Male Queer Horror

Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1984)

The following article was written for, and published in, an Encyclopedia of Gender Studies, which can be found here: https://www.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/book/10.1002/9781119429128

Many film historians have suggested that the horror genre did not come into being until the beginning of the 1930s, when Universal began their cycle of classic horror movies. Roy Kinnard has stated that, before Frankenstein (dir. James Whale, 1931), the horror movie as we know it today simply didn’t exist, despite there being many films which were both frightening to audiences and contained horror elements (Kinnard, 1995). Likewise, Kim Newman suggests that the German expressionist films, grotesque Lon Chaney melodramas, and films based on theatrical chillers were not viewed as horror movies by either producers or audiences (Newman, 1996). These long-held beliefs have started to be challenged in recent years, most notably since the digitization of newspapers, fan magazines, and trade publications have given historians a comprehensive overview never before possible of how films were produced, marketed, and consumed in the first decades of the 20th century. Tybjerg wrote in 2004 that those rejecting the idea that the horror genre existed before the 1930s were putting forward the notion that it could only exist if named and recognized by those watching the films, and those making them (Tybjerg, 2004). Either way, the horror film (or the antecedents of it) can be traced to the very beginning of the cinematic medium. This article gives a brief overview of the genre in relation to both queer readings of some key films and the presence of LGBTQ characters within them.

Robin Wood suggests the formula for the horror film is a basic one: normality threatened by a monster (Wood, 1978). This is clearly a simplification of the horror movie but, by and large, still holds true to this day. The very notion of “normality” being threatened by a monster suggests that the monster itself can be read as “abnormal,” or, one could argue, “queer.” Using the films of the 1930s as a starting point, there are two types of queer monster at play in the horror films of classical Hollywood. The first of these attempts to disrupt a heterosexual coupling in order to allow a union for the monster with the male in most cases, and the female in the relatively few examples where the monster itself is female. This type of queer monster seems to be found more commonly in horror movies that are not wholly supernatural affairs, such as White Zombie (dir. Victor Halperin, 1932) and The Most Dangerous Game (dir. Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1932). The second type of queer monster is that which appears to be attempting to spread homosexuality among the masses as some form of contagion—although, once again, this is suggested implicitly rather than explicitly within the texts. Here, we are entering a world of werewolves and vampires as found in films such as Nosferatu (dir. F. W. Murnau, 1922) and Dracula (dir. Tod Browning, 1931). Unsurprisingly, there are moments when these two types of monsters cross over, such as in The Mask of Fu Manchu (dir. Charles Brabin, 1932), in which the title character not only plans to come between the heterosexual couple at the heart of the film, but also to have control over the male and become ruler of the masses.

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

The Most Dangerous Game (dir. Irving Pichel & Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1932) tells the story of Robert Rainsford (Joel McCrea), a renowned big game hunter, who finds himself shipwrecked on a remote island. The only house on the island belongs to a Russian, Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), who offers Rainsford his hospitality until a way can be found to get him off the island. Zaroff already has two other guests, Eve and Martin Trowbridge, a brother and sister, who have also been shipwrecked. However, Zaroff is also a hunter, but of the “most dangerous game”—humans. He provides his own entertainment by luring sailors to his island through altering the markings of the shipping channels, and thus causing shipwrecks, and then hunting them down and keeping them as trophies. Rainsford refuses to join him on his sadistic hunts, and so he and Eve become the hunted, and are given a 12-hour head start.  They will be free to leave the island  if they can survive the night in the jungle without being caught by Zaroff. Robert Lang writes that Zaroff’s request of Rainsford is perverse, and implies a sadistic homosexuality, which is present in both the film and its literary source, but always coded rather than explicit (Lang, 2002). The character of Eve in the film is clearly an attempt by Hollywood to at least partially heterosexualize the narrative. It gives Rainsford a love interest, something he does not have in the short story. Likewise, Rainsford is clothed when he arrives at Zaroff’s house in the film, but completely naked in the story—but that doesn’t stop him from losing his clothes during the hunt sequence that makes up the final third of the film. Slowly but surely, as he and Eve make their way through the jungle chased by Zaroff and his hounds, clothes are torn and removed. He may not be doing it physically, but Zaroff is effectively undressing Rainsford as he hunts him.

Zaroff is literally an (albeit human) monster who hunts men with what appears to be an explicit desire for them. The same is true of the title character in The Mask of Fu Manchu, played by Boris Karloff. The film is both sadistic and homoerotic in the extreme, as Karloff subjects his victims to various dastardly tortures, some of them surprisingly fetishistic for the time, including one in which the character of Terry Granville, played by Charles Starrett, is strapped to a table whilst nearly naked and injected with a serum which forces him to do anything which Karloff asks of him. The sexual connotations of such a scene (a sub/dom relationship or encounter, with one controlling the other), particularly given the (lack of) costumes, are likely to have been intentional in a film which seemingly lacks any form of restraint with regards to content or taste. Fu Manchu even takes delight in informing us how the victim of one of the tortures will soil his own clothes.

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)

Myrna Loy, who played Fah Lo See, Fu Manchu’s daughter, is said to have described her character as a “sadistic nymphomaniac.” This appears to be quite an adroit summation of the character, for when Terry Granville is being whipped (shirtless and hanging from the ceiling), Fah Lo See asks her father “he is not entirely unhandsome is he, my Father?” Fu Manchu, who has come into the room to watch the whipping admits: “For a white  man, no.” While Fu Manchu has a daughter and has therefore clearly been involved sexually with a woman, he admits here that he can tell a handsome man when he sees one and takes visible delight time and time again when restraining and torturing his victims, all of whom are men and often in complete or partial states of undress. His sexuality is also brought into question by the fact he is often surrounded by half-naked slave boys (Benshoff, 1997), and by his physical appearance. Gregory W. Mank suggests a campness in the way that Karloff’s Fu Manchu is presented, from what he wears to how he speaks (Mank, 1994, p. 69).

White Zombie (dir. Victor Halperin, 1932) continues the theme of one man forced to do another’s bidding, except, rather than this being a result of the taking of a serum, this time it is to do with him being turned into a zombie. Bela Lugosi plays Murder Legendre, a mill owner in Haiti whose entire work force are being controlled as zombies. Meanwhile, a young couple have been lured to the island by an older man, Beaumont, who wants the girl for himself, and plans to do anything to get her before she marries her fiancé. He approaches Legendre, who offers him a liquid that will turn the girl into a zombie, but, once this has happened, Beaumont changes his mind and begs Legendre to bring her back from her zombified state but, instead, Legendre turns him into a zombie, stating as he does so, “I have taken quite a fancy to you, Monsieur.” White Zombie is an eerie, unsettling viewing experience even 80 years after it was made. An independent production, made on a low budget and with leftover sets from Dracula, it manages to be considerably more haunting than that film, aided and abetted by Lugosi’s surprisingly restrained performance (one of his best), the cinematography, and the nods towards German expressionism.

