Wednesday, October 31, 2012

30 Days of Fright - 30: The Exorcist 3

I am often asked about what horror films I've seen that are good and scary. There are a few that have been spooky enough to give me chills and there's the one or two films I always recommend when someone wants to sit in and get frightened by a film, but in reality, as an adult who is now seriously desensitised to most of the material in a common-or-garden horror film, it is rare for me to see a film that I'd call honestly scary. This was not always the case. When younger I was frightened by all sorts of films from actual horror like Poltergeist to (allegedly) comedies like Ghostbusters; there are loads of films that have scenes that put the shits up me rightly. But there has always been one film lurking in the shadows that, when I first saw it aged about 14 or so, terrified me.

Continuing the story fifteen years after the events in The Exorcist and wisely ignoring that The Exorcist 2 ever happened, The Exorcist 3 (1990) returns to Georgetown in Washington DC where a string of unusual murders take place, each with a religious aspect. The first victim is a young boy who's been drugged, crucified, decapitated, and had his head replaced with one from a statue. The lead investigator on the case is Lieutenant Kinderman (George C. Scott, who we saw recently in another horror film), the same copper who investigated the death of the film director in the first film and who had befriended Fr. Karras before his untimely end.

The anniversary of the death of Fr. Karras is always a sad time for Kinderman as well as for a friend of his, Fr. Dyer, who also knew Karras well. The two lads always go to the cinema to see "It's a Wonderful Life" on the anniversary in order to cheer each other up. Whatever cheer Kinderman has is quickly gone though as another religious murder occurs, this time a priest in a confessional, and things go from bad to worse when the crime lab reports that there are a different set of fingerprints at the second crime scene from those found at the first, indicating more than one killer.

Kinderman notices details from each murder that are the same as the MO of a serial killer known as the Gemini who died fifteen years previously. Details of the Gemini's killings had never been fully revealed to the press in order to make it easier to tell nutters who claimed to be the murderer apart from the real thing, so the chances of a copycat being at work are slim.

Fr. Dyer is admitted to hospital for "tests" and quickly becomes victim number three with another of the Gemini's calling cards left at the scene. Kinderman talks to the head of the psychiatric ward who informs him of one of the long-term patients who is kept in secure isolation. Admitted to the hospital fifteen years before suffering from severe amnesia he slipped into a catatonic state and stayed that way until he recently became violent and started making outrageous claims. Kinderman pays a visit to the looney in cell 11 and is shocked by how, every now and then, in a certain light, the man who's now claiming to be the Gemini killer looks just like the long-dead Fr. Karras...

Oooh, I'm real evil and there's nowt you can do about it!!!

Lemme tell ya what I'm gonna do, I'm gonna cut yo willy off!

You haven't got a scissors big enough, LOL!

If there's something you treasure from when you were younger like a film or TV show then please, please, do not watch it again as an adult because very few things will live up to our memories of them. When sitting down to watch Exorcist 3 for the first time since 1991 I felt more than a little trepidation as it had so effectively frightened me when I was a kid. I was looking forward to the parts that had worked their magic so well all those years ago. And I was crushed by my disappointment, because Exorcist 3 is rubbish!!!!!

Allow me to explain. When I was 14, I and a group of other young lads were staying over at a friends house and, as is the custom, a series of action and horror films were watched while pizza was consumed. The last film of about four or five that night was The Exorcist 3 and I was the only one left awake to watch it, alone in the dark if you will. Exorcist 3 is infamous in horror circles for one scene, the scene in the hospital where... actually, never mind, here's the video:

This bit comes out of nowhere and scared the fucking bejeezus out of me (aged 14, in the dark, alone, 3 or 4 in the morning, just to put that in context). There was no crying or wailing, no shouting or pleading for help, no running into another room, in fact I didn't even stop the movie. I didn't fucking sleep either! The scene where the figure in white chases after the nurse in Exorcist 3 was, until last night, the most frightening scene in a film I had ever seen. But, probably because of the terrror, I had remembered it slightly differently, so in my mind it was a headless statue that chased the nurse, which is much more scary then a gobshite in a sheet chasing after a nurse. So now, the power of Exorcist 3 is destroyed and so is my love of the film, which it didn't really deserve in the end.

The first two sequels to The Exorcist have a bit of a twisted history to them with the list of people wanting to be associated with them far shorter then the list of people who ran a mile when asked if they were interested. Exorcist 2 is an utter disaster, cobbled together from bits of footage left over from the first film it makes no sense and had to be ignored by everyone after it came out. Exorcist 3 had a better chance, in that the original director was brought back as was the author of the original book, William Peter Blatty. However, things fell apart pretty quickly when the director did a runner leaving Blatty to do everything. Once he'd filmed his "masterpiece" the studio got their hooks into it and tacked on a new ending so as to justify calling it an Exorcist movie (Blatty had rather annoyingly left out an actual exorcism in his version).

