Blogathons, British Cinema, Horror

The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon: Hands Of The Ripper (1971)

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When I saw that Gill from Realweegiemidgetreviews and Barry from Cinematic Catharsis were hosting this horror blogathon, I jumped at the chance to be able to take part because I do love me some Hammer Horror films. Be sure to visit both of their sites to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

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Anna in murderous mode. Screenshot by me.

I have decided to write about a film that I consider to be one of the most underrated Hammer Horror films ever made, that film is Hands Of The Ripper.

On paper the plot of Hands Of The Ripper seems like it just shouldn’t work.

The plot frankly does sound quite ludicrous, but when you watch the film you find that it actually does work. This film is also one which really surprised me when I first saw it. I didn’t expect to end up watching a horror film that moved me just as much as it scared me.

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Dr. Pritchard gets a fright. Screenshot by me.

The film is also interesting because it is an interesting mix of slasher film and psychological thriller,and it is also a real character piece and a beautiful Edwardian costume drama to boot.

The film offers plenty of gore for horror fans who like slasher films, and it also offers a very creepy atmosphere and supernatural element for those of us who prefer that type of horror instead. 

I especially love the psychological angle to the film, as we see the main characters strange and frightening behaviour get studied and picked apart. 

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The innocent Anna. Screenshot by me.

The poignant lead performance by Angharad Rees is something else that makes this film more than your average horror flick. Angharad’s performance is one which lingers in the memory long after the film has finished.

She gives her character such vulnerability and innocence that you really feel for her and want her to be safe and happy. We even feel protective towards her character even after we have seen the horrible things of which she is capable. I like how she manages to convincingly convey Anna’s gentle nature and her transformation into a deranged killer. 

The film is directed by Peter Sasdy, who had directed several other films for Hammer before this. The film begins  in London, on a foggy night in 1888. Notorious serial killer Jack The Ripper has just claimed his latest victim. Jack was seen carrying out the foul deed and some locals are pursuing him. Jack evades the crowd and lets himself into a house on a street in the upper class part of the city. When he goes inside we then see that he is a married man with a young daughter who is called Anna. 

Jack murders his wife and this terrible act is witnessed by his very young daughter, as she sits in her playpen watching her parents. The film then moves forward several years later and we meet the now grown up Anna(Angharad Rees)who is being used by Mrs. Golding(Dora Bryan) as part of a fake medium scam, and the poor girl is also being pimped out to older men by this woman who is supposed to be looking after her!

We quickly learn that Anna is also a very troubled young woman who is possessed by the spirit of her dead father. Whenever she sees flashing lights or if she gets kissed, Anna goes into a trance, and her father’s spirit then takes over her and through her the ripper murders whoever is near Anna at the time.

The savagery in these attacks and the amount of physical strength required to carry them out makes it doubtful that a woman could have done this, but it seems like Anna alone has actually carried out these murders. After the murders Anna doesn’t remember anything and genuinely has no idea what she is supposed to have done. 

One night Mrs. Golding sets Anna up with a gentlemen client, Anna snaps and kills Mrs. Golding, impaling her body on a bedroom door. The client runs out into the street and claims that Anna committed this murder.  Dr. John Pritchard(Eric Porter), a middle aged psychologist goes inside and discovers the body and also Anna who is an almost catatonic state.

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Pritchard tries to help Anna remember her past. Screenshot by me.

Dr. Pritchard believes that Anna is the killer, but he doesn’t believe that she is consciously responsible for these murders.

He arranges for her to move into his home/medical practice and there he studies her and tries to unravel the mystery surrounding this young woman; a woman who is seemingly so sweet, gentle and innocent.

It also becomes pretty clear to us that he is falling in love with Anna as he spends more time with her.  Can he find a way to help Anna? Can Anna ever escape her murderous father’s influence? Watch and find out.

The film is quite graphic in its depiction of the various murders. The film also has a very sleazy undertone running through it. There are some very sexually suggestive scenes such as the situation in Mrs. Golding’s house, Pritchard standing watching Anna having a bath(shocking behaviour from an Edwardian gentleman), and the scene where Anna is seduced by a prostitute who is after some pleasure for herself on a night when business is slow on the streets. There’s also a memorable scene where Anna ends up in the Police cells, and she is surrounded by vicious prostitutes and tough women who treat her despicably and turn their rage and scorn upon her. 

