Psycho – Robert Bloch (1959)

August 9, 2016

Psycho-BlochMultifaceted writer Robert Bloch has excelled in just about every genre of literature, winning a Bram Stoker award for his horror, a World Fantasy award, as well as a Hugo for the genre for which he is probably best known overall; science fiction. But without a doubt his biggest hit came with the novel Psycho which was  adapted to film a year after publication by Alfred Hitchcock into the iconic thriller masterpiece.

As I assume most readers here are familiar with the movie adaption I won’t bother with an overdrawn synopsis of the plot. Besides, it’s not one of those stories you can give almost any detail without spoiling some aspect of the story. Suffice to say that’s it’s one of the all time greatest horror thrillers and is just as popular today as it was back then. But as the classic movie adaptation has far surpassed the original novel in popularity, two questions come to mind. The first question is whether the source novel is as good as the movie on it’s own merits and the second question is how close is the Hitch’s adaptation to the source?

Just as there are a number of clues in the movie that hint at Norman’s relationship with his mother, so too does the novel tease readers on the matter. While deftly skirting the truth, reading between the lines of both Norman Bates’ spoken dialog and the events as portrayed in the novel, the cat is never let out of the bag, yet those already in the know can see the foundations of the truth. Yes, the novel is just as finely crafted as the movie and deserving as much respect as the film. The written form is even better suited to having the reader exactly in tune to Norman’s perspective on things which of course deviates from reality in a few regards.

Comparing the movie to the source we find a mix with a significant portion of the movie script closely following the original for much of the story, but at the same time diverging significantly for particular aspects. The first relatively big change is the physical appearance of Norman Bates himself, in that the slim, suave and tidy Norman in the film as portrayed by Anthony Perkins was actually an oafish, overweight alcoholic in denial here. It was odd reading those few descriptive passages of Norman as we’re all so familiar with Perkins’ rendition. There are a few small changes in events and particulars, but none of any real significance to the major plot.

Like any great thriller, the greatest enjoyment is when you are first introduced to it, regardless of format. Given that, I would say that anyone unfamiliar with the movie may just as well start with this novel and enjoy the surprise ending as originally conceived. But do get to watch the movie if you haven’t already as the performances and imagery in some key sequences are unforgettable.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. Mother is calling…

Movie Reviews 269 – Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006)

July 16, 2016

Bon Cop Bad CopGrowing up in Montreal in an English speaking home in the heart of Little Italy meant I lived in some sort of demilitarized zone separating the ever present English and French two solitudes that is and will always be Québec within Canada. Straddling the two divisions there was relative peace and calm but at the drop of pin tensions could flare up for any slight, perceived or otherwise, if the two sides were separated along linguistic lines. At that point adversarial stances became set and insult volleys would begin with missives like ”Maudit Anglais” which would elicit retorts of “Pissou” or “Frog”.

And that was just the kids playing ball hockey in the streets.

The ‘adults‘ on the other hand have had a longstanding rift since the pivotal battle on the Plains of Abraham leaving the English and French in Canada to have a seemingly incessant fluctuating relationship whose ebb and flow are almost as predictable as the ocean tides with an occasional hurricane landfall.

So what has this to do with the movie Bon Cop, Bad Cop? Well everything and nothing. Coming from French Canadian director Eric Canuel this is a comedy that explores the stereotypes and different attitudes towards, sex, driving, law obedience, dining etiquette and the most divisive of issues: hockey allegiances.

As the title suggests, this is a cop movie and it begins right at the border between Ontario and Québec. When a dead body is discovered teetering above the road sign marking the divide between two provinces, the police from both jurisdictions arrive at the crime scene. Neither wanting yet another case to solve, Detective David Bouchard (Patrick Huard) attempts to thrust responsibility to his Ontario counterpart while Martin Ward (Colm Feore) tries to argue otherwise. The bickering ends when both of their superiors decide that it will be a cooperative investigation partnering the long-faced cops to solve the murder.

With the aid of a nutty post mortem examiner the jousting duo try to set aside their differences and follow the clues for what ends up being a serial killer on mission. Ricocheting between Québec Joual and broken English the two explore tittie bars, drug grow-ops, and worse places (Toronto. Well for a militant Québecois…) brokering just enough of a truce to lead them to their masked “Tattoo Killer”.

While a great film I wonder how non-Canadians will take it in given many of the jokes and puns are decidedly Canadian and Québec rooted. Will they really understand the significance of a hilariously timed exclamation “Vive le Québec libre”? I doubt it. On the other hand I believe it is every Canadian’s patriotic duty to watch this flick. Parle-moi de t’ça, hostie!

DVD owners will rejoice with the opportunity to watch the movie (A) in English, with French subtitles, (B) in French with English subtitles, or (C for true Canadians) as filmed in alternating English/French with no subtitles!

Movie Reviews 268 – Das Experiment (2001)

July 4, 2016

Das ExperimentMind control experiments are always fun.  Whether it be Pavlovian reprogrammed instincts or submission to a group mentality, the end result, while scientifically valid, are never pretty. The subcategory of peer pressure and group conformance has been tackled before in various forms of media: as teleplays (The Twilight Zone episode The Monsters on Maple Street, the ABC afterschool special The Wave); short stories (Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery); novels (Aldous Huxley’s 1984); and, sadly in real-life, with Nazism as standout example in recent history.

The phenomenon proved interesting enough that researchers at Stanford University decided to document the effects using live human test subjects in an experiment they performed in 1971. In that famous experiment a number of students were paid to undergo testing in which the would be equally divided into the roles of guards and prisoners for a period between one and two weeks during which the prisoners would be subjected to mock incarceration conditions but as closely mimicked to real life as possible. From the outset the guards were instructed not to inflict any actual pain, but to otherwise treat the others as actual prisoners. Surprising even the research lead himself, both sides soon adopted their assigned roles to the point that both physical and psychological abuses began to take place. The experiment was aborted on the sixth day when a research assistant objected to escalating debasement and pointing out how the lead himself became complicit in the ever escalating brutality against the prisoners. The German film Das Experiment (The Experiment) is loosely based on the Stanford experiment.

Former newspaper reporter Tarek Fahd (Moritz Bleibtreu) works as a cabbie when he stumbles upon an ad seeking volunteers for a psychology experiment. Before signing up he stops to meet up with his former editor and begs forgiveness for some past indiscretion, promising to infiltrate the experiment which he is convinced is some military funded endeavor and which promises will result a juicy story.

After rounding up a bunch of volunteers from all walks of life, the dehumanization begins as soon as the experiment commences. Imperceptibly at first, as both sides are jokingly playing their assigned roles, the dividing line begins to part when the guards force one of the prisoners to drink his lunch milk when he is clearly lactose intolerant. Tarek takes that opportunity to challenge the guards authority by drinking the milf himself. It’s a small act whose consequences quickly grow, when one guards, Berus (Justus von Dohnányi) begins to assert control over both the prisoners and his fellow custodians. Soon the researchers who are watching events unfold over video cameras lose control over the guards and when they finally try to intervene they become captive along with the prisoners.

This dramatization of course raises the bar on violence to a point far beyond mere disturbing. The social psychology exhibited by both sides is fascinating and there are interesting  secondary characters on both sides. The prisoners have one particular silent mate who, like Tarek clearly has an ulterior motive for joining, but the reasons why many of the other volunteered is explored. Even Berus on the guards side begins as an outcast and it is interesting to see him rise to power bit by bit.  As he relishes his newfound power he soon asserts his power over the guards as much as over the prisoners. In the end, the escalation goes far beyond the confines of the prison.

