Week 2 has brief stops in 40s and 50s, before starting into the 60s. Looking forward to whats up.
Oct. 7th-The Uninvited from 1944 (Director: Lewis Allen, Writers: Frank Partos and Dodie Smith and Based on Uneasy Freehold by Dorothy Macardle, Stars: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Cornelia Otis Skinner and Gail Russell, Runtime: 99 mins)
A classic of supernatural horror, this gothic tinged film is about siblings who buy a beautiful house by the ocean only to learn its haunted. The target of the spirits is a young woman who’s mother died on the cliffs. Two most noteworthy things up first. The look of this film is amazing. The use of shadows is better than most films. No wonder it was nominated for cinematography. I think that’s what a lot of horror films now seem to miss-hell, a lot of superhero films can improve in that area too. But seriously, when the night comes on and there is limited lighting, the film is at its most beautiful. The drawing room scene between Ray Milliand’s character and Gail Russell’s character is beautiful. The performances are all on point. Ray Milland is in my fave Hitchcock film, Dial M For Murder and I just learned he played the bad guy in one of my fave children’s movies Escape to Witch Mountain. This film has a very strong female presence too. Rith Hussey, Cornelia Skinner and Gail Russell are all wonderful. Hussey’s supportive and open-minded Pamela Fitzgerald, Cornelia’s icy Miss Holloway, and finally Gail’s strong, sympathetic performance as Stella-the object of the ghosts malice. The films tone is sometimes strange, sometimes its light and humorous-even romantic with the growing love between Roderick Fitzgerald and the younger, Stella Meredith. However the romance plays pretty well. The actual hauntings are limited but usually pretty effective. Weird sounds and smells but the seance sequence and the brief apparitions do look good. The pacing is a little draggy, you kind of what to get to more of the horror. At least I always do. One of the central mysteries of the film becomes pretty obvious. Overall, a good film and great way to kick off week 2.
I love good movie trivia so here’s some. The costuming was by Edith Head, the inspiration behind Edna Mode from the Incredibles films. Other trivia include the theme Stella by Starlight becoming a jazz standard, both Martin Scorcese and Guillermo Del Toro love this film.
Oct. 8th-The Spiral Staircase from 1946 (Director: Robert Siodmak, Writers: Mel Dinelli and Based on Some Must Watch
by Ethel Lina White, Stars: Dorothy McGuire, George Brent, and Ethel Barrymore, Runtime: 83 mins)
This psychological thriller is about a mute woman named Helen who works as a live in companion to an ailing woman in her big home with her son, step-son, and several others. Their community has been struck by several murders. The film definitely falls into that gothic film aesthetic, especially when they get to Warren house. Use of light and shadows in the basement, decor of rooms, the dress of both Helen and Blanche. The film moves pretty well, setting up the players for the mystery inside the house but you just assume its a man not any of the women. Not bed ridden Mrs. Warren, the housekeeper, Blanche, or the nurse. We look at the brothers, the groundskeeper, or even the doctor who wants to fix Helen’s muteness. Helen is played by Dorothy McGuire and she is very good. Conveying a lot without words. Ethyl Barrymore was nominated for a supporting actress for her work here and its good but like Paradine Case I don’t think she was the best thing about this film. The whole cast is good, I quite liked Rhonda Fleming as Blanche. One of my drawbacks was Dr. Parry’s insistence on fixing Helen’s muteness. I actually preferred Steven Warren’s opinions on the matter. He was played by Gordon Oliver and I thought he was good. I did like this film, and I think overall it’s probably objectively better than some of the films I’ve watched but not as fun or enjoyable as some of the others.
Now, despite this not being a horror film elements fall into the proto-slasher camp. The most famous of those being Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This film predates both movies but I see itas having a touch of inspiration on the psychological horror film and proto-slasher Black Christmas. And Black Christmas is really the playbook for Halloween, which is credited as the first slasher. The reason I bring up Black Christmas is that it shares certain things with Spiral Staircase. They both have a gothic edge, the victims are women, a central mystery that involves a dedicated officer, and sticks to a general setting. Spiral Staircase is a big house where as Black Christmas mostly takes place in a sorority house. The similarities are minimal but important enough to stand out to me.
Oct. 9th-Diabolique from 1955 (Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot, Writers: Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jérôme Géronimi and Based on She Who Was No More by Boileau-Narcejac, Stars: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse and Charles Vanel, Runtime: 114 mins)
This classic French thriller is about an a wife and a mistress plotting to get rid of the man in their life. That man, Delasalle is commanding and a real jerk. Plus he is using his wife for her money, grade A douchebag. I don’t really have enough to say about the film. It looked good. Another film you can put in the gothic cannon with its use of light and shadows, as well as the setting in the boys school. The real strength to me is in the performances of the two leads. Simone Signoret as the mistress and Vera Clouzot as the wife. They way they walk, talk, plot, worry and so forth. Vera is especially great. Her character’s religious faith and weak disposition are key points of the film and she plays both of them excellently. I also liked the retired police detective turned private eye played by Charles Vanel. This was good, and I get its popularity, but its not as fun as some of the stuff I watched even if its technically “a better film.” Also, because its an important film in psychological horror/thriller you see parts of the movie reflected in other movies. It does take some of the punch away though its still effective. Good movie, never gonna watch it again.
