#161 Dracula

Watched: January 7 2018

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 22min

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The story of Dracula hardly needs another recap, but if you still have no idea what this is all about, check out our previous entries on the same story, Dracula (1931) or Nosferatu (1922). We’re pretty sure we summarized the story in at least one of those.

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Blood, fangs, crazy eyes and just a hint of sexy. Really all the info you need.

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That being said, Terence Fisher and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster took some liberties with their 1958 version, mainly concerning some characters and their relationships. Lucy, Mina and Jonathan Harker in particular have gone through some changes.

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Van Helsing is his old, charming self though

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Well-known story and some artistic liberties aside, Hammer’s Dracula (a.k.a. Horror of Dracula) is one of our favourite versions of Bram Stoker’s novel. Christopher Lee is sexy, suave and animalistic as the count, and Peter Cushing is magnetic and dynamic as his arch nemesis.

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We’re honestly not entirely sure how we would react if this guy showed up in our bedroom… Sure, he’s deadly, but what a way to go!

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We absolutely love this movie. There’s nothing like a good vampire story (emphasis on the “good”), and we appreciate that Jonathan Harker is as useless and boring as we’ve always thought he was even as they’ve tried to make his character a bit more interesting.

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Going from accountant to vampire-fighting librarian might sound cool on paper, but he can’t even resist one scantily clad woman. Giles he’s not!

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Now, our eternal love for Gary Oldman is well documented, but even we have to admit that Christopher Lee’s vampire count may be on par with Oldman’s. And despite the many changes to characters etc. made in this version, it stays true to the original story. There’s nothing not to love, and if you’re only going to watch one version of the ultimate vampire romance, you could do a lot worse than this.

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Pro tip: if you have no reflection in the mirror, take a full bath before bedtime. It’s so easy to miss a spot of blood.

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What we learned: If you’re trying to kill a powerful nemesis and his much weaker sidekick, perhaps it is a good idea to take out the main threat first..?

Next time: Elevator to the Gallows (1958)

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Bonus: The Monolith Monsters

Watched: December 16 2017

Director: John Sherwood

Starring: Grant Williams, Lola Albright, Les Tremayne, Trevor Bardette, Phil Harvey, Linda Scheley

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 17min

NOTE: At the time of watching (and writing) this, it was #155, but we see now that it has been removed from Mr Wright’s list. Still, it’s been watched and written, so we’ll just call it a bonus post and include it anyway, dammit! For details on numbering, read this.

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Meteors have been crashing into the desert in California, and geologist Ben Gilbert (Harvey) brings home a sample of the newly arrived space rocks. There is a storm, and the next day Dave Miller (Williams) arrives only to find his colleague petrified and his lab smashed, with lots of black rocks strewn around everywhere.

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“What a mystery! This calls for a huge sciency pot of sciency coffee and much pondering.”

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Meanwhile, Dave’s girlfriend Cathy Barrett (Albright) takes her class on a field trip to the desert and sends little Ginny (Scheley) home with another sample of the same rock. It ends badly.

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If you think pet rocks are a nice and safe alternative to an actual animal for your child, think again!

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Ginny’s fascination with shiny things kills her family, ruins their farm, and starts to slowly turn her to stone. Dave and Cathy start to investigate, together with a journalist, the police, and several medical doctors. They find that the mysterious rocks start to grow when exposed to water, and suck the silicon out of everything it touches when “activated.” Thank God it never rains in southern California!

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Just kidding. Of course it starts raining.

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With huge rocks making their way slowly and steadily towards the town, smashing everything in their way, it is up to Dave, Cathy, and Dave’s old professor Arthur Flanders (Bardette) to stop the advancing threat, save the town, and save the girl.

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But where to start? Why, by looking at maps and exchanging worried glances, of course.

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The Monolith Monsters is a silly, weird and fun sci-fi. The growing rocks are actually way more sinister than we would have thought possible, and while the premise of the movie is very silly, it is played straight. And it actually works.

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Evil killer rocks. We would have loved to be in that pitch meeting.

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The growing rocks are cool, we loved the newspaper man Martin Cochrane (Tremayne), and the film is a great mix between stupid (dat premise tho!) and serious. Very campy fun – thoroughly recommended if you like strange ’50s science fiction.

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It’s proving hard to find stills from this film, so here’s another picture of the titular “Monolith Monsters.”

