Bonus: The Curse of the Werewolf

Watched: November 9 2018

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Oliver Reed, Clifford Evans, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Anthony Dawson, Richard Wordsworth, Hira Talfrey

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 33min

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Somewhere in 18th century Spain, a beggar (Wordsworth) goes to a castle to ask for some food and/or money. But the marquis (Dawson) is a cruel man and a bully, and he imprisons the beggar and promptly forgets about him. Left in the dungeon for fifteen years, the poor man is forgotten about by all but the jailer and his mute daughter.

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One look at this man and we would have run for our lives. Unfortunately the beggar didn’t share our instincts for people.

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After those fifteen years, the daughter (Romain) refuses to be raped by the marquis, and he throws her in the dungeon with the beggar. Apparently, he has forgotten all about the girl’s kindness to him and rapes her himself, and then dies (karma’s a bitch!).  The girl is sent back to the marquis so that he can have his way with her, but having been raped once already, she’s not about to let the bastard win, so she kills him and flees.

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Sometimes it’s a good, and righteous, thing to be a backstabbing bitch

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The runaway girl, now pregnant, is later found in the woods by Don Alfredo Corledo (Evans) and Teresa (Talfrey) who take her in and, when she dies in childbirth on Christmas Day, take on the responsibility of her newborn son.

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“Say, Teresa, do we know who the boy’s father is..? I only ask because he seems to be displaying some rather unusual dental development here which has me quite confused”

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Turns out though, unwanted children born on Christmas Day are cursed to be werewolves. Which makes us wonder why lycanthropy isn’t a bigger social problem than it currently seems to be. While young Leon (Reed) at first manages to keep his condition under control, once he grows up and faces adversity as well as love, he loses what little control he has and all hell breaks loose.

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Honestly, we were half expecting him to break into song once he had climbed the bell tower. Colour us disappointed.

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The Curse of the Werewolf was removed from the list after we’d already bought it, so as is tradition, we’re doing it anyway, dammit! And we’re glad we did. We loved the opening credits with the sad werewolf, the interesting explanation for the condition, and Leon’s partner in crime (not literally though) José.

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Also, even though it preceeds it by almost 5 decades, this is yet another werewolf better than the atrocity in The Prisoner of Azkaban. No, we’re still not over it.

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In many ways, it’s more a drama than a horror, except the ending which is very Frankenstein. But we believe it works for fans of both genres. Well worth watching! Even though there are apparently at least 1000 films which are better than this one… Let’s call it number 1001 and recommend it anyway. Happy New Year!

What we learned: Don’t give birth to unwanted children on Christmas day. We know, it’s a bit late for 2018, but keep it in mind for next year.

Next time: Bonus: Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

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#211 Yojimbo

Watched: December 17 2018

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Isuzu Yamada, Daisuke Katô, Seizaburô Kawazu, Takashi Shimura, Eijirô Tôno

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 50min

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Japan, 1860. Ronin Sanjuro Kuwabatake (Mifune) wanders the country side, choosing his way at random. The fates apparently guide him well, because he eventually arrives in a town in desperate need of his help.

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A town run by two strangely assembled crime syndicates

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Upon arrival, the ronin is advised to leave by inn keeper Gonji (Tôno) who tells him about the rival clans who terrorize the town and claims there’s nothing for him there. But the ronin has other plans. He decides to take on the responsibility of cleaning up the town and approaches one of the leaders to offer up his services.

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“Dude, listen to this. I’m gonna – no, listen! I’m gonna pretend to back each side. Right? Back each of them. But then I’m really not. Get it? Damn, I’m brilliant!”

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First, he convinces Seibê (Kawazu) to hire him as a swordsman, but overhears his wife Orin (Yamada) plotting to kill him once he has helped them kill their enemies. Then, when his new boss arranges for the two sides to meet in battle, Sanjuro quits his job and climbs up to watch the rival sides destroy each other.

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It would have worked too, if it weren’t for those meddling government officials.

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Unfortunately, this first plan is foiled by the arrival of some sort of official person who comes to inspect the town. So the samurai needs to rethink his strategy for the next attempt, using all his craft and cunning to save the innocent inhabitants of the small village. But with the odds stacking against him, can he complete his mission? And survive the ordeal?

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Honestly, he too cool to be killed. Look at this badass!

