A mother and daughter in law (named in the credits as ‘older woman’ and ‘younger woman’ respectively) are waiting for their son/husband to return from the war he’s fighting in. A soldier named Hachi who fought alongside him comes back to tell them that in fact he saw him killed. He then starts having a torrid affair with the daughter against the wishes of her mother in law. This is going on in secret although the mother in law knows all about it and is jealous. All of this continues until…well, that would be telling!
Breathtaking cinematography, a great plot, amazing acting and imagery that will stay with you well after the film has ended!
This film was banned outright when it was first submitted to the BBFC and then released heavily edited. It’s now acknowledged as a classic with it being on the Criterion collection.
A teenage drag race goes dreadfully wrong with one car being forced off a bridge and into a river. From the car a woman, Mary manages to escape and clamber ashore.
However, Mary’s life after that isn’t the same. She seems to see ghostly figures when she seemingly disassociates herself with everyday life that is going on around her. One example takes place on a bus when she sees seemingly dead people coming for her. The film very creepily plays with space and time and does so without warning. The film is just as disconcerting and disorientating for the audience as it is for Mary.
The ghostly figures she sees seem to be led by a man (in reality, the film’s director Herk Harvey) who seems intent on somehow coming for Mary to take her somewhere as yet unknown.
Mary is a church organist by occupation but even this is affected now with her only playing the kind of funereal pieces that in the future The Cure would be playing in 1981. Yes, they’re that bleak! One priest who hears her playing stops her and deems her playing as ‘Profane! Sacrilege!’
Add to this a very sleazy and creepy housemate who gets off on perving on her as she gets out of the bath and won’t let up.
The action builds up to an ending that actually takes place in an abandoned fairground. This all adds up to a truly great cinematic experience. There are sequences of this film that are far removed from anything I’ve ever seen in a motion picture before or since. The haunting photography, the use of some sequences such as a dancing scene in the carnival being sped up, the way the film takes the audience with Mary as she enters her limbo world where the dead walk and stalk her.
The idea of a limbo world between life and death was also brilliantly explored later on in the classic movie Don’t Look Now. Carnival of Souls went on to influence George A Romero who said that it was a huge influence on Night of the Living Dead as did David Lynch on Blue Velvet. The influence of the film can also be seen within the better parts of the Goth movement. The sequence where the undead run after Mary on the beach feels like a fantastic Goth version of something from a Fellini film.
Carnival of Souls is an anomaly in cinematic terms, a one-off which is like no other. It’s also a masterpiece. I’m so glad it wasn’t forgotten. It was restored and released cinematically in 1989 after it’s original 1962 release and is now on the Criterion collection on Blu ray alongside the best of cinema. And rightly so!
Jojo is a proud Hitler Youth member. He decides to go on a weekend for fellow brainwashed enthusiasts. However, after a (very funny) accident with a grenade he finds himself hospitalised. At home recovering he discovers that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. He confides this to his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (!)
This film is actually a comedy! An off the wall, zany and irreverant comedy that works beautifully. It was a massive gamble to make such a film in such oversensitive and ‘woke’ times. And it was Disney of all studios that made Jojo Rabbit! Should such a terrible period from history be depicted in such a chirpy and comical way? Should Hitler be portrayed as such a goofball within the film? YES! Whether it’s Mel Brooks (who said he loved JoJo Rabbit) with The Producers and it’s musical Springtime For Hitler or Joan Rivers making her controversial joke about the Holocaust on Fashion Police, humour reaches the parts that more earnest and serious pieces of ‘art’ can’t. It forces you to laugh at whatever is the target of the joke is and then analyse why you laughed at something that you normally wouldn’t see as comical.
Whilst most critics have lauded the film, there are peripheral pundits who have either said that the filmmakers have gone too far (How dare they make a comedy starring Adolf Hitler?!) or that they didn’t go far enough (How dare they make a film about Nazi Germany and not show the full horror of what happened?!). The Guardian hated the film which is another reason for audiences go and see this gem of a film.
