Take Time for Time Without Pity (’57)

TIME WITHOUT PITY (1957)

Isn’t Michael Redgrave simply marvelous? No matter the role, Michael Redgrave brings a sort of respectability and class; he commands the screen. Take his brief performance as the unnamed, mysterious uncle in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961). The few minutes he is on screen, sharing a scene with that naive, inexperienced governess played by Deborah Kerr, Redgrave dominates, casting an unsettled tone over the film from the very start. The uncle never reappears in the film, his character only being mentioned occasionally in passing conversation. And yet, his domineering presence is felt until the last haunting moment of the film. Or how about Redgrave’s performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), a great thriller surrounding mystery, missing persons and intrigue. Then there is Redgrave’s performance in the wonderfully bizarre Dead of Night (1945), which tells its interesting story in a series of vignettes; Redgrave’s insane ventriloquist character being absolutely terrifying. I recently discovered Redgrave’s masterful performance in the little known Time Without Pity (1957), now available on The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck (and coming to the FilmStruck portion of the service on February 10, 2017). Directed by blacklisted American expatriate Joseph Losey, Time Without Pity is an effective, taut noir thriller.

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Paranormal Police Procedural: Nothing But the Night (1972)

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Christopher Lee and co-star Diana Dors sharing a laugh behind-the-scenes of
Nothing But the Night (1972)

To celebrate the season of scaring TCM has made Christopher Lee their Star of the Month. Viewers who tune in will be able to enjoy the tall, dark and handsome ‘Master of Menace’ in over 40 different films airing each Monday throughout October. Next week I encourage you to seek Lee out in the unsung British thriller Nothing But the Night (1972), which is sandwiched between one of five Fu Manchu films Lee appeared in (The Vengeance of Fu Manchu; 1968) and an interesting Amicus thriller (Scream and Scream Again; 1970). Nothing But the Night is one of the most unusual and provocative pictures in Lee’s extensive filmography and deserves a better reputation than it’s been saddled with for the last 44 years.

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Underrated ’65

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When asked what my favorite film decade is I always mention the sixties. So what is it about the swinging sixties that I find so damn appealing? There are a plethora of reasons including the influx of foreign films that had begun to influence and inspire American filmmakers while avant-garde as well as pop art sensibilities began to flourish around the world. Long-held prejudices were being addressed in American cinema and black, Hispanic and Asian actors were able to find significant starring roles that broke racial barriers. The Hollywood studio system may have been on the decline but many of the best films produced during the decade were directed by old masters such as Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, John Huston, John Ford, John Sturges and Orson Welles who seemed to embrace change and created some of their most challenging and important work during this period.

I mention all this because myself and Millie De Chirico (the lovely TCM Manager of Programming) were recently asked to participate in Brain Saur’s Underrated ’65 project currently ongoing at his blog, Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Brian is an ardent supporter of classic film and you can always find interesting recommendations there as well as regular updates about new and upcoming DVD releases. I was happy to take part because I love sixties cinema and there are plenty of undervalued films from 1965 that deserve more attention and thoughtful consideration. So many that I had a hard time narrowing my list down to a mere Top 10 but that’s what I did and I thought it was worth sharing here.

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Mummy Dearest

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Hammer Films produced four Mummy movies between 1959 and 1971 and this coming Saturday (Oct. 25th) TCM is airing one of my favorites, Seth Holt’s BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1971). This unabashedly sexy horror extravaganza was the last Mummy movie produced by the ‘Studio that Dripped Blood’ and thanks to a great cast and some creative directing choices it turned out to be one of their best. But before it reached the screen the production was plagued by some serious setbacks that seemed to resemble the effects of a ‘mummy’s curse’ that’s often associated with doomed adventure seekers and tomb raiders. Was it just circumstance and bad luck or did something supernatural interfere with the making of the film? Read on to find out!

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Halloween Trailer Park, a Dusk ’til Dawn Mega-Spookshow Freak-a-BOO-looza!

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Last week I explained my own personal Halloween aesthetic — not ooey-gooey rich’n’chewy, not gory or cruel, not blood-spattered and ichor-soaked but rather dry, papery, eldritch, withered and sere. Crepuscular rather than craptacular. Old school. Quaint and curious. Movies that evoke for the viewer mystery and wonder, dread, and true fear rather than just disgust and the vicarious thrill of inflicting harm. And I take back not a word, mind you, but I will allow that the build up to Halloween itself does allow for many different experiences, not all of them feature length. Really, nothing mirrors the anticipation of All Hallows Eve better than the horror movie trailer, with its promise of the forbidden, the horrid, the profane, and the grotesque. For this holiday-themed edition of my ongoing Trailer Park series, I will showcase fright films that I might not actually sit down and watch on 31 October but whose previews make my Gothic ganglia twitch. And now, in no particular order…

