From the mists of mystery emerges The Shadowcast! In this first episode, we explore the origins of the Dark Avenger with the very first pulp story: THE LIVING SHADOW, and review The Knight of Darkness’s first film appearance in the rare 1931 DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE Film Shorts!
“Your life,” said the stranger’s voice slowly, “is no longer your own. It belongs to me now. But you are still free to destroy it. Shall we return to the bridge?”
“I don’t know,” blurted Vincent. “This is all like a dream; I don’t understand it. Perhaps I did fall from the bridge, and this is death that I am now experiencing. Yet it seems real, after all. What good is my life to anyone? What will you do with it?”
“I shall improve it,” replied the voice form the darkness. “I shall make it useful. But I shall risk it, too. Perhaps I shall lose it, for I have lost lives, just as I have saved them. This is my promise; like, with enjoyment, with danger, with excitement, and— with money. Life, above all, with honor. If I give it, I demand obedience. Absolute obedience. You may accept my terms, or your may refuse. I shall wait for you to choose.”
After recently revisiting The Ninth Gate, a film I love for being a solid mix of neo-noir and occult horror, I decided that reading the book it’s based on was long overdue.
I’m actually surprised that I hadn’t read this a long time ago. I was also surprised to see that this was written by the same guy that wrote the novel that served as the inspiration to the hit television crime drama, Queen of the South.
This features the same core characters as the film but the two stories have some very big differences. This version alters the relationships of some characters, as well as their personalities. Corso and Balkan’s interactions are very different, here, and I feel like in the film, things were altered in a way that maximized the talents of both Johnny Depp and Frank Langella.
The book is more detailed and explores some territory that the movie did not. I don’t want to ruin it, though, and don’t want to point out every difference.
If you are a fan of The Ninth Gate, you should probably enjoy this. While I like the movie better, overall, a lot of that could just be due to my familiarity with it and now my nostalgia for it, being that it’s over twenty years old.
The book is pretty dense at times, though, and it assumes you have knowledge of classic literature. While that knowledge isn’t necessary in order to follow this, it does probably make the overall experience more interesting and engaging.
Like the film, it was fun seeing Corso try to solve a puzzle that would lead to some dark discoveries.
Release Date: August 25th, 1999 (Spain premiere) Directed by: Roman Polanski Written by: John Brownjohn, Roman Polanski, Enrique Urbizu Based on:The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte Music by: Wojciech Kilar Cast: Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, Frank Langella, James Russo, Jack Taylor, Emmanuelle Seigner, Allen Garfield, Barbara Jefford
“There’s nothing more reliable than a man whose loyalty can be bought for hard cash.” – Boris Balkan
I don’t know what it is about this movie but I’ve probably watched it more times than anyone else I’ve ever met because it enchants me and grabs my attention. Something about it is cool, mesmerizing and weirdly soothing.
I also like that it blends supernatural, biblical horror with film-noir. Horror and noir were always a really good thing when paired up and a lot of those early RKO horror films that Val Lewton produced, showcased the blending of these genres exceptionally well.
This is directed by Roman Polanski, who made one of the greatest neo-noir movies of all-time with 1974’s Chinatown. Here, he takes some of that noir experience and adds it to a more contemporary film. And like Chinatown, this moves at a slow and steady pace but definitely not a boring one. The film is a slow burn all the way up to its finale, which I thought was pretty neat and satisfying.
The plot plays out like a game. You have a very rich publisher that hires a rare book dealer to track down the other copies of an extremely rare book that could very well be tied to the Devil. With that, he sets off on this adventure and crosses paths with a lot of mysterious people who have their own agendas, most of them being pretty sinister. The book dealer also gets assistance from a mysterious, unnamed girl, whose motivations are never clear. Later on, we also see that this girl has powers that make you wonder if she’s an angel or a fallen angel or even possibly a demon or some important biblical character.
There’s a Satanic cult, murder plots, twists, turns and serious curveballs that I didn’t see coming the first time I viewed this film. All the while, it does seem pretty clear that one of these people is pulling a lot of the strings.
The atmosphere of the film is one of the things that make this such a visually beautiful picture. While a lot of that has to do with the general cinematography, I think that the score by Wojciech Kilar is stellar and really gives this movie its life and energy while enhancing those visuals.
This is also one of my favorite roles that Johnny Depp has ever played and I thought that his fairly chill, almost understated performance was perfect for the tone of the story. I also thought that Frank Langella was magnificent and this is my favorite thing that he’s done besides Skeletor and Dracula.
