STONEHEARST ASYLUM (2014)

October 23, 2014

stonehearst Greetings again from the darkness. A surefire indication that a movie is a must-see for me are the words “based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe” … no matter how loosely. Then, set the film in a creepy turn of the 20th century insane asylum, and cast Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine and Brendan Gleeson, and consider me exceptionally excited.

From the opening moments, there is a certain nostalgic or throwback feel.It recalls the “B” movie feel of so many from the 40’s and 50’s that I grew up watching on late night TV. Imagining the production in Black & White rather than color, and picturing Vincent Price as one of the leads, probably give this one more credit than it earns. Despite the stellar cast – also featuring Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, David Thewlis, and Sinead Cusack – it doesn’t manage to generate any real suspense or feeling of danger.

Director Brad Anderson works mostly in television, but has kicked out some films of interest along the way. These include Session 9, Transsiberian, The Call, and especially The Machinist. Here, he has an exceptionally deep and talented cast, yet manages to waste Mr. Caine and Mr. Gleeson with minor roles. Even Ms. Beckinsale is treated as simple eye candy with a stunning wardrobe that defies logic, given the circumstances.

Three characters that deliver some fun are Sophie Kennedy Clark as Millie (the nurse), David Thewlis as the comically named Mickey Finn, and of course Sir Ben Kingsley as Silas Lamb. Kingsley is one of the few actors who can walk the fine line between elegance and madness, and leave us wondering (even if we really know). He thrives on scenery-chewing roles and this one definitely qualifies.

The script avoids any real insight or statement on the cruel treatment of the mentally afflicted from the pre-psychoanalysis days brought on shortly thereafter by Freud. Allowing the inmates to run the asylum does make it clear that insanity comes in many forms with differing degrees. In fact, I would challenge viewers to name one truly sane person in this film. Loosely based on Poe’s short story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”, what the film lacks in tension and terror (it’s not Shutter Island), it mostly makes up for in production design and nostalgia.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: a throwback to the asylum movies of the 40’s and 50’s brings you a warm nostalgic feeling

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you prefer not to see electro-shock therapy administered to Michael Caine

watch the trailer:

 

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THE RAVEN (1963)

July 5, 2014

raven Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been more than 50 years since this one was released, so it seems a good time to offer up some thoughts and observations. Let’s start with the fact that you probably read Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven” in high school. Director Roger Corman and writer Richard Matheson take Poe’s work as a starting point in a most unique story of their own.

If you aren’t familiar with Roger Corman, he is one of the most prolific and entertaining “B” movie makers of all time. His writer here, Mr. Matheson, is best known for his work on numerous episodes of “The Twilight Zone“. Poe – Matheson – Corman would be enough, but we also get Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court and a young and not yet well known Jack Nicholson. Price is always a treat to watch (especially in horror films), Lorre appeared in 3 of the greatest movies of all-time (M, The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca), Karloff is the master of monster (and much more), Ms Court was one of the first stars of Hammer Films, and of course, Nicholson (fresh-faced here) went on to become one of the most successful actors in movie history.

Price, Karloff, Lorre and Nicholson offer up four of the most unique and recognizable voices ever heard in movies, and they each partake in the fun provided by Corman here. Yes, I said fun. This is almost slapstick comedy, and at a minimum, it’s a parody of the much darker series of Poe films. If you consider it as an influence of the 1960’s “Batman” TV series, you wouldn’t be wrong. Even the music (heavy on the tuba) has an air of comedy.

Watching Peter Lorre as a matador is pretty funny, as is Nicholson as the frenetic stagecoach driver.  Some of the back-and-forth with Lorre and Nicholson as father and son is clearly ad-libbed, but the classic comedic sequence occurs when Price and Karloff take their wizardry duel to the death and turn it into a special effects highlight reel.

This may be the only time you hear the phrase “precious viper” used to describe a woman, and if that, combined with all of the above reasons, isn’t enough to motivate you to seek this one out, then maybe you will never discover why so many adore the films of Roger Corman. Compared with films of today, this style is nevermore.

watch the trailer: