Blogathons, Horror

The Horrorathon: Day 1

Horrorathon 1

The time has come for us to all gather together in a dark, cobweb filled, lonely old house. Why? It’s the best location in which to discuss those films that scare us silly.

Before we begin though, I  feel I must warn you about the coffin in the corner. A certain Count Dracula is sleeping in it at the moment, lets try not to disturb him, as things could turn ugly if he wakes!

Day 1 Entries

 

Bonnywood Manor warns us of the dangers of antique bath tubs and kitchens in The Haunting Of Julia.

 

Cinematic Scribblings braves a trip into the world of Edgar Allen Poe to review the horror anthology Spirits of the Dead.

 

Realweegiemidget mixes horror and comedy in this review of Kill Keith.

 

MoodyMoppet shares her verdict on Vincent Price’s 1963 film The Raven.

 

Vinnieh takes a look at the suggested horror of Val Lewton’s classic Cat People .

 

Sparksfromacombustiblemind writes about scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis.

 

I watch five horror stories in the classic horror anthology Dead Of Night.

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Blogathons, Horror

The Horrorathon: Dead Of Night (1945)

Horrorathon 2

This is my entry for my horror blogathon. I can’t wait to be able to read all of your spooky film reviews.

I’m going to be writing about one of my all time favourite horror films. That film is Dead Of Night. As many of you already know I personally much prefer creepy and psychological horror stories instead of the violent and gory ones.

This film is the perfect blend of the supernatural and scares for me. The film brings to mind the scary stories from books, you know the ones I mean, those creepy tales of terror which are best read by a blazing fire on a dark and stormy night.

A sequence near the end of the film does the best job I’ve ever seen of bringing to life nightmares. This sequence manages to capture the disorientation and outright terror you experience when you are having a nightmare. Images and faces are jumbled up, time has no meaning and there is no escape from what you’ve become part of.

At the time this film was released the horror genre was practically non existent in British cinema. America was churning out scary and spooky flicks on a regular basis, but we just were not doing the same.  Then Dead Of Night was released, and this film quickly showed the world that the UK could also produce films that were able to chill the blood.

I would have so loved to have been in the audience when this film was first released. Not only was the content and style of the film something new but this film came out of Ealing Studios. Why is that important you may ask?

Well, the content of this film was about as far from Ealing’s regular output as it was possible to get. Ealing is best known for its comedies and picture postcard portrayals of British life, but during the 1940’s they did start to produce some grittier and darker films. This horror film was one of their darkest. 

The content of this film was so different that it must have come completely out of the blue for audiences at the time. Other films worth watching from the studios grittier and darker years include: Went The Day Well? Pink String and Sealing Wax and It Always Rains On Sunday.

Dead Of Night is not only a good horror film, but it is also a very unique and cleverly put together film. It has four of Britain’s finest directors at the helm. These directors each directed the different segments of the film. Basil Dearden directs the linking narrative, and also directs the hearse driver story. Alberto Cavalcanti directs both the Christmas party and the ventriloquist dummy stories. Robert Hamer directs the haunted mirror story. Charles Crichton directs the golfing story.

Although this wasn’t the first anthology horror film to be made (the earliest  that I’m aware of is Eerie Tales from 1919); Dead Of Night would however go on to become a film that was to become extremely influential on future horror anthology productions. The style of this film paved the way for films like The Amicus horror films, such as Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors and The Vault Of Horror.  The hearse driver story surely has to have inspired the films Final Destination and The Night My Number Came UpThe Twilight Zone season 2 episode called Twenty Two also has strong similarities to this story too.

Dead Of Night consists of five individual horror stories, with each one being connected via a clever linking story. Ghosts, Deja vu, recurring nightmares, premonitions, haunted objects and a creepy ventriloquists dummy all feature here. 

Unlike many other anthology films, the stories and the overall structure of the film combine together here to make a perfect whole. It’s not like there are only a couple of good parts and the rest is rubbish, each of these horror stories sucks you in. The horror stories are not the only high points of the film though; the linking story itself is also extremely chilling, and it is one that I always want to keep returning to as the film goes on.

I actually think that the film would have still worked and been creepy (although undoubtedly not as successful) if only the linking story was shown, and instead of us seeing the horror stories we just see the characters telling their respective stories.

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The film begins with architect Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns)arriving at the country home of Elliot Foley (Roland Culver). Craig is there to consult on some renovations being undertaken in the house. Foley has some houseguests and Craig (despite never having met any of them before)knows them and claims he knows them due to seeing them in a recurring dream. As the guests speak to him he begins to start predicting things they will do, and he becomes increasingly uneasy and is convinced something terrible will happen soon.

The other guests all try and convince Craig that there is no truth to his fears. As the day goes on the guests are inspired by Craig’s claims, and they start to share weird and scary stories of strange incidents they have witnessed themselves. We see these stories play out on screen.

The first story is about a racing car driver (Anthony Baird)who is injured in a crash during a race. As he recovers in hospital he begins to have frightening visions. He later comes to understand these were premonitions. This sequence is very unsettling indeed and is one of my favourites from amongst the various stories. This sort of story is one that never gets old. It can be set in any situation really (public transport, meeting a dangerous person who will do you harm, an accident etc.)

The second story takes place at a Christmas party in an old country house. A young girl (Sally Ann Howes) goes exploring the rooms during a game of hide and seek. She comes across a lonely little boy dressed in old clothes. Chills are guaranteed when she later discovers who he is. This sequence is both creepy and touching. It is inspired by a real British murder case. The actor who plays the boy is uncredited, I find that very strange as he has quite a large role within the sequence.

The third story concerns a couple who are plagued by a haunted antique mirror. The husband (Ralph Michael)sees a different room reflected back to him in the mirror, instead of the room in which he is standing. He soon becomes obsessed by this mirror and undergoes a personality change. His wife (Googie Withers)tries to help him and she soon comes to see that he is not going mad as she had first feared.  

