Posts tagged “Horror

A Quiet Place (2018)

Never have I been asked by the makers if a film to stay silence. A short piece ran before A Quiet Place (2018) began. Asking for no food, no phones, no talking. They might as well have added that no one else is to be admitted to the screen after the film has begun. Obviously the filmmakers are taking a leaf out of Alfred Hitchcock‘s book. Requesting that no one be allowed to enter once the Psycho (1960) began. With a focus more on cinema etiquette once a film has begun. As much as cinemas rely on the sale of refreshments after a huge chunk of the ticket sales are deducted. The request at the start of A Quiet Place reminds us to keep quiet and actually watch the film. A huge part of this film functioning is the reliance on silence, if the silence is interrupted by a rude cinema goer than they potentially ruin the atmosphere that the film has constructed. I even asked my friends to stay quiet, we had a nice hearty meal before we went in, allowing to really focus on the film.

What drew me to A Quiet Place to begin with is the lack of traditional dialogue that allows a conventional film to progress. Instead we have an apocalyptic universe in which blind monsters rely on the slightest noise to find and kill us. It’s too later for most after less than 100 days, the monsters with extremely acute hearing have decimated the population. It’s only the clever few who have been able to remain alive. Adapting to an almost quiet existence where even the slightest sound can draw out one of these monsters and end it all for you. Cue the Abbott family who we meet in a general store, tip-toeing around to find some much needed supplied before heading out.

If you thought that the projectionist has not been playing with the volume, it is deadly quiet and for reasons that are too soon revealed to the audience and reminding the family how important it is to remain silent. It helps that one of the character’s is played beautifully by young deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, who plays a deaf teenager who the family have recently had to adjust to her perception of the world. Usually film has treated the disabled as the other, the victim who we pity, not celebrate or embrace until more recently.  The reminder of the need for silence becomes too deadly real for the family as they return home. It takes a battery operated toy to bring home that fact before we are even 20 minutes into the film.

Jump forward a year and we have time to take a breather – a quiet one. We see life on the mid-Western farm that has become more than just a home, carefully constructed base to stay quiet, nothing is left to chance as they have adapted to a life of quiet fear. Oh and did I mention, the mother Emily Blunt is now pregnant, bringing with her the potential for real danger, once the baby arrives which will bring a whole load of noise. Don’t worry they have that one covered too, literally nothing is left to chance, having to go to some unorthodox lengths to stay alive.

What is never far away is the threat of the these monsters that are lurking in the woods. Leaving the audience incredibly tense, there’s very little relief in the tension, a minimal soundtrack and even less dialogue. We have to rely on subtitled sign language, we are part of this world and there’s no escape for us or the family. It’s far more immersive that just having them talking in whispers which would defeat the object of staying silent, leaving them vulnerable to being killed in no time.

Each member of the Abbott’s are given or less equal screen time, we see how they experience this changed world. how they have all adapted to this silent world. Being just over a year in this world, adapting to it is easier for the parents who have to protect their family more than the average family in the noisy world. The aftermath of the opening sequence stays with all the family as they try to survive another day in the silence. Everything comes to a head on the final day as father and son (John Krasinski and Noah Jupe) go fishing/male bonding/survival training leaving a daughter guilt ridden and a mother heavily pregnant at home. It leaves everyone vulnerable to the blind monsters who we finally get to see more intimately, we understand how they function, the incredibly sensitive hearing really on show. Revealing a twist that connects Reagan’s deafness and the monsters together which leaves you waiting for the big finale that is really drawn out and that’s not a criticism. If anything it really leaves you wondering how and when it all pays offs.

The finale feels really drawn out, maybe that’s due to the almost silence, we have nowhere to hide either. Accepting that we have to see this through to the end, A family that has been brought to the edge and living through a silent hell pulls together to ensure that they do all they can to survive. With a few extra twists that leave me and my friends ready for a nice relaxing drink and a chance to breathe. Experiencing the world of noise as we leave the screen takes a good half hour to adjust to our surroundings. As if we have been given back our hearing. Just moving a chair reminds me that it would bring on the monster, the sound of coffee being ground up is too unsafe in the world I’ve just left. When we finally get sound in the closing minutes that breaks the silence it comes as a massive relief.

