Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Famed genre director John Carpenter has had a critically mixed career. Some of his films were instant classics, while others had to wait a long time to earn that status in the eyes of the world. The Thing was on the rocks for years, before finally achieving its fame. As his career went on this became more common, partly because he's a director on the wane, but also because critics love to rag on an artist late in his game, as an easy target. One such film is Prince of Darkness, which has also come to attain a sizeable cult following...

A small church in the city has held a dark secret for years. Upon the death of its last remaining member, a priest learns of what lies within its walls, and gathers together a scientific research team, made up of college students, and his old friend Professor Birack. Together they analyse a mysterious green canister in the basement, and come to some shocking conclusions. After experiencing some prophetic nightmares, they soon realise the threat this object poses, and what will befall the world if they fail to stop it...

Prince of Darkness is a unique and interesting horror film. It's a low-key and eerie picture, with a palpable sense of doom throughout. From the first scene we get a sense that something is not right, and we follow a bunch of intelligent and proactive characters as they try to make sense of of this nightmare before it's too late.

The movie deals with some very intriguing concepts, mixing science and the supernatural in a really satisfying way. It introduces its audience to things like quantum theory and matter versus antimatter in such a way to make it interesting, and never boring. The ideas of Jesus being an alien and Satan being an anti matter being made up of green liquid is one that could have been goofy or ridiculous in the wrong hands, but here it's fascinating.

Prince of Darkness owes a lot to the works of Nigel Kneale, echoing the same themes of ancient evil waiting to be unleashed, with a scientific look at fantastical and even biblical elements. I think it does a fantastic job bringing these ideas to the (then) present day, and Carpenter once again proves himself to be a devoted fan! And as can be expected from Kneale, he hated the movie, without having seen it of course. A top class writer, but an absolute knobhead! Boy could I rant about him for ages if ya let me.

John Carpenter's direction is stellar as always, with a particular high spot being the creepy low-quality future transmissions. With its unearthly quality and portentous content they are ranked as some of the most unsettling moments in a film already brimming with spookiness. Other highlights are the tense closet attack, and the computer interaction.

While telling an ambitious story, the action in Prince of Darkness is more grounded, set entirely in a single small building. I find this effective, aas it's not trying to do too much, and let its imagination exceed its budget or runtime. I find it does this without sacrificing its ambition either. All too often you'll see a movie that has a great idea, but not the budget to pull it off, so they don't try. Here though this single location really feels important.

The movie gradually becomes a siege movie, perhaps reminiscent of earlier Carpenter works. The climax is an all-out battle, with an assault on all angles, and the main possessed girl trying to bring in something far worse from beyond the veil.

All of this culminates in a very effective ambiguous ending. On one had I have no idea how it makes sense, but hey, it's ambiguous for a reason. Maybe it's not even happening, and really is all a dream this time! One thing's for sure, the trailer certainly does a bizarre job. It not only shows the last scene, it actually shows what happens next! The young hero is attacked by a menacing...title card!

The effects are wonderful. Entirely practical, we've got convincing gore effects, extremely gooey make-up, and some nice props, such as the giant finger at the end. A little plasticky, but still great, and ominous. There are also creative visual uses of liquid physics, from the mysterious liquid when possessing people, to the watery mirrors.

The acting here is nice, with a familiar stable of Carpenter regulars, plus newcomers. Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong work great together, and bring some class to the movie. Young Tom Atkins lookalike Jameson Parker rocks a neat moustache, and is an alright lead. Dennis Dun is nice as the comic relief, and has some strong dramatic moments too. Lisa Blount and Susan Blanchard both excel in their roles, and the remainder of the cast all do well too. Also appearing in a small role is Alice Cooper!

The soundtrack to Prince of Darkness is a subtle and ominous one, with tracks that really set the mood, and get under your skin with very little. John Carpenter scored the movie, together with collaborator Alan Howarth, and once again he proves his musical chops to a tee.

Also of note is a track not in the movie itself, but recorded for the production-The titular Prince of Darkness by Alice Cooper himself. It's a nicely rockin' tune. Totally ill-fitting with the movie itself, so it's understandable it wasn't included directly, even if it is a shame. Between this and The Man with the Golden Gun, Alice has quite a history of movie themes that almost made it!

