Tag: Horror

March 16, 2011 / / Main Slate

Repulsion – 1965 – dir. Roman Polanski

Few movie reviewing pleasures are as satisfying as being able to sing the praises of Catherine Deneuve. Even more stunning today than she was when she first burst onto international movie screens as a 60s vixen and sexpot, she is still working and continues to fascinate movie audiences around the world. It is impossible to believe she is almost 70 years old, so recently does her reign as France’s leading female star seem to have risen.  No other French actress has taken her crown. Over the years, she has allowed some (Anna Karina, Genevieve Bujold, Juliette Binoche) to borrow it for a while, but even they knew it had to be given back, that it was only on loan.  Deneuve, with her aloof translucence, her continental cool was and is an international force. Irresistibly beautiful on the outside, she also exudes within a searing intelligence and a dignity that places her on higher planes than those occupied by actresses who are merely pretty to look at. After decades of  moviemaking, she remains France’s most delectable export. Like all the greatest movie stars, there is something eternal about Deneuve. Not only is she not of this world; she seems to exist beyond the world of cinema. When you die, you half-expect to find her in some corner of the Cosmos, holding court in rarefied air.

March 11, 2011 / / Main Slate

Repulsion – 1965 – dir. Roman Polanski

Looking over Roman Polanski’s career, I feel his strength as a director lies in creating psychological suspense and dread out of confined spaces, and the casual way in which he shows you the horror that was always right next to you. His best work happens to be in the early to middle period of his career, and is roughly bracketed by two events: Polanski’s recent past as a Holocaust survivor, and the murder of Sharon Tate. (There really is no late period, save in the academic and chronological sense. After Chinatown Polanski never made a truly outstanding film, with the exception of Death and the Maiden. Never mind the noise made over the Oscar-winning The Pianist. Only with the recently released The Ghostwriter has Polanski come back to something like top form.) His films of special mention reveal the second life pulsing below the apparent one, the dark desires or fears hiding under a veneer of “normality” and respectability. (As seen in Knife In The Water, Cul-de-Sac, The Tenant, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and the aforementioned Ghostwriter.)

July 9, 2010 / / Main Slate
September 22, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Masque of the Red Death – 1964 – dir. Roger Corman

Before he was crowned the all-time campy Master of horror schlock, the incomparable Vincent Price had already carved out for himself a distinguished career in Hollywood that would have been the envy of any actor of his time.  Such film classics as Laura, The House of the Seven Gables, The Keys of the Kingdom, The Ten Commandments, Leave Her to Heaven and many more were graced with his formidable skill and presence.

Director Roger Corman, christened “the King of the Bs” due to the slew of low-budget, some might even say ‘corny’ movies he cranked out beginning in the 1950s, mans The Masque of the Red Death with as sure a hand as he brought to all his projects, creating springboards for such stellar artists-to-be as Jack Nicholson, James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorcese, and turning out what has become a body of films many of which are today considered true masterpieces of the genre.

June 22, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Public Enemy – 1931 – dir. William A. Wellman

It’s one of my favorite Old Hollywood vignettes, and I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not. I stumbled across it in the Turner Classic Movies glossy Leading Men: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actors of the Studio Era, and it revolves around the famous scene in director William Wellman’s 1931 gangster classic The Public Enemy where James Cagney spontaneously shoves a grapefruit into co-star Mae Clarke’s face. According to the book: “The scene made Clarke’s ex-husband, Lew Brice, very happy. He saw the film repeatedly just to see that scene and often was shushed by angry patrons when his delighted laughter got too loud.” I love the story because it’s silly and ridiculous and not-outside-the-realm-of-possibility: spiteful exes have been known to do worse. But the story also gets at some of the key elements of an uncommonly enduring movie scene, one so memorable that, as critic Carlos Clarens notes in his book Crime Movies: “Not one reviewer failed to mention it, and it undoubtedly contributed to the film’s success.”  (Even Pauline Kael’s pithy two-sentence capsule review of The Public Enemy namechecks Clarke as “the girl who gets the grapefruit shoved in her kisser.”) The grapefruit bit remains a shocker, and was even more jarring in its day, but, as Brice certainly understood, it’s also kind of humorous in its utter nastiness. It catches many a viewer – if not Brice on his hundredth viewing – off-guard, leaving them helpless to do anything but gasp or laugh.

