A Length of Rope, Revisited


Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of returning to my old university for dinner with a former professor, now friend, and taking in a movie from the school’s Tuesday film series. The feature was Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, from 1948, a minor suspense thriller based on a stage play by Patrick Hamilton. After the film, as we wandered around campus, I remembered that somewhere out there I had written a review of Rope that was somewhere between unfavorable and apathetic. I’ve since found this review, from 2010, and am sharing it here unedited, with a few updated comments (in brackets and italics throughout):

“A Length of Rope”
04 June 2010

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 thriller Rope is one of his most curious films: the murder happens right at the beginning, so there’s no whodunit aspect. The killers are obviously hiding something; their actions scream suspicion, although it’s difficult to judge them as being anything but suspicious, since we know they did it. The biggest draw of the film is that Hitchcock attempted to make it seem as though Rope was filmed in one continuous, real-time shot, a trick that might have worked save for a handful of cuts and awkward shots that go into a close-up of a character’s back, and then reverse out.

Awkward is actually a good word for Rope. The film doesn’t work very well as a real thriller, and it’s hard to buy nice-guy everyman Jimmy Stewart as a believer in the art of murder. Even the gimmick of the continuous shot falls a bit flat, making the whole film seem too stagey. To be fair, it was Hitchcock’s intent to make the film seem more like a stage production than a typical Hollywood production, but this works slightly against the film’s favor rather than for it.

[I disagree with this sentiment now. I think that despite the staged feel of the film, the one-shot gimmick adds to the claustrophobic feeling of the film’s single set.]

It’s a stiff film. You can definitely sense the tight choreography the actors had to perform in filming ten minute takes around an enormous, constantly moving camera and set. Stewart, as Rupert Cadell, is quite out of his element here, and his performance shows how uncomfortable he seemed with the role of the killers’ former headmaster, who inadvertently sells them on the idea of murder. He plays the part more detective than anything, and his turn at the end when he finds what his teachings have brought about seems far too abrupt to be believable.

John Dall as Brandon, the braggart of the two killers, overplays his hand quite a bit here. Everything about him screams “HE DID IT,” which is kind of the point. He clearly wants to show off his perfect murder; although he tries very hard to keep calm, he’s positively giddy with excitement. However, it’s difficult to watch the other characters seem so oblivious. Not to mention, the character is pretty much an asshole. He isn’t likable in any respect, not even possessing the charm so many of the other characters attribute to him.

[I quite enjoyed Dall’s performance this time around. He seems to be having the most delicious fun with the role of Brandon, reveling in the little details, such as using the murder weapon to tie up the books. Yes, he’s an asshole, but he’s so much fun to watch.]

The film’s real highlight is Farley Granger as Phillip, who is much more fidgety and visibly upset than Brandon. However, he seems far more sympathetic, as we get the impression that he’s so enamored of Brandon that he’s been somewhat unwillingly caught up in this murderous game, even though he is the one who commits the actual deed. Indeed, the characters of Brandon and Phillip are based upon Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two University of Chicago students who murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks in what they thought was the “perfect crime,” and who were also lovers.

[Still agree – Farley Granger is at his manic best here, a powder keg just about to explode as the film progresses.]

Rope tones down much of the homosexual subtext of the original stage play, mostly to keep the Motion Picture Production Code authorities at bay, although it’s still clear that Phillip and Brandon have a relationship that goes beyond friendship. Also toned down, to the point of being non-existent, is the fact that Cadell is also gay. Indeed, upon hearing that his character is gay, Stewart was surprised, much to screenwriter Arthur Laurents’ delight.


Something that was not to Laurents’ delight, however, was the fact that Hitchcock made the decision to show the murder at the beginning of the film. The screenwriter had wanted much of the film’s suspense to ride on the fact that the audience didn’t know for sure if there was a body in the book-chest or not. It certainly would have given a far different tone to the film, and likely made the two killers far more intriguing characters, rather than them being just smug or pathetic.

[Showing the murder at the beginning and then serving a buffet dinner from the deceased’s temporary coffin might be the best and most blackly comic version of the Hitchcock bomb under the table. At the very least, it’s one hell of a MacGuffin.]

Overall, Rope isn’t the worst of Hitchcock’s films, but it isn’t one of his greatest either. It exists mostly as a curiosity, an exercise in form, with a few touches of his signature black humor throughout – the idea of celebrating a murder and serving a feast on the victim’s coffin is darkly amusing – but overall, it’s far too uneven to be considered a masterpiece.

[I am far more favorable to this film these days, as both a formalist exercise and as a piece of early queer cinema. It seems less uneven now, and should be considered as one of Hitchcock’s better works. Something else I noticed this time, during the end credits the cast is referred to by their relationship to the victim. Another dark touch from Hitch.]

