[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 Iâ€™m made backwards or something. Heh. Anyway, this â€œold dark houseâ€ 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 â€œlargelyâ€ 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 â€“ 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.
Iâ€™ve had Carrie on my horror to-watch list every October for about three years â€“ in other words, as long as Iâ€™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, Carrieâ€™s mom is CRAZY â€“ itâ€™s a little disheartening to find yet another crazy Christian immortalized on celluloid, but I think itâ€™s pretty obvious that she is totally off the deep end, not only extremely strict on Carrieâ€™s interactions with boys, but insistent that natural biological functions are markers of specific sexual sins and that Carrieâ€™s telepathic ability is a sign of demon possession. Although, to be fair, the film doesnâ€™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 whatâ€™s in store for her â€“ 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 Carrieâ€™s deserved revenge; Iâ€™m still not sure what I make of it. Plus De Palma has a tendency to go for flashy shots when he doesnâ€™t need them â€“ 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.
My interest in seeing this cave creature feature went up a lot after I quite enjoyed Neil Marshallâ€™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, donâ€™t go according the plan. Tensions rise when the trip planner reveals itâ€™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 theyâ€™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 donâ€™t necessarily like), a lot of them are also the quieter â€œevil thing randomly in a shotâ€ kind of scares that I LOVE. The effects are surprisingly good despite what I assume is a relatively low budget, and though itâ€™s not hard to predict the order of deaths, there are still a lot of surprises in HOW they come. I apparently watched the directorâ€™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 â€“ 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
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 havenâ€™t seen the remake or anything. I ended up really enjoying it â€“ 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 guyâ€™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 theyâ€™re right upon you and tending toward exactly the kind of reveals I just mentioned. And thereâ€™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 Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™ll get eviscerated for, but itâ€™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.
Yes, I had never seen this before, though itâ€™s been on my list for a few years. Really, I donâ€™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 heâ€™s been ever since â€“ 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 weâ€™re also introduced to Jamie Lee Curtisâ€™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 didnâ€™t mind too much, but some of them I think wouldâ€™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. Itâ€™s handled here better than most movies Iâ€™ve seen, but it doesnâ€™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 wonâ€™t say I loved it immediately, but I can definitely see the haunting and disturbing beauty that draws people to it. Dr. GÃ©nessier is one of the most clinical and detached monsters Iâ€™ve seen in cinema â€“ he doesnâ€™t even seem to care that much about his daughter Christiane, whose facial scarring heâ€™s trying to fix via skin grafts. She even indicates that sheâ€™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 â€“ thatâ€™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 â€“ but in a way, that very distance is horrific in and of itself. Christiane doesnâ€™t say a whole lot, so weâ€™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 doesnâ€™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.
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 thatâ€™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 Iâ€™m not sure. I knew there was something about a remote village and cultists, but thatâ€™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 girlâ€™s mother) denies that she even existed. Sensing somethingâ€™s up, the detective keeps poking around, running across rituals and teachings that hearken back to pre-Christian paganism. He doesnâ€™t appear to be a particularly strong Christian in a personal sense, but heâ€™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 canâ€™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 arenâ€™t his business, but that only makes the eventual climax that much more disturbing. Note I didnâ€™t say â€œscary.â€ The film isnâ€™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 Iâ€™m not as focused on figuring out whatâ€™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. Itâ€™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).
The first [rec] was a fantastic example of the first-person camera found-footage technique (one of the few thatâ€™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 virusâ€™s progenitor, then cuts to a SWAT team about to enter the building to shut down whatever is causing the attacks. The scares here arenâ€™t as effective because theyâ€™re more out in the open â€“ 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 itâ€™d be cool to break into the building â€“ theyâ€™re pretty freaking annoying, but seeing some of the things from a different perspective is nice. The tension ramps up toward the end, and thereâ€™s a fairly neat use of night vision. I enjoyed the film, but it doesnâ€™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.
