Tag Archives: Psycho

A Decade In Horror: Halloween Special – The Sixties

It’s October! The leaves on the trees are turning brown, it’s getting darker earlier in the evening and folks are rummaging through their DVD collections, looking for their favourite horror films to watch in time for Halloween. As such, every week this month will see us expand on our Decade In Film series with a spin off article focussing on five horror films from the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and the noughties! The format will be much the same as our regular series, but with a slight twist.

Contributing to this series will be some names our readers will find familiar – and some not-so-familiar. Regular writer and podcaster Owen will be providing his thoughts, and we couldn’t very well go and make a horror related series without our resident expert Mike, now could we? Previous guest writers Andrew and Paul have been welcomed back with open arms and completing the line-up is newcomer Liam, sharing his eclectic taste with our humble little team. We five will each in turn pick our favourite horror film from the specified decade, in this case, the 1960’s.

The sixties gave horror a new edge. Young and ambitious directors like Roger Corman were able to make a name for themselves whilst Hammer Horror capitalised on their success in the late 50’s. Well established directors such as Michael Powell and Alfred Hitchcock could turn their hand to something more sinister. We even saw the rise of a new wave of film maker (Roman Polanski, George A Romero, etc) who would push the boundaries further than it had ever gone before. So, let’s begin with arguably the most iconic film of the decade and one of its earliest releases.


Psycho (1960)

psychoIt’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?

I first watched Psycho when I was nine years old with the babysitter. I hid behind the sofa for most of it. I’ve only just come back to it this year, such was the effect it had on me.

Hitchcock has crafted one of the greatest horror thrillers ever put on film. From a perfect cast through to the nerve shredding music, Psycho delivers on every level. Hitchcock doesn’t follow normal film conventions either. With a twist in the middle that is both as shocking as it is pure genius; Hitchcock unsettles the viewer from this point on. We are never sure what’s going to happen next and that’s just genius. Hitchcock’s direction is outstanding – near enough flawless – his ability to frighten the viewer without resorting to cheap scare tactics or gore is a master lesson in film making and makes Psycho one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen.

Along with the great direction is the superb cast, which is backed up by an outstanding screenplay from Joseph Stefano. Janet Leigh is excellent, but it’s Anthony Perkins portrayal of Norman Bates which is truly outstanding. One of the finest pieces of casting and acting I’ve seen in any film. Perkins’ ice cold delivery and dangerous glint in his eye is perfect; his Norman Bates is one of the most chilling characters ever put on film and that’s what makes Psycho my favourite horror film from the 60’s.

by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)


The Innocents (1961)

the innocentsIt was only the wind, my dear.

The Innocents is chilling, psychologically disturbing adaptation of Henry James’ novel The Turn Of The Screw.

Starring, the always wonderful, Deborah Kerr as an eager new governess, Miss Giddens, employed by a wealthy but entirely selfish businessman to take over sole responsibility for the upbringing of his orphaned and unwanted niece and nephew.

Set on a country estate, run by a housekeeper and a few domestic servants, all seems idyllic, with the housekeeper, staff and governess getting along extremely well. The little boy, Miles, is away at school meaning the entire household revolves around the seemingly angelic girl, Flora. Things soon start to tumble out of control when Miles is dismissed from school for frightening classmates.

What follows is an increasingly rapid descent into chaos with Miss Giddens becoming convinced evil spirits are at work and a story of the children witnessing violent, sexually abusive former employees is built.

This is a superb, unforgettable film where all the terror is derived from the building of intense, suffocating atmosphere through clever direction, lighting and sound rather than any visual brutality. Kerr is at the very top of her game and it leaves you befuddled as to what was real, what was imagined, who was mad and who was bad.

by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)


Carry on Screaming! (1966)

carry on screamingThey would have to come tonight, just when I’m feeling half dead!

In true Failed Critics tradition, even in spin-off articles, we reveal just how much of an omni-shambles we can be. For example, this is the first article in a brand new series and we’ve started in a week where one of the writers is insanely busy.

However, we did manage to catch Paul for five seconds and squeeze a few words out of him as to why exactly this Carry On comedy about Dr Watt, stealing women and making them into mannequins, is his favourite horror of the 1960’s.

Making fun of Hammer, it’s the original horror comedy. Odd-job, Fennela Fielding and the famous….. “Frying Tonight” line from the wonderful Kenneth Williams. It was actually creepy too, the people taken and turned into mannequins.

