All posts by Gary Teetzel


Blu-ray Review: “Somewhere in Time” (1980)


After 25 years as an author known primarily for dread-laden tales of terror and suspense, Richard Matheson surprised his readership in 1975 with a romantic fantasy novel, Bid Time Return. Matheson had been struck by a portrait of the late 19th/early 20th century actress Maude Adams and was inspired to concoct a story of a playwright who travels through time to pursue the woman of his dreams. Film rights were quickly sold to producer Stephen Deutsch, but it wasn’t until 1978 that a receptive director was found for the project: Jeannot Szwarc, a veteran of television who had recently scored a big screen hit with Jaws 2. Retitled Somewhere in Time, the resulting film was released in 1980 to lukewarm reviews and disappointing boxoffice. Most films that meet with such a reception are quickly forgotten, but Somewhere in Time proved an exception. First, it was championed by L.A.’s eclectic cable outlet Z Channel. Then in the early ’80s it became one of the first examples of a film to discover a second life through home video. Enthusiasts soon banded together to form an international fan club making annual pilgrimages to the film’s principal location, Mackinac Island, Michigan.[i] The story was even recently adapted into a stage musical. Now the original film that inspired this devotion can be enjoyed in high definition thanks to a new Blu-ray release from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

Somewhere in Time tells the story of Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) who, as a young student playwright in 1972, is confronted during a backstage party by a mysterious elderly woman (Susan French) who gives him an old-fashioned pocket watch and whispers “Come back to me.” Eight years later, Collier, now an established professional, takes a break from work on his latest play to visit the quaint old Grand Hotel. There he finds himself fascinated by a photograph of a beautiful actress, Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour) who performed at the hotel decades earlier just before abruptly retiring and becoming a recluse. Obsessively researching McKenna’s life, Collier is astonished to discover that she was the old woman who gave him the watch. Following suggestions from an old college professor, Collier dresses himself in period clothing and, using a form a self-hypnosis, wills himself back in time to the year 1912. He finds Elise and the two are immediately drawn to each other, but her stern manager (Christopher Plummer) and fate work to keep the lovers apart.

The original novel signaled a turning point in Matheson’s career. Prior to Bid Time Return, he had specialized predominantly in short stories (and the occasional novel) that found horror not in cobweb-bedecked Transylvanian crypts, but in everyday modern life. In “Children of Noah”, for example, a traffic stop in a small town turns from a petty annoyance into grisly terror; in “Through Channels” a television becomes a gateway for deadly interdimensional entities; and in “Being” a seedy desert roadside attraction harbors an alien monster. Tales like these had a profound influence on the development of horror literature in the mid-20th century and would influence numerous future authors, most notably Stephen King. Around the time of Bid Time Return, Matheson suddenly changed gears, for the most part stepping away from short stories and horror and experimenting with other genres and forms. In interviews he gave no reason other than being tired of doing the same old thing, but it appears that as Matheson left the anxieties of his youth behind, he became more interested in expressing his emerging personal philosophy, one that had grown out of a life-long interest in metaphysics and the paranormal and included beliefs in an afterlife, karma and reincarnation. These convictions would inform the latter part of his career; he would even author a slim volume of metaphysics titled The Path. Whereas early Matheson stories often had characters struggling powerlessly against forces that emerged unexpectedly from seemingly banal sources (his own children had nicknamed him “Mr. Paranoia”), later Matheson works would more frequently feature protagonists able to find untapped potential within themselves, especially if motivated by love.[ii] This theme is most strongly communicated in Bid Time Return and What Dream May Come (1978), a novel about the afterlife in which the hero risks the horrors of Hell to rescue his wife.[iii]

Matheson wrote the screenplay for Somewhere in Time himself, remaining faithful to the novel except for discarding a story point about Collier having a fatal brain tumor, and thus having possibly hallucinated his experiences in the past. The resulting film plays at times like a longer, more romantic episode of The Twilight Zone—not surprising given that Matheson had been a key contributor to that series, and director Szwarc’s TV background included multiple episodes of Rod Serling’s later anthology program, Night Gallery. Unfortunately, Szwarc’s direction of the script varies between being merely workmanlike and clumsily obvious. In the scene where Collier first sees Elise’s portrait, for instance, Szwarc simply has Christopher Reeve walk slowly toward the picture with wide-eyed wonder while Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini blasts away on the soundtrack to convey the idea of love at first sight.[iv] It would have been much more interesting to have Collier be mysteriously drawn to the portrait without immediately recognizing the first stirrings of love, but the movie has no patience for such an approach. It’s got to be Mad, Passionate Love at First Sight, and by golly the audience is going to be clobbered with it to make sure no one misses the point.


