The Mother of the Void Presents: Suspicion

I would first like to welcome The Void back! She chose this movie for me during her hiatus, so I have watched it, had time to stew on it, and here goes my dissection.

For this outing, The Void has chosen the 1941 Alfred Hitchock movie, “Suspicion”. She told me upon discussing it with her after my viewing, that she picked this for me because of how swooned over Cary Grant in “Notorious”. Unfortunately, without giving too much away, this film has slightly tarnished not only my opinion of Mr. Grant, but of Mr. Hitchcock as well. I have never had a problem liking flawed characters, just look at my past dating history, but as I get older, I have come to differentiate between flawed and defective. But let’s get into the nitty gritty shall we, and I hope to explain what I mean. I hope you will join me for my take of 1941’s “Suspicion”. You can check out my last Hitchcock review here.

So It Begins: Suspicion

The film begins with a black screen and Johnnie (Cary Grant) apologizing to someone unseen, explaining he didn’t realize they were going to go through a tunnel and he thought the compartment was empty. When the light fills the compartment, we see Lina (Joan Fontaine), book in hand, looking slightly annoyed at Johnnie as he is putting his things on the shelf above the seat opposite her. He complains to her that he had to switch compartments because of the cigar smell next door. He asks if she smokes and explains how relieved he is when she says no because he apparently had quite the evening the night before. When he asks her if she understands, he surveys her more conservative appearance; her sensible shoes, child psychology book, high buttoned coat and hat, and he conveys a look of ‘well maybe not’. 

Just then the porter enters asking for their tickets. Lina retrieves hers from her handbag, while Johnnie quickly goes from pocket to pocket, searching for his. Lina’s ticket is first class; Johnnie’s ticket is for third class. The porter explains he is in the wrong compartment. Johnnie accuses the rail line of ‘selling third class tickets at first class prices’. The porter gives him the total for the seat upgrade, and Johnnie asks if they will accept what he has, which is not enough.

The porter looks at him unsympathetically, and Johnnie asks Lina if she has any change. She starts to pull coins out of her purse and he reaches over, grabs what he needs and gives the money to the porter, who gives him a disgusted look as he leaves the compartment. Now personally, I don’t care how handsome or charming a person is, if they help themselves to my money, out of my hand, they are pulling back a bloody stump!

Johnnie acts as though he is trying to sleep, while Lina picks up the newspaper. She opens it to the society page, and there is her new, freeloading compartment mate pictured with an elegantly dressed woman. Lina looks from the paper to Johnnie as he looks out the window, annoyed by the sunlight. 

The Fox Hunt

We are now at the start of a very traditional English fox hunt. Bugles playing, horses antsy to get going and dogs barking. Johnnie is charming the ladies and a local photographer. In the distance he sees a horse being a bit cooperative and he instantly recognizes the rider as his unwitting travel companion, only this time, she is sans glasses, looking vibrate and RICH!. He asks the ladies he is with her name, because of course he didn’t bother when he was pilfering money out of her hand.  One of the women warns him that Lina is ‘not up his alley’. Johnnie replies he is ‘bored with people in my alley’.  He asks for an introduction and the woman who issued the warning refuses. Johnnie says he will just have to do so himself, as the ladies go to get ready for the hunt. 

With the hunt over, we now find Lina, back in her more mousey attire, casually reading in her home. Visitors arrive at her window and she greets them, inviting them in. They are the same ladies from the hunt, and Johnnie got the introduction he wanted. Lina instantly takes off her glasses and accepts the introduction, shyly. The girls tell Lina that when they saw her in the window, Johnnie insisted on meeting her. I am sure this was completely a coincidence (Wink Wink).  

Lina questions why Johnnie would care to meet her, and his answer made me gag a little. This man is so full of himself, he is going to need a bigger suit! Lina is more reserved than his other companions. He tells her that she should hurry so she is not late for church, which she was not planning on attending. When she inquires with the ladies if that was their plan, they are caught off guard, but Johnnie sees his plan working out as intended.

The three women extend an invitation to join them, and much to Johnnie’s delight, Lina accepts, with a bit of speculation towards her stalker in her voice. He asks her to put on the hat she had on the train, signalling to not only Lina, but the other ladies, that he remembers her and it is not their first meeting. Lina leave to make herself ready, while the ladies take seats to wait for her return. Johnnie pick up the book Lina was reading and as a bookmark , she is using his picture she saw in the paper on the train, much to his delight. 

A Deadly…Hair Fixing?

When they reach the church, Johnnie finds a way to separate Lina from the group and before entering the two leave together. We next find them struggling on what appears to be a cliff top. Lina is not amused, while Johnnie see this as all great fun. He inquires why she so aggressively fought off his advances, afterall, it wasn’t like he was trying to kill her. No means NO, even in 1941! He explains that he was not trying to kiss her, he was just trying to fix her hair, telling her that her hair is all wrong.

He then undoes her hair and makes it ridiculous. She tells him that she is much different than the women he is photographed with, he asks her how he stacks up against her horse. Interesting approach, at this point, I would compare him more to a dog…but anyway. Lina tells him that if she ever got the bit in his mouth, she would have no problem controlling him. That’s my girl! Johnnie then makes his move to try and kiss her, and she dodges successfully. It is at this point he bistoes his new nickname on her. Monkeyface. 

Suspicion

Johnnie walks Lina home, and as they approach, she asks him not to come further. He tells her he will come to ‘fetch her’ at 3:00. She tells him no, and he keeps insisting. She leaves him, and as she approaches the house, she hears her family discussing her. They are talking how she will never marry, how they will have to care for her, and that she is a spinster. Her father does praise her brains and character, but the damage is done.

Mom and Dad basically tied a steak around her neck and sent her to the wolf! Lina turns to see Johnnie standing there beside her. He is smiling, and it is uncertain if he heard what her parents said or not. Lina wraps her arm around his neck and kisses the wolf, I mean Johnnie. She quickly retreats into the house and joins her parents for lunch. 

Lina tells her parents she didn’t go to church after all, but went on a walk instead with Johnnie. Her father quickly remarks that Johnnie is wild, and when Lina asks, he tells her he was caught cheating at cards. She tells her parents she is seeing him again, and she no more gets the words out, and she gets a call that he has canceled their plans. She returns to the table, slightly defeated. 

The Ball

As time goes on, Lina tries to track Johnnie down. She inquires if he has been invited to an upcoming ball, checks her mail, and calls him home. No reply. The night of the ball, Lina’s mother comes to her room to find her crying, saying she is not going to the ball. A telegram arrives, stating Johnnie’s intentions on seeing her there. Suddenly Lina’s mood changes and she opts for a more revealing dress. 

At the ball, Lina is watching the others dance. She waits on the sidelines, anxiously watching the door for the wolf. A friend approaches her and they start to dance. LIna’s father is approached by the butler, saying that there is someone at the door. He says he is with his party, to which Lina’s father disputes ever extending an invitation. The matter is quickly dismissed as Lina sees him and the two begin to dance, leaving her stunned father and his other female admirers behind.

They dance their way out of the ball, and Johnnie helps himself to Lina’s family’s car, as she gleefully protests. They drive off, all smiles and he asks her if she has ever kissed in a car. When she says never, he remedies that situation. Their conversation reveals how much of a ladies man he is. He admits to her that he is honest with her because he can see that is what will get him results, to which she replies with a confession of love.

He is a cad and she is an idiot. Blunt I know, but it is one thing to be fooled by someone who is pretending to be something they are not. It is something entirely different, when they lay every ugly detail out on the table, and yet “but I love him”, is still your reply. I want to reach through the screen and slap her, just on principle. 

Johnnie tells her he is falling in love with her as well, and they make a stop at Lina’s house for a drink. Johnnie tells her how nervous he is and she says she is not, because she knows what she wants. He is taken aback by the painting of Lina’s father, admitting that he knows her father doesn’t like him. To his credit, Johnnie tells her, he is everything that her father says he is. Johnnie proposes and she agrees as they dance to a song of their own. 

Well That Was Fast: The Fatal Flaw of Suspicion

Lina is leaving to elope and she goes to tell her parents goodbye. Okay….I am going to be honest with you here. When I review the movies, I watch them once and then watch them again, pausing and analyzing the scenes. I can’t with this one. It just pissed me off. So here is the rest of the film in a nutshell.

Suspicion

Lina runs off and marries Johnnie, who, when they return home from a honeymoon he bought with credit, moves them into  a home they can’t afford. He is banking on the fact that her parents will give her money. The only thing that they give them is a set of antique chairs, that he turns around and hocks so he can go and gamble. Lina is upset and heart broken until Johnnie returns from the track with presents for her, and his lifelong friend, who is staying with him. He gives her the receipt for the chairs he bought back and all is forgiven. The friend mentions he has an allergy to brandy, and drinking it could kill him. 

Johnnie agrees to take a job with his cousin as a property manager. When Lina goes to visit him at work one day, she discovers they fired him for stealing $2000, the exact amount he “won” at the track. She does not confront him, but starts to pack, and once again “But I love him.” comes into play. She stays of course. 

Johnnie and his friend decide to start a corporation and go into real estate, but the land they try to buy is bogus. Lina’s father dies and instead of money, he leaves them the painting from the study.  Good job Pop!  The friend goes back to Paris to dissolve the corporation, while Johnnie goes to London. 

Johnnie’s a Little Sketch, But Why Does That Matter?

Later in the week police show up and tell Lina the friend is dead, someone had poisoned him with brandy. They ask where her husband is, and she covers for him. She calls the club where he was to be staying, and they said he left a few days ago. She instantly believes her husband killed the friend. 

Suspicion Final Scene

Then, there is a bunch of stuff with life insurance and Lina again believes Johnnie is going to kill her this time. She decides to leave him and go to her mothers, which he agrees to. There is a struggle in the car and confrontation and Johnnie reveals he was going to kill himself. That way, she could have the life insurance money and pay off the debt and get rid of him. Of course Lina responded with, “But I love you.” and they drive off into the sunset. 

Final Thoughts on Suspicion

I wanted to like this film so much, Hitchcock, Grant, Fontane….but it is just a pile of pretty people doing disgusting and stupid things and charming their way out of it. She never should have married him, and when he sold her chairs, she should have been gone. I love the players in this film, but not the film. I will not be watching this again, anytime soon. 

