91 posts categorized "Suspense"

October 29, 2023

THE HONEYMOON KILLERS — SHOCKTOBER!

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“Ray kissed them, Martha killed them. They turned a Lonely Hearts Club into a slaughterhouse.”

The salacious tagline for “The Honeymoon Killers” was a tabloid-styled ad almost as incendiary as the 1983 New York Post headline “Headless Body In Topless Bar.”

The film’s original title (“Dear Martha”) was far too pedestrian for writer/director Leonard Kastle’s roasting of Americana values, tortured attitudes regarding sexual expression, and nostalgia-riddled romanticism of the masses.

Honeymoon Killers

Check out the scene where Ray’s new bride belts out “America the Beautiful” from a bubble bath while Ray and Martha empty her purse in the next room. The filmmakers are merciless with a roiling subtext of satirical statements and deadpan counterpoint.  

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Never mind that Kastle and producer Warren Steibel fired Martin Scorsese as the film’s original director after 10 days because Scorsese seemed to spin wheels. Nonetheless, a couple of sequences that Scorsese directed remain in the film.

Cool.

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The movie is based on the real-life exploits of a pair of money-hungry serial killer lovers. Kastle’s eerie crime drama follows Alabama-born nurse Martha (played with brooding hostility by Shirley Stoler) and her Elvis-haired Latin gigolo boyfriend Ray (Tony Lo Bianco).

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Opposites attract.

Martha is a zaftig woman with lust, greed, and jealousy in her heart. Ray is a handsome, suave Rudolph Valentino-inspired con man. Between his Latin accent and always-polite demeanor, Ray makes every woman he meets feel like the only woman in the world. The partners-in-crime pose as siblings while Ray conducts marriage proposals with unsuspecting widows who the couple eventually kill in order to steal the women’s life savings and life insurance. Naturally, things get complicated, messy, and nasty.

Honeymoon-killers

Made in 1969, "The Honeymoon Killers" presaged elements of David Lynch's filmic approach, and clearly informed John McNaughton's similarly-themed stomach-churner film "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." Romantic dysfunction never looked so banal, brutal, and ugly as it does here. Kastle’s dry documentary style is as inspired by Cassavetes (“Faces”) as it is by Frederick Wiseman's films (see “Titicut Follies”). The real Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez were executed by electrocution on March 8, 1951. 

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This is a raw crime drama exploitation movie that compares favorably to Richard Brook’s adaptation of Truman Capote’s “Cold Blood” (1967). Kastle employs a similar docu-styled editorial approach to the narrative and to its noir filmic compositions. The filmmaker allows social subtext of ‘40s era America to bubble up. When she's fired from her nursing position, it gives Martha opportunity to take the moral high-ground to authority; she indignantly announces her recent marriage like a diva in full bloom.  

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The picture’s naturalistic black-and-white noir compositions are augmented by a stark soundtrack punctuated with Gustav Mahler’s anthemic classical music.

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“The Honeymoon Killers” was the only film Leonard Kastle made, and he poured all of his talents into a picture that comes across as a labor of love. François Truffaut famously called “The Honeymoon Killers” his favorite American film.”

Rated R. 108 mins.

5 Stars COLE MONSTERCozy Cole

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October 26, 2023

DRACULA — SHOCKTOBER!

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ColeSmithey.comLadies fainted when Bela Lugosi slowly rose from his coffin as the undead king of all vampires in the famous 1927 Broadway stage production of "Dracula."

Co-playwright/screenwriter Hamilton Deane constructed his sinewy script from Bram Stoker's celebrated novel.

The Depression era picture introduced horror to the era of sound film with a Gothic atmosphere that is still copied today. The play’s successful two-year national run (featuring Lugosi) preceded Tod Browning's brilliant 1931 film version. Naturally, Browning’s pre-code movie had an equally chilling effect on movie audiences even if not all critics at the time were convinced of the film’s many charms.

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The film’s secret weapon is Bela Lugosi, whose thick Hungarian accent harbored such a sense of mortal dread and diabolical intent that you can’t help but hang on his every word. The vampire role typecast the 49-year-old Lugosi, who went on to enjoy success in films in which he played opposite Boris Karloff, whose own career took flight thanks to roles in Universal Studios horror pictures such as “Frankenstein.”  

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Dwight Frye's eerie performance as Renfield, the hapless British accountant who dares set foot inside Dracula's foreboding castle, sets a ghoulish tone of insanity that the charismatic vampire instills in men.  

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”The blood is the life, Mr. Renfield.” Lugosi’s Dracula waxes poetic his signature Hungarian accent. For his well-established part, Bela Lugosi is positively bloodcurdling as he stalks every scene in his dapper tuxedo and intimidating cape.

