#193 Psycho

Watched: August 4 2018 (and many other times)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Janet Leigh, Martin Balsam

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 49min

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Man with mommy issues goes on killing spree. Loved by critics.

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“Mommy issues? Who has mommy issues? I’m just a normal, stable, sane boy.”

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Psycho probably needs no further introduction as it’s one of the most watched, loved and spoofed/homaged films of all time. Still, for those hermits who have been living secluded lives in the woods for the past 60 years but have also inexplicably stumbled upon this blog (hello, stranger! To be honest, you’re probably better off crawling back under that rock, given the current state of the world), we’ll give a very brief synopsis.

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In short, wood dwelling hermit: if you see this place, just keep driving. Or walking. Or riding your tame bear.

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Marion Crane (Leigh) is having an affair with Sam Loomis (Gavin) but they cannot afford to get married. When Marion gets her hands on $40 000 at work, she decides to steal the money and run away to elope with her beau. She is caught in a rainstorm and checks in for the night at the secluded Bates Motel.

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Bad, bad idea

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Marion is reported missing by her sister Lila (Miles) and wanted by the police for theft. Lila decides to investigate the disappearance herself with the help of Sam and private investigator Milton Arbogast (Balsam) who is also on the case. What they find is not what they expected…

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It’s not what anyone would expect, really

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There’s nothing not to love about Psycho. It lulls you into thinking that you’re watching just another crime movie, and then BLAM! Creepy horror film!

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Hitchcock also managed to insert a T-1000, but we feel that subplot is vastly underdeveloped.

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The shower scene is perhaps the most famous scene in cinematic history, and no matter how many times you’ve seen it or its various recreations, it still has impact. As does Norman Bates’ transformation from sweetly awkward and likable young man to creepy insane murderer.

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He actually seems quite charming at first, making Marion supper and all

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As mentioned in our last entry, this goes perfectly as a double feature with Peeping Tom, if you want a night filled with serial killers and crazy. And who doesn’t?

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“We’re off to see the killer! The wonderful killer of girls!”

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What we learned: We all go a little mad sometimes. Also, if it doesn’t jell it’s not aspics.

Next time: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

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#192 Peeping Tom

Watched: July 11 2018

Director: Michael Powell

Starring: Karlheinz Böhm, Anna Massey, Moira Shearer, Maxine Audley

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Man with daddy-issues goes on killing spree. Hated by critics.

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“Oh, this pointy thing? I just use it to get the best possible angle for a portrait shot.”

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For those of you who want more context than the initial summary, Mark Lewis (Böhm) is an aspiring film maker who shoots soft porn during the day and murders at night. His neighbour Helen (Massey) takes an interest in the socially awkward weirdo, and we learn that Mark was used as a guinea pig by his psychiatrist father who studied fear.

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Daddy also filmed the child abuse. Father of the year!

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Peeping Tom was initially hated by critics and basically killed the career of its director, but time has worked in its favour and it is now a beloved classic. And we absolutely loved it!

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We loved this movie almost as much as this guy loves his camera. Which is a bit of a love/hate-relationship to be honest.

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We were enthralled from the very beginning, with the camera point-of-view, and we were on the edge of our seats throughout. Mark is a complex and strange character; is the real him the awkward and timid man he is in social situations, or is it the dynamic take-charge man we see when he’s about to commit murder?

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We’re sure this woman was super-impressed by his sudden alfa-maleness just before she was brutally murdered

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As horrible as Mark is, we’re also forced to sympathise with him learning his backstory, and Helen (who we really liked) actually falls for the guy.

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Who wouldn’t fall for a guy with such an impressive set-up?

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It’s a must-see for horror fans (or movie fans in general), and it works fantastically as a double bill with the upcoming Psycho. Get out your blankets, wine (or tea – we don’t judge) and snacks, and enjoy!

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It’s also very pretty. Just saying.