Am I angry about this? Yes. Do I recommend it? No. The Void has given an assignment from way back in time, and possibly the pits of Hell. As long as there are no chair stealing, pretty boys; I can handle anything but that!

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Krampus: The Horror Equivalent to St. Nick

Hello everyone! The Void of Celluloid is back better and scarier than ever. It’s also now the time to celebrate Christmas and all the joy that surrounds it. That does not mean that we still can’t get our scare on, and in the folklore of the culture that made Christmas extravagant lies quite a weird, scary traditional creature. I had the pleasure to live in Austria a couple years ago, so I got to experience my first encounters with these beasts. However, I want to spread the word on this fantastically chaotic tradition and share how you can get involved.

Krampus and Perchten : Advent in Salzburg : salzburg.info
A Krampus spotted in Salzburg, where I lived

As you guessed, the creature’s name is Krampus. Krampus however is a bit more complex than just being the antithesis to Santa Claus, so therefore, we’re going to go into the Germanic tradition and explore the lore, the celebration and the modern day interpretations that have crossed over into the U.S.. Let’s just say, we could do with some Krampus in our lives.

The Folklore of Krampus

CHRISTMAS KRAMPUS DEVIL CHILDREN POSTCARD COPY | eBay

Krampus’ origin is located in Central Europe, specifically Germany, the homeland of all Christmas traditions. We got the Christmas tree, the Christmas markets and the foundation for gingerbread (known as Lebkuechen). Krampus comes from the German word “Krampen” which means ‘claw’ in German. It is believed that Krampus is half-goat and half-demon. His roots are in pagan traditions that surround the winter solstice, and he slowly leaked his way into Christian traditions as the partner of St. Nicholas.

That’s right, he’s not the opposite of St. Nick, he is his business partner. The story goes as we all know it: get on the good list, you get presents; get on the bad list, however, does not lead to a lump of coal for central European children. Instead, Krampus will come for you and beat you with sticks for being naughty. American children, consider yourself lucky.

In a way of demonizing Krampus further, it was the Catholic Church that spread that Krampus will drag children to hell in an attempt to ban Krampus from his holiday portrayal. Ban attempts not only included the Catholic Church, but also the Nazis during World War II and the Austrian government. However, every year he managed to come back due to popular demand. Parents would dress as Krampus to scare their children into behaving, he popped up on postcards much like the one pictured above and Krampus solidified his status as a Christmas classic.

The Traditions

Forced resettlement after World War II affected the culture, as many families were broken apart by the division of Germany. East Germany had to deal with the secularization of Christmas, as religion was frowned upon in USSR occupied areas, which led to a different kind of Christmas. This reflected on other parts of the central-east of Europe and the culture and traditions were left semi scattered. However, despite the attempt to smother out the Krampus tradition in the mid-twentieth century, the Bavarian region brought the tradition back with a bang: Krampusnacht.

What on #Earth?Do you know about Krampuslauf? In early December young men  in Austria and Germany parade the streets dressed l… | Perchten, Masken  kunst, Wilder mann

Krampusnacht started in the late twentieth century and translates to ‘Krampus Night’. It contains the Krampuslauf or ‘Krampus Run.’ This is where a group of people adorn detailed, terrifying costumes of Krampus, wrap up either smaller sticks or horsehair. They run through the streets, terrorizing anyone in sight. You get whipped, chased, soot smeared on your face, scared and you’re laughing all the way through it. It’s a night of chaos and fun. It also represents a resurgence in culture that can be shared across multiple cities on December 6th.

Krampus also appears in grocery stores as the counterpart to a chocolate St. Nick. Many handmade goods reflect the Krampus tradition in the Christkindmarkt (Christmas markets) and Krampuses kick off the celebration of St. Nicholas, with him usually trailing along at the end of the Krampuslauf.

CrossOver into the U.S.

We actually have a Krampuslauf here in the United States, and I honestly would like more cities to have one. Los Angeles has hosted one since 2013 and it models very similarly to a traditional Krampuslauf. I mean, a lump of coal is simply not enough punishment. However, due to its semi-violent nature, most people would not be okay with someone beating their children with a bundle of sticks. I’m not sure how that would fly and if any of them would stick around.

Krampuslauf - Los Angeles' Krampus Run is Monstrously Fun
L.A. Krampuslauf, 2018

Krampus is a part of a familiar word however, and that is Advent. We associate Advent with chocolate or tiny gifts, while it means simply the time before Christmas i.e. November 28th to December 24th. Instead of tiny gifts, most countries in Europe will have little events and traditions in this time. Therefore, a lot of outings all the way up to a quiet, intimate Christmas day.

However, our most relevant depiction of Krampus isn’t in these events leading up to Christmas, but rather the idea of crashing Christmas in the medium of horror. There has been multiple Christmas-themed horror movies that put him on a pedestal of terror. However, he one that holds a mirror up to how the United States treats the holidays versus other cultures is Michael Dougherty’s 2015 Krampus.

Krampus (2015) and Its Lesson

I know that a lot of people didn’t particularly like this movie a lot. However, with its depressing opening scene and a highlight on family dysfunction in the United States, Krampus offers very sentimental and harrowing commentary on the holidays. A lot of us face stress during this time. I know that prior to cutting off family, the stress I had to deal with before seeing family would sometimes be way too much to handle. That’s what makes this a painfully relatable horror tale.

The Blog of Delights: Krampus (2015)

Krampus is supposed to be fun with a few good scares in to make children behave and give adults nostalgia. This makes his depiction in this film even more terrifying, as it is this grisly terrifying thing that we don’t understand: Krampus turns from lore to a symbol for xenophobia. A poignant scene is the one illustrated above. The grandma that grew up and understood the tradition (as well as tragically ‘lost’ her parents to Krampus) stands and is unafraid to go with him.

This commentary adds onto an array of multiple topics the film deals with: gun control, capitalism, alcoholism, emotional abuse…the list goes on. This film is not really meant to be a fun Christmastime watch like Dougherty’s other film Trick ‘r’ Treat is to Halloween. It is most likely going to be the only interpretation the U.S. is going to see for a while. Therefore it is important to try and understand these traditions and not simply go for the overly-terrifying version of it. Even if he does have adorably homicidal gingerbread men.

Conclusion

Well, I think this is the perfect way to kick off the holiday season and welcome back The Void of Celluloid. I hope you all continue to learn more about Krampus. It really is a cool tradition that was a blast to be a part of. Stay tuned, as next week I’ll give a holiday horror line-up to squeeze in between your repeat viewings of A Christmas Story, Elf and National Lampoon‘s. If you want to see Krampus in action, click here to watch a Krampuslauf. We’ll see you next week here on The Void of Celluloid.

The Mother of the Void Presents: Notorious

Notorious is a wonderful introduction to the genre of film-noir. It eases you in without being too dark, and gives you enough romance to make you care about what happens to the two leads; the two leads are Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, so that is not a difficult thing to do. Boy, Ingrid Bergman has gotten a beating over the last few weeks. Brilliantly directed by Alfred Hitchock, Notorious transports us back to the days just after World War 2, with enough spies, intrigue and innuendo to keep even the most passive viewer engaged. So without further ado, here is my analysis of 1946’s “Notorious” . PS: If you are looking for the 2009 biopic Notorious about the Notorious B.I.G., I am afraid this is a very different film. You can check out the last MOTV post here.

Notorious (1946) – Ticklish Business

The Beginning

The film starts in a courtroom in Miami, where Alicia Huberman’s (Bergman) father has just been convicted of treason. The press is waiting for her, taking her picture and bombarding her with questions. It is quickly established that she is being followed, but by whom?

INGRID BERGMAN in NOTORIOUS -1946-. Photograph by Album

We now find ourselves at a party at Alicia’s house, where she is generously pouring drinks, as she is being asked questions by her guests about being followed by the police, which she ignores. We can see everyone’s face, except a shadowy figure with his back to us. Alicia acknowledges him, pours him a drink and begins talking to him, with no response from the mystery man. To be honest, she doesn’t really give him a chance to respond. This is her house and she is commanding the room, looking stunning while doing so. She suggests that the mystery man is a party crasher, but is corrected by the guest who invited him. Still not a word from the shadowy figure. 

Alicia finally acknowledges the fact that she is being followed and expresses her annoyance at being a marked woman because of her father’s dealings. The elder gentleman she has been generously imbibing reminds her that they are setting sail tomorrow and the police will no longer be a problem. The party begins to break up, and as it does, Alicia pours the mystery man another drink, telling him she likes him, even though he hasn’t uttered a word.

Finally the camera pans around to show that our mystery man is Devlin (Grant). It is apparent that the two have continued to drink long after the other guests have either left, or passed out. Alicia is clearly intoxicated, but Devlin is cool as a cucumber. Alicia suggests that the two go outside for a picnic. She tells Devlin her car is outside, and asks if he wants to go for a ride. She tells him that she is driving, and all he protests to is that she doesn’t have her coat, to which she replies, “You’ll do.”  When they exit the house, the wind is blowing, and Devlin proceeds to wrap a scarf around Alicia’s bare midriff, telling her he doesn’t want her to get cold. 

Celeb crushes, anyone?

I have a confession to make here. If I was to build the perfect man it would be a combination of Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. I think I spent half this movie swooning over Grant’s cool demeanor and suave good looks. Ok, let me wipe the drool off my chin and continue.    

Notorious - Cary Grant in Gun Club Check » BAMF Style

Having gotten her way, Alicia is erratically swerving all over the road. She asks Devilin if he is scared, and he shows no fear, as she increases her sleep to make him show her something. We can see Devlin’s hand is positioned to take control of the wheel if need be, but he is saved from having to do so by a motorcycle policeman’s approach. Alicia expresses her disdain for the police. She reluctantly pulls over after admitting that this would be her second drunk driving offense and that would cause her to go to jail, like the rest of her family. 

The officer approaches the car and after a few snide remarks from Alicia, he asks Devlin if she is drunk. He doesn’t answer, he just reaches into his pocket and shows the officer his credentials. The officer apologizes for pulling them over and states his assurance in Devlin’s abilities as he walks away. 

