Day 23- 31 Days of Halloween- Duel (1971)

Day 23- 31 Days of Halloween- Duel (1971)

This Steven Spielberg directed movie made for TV and adapted from Richard Matheson’s short story still packs a punch.

David Mann is a travelling businessman venturing to an appointment across California but is slowed down considerably by an ominous truck that at first inconveniences him until things suddenly take a much darker tone.

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This film could be seen to represent masculinity. David could be seen to represent the modern man- hen-pecked, pussy-whipped and a million miles from his caveman Id origins. Notice David meekly calling his wife to try and patch things up as he had earlier had an argument with her. They had been at a party when another man started coming onto her and acting inappropriately. He voices the opinion that she was sore because he didn’t choose to square up to the suitor and knock his lights out. He voices the opinion that she thinks he hadn’t fulfilled his traditionally masculine role.

Also, when David goes to the garage he asks the attendant to ‘Fill her up’ with the attendant replying ‘You’re the boss.’ To which David responds ‘Not in my house I’m not!’

David’s continued oneupmanship with the truck represents a display of masculine superiority. Whos the bigger man, who has the bigger penis?

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The clues to the driver of the truck point towards a more rugged, masculine opponent who is blue collar, possibly from Down South (he wears jeans and cowboy boots for his line of work as opposed to David’s white collar suit and polished shoes). 

The truck is the Return of the Repressed in the guise of David’s more base level, undomesticated masculinity. It’s always present, it’s unescapable and is waiting to confront him when he thinks he’s shaken it off.

Witness the scene in which David stops to use the payphone at the garage owned by the woman who keeps exhibits of rattlesnakes, tarantulas and lizards. Whilst the truck smashes the cages of these creatures and inadvertently sets them free whilst trying to run David over, it frees these creatures from their cages and places them where they would have been before- in the wild. This is also symbolic. The truck’s very deeds are also freeing David’s more primal masculine survival instincts which it thinks should be just as free but have become more deeply embedded and seemingly eradicated due to 70’s society with it’s emphasis on Women’s Liberation and, thus, the emasculation of men. The fact that the owner of the caged animals exhibit is female is also telling.

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But, whilst the truck might possess and exhibit brute force and traditional ‘Alpha Male’ qualities, it’s David’s qualities of cunning and intellect that save him. He utilises attributes that are above the level of the truck’s Id and he uses them advantageously.

Notice also the dinosaur roar the truck makes as it faces it’s demise. This could be seen as symbolic of this outdated, destructive and potentially dangerous version of untamed and unrefined masculinity. This dinosaur roar was also referenced in Spielberg’s later masterpiece, Jaws. He even made the roar louder when it was released in a new print on Blu ray a few years ago.

This really is a stunning piece of work. Acted to perfection, beautifully framed and paced amazingly. This may have been made for American TV but it proved so successful that it was expanded and released theatrically in the UK the year after.

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The UK cinema poster

A special mention to the gorgeous cinematography. The American landscape has never looked so beautiful along with the quintessentially American institutions such as it’s diners and random sideshow attractions such as the garage owner’s snakes and spiders sideshow. A gorgeous love -letter to Americana and a few examples of what makes this country so amazing.

Spielberg went on to make another horror themed TV movie, Something Evil the following year. This is also a resounding success but unfortunately never released on home media.

4/5 out of 5 stars

Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Day 12- 31 Days of Halloween- The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

In the 80s I was obsessed with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Because of the popularity of this film an earlier Wes Craven film was re-released on video in the UK. That film was 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes. I first saw the video for this release on a video store’s shelves whilst on holiday visiting relatives. Some of these relatives were born again Christians and so I don’t think renting a film about mutant cannibals would really have gone down that well.

On returning to York and away from The God Squad I rented the film from my local video library. I loved it.

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The film was then released shortly after that on retail label Palace Horror and so I bought my own copy of the film which I then watched with shocking regularity.

After these releases the film then seemingly sank into semi-obscurity again. I hoped and prayed for a DVD release that was halfway decent.

It was a long wait but this actually happened courtesy of Anchor Bay. I remember seeing the request that had placed on many film industry forums for a negative that they could use as the basis for a release. When that release finally saw the light of day the wait was justified. The print had been restored as had the audio. The DVD was also chockful of extras including an alternate ending that none of the fans of the film knew about.

Whilst watching this film for this review I watched the latest release- Arrow Video’s 4K Blu ray which is the best edition of the film so far. The picture is so sharp that Post-It notes posted on a pinboard in the mobile home can be read and the sign outside the garage in the movie can be made out. Hooray for advancements in film technology. Another Arrow Video triumph.

The-Hills-Have-Eyes_ArrowThe film itself is about a family who are travelling to California but decide to look for silver mines that are off the beaten track. The family’s car and mobile home attached to it swerve off the road and the family find themselves stranded. Unfortunately they also find themselves under the unwanted gaze of a local group of mutant cannibals who have grown up in the area which is used by the Army to test nuclear capabilities. The film then develops into a battle between the All- American family and the cannibals.

On watching this film again for this review the strongest feeling I got was just how outrageous the film is. It certainly goes the extra mile in terms of plot and grittiness. In fact the film goes even further than director Wes Craven’s previous film Last House on the Left. At one point during Hills a baby is kidnapped by the cannibals for food. If that isn’t pushing the horror envelope then I don’t know what is! But whilst the film and it’s plot may be extreme there is never a sense that the film is ever gratuitous or sensationalistic but still sets precedents. A good point of comparison here is with the godawful remake from 2006. In this original version of the film there is a rape scene that is signified by the eyes of the victim widening. And thats enough for the audience to know whats going on. The same sequence in the remake is much more drawn out, unnecessary and involves the victim getting her face licked by her cannibal attacker. And thats just for starters. Enough said.

