Posts tagged “Psycho

You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Another film I’ve been putting off watching, I overlooked it at the time of release as I really wasn’t interested in You Were Neve Really Here (2017). Since then I’ve been slowly won over and wanted to track down the film, learning it was another Taxi Driver (1976), which in essence is The Searchers (1956). So once again I will be delving into how this film responds to the classic Western. It’s a chance to explore how the film has again influenced modern cinema. Of course on the surface it has far more in common with Martin Scorsese’s film than John Ford‘s original. The classic tale of the tortured male loner taking on the task of rescuing a young woman from the clutches of a sex-slavery i Cincinnati. I wonder is Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) still drives the murky streets still, had he come into contact with Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) or would that have been too explosive for a single film to handle.

It’s doesn’t stray far from John Wayne‘s Ethan Edward’s epic mission across untamed Native American country in search of his nieces. Filled with an uncontrollable racial hatred for the Comanches and possibly other nations who have done him wrong before we first meet him. We don’t learn of his past, or even Bickle’s we’re just allowed to spend a short time with them. Lynne Ramsay‘s allowed us understand Joe’s past in a series of fractured flashbacks that hint an unstable domestic upbringing and time in the army. It’s been explored before with Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) who was far more reflexive about his past, Wim Wenders gave us the time to explore just how he’s in his position now, a father who couldn’t face the break up of a passionate relationship, which ultimately was his own fault in Paris Texas (1984). Travis is singularly unique, a disturbed man shaped by his surroundings, unable to connect with the outside world that deeply troubles him. An explorer of an urban jungle that holds him hostage.

Joe is very much a product of his child hood and military service that have shaped the beaten shell of a man who works as a hired gun. He doesn’t shy away from how he makes his living, it defines him, just about the only job he can get, allowing him to function and support his mum. We first meet him at the end of a job, clearing up the evidence that could lead back to him. You can he’s done this many times before, it’s just part of the job. His face is obscured during this time, for now he’s just an unknown dangerous man cleaning up yet another mess with precision that he has honed  overtime. This is not the have-a-go hero of Taxi Driver or the ex-Confederate soldier, we have a trained killer on yet another job, not a man to be messed about.

We learn he has something of a soft-side when he returns home to his mother (Judith Roberts) who he shares a love-hate relationship with, the only woman or even person who really loves him. The closest to violence he get’s with her is a joke about Psycho (1960), could that even be an influence on him. The stay at home son with his mother who stays about of obligation more than love.

The rescue mission comes pretty early on in this fairly compact film, his next job at the request of Senato Albert Votto (Alex Manette) who employs him to rescue his young daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), whom he believes has been kidnapped and placed into a sex-slavery. Unlike Ethan Edwards and Travis Bickle he has no prior relationship with the girl whose to be rescued, he only sees her as part of another job. Before he begin we see him stock up on fresh tools for the job, including a hammer that we know already is his weapon of choice that can inflict brutal damage to his victims, no one stands a chance against him.

As with Taxi Driver he waits until night before he even rolls up outside the address, he’s dangerously cool and calm about all this, dragging over a guy who works, torturing him for information, the bare-essentials to get in, the dangers that lie ahead for him. It’s a cleaner rescue than I expected, restrained by the view of CCTV cameras that only suggest what has happened to the bodyguards who fall to their deaths. It’s over before we know it, our main concern is finding the girl, which again happens rather fast. The young girl – Nina is clearly in state of desensitisation, to escape the daily abuse she receives from the monsters who pay for her. Gone is the confident nonchalance of Jodie Foster’s Iris who has find an exterior shell to survive the murky world of prostitution she’s trapped in. Mirroring the assimilation that Debbie Edwards (Natalie Wood) whilst living with the Comanche. Never Really Here is more aware of the psychological damage that a kidnapping and slavery can do to the mind. The realisation of being rescued doesn’t quite hit Nina for sometime.

Everything then starts to go wrong for Joe as he soon loses the girl and ends up a world that all he knew and understood is being taken away from him. The closet he got to purity is taken away by corrupt cops who take Nina away, leading him into a trap that closes ever tighter into his inner circle and even his mother. The hard exterior of the hired gun begins to show signs of cracking. Before we see an even darker side when interrogates one of his mothers killers (Scott Price) sadistically numbing his pain to get information from him before he finally dies. It’s a form of unique justice that allows him to move on in search of Nina and understand what he’s become embroiled in.

It’s far more complicated than the standard search and rescue narrative that Ford laid out over 50 years ago, becoming something more complicated with each retelling of the basic plot. Stripping away the racial hatred to leave a hardened killer who has many dents in his armour, both physical and mental. We’re left a darker of corruption with a glimmer of hope for Joe and Nina, each products of their fractured lives, leaving to start a life together where they might be able to start over. All they have known has been destroyed either by their own hands or in their wake. It’s a bleak disturbing world where even beauty has a dark side. Never Really Here is by far one of the bleakest interpretations of The Searchers, having evolved into a the Western that it could have been. I wonder if a director has the courage to deliver something so disturbing to the screen?

