#353- Black Sunday

Quick recap: A witch is executed back in the 1500s and comes back to life two centuries later to wreak havoc. She also brings to life her boyfriend/servant/ fellow vampire and/or witch who is also out to cause mayhem.

He’s a looker, that’s for sure

Fun (?) fact: The plot is loosely based on Nikolay Gogol’s story Viy. The movie is set in Russia, but played by an Italian cast who spoke English. The English was so heavily accented, however, that it was redubbed for an American release.

I too enjoy walking my dogs in abandoned cemeteries on stormy nights, dressed all in black.

My thoughts: Before I get into this review, I need to provide some context about my current relationship with horror films. I used to love discovering something scary as a kid and that extended to high school when I saw The Ring in theaters and it terrified me. And then at some point, my ability to be scared just sort of faded away, although I kind of missed the adrenaline. The last couple of years have brought some stellar horror films, including Hereditary, which I saw several months ago and I STILL have nightmares about sometimes. I won’t go too deep into the movie right now, except to say that elements of this movie are really similar to that one and thus explains why Black Sunday frightened me more than it would have had I watched it a couple of years ago.

Black Sunday isn’t scary enough to give me nightmares but it definitely gave me a sense of dread throughout the movie and I did make sure all my doors were locked before falling asleep. For one thing, it’s gory but not in a blood and guts kind of way. The first scene shows Asa the witch as she is about to be executed. The executioner brings a creepy mask of satan and then hammers it on to her face. And then they burn her alive just to be safe. When she is found a few hundred years later a man takes the mask off of her corpse. I was surprised by how realistic the skeleton was.The absolute creepiest scene for me was seeing Asa come back to life. The man who removed her mask also accidentally dripped blood on her dead body and it started the process of her returning to life. Seeing her growing her eyes back and having them return to their sockets was so, so disturbing. I really am surprised a movie made so long ago would have these sorts of details.

One thing that confused me the entire time was whether Asa was also a vampire and also her boyfriend/servant/ whatever. Several victims had distinct bite marks on their necks and it is referenced that the only way to stay safe is to have a cross nearby. Asa was definitely a witch but also worshipped satan, which makes sense. But the vampire angle just threw me off completely. This movie goes over and above to be as creepy as possible. Pretty much everything happens in the dead of night or during a storm and each setting is dark and foreboding. Adding in vampires just seems like overkill at this point.

Final review: 4/5. I was pleasantly surprised!

Up next: horrorfest continues

 

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#341- The 400 Blows

Quick recap: A young boy in France gets into a little trouble, which leads to big trouble down the road.

Once you go Balzac you never……something something

Fun (?) fact: The 400 Blows is a bad translation of the French phrase ‘Faire les quatre cents coups’. It’s actually an idiom that roughly means ‘to raise hell’. The 400 Blows has a better ring to it, even if it doesn’t really make sense.

My thoughts: Here we have yet another coming of age story set in France. By the end of the list I think I’ll have more memories of being a male youth in the 50s and 60s in France than my own actual childhood. That’s not to say that this movie was bad, of course. Far from it, in fact. The problem is that I watched The 400 Blows after watching other subpar coming of age French films so what seems a tired addition is actually the opposite. The 400 Blows is the gold standard other films should try to be.

The character of Antoine Doinel is as close to a realistic kid as I have probably ever seen in a movie. He’s a scoundrel for sure, but only in the way a kid with a rough home life turns out to be sometimes. I felt so much sympathy watching Antoine get into more and more trouble but it thankfully never turned into pity, an emotion I hate experiencing during a movie. It broke my heart when he finally got caught stealing the typewriter and had to spend the night in jail. At the same time, though, here is a relatively smart kid who could’ve made a different choice so many times but didn’t. Going to the observation place seems like the best place for a kid like him but a part of me was also thrilled when he escaped a little while later.

Like Jules and Jim, the other Francois Truffaut directed film I’ve seen, The 400 Blows is filled with gorgeous panoramic shots of France. My favorite shot happened as the two boys decided to run around town since they had been suspended for the rest of the term. They run down several flights of steps and through a neighborhood, ending up at a children’s puppet program. I felt the same emotions as the boys probably had- freedom and a bit of apprehension that this can’t go on forever. The 400 Blows is a beautiful film, not just for the visuals but for the humanity of the characters.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her

#340- The Maltese Falcon

Quick recap: Detective Sam Spade gets caught in a web of criminals and murder and at the center of it all is a stupid bird statue.

smoke in front of the bird to show it who’s boss

Fun (?) fact: This one is an original! During the finale Joel Cairo is enraged and yells out, ‘You… you imbecile. You bloated idiot. You stupid fat-head, you’. The voice sounded familiar to me and I realized it was Ren from Ren and Stimpy. As it turns out, the voice of Ren, John Kricfalusi, was attempting a Peter Lorre impression (the actor who played Joel Cairo). Cairo’s explosion was a direct influence on the character and personality of Ren.