OHMC 2016 – Shin Godzilla and a Return to Contemplation


This morning, I saw this within a post on a friend’s Facebook page: “Insegnami la gloriosa lezione che qual che volta io passo sbagliare.” Translated from Italian, it says “Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I can make mistakes.” I have made a mistake in not keeping up on posting about the October Horror Movie Challenge, but today I fix that by talking a little about contemplative horror, particularly in terms of Shin Godzilla (Godzilla: Resurgence).

[Mild spoilers to follow; proceed with caution. Image credits: Funimation]


Shin Godzilla (2016)
Directors: Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi
Starring: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara

While investigating an abandoned yacht in Tokyo Bay, the Japanese Coast Guard discovers some kind of undersea phenomenon that attacks their boat and causes part of the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line to collapse. As the government springs into action to organize a response and evacuation plan while debating what caused this destruction, one of the Cabinet Secretaries (Hasegawa) shares his belief that this was not an undersea volcano or a fissure in the earth breaking open, but rather an enormous creature. He is proven correct when the monster emerges from the sea as an armless lizard, pushing its way through the streets of the city with its powerful legs. And so begins a film that spends much of its focus on bureaucracy, politics, and scientific research. If you are looking for a big kaiju battle, look elsewhere. Shin Godzilla takes us back to the roots of the long-running series, back to Ishiro Honda’s 1954 film, a largely quiet, contemplative film.

As popular and widespread as the Godzilla films are, it can be hard to remember that at their core, these are Japanese films and as such will have a very different meaning for different audiences. I fear that many fans of the big G may have forgotten this; already I have seen complaints that Shin Godzilla (literally translated: “New Godzilla”) doesn’t offer much in the way of action, that much of the film is littered with meetings among various levels of government, scientists, and military leaders. This is true. Looking back at Godzilla (1954), not much has changed. Both films spend the bulk of their time in finding ways to counter the creature, as well as pondering on the history of violence against Japan and how this could have contributed to the creature’s sudden appearance. As we should know from the very first film, Godzilla is a metaphor for the irreversible damage caused by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


Moving into the present with Shin Godzilla, in which the people of Japan are still reeling from the nuclear crisis at Fukushima and the Tohoku tsunami, we understand that nuclear retaliation will immediately throw the Japanese population into a similar tailspin as the metaphorical destruction of the first film, and that even though they’ve had to “scrap-and-build” in the past to restore their ways of life, they would much rather find an alternate solution to defeating Godzilla. Much like Serizawa’s “oxygen destroyer,” a group of what the film describes as “nerds and outcasts” develop a completely non-atomic method of coagulating Godzilla’s blood. While not a success in eliminating the creature, it does render him frozen, statue-like and monumental, in the center of the city.

Here stands a testament, then, for the power of science and research, of coming together as a nation and working toward a unified if uncertain future as fellow humans, of correcting mistakes from the past. I found Shin Godzilla in this way to be a wonderful homage to the origins of our favorite giant monster, and all the horror that entails. A new beginning, the potential for more creatures, a possible threat of nuclear destruction: all laying across the horizon of Tokyo Bay.

Additional thoughts on Shin Godzilla:

  • Godzilla evolves, and rapidly so! From a creature with underdeveloped arms and large eyes, to a fire-breathing lizard, to a behemoth that can emit atomic lasers from dermal plates. I assume there’s a Pokemon joke to be made here.
  • The underwater tunnel collapsing and filling not with water, but with blood makes for some good visceral imagery.
  • Gradually bringing in Akira Ifukube’s Godzilla theme and Godzilla’s original roar as the monster evolves was a brilliant move.
  • Many of the early scenes, in which we are overloaded with information on the various Cabinet and Ministry members, bring a dark comedy to the film’s early attacks. We watch as they go back and forth, talking endlessly, as destruction threatens Tokyo Bay.


The 2016 Challenge so far…

10 FTVs
6 repeats
16 total films

OHMC 2016: The Warm-Up Post


It’s getting to be that time of year again, the October Horror Movie Challenge. As the image above says, 31 days – 31 movies – no excuses. For those unfamiliar with the Challenge, the standard requirements are to watch 31 horror films in the month of October, with at least 16 of those films as first time views (FTVs). Some people go bigger than that, logging a hundred or more (!) films for the month, which I’ve tried and let me tell you: it was not fun. Some people just stick to the 31/16 model, which is what I tend to do these days.

