Happy Halloween 2016 from The Last Drive In: Here’s a special Postcards from Horror Land -Color edition

blow-up Michelangelo Antonioni 1966

dont-look-now-1973

psychomania-1973

house-on-haunted-hill-1958

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barbarella-1968

the-stepford-wives-1975

trelkovsky-on-stairs

halloween-1978

alice-sweet-alice-1976

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black-sabbath-1963

suspiria-1977

the-fog-80

play-misty-for-me-1971

the_tenant_1976

rosemarys-baby-1968

the-birds-1963

the-sentinel-1977

barbarella

spirits-of-the-dead-1967

rear-window-1954

planet-of-the-apes-1968

games-1967

the-devil-rides-out-1966

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suspiria-1977

daughters-of-darkness-1971

planet-of-the-apes-1968

the-devils-rain-1975

blacula-1972

salems-lot-1978

lemora-1973

el-topo-1970

pit-and-the-pendulum

spirits-of-the-dead-1967

jodorworskys-santa-sangre

the-pit-and-the-pendulum

burnt-offerings-1976

the-haunting-of-julia

the-changling-1980

the-brotherhood-of-satan

the-premonition-1976

dolls-1987

the-abominable-dr-phibes-1971

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rosemarys-baby-1968-gordon-and-blackmer

the-dunwich-horror-1970

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lets-scare-jessica-to-death

the-ghost-and-mr-chicken-1966

the-tourist-trap-1978

kill-baby-kill-1966

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More Things Than Are Dreamt of ūüíÄ

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Virgins, Venuses, Miniskirts, Sorcerers, Pretty Poison, Peeping Toms & WomanEaters

The Brood 1979
A scene from David Cronenbergs The Brood 1979

It’s a psycho-sexual smorgasbord of cinematic thrills & filmic frissons! As women are in peril and perilous are some women!

RACHEL, RACHEL 1968 directed by Paul Newman

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Rachel Cameron: I’m exactly in the middle of my life. This is my last… ascending summer. Everything else from now on is just rolling downhill into my grave.”

Joanne Woodward is the dowdy looking emotional time bomb Rachel a 35 year old school teacher who lives with her mother and needs to either break free or break down. Kate Harrington is fabulous as her mother, James Olson who was often cast as the male figure of desire in 60s & early 70s psycho-sexual thrillers plays her lover Nick. The marvelous Estelle Parsons is her well intentioned by misguided friend Calla who has a budding lesbian attraction for her and Donald Moffat plays her dad.

I almost included this film with my compendium of cult films, though it is more melodrama than a crossing of noir, or psycho-sexual horror. The film works on the underlying premise that establishment culture has become like a sort of imprisonment to Rachel, reinforcing a repressive landscape and marginalizing the character of Rachel thus creating her own counter-culture reflecting the eroding of the American Dream and crumbling Idealism. (source American Cinema of the 1960s Themes and Variations Edited by Barry Keith Grant)

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Rachel is the archetype of the repressed New England girl form a small town. Where everyone knows your business and it becomes impossible to breathe. One reviewer on IMDb called it “deep-level collective cultural phantoms” I particularly like that phrase. A suffocating lifestyle or stasis of life more aptly, Rachel is trapped by caring for her overbearing mother. and pulled to one side by the desire she has for Nick. Haunted by memories and collected damage over the years, she carries her emotional baggage til it is too heavy to bear.

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Kate Harrington in Rachel, Rachel

A few very memorable scenes come to mind. Of course when Calla has the awkward revelation that she is in love with Rachel. But there is the bizarre church scene, and several flashbacks that allude to her childhood trauma.

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Will Rachel decide to free herself from the shackles of stifling conformity and become a liberated individual

The film also co-stars the great Geraldine Fitzgerald as Rev. Wood.

Who was she? Sometimes she was a child skipping rope. Sometimes she was a woman with a passionate hunger. And one day the woman and the child came together..

who cares about a 35 year old virgin?

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Joanne Woodward and James Olson in Rachel Rachel 1968

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VENUS IN FURS 1969 directed by Jes√ļs Franco

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In Istanbul a jazz trumpeter Jimmy Logan (James Darren) finds the corpse of a beautiful woman named Wanda Reed (Maria RohmHouse of 1,000 Dolls 1967. The Blood of Fu Manchu 1968, Eugenie… Her Story into Perversion 1970, Count Dracula 1970) washed up on the beach.

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Jimmy remembers her from the night before, when he saw her at a party and then later as she was assaulted by the party’s host and two of his friends.

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He winds up in  Rio where he hooks up with Rita, played by Barbara McNair a singer who invites him to live with her and help him shake the nightmare off and stop thinking of Wanda.

Jimmy Logan:She was beautiful, even though she was dead.”

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Suddenly a woman appears who looks exactly like Wanda. Jimmy becomes obsessed and pursues her trying to get to the bottom of this mysterious woman.

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The woman returns from the dead to take revenge on the group of wealthy sadists responsible for her death. The film also stars Margaret Lee, Dennis Price and Klaus Kinski

Frenzied, dream like colorful excursion into the psycho-sexual mind of Jess Franco.

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The coat that covered paradise, uncovered hell!

A Masterpiece of supernatural sex!

Venus In Furs -wrong side of the art

THE MINI SKIRT MOB 1968 directed by Maury Dexter

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Driven by jealousy, Diane McBain plays Shayne the jilted leader of a female motorcycle gang who’s socio-pathic and ruthless nature instigates a sadistic reign of terror against her ex-lover Rodeo Cowboy Jeff Logan and his new bride Connie (Sherry Jackson)

Stars Jeremy Slate, Diane McBain, Sherry Jackson, Patty McCormack and Harry Dean Stanton.

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Diane McBain plays Shayne the head of The Mini Skirt Mob Patty McCormack plays her little sis… and the ruthless Shayne only has eyes for Jeff Logan (Ross Hagen)

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Diane McBain Mini Skirt Mob boss
They’re hog straddling female animals on the prowl.

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Patty McCormack not beating a little boy to death with her tap shoe

THE SORCERERS 1967 directed and screenplay by Michael Reeves (Castle of the Living Dead 1964, Witchfinder General 1968)

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Set in the atmosphere of the mod 60s of LondonBoris Karloff is a subtly imposing looking more time worn elderly Professor Marcus Monserrat scientist and hypnotist extraordinaire who has discovered the secret of mind control, and the ability to become empathic with the object of their desire.

Monserrat and his wife Estelle (Catherine Lacey-stage actress who was a regular performer with the Old Vic Company from 1951-went on to play eccentric spinsters-) can literally share sensations, thoughts and feelings of the subjects they wish to control.

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Ian Ogilvy is the shady swinger Mike Roscoe who falls into their trap and allows them the excitement of experiencing what he does, virtually enjoying the self-indulgence of being young again. But as usual power corrupts and greedy Estelle begins to crave devouring Roscoe and the pleasure it gives her. Roscoe begins to lose control of himself, mind and body as the battle of wills ensues with the power hungry old bird trying to experience ‘kicks’ vicariously through the unlucky chap. Co-stars Elizabeth Ercy and Susan George.

Boris The Sorcerers

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¬†Boris Karloff He Turns Them On…He Turns Them Off…to live…love…die or KILL!

PRETTY POISON 1968 directed by Noel Black

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When a mentally disturbed young man Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins) tells a pretty girl that he’s a secret agent, she believes him, and murder and mayhem ensue. Anthony Perkins character of Dennis Pitt is every bit more an emotional enigma as the young man with the pathological imagination who is an outlier of society. Released from an institution he gets a regular job at a lumber yard. But he meets the All American Cheerleader squeaky clean blonde apple pie Sue Ann Stepaneck (Tuesday Weld) who just might be even more disturbed than Dennis. He informs her that he’s working undercover for the CIA and enlists her in helping him on his case. Dennis cannot help live in his fantasy world, and Sue Ann is as aggressive as a giant creek carp, if you ever seen one of those canoeing you’ll know what I mean.

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As she manipulates his vulnerabilities into committing acts of dangerous vandalism and eventually murder, she is in control of this Folie à deux

Co-stars Beverly Garland as Sue Ann’s Mama.

She’s such a sweet girl. He’s such a nice boy. They’ll scare the hell out of you.
Did you ever see two kids like Dennis and Sue Ann? We think not…
…Wait till you see what they did to his aunt – the night watchman – to her mother.
What brought a nice kid like Sue Ann to a shocking moment like this?

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PEEPING TOM 1960– directed by Michael Powell

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Powell had been known for his very barbed visual style.

The background story behind Mark Lewis’ madness/murder compulsion.

Mark Lewis-focus puller on Arthur Baden’s new film The Walls Are Closing In-he also moonlights as a photographer of racy pictures on the West End. He is smitten with 21 year old Helen Stephens (Anna Massey) and they are carrying on a very civil and sweet courtship. Almost child-like which is probably what kept Helen safe from Mark’s darker side.

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What Helen doesn’t know is that Mark, has a blade hidden in the armature of his tripod, and stabs the object of his desire, filming their deaths, as a surrogate to his past abuse. When he was a young boy his father, a biologist researching the effects of fear on children, ‘the physiology of fear’ used to film Mark continuously like a mouse in a maze, through out his childhood, subjecting him to various fear inducing incidents as his experimentation.

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Voyeurism and psycho-sexual compulsion drive this very startling horror/suspense film starring Karl B√∂hm, as Mark Lewis who works as a camera-man at a British film studio. His fetish is to kill women with his camera tripod while filming their death. It’s not hard to envision that the tripod is a surrogate for his phallus, and the act of stabbing them with it is his act of penetration. A mirror is fixed to the tripod so that the women can see the expression of their own faces right before death, to witness their own fear.