Prince of Darkness was critically savaged on its release, and got an unfairly bad rap. You have to wonder if these high-falutin' critics ever actually watch any of the things they trash. I've seen things worse than they could ever imagine, and I sat through every second! Time has been kind to this film though, and while its reputation isn't as high or mainstream as The Thing, Prince of Darkness has built up a solid fanbase, and will only grow stronger as time goes on...

Afro Samurai (2007)

Afro Samurai began life as a manga by Takashi 'Bob' Okazaki. With a name so instantly memorable, it had to get noticed, and soon it was picked up by some American producers, with a very enthusiastic Samuel L. Jackson on board. I first saw it on its original Australian airing, and have been a fan ever since, and have long been looking forward to talking about it!...

In a world racked by violence, the cause is clear. The legend of the Headbands states that whoever possesses the Number 1 headband will become God. But the only way to challenge the Number 1 and take their place is is to have the Number 2 headband. With every would-be ruler after it, the headband is easy to acquire, but impossible to keep. Only Afro, a determined young warrior, has been able to keep it. Filled with vengeance after seeing his father's death in a duel with with the current Number 1, Afro cuts down any obstacle, no matter the number or the size, all to reach the place where Gods are made...

Afro Samurai is a great example of an American anime. Bearing a unique visual style, and having a simple but effective story to tell, with themes of revenge and cyclical violence.

It's a short series, at only 5 episodes, but no less impactful. As a movie, it's a great longform story (with a hardly obnoxious runtime of just 125 minutes, ish). As a TV series it could be disappointing due to its decompressed storytelling, with whole episodes sometimes being taken up by a single event. But the series never pretends to be anything else, so it's not big deal. If you want a more sprawling and episodic series, there are others out there, but if you want a concise 'done in 5 episodes' miniseries, Afro Samurai is perfect for you.

The tone is naturally dark. There is death around every corner, and heads rolling. There's not a lot of respite to be found in this world, but there is a little, and there's enough humour, dark or otherwise, to keep things from getting too grim. Maybe if the series was longer it would have run more of a risk of being depressing, but as it is, it strikes a good balance.

Each episode tells its own little story, as part of a bigger whole. After the opening duel, we are first introduced to Afro as he begins his ascent up the Number 1's mountain. Along the way he encounters basic crooks, stronger foes, a cult of deranged monks, and an old friend, now enemy.

The show is flashback heavy, as we see Afro's development from childhood to a battle-worn adult. These are effective, and don't usually halt the action in its tracks. I felt the final episode went a bit overboard with the flashbacks though, and should have had more time devoted to Justice.

The ending feels a bit abrupt though, nor does the epilogue make a whole lot of sense. It also implies that nothing has changed or will change, and everything will stay horrible, which is depressing! It's also meant to set up the sequel film, which I don't really have any plans to see. It seems contrived, and a bit pointless since the story ended here. I get the reasoning behind it, what with the whole 'never-ending battle' stuff, but feh, I wish that epilogue had just been cut out.

Afro is a cool protagonist. He's softly spoken, violent and brutal, fueled by single-minded determination. But he also has humanity, and a love for lemonade. His flaw is that he holds revenge too close to his heart, with grave consequences for his past, but he's also shown as strong for keeping to his convictions, no matter what. It's nice seeing a mix of admonishment and encouraging for a character like this. Yeah, revenge may not be the best option, but it's the path you chose, and you stuck to it the whole way through!

I do dislike how violent young Afro is in one scene during Episode 2. I can buy him acting like this at a certain point, like maybe before everything its the fan, but not while he's still in the cute ''Everything's going fine phase". It feels a bit jarring to see him joking with his friends, then chopping a dude's head off!

Ninja Ninja is great comic-relief, and gets the funniest dialogue in the series. He's also a fascinating character in his own right, and by the end you'll have plenty to think about regarding him. He acts as a foil to Afro, often like a Greek chorus, commenting on events as they play out, and speaking his mind in a humorously blunt way.

