#323- Sunset Boulevard

Quick recap: Joe Gillis is hired by an aging film star to help her get back into show business. As with most things in life, it goes horribly wrong.

me, moving closer to Thanksgiving break

Fun (?) fact: This will probably seem more ‘basic fact than ‘fun fact’, but Gloria Swanson, who played Norma Desmond was an actual silent film star back in the day and her servant Max was an actual director back then. All those pictures Norma has in her mansion are real life photos of Swanson back then.

My thoughts: How in the WORLD did Gloria Swanson not win a Best Actress award for her role in this film? People love to hate on the Academy, and although I’m mostly ambivalent about what a group of people seems worthy, this is a true outrage. There was a lot to love about this movie and believe me, there will be gushing later on, but it is Swanson who makes Sunset Boulevard into the classic that it is. Everything about Norma Desmond is so wonderfully over the top that it makes every scene pure gold. I was lucky enough to watch this movie on the big screen and every time Swanson appeared, a group of guys behind me cheered. When she said something sassy, I could hear them gasp audibly and say out loud,’ oh NO!’. Anyone who can invoke such a response 67 years deserves all the awards and praise.

I LOVED this movie. Oh my god, did I love this movie. I loved it in the way that after it was over, I was sad for awhile because I can’t imagine how I was able to function in life up to this point having not seen Sunset Boulevard before.  It was just that good. The story, the characters, the shocking twists and turns, all of it. And not only that, but it really brought to life how traumatizing it was for films to switch to sound. We see it ( or maybe mostly I see it) as a merciful thing to move to talking, but it really was an art form in its own right. It reminds me of the silent actor Raymond Griffith  in All Quiet on the Western Front. He had lost his voice due to illness as a child and sound coming to film meant the end of his career, even though he was a considerably popular star. Several silent film era stars were asked to star as Norma Desmond but a few had mental issues and others had turned into recluses. For all the glamour we see, Hollywood can be a really sad scene.

Final review: 5/5. Go see it if you haven’t yet.

Up next: the Big Chill

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#322- Vertigo

Quick recap: reasonable behavior- developing a fear of heights after seeing a guy fall off a roof. Unreasonable behavior- falling madly in love with the woman you are supposed to be following because her husband thinks she’s crazy. Even more unreasonable behavior- causing more people to jump to their deaths from a roof.

Another reference I now understand!

Fun (?) fact: Vertigo bombed at the box office and Alfred Hitchcock put the sole blame on James Stewart for being too old, despite having collaborated with him several times. They never worked together again 😦

All hail James Stewart!

My thoughts: This is either my 7th or 8th Hitchcock film and they just keep getting better. Hitchcock is best when he goes dark-whether it’s the macabre dialogue in Strangers on a Train or the serial killer plot of Frenzy. Vertigo is no exception. This was my first time watching it and about the only thing I knew was the fear of heights. There’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming and when everything is revealed at the end of the film, I audibly gasped. It’s so rare these days to not be spoiled.

Vertigo’s strong points are its visuals, a very Hitckcockian thing to focus on anyway. Every scene looked like danger was just around the corner and it kept me on my toes to figure out what was going to happen next. The shots of John Ferguson freaking out while climbing stairs are iconic but I gravitated more towards the little scenes, such as John watching Madeline at the art gallery or him watching her drive off in her car. It was a wonderfully creepy feeling to not know who to be more concerned about.

Knowing what I know about Hitchcock, it’s really not much of a surprise how he chose to portray the women in the film. There’s Midge, possibly still in love with John, and jumping at every chance she can to be near him. And then there’s Madeline, who thinks she is the reincarnation of Carlotta Valdes, a woman who died a hundred years ago. Neither woman give off a strong, independent vibe and it’s a little frustrating to watch a whole movie about women fighting over men and needing them to survive. On the other hand, it makes for a compelling movie where you don’t really root for anyone.

always a Midge, never a Madeline

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Sunset boulevard

 

 

 

 

#321- The Black Cat

Quick recap: Young lovers, Brad and Janet Peter and Joan, get caught in a horrible rainstorm and take refuge in Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s mansion Hjalmar Poelzig’s ultra modern fortress.

pretty sure this guy would break his neck trying to do the Time Warp

Fun (?) fact: Despite Edgar Allen Poe being credited as a writer for The Black Cat, this movie has nothing to do with his story.

The absolute opposite of terrifying for me

My thoughts: So, here we are- once again at the end of Horrorfest. I’d say it’s been a wild ride but that’s not close to the truth. Having given up on scaring myself, I chose The Black Cat because one of my favorite podcasts, You Must Remember This, is devoting several episodes to Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Seeing as how both of them star in this film, it seemed the perfect choice to close out October.

I’m going to go ahead and spoil and 80 year old movie by telling you it wasn’t the cat behind all the evil. I mean, that’s what they want you to think, but it’s totally the creepy guy everyone suspected all along. Then again, it’s hard to tell what is going on most of the time. Poelzig is some sort of sorcerer but also an ultra modern architect. He claims Dr. Vitus Werdegast’s wife died naturally but then he suspended her body and married her daughter so………….. yeah. Totally natural. Poelzig also has his sights set on Joan, the newlywed who wanders into his house. There’s a ceremony at the end when I think he tries to marry a whole harem of women, but then there’s also this scene which reminded me of Rocky and Dr. Frank-N-Furter:

Is this movie creepy? Totally. The accents alone paint an ominous picture but then you add in the score and weird house and you end up with a film that sticks with you longer than it should. On the other hand, the cat only appeared for less than 2 minutes and for a movie that bills itself as The Black Cat, I expected more of a presence.

Final review: This would’ve been a complete classic had it featured more cat. Because of this, I’m dropping it to a 2/5

Up next: Rear Window

#320- Don’t Look Now

Quick recap: After losing his daughter in a drowning accident, John starts to have visions which may or may not be trying to warn him of danger.

A big fat nope that scene was

Fun (?) fact: Julie Christie ( who plays Laura) and Donald Sutherland ( who plays John), had never met before shooting the film and the first scene they did was the infamous sex scene.

Look it up yourself if you are dying to see this man naked

My thoughts: Although my primary goal in Horrorfest is to work my way through the list, my secondary goal is find something terrifying. Save for some recent horror films ( shout out to It for still giving me nightmares in my 3os), I haven’t found much in this book that really got to me. Don’t Look Now was supposed to be that film. Real life situations scare me (versus monster movies) but those involving dead children go straight to the top of my list.

I want to go ahead and mention that there is a twist of sorts at some point in the movie and though the film is over 40 years old, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who might want to watch it. I knew what was going to happen thanks to gifs I’ve seen and I think that took away from the horror a bit. There were still a few creepy scenes though, that got me going. I posted one above that occurred within the first 10 minutes of the film and I thought was a great way to portray the death. There are several parts of the film that are like this: utterly creepy without overdoing it. Many refer to Don’t Look Now as ‘gothic horror’ and I tend to agree with the label. There aren’t any things that jump out or do anything horrifying. It’s more of a sense of dread throughout the movie and a reticence to find what might happen next.

Overall, though, this movie just didn’t do much for me. Maybe it was the slow moving plot, the droning on and on about the same things, the weird sex scene, or maybe it was just that I couldn’t keep this gif of Donald Sutherland out of my head:

Whatever it is that did it, I’m disappointed. After doing some research I have a better appreciation for what the film did and I especially love all the symbolism. The fact that so many well known people love this movie also speaks to its greatness, but it jut wasn’t my cup of tea.

Final review: 2/5

Up next: one more movie left in Horrorfest!