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Unfortunately in the way Psycho with its subversive themes propelled Hitchcock’s status to¬† auteur, the controversial Peeping Tom ended Michael Powell’s career with all the reviled reviews.

Nothing, nothing nothing… has left me with such a feeling of nausea and depression as I got this week while sitting through a new British film called Peeping Tom… Mr Michael Powell (Who once made such outstanding films as Black Narcissus and A Matter of Life and Death) produced and directed Peeping Tom and I think he ought to be ashamed of himself. The acting is good. The photography is fine. But what is the result? Sadism, sex and the exploitation of human degradation- Daily Express

Mark has had a very traumatic upbringing by his father who used his own son in experiments of the effects of fear and self loathing. Well, they produced a son who is a sexual sadist who makes his female victims watch their own deaths-specifically the expression of terror on their faces right before death. Co-stars Moira Shearer, Anna Massey and Brenda Bruce as Dora. Absolutely chilling for 1960. Bohm’s Mark Lewis almost elicits sympathy due to his childhood psycho-trauma. Much like Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates and his fateful childhood.

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The gist of why this film shook up the British film industry in a time when they were trying to tone it down was the idea of this gruesome ‘snuff’ film maker getting off on sublimating his own sexual impotence by finding victims to penetrate with his camera or gaze. The way Otto Heller sets up our participation as voyeurs makes it doubly uncomfortable to watch the killings. For example. Mark takes a red bloused prostitute up to her room. His camera it’s several lens eyes like an insect about to prey is concealed, the whirring is cloaked inside his duffel bag. See they even had kill bags back then. As she leads him upstairs he throws an empty box of Kodak film in the garbage. Not cigarettes, or a box of condoms, but still the very sexual instrument in his mode of arousal + fixtion+ object¬† / spectacle +gaze =murder. Also turning their own destroyed images back on themselves is quite disturbing–It’s a kinky and interesting little detail. Otto Heller also added a wonderful detail to the film as Mark’s private ‘viewing room’ was bathed in a sanguinary red tone.

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Director of Photography was Otto Heller, Art Director- Arthur Lawson, Editor Noreen Ackland.

Anna Massey plays Helen Stephens, Maxine Audley is Helen’s mother Mrs Stephens who while blind senses that there is something off about Mark, Moira Shearer is Vivian, Nigel Davenport is Sergeant Miller.

Can you see yourself in this picture? Can you imagine yourself facing the terror of a diabolical killer? Can you guess how you’d look? You’ll live that kind of excitement, suspense, horror, when you watch “Peeping Tom”.

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Karl Böhm and Anna Massey in the skin crawling thriller Peeping Tom 1960 directed by Michael Powell

THE WOMAN EATER 1958 directed by Charles Saunders

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Oh those silly Colonialist white dudes get to have all the fun — feeding young native girls to those flesh eating plants!

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A mad scientist Doctor Moran (George Coulouris) captures women and feeds them to his carnivorous tree with tentacle like branches that only has a taste for the ladies preferably young ones, this in turn gives him a serum that helps bring the dead back to life.

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Because the tree gets fed it’s nourishment, it provides the evil doctor with a liquid that restores life to the dead. So naturally the first woman you would want resuscitated would be a good housekeeper right! No… She goes all Rochester’s crazy wife Bertha on the place, you know the violently insane first wife of Edward Rochester; moved to Thornfield and locked in the attic and eventually commits suicide after setting fire to Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre., that sort of way! and ruins everything….

It’s really just a silly B movie from the 50s that finds unique ways to destroy beautiful women by way of mad science or mad obsession.

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The film also stars Robert MacKenzie, Norman Claridge, Marpessa Dawn as a ‘native’ girl. Jimmy Vaughn as Tanga, Sarah Leighton as Susan Curtis and Vera Day as Sally.

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Vera Day in The Woman Eater 1958

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“No Beautiful Woman is Safe!
See the nerve-shattering Dance of Death!
See the Woman Eater ensnare the beauties of two continents!
See the hideous arms devour them in a death-embrace?”

Your Everlovin’ MonsterGirl saying hope you stay on the good side of the camera and watch out for those strange large plants at Home Depot!

Film Noir ‚ô• Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground

‚ÄúUnexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.‚ÄĚ
‚Äē Sigmund Freud

‚ÄúLadies and gentlemen- welcome to violence; the word and the act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains sex.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ Narrator from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

Faster Pussycat
Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! 1965
Cul-de-Sac
Fran√ßoise Dorl√©ac and Donald Pleasence in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac 1966
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Constance Towers kicks the crap out of her pimp for shaving off her hair in Sam Fuller’s provocative The Naked Kiss 1964
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Peter Breck plays a journalist hungry for a story and gets more than a jolt of reality when he goes undercover in a Mental Institution in Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor 1963
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Bobby Darin is a psychotic racist in Hubert Cornfield and Stanley Kramer’s explosive Pressure Point 1962 starring Sidney Poitier and Peter Falk.

THE DARK PAGES NEWSLETTER  a condensed article was featured in The Dark Pages: You can click on the link for all back issues or to sign up for upcoming issues to this wonderful newsletter for all your noir needs!

Constance Towers as Kelly from The Naked Kiss (1964): “I saw a broken down piece of machinery. Nothing but the buck, the bed and the bottle for the rest of my life. That’s what I saw.”

Griff (Anthony Eisley) The Naked Kiss (1964): “Your body is your only passport!”

Catherine Deneuve as Carole Ledoux in Repulsion (1965): “I must get this crack mended.”

Monty Clift Dr. Cukrowicz Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) : “Nature is not made in the image of man’s compassion.”

Patricia Mor√°n as Rita Ugalde: The Exterminating Angel 1962:“I believe the common people, the lower class people, are less sensitive to pain. Haven’t you ever seen a wounded bull? Not a trace of pain.”

Ann Baxter as Teresina Vidaverri Walk on the Wild Side 1962“When People are Kind to each other why do they have to find a dirty word for it.”

The Naked Venus 1959‚ÄúI repeat she is a gold digger! Europe‚Äôs full of them, they‚Äôre tramps‚Ķ they‚Äôll do anything to get a man. They even pose in the NUDE!!!!”

Darren McGavin as Louie–The Man With the Golden Arm (1955): “The monkey is never dead, Dealer. The monkey never dies. When you kick him off, he just hides in a corner, waiting his turn.”

Baby Boy Franky Buono-Blast of Silence (1961) “The targets names is Troiano, you know the type, second string syndicate boss with too much ambition and a mustache to hide the facts he’s got lips like a woman… the kind of face you hate!”

Lorna (1964)- “Thy form is fair to look upon, but thy heart is filled with carcasses and dead man’s bones”

Peter Fonda as Stephen Evshevsky in Lilith (1964): “How wonderful I feel when I’m happy. Do you think that insanity could be so simple a thing as unhappiness?”

Glen or Glenda (1953)“Give this man satin undies, a dress, a sweater and a skirt, or even a lounging outfit and he’s the happiest individual in the world.”

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Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda 1953

Johnny Cash as Johnny Cabot in Five Minutes to Live (1961):“I like a messy bed.”

Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) Island of Lost Souls: “Do you know what it means to feel like God?”

The Curious Dr. Humpp (1969): “Sex dominates the world! And now, I dominate sex!”

The Snake Pit (1948): Jacqueline deWit as Celia Sommerville “And we’re so crowded already. I just don’t know where it’s all gonna end!” Olivia de Havilland as Virginia Stuart Cunningham “I’ll tell you where it’s gonna end, Miss Somerville… When there are more sick ones than well ones, the sick ones will lock the well ones up.”

Delphine Seyrig as Countess Bathory in Daughters of Darkness (1971)“Aren’t those crimes horrifying. And yet -so fascinating!”

Julien Gulomar as Bishop Daisy to the Barber (Michel Serrault) King of Hearts (1966)“I was so young. I already knew that to love the world you have to get away from it.”

The Killing of Sister George (1968) -Suzanna York as Alice ‘CHILDIE’: “Not all women are raving bloody lesbians, you know” Beryl Reid as George: “That is a misfortune I am perfectly well aware of!”

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Susannah York (right) with Beryl Reid in The Killing of Sister George Susannah York and Beryl Reid in Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George 1960

The Lickerish Quartet (1970)“You can’t get blood out of an illusion.”

THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH (1965)Dominique-“I’m attracted” Pablo-” To Bullfights?” Dominique-” No, I meant to death. I’ve always thought it… The state of perfection for all men.”

Peter O’Toole as Sir Charles Ferguson Brotherly Love (1970): “Remember the nice things. Reared in exile by a card-cheating, scandal ruined daddy. A mummy who gave us gin for milk. Ours was such a beautifully disgusting childhood.”

Maximillian Schell as Stanislaus Pilgrin in Return From The Ashes 1965: “If there is no God, no devil, no heaven, no hell, and no immortality, then anything is permissible.”

Euripides 425 B.C.“Whom God wishes to destroy… he first makes mad.”

Davis & Crawford What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford bring to life two of the most outrageously memorable characters in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962

WHAT DOES PSYCHOTRONIC MEAN?

psychotronic |ňĆsńęk…ôňątr√§nik| adjective denoting or relating to a genre of movies, typically with a science fiction, horror, or fantasy theme, that were made on a low budget or poorly received by critics. [1980s: coined in this sense by Michael Weldon, who edited a weekly New York guide to the best and worst films on local television.] Source: Wikipedia

In the scope of these transitioning often radical films, where once, men and women aspired for the moon and the stars and the whole ball of wax. in the newer scheme of things they aspired for you know‚Ķ ‚Äúkicks‚ÄĚ yes that word comes up in every film from the 50s and 60s‚Ķ I‚Äôd like to have a buck for every time a character opines that collective craving… from juvenile delinquent to smarmy jet setter!

