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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (#110 of 3)

Summer of ‘88: Waxwork

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Waxwork</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Waxwork</em>

The Cabin in the Woods ends with a deliriously apocalyptic Grand Guignol in which just about every ghoulie that’s ever appeared in a horror movie is released from a subterranean prison to wreak bloody mayhem on their captors. But Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard were hardly the first to conceive of a finale of that kind, and on that kind of massive scale. The 1988 horror yarn Waxwork ends with a band of hunters—including Valley Girl’s Deborah Foreman and Gremlins star Zach Galligan—facing off against a slew of vampires, werewolves, mummies, zombies, even an Audrey II-like man-eating plant in a wax museum-set battle royale over the fate of mankind. Notwithstanding a very-’80s proliferation of cheesy one-liners before the heroes dispatch the various villains, this finale exudes a similar no-holds-barred spirit that the climax of The Cabin in the Woods would tap into 23 years later, albeit with a bigger budget and even less abandon.

For me, The Cabin in the Woods was condescending in its deconstruction of horror conventions, wrapped in a smart-ass concept—a government agency presiding over the fates of a bunch of innocent cabin-dwellers, not unlike filmmakers trying to come up with an audience-savvy product—that eventually turned its contempt toward the audience, supposedly for uncritically eating up this crap without desiring more from their entertainment. Waxwork isn’t nearly as clever, to be sure, and its execution is at times clumsy, especially with its wobbly sorta-campy tone. (The broad caricatures and cheesy acting in the film’s first 15 minutes alone are cringe-inducing.) But for all its shakiness and obvious low budget, Anthony Hickox’s film does at least display a sincere love for the horror classics to which it pays tribute, even going so far as to shoot a Night of the Living Dead-inspired sequence in black and white to match its source material. In other words, Waxwork is thankfully free of Whedon and Goddard’s smugness.

A Mellower Pinter: The Caretaker

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A Mellower Pinter: <em>The Caretaker</em>
A Mellower Pinter: <em>The Caretaker</em>

Audiences accustomed to thinking of a Pinteresque evening as family members getting at each other’s throats, unleashing hidden spite and anger, may be surprised by the current Theatre Royal Bath Productions incarnation of The Caretaker. The play speaks in quieter tones, its muted pitch matched by the stage setting, in which grays and browns, ochres and tarnished beiges predominate. That isn’t to say that there’s no slow-burning rage or testosterone in evidence. In Harold Pinter’s work, emotional violence is always only a note away; it may emerge suddenly, in what you may otherwise see as a casual conversation, or idle joking. A fatal mistake, as this play illustrates.

White Nights at the Saint Petersburg International Kinoforum 2011

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White Nights at the Saint Petersburg International Kinoforum 2011
White Nights at the Saint Petersburg International Kinoforum 2011

When asked by Russians whether this was my first visit to St. Petersburg, I replied enigmatically, “Yes and no.” The answer was that I had been to Saint Petersburg, Florida and Leningrad, neither of which has much in common with the spectacular present-day Russian city, the ideal setting for a film festival. The Kinoforum in its first bona fide year (there was a small experimental version in 2010) is one of the only festivals that gives equal importance to tourism, debates, and movies. Held during the celebrated White Nights in July, the superbly organized touristic side gave guests the chance to attend a ballet (Don Quichotte) at the Marinsky Theatre; a huge open-air show put on especially for us at the Summer Palace, with a banquet thrown in; a symphony concert beside a lake, including Tchiakovsky’s “1812 Overture,” which concluded with a fireworks display instead of a cannon; a magical boat trip up the Neva by night; and a visit to the Hermitage, one of the world’s greatest collection of paintings (the festival enabled us to jump the long, long line to get in).