Howard Waldrop Film Festival

By Howard Waldrop
Used by permission of the author

The Projectionist (1970)

This movie does things they didn’t do again ’til ten or fifteen years later with Zelig and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. The actors are put in the middle of stock footage and film clips.  Chuck McCann is a projectionist in a movie house, and his dream alter-ego superhero.  Manager of the theater (a martinet in real life) and the dream super-villain of McCann’s dream-film world, is Rodney Dangerfield (10 years before his big hits Easy Money and Back to School).  Ina Balin is McCann’s love interest in the real world (and menaced by Dangerfield, in best Oil Can Harry fashion in the dream-world).

The film is told mostly thru film clips (this is the first one to realize the introduction to Rick’s Café Americain is a tracking shot by putting McCann in it).  There’s a sequence when McCann calls on the Forces of Good (and Dangerfield does the same for the Forces of Evil).  Every clip of each is more wonderful than the last.

Mostly filmed on weekends when he wasn’t doing his local kids’ show (and when Dangerfield was in town doing his Get-No-Respect stand-up appearances) over a period of (I’m told) one to 3 years, in any case, it’s a small enduring miracle.

There’s a sequence in one of the Terrible World of Tomorrow scenes — mostly made up from old D.W. Griffith nightmares of the nightmare world-to-come of the 20th Century — that never fails to make an audience Lose It like they lost it for Benjamin at the church in The Graduate or when the Cutters win the bike race in Breaking Away.

Watch it and see.

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001)

A bunch of actors you’ve seen a whole lot set out to make a true spoof of horror movies and come up with a classic.  They filmed it in color and printed it in b&w to better approximate 50s and 60s film stock.  (The DVD has an outtake in color — it’s nothing like what you imagine the clothes the actors are wearing, in the b&white print).  The main special effect is one of those $200 skeletons that hang in osteopathic offices, and more imaginatively than $2 million of effects are used in 2/3 of the movies ever made.

They knew exactly what they were doing when they made this.

You will take the look exchanged between Ranger Brad and Animalia with you to your grave.

Them! (1954)

The template for all monster movies that followed.  Structured as a mystery movie (what is causing all this chaos?), others copied that too, even when they didn’t need to. As the late great Bill Warren said, “When characters try to figure out what they’re dealing with, in a movie called The Deadly Mantis or Tarantula, they come off as dense, not resourceful.”

Directed by Gordon Douglas (brought in to make it in 3-D, as he’d just come off directing Doris Day and Frank Sinatra in Young at Heart in that process), instead filmed in 2-D black and white.  Superior script, and acting by James Arness, James Whitmore, Joan Weldon and Edmund Gwenn.  Bits by Dub Taylor, Olin Howland, Leonard Nimoy.  Career-making bit by Fess Parker as “Alan Crotty” while holding up his pajama bottoms with one hand.

Others tried to keep making this again and again, but they never came close.

Matinee (1993)

Joe Dante’s salute to everything he (and we) love about SF movies.  Ostensibly about a William Castle-type exploitation director-producer (“Lawrence Woolsey” played by John Goodman) coming down to Key West FL to promote his movie during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 (“When better to show a horror movie than when everyone is scared to death?”)  The film is called MANT (“half man — half ant — All Monster”).  We follow the adults and kids of the town leading up to the premiere, especially at the movie theater where it will be shown (run by Robert Picardo), the psycho boyfriend of the love-interest teen girl (the psycho is named Starkweather, an homage to the teen spree-killer of the ‘50s) — he’s been hired to don the MANT-suit in the live-action sequences in the showing).  The lead teen is a Famous Monsters of Filmland fan who recognizes one of the advance men Woolsey has hired (Dick Miller) to stir up trouble, from one of Woolsey’s earlier films.

We got teenage angst: The film captures The Cuban Missile Crisis, William Castle and his type of showmanship now gone from the movies forever.  With Robert Cornthwaite (the lead scientist from The Thing from Another World), Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) to William Schallert (everything from The Man from Planet X to Tobor the Great to Them!) in the clips we see from MANT itself.

Dante knows the Missile Crisis was the last time the US military was seen as the Good Guys, and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is used twice in the movie, once as a lullaby to calm down the teen’s younger anxious brother, the second time as a warning about Viet Nam.

This may be Dante’s best movie, despite all his other successful films.

The Host (2006)

A Korean film whose influence was world-wide.  Without it, there could have been no Cloverfield or The Battle for L.A.  The analogy I made was “as if Them! was filmed entirely from the POV of the Lodge kids in the storm drain.”

A family that runs a squid shop on the river starts a normal day.  Something huge approaches; there’s chaos; when it’s over the daughter is missing.  The family spends the rest of the movie looking for her in the unimaginable aftermath.  Just sit back and watch how a movie can suck you in to problems you never thought of.  Monsters as natural disasters, like a big hurricane or flood.

Monsters (2010)

The set-up:  Two Americans have lost their passports; they try to get from Mexico to the U.S.

The problem:  alien things have crashed in interior Mexico years before: this is the aliens’ mating season, making overland travel almost impossible so the only way to get to the U.S. is by boat in the Gulf.

We follow the two, and there’s not a dumb move in the film.

Except for the two leads all the others are not professional actors.  They were filmed on various locations around Mexico.  The best (of a corrupt officious clerk) is played by a guy they found running a bodega somewhere — he’s everything you don’t want to see in officialdom.  (Alfonso Bedoya could not have done it better.)

The military is trying to destroy the aliens.  Pay attention to the sound editing — there’s hardly ten seconds of the film where the sound of far-off jets, bombings, artillery barrages and convoys aren’t heard.  Ox carts come around bends with smashed jet engines on them.  This movie makes a world you’d believe in.

The only glimpse we see of the U.S. border has a Trump-style high wall across it (to keep the monsters out?).  I’m sure this film has gained in resonance since its release.  The special effects are done on a laptop, very well indeed.

I’m sure money will ruin this director, if he ever gets any.