I first saw THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN (1971) at a kiddie matinee. No warning, no hint of what I was about to be subjected to. Man, I loved the 70s! The title alone should have been a red flag warning to my parents but, no, I was allowed to go off on my own. For those who thought THE EXORCIST (1973) was proof that the world was going to Hell in a hand-basket, this thing smacked moviegoers flat in the gob two full years earlier and it’s the more disturbing of the two. (It’s worth point out that little Geri Reishl, who has the principal child role here, was a contender for the part of Regan in THE EXORCIST.) Being a natural non-joiner and a near-lifetime atheist to boot, I find sects and cults of any kind to be creepy, whether they’re roasting a virgin in a wicker behemoth in a bid to benefit the harvest or simply setting up foldling tables for a prayer breakfast… so obviously a small town filled with old folk harvesting the local (and visiting) kinder for their own selfish ends is going to fill me with positive horror. Superficial points of commonality notwithstanding, BROTHERHOOD is far from just a quickie ripoff of ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968); it’s a movie that truly gets to you and works on you with a parade of images that, even at their most timeworn and hoary (hooded cultists, black candles, creepy dolls) upset and bother. The movie spoke to me then, at age 9 or 10, and still feels relevant to me now at age 52 as a comment on asleep-at-the-wheel-of-reason parenting and the monsters that spill out of the wreckage.

You know what’s really wrong with contemporary horror movie trailers, and I mean apart from the issue that the movies themselves invariably suck ill wind? It’s that the previews don’t shout the movie’s title in your face anymore. God, remember when movie trailers assumed your were blind and read everything out to you? Good times – and DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1964) is a prime example. I love that clumsy ad line “The terrifying horror of a man called Dr. Terror…” It feels like that was written in about five minutes, by someone with not quite enough adjectives at his disposal, but ye Old Gods I love it. Plus, it’s always great to see Christopher Lee properly freaking out, the old turnip. And Peter Cushing just looks great, doesn’t he? There is no proper US DVD of this early Amicus effort, and more’s the pity, because on second thought I would watch this one on Halloween… though keeping my distance from the houseplants.

As far as titles go, you’d be hard pressed to do better than WEREWOLF IN A GIRLS’ DORMITORY, whose original title (I almost hate to tell you) is/was LYCANTHROPUS (1961). I like the American title better because it is the apotheosis of truth in advertising, like the little can of “potted meat product” you can buy at the 99 cent store. (An alternative release title was I MARRIED A WEREWOLF, which is just dumb.) This is the kind of (now) vintage experience I really crave on Halloween. It has the coziness factor of a girl’s school located in the European sticks and an autumnal ambiance, a werewolf in a suit, and a great leading lady in the beautiful Barbara Lass (who was married, by turns, to Roman Polanski and PEEPING TOM‘s Karlheinz Bohm– yeesh!). But even on the level of its US trailer, this thing sings to me. Come on… a N-E-R-V-O-R-A-M-A SHOCKER! Have you ever been offered such a wonderful gift as a nervorama shocker? Or even the promise of one? Wouldn’t you rather watch a nervorama shocker than Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson explaining horror?

Like THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN, TOURIST TRAP (1979), which brackets a wonderful decade of disturbing, visceral horror, is supremely messed up. Movies in which stuff flies around on its own generally don’t do anything for me but TOURIST TRAP mixes in so many wildly disparate and nightmare-inducing elements that even if you find it hit or miss you’re going to go home (or go to bed) in a state of heightened vigilance. More than half of the equation here is the movie’s soundscape, which works on you as a bamboo sliver works on a fingernail – it loosens you, it bends you backward, and leaves you raw where once you were hardened and secure. The trailer does a great job of selling the experience, and that wonderful ad copy is the icing on a very disquieting cake. Bonus points for movie trailers that work the title of the flick into a full sentence. “God help those who get caught in… the TOURIST TRAP!” And even better: SHOCK YOU CAN SEE! TERROR YOU CAN FEEL! HEARTSTOPPING SUSPENSE THAT MAKES THIS THE NIGHTMARE THAT NEVER ENDS!” Can you stand the confidence? If this trailer were sitting at the bar buying drinks, I’d be going home with it!

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (1977) is one of those movies that really divdes the room, even among the horroratti. I will admit that it is an imperfect picture, whose comic elements seriously undermine the “torn from the headlines” verite of Texarcana’s “Phantom Killer” case (aka “The Moonlight Murders”) of 1946, and yet… I cannot deny it. My affection for the film may be due to the fact that I heard about it for years before I got a chance to see it, so it attained a kind of iconic property in its unavailability, merging as it does true crime with urban myth. The trailer encapsulates what works for me about the film, that police procedural quality, names and dates, that seem to be an attempt to render what is chaotic and nightmarish into a spreadsheet of names and dates, something understandable, categorical. And the tension between the ghastly and the mundane is where the best parts of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN call home.

