Tag Archives: The Cat and the Canary

My 2011 in Film: Favorite Non-2011 Films

My Favorite Films of 2011 are posted here, but like any good film buff, I also watched a whole lot of non-2011 films. Here are some of my favorites of those first-time watches in loosely descending order (more favorites at the top). I didn’t limit this to a specific number. If I feel like it’s worth mentioning and I want to write a few words about it, it’s on here.

Le cercle rouge (1967)

I had a feeling I was going to like this film, just based on how much I’ve liked Jean-Pierre Melville’s other films, especially Le samourai, which, if I recall correctly, topped my favorites list in 2010. I had no idea I’d like it as much as I did. Melville weaves several plotlines together, involving a criminal just out of prison, the mob he steals money from, a detective chasing a different escaped con, a former sharpshooter cop who’s now an alcoholic, and more. Each of them has their own narrative rise and fall, and each character has their own arc, but they all interplay in an incredibly intricate way, as different ones join up on a heist (one of the best heist sequences in cinema) and others try to track them down for their own reasons. It’s hard to explain, but very easy and clear to watch. Brilliant work on all levels.

Blue Valentine (2010)

This film just missed my 2010 best of list (I saw it mere days after last year’s posts were made), but it would’ve ended up about #4 on that list. It might be even higher now. The film parallels the beginning and end of a single romance, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams (both in career-best performances), juxtaposing the courtship and the break-up of this couple to incredible emotional effect. Despite the temporal contrivance, the film is incredibly raw and realistic, with no easy answers for what causes a couple who seem so perfect for each other to hit the skids so badly. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Why in the world did it take me this long to watch this movie? That phrase actually applies to the next two as well, but the prestige of those two be darned, this is the one that I can’t get out of my head. The tales surrounding it are as legendary as the film itself, playing on the long-standing bitter rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who here play two aging showbiz sisters who have a long-standing bitter rivalry. It may be high camp, but this is quite possibly Bette Davis’s best performance – it’s mean and grotesque and pitiful and naive. And the movie itself is quite possibly the best example of Hollywood gothic, yes, even giving Sunset Boulevard a run for its money.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

There is a reason I’d been avoiding watching this classic must-see. I’m not a big Brando fan. I’d seen On the Waterfront, Sayonara, The Godfather, and more, and I just didn’t really get the whole Brando thing. But I finally sat down with this one and suddenly GOT IT. He’s utterly magnetic here, and the film is far more stylistically interesting than I’d expected. It wears its stage origins on its sleeve, but in a heightened way that works, and the clash of Leigh’s old-school Hollywood acting with Brando’s muttering animalism is palpable. Now I want to go rewatch all those other Brando films – I bet I’ll like them more.

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

And the reason I’d been avoiding this one was simply that I figured it’d be depressing and Important Movie-esque. (Also I dislike Steinbeck based on “The Red Pony” traumatizing me as a child.) Wrong on both counts. It’s certainly not a happy peppy movie, and a ton of bad things happen to this Dust Bowl family, but I wasn’t prepared for how gorgeously this is shot (Gregg Toland, should’ve known) and how intense it can be, sharing in this family’s troubles and little joys, as well as dealing with the subplot of Tom Joad’s fugitive status. His final speech is justly praised, but the whole thing is pretty great.

The Cat and the Canary (1927)

Often cited as one of the prime examples of the haunted house mystery comedy, a genre that was apparently prominent in the silent era, and rightly so. Simply a ton of fun from start to finish, as a group of people gather in a long-deserted mansion to read the will of their crotchety old relative. There are threats of insanity, a murderer running rampant, an asylum escapee on the loose, plus various positive and negative interpersonal interactions among the varied potential heirs. Moody cinematography counterbalances the humor in the plot.

For a Few Dollars More (1965)

I watched the Man with No Name trilogy all out of order (I’d already seen the other two…yeah, backwards), but Jonathan wasn’t about to let me get away with not having seen this one, which is his favorite. I still like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly more, but there’s a lot I did like about this one, especially the way the story really follows Lee Van Cleef instead of Clint Eastwood – that was an interesting touch. Also, the bank robbery segment is just awesome. Next up – watching all three of these actually in order. :)

The Godless Girl (1929)

I always enjoy Cinefamily’s Silent Treatment nights because I get to see films that are rarely if ever screened and aren’t on DVD, plus learn a bunch about silent cinema and 1920s Hollywood and chat with film archivists. I’m always appreciative of the films I see, but to be honest, a lot of times, they’re mostly of historical significance. This is an exception, because this film is gangbusters fun. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, it’s the story of a clashing set of teenagers – one the leader of a group of young Christians, the other the leader of a group of Atheists. After the groups get in a riotous fight, they’re carted off to reform school, where they get to know each other. Frankly, there are like five or six sections of story (and tones!). But they’re all crazy and fun, and it ends with a massive escape/chase sequence followed by a climactic fire.

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

Seems like every year a film I’ve never heard of wins Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, upsetting one I either wanted to win or thought was a shoo-in. And then every year when I get around to seeing the actual winner, I’m blown away. This is an extremely solid mystery/character study of a detective flashing back to that one case, you know that one he never quite managed to solve. It’s tough to find the balance between mystery and character in films, but this one does it wonderfully, and with a lot of style to boot – just wait for the seemingly one-take stadium shot. It’s incredible.

The Naked Island (1960)

I happened to be volunteering on a night when Cinefamily screened this film, which I’d never heard of and knew nothing about – I hadn’t even read the blurb on the Cinefamily schedule. I stuck around to watch it anyway, and I’m certainly glad I did. An almost silent picture, depicting the day-to-day lives of a family struggling to maintain their farm on an unwelcoming island. Much of the film is just watching them cart water from the mainland, carry it up a treacherous hill, and water their crops one at a time. Sounds boring, but it isn’t, and when larger events do happen, they hit you like a ton of bricks.

The Illusionist (2010)

A sweet and simple ode to the entertainments of the past, the pleasures that progress has robbed us of in search of bigger, faster, louder thrills. The main character, once a popular vaudeville magician, finds himself less and less wanted as rock bands and television replace his craft – all except for one little girl, entranced by his magic. Like Sylvain Chomet’s previous film The Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist is almost silent – as befits its origin as an unproduced script from Jacques Tati. Charming, simple, warm, and wistful.

