Posts Tagged ‘Roman Polanski’

Movie Reviews 445 – The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

August 14, 2020

Roman Polanski is one one those polarising (no pun intended) people who is equally celebrated as an artistic genius and reviled as an accused child rapist. That being said, any time his name comes up it is just as likely that neither his accomplishments nor his deplorable past be the first thing that spring to mind, but an episode in his life that he has been indelibly associated with despite not even being present when it took place.

The event in question of course is the brutal slaying of his wife Sharon Tate, then eight and a half months pregnant with their child at the time, at the hands of Charles Manson’s cult in the first of a two night killing spree in which five people were murdered in early August of 1969. Most accurately filmed in the docu-drama Helter Skelter, and most recently turned on its head in a parody, alternate sequence of events in Quentin Tarantino’s masterful Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, the shocking Tate-Labianca murders remain a historical defining milestone of human heinousness.

Directed by Polanski and starring both he and Tate, The Fearless Vampire Killers was the couples single professional collaboration, and with perhaps the exception of Valley of the Dolls, Tate’s most noted role. Dark associations aside, this movie is something of a standout in Polanski oeuvres as it is a comedy and a far cry from the drama that has been a staple of his illustrious career.

Featuring great cinematography by Douglas Slocombe, a vibrant color palette and assortment of odd looking almost caricature-like characters (I’m including the diminutive, barbed nose Polanski in that group), the film is a treat to watch, at least from a visual perspective. But the plot is a piecemeal of horror and vampire clichés and the comedy, bordering on slapstick at times, isn’t very funny.

A Van Helsing stand-in, Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) travels to Transylvania with his bumbling trusted assistant Alfred (Polanski) hoping to prove his discounted theories on the existence of vampires. After nearly freezing and being rescued and brought to a local pub, they notice the abundance of garlic strings, but any mention of nearby castles or ethereal spirits are rebuffed by the townsfolk. Only when the Innkeeper’s daughter Sarah (Tate) is whisked away in the middle of the night do Abronsius and Alfred have the opportunity to make their way to the mountaintop castle lair of Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) to rescue the dear girl and hopefully put an end to the local scourge.

The film consists of a lot of slinking around the castle, late night snowy sleigh rides, a hunchback to contend with, and last be not least a glorious midnight ball of coiffed and pasty vampires. And while the film has a PG rating there are a number of ‘booby’ close calls. One thing I really love is the theme music which is a catchy chant with a touch of harpsichord.

I suspect that Polanski purists may not revere this film when comparing it to the many great films he has given us over the years. There’s no comparing it to Chinatown, The Pianist, Repulsion, his one other pure horror, the acclaimed Rosemary’s Baby, which he made the very next year, or even The Tenant. Truth be told, most of the attention it does get is due to the historical aspect of Tate’s inclusion. And yet there is still something about it that draws me to rewatch it on occasion. If nothing else, it is unique in many ways.

Movie Reviews 328 – The Tenant (1976)

January 12, 2018

Trelkovsky (Roman Polanski) is a young Polish man seeking an apartment in Paris when he stumbles upon a vacant unit and immediately tries to secure it for himself. He learns what while it is empty, Simone, the current leaseholder, hasn’t technically relinquished it but in fact attempted suicide by jumping out on the windows and is now in the hospital. As he makes arrangements to rent it out his concerns that the former tenant may return are rebuffed by the lethargic concierge (Shelley Winters) and the landlord (Melvyn Douglas) whose only concern seems to be the reputation of his establishment.

Posing as a friend he visits Simone in the hospital in order to determine her true health prospects and finds her in traction, bandaged like a mummy and with evident serious injuries. He also meets Simone’s friend Stella (Isabelle Adjani), a vivacious and ravishing woman who is also visiting. In the next few weeks the two strike up a flirtatious relationship while Trelkovsky maintains the pretense of having known Simone.

