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The Octagon (1980)
There’s a scene in The Killer Elite, a not-great Sam Peckinpah movie from 1975, where Burt Young, the man who would go on to play Paulie in Rocky a year later, fights a ninja on the deck of a battleship. The ninja does not prove to be much of a problem for him. Young casually picks up the ninja and dumps him overboard. If the ninja even resists, we don’t see it. Instead, we see him go screaming into the water. And we see Young—squat, balding, portly, not exactly a physical wonder—leaning on the guardrail and watching him plunge. Then he makes this noise: “Hmp.” Like, “That was ...
- Tom Breihan
Over the course of his career, the notoriously hard-living Warren Oates palled around with Dennis Hopper and served as one of many Sam Peckinpah muses. His relationship with Hollywood bad boys extended to John Milius, who directed him in the memorable title role for the B-grade biopic Dillinger. By the time he passed away in 1982, he had over 120 film and television productions to his name.
But in 1960, Oates was a struggling young actor whose broad, bulldoggish face and crooked-toothed smile didn’t exactly scream movie star. He was, however, perfect as a counterpart to Corey Allen in director Leslie Stevens‘ lost film Private Property.
Nearly six decades after its initial release, the black-and-white gem has re-emerged thanks to efforts of the UCLA Film & Television Archive and Cinelicious Pics, a small company with a reputation for digging up valuable works doomed to obscurity. Their latest find provides a glimpse into a »
- Amanda Waltz
The story of one or more drifters terrorizing any and all that come across their path is a narrative that’s become something of a cliche in the world of thriller/horror cinema. However, something that is entirely and in many ways iconic in its singularity is the on-screen presence of legendary character actor Warren Oates.
The subject of a new retrospective in New York, Oates’ career began in the late 50s doing regional theater in Louisville, after a run in the Us Marines. Moving into TV acting and ultimately the world of TV Westerns, Oates’ career was full of various guest roles on some of TV’s greatest series, only to meet his cinematic soul mate, Sam Peckinpah, while working on one of those very shows, The Rifleman. However, his first big screen starring role came in the intense, creepy and deeply unsettling lo-fi thriller, Private Property.
Itself the subject of reappraisal, »
- Joshua Brunsting
If you’re an actor playing someone who’s sick and twisted and evil, almost nothing will get you into character quite like a startling new look. That tends to be the case whether the look comes courtesy of the makeup department (think Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight” or Robert De Niro’s Al Capone in “The Untouchables”) or, simply, the electric razor. In “The Duel,” Woody Harrelson plays some sort of lethally charismatic Southern cult leader in the years after the Civil War, and his performance, which is all about being the kind of person no one can take their eyes off of, begins with his look: a shaved head, which seems like no big deal, but with matching shaved eyebrows (and occult tattooish squiggles in their place), all of which give Harrelson the appearance of a death-row psycho, or an overgrown baby, or maybe a strutting alien. »
- Owen Gleiberman
Dirty cops were a movie vogue in 1954, and Edmond O'Brien scores as a real dastard in this overachieving United Artists thriller. Dreamboat starlet Marla English is the reason O'Brien's detective kills for cash, and then keeps killing to stay ahead of his colleagues. And all to buy a crummy house in the suburbs -- this man needs career counseling. Shield for Murder Blu-ray Kl Studio Classics 1954 / B&W / 1:75 widescreen / 82 min. / Street Date June 21, 2016 / available through Kino Lorber / 29.95 Starring Edmond O'Brien, Marla English, John Agar, Emile Meyer, Carolyn Jones, Claude Akins, Herbert Butterfield, Hugh Sanders, William Schallert, Robert Bray, Richard Deacon, David Hughes, Gregg Martell, Stafford Repp, Vito Scotti. Cinematography Gordon Avil Film Editor John F. Schreyer Original Music Paul Dunlap Written by Richard Alan Simmons, John C. Higgins from the novel by William P. McGivern <Produced by Aubrey Schenck, (Howard W. Koch) Directed by Edmond O'Brien, Howard W. Koch
