The Spiral Staircase (1946)

Starring Dorothy McGuire, Ethel Barrymore, Kent Smith, George Brent, Rhonda Fleming, Elsa Lanchester, Gordon Oliver

Directed by Robert Siodmak

Helen (McGuire) is a young woman working on an estate in turn-of-the-century Vermont. Traumatized in her youth to the point of muteness, her beau proposes to take her away to Boston, where the best doctors can attend to her, and where the two of them can start a new life together. Standing in their way is another man, a crazed killer, murdering women across town, who’s stalked Helen back to the estate and who takes his time emptying the large house until he can be alone with her.

The Spiral Staircase has all the base elements of a modern slasher film. It’s well ahead of its time in that way, a fascinating mixture of later horror tropes and earlier aesthetics: a compelling final girl, a masked (figuratively) killer, an isolated setting, a bevy of supporting characters/ victims paired with gorgeous black and white photography. The mystery, after 70 years of influencing other films, can be seen as basic, or, as I see it, a film stripped down to the core of what works. Helen is an excellent heroine; extremely vulnerable but not weak, not stupid. Either she can’t call out for help or there’s no help to be found or the help can’t be trusted. The mise-en-scène and lighting are consistently impressive; one standout sequence being a late murder where the victim’s strangled in the pitch-black center while her hands flail in the lit edges of the frame. Classic suspense.

1

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971, Directed by Dario Argento) English Okay Film

Starring Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer, Bud Spencer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Oreste Lionello, Aldo Bufi Landi

(Okay Film)

The leader of a Rock and Roll band, Roberto (Brandon), angrily confronts a stalker one night and accidentally kills the man. When a psychotic, masked witness to the scene shows up to torment him, Roberto’s sure he’s been set up but to prove it, he’ll have to discover the identity of his tormentor. Within the broad strokes of this film is some of what would later prove to be greatness in its director, Dario Argento. He’s masterful at using setting and space to set the scene. The way he moves the camera is beautiful. Logic, character motivation, and acting don’t seem to matter to him. Four Flies on Grey Velvet, one of his earlier works, fails to scare up any excitement or intrigue mainly because the lead character is so bland and the two interesting characters, played by Mimsy Farmer and Jean-Pierre Marielle, drift in and out of the picture so indiscriminately. The killer’s mask becomes the star. The final result is a weak picture with some redeeming qualities.

-Walter Tyrone Howard

-15-

The Ghost Breakers (1940, Directed by George Marshall) English Good Film

Starring Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Willie Best, Anthony Quinn, Richard Carlson, Tom Dugan, Paul Lukas, Pedro de Cordoba, Noble Johnson

(Good Film)

Capitalizing on the success of their previous horror-comedy collaboration, The Cat and the Canary, one of my favorites, Paulette Godard and Bob Hope team up again in The Ghost Breakers. Goddard plays an heiress warned to stay away from her land in Cuba which is said to be haunted by the ghosts of slaves and voodoo zombies. Hope, in a rare turn as the shining knight, shows up with problems of his own at just the right time to help her get to the bottom of her mysterious inheritance. Equal parts horror and comedy as all great mashups should be, The Ghost Breakers is a blast as all of Bob Hope’s best films are. A little confusing at times with an abundance of misdirection, the plot becomes slightly irrelevant the deeper into the picture we get, but the stars work well together and the set pieces-chiefly the climactic journey through her inherited mansion- are fantastic. Check out the Hollywood zombie circa 1940. Not bad.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

-13-

Old (2021, Directed by M. Night Shyamalan) English 6

Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Vicky Krieps, Abbey Lee, Eliza Scanlen, Aaron Pierre, Embeth Davidtz, Emun Elliot, Ken Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird

Old' Film Review: M Night Shyamalan's Rug-Pulling Routine Is Getting, Well,  You Know

(6-Good Film)

Bizarre. Silly. Creepy.

Adult Trent: How would you feel if a fifty-year-old man called and said he was your six-year-old nephew?