I also really like how this film depicts that there were two very different ways of life at this time existing right alongside one another; one was the idyllic and beautiful life enjoyed by the upper classes, money was no object and comfortable, large homes and nice clothes were in unlimited supply. The other life was the poverty riddled one endured by the working classes; a life filled with endless hardship, misery and great pain. 

I love the characters in the film and I find Dr. Pritchard to be a very fascinating character. He shows such compassion and understanding towards those with psychological or mental issues, but he seems disgusted by the blindness of his son’s fiance, Laura (Jane Merrow).

I find his attitude towards Laura to be very interesting indeed, when she is near him he acts awkwardly and seems repulsed by her presence, does he feel her loss of sight makes her unsuitable for his son? Or does the fact that her disability is physical disturb him?  In the Victorian and Edwardian era physical and mental disability were very much taboo subjects and able bodied people wanted disabled people out of sight and mind. Maybe Pritchard’s attitudes towards Laura simply reflect the attitudes of his time, but that doesn’t explain why he is so sympathetic to the mentally afflicted and seems so awkward around Laura. Maybe I’m reading too much into it and he perhaps doesn’t like her due to her personality, but there is certainly an awkwardness in the way he acts around her. 

Pritchard also covers up some of Anna’s murders, thereby making himself complicit in those terrible acts. Why does he do this? If this were any other patient of his I doubt he would do such a thing. I think he falls for Anna and feels like he should protect her due to the failure of the other adults in her life to look after her. He risks a great deal for Anna. His relationship with Anna is also endlessly fascinating as it is a mix of fatherly affection and sexual desire. From a professional point of view its also very clear that he has gotten much to close to Anna and is getting much too personally invested in her case.

I highly recommend this film to Hammer fans and to anyone who likes their horror films a little different from the norm. Eric Porter and Angharad Rees both deliver excellent and poignant performances. This film also features much more character development than some of the other Hammer films. The music by Christopher Gunning is suitably atmospheric and is very beautiful and moving too. The murder sequences are still shocking and creepy in comparison with similar scenes found in modern horror films. 

My favourite scenes are the following. Anna and Pritchard talking with the genuine psychic. Laura meeting Anna. Pritchard helping Anna down the stairs after he finds her standing at the top covered in blood. Mrs. Golding’s murder. The scene at the wedding rehearsal where Pritchard asks Anna why she is crying. The tragic finale. 

What do you think of this film?

 

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Horror, Page To Screen

The Exorcist (1973)

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 has earned that title. It is a very disturbing and shocking film. It was banned here in the UK for years when it came time to release it on video.  

Upon its release at cinemas people threw up, ran out of the cinema, and broke down in tears because they simply couldn’t handle the horror that they were being subjected to with this film. Nothing like this film had ever been seen before and some people just couldn’t handle what they were seeing up there on that screen. Of course all of these reaction stories gained the film more publicity and audience attendance figures went through the roof.

Why does this film affect people so much? I think part of it is due to the fact that the possessed character is a child. It would be one thing to watch an adult go through what we see in this film, but seeing a child undergoing  such things is very disturbing. At the beginning of the film we also get to see this child as a pure, bubbly, sweet and happy girl, and then when the transformation comes we are shocked because we’ve gotten to know her personality and how she is later is such a shocking change to how she was at the beginning. The transformation is also depicted as happening in a gradual way, I think that makes us more scared of what we are seeing because it is happening in stages and we are not sure quite what we are witnessing or what the final result will be. 

I also think that whether or not you are a religious person, it can’t be denied that the concept of the devil is something that strikes fear into most people. In this film the thing taking over the child claims to be the devil himself and that is very frightening because you think there is no way she can be saved or he stopped. I also have to say that I find it odd that many religious people have been so opposed to this film over the years. The film shows the Catholic church in a positive light and has them as the heroes of the story. The Exorcist certainly is dark, frightening and even disgusting at some points; but it is also without a doubt one of the best good versus evil films that has ever been made.  

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Chris is terrified. Screenshot by me.

