Tagged Classic

Bad Day at Black Rock: An Open, American, Hardboiled Wound

Bad Day at Black Rock. 1955. Directed by John Sturges. Screenplay by Millard Kaufman; adapted by Don McGuire & based on a story from Howard Breslin.
Starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, John Ericson, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Russell Collins, & Walter Sande.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Not Rated. 81 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Mystery

★★★★★
POSTER John Sturges – a fine specimen of a director. He directed films from the mid 1940s right up into the latter half of the 1970s. I love a writer-director, but something is exciting about some of the older generations of directors, the guys that just went full force at their sole job as director and did a damn good job at that. Sturges is one of those types, whose main concern was the directorial choices necessary for making a picture.
For me, the era of his greatest work begins after this film, Bad Day at Black Rock. This is the story that captured a specific current in the American public which not many movies were ready to tackle. In 1955, with the wounds of World War II, Pearl Harbor and everything in between still fresh, a story like this one couldn’t have been easy to tell, nor would it have been easy to swallow. Also considering the plot is set in later ’45. What’s best is that it isn’t just a heavy handed toss at trying to be interesting. The acting is stellar, beyond that. The screenplay is tight, the at times minimalist dialogue edges just close to exposition before keeping itself wrapped in mystery. And finally Sturges himself adds that one perfect element as director, alongside the work of D.P. William C. Mellor with his eye for gorgeous landscapes and bringing to life the vivid portrait of a tiny town on the edge of a nowhere desert. There’s not enough time to talk about how good this movie is, and believe me, I love to ramble. I love movies from any era. I know not everybody does, that’s fine. However, you’re really doing yourself a disservice as a lover of film, if you call yourself one, by not seeing Bad Day at Black Rock. Right down to the score, this is a flawless bit of cinema that cries out to be experienced.
Pic1
Right off the bat you can’t help but keep your eyes glued to Spencer Tracy. He has a charm that is immediate to me. Always, in any film. It’s the mystery of John J. Macreedy which I find intriguing, and from the moment you lay eyes on him there’s a quality that draws the viewer in. He’s so nonchalant, mysterious yet confident. His demeanour is sly, but still open. He almost feels a walking contradiction, though not in any way offensive. So then once the men in Black Rock start hovering around, causing him grief and getting into his business, it’s even more interesting to watch. This seemingly nice, normal guy – aside from having a missing arm, that doesn’t appear to give him much difficulty working around – gets thrown into the mix of a town that has more going on than it looks on the surface. Tracy’s ability to make Macreedy so calm and collected serves the film well, as it isn’t just the mystery of Black Rock but the mystery of him as a character that propels us further, wanting more. OH! When he kicks the shit out of that one guy with his single hand, it is in no way cheesy or forced or Hollywood-ish to the point of ridicule. He makes it genuine and bad ass.
The whole cast is spectacular, it isn’t solely Tracy. You’ve got Ernest Borgnine playing a sassy backwoods-type; not a huge role, but he does it justice with a proper menacing streak. Robert Ryan is wonderful – in parallel to the character of Macreedy, Ryan’s Reno Smith is calm in his own right, just that he’s calm for much different reasons with different things at stake than Macreedy. I love Ryan in general. Here, he gives a nice performance in a devious role. Then filling out the cast is Lee Marvin, always a treat no matter how big or small a role he plays; he’s welcomed addition to the rest of the players. As well as Walter Brennan and Anne Francis, each doing good things with their small parts. Overall, this is a classic cast of familiar faces that all make their characters stick in your mind.
But make no mistake, it’s Tracy who sells the film. Ten times over.
Pic3
There’s a great little car chase over a desert ridge that’s lots of fun, even without all the more contemporary flash and any crashes/explosions. What I dig most is the way it’s filmed. You’d almost swear that in the more stunt-like shots Tracy and Borgnine are both actually driving. Although obviously they didn’t, especially considering Tracy’s character has his hand in his pocket the entire time (something they did well on for continuity), this is still an admirably filmed sequence. All around I love the look of the movie, the cinematography is every bit the classic Hollywood style and it is pure, simple beauty. There’s something to be said for shooting on film, as opposed to now where it becomes more expensive for directors to do so, many opting for digital. And not to knock digital, I dig certain filmmakers because they can make it look as good as film. Yet these old movies, the ones shot through the 1940s and into the 1960s, they have such a nostalgic, perfect feel. There is a vibrancy that is so clear, so pristine, it makes movies look like something right out of a memory.
Pic2
Bad Day at Black Rock does something I’m a fan of, in terms of its screenplay. Mixing genres is something that, when done well, can be terribly fun. What I enjoy above all other elements is that the story is full-on western while also draped in the trappings of the film noir genre. We have that staple of the western, a lone and mysterious man riding into town, then there’s the setting itself being a small town out in the middle of the mountains, in the midst of desert. Everything screams Wild West, yet we’re set in 1945. On top of that there’s the noir-like plot of Macreedy searching for a man, one we gradually find out more about. The way the story’s structured is very much like an old hardboiled fiction novel, like a slice of Raymond Chandler crossed with John Ford. Truly a treat to watch play out. Best of all, the plot contains some touchy subjects for a film made in ’55. There’s a sensitive piece of American history involved, Pearl Harbor pulled into the story, but it’s well explored in a way that doesn’t feel like the writing stands on a morally high ground, rather one of introspection via mystery-thriller. This film touches at an open American wound that was freshly pulsing at the time. Kudos to Sturges and all involved.
This is a 5 star flick, all the way down the line. From the great performance by Tracy, to a drop of Ryan and Marvin, to every last god damn minute of the film. I can’t recommend it enough. It took me 30 years to see it, and I’ve already watched it a couple times so far this year. Might have to make it a hat trick before I turn 31 in the fall.