So, once again the resulting film was a bit of a mess filled with unusual dream sequences that don't explain anything but only confuse instead. The director Robert Roderiegez once said that if you need to pad out a film that's too short then just add in a few dream sequences and that certainly seems to have happened here. As well as dream sequences, there's a fair bit of retconning going on in Exorcist 3 and the backstory has been changed to accommodate things like how Kinderman and Karras were supposedly really close which is not something you saw in the original Exorcist.

Exorcist 3 is definitely better then the second film but it still treats people who have seen the first one very badly. I'm glad I knew the version of this film that played in my head for twenty years as it was an incredibly frightening film, it's such a shame that the real thing is so poor.

Two Thumbs Firmly Down for The Exorcist 3.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

30 Days of Fright - 29: The Devil Inside

Ever since the heyday of creepy films with priests in them in the early seventies, Hollywood and everyone else in the film business, have been trying to recapture the menace and genuine fear that a good dose of religion can bring to a story. This is no easy task as the world has changed a lot since then and for many organised religion is not the big part of their lives it once was. Films are different too, not as gritty or harsh and, mostly, not as good.

The Devil Inside (2012) starts off in 1989 with a mix of TV reports and videotaped police crime scene footage showing the details of the murder of three people at the hands of Maria Rossi as an exorcism was being performed on her. Through more TV reports we are shown that Maria was found to be mad and ended up committed to an asylum.

Now, after learning about her mother and the murders from her father before his death,  Maria's daughter Isabella is making a documentary about her dear old mum and the practice of exorcisms. Maria has been transferred from the US to a psychiatric hospital in Rome, near the Vatican. Travelling to Rome, Isabella hopes to find out more about exorcism from the high-ups in the Church as well as reuniting with her mammy.

In Rome, Isabella visits a school for exorcists where clergy and civilians can go to learn the theory of casting out demons. Through the school she meets a couple of young priests who are well into the whole thing as well as some laypeople who are a little more sceptical.The priests bring Isabella along to see an exorcism first hand in an effort to convince her that exorcisms are real and necessary. From there she goes to the hospital where she spends some quality time with her raving lunatic of a mother. Maria is not a shining example of the effectiveness of the Italian mental health system as she sits in her room all day and divides her time between drawing unusual pictures and cutting inverted crosses into her flesh. Her only other hobbies are shouting anti-religious obscenities at hospital staff and violent outbursts.

Isabella's meeting with Maria goes as well as you'd expect, with Maria, in her mental way, giving out to Isabella for having an abortion when she's not busy talking in unusual accents or screaming her head off. Isabella is initially upset by the visit but later realises that there was no way her mum could have known about the abortion as she'd had it some years previously and told no-one. She goes to see the two priests from the exorcist school and shows them the video of her visiting her ma. They quickly decide to pay a call on Maria in the hospital as they believe that she is still possessed by whatever entity the exorcism in '89 was trying to drive out. The lads are well intentioned but out of their depth and while trying to cast out whatever is troubling Maria they unleash something terrifying...

Maria's un-necessarily tight trousers give her terrible backdraft problems after a rotten kabab

Even a person as well known for their hatred of found footage/first person shooter style films like me can see why they lend themselves to stories about exorcism. If I were ever in a situation where an exorcism was likely to be taking place near me, I would grab a video camera before things got rolling just in case Satan himself should pop out of the victims mouth and run around the place. That's the kind of thing that would get you a few hits on You Tube!

Understanding the appeal of such films however does in no way what so ever justify this shitty, lazy approach to movie making and it makes it hard to appreciate the story for what it is when so much hangs on the visual style. Hard, but not impossible, for after watching The Devil Inside, I feel that I can appreciate it for exactly what it is: a large piece of shit left inside your favourite pair of boots that you didn't notice until it was too late.

The Devil Inside might have been a half-decent short film. If it was only ten minutes long and told the story it did it could have been an enjoyable little thing and people would love it. As a full-length feature film it's about eighty minutes too long. Once the opening scenes have been and gone, where you see the original murders and you hear the details of the exorcism being performed on Maria Rossi, then there is no need to see the rest of the film as you know what's going to happen, the only twist is how (and why) to move the action to Italy (though no good reason is ever given for the Roman holiday).

