A Movie A Day #44: Let Him Have It (1991, directed by Peter Medak)


The year is 1953.  The place is Croydon.  Derek Bentley (Christopher Eccleston) is 19 years old but has the mental capability of an 11 year-old.  Unable to hold down a job and judged unfit for the national service, Derek drifts into a gang led by 16 year-old Christopher Craig (Paul Reynolds).  When Derek and Craig are caught burglarizing a warehouse, it leads to a tense rooftop confrontation between Craig and the police.  Derek has already been captured by the time that the police demand that Craig hand over his gun.  Bentley shouts, “Let him have it, Chris!”  Craig opens fire, killing one officer.

Because he’s a minor, Craig is only facing a prison sentence for killing the police officer.  But, as a legal (if not mental) adult, Derek will be hung if he’s found guilty.  Under the common purpose doctrine, it doesn’t matter that Derek didn’t actually shoot the gun.  The only thing that matters is what Derek meant when he said, “Let him have it, Chris!”  Derek says that he was telling Craig to hand over his gun.  The Crown says that Derek was ordering Craig to open fire.

Let Him Have It is based on a true story.  The case of Derek Bentley was one of the many cases that eventually led to the death penalty being abolished in the UK.  Let Him Have It was released at the height of a long campaign to secure a pardon for Derek.  That pardon was finally issued in 1998, though it was too late to help Derek Bentley.

Let Him Have It is a powerful and angry docudrama, one that reveals in searing detail how Derek was railroaded by the British legal system.  In his film debut, Eccleston gives a powerful performance as Derek and he is ably supported by both Paul Reynolds and, in the role of Derek’s father, Tom Courtenay.  Let Him Have It leaves little doubt as to why the case of Derek Bentley remained a cause célèbre for 45 years after his initial trial.

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: The Sweet House of Horrors (dir by Lucio Fulci)


Mary and Roberto Vivaldi (played by Lubka Lenzi and Pascal Persiano) would appear to have a perfect life, perhaps because they do.  They’re young.  They’re attractive.  They’re in love.  They’re rich.  They have a really nice house and they have two children, a boy and a girl.  What could go wrong, right?

Well, they could come home from a party and discover that their house is being burglarized.  And the burglar could then proceed to graphically and viscously murder them, smashing in Robert’s head and, since this is a Lucio Fulci film, popping out Mary’s eye.  In fact, the opening murder is so graphic and so disturbing that it’s somewhat surprising to learn that this movie was made for television.

Of course, what’s even stranger is that the rest of the film is oddly tame, particularly for a Fulci film.  Perhaps they only had enough money in the budget for one graphic gore scene.

Anyway, the parents are now dead and the children are now orphans.  At the funeral, the children shock everyone by playing and laughing.  However, a few seconds later, they’re standing over the grave and crying.  Some people would call this an inconsistency but I think it’s the most realistic part of the film.  When you lose someone who you love, you do strange things.  There is no one proper way to grieve.  As someone who suffered through his share of personal tragedy, this was something that Fulci probably understood.

The parents may be dead but they’re not gone!  Instead, they’re haunting the house.  The children are overjoyed but their new guardian, Aunt Marcia (Cinzia Monreale, who was Emily in Fulci’s The Beyond) is not.  Marcia freaks out upon realizing that the house is haunted and it certainly doesn’t help that she’s attacked by a gigantic fly in the attic.  Her husband, the incredibly dense Carlo (Jean Christophe Bretigniere), doesn’t think anything strange is happening.  Still, Carlo does agree that it would be a good idea to sell the house and move the children elsewhere.

Nope!  The parents have no intention of letting that happen!  Of course, the dead parents main concern to kill the man who killed them but, once he’s dead (it doesn’t take that long), they’re free to spend their time pushing a real estate agent down a flight of stairs, harassing Marcia and Carlo and eventually causing an exorcist’s hand to melt.

