The Seventh Victim (1943, Directed by Mark Robson) English 6

Starring Kim Hunter, Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell, Hugh Beaumont, Ben Bard

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(6-Good Film)

Stark. Incomplete. Erratic.

An innocent young woman, Mary Gibson (Hunter), gets sucked in to the plotting of an underground satanic cult while searching for her missing sister, Jacqueline (Brooks). The premise sounds more exciting than its tame representation in The Seventh Victim, perhaps strongly hampered by its contemporary Hollywood production codes. It’s not that I demand gore and action in a horror film. The Seventh Victim is produced by the great Val Lewton who made several better features working with less. I also don’t mind the idea of the satanic cult being a society of intellectuals rather than violent sadists, which would be more obvious, and a less fresh take on the subject, but by the end of the show, I was struck by how abruptly the film ends, and how little really happens. It’s an amazing case when the most memorable, interesting thing about a movie is the hair of someone in the supporting cast. Jean Brooks as the lost sister is stunning, unforgettable, and iconic thanks to what I would describe as a long haired bob that matches her fur coat. The story, unfortunately, as it unravels, is confounding.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(5)

Secret Beyond the Door (1947, Directed by Fritz Lang) English 5

Starring Joan Bennett, Michael Redgrave, Anne Revere, Natalie Schafer, Barbara O’Neil

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(5-Mediocre Film)

Ridiculous. Resplendent. Unsatisfying.

If the theories and ideas of Sigmund Freud were going to make their way into film, then noir was the natural destination. Noirs were typically psychological thrillers built around ambiguous characters and sordid settings. The great German director Fritz Lang made several noir films after moving to Hollywood, and although Secret Beyond the Door might be his most articulate in terms of surrealism and psychological motivations, it’s ultimately unsatisfying thanks to a plot borrowed from Hitchcock’s Rebecca and twisted until it makes no sense literally. A woman, Celia (Bennett), is swept off her feet by an enigmatic architect, Mark (Redgrave), and marries him after a quick courtship. Come wedding night, she finds that Mark has a son from a previous marriage that ended in his wife’s death, and that might not even be his biggest secret.  As an exercise in style, genre, and symbolic expression, Secret Beyond the Door is fascinating, but this is a rare case for me when the superficial positives (as potent as they are) don’t outweigh the story’s clumsiness and contrived happy ending, which is simply preposterous. A product of its time, but the conclusion might have worked better as a more explicitly perverse love story rather than a happy ending that’s only happy because in classic Hollywood, it had to be.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(47)

Corpse Bride (2005, Directed by Tim Burton) English 7

Voices of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Joanna Lumley, Richard E. Grant, Christopher Lee, Albert Finney

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(7-Very Good Film)

Offbeat. Beguiling. Distinctive.

Tim Burton has his own style of film. Ornate visuals, bizarre stories. His Corpse Bride, a lovely Gothic fantasy, follows awkward Victor Van Gort (Depp), unsure about his upcoming arranged marriage to Victoria (Watson), and, through a chance mishap, newly engaged to the corpse of Emily (Bonham Carter), murdered years before. Burton and his team of animators do amazing work from the elegant character design to the dark lighting scheme. It’s a morbidly beautiful film, and a fittingly oddball tale. Emily is a wonderful character. The major drawback is the slight runtime. I would have enjoyed a fuller story, and more time.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(48)

What Have you Done to Solange? (1972, Directed by Massimo Dallamano) English 7

Starring Fabio Testi, Karin Baal, Camille Keaton, Günther Stoll, Cristina Galbó, Claudia Butenuth, Joachim Fuchsberger

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(7- Very Good Film)

Skillful. Sordid. Gaudy.