FILM NOIR HAD AN INEVITABLE TRAJECTORY…

THE ECCENTRIC & OFTEN GUTSY STYLE OF FILM NOIR HAD NO WHERE ELSE TO GO… BUT TO REACH FOR EVEN MORE OFF-BEAT, DEVIANT– ENDLESSLY RISKY & TABOO ORIENTED SET OF NARRATIVES FOUND IN THE SUBVERSIVE AND EXPLOITATIVE CULT FILMS OF THE MID TO LATE 50s through the 60s and into the early 70s!

I just got myself this collection of goodies from Something Weird!

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There’s even this dvd that points to the connection between the two genres – Here it’s labeled WEIRD. I like transgressive… They all sort of have a whiff of noir.
Grayson Hall Satan in High Heels
Grayson Hall -Satan in High Heels 1962
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Gerd Oswald adapts Fredrick Brown’s titillating novel — bringing to the screen the gorgeous Anita Ekberg, Phillip Carey and Gypsy Rose Lee and Harry Townes in the sensational, obscure and psycho-sexual thriller Screaming Mimi 1958
The Strangler 1964 Victor Buono
Victor Buono is a deranged mama’s boy in Burt Topper’s fabulous The Strangler 1964
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Catherine Deneuve is extraordinary as the unhinged nymph in Roman Polanski’s psycho-sexual tale of growing madness in Repulsion 1965

Just like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, Noir took a journey through an even darker lens… Out of the shadows of 40s Noir cinema, European New Wave, fringe directors, and Hollywood auteurs, brought more violent, sexual, transgressive, and socially transformative narratives into the cold light of day with a creeping sense of verité. While Film Noir pushed the boundaries of taboo subject matter and familiar Hollywood archetypes it wasn’t until later that we are able to visualize the advancement of transgressive topics.

Continue reading “Film Noir ‚ô• Transgression Into the Cultural Cinematic Gutter: From Shadowland to Psychotronic Playground”

Sunday Nite Surreal-The Premonition (1976) Carnival Clowns & Deathly Dreams

THE PREMONITION 1976

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Directed by Robert Allen Schnitzer¬†and written by Anthony Mahon, Schnitzer and Louis Pastore? Okay… While I’ve never seen anything else by Schnitzer, this moody, surreal, haunting and often frenetically disturbing reverie has remained with me all these years. Some people think it’s a weak film, not even a horror movie. I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece, but I think it’s a genre gem!

What’s really strange about this hidden terror film is cinematographer/director Victor Milt ( Run Stinky Run, Sex Wish) has done some weird really obscure stuff after working on The Premonition and director- writer Schnitzer hasn’t done anything I can talk about here either. So how did this remarkably creepy film become what it is??? I wish I knew the answer, but there have been memorable films created by one time feature film directors like Herk Harvey’s who usually did shorts or documentaries who envisions the gorgeous dreamlike Carnival of Souls 1962. At least writer-actor Richard Blackburn did Eating Raoul 1982 after his unbelievable Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural 1973.¬†(Coming to the Last Drive In soon!)

Great character actor¬†Jeff Corey¬†plays the investigating Police Det. Lt. Mark Denver. There’s even a gypsy woman, played by¬†Wilmuth Cooper.¬†

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Jeff Corey plays the investigating Police Det. Lt. Mark Denver.

I saw The Premonition when it first arrived in theaters in 1976. It frightened the bejesus out of me then, with it’s nightmarish segments in particular Jude’s (Richard Lynch) and Andrea’s (Ellen Barber) uncontrollable fits of rage. Their joint psychosis was a very powerful elixir as part of the carnival set piece. Their relationship alone could have made for an interesting story of madness, obsession and self-destruction.

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This film was my introduction to the interesting actor that is,¬†Richard Lynch. The film has stayed with me. I’ve read other people’s reviews who think the script is ridiculous, muddled and the pacing is choppy. Still it has a haunting quality to it, especially Lynch and Ellen Barber’s performances. The music by Henry Mollicone is fantastical for the vibe of the film and fascinates me, now I have to see his musical performance in the fascinating documentary The Face on the Barroom Floor 2013.

The lens has a ghostly haze over it. with a low drab subdued tonality. The music brings you in like a soft waling of an otherworldly siren. An eerie Glossolalia , the fluid vocalizing of the tormented Andrea. Reminding me of the amazing Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance.

The institutional green bus pulls over and Andrea grips herself looking toward something. The clear pale blue sky hovering over Andrea feels chilly. She is beautiful yet strange, walking slowly toward the carnival grounds. A flutter of birds let out into the air, the vocalizing continues and Ferris Wheel comes into focus with another stomach turning carnival ride. These daydreaming machines add the color to the midway landscape. It is desolate here.

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It somewhat creates a colorful version of Carnival of Souls the haunting set pieces of desolation, and otherness that play on our deepest thoughts. The impressions effervesce in fair grounds and we construct fantasies.

Dulcimer and glistening piano bring forth Jude, a cigarette hanging out of his oddly angular face and lion like blonde mane, he’s almost sexy ugly. The film still lensed in cold aqua greens and pale blue. He steps out of his trailer, we see he’s wearing white ballet slippers like a mime. The piano rolls magnificently.¬†Henry Mollicone¬†is a virtuoso. With electronic music by¬†Pril Smiley.

Jude steps out onto the pavement, wearing suspenders he begins a series of theatrical movements. Moving dramatically with his scarf.

Jude expresses with his body more fervently as if he hears the grand piano playing. He reaches up to the blue sky so vivid so crystalline blue. As Jude it is a lonely dance for a sad solitary clown. As he bends downward he sees Andrea standing there. It a portent, life is about to be turned truly upside down.

The story is a simple and unreserved one, gripping and nightmarish for all the players and we who witness a small girl being hunted psychically by her dangerously unstable biological mother who is traveling with a carnival.

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The scene cuts to them sitting in his trailer she’s looking at photographs through a spy glass. He says “Look at those eyes, Andrea, and the mouth… see that. I saw her yesterday when I took the photograph. This time I’m positive I know it’s her” “You sure her name is Janie” “Yeah I’m sure, here look” He flips the photo over and the name and age is on the back.
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“Janie Bennett the age is right… it all figures… it’s gotta be her” Andrea asks, “Where does she live?” Jude tells her, ” Dover about 5 miles from here.”

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Jude begins to put on his heavy white grease paint. Andrea goes to the board and touches the photo of Janie…
She turns to him…¬†” I thought you’d forgotten about me Jude” ” I told you I’d call you as soon as I found something didn’t I?” “Jude what if its not her, what if it’s like all the other times… what if we come out with nothing what then?” Then we wait and we keep on waiting until we find her”

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When Andrea shows up at Janie’s school, the music becomes a flutter of wings with flute as the children run free from their inside captivity. Andrea fingers the metal holes in the fence moving slowly, waiting for her little girl to appear. Finally Janie is standing before her she calls to her, then Janie runs to her adoptive mother Sherrie who is waiting in the car.

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Back in Jude’s trailer-Jude says,¬†“We were lucky it couldn’t of taken years to find her” “It did take years… five stinkin’ years in that rotten pit”¬†Jude answers,”Oh it wasn’t all that bad, I mean we wouldn’t have met otherwise.”¬†

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Andrea’s horrible beer drinking tv junkie landlady in curlers

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The use of ‘red’ in this movie is distinct. It is the characteristic color that symbolizes Andrea’s passion, madness and self destruction. Red is Andrea’s COLOR… down to her lipstick

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The window impresses me as a Mark Rothko painting. The color red is very impressionistic and so vital to the film’s narrative.

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The use of ‘red’ in this movie is distinct. It is the characteristic color that symbolizes Andrea’s passion, madness and self destruction.

Jude tells Andrea that he has found a house. A small house in the woods, a nice place to settle down with the kid.

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Andrea glows a weird smile emerges at first¬†“Settling down!”¬†Then clenching her teeth as she drags the comb through wet raven tresses.¬†“What are you talking about settling down for… what are you talking about. Sometimes I just don’t understand you Jude. Settling down for what…?this comes first! “

But Jude explains that they can hide out in that house til things blow over. She walks away towel drying her hair.

He remains on the topic “nobodies lived there for years. they’ll never find us”

Jude lays on the bed smoking a cigarette while Andrea in red bathrobe, plays a beautiful piece of music on the piano.

The scene switches to Miles talking to Dr Kingsly his associate about parapsychology as she instructs a small class-

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“The Clairvoyant reality is totally rejected by science and finds expression only in our art, music religion”

“The Clairvoyant reality is totally rejected by science and finds expression only in our art, music religion”

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At the same time the film is juxtaposing images of Andrea having a primordial psychic meltdown. Not even maternal scream, just a core anaphylactic roar from deep within.

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Sherri begins to see visions of a volatile confrontation between Jude and Andrea. On the spectral plane it comes across in distorted yowls and negative film images. It’s quite a frightening effect. I remember being terrified by these scenes in the darkness of the theater. Like little shock treatments to a burgeoning MonsterGirl mind…

For people who think there isn’t enough explanation to the narrative Sherri’s friend hints at the idea when spending the night telling Sherri that she had heard of two minors who had been trapped for several days, they began sharing the same hallucinations. In this way, her question about Sherries disturbing visions somehow being linked to Janie’s bad dreams is true.

A psychic storm is brewing from the rage and unrequited desires from both Jude and Andrea. Janie and Sherrie naturally begin to form a single wave length that tunes into this frequency. At least this is the premise of the film. The one link is Janie the child… and who will be the conquering mother?

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While Miles is not working late with the attractive professor Kingsly, he’s eating cotton candy and riding the merry go round with her.. hhm… at the carnival-definitely research related… as she suddenly looks down at Mile’s wedding band her happy expression fades away.