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Here's the kind of '50s movie we love, an ambitious, modest crime picture that for its time had an edge. In the 1950s our country was as blind to the true extent of police corruption as it was to organized crime. Movies about bad cops adhered to the 'bad apple' concept: it's only crooked individuals that we need to watch out for, never the institutions around them. Thanks to films noir, crooked cops were no longer a film rarity, even though the Production Code made movies like The Asphalt Jungle insert compensatory scenes paying lip service to the status quo: an imperfect police force is better than none. United Artists in the 1950s helped star talent make the jump to independent production, with the prime success stories being Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. But the distribution company also funded proven producers capable of putting out smaller bread 'n' butter movies that could prosper if costs were kept down. Edward Small, Victor Saville, Levy-Gardner-Laven. Aubrey Schenck and Howard C. Koch produced as a team, and for 1954's Shield for Murder Koch co-directed, sharing credit with the film's star, Edmond O'Brien. The show is a smart production all the way, a modestly budgeted 'B' with 'A' ambitions. O'Brien was an industry go-getter trying to channel his considerable talent in new directions. His leading man days were fading but he was in demand for parts in major films like The Barefoot Contessa. The producers took care with their story too. Writers Richard Alan Simmons and John C. Higgins had solid crime movie credits. Author William P. McGivern wrote the novel behind Fritz Lang's The Big Heat as well as Rogue Cop and Odds Against Tomorrow. All of McGivern's stories involve crooked policemen or police corruption. Shield for Murder doesn't tiptoe around its subject matter. Dirty cop Detective Lt. Barney Nolan (O'Brien) kills a hoodlum in an alley to steal $25,000 of mob money. His precinct boss Captain Gunnarson (Emile Meyer) accepts Barney's version of events and the Asst. D.A. (William Schallert) takes the shooting as an open and shut case. Crime reporter Cabot (Herbert Butterfield) has his doubts, and lectures the squad room about the abuse of police power. Barney manages to placate mob boss Packy Reed (Hugh Sanders), but two hoods continue to shadow him. Barney's plan for the money was to buy a new house and escape the rat race with his girlfriend, nightclub cashier Patty Winters (Marla English). But a problem surfaces in the elderly deaf mute Ernst Sternmueller (David Hughes), a witness to the shooting. Barney realizes that his only way forward is to kill the old man before he can tell all to Det. Mark Brewster (John Agar), Barney's closest friend. Once again one of society's Good Guys takes a bite of the forbidden apple and tries to buck the system. Shield for Murder posits an logical but twisted course of action for a weary defender of the law who wants out. Barney long ago gave up trying to do anything about the crooks he can't touch. The fat cat Packy Reed makes the big money, and all Barney wants is his share. Barney's vision of The American Dream is just the middle-class ideal, the desirable Patty Winters and a modest tract home. He's picked it out - it sits partway up a hill in a new Los Angeles development, just finished and already furnished. Then the unexpected witness shows up and everything begins to unravel; Barney loses control one step at a time. He beats a mob thug (Claude Akins) half to death in front of witnesses. When his pal Mark Brewster figures out the truth, Barney has to use a lot of his money to arrange a getaway. More mob trouble leads to a shoot-out in a high school gym. The idea may have been for the star O'Brien to coach actors John Agar and Marla English to better performances. Agar is slightly more natural than usual, but still not very good. The gorgeous Ms. English remains sweet and inexpressive. After several unbilled bits, the woman often compared to Elizabeth Taylor was given "introducing" billing on the Shield for Murder billing block. Her best-known role would be as The She-Creature two years later, after which she dropped out to get married. Co-director O'Brien also allows Emile Meyer to go over the top in a scene or two. But the young Carolyn Jones is a standout as a blonde bargirl, more or less expanding on her small part as a human ashtray in the previous year's The Big Heat. Edmond O'Brien is occasionally a little to hyper, but he's excellent at showing stress as the trap closes around the overreaching Barney Nolan. Other United Artists budget crime pictures seem a little tight with the outdoors action -- Vice Squad, Witness to Murder, Without Warning -- but O'Brien and Koch's camera luxuriates in night shoots on the Los Angeles streets. This is one of those Blu-rays that Los Angelenos will want to freeze frame, to try to read the street signs. There is also little downtime wasted in sidebar plot detours. The gunfight in the school gym, next to an Olympic swimming pool, is an action highlight. The show has one enduring sequence. With the force closing in, Barney rushes back to the unfinished