Tag Archives: Gregory Peck

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Horror Films: GRAB BAG OF WEIRD CRAP

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The problem with these listicle-type things is that sometime’s there’s stuff you want to talk about that doesn’t easily fit into your average “10 ways to X more” or “top 5 Ys” posts. But it’s my blog and I do what I want, so here are some films that are weird, wonderful, and pretty. They might not fit anywhere, but I think you should watch them:

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Delicatessen

Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro, 1991

The story: In a post-apocalyptic France in which food is scarce, butcher and landlord Clapet uses employment ads in a local newspaper to lure unsuspecting victims to his building, killing them and serving them up as cheap meat for his tenants. Clapet’s newest hire is an unemployed circus clown named Louison who might throw more than one wrench into the butcher’s careful plans.

Why you should watch it: Delicatessen is strange, hyperstylized and, despite the subject matter, full of whimsy. I mean, vegetarians are forced to become sewer-dwelling guerrilla rebels, so. To liken it to Jeunet’s most famous work, this film is like Amélie, if Amélie were a cannibal. Dominique Pinon is delightful as Louison, and the film’s use of colour scheme, sound editing, and comedic timing is masterful.

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Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein

Andy Warhol, 1974

The story: Baron von Frankenstein is obsessed with creating the perfect Serbian race, putting together a pair of humans out of pieces of different corpses. While dealing with his own severely repressed sexuality and need for domination, Frankenstein’s plans are stymied by the male creation’s lack of sexual response. In the hopes of solving the problem, Frankenstein decides that attaching instead the head of Nicholas, his neglected wife/sister’s new lover, will give the creation the necessary added libido.

Why you should watch it: A good introduction to the cinematic contributions of Warhol, his version of Frankenstein is—though by no means a tight, streamlined film—a campy, unsettling look at ethnic elitism, masculine control, and sexual perversion. The gory make-up effects come from the same special effects artist who would later go on to work on E.T. and Alien, and the film also subverts a heteronormative male gaze in favour of objectifying gay icon Joe Dallesandro (in the role of Nicholas) in really interesting ways.

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Spellbound

Alfred Hitchcock, 1945

The story: Dr. Constance Petersen is a psychoanalyst who soon realizes that her new coworker Dr. Anthony Edwardes is an impostor. Edwardes believes that he has amnesia, and both he and Petersen go away together to track down his past. A bit of sleuthing and dream analysis reveals that there is much more to the situation than either Petersen or Edwardes could have anticipated.

Why you should watch it: While not one of Hitchcock’s more famous films, Spellbound remains one of my favourites for its brilliant meditation on guilt and memory, and its use of a star-studded cast that does justice to those themes. Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck crackle together, and the dream sequence designed by Salvador Dalí (not to mention a fun, theremin-heavy soundtrack) adds a—forgive me—spellbinding sense of uncertainty and surrealism to the story.

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Pan’s Labyrinth/Crimson Peak

Guillermo del Toro, 2006/2015

The story: In Pan’s Labyrinth, a young girl moves between a dangerous post-Civil War Spain and a mysterious underworld that is, if possible, even more threatening to her safety. If she can complete all three tasks set by the labyrinth’s faun, she may prove herself to be the reincarnated Moanna, princess of the underworld. Crimson Peak tells the story of Edith, an American girl who has been haunted by ghosts since childhood. She meets Sir Thomas Sharpe, an English baronet trying to raise capital for his red clay mine, and quickly marries him. Whisked off to his remote estate, Edith finds that Thomas, and his sister Lucille, have not been entirely truthful with her.

Why you should watch it: Del Toro double feature, since I couldn’t decide which to pick! Pan’s Labyrinth is more legitimately a horror film, but Crimson Peak is, I think, the culmination of the director’s focus on aesthetics and cinematography. The films are beautiful, dark, and treacherous, and there is a running theme of trust, violence, and suspicion in them both. Choose Pan’s Labyrinth as an excellent entry point into Spanish horror cinema, and Crimson Peak if you’re in the mood for a gothic romance with a hard edge.

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Spirits of the Dead

Roger Vadim, Louis Malle & Federico Fellini, 1968

The story: In “Metzengerstein,” a young baroness lives a debauched life until she learns of a long-lost cousin, a meeting that precipitates obsession and catastrophe. A young army officer, the titular “William Wilson,” relays a story of doubled identity, depravity, and guilt to a priest, convinced he has murdered his doppelgänger. In “Toby Dammit” a English actor is losing himself to alcoholism. Agreeing to film a movie in Italy, he is plagued by visions of a girl playing with a white ball as he spirals wildly out of control.

