by David Christopher Bell
We rarely get to see movies being watched in other movies – probably because while it’s fun to watch films, it’s fairly boring to watch other people watch films. That being said – there are plenty of characters out there who would no doubt be a blast to watch movies with… Batman, for example.
Anyway, when we do see a real life movie being watched in another movie it tends to be a film that most likely inspired the filmmakers either in their own upbringing or as a plot device in the film itself. Because of that one thing is certain – if you see a real movie being watched in the movie you’re watching, there’s a good chance that movie is awesome.
Before anything though, I gotta shout out to Mr. Cole Abaius for coming up with the idea for this list. The man is a true demigod, and from what I hear the other half is pretty good too.
12. The Shining in Twister
Look, you can sit there with your arms crossed all you want – but at some point you’re going to have to admit to yourself that you enjoy watching the film Twister. Sure, the reoccurring villain of the movie happens to be what is essentially just really fast wind… and sure, that really fast wind also happens to best acting performance of the film, but there’s just something damn fun about this movie.
In one of the best scenes of this film a ninja tornado swoops down on a drive in theater currently playing The Shining on its big screen. As the terror plays out, it’s hard to tell what’s scarier – the ominous vortex hiding in the night’s darkness behind the canvas in the middle of nowhere or Jack Nicholson’s crazy man performance being projected onto the canvas itself. Whatever it may be, one thing is for sure – there really isn’t much on this earth more badass than watching a tornado rip apart the door-axing scene from The Shining.
11. Myrt and Marge in O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?
Fun tip: if you even get bored at a movie theater, just start whispering to the person in front of you “Do… not… seek… the treasure!” over and over again.
Myrt and Marge was actually an adaptation of a radio show of the same name that was known for being particularly popular with female listeners… so it’s kind of like the Sex and the City movie of its time. The movie also happened to feature the vaudeville act ‘Ted Healy and his Stooges’, which would later go by the much more recognizable ‘Three Stooges’.
The film doesn’t appear to be watchable or buyable anywhere, at least not according to the internet (if anyone knows where to get it, please say so) – this is a shame because from what we see in O’ Brother (a chick flipping around like a nut) the film looks pretty damn boss.
10. The Seventh Seal in Last Action Hero
Last Action Hero is almost 20 years old, and it’s funny how many of its action movie cliché gags still apply today. Also – when you think about it, they haven’t really made a more perfect action movie spoof since, have they? This movie is to the action genre what The Cabin In The Woods is to horror – you got to give it respect for that.
More importantly – the film features a magic ticket that transports people in and out of films – which is pretty stupid magic when you think about it. That being said, they manage to identify the one film you would not want to use the ticket on: The Seventh Seal. As if the characters don’t have enough shit to go through, they now have to deal with Death walking around all creepy-like. The best part of all this is that since they obviously couldn’t get Bengt Ekerot to reprise the role they went ahead and got Ian Badboy McKellen to stand it instead. Thank god he wasn’t too famous for the role at the time, because damn was that perfect.
9. It Happened One Night in Sex and the City 2
Haven’t seen Sex and the City 2. Just throwing that out there before anything else. It’s not a guy thing either – I’ve seen the show and it was pretty good – but nothing about this movie looked the least bit appealing to me.
It Happened One Night, on the other hand, I did see… and to be honest I’m ashamed at how much it reminded me of Spaceballs. No doubt Brooks modeled some of the basics from this film: a heiress runs away from her demanding father who insists that she marry the wrong man, meets/clashes with her future romantic interest who is aware of a reward for bringing her in, the two fall in love and have an adventure before she ends up going back to marry… but before she does she learns that the hero never collected the reward but rather asked only for his expenses to be paid back. That’s freaking Spaceballs.
Anyway… got off track here… the point is that this movie was in Sex and the City 2. I guess I’ll have to see it at some point…
8. The Evil Dead in A Nightmare on Elm St
When Tina needs to stay awake to not be dead, she watches The Evil Dead. This actually seems like a bad idea – because if you do fall asleep watching Evil Dead chances are that Freddy wont have to change all that much around to make your dream turn sour.
What’s kind of sweet is that after this film was featured, Sam Raimi slipped a Krueger glove into the cabin basement in Evil Dead II as a repayment. Then, many years later, Evil Dead was mentioned in Wes Craven’s Scream as well. Cute.
It’s rather interesting how much The Evil Dead has influenced filmmakers, if not in its style than in the ultra indie way it was shot. Hell – There’s even that story of James Cameron being pumped when the second film came out, and of course there’s the insanely heavy influence the film had on the Coen Brothers as well.
7. Vertigo & The Birds in Twelve Monkeys
While including a scene where Bruce Willis watches Vertigo while applying a blonde wig and mustache really needs no extra layer to make it awesome, there is actually a rather neat reason for this film’s presence. It just so happens that Twelve Monkeys is a remake of the French film La Jetee, which was a short film inspired by parts of the film Vertigo. So Vertigo is kind of like the grandmother of Twelve Monkeys.
Not to mention that the specific scene they show is also pretty directly related to the film, which is no surprise since it was a scene that inspired the original. That means that when we see that scene in Vertigo playing we’re being hinted at something that inspired the film that Twelve Monkeys, the film featuring the film, was based off of. They’re using the scene that inspired the movie that inspired this movie to inspire us, which is only slightly less confusing than the movie itself.