Love in the Afternoon (1972)

Also known as Chloe in the Afternoon, this is one of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales films, and so far, I think it’s my favorite. Each of these films presents some sort of moral dilemma, but not in a didactic way – in this case a happily married man daydreams about other women, with no intention of taking action – until his friend Chloe decides to seduce him. Like most French New Wave films, it’s emotionally aloof in such a way that you actually end up supplying the emotions yourself, and this one presents its characters without judgement, but with a great deal of fairness and empathy. I love New Wave noncommital-ness, and this is right in my ballpark.

Night Train to Munich (1940)

I already knew director Carol Reed was more than just The Third Man, from having seen The Fallen Idol, but this would’ve clenched it – Night Train to Munich is a WWII spy story with double agents, concentration camps, undercover espionage, and daring mountaintop chases, all of which it does with a wit and panache that set it apart from most other spy films. It’s classy and silly and genuinely thrilling. Also, and this is not unimportant, it knows when to stop and doesn’t clutter everything up with needless denoument and codas.

The Man With the Golden Arm (1955)

Frank Sinatra may have already won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for From Here to Eternity two years earlier, but with this film he really cemented his standing as an actor. Pushing the envelope of the Production Code, the film tells of Frankie Machine, a card dealer and drug addict who just wants to get clean and play the drums, but he can’t get out of the gambling game – tied in by debts and drugs and a shrew of a wife. It’s not always easy to watch, and it does have an old-school realist melodrama angle, but when it’s on, boy is it on. The withdrawal scene gave ME the DTs.

The Descent (2005)

Director Neil Marshall continually impresses me with his genre films, and this one was no different – a group of girlfriends tries to reconnect after one of them experiences tragedy by going spelunking. But in an unknown cave, anything can happen, and everything does. This film is great on every level, with the dangers of the cave itself creating enough intensity, but the film is hardly content to stop with that. The pacing, the use of sound design, and the thematic content all raise this film above your standard horror thriller.

My Winnipeg (2007)

Easily the most accessible Guy Maddin film I’ve seen so far, and thus my favorite, at least until I get more accustomed to his extremely unique style of filmmaking – this time he takes us on an idiosyncratic tour of his hometown of Winnipeg, a surreal blending of his childhood, his attempts at recreating his childhood to deal with past trauma, and legends and stories of the town itself. It’s associative, bizarre, dreamlike, and definitely an experience.

Wayne’s World (1992)

I totally did not expect to enjoy this film as much as I did – I had it mentally lumped in with a bunch of other early ’90s comedies that just struck me as stupid and juvenile, but Jonathan convinced me to watch it, and yeah. This one is much smarter than it seems on the surface, with a lot of clever writing and meta humor that worked like gangbusters for me. Jonathan already quoted this one a bunch (leaving me shrugging my shoulders in ignorance), but now we’re quoting it together ALL THE TIME. See our “He Says, She Says” post.

Changing Husbands (1924)

Another hit from the Silent Treatment folks at Cinefamily, this one has Leatrice Joy (no, I’d never heard of her) in a double role as a bored rich housewife who wants to be an actress and a poor browbeated actress who just wants some peace and rest. Yep, you guessed it, they run into each other and decide to switch places for a bit, since the rich woman’s husband is out of town anyway. Surprise, he comes back and wants to take his “wife” on holiday. More mix-ups ensue, with a lot of sly innuendo and some great comic timing from all involved. It’s frothy, but great fun, and one of my favorite new-to-me silents of the year.

Batman: The Movie (1966)

I hesitate to put this movie (a big-screen film to go along with the campy ’60s TV show) into the “so bad it’s good” category, because I think the people who made it knew exactly what they were making, and did it all – the cheesy line readings, the over-abundance of villains, the ridiculous plot elements – totally on purpose. There’s no way they didn’t, there are too many self-referential jokes (“some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb”). If you go into this with the same kind of pure enjoyment of ridiculousity that they did, you’ll have fun. I sure did.

Woman in the Window (1944) / Scarlet Street (1945)

I’m lumping these two together because it’s hard not to. In 1944, Fritz Lang got together with Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea, and made a quiet little noir film about a middle-aged man who falls for a younger woman and gets drawn into a crime because of her. It worked out so well. They all got together and did the same thing the next year. The details of the plot are different of course, but that trajectory is the same. Both films are solid noirs; it’s hard to rank them against each other, though, because WotW has a better and more interesting plot overall, but has a serious cop-out ending, while SS follows through on the ending beautifully, but has a less interesting/believable plot throughout. Both worthwhile, though, especially for noir fans.

Loves of a Blonde (1965)

Cinefamily did a series on the Czech New Wave a couple of years ago, but either they didn’t play this Milos Forman entry, or I missed that night. But seeing a few of those definitely gave me a taste for them, and I went into Loves of a Blonde with high hopes – which were not misplaced. With definite French New Wave influences, the film basically follows a young girl in a rural factory town in Czechoslovakia, who eschews the middle-aged men who remain in the town after most young men have been conscripted in favor of a pianist from Prague. But the story is less important than the individual scenes, vignettes like three leches macking on girls at a factory-sponsored dance, the girl getting lectured on propriety back at her hostel, and the encounter with the boy’s parents when she arrives unannounced on his doorstep. Take the focus on the youthtful and mundane from the Nouvelle Vague and add in a specifically Czech-under-communism austerity, and that’s this film.

49 Up (2005)

This can kind of stand in for the entire Up series of documentaries – it’s difficult to judge them separately, and this is the most recent one (though if they stay on schedule, 56 Up would be out this year). The premise of the series is that in 1964, a TV production team got a group of fourteen British 7-year-olds from different regions and class backgrounds and interviewed them on various topics. Every seven years they’ve gone back and interviewed the same people (though not all of them have agreed to be in every episode). It’s fascinating, both in the ways it upholds the original premise that a child’s future is set by the age of seven, in terms of societal status, and the ways it subverts those expectations – not to mention how it delves into the nature of documentary filmmaking itself. I don’t like documentaries that much, and this one is largely talking heads, but it is absolutely entrancing.

