Les Diaboliques (1955)

Les Diaboliques.jpg

Aka The Devils or The Fiends. Paul Meurisse est le directeur sadique d’une école de français provinciale qui a été assassinée par sa femme douce (Vera Clouzot, épouse du réalisateur) et sa maîtresse endurciée (Simone Signoret). Elles le noient dans une baignoire dans la maison de Signoret en vacances et le rendent à la piscine de l’école. Cependant, son corps n’est pas situé comme prévu et il est vu par d’autres personnes sur place. Cette adaptation du roman de Boileau-Narcejac (Celle qui n’était plus) serait l’inspiration pour Psycho: Robert Bloch a déclaré que c’était son film préféré dans le genre; Hitchcock a été battu aux droits du film par le réalisateur Henri-Georges Clouzot, qui l’a adapté avec Jérôme Geronimi; et il a ensuite acquis un autre roman par la paire pour faire Vertigo. L’atmosphère dans l’école maternelle est merveilleusement réalisée; la tension entre les femmes (à l’origine un couple lesbien dans le roman) superbement créé dans leurs caractères antithétiques; le monde terrifiant de l’après-guerre créé inoubliablement; et la fin de la torsion est simplement un choc classique. Suspense supérieure et infiniment influente, avec un prototype pour Columbo dans le détective joué par Charles Vanel. Le thème de Georges Van Parys joué sur les titres est sublime.

 

Advertisements

Psycho (1998)

Psycho 1998 poster.jpg

The Hitchcock film is so ingrained in the collective psyche it was some kind of madness to remake it shot for shot (almost – there are some surreal inserts.) When Gus Van Sant’s name was attached it didn’t even make lunatic sense. Nor the fact that some cast members (I mean you, Anne Heche) didn’t even seem to know the original. The cinematographer (Chris Doyle) didn’t even understand the point of some shots, it appears. If you can get past the fact that this is sacrilege; that paradoxically Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, the keeper of her father’s flame, approved it; and that huge dead-eyed Vince Vaughn was selected to play the delicate bird-like Norman Bates (okay, Vaughn is truer to Bloch’s image, but who but the indelible Anthony Perkins is Norman?!), this can be viewed as an interesting homage to the most important film in (some people’s) living memory. It is about identity and its negation;  the camera articulates vision and perception (just look! A crane shot introduces Marion Crane! And the final shot of her eye is the single most important image in cinema); and Anne Heche’s underwear is kinda wonderful – the whole first section of the film is all about the colour orange. It’s about a man in a dress pretending to be his dead mother, whose rotting corpse is in the fruit cellar. The original film was censor-bait – when Janet Leigh flushed her calculations down the toilet censorship was literally flushed away in American cinema: that doesn’t even register nowadays. It is a reverie about a kingdom of death, as Donald Spoto has it. Joseph Stefano’s screenplay (he had a lot of help from Mrs Hitchcock) is shot word for word;  and Bernard Herrmann’s score is reworked by Danny Elfman. So this is an empty act of nostalgia and avant-gardism inasmuch as it is doing a Warhol to something that effectively belongs to everyone. But it is Hitchcock. Not to be reproduced. Like I said, sacrilege.

Summer Lovers (1982)

summer-lovers-poster

“They spent a Summer of Love – to the sounds of Chicago.” I was way too young to see this when it first came out but all those music videos gave me pause for thought – what about a threesome on a Greek island?! Such is the power of pop. College grad Daryl Hannah is the beautiful photographer holidaying in Santorini (and Crete, Delos and Mykonos) with long-term boyfriend Peter Gallagher and it doesn’t take long for them to be seduced by the nude bathing when he spots cute French archaeologist Valerie Quennessen on a dig and pairs up with her and utters the deathless line, It’s not you it’s me… then the ladies decide they would like to expand the arrangement. The settings are astonishing and if it’s a bit rich to describe this louche fantasy as an exploration of sexual politics, well, that’s precisely what it is, with lashings of free love to beat the band when the ladies take charge. It all goes kinda meta when Daryl says, I used to dream I was a mermaid … that would take a couple of years. She and Peter and Valerie (a princess in Conan the Barbarian) spend most of the movie partially nude if not fully nekkid so it’s not so hard to put together why they’re all in it:  what a holiday they are having. Until Barbara Rush turns up during an olive oil party to see daughter Daryl before matters domestic are fully sorted out. Just the thing to unleash your inner twentysomething libertine on a snowy winter’s day! Written and directed by Randal Kleiser, that clever fellow. He had previously auditioned Hannah for the role that Brooke Shields played in Blue Lagoon, his other isle of dreams.  If you’re in Santorini you can visit the villa they shot in which is christened for the film – it’s been a gift shop since 1987. Quennessen worked under the supervision of archaeological experts and uncovered artifacts c3,500 years old. She died distressingly young in a car crash.