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What we learned: First rule of serial killing: lock your damn door!

Next time: Psycho (1960)

#174 A Bucket of Blood

Watched: April 6 2018

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Antony Carbone, Julian Burton

Year: 1959

Runtime: 1h 06min

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In a beatnik café, pretentious poet Maxwell H. Brock (Burton) is performing his latest work, to the fascination of busboy Walter Paisley (Miller). Inspired by the artists he surrounds himself with, and also driven by their ridicule of him, Walter decides to try his hand at sculpting.

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“So, how did we do this in Arts and Crafts again..? I just knead it for a while and then it turns out amazing? Can’t be more to it than that!”

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Realising that sculpting is harder than it looks, he takes a break to save his landlady’s cat who’s stuck inside the wall. However, stabbing through it, he accidentally stabs the poor cat. Naturally, he proceeds to cover the dead animal in sculpting clay and the next day he turns up to work with his new sculpture.

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“Dead Cat” is an instant success, admired by art lovers and drug enthusiasts alike

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Walter’s newfound success leads to admiration from his crush Carla (Morris) and other patrons of the café, and a lady gives him some heroin as a gift, as one does. This in turn leads to an attempted arrest as an undercover cop follows Walter home and tries to book him for drug possession. Afraid, Walter hits him over the head with a frying pan, killing the cop instantly.

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What do you do when you accidentally kill a cop? Why, cover the body in clay and pass it off as a life sized sculpture, of course!

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Walter gradually goes from underestimated and accident-prone simpleton to calculating killer who lets every small slight become justification for murder. He is, however, not smart enough to avoid killing people he knows and is known to dislike.

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“It is so sweet that you made a sculpture of a strangled woman who looks exactly like the one who spent last night insulting you very publicly. I simply must kiss you!”

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Leonard (Carbone), the owner of the café, is the only one to see through his newly discovered talent, but he is making money off of Walter’s work and has a vested interest in keeping up the illusion. But how long can this go on? And who is next on Walter’s kill radar?

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“This severed head has been bothering me all week, so I clayed it!”

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A Bucket of Blood is the farcical version of House of Wax. The concepts are similar, but this one is more comedic and strangely also more sinister in many ways. Walter is the epitome of the stereotypical “good guy” – he sees himself as sweet, kind, underestimated and misunderstood, but if he’s rejected by someone, or made fun of, he becomes violent and murderous while simultaneously justifying his actions in his head.

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“I’m a famous and celebrated sculptor now, so you must date me. Unless you’re just a bitch and a whore!”

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We loved his first attempt at sculpting Carla’s face, the extremely pretentious Maxwell and the morbidity of the whole film. We also understand perfectly why Roger Corman made so many films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe – it’s a match made in heaven! Or probably hell, to be quite frank.

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“If it’s hell, can I still be king..?” “Of course you can, Mr Futterman.”

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What we learned: It’s not easy being surrounded by (pretentious) artists if you’re not one yourself. And also a simpleton…

Next time: Ben-Hur (1959)

#136 The Night of the Hunter

Watched: September 17 2017

Director: Charles Laughton

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, James Gleason, Evelyn Varden, Peter Graves, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 32min

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Harry Powell (Mitchum) is a preacher on a killing spree – a self-appointed Soldier of God on a mission to rid the world of attractive widows.

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“The Lord said not to have sex before marriage. I don’t remember reading anything about sex being mandatory once you’re married, so… You’re on your own, wifey!”

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He serves a stint in prison for driving a stolen car (very Christian of him) and shares a cell with robber Ben Harper (Graves). Harper tells his cell mate about his family and Powell figures out Ben’s children know the whereabouts of the money from the robbery.

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The best way to earn the trust of children is to take their father’s place

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Powell tracks down Harper’s bereaved widow and successfully woos her (with help from the very busy Icey Spoon [Varden]), set on learning her children’s secret. However, son John (Chapin) is not a fool, and he never trusts his new step-father.

