to liven up the marriage of uptight banker Cosmo Topper (Roland Young). Screwball mischief ensues with nice ghostly effects and well-timed physical comedy. This sweet, good-natured fun inspired two sequels and a TV series.

26. “Interview With The Vampire” (1994)
This compelling adaptation of Annie Rice’s novel centers on the family dynamic that develops between a seemingly sophisticated, but callous vampire (Tom Cruise) and his two unwilling vampire converts (Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst). Rice’s allegory of vampirism as homosexuality is dulled slightly around the edges, but this elegant and sensuous gothic tale is still an engrossing showcase for all of its stars, particularly the villainous Cruise.

25. “The Wicker Man” (1973)
A police investigator (Edward Woodward) is sent to a remote island off the coast of Scotland to investigate a missing-girl claim. His Catholic faith comes in stark contrast with the pagan beliefs of the island’s inhabitants. An eerie, erotic and an oddly tuneful atmosphere creates a quiet tension that builds to a horrifying conclusion. The film also features a fantastic turn by Christopher Lee as the outwardly benevolent leader of the island.

24. "28 Days Later" (2003)
Following the tradition of George Romero’s zombie films, director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland, balance social commentary with scares. They also add humanity and beauty to the mix. The living dead are replaced with people infected with a virus that leaves them overcome by uncontrollable rage. Shot on digital video, the film has a gritty, realistic feel — especially in the opening scenes in which a character walks through a completely deserted London.

23. “Sweeney Todd” (2007)
Stephen Sondheim’s audacious musical is given the big screen treatment by Tim Burton in this gloriously moody and bloody take on the story of a vengeful, murderous barber (the exceptional Johnny Depp), whose victims get made into meat pies by his landlord (Helena Bonheim Carter). This is a truly unique experience that blends song, horror, black comedy, satire and tragedy into a gothic tapestry that at times attains brilliance.

22. "Carrie" (1976)
The first film based on a Stephen King novel is still one of the best. The put-upon title character (Sissy Spacek) uses her telekinetic powers to get revenge after a cruel prank. Director Brian DePalma keeps the film at the level of a teen drama for the majority of the film, but that is just setup for the now legendary prom scene, which is still just as effective today as when it first came out.

21. "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974)
Starting out like a documentary before shifting to a narrative film, this influential horror film introduced the world to the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface and his truly peculiar family. With extreme close-ups, an effective use of shadows and light, and a chaotic style, the film still has genuine scares. The viewer is kept off guard by the quick and brutal deaths. Forget the sequels and remake; they don’t touch the creepiness on display here.

Woody takes a Spanish holiday

Woody Allen has increasingly become an acquired taste, but his latest film “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” — his first film set in Spain — may prove to hit the spot for those who never appreciated his work in the past.

This is Allen’s fourth film in a row — following three set in London — that was made outside of his beloved New York, the location for all of his previous films. Allen doesn’t break any new ground or try anything drastically different with his material, but as was true with "Match Point," his first London film, the writer/director seems invigorated by the Spanish locales and language. This helps the film feel fresh.

The film focuses on two American friends, the impetuous, free-spirit Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) and the logical, soon-to-wed Vicky (Rebecca Hall), who are spending the summer in Barcelona. Shortly upon arriving they meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a painter who makes them an interesting offer: join him for a weekend of good food, good wine and love-making.

Cristina is taken by the proposition and the two women do join Juan Antonio, but make no promises in the love-making category. Soon Cristina is living with Juan Antonio and Vicky is left confused by guilt of growing feelings for the mysterious Spaniard.

Just as the film begins to drag, it is enlivened by Penelope Cruz in a hilariously high-strung and overwrought performance as Juan Antonio’s ex-wife Maria Elena. Cruz, who is an extraordinary actress in her native tongue, but has struggled in English language roles, is great here and if there were any one reason to see the film, it is for her.

That isn’t to say that everyone else isn’t also working on a level of acting excellence. Those who are only familiar with Bardem for his Oscar-winning performance in “No Country For Old Men” will be surprised how charismatic and handsome he is in this film. His smooth Spanish accent gives something extra to Allen’s dialogue.