Today some younger viewers more accustomed to gory films, say that they find this film to be laughable. The film has been terrifically parodied in the Scary Movie films, which sadly means that people who have seen those films first may laugh at the actual film when they see it. Personally though I don’t see anything in The Exorcist to laugh about. It is a scary film and it messes with the audience in a psychological way quite unlike any other horror film ever has. 

I first saw this film on video with my parents when I was 18 or 19. Me and my dad had never seen this before. My mum had seen it at the cinema upon its original release. Mum said she saw it with her friend who was a Catholic, the film disturbed my mum, but she said it really messed her friend up more and that she was very upset by it. They both left the cinema trying to process what they had seen, and they were freaking out because they now had to walk home in the dark afterwards!  We all found this scary when we watched it together and my dad has refused to watch this again ever since. I’ve managed to watch it again a few times but it is a film that really unsettles me and I don’t know why. 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 this when I watch any other horror film. This film really unsettles me like no other ever has.

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Father Karras. Screenshot by me.

What I like about this film is that it really gets you thinking and it also affects you emotionally. I really feel for the mother and how she reaches her wits end trying to help her daughter; I feel her fear and pain, because we in the audience have been just as distressed by what we’ve witnessed as she has. I also like how it addresses the crisis 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 devout Priests could find their faith being so severely tested at times.

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 the staircase scene in, and it was taken out, along with the ending featuring the detective and the other Priest. This cut 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 both of these scenes back in as part of the directors cut.

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Father Merrin arrives. Screenshot by me.

The film is based upon the 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty. The novel was inspired by a real exorcism case that Blatty heard about. The real exorcism happened to a little boy in America in 1949. In the film version the possessed individual was changed to a twelve year old girl.

Director William Friedkin knew what he was doing when he made this film. He builds up the horror and suspense slowly as the film goes on. He does such a terrific job of focusing equally on the performances, the character development and the horror. He shoots the horror scenes in such a way that you are drawn to the screen, even when you really want to just look away in fear.  I also like that music is used sparingly in this film. All too often in horror films music accompanies the scary moments and sometimes that can take me out of the horror I’m watching, but the lack of music in most scenes in this film makes what is happening on screen seem more real in a way. 

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 unusual things and has no memory of doing them, and her bed (with her on it)keeps violently shaking. Numerous tests and scans are carried out but no medical cause for her behaviour can be found. Regan deteriorates further and further and then she begins to transform physically into something monstrous. Things take an even more terrifying turn when Regan claims she is the devil himself.

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Regan fully transformed. Screenshot by me.

Chris (who isn’t religious)finds herself turning to the church for help. She meets with Jesuit Priest, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller),and she explains the situation to him and begs him to help her. Father Karras agrees to help 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 conditions such as brain tumors or emotional trauma have to be ruled out by doctors and priests before they’ll even contemplate performing an exorcism. If no explanation can be found for the behaviour that is when a priest will step in.

Once Karras becomes convinced nothing but possession could be causing her behaviour, he asks for permission from church superiors to go ahead and perform an exorcism. Enter Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), he is a much older priest who has performed several exorcisms around the world. His last encounter took quite 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 anything the possessed girl says to him. This is easier said than done and Karras will struggle greatly as the two men battle evil for the soul of Regan.

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Father Merrin speaks to Chris. Screenshot by me.

When I first saw this film, I was convinced Sydow was actually an elderly actor. I hadn’t seen him in anything before this and I was astonished to learn later that he was only in his thirties when he played Merrin. The convincing age makeup and his body language and weary expressions really do make you believe he is an old man. Sydow has since 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, kindness and wisdom; he is certainly 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. Sydow’s performance lingers in the mind long after the film has finished. I love how reassuring Merrin is and how he makes Chris (and us) feel reassured and safe when he walks into the MacNeil home.

Jason Miller is moving as the doubt riddled young priest. He conveys that Karras is kind and approachable and tries to do his best, but how he despairs at the horror and violence he sees around him daily. I wish Miller had made more films after this 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. Ellen suffered a bad back injury during a stunt in this film. A stuntman pulled too tightly on a back harness she was wearing for the scene where Regan slaps her and the force of the slap sends her across the room.

