All-Night Horror Show

The past weekend witnessed the ninth annual ‘All-Night Horror Show’ at the New Beverly cinema. A twelve hour, six film marathon that promised to bring its audience plentiful exposure to a series of rare and little known horror films. It certainly delivered on its promise, but the unique configuration of the New Beverly is perhaps even more interesting in shaping the evening. The theater has been owned by Quentin Tarantino since 2007 and maintains an otherwise unheard of policy of only screening 35mm and 16mm film prints. This mindset is best described by a quote from Tarantino on the theater’s website stating “As long as I’m alive, and as long as I’m rich, the New Bev will be showing double features in 35MM” and it certainly does on a daily basis. In a very real way, the New Beverly is maintained as a living museum of a long gone mode of commercial film exhibition. This carries over into policies such as low ticket and concession prices as well as the constant stream of original promotional materials including posters and lobby cards displayed for nearly every film.

The event was reportedly sold out in under a minute. A survey of the audience by the night’s announcer just before the first film revealed that the vast majority had attended at least one other All-Night Horror Show and as many as a dozen have been to them all. The process of navigating one’s way through records of years’ past is an act of documenting this community. As the New Beverly does not publicize the night’s schedule before or after, it is left to blogs and social media to document. These, again, focus on the idea of community. There is also a decidedly interactive nature to the screening. Each film is an unknown until projection. But there is a kind of game where the trailers provide a clue to the feature. The most straightforward example includes the trailers for Black Sabbath (1963), Baron Blood (1972), Friday the 13th (1980) and Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981). This gives us a string of Mario Bava Euro horror films mixed with early American slashers. The result is a clue to the 1971 Bava film Bay of Blood (1971) which is generally regarded as the first modern formulaic slasher. Each series of trailers had their own inner logic relating to some theme. Intermissions also included a string of giveaways where lucky members of the audience won vintage issues of Fangoria and films on Blu-ray from prominent genre labels.

As to the film titles, they were nothing if not an eclectic bunch. It began with an absolutely beautiful print of 1975’s Race with the Devil which was provided by Fox. Its slightly absurdist quality was just right for the first film of the night. A combination road movie and secret Satanists moral panic film rolled into one, it sees two couples taking a joint cross country vacation in their new RV and stumbling into a human sacrifice. On the run, they are faced with the realization that there is a Satanist behind just about every white picket fence in the Midwest. Warren Oates and Peter Fonda play the husbands, but ironically we have Lara Parker and Loretta Swift as wives. The former was well known as TV’s second most famous witch and Satanist Angelique in the gothic horror soap opera Dark Shadows 1966-71. The second feature was a particular highlight. The Horror of Party Beach (1964) is a beach/musical/horror tale of a group of teenagers in their mid to late 20’s who must learn the importance of personal responsibility as they are menaced by reanimated fishermen mutated by toxic waste and forced to kill by their vampiric need for blood. The final result is a lively outing that might be one of the best paced of all 1960’s beach films. The first half of the program concluded with Rawhead Rex (1986). This tale of a maladjusted nine-foot-tall pagan god awakening from under a great stone in the Irish countryside is one of the more rarely seen efforts by Clive Barker as writer. In fact, the New Beverly presenter mentioned a common narrative when he spoke about it after the conclusion. To paraphrase, that it might not be a particularly great film, but is worthwhile based solely on its perennial rarity. So ended the first half of the night.

