Film Review: Sisters (1972)

Also known as: Blood Sisters (Ireland)
Release Date: November 18th, 1972 (Filmex)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, William Finley, Charles Durning, Olympia Dukakis

American International Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I saw a murder, and I’m going to prove it!” – Grace Collier

Brian De Palma is a very talented director. This early film from him has him tapping into Alfred Hitchcock territory. While De Palma is no Hitchcock, this is as good as Hitchcock’s ’70s films, after he moved on from his prime.

Funny enough, De Palma got Bernard Herrmann to do the score for this film. For those that don’t know, Herrmann was a regular collaborator with Hitchcock. He also did the scores for Citizen KaneThe Magnificent Ambersons, The Day the Earth Stood Still and a slew of other classic pictures.

Herrmann’s score here is incredible and this wouldn’t be the same movie without Herrmann’s melodic, enchanting and otherworldly music. Sometimes the score is slow and beautiful, other times it is pounding, a bit shrill but always interesting.

De Palma channels his inner Hitchcock in his style and narrative structure. This is like a Hitchcockian thriller turned up to 11. This is a murder mystery story but it has very dark and unusual twists. In fact, I had never seen this before and having now seen it, I can see where all these other films and novels I’ve enjoyed have taken cues from the story’s twist.

The visual style is also heavily borrowed from Hitchcock but De Palma does it so well that this is much more of a strong and respectful homage than the director simply emulating a master.

The dream/hallucination sequence towards the end is majestic and nightmarish.

De Palma also taps into Hitchcock’s cinematic obsession of voyeurism. There are elements of Rear Window and Psycho in this but De Palma pulls this all off without a hitch.

This was a really cool film, which makes me appreciate the early work of De Palma even more.

Plus, Margot Kidder was absolutely superb in this. Jennifer Salt was a lot of fun too.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other early De Palma films: Obsession, Dressed to Kill, Phantom of the Paradise and The Fury.

Film Review: Suspiria (2018)

Also known as: Suspíria: A Dança do Medo (Brazil)
Release Date: September 1st, 2018 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Luca Guadangnino
Written by: David Kajganich
Based on: Suspiria by Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Music by: Thom Yorke
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Sylvie Testud, Renée Soutendijk, Christine LeBoutte, Fabrizia Sacchi, Małgosia Bela, Jessica Harper, Chloë Grace Moretz

K Period Media, Frenesy Film Company, Videa, Mythology Entertainment, First Sun, Memo Films, Amazon Studios, 152 Minutes

Review:

“Movement is never mute. It is a language. It’s a series of energetic shapes written in the air like words forming sentences. Like poems. Like prayers.” – Madame Blanc

There had been rumors of a Suspiria remake for years. I never thought it would actually happen, as it was in developmental hell and it isn’t a film that needs to be remade. The original was unique, haunting, effective and super stylish. In fact, it’s one of my favorite films of all-time.

So I was definitely against the idea of a remake. In fact, in my original Suspiria review, I referred to the upcoming remake as “cinematic sacrilege”. But something changed when I saw the trailer for this film.

This was a motion picture that was drastically different and certainly appeared to be its own thing only vaguely inspired by its source material. I was intrigued and once I realized that it was directed by the very talented Luca Guadangnino, who most recently did the Oscar nominated Call Me by Your Name, I was even more intrigued.

Unfortunately, this didn’t get a theatrical release near me but knowing that it was distributed by Amazon Studios, I figured I could just wait until it was available for free with my Prime membership. Once it was, I wasted no time in checking the film out.

I ended up being pleasantly surprised by this movie and even though it isn’t on the level of the original, it exceeds it in some factors.

Primarily, the acting in this picture is utterly superb and it is only enhanced by Guadangnino’s direction. He was able to capture very intimate moments, without the support of dialogue, in a way that added a mystique to the haunted proceedings.

Guadangnino also didn’t take his style cues from Argento’s original, which is actually a very, very good thing. This version of Suspiria was incredibly visual and stylized but in a new and unique way. Instead of employing the intense vivid and contrasting colors of Argento’s patented giallo visual flair, the color palate here is more subdued, full of dark earth tones and a grittiness. However, Guadangnino does sprinkle in some giallo-esque highlights. I think it is clearly an homage to Argento but it is done so subtly that someone unfamiliar with the original picture will miss it.