Isabella's quest to understand her mother is an admirable one but you know, you just fucking know, that the woman is possessed by demons and that any hint of mental illness is a red herring. In one scene there's a discussion of the mechanics of exorcisms and the concept of demons leaping from one person to another is mentioned so you know, you just fucking know, that the demon will jump from Maria to pretty much everyone else. Armed with these details you actually know more then the makers of the film did, because anyone with any imagination could figure out how the film was going to end, anyone that is, except the people who actually made The Devil Inside.

It's not unfair to say that The Devil Inside has one of, if not the, worst ending to a film I have ever seen. I won't spoil the ending by giving away what happened because I haven't a clue what happened, the film just ends and you are prompted to visit a website to discover more details. I'm not kidding, you're honestly told to go to a fucking website! I actually did and was surprised to find a website as shit as the film it's related to, which is saying something!

Two Thumbs Firmly Down for The Devil Inside.

Possession is nine Links of the law:
Official Site:

Monday, October 29, 2012

30 Days of Fright - 28: The Last Exorcism

There are supposedly several professions that, due to the nature of the work involved or the typical lifestyles of the people who do those jobs, are forced to pay more for insurance than other professions. So, fighter pilots tend to pay more than horologists (for those of you who are right now asking themselves "what's a horologist?" it's a watchmaker, get a fucking education!) as they are perhaps more likely to speed when driving; lawyers pay more than carpenters as they tend to be pissheads; and dentists pay more then everyone else as dentists tend to be more suicidal. What I find surprising about the whole insurance thing when it comes to jobs is that cameramen can get insured at all, considering how many of them get into trouble when making shows for the History Channel or Discovery Science.

Presented as a documentary, The Last Exorcism (2010) follows Reverend Cotton Marcus as he works with a film crew to expose one of the nasty swindles being perpetrated by various churches in the deep south of the United States. Marcus himself is a preacher and exorcist but has always known that the exorcism business was a con. His conscience got the better of him one day after he read an article about a child suffering from autism who had died while undergoing an exorcism and so he decided to expose the fraud of that practice through the medium of film.

As a well known exorcist (with a website) Marcus often gets requests for assistance from those who believe a family member has been possessed. He takes a random request and decides to follow up on it, with the film crew in tow.

Travelling to a very rural part of Louisiana, Rev. Marcus meets widowed farmer Louis Sweetzer whose daughter Nell has allegedly been bothering some of the animals at night (by "bothering" what I mean is she's been going out and slaughtering them in the most horrific manner possible and leaving their guts spread about the place) while supposedly possessed by some demon. Nell is a strange child and incredibly naive for a girl of sixteen, almost certainly as a result of her father's insistence that she be home-schooled and not venture too far from the farm since the death of her mother.

Using his arsenal of gadgets and tricks Marcus goes through the motions of the exorcism, claiming that Nell had been possessed by a nasty demon that was having it's wicked way with her. With the exorcism over and Sweetzer happy, Marcus takes his fee and heads to a motel for the evening. That night he is shocked to find Nell in his motel room in some distress. He and the camera crew take her to the hospital but nothing is found to be wrong with her.

Marcus pays a visit to the church where the Sweetzers used to go and meets with Pastor Manley in an effort to find out more about the family and what might really be going on with them, though as the Sweetzers haven't been in contact with the church for some years, Manley can tell him very little.

Once Nell gets home she attacks her brother with a knife forcing her Dad to take him to the hospital. Marcus and the crew stay with her at the farm in order to have a bit of a poke around, just as a very disturbed Nell turns extremely violent towards them...

Rev. Marcus gets his new bed delivered and finds that it came with a free girl - hallelujah!

The Last Exorcism is a found footage film, though this time the footage wasn't from some teenagers camcorder but an actual documentary was supposedly being produced. The film that you watch is the footage edited together into the beginnings of that documentary. The thing is, the early part of the film has a proper documentary feel to it with people's names flashed up on screen as they first appear, but as the film goes along, the documentary feeling is lost and what you're left with is more like found footage, in that it's as if it came straight out of the camera.

I give the film makers credit for going down the documentary route in the way they did, as Rev. Marcus motivations for getting involved are believable and the visual style of the first half of The Last Exorcism is very much like something you'd see on the Discovery Channel, but the second act, where all the juicy stuff is, goes off the rails a little in order to justify that juicy stuff getting onto the screen.

The premise of the story is an enticing hook, getting into how a disillusioned clergyman wants to expose the fraud he has been a part of for so many years. Once Rev. Marcus explains his position on exorcisms and how they're all nonsense used to defraud the gullible, from the start you know without a shadow of a doubt that, in this movie anyway, exorcisms are absolutely necessary and something terrible is going to happen.

