Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Layabout crazy cat Jerry (played by the director Ray Dennis Steckler under the hilarious pseudonym Cash Flagg), his girlfriend Angela and his friend Harold go to the seaside to visit a carnival there. After getting their fortunes told they see the fortune tellers sister Carmelita who is a stripper. Jerry is seen by Angela to be staring a bit too intently at Carmelita and so leaves in a huff with Harold. With them gone Jerry decides to go and watch Carmelita’s strip show (the carnival has it’s own nightclub that holds such entertainment. The name of this establishment is, wait for it, The Hungry Mouth which rivals only The Flaming Cave Lounge from John Waters’ Female Trouble in terms of a brilliant name for an establishment of that kind).

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Jerry is then lured to Carmelita’s dressing room where he is hypnotised. This then turns Jerry into a ruthless killer of which afterwards he has no memory of. He had in fact killed two characters whilst he was in his murderous trance-like state. He also tries to throttle Angela to death the next day.

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Hypnosis!

Carmelita’s plot is then revealed. She has been throwing acid into people’s faces which turns them into zombies (!) and then keeping them captive.

But Jerry then decides to confront Carmelita as he keeps having flashbacks and knows that something isn’t quite right ever since he visited Carmelita at the carnival. This all builds to a very eventful climax.

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Carmelita uses the same foundation as Donatella Versace

This is pure Drive-In B movie goodness. Theres so much to like here. The hypnosis scenes, the hallucinatory dream sequence Jerry has, the zombies, the song and dance sequences at the nightclub (one of the girls can be seen chewing gum as she performs her dance moves. Now that’s attention to detail and classy to boot!).

The film also has a colour palate which can make your eyes water. I had several acid flashbacks whilst watching this gem.

I first found out about this film from reading the cult film bible Incredibly Strange films from Re:Search publishing at the tender age of 14. This book treats Steckler as some kind of god in much the same way more pedestrian film fans look up to John Ford. And they’re right. Steckler is an Orson Welles for the perverse.

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And John Waters is a huge fan.

4 out of 5 stars

Day 28- 31 Days of Halloween- Repulsion (1965)

Day 28- 31 Days of Halloween- Repulsion (1965)

This 1965 Roman Polanski film centres on the character of Carol, a beautiful woman who works at a beauty parlour whilst living with her sister Helen in South Kensington, London. Shes very childlike and seems to be not only sexually repressed but actually repulsed by men. Matters aren’t helped by a persistent young man called Colin who tries to woo her. The fact that she is aloof and standoffish only seems to make him work harder on trying to melt this Belgian ice queen. Carol is also perturbed by her sister’s relationship with Michael who has started to stay overnight in their flat. Helen and Michael go to Italy for a holiday leaving Carol all alone in the flat.

Repulsion is anything but plot driven and is more a psychological study of Carol’s ever disintegrating mental state. And a genius representation at that!

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The scenes up until Helen going on holiday provide constant signifiers of Carol’s instability and mental decay- the cracks she seems to be obsessed with in the pavement and those she actually sees appear in the walls of the apartment, the frantic scratching and wiping away of imaginary ticks, her tendency to lapse into mental abandonment (a sign of past trauma in psychological terms, often as the result of sexual abuse), the sounds she hears on the other sides of the walls. There are plenty of signs of her sexual repression and abhorrence of men also. Colin tries to kiss her which prompts her to run home, brush her teeth and then vomit. She sees Michael’s razor and toothbrush on a shelf in the bathroom and clears them away frantically as if her personal sphere has been invaded and contaminated by them.

But it’s when Helen goes on holiday and Carol is left alone that things accelerate at a dizzying speed and her mental decline worsens at a dramatically faster pace. The image of the skinned rabbit on a plate is extremely potent as it is left out to decompose throughout the film. Carol’s work colleague later notices it’s head in her handbag later in the film. The domestic space of the flat that should be a sanctuary from the outside world is turned into a sinister and thoroughly nightmarish place to contend with by Polanski. There are shadows that appear in the light under door jambs as if an intruder is outside which develops into Carol having visions that men come in to rape her in her bed. There aren’t just cracks that appear in the walls now but hands that unexpectedly shoot out of them to indecently grope her body.