So there you have it. We promise to plan ahead a bit better for next week’s article!

 by Paul Field (@pafster)


Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

rosemarys babyThey use blood in their rituals, and the blood with the most power is baby’s blood!

Rosemary’s Baby is a marvellous exploration of the psychological horror-come-thriller genre. Classier than a lot of its contemporaries and imitators have often tried to replicate the feeling of dread that Roman Polanski instilled without coming close. Especially not the appalling TV movie Whatever Happened To Rosemary’s Baby?.

Rosemary and her husband, Guy, an out-of-work-actor, move into an apartment in New York. Soon after, Guy gets close to an over-friendly elderly couple next door and mysteriously his career begins to turn around conspicuously as his rival suffers a tragic accident. With Guy’s ascent, he becomes increasingly aloof leaving Rosemary feeling alone in her big and empty apartment. She’s convinced that this is the perfect time to have a baby and after a bit of Satanic rape, Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your aunt and Lucifer’s your.. relative.

If you’ve ever had that sudden feeling that everybody is out to get you, then Roman Polanski’s horror will truly resonate. Moving to a new place can be a stressful time for anyone, but when your new neighbours force chocolate mousse on you, well that’s just not cricket. Even worse when it seems like they want to steal your unborn baby.

There isn’t a single bad performance from any of the cast. Not least of all Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer as the unnervingly pushy couple next door. Mia Farrow is utterly fantastic, portraying a woman teetering on the edge of insanity, not knowing if she’s paranoid or if they really are out to get her.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)


Night of the Living Dead (1968)

NOTLDThey’re coming to get you, Barbara.

Before Shaun fought the dead, Zombieland had its rules and the Pet Sematary was zombifying cats, there was George A. Romero. The man who, with this walking dead frightener from 1968, invented the zombie film.

OK, so maybe “invented” is kind of a strong word for a genre that had been around decades before this. But what Romero did, was redefine zombies. Before Night of the Dead, the undead weren’t the undead. Being a zombie usually meant to be under the influence of a voodoo curse, with 1932’s “White Zombie” being the genre’s defining film up to this point and the shift to the walking dead was George’s key to success.

On the outskirts of Everytown, Pennsylvania, Barbara and her brother are attacked in a graveyard by a walking corpse. Rescuing his sister, Johnny doesn’t make it and Barbara flees for her life.

Forced to take refuge in a nearby farmhouse where she meets fellow survivor Ben and forms an uneasy alliance with a handful of survivors hiding in the basement. The group fight to survive the cannibalistic horde outside and the insanity inside.

Not without its flaws, “Night of the Living Dead” is far from perfect. But no-one can say that this gory scarer isn’t deserving of its cult classic status. It’s inspired generations of film makers and is the foundation for its own sub-genre of horror film. Spawning four sequels, two remakes and countless imitations. George A. Romero is indeed the father of the modern zombie film. And while this may not be the best of them, it’s certainly the most important.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)


Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to comment below if you agree or disagree with our choices and we’ll be back soon with a look at our top five horror films of the seventies!

Hitchcock

Hitchcock Anthony HopkinsBased on the book telling the inside story of the making of Psycho, Hitchcock attempts to delve into the mind of the man that scared, and possibly scarred, generations of cinemagoers. The biopic is similar in tone to another film about a short period in the life of one of this country’s greatest talents; a genius that ultimately never quite achieved the universal acclaim that he craved. For Hitchcock, read The Damned United, and for Alfred Hitchcock, read Brian Clough.

Like The Damned United (the film, if not the book), Hitchcock’s strengths lie in the remarkable true story it’s based on, but suffers when trying to guess at the thoughts and motivations of a dead man. The director is to be admired in his attempts to understand what made Hitch tick, and the moment Alfred rhetorically asks his wife Alma “what if somebody made a really good horror film?” sends a shiver down the spine. Anthony Hopkins imbues his role as the Master of Suspense with both arrogance and a surprising vulnerability at times. His struggles to make the kind of film he wants to make are heartbreakingly portrayed, as an industry that made untold riches off of the back of his talent beg him not to make this “nasty little film”.

Sadly, the fascinating story of the making of one of the great works of art of the twentieth century soon takes a back seat to a plot straight out of a soap opera, as Hitchcock’s loyal and supportive wife finds herself drawn to a hack writer who shows her the attention that Alfred is withholding, as he becomes more and more obsessed with the young female stars of his film. Although Helen Mirren does sterling work with this role, the film really drags during the second act. That this narrative is largely fictitious makes its inclusion doubly disappointing.