Meanwhile Andrea and Jude pull up in that fabulous green pick up. The crickets and chorus frigs are singing their night song. Jude shuts the motor off. In her red dress, nails and oz slippers like the witch of the west Andrea creeps or slithers into the house to take Janie.

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the frame appears to give an almost fun house effect with the striped wall paper that disorients us
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Andrea’s presence on the stairs casts a dark menacing shadow along the wall, reminiscent of Nosferatu

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The use of electronic sounds is excellent.

Andrea’s casting a darkness, shadowing the wall is reminiscent of Nosferatu. Andrea is almost as icy as a dead thing herself… wanting to lure the child back, it looks and feels vampiric. Yet this is Janie’s biological mother, which creates some ambivalence for me as she deserves to have at least guided contact with her daughter, otherwise why let her out of the mental hospital?

It creates the effect of psychic static the use of sound used whenever the camera focuses on Andrea’s movements.

And the framing of Andrea looking back into the den while Sherri sleeps utilizes the striped walls as they also become as distorted as fun house room. Very disorienting.

The last remnant of shadow left from andrea creeping up the steps is eerire as Sherri sleeps as if under a spell. Once again… a notion of Nosferatu. Andrea even has a dark complexion that could even be considered eastern European gypsy, like Bela Lugosi.

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The use of electronic static, noise represents Andrea’s state of mind at the moment. The use of low lighting and color is well placed and create a surreal atmosphere of worlds colliding.

The electronic noises that represnet Andrea’s madness and presence are like a metalic insect. As if she hisses and slithers into Janie’s room. Everything is back lit. Andrea’s color is hot reds, and Janie is cool blue.

Sherri wakes up to the sound of the rocking chair in Janie’s room.

No body can tell me that this film isn’t an eerie, haunting little story, that stays with you… If it doesn’t deliver on the kinds of gruesome gory chills you’d expect from a 70s horror story then you’re watching the wrong film. But this film is highly underrated and often shot down by critics who feel it falls short. Oh well… The rest of us who know it’s strength will continue to advocate for it…Back to the film….-MonsterGirl¬†‚ô•

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Andrea runs down the stairs taking one of Janie’s dolls ¬†after fighting with Sherrie who is clinging to Janie on the bed. Andrea screams up to Sherrie…¬†“She is Mine… she will always be mine-!!!!!!”¬†Her voice is¬†strained, powerful, almost magnetic.

Back at Jude’s little house in the woods, Andrea is holding Janie’s doll as if it were her.

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“You are such a pretty baby”¬†Andrea says to the doll. Jude staring out the bleak window of the little house looks on with a worried stare. He rips the head off the doll as it squeaks Andrea screams and cries. Jude has become more unhinged himself. It has been brewing in him since the beginning. But it is not working out the way he had envisioned. He can’t control Andrea, and she obviously doesn’t care for him the same way. Two mentally ill people fighting over their own neurosis.

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“What’d you do to my baby?”
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“Your baby, your baby is back in the goddam house with its mother”

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“What’s it to you? You’re not her father!! You are nobodies father. And you’re never gonna be anyone’s father… You aren’t even a goddam MAN!!!!

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Andrea destroys Jude’s manhood as if she took a knife and thrust it in.

Jude looses it… we hear screams.

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At the same time…Sherrie gets cold in the bathroom, the mirror freezes over. She cannot see herself. It’s a supernatural event that begins to connect the events surrounding the players involved.

Jeff Corey¬†the investigating cop shows up at Janie’s biological father’s house to ask some questions about Andrea.

I’ve noticed the narrative uses a lot of frames where people are either looking out windows or doors or standing in the doorframe looking in. It’s that tout to parapsychologies’ introspective plane of existence…the within powers that surround all of us on a personal level. The character look inward, we’re watching them look inward and we wind up looking inward with them…

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Danielle Brisebois makes her debut playing Janie Bennett the wee one who is being visited by her psychic/psychotic mother through horrifying visions like a vampiric wraith filtering through the ether reaching outward to contact her little girl who was given away to foster parents while she was in the mental ward. But Janie is terrified and wants to remain with her foster parents Prof. Miles and Sherri Bennett played by Sharon Farrell ¬†(Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive 1974) and Edward Bell. Farrell is always good at playing adorable cheap, neurotic and a little over the edge. Brisebois was still really cute at this stage before she became Archie Bunker’s annoying niece, until she grew up into a sexy rock singer.

I have to admit that seeing this film in the theater when I was an impressionable teenager really freaked me out a bit. The images were quite startling, and in retrospect anything Carnival related is wonderfully creepy and wonderfully eerie, as it attains it’s own self contained world. The vision of the crazy Andrea Fletcher are quite stunning as well, so as far as the pacing being muddled or uninteresting, I suppose those people who hated this film were looking for more 70s bloody, axes, psycho-sexual mind games, animals attacking or devil children. This story is a bit of a childlike nightmare amidst, Folie √† deux insanity, loss, possession, motherhood and longing. The narrative slips between a mordent sense of all these themes, as it expands beyond the literal world and works on our unconscious participation in moral ideals of motherhood, rights of and the boundaries that separate us all by a psychic thread.

Andrea (Ellen Barber ¬†who plays Mickey Roarke’s secretary in Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986) comes to Janie’s school to try and grab her, but Janie’s new mommy Sherri has a premonition and manages to arrive just in time to save Janie. Andrea lives with her wildly menacing boyfriend, a clown named Jude. Yikes, as if Lynch wasn’t frightening on a good day, wearing white face paint and painted on tears… it still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

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Andrea is obsessed with getting Janie back, and Jude will do anything for his nutty girlfriend. The pair manage to kidnap Janie leaving the Bennetts in a panic who then seek out the help of a parapsychologist Dr. Jeena Kingsly (Chitra Neogy) a colleague of Miles. They hope that she can decipher Sherries terrifying visions, as she also has a psychic link to Janie she must try and track her down before the unstable Andrea loses it completely and harms her daughter.

The story makes it hard for us to sympathize with Andrea as a protagonist longing to be reunited with her daughter, because she herself is such a threatening figure. She’s been recently released from an institution and is still emotionally volatile. She met Jude while she was hospitalized. Jude keeps a watchful eye out for Janie, working for the carnival he’s in the position to see a lot of children pass through. One day he spots Andrea’s daughter with Sherri.

He tells Andrea that he’s seen Janie which is the catalyst for a wave of psychic visions that beset Sherri. Dr Kingsly tries to guide Sherri to use her powers of ESP to find Janie and connect with her to track her down and bring her back.

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Jeff Corey is on the scene talking to the landlady helping to locate the kidnapped Janie

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Filmed in Mississippi the look has a haunting rustic and starkly Gothic feel to it. There’s an untouchable sense of dreamery, a trance like aura that surrounds the frames. It disconnects us from all things being easily explained, but dreams are like that and the atmosphere of the eerie and urgent narrative compensates for the lack of cohesive and sensible plot design.

In the 70s not all things were explained coherently. Sometimes the figures floated upon landscapes that were nightmarish and made no sense. As in Let’s Scare Jessica to Death 1971, and yet it was this ambiguity that created the mystique, the mystery and the mood.

What makes a story a thing that is haunting are visions not clearly defined, nor affirmations said aloud. The outstanding theme that jolts you into a sense of agony is the pull between two mothers, one who is emotionally destructive yearning for her child, and the other, desperately trying to protect the child she believes is hers now.

Caught in between is Janie who can only feel the thrust of possession surrounding her, the vivid nightmares and fears of innocence and unknown. Also tangled in the web of possession is Jude who is merely being used as a means to procure Janie for Andrea. His frustration turns outward like the rage of a tornado. Lynch’s face reveals his turbulence well. Andrea taunts him until he is so wounded that he keeps the child even when he doesn’t have to. If I say more I will give away part of the story…

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There are some truly shocking moments-The painting crying blood when Dr Kingsly tells Sherri just to let it flow when trying to teach her to hone in on her psychic insights. -Andrea wearing¬† a ruby red evening gown soaked in blood appears in Janie’s bedroom with rocking chair (turtle lovers look away) it is extremely eerie and somber. Her hands seem like talons, once again The Monstrous Feminine arrives on cue.

There are a few visions or apparitions of Andrea drenched in blood and the recurring forming of ice on those iconographic mirrors. Mirrors, the pathway to see ourselves is clouded by ice in order to obscure Sherri’s view into the psychic world.

The climax is a mesmerizing sequence, one that will either have you laughing and dismissing this film completely as others have done, or it will stay with you as it has with me, a beautiful little nightmare.

A Symphony of Dark Patches- The Val Lewton Legacy 1943

This post is a feature…As part of the CLASSIC MOVIE HISTORY PROJECT BLOGATHON hosted by the fantastic gang over at- Movies Silently, Silver Screenings & Once Upon a Screen– Visit these wonderful blogs during this historic event and fill your head with a collection of fascinating movie memories.

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From Dreams of Darkness-Fantasy and the films of Val Lewton by J.P. Telotte:
‚Äú{The audience} will populate the darkness with more horrors than all the horror writers in Hollywood could think of… if you make the screen dark enough, the mind‚Äôs eye will read anything into it you want. We‚Äôre great ones for dark patches.‚ÄĚ – Val Lewton

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Jane Randolph as Alice Moore in Val Lewton’s Cat People 1942 directed by Jacques Tourneur
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A scene from Bedlam (1946) directed by Mark Robson 

During the 1940s Val Lewton and his ‘Lewton Unit’ used the essential vision of fantastic darkness to recreate a very unique style of horror/fantasy genre, one which challenged Hollywood’s notion of the tangible monsters Universal studios had been manufacturing. Lewton, while working at RKO Studios, produced an exquisite, remarkable and limited collection of films that came face to face with a ‘nightworld.’ Lewton used our most deepest darkest psychological and innate fears that dwell within the lattice of shadows of our dreams and secret wish-fulfillment.

