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.

 

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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.

 

British Cinema, Horror

The Innocents (1961)

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For me, this is the greatest British horror film. When I think of haunted houses this film is the first to spring to my mind. The film is based on the Henry James novel, The Turn of the Screw. It is a very creepy, and atmospheric film. It makes for perfect viewing on a dark night or on a rainy afternoon.

The film is directed by Jack Clayton, it has photography by Freddie Francis, a screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote, and has music by Georges Auric.

From the very beginning this film is highly unsettling. The opening film logos and credits are accompanied by an eerie song that sounds like its straight out of the Victorian era, birds can be heard chirping. We also here the whimpers of Miss Giddens. We then see Miss Giddens hands clasped together in prayer, we see she is deeply distressed but we have no idea what is going on. It is a good way to open the film as it creates atmosphere and makes you wonder about what you are seeing.

The young and repressed Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr)becomes the new governess to adorable siblings Flora and Miles (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens). As time goes on, she begins to suspect that they are possessed by the souls of two dead former servants Quint and Miss Jessel(Peter Wyngarde and Clytie Jessop.)

Miles acts like an adult, and there is just something not right about him at all; for one so young Stephens very adeptly conveys a wisdom and worldliness way beyond his years, and does so in a very unsettling way indeed. Miles and Flora seem almost telepathically linked, which adds even more creepiness to the proceedings. Miss Giddens begins to see ghosts, or does she?

It is this ambiguity regarding the ghosts that makes this film so effective I believe. You can view the occurrences in the film in two ways; either Miss Giddens really does see the ghosts, and the children are possessed; or Miss Giddens is suffering a mental breakdown and is imaging the whole thing. Either scenario is terrifying and whichever you believe(I actually believe that it is a combination of both)is scary and makes the ending shocking and sad.

I think the children were corrupted by the things they saw Quint and Miss Jessel do together, so it has affected their behaviour, they were also the only companions the children had ever known, so they try and imitate them even after their death, isn’t this another form of possession?

Miss Giddens hears about the servants and begins to fear them and see them. I think she really does see them, but whether they are actually real ghosts or just her fears manifesting I wouldn’t like to say, to her they are real apparitions.

This is the type of horror film I like best; one where you’re not sure if you glimpsed something in the corner of your eye, or if something just brushed past a character causing a candle to flicker. I much prefer psychological horror to gore, and this film certainly makes you think and really creeps me out.

Deborah gives one of her best performances here, and I think it is a real shame she never got another role like this again. She does such a terrific job of conveying Miss Giddens growing fear and obsessions.

Beautiful costumes, a stunning garden location (Sheffield Park Gardens)and a gothic atmosphere all combine to make The Innocents a must see.

My favourite scenes the following. The ghost sighting in the lake. Miss Giddens first walk around the beautiful gardens. The conversation between Miss Giddens and Miles, where she becomes convinced that he is possessed. The scene where Miss Giddens walks around the corridors with a candle hearing laughter. Quint’s appearance in the windows.

Are you a fan of this film? Please leave your thoughts below.