Film Review: The Prowler (1981)

Also known as: Most Likely to Die (working title), Pitchfork Massacre (reissue title), Rosemary’s Killer, The Graduation (alternate titles)
Release Date: November 6th, 1981
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Written by: Neal Barbera, Glenn Leopold
Music by: Richard Einhorn
Cast: Vicky Dawson, Farley Granger, Lawrence Tierney, Christopher Goutman

Graduation Films, Sandhurst, 89 Minutes, 87 Minutes (edited cut)

Review:

“I want you to be my date, Rose.” – The Prowler

I haven’t watched The Prowler in a long time but I did like it enough to rent with some regularity when I was a kid in the ’80s and ’90s. I also thought that “The Prowler” had a really cool look. The best slashers always have a cool outfit and a unique gimmick. This is the same reason why I love the bad guy in My Bloody Valentine. Like that movie, this is a film that isn’t spectacular but is made better by having a cool killer.

The film starts with a prologue that takes place in the 1940s. It is used to setup a connection between that time and modern times (or 1981 when the movie was released).

As is typical, someone is murdering young hot girls. It’s a big mystery and the murders are gruesome. You’ve probably seen this all before, maybe dozens of times, and there isn’t much to set this movie apart from its competition but slashers are rarely great and fans of these films don’t watch them expecting to experience a masterpiece like Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho.

Compared to some other films in the slasher genre, this one is a bit tame. Yes, there’s stabbings and gruesome murders but this is nowhere near as gory as some of the harder stuff out there. It certainly can’t compete with something like the Spanish slasher Pieces.

Surprisingly, this was a one and done slasher picture and didn’t churn out a bunch of sequels. But I guess that this early in the genre, studios were more into just making slasher pictures in general and not developing franchises. Friday the 13th only had one movie when this was made and A Nightmare On Elm Street was still three years away. The early ’80s were full of these one and done slasher pictures.

There isn’t much else to point out with this movie other than mentioning that it had two classic film-noir actors in it: Farley Granger and Lawrence Tierney. Modern film fans probably know Tierney best as Joe Cabot, the mob boss, from Reservoir Dogs.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Other early ’80s slashers: The BurningPiecesMy Bloody ValnetineTerror TrainNew Year’s Evil, Happy Birthday to Me, The Mutilator, Sleepaway Camp, The House on Sorority Row, The Initiation, etc.

TV Review: Broadchurch (2013-2017)

Original Run: March 4th, 2013 – April 17th, 2017
Created by: Chris Chinball
Directed by: James Strong, Euros Lyn, various
Written by: Chris Chinball, Louise Fox
Music by: Ólafur Arnalds, Arnór Dan
Cast: David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Arthur Darvill, Andrew Buchan, Carolyn Pickles, Charlotte Beaumont, Charlotte Rampling, Eve Myles

Kudos Film and Television, Shine Group, Imaginary Friends, ITV, 24 Episodes, 45 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

ITV’s Broadchurch is one of the top five shows I have watched in recent memory. A bold statement, sure, but in a world full of crime dramas, this show is a big step above what is currently on television.

The showrunners must be big Doctor Who fans, as it features David Tennant in the lead role as DI Alec Hardy, Arthur Darvill as Rev. Paul Coates and Olivia Colman (who appeared in one episode of Doctor Who) as the other lead, DS Ellie Miller. Eve Myles from the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood shows up as a regular in the second series. (Updated note: Jodie Whittaker would go on to be the first female version of the Doctor after this show.)

Jodie Whittaker (Attack The Block) plays the mother of a murdered boy. Solving the mystery of the boy’s murder is what drives the plot of series one, while the trial of the murderer drives some of the plot of series two. Series two also focuses on a case that Hardy was unable to solve before he moved to Broadchurch.

This show, unlike many other crime dramas, is not predictable. There are a lot of layers, twists and turns and while that is a typical formula of these shows, the execution of it on Broadchurch is not only stellar, it is refreshing.

The show is also beautiful to look at. Filmed in Dorset, many shots are full of the iconic coastal cliffs, grassy hills and beaches of that area. The geography of the show enhances the tone greatly and while it feels warm and inviting at first, it is also cold and in someways, desolate.