Queer characters and imagery in horror films continued throughout the early 1930s. The Old Dark House (dir. James Whale, 1932), is a distinctive film in the first cycle of Universal horror films. Benshoff writes that incest, necrophilia, homosexuality, androgyny, sadomasochism, and orgiastic behavior are all hinted at within the movie (Benshoff, 1997). The film tells the story of the strange occurrences when a group of people are stranded in a storm and find themselves seeking shelter at the old dark house of the title. Whale’s sense of humor makes an entrance early on, and the director wastes no time in announcing that the travelers have stumbled across the “Femm” family, no less. Horace Femm is played by Ernest Thesiger, who could perhaps be best described as an amalgamation of the sissy prevalent in films of the 1920s and an elderly fop. Thesiger would go on to play a similar role in Bride of Frankenstein (dir. James Whale, 1935), a few years later. But Whale does not stop with the repetition of the Femm name and Thesiger’s characterization. Benshoff argues that Whale encourages a queer reading of the film by having actress Elspeth Dudgeon playing the 102-year-old patriarch, Roderick Femm (Benshoff, 1997). Also of note from this period is Dracula’s Daughter (dir. Lambert Hillyer, 1936), which not only features an effeminate manservant played by Irving Pichel, but also the titular character’s seduction of a young female model with a fade out which leaves little to the imagination.

Dracula itself was one of three key horror novels that had been written within a 10-year period in the late 19th century when the race was on to invent what we know today as film or cinema, and during the infancy of the new medium. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published in 1886, The Picture of Dorian Gray appeared in 1890, and Dracula in 1897. All three novels became the basis of a number of early attempts at cinematic horror. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was filmed over half a dozen times between 1910 and 1920, miraculously with at least four adaptations of the story surviving. The Picture of Dorian Gray was also filmed with similar frequency during this period, although only one version is still known to exist—an incomplete print of the Thanhouser version from 1915. Dracula was most famously filmed during the silent era in 1922 in an unofficial adaptation entitled Nosferatu by F. W. Murnau, although Dracula’s Death was produced the previous year in Hungary, directed by Kertész Milhály, who would soon move to America and rechristen himself Michael Curtiz and go on to direct classics such as Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1942). All three of these novels contained what can only be described as queer elements, and would continue to be some of the most-adapted novels in cinematic history. All three of these novels dealt with the idea of the protagonists leading a double life, and this common narrative trait has lent itself to queer interpretations that have been exploited across the decades as the number of adaptations increased.

Nosferatu, from 1921, loses much of the homoeroticism of the novel, partly because of changes to the characterizations of both the vampire itself and Harker (here renamed Hutter). Despite this, Murnau still manages to incorporate a sequence that is difficult to interpret in any other way. When Hutter cuts his finger while slicing bread, Orlok (Dracula in the book) moves toward him, wanting to take the finger and insert it into his mouth so he can suck the blood from it. Hutter finally realizes that something is wrong. This is the key queer moment within the film. The insertion of the finger into Orlok’s mouth is symbolic of oral sex, but the film does not stop there. When Hutter awakes the following morning, his shirt has been unbuttoned and he has a bite on his neck. Orlok has literally penetrated Hutter while he was asleep, despite the fact that Hutter is merely mystified rather than horrified at the situation.

In 1920, two American adaptations of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde made it to cinema screens. The lesser known (and lesser regarded) of the two is that starring Sheldon Lewis and directed by J. Charles Haydon. Differing from the other surviving silent versions of the story, the setting is transplanted to contemporary New York. Unlike the book, there is a female love interest for Dr Jekyll: Bernice. While this is a crudely made film considering the year of production, it suggests a queer subtext in a way that none of the other silent versions do. It was clearly made to cash in on the success of the more prestigious John Barrymore version which had opened a few weeks earlier, but this is far from a carbon copy of that film, and the lack of sheen here allows for an effectively darker atmosphere. The intertitles are key in communicating this, and successfully raise the ante with regards to queer content. One intertitle reads: “In order to better cover his dual nature, Dr Jekyll hires quarters for his other self in the squalid tenement district.” While the reference to Jekyll’s “dual nature” might more obviously suggest his good and bad side, it could also be a reference to his sexuality. Also of interest here is the reference to Hyde living in the “squalid tenement district.” Each of the four silent adaptations that survive have Hyde living in the seedier part of the city (whether London or New York). This contrasts with Jekyll’s own house, which is in a more respectable area, and reflects his upper-class status. Another intertitle in the film refers to “Hyde, the evil genius, harkening to the voice of the Tempter.” Would it be going too far to suggest that the “Tempter” was homosexuality? Possibly not, for by the end of the film not only has Hyde successfully come between Jekyll and his girlfriend, but he has attacked her as well; a symbolic attack on respectable, professional, heterosexual life.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

The Picture of Dorian Gray was one of the most-filmed stories during the years of silent cinema, although nearly all of these versions are lost, and the only one in circulation is just a fragment. The novel received a sumptuous M.G.M adaptation in 1945, with an aloof performance by the enigmatic Hurd Hatfield, whose porcelain features and quiet demeanor gave the film a queer subtext that bubbles below the surface throughout its running time. The queerest adaptation of the story was made 25 years later in 1970, in a European coproduction directed by Massimo Dallamano and starring Helmut Berger. The casting of Berger is key to the queer element of the film, with him being an openly bisexual actor, and already associated with queer roles after his infamous impersonation of Marlene Dietrich in Viconti’s The Damned the previous year. The 1970 modern-day adaptation dares to go places that previous adaptations (and the book) had not, with Dorian’s fluid sexuality explicit throughout the movie. At one point he seems only interested in women, at another he is only interested in men—and what nightclub does he visit to find people who can feed his sexual appetite? The Black Cock. The film has arguably not aged well, and today can be viewed as a rather tacky sexploitation take on the story, but no other adaptation has come close to it with regards to queer content.

