Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Countdown to Halloween 2014: 
4. Five Million Years to Earth (1967)
(original title Quatermass and the Pit)
Previously: 1. Teeny-Tiny and the Witch Woman, 2. Masque of the Red Death, 3. Children of the Stones

Dr. Roney (James Donald) stares into the ancient face of evil in Five Million Years to Earth

This is the best film in my modest little Halloween retrospective.

I hold Five Million Years to Earth in such high regard that I have been pushing and recommending it since high school.

This film is as important to me as Star Wars, Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or any of the other films I saw as a child during the 1980s that spawned my love of science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction. This despite the fact that I first saw it on TV with commercials almost twenty years after it was made (and have yet to see it uncut and on the big screen), and it had special effects that even as a child I knew were crude and old-fashioned. 

I even remember where and when I saw it: Sitting in the living room of my family house in River Forest around '85 or '86 on SuperStation WTBS TV Atlanta via Cablevision of Chicago. I was initially drawn in by the title, which made me think of Ray Harryhausen's giant monster movie 20 Million Miles to Earth  (I loved old Harryhausen films), and ended up being sucked into a very different cinematic experience.


PLOT POINTS AND SPOILERS FOLLOW

The film begins with an incredible discovery: Construction on the London Underground uncovers a collection of fossils of early man. Scientists led by Dr. Matthew Roney (James Donald, best known for roles in Bridge Over the River Kwai and The Great Escape) establish a dig site and begin work. However, they run into another unexpected find: A giant metallic object of unknown origin. Officials assume it's an unexploded German bomb from World War II that buried itself into the ground upon impact (a not uncommon occurrence), so they contact the military to send a disposal team. However, the object proves to be a puzzle. Though apparently made of metal, it presents absolutely no magnetic properties. It also resists all attempts to mechanically pry it open.

Handling of the situation is passed upward to the Colonel Breen (played by Julian Glover, a British character actor with a huge list of genre film credits including the Bond villain in For Your Eyes Only, the AT-AT commander in The Empire Strikes Back, and a corrupt businessman in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He's currently playing Grand Maester Pycelle on Game of Thrones). At the time he is called, Breen is having disagreements with Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir), an eccentric and idealist rocket scientist, over the direction of Britain's (fictional) space program. By happenstance, Quatermass ends up accompanying Breen on his initial survey of the dig site, and that's when stuff gets really interesting.

Once dug out, the object does resemble a projectile, but not one of any earthly origin. And it's completely smooth, unscathed and free of any signs of rust or aging. Breen is nonplussed, but Quatermass is intrigued when he finds out from Roney that the soil around the object is the same as the fossils, dating back five million years

Colonel Breen examines the thing in the pit

More and more mysteries come to light. An accessible inner chamber is found in the object with markings on a wall that Quatermass recognizes as a symbol from pagan magic. Investigating the neighborhood with Roney's assistant Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley, a 60s era scream queen), Quatermass finds that it has a history of hauntings and supernatural reports dating back to the Middle Ages. In fact, the neighborhood is called Hobbs End, and Barbara points out that "Hob" is an old name for the Devil

As the dig progresses, strange things happen. A soldier panics, insisting that he has witnessed a hideous dwarf-like being materialize through a wall. An attempt to drill into the object sets off an odd unsettling vibration that reverberates through the entire dig site. And then a workman is chased from the site and through the neighborhood by unseen forces that churn up violent winds and send objects flying.

Then suddenly, inexplicably and without warning, the inner chamber opens up and reveals the long-dead remains of large insectoid beings. Quatermass and Roney note that with their crouching shape and horned heads, they vaguely resemble church gargoyles or even horned demons.
"They've been dead for a long time . . ." - Quatermass

Quatermass, Roney and Judd continue their investigation, now examining the insect bodies, and Quatermass hits upon an astounding theory: perhaps the strange occurrences, the ship, the fossils and the neighborhood's history of hauntings are all connected. The ship is the only remaining evidence of an alien race; a race that came to Earth five million years ago. And based on physical anomalies in the fossil remains, Quatermass theorizes that perhaps this race experimented on our ape ancestors. Maybe, we in fact owe our very human condition to their experimentation (!). And maybe more than that. Maybe our image of the devil and beliefs in the supernatural have been inherited from them as well. 