Vagabond (1985)

After being a huge fan of Agnès Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7 last year, I wanted more Varda, but I put off seeing this one for a good while, largely because it just looked freaking depressing. And yeah, it kind of is. It’s about a twenty-something girl who roams the roads, hitchhiking, sleeping wherever she can, working for a while or living with people as she’s able. But the film opens with her dead in a ditch, then backtracks to how she got there, so you know it isn’t going to romanticize the life of the open road. Even though this was made long after the New Wave’s heyday, it does have that same kind of non-committal sympathy that works so well for me – Varda isn’t going to manipulate you into feeling sorry for the girl, she’s just going to show you want happened and allow your feelings to grow naturally. She’s not always an attractive character – often being rude or dismissive to those who would help her, until it’s too late – yet Varda’s technique works. It’s a really powerful, often hard to watch, but very rewarding film.

Robin Hood (1922)

I couldn’t pass up a chance to see a bunch of Douglas Fairbanks silents at Cinefamily earlier this year, and I think this was my favorite of the lot – it tells a good bit of the backstory to Robin Hood, depicting Robin of Locksley’s friendship with King Richard and his falling for Maid Marion before Richard ever went off to the Crusades, allowing Prince John to oppress the people and create the need for Robin Hood. Some of that gets a little long, but it’s a nice setup that most versions of Robin Hood skip over. After that, it’s really pretty similar to the Errol Flynn The Adventures of Robin Hood, but Fairbanks is even more athletic and exuberant than Flynn.

Zazie dans le metro (1960)

I still don’t quite know what to make of this early Louis Malle film, but I know I enjoyed watching it, and will likely enjoy it even more on future rewatches. Taken from a Raymond Queneau book (he was a prominent literary experimenter), the film is delightfully absurd, with basically no plot stringing along its series of nonsensical vignettes. It’s definitely got that New Wave sensibility that appeals to me so much, but I’m sure there are also satirical elements that slipped by me entirely. Even so, it was a whole lot of fun.

Carrie (1976)

Finally got around to this horror classic this October, after meaning to for the past two Octobers and failing. Despite knowing all about the bullying and the prom scene already, this film was a LOT different than I was expecting. The crazy mother, for one thing, and then the whole ending that went on much past the prom scene and complicates it a lot. In some ways, I didn’t like where the ending went, but I am highly intrigued by it and wish people would talk about it more, rather than just accepting the film as a pro-feminist revenge-on-bullies story. In any case, the film is really effective at putting us on Carrie’s side through Spacek’s wide-eyed performance and the agonizing yet lovely leadup to the climax at the prom, even if DePalma does overdo the visual flamboyance when he doesn’t really need to.

A Man Escaped (1956)

I have a love-hate relationship with Robert Bresson. I love Pickpocket, but really dislike Lancelot du Lac and felt pretty ambivalent towards Diary of a Country Priest. This one seemed more on the Pickpocket wavelength, and sure enough, it joins the “love” side of Bresson’s filmography for me. The film takes its time, as the main character is member of the French resistance imprisoned by Nazi forces, who works carefully and patiently to plan and execute an escape. Despite the slow pace, though (something Bresson is known for generally), this film maintains tension perfectly, and doesn’t get dull at all.

Back to the Future II (1989)

When Jonathan found out I had only seen the first Back to the Future film and that I hardly remembered any of that, he sat me down with the whole trilogy almost immediately. Not only did I enjoy the first one a lot more than I initially had, but Part II instantly joined the ranks of sequels that are better than the originals. The way that II coils back on I with amazing intricacy is great, but I was also really taken by the future world (which is NOW, by the way, if you work the dates out…I’d say we failed to progress in certain areas quite as much as expected, but maybe we’re better off in other ways). Of course, being the history nut that I am, I also really enjoyed Part III, but not quite enough for it to make this list. It’s hovering right below it.

Bigger Than Life (1956)

Long before David Lynch (Blue Velvet) or Sam Mendes (American Beauty) satirized the underbelly of American suburbia, Nicholas Ray brought this scathing attack against suburban values – or the veneer that suburbia tries to uphold to hide the darker things lying beneath. Here James Mason secretly works two jobs to support his family, but a malicious disease takes its toll on him, the only thing that helps being large doses of painkillers – which he becomes addicted to. He eventually devolves into madness, and yes, there’s quite a bit of melodrama in the film, but if you go along with its excesses, you’ll find one of the darkest films about the ’50s ever made.

Born to Kill (1947)

I’d never heard of this noir film until a friend lent it to me, but hey, Robert Wise usually makes good pictures, right? Right. The always-impressive Claire Trevor leaves town after she finds a friend murdered, not wanting to get involved, but unbeknownst to her, the murderer (her friend’s jealous boyfriend) is insinuating himself into her life, ALSO not knowing that she knew the victim. It’s a crazy mess of fate, mutual attraction and repulsion, double-crosses, and both a femme fatale AND an homme fatale. Plus, Elisha Cook Jr. in a meaty supporting role. A lesser-known noir this may be, but that’s a mistake – it’s definitely one of the more interesting ones I’ve seen.

Taking Off (1971)

After making a splash with the Czech New Wave (see Loves of a Blonde, above), Milos Forman made his way to Hollywood success with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. But first he did this little-known film, his first in the United States, about a teenage girl who runs away to be part of a group of hippies, and her parents trying to find her. It’s got its ridiculous parts (which have a strange tendency to turn sublime, like the scene where all the parents learn how to smoke a joint to try to understand their children better), but it’s ultimately a quite moving and wistful portrait of two generations, and the longing of both to find meaning and connection.

The Constant Nymph (1943)

Long kept out of circulation due to rights issues, TCM finally got it worked out to show this Oscar-nominated Joan Fontaine film at the TCM Film Festival this year, and it was pretty great to see it with a whole crowd of people who’ve been waiting for it for a very long time. It’s a bit of an unusual film, though, with Fontaine a spright of a girl who breathlessly falls in love with a family friend who still thinks of her as a child. It’s chockfull of melodrama, but Fontaine plays it all with such eager naivete that it’s impossible not to like her, despite the underlying ick factor their ages make kind of hard to ignore.