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“SHOW ME THE MONEY!”

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When Powell’s misogyny, frustration and general disposition drives him to kill his new wife, the children grab the money and go on the run, drifting down the river in their boat in search of a safe haven, which they find in the form of Rachel Cooper (Gish). But Powell is not about to give up on “his” fortune…

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This is what you get for wanting to have sex with your husband

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We have no words to express how much we loved The Night of the Hunter. A serial killer (who may have been the inspiration for characters in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Carnivale), resourceful children, absolutely beautiful imagery (even the above picture of dead Willa Harper (Winters) is eerily gorgeous in its grotesqueness), and the exquisite Lillian Gish are the main ingredients which made us fall, but there was nothing about it we didn’t love.

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A badass lady with a shotgun. Need we say more?

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It’s scary and stunning, creepy, sad and hopeful. We loved the shadows, the music, the knuckle tattoos and the performances. Will definitely watch again.

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Lillian f**king Gish. Just amazing.

What we learned: It’s a hard world for little things.

Next time: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

#65 Arsenic and Old Lace

Watched: December 14 2016

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Peter Lorre, Raymond Massay, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, John Alexander

Year: 1944

Runtime: 1h 58min

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Theatre critic Mortimer Brewster (Grant), against his convictions, is getting married to Elaine (Lane). While they get hitched, his sweet old murderous aunts (Hull & Adair) entertain his new father-in-law along with Teddy “Roosevelt” (Alexander), Mortimer’s insane brother. And the body of their latest victim.

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Murderous and adorable!

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On their way to their honeymoon, Mortimer and Elaine stop by Dark and Godless Brooklyn to greet their relatives, and Mortimer stumbles across the dead body in the window seat and panics. Naturally. He is then completely shocked to find that his lovable aunts committed the deed and not only this one! They have so far killed 12 men and had Teddy bury them in the cellar.

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“But… They looked so peaceful after we poisoned them. So relaxed. We can’t see that we’ve done anything wrong!”

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While Mortimer tries to sort out the mess and have Teddy institutionalized to take the blame (without serving prison time), another brother shows up to further complicate things. Jonathan (Massey) is also insane, but more in the I’ll-kill-you-and-everything-you’ve-ever-loved kind of way and not the bugle blowing, stair charging way of innocent Teddy. He also brings his own plastic surgeon, Dr Einstein (Lorre – who does not age!). Oh, and their very own body to be disposed of.

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Guess who was the inspiration for Einstein’s latest surgical miracle?

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Mortimer, as the only sane member of the family, desperately tries to make everything right while also protecting his more loveable relatives. And the results are very silly, very funny and also strangely suspenseful. Grant’s face is EVERYTHING in this film, and aunt Abby (Hull) is one of the most adorable murderers in history. Poor Lane doesn’t really get much to work with though, despite her being billed second on the poster (though, we realise, not the one we chose to go with for this blog..). She’s mainly there to serve as another complication for Grant and perhaps to represent sanity in this insane world.

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As if Cary Grant isn’t perfectly capable of representing sanity on his own!

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Arsenic and Old Lace is a silly and hilarious farce which we absolutely loved. The spinster sisters living together weren’t in any way a glimpse into our own futures at all! No sir. There’s no way we’ll ever be able to afford a house like that…

What we learned: Brooklyn is not part of U.S. proper. Also, inbreeding is never a good idea…

Next time: Double Indemnity (1944)

#63 Shadow of a Doubt

Watched: December 12 2016

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, Macdonald Carey, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn

Year: 1943

Runtime: 1h 48min

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Young Charlie Newton (Wright) is depressed and feels sorry for her mother whose life is in a rut. She needs some action in her life – a break from the routine. However, she gets more than she bargained for when the family receives a telegram from uncle Charlie (Cotten), her mother’s brother and young Charlie’s favourite uncle, informing them that he is coming to stay for a bit.