Dorian Gray (1970)

However, the 1970 Dorian Gray did not exist in a vacuum. European coproductions of the period seemed to be willing to explore the subject of sex and sexuality (albeit with a somewhat more nuanced approach than Dorian Gray) much more than films from the United Kingdom or America. However, in the United Kingdom, gay or queer characters or concepts were beginning to appear in horror movies, particularly those made by Hammer. Horror of Frankenstein (dir. Jimmy Sangster, 1970) features a surprisingly nonjudgmental representation of a gay man (Benshoff, 1997). Meanwhile, Frankenstein Created Woman (dir. Terence Fisher, 1967) finds Frankenstein taking the soul of a man and transplanting it into the dead body of a woman. Interestingly, in the 1890s, influential sexologist Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld built his ideas around the notion of homosexuality being a “third sex” on the notion of a gay man being a woman’s soul in a man’s body, and a lesbian being the reverse. Hammer took this idea further still in Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (dir. Roy Ward Baker, 1971), with Jekyll experimenting with the ingesting of female hormones as a way of discovering the elixir of life. Instead of prolonging his life, the hormones result in him turning into an evil female Hyde (who he pretends is his sister), thus allowing both a man and a woman to live within the same body. In 1970 Hammer also made  a movie based on the J. Sheridan LeFanu’s novel Carmilla, written in 1872, featuring a lesbian vampire. The Vampire Lovers (dir. Roy Ward Baker, 1970) starred Ingrid Pitt, and began a short cycle of lesbian vampire movies at the studio, including Lust for a Vampire (dir. Jimmy Sangster, 1971) and Twins of Evil (dir. John Hough, 1971).

Outside of Hammer, queer characters had started featuring in horror films made elsewhere. The Haunting (dir. Robert Wise, 1963), an adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson, never explicitly states that the characters played by Julie Harris and Claire Bloon are lesbian, but it is also difficult to come to any other conclusion. Meanwhile one of the vampires in Roman Polanski’s horror comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) is homosexual.

In more recent years, the horror genre has been one of the first (and possibly the first) to include queer characters on a semiregular basis in mainstream films aimed at teenage audiences, even if the characters in question often don’t survive until the end of the movie. Notable examples are Bride of Chucky (dir. Ronny Yu, 1998), Cherry Falls (dir. Geoffrey Wright, 2000), Soul Survivors (dir. Steve Carpenter, 2001), Cursed (dir. Wes Craven, 2005), and Mortuary (dir. Tobe Hooper, 2005). What is perhaps key about these movies is that the gay characters are interwoven into an ensemble cast with little or no emphasis on their sexuality within the script. The gay and lesbian characters are, by and large, accepted by those around them with little fuss—something which seems at odds with Hollywood films of the period in general.

For the queerest of all mainstream horror films, one has to go back to 1984s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (dir. Wes Craven). This sequel, rather unusually, concentrates on a male protagonist, Jesse, who moves into the house featured in the first of the series. The film features Jesse, played by Mark Patton, repeatedly seen wearing nothing but tight white underwear, writhing in bed, covered in sweat, while he has yet another dream about Freddy Kreuger, at one point declaring “he’s inside me!” Added to this, Jesse has a friendship with a jock at school that can easily be read as homosexual, and the school’s football coach is a gay man who visits an S&M bar and meets his end after being dragged to the school showers by unseen hands, having his clothes ripped off, and getting a whipping from a towel. In 2016, the film’s writer stated that he attempted to draw on the homophobia that was present in society at the time the film was being made, and how that was affecting the core audience of teenage boys. (Peitzman, 2016).

Voodoo Academy (2000)

In recent years, a series of low-budget horror films have been made that are aimed specifically at a male gay audience. David DeCoteau has been directing films since the mid-1980s, including a number of entries in the Puppet Master series. In 2000, he released Voodoo Academy, a low-budget movie set in a Bible college at which not all is what it seems. DeCoteau’s cast are a group of young male actors with model-like good looks that spend much of the film wearing little (if anything) more than tight white boxer shorts (rather like the protagonist in Freddy’s Revenge, which may well have been DeCoteau’s inspiration). There are no gay characters here, at least not explicitly, but the entire movie is of a homoerotic nature—something which is emphasized above the horror element. The film began a long series of straight-to-DVD movies from the director using what is essentially the same formula—a mild horror narrative with a cast of pretty 20-something males at its core, with plenty of skin being shown throughout thanks to scenes set in dorms, showers, swimming pools, changing rooms, and gyms.

Finally, perhaps inspired by the success of the DeCoteau movies, other independently-made queer horror movies have been made over the last decade and a half. Perhaps the best and most well-known is Hellbent (dir. Paul Etheredge, 2004), a film that is essentially a slasher movie aimed at a gay audience. While still low-budget, production values are higher than in the DeCoteau movies, and the characters are gay rather than just baring skin to titillate a gay audience. This was followed by the likes of In the Blood (dir. Lou Peterson, 2006), Otto; or, Up With the Dead People (dir. Bruce La Bruce, 2008), Vampire Boys (dir. Charlie Vaughn, 2011), Unhappy Birthday (dir. Mike Harriot & Mike Matthews, 2011), Girl House (dir. John Knautz & Trevor Matthews, 2014), and B&B (dir. Joe Ahearne, 2017). Whether there is a future for these kinds of independent movies made by queers for queers is likely to depend on whether Hollywood incorporates more such characters into their mainstream horror films. Television has been leading the way in this regard for some time with horror or horror-related programming (True Blood, Riverdale, The Walking Dead, Teen Wolf), and only time will tell if cinema follows television’s lead in this regard.

References

Benshoff, H. M. (1997). Monsters in the closet: Homosexuality and the horror film. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Kinnard, R. (1995). Horror in silent films. A filmography. 1896–1929. Jefferson: McFarland.

Lang, R. (2002). Masculine interests. Homoerotics in Hollywood film. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Mank, G. W. (1994). Hollywood cauldron: Thirteen films from the genre’s golden age. Jefferson: McFarland.

Newman, K. (1996). The BFI companion to horror. London, UK: Cassell.

Peitzman, L. (2016). The nightmare behind the gayest horror film ever made. Buzzfeed. February 21, 2016. https://www.buzzfeed.com/louispeitzman/the-nightmare-behind-the-gayest-horror-film-ever-made?utm_term=.eq0NJP5Eob#.fj93EWzNwj

Tybjerg, C. (2004). Shadow-souls and strange adventures. Horror and the supernatural in European silent film. In S. Prince (Ed.), The horror film (pp.15–39). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Wood, R. (1978). Return of the repressed. Film Comment, 14(4), 25–32.


Review: It (Chapter Two)

Is it really three months since I last shared my inane thoughts with you? How time flies!

I saw “IT (Chapter Two)” tonight for the first time, having been too ill to get to the cinema to see it when it came out.

What in hell’s name are we meant to make of this likeable mess of a film?