The second half began with an Abbot and Costello short about the duo ‘shanghaiing’ sailors for a depressed sea captain who became violent with any mention of ghosts. The next feature was the aforementioned 1971 film Bay of Blood sometimes known under the title Twitch of the Death Nerve. This early slasher is a mystery tale of murderous land developers and residence of an idyllic Italian bay. Sex and violence is liberally doled out, especially in relation to a group of four young people who wonder around drinking, having sex and breaking into isolated houses until they meet their end one by one. There is a wonderful streak of black comedy that elevates the film, especially relating to the ending. With the Horror Show reaching its final hours (scheduled from 7:30PM to 7:30AM) the next two films would be playing back to back. Slaughter High (1986) is a slightly schizophrenic slasher comedy which seems never to be able to commit to either for more than a few minutes. It centers upon a group of former friends who return to their high school for a reunion only to be trapped and stalked by a masked killer. The somewhat disappointing finished product is also a near remake of rather impressive and little known 1978 proto-slasher The Redeemer. With the urge towards sleep deepening, the last film began. According to accounts, in past years the final film was usually something particularly special as a kind of gift to those who made it through. This tactic was not in evidence this year, although what was offered up certainly had a pleasant nostalgic value for many. The 1993 direct to video film Ticks centers on a group of Los Angeles youths sent to the countryside to learn about inner peace, or ecology, or something along those lines probably. An unscrupulous marijuana grower, in the form of Clint Howard, has been giving his plants a super powered herbal steroid. This obviously creates a new breed of giant, super aggressive ticks. A teenaged Seth Green provides the central protagonist and the entire film is a pleasant reminder of the heyday of direct to video productions in the VHS age. Next came a Popeye short involving ghosts followed by a rousing film clip of the national anthem as might have been seen on television in the early hours of the morning as the networks signed off, to end the night.

Going out into sunlight dawning New Beverly sunglass emblazoned with the words ‘I survived’ does lend itself to a feeling of mellow contentment. The All-Night Horror Show is done and I won’t see it’s like again. At least not until the Aero theater and their six film, twelve hour Horrorthon at months end.

AFI Fest 2017

For those of us in Los Angeles, AFI FEST remains a highlight of the year; the 2017 edition occurs in downtown Hollywood from November 9-16. Not only is it the largest local screening of world cinema (137 films from 53 countries, 40 directed by women), but for about ten years now it has been a completely free festival.

Just go to FREE TICKETS and you will see a rundown of what to do, which includes creating a simple Elevent account and selecting your tickets directly from the program guide. (Consult the FAQ on the page for details.) The festival uses a timed release method, so if some of the tickets you want aren’t available, just check again the next day. If all else fails, Rush Lines form an hour before all screenings, and early birds often have a good track record of getting in.

Most of the films are Los Angeles premieres, but many have played at Cannes or Toronto or similar festivals, and a bit of online searching can prove fruitful in determining which titles to check out.

Here are the ten films I’m most looking forward to:

  • Agnes Varda in Conversation: What can be said about 89-year-old Varda that hasn’t already been said? She is one of the last remaining cineastes of the Nouvelle Vague and an inspiration to several generations of filmmakers; her newest documentary, Faces Places, has been earning raves. If that isn’t enough, she’ll be interviewed on stage by filmmaker Serge Toubiana, a former editor of Cahiers du Cinéma.
  • Hong Sang-soo x 2: Hong is one of South Korea’s most admired auteurs, a formalist whose deceptively simple narratives are complicated by bifurcated structures and challenging themes. He’s also unusually prolific, as can be seen by the fact that he is premiering two new films at the festival, Claire’s Camera and The Day After.
  • Spoor: In 2003, I attended an L.A. screening where Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (The Secret Garden) presented Varda’s satire Le Bonheur (1965) as a film that inspired her. Holland’s latest film seems fashioned in a similar vein; she described it to The Guardian as an “anarchistic, feminist crime story with elements of black comedy” about current political divisions in Poland.
  • A Man of Integrity: Mohammad Rasoulof (Iron Island, The White Meadows) continues to be one of the most fascinating filmmakers in Iran, a country that offers him plenty of artistic competition. His Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013) is one of the angriest and most devastating political dramas I’ve seen in recent years, and his latest film engages similar terrain.
  • The Other Side of Hope: For me, Aki Kaurismaki’s deadpan humor and compositional finesse reached new dramatic heights with his last film, Le Havre (2011), so I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with his new tale of a Syrian refugee who stows away to Finland.
  • Loveless: I had the pleasure of seeing Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev in 2003, when Melnitz Movies here at UCLA invited him to screen his debut feature, The Return, which had just won the Golden Lion at Venice. Stylistically indebted to Tarkovsky, Zvyagintsev’s subsequent magisterial forays into slow cinema have always registered as vital and deeply felt social critiques.
  • Red Desert: Although the festival is showing a 12-film retrospective of the work of Robert Altman, the repertory title I’m most excited to see on the big screen is this new restoration of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1964 meditation on industrial and emotional voids, also his first color film.
  • Bright Sunshine In: (Known on the festival circuit as Let the Sunshine In.) Consistently one of France’s most provocative filmmakers, Claire Denis returns with this study of the inner life of a Parisian artist, played by Juliette Binoche.
  • A Season in France: I am a big admirer of Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s previous works (Dry Season, A Screaming Man), and hope his newest film continues his line of carefully observed and compelling studies of people struggling to locate themselves within changing cultures.

