Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated Thrillers - Cosmos Mariner ""

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Cosmos Mariner

Cosmos Mariner is an avid classic film buff who avoids real work by hanging out at #TCMPartyShe can be found on Twitter at @Willy1733. and Letterboxd as Cosmos_Mariner.

The Nanny (1965)
One of the rare non-horror films produced by Britain’s Hammer Studios, The Nanny marks the last in a series of psychological thrillers in which Bette Davis starred in the 60s. The story revolves around ten-year old Joey Fane, whohas just returned home from a two-year stint in a treatment facility for disturbed children as a result of being found responsible for drowning his younger sister in the family’s bathtub. But all is still not well: Joey is terrified of thefamily’s long-time nanny (Davis) and insists she is the one to blame for his sister’s death. Is she or isn’t she? As she did in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Davis does a wonderful job of portraying a character who appears at once sinister yet pitiable. The movie takes its time to build, but the payoff is memorable and the supporting cast is excellent.

The Beguiled (1971)
This little slice of Southern Gothic strangeness feels like something Margaret Mitchell and Tennessee Williams could have cooked up together during an acid trip. Set in the Civil War, Clint Eastwood plays a wounded Yankee deserter stumbling his way through the swamps of Louisiana. He’s rescued by a young girl who takes him home to the all-girl boarding school she attends nearby, run by Geraldine Page. The guy is a smooth talker whose charm and good looks soon have the females of the house clamoring for his attention. Particularly interested are the lascivious Page and naïve young schoolteacher (effectively played by the tragic Elizabeth Hartman). Then, things start getting weird. And kinky. And violent. This movie was a flop at the box office, no doubt due to audiences who were confused by a marketing campaign that sold the movie as a Gone With The Wind-type romance/adventure, only to find that it was instead a steamy mystery with hints of incest, bisexuality, deceit and murder. Deft direction by frequent Eastwood collaborator Don Siegel and a haunting score byLalo Schifrin help create an eerie, dreamlike atmosphere that quickly turns nightmarish.

Black Christmas (1974)
If John Carpenter’s Halloween is the son of Hitchcock’sPsycho, director Bob Clark’s Black Christmas is the long lost eccentric sibling. Although Clark would go on to direct the perennial favorite A Christmas Story in 1983, his first holiday themed movie was not so heartwarming. The low budget Black Christmas tells the story of a deranged killer preying on sorority girls living in a to-die-for Tudor style house at the beginning of the Christmas semester break.The mysterious fiend begins by terrorizing the girls with a series of obscene phone calls that become progressively violent and disturbing to the point that they make Pazuzu’srantings to Father Karras sound like sweet nothings. Then,the girls start disappearing. Viewers may note a similarity to Carpenter’s Halloween in some of Clark’s technique(scenes shot from killer’s POV, false scares, hidden face of the killer, etc). This is no coincidence: the two directors were old friends who often bounced ideas off of each other. Carpenter may have made the movie that is more ingrained in American pop culture, but Clark’s film is every bit as scary and unnerving (if not more so). But please, BY ALL MEANS AVOID the execrable 2006 remake.

Tourist Trap (1979)
This choice is by far the most obscure and least prestigious movie on the list. With the exception of the creepily effective Chuck Connors (and a small part by Tanya Roberts), it stars a no-name cast and follows the standard template for 70s-80s thriller/horror flicks: horny young people terrorized by crazed maniac. When the unsuspecting group descends upon the seemingly kind old Mr. Slauson’s(Connor’s) dilapidated roadside wax museum, fatal hijinxensue. The end result is a movie that is at times comically bizarre and at others just flat out creepy and unsettling – think Mannequin if it had been directed by Dario Argento.

The Skeleton Key (2005)
This entry could well fall under the “guilty pleasures” category for me. We’re back in Southern Gothic land, this time with Kate Hudson as Caroline, a young nurse who travels to a run down plantation house to provide hospice care for stroke victim Benjamin Devereaux (John Hurt).Devereaux’s wife, Violet (played by Gena Rowlands, who seems to relish the campiness of it all) gives Caroline a skeleton key that serves as a passkey to every room in the house. Curious Caroline uses it to explore the spooky attic room and discovers voodoo/hoodoo paraphernalia. When she starts prying into the history of those items, events begin escalating quickly. Sure, there are clichés galore and the climax is a bit muddled, but British director Iain Softleymanages to capture the ominous mystery of bayou countryand the cast is unbeatable. Watch this one in the dark late at night and see if Papa Justify’s “Conjure of Sacrifice” recording that Caroline discovers in the attic doesn’t have you sprinkling brick dust in your doorways. You know, just in case.

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