house he plans to buy, to recover the loot he's buried next to its foundation. Anybody who lived in Southern California in the '50s and '60s was aware of the massive suburban sprawl underway, a building boom that went on for decades. In 1953 the La Puente hills were so rural they barely served by roads; the movie The War of the Worlds considered it a good place to use a nuclear bomb against invading Martians. By 1975 the unending suburbs had spread from Los Angeles, almost all the way to Pomona. Barney dashes through a new housing development on terraced plots, boxy little houses separated from each other by only a few feet of dirt. There's no landscaping yet. Even in 1954 $25,000 wasn't that much money, so Barney Nolan has sold himself pretty cheaply. Two more latter-day crime pictures would end with ominous metaphors about the oblivion of The American Dream. In 1964's remake of The Killers the cash Lee Marvin kills for only buys him a patch of green lawn in a choice Hollywood Hills neighborhood. The L.A.P.D. puts Marvin out of his misery, and then closes in on another crooked detective in the aptly titled 1965 thriller The Money Trap. The final scene in that movie is priceless: his dreams smashed, crooked cop Glenn Ford sits by his designer swimming pool and waits to be arrested. Considering how well things worked out for Los Angeles police officers, Edmond O'Brien's Barney Nolan seems especially foolish. If Barney had stuck it out for a couple of years, the new deal for the L.A.P.D. would have been much better than a measly 25 grand. By 1958 he'd have his twenty years in. After a retirement beer bash he'd be out on the road pulling a shiny new boat to the Colorado River, like all the other hardworking cops and firemen enjoying their generous pensions. Policemen also had little trouble getting house loans. The joke was that an L.A.P.D. cop might go bad, but none of them could be bribed. O'Brien directed one more feature, took more TV work and settled into character parts for Jack Webb, Frank Tashlin, John Ford, John Frankenheimer and finally Sam Peckinpah in The Wild Bunch, where he was almost unrecognizable. Howard W. Koch slowed down as a director but became a busy producer, working with Frank Sinatra for several years. He eventually co-produced Airplane! The Kl Studio Classics Blu-ray of Shield for Murder is a good-looking B&W scan, framed at a confirmed-as-correct 1:75 aspect ratio. The picture is sharp and detailed, and the sound is in fine shape. The package art duplicates the film's original no-class sell: "Dame-Hungry Killer-Cop Runs Berserk! The first scene also contains one of the more frequently noticed camera flubs in film noir -- a really big boom shadow on a nighttime alley wall. Kino's presentation comes with trailers for this movie, Hidden Fear and He Ran All the Way. On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Shield for Murder Blu-ray rates: Movie: Good Video: Very Good Sound: Excellent Supplements: Trailers for Shield for Murder, Hidden Fear, He Ran All the Way Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None Packaging: Keep case Reviewed: June 7, 2016 (5115murd)
Visit DVD Savant's Main Column Page Glenn Erickson answers most reader mail: email@example.com
Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson
- Glenn Erickson
For all the visual effect-laden enhances and camera tricks that are at a director’s disposal, often times the most effective manipulation of time on screen is the use of slow motion. While it can be over-used to the point of unintentional comedic effect by some, there are a number of directors who eloquently weave it into their arsenal of techniques to land a greater emotional — or simply visceral — impact.
Today we have a new video essay from The Discarded Image that explores how slow motion has been used throughout the years, zeroing in on Sam Peckinpah, John Woo, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, Jean-Luc Godard, and more. The essay also goes into more specific examples, such as how Martin Scorsese uses it to make us feel like we are inside the head of his characters, how Stanley Kubrick used it to amp up the danger in Full Metal Jacket, how »
- Jordan Raup
Take a look @ footage from the classic 1950's CBS TV western series "The Rifleman", originally developed by Sam Peckinpah, gaining a new generation of fans for 6' 6" actor Chuck Connors as 'Lucas McCain' and Johnny Crawford as his son 'Mark', airing every Saturday morning on AMC. But one big question always remains: just how many bad guys did McCain kill in total throughout the series entire 5 year run ?
Peckinpah, developed, wrote and directed many of the best episodes from the first season, basing characters and situations on real-life scenarios from his childhood growing up on a ranch.
