Horror On TV: Suspense 2.13 “Man In The House” (dir by Robert Stevens)


Look out!  There’s a man in the house!

In this case, the man (Alan Baxter) is an escapee from a psychiatric institution and he’s taken the owner of the house (Ruth McDevit) hostage!  Can Emily (Kim Hunter), the daughter of the hostage, maintain her daily routine without letting anyone in on what’s happening back at the house?  If she can’t, her mother will pay the consequences!

This suspenseful episode of Suspense originally aired on November 29th, 1949.  Two years after appearing on this show, Kim Hunter would appear in the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire.  Hunter would go on to win an Oscar for playing Stella Kowalski.

Enjoy!

sound + vision: THE SEVENTH VICTIM (RKO 1943)


cracked rear viewer

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Producer Val Lewton revitalized the horror film during his tenure at RKO Studios in the 1940s. Working with a miniscule budget, Lewton used the power of suggestion rather than monsters to create a body of work that’s still influential on filmmakers today. Studio execs came up with the sensationalistic titles (CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE) and gave the producer free rein to tell the stories. Using shadows, light, and sound, Lewton’s quiet, intelligent approach to terror was miles ahead of the juvenile (but fun) stuff cranked out at Universal and Monogram.

THE SEVENTH VICTIM could be considered lesser Lewton. It’s  not seen as often some of his other classics, and that’s a pity, because it’s superior to many of the better known horror movies of the era. This quiet psychological thriller with its civilized satanic cult was a rarity for its time. Only Edgar G Ulmer’s 1934 THE BLACK CAT dared to tackle this kind of material…

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Embracing the Melodrama #23: The Swimmer (dir by Frank Perry)


The Swimmer

The 1968 film The Swimmer opens with Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) emerging from the woods that surround an affluent Connecticut suburb.  He’s a tanned, middle-aged man and, because he spends the entire film wearing only a bathing suit, we can tell that he’s still in good shape for a man in his 50s.  When Ned speaks, it’s with the nonstop optimism of a man who has found and claimed his part of the American Dream.  In short, Ned appears to be ideal American male, living in the ideal American community.

However, it gradually starts to become apparent that all is not well with Ned.  When he mysteriously shows up at a pool party being held by a group of his friends, they all seem to be shocked to see him, commenting that it’s been a while since Ned has been around.  Ned, however, acts as if there’s nothing wrong and instead talks about how beautiful the day is and says that he’s heading back to his home.  He’s figured out that all of his neighbor’s swimming pools form a “river” to his house and Ned’s plan is to swim home.

And that’s exactly what Ned proceeds to do, going from neighbor to neighbor and swimming through their pools.  As he does so, he meets and talk to his neighbors and it becomes more and more obvious that there are secrets hidden behind his constant smile and friendly manner.  As Ned gets closer and closer to his actual home, the neighbors are far less happy to see him.

At one house, he runs into Julie (Janet Landgard) who used to babysit for his daughter.  Julie agrees to swim with Ned and eventually confesses that she once had a crush on him.  When Ned reacts by promising to always protect  and love her, Julie gets scared and runs away.

At another house, Ned comes across another pool party.  A woman named Joan (played by a youngish Joan Rivers) talks to him before a friend of her warns her to stay away from Ned.

When Ned reaches the house of actress Shirley (Janice Rule), it becomes obvious that Shirley was once Ned’s mistress.  They discuss their relationship and it quickly becomes apparent that Ned’s memories are totally different from Shirley’s.

And, through it all, Ned keeps swimming.  Even when he’s offered a ride to his house, Ned replies that he has to swim home.

The Swimmer is a film that I had wanted to see ever since I first saw the trailer on the DVD for I Drink Your Blood.  (That’s an interesting combination, no?  I Drink Your Blood and The Swimmer.)  I finally saw the film when it showed up on TCM one night and, when I first watched it, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed.  Stylistically, the film itself is such a product of the 1960s that, even though suburban ennui and financial instability are still very relevant topics, The Swimmer felt rather dated.  I mean, I love a good zoom shot as much as anyone but, often times during the 60s, they seemed to be used more for the sake of technique than the sake of story telling.

However, the second time I sat through The Swimmer, I appreciated the film a bit more.  I was able to look past the stylistic flourishes of the direction and I could focus more on Burt Lancaster’s excellent lead performance.  Lancaster plays Ned as the epitome of the American ideal and, as a result, his eventual collapse also mirror the collapse of that same ideal.  The Swimmer is based on a short story by John Cheever and, quite honestly, the film’s story is a bit too much of a literary conceit to really work on film.  That said, The Swimmer — much like the character of Ned Merrill — is an interesting failure, which is certainly more than can be said of most failures.

 

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Escape From The Planet of the Apes (dir. by Don Taylor)


(Warning: Potential Spoilers, especially if you’re good at reading between the lines of my attempts to be all mysterious-like)

Continuing with our look at the original Planet of the Apes films, we come to 1971’s Escape from The Planet of the Apes.