Alicia, confused and agitated, askes her passenger where the ticket she rightly deserves is.  Finally Alicia asks for his name, and he introduces himself to her. She questions him about what he showed the officer to make him leave. She becomes aggressive as she identifies him as a cop and begins to hit him, while Devlin stays measured and cool. He tells her to move over so he can drive and take her home. She refuses, gripping the steering wheel until her knuckles are white. He tries to be as gentle as he can with her, while she continues to hit and fight. I am not sure what moves he does on her, but she finally either passes out or just gives up. He slides into the driver’s seat with a sigh. 

The next morning, Alicia awakes with a hangover cure on her nightstand and Devlin leaning casually in her doorway. Hitchcock’s direction is wonderful here. He spins the camera to show how Alicia’s head is spinning from her crazy night. 

The Plot Thickens

As Alicia slowly starts to get her wits about her, she questions Delvin about what he wants with her. He explains that he works for the government and they want her to help them catch some of the men who had worked with her father, and are now conducting business in Brazil. She insists she is not interested and even turning her back on him. He tells her that her apartment has been wired for three months, and he plays a recording between Alicia and her father. She tells her father that she loves America and hates what her father is doing. She is visibly upset by this, but tells Devlin that she wants to live her own life. 

Notorious (1946) starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Louis  Calhern, Leopoldine Konstantin, Reinhold Schünzel, Moroni Olsen directed by  Alfred Hitchcock Movie Review

The captain from the night before arrives and tells her that it is almost time for the boat to depart. He leaves again as Devlin gives Alicia another chance to agree, which she does, sending him to tell the captain the bad news. 

The couple is now on a plane to Brazil. Everyone used to get so dressed up on airplanes, not a pair of pajama pants or crocs to be found. Devlin points out their boss, a few rows back in the plane. Devlin tells Alicia that her father has died. He took a poison capsil. Alicia reflects on how nice she and her once were before she knew who her father really was. With his death, she no longer has to hate him or herself. 

They are now at a street cafe in Rio, still awaiting news on what their job will be. Alicia asks Devlin to put his cop brain on the back burner and just take her hand and have fun. Alicia starts to drown her doubts in herself as she asks Devlin to believe in her. 

They have gone for a drive and are admiring the view as Alicia tells Devlin that he can’t admit he has feelings for her because he is ashamed of loving a drunk, and is worried about what others will think. Well he finds a way to stop her from talking; a passionate kiss does the trick. 

Alicia and Devlin

The agents are having a meeting about Alicia, and how much faith he has in her. The meeting adjourns with the men looking very proud of themselves. They basically just agreed that Alicia will have to find her way into the house of the German business man they are targeting, who had ties to her father. 

Devlin and Alicia have arrived at her hotel room and make good use of the balcony, and I don’t mean they are admiring the view of the beach. The two make plans for dinner in between kisses. Devlin contacts his hotel to see if he has any messages. Alicia tells Devlin she knows he doesn’t love her, to which he responds, “When I don’t love you, I’ll let you know.” Ok…heart…calm yourself….swoon…

Devlin has a message from his boss, and he has to leave for a meeting. They kiss all the way to the door.  At the meeting, his boss has obviously told him they expect Alicia to become intimate with their target. He is visibly upset and states that he is not sure that she will do it. His boss tells him that their target, Alex Sebastian ( Claude Rains) was once in love with Alicia, and this is the perfect opportunity to get someone on the inside to find out what has been going on.

Notorious at 70: toasting Hitchcock's dark masterpiece | BFI

It is determined that Devlin and Alicia will stage an unexpected meeting with Alex at a local riding club. Devlin now has the unfortunate task of going back to tell the woman he loves he is whoring her out for the good ole’ USA. Those are my words, not his, but if I was Alicia, that is what I would hear in my head.Devlin returns to Alicia’s hotel room as she is happily cooking for the two of them. She happily is going about, setting the table, and he is back to his mystery man stance. Alicia is so open with him, and he zings her, and gets  back to business. 

Devlin asks Alicia if she remembers their target and asks if he had feelings for her. She tells him that he did have feelings for her, but she did not return them. She asks him what the plan is and he tells her that they are meeting Alex tomorrow, but it is up to her to “land him”, which is better than saying nail him I guess. Alicia compares herself to Mata Hari, trying to lighten the mood, Devlin brings any levity crashing to the ground as he reiterates that she has to win the target over and get the intel. Alicia accuses him of knowing all along that this is what the job was and he tells her he just found out himself. Both are heart broken, but Devlin hides behind his law enforcement mask while Alicia’s expressions are an open book. 

Alicia Joins the Case

Alica asks if he told the boss she was not the kind of woman for this job, and Devlin says he leaves it up to her to defend herself. She enquiries if he tried to adjust the assignment, if he tried to protect what they were starting. Devlin replies, this is the job they have to do. As her pain increases, Alicia’s mask is starting to be secured into place. She asks him if she should take the job, and he tells her it is up to her. She asks him to tell her that he loves her, but once again, the words do not come.

As she walks from the cozy balcony, her self esteem seems to blow way with the ocean breeze. My heart breaks for her. This man she is falling for is willing to give her up to another man because it is the job. His cold and matter of fact demeanor is doing nothing to help ease the pain of this blow he had dealt her. He did so much more damage with his words and lack thereof, than he ever did in the tussle over her car back in Miami. She takes a drink and when she speaks her mask is firmly in place. 

The next day, the two are heading to the riding company. Devlin gives her his back story, and his folded arms show how unhappy he is about the situation. At the riding club, the two slowly ride past Alex, but Alicia’s hat obscures his view, even though he does have a spark of recognition. When Devlin says they should wait around and take this slowly, Alicia is not too keen on this idea, signaling her horse to run, which makes Alex follow, clearly recognizing a woman he was once very fond of. Alex catches up to her, taking her horse’s reins and stopping them both, as Devlin looks on, his mask cracking. 

Having missed a meeting with Devlin, we find Alicia and Alex having dinner. Alex is openly flirting as Alicia is cool but affectionate. She sees Prescott, her boss, enter the restaurant. Alex asks if she knows that man and she says no. He explains to her that Prescott is intelligence, and Alicia shares her disdain for members of law enforcement, explaining they are the reason why she left Miami and was not there when her father died. Alex admits this answers a question he had about why she left Miami. Alex says he wants to help Alicia forget all the pain and trouble she and her father had gone through. She tells him she feels at home with him. 

Tension between the lovebirds

Alex asks her if there is someone else in her life and specifically Devlin. Alicia tells him that Devlin has been nothing but a pest since she arrived in Rio. She assures him that Devlin means nothing to her. Alex invites her to a dinner party his mother is throwing at their house. So, he is a mama’s boy. Let’s see to what extent shall we….

Devlin is angry, Prescott curious about flowers Alex has sent Alicia. The two agents are waiting in Alicia’s room as she appears, stunning in white, ready for the dinner party. Prescott gives Alicia some rented jewels, and tells her to try and memorize the names of the people in attendance. He tells the two that they need to not see each other for a few days, in case anyone from the party checks up on her. 

Alicia arrives at Alex’s house, a large mansion on the ocean. He is doing very well for himself. . She is escorted into a room to wait, and she sees Alex’s mother descend the stairs. The two women greet each other, but with guarded stances. Alex enters, and the Ice Queen, oh sorry, Alex’s mother suggests they meet the other guests. 

As all the guests take their seats for dinner, a certain wine visibly upsets one of the guests. Alex quickly escorts him from the room as Alicia takes note. Alicia cannot see the label of the wine in questions.

After dinner the gentlemen retire to a room to have cigars and to discuss the poor man who had a melt down about the wine and is now waiting nervously in the hall. He enters the room and apologizes to the men. He tells Alex he wishes to leave on his own. One of the other guests insists on driving the man home. A concrete shoe fitting, anyone? 

Mama’s boy and the Ice Queen are at the horse races, discussing where Alicia disappeared to. Devlin and Alicia meet, and she gives him her intel from the party. Alicia tells Devlin that Alex is one of her playmates. Devlin is angry and lashes out the best he can without losing their cover. He is cruel to her and as Alex approaches he gets one more jab in as Alicia tries to gain her composure. Alex tells Alicia he was watching the two of them and she must convince him that Devlin means nothing to her. 

Alicia and Alex

Prescott and Devlin are meeting with other agents, discussing the intel Alicia gave them. She announces that she is there to see them, and when one of the other gentlemen in the room makes snide remarks about her character, Devlin stands up for her, putting the man in his place. Now if he could just do that when she is actually in the room, the love birds might make some progress. 

Alicia enters and tells the gentlemen that Alex has asked her to marry him, and she had to give him an answer quickly. They tell her that if she is willing to go this far for them. Prescott asks for Devlin’s opinion and he agrees it is a good idea. Both the lovers are heartbroken, but masks in place. Devlin quickly takes his leave, as the men discuss their luck in this opportunity. 

Now married Alex and Alicia return home after their honeymoon. The Ice Queen is not happy about the situation, and makes sure the couple comes home to a dark house. The next day, while Alicia is settling in, she discovers locked doors. The butler tells her that the Ice Queen has all the keys to the locked doors. Alicia interrupts Alex’s meeting and he goes to fetch them from mommy. The two argue behind clothes doors, and what do you know, Mama’s Boy won.

Alicia systematically goes through the house unlocking all the doors but the wine cellar, which only Alex has the key to.  While meeting to share information, Devlin tells her to get the key. Alicia tells him easier said than done, and that she is having no fun. Devlin tells her it is too late for all that. He convinces her to throw a party. She can steal the key and slip it to him during the party. 

The night of the party, as Alex gets ready in the other room, Alicia stealthily takes the key from his keychain. She does some quick maneuvering as her husband tries to explain his jealousy toward Devlin. 

The newlyweds greet their guest, as Alicia holds tight to the key. When Devlin arrives, Alicia slips him the key as he kisses her hand. Alex quickly approaches and assures Devlin and the invitation to the party was from both of them, not just his wife. Our two sneaks begin to worry that the party will run out of champagne and Alex will realize that his key is missing during his absence. Another guest drags Devlin away, while Alicia enquiries with the butler about the champagne supply. Alicia goes to find Devlin, and as they sit and talk, Alex watches the pair from across the room. They plan where to meet and Devlin leaves as Alicia returns to her husband’s side, watching more and more glasses of champagne be poured. 