Advertisements

The House by the Cemetery: Victorian Era Scientific Basement Horrors

The House by the Cemetery. 1981. Directed by Lucio Fulci. Screenplay by Lucio Fulci/Giorgio Mariuzzo/Dardano Sacchetti, from a story by Elisa Livia Briganti.
Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Anioa Pieroni, Giovannia Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava, Daniela Dora, Gianpaolo Saccarola and Carlo De Mejo. Fulvia Film. Rated R. 87 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
HOUSE-BY-THE-CEMETERY-cropped
I came to Lucio Fulci about ten years ago, after seeing City of the Living Dead. His classic look, the effects, an insanely nasty sense of style – how could I not enjoy his films? After that one, I found The Beyond, which is tied with A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin as my favourite of his work. So I made my way through everything by him I could find. Though his movies aren’t perfect, I find them perfect for me, for horror. They’re not full of grand metaphor, they aren’t even particularly complex in plot. What Fulci offers is a visually pleasing aesthetic, crossed with the brutal qualities of his own personal horror movie madness.
The House by the Cemetery isn’t his best, though, it’s nowhere near his worst. While many might have you believe it’s overrated, or that it’s “typical Fulci”, I say that’s nonsense. Especially those who think it’s “typical” of him – what’s wrong with typical Fulci? He’s a classic horror filmmaker, his style is all his own. Added to that, there are always solid gore effects, you can count on that. This film has all the earmarks of Fulci with a bit of inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft and other sources.
Essentially, this is Fulci’s version of the haunted house horror.
TheHousebytheCemetery-5Norman and Lucy Boyle (Paolo Malco/Catriona MacColl), along with their young boy Bob (Giovanni Frezza), move into a home belonging to a colleague of Norman’s who committed suicide; he plans on researching the house itself, as well as the other previous owners. Soon enough, Bob sees a young girl named Mae (Silvia Collatina), but only he can see her. She tries to warn him of the danger in the house. No one will believe him, certainly not his mother. Eventually a woman comes to take the position of babysitter for Bob – Ann (Ania Pieroni) shows up out of nowhere for the job.
Things slowly get scarier in the old house, as Norma and Lucy discover a Dr. Freudstein once lived in their new home, around the turn of the century. He was a Victorian era doctor who performed illegal surgeries and experiments. This leads to more gruesome discoveries around the property, as the past comes alive and tears its way into the present.
House by the Cemetery 3When the movie’s filmed in English, yet still dubbed in post-production for some odd reason, you can’t expect it to be an outright masterpiece. Can you? No. So, when you watch The House by the Cemetery I’m not saying you’ll be blown away by all the technical aspects. Nor am I saying the story makes perfect and complete sense. Not in the slightest. What I am saying is that Fulci manages to do excitingly eerie things with atmosphere, as well as the fact he does his best to include some proper gore to wet the whistle of all those gore hounds out there.
My favourite part of this film is that atmosphere. The overall tone is grim. There’s something common to Fulci, I think. Every movie feels hopeless, not an ounce of actual happiness and figurative light manages to make its way into these stories he tells. Which is perfect for horror, and why I’m always inclined to enjoy so many of his films. The House by the Cemetery has the pretense of having those happier moments in the beginning, but the immediacy in Fulci’s presentation of the horror going on inside the house sets the tone quickly. It reminds me of how George Romero starts Day of the Dead with that neat, brief little dream sequence; sets us on edge from the start, almost like a visual manifesto. From there, Fulci works on us with his imagery alongside an unusual and exciting score from Walter Rizzati. The aesthetic of the film is, again, very Fulci.
I mean, even the scene where Norman (Paolo Malco) gets attacked by a bat becomes something intensely horrific. It latches onto his hand for what seems like ages. Finally, after a tough wrestle with it as everyone watches in horror, Norman stabs the things, blood pumping everywhere. The mark it leaves is savage. Such a normal event like finding a bat in the basement – something which happens plenty to people around the world – transforms into the stuff of nightmares. Such is the power of Fulci. He doesn’t have to be doing anything extraordinary in terms of plot or story in order to make things interesting, or in this case pretty nasty.
housebythecemetery2 house-by-the-cemetery-horror-review-6 the-house-by-the-cemetery-bloody-headI’ve seen a lot of people complain about the story, like the plot is completely nonsensical. Not sure why so many complaints. There’s not much going on here to really need to comprehend. It’s a haunted house style horror movie, there are reanimated corpses in the house – chaos and supernatural terror ensue. What’s so tough to get? Not saying that everything is tied up into neat little packages and the screenplay rounds off every edge it fashions. But seriously – I don’t get the labels of incoherent other reviews have put out there. Does not make sense. There’s a surreal nature to this creepy house of Fulci’s, I feel The House by the Cemetery is like a fever dream full of haunting images. As I said earlier, this is like the past meets the present. The visceral entities of the house’s past come alive to keep taking lives, to keep Dr. Freudstein in business and corpses for experimentation, surely. Is that not the whole point? Just can’t get my head around why people feel the need to criticize Fulci here when the movie isn’t trying to be anything more than it is: a creepfest with nasty kills and a grim tone.
house-by-cemetery-freudensteinDespite all my love for this Lucio Fulci film, I do find a lot of the acting – aside from Catriona MacColl who is always fabulous – pretty damn bothersome, and tiring most of the time. Regardless, I still say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror movie. It’s got a nice dose of gore, the typically awesome and gnarly horror expected of Fulci. Not only that, the story is creepy enough to keep things going; no matter what people say about its supposed incoherence. Mainly, it’s just not an overly complex plot or anything. It has the goods to satisfy a haunted house movie craving, on top of that the blood and vicious bits will keep the hounds at bay. Not Fulci’s top horror, but like I said it’s light years away from being the worst. This is a good flick for Halloween and it’s a generally good one to take in if you’re getting into Fulci, or if you’re into him and have yet to see it because of Negative Nancies and Davie Downers saying this is overrated, or yadda yadda whatever else they say. Judge for yourself! Let me know what you think in the comments, I’d love to hear other perspectives, as long as you’re civil – then this Dude abides.