Oct. 10th-House of Usher from 1960 (Director: Roger Cormen, Writers: Written by Richard Matheson Based on “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe, Stars: Vincent Price, Myrna Fahey, Mark Damon and Harry Ellerbe, Runtime: 79 mins)
The first of Roger Corman’s 8 Edgar Allan Poe based films (some of which are very loosely base), House of Usher is about a man coming to retrieve his fiance, Madeline Usher to bring her to Boston. There he deals with dire warnings of her older brother, about how badness will kill the family. The first year I did these I watched Pit and Pendulum, I found my four sentence review and it reminds me that first year I did so many bad movies by the time I was in the last couple weeks I was struggling. The review pretty much “looks good, nice cast, don’t care.” I kind of feel the same way about this one. Though when I say looks nice, it looks fucking fantastic and I imagine Pit and Pendulum was just as good looking. This is a brilliant mix of costuming, set design, and cinematography. I always forget Corman’s a good director until I watch one of his movies. The man is underrated. The performance’s are all very good but of course Vincent Price is fucking magnificent. The story itself, well, it’s interesting. I love the part about the Usher family line when Price runs through the worst of the lost. I think the end is appropriately dramatic. This film does make me want to take another look at Pt and Pendulum, but as good as it is, I think my takeaway will be the look and Price. Maybe I’ll remember the plot in a year…
I also want to shout out Mark Damon and Myrna Fahey. They both were good too. Sad to read Myrna died so young. Also, thanks Damon for producing some films I really liked.
Oct. 11th-The Innocents from 1961 (Director: Jack Clayton, Writers: William Archibald, Truman Capote and John Mortimer (additional scenes and dialogue) and Based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, Stars: Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde, Megs Jenkins, Michael Redgrave, Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens, Runtime: 99 mins)
“I want to save the children, not destroy them,” is a line I first heard on the Thrill Kill Kult song Girl Without a Planet. Love when I find out the source of audio samples. This psychological horror flick about a governess believing the two kids in her care are possessed is considered one of the greats. It’s a well made gothic horror story that builds an builds. The way the camera moves, the transitions and cuts, the shadows. These old horror films just knew how to play with lights and darkness. Much credit to Deborah Kerr who is fascinating in the role. Her movements, the she acts with her hands, and her face through out. The kids-well the kids are fucking creepy. Specifically the boy, Miles, played by Martin Stephens. That boy ain’t right. The final minutes of this flick is dark, menacing. Apparently the film has a lot of critical analysis by film theorists, some of which makes a lot of sense. This was an excellent movie, check it out.
Oct. 12th-The Horrible Dr. Hichcock from 1962 (Director: Riccardo Freda as Robert Hampton, Writers: Ernesto Gastaldi, Stars: Barbara Steele and Robert Flemyng, Runtime: 84 mins)
This is about a doctor who likes to drug his wife to act out necrophiliac fantasies, only for her to die. He leaves London, returns years later with a new wife, house may now be haunted. This Italian made horror flick has a cool looking house complete with a crypt and fine Victorian style wear. yes, Italian gothic, though film is “set” in London. This is a fine looking movie. Barbara Steele is of course beautiful, as she is in most of her classic films (and many cult films). The movie though was really boring. The final ten minutes were good but it really dragged and because it’s dubbed it felt off with all the dialogue. Though the physical performances looked good it still did not do much for me. Also, I don’t understand these Italian horror films that hire English speaking actors, dub them in Italian or something, then redub them in English. So… worst film this month? Can’t wait to watch the sequel next week.
Oct. 13th-The Raven from 1963 (Director: Roger Cormen, Writers: Written by Richard Matheson Based on “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, Writers: Stars: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess and Jack Nicholson, Runtime: 86 mins)
An amusing story about two sorcerers who do battle. Very, not based on the classic poem though it is used and Vincent Price’s deceased wife is named Lenore. This is an amusing film. It has somewhat of a gothic look but its not a gothic horror film. It’s barely horror, but its classified as a horror comedy so… you know. Vincent Price is an underrated performer. Can be mean and scary, dramatic and sad, or just plain amusing like he is here. Everyone was fun in this and I liked it but really got little to speak about. It sort comes and goes and left with a smile but… while I can’t actively think of anything really wrong with it, I can’t think of it being exceptional about it.
Also-holy shit I did not recognize Jack Nicholson. Though some screencaps of him gritting his teeth and now I can see it.
Judging by the way I rated the films, this was a good week. Sure I saw the worst film of the bunch but that one wasn’t actively bad it just was nothing of note. I also legally purchased a few of the films-too bad there’s not a quality release of Mad Love. Next week we finish the 60s.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Murders in the Rue Morgue
The Spiral Staircase
The House of Usher
Island of Lost Souls
The Horrible Dr. Hichcock