But, understandably, everything depicted in the film isn’t just for laughs. There are plenty of gut-wrenching moments when the full horror is brought home to the characters and audience alike. These poignant sequences aren’t milked for all their worth and this makes them all the more powerful and genuine. There were a couple of pivotal scenes which made me fight back tears. These scenes were played out for what they were without the whole film descending into a tissue-soaking cry-a-thon which would have cheapened and devalued the movie’s content.
The film also looks beautiful with set designs and a colour palate that makes Jojo Rabbit a feast for the eyes. This film is beautifully constructed. Jojo’s room, the house in which he resides, the cubby hole that houses Elsa and the surrounding environs are all aesthetically pleasing and a joy to behold.
Also, check out the framing. Every scene feels just as quirky, off-kilter and as warped as the narrative. Watch out for the scene on the giant steps and the later scene with it’s emphasis on a character’s shoes and how this motif is used later on in the film in an extremely heartbreaking but dignified and tasteful way.
The soundtrack is also fantastic with The Beatles’ German language version of I Wanna Hold Your Hand (‘Komm, gib mir deine Hand’) and Bowie’s Helden leading the way. In fact, these two rather obscure (to English eyes anyway) versions of well known songs normally heard in their Mother Tongue depict the whole feel of the film- off kilter, eschew and very original.
There are uniformly amazing performances by the likes of Roman Griffin Davis playing Jojo, Scarlett Johannsen as his mother, Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa the Jewish hideaway and Sam Rockwell (great to see him taking more risks with his choice of roles after starring in the ultra-woke and unbearable Three Billboards). Also, look out for Stephen Merchant as a very sinister Nazi inspector. He reminded me of The Demon Headmaster. But it’s director and screenwriter Taika Waititi who plays Adolf Hitler who steals the show. Every scene that hes in is comedy gold as he depicts Hitler as a kind of bro/dude best friend to Jojo. His lines and mannerisms are laugh out loud hysterical.
4 parts humour, 1 part sentiment, this film has a power that will seep into your brain during it’s running time and stay with you long after the film is over. In fact my first thought on leaving the cinema was that I wanted to see it again.
I feel privileged to have seen one of the best films of 2020 on Jan the 1st of this year. A cracking start to a new decade of movies.
I first saw this classic when I was a late teen and studying for my A-levels in college in 1994. My friend taped this for me on the same tape as Last House on the Left. With it being copied from a copy the picture and audio were crappy but somehow this added to the experience of watching a film that at that time was banned in the UK.
Watching the film for the first time was a confusing experience. I knew that it was a powerful film regarding the horror aspect of the movie but I wasn’t expecting the humour that the film contained. It truly is gallows humour but its there loud and clear. ‘Look what your brother did to the door!’ barks the old man. ‘Get back in that kitchen!’ he then barks to Leatherface in a bizarre twist on the maternal role of the extended family.
I also wasn’t prepared for the surreal content I was seeing. The end dinner scene with Sally tied down to an armchair that literally had arms. The frantic shots of her eyes and indeed the veins in her eyes along with the buzzcut music that made up part of the soundtrack.
It took me a while for my brain to process and comprehend these components. I then came to grips with the films intention- these elements were like an E.C. Comics publication. If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was one of those comics then there would be a lurid illustration of a terrified Sally on the front cover strapped down to the chair during the dinner scene with face shots of the ghoulish cast of The Old Man, The Hitchhiker and Leatherface buried in a side panel.
Indeed, Tobe Hooper has acknowledged the influence of E.C. Comics on the film’s vision. ‘I started reading [EC comics] when I was about seven,’ he told Cinefantastique in 1977, ‘I loved them … Since I started reading these comics when I was young and impressionable, their overall feeling stayed with me. I’d say they were the single most important influence on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’.