Szwarc does a better job depicting the time travel, using subtle aural cues and lighting changes to convey Collier’s transition into the past. The first meeting of the two lovers in 1912 also features a nice touch where Elise is first revealed to the audience reflected in a window while Richard looks for her.  Once the two meet, however, the film stumbles. Matheson, Szwarc and the cast never communicate what is so special about Richard and Elise’s love, aside from the time travel angle.  On what level are the two connecting? All we know if that they are both young, attractive, involved with the theater and like Rachmaninoff. We are essentially asked to accept their great love as a given simply because they are the leads in a romantic movie. When the two finally get to spend a day together, the film resorts to that most tired of romance movie clichés, the Montage of the Couple Having Fun Together Outdoors. Szwarc shoots it all in soft focus, staging tableaux that suggest French Impressionist paintings. It does indeed look pleasant and romantic, but it feels like a lazy cheat, like Matheson and Szwarc are dodging having to write and show scenes of genuine bonding. Szwarc wanted the film to resemble past romantic fantasies like Peter Ibbetson (1935) and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), but those films flesh out their leads far more successfully, so the love and romance feels earned.


As Collier, Christopher Reeve is likeable and sincere—and that’s about it. There isn’t much for him to work with, and at times he just seems awkward and naïve.[v] Somewhere in Time was his first role following his breakout success in Superman (1978), and the film’s poor critical and box office reception damaged his nascent film career.  Jane Seymour makes a better impression; she’s so beautiful and charming that it’s easy to imagine wanting to cross time to be with her. In spite of being saddled with stiff period dialogue by Matheson, she has some good moments in the early stages of the romance, displaying initial trepidation and caution—she’s never had a serious love affair before—which later gives way to an engaging sense of playfulness. She gets one of the film’s most memorable scenes, when Elise, in the middle of a performance, abandons the script and delivers an improvised monologue about the man of her dreams, secretly expressing her love for Richard. It’s one of the rare times one of the characters speaks deeply from the heart. It successfully conveys the genuinely romantic tone most of the movie tries but fails to achieve, and is a hint of what the film might have been. Significantly, that scene is a monologue, because when Reeve and Seymour are together they don’t really spark as passionate lovers. Once the two characters have connected, they seem more like good pals. Christopher Plummer works to bring shading to his role as Elise’s jealous manager, William Fawcett Robinson, but it’s all too obvious that he’s just there to be an obstacle for the lovers, a plot device in a natty suit and nothing more. In smaller roles, Theresa Wright is wasted delivering exposition, but character actor Bill Erwin has a memorable turn as Arthur, an old bellhop at the Grand Hotel.

With the writing, direction and acting often coming up short in terms of expressing the required mood, it’s up to composer John Barry to bolster the romance through his score, and he succeeds spectacularly. Around this period Barry’s style was shifting away from the pop/jazz influences of his early work to a more lush and romantic sound that suits the film perfectly. Although built primarily around the film’s tender love theme, Barry doesn’t allow the score to become mushy or sentimental by giving much of the music a slightly bittersweet edge that hints at the tragic side of this time-crossed romance. The theme has become one of Barry’s most popular; fittingly, it was recently used for the “In Memoriam” segment of the Academy Awards that honored, among others, Richard Matheson.

Even with the film’s obvious shortcomings, it’s not hard to understand the appeal of Somewhere in Time to its fans. What romantic wouldn’t be drawn to a tale of a pure love that transcends time, of lovers overcoming overwhelming obstacles to be together? It’s an attractive fantasy, and the film serves it up with likeable stars, lovely settings and music that could tug at the heartstrings of the coldest cynic. The film is unapologetically old-fashioned, a rarity at the time it was released and even more unusual now. For its fans, these things make Somewhere in Time special and worth celebrating, and its flaws easy to overlook.


