Chapter 3 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:

The subtle gay gangster films of the early 1930s – Little Caesar 1931, The Public Enemy 1931 and Scarface 1932

“Criminals should not be made heroes… The flaunting of weapons by gangsters will not be allowed…”

“… the fashion for romanticizing gangsters” must be denounced.

The three films also evenhandedly parcel out social pathology and sexual aberration: homosexuality in Little Caesar. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy from the novel by W.R. Burnett Little Caesar was first out of the gate and an immediate sensation. A diminutive bandit whose single-minded ambition compensates less for his stature than his repressed homosexual desire, Caesar Enrico Bandello is compact, swarthy and tightly wound; his golden boy pal Joe played by the scion of Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is tall, patrician and easygoing.

When Joe finds a female dancer and show business success, the jilted Caesar unhinged by a jealousy that dare not speak its name even to himself, makes his first mistakes in judgement. The male triangle is completed by Caesar’s worshipful lapdog Otera (George E. Stone) who gazes up at Rico with a rapturous desire that, unlike Rico, he barely bothers to sublimate. Doubly deviant Rico dies for his social and sexual sins, asking in tight close-up and choked up tones, “mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?”The famous last words inspired an incisive remark from Robert Warshow on gangster psychology:” Even to himself he is a creature of the imagination” from FILMIC – From Sissies to Secrecy: The Evolution of the Hays Code Queer by Mikayla Mislak

“This is what I get for likin’ a guy too much,” Rico ‘Caesar’ tells himself after he realizes he’s lost Joe. Joe, who he has referred to as “soft” and a “sissy.” The very pretty Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) has decided to give up the racket, to be a professional night club dancer. Robinson wisecracks, “Dancin’ just ain’t my idea of a man’s game.”

Joe is romantically involved with Olga (Glenda Farrell). ‘Caesar’ is not only jealous of Joe’s relationship with Olga, he appears to have no use for women at all.

At the end there is a telling close up, a well of tears in his eyes, a subtle quiver in his face. Rico cannot shoot Joe, even though he needs to keep him from squealing. The image of Robinson coming head on with his feelings reveals his struggle with the repressed love for his dancing pal. The scene is very effective when the camera closes in on Robinson, capturing his dewy, wide eyed stare. Behind the scenes what helped the intensity of the look of longing turned out to be a serendipitous moment when Robinson had to fire a pistol while looking into the camera, and was unable to keep his eyes open, each time he pulled the trigger. Eventually they had Robinson’s eyes held open with cellophane tape. The effect worked perfectly.

Another interesting point in Little Caesar that hints at his latent homosexuality is a scene that highlights his clumsy fussiness. Rico is trying on a tuxedo and gazing at himself in the mirror. Posturing gleefully as he swishes at his own reflection. In this scene, Rico also becomes caught in his effete sidekick Otero’s (George E. Stone) gaze, who joyfully watches his boss flit for the mirror.

In The Public Enemy (1931) there is a noteworthy scene, when Tom (James Cagney) goes to his tailor to get fitted for a suit. It’s a hilariously fidgety few moments for Cagney while the flamboyant tailor fawns over his arm muscles. When the movie was re-released, the sequence wound up on the cutting room floor.

According to Mislak In Howard Hawk’s Scarface (1932) it could be seen as having a gay subtext, as Antonio ‘Tony’ Camonte (Paul Muni) shows a repressed homosexual desire for his best friend Guino Rinaldo played by George Raft. Hawk’s film doesn’t work on a blatant exhibition of violence, instead Scarface’s subtlety draws on the subliminal impression of his sexual impulses.

Through my readings, it has been noted that there is a coded gayness inferred from the character of Camonte in Scarface. Rather than the repressed sexual desire for his close friend Guino, I catch more a wind of an incestuous desire for his sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak). Camonte hovers over her with an iron will, not allowing her to have any man touch her. She even alludes to his untoward attentions at one point telling him that he loves her more than just a brother. Camonte (Muni) does focus obsessively over his hair and his wardrobe, which Poppi (Kathy Morely) tells him is ‘sweet’. But there are a few references to Guino being queer. He wears a carnation which is a code for being a gay man in film. Camonte says he’d like a carnation too, takes it out of Guino’s lapel and tells him “Better no one sees you with this.” He also makes a comment about one of the North side gang members not to be taken seriously because he owns a flower shop! Guino doesn’t show any interest in women until nearly close to the end of the picture, when he submits to Camonte’s sister, Cesca.

“The placement of homosexuality or the real possibility of it in an antisocial context is quite natural. Homosexuality when it is invisible is antisocial. The only condition under which homosexuality has ever been socially acceptable has been on the occasion of its voluntary invisibility, when homosexuality were willing to pass for heterosexuals. Obvious homosexual behavior is reflected onscreen as in real life, only in the ‘twilight world’ of misfit conduct. During the brief period of explicit reference to homosexuals in pre-Code films of the early 1930s. Gay characters were psychologically ghettoized by their routine relegations to a fantasy world or an underworld life….

….in addition to strengthening the Code in 1934, Will Hays reacted to criticism by inserting morals clauses in the contracts of performers and compiling a “doom book’ of 117 names of those deemed “unsafe” because of their personal lives. Homosexuality was denied as assiduously off screen as it was on, a literally unspeakable part of the culture. By 1940 even harmless sex-roles farces such as Hal Roach’s Turnabout were considered perilous in some quarters. The film, about a married couple (Carol Landis and John Hubbard) who switch roles by wishing on an Oriental statue, was described by the Catholic Legion of Decency as dealing with ‘subject matter which may provide references dangerous to morality, wholesome concepts of human relationships and the dignity of man.’ ” –Vito Russo

HITCHCOCK SUBVERTS SUSPENSE!

Hitchcock sensed the ambiguous sexuality in Mrs. Danvers (nicknamed Danny) who embodies the forbidding identity of the coded lesbian in 1940s films. As she strides down the halls of Manderley, there is an element of the angry older woman trope, who is vacant of male companionship by choice, with an added streak of dissatisfied longing. She embodies the sterile matron, showing characteristics of an ‘old maid’ attributed to a repressed lesbian.” Rebecca serves as Fontaine’s idealized mother and that Hitchcock’s films present images of ambiguous sexuality that threaten to destabilize the gender identity of the protagonist.” -(Tania Modleski)

Gay Coding in Hitchcock films

Article by Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier

“In typical Hitchcock-ian fashion, the “Master of Suspense” often employed in his films subtle references to gay culture, defying conservative attitudes of the late ’50s.”-Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier | February 7, 2017- Editor’s note: The following article, like many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, includes references to sex and violence.

Did Martin Landau play a homosexual in North by Northwest? Did Alfred Hitchcock really show gay sex on-screen in Rope, albeit in an unusual way? Was the whole plot of Rebecca driven by the twisted jealousy of an evil lesbian? And, most surprisingly, did Hitchcock depict a gay marriage way back in 1938’s The Lady Vanishes?”

Alfred Hitchcock was a complicated man, who put a singular stamp on all his films, infusing them with his droll and macabre sense of humor and imbued his work from the point of view of satyr. Hitchcock projects his dark and twisted view of the world as at the end of his films there is sort of a perverted release that he leaves us to contemplate. It also appears that he was playful with the use of his gay coded characters in many of his films.

Nothing Hitchcock did was unintentional, thereby reinforcing proof that there is a gay subtext to many characters in various films. He was very measured in every detail even before the camera captured the scene. But within this method of implying a queer pathology and positing queer elements to the narrative. He was ingenious in the way he veiled his ciphers within the cloak of deniability, in order to slip it by the censors in his cheeky manor.

