Archive for October, 2014


by Sam Juliano


Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic horror film “Psycho” was voted the favorite horror film in movie history in a vote decided by 30 voters over the past days on my Facebook page to commemorate Halloween. The 1960 black and white shocker has no doubt been the subject of more analysis than any film in the genre, and it is regularly chosen by many critics and buffs as the greatest horror film. Starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh and Martin Balsam, the film was written by the Outer Limits’ Joseph Stefano from a novel by Robert Bloch, and shot by Hitch’s television crew during the time he was producing Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The shower scene is probably the most famous and endlessly analyzed scene ever filmed, but the scene on the stairs when Balsam’s private detective was slashed to death as well as the gruesome conclusion in the wine cellar are right behind. No other horror film has been more emulated, and no other boasts as electrifying a score as the one written for it by Bernard Herrmann. PSYCHO was following very closely in the voting by Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980). Here are the Top Dozen as voted on by the voters, all of whom were asked to choose their Top Five. Tabulation was conducted by utilizing the 1 to 5 weighted system (an even 30 people cast ballots): (more…)


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Happy Halloween


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Note: This fourth Halloween entry in the classic Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series is the twenty-fifth in the series overall to post over the past weeks at WitD.

by Allan Fish

(UK 1945 105m) DVD1/2

Just room for one more inside, sir…

p  Sidney Cole, John Croydon  d  Alberto Cavalcanti, Robert Hamer, Basil Dearden, Charles Crichton w  John Baines, Angus MacPhail  stories  Angus MacPhail, John Baines, H.G.Wells, E.F.Benson  ph  Douglas Slocombe, Stan Pavey  ed  Charles Hasse  m  Georges Auric  art  Michael Relph

Mervyn Johns (Walter Craig), Roland Culver (Eliot Foley), Judy Kelly (Joyce Grainger), Mary Merrall (Mrs Foley), Anthony Baird (Hugh Grainger), Sally Ann Howes (Sally O’Hara), Frederick Valk (Dr Van Straaten), Ralph Michael (Mr Courtland), Googie Withers (Joan Courtland), Esmé Percy (antique dealer), Renee Gadd (Mrs Craig), Basil Radford (George Parratt), Naunton Wayne (Larry Potter), Michael Redgrave (Maxwell Frere), Miles Malleson (hearse/bus driver), Elisabeth Welch (Beulah), Hartley Power (Sylvester Kee), Peggy Bryan (Mary Lee), Michael Allan (Jimmy Watson),

Considering their incredible reputation as a producer of classic British comedies, it would be easy to forget that Ealing also produced various classic dramas, among them Went the Day Well?, The Next of Kin, The Captive Heart, It Always Rains on Sunday, Mandy and The Cruel SeaBut it is this truly disquieting ghost story compendium that remains their non-comic masterpiece.  Considering that it has been parodied and pilfered in numerous other films and TV plays, it’s quite surprising how fresh it still remains after sixty years.  Even the use of several directors doesn’t harm it, adding a different style to each of the individual stories that adds to the dreamlike texture.

Architect Walter Craig drives out to spend the weekend with a potential customer, Eliot Foley, who wants extra bedrooms added to his country house in Kent, Pilgrim’s Farm.  Once he arrives he acts strangely around everyone who is there, until he admits to the other guests that he has seen them all in his nightmarish dreams and that each one plays a part in his dream.  Only the visiting psychologist, Dr Van Straaten, refuses to believe this psychological phenomenon, but when each of the guests relates a spooky tale of their own, everyone’s preconceptions are eradicated. (more…)

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Note: This third Halloween entry in the classic Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series is the twenty-fourth in the series overall to post over the past weeks at WitD.

by Allan Fish

(Germany 1922 96m) DVD1/2

Aka. Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens

A true symphony of horrors

Albin Grau  d  Friedrich W.Murnau  w  Henrik Galeen  novel  “Dracula” by Bram Stoker  ph  Fritz Arno Wagner, Günther Krampf  m  Hans Erdmann/James Bernard/Art Zoyd  art/cos  Albin Grau

Max Schreck (Count Orlock), Alexander Granach (Knock, the estate agent), Gustav Von Wangenheim (Wutter), Greta Schröder (Ellen),

Werner Herzog is of the belief that Nosferatu is the greatest German film ever made and certainly it would have to be a serious contender to that crown, and Herzog paid it his own homage with a fair remake with the loathsome Klaus Kinski in 1979.  However, there is only one version of the tale and Murnau’s film, freely adapted from Bram Stoker’s masterpiece of Gothic horror, is the greatest vampire film of them all, a film that truly lives up to its subtitle, “a symphony of horrors.”  If it were a symphony, it’s worthy of those eternal children of the night Dowland, Moussorgsky, Borodin and Kilar.