A Quiet Place is easily read as a metaphor for those facing parenthood, the fears and anxieties that comes with that. The daily decisions to ensure your family are safe in the outside world. OK it’s an extreme here, but that’s what a good horror film does, heighten emotion for the effect of scaring the life out of you. It’s not just a thrill, each build-up of tension is gently relieved if only momentarily before that fear of the unknown dangers of the outside world return to remind you, it’s not as a safe as I thought it was. For me it was a real breath of fresh air. I rarely watch a horror, however the reliance of near silence was the added element that attracted me to want to see this exciting film that demands your silence for it to work, to function as it was intended, listen and understand so you can see the outside world with new ears and eyes, more cautious, more alert.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Another foreign film that I have been aware off but wasn’t in a rush to watch, waiting for a TV airing instead, which surprisingly paid off. I remember hearing good things about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), a Iranian horror, with a rare female focus which is honestly very refreshing. You could easily say this is a feminist horror. With a female protagonist whose the titular girl who we follow. Beginning of a false footing with a quietly macho guy Arash (Arash Marandi) who we see loitering around a fence, before climbing over to rescue a cat, his cat. The opposite to what Marlon Brando would do (not rescue a cat), more likely o kick in the fence, venting his pent-up anger. Arash is not your typical male hero, if anything he’s the opposite of that in Bad City and fictional Iranian ghost town where the film’s based.

We see that Arash’s walked all over by his father (Marshall Manesh) drug dealer/Pimp Saeed (Dominic Rains) coming for more money that his heroin addicted father owes. His son is doing his best to look after him, who has clearly turned to drugs in the wake of his wife’s death. It’s unusual to see the son living at home and looking after his father on the screen. Of course this a more contemporary situation that Hollywood would never depict, instead it would be the daughter, looking after her father. It reminded me of Westerns, the unmarried daughter staying at home with her elderly father – sometimes blind or very ill and/cranky. This is the way I read the film after some time. A thread that I will pick up on later.

We’ve not even seen the titular girl, or so I thought we had when Saeed meets the first woman, Atti (Mozhan Marnò) in the film, who turns out to be one of his prostitutes who just wants her cut before we finally see the girl (Sheila Vand), dressed in a Hijab, not unusual in itself, but the lone figure in the dark scaring plays upon our inbuilt fears of the Islam and turning it on itself. The fear of the unknown figure within its environment inciting fear to other Iranians. At this point we are held at a distance, unsure of what real danger she poses. Interrupted at a forced sex act, fear is all the figure conveys at this stage.

Following the girl home to her basement flat, seeing her next as just a normal girl, whose shy and reclusive yet beautifully innocent features, how could this be the same girl under the hijab? We have an outsider who enjoys indie music on vinyl and seems to enjoy her own time. It’s the next few scenes that unveil her true identity and power as she lures Saeed to his demise at the hands of a female vampire. This I really didn’t see coming. I took the title too literally here which if anything has surprised me The lone stranger who walks the streets is the one you least suspect, a young woman, a vampire that to some extent is a lone gunfighter prowling the streets at night.

It’s a clever premise, playing on our fears of Islamic extremism and building on that in one of the countries whose dominant religion is Islam. Writing this review after such a horrific week, I feel this film is more relevant. We need to remember the power of fear and what it can do those who it’s inflicted upon. This fear has been confronted to an extent in A Girl Walks Home… instead if fearing the hijab for no reason other than that of extremism, we are actually given something to fear, the supernatural, a being who has take human form, nothing to do with Islam, merely the form of the vampire takes.

I’m reminded of Bone Tomahawk (2015) which played on similar fears, using the Native American and really going far out and giving the characters something to really fear and the audience too. Which leads me nicely back to the Western comparison which started with the role reversal placing Arash in the classic female role that falls for the stranger, the gunfighter, who ultimately tames him and they ride off into the sunset, or leaves her with her father. He falls for the strange girl, whose startled by the emotion that he brings out in her, she like any gunfighter is not used to such attention and the thoughts and feelings that they experience. Fighting against her natural urges and actions, doing what a vampire does best. Placing all this action in Iran is even braver.