The acting is top notch and this may be David Tennant’s greatest work, even considering his run as the Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who and his role as the villainous Kilgrave on Jessica Jones. Olivia Colman has never been better and she is an actress that I have loved since first seeing her work with Mitchel and Webb in their sketch comedy shows, as well as Peep Show. The rest of the cast is equally fantastic.

There is a lot of shit on television today but Broadchurch is the antithesis of that norm.

Each series is also only eight episodes, which allow this masterpiece to be binge watched quite quickly.

Both of the series to date are now streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Doctor Who and Torchwood for all the shared actors, the American remake Gracepoint and the BBC crime show Luther.

Film Review: The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950)

Also known as: The Gun (working title)
Release Date: December 26th, 1950
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Seton I. Miller, Philip MacDonald
Music by: Louis Forbes
Cast: Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall

Jack M. Warner Productions, 20th Century Fox, 81 Minutes

Review:

“This is my first time out. How am I doin’?” – Andy Cullen, “All right, kid. Do any better, and I’ll be out of a job.” – Police Lt. Ed Cullen

The Man Who Cheated Himself is a neat little film-noir that stars the always domineering Lee J. Cobb in a rare role where he isn’t shouting a lot.

It also stars Jane Wyatt, who just feels completely out of place as the femme fatale type, as she is most synonymous for playing the mother in Father Knows Best. It also stars John Dall, who I loved in Gun Crazy and Rope, as well as a very young Lisa Howard before she went on to be a controversial news figure that committed suicide at 35 years-old.

Unfortunately, this is a film suffering from multiple personality disorder.

It is pretty dull and comes off as uneventful, even though there are things happening. This film just lacks excitement and energy. I’m not sure if that’s because Lee J. Cobb was told to play this role a bit more chill than he normally does or if he was bored doing it and didn’t give us a boisterous performance. When I watch a film with Cobb, I expect a certain panache and he just didn’t have it here.

Additionally, everything is just sort of dry. This isn’t a new story and really, just borrows heavily from several films within the classic film-noir style. There isn’t much to set this apart and to make it stand out among its peers.

However, the final scene at Fort Point (under the Golden Gate Bridge) was an incredibly well shot sequence that built immense suspense and had me at the edge of my seat. But it builds such great tension and then falls flat, as the bad guys get caught in the most anticlimactic way possible. This sequence must have made a fan out of Alfred Hitchock though, as he used the same location in his classic picture Vertigo.

I probably expected more out of this film than it had to give. I like Cobb, I thought his performance in 12 Angry Men was incredible but even great actors have duds from time to time.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Other old school film-noirs: RoadblockQuicksand!Pitfall, Please Murder Me!Too Late For TearsShock, etc.

Film Review: Conflict (1945)

Also known as: The Pentacle (working title)
Release Date: June 15th, 1945 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Curtis Bernhardt
Written by: Arthur T. Horman, Dwight Taylor
Based on: The Pentacle by Robert Siodmak, Alfred Neumann
Music by: Frederick Hollander
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Alexis Smith, Sydney Greenstreet

Warner Bros., 86 Minutes

Review:

“It’s funny how virtuous a man can be when he’s helpless.” – Kathryn Mason

Humphrey Bogart is a bad guy. No, seriously. He is pure evil in this film and that alone is worth the price of admission. This rugged, usually lovely, manly man that wooed all the ladies and some of the guys is a complete and total bastard in this. And that is why I had to see this film.

Now the reasoning behind this is pretty interesting. Despite the success of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, the head of Warner Bros. refused to see Bogart as a sexy leading man. The women wanted him, the men wanted to be him but his boss just wasn’t buying into it. Luckily, this didn’t stop Bogart from being Bogart going forward.

This film was also very close to home for the actor, as he and his wife at the time were known around town as the “Battling Bogarts” for their very public spats. A lot of this film’s narrative lines up with things in Bogart’s personal life, except Bogart obviously didn’t murder his wife like his character in this film. But it was said that Bogie had a really hard time making this film and was miserable having to act out a role that was too close for his personal comfort at the time.

This film was originally supposed to come out in 1943, just before film-noir exploded and it could have been a trend setter for that style. However, a lawsuit delayed this film’s release until 1945, which was also better for Bogart, as by that time he had already gotten a divorce and was happily remarried.