The fourth story is comic in tone and seems a bit of an odd one to have been included really. Having said that though there are some creepy moments to be found here (the man walking into the lake to drown himself for example). There’s also some clever camera trickery too. The story is about two obsessed golfers (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne)who are in love with the same woman. One of the men ends up as a ghost and haunts the other . This one strikes me as just an excuse to show Wayne and Radford in a film; these two appear regularly throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s as the comic characters Charter’s and Caldicott, their characters in this film might just as well have been those characters.

The fifth story is the one that is best remembered. A ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave)descends into incurable madness. What causes this? He is convinced that his dummy is actually alive. Is he correct, or is he just simply an ill man who is sadly losing his mind? Ventriloquist stories are always creepy and this is one of the most unforgettable and well made of these stories.  Michael Redgrave gives one of the best performances of his entire career here, you really do believe he is becoming tired, unbalanced and downright terrified.

After the individual stories are over the horror continues on as we return to the linking story. I won’t reveal the ending in case people haven’t seen this, but if you have, then you will know the horror which awaits the viewer at the end of the film.

The film features many of Britain’s finest actors. Michael Redgrave and Googie Withers were two of the biggest British film stars of this era, and I’ve no doubt that their presence was a major reason for fans to check this film out. Mervyn Johns and Roland Culver were wonderful character actors and they are both excellent here. A very young Sally Ann Howes makes quite an impression in an early role.

The photography by Douglas Slocombe is incredible. The photography really helps to create an eerie mood which carries on from sequence to sequence. The film looks fantastic too. The music by Georges Auric is suitably chilling and it is the perfect accompaniment to the spooky visuals.

My favourites of the stories are the following. The linking story. The hearse driver. The ventriloquists dummy.

I think the best of the stories are the following. The linking story. The ventriloquists dummy. The haunted mirror. The hearse driver.

Be sure to see this one on Blu-Ray to see it looking at its best and to enjoy some interesting interviews about the film. Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below. If you’ve never seen this one, I highly recommend it to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horror, Unsung Classics

The Fog (1980)

Continuing on with the Halloween films theme, I’m now going to take a look at one of my all time favourite horror films. That film is The Fog. This is one that I will stick in the DVD player when I’m in the mood for something really eerie.

This is a film that is shockingly, and very strangely, underrated in comparison with so many of the other films from horror legend John Carpenter. As far as I’m concerned this film should be up there with his classic films like Halloween and The Thing.

It seems very strange to me that this ghostly tale of revenge and horror hardly ever seems to be mentioned now. It is a very good film and more than that, it is also a very good horror film too. I consider this to be one of John Carpenter’s best screen efforts.

The Fog is so atmospheric, it’s scary and it’s very eerie. The scenes featuring the glowing fog are seriously creepy and are quite an unforgettable sight. John’s own score for the film is one of his very best, I think it adds so much to the film and is the perfect accompaniment. This is a film that sends shivers down your spine. It is also reminiscent of those ghost stories which are best read by a blazing fire on a dark night.

Photo0144The year is 1980. The film opens on a beach, with the great John Houseman playing an old sailor. The sailor is telling the spooky story of the crew of the ship, The Elizabeth Dane to a group of children, as they all sit around a blazing fire. Houseman conveys such terror, and paints such images in your mind with his words alone. This sequence really sets the tone for the horror to come.

The residents of the beautiful seaside town of Antonio Bay, California, are looking forward to a celebration event being held to mark their towns 100th anniversary. The local Priest, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) discovers a diary written by his grandfather, through which he learns the terrible truth of how their town was actually founded.

In 1880, six men who would go on to found the town killed Blake, a wealthy man with leprosy, and his crew, and then robbed his ship The Elizabeth Dane of its gold. This gold was then used to fund the building of Antonio Bay.  

Blake and his murdered crew have returned from the dead in order to hunt down six residents whose lives they can take in revenge for their own murders. This group come ashore after midnight, shrouded in a mysterious, eerie glowing fog. Strange events start happening, three sailors are killed out at sea, and then other deaths start occurring. Nick Castle (Tom Atkins)and his girlfriend Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis)start to investigate and try and get to the bottom of the strange events. Who will survive? Can the undead be stopped?

This film manages to be the perfect combination of ghost story and slasher flick. The murder scenes are not overly graphic, but they come across as quite disturbing. The supernatural element makes your skin crawl, adding some real shivers to this horror tale.

I have to mention a few things I’ve picked up on . Has anyone else ever noticed these things? Twelve and six are key numbers in the story; the horror starts at midnight, there are twelve key characters in the film: Stevie, Andy, Father Malone, Nick, Elizabeth, Kathy, Sandy, Dan, Mrs. Kobritz and the three fisherman. Elizabeth tells Nick that he makes her twelfth time being picked up while hitchhiking. Stevie starts broadcasting at the radio at 6pm, there are six victims claimed by Blake.  

I also noticed that Elizabeth(Jamie Lee Curtis)has the same first name as Blake’s ship. Also, at around the 53 minute mark in the film, there is a man in glasses wearing a blue coat, this guy looks like Steven Spielberg. Does anyone know if it actually was Spielberg?

I also have a theory that is a possibility that the film is all a nightmare experienced by Andy (Ty Mitchell)after he hears the story on the beach. I’ve started to think that because the film opens with that scene, and just before that there is this quote from Edgar Allen Poe: “All that we see or seem is but a dream. A dream within a dream.” There must be a reason this was included. Could it be that this is supposed to be a nightmare after all? The film also has many moments where something suddenly happens, or changes suddenly to something scary just as nightmares have a tendency to do.

Adrienne Barbeau is excellent as Stevie, the sultry voiced DJ who gets caught up in the strange events. Stevie is a strong and resourceful woman, and Adrienne makes her one of the most memorable characters from the film.