But all’s not well in his new apartment. The other tenants constantly complain about every bit of noise that Trelkovsky makes. And the one shared bathroom common for all the tenants is actually across the courtyard and every time Trelkovsky looks out his window he can see the other tenants just standing, mesmerized in there. But strangest of all is how Trelkovsky’s life begins mimicking that of Simone who has now passed away. Every time he asks the shopkeeper downstairs for his brand of cigarettes he is told they have run out and is offered another brand, that which Simone used to smoke. The coffee shop insists that he try out a breakfast and snacks formerly favored by her. Drawn into her life, Trelkovsky wavers between trying to stem the influences and drowning ever deeper into Simone’s shadow.

The Tenant is one of those films in which the viewer has to decide what is real and what may just be in our protagonist’s mind. A world of blurred realities or a descent into madness? And in typical Polanski style, other topics such as xenophobia, sexual perversion and paranoia are touched upon in this dark and atmospheric thriller. Previously a title that I never heard off, it was a delightful viewing although perhaps not as rich as the other two Polanski films of this supposed ‘apartment’ trilogy, Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby.

Movie Reviews 188 – Helter Skelter (1976)

June 25, 2014

Helter Skelter movieBased on Los Angeles deputy district attorney Vincent Bugliosi’s definitive book documenting the Manson family crime rampage of 1969, Helter Skelter was shot as a short two-night TV miniseries movie by CBS.

Lead by Charles Manson as some sort of Messiah figure, his ‘family’ of young lost souls camped at various remote ranches and terrorized the Hollywood hills of Los Angeles in August 1969 with two consecutive house break ins in which the occupants were senselessly and brutally murdered. The first murders took place at the house of director Roman Polanski (Polanski himself being away at the time), the most gruesome aspect of that night’s terror being the blood curdling death of his wife, actress Sharon Tate, eight months pregnant at the time. The second house murder was not far away at the LaBianca residence two nights later. While the two night spree culminated in the death of seven people, it was only, piecing together the murders, that authorities determined that Manson, both alone and with his followers, probably killed more than 30 people.

Disillusioned with authority and intent on starting a revolution, Manson hoped that the murders would be blamed on African Americans and that as a result of the accusations a race war would ensue. Splattering lyrics and titles of Beatles songs using the blood of his victims at the crime scenes, the musician Mansion believed the Beatles and other groups were hinting at the revolution and  he took it upon himself to spark the battle.

While not the first such killing sprees in history, the Hollywood locale, brutality of the murders and the uncovering of the past deeds of The Family and made Charles Manson a household name during the trials and his continued imprisonment to this very day day more than 45 years later (his original death sentence being commuted to life in prison when California dropped the death penalty) has relegated the Manson name to the top of serial killer notoriety list.

A rationale of simply being crazy was not the norm (not sure if that can be said today) and they really had to struggle with the fact that they were really dealing with an entire group of people basically following orders from a Messiah figure.

Steve Railsback as Manson nails the crazed look of Charles Manson, but there are so many other aspects of the investigation and other characters that his role is a lot smaller than you would expect. Indeed the central character is that of deputy DA Bugliosi (George DiCenzo) himself and all the authorities piecing together the crimes and trying to comprehend the motives.

Interestingly, Railsback went on to portray another serial killer in the title of role of the movie Ed Gein .

Helter Skelter bookHaving read Bugliosi’s book many years ago, I can attest that the movie, through no fault of it’s own, barely captures the horrors that really played out all those years ago. In order to get a sense of the carnage that took place, a lot of details and events have to be put under the lens, something that can’t be captured in a highly cleansed for TV and mere 3 ½ hour movie.

If you really want to understand the Manson story, I highly recommend reading the book. I can honestly say that it is the scariest book I’ve ever read even when comparing it with the numerous horror fiction titles I’ve read over the years. The fact that is not fiction, but depict real life atrocities is what makes it so compelling.

But if haven’t got time to read the book, then this movie will convey the big picture, but only marginally so.