I live in Florida and every year for six months starting on June 1st and going through November 30th we are inundated us with hurricane preparation news and fears by our local weather gurus. They beg us to prepare, know your evacuation routes, have plenty of water, food and be sure important papers are wrapped in plastic bags, all just in case. While tracking hurricane paths has improved tremendously Mother Nature has a way of doing its own thing. Preparation is important, but six months of it is emotionally draining. We’re now in November and the season is almost officially over. By November you can start breathing a sigh of relief for six months before it all starts again. This hurricane season Cat. 5 Dorian devastated the Bahamas and just last season Hurricane Michael massacred the Florida Panhandle. The point is, hurricanes are not to be taken lightly.
Motherhood can be a joyous thing; the miracle of birth, a child the result of a bond between two people. Watching the child grow and discover life can be heartwarming and reaffirming. Then again, the idea of a live organism, another person growing inside you, just might be a bit unsettling and disturbing as you watch your body change, and who knows what the child will be like. He/she could turn out to be a bright, upstanding member of the community. Then again, your little precious could turn out be another Al Capone or Jeffrey Dahmer or even worse.
Many films have focused on the dark side of motherhood: Psycho, Mildred Pierce, Mommie Dearest and most recently the current movie Tully. There are plenty of other films with motherhood gone wrong. Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate is one of the best bad mothers. On the other side of the fence are mothers who love too much; they are self-sacrificing and end up with a daughter like Veda in Mildred Pierce.
And then there is Rosemary’s Baby. Continue reading
In my own personal hierarchy, Dolores Claiborne secures its spot as one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel. This film is a “horror” story sans chainsaws, hacked body parts or ghosts. Well, that last part is just partially correct, only here, the ghosts are psychological. Director Taylor Hackford and screenwriter Tony Gilroy have given us a mature and cleverly made thriller with superb acting from Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Continue reading
Brian De Palma admittedly has been tapping into Alfred Hitchcock since his earliest works going back as far as Murder a la Mod in 1968. However, many other filmmakers have drawn inspiration from or just plain copied the master of suspense over the years including Henri-Georges Clouzot (Diabolique), Jonathan Demme (Last Embrace), Francois Truffaut (Mississippi Mermaid), David Fincher (Panic Room), D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) and Woody Allen (Match Point) just to name a few. It’s difficult to make a suspense film without leaning at least a bit on the master. De Palma’s second foray into Hitchcock’s world came in 1973 with Sisters. After a series of low budget independent films: the previously mentioned Murder a la Mod, The Wedding Party, Greetings and Hi Mom! De Palma signed up with Warner Brothers to make the social satire, Get to Know You Rabbit. Creatively and financially it was a dud. Continue reading
A grisly mass murderer who is known as the “Full Moon Killer,” his victims are always attacked when the moon is full, is on the loose in New York City. The only clue the police have is that the killer must have a medical background. Doctor Xavier, aka Doctor X, (Lionel Atwell) and his staff at a local medical institute have become the main suspects since the victims are not only strangled but cannibalized. The good doctor convinces the police to let him conduct an in house investigation of his staff for 48 hours so as not to stain the reputation of the institute. They agree. Continue reading
A little Halloween fun with this post. A list of my ten favorite horror films plus a dozen more. As a kid, the one film that scared the hell out of me was Robert Wise’s, The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House. I was a young teen, home alone on a Saturday night. On TV was this ghostly classic. It wasn’t what you saw that was scary, it was what you didn’t see. The unknown and the unseen are definitely more frightening. I was never so happy to have my parents finally come home!
I always found horror films that take place in normal or everyday situations, meaning without monsters or blobs, much scarier than the ones with three headed creatures or aliens. Rosemary’s Baby takes place in New York City. A typical couple who live in an apartment building with neighbors all around. Who doesn’t have neighbors, right? We can all relate. Rosemary’s only problem is her nice friendly neighbors are devil worshippers and her loving, but hungry for success, out of work husband/actor made a hellish deal. The same with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, except we are now in small town America. Can your neighbor be a pod? Will you be next? Continue reading
Who knew Jack the Ripper had a daughter? I didn’t. Well, Hands of the Ripper a 1971 Hammer film assumes it’s so and naturally, she’s a daddy’s girl. Murderous as her dear old dad. Young Anna’s (Angharad Rees) problems begin after she witnesses, as a very young child, old Papa Jack murdering her mother. Some 15 years later we see Anna has been taken in and cared for by Mrs. Golden (Dora Bryan) a fake medium and part time pimp. Not exactly an agent of the Children’s Aid Society!
When a Member of Parliament pays for the young girl’s sexual favors, actually taking her virginity, her harrowing memories of her mother’s brutal death trigger psychotic episodes turning her into a maniacal killer. A Dr. Prichard (Eric Porter) takes the poor girl in. Prichard, an early student of Freud, believes he can find a cure to Anna’s deep rooted “problem.” Unfortunately, while under the doctor’s care Anna continues her murderous rage. Continue reading
A brilliant, creepy, unsettling film about a crazed doctor who kidnaps a series of beautiful women, surgically and methodically removing their faces in hopes of transplanting successfully one on to the deformed face of his daughter. Just as you squeamishly hope director Georges Franju will move his camera away from the procedure, he stays securely in place forcing the audience to watch the complete removal of the face as if it were a delicate mask being lifted off, soon to be grafted on to the head of his deformed daughter, Christaine. It’s an unsettling scene, and an amazingly graphic one, considering the film was made in 1960, a year that historically has turned out three master works of horror, Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” being the others.