His insistence on violent realism and complex characterizations, as well as his refusal to sugarcoat the lessons he felt the Rifleman's son needed to learn about life, soon put him at odds with producers at Four Star and he left the show...
...to create another TV series "The Westerner", followed by »
- Michael Stevens
Well, another year spent in the company of classic cinema curated by the TCM Classic Film Festival has come and gone, leaving me with several great experiences watching favorite films and ones I’d never before seen, some already cherished memories, and the usual weary bag of bones for a body in the aftermath. (I usually come down with something when I decompress post-festival and get back to the working week, and this year has been no exception.) There have now been seven TCMFFs since its inaugural run in 2010. I’ve been lucky enough to attend them all, and this time around I saw more movies than I ever have before—18 features zipping from auditorium to queue and back to auditorium like a gerbil in a tube maze. In order to make sure I got in to see everything I wanted to see, I had to make sure I was »
- Dennis Cozzalio
Robert Wagner as a social climbing psycho killer? I knew it! 'Mr. CinemaScope Smile' grins only once or twice in this movie, and then only to fool an unsuspecting woman. A great cast brings tension to Ira Levin's outrageous tale of murder. Joanne Woodward has a powerful role, but my heartthrob this time out is lovely Virginia Leith. A Kiss Before Dying Blu-ray Kl Studio Classics 1956 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 95 min. / Street Date May 3, 2016 / available through Kino Lorber / 29.95 Starring Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Virginia Leith, Joanne Woodward, Mary Astor, George Macready, Robert Quarry. Cinematography Lucien Ballard Art Direction Addison Hehr Film Editor George A. Gittens Original Music Lionel Newman Written by Lawrence Roman from a novel by Ira Levin Produced by Robert L. Jacks Directed by Gerd Oswald
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
- Glenn Erickson
By Lee Pfeiffer
Sony has released Walter Hill's 1975 directorial debut, Hard Times, on on DVD through their Sony Choice Collection. Hill was an up-and-coming screenwriter with Peckinpah's The Getaway to his credit as well as solid thrillers like The Drowning Pool, The Mackintosh Man and Hickey and Boggs. There is no evidence in Hard Times that Hill was a novice behind the camera, either. This is one of my favorite films of the period, though many retro movie fans probably haven't seen it. The story is set in 1933. Chaney (Charles Bronson) is a middle-aged drifter who ends up crossing paths with Speed (James Coburn), a fast-talking promoter of "street fights" (no holds barred matches between local tough guys with no rules or regulations). Needing some quick cash, the soft-spoken, low-key Chaney forms a partnership with the mercurial Speed. In his first match, they win big when Chaney knocks the »
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Cinema Retro)
With editors and cinematographers chiming in on the best examples of their craft in cinema history, it’s now time for directors to have a say. To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Directors Guild of America, they’ve conducted a poll for their members when it comes to the 80 greatest directorial achievements in feature films since the organization’s founding in 1936. With 2,189 members participating, the top pick went to Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather, one of three films from the director making the top 10.
Even with films from nonmembers being eligible, the male-dominated, America-centric choices are a bit shameful (Kathryn Bigelow is the only female director on the list, and the first foreign film doesn’t show up until number 26), but not necessarily surprising when one looks at the make-up of its membership. As with any list, there’s bound to be disagreements (Birdman besting The Bicycle Thief, »
- Jordan Raup
Guns! Guns! Guns! John Milius' rootin' tootin' bio of the most famous of the '30s bandits has plenty of good things to its credit, especially its terrific, funny cast, topped by the unlikely star Warren Oates. The battles between Dillinger's team of all-star bank robbers and Ben Johnson's G-Man aren't neglected, as Milius savors every gun recoil and Tommy gun blast. Dillinger Blu-ray + DVD Arrow Video U.S. 1973 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 107 min. / Street Date April 26, 2016 / 39.95 Starring Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Michelle Phillips, Cloris Leachman, Harry Dean Stanton, Geoffrey Lewis, John Ryan, Richard Dreyfuss, Steve Kanaly, John Martino, Roy Jenson, Frank McRae. Cinematography Jules Brenner Special Effects A.D. Flowers, Cliff Wenger Edited by Fred R. Feitshans, Jr. Original Music Barry De Vorzon Produced by Buzz Feitshans Written and Directed by John Milius
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
There it was in the dentist's office, an article in either »
- Glenn Erickson
German actor and screen personality Mario Adorf is to receive the Pardo Alla Carriera at the 69th Locarno Film Festival (Aug 3-13), honoring his 60 years in cinema.