Those fans should be thrilled with Universal’s new Blu-ray of Somewhere in Time, which is a dramatic improvement over the DVD from 2000.  That disc featured a noisy, grainy non-anamorphic transfer that did the film no favors. The Blu-ray finally gives the film a worthwhile home video presentation, with a beautiful, crisp and colorful HD transfer that is significantly less grainy while retaining a natural-looking film texture. Certain scenes appear soft, but this accurately reflects Szwarc and cinematographer Isidore Mankofsky’s selective use of diffusion filters, and is not a flaw of the transfer. The 2.0 mono DTS Master Audio won’t blow away anyone’s speakers, but the track is clear with good range, and John Barry’s score comes across well in the mix. A French track is also available; the only subtitles are English for the deaf and hard of hearing.

All of the extras from the DVD edition have been carried over to the Blu-ray. “Back to Somewhere in Time” is an excellent 63-minute documentary by Laurent Bouzereau that includes interviews with all the major participants: Szwarc, Matheson, Reeve, Seymour, Plummer, Barry, etc. One gets the impression that everyone believed in this modestly-budgeted project and gave it their all, only to be disappointed by its initial failure; it’s heartwarming to see them able to enjoy its later status as a beloved cult classic. Szwarc returns for a feature-length commentary track, an entertaining mix of production anecdotes and technical discussion of his approach to the film’s look. Also included is “Inside INSITE”, a brief featurette on the fan club, the International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts; a disappointing photo gallery with the images very small on the screen; and an old standard def copy of the theatrical trailer. Unfortunately, the Blu-ray, like the DVD, uses a dull, generic photo of Reeve and Seymour gazing out at the water rather than the original classic one-sheet.

Although the film itself may be flawed, this Blu-ray is a superior disc that is highly recommended for confirmed Somewhere in Time fans and incurable romantics.[vi]

[i] Located between Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas, Mackinac Island (the “c” is silent) was well known to Michigan natives as a favorite summer vacation spot long before Somewhere in Time. It’s famous for not permitting any motor vehicles on the island, forcing visitors to get about by foot, bicycle, horseback or horse-drawn carriage. Beyond the Grand Hotel, its best-known attractions are Fort Mackinac and fudge—lots and lots of fudge. The main street is lined with innumerable fudge shops—signs for two can be glimpsed in the film during a brief sequence when Christopher Reeve goes in to town—and tourists are sometimes referred to as “fudgies.” At least all the walking one must do helps keeps the pounds off!

[ii] Matheson did write a horror novel during this part of his career titled Earthbound (1982), yet even in that case the central theme is one of lust—depicted as empty and energy-draining—versus redemptive, empowering love.

[iii] What Dreams May Come was also adapted into a film in 1998 by Somewhere in Time producer Stephen Deutsch and director Vincent Ward.

[iv] The Rachmaninoff selection was a last-minute substitute for a Mahler piece called for in the script. Although a lovely piece of music, the Rachmaninoff suffers from being too familiar, thanks to its popularity in the light classical repertory and inclusion in innumerable “Classical Music’s Greatest Hits”-type compilation recordings.

[v] Matheson doesn’t write Collier much better in the novel, either; he keeps coming across as a fumbling schoolboy experiencing his first crush rather than an adult capable of a mature relationship.

[vi] A brief personal anecdote regarding Somewhere in Time: In the summer of 1979 when the film was being shot, this reviewer was a mere lad of 13, thrilled that Superman himself had come to his home state to make a science fiction movie. Since the family took regular vacations to northern Michigan, it was easy to persuade my father to make a day trip to Mackinac Island.  Alas!  It was the 4th of July weekend, and the film crew was on break. This reviewer solemnly avows that his childhood disappointment in not getting to see Christopher Reeve in person had no influence whatsoever on the contents of this review.

Darkman featured

Blu-ray Review: “Darkman” (1990)


After the first two Evil Dead films became instant cult hits, director Sam Raimi decided to attempt a more mainstream effort, and planned a film adaptation of The Shadow, the legendary crimefighter of pulp novels and radio. Unable to obtain the rights to the character, Raimi instead worked with his brother Ivan to create his own action hero, one that would appeal to his love of classic horror as much as his fondness for comic books. The result was Darkman (1990), a stylish superhero outing that proved popular enough to spawn two direct-to-video sequels, a TV pilot and comic books. Previously released as a no-frills disc by Universal in 2010, Darkman is now available in a new special edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory, Shout! Factory’s label for cult/horror titles.