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It’s ironic that during this part of the film she staggers around her flat wearing a Baby Doll nightie that traditionally signifies innocence but because of this has conversely become a potent fetishised image exactly because of it’s traditional iconography. Innocence is to be sexualised and sullied in the eyes of male gratification.

Carol starts to descent deeper into madness at a rate of knots as we see her embroidering on her sofa as she alternately hums and weeps to herself, frantically ironing whilst we see that the iron isn’t even plugged in (a knowing comment on gender roles?) and manically writing on window panes.

But the film also depicts what belies those who dare to penetrate (pun not intended) Carol’s domestic sphere even if it is nightmarish and dysfunctional for her psyche. Firstly Colin literally breaks the door down to get to her but is then clubbed to death with a heavy candleholder. The landlord who is collecting his overdue rent is slashed to death with Michael’s straight razor.

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What does all of this mean? Is it a commentary on the burgeoning permissiveness that was becoming evident in British society? Is Repulsion a comment on the encroaching Women’s Liberation movement and feminism in general? It could even be a comment on Gay Rights and Gay Liberation with Carol being so repulsed by men because she is in fact gay.

I actually think the film is a disturbing portrayal of the consequences of child abuse. Notice the family photograph that depicts Carol as a child. Even here she is aloof, distant and looks disturbed. The final frame of the film is of this photograph but shadows obscure everyone in the picture bar Carol and a male family member before it focuses on just Carol herself. It’s obvious that this is the implication which gives the film a sad lilt, echoed by Chico Hamilton’s oddly melancholic end musical suite. Add to this the earlier instances of disassociation and the signs and signifiers of childhood sexual abuse are omnipresent.

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This film is a masterpiece and one of Polanski’s best. The cast is perfect with the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve turning in one of her finest and most nuanced performances. It takes a special kind of actor to convincingly conjure insanity and mental instability and Deneuve knocks it out of park. Her performance evokes sympathy, shock and fear from the audience.

The film is also a beautiful time capsule of Sixties London. Check out the scenes of South Kensington and the attention to detail and how glorious it all is.

A bona fide classic. If you haven’t seen this you need to see it NOW!

5 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween- Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween- Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

The ancient practice of witchcraft in Swinging 60’s New York.

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into the gothic apartment building known as The Bramford. Guy is an actor who doesn’t seem to be getting the big breaks he deserves. That is until he meets the eccentric couple Minnie and Roman next door and then suddenly his luck changes. Could this change in his fortunes be coincidence or is there more than meets the eye?

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Everything about this film is perfect.

On watching this masterpiece again I really tuned into the themes of gaslighting, narcissism and coercive control that occur between the characters who have something to hide from poor Rosemary. Check out the subtle exchange of glances that are swapped between Guy, Minnie and Roman after the Castavets are told that Rosemary is pregnant.

The film is also about abuse and the need for the victim of that abuse to speak her truth and have her voice heard. The scene of her telling what she believes to be the truth to Charles Grodin’s Dr Hill is both liberating but then ultimately heartbreaking.

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Watch out for Polanski’s direction and marvel at how deft, innovative and revolutionary it is. The scene where Minnie is sat on Rosemary’s bed just out of view still makes me crane my neck to look around the door frame to see her more clearly. Now thats genius.

The film builds to one of the most unsettling climaxes in film history. And then the scene after that is is even more disconcerting.

Ruth Gordon’s performance is one of the best I’ve ever seen in any movie. The perfect alignment of perfect writing with an actress who was born to play the part.

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Look out for the cameo by William Castle.

I cannot recommend this film enough. If you haven’t seen it you’re in for a treat. If you have seen it then watch it again. You’re still in for a treat.

5 out of 5 stars

Review- The Servant (1963)

Review- The Servant (1963)

After he has come back from travelling, a wealthy young man named Tony (James Fox) decides to employ a house servant. Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) successfully applies for the position. The relationship works well but this soon changes when Tony’s girlfriend Susan starts to spend time at Tony’s abode. She seems not to treat Barrett as human and takes the role of ‘master’ to his ‘servant’ to almost cruel lengths. Things get even more surreal with the introduction of Barrett’s ‘sister’ who comes to work under Tony in the same subservient role.