The Wine Cellar

Alicia makes an excuse to leave and goes to meet Devlin. As he searches the wine cellar, Alicia keeps watch. While trying to examine some paperwork, Devlin breaks a bottle of wine that is full of “sand” Devlin gets a sample and the pair half heartedly clean up the mess. He tells her to find another bottle with the same label. She does, but only looks at the label, not the vintage. Alicia pours out the wine, and puts the “sand” back in the bottle and places on the shelf. 

At the party the butler approaches Alex to inform him they are running low on champagne. Devlin and Alicia quickly finish cleaning up as Alex arrives in the cellar. Worried about being seen, Devlin quickly kisses Alicia. In the moment, she loses herself and drowns his love for her. He tells her to push him away as Alex approaches. She tells her husband that Devlin drunkenly made the advance. Devlin tells Alex, “I knew her before you, I loved her before you, but I am not as lucky as you.” From behind his mask, Devlin is able to speak his truth. He gives his apology to the couple, and Alex sends Alicia up to see to her guests. 

Back to the task at hand, when Alex and the butler return to the wine cellar, he realizes that his key is missing. He tells the butler that the guests have had enough champagne and they can drink what is available upstairs. 

Alicia apologizes to her husband after the guests have left. He tells her he was the one who acted like a school boy and then sends her to bed while he goes to conduct some business. 

When he enters his bedroom, he sees Alicia sleeping in her bed. He takes his now lighter keyring and places it on the vanity, looking back to his wife. The next morning Alex awakens and looks nervously at a still sleeping Alicia. He goes to check his key ring and the missing key is back where it belongs. He goes down to the wine cellar. Nothing seems out of place, but then he notices something poured down the sink. He goes to examine the shelf where the broken bottle came from. One of the bottles is the wrong vintage and not sealed properly. He picks it up and sees it is full of the “sand”, but he realizes that someone has tampered with this bottle. He searches further and finds the broken bottle under the shelves. 

Alex does what any self respecting mama’s boy would do. He runs to his mommy and tells her that his wife is an American agent. The Ice Queen is practically giddy when she finds out there is a problem with her daughter in law. Alex reminds his mother that his business partners got rid of a man for freaking out over a bottle of wine. What will they do to him when they find out his wife is a spy.  The two strike up a plan to slowly make Alicia ill, and then one day they will just get rid of her. 

What’s in the Bottle?

So the slow poisoning of Alicia begins. When she goes to meet Prescott, he tells her that the “sand” is actually uranium ore. He tells her about Devlin’s transfer to Spain. He asked for the transfer. Alicia confirms that she is still to report to Devlin until the new contact arrives. 

Alicia is suffering from dizzy spells, and when she finally goes to meet with Devlin, she is quite ill. She apologizes to him for being late. They both say nothing new is happening. He tells her she doesn’t look very well and asks her if she is sick and she tells him it is a hangover. He is not surprised about her return to her old ways. While they both try to hurt each other with their words, Alicia gives him back the scarf he tied around her waist in Miami. She goes to leave and he asks her to stay, and she tells him she doesn’t want to. 

The scientist that is staying with Alex shows genuine concern for Alicia’s health. He starts to give away information about where the uranium is coming from. When the houseguest mistakenly picks up Alicia’s coffee and the Ice Queen and Mama’s Boy quickly stop him from drinking from her cup, the light bulb goes off in Alicia’s head. She knows they are poisoning her, and tries to leave and returns to her room. She collapses before she can get up the stairs to her room and make a phone call for help. Alex insists on removing the phone so she is not disturbed and locks her in there, cutting her off from all contact. 

Devlin is in his usual meeting spot, but Alicia never shows up. He goes to see Prescott, and tells him that she hasn’t shown up for 5 days. Devlin tells Prescott that he realizes that Alicia was not drunk when he saw her last, just very sick. He tells him he is going to go to the house and check up on her, make a friendly house call. Prescott tells him to check in after.

Devlin pulls up in front of the stately manor and when the butler opens the door, she asks for Alex first. The butler tells him Alex said no interruptions. He then asks about Alicia and the butler confirms she is ill. Alex is told Devlin is there, and he has his butler tell him to wait. In the meeting, they discuss that people are following them.

Delvin decides he can no longer wait and quickly makes his way up to Alicia. She is barely responsive, but when she realizes it is him, their love for each other cannot hide. She tells him they are poisoning her. He tells her he is going to get her out of the house. Devlin tells her that he was leaving Rio because he loves her and couldn’t stand to see her with Alex. He starts to get Alicia ready to leave and she tells him they gave her sleeping pills. He tries to keep her talking to keep her awake. She asks him to tell her again that he loves her, it keeps her away. As they slowly make their way to the door, she tells him where the sand comes from. 

They start to make their escape as Alex meets them at the top of the stairs. Devlin tells the Ice Queen and Mama’s boy that unless he lets them go, he will tell his business associate the truth about who Alicia is. Alex freezes, and mommy does his talking for him. As soon as his associates start to question what is going on, Alex actively helps get Alicia to the car. Once in the car. Alex is locked out of the car and left behind to deal with his associates. With the weight of this hanging in the air, the film ends. 

History:

After filming wrapped, Gary Cooper took the wine cellar key. After a few years, he gave the key to Ingrid Bergman, and at a tribute to Alfred Hitchock, she presented the key to him. 

All the scenes with multiple kisses were because there was a time limit on long screen kisses due to the Hayes Code. 

RKO paid David O Sleznick $800,000 and 50% of the profits for the use of the screen writer, HItchcock, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. 

Hitchcock stated that during the course of making the film, he was under surveillance by the FBI because his film contained references to uranium. 

My Take

I am a huge Hitchcock fan, but this film had escaped my viewing all these years. The first fifteen minutes of the film is very funny. Drunk Ingrid Bergman is delightful. The rest of the film is suspenseful and full of angst and heartbreak. All of the performances are outstanding, but it is the film leads, holding on to those masks of their feeling with all their might is where the film shines. 

Hitchcock skillfully uses light to show conflict. Characters in half shadow, stepping into the light, retreating into the dark, this often says more than any dialogue could. 

World War II was still fresh in America’s mind when they made this film I am sure that it made the audience question how far they would go for their country. Could they give up their happiness, love, freedom and body if their country asked it of them? More importantly, should this be something that a country asks of its citizens?

“Notorious” is on a number of top film lists and for good reason. You can stream it for free on YouTube and other platforms. 

I don’t know where the Void will send me next. Thriller, Horror, Noir…Wherever it is, I am looking forward to the journey, and I hope you will join me for what lies in store. Until next time.

Cat People: A Mother of the Void Review

This week the Void has assigned me 1942’s “Cat People.” I am going to try not to read too much into the fact this film, at its core, is about sexual repression. If you need an introduction, check out my last review on The Black Cat.

Cat People: Irena and Oliver’s Introduction

CAT PEOPLE (1942) | One Perfect Shot Database

The film opens in New York City’s Central Park Zoo where an attractive young woman is unsuccessfully trying to sketch the panthers. With disgust at her efforts, she rips a page from her notebook and attempts a 3 pointer at the trash can across the way. An equally attractive young man is standing beside the trash receptacle at a food cart. He picks up the discarded attempt and point to a sign that reads, “Let know one say, and say it to your shame, that all was beauty here until you came.” He succeeds in gently throwing the paper into the can, garnering an approving nod from the artist.

Oliver, a young ship’s engineer, designing not running, sees this as his in to approach Irena. She disagrees with him that she is an artist, she works in the fashion industry and a sketch drawer. Irena rips and throws her latest attempt to the ground, prompting Oliver to quote the littering condemnation again. Irena ignores his flirtation and begins to put away her supplies, readying herself to leave. They engage in unheard small talk, as they leave the area. Irena’s discarded sketch blows in the wind and turns to reveal a crude drawing of a leopard impaled by a sword. Now to all you young men out there, let this be a lesson, just because a woman has pretty face, that doesn’t mean she is not a littering, wanna be animal abuser. Just saying…

Oliver and Irena walk towards her apartment, where she reveals she is from Serbia. He asks her to spell her name for him and coyishly replies, “Are you going to write me a letter?” Oliver says he would and in the letter, he would invite her to tea. Irena side eyes him and playfully shakes her head no. They arrive at Irena’s house, where she brazenly invites him up to her apartment for tea. Don’t forget that this is 1942, and this litterbug has invited a man she just met up to her apartment alone. She is dangerous I tell you! How dare she?! Upon Irena asking him for tea, Oliver replies, “You make life so simple.” I can only imagine what the audience at this time must have been thinking.

My first thought was, what is another word for simple? EASY! Did he just call her easy? Well I can only assume that a woman who did such a thing in this time period would have been thought of as that. Oliver begins to follow Irena up the stairs where he stops for a moment to say, “You know, I never cease to marvel at what lies behind a brownstone front.” Good thing to remember….that whole book and cover thing. Irena admits that she has never had anyone in her apartment, and then immediately put poor Oliver in the “Friend Zone.” After letting Oliver into her apartment, he make a satisfied sound as he breaths in deep. Irena identified the pleasing smell at Lilage, her perfume. Oliver describes the scent at “alive”…can you say pheromones?! It appears that Oliver will not be in the FZ for very long. 

Publicity stills of the original Cat People!

Irena and the Cats and Alice’s Introduction

To show the passage of time, the apartment is now dark, and Oliver has made himself at home, laying on Irena’s couch as she leans up against the wall softly humming. The loud sound of roaring interrupts her song. Irena explains that this is the lions for the zoo. She says that she finds this sound comforting, like the ocean. Some nights, she state a different sound creeps in. That of the panther, which sounds like a woman screaming, which she does not like. Oliver lights a cigarette, in which its glow shows how dark it has become. She turns on the light and shares how she loves the dark.  As Irena clears the tea service, Oliver notices a statue on a table. Irena identifies it as King John, and of course, in Oliver’s eyes, there is only one King John, the English King.

She corrects his with a laugh and tells the story of the Serbian King John, and how he save the people from the “Evil Ways” to which they had fallen. Irena explains how the Mamelukes came to Serbia and made the people slaves. The slave were first “good and worshipped God in a true Christian way.” Slowly the people changes, and in her village, when the Serbian’s were liberated by King John, he found that the people were bowing down to Satan. They had become evil. King John killed all but the “wisest and most wicked” were killed. The worst of the worst escaped into the mountains. Unsure of how this pertains to Irena, Oliver presses further. Irena, head tilted downward in shame, explains that the legends of these wicked one haunt where is was born.