The Ninth Gate was a movie that came out and seemed to be completely overlooked. Still, I know that most people haven’t seen it, over two decades later. It reminds me of the ’70s style of serious, religious horror. If that stuff is your thing, this should be right up your alley.
Release Date: March 6th, 1987 Directed by: Alan Parker Written by: Alan Parker Based on:Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg Music by: Trevor Jones Cast: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling
Union, Winkast Film Productions, Carolco Pictures, 113 Minutes
“They say there’s enough religion in the world to make men hate each other, but not enough to make them love.” – Louis Cyphre
I wanted to kickoff my Halloween movie season with something that many consider iconic but that I hadn’t seen, at least in its entirety. I chose Angel Heart, as it isn’t just horror but it’s also neo-noir and stars two elite talents in Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro.
While I’ve seen segments of this motion picture, over the years, it’s rarely ever been on television and out of the thousands of movies I’ve come to own, this wasn’t one of them.
I really dug this movie tonally and aesthetically. It’s also tremendously well acted from the two leads, as well as Lisa Bonet and Charlotte Rampling, both of whom carry themselves fantastically alongside two real heavyweights.
This movie is just so dark and brooding that you feel it in your gut. It’s hard to describe but it reminds me of the feelings I get whenever I revisit The Serpent and the Rainbow. Well done voodoo movies just hit me on a guttural level, I guess. Maybe that’s because I live in southern Florida and have grown up around many Caribbean people, who have effected me over the years.
My only real issue is that sometimes it feels slow or uneventful. I think that the payoff, albeit predictable, is still satisfying and it helps bring everything together.
I actually don’t want to spoil too much about the plot but a private investigator is hired by a mysterious man in New York City. This man is looking for a lost pop singer named Johnny Favorite. The investigation leads the P.I. to New Orleans and the surrounding bayou a.k.a. voodoo country.
While there, and as the story progresses, things get increasingly more fucked up and weird. Eventually, this guy is in really deep and he starts to lose his mind, as bodies start piling up.
The art direction and cinematography in this film are incredible. While I think that was made easier by using the timeless architecture and locations in New Orleans, that doesn’t discount how well that city was captured on film and maximized to its fullest effect.
With that, this movie feels kind of timeless. Sure, it happens in a specific location and era but something about this film feels like it exists in its own special place and time. When you get to the ending, it may actually get you theorizing on why exactly this is.
Angel Heart is an incredibly unique experience and unlike just about anything I can think of. While I can’t call it great, it’s worth checking out at least once, because of that uniqueness. This picture won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but there’s really only one way for a person to find out.
Release Date: January 30th, 1947 (London premiere) Directed by: Carol Reed Written by: R. C. Sherriff Based on:Odd Man Out by F. L. Green Music by: William Alwyn Cast: James Mason, Robert Newton, Cyril Cusack, Kathleen Ryan, F. J. McCormick, William Hartnell, Fay Compton, Denis O’Dea, W. G. Fay, Dan O’Herlihy, Paul Farrell
Two Cities Films, Rank Organisation, 116 Minutes
“I remember. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I understood as a child. But when I became a man, I put way childish things. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity, I am become a sounding brass or a inkling cymbal. Though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and though I have all faiths so that I could remove mountains and have not charity… I am nothing.” – Johnny McQueen
For my 2500th film review, I wanted to do something special. Something that I had never seen but that I’ve wanted to watch for quite some time. So I chose a Carol Reed classic, which came out just two years before his magnum opus, The Third Man.
Like The Third Man, this movie has a strong classic film-noir flavor, narratively and aesthetically, and it primarily follows a man traversing the shadowy alleys and corridors of an old European city.
The story is about an escaped convict, played by James Mason, who has been hiding in his girlfriend’s home for six months. On this night, however, he decides to commit a robbery with his old gang. A security guard is killed and the convict ends up getting shot in the shoulder, which leads to him falling out of the escape car during the getaway.
The man hides in a warehouse, as his gang tries to go back and find him. Most of the gang is killed when they are double-crossed by a dame. The convict then tries to make his way back to his girlfriend’s house and meets different people along the way, as he continues to bleed out and desperately needs medical attention.
The film ends rather violently for the time and I guess some of the shots were edited out, as it rubbed the ethics and decency fascists the wrong way. But ultimately, like all things noir at the time, the bad people meet a bad end because balance must be restored to universe.
