Rupert Pupkin Speaks: My Warner Archive Grab Bag: LADY IN A CAGE, FIRE IN THE SKY ""

Monday, September 30, 2013

My Warner Archive Grab Bag: LADY IN A CAGE, FIRE IN THE SKY

LADY IN A CAGE(1964; Walter Grauman)
Horror and terror in films and how it affects me and an audience in general has always intrigued me. What is it about these situations that make them so exhilarating and engaging if they are done well? Why would I be scared of some mythical dream specter that has a bunch of knives on his fingers? I know this creature doesn't exist logically, and yet I am drawn in and freaked out by him in the context of a film. I can't really relate to that scenario based on my own life experience but I am still caught up in it. So there are those fantastic scenarios of terror in films and then there are those scenarios which I find myself horrified by because they feel much more real. Like something that could and probably has actually happened. It is those scenarios that are much more impactful and sometimes emotionally scarring for me ultimately. LADY IN A CAGE is very much a terror film of this variety. Home invasion is one of those things that I think most all of us can relate to and are truly frightened by the prospect of. It is a legitimate nightmare scenario.
LADY IN A CAGE opens with a very Saul Bass-y title sequence and some blaring horns that let you know there may be a gritty intensity to what you're about to watch. The 1960s were a period that saw classic Hollywood actresses cropping up in horror films and thrillers. It was an interesting trend to see Joan Crawford in STRAIT-JACKET, she and Bette Davis in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE and Bette and Olivia de Havilland in HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE. Olivia de Havilland made LADY IN A CAGE the same year as HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE actually which is intriguing to me. Olivia de Havilland is a favorite actress of mine. How can you not have a crush on her from her first appearance in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD? A lovely lady and an extremely talented actress to boot(and alive and well today at 97 I might add). She was never one to shy away from some difficult roles, but LADY IN A CAGE is a powerhouse piece of work. She plays an unfortunate, semi-invalid older woman who becomes trapped in the special assistance elevator in her home after a power outage. When she attempts to ring for help, she finds herself eventually under siege by a cavalcade of undesirable low-lifes who proceed to invade her house. One of said undesirables is played by James Caan's in his first film. And boy does he leave an effectively chilling impression here.
LADY IN CAGE is a movie that attempts to illustrate a disturbing trend of urban decay and the breakdown of civilized society on some level. It is disturbingly frightening and poignant even today in the world we live in today. In a society where we as people have become more and more disconnected from each other, it's hard not to relate to the sense of apathy  and cruelty with which we as people have come to 'observe' each other, but often do little to help out those we are observing.

FIRE IN THE SKY(1993; Robert Lieberman)
This film was always a popular renter at the video store I worked at in college. Maybe it was a Midwest thing, but this movie got checked out a couple times a week for YEARS. In all that time, I never saw it myself. I remember the cover box case for our copy being weathered and worn from so much handling. It was clearly a movie that fascinated people. I can see why it had some appeal. The cast is quite strong(D.B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick, Peter Berg, Henry Thomas, Craig Sheffer & James Garner), it's subject matter and its supposed basis in true experience give it a boost for sure. Mankind has obviously been obsessed with UFOs and alien abduction for decades. There is currently a website called AnonymousFO continues to this day creating monthly compilation videos of UFO sighting footage and photographs. We are fascinated by the possibility of Extra Terrestrial life and yet it is still relegated to tabloids and late night TV specials.
This film is unique in that it offers a very grounded, humanist approach to one specific alien abduction story. It shows the consequences and personal impact on the lives of folks having had some kind of alien experience and made it publicly known. Especially in a small town like the one wherein this incident occurred, the men in question are ostracized and ridiculed. It is really much more of a straight dramatic approach to this kind of story. There are sci-fi and even horror elements here, but the movie is much more about the guys and their personal struggles after their friend disappears for five days(and ultimately returns). D.B. Sweeney plays the abducted man with a degree of shell shock and trauma that is certainly unsettling.
The screenwriter of the film apparently took some heat for the changes made to the actual "abduction" scenes. They are certainly creepy and well done in the film, but apparently were grand alterations demanded by the studio. It was the extended flashback sequence of Sweeney's character exploring the alien ship and being examined that was a big selling point for the movie for a lot of folks who kept returning to it. It's a pretty terrifying sequence and the movie stops for 5-10 mins while we are plunged into that terror. It's like the movie is saying, "Alright here's the alien abduction footage you wanted to see". That being said, it is an interesting abduction film to be sure and one that became an apparent classic of the niche sub-genre.

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