I thought that both Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton really owned their roles in this film, especially Swinton who had to play triple duty where two of her characters presented real performance challenges. Also, I was really impressed with Mia Goth and her ability to truly wear dread on her face and in her body language.

While the score by Goblin is absent, like the lack of giallo visuals, it is a good thing here. This film’s score by Thom Yorke has real character and it works quite well with the narrative and visual tones. While it is very hard to top that Goblin score, what we get with this film fits pretty flawlessly. Trying to mimic the sounds that Goblin did in 1977 would most likely have been a distraction.

This film also benefits from using the old school method for building suspense. While the picture may feel slow at parts, there really isn’t a wasted moment and everything serves the purpose of adding layers towards the story’s big climax.

As far as the climax goes, it has a pretty shocking twist that almost adds a feeling of disorientation to a sequence that almost comes across as sensory overload. It’s a lot to bear in a film that crawls by at a relaxed pace but it’s is quite incredible when you get to this point in the film.

That being said, I thought that some of the stuff in the finale was a bit over the top and a bit cheesy. I don’t want to spoil anything by pointing out the details but the whole thing hits you in the face like a hammer and by this point, you are mentally spent and the grotesque and hokier bits are buried under the weight of the whole sequence.

And despite my reservations about a few things with that finale, it is that moment that really made this film work for me. It truly showcased that Guadangnino might have started with Argento’s premise but in the end, he crafted his own creation that was much more complex but emotionally and intellectually deeper than the original. That alone allows this motion picture to justify its existence.

I look at remakes like I look at cover songs: if an artist can improve on the source material in some way or present it differently but still well, then it serves a purpose.

In the end, this is a motion picture that shocked and surprised me. While I still prefer the original, this remake is one of the absolute best horror films of the last decade.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original Suspiria and it’s first sequel Inferno.

Film Review: The Maze (1953)

Release Date: June 24th, 1953 (Portland, Oregon premiere)
Directed by: William Cameron Menzies
Written by: Daniel Ullman
Based on: The Maze by Maurice Sandoz
Music by: Marlin Skiles
Cast: Richard Carlson, Veronica Hurst, Katherine Emery

Allied Artists Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“SHOCKING CHILLS..Bloodcurdling suspense! A thousand thrill-maddening horrors!” – tagline

I never knew of this film’s existence until I stumbled across it on YouTube. But I’m glad that I gave this a watch, as I was pleasantly surprised by it.

I was initially drawn to the film because the idea of a horror film that takes place in and around a maze intrigued me. Plus, it takes place in Scotland with a Scottish castle and promises of “The Deadliest Trap in the World!” This film actually had several good marketing taglines but there wasn’t a single trap at all, really.

Now even though I enjoyed this film, it is very slow. But it does build up suspense pretty well so that once you get to the big finale in the maze, you feel a legitimate sense of terror and tension.

The big reveal at the end was pretty damn surprising too. The first time you see the creature scurry across the ground in the shadows, it’s a really bizarre moment and it’s hard to make out what you’re looking at. However, the full reveal is pretty damn shocking even for the hokiness of the monster.

If you want to watch this movie, ignore this spoilery paragraph and skip to the next. The creature is a big frog but it’s really a dude in a suit with a pretty realistic frog head. What’s really bizarre, is that he crawls across the ground. He sort of does this hop thing but barely. And what’s even more bizarre is that the frog dude’s screams sound like an elephant. Still, this was a really cool creature and I was caught off guard by it and also amused by it.

While the slow walk through the dark maze, at the end, was really well done. The lighting needed to be better. To simulate candlelight, the crew used a spotlight to illuminate the two women. However, it just looked like they were walking towards a spotlight and it didn’t seem to work as faux candlelight. Even for 1953, there were better techniques for lighting a scene like this. The only real reason why I’m actually pointing it out though, is that it distracts the viewer during this sequence, which was near perfect other than this glaring flaw.

Regardless of that one lighting issue and the slow pace, this was still thoroughly enjoyable. The last ten or fifteen minutes were solid. But that great climax probably wouldn’t have had as much impact if not for the slow, suspenseful build up.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The Night Walker, The Psychopath and X the Unknown.