The recipe is somewhat marred by the inclusion of an external third ingredient, a love interest (Maren Eggert) who Tarek met the only the very night before his participation in the experiment began. Basking after that one night stand she incredulously manages to figure out where he is and tries to intervene. This plotline proves to be an unnecessary distraction to the events going on in the prison itself.

Overall I rate the movie a big Ja, but the love interest angle gets a Nein, Danke.

Movie Reviews 267 – Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

June 24, 2016

Assault on Precinct 13Before John Carpenter became a household name with horror hits Halloween and The Thing he gave us a hint of his many talents with his urban violence feature Assault on Precinct 13. A blend of The Wild Bunch brutality with The Warriors street gang trappings, Carpenter wrote, directed and provided the musical score for this 70’s urban jungle melee that features an overrun and outnumbered police precinct face a quandary evocative of Custer’s last stand at the battle of the Little Bighorn.

Fresh on the force and looking to make an impact, police lieutenant Bishop (Austin Stoker) is disheartened when he is dispatched to a South Central LA precinct in its final hours with the most of the office already moved to new precinct building. Set to shut down permanently the next day, only a handful of administrative staff and one constable remain at precinct 13 when Bishop arrives for what he believes will be a slow and insipid night.

But a local gang known as the ‘Street Thunder’ recently acquired a sizeable shipment of assault rifles and knowing this, authorities had set up a trap in which half a dozen members were slaughtered in cold blood. With the media covering up the mass slaying in their reporting, the four leaders of the gang vow to avenge their fallen brothers. Meanwhile, a bus transporting prisoners to another facility have to make an emergency pit stop and as far as they know precinct 13 is up and running and would make a perfect, secure layover. Among the prisoners is the notorious death row bound Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) whose dislike for cops keeps him constantly shackled, and even that doesn’t deter him from taking pokes whenever the opportunity arises.

Street Thunder decide that a slaying an mobile ice cream salesman in broad daylight will send a clear message to the cops and when a little girl returns to tell the now dead seller that she got the wrong flavor … well putting a bullet through her is just icing on the cake for the ruthless gang. Unfortunately the girls dad is nearby and begins a car chase that leads right to precinct 13 as nightfall approaches. With the girl’s father now in a catatonic state, he enters the precinct which soon finds itself under siege by dozens of well armed thugs just as the prisoners are about to re-embark the bus to continue their trip.

With all communication lines out the isolated group can’t even call for help and it comes down to Bishop, sultry eyed administrator Leigh (Laurie Zimmer), and Napoleon to lead a handful of others to thwart the incursion. Coming in spurts and waves, the barrage of bullets and attempts to bodily infiltrate the building take a huge toll on the never ending stream of gang members, but also comes at a cost to those holed up. Can they last out until help hopefully arrives?

As the storm progresses the precinct staff and prisoners become a cohesive unit, with both sides cooperating and respecting one another in order to stay alive. Through it all a chemistry percolates and teases between Leigh and Napoleon, as evidenced by Napoleon’s comment to Leigh “You’re pretty good.” referring to her gunplay in holding off a bunch of gang members in a corridor to which she replies “I can be bad.”

While not a horror movie the blood flows freely. Instead of the zombie infestations we are so familiar with today the attackers here are smarter (well a bit smarter anyhow) and they have tons of guns. The film is a microcosm of Carpenter’s Escape from New York which he would go on to make five years later and which proved to be Assault on Precinct 13 on steroids.

Like many horror movies of the day there are some pretty evident logical hurdles that have to be ignored to enjoy the film, but Carpenter’s familiar percussive synth soundtrack will help to make up for some of the faults.

I haven’t seen the 2005 remake yet so I can’t compare the two, but I somehow doubt it can capture the grit and grime of the original.

Movie Reviews 266 – The Red Shoes (2005)

June 14, 2016

The Red ShoesSpoiler alert. The red shoes in the movie The Red Shoes which features prominently on the movie poster and DVD cover art aren’t red at all. They are clearly and emphatically hot pink. This unexplained and bizarre turn of events is just one of the many things that had me scratching my head in this Korean horror release.