In some ways the film is reminiscent of many other horror films, the mad doctor, obsessed with playing God, think Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll, and Dr. Frankenstein to name a few. In this case, it is Doctor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) whose beautiful daughter was severely injured in a car accident for which he was responsible. Being a good father, he wants to help his daughter to look beautiful again. Thus begins a series of kidnappings of pretty young things as the doctor attempts to remove the facial skin of his victims and in an extreme case of plastic surgery graft the removed victims face on to his daughter’s. Each attempt has been a failure, as one expects the bodies of missing young women are beginning to pile up.
The doctor is assisted by his loyal and attractive assistant Louise (Alida Valli) whose has had some work done herself. The film opens with Louise driving in the dark of the night to a secluded spot to dump the body of the doctor’s latest victim. Sadly, each experiment fails, leaving the Doctor’s daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) deeper and deeper in despair.
The film is based on a novel by Jean Redon, adapted for the screen by Redon, Claude Sautet, who also was Assistant Director, and the team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Boileau and Narcejac are best known for their novels “D’Entre Les Morts” and “Celle qui n’était plus” which themselves are better known by their film titles, “Vertigo” and “Diabolique.”
Director Georges Franju avoids the standard modus operandi of many horror films, the quick cuts, the tense music that builds up with a calculating beat that something dreadful is about to happen. Instead we get some magnificent eerie, moody photography creating a foreboding atmosphere of dread and fear, also an early music score by Maurice Jarre that is at times almost circus like, adding a strange macabre mood to it all. Do not misunderstand, Franju does not shy away or forget he is making a horror movie. As mentioned, the film contains some of the most disturbing and unflinchingly graphic scenes to ever appear in a horror film from this period, in fact, if you about to undergo cosmetic surgery in the near future you may want to avoid this film. Even today these scenes remain very disturbing.
The film was originally released in the United States in 1962. Back then horror films did not receive any respect from the art house/intellectual film audience and when released in a dubbed version as part of a double bill with “The Manster,” another film about a crazed doctor and his strange experiments, the film sank quickly. Even changing its title to “The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus” did not help. But over the years, “Eyes Without a Face” has risen from the “B” film grave and has gained the respect it has been denied. In 1995, the film was released in a new 35MM print and played at the Cinema Village in New York and a few other cities. In 2003, during the Halloween season, the film appeared again, in another new print, for two week engagement at the Film Forum in New York.
“Eyes Without a Face” is a masterpiece of horror, an imaginative, nightmarish, poetic dream that you will soon not forget.
Audiences must have been shocked by “Island of Lost Souls” back in 1932. Bizarre, daring; a sadistic filled sideshow of strange creatures, and of course the perennial mad doctor. By then, the movies already had two other crazed doctors who believed they had God like power in both James Whale’s “Frankenstein” and Rouben Mamoulian’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Then came Doctor Moreau.
The film is based on H.G Wells nineteenth century novel, “The Island of Dr, Moreau.” At the time Wells wrote the novel (1896), vivisection, the testing and experimental surgery on living animals without the use of any type of anesthesia, had gained some curious sort of acceptance in European circles. Wells novel helped lead to the forming of anti-torture animal groups such as “The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection” set up to investigate, monitor, and ban the torturous testing of animals in scientific experiments. But Wells was no fan of the movie and was frank in disparaging the film as a mockery of his work. In Wells homeland of England the film was banned, along with “Freaks,” another “shocking” 1932 horror film, until the 1960’s. In the U. S. with state censor boards free to edit and cut scenes as they saw fit for local moral standards, many did just that. Continue reading
1968 was a pivotal year in the United States. There were the duel assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Kennedy’s death ended the dream of Camelot while King’s death resulted in riots, neighborhoods burning, and racial tensions reaching new heights of discontent. In Vietnam, troop levels went over 500,000. The Siege of Khe Shan and the TET offensive caused Americans to wonder if the war was winnable. Emotionally and politically dead, LBJ refused to seek or accept another term as President. In August, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was marred by violence between protesters against the war and the Chicago police force. Vietnam was the first television war, blurring the senses between real and fictional violence. Unlike today, audiences back then were not use to watching the 6 o’clock news and seeing the blood of American soldiers flowing in the mud…unless it was just a movie.
In August of that year, “Targets”, a small film directed by a young novice director named Peter Bogdanovich was released to generally good reviews and not so good business. The film contains two narratives, one about Bobby Thompson, a seemingly all-American young man and the second about Byron Orlok an aging horror movie star, whose paths will cross blurring real vs. fictitious violence in our society.
Bogdanovich was already well known as a film writer for Esquire magazine; a film programmer for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; a champion of such directors as Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Allan Dwan and many others, all of who, he helped bring back to the attention of cineastes. Bogdanovich’s book, “Who The Devil Made It?” is a collection of interviews with these directors, and many others, is an essential read for film lovers. Bogdanovich, along with his then wife Polly Platt, would soon leave New York for Los Angeles where he hoped to break into the film industry. He would meet Roger Corman at a film screening, and eventually was offered a job directing. His first jobs for Corman were on films like “Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women” where he was given two Russian science fiction films and told to add some additional footage resulting in a new film. “Targets” was his first film from scratch, well almost. According to Andrew Yule in his Bogdanovich biography “Picture Shows: The Life and Films of Peter Bogdanovich,” Boris Karloff owed Corman two days of work. Corman gave Bogdanovich the opportunity to make “Targets” if he incorporated about 20 minutes of outtake footage from Corman’s “The Terror.” He would then be able to use Boris Karloff for approximately another 20 minutes of new footage and he could shoot an additional 40 minutes to fill out the feature, that way Corman had a new Karloff film. Bogdanovich and Platt would write the story and screenplay (according to IMDB Sam Fuller had a hand in writing also) and direct. Corman sold the film to Paramount who purchased it for $150,000 netting Corman a profit of about $20,000. Continue reading