Breen of course is skeptical, and most of the military and government officials share his view. But Quatermass is deeply troubled. The fact that odd physical disturbances have occurred again since unearthing the object indicates to him that maybe not everything is dead as it seems, and may have serious consequences for all those concerned, to say nothing of the human race.

SPOILERS END

Five Million Years to Earth is an incredibly ambitious film idea-wise. At the start it feels like it's going to be a straightforward mystery with scientific elements, and at the end turns into a mind-blowing blend of science fiction and supernatural horror, attributing both our evolutionary development as a species and all of our superstitions to extraterrestrial intervention. It's everything Prometheus tried to be, absent stupid characters and gratuitous gore.  And it's very appealing if you're a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, in terms of the cosmic and ancient nature of the terrors the characters are forced to confront.

It's also a surprisingly unknown film in the U.S. outside of die-hard science fiction and horror film aficionados. At least in my personal encounters, I tend to meet more people who don't know about it than those who do. This despite the fact that everything I've read up on the film indicate that it's considered extremely important and influential. It's cited by Stephen King as one of the inspirations for The Tommyknockers. Director John Carpenter is a big fan, similarly blending science and the magic in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (the original screenplay of which was written by Quatermass author Nigel Kneale) and Prince of Darkness (which Carpenter wrote but is credited under the pseudonym "Martin Quatermass"). Carpenter also used the name "Hobb's End" for the setting of his film In the Mouth of Madness

In the U.K. Quatermass is a big deal. I first learned about this in high school when I picked up a copy of Files Magazine Spotlight on Doctor Who Season One by John Peel at Rick's One Stop Comics in Oak Park. Reading about the origins of Doctor Who, I discovered that Five Million Years to Earth was not a standalone work. It was actually a remake of an older 1950s black & white BBC serial, which itself was a sequel to two previous Quatermass serials (The Quatermass Experiment and Quatermass II). I learned more details on the serials from Bill Warren's great book Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties. Each one featured the character of Bernard Quatermass dealing with extraterrestrial horrors, relying only on his wits, intelligence and fierce determination. As with Five Million Years to Earth, the other two serials were also adapted into movies by the British company Hammer Films, which were subsequently re-titled for U.S. release (The Quatermass Xperiment a.k.a. The Creeping Unknown and Quatermass 2 a.k.a. Enemy from Space). 
The original serials - The Quatermass Experiment (1953), Quatermass II (1955), Quatermass and the Pit (1958)
- broadcast live on the BBC

The films - The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), Quatermass II (1957), Quatermass and the Pit (1967)


U.S. titles- The Creeping Unknown (1955)Enemy from Space (1957)Five Million Years to Earth (1967)

The Quatermass serials were one of the major inspirations for Doctor Who (although Kneale himself, despite being courted to write for the show, apparently hated it). There's definitely a spiritual connection between the tough, uncompromising, scientifically-minded and heroic Professor Quatermass and the crusading Time Lord. The mostly earthbound era of third Doctor Jon Pertwee mined the original Quatermass serials heavily for ideas (one serial "The Daemons" blatantly ripped off most of the major concepts from Five Million Years to Earth). The show has also paid homage several times over the years. The 1988 serial "Remembrance of the Daleks," set in 1963, name-checked a British rocket scientist named "Bernard," and in the 2009 special  "Planet of the Dead"  a scientist refers to "Bernard" and "Quatermass" as made-up units of measurements. More recently, the 2013 episode "Hide" places a heavy emphasis on mixing science and the occult, and it's writer Neil Cross has explicitly stated that he was inspired by Quatermass, and in fact, had tried to include the character, but the rights could not be obtained (There is, however, a similar character in the finished script). 

And Quatermass itself didn't die out after those three serials and three films. A final mini-series written by Kneale simply titled Quatermass and re-edited for theatrical release as The Quatermass Conclusion was made in 1979. I saw it on a VHS rental in 1991, and from what I recall, despite some really interesting ideas, it's a bit of a let-down after the far-reaching nature of  Five Million Years to Earth's plot. Also, despite coming out much later than the earlier serials and films, it's effects and production feel even chintzier and dated to me.



And just to show you how much the character has stood the test of time in its home country, in 2005 the BBC mounted a new version of the original serial The Quatermass Experiment. As an homage to the original production, this one was broadcast live just like the first three serials in the '50s. However, instead of breaking the story into multiple episodes, it was done as a single one-night TV movie. It also featured an all-star cast including Jason Flemying as Quatermass and Mark Gatiss (co-creator and co-star of Sherlock) and David Tennant in supporting roles (Bit of trivia, Tennant was informed that he had been cast in Doctor Who during the shoot).  