The tribute will tie in with the festival’s 2016 Retrospective on German Cinema with screenings of Adorf’s early films such as Nachts, wenn der Teufel kam by Robert Siodmak (1957) and Der Arzt von Stalingrad by Géza von Radványi (1958), as well as later performances and a special conversation with the festival audience.
Carlo Chatrian, artistic director of Locarno, praised the “seemingly endless gallery of characters” played by the Swiss-born actor.
“He has left his mark not just on German but on European cinema, with a legacy spanning different cultures, periods and forms of expression,” said Chatrian. »
This Sunday marks the birthday of William Holden, who was born April 17, 1918. The actor ranked No. 25 on AFI’s list of all-time great leading men. Since he had classic good looks, an expressive voice, and was an excellent actor who starred in some of Hollywood’s most memorable movies, why wasn’t he even higher on the list? Maybe because Holden had a special talent for always making his co-stars look so good.
He starred in many hit films opposite actors who had flashier roles: Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard,” Judy Holliday in “Born Yesterday,” Audrey Hepburn in “Sabrina,” Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly in “The Country Girl,” Alec Guinness in “Bridge on the River Kwai,” and Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch in “Network.” Significantly, many of these actors won Oscars for their work. They gave great, showy performances, but Holden was the anchor of the films. It’s hard »
- Tim Gray
By John M. Whalen
“Barquero”(1970) stars Lee Van Cleef as Travis, an ex-gunslinger living a quiet life as the owner/operator of a barge that is the only way to cross the river at a certain spot between Texas and Mexico. When we first see him he’s in bed with Nola (Marie Gomez), a hot looking Mexican chick who likes to suck on cigarillos. Everything’s fine until the creepy Fair (John Davis Chandler) shows up at his doorstep leering down at the naked Nola and says he and two men with him want to go across the water to Texas. Travis doesn’t like the way he’s looking at Nola and tells him “A ride across the river is all your money’s going to buy.” They get across and Fair pulls a gun on him and tells his amigos to tie him up.
Meanwhile, in a »
- email@example.com (Cinema Retro)
Chicago – It’s Week Two of the 32nd Edition of the Chicago Latino Film Festival, and the films, programs and filmmakers are creating a big buzz over at the AMC River East 21 Theatre, where all the festival films are being shown. The huge variety of movies from Latino countries all over the world has brought in the film buffs and fans, making Chicago again the place to be for film.
The week culminates with the Closing Night film and festivities at the Chicago History Museum. For specific details regarding that night and to purchase tickets click here.
’No Kids’ (Argentina) is the Closing Night Film at the 32ndst Chicago Latino Film Festival
Photo credit: Chicago Latino Film Festival
The highlights of Week Two films are as follows…
Hundreds were inspired and amazed by their performance last year at the Closing Night concert of the 10th Annual Chicago Latino Music Festival. »
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Adam Fendelman)
By John M. Whalen
“Kill or Be Killed” (2015) aka “Red on Yella, Kill a Fella,” is a low budget horror-western released on DVD by Rlj Entertainment that also attempts to be a tribute to the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s and Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch.” The plot is about a gang of outlaws in the year 1900 traveling 500 miles through Texas to get to a stash of gold that’s hidden at the bottom of a well in the sand dunes of Galveston Beach. The group is hounded on their journey by a mysterious being and one by one the gang members get picked off.
Like Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch these outlaws are a motley crew. Their leader, Claude “Sweet Tooth” Barbee, played by co-writer/director Justin Meeks, is very loosely based on real-life outlaw Sam Bass. As Meeks portrays him, Barbee is a man obsessed with »
- email@example.com (Cinema Retro)
The icon-establishing performances Marilyn Monroe gave in Howard Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959) are ones for the ages, touchstone works that endure because of the undeniable comic energy and desperation that sparked them from within even as the ravenous public became ever more enraptured by the surface of Monroe’s seductive image of beauty and glamour. Several generations now probably know her only from these films, or perhaps 1955’s The Seven-Year Itch, a more famous probably for the skirt-swirling pose it generated than anything in the movie itself, one of director Wilder’s sourest pictures, or her final completed film, The Misfits (1961), directed by John Huston, written by Arthur Miller and costarring Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift.
