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  • November 11, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Serious Slasher Cinema

    by John Farr

    Follow-up this week’s suspenseful Reel 13 Classic, Dressed to Kill, with three of the greatest slasher films ever made.


    Psycho (1960)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) wants to make a new life for herself, and flees hometown Phoenix with a stolen bag of cash from her employer. She then makes a fateful stop at the Bates Motel, run by one Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a nervous, awkward but seemingly innocuous man. Marion learns too late he is anything but, and soon her sister Lila (Vera Miles) and Marion’s lover Sam Loomis (Gavin) have teamed up to discover what happened to her.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Made at the peak of his career in 1960, “Psycho” was suspense master Hitchcock’s last and most famous black-and-white picture-and a film that inaugurated the sub-genre of slasher movie. By the standards of today’s gore-fests, it’s a fairly restrained murder mystery, but disturbing nonetheless, achieving its chills more by what is withheld than shown. Hitchcock knows just how to heighten our dread of who or what might be at the top of the stairs, or beyond that shower curtain. The terrifying “Psycho” stands above most any psychological thriller made since.


    Black Christmas (1974)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    As their Pi Kappa Sigma peers begin to leave for the Christmas break, sorority sisters Jessica (Olivia Hussey) and bawdy Barbie (Margot Kidder) stay behind for a Yuletide party. The cheerful mood is marred, however, by a series of frighteningly obscene phone calls. The girls get nervous enough when their friend Clare (Lynne Griffin) fails to meet her dad for the ride home, and then a teenage girl is found murdered in a local park, prompting a concerned visit by police lieutenant Kenneth Fuller (John Saxon). Is a psychopath loose, or could this be more personal?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Three years before the release of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” brought the term “slasher film” into our movie lexicon, Bob Clark (the director of “Porky’s”!) helmed this Canadian-made psycho thriller starring Hussey, Kidder, and ubiquitous ’70s character actor John Saxon, playing a detective who suspects Jessica’s jilted boyfriend (Dullea) is a killer. With its menacing atmosphere and see-less-scare-more dictum, “Christmas” avoids all the clichés that were to follow in gorier films to come. When the shrill ring of a telephone makes your nerves jump, you know Clark’s dread-and-distress horror film has gotten under your skin.


    Halloween (1978)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Michael Myers, who butchered his sister when he was six, has escaped from an asylum and returned to his small Illinois hometown just in time to wreak more carnage and mayhem on Halloween. Baby-sitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is unlucky enough to fall in Michael’s path, which interferes with her trick-or-treating. Meanwhile, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance), Michael’s psychiatrist, is frantically tracking his patient, but how much blood will get spilled before he finds him?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    John Carpenter’s first and best entry in a long series, this movie gives the slasher pic a good name (that is, until you sit through all those pale re-treads). This lean feature works because it’s both original and daringly basic: Laurie is a young teenage girl up against a monster, with only her wits and her two feet to protect her from the wrong end of a large butcher knife. Will Laurie and her young charges make it to Thanksgiving? You’ll remain on the edge of your seat finding out.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more reviews of the best movies.

  • November 4, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Robert Aldrich Revisited

    by John Farr

    John Farr selects three great pictures from the oft-overlooked Robert Aldrich.


    Attack! (1956)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Ordering his men to attack a well-guarded German pillbox, Lieutenant Joe Costa (Jack Palance) expects backup from his senior commander, Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert). The captain balks out of fear, and a squadron of Costa’s men die as a result. Infuriated, Costa curtly informs Cooney that if it happens again, Cooney will pay for his cowardice with his life. Days later, Cooney dispatches Costa’s men to the Belgian front, where the fighting is even fiercer than before.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Offering a hard-as-nails depiction of war and the ugly flipside of frontline bravery, Aldrich’s “Attack!” revisits the decisive Battle of the Bulge with a realistic tale of mutinous revenge. The always intense Palance delivers a riveting performance as an aggrieved lieutenant at the end of his rope, but it’s Albert, in a superb turn as the scurrilous, yellow-bellied captain, who earns top honors. Great support from Marvin, as Cooney’s corrupt, high-ranking pal, Colonel Bartlett, and William Smithers, as a conscientious soldier, round out a fine cast. This gritty, searing war drama ranks with “Kiss Me Deadly” director Aldrich’s very best work.


    Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) was a highly successful child performer in vaudeville, but sister Blanche (Joan Crawford) overtook her in adulthood, becoming a huge movie star before a freak accident ended her career. Now years later, Jane takes care of her wheelchair-bound sister, but as Jane’s sanity drifts away, her long-simmering jealousy erupts into truly unhinged, sadistic behavior.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Aldrich’s campy cult classic still chills, thanks to a deliciously creepy premise which borrows from “Sunset Boulevard” in exposing the mental disintegration of a one-time star. Still, this is a more ghoulish affair, with Jane finding a variety of sinister ways to torture poor Blanche. Leads Davis and Crawford had parallel Hollywood careers, and their rivalry was famous, yet they’d never worked together before this (nor would they again!). Davis in particular is fearless as demented harridan Jane, and corpulent Victor Buono adds a revolting touch as Jane’s smarmy accompanist.


    The Longest Yard (1974)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Warden Hazen (Eddie Albert) wants to put together a big football game pitting his prisoners against the thuggish, but well-seasoned guards’ team, so he cuts a secret deal with former-pro inmate Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds) to throw the game in exchange for parole. Crewe assembles his convict squad, dubbed the “Mean Machine,” and morale is high. But when game time arrives, he faces a choice between freedom and loyalty to his team-mates.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Robert Aldrich’s crowd-pleasing prison/football comedy makes us favor the irreverent convict-outsiders (played by a who’s who of 1970s NFL stars) while disdaining the opposing bulls, led by ruthless warden Hazen and the vicious Capt. Knauer (Ed Lauter). Real-life collegiate player Burt Reynolds scored his first post-“Deliverance” hit with his assured, charismatic portrayal of Paul Crewe. Aldrich and Oscar-winning editor Michael Luciano infuse energy and urgency into the climactic game itself, spanning a whopping 47 minutes on-screen, which helps make “Yard” a winner by any measure. Beware the recent re-make.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more reviews of the best movies.

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