In any case, I recommended Five Million Years to Earth/Quatermass and the Pit more than twenty years ago when I first saw it, and I still recommend it today. It's one of the most intelligent combinations of science fiction and supernatural horror ever made and has stood the test of time.



UPDATE
Found an old posting at Cinemassacre with a great video overview of the original three Quatermass films. 






Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Martial Arts for the Month of November



If you're in the Chicago area and looking to try something new, I'll be leading a four-session intro to aikido class at Chicago Aikido Club (CAC) this November. This is a pilot program for a new class concept we're trying out. Things are going to be very stripped-down and simplified for raw newcomers; we're even eschewing tradition and not requiring anyone to wear a white gi (that's a karate or judo uniform for the uninitiated).  Detailed information below:



Action from the Center
An introduction to centering, mindful breathing and relaxed responsiveness
based on the martial art of aikido

Four 90-minute sessions covering four different topics

1.   Power vs. Strength (November 2)
Projection of integrated physical power, not muscular strength, through relaxation and centering

2.   Presence vs. Speed (November 9)
Development of a calm physical presence for self-awareness and basic self-defense

3.   Sword of the Mind (November 16)
Cultivation of a grounded mind and body through use of the Japanese practice sword (bokken)

4.   Uncontrolled Control (November 23)
Discovery of intuitive response through dynamic non-resistance in self-defense scenarios

Each session held on Sundays from 4:00pm to 5:30pm
4427 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640

No experience or special uniform necessary. Classes will be conducted in regular workout clothes.

$15 per session or $50 for complete package


Please contact Chicago Aikido Club (CAC) at (773) 634-9824 or info@chicagoaikidoclub.com for questions or to preregister.

For more information, please visit us on the web:
http://chicagoaikidoclub.wordpress.com/
http://www.chicagoaikidoclub.com/
http://www.facebook.com/groups/329048441330
https://twitter.com/search?q=Chicago%20Aikido%20Club&src=typd
http://www.yelp.com/biz/chicago-aikido-club-chicago
http://dojos.info/ChicagoAikidoClub/



Sunday, October 19, 2014

On the Wisdom of the Baby Buddha

Facebook meme my wife Czerina created with a photo of Jack

Attending to my baby in the wee hours of the morning for his regular cycle of waking, changing and feeding, I find myself marveling at his purity of mind and spirit.

For there is no guile in the Baby, no secrets, no hidden agenda. You don't have to wonder if they like or dislike what you are doing. Joy is immediately communicated through contented sighs or peals of laughter; discontent in the form of furrowed brows, quivering chins and unmistakable tearful bawling.

No time is wasted reading in-between the lines of e-mails or texts, attempting to discern hidden messages from tone of voice or speculating if their actions stem from being passive-aggressive, aggressive-aggressive, inadvertently rude or clueless overenthusiasm. No, the Baby is genuine and possesses a sense of oneness that would be the envy of any pilgrim striving to reach Nirvana.

I can think of a lot of people, myself included, who have spent a lot of time and in some cases money studying ways to feel alive, intuitive and in the moment. Classrooms and studios across the country are crammed with individuals committing themselves to pursuits such as martial arts, acting, yoga, dance, music, improv, meditation, so on and so forth, trying to find out how they can just be.

And then there's the Baby, with the regular cycle of waking, changing and feeding. And that's all there is to it. I seriously think the sound of the universe in its most elemental state just might be "Goo."

How exactly do we screw up and lose this wonderful simplicity on the road to adulthood?
Guess I'll get to find out when my son graduates to toddlerhood.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Countdown to Halloween 2014: 
3. Children of the Stones (ITV, 1976)
Previously: 1. Teeny-Tiny and the Witch Woman, 2. Masque of the Red Death


The stone circle at the Avebury Unesco World Heritage Site, the inspiration for The Children of the Stones.  
Photo: Heathcliff O'Malley

Today cable TV is the go-to place for original programming, but back in the early days its networks were still wanting for content.  Children's channel Nickelodeon was no different. While it did have a slate of homegrown shows, Nickelodeon also filled out its early 80's schedule with imports like the Canadian sketch comedies You Can't Do That On Television and Turkey Television and the British science fiction drama The Tomorrow People (which recently resurfaced as a short-lived US remake on the CW).