Psychological Trauma in The Haunting

The Haunting. 1963. Directed by Robert Wise. Screenplay by Nelson Gidding; based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
Starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn. Argyle Enterprises. Rated G. 112 minutes (Black & White).
Horror

★★★★★
haunting_xlgWhatever the equivalent of a Renaissance Man in film, it certainly was Robert Wise. He crossed over genres and did so many incredible movies in the span of his career that it’s almost not even sensible. Not nowadays, even with lots of great filmmakers popping out here and there.
Think about it – The Curse of the Cat PeopleThe Body SnatcherThe Set-UpThe Day the Earth Stood StillSomebody Up There Likes MeWest Side StoryThe HauntingThe Sound of MusicThe Andromeda StrainAudrey Rose, and even Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That’s not even all of them, just the good ones (except for the first Star Trek).
Wise has that classic sensibility about his filmmaking. Here, he uses such beautifully constructed angles and lighting, shadow, to create a haunting feeling. His ability to put us in the perspective of a character is uncanny. The Haunting is not just a ghost story, nor is it simply a typical haunted house horror movie. Wise constructs a supernatural type film around very psychological premises. Working off the excellent novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, the screenplay by Nelson Gidding is woven finely and Wise makes it something intimate, as well as very universal. Though we spend so much time getting into the head of one particular lead character, the story and its trappings draw on a widely held fear – one that comes out of wondering what lies beyond the veil of death.
featured-hauntingDr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) plans on conducting experiments concerning ghostly entities. He is able to secure the use of Hill House: a legendary home built by Hugh Crain (Howard Lang) for his wife, though now supposedly haunted after he was plagued by the deaths of his wives.
Markway invites several people to come to the house, all in the name of studying fear specifically. Two women, Eleanor (Julie Harris) and Theodora (Claire Bloom), along with a young man named Luke (Russ Tamblyn) come to Hill House in order for Markway to start experimenting. However, not long after her arrival Eleanor starts to lose her grip on reality. Not too long and everything begins to get more terrifying, not just for Eleanor but for every living person who comes into contact with Hill House. No telling if any of them will make it out of its walls alive.
0df304cc937306011d0b1b25b3cd9b2c-russI don’t care what anyone says, some of the old school film techniques are the best. For instance, just the way Wise creates a disorienting feeling with simple methods instead of using any elaborate effects is part of The Haunting‘s charm. Early on, after Eleanor reaches the house and everyone’s settling in, she has a sort of panic attack and the camera dips, giving us an inverted look at her as she screams out. It’s such a deceptively simple shot, but god damn if it doesn’t work proper. Even so far as very quick angles and switches of point-of-view, which Wise executes flawlessly. Particularly there’s a scene where Eleanor goes back to her room alone, lying on the bed, then the camera moves from above her looking down to a shot next to the bed, no edit. Such a smooth switch and it just has a nice look. Lots of modern horror is so concerned with pushing a scare on you and throwing it in your face. Wise lets a lot of the psychological effects of the noises, the ghostly whispers (and so on) really sit with you and he twists and turns things about as you’re sinking in it. Again, it’s the fact we’re so often thrown into Eleanor’s perspective I find the film is so creepy. You eventually get a sense of something terrifying happening, even in the times Eleanor is with someone else and the ghostly presence is banging a door or shaking something – it still feels very much like we’re riding along with her specifically. I enjoy all the characters, it’s simply the way the story is told and how Wise is able to give us such a close, intimate feeling of seeing things through her eyes.
