Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Saw What You Did (1965)

Two teenage girls, and a younger sister to one of them, spend an evening randomly picking names out of the phone book to prank call. Somehow they latch on to a particular person/number, Steve Marak (John Ireland) and tell him "I saw what you did and I know who you are". This is intriguing to him because he had just murdered his wife and didn't particularly want any loose ends.

The Cougar - the BEST part of the entire movie - you go Joan

By far, the best part about the entire movie is Joan Crawford's role. She plays Amy (seriously, Amy? Do you think she looks like an Amy?) Nelson, an older woman that is well off and desperately wants Steve. They had obviously had or were still involved in an affair when Steve decided to off his wife. It takes a bit for Amy to realize that his wife just didn't leave of her own accord and decides she can use this information to make him marry her and keep him under her thumb. Now, I am not sure on what planet marrying a murderer is a good idea or even worse - trying to blackmail a murderer to make him marry you - but I guess when you are Joan Crawford you are scared of nothing. :-) Oh, and by far the best moment was seeing ballsy Joan pull this young girl out of the bushes by her hair and yell "Yoooooouuuu Traaaaaaamp!!!!" Only Joan can pull that off to a young girl and not have the audience totally hate her.

Halfway through this movie I remember thinking, "Our younger generation may be getting fat from being glued to the TV and to video game consoles, but there is something to be said for that keeping them out of trouble at least." I don't see many young people stalking murderers for sport, so maybe TV and video games aren't the worst thing they can do with their time afterall.

This whole story starts at a house that is out in the middle of nowhere. To have her friend come over she has to give explicit directions like, "Drive 16 miles out of town, at the red barn, turn right. Go 8 more miles that way, you'll see a bush, turn left. If you pass a rooster, you have gone too far and turn back." It sounded amazingly complicated and very long. Yet, the murderer with just an address on a card instantly knows exactly where they live and is able to drive there with no further instructions. I have a GPS in my car and access to mapquest and I am STILL not sure I could have found her house on the first try. I guess it is murderer's luck.

The thing that was most broken about this movie was the soundtrack they used. Throughout the movie, you have a suspenseful moment, where the murderer is creeping into a room, and they have this crazy, poppy, 60s music playing in the background. It is almost too bizarre to even describe. Even the end of the film, ***********SPOILER ALERT********* where the murderer literally threw a knife at a little girl and tried to strangle the older girl just seconds before - the older girl says, "We're not going to be using the phone for a long, long time" and both the girls suddenly giggle, walk away from the body of the murderer and suddenly this poppy, 60s soda shop music starts and the end credits roll. What kinda suspense movie ending is that?!?! I guess almost being killed is pretty normal in their world. The music made it sound like they were heading off for some hot cocoa and a pajama party.

As you have probably gathered from this review, I can't really recommend this whole film. I recommend watching the beginning with Joan Crawford just because she is so much fun to watch chew through scenery in this. Other than that, this is the epitome of a bipolar film (part suspense/part camp) that tries to satisfy everyone which ultimately satisfies no one.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Devil-Doll (1936)

I will be the first to admit that I am not a fan of modern day horror movies. Even when they are supposed to be kinda funny, I just don't see the point in all the blood, guts and gore. Nor do I really see the point in watching something that is meant to prey upon my fears to scare me. I just ... never saw that as a positive, really. So it was with a fair bit of trepidation that I started recording some of the "horror" movies on TCM this month. I decided to give them a try because I reasoned I knew nothing about the beginnings of the genre and like most movie genres, I may prefer the classics to the current fare.

Would you believe me if I told you Lionel Barrymore was in this photo?

Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) is a wrongly convicted man. He was framed by his three partners for robbing the bank they jointly owned and killing a guard. He has been sent away for almost 2 decades when he finally escaped with a fellow inmate, Marcel. The two throw the police off the chase and end up at a laboratory where Marcel's wife, Malita, has been carrying on her husband's experiments. The project they are trying to complete is shrinking humans to 1/6th their size. When Lavond sees what happens when the humans are shrunk, he soon develops a plan to seek revenge on his former partners. Ooooo-kay.

I wouldn't go so far as to call this a great movie, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless. I expected a horror movie, but what I saw was something more layered than strictly a horror tale. It had romance, emotion, humor - the whole bit. The ending, instead of being a scare-your-pants-off kinda ending, was actually the ending you would expect on a good drama.

Having said all that, there are plot holes and hilarious bad science premises galore, that you can pick at if you chose. There is some "camp" acting mixed in with a fair bit of good acting. The "camp" factor is cemented when Barrymore goes full-on drag waltzing around the police as a sweet grandma-ma type character who has an assistant that looks like the Bride of Frankenstein (see photo below) complete with white streak, dark eye makeup and way over-acted wide eyes that look half crazy for dramatic effect. If that isn't camp, I don't know what is. And, even though it made it less of a horror movie probably, I loved it all the more. And you know what? Barrymore was TOTALLY believable as the old lady. I had to do a double-take to realize it was him.

Seriously - is it homage or rip-off?

Even more surprising to me is how the special effects aren't bad at all. I mean, we are talking 1936 and I don't think anyone watching this 70 years later would be pointing to the screen and laughing at the effects. It appears the filmmakers were smart enough to use very simple techniques which make it look solid on film.

The ending, which I won't give away, took me by surprise. Not because of what happened necessarily, but because how wonderfully Lionel Barrymore portrayed his emotions and showed his character trying to suppress them. It was a powerful bit of acting that wasn't overdone (like the Barrymores tend to do as a whole) and it was just, superb.

At a run-time of under 80 min - I definitely recommend this one as a time capsule of what I assume is somewhat representative of the early horror genre. It isn't strictly horror so it has a little bit of something for everyone - drama, crime, romance, horror, sci-fi, emotions, revenge ... even a miniature "half-wit, inbred orphan" that acts like a little nymph when she is shrunk down. Intriguing, no? :-)