Strangerland (2015)

Strangerland_2015_Poster.jpg

The words Joseph Fiennes on a movie poster are enough to strike fear into even the most hardened of filmgoers. He’s paired with Nicole Kidman as the parents of two kids who go missing right before a dust storm envelops the Australian desert town where they’ve moved. The parents have split up and she’s left finding out through reading diaries that her 15-year old daughter is the town slut. When Fiennes shows up he says she takes after her mother. She accuses him of molesting their daughter (called Lily, rather ironically). She tries to have sex with policeman Hugo Weaving and the Aboriginal who had sex with her little girl. The Aboriginals think the children have been taken by some Rainbow prophecy which is really helpful. Fiennes locates his son by the simple expedient of going in the opposite direction taken by the police. The boy is unable to speak, no matter how many times Kidman shakes him, but eventually Fiennes gets it out of him that his older sister went off in someone’s car. In other words, WTF????? Now I need to make one of those nice Rorschach blots like the aliens in Arrival before I get really rude.

The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

The Watcher in the Woods movie poster.jpg

Or, Disney’s version of a horror movie. This adaptation of the novel by noted Gothic/YA author Florence Engel Randall was quite the thing when I was knee-high to a grasshopper and Bette Davis was there for the connoisseur. My Disney idol was Kim Richards but it’s her little sister Kyle who features here as Ellie the younger of two girls (the elder being Lynn-Holly Johnson as Jan) whose family has relocated to England.  They lease an old country house and the girls are haunted by the spirit of old crone Davis’ daughter who disappeared thirty years before, in what appears to have been some sort of teenagers’ initiation ceremony in a derelict church during a solar eclipse. Jan bears a startling resemblance to the missing girl, Karen, and sees flashes of blue light in the woods while Ellie appears to be hearing voices coming from the new family dog whom she has christened Nerak – which spells Karen backwards. The messages come frequently and they have to try to rescue Karen from another dimension during the next eclipse … Children’s author Mom (Carroll Baker) has to deal with the problem while composer Dad (David McCallum) heads to London to produce a musical. Director John Hough had some form with this blend of supernature and sci fi – being a veteran of the Witch Mountain movies starring Kim Richards and featuring one Bette Davis in the second entry, Return From Witch Mountain. There was some issue with the concluding scenes and in the second version the effects happened too quickly to make sense of the story while Vincent McEveety was then drafted in to do a version that was released in 1981. Personally I was thrilled to see my old heart throb Benedict Taylor turn up in the cast – remember him in Beau Geste on Sunday evenings? And The Far Pavilions! And My Brother Jonathan. And A Perfect Spy…  Dominic Guard appears (uncredited) in Ian Bannen’s role in the flashbacks. Guard is now a children’s author himself, amongst other things. I’m almost as thrilled to see Kyle Richards on a Raleigh Chopper. (And Georgina Hale as Karen, of course!)  Adapted by Brian Clemens, Harry Spalding and Rosemary Anne Sisson, soundtracked by Stanley Meyers and nicely shot by Alan Hume. This is quite fascinating.

Les Yeux Sans Visage (1960)

Eyes Without a Face movie poster.jpg

Le chirurgien Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) souhaite remodeler le visage de sa fille Christiane (Edith Scob), rendue méconnaissable suite à un accident de voiture, mais pour cela il doit effectuer des greffes de peau qu’il aura prélevée sur des jeunes filles, enlevees par son assistante (Alida Valli). Le film marque la rencontre de Georges Franju (archiviste avec Henri Langlois a la Cinematheque Francaise) avec le duo de romanciers et scénaristes Boileau-Narcejac. (Ils se retrouveront deux ans plus tard pour Pleins Feux sur l’assassin (1961), cette fois-ci pour un scénario original) .Adapté du roman de l’énigmatique Jean Redon publié dans la collection angoisse du Fleuve Noir (on chuchote qu’il s’agirait d’un pseudonyme de Fréderic Dard) ce film reste un modèle du genre. Tout se passe comme si le réalisateur n’avait jamais vu de film de ce genre et il réinvente tout… et miracle il le fait parfaitement, les cadrages, les éclairages, la direction d’acteur, un régal… et l’angoisse et bien là ! C’est un film aussi fantastique que politique, rappelant les experiences medicales et honteuses de la seconde guerre mondiale mais les images mettent en avant une espece de la magie, de l’espoir, de l’amour. Incroyable.

