Thursday, January 17, 2008


The Descent is an enjoyable horror movie about a group of friends who go cave diving in the Appalachian Mountains only to wind up trapped underground and hunted by bloodthirsty humanoid creatures.

Compared to most recent horror films, this one's excellent. The setting is creepy and claustrophobic, the acting is above-par, and the tension builds at a steady pace. Since this is a creature feature, it walks a fine line between horror and camp. This movie does cross that line and degenerate into camp on more than one occasion. Once these girls turn Rambo and start killing the cave creatures, it becomes an over the top gore fest. And each subsequent victim of the cave creatures suffers a more bloody and undignified death. But the camp factor doesn't make it any less scary or creepy.

The set design is amazing and I didn't realize how awesome it was until I saw the special features and making of doc, which is quite funny. Most of the guys who play the cave creatures are sinewy and hairless, so it's fun to watch them clown around in their monster make up in the making of doc. It's also fun to see a bunch of tough athletic chicks do some bad ass cave diving and then fight as best they can to survive once the shit hits the fan. Overall, it's worth a rental on a night when you want to be creeped out and boo!'d.


Leave Her to Heaven is a thriller that moves at a slow pace, like a watched pot set for a boil. It's about a cold, calculating woman whose need to possess the men she loves leads her to commit heartless acts of murder. The pace of the film is similar to that of The Sixth Sense in that it builds slowly under a constant state of dread.

I find this movie fascinating, if a little slow. Also, many of the things that happen are tame by today's standards and a bit cliched, but were probably more surprising back when it was released. The tone of the movie, one of building dread and discomfort as the villainess' true nature is revealed, is sustained throughout. Watching it today, however, one can't help but wonder why family members didn't take matters into their own hands before she could wreak such havoc upon them all.

Visually, this film is STUNNING. It was filmed in Technicolor, and though it comes off as "colorized" at certain points due to the limits of the coloring process of the era, for the most part it's breathtaking. It's so rare that we can see this era in full color because most of the films from that time are in black and white, which creates a barrier between the viewer and the world of the film. This is the first film I can remember seeing that breaks down that barrier; it's the first time I've really felt I have an idea of what it was like to see the world as it was back then.

Gene Tierney is absolutely beautiful, even if she does come off as cold (that is, after all, the whole point). She got a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance (she lost to Joan Crawford in Mildred Pearce). Cornel Wilde is quite a hottie when he's caught at the right angle, although unfortunately we're never treated to a shirtless shot of him. We do see his muscular forearms and bulging bicep, which is just enough to make us wonder what the rest of him looks like. The wardrobe is breathtaking, especially the men's clothes. Oh to live in a time when every day one wore a jacket and tie, and in the New Mexico desert no less! The cinematography is the undeniable star of the film, the lighting and framing is simply amazing. There's a lot of great architecture to be seen, and the set design is interesting as well, although most of the sets are residential, which can tend to be somewhat boring and floral (yuk) in their domesticity. The train scene at the beginning is wonderful with the interior of the art deco styled lounge car.

The movie winds up in a courtroom (with a prissy Vincent Price playing the jilted District Attorney out for vengeance) before delivering its happy Hollywood ending, but the trip to get there is well worth the time...once again, I say this if you are at all intrigued by the actors or the era.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Directed by Fritz Lang, who also directed the classic 1927 sci fi flick Metropolis, The Blue Gardenia is a weird flick. Its tone keeps changing back and forth between suspense and comedy. Anne Baxter (whom I adore, she was Eve in All About Eve, you know) plays a blonde telephone operator named Norah who's betrothed to an armed services member serving in Korea, which keeps her safely out of the dating cesspool. Raymond Burr is Harry Prebble, the sleazy womanizer who unsuccessfully asks her out. Well, Norah gets dumped by her beau, and right after she's read the news that he's met and fallen in love with someone else, she gets a telephone call from slick Harry and on an impulse, she agrees to meet him at the Blue Gardenia, a hip, happening Tiki-themed nightspot. She gets there and proceeds to get drunk on rum cocktails. She then goes back to Harry's apartement with him, where he tells her he's going to have a "party." Well, before you can say "date rape," he's forcing himself on her and she's fighting him off with a fireplace poker, then she passes out on the floor. She wakes up in her own bed the next day with no memory of what transpired the night before. Unfortunately for her, Harry is found murdered that morning. Did Norah snap and kill him? Will she be charged with murder? What's a girl to do?

This film isn't great, but it's got a lot to hold your interest if you're into any of the actors or the era. It's early 1950s, so the set design and the fashion is straddling the 40s and 50s quite well. There's also some great footage of downtown L.A., including City Hall and the Federal courthouse. The main problem is tone: the director seems to be going back and forth between playing it straight and playing it for laughs. Baxter's drunk scenes are over the top and seem to be played for laughs, which doesn't quite fit in with the story unfolding. She was a much better drunk in The Razor's Edge. Anne Southern is really good as Norah's sassy roommate and has the best line in the movie. Describing her ex-husband, whom she is again dating, she says "Homer always had a husband's faults. But now he has a boyfriend's virtues." You can also view this film from a feminist angle, and if you do you'll notice the cautionary message of a what a nice girl is not supposed to do, even if she did just get dumped by her boyfriend who's serving in Korea. I enjoyed the movie, not so much for being a successful mystery, but for being an entertaining time capsule filled with interesting artifacts.