The Spiritualist (1948)

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Aka The Amazing Mr XAlexis, do you think I’d make a good celestial companion? The wonderful Carole Landis committed suicide in the most horrendous way a couple of days before shooting began on this;  she was replaced by the estimable Lynn Bari, no mean actress in her own right. She’s widowed Christine Faber, haunted by the ghost of her late husband (Donald Curtis) rising from the surf, but a tall dark stranger (Turhan Bey) materialises who knows more about her than he ought, faking his way as a medium, and luring her into a dangerous game … With Cathy O’Donnell as her sister Janet and my sci fi heart-throb Richard Carlson as a lawyer, Harry Mendoza and Virginia Gregg rounding out the ensemble, we are taken into truly villainous territory with Bey making for an alluring bad guy who gets in way too deep.  In his eyes, the threat of terror! In his hands, the power to destroy! Crane Wilbur’s story was written for the screen by Muriel Roy Bolton and Ian McLellan Hunter and directed by Bernard Vorhaus. This film noir is gilt-edged thanks to the luminous cinematography by John Alton and good use is made of Chopin’s Prelude for Piano, opus 28 no. 4 in E minor. A special experience and one of my new favourite Forties movies! PS:  Wilbur was first cousin to Tyrone Power and he said of his work, I‘m going to give people what they want. Sensation, horror, shock. Send them out into the streets to tel their friends how wonderful it is to be scared to death.


Juliet of the Spirits (1965)

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Giulietta Masina suspects that her event manager husband is a philanderer and a mystic confirms her worst fears so she hires a private eye to follow him and get the proof. That’s it, in a nutshell. Except it’s SO much more. She’s more contained, conventional, bourgeois than her cliquey flamboyant friends who show up to have a seance to celebrate her birthday. They all have artistic lives, huge hats, exotic lovers and her equally worldly sisters have beautiful little children to add injury to insult. The woman next door entertains her lovers in a tree house:  when Giulietta returns her cat she demurs from their offer to join them. She enters a world of fantasy and flashback, frequently finding an amusing correlative on TV for her woes and Fellini indulges his wife’s character in all kinds of daydreams and psychic excursions, memories of frightening nuns from childhood, intimations of sex in a brothel. She’s so different from the artificial environment in which she finds herself which is incredibly photographed and looking as fresh as if it were made yesterday. The images are like jolts to the senses:  this was the maestro’s first feature in colour and boy did he revel in its painterly possibilities with Gianni De Venanzo’s cinematography making pictures that sing. Critics argue about the film’s significance and whether it was his explanation to Masina for his own extra-marital life, but it is sheerly wondrous, a throwback to when films mattered.

Grave of the Vampire (1972)

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My favourite TV show when I was a kid (and of all time…) was The Rockford Files. Except I hated all the episodes that had New Joisey mooks usurping Jim’s turf. What on earth were they doing in Malibu?! Who put them there?! David Chase, that’s who. Of course until he hit the big time with The Sopranos I had no idea of his deviant past. And here is more of it, writ large as the originator of the story (The Still Life) and harbinger of a bloodsucking vampire baby, born to Leslie, impregnated on date night not by her fiance but by the man who has left his coffin’s silence to bathe the world in blood. The baby, sustained with a regular supply of the red stuff, grows up to become William Smith (an exploitation staple whose finest hour was as villainous Falconetti in TV’s Rich Man, Poor Man) who tries to hunt down the man who ruined his perverted mom.(She just will not abort the parasite despite the doc’s best pleading). He fetches up in a college because night school is (logically) where a vampire hangs out, right? Michael Pataki is pretty impressive as the ghoulish Caleb Croft, walking this earth because the electrocution didn’t work and now plying his trade as a Professor. Forgive me if I seem compelling, he smarms to one ladyfriend, That quality is inspired by you! Hey, you had me at Hello!!! Wait for the seance! And, hey, genetics will always out … Good, evil, sheesh!