Though Hitchcock would often imbue his pictures with coded gay characters, among scholars it is still speculative as to which side his view fell on. Given that everything Hitchcock constructed was intentional, it’s easy to see why he would be viewed as homophobic, due to his use of stereotypes that eventually led to queerness possibly being as the source of the crimes. But you have to consider that during the time he reigned, it’s a tribute to Hitchcock that he even embraced the complex issue of homosexuality. It shows me that there was a conscious level of understanding.

In his life, Hitchcock surrounded himself with gay culture be it in England or Hollywood, and he worked with many gay writers and actors. Ivor Novello who starred in two of Hitchcock’s silent pictures was good friends with he and Alma. Hitchcock was also friends with Rope stars John Dall and bisexual Farley Granger who played coded gay characters in the film. Granger also had the lead in Strangers on a Train, co-starring Rober Walker who plays another of Hitchcock’s coded gay characters, Bruno. Anthony Perkins who struggled with his sexuality in real life, plays the ambiguous, stammering, Norman Bates in Psycho. According to Jay Poole, Robert Bloch was interested in ‘abnormal psychology’ and was familiar with Freudian theories on sexual identity. His novel was more suggestive of the taboos, in terms of the incestuous relationship with Norman’s mother and his confused sexual identity.

The assessment of ‘camp’ and queerness can be seen as negative. More contemporary audiences might perceive Psycho as more campy than lurid or scary. Norman’s appearance in the fruit cellar might register with audiences as if he’s a big ugly ridiculous drag queen with a knife. The rest of the film is darkly humorous. (Doty cites Danny Peary)

In contrasting these male characters, one representative of sexually suspect psychosis, the other of gendered and sexual normalcy, Hitchcock blurs the lines between them, creating effects that will inform future depictions of American masculinity… While Lila Crane has been read positively as a lesbian character, and also as Carol Clover’s prototype for the ‘final girl” I demonstrate here that Lila is a more ambiguous figure, tied to social repression and the law. […] (Norman’s voyeurism and Lila’s examination of Norman’s room as pornographic) Infusing these pornographic motifs with addition levels of intensity and dread was the increasingly public threat of homosexuality within the Cold War context in which Hitchcock’s related themes gained a new, ominous visibility. What emerges in Psycho is a tripartite monster-voyeurism-homosexuality-pornography.” — (Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier)

WARNING SPOILERS:

Saboteur (1942) producer/writer Joan Harrison wrote the screenplay and collaborated with Hitchcock on many projects for both film and television. In the period of the 1940s to the 1950s, movies often conflated homosexuality with unsavory characters like Nazis, communists, and terrorists.

Saboteur stars Robert Cummings as plane mechanic Barry Kane who is framed for the terrorist bombing of a military instillation’s aircraft hanger where they manufacture planes. After he sees his friend die in the explosion, police assume that it was Kane who filled the fire extinguisher with gasoline. Kane goes on the run, to try and find the man he suspects is the saboteur, Frank Fry (Norman Lloyd) who is the real murderer who committed the heinous crime.

Kane stumbles onto a secret group of ‘the firm’, 5th columnists who are plotting to sabotage key targets, military planes, ships and dams. Kane is dropped into the middle of a cabal of dangerous Americans who have infiltrated positions of power in order to carry out their nefarious plan to disrupt the democratic system and cause chaos. Socialite dowager Mrs Henrietta Sutton (Alma Kruger) is a New York philanthropist who provides cover for the ‘firm’ run by Otto Kruger as the coldly, sinister Tobin. Kane pretends to go along with the group, and in one scene in a taxi with Alan Baxter who plays Mr. Freeman, there is a queer exchange between the two. Freeman tells Kane about his two little children, one of them is a boy, whom he wishes was a girl. He’s letting his son’s hair grow long, and hesitates cutting it. Then he shares his reminiscence about his boyhood when he had glorious long blonde curls. Kane tells him to cut his son’s hair and “save yourself some grief.”

Purely by Hitchcockian fate, Kane is thrown together with Pat (Priscilla Lane) who comes to his aid and at one point tries to distract Fry at the top of the Statue of Liberty. The beautiful Pat, flirts with Fry in order to stall him until the police get there, but he isn’t the slightest bit interested in her at all. In fact he seems annoyed by her presence. He’s a slim effete figure, a swishy loner with a serpent like grin. Theodore Price, in his book ‘Hitchcock and Homosexuality’ (1992), has no doubt Fry was gay. (Ken Mogg 2008)

Saboteur climax prefigures that of North by Northwest between Thornhill (Cary Grant) and the sinister Leonard (Martin Landau) who is also a gay Hitchcockian figure.

We first hear a remark spoken by socialite Mrs Sutton (Alma Kruger) when Barry (Kane) is taken to the saboteurs’ New York lair, as Barry enters the upstairs room. Mrs Sutton is addressing a couple of her male colleagues, whom she reprimands: ‘I have to hover over you like an old hen.’

This is precisely the line Hitchcock uses in Rebecca to characterize the somewhat de-natured estate-manager Frank Crawley (Reginald Denny) – nearly all the men in the film are so afflicted – and will be uses again in The Paradine Case to characterize the gay Latour (Louis Jourdan).

Frank Crawley is ‘as fussy as an old mother hen’; Latour, we’re told, had been ‘like an old mother hen’ to his beloved master, the blind Colonel Paradine.- Ken Mogg (2008)

In North by Northwest (1959) Martin Landau’s character Leonard, displays an undercurrent of homosexuality, that is subtly implied. He’s a devoted bodyguard whose gaze of his boss, Phillip Vandamm, seems to be bubbling with a refined sensibility, romantically fixated Vandamm (James Mason), a communist spy being hunted by the CIA. For a 1950s film, Leonard’s immaculate fashion sense and his fastidious swagger is a cue of his being queer. Nearing the climax of North by Northwest, the telling scene set in a mid-century modern house reveals Leonard’s love for Vandamm. Hitchcock even sets up the motive for Leonard shooting the object of his affection, jealousy and rejection. A notable line toward the end of the movie, Leonard remarks, “Call it my woman’s intuition” affirming the effete stereotype of a feminine gay man. Vandamm is genuinely flattered (contrary to homosexual panic) by Leonard’s feelings, which hints at his motivation for killing the thing he loves. Vandamm (Mason) tells him in that coldly sober tone of his, “I think you’re jealous. I mean it, and I’m very touched. Very.” As Scott Badman & Connie Russell Hosier point out, Hitchcock direction shows a “progressive perspective for its time but so brief that it doesn’t fully register with most viewers. Much later, Laundau acknowledged that he played Leonard as a homosexual, albeit subtly.”

From the opening of Strangers on a Train (1951), Hitchcock frames the entrance way to the story with a close shot on the main character’s shoes walking to catch the train. Bruno wears elaborate wing tips with high heels and Guy wears a more toned down fashionable pair of shoes, which are in opposition to each other and illustrate the contrast between the two main characters.

Robert Walker’s Bruno, is a menacing, creepy guy with flashy ties, who positions himself after a chance meeting on a commuter train, to assert his influence over famous tennis player, Guy Haines (Farley Granger). Bruno begins to flatter Guy, and insinuate himself by sharing his knowledge of Guy’s personal life. He is very proud of his tie that his mother gave him. It is a garish accoutrement dappled with lobsters. Like his silken smoking robe and another tie with the name Bruno embroidered on it. Bruno also spouts a lot of ‘ideas’ he has in that ever prompted mind of his, when talking about Guy’s upcoming divorce and bigamy scandal, “I’ve got a wonderful theory about that.”

Bruno insists on Guy having lunch with him, “sent to my compartment… You see you’ll have to lunch with me.” It is obvious, though Hitchcock is very subtle about broadcasting the cues, that Bruno is wooing Guy. Bruno is very effeminate in his demeanor, you could say that he has a ‘flaming’ air about him, always dropping hints about his sexuality. “My father hates me”, insinuating that he is not the kind of man he expects of him. “I’ve got a theory that you should do everything before you die.” He tells Guy amorously, “I like you, I’d do anything for you.”