My favourite scenes are the following. The windows mysteriously breaking on Nick’s car as he is driving. Stevie making her way down the steep steps to get to the radio station (located within a former lighthouse on top of a cliff). Blake and his men killing the fisherman. The finale in the church. Nick and Elizabeth finding the missing fishing boat. The children listening to the ghost story on the beach. Andy being rescued from the house.

The film was made on location out in Point Reyes, California. The beautiful location provides a stunning backdrop for many events in the film.

Spooky and a lot of fun, The Fog really is a film that makes for perfect viewing at this time of the year. Any other fans of this one?

 

Classic TV, Horror

Maddy’s 5 Scariest Twilight Zone Episodes

Continuing on with my Halloween theme, here are five episodes of this classic TV series that I consider to be very scary indeed. If you’ve seen the series you will know that it was a blend of Science Fiction and Horror, and was very famous for its twist and shock endings. I love the Science Fiction episodes, but I really love the creepy episodes the best.

I also think that these five episodes would have each made a good horror film.

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1- The Grave (Season 3, episode 7 )

This episode is set in a rundown town in the old west. This is a superb, creepy ghost story and it looks at how our superstitions can lead us to fear. Pinto Sykes is a notorious killer. When Pinto is shot dead by gunman Conny Miller (Lee Marvin), he puts a curse on Conny and says that if he ever sets foot on his grave, then he will die there. Conny at first pays no heed to these words.

When a group of Conny’s friends (including Lee Van Cleef) dare him for a bet to go there, things turn seriously creepy and weird. Great acting throughout, a really creepy story, and a terrifically spooky ending all combine to make this one scary episode indeed. I love the atmosphere created with most of the story taking place at night, and in a stormy,windswept location. I think it’s also one of the best episodes of the entire series. Lee Marvin is terrific. Special mention must go to the excellent Elen Willard as Pinto’s seriously otherworldly sister, Ione.

 

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2- The Hitch-Hiker (Season 1, episode 16)

This is one of the best remembered of the series many episodes. This is also the first episode that I ever saw, and it is one that made a lasting impression on me due to its creepy story. It is this episode which also made me a fan of the series.

Nan (Inger Stevens)is driving and keeps seeing a mysterious hitchhiker at various stages of her journey. She begins to get more and more frightened as he keeps appearing. A revelation later in the episode will scare her even more. The way this one is shot means we become as scared as she is, as we take this unsettling journey with her. Creepy stuff indeed.

 

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3- The Howling Man (Season 2, episode 5)

This episode looks at the cost of the human instinct of going and doing the exact opposite of what we are told or advised to do. David Ellington (H.M. Wynant) is on a hiking tour, he gets lost and arrives at a monastery, seeking shelter in the middle of a stormy night. The monks there agree to give him shelter. He is warned by Brother Jerome (David Carradine) to have no contact with the man in a locked room who howls and yells. Curiosity gets the better of Ellington however, and disregarding the warnings he has received he speaks to the stranger, and then he lets him out of the cell…

When you learn the identity of the howling man the episode become seriously scary. When you also come to understand the cost of Ellington’s actions the episode becomes very powerful. You also respect the monks who made it their mission to keep that man locked away. The episode is all about the dangers of curiosity and not heeding warnings. Very spooky indeed, and it has a creepy atmosphere and setting.

 

4- Deaths-head Revisited (Season 3, episode 9)

The Holocaust is a seriously disturbing subject as it is. Realising that the monsters who brought about this event were not monsters at all, but were actually only just men and women makes it even more disturbing. This episode looks at both of these things and is one of the most disturbing dramas I’ve ever seen.

Former SS officer, Captain Lutz (Oscar Beregi) returns to Dachau Concentration Camp, which he was once in charge of. At first he seems overjoyed to be revisiting this site from his past, and he seems proud to remember the horror he oversaw there. Then all that changes. Why the change? He sees the ghost of former inmate, Alfred Becker(Joseph Schildkraut), a man who Lutz knows for certain died in the camp. Lutz is soon put on trial by all the former inmates of the camp for his crimes against humanity.

There are many disturbing images in this episode, and Lutz’s attitude towards his crimes is truly sickening to watch. The justice he gets from those he killed and tortured fits his crimes, but it is also disturbing. After all, what could be more disturbing to realise that someone you thought was a monster was actually human after all? Lutz learns there is no greater horror than ones own conscience making you see and feel the truth of what you have done.

 

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5- The Thirty-Fathom Grave (Season 4, episode 2)

The crew of a navy ship become seriously freaked out when they hear tapping coming  from inside the hull of a sunken submarine. Eerie apparitions are seen by some crew members and hysteria soon abounds aboard ship. This episode has a realistic look about it thanks to using real ships and not being studio bound. Simon Oakland is superb in this as the captain of the navy ship.

This is one of the best episodes from the much maligned season 4. Many fans complain about this season for its longer episodes, which saw the 30 minute format they grew used to changed to an hour instead. This season has many fine episodes including: Miniature, Printer’s Devil, On Thursday We Leave For Home, The Parallel and The New Exhibit.  

I’m in the minority of fans who like this season and think season 5 is actually the weakest. I think 5 is weak because many episodes feel like they are similar to earlier episodes, and there are sadly many rubbish episodes and only a handful of good ones.

Here are some honorable mentions to other episodes in the series which are also scary: Twenty Two (surely the inspiration for the Final Destination films?),Nightmare At 20,000 Feet, The Dummy, It’s A Good Life, Night Call and Living Doll.

What are your views on the five episodes I’ve discussed? Which episodes from this series do you find the scariest?

 

Films I Love, Horror

Maddy’s Five Favourite Horror Films

The following films are my five all time favourite Horror films. They will always get watched at Halloween, and these films always manage to scare and impress me each time I watch. I’d love to know your own favourite scary films to watch at this time of year.