Last year, I started blogging the Challenge, but failed to finish writing up beyond week one’s films. I’m genuinely disappointed in myself for this! I did manage to meet the requirements, though; here was my watchlist from 2015 (particular FTV favorites noted with a *):

Creep (FTV)*
The Monster Squad
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Curse of Chucky (FTV)
Here Comes The Devil (FTV)
The Visit (FTV)*
The Hunchback of the Morgue (FTV)
Brain Damage (FTV)*
April Fool’s Day (the 80s one)
Attack the Block
The Thing
Harbinger Down (FTV)
Child’s Play
Demons 2
Deep Red
Unfriended (FTV)*
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Curtains (FTV)*
Crimson Peak (FTV)*
Robot Monster
The Ring
The Wolfman (the Benicio del Toro one)
The Wolf Man
Dracula (FTV) (the original!)
House of Wax (the Vincent Price one)
Goosebumps (FTV)
Cooties (FTV)*
Found (FTV) (fwiw, I HATED THIS MOVIE)
The Sacrament
Son of Godzilla (FTV)*
Godzilla vs. Monster Zero
The Conjuring
Drácula (FTV)* (the Spanish one! I thought it was better than the Lugosi version, even)
Maniac Cop (FTV)*
The Watcher in the Woods (FTV)
The ‘Burbs
Hocus Pocus
Dead Weight
Jurassic Park
Trick ‘r Treat

Overall, it was a pretty good year. A lot of old-favorite-padding in there, but otherwise solid for FTVs. Only a couple of stinkers, which is pretty good considering the horror genre can be a real minefield at times.

I wanted to get a kind of jump-start on writing for the Challenge again as well, since I haven’t posted anything for almost a year, so I decided to revisit Robert Zombie’s first two films, House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects.

Forget these people, they are in no way relevant to this film.

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Director: Robert Zombie
Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sherri Moon Zombie, Karen Black

In this live-action RZ song set in 1977, a group of four road-trippers stop for fuel at Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters and Mayhem-slash-Fried Chicken Shack and Gas Hole. Rather conveniently, they also happen to be writing a book about weird roadside attractions throughout the U.S. Hitting the jackpot with Spaulding’s collection of jarred roadkill and feegee mermaids, the hapless kids also learn about local legend S. Quentin Quale (a pun on slang term for jail bait, ha ha), also known as Dr. Satan. They take a detour to find the tree Dr. Satan was hung from – for the book, y’know – and end up picking up a sexy, young hitchhiker. Surely you’re aware by now that this will not end well?

I remember seeing House of 1000 Corpses in the theater with my brother and thinking there was never a more perfect visual representation of RZ’s audio aesthetic. In retrospect, that’s probably not a good thing in terms of storytelling, because RZ’s songs don’t really tell stories. They tend to throw verbal images at you instead, which brings me back to Ho1KC. There’s the bare whiff of a story – kids go off on an adventure, find a really weird family of killers, get killed, the end – and RZ tries to evoke more classic horror films with nods here and there to the likes of John Carpenter’s Halloween and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but he never quite captures the spark of those earlier movies. I’ve since lost the original source for this thought, but it’s clear that with Ho1KC, RZ has watched a lot of horror films, but he hasn’t learned anything from them.

That said, I still enjoyed revisiting the film. It was exactly as I remembered it – goofy and over the top, filled with strange disconnected interludes, and cast really well. I think RZ’s best quality early in his filmmaking career is being able to find the right people for the part. He managed to dig up a handful of 70s exploitation and horror favorites, casting Sid Haig (Spider Baby; literally every Jack Hill film) as the crusty old clown Captain Spaulding, Karen Black (Trilogy of Terror; Burnt Offerings) as the murderous Firefly family matriarch, and Tom Towles (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) as a doomed sheriff’s lieutenant. That RZ doesn’t cast them in just cameo roles as a wink to the audience is refreshing as well. You can also credit RZ for kicking Bill Moseley’s career in the seat of the pants – the last time Moseley was given a role as good as albino Manson stand-in Otis Driftwood was when he was spitting out lines like “Lick my plate, you dog dick!” as Chop-Top in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

I can’t fully recommend House of 1000 Corpses to just anyone. You have to appreciate Zombie’s musical stylings, or not be too concerned with silly fluff like “plot” and “character development.”  However, if you’re very very forgiving, and enjoy things like broken down haunted house rides, watching old horror films on TV hosted by a washed-up old fart in bad makeup, and decorating your house for Halloween with jars of dead animal fetuses, have I got a movie for you.


God, take a bath, ffs.

