Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Robert Wise, 1963
Starring: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn

One of the greatest films about a haunted house based on one of the greatest novels about the same subject, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, this film is included in my trilogy of greatest classic haunted house films ever made, along with Legend of Hell House and The Changeling.

Paranormal investigator, Dr. Markaway, is trying to prove once and for all the existence of the supernatural. He takes a couple of research subjects to a mansion that is allegedly the most haunted house in America, Hill House. He brings the future owner of Hill House, Luke, who is the rational skeptic of the group, as well as two women, Eleanor and Theo, who are "sensitive" and have had documented paranormal experiences in the past. Eleanor -- aka Nell -- is particularly drawn to the house. She has spent almost her entire adult life caring for her sick mother, who has recently died, and seeks adventure and liberation from the shackles of the past. The house calls to her and a number of macabre events unfold. When his wife makes a surprise visit, Dr. Markaway realizes that Nell has to be taken out of the house, but it may be too late.

One of the most influential haunted house films ever made, The Haunting is chilling, suspenseful, and also manages to be a sensitive portrayal of one woman's trauma. Julie Harris's pathetic, almost tragic Nell is truly the driving force of the film. While she is not always a likable character, she is sympathetic and curious enough to pull us along with her as she gets sucked further and further into the psychic aura of the house. I really can't say enough good things about the film. It has complex characters, a simple plot, and absolutely beautiful visuals. Wise balances everything perfectly and does justice to Jackson's remarkable novel, even if he has to change a few minor details along the way.

While I tend to hate feminist horror -- "The Yellow Wallpaper" can absolutely fuck off -- Jackson does an amazing job combining a terrifying yarn with real issues of the time, namely the difficult expression of sexuality and domestic life as a prison. Between the insecure, neurotic Nell and the sexually confident but troubled Theo, Jackson presents two believable and sympathetic female characters.

Twin Peaks fans, prepare to have your minds blown by a very young Russ Tamblyn as the skeptical, greedy Luke. If you haven't seen this film... for shame. Pick up the very basic Warner DVD and school yourselves. As a final note, absolutely ignore the 1999 remake. I have no idea why that travesty was ever visited upon the earth.


Alfred Vohrer, 1967
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Harald Leipnitz, Carl Lange, Ilse Steppat

Die Blaue Hand aka The Bloody Hand is part of a particular genre of film that I enjoy immensely, but don't think I've ever covered on this blog before: the krimi or German crime mystery. Usually based on the works of British murder mystery novelists like Edgar Wallace (who wrote the source novel for this film), krimi films are sort of the German version of gialli. They are generally stylistic crime thrillers with gruesome enough elements that they are usually marketed as horror films. Shot mostly in Germany and Denmark by Rialto, most of them were dubbed in English for a British market.

Creature with the Blue Hand has all the elements typically found in the genre: over-the-top acting, dialogue-heavy scenes, a maniac on the loose, terrible dubbing, and an extremely complicated plot that involves dark secrets and plenty of double crossing. It also has Klaus Kinski.

Kinski plays twins Dave and Richard Emerson, two of the least German names imaginable. Dave has been wrongly committed to an insane asylum, so he escapes and sneaks back to his ancestral family mansion to prove his innocence and his brother Richard's guilt. There is a family legend about a peculiar suit of armor that has a blue glove with razor sharp claws, but the glove has never been found. It seems some mysterious, hooded figure has uncovered the glove and is now using it to kill an astounding amount of people. Can Dave prove his innocence and Richard's guilt before everyone gets killed by the creature with the blue hand?

Sure, it's a little schlocky, but Creature with the Blue Hand is incredibly entertaining. The film feels dated and the dubbing is appalling, but it's well-paced, suspenseful, and has an almost Scooby Doo-like series of unimaginable plot twists. There are some very creepy visuals, such as the medieval looking manor and the asylum. I don't want to ruin any surprises, but if you're new to krimi, this is a great place to start. Keep your eye on the many memorable side characters from the suspicious mother and the quirky Scotland Yard detective, to the eccentric butler, who is my favorite character next to Kinski's Dave.

A note on The Bloody Hand version: Sam Sherman came along and added some extra gore. This "new" print is known as The Bloody Hand and, as far as I'm concerned, should be avoided. Unfortunately the only way to get Creature with the Blue Hand on DVD is the double feature Image DVD that also contains The Bloody Hand. For some mystifying reason, Image has put most of the work into restoring the latter, which has an impressive commentary and a superior looking print. I'm not sure why they didn't lavish any of this attention on Creature with the Blue Hand, but I still recommend that version over the newer doctored print.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Brian De Palma, 1980
Starring: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon

Though I'm somewhat reluctant to admit it, Dressed to Kill is my favorite De Palma film by far. Wait, I'm sorry. My favorite non-musical De Palma film.

Angie Dickinson plays Kate Miller, a repressed housewife who has a libido like a cat in heat. She goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Elliott (Caine) to deal with her desires. One afternoon, while visiting an art museum, she lets herself get involved in an affair, but when she tries to sneak back home to her husband and teenage son, she is brutally murdered by a mysterious blonde woman. This murder is witnessed by prostitute Liz Blake (Allen), who has to try to figure out the identity of the blonde assassin before her own life is forfeit. With the help of Dr. Elliott and Kate's tech-savvy teenage son, Liz tries to get to the bottom of the murderer's identity in time.

In many ways, Dressed to Kill is a blatant homage to Hitchcock, but there's really nothing wrong with that. I would rather see a thousand decent Hitchcock rip-offs that most of the garbage coming out of Hollywood lately. And this is delightfully sleazy. I mean, the film opens with a woman masturbating in the shower to a rape fantasy while her witless husband stands shaving at the sink.

There are great performances from Dickinson and Caine, who I would watch in anything. Dickinson in particular brings an almost disgusting level of sexuality to the screen that unfortunately fades when she is killed. Allen is annoying, but I'm not sure if that can be blamed on her performance or the script. Either way, she plays a convincing part as an amoral call girl more concerned with staying alive than playing by any conventional rules.

As long as you can get past some of the weird, slow-motion shots, this comes highly recommended. Not technically a horror film, it is more of a perverse murder mystery/thriller. I also recommend the creepy Pino Donaggio score. Though set and shot in New York, Philly locals will be interested to know that the interior art museums scenes were shot in the Philadelphia Art Museum. There's an MGM special edition DVD that might be a little annoying to track down, but that comes with a nice documentary and some interesting featurettes.