Escape From The Planet of the Apes starts out with a huge problem — how do you make a sequel to a film that literally ended with the entire planet being destroyed?  Escape handles this problem by reversing the plotline of the original film.  Instead of a group of humans going into the future and landing on a planet dominated by apes, this film features three apes going into the past and landing on a planet dominated by the past.  It’s a premise that the film handles with a surprising amount of cleverness and the end result is probably the best of the various Planet of the Apes sequel.  Certainly, it is the only one that can stand alone as a film separate from the rest of the series.

Using Taylor’s old space capsule, Zira (Kim Hunter), Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), and Milo (Sal Mineo, who you know is doomed because he’s the only one of the three who hasn’t appeared in either of the two previous films) escape Earth shortly before Charlton Heston blows the planet up at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes.  Slipping through the same vortex as Heston did in the first film, they end up crash landing on Earth in the year 1974. 

At first, Cornelius and the outspoken Zira become media celebrities.  They do interviews with the press, appear on the covers of magazines, and are generally celebrated like simian Kardashians.  However, one scientist — played by a very handsome Eric Braeden (seriously, he has gorgeous hair in this film) — isn’t as charmed by Zira and Cornelius.  Instead, he views them as threats to the future of the human race, especially after he discovers that Zira is pregnant.

The character that Braeden plays, by the way, is named Dr. Otto Hasslien and attentive viewers will recognize the name from a throw-away reference made by Taylor (Charlton Heston) in the original Planet of the Apes.  One of the more interesting subtexts in this film is that, much as chimpanzees Zira and Cornelius are this film’s equivalent to the human Taylor, Braeden’s Hasslien is this film’s version of Dr. Zaius.  Much as Maurice Evans did for Dr. Zaius, Braeden brings a certain ambiguity to his villianous character.  Though Braeden’s actions are ultimately hateful, it’s also made clear that they’re more motivated by fear than by evil.  Indeed, when Braeden first appears in this film, he’s almost likable.  It’s only at the film’s conclusion that we become fully aware of the irony that the human, “civilized” Dr. Hasslien ultimately shows less mercy and empathy to Zira and Cornelius than the ape Dr. Zaius showed to Taylor.  The moral ambiguity of Braeden’s performance makes this a far more resonant film than most mainstream critics are willing to admit.

 As for, Zira and Cornelius, the once-fawing public eventually turns against them as it becomes apparent that for the two of them to exist, humanity has to be wiped out.  Zira and Cornelius find themselves hunted fugitives, fleeing for their lives while the whole planet — with the exception of a zoo keeper played by Ricardo Montalban and another scientist (played by Bradford Dillman — what a great name for an actor) — seems to be determined to destroy them.

Escape From The Planet of the Apes starts out as a likable, rather breezy social satire (much like Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet, the novel that Planet of the Apes was loosely adapted from) and that makes it even more surprising when, about halfway through, the movie shifts gears and becomes a rather dark and bleak action film.  It all ends, like many films from the early 70s, in a brutal act of violence that carries a surprising punch to it.  It’s after the end of the film that we truly become aware just how involved we had become with Zira and Cornelius.  A lot of that has to do with the strong performances of McDowall and Hunter who both created characters that came across as real and worthy, regardless of how many layers of makeup they were acting under.  Their chemistry as a couple makes this underrated film one of the surprising gems of the early 70s.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (dir. by Ted Post)


(WARNING: SPOILERS)

Continuing my look at the original Planet of the Apes film series, we now come to the first sequel, 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes.  Rather blandly directed by Ted Post and featuring only a cameo performance from Charlton Heston, Beneath the Planet of the Apes is rarely given the credit it deserves.  Yes, the first half of the film is rather forgettable but once you get through it, you discover one of the darkest films of the 1970s.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes begins with yet another human astronaut crash landing on the Earth of the future.  This astronaut is Brent and, as played by James Franciscus, he comes across as a slightly more earnest, far less charismatic copy of Charlton Heston’s Taylor.  Brent has been sent in search of Taylor.  Anyway, once he lands on the planet, he is quickly arrested by the apes, meets Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (David Watson, stepping in for Roddy McDowall), and then escapes with the still-mute Nova (Linda Harrison).  With Nova, Brent makes his way to the Forbidden City where he comes across the ruins of Grand Central Station and discovers that he’s actually on Earth. 

Yes, that’s right.  The first hour of this 95 minutes film is essentially just the first movie all over again.   And yes, this film’s (many) critics are correct when they say that this first hour drags and tests the audience’s patience.  Obviously, Brent may be shocked to discover he’s on Earth but it’s old news to us and many viewers are probably tempted to give up on this film before Brent even figures it out.

But don’t give up!  No, because if you stick with this film you’ll discover that, once Brent figures out where he is, things get really, really fucked up.