But it’s all about the shoes, in this case a particular (pink!) pair that mysteriously appears and whose allure quickly convinces any nearby girl or woman that they must have them. Once pilfered, the women become obsessed with their possession and bad things begin to happen, inevitably ending up in other women (equally lusting after the shoes) dying horrible deaths that includes their feet being severed. The shoes then mysteriously end up back with the one who first got their hands on them.

Tenuously based on a Hans Christian Andersen fable, the story centers on Sun-jae (Kim Hye-soo) who sets out with her young daughter Tae-su when she stumbles upon her husband cheating on her. Near destitute, she rents a small dilapidated apartment and hires decorator In-Cheol (Kim Sung-soo) to help her build a salon in which she hopes to revive her former optician business. She finds the stray shoes on the subway soon after and takes them home. But little Tae-su immediately falls for them and mother and daughter soon become combattants for the fancy footwear. When Sun-jae’s best friend runs off with the shoes during a visit, she never makes it home. With the shoes soon back in Sun-jae’s elaborate glass shelving shoe collection that would be the envy of Imelda Marcos, she starts wearing them more frequently when In-Cheo remarks that she would look good in them. As Sun-jae slowly transforms from a shy and timid single mother to an alluring woman with eyes for In-Cheol, she continues her constant fights with little Tae-su. Her expanding quest for answers regarding the shoes include the history of similar murder mysteries that are somehow linked to a hunchback elderly woman living in the basement of her apartment building who knows more that she is letting on. Sun-jae eventually unravels the history of the shoes going back decades ago and induced when another woman was spurned and then murdered. Reuniting the shoes with that original owner promises to end the terror.

Bearing all the staples seen in countless Asian horror movies, my interest waned during the first acts as I started checking the stock trademarks on my list. Once you’ve seen one cherubic ashen faced kid poking out of the dark, you’ve seen ‘em all. By the time it gets to long haired women hiding their faces while roaming in dimly, flickering lit subways in the middle of the night my checklist only needed ‘woman crawling while bent over backwards’ (which unsurprisingly they eventually covered). But just as I was about to chalk this as a lusterless, Ju-on wannabe, the stakes were elevated with a final act that shockingly provides a secondary element to all of Sun-jae’s torment and the true mystery of the shoes.

While aspiring to all horror hounds with a foot fetish, non-orthopedic inclined fans can equally enjoy this story of jealousy, vanity, greed and envy, all delivered in a plot that features multiple bloody shoe battles. And for the last time they’re pink dammit.

Movie Reviews 265 – Vanishing Point (1971)

June 8, 2016

Vanishing Point

The birth of the counterculture in the late sixties and early seventies gave rise to a public that was more liberal, vocal, rebellious and demanding in daily life and those demands transcended onto the silver screen. The changes brought about included relaxed sexual attitudes, open use of drugs, defiance against authority and a seemingly unquenchable thirst for over the top action. The result was a subgenre of unbridled movies featuring car chases, nudity, violence, anti-war propaganda  and blaxploitation. All those elements and sub genres can be found in the cult classic Vanishing Point in which a mourning and spent Vietnam vet, ex-cop,ex-stunt driver reaches a breaking point.

Hired long distance driver Kowalski (Barry Newman) gets a job to deliver a souped up Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco. As soon as he gets the car he inexplicably self imposes a 2 day delivery time despite the long distance. Right from the outset Kowalski definitely races ahead of law enforcement attempts to stop him, first for minor speed infractions, then mounting offences as liabilities (and cars, and motorcycles) start to pile up.

His journey through picturesque mountains and sterile desert is punctuated with painful flashback memories of his past as a cop and racer as well as reflective moments with his former love who died five years earlier in a surfing mishap. When a small time blind radio DJ, Super Soul (Cleavon Little), listens in on police radio and hears about the ongoing chase, he takes up Kowalski’s cause and broadcasts encouragement, advice and spiritual guidance. While he obviously cannot receive any feedback from Kowalski himself, he appears to have a near psychic rapport the protagonist.

