28 October 2010

What I Liked the Most About... Carnival of Souls (1962)

What I liked the most about 1962 horror masterpiece in miniature Carnival of Souls, a film about which I essentially like everything, was the moment when a dirty, lost and, for want of a better term, haunted mattress comes inexplicably hurtling down a seaside slide of its own accord. It's in the scene where Candace Hilligoss is vapidly wandering around the end-of-pier (un)amusements in her oblivious state of spectral, somnambulant bliss.

There's silence, tainted only with the merest hint of ghostly white background noise. Then the darn grotty thing appears as a shock to the system: both Hilligoss' and ours. It's a minor moment, sure, but a beautiful moment. One that significantly adds to the rich and uneasy tone of the film. Herk Harvey's direction was inspired in such instances as this – just as it was with the rest of the film. It's a true one-off scare in a true one-off film; quite literally, Harvey never made another feature. A singularly solid, creepy delight and perfect viewing for Halloween night... or day.

I enjoy every one of Carnival's wonderfully unsettling images. Here are a few stills from some of my favourite moments:

27 October 2010

What I Liked the Most About...The Baby (1973)

There's a lot to like about Ted Post's unusual family horror-drama The Baby from 1973. There's a lot to look downright perplexed about too. But then that's part of why it's a true one-off gem of wrongness. (Click the linked title for plot etc.) But what I liked the most about it was the brilliance of Ruth Roman. She gives one of the most wicked, snarling, all-consuming performances of the '70s as Mrs. Wadsworth, a matriarch so maniacally warped as to make the idea of Divine playing Mrs. Bates seem like cosy casting. Roman's simply superb here. She gives the role her all. She works wonders with crazy hair, blue roll-neck jumpers and a permanent scowl. In fact the movie has eye-popping performances from all the women: the two demented sisters, Germaine and Alba (Marianna Hill, Susanne Zenor), and Anjanette Comer as social worker Ann. They're all ably backed up by a great score by Gerald Fried, which is all sinister, abrupt cellos with a few '70s pop hits peppered throughout.

Ruth Roman as Mrs Wadsworth in The Baby (1973)

But another surprising and well-considered aspect to Post's cult curio is its ending: it has one of the best twist endings I've seen. It puts the likes of M.Night Shyamalan and The Usual Suspects to shame. I didn't see it coming at all, despite it actually being – in hindsight – blindingly obvious throughout as to what will happen. It's not even careful misdirection on Post's behalf, as we're essentially told everything we need to know, yet somehow I just didn't notice it. Good work from everyone involved.

Watch this genuinely oddball flick if you're interested in seriously bonkers '70s cinema of the most scurrilous kind. It also has some barking mad, corking dialogue, too: "Whada' you mean nothing happened?! I come home and you got your damn tit in his mouth!!" says Roman at her batshit-crazy best. Clever, funky, tawdry and so so good at being bad. It deserves a lot of overdue praise and an indecent amount of fresh adoration.

 More Ruth Roman wrongness in The Baby

25 October 2010

What I Liked the Most About... Saw (2004)

In the run-up to Halloween I thought I'd post up a series of entries briefly looking at What I Like the Most about certain horror films. I'm nearly done on my London Film Festival duties, and other film-based malarkey, and will be back to normal posting here at Dark Eye Socket. But in the meantime, a few brief words about some aspects of some (randomly chosen) horror films for the interim, regardless of whether I had a good time or a bad time watching them. This first post, on Saw, firmly fits the latter.

To be honest, there isn't much that I like about these Saw films. (Having accidentally caught five minutes of Saw III on TV the other evening this was more than reconfirmed for me – and this is despite having seen all previous six Saw films at the cinema.) But what I do enjoy about seeing them are the unexpected comical highlights. During the first Saw (2004) I was quite content sitting there for ninety-or-so minutes knowing I was having a horrible time, but that the horrible time would end in a little under ten more minutes and I could go and watch a proper horror film. But then along came Cary Elwes' weird old lady impersonation.

Elwes' performance was a joy to behold – and certainly painful to watch. By the end he was in a battered condition; his leg looked sore, but it was the acting that really smarted. Suddenly he goes from wholly unconvincing Everyday Doctor Guy (albeit trapped in a basement with half a leg off) to wholly convincing Feeble Old Lady (during the bit where he's crawling around on the floor: "Huuh, huuh, I've dohne it!" he says in an odd wobbly voice, after hacking the limb off). His not-at-all-meant-to-be-funny and ill-placed moans and screams were so out-of-sync with everything he conveyed beforehand as to be hysterically funny and plain baffling at the same time. Well, at least that was what I thought back in 2004. Either way, I was hooting like a demented owl. And having just rewatched him again in a clip now, it's still as funny as ever. (As funny as the couple competing to 'shed the pounds' in Saw 6, anyway.)

Having briefly checked out the credentials for this upcoming, and reputedly final, Saw installment ('The Traps Come Alive' – because, er, it's in 3D), a smile of wicked glee spread across my face: Cary Elwes is back! I always hoped Elwes would crop up again. And now he does. I sincerely hope he gets to crawl across a dirty bathroom floor, dragging his (lopped off) heels behind him. Roll on Saw 7. Or, um, Saw 3D. And then let them please put an end to the series for good. It was unintentional fun while it lasted. Kind of.

5 October 2010

Driven to distraction...

This is kind of my expression right now, and has been for a fair while:

Baffled, perplexed, surprised, anxious to get to wherever it is I'm going – the please-don't-dress-as-your-dead-mum-then-kill-me-in-the-shower look. (And I haven't even stolen $40,000!)

Well, it's either that or it's this:

Self explanatory, surely.

I recently watched Johan Grimonprez's excellent collage documentary Double Take and it got me thinking about one of my all-time favourite film characters, poor old Marion Crane, again – as well as just how insanely pleasurable everything Hitchcock is. It also reminded me that it's about this time of year that I break out the Psycho DVD and pay the Bates Motel another visit. Although, a rewatch of one of my very favourite Hitchcocks will have to wait...

Right now I'm trying to hurtle back and forth to London as much as possible in the attempt to cram in as many London Film Festival press screenings as possible. I'm also chiseling away on the two other Fulci pieces – The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery – for here; plus there's the regular weekly Take Three column over at Nathaniel's The Film Experience blog, which is on ongoing pleasure. There are many other posts and pieces in the pipeline too – and a print article for the Hub magazine's launch issue due soon – so normal Dark Eye Service will resume as soon as possible.

Anyway, we're now in October, which means Halloween. And, indeed, John Carpenter's Halloween – another film I always like to watch around this time of year. (Although I'm likely to say this any time of any year.) This month means there's usually wall-to-wall horror, so there will be more regular updates, big and small, incoming on here. That is if time permits. And I'll try darn hard to make sure it does.