I’m surprised I’ve only just seen this film for the first time. It was worth the wait. This is brilliant on every level. There are universally fantastic performances especially from Fox and Bogarde who throw themselves into the descent into madness which Harold Pinter’s adaptation of Robin Maugham’s book portrays.

In fact, Pinter has a cameo role in the scene in the restaurant which epitomises the convention-breaking nature of the material at hand. We are shown an excerpt from the conversation from each table in the venue. We’re privileged enough to become privy to multiple different narratives and stories from many different characters, not just Tony and his girlfriend. One of these pairings is Pinter as a socialite and his date.

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Check out director Joseph Losey’s use of mirrors to portray the action but also to distort it’s view to the audience just as the film’s events are being shaped and distorted. Also, check out Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography which is breathtaking.

The film also reverses, subverts and delightfully fiddles around with the power dynamic of the ‘master’ and ‘servant’- who is serving who? Do the truly subservient characters even realise?

In fact, things get so surreal that I would have sworn that Pinter had written this story himself rather than just adapting it. This would make a great triple-bill with William Friedkin’s The Birthday Party (also written by Pinter) and Polanski’s Repulsion.

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On The Servant’s release it won a raft of awards and rightfully so. It also resides on The BFI’s Top 100 British Film’s list.

4 out of 5 stars

 

31 Days of Halloween- Day 30- Night of the Living Dead (1968)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 30- Night of the Living Dead (1968)

A mysterious radiation thought to have been brought back to Earth after a space probe to Venus is bringing the dead back to life to feast on the living. A young woman named Barbara is visiting her dead father’s grave with her brother Johnny when…

This film has so much of a great reputation amongst horror fans and cinema scholars alike. Does it live up to this?

In a word- YES. Not only does it feel real (it’s based in the America it was made in and looks almost like a documentary) but you get the impression that the events that take place in the course of the film could actually happen. We are witnessing the fabric of society unravelling magnificently due to the disaster which has occurred. Life (and death) will never be the same again after this literally Earth-changing event.

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Hitchcock may have ripped up the horror rulebook by disposing of Janet Leigh’s character Marion Crane early on in Psycho when the audience wrongly thought of her as the main female character who would make it to the end of the film. But George A Romero goes one better in Night. Barbara is still in the majority of the film but is so traumatised by her ordeal that she is rendered catatonic for the rest of her tenure. And what a great performance it is- a mental breakdown captured on celluloid, a brilliant portrayal of a response to trauma. Watch the scene where Barbara comes across the music box. It’s one of the most unsettling scenes I’ve ever seen.

Romero also holds a mirror up to societal tensions and conflicts throughout the film. Duane Jones as Ben is the lead of the movie but is also African American- unheard of except when depicted by Sidney Poitier in mainstream Hollywood films that felt groundbreaking and progressive but also marginalised. These films squarely tackled race (and rightly so). But Jones just happens to be black and this is never mentioned in Night. His race isn’t an explicit issue in the film- but maybe directs the actions of other characters (check out the conclusion to Night. There are MANY different readings and interpretations of this. It’s the most shocking ending I have ever seen in a film and just as relevant today as it was back then. I actually get a shiver down my spine just thinking about it and what we see during the end credits of this film).

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Duane Jones plays Ben

But there are other societal echoes within Night. Notice how Ben gives his monologue regarding the backstory as to how he ended up at the farmhouse. Jones is truly astonishing especially here. But then watch how he reacts when Barbara tells her story- her account is no less serious or devastating as she’s just seen her brother being knocked unconscious after being attacked by a member of the undead during an event that should have been humdrum and routine. She is termed hysterical by Ben who tells her to calm down. Different oppressed sectors of society with equally disturbing back stories to tell but instead of each being given their time to share their experiences, a member of one group tells the other to effectively shut up. 50 years on, this film is still relevant.

