Posts tagged “Henry Travers

I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)

I have mixed feelings about I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016), Again I came to this having read a short interview with Christopher Lloyd and the trailer for the film which really was selling me a very different film. Like anything you’re sold, you want to believe the advert or promotion portrays a positive and accurate spin on what you have bought into. Which was a disturbed teenager who sees a few murders and becomes fascinated by them, and becomes inspired to follow in the serial killers footsteps, were we seeing his victims as the trailer progressed. I was miss-sold this film. Even the small role that Lloyd was supposed to be playing.

Moving on from my initial complaint I need to lay down a few points as to what I received in the full film. I came to this film bringing my thoughts from having recently revisited Shadow of a Doubt (1943) which I can only draw minor comparisons too. Looking at the dark conversations between our disturbed teenager John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) and Max (Raymond Brandstrom). (I’m wondering if the lead characters names inspired by the serial killer John Wayne Gacy) There was a relationship based on the dark murderous content of their conversations. Reminiscent of father Joseph Newton (Henry Travers) and his neighbour Herbie Hawkins (Hume Cronyn) which begins as playful, a way to unwind and let the imagination run wild, Which disturbs Josephs daughter Charlie (Teresa Wright) whose very concerned about her Uncle Charlie’s  (Joseph Cotten) motives for staying with them. That dynamic is not really developed further than a few scenes at the start of the film. Probably to tell us that John has serial killer tendencies trying to lead a normal teenage life, that’s against the backdrop of all the murders.

The Hitchcock connections don’t stop there, from the trailer we could be looking at a Norman Bates type, the quiet boy next door who doesn’t get out much. Yet this one does, spending his free time helping his mother April (Laura Fraser) at the funeral home. An early joke about the home not going out of business anytime soon, two bodies in a week. We are however allowed to see the start of the embalming process, with a focus on the blood-letting process, it’s not properly explained but filmed with a fascination that stays with you – there’s a small positive to take away from the film. It’s the first time we are given no real explanation of  whats going on – that’s the main fault of this film.

Moving away from the master of suspense to look at the John himself, we’re told he has all the makings of a serial killer, so already we are looking to him to potentially kill someone, he likes to hang around with his mum at the family business. His social skills are limited to alienating bullies who find him to be an outsider who they spend very little time on. I see a young man who is deeply troubled yet fascinated with death and human anatomy. Spending so much time with the dead has a turned him into an anti-social loner who is trying to function among his peers. Being presented with a possible future that he’s trying to prevent. Yet the events of the present could easily mold him into a different more dangerous person complete with murderous tendencies which are simmering on the surface.

The murders at first are mysterious, the victims arrive at the funeral home, usually already open and a few organs missing, soon its arms too. John’s fascinated by the freshly delivered corpses, wanting to explore them in more detail. The closest he gets a first to the killer, to understand his methods, exploring them like a child would their food, in short he’s a disturbed guy. However we learn far too early on who the serial killer is – it’s the old guy living across the street – Mr Crowley, but that still doesn’t explain the black oily gloop that can be found at the scenes of the killings. If only we could wait a little longer to discover the killer. It’s the curiosity of John the drives him to keep looking, spotting odd behaviour and following him from a distance to what is grisly end in the snow. Taking us out of straight forward crime thriller into I don;t know what – supernatural bizarre maybe. The killing is over in a flash, like a poorly shot YouTube video, I couldn’t believe my eyes

We go into a the second half of the film to a game of innocent chasing the guilty, trying to catch him out and get him arrested, it’s not as easy as he hopes it would be. A could be killer following a killer in action. The danger of finding and understanding him is too much to pass-up, just as he wants to control and prevent that future happening to himself. It’s like a Luke Skywalker constantly being tempted by Palpatine to join the dark side, yet his humanity and the lighter side of the force sees him resist the temptation.

Admittedly there are moments of real dread, from the imagined death that’s described to John lashing out at his mum. However it’s when he almost crosses the line from his potential to certain future, trying to understand the psychology of a serial killer he tests a theory out that forces emotions that could see him enter a darker part of his life. For a few moments such as this we are given some real thrills, its too far and between to really make it worthwhile. The deaths and danger gets closer to home, then we reach the really weird ending which at first is shocking, we see John taking control, clear headed as we’ve ever seen him. He’s saved his mum but at the cost of revealing the killer and what is actually going on. I’m left scratching my head, wondering what the hell just happened. The final images stay with you, but given no real explanation for them, which is frustrating beyond the fact that the beast inside Crowley has been harvesting organs because he is dying. Nothing more is given, the loose ends aren’t tied up, we’re left with more questions and leaving us with The Spirit in the Sky to play out the film.