All things considered, Bogart’s scenes in this were superb and he didn’t show signs of his inner turmoil on screen. He was able to play this evil bastard yet still had scenes where he had to convincingly seem like a good guy.

While this film isn’t a horror movie, it had moments that felt like it was. The scenes that took place on the mountain road were chilling to the bone. When Bogart appears in the shadows and walks towards his wife, who is in her car, he does so in such a predatory way that is reminiscent of some of the greatest horror icons of all-time: Lugosi, Karloff, Rathbone, Price, Cushing and Lee.

Conflict is a marvelous film that may be a step below great but it is certainly effective and does a great job telling its story and churning up the right kind of emotions from scene to scene.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Two Mrs. CarrollsDead ReckoningThe Big Shot and Dark Passage.

Film Review: Disturbing Behavior (1998)

Release Date: July 24th, 1998
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: Scott Rosenberg
Music by: Mark Snow
Cast: James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, William Sadler, Bruce Greenwood, Steve Railsback, Katharine Isabelle, Ethan Embry

Village Roadshow Pictures, Beacon Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Meet the musical little creatures that hide among the flowers.” – Betty Caldicott

My, god, man… look at that poster. It’s such a ’90s cliche. But then so is this entire movie.

I saw this in the theater way back in 1998 on a date. She picked the movie but I agreed, even though I thought this looked like teeny bopper pop horror bullshit. Luckily, horror hadn’t completely turned to shit by 1998 but I also had no idea that it would get so bad. But this film, in retrospect, showed me that the writing was on the wall for the sterilization of the horror genre. I probably saw the trends then but also didn’t think it could get much worse. A few years later, everything went PG-13 and theaters were full of middle schoolers screaming over half assed jump scares and CGI ghost arms.

This film’s plot is incredibly derivative. It borrows ideas from The Stepford WivesVillage of the DamnedChildren of the Corn and a bunch of other similar pictures. Basically, what you have is a town full of teens being brainwashed out of being angsty, rebellious youth. Okay, maybe it’s like Footloose where religion is replaced by science and dancing is replaced by sex and drugs. It’s also hard to ignore the narrative similarities to the much more recent and super successful Get Out. But that’s obviously not this film’s fault, as it predates Get Out by 19 years.

Anyway, a lot of horror is derivative. There isn’t a whole lot of innovation in the genre but that’s fine. Those of us who love horror don’t care so much about ideas being recycled, as long as it gives us something with a new twist or a new perspective. This film doesn’t really do that though.

I still find it enjoyable to watch however, in that sort of late night, nothing to do, mindless fun as I puff on a joint and drink painkillers (the cocktail not the pills from my Uncle Terry’s medicine cabinet).

This follows that mid-to-late ’90s trend where instead of populating a horror film with mostly unknowns, we get a studio trying to wedge in as many hot, trendy, TV teen actors as possible. This one unites Katie Holmes of Dawson’s Creek, James Marsden from the short lived Second Noah and Nick Stahl, who wasn’t a TV darling but was a young, hot commodity at the time. You also get Ethan Embry and Katharine Isabelle, both of whom had blossoming careers at the time. But you have to have a good veteran to kind of steer the ship in these sort of movies and that man was the always enjoyable William Sadler. Sadler was the best part about this picture.

One thing I like about the film is the tone. It had a ’90s grunge/industrial look, which was popular in the music videos of that decade. But also like ’90s music videos, it used overzealous editing techniques that made the movie a bit of a headache to watch for 83 minutes.

Speaking of which, 83 minutes?! Really? This film was so short and really, it could have been fleshed out a bit more. Would it have hurt to develop these characters more and enhance the story for an extra ten to fifteen minutes? This thing goes by like a flash and you don’t really feel connected to any of it.

Also, what’s the deal with that “shocking” ending? It makes no sense and I’m not sure what it was supposed to convey. Okay, one of the brainwashed kids survived and he’s a substitute teacher in a rough school. So does he have the ability to brainwash these kids? I mean, the evil doctor died. Did he program his minions with the knowledge of his work? It was a cheap attempt at trying to be surprising and clever and it was neither of those things. Maybe it was there to setup a pointless sequel with terrible writing that wouldn’t have been able to explain the asinine twist.

