Saturday, 11 October 2014

October Horror 2014 - Chapter 2

I'm behind in my viewing, so I'm feeling a bit under the gun...After this batch it'll be time to pick up the pace again.

Dr. Terror's House Of Horror (Freddie Francis - 1965) - I'm a big fan of the old Amicus horror anthology films - titles like The House That Dripped Blood, Tales From The Crypt, Torture Garden and Asylum would give you 4-5 short horror stories with a variety of actors (as well as a bonus wrap-around framing device) and bring forth a great 90 minutes of entertainment. The tales weren't really overly gory or jump-out-of-your-seat scary, but they excelled in bringing horrific ideas into 15-20 minute long stories with dashes of black comedy. Dr. Terror's grab bag was the only remaining one of the Amicus omnibus films that had eluded me, so I finally caught up with it and it didn't disappoint. With Peter Cushing dolling out the fates to 5 men he meets on a train (via tarot card readings) and Christopher Lee and Donald Sutherland amongst the leads of the individual scenarios, the film breezes by at a fast pace and introduces you to plants with their own brains, voodoo jazz, an artist's disembodied hand, and a couple of different spins on vampires and werewolves. Great stuff.

Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis - 2001) - Art horror that builds to excruciating levels of unease and takes carnal desire to extreme lengths. Claire Denis' look at this (blood)lust is most famous for its 2 graphic sexual encounters, but the entire film reeks and drips of our natural urges. Vincent Gallo creepily plays (I suppose 'creepily' is somewhat redundant) an American who has just married a young French girl but is also battling an odd disease. In his mind, his only hope is a French scientist who seems to have dropped off the radar and is attempting to deal with his own individual patient. She has already devoured several sexual mates and is still hungry...With very little dialogue, Denis builds up a frightening scenario of the impossibility of dampening our baser and more dangerous natural instincts.

Night Of The Eagle (Sydney Hayers - 1962) - I was actually looking for Michael Armstrong's 1970 film Burn, Witch, Burn (otherwise known as Mark Of The Devil) when I stumbled across this spiffy little chiller from the early 60s (sometimes also known as Burn, Witch, Burn). Shot in lovely black and white, it sits comfortably right alongside many of the Hammer psychological thrillers ("mini-Hitchcocks" as Hammer called them) made in that same decade - films that were less gothic horror and more about modern tales of evil lurking just beyond the corner. Titles like Scream Of Fear, Paranoiac and Nightmare provide small surprises, twist endings and a wonderful sense of fun and melodrama. Night Of The Eagle hits most of these high points as we follow a university professor who seems to be loved by all and his wife who knows the secret reason why. She's been using voodoo protection all this time, but when she is forced to stop, something will have to give: either his luck or her sanity. Possibly both.

I Married A Witch (Rene Clair - 1942) - OK, so I'm allowed to stretch the boundaries of horror a bit...Or, in the case of this trifle of a movie, a lot. The Criterion Collection released this last year during October, so it sounded like it might be a fun little ditty to toss into the cesspool this month. I expected there not to be many frights in this comedy starring Veronica Lake and Frederic March, but I didn't expect there would also be a dearth of laughs. With the star power involved and the wonderful poetic French director at the helm, I couldn't help but hope for something charming and memorable. It's well-loved by some, but I frankly found it incredibly disappointing - even for a throwaway comedy. Lake has that certain something about her, but she doesn't seem to feel comfortable in the role and overdoes just about everything (in particular the voiceovers that she and her warlock father do while they are in the form of smoke). There's little genuine here - Frederic March feels miscast, the line readings feel rushed (except for Susan Hayward who does well in a small part) and the story is forced. Lake's witch seeks revenge on March who happens to be a descendant of the man who killed her years ago, but things shift and love conquers all. Minus a few decent gags during a wedding scene, there is little impetus to keep things rolling.

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