Along his route Kowalski has brief encounters with an desert worn snake catcher (Dean Jagger), a prophesying group of melodic hippies and a nomadic couple in which the woman rides walks about and rides a motorbike in the nude. All heady stuff.

Escaping one fuzz trap after another as he crosses state lines, each new jurisdiction vowing confidently that “we’ll git him”, Kowalski is eventually corralled as he nears a small town where two bulldozers are positioned side by side to block his last escape route. A fine slit of space between the blades imposes a decision that will determine Kowalski’s ultimate fate.

The symbolic White Knight in the guise of Kowalski’s 1970 Challenger propel Kowalski as fights his inner demons on the rubber slicked road to freedom. The mechanical mayhem is bestowed with a funkadelic soundtrack blending in with roaring mufflers and street squeals as the muscle cars are pushed to their extreme limits.

I have to admit that the praise I’ve heard over the years did not entirely fulfill my built up expectations. But the succinct dialog reminds one that this is really actually a reflective film. It just happens to be conveyed in one glorified chase. Watch for an uncredited John Amos to complete your 70’s flashback experience.

Movie Reviews 264 – Fermat’s Room (2007)

May 26, 2016

Fermat's RoomPierre de Fermat was a 15th century differential calculus mathematician that created a few proofs and theorems in his lifetime but one of which was lost in time. It took another 350 years for another scientist to provide the correct calculations that re-proved Fermat’s Last Theorem, a goal mathematicians salivatingly tried to puzzle all those years. (There is a great PBS Nova episode called “The Proof” that describes Fermat’s last Theorem and how it was eventually solved. Highly recommended viewing.)

The movie Fermat’s Room (La habitación de Fermat) has nothing to do with any of the above except the use of the mathematicians name. But puzzles, brainteasers, mathematical formulas, and multiple mysteries are at the crux of the plot. And like any good puzzle, there are layers to the plot that quickly becomes a race against time, and failure to solve puzzles will result in the ultimate price… death.

A bunch of world renowned mathematicians receive a letter in which a complex mathematical link between a series of numbers must be deciphered by a given deadline. When four of them solve the challenge they receive an invitation by the mysterious “Fermat” to a desolate meeting point at a specific date and time, and are asked not to identify themselves to one another, but are each provided the name of famous historical mathematicians of yore. Thus “Pascal”, “Galois”, “Hilbert” and “Oliva” meet in a secluded forested area and while still quizzing each other begin to solve puzzles that lead them first to an abandoned mill and then to a room inside.

The elder subject “Hilbert” (Lluís Homar) seems thrilled to be part of the challenge, asserting that mathematicians have had a tradition for such mysterious encounters before as a friendly social gathering of like-minded deep thinkers. Others like “Pascal” (Santi Millán) who solved the initial question with only hours to spare is only curious about the identity of their unseen host. The young “Galois” (Alejo Sauras) who recently solved another great mathematical problem but whose room was later vandalized resulting in the loss of his celebrated solution is more interested to know if this Fermat was somehow connected. Finally “Oliva” (Elena Ballesteros) seems more interested in “Galois” than the mystery at hand.

When “Fermat” finally makes his entrance he soon receives a call on his cell (despite all the others being warned not to bring one) that forces him to tend to an emergency. No sooner does he leave that the other find themselves trapped in the room with an electronic PDA from which they receive instructions from “Fermat”, and then the puzzles start arriving. As they try to solve the first riddle they notice that all four walls are slowly closing in and only a solution will temporarily halt the closing in.

From that point every piece of information is turned on it’s head as they group tries to figure out who is trying to kill them and why. The layers start to unravel, connections to the past are exposed and the truth slowly, beautifully emerges. Things taken for granted are revisited from another perspective, and yet completely logical. Almost nothing is as it appears and every shocking discovery seems to raise new questions.