Bruno Anthony’s plan is for both men to exchange each other’s murders. There are several scenes that scream Hitchcock’s gay coding. Initially, when the two men meet each other on the train, Bruno is flirtatious, dressed in ‘flamboyant clothes’, which to gay audiences, is seemingly clear to be a gay pick up. Bruno’s not only attracted to the handsome Guy, but he is in fact stalking him as an ‘object’ to fulfill his needs and be his ‘partner’ in his deranged homoerotic plot.

His mother, Mrs. Anthony (the wonderful character actor Marion Lorne) does Bruno’s nails and dotes over her son. As Bruno tells his mother, he wants his nails to look right.

The homosexuality is not explicitly stated, but there is too strong an import for critics and audiences in the know, to ignore. And, considering Hitchcock’s fascination with homosexual subtexts, it’s not a stretch to read into various scenes this way.

There is also the insinuation that Bruno has some serious mother issues, which is one of Hitchcock’s point of reference for his gay coding, such as his use of it with Norman Bates in his film Psycho. Bruno amuses himself by antagonizing his mother (Marion Lorne) who is completely in the dark about the twisted pathology of her homicidal son.

Bruno has set-up a visit from Guy who finds himself talking to the sociopath, who’s been waiting for Guy, while lying in bed in his silky pajamas. Is this actually arranged as a bedroom seduction?

Another brief sequence takes place at the end which centers around a carousel, a possible symbol of fluid sexuality, and sexual foreplay. The scene shows Bruno and Guy wrestling with each other, the movements could be read as Bruno really achieving what he wanted, to have sex with Guy. Hitchcock even cut different versions of the movie for Britain and the U.S., toning down the implied homosexuality in the American version — proof positive that he was fully aware of the gay implications in his movies. –(Badman and Hosier)

Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) is based on the play by Patrick Hamilton’s Rope’s End is perhaps one of the more obvious coded gay films with homosexual subtexts in his canon. Arthur Laurents, who eventually came out of the closet and wrote the screenplay, said during a commentary “What was curious to me was that Rope was obviously about homosexuals. The word was never mentioned. Not by Hitch, not by anyone at Warners. It was referred to as ‘it’. They were going to do a picture about ‘it’, and the actors were ‘it’.” The original British stage play was loosely based on the sensational true crime committed by Chicago students Leopold and Loeb in 1924, who killed a fellow student, just to see if they could get away with a motiveless crime. The script was penned by Arthur Laurents in collaboration with Hume Cronyn and Ben Hecht.

Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger) are entitled, affluent snobs, who are self-aggrandizing psychopaths with a Nietzschean superiority. Hitchcock arranges a taut stage play, around a case of Folie à deux. Brandon and Philip are implied coded lovers, who used the crime of murder to stimulate each other as if it were a sex act. The intellectual discourse they have in the beginning of the picture is overshadowed by the sexual banter that precedes what ultimately will become the act of committing a murder. Rope from the beginning of the picture inaugurates a very feverish sexual undercurrent.

In real life, John Dall was gay but died in 1971 without talking openly about his homosexuality. Farley Granger was bisexual when making the movie and then was in a lifelong gay relationship starting in 1963. Alfred Hitchcock was well aware of the sexual orientations of both actors and was reportedly pleased with what is now called the on-screen “chemistry” between the two.

He coded Brandon and Philip as gay by their “sex scene.” It occurs at the very beginning of the movie, which is also the murder scene. Hitchcock is strongly equating murder with sex. The murder-sex occurs behind curtained windows. The death scream corresponds to the orgasm. Now visible, the murderers Brandon and Philip quickly put the body in a cabinet and go into a postcoital exhaustion. Philip doesn’t even want the light turned on. In an inspired touch, Hitchcock has Brandon light a cigarette, a standard Hollywood indicator for “we just had sex.” – (Badman and Hosier)

The unorthodox murderers throw a dinner party with the victim stuffed inside an antique trunk. The film was initially banned in Chicago and other cities, because of its implied homosexual relationship between the two killers. In 1959, the story was revised as Compulsion directed by Richard Fleischer scripted by Richard Murphy and based on the novel by Meyer Levin. Compulsion remains closer to the actual true life crime, and the implicit queer undertones are brought more to the surface, with less of Hitchcock’s cheeky innuendo.

Hitchcock employs many homoerotic symbology and allusions, as the couple reenact the murder, with the director conflating violence and sex. For instance, Brandon gets a bottle of champagne still invigorated by the murder, while Philip the weaker of the murderous pair, is nervous. Brandon fondles the bottle of champagne as the two stand close together very intimately. He grasps the champagne bottle as phallus and flirts with the top of the bottle, yet not releasing the cork. All this is stages as foreplay. Philip finally takes the bottle from Brandon and liberates the cork. They then toast to their victim. Film Critic Robin Wood asserts, in The Murderous Gays: Hitchcock’s Homophobia, that these films could be made as more positive or sensitive to homosexuality rather than “traffic in homophobia” and that it perpetuates the notion that homosexuality leads to violence.

Psycho (1960)

Psycho works as a warped adult fairytale about getting lost and paying for one’s transgressions. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is a Phoenix secretary who embezzles forty thousand dollars from her employer’s client, and goes on the run. Marion is also shown to be a fallen woman, a sexual deviant herself with no morals, not only is she a thief but she is also having an affair with a married man Sam Loomis, (John Gavin). Driving in torrential rain, she pulls into the Bates Motel, an eerie, remote motel off the beaten path. The motel is run by a ‘queer’ sort of young man, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who lives up in the brooding house on the hill, under the dominant authority of his cruel and elusive mother. As Poole puts it, Norman “remains locked in a disturbed world, and, as the film progresses, becomes murderously mad.”

Norman Bates: “A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

Norman is not a masculine figure, he is a mama’s boy who does his mother’s bidding. He is continually identified with his mother and, according to Freud and his psychological tunnel vision, would probably have evolved into a homosexual because of his Oedipal desires. Hitchcock perverts Freud’s narrow theory, by making sure the narrative shows Norman to be attracted to women, not men. It is when Norman’s arousal of the female body, that he dresses in frumpy dresses to represent his mother, who then takes over and annihilates the object of Norman’s desire. Many viewers assume that Norman is a repressed homosexual because he dressed in women’s clothing when manifesting his mother’s personality. Cross-dressing was stereotypically associated with homosexuality, however, Hitchcock’s film tries to make it clear that Norman is attracted to women from the very beginning with the seductive Marion. The concept of fluid sexuality was not understood in 1960, so conflating cross-dressing with homosexuality was a commonly misleading view.
Another interesting point that Jay Poole (Queering Hitchcock’s Classic) brings out is how the décor of the house is itself, queer. Referring to what he cites Foucault’s theory of ‘We Other Victorians’ which essentially invokes ‘the image of the imperial prude.’ Therefor the Bates house itself with it’s provincial Victorian style from a queer perspective represents the constraints of Victorian sexual expectations, which is — we do not speak of sex, and any relations are to remain between a heterosexual married couple in the privacy of their own bedroom. Norman is surrounded by this oppressive atmosphere, tries to fight his impulses, and his carnal desires. He does this by dwelling in his mother’s house, hoping that she will control the voyeuristic, dirty lustful desire he is having about Marion.

Norman Bates: “People never really run away from anything. The rain didn’t last long, did it? You know what I think? I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.”

Marion Crane: “Sometimes we deliberately step into those traps.”

Norman Bates: “I was born in mine. I don’t mind it anymore.”