But in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) she delivers a powerful dramatic performance as Nell, a psychologically devastated, delusional, perhaps psychotic young woman apparently on »
- Dennis Cozzalio
Rome — Wildside, the Italian production company in which FremantleMedia recently took a majority stake, is venturing into unexplored genre TV territory with Spaghetti Western Zombie skein “Garrett,” based on the eponymous Italian comic book which has a cult following in Europe.
The comic book takes its cue from Sam Peckinpah’s classic western movie “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” with the twist that the Indians are zombies. Author Roberto Recchioni has described it as basically a mash-up of the “Pat Garrett” pic with George A. Romero’s Zombie movies. Is also turns the cowboys into glam heavy metal figures while keeping the historical context accurate.
The plan is to adapt the property into an English-language TV series likely to be shot in Spain with American actors, inspired both aesthetically and from a production standpoint by the Spaghetti Westerns that Sergio Leone shot in Spain which launched Clint Eastwood’s career. »
- Nick Vivarelli
Channeling some of the most legendary masters of tension and fright in cinema history, young auteur Mickey Keating takes an empty New York house and a lonely young woman and molds these two seemingly traditional tropes into a black-and-white nightmare. Plunging into the viewer’s sense with bone-shaking atmospheric sounds and cohesively deranged editing, “Darling” shatters any expectations and delivers an immersive experience of intimate horror. The film’s star, Lauren Ashley Carter is an absolute revelation. Each scream, gesture, and diabolically spoken line of dialogue compliments the elegantly designed frames inspired by 1960s genre gems. Unsettling from its opening frame to its unshakable horrifying conclusion, Keating’s minimalist creation is an alluring and elegantly diabolical vision. An exquisite genre work to be counted among the best horror films of the year.
"Darling" is now playing in NYC at the Village East Cinema and opens April 8 in Los Angeles at the Arena Cinema.
Carlos Aguilar: I made the big mistake of watching "Darling" at night. It was absolutely terrifying. It took me by surprise, because its very economical in its design, but its very powerful in the emotions that it provokes. Tell me a little bit about the inception of the project and the films that you use as references or influences that inspired its visual aesthetics.
Mickey Keating: I think first and foremost its an homage to 1960s psychological horror movies with fractured narratives told with untrustworthy protagonists. Films like "The Haunting," "The Innocents," "Repulsion," "Diabolique," "That Cold Day in the Park" by Robert Altman, which show a much more restrained, psychological decent into madness. That's what really inspired me to write this one. In terms of composition and framing and camerawork, I turned towards a lot of Haneke films and then also restrained Kubrick-ian and Hitchcock-ian type black-and-white horror movies. It was a great eclectic mix of all these insane, beautiful works of art.
Aguilar: While writing "Darling," were you certain from the start that you wanted it to be focused on a single character with a story that takes place in a single location and very economical in its mechanics?
Mickey Keating: Definitely. It was very important for me to have this movie be this way because my two previous films were really about characters that were playing off one another, really interacting, debating and fighting one another, so with this film I wanted to be much quieter. I wanted to focus on one single person predominately. From the very beginning it was this way. If we could have had no characters in the film we would have tried.
Aguilar: Can you talk about your stylistic decisions including choosing to make the film in black-and-white, the unique framing, and the evocative lighting? The film is definitely a departure from what we commonly see today in the horror genre.
Mickey Keating: I think what was really important for me with this movie was a certain level of restraint. Horror movies, especially indie horror movies, in the past 5 years, have been nothing but hand-held footage and not necessarily about anything beyond trying to capture this weird pathetic intensity and also jump scares. What I really wanted to try and do was push back and go in the complete opposite direction of that. From the get go it was supposed to be like this. The script's not very long and it was all about, "Ok, we’re going to try to make every shot a painting." We knew we were going to really fixate on how we could tell the story the best way possible with the composition, which is a much more traditional approach in terms of classical filmmaking techniques. It was very satisfying to strip that back and really get back on the same page as traditional audiences and not have to try to fool them with fake realism or anything like that.