June 8, 2009 / / Main Slate

mayjun-reunion-nightmareBy KJ Hamilton

Dreams do become reality. But, whatever you do, don’t fall asleep. A Nightmare on Elm Street, in my opinion, is one of the scariest horror films of all time. I tried to figure out why as I screened the film for about the fiftieth time.

I think I have figured it out. It is one thing to be chased by a machete-wielding psychopath when you’re awake. You might have half a chance to escape, depending upon your role in the plot. But, when we sleep, our subconscious reigns; anything is possible. It is in this state that we are at our most open, most vulnerable. There are only two options: be asleep and dream or wake up. It is during sleep that the body replenishes itself; with the goal of awaking refreshed and renewed.

March 10, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Mummy – 1999 – dir. Stephen Sommers

Whether it’s action, romance, or angry, angry beetles, Stephen Sommers’s 1999 hit The Mummy has what you’re looking for.  Marketed as a next-generation’s Indiana Jones, The Mummy succeeds as a film by delivering exactly what it promises – and a little bit more.

With an ensemble cast including Brendan Fraser, pre-Oscar Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Arnold Vosloo, there are enough contrasting, zany characters for any “Which character are you” Internet quiz.  But what keeps The Mummy from being just another visual-effects-laden Hollywood song and dance?

January 8, 2009 / / Film Notes

By Christina Moreno
The Shining – 1980 – dir. Stanley Kubrick

The Shining is one of the most respected and well-crafted films of the twentieth century.  There are few horror films that rise above the campy reputation of the genre, but those that do remain embedded in the nightmares of the millions of people who dared to watch them.  The ability to create fear within an audience is difficult, to say the least.  But the ability to keep that fear alive after the movie is over, to keep a person looking over her shoulder while she walks back to her car, is something even the most seasoned filmmakers have trouble doing.  The most disturbing aspect of The Shining is that the terror doesn’t rely on the ghosts or the bloody past of the Overlook Hotel.  It is the intense isolation of winter coupled with Jack Torrance’s spectacular fall into madness that provides the wonderful (or terrible, depending on if you enjoy being scared) adrenaline rush of fear.  With memorable performances by Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, Danny Lloyd,  and Scatman Crothers, The Shining is an iconic horror film that continues to scare new generations of viewers.

September 12, 2008 / / Film Notes

Psycho – 1960 – dir. Alfred Hitchcock

I have a tremendous amount of respect and affection for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, easily one the director’s best-known and most influential films, and certainly one of my favorites. It remains a study in the successful undermining of audience expectations (cannily using what we know about genre and even film stardom against us), and on a personal level, it was one of the first films to get me thinking about the structures and strategies that filmmakers use (it also may well have taught me the meanings of the words “inordinately” and “aspic.”) Yet while it has a well-earned reputation as an exemplary thriller and an indispensable horror film, the sly humor of Psycho is occasionally overlooked.

August 18, 2008 / / Film Notes

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? – 1962 – dir. Robert Aldrich

Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) was a child-star extraordinaire in 1917.  She would sell out theaters, and had best-selling songs. Her song and dance numbers were her trademark. Dolls were created in Jane’s image while her older sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) watched from the wings.  As Jane grew older, her star faded into drunken oblivion. Blanche, on the other hand, became a renowned actress with a stellar career—until it was cut short by a car accident. Jane was drunk behind the wheel of a car and ran over her sister. The car crushed Blanche’s legs and bound her to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.  The accident sent Blanche into seclusion with only Jane to care for her; which wouldn’t be a bad thing if Jane wasn’t consumed with jealousy.  Jane’s plan is to stage a comeback, but first she has to get out from behind her sister’s shadow. The only way to do that is to get rid of Blanche.