Rev. Marcus's journey through the film is better then most of the characters in a film like this. He's initially presented as a hero, someone exposing the way some religious types take advantage of their congregations - keep an eye out for the scene where he preaches the recipe for banana bread and gets an "Amen" on cue anyway. How he is perceived changes though when he performs the "exorcism" and reveals all the tricks of the trade. This puts him in a different light and he's shown for the con-man he really is. The father who asked for Marcus's help, Louis Sweetzer, becomes the sympathetic character as he's a true believer who's being taken advantage of. What makes matters much worse is that there is obviously something wrong with Nell Sweetzer and Marcus' cavalier attitude to what he's doing at this point is endangering her. As the final act approaches Marcus moves back into the hero role as he finally shows genuine concern for Nell and, through his acts and deeds, behaves like the man of God he's always claimed to be.

For a change, some thought seems to have genuinely gone into how to motivate the main character to do what he does. In so many films you find yourself wondering why the hell the protagonist is getting up to the things they do while in The Last Exorcism it's Rev. Marcus' concern for the girl Nell that prompts him to stick around long after most people (social services included) would have said "fuck it" and gone home. 

As a character study of Rev. Marcus, The Last Exorcism works well, but the other main character, Nell is a different matter. As the shut-in sixteen year old girl with some serious baggage, the way she is portrayed is hard to watch and while the questions of mental illness that surround her make her a character you want to feel sorry for, for some reason you just don't. I'm not sure if the performance from Ashley Bell or if the direction or writing is at fault, but I didn't care for or about her.

The deep south setting for The Last Exorcism is excellent, with the mix of rural isolation, heat, and strong religion all adding to the atmosphere. The ending is brilliant but if anything it maybe too subtle and it plays out a little too quickly so if you blink you could miss it, making it worth while to take a second look at the last ten minutes or so.

The Last Exorcism is a decent film but is hampered by the found footage style chosen for it and as a regular movie it could have been great. As it is, The Last Exorcism is good, just not good enough.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for The Last Exorcism.

The Links Exorcism:
Official Site:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

30 Days of Fright - 27: The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Throughout history mental illness has been misdiagnosed as demonic possession which has led to severe and tragic consequences for so many of the victims.Over the centuries, as medical science advanced and a greater knowledge and understanding of psychiatric and psychological issues became commonplace, the need for exorcisms decreased and now the only encounter most people have with the practice is through films and TV. Which is terrible really, I mean, while everyone's been out chasing after the nutters and fruitcakes and worrying about their "feelings" and "civil rights" no one has spared a thought for the poor old exorcists now out of a job. It's not as if they could transfer their skills to another industry either...

One Big Mac meal with a strawberry milkshake and an apple pie - I've purged the pie of demons but it's still as hot as Hell so please be careful. Enjoy your meal!

Claiming to be based on a true story, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) quietly opens with a medical examiner paying a visit to a simple family (bumpkins) out in the country. One of the daughters has died and the  medical examiner states that he doesn't believe it was natural causes. A priest, Fr. Richard Moore is present in the house as is a cop who arrests the priest for negligent homicide.

Fr. Moore's case is assigned a prosecutor, a religious man called Ethan Thomas who will prosecute with impartiality, and the diocese hires a bad-ass criminal defence lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) who claims no religious beliefs at all. As the trial begins it is revealed that Fr. Moore was performing an exorcism on the girl who died, the Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) of the film's title.

From then on the story of what happened to Emily is told through a series of flashbacks interspersed with the progression of the trial. With the trial under way we see how Emily left the simple life behind her and went of to university to study to become a teacher. While away at college, Emily had begun to experience a series of terrifying episodes that appear to be the result of demonic possession. Witnesses are called by both sides that offer testimony that sometimes corroborate the possession story or counter with medical evidence that Emily was actually suffering from a severe form of epilepsy or psychosis.

Fr. Moore is convinced that Emily was possessed and that the exorcism was the right course of action despite the tragic outcome and all he wants is to be able to tell Emily's story from the stand in the courtroom. However, the trial does not go well and Fr. Moore seems destined to loose, just as he warns his lawyer that there are dark forces at work around the trial and that everyone involved is in grave danger...

Unable to find a blanket to hide under, Emily tries the "Na, na, na, I can't hear you" approach to combating demons

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a fascinating blend of courtroom drama and horror that manages to hook the viewer in the way that a really good episode of Law and Order used to be able to. The courtroom drama is something so commonplace on TV that everyone is familiar with it so Emily Rose is grounded in comfortable territory from the start. The court setting also provides a nice "good versus evil" plot that cleverly reflects the allegedly demonic battle between the same forces ranging in and around young Miss Rose.