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What we learned: Between Them! and this, the desert is no place for little blonde girls. Also, rocks are petrifying. Pun intended.

Next time: The Seventh Seal (1957)

#154 The Incredible Shrinking Man

Watched: December 10 2017

Director: Jack Arnold

Starring: Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, Paul Langton, April Kent, Raymond Bailey, William Schallert

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 21min

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Somewhere at sea, a young couple are enjoying a day out on a boat. Louise (Stuart – who we absolutely adored), goes below deck to get Scott (Williams) a drink, and suddenly the man is enveloped by a mysterious, glittery mist.

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“Oh no! This must be one of those evil, communist, homosexual fogs that turn you gay!”

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Although he has no immediate ill effects, after a few months Scott remarks that all his clothes have become too big. Not by a lot, but definitely noticeable. A doctor’s appointment confirms that he is in fact shrinking, and together with medical experts the Carey’s start on their quest to save Scott from a terrible fate.

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“I’m not shrinking. We just underestimated the size of the new furniture we ordered.”

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As Scott shrinks, so does his self-esteem. He becomes angry and hostile towards his wife, with whom he no longer feels like the “man” of the household. He also grows increasingly pretentious as he tries to put his own existence into cosmic perspective. Or something. Oh, and he also has to go into battle with a house cat and a spider, which is less philosophical and more action packed.

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Exploring the usefulness of sewing supplies does not threaten your masculinity. Especially when you use said supplies to battle killer spiders.

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Based on a novel by Richard Matheson, The Incredible Shrinking Man explores identity, masculinity and fancy ’50s atomic science. Scott starts off as a normal, likable man in a happy marriage, but as he shrinks he becomes hostile and erratic. Then again, everything around him becomes increasingly dangerous, so you can’t really blame him for some of his attitude. Except for his anger with his adorable wife.

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“My stupid wife and her stupid cat!”

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It’s a great, old, classic science fiction film, and (most of) the special effects hold up really well even 60 years later. Scott isn’t a particularly likable protagonist/narrator, but it’s still a very entertaining watch, even if from the beginning you get a strong feeling that there’s no way this will end well.

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There’s a feeling of doom even before they bring carnies into the mix

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What we learned: To God there is no zero. Also, avoid being enveloped by mysterious fogs.

Next time: The Monolith Monsters (1957)

Bonus: The Curse of Frankenstein

Watched: December 25 2017

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Valerie Gaunt

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 22min

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Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) is smart, ambitious, handsome, charming and rich. He is also an arrogant jerk. And imprisoned. He confesses to a priest and tells his unusual, and somewhat unbelievable, story.

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“It all started, as these things tend to do, with a dead dog…”

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Orphaned at a fairly young age, Baron Frankenstein hires his own tutor, Paul Krempe (Urquhart), to be his teacher and later partner. Together the two explore the world of science!

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That’s just normal glass – his eyes are really like that. If you don’t believe us, watch Top Secret (1984)

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Their greatest achievement, the reanimation of dead tissue, brings about different reactions in the two scientists. While Kempe’s initial reactions is “yay! This’ll make surgery so much easier and safer!”, Frankenstein’s first impulse is to go out and harvest body parts to make himself a new man-puzzle. Kempe finally starts to see the sociopath in his student, and they have a falling out.

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“It’s MY turn to reanimate the corpse!” “No, it’s MINE!” “Who’s the one paying for all this?” “Screw this, I’m out.”

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Things escalate when Victor straight up murders another intellectual to use his brain for his creation, and then uses his successfully assembled and animated creature (Lee) to kill his knocked up maid Justine (Gaunt) who threatens to expose his shady dealings if he does not marry her.

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“Sorry, sweetheart – you’re certainly not good enough for the likes of me. Think of what the children will be like??? No, I’m engaged to marry my cousin. Yay gene pool!”

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Meanwhile, Victor’s cousin Elizabeth (Court) has arrived to marry him, which adds another complication. With the death toll rising, a creature on the loose, a falling out between the friends, and a Fair Maiden innocently roaming the large house at night, how on earth will this end?

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Let’s face it: fancy, defenseless ladies roaming around castles in the night with only a small lamp for company are usually not indicative of happy endings…

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The Curse of Frankenstein is quite different from its early predecessor Frankenstein despite their many similarities. For one, the monster (or, in this case, creature) isn’t really all that important. As creepy and scary as Christopher Lee is in this, the focus is all on the Mad Scientist Victor Frankenstein.

