Symptoms (1974)

Symptoms (1974) movie poster

director  José Ramón Larraz
viewed: 07/09/2018

Symptoms, a slow boil psychological horror-thriller from director José Ramón Larraz seems to have fallen between the cracks before being rediscovered somewhat recently.

If for no other reason, Angela Pleasence delivers a sublime performance as Helen, a woman with a haunted aspect, who brings home a friend, Anne (Lorna Helibron) who has recently split up with her guy for a long weekend at her country estate. Only, it seems that Anne isn’t the first young woman to come to Helen’s estate, and what ever did happen to Cora who was here before?

A very dreamy atmosphere pervades, inside and out. Larraz paints England as pissing down rain, grey, and dreary, sleepy. A somnolent undercurrent of desire emanates from Helen, but what is really going on between her and Anne? And what about the creepy handyman?

I was also brought to mind of Larraz’s Vampyres (also 1974). Is this the same building in both movies? The two films both share as well, lesbian protagonists, haunting an isolated English manor. Norman J. Warren’s Prey, also came to mind for similar connections.

The blood in the butter was a nice touch. Angela Pleasence, excellent.

Lolita (1962)

Lolita (1962) movie poster

director Stanley Kubrick
viewed: 07/08/2018

The last time I saw Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita was not terribly long after I had read the Vladimir Nabokov novel. Both of these events were around 25 years ago. I’ve considered the novel to be one of the best I’ve read in my life, one I’ve recommended time and again, and something I’ve meant to revisit. I recalled finding Kubrick’s Lolita a bit of a disappointment.

Now, decades later, the novel not so fresh in my mind, re-watching Lolita evoked a much different response.

The black comedy, driven not just by James Mason’s obsession with Sue Lyon’s Lolita, but by Peter Seller’s manic scene-stealing romp as Clare Quilty, is in many ways an argument that cinematic adaptations do their best when they don’t adhere to the source material so avidly. Surely, fans of the novel will be annoyed, but it arguably makes for better cinema.

Like many a Kubrick film, it’s an experience in and of itself. And surprisingly and unsurprisingly, it seems like it would be the perfect companion piece to Dr. Strangelove.

Also, Shelley Winters is fantastic. Shelley Winters is always fantastic but she’s super duper fantastic here.

Three Identical Strangers (2018)

Three Identical Strangers (2018) movie poster

director Tim Wardle
viewed: 07/08/2018 at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema – New Mission, SF, CA

Some true life stories are just inherently compelling. As a documentary film maker, if you luck onto such a tale, you almost can’t go wrong.

The real story that drives Three Identical Strangers is pretty freaking wild and only gets more so, the deeper it dives and wears on.

In New York State, in 1981, 19 year old Robert Shafran discovers his doppelganger in  Eddy Galland. They turn out to be identical twins, separated at birth. When this hits the press, David Kellman realizes that he, too, is a doppelganger, and actually a triplet. They become the toast of New York City and are celebrated on every TV show around the country at the time. They go into business together, opening a steakhouse, Triplets, in Manhattan.

But the story of how they became separated, by a Jewish adoption agency and an important psychologist crafting a secret experiment, deepens into a mystery.

I’d read a moderately informative review, so I don’t know how much it matters if you know the twists and turns Three Identical Strangers takes, but it is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and absolutely a stunner of a tale.

Tim Wardle structures the film well, and while I don’t know that he adds a lot beyond the interviews, reenactments, and old footage, it’s still a very worthwhile documentary.

Devil Girl from Mars (1954)

Devil Girl from Mars (1954) movie poster

director David MacDonald
viewed: 05/30/2018

“Nothing like a good cup of tea in a crisis.”

Devil Girl from Mars or possibly “The Day a Small Nameless Scottish Village Stood Still” is 1950’s science fiction by way of the UK.

The war of the sexes was won on Mars by the ladies, but afterward, their men became weak and useless. So, Mars needs men! And to gather some prime specimens, they sent a gothy Agnes Moorehead type (Patricia Laffan) and her handy (though rather clumsy) robot named “Chani” (Per a cited reference in the Wikipedia entry, Chani was actually “fully automated,” something that seems rather dubious, but okay!)

The very noisy spacecraft lands in wee old Scotland. Some problem with the atmosphere drifted them from their original London location. The flick features a lot of additional character dramas and backstories (a young Hazel Court among them) that both fills it out and bloats it as well. 

It might not be spectacular, but it’s give the world a cosplay character for the ages.

10 Rillington Place (1971)

10 Rillington Place (1971) movie poster

director Richard Fleischer
viewed: 01/11/2017

Adapted from Ludovic Kennedy’s True Crime book of the same name, 10 Rillington Place strives for a realism and verisimilitude in re-telling the story of serial killer John Christie. A cold, bleak reality and verity it is.

The dialogue is taken, when possible, from court records and other documentary artifacts. Even further, the film is shot largely on location on the very block (though not No. 10 itself) where these killings took place over 20 years earlier.

Richard Attenborough plays Christie, the craven, opportunistic killer, who beyond murdering 7-8 women and an infant, set up his tenant, Timothy Evans (a tremendous and tremendously young John Hurt) to die for the murder of his wife and child in one of England’s most notorious miscarriages of justice.

Richard Fleischer directs this British film with somber naturalism, and the results are as bleak and realistic a portrayal of unrepentant serial criminals as you’ll find in cinema.

