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Archive for September, 2010

The Birds

by on Sep.21, 2010, under Daily Review

This one was a difficult inclusion into the project. I wasn’t really planning on three Hitchcock, in fact, I wasn’t even gonna include Psycho, but here we are and seen as we’ve had other animal’s gone crazy, why not include this one? I’m glad I did though as I probably haven’t seen this one since I was a very young lad.

The story follows a pair of love birds… well.. we start off with a bit of flirting in a pet shop, Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) are strangers but hit it off whilst checking out the birds. When Mitch leaves, Melanie follows him up the coast to the idyllic Bodega Bay with a pair of caged Love Bids which she offers as a gift. But her romantic weekend in the country turns bad when she’s attacked by a gull. Soon, the whole community are watching the skies for feathery fiends as they make their attack.

The film is vicious and claustrophobic. I was shocked how threatening the birds actually are. One scene has a whole swam enter the house through the chimney which is a relentless scene. Later, the family cower in their home, awaiting the next attack. Windows boarded up with no way of escape. This is the original zombie film, right here in Hitchcock’s Birds. This is Romero’s influence. The tension is thick and difficult, which is made worse through the fantastic characters which, as a viewer you become very close with. All characters get good screen time with plenty of depth and realism. Between the attacks, we have a real level of calm, but super tension as we await the next swoop which we know is just around the corner.

Tippi Hedren is the real star here. She is mesmerizing and charismatic and very watchable. A great accent too. Hitchcock took Tippi and made her a star, being a former model. His skill is outrageously good, an eye for talent and a knowledge of how to get the most from his cast. Here, his direction is so minimal with slow easy shots, of the countryside, snappy edits of the attacks, just like, Psycho, just like Frenzy. His edits snap in when the action is upped, but unlike psycho, there is little in the way of a score, just flappy wing noises and squawks.

This is a real classic film, solid from beginning to end, flawless, perfect. A final word, the scrip is outstandingly good. Amazing interrupted dialogue. One scene has an ornithologists talking about birds being good, never attacking unprovoked and humans being the bad guys, meanwhile a waitress calls out ‘who ordered the fried chicken?’ I’m looking forward to watching this one again.

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Psycho

by on Sep.20, 2010, under Daily Review

Where do I begin with a film like Psycho? Everything has been said and can a film like this really truly be critiqued? Hitchcock’s masterpiece, and one of the greatest films, horror or otherwise but is it really perfect?

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) has an opportunity, a chance to get away from the small town and escape to live with her secret lover, Sam (John Gavin), when her employer lets her walk right out of the office with $40,000. She takes a chance and makes a run for it, leaving her old life behind and dreaming of a new beginning, but her conscience begins to question her actions. She stops off to spend the night at a quiet motel, just off the freeway, while she can work things out in her mind. The motel owner is a nice young guy, Norman Bates(Anthony Perkins), who makes a late night snack and they chat over their thoughts of living in a small town and being a slave to your situation, but sometimes, this can be a good thing, it’s kinda the hand you are dealt. She decides she’s gonna head back home the next day, and try to get herself out of this situation, but Norman’s mother has other plans.

It’s shot perfectly with every scene a perfect photograph. It actually shocked me how amazing good it looks, far superior than I remember and so much better than everything else I usually watch. One frame especially blew me away, as Leigh lays face down, half out of the shower, we get an extreme close up of her eye and the camera spirals slowly out to expose the brutal aftermath. The characters are solid and real. Hitchcock is brilliant. Perkins is totally excellent here, with a huge role to play, he takes the character and owns it fully. Leigh is perfect and for Hitchcock to build up such a believable and accessible character and then chop her up in a shower, is a stunning achievement. Was this one of the first films to perform such a plot structure?

Now, a few bad points. Leigh is dead, but the film continues and works brilliantly, although Marion’s sister Lila, (Vera Miles) comes looking for her. There is nothing here to write home about. Lila as a character is flat, although she has a mighty scream when she meets Norman’s Mother. Craven used a similar structure in Scream, taking  Drew Barrymore’s character out of the picture after that amazing build up, but replacing the lead character with the stunning Sidney. Hitchcock missed his chance here I think.