The details of the possession rip you out of the comfortable court and manage to unsettle the viewer well with the supernatural scenes offering some nice little frights, like the demons Emily sees everywhere, or the bit where she's contorted on the floor in an inhuman pose.The scene where she is bouncing up and down from kneeling to standing and back again over and over is frankly fucking creepy.

Overall, the possession scenes are well handled with the effects subtle and unnerving.There are some clues in the film, like how it's raining in certain scenes like the many of the flashbacks that lead me to believe that there's more to The Exorcism of Emily Rose than is immediately apparent on a casual viewing, though I think I'll leave a more in-depth analysis to someone with more time for such things like a film student or other shiftless layabout.

The big set piece of Emily Rose is the exorcism itself, which surprisingly takes place about three quarters of the way through the film. The scene unfolds well and had the potential to be frightening enough but lacks the punch needed to really make the audience feel scared; it's almost as if the director held back when he really needed to press on. Unfortunately, when the script for the exorcism scene was being written the writer didn't hold back and had poor old Emily possessed with not one demon or spirit but with loads of the buggers which claim they were each responsible for the actions of various evil people throughout history, a concept I quite liked. The problem was in claiming that one of the demons was actually Lucifer himself, which was a bit much.

The other thing that was a bit much for The Exorcism of Emily Rose was Tom Wilkinson as the priest Fr. Moore. Wilkinson is known for his performances in Batman Begins, The Kennedys, and most notably in Michael Clayton, and he's the kind of actor who just can't help himself when he makes a film but always does his very best with the material. He's just a little too good in The Exorcism of Emily Rose and he just dominates every scene he is in, showing up everyone else in the process.

One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

I have exorcised the Links:
Details of the True Story:

Saturday, October 27, 2012

30 Days of Fright - 26: Psycho

When I was a child I thought as a child, I acted as a child, I spoke as a child, as the biblical quote tells us. This I think is probably true of most people who go through a childhood, with the exception of those weird kids who seem to be born with the mentality of a forty-year old. You may have noticed that I left out the second part of the verse, the bit about putting away childish things, as quite frankly I think the subject of some people’s ability to grow up is a debate best left for another day (and I’m not keen on drawing too much attention to myself on that one). Looking back at when I was a nipper I often think about extremes of emotion; times when I was particularly happy or particularly sad, or especially in the case of writing about horror as I sometimes do, times when I was afraid.

There were few films or TV programs that I remember frightening me significantly when I was much younger but that doesn’t mean that there were none at all. One particular episode of one particular TV program sticks in my head as giving me a fright when I was a little tot, and that was a disturbing episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This show, presented by the famously odd, rotund director of hit movies like The Birds, North by Northwest, and of course Psycho, featured a new story each week that had a nasty twist at the end. Today, nearly thirty years later, I have a vivid memory of the closing scenes of this one particular episode and how it freaked me out. I didn’t scream or cry or anything gay like that, but I did run out to the kitchen to my mother for a little reassurance, and I think maybe a biscuit.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents was developed based on Hitchcock’s reputation as a successful director of unusual and macabre films. A few years ago I got an opportunity to watch Rear Window and found that I really enjoyed it and, for the first time since that fateful episode of his TV show, I was able to appreciate the true mastery of his art that Hitchcock possessed. However, despite my newfound enjoyment of a Hitchcock film, and despite the numerous Oscars won and nominated for, and despite his cool, creepy voice and mannerisms, and despite the cinematic and cultural boundaries he redefined, to me Alfred Hitchcock always has been, and always will be, nothing only a fat fuck!*

 Alfred Hitchcock: Oscar Winning Director and Corpulent Son of a Bitch

Modern audiences may think they know controversy in the picture house, but there’s very little out today that divided cinema-goers the way Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) did. Starting off on a lazy December Friday afternoon in Arizona, we meet Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) who’s just enjoyed a lunchtime rendezvous with her boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin). Loomis is a bit down on his luck as he’s going through the financial struggles that come with being on the losing side of a divorce settlement. Marion isn’t completely happy with their sordid arrangement and craves the respectability associated with being a married woman (times being radically different in 1960).

Returning to work at a local estate agent, Marion is forced to endure the double-whammy of her annoying fellow secretary who bangs on about how great it is to be married, as well as the unwanted advances of a cowboy-hat-wearing provincial who’s just bought a house off her boss. After boasting about how he’s rich enough to buy happiness he hands over forty grand in cash to cover the price of the house he’s buying for his daughter. Marion’s boss doesn’t like keeping cash in the office so she’s despatched to the bank to lodge the loot before skipping off home early as she’s been complaining of a headache.