If Allen had been in the Bardem role during the pick-up scene, which he likely would’ve been 30 years ago, it would’ve played for laughs. With Bardem, the proposal, though amusing, is somewhat believable and you can hardly blame the two ladies for going along with it.

Johansson, in her third Allen film, is becoming progressively more comfortable with Allen’s brand of fast talking, sophisticated dialogue. She doesn’t seem in control of her smoldering sexuality, which is just right for Cristina, a woman who doesn’t know what she wants in life or love.

Hall, who was charming in the little-seen British comedy “Starter for 10,” has the least flashy of the four lead roles, but her quiet performance is just as compelling as Cruz’ explosive one.

Vicky, who is insecure, a bit neurotic and has a razor tongue, is the most overtly Allen-esque character of the cast. Hall gets the tone just right in delivering the tricky Allen dialogue and makes Vicky the film's most human character.

For those who care about this sort of thing, yes, Cruz and Johansson do make out. For that matter so do Bardem and Johansson and Bardem and Cruz and then all three together. There is sex, but it remains off-camera. Although the moments of passion that are shown are sensual, the film is less about the physicality of the acts than the emotional and intellectual states that they create.

The film isn’t perfect. It relies too heavily on a voice-over narration that tells the audience exactly what Vicky and Cristina are thinking. This is effective at establishing the characters quickly and allows the film to get right into the action, but becomes tiresome when it glosses over potentially compelling scenes and tells the audience things they can figure out on their own.

Allen has always had a fondness for European directors and throughout his career has attempted to emulate them. Perhaps it is the Spanish setting, but for the first time he has made a film that genuinely feels like a European art house film. It isn't "Annie Hall" or "Manhattan," but for non-fans that may be a good thing.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Top 50 Halloween movies: Part 2

You are about to enter the second installment of the top 50 Halloween movies list. The rules are simple: Any horror sub-genre or horror based comedies are fair game. Contemporary and classic films are all in the mix.

40. “An American Werewolf in London” (1981)
Director John Landis puts a droll spin on the werewolf legend, when an American backpacker (David Naughton) is bit by a wolf in the remote hills of England. The film features a spectacular transformation scene created by effects master Rick Baker that in spite of digital advances has yet to be matched. Macabre comic relief is provided by the slowly decaying ghost (Griffin Dunne) of the title character.

39. “Audition” (2000)
This Japanese horror film is one of the most deeply disturbing films on this list. For the first 45 minutes it seems like a sweet, funny romantic comedy of a widower who uses his friend’s film industry connection to meet women at a phony movie audition. Then the tone shifts, building to a surreal, twisted and horrifying ending. The reality-based opening makes the actions later in the film all the more shocking.

38. "The Fly" (1986)
In this remake of the 1958 camp classic, a scientist accidentally combines his DNA with a housefly causing him to slow turn into a human fly. This is a rare remake that manages to one-up its predecessor. In spite of all the effects — which are quite graphic — there is a genuine emotional resonance. Jeff Goldblum's dynamic, heartfelt performance is what makes the film so successful, keeping his man-fly human even as he becomes more monstrous in appearance.

37. “The Sixth Sense” (1999)
It is easy to dismiss M. Night Shyamalan now that he’s become a one-trick pony, but his first trick still packs a punch. The movie has some undeniable jolts, superb atmosphere and one heck of a twist. Bruce Willis’ understated performance proved he could effectively play against his action hero persona. Haley Joel Osment's performance as the quintessential creepy kid that can “see dead people” is a classic for the ages.

36. “Rebecca” (1940)
Alfred Hitchcock makes his first appearance on the list with a very different kind of ghost story. Widower Laurence Olivier marries Joan Fontaine in a whirlwind romance, but when they arrive at his expansive estate the memory of his first wife lingers in every corner. Although there are no ghoulish apparitions, the film is dabbed in dread and the cold housekeeper (Judith Anderson) is far creepier than any spirit.

35. “The Addams Family” (1991)
Based on the 1950s TV show, the film is closer in spirit to the macabre humor of the Charles Addams New Yorker comic strip that inspired the show. This is dark yet family-friendly humor at its absolute best, delivered to perfection by the ideal cast of Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia, Christopher Lloyd and Christina Ricci, in the role that made her a star.

