Thursday, May 5, 2016

Fox’s Houdini & Doyle needs more magic

Posted By on 05.05.16 at 02:30 PM

What a zany pairing! - FOX
  • FOX
  • What a zany pairing!

Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were more like frenemies than friends. Their real-life relationship in the 1920s could be adversarial—Doyle believed in the occult, and Houdini repeatedly (and sometimes successfully) tried to debunk its existence (sorry, kids, his magic wasn't real). They eventually had a massive falling out and became rivals—but according to Houdini & Doyle, a new drama on Fox, their opposing views made them the perfect pair of rogue detectives.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

In a month full of horror movies, the minimalist The Witch stands out

Posted By on 02.26.16 at 03:00 PM

The Witch
  • The Witch

Hollywood's annual release calendar is divided roughly into thirds: the summer-action season (which actually starts in the spring); awards season, which begins in earnest in September; and the rest of the year, the postholiday winter months when some scrappy genre movies get to fight for screen time against prestige, Oscar-buzz holdovers. We're currently in the third period, and during the past month a number of horror movies have made it to local theaters. Three of the releases are notable: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the Screen Gems release that tanked at the box office; Southbound, a low-budget anthology (or omnibus) film from the Orchard, a burgeoning indie distributor that specializes in youth-oriented fare; and The Witch, which premiered at Sundance last year, won filmmaker Robert Eggers the best director prize, and was quickly snapped up by tastemaking distributor A24. In terms of quality and ambition, they range from inept to impressive, and only The Witch has anything resembling a new approach to the genre.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

The X-Files's obsession with UFOs seems quaint in the era of the super PAC

Posted By on 02.08.16 at 06:20 PM

Mulder and Scully have witnessed far too much nutty space shit to remain incredulous. - FOX
  • Fox
  • Mulder and Scully have witnessed far too much nutty space shit to remain incredulous.

An old, recognizable poster is visible on the wall of Fox Mulder's office during the new X-Files miniseries. It shows a blurry image of what appears to be a flying saucer hovering over a forest. Printed in bold type below the shot: i want to believe. It serves as a testament to Mulder's earnest faith in extraterrestrial or paranormal beings and a deep skepticism towards a heavy-handed federal government that suppresses and obfuscates their existence.

That the iconic image still hangs in the same spot since The X-Files pilot aired way back in 1993 is a little wink to longtime fans. But in 2016, it's also a cringe-inducing, laughably outdated relic—both because of events that have occurred over the last 23 years in Chris Carter's beloved sci-fi universe and, more importantly, what's transpired in our own world. 

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Monday, November 9, 2015

The craziness didn't end with Salem

Posted By on 11.09.15 at 01:18 PM


The Salem witch trials will fascinate Americans for as long as those events roil our own capacity for lunacy. In a recent Bleader post, the Reader's Aimee Levitt discusses the Salem trials with Stacy Schiff, author of the new book The Witches: Salem, 1692, and she tells us that Schiff believes "the legacy of Salem . . . has echoed throughout American history."

Schiff provides Levitt with a vague contemporary counterpart to the temper of those 17th-century colonists. "There's this increasing paranoia and sense of surveillance and the politics of fear," Schiff says. "How much does Google know about you? Are you being tracked? It's an easy way to feel haunted."

Let's not settle for that. What exists today as it existed then is our human capacity to rouse incomprehensible fears, levy incomprehensible accusations, and impose incomprehensible punishments—incomprehensible, that is, to the nice people we revert to being once passions subside.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

The 1930s chiller White Zombie is an experimental-horror masterpiece

Posted By on 10.30.15 at 02:30 PM

Bela Lugosi in White Zombie
  • Bela Lugosi in White Zombie

The first time I ever saw Victor Halperin's 1932 film White Zombie (which will be screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center twice this week in a 35-millimeter restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive) it was part of an unintentional and incongruous double feature. I had snuck into a University of Chicago classroom screening of Max Ophuls's venerated Lola Montes (1955) and then sprinted across campus to see White Zombie at Doc Films immediately afterwards. I proclaimed White Zombie—a horror cheapie with Bela Lugosi as a unibrowed necromancer in a thinly researched rendition of Haiti—to be the superior film to anyone who would listen. I thought the Ophuls film had a messy, self-conscious narrative structure and moments of unabashed melodrama, while White Zombie was pure cinema, its images of terror (clasped hands, glowing eyes) rendered with a graphic simplicity that approaches cuneiform pictographs. I wouldn't instinctively feel the need to make such a comparison today—but I wouldn't disagree with my original verdict either.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Wrigleyville decorator's Halloween party is truly a three-ring circus

