It slices, it dices and it delivers horror!
Man In The Attic (1953 – Hugo Fregonese)
This 1953 retelling of Jack The Ripper, even at a fairly lean and condensed 82 minutes, feels a bit stretched – particularly with the two (not very good) musical numbers thrown in. Granted, they do provide moments which allow the infamous slasher (an alternately socially awkward and frightening Jack Palance) to get all hot and bothered by the main dancer’s overt sexuality. After moving into the upstairs rooms of the dancer’s parents’ house (the economy has impacted the family so they need to take in borders), Jack becomes the object of desire for the dancer and feels attraction for her as well. Unfortunately his prior scars haven’t quite healed and he is compelled to occasionally hit the streets and commit his heinous acts. There’s nary a drop of on-screen violence, but there’s some nice shadowplay and the two main killing scenes are somewhat chilling in how the women react to the unseen killer. Overall, not too bad, but heavily dependent on Palance’s nervous performance.
The Amityville Horror (1979 – Stuart Rosenberg)
There’s something about 70s horror films – the steady creep, the look and feel of their surroundings and, as with the original “The Amityville Horror”, their pace. In this case, it grabs you early and ever so gradually reels you in with very few slow spots (OK, the sex scene between James Brolin and Margot Kidder was a bit longer than I would’ve liked…). To be honest, not much happens for most of the movie, but it manages to keep you just a little bit nervous throughout and always waiting for the next incident. I’ve somehow managed to avoid this blockbuster (I believe the short doc on the DVD stated that this was the largest grossing independent film ever at the time and held the record for a good 4-5 years afterwards) up to this point – I had always thought it would be a fairly tedious affair with much mumbo-jumbo. Instead it’s quite engaging and all the mumbo-jumbo segments are delivered with a whole lot of gusto from both Rod Steiger and Helen Shaver. The ending sort of gets away from the film a bit and it sputters just when it should be vrooming, but when a movie can build the tension this well (and throw in a bleeding stairway too), that can be forgiven.
Mad Love (1935 – Karl Freund)
Based on “The Hands Of Orlac” (the basis for a whole raft of other films, including the 1924 silent of the same name directed by Robert Wiene who also did “The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari”), this version is dominated by the presence of Peter Lorre. Not an authoritative presence, but one that demands just as much attention – in just about every frame he is unsettling, creepy and somewhat disturbing. His performance might be viewed as slightly comic by today’s standards, but I love how Lorre never quite relaxes into any semblance of normalcy. The lovely expressionistic sets add a good deal to the proceedings, but I must admit I wanted more – the hospital of Dr. Gogol (Lorre) is filled with uneven doors and odd shapes, but it doesn’t quite get the time to really instill that sense of a world askew. And things definitely go off the rails as the story moves forward. Gogol is obsessed with Yvonne Orlac the lead actor of a local Grand Guignol style horror theatre, but she resists his advances since she is married. When her concert pianist husband has his hands crushed in a train accident, Gogol sees his chance to not only get closer to Yvonne but also to toy with her husband. After surgically replacing the pianist’s mangled hands with those of a recently executed murderer, Gogol tries to convince him that he’s going crazy. If the film has a flaw, it’s that it’s too short (68 minutes) and that it could’ve pulled together even more eerie moments. However, any Peter Lorre – especially of this caliber – is a good thing.
Martyrs (2008 – Pascal Laugier)
That was not a pleasant experience. That’s not to say that this wasn’t well-made, extraordinarily tense and even kind of brilliant at times, but the sheer brutality that happens on screen with never a pause for anything else, bordered on painful. Though it begins to make a point of how society’s treatment of its young women is like a form of torture as it forces so many conventions and expectations on them, it ends up somewhere completely different. I’m not sure I liked where they ended up considering the assault I had just witnessed, but I have to admit Laugier surprised me at each turn and left me with indelible images and a few things to ponder. However, the unrelenting and nightmarish violence the women in this movie are subjected to is very hard to sit through – even though I understand the point of it in the context of the film, it does leave you wondering why you continue to watch. I didn’t hate the film by any stretch, but I can’t really imagine what circumstances would lead me to ever recommend this film to someone else.