If you’re getting the feeling that both the dead parents and the living children are pretty obnoxious, that’s because they are.  I mean, it’s one thing to not want to be separated.  That’s something we can all relate to.  It’s another thing to melt a man’s hand and then laugh about it.  Add to that, neither Marcia nor Carlo come across as being particularly villainous.  It’s not like they’re planning on murdering the kids for their inheritance or sending them to a Dickensian orphanage or anything like that.  They just want the kids to stop conducting black magic ceremonies and they want to live in a house that isn’t haunted.  No matter how much sympathy you may have for the parents or the kids, it’s hard to deny that Marcia and Carlo aren’t being all that unreasonable.

(It also doesn’t help that the film ends with the suggestion that the dead parents can stay with the kids regardless of whether the house is sold or not.)

And yet, I can’t help but like The Sweet House of Horrors.  Even though it doesn’t make much sense and it’s hampered by a low-budget (just check out the floating flames that represent the dead parents), there’s a sincerity to The Sweet House of Horrors.  The parents really do seem to love their obnoxious children and the film actually does provide some insight regarding the way that children use imagination to deal with grief.  Like many of his later film, The Sweet House of Horrors is hit-and-miss but Lucio Fulci still comes up with a few good visuals, suggesting that his heart may have been in this film in a way that it wasn’t in some of the other films he made during the final years of his storied career.  Just the fact that The Sweet House of Horrors tells such an openly sentimental story makes it unique in Fulci’s filmography.

The Sweet House of Horrors cannot be compared to such Fulci classics as The Beyond, The House By The Cemetery, The Black Cat, or Zombi 2.  But still, it’s an interesting little film and provides a hint that, even during his decline, Fulci still possessed some of the talent that made his earlier films so iconic.

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Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #8: Anne of the Thousand Days (dir by Charles Jarrott)


Anne

After I finished writing my review of Rolling Thunder, I continued the process of cleaning out my DVR by watching the 1969 film, Anne of the Thousand Days.  How does a film like Anne of the Thousand Days compare to a film like Rolling Thunder?

They might as well have been conceived, written, directed, and released on different planets.

I recorded Anne of The Thousand Days off of TCM on March 26th.  The main reason that I set the DVR to record it was because Anne was a best picture nominee.  It may seem strange to think that this rather conventional film was nominated the same year as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Z, and Midnight Cowboy.  It gets even stranger when you consider what wasn’t nominated that year: Medium Cool, If…, Last Summer, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Alice’s Restaurant, The Wild Bunch, Once Upon A Time In The West, and a long list of other films.  In fact, if I wanted to, I could probably spend this entire review listing all of the 1969 films that feel like a more appropriate best picture nominee than Anne of the Thousand Days.

And yet, Anne was nominated for best picture.  In fact, it received a total of 10 Oscar nominations, the most of any film that year.  Tellingly most of the nominations were in the technical categories and the only Oscar that it won was for its costumes.  Genevieve Bujold received a nomination for playing the title character and Richard Burton became the third actor to receive a nomination for playing King Henry VIII.

As for the film, Anne of the Thousand Days tells the oft-told story of King Henry VIII and his marriage to Anne Boleyn.  Told in flashback as both Henry and Anne wait for her to be executed on charges of adultery, the film shows us how middle-aged Henry VIII first met and fell in love with 18 year-old Anne Boleyn.  Standing in the way of Henry’s pursuit of Anne was the fact that 1) Anne intensely disliked him, 2) Anne was already engaged, 3) Anne’s sister was already Henry’s mistress, and 4) Henry was already married to Catherine of Aragon (Irene Papas).

Fortunately, Henry happens to be king and being king comes with its perks.

For instance, as king, he can order Anne and her fiancée to break up.  As king, he can casually dismiss his former mistress.  And, as king, Henry has the power that Anne finds to be the ultimate aphrodisiac.  At first, Anne merely loves the fact that Henry is obsessed with her.  But slowly, she comes to love Henry as a man as well…

The only problem is that Henry is still married and Catherine is still popular with the people.  Even after Henry divorces her and marries Anne, the common people refuse to accept Anne as their queen.  When Sir Thomas More (William Squire) refuses to recognize Anne as queen, Anne demands that More be executed.  When Henry initially shows reluctance, Anne announces that she will not sleep with him until More is dead.

Needless to say, Thomas More is quickly executed.