Why you should watch it: An anthology film that (loosely) takes the stories of Edgar Allan Poe as inspiration, Spirits of the Dead offers up three radically different, though all unsettling, directorial visions. My favourite is likely Fellini’s contribution, not only because I made the mistake of watching it alone, in the dark, right before bed. While Fellini’s short film is the most explicitly surreal, all three films take the twists and dark corners of the source material in stride, creating self-contained stories that deal with excess, depravity, and mortality in intriguing ways.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Horror Films: TERRIFYING CHILDREN

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Just as many horror films have explored the nuances of women behaving badly and becoming ungovernable, so is there a robust collection of titles that focus on children and the many ways they can be eye-poppingly scary. Both women and children are expected to be innocent, pure, and protected, and any deviation from that assumption is ripe for the horror movie treatment.

Children in particular interact with horror in two distinct ways: They can either be too uncorrupted to be touched by evil, or painfully vulnerable to it, unable to recognize it for the threat it is. The examples on this list are, to different extents, in the second category, and in some cases the children themselves are the root of the evil. As we shall see, that’s where things get real creepy.

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The Innocents

Jack Clayton, 1961

The story: Miss Giddens gets a job as the governess of two orphans in the country, but only on the condition that she accept full responsibility for the children and never contact the rich man who hired her. Unsure of herself and never having worked before, Giddens accepts, and is whisked off to Bly, the estate where she slowly begins to realize that something is off, either with the house and its sounds and shadows, the children, or the former employees: governess Miss Jessens and valet Peter Quint.

Why you should watch it: Gothic horror! If you’re more a fan of eerie, brooding anxiety than jump scares, this is the film for you. It’s tense, upsetting, and deals with child abuse in a surprisingly upfront way for the time period. (Particularly since it’s based on Henry James’s 1898 The Turn of the Screw.) The sets, costumes, and scenery are all achingly beautiful. Which is kind of the point, isn’t it. That children, innocents, can be victimized even in the most idyllic settings.

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The Babadook

Jennifer Kent, 2014

The story: Six years ago, Amelia’s husband died in a car crash while driving her to the hospital to give birth to their son, Samuel. Now Amelia is alone and raising a child who, convinced that monsters are real and need to be fought, is exhibiting behavioural problems and has been kicked out of school. Strained, Amelia reads him a mysterious book titled Mister Babadook, and soon after supernatural attacks begin. Who is out to kill her child? Who is the under the Babadook’s control? Is it Sam? The house itself? Is it her?

Why you should watch it: See that intensely uncomfortable drawing at the top of this post? Yeah, that’s from The Babadook. Though the film loses some momentum once the monster is introduced, it is visually stunning, has a wonderful, creeping build up, and is an important addition to the recent spat of horror films examining a darker, more traumatic side of motherhood.

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Battle Royale 

Kinji Fukusaku, 2000

The story: Set in a world where youthful rebellion and truancy have run rampant, Kitano is the teacher of middle school class 3B. He resigns after being attacked by one of his students, only to reappear a year later as the director of Battle Royal. Class 3B has been selected for this year’s battle, a government-sanctioned gladiatorial combat, and must fight, survive, and maybe find a way to trust each other.

Why you should watch it: Pitting children against one another at the behest of a totalitarian regime before The Hunger Games made it cool, Battle Royale is one of Japan’s most famous films internationally, and for good reason. Though the concept might not seem so original now, at the time no one had seen anything like it, and it remains both violent(ly entertaining) and a thoughtful exploration of the many reactions possible to this extreme return to animal instincts.

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The Omen

Richard Donner, 1976

The story: American diplomat Robert Thorn is in Italy when his wife Katherine gives birth to a child who dies minutes after being born. The hospital chaplain convinces Robert to adopt a child whose mother has died, and Robert does so without telling his wife of the swap. Now in the UK, tragedy and unexplained phenomena plague the Thorns, focused on Owen, the child: large dogs follow them wherever they go, Owen refuses to enter churches, and his nanny kills herself publicly, and under mysterious circumstances.

Why you should watch it: There’s something about explicitly religiously-themed horror that gets me every time. Add a child who could either be an innocent, passive bystander or the sum total of all evil on earth, and now you’re really talking. Gregory Peck does a great job portraying the beleaguered diplomat who loves his son but can’t ignore the strange occurrences, and Owen himself is as chilling as you would expect an anti-Christ to be.

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