This film also has a lot to say about the family of that time. The traditional family is under attack from the zombies (as Robin Wood expressed using his theory of ‘Return of the Repressed’). The notion of Mom, Dad and 2.4 children (possibly with an apple pie on the table) is no more. The new family in the farmhouse consists of disparate members of society who are forced together to survive against what has gone wrong in the outside world. In fact, in one scene we see Ben actually taking apart the notion of the family and the household from within as he starts taking apart furniture like the kitchen table to barricade the doors and windows with. The scene where the mother is stabbed to death by her daughter who has been bitten by a zombie represents the death of the outdated notion of the family in it’s purest form. The new killing and replacing what and who has gone before.

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Child kills parent, the new killing the old

The first time I saw this film it had actually been colorised but still worked. The thinking behind this colorisation was probably the video company thinking that all horror films made within a certain timeframe were ‘kitsch’, camp and unworthy of serious analysis or enjoyment. I believe the term is ‘so bad it’s good’ (vomit). I remember an advert for a screening of the film on the UK’s Channel 4 that billed the film as a typical 60’s drive-in B movie- cue emphasis on bad acting, rubbish make-up and all round tack. Wrong on EVERY count.

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It was a revelation when I first saw the film as it was intended to be seen in black and white. It’s actually a beautiful film with every frame resembling the work of the Nouvelle Vague rather than some Grindhouse fodder made on the cheap to be shown to the stoned.

I saw this film yesterday on the big screen. It was the Criterion 4K restoration and it looked and sounded amazing.

If punk is seen as Year Zero for music then this is Year Zero for horror and one of a whole slew of films that represented a turning point for American film in general.

Fun fact- this is the film on in the background when Harold is having a sandwich made in Halloween 2 (1981).

5 out of 5 stars

31 Days of Halloween- Day 26- The Gorgon (1964)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 26- The Gorgon (1964)

A Hammer film that looks to Greek mythology for the basis of it’s plot with the mythical creature known as The Gorgon (a woman with snakes for hair and the ability to turn anyone who looks her in the eye to stone) being adapted and shone through the Hammer Films’ prism.

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This film features the combined talents of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Patrick Troughton who are all amazing. In fact, the storyline between Cushing, his wife and her lover overshadows the actual gorgon at one point. This isn’t detrimental to the film’s narrative though.

This film looks absolutely beautiful. I watched the restored Blu-ray version from the first Indicator boxset and they have done a phenomenal job. I hadn’t even heard of this film before the release of the boxset but I’m glad I did. It’s a brilliant film and deserves to be seen more widely. I would love a cinema release of some of Hammer’s films so that their full glory can be seen on the big screen.

4 out of 5 stars

 

31 Days of Halloween- Day 20- The Boston Strangler (1968)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 20- The Boston Strangler (1968)

A Hollywood production portraying the real-life murderous rampage of a serial killer dubbed The Boston Strangler.

Great casting with Tony Curtis playing against type as the homicidal lead (and he does a great job- check out the chilling final scene), Henry Fonda and Murray Hamilton as detectives on his case.

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This looks great as a film with beautiful cinematography. Sometimes the use of split screen and an almost mosaic style works very well (the scenes of Boston’s women buying more locks and guns in response to the culture of fear because of the Strangler use this technique really well) but at other times it feels a bit heavy-handed and patronising for the audience as you’re forced to focus on one aspect of the screen that you would have picked up on without this device being used.

Theres a great sequence where the police chief says that he wants every pervert to be questioned (he lists examples starting with ‘toilet queens’ which made me giggle). One locale we see a suspect being questioned is a 60’s gay bar. This doesn’t pull any punches with societal attitudes towards homosexuality being played out. The police detective says hes ‘slumming it’ by being in a gay bar when asked by his suspect if he was there to satisfy his curiosity. But then he quickly apologises. This almost sympathetic view towards gay people must have been shocking to audiences then.

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This was also a very early Hollywood film about a real life serial killer. This subject has been examined a lot more since then in film and so parts of this movie feel a bit obvious and sensationalised. But its worth remembering that this film was very brave for examining this very gritty fare. Society was changing with a darker cloud rolling in after the summer of love and this encroaching darkness was now seeping into Hollywood cinema.

This film might lag in some sequences but it’s great in others.

2/5 out of 5 stars