A female lead, who plays on the fears of Islamic extremism in the guise of a horror. Does that make a female lead more acceptable, or get under the radar of censorship? Either way it’s playing against type completely for not just the horror genre but for cinema as a whole. Placing a woman in the protagonist role, the bad guy who has to be either killed or tamed. I couldn’t see a way to her demise happening. Could Arash have seen beyond her perceived innocence to see the truth? That’s the question we are left with, after all the violence she has caused, for good or bad she has done her bit to clean up Bad City the only way she knows how. As a gunfighter can only use his guns  – using violence to bring peace to the town/city they are in.

In terms of horror it’s maybe not as scary as you hope, the ideas it explores and subvert make up for the lack of horror. When we do get it, it’s all about the build up, wondering how she will bite. Its the final attack that leaves you in awe as she rescues the damsel in distress. The moments which are slowed down create a sense of real awe and spectacle heightened by the black and white cinematography, be them horror or not. For me the real strength of the film is gender swapping of roles a Western in the guise of a horror, which for me is an added bonus. Ultimately it’s a refreshing film that takes our fears, placing them in a completely foreign country.

Get Out (2017)

Now those who are regular readers of my reviews know I’m not big on horror, however the more I heard about Get Out (2017) I knew it was probably something I should check out. Being more than the regular run of the mill horror film, with the formulaic jumps and build-ups to the next time you jump out of your seat. Here there’s something more subversive going on which is bringing an audience who may have stayed away. There’s also the non-controversey by raised by Samuel L. Jackson who said that Daniel Kaluuya being an English actor should not have been chosen for the lead as he would not understand the struggle of other brothers in America. Forgetting that unfortunately that racism is universal. There’s also the argument that as we have seen with other Black leading actors, British actors are classically trained so maybe more qualified for the roles they are getting. Ultimately they are acting, if they convey the emotions and ideas of the character that develops the narrative then it doesn’t matter as long as they have been cast right for the role. So Mr Jackson, on this one – pipe down and look at the bigger picture, the lack of fair and more honest representation of African-Americans, whoever plays them, American or British, or even South African, as long as they can relate to the role and give at least a competent performance, then and only then are you improving the image of black life in the world.

Staying with the racism theme which underlies what the film is about, added the increased tensions in America with the Trump administration Get Out is a very pertinent film. With Obama now part of modern history we are seeing a darker side we had hoped was no longer present come to the fore. The underbelly of racism has been given a voice to speak up during last years election, Trump feeding on the hate and resentment that has been created in the last few decades due to globalisation, increasing equality (which still has a way to go) tensions are high to uneasy.

These tensions are felt by Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) whose about to meet his girlfriends parents. To be fair who wouldn’t be. Wanting to make a good impression on them, hoping they will accept you as a part of your partners life. Add to that he’s black, which will make him the elephant in the room of White family in suburbia, so what he is feeling is normal with the addition of his heritage. Here’s hoping it goes well, even with reassurances from girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), her parents loved Obama, they would have voted for him a third time, maybe  laying it on a little too thick, its enough to calm him for the ride over Rose’s home.

The ride over isn’t as straight forward as you’d think it would be, the audience is not allowed to be too relaxed when it comes to this film. A deer running out in the road invites a racist cop who asks Chris for ID even though he wasn’t driving, reflecting the black prejudice towards Black people. It’s like we’ve entered a world of heightened prejudice, oh wait this is America through a very sharp lens. Then the fun begins when the couple arrive at the family home, it all looks a little too good to be true, a Black grounds keeper who is anything but normal, you could say his personality has been sucked out of him. I was reminded early on of The Stepford Wives (1975), as wives return home, after a brief period away, the same yet so very different. We only get glimpses of the groundskeeper and house-maid (Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel) who as we see show no signs of even being – human, they appear to be more white in attitude and personality.

Onto meeting the family, which goes smoothly enough, if only a little too smoothly, we can see it like a sales pitch which is being repeated and delivering the product a little to well, there must be some cracks to this family façade. It’s on the first night when Chris is restless he falls foul to hypnotherapy by the mother Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener) who we already know has a great cure for quitting smoking. Leading him into a session of hypnotherapy that is only the beginning of how creep things are going to get.