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“Our formula is simple. A love story, three scenes of suggested horror and one of actual violence. Fade out” -Val Lewton

Lewton worked at MGM between 1926 and 1932 and then served eight years under David Selznick. He had published nine novels and a number of short stories. In addition he produced regular radio show versions of MGM films. He also had ties in the industry as his aunt was the the very influential silent actress Alla Nazimova.

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the great stage and silent screen actress Alla Nazimova-Val Lewton’s very influential aunt…

But Lewton had left his mark with Selznick and in 1940 rival company RKO was interested in hiring him..It was actually Selznick who negotiated Lewton’s contract.

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“My task is to initiate a programme of horror pictures to be made at the comparatively low cost of 125,000 each. Which should compete successfully with Universal horror films. Which cost anywhere from 300,000 to a million dollars. I feel I can do this quite easily and the Universal people spend a lot of money on their horror product. But not much on brains or imagination.”-Val Lewton

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Lewton put together a team of collaborators with whom he would work closely. He chose Mark Robson to edit. Robert Wise and Lewton worked together on Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. DeWitt Bodeen¬†had worked him during his time with David O’ Selznick was to write the first screenplay for Cat People.. His old friend Jacques Tourneur whom he became friends with while working on A Tale of Two Cities. was brought on board to direct. He chose Nicholas Musuraca as his director of photography and Roy Webb to compose the musical scores.They all worked on countless RKO films. It was Lewton’s intention to create quality pictures though he was constrained with a low budget. Jacques Tourneur had said that Lewton was an idealist who had his head up in the clouds who would come up with impossible ideas. However for Tourneur his feet were planted firmly on the ground, yet somehow they complemented each other perfectly, Tourneur claims it was a very happy time in his life, and that Lewton’s gift to him was the filmic poetry that he was able to carry with him forever.

Jacques Tourneur is perhaps one of my favorite directors, with his use of shadow and and all together dreamy lens of the world, he’s responsible for one of THE best classic horror films Curse of the Demon & film noir tour de force Out of the Past.¬†

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Jacques Tourneur directs Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in Out of the Past 1947
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Jacques Tourneur’s moody horror with Niall MacGinnis and cat Curse of the Demon 1957
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Part of the Lewton Unit- image from the documentary The Man in the Shadows from top left Roy Webb composer, Val Lewton, Nicholas Musuraca Cinematographer, Mark Robson editing/directing, DeWitt Bodeen writing and Robert Wise-director.

“Horror is created in the mind of the spectator. It’s necessary to suggest things. In all my films you never saw what caused the horror. I saw people screaming in the theater when there was a young girl in a swimming pool, but you never saw the black leopard. The lights blaze up at the end. And there’s Simone Simon. Something has definitely happened. -Jacques Tourneur

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Jacques Tourneur looking over the film sketches
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Jacques Tourneur on location for Berlin Express 1948

“Lewton gave us something quite different than what’s known as Hollywood craftsmanship you can say that he presented us with a parallel world in which everything feels both real and a little unreal-familiar but strange. The characters and the viewer slip into a mysterious, troubling gray zone. Where real life and dream life come face to face. And where beauty and destruction merge. Lewton and Tourneur really created a new kind of cinematic beauty”-from The Man in the Shadows Val Lewton documentary

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the golden boy from Bedlam

Learning from his last employer Selznick he made sure to supervise absolutely every aspect of the film’s production, from casting, set design, costumes, the direction, and editing. He even rewrote every script himself without taking credit or under a pseudonym. In this way he developed his own visual style of storytelling, having prepared each detail before shooting.

“My feelings are generated, however by more than my gratitude for that first opportunity. They come from the warm and highly stimulating creative experience I had working with Val. He taught me so much about directing and filmmaking in general…Val Lewton was one of that fairly rare species, a truly creative producer. As such, he was able to achieve an outstanding reputation for the high quality, unusual and interesting “B” pictures he produced at RKO Studios starting in the early 1940s”¬†–¬†Robert Wise, March 1994

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Robert Wise behind the camera
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Robert Wise, Mark Robson & Val Lewton

“I remember him staying up until all hours of the night working on screenplays. He enjoyed having his hand in the writing. I used to that that he went out of his way to pick inept writers so that he’d have to redo their work. He used to write on a Royal typewriter;he used only two fingers but he was very fast. He’d talk out the different parts as he wrote them and, since my bed was just on the other side of the wall, I’d fall asleep listening.”Nina Lewton Druckman from the Reality of Terror by Joel Siegel

Robert Wise was part of the Lewton Unit, one of my favorite directors who would go onto direct some of the most outstanding films in a variety of genres, from musicals like West Side Story 1961, Sound of Music 1965, to Lewton’s Curse of The Cat People 1944 and The Body Snatcher 1945, noir masterpieces, Born To Kill 1947, The Set Up 1949 and The House of Telegraph Hill 1950, I Want to Live! 1958, Odds Against Tomorrow 1959,to sci fi and Gothic ghost story masterpieces Day the Earth Stood Still 1951, The Haunting 1963 and The Andromeda Strain 1971.

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Michael Rennie and Gort in Robert Wise’s Sci-Fi masterpiece The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
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Robert Wise’s boxing noir The Set-Up 1949

Lewton drove himself very hard trying to achieve something beautiful of quality. He and his team were given a very small budget, a cast of veritable unknowns, and evocative titles that were sensationalist and lurid in nature and did not truly represent an accurate account of the narrative. There were no gruesome fiends nor even evidence of malevolent forces at work in his ordinary everyday environments. Yet RKO’s studio head Charles Koerner¬† dictated such titles as Cat People 1942, Curse of the Cat People 1944, Bedlam 1946, Isle of the Dead 1946, The Body Snatcher 1945, I Walked With A Zombie, The Ghost Ship and The Leopard Man in 1943 and The Seventh Victim.

“If you want to get out now, Lewton told Bodeen, I won’t hold it against you”

The sensationalistic titles lead viewers to expect corporeal horrors, grotesquery and accustomed chills. As critic¬†Manny Farber¬†points out that while¬†Lewton¬†got nicknamed the “sultan of shudders” or the “Chillmaster” they were missing the point entirely.¬†Lewton’s¬†films were purposefully¬†inhabited by the average, the bland, the pedestrian all, so as to populate his world with normal characters. People you’d see on the streets, or doing menial jobs. And amidst this population of ‘normal’ stirred interesting pulp stories that were unorthodox, otherworldly and often grim.¬†Themes like zoanthropy. a derangement in which someone believes they are an animal as in¬†Cat People¬†or the pervasive fear of¬†the Vorvolakas, an undead creature in Greek folklore that drinks it’s victim’s blood in¬†Isle of the Dead.¬†Even when dealing with dreadful English asylums and the sacrilege of body snatching.

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Boris Karloff and Val Lewton on the set of Bedlam

By the way…¬†Bedlam 1946¬†is perhaps my favorite of the¬†Lewton¬†series. I’ll be doing a follow up to this piece and with an aim at covering the magnificent piece of filmic art that is¬†Bedlam. I’ll also include the remaining films I love,¬†Isle of the Dead,¬†The Body Snatcher¬†and his first¬†Cat People.

Films with subversive themes like zoanthropy. a derangement in which a person believes himself to be an animal as in¬†Cat People¬†or the pervasive fear of¬†the Vorvolakas is an undead creature in Greek folklore that drinks it’s victim’s blood in¬†Isle of the Dead.

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Karloff and Thimig in Isle of the Dead 1946

One of the things I love about Lewton’s films is that he used many either lesser known actors or those who never quite attained stardom yet lived on the fringe. Wonderful character actors such as Ian Wolfe & Edith Barrett (whom I both adore) actor/director Abner Biberman, Theresa Harris, Edith Atwater Sir Lancelot former calypso singer from Trinidad, the unusual beauty of Elizabeth Russell who was a former fashion model. The portly Billy House who played Lord Mortimer in Bedlam had been a star of vaudeville or Skelton Knaggs (Terror By Night, House of Dracula) British actor worked on the stage. The handsome Richard Dix ,Tom Conway, James Bell, Anna Lee, Evelyn Brent, Helene Thimig, Dewey Robinson and Ben Bard.

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Billy House as Lord Mortimer in Bedlam
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The marvelous Ian Wolfe in Bedlam
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Skelton Knaggs as the mute Finn in The Ghost Ship
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Kate Drain Lawson as Se√Īora Delgado in The Leopard Man
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Edith Barrett and Richard Dix in The Ghost Ship
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Anna Lee in Bedlam
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Helene Thimig in Isle of the Dead
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Julia Dean and old Mrs Farren in The Curse of the Cat People

These characters seems to transcend their positions in the background and add layers of depth and a quiet simplicity or realism that made the storytelling more rich. They possessed a certain unique expressiveness that at times eclipsed the lead actors.

RKO known for their capacity to release films that were of the fantastic and original, initially who hired¬†Lewton¬†to organize and run their ‘B’-Film unit. RKO¬†had a reputation for ingenuity and artistic innovation, paying careful attention to the shaping of the narratives.¬†What he endowed them with was his deep understanding of the subtle patterns and symbols that lie within our dreams, psyche and fantasy world. Lewton satisfied the audience’s desire for horror yet what he delivered was swathed in a strange and poetically beautiful style.

At his disposal he had some of the best writers who knew how to tap into this process. Writers like DeWitt Bodeen, Donald Henderson Clarke, Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray art director Albert D’Agostino (Notorious 1946, Out of the Past 1947, The Thing from Another World 1951) cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca & J. Roy Hunt (Crossfire 1947, Might Joe Young 1949) and directors Jacques Tourneur (Out of the Past 1947,Curse of the Demon 1957), Mark Robson and Robert Wise all contributed and helped shape the vision that became the Lewton film.