Speaking of Last House on the Left, the artistic leap between these two films seems huge. The Hills Have Eyes is positively polished by comparison to Last House in terms of technical ability, acting and direction. However, The Hills Have Eyes still feels gritty, subversive and downright dangerous- like watching a renowned video nasty classic for the first time. Both Last House and Hills use their low budgets feels to their advantage. It seems like Wes Craven believed that a lower budget just means you adapt to this and rise to the challenge creatively without sacrificing quality. Both films have a documentary and realistic feel to them rather than just being examples of exploitation cinema awash with bad acting.

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In fact, one of Hills’ many strengths is the acting. As soon as you see the name Dee Wallace on a cast list you know that the film will have a certain level of prestige and integrity. She is amazing as are all of the cast. In fact there are pieces of acting within Hills that seemingly exceed the horror genre. One example of this is when Doug gets back to the mobile home to find that family members have either been raped, shot or killed. And on top of that his baby daughter has been kidnapped. His acting on seeing his dead wife is incredible and extremely poignant.

The movie also made a horror icon of Michael Berryman. Even the poster for the film featuring Mr Berryman’s face was iconic. Imagine seeing that poster outside a cinema in 1977. Even if you didn’t know anything about the film you’d still go and see it as the poster and tagline are so brilliant.

Another example of The Hills Have Eyes as a cult classic is that it is endlessly quotable. It also goes to show that they might be nuclear mutant cannibals but they have some great oneliners. ‘Whats the matter? You don’t like dog anymore?!’

Craven has some very perceptive insights to convey regarding issues such as the family, the relationships within the family, the differences between the two families but also the less obvious similarities between them. I could go into these in much more depth along with my other theories about the film but this will be done soon in a separate article about the movie.

For me, The Hills Have Eyes isn’t just a stunning piece of horror cinema it feels like an innovative and genre-defining film that is just as important as The Exorcist, Halloween or Night of the Living Dead.

The Hills Have Eyes will always be in my Top 10 list of favourite films.

 

Tenebrae – Day 24 – 31 Days of Halloween

Tenebrae – Day 24 – 31 Days of Halloween

Probably Argento’s best movie in my opinion.

A successful writer Peter Neal is visiting Rome from America. He becomes aware that a serial killer is on the loose and strongly influenced by his work.

This film is staggeringly good. Prepare to be astounded by the tracking shot of the outside of the apartment block- one of the best shots I’ve ever seen in a film. Also, the scene where a characters arm is chopped off with an axe and her blood completely redecorates a wall. Directed with the usual flair and attention to detail and aesthetics that you’d expect from The Master.

This film also features an amazing turn by the legend John Saxon. Argento manages to coax a wacky, insane performance out of the actor which steals the show. Look out for the scene where he shows how his hat stays on no matter what.

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The ending is a master stroke also. I’m certainly not going to spoil the surprise here but its a corker and doesn’t feel forced or contrived.

This film came a cropper in Britain- it was mixed up in the 80s Video Nasties moral panic and was banned for years. There seems to be three vile repercussions of the DPP list- obviously the fact that it prevented the viewer watching what they wanted but also that masterpieces like Tenebrae were banned and much lesser films were immortalised. Wrongly so- some of the films on the lists should have disappeared without a trace otherwise.

Even the poster for Tenebrae caused a commotion. The original poster features the blood from a neck wound on a female victim. This was too much for London Underground who said that they wouldn’t display the posters as they were too graphic. Hence the red trickle of blood was instead replaced by a red ribbon for the UK posters and even the soundtrack art here.

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The original poster
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The altered poster- now fit for London Underground
If you love horror, see this film. If you love giallo, see this film. Damn- if you love cinema full stop- SEE THIS FILM.

5 out of 5

Let The Right One In – Day 14 – 31 Days of Halloween

Let The Right One In – Day 14 – 31 Days of Halloween

An intelligent, original horror film is as rare as hen’s teeth nowadays. Hollywood seems content on remaking, rehashing and plundering the past glories of the genre with predictably mediocre and overexplained results.
Let The Right One In is one of those rare gems however. Set in snow laden 80s Sweden this is the story of a bullied child who befriends a young vampire. And then the sparks (and blood) fly.

Brilliant written, acted and directed- this film is never less than stunning. Its not often that a film lives up to its hype (The Babadook is an example. Horror fans were so hungry for a great horror film that they called it a classic. Its very good but not a classic) but this does. Its power lies in properly developed characters, silences and the audiences intelligence not being underestimated.

Gorgeous.
4 and a half out of 5

Wake in Fright- Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween

Wake in Fright- Day 6- 31 Days of Halloween

A young schoolteacher trues to escape small town Australia and reach Sydney…but gets waylayed in the darkest possible way.

This is an amazing examination of small town madness, the unspoken madness of such a life and the brutality and destruction undertaken by men.

Its also an amazing portrayal of cabin fever being caused by nothing but huge open spaces.

The film features another insane petformamce by Donald Pleasance who is in top form. If this doesn’t act of enough of a recommendation then I don’t know what will. 

The kangaroo hunting scenes are strangely beautiful just like the rest of the film. The outback has rarely looked so gorgeous on film. However, what goes on there means that this is far from a 70s tourist board film.


The rediscovery of this film and its subsequent restoration restores my faith in humanity. This film is too important and brilliant to be left unseen and decaying in a basement somewhere. This movie would make a great double bill with Nic Roeg’s Walkabout.