Oct. 23: Don'92t Look Now (1973):
Director Nicolas Roeg'92s horror masterpiece Don'92t Look Now takes plot elements that could be used in a far more exploitative movie and marries them with intelligence, emotion and technical skill to create a haunting story full of deep grief and dread that is unique among horror films.
The film was adapted from a story by Rebecca author Daphne Du Marier. John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie) are sipping brandy in front of the fire in their house somewhere in the English countryside, when their daughter accidentally drowns in a pond on their property.
Some time later, the couple has moved to Venice, nominally so John can help restore an old church, but really because they want a change of scenery to take their mind off their daughter. But as you might imagine, Venice doesn'92t prove to be the best way to get over a death. The whole city is eerie and tomblike and gray, with footsteps echoing through the streets and alleyways.
The couple obviously still has a ways to go before getting over their trauma. John begins to see a small figure in a red mackintosh around the city, and he comes to believe it'92s his daughter. Meanwhile, Laura befriends a pair of old, blind psychic sisters. They tell Laura that their daughter is indeed dead, but that she and her husband should leave the city because their lives are in danger. Of course, there'92s danger everywhere, as a serial killer stalks Venice. The plot thread runs through the background of the movie, and we periodically hear about a new dead body turning up somewhere.
The film is so powerful largely due to the direction from Nicolas Roeg. He aims not to shock us, but to layer on dread and tension, and to hint at a far deeper horror that can be comprehended only in the fullness of time.
This preoccupation with time pervades the movie. Roeg'92s visionary editing cuts quickly between past, present and future events, suggesting truths we may never understand. As motifs, such as water or the red mackintosh, recur and intertwine in odd and unexpected ways, the movie suggests that some sort of inscrutable fate guides us.
The movie is probably most famous for its groundbreaking sex scene between Christie and Sutherland. It is well known not only for seeming to very possibly be the real thing, but also because it intercuts the sex with the couple getting dressed afterward. This adds a deeper poignancy to the scene, as the mundane intrudes on the emotional, but it also ties into the movie'92s preoccupation with time, how the past will always intrude on us and the future is always contained in the present.
Sutherland and Christie give terrific performances in the film. Their relationship seems real, as does the pain the experience over their daughter'92s death. This depth of character makes their horrible situation all the more devastating to the audience.
Don'92t Look Now contains ghosts and murders and other standard horror movie stuff, but the grief and dread Roeg evokes, almost subliminally at times, makes it unique among horror films.
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'97'a0'a0'a0 The Changeling (1980): This classic haunted house film follows George C. Scott as he rents a spooky old house after the death of his wife and daughter, and discovers he'92s not alone. This film is very creepy, using minimal special effects, and makes a toy ball bouncing down some stairs far more frightening than it has any right to be.
'97'a0'a0'a0 The Sixth Sense (1999): This is another creepy film that uses the color red as a metaphor for death. I'92m sure you all know the story of a boy who can '93see dead people,'94 but the film'92s scares hold up even as M. Night Shyamalan'92s career crashes and burns.
'97'a0'a0'a0 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): Another horror film starring Donald Sutherland during his wonderful, mustachioed '9270s phase, this is a terrific, bleak remake that sets the film in ultra-individualistic San Francisco and recasts the story as an ironic counterpart to the '93me decade.'94