Credit where credit is due – the film is nearly three hours, but it doesn’t feel it. It zips along rather quickly, in fact, but then it has got a lot of things to fit it. The telephone calls at the beginning of the film are done especially well, I think, and I like how they are linked through visual elements. Here we have nigh-on two hundred pages of the book condensed into ten or fifteen minutes of film – quite an achievement. In fact, I would return to the book more often if it wasn’t for the thought of wading through that lumbering section at the beginning. Also I’ve got to give credit to the fact that the acting is ten times better than how the adults were in the 1990 version (I still prefer the 1990 kids). In five cases, the casting is superb, and the performances believable. The casting and portrayal of Eddie is the exception here – nothing like what he was like in the book or the first adaptation, and that is a mistake. Ritchie doesn’t need a jokey buddy as Eddie is portrayed here. The whole point of the seven people coming together was that they were all so different. Eddie has morphed into a gym-fit second Ritchie and it doesn’t work, and nor is it logical.

MILD SPOILERS IN NEXT PARAGRAPH!

There are some other changes which are very strange. Much of the tension in the adult part of the book comes from the fact that Audra, Bill’s wife, follows him and gets caught by “It.” That is completely missing here, and a huge mistake I think. I’m not quite sure what the thinking was behind that. I also don’t know what the thinking is for changing Bill’s reason for not playing with Georgie when he was a kid. In fact, that change makes no sense whatsoever. He didn’t want to play, but was happy to spend several hours making a boat? That is completely nonsensical – and also goes against what we see in the first movie. It’s a twist too far which, thankfully, can be put to the back of the mind, but it seems odd that, considering how many problems the film has to surmount, time was given over to adding something in which didn’t need to be addressed.

SPOILERS OVER

But the main issue I had with the film is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, and that it misses the reason why the book is so acclaimed. The movie should have been serious and terrifying, and for much of the time it doesn’t come across as either because the so-called horror is so comic-book and juvenile. When Beverly goes back to her home and sees the old woman, she turns into what? A CGI naked eighty year old with boobs down to her knees that looks like Ann Widdecombe on a night out. What’s THAT all about? And then we have the animated Stan’s head. Again, absolutely ridiculous – and not in the book, as far as I recall. The fortune cookie sequence has always been problematic enough for its comicbook nature – both in the book and in the previous adaptation – but the new film seemed to have an identity crisis outside of this. There were times when it felt like a serious movie, times when it felt more like “House” or “Idle Hands,” and then it moved into an adventure movie at the end akin to “Raiders of the Lost Arc” or “Romancing the Stone.” At least there wasn’t a giant spider, I guess.

The other issue is the underlying message at the core of the book – that the clown/monster/It was a kind of representation of the corruption and failure of society. Floating Dragon by Peter Straub (written just prior to It) does exactly the same thing. And perhaps that element is why the second half of the story simply doesn’t work well on screen. It is missing its guts. Whereas the book has some gravitas, the film versions eventually turn into a monster movie and little else. What we get is enjoyable and likeable popcorn fodder – an epic, big budget, three hour B-movie, in fact, and the text of the book is much more than that, which is no doubt why it disappointed many people. No doubt the running issue of Bill not knowing how to finish his books was intended as an in-joke about this very issue – the last section of the book is notoriously hard to translate to screen. But even that attempt at humour was somehow heavy handed. And, despite the fact that the adult characters are better drawn, acted, and cast (for the most part), the film still only really shines when the kids are back on screen during the flashbacks.

Finally, it was interesting that the decision was made to include the gay-bashing incident at the opening – and even more interesting that it turned out to be the most horrific sequence in the whole movie, and not because of CGI. Many thought it would be cut – and a few years ago I think it would have been. But with hate crime increasing in western countries, it suddenly became more relevant again.

I would like to say that I was surprised by the level of violence in those few minutes of Xavier Dolan’s cameo, as it is really quite severe, but for some reason both American film and TV seem to have upped the violence quota in the last five or six years or so. I watched the first few episodes of Titans on Netflix at the weekend (no, I don’t think I’ll be watching the rest) and was rather shocked by the gratuitous violence in that as well. Even something as inane as Riverdale or as ridiculous as Supernatural has become seem all too keen to make their violent sequences as dark and bloody as possible. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this trend – especially considering three of those examples are either from comic-book adaptations or in that style of storytelling. Whatever happened to traditional comicbook violence? Perhaps I’m just getting old and squeamish, but I’m guessing I’m not alone in my thinking given the commentary there has been on Joker since it was released (although I confess I haven’t seen it).

Revisiting Dorian Gray (2009)

Ben-Barnes-as-Dorian-Gray-jpg-ben-barnes-21140020-500-333

 

Perhaps the biggest reason why the 2009 film of Dorian Gray is so disappointing is that Ben Barnes is probably the most suitable actor to play the role since Hurd Hatfield in the 1945 MGM version.  Barnes might have been twenty-seven at the time of filming, but he looks younger and, perhaps more importantly, is both beautiful and contains a childlike innocence during much of the first half of the movie.  If Hatfield had come across at fragile with his porcelain-like features, Barnes portrays Dorian as naïve – something I could never believe Hatfield to be, he seemed far too wicked for that.  And in both versions of the story, the lead actor was relatively unknown – Hatfield particularly so, but the public was only aware of Barnes through his role as Prince Caspian in the Narnia series, and a jolly jape misfire of a Noel Coward play.  And the public’s lack of familiarity with the lead actor can help with something like Dorian Gray.  By the time Helmut Berger was cast in the 1970 film, he had already appeared in Visconti’s The Damned, and, after that, who could ever believe that Berger could be an innocent?

Unfortunately, the 2009 movie falls down in so many places that the potentially perfect casting of Barnes becomes almost immaterial.  The opening of the film is a case in point, unable to convey through its CGI-laden visuals whether the audience should prepare for a horror movie or a fairy story.  This is an issue that continues throughout the film, with even some of the acting (particularly Rachel Hurd-Wood as Sybil Vane) making audiences wonder if they are watching a Wilde adaptation or a Tim Burton movie.  Ironically, a Burton take on Dorian Gray might be an interesting venture if Burton was feeling inspired that day, but here the visuals are too pretty, too clean (even in the sordid moments) and without the underlying wickedness that Burton is capable of bringing to such seemingly-innocent images.