My thoughts: It was a sweltering June night and my dogs were worn out. I needed something nice and easy like a jorum of skee. I was behind the 8-ball on my reviews so what better way to kick off summer than with the greatest of film-noirs, The Maltese Falcon? This movie was no chippy, I’ll tell you that now. After watching it, I knew I would need someone to bump gums with, someone to check the facts with me. This cat, the guy I married, watched the movie with me as well as three literal cats. And seeing as I have run out of detective jargon, let’s get started. I’m not a dame who will make you wait.

So, of course, I really enjoyed the movie. It’s been a hard few months and although I’ve looked forward to summer, the transition was a little rough. Film-noir is the chicken soup of movie genres to me. It hits the spot in all the right places. What stands out for me in the Maltese Falcon are the characters more than the mystery. Same Spade, played by Humphrey Bogart, was dashingly wonderful, although I could’ve done without all the forced kissing. Yes, it’s a trope, and a very odd one at that. This was my first taste of Peter Lorre, who was my favorite. He played the part of Generic Foreign Gangster so well, a man always on the brink of sanity. Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy took awhile to grow on me, seeing as how most damsels in distress are young and blonde, but I warmed up quickly once Spade was on to her.

As for the mystery, I almost think it’s put there as an afterthought. When a director has to fit in all the tropes for this type of genre as well as fill a larger than life cast of characters, the actual murders just get shoved in. Let’s face it, I was mostly in it for the classic Sam Spade wisecracks, not for the puzzling clues. I enjoyed the ‘twist’ that the bird was a fake and the gangsters had fought and killed for nothing. It was like a wink from director John Huston, or actually from the writer of The Maltese Falcon-Dashiell Hammett.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: The 400 Blows

#339- Taste of Cherry

Quick recap: A man drives around town, looking for someone to make sure he carries out his job of committing suicide.

I can’t understate the amount of driving in this film.

Fun (?) fact: The director shot each character separately in the car. First he would film the passenger and then the driver.

still more driving

My thoughts: Honestly, I’m having the worst time trying what to say about this film. Would I recommend to others? No. Does it at least redeem itself somehow with music, good acting or a beautiful scenery? Also no. But still, this movie resonated with me in a way I wasn’t expecting. I’ve found myself drifting back to various scenes throughout my day and wondering if I’m just reading too much into something. I probably am. Scratch that. I definitely am. But that’s how film works  sometimes. So for that reason, I’ll attempt to give an honest run down of my thoughts and hold off on the sarcasm you have come to know and love. Shit’s about to get real, yo.

Let’s just get this out of the way first: I get that Taste of Cherry is boring. And not just boring, mind numbingly boring. A man drives around and picks up various passengers and then begs them to help bury him once he commits suicide. It goes about the way you would expect it to. One man runs out of the truck in fear, another admonishes the man for entertaining the thought of such a sin and the third man tries to talk him out of it. And at the end, the man lays down into the hole he dug for himself and watches a storm gather over head. It is never resolved whether or not he goes through with it. It wasn’t until I had finished the movie and started reading trivia that it dawned on me why I felt so uncomfortable throughout the whole thing: It’s because this is my life most days. With depression, my number one feeling most of the time is one of isolation. It doesn’t matter how many people I talk to or text with, I still feel alone. As mentioned before, the director chose to film conversations separately and the result is a disjointed dialogue I am all too familiar with. The main character desperately needs help but it’s as if he isn’t being understood, as if he is operating on a different level. I try not to dwell too much on unhappiness but seeing these scenes played out like they were, made me come to terms with feelings I’ve never been able to put into words until now.

The last scene is the most jarring for me. As the man lays down in his hole, the screen fades to black. The next scene is somewhat blurry and out of focus, as if someone was filming on a hand held camera. The main character is standing in a field, smoking a cigarette. He walks over to some men carrying cameras and they joke about something. Everyone is smiling. In the distance, on a beautiful green hill sit a group of soldiers. They are waiting for their part and take the time to talk to each other and laugh. I found out later the director wanted a different ending but the shots were destroyed and so he just threw in a ‘behind the scenes’ shot. But for me, this was the perfect ending. I grapple everyday with perspective and spend most of my time trying to convince myself that what I think probably isn’t true. The whole movie is set in what looks to be a desert but in reality, it was a lush green field. The main character was lonely and on the brink of suicide and left to beg for companionship when the reality was that the actor was very much loved. Like the title, A Taste of Cherry, there is always the hope that there is something out there to live for, something to cling to. And maybe reality isn’t as dark as one makes it out to be.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: The Wrestler