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Director: Robert Zombie
Starring: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sherri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe

The Firefly clan is back for more shenanigans, but this time instead of cheeky and fun, the shenanigans are cruel and tragic. Evil shenanigans! In The Devil’s Rejects, Zombie gives us a little more meat and connective tissue between the members of the family – Captain Spaulding (Haig) is Baby’s (Moon Zombie) dad! He’s got a black half-brother, played by Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead ’78)! Otis (Moseley, curiously not albino here) has no relation to any of these people, but he’s still an asshole! RZ also turns the material from the previous film incredibly dark. It seems odd, but there was a kind of…whimsy?…to House of 1000 Corpses that’s missing here. Our director has decided to go straight into stone-faced exploitation territory here, and while there are a couple of lighter moments, they don’t last long enough to matter.

Ah yes, but what about the story this time? Well, remember Lieutenant George Wydell (Tom Towles) from the first film? Turns out he has a brother, Ruggsville County Sheriff John Quincy Wydell (William Forsythe), and boy-oh-boy, is he pissed as hell! Nobody goes around killing his brother and gets away with it. Before the opening credits kick in, the cat-and-mouse game is set into motion, and the Firefly family is on the run from someone who might even be more sick than them. It’s safe to say that there are no protagonists here – everyone is awful, even characters who are supposed to have some kind of moral compass. All that gets thrown aside.

What’s left is a dark and troubling film, soaked in grue and long diatribes against God and who knows what else. Once again, RZ is unfettered by the rules of storytelling, getting right to the gristle and bone of horror: the images. Oh, how there are several memorable images here, the greatest being the film’s drawn-out ending, set to the entire length of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird.” It’s a heady blend of growing skill behind the camera and the deeply masturbatory nature of RZ’s sensibilities. This is why I constantly go back and forth on The Devil’s Rejects: it’s shot really well, put together like a real film instead of a half-assed music video, but it’s alarmingly hollow.

Once again, the real MVPs are the cast, with Haig leading the way and Forsythe putting to film some of his best work. Moseley again gets most of the good dialogue, and Leslie Easterbrook (the Police Academy series) makes a fine replacement for Karen Black as Mother Firefly. The Devil’s Rejects is technically better than House of 1000 Corpses, in the literal sense, but it’s far more difficult to watch. Even so, it’s the more memorable of the two, just unfortunately for some very disturbing reasons.

Bro’d Trip – Magic Mike XXL

There’s a scene in Magic Mike XXL (2015, dir. Gregory Jacobs) where pretty-boy Ken (Matt Bomer) sings Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” to a neglected housewife who has just disclosed that she and her husband have not had sex with the lights on in several years. He holds her close, encouraging her to demand more in the bedroom, essentially telling her that she deserves to have her fantasies come true. It’s such a completely raw, naked (though fully-clothed) moment that I wasn’t entirely sure if I should have applauded or cried. I may have done both. As it turns out, there are several similarly surprising and heartfelt moments in this sequel to the 2012 smash hit. Continue reading Bro’d Trip – Magic Mike XXL

2 Fast 2 Furiosa – Mad Max, and Other Thoughts

Friends! It’s me, your old pal anna, back from a very long hiatus in which I did not much but sit around and watch stuff and not write about it. Since the last post, I’ve watched the entire Fast and Furious series, bought some comics, played some Magic: The Gathering (NERD ALERT!!), and started watching some of Netflix’s original content. Not bad! But the downside is that my computer is getting very old, and it’s harder to use it because of how slow and feeble it’s gotten. In fact, the last time I even had it up and running was sometime in April. Time to start shopping for a new one.

Anyway, I figured it’s high time to get back into the swing of things before my old compy sets itself on fire in protest, and what better than to talk a bit about the latest Mad Max movie? Continue reading 2 Fast 2 Furiosa – Mad Max, and Other Thoughts

happy anniversary, my blog! (contains non-recommendations)

Hello, my friends! I think you’re my friends. Anyhow, this here blog finally turned three years old recently, which means I can probably start taking off the potty training wheels any time now. I’m going to use this momentous occasion to un-recommend some movies for you! Continue reading happy anniversary, my blog! (contains non-recommendations)

2014 in First Time Views: The Top 25

What a year! There’s been good and bad, like so many other years before, as we plow along in this life. It’s been a big year of first time views for me, from new additions in a growing collection of Criterion and Alamo Drafthouse editions to a celebration of John Ford’s career. I’ve winnowed down 116 FTVs to a list of 25 of the best new-to-me films watched in 2014, and here they are, in alphabetical order! Continue reading 2014 in First Time Views: The Top 25

OHMC 2014 – Week Four: The Wrap

The October Horror Movie Challenge is over, and final reviews and write-ups are rolling in across the board. The last week of the Challenge was fairly light for me, particularly after revisiting the entire Saw franchise. There’s just something about those movies that kind of kills the buzz. Anyhow, here are the last few films for the 2014 October Challenge! Continue reading OHMC 2014 – Week Four: The Wrap