Psycho, is the first of Hitchcock’s films to break tradition from his usual cultured mystery/suspense tropes. He decided to present this narrative using a pallet of B&W to set up a different tonality. Without the use of his vivid colors that he often used with cinematographer Robert Burks. Psycho deals with a more graphic, monochromatic, psycho-sexual sickness. A sickness that erupts in unprecedented perversity and violence for the director. Hitchcock also kills off his heroine in the first 20 minutes of the film. Psycho, will forever be known for ‘the shower scene.’

It also brings to the screen one of THE most hauntingly intense scenes that will remain in the collective consciousness, for what it lacks in vivid bloodshed, it possesses an uncomfortable voyeuristic gaze that brings us into Norman’s mind with the twists and turns, it assaults us, because of its deeper brutality, a more queasy feeling of psychic angst and inverts our gaze, as Marion stares back at us with her lifeless eyes.

“It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”

In 1950s into 1960 was a time when Americans were seeking out the American ideal, and cultural conformity. It was also a time when many audiences did not explore alternative sexualities and would have conflated homosexuality with a deviant and dangerous personality. Poole suggests “Hitchcock queers the image of sexual purity but reinforces naturalized heterosexuality as the film progresses… Hitchcock utilizes the Freudian explanation of homosexual development in his explanation of Norman’s development as a psychopathic killer despite Norman’s apparent heterosexual orientation.”

Hitchcock believed he made the perfect choice in casting Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, the homicidal misfit who put on a dress and wig to embody his cruel mother. Norman became a serial killer with a fixation on his castrating mother, because she dominated his life and turned him into a monster. Perkin’s himself soft-spoken, androgynous, even perhaps a slightly effete actor. Alfred Hitchcock envisioned another gay character whose inherent corrupted humanity stems from their conflict of being queer. By queer it can refer to the process of shattering normalcy, and the vision from the perspective of a heternormative lens. Psycho takes the audience into a place of dis-ease, where seemingly ordinary people are capable of monstrous acts. If Hitchcock’s film is subverting the value of 1950s America, and the transgressive content of Psycho breaks from societal norms, then it can be read as a ‘queer’ film.

[voiceover in police custody, as Norman is thinking]” It’s sad, when a mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son. But I couldn’t allow them to believe that I would commit murder. They’ll put him away now, as I should have years ago. He was always bad, and in the end he intended to tell them I killed those girls and that man… as if I could do anything but just sit and stare, like one of his stuffed birds. They know I can’t move a finger, and I won’t. I’ll just sit here and be quiet, just in case they do… suspect me. They’re probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I’m not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching… they’ll see. They’ll see and they’ll know, and they’ll say, “Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly…”

As ‘Judith Butler’ Gender scholar, and ‘Hall’ speak of gender as performance, Hitchcock was clear in the way he developed Stephano and Bloch’s central characters in Psycho. In the final scene the murderer is revealed and his inner monologues keep hidden, the source of a disturbed, untroubled ‘victim’ of faulty psychological development.’ The opening montage sets the scene for the dark thing that takes place inside ordinary towns and inside the minds of ordinary people. (source: Poole)

Psycho was a vehicle that queered what the public had come to expect from Hitchcock films, and,much like its real-life inspiration (Ed Gein), it queered the notion that America was a place where ‘normal,’ was defined as a quiet, safe, small town life, free from the darkness that lurds in modest roadside motels… With Psycho, Hitchcock abetted by Stefano’s script, would shock audiences with sexual innuendo, apparent nudity coupled with a sadistic stabbing scene. Perhaps most shocking of all, he would leave audiences wondering what might lie below the surface of family, friends neighbors and themselves.” (Jay Poole)

Rebecca (1940), was not one of Hitchcock’s favorite films at all. Adapted from the Gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier, the sick soul here is a menacing lesbian. The formidable Mrs. Danver’s ( played by the equally formidable Judith Anderson) is the head Matron of Manderley, living in the shadows of the former Mrs. de Winter. She is a love sick sapphic with an unnourished desire for her dead mistress, Rebecca. Manderley itself is like a hollow mistress that consumes those inside it’s ominous hallways. ‘Danny’ resents the new Mrs. de Winter and in one revelatory scene taunts her (Joan Fontaine) trying to drive her to suicide through her cruel torments. She parades Rebecca’s lingerie with a lustful smirk on her diabolical face, running her hands under the sheer, delicate fabric, as if she were fondling Rebecca herself.

Mrs. Danvers’ jealousy of Maxime de Winters’ new bride is driven by obsession, a lesbian coded manifestation, one of jealousy and sexual desire. For Joan Fontaine’s character Danvers reenacts through story telling, all the attentions she used to lavish on her beloved mistress, running her bath, brushing her hair, admiring the finery of her monogrammed pillow cases. Though Rebecca is only seen as the painting of an alluring woman her ghost haunts Manderley and the new Mrs. de Winter.

In Hollywood movies of the 1940s, coded lesbian characters were far less common than coded gay men. Portrayals of lesbians might define them as dangerous and threatening, as is the case with Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers implies that she had been married. This allowed Hitchcock’s deniability against Judith Anderson’s lesbianism But Mrs. Danver’s eventual demise is brought about by her inability to accept Rebecca’s death or allow anyone to replace her love. And so her desire consumes her literally, in fire.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

When I first saw Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naugthon Wayne) in The Lady Vanishes my radar went off like a firehouse siren during the scene where they are both sitting up together in a small bed, one wearing the pajama tops and the other wearing the bottoms, (giving the appearance of both being naked in bed. It was such a marvelous coded moment and I knew they were a loving married gay couple. I found it so refreshing to see the British comedy duo playing a cheeky proper English couple who are cricket fanatics trying to get back to London while the Hitchcockian espionage is happening under their noses.

I enjoyed their farcical vignette about a pair of golfers, the one comedic entry in an otherwise moody collection of ghost stories- Dead of Night (1945) which like The Lady Vanishes, also stars Michael Redgrave.

Hitchcock excelled at getting fine performances from his supporting cast members. They usually are finely honed characterizations portrayed by perfectly cast actors, fascinating and funny, imbued with his dry British humor. Charters and Caldicott are wonderful examples. Played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, two fine stage actors who reprised these characters in subsequent movies and BBC radio programs, Charters and Caldicott follow a long tradition of comedy duos of older men in British Music Hall, vaudeville and stage performances. Most audiences of the time, especially British audiences, would have interpreted their relationship simply as one between eccentric, middle-aged bachelors. (Badman and Hosier)

Though there are so many elements of the duo that is ambiguous, Hitchcock imbues Charters and Caldicott with an affection and closeness that reads like a positive coded gay pairing. The two aren’t played as stereotypically flamboyant or campy. Later in the movie, Charters and Caldicott are heroic in facing down danger, during an onslaught of gunfire by fascist spies.

Charters and Caldicott are stranded at the only hotel in a tiny alpine village. The desk clerk informs them that they must share the maid’s room. When they meet the voluptuous Germanic blonde, they glance at each other with an expression that appears to be saying we’re not interested. When they follow the maid to her cramped room, Charter’s cracks “It’s a pity they couldn’t have given us one each” which could be interpreted as each having their own woman, to have a bit of a romp with. But Charters clarifies himself by saying he meant two rooms. One for the maid and one for them. A mainstream audience could read their conduct as two heterosexual British gentlemen, but if you read between the lines, it is suggested that they have no interest in women. In another scene when the maid enters their shared room without knocking, both men act startled by the intrusion. Caldicott moves in a way that conjures up the role of protective mate. Once she leaves, Caldicott locks the door.

A master of queering the screen, Hitchcock plays with sexuality using his skillful methods of innuendo and artful suggestiveness — In an already masterful way of blurring the lines of reality and adeptly flirting with transgression, Hitchcock’s milieus are perfect playgrounds for coded gay characters.

