Throwbacklist Thursday

Dracula Is Tired.

You can’t spell “books” without “boo” and UIP publishes many tomes of knowledge eldritch and/or arcane. Can you use these books and journals to cast spells? To revive octopus-faced gods in their undersea cities? To conjure the beefalo tacos you crave?

Frankly, no. We leave that stuff to sibling AAUP members like Miskatonic University. But our library of publications can swell your head with facts and insights. Our products make especially great trick-or-treat gifts, if you live in a village of the damned populated solely by Mensa-bred Stepford super-children.

Journey with us through a cobwebby doorway to a shelf of hair-raising UIP classics.

friedmanCitizen Spielberg, by Lester D. Friedman
This look at Steven Spielberg’s career challenges the common view of the filmmaker as a crowd-pleasing but shallow purveyor of spectacles and cheap emotion. That isn’t easy to do with a guy who has Jurassic Park on his C.V. “I don’t think I’ve ever not made a melodrama,” Spielberg once said, not exactly in his own defense.

Today known for churning out Oscar bait once per year, Steven Spielberg began his career in the suspense genre. The made-for-TV thriller Duel established the Cincinnati wunderkind as an up-and-coming talent. But of course the blockbuster Three Men and a Shark put him on the map and, as the story goes, changed Hollywood forever.

WallerThe Living and the Undead: Slaying Vampires, Exterminating Zombies, by Gregory A. Waller
You cannot swing a black cat in our pop culture these days without hitting a sexy vampire or one of the many sub-species of the walking dead. Gregory A. Waller sinks his teeth into both genres in this enjoyable film studies survey of two movie monsters that, clearly, will never die. Fearing no evil, Waller contemplates the expressionist terror of Nosferatu and the sharp wardrobes of the Hammer Film classics, the idea of the king-vampire from Stoker’s Dracula to Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, and the ever-expanding Land of the Living Dead created by director George Romero. Seriously, this book is so complete it covers Blacula (aka Crapula) and analyzes how to look at a guy rifle-butting a flesh-eating Hare Krishna. Put down the brooding teenager vampire medi and huddle under a blanket and some garlic. The Living and the Undead dares to contemplate the sensual vampiric intensity that is Frank Langella.

CooperF12Dario Argento, by L. Andrew Cooper
Delightfully bent, frequently controversial, and never ever dull, Dario Argento remains a horror and suspense icon four decades into his career. The master of giallo hit it big with the 1970 classic The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, the story of an American writer in Rome who becomes embroiled in the doings of a serial killer. He jumped from genre to genre but always returned to his blood and butter. In 1975, Deep Red—a film that ends with a decapitation—made Argento an international sensation. Argento’s interview with L. Andrew Cooper provided much insight into the master’s obsessions and methods. We excerpt:

I’m obsessed with memory. We have a tendency to change facts and stories because of our memory. It is greatly influenced by our personality, by our culture, and by our environment. That’s why, in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Tony Musante’s memory plays little tricks on him. He saw a girl dressed in white and a man in a hat dressed all in black. But he didn’t pay close enough attention to what he saw. Well, in our unconscious, black symbolizes evil, and white symbolizes purity. As a result, there was this confusion that took place this time because it was the woman who was trying to murder her husband. You can see this problem of memory again in Deep Red. Memory often betrays us. For example, if we see something happen in the street, and if there are four different witnesses, there will be four different points of view. I had talked with a chief of police about this subject, and he explained to me that at the time of a murder, it is absolutely necessary for the witnesses to give their depositions within forty-eight hours, because after that, the memory starts to change things. It can twist the facts because of our personal experience.

CapsManciniHenry Mancini: Reinventing Film Music, by John Caps
Known best for scoring, well, everything, Mancini also lent his talents to suspense. In 1967, he joined the team behind the unusual but oh-so-effective suspense film Wait Until Dark. You remember. Audrey Hepburn, of all people, being menaced by Alan Arkin and Richard Crenna, also of all people. And her character is blind. Based on a Broadway play that came off as a high-intensity drawing room fearfest, Wait Until Dark put Mancini into deeper waters as a composer. Hepburn got him the job—courtesy enough since he wrote “Moon River” for her—and Mancini delivered. Though his admirers dug on the score, and the film itself did fine business, the music to Wait Until Dark waited forty years for a soundtrack disc. John Caps offers insight into what many consider some of Mancini’s finest film work:

He now began to think about writing for two pianos in Wait Until Dark, one normal and one not, to get at a villain’s schizoid psychology. He requisitioned twin Baldwin pianos owned by the Warner Brothers Studio. One was tuned to the standard tuning-fork pitch of 440 cps (cycles per second); the other he detuned so that every note was a quarter-tone flat. The beginning of Wait Until Dark displays this effect: a simple A-minor triad played on one piano, then repeated by the other “flat” piano, alternating the in-tune chord with the off-tune chord. The payoff is instant and viscerally disturbing. The studio pianists recording the music (Pearl Kaufman and Jimmy Rowles) said they were experiencing vertigo as the session went on, so disorienting was the effect.

For the viewer/listener of the film, that sound goes a long way toward recreating the unsettling world of Suzie, under attack from forces she certainly cannot see nor barely comprehend. Composer and writer Irwin Bazelon declared, “The tonal distortion convincingly delineates the villain’s disturbed psychoneurotic personality; it does this by an economy of means infinitely superior to the illustrative sounds and ominous musical announcements usually associated with this type of dramatic scene.” It certainly creates what Mancini liked to call the “question mark” at the beginning of this film, raising the audience’s curiosity about “what is going on here and what is going to happen.” The detuned piano effect is even more striking when Mancini plays a phrase of single notes echoed by its own distorted image in the other detuned piano, one key at a time. With that as a backdrop, the film’s twisted main theme appears in the guise of a fateful-sounding whistler, partnered by piccolo. It is taken up then by electric harpsichord, electric guitar, and sitar.

With such sparse yet vivid instrumental forces on hand (including two dozen strings, a Novachord polyphonic synthesizer, and a Japanese panpipe instrument called the sho), Mancini becomes the aural unconscious of this story.

As for the climax:

Once Roat has detained Sam, Suzie’s husband, who is across town and unable to come to the rescue this time (there is a clear, sincere Mancini melody associated with Sam’s warm, safe presence throughout the film and reappearing at the end), he heads for the showdown in her apartment to get the doll back. Suzie senses her vulnerability, being without sight. But she realizes, too, that she can render Roat equally blind if the whole apartment is made dark when he arrives. In a kind of frenzy, she dashes around the place wielding her walking stick toward all the lightbulbs she can find. The rising desperation of the scene is not only described by but also driven by the music cue that Mancini, in his scoring sheets, has called “Bulbous Terror”: the Novachord adds a two-note ostinato in 6/8 double time to a mix of broken slashing orchestral chords on piano. At the height of the mayhem (Suzie even breaks out into the building’s corridor to smash the bulbs there), three soprano saxes enter along with the sho on top like a taunting counterpoint until one final scream from Suzie halts the scherzo at three and a half minutes.

RaubicheckF11Scripting Hitchcock, by Walter Raubicheck and Walter Srebnick
Nominated for an Edgar Award, Scripting Hitchcock delves into two of the director’s most unabashedly horror-soaked films: The Birds and Psycho. The authors answered some questions on the films in a UIP Q&A back in 2012, and the insights come in as fast as a gull intent on Tippi Hedren’s hairpins.