Friday, August 31, 2012

The Ghost / Lo spettro (1963)

‘Epic’ has sort of become a popular internet slang term these days and is generally used as a descriptive response for anything that comes off as grandly awesome. I normally prefer using it in the more traditional sense as a tag for a long story that spans multiple books or movies. So, even given its standard runtime, why is ‘epic’ the first adjective that comes to mind when thinking about Riccardo Freda’s generically titled Gothic horror/mystery THE GHOST?

In trying to come up with a possible answer, I find myself realizing just how well nearly everything about THE GHOST hits the spot. From the opening séance to the fulfilling ending, there ends up being a very attractive mental journey, dense with macabre elements, to a destination that could only be described as maniacal insanity, just before the film closes out with a religious representative reminding us that the devil is a very real person. I feel that it is this cadaverous journey, mostly within the confines of a richly decorated Scottish 1910 mansion as well as the grand supernatural, alien beauty of the film’s star, Barbara Steele, that merits the ‘epic’ tag.

Am I right when I say that Steele was an essential component in helping several Italian Gothics rise above being standard genre fare? Just like the chorus to a particular ‘80s Roxette song, she’s got the look. Here, Steele doesn’t portray her usual dual role of a good and an evil character but only the latter in this film, and it really is what she does best. She’s on fire in an immortal murder scene late in the movie that brings to mind the phrase ‘slashed to ribbons’. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)

THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS is one of the creepier and tenser short stories from H.P. Lovecraft. Readers are given enough hints to know all too well that something bad is going on as the story’s protagonist, despite his academic intelligence, seems too clueless and too stubbornly grounded in his notion of the realistic world to realize that he’s heading to a perilous destination. Journeying along with this character, Professor Albert Wilmarth, into an unnatural and creepy situation written in a first person perspective is largely what I think makes this short story work so well. In the first half there’s a lot of tension that is built up from the letter exchange correspondence between Albert and another character, Henry Akeley, whose farm is seemingly being invaded by alien monsters. However, nothing really ends up being truly conclusive with a lot being left to suggestion or just being the possible result of some weird and unexplainable phenomena or coincidences.

While I don’t think that it reaches the same high tension found in Lovecraft’s original story, the film adaptation by The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society (HPLHS) does an exceptional job at taking the liberty of filling in a lot of blanks by rounding out the story with much more definite events and including a third act that contains some new surprises that don’t disgrace the original story in the least. Though the narrative is understandably tweaked a bit to be more suitable for film, this still feels like one of the most faithful and near-perfect Lovecraft adaptations since the HPLHS’s CALL OF CTHULHU from 2005, though I honestly enjoyed THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS a bit more.