34. “Scream” (1996)
More than a decade after creating “Nightmare on Elm Street,” director Wes Craven, working from a self-referential script by Kevin Williamson, brought back the slasher film by making a movie that was both horror and a satire of itself. The film’s characters have seen all the same movies the audience has and know the rules. A must-see for fans of the slasher sub-genre.

33. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956)
The population of a small town is slowly being replaced by “pod-people,” alien replicas that look like and have all the memories of the original, but none of emotions. Great film noir lighting, a tight pace and a great performance from Kevin McCarthy raise the film beyond the limitations of the genre. Also check out the excellent 1978 remake starring Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy.

32. “Poltergeist” (1982)
The haunted house movie gets kicked up several notches in this film written and produced by Steven Spielberg. The daughter of a family is kidnapped via a television by evil spirits — and thus begins a battle to save her before she is lost forever. None of the quiet psychological moments of “The Haunting” or “The Others” here. They have been replaced by highly effective, hair-raising, edge-of-your-seat special effects. Well-paced and genuinely disturbing.

31. “Shaun of the Dead” (2004)
Imagine a British romantic comedy with a slacker (Simon Pegg) trying to win his ex-girlfriend back. Nothing special, right? Now add zombies into the mix. Pegg and his best mate on and off camera, Nick Frost, are a dynamic comedic duo as they use everything from cricket bats, records and pool cues to battle the undead. This is a genre parody that doesn’t forget to create characters that we actually care about.

Theater and dance join forces in the 'House of Usher'

The Resort Players of Mount Washington Valley has teamed with Axis Dance Company for a well mounted but flawed production of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” which continues its run at the Eastern Slope Playhouse in North Conway, N.H. Oct. 10 and 11 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 12 at 2 p.m.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is among Edgar Allen Poe’s most famous works and could be a fertile source for drama, but the adaptation by playwright Steven Berkoff stretches the material of the story far too thin. At 90 minutes, including an intermission, the production still feels too long. The show would’ve made a great 30- or 40-minute one-act, but at this length it feels needlessly padded.

Poe’s story was about the sickly Usher siblings, Roderick (Tom O’Reilly) and Madeline (Rae McCarey), who are visited by a friend (Dan Phelps), who attempts to put Roderick’s unstable mind at ease. Berkoff’s adaptation does little to expand upon this simple premise, and what additions he does make are more confusing than compelling.

There is an allusion to vampirism that is made early on and never referenced again. At times the actors will switch from being a third-person narrator back into their characters. Berkoff’s script becomes particularly desperate when one character actually pulls a copy of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” from a bookshelf and begins reading from it. It is as if this was the only way Berkoff could work these lines into his adaptation.

The play’s shortcomings fall squarely on Berkoff’s script. Undoubtedly this material can be extended successfully, but Berkoff doesn’t do Poe’s work justice. It is a shame the script wasn’t stronger, as all the elements of the Resort Players' production are top notch.

The lighting design by Christopher S. Chamber generates a moody atmosphere. The music comprised of disjointed string and piano arrangements paired with black and white video footage reflect the unstable minds of the characters. Tom Rebmann’s sparse set design, with chairs hanging from the ceiling and a slanted floor, creates the feeling of a decaying house.

There are several modern dances inserted into the show choreographed by Jeanne Limmer and performed by Miriah Mosher, Eliza Dubie and Erica Perry. These dances, particularly one set during a rainstorm in the second act, are effective at enhancing the sense of madness and horror of the material.

The actors can’t be faulted either. O’Reilly, speaking in a hushed, mousy voice, seems like the quintessential slightly-mad Poe character. McCarey doesn’t have much in the way of dialogue, but gives a physically expressive performance. She has some priceless facial expressions during a dinner scene that provide the production with its few moments of levity. Phelps is required to play straightman to the peculiar Ushers, and he fills the role well.