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Nicholas Musuraca and Jacques Tourneur

And while¬†Val Lewton¬†didn’t direct any of the eleven films he produced for¬†RKO, (in two cases only taking screen credit for his contributions as writer), it’s rather irrelevant in terms of authorship -as collaboratively infused with talent of vision these films possess a distinct frame of reference that lead you into the fantasy realm or genre with an artistic unorthodoxy like no other.¬†Director¬†Jacques Tourneur¬†directed the first three¬†Lewton¬†films produced by the¬†Lewton Unit. He gave Lewton the soubriquet “The Dreamer.”

Joel Siegel from his 1973 book Val Lewton tells us,¬†‚ÄúHis production unit would make only horror movies with budgets limited to $150,000 per picture. The films were to be ‚Äėprogrammers‚Äô slated for placement on double features in less than key theaters, with a running time not to exceed 75 minutes. {Production Chief Charles Koerner‚Äôs office was to dictate the titles of these films, based upon a system of market pre-testing.‚ÄĚ

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Mark Robson and Val Lewton

Lewton hid much of the story in his shadow-plays and this allowed his crew to work the landscape by creating symbolism, key sounds (natural ordinary sounds become ominous premonitions and are fatalistic in tone), haunting textures, abstract shadow and a sense of dark absences. Within the more focused frames of the films are incidental point of view shots that fill in the spaces with a rich texture of realism within the fable-like quality, relying on shadow and suggestion to deliver the desired effect.

Lewton¬†himself would usually write a rough draft, an idea adapted from a property to be filmed. Then using his grand ability to visualize a formula, manipulate the structures of conventionality so that he could compose a landscape and narrative that would best articulate his observations.¬†Tourneur¬†emphasized¬†Lewton’s¬†“structure, construction, progression of high points, low points‚Ä̬†in the narrative. Director¬†Mark Robson¬†suggested that Lewton had already ‘thought everything out’ in such detail so as not to miss a thing.¬†Jessie Ponitz,¬†Lewton’s secretary relates,¬†“the last draft was always his.”

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Lewton at his typewriter

Lewton’s brilliance and vision are partly due to his understanding of how psychoanalytic symbolism, myth, dreams and archetypes influence our intimate fear of what lies invisible to the eye. The¬†Lewton Unit¬†embraced the collective nightmares of the human experience, bringing our dream-work into the cold light of daily life¬†bounded to the material world.¬†He presents us with irrational unseen forces, in particular those that lurk in our subconsciousness or dream world. His films transport his protagonists by contrasting them from the open, sense of security from daylight- immersing them into the dark regions of shadows, and the black patches of uncertainty. They do not confront conventional monsters, vampires, ghouls and malevolent spirits of the classic Universal plots- but actually come face to face with their own internal nightmares. A mechanism that emerges from the shadows of the mind. We see these images of fantasy and it triggers our most basic and personal need to belong to that which is created, however disturbing those visions are, these fantasy/horror films possess an enigmatic kind of darkness. His characters never ran away from the darkness and dread that was so pervasive they actually ran head on into it, in order to demystify it and lead themselves & us to understand it a little better.

PSYCHE OR SOUL- THE LEGACY OF THE FANTASTICAL

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Jean Brooks as the mysterious Jacqueline in Val Lewton’s The Seventh Victim

Lewton¬†and his associates understood the principles of fantasy, and utilized them in the¬†complex visual structures they created in their series of films. In writing about Lewton’s use of fantasy,¬†J.P. Telotte informs us that these films “are not mere horror stories or exercises in terror, yet ‘redeem’ or reunite us with a repressed side of the human experience.” And this is what makes Lewton’s fantastical work so unique.

As in his book America in the Dark, Thomson implies that unlike the films that consist of vampires, werewolves, and other alien presences “The Fantasy genre {…} draw fundamentally on a realm of darkness and psychic imagery for it‚Äôs existence. Such films typically evoke a dreamlike environment or nightworld in which, as if it were our own sleep, we can pleasurably and profitably immerse ourselves. {…} I wish to call attention to their ability to reveal how we also might come ‚Äėto life with the dark‚Äô finding an important, even life enhancing meaning in the fantastic‚Äôs dream realm. {…}”

The Body Snatcher
The Body Snatcher 1945
A Palladist The 7th Victim
a Palladist from The Seventh Victim

Lewton’s fantasy reworks our perspective to let us ‚Äėsee‚Äô the dark spaces even within the light.¬†As Todorov writes in The Fantastic 1975, fantasy¬†evokes an ‚Äėindirect vision‚Äô¬†that allows us to see what is usually not visible in the ordinary world. Lewton uses this ‘indirect vision’ to transgress and transcend normal perception. Lewton’s works suggest a disparity between the expected and reality. From this disparity, the greatest threats come from the most ordinary occurrences, objects, and the commonplace. ¬†He populates his films with figures of authority who interpret their world incorrectly, harshly or inharmonious. The sudden revelation of the ordinary frightens and disorients the viewer in unexpected ways, forcing them to be more reflexive, to show the menace in the every day. As¬†Carl Jung¬†believed, fantasy precedes our normal sense of reality-¬†“The psyche creates reality everyday. The only expression I can use for this activity is fantasy.”

Drawing on the psychologist James Hillman who specialized in archetypes, Lewton’s¬†films evoke a dream-like nightmarish world in contrast to the realm of truth.¬†The style of these films are often lensed as seductive and mysterious journeys, where the audience can escape the ordinary for a while.¬†They seduce us by taking a path which follows our hidden desires within the psyche.

This is the proper aim at fantasy, as¬†James Hillman¬†explains; it should challenge our normal¬†‚Äúliteral perspective, its identity with material life,‚Ä̬†since that perspective is usually¬†‚Äústuck in coagulations of physical realities. This perspective of reality needs to break down and fall apart, to be skinned live and sensitized, or blackened by melancholic frustration.‚ÄĚ

Isle of the Dead-Karloff
Isle of the Dead 1946

This fantasy forces us to look at our own limitations of vision, and how difficult it is to describe the structure of something that has no’ structure’¬†It’s easy for the grey areas of fantasy to ‘lapse’ into absence and dissolve from a narrative field of a nightworld/dreamscape using the device of voice-over narrative or subjective camera. Lewton’s images make us ask are we seeing what’s really there, or are we merely informed by the dark spaces both inside the film and tapping into our individual and collective psyches.¬†As¬†Telotte¬†cites¬†Rosemary Jackson–¬†

‚ÄúObjects are not readily appropriated through the look; things slide away from the powerful eye/I which seeks to possess them, thus becoming distorted, disintegrated, partial and lapsing into invisibility.‚ÄĚ

Val Lewton¬†had a special insight and grasp of formulas and mythic structures so that he could envision within the complex narratives, the presence of the most significant archetypal patterns.¬†Lewton said ‚ÄúIf you make the screen dark enough, the mind‚Äôs eye will read anything into it you want! We‚Äôre great ones for dark patches.‚Ä̬†What those ‘dark patches’ suggest is something innate in all of us, a dark region within the ‘self’ that gets lost, or hidden away, or even denied as we go about our daily lives doing ordinary things in the guise of normalcy.

DARK PATCHES AND THE ABSENCE OF KNOWING

The Seventh Victim

In a Lewton film there is a sense of ‘Lack’ as an absence in the lives and environments seems to be at the core substance of these films.¬†This play of absence and presence operates as a structural principle in Lewton’s films. For the benefit of this post I will point particularly to I Walked With a Zombie, The Leopard Man¬† and The Seventh Victim, the prior both directed by the great Jacques Tourneur.¬†In his two films¬†that ‘lack’ translates into a disturbing landscape of openness in the narrative style.

The everyday, whether it be modern urban city streets, islands in the Caribbean or the nineteenth century, there is an attentive eye for detail that weaves a texture of daily life that the Lewton unit worked so hard to achieve. Be it the costumes, the architecture and the general look of the place during it’s particular time period. So much research went into developing the landscape of reality with a distinct verisimilitude. By looking at books, paintings and photographs they would try to capture the perfect light and shadow of the piece.

Although I won’t be covering Bedlam in this piece, the film is a perfect example of how The ‘Lewton Unit’ employed this research approach prior to filming. Several shot compositions were based on William Hogarth’s illustrations. Much emphasis was placed on ‘context’ as Lewton characters can so evidently be characterized by their station in life or occupations living in the seemingly natural world that is commonplace.¬†Writer DeWitt Bodeen notes that Lewton ‚Äúalways insisted that all his characters have special occupations or professions and be shown working their jobs.‚ÄĚ

Lewton’s films are populated with a texture of normalcy, people living in a visibly conspicuous and commonplace field of reality so that when the presence of the mysterious, and irrationality poke through it shatters the veil of normalcy and settles down to become abnormal and disturbing for the protagonist and us the viewer. These characters must journey through a field that is rife with coded messages, where they are not believed by the people around them.

Telotte explains, “What results is a subtle dialectic between ‚Äėsubstance and lack’, presence and absence, replacing that of the more traditional horror films, where in the ‚Äėself‚Äô as the audience‚Äôs surrogate, is opposed by a threatening otherness in the shape of a monster or murderous apparition. The tension is no less. Though it‚Äôs source is different it is more disturbingly lodged in the individual¬† and the way in which he perceives and conceives of his world.”

The Body Snatcher Karloff

Like the protagonists, we are laid bare with our vulnerability to the abnormal. The threat comes as an external challenge to our lives, exposing our human weakness and fears and forces us to see life in an unsettling way. Everything falls out of harmony that which is usually so ordinary. And the sense of ‘otherness’ fills the screen and taps into our own psyche as the formidable shadows move about with an anima. The dark patches set themselves outward as props, while strange sounds and eerie low key lighting color the screen’s canvas as dark and mysterious.

Psychoanalyst Hillman¬†refers to a ‘vesperal’ motion that leads us into the darker regions of the self and the human psyche with it’s ‘fantasizing impulse.’¬†Lewton’s¬†Curse of the Cat People (you can read an earlier feature I did on this film-click on the link) is a more conventional initiation story focusing on the nature of innocence and ‘otherness’ and how it often challenges our rational perspectives of the world because it evokes the ‘unknowing.’

All of¬†Lewton’s¬†films are structured with a careful eye on the sequential narrative.¬†Val Letwon referred to scenes heightened by shadows as signifier of something foreboding he called them “horror spots.”¬†These¬†“horror spots’ were carefully spaced through out his films in sequential scenes, as if each frame were its own visual narrative. Many potent moments though brief partly due to the limited time constraints yet remain with you forever.

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE

These scenes were preceded by scenes of an alternating tone designated to bring relief to the audience, utilizing some form of imagery that could be very beautiful or lyrical.¬†Joel Siegel talks about this approach as ‚Äúfragmented, mosaic-like structure‚ÄĚ of the films, with their dependence on a ‚Äúseries of tiny, precise vignettes which do not so much tell the story as sketch in its borders and possibilities. For film historian Robin Wood in his “Return to the Repressed,” Lewton’s series of films is distinct for their “often illogical¬†poetic structure.‚Ä̬†

Early¬†Lewton films display a narrative style which recalls Jean-Paul Sartre‚Äôs prescription for fantasy storytelling: ‚ÄúIn order to achieve the fantastic, it is neither necessary nor sufficient to portray extraordinary things. The strangest event will enter into the order of the universe if it is alone in a world governed by laws.‚ÄĚ

Frances Dee, Tom Conway, Edith Barrett in I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

Lewton films do not simply strip the world of the laws which Sartre describes,¬†as many horror films do, rather they manipulate the context within which even the most commonplace actions are perceived. In I Walked With a Zombie, the players are often viewed through a veil of elaborate shadows cast by wooden lattice, brush and thicket, Very sensual images and very flowing. The eye for detail… every frame is so well thought out.¬†And while we as spectators have truly seen nothing tangible, there is that ‘lack’ reinforced by structural repetition. Drawing us in depends on our ability to fantasize and tap into the deep-rooted fears that we unconsciously embrace. This portrayal of Lewton’s mysterious yet mundane environment becomes utterly frightening.¬†Lewton explained how this process reveals the viewer‚Äôs participation in that which he sees, establishing that given these kinds of visual narratives man himself ‚Äúwill populate the darkness with more horrors than all the horror writers in Hollywood could think of.‚ÄĚ

Robin Wood’s The American Nightmare chapter of Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan.–
It is built on elaborate set of apparently clear cut structural oppositions : Canada-West Indies, white-black, light–darkness, life-death, science-black magic, Christianity -Voodoo, conscious -unconscious, , etc–and it proceeds¬† systematically to blur all of them. JEssica is both living and dead.; Mrs. Rand mixes medicine, Christianity and voodoo, the figurehead is both St. Sebastian and a black slave, the black-white opposition is poetically undercut in a complex patterning of dresses and voodoo patches; the motivation of all the characters is called into question; the messenger-zombie Carrefour can’t be kept out of the white domain.”

Lewton’s work absolutely inspired and trained Robert Wise to scare the hell out us with his adaption of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting in 1963, when in reality we never see a malevolent presence. Wise’s use of absence and presence, sequential stages of darkness and shadow, odd angles, and the process of what we ‘don’t see’ became one of the greatest ghost stories on film and I would dare to say one of the best films ever made. Wise learned this film philosophy from his time working as part of the Lewton¬†Unit, whose contribution to film rippled outward for decades.

Robert Wise The Haunting Julie Harris
Julie Harris climbs the menacing spiral staircase in Robert Wise’s masterpiece of Gothic ghost storytelling The Haunting 1963

Lewton’s most accomplished manoeuvre was making the audience think much more about his material than it warranted. Some of his devices were the usual ones of hiding information… he hid much more of his story than any other filmmaker and forced his crew to create drama almost abstractly with symbolic sounds, textures and the like which made the audience hyper-conscious of sensitive craftsmanship… He imperiled his characters in situations that didn’t call for outsized melodrama and permitted the use of¬† journalistic camera. {…}Je would use a spray-shot technique that usually consisted of oozing suggestive shadows across a wall, or watching the heroines’ terror on a lonely walk {…} The shorthand allowed Lewton to ditch the laughable aspect of improbable events and give the remaining bits of material the strange authenticity of a daguerreotype.” Manny Farber criticquoted from 1951 in¬†Jeremy Dyson’s book Bright Darkness

There is an overall unsettling revelatory pattern to each of the Lewton narratives. While I’m only covering the 4 contributions Lewton made during the year 1943, all of his 9 fantasy/horror films isolate the commonplace through the story, the patterns, the symbolism of innocence, and the rigidity of authority. In his films our roots in proven reason and sanity¬†are given a different value. This contrasting shadowplay create the ultimate texture and environment of fantasy/horror.

A SYMPHONY OF DARK PATCHES :

Continue reading “A Symphony of Dark Patches- The Val Lewton Legacy 1943”

A Trailer a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away! The Nanny (1965)

“Would you trust the nanny . . . or the boy?”

THE NANNY (1965)

The Nanny film poster

Director Seth Holt and screen writer Jimmy Sangster put Bette Davis in the role as Nanny based on the novel by Marryam Modell (Bunny Lake Is Missing)

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Davis plays kindly, attentive Nanny who is in charge of looking after precocious 10-year-old Joey Fane (William Dix-Tommy Stubbins in Doctor Dolittle), who has just been released from a hospital for emotionally disturbed children. It is believed that Joey was responsible for the bathtub drowning death of his little sister.

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The film works so well fielding paranoia as Joey persecutes Nanny, trying to get his family to believe that it was Nanny who was the one who killed his sister and now looking to do him in. Once his mother Virgie Fane (Wendy Craig) becomes poisoned, a very tautly wound game of cat and mouse ensues as he enlists the help of the girl Bobbie who lives upstairs played by the wonderful Pamela Franklin. The film also stars Jill Bennett as Aunt Pen, James Villiers as Joey’s father Bill, and Maurice Denham as Dr. Beamaster. Bette Davis is purely marvelous as the very emotionally destructive older woman who has a few secrets that haunt her…

No one straddles the Grande Dame Guignol trope quite like the inimitable, the superb Bette Davis.

I’ll be doing a more extensive post about this film, as well as Dead Ringer 1964, as I just can’t get enough of those eyes – that voice…

Hush Hush… Sweet Charlotte
Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte 1964

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Yours truly, MonsterGirl

S√©ance on a Wet Afternoon 1964: A Conspiracy of Madness Part II- “They‚Äôre really quite adaptable, children. They‚Äôre like‚Ķ little animals.”

As part of my double feature for Furious Cinema’s: Scenes of the Crime Blog-a-thon.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

Seance On A Wet Afternoon

S√©ance on a Wet Afternoon 1964 is an astonishing film by British actor/director/screenwriter Bryan Forbes (Whistle Down the Wind (1961) The L-Shaped Room (1962) King Rat (1965) The Wrong Box (1966) The Whisperers (1967) Deadfall (1968) The Raging Moon (1971) The Stepford Wives 1975) Forbes who also penned the screenplay was only nominated for a BAFTA but actually won the Writers Guild of Great Britain and the 1965 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Richard Attenborough was co-producer on the film as well. Forbes actually adds a slight spin on McShane’s novel by the way he introduces the presence of the Savage’s dead son Arthur. In an interview Forbe’s recalls, ” It was a paperback written by an Australian, a very good paperback but it had something we couldn’t use because in the book, I believe the child was killed and we weren’t going to go down that way.”

In the same interview Bryan Forbes talks about his original conception for the screenplay. “I was counting up the other day, I think I’ve written about 68 screenplays in my career not all of which have reached the screen but which I’ve actually written. And you start with a blank sheet of paper and I had trouble writing it and at one point… I don’t think I told this to many people, we couldn’t as I say, ‘get it cast’ So I turned it into a burnt out homosexual case, that the medium became a sort of Maurice Woodruff who was living with a young man and it was sort of burnt out. Now had we got away with that it would have been an absolute trail blazer of a movie in 1962, I offered it to Alec Guinness and Tom Courtney and Tom said yes and after a month Guinness said no. But that would have been something. And then I sat down and rewrote another version. And changed certain things and eventually as I say, I managed to get Kim Stanley.”

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Séance on a Wet Afternoon 1964 is based on the novel by Mark McShane. Gerry Turpin received a BAFTA nomination for his stunningly riveting Cinematography. The incredible composer/conductor John Barry (Day of the Locust 1975, Somewhere in Time 1980) wrote the music for the film. Derek York did the outstanding editing with art direction by Ray Simm.

The marvelously significant Set design that placed the narrative down in the center of the proper mood was done by Alan Roderick Jones and Peter James.

The film stars the incomparable Kim Stanley as the extraordinary Myra Savage, Richard Attenborough plays her feeble husband Billy Savage who twists at Myra’s powerful instability.

Kim-Stanley
The astonishing Kim Stanley, haunted by personal demons, brilliant actress of stage and screen…
Richard Attenborough actor
Richard Attenborough in the dark British Noir Crime Thriller Brighton Rock ( 1947)

Nanette Newman & Mark Eden are The Claytons.Gerald Sim is Detective Sergeant Beedle who first starts poking around the Savage’s London house, Patrick Magee plays Superintendent Walsh Margaret Lacey, Marie Burke, Maria Kazan are the women at the first S√©ance, Lionel Gamlin appears at the S√©ances, Marian¬†Spencer is Mrs. Wintry, Godfrey James is Mrs. Clayton’s Chauffeur and Judith Donner is Amanda Clayton the freckled little girl who falls into Myra’s warped plot to achieve fame.