Darkman tells the story of Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), a researcher developing a synthetic skin that can be molded to resemble anyone’s features. He has achieved remarkable results, but is unable to get the skin to last more than 99 minutes when exposed to light; after that, it dissolves. Just as Westlake is on the brink of a breakthrough, his lab is invaded by sadistic mobster Robert Durant (Larry Blake) and his gang of thugs. Sent by corrupt real estate mogul Louis Strack (Colin Friels) to retrieve an incriminating memo discovered by Westlake’s girlfriend Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand), an attorney with the DA’s office, Durant and his gang assault the scientist, kill his assistant and destroy the lab with a fiery explosion. Blown clear of the blast, an unidentified, comatose and horribly burned Westlake recovers at a hospital where the staff severs his nerves to relieve his extreme pain. Upon regaining consciousness, he breaks through his restraints and escapes, the loss of sensory input having made him prone to bursts of adrenaline-fueled rage that give him near-superhuman strength. Determined to perfect his discovery so he can conceal his hideous disfigurement and resume his old life, Westlake reconstructs his lab in an abandoned factory. Spying on Julie (who believes him dead), he sees Strack and Durant, triggering his rage and filling him with a lust for revenge. Using his synthetic skin to impersonate members of Durant’s gang, Westlake becomes an avenging hero destined to be known as . . . Darkman.

Darkman belongs to that subset of superheroes who behave as obsessed vigilantes dishing out pitiless justice—Batman, The Punisher, etc. Although Universal may have backed the project based on the enormous box office success of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), the character clearly owes more to Raimi’s original confessed inspiration, The Shadow. Like his pulp predecessor, Darkman is often garbed in a dark hat and flowing, cape-like coat while waging war on the criminal underworld, and sometimes uses disguise to infiltrate the gangs. The radio Shadow could become invisible via his hypnotic ability to “cloud men’s minds”; Dr. Westlake can effectively make himself disappear by assuming another identity and blending into the crowd. The influence of classic movie monsters, especially those of Universal Studios, is also a key component of Darkman. (in 1990 interviews, Raimi often referred to Darkman as a monster movie.) Those characters often had a tragic side to them, and it is this quality, along with the evocative visual iconography of the genre, that Raimi chooses to tap.  Like The Phantom of the Opera, Darkman is a violent disfigured genius with a hidden lair who is motivated by his ultimately doomed love for a woman. Like The Invisible Man, Peyton Westlake is a scientist swathed in bandages struggling to hold onto his sanity while desperately searching for a cure to his condition. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, these nods to classic characters might have made Darkman come across as a lazy knockoff, but Raimi and his cast believe in Peyton Westlake and the world he inhabits. In their hands, the homages to the past are just a foundation upon which to build something new. Liam Neeson, still three years away from his breakthrough role in Schindler’s List (1993), does a good job pulling together the disparate sides to the character and evoking audience sympathy without resorting to mawkish pathos. Some scenes call on him to turn on a dime and switch from caring boyfriend to snarling madman, and Neeson is able to make it all seem like different facets of the same man, even when most of his face is concealed by bandages or Tony Gardner’s (very effective) grotesque makeup design. Like Boris Karloff and some of the other stars of classic horror, Neeson seems to enjoy the challenge of working in the makeup, and he invests his scenes as the disfigured Westlake with an old-fashioned melodramatic flair that suits the genre.


Raimi uses all the skill and tricks he learned in his early low-budget efforts in directing Darkman, and the film greatly benefits from the lively, kinetic visual style he brings to it. Distinctive Raimi touches are easy to spot: elaborate montage sequences; the “shaky cam”; dramatic low-angle tracking shots that dolly in to close-ups of characters; stylized, “comic-book” lighting; etc. Raimi’s experiences on Darkman would clearly influence his later work on the Spider-Man films; compare, for example, Westlake’s hospital escape with that of Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2, or the construction site battle with the one in Spider-Man 3. Given his horror movie background, it’s not surprising that Raimi excels at the film’s horror/Gothic touches; some of the most memorable moments are Darkman alone in his factory lair struggling to come to grips with his new, monstrous identity. First-time cinematographer Bill Pope does an excellent job realizing Raimi’s style and gives the film a polished, attractive look. The production design by Randy Ser further compliments Raimi’s vision of Darkman as a Gothic-tinged comic book, making Westlake’s abandoned factory resemble a mix of Dracula’s crumbling castle and a classic mad scientist’s laboratory.