The film’s beginning is a well paced introduction to the film’s upcoming events. With hindsight, whilst the build up to the first kill is well paced and crammed full of significant events you realise that this reletively gentle when compared with whats to come. The full horror of the ‘Saturn in Retrograde’ will be discovered at full pelt soon enough. The asking for directions to the old house resplendent with the old drunk/seer sat in a tyre on the ground, the encounter with the garage owner and the humour of the car window screen washer, picking up the hitchhiker and the first interaction with a member of the family, the rundown old Hardesty house with the spiders in the corner of one of the rooms, the old creek that has dried up long ago…most horror films would love these kind of events, visions and plot elements. The audience is already engaged and fascinated.
But then The Texas Chain Saw Massacre isn’t any horror film. With the character of Kirk entering the cannibal’s house a shocking chain reaction of carnage, insanity and psychosis begins. These elements are turned up to 11 and don’t drop down again for the rest of the film’s duration. This film has murder on its mind and will do everything to satisfy this need.
This movie is a physical, mental and emotional assault on the senses not just for the characters but also for the audience. The teens learn this on entering the cannibal’s house. But its not just the teens who have their senses assaulted. So does Leatherface. Hes just as confused, scared and freaked out by these strangers invading his home. But its the teens who are truly powerless and suffer the most. The dinner scene in which Leatherface starts pawing Sally’s hair but then invades her personal space by sticking his made-up dead skin mask into her face is intrusive, disgusting and violating. Tobe Hooper knows this and so turns this into a POV shot so that the audience gets to fully comprehend what the lead character is enduring at this time.
At this point Sally starts gnarling, growling and crying as something emotionally primeval is brought to the surface. Its here that I’d like to celebrate the Marilyn Burns’ performance. Every time I watch this film her acting leaves me breathless. This feat has to be seen to be believed (like the film itself) as she portrays disbelief, terror, resilience and ultimately insanity. I realise that these are just words and do nothing to fully encapsulate this performance. How good is her portrayal of someone steered towards madness? Compare the end of this movie in which the bloodied, bruised and battered Sally is now being safely driven away in the back of a pickup truck to Dana Kimmell’s attempt at trying to portray insanity at the end of Friday the 13th Part 3. One is masterful, the other is half hearted and utterly unconvincing. The bad emphasises the brilliant.
In fact, whilst most horror movies dream of one great performance that goes the extra mile, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has at least five. Burns’ performance is one. The performances of the actors portraying Leatherface, The Hitchhiker, The Old Man and Grandpa all pull out the stops and are batshit crazy and brilliant for it.
Another major reason why I love this film is because no backstory or explanation is given for the family or the events depicted herein. There are clues- the gruesome sculptures made of bones and body parts in the family home (taken from the real life case of serial killer Ed Gein on which the film is loosely based) suggest previous victims, conquests and adventures. The talk of family members being employed by the
local slaughterhouse and being the best at their job also suggests part of the family’s history (and their possible unemployment- the Hitchiker says that the airgun used to kill the animals ”is no good. It puts people out of jobs…”). The Old Man has a garage business as ‘he takes no pleasure in killin’ ” as is later disclosed in the later dinner scene. But there is no clear history given for the family or the events that the film depicts. This lends a massive sense of mystery to the film and gets the audience something to think about long after the film has ended. Explanation would kill this film as it would kill nearly all of the great examples of any genre. I just wish the filmmakers who inflict remakes on the world would take heed of this fact.
On closing this review I’d just like to speak about the availability of this film on home media. I watched the film for this review on Dark Sky’s 4K blu ray. I’ve never seen the film look or sound so brilliant. I never expected this film to get such a loving restoration treatment- but it has and for that I’m eternally grateful. This film certainly deserves it. This release is a far cry from the first time I saw the film on a grainy fifth generation VHS copy.
If you’re a horror fan and haven’t seen this then you can’t call yourself a true fan of the genre. If you’re a fan of film in general the same applies. Let this film get under your skin (pun not intended). Your life will be better for it.