Continue reading “Chapter 3 – Queers and Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters:”

A Trailer a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away! 11 terrifying tidbits from 1980-1983

THE ATTIC 1980

“Louise’s life downstairs is a living hell… and upstairs lurks a haunting nightmare!- She’s Daddy’s Little Girl … FOREVER!” 

Carrie Snodgress has always been an actress possessed of great dimension, just watch her as Tina Balsar the persecuted down-trodden housewife in director Frank Perry’s Diary of a Mad Housewife 1970. In The Attic Snodgress is yet again a repressed character Louise Elmore, this time a Librarian who is caring for her cruel and ruthlessly controlling wheelchair-bound father Wendell portrayed by a particularly nasty Ray Milland.

Milland toward the end of his career had started appearing in some of these low budget horror/exploitation films like X, The Man with the X-Ray Eyes 1963, Daughter of the Mind 1969, Frogs 1972. The 80s started to really slide into a kaleidoscope of cheap themes and shock value moments. It doesn’t detract from Milland’s contribution to film history, nor does it malign either his or Snogress’ depth of acting. Director George Edwards  ( produced Frogs 1972 with Milland, Queen of Blood 1966, Games 1967, How Awful About Allan 1970, What’s the Matter with Helen? 1971, The Killing Kind 1973, Ruby 1977 – all these films with the exception of Frogs, Edwards worked with Curtis Harrington as the director.

You can see Harrington’s influence on The Attic as it represents a small enclosed family environment creates psychological demons, mental disturbances or what I call director Harrington’s The Horror of Personality. With most of Harrington’s work the narrative is less centered around supernatural forces building it’s framework around the product of mental illness and the dysfunctional family trope acted out within closed in spaces, where relationships over time begin disintegrating, with acts of cruelty, despair, loneliness, fear and repression- the family then, becomes the monster…

The Attic is an angry, aggressive and psychologically sadistic film, where Snodgress is yet again persecuted and trapped in a dreadful life. The hapless Louise is jilted by her fiancé and left at the altar leaving psychic scars, where she begins to go in and out of reality. Calling the Missing Persons Bureau on a regular basis looking for her lost love. She begins to fantasize about rejecting her abusive father whom she must do everything for. After 19 years of being left alone, Louise doesn’t find much joy in life, accept for drinking and dreaming about trips she’ll never take, committing arson at the Library and spending time with her pet monkey Dicky the Chimp. She is befriended by a co-worker who tries to help bring Louise back into the real world again, but the shocking truth that lurks in that creepy attic won’t stay locked away forever!

The Attic also stars Rosemary Murphy who is usually scary in her own right, at least she scares me since You’ll Like My Mother 1972!

PROM NIGHT 1980

“…Some will be crowned, others will lose their heads”

This is one of the earliest masked killer slasher movies where sexually active teenagers are being stalked on the night of their prom because they were responsible for the death of their classmate years ago. Prom Night features Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis who set the trend for good girls or The Final Girl trope… you know- the one who survives because of their integrity, purity and smarts! Also starring one of my favorites Leslie Nielsen and Antoinette Bower.

SILENT SCREAM (1980) us release

“Quick! Scream! Too late! You’re dead”

During her first semester at college co-ed Scotty Parker (Rebecca Balding) is one of several college students who rents a room from Mrs. Engels, the Junoesque Yvonne De Carlo. But there is something very strange going on at this seaside mansion/boarding house–even murder! Mrs.Engels lives at the mansion with her weird neurotic son Mason (Brad Rearden) Scotty is joined by Steve Doubet (Jack Towne), Peter Ransom (John Widelock) and Doris Prichart (Juli Andelman). When Widelock is stabbed to death out on the beach, Police Lt. Sandy McGiver (Cameron Mitchell) investigates and uncovers the family secret. Silent Scream is more eerie and less typical 80s slasher flick, perhaps its due to the weight of the strong cast that inhabit their roles, in what might be a predictable script still possesses that ability to convey the dread in a quietly stylish manner. Co-Produced by Joan Harris

Silent Scream has a claustrophobic melancholic atmosphere instead of utilizing gore it relies more on it’s Gothic gloomy sensibility, a sense of creepy voyeuristic camera work that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Two names -All you need to know to see this eerie obscure 80s gem Yvonne De Carlo as Mrs. Engels and Barbara Steele as Victoria Engels.

DEADLY BLESSINGS 1981

“Pray you’re not blessed”

Director Wes Craven delves into American rural Gothic horror

After her husband Jim an ex-Hittite (Doug Barr) who has been shunned by his people for having moved away, and marrying an outside. One night after they’ve moved back near the neighboring sect, Jim goes outside to find the word Incubus painted on their barn, and then is mysteriously crushed to death by his tractor. A series of grisly murders ensues mostly in broad daylight, as Jim’s widow Martha Schmidt (Maren Jensen) feels increasingly threatened by the sinister neighboring religious community led by the enigmatic Isaiah Schmidt (Ernest Borgnine) who seems to be fanatically obsessed with the idea that Martha is an ‘incubus’ and must be dealt with fire and brimstone!

Deadly Blessing also plants a figure of a dated trope–the ambiguous gender & sexuality of one of the characters. That trope, stems from a time when gay or transgendered characters were represented as obsessive, neurotic & at times, dangerous. I don’t endorse this weak and disparaging area of the plot, yet I allow myself to experience Wes Craven’s provocative film as a slice of horror history from a decade that hadn’t gotten it quite right yet. Where the film could have taken a bold step in expanding on this subplot instead it is fueled by subversive incitement.

Craven’s film ultimately relies on the supernatural subtext that is fueling the horror and leaves the other theme to hang out there on it’s own to be (justifiably to some)- offensive. Too many films with gender fluid characters in past films, were represented by psychos, deviants and killers.

Deadly Blessings co-stars a young Sharon Stone, popular 70s actress (and one of my favorites) Lois Nettleton, Susan Buckner, Lisa Hartman and familiar Craven regular Michael Berryman. Directed by Wes Craven

Some IMDb Trivia

Sharon Stone’s first big speaking role in a theatrical feature.

The name of the isolated rural farm where the farmers and Hittites lived and worked was “Our Blessing”.

Wes Craven compared his work with actor Ernest Borgnine to John Carpenter’s work with Donald Pleasance in the original “Halloween”. He states that Borgnine was the first “big name actor” he had worked with and was at first intimidated by the actor.

Ernest Borgnine had to be taken to the hospital to be treated for a head injury following a mishap involving a horse and buggy. Moreover, Borgnine returned to the set to continue acting in the film three days later.

Actor Ernest Borgnine, who had won a Best Actor Academy Award for Marty (1955), which also was Borgnine’s only ever Oscar nomination, was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor for Deadly Blessing (1981), but lost out on the Razzie to Steve Forrest for Mommie Dearest (1981).

THE INCUBUS 1981

“The dreams. The nightmares. The desires. The fears. The mystery. The revelation. The warning: He is the destroyer”

WARNING: Though not overtly graphic Incubus is suggestive of rape. For anyone who might be triggered by sexual violence in film, I would advise for you to skip this portion of the post and/or the film entirely!

Back in the day when I read a lot of horror fiction, I have a vague recollection of Ray Russell’s (Mr. Sardonicus 1961, Premature Burial 1962, X-The Man with The X-Ray Eyes 1963), novel knocking me out with it’s supernatural mythology and it’s brutality. Of course when it was adapted to the screen in 1982 directed by John Hough (The Legend of Hell House 1973, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry 1974, The Watcher in the Woods 1980, American Gothic 1987) you know I was there with my milk duds, raisinets, popcorn and large icy cup of Pepsi expecting something powerful and Incubus collided with the accepted one-gendered fiend that I had grown up seeing within the constraints of a fairly “cultural conservative” as Carol Clover puts it, driven classical horror industry, stories like werewolves, vampires, mummies, phantoms and mad doctors turned into vile fiends.

