Thursday, May 13, 2010

A pair of '73 Horror Classics!

I am briefly going to examine a pair of outstanding horror films released in 1973, The Wicker Man (dir. Robin Hardy) and Don't Look Now (dir. Nicholas Roeg). Both overwhelm the viewer with the creation of a distressingly eerie atmosphere, and leave you reeling at the chaotic outcomes of their central characters.

The Wicker Man ('The Citizen Kane of horror films")

The Wicker Man is one of the great horror films. Robin Hardy's film slowly draws you into a crazy web of mystery as the audience is revealed to the bizarre activities of the residents of the Heathen populated Island of Summerisle through the eyes of Christian policeman Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward, in a fine performance). Voluntarily, he chooses to investigate the disappearance of a young girl on Summerisle. Immediately disliked, Howie receives no cooperation from the locals, who first fail to recognize the missing girl, and then insist that she is already dead. Throughout his investigation he is drawn unwillingly into features of their culture and due to his strict Christian values, is disgusted at what he finds. The Island is ruled by Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) who strongly condones the outrageous religious teachings, and their beliefs in reincarnation and sacrifice. There is something oddly charming about this film, which makes it so interesting, but ultimately terrifying. The wonderful May Day sequences, where the locals tribute their Gods to ensure prosperity are nearly unbearable in their intensity and the now famous final twist is one of best of all time. Christopher Lee provides excellent support, and Woodward is brilliant. Please ignore the recent crappy remake starring Nicholas Cage, this is a renowned cult classic one of the greatest films you will ever see.

Don't Look Now ("Nothing is as it seems")

After the tragic drowning death of their daughter, a couple moves to Venice to grieve and move on with their lives. John (Donald Sutherland) is a restorative architect working on a church. One day in a restaurant his wife (Julie Christie) meets a pair of sisters, one of whom is a blind psychic who declares that the deceased child is trying to communicate with them, and fears for the life of John while they are present in Venice. John, still haunted by the day of his daughters death (she was wearing a red raincoat) has strange visions of a child running the streets of Venice dressed the same way, and even one of his wife on a gondola when she was believed to be back in London. Either overwhelmed with guilt, or just lost in the maze, at first we aren't sure. It is a very eerie film, featuring one of the most haunting locations ever used for a film, the labyrinth streets of Venice by night. Most of the scenes are filmed in remote locations, but some shots feature famous landmarks. To heighten the tension, there is a subplot that tells of a murderer on the loose in Venice, with police investigation continuing throughout. John is worried when he believes his wife is missing, but we never get the sense that the parallel plots are going to merge, which works to lead us off track and make the final revelation even more shocking. Easily the best sequence is when John falls from the scaffolding, and the use of sound is brilliantly executed throughout, especially the thud of shoes on pavement, and the displacement of sounds caused by the high walls of the city. Often shot on hand-held, the recurring motifs ask us to think and interpret what we are witnessing, and i would argue that it is too intricate to take in on a single viewing. The final chase sequence is heart pounding, and the shocking conclusion will leave you shattered. A clever horror film that has since been declared a classic!

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