Linda Blair gives an impressive performance for one so young. She excels at the creepy facial expressions and terrifying outbursts of her character. She also does such a good job of conveying the innocence and sweetness of Regan in the beginning of the film, this allows us to then become utterly terrified by her personality change later in the film once she gets possessed. Regan’s possession dialogue (which features some vile language and disturbing screams) were dubbed over for Linda by the older actress Mercedes McCambridge(Johnny Guitar and Giant.) Mercedes vocal performance is chilling.  
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.

Dick Smith’s pioneering makeup work on the film is to be applauded. The makeup for Regan’s transformation is horrifying and very effective indeed. Smith did more than just apply makeup though, he mixed makeup with practical effects (such as making welts on Regan rise up on the skin)which made the makeup very realistic indeed.  

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 when they speak. The entire exorcism sequence. The head spinning scenes. Chris going into the attic and getting scared. Cracks appearing on Regan’s bedroom door.

The Exorcist remains a disturbing and scary film decades after its original release. I can think of no other horror film past or present that has ever had an impact on the audience the way this film has. I prefer the theatrical version of the film, but I recommend the directors cut for the staircase scene between Merrin and Karras and for the ending. The directors cut also includes the infamous spider walk sequence.

There are two sequels to this film. Exorcist II: The Heretic is truly one of the worst films ever made. This sequel will have you screaming with laughter though because it is so bad and is not remotely scary. I think I would have been so disappointed if I went to see this at the time it was released thinking I was going to get what the first film gave us. Exorcist III however is as disturbing and thought provoking as the original. George C. Scott portrays Lt. Kinderman this time around and the third film focuses on him investigating some brutal murders which may be being carried out under demonic influence. It also focuses on Kinderman’s friendship with a priest who featured in the original film.

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

Drama, Films I Love, Horror

Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo At 60

This year is the 60th anniversary of the release of an Alfred Hitchcock film called Vertigo. This dark and powerful film wasn’t all that well received upon its release back in 1958, but over the following decades it has been reassessed and it is now considered to be one of Hitchcock’s greatest film achievements.

The film has since been showered with many accolades. It has even been called the greatest film ever made by some film critics. It is a film that I have come to love a great deal. I was entranced by its story of mystery, sadness, love, horror and tragedy the first time that I saw it. It has since become a firm favourite. 

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Scottie and Madeleine kiss. Screenshot by me.

This film is really several types of film all rolled into one, it is part Film Noir, part horror, part mystery, part romance and part tragedy. It is a film about obsession, mystery, death, love, longing, desire, fear and guilt. I consider this film to be Hitchcock’s most fascinating, haunting, dark and unforgettable film.It is a film that really gets under my skin.

The film was based upon the 1954 novel The Living And The Dead, which was written by Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud. In my opinion this was the darkest film that Hitchcock had made up to this point in his career.

The obsession that James Stewart’s character has for the woman he fixates on makes for some very uncomfortable viewing,his behaviour really borders on stalker behaviour. Hitchcock takes his characters and the viewer on a very dark and unsettling journey in this film. It may be a difficult viewing experience to endure at times, but it is one which is well worth seeing through to the end. 

The film was shot out on location in San Francisco and the history and beauty of that city ended up being the perfect backdrop for the film. The city almost becomes another character in the film, with the city streets and iconic locations featuring heavily in the vast majority of scenes. 

At the heart of Vertigo is the growing bond between Scottie (James Stewart)and the mysterious and troubled Madeleine (Kim Novak). Scottie is a former Police Detective who has quit the force after developing vertigo and acrophobia. He develops these conditions after nearly falling from a building during a police chase. Scottie also blames himself after a colleague died while trying to save Scottie from falling from the roof. He is wracked with guilt and fear following this incident.  

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Midge comforts Scottie. Screenshot by me.

Scottie is aided in his recovery from this incident by his friend and former fiancé, Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes). Midge is the woman for him, she is a real woman and she adores him and is there for him no matter what. Scottie ends up ignoring her though in his pursuit of a femme fatale (typical Noir guy there then 😉 ).

Scottie is hired by an old friend, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore)to work as a private detective to keep an eye on Elster’s wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak).Elster tells Scottie that he is very worried about his wife, he fears that she may be possessed by the spirit of a dead ancestor. She is acting very strangely and he fears she may also be suicidal.