As Carol Clover states in her Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film-“stories that stem from the one-sex era, and for all their updating, they still carry with them, to a greater or lesser degree, a premodern sense of sexual difference…}…{and some people are impossible to tell apart (the figure in God Told Me To who is genitally ambiguous -the doctor did not know what sex to assign, the pubescent girl in Sleepaway Camp who turns out to be a boy, the rapist in The Incubus whose ejaculate consists of equal parts of semen and menstrual blood.”

Incubus is a supernatural film that sneaks into the 80s but carries with it the demonology sensibility of the early-mid 1970s, The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976). Adapted from Ray Russell’s disquieting novel about a demon with an dangerously sized phallus who can incarnate in human form, committing several savage sexual assaults and murders in the small California town of Galen. John Cassavetes plays Dr. Sam Cordell who examines the survivor of one of the assaults and is disturbed by the violence of the attack, learning that her uterus has been ruptured. When the local librarian is killed, John Ireland is his usual brackish self this time playing Sheriff Hank Walden and team up believing that these brutal attacks are the work of only one perpetrator and not a gang. Kerrie Keane plays a reporter Laura Kincaid who insinuates herself into the investigation and begins an affair with Sam. Erin Flannery plays Sam’s young teenage daughter Jenny who is dating Tim Galen (Duncan McIntosh) who has nightmarish visions of the attacks while he is in a sleeping state. His Grandmother Agatha (Helen Hughes -Storm of the Century 1999 tele-series) tries to convince her Grandson that he is not responsible for these horrible events, but she knows more than she is telling, about the arcane secret the town is hiding and the true history of the venerable family name of Galen.

NIGHT SCHOOL 1981

A is for Apple B is for Bed C is for Co-ed D is for Dead F is for Failing to keep your Head!

Aka known as Terror Eyes

Night School has an unnerving tone, an almost oppressive atmosphere that looms over the film. The 80s was fertile for the slasher films that were popping up in variations of the same narrative, using different methods of death as the centerpiece to highlight the story. In this film, a mysterious killer is decapitating students at a night school for women. I won’t reveal the killer, but I will say that there is misogyny afoot. Originally picked to direct was Alfred Sole, best known for his phenomenal psychological horror masterpiece Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) which would have most definitely improved on the depressing aura the film give off. Directed by Ken Hughes who wrote the screenplays for The Trials of Oscar Wilde 1960 and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 1968. He direction was superior in the dark and dogged Wicked As They Come 1956 starring Arlene Dahl and Phillip Carey.

Night School stars Rachel Ward, Leonard Mann and Drew Snyder.

ALONE IN THE DARK 1982

“They’re out… for blood! Don’t let them find you!”

Along in the Dark is a highly charged psycho thriller that wants to be a black comedy. The inmates on let loose upon an unsuspecting town and mayhem ensues when they target the home of Pleasance’s (Dr. Leo Bain) therapist Dr. Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz) psychiatrist. During a statewide black out, a group of 3 particularly nasty homicidal maniacs get free from their maximum security ward at the mental Institution and set out on an adventure. Alone in the Dark opens with Donald Pleasance as a short order cook who has gone berserk and wielding a meat cleaver. Martin Landau is splendid as crazed Byron ‘Preacher’ Sutcliff who likes to set things on fire. Then there’s Erland Van Lidth (from The Wanderers 1979) as a sex maniac Ronald “fatty” Elster with a penchant for younger kids. The best psycho next to Landau, is Jack Palance. The Special Effects are by Tom Savini.

Alone in the Dark is a frenetic ride and you must watch out for the scene when Preacher insists he wants the mailman’s on the bicycle’s hat!

CREEPSHOW 1982

“The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have… BEING SCARED!”

An anthology which tells five terrifying tales based on the E.C. horror comic books of the 1950s. Directed by George A. Romero, with the original screenplay by Stephen King. Stars include Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors, Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Stephen King,

HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH 1983

After the failure of Halloween II (1978) to excite people at the box office, John Carpenter decided to put a different twist on the creepy goings on for Halloween III (1983) and adapt a script from Nigel Kneale who wrote the Quartermass series, who removed his name from the credits, leaving Tommy Lee Wallace as the writer. I do not hate this film in the way that other fans do. I rather like the odd and malevolent tone of the film, like a dark Halloween fairy tale journey. The idea, children all over America can not wait to get their hands on 3 frightfully popular offerings of rubber masks for Halloween. The jingle for the TV ad alone is enough to send suspicious shivers up a more discerning eye. There is a plot run by an old Druid toy-maker (Dan O’Herlihy) who is perfectly menacing and wants to actually harm the children once they wear the deadly masks, in order to bring back the olden days of black witchcraft and magic. There’s also a sense of a vengeful bitter spirit in Conal Cochran (O’Herlihy) toward consumerism and the misguided exploitation of Halloween.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch also stars Tom Atkins and Stacey Nelkin.

THE SENDER 1982

“Your dreams will never be the same.”

This is British director Roger Christian’s first feature film he had worked as assistant art director on the tense thriller And Soon the Darkness (1970)

The Sender works on so many levels, first of all it stars an impressive cast of accomplished actors, Shirley Knight, Kathryn Harrold and Zelijko Ivanek. 

From Kim Newman’s Nightmare Movies talks about the trend that began with Brian DePalma’s Carrie (1976) “created a briefly popular horror movie sub-genre, the ‘Psichopath’ film. Damien Thorn and Carrie White, like Jim Hutton in Psychic Killer (1975), Alan Bates in The Shout (1978), Lisa Pelikan in Jennifer (1978) Robert Thompson in Patrick (1979) and Robert Powell in Harlequin (1979) are ‘Psichopaths’, seemingly ordinary individuals with hidden, awesome paranormal powers. The wish fulfillment fantasy element of the Psichopath film is obvious.The usual formula finds the Psichopath humiliated, abused and pushed beyond endurance, whereupon immense mental powers are unleashed in an orgy of mass destruction.”

I would also include Brian DePalma’sThe Fury (1978) featuring Amy Irving who possesses the psycho-kinetic powers.

When The Sender (Ivanek) is sent to an Institution after a public suicide attempt, psychiatrist Kathryn Harrold as Gail Farmer realizes that he possesses the ability to channel his frightening and often volatile visions to receptive people on the psyche ward. There are truly enigmatic hallucinatory segments of the film which creates real apprehension and shivers. One particular scene where they are juicing Ivanek with electro shock therapy, his mental waves send a storm of havoc through his personal pain. In the midst of this theme there lies an even dark more disturbing element to the story. There are ghostly visitations from his creepy mother played by the amazing Shirley Knight as Jerolyn.

I have followed Shirley Knight’s underrated and outstanding career from her divine performance as Polly in Sidney Lumet’s The Group (1966), tv series Naked City 1962, The Eleventh Hour 1963, as the gently Noelle Anderson in The Outer Limits 1963 episode The Man Who Was Never Born co-starring Martin Landau. The Defenders 1964, The Fugitive 1964-66, Petulia 1968, The Rain People 1969, The Bold Ones, Circle of Fear, Streets of San Fransisco 1973, Medical Center, Marcus Welby, M.D, Murder, She Wrote, Law & Order 1991 and more… The gravity with each of Knight’s performances has a quality that draws you into her orbit –experiencing her as genuine and engaging. Even as the wraith like mother figure who comes calling on her son- The Sender, Knight makes you believe in the low-key, spine-chilling moments on screen. She is the catalyst to The Sender’s secret dilemma.