Justice is a great villain, but is hurt by only appearing at the beginning of the show, and halfway through the last episode. Appearing as an undead cowboy samurai, his whole demeanour is oily, and each word feels raspy and diseased. His motivations are interesting too. He is by no means good, and his personality is too homicidal to be considered virtuous, but his goal is multi-faceted. My biggest complaint is he doesn't put up much of a fight, and is defeated far too quickly.

Jinno is Afro's old friend, seen in flashbacks, while in the modern day he is a robotic teddy bear samurai...Yes, you read that correctly! He's a likeable kid in the past, but in the present day, my god does he whine! It's incessant! I get that he has a pretty understandable bone to pick with Afro, but I wanted him to shut up a lot of the time. Also, for all his blaming of Afro, it was really the Swordmaster's fault that everything went down the way it did, which makes Jinno a bit insufferable. The imagery of his design is great though, and delightfully out-there.

The other kids during the flashback are a nice bunch, and it's sad to see them go. The Swordmaster seems like a friendly and wise teacher, though I questioned his intelligence later on. Afro asks him if he has the Number 2 headband, and he just gives his student the time and place for a duel! Why not have a meaningful conversation with Afro, instead of just immediately accepting a duel the kid hadn't asked for yet

Otsuro is decent, providing a nice love interest, and conflicted character. Though I'm not so much a fan of what becomes of her. I feel that was a step too far into depressing territory. Enough horrible stuff happens in Afro's life with that needing to occur as well, especially given he already thought she died once. Still though, I guess it was inevitable in a story like this.

The Empty Seven are cybernetic hip-hop Buddhist monks, and I feel that is all I need to say. They're a street-wise and sinful bunch of preachers, determined to have godhood to themselves. Their trump card is the Afro Droid, which makes for one of our hero's toughest adversaries. They also have a resident mad scientist on hand, who is a weird presence.

The acting in Afro Samurai is mostly really good. Samuel L. Jackson is great in his double role, softly spoken and cold as the titular hero, and over-the-top and funny as Ninja Ninja. Kelly Hu is nice in her short but important role, and Ron Perlman is deliciously evil as Justice. Everyone else fares pretty well, barring a couple of lines here and there.

The design in Afro Samurai is very creative. The characters are memorable, and the East/West fusion of its world is realised very well, with an ambiguous setting and mix of technologies. The animation is really good, albeit a bit too overdone in places. The way blood acts in this show occasionally defies the laws of physics, but I guess that's expected in anime.

The direction here is very good, with well-choreographed action, and some really pretty shots. There are times where I'm not as much a fan though. Sometimes the camera gets in too close, other times it moves too swishily, and a couple of shots feel a little repetitive (like Brother One's ranting). The animation also becomes a little exaggerated in some fight scenes, almost to an Aeon Flux degree. These issues don't occur all the time, thankfully, and start phasing out as the series wears on.

And lastly, there's the music to discuss. Composed by hip-hop artist The RZA and the Wu Tang Clan, it gets across the mix of cultures and genres, and captures the tone perfectly. This is best encapsulated in the short but strong main theme. Another favourite track was the battle theme near the end. I also appreciated the use of silence, which makes it all the more impactful when the music does the talking.

Afro Samurai isn't perfect, but I still really enjoy it! It's a bleakly violent odyssey that I've watched many times before, and will no doubt watch again. I highly recommend it...

Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind (1978)

Dr. Hamilton is an esteemed psychologist, suddenly beset by terrifying dreams of Coffin Joe stealing away his wife Tania. His friends and family are concerned, even enlisting the help of Jose Mojica Marins himself to cure the man's affliction. But nothing seems to help, and Hamilton is at risk of being lost to Coffin Joe forever...

The amusingly titled Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind opens abruptly. After a strangely sorta-groovy tune over the opening credits, we are thrown straight into the 'plot', which is an awfully strong word to use for a movie such as this. You see, this is made up predominately of stock footage. Brazilian horror director Jose Mojica Marins was most famous for the Coffin Joe series, and I don't know if he was under contract for a new movie or what, but he came out with this, cobbled together from whatever scraps and recycled bits he could find.

The film is full of crazy imagery living up to the title. A lot of it is stupid, but plenty is creative...but from other movies, so praising Hallucinations for those elements wouldn't be correct. There's next to no dialogue, either. You could mute the film and miss out on nothing but the endless screaming and wailing.