Marion decides to avoid the bank and instead pocket the dough in order to kick-start a new life with Sam. Fleeing town in her car she makes haste for California stopping along the way to pick up a new set of wheels as she’s inadvertently managed to attract the attention of an overly diligent policeman. As she heads west the weather takes a turn for the worse so Marion stops for the night in an out of the way motel off the road off the main road (so, in the middle of nowhere), where she is the only guest that night.

The motel is run by an introverted but charming young man called Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who lives nearby in a large house with his invalid mother, who despite being confined to her room is still able to exert a terrifying amount of control over Norman’s life. Over a dinner of sandwiches Norman tells Marion of how the death of his father followed by the death of the man who would have been his step-father years later affected his mother and how he’s trapped by circumstances and duty. This story touches Marion and she decides to go home with the money and try to make good. However, before she can do that, she is brutally murdered in what’s probably the most famous death scene in movie history.

A week after the murder, Marion’s sister Lila turns up at Sam’s place looking for her and for the missing money. At this point, as well as everyone back home being worried sick,  the police haven’t been brought into things so it’s still possible that Marion could escape a charge of theft if she just returns the cash.  Lila has been followed to Sam’s place by a private detective who’s also looking for Marion, but is really looking for the money. The private dick puts in some serious leg work, visiting all the nearby hotels and motels, until he finally ends up at the Bate’s place...

Norman Bates is imagining you naked

is a whole film, it is more than just one scene but you'd never think it whenever you talk to someone about the film or see any references to it on TV. It might be because that scene is such a powerful piece of cinema, or it might be because the rest of the film is actually quite strange, or (and I think this is most likely) it might be because most people have never fucking seen Psycho.

The chances that most people haven't seen Psycho is a shame because it's good; really, really good. The story that's told is one the surface a simple morality tale about how if you go about stealing money it will eventually lead to your brutal murder in an out of the way motel, but the slow burner way in which it unfolds and they way the tension is built up is pure genius. Making young Norman Bates as unassuming and charming as Perkins played him was the master stroke of the whole thing as he simply embodies the notion of the serial killer being just like everyone else.

The acting in general is great, particularly Anthony Perkins as Norman, though there are one or two shaky moments, ironically when he’s trying to act nervous and shaky. If he only had to play quiet he’d have been perfect all the way through the film. Janet Leigh gets all the glory but it was Anthony Perkins who really carried the film along with John Gavin as Loomis.

Hitchcock really stirred things up in 1960 with Psycho, adding in levels of sex and violence that are tame by today's standards but unseen in a film of this standard in America at that time. In so doing, he managed to set in motion events that lead to massive increases in tolerance for certain subjects in art forms, like films, while simultaneously reducing the levels of censorship Hollywood had put up with until then. The really clever part was making Psycho such a good film.

Two Thumbs Firmly Up for Psycho. 

*I know people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, I’ll be the first to admit that, but that sack of shit scared the piss out of me with that goddamn TV program of his and I’m not quick to forgive the prick over it.

Psychotic Links for the discerning Motel visitor:

Friday, October 26, 2012

30 Days of Fright - 25: Dracula

I wonder what defines a film adaptation of a book? How much of the story or dialogue, or characters need to make it onto the screen for the film to be able to honestly say that it's an adaptation of a given book. From experience it seems that really all that has to happen is for a film to have the same name as a book and maybe feature a character with the same name as one from that book, and the scumbags from the marketing department slap "adapted from the novel by..." on the opening credits.

The opening credits of Dracula (1931) roll accompanied by music from Swan Lake which is unusual to say the least. The film proper starts with a carriage taking people across the Carpathian mountains on Walpurgisnacht, so the carriage is in a big hurry to make it to the inn before sundown, due to the evil that will be walking the earth that night. One of the travellers doesn't want to stay at the inn but instead wants to go onto meet another carriage that will take him on to castle Dracula, much to the dismay of the inn keeper, who tells of Count Dracula and his wives (yes, wives as in more than one, maybe he was a Mormon?) and how they're all shapeshifting vampires. The eager gentleman is on business however and has to go to the castle immediately, so an old woman gives him a crucifix to protect him up at the castle and there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth at the young mans departure.

Castle Dracula appears to be abandoned and large parts are in ruins and infested with wild animals. The Count himself appears and introduces himself to the young man who we learn is a Mr. Renfield and who has kept his visit to Transylvania a secret as per Dracula's instruction. The purpose of his trip is for Dracula to sign a lease on Carfax Abbey back in England and Dracula plans to travel to England the very next evening to take up residence in his new digs. Later that night, poor old Renfield suffers a turn after an encounter with a large bat and collapses in his room just as Dracula's three wives approach, though Dracula himself turns up and sends them away before moving in and attacking Renfield himself.