It’s only with the annual family gathering do things start to get really questionable, all white guests who bend over backwards to be polite to Chris whose really uncomfortable by all the guests. Making overly nice comments about Black people, it’s either desperate or plain creepy. When his phone camera goes off when he talks to the only other black guest Andrew Logan King (Lakeith Stanfield) who snaps out of his ultra-friendly personality to reveal a more human and terrified side to him. The cracks are starting to show in this façade of a gathering. There’s something sinister involving brain-washing going on at least. Or as comic relief suggest, Rod Williams (LilRel Howery)

“…Their probably abducting black people, brain washing them and making them slaves. Or sex slaves. not just regular slaves, but sex slaves and sh_t. See? I don’t know if it’s the hypnosis that’s making em slaves or wot not, but all I know is they already got two brothas we know and there could be a whole bunch of brothas they got already…

The final act reveals what’s really going on, a white cult who lure in Black people to harvest them for superior body parts, leaving them practically lobotomized, without personality, unless your camera flash goes off the suppressions diffused to reveal the true horrors. You could say they are White supremacists who acknowledge that Black people maybe superior but will not allow this to get out, ensure social control, white at the top, blacks in their place. Is this the future for Trumps America or a prediction of what it is to come. Are we over-reacting to what is going on? Only African-Americans and the makers of the film truly know what is going on for them. I can be presented with all the racially motivated police shootings, demonstrations that the news presents me. Get Out is a suburban take on how to present this real anxiety that has not gone away. With a nice dose of humour to lighten the mood or we would come out of the film shaken by the images.  Instead I came away relieved to the resolution, justice is served yet leaves you thinking could this really be going on, can people operate like this. I know I won’t be going to the Armitage’s.

Les Yeux sans Visage/Eyes Without a Face (1960)

eyes-without-a-face-1960I decided to take a chance and catch a French horror film the other night. A carefully chosen film from Film Fear, the pop-up channel from Film Four over the Halloween week. Now being difference from the average horrors that were on during the week  Les Yeux sans Visage/Eyes Without a Face (1960) stood out for me for a few reasons, one being foreign (not of the English language) there maybe something more going on here. Also released around the same time as Psycho (1960) and Peeping Tom (1960), a time when horror was starting to see a resurgence. So I sat down, excited by the foreign nature of the film, ready for the mess, the gore, the madness of the plot.

What started with so much potential, driving through the outskirts of Paris where a woman – Edna Grüber (Juliette Mayniel) is making sure that she wasn’t being followed, has she done something wrong, is the obscured figure in the back seat of her car going to attack her before we leave her. Instead this is a female corpse whose dragged into the river, dumping the evidence of a supposed murder is lost or carried away so she can’t be connected. Before cutting to a lecture by the esteemed Docteur Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) on the fight to stay useful and the use of transplantation in that eternal struggle to obtain immortality. The science is rather flawed if you think about it, draining the of all the patients blood, whose donating the organ/body part to the receiver, which should allow for a more successful acceptance of the new piece. Now this is utter nonsense for anyone with an ounce of sense. You need an exact match of blood types etc to avoid organ rejection. Here is a man who ignores the laws of science in order to succeed in his real plans which are still unknown at this point. All we know is that he’s respected in his field, he can follow his dreams with no resistance. This is our civilised mad professor, leading a double life, a trope of the horror character. Along with a string of missing young women in the capital something is definitely going on with this man and woman.

So how are these elements connected – the death of Génessier‘s daughter, whose body has just been found, complete with very distinctive disfigured features – only the eyes are left in tact. Out of pure curiosity I wanted to see the disfigured face of the girl more than anything. The build-up is enough to draw you into this world. Could all of the girl who have gone missing turn up only to be impossible to identify them. Somethings definitely going on that isn’t being explained.

Of course as soon as Génessier is at the funeral do we start to see where this is all going, with Edna Grüber at his side, she is showing signs not of grieve but horror at what is going to happen. Well at least she is. The doctor is ready get on with his life, or is that his plan to resurrect his daughter, Louise’s life. It’s not the most complex of films when you think about as we return to his home/laboratory/theatre, the reveal of the daughter on-screen is equally frustrating as the dead daughter whose identified earlier on. Her face hidden from view, either buried in a pillow or by the camera’s choice to not yet revealing that side of her. Whose more afraid the cinematographer or the audience by this forced reluctance to show her face. Again I wanted to see how badly scared she was, what actually caused this disfigurement. My attention was increasing by this withholding of information. Beautifully portrayed by Alida Valli who have to wait to see her face, hidden by a delicately crafted mask she wears for most of the film.