The clock strikes six and Oliver realizes he has stayed too long. He askes to see Irena the next day for dinner. Here we see Oliver, descending the stairs, and out of the friend zone, as he continues to stop and look up at Irena who is playfully smiling at him as she leans over the balcony. 

Now we are at Oliver’s work, where we see men looking over blue print. The sound of a small meow, can be heard, and Alice, one of two women seen in the scene (the other is a receptionist, way in the background), goes to Oliver’s desk where he has a kitten in a box. Alice fawns over the sweet little Siamese cat, and he says he bought her for a friend. Alice enquires about this friend and if she knows her. Oliver says she doesn’t but she will like her. Alice says, cheerfully, but with a slightly tight jaw, “Well if you like her, then she will be alright with me.” I see you Alice, and have been there plenty of times in my life. Talk about being friend zoned. 

Oliver is shown outside Irena’s door, box under his arm and his coat showing signs of a downpour. He rings the door bell and happily shows Irena her present. Irena is obviously not pleased, and the kitten is hissing and terrified. She states that cats don’t like her, while Oliver doesn’t listen, and only goes on to share how great Alice and the kitten got along. Irena repeats her declaration about cats, and asks if they could take it back to the pet store and exchange it for another animal.

The two of them go to the pet store in the rain, and upon entering the store, all the animals start to freak out and create so much noise that the two of them and the store owner have to go outside to hear each other. Irena states she would rather stay outside, while Oliver goes in and picks out a canary. The store owner goes on to explain how the animals can tell when someone is not a good person, especially cats. Oliver, plays with the kittens and ignores the woman’s observations. Irena approves of the canary from the window. 

The wedding and its lack of copulation

We now see Oliver asleep on the couch at Irena’s apartment, while she sits on the floor beside him, the fire reflecting off of their faces. Oliver wakes up and asks Irena if she loves him, and she affirms, not with a yes, but an mhm. Oliver confesses his love for her, but he wonders at the fact that he has never kissed her.  Irena confesses that she has dreaded this upcoming conversation. She tried to stay away from love and never meant to love him. Oliver, in his very American way states that she has nothing to be afraid of, that she is in America now, and she is normal because she loves a normal American like him. He gives her a very half assed proposal, and they embrace, with Oliver softly resting his lips on the back of her head. 

Cat People (1942 film) - Wikipedia

Well despite never kissing, and I wonder how they got around that during the whole, “You may now kiss the bride” business in the ceremony, we are at Oliver and Irena’s reception. Of course nothing says wedding reception like three cooked cow heads in the window of the only Serbian restaurant in the area. How romantic.  Watch out Void, when the day comes for your wedding, I have a theme in mind. Irena and Oliver are surrounded by Oliver’s coworkers. The Commodore, Oliver’s boss, leans in towards Alice, who is sitting next to Irena, remarking to her about the bride’s beauty but he hears she is a bit “odd”. Alice, the ever loyal friend of Oliver, defends his choice in bride and is optimistic about their future.

The Commodore then stand and raises his glass to toast the bride, (thanks to Hamilton, every time I hears someone say , “To the Bride”, I start singing to myself…). The commotion of the toast draws the attention of a beautiful woman who is seated across the restaurant. The pervy Commodore, as I wrote in my notes, sees her and comments on how she is “something.”, and Doc, their coworker, remarks she looks like a cat. As Irena is thanking Alice for putting together the party, the mysterious woman walks up to the party’s table and greats Irena in Serbian as “Sister”, causing Irena much distress. Oliver just laughs it off. 

As Oliver and Irena are dropped off outside their apartment, Irena tells Oliver that she is going to beg him to be “kind and patient”, when it comes to being intimate. I mean it was 1942, and they didn’t come right out and say that, but we get the idea. Oliver assures her that he will give her all the time she needs. I found myself rolling my eyes at this and scoffing. Sure, he will. Between this and last week’s movie, I am beginning to think not a lot of action happened during the honeymoons of the 30’s and 40’s. 

The newly married couple go into their apartment, with Irena in her bedroom behind a closed door and Oliver on the other side. He tells her goodnight, as she slowing falls to her knees. Her resolved falters as she tentatively reaches for the doorknob, but the menacing sound of a cat yowling,  causes her to pull her hand back. They sadly tell each other goodnight and it fades to black. 

Madness Behind the Beauty

We next see Irena a month later, at the panther’s cage, visiting the zookeeper. He makes the observation that no one who is happy comes to see the panther. Irena remarks on his beauty and the keeper, rebukes her, stating he isn’t beautiful, he is evil. He then quotes Revelations, where it is states the worst beast is like unto a leopard. “Like a leopard, but not a leopard. I guess that fits this feller,” and Irena sadly agrees. 

Irena is working in her office, and the imagery sets up a beautiful scene and metaphor. She has a painted screen of a panther behind her easel where she is working. The reflection of the bird cage Oliver gave her surrounds the panther’s head. It is a wonderful representation of Irena being caged up. Who she truly is, locked away. Irena wants to hold the canary. However, when she tries to catch him in its cage, she frightens it to death. The deep sadness on her face is heartbreaking, but it is also apparent that it is nothing new to her.

CAT PEOPLE (1942, Dir. Jacques Tourneur) – Booker's Guides

She gently places it in a box and goes for a walk to the panther’s cage. Then she THROWS THE DEAD BIRD INTO ITS CAGE! I know there were no signs stating don’t feed the animals, but just because a sign is not there, doesn’t mean it is right. But what do you expect for a person who won’t even follow eloquent signs about not littering?

Later that evening, Oliver teases Irena about mourning the bird. She explains to him that it is more than that. That she is jealous of other women. Women who can live full and happy lives with their husbands. Oliver remains dismissive of her feelings. He admits that he has been trying to “kid her out of it”, these ideas she has about her past and herself. He convinces her that she needs to see a psychiatrist, and she readily agrees. 

We see Irena under hypnosis, talking about the evil that is in her. Upon waking, she states she knows nothing, but Dr. Judd, assures her he has everything written down. He lays all her fears out, and basically says, this will be a piece of cake, and she just has daddy issues that steam from her childhood. He tells her not to worry, and she is to tell her husband nothing. Irena returns home and finds Oliver and Alice on the couch. It is revealed that Alice is the one that recommended Dr. Judd to Oliver and that he had told Alice everything. Irena shows visible betrayal and dismisses Alice despite her apology. Oliver defends confiding in Alice and calls her a “good egg”, who understands anything. Irena replies, “There are somethings that a woman doesn’t want other women to understand.”

Irena retreats to bed, and wakes to what could almost be a siren’s call from the panther. She goes to his cage and their pacing matches each other. When she returns home, Oliver is waiting for her in the lobby. He again apologizes for betraying her trust. She gives him a warning to keep her happy, because that is what keeps what is inside her locked away and harmless. He tells her he would do basically anything to make her happy. Anyway……

Alice and Oliver v. Irena

More time passes and Oliver is a few more months into his sexless marriage. He and Alice are working on plans for a ship. Alice points out that Oliver keeps giving her wrong figures and that they should take a break. She asks him if anything is wrong, and he keeps his word to his wife and says no. Then Alice astutely remarks, “It must be marriage.” Well, this opens up the flood gates.

Oliver confides his worry about Irena and that he ran into Dr. Judd who confirmed she hadn’t been back to see him since the first time she came to his office. This ladies and gentlemen is why we now have HIPPA laws!  Alice shares her confusion, since Irena wanted to be cured so badly. Alice acknowledges that this must make Oliver very unhappy. He then goes on a small monologue of how he had never been unhappy before in his life, and then he got married. This causes Alice to start crying, catching Oliver by surprise.

He pulls her behinds some filing cabinets, where Alice admits she can’t bare to see him unhappy because she loves him. She apologizes for her confession and acknowledges that Oliver loves Irena. He replies, “I don’t know.” He admits that he doesn’t know what love is and he has no idea if he is really in love with Irena or not. Well Alice see this opportunity to give ole Ollie a lesson on love. She explains that what the two of them have is love. Alice sees her shot and she takes it.  She plants a seed in his head that there is something better for him, waiting, standing right in front of him. Opportunistic bitch!  Oh, sorry, did I say that out loud.

We find Irena back at the panther cage, where the zoo keeper has left the key in the lock of the cage. She returns it to him, where it is established that he forgets it often. She is then greeted by Dr. Judd, who has sought her out to enquire why she missed her appointment. Irena states that she doesn’t believe he an help her because she feel the Doctor thinks it is her mind , not her soul that is troubled, and the two are not the same thing. She dismisses him and leaves. We next find the unhappy couple in their apartment, where Oliver verbalizes his worry about their relationship.

BAM | Cat People (1942)

Irena says she loves him, but he doesn’t return the sentiment, he just states he feels they are drifting apart. He confronts Irena about not going back to Dr Judd, and lets it slip that he confided in Alice. This sends Irena into a quiet rage, and the ‘Fuuuuucccckk’ look on Oliver’s face is almost comical. He tells her he did promise they would not fight and they need to calm down. As we all know that is exactly what you say to your wife after you admit that you are confiding in another woman she specifically asked you not to. We all know that “calm down” is part of every woman’s love language.

They then quickly retreats to the office, with no reply from her. When he arrives at the office her tells the cleaning lady he is going to a restaurant around the corner. It is here the waitress, who is a woman of color, has on a very unfortunate uniform. Lets all just sigh, shake our heads and remember what idiots society was in the past. We cut to Alice, working alone in the office. The phone rings, and she picks it up, but there is no answer. When she hangs up, it shows that Irena was on the other side of the line. Now even the most level headed person would be seeing red. Not to mention someone who believe they turn into a panther when provoked to jealousy, lust or rage. Nice kitty!

Alice bids adieu and other horror history In Cat People

Alice turns off her light table. As she leaves the building, the cleaning lady tells her that Oliver is at the diner around the corner. She joins Oliver at his table. Irena, who is walking in the neighborhood, sees the two of them through the window of the diner. What she doesn’t see is Alice telling Oliver he needs to solve his own problems and encourages him to go home and make up with his wife. Oliver calls her “swell” and Alice delivers my favorite line in the film, “That’s what makes me dangerous. I am the new type of other woman.”  Irena retreats as the two exit the diner and Oliver asks Alice if she is cold, to which she replies, “ A cat just walked over my grave.”  Oliver offers to walk her home, but she declines, stating she is a “big girl now” and goes on alone.

