About Stan

Stan is a freelance writer and editor. He blogs about the English language at Sentence first and can also be found on Twitter.

Vintage animation: The Insects’ Christmas

The Insects’ Christmas is a short film from 1913 by the pioneering animator Władysław Starewicz (later Ladislas Starevich). During his time as director of a natural history museum in Lithuania, Starewicz began making live-action nature documentaries. Apparently he turned to stop-motion while trying to film a battle between stag beetles who kept falling asleep under the stage lights; using dead beetles, wire, and wax, he engineered the scene he was looking for. There are no beetle battles in The Insects’ Christmas (apart from a Christmas cracker tug of war with a frog), but the film has some magical moments and plenty of old-fashioned charm.

Retro Movie Review: Phase IV

So defenceless in the individual; so powerful in the mass. Graphic designer Saul Bass (1920–1996) is best known for his iconic film posters and title sequences, the latter including The Man with the Golden Arm, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, Spartacus, West Side Story, Big, Goodfellas, and Cape Fear. Though not generally known as a director, he made a couple of shorts and one feature-length film: a 1974 science-fiction oddity called Phase IV. The film opens with a shimmery synthesiser soundtrack and a voiceover that tells us: “When the effect came, it was almost unnoticed, because it happened to such a small and insignificant form of life”. The “effect” came from a blast of energy waves caused by an obscure cosmic event. We see a few cryptic images, then a long, documentary-style montage of ants being ants. But all is not as it appears. We’re told they’re “doing things that … There’s more

Curse of the Night of the Demon

It’s in the trees! It’s coming! I knew this line from Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love long before I saw the film from which she borrowed it: Night of the Demon (1957), called Curse of the Demon in its shorter American cut. Jacques Tourneur’s eerie suspense film has become something of a cult and critical favourite, but it was out of print for many years and took a while to find its audience; the same director’s early-1940s Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie probably still have a higher profile. Night of the Demon is based loosely on Casting the Runes, a sinister short story by M. R. James. The film script adapts its outline, and at a lively pace plays up the fashionable tensions between scepticism and credulity, rationalism and paranormal possibility. Niall MacGinnis steals the acting show as Karswell, a charismatic and sympathetic villain apparently modelled on … There’s more

The Vampires of Wartime Paris

In the early 20th century, crime and suspense serials were very popular with cinemagoers. They were like the 24 of the silent film era. One of the finest practitioners of the form was Louis Feuillade (1873–1925), a French writer and director of about 700 films. After the success of his Fantômas, Feuillade was encouraged to repeat the trick, so he set about making Les Vampires. It became a classic of its kind, considered by some modern critics as a masterpiece of silent film. Les Vampires comprises ten episodes with titles that suggest an 18-cert Fawlty Towers: The Severed Head, The Poisoner, The Escaping Dead Man… The action centres on a gang of dangerous criminals known as The Vampires. They aren’t vampires, but some of the film’s style borrowed from Stoker’s great myth (see image below), while a promotional poem made the connection even more explicit. Our hero, Philippe Guerande, is a brave … There’s more

La Chienne, 1931

Jean Renoir is best known for two movie masterpieces he directed in the late 1930s: La Règle du jeu, a social satire often cited as one of the best films of all time, and La Grand Illusion, a highly regarded anti-war film. The latter was infamously described by Joseph Goebbels as “cinematic public enemy no.1”, and was among the first things the Nazis seized when they occupied France. Less well known is the director’s earlier film La Chienne (“The Bitch”), a controversial social critique that is part noir and part tragicomedy, but resists ready categorisation. Its opening scene, in which puppets fight over what kind of film it is, quickly sets the tone — violent but playful, melodramatic but ironic — and primes the audience to interpret it as they see fit. The surviving puppet introduces the main characters: “He, she, and the other guy . . . as usual.” There … There’s more

Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People

This week’s cult film recommendation is Matango, a little-known Japanese oddity from 1963. You might imagine from its full American title, Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People, that it’s a daft and trashy piece of work. Contrary to appearances, though, this is an unusually well-made and thoughtful genre film. It plays by the rules of matinee mysteries, but does much more than just tick its way through a checklist of catastrophe clichés. (Mild spoilers follow.) The story, told in flashback, introduces us to a group of seven people at sea. They are in high spirits, which we do not expect to last. Sure enough, nerves begin to fray when a storm hits, lashing the boat about in a cheap but energetic fashion. (Throughout the film, much is done with rather little.) Set hopelessly adrift, the party takes refuge on an apparently deserted island, a damp and murky place with mist … There’s more

Galway Film Society winter/spring season

The Galway Film Society has announced its winter/spring season for the new year. As usual, the films will be screened at the Town Hall Theatre [map]. Titles and dates are as follows: Séraphine (17 Jan.), Home (24 Jan.), Mid August Lunch (31 Jan.), Welcome (07 Feb.), Tales from a Golden Age (14 Feb.), Bright Star (21 Feb.), White Ribbon (07 Mar.), Tulpan (14 Mar.). I haven’t seen any of them yet, but it’s an interesting line-up, with a few in particular catching my eye. For more information on prices, booking, and the films themselves, see the Town Hall website.