It’s all clear now within that scene the motives of her father, his medical research and the lengths that he will go to restore his daughter her former state, able to function in life again even if she has to take on a new identity. Her life is no longer in her hands, the young woman has fallen to depend on her father and his assistant who lock her away from the outside world. The missing girls in town all start to make sense now, with a decision that doesn’t really work for the film, having Edna lure the young women back, a decision that plays against the predatory male we usually assume in films and reality to be behind most missing persons. For me this is not as creepy, a middle-aged woman, subtlety checking out the faces of women to potentially bring back. Maybe this is as conscious decision to play against this type’s supposed to make this film more interesting and darker, a woman leading a woman is fresher than the heterosexual reading you usually have in films. However it didn’t really feel that much darker than it was intended.

What really lets the film down is the clinical take on Frankenstein’s Monster, OK this is the 1960’s science has moved on. The aim of the films is to repair/restore a woman’s face/beauty. Not to create life from lifelessness, there’s still an element of that in there, taking a face from a living person to give to another. It’s a brutal act to steal from one to restore another, a medical rape really no consent from the patient is given. The surgical scenes today are tame, especially since the first successful face transplant and even to a lesser extent Face/Off (1997) which is more revealing in the detail, some 1990’s technology and block-buster nonsense to explain what is going on.

Of course both are pure fantasy, yet the later is braver in the depiction of the surgery that is carried out on-screen. You could say that the 37 year gap between the two films is unfair to really compare them both. Maybe it was the budget that restrained what we saw, we may have been better off without seeing anything or to re-stage/edit the surgery in Les Yeux sans Visage/Eyes Without a Face so there is more horror. Its too cold and clinically restrained to be truly the horrific an experience it really is, this is a horror at the end of the day!

Lastly I felt the ending was really deserving more, as Louise fights back against all the deaths that have been carried out in her name. To ensure she has her beauty, it shows she wants a better quality of life, even if she has to go to a plastic surgeon who has to carryout numerous operations to give her some quality of life again. Instead she lashes out and rightly so against those who have held her back for so long. I came away feeling let down really on a few levels, maybe I was expecting too much from a French horror which I thought would be darker, bloodier and creepier than a possible American take on the film.

Rubber (2010)

Rubber (2010)I remember the first time I saw the trailer for this film, my sides were splitting at the idiocy of the idea of a killer care tyre. I knew I had to see this film eventually. Until recently I had all but forgotten the film even existed which is bad for me. I leapt at the opportunity to catch Rubber (2010) a few weeks ago. I didn’t know anything beyond that I had to see this horror comedy, that all that really mattered. The concept behind the film is quite interesting observation of some classic film’s trying to pull them apart, the tiny pieces that are glanced over by the average viewer. However if you have a questioning mind and time to kill you can ask film-fans, or anyone who will listen in a pub about the banality within these films, the small whys, the miniscule details that really could kill a conversation if you take it too seriously. My Sister is guilty of this at times, questioning a the parent in Ponyo (2008) who drives the children through what is essentially a tidal, saying that she should be reported to social services for bad parenting. I have to remind her it’s just a film and to just go with it. I’m guilty of it too, looking at Big (1988) coming to the conclusion that the young boy Josh when he’s grown is mentally still a child, losing his virginity is practically raped, but that’s just overkill. I know that but the more you think about films, the more you question the thinking, the creative decisions behind them, which we don’t generally question.  Yet it’s not just about that, it’s the little aspects in film that are glanced over such as washing hands, the boring stuff which is edited out, or written out. Of course it’s all played for comedy.

As Lieutenant Chad (Stephen Spinella) lays down for us, it’s about all of this, the no reasons, the unexplained that form the foundation of this film that critiques film. We have a live audience for the first act who are each given a pair if binoculars, acting more like spectators to this film, or the events in the middle of nowhere. As a tyre literally comes to life, find its feet. Not the standard premise for a film you would sell to a studio, or trying a get funding. This is the macguffin for all the events that follow.