Phase IV (1974)

If I’m honest I’m lost for words having just finished Phase IV (1974). I’m not sure I can even deliver 1000+ words on my thoughts on Saul Bass‘s sole feature film directorial credit. I can see why he didn’t make any more either. I wish I wasn’t that harsh about a man who redefined the language of how a films begins. His title sequences are sought after and enjoyed on a level that is equal to the films he worked on. Leaving his own signature on another directors works. A very unique and distinctive style that defined films of the 1950’s and 60’s. Maybe it was his rumored direction of the shower sequence in Psycho (1960) that gave him a taste for creative control over a film. The fact is, it was only his storyboards that helped shape that seminal sequence of film history. Could Phase IV have been his long gestated idea that finally made it to the screens?

The concept reminds me of a 1950’s b-movie, seeing oversized creatures – including ants that wreak havoc before science finally saves the day. Bass however wasn’t limited to cheap special effects that took months to film. Instead he’s invested in he whole budget almost in either training ants or animating them, either way they are spookally effective. For a low-budget first feature you have to admire the creativity that went into producing what is clearly a unique vision. The opening of the films is eerily dialogue free, focusing on the ants deep underground organising themselves. Somehow effected by an eclipse that energising these usual pest at a picnic to making their way up to being enemy number one in the world. We are taken into this underground world of what can’t be train ants, as we are advised by Dr Ernest D. Hubbs (Nigel Davenport ) informs us, different species of ants have come together and begun to work alongside each other. No longer are they our pests but working together, breaking the laws of nature to disturbing, no that’s the wrong word, lets try strange effect. We accept that these ants are not just putting differences aside due to global warming, something else is afoot. What could have been shot inside a glass container feels far more expansive.

All this happens before we even catch a glimpse of a human, two scientist – Dr Hubbs and James Lesko (Michael Murphy ) who previously was able to speak to whales. The two man team set-up camp as close as they can to these mutated ants that are nearer than we even know. Based on a ghost town of a 1960’s failed dream development, perfect for trouble to happen unseen from the prying eyes of the world at large. A single family remains, you could say they are stubborn, unwilling to give into the rumors if killer ants below. The truth is too hard to believe for some, even a request to evacuate is ignored, this family are staying until the bitter end. Their presence is felt above ground in the form of a series of totems that have shot out of the ground. Too alien to be human, the work of a higher power that has yet to be understood. Still these are soon shot down in what is part of phase I of the film.

Nigel Davenport’s Dr Stubbs reminds me of other driven B-movie scientists, who will stop at nothing to get to the truth. Understanding what drives the ants. Even when his partner, who is clearly more focused on the task of first communicating with the insects before any really solid action is taken. Two very different methods of investigation, one driven by a logical methodology and the other driven by impulses and emotional instinct. The differences in practice are soon displayed when they are investigating after a night of killing the ants. Stubbs’s view of seeing the family caught up in the chemical attack of just collateral damage to him. Scaring not just Lesko but the audience, how far will this man go showing no or little regard for ethics.

What keeps this film moving along is that drive to communicate and understand the ants, the very idea that a film is devoted to talking to ants is very obscure, yet we go along with it due to the believable images of ants fighting back, adapting to their situation in order to survive. Understanding any race in order to communicate is at the core of science fiction, if you can’t communicate you can’t understand the enemy or friend. As the film progresses they slowly begin to understand the ants. It’s the added element of Kendra (Lynne Frederick ) the only other survivor, we see what effect she has on the investigation. Her emotion driven responses are a variable that can’t be controlled. Stubbs is heading for his own demise after getting bitten I wonder if he is destined for the same fate as Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum ) who falls prey to his own science.

Stubbs’s instinct to learn takes a dark turn that I don’t see coming leading to a conclusion that really makes no sense and completely abrupt. A film that was tainted by the hands of the studio. Obviously an attempt to save this film from being a total failure can’t really save this from making much sense at all. All the effort to understand and communicate is not even wrapped up convincingly. I needed more before I left this low-budget film that somehow had me hooked, well intrigued as to what would happen. The addition of ant shots and odd special effects involving lights somehow work, now very dated we can see a director putting everything into making this film work but caught short by the material and budget that could have saved this film. It has the potential to be so much more, becoming a victim of the queen ants that run the studio who got their hands on it, trying themselves to understand just what the hell is going on. I left the film scratching my head and massively disappointed it could have been so much more, becoming one of the many films where the directors visions become blurred by studio interference, but here it was with good intention.

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.

78/52 (2017)

It’s been a long week at home and I needed either a comedy that I could lose myself in and not have to do much thinking. Or really treat myself with a dissection of film history, gain an even better understanding an appreciation never go a-miss. I settled for 78/52 (2017) a very obscure title that needs the prior in-depth or nerdy knowledge of Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho (1960) which the second documentary in recent time to explore the director. Previously the taped conversations between Hitchcock and Truffuat in Hitchcock/Truffuat (2015) which were the basis for the bible as it known by famous film directors who have worn and tatty covers that they have in their possession.