The Spanish dual directing and writing team of Luis Piedrahita (also a comedian and magician by trade) and partner Rodrigo Sopeña is both amazingly complex and yet simple once understood, just like to small puzzles the group must solve to stay alive. But unlike solving brainteasers yourself where you struggle for a solution, watching this movie will be satisfying as all those riddles are clearly explained, including Fermat’s puzzle.

The Humans – TPB Vol.1 (2015)

May 20, 2016

The HumansPierre Boulle’s original novel La Planete des Singes which was the basis for the 1968 Planet of the Apes, did not feature the primitive ape society that we ended up seeing in the film. His original concept presented a simian society which used contemporary advanced technologies, only suited to ape physical features and with slight differences to those of modern man. (OK, 1960’s modern man.) His simians had cars, planes, helicopters and television. It was only for budgetary reasons the filmmakers decided to regress the apes to x sciences and adobe housing.

As much as I loved the film versions and the many sequels and spinoffs that followed (the Tim Burton abomination excluded), many of my fellow ape-o-philes and I have often wondered what could have been had Boulle’s original concept been realized on film or expanded with continuing stories as they did with the version that was filmed.

The creative team behind Image comics’ The Humans (artist Tom Neely and writer Keenan Marshall Keller) now fill that void with panoramic alternate Earth world set in the late 60’s and early 70’s in which apes, suitably garbed, deal with the issues, culture and events of the day. One key point of interest is that the main characters are members of an outlaw motorcycle gang.

Brandishing a middle finger salute as their gang patch, The Humans, while wild at times are one of the more calm, cool, collected biker gangs. Their stoic leader Bobby makes sure they keep their nefarious deeds under a threshold, but don’t thread their Bakersfield California territory or they will unleash their full animal fury. Sporting leather duds, rawhide boots, sleeveless jean jackets, and all manner of 60’s fashion trimmings, the Humans ride hogs and choppers proping their bouffant hairdooed, miniskited ape gals in tow. Members include a beatnik poet, a burly gorilla, and an tag-along orangutan named Clyde (obvious homage to Clint Eastwood’s “Any which way…” series of movies). Their prime nemesis are the Skabbs, a rival gang constantly provoking the Humans, but with neither the brains nor brawn to best them.

The storylines in this first trade paperback volume entitled “Humans for Life” (collecting the first four issues) include confrontations with the Skabbs, a funeral for a departed Human, a Human that has just returned from the equivalent of the Vietnam war and dealings with a corrupt official leading a drug distribution ring serviced by many gangs including the Humans. There are non simian humans are in a few scenes, often depicted enslaved, but there is nearly no mention of them, much less any explanation of the upside-down universe.

As can be expected with a gang centric cast, the stories are action packed and the mature nature of the comic includes unabashed simian sex (you get to see plenty of monkey boobs and weenies) denoting the ‘free love’ spirit of the times. The funky art accurately depicts the glorious groovy threads of the day while the characters are rich and interesting, either one of which are sufficient to recommend reading. My one grumble was the inclusion of a mosh pit at a concert which contrasted with the otherwise faithful rendition of the era.A minor slip in an otherwise great comic.

Movie Reviews 263 – The Innkeepers (2011)

May 11, 2016

The InnkeepersHorror movies by their very nature tend to be shot in dark brooding scenes that evoke a sense of peril and anticipation. On the other side of the coin are the horror comedies that dispel the need for that ambiance as the goal is chuckles more than screams. With The Innkeepers, writer and director Ti West tries to narrow that divide, presenting a movie that has mostly brightly lit scenes with a frenetically fun principal character and minimizing the dingy, shadowy scenes until the latter half when things do start to get creepy. But the fresh take ultimately fails in the most basic of horror storytelling needs, and leaves viewers hanging around looking for some sort of unfulfilled finality, much like the ghosts in these movies.