Unfortunately, an interesting hero and a sense of style are not enough to carry a film, and Darkman falters badly in the areas of character and story development.  Frances McDormand’s Julie is meant to be a strong, independent modern woman, but she’s so hopelessly underwritten as a character that she’s a forgettable cypher. She is supposed to be an attorney with the D.A.’s office, but we never see her doing her job other than foolishly confronting the villain with her knowledge of his guilt, which causes her boyfriend to be disfigured and his assistant killed, and puts her own life in jeopardy. She compounds this error by not linking Strack to the accident until late in the film, and even allows the sleazy developer to flirt and dance with her. For most of the film Julie is just a symbol of the life to which Darkman wishes to return, a prize to be sought like the stuffed bear Westlake tries to win at a carnival he visits. By the end she’s just the standard damsel in distress, and it’s disappointing to see the talented McDormand wasted in such an unrewarding role. (In the disc’s extras, McDormand admits to some frustrations with the part and not always being in sync with Raimi’s vision.)

Not faring much better is Colin Friels as Louis Strack, ostensibly the film’s chief villain. Strack is corrupt, greedy and ruthless, but there is no sense that he has any larger evil scheme other than to make money off of the new high rises his company is building. In Robocop (1987), the villains are also plotting a major real estate development, but we understand that it’s part of a grander plan to seize power in all aspects of society. There is nothing comparable in Darkman; for all we know, Strack has no ambitions beyond real estate. He’s a more ruthless but less colorful Donald Trump, and comes across as a supervillain wannabe. (The Blu-ray’s commentary track mentions that scenes were cut further developing Strack’s character and hinting at broader corruption among the city’s power elite; one suspects that these could only have bolstered this weak aspect of the film.) Beyond being dull, Strack is also quite possibly the dumbest villain in superhero movie history: After going to great lengths to retrieve the incriminating “Bellasarious Memorandum”, he carelessly leaves it on his desk for weeks in plain view instead of destroying it. Why? So Julie can discover it in the film’s third act, when the filmmakers need her to figure out that he was involved with the lab explosion. This is lazy, careless plotting of the worst kind. (One can imagine an alternate version of the film in which a diligent member of Strack’s janitorial staff turns the memo over to the D.A.’s office, thus saving Darkman a good deal of trouble.) With Strack written so poorly, all the heavy lifting in the villainy department is left to Larry Drake’s Robert Durant. In 1990 Drake was widely known for portraying the gentle, mentally challenged law clerk Benny on TV’s L.A. Law, and his turn here as the cold, cruel Durant was startling at the time and remains memorable. Whether he’s chopping off fingers with a cigar cutter, barking out commands to his gang or firing a machine gun from a helicopter, Drake steals every scene he’s in. He, not Friels, is the villain everyone remembers, and it’s not surprising that Drake was invited back for the sequel and TV pilot.


As an action film, Darkman delivers a terrific setpiece in which Durant snags Westlake on a cable suspended from a helicopter and flies him high above the city to be smashed into the sides of buildings and lowered into oncoming freeway traffic.  Featuring a live stuntman in most shots—no dummy, no CGI double—it’s a thrilling sequence peppered with amusing touches, such as Darkman politely apologizing after crashing through a high rise window and a near-collision with Raimi’s beloved Oldsmobile Delta 88. Unfortunately, the film’s finale is, by comparison, a letdown. The concept for the scene is fine: a climactic showdown high up on the girders of a skyscraper under construction. Ultimately, though, the scene lacks the excitement of the helicopter chase because we’re never convinced that our leads are hundreds of feet up.  In spite of state-of-the-art (for the period) effects, the scene feels like it’s confined to a nice, safe soundstage.  There’s less suspense in the scene than in a Harold Lloyd thrill comedy from the 20’s. (It doesn’t help that the confrontation is between Darkman and the dull Strack, rather than Durant.) It ends Darkman on an unsatisfying note and contributes to the sense that the film never lives up to the full potential of its interesting premise. Raimi may have felt the same way, as he would complain that studio meddling forced him to remove a number of scenes, including more Darkman “rage montages” that take the viewer inside Westlake’s tortured psyche. Even had Raimi been allowed to release his director’s cut, though, the film would still suffer from poor supporting characters and some careless plotting, flaws that must be laid at Raimi’s doorstep as co-screenwriter and creator of the original story. As released, the film is at best a mixed bag (albeit a stylish one) for which Raimi deserves to take a share of both credit and blame.