Scottie follows Madeleine, he soon becomes convinced that something is not right with her at all. He also comes to accept that as odd as it may seem, Elster may well be correct when he suspects that Madeleine could be possessed.

Scottie ends up falling in love with this mysterious woman. He is left wracked with guilt and despair once again, after he fails to prevent her from jumping to her death. Some time after her death, Scottie meets Judy (Kim Novak), a young woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to the dead Madeleine. Scottie soon learns that all may not have been as it had initially seemed to him. So he sets out to do some investigating. 

Scottie and Madeleine are two troubled and sad souls clinging to one another, they remind me of the way a drowning person clings to a lifebelt or piece of wood to try and stay afloat. Scottie feels protective of Madeleine, he is drawn to this gentle and shy woman of mystery. Scottie can’t see that all may not be as it seems with Madeleine’s situation at all, he is so blinkered by love and desire, that he ignores the reality before him. In his attitudes he is the typical Noir detective, slowly being drawn to his doom by the femme fatale that he desires above all else in his life.

The irony is that the woman he loves isn’t real in any sense of the word. The woman that Scottie sees before him isn’t even the real Madeleine. Her actions and personality are not even those of the real woman pretending to be Madeleine.

Scottie is basically in love with a woman who doesn’t exist. The woman he loves and longs to have is nothing more than a phantom. Madeleine is the ultimate Noir femme fatale, she leads Scottie on and is forever unattainable. 

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Scottie and Madeleine in a rare happy moment. Screenshot by me.

Madeleine likes Scottie very much and she can’t deny her feelings for him in return, but she never lets him too close to her. She feels safe with him and yet she runs from him, never allowing herself to stay with him for long periods of time.

Madeleine always runs away from Scottie or pushes him away from her. They want to be together but can’t. We in the audience want a happy ending for them but we know that it is highly improbable they will get one.  This is Noir and Horror territory that we are in after all. 

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James Stewart as a traumatised Scottie. Screenshot by me.

James Stewart and Kim Novak deliver career best performances here. James in particular goes places we have never seen him go before.

This is one of the darkest roles that James ever had in his entire career, and I think he does a superb job in playing this very troubled character. He really makes us feel Scottie’s obsession, lust, love, grief and longing.

I think that James also does a superb job of conveying the crippling fear when Scottie has an attack of vertigo and is left helpless and paralysed in terror, shaking and sweating and desperate to get away from wherever he may be at the time. 

                                 Kim Novak as both Madeleine and Judy. Screenshot by me.

Kim is superb in the dual role of the ethereal, glacial, refined and regal Madeleine, and the fun loving, independent and sexy Judy. She does a terrific job of conveying Madeleine’s fear and vulnerability. 

Kim also excels at conveying Judy’s longing and fear much later in the film. Kim’s role was originally going to have been performed by Vera Miles, she unfortunately had to give up the role after becoming pregnant. I really wish we could have seen how Vera would have played this dual role, but I’m convinced that she wouldn’t have been able to match what Kim did with these two roles. 

Hitchcock made three films in his career that I think can be considered to be horror films, Psycho, The Birds and Frenzy. Vertigo is the closest he ever came though to making a ghost story. The first half of the film plays out like a ghost story. It appears that Madeleine is possessed by the spirit of a dead ancestor who went mad and committed suicide aged 26.   

Kim gives Madeleine an otherworldly and ethereal air in these sequences, she really makes you believe that this woman is torn between the realm of the dead and the world of the living. There is a far and away look in Kim’s eyes during the scenes where Madeleine is possessed.

When I watch the character in these scenes I believe that she is someone else and is a deeply troubled woman. Some of the scenes in the first half are very eerie. Look at the sequence in the forest for example, that scene is very eerie and would not be out of place in a horror film. Don’t forget the scenes where she visits the graveyard and the old hotel too. Seeing these scenes makes me wish that Hitchcock had tried his hand at making a ghost film.

Madeleine throws herself to her death from the roof of a bell tower. Scottie tries to save her from jumping but he is prevented from doing so by a vertigo attack. In the second half of the film, we see Scottie haunted by the memory of the dead Madeleine. He has a breakdown brought on by his guilt at being unable to save her, and his deep grief and pain at losing her.