I was constantly wondering how they achieved that motion of a tyre, was a rolling motor fitted discretely to the interior of the piece, well our main character that causes all the death in the film. It couldn’t be animation; as it was all too real, and probably more costly too. It’s all happening before the camera and the spectators who can somehow work out whats going on from the incredible distance they are kept at. The scene mustn’t be interrupted or broken by the fourth wall which is making this essentially live theatre that edited for mass consumption. As much as this is about the “no reasons” of film the fourth wall’s broken and resealed, placing an audience into the film, the full realisation of what they are seeing is fake.

The makers of the within the film are conscious of what they are doing, unsure if it is working. Early on the audience is all but killed off with a poisoned turkey. Playing on the turkey phrase for poor films which they fear’s being played out, this is anything but that. Leaving only one avid viewer, an older man in a wheelchair watching on. The experienced audience member is able to discern what is going before him. Has he been to one of these performances before? The police who are investigating the killer tyre are at first bemused by how wacky it actually is. Crossing over into another reality where the film loses its façade, becoming something they have to investigate.

Dropping the façade of they realise they have a killer on the loose, not the most convention two-legged, two armed kind with a motive to boot. Instead a tyre using telekinesis causes heads to explode which admittedly look poor. Its that build up to that moment that matter, the comedic climax of how gruesome it looks as a head explodes before us. All pyrotechnics that work in time with a tyre which determination (sounds like I’m a trye salesman) that vibrates with concentration, a force that cannot be stopped.

OK it’s not Hitchcock but it doesn’t want to be a master film, it simply wants to poke fun at film, showing up the “No reasons”. So why not have a killer tyre with no back-story, it makes it so much more interesting. You have the option to either read into it or just go with it. Has an unknown force taken over this car-part that has caused so much death with so much comic timing you are left either speechless or full of laughter. If you want a horror film with twists and turns that conform to the genre then don’t stop by. If you want a horror that doesn’t take itself or the medium of film seriously, up for a laugh then look no further.

High Plains Drifter (1973) Revisited

High Plains Drifter (1973)My first encounter with this film was on my birthday during the install of my degree show. I was recommended to watch it by a friend who knew I would like it. That’s an understatement, I loved it. My memory of High Plains Drifter (1973) has long since faded, all I could remember was the ghoulish red town and the whipping flash-backs which stay with you long after the credits have rolled. In terms of the western genre this has more in common with its Italian cousin, the spaghetti western which strictly speaking are not westerns, they have the form of the genre but don’t really have the language of the American full-breed which if I’m honest are less violent during their greatest period. The violence was exploited and amplified. Once you get over the dubbing of all but the American star of the film (Lee Van Cleef, Clint Eastwood et al.) you have this pumped up action film with more sex and violence than you’d have found to that point in the home of the genre. They didn’t carry the legendary status in the characters as subtly as Shane (1953), having built them up in the opening titles as these already fastest guns in the west-types such as Django (1966) where we are treated to another installment. Back home they’re stirred into action, not wanting to fight and draw their guns so easily, having more progression in the gunfighters.

Looking at Clint Eastwood’s influences his time with Sergio Leone strongly influenced him, the violence the stranger with no name, the anti-hero who you end up routing for comes out on top. His first western behind the camera he is still find his own unique voice, one he is adopting from the persona of the man with no name. The tone of Drifter is very European, its hard to sum up in a few sentences, the town looks freshly built, making it more become a backdrop that standout, it’s a newish town that is trying to sustain itself. Laying it’s foundations next to a lake that seems too close for comfort, suggesting it could all be washed away in stormy night. It all becomes very fragile. The town of Lago is actually another character that’s abused in the film (more about abuse later) which we see is transformed, blown up and eventually burnt down. Its part on the film is on some levels more important than the people who inhabit it.