The earlier piece was steering us towards the making and the influence of Vertigo and ultimately Psycho a film that has changed the medium of film making. It’s a natural progression to then make a documentary that builds on that discussion, focusing not just on the film, it’s that scene, the scene that has become part of popular culture to the point that you don’t even need to have previously seen the shower scene. A moment in film that has become ingrained into the language of film that it’s essential reading for all students and fans of the medium.

78/52 is very much a labour of love, the aesthetic of the film’s built around the film, there’s no contributor sat in-front of a green-screened image or a hotel room. Instead a faithful recreation of the Psycho motel sets has been built to sit the contributors both famous, obscure and really unknown if you don’t have a love of horror films. Writer/director Alexandre O. Philippe has really done his research in pulling this documentary together. Drawing us into the world of the America that has become cut-off from civilisation to find the motel that Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) found that led to her bloody demise, all filmed in black and white, even our contributors are brought into this world. The only jarring break to colour is for colour film clips which you get used to, once you except that its a back and white world we are in it’s excepted.

The first 3rd of the film is pure build up, as we learn – again the context behind the film, the behinds the scenes that is even left out of the fun film depiction of the making of the film Hitchcock (2012) that focuses more of the directors psyche rather than the minute detail of what is essentially 78 shots of film and 52 cuts in the editing room that ends all that build up. Exploring that drives that lead Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) to dress as his dead mother and kill what could easily be his latest victim. Looking at the state of films in the late 1950’s all that were begin to bubble over from innocence to a burst of sex of violence in the following decade, breaking free of the Hays code that had restrained them to conform to the strict moral virtues of the country and “Mothers knows best” that Hitchcock exploits to shock his audience who had seen nothing like it in America in mainstream cinemas around the world. We can see this all in Hitchock’s earlier films, the role of the mother, waking up America from it’s nieveity to the war in his native Europe. The drives in his works, the symbolism that was building up his thrillers before delivering his first horror, a film that he would never top. Leaving me wondering how the rest of the classic really can work or live up to all the build up to that scene. Leaving Marion’s sister and lover to workout what happened, the result of the shower scene and that comes after pales in comparison. Yet without that lesser part of the film we wouldn’t have understood the motivations and get the conclusion that we leave with.

What could have been a replay of the shower scene, including the undressing, stepping into the shower to the eventual and famous climatic murder and the disposing of the body. Every frame and cut’s dissected with equal measure. Getting insights from everyone from editors, directors and even Jamie Lee Curtis. Instead of the classic fun of stills we have an in-depth discussion of the scene. At times light whilst at others very insightful, putting Hitch on the couch for some psychoanalysis through various film clips. We can see his had been building up to this film for over thirty years, finally breaking free of the holds of his childhood, expressed through his films.

Lastly we see the cinematic influences of the shower scene of slasher horror and main-stream film, how much of an impact that the scene has had on the medium. Even with the utterly pointless Gus Van Sant remake that I have so far avoided. Just proving that remakes can be completely pointless. Mere exercises in replication in shot for shot films hold no interest for me, there’s no point, however its inclusion in the film makes that very point, without even saying much about it. All part of the relationship between the original and the development of film since it’s release.

Ultimately it’s a very well researched documentary that is at times light whilst at other moments deadly serious. Full of clips that are needed to build up a compelling argument that unpicks the shower scene that forever changed the face of film, without ignoring its own and the directors influences. I know I made the right choice night, enough to make me write this review so it must have been.


The Tin Star (1957) Revisited

I’ve been meaning to return to The Tin Star (1957) for a while now, an under appreciated Western by Anthony Mann without James Stewart, his first Western without Stewart due to a falling out between the two of them. I wonder how he would have approached this role, making it the 8th together. Instead turning to Henry Fonda, a longtime friend of Stewart’s making for the film we have today. Paired opposite a young pre-Pyscho Anthony Perkins which itself makes for interesting reading.

I could come at this review as a could have been different with James Stewart but that would be doing a dis-service to decent film that takes on the apprentice/master relationship. Something that has been done countless times, to become a man you must be able to defend yourself. Here however you don’t need the guns to do so. They are simply tools, something that fresh-faced Sheriff Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins) has to learn the hard way. When bounty hunter Morgan ‘Morg’ Hickman (Henry Fonda) arrives with bounty in tow he wants only to collect his money and leave, keep to himself and cause no trouble. His very presence in the town causes a stir with the establishment and business that have supported Ben who took over at little notice. “This is a law and order town” is mentioned a few times to warn Hickman off interfering on his way. This is not the Clint Eastwood bounty hunter whose very presence scares those he’s about to shout down and collect on. This town has moved on from this model of keeping law and order. It’s follow the law and live by the law. Yet we still have the classic Dead or Alive posters which contradict that thinking. criminals are still wanted, however the arrive is a different matter. Hickman’s  presence spreads fast through the town, no rooms at the only hotel, no room for his horse at the livery stable (on the edge of town). They don’t want him to stay, he’s a reminder of a different time, he’s outmoded.