Essentially, Brent discovers that the ruins of New York City are now underground.  And in this underground city, there are people.  But they’re not people like Brent or Nova.  No, these are people who have been horribly scarred by radiation.  They’ve also mutated to the extent that they’ve developed the powers of telepathy and mind control.  Under the leadership of Mendez the Tenth (Paul Richards), they spend their time singing hymns to the Alpha/Omega nuclear bomb, or as they call it “The Holy Bomb.”  They keep the Holy Bomb in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

These mutants capture both Nova and Brent.  Brent is tossed into a cell and who else is there but Taylor?  And Taylor, believe it or not, has become even more sarcastic and scornful than before!  Seriously, Charlton Heston frequently spoke about how much he hated this film and it’s obvious in his performance.  Heston might not have been happy about being there but the audience is because, even if he is busy hating himself, Taylor brings a jolt of life to the film.

And just in time because the Apes, led by Urko (James Gregory), have invaded the forbidden city!  They gun down all the mutants.  Brent , Taylor, and Nova manage to escape their prison and all three of them are promptly gunned down as well.  As he dies, Taylor manages to set off the Alpha/Omega bomb.  We see a blinding white light followed by a somber voice over that tells us: “In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.”

And that’s it!  There’s no final credits, not even a black-out. Instead, on that note, the movie just stops.

Now, seriously, tell me that’s not a great movie.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Planet of the Apes (dir. by Franklin J. Schaffner)


(BEWARE!  SPOILERS!)

With Rise of the Planet of the Apes coming out in August, I figured why not go ahead and review the original Planet of the Apes films.   No, I don’t mean the terrible Tim Burton film.  I’m talking about the old school sci-fi series from the early 70s.  For the next five days, I’ll be reviewing each installment of this landmark series of monkey-centric  Let’s start at the beginning with 1968’s Planet of the Apes.

The plot of Planet of the Apes is pretty well-known.  Arrogant earthman takes off from Earth, goes through some sort of time portal, and crash lands at some point in the far future.  Our “hero” finds himself on a planet where all the humans are mute savages and society is dominated by equally arrogant, talking apes.  (“A planet where apes evolved from man!?”)  Eventually, the Earthman reveals that he can speak, he escapes captivity, and — accompanied by his mute concubine — he enters what the Apes call the forbidden zone.  And, once in the forbidden zone, he discovers “his destiny” as old Dr. Zaius puts it.

It’s difficult to review a film like the original Planet of the Apes because the film itself has become a part of American culture.  Even if you’ve never seen the film, you feel as if you have.  Whether you’ve seen the famous ending or not, you know that it features Taylor (Charlton Heston) on his knees in front of the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, raving and cursing while the mute and confused Nova (Linda Harrison) watches.  Everyone understands the significance of such famous lines as: “Take your stinking paws off of me, you damn, dirty ape!” and “Goddamn you all to Hell!” regardless of whether they’ve actually seen them delivered.

Of course, it can be argued that the fact that the film has become such a part of our culture is proof of the film’s quality.  However, I would argue that the proof of the film’s quality comes from the fact that it remains a watchable and entertaining film despite having become such a part of the culture.  It says a lot that a film can stay enjoyable despite being respectable.

Why does the film still work despite  the film’s main selling point — the surprise ending — being neautralized by the passage of tinme?  A lot of the credit, I think, has to go to the apes themselves.  Even under all that makeup, Roddy McDowall as Cornelius, Kim Hunter as Zira, and especially Maurice Evans as the iconic Dr. Zaius all manage to create interesting and intriguing characters who just happen to be apes.  Before long, you forget about the makeup and instead, you’re more interested in seeing how Zaius is going to handle this latest challenge to his society.

That challenge, of course, comes from Charlton Heston.  Everyone is always quick to make fun of Heston as an actor and it’s true that his range was limited.  Frequently, the men he played came across as the type of chauvinistic, pompous heroes that were never quite aware of the fact that everyone was secretly laughing at him.  And it is true that Heston has several of those moments here in Planet of the Apes.  Even his famous final scene is, to be honest, almost painfully over the top. 

And you know what?

In this film, it works perfectly.  I don’t know if an actor has ever been more perfectly cast than Charlton Heston was in Planet of the Apes.  In the role of Taylor, Heston basically spends the entire movie acting like a complete and total pompous ass.  Whether he’s recording a “fuck you” message for Earth at the beginning of the film or if he’s arrogantly dismissing Zaius before entering the Forbidden Zone, Heston comes to epitomize every single thing that we tend to dislike in our fellow human beings.  As played by Heston, Taylor is the perfect clueless hero and a lot of the film’s perverse pleasure comes from watching this paragon of masculinity and superiority repeatedly humbled.

And that, ultimately, is why Planet of the Apes remains a watchable film so many decades after it was made.  Good satire never goes out of style.