Posted By on 10.27.15 at 01:39 PM

An Elton John look-alike plays piano beneath a pink spotlight in the middle of a Wrigleyville apartment-building courtyard. Donning a white boa, platform heels, and blinking sunglasses, he busts into a spot-on rendition of "Bennie and the Jets." A flapper and a vampire roam the grounds, chatting with corpses and taking selfies. Lured by the spectacle a group of drunken Cubs fans stumble toward the apartment's entrance, woo-wooing in the neighborhood's native tongue. The man stationed at the door narrows his eyes, effectively denying them access to the party. "I don't think we're supposed to be here," one of them says as the sporty pack retreats into the shadows.

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The ten best things to do this Halloween

Posted By on 10.27.15 at 09:00 AM

Redmoon's Boneshaker - AL ZAYED
  • Al Zayed
  • Redmoon's Boneshaker

The allhallows ghouls have given us the greatest gift of all this year: Halloween on a Saturday. That means more celebrations than ever—and less of a chance that you'll accidentally show up to work in full skeleton face. But with so many more options, how can you possibly choose the perfect haunt for the weekend? 

That's what we're here for. So grab your Donald Trump costume, take a look at this list, and don't be scared about not having Halloween plans. 

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Friday, September 11, 2015

It's worth paying a visit to M. Night Shyamalan's latest

Posted By on 09.11.15 at 12:30 PM

  • The Visit
Film historian Foster Hirsch once used the term “finger exercise” to describe Robert Siodmak’s Cry of the City (1948), meaning it was a relatively unambitious genre picture that nonetheless allowed a skilled director to take delight in his craft. I thought of that description while watching M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit, which opens commercially today. The film belongs to a prolific genre—the found-footage horror movie—and while it doesn’t reinvent the form, it contains a number of effective scares and almost as many laughs. Shyamalan takes obvious care in establishing atmosphere, luring viewers into the movie’s central mystery and interrupting the seduction with jokes and false alarms. I wouldn’t call The Visit a must-see, but if you see it, you should see it with as big an audience as you can find. Like any good fun-house horror movie, it benefits from the screams and laughter of a crowd.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The horror film Sinister 2 considers the real-life horror of domestic violence

Posted By on 08.25.15 at 01:30 PM

Sinister 2
  • Sinister 2

About halfway into Sinister 2, there's a scene in which two lonely people share a drink on the porch of a country house late at night. One (Shannyn Sossamon) is a young mother who recently fled her possessive, abusive husband. The other (James Ransone) is a former deputy sheriff who lost his job after he was falsely accused of a horrific crime. He's since become a private detective, and his most recent investigation led him to the abandoned farmhouse where the mother is temporarily living with her twin boys. He happened to be looking around just when the woman's husband showed up, state troopers in tow, to take the boys away—wielding his knowledge of the law, the former deputy explained that the father had no claim to the children, and this got him to leave. The mother, grateful for the stranger's intervention, invited him to dinner and then to spend the night, saying that she and the boys feel safe in his presence. It's after the boys go to bed that the adults have that drink together. Finally relaxed after the events of the day, they confide in each other about their disappointments in life.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The welcome return of horror-comedy maestro Joe Dante

Posted By on 08.18.15 at 02:00 PM

Ashley Greene (above) in Burying the Ex
  • Ashley Greene (above) in Burying the Ex

"She's back, she's dead, and she thinks we're still dating!" shouts Anton Yelchin with an irrepressible gleam in his eye about a half hour into Burying the Ex, a genial horror comedy now available to rent at Redbox kiosks. That moment pretty much sums up the plot and tone of the movie. No matter how lowbrow or silly the material gets, everyone seems to be having a good time in Ex, and no wonder: it's the first feature in more than five years to be directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, Small Soldiers), one of the most fun-loving filmmakers alive. Dante's work, it's often said, evokes live-action Looney Tunes, popping with sight gags and movie in-jokes and inspiring the feeling that anything is possible in the world of movies. Ex finds the director working with an ultralow budget and a somewhat familiar script, but his good-natured charm still shines through these setbacks.

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