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We were thrilled to be taken back into the samurai world of Akira Kurosawa. Our earlier encounters (Rashômon, Seven Samurai, and Throne of Blood) have been among our all time favourites, and Yojimbo definitely joins their ranks.

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We’re easy. Bring us a man with a sword and we swoon like teenagers.

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We love the costumes, the sword fighting, the characters, the actors, and the music. And we can easily see how this movie would inspire westerns (particularly A Fistful of Dollars, we seem to remember) – it’s the sort of story that works equally well in any setting in which there are lone gun-/swordmen and lawless societies.

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Don’t try to tell us this shot has not been recreated in a Sergio Leone movie!

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The main character is just so ridiculously cool that we cannot even find the words to describe him. He’s just cool. So very, very cool. And deadly. But in a good way. He’s just cool, man.

What we learned: We have a very strange crush on Toshirô Mifune…

Next time: Bonus: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

#210 West Side Story

Watched: December 16 2018

Director: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise

Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland

Year: 1961

Runtime: 2h 33min

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New York City, some time in the 1950s. The Jets, possibly the least intimidating gang in movie history, are out jazz dancing and generally being a minor nuisance. When they bump into the equally graceful Sharks, it culminates in an epic dance-off.

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Even their dedication to their ballet lessons couldn’t keep them off the streets

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After the two gangs’ confrontation, former Jet Tony (Beymer) is asked to accompany Jet leader Riff (Tamblyn) to a dance, in order to challenge their rivals to a rumble (which apparently was 1950s slang for a dance battle, possibly involving weapons). Tony has turned his life around and left his gang for a job, but has sworn allegiance to Riff “from womb to tomb” and thus agrees to come.

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The kids didn’t let the fact that the basketball was nowhere to be found stop them from trying to score.

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At the tense dance, Tony meets newly arrived Puerto Rican Maria (Wood), the sister of Sharks leader Bernardo (Chakiris), and the two instantly fall in love. But while this could have been a golden opportunity for the two gangs to put aside their differences and join forces, the romance is not accepted by either side and the lovers are forced to part.

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We can sort of understand the scepticism of their friends though. The couple has barely exchanged three words with each other before they start planning their wedding. Kids!

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Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is a fantastically colourful and energetic musical version of the classic play. We absolutely love the dancing, the transitions, the music, the colours, the humour, and the costumes. And Anita (Moreno), Bernardo’s feisty girlfriend.

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Sassy, independent, gorgeous, feisty and talented. Naturally, her character is raped. Women like that must be punished.

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It’s a tragic love story, but it also points out different forms of racism in the USA. In fact, the gangs might be bad news, but the real villain of the piece is racist Lieutenant Schrank. And discrimination in itself.

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Racism and discrimination may well be the villains, but dance is the hero!

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We love all the music in West Side Story (in fact, some of these songs make the perfect soundtrack when you clean the house), but our favourite songs are probably the one the gang sings about Officer Krupke, and I Feel Pretty. The latter because it’s the first time we see any real personality in Maria, who is often a fairly bland character. She does show some industry in the end though, which redeems her somewhat.

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Gone is the innocent, naïve girl in the white dress, to be replaced by a woman in red

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All in all, this is a fantastic movie in which everyone will find something to enjoy.

What we learned: Anything can be solved with a dance-off. And if these people had stuck to that bit of wisdom this whole affair would have ended very differently. Also, play it cool.

Next time: Yojimbo (1961)

#209 Victim

Watched: November 28 2018

Director: Basil Dearden

Starring: Dirk Bogarde, Sylvia Syms, Dennis Price, Anthony Nicholls, Peter McEnery, Donald Churchill, Derren Nesbitt, John Barrie

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 30min

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Jack Barrett (McEnery) is on the run from the cops and desperately tries to contact several friends for help, all of whom turn him down and sends him on his way. When the police finally catches up with him, we learn that he is a victim of blackmail and Detective Inspector Harris (Barrie) correctly deduces the reason: Barrett is gay.

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It’s a lose/lose situation. He’s going to jail both for who he is and what he’s been forced to do to conceal that fact.

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When Barrett kills himself in his jail cell, one of the people who turned him away feels guilty. Successful barrister Melville Farr (Bogarde), a once close friend of the dead man (some might say too close), decides to find out the truth behind Barrett’s indirect murder and bring his blackmailer to justice.

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The unknown extortionist was a subtle man, gently blending into his surroundings, and did not in any way come across as the creepiest creep that ever creeped.