The action then moves to the Vesta, the ship carrying Dracula and Renfield (who's now a slave to Dracula obsessed with drinking the blood of "small lives" like insects) to England. By the time the ship reaches England there's no one aboard left alive except Renfield who has gone totally around the twist and is committed to an asylum, conveniently located next to Carfax Abbey, Drac's new crash pad.

With Dracula loose in London, no flower-girl is safe and he gets down to some murder almost straight away. Once he's fed he ponces around town in his best clobber and takes in a show. At the show Dracula meets his new neighbours, Dr. Seward who runs the asylum next door; Mina the doctors daughter; Jonathon Harker, Mina's fiance; and Lucy, the puzzle-factory's owner's daughter's friend who takes a shine to the count. Dracula is a bit odd and talks about death and such, though they put it down to him being from a shit-hole in Eastern Europe as opposed to him being a raving looney and vampire.

Dracula makes a move on Lucy and ends up killing her, leaving a bunch of medical professionals who investigate her death to wonder how she lost so much blood so quickly. Meanwhile, Renfield is having a hard time in hospital as the staff are reluctant to let him eat the flies and spiders that pass his way and his case attracts the attention of Prof. Van Helsing, who studies Renfield's blood and decides that Renfield is a bit of a vampire. To prove his conclusions the professor confronts Renfield with some wolfbane and puts his bad reaction down to vampirism (as opposed to maybe an allergy).

Shortly after Mina is attacked and is unwell as a result. Those around Mina try to figure out who the vampire is behind the attacks just as Count Dracula pays a visit and Van Helsing notices that he has no reflection in a mirror...

Itsyyyy, Bitsyyyy Spiiiiiderrr, she crahwled up da wahter spowt!

For me, the quintessential Dracula film will need to feature a few core components and thankfully they are all present in the '31 Dracula. The count himself, Mina, Jonny Harker, Renfield, and vampires that avoid sunlight are all requirements, but there are a couple of pieces of dialogue I always like to hear in a Drac outing and they both occur near the start; when the Count hears the wolves howl and says to Harker "Ah, the children of the night, what music they make" and when he tells Harker "I never drink... wine" during the dinner early on. Both these made into Dracula though there is a major difference in how it did both those scenes, and that was no Harker!

In this version it's Renfield who goes to Transylvania and brings Dracula to England to wreck havoc, which actually makes a lot more sense as it's never been clear to me how Renfield fell under Dracula's spell before Harker encounters him in Transylvania (unless Renfield had been there earlier and returned or something, then why send Harker if that was the case? - this is what happens when you adapt a book written by a drunken Irishman!) Seeing as how Renfield is the one to go east, Dracula doesn't become interested in Mina or any of the rest of the gang until he gets to England and actually meets them, which also makes a bit more sense as Drac was heading to England anyway which is why he was picking up some property there.

With Renfield taking more of a centre stage role, Harker is left in the background, so Dracula makes this Harker into a bit of gobshite. Renfield, as played by Dwight Frye (who played the doctors assistant Fritz in Frankenstein) is proper disturbing when he's playing the man gone mad, and his maniacal laugh is a fucking nasty (and therefore amazing) piece of acting. In fact, Renfield is one of the best things in Dracula, after Dracula himself, as he gets the most pivotal role and has the best death in the film too, when he ses his end is near and his concious is getting the better of him for all the flies and spiders he's murdered and realises that the afterlife might not be as kind to him as he'd always hoped.

The other stellar performance in Dracula is of course Bela Lugosi as the Count. Lugosi's accent (which was actually his own, he didn't really "act" all that much in Dracula) was perfect for the role and he managed to play the vampire aristocrat exceptionally well. The scenes featuring Dracula and Van Helsing together are the best in the movie as the way the vampire and Van Helsing play off each other is brilliant.

There were some pretty decent special effects for a film that's now over eighty years old, and I especially liked the scene early on where Dracula walks through the cobwebs without disturbing them - the accompanying analogy of the spider spinning a web to catch an unsuspecting fly was a nice touch too. Some of the other effects are as good as you could reasonably expect from a film of this vintage, though the absence of a reflection for the Count is particularly well done while the bat effects are shite.

Throughout Dracula there is only one scene with any music and that's set at a concert so the music is coming from the stage, apart from that and the opening credits there's no soundtrack to Dracula, so all the scenes are left to hang on dialogue alone and the resulting silences are fucking creepy. Once you're in immersed in Dracula you don't feel like you're watching a film at all seeing as how there are no musical cues to tell you when a scene is dramatic or romantic or going to be scary.

This Dracula strayed from the book that inspired it but that really didn't matter as the result was so good (despite a bit of a chopped off ending) and became so iconic that the version of the vampire Count from Transylvania that it presented is now how most people imagine him.