Turning to the townspeople I’m reminded of Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) a town with a dark secret that is bubbling on the surface ready to spill over. Except we don’t have a strong replacement for the mean Robert Ryan who did actually scare the life out of Spencer Tracy (during filming) who was the outsider looking for the truth. The secrets a lot looser here as the film takes on more of a horror tone, Clint’s not giving us a straight Western, it’s a Western-Horror complete with flashbacks which you don’t really see in genre, that plague your mind. A sequence which is played out at least twice but feels a lot more in the mind. It’s the conscience of the town put on the screen.

There is also a strong influence of The Magnificent Seven (1960) or should I say more precisely The Seven Samurai (1954) a cowardly town turn here to one outsider (not seven) that is more dangerous than the men they have been home to for at least a year that have played host to that have just been killed. Except these are all Mexicans who are fighting off bandito’s, they are American citizens who should by rights be able to pick up a gun and fight without fear. They seen off the Mexicans and almost solved the “Indian problem“, why are they so afraid? They need Clint’s stranger who doesn’t really care for them at all. Which leads me back to the flashbacks which are very important in our understanding of who he is, or in fact was. He is not so much flesh and blood as he has ghostly presence, he knows more about the town than he lets on. I believe he is ghost of the whipped town Marshall Jim Duncan (Buddy Van Horn) who we see in versions of the same scene that we’re reminded off. It’s the reason that The Stranger is here, the reason the town’s scared of the men who will be riding back for revenge after a year in prison. We follow these men back, they are ruthless in their journey, killing for horses, clothes and fun, these are dangerous men for sure.

The Stranger’s presence in Lago shakes everything up, from his first hours he has raped a woman Sarah Belding (Verna Bloom) which is brutal to watch, yet filmed from the woman’s perspective a glimmer of what is to come from Unforgiven (1992) nearly 20 years later. As much as Eastwood is a feminist he wants to come across as the revengeful type who will take what he wants. Maybe this was Duncan’s lover, we just don’t know. We do know that she vocal in her experience to the law who simply want to pacify her modern views that wont be accepted until the next century. We don’t linger as much on the rape as we do in Eastwood’s later film which hinges on request of the prostitute who places a bounty on the man who disfigured her. From a lower position in society they are exerting more power than the men who want to keep both cases quiet. Ironically their next encounter is much more consensual after working his charm and danger, as if he has broken a horse in, now he simply has to ride it when he wants (yes I know it’s a poor analogy but suits the film).

Here in Lago having The Stranger in town is very much to their advantage who abuses that power. From the beginning he turns things on there head. With a free card to do as he please, have what he wants he makes the much small person Mordecai (Billy Curtis) the sheriff and mayor of the town, the butt of the jokes, is placed in the strongest position behind the stranger. He’s not there for comedy with Clint who wants to play with these people who are fighting themselves more than they had before. It’s chaos in Lago. In-fact Mordecai’s built up, from being this typically comedic role to one of great importance, he uses his position to abuse those who have given him s*** for years, now it’s his turn. He is also another way into the past of the town, he too has a connection to the late Marshall, which may lead to his role in the film being so prominent.

I could go on forever about this film there is a lot going on so I’m going to turn instead to the ending which once again got me thinking of another piece I could make in the future, as the town is literally painted red, bringing new meaning to the phrase, which ironically has roots in my home county of Leicestershire in the town of Melton Mowbray when the Marquis ran riot causing mayhem and literally painting the town red in places. This is too strong to be coincidence, turning the idea on its head so the townspeople are causing the mayhem, they are preparing themselves, practically inviting the trouble. Renaming the town Hell, which has move to the surface of the Earth. The town can be seen far quiet a distance now, in one uniform colour of bright fake-blood.

All brought about by Eastwood’s ghost which is more than just showing up the town. He is getting revenge on them all, luring them into a false sense of security before deaths unleashed upon them. The role of the gunfighter’s turned on its head, no longer is he the gun for hire or protector of the people he is using his position to induce fear and draw it from his own past. Could he be the devil as the film draws to a close, he rode literally out of nothing and back into nothing, as if the ghost can now rest peacefully knowing that he has settled his unfinished business. Eastwood early on is showing that the standard western has to change, with his Italian influences and the changing language of cinema. You could say this is more fun than the formulaic Western but that would be ignoring the level of violence and rape that goes on. He is definitely pushing the boundaries of what you can do with the genre which he is reshaping in his image.

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