We’re looking at quite a few notable films with release dates today. We’ll start with a triumph from the Silver Age of Walt Disney pictures. 101 Dalmatians remains one of the Mouse’s biggest hits (#2 behind Snow White if you adjust for inflation) and — amid the studio’s bevvy of memorable villains — delivering one Cruella de Vil, who just might take the cake. It opened today in 1961.
Nine years later, Hollywood was attempting to sort out the cultural hash of Vietnam with heavy hitters like Catch-22 and Patton making obliquely comments (both fer and agin) on the conflict. But the one that’s best stood the test of time is Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H, an anti-war comedy for the ages and the inspiration for one of the most successful TV shows in history. If your only exposure to it comes from Alan Alda, you owe it to yourself to hunt this one down. It opened today in 1970.
The other releases of the day are given over to horror movies. B-movie maestro Roger Corman found a winning combination by casting Vincent Price in a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. His first four were as serious as a heart attack, but for his fifth, he decided to have a little fun. The result was The Raven, starring Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff as rival sorcerers in a comic tale based loosely on Poe’s most famous poem. (The film also features an early performance from a very hammy Jack Nicholson.) It opened today in 1963.
On a more recent note… attempting to unravel the convoluted history of the Ju-On franchise can bring one to the brink of madness. Instead, we’re going to make the Japanese release date of the original film — January 25, 2003 — then go hide under the covers until that creepy little kid comes for us. Possibly wearing a coat made out of puppies. Sleep tight everyone!
It’s Halloween and that means villains, and I’ve been musing this evening about one of my favorites. It has never quite occurred to me before just how psychotic Cruella de Vil is. Like bag-of-cats nuts. And I can’t get over it. Pretend you’re at a cocktail party with all the assembled Disney villains, and ask them why they did it. Almost all of them will at least give you a tangible motive: power or greed or revenge or something. Even the vanity of Snow White’s Queen and the imperiousness of Alice’s Queen held some guiding impulse at their core.
But ask Cruella why she did it, and she won’t say power or greed or revenge. She’ll say, “Because I’LL STAB YOUR EYES OUT!!! I’LL STAB THEM OUT AND THEN MAKE THEM WATCH WHILE I STRANGLE YOU WITH YOUR OWN LYING TONGUE!!!” And then you’d back slowly away and spend the rest of the evening trying to make small talk with Shere Khan.
Even worse, the older you get, the scarier she seems. Most Disney villains are plenty scary when we’re young, but become more endearing when we grow up. With Cruella, it’s just the opposite. As kids, we innately understand that she’s evil without having to dwell on the specifics. Then we grow up and start to think it through. She wants to make a fur coat out of puppies. PUPPIES. Why? Because she’ll stab your eyes out, that’s why.
That’s Heath-Ledger-Joker levels of nihilism. That’s the kind of crazy that makes Norman Bates say “whoa, let’s think this through.” And yet I think she sometimes takes a back seat to more recent Disney villains, or to the innate spookiness of the classic witches. She is more actively terrifying than any of them…. and she’s doing it without much more than a flashy car and a couple of bumbling henchmen to help. Here’s to you Cruella, and to the puppies (four-legged and otherwise) who still sleep with one eye open because of you.