When Scottie recovers from his breakdown he wanders the city streets and constantly runs into women and places who remind him of Madeleine and their time together. Scottie then meets Judy (Kim Novak) and we see another type of horror as a living woman is remoulded into the image of a dead one, and we see a dead woman resurrected.

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Judy becomes Madeleine. Screenshot by me.

This second section of the film plays out to me like My Fair Lady meets Frankenstein. I find this part even more disturbing and sad than the first half to be honest.

In this half of the film Scottie changes Judy into Madeleine, and thus he permanently erases Judy from his life so that he can be with Madeleine again.

This final half also plays out to me like a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. There is no happiness to be found in this film from this point on.

We see Scottie learn that his breakdown, guilt and grief were all for nothing because the woman he loved wasn’t even the woman who died. We also see him destroy Judy (the real woman he loved, he just didn’t realise that at the time)and recreate her in the image of the dead fantasy he so desired. We also see Scottie inadvertently cause the death (once and for all, no bringing her back from the dead now)of Judy/Madeleine by taking her back to the scene of the crime at the end of the film.  It’s dark, disturbing and bleak stuff for sure, but also incredibly sad too. 

I also like how the film gets us to change who we sympathise with and also why we sympathise with them as the film goes along. At first we sympathise with Scottie and Madeleine for being troubled and lonely souls who want to be together. We then sympathise with Scottie when he loses the woman he loves and blames himself for it. We then sympathise with him when we learn he was used, manipulated and lied to. We then sympathise with Judy when we see how Scottie treats her and uses her. We then hate Judy when we learn what she did and what she agreed to be a part of. We still feel sorry for though because she was used by Elster and is being used by Scottie to get what he wants. We then sympathise with Scottie again during that tragic ending.

There are no black and white characters in this (apart from Elster who is a clear cut villain, and Midge who is the good girl left on the sidelines by the man she loves)only grey characters. Personalities change through out the film, and we like and loathe certain characters at certain times during the film. Nothing about this film is simple and uncomplicated. This is precisely why I love this film so much.

I have to praise the photography by Robert Burks. His work makes the film look so vibrant and beautiful. I think that he deserves high praise indeed for what he managed to achieve here. I love the lighting in the film and I’ve also noted the recurring use of green clothes and green lighting when Madeleine/Judy are around.

We have Madeleine wearing the green and black evening dress, driving a green car, being surrounded often by green trees, lawns and plants. We have Judy wearing a green dress, green skirts and green jackets. We also see her being bathed in an eerie green light (shining through her window from the neon light outside). Green symbolises jealously and life. So perhaps this colour was used to show that Scottie is jealous that Madeleine is Elster’s and she isn’t free to be his?

                           A few shots featuring the key colour of green. Screenshot by me.

Perhaps green was also used to show Madeleine and Judy as offering Scottie life and freshness, and an escape from his troubled life? Perhaps it represents Madeleine/Judy as being the object most desired by Scottie, yet also ending up being the one thing that he can never end up having? What do you think about the use of green in the film? 

The music is very important in the film. Bernard Herrmann’s score for this could well be his best work. It is beautiful, romantic, sweeping, spooky, sinister and thrilling. At times the music also sounds like it is swirling; I really like that because it represents Scottie’s feeling of vertigo. The music adds so much atmosphere to the film. 

This is a film where Scottie and Judy deserved a happy ending. Of course if they had got a happy ending I highly doubt we would be talking about this one so much sixty years on. Plus a happy ending isn’t what Noir and tragedy are all about. There was an alternative  happy ending that Hitchcock was made to film to keep the production code people happy.

This alternative ending is included as an extra on many DVD and Blu-ray releases, it shows Scottie and Midge back together again and a radio report indicating that Elster has been brought to justice for his crimes.  The trouble is that this ending just lacks the shock and emotional impact of the bell tower finale.

The bleak ending also implies that Elster has completely got away with his crimes, and this to me makes that ending all the more dark and disturbing than it already is thanks to that final shot.This is a film that offers plenty for audiences to discuss and ponder over once the film has finished. I think that is why I love this one so much. This film makes you think and feel and draws us in, just like Madeleine and her problems draw Scottie in. 