However, Henry’s attention has already moved on to Jane Seymour (Lesley Paterson) and, desperate to get Anne out of his life, he arranges for Cardinal Cromwell (John Colicos) to frame Anne on charges of adultery and incest.  With Anne facing a humiliating trial and the possibility of execution, Henry makes her an offer.  If she agrees to an annulment, he’ll free her.  However, their daughter — Elizabeth — will lose her claim to the throne…

It’s telling that Charles Jarrott did not receive an Oscar nomination for his work as Anne of the Thousand Day‘s director.  There are a lot of technically good things about Anne of the Thousand Days but, despite all of the melodrama and sex and historical detail to be found in Anne, it never comes to life as a movie.  The costumes are to die for, the sets are impressive, and the cast is full of talented British character actors but the whole movie just feels oddly flat.  Try as it may, it can never convince us that either Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn is worth all the trouble.

Anne of the Thousand Days was obviously a big production, which probably explains all the Oscar nominations.  But otherwise, it’s one of the more forgettable best picture nominees.

Guilty (Horror) Pleasure #23: Meridian (dir by Charles Band)


You know how there are certain films that you just know you shouldn’t like but yet, you do?  These are the films that you know you should reject but yet, right when you’re on the verge of condemning them, you suddenly realize that you’d rather watch them for a second or a third time.

For me, Meridian is one of those films.

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Meridian presents a twisted take on the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale.  Catherine (Sherilyn Fenn) and Gina (played by an actress who is credited simply as being “Charlie”) are recent art school graduates who have moved to Italy.  Gina has come to Italy to work in art restoration while Catherine has inherited her father’s castle!  That right — Catherine owns her very own castle!

I wish I owned a castle in Italy.  In fact, the first person to buy me a castle in Italy (preferably one in Southern Italy) will get a special shout out from me on this site.  Get to it!

Anyway, Catherine is pretty happy to be living in her very own castle.  Not only does she have a lot of servants but one of them happens to be her childhood nanny (Hilary Mason) who, for reasons that don’t become clear until late in the film, is still very protective of Catherine.  Catherine was a little apprehensive about moving into the castle because, when she was little, she used to see the ghost of a dead girl wandering about.  However, with her nanny there to protect her and Gina visiting for the weekend, what is there to worry about?

However, one morning, Catherine and Gina discover that a traveling circus has been set up near the castle.  Catherine finds herself intrigued by the leader of the circus, the mysterious Lawrence (Malcolm Jamieson).  She invites Lawrence and all the performers to have dinner at the castle.  With the help of magic, wine, and drugs, the dinner turns into an orgy with a nearly unconscious Catherine being taken by Lawrence’s twin brother, Oliver (Jamieson again).  While atop of Catherine, Oliver reverts to his true form, as seen above…

Naturally, it all has to do with family curses and ghosts and all the rest.  The morning after, Catherine wakes up with little memory of what happened.  The performers are gone and Gina soon leaves the castle.  Left with only her servants, Catherine starts to see the ghost of that dead girl again.  And, of course, both Oliver and Lawrence show up once again.  At no point does the plot make any sense but, then again, life is usually kinda messy so why should movies be any different?

Meridian

 

So, look — there’s a lot of negative things that I could say about Meridian.  Catherine is not a strong heroine, the film’s overly complicated plot is full of holes, and some of the acting is inconsistent.  But yet, oddly enough, those flaws ultimately work to Meridian‘s advantage.  It really is one of the most dream-like films that I’ve ever seen and often times it truly does come across like not only a fantasy but a fantasy that you might not want the world to know about.  (Which, I think, would make it the epitome of a guilty pleasure…hmmm…)  Working with what was undoubtedly a small budget, Charles Band tells his story with a lot of atmosphere and haunting imagery.  Taking place in a beautiful country and featuring a beautiful cast, Meridian is a lot better than one might otherwise expect.

Meridian was first released in 1990.  The version I saw was included as part The Midnight Horror DVD Collection, along with the original Prom Night and 6 other films, none of which were as good as either Meridian or Prom Night.

Previous Guilty Pleasures:

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond The Stars