 

Photo0078   1- The Innocents (1961)

The creepy story and spooky atmosphere seen here just can’t be bettered in my opinion. A superb adaptation of the classic story The Turn Of The Screw. There is an ambiguity throughout the film as to whether we are witnessing real possession and real ghosts, or whether the horror that occurs is all due to the breakdown of the main character (Deborah Kerr). 

Each of those scenarios is scary, and each works perfectly for the film, with evidence for each to be found within the film. Superb performances from all in the cast, especially Deborah Kerr as the tormented governess. Perfect viewing for a dark night, or for a stormy afternoon. This is my go to ghost film every single time. You can read my review of the film here.

 

 

 

Photo0144   2- The Fog (1980)

One of the creepiest horror films of all time for me. This is a much unfairly underappreciated gem from John Carpenter. It features one of the best, and one of the spookiest openings to any film; with the great John Houseman chilling you to the bone with his words alone.  The fog effects are eerie, the cast are all great, there is some stunning location work, and the film has one of Carpenter’s best scores. An American coastal town is terrorised by a group of dead sailors out for revenge. The dead sailors come ashore shrouded in a mysterious fog. Can they be stopped?

 

 

 

Photo0123   3- The Others (2001)

A ghost film that’s up there with The Innocents for me in terms of spooky atmosphere and scares. This film is both scary and moving. The ending to this acts as a punch to the stomach; the aftermath of the reveal at the end always makes me tear up a bit each time I watch. Nicole Kidman delivers one of her best ever performances as a terrified and grieving mother.  A family slowly begin to realise that they are being haunted. When three mysterious strangers show up at the house, the terror and mystery in the house increase.

 

 

Photo0169   4- Quatermass And The Pit (1967)

A Hammer production which perfectly blends Science Fiction and Horror into one terrifying film. This is the best remembered of the Quatermass films/stories, and is certainly the scariest. This was my first introduction to the character of Quatermass and he and this film have been favourites ever since. Up to a certain point in the film there is the possibility that all the strange events are due to the forces of evil.

When the real cause of the frightening events are revealed, it is still equally scary, and it also shows that what is not understood is often feared and put down to the supernatural. Barbara Shelley delivers one of her best performances as a young woman who becomes very affected by a centuries old, mysterious object found buried down in a London Underground station.

 

 

Photo0145   5- Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)

I love the 1956 original very much, and I consider that a creepy film and a highpoint in 1950’s horror. I consider this remake to be that rare thing in that it surpasses the original. This tale of alien invasion is utterly terrifying. What could be more scary than being taken over by someone else? Seeing those you love killed? Imagine not knowing who to trust, not being able to control your own emotions to save yourself. This film tackles all those fears and is truly scary and disturbing. The pod people’s scream is also one of the most chilling and strange things I’ve ever heard, it chills me to the bone each time I hear it.

Aliens are taking over the people of earth. Humans are being killed and their bodies are replicated, but all the pod people lack emotion and they are intent on finding any real humans left alive. Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Veronica Cartwright and Jeff Goldblum are all superb, as the small group of friends who are forced to run for their lives from the alien invasion.

 

What are your thoughts on these five horror films? Please share your own favourites below.

 

 

British Cinema, Horror

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

October has now arrived. The nights are getting darker earlier, autumn leaves are falling all around us, and for those film fans amongst us there will be many hours of viewing taken up with watching horror films. I’m hoping to be able (work permitting)to review a few of my favourite spooky films for you.

I’m starting off with a British horror film which offered the horror icon Christopher Lee a rare chance to play the hero on screen. That film is The Devil Rides Out. The film is based upon the novel of the same name by Dennis Wheatley.

Whether or not you believe in the supernatural, I think that it simply can’t be denied that the Devil and Satanism are two things guaranteed to chill the blood of any sane person. This film taps into the fear, the horror, and the revulsion that both of these things make you feel.

I consider The Devil Rides Out to be one of the best horror films to ever come out of Hammer Studios. Unlike many of their other films, this one doesn’t rely on blood and shocks to be scary. This film is more intent on slowly building up tension and in making you feel uneasy. This film is one to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end and it is a horror that I find really messes with your head.

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I love the film for how creepy it is. There are many creepy moments throughout the film with the protective circle sequence being a standout. The sequence where the cult call up the Devil himself is very frightening and unnerving to watch.

I also really love the film for Christopher Lee’s superb performance as the badass Duc de Richleau; this character really screams out for a sequel or film series like a certain Professor Quatermass received. Lee totally makes you believe this man knows all about good and evil, and that he is also able to understand, challenge, fight and hopefully defeat evil. I for one would have loved to have seen the Duc and his friends fight the forces of evil again in future films. The role of the Duc was also one of Christopher Lee’s personal favourites from amongst his own work.

Lee is an intense presence throughout the film and he makes you (and his companions in the film)feel safe and secure when the Duc is around. The Duc is a real badass throughout the film; whether he is standing up to evil and fighting it with the powers of good, or whether he is punching bad guys whenever they get in his way. The Duc sure  knows how to handle himself and he will do whatever it takes to protect his friends and family.

The suave Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) is very concerned about his friend, Simon Aron (Patrick Mower). Simon has fallen in with a bad crowd and he has been persuaded by the sinister Mocata (Charles Gray) to join a Satanic cult.  With the help of his other friend, Rex (Leon Greene) the Duc races against time to save Simon. Soon this trio are being pursued by the forces of darkness. They must also fight to save the soul of the fragile Tanith (Nike Arrighi), a young woman who is also about to lose her soul to the Devil thanks to Mocata’s influence.

The cast are all solid, with Christopher Lee delivering the standout performance. Lee, Patrick Mowe and Leon Greene all make you believe and feel the bond of friendship between their trio (they fought in WW1 together and have been friends ever since. The Duc has been a father figure to Simon ever since their time fighting in the war.)