Sleeping With the Enemy (1991)

Sleeping with the Enemy poster.jpg

Julia Roberts’ stardom really is the touchstone for the Nineties. Here she’s the abused young wife of violent OCD psycho Patrick Bergin, that dashing Irishman who wears a black coat and a great moustache and has his finest cinematic moment to date in Map of the Human Heart, Vincent Ward’s masterpiece. The unloved-up mismatched couple live on the beach in modernist fabulosity while he lines up all the cans so that they face the right way out (just like David Beckham). It really is a shock to see him administer a beating to America’s happiest hooker. A boating accident leads him to believe she’s dead – but she’s in the middle of Cedar Falls, Iowa, donning drag and a nifty moustache with her new and bearded neighbour’s assistance to visit her disabled mom in a nursing home having faked her funeral six months earlier. This is meat and drink to director Joseph Ruben who is working with the Ron Bass/Bruce Joel Rubin adaptation of Nancy Price’s novel. There are no real surprises here if you’ve ever wondered what it might be like if Fatal Attraction were to be reversed with added Berlioz. Just remember:  it’s all about the facial hair.

Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)

Apocalypse_Now_Redux.jpg

Why mess with perfection? It seems a lot of films get out without their makers’ approval – CE3K being but one example. So there goes your auteur theory, box office and schedules being of more concern to the studios. Twenty-two years after it originally escaped Francis Ford Coppola’s hands, he got back with Walter Murch (who’d already spent two years of his life on it…) and re-edited a masterpiece, adding 29 minutes and substantial extra story to this fabular excursion on the wild side of Vietnam. The story is effectively the same, with the brilliance of John Milius’ touch all over this Conrad adaptation and those incredible, quotable lines – I love the smell of napalm in the morning! Charlie don’t surf! – but with added French ex-pats living out the last of their gilded sweaty days on a plantation (Christian Marquand helps). There is also a new sequence meeting the Playboy Bunnies upriver and more with Colonel Kurtz. The original soundtrack is quite possibly the scariest in my collection (try listening to it on your own in the dark) but more music was added: although Carmine Coppola had died in 1991, a deleted Love Theme was found and re-recorded on synths. If you haven’t seen this, or the original, you’re missing out on one of the great cinematic experiences. Stunning.

Every Secret Thing (2014)

every_secret_thing_poster

We’re never too happy to learn about kids committing serious crimes – say, kidnap and murder. When a three and a half year old half caste girl disappears in a small town attention falls on two teenaged girls recently released from juvenile detention for a startlingly similar crime involving a baby seven years earlier. Elizabeth Banks is the detective tasked with deja vu:  she found the first baby’s body and the child’s mother alerts her to the recent return of morbidly obese Alice (Danielle McDonald) and pretty Ronnie (Dakota Fanning) who she’s convinced must be involved. The story unfolds in repeated flashbacks showing that Alice’s mom Helen (Diane Lane), a schoolteacher ambitious for her charges, clearly prefers working class Ronnie to her own chubby daughter with kinky blonde hair. They were thrown out of a birthday party Helen forced Alice to attend with Ronnie, precipitating the original crime. Both teenagers, never friends and now avoiding each other, are now under questioning but not arrest, offer different versions of events. Alice claims innocence and blames Ronnie for the new disappearance. She says everyone wants to hate the fat girl and she was wrongly implicated in the first crime (and we see just how and by who). Laura Lippman’s novel was adapted by Nicole Holofcener at the request of Frances McDormand, who wanted her to direct. It’s a puzzling film in many ways – the obsession with half caste children is never fully revealed albeit something that happened to reality-TV obsessed Alice  gives us only minor insight yet it’s a major clue to the psychopathology of this girl and the mother who seems like the nicest woman in the world and what she might have reared. There’s a lot of good stuff here but it never wholly convinces despite the canny casting and writing. Directed by Amy Berg.

White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)

White Bird in a Blizzard poster.jpg

Gregg Araki figured big on the Nineties film festival circuit and his edgy teen fare was a key part of queer/indie cinema. I think Mysterious Skin is his best work, and that came out in 2004. This adaptation of a novel by Larua Kasischke is an unsatisfying drama but strangely it’s the first film in which I find Shailene Woodley remotely tolerable. Normally she makes me want to peel my face from my skull: I cannot articulate why. Another problem for me and no doubt her is that the role here required her to get her top off, an issue for a lot of young actresses, although I don’t think Meryl Streep ever got that particular memo. It’s the late Eighties and Mom Eva Green disappears, leaving Kat (Woodley) living alone with her dad (Christopher Meloni). Instead of grieving, Kat has sex with her next door neighbour, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez) and the detective (Thomas Jane) in charge of the investigation.Therapy has no effect on her whatsoever:  she just has sex. A few years later she’s at college and comes home for the vacation. Dad’s got a love interest,  Jane tells her he thinks Dad killed Mom and her friends remind her that when they tried to convince her that’s what must have happened she just didn’t listen. They wonder why the freezer in the basement rec room is padlocked … and somehow all her fantasy memories of Mom in the snow make sense. Sigh. Not much mystery here then and the final revelation isn’t rocket science. The soundtrack is great though.