I hadnâ€™t even heard of this film before my boyfriend started telling me about it â€“ he likes the Chicago ghetto location and the way the ending plays out, which of course he wouldnâ€™t tell me about until after Iâ€™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 Madsenâ€™s character (very white, very middle-class) gets drawn in there through her academic research into urban legends works pretty well â€“ it creates a double element of danger because, really, she probably shouldnâ€™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 didnâ€™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 Candymanâ€™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 doesnâ€™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
Iâ€™ve tended to avoid most mainstream horror movies for the past several years, mostly because they arenâ€™t frankly very good. Iâ€™m not sure Iâ€™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 whoâ€™s had a stroke at the old Southern mansion home he and his wife share in the bayous of Louisiana. You pretty much canâ€™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 â€œthe help,â€ when in fact, they were hoodoo practictioners of the highest order. Hudson stumbles into all this and OF COURSE wonâ€™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.
October’s Silent Treatment program at Cinefamily screened the rare silent horror film The Bat, one of several â€œhauntedâ€ 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 millionaireâ€™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 notâ€™ve been on the up-and-up either, as he seems to have disappeared and the majority of the bankâ€™s money as well. At least, Iâ€™m pretty sure thatâ€™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 â€“ a real stand-off between these two wouldâ€™ve been something to behold!) bumbling about. But the end pulls it back together for a satisfying conclusion. Bonus: Even though Iâ€™ve read that this isnâ€™t the inspiration for Batman, thereâ€™s basically a batsignal moment thatâ€™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.
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 Iâ€™d stated my intention to watch the originals of the major horror franchises. Turns out, it wasnâ€™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 â€œoh, heâ€™s not dead YET?â€ 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 Iâ€™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 castleâ€™s torture chamber, left there by Priceâ€™s Inquisitor father. More and more macabre details emerge about Priceâ€™s childhood and his father, as well as the potentiality that his wife was actually still alive when buried â€“ 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. Itâ€™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. Iâ€™m told I still need to watch Black Christmas, but that isnâ€™t a franchise, so Iâ€™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 doesnâ€™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 Baconâ€™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 weâ€™re in the killerâ€™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 â€“ a trend I donâ€™t particularly like, even though itâ€™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.
I was more amused than intrigued by the first Paranormal Activityâ€˜s marketing campaign, and didnâ€™t rush out to see it, especially as reactions seemed pretty split between â€œitâ€™s the scariest thing in the world everâ€ (which I didnâ€™t particularly care to see) and â€œitâ€™s not scary, itâ€™s totally stupidâ€ (which also isnâ€™t particularly tempting). As is typical for me with films that most people seem to either love or hate, Iâ€™m right down the middle. I liked a lot of things about it â€“ 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 â€“ if this is supposed to be a found footage film, with everything coming from the boyfriendâ€™s camera, why are there so many random little edits everywhere? I mean, he didnâ€™t pause and unpause the camera as heâ€™s walking across the room (the camera wouldâ€™ve jostled a bit while he did, besides why would he), and whoever found the camera later wouldnâ€™t have bothered with editing out a half-second here and there as the guyâ€™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 thatâ€™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. Iâ€™m notoriously bad at remembering endings, so even though I remembered part of the twist, Iâ€™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 â€“ the very end is absolutely heartbreaking as well as chilling. It takes its time a bit more toward the ending than Iâ€™d like, threatening to delve into â€œtoo many endingsâ€ 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 donâ€™t like and what scares me and doesnâ€™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 thatâ€™s hunched over awkwardly and moves closer until it rushes above her…that whole part. Scares the crap out of me. Itâ€™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 donâ€™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 â€“ a trend in my tastes toward creepy B&W atmospheric horror that hasnâ€™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 Iâ€™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 â€“ 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 wouldnâ€™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.
Watching this again, Iâ€™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, itâ€™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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 thatâ€™s much stronger than most creature features have time to establish. Sure, the movie has great special effects (youâ€™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
Itâ€™s been so long since Iâ€™ve seen this one I didnâ€™t remember anything beyond the descriptor â€œcreepy haunted house movie.â€ Which could describe umpteen different movies. A rewatch was definitely in order, especially since Iâ€™ve continued to mention the film as an example of the kind of 1940s quiet horror thatâ€™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 itâ€™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 ownerâ€™s granddaughter, who lived in the house until she was three and her mother died falling off the cliff. The next logical step â€“ hold some seances! Of course. Itâ€™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. Itâ€™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.
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)