The only issues I have with the film are the following points. I don’t find it plausible that Elster would have left Judy alive, she knew what they had done and she could have gone to the Police or blackmailed him. If Elster wanted no trace left back to him of the crime,  why leave Judy alive afterwards?

I also don’t get why Judy didn’t just run away once Scottie found her and invited her out for dinner. I also don’t get why the reveal to what had happened in the bell tower was shown so early in the film. I think it would have been more impactful if the truth had been learnt by us and Scottie jointly during the scene where Judy puts on the necklace. 

I’d like to say happy 60th birthday to one of Hitchcock’s greatest achievements. Well done to James Stewart and Kim Novak for so perfectly conveying tragedy, love, desire, pain, fear and obsession to us. Thanks to all the cast and crew for their hard work to help make this film. 

What do you think of this film? Please share your thoughts and views below. 

 

Films I Love, Horror, Thriller

Jaws (1975)

This film had a huge impact on me the first time I saw it. It completely terrified me and had me on the edge of my seat throughout. It has been a favourite since I first saw it in my early teens.

I love the characters and the story a great deal. I love how the film is a mix of genres – horror, thriller, adventure and comedy. I love the locations. I also think that John Williams chilling and suitably atmospheric score is one of the very best he has ever composed, his music greatly adds to the film.

I also love how the two parts of the film are so different from each other as well. The first half is pretty much a horror film featuring some very disturbing sequences. The characters are all established in the first half and the unseen creature from the deep keeps the viewer terrified. The second is all about the growing bond between Quint, Brody and Hooper. The second half also becomes quite the thriller and has a lot of action in it. When I first saw this film I was also very surprised by just how much humour is to be found in the second half – Quint’s outrageous sea songs for example, plus Quint and Hooper’s banter and constantly trying to outdo one another. This is in stark contrast to the grim and frightening atmosphere of the first half.

A scene that always cracks me up in this 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 to do so. He 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 spear gun. This sight forces the Chief to return to where he just came from. 🙂

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The shark attacks The Orca. Screenshot by me.

The trio are so different from each other and I really like watching them overcome their differences to find some common ground and work together to survive. The development of their relationship 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 they come across as being very real people who 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. He really proved with this film just what he was able to accomplish as a director. I think this is one of the best films he has ever made (and that is saying something). If I had to pick just one of his films to keep I would pick this one without hesitation. I really like how Spielberg conveys so much horror and suspense without even showing the shark for a larger portion of the film. When he does show the shark, he does so sparingly and its appearances have a far greater impact than they would if he had shown it all the way through the film.

The film is based upon 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. I think that bond between the characters is part of the films success and I didn’t feel the growing friendship in the book. 

I was also very glad that the subplot of an affair between Hooper and Mrs. Brody wasn’t included in the film. One of my favourite aspects of the film is the happy family life that Chief Brody enjoys, if this subplot had been included then that happy atmosphere would have been killed. I also think the subplot would have made it really difficult to like Hooper.

Benchley would ironically spend the rest of his life trying to undo the bad reputation his novel and the film had given to Great White Sharks. Benchley became a marine conservationist and he wrote books about sharks and the sea, helping people to understand these creatures and their habitat.Shark attacks certainly are horrific, but they are thankfully extremely rare events. Yet, thanks to the novel and this film, people are sadly wary of the sea, and also of the fascinating and beautiful creatures that live there.

The film is set in the American coastal town of Amity. The film opens with a young woman called Chrissie, 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. Poor Chrissie is grabbed from beneath the waves by something unseen. She screams in agony as she is pulled and dragged around, finally she is pulled beneath the waves and all we can hear is the splashing of the waves. 

                                           Chrissie gets attacked. Screenshot by me.

The next day Chrissie’s 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 we see them on screen, 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 specialist technology and equipment 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.

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Brody and Hooper make a frightening discovery. Screenshot by me.

There are so many memorable moments in this film and the following are some of my favourites. Quint’s Indianapolis story. The estuary attack(this is the first time we see the shark and it looks terrifying). 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 back to him. The scene with the two fisherman who almost get attacked by the shark and the “You’re going to need a bigger boat” scene.

Scheider, Shaw, and Dreyfuss are all at their very best in this film. Scheider is the hero of the film, his character is an everyman who is thrown into an unusual situation made worse for him by his fear of the sea. As the film goes on we see Brody having to conquer that fear in order to be able to survive. 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 great help in the second half of the film.