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For such an unfortunate looking creature, he’s a surprisingly snappy dresser!

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Frankenstein himself is also very different. Personally, we feel that this take on the Baron is closer to the source material than many other incarnations – he really is an arrogant, egotistical, spoiled brat with a God complex in the book, no matter how bad he feels once everything falls apart. Cushing’s Frankenstein is particularly ruthless, and we love him for it. Well, not him as much as this version of events, we suppose. But we definitely love this film!

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…and this guy! #decompositionchic

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What we learned: If you’re going to stand up to a rich, insane, megalomaniac nobleman who doesn’t like being told what to do, you’d better have a contingency plan…

Next time: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

#151 Quatermass 2: Enemy from Space

Watched: December 16 2017

Director: Val Guest

Starring: Brian Donlevy, John Longden, Bryan Forbes, Sid James, William Franklyn

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 25min

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Small meteors keep falling near small British village Winnerden Flats, much to the interest of Professor Quatermass (Donlevy). Frustrated with the dried up funding for his lunar base project, the professor decides to look into the strange meteors, only to find a fully constructed lunar base right on the outskirts of the village.

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“Yes – exactly like my model! But bigger. Like, DD big.”

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The entire area is under military control, and when Quatermass’ colleague Marsh (Forbes) is injured by whatever emerges from the gas in the hollow non-meteors, the two are separated; Quatermass is escorted away and Marsh is sent to the base for medical attention.

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“‘Tis but a scratch!”

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With the help of an MP, our hero manages to score an invite to inspect the base, which is supposed to produce synthetic food. But what he finds there is far more sinister than GMOs…

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“My God! And they told me my diet was bad!”

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Like The Quatermass Xperiment before it, Quatermass 2 is the Hammer film version of a BBC series, and it’s a great little sci-fi adventure.

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Banners and gas masks. What a charming party!

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There’s Cold War paranoia, conspiracies, propaganda, brain washing, alien colonization, pretty blondes, and mystery – everything you could possibly wish for in a science fiction horror. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The World’s End (2013), people appear normal and as they’ve always been, but something profound has changed which is hard to pin down. Add to that military operations and creepy gas masks, and you’ve got yourself an uncanny little gem, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

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Did we mention the inflated trash bags?

A fun way to kick off the next 50 films!

What we learned: Everything will be answered later.

Next time: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

#147 Curse/Night of the Demon

Watched: November 29 2017

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Starring: Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 35min

Night

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After Professor Harrington dies under mysterious circumstances, his niece Joanna Harrington (Cummins) teams up with the late professor’s colleague John Holden (Andrews) to find the truth. Joanna thinks her uncle’s death is related to a “satanic cult” he was investigating, and specifically the leader Dr Karswell (MacGinnis).

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“He’s not a satanic cult leader! He’s just a happy-go-lucky clown!”

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While Holden has made it his life’s mission to discredit occultism, Ms Harrington is a bit more open to the concept of her uncle’s death being supernatural in origin. But when Holden finds a mysterious paper in his belongings (after a chance encounter with Karswell in the British Library – the no. 1 hang-out place for academics and satanists) and his symptoms start resembling those of the dead man, he gradually starts to come around to Joanna’s way of thinking.

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If you’re chased through the woods by a strange smoke cloud, satanic forces is usually the first and only theory.

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Night of the Demon (or Curse, if you’re American) is less subtle than Tourneur’s earlier work (Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie), where you’re never sure if something supernatural is happening or not. In this, the demon is shown on screen several times, although arguments could be made that they are only seen by the doomed men who believe a demon is out to get them.

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They both see the same, slightly cross-eyed demon though…

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Apparently, this was at the insistence of the producer rather than the vision of Tourneur, and it might have been a better movie without it. Despite the somewhat outdated special effects though, this is still a very enjoyable movie.

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Karswell is nice and sinister throughout, when he’s not in clown make-up that is

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We loved Karswell acting all serious in full-on clown mode; the seance with the singing; the scene on the train; and the general plot. It’s a fun, slightly camp, horror film which is slightly dated but still a good watch – especially if you’re a horror fanatic.

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Or if you’re really into huge, cross-eyed demons floating through dark woods. It’s a fetish, we’re sure.

