Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Horror - Everett Jones ""

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Favorite Underrated Horror - Everett Jones

Follow Everett on Letterboxd: I've gotten many good film recs this way. Here's his great Underrated Dramas list from earlier this year:

The devotion of a horror fan can be so out of proportion to the vast majority of what the genre has to offer that there’s something truly satisfying for me in finding a previously overlooked gem. Tarantino has compared this 1982 Australian film to The Shining, and there are also strong notes of Polanski’s Repulsion and The Tenant as the movie unfolds the story of a young woman (the dark-eyed, pretty, perfectly cast Jacki Kerrin) taking over a country rest home she’s inherited following her mother’s death. For the first 50 minutes or so it’s essentially a traditional ghost story, never my favorite genre, but then in the last half hour the heretofore spectral hints and memories become all-too-physical, and all hells breaks loose. As much as I like The House of the Devil, this is the film that really strikes the balance between a “slow burn” first act and visceral climax that Ti West aimed for but didn’t quite reach. It’s a little shocking that director Tony Williams never made another feature, since his work here is assured, stylish, but never overly flashy, offering both Ozsploitation thrills and the eerie elegance of a Peter Weir movie.

I had the privilege of seeing The Black Room in 35mm at the Lafayette Theater, a gorgeous old-style movie palace in Suffern, NY. Joe Dante is publicly a fan of this 1935 Boris Karloff vehicle, but otherwise it seems to have somewhat slipped out of view among the era’s other classic horror movies. The talented Roy William Neill brings a lush Universal Gothic look, not that far from what Mario Bava brought to Black Sunday three decades later, to the story of identical twin brothers, one good, one evil, both landed aristocrats in some geographically and chronologically undefined corner of Old Europe. If you’re a fan of Karloff, you can’t afford to miss his matched set of performances here, which allow him to be far more the virile movie star than I’ve ever seen him elsewhere.

This is more of a “chiller” than an outright horror movie, but the atmosphere the movie creates, and a few of the shocks it offers up, wouldn’t be out of place in the other movies on this list. Max Sydow plays an inmate in a mental institution, housed in a huge medieval fortress, who somehow manages to escape his cell at night and return to the farmhouse he once lived in with his sister (Liv Ullman) and brother-in-law (Per Oscarsson). Believing they’re responsible for his imprisonment, he covertly plays havoc with their lives in ways that leave a local police inspector (Trevor Howard) baffled. This film’s bleak, wintry setting (Sweden and Denmark, if IMDb is to believed) and very un-bouncy Henry Mancini score effectively set off what on its own terms is a satisfyingly compact, tight little thriller. It’s also a bit of a puzzle: why Hollywood veteran Laszlo Benedek and producer Mel Ferrer chose to pattern their straightforward genre movie, in its cast, setting, and tone, so much after Ingmar Bergman.

I didn’t expect much more than a piece of drive-in schlock from this little post-Rosemary’s Baby Satanic horror movie, and was pleasantly surprised by how inventive and atmospheric it turned out to be. It’s intriguing and unpredictable from the start, as a blandly all-American couple on a roadtrip in the Southwest find themselves trapped in a small town which none of the residents seem able to leave, and where all the children are gradually disappearing. Director Bernard McEveety spent most of his career in TV, so I’d suspect this movie’s qualities have a lot to do with producer and co-writer L.Q. Jones – it feels somewhat like a warm-up for the quirky weirdness of his directorial work, four years later, on the much better-known A Boy and His Dog. And for anyone who appreciates great character actors, another treat is seeing Jones’s scenes as an actor, Strother Martin, his frequent costar in Peckinpah pictures- the two hold the screen together beautifully, like two old partners in crime.

This film might be described as the All About Eve of slasher movies – it has a bitchy, theatrical screenplay that’s refreshingly unlike the bread-and-butter Americana of even the genre’s better entries. John Vernon and Samantha Eggar don’t seem to be slumming here-at least compared to somebody like Glenn Ford in Happy Birthday to Me-but actually manage to class up the film’s otherwise horror-standard cast of lesser-known young actors. From the way the two overact, chew scenery, and generally carry on here, you’d think they were the George Sanders and Bette Davis of Canadian tax-shelter cinema. It is also genuinely scary at times – there’s a scene here involving a session of figure-skating practice turned deadly that’s both ridiculous and pretty damn creepy.

“La Morte Rouge”
This short documentary from 2006 is by Victor Erice. He directed the great The Spirit of the Beehive in 1973 and not a lot since (El Sur, his ten-years-delayed follow-up, can be seen on the Criterion Collection’s Hulu Plus channel, and not many places else). It’s similar to Terrence Davies’s Of Time and the City and Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, with Erice narrating, in a softly murmured voice, impressions of the world he grew up in (in this case 1940s San Sebastian) that he never pretends to be infallible. It’s also apropos to this list and this series, since Erice’s main subject is a director mentioned before, Roy William Neill, and another of his movies, the Sherlock Holmes entry The Scarlet Claw. Erice claims that this was the first movie he ever saw, and whether you completely buy into his very precocious-sounding insights into Claw or not, it makes for quite a haunting little film. “La Morte Rouge,” which was apparently made for an art exhibition with Abbas Kiarostami, doesn’t seem to have ever received much of a release over here in the U.S., but can be seen on YouTube here:

1 comment:

Will Errickson said...

These all sound wonderful, just the kind of overlooked, forgotten "chillers" I crave. The only one that sounds familiar is CURTAINS. Can't believe I'm unfamiliar with that Karloff title! Thank you!