So much of the psycho-horror comes out of the innovative filming and creative editing, such a spooky overall product. Wise deliberately wanted to throw people off, so there are cuts where characters walk through a door on the right only to enter through the left of the screen, thereby confusing any sense of understanding the layout of Hill House (so remember this people when you think about Kubrick’s The Shining). I love that because it adds another purposefully, and awesomely, eerie sense of disorientation.
One of my favourite moments in terms of technique is the staircase. We get that neat shot, strangely creepy, where the camera seems to zoom down through the stairs. As per commentary on The Haunting Blu ray, this was achieved by basically using the staircase as a dolly and sending the camera down slowly, then once in reverse the effect came out weird and highly effective. Just like another shot where Eleanor is alone, thinking to herself and letting the thoughts of dead Mrs. Crain get in her head, then the camera sort of zooms down at her from high above, her wide and screaming mouth open – then a quick cut to Dr. Markway grabbing hold so she doesn’t fall off the balcony. This quick bit is so unsettling, it draws you closer and closer towards Eleanor’s mindset.
MaisonDiable2The performances are all pretty top notch, classy style acting overall. Of course it’s Julie Harris as Eleanor who steals the show. Without her ability to portray such a damaged, fragile woman, the plot wouldn’t have been able to take hold. Not only does Wise put us in her shoes visually, her skills as an actor take us the next leap forward. She’s very quiet and subtle at moments, then others time there’s a fire inside her, in her eyes, and it rises up quickly. Harris has wonderful range and displays it, fine-tuned here.
Further than that, this movie had a great depiction of a lesbian woman for 1963. Usually there’d be a foolishly stereotypical version of a gay woman in other big films. Instead, Theodora (played by Claire Bloom) comes off elegant, feminine and not someone trying to lure the only other woman around into a sexual encounter – funny enough, the 1999 remake sort of retracted all that and made her into a hound for pussy, but whatever, that movie was awful. This one, though, it really did good things for the character. That’s just another example of a nice addition to the source material. Jackson is very, very present throughout this adaptation. But Gidding and Wise have their hands in some places where it counts, including Theodora’s character and the in-depth focus on Eleanor and her mental state.
the-hauntingIf there were ever a quintessential haunted house-style horror movie, it is absolutely Robert Wise’s The Haunting. 5 stars, hands down. I can never see this movie enough. It’s especially good for Halloween, but every day is good for horror. This will sink in if you let it. Too many people today are getting desensitized by gore and blood. But that is not the epitome of horror. The real creepy stuff, the genuinely unsettling horror movies, they’re the ones that slowly climb into your brain and don’t let go. They’re the things made up of well crafted writing, careful direction – both in terms of cinematography, editing, and also regarding the design aspects of the house, the look of it all. The Haunting has every bit of this, and more. You need to experience this Wise masterpiece in Blu ray, it will blow your mind. Excellent horror and one hell of a classic.