Val Lewton's, CAT PEOPLE – Once upon a screen…

What follows in the most famous scene from the film as well as in horror movie history. Alice is walking along the sidewalk, crossing under streetlamps as she goes. We hear the sound of her heels clicking on the concrete and the sound of Irena’s echoing behind. The sound of the companion footfalls is not what startles Alice, it the sudden lack of them that causes her alarm. She starts to look over her shoulder, hurrying down the street faster. She stops under a streetlight as a growl is heard. It is quickly followed by the sound of a bus pulling up in front of Alice. This is said to be the first jump scare in horror movie history. We expect one thing to happen and something else happens, seemingly out of nowhere. 

Tragedy Has Struck

Two whole pages went MIA. Sorry guys. However, I really enjoyed this movie and cannot recommend it more. It truly is classic horror.

Conclusion on cat People by the Void

Well, it seems as if the Mother of the Void enjoyed Cat People quite a bit, it was fun to find an older horror that I had seen and she hadn’t. I promise nothing rude/call-out-y from the subtext, just thought you would find it interesting, especially having Irena as a tragic character. The next one Mother of the Void will be doing is the classic 1960 film Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage), a very interesting, very French horror drama. I’m very excited to read her review/summary of that one. Anyways, come back this Friday for the second installment of the 31 Days of Horror, paired with food, drinks and double features. We look forward to seeing you later on The Void of Celluloid.

The Black Cat: A Mother of the Void Review

Introduction

I would like to take a moment to introduce myself. I am Mother of the Void and have loved movies, especially horror movies my whole life. Raising my children on a diet of all kinds of films, from black and white classics to B movie gems that we quote regularly, I was so proud that my daughter would be passing along her insight and unique take on all things horror. I asked her if she would be interested my contribution, offering some takes on classic films that might be overlooked as time marches on. She readily agreed, so let’s just hope that I don’t screw this up. When I asked The Void what she wanted me to screen, she almost gleefully replied with The Black Cat.

This was a film that I had not seen, or really heard much about. However, with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, what could say ‘classic horror’ more that this dynamic duo. I started doing research on the film and before too long, I was sending The Void a message which stated, “What the hell are you having me watch? Necrophilia, satanic cults, World War One PTSD, and a set filled with sadism and abuse.”  Her response was, “Yeah, I thought you would enjoy it!” She is her mother’s daughter.

Summary of The Black Cat (SPOILERS AHEAD)

Made in 1934, The Black Cat tells the story of newly wed American couple, Peter and Joan Alison. Leaving France for Hungary, they board a train on their way to their honeymoon. While playfully flirting about dinner plans, an employee interrupts and informs them that they will unfortunately have to share their room with another gentleman. Since they are departing relatively early on the route, it shouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience. Joining them is Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), a psychiatrist that states he is going to see a friend.

The couple falls asleep and Dr. Werdegast reaches out and gently strokes Joan’s hair. Caught in the act, Peter shoots him a dirty look, causing Dr. Werdegast to pull his hand back and share the story of how much Joan reminds him of his wife. He has not seen her since he left to fight in World War One, over fifteen years earlier. He shares with the couple that Kurgaal Prison in Russia imprisoned him. It was a place where the lucky ones died. 

The Black Cat (1934) Review – Pre-Code.Com

When the train arrives in Hungary, Peter, Joan, Dr. Werdegast and his servant board a bus taking them to their hotel. Dr. Werdegast pulls the driver aside and asked if he could drop him off at the house of Engineer Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff) on his way to the hotel. The driver agrees and the bus heads off in the pouring rain.  The driver tells his passengers about how the roads were built by the Austrian army and the trenches were filled with bodies twelve deep during the war. He loses control of the car and goes into one of those trenches, killing him and injuring Joan Thamal, Werdegast’s servant, carries Joan while the other men follow to Poelzig’s house. 

When the foursome arrives, the seeming inspiration of Eddie Munster greets them. He informs them that Heir Poelzig is already in bed, but he takes them to a room upstairs where Dr. Werdegast can examine Joan. Art deco inspired the house rather than the stereotypical “haunted house” of this era. An intercom wakes up Poelzig, stating that “Werdegast has arrived”. Laying next to him is a young, blonde woman. She does not stir and he slowly sits up and exits the room. 

Werdegast dresses a wound on Joan’s chest and assures Peter she will be alright before giving her an injection, of what he later reveals is a strong narcotic. The door to the room slowly opens, with Poelzig standing there, in a very dashing robe. He slams the door behind him as Werdegast greets him. It is painfully obvious that Poelzig is not happy to see the fine Doctor. The two of them leave Peter and Joan and continue their conversation in Poelzig’s office. It is here that Werdegast confronts Poelzig about selling their fort to the Russians during the war and running away. Now this beautiful house that Poelzig has built is on the remains of that same fort.  “A masterpiece of construction built on a masterpiece of destruction. A masterpiece of murder.”

The art of the cockblock

Dr. Werdegast confronts Poelzig about the location of his wife and daughter. Peter interrupts the conversation, and it is here that Dr. Werdegast exposes his fear of black cats when a dark feline surprises them. He picks up a knife, throwing it at the cat and killing it. Clearly suffering the affects of the injection, Joan appears again. Poelzig takes great delight in explaining Werdegast’s phobia to Joan. When Joan and Peter discuss him taking her up to bed, they begin to embrace and the focus pulls from them to an art deco statue of a woman, with Poelzig firmly grasping its arm. 

The Black Cat (1934) Review – Pre-Code.Com

Peter carries Joan up to bed, then joins the other two gentlemen in the hall. It was at this point when I was watching that I realized, and please pardon the following expression, but Dr. Werdegast has to be one of the first cockblockers in film history. This poor couple, who were interrupted in their private train car by this man, then he gives her a heavy sedative and insists that she be left to sleep alone, undisturbed, and later, when they are given their rooms, he insists on leaving the adjoining door between his and Peter’s room open. Peter, while looking at the empty space next to him in bed even says, “Next time I am going to Niagara Falls.”  But I digress.

Summary COntinued

Peter and Werdegast are taken to their rooms, as assigned by Poelzig. After the two are left alone in their rooms, the adjoining door is opened and Werdegast ask if Peter would like to switch rooms so he could be in the room adjoining Joan’s. As Peter climbs into bed, Poelzig is seen in the house’s underground where it is revealed that he has multiple women, perfectly preserved, hanging in glass cabinets. He walks from woman to woman, carrying the now very much alive black cat. 

The Black Cat' (1934) » We Are Cult

Not knowing that Peter and Werdegast have switched rooms, Poelzig, enters what he believes is the Doctor’s room to settle their conversation from earlier. The two of them retreat into Werdegast’s room where Poelzig agrees to take him to see his wife. They descend the stairs to the remains of the fort under the house. It is here that Werdegast’s wife is hanging, perfectly preserved.

Poelzig tells the Doctor that his child died as well. Just as Werdegast is prepared to avenge his family’s deaths, the cat finds its way back into the room, causing him to lose his grip on is composure for an instant. Poelzig agrees to give him more information, but only after Peter and Joan have left. They both return to their rooms, where it is revealed that the blonde woman in Poelzig’s bed is actually Karen, Werdegast’s daughter. Also, it is where the fact that Poelzig is a Satanist is introduced.

The next morning, Joan is awakened by a knock on her door. Hoping it is her husband, she is instead greeted first by Werdegast and then by Poelzig. Joan is visibly uncomfortable by the presence of both men, but particularly Poelzig. He sends for her husband and the two men leave, going downstairs and starting a chess match, where the winner with determine if the Alison’s will be able to leave or not. 

At this point, we are provided some comic relief when the authorities show up to investigate the accident from the night before. When Peter asks if they can give the couple a ride to town, the authorizes tell him that they ride bicycles and it “would be very inconvenient for madame.” Peter and Joan are thwarted in every attempt they make to try and leave.   As Peter and Joan resign themselves to the fact that the only way they will be able to leave is to walk, Poelzig beats Werdegast at the very important chess game they had been playing. Peter is rendered unconscienced and taken to a cell under the house, while Joan faints and is once again carried upstairs and locked in her room.   

Poelzig begins to play Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor, which will forever be associated with horror and haunted houses. While this plays in the background, Werdegast steals the key to Joan’s room and tried to convince her that he had nothing to do with keeping them there and he is trying to help them. He explains that even though Poelzig has killed his wife and daughter, he is biding his time to exact his revenge, and until the time come, he needs to cooperate. When the Doctor leaves, Joan is visited by the pesky black cat and Karen. Poelzig enters the room and Karen retreats into her room. You then hear a struggle and scream, as Karen’s husband and captor kills her. 

The guests then arrive for the Satanic Ceremony, in which they offer up Joan as a sacrifice. The participates go through the motions, while Joan fights and struggles, fainting once again on the altar. The quick cuts add to the tension and very noticeably inspired the editing on many films since. 

Peter wakes up in his cell, which was one of the gun turrets from the old fort. A very inventive set piece. Pay close attention when Peter tries to open the first door. He almost gives himself whiplash. He finally escapes and gets into an altercation with Eddie Munster the first. Peter passes out…again.

Werdegast and his servant are trying to help Joan escape, but once again, she misunderstands their intentions. Mr. Munster shoots the servent, but he still has enough life in him to take care of Eddie once and for all. Joan informs Werdegast that his daughter is Poelzig’s wife, and they run into an adjoining room to find Karen dead on a slab, covered with a sheet. Joan runs to a corner of the room while Poelzig attacks the Doctor. The two of them struggle, and with the last ounce of strength he has left, the Doctor’s mortally injured servant comes in, locking the cell door behind him, and helps to overpower Poelzig, assisting placing him in his own embalming apparatus before finally succumbing to his injury. 

Werdegast gleefully rips the jacket and shirt of Poelzig and then explains how he is going to skin him alive. The camera cuts to a shadow of the act being performed, and Joan screams…again. Peter wakes up, follows Joan’s screams and directs her to get he key and unlock the door. Werdegast goes to help her remove the key from his servant’s hand, and Peter sees this as an attack on Joan, shooting Werdegast. Joan explains he was trying to help. The Doctor instructs the Alisons to leave immediately. Mentioned in passing earlier, there is dynamite under the house. Poelzig–only shown in shadow–listens while Werdegast monologues how the cult, the two of them, and the sins of the war will be no more. 

