#354- Peeping Tom

Quick recap: Can a creepy guy go creepier? Oh, yes he can. Very much so.

Fun (?) fact: Peeping Tom is considered one of the first slasher films. It was so edgy it apparently destroyed the career of its director, Michael Powell.

You really don’t see much slashing until the end of the movie

My thoughts: Although none of the scenes in Peeping Tom scared me, most of them weirded me out and I found the whole concept of a killer photographer very unsettling. After finishing the movie, I found myself disappointed for once at the lack of gore, but after thinking about it some I really don’t think it would’ve changed the movie all that much. Based on the description of the corpses (terrified look on their faces and slashed to bits), I’m not sure any visual would’ve matched what I imagined.

Karlheinz Böhm as Mark the serial killer was the most perfect casting. He reminded me of the kind of person Thomas Harris might dream up, like the murderer in Red Dragon. I loved that he was both sympathetic and also just really freaking nuts. His hobby of watching and rewatching the final moments of his victims was disturbing but I was even more weirded out by his home movies. Talk about dysfunction, with Mark’s father basically grooming him to be the ‘peeping tom’ he later turned into. I was a little disappointed that the father was doing experiments on him because he was a scientist because it would’ve been all the more disturbing had there been no reason at all.

I think my favorite part of the film was watching Mark and Vivian’s relationship. I fully expected him to murder her when she first came over to bring him some cake. The entire time she was in his apartment I wanted to shout at her to get out of there but then he showed her his creepy movies and I loved the humanity from both of them. For Mark, you could see a direct line between his childhood trauma and current serial killer status and for Vivian, I absolutely loved that even though she was disturbed, it wasn’t out of fear of Mark. I didn’t like the ending when he couldn’t hold back any more and tried to kill her but after following him around for the entire film, it was completely in his character to do so.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: Horrorfest

 

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#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

 

#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. 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