Thankfully the film rediscovers itself in the third act, and the audience is rewarded with a strong and satisfying finale. Excellent support is provided by Scarlett Johansson in an uncanny portrayal of Janet Leigh, as well as a mature turn by Jessica Biel as Hitchcock’s former obsession Vera Miles. Film geeks will be overjoyed to see Ralph ‘Karate Kid’ Macchio make a cameo, not to mention Michael Winslow’s turn as Ed Gein; the real-life serial killer that the character of Norman Bates is based on. Danny Elfman’s score also provides some playful echoes of the famous Bernard Herrmann Psycho violins.

Hitchcock is a very enjoyable film, and it has a lot of things going for it. Sadly its ambition to be both realistic biopic and playful character study hold it back from being truly great. More Topaz than Vertigo.

Hitchcock is released in UK cinemas on Friday 8th February.

A Decade in Film: The Sixties – 1960

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choose their favourite films from each year of that decade, and discuss the legacy those years have left us.

Editor James Diamond gave himself the shortest straw (or the most work) in handing the 1960s to himself. Here he chooses his favourite films from 1960 .

5. The Magnificent Seven

“Generosity… that was my first mistake. I leave these people a little bit extra, and then they hire these men to make trouble. It shows you, sooner or later, you must answer for every good deed.”

When it comes to Hollywood remakes of brilliant foreign-language films I’m usually first in line with a torch, pitchfork, and a burning sense of self-righteous indignation. However sometimes, on a rare occasion, such a remake produces a film with that stands on its own two feet. The Magnificent Seven is one such a film.

Directed by John Sturges (who went onto direct Steve McQueen in another ensemble cast in The Great Escape), this remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai was loved by the Japanese director. Transplanting the action from feudal Japan to a border town in the Wild West, The Magnificent Seven pits seven gunmen (including Yul Bryner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, and James Coburn) with differing motives against an evil bandit terrorising a village (played with textbook relish by Eli Wallach).

The Western myth had already faced deconstruction a decade earlier in films like High Noon and The Gunfighter, but The Magnificent Seven was the next evolutionary step between the ‘traditional Western’ and the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone that would go on to redefine the genre for some many people later in the decade.

This is still a great Sunday afternoon film for me – Elmer Bernstein’s score, wonderful interplay between the villagers and the gunmen, and the epic shoot-out towards the end make this one of the most enjoyable Westerns.

 

4. Breathless (A bout de soufflé)

“Patricia Franchini: What is your greatest ambition in life?
Parvulesco: To become immortal… and then die.”

Simply one of the most influential films of all time, and it’s a crime it took me until my thirties to actually sit down and watch it. I’d convinced myself that I just didn’t like French New Wave cinema on the basis of a couple of films I had to watch while at university. However, if like me you can’t watch a film without taking into account its historical context, Breathless is more than an example of French New Wave – it’s part of the DNA of all films that we watch today.

However difficult it is, you simply must watch Breathless while trying to forget everything you have seen in cinema that has come since. If you can do that you start to realise that without Jean Luc-Godard’s debut (and let’s not even think about the sheer audacity of this as a debut feature) there is possibly no Tarantino, no Spielberg, no Ridley or Tony Scott – maybe even no Michael Bay.

Even if we look past the technical triumphs of this film (the innovative use of jump-cuts, shot entirely on handheld camera, guerrilla shooting without permission on the streets of Paris) the film still works as a wonderfully cool character study of a morally bankrupt criminal, and the woman that loves him despite this. Parts of this film feel like they were written and shot in the last few years, such is the level of cynicism and moral ambiguity. For someone whose experience of 60s cinema growing up was the Carry On and Bond films, this came as quite a shock to the system.

And it is undeniably, seductively, French. So very French.

Available for streaming on Lovefilm Instant

 

3. The Apartment

“When you’re in love with a married man, you shouldn’t wear mascara.”

Another film that took me a criminal amount of time to see, Billy Wilder’s film about a lowly office drone who rises through the ranks of his company by letting out his apartment for ‘extra-curricular’ activities is another example of a cynicism of the time that I missed when I was younger.

I was expecting a knock-about comedy in the style of Some Like it Hot from the director and star (Jack Lemmon), but while there are some wonderfully crafted lines and some beautifully subtle slapstick from Lemmon – the overall tone of the film is much darker than the cross-dressing comedy from the previous year. While watching it, I felt this was a spiritual companion piece to David Lean’s wonderful Brief Encounter – so it was no surprise to find out that Wilder had originally had the idea for this film after watching it.