The Amityville Horror Never Lets Truth Get in its Way

The Amityville Horror. 1979. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg. Screenplay by Sandor Stern; based on the book by Jay Anson.
Starring James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Don Stroud, Murray Hamilton, John Larch, Natasha Ryan, K.C. Martel, Meeno Peluce, Michael Sacks, Helen Shaver, and Amy Wright. American International Pictures. Rated 14A. 117 minutes. Drama/Horror.

★★★★
tumblr_my6iwqtjYe1qh35m6o1_1280 When it comes to the haunted house movies that go for the possessed angle – the house driving someone crazy or literally possessing them – I still think The Amityville Horror is near the top of my favourites. Different than The Exorcist where that’s a demon, I love this even without all the true story aspects of it, which are likely a hoax as far as I’m concerned. But that’s a discussion for another time.
This movie just creeps me out. I mean, when the priest is in that room with the flies covering his face, then all of a sudden you here it softly first – “Get out” – the priest looks around in awe and it says once more, louder and raspier this time – “GET OUT” – every time I see that part, I know it’s coming, and consistently it freaks me out. Love it! Always enjoy a movie which continually scares me any time I watch it over the years.
Plus, there’s something about the idea of a house’s history affecting the people who live in afterwards that gets to me at my core. Because, although I don’t believe in any life after death, I’m forever sceptical at the same time. I’m always questioning. So, I can’t fully discount that there may be something we don’t know about yet, something that could be proven eventually. For me, watching horror movies is not always about realism. In this type of film, you have to try and remove yourself a little from reality, but at the same time you can still stay slightly grounded. Just imagine, what would you do if a house started driving you crazy? What could you do, really? When I watch horror, I’ll usually try to put myself in the shoes of the characters involved. That’s one reason this movie scares me because if I were in that house with James Brolin going slowly mad, I’d probably have been terrified right to the bone.
TheAmityvilleHorror1The Amityville Horror is based on the, supposedly, true events which transpired in the house of George (James Brolin) and Kathy Lutz (Margot Kidder) – where years before, Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. murdered his family in cold blood as they slept at night. Moving in with their children, the Lutz family find a great new home; spacious, a boathouse out back with a small dock, good land. Once moved into their house, strange things begin to happen. George begins to wake up every morning at 3:15 AM on the dot. The young daughter starts talking about an imaginary little girl named Jodi who actively becomes more and more involved in her life. Even a priest comes to the house trying to bless the place when Kathy sends request, but he is driven from the premises by some evil force, screaming at him, sending him away by any means. Things get worse and worse, and slowly George seems to be sucked into whatever terror lays beyond the veil between the living and the dead.

I think a part of what makes The Amityville Horror work is the family dynamic. When considering the real supposed story, George Lutz (Brolin) is the husband of Kathy (Kidder), but the children are his stepchildren. Apparently he was not exactly the perfect stepfather and he was a bit tough on them. He’s running a business and everything is on him, so while the house exerts its evil influence over George his business begins to suffer. Then Kathy is of course concerned about him, trying to figure out what’s going on. There are so many things at play within the Lutz family. It’s as if the house feeds off any already negative energy or presence within its walls, it uses that to generate more of the negative energy still left over from the past. That’s what makes this movie real interesting for me.
TheAmityvilleHorror2In the early scenes as Brolin and Kidder stroll through the house, there’s some really excellent editing which truly caught me off-guard. I didn’t expect the quick cuts to, what ultimately are, the murders of Butch DeFeo Jr. These are the murders of course that happened in the now haunted house. I love how they’re incorporated here. As I said, some spot-on editing. Great stuff from editor Robert Brown, whose work includes Damien: Omen IIBrubakerThe Pope of Greenwich VillageThe Lost Boys, and Flatliners. Kudos to him for the stuff in this film. He has a real touch for the horror genre, as far as I’m concerned.