Genre-bending the Jewish Mother in Transparent

Jill Soloway’s Amazon-streaming series Transparent (2014-) has been roundly praised for its bold portrayal of sexuality in all its polymorphous complexity, beginning with its titular trans-parent Mort/Maura (a.k.a “Moppa,” brilliantly played by Jeffrey Tambor). The series can now add to its accolades a bravura Season 3 finale that expands not only this singular dramedy’s progressive parameters but those of Jewish media representation altogether.

An important corollary to the series gender-bending premise, elaborated in a Season 2 flashback strand, is Maura’s side of the family’s Holocaust survival background and intimate connection to Magnus Hirschfeld’s pioneering sexual experimentation in Weimar-era Berlin. Less attention has been paid, in the series and discourse surrounding it, to the straightest, and most Jewish, member of the Pfefferman family, Maura’s ex-wife Shelly (brilliantly played by the non-Jewish Judith Light). Season 3 redresses that elision with a bang.

Few characters in postmodern American culture have been treated with more unmitigated scorn than the Jewish Mother. A product of rampant Jewish assimilation in the post-World War II period and popularized by Jewish male writers, notably Herman Wouk, Philip Roth, and Woody Allen, the Jewish Mother became the prime repository of proverbial Jewish angst and guilt melded with postwar American acquisitiveness. Her character was invariably scapegoated as gratingly loud and obnoxiously clingy, as excessively coddling her sons, and as squelching all her children’s creative aspirations in a relentless push for material success and social status. This coarse construction, however, was a gross transmogrification of the previous generation’s more sympathetic maternal archetype, the Yiddishe Momme: a recent European immigrant whose overbearing concern for her American-born progeny was leavened with Old World warmth and nurturance. The difference between the two types, and paradigm shift from one to the other, is emblematically displayed in the chief matriarchs of two unrelated but like-titled sitcoms, The Goldbergs: the earlier, 1949-56 show (based on a prewar radio series) features a classic Yiddishe Momme, Molly Goldberg (played by the show’s creator, Gertude Berg); the ongoing show (2013-) features a stereotypical Jewish Mother, Beverly Goldberg (played by the non-Jewish Wendi McLendon-Covey).

Transparent’s Shelly Pfefferman, up to the third-season finale, is only a few degrees shy of the standard Jewish Mother caricature: nasal voice, noodgy manner, material concerns, immature adult children (for which hyper-self-obsessed Maura clearly shares the blame). The grist for the miraculous shift in Shelly’s persona achieved in the finale is subtly suggested in an earlier flashback episode, which shows how the performative chops she possessed as a young girl were stunted by her sexual molestation by a school teacher.

In the season finale, after a break-up with her post-Maura partner Buzz (Richard Masur), Shelly takes Maura and the children on a Passover-period ocean cruise. She had hoped the vacation and confined setting might help bring the emotionally and physically fragmented Pfeffermans together, but the Vegas Strip-like ambience of the cruise ship only fissures the family further. Shelly’s uniquely alienated status is emphasized in her being given a room a deck above the others’ cabins, though the separation is cushioned by the luxuriousness of her suite and a personal valet (Tom Lenk)—“the the gay who comes with the room.” With Trevor’s encouragement, and piano accompaniment, Shelly plans a performance in the cruise ship’s night club of the one-woman show, titled “To Shell and Back,” initially inspired and co-produced by Buzz but now revised to reflect something more personal, and profound.

The build-up to the performance is crucial. At a makeshift Pfefferman Seder, a last-ditch effort at family reconciliation that only underscores their dysfunction, Shelly expresses her own special sense of dislocation—one that resonates, as odd woman out, with the series’ history and  the Jewish Mother writ large. “I’m not at home in this family,” she begins her harangue, and ends with a request that they at least try to attend her show that evening: “If you want to hear my story, I want my story to be heard by you.”

