Happy Halloween! This year I’m celebrating with a horror classic: Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur’s famously low-budgeted CAT PEOPLE. It stars the riveting Simone Simon as Irena, a young Serbian woman who believes that if she is intimate with her new husband, she’ll be consumed by an ancient family curse and turned into a murderous panther. The film has been lauded for creating a cheap but effective monster out of shadows, sound, and imagination, and rightfully so. The art direction elevates the film well beyond that of a bargain monster movie, with perfectly utilized sets, clever editing, and gorgeous dramatic lighting that lends just the right spooky atmosphere. And it’s a great setting for Simone Simon’s performance, which strikes a precarious balance between victim and villain. Even without knowing the context of CAT PEOPLE, and how it influenced the horror genre during an era of cheesy creature features, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable film that delivers all the requisite Halloween thrills.
In DON’T LOOK NOW, Nicholas Roeg’s spooky supernatural thriller, Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie find themselves in Venice after the death of their daughter. Amidst the narrow maze of canals and bridges—a perfect setting for getting lost and some what’s-around-the-corner anxiety—they encounter blind psychics, strange visions, and ominous warnings. I’ve seen enough Nicholas Roeg at this point to recognize his hallmarks: story told through unexpected editing and the juxtaposition of imagery. Here, that collage style of filmmaking is at its most refined, and ramps up the sense of unease that permeates the film even when nothing bad is happening. It all leads to a jarring conclusion which, very unfortunately, I had already seen a clip of years ago. Sometimes that doesn’t matter. But in this case, I think I missed out on the full impact of the film’s slowly building sense of mystery. So my advice this Halloween is if you haven’t seen this film yet, and you don’t know what happens, consider yourself lucky and see it now! Quick! Before the spoilers get to you, too! Consider yourself warned.
Happy Halloween! Previous Halloween installments can be found here and here.
The 1922 silent film HÄXAN is not entirely sure what kind of movie it’s trying to be. Or rather, HÄXAN knows exactly what it’s trying to be, and it’s merely the audience that’s unprepared for it. Starting as a straightforward lecture on the belief in witchcraft in the middle ages, complete with engravings and a disembodied pointer, it soon moves on to a dramatization of medieval life. That’s still perfectly normal for a documentary. What is less normal are the dramatizations of the fictional things that witches do: a bacchanalian witches’ Sabbath, a woman cheating on her husband with the devil, nuns being possessed. And if that weren’t enough, the film gets extra grim when it goes into the undiluted events of a witch trial, including a full catalog of torture equipment and their use. One has to wonder if the director wanted his documentary to have shock value, or if he wanted to lend his horror film some academic legitimacy. And what is there to make of the fact that the director, himself, is cast as the devil? None of it is very shocking today, but it is incredibly entertaining, with great comedic timing and some gorgeous visual effects. A fun spooky way to spend your holiday.
Halloween really is the perfect holiday for a film blog. Last year I paid tribute with ROSEMARY’S BABY, and this year I sat down with Andy Warhol’s BLOOD FOR DRACULA, a film by Paul Morrissey that has nothing to do with Andy Warhol beyond his name. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen its sister film, FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN, and I don’t remember much about it other than disliking it. So it’s difficult for me to make comparisons. But either BLOOD FOR DRACULA is the much better film, or my expectations have changed over the years. Possibly the latter. I went into this ready for something painfully bad, and was surprised to discover a cohesive narrative and passable acting, with some beautiful sets and lighting, and of course a lot of delightful gore, nudity, and humor. Udo Kier makes for an otherworldly and oddly sympathetic Dracula, who needs virgin blood to stay alive but can’t seem to find any virgins. His rival, played by Joe Dallesandro, is a working class and sexually liberated upstart, which would make him the protagonist in any other film except that he’s also an asshole (and can’t really act). The result is some convoluted and heavy-handed political themes, but that only adds to the camp, which finds its fullest expression in the never-ending sequences of projectile-vomited blood.
So, what do you think I should watch next year?
I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Halloween than with Roman Polanski’s occult thriller ROSEMARY’S BABY. Mia Farrow plays Rosemary, sweet and naive, who wants to start a family with her struggling actor husband in their beautiful new apartment. But she has no idea that her nosy elderly neighbors have their own plans for her womb. This is the type of horror film that I love. It relies entirely on suspense and paranoia, with a bit of the surreal. Even though it’s ostensibly about the devil, Rosemary’s fear comes from mundane sources: her stifling apartment, the people she thinks she can trust, and finally, a baby gone wrong. What’s even better is that her satanic neighbors are as funny as they are disturbing (I adore Ruth Gordon). And Rosemary’s emaciated-pregnant-chic makes for some memorable scenes.