Aguilar: Editing is a crucial part of what makes "Darling" successful. You chose to use intercuts that can be perceived as flashbacks to what brought the character to this point or as premonitions of what's yet to come.
Mickey Keating: Absolutely. While I was writing the movie, we were also watching a whole bunch of 1960s experimental films. Even the works of John Schlesinger, like "Midnight Cowboy," or especially that dream sequence in "The Exorcist."There was this really exciting notion back then that had this fluidity in editing. The editor is just as present as the cinematographer or anyone else on the film. That’s what we kind of wanted to do, create this almost liquid type of storytelling that’s very abrupt and in a weird way upsetting. I think the goal was to make the audience who endured the film really unsettled and uncomfortable and always on edge. I feel like an exciting, effective horror film for me is a horror film that I can never really see where anything is coming from. That’s what we really tried with this one.
Aguilar: What builds the unsettling atmosphere in "Darling" is the fantastic sound work that enhances the imagery on screen. This is clearly of crucial importance in horror films but sometimes it can be feel overused or on-the-nose. Not in this case. Tell me about the process of creating this other layer of emotion through sound.
Mickey Keating: Definitely. Because the film takes place mostly inside in the house, it was really important for me. Sound is a huge passion of mine, sound design is one of my favorite things in the world, and I think that it's often underutilized. Going back to that idea of pure naturalism, it just kind of exists in the space. What I wanted to do from the very beginning of shooting was give each room, each floor, each kind of location in the house its own sound and its own feeling, as if the house is its own being. Darling walks throughout its body. When she gets up to the door on the top floor, that’s like being in its brain and in the middle that’s like being in its lungs. Every single area is set up differently. It's really upsetting in a way because it makes you very disturbed. Where we looked to for that was the video game "Silent Hill." It has the greatest example of sound work in the entire world because the majority of the first game, especially, is walking around. There are very few monsters in that game, but you are so constantly horrified and on edge because you can never anticipate what’s gonna come next because that sound Is always moving, always liquid, and always changing. Very disturbing I feel.
Aguilar: "Darling" is also a period piece even though this is never specified or delved into. It's a very noticeable quality of the film that coincides with the films that inspire you, but is not a definite factor in how we perceive the story.
Mickey Keating: I think if we had decided to go full blown 1960’s black-and-white probably we would have been pushing it a little bit too far. I didn’t want tot make a movie that wouldn’t be able to get an audience on all, or at least some level. My favorite thing I’ve ever read about David Lynch is that his moves exist in a dream-time in a way. They’re very heavy handed 1950s but clearly there’s some from the 80s. All these references make all of his films very anachronistic, and that’s was my intention. While its definitely a 1960s type of horror film, we never explicitly say it. The fact that the world is all black-and-white and New York sounds very strange in the film, it almost seems like it exists on another plane, or at least that was my intention.
Aguilar: Tell me about your star, Lauren Ashley Carter, who is terrific and terrifying beyond belief. Her screams and her facial expressions are really hard to shake off once the film is over.
Mickey Keating: I knew Lauren because she was in my previous film, and in my previous film she's one of the victims. She screams, she’s terrified, and so for this movie I wanted to flip that on its head. I wanted to cast her again and see where else she, as an actor, could go. When I was talking to her I referenced a lot of movies like "The Seventh Continent" by Michael Haneke and we also talked about those old 1920s horror movies where you see those violent screams that burn in your mind. She totally took that and ran with it. It was very exciting to be able to bring her on board. She’s definitely fantastic. It was also very exciting to be able to bring Sean Young on board as well as Brian Morvant, from my previous film, who plays the antagonist in the film. I wanted to flip that again and have him play the victim in this one. It was really a total world of friends making movies with friends, which is very satisfying.
Aguilar: Her character is sort of a blend between a victim and a villain. She has this sort of duality about her throughout the film, which that doesn’t let us know what she really is until late in the film.
Mickey Keating: Absolutely. That even goes back to southern gothic literature or even a movie like "Taxi Driver." When Travis is doing the pushups and we see he has all these scars all up his back, we know he clearly has a very disturbed past, and yet somehow he's still the protagonist. Travis Bickle was always a big point of reference for that as well.