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What we learned: Don’t mess with the occult. Or with dudes who like to dress up as clowns and live with their mothers.

Next time: Funny Face (1957)

#146 A Face in the Crowd

Watched: November 27 2017

Director: Elia Kazan

Starring: Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa

Year: 1957

Runtime: 2h 6min

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Marcia Jeffries (Neal) is a small town radio reporter who makes a show called “A Face in the Crowd.” As she has the brilliant idea of recording an episode in the local jail, she discovers charismatic drifter Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, and his music and personality make him an overnight sensation.

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You know it’s going to be a good day when the only unhappy person in jail is the sheriff

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Marcia and her uncle, who owns the radio station, give Lonesome more airtime and soon his popularity spreads across the nation and, via Memphis, he ends up as a TV personality and big time influencer in New York.

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“Look! A tiny, magical me inside a box!”

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On TV, Lonesome Rhodes is a down-to-earth country boy with a heart of gold and grass root wisdom to spew. However, in real life Larry is a selfish scoundrel of a con man who grows increasingly madder with his newfound power and political influence. Marcia, who has fallen in love with her discovery despite being a very smart woman, gradually realises that she has created a monster…

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The face of a completely sane and not at all crazy man, thankyouverymuch!

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In many ways, A Face in the Crowd is more relevant now than it was in 1957. The popular media’s influence on politics, the TV personality’s power over people’s thoughts and opinions, and the yes-men surrounding the star enabling his delusions are all more prominent now than ever.

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Just look at who became president of the USA in the latest election…

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While funny at times, and dramatic at others, it still plays more like a horror movie in many ways than a drama, particularly since it really nails a lot of nasty truths about society and politics.

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We like these guys, though. Especially Walter “I Hate Extroverts” Matthau.

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Weirdly prescient and very unsettling, A Face in the Crowd should be watched by all.

What we learned: Fame is a fickle friend.

Next time: Curse/Night of the Demon (1957)

#141 The Bad Seed

Watched: November 1 2017

Director: Mervyn LeRoy

Starring: Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Henry Jones, Evelyn Varden, Eileen Heckart

Year: 1956

Runtime: 2h 9min

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8 year old Rhoda Penmark (McCormack) is a prim and proper young lady who is a bit spoiled and very straightforward. Her father and neighbours think the world of her, especially landlady Monica Breedlove (Varden), but her mother Christine (Kelly) has noticed a more sinister side to her daughter; she has an explosive temper and is possibly the worst loser in history.

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“Another kid has better handwriting than me! My life is over!”

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When Rhoda fails to win a school prize for penmanship, she does not take it well. Later, at a school picnic, the boy who beat her accidentally drowns. Christine becomes suspicious when she then finds the boy’s missing medal among her daughter’s precious things…

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By precious things, we mean serial killer trophies

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While Christine suspects her daughter may not be quite normal, handyman Leroy (Jones) recognizes exactly what she is – he sees himself in her. He’s too confident in his own supremacy though, so he confronts the child and teases her. Big mistake! She may be tiny and young, but Rhoda is also vicious and resourceful.

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Lesson: never confront a suspected killer, no matter how cute their pigtails are

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The Bad Seed holds up very well, despite the many “evil child”-films which have come since its release. Patty McCormack is perfect as Rhoda – alternating between sweet and deadly effortlessly.

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Mama should have known something was wrong looking into those eyes…

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We loved Monica the Landlady and her psychoanalytical friends, and the crazy and manipulative Rhoda. The film is long and melodramatic, with lots of sitting room exposition (it’s based on a play), but it is also very creepy and engaging. The Freudian influence is very evident, especially when it comes to the (many) weirdly intense parent-child relationships. Or perhaps that’s just how parents and children interacted in the ’50s.

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You know, with poison…

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What we learned: Don’t have kids!

Next time: The Killing (1956)

#140 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Watched: October 5 2017

Director: Don Siegel

Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Larry Gates

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Dr Miles Bennell (McCarthy) has had a rough few days, and is trying to convince a psychiatrist that he is not crazy but that his home town really is at the centre of a large scale alien invasion. His story is then told in flashbacks and we see the invasion unfold.