Ever since reaching impossible heights so early in his career with The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shymalan has not been a favorite of film critics. Despite this, he keeps making movies and they keep making money, so I’d suggest that he’s much better than they’re willing to admit. His newest film, Old, centers around a family on vacation at a luxury resort. The father, Guy (Garcia Bernal), and mother, Prisca (Krieps), are separating, but want to have one more joyful family trip together before they break the news to their children- daughter, Maddox, and son, Trent. Soon enough, they’re whisked away to a private beach recommended by the resort manager where they find, along with a host of characters already there, that time passes infinitely faster here and leaving the beach is damn-near impossible. You can focus on the clunky dialogue if you’d like or you could enjoy the beautiful visuals and interesting ideas M. Night brings to filmmaking. Old is not a great film but it is impressively creepy and jarringly grotesque in a way that keeps you watching.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,115)

Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, Directed by Chuck Russell) English 7

Starring Patricia Arquette, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Craig Wasson, Laurence Fishburne, Rodney Eastman, Jennifer Rubin

Case File 032: Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors)  - 27th Letter Productions

(7-Very Good Film)

Imaginative. Gory. Effective.

Kristen Parker: The man in my dreams… he’s real, isn’t he?

Nancy Thompson: He’s real.

Freddy Krueger, vengeful pedophile and horror icon, is back for more in his third outing, Dream Warriors, in my opinion, his best. He’s terrorizing a group of teenagers who’ve all been admitted to a local psychiatric hospital to deal with their apparent suicidal tendencies. None of the adults or doctors really believe their stories about a boogeyman stalking them in their sleep. Finally, Nancy Thompson (Langenkamp), survivor of the first film enters the picture and convinces the head doctor, Neil Gordon (Wasson), to take Freddy Krueger seriously. No, this movie is not particularly scary or thrilling or suspenseful (by this point, Krueger could just as easily be a comedy icon) but it more than compensates with its insanely grotesque effects and imagery that spring up from the Krueger-induced nightmares.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,100)

Spiral (2021, Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman) English 5

Starring Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisol Nichols, Max Minghella, Dan Petronijevic, Patrick McManus

Spiral Director Explains Why Chris Rock's Movie Doesn't Have Iconic Saw  Characters Like Jigsaw's Puppet - ePrimeFeed

(5-Okay Film)

Mediocre. Grisly. Ineffective.

Det. Zeke Banks: Whoever did this has another motive – they’re targeting cops.

Hoping to reboot the lucrative Saw franchise, this film, instead, feels like a gorier, less impactful version of David Fincher’s Seven. Chris Rock plays the lead-in one of the few fresh ideas this film has-playing Detective Zeke Banks, son of legendary former police chief, Marcus Banks (Jackson). There’s a killer on the loose, targeting cops- dirty cops, to be exact-and it’s up to Zeke to catch the psycho, along with his new partner, William (Minghella). The point of a reboot is to bring new life to an old idea. That typically means having a host of new ideas. Spiral may be unlike previous Saw movies but it’s not unlike any of the cops-hunting-killers films that have come before. It’s riddled with clichés. Zeke doesn’t get along with partners. He lives in his dad’s shadow. And a few others. Spiral’s just more violent than most police procedurals. Not surprising or exciting enough to make much of an impression. It will most likely be remembered as an outlier in Chris Rock’s career rather than a film that people like.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,080)

Army of the Dead (2021, Directed by Zack Snyder) English 5

Starring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notaro, Huma Qureshi, Garret Dillahunt, Samantha Win, Nora Arnezeder, Matthias Schweighöfer, Raúl Castillo Jr.

Zach Snyder's 'Army of the Dead' Gets Netflix Release Date

(5-Okay Film)

Aimless. Exciting. Superficial.

Scott Ward: Think about it. Everything we did. All those people we saved. Look what it got us. But what if, just once, we did something for us?

