Year: 1960 

Director: Michael Powell 

Cast: Karlheinz Böhm, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley 

Peeping Tom is a UK film that was ahead of its time.  It is sometimes compared to Hitchcock’s extremely successful and critically acclaimed Psycho, however, unlike Psycho it was not well received at the time, despite a modern cult following.  It lacks the explicit visuals of many modern horror films yet there is something very unsettling, disturbing and fascinating about this film even 50 years later.  Part of that fascination has to do with a subject that is deeply disturbing, the idea of snuff films; killing someone on camera.  The movie follows an introverted focus puller who works for a British film studio and the disturbing obsession he pursues in his free time.  He refers to it as a documentary that he is working on, meanwhile people are turning up dead. 

Part of what makes Peeping Tom so interesting is how it portrays the main character.  Unlike so many horror movies from the early days of film that feature purely evil villains and monsters, this movie explores in greater depth the psychology of the main character.  He is rounded out, and his motives are explored, which makes the movie all the more engrossing.  In some respects it is more satisfying.  Of course, that sort of psychoanalyzing of characters is much more common place in modern movies and television, but at the time, it must have been alarming to audiences when they started to feel sympathy for a man involved in such hideous crimes. 

Another interesting aspect worth looking for and contemplating while watching the movie is the subtext which discusses the use of film within this film.  It is an exploration not only of psychology, but of filmmaking and the motives and mindset of those behind the camera and those who consume that which is recorded by the camera; both moving and still pictures.  The main character works in the “legitimate” world of film, but he also takes suggestive photographs for a man who sells pornographic and suggestive material behind closed doors, and then there is his “documentary.”  He is part of what is accepted, what is underground but consumed, and part of what is taboo and criminal, yet they all have to do with film.  

Karlheinz Böhm is fantastic as Mark Lewis.  He manages to depict the perfect blend of awkwardness and menace.  Peter Lorre springs to mind; creepy, but vulnerable, and Böhm’s performance keeps the viewers glued to his every mannerism.  He is driven by his damaged childhood and his obsessions, but at the same time he is clearly fighting his awful urges, so while hopefully most reading this short article aren’t tempted to kill, I think he does sort of hold the mirror up to our own behavior, as we try to keep control of our own demons, but at the same time are tempted to act out and satisfy our more primal and sinister desires.  Peeping Tom is both smart and spine tingling.  It is a must-see, especially for fans of thrillers and horror. 

 

Halloween is finally here! So now I will finish my list of scary movies I love to watch on Halloween.

I Married a Witch
Not exactly a “scary” movie, but it is a great watch for Halloween. It’s the movie I always take to work to watch. Veronica Lake plays a witch who’s trying to get Fredric March to fall in love with her. The movie is a really funny romantic comedy, with a strange atmosphere that makes it perfect for Halloween viewing. Veronica Lake is pretty much the most adorable thing ever. If you want a light movie to enjoy this Halloween, I Married a Witch really is something you should look into.

London After Midnight
Sadly, the only print of this film was destroyed in a fire in the 1960s. But there’s a pretty good reconstruction using stills from the film and the original script. It’s not really eerie or scary since it’s really just pictures, but you can tell that the story is a bit creepy. It is a Lon Chaney movie, after all. And his makeup looks pretty amazing. Mostly, though, it is just something that has to be watched as an historical oddity. And we can hope that maybe, someone somewhere has a print of this, hidden in their attic, without realizing it. The remake, 1935’s Mark of the Vampire is worth watching, but it’s not a great movie.

Mad Love
Peter Lorre could be a really creepy dude when he wanted to be. And clearly in Mad Love, he wanted to be. It’s not a ghost story. It’s one of those films that’s a horror film based on its atmosphere, and the horrible actions of its main character. Lorre is a crazy doctor who falls in love (or, really, just becomes obsessed) with a beautiful actress. When her paino player husband’s hands are damaged in an accident, Lorre replaces them the the hands of a murderous knife thrower. It’s just  strange, completely creepy movie that’s excellent for Halloween viewing.

And there you have it. My Halloween recommendations.

Here’s the link for Part 1, in case you missed it.
https://obscureclassics.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/zombies-and-witches-and-ghosts-oh-my/

By Katie Richardson

Year: 1940

Director: Frank Borzage

Cast: Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Ian Hunter, Peter Lorre, Albert Dekker

In a prisoner colony in French Guiana, several prisoners plan an escape: the brutish Andre Verne (Gable), mysterious Cambreau (Hunter), amoral Hessler (Lukas), and fellow criminals Moll (Dekkar), Dufond (Arledge), Flaubert (Bromberg), and Telez (Ciannelli). During their journey through the jungle, they come across Julie (Crawford), a showgirl, and saver her from her abusive lover. The group undergoes transformations, both spiritual and romantic, on their way to the shore and to salvation.

As as ensemble piece, Strange Cargo is able to focus both on Borzage’s religious fixation and his romantic one. While Lazybones uses the most literal biblical imagery, Strange Cargo is his most blatantly religious film with Cambreau as an obvious God image and Hessler as an obvious devil. While the physical leadership of the group shifts among the other men, Cambreau remains the spiritual center, the anchor, the guide. Hessler’s attempts to sway the group toward ‘evil’ aren’t quite as dramatic as Cambreau’s attempts at good. He spends most of his time debating with Cambreau, and the others, about good and evil and human nature. It’s clear that Cambreau’s influence is the dominant one, leading the group to their spiritual salvation while Andre leads them to their physical one.

Julie and Andre fulfill Borzage’s need for spiritual romance. They become the focus of the story, and because their souls are so obviously entwined, their journey is meant to be longer than the others’. Early in the film their attraction to each other is completely sexual, but as the film progesses they transcend mere physical attachment to the point where they can begin their spiritual journey together. They must realize that they are bound before they can truly embark on finding their salvation.

The religious and romantic storylines arive when the group emerges from the jungle. The group is now just Cambreau, Hessler, Julie, and Andre, evoking an image of Eden. Julie and Andre as Adam and Eve and Cambreau and Hessler as God and Satan. Hessler solidifies his image when he turns his back on the group and on their salvation and leaves them. Julie and Andre are able to find their salvation once they learn how to sacrifice for each other. Cambreau, who doesn’t need salvation, disappears to, as he told Andre earlier in the film, help others who need him.

By: Katie Richardson