There’s some potential in the film, as much as there is for John to go either side of being a serial killer, exploring a future that’s being played out before him. It’s pure temptation, it’s just a shame we see little of that after the reveal, going into hunting him down, trying to understand him, which we don’t get to. It’s frustrating really and little time is given to explore other characters and how they are affected by the murders. I wish more time was given to his friendship with Max which is just 4 short scenes, his only link to the real world – or normality. It’s dark at times, and very flawed trying to be more than it is with so much there to work with. I have to admit that the cast of Lloyd in the villianous role is something I have forgotten he does so well. He’ll be forever associated with Doc Emmett Brown, however he has before and since played the weird and wonderful and the bad-guy so well so long. His height and face have allowed him to to produce some memorable roles, I can safely say this role can be added to the list, its the film that lets him down.


None Shall Escape (1944)

None Shall Escape (1944)It took me a while to understand the structure of None Shall Escape (1944) the words first uttered at the America’s entrance to WWII in 1942. Released two years into the conflict I was confused as to why I was seeing a court of war-crimes in a film released in 1944. I had to check the date to be sure that I wasn’t seeing things before I could really invest in what I can call an oddity of War time propaganda for public consumption. Of course all films released during WWII about the conflict were obviously constructed to stir up support for the forces, boost morale which they did for a few years before the public interest started to wane during the time of this films release.

The previous war film I saw from this period – Sahara (1943) complete with a starry cast lead by Humphrey Bogart and set as the title of the film suggests in the African front. The earlier film has a lighter tone to the film, we only see a few Nazi’s until the closing act of the film. Instead we’re thrown into an idealized future where the war is over, the Nazi’s have been defeated and are being tried for their crimes against humanity. The two leading actors are little known to wide audiences in the B-movie. I know the label means a lower budget so you won’t get the big names of the earlier film. Nonetheless it was an engaging film that held my attention.

Even though after all these years after its first release it feels inaccurate in places. First it was not truly known the extent of the crimes against humanity. It was obviously known that the Nazi’s were antisemitic, but not to the degree that Russian soldiers found them in the concentration camps, or what they went through. It’s very innocent in that respect. It has instead to go on their persecution of what is known or thought to have been known at the time. Building up an image that would ensure support for the troops, what they are fighting for. This is rare film when there is not a single U.S. soldier on-screen. Even in the court-room (not Nuremberg) where we have an American judge whose our introduction to the film after we are told it has been won in the prologue. A hopeful future where justice prevails is projected, the thought of defeat is not an option.

We are witnessing the trial of one Nazi – Willhelm Grimm (Alexander Knox) who with the help of heavy make-up is a senior member who has made his way up since the end of WWI. We are given a short history lesson that begins with the treaty of Versailles up to the early part of WWII. The consequences of the West’s intervention after the Great War as we have learned only lead to Hitler and WWII. Grimm’s portrayed as a broken man returning home to Poland where he taught in a local school, alongside Marja Pacierkowski (Marsha Hunt) who is to marry this changed man, wounded like so many other soldiers he wants to find acceptance but only finds disappointment and resentment.

Through the testimony of three witnesses we learn of the build-up of the Nazi party, Grimms home life and the crimes they committed. Grimm acts as his own defense as the prosecution delivers its evidence in the form of flashbacks away from the camera. It’s not the best quality image, you can see where in places where scenes have been pasted together, which does detract from the overall image of the film. It is however a reminder that this is a forgotten war film of the golden age of cinema. It shows up the budget spent on the film too, looking at the few sets used the actors that you recognise. I only knew Henry Travers myself who played the priest who did his best to stay neutral w=until he couldn’t ignore the persecution to the Jewish community.

It’s not supposed to be as entertaining as Sahara which is meant to rally support more than likely to donate metal or the increase of war bonds. Depicted with characters that we all know. It wasn’t just an American win on-screen, it soon became an allied effort to hold a well in the desert from being thirsty Nazi’s. In 1943 they’re seen very much as the enemy to fight in the present. By 1944 it’s about looking forward to the future when the war’s been won, how do you deal with the enemy. How do you make sure it doesn’t happen again.

In terms of acting there is no stand-out performance, its more about delivering a message to an audience. For the audience to see that once the war’s won we have to deal with the consequences with the hindsight of history in mind. The film ends not on the classic high, all guns blazing, or a  flag flying. We are left with two messages, one from Grimm who is relenting, the Third Reich will rise again, and another from the lead judge warning us of the long job a head to secure peace. Both delivered directly to camera, making sure we can’t ignore the message, breaking the fourth wall to ensure we know we aren’t being entertained, this war, its reality and we can’t ignore that.

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