My second problem here is the final ten minutes or so. We really don’t need a breakdown of what the viewers have witnessed for the past 90 mins, but Hitchcock is used to a character explaining the plot towards the end of his films as for the most part, we get a Scooby Doo moment with reasons and motives for the crime. With Psycho, we know everything that’s happened and what we don’t know, Norman’s demented past only makes the viewers mind ache even more. Don’t tell us his secrets.

The final scene should have come a bit sooner as it is a brilliant scene and fine way to wrap the movie, as Norman sits with a blanket, with his thoughts open for the audience to hear. His expression builds and says it all. This is the highlight of the film for me, this is the magic which has been lightly exposing itself and here in the closing moments we see the real danger inside the innocent exterior.

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Frenzy

by on Sep.19, 2010, under Daily Review

I’ve questioned my reasoning behind adding a few Hitchcock films into this project for some time now. Originally, Frenzy was the only one to be included, but why not add a few more? Can Hitchcock be classed as horror? Can we really question what horror is as it’s relevant per individual. Regardless, here we are with one of his last films and arguably his most vicious of films.

Frenzy is a tale of a London serial killer, the necktie murderer who rapes and strangles women with his tie, around the Covent Garden area. Richard (Jon Finch) is a down on his look chancer who, after losing his job, heads over to visit his ex-wife. Things go wrong when his wife is found murdered, strangled to death and Richard is on the run. Of cause, this is Hitchcock and by this point in the film, we are already aware who the real killer is. Rusk (Barry Foster), a fruit merchant, lives with his mother and loves to hate women. One the first look, he’s a bit of a charmer, a chirpy cockney even, but brutal and full and anger. The ordeal between Rusk and Brenda (Richards exwife) is a shocking scene. A vile rape scene, Rust repeatedly saying ‘Lovely’ in a variety of voices and tones as the attack takes place. The necktie is soon around her neck, Rusk evaluates the situation, after showing a selection of emotions, true to any serial killer.

The film is quality through and through. Hitchcock is a master of cinema and knows exactly how to set up a scene showing what is needed and when. There is only one brutal murder for the viewer to witness. Later, a barmaid is murdered after entering Rusk’s pad, whist the viewer lingers in the corridor witnessing her fate through silence. Another vicious scene has Rusk attempting to remove his necktie pin which is tight in the fist of the dead barmaid. Forcing and breaking the fingers of the dead girl.

So this is all bleak, but with a script so sharp, care of Anthony Shaffer (Wickerman) we see a working side of London from a time long gone. It’s full of quick witted characters, keen to add a few words here and there with much local phrases which lift the film into a near ‘carry on’. One line from a hotel owner, after realizing that Richard is wanted for murder, who has just booked a honeymoon suite with Babs, the barmaid, says ‘Oh no! Not in the cupid room!’

Hitchcock is always remembered more for his Crime Thrillers, but his most notable work was Psycho, yet with Frenzy, shot some 12 years later, it’s a very different type of film. Hichcock’s homeland, a swinging London backdrop, some stiff upper lip and a bit of likely lads captured by a talented eye, a master of the lense, but this has to be his most under-recognised of his films, even though it’s his most violent.

Vicious, charming, elegant and disturbing, Frenzy is a must for any fan of horror.

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Week 47

by on Sep.18, 2010, under 365 Schedule

Last week was a great one. I’ve always love Romero and Cronenberg, but what an eye opener catching up with some earlier fimes, some i hadn’t seen for a very long time. Stunning. Lets hope this week matches up to it. Hitchcock v Bava.

  • Frenzy
  • Psycho
  • The Birds
  • Black Sunday
  • Whip and the Flesh
  • Black Sabbath
  • Blood and Black Lace
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Scanners

by on Sep.18, 2010, under Daily Review

This is the first film which saw Cronenberg move into a different direction, one of politics and the bigger external picture, hinted at with his previous films. We venture into a much larger playing field which could emphasis the effects of change on a much larger scale the impact of on society by people who are different.

