Thursday, June 26, 2008

Today's Selection:
Don't Look Now (1973)

Don't Look Now is a mystery-horror movie (or as the movie bills itself, "a psychic mystery") starring screen powerhouses Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. Directed by Nicolas Roeg, it depicts the tale of a couple in Venice who are plagued by psychic happenings after the death of their daughter.

It was first released in the UK in 1973, then moved to a limited release in New York on December 9th of the same year. The movie finally received a wide release in January. Box office data for the movie is hard to find, and it's difficult to tell how weird 70s horrors fare in this regard - but its two stars had quite a bit of draw 30 years ago, so I'm willing to believe it did well (at least in the UK if it got a release here). In Hollywood tradition, it is slated for a remake, probably starring Naomi Watts.

What Turned Them Away?

- Forgotten by time. This movie is highly regarded by those who remember it or have seen it, but 1973 was not a prominent year for movies. The Exorcist was by far the highest-profile release of the year, and let's face it - THAT is the horror movie that the world remembers from that time. This actually has the 18th highest amount of IMDB votes from that year, but I think that goes to point out the weakness of 1973 at large versus the clout of this movie. I just don't think I've ever seen it mentioned on this board, and I think that it's very much worth seeing. Hell, I'm surprised I've even seen it.

I guess I don't really feel that this is underrated - just underviewed.

- It's weird. Exceedingly so. I haven't read the source material, a short story by Daphne Du Maurier (whose works seem to turn out uniformly excellent when adapted), but this movie is filled to the rafters with bizarre ****. Psychic phenomena, midgets, Italians, seances, long and un-erotic sex scenes, and a straight razor. In its own special way, the movie is over the top, and subtle at the same time, which I love it for. There's so much to be seen here and all of it is kind of mindblowing. To think people call this movie uneventful!

What Should Have Kept Them?

+ The atmosphere. Don't Look Now's pace is somewhat slow, probably to mask a deceptively thin storyline, but you wouldn't think that for a second as you watched. The look and feel of the movie is utterly absorbing. Nicolas Roeg has created a tonal masterpiece; anything he tries to invoke in the movie succeeds absolutely. It's a fascinating fusion of one of Dario Argento's trashy giallo flicks and some sort of dreamlike alternate reality...a strange combination to be sure, but one that turns out incredible results.

Scenes that probably didn't mean as much in the screenplay are given unbelievable life here. The initial death of the couple's daughter. Julie Christie passing out in the restaurant. A mysterious figure lurking the streets of Venice after dark, a desperate seance, and sad omens aboard a gondola. Scenes like this just jump off the screen, enticing and morbid. It's the kind of movie you dream about.

+ Julie Christie. I'm not a huge Donald Sutherland fan. I think he's cheesy and self-aware. Christie does double-time for him in this movie, though. Watching her in just about anything is a treat, and this movie gives her so much to work with. She is beautiful but fragile, which extends the viewer's connection with her even more; she almost asks to be protected, and it becomes clear through their rocky relationship that Sutherland is not the one to do it. Between the death of her daughter and the promise of seeing and talking to her once again, her character is full of emotions. Christie refrains from melodrama or over-emoting, but she looks perpetually sad. It is an exceptionally intelligent, understated performance, one of the best in horror.

+ The ending. It's intense as hell! So perfectly paced and terrifying (not to mention bizarre), it comes out of absolutely nowhere and smacks you on the side of the head. If the rest of the film isn't all that scary, falling into the trappings of a 35-year-old horror movie, this more than makes up for it. The last ten minutes of the movie are enthralling.

Don't Look Now is probably one of the more appreciated titles I've covered so far, as it's a critical darling and has a small ardent fanbase, but again, I've never seen it mentioned on this board. I think that's a shame - as old horror goes, I almost think it deserves to stand among the greats, were it not for some narrative shortcomings. Anyway, I highly recommend picking this one up and throwing it on on some dark, rainy night.