Like The Third Man, this movie features incredible cinematography, especially in regards to the use of light, shadow and contrast. The film has visual texture and many of the shots are so layered, that they provided the sort of visual depth that wasn’t very common. For an example of this, there is the scene where the tramp comes home, walks up the dilapidated stairs where an opening in the ceiling is dripping water through the center of the composition. Once in his apartment, the shadow from the bird cage spreads over the dark back wall and gives the film that layered depth and feels almost otherworldly.
There are other notable sequences that really show off how talented cinematographer, Robert Krasker, was – the hallucination sequence for instance. This is probably why he was Reed’s choice for The Third Man. Krasker was noted for being influenced by the German Expressionist style, as well as the other visually stunning film-noir pictures of his day.
I can’t put this on the same level as The Third Man but it’s a perfect companion piece to it and if you’re a fan of that movie, you’ll definitely enjoy this one and it will also show you an earlier stage of Carol Reed’s development as a cinematic artist. Everything he employed here, he would employ in his later work.
Release Date: May 17th, 1979 (Cannes) Directed by: Harold Becker Written by: Joseph Wambaugh Based on:The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh Music by: Eumir Deodato Cast: John Savage, James Woods, Franklyn Seales, Ted Danson, Ronny Cox, Christopher Lloyd, Priscilla Pointer, John de Lancie
Black Marble Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 122 Minutes
“Any man who gives up his gun to some punk is a coward. Any man who does can kiss his badge goodbye, if I can help it. You’re policemen. Put your trust in God.” – LAPD Captain
I had never heard of this movie until the Criterion Channel put up a neo-noir collection, recently. Going through it, I figured I’d give this picture a watch, as it was one of the few in that collection that I hadn’t yet seen.
This also has James Woods and Ted Danson in it, so I was pretty intrigued, considering I had never stumbled across this.
The story is based on a true crime book and the film is written by the same author, which I guess helped keep things as accurate as possible. With real world stories, accuracy is hardly a priority for Hollywood.
First and foremost, this is incredibly well acted. Once the big, fucked up event in the film happens, John Savage’s acting goes to another level and the film switches gears, showing a once badass man break down because of the death of his partner and because the broken justice system is failing to make the killer pay for the crime.
The first hour of the story gives the background on the people and the events that led to a cop being murdered by a scumbag criminal. At the midway point of the film, we see the traffic stop that leads to the cop’s murder and his partner’s escape. The last half of the film focuses on the fallout and how the surviving cop can’t deal with justice not being served.
This is an emotionally heavy film in the back half and it leaves you incredibly pissed off, as you start to wonder if the scumbag is going to get away with the heinous, cold-blooded crime.
Beyond the great acting, this is a film that has great atmosphere. Watching it, it feels dark, confined and muggy. You feel stifled by the weight of it and feel the emotion pretty intensely. However, even with the genuine emotional connection to the primary character, the film really suffers from its pacing and structure. Something just felt a bit off in that regard and the film drags in points.
Still, I enjoyed this and was glad that I discovered it.
Also known as: New Is Made at Night (working title) Release Date: April 19th, 1956 (London premiere) Directed by: Fritz Lang Written by: Casey Robinson Based on:The Bloody Spur by Charles Einstein Music by: Herschel Burke Gilbert Cast: Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Vincent Price, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Sally Forrest, John Drew Barrymore, Ida Lupino, James Craig, Robert Warwick, Mae Marsh, Leonard Carey
Bert E. Friedlob Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 110 Minutes
“What a beautiful nightgown; and it’s a shortie!” – Ed Mobely
I love Fritz Lang’s work, especially in regards to the noir narrative and visual style. And while noir films were waning in popularity by 1956, Lang still managed to make a pretty good one with this picture.
The film is about a serial killer that is terrorizing the city. All the while, a media tycoon dies and leaves the business to a son he despises. The son, played by Vincent Price, doesn’t know much about running a news company, so he creates a new “second-in-command” position. He holds a contest between the company’s best investigative journalists to catch the killer. The one who does will be given the new position and some lucrative perks.
The movie has a weird but interesting premise and all the core actors in this do a good job with the material.
One thing Lang does exceptionally well in his films is how he builds up tension and suspense. He does a fantastic job in this one, as well.
I think the serial killer stuff is also a bit darker and more gruesome feeling than other serial killer movies before this. But going all the way back to 1931’s M, Fritz Lang showed that he didn’t shy away from the darkness and was able to really push the envelope in spite of the limitations of what was deemed acceptable at the time.
This movie is full of characters that are entertaining and fun to watch. However, there is still this haunting presence looming over everything.
Ultimately, this isn’t Fritz Lang’s best noir picture but it also solidifies the fact that the guy never made a bad or even mediocre one.