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The chief takes aim. Screenshot by me.

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 just about ok. It has its moments and some of the original cast return. Avoid 3 and 4 though, 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 and watch it.  

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.

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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Walter Craig. Screenshot by me.

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, Craig begins to start predicting things that 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 that we see is about a racing car driver (Anthony Baird)who is injured in a crash. As he recovers in hospital, he begins to have some frightening visions. He later comes to understand these were premonitions. This sequence is very unsettling indeed and it 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 racing driver opens the curtains and sees a nightmare.Screenshot by me.

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.

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Sally makes a chilling discovery. Screenshot by me.

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.  

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She was starting to wish she hadn’t brought this mirror. Screenshot by me.

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.

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A Charters and Caldicott ghost story.

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.

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The deranged ventriloquist. Screenshot by me.

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 seriously 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 such as 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 also 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.

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John Houseman tells a story that will chill you to the bone. Screenshot by me.

The 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 and his dead crew.  

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.

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Stevie on the air. Screenshot by me.

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?

 

British Cinema, Horror

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

The Devil Rides Out is a British horror film which offered the horror film legend Christopher Lee a rare chance to play the hero on screen. The film is based upon the novel of the same name which was written by Dennis Wheatley, and which was published in 1934.

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Part of the protective circle sequence. Screenshot by me.

Whether or not you believe in the supernatural, I think that it simply cannot 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 people 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 the studios other films, this one doesn’t rely on blood and shocks to be scary; this film is much more intent on slowly building up the tension and is more concerned with making you feel uneasy as the film goes on. This film is also one guaranteed to make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. 

I love the film for how creepy it is. There are many scary moments throughout the film, with the unforgettable protective circle sequence being a real standout. The sequence where the cult call up the Devil himself is also very frightening and quite 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 just like a certain Professor Quatermass received. Christopher totally makes you believe that the Duc knows all about good and evil, and that he is also able to understand, challenge, fight and defeat evil.The role of the Duc was also one of Christopher Lee’s personal favourites from amongst his own work.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I for one would have loved to have seen the Duc and his friends fight the forces of evil again in future films, or maybe in a TV series. 

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Rex, the Duc and Simon. Screenshot by me.

Christopher is an intense presence throughout the film and he makes you (and the Duc’s companions in the film)feel safe and secure when the Duc is on screen.

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 film opens in England in 1929. The suave Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) is very concerned about his young 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. 

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The Duc and Rex witness a terrifying event. Screenshot by me.

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.

The three friends 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 over her.

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

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

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Charles Gray as Mocata. Screenshot by me.

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 that she does a fantastic job of portraying the fragile and easily manipulated Tanith. This character is very vulnerable and she makes you feel quite 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 Sarah Lawson is that she looks a bit old to be playing Christopher 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 riding through the house? 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? I highly recommend this film if you’ve never seen it.

 

 

 

 

 

Horror

The Birds (1963)

I’d like to talk today about a Hitchcock film that I consider to be his scariest work. The film is 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.

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The birds gather. Screenshot by me.

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 that we are in for a very different experience than we are usually used to getting from this director.

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Melanie, Cathy and Mitch are trapped during a bird attack. Screenshot by me.

 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. The film  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 having been left a bit 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.

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Mitch and Melanie share a drink and get to know one another. Screenshot by me.

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 he decides to give her a large dose of her own medicine.

Mitch pretends that he thinks Melanie 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 in the town, 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.

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Melanie trapped in a phonebox being attacked by birds. Screenshot by me.

The more I’ve watched this, I’ve picked up on something that I haven’t seen anyone else mention when discussing this film.

The majority of the bird attacks happen at moments of increasing intimacy between Mitch and Melanie. They also 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 very difficult to believe that the bird attacks coinciding with emotional moments, or during moments of sexual tension were not intentionally included. If you pick up on this possibility, then I think it adds another layer to the film. I also love the way Rod and Tippi play their shared scenes. I really love the sexual tension and flirtatious 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. Annie is very heroic and I feel sorry for her character for two reasons. Firstly she still has feelings for Mitch. Secondly for what happens to her later on in the film. 

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 very 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.