But the film fails mostly because it dares to show us, repeatedly, just what Dorian’s sins are.  We know very little of them in the book, or, indeed, in the Hatfield film, but here they take place before our very eyes.  The issue here is that this is a mainstream film and, because of that, none of the sins appear particularly sinful – especially to a modern audience.  I very much doubt that anyone watching the film is likely to faint with shock that Dorian has a threesome, or has sex with another man, or that he doesn’t mind a bit of S&M even if it means roughing up that pretty little face of his (albeit temporarily).  Sure, he commits a murder too, but you only have to tune in to ITV3 every night to see half a dozen of those thanks to Midsummer Murders, Foyle’s War, and Poirot.  Trying to shock audiences (or even to titillate them) in a 15-certificate movie through some images of fetishist sex is hardly going to make us realise just what an horrific fellow Gray has become, especially when Fifty Shade of Grey is more likely to make one giggle than get aroused.

ben-barnes-shirtless-dorian-gray-01

It might work if it was a movie made by an independent filmmaker, with an appetite to come up with something more genuinely shocking, explicit or, at least, visually stimulating.  But Ben Barnes with his shirt off kissing two women at the same time is hardly a startling, hedonistic existence in a world where you can do a search on Google and be shown all kinds of sexual activities that you never knew existed – and all because you were looking for the amount of calories in a bowl of corn flakes.

Hinting at Dorian’s sins would have made for a somewhat more mysterious, maybe more eerie, film.  Even the decaying picture itself gets shown far too often for the changes to be remotely shocking – quite unlike the 1945 version where the colour insert of the decaying picture is in itself quite a jolt for the viewer near the end of the black and white film.   The script itself is formulaic for the most part, and the special effects really not very special – check out the explosion at the end of the film.  There are parts of the movie where it looks like an ITV Sunday night two-part adaptation, only with Colin Firth as Lord Henry instead of Jim Nettles.

Going by online reviews, many blame the film’s failings on Ben Barnes, but I would suggest that the film is bland and disappointing despite of him, rather than because of him.  You can’t make a good film with a bad script, and that is exactly what this film has – from the underdeveloped characters to the pointless changes to the source text, including the introduction of a back story where Dorian was the victim of child abuse, which seemingly has no purpose in the narrative and no influence on the character.

Dorian Gray is, unfortunately, a highly frustrating if somewhat watchable mess, but with a TV series in development and another film version out this year, perhaps someone will get an adaptation of Wilde’s own novel right at some point in the near future.

She-Wolf of London (1946)

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The release last year of the complete series of the 1930s and 1940s Universal Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolf Man movies on blu-ray has, no doubt, had many, like myself, revisiting some of the films from these cycles that they hadn’t seen in some time – only this time in much better quality.  It is worth adding that, perhaps appropriately, the Invisible Man movies are nowhere to be seen on blu-ray with the exception of the original movie.  Without doubt, these films look wonderful in high definition, and some of them really come to life in a way they hadn’t in their DVD incarnation.

Dracula’s Daughter (1936) is a key example.  This is a weird, dark, and eerie film that came at the end of the first cycle of Universal horror films during the sound period.   On blu-ray, all of that weirdness seems even more startling, and the picture quality for a film of this vintage is truly stunning.

Werewolf of London (1935), from a year earlier, was another that I enjoyed revisiting over the Christmas period.  Not part of the Wolf Man series at all, but a stand alone effort from six years before Lon Chaney Jr started having a problem with facial hair, this one suffers a little from rather sedate pacing, but is still an interesting movie nonetheless and is certainly better than many of the Universal horror movies of the 1940s.

In fact, Werewolf of London was the last film I saw in 2017, and so it only seemed right that She-Wolf of London (1946)  was the first I screened in 2018.  This is probably the least-known of all the films on the recent blu ray sets, and yet it is also one of the best.  As with Werewolf of London, it is not part of the Wolf Man series, but a stand alone feature starring June Lockhart as a young woman who fears she has the family curse of becoming a werewolf when there are a series of murders and attacks in a park close to her home.

I confess I don’t have much time for the “House of” series, in which the various Universal monsters come together in one film, that dominated the 1940s horror cycle.  By this point, the series had, arguably, lost its way, becoming more fantasy (and comedy) than horror.  She-Wolf of London isn’t really traditional horror either – no hairy beasts are seen within the movie at all, with the except of a couple of dogs.  Instead, we have a film which seems to be a mix of Gaslightthe Val Lewton films for RKO, and even Rebecca.   It seems almost ironic that Universal, who at one point led the way with regards to horror during the previous decade, here borrows from what other studios were doing.  The central character’s obsession with her supposed family curse has a great deal in common with Cat People (1942) from the Lewton/RKO series  and The Undying Monster, made by Fox.  Sadly, She-Wolf of London doesn’t have the same intelligent script or sense of dread as Cat People, although it certainly treads some of the same ground thematically.  It is still a taut little thriller, aided and abetted by some really fine performances, including the wide-eyed June Lockhart herself, but also Jan Wiley, who does well in a far less showy role.  Sara Haden, meanwhile, chews up and spits out the scenery.

Running at only 61 minutes, the mystery element isn’t given room to be taxing, and the ending comes about rather suddenly, but the film seems remarkably classy compared to the other horrors that Universal were producing at the time, and the period atmosphere is nicely sustained throughout.   Certainly an enjoyable way of spending an hour if you prefer your horror to be of a sinister rather than supernatural variety.

The Haunted Palace (1963)

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It’s common knowledge that Roger Corman’s 1963 film of “Edgar Allan Poe’s” The Haunted Palace is not really based on Poe’s poem at all but an H. P Lovecraft story entitled The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.  Corman tells us in an interview on the DVD release that, after directing several Poe films, he simply wanted to change things up a little.  However, there is relatively little that is different about this film from the previous Poe adaptations, but this is a case of “more of the same.”  With the emphasis on “more.”

There is more of almost everything here than in the other films of the cycle.  Firstly we have Vincent Price in not one but two roles, and giving perhaps his best performance in the whole series.  There are times, sure, where he eats up and spits out the scenery with gusto, but also moments (thanks to his dual character) where we see subtleties in his performance that are not present elsewhere.  There are moments of genuine tenderness between him and Debra Paget, as well as times when he appears to be the personification of pure evil.  We’re used to seeing the latter, the but former comes as something of a surprise.

The visual aspects of horror are increased here.  While the film isn’t gory as such, we see a number of people burned to death, as well as getting more than a glimpse of the “mutants” of the village, and whatever that “thing” is lurking underneath the palace – and here Corman breaks that golden rule of never showing your monster if you have a low budget.  A blurred image doesn’t make it look any more real.  There are, of course, some visually horrific elements to other films in the series, but they are normally resigned to thrilling set-pieces such as the climax of The Pit and the Pendulum and not to effects through make-up or photography.