Published: March 7th, 2018 Written by: Brian Michael Bendis Art by: Alex Maleev
Marvel Comics, 264 Pages
After reading through the lengthy Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev run on Daredevil, I figured I’d give their run on Moon Knight a shot.
Reason being, I mostly liked Bendis’ Daredevil stuff other than how he didn’t know how to bring it to a close and his cringe romance shit. I also liked Maleev’s art, for the most part. Plus, I like the hell out of the Moon Knight character and wish I had read more of is stories over the years. I’m trying to rectify that now, as I’m older and have access to so much more.
This story is twelve issues long and it uses that space really well and wraps up much better than Bendis’ Daredevil run. I think that he went into this knowing where it needed to end and that since he had limited space to tell a story, he gave us something well structured that got to the point and gave us a satisfying conclusion.
In this story, we see Moon Knight dealing with his “hearing voices” problem in a fresh way. While he is recruited for a mission by Captain America, Wolverine and Spider-Man, he also starts seeing versions of them in his mind. Additionally, with such a close connection to them, he starts to use their gimmicks in his battles with L.A.’s criminal underworld.
That underworld is ruled by its own kingpin, similar to The Kingpin in New York City. However, this person’s identity is a mystery and Moon Knight is tasked with luring them out and discovering why exactly they wanted to buy a deactivated Ultron head.
Moon Knight also meets Echo, the two have a reluctant partnership but end up falling in love during their mission.
This becomes more and more high stakes as it rolls on. Out of the twelve issues, none of them are wasted on filler bullshit and the romance stuff is in there but it’s nowhere near as exhausting as what we got in Bendis’ Daredevil. It’s like Bendis improved in that regard and wrote something more natural and to the point. Nothing between Moon Knight and Echo seemed forced like it did between Daredevil and his wife Milla.
I also feel like Alex Maleev’s art was an improvement. It’s cleaner while also looking more detailed. It also fit the tone of the story pretty damn well.
I don’t want to say too much about the story, as there are some big reveals and twists but this is definitely worth reading if you want a superhero, neo-noir tale that isn’t Daredevil-centric.
Release Date: February 15th, 1976 Directed by: John Cassavetes Written by: John Cassavetes Music by: Bo Harwood Cast: Ben Gazzara, Timothy Agoglia Carey, Seymour Cassel, Azizi Johari, James Lew
Faces Distribution, 135 Minutes
“I’m a club owner. I deal in girls.” – Cosmo Vitelli
This has been in my Criterion Channel queue for far too long. In fact, it was in my FilmStruck queue before that service went kaput and Criterion struck out on their own with their current service in an effort to fill the voice leftover by AT&T killing FilmStruck and crushing the hearts of legit cinephiles that can’t get their fix with crappy Netflix originals.
Anyway, this isn’t a rant about the loss of FilmStruck, I already talked about that here. This is a review of a pretty solid neo-noir picture directed by the multitalented John Cassavetes.
Cassavetes doesn’t star in his own picture, though. Instead, the film is led by Ben Gazzara, who became one of Cassavetes’ favorite actors to work with. This was the second of their three pictures.
Gazzara was fucking dynamite in this as his character, Cosmo Vitelli, a cabaret club owner with a serious gambling problem. He finds himself in great debt and with that, to square up his bill with the mafia run casino, he is pushed into murdering a Chinese bookie that is cutting into the mob’s business.
Obviously, he doesn’t want to commit murder but when he drags his feet, the mob does their damnedest to make him see things their way. So he does eventually go to the Chinese booker’s home to begrudgingly kill the mob’s rival. Things don’t go as smoothly as he’d like and I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil the details.
There are a lot more layers to this than just the main plot thread, though. We get to really know this character and see the world and his profession through his eyes. He’s a nice, likable guy that loves women, loves the nightlife but finds himself in way over his head because he couldn’t stop himself from digging his own hole.
This is a great character study piece while also being a solid 1970s neo-noir picture. And with the neo-noir style, you obviously get a film that’s visually vivid and beautiful to look at in spite of the gritty, dirty city that these characters operate in.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a really unique and genuine movie. Cassavetes wrote a compelling story with a really likable character and his direction behind the camera was executed tremendously well.
While I don’t know if this is something I’d revisit in the future, unless I was showing it to another neo-noir fan, it still provided me with a worthwhile and entertaining experience. It also showed me that Ben Gazzara is a better actor than I’d previously given him credit for only seeing him in smaller roles and as the baddie in Road House.