Rating: The Good – 78.2 Genre: Horror Duration: 89 mins Director: John Carpenter Stars: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh
A classic ghost story about a town which, on its hundred year anniversary, is visited by the specter of a ship and its crew who were murdered by the town’s founders a century earlier. Director John Carpenter’s perfectly paced chiller has yet to be matched in the sense of sinister momentum it generates from the first reel to the close. The scares are actually basic enough but with Carpenter’s unorthodox and unsettling style and a variety of interesting characters on show the movie really does take on a life of its own and, as such, it has gone down as one of the most compelling horror movies of the last 30 years. Jamie Lee Curtis heads the cast as the hitchhiker passing through the sleepy coastal town just as things start to get strange and she adds a playful tone to the earlier sequences. The remainder of the cast is a who’s who of Carpenter regulars with the exception of the very first “scream queen” and Jamie’s mother, Janet Leigh, who puts in an excellent turn as the town’s mother figure.
Rating: The Good – 91.8 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 95 mins Director: Orson Welles Stars: Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh
Charlton Heston heads up this classic piece of American cinema as a Mexican narcotics officer, Vargas, who clashes with his cross border counterpart, the loathsome Captain Quinlan, played with relish by writer-director Orson Welles. Though Vargas is ostensibly the lead character, the film inevitably builds around Quinlan as he manipulates and bullies all around him and crosses the line between legal and illegal as often as the Mexican border itself. If Heston is excellent as the honourable Vargas (and he is), then Welles is astonishing as the ambiguous, brutal, intelligent, barely coherent, and deeply disturbed detective who targets Vargas and his glamourous wife (played wonderfully by Janet Leigh) when the former accuses him of planting evidence.
Touch of Evil is a truly mesmerising piece of film making as Orson Welles gives a masterclass not only from in front of the camera but from behind it too. Rarely has a film had a more distinctive look, sound, and feel as this, as Welles’ use of shadows (both darting and still), staging, and fast and slow dolly shots are set against an ever present soundtrack of Latin or Rock ‘n’ Roll music and the hustle and bustle of the busy border town. This sense of busyness is carried over into the dialogue as the characters constantly talk over each other, a device that also adds to the general sense of murkiness. The result is a pervading awareness of space (both physical and psychological) as well as a heightened complexity of the plot. All this makes Touch of Evil perhaps the greatest of all film-noir and one hell of a captivating thriller to boot. There are a number of versions of this film doing the rounds thanks to the interference from the movie studios but the closest to Welles’ original is most likely the 111 minute cut that was “restored” and released in 1998.
Rating: The Good – 88.5 Genre: Thriller, Mystery Duration: 126 mins Director: John Frankenheimer Stars: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh
John Frankenheimer’s magnum opus is a thoroughly captivating story as well as a genuine classic. The plot was of its time but the execution of that plot way ahead of it. Old “Blue Eyes” Frank Sinatra plays the army major who returns from the Korean War with strange recurrent nightmares and an inexplicable liking for one of his subordinates who he always found decidedly dislikeable. Lawrence Harvey is that soldier, Raymond Shaw, who hails from a wealthy family dominated by his ruthless mother who will stop at nothing to install her puppet husband as vice president of the country.
Sinatra is every bit the star of the show and his natural charisma ties you to the film. Harvey is excellent as the ill-tempered yet vulnerable Shaw and Angela Lansbury is terrific as his dangerous mother. Janet Leigh is unusually inserted into the story from a fascinating angle which remains quite bluntly unexplained (it’s hinted that she may have a previous history with Sinatra’s character either professional, personal, or other). However, this lack of resolution doesn’t hurt the film in any way and if anything, it adds to the overall strangeness which the movie feeds off.
The Manchurian Candidate (based on Richard Condon’s novel) says much about the then recent McCarthy hearings and it’s all especially insightful. The conditioning aspect to the film is reasonably well rooted in the science but naturally has to take some giant leaps into hugely improbable territory. Frankenheimer’s direction comes into its own during the conditioning scenes as he uses long dream-like pan shots and off-camera dialogue to expertly convey the conceptual sterility of the dastardly Dr. Yen Lo’s (played with relish by Khigh Dhiegh) methodical manipulations. This gives the sequences a cruel soullessness which facilitates some of the creepiest and downright shocking moments we’ve seen on film. And on top of all that there’s one of the earliest American movie ‘kung-fu’ fights which builds wonderfully on Spencer Tracy’s explosive introduction in Bad Day at Black Rock. Unmissable.
Rating: The Good – 90.8 Genre: Horror Duration: 109 mins Director: Alfred Hitchcock Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam
In many ways, Psycho is Alfred Hitchcock’s most audacious film. Not content with the controversial shower scene, he gloriously defies two major cinematic conventions with one fell swoop. One involves the switching of leads and the other, the switching of genres right at the end of the first act. The film starts off with Janet Leigh hightailing it out of the city with her boss’ money to start a new life with her man. Weather interrupts her journey and she takes shelter in the isolated Bates Motel tended by good old boy Norman Bates. Whether you’ve seen the rest or not, you know what happens but in getting there, Hitchcock brings us on a completely enthralling and original trip. Janet Leigh is perfect as the decent but desperate criminal on the run. There was always an alluring maturity to the way she carried herself on screen and it adds real substance to her character’s sudden capitulation to whimsy. Anthony Perkins does an outstanding job as the quietly charming motel attendant with a dark streak about a mile long. There’s a chilling believability to his character’s personality swings and of all the crazed murderers we’ve seen on screen, it’s fair to say his seems one of the most realistic. Martin Balsam pops up as he does in nearly every classic from around that time while Vera miles and John Gavin round off the cast nicely. Ultimately, however, Psycho is all about Hitchcock’s understanding of film, his innovation, and one of cinema’s most memorable scores courtesy of the equally legendary Bernard Herrmann.