There is also more music here, and the soundtrack by Ronald Stein is both stunning and beautiful and, hearing it away from the visuals, one might be forgiven for thinking it was written more for a 1940s melodrama than for a 1960s horror movie.  What this lush score does is complement, and yet draw attention to, the grandeur of the palace itself.  Looking at the cinematography, and the way the set is presented, it is difficult to remember that this is still film-making on a budget.  It seems as if with each film in the series, Corman was getting more and more confident, and managing to achieve a more luxurious look to his film, and this seems to reach a peak here, although many view Masque of the Red Death, which followed, as a better film.

For me, both The Masque of the Red Death and The Haunted Palace fall down slightly because of their longer running times – yet another example of “more.”  While The Haunted Palace is beautifully done, and well-acted, it does seem to outstay its welcome by around a quarter of an hour or so.  Part of the reason for this is due to the repetition within the film.  There are only so many times that Ward/Curwen can decide to leave the palace and the village and then decide to stay again, and this recurring issue seems only to prolong the film rather than make it better.

Perhaps this is why, despite everything I have written above, I just can’t warm to it like I can some of the earlier films in the series.  The other films may not have been so sumptuous as The Haunted Palace, or as well acted, but there were also never sections where they were seemingly being artificially extended.  There is a sense here that the notion of making something of quality from a low budget has gone just that little bit too far towards a real quality picture – a bigger budget literary adaptation – and I’m not sure that’s what audiences want(ed) from a Corman/Poe/Price horror movie.

Otra Vuelta de Tuerca (Turn of the Screw) (1985)

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Eloy de la Iglesia’s 1985 adaptation of The Turn of the Screw, Otra Vuelta de Tuerca, is almost forgotten today, and about as difficult to find as two critics who agree on the meaning of Henry James’s novella.   The print of the film that is surreptitiously passed from collector to collector over the internet comes from a rare TV screening with home-made subtitles added.  Despite the occasional drop out in picture and/or sound, it is seemingly the only version out there in circulation, and so rather precious.

Not only is the film largely unknown, but so is de la Iglesia himself.  Perhaps his best known works outside Spain are Forbidden Love Games (1975) and Murder in a Blue World (1976).  Both are rather over-the-top dramas with more than a dash of exploitation movie thrown in for good measure.   A handful of de la Iglesia’s late 1970s and early 1980s queer dramas were released in America on DVD at one point, but from poor quality prints, with even poorer subtitling, and have long been out of print.  His adaptation of The Turn of the Screw seems to be a mix of his two earlier styles – thoughtful drama mixed with elements of sex and sexuality.

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This 1985 adaptation of The Turn of the Screw borrows a great deal from The Innocents, as perhaps would be expected.  However, some significant changes are made.  Firstly, the governess at the centre of the story is now a male school master and, secondly, the children are portrayed as older than in the previous, acclaimed adaptation.  Asier Hernández was fourteen when he played Mikel (Miles in the original) in the film (and looks older), whereas Martin Stephens was twelve in the 1961 version.

The change in gender within the central role is key to de la Iglesia’s vision – the repressed sexuality in the first film is now repressed homosexuality, and the back story involving the teacher having recently failed to become a priest only encourages that reading.  The older age of Mikel provides added threat to the naïve and out-of-his-depth teacher, with him seemingly attempting to seduce the teacher at every opportunity, but in a way that appears to be more plausible than in the earlier film.  However, as with the ghosts themselves, is this “seduction” all in the mind of the teacher or actually happening?  By the end of the film, the viewer is not any clearer, but that’s hardly surprising in an adaptation of James’s tale.

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What is perhaps most surprising here, especially to those who have seen the director’s other work, is how low key the film is.  While not as subtle as The Innocents, de la Iglesia takes his film at a stately pace and avoids the pitfalls of trying to scare the viewer – or shock them.  We find out even less about Quint and Miss Jessel here than in other adaptations, and certainly know very little about their supposed corruption of the children.  Despite his early work involving elements of exploitation cinema, de la Iglesia avoids that kind of material here almost completely.

What perhaps is most surprising about the film is that I like it nearly as much as The Innocents.  That, to some, may be sacrilegious.  However, the gender change of the protagonist is an interesting twist, but not used as a cheap gimmick.  Instead, it allows the director to explore his own themes and motifs.  Forbidden Love Games, from 1975, sees a teacher effectively kidnapping two teenaged students and corrupting them with the games of the title until they actually like what they are being made to do.  The film has shades of Salo, but also of Michael Winner’s ludicrous prequel to The Turn of the Screw, The NightcomersOtra Vuelta de Tuerca is not as explicit as Forbidden Love Games, but the same motifs seem to lurk within the back story, even if they are rarely seen with the exception of the bathroom scene involving the two children.

In short, de la Iglesia’s adaptation of the James novella finds the director reaching maturity within his filmmaking.  No, it’s not as subtle – or as scary – as The Innocents, and the cinematography isn’t as beautiful, but the movie is a fine effort within its own right and not when viewed as just a remake.  If you can find a copy, it is well worth a watch…with the lights out, preferably.

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The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

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*contains spoilers*

For anyone who is a big film or music fan, there is always that chasing around for the things we can’t have.  We want the old films that aren’t available for whatever reason, or the unreleased recordings by our favourite artists that are languishing in a vault.  Sometimes we have good reason to salivate at the thought of these films and recordings being released, whereas other times there is good reason for a film or album being more obscure than the rest.

For many years, the Hammer production of Phantom of the Opera, starring Herbert Lom and Michael Gough, was unavailable on home video, particularly in Europe – slightly odd given the famous title.  Eventually it appeared again in 2014 not just on DVD but also on blu-ray. The point of the blu-ray release is a little bit of a mystery as, to be honest, it looks no better than the average DVD of a 1960s movie.  Anyone expecting a startlingly clear, crisp transfer is going to be disappointed.  Sure, it’s perfectly watchable, but that’s not what blu-ray releases are meant to be about.

That aside, the Hammer Phantom proves to have been rather elusive for a very sensible reason – it’s not very good.  Perhaps a hint towards the tameness of the film is  on the packaging itself – it is, surprisingly, a PG certificate.  Rather odd for a Hammer Horror.  But there is a good reason for that – there’s virtually no horror in the film.  Even the unmasking of the Phantom’s face is not actually shown to the viewer – in fact we don’t see that face until the very last shot of the film – and then, to be fair, we’ve seen some celebrity faces look worse than that thanks to botched plastic surgery and face lifts.   Perhaps the only real moment of horror comes when someone is stabbed in the eye, but that is also seen from a distance.

