Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Spooky fare at the Castro Theatre


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The balance of October at the Castro Theatre feels like a long introduction to Halloween, a pagan holiday with many devotees in the neighborhood. Among the treats are a day (10/15) devoted to the classic 30s Frankenstein film trilogy.

The 21st Arab Film Festival, a showcase for Arab-content narrative features and docs, kicks off with "Solitaire," Sophia Boutros' feature about a young woman mourning the wartime death of her beloved brother. (10/13)

"Frankenstein" (1931) With Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff. Adapted from Mary Shelley's 19th-century novel. A classic mad scientist recklessly seeks to create a humanlike creature to serve him. Dr. Frankenstein carelessly fits the creature with a criminal brain, which quickly leads to murder and worse. A surprise hit, with a box office take of $1 million-and-a-half when movie tickets were a dime. One of the reasons for its appeal was the skill of its director James Whale, a tortured gay man whose story is told in Bill Condon's 1999 bio-pic "Gods and Monsters."

"Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) The monster acquires female companionship, a career jumpstart for Elsa Lanchester, and a franchise is born.

"Son of Frankenstein" (1939) Made without Whale, ushering in a period when the scientist and his monster would be available for hire to the top bidder. Stars Basil Rathbone as Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, Lugosi as bearded hunchback Ygor, and Lionel Atwill as Inspector Krogh. (all 3: 10/15)

"House of Horrors" (1946) Star Rondo Hatton suffered from a disfiguring disease that made his monster-movie turns especially convincing. Here he's "The Creeper," a mad killer doing the bidding of an unscrupulous artist.

"The Spiritualist" (1948) This late-40s look at spiritual mediums benefits from a great B&W look and a richly romantic subtext: young wife seeking to contact young dead husband.

"The Soul of a Monster" (1944) This short "B" feature (61 mins) depicts the fate of a dying doctor, saved at the last minute by a mystery woman. (all 3: 10/16)

"Dirty Dancing" (1987) The late Patrick Swayze is a heartbreaker as a sexy dancing instructor at a 60s Catskills resort. Jennifer Grey is the young lass swept off her feet in this Oscar-honored (Best Song) soap.

"The Lost Boys" (1987) Openly gay director Joel Schumacher directs this Santa Cruz Boardwalk-set boys-and-vampires camp fest, with a perfect 80s cast highlighted by Corey Feldman and Corey Haim. (both 10/17)

"Shadow of a Doubt" (1943) Alfred Hitchcock directs Joseph Cotton in a twisted family thriller set in WWII-era Santa Rosa. Cotton is the too-friendly uncle who arrives in town leaving a trail of victims in his wake. Cotton's teenage niece starts to suspect that Uncle Charlie is a twisted piece of work who must be brought to justice.

"Smile" (1975) Michael Ritchie's classic satire set around a young women's beauty pageant. Co-stars a young Bruce Dern. (both 10/18)

"Under the Skin" (2013) Set in urban Scotland, this odd thriller has a beautiful woman (Scarlett Johansson) roaming the streets of Glasgow to pick up young men for bad purposes. Tips the male/female relationship on its head and allows the woman to be the predator.

"Enter the Void" (2009) Very weird Gaspar Noe murder tale set in a mysterious Tokyo nightclub. Long, not for all tastes, but certainly different. (both 10/19)

"The Old Dark House" (1932) This early James Whale-directed thriller is a kind of preview of his work on the Frankenstein films, including the use of Boris Karloff.

"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974) RIP screening of the late Tobe Hooper's classic slasher masterpiece, based on events that transpired in Wisconsin. Texas just sounded edgier. (both 10/20)

"Suspiria" (1977) Dario Argento explores murder at a German ballet school.

"Phantom of the Paradise" (1974) Brian De Palma concocted this rock version of "Phantom of the Opera." Paul Williams stars. (both 10/22)

"Murder by Contract" (1958) Vince Edwards stars in this neglected fictional study of what prompts a man to kill for money.

"The Crimson Kimono" (1959) Sam Fuller explores an LA stripper's murder, revealing a hidden side of the late-50s Southland. (both 10/23)

"Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" (1965) Russ Meyer's exploitation piece can be viewed 10 ways to Sunday as a spoof or what-have-you. It's best to just enjoy this raunchy ride as a campy pop jolt.

"Female Trouble" (1974) Early John Waters slapdash comedy with Divine in her most over-the-top attack on middle-class respectability as Dawn Davenport. (both 10/24)

"Touch of Evil" (1958) Orson Welles' last Hollywood dip is a noir parody with Welles delicious as the overweight retired dick brought back to crack a case. Janet Leigh, Ray Collins and Charlton Heston head up a top-drawer supporting ensemble that gives this B&W thriller the feel of a lost Perry Mason episode. 

"The Trial" (1962) Welles' sublime take on the Kafka story about a young man (post-"Psycho" Anthony Perkins) on trial for a crime that's never explained. (both 10/25)

"Aliens" (1986) James Cameron directs this lost-in-space sequel, with a very good Sigourney Weaver trying to survive a gaggle of space monsters.

"Near Dark" (1987) Katherine Bigelow helms this creepy romantic dive into a world where the creatures are never called vampires. (both 10/26)

"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) Frank Sinatra, in his best screen turn, is a post-traumatic-stress-recovering Korean War vet who entertains dark suspicions about an aloof war buddy, the socially retarded Lawrence Harvey. Harvey's parents are on a dangerous mission to secure a right-wing party's presidential nod. The film's outlandish plot turns on an astonishing flashback sequence where it's revealed that Harvey's character is a ticking human time-bomb under the control of a sinister North Korean op. Yes, it's as fresh as today's headlines, and a great way to endure our current Korean stalemate.

"The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956) Don Siegel's original science-fiction classic is still an important and scary film statement on political conformity and threats from alien forces. Kevin McCarthy stars as a helpless observer who watches friends and neighbors turn into zombies in service of unseen sinister forces. This melodrama, which carried an anti-commie subtext during the McCarthy era, still feels timely when the evildoers may have actually seized the White House. (both 10/30)

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