At times The Sender sends it’s universe into mayhem, at other times it’s a very creepy, restrained atmospheric horror story that is perhaps one of the best films of the 1980s.

CURTAINS 1983

The one impression I took away from Curtains is the iconic sinister hag mask that the killer wears and the scythe or sickle they wield as they creepily skated across the small pond. It’s the kind of moment from a moment that stays in the brain forever!

This stylish Canadian horror film is directed by cinematographer Richard Ciupka (Atlantic City 1980) Curtains stars John Vernon as the typically caustic alpha male Jonathan Stryker director and British Scream Queen Samantha Eggar  (The Collector 1965, Doctor Doolittle 1967, The Dead Are Alive 1972, A Name For Evil 1973, All The Kind Strangers 1974, The Seven Per-Cent Solution 1976, The Brood 1979) who plays Samantha Sherwood an actress who has always gotten top billing in Stryker’s works and in his bed. Samantha believes she is getting the role of a lifetime, the chance to play ‘Audra’ in his next film. Stryker insists that Samantha inhabit the role, to bring out the realism of Audra’s character by having herself committed to an asylum as background research. (It seems Audra was a psychiatric patient.) Stryker is a sadist and leaves Samantha in the hospital for an indeterminate amount of time, while he auditions other young actresses- each who have their own motivations for desperately wanting the part.

Samantha escapes her confinement and goes back to the menacing old mountain cabin during a snow storm, where Stryker is putting the various women through their acting trials.

Interesting that the character of Samantha in studying the mindset of a mentally ill woman, becomes too well aware of insanity during her own ordeal. The film does a particularly effective job of projecting the intensity that actors experience when trying to lose themselves in a role, keeping their footing in reality.

At the center of this interesting chamber piece is the psychopath in a nightmarish old hag mask who begins killing off the women!

Curtains also stars Linda Thorson (Tara King in The Avengers 1968-69), Anne Ditchburn, Lynne Griffin (Black Christmas 1974) Sandee Currie, Lesleh Donaldson, and Deborah Burgess. 

According to Mark Allan Gunnells in his essay in Hidden Horror edited by Aaron Christensen-Curtains took 3 years to make it to it’s release due to reshoots and rewrites. “It is suggested that a lot of the problems stemmed from producer Peter Simpson who, having produced the Jamie Lee Curtis vehicle Prom Night, wanted another straight forward horror flick. Director Richard Ciupka, on the other hand, chose to go against the established slasher grain, bringing more European sensibility to the production. The original screenplay even had a supernatural element, with a creature designed (but never used) by makeup legend Greg Cannom (…) As Gunnells points out about the films many chilling scenes, a few that stand out are the dream sequence with a creepy life size doll and the chase scene that involves a hiding place that winds up becoming a “deathtrap.”

 

This is Your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl sayin’ See ya round the snack bar! Save me a big box of Raisinets!

We Mourn the Loss of a Truly Great Actor: Martin Landau 7/17/17

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Martin Landau, who died today 89, was an incredibly nuanced actor. He was intense, unique, and controlled, and gave his characters depth. He was a beloved recognizable character actor. He was in Outer Limits (giving poignant performances in “The Man Who Was Never Born,” and “The Bellero Shield”), Columbo’s “Double Shock” as murderous twins, and in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood as Bela Lugosi. Among his more quirky portrayals was Byron, the psychopathic preacher (an escaped mental patient with a menacing laugh), in Alone in the Dark (1982), and Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, and the 1960s television show Mission Impossible.

It’s always sad to see an actor of his talent, but he’s left a magnificent legacy. I’ll watch some of his shows and films today in tribute.

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There is nothing wrong with your television set… Do not attempt to adjust the picture, we are controlling transmission: The Transendental Heartbeat of The Outer Limits 1963-1965

THE OUTER LIMITS 1963-1965

As much as I am passionate about Boris Karloff’s anthology television show THRILLER, I throw my enthusiasm to all things science fiction & fantasy toward the 60s series that brought to life some of the most memorable monsters and thought provoking story lines that was The Outer Limits.

As a kid I remember how the shivers of excitement ran through my veins as soon as the control voice began to usher in a new segment as the wavy white lines trembled on the screen. The voice was odd, yet familiar like an intimate stranger who could read your thoughts and knew your deepest fears.

I knew I was in for something majestic and beyond the realm of belief. While THRILLER tapped into my core fears of things that lurked in the shadows of this earthly domain, somehow The Outer Limits managed to propel my fears into the outer reaches of the universe. Still the things that go bump in the night, but more like the night sky.

And so I fondly assign a few of my favorite stories here at The Last Drive In, with follow ups to some more down that unknowing wavy road of life. If you’re not already a fan of this uniquely mind broadening show, then do yourself a favor and a try and catch an episode or two. You’ll see some favorite actors I’m sure, and I bet a Zanti under your bed… if you’re not even moved just a little by it’s poignant– strange and at times grotesquely whimsical way of painting a fantastical moral with some gorgeous visual cues and dynamic acting style to drive the message home and articulate thought provoking & philosophical themes.

The ground breaking postmodern metaphysical world of science fiction & fantasy from the brilliant mind of executive producers Leslie Stevens and Joseph Stefano was far ahead of it’s time. Created by Leslie Stevens. Story consultant Lou Morheim and transcendent musical score by Dominic Frontiere (first season from 1963-64 ) The heavenly awe inspiring music never fails to make my chest heave, as the celestial melody creates the mood of a living breathing universe expanding, a near religious experience of the magnitude of awe that Science Fiction evokes in the hearts of dreamers.

The music for the second season was scored by Harry Lubin. There were 49 episodes in total….

Perhaps the first television show that was truly pioneering, unprecedentedly radical, inventive and even sociological in it’s contribution to the genre. It boasted some remarkable visual effects, and still remains a memorable collection of thoughtful plays that stretch the boundaries of imagination.

The Outer Limits could be considered Science Fiction/Fantasy genre, An anthology series created by Leslie Stevens and narrated by Vic Perrin who was the voice behind the Control Voice. Similar somewhat to The Twilight Zone with more of an earnest tone given rise to more Science Fiction oriented stories

A Daystar Productions–Villa DiStefano. United Artists Television originally aired on ABC with a run from September 16, 1963 – January 16, 1965

The show used writers like Leslie Stevens, Donald S Sanford, Lou Morheim, (The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms 1953) Harlan Ellison, and Seeleg Lester.

With cinematography by Conrad L.Hall, (American Beauty 1999, Marathon Man 1976, In Cold Blood 1967, Cool Hand Luke 1967, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid 1969) You can imagine the vision that framed the stories behind the camera from the genius of Hall’s cinematic eye. John M Nickolaus (House of the Damned and The Day Mars Invaded Earth 1963 both very unique films partly due to the way they were lensed by Nickolaus) and Kenneth Peach.