Now, I’m not saying that a horror film needs to be filled with horrific moments, because it doesn’t, but it does need to be tense and sinister, and Phantom is neither.   It is, instead a mystery-come-tragedy about a supposedly deceased composer – let’s face it, you all know the story already.  The film is interminably slow, especially in the opening half an hour or so, and when we actually get the Phantom he turns out to be a slightly eccentric fellow who wants to teach a girl to sing so that his opera can be heard in all its glory.  At one point, the film looks like its going to get a happily-ever-after ending, but presumably someone realised that wasn’t fitting for a horror film and so tagged a three-minute disaster movie on to the end just to give a final thrill.

Viewers that are really paying attention will know that the composer of the opera that is the centre of the film, about “Saint” Joan of Arc, must also have been a psychic.  The film is set in Victorian London and yet Joan didn’t become a saint until 1920.  The supposed opera in question is a turgid effort, which I suppose is at least true to form given British efforts at the form during the Victorian era – but this makes Sullivan’s Ivanhoe sound like Aida (although I will admit that Ivanhoe, to quote Rossini on Wagner, does have “some wonderful moments but dull quarter hours – but I digress).

The script is a lame effort and, surprisingly, Terence Fisher’s direction is decidedly lacklustre and workmanlike.  Herbert Lom makes for a very unscary Phantom (even during the section of the film when he’s meant to be frightening), although he does well during the flashback sequence.  Michael Gough chews up the scenery as always and, as always, wanders through the film looking like a bulldog chewing on a wasp.  Heather Sears looks suitably bored for the most part, and even when kidnapped and brought to the Phantom has a kind of “oh, come on then, teach me to sing and get it over and done with” look on her face.  Oddly, the usually bland Edward de Souza comes out best, making for a surprisingly charming leading man.

All in all, however, this is a very unexciting effort, both from the point of view of the film and of the blu-ray release.  If you haven’t seen it and wonder why you’ve missed the film all these years, well the above information might give you a good idea why it seems to be one of Hammer’s lesser-known titles.  Either that, or you were just lucky to miss out.

Elvis Presley: His Hand in Mine (review)

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As it’s Easter, here are my comment on Elvis’s first gospel album, His Hand in Mine, recorded in 1960.  The following is taken from my book Elvis Presley: A Listener’s Guide, available in paperback and in Kindle format from Amazon.

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Some three and a half years after recording the Peace in the Valley EP of sacred music, Elvis finally found himself in a position to record his first full-length album of gospel music.  His Hand in Mine would have a very different feel to the sombre EP.  Here, traditional up-beat gospel songs would sit next to more serious sacred ballads, but the album would still have a consistency with Elvis essentially acting as the leader of the gospel quartet sound he had loved since his boyhood.

Milky White Way had been originally recorded by the Coleman Brothers in 1944, but Elvis based his arrangement on that by another group, The Trumpeteers.  However, he manages to incorporate a blues element into the material, sliding between notes in some places, and even bending notes in others.  Check out how he does this within the line “I’m gonna sit up and tell him my troubles/About the world I just came from” in the last verse.  This is brilliant singing, and shows Elvis thoroughly in his element, merging gospel, blues and doo-wop sounds to make a two minute masterpiece.

Elvis’s influence for the title song of the LP, His Hand in Mine clearly comes from the original recording by The Statesmen.  However, once again, Elvis makes subtle changes.  Doy Ott’s lead vocal on the recording by The Statesman is square in comparison to Presley’s.  Ott moves from note to note with clarity – there are no slides here – and sings with relatively wide, but controlled, vibrato.  Elvis does neither.  There are a number of changes in dynamics within the recording (not present in the original) and, at times, Elvis is almost whispering into the microphone.  There are also some startling switches from the sections in which Elvis sings in his bass voice to the sections where he sings in his higher register in duet with Charlie Hodge.  While his range had no doubt grown over the previous couple of years, it’s clear that Elvis hadn’t quite got the control at the very bottom of his range that he has at the top – he would be much more confident in this area six years later on the How Great Thou Art album.

Elvis gives The Jordanaires a moment in the spotlight at the beginning of I Believe in the Man in the Sky, with the group singing the verse with the barest of accompaniments before Elvis enters to sing the chorus.  His voice sounds glorious, and he uses all his range to navigate the tricky melody.  This is quite unlike anything on the 1957 gospel EP.  The sound is much lighter, the tempo quicker, and the song almost has a swing feel to it.

He Knows Just What I Need is more sombre and sedate and, in many ways, has a sound much more akin to that being used at the time by Johnny Cash on his albums of sacred music.  It’s possibly the least successful song on the album, but that makes it sound worse than it is.  It simply hasn’t got any of the magical moments that make the other songs so wonderful. In a similar vein is Mansion over the Hilltop, but this is distinguished by Elvis’s beautifully-controlled vocal.

In My Father’s House begins with Elvis singing a full chorus not just with The Jordanaires, but as part of them.  Elvis then sings a verse himself before handing over to The Jordanaires bass singer, Ray Walker, for a section before re-joining the group himself for the end of the number.  It’s brilliantly arranged, adding variety to the ballads on the album, and showing that Elvis was more invested in the music itself than hogging all of the spotlight for himself.

Three up-tempo spirituals were recorded next.  Joshua Fit the Battle was a song Elvis had talked about recording back in 1956.[1]  Here he sings the number with a natural swing, aided and abetted by more sterling work from The Jordanaires, against whose voices Elvis’s own nestles comfortably.  Swing Down Sweet Chariot was in the same vein, although there is the smallest hint of rock ‘n’ roll intonation here, not least in the repeated use of the word “well” in between each section.  Elvis would re-record the number in 1968 for the film The Trouble with Girls I’m Gonna Walk Dem Golden Stairs again finds Elvis as part of The Jordanaires rather than as a soloist, especially during the choruses.  Even in the verses, when Elvis is singing the melody while the group add a rhythmic vocal backing, the mix allows for him to totally blend in – and in the final chorus Elvis can hardly be heard as a soloist at all.

If We Never Meet Again and Known Only to Him see Elvis returning to ballad material, with both songs in waltz time.  Both contain more of the same wonderful selfless musicianship that had dominated the session thus far.