C.C. Baxter is the kind of character you might find in a Kafka novel (thanks Owen from the Failed Critics podcast for that reference!), or possibly in a Vaclav Havel play (particularly something like the Memorandum). Everyone in his life takes advantage of him, and while the material benefits of his arrangements may be obvious – he is slowly dying inside every time he swallows his pride, or the truth, to protect someone who wouldn’t give him the same courtesy. It’s what makes Baxter such a sympathetic, but ultimately frustrating character.

It’s impossible to talk about Lemmon and his character without briefly allowing ourselves to wallow in the tortured beauty of his opposite number Fran, played superbly by Shirley MacLaine. With an endearing kookiness that makes Zooey Deschanel appear like a child who has had a can of Coke too many, and eyes you could swim in for an eternity, she manages to make us root for a woman that is sleeping with a married man, and allows Baxter to fall further and further into depression.

 

2. Peeping Tom

“I don’t trust a man who walks quietly.”

In early-1960, two of Britain’s greatest-ever directors released controversial ‘slasher’ films, full of violent imagery, morally ambiguous victims, and mentally-deranged killers with parental issues. For one of them it cemented their reputation as a master of their craft with the audiences of the time. For the other one it pretty much killed their long and illustrious career stone-dead.

By 1960 Michael Powell (along with Emeric Pressburger) had written and directed some of the finest British films ever made. In the 1940s alone they made The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (hated by Churchill and hampered commercially for its anti-war sentiments on its release), A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes. By 1960 they had gone their separate ways creatively, and Powell teamed up with writer Leo Marks for this story of a focus-puller on a film set who stalked women by night and filmed their deaths on the camera that he always carries with him.

Sadly for Powell, the film received a critical mauling on its release, with critics savaging it for its violence, and the fact that the killer Mark (played with an frosty creepiness by Carl Boehm) was a morally interesting character and arguably a product of his upbringing rather than being inherently evil. In wasn’t until the 1970s, helped largely by Martin Scorsese publicly lauding the film, that Peeping Tom came to be reappraised as a British classic. Powell himself rues the situation in his autobiography saying “I make a film that nobody wants to see and then, thirty years later, everybody has either seen it or wants to see it.”

Available for streaming on Lovefilm Instant

 

1. Psycho

“Well, a son is a poor substitute for a lover.”

And onto the other film I described in my introduction to Peeping Tom, and the film that I have reserved the coveted Number One slot on my list for – Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Unlike Powell, Hitchcock’s reputation was enhanced by this cynical, morally ambiguous slasher-film. This could be because Hitchcock, having seen what happened to Peeping Tom cancelled all press-screenings for his latest film (usually a sign of a sticker in today’s climate) and insisted the critics had to pay to see the film, and watch it at the same time as the general public. By the time their (still largely negative) reviews came out they were already irrelevant – Psycho was an undisputed box office success.

What is also clear with the benefit of hindsight is that it is a masterful film, and possibly one of Hitch’s best. In fact, it’s difficult to find anything negative to say about the film. Unlike Powell’s Peeping Tom where the killer is known from the start, Psycho features the ‘Master of Suspense’ at his best in leading the audience down the darkened alleyways of the film’s unfolding narrative.

Anthony Perkins puts in an outstanding performance (possibly too good, as he never seemed to be able to leave this role behind for the rest of his career) as Norman Bates – the mild-mannered motel manager who has serious ‘mummy issues’, and who finds himself attracted to the beautiful, but mysterious girl who turns up late one night to stay at his establishment.

That girl is of course Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), who dies in the shower in the film’s most iconic scene. In yet another example of the cynicism starting to appear in the films of the 1960s Marion is staying in the motel while on the run from her employers and the police for stealing $40,000. For the first time in mainstream cinema we’re starting to see normal people doing bad things, and getting punished for it. Marion isn’t a gangster’s moll, or a scheming femme fatale from a film noir. She’s a normal woman, having an affair with a married man, who is presented with an opportunity and, in desperation, takes it.

Also well as the shower scene, the most famous aspect of the film is probably Bernard Hermman’s score. Almost ever-present throughout the film, it acts as a character in its own right – like an omnipotent narrator. Hitchcock was a fantastic director, but often his greatest strengths were in surrounding himself with the right people. Psycho’s key ingredients of the original novel and screenplay, the actors on set, and the score from Hermann were blended by Hitch with the magic of a medieval alchemist to produce one of the most incredible films of the 20th Century.