Seriously though, The Hill is horrible and great and disturbing. It’s one of those movies we would never watch again (too frustrating!) but that we’re very grateful we’ve seen. And we’ll never stop encouraging others to watch it (although we’re not really selling it, are we..?). You can feel, smell and taste it. It is extremely intense, but worth watching, if only just once.
Colin Smith (Courtenay), a working class boy with anger issues, is sent to a borstal school (or reform school for those of us not in the know) for burgling a bakery. Once there, he is sorted into Drake House in a ritual we found disappointingly lacking in hats.
The school’s philosophy is that hard work, discipline, and exercise will put these young men on the right track in life. During training, the governor of the school (Redgrave) observes Colin’s brilliant running skills and takes a special interest in his new pupil.
Colin is given special permission to train outside the school’s fence for an upcoming race against a public school (or private school for those of us not in Britain), and in between training sessions, we get flashbacks to his life before this and the circumstances which led him to this point.
Like many of the old dramas we’ve watched in the past few years, we enjoyed this movie so much more than we thought we would. We loved the flashbacks, the smart-ass remarks of our (anti-)hero, Colin’s singular running style, and the clash of cultures in the changing rooms before the race.
At first, the governor seemed like quite a good guy, but we soon realised that this was mainly due to what we have dubbed the “Michael Redgrave-effect,” in which a character become instantly likable because the actor playing him/her just exudes kindness and benevolence. (See also: The Innocents, in which Redgrave plays the uncle who basically abandons his young relatives and sends a youngish governess in without warning her about the circumstances, but you still go “oh, what a charming chap! I’m sure he had his reasons!”)
Without spoiling it too much (although light spoilers ahead), the ending was the sort of ending which would have very much appealed to our teenage, rebellious selves and which frustrates our old, security-concerned selves. This was your chance, kid! But also: yeah! Stick it to the man!
When Sister the Oldest was young, she watched a lot of movies which were somewhat age-inappropriate. Child’s Play (1988) abruptly ended her doll playing career around 1990. Early exposure to Predator (1987) and Blue Velvet (1986) brought on a fear of invisible monsters leaving cut-off ears lying around willy nilly (the two movies may have been a bit muddled up in her young brain), though she found Terminator 2 (1991) more sad than scary. And then there was The Innocents…
Like many of the others, this was partially watched on a friend’s TV one night – our own parents were quite strict about what was appropriate viewing for kids – and it messed Sister the Oldest up quite a bit. However, November of this year was the first time she’d seen it since, and it still holds up as a creepy Gothic tale of ghosts and/or madness.
Based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (which we’ve actually read, being the cultured, sophisticated people that we are), the film tells the story of Miss Giddens (Kerr), who is sent to the British countryside as a governess to two young orphans, Miles (Stephens) and Flora (Franklin).
Giddens initially finds her two young wards utterly charming, and the estate beautiful. But as she starts to investigate what happened to the last governess and her dangerous lover, the children’s behaviour begins to worry her, and the rot underneath the beauty of the place starts to come up to the surface. Are the kids being haunted? Possessed? Are they playing games with her? Or is she slowly going insane in the isolated estate?
As stated, The Innocents has held up incredibly well. It’s a very faithful adaptation of James’ novella and the disturbing atmosphere of the original is very much present in the film version. The kids are perfectly cast, as is Deborah Kerr, and the estate is lovely and Gothic.
We loved the wholly impractical costumes (how were people supposed to do anything wearing something like that?) and the way everything in the shot was in focus at once (deep focus..? We’re not really down with the terminology of cinematography..), which made it feel unsettling and “wrong.” There’s very little score in the movie and it’s rather quiet most of the time, which works well to emphasise the atmosphere. Also, we loved the ambiguity of the ending…
Dead of Night is the first of the horror anthology films on the list, and a good start to this scary and brilliant subgenre.
Architect Walter Craig (Johns) comes to look at a house he has been approached to alter or expand, and experiences a very strong case of déjà vu. It turns out he has had recurring dreams about the house and all the people who are currently there, but he cannot recall the ending of the dream, just that it is not a happy one.
As Craig is trying to remember the details of his dream, the other guests take turns telling of their own experiences with the supernatural or uncanny. You know, to lighten the mood. The stories vary in length and seriousness, but some of them are very unsettling indeed.
Among the guests’ tales we find a creepy ghost story involving children and murder (always a good combination) as well as a game of Sardines; a race car driver who’s saved from certain (?) death several times by the appearance of a strange man; a scary haunted mirror (a subject which we always find unnerving – childhood literature trauma might be to blame); a silly, silly ghost story involving two very competitive (and self-centered) golfers and the girl they’re both in love with (who by the way has no personality of her own and somehow agrees to marry whoever wins a golf game… Have some self respect, lady!); as well as the aforementioned ventriloquist tale starring Michael Redgrave of The Lady Vanishes-fame.
Four different directors helmed the various segments, and they vary a lot in tone and style, with Cavalcanti’s two segments our personal favourites. We’re both partial to horror anthologies, and we cannot wait for the upcoming ones, such as #230 Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), #359 Asylum (1972), #367 Tales From the Crypt (1972), #553 Creepshow (1982) and #582 Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) to name but a few (numbers are liable to change as Mr Wright tends to alter his list now and then..). If you’re one of us (one of us!) we heartily recommend Dead of Night. Its circular plot is interesting, there are great performances, some good comic relief and it is genuinely scary at times. And we do eventually find out the ending of Craig’s nightmare… A new favourite for sure.
In a remote European town, a train is delayed due to an avalanche. A random assortment of tourists are forced to spend the night in a hotel and interact with each other. We meet a gang of young women, one of whom is on her way home to England to get married; some cricket obsessed Brits, a judge and his mistress, an arrogant musician and an old retired governess.
After the (undiscovered) murder of a busker in the night, the tourists are sent on their merry way the next day. Iris Henderson (Lockwood), the lady about to be married, shares a compartment with Miss Froy (Whitty), the retired governess, and they spend the first part of the train ride in each other’s company. However, after a nap (brought on by a mild concussion from a mysterious accident at the train station), Iris wakes up to the old lady having vanished. In addition, everyone in her compartment denies her ever having been there, saying she must be a figment of Iris’ imagination (or brain injury). Cue mystery!
Iris teams up with Gilbert (Redgrave), the annoying musician she had a less than pleasant run-in with the previous night and together they start investigating the missing lady, with the occasional help from fellow passenger Dr. Hartz (Lukas). Naturally, things are more complex than they seem at first, and the plot, as they say, thickens.
This is a good old-fashioned mystery film with intrigue, espionage and international politics (which was important in 1938 as you can imagine). There’s also romance, humour and a wonderful cast of characters, and there’s an action packed shootout towards the end (always fun!). Hitchcock films are always interesting to watch, both due to the contents as well as beautiful and inventive shots. We love and cherish it!