Greene does a good job of conveying his characters growing belief and acceptance of the otherworldly forces he keeps encountering. Mowe does a good job of making Simon likeable and showing his struggle against the evil he is being forced into being a part of.

Charles Gray is downright scary as the main villain of the film. Gray plays a Devil worshipper and Satanic cult leader who can bend people to his will. This man is not someone to let your guard down around. 

Nike Arrighi is an actress who I was unfamiliar with before seeing her performance here. I think she does a fantastic job of portraying the fragile and easily manipulated Tanith. This character is very vulnerable and she makes you feel protective towards her.

Paul Eddington and Sarah Lawson provide solid support as the Duc’s niece and her husband respectively. They are two ordinary people who get caught up in utter horror. My only issue with the casting of Lawson is that she looks a bit old to be playing Lee’s niece.

My favourite scenes are the following. The Duc and Rex discovering the truth about the telescope room.  The Duc hypnotising Simon to wean him off the influence of Mocata. Rex chasing Tannith, only to have his windscreen become mysteriously obscured. The protective circle sequence.

A creepy film filled with many memorable moments (who can forget the Angel of Death? Or seeing the Devil called up in the woods?)

This is perfect Halloween viewing. Just don’t watch it alone! Any other fans of this film? If you’ve ever read the novel (which I have yet to do)how does  it compare with the film? I highly recommend this film if you’ve never seen it.

 

 

 

 

 

Horror

The Exorcist (1973)

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Where to begin with this film? For decades The Exorcist has been called the scariest film of all time. It’s not hard to see why. It was banned here in the UK (when it came time to release on video)for years. Upon release at cinemas people threw up, ran out of the cinema and broke down in tears because they couldn’t handle the horror they were being subjected to. Nothing like this film had ever been seen before, and some people just couldn’t handle the images up there on that screen. Of course all these stories only gained the film more publicity and audience figures went through the roof.

I first saw this film with my parents when I was 18 or 19. Me and my dad had never seen this before, but my mum saw it at the cinema on release. Mum said she saw it with her friend who was a Catholic. The film disturbed my mum, but she said it really affected her friend more, and she was very upset by it. They both left the cinema trying to process what they had seen, and freaking out because they now had to walk home in the dark afterwards!

We all found this scary when we watched together and my dad has refused to watch this again ever since that time. I’ve managed to re watch it a few times, but it is a film that really unsettles me. Do you know that feeling you get where you’re aware that someone is standing behind you, but you can’t see them? Well, that’s the feeling I get if I watch this on my own. I never feel like that when I’ve watched any other horror film. Weird stuff.

What I like about this film is that it really gets you thinking and affects you emotionally. You feel for Chris (Ellen Burstyn) as she reaches her wits end trying to help her daughter and get her help. You feel her fear and pain, because we as the audience have been just as distressed by what we’ve witnessed as she has. I also like how it addresses the struggle of faith that Father Karras is undergoing. I imagine this issue must have disturbed some Catholic viewers who didn’t like to accept that even their Priests could find their faith tested.

This film also makes you question why do bad things like this happen to good and innocent people? As Father Merrin says (in my favourite scene from the directors cut)”I think, that the point is to make us despair. To reject the possibility that God could love us.”

This dialogue comes from a scene that William Peter Blatty (the screenwriter, and author of the novel the film is based on)was desperate to be included in the theatrical release. It was a scene with Merrin and Karras taking a break from the exorcism and Karras asks Merrin “Why this girl?”. You see both men are really shook up by what they’ve just seen in the room, and you can see that even the older man is shocked to his core. The director, William Friedkin refused to keep this scene and it was taken out, along with the ending featuring the detective and other Priest. This final scene shows us that there are still nice things happening in the world, as well as all the bad things. Years later Friedkin put these scenes back in as part of the directors cut.

Georgetown, Washington DC. Film actress, Chris MacNeil(Ellen Burstyn)is distraught when her twelve year old daughter Regan (Linda Blair)begins exhibiting strange and frightening behaviour. Regan says vile and disturbing things, she does things and has no memory of doing them, and her bed (with her on it)keep violently shaking. Numerous tests and scans are carried out but no medical cause can be found. Regan deteriorates further and further and begins to transform physically into something monstrous. Things take an even more terrifying turn, when Regan claims she is the devil himself.

Chris (who isn’t religious)finds herself turning to the church for help. She meets with Jesuit Priest, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller)and explains the situation and begs him to help her. Father Karras agrees as he can see how distressed she is. Karras visits Regan, talks with her and also studies her to see if she could be mentally ill. I like this section because in reality it is rare for an exorcism to actually be performed. Mental illness and things like brain tumors or emotional trauma have to be ruled out by doctors and priests before they’ll even contemplate performing an exorcism.

Once Karras becomes convinced nothing but possession could be causing her behaviour he asks for permission to perform an exorcism. Enter Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) a much older priest who has performed many exorcisms around the world. His last encounter took a toll on him and weakened his heart considerably. Merrin prepares Karras for what they will be encountering and tries to warn him not to listen to the demons words or promises. This is easier said than done and Karras will struggle greatly as the two men battle for the soul of Regan.

When I first saw this, I was convinced Sydow was elderly. I hadn’t seen him in anything before this. I was astonished to learn that he was only in his thirties when he played Merrin! The convincing age makeup and his body language and weary look really make you believe he is old. Sydow has become one of my favourite actors and I love his performance in this film a great deal. He gives his character an aura of worldliness, and wisdom. He is distressed by what he sees, but he knows how to keep a lid on his reactions of disgust and distress. Merrin is experienced in these matters and knows how to not let himself become affected by what he hears and sees. He tries to keep an eye on Karras and help him not feel so alone during the exorcism.