Aguilar: What would you say were some of the most difficult hurdles you had to overcome to make an independent horror film at this scale and with the particularities that "Darling" showcases? How difficult was it to get people on board with the project you envisioned?
Mickey Keating: There are plenty. Its never easy. I think that at all scales of movies there's always stuff that’s very difficult, stressful and horrible to deal with and that never really changes. If you have enough money to solve anybody's problem, then clearly theres somebody who will charge that rate. It's never quite easy. I think the main challenge on a film like this was first and foremost that I wanted to make a black-and-white movie. A lot of people, when I even mentioned it before I even shot it, would say, "Oh don’t do black-and-white because you can't sell it." Clearly that’s not the case, so it's interesting. I feel like if I had brought this to any other production company besides Glass Eye Pix it wouldn't have happened. Nobody wants to be the guy saying, "Alright, lets make a black-and-white period horror movie," but everyone wants to come on board after the fact, which is very very frustrating to me in a lot of ways. I think that’s one of the challenges, being able to step back and say, "No, we're going to find a way to make this. We're going to figure out something. No matter what anyone says we're going to make this movie this way." Another challenge that really kind of comes to mind was, shooting in New York City in November was not easy. It was raining and it was cold. I’m from Florida originally and I live in California, so it was just a nightmare. But I think what’s fortunate about these movies is that we make them for a price so we make the movies that we are excited to make. Hopefully the right people that are drawn to them are drawn to them and everybody is happy at the end of the day. Overall it was a great experience.
Aguilar: The constraints that come with independent filmmaking, whether these are financial or logistical, often force artists to elevate their creativity to new heights in order to find solutions. Of course having more money makes things easier. Creative freedom that comes with a reasonable budget would be ideal.
Mickey Keating: Absolutely, there is a difference between committee filmmaking and having an individual voice. For all these movies that we are referencing and celebrating that used to be a no-brainer. You got a lot of money and you could make something that was very personal. Now, the way that the landscape of filmmaking has changed, every cent that you get that’s more than $1 million comes with a great big asterisk. It was great to be able to do something that was very personal. I had a great support system through Glass Eye Pix, they were totally like, “Yeah, do your thing.” It was great.
Aguilar: How have audiences reacted to the film? There is, of course, a niche audiences that will probaly enjoy the elegant madness of the film. Has that been the case?
Mickey Keating: In general in terms of the movies that I make, people are either very rabidly passionate about them or rabidly hateful towards them [Laughs]. The people who have been supportive of “Darling” have been very vocally supportive. I feel like what’s so fun about a movie like this is that in the first 30 seconds of it you are going to decide whether it’s a movie for you or not. In a way that’s very exciting because people who have stayed on the roller-coaster and gone all the way through are very adamant about how they feel and the emotions that it invoked. To me it just comes down to the fact that you are creating a conversation with your audience. The more you can talk about it, it’s a sign of an effective film and there have been a lot of conversations about this one so far, which is very exciting.
Aguilar: This is a film that takes a seemingly peaceful locations and a passive character and turns those preconceived notions on their head.
Mickey Keating: Definitely, We kind of approached the movie almost like a drug trip using the chapters. I’m not use drugs guy, but I think you can see that at the beginning there is this excitement and the further you get along down the rabbit hole or down the drug trip it becomes more jarring and fractured, and then by the last chapter it’s almost something like a hangover. It was very exciting to try to tell that story that way.
Aguilar: Seems like this is a busy year for you. What is the next frightening trip you are taking us on?
Mickey Keating: I have another movie coming out soon called "Carnage Park" that we premiered at Sudnance and SXSW this year. It'll be out in the summer. I also just wrapped another film called "Psychopaths," which is an ensemble serial killers movie. It's basically a whole bunch of stories about a whole bunch of serial killers over the course of one night in Los Angeles. This film's sensibilities are a bit closer to "Darling's" because "Carnage Park" is definitely a Sam Peckinpah-esque, Neo-Western, survival type movie. "Psychopaths" is much more of a psychedelic fever dream, which we are very excited to start showing people. »
- Carlos Aguilar
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