The fact that this row of houses have since been torn down and lost to time is as compelling a factor in the choice of shooting the film in location as I can imagine.

Blithe Spirit (1945)

Blithe Spirit (1945) movie poster

director David Lean
viewed: 12/22/2017

“In Blushing TECHINICOLOR

I love falling into a world of “blushing Technicolor,” and David Lean’s 1945 adaptation of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit is just the ticket. It’s a very British form of Screwball comedy, with wry and suggestive witticisms for which Coward was so well-known.

Rex Harrison and Constance Cummings are a happily married pair, both on their second marriages via widowhood. Happy, that is, until they toy with the supernatural through the help of Madame Arcati (the sublimely scene-stealing Margaret Rutherford). This brings back Harrison’s first wife, in blushing Technicolor green, the playful Kay Hammond, whose haunting at first only Harrison can see.

Maybe it’s not as perfect as Coward’s original theatrical version, in which both Hammond and Rutherford both appeared as here. But for my money, it’s a dark and coy frolic. Lustrous in color, charming all around.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971) movie poster

director Piers Haggard
viewed: 11/12/2017

Folk horror classic, The Blood on Satan’s Claw is a truly attractive production. It’s also a very earnest horror film, set in the 18th century in the English countryside. All the children, and some peasants, are going stark raving wild with evil, delving into sex and murder, and devil worship.

Be careful what you unearth when you plow the field.

Most of this is in the foreground, but it’s funny as I was reading up on this before writing, how much more the devil is in the details. When infected with evil, the innocent find a dark hairy patch on their bodies. Am I the only one who didn’t immediately attach that to adolescence and sexual maturity? Like the “deformed anatomy in those furrows,” there seems to be a lot of codified sexual innuendo throughout.

Of course, Linda Hayden as Angel, strips right down in the church to try to tempt the priest. And poor Cathy Vespers (Wendy Padbury) gets raped in a riotous frenzy.

There is that tension in a film like this, whether all is real or imagined. These are witch hunters, after all, seeking out the evil, seeing the evil in the children. Of course, in this case, it seems like the evil is real and there actually is blood on a claw belonging to some devil.

Superior stuff.

The Innocents (1961)

The Innocents (1961) movie poster

director  Jack Clayton
viewed: 10/28/2017

Are two young Victorian children possessed by evil spirits and driven to acts of incest? Or is their governess a pent-up Christian woman so full on repressed that she’s projecting psychosis and death everywhere?

On this particular viewing of Jack Clayton’s classic The Innocents, the latter reading struck home more so than the former. Though always part of the film’s (as well as the Henry James The Turn of the Screw) power is the uncanny variance between the supernatural and the psychological.

Another thing that struck me this time through The Innocents was how the horror imagery earns its eerie value. So many things that are “designed” to be scary (look scary at a glance) are imbued with nothing but surface horror. When the image of the woman standing in the far reaches of the pond recurs in the film, it’s still just a figure in the distance, but it is what has been impressed upon the children and upon us the audience, that gives the figure its essence and evil.

One of the great Gothic ghost story films of all time, The Innocents stands up time and again as truly classic horror. And Freddie Francis’s amazing cinematography – amazing stuff.

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) movie poster

director Colm McCarthy
viewed: 09/16/2017

The zombiepocalypse over-saturation probably hasn’t peaked yet, so it’s harder than ever to make something new in this genre. The Girl with All the Gifts does try to push the zombiepocalypse a little and its efforts are not for naught.

The film opens on a young girl in a jail cell who has to be strapped down in a wheelchair and rolled by armed guards into a classroom of other young people. Right off the bat it’s a bit interesting. What is going on? Why are the kids in wheelchairs? Strapped down? Why are they being educated?

Really, most films try to tell you what’s going on from the get-go so the audience doesn’t have to figure anything out. So right there, it’s already kind of interesting.

It doesn’t totally stay with that. We find out pretty quickly that these kids are infected with a zombie fungus on the brain, but that they are different from freshly infected adults in that some sort of symbiosis exists that allows them to maintain a form of normality when they’re not hungry.

Eventually the movie goes pretty The Walking Dead, except these are speedy zombies, infecting at zero-to-sixty in a second and running fast at their food.

The film turns again toward the ending with more of its inventive qualities about these second generation zombie kids and the fungal apocalypse. I’ve always liked Gemma Arterton, who plays the good-hearted teacher. Sennia Nanua is Melanie, the girl with all the gifts, and she’s very good too.

Just sort this list of zombie films by date and you tell me when you think we’ve reached max saturation in the zombiepocalypse market.

Psychomania (1973)

Psychomania (1973) movie poster

director Don Sharp
viewed: 08/25/2017

Like a lot of people, I’d had Psychomania/The Death Wheelers in my mental movie queue for a long time. And also, like a lot of people, I think it’s a great weird mix of biker movie (and teenage delinquent flick), devil worship, pagan horror and every other strange note that adds to this decidedly unique work.

I was brought to mind of both the opening of These Are the Damned (1963) with its mixture of campish portrayal of British teens and their motorbikes and A Clockwork Orange (1970) with its decadent modernist society giving way to cruel amoral youth.

I actually thought it was interesting that the “The Seven Witches” stone circle of the film, which is the location of the biker gang’s groovin’ and the burial and rebirth of the freshly risen hoods, was not a real stone circle but a piece of set design magic.

Cool stuff.