Jason Miller is moving as the doubt riddled young priest. He is kind and approachable and tries to do his best, but despairs at the horror and violence he sees around him daily. I wish Miller had made more films because he is very good here.

Ellen Burstyn is excellent as the mother who can’t believe what is happening to her daughter. Burstyn lets you feel her fear and sadness. You pity her and admire her for staying with her daughter in spite of what is happening to her.

Linda Blair gives an impressive performance for one so young. She does such a good job of creating the creepy facial expressions, and terrifying outbursts of her character. Her possession dialogue (which features some vile language)and disturbing screams were dubbed by actress Mercedes McCambridge(Johnny Guitar and Giant.)

Lee J. Cobb provides solid support as Lt. Kinderman, a detective whose investigations into a suspicious death leads him to investigate Regan. He becomes convinced Regan is responsible for the case he is investigating.

My favourite scenes are the following. Chris meeting Karras in the park and begging him for help. Merrin and Karras staircase talk. The shadow of Regan walking past her bedroom window(when she is supposed to be tied to the bed). Merrin arriving at the house and speaking to Chris, I love how gentle and comforting he is with her.

The Exorcist remains a disturbing and scary film, decades after its original release. I prefer the theatrical version, but recommend the directors cut for the staircase scene between Merrin and Karras, and for the ending. There are two sequels to this. Exorcist II: The Heretic is truly one of the worst films ever made. It will have you screaming with laughter though. Exorcist III however is as disturbing and thought provoking as the original. George C. Scott portrays Lt. Kinderman this time around, and the film focuses on him investigating some brutal murders. It also focuses on Kinderman’s friendship with a priest featured in the original film.

What are your thoughts on this film? Please leave your comments below.

 

Detective, Horror, Page To Screen

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

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Odds are that even if you’ve never see this one, you’ll almost certainly be aware of Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Agent Clarice Starling. These two characters are what set this film apart from all the other serial killer films out there.

A film focusing just on the conversations between these two characters would be just as good as this film; their exchanges are so fascinating to watch, from the way lines are delivered, to witnessing the undeniable growing bond of trust between these two polar opposites.

The film is a favourite of mine not just because of the story, but because of the well written characters of Starling and Lecter. Foster and Hopkins give unforgettable performances(both won an Oscar for their performances in this film)that stay with you long after the film has finished.

Gene Hackman and Michelle Pfeiffer were originally going to play Lecter and Starling, but both ended up turning down these roles. As much as I would have loved to have seen how they would approached these roles, I am very glad that we got Hopkins and Foster in the end.

Hopkins plays Lecter as seemingly unthreatening, he is polite and charming and speaks calmly and quietly. However, characters soon learn not to let their guard down around him as his mind, words and observation skills are his weapons, and he uses them to devastating effect. He is like a snake, just waiting to strike out and when he does his attack will be swift and deadly.

The first meeting between him and Starling shows us how much information(both concerning what the FBI want from him, and personal details about Starling)he has got from her without her even being aware she has given him this. He is a manipulator and will only tell someone what he want’s to, you can’t force anything out of him.

Foster is the young FBI trainee, keen, dedicated and more than capable of coping fine in a very male dominated profession. Clarice Starling joins Ellen Ripley as one of my favourite tough female characters. Starling is a tough, strong and capable woman, who is admirable and brave enough to face horror and evil head on.

Starling finds herself drawn to Lecter and can’t deny that a genuine bond has developed between them despite what he has done and is capable of. Day after day this woman puts herself through hell to try and get vital information to help save a new victim of the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill.

The horror and violence she sees on this case affects her deeply, but she doesn’t shrink away from it because she needs to face it in order to defeat it. I have always considered Starling to be brave because of this, there were times when she could (and we might say should)have just quit and moved onto a less emotionally destructive case, but she didn’t and to do that takes courage.

Behavioural Science Unit Chief, Agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) assigns Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Lector is a cannibalistic serial killer, who is one of the most high profile killers behind bars.

Crawford believes Lecter can help the FBI build a profile of Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a terrifying killer who is murdering and skinning women. Lecter slowly agrees to share his observations and knowledge with Clarice, but only if she in return tells him deeply personal things about her childhood. Clarice must make a choice between saving Bill’s current victim, Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith)and letting Lecter inside her head. Clarice must also deal with the interference of the smarmy Dr. Chilton(Anthony Heald), the head of the secure prison/hospital where Lecter is imprisoned.

This is a suspenseful film that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It plays with the audience because at times we find ourselves liking Lecter, in spite of what we know him to be and to be capable of doing. Clarice is also in many ways acting as our eyes throughout as we are thrown headfirst into a rabbit hole of horror, manipulation and fear.

I love the scene in the hospital/prison when Clarice first visits. There is a terrific point of view shot when she walks into the guards office leading to the cells of the most dangerous inmates. We are seeing this new environment for the first time as she sees it.

The film is directed by Jonathan Demme, and he does such a good job of bringing the horror and realism of the novel by Thomas Harris to life. The film sticks very closely to the book and I believe the book and film were the first to look inside the mind of a killer, instead of just portraying them as monsters, this story gives us reasons why some people do such horrendous and disturbing things.

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Harris wrote four novels featuring Lecter. The first of these was Red Dragon, which is the prequel to Silence of the Lambs and features the psychologically tortured Agent Will Graham forced to confront Lecter. I love Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs the most. Hannibal is a good story but I didn’t like what happened to Clarice at the end, I much prefer the ending scene in Ridley Scott’s film adaptation.

Back to the film. I loved Howard Shore’s atmospheric score. I love the performances of Hopkins, Foster, Smith and Levine. I love the realistic look to the film and how it shows us what Police and agents have to see and go through to find killers and investigate their horrendous crimes.