Film Review: The Deadly Bees (1966)

Release Date: December 23rd, 1966 (Deming, New Mexico)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Robert Bloch, Anthony Marriott
Based on: A Taste for Honey by Gerald Heard
Music by: Wilfred Josephs
Cast: Suzanne Leigh, Guy Doleman, Frank Finlay, Michael Ripper, Katy Wild, Michael Gwynn

Amicus Productions, Paramount Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“[Referring to a liquid he has] I’ve made this especially for you, Vicki.” – H.W. Manfred

The Deadly Bees has a really low rating on IMDb and pretty much everywhere else you might look. Despite what seems to be most people’s disdain for the film, I actually like it.

I think this may be due to my love of British horror from this era but I’ll always have a pretty big soft spot for Amicus Productions, along with Hammer Films: the two studios that really made their mark in the ’60s and ’70s and epitomize the second wave of classic horror.

The Deadly Bees was also lampooned by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in one of the later seasons. I understand why it was rife with material to riff but there is still something truly eerie and effective about the film.

The biggest factor working against the movie is the special effects where the bee attacks are concerned. I mean, even for the ’60s, it’s kind of horrible. All of these scenes are comprised of victims flailing around, simulating a bee attack with yellowish bee blobs superimposed over the screen. It’s really bizarre looking and I know that funds on these sort of pictures were very limited but it bogs the rest of the film down in its cheap hokiness.

The plot is actually decent, most of the characters are good and there is a predictable twist at the end but I think it still works and it doesn’t diminish the feeling of dread when the damsel is in mortal danger.

The film also features Michael Ripper and Michael Gwynn, two actors that you’d see pop up in several Amicus and Hammer films.

I thought that Suzanne Leigh was pretty good in this and put in a convincing performance. She truly is an old school beauty and with that, has an enchanting presence.

Guy Doleman did a good job too, as you never really knew where he stood in the story. Was he an evil bastard or was he just kind of a jerk?

The Deadly Bees does have some issues but I don’t think any of them outweigh the positives to the point that this deserves a 3.6 out of 10 on IMDb. I think that its inclusion on MST3K has negatively effected the public’s view of the film. It’s far from the worst movie that you’ll see on MST3K.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films of the ’60s and ’70s.

Film Review: The Changeling (1980)

Release Date: March 26th, 1980 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: Peter Medak
Written by: Russell Hunter, William Gray, Diana Maddox
Music by: Rick Wilkins
Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos, Jean Marsh, Helen Burns, Madeleine Sherwood

Associated Film Distribution, 107 Minutes

Review:

“That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.” – Minnie Huxley

I saw this movie as a kid and it was one of the few that legitimately creeped me out. Although, I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid, so it was cool to check it out now, courtesy of Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In.

George C. Scott is a tremendous actor so seeing him in a very serious attempt at a horror film is very interesting. It adds a level of legitimacy to this film, which came out as slasher flicks were becoming the norm in the horror genre. This, like The Shining from the same year, were two solid classic horror movies that wouldn’t go quietly into the night despite the efforts of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and the soon to debut Freddy Krueger.

This is a classic haunted house/ghost story. But it has a lot of mystery thrown in and Scott’s John Russell must solve this mystery and assist the angry spirit if he doesn’t want to be driven mad or be murdered by the ghost. There are a lot of layers to the story and it’s not as predictable as similar ghost stories.

The movie also starts off really dark, as Russell sees his family killed right before him. Depressed and defeated by life, Russell moves into this haunted mansion in an effort to distance himself from the pain and to get back to his musical work in seclusion.

Scott’s stellar performance makes this entire film work in ways that a lesser actor wouldn’t be able to. Scott had to carry the ball and he is in nearly every scene in the movie. But he commits to the bit and really sells the horror with gusto and passion.

The score by Rick Wilkins was enchanting and set the mood. However, the direction of Peter Medak was impressive and the man let Scott be himself while employing impressive camera work and shot framing.

The Changeling is truly a classic in every sense of the word. However, it seems to be forgotten and not appreciated as much as some lesser horror films.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other “serious” horror films from the late ’60s through the early ’80s: Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The OmenThe Shining, etc.

