Scream of Fear

September 23, 2011

I don't remember what the movie was, but when I was a little girl I caught part of a horror film that my parents were watching. It was from the 1960's or 70's, and all I remember was a dead body hanging upside down from the ceiling with blood dripping onto a table. The scene probably wasn't even that gruesome, but to my tiny innocent mind it was absolutely horrific! I've always been pretty sure that it was a Hammer film. I have no idea if it actually was, but I've kind of avoided them ever since.

So imagine my surprise when I accidentally watched one tonight (once I saw HAMMER FILMS in the credits, I winced with fear, but decided to keep going because of the amazing cast) and absolutely loved it! It wasn't the least bit gory. In fact, it was exactly the kind of scary movie that I adore! Psychological trickery, unexpected twists and a spooky atmosphere can be so much more terrifying than blood and gore. Honestly, I think the unseen makes bloody monsters jealous.. it can send ten times the amount of shivers up backs, give double the amount of goosebumps and cause three times as many nightmares. I watched this movie alone, in the dark, and it scared the living daylights out of me, without one "eww, yuck! Quick, avert your eyes!" sort of scene.

Scream of Fear has an all-star fantastic British cast headed by Susan Strasberg, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee and Ronald Lewis. It's about a wheelchair bound girl who, after her companion mysteriously dies in a drowning accident, goes to visit her father that she hasn't seen in ten years. When she arrives, she's told that he left in the middle of the night on an urgent business trip, leaving her alone with his new wife, the chauffeur and a suspicious French doctor. I can't really give away much more than that because the thrills start right from the beginning!

Scream of Fear is available in a (very inexpensive!) Hammer film box-set on Amazon here.


September 16, 2011

I've been re-watching a lot of my favorite Cliff Robertson movies this week. I'm having a tough time accepting the fact that he's gone... I never saw any of his later films, so to me he was still a young, healthy, vital guy in his 20's or 30's. Now that he's gone, my only surviving classic movie crushes are Rod Taylor and Robert Redford (I guess I seem to have a thing for people who co-starred with Jane Fonda.)

But aside from being a handsome fellow with a voice that sends shivers up my spine, he was also an AMAZING, highly underrated actor. For proof, look no further than his role as the mentally challenged sweetheart Charly in the 1968 movie of the same name.

Charly is a full-grown man with the mental capacity of a child. But with the help of his night school teacher, played by Claire Bloom, he gets to participate in a trial operation to improve his capacity for learning. While the initial operation is a success, it has a huge side effect that Charly never saw coming.

The film itself is definitely a heartbreaker. But while the overarching storyline is sad, it's a few poignant scenes and Cliff Robertson's earnest portrayal of Charly that will make your eyes well up.

In the beginning, Charly never understands when he is the butt of a joke, because it's beyond his comprehension. When his co-workers fill his locker with bread dough, then gather around laughing when Charly can't figure out what's going on, he laughs too.. not understanding that they are laughing AT him, not with him. But after his surgery, when his intelligence begins to grow, he says, "I was wondering why the people who would never dream of laughing at a blind or a crippled man would laugh at a moron." His realization that his "friends" were actually making fun of him all these years is one of the saddest moments in the whole film. Sure, intelligence enables him to understand physics, chemistry and history.. but it also opens up a world of hurt that he never even knew existed.

Cliff Robertson does such an outstanding job of portraying Charly throughout all of his mental stages in the film. His progression from innocent childlike wonder to mature, adult understanding is so natural you hardly notice it's happening at first. Even his facial expressions and body movements reflect his current intellect. While I had a very hard time understanding how Geraldine Page was nominated for an Oscar in my last post, I'm not the least bit surprised that Cliff Robertson won best actor for this role.

You can get Charly on Amazon here, or it's also on youtube here. I'm also working on a video tribute to Cliff Robertson, so hopefully I'll have that up sometime this weekend.

Summer and Smoke

September 15, 2011

Have you ever watched a movie, decided it was definitely one of the worst movies you'd ever seen and headed over to imdb to read some reviews, only to find everyone has rated the movie 10/10 and that it was nominated for multiple Oscars? This was my experience with Summer and Smoke.

The film is about a repressed Preacher's daughter named Alma --played by Oscar nominated Geraldine Page-- who has been madly, obsessively in love with the town delinquent, John -- played by Laurence Harvey-- since she was five years old. The movie opens with a very stage-like scene of the two characters as children. Alma is already strangely prim and proper for a toddler, and John starts his lifelong pattern of using her obvious crush as a way to tease her. Fast forward 20 years and not much has changed. Alma is still living at home with her father and her mother who had a nervous breakdown while Alma was in high school. John has just returned from Medical School, having acquired a seedy reputation on his trip home, stopping at gambling halls and keeping company with loose women. Throughout the rest of the film John keeps leading Alma on while he's going steady with Rosa -- Rita Moreno in a painfully stereotypical role.

Laurence Harvey wasn't bad at all, except that his fake southern accent kept disappearing every now and then.. but I expect that of almost any movie where the actors take on fake southern accents. Pamela Tiffin played one of John's love interests, and she was really cute and fit the role well. But everyone and everything else bothered me. It was heavily dramatic, very theatrical and stage-like. An almost-40 Geraldine Page was, I think, terribly miscast as a "young old maid" in her early 20's. She overplayed the part tremendously and I honestly could not believe she was nominated for an Oscar!

I think I must just have very bad good-acting radar. I can't even count how many times I think a performance was God-awful, only to find out the actor was nominated for an Oscar. Or a quick search for "terrible actors name, bad movie" yields hundreds of articles raving about what a fantastic character study it was, and how the actor was able to express a million things with one slight eye movement in the fourth scene.

Aside from the acting, the story itself was not too bad. It's by Tennessee Williams, after all. But I think the weird treatment of repression just sticks in my craw. Almost every film I've seen that deals with a repressed woman treats the character as if she is literally psychotic. In Summer and Smoke, Alma constantly runs to the doctor in the middle of the night due to panic attacks for which he gives her tranquilizers. Her eyes are constantly darting about, unable to focus unless John is in view. In Repulsion, a repressed Catherine Deneuve goes absolutely mad. In Psycho, the male is the one who is repressed and he goes on a mini killing spree while the skeleton of his dead mother is locked up in the basement. Repression is terrible, but from most movies you'd get the impression that anyone who hasn't been in a romantic relationship must be harboring an extreme mental illness.

The character of Alma could have just been a girl with a crush on the boy next door who is painfully disappointed by his constant teasing and rejection. She didn't have to also be a borderline insane woman who gets violent panic attacks whenever the thought of sex crossed her mind. I think it adds an unnecessary element to a story that would have been fine without it.

While Summer and Smoke was *definitely* not my cup of tea, I guess in retrospect I can understand why so many people might love it. The plot was constantly interesting and occasionally mesmerizing in a strange sort of way. So if you're in the mood for some melodrama and good old fashioned [over-dramatized] repression, it's available on netflix instant.