Instead of being filled with rage, like many of Stewart’s roles, there’s no build up of emotion, not big release that leads to great dramatic scene. Instead he holds his own in a town that resists him. Taking up lodgings with another outsider Nona Mayfield (Betsy Palmer) and her mixed race son Kip (Michel Ray) a curious boy who wants only to play with others. Not having many friends due to his Native American heritage (which isn’t really mentioned outside the house). Getting off to a rocky start, it could have increased in tension however it’s dealt with calmly the next day surprisingly well.

The main focus of the film is making a sheriff out of Owens who wants to assume the role with more confidence, something that he is lacking. This could also be seen in the actors hidden sexuality, hiding him true-self on-screen to conform and get work. Can only a heterosexual male become a sheriff? His skills with a gun are rough around the edges, it takes Hickman’s presence, a former sheriff himself to help him. It’s a reluctant help, after being pleaded by the sheriff, not the image we’re used to in our law enforcement out in the West. He’s still a boy who needs to learn the ways of being a man. It takes another to teach him. We get the classic target practice scene, not played so much for comedy, more to see how far he has to go. He wants to prove himself to the town and his woman – Millie Parker (Mary Webster) who wants him to take off the badge to live a safer life, unlike her father who died with it on.

Another test comes in the form of Bart Bogardus (Neville Brand) one of the ugliest men you could get caught up in a fight with. A man who should really be wearing the badge, instead he tests the sheriff to the limit. When a posse’s formed to catch two men responsible for the deaths of two elder men, he leads the mob mentality, which is stirred up. Owens seems powerless to really do much about him. If Ben can overcome him, stand up to the brute he has come a long way, learning how to hold himself in public and as the law. The bully of the playground has no one left to push around.

The real test comes as the posse are out chasing no-one after setting a light, Hickman has resisted the lure of the reward on the two wanted brothers Ed and Zeke McGaffey (Lee Van Cleef and Peter Baldwin), again mixed race with Native American heritage, these two face the full force of racism, whilst young Kip joins in from a distance playing sheriff on his new horse. Hickman is able to put his drive for money to one-side when he knows Kip’s caught up, becoming a father figure to him. Not forgetting his sheriff in-training Ben who just wont listen to reason, stay out of it and be safe. The life he wants is fraught with danger and heartache, which can be avoided. Instead he’s headstrong and blinkered, riding in to prove himself. Ultimately, no guns are used to safe the day and bring in the two men. Even when they face a lynch mob, guns are threatened not used, showing that can be used as tools not just weapons  for protection.

Tin Star is the beginning of a decline for Mann who had made some classic Westerns with Stewart, this could have been up there. Gary Cooper makes for a strong replacement in The Man of the West (1958). However from there on in it’s down and out, if we ignore a tense The Heroes of Telemark (1965) for a brief return to form. Here however we have a small budget film that tries to get into the characters, some more successful that others. There’s a lot going on in this 80 odd minute film, it’s tight with a bit of excess around the edges. I know I’ll be revisiting in future thanks to a fine performance from Fonda which gives it some weight and experience.

Cape Fear/e (1962/91/93) Revisited

I’m going to try something new in this review – 3 films, well 2 films and a TV episode all titled – Cape Fear. For sometime I’ve been thinking about the relationship between these horror films. Having also read that the Martin Scorsese remake in 1991 was pointless really, I need to see this for myself to understand what is actually going on here. Has Scorsese wasted a cast and crews time and a film companies money, not to mention the audience who went to see etc. I’ll finish on a more comedic note with The Simpsons spoof Cape Feare which combines the best of both films. I’m one film in – the original which I shamefully saw in about 9 parts on YouTube whilst working at a summer camp a few years ago.

The 1962 original released as part of a cycle of horror films that attempted to emulate Psycho (1960) which reshaped the genre forever, what a was expected from the genre and its very form. What followed was a series of cheap knock-offs so to speak that tried to replicate that magic for the next few years. With time for the industry to react one of the first films out using A-list actors with well established careers, such as Deborah Kerr‘s The Innocents (1961), and the cult classic of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). However Cape Fear has more in common with film noir, or the first shoots of neo-noir after it ended a few years earlier with Touch of Evil (1959). Take some of the best bits of The Night of the Hunter (1955) and repackage it into a more audience friendly film that has also become a classic.

Taking the Charles Laughton noir of a preacher who works his way into a community, marrying a Jail birds widow, in order to get his hands on the money which the dead husband has hidden. Memorably played by Robert Mitchum, whose physical presence transformed the role and the film into that of almost folklore horror. Seeing America through the eyes of an English director who gave us his vision of a country deeply rooted in its religion that could be so easily be corrupted. The Mitchum character of Harry Powell becomes Max Cady, again not long released from prison has a one track mind, not money, he has plenty of that. Its more like a destiny that he has to fulfill coming to the home town of successful lawyer and family man Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who had to testify against him on an attack charge against an innocent woman. After first meeting Cady we know he’s not a family man, not meant to live around law-abiding people. He’s not a gentlemen who stops to pick up papers for woman on the stairs. He’s to be avoided, even before we learn his back story.

