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

 

 

 

 

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

31 Days of Halloween- Day 15- Dementia 13 (1963)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 15- Dementia 13 (1963)

A movie directed by a young Francis (Ford) Coppola and produced by Roger Corman.

A genius plot-

One night, while out rowing in the middle of a lake, John Haloran, and his young wife Louise, argue about his rich mother’s will. Louise is upset that everything is currently designated to go to charity in the name of a mysterious “Kathleen.” John tells Louise that, if he dies before his mother, Louise will be entitled to none of the inheritance. He promptly drops dead from a massive heart attack. Thinking quickly, the scheming Louise throws his fresh corpse over the side of the boat, where he comes to rest at the bottom of the lake. Her plan is to pretend that he is still alive to ingratiate her way into the will. She types up a letter to Lady Haloran, inviting herself to the family’s Irish castle while her husband is “away on business.”

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In the UK the film was named ‘The Haunted and the Hunted’

 

But then after this something happens that changes the course of the whole film (I’m not going to ruin the film for potential viewers). This was a brave move a la Psycho and Night of the Living Dead.

And it works brilliantly. In fact, everything about this film works amazingly. It’s a great film with a great premise, gorgeous cinematography, uniformedly good performances from a cast of unknowns and direction that deftly straddles both drive-in cinema and the Nouvelle Vague. This is part Homicidal (this was made to cash-in on it’s success) and part Carnival of Souls but whilst retaining it’s own identity. Theres a strong Giallo feel to proceedings- the gloved killer with an ax, the sinister doll symbolism.

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The location used deserves a mention. A spawling castle in Ireland with a scene that takes place in a Dublin bar make this film even more special. It feels like part film, part time capsule. The costume design of the film is also something to behold- classic men’s suits (think Sean Connery as Bond and Michael Caine in The Italian Job), chic women’s miniskirts and the best bleached blonde 60’s haircuts seen in any film of the period.

Highly recommended.

4 out of 5 stars

 

31 Days of Halloween- Day 12- Island of Terror (1966)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 12- Island of Terror (1966)

Scientists on an island just off Ireland are close to finding a cure for cancer but accidentally produce ‘silicates’: tentacled creatures that suck the bone marrow from their victims.

This is a British film directed by Terence Fisher who made a lot of films for Hammer. The version that I saw had been restored by Pinewood Studios where the film was produced and it looks gorgeous. The cinematography and colour palate of the film have been brought out beautifully.

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This is a fantastic invasion movie from a bygone era and feels like something John Wyndham might have written. The creatures are like giant flattened slugs but with a single antennae which in reality are so unthreatening that it’s hilarious. But it adds to the charm of the movie- and it’s still better than some CGI modern multiplex borefest.

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But don’t think that this film is a just a cheesy film to merely laugh off. The version I saw had reinstated a sequence in which Peter Cushing’s character has his hand chopped off with an axe. This scene was taken out of prints after the BBFC said that it was too strong for audiences. With the restoration of the film for release on Blu-ray this scene is available to be seen in all it’s bloody glory.

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Cushing’s character post-axe.

The Odeon UK Blu-ray release of this film looks great. The US Scream Factory release is meant to be even better. I look forward to seeing it.

3/5 out of 5 stars