This is the Night (1932)

Hyped up at the TCM Festival for being Cary Grant’s debut feature, there’s a lot more than that here to like. Basically playing second lead to Roland Young’s hapless gentleman, Grant is an athlete whose wife Thelma Todd is stepping out with Young (no, it’s not believable, just go with it), but in order to keep Grant from finding out, Young hires an actress to pretend to be his wife. It’s convoluted, but thanks to a stellar lead and supporting cast and a solid script, it’s as witty and charming as any 1930s movie – it’s unfortunate that it’s so little known. Definitely deserves a look.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

Silly and nonsensical story? Check. Ridiculous line readings? Check. Cheesy stop-motion effects? Check. Actually, the special effects are kind of awesome, I love watching stop-motion animation. It’s not believable, but it has a tactile charm that CGI loses along the way. The story here is basic fantasy adventure stuff with sorcerers and princesses and giant monsters, but it’s all in good fun, and I had a great time watching it.

Good Morning (1959)

I’ve tried to watch Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (generally touted as his best/most important film) at least two or three times and always failed, getting bogged down in my lack of knowledge of Japanese culture and the film’s deliberate pacing. A friend suggested I start with Good Morning instead to get into Ozu, and that was an excellent suggestion. This is a sunny, funny film, the loose plot centered on a pair of kids who want a television more than anything, but with plenty of time given to other vignettes around their apartment area. Charming and breezy.

Gremlins (1984)

I mostly snuck this one in here just because I was shocked at how much fun this film is – I thought it was just gonna be a horror film (and I knew the basic “don’t feed them after midnight” premise), but it’s REALLY goofy, and that’s what I liked about it. I loved all the inventions, I loved the gremlins having fun at the movies, I thought all that stuff was great – even more so because I had no idea it existed.

Scorecard: October

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

As usual in recent years, I devoted October almost solely to horror films, and actually managed to catch up on several that I’ve been meaning to see for a LONG time. I only loved a few of these, but I enjoyed watching them all. It was a good month, all in all, with a lot of variety despite sticking pretty much exclusively to a single genre. Horror has a lot of facets! Most of these capsules are recycled from posts at Row Three, so if you read me there, you’ve seen most of this – the only other film I saw in October was Take Shelter, so that capsule is brand new. I kind of like focusing on a single theme for a month. Maybe I’ll do it more often. (I probably won’t – I always say stuff like that and then don’t do it.)

What I Loved

The Cat and the Canary

It figures that my favorite new-to-me film of the month would turn out to be a silent. I think I’m made backwards or something. Heh. Anyway, this “old dark house” film was namechecked at the screening of The Bat I went to earlier this month (see capsule below), and even though I liked The Bat well enough, THIS is the film it largely wanted to be. I saw “largely” because this film is not a crime film in the same way, and those crime elements are solid in The Bat. The Cat and the Canary focuses on a last testament left by a crotchety old man twenty years ago – he stipulated waiting twenty years after his death to read it, and this is the time, with all his relatives gathered like vultures in his spooky old house to find out who will get his fortune. His instructions are complicated, involving a second inheritor if the main one proves to be insane, which leads to much suspicion all around. Add in a potential escaped lunatic running around through hidden passageways in the house and a mystery involving the family diamonds, plus some well-done comedy around the disparate group of people, not to mention the quite excellent Expressionist-style cinematography and really innovative animated titles, and this is a super-fun time. Is it scary? Well, maybe not, but there are some moments of genuine suspense and tension, and a few of the visuals are extremely creepy. I posted a longer review here.
1927 USA. Director: Paul Leni. Starring: Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Forrest Shanley, Tully Marshall, Gertrude Astor, Flora Finch, Arthur Edmund Carew, Martha Mattox.
Seen October 25 on Netflix Instant.

Carrie

I’ve had Carrie on my horror to-watch list every October for about three years – in other words, as long as I’ve had a horror to-watch list. I finally got to it! And despite its reputation and that I knew the basic beats of the menstruation-bullying-to-prom-night-revenge plot, the film still had a lot of surprises for me, most of them good. First off, Carrie’s mom is CRAZY – it’s a little disheartening to find yet another crazy Christian immortalized on celluloid, but I think it’s pretty obvious that she is totally off the deep end, not only extremely strict on Carrie’s interactions with boys, but insistent that natural biological functions are markers of specific sexual sins and that Carrie’s telepathic ability is a sign of demon possession. Although, to be fair, the film doesn’t really explain where that comes from. Anyway, what makes the film strong and memorable is the focus on Carrie, whose transformation into queen of the prom is utterly beautiful and utterly heartbreaking because you know what’s in store for her – the lead-up, though, is so well-done (if a bit retroactively cliched) that you ache for her to have her perfect night. The denoument had me a little baffled, I will admit, though, and undermines Carrie’s deserved revenge; I’m still not sure what I make of it. Plus De Palma has a tendency to go for flashy shots when he doesn’t need them – the writing and acting here is strong enough that he could afford to save those flashy moments for really striking scenes, giving them greater impact. Longer review here.
1976 USA. Director: Brian De Palma. Starring: Sissy Spacek, William Katt, Piper Laurie, John Travolta.
Seen October 19 on DVD.

The Descent

My interest in seeing this cave creature feature went up a lot after I quite enjoyed Neil Marshall’s Centurion, but the opportunity never presented itself until now. Six young women who have shared various outdoors adventures with each other meet up again to do a little spelunking a year after one member of the group lost her husband and daughter in a car accident. The trip is supposed to kind of bring the friends back together again after the trauma, but things, well, don’t go according the plan. Tensions rise when the trip planner reveals it’s an unexplored cave and that cave-in might just block the only entrance; even this part of the film is good, with some quite intense cave-in and climbing scenes. But they’re not alone in the cave, and the film continues to ramp up all the way to the end, balancing out and out action and thrills with quiet moments that are often just as nail-bitingly intense. The scares here are solid, and even though some are jump scares (which I don’t necessarily like), a lot of them are also the quieter “evil thing randomly in a shot” kind of scares that I LOVE. The effects are surprisingly good despite what I assume is a relatively low budget, and though it’s not hard to predict the order of deaths, there are still a lot of surprises in HOW they come. I apparently watched the director’s cut version, which has quite a different ending merely by having an extra couple of minutes of footage to the end of the theatrical cut – from what my boyfriend was telling me, I muchly prefer the darker DVD cut.
2005 UK. Director: Neil Marshall. Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone.
Seen October 16 on DVD.