 

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There is just one problem. Farr is a respected member of society with a successful career and a lovely wife, Laura (Syms), both of which he stands to lose if he pursues his hunt. This does not deter him, and his investigation makes him vulnerable to scrutiny from a society in which homosexuality is not only frowned upon but illegal.

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Laura, for one, is not impressed by her husband’s indiscretions. She was under the impression that this was just a phase he went through in college (no, seriously, she really thought so).

 

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Victim really took us by surprise, as we were not familiar with it before it was added to the list. A movie which explores homosexuality and demonizes the society which condemns them rather than the gay men themselves? From 1961? We were very pleasantly surprised indeed!

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Granted, the gay (bisexual?) hero is married to a woman, and has apparently never acted on his homosexual urges, but it’s a start…

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It’s in many ways a very quiet movie, with little score, but it still packs a punch. We liked the Detective Inspector who seemed very sympathetic to the blackmail victims’ plight, all the people giving speeches about the ill-treatment of homosexuals and the fact that everyone treated Barrett’s suicide as a murder. It’s sad, outrageous and extremely engaging, and it must have been very controversial upon its release six years before homosexuality was legalized in Britain. And it’s definitely still worth seeing.

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Also, Patterson, Farr’s assistant (?), is our new hero

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What we learned: It’s incredible to think that people can be considered criminals because of who they are as opposed to what they do… And it’s even more incredible to think that this hasn’t changed – only the groups targeted have (and not even that in a lot of places).

Next time: West Side Story (1961)

#208 The Innocents

Watched: November 7 2018

Director: Jack Clayton

Starring: Deborah Kerr, Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Michael Redgrave, Megs Jenkins, Peter Wyngarde

Year: 1961

Runtime: 1h 40min

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When Sister the Oldest was young, she watched a lot of movies which were somewhat age-inappropriate. Child’s Play (1988) abruptly ended her doll playing career around 1990. Early exposure to Predator (1987) and Blue Velvet (1986) brought on a fear of invisible monsters leaving cut-off ears lying around willy nilly (the two movies may have been a bit muddled up in her young brain), though she found Terminator 2 (1991) more sad than scary. And then there was The Innocents

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Deborah Kerr looking for Miles in a flowing nightgown with a candelabra will forever haunt her dreams

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Like many of the others, this was partially watched on a friend’s TV one night  – our own parents were quite strict about what was appropriate viewing for kids – and it messed Sister the Oldest up quite a bit. However, November of this year was the first time she’d seen it since, and it still holds up as a creepy Gothic tale of ghosts and/or madness.

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It helps that the 1961 winner of Britain’s Creepiest Kid Award stars in it

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Based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (which we’ve actually read, being the cultured, sophisticated people that we are), the film tells the story of Miss Giddens (Kerr), who is sent to the British countryside as a governess to two young orphans, Miles (Stephens) and Flora (Franklin).

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As well as being a charming little doll, Flora possesses the strange ability to keep both the background and the foreground in focus. An unusual gift for so small a child.

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Giddens initially finds her two young wards utterly charming, and the estate beautiful. But as she starts to investigate what happened to the last governess and her dangerous lover, the children’s behaviour begins to worry her, and the rot underneath the beauty of the place starts to come up to the surface. Are the kids being haunted? Possessed? Are they playing games with her? Or is she slowly going insane in the isolated estate?

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It’s hard to decide what the truth is, but the crazy-eyes of Giddens might be a hint

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As stated, The Innocents has held up incredibly well. It’s a very faithful adaptation of James’ novella and the disturbing atmosphere of the original is very much present in the film version. The kids are perfectly cast, as is Deborah Kerr, and the estate is lovely and Gothic.

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Well done for finding not just one but two ghosty, floaty see-through children! They’re hard to come by.

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We loved the wholly impractical costumes (how were people supposed to do anything wearing something like that?) and the way everything in the shot was in focus at once (deep focus..? We’re not really down with the terminology of cinematography..), which made it feel unsettling and “wrong.” There’s very little score in the movie and it’s rather quiet most of the time, which works well to emphasise the atmosphere. Also, we loved the ambiguity of the ending…

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Ghosts or not, we’ve learned that cute children are inherently terrifying

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What we learned: One need not be a chamber to be haunted. Or mad. One need not be a chamber to be mad either.

Next time: Victim (1961)