Forget the horrible sequels and worse television spin-offs. The original Highlander earned its spurs as a batshit crazy, wildly original genre exercise that created a significant cult following, and remains one of the more unique products of 1980s cinema. It opened today in 1986.
In an attempt to update classic film noir tropes for the 1970s, Robert Altman created one of its strangest and most enduring updates with The Long Goodbye, which opened today in 1973. Elliott Gould plays a Philip Marlowe out of his time and place, wandering through a Los Angeles that has left him behind in search of a mystery that not even he can quite articulate. Among its other pleasures — including Altman’s inimitable improvisational style and a fine turn from Gould — it features a very young Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his first onscreen roles.
Any Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe adaptation is welcome here, and we’ve got one of the better ones for you: The Premature Burial, the tale of a man obsessed with being buried alive, and the general consternation that results. It’s interesting in part because it’s the only Corman Poe adaptation that doesn’t star Vincent Price. (Corman wanted him, but behind-the-scenes machinations prevented it from happening.) It opened today in 1962.
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!
There’s not a whole lot today — September has some serious dry spells — so we’re going back to the grindhouse. And what better way to do that than with Revenge of the Ninja, aka the Citizen Kane of 80s ninja movies? With go-to ninja lead Sho Kosugi above the titles and ninja-happy producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus controlling the purse strings, the only thing missing was a gratuitous cameo from a slumming Oscar winner. Revenge of the Ninja opened today in 1983.
If you need a double-bill for this bad boy, how about The Warrior and The Sorceress, an insipid Yojimbo remake attempting to cash in on the swords-and-sorcery craze of the early 1980s? It was produced by Roger Corman, after all, and featured David Carradine as the wandering mercenary playing two rival warlords off against each other. Of course the real sell for its intended audience (12-year-old boys) was the gratuitous nudity, including a few brief shots of a four-breasted woman whose prosthetics likely gobbled the entirety of the film’s budget. It opened today in 1984. (Also, I’m pretty sure the trailer voice-over is performed by Peter “Optimus Prime” Cullen.)
Show of hands: who wants to watch a bracing 104 minutes of Soviet-era propaganda? I knew you would! Sergei Eisenstein’s October opened today in 1928: generally regarded as one of the masterpieces of Soviet cinema and granting its director license to expound upon numerous cinematic theories — like montage — that today have become standard practi-
You in the back, quit falling asleep! DON’T MAKE ME GET MY AIR HORN!
Oh all right. Here’s some movies featuring Kate Beckinsale in tight black pleather: Underworld: Evolution was released today in 2006 and Underworld: Awakening hit theaters today in 2012. Neither of them have improved with age, but you get to watch Kate blow large holes in people while sashaying through a Gothic-Punk landscape in stylized bondage gear. Also Derek Jacobi slumming like few have slummed before.
Somewhere between those two extremes sits The Tomb of Ligeia, the final entry in Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, which was released today in 1965. Vincent Price — Corman’s go-to man for Poe-based Awesome — stars as a man tormented by the spirit of his dead wife. It’s a fun slice of AIP cheese, made a heck of a lot better thanks to its leading man.
And while we’re at it, let’s throw in The Invisible Ray: a minor but notable entry in Universal’s horror cycle, featuring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi getting their creepy on. It was released today in 1936.