Archive for The Haunting

The Legend of the Haunting of Hill House on Haunted Hill

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2018 by dcairns

Binge-watch! Fiona got a migraine devouring six (or was it seven?) episodes of the new Haunting of Hill House series on Netflix. But it was very more-ish.

It reminds me of when we got into True Crime, which also featured an epic long take and built up accretions of horror and misery before attempting, less convincingly, to end in sweetness and light.

Good jump-scares. Arguably too many of them. But impressive the way the thing keeps the creepy scenes coming, even if a lot of them are dreams. They managed to make me not resent that too much, perhaps because the narrative structure is so ingenious. We have two timelines unfolding, but not altogether chronologically, and from various points of view so that some scenes get replayed in new contexts, with extra background. Add to this the facts that the entire cast of the earlier timeline, except someone who dies then, get replaced by adult/older surrogates, and that the central family have five damn kids, and it should be confusing (every woman on this show seems to have long brunette hair; every man talks in a throaty, husky voice) but it very rarely is.

Not only is the show out of sequence, so are the characters’ lives, with ghostliness used for a kind of time travel. Too complicated to explain but impressive to see play out in gruesome/tragic ah-hah moments of revelation.

And match-cuts! Many many match-cuts, which suggest the whole project has been PLANNED, which is a nice feeling to get.

I will say the thing began unpromisingly, with the amazing opening passages of Shirley Jackson’s book crudely doctored for length and… for no reason, sometimes. With a real brute insensitivity, as of someone who has no idea the clumsy violence he’s doing. Mind you, even the excellent 1960 film is guilty of a bit of that.

The series includes many nods to the book and film, and a couple to Richard Matheson’s rather close homage, The Legend of Hell House, book and film. But it’s a whole different animal. The movie remake Spielberg produced, apart from being lame and stupid, suffered horribly by comparison with the original because every point of comparison was proof of inferiority. The new series benefits from striking out on its own, so I didn’t like the way it appropriated character names and a few characteristics (a lesbian called Theo, an anxious Nell) from its esteemed forbear. But it’s always nice to see Russ Tamblyn.

Not Russ Tamblyn! A much, much taller man.

One thing still bothers us, like Columbo. Were the parents meant to be so incompetent? It arguably makes sense. This show is about a traumatised family, and families often get that way in part due to parental mistakes. But these people make unending screw-ups  with their kids, and while we hear a lot of complaints from the offspring when they grow up, it’s not entirely clear showrunner Mike Flanagan is aware how bumbling his character are. And how did Timothy Hutton get to be so wise in the final episode when he was such an idiot when he was Henry Thomas? Years bring wisdom, I guess. Apparently I’m still in my Henry Thomas phase.

Featuring Elliot, the Silk Spectre, George Stark, Daario Naharis and Tom Thumb.

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It Takes a Village, and other lessons children teach us

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2018 by dcairns

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED may have a rotten remake but it has an excellent sequel. (Remake it now, and you can digitally recolour the kids’ hair instead of relying on wigs, and you can have one boy and one girl play all the kids, so they’re identical as in the book. DO IT.)

CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED (1964) is niftily directed by Anton M. Leader (AKA Tony Leader) and it’s the busy TV director’s only feature save for THE COCKEYED COWBOYS OF CALLICO COUNTY, a 1970 Dan Blocker vehicle (???). I reckon Tony should have quit while he was ahead. But he does fine work here, continuing the dutch tilts and low angles of the first film and adding more modernistic touches too. Those eerie/cheap stills of the kids with glowing eyes in the first film are echoed by the title sequence, a series of ever-enlarging freeze-frames that look to have been taken from a crash zoom, so there’s weird blurring around our eldritch kid.

When the kids traipse through a deserted London, they’re in very, very subtle slomo. I’m reminded of Franju’s LA PREMIERE NUIT.

“Children are a doorway into the supernatural,” said Mario Bava. “Children don’t think as grownups do — they are mad, in fact,” wrote Richard Hughes.

I had somehow convinced myself that sci-fi writer Anthony Boucher had a hand in the writing of this, but his only screen credit is William Castle’s excellent MACABRE, and this is the work of John Briley — and indeed it brings together numerous of the motifs of a screenplay of his previously celebrated here, THE MEDUSA TOUCH. Psychic powers and a climax at a floodlit London church… Briley’s other main credits are earnest Attenborough snooze-fests. I wish he’d done more clever pulp fantasy.

Five genius children are born, but scattered around the world this time. A UN IQ test detects them and they’re brought together in London, where they become even more powerful. This is clearly a development of the alien invasion from the first film, but nobody ever refers to that case… I guess that would just pad out the exposition. But investigators seem able to intuit developments before they happen (“Does Rashid ever make you do things?”) so maybe they’re acquainted with the rulebook from the previous movie. No wigs this time — I think the black and brown and Chinese kids wouldn’t have looked credible in blonde Beatles ‘dos, so I support this choice.

I guess I get why some people don’t care for this film — no Martin Stephens, and a plot that’s imperfectly developed — but I love it. It has a great Quatermass/Doctor Who opposition of humane scientist to nasty government/military, and the two leads are terrific. Ian Hendry and Alan Badel may not be stars of the George Sanders magnitude, but like the spooky kids, put them together and their power is magnified. The dry, melancholic Hendry, occasionally erupting into what his pal calls “a Welsh tirade” — the sardonic, fruity Badel, who just can’t help make everything a sneer. One bachelor, living with another — somewhere between Holmes & Watson and Tony Hancock & Sid James. “There should be a whole series with these guys,” declared Fiona, something I think every time I see this, which isn’t often enough.

Also featuring Professor Dippet, Thumbelina, the shrink from PEEPING TOM and Oliver Cromwell. And Bessie Love, beginning the strange, psychotronic third act of her career (VAMPYRES *and* THE HUNGER!)

Because we’re in London in 1964 in b&w, everything looks like REPULSION — one pictures Hendry changing coats so he can pursue dirty weekends with Yvonne Furneaux between set-ups. Davis Boulton shot it, fresh from THE HAUNTING. Evidently he couldn’t get the defective Cinemascope wide angle lenses that make that movie so distinctive (they had to sign all sorts of papers promising not to sue if the distortion was TOO extreme) but he does fine work. His subsequent career is unaccountably appalling.

Ron Goodwin does the music again, really the only direct link to the original film.

The script, though flawed, has some killer lines and some fascinating developments. The children barely speak, their few vocal moments strikingly well-chosen. Barbara Ferris, the sympathetic aunt of the English boy, speaks for them, possessed, her high, clipped voice sounding remarkably like little Martin Stephens’ in the first film.

An eleventh-hour plot twist reveals that the kids’ cells are human, but from a million years in the future (how can they tell?). This is very interesting, and kind of goes nowhere, but it does make this a precursor of both LA JETEE and THE TERMINATOR. We’ve established that random mutations (or “biological sports,” to use the film’s quaint terminology) couldn’t account for six prodigies occurring at once. So evidently these kids were implanted in the womb back in time, through some process we can only guess at and for some purpose that never becomes clear. A third movie is obviously called for.

When Badel expresses his disgust with espionage cad Alfred Burke, it comes out as “What would you lot do if the whole world made friends — had a bloody love affair?” “Oh, I shouldn’t worry,” smirks Burke. “You know how love affairs go.”

Some strange –

Posted in FILM with tags , , on October 31, 2009 by dcairns

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– WordPress glitch has cause THE HAUNTING to appear down there –

– a few days back. Link.

Do not be alarmed! Please read and comment as usual. I want to hear about your supernatural experiences and anthropological insights etc.