I wish the film had included more of Crawford though. In the book he is very much a key character, and has a subplot involving his terminally ill wife. Glenn is very good as the driven unit leader, who has seen so much of this horror that he has learnt to be more unaffected by what he sees in comparison to Starling. On the Blu-ray there are some good deleted scenes involving Crawford that I wish had been kept in.

I like how we also see what is going on with Catherine (the latest victim) and how despite her fear she tries to stay strong and tries to get control of her situation when she can.

My favourite scenes are the following. All the scenes between Lecter and Clarice, but especially the one where he gives her a towel. Crawford putting a protective and comforting arm around an injured Starling. Catherine trying to get control of her situation by capturing Bill’s dog. The FBI training montages featuring Starling. The finale in the basement. Lecter speaking with Senator Martin (Diane Baker)and telling her “love ya suit”. Clarice telling Lecter about the lambs.

Most unforgettable scenes? The cage breakout and the officers being killed in the process. The cleverly edited doorbell scenes, where we are not sure whether Crawford or Starling have found Bill’s house. Starling cocking her gun when she starts to realise a man she is talking to is more than likely Bill. The finale in the basement where Starling is trying to find her way around in the dark.

Quite a disturbing film in places, but one that is a must see. Strong performances, fascinating characters and a gripping and scary story.

I’d love to get your thoughts on the film and the characters. Any other fans of the novels? Please leave comments about the novels too.

 

Horror, Page To Screen

Jaws (1975)

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This film has been a favourite since I first saw it in my early teens. I love the characters, the story and the locations. John Williams chilling score greatly adds to the film.

I love how the two parts of the film are so different from each other. The first half is pretty much a horror film, the characters are established and the unseen creature from the deep keeps the viewer terrified. The second is all about the growing bond between Quint, Brody and Hooper.

When I first saw this, I was surprised by just how much humour is to be found in the second half; Quint’s outrageous sea songs, Quint and Hooper’s banter and constantly trying to outdo one another, etc. A scene that always cracks me up is Brody’s reaction to Hooper, when he asks him to go right out to edge of the boat so he can get Brody in the foreground for scale as he snaps a picture of the shark; Brody refuses, looks at Hooper as if he is crazy and climbs down to side of the boat(to go back up to the bridge)only to be met with the sight of Quint coming towards him carrying a speargun, this forces the Chief to return to where he just came from.

The trio are so different from each other and watching them overcome their differences to find common ground is as fascinating for me to watch now, as it was when I first watched it years ago. All the characters(but particularly the main trio)are so well written and come across as real people that you can connect to.

Jaws was the film that really started Steven Spielberg on the road to film success. He had impressed with his debut film, Duel, but it was Jaws that made him a household name. The film is based on the novel by Peter Benchley. The film sticks pretty close to the book, but there are some differences to be found. I don’t find the characters as likeable in the book as I do on screen, also there is a subplot between Hooper and Mrs. Brody that I’m glad wasn’t included in the film.

Ironically, Benchley spent the rest of his life trying to undo the bad reputation his novel(and the film)had given Great White Sharks. Benchley became a marine conservationist and wrote books about sharks and the sea, helping people to understand these creatures and their habitat.

Shark attacks are horrific, but they are  extremely rare events. Yet, thanks to the novel and the film, people are sadly wary of the sea and of the creatures that live there.

The film is set in the American coastal town of Amity. The film opens with a young woman going for a moonlight swim in the ocean, what starts off as a beautiful scene(I love the moonlight shining on the water and how peaceful that moment looks)soon turns horrific. The woman is grabbed from beneath the waves by something unseen, she screams as she is pulled and dragged around, finally she is pulled beneath the waves.

The next day her remains are washed up on the beach and the police are alerted. Chief Martin Brody(Roy Scheider)discovers her death was due to a shark attack. He has to try and persuade the mayor(Murray Hamilton)to close the beaches to prevent any further attacks. Vaughn refuses and a young boy is killed very close to the beach in a truly disturbing scene.

As the shark attacks mount up(and become more disturbing and graphic each time)Brody and Vaughn hire experienced local fisherman Quint(Robert Shaw)to hunt and kill the shark. Brody and Quint set out aboard Quint’s ship, The Orca, to search for the shark. They are joined by young shark expert Matt Hooper(Richard Dreyfuss)who comes equipped with technology to help them find the shark. Quint and Hooper rub each other the wrong way right from their first meeting, this leads to many funny scenes as they argue and try and outdo one another.

The trio soon find the shark they seek(or rather the shark finds them)leading to a terrifying finale.

There are so many memorable moments in this film, here are some of my favourites. Quint’s Indianapolis story. The estuary attack. Quint scraping the chalkboard in the meeting to get some attention. Hooper and Quint’s tattoo stories(love the way Dreyfuss laughs in this scene, it cracks me up every time.)Hooper and Brody discovering Ben Gardner’s boat. Hooper’s argument with the mayor and his shocked reaction to what the mayor says. The scene with the two fisherman who almost get attacked by the shark and the “Your going to need a bigger boat” scene.

Scheider, Shaw and Dreyfuss are all at their best in this film. Scheider is the hero of the film, he is an everyman thrown into an unusual situation made worse for him by his fear of the sea. As the film goes on we see him conquer that fear. Brody is my favourite character in this and I love the way Scheider plays him. He is a quiet hero and Scheider does such a good job of portraying him working hard to overcome his fear to be of help in the second half of the film.

Shaw steals every scene he’s in as the hot tempered Quint. He provides many of the films biggest laughs, but he also gets to deliver the most moving and powerful scene in the film, the famous Indianapolis speech. Shaw’s performance in that scene should be used in an acting master class, the way he delivers those lines, the look on his face and in his eyes is what makes that moment so powerful to the viewer.

I also like how it is the laughing Hooper who first gets his laughter under control and realises the significance of the story Quint is about to tell, and after this you can see he has a newfound respect for Quint. It’s also interesting to note that the second half of the film almost plays out like a version of Moby Dick, with Quint in the role of  Captain Ahab.