Scott Ward (Bautista) is chosen by a sinister businessman, Bly Tanaka (Sanada), to retrieve a boatload of money locked in the center of Las Vegas, now decimated by the zombie outbreak. Ward puts together a team, and uses the opportunity to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Kate (Purnell). There are certain things I expect from a decent heist film, one example being a degree of cleverness. Army of the Dead lacks this most conspicuously, but it also lacks nearly every other aspect of a good heist the more I think about it. Promoted as a hybrid zombie-heist flick, Army of the Dead never cares much about its heist. The heist is simply a means of gathering a bunch of cool characters and pitting them against the zombies. Naturally, in traditional survival-horror fashion, they’re picked off one by one. This is mostly a brainless action film, which is perfectly fine (I love action), and there are several solid action scenes with a handful of appealing characters (Notaro, a late addition, stands out), but Army of the Dead is well short of what it promises. The humor and style at the beginning of the picture dries up pretty quickly, and the grim second half fails to deliver any scares.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,078)

From Hell (2001, Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes) English 9

Starring Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Robbie Coltrane, Ian Holm, Ian Richardson, Jason Flemyng, Susan Lynch, Joanna Page

From Hell" | Salon.com

(9-Great Film)

Sinister. Gory. Lurid.

Abberline: This ain’t killin’ for profit. This is ritual.

Taking very loose inspiration from Alan Moore’s sensational, dense, intelligent graphic novel, The Hughes Brothers have dumbed down the material significantly. This isn’t a police procedural like the book, nor is it much in the way of character study. It is, instead, a big-budget slasher film with high production values. No wonder Alan Moore, the author, despised it. As for the critics, most of them anyways, who dismissed it, I think they were unfair. Depp plays Scotland Yard Inspector Abberline, as London nears the end of the 19th century, assigned to an unprecedented series of murders orchestrated by “Jack the Ripper.” Along with finding a group of prostitutes to be the killer’s targets, he grows close to one of them, Mary Kelly (Graham), while wading his way through what amounts to an epic conspiracy. The plot and the characters are complex without being especially deep or thoughtful. This is what many might hone in on, but I would call that missing the boat. The setting, atmosphere, performances, and stylish direction make this a superior slasher, a beautiful nightmare.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,069)

Eyes Without a Face (1960, Directed by Georges Franju) French 7

Starring Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Édith Scob, François Guérin, Juliette Mayniel, Alexandre Rignault,Béatrice Altariba

Amazon.com: Eyes Without A Face (Aka Les Yeux Sans Visage) Edith Scob 1960  Photo Print (28 x 22): Posters & Prints

(7-Very Good Film)

Grotesque. Uncomfortable. Unique.

Christiane Génessier: My face frightens me. My mask frightens me even more.

I entered this film overconfident, certain that this french “horror film” from sixty years ago couldn’t bother me, couldn’t get under my skin. I was wrong. It follows a physician, Dr. Génessier, earnest and fanatical in the grand tradition of mad doctors from horror fiction. His grown up daughter’s face is horribly disfigured and he’s vowed to restore it to its original beauty. To do this, he resorts to kidnapping and stealing unblemished faces off of unsuspecting women. Eyes Without a Face is a beautiful film in shimmering black and white. It’s also a bizarre fairy tale perverted into an effective horror. What shocked me was the surprisingly graphic surgical scenes. Its a fairly unsurprising narrative that hearkens back to Frankenstein and the novels of H.G Wells, but the imagery is unique and unforgettable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,066)

Scream 4 (2011, Directed by Wes Craven) English 7

Starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Adam Brody, Anthony Anderson, Rory Culkin, Mary McDonnell, Alison Brie, Marley Shelton, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Lucy Hale, Britt Robertson

Classic Craven With A Twist: Scream 4 — Talk Film Society

(7-Very Good Film)

Fun. Clever. Worn.

The Voice: This isn’t a comedy, it’s a horror film. People live, people die and you’d better start running.

Scream returns! A little older, slightly tired. Like most horror sequels, Scream 4 pales in comparison with the original. But Scream is a superior horror franchise and Scream 4, especially compared to the fourth entry in most series, is still pretty good. The freshness is gone, and most of the surprise has dissipated, but the cleverness is still there. Sydney Prescott (Campbell), the series’ final girl, returns to her hometown of Woodsboro, where it all started. Naturally, some new psycho rises up to don the mantle of Ghostface and wreaks havoc on the town’s teenagers. The first film spoofed horror films, the second one spoofed sequels, skip the third film, and then the fourth film spoofed internet culture and fandom. Best of all, Scream 4 gave Wes Craven one last chance to show his flair for horror and gruesome thrills.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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