Master of the Flying Guillotine

Jimmy Wang Yu’s outrageous martial arts film from 1975 is something of a cult classic. I re-watched it recently and can happily report that it’s as over the top and crazily entertaining as ever. This fight scene — between the one-armed boxer (Wang Yu) and a yoga master with an unexpected special power — is typical: The Onion AV Club wrote that Master of the Flying Guillotine “needs to be seen to be believed, and even then defies belief”. They’re right.

The Thing From Another Decade

“It’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.” John Carpenter’s The Thing was released in 1982, but I saw it first in the mid-1990s. It hooked me right away. The opening caption: Antarctica, Winter 1982; and the scene: a helicopter chasing a dog, its passenger shooting at the animal sprinting across the empty snow towards a remote research station. The set-up was thus swiftly established, the mystery deftly embedded. What followed that strange opening chase was a science-fiction horror film as tense, atmospheric and imaginative as any I had seen in years, and one to which I have returned several times. John W. Campbell’s ‘Who Goes There?‘ was published in Astounding Stories in 1938, and was first adapted for film in 1951, as The Thing From Another World. The politics of the age gave this quirky B-movie classic a strong flavour of Cold War distrust, and though it offers melodrama, wit, … There’s more

Fantomas, the silent killer

Instead of keeping up to date with the latest offerings from the world of cinema, I have been catching up on a crime serial from its early days. Fantômas is a criminal mastermind who originated in a flurry of 32 detective novels published monthly between 1911 and 1913; the first film adaptation, directed by Louis Feuillade, quickly followed. This is the series I have been watching, on a two-disc DVD set from Artificial Eye (borrowed from a friend — thanks Mr. K!). Altogether there are five episodes averaging an hour in length or thereabouts. One is called ‘The Murderous Corpse’ and contains a chapter titled ‘The Gloves of Human Skin’, but the grisly goings-on are less explicit than these names might suggest. Fantômas is sometimes known as the ‘Lord of Terror’ or the ‘Emperor of Crime’. Played by René Navarre, he is a thief, a killer, an elusive mystery man … There’s more

2 Years after 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Here’s another recommendation from the 2007 vault. This film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, is a very different sort to the last one I wrote about on Culch.ie. RTE recently broadcast it in a late-night slot (23 September), and although I didn’t re-watch it then, I got to thinking about it again – hence this post. Unlike many films that pass through my eyes and soon fade from my mind, Cristian Mungiu’s bleak and disturbing film has stayed strong in my memory. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days shows a day in the lives of two young women in Romania in 1987. It is near the end of Ceauşescu’s totalitarian rule; ID checks are frequent, depersonalisation is rife, and bureaucracy’s knots are knitted everywhere. The film’s main character, Otilia (played brilliantly by Anamaria Marinca, pictured in blue, below), has held her humanity and decency, but she suffers … There’s more

Kings of Kong

‘I wanted the pretty girls to come up and say, “Hi, I see that you’re good at Centipede”‘ – Walter Day (Note: this piece has no substantial plot spoilers, but some of the links do.) Right after I saw The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters for the first time, I went googling. I needed to know more about the people in the film, and I knew that the story did not – could not – end with the final credits. But I’m already ahead of myself. Some of you have no doubt seen the film or heard of it; others probably haven’t, so I’ll summarise. King of Kong is a 2007 documentary about classic arcade game champions and challengers: competitive gamers who vie to be the best in the world at, say, Q*bert, Frogger or Pac-Man. As its name suggests, King of Kong focuses on Donkey Kong. Early … There’s more

Fridge Fright

When Culch.ie said they wanted “fresh blood” for the site, I knew immediately that I wanted to write something for them about horror films. In an email to Darren I whimsically proposed, among other things, a piece about refrigerator-based horror. Not cal-horrific psychological snack-horror à la Bridget Jones, but full-on cinematic horror, featuring refrigerators. As inanimate props go, they don’t compare with helicopters and mobile phones for unsung importance, but they have played their part. And I could be their champion. I admit that this is not the most fertile territory for a full thesis. Initially the suggestion lay – on the seriousness scale – somewhere between mostly-joking and ha!-ha!-you-freakazoid, but a moment’s consideration convinced me to make it the subject of my inaugural post on Culch.ie. Here’s why: 1. It seemed like a good challenge. Could I assemble enough words about refrigerator horror without boring Culch.ie readers into weeping … There’s more