All the little touches are creepy. Such as George’s waking up at exactly 3:15 AM. This is supposedly the time when Butch DeFeo killed his family in their beds. So even though the supposed hauntings are inspiration for this, and I don’t believe the real story in so far as I’m concerned, I still find the whole thing utterly unsettling. The movie stands well enough on its own for me.
Still, the part that has always gotten to me the most is the scene when the babysitter gets locked in the closet. Damn, does it ever work on my nerves. I always feel so bad for her because I don’t like closed spaces, so I think if I’d have been locked in there – by a child or a ghost or whoever – I would lose my mind eventually. Plus, the blood on her knuckles, rapping on the door, beating against it; such a vicious image. Then the light goes out, and to this day, no matter how many times I’ve seen it my spine will chill. From bottom to top and back again. Great, spooky stuff!
axe-terrorThe reason my love for this movie endures is the atmosphere. Time and time again I’ve said it: atmosphere and tone, these are things which work for me. If a movie has those and can keep up relatively nicely with a bit of solid dialogue, add in some decent characters and you’ve sold me!
Stuart Rosenberg, as far as I’m concerned, is a classic director. Not everything he did was perfect, but I think he has enough wonderful pictures under his belt we can look back on his career to say it went well. He did some great ones – Brubaker with Robert Redford, Cool Hand Luke including the classic performance of Paul Newman, and The Pope of Greenwich Village featuring Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke in maybe the performances of their careers or at least close to it. So, I’d throw this film on the list. He’s good at crafting tension and suspense, in everything he has done. Most certainly here. There are a ton of moments that have me held close to the screen each time I see the movie. Some of the shots of the Lutz house are downright ominous and foreboding, I absolutely love them. That iconic red filtered shot of the Lutz house from the outside is KILLER! Dig that one, so much.

A particularly favourite shot of mine is at almost the 40 minute mark. George (Brolin) is putting wood in on the fire. The flames are crackling and licking up. You can barely see his features, but the fire casts on his face in a reddish glow; his beard/goatee looks as if it were the devil himself. Then, as he leans back, the glow leaves and he looks like a frightened man, losing his mind. Perfect stuff.
Not only do I love the shot, we get to see a great bit between Kidder and Brolin. The look in Brolin’s eyes is insanely perfect. He is one great actor, man. I’ve always thought that, anyways, aside from this movie. But there is something in his face, a great gift of expression, which works like a charm for the character of George Lutz. While I love a movie like The Shining, I’ve always agreed with Stephen King when he says that Jack Nicholson sort of starts off crazy; I mean, you get that typical Nicholson feel right from the very beginning in the opening car scene. Here, with Brolin’s depiction of George Lutz, it gives the genuine feeling that he is a man who is going crazy. At the beginning he’s definitely a sombre guy – I attribute that mostly to the fact he’s a bit of a serious guy, lots of stuff going on with his business, buying the house, probably how a lot of people might be in the situation. There’s something, however, which changes as time goes on, and as opposed to something like Nicholson’s performance – which I do enjoy – there’s that honest feeling something is going seriously awry in the Lutz house.
large amityville horror blu-ray10Margot Kidder is no slouch either. Ever since seeing Black Christmas and the under-seen/under-appreciated Brian De Palma horror-thriller Sisters I have been in love with this woman! Wonderful, talented actress. She is a true great. Her performance here matches the intensity of Brolin at the right times and we really get the feeling this is a woman who loves her husband, as she tries so hard to help him hold onto reality, but also works to the bone trying to protect her children.
Oh, and Rod Steiger – bad ass. Constant bad ass. I love him in this and I could watch it a hundred times just for his scenes because they’re enough to make you stand up and shout. He’s a classic actor and this is one role that will always, always come up when I think of his name. Solid stuff out of him, as is to be expected. He plays a typical role we’ve seen, a million times since, yet it’s one I would rank up there with Max Von Sydow in The Exorcist. Absolutely.

While I love this horror movie, tons, I’ll only be able to say it’s a 4 out of 5 star film. There are a few points of dialogue I’m not too keen on, mostly when it concerns other characters outside of the Lutz’s themselves. I think at times the script in general could’ve been tighter, mainly to compact things a bit more. Great film, in spite of its dubious “true” roots – still, I tend to find it’s a little longer than it needs to be. I think with Brolin and Kidder, with Steiger thrown in for good measure, this movie didn’t need to be close to 2 hours long. A solid hour and a half would’ve done the job quite proper.
Either way, it is a classic of the genre and will forever be a favourite of mine in the haunted house genre. Near the top. Great performances are what drives the best bits here, as well as good atmosphere and quality editing. Always recommend this to anyone who has to see it.

Psycho: Alfred Hitchcock & the Birth of the Slasher

Psycho. 1960. Dir.  Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Joseph Stefano; based on the novel by Robert Bloch.
Starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, and John McIntire. Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Rated PG. 109 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)

For my review of the sequel, Psycho II, click here.
For my review of the third installment in the franchise, Psycho III, click here.

For those who don’t know, Psycho tells the tale of Marion Crane who decides to take off on a whim with $40,000 trusted to her by her boss. While tired on the road, Maron stops off at the Bates Motel to get a room for the night. There, she meets a young man named Norman Bates; he lives up on the hill in the big house next to the motel. Norman seems fine, albeit a bit quirky, so Marion even has a low key supper with him at the motel.
However, Norman isn’t quite fine. See, Norman lives with his mother, just the two of them, and their relationship is, well – a bit odd to say the least. Once Marion goes missing, her sister, lover, and the police start sniffing around, and Norman starts to see a little more traffic at the Bates Motel – much to his dismay.