When the show allows for Poe’s language to stand on its own, it is spectacular to hear it spoken. The juiciest parts of the production don’t come until the second act, which is genuinely frightening and, if you make it through the meandering first act, worth the price of admission.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Top 50 Halloween movies: Part 1

Halloween is the time of year to get together with friends and family and scare yourselves silly. In the spirit of that idea, I give you part one of my top 50 Halloween movies. The list includes not only scary movies, but ghoulishly-themed comedies.

50. "Friday the 13th" (1980)
The original 1980s slasher film is basically a poor man’s version of the far superior "Halloween," but it still managed to spawn one of the longest running horror franchises. The counselors of Camp Crystal Lake are getting set for the reopening of the camp 23 years after a horrible tragedy. It is no surprise what happens next. Gratuitous sex and nudity, grisly deaths, high body count, it is all here.

49. “Saw” (2004)
The 1980s had Jason, Freddy and Michael. The 21st century has Jigsaw, a killer who challenges social deviants to change or die through terrible torture. In this first installment, two men are trapped in a bathroom with one told he must kill the other or his family will die. The rest of the series has become increasingly more gory, but this one is more based in the mind and all the better for it.

48. "Dead Alive" (1992)
If you thought Norman Bates had mother problems just wait until you meet Vera. Poor Lionel not only does he have an oppressive mother, but after a bite for a mysterious monkey she turns into a bloodthirsty zombie. Before director Peter Jackson made the Academy Award winning "Lord of the Rings" he was the man behind some of the most creative horror movies ever, including this hilarious, but gruesome comedy. An iron stomach and a twisted sense of humor are pre-requisites for viewing.

47. "The Ring" (2002)
Based on the Japanese film "Ringu," this remake in some ways out-does the original. The film quickly made its way into our cultural lexicon with the premise of a tape that promises death seven days after viewing it. What sounds like nothing more than a gimmick transcends its somewhat silly premise thanks to atmospheric direction by Gore Verbinski and strong performances from Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson and Brian Cox.

46. “Little Shop of Horrors” (1986)
The first, but not the last, musical to appear on this list tells the story of the nebbish Seymour (Rick Moranis) and Audrey II, his man-eating plant from outer space. Director Frank Oz successfully captures the zaniness of the Motown-flavored off-Broadway show and peppers the film with hilarious guest appearances by the likes of John Candy and Bill Murray. Steve Martin steals the movie, though, as the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, DDS.

45. "Gremlins" (1984)
When a boy is given a cute fuzzy little pet, he is told three rules: Sunlight kills him, don't get him wet and don't feed him after midnight. But you can't give kids anything. Before long the nice Gizmo has spawned the gross, mischievous gremlins. Director Joe Dante makes a scary and funny homage to monster movies. If your tastes lean more toward comedy than scares, check out the more slapstick, but worthy sequel.

44. "The Others" (2001)
The first of many haunted-house films to appear on the list, this is the best of the most recent entries to this horror sub-category. A mother (Nicole Kidman) and her light allergic children live in a house that is poorly lit by oil lamps and candles, leaving all kinds of creepy shadows for ghosts to hide in. The film gets scares the best way — by not showing things and leaving the mind to assume the worst.

43. "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948)
The comic duo behind "Who's on First?" not only meets Frankenstein's monster, but Dracula and the Wolfman. This was the last hooray for the original Universal Studio monsters including Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman. Bud and Lou made a series of creature feature comedies and this one is best, if not their best movie period. The monsters are in great form as is the comedy duo.

42. "House on Haunted Hill" (1959)
When it comes to campy horror films, this is hard to beat and is probably Vincent Price's most entertaining film. Price asks five strangers to spend an evening in a haunted house for $10,000 each. Naturally all sorts of sinister things start to happen. Is it the eccentric Price the whole time or is the house really haunted? It really doesn't matter, it is all just cheesy fun in the best kind of way.

41. "The Haunting" (1963)
Somewhat similar in premise to "House on Haunted Hill" this time around a doctor doing research in the paranormal invites a group of researchers to the supposedly haunted Hill House. Through voice-over, we hear the thoughts of Eleanor (Julie Harris) as the house slowly drives her mad making the film's bumps-in-the-night all the more psychological. Sets the standard for haunted house films.