The Cady’s live in reasonable comfort, a small lawyer whose life is about to be turned upside down, about to take him and his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). I couldn’t help but start to draw comparisons with this to the remake, what were the new relationship that brings Cady to town. It’s more complex for sure in the remake. Back to this more straightforward film that doesn’t waste time establishing whose the good and bad guys. However it’s the law whose hands are tied, Cady’s being doing more than marking the days in his cell before being released. Reading up on the law and planning his revenge. Starting his war of terror against Bowden and his family, taking aim at the teenage daughter – Nancy whose awareness of the male gaze and sexual power is about to blow wide open.

Cady is not just a deranged criminal out for revenge he’s a sexual predator too, making Nancy his next victim. This could be where Scorsese got a bit of tunnel vision, along with changing taste and the loosening of censorship which allowed for a more adult version of the film. Nonetheless the original filmed in cheap/standard black and white adds another layer to this dark film that gets more intense scene by scene. Tying Sam in knots with nowhere to turn but to lead him into a trap on the houseboat along the Cape Fear river. The sexuality is all coming from Mitchum, even middle-aged has a decent body that added to his domineering on-screen presence. If anything I found the ending lackluster, instead of what the audience wants – and Scorsese gives us. We have the law winning out, the courts of justice putting Cady back behind bars before a swift and happy ending. It feels after all of that struggle the good and civilised in Bowden wins out, his primal desire and wishes earlier on in the film to shoot him are repressed to allow him to drag him to a prison cell before a having another trial. Hopefully leading to reform, something I really can’t see happening to Cady, whoever plays this disturbed character.

Onto the remake now, which after hearing it was pointless, I’m starting to see why after just finishing it. I first watched it at University, thinking it was a great thriller, I even used it as part of my research for thrillers and suspense. What the hell was I thinking, more to the point what was Martin Scorsese thinking. It wasn’t even a film he wanted to do, it was an assignment given to him by the Universal, for reasons I just don’t understand, I don’t think he does either. Probably hoping to get his next project The Age of Innocence (1993).

Lets take a look at the film on the face of it, a remake of the 1960’s classic thriller which saw the Bowden family being tormented by the deranged Max Cady that still remains at the core of this film. However 30 years have passed and the script admittedly needed altering in some respects. There’s far more sex on-screen, along with the usual depiction of Scorsese penchant for violence. Making it a good match, but then the same can be said of lots of directors. He’s a director for hire here. The main difference is Cady played by a hammy Robert De Niro whose clearly having a ball, glad to be working with his old pal Marty one more time. The crime committed now is, aggravated assault, essentially rape when you get to know the character. He’s come back to get revenge on his old lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) who we learn buried evidence that could have allowed Cady to go free. That facts are made clear early on away from Cady who is beginning his campaign of fear.

Originally Bowden was a witness to an assault committed by Cady, now we see that the lawyer has used his professional power to alter the course of Cady’s life. I couldn’t have seen that working in 1962, only a few years from playing Atticus Finch (Peck) couldn’t betray that upstanding heroic image. Whilst Mitchum could’ve easily played that role to the extreme without getting as hammy as De Niro. We spend more time with the daughter now named Danielle (Juliette Lewis) who is more sexually aware. Whilst the wife is pretty much unchanged, reacting instead to the plot as it unfolds. If anything she is more traumatised by the films events. So the father and daughter get the thick of it.

A memorable addition or “nod” of approval to the remake, is the inclusion of three of the original cast Peck, Mitchum and Martin Balsam each having a few scenes. Was this more a ploy to bring in the older audience to see three older actors once more, or to say that the film is not being made without their blessing. I think its more the former with a bit of promotional casting. Mitchum first appears as the detective who wants to help but is forced to not suggest to seek alternatives. Whilst Peck is clearly having more fun in his cameo as Lee Heller who is Cady’s defence lawyer. Whilst a clearly bored Martin Balsam the original detective plays the judge who rules a restraining order in Cady’s favor. The aging actor clearly underused and wondering what the hell he is doing on set.

The law is clearly not in Bowden’s side throughout, doing all he can to protect his family, being screwed at every turn by a criminal who has read his books, including the Bible and Sexus (just for added smut). There are times when you are on the Bowden’s side, then you think, haven’t we been here before, only in black and white and not for as long. Drawing out the scenes and adding new ones that only drag out this practically scene for scene remake. The religious overtones are very heavy and clearly a directorial stroke, which makes the work his – overtly.

Ultimately it’s a hammy overreacted, waste of film that sees an accomplished director scraping the barrel with sacred material that shouldn’t have been touched. He should have looked back to Dead Calm (1989) which had the boat thriller in the bag in every way. We have actors who are doing their best, whilst some are just glad for the bigger paycheck and a few days work. Lastly Scorsese only makes you think about the original more overtly with the lazy use of the original score by Bernard Herrmann, conducted by Elmer Bernstein who simply conducted it for the “new” soundtrack. There’s no attempt to be really a unique film that is about the same basic premise, its the just the same just sexed up.