The framing story is interesting in theory, but the film never really makes an attempt to give it any importance. It's just an excuse to string the scenes along. Even the resolution feels sudden and anticlimactic, coming only because they've hit the runtime quota and don't need any more archive footage. Then comes the true ending though, which makes no sense, but is typical of horror films. Even when you've definitively 100% super duper killed the bad guy, there'll always be that last minute twist or tease at the end showing they've survived.

The film has no consistency. Not only the scene will change rapidly, on a dime, but so will the film quality, and even the colour! There's no context for most of the images and scenes we're shown. The most ill-fitting scenes are those that feature Coffin Joe himself being tormented, which doesn't fit with the story here (you'd think seeing them would perk Hamilton up!).

Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind is honestly quite boring. A lot of the scenes are good in their own right (if a bit ridiculous and laughable in places), but only in the context of the original movies. Here, without any of that context, it's just shock for shock's sake, and none of it leaves an impact. I suppose you could compare it to watching a compilation of gory death scenes. You could watch a 5 or 10 minute video of such scenes and enjoy yourself, sure, but stretched to 80 minutes? You'd be reaching for the remote faster than water in a desert!

Turning Coffin Joe into a supernatural omnipotent being seems a bit weird and out-of-character when one of his character's defining characteristics is a hatred of all things supernatural. I also didn't like that he doesn't lose at the end of the movie. He is such a loathsome character that you look forward to seeing the arrogant sonovabitch get taken down.

The acting in the main segment leaves a little to be desired in some areas, while others are just ok.

And lastly, the music, what little there is, is comprised almost entirely of spooky moaning, and it skirts the line of eerie and enigmatic, and just plain annoying.

Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind has a few decent moments, and some were even made for this movie, but overall it's basically just piecemeal scatterings of Marins' previous efforts. If you didn't like them then there's no sense checking this out. And if you do like them, well you're probably not gonna get much out of this...

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul (1964) and This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

Known in English as Coffin Joe, Zé do Caixão is the creation of José Mojica Marins. Considered to be the first Brazilian horror movies, the Coffin Joe duology kickstarted Marins's career, as well as a new craze for the Latin American nation.

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul

In a small Brazilian town lives Zé, the local undertaker. Loathing of religion, and obsessed with siring the next in his bloodline, he makes life hell for everyone in the area, disfiguring those he plays cards with, insulting the local holy people, and worst of all is his fixation with the lovely young Terezinha, fiancee of his friend Antonio. Believing that she really wants to be with him, Zé tortures and murders his infertile wife, then sets about making Terezinha his, no matter who gets in his way... 

At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul starts off with a bit of a cheesy and old-fashioned look to it, but soon reveals itself to be anything but! Its focus is squarely on the psychology of the lead, a truly nasty and vile character who definitely has his place as one of the great horror villains. He has a distinctive look, an interesting personality for many reasons, and creepy motivations, all paired with an unrelenting sadism.

A large element to the movie is religion, and's feelings towards it. He hates it like nothing else, which in a way reflects the feelings of José Mojica Marins himself, and was quite a scandalous opinion to have at the time, for a country where Catholicism was a big deal. The only way Marins could get across his viewpoint was through the mouth of a villain, which seems just a tad counterproductive, but oh well. All of Zé's attacks on religion culminate in a great monologue near the end, all shot in one long take.

The story here is mostly well written, but there are places where it comes off as just plain unbelievable. I'd be most curious to know how the heck this guy managed to commit atrocity after atrocity without having been arrested yet, despite being quite open and public with them. I also wonder if the murders he commits are his first. If they're not, everything makes a bit more sense, but if they are, he certainly jumped onto killing very quickly and abruptly! Can't say it doesn't fit his 'charming' personality though.

While their general inaction towards the villain are annoying, the other characters are fine, though some get killed off before getting the chance to do a whole lot. I wish Terezinha had gotten get sweet revenge against , or at least pointed the finger at him in a 'certain note' she writes. The Doctor was a total dope for not fighting back when about to get his eyes poked out! And Maria's uncle was