One of the most famed film critics in the world, Roger Ebert, died today. He was 70.
Ebert began his career in 1967, writing film reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times. He remained with that outlet until the very end: his final review, for The Host, ran online on March 27th. Ebert is best known for his syndicated movie review television shows with "crosstown rival" Gene Siskel (Siskel, who was the film critic at the Chicago Tribune, died in 1999 of a brain tumor). The two first paired up in 1975 for a local PBS review show, went syndicated with At the Movies in 1982, and created Siskel & Ebert & the Movies in 1986. This show was where Siskel & Ebert created their "two thumbs up" system, a phrase which they later trademarked and was the rating all movies sought to achieve. Well, not all movies. One of my favorite movies is David Lynch's Lost Highway. When it came out in 1997, Siskel & Ebert gave it "two thumbs down." The newspaper ads for the film then went on to read, "Two thumbs down! Two more reasons to see Lost Highway." When Siskel died in 1999, Richard Roeper joined the show, which aired until 2006, when Ebert had his jaw removed due to thyroid cancer and was unable to speak. He was not silent, however: his written reviews and Twitter feed simply became more prolific.
Reviews are not the only things Ebert wrote. Early in his career, he wrote several Russ Meyer boobsploitation flix: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Up!, and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens.
Many horror fans have been at odds with Ebert and his view of horror films. Many of the slashers of the 1980s he deemed (derogatorily) "Dead Teenager Movies," films which start with a whole bunch of teenagers, then leave one alive to populate sequels. And while he might not be a fan of generic slasher flicks, he has cited Nosferatu and The Silence of the Lambs as two of his favorite movies. It also seems that he had more patience for exploitation in his youth. About Wes Craven's 1972 Last House on the Left, Ebert wrote it is "a tough, bitter little sleeper of a movie that's about four times as good as you'd expect." Yet for 1978's I Spit on Your Grave, Ebert said "It is a movie so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it's playing in respectable theaters, such as Plitt's United Artists. But it is. Attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of, my life."
Some other, notable horror movie reviews from Roger Ebert:
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): "...as violent and gruesome and blood-soaked as the title promises -- a real Grand Guignol of a movie. It's also without any apparent purpose, unless the creation of disgust and fright is a purpose. And yet in its own way, the movie is some kind of weird, off-the-wall achievement. I can't imagine why anyone would want to make a movie like this, and yet it's well-made, well-acted, and all too effective."
Dawn of the Dead (1979): "...one of the best horror films ever made -- and, as an inescapable result, one of the most horrifying. It is gruesome, sickening, disgusting, violent, brutal and appalling. It is also (excuse me for a second while I find my other list) brilliantly crafted, funny, droll, and savagely merciless in its satiric view of the American consumer society. Nobody ever said art had to be in good taste."
The Human Centipede (2010): "I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine."
Halloween (1979): "'Halloween' is an absolutely merciless thriller, a movie so violent and scary that, yes, I would compare it to “Psycho.” It's a terrifying and creepy film about what one of the characters calls Evil Personified."
An American Werewolf in London (1981): "...the laughs and the blood coexist very uneasily in this film."
Roger Ebert had announced yesterday that what he previously believed to be a bone fracture was another form of cancer. He is survived by his wife Charlie Hammelsmith.