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Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1880, Tod Browning’s checkered career ran from working in circus sideshows and carnivals (as both barker and performer), before working as an actor in dozens of silent features before turning to directing 1917 with “Jim Bludso.” As filmmaker, Browning enjoyed a notable string of hit movies with his frequent collaborator Lon Chaney, whose life was cut short in 1930 by lung cancer exacerbated by a throat infection caused by breathing in artificial snow on the set of “The Unholy Three” (1930). Sadly, Browning’s career took a nosedive after “Freaks,” his misunderstood love letter to the circus, proved too controversial for the arbiters of taste at the time. 

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"Dracula" is more than a milestone of cinematic horror; it represents a marriage of nightmare and reality that establishes an American Gothic sensibility for other dramatic sub genres that followed. Stark, formal, and deeply sensual, "Dracula's" atmosphere and intention is rooted in a fear of unfamiliar lust from which there can be no escape. There’s sufficient reason to believe that “Dracula” is a parable about sexually transmitted diseases. To watch Tod Browning’s "Dracula" is to be bitten by the vampire's infectious attack.   

Not Rated. 75 mins. 

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October 22, 2023

LA CEREMONIE — SHOCKTOBER!

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does. This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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ColeSmithey.comThe revolution comes from the inside in Claude Chabrol’s exquisite adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s 1977 leftist novel “A Judgement In Stone.”

Not since Luis Bunuel has any filmmaker come so daringly close to enunciating the ideological, ethical, and soulful rift between the bourgeoisie and the rest of us as Chabrol does in this fascinating, if darkly sensuous, picture. Lesbian fires ignite between two would-be murderess[s].

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Rituals such as family dinners or private parties allow for characters to interact, impregnate, and divide. As with Bunuel’s films, food plays a significant part in these daily rites.

The story unfolds in the northwest coast of France where art gallery director Catherine Lelievres (Jacqueline Bisset) lives in French countryside splendor with her recent (opera-obsessed) husband Georges (Jean-Pierre Cassel) and his two teenage children (Melinda and Gilles) from a previous marriage.

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Catherine hires Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) as her latest live-in maid to keep her lavish home tidy and cook the family meals. 

Sophie keeps secrets close to her chest. Her illiteracy means that she can't order the weekly groceries because she can't read the list. Help arrives in the magnetic tomboy form of Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert), a local postal clerk with a murderous past. Jeanne knows that Sophie was accused of murdering her handicapped dad but was let go due to a lack of proof. Threat of prison is a mutual experience since Jeanne was accused of killing her four-year-old daughter, but was found innocent. 

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21st century audiences may be surprised to learn that there was such a thing as a “boy-bun” long before there was a “man-bun” as evidenced by Catherine’s adopted son Gilles (Valentin Merlet).

Addressing Gilles's freshly budding smoking habit, Catherine tells her adopted son, “It’s easier not to start than it is to quit.” Naturally, she offers him a cigarette later on when it suits her. She decrees that Gilles can only smoke in her presence. Careful social coding comes through in every sequence involving the family. Their limited (stereotype) attitudes clash against the intimate (female outlaw) romantic reality that Bonnaire and Huppert share. Their mutual attraction is real. 

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Claude Chabrol deftly uses television as an implement of reality displacement that Sophie learns to use to deny demands that are placed on her, such as when Georges calls requesting that she retrieve a file from his desk. She becomes a robot to the TV in same way that audiences all over the world are. 

“La Ceremonie” is a film that is ahead of its time, just as much as it is of its time. Isabelle Huppert’s determined (read lesbian leftist activist) character speaks the film’s theme lines with sinewy authority.

Regarding Sophie’s discovery of Melinda’s (Virginie Ledoyen) pregnancy, Jeanne says, “It’s no problem for them [the Lelievres), anyway. Keep it or get rid of it, no problem.”

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Indeed, Jeanne’s brief summation of Melinda’s dilemma coincides with the teenaged girl's blasé attitude in the face of her next day's scheduled abortion. Charming Melinda sits happily on the sofa with her snobby family watching a VHS-recorded opera. Virginie Ledoyen is the embodiment of privileged nubility. Incredible, and contemptible.  

Regardless of how much elites (in any country) attempt to buffer themselves from the lower classes, they must always remain at the workers' mercy in the form of service industry jobs. Poison comes in many forms.

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Chabrol’s dream-team cast comes together in a once-in-a-lifetime event. I could wax poetic about Jean-Pierre Cassel, who delivers such a wonderfully bland rendition of veiled white supremacist viewpoints that you could blink and miss it. Jacqueline Bisset reaches microcosmic degrees of restrained emotion like you can’t believe.

Don’t get me started on cinematographer Bernard Zitzermann’s dynamic formalism that works like guitar in a jazz trio, playing against Monique Fardoulis’s snappy editing. This film is a flawless example of French Cinema. Look. There it is.

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Not Rated. 112 mins.

5 StarsColeSmithey.com SHOCKTOBER! KITTIESCozy Cole

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