Many versions of Dracula have followed, with the 1931 Universal (with the immortal Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye) and the 1958 Hammer (covered previously) standing out and a mention in despatches for the romantic Frank Langella.  They may indeed stick closer to the novel and keep the characters’ names, but the very term ‘Nosferatu’ isn’t just referring to the undead, rather a sort of pestilent plague that spreads after sunset.  Indeed the opening titles refer to the tale that follows as “A Chronicle of the Great Death of Wisborg – 1838.”  The story, which we shall not waste space detailing, may be changed radically from the original, being set in Germany and Transylvania rather than England and with rather dramatic changes to the rest of the characters, but it’s still a truly disquieting movie to this day.  There are scenes here that truly chill over eighty years on; the first vision of the Count, beckoning on his guest into the castle with cadaverous glee, lusting after his blood when he pricks his finger; the shot of Orlock standing on the deck of the ship of the dead; the immortal shadow of Orlock climbing the stairs and unlocking Ellen’s room; his death as the sun rises over the very houses opposite which he owns; and arguably most memorably of all, the numerous shots of sunsets and sunrises over the German countryside.  Murnau has always been fascinated with temptation and the symbolism of sunlight and of the earth itself (just check outThe Burning Soil, for example), but never has it been more prevalent than here in his first true masterpiece.  It’s here that we first see the imagery that would be so perfectly deployed in Hollywood in Sunrise(more…)

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eyes-wide-shut-1 (1)

 © 2014 by James Clark

      Take a look at 1938 Roma from the perspective of Federico Fellini’s film, Roma (1972), and you could be well on the way to comprehending what’s up with the 1999 New York City of Stanley Kubrick as served up by his film, Eyes Wide Shut. In the latter project (the artist’s last hurrah), a scene that hogs the lion’s share of the fire power features a masked man in a Vatican cardinal’s scarlet robes, seated on a dais presiding over a satanic ceremony heavy on orgies and murders of mass dominance. In Fellini’s Roma, a scene that wins the jadedness prize hands down in a scenario seeming to be known by jadedness alone, the Pope, in his cardinal’s robes and wearing shades, has been invited to the palazzo of Princess Domitilla as part of an effort to lift his spirits in the wake of the shock of ruthless secularism represented by Mussolini-style fascist dominance. Seated on a dais in the palace’s ballroom, the melancholy divine is treated to a fashion show of clerical costumes purporting to introduce a new, with-it spirit to the corporate miasma. The Princess laments, “People were nicer, more respectful…” Her strategy to, if not revive the cause, at least bring to her sanctuary a bit of omnipotent, rejuvenative fantasy, includes a pair of roller skating nuns, hyped, in the show’s voice-over, as “Little Sisters of Purgatory,” with huge (wimple) head-pieces of material giving them a lilt like the wings of seagulls. It does create a bit of a sensation in that refuge desperate for uplifting news.

That latter event would stand, in the couplet-endeavor Kubrick has activated, as a quaint, geriatric response to the condition of molding a quorum faithful to a gratifying ultimacy. (The 1938 event resumes, for a final climax, in the form of a wispy, heavenly aura within which is inserted the fabrication of the likeness of a long-gone pope. [“He’s back!” the innocents cry.]) The no country for frail, simply gentle and less than millionaire creatures that was New York, in 1999, is given a similar expose by the Kubrick film, a slice that noticeably jacks up the killer instinct. (more…)

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Note: This second Halloween entry in the classic Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series is the twenty-third in the series overall to post over the past weeks at WitD.

by Allan Fish

(USA 1960 109m) DVD1/2

A boy’s best friend is his mother

p Alfred Hitchcock d Alfred Hitchcock (and Saul Bass) w Joseph Stefano novel Robert Bloch ph John L.Russell ed George Tomasini m Bernard Herrmann art Joseph Hurley, Robert Clatworthy tit Saul Bass

Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Vera Miles (Lila Crane), John Gavin (Sam Loomis), Janet Leigh (Marion Crane), Simon Oakland (Dr Richmond), Martin Balsam (Milton Arbogast), John McIntire (Sheriff Al Chambers), Patricia Hitchcock (Caroline), Lurene Tuttle (Mrs Chambers), Frank Albertson (Tom Cassidy),

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a stand alone in his filmography. It’s not the cruellest or most cynical film he ever made, which would probably be either his often repulsive Frenzy or his earlier British film Sabotage (blowing a small boy up on a bus, it doesn’t get much more cynical than that!) but Psycho is Hitch’s last masterpiece, an unsettling last hurrah. Unsettling in that it is deliberately shot cheaply (as befits it being shot quickly by a crew from his TV series) and that it killed off its nominal star but a third of the way in.

The action begins in Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday 11th December at 2.43pm, where secretary Marion Crane is enjoying a lunchtime love-making session with her boyfriend before returning to work. There she is asked by one of her boss’s clients to deposit $40,000 for him into the bank on the way home. Rather than deposit the money, she absconds with it to go off to meet her lover. She trades her car, somewhat hurriedly and suspiciously, and gets caught up in a rainstorm, forcing her to miss her turn-off on the freeway and wind up at a desolate motel, where she decides to spend the night. (more…)

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Note:  This first Halloween entry in the classic Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series is the twenty-second in the series overall to post over the past weeks at WitD.

(US/UK 1980 146m) DVD1 (114m only on DVD2)


p/d  Stanley Kubrick  w  Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson  novel  Stephen King  ph  John Alcott  ed  Ray Lovejoy  m  Bela Bartok, Wendy/Walter Carlos, Rachel Elkind, Gyorgi Ligeti, Krzysztof Penderecki  art  Roy Walker, Leslie Tomkins

Jack Nicholson (Jack Torrence), Shelley Duvall (Wendy Torrence), Danny Lloyd (Danny Torrence), Scatman Crothers (Dick Hallorann), Barry Nelson (Stuart Ullman), Philip Stone (Delbert Grady), Joseph Turkel (Lloyd, the barman), Anne Jackson (doctor),

Of all the puzzling enigmas at the heart of Kubrick’s bona fide horror masterpiece, the biggest that still plagues me is rather why he saw fit to shorten the film for its UK release from the version that showed elsewhere.  In the UK it is only shown in the full 2½ hour version on TCM, Kubrick himself having had control over his movies in the UK (which of course allowed him to withdraw A Clockwork Orange so famously).  At the time of its release, like Barry Lyndon before it, it was roundly misunderstood and jeered; critics and audiences expected a horror movie and a transcription of King’s novel.  They failed to understand that source novels are merely the bare bones upon which Kubrick fleshes out his movies with something deeper that interests him more.  What is so baffling is that the shorter version, though tighter, misses a pivotal early sequence with Lloyd, Duvall and Jackson’s psychiatrist, which at least goes some way to explaining one aspect of the piece, if not remotely all.

Jack Torrence is a recovering alcoholic who has had trouble in the past getting started on writing a novel and has come to the Rocky Mountain resort of the Overlook Hotel to become the site’s new winter caretaker during the off-season.  He brings with him his wife and his young son, Danny, who unbeknownst to his parents, is possessed with a special gift of sight which the hotel chef, also a possessor of the ability, is the only one to recognise.  Jack slowly begins to feel at home at the hotel, and thinks he’s been there before, but the atmosphere proceeds to send him insane, much like a previous holder of the post, who killed his family several years earlier. (more…)

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Rafa Pérez & Damon Trammell - 2

Rafa Perez and Damon Trammell, lead players in Barry Germansky’s “The Answer-Killing Question Buys A Crisis at the Crown Theater.

