“I do not believe.” Those words, chalked across a blackboard by college psychology professor Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) open this American production shot in England in 1961. (Wyngarde got the role by default when Peter Cushing chose to make Captain Clegg instead.) He then discovers that his wife Tansy (the estimable Janet Blair) has been casting spells for years and he begins to doubt precisely how he has achieved his career in academia, a hellhole for those in the know. As he persuades his wife to dismantle her creepy accoutrements, rivalries escalate, accusations mount, Tansy is in a trance, auditory hypnosis commences and the eagle above the college’s front door starts to look even more ominous… Scripted by Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson from the New England-set campus novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber,and directed by Sidney Hayers (there was a 1944 Hollywood version) this is an underrated supernatural outing about belief, an enchantment and black magic, and a memorable choice for All Souls’ Night. Brrr….
An empty subway. A noose hanging over a chair in an unfurnished apartment. A trembling hand. An atmosphere of dread. A teenage girl goes looking for her older sister and finds her amongst a group of devil-worshippers in wartime Greenwich Village. A masterpiece from the house of Lewton with a screenplay by Charles O’Neal and DeWitt Bodeen. Not too many films acknowledge John Donne: “I runne to death, and death meets me as fast, And all my pleasures are like yesterday.”Not so much a horror film as a yearning for death, as David Thomson puts it.
‘Tis the season to be spooky! The countdown to Halloween commences. See this wonderful John Carpenter film in its original widescreen version, not the pan/scan version so frequently used on television. A beautifully shot ghost story, a genuinely eerie tale of a (literal) haunting revenge on the northern Californian coast one hundred years after a shipwreck. A logical conclusion to The Birds (1963), perhaps, featuring Hitchcock’s most memorable heroine, Janet Leigh.
With the release of Gone Girl (Fincher, 2014) one is tempted to remember another marriage plot, with the resplendent Grace Kelly, the suave Ray Milland and the third part of that particular marriage’s triangle, the bland murder mystery writer, Mark (Robert Cummings). Shot in chronological order, and with just a courtroom scene to differentiate this 3D film from the stage play by Frederick Knott, it is a masterpiece of tension and melodramatic dread, shaded in Kelly’s increasingly complex performance. Ingeniously staging the work from different angles, including overhead, no studio flat ever seemed so small and yet so replete with danger. Kelly’s hair is styled differently to further our understanding of her predicament, her clothes steadily darker and her mood more penumbral. Marriage is murder.