What I Liked

The Fog

This was a nearly random pick off Netflix Instant (not totally random, because I have been meaning to watch more John Carpenter films), and I knew almost nothing about it. I haven’t seen the remake or anything. I ended up really enjoying it – Carpenter has a talent for the kind of creepy scares that I love. Not quite jump scares, but where something just appears (with no cut or music to make it a jump) or you become aware of the bad guy’s presence and it sends chills down your spine. I love that, and there are several scenes in here that did that for me. The story is based on a ghost story (told wonderfully by John Houseman to a bunch of kids in the first scene) about a group of people killed 100 years earlier when their ship wrecked in a massive fog. Legend has it that when the fog returns, so will they, and this apparently is the year for it. Fog is creepy anyway, hiding things until they’re right upon you and tending toward exactly the kind of reveals I just mentioned. And there’s more to the story, as the priest in the town uncovers, that means these ghosts are not just unsettled due to their violent deaths, but actually seeking revenge. Not all of this plot works out totally, and the end is fairly nonsense-making, but on a scene-by-scene basis, I loved this. I actually liked it a little bit more than Halloween, which I’m sure I’ll get eviscerated for, but it’s because I like the ghost back story more (despite the nonsense-making). Halloween is the tighter, better movie, but The Fog appealed to my sensibilities more.
1980 USA. Director: John Carpenter. Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, John Houseman.
Seen October 24 on Netflix Instant.

Halloween

Yes, I had never seen this before, though it’s been on my list for a few years. Really, I don’t have much interest in slasher films, but I felt like I needed to see the first entry in each of the major franchises just to be able to say I had and have some level of competence as a film buff. I expected Halloween to be one of the best of those initial films, and it pretty much is. The film establishes Michael Myers with a creepy first-person opening, then immediately jumps ahead to him escaping from the mental institution where he’s been ever since – enough back story to set him up as a character, but not enough to risk falling into the psychoanalysis explanations that too many remakes fall into. But we’re also introduced to Jamie Lee Curtis’s character along with her less-well-grounded friends, giving us a connection to her that a lot of later slasher films eschew (to their detriment). And then the film does those creepy reveals and disappearances that I like so much, even if Carpenter here tends to announce them with obvious music cues. I like his score for the film, so I didn’t mind too much, but some of them I think would’ve been more effective if Michael had just appeared with no score backup. The moment in the screencap above is the best. Anyway, by the time the killing actually gets going, the atmosphere is sufficiently built and it steamrolls to the end nicely. Still, like I mentioned above under The Fog, a psycho killing teenagers is not really that interesting to me as a basic plotline. It’s handled here better than most movies I’ve seen, but it doesn’t really grab me beyond the level of craft.
1978 USA. Director: John Carpenter. Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Tony Moran, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles, Charles Ciphers.
Seen October 27 on DVD.

Eyes Without a Face

For once I made good on a promise to see a film soon after I made it, thanks to a couple of Row Three-ers talking it up recently. I won’t say I loved it immediately, but I can definitely see the haunting and disturbing beauty that draws people to it. Dr. Génessier is one of the most clinical and detached monsters I’ve seen in cinema – he doesn’t even seem to care that much about his daughter Christiane, whose facial scarring he’s trying to fix via skin grafts. She even indicates that she’s more of a guinea pig to him, a convenient way for him to practice surgical grafts of this level of complexity. Despite our intellectual understanding of her plight, it remains a little hard to empathize with her – that’s partially due to the blank mask she wears to cover her injury, and also to her seeming indifference (for a while, at least) to the girls her father kidnaps and operates on to get faces for her – but in a way, that very distance is horrific in and of itself. Christiane doesn’t say a whole lot, so we’re mostly left with this masked girl wandering around an ornate house, a house which is hers but yet she seems utterly alien in it. That otherworldly quality continues to the ambiguous but poetic ending; the film is more like a strange dream than a horror film (it doesn’t go for scares), though I will say, the operation scene was far more graphic than I expected!
1960 France. Director: Georges Franju. Starring: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Edith Scob.
Seen October 23 on HuluPlus.

Take Shelter

My one new release, non-horror film of the month! Although, in a way, it is pretty scary – more on the level of a psychological drama/thriller than horror, but still. Shannon turns in yet another fantastic performance as a working class husband and father plagued by nightmares (and sometimes daytime visions) of a massive encroaching storm. He knows mental illness runs in his family (his mother has been hospitalized since he was ten), and fears he may be suffering from schizophrenia, but even as he takes steps to seek medical treatment and therapy, he can’t fight the compulsion to fix up the old storm shelter outside his house to protect his family from the storm he dreads. This causes havoc in his family, already dealing with a lot due to the young daughter’s deafness – aside from his instability frightening his wife (one of several fine roles for Chastain this year) and child, his actions threaten his job and thus the medical insurance that would cover his daughter’s cochlear implant. It’s a lot to deal with, but writer/director Nichols shows remarkable restraint in focusing on this family and their day-to-day interactions, many of which are wonderful and normal – the constant threat of breakdown is meaningful because all the actors, including young Stewart, do such a great job of making this family real to us. The storm metaphor is an obvious one, but it works, and a bunch of the scenes just play like gangbusters. It repeats itself a bit sometimes and could’ve been trimmed a bit, but this is a very strong second feature from Nichols (his previous Shotgun Stories I actually own via some blog contest I won, but have never watched), with some great visuals ably supported by a great score and a raft of solid performances.
2011 USA. Director: Jeff Nichols. Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Wingham.
Seen October 29 at a Laemmle cinema.

The Wicker Man

Another one that’s been on my horror to-watch list for years; how I made it this long knowing as little about the story as I did I’m not sure. I knew there was something about a remote village and cultists, but that’s about it. Religious/ideological battles are at the heart of this film much more strongly than I expected. Police detective Woodward heads to this remote Scottish village on a tip that a girl there has gone missing, but when he gets there, everyone (including the girl’s mother) denies that she even existed. Sensing something’s up, the detective keeps poking around, running across rituals and teachings that hearken back to pre-Christian paganism. He doesn’t appear to be a particularly strong Christian in a personal sense, but he’s explicitly saving his virginity for his upcoming marriage, and when confronted with the contented villagers practicing public orgies and teaching their children about the Maypole as a phallic symbol, he can’t quite stand it and goes all holier-than-thou on them, much to their amusement. The film skews toward the pagans for much of its running time, as Woodward comes across as a bumbling interloper interfering in things that aren’t his business, but that only makes the eventual climax that much more disturbing. Note I didn’t say “scary.” The film isn’t really scary in a visceral way, but by end (which is somehow both surprising and inevitable), it is existentially frightening. I suspect that sense will increase on rewatch, when I’m not as focused on figuring out what’s going to happen. Oh, and for the record, I did love the inclusion of all the weird folk music which almost threatens to make the film an out-and-out musical for a little while. It’s a weirder film than I was expecting, but a less scary one.
1973 UK. Director: Robin Hardy. Starring: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt.
Seen October 13 on IFC (via DVR).