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“Now for some non-suspicious-looking sending of telegram. Nailed it!”

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The big city uncle arrives in the small town of Santa Rosa and lavishes his family with presents and the glamour automatically associated with New York businessmen. However, very soon a pair of “surveyors” show up wanting to photograph and interview the family, especially the newly arrived uncle. Young Charlie starts to get suspicious, not only because of the hostility her older namesake shows the surveyors but also because he hid a newspaper clipping about “the Merry Widow Killer,” a serial killer preying on rich widows, from the family.

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“And now some non-suspicious-looking standing on stairs. Nailed it again!”

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The surveyors turn out to be investigators who suspect Uncle Charlie of being the killer, although they have another suspect as well. One of the investigators, Jack (Carey), takes Charlie the Younger out and eventually talks her into helping them as long as they do not make an arrest in front of her mother, as she’s afraid the shock (and shame) would devastate her. The tension between uncle and niece builds as strange “accidents” start to befall her and she suspects dear uncle Charlie might be trying to get rid of the one family member who know of his (possible) double life.

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“Finally, some non-suspicious-looking grabbing of niece. Man, I’m really nailing it all today!”

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As always, the tension and suspense are really intense in this Hitchcock thriller. The relationship between the two Charlies is creepy – first because of the slightly incestuous undertones and later on the way he manipulates her and takes advantage of her love for her mother. Besides their relationship though, the family is really quite lovely. Even the younger children have clear and defined personalities, and we loved the father and his friend’s never ending murder plans for each other. Charlie the Younger is at once too smart and too naïve for her own good and could probably learn a thing or two from her bookish little sister once in a while.

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“Two people can play the suspiciously-coming-down-the-stairs-game!”

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Eventually, Charlie learns from her uncle and starts using his own manipulative tricks against him. In fact, throughout the film she goes from naïve and sweet school girl to a grown woman in charge of herself and her own fate. Some murderous cinematic bildungsroman there! And we loved it!

What we learned: families always spoil the youngest. Also, it’s important to include Veronica Lake in your evening prayers. Childhood head trauma always leads to criminal behaviour.

Next time: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

#18 M

Watched: August 17 2016

Director: Fritz Lang

Starring: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke

Year: 1931

Runtime: 1h 50min

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We absolutely loved this film! It’s definitely going on our favourites list, and we cannot believe it took us this long to actually watch this classic when we’ve heard about it forever.

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This is pretty much a perfect summary of the plot

A German town is plagued by a serial killer who preys on young children. The local police are getting nowhere and the organized crime bosses decide to get in on the manhunt as the killer is bad for business. They put together the best neighbourhood watch squad ever – beggars. The police and the criminals get on the killer’s trail around the same time, and we follow the three parties (including the killer himself) towards the climax of the film.

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“What is the meaning of this? Have they labelled me a Mark? A Murderer? A Mango?”

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In the end, we are treated to the eternal debate of what to do with a compulsive killer who claims he cannot help himself. Peter Lorre gives an outstanding performance as Hans Beckert – despite his despicable actions, he is somewhat believable as he begs for his life and pretty much pleads insanity (although his claims aren’t quite compatible with the fact that he sent the police and press taunting letters).

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When even the criminals want you dead, you know you done fucked up!

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It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it was we loved so much about this, but here are a few things that stood out:

  • Extremely cool long shots
  • Serial killer hunt (it’s our kryptonite)
  • Great visuals
  • Awesome shot compositions
  • The amazing cross-cutting between the police and the local gangsters
  • The performances
  • The use of shadows
  • The killer whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King”
  • Basically everything about it.

We strongly urge anyone who hasn’t seen this film to make it a priority. It’s worth it.

Things we learned: everyone has a responsibility to look after the children. Also, we really like dark stuff. Like, really.

Next time: Monkey Business (1931) Apparently 1931 was a good year for movies!