4714189672_84517b7ab2_o1-450x876This was my first introduction to Alfred Hitchcock. It’s funny – the movie is rated PG, directed by one of the most famous (arguably the most famous) filmmakers of all-time, contains definitely the most famous murder scene ever filmed if not the most famous scene period, and it’s classified as a horror.
In fact, a lot of people would say Psycho is the most influential horror film of all time, giving rise to the modern slasher in some respects (you can’t totally give this film all the credit because other films like Peeping Tom, and much later John Carpenter’s Halloween, really were a large part of that as well).

I just find it amazing how Hitchcock was able to put such a disturbing story on film, including the infamous shower scene (though the scene itself really isn’t graphic especially in terms of modern audiences and how desensitized we all are from not only film but the barrage of insane videos we now see on everything from CNN to YouTube), and yet still keep the rating PG. Of course, the ratings system has changed a little between now and then. It’s still rather amazing.
3981
The story of Psycho itself is incredible. I continually find it exciting even though I’ve seen it dozens of times, I know how things will play out, and yet viewing after viewing it holds up. I still feel a rush of panic for Norman (even though I clearly shouldn’t – a testament to both Bloch’s novel and Hitchcock’s filmmaking) as he tries to clean up Marion Crane’s room after Mother has had her fun. Just the way Perkins rushes around and frantically tries to cover things up. Just thinking about the time it was written, the time it was set, I love to imagine what it must’ve been like for serial killers pre-media frenzy surrounding people like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Green River Killer, et cetera. Poor Norman was ahead of his time. He didn’t know how these things were supposed to go. Watching him try to navigate the rough terrain of being a killer while still obviously being a fragile boy, almost a man-child, is really good stuff. It’s a disturbing tale, but Norman really does elicit both fear in us, as well as some form of pity; even on the most base of levels. And just the way in which Marion and Norman end up meeting, a real chance moment in time, is brilliant. The first time I saw the film, I was really surprised at how their two storylines converged, and suddenly it all became about Norman. Wonderful storytelling. No wonder Hitchcock was drawn to Bloch’s novel. Stefano really took the novel and turned into something his own, which Hitchcock in turn worked very well with; their picture of Norman Bates, as opposed to Bloch’s, turned the character into a much more sympathetic type person, and this really worked for the film’s plot quite well.

The entire film is one of those truly beautiful collaborative efforts. Everything here comes together to make a perfect movie. The cinematography, the sound, the script – I love it. Hitchcock weaved an intricate film here out of what could’ve been a simple effort from another lesser filmmaker.
For instance, on the Blu ray release from Universal there is a feature which looks at the infamous shower scene how it is presented in the finished film, and also a look at the scene without its music. Right there, it is so perfectly evident Psycho could not have been what it was if it hadn’t used all of its elements together to create the fear, shock, and tension. While the shower scene is still very disturbing without the score over top, there’s something extra that comes along with the score. In the quiet, you can hear Janet Leigh breathing, you hear the water falling from the shower head, all of it. With the score, you watch everything happen while the orchestral score behind the scene pounds out, creepy and loud, reinforcing all the stabs, the gasps, everything. Works so god damn well it’s fiendish.
4021As a film, Psycho is a perfect, flawless work of art. It isn’t hype. This is not a film you hear about all the time, being raved about and drooled over, just because it’s by Alfred Hitchcock, or just because it is considered classic. This is a magnificent piece of work, all around. There is no hype – what you see is what you get. Hitchcock was a master, no doubt. This film, while influential and all that, is just a cracking good piece of movie history. Full stop.

RitNpY2Wdlazf4z3G90TBbd7o1_500
One of the most famous dissolve shots in the history of film

The Blu ray release from Universal Studios Home Entertainment is one of the better titles sitting on my shelf. It is packed to the brim with extras. Though I don’t care for the Truffaut interview (I think his films are wonderful but his opinions are often divisive in a negative way and, in my humble opinion, sort of bullshit at least when it comes to the original novel Psycho by Bloch), the rest of the features here are just so sweet.
There are the typical Making Of featurettes, however, the major one here goes through everything from the story, how it was adapted and found, et cetera, to pre-production, production, and post – the whole nine yards; it’s a 90-minutes documentary that is totally worth the time to watch. There’s a nice feature about the sound of the film, including how they restored everything for the Blu ray. My favourite, though, is the Shower Scene breakdown I mentioned before – you get to see the scene back-to-back in its finished form with the scene having the score taken out, as well as great little storyboards by Saul Bass. These are absolutely brilliant pieces of extras to include. Fascinating stuff. The commentary is done by Stephen Rebello, author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho’.
All in all, this release deserves every single bit of 5 out of 5 stars. There’s no way it deserves any less; it needs more. There are enough features here to keep you long busy after purchasing Psycho. On top of that, the transfer is pristine, and you’ll marvel at how beautiful it looks in glorious black and white.

