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Nightbreed (1990)
A self-indulgent film, with potential.
3 December 1999
Clive Barker is, by far, the best horror writer of this century, and a fine visual artist as well. Few of the films made from his fiction are satisfactory "Clive Barker Experiences". This is partly because his main strength as a writer is, naturally, his use of language to provoke emotional reactions and to evoke very special moods above (beneath?) and beyond ordinary shock and revulsion. He raises horrific imagery and psychological situations to the level of poetry. This is not easy to do in film, a purely visual medium. The image of a monster or a monstrous act in film is a picture: there it is before you. A description of same in fiction can be given all sorts of depths and angles in the mind in writing. "Nightbreed" almost works as an adaptation of Barker's "Cabal". Unfortunately, as is apparent, most of Barker's budget was blown on the monsters (which are excellent movie monsters), with insufficient funds remaining for factors like cast. The actor who played the all-important role of Boone was not up to it at all. He conveyed almost nothing of the depth of Boone's torment, which exists on a number of levels. A talent should have been sought instead of a hunk. This is symptomatic of the film's weakness in general. Too many (albeit high-quality) monsters and too little time and attention spent on the basic human values (simply, character) which must underlie all fiction, no matter what its genre.
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Very believable and effective film,but a dead end.
7 November 1999
I found this film to be one of the most original and powerful I've seen recently. It is based on a once-in-lifetime idea. The story is told in a totally subjective, POV manner, more so than any film I know. I can understand why many people disliked it. It made no concessions to the expectations of mainstream filmgoers, or even of horror film fans. And once the "mythic" groundwork was laid, plot points tended to be made subtly, and with "don't blink" speed. Anyone used to being "spoon-fed" plot and character would likely miss much. The characters' realization of their situation and increasing terror were revealed gradually and very naturalistically, which may have made the film seem slow to some. It is, in its way, a great film, and a greater horror film, but I cannot see how it can be followed up at all effectively. It would do better to remain unique. A sequel would surely seem contrived and redundant, and a different film using same or similar technique would merely seem derivative.
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In many ways, not bad, but not too good either.
2 November 1999
I have been curious about this film for many years. Rented it only recently. I did not expect it to have much to do with Poe, since the title is that of a lyric poem and not a narrative. What interested me was that it is the only attempt I know of to film Lovecraft's "Case of Charles Dexter Ward", one of my favorite stories. The film didn't have very much to do with Lovecraft either. I suspect I would have liked it better if I hadn't read the book, which is often true. Vincent Price, good at this sort of thing, and always a consummate pro, did quite well. Elisha Cook also did his usual thing very well. Debra Paget was no more than adequate in an underwritten role, and was exquisitely beautiful. The paintings and mats were obviously mats and paintings. The budget should have been doubled. Most of the quality was thanx to Price.
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The Raven (1935)
It is a classic if viewed on its own terms.
31 October 1999
Like so many of the "horror" films of the 30's, The Raven cannot be judged by the standards of virtually any subsequent decade. Films like The Raven and its ilk have to be enjoyed on the own terms, like much of grand opera. Among other things, they preserve for us the last vestiges of 19th Century romantic style. This is particularly true of Bela Lugosi. A noted stage actor in his native Hungary, he continued to employ the acting technique and style he learned there, ignoring the increasingly naturalistic trends which came to Hollywood slowly in the 30's & 40's. In a way, he never left the stage: he never figured out the difference between stage and (sound) film acting. This is not to his detriment, exactly. The voice, the line-readings, the movement, were all superb, FOR THE STAGE, assuming a predominant classical. Contrast him with Karloff, who did relatively little stage work. He was a (sound) film actor from the start, and remains much more naturalistic, and therefore "believable" as a character, even in grotesque roles, than Lugosi ever was. In absolute terms, he was not "better" than Lugosi. Lugosi was "different". In the terms of his original training and experience he remained excellent. But his inability to adapt to changing standards doomed him like a dinosaur.
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The Shout (1978)
A highly underrated film
16 October 1999
What I cannot understand about THE SHOUT is why so many people have trouble understanding it. It is an excellent adaptation of Graves's short story: it is, indeed, superior to the story in some ways, particularly in terms of character. I wish those who complain of its "obscurity" would be more specific about what points, exactly, and unclear to them. Perhaps these people fail to grasp the basic witchcraft premises on which Crossley's power is based, though, to me, the film in itself makes these perfectly clear. To me, screenplay, direction, cinematography and acting are all superb. It is one of my favorite films.
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Othello (1951)
One of the great Shakespeare films.
12 September 1999
I must be one of the few who saw this film (more than once!) before it vanished in the 60's. I saw it on TV in the last 50's, and later brought it to the small college where I was teaching 63-65. Though heavily cut and more than a little rearranged, it is one of the very finest of Shakespeare films. Performances are generally excellent and unified in style and diction. Welles, or course, is magnificent. Anyone who thinks he was never anything but a self-parodying ham has not seen this film. One could wish than MacLiammoir had had more overt FUN as Iago, who does what he does, in part at least, in an attempt to stimulate himself out of his blunted affect. The film also has some of the finest black-and-white cinematography of all time, and uses architecture in a unique and effective way.
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Rogue Male (1976 TV Movie)
A first-rate thriller receives a superior adaptation.
2 July 1999
"Rogue Male" is Geoffrey Household's finest thriller, and has long been one of my favorite books. I only discovered the existence of the film recently, and, sold by the screenwriter, director and cast listings, bought it sight-unseen, which I NEVER do. I was not disappointed. Cuts and changes were made, of course, the vast majority thoroughly justifiable. One or two others, while perhaps not strictly necessary, did no harm at all. The result was complete justice to the novel and a fine film!
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Apt Pupil (1998)
A good film only if one hasn't read the book.
6 June 1999
This film, purely as a film, was not bad at all. Acting (Sir Ian McKellan in particular!), direction and production values were hard to fault. However, the adaptation of King's novella can only be called timid. One should either DO an adaptation or NOT do it. If you pay good (probably excellent) money for film rights, there should be much more willingness to trust the author and go all the way with him. Otherwise, use an original screenplay, which can be a committee-conference-generated entity from the get-go! I was most disappointed!
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Paid in Full (1950)
A soap, but a good one.
2 April 1999
Caught this film by accident some years ago in a hospital waiting room. It's a soap, for sure, but I was unexpectedly impressed by the acting and the direction, which made the teary script work far better than it had a right to. A thoroughly, impressively professional job all around!
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Ahead of its time in a number of ways.
28 February 1999
I found some production elements in this film strikingly ahead of their time, notably stark lighting in some scenes, and extremely fast cutting in others. The handling of the Jury and other supernormal figures was especially effective. The excellence of Herrmann's score goes (almost) without saying.
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The Sting (1973)
One of my favorite films, with one reservation. . .
30 January 1999
THE STING is one of my favorite American films. I love stories about con games, and this is one of the best. But the music bothers me a bit. I like Joplin rags very much, and they are appropriate for the TONE of the film, but they are completely out-of-period. They were considered very corny and passe in the thirties. Swing would have been more authentic. Also, shame on Hamlisch for not crediting Joplin when he accepted the Oscar!
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One of the best Shakespeare films ever!
22 January 1999
Yes, there are flaws in editing, lighting and the like. These are probably the results of a relatively low production, and, perhaps of the fact that this was originally conceived as a TV film, and therefore as relatively ephemeral. The superb service given by director and cast to Shakespeare's language and characters far more than make up for any shortcomings. A better production of "Dream", for screen or stage, can hardly be imagined!
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