Now I want to watch the far superior Simpsons parody which focuses in the best elements. The second episode of season 5 – (yes it’s that old), a longtime favorite of mine. I remember getting it on video – the murder mysteries tape. Makes me feel old just thinking about it. It’s been a while since I last saw the episode until last night. It was still as fresh and spot on with the jokes that came thick and fast. Midway through the golden age of the now long running animated sitcom, which has now become the longest running of its kind too. Cape Feare was also the third time that Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) appears in this now iconic role. Assuming the Max Cady role directly from the Scorsese’s film gave us a year before. It’s a cheeky spoof that is more entertaining that the thriller which is 6 times as long.

I think the focus was on the more recent film still fresh in the public consciousness, which is understandable, leaving the original alone. Taking the best bits of a pointless film and making fun of the rest in 20 minutes of animation. We already know that Bob has it in for Bart (Nancy Cartwright) who has twice already found him out, once for robbery, and for attempted murder. Now it’s time for revenge. There’s no need to build up that history between the two except in a few short scenes. The blood written letters and the parole hearing before Bob’s released, using his charm to gain his freedom.

Already the Simpson family are on edge, the letters and now the cinema scene which is ensures we are in for a scene for scene spoof. Of course there’s more common sense at play, the harassments taken seriously by the police instead of going down the private detective route – which leads to the fishing wire and teddy bear set-up which isn’t taken seriously. Ultimately they’re referred to the FBI who put them into the Witness Relocation Program giving them a new identity and opening titles. It’s all played fast a loose. Yet the law is on the families side, moving the spoof quickly on, there’s no time to discuss the need to use a gun or to kill Bob, it’s about hiding.

The finale is more family friendly with a Gilbert and Sullivan homage, making the most of an earlier scene in the car journey. The houseboat is loose on the water, just not out of control as Bart uses the performance to buy him time. He’s too clever to result to deadly violence to see his enemy (not Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria) and his panda’s). The episode delivers some of the finest moments not just of the season but a collection of jokes that are better than the expensive thriller that tries to outdo the original.

So ends my first 3 (2 and a spoof) film review, attempting to find a relationship and history. I’ve chosen an easier trilogy (of sorts) to begin with a film, a remake and a spoof. I can see how it a classic (before it was more common) to remake a film. Seeing that it was sexed up, add some violence and some cheeky cameos to draw in the audiences. Whilst a controversial cartoon plays fast and loose, appropriate the events of a recent film and make fun of it, so is the nature of a spoof which in the case of this film is more entertaining, than the remake.


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.

Peeping Tom (1960) Revisited

Peeping Tom (1960)Notably the film that practically killed Michael Powell‘s career dead, a film that scared the world just before we were shocked by Psycho (1960). You could say it was a matter of timing with Alfred Hitchcock‘s film that altered the language of film forever. So why am I returning to this film? It’s a question I’m still asking myself, Peeping Tom (1960) is one of those film I was originally recommended to me at university. It’s a film about the desires of film-makers really if anything else, equally about those who watch them and the power that the medium we have come to be in awe off in the last 120 years. The power of the medium from a side-show attraction to a multi-billion dollar business with a fully formed language that depicts all aspects of life from the mundane, the daily to the fantastical. Yet to understand the power and the darker limits of the medium, we usually avoid them.

The camera as a tool captures all that it sees, it never lies until, unless the image before has been manipulated. In some cultures it’s believed to take part of your soul if it looks at you. Part of yourself imprinted and shared with the world. Projected on a scale that we could at first not fathom, the power of the image over an audience is a spell yet to be broken. Today we can capture and record images at the touch of a button and a bit of memory on a phone. These images still can have the power to scare or even humiliate. Film is a medium that goes beyond just another creative expression it has the power to tell the truth or even manipulate. This is just a basic description of the power of film.

So why return to Peeping Tom I still find I am asking myself, it felt like a test more than anything to see if I could still be provoked by it, a film that is as much gripping as it is perverse, it’s as much terrifying as its addictive. It’s a film of emotional contradictions that is both in love with the medium yet fears how far we can push it to the limits of decency. Filmed using stock used for pornography it already attached the dirty aesthetic of being something to be either a fetish or adored. It took a while to find a healthy balance. It is a film that at the time of release had the same reaction of Marmite – you either love it or you hate it.

It has become a film about film in a fictional realm where the gaze is lethal. Making the actions in Rear Window (1954) look tame in comparison. When a murders observed from a distance, now the act take place involving the camera. It records the act, the reaction of the victim as the violently die on-camera. Very few people have died on camera – ignoring war-time footage, Death is a very private moment in a person’s life. We see murder take place 3 times over the course of the film. We are first trapped behind the camera-mans gaze as he carries out the first murder, we’re trapped indirectly, unable to look away at this blend of horror-pornography. It’s only the fact that Powell’s credit the beginning of the film that we are in for more of a horror than the adult blue film this could become. We don’t really know what has happened this early into the film, We only know that Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Böhm) has committed the act, but how or why is still a mystery.