[Rec] 2

The first [rec] was a fantastic example of the first-person camera found-footage technique (one of the few that’s fairly internally consistent), and made great use of its claustrophobic environments. The second one picks up right where it left off, with our intrepid reporter in the attack on the verge of being caught by the virus’s progenitor, then cuts to a SWAT team about to enter the building to shut down whatever is causing the attacks. The scares here aren’t as effective because they’re more out in the open – instead of a creepy feeling of something being just out of sight, the infected here are right there in your face. Which is more gross, but less scary. There are some really interesting things done with structure, though, as parts of the film are done from the point of view of a group of kids who think it’d be cool to break into the building – they’re pretty freaking annoying, but seeing some of the things from a different perspective is nice. The tension ramps up toward the end, and there’s a fairly neat use of night vision. I enjoyed the film, but it doesn’t have the pure viseral thrills of the first.
2009 Spain. Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza. Starring: Jonathan Mellor, Manuela Velasco, Óscar Zafra, Ariel Casas, Alejandro Casaseca.
Seen October 6 on DVD.

Candyman

I hadn’t even heard of this film before my boyfriend started telling me about it – he likes the Chicago ghetto location and the way the ending plays out, which of course he wouldn’t tell me about until after I’d watched it. I was apprehensive, and it was definitely more on the jump scare creepy side than I usually like, but it did have elements that I appreciated. For one, like he said, the location in the Chicago projects is quite interesting, and the way Virginia Madsen’s character (very white, very middle-class) gets drawn in there through her academic research into urban legends works pretty well – it creates a double element of danger because, really, she probably shouldn’t be there at all, mythical killer or no mythical killer. Then the way the plot turns as she starts seeing Candyman and somehow winding up at crime scenes in incriminating circumstances gave it a thriller angle that I didn’t expect (I even wondered for a while if there was a non-supernatural explanation for everything). Some of the imagery (like the paintings in Candyman’s lair) was nice and creepy, too. It goes on a bit too long at times, and even though I liked the ending on a visceral level, it doesn’t quite make sense to me, but that seems to be happening with a bunch of these horror films. Ah, well.
1992 USA. Director: Bernard Rose. Starring: Virginia Madsen, Xander Berkeley, Tony Todd, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams.
Seen October 29 on DVD.

The Skeleton Key

I’ve tended to avoid most mainstream horror movies for the past several years, mostly because they aren’t frankly very good. I’m not sure I’d call The Skeleton Key GOOD, per se, but I had an enjoyable time watching it, and it definitely has some intriguing concepts under the hood. Kate Hudson takes a job caring for an older man who’s had a stroke at the old Southern mansion home he and his wife share in the bayous of Louisiana. You pretty much can’t have a supernatural horror flick set outside New Orleans without voodoo (or hoodoo, as the film distinguishes them), and sure enough, turns out the house originally belonged to a Southern gentleman who had no concept of his black servants being anything more than “the help,” when in fact, they were hoodoo practictioners of the highest order. Hudson stumbles into all this and OF COURSE won’t let it go and OF COURSE goes investigating in locked rooms and OF COURSE starts playing with spells herself and OF COURSE gets herself into deep trouble. Most of it is fairly predictable, but it has a few genuinely interesting twists, and watching Gena Rowlands go to town in her hammy part more than makes up for some wooden line readings from Hudson. Plus Peter Sarsgaard is on hand to be his usual self, full of benevolent menace.
2005 USA. Director: Iain Softley. Starring: Kate Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Joy Bryant.
Seen October 9 on Netflix Instant.

The Bat

October’s Silent Treatment program at Cinefamily screened the rare silent horror film The Bat, one of several “haunted” house crime thrillers of the time. In the opening scene, a master criminal known as The Bat (because he dresses like a bat) manages to burgle a millionaire’s home right under the noses of scads of police, who he magnanimously tipped off to his plans. It plays like Fantômas or Les Vampires, and has gorgeous Expressionist photography as we see him set off to another job, a bank robbery. But turns out the bank owner may not’ve been on the up-and-up either, as he seems to have disappeared and the majority of the bank’s money as well. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s how it went down. I was in and out doing volunteering stuff during some of this exposition. Anyway. Before long, the plot converges on a country home owned by the bank owner, but currently being leased to the imposing Miss Cornelia and her niece, where police and private detectives, bank clerks and criminals, not to mention a hysterical maid, all try to figure out where the money is and stay safe from The Bat, whose identity is kept a secret to the bitter end. The promise of the early scenes is squandered a bit in the long, comedic center section with all the characters (except Miss Cornelia and the Bat, both of whom are self-possessed to a fault – a real stand-off between these two would’ve been something to behold!) bumbling about. But the end pulls it back together for a satisfying conclusion. Bonus: Even though I’ve read that this isn’t the inspiration for Batman, there’s basically a batsignal moment that’s pretty awesome to see.
1926 USA. Director: Roland West. Starring: Emily Fitzroy, George Beranger, Jack Pickford, Jewel Carmen, Tullio Carminati, Eddie Gribbon, Charles Herzinger, Louise Fazenda, Robert McKim.
Seen October 5 at Cinefamily.

Child’s Play

My boyfriend cajoled me into watching this despite my protestations about doll fears (damn those ventriloquist dummies), arguing that it was the first of a franchise and I’d stated my intention to watch the originals of the major horror franchises. Turns out, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting; the voodoo element of soul transference was a fun surprise, the pacing of the film is pretty solid, the effects on Chucky are good, the kid is quite good, and those swooping camera moves are fun if a bit over the top and cliched. I do think there were a few too many “oh, he’s not dead YET?” continuations, but aside from that, I was pretty entertained. I do not intend on watching the sequels, though.
1988 USA. Director: Tom Holland. Starring: Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif.
Seen October 22 on Netflix Instant.

