Another mixed bag …

Emily (Mariclare Costello) haunts a Connecticut idyll in John Hancock's Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=akNvXsFckCc&t=250s”>YouTube

Another seemingly random collection of movies, this time including some cheap exploitation, cheesy fantasy, horror and noir. I revisit an old favourite, re-evaluate a low-budget Canadian film from the ’70s, and finally catch up with a couple of movies I’ve wanted to see for decades.

New features by two favourites

Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) being absorbed by the Color in Richard Stanley's Color Out Of Space (2019)

The label “visionary” gets tossed around far too easily, but it does apply to two filmmakers whose work begins in genre conventions yet rises to explore themes of horror and human fallibility in complex and original way: too long absent from the screen, Richard Stanley and Larry Fessenden have returned with some of the best work they’ve ever done – the former with the H.P. Lovecraft adaptation Color Out Of Space and the latter with Depraved, a modern meditation on the narrative and themes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Bleak Britain

Mrs Ross (Edith Evans) lives in a world beset by forces beyond her control in Bryan Forbes' The Whisperers (1967)

The British have a tendency to indulge in miserablism, a characteristic that filmmakers have been turning into powerful dramatic art for decades. Bryan Forbes’ The Whisperers (1967) and Ray Davies’ Return to Waterloo (1984) approach it from very different directions, but both create powerful portraits of people living depressing lives.

Pandemic viewing, Part Two

A psychotic YouTuber goes on a spree in Robert Mockler's Like Me (2017)

Social isolation and “working from home” mean a lot of time for movie-watching … and the volume far outstrips my ability to say anything substantive about many of the films I do watch: so here I mostly just acknowledge what I’ve been viewing in the past 4-6 weeks. Part two of four.

One of these things is not like the others

The President (Henry Fonda) trapped in the pressure cooker of Mutually Assured Destruction in Sidney Lumet's Fail-Safe (1964)

In 1964, Sidney Lumet’s serious movie about nuclear paranoia, Fail-Safe, had a tough time competing with Stanley Kubrick’s manic black comedy Dr. Strangelove, but it holds its own today as a portrait of a particular moment in social and political history. Meanwhile, Franklin Adreon’s pair of no-budget time travel thrillers from 1966, Cyborg 2087 and Dimension 5, are empty-headed entertainment which offer a touch of nostalgia to genre fans.

Poetic noir from Criterion

Temple (Miriam Hopkins) suddenly finds herself in a world stripped of security in Stephen Roberts’ The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

Although separated by fifteen years, the Depression and World War Two, Stephen Roberts’ The Story of Temple Drake (1933) and Frank Borzage’s Moonrise (1948) have quite a bit in common, stylistically and thematically; each centres on an outsider character brought low by guilt, who ultimately finds redemption through self-knowledge, and each uses richly Expressionistic black-and-white photography to create a feverishly claustrophobic atmosphere to trap its protagonist in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Camp Losey

Liz Taylor as wealthy widow Sissy Goforth clinging to life in Joseph Losey's Boom (1968)

In the middle of a career striving for artistic seriousness, Joseph Losey took a diversion into camp with three movies in the late 1960s. Gorgeously photographed and rife with scenery-chewing, one s a dud, one a great Gothic psychodrama and the third … well, it’s simply unclassifiable.

Smart Sci-Fi

The space elevator carries passengers and cargo to the transport ship Aniara in Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja's Aniara (2018)

Quiet, contemplative character-based science fiction movies feel like a refreshing oasis in a desert of big, loud, empty franchise blockbusters. James Gray’s Ad Astra (2019), Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja’s Ad Astra (2018), Sion Sono’s The Whispering Star (2015) and Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer (2008) provide satisfaction on many levels.