And it’s a doozy. A far cry from the soppy, slapdash version of “To Shell and Back” she performed in earlier episodes, this version is poignant, perceptive, and fully realized, giving us an entirely new (and radically improved) impression of Shelly. She begins with a spoken prologue that references her childhood molestation—“Something happened to me that made me forget who I really was; I stopped growing in every sense of the word”—and links her traumatic experience to Maura’s transgender identity—“I have always been drawn to men who wanted to live in the darkness of a secret.”

Then comes the song. Its refrain combines hand gestures with an ambivalent but ultimately triumphant message: “I’ve got one hand in my pocket, and the other one giving . . . a high five!” The upshot, similar to Maura, who was forced to forego sex reassignment surgery because of a heart condition and who exchanged tight-fitting feminine shapewear on the cruise for hang-loose unisex attire, is that Shelly has finally come out of her—and the Jewish Mother’s—shell. Moreover, in the realization that Maura is not the only member of the Pfefferman family to undergo trans-parenting, her coming out enables ours as well, through a keener appreciation of the damage wrought by demeaning stereotypes—to victim and perpetrator alike.


Vincent Brook teaches at UCLA and Cal-State LA and has written or edited eight books, most recently From Shtetl to Stardom: Jews and Hollywood.

Cat’s Paws and Chekhov’s Gun: Feline and Foot Symbolism in “The Night Of”

Deserved praise has been heaped on Steve Zaillian and Richard Price’s just-completed HBO mini-series The Night Of (based on the 2008-09 British series Criminal Justice) for its rich texture, attention to detail and social sensitivity toward New York’s Muslim community (if perhaps less so toward its black community). Two of the series’ prominent supporting players, the male calico cat (played by Bam Bam) found at the murder scene and defense attorney Jack Stone’s (John Turturro) eczema-plagued feet, also have received kudos for their fleshing out character and offering comic relief from the show’s bleak portrayal of inner-city life. Perhaps because they played no obvious role in the main murder mystery plot, however, the cat’s and feet’s contribution to the show’s layered symbolism has slipped under the radar. Continue reading “Cat’s Paws and Chekhov’s Gun: Feline and Foot Symbolism in “The Night Of”” »

I Ain’t Afraid of No Trolls: 2016’s Ghostbusters and the Online Response


Ghostbusters (2016, Sony)

My ties to the newest installment in the Ghostbusters franchise run deeper than an affinity for the paranormal or the fact that Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song is on my running playlist. In fact, I worked as both an on-set production assistant on and an actor in the 2016 reboot. Before that experience, I grew up admiring the original films. But when it comes to fan-favorite franchises, everyone has a personal narrative of experience.

Living in an age of social media, filmmakers know that Internet comments sections can be dangerous. However, the release of promotional material for 2016’s Ghostbusters has prompted an unforeseen outburst of opposition. In addition to the first trailer breaking records for most-disliked trailer on YouTube, platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have become breeding grounds for hateful remarks under the protection of online anonymity. Continue reading “I Ain’t Afraid of No Trolls: 2016’s Ghostbusters and the Online Response” »

Who Says You’re Only Young Once? – Comparing “20 Once Again” and “17 Again”

Both “20 Once Again” (Leste Chen, 2015, Mainland China) and “17 Again” (Burr Steers, 2009, U.S.) follow the formula of someone who was magically turned young and reliving his or her life. However, these films depict different social issues in different cultural contexts. “20 Once Again” was released in 2015 and is a remake of the Korean “Miss Granny” (Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2014).

“20 Once Again” focuses on a seventy-year old widow who magically transforms into her twenty-year-old self. Before this, she had lost her husband during the Cultural Revolution period while in her twenties, and, as a result, needed to raise her son on her own by giving up her career aspirations. When the older version of this character discovers her family’s plan to put her in a senior residence, she goes to a mysterious photo studio to take a portrait as a souvenir for her family to remember her by. After the transformation, she is finally able to pursue her lifelong dream of being a pop singer, with the help of her favorite grandchild. At the end, she transfuses her blood to her heavily injured grandchild, causing her to revert to her normal age and life. Continue reading “Who Says You’re Only Young Once? – Comparing “20 Once Again” and “17 Again”” »