We learn that he is an outsider socially when he returns home, catching the attention of birthday girl Helen Stephens (Anna Massey) and is allowed into his world where we learn he in living in the shadow of his father, whose home-movies are research into human fear. We also have the classic German villain, made only 15 years after the end of WWII there are still tensions, a man not to be trusted, luring Helen into his world, I wonder if she is next, I really had forgotten how this film plays out. I could only remember the film studio murder, built up with Vivian (Moira Shearer) being lulled into a false sense of security, The act’s captured twice, once for us, another for Mark, part of his own film (or documentary). A film maker with dark motive and drives that we still can’t understand.

Mark is very much a product of his fathers up-bringing, wanting to complete his work. When the police begin to investigate the second murder he doesn’t run and hide; he wants to film it all. As if he enjoys the investigation, not caring if they find him. Its only when he’s made aware of his problem does he begin to unravel before us. Realised by Helen’s mother (Maxine Audley) a blind woman whose remaining senses allow her to see what is blind to the others. There was a part of me that thought that Helen was another victims, which really would have been a betrayal to the audience, innocent to what was going on, even inspired by her new friends hobby.

Peeping Tom is not a film for the passing fan of Powell and Pressburger who have given us numerous delightful and powerful British films. It’s quintessentially British in tone which makes it fascinating, how can something so dark come out of this little Island. Well look back at the duo’s work together, they’re drenched in the darkness Black Narcissus (1947), the psychology in the film that drives the sisters to the brink. We’re pushed to the limits of what cinema can do, what the medium can do in terms of content and the ideas it can convey before becoming something that is not fit for consumption. It’s a fine line which Powell walked, his inner drives of what it means to be a film-maker, how far do you push the medium to get the results you want. Lastly its shows us up as voyeurs, who all congregate in a dark room and stare. Instead of the loners who use a telescope or long-lens camera. We are in a sense as bad as those loners, except our habit is accepted as the norm.

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Marnie (1964) Revisited

Marnie (1964)I first watched Marnie (1964) when I first discovered Alfred Hitchcock devouring them nearly on a nightly basis, wanting to watch them all with eagerness. When it came to Marnie however I felt somewhat let down by it all, it wasn’t the standard thriller, the wrong man on the run from the police, it was something different, Something with the master of suspense was trying after the huge success of Psycho (1960) which he would never come close to topping or really meeting. He came close to that with The Birds (1962) which has the effect of staying with you, nature turning on humanity, a villain who can’t be locked away by the police as we usually found. The journey was one not only of making others around you believe your story, but to convince them to run as-well, to understand the enemy to quell or restore order.

I have also been troubled by a provocative statement by film critic Robin Wood

If you don’t like Marnie, you don’t like the movies of Alfred Hitchcock and if you don’t love Marnie you don’t love cinema.”

Quite a statement right? I think he was trying to make a point which I am only just understanding beyond the flippancy of its power. He understands the film on another level, something the average film-lover or goer might not get. He wants us to enjoy and read the film on another level a level is may well have been intended for. Now some films aren’t meant to be read on another level, they are what they are. Some have hidden depths, some simply make you laugh, other grab your attention. Others such as this really do take some time and real attention to understand them. Something I am starting to get with Marnie. I’m not saying its all clicked, that would be presumptuous of me.

We started with Vertigo (1958) to understand the director, the man, Hitch who idolizes the blonde, his desire to make them as he desires. Controlling them sexually, lost in the image and the idea of them. 5 years later we aren’t trying to make-over a woman in another image, we want to understand Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren) who we meet as a leaving after another robbery at work. Making herself over from one image to another. Creating and living in multiple guises to hide from the men she hurt financially. It was only 4 years earlier that Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) stole from her boss to help her lover out. There is no lover here as yet, wanting only to support her lifestyle and her mother. A figure that recurs in many of Hitchcock’s films, a parent who never loses complete control over the destiny and of their off-spring, always there to guide them in ways the child is never aware of.

It’s well-known now that Tippi Hedren was the last of most actress to suffer under Hitch’s films, controlling her options, obsessing over her to the point she wanted to leave during the making of The Birds torturing her in many ways. It becomes more clear in Marnie the object of his affections, the damage of the previous film’s used to the actresses/models advantage. Playing the part of a psychologically damaged woman who hates the affections of a man. Something which Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) is curious about, he is the on-screen Hitchcock able to carry out his own investigation into her mental state.

There is more than an insatiable fear of male affections as we discover early on, the sight of red, induces her and the audience to have flashes of red. Overwhelming her for some unknown reason, the psychological becomes cinematic in its experience, the flash of red before her and our eyes. A fear of thunderstorms leaves her in a child-like state, vulnerable to Mark who makes his move and wants to know more about this beautiful and fragile woman who has come to work for him.

Psychology has left the confines of the psychologist and is has becomes something for the laymen to investigate, making Spellbound (1945) look tame in comparison. Reaching out more into the public realm. We have a psychological thriller, not just one that uses it to induce the thrills and suspense, its taken to another level that we can all start to consider, that is if we allow ourselves. Which is where this film can and does lose its appeal to the main-stream, when you get too technical and book-smart you can leave your audience behind. You have to be careful how you do it to keep them on-board.

So with Mark acting as a psychologist and lover he also becomes part-time private investigator who finds out about her past, a past which he is eager to understand and hopefully break her from this awful mindset that has allowed her to take on job after job to fund her lifestyle. You could even suggest that he raped her, something which is easy to infer on the face of it. Overpowering her on their honeymoon cruise, she’s stripped of her clothes and forced upon, which implies rape. She also lies there and does allow it to happen. I’m not condoning rape for a second, more understanding the construction of the scene, the character is overcome by the force of her husband and allows him to make love to her. Making her passive and a victim, or more a victim of her state of mind. We don’t actually know what happened after those few moments. Waking up the next morning in separate beds. Her mental state could have made the rape possible and then left not to be mentioned again.

I am beginning to see this film in a new light now, which you can see in the text above, there are layers to this film beyond the ideas of psychology being discussed. The special effects are by now looking tired and out of date, something which he never moved much away from. We do however have some interesting high angle shots throughout the film, looking down upon Marnie a fragile  woman who needs to be healed to function, to love and be loved not just by men but her mother. They say that your childhood shapes your adulthood, this is very much an extreme, something which audiences back at the time of release may not have been able to accept. Now its common place, these principles of psychoanalysis are a part of western culture. You could say Marnie was ahead of its time, let down by dates special effects and heavy dialogue. There is still very much a classic Hitchcock in terms of style, nothing is left to chance, he is trying new things out and they pay off such the robbery whilst the cleaner share half the shot. When you comparing to Psycho it does pale, as he is trying something new after all the audience wanted was to be wowed and scared once more. This was a step to far for the director one which is now overlooked in the mainstream, repeating viewings and patience are needed to understand and appreciate the film and the woman or women of Hitchcock.

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Play Misty For Me (1971)

Play Misty For Me (1971)A few years ago I attempted to watch Play Misty for Me (1971) I was really off, it didn’t last more than a few scenes. It had really aged, the titles, the music, the look of the whole thing was cheesy, a relic to be forgotten from the 1970’s. A decade that would go on to see Clint Eastwood flourish and grow as a director and other like him have incredible freedom with their work. I just put this film to the back of my mind like a bad night in town, messy and nothing you want to dwell on.

Then over the following years I began to read and hear more about this film, maybe I should give this “horror” a second look and even that took sometime to squeeze into my busy viewing schedule. Until recently I took the bull by the horns and got it ready to revisit and sit myself down for the entirety of the film. So here I am now, what are my thoughts on this I must admit dated thriller that does precursor the “bunny boiler” genre which got its name thanks to Glenn Close‘s culinary skills in Fatal Attraction (1987). The stalker sub-genre was born…kind off. You have to admit for Eastwood a man of action this is quite a departure, there’s not a gun in sight which is another brave move by the director who also stars, something he has been able to juggle on countless films since.

Ok with the history of the film in place, lets turn to the plot which is pretty strong on the whole, radio d.j. Dave (who has been getting the regular calls from a fan, requesting Misty be played, just a regular fan who knows what she wants to be played, sounds innocent enough…right? It’s after he meets Evelyn (Jessica Walter) by coincidence at a bar, which turns into a long night with no strings attached. We have a slight idea of who she could be from the caller at the station. There’s no way of knowing until we see her a few days later just turn up out of the blue. Trouble is definitely afoot for Dave who is having problems with his girlfriend Tobie (Donna Mills) who is trying to sort her head out.

The focus is on Evelyn who builds up this fantasy relationship between her and Dave which we can see is clearly not right. Becoming intrusive, overly caring, just walking in whenever she wants. Evelyn is very much today a caricature of the obsessive woman turning into comedy at times today. Still the effect she has on Dave is enough for the film to hold up, the fear that she inflicts upon him is enough for me to want to see what she does next which shows the film works on some level. The scenes of violence also lean towards comedy today which also shows how much this film has dated. It’s the moments of tension that hold this film together. There’s even a homage to Psycho (1960) which Eastwood just about pulls off. The role of the possessed is reversed here. It’s a brave move which almost pays off, the villainous role of the male is given to a female which is even today rarely seen in main-stream film.

On reflection its a half decent film by then first-time director Eastwood showing what he can do both behind and in front of the camera. So you have to give him his dues there. The film struggles to hold up completely, but can be seen as a landmark in his career at least. You could say it was a trail-blazer; allowing other actresses  to play the part of the villain and better too.I can see what he is capable of even at this stage of his career. I am well aware of his later work which has seen him become a much respected director today. We all have to start somewhere I guess.

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