Disturbing Behavior definitely isn’t a bad time but it isn’t a great time either. It’s watchable, it’s enjoyable, it’s barely fun though. But I almost forgot how cute Katie Holmes was back in the day before Tom Cruise hid her away in a cave somewhere for like a decade.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: The FacultyTeaching Mrs. TingleUrban LegendIdle Hands and other late ’90s teen horror.

Comic Review: Fatale – Book Five: Curse the Demon

Published: September 24th, 2014
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips, Bettie Breitweiser

Image Comics, 137 Pages

Review:

I was an immediate fan of Fatale when I read the first book and then that love just solidified as I read the second and third. I didn’t like the fourth story, however, and it took some of the wind out of the sails. By that point, I wasn’t sure how all of this would come together and end.

This book was a step up from the fourth but it wasn’t a satisfying conclusion. I felt like there was a lot of build up with several story arcs from different periods throughout time but now that this has wrapped up, a lot of it seemed pointless.

I like the character of Josephine and her strange powers. But I don’t feel like the backstory behind it all was thoroughly examined enough. This series presents a lot of questions but doesn’t do much in giving you the answers you want. Kind of like the television show Lost.

What attracted me to this was the fact that it was written by Ed Brubaker and had elements of classic film-noir, as well as Lovecraftian horror. If that combination doesn’t sound interesting on its own, then we can’t be friends.

The mystery is never really solved or unraveled in any sort of satisfactory way. I feel like this was just to show the wreckage caused by Josephine, mostly unintentionally, and didn’t have much else to offer other than really great art and cool visuals.

I don’t know, maybe I missed something but by the time I closed the final book, I felt empty.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other volumes in the Fatale series. Also, B. Clay Moore’s Hawaiian Dick series, as both share a lot of similarities with noir and the supernatural.

Film Review: The Letter (1940)

Release Date: November 14th, 1940 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: William Wyler
Written by: Howard E. Koch
Based on: The Letter by W. Somerset Maugham
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson, Gale Sondergaard

Warner Bros., 95 Minutes

Review:

“With all my heart, I still love the man I killed.” – Leslie

Man, oh man… I love the opening scene of this movie. It’s so damn good that it immediately pulls you right into this film from the get-go.

Also, I can’t believe that this is the first Bette Davis movie I am reviewing. I’ve seen so much of her stuff over the years but I guess this is the first film I’ve checked out over the last 18 months during this blog’s existence. So I should probably play some catch up and have a Bette Davis mini marathon in the immediate future.

The popular opinion about film-noir is that it was born with The Maltese Falcon in 1941, a year after this film came out. However, The Letter is very much film-noir. But there are many noir-esque films that predate 1941. Fritz Lang’s M came out in 1931 and you can’t tell me it’s not film-noir at its core.

So maybe William Wyler, this film’s director, was a bit ahead of the curve when it came to Hollywood trends. According to Eddie Muller of TCM’s Noir Alley, Wyler was the Steven Spielberg of his day and a real artist and king behind the camera. It shouldn’t be shocking that he was ahead of his time and quite possibly contributed to the genesis of film-noir.

The film is superbly acted, especially where Bette Davis is concerned. However, Gale Sondergaard’s Mrs. Hammond is the real scene stealer. Man, she just has an intense presence whenever she appears on screen and the fact that she was able to do this opposite of Davis is damned impressive. She didn’t even have to say anything, she just had to stand there, ominous and brooding over the scene around her.

The plot sees Davis’ Leslie Crosbie murder a man in the opening scene. Quite viciously for 1940, mind you. As the plot rolls on we learn that she killed him in self-defense. However, a blackmailer knows that she’s hiding something. This film then spirals down with twists and turns typical of the noir style.

What really makes this film alluring and sort of majestic is the setting. This takes place in Malaysia. It’s a tropical setting with an almost proto-Tiki aesthetic to it. The film just looks and feels exotic and isn’t your typical setting for a film of this style.

The shots of the plantation home and property, especially the opening and closing shots are incredible. The cinematography was handled by Tony Gaudio and he nailed it. This is quite easily one of the best looking motion pictures of the early 1940s.

The Letter is solid, through and through. And it is rare that you get to see Bette Davis share scenes with someone as commanding and intimidating as her.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Dark WatersThe Little FoxesJezebel and Dark Victory.