Much like Bunny Lake Is Missing , this film could be called a Post-Noir offering, yet it situates itself flawlessly into the psychological suspense-crime genre as well. And much like Bunny Lake the plot does revolve around an unseen child.

What lies at the core of the film is not the crime itself, and again while the film is seemingly a Post-Noir crime thriller on the surface it truly is much more of a psychological morality play about the depths of loss and alienation driving a soul, whose fragile psyche bends toward madness and it goes to the questions of maternal instinct and inherited destiny. It’s about human frailties and fractured human relationships that fuel both the alienation and the prevailing insanity.

THE PLOT:

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Are these three women symbols as in the ‘three sisters’ from Macbeth signifying the ‘fates’?

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Kim Stanley herself, mystically occupies the role of Myra Savage a professed spiritual medium who truly believes she’s the ‘real thing’ and who holds weekly Wednesday afternoon s√©ances in her London home. The film opens with the camera framed on the lit candle burning in the dark blackness and holds itself there silently for a quite a few seconds, before it moves to a close -up on hands clasped together in silent obeisance to the moment. We hear a quiet, measured voice speaking. As the camera moves from hand grasped within hand. “What‚Ķ what is it? No,no no no‚Ķ later, later not now..” Myra whispers to her unseen companion, “A message, what? It’s a young face, he’s waving” The youngest woman sitting around the table begins to cry. Myra continues. “Peaceful, very peaceful” The candle crackles, threatening to burn out. “Oh no, no ssshhh, hush, ssshhh. No my darling, it’s alright my precious no more, no more, no more”

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The candle flame cuts right up the middle of Myra’s face giving her an ethereal look of serenity. Yet the flame acts as as a declaration of the duality or paradox of Myra’s conflicted motherhood, denoting a split or fracture in her personality. A bit of symbolic camera play. And quietly as she begins to open her eyes, she snuffs the candle out with her fingers and we are in total blackness for a split second. It is also at this first s√©ance that we see the presence of three women, which I infer as a signpost toward the symbolism of the three weird sisters or ‘fate’ from Shakespeare’s ”Macbeth’. Triggering a sort of marked destiny from this moment on.

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As the¬†s√©ance guests leave the house, exiting into the pouring rain with their scarves and umbrellas, John Barry’s music is composed of trickling sparse notes like that of rain drops themselves, subtle, dripping and as moody and dreamy as the opening sequence. The sparse melody is as slow and drawn out, and starkly subdued and somber as Myra’s voice when speaking to her child spirit guide that no one else can hear.

The film’s titles begin to roll, as the camera catches little drops of rain on the lens, and frames the Victorian house in a small puddle in the street. A very effective way to bring us in to the dreary moodiness of the story. The house which drew Forbes to it because of it’s characteristic turret.

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Continue reading “S√©ance on a Wet Afternoon 1964: A Conspiracy of Madness Part II- “They‚Äôre really quite adaptable, children. They‚Äôre like‚Ķ little animals.””

The FilmScore Freak Recognizes:Jerry Goldsmith’s Hauntingly Poignant Score: The Other (1972)

“When does the game stop and the terror begin?”

THE OTHER (1972)

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Directed by Robert Mulligan

Robert Mulligan
Director Robert Mulligan
To Kill A Mockingbird Robert Mulligan
Director Robert Mulligan’s masterpiece based on Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird

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Based on actor/author Thomas Tryon’s best selling novel, about the duplicity of innocence and evil in the incarnation of twin boys. Set in the depression era during a hot and dusty summer of 1935. The atmosphere of rural quaintness is painted beautifully by cinematographer Robert Surtees.

Niles and Holland Perry (Chris and Martin Udvanoky) live with their extended family on a rural farm. The boys are looked after by their old world and arcane, loving Russian Grandmother Ada (the extraordinary icon Uda Hagen.)

The Other Uta Hagen

The sagely mysterious and angelic Ada has taught the boys a special and esoteric gift from the old country she calls ‘the game.’

When several inextricably grotesque accidents beset the town, the clues start to point toward Niles’ wicked brother Holland who may be responsible for the gruesome deaths.

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Also starring Diana Muldaur as the boys hapless mother Alexandra.

Diana Muldaur

Norma Connolly plays Aunt Vee, Victor French co-stars as the drunken swarthy handyman Angelini, Lou Frizzell is Uncle George, Portia Nelson as the uptight Mrs. Rowe, Jennie Sullivan as Torrie and a young John Ritter as Rider.

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Tryon’s story is a most hauntingly mysterious journey through the eyes of a child, a macabre and provocative psychological thriller from the 70s that has remained indelible in triggering my childhood fears, filled with wonder and the impenetrable world of the supernatural. I plan on doing a broader over view of this film as I am prone to be long winded. But for now The Film Score Freak would like to focus on the film’s hauntingly poignant score contributed by one of my favorite and in my opinion one of THE BEST composers of all time, Jerry Goldsmith.

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In Dreams-MonsterGirl

Begin ‘The Bagheeta’: Val Lewton’s fantasy/ reality world of Curse of The Cat People: fearing the female/feline monster and the engendering child. Part I

Val LewtonMaster of Shadow

Val Lewton’s¬†short story¬†‘The Bagheeta’¬†appeared in¬†Farnsworth Wright’s¬†July 1930 issue of¬†Weird Tales Magazine. Lewton¬†was dabbling in concepts of terror, before he even got to RKO.

The story takes place in the Ukraine (from which MonsterGirl’s people come!) and is a coming of age story about a 16 year old boy named Kolya who helps his Uncle forge armor. Someone comes into the village with a slaughtered sheep, who claims to have seen a¬†Bagheeta, a monstrous black leopard that can change it’s form into a beautiful woman. Only one person can kill a¬†Bagheeta,¬† and that is a virgin male, for he needs to be able to resist her seductive powers. If he is seduced, the woman will change back into the black leopard and kill the boy and eat him!¬†Lewton would eventually adapt and produce his story for RKO¬† in the form of¬†Cat People¬† in 1942 starring¬†Simone Simon¬† the suggested embodiment of a¬†Bagheeta.

The Panther

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Panther at the zoo, caged in Cat People 1942

CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE 1944

Produced by Val Lewton and directed by Robert Wise and Gunther von Fritsch, scripted by DeWitt Bodeen, and stars Simone Simon as the ghost of Irena, Kent Smith as Oliver Reed, Jane Randolph as Alice Reed, Eve March as Miss Callahan, Julia Dean as Mrs. Julia Farren, Elizabeth Russell as Barbara Farren, Sir Lancelot as Edward, and Ann Carter as Amy Reed.

Ann Carter played Beatrice Carroll in the riveting noir classic  The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) with Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck.

Curse of the Cat People is filled with poignant original music by Roy Webb and with Cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca (Cat People 1942, The Fallen Sparrow 1943, The 7th Victim 1943, The Spiral Staircase 1945 Bedlam 1946 and Out of The Past 1947) It’s no wonder Curse of The Cat People has many of the elements of a classic film noir piece.

CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944) – A synopsis

After the tragic death of his wife Irena, played by the beautiful Simone Simon, Oliver Reed once again played by Kent Smtih has remarried his co-worker Alice (Jane Randolph). They now have a very serious , yet gentle six year old little girl named Amy (Ann Carter) who is taken to day-dreaming and being a loner.

She does not mix in well with the other children at school who do not understand her sensitivity or her private world of fantasy that she has built around her as a survival mechanism.

“My beautiful friend”

Symbolic of Amy’s free spirit, the little boy captures her ‘beautiful friend’ and crushes it. Thinking that this would make her happy, he destroys the very thing that symbolizes her own spirit and her connection to the natural world.
Amy is framed here in absolute alienation from the rest of the world.

Amy’s father, Oliver, is constantly wielding an authoritative criticism of his daughters day-dreaming, and wants her to play with the other children, and exist in the ‘real’ world. Amy has a birthday party for which she invites the children in her class, but no one shows up that day, and Oliver discovers that she has mailed out the invitations by placing them in the magic wishing-tree, which is a hollowed out knot of the large tree out behind the house.

waiting for her classmates to share her birthday wishes. But no one ever comes….

Oliver reaches into the wishing-tree and pulls out the birthday invitations…

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Amy is admonished once again for believing that the tree was a real wishing-tree. Something he himself had told her not too long ago…

Oliver had told Amy this was a magic spot when she was younger, and she remembers it,understanding it to be true because her father told her it was. She was taught to believe in magic and then without preparation, is expected to denounce all things wondrous without any serious provocation on her part. She is only six years old after all.

Saddened by the absence of her classmates at her party, Oliver, Alice and Edward the manservant from Jamaica throw Amy a smaller party instead, equip with a birthday cake decorated with 6 little candles.

Amy is told to make a wish, but not to tell anyone what it is or it won’t come true. Again, Amy is conflicted by the mixed messages the adults in her life are giving her. She tells her father, that wishes don’t come true. Oliver tells her “some do.” And her mother Alice embellishes by saying that you just can’t say it out loud or it will nullify the magic wish.

Once again, there is a suspension of disbelief on their terms, disavowing Amy and her ability to develop a clearly defined sense of fantasy and reality. How can she properly order her world.

The children at school are furious with Amy for not inviting them as promised. As they shun her, they lead her to an old sinister looking mansion, where someone calls to her from the window. A voice calls out to her to come closer. Amy looks around and the unseen person throws down a white handkerchief threading a gold ring.

Continue reading “Begin ‘The Bagheeta’: Val Lewton’s fantasy/ reality world of Curse of The Cat People: fearing the female/feline monster and the engendering child. Part I”