TV Review: Doctor Who – The Eleventh Doctor Era (2010-2013)

Original Run: April 3rd, 2010 – December 25th, 2013
Created by: Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, Donald Wilson
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Murray Gold
Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Jenna Coleman, Alex Kingston

BBC, 44 Episodes, 45-77 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

When the era of the Tenth Doctor came to an end, it was a hard day. But then Matt Smith came on board as the Eleventh Doctor and right out the gate, even if I didn’t love him as much as David Tennant, he was, in many ways, an incredible Doctor.

I think the thing that makes this era of Doctor Who so damn good, is that the show had new blood calling the shots behind the scenes. Russell T. Davies moved on, the reigns were given to Steven Moffat and he did a great job in the first few seasons as show runner. Granted, his era went on for too long and it was pretty lackluster by the end but in the first two seasons of the Matt Smith era, almost every episode seemed to hit the right chords.

Additionally, this era had my favorite Doctor/companion relationship with Matt Smith’s Doctor and Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill as the Ponds, Amy and Rory. Also, add in the great performances by Alex Kingston and this group of friends had the best ensemble chemistry out of any Doctor/companion/ensemble lineup in history. And really, it is absolutely the strength of that ensemble that makes this era so f’n spectacular.

Now once the Ponds leave the show and Jenna Coleman comes in as Clara, things sort of fall apart. Coleman was actually fun, in the beginning, and I liked her storyline up until Smith left Doctor Who behind. However, the second half of Smith’s final season, which focused on the Doctor and Clara instead of the Doctor and the Ponds, felt like a dark time in the show. I wasn’t sure why, at the time, but the tone was changing, leading up to Peter Capaldi’s run as the Twelfth Doctor and the era where the show really fell apart for me. In fact, it never really recovered after the exit of the Ponds, except for a handful of Kingston episodes after that.

Had the Eleventh Doctor’s run not have been so dark and almost depressing in the last eight or so episodes, it could have equaled and maybe surpassed Tennant’s run, overall.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The Ninth, Tenth and Twelfth Doctors’ runs.

Film Review: My Name Is Julia Ross (1945)

Also known as: The Woman In Red (working title)
Release Date: November 8th, 1945 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis
Written by: Muriel Roy Bolton
Based on: The Woman In Red by Anthony Gilbert
Music by: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Cast: Nina Foch, Dame May Whitty, George Macready, Roland Varno, Anita Sharp-Bolster, Doris Lloyd, Joy Harington

Columbia Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t huddle way over there in the corner. You should sit closer so that people can see what a handsome couple we are!” – Ralph Hughes

The Criterion Channel finally launched, which is great after the void left behind by FilmStruck being shut down last November. With that, they featured a collection of films called “Columbia Noir”. This got me excited, as I haven’t seen much of Columbia Pictures’ noir films. The first in that collection was this one, a film I hadn’t heard of before.

Overall, this is a b-picture with a scant running time. That was pretty typical of some noir features from the time, as the crime genre was at an all-time high and studios were throwing together as many films on the cheap as possible. Sometimes these became hits and sometimes they floundered but with lesser known stars and thin budgets, they were quick and easy to produce without much financial risk.

It’s pretty apparent from the opening bell that this film-noir is a cheapy but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It had pretty good production value, at least on the surface. The filmmakers got a solid bang for their buck in regards to how the film looks on screen.

Now the cinematography and lighting aren’t memorable but they are better than what was the standard for b-movie noirs.

The film stars Nina Foch, who isn’t known very well, but she did hold her own and came off as convincing. The acting was better than average, here, and the director did a fine job of making the players shine within this little picture.

This isn’t a very exciting noir, though. In fact, it’s pretty forgettable.

The story is about a young woman who gets hired by an employment agency run by a nosy, rich widow. The woman moves into the widow’s home but then wakes up in another house entirely. It’s an interesting setup and provides a good framework for a solid mystery but nothing really hits in the right way.

The film is probably most notable for being director Joseph H. Lewis’ first film-noir picture. He would go on to direct The Falcon In San Francisco, So Dark the Night, The Undercover Man, the incredible Gun Crazy, A Lady Without a Passport, Cry of the Hunted and The Big Combo.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures by Columbia: So Dark the Night, Nightfall and Pushover.