Pit and the Pendulum

I quite enjoyed the Corman-Price take on The Masque of the Red Death, so I figured I’d circle around for another dose of their Poe cycle, and I enjoyed it, too. Here John Kerr (a little wooden) hears that his sister has died suddenly and goes to visit her husband Price at his remote castle. Price is apparently devastated and eventually lets out that his wife died after a growing fixation on the castle’s torture chamber, left there by Price’s Inquisitor father. More and more macabre details emerge about Price’s childhood and his father, as well as the potentiality that his wife was actually still alive when buried – a fact that seems more likely as she takes to haunting the castle. It all builds to a climax with the titular pit and pendulum, but the more ghastly moments spread throughout involve B-movie scream queen Barbara Steele, who carries off the part of wife Elizabeth with panache that puts even Price in his place. It’s a splashy big colorful film (it is in color, despite my only finding quality promo images in B&W online), with lots of relatively mindless fun to be had.
1961 USA. Director: Roger Corman. Starring: Vincent Price, John Kerr, Barbara Steele, Luana Anders, Antony Carbone, Patrick Westwood, Lynette Bernay.
Seen October 20 on Netflix Instant.

What I Thought Was All Right

Friday the 13th

And with this one, my quest to see all the firsts of the slasher franchises is complete, I think. I’m told I still need to watch Black Christmas, but that isn’t a franchise, so I’m counting it separately. This is the one I was looking forward to the least, and it is pretty darn stupid. But it has a good bit of campy fun to it, too. Clearly influenced by Halloween right down to the first-person opening kill and the twenty-year jump in time, this one doesn’t bother very much to create any empathy between us the teenage summer camp counselors being killed one by one. The fun in the film is all in seeing exactly how each one is going to be offed, with Kevin Bacon’s post-coital knife-through-the-throat a high point. We never see the killer until the very end, though a lot of the time we’re in the killer’s perspective, which adds to our distance from the victims. In this way, Friday the 13th is perhaps the clearest antecedent to the legions of slasher films to follow, which tend to lose human connection in favor of the most outrageous kills – a trend I don’t particularly like, even though it’s done with freshness and naivete here. The music is quite effective, evoking some combination of Psycho and Jaws with screeching violins and see-saw melodies, but again, none of the character depth or quality scripting that made those films so lasting.
1980 USA. Director: Sean S. Cunningham. Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bertram, Mark Nelson, Peter Brouwer.

Paranormal Activity

I was more amused than intrigued by the first Paranormal Activity‘s marketing campaign, and didn’t rush out to see it, especially as reactions seemed pretty split between “it’s the scariest thing in the world ever” (which I didn’t particularly care to see) and “it’s not scary, it’s totally stupid” (which also isn’t particularly tempting). As is typical for me with films that most people seem to either love or hate, I’m right down the middle. I liked a lot of things about it – the evocation of the demon using very small touches, like a moving sheet or a shadow on a door, are evocative and effective. It does well with creating its mood. On the other hand, almost everything is telegraphed well in advance, so very little of it is actually scary. And the editing drove me crazy – if this is supposed to be a found footage film, with everything coming from the boyfriend’s camera, why are there so many random little edits everywhere? I mean, he didn’t pause and unpause the camera as he’s walking across the room (the camera would’ve jostled a bit while he did, besides why would he), and whoever found the camera later wouldn’t have bothered with editing out a half-second here and there as the guy’s crossing the room. And those edits were EVERYWHERE. So it succeeds on creepy, suggestive low-budget special effects, but it utterly fails as a found footage film, and that’s such a big part of it that I have to mark it down a lot for that.
2007 USA. Director: Oren Peli. Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Mark Fredrichs.
Seen October 12 on Netflix Instant.

Rewatches – Love

A Tale of Two Sisters

I first watched this in October 2009, and it was my favorite film that month. I simply had to revisit it and share it with my boyfriend this year, and it did not disappoint on rewatch. I’m notoriously bad at remembering endings, so even though I remembered part of the twist, I’d forgotten the other part so slowly remembering it as the movie went on was quite enjoyable. I love that the film works equally well as a tragic drama as it does as a creeptastic horror film – the very end is absolutely heartbreaking as well as chilling. It takes its time a bit more toward the ending than I’d like, threatening to delve into “too many endings” territory, but as I said, the final sequence makes it all totally worth it. And as I watch more horror films and nail down the approaches I like and don’t like and what scares me and doesn’t, this film is an excellent example of what actually scares me. The sequence where Soo-mi sees a dark figure at the foot of her bed that’s hunched over awkwardly and moves closer until it rushes above her…that whole part. Scares the crap out of me. It’s some combination of sound design, plain weirdness (the unnatural positioning of the figure) and the editing shifting from slow to incredibly fast without warning. So yeah. If you want to scare me, do stuff like that. Jump scares and gore don’t do it.
2005 South Korea. Director: Kim Jee-woon. Starring: Lim Su-jeong, Moon Geun-Young, Yum Jung-ah, Kim Kap-su.
Seen October 30 on DVD.

Dead of Night

This was one of the first horror films I remember seeing that I actually liked – a trend in my tastes toward creepy B&W atmospheric horror that hasn’t really abated, despite my new openness to other subsets of the genre. When TCM played it this week, I jumped at the opportunity to see it again. What I’d forgotten before this rewatch was how quickly it jumps into the frame story, no explanation, just the guy driving up to the country house where he has a weird sense of having dreamt about all these people before and an incredible ability to predict things that will happen throughout the evening. Intrigued by his uncanny sixth sense, the other guests start telling about their own experiences with unexplained phenomena – each of these stories could easily be a Twilight Zone episode, and they all have that feel of something just outside normal, none moreso than the frame story. Often frame stories in anthology films are throwaway and rather tiresome, but I really love this one, and the way it circles in on itself and the other stories at the end is surreal and genuinely intense, even though several of the stories are not particularly scary. I was a little afraid it wouldn’t hold up to my memories on rewatch, but it did. I still love it.
1945 UK. Director: Basil Dearden, Alberto Cavalcanti, Robert Hamer, Charles Crichton. Starring: Mervyn Johns, Roland Culver, Mary Merrall, Googie Withers, Frederick Valk, Anthony Baird, Sally Ann Howes, Robert Wyndam.
Seen October 10 on TCM.