I recommend every fan of this movie, every Hitchcock fan, go get this Blu ray now, sit down, and love every last single solitary, picturesque moment of it. There is nothing like this film, even today, even when so many other great films are made. Psycho itself is a classic, and always will be. It deserves to be remembered until the end of human existence – it’s one of those films.

Read my review for the second sequel to the original, the underrated Psycho III.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is Celluloid Terror

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  1974.  Dir.  Tobe Hooper.  Starring Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, Wiliam Vail, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, and Gunnar Hansen.  Vortex.  18+.  83 minutes.

★★★★★

Between a mix of Tobe Hooper’s raw filmmaking style, and my ability to empathize fairly well, I was absolutely shaken when I first saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s the reason why horror filmmakers are perpetually fascinated by that same recurring plot of “murderous cannibal family lives in the woods and kills people off who wander into their home”. It’s one of the reasons I love horror films in general.  It influenced, and continues to influence, a number of generations of horror fans and filmmakers alike.texas1z.png I remember my mother, who isn’t a stranger to horror (she read most of Stephen King’s work when I was growing up and passed all the books of his she owned onto me), telling me about the first time she watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and said it’d terrified her; quote unquote, the scariest thing ever. Of course, being a young male and thinking my mom couldn’t possibly offer me any insight on the horror genre, I went ahead and watched it anyways.
Needless to say, my mom has a fairly accurate opinion about what a scary film is. The first time I saw the movie is forever imprinted in my brain.

There’s something never right even from the very start of TCM, as we get the cringe-worthy sound accompanying the camera flashes while viewing macabre images. Then of course it kicks up a notch after the gang we’re going on a trip with along the Texas highway picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be far beyond stable. Hooper works in a lot of suspense, and an absolutely unparalleled air of dread before finally letting Leatherface loose for the first time. I remember first watching this when I was 12 years old (I was only born in 1985, so it would have been around ’97 somewhere), surely not supposed to be according to my parents. When Leatherface first blows through that door with that shriek of his, attacking the unsuspecting victim, I was absolutely terrified.
The-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-75Even 20 years or so after first scaring audiences in the mid-seventies, it was still working its magical horror on people on my sorry ass. Today, I can still throw it on and be shocked when first meeting Grandpa; the scene where they try to get him to take some of her blood is at once horrifying, and also darkly comic. After all the years of desensitizing myself with horror of all kinds, I can still find a creepy thrill from TCM.
I put myself in the shoes of these people- imagine encountering something like Leatherface. You’d be petrified. The whole family are disturbing characters in their own right, and they bring some black comedy to such a wild horror film. Hooper’s raw way of filming TCM brought a whole new element to the idea of horror, and people for years to come (and still continuing on into the foreseeable future) would try emulating its feel, but nothing can ever top it for the gritty terror it induces.
You can pretend all you want, but if Leatherface burst out from some shut-up door in an old house where you were looking around, you’d not only be terrified, you would most likely die. Along with letting loose most bodily functions. Isn’t that terrifying enough? Hooper didn’t have to add much to make this terrifying for me except the script itself, and the performances that came out of it. I feel a lot of it, if not all, was very natural, and very much how I would imagine people might really react.
THE-TEXAS-CHAIN-SAW-MASSACRE-1974-450x252All in all, this movie gets a full 5-star rating. Hands down. One of the best, and continually most frightening horror films I have yet to see. It always makes me wonder when I am deep in the woods camping somewhere, or hiking, if there really may be people out there living in a big creepy house, killing whoever they can manage to get through their doors. Any film that lingers in your mind, making you wonder the impossible is a solid film to me.
I also love how Hooper was partly inspired by the tales he heard of the infamous Ed Gein, whom always played Muse to some of other very famous horror icons including Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, as well as the iconic mommy’s boy Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho; Gein used to make things out of skin, including a ‘woman suit’ he apparently used to put on and howl at the moon. You can clearly see where the inspiration for dear ole Leatherface came from while peering into the dark world of Gein. Not that he was like Leatherface much more than at face value (get it – face?), or any of the other characters, but there are bits and pieces of Gein littered throughout them. The most outrageous, of course, are here in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and I love every last second of it.