Shout Factory’s new special edition Blu-ray of Darkman should please the film’s many fans. The transfer captures the subtle gold and rose highlights featured in early daytime scenes, the lurid comic-book bursts of red that accompany Darkman’s rage and the fine details found in the many scenes set at night or in heavy shadow. Grain management appears to have been applied, probably to even out the mix of original photography and opticals. It’s not as overdone as in some earlier Universal Blu-ray releases like Tremors, but purists with large displays will definitely find it quite noticeable. This reviewer would have preferred a more natural, film-like texture, but in general did not find the grain reduction to be too objectionable in this instance. The audio, available as either 5.1 or 2.0 DTS, is strong, with Danny Elfman’s brooding score coming across particularly well. Subtitles are available in English only. Like most Scream Factory releases, the disc is Region A locked.

Sam Raimi is conspicuously absent from the Blu-ray’s newly-produced bonus material; one wonders if it was merely a scheduling issue or if he still harbors bitterness over the changes Universal imposed. Even without Raimi, there’s still plenty here for fans to enjoy. Cinematographer Bill Pope contributes an entertaining commentary with plenty of anecdotes about the production and working with Raimi. There are a half-dozen new featurettes adding up to roughly one hour; interviewed are stars Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand and Larry Drake; supporting players Dan Bell and Danny Hicks; production designer Randy Ser and art director Philip Dagort; and makeup artist Tony Gardner. Rounding out the package are vintage EPK featurettes and interviews (Raimi and Colin Friels do appear in this material), the trailer, a dozen TV spots and still galleries devoted to production stills, behind-the-scenes photography, storyboards and posters. The plethora of extras helps compensate for the imperfections of the transfer, and make this release an attractive package that is highly recommended to Darkman enthusiasts.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Darkman rates:

Movie: ***

Video: ***

Sound: ****

Supplements: Audio commentary, new and vintage featurettes; still galleries.

Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? YES

Godzilla featured

Godzilla, Luke Skywalker, Norman Bates and Me

In a lifetime of watching and loving movies, there are many films that have moved me to the degree that they influenced how I view the world. The films that went so far as to change the direction of my life are far fewer in number. Among this select group I would include the films from my childhood and teen years that first sparked my interest in cinema. All movie fans have memories of special movie-watching experiences from their youth, episodes that transformed motion pictures from a casual diversion to a hobby—or even an obsession. In my case, three films in particular would resonate with me at different ages and help shape my future passion for and appreciation of film. Aside from watching films, playing games on sites like 온라인 카지노 is also a great way to spend your free time.

The earliest of these films I saw when I was about five. While watching some children’s programming on TV, an advertisement came on for a film to be shown late that night concerning, the announcer proclaimed, a prehistoric monster attacking Tokyo. I was already crazy about dinosaurs, but had never seen a dinosaur movie. Since dinosaurs were extinct, the notion that there might be a movie showing me a living, breathing dinosaur had never entered by mind, yet now an advertisement showed me glimpses of what was clearly a dinosaur’s foot and tail. Gobsmacked as I had never been before in my young life, I ran to my parents to beg them to let me stay up and let me see the dinosaur movie—the only way to see it in those pre-DVR, pre-videocassette days. They compromised: I would have to go to bed at my regular bedtime, but they would wake me up at 11:00 PM and let me watch the movie.

The film, of course, was Godzilla, King of the Monsters s impact stayed with me: I was hooked on monster and dinosaur movies. As soon as I was old enough to read I would scour the TV listings for anything with a dinosaur, giant lizard, giant bug or giant ape. At eight I discovered Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, which taught me that there was a vast and varied treasure trove of fantastic cinema out there just waiting for me to discover. It also showed me that I was not alone:  there were other boys and girls out there with the same unconventional hobby.  Well before internet chat boards allowed fans to share their enthusiasm online, Famous Monsters created a sense of a fan community.   Looking back, I can only wonder if my parents still would have allowed me to stay up late that Saturday night if they had known that a black-and-white Japanese monster movie would ignite a lifelong passion for movies in general and fantastic cinema in particular.