Scanners follows a similar rule as his previous films, with a chemical introduced during pregnancy creating a super powered mind readers, known as Scanners. OK, so they can do a bit more than read minds, in fact, they can control the actions of other people and in extreme situations, even make their head explode. It’s not long before a rival community of rebel Scanners are plotting to overthrow the ‘controlled’ scanners and even the world of non scanners. There’s back stabbing, conspiracy and corporate gain all thrown in to the mix as the plot unravels.

This is a great film, there’s no question about it, but this is Cronenberg focusing on a more mainstream audience, maybe due to the promise of a bigger budget, bigger name actors or the idea of appealing to a greater audience which toned  down the finished result. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t Disney and has some shocking moments but I can’t help but feel diluted here. The exploding heads are still spectacular and probably the best ever captured on film, even though the effects date back 30 years: perfect and shocking. I’d forgotten how amazing they were. The script is great and realistic as usual with Cronenbergs films and once again, the fantastical plot line is believable from the opening scene, carried by fine performances all around. I’ve said it before, but Cronenberg has this masterful skill to bring a realistic performance out of any actor, regardless of how outrageous the plot or situation, it always feels believable.

Mike Ironside, Pat McGoohan, Jen O’Neil and Steve Lack all fill the screen and work well here, but I can’t feel a little disappointed with lack as the lead role. Ironside is outrageously good and realistically, it’s his film through and through.

I’d like to mention the score here too, which is dramatically different in style from his previous films, although still incorporating classic style, a huge electronic intervention washes over the whole movie in sound a vision, even the end credits role with letters typed out on a computer

The film is a brave move for Cronenberg, but I believe it was to be his next feature which would be the biggest step in his career, a film similar in content to that of Scanners, but incorporating elements from his earlier films, emotional and erotic colours and the embrace of physical and mental changing conditions, alongside a corporate conspiracy story line. Scanners was the building block and for this we should be grateful.

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Shivers

by on Sep.17, 2010, under Daily Review

Cronenberg has always been one of my favourite directors. I’ve been watching his films since I was 14 and they’ve always captivated me, but as time passes by, I grow wary to revisit some films as they might just disappoint. Was it a time and place which makes a film special and how will they stand up against today’s standards? Has Cronenberg got better with age? After this week, I’m so glad I’ve included a few of his early films in the project as they are perfect beyond belief and I actually think they have had more of an impact on the older version of myself, rather than the innocent teen all those years ago.

Shivers is set in a super modern, state of the art apartment block on a luxury island. As you can expect, the complex has everything from swimming pools to it’s own hospital. It’s this hospital in which scientists are working on experimental procedures. A parasite which can eat and replace a damaged organ, but one scientist has other ideas working on a parasite which will induce a sexual lust sending its host into a frenzy. When his work goes wrong, he attempts to destroy his experiment within his teen girlfriend. It’s not long before the whole apartment are crazy with lust.

This in effect is a zombie film, but once again, Cronenberg focus’ on the human emotion and desires with connotations of social needs and changing climate. Every taboo is touched upon here. From the opening scene, with an old scientist strangling a teenage girl, a brutal scene without music brings the horror and reality to the viewer. Later, a father kisses his daughter with passion, (I just know you’ll like my daughter, Erica!) old and young are crazy fiends, but it’s not a clear cut film. Some characters embrace the change, waiting and watching as their body morphs, notably Allan Kolman as Nicholas (A character later mirrored as Set Brundle by Jeff Goldblum in the Fly). Other characters, Nurse Forsythe (Lynn Lowry) show desire before the outbreak, suggesting a possible early infection, although this is not the case, she just craves the attention of her Doctor, who attempts to keep things professional.

Another shocking point to make is Cronenberg’s repeated signature of involving children as viewers to extreme violence, a trait which I’ve noticed in many of his films. I’m not sure if the children had prior knowledge to what was about to happen before the camera’s role, but he captures a pretty shocking expression every time.

The cast are perfect here too, clinical and dry, solemn and in control as Cronenberg always likes them. His direction is superb, no-one captures emotion at such a stripped down level like Cronenberg. Lynn Lowry, Barbara Steele, Paul Hampton and the brilliant Wally Martin.