With imminent closure just around the corner the two remaining hotel staff at the Yankee Pedlar Inn are more interested in capturing evidence of the Inn’s resident ghost than tending to the few remaining guests. Energy filled Claire (Sara Paxton) puts all her energy in trying to elicit the ethereal presence of the late Madeline O’Malley, who when spurned on her honeymoon sometime in the last century, hung herself at the Inn, but whose keepers at the time decided not to report the incident to the authorities and opting to dispose of the body themselves. Assisted by her coworker Luke (Pat Healy) who even designs a website documenting the story and, hopefully one day include their own findings, the two have only a few days left in their quest.

One recent guest is former movie star and now a spirit drinking spiritual guide Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis) who reluctantly helps Claire. The only other Inn guest (after Claire manages to scare off the rest) is an elderly gentleman who insists on staying in one of the rooms already permanent closed. With video cameras in hand and high tech sound recorders set, the two embark on a frenzied last chance to capture their poltergeist prey.

While the chase is appealing at first the few interesting side stories of the guests never amount to anything. McGillis’ role, the only one substantially developed aside from the two main characters, is criminally neglected after a nice setup. The plot has ridiculously evident holes like the fact that while the Claire and Luke have been hunting Madeline for some time, they never bothered to check out the basement room where she died until their last day in the Inn. But those brunt of dissatisfaction goes to flaccid ending, without any answers or new mystery left for thought. It’s by-the-numbers, and the numbers don’t even add up.

Like the ghost haunting the Inn, this movie isn’t going anywhere. I regret that it made it as far as my DVD collection.

Movie Reviews 262 – Carnival of Souls (1962)

April 28, 2016

Carnival of SoulsWe’re all familiar with those cheap DVD sets that are chock full of movies that have made their way to public domain oblivion for one reason or another. But those dustbins of disregard do hold a few gems. Some, like Night of the Living Dead, are well known and have even attained cult status however most of the movies are in those bins deservedly, having little or no cinematic value, and are now mere curiosities. But in between those extremes are a few movies that have many failing points but at the same time have unique qualities that raise them above their sloppy siblings. At the top of that list is Carnival of Souls.

What it lacks in fine scripting and quality production values it more than makes up for with a distinct mood and ambiance. On the surface it is a simple story of a young woman named Mary (Candace Hilligoss) who emerges from an accident in which the car she was riding in with friends plunges over a bridge railing killing her companions. She miraculously emerges from the mucky waters as the rescuers look on, but from that day forward suffers from haunting dreams and apparitions of an ashen faced figure.

Driving to a small town to work as their new church organ player, she is intrigued by an abandoned roadside carnival as she drives by. She takes up residence in a boarding house where she has to deal with a simple minded shift worker who immediately starts making advances. Almost as soon as she arrives at the church and practices with the organ, she enters a trancelike state and begins playing a high intensity music piece that has her being fired for playing ‘devil’s music’. She later runs into a doctor who briefly tries to help her with her nightmares, but is constantly drawn to the carnival which she eventually visits, only to have more nightmares, the last finally revealing her true destiny.

Hilligoss’ somewhat stilted acting proved to be a gratifying point as her unassured manner fit in perfectly with her character, uncertain of her place in the world. Her tenuous grip with reality is at the forefront of all her encounters with the landlady, fellow boarder, church pastor and the doctor she meets. Accompanied by a haunting score emphasizing the grand pipe organ imagery throughout, it enhances the subtle yet sincere terror, lending the audience to sympathize with Mary.

A shame that this was director Herk Harvey’s first and only feature as his career afterward was concentrated on industrial and educational films. Casting himself in the role of the ashen ghost figure that traumatizes Mary, Herk displayed a knack for pacing and tension.

Once an obscure oddity itself, the movie has steadily grown in reputation over the years and has cast aside the disparaging label associated with most of the other bin buddies. Easily found as there are many public domain collections and single releases of the movie, it is certainly one to look out for.


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