The Alison’s leave as the explosions go off, and they are able to flag down a passing car. The film ends with the happy couple on a train. There just so happens to be a review of Peter’s latest book in the paper on their seat. The reviewer makes a so-called joke, saying Peter should stick to the plausible when it comes to his writing. 

Production History

BORIS KARLOFF LUCILLE LUND THE BLACK CAT – Alfred Eaker

The Black Cat would be the first of 8 collaborations between Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, with it largely regarded as the best of their films together. Karloff was a bigger star at the time and this showed in the difference in the two stars’ pay scales. Karloff made $7500 and Lugosi made $3000. David Manners, who had starred with Lugosi in Dracula, also made more that his regular costar, $3125. This figure is misleading however. With him on loan by another studio, the fees paid to the studio was factored into his salary. Rumor has it, Manners made considerably less than reported. As for the female costars, they paid Julie Bishop (Joan) $900 and Lucille Lund (Karen) made $150. To add insult to injury to Ms. Lund, the production company paid the cat itself $200. The total budget for the film was $91,125 and it grossed $236,000. 

In today’s world of film, it can take years to get a film from the first day of shooting to its release date. The Black Cat began filming on February 28, 1937 and it wrapped on March 17, 1937. They released the film on May 7, 1937. Considering when the film was screened for studio executives, they demanded reshoots in hopes of toning down the violence, the release date is highly impressive. The director, Edgar Ulmer, did the exact opposite. He instead added the scenes of Karen’s body discovery and the skinning of Poelzig. 

Working with Edgar Ulmer

Lucille Lund - IMDb

Speaking of Edgar Ulmer, his actors referred to him as a total sadist. He became obsessed with Lucille Lund (Karen). He asked her repeatedly to be his girlfriend and she denied his advances. Co-star Harry Cording (Thamal) saved Lund’s life, actually. He found her bleeding from the mouth, strapped to the slab on the set, after Ulmer attacked her. Ulmer also left Lund hanging for over an hour in one of the glass cabinets while everyone else on set went to lunch. Ulmer went on to direct multiple films every year for 1934 to 1960.

None of them predicted the success of The Black Cat. They advertise an ‘Edgar Allen Poe’s’ story on the poster. However, Ulmer admitted that Poe’s story has nothing to do with the film. He used the story’s name as a publicity stunt.

Italy, Finland and Austria banned the film. Other countries demanded to cut some of the gruesome scenes prior to release. England released it under the name “House of Doom” because in their culture, they consider good luck.

There is a list of first for The Black Cat: It was the first film to show a Satanic cult. It was the first film to feature a soundtrack throughout the whole movie. At that time, the opening and closing credits were the only places to feature music. 

Bauhaus designs inspired the art deco design of the set, which was popular in Germany from 1919 to 1933. It was unlike any horror setting before. The sets and costumes were a 180 from the gothic feel in Lugosi and Karloff’s pervious films. 

My Opinion on the Film

I have to say, my reaction to The Black Cat surprised me. I enjoyed it more than I thought it would–enjoying it more, however, when the Alisons were not on screen. Karloff layered his performance very well. I loved when he would mock Werdergast about his phobia and when he felt he had the upper hand. In those moments,he nuanced a flatline performance with a slightly upturned smile and a gleam in his eye. My heart went out to Lugosi’s character. He was always trying to do what was right, and misunderstood for his actions. When he finally does enact his revenge, he stops to help Joan escape and is again, injured and misunderstood in the process. 

The women in the cabinets deeply disturbed me. Visually, it was beautiful. I saw similarities between those visuals and one of my favorite scenes in the often-overlooked film, “Night of the Hunter.” With less subtlety, we know what Poelzig does with his cabinets of curiosities. The way he leers at Joan in her nightgown and him laying next to Karen, her hair fanned around her head on her pillow, just as her mother’s does in her suspended animation, sends some bile into my throat. 

I felt they threw in the Satanic cult factor just for shock. It really had no reason for being there. We knew Poelzig was evil. Whether it be by his actions during the war and what he has done with playthings in the basement. I feel like Ulmer threw it in there just because he could. The editing in that scene was very impressive though. Knowing the quick turnaround from filming to distribution, makes it even more so. 

You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t a horror fan, so there is no excuse for you to not hop on Amazon Prime, pay your $4, sit back and marvel at Karloff and Lugosi’s performances. Oh, and you can also turn it into a drinking game…For example, .take a shot for every knocked-out Peter, when Joan passes out, when Joan screams and doesn’t run away. Take two shots when Werdergast cockblocks the poor sexually frustrated newlyweds. With a 65-minute running time, The Black Cat will have you feeling no pain by the time the final credits roll. 

The Revival of the PG-13 Horror Flick and its Subtle Fall

What usually illustrates the horror genre is three things: blood, guts and gore. It seems like an impossible feat to remove these things, but nothing garners more money than a PG-13 rating rather than an R. Is that the only reason PG-13 horror movies are made, or is it for accessibility reasons?

A PG-13 rating for all genres implies that teens can go see racier movies without adult supervision or that parents feel a little more okay taking their kids to movies, which can result in a bigger box office. It’s actually rare for an R movie to supersede the top box office spot from movies with other ratings. We are going to go back to the beginning of the rating’s history and how PG-13 horror began before starting in on the money effects.

The Beginning of the PG-13 Horror Flick

The PG-13 rating is a recent addition, with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom being the first movie that had people questioning its PG rating. Apparently, ingesting monkey brains and watching a dude’s beating heart get ripped out was too intense for younger audiences. The majority opinion however was that it didn’t deserve an R rating. Therefore, the MPAA compromised on an in between rating. Later that year Red Dawn became the first movie to receive the PG-13 rating. More movies started adopting the rating to avoid giving their movie an automatic R.

Pg-13 horror: Night of the comet

The first horror movie to garner the PG-13 rating was Night of the Comet, a brilliant zombie satire released in 1984. With some scares and very little gore, this one has became fairly popular with its home video release. Having this film the standard for PG-13 horror should’ve led this genre to a good start, and instead, it allowed for some shoddy–yet comedic–excuses for horror. While there were some cult classics such as Little Shop of Horrors and Killer Klowns from Outer Space, the introduction of the PG-13 rating also gave us flops such as the Troll franchises and the Critters franchise.

No big names took on the PG-13 challenge, surprisingly. That is due to theater culture in the 1980s. Most theaters were still showing one movie at a time. Big names such as Cineplex and Regal were just getting started. It was extremely expensive to run a multiplex. Finally, the video store was extremely popular and would be until streaming was established. Therefore, there was no box office “risk” in making an R-rated movie. That changed in the 1990s, when most major cities had a multiplex in town and the movie industry started to churn out content a little faster.

The shift in theater culture

The 1990s brought us amazing films varying all genres, and many enjoyed them in the theater. It’s not that home video wasn’t popular, it still reigned as the most accessible way to see new movies. The film industry’s advertisement tactics shifted towards pushing a theatrical run. Especially with film epics such as Titanic and Jurassic Park, a theatrical screening was the “right way” to see these movies. This is when advisory ratings became correlated with box office.

In the 1990s, there are only three R-rated movies in the top 20 films by box office, and among those 20, there is only one horror film. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense was the 7th highest grossing film of the 1990s and remains the 2nd highest grossing horror film, only second to the 2017 adaptation of It. This formed an equation for many studios that PG-13 horror makes more money than R horror. While that is true on paper, The Sixth Sense was an anomaly that was high grossing and also critically acclaimed, as it is well written, directed and acted. We cannot say the same for the majority of PG-13 horror in the early 2000s.

The Race for Box Office Success

Not all hope is lost for 2000s horror. In fact, a large chunk of films are actually good movies. A favorite of mine that I watched as a starter horror film is The Others, which kicked off the decade in such a brilliant way (imo, it has a better twist than The Sixth Sense). We also have The Exorcism of Emily Rose, an amazing court thriller with horror sprinkled here and there. However, this was also the decade of half baked remakes of Asian horror. This is a highly hot take, but The Ring and The Grudge do not even touch their original content in regards to quality.

These movies became so popular because they were accessible through their PG-13 rating. They tamed down the original story. In regards to these film, it is purely the look of them that makes them so appealing. Everyone was a sucker for blue filter, as it made films seem edgier than they were. With a few exceptions, a lot of the films followed the same format and all were met with moderate box office success, however the quality became more and more diluted. They also became more predictable, which many filmmakers combatted with spurts of creativity, as discussed in my former article Creative Kills: What Makes It Pop. All of this regurgitation and financial strife of the R-rated film escalated once streaming services quickly replaced the video rental shops in the later 2000s, which came to a glorious head in 2010.

The Renaissance of PG-13 Horror and its fall

PG-13 horror changed forever in the year 2010. Before this year, PG-13 horror felt like a normal R-rated horror film. Instead it turned it down a couple notches. In 2010, James Wan shook up what it meant to make a PG-13 horror film with Insidious. Insidious remains one of the greatest horror films of all time, because it is still effectively scary, but it is a film without gore. PG-13 horror seemed very half and half, toning down how scary it was to stuff in mildly horrific images. This film is nothing but scary and competes with the R-rated classics of the 80s and 90s. This allowed for a lot of other films to come out of the woodwork as the decade went on.

Insidious | Netflix

James Wan went back to his R-rated roots however with The Conjuring, which with its financial success spawned a whole franchise. As I stated earlier, It: Chapter One is the highest grossing horror film of all time, which is another R-rated success. Once more, PG-13 horror lost its quality when R-rated movies actually started garnering financial success. Still, the movie industry makes half baked PG-13 horror films for a quick buck. Non-restricted films allows teenagers and such to go see a scary movie. A crowd looking for cheap thrills (not so cheap anymore, given theater prices) doesn’t necessarily care about the quality of the film. Cheap jumpscares usually leads to a pretty penny.

Conclusion

Despite all of that, we are still in a sort of PG-13 horror renaissance. A Quiet Place is one of the most financially successful horror films, and its sequel was just as successful and critically acclaimed. However, the R-rating does not damn a movie’s box office anymore. Most of the time, an R-rating is due to language more than anything, except for horror films. Most horror fans willingly seek out something not tamed down. That leaves the question open as to what happens to what we know as starter horror. Will we have new horror films we can show younger audiences to get them started? Perhaps not, but there are plenty past starter horror classics. I much rather rewatch those rather than watch the film industry continue rehashing them.