One show that sticks out in memory is The Third Eye, which actually was a compilation of four different serials from the UK and New Zealand (Into the Labyrinth, The Haunting of Cassie Palmer, Children of the Stones, and Under the Mountain). While most of Nickelodeon's programming was geared towards comedic or educational shows, with a few family-friendly action adventures, all of the stories shown on the Third Eye were dark and menacing, and with the exception of Under the Mountain, tales of the supernatural.

Each episode was preceded by this Rod Serling-ish opening.

By far the scariest and most memorable of the serials for me was Children of the Stones. So much so, I sought it out as an adult and watched all seven episodes on Youtube not long ago. And though its flat videotaped images and low-budget special effects (on par with old Doctor Who) have blunted its ability to frighten me now, it's certainly strong enough in the writing and acting departments that I can still see how it was the stuff of nightmares for my younger self.
video
Opening titles to Children of the Stones

Although Nickelodeon aired Stones during the 1980s, it was actually made in 1976  by British network HTV. The story follows an astrophysicist named Adam Brake (played by Gareth Thomas, better known to genre fans as the star of Blakes 7) who travels to the small rural village of Milbury with his teenage son Matthew. The entire town is built in the midst of a circle of stone megaliths similar to Stonehenge, which Brake and Matthew begin to investigate.

The village of Milbury and the stone circle, seen from above.

The arrangement of the stones is unusual, with no clear purpose, and they also seem to exert a sinister influence. This becomes obvious when Brake touches one of the stones and apparently receives a kind of psychic shock (seeing and hearing screaming faces and voices).

video

Matthew also begins noticing strange shifts in behavior among the townsfolk: people acting normal one day then unusually happy and joyful the next with no explanation (Repeatedly saying, "Happy Day."). In addition (in the grand tradition of Stephen King), he discovers that he is psychic, giving him special insight into the strange goings-on in Milbury. Awaking one night from a dream (or is it a vision?), he hears strange voices in the dark and follows them, finding a group of villagers engaged in some kind of ritual.
video

Only two people in the village apparently know what's really going on. One is a superstitious and slightly demented local poacher named Dai (played with bug-eyed conviction by the great British character actor Freddie Jones, who seems to have specialized in delivering eccentric performances in films such as The Elephant Man, Dune and Young Sherlock Holmes), who eventually dies under mysterious circumstances when one of the stones falls onto him (despite being rooted in centuries-old earth). The other is the village's leader, a wealthy landowner and astronomer named Rafael Hendrick, whose cryptic words and actions hint that maybe he's at the center of everything.

There's also an old painting purchased by Matthew on a whim (or premonition) before coming to the village. It depicts a stone circle resembling Milbury with people dancing in a ring within it as part of some pagan rite. Curiously, there's a bright shaft of light emanating from the ground in the center of the ring of people reaching into the sky. The painting also includes a sinister serpent and what appears to be other people either trapped within or turning into stone.
This totally spooked me as a child

As stranger and stranger events unfold and more of the townfolk turn into the "Happy Ones," Brake and Matthew attempt to depart Milbury. Unfortunately, they discover that, like the Hotel California, you can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.

There's a number of things about Children of the Stones that make it a standout. First of all, despite the crude production values, there's a great sense of atmosphere. Just as Patrick McGoohan's science fiction series The Prisoner filmed in the Village of Portmeiron in Wales and used that town's unusual architecture to create a surreal environment on a budget, Stones makes maximum use of its location, the village of Avebury in Wiltshire, and the actual stone megaliths dotting the landscape. The mysterious and ancient stones, towering over the characters, and standing here and there in fields and next to houses and buildings, feel like characters unto themselves (as a child I swore I could make out creepy faces), and create the sensation of an alien presence lurking about and watching. Coupled with the rural environment, odd behavior from villagers and hints of paganism, the whole serial feel like an unsettling PG-rated version of The Wicker Man.

Secondly, the script, acting and direction all approach the story with dead seriousness. There's absolutely none of the campiness or reassuring comic relief of new or old Doctor Who.  Each new piece of plot information is introduced intelligently and understandably, which is especially important when things take an incredibly fantastic turn. I don't want to give away too much of the plot in this mere blog post, but suffice to say the eventual revelation of what the stones are and their connection to the village is an incredibly ambitious blend of science fiction and supernatural concepts involving psychic powers, cosmic energy, and reality-bending causality loops.

