For Reel


The Haunting (1963)
March 29, 2015, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Robert Wise
5 Stars
The HauntingMuch has been made of the terrific use of subtlety in The Haunting–few films so confidently fulfill the audience’s perverse desire to be terrified by doing so little. But that almost seems to undermine its heavily stylized tendencies, from the Wellesian prologue and deep focus camerawork to its articulation of Julie Harris’ rapidly deteriorating mental state. Although it shows very little, what it does show is an absolute feast. Davis Boulton’s cinematography (and certainly the direction of Robert Wise, who worked on Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons) makes terrific use of the wide-angle lens, using the warped dimensions on the edges of the frame to further suggest Hill House’s sentient, ever-changing quality. One of the best shots foregrounds a nervous Harris as two characters converse in the background, all in perfect focus. It’s both an impressive trick of deep focus photography and one of the many shots that brings the viewer into Harris mental state. Harris’ performance (or rather, her character) is oft-criticized, but her psychosis is one of The Haunting’s most terrifying qualities. She’s a collection of turbulent neuroses, among the most outspokenly miserable of screen heroines. Perhaps Hill House is not so specifically enamored with her, rather she’s the only one too weak to resist its authority.



The Body Snatcher (1945)
February 24, 2015, 9:03 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Robert Wise
3.5 Stars
The Body SnatcherA beggar woman sings while roaming down a street after dark. Her voice is accompanied only by the sound of the horse and carriage following behind her. She disappears into the blackness, then the carriage does, and with an abrupt gurgle followed by silence it is clear that she has been murdered. The camera remains still on the shadows that have just enveloped the figures. This shot in The Body Snatcher is demonstrative of everything that made horror icon Val Lewton so successful. It both revels in the atmospheric tone–the street with few light sources, the music being sung like a sort of funeral march–and suggests unspeakable horrors without showing anything. Although, like all of the pictures shot by Lewton’s unit, the budget is low and it was shot quickly, this effort does have the signification of starring horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi (albeit in a bit part). Karloff gives one of his best performances as a terrifying, thoroughly unpleasant cretin who revels in the hatred he inspires. Furthermore, while many of Lewton’s films were set in modern times, The Body Snatcher does much with its period detail, fulling bringing alive 19th century Edinburgh.