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He has really cultivated that so-not-crazy-right-now-look

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Bennell, a small town doctor, has been out of town and very popular in his absence; half the town has been in to see him, but when he returns they are no longer as keen. He gradually finds that many of his patients seem to suffer from Capgras delusion – they think their loved ones are not themselves or have been replaced by impostors. They also suddenly snap out of their delusions without any treatment…

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The thick plottens when the protagonists find an unconscious man with no distinguishing features hidden in a friend’s basement

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Bennell, together with childhood crush Becky Driscoll (Wynter), starts to investigate and what they find is literally out of this world – a race of alien “pod people” who are taking over the entire town of Santa Mira by replacing its people with unemotional but otherwise perfect replicas.

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“Tired of your neighbour? Grow a new one in a greenhouse! Pod People – Replacing Non-Conformist Folks Everywhere”

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers shows a quiet invasion – alien beings who fell from the sky gradually take over friends, relatives and neighbours in their sleep. Those not yet taken grow increasingly paranoid and hysterical, especially since the change is hard to prove – it’s mostly just a feeling and an instinct that something is wrong.

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Until they start chasing you, of course. Then you know.

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This film is remade (or, the novel by Jack Finney is filmed) every other decade or so, sometimes under different titles (such as Body Snatchers or The Invasion), and each time the plot changes slightly based on the general zeitgeist. The original, from the fifties, naturally has clear undertones of McCarthyism and the communist scare.

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Though things have changed a lot since 1956, the tried and tested investigative method of poking stuff with a stick has fortunately survived.

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We’ve mentioned how we love old-timey sci-fi before, and this film is an old favourite which still holds up. We’re really looking forward to Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version now, to see the differences (we haven’t seen it in ages). Also, although the quality of the different productions vary a bit, we think they should just keep remaking the plot every twenty years or so. It’s a good indication of what people’s fears are at any given time, and important documentation for the ages.

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And it gives us shots like this.

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What we learned: If people around you start acting weird, they’re probably pod people and are out to get you.

Next time: The Bad Seed (1956)

#139 Forbidden Planet

Watched: September 29 2017

Director: Fred M. Wilcox

Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Robby the Robot

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 38min

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Commander Adams (Nielsen – before he became everyone’s favourite deadpan comedy actor) and his crew are travelling through space to a distant, Earth-like planet in order to rescue any survivors from a previous mission.

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Earth technology circa year 2300. Can’t wait!

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When they reach their destination they find only two survivors; the mysterious Dr Morbius (Pidgeon) and his young attractive daughter Altaira (Francis). They live alone with their robot Robby and a menagerie of wild animals while Dr Morbius explores the remains of an advanced ancient civilization which used to inhabit the planet. Also, there’s a killer monster roaming around, but the good doctor and his daughter seem somehow immune to it. Curiouser and curiouser.

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Must be her scandalously short dresses keeping them safe. Monster doesn’t want to seem too forward.

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The all-male crew start creeping on Altaira pretty quickly, leading to the commander berating her for her short dresses. ‘Cause, you know, it’s her own freaking fault. Naturally, the two then fall for each other, and Altaira decides to leave her home and father for Earth. This does not please Father, nor the monster…

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You silly girl. You must understand that your dress is distracting my crew and this is your fault and not a great opportunity for us men to reconsider our view of women and our capability to control our urges. Go change.

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Forbidden Planet is an awesome sci-fi adventure, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but greatly influenced by Freud as well. For its time, and genre, it had a big budget and is presented in colour and Cinemascope – quite rare for ’50s sci-fi.

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Not to mention Robby the Fanciest Robot!

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We’re suckers for old-timey sci-fi and so naturally we loved this film. Add to that Leslie Nielsen, mysterious monsters, ancient civilizations, action, a score of “electronic tonalities,” Freud, and incestuous undertones (again, Freud) and we have a winner.

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Also, Morbius the Creepy Science Guy

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Forbidden Planet has the honour of being the first film on the list where someone let us know when we started this project that they wanted to join us for the viewing, so we had a viewing party! Sort of… Well, three people and pizza constitute a party in our book. The next one which has sparked interest is Flash Gordon (1980), so we’re looking forward to that. In a few years. We don’t get out much.

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We’re pretty sure this kind of thing is waiting for us out there, so we prefer to stay inside where it’s safe…

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What we learned: We’re all monsters in our subconscious, but we have laws and religion to keep us under control. Also, never trust the sole surviving member of an exploration party where everyone else died under mysterious circumstances.

Next time: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)