The people who sold THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) seem to have taken a tip or two from, if not THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN spefically, then at least from the tenor of the times in which the earlier film was made. You get that same sense of oral history/police procedural, the cold relating of facts surrounding something hotly horrific, and the implantation of that seed of curiosity. The trailer makes you want to know more, want to peek, want to open that door even at your own peril. Looking back at BLAIR WITCH now, at the distance of 14 years, it’s interesting to note what lessons subsequent horror filmmakers and horror film trailer makers have taken to heart and what they seem to have left with the scraps as not useful to them. What works best about this preview, to my mind, seems to matter less to previewistas in 2013, which is to say the bland police log facts o’the case articulated in a disconcertingly dispassionate voice (for auld lang syne, I’d love to hear John Laroquette read “In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland…”) while what has been carried forward is the device, the herky-jerky film style (“ShakyCam,” as it is known in certain circles) and the reduction of the message to micro-bursts of visual information. That’s a gag that worked a few times for me but probably never better than for…

ALIEN (1979). And after that it just got old and annoying. Like Rip Taylor old and annoying. I think this trailer for ALIEN works gangbusters and I love the movie… but you can see this almost subliminal style as the beginning of the end of that old school blood and thunder, which so wonderfully epitomized the era of hoopla, hyperbole, and ballyhoo. Few horror movie trailers nail that rap better than …

THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES (1968). Say what you will about the movie itself, or about how much Wendell Corey had to drink before he showed up on the set, but the trailer works it. And working it, my friends, is what Halloween is all about.

Son of Trailer Park!

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The Peter Cushing nobody knows

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I don’t mean that literally, of course… it just feels that way sometimes, that there is a whole other side to Peter Cushing that no one ever talks about. Fans of the late and greatly missed actor are as one in their belief that the man was a consummate performer but it saddens me how few of that number will follow him into a non-horror film. Getting the jump on Pierre Fournier’s Peter Cushing Centennial Blog-a-thon by one day, I’ll be taking a look at just a scattering of the man’s non-genre roles, made before and during his tenure as one of the Kings of Hammer Horror.

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The HorrorDads 2012 Halloween Triple Dip Shockapalooza!

Halloween is fast approaching … where did October go? Well, no time for rhetorical questions, it’s time to get our spook on. With that in mind, I have scrambled the HorrorDads and tasked each to provide us with his idea of an ultimate Halloween triple bill. To impose a sense of order on what might have turned into a maelstrom of free association, I further asked that the three features follow these stipulations:

  1. Choose a “matinee” geared toward the kids.
  2. Follow this with something seasonably appropriate, something classic.
  3. End your evening of chills with something pitched at the horror lifers, the true believers. No punches pulled, no quarter given, fangs bared. [...MORE]

I like big bats (and I cannot lie)!

For my admittedly singular tastes, the vampire bat (there are other kinds?) is as essential a herald of Halloween as the old witch, the black cat, the Jack-o-lantern, and the scarecrow. As a kid, I loved the sudden appearance of a flapping vampire bat and the bigger and more leathery the beastie the better. Take this barrel-like example from Hammer’s BRIDES OF DRACULA (1961) — it’s like a rumpy Manx with wings — but I love it, I want to hug it, I want to bring it home and ask my mom if I can keep it. I miss bats in horror movies. How did we ever get it into our heads that we could live without them? [...MORE]

Frankenstein Created Susan Denberg

Susan Denberg (aka Dietlinde Ortrun Zechner) was blond, beautiful and unapologetically curvaceous. A Polish-born Kim Novak with strong sex appeal and an endearing screen presence. Like Novak, Denberg dated Sammy Davis Jr. while some of her other romantic conquests included Stuart Whitman, Sidney Poitier, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown and Roman Polanski. Following a few television appearances and a role in the Oscar nominated film AN AMERICAN DREAM (1966), Denberg posed for Playboy magazine and soon afterward she was offered her first and last starring role in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967). The 21-year-old actress was positioned to become another Hollywood ‘it girl’ but the stress of sudden stardom, abusive boyfriends and excessive drug use combined with her swinging lifestyle took their toll and sent Denberg spiraling into a self-destructive cycle that prematurely ended her career.

For years rumors circulated that Susan Denberg was dead; a victim of suicide following lengthy stays in psychiatric hospitals but this was only partially true. She was hospitalized in 1967 after suffering a drug overdose followed by a mental breakdown that was eventually linked to the sexual abuse she had endured as a child. Although attempts at suicide may have occurred, Susan Denberg managed to overcome her personal demons and survive her brief brush with the darker aspects of fame and fortune. Today the long-retired and reclusive actress is still alive and celebrating her 68th birthday so I thought I’d use the day to laud her brief career in front of the camera by taking a closer look at Denberg’s memorable performance in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN where she starred opposite Peter Cushing and earned her rightful place in Hammer film’s pantheon of glamor girls.

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