by Sam Juliano

Barry Germansky’s Off-Off- Broadway play The Answer-Killing Question Buys A Crisis, which this weekend completed its one-month engagement at the Crown Theater in Manhattan, has been billed as a satire on the the suppression of individuality in American classrooms.  Without any trace of humor -though one scene where the two male leads are seemingly instructed to engage in sex is obviously barbed- this austere and minimalist production can aptly be framed as an allegory on how academic convention (Germansky describes it in an interview as education being far more focused on systematizing knowledge than allowing for freedom of expression) leaves little room for the kind of inspiration inherent in an individual-based educational system.  There is sparse effort to examine what might happen to those who buck the system, but it is clear enough from the implied brainwashing of one of the two students who initially collaborate in resisting, that the system aims to break down and snuff out learning that doesn’t conform to the general order.  A second-season episode of television’s The Twilight Zone, “The Obsolete Man” offered up a scenario where the protester gave up his life to expose the system and the purveyor of its totalitarianism by forcing him to share the same fate.  Germansky’s dystopian premise does evoke Vonnegut and Orwell, but the idea of one bucking the system by not succumbing to the fate of his colleague bears an ideological kinship to Jack Finney’s The Body Snatcher, where all minds were absorbed into communal thinking.  There is a sense of immediacy to the writing- this is not tame criticism but an urgent plea for extensive reform.  Andrew -the anarchic rebel writing his book- is eventually betrayed by his pal Conrad, but not before the dialogue’s trenchant focus is fully exposed.   As Andrew, Rafa Perez gives a powerful and affecting performance as the unyielding idealist, while Damon Trammell as his brainwashed classmate Conrad Warr delivers an intense turn as the student who is eventually worn down by rigid scholastic orthodoxy.  Matt Tracy as the Professor comes off as dehumanized, while Jillian Walters as the Kindergarten teacher who delivers the bookend monologues is skittish and seemingly resigned.  The Answer-Killing Question Buys a Crisis needs few props besides a few chairs, and director Cihangir Duman is wise not to let the basic staging interfere with Germansky’s sharp, accusatory writing.   The play was produced by the esteemed movie scribe and President of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, Tim Sika.  This new visionary work deserves an extension in the Big Apple or a second run in another city.  Note:  Broadway Bob, Lucille and I attended the Friday night performance, which commenced at 8:00, running 100 minutes with no break.  The Crown Theater is on the second floor of the Producer’s Club on W. 44th. (more…)

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I have decided to extend the Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series until Sunday, November 2nd.  With Halloween approaching I’d like to pillage the archives and trot out several of Allan’s reviews in that genre.  His work in horror has been wholly extraordinary, and I’d like to treat site readers to several of his noteworthy pieces on films like The Shining, Nosferatu and Dead of Night among others.  As Allan continues to make fantastic progress in a British hospital, we will spend Halloween with him at WitD with at least a half dozen of his best horror-themed reviews.  Some of us may even engage in some re-viewings of these works.  The one day off will be this coming Wednesday when we will proudly be featuring Jim Clark’s latest film essay.   In any event, after Sunday, the Allan Fish Bonanza Encore Series will still be running every Saturday and every Sunday until May of 2015!            -Sam Juliano

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Note: The twenty-first entry in the stupendous Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series was chosen by WitD site writer Maurizio Roca, who credits Allan for making him “see” the artistry of this film after an initial  viewing proved inconclusive.

by Allan Fish

(USA 2006 131m) DVD1/2

Are you watching closely?

p  Christopher Nolan, Aaron Ryder, Emma Thomas  d  Christopher Nolan  w  Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan  novel  Christopher Priest  ph  Wally Pfister ed  Lee Smith  m  David Julyan  art  Nathan Crowley  cos  Joan Bergin

Christian Bale (Alfred Borden), Hugh Jackman (Robert Angier/Gerald Root), Michael Caine (John Cutter), Scarlett Johansson (Olivia Wenscombe), Rebecca Hall (Sarah), Piper Perabo (Julia McCullough), David Bowie (Nikola Tesla), Andy Serkis (Alley), Samantha Mahurin (Jess), Roger Rees (Owens), Ricky Jay (Milton),

Christopher Nolan’s fifth film was met with muted applause on its release in 2006.  Many critics were impressed by it, yet at the same time maddened by it.  Others didn’t rate it at all and couldn’t take it seriously.  The reasons for ironically slighting this sleight of cinematic hand were numerous, but mostly centred around several factors, the biggest being the release earlier that year of similar magic trick The Illusionist – backed up by the fact that in the UK the earlier film came out afterwards, and received the fate Nolan’s film had received in the US.  That other film was a fine film in its own right, but once the trick is unravelled, there’s not much else to it, while it’s never explained how its protagonist managed to make himself incorporeal.  There is nothing in Nolan’s film that isn’t explained, and yet for all that, it remains enigmatic, multi-textured and involving no matter how many times you see it.  This is not merely a case of pulling the rug out from under the audience, but convincing them that the rug was never there in the first place. (more…)

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