Dreyfuss is essentially the comic relief role in this film, his laugh always cracks me up because it’s so infectious. There is more to Matt Hooper  than comedy though, he is also a dedicated shark expert, he loves these creatures and is fascinated by them, but he knows what they are capable of and doesn’t underestimate them. He and Quint both know what sharks can do and both know much about them and their habitat.

The film has three sequels. Jaws 2 is ok. It has its moments and some of the original cast return. Avoid 3 and 4, they are in the so bad they are laughable category(joining Exorcist 2 and The Swarm, on the “what were they thinking when they made this?” shelf). 3 has some special effects that look they were lifted straight from an 80’s computer game. 4 features sharks that can roar, target specific humans and do so for revenge(I’m not making this up.)

Going back to the original film. I’m curious to know if this is just me, or if anyone else has ever noticed this? The opening scene to me has many similarities to Creature From The Black Lagoon(1954). Particularly the shot filmed from under the water as the women in both films swim across the surface. Could this film have had an influence on Spielberg and that shot was put in as a homage?

 

I’d love to get your thoughts on this film. Never seen it? Get the DVD right now and watch it.

Horror

The Birds (1963)

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I’d like to talk today about one of my favourite Hitchcock films, the nature horror, The Birds. The film is based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier (whose work had been adapted for the screen by Hitch before)with the story setting changed from Cornwall to a coastal American town.

When this film was released in 1963, Alfred Hitchcock had been the master of suspense for decades, but he had never before made a film that could really be classed as a horror film. Psycho released in 1960, certainly has some horror elements, but it is still essentially a suspense thriller. The Birds however is certainly an all out horror film.

From its opening titles, which feature no music, only the squawking of birds; we know we are in for a very different experience than we are used to from this director. The film makes us afraid of something we share our lives with everyday, the birds we see eating off the floor, flying through the air, and sitting on trees, buildings etc, it makes us think what would we do if they ever decided to attack us all the time. When I first saw this, I have to confess to being wary of birds for a while after viewing.

I like how the ordered lives of the characters are completely destroyed, they find themselves out of control and pursued by something they would never have thought could hurt them.

Wealthy Melanie Daniels(Tippi Hedren)meets lawyer Mitch Brenner(Rod Taylor)in a bird shop. He is trying to find some love birds to give to his younger sister Cathy(Veronica Cartwright), when he recognises Melanie as the woman who is always in the news for practical jokes, and scandals; Mitch decides to have a bit of fun at her expense, and give her a dose of her own medicine. Mitch pretends that he thinks she works in the shop and asks her to show him some birds, this leads to some very amusing scenes until he tells the truth(much to her annoyance).

There is an instant attraction between the two, and Melanie buys a pair of lovebirds, and finds Mitch’s weekend address(family home)out in Bodega Bay. Melanie drives up to leave them for Cathy, she takes a boat over to the house(to arrive unnoticed) as she is trying to leave without being noticed Mitch catches sight of her and drives over to the dock to await her return, as she comes closer to the dock she is attacked by a seagull. From this moment on there are more bird attacks, and large groups of birds congregate in public places. Mitch, Cathy, their mother Lydia(Jessica Tandy), Melanie and schoolteacher(and former girlfriend of Mitch)Annie(Suzanne Pleshette)try and figure out what is causing these attacks, and find a way to survive.

The more I’ve watched this, I’ve picked up on something that I haven’t seen anyone else mention when discussing this. The majority of the bird attacks happen at moments of increasing intimacy between Mitch and Melanie, they increase as Mitch and Melanie’s feelings for one another grow. Hitchcock was a perfectionist and everything in his films was there for a reason, I would find it difficult to believe that the bird attacks coinciding with emotional moments/sexual tension were not intentionally included. If you pick up on this I think it adds another layer to the film. I also love the way Rod and Tippi play these scenes, I love the sexual tension/banter between their characters.

Rod Taylor is superb as the strong, playful Mitch devoted to his family and trying to protect those he loves from these attacks; his performance in this is what made me a fan, I love him in this.

Tippi Hedren makes a strong debut as Melanie, and does a good job of portraying a strong woman becoming vulnerable and falling in love. It is a real shame she didn’t go on to become a bigger star, her performance here and in Hitchcock’s  Marnie are very good indeed.

Suzanne Pleshette steals every scene she is in as the knowing Annie, she can see Mitch and Melanie are falling in love, even if they themselves might not be aware of it.

Jessica Tandy is moving as the widowed mother of Mitch, desperate not to lose her son and being cold towards any woman he loves.

A very young Veronica Cartwright is good as Cathy Brenner, terrified by what she is seeing but still loving towards her lovebirds.

The ending is bleak and we are left hoping the best for these characters, but it doesn’t look likely that there will be a happy ending. The original scripted ending was even bleaker, and I do wish it had been filmed as it shows how far the attacks had spread; they drive through the town to find utter devastation, dead bodies and thousands of birds as far as the eye can see.

My favourite scenes are the following. Mitch and Melanie talking about her mother up on the hill. The banter between Mitch and Melanie when he is treating Melanie’s cut. The attack where Melanie is trapped in the phonebox. Melanie and Annie discussing Mitch and Lydia before the bid hits their door. Lydia finding the dead farmer. The birds gathering behind Melanie at the school, and the scene with the bird expert lady talking about the attacks.

I also love the scene where Melanie is driving, her body leans left and right when she turns corners, on the seat next to her, the lovebirds are leaning left and right too. That scene always makes me laugh whenever I watch this. A brief moment of humour in a very chilling film.

One of Hitchcock’s best films, and a very good horror film in it’s own right. If you’re a fan please leave your thoughts. If you’ve never seen it, I hope you’ll check it out.