I'm not sure if kids (or adults) today would enjoy Children of the Stones the same as when it was originally made. It might just look too chintzy for modern tastes, and some of its dramatic devices (like the chorus of moaning voices on the soundtrack) might feel hokey instead of spooky.

But if you're curious, the entire thing is up on Youtube to view or may be purchased on Amazon. My personal viewing recommendation: Watch it on your TV, but first close the shades, turn down the lights and put yourself into the mindset of a 10-year-old child.





Friday, October 10, 2014

Baby's Trip to Space: The Crazy Things New Dads Will Do 

The past two weeks have been the first my wife has been at work since maternity leave. Although we've made arrangements to get help watching the baby from our mothers and a paid babysitter (Deanna Myers, who by the way, does an awesome job if you're looking), there's still blocks during the day when it's just me and him. After all the busywork is taken care of (changing clothes, diapers, feeding, etc.), I sometimes have to keep him entertained, which has resulted in things like the following (originally posted over three days on my Facebook page).

Calling Mission Control. I have deployed the parawings on my exo-suit and have begun my descent to the planet below. Active camouflage engaged.


Mission Update: Inhabitants of planet have turned out to be benign but have mistaken me for a local deity.


Final Mission Report: My retrieval pod has arrived and I commence the journey home in hypersleep. Mission accomplished.


Thursday, October 9, 2014


Photos from Karate Meets Aikido Night

Erik Matsunaga at Ravenswood Shorin-Ryu Karate Dojo has kindly posted photos on their website from the joint training session on Monday, October 6 with members of Chicago Aikido Club led by Joe Takehara Sensei.





Exchange Training with Joe Takehara and Chicago Aikido Club


Joe Takehara and Chicago Aikido Club at Ravenswood Shorin-ryu Karate Dojo.
Joe Takehara sensei and Chicago Aikido Club at Ravenswood Shorin-ryu Karate Dojo.
On October 6th, we were honored to host Joe Takehara sensei, a charter member of the old Illinois Aikido Club. IAC, founded in 1961 by a small group of Nisei professionals in Chicago Police Detective Tony Muranaka’s basement, was the first aikido dojo in the Midwestern United States. Initially learning from a book by Koichi Tohei, then Chief Instructor of Aikido World Headquarters in Tokyo, the club would go on to host such luminary in-house instructors as Chester Sasaki, Francis Takahashi, Motokage Kawamukai, Isao Takahashi, Yoshihiko Hirata, Akira Tohei, and Shigeru Suzuki.
Takehara sensei demonstrates aiki principles with Ravenswood Dojo member Ryan Yokota.
Takehara sensei demonstrates aiki principles with Ravenswood Dojo member Ryan Yokota.
As a special treat, the Chicago Aikido Club – where Takehara sensei occasionally instructs today – cancelled their scheduled Monday class to attend our dojo in support of this goodwill exchange. We shared a couple warm-ups and basics of karate, then handed the floor over to Takehara, who introduced some advanced concepts of applying technique through kimochi (feeling), relaxation, and proper breathing. A former boxer and gymnast, Takehara took up the practice of aikido shortly after starting a dental practice located across the street from Muranaka’s home. Like his contemporaries, he was not so much interested in the physical aspects of the art as the mental and spiritual side that would help him center and settle his energies for enhanced focus in his career and family life.
Special guest Jason Matsumoto, of Chicago-based Ho Etsu Taiko - "a collective of musicians with a fresh take on the art of Japanese drumming" - also happened to stop by the dojo for some training. Here he works with Chicago Aikido Club manager Dwight Sora.
Special guest Jason Matsumoto, of Chicago-based Ho Etsu Taiko – “a collective of musicians with a fresh take on the art of Japanese drumming” – also happened to stop by the dojo for some training. Here he works with Chicago Aikido Club manager Dwight Sora.
At 83-years of age and plenty genki to join us for a post-practice hamburger and beer, Joe Takehara is an exemplar of traditional budo. The fact that his vehicle for expression is aikido and our chosen vessel is karatedo makes no difference. We are grateful for this rich experience and look forward to future such exchanges.
Post-practice pub grub at O'Shaughnessy's Public House, around the corner. Most importantly, we all had fun.
Post-practice pub grub at O’Shaughnessy’s Public House, around the corner. Most importantly, we all had fun.
BTW, Erik had mentioned to me that the original draft of his article at Nikkei Chicago on Takehara Sensei had included far more material than made it to the final version. Recently on the Chicago Aikido Club Facebook page, Erik posted a little snippet of what got cut out, which was about Takehara Sensei's time as a gymnast. I have reposted it below.