The Art of the Creative Kill

A shared experience for every horror fan is sitting in the theater for a new horror film that they already know how it’s going to end. Whether it be too much advertisement or the writer’s pitfalls, it can be a semi-disappointing viewing experience. The viewer doesn’t necessarily want a M. Night Shyamalan sized twist at the end to prove themselves wrong–they don’t really care if they’re right–but they would definitely appreciate some spice to keep the experience enjoyable. There is one technique that can be a saving grace for a horror film: creative kills.

Creative Kills

Horror will remain one of the more creative genres on the film spectrum. However, there is monotony that future creators are trying to dodge when releasing a new film out into the world. One of the genres that faces the most monotony is the slasher genre. With its never-ending sequels and reboots, it seems like all the kills of characters that you care less with each film never hit quite as hard as watching the original. Even A Nightmare on Elm Street with its dream realm lost its spark as the sequels seemed to go on and on, despite its open availability to do something new and out there.

Creative kills are a thing that horror creators do to engage its audience. It surprises them in moments rather than the whole plot. Sometimes it works better than trying to add a twist that people end up anticipating in the first place. I can save a film too. If a viewer remembers a certain death, even if they didn’t enjoy the film as a whole, that could be considered a win.

Warning: Spoilers past this point


The First Viewing

The horror films we see nowadays are rarely original. Most trace back to an origin film, with most of the films from the 60s, 70s and 80s serving as influence on modern horror creators. This was a special time period for horror. The monster movie was going out and the genre was starting to branch out into different subgenres. The groundwork for creative kills rests in the original slashers, as they were the first to take the plunge into the grisly. Their reign in conjunction with rental movie shops that dominated in those decades allowed for these gruesome yet unique scenes to spread to televisions across America.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Creative Kills

We start from the beginning with of the 70s-80s slasher reign with Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While there are a variety of weapons in the film, none of them sound more terrifying than the chainsaw. Despite its low budget, there is plenty of clever camerawork in this film. This expressed the gruesome nature of the kills, tarnishing the chainsaw forever. It’s rare to find a haunted house that doesn’t utilize one without its chain for its terrifying sound. Personally, a man wielding one of these chased me out of a haunt with one. I don’t scare super easy, but I did minorly fear what would’ve happened to me had he caught up.

Halloween

Creative Kills

Up next is John Carpenter’s masterpiece, Halloween. While there are plenty of groundbreaking, iconic kills, the one topping the list is Michael Myers playing pin-the-Bob-to-the-pantry. The impact of the scene is not necessarily the kill in action–though it is effective–but rather Michael Myers stepping back and observing his kill, tilting his head and brainstorming his next move. This leads to the iconic bedsheet ghost with glasses. John Carpenter is no stranger to creativity in his horror and his kills. This shows especially in his follow up film The Fog and even more as he approaches the sci-fi horror genre in 1982 with his take on The Thing.

Friday The 13th

Creative Kills

Going chronologically, the next in line is Friday the 13th, which kickstarted the trope of “you have sex, you die.” The death that sticks is both creative and one of the only familiar faces in the film. Poor Kevin Bacon’s character Jack is trying to enjoy a nice cigarette. Moments later, he gets a hand around the head and an arrow through the throat. The use of close up practical effects in this kill distinguishes it from the previous pair of film mentioned, as it is a death seen up close rather than imagined due to shadows or camera placement. This pushed the boundary of gore on screen, which was turned up to eleven in 1984.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Creative Kills

A Nightmare on Elm Street is the foundation for out there creative kills. It takes place primarily in a dream state. This allowed for Wes Craven to push the supernatural boundaries on this classic slasher. It is also has the impact of familiar face meets gruesome end as it stars a babyfaced Johnny Depp. While watching Tina pinned and slashed on the ceiling is truly frightening and impactful as a first kill, it is Glen’s bed eating him and projectile vomiting him out in a geyser of blood. The excessive gore and false security that both the viewer and Glen feels makes the death impactful and very memorable. Wes Craven is no stranger to making the viewer care for the characters, which can also be seen in the Scream franchise. This only makes his creative kills even more useful and impactful.

BREAKING THE VIEWER’s TRUST

While a horror fan knows not to get too close to any characters in their favorite horror series, it happens anyways. They want the best for these characters ultimately. When it comes down to their brutal death, there is a powerful emotion that comes with it. Sometimes they don’t see it coming. Most of the time they do see it coming and convince themselves that the writers simply wouldn’t do that. This is what makes this technique the cruelest of the creative kills.

Fear Street: 1994

Creative Kills

These attachments are usually side characters that shine just as bright as the main character. A main example in recent times is Kate in Fear Street: 1994, which is one of the most unfair and creative deaths I’ve seen in the recent years. Kate is lovable. She and her best friend Simon have some hilarious, if chaotic, moments together that just makes the audience care and love them more.

As the film arrives at the final grocery store showdown and the Skull Face Killer locks her in a chokehold, the film convinces the viewers she isn’t going to die. She had escaped death too many times to count prior in the movie, she has to get out of this. He slams her down on the table and her head slides closer and closer to that bread slicer. The film convinces the viewers once more someone will save her since this team is always looking out for each other, and her screaming her head off has to attract one of them to help her. All that hope shatters into pieces as the audience gets a close up shot of her head becoming shredded by this once ordinary, now malicious machine.

The predictability comes back the moment afterwards, with Simon’s death seeming inevitable, but it was that brief moment that will actually stick with you. Not only because the writers killed off beloved Kate, but also the shocking visuals and the manner of her death.

Scream 2

Creative Kills

Another way to shock the audience is killing off what seems like a quintessential-to-the-plot character. In recent years, the fake-out death of Marty in The Cabin in the Woods is an example of this kind of kill. He was high as a kite the entirety of the film, but he was the one–other than the main protagonist– not affected by the mental curveballs thrown by the company running the show. The one that has stuck with many horror fans however was the killing of Randy in Scream 2.

Lovable, adorkable Randy who was an easy target in the first film but delivered very necessary information on the tropes of a horror film that saved a lot of his friends’ asses. He, like us watching a horror film, knew what pleasant predictability felt like; the first Scream is chock full of pleasant predictability with its main but effective curve being there was a second killer and it was Stu. With its equally enjoyable sequel, we think we are just as self aware as Randy. Therefore, we together are not susceptible to the killer’s tricks.

All of those comforting feelings go out the window, or rather into the back of the van when Ghostface murders Randy in broad daylight with Gale and Dewey so close by. Upon each viewing, the kill is just as devastating as it is the first time. A die-hard horror fan relates the most to this character, and his death dismisses the belief that his knowledge and self awareness alone could keep him alive for another round.

Sometimes horror creators are too trigger happy with killing off characters. While this is sometimes done in a “they were all doomed anyways” kind of sense, sometimes they take it way too far.

The extreme: Torture porn versus arthouse

There are two genres that have the same level of brutality most of the time. They differ so heavily from each other. The genres are arthouse horror and a genre lovingly known as torture porn. Both feature disturbing images and scarring scenes, but a film that completely relies on tolerance to gore doesn’t mean its the most creative. The best horror movies are ones that non-horror fans can watch, in my opinion. It doesn’t mean that they won’t come out unscathed– some of the mentions on this list are disturbing–but it’s not watching people die in bloody, gruesome ways back to back.

Torture Horror

These types of films have their fanbases, and I am not invalidating their feelings towards these films. In regards to their accessibility , their grisly goriness earns them their praise rather than storyline. This does not mean that the kills in these films aren’t creative, they are overly creative. However, they lose their impact by having so many creative kills back to back. It allows a new kind of unpredictability that creates excitement for what bizarre thing will come next , which amps up fans of torture porn. This allows for some creative error, because while a lot of these films continue to have out of the box moments, the excitement with each sequel dims and dims as each sequel falls short.

An example of this last year is Spiral, the Saw reboot. While this film was sadly hindered due to movie theater closures due to COVID, there was an overall complaint about seeing things that have already been done before in the franchise. In a series full of traps that are made of the masses’ worst nightmares, it a risk to make so many movies which ultimately turn away a general crowd due to its brutality and turn away its cult following due to running out of ideas. You can see this same progression in many of Eli Roth and Rob Zombie films too, meaning that going to the extreme all the time can burn out the creative spark that make this gory flicks tick.

Arthouse Horror

Another genre of film that can be hit or miss but can teach the torture porn genre a thing or two about how frequently to use creative kills is the arthouse horror genre. The obvious recent examples are films such as Hereditary, Midsommar and The House That Jack Built. These films can exhibit as equally creative and disturbing scenes as the torture porn films, but these films use a one-and-done method. They’re films where it is okay if they’re not watched again, since they can be deeply disturbing, even for the most desensitized horror fan, but there is no hinderance in watching it again, as most of the time there is opportunity to understand and see more than one saw in the first viewing.

Comparison

While most arthouse horror have things that are odd and out of the usual, it is usually in a slow burn format rather than the fast paced timing of torture porn movies, which allows for a break from the gore but also creates a foundation of dread to build upon during the film’s usually longer runtime. Much like the grisly films mentioned above, these films are not everybody’s cup of tea, but they are the films that are shaping the horror scene. More mainstream films follow the influence of arthouse horror, which includes the films from recent horror powerhouse Jordan Peele, who utilizes disturbing images and creative kills to his benefit in both of his films Get Out and Us–specifically the use of the giant scissors as well as the deerhead stabbing.

Overall, both of these genres have changed what modern horror fans are looking for in horror films. Whether it be an out-there arthouse film or a grisly never-ending death hour, both genres hold heavy influence over the modern day horror film, with viewers seeking out more and more creativity in the standard mainstream horror films that come out year after year.


Conclusion

It is undeniable that the use of creative kills defines what the horror genre. It also separates it from the similar thriller genre. When used correctly, an out-of-the-box kill can shake things up for a seemingly predictable movie. This can be used to the enjoyment of the general viewer and the horror fan, even if it involves some broken hearts along the way (I’m still not over Randy’s death). However, when used too often, it can alienate both the casual horror viewer as well as its cult follower. Nonetheless, it is an essential technique that is used by the best horror filmmakers out there and is a one stop shop to make a horror film memorable.