The Italian giallo films are generally over-the-top, devoid of hard logic, stylish, violent, tawdry, and entertaining as hell. They ushered in the slasher flick, and remain among the best  examples of the subgenre.  What Have You Done to Solange? made in Italy, set in England, with an international cast and poor English dubbing, is such a film; a fantastic slasher-horror-mystery. A philandering professor, Henry (Testi), is out on a boat with one of his young students, Elizabeth, when she glimpses a bizarre and ugly murder. One of her fellow classmates is stabbed, and soon others follow, but she can’t get a clear image of what she’s seen.The murder mystery is hardly surprising, but gradually a revenge element creeps in giving the story some substance, and a truly gruesome undertone. Don’t question the characters’ decision making or why every female character in the film looks like a model and just be impressed by the incredibly deft camera movement and fun directorial flourishes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(9)

 

Day of the Dead (1985, Directed by George A. Romero) English 7

Starring Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, George Nicotero, Sherman Howard, Joseph Pilato

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(7-Very Good Film)

Ambitious. Slow. Brutal.

 Rather than growing complacent of his own invention (the slow-moving, flesh-eating zombie), Romero (director of The Night of the Living Dead) took his idea a step further with each new entry. In Day of the Dead, a group of scientists hole up with hyper-masculine soldiers, as the world around them crumbles to pieces, destroyed by zombies. “It’s another plague,” says one of the characters. Sent by God to wipe humans out. The scientists, intent on creating a cure, are in constant strife with the soldiers, who pose as much of a threat as the hordes of zombies. Romero’s characters are more philosophical than three dimensional: Rhodes (Pilato), the head soldier, is a “with me or against me” type, a petty dictator over their isolated camp. Sarah (Bowman), a scientist and the film’s main protagonist, is an optimist. She believes in a cure, and saving humanity. Dr. Logan (Liberty), lead scientist, nicknamed “Frankenstein,” makes the same mistake of that literary mad genius, and plays God, attempting to manipulate death. Then there’s John (Alexander), my favorite character, seemingly apathetic and always pragmatic.  These characters and their motivations play out over the course of this slow-burning, ultimately effective horror flick, and give it artistic merit, where its contemporaries and followers settle for mindless gore. Enough can’t be said about the low-budget special effects in this picture, which are grisly and extraordinary. When the floodgates do open in a manner of speaking, and the violent deaths hit, Day of the Dead becomes a tour de force. One of the private’s deaths is one of the goriest and most unforgettable movie deaths I’ve seen. Terrific soundtrack and performance by Sherman Howard as Bub as well. However, marring some of its grand ambition is the over-the-top acting, especially of the soldiers, and slower pace, that is eventually rewarding, but holds the picture back from being great entertainment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(33)

Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear (1945, Directed by Roy William Neill) English 6

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Dennis Hoey, Aubrey Mather, Paul Cavanagh

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(6-Good Film)

Suspenseful. Assured. Solid.

Sherlock Holmes (Rathbone) is called in with his earnest sidekick, Dr. Watson (Bruce), to investigate the deaths of two members of a secretive club, whose deaths were preceded by threatening letters. The remaining five club members fear for their lives, while it becomes clear that one of them is likely behind it all. Rathbone and Bruce, who played the iconic pair more times than anyone, are in their element here. Rathbone always looks amused and one step ahead of the rest, while Bruce provides the comic relief and every now and then stumbles on to some important clue. The film, short and sweet, wraps up with a very satisfying conclusion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(65)

The Bird with The Crystal Plumage (1970, Directed by Dario Argento) English 7

Starring Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Eva Renzi, Mario Adorf, Enrico Maria Salerno

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(7-Very Good Film)

Surprising. Striking. Lurid.

An American tourist, Sam (Musante), in Italy, witnesses a near fatal attack on a woman in an art gallery, but failed to get a clear look at the would-be assassin. Local police believe the attack is part of a string of recent murders, and hold Sam as a key witness, hoping that he’ll recall some important detail that will lead to the killer. Director, Argento, works almost exclusively in this genre, with several variations of this same plot. His talent lies in his staging, framing, and elegant camera movement, which is on full display in this, his debut. Incredible mise en scène.  Most notably in the key early scene in which Sam witnesses the attack, with its snow white interior, wall of glass, and the night time merging to delirious effect. Dialogue, acting, and character development are of little importance in his films. I will say The Bird with the Crystal Plumage offers a solid mystery plot with an excellent conclusion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(66)