Two Thumbs Up for Dracula.

I vant to cleek on yoor Leenks:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

30 Days of Fright - 24: The Wolf Man

When you see a film at the time of its first release you are seeing it at the right time. If a film contains subtexts or commentaries about the state of the world or is trying to make some political point or other, then it helps to be aware of the situation in the intuitive way that can only come from living through the right period in history. When you see a film donkeys years after it was first made then you need to bear in mind what was going on at the time as the flick may contain some references to those events, or it may just have some cheap looking effects because all the money was being used at the time to pay for World War 2.

Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney) sets things in motion in The Wolf Man (1941) by returning to his ancestoral home in Britain after years away in America, where he tries to bury the hatchet with his dear old Dad after the death of his older brother in a hunting accident. Larry's Dad, Sir John Talbot is the lord of the manor and patron of the nearby village and he encourages Larry to get to know the place and become involved in the running of the estate.

Larry impresses his father with the technical skills he picked up while stateside including a knowledge of advanced optics which he puts to use in repairing his Dad's telescope. While testing the telescope Larry spies an attractive girl down in the village and he heads into town to meet her. The girl, Gwen, runs an antique shop and Larry buys a cane for himself so as not to appear too creepy (though that ship had well and truly sailed after Larry comes across as the stalker of the century by telling Gwen he could see into her room). The cane is topped with a silver wolf's head and pentagram design and Larry carries it around with himself all the time (just in case he runs into Gwen; that way she'd believe that he really wanted it as opposed to copping onto the truth that he just wants into her knickers).

Larry talks Gwen into "going for a walk" with him that night, though she drags her friend Jenny along too, and all three end up at a nearby gypsy camp where they can get their fortunes told. Along the way the women tall Larry about all the local folklore which for some reason is fixated on Werewolves. Later that night, as they make to leave the halting site Jenny is attacked by a large dog and Larry tries to save her. He beats the creature to death with his cane but is bitten in the process and is too late to save Jenny.

The next morning Larry is visited by the local constabulary who are investigating two deaths at the pikey encampment, that of Jenny and a traveller named Bela (played by none other than Bela Lugosi of Dracula fame). Bela had been beaten to death with a blunt instrument and Larry's cane was found next to him. Larry can't believe the story he's told so he tells his side of things about how he killed an animal with his cane and had been bitten, though when he tries to show the copper the wound he received it has disappeared.

Trying to get a handle on what's going on, Larry nips back down to the knackers to try to gather some information. There he meets Bela's mother who has a strange tale to tell about her son as well as some really bad news for Larry, just as the wolfbane starts to bloom, and the autumn moon gets bright...

As the rohypnol works its magic, Larry tries to decide what bit to eat first

The Wolf Man managed to become the standard by which early werewolf movies were judged and for all the right reasons as it's quite good. While most people think of the dodgy effects of the transformation from man into wolf, which were limited at the time due to technology and a massive global war ranging on and making things hard to come by, The Wolf Man is really a master class in setting an atmosphere in a film. From the moment Larry lands back home the film sets the stage for something weird to happen, and once he makes it down town you just know things are going to kick off.

The quiet little village just oozes menace and the inhabitants add to that notion with the little rhyme they all know and recite at the drop of a hat:

Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night,
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.

It's as if they all know some dark secret and have no intention of letting you in on it until it's too late. The village lorded over by Talbot and his son is like something from a H.P. Lovecraft novel, as a setting and place of foreboding it's that well constructed.

What really makes The Wolf Man are the performances, with Lon Chaney especially excellent as Larry Talbot, the poor prick who catches a wicked dose of lycanthropy off the gyppo's. He was VERY American though and it's a bit of a stretch to believe that after only eighteen years away in the colonies he'd gone quite so native; I would have expected more of a mix of an accent then the pure Californian he one ran with (and I'm a bit of an expert on the subject, if I do say so myself!).

The surprise cast member in The Wolf Man was Bela Lugosi, who was pretty severely typecast when you think about it, what with the vampire Dracula or the gate selling/wife beating/bare knuckle fighting/horse trading traveller Bela both examples of what passes for Romanian aristocracy. As Lugosi was Romanian though there were probably very few roles out there for him beyond vampire or pikey.

Larry beats a knacker (Good Man!)

The Wolf Man single handedly defined and to an extent killed the warewolf film as the iconic images of a hairy Lon Chaney amount to what passes for such a creature in too many minds. The Wolf Man is a creepy film that while isn't scary does qualify as horror by dwelling not on the killing the creature does but rather on psychological impact on the victim of the curse and those around him.

Two Thumbs Up for The Wolf Man.