Utilizing some of the greatest directors like Byron Haskins (Arsenic and Old Lace 1944, War of the Worlds 1953, Robinson Crusoe on Mars 1964) John Brahm (The Lodger 1944, The Twilight Zone, Boris Karloff’s Thriller) Laslo Benedek (The Wild One 1953), Leslie Stevens, Gerd Oswald, Paul Stanley, John Erman, Robert Flory, James Goldstone, Leonard Horn, Felix Feist, Charles Haas, Alan Crosland Jr. and Abner Biberman

Featuring some of the greatest character actors like Martin Landau, Sally Kellerman, William Shatner, Cliff Robertson, Jacqueline Scott, Sidney Blackmer, Robert Culp, Geraldine Brooks, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum, Jill Hayworth, John Considine, Shirley Knight, Jeff Corey, Harry Townes, Harry Guardino, Gary Merrill, Salome Jens, Ed Nelson, Martin Sheen, James Shigeta, John Anderson, Scott Marlowe, Ed Asner, Kent Smith, Joan Camden, Mark Richman, Nina Foch, Phillip Abbott, Gladys Cooper, Ralph Meeker, Jay Novello, Michael Tolan, Bruce Dern, Olive Deering, Henry Silva, Carroll O’ Connor, Barry Morse, Miriam Hopkins, John Hoyt, Marsha Hunt, Don Gordon, George Macready, Neil Hamilton, Walter Burke, Simon Oakland, Ruth Roman, Alex Nicol, Tim O’Connor, Warren Oates, Luane Anders, Gloria Grahame, Nellie Burt, Russell Johnson, Nick Adams, Nancy Malone, Marion Ross, Macdonald Carey, Sam Wanamaker, David Opatoshu, Joyce Van Patten, Signe Hasso, Allyson Ames, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Duvall, Vera Miles, Barbara Rush, Cedric Hardwicke, Malachi Throne, Peter Lind Hayes, Joan Freeman, Abraham Sofaer, Eddie Albert, June Havor, Howard DaSilva, Marianna Hill, Warren Stevens, Robert Webber, Michael Constantine, Crahan Denton, Grant Williams, and Peggy Ann Garner to name some of the acting highlights.

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Cliff Robertson appears in the shows first The Galaxy Being…

The Control Voice: There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We can reduce the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.

Much of the episodes could be considered stagey and theatrical, with the acting a bit dramaturgical or heavy handed for a science fiction/ fantasy television drama, but as writers David J Schow and Jeffrey Frentzen say in THE OUTER LIMITS:The Official Companion “… embroidered quality of their performances. At times the dialogue seems hammy and intemperate, but since good theatre is not a reflection of the world, but a mirror distortion of its exaggerated for-point-making purposes, the bigger-than-life nature of the players is fitting.

THE ARCHITECTS OF FEAR-broadcast date September 30th 1963

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First let me say that I’m a huge fan of Robert Culp! So naturally this episode is very special to me. Culp appeared in a few more episodes of the series, this one being my favorite. At time his performance going beyond sublime. Directed by Byron Haskin with Conrad Hall as director of photography. Dominic Frontiere’s gorgeous score.

One of the most compelling of all The Outer Limits episodes. With Allen’s dilemma torn between his love and devotion to his wife Yvette and the scientific ideals he adheres to. Out of hubris –These misguided scientists trying to do a good thing for humanity, make huge mistakes and wind up destroying one of the blessed things about the world… a family (Yvette finds out she is pregnant right before Allen fakes his death) who has a right to life and love.

The Cast- Robert Culp as Allen Leighton, Geraldine Brooks as his wife Yvette, Leonard Stone as Dr. Phillip Gainer, Martin Wolfosn as Dr Herschel

Is this the day? Is this the beginning of the end? There is no time to wonder, not time to ask, “Why is it happening, why is it finally happening?” There is time only for fear, for the piercing pain of panic. Do we pray? Or do we merely run now, and pray later? Will there be a later? Or is this the day?

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An altruistic group of scientists theorize that in order to unite all the people of the earth, there must be a common enemy! Sounds feasible right… So they re-configure in larger size an alien being called a ‘Thetan’ rhymes with cretan…

To unify all the nations around the world against a frightening invasion of extraterrestrials. Essentially, they design to manufacture a ‘scarecrow.’ After pulling names out of a bowl to see which one of the scientists will undergo the grueling intensive physiological transformation by surgical transplantation, reassignment and exposure to environmental conditions similar to that of the planet Theta so he can be turned into a larger version of the little Thetan they keep in a cage. Although the creature is mostly seen in shadow, the sound it makes is hilarious and yet compelling at the same time. Somewhat as if you put a gag on a nasty muppet…

Physicist Allen Leighton (Robert Culp) gets to be the lucky guy. Once transmogrified into the alien, he will pilot a spaceship that will land in front of the UN while in session to confront the General Assembly with a laser gun…

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Allen-“You know what we really need to stop fighting among ourselves. Something else to fight, Somebody else. Really something else has to come along that will scare us all out of our skins!” Yvette “We stop fighting each other, we start fighting a scarecrow… that’s a gorgeous solution” Allen-“Well we don’t exactly fight it, but we fear it… So we unite against it. And if the threat continues long enough we gradually become used to being united. We actually grow to like it. Yvette-“Some scarecrows don’t even scare… crows!” Allen-“One might”
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“Mark against Evil”

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Allen goes off on a tangential soliloquy induced by the wrong reaction to the drugs he’s been given. He mentions Prometheus… how fitting that these mad scientist are creating a modern day monster by playing God...
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“Listen there’s more to this levitation than just the physical. I’m really able to fly. Are you aware of that! No, you’re no Phil Gainer, Professor Gainer, Dr Gainer. Hello Dr Gainer, allow me to present (in a german accent) these mad doctors here. Constant as you are of the space time continuum. There’r globules of solid (cackles in a whisper) propellant To send me on my long journey…. through the underworld or the —listen you gotta put pegs on my eyes Phil tells him to lye down According to ?’s law ( makes like his hands like ray guns and shoots…) laughing “I see you all, you got fat faces you know that. Baby eyes over baby pouts. Come on. Skidder along on your little rats feet. I am Callahan, Callaban. (he chuckles to himself) with a PhD. Ba Ba Black Sheep Have you any krell upstairs, downstairs in my baby’s nightshade. All around the town crying through the lochs how the children in their beds know it’s 8’O’Clock Stay back, stay back you think your putty little hands can hold Prometheus Odysseus Tycho Star…”

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Of course the idea is that every nation will band together to fight this one enemy, but ahhh often the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray… Allen’s ship accidentally lands by the United Labs facility, and as he moves through the woods, with his oversized scaly arms, giant head , bug eyes and backward -jointed bird like clawed feet he is a lumbering monstrosity with a tube up it’s mouth breathing in nitrogen. He uses his laser gun to disintegrate a station wagon to scare a pack of hunters and their dog. The men wind up mortally shooting him.

First the group fakes Allen’s death, whose wife is not only a little psychic but deservingly cynical about the facts surrounding her husbands plane crash. Yvette insists on hanging around the research lab. She has a special psychic link with Allen, and feels sympathetic pangs when he is near. In a touching scene in the beginning the two have a gesture they share where Allen uses his fingers to mark her forehead “Mark against evil”

At the end when Allen finds his way back to the lab, Yvette again feels her husband’s presence and his pain. She runs to the lab where she fins him dying. Just before as the monster, he makes the ‘mark against evil’ on her head. This very special ritual confirms that this was her husband.

Scarecrow and magic and other fatal fears do not bring people closer together. There is no magic substitute for soft caring and hard work, for self respect and mutual love. If we can learn this from the mistake these frightened men made, then their mistake will not have been merely grotesque. It will have been at least a lesson-a lesson at last to be learned.

The monster suit created a huge outpouring of fan mail for the show. Byron Haskin brought in a Hungarian stuntman and acrobat named Janos Prohaska to play the alien. He used stilts that raised him up nearly two feet off the ground. Within the costume, he gripped armatures inside the elbows, he balanced himself to look like a man leaning forward on his crutches. The giant head was designed by Wah Chang, and included functional eyelids, pulsating veins and a bellows-mouth all propelled by air cylinders. Prohaska was literally sealed inside the rubberoid skin, then situated forward on his stilts- he was able to see out of the nose!

Everyone at Projects Unlimited contributed to the costume, though Byron Haskin designed it.

Continue reading “There is nothing wrong with your television set… Do not attempt to adjust the picture, we are controlling transmission: The Transendental Heartbeat of The Outer Limits 1963-1965”