Crying in the Chapel was slightly different.  This was more of a pop song with an inspirational theme – in the same way that I Believe was.  The number wasn’t released until five years later, and became one of Elvis’s few hits during the fallow period of the mid-1960s.  Jorgensen writes that, remarkably “the recording log … says that no satisfactory master was completed.”[2]  In other words, the song wasn’t even deemed as fit for release at the time, something which only goes to demonstrate Elvis’s search for perfection with regards to the project.  There is, of course, another option – that Elvis didn’t feel that the song fitted with the sound of the rest of the album.  That is certainly the case; it has a slightly different feel.  However, it has a fine, restrained vocal that deservedly has become one of the singer’s best-loved songs.

To finish the album, Elvis and the musicians turned to Working on the Building.  Of the upbeat material on His Hand in Mine, this is certainly the weakest.  Unlike the other numbers, there appears to be relatively little thought within the arrangement, which becomes repetitive.  The song was sequenced at the end of the album, thus meaning that an otherwise near-perfect record ended on one of the least effective songs.

His Hand in Mine was an artistic triumph for Elvis.  There wasn’t a single mediocre cut on the whole album, and it had all been recorded in a single night.  Billboard raved.  They called it a “fascinating set of performances,” and stated that “the gospel message has never been put forth with any more greater effect and impact than here.”[3]

[1] Aules Archer, “Stop Hounding teenagers,” True Story, Dec 1956, 22,” 24.

[2] Jorgensen, Elvis Presley: A Life in Music, 142.

[3] “Spotlight Winners of the Week,” Billboard, December 5, 1960, 5.

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death (2014)

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I was pleasantly surprised by Woman in Black: Angel of Death. The reviews have, by and large, been pretty awful, but I think they have also been unfair. Unlike most sequels, this one stands on its own and doesn’t require you to have seen the first film but, at the same time, it’s not just a remake either. This time, the film is set during WW2 with a group of evacuees and a couple of their teachers being sent to the house that dominates the first outing. Whilst there, they meet an airman and the younger teacher starts a tentative relationship with him. At the same time, mysterious things start happening in the house.

Angel of Death isn’t going to win any awards for originality, but it’s not a copycat effort either. The first film seemed overlong to me, and strangely un-cinematic. Despite a very good performance from Daniel Radcliffe, a film where a guy walks around a house holding a candle for nearly two hours just isn’t very exciting, despite the fact it was well made and had more gravitas than this second effort. Where this second film wins out is by having more characters, and yet not enough for the house to feel occupied as such. The greater number of characters allows relationships to develop between them, and this is, after all, something that most films rely upon. The stark, dark, cinematography of the first film, where many scenes were drained of colour, is retained here but the greater use of dialogue means it isn’t quite as foreboding. This sequel might not be as “worthy” as the original but, to me, it’s more entertaining.

Indeed, the film zips along and is over and done with in ninety minutes, and yet still manages to be atmospheric. But it’s not without faults. Phoebe Fox is superb in the lead role of the young teacher, but Jeremy Irvine, as the young airman, seems to be literally on autopilot. That’s not his fault – his part is woefully underwritten and he has very little to work with. One can only wonder what attracted him to the part in the first place. He is as charming and charismatic as ever, but that doesn’t make up for the clichéd dialogue he is saddled with, and his “big scene” about two thirds of the way through the film is, frankly, pretty awful. The final third of the film seems much more of a genuine climax than in the first film, with a couple of impressive sequences packing quite a punch.

Yes, there’s no doubt that we’ve been here before, not just with Woman in Black itself, but with other period ghost stories. But the best horror films are often those that stick to a formula and make sure they do it well – and that’s pretty much what this film does. The atmosphere is well-sustained throughout, and there are some genuine jump-scares too if that’s your thing. If falls down in the sometimes clichéd script, but it’s entertaining enough and certainly not the dire outing that some reviewers are leading us to believe.

Don’t Look Now (1973)

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I will admit it from the very beginning:  this is a rant.    Rants are good for you, and we should all have them from time to time, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I had to watch Don’t Look Now this week for teaching purposes.  I last saw the film when I was about fifteen, and I remember not being exactly over-enamored with it back then.  But that was twenty-five years ago (I say this with a sudden realisation that I can recall things from a quarter of a century ago – I’m getting old).   So, I went into this latest viewing without any real expectations, other than the fact that it’s viewed as a “modern classic” (modern despite the fact it’s now 42 years old).

It will come as little surprise that I really and truly do not agree with those that have hailed it as a masterpiece.  On the contrary, I found it to be overlong, tedious, self-indulgent and pretentious twaddle.  It is a “clever film.”  I will grant it that much – but cleverness for the sake of showing off and being clever is pointless.  The editing of the film is brilliantly done – if you’re giving a lecture on what can be achieved by jump cuts and match cuts etc.  But most people watching the film are doing so because they want a diverting way to spend two hours, not because they want to sit at the screen and say “oh, that’s clever.”  In the end, it’s this clever editing that is the film’s downfall for me (or, at least, it’s biggest downfall).  Instead of producing a film that is seamless and engrossing, it produces a film that constantly reminds you that you are a watching a film.

This is, of course, relatively normal for an “arthouse” film, but Don’t Look Now doesn’t present itself as an arthouse film.  In fact it doesn’t seem to know what the hell it is.  Is it a horror film?  Kind of, but not really.  Is it to be viewed as entertainment?  Well, no, not really.  In fact what it seemingly tries to do is straddle the notions of horror, arthouse and entertainment – and ultimately fails at all three.  It’s like watching Kubrick – I would really like the hours back that I have spent watching Kubrick films.  In other words, it’s an entertainment that is just too damned clever for its own good.  It’s pretentious in the fact that it is trying to somehow elevate itself over the cinema of (for?) the masses and yet still be entertaining, and it tries to do that by stealing leaves out of  the arthouse book:  playing with time and space, showing how clever editing can be, a plot moving along at a pace slower than me with a dodgy knee and walking stick, and completely and utterly pointless shots of Donald Sutherland’s and Julie Christie’s hairy bits.

In short, Don’t Look Now encapsulates the very type of filmmaking that I abhor: cleverness for the sake of cleverness.  It might be clever but it sure as hell isn’t entertaining as it meanders along not really going anywhere and only providing a mystery by playing tricks on the audience.  It’s the equivalent of writing a whodunnit and only introducing the murderer to the audience on page 198 of 200.  Yes, the film is very “worthy,” but worthy of what?  I have no problem with arthouse cinema – you know what you’re getting when you walk into the cinema or when you put the DVD in the player.  But this type of no-man’s-land (and Roeg is one of the “best” exponents of it, at least in his earlier directorial efforts) doesn’t excite me at all.  It leaves me totally cold…and reaching for the DVD eject button or, at the very least, the fast forward option just to see what happens at the end.  And in the case of Don’t Look Now, don’t even get me started on that.