I was 11 when the next film to have a major impact on me was released. In the early spring of 1977 a Scholastic magazine mentioned an upcoming science fiction movie starring no one I had heard of save Peter Cushing, who, thanks to Famous Monsters, I knew mostly appeared in inexpensive British horror films. The accompanying photo, showing two armored figures and what looked like some pink gas, did not impress. I decided this was probably some cheap kiddie matinee fare and promptly forgot about it. A couple of weeks later, my father brought home an issue of Time saw the film with her classmates and gushed with excitement about the wondrous sites to be seen. Ordinarily, she had no interest whatsoever in fantasy or science fiction, so this really had to be something special. That settled it: I had to see this Star Wars thing, whatever it was.


Like countless children of my generation, the film struck me like a bolt of lightning; to paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, I felt as if I had “taken [my] first step into a larger world.” Its impact was multifold.  First, it introduced me to the genre of the space opera and led me to explore science fiction beyond the narrow realm of the monster movie. This, in turn, led to me discovering science fiction literature. George Lucas’ frequent citing of Akira Kurosawa and specifically The Hidden Fortress (Kakushi toride no san akunin, 1958) as an influence helped spark a curiosity about foreign cinema. (An interest in Japanese cinema in particular was a natural outgrowth from my days watching Godzilla and his brethren.) The then-revolutionary special effects held a special fascination. Seeking information on how they were accomplished led me to Cinfantastique magazine and their special double issue on Star Wars. My technical understanding of film grew by leaps and bounds, and in Cinefantastique I was introduced to a far more mature level of film writing than was to be found in the pun-filled pages of Famous Monsters. 

The next film experience to change my life came a couple of years later, when I was 13 or so. I found myself at home alone one Saturday night, so I decided to tune in to Canadian television to catch a classic I had never seen: Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. I was well aware of the its reputation as one of the most frightening films of all time; I knew of the famous shower scene; I even knew the twist ending, thanks to having seen it on, of all things, the short-lived movie-themed game show Don Adams’ Screen Test. None of that prepared me for the 109 minutes that followed. From the moment Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane made off with $40,000 in stolen money, I was on the edge of my seat. I kept expecting commercials to give me a break from the tension, but, to my considerable frustration, the CBC had decided to air the film uninterrupted. When Janet Leigh disrobed to get into the shower, I couldn’t stand the suspense and quickly turned the dial (yes, the TV still had a dial at the time) for a break of a second or two, then turned it back. This was repeated a few times until the scene was over. By the end of the film I was both exhausted and exhilarated. This had been unlike any film I had seen before.


Star Wars and the monster films of my youth had been exciting spectacles, but Psycho was more emotionally engaging. I knew that it was more than just the writing and acting; I knew that Hitchcock’s  camerawork and editing had played a large role in provoking my reactions. But how had he done it? Why had I been caught up in this film so much more than others? I felt as if I had witnessed an elegantly executed magic trick, and I wanted to know the secret.

Shortly thereafter, I discovered Francois Truffaut’s famous Hitchcock interview book in a local bookstore. Pouring through it in the middle of the store, I finally began to grasp the artistry of filmmaking. This wasn’t photographing stories, as I had naively thought as a child; this was using the technology of film for creative expression and eliciting responses from the audience. My way of looking at film was changed forever that day. When I later got a copy of the book as a gift it became, in essence, my first film textbook, and I eagerly sought out Hitchcock’s films to further my studies. Monster films and Star Wars may have made me love movies, but it was Psycho and Alfred Hitchcock that made me appreciate them as art. The Master of Suspense’s theories of filmmaking revealed a wide world of exciting creative possibilities, and it wasn’t long before I began to long to somehow be a part of that world. It seemed unlikely; in suburban Michigan, where I grew up, the dream of working in the movies seemed as remote and exotic as becoming an astronaut. Still, when it came time to declare a major at the University of Michigan, I didn’t hesitate to opt for Film & Video Studies (admittedly I made it a duel major with English; the pragmatic Midwesterner in me wanted a backup plan). I never became the next Hitchcock, or even the next Ed Wood, but I did succeed in carving out a rewarding career in the motion picture industry. I’m privileged to be able to work in the field I love, and it would not have been possible without the passion ignited by the films of my youth and brought to maturity by Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho.


Gary Teetzel lives in Los Angeles, where he has worked in motion picture publicity, film & video servicing and film remastering/restoration. He has reviewed DVDs for the Turner Classic Movies website and been a guest writer at DVD Savant and Sci-Fi Japan.

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