Joe Takehara sensei, the most senior aikidoka in the Midwestern United States, captained the 1951-1952 gymnastics team at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier. While attending Lakeview High School in Chicago, Takehara met Herbert "Herby" Vogel, a member of the Chicago Chapter of the American Turners - a nationwide German American gymnastics club.
Herby encouraged Joe to participate, and Takehara went on to practice gymnastics with the Turners from high school through undergrad, until he entered the University of Illinois Dental School. By that time, Takehara said, he had no more time to practice. His buddy Herby Vogel founded and led the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale Women's Gymnastics Team for 23 years, and went on to be regarded as "The Father of Women's Collegiate Gymnastics."
After his first dentistry job doing labs for Andrew Kambara, D.D.S. at 2561 N. Clark, Takehara opened a dental practice at 3355 N. Clark, a mile north (at that time, a mile in city terms was a world away) in a Japanese American neighborhood near Wrigley Field, and became a charter member of the Illinois Aikido Club - founded in Chicago Police detective Tony Muranaka's Clark Street 3-flat basement in 1961.
Little known fact: Joe Takehara, D.D.S. once gave the legendary Koichi Tohei, then Chief Instructor of Aikikai / Aikido World Headquarters, Tokyo, an emergency root canal during one of the latter's visits to Chicago.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Countdown to Halloween 2014: 
2. Masque of the Red Death (Zagreb Film, 1969)

"THE "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal --the redness and the horror of blood." - The Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allen Poe (1842)

Edgar Allen Poe's short story The Masque of the Red Death (1842) is pretty creepy on its own terms. Its gloomy Gothic setting within a Medieval castle while a deadly plague ravages the countryside outside is dripping with atmosphere and death, topped by the haunting image of a cloaked figure that turns out to be the plague incarnate.

My first encounter with the tale was a glimpse of Lon Cheney dressed as the Red Death in the masked ball sequence from the silent classic The Phantom of the Opera (1925). I didn't see the actual film until catching it on the Arts & Entertainment Network when in high school, but a still of the scene showed up in one of the many movie monster books I used to check out of the River Forest Public Library.


The significance of the name was lost on me, but the red-cloaked, skull-faced image was definitely arresting. Later when I was eight, the horror film program Son of Svengoolie on WFLD Channel 32 in Chicago showed Roger Corman's 1964 film version of Masque of the Red Death starring Vincent Price. Although it follows the general contours of Poe's original narrative, it added a lot of character, plot and dialogue to fill up a feature length running time. However, despite these alterations, Corman's film is a pretty solid horror film in its own right. I'm not the biggest fan of the Corman/Price Poe collaborations, but to me Masque is exceptional. A big part is the cinematography (by Nicholas Roeg, who himself later became a noted director, helming The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and The Witches (1990) among others), which makes some startling use of color. Usually with older horror films, I find it's the black & white ones which have best retained the ability to scare over the years, as the color quality is sometimes too garish or highlights flaws in special effects. But the color in Masque is evocative and jarring, helping to set the mood or shock the senses.  I remember even the end credits creeping me out as a child.


That brings us to what I feel is the single best film adaptation of Poe's story: the 1969 animated short by the Croatian company Zagreb Film, MASKA CRVENE SMRTI. I first saw this when my English teacher Mr. Millet showed it to my class at Roosevelt Junior High and it's stuck with me ever since.

Like Teeny-Tiny and the Witch Woman, this version of Masque of the Red Death uses limited animation in extremely effective ways. In this case, the style recalls Renaissance paintings, though includes elements of horror that remind me of Francis Bacon

There's no dialogue to speak of. Not much music except for a tune sung by a troubadour at a party (which climaxes in a black joke on the part of the singer). Just creepy, unsettling sound effects which include the screams of those succumbing to the deadly plague.

Everything witnessed onscreen follows Poe's original story pretty faithfully. One interesting deviation is the moment from the original story when the prince whose castle is serving as a refuge from the plague for the wealthy and privileged chases down an uninvited guest appearing at a masked ball. In this film version, the guest is changed into a seductive woman who leads the prince through various rooms until revealing her true identity.


If you're at a loss for some perfectly-themed Halloween scares for the kiddies, I think this should fit the bill. Enjoy.

video