Jaws

Watching this again, I’m not entirely sure what genre it should be. I guess all creature features tend to be lumped into horror, but it plays more like a character drama punctuated by bursts of intense thrills. So, creature feature drama thriller, I guess. Whatever it is, it’s damned impressive, even thirty-five years later. Countless films have tried to capture whatever it is that makes Jaws special, but few even come close – the pacing is perfect, building up the tension before the shark attacks and letting it go just at the last minute, or temporarily difusing it with a red herring. The fact that the film comes right out of the gate and makes a dog and a little boy among the first set of victims is telling – it remains shocking. Thrills aside, the real pleasure here is the interactions between the three very different characters who go after him. Beginning as stereotypes, but not sticking to them, Brody, Quint, and Hooper have a competition/companionship vibe among them that’s much stronger than most creature features have time to establish. Sure, the movie has great special effects (you’ll rarely notice the shark is animatronic), thrilling action, and even awkward humor in the form of the dumbass mayor and his cronies, but the depth of character and willingness to linger on the in-between moments are what make Jaws great.
1975 USA. Director: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton.
Seen October 7 on DVD.

Rewatches – Like

The Uninvited

It’s been so long since I’ve seen this one I didn’t remember anything beyond the descriptor “creepy haunted house movie.” Which could describe umpteen different movies. A rewatch was definitely in order, especially since I’ve continued to mention the film as an example of the kind of 1940s quiet horror that’s closest to my heart even as my memory of it faded into nothingness. Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey are brother and sister who buy a deserted seaside mansion, only to discover that it’s routinely filled with noises of crying, flickering candles, creeping coldness, and a scent of mimosas, none of which can be explained scientifically. It all seems bound up in the former owner’s granddaughter, who lived in the house until she was three and her mother died falling off the cliff. The next logical step – hold some seances! Of course. It’s a charming little film, really, with a nice crotchety performance from veteran Donald Crisp as the dour grandfather, and some really effective special effects on the ghost. It’s not particularly scary, but it definitely has the quietly chilling atmosphere down pat.
1944 USA. Director: Lewis Allen. Starring: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Gail Russell, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Alan Napier.
Seen October 10 on TCM.

Totals

Films seen for the first time in October: 16
Rewatches in October: 4
Films seen in theatres in October: 2
List of Shame films seen in October: 3
2010s films seen in October: 1
2000s films seen in October: 5 (1 rewatch)
1990s films seen in October: 1
1980s films seen in October: 3
1970s films seen in October: 4 (1 rewatch)
1960s films seen in October: 2
1940s films seen in October: 2 (2 rewatches)
1920s films seen in October: 2
American films seen in October: 14 (2 rewatches)
British films seen in October: 3 (1 rewatch)
Spanish films seen in October: 1
French films seen in October: 1
Korean films seen in October: 1 (1 rewatch)

Classic Horror: The Cat and the Canary (1927)

A few weeks ago, I saw the silent horror/thriller film The Bat (see capsule review on Row Three, or soon here in my monthly recap) and liked it, but didn’t feel like it quite lived up to its potential, falling prey to some poor pacing. Then I saw The Cat and the Canary, and there’s a reason why this film is often name-checked as the “old dark house” movie to beat. It’s pretty similar to The Bat (made a year later, but both based on existing stage plays in a popular genre at the time), but it’s pretty much delightful from start to finish, with no lulls and consistently evocative art direction and photography.

In the prologue, an old man on his deathbed writes some complicated instructions to accompany his will and testament, which isn’t to be opened and read until twenty years after his death. He and his relatives don’t get along so well, you see – they all think he’s crazy and have been hovering over him, waiting for him to die so they could inherit his fortune (like cats hovering over a canary). Twenty years after his death, his family reconvene at his long-deserted mansion – crotchety aunts and glamorous nieces, sweet cousins and earnest nephews. (I have no idea how they’re actually related, but the adjectives are accurate.)

When the will is unsealed, the sweet Annabelle West is the one who gets the inheritance, but only if she’s deemed sane – if not, the fortune will go to another whose name is in a sealed envelope. But wait! Someone broke into the house earlier and peeked in the envelope, and as the family lawyer warns Annabelle, whoever’s name is in the envelope has a reason to want her out of the way. (The logic on some of this is suspect, to be sure, but it’s all delivered with such sincerity and gusto that it’s hard to want to nitpick it.) Soon after, the lawyer disappears, the other relatives are trying to catch Annabelle acting crazy and thus forfeiting the inheritance, and whoever read the name in the envelope is apparently swooping in and confusing/scaring the hell out of everyone.

A lot of this is played for comedy, and most of it works, as it swaps quickly between characters, all of whom are types, to be sure, but well-played and endearing ones. There are a lot of creepy moments, many involving a grotesque hand reaching out to grab an unsuspecting victim, and often with really nice throwbacks to Expressionism, including some very cool title card layouts. Though you suspect that the person instigating all the ruckus is one of the people we’ve already met, the film actually leaves the question open for a long while, thanks to the intrusion of a man who says he’s a guard from a nearby asylum looking for an escaped mental patient that he thinks entered the mansion. With that threat PLUS the potential treachery of the post-Annabelle inheritor PLUS the glowering of the genuinely creepy maid PLUS the general wish on the part of everyone that Annabelle would be insane and lose her rights, there’s a lot of distrust to go around. And it’s extremely fun to watch, with a few quite suspenseful (I won’t quite say scary) moments.

I’ve been a little disheartened most of the month that I haven’t come across any films I outright LOVED this October. Figures that when I do, it’s a silent film. The tone and style here captures a lot of the exuberance that I’ve come to love about silent film in general, plus it has lovely cinematography that in some scenes puts it almost up there with Sunrise and Metropolis. I’ll certainly be back to this one next October.

Director: Paul Leni
Adaptation: Robert F. Hill & Alfred A. Cohn
Titles: Walter Anthony
Based on the play by: John Willard
Producer: Paul Kohner
Cinematography: Gilbert Warrenton
Editing: Martin G. Cohn
Starring: Laura LaPlante, Creighton Hale, Forrest Stanley, Tully Marshall, Gertrude Astor, Flora Finch, Arthur Edmond Carew, Martha Mattox, George Siegmann, Lucien Littlefield