6. Casablanca in Overdrawn at the Memory Bank
Hah. Yeah. So – if you have no idea what Overdrawn at the Memory Bank is, don’t feel bad because despite the fact that it stars a young Raul Julia, it isn’t a good film. In fact it’s not a film, it’s a Canadian TV movie shot on video in the 80s. Watching it you can practically see the thought bubble above Julia’s head that says ‘I’m too good for this’.
One thing it did give us was one hell of a Mystery Science Theater episode, and from that episode we also heard one really basic rule said by Tom Servo that all movies should live by: “Never show a good movie in the middle of your crappy one.” You see – Overdrawn is all about a man living in a dystopian future where movies are banned and people go on weird mind vacations and everything is depressingly hackneyed. Raul’s character is caught “scrolling up cinemas”, as the film puts it, and discovers the film Casablanca. After this his mind gets sucked into a computer for some reason and he begins to create his own Casablanca-themed world. So you pretty much watch this entire film being constantly reminded of how much it pales in comparison to this other really good film. Then again, they really could have used any film and still ran into that same problem.
5. The Thing From Another World in Halloween
The fun of looking after someone’s kid is getting to expose them to all kinds of traumatizing stuff knowing that not only is it a blast to watch the look on their faces, but you’ll also never have to deal with the deep psychological scarring that will result. It’s a win-win all around. So of course our babysitting victims are going to plop the kids down in front of the classic The Thing From Another World while they go off to have sex/get killed. Of course, what makes the moment so great is how much it foreshadows director John Carpenter’s career.
Cut to four years after Halloween was released and sure enough JC is not only remaking the classic as The Thing, but also is arguably surpassing it in quality. It’s always hard to say that a remake is better than an original because after all, if the remake were so great it would be an original, right? It’s probably safer to say that The Thing didn’t surpass its original but rather that it became a completely separate entity from it – much like when Norris’s head turns into a big spider and crawls away from his body.
4. Lawrence of Arabia in Prometheus
Hey, you see Prometheus yet? Did ya? Go see Prometheus. It isn’t perfect; like any film out there it has its share of frustrations (seriously just turn left or right, any direction but forward) but that didn’t stop it from being the best monster horror in a good long time. Leave it to Ridley Scott to show em how it’s done.
Also – and I know how bold this statement is considering the competition – but David has to be my all time favorite android featured in this universe. His gentle, vacant look combined with his HAL-like passive aggressiveness makes his utter lack of soul 100% unambiguous. The cherry on the top is the movie he watches at the beginning of the film — Lawrence of Arabia – and the fact that he has clearly modeled himself to be as close to resembling Peter O’Toole’s title character as possible. It’s that added desire that he seems to have – that added vanity that, while still not adding a soul to the character, makes you question his level of sentience. It’s nice and creepy.
3. Blazing Saddles in Blazing Saddles
This counts. It was going to be either this, or Spaceballs: The Movie.
In a moment of what seems like pure panic concerning just how to end the film, the final western-style brawl between the good guys and the bad guys spontaneously breaks out of the fourth wall – the chaos devouring nearby studio shoots and including them in the Mel Brooks-style shenanigans. This is one of those moments in movie history that you could never get away with doing today. Just imagine any given comedy suddenly becoming self aware without any warning signs throughout – it’s just not a modern notion anymore.
After our main villain manages to escape the brawl he hightails it to a nearby theater, which of course happens to be Grauman’s Chinese Theater, currently premiering Blazing Saddles. Before he is able to make it in he is thwarted and killed by our heroes, who then decide to enter the theater to check out the end of the film. They sit down, and watch the ending sequence. I think that’s what ‘meta’ is – right?
2. Gilda in The Shawshank Redemption
This can’t not be on this list; it’s a pretty huge plot point of the film. The clever Dufresne asks Red to sneak him in a poster of the wonderful Rita Hayworth while they are both watching the film. While the reason why seems rather obvious, and is no doubt part of the reason for the request, it turns out that it isn’t primarily why he requires this item.
When you think about it though – it seems kind of mean to play Gilda, a film that showcases Hayworth in all her glory, in a prison. You’re just drumming up a lot of sexual energy that has nowhere to go but the obvious, and that’s just unpleasant all around. Play a Chaplin film or a nature documentary or something – anything else would be better. Did you see that clip? Those poor bastards – imagine being in a prison with all dudes and the only movie playing was Gilda over and over again.
1. The Work Of Georges Méliès in Hugo
What a film, Hugo was. The whole thing was a perfect exercise in imagination from beginning to end – after all, the entire subject matter of this film was the limitless possibilities of movies, and the romance we get from them. No director better to do this than Scorsese, a man notorious for portraying the harsh realities of life. It says a lot about the talent of a director who spends his entire career making gritty ultra violence when he suddenly and casually kicks the ass out of the family and fantasy genre without so much as skipping a beat. That’s impressive.
So if you’re going to celebrate the magic of the moving pictures, no better way to do it than focusing on the work of Georges Méliès, who also happens to be a character in the film. My only regret concerning this film is that I never got to see it in theaters – it would have been something to see A Trip To The Moon on the big screen. Hell, it’s even one of the few times that I’d want to see something in 3d.