Friday, August 13, 2010

Obscure Film of the Moment: CHILD'S PLAY - plus some excellent news for documentary fans

Well, news first - I had the opportunity, at film school, to see the infamous DEMON LOVER DIARY (the original AMERICAN MOVIE) and SEVENTEEN, films by the duo Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines. SEVENTEEN was quite hot at the time, because it was part of a documentary series for PBS called MIDDLETOWN, and it was the only film in that series that was withheld from broadcast, due to its unvarnished and no bullshit look at the American Teenager.  Strong stuff, and memorable -- it's been over 25 years since I last saw it, and those who've been lucky enough to see it at film festivals and special screenings over the years have been jonesing for a copy.

While DEMON LOVER DIARY remains an underground legend (and can be found if one looks in just the right places, let's just say), SEVENTEEN has been harder to track. One could purchase a VHS tape for the pricey sum of $300, or try to hustle an invite to sites that hosted it in torrentland...  For the past year, SEVENTEEN has been popping up in special screenings at film festivals, which usually means that something special is coming down the road.

Well, the news is good - in fact, it's BETTER than just Good, it's GREAT - the MIDDLETOWN series is being released on DVD, and it includes SEVENTEEN! Scheduled to hit retail in September... so get your pre-orders in, and/or request that your local library purchase a copy.

Here's a taste:

Now to the second good deed of the day...

Sidney Lumet is a well-respected director who, over the years, has dipped into quite a few genres, although he's mainly known for tight dramas usually involving cops and criminals... although he's never done horror. Straight on, balls out, booga-booga horror, that is - although, depending on your definition, that can be stretched... FAIL-SAFE is pretty intense, nut-tightening tension, and a horror story of a different sort, although DR. STRANGELOVE just pawns everything in the Nuclear War story ghetto.
He's done quite a few thrillers; but straight on horror is something that Lumet has really never approached.

CHILD'S PLAY doesn't really qualify as horror; it's more of a psychological thriller, but it's the closest that Lumet comes to the genre - it's quite content to wrap itself up in that cloak and go BOO...

That look of puzzlement on your face is no accident; you've never seen this, and most of you are thinking, "Where's Chucky?", when the title was mentioned. If you're above the age of 55, you may have heard of this, if not ever having seen it. It started as a very successful play in 1970, written by Robert Marasco -- and if that name is familiar, it's because of a book he wrote called BURNT OFFERINGS, which was made into a movie that scared the shit out of many a person. It's also how CHILD'S PLAY can be lumped in with the horror genre, at least in the psychological end of the pool.
At the very least, it's a horror film for teachers.

CHILD'S PLAY was very successful in its New York run, but the film version is pretty much unheard of - it didn't get a wide release, and it never went to home video in the U.S. I remember reading about it in film catalogs. It may have been seen on rare occasions on television, when stations used to broadcast movies that were older than the past five years... the copy that I saw is apparently from Spanish television, since it has subtitles burned in.

I'm attempting to be somewhat oblique about it... hard to do when you're talking about something that no one has seen and you don't want to spoil everything. Most of the links will take you to additional information about the film, so no need to linger over trivia such as Marlon Brando being sued for walking off the picture... interesting as it is.

So, here's a series of screenshots, to give you a very rough idea of watching it.

It's a very paced and deliberate film... it takes place in a Catholic Boy's School, so that provides lots of atmosphere to milk, from subtle homoeroticism to pre-EXORCIST stirrings. The premise of the film is, basically, a battle for the soul of the school, contained in the rivalry of two elder teachers (GREAT performances by James Mason and Robert Preston). That battle is more metaphorical than supernatural, but there is just a hint that the little evils that Men do may just leave the door open for a much larger Evil...

One may even find parallels to the present day, especially with education being a major concern, and the presence of charismatic individuals who play skull-farmers, planting and harvesting ideas that may not be in everyone's best interest... heck, even BURNT OFFERINGS can now be seen, in the shadow of the housing financial crisis as a black comedy about home ownership - where the house literally sucks the life out of the residents. But that could just be me.

Point being, although not technically horror, CHILD'S PLAY still has plenty to offer the viewer who does like their horror to be unsettling instead of merely gross. But again, it's not easy to see - Amazon appears to offer the movie, in their "Burn on Demand" selection, where you can either rent or buy -- though the reviews are all about the "Child's Play" with Chucky. There is the possibility that it may get a release though other outlets, now that the Paramount vaults are slowly opening up, but it may not be anytime soon. Outside of that, the options of the interested public finding this are slim... very slim... next to nothing... just hopeless.

Which makes posts like this really frustrating, but that's part of the package when dealing with the obscure...