Oscar Oddities, Part 2

Not all Oscar nominations are for big budget, prestigious studio pictures like Ben-Hur (1959), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and Gone With the Wind (1939), and we’re here to offer further proof, as we did in Oscar Oddities, Part 1 (which covered 1999 -1960), that sometimes flukes and unexpected surprises can and do occur. If a poverty row studio like PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) can break into the honored inner circle with Academy Award nominations for a tough little no-budget crime drama like Why Girls Leave Home (1945), anything can happen. 

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Richard Stanley and H.P. Lovecraft

In 1990 South African filmmaker Richard Stanley made his feature film debut with Hardware, a post-apocalyptic tale about a killer cyborg on the rampage. Most critics who bothered to see it at the time dismissed it as a grungy rip-off of The Terminator and other genre favorites but it clearly had style to burn and sci-fi geeks embraced it despite the excessive violence (some of it was edited out in the original theatrical release). Next came Dust Devil (1992), an arty, mystical story of a demonic hitchhiker in pursuit of a runaway married woman in the African desert. It was distributed by Miramax and released in a re-edited version which added a narration and deleted 20 minutes. It was poorly distributed but Stanley’s dynamic visual aesthetic and offbeat narrative flourishes attracted the attention of Hollywood. Then New Line Cinema offered Stanley a dream project, a remake of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau.

It quickly became a nightmare project. A hurricane destroyed the sets just prior to shooting and Val Kilmer, coming off the mega-success of Batman Forever, undermined and intimidated Stanley and had him fired just days into production. His replacement was John Frankenheimer but even he couldn’t save the film from the damage inflicted by the self-destructive egos of Kilmer and Marlon Brando. The 1996 release was a cinematic train wreck and Stanley, depressed and dejected, appeared to abandon film making forever. Now, 23 years later, he returns from the wilderness with Color Out of Space, an effectively creepy and atmospheric sci-fi/horror thriller that might be one of the best film adaptations yet of H.P. Lovecraft’s famous short story.   Continue reading