Finally, the climax of the movie is such a success. The swimming pool scene is one of the most memorable I’ve ever known. Shot as what should be a bleak ending, this actually celebrates and embraces the infection which has taken over. A love affair of desire and wanting which works as much as a happy ending rather than the expected. The chemistry between Lowry and Hampton is electric and when they kiss, it wrap’s the film to perfection. I must also mention one final note regarding a speech which Lowry makes a little earlier on in the film, she tells Hampton of a dream. This speech is one of the finest moments in any film I’ve ever seen. It’s as memorable as the Long Live the New Flesh one from Videodrome, yet not nearly as recognised.

‘I had a very disturbing dream last night. In this dream I found myself making love to a strange man. Only I’m having trouble you see, because he’s old and dying and he smells bad, and I find him repulsive. But then he tells me that everything is erotic, that everything is sexual. You know what I mean? He tells me that even old flesh is erotic flesh. That disease is the love of two alien kinds of creatures for each other. That even dying is an act of eroticism. That talking is sexual. That breathing is sexual. That even to physically exist is sexual. And I believe him, and we make love beautifully.’

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The Brood

by on Sep.16, 2010, under Daily Review

Cronenberg manages to break many taboo’s in his features, but here with The Brood, he deals with many shocking thoughts and images which will haunt your mind. The film is brutal and disturbing, but the pace is steady, solid and in control at all times, which builds to an outrageously graphic finale.

The film’s main protagonist is Frank (Art Hindle) who is involved in a bitter divorce battle with his crazy wife Nola, (Sam Eggar) who struggles with her abusive past. Spending time with her shrink Reglan, (Oliver Reed), she learns how to release her inner tension, her anger and haunting violence which has consumed her mind and life all these years, but what is born is something from these counselling lessons is more than a mental release, allowing a new physical danger to be released.

Cronenberg takes the challenge of dealing with an abusive home life and adds that magic which only he knows how to cast. The physical metamorphosis of the horrific situation is spectacular, and unthinkable. A master of his work, he takes the ideas and replicates a whole new world around a simple, yet horrid situation, which results in a film unlike anything else you have ever seen. There are many graphic moments which will affect viewers differently. The berth scene is heavy going, and nothing what you could ever expect. Another moment has two young kids beating a school teacher to death as the rest of the clash are trying to get on with their art class; a really vicious moment for me, this one. Keep an eye on the reaction of the other kids, extras.

Another fine film, brilliant in execution and build up and performance. Perfect by all accounts.  

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Rabid

by on Sep.15, 2010, under Daily Review

After an accident in which Rose (Marylin Chambers) and Hart (Frank Moore) get thrown from a motorcycle, Rose ends up in intensive care with immediate skin grafts. She recovers slowly but develops a taste for blood with a protruding abscess which grows from her armpit, into a sharp spike which impales her victim as she goes in for an embrace. Her victims slowly become infected and in turn, become blood thirsty fiends.

This is a glorious film. I know the plot sounds a bit odd, and at times, it is, but the connotations here are deep and dark suggesting sexual disease, social issues and decline along with the acceptance of a mutation of the skin and body. Cronenberg is a master of cinema, who deals this changes and the darker side of disorder, focusing on the positive. The desire and willingness to spread an infection, although Rose is at conflict with her own self over the changes within her own body and her new role in life. She is a strong character and dominates the film through performance, which is flawless and also through character which is a superb strong female who uses her flesh to get what she wants, to conquer men and allow her disease to spread and cause chaos. Inside, a frightened young woman is repressed.

The outbreak of violence causes the area to be locked down by military force and those contaminated destroyed. Hysteria spreads through the bleak concrete town. Again, Cronenberg focuses on a simplistic view of landscape. Every scene is simple and pure, clinical. A trait which follows in all his films. His closeness for mutation of the body is celebrated, a different commitment towards characters than portrayed with other films of this style and era. Romero focused on the human side of situations, allowing those infected in his films to be villainised. Cronenberg allows an embrace of change. As a viewer, you feel for Rose as she takes on this new role and follow her, even supporting her actions. How Cronenberg manages this, I’ve no idea. His direction is stunning, lifting believable, amazing performances from his actors. Chambers is brilliant here. And then there is that ending. I love this film. Always will.

