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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.