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Season of the Witch

by on Sep.14, 2010, under Daily Review

Romero’s third film focus’ closer on a singular character and the loneliness within, which differs from his previous two films which covered group emotions, hysteria and panic. This is a much more claustrophobic film, but also holds the enemy here as the general social public outside of Joan’s (Jan White) life and mind.

A middle aged house wife become haunted by dreams of a masked man when her life becomes to fall apart. He husband works away, her teenage daughter hides in her bedroom and her afternoon housewife club becomes dreary. She falls under the guidance of one of the local ladies, a suburban witch who offers her advice and a new escape out of the usual day to day affairs.

Romero uncovers something very deep with this film. His style and ability are exceptional, pushing his leading actress, White, into an almost confessional role of despair and desire in what plays out like a chaotic Brigit Jones’ Diary. Her obsession with the men in the neighbourhood, a pleading cry of acknowledgement for her life which has been lost and the downward spiral which she falls whist looking for an escape.

A script which works so well and natural with the cast of believable characters struggling with the secret lives which they all live. Joan plays with her lovers as naturally as if she were baking a cake or preparing sandwiches as she dabbles with the dark arts. A brutal revelation towards the end of the film offers the gateway which Joan needed which is emphasised by a jovial social gathering, much more uplifting than the others in the film, but clashes in the mind of the viewer over the events which we’ve just witnessed.

Romero shows his versatility here, shooting from a totally different ballpark than his previous two films, yet holding all the key characteristics of his work. Another fine example.

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Martin (Wampyr)

by on Sep.13, 2010, under Daily Review

Let me tell you about this film. I’ve actually watched two versions today, Romero’s original and also the Italian re-edit. I’m not about to discussed the obvious winner of the two, but let me tell you, the Italian one is a great surprise to those who have seen Martin on occasion. I’d still opt for the original, personally.

Martin (John Amplas) is an 82 year old vampire whose cousin, Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) intends to save his soul. Cuda’s daughter Christina (Christine Forrest) actually sees Martin as a confused teenager in need of a shrink. So who’s right here? A stunningly original vampire film which stands up today, untouched as one of the greatest of the genre. Martin prey’s on local pretty girls, using hypodermic needles to drug them before he slashes open their wrists (Amazing effect, c/o Tom Savini who also stars) to drink their blood. Before and during each attack, we see a vision of how the situation will flow, in Black and White, the victim embraces Martin in a silver screen movie style. It’s dreamy and romantic, but as the viewer, we are witness to the harsh reality and less attractive situations which occur. One has a girl on a train, holding out her arms with loving mesmerised eyes, the reality has her stepping from the toilet cubicle, face mask and blowing her nose.

Another attack, one of the finest in the film has a Martin break into a woman’s home only to find himself in the middle of an affair. The bloke tries to make excuses until the women explains she’s never seen Martin before. This is a classic Romero moment. Human emotion and situations which become a blunder on martins behalf, but ever so familiar to the viewer. The scene holds up a game of cat n mouse as Martin hides around the house, awaiting for the drug to take effect on the bloke, who he’s stabbed with the needle. A very clever scene.

Meanwhile, his uncle, obsessed with the family curse is convinced that Martin is the legendary vampire, Nosferatu. Crucifix and garlic cover every door. He knows what Martin is and isn’t about to let his soul be taken over, seeing this as his own personal mission to save the boy.

Now, let me mention this Italian print once more. Many scenes have been rejigged completely, some removed, some added which works and feels fresh and new, but the biggest plus for this edition is the score. The original has a very minimalist score which allows the actions to take priority for the viewer. The Italian has a crazy big 70’s score, care of the Italian genre gods, Goblin. A must for any fan. Again, this works but on a very different level, creating even more chaos in the scenes of bumbled attacks and injecting a harsh unbalance for the viewer.

Personally, I’d take the original print every time. This is one of my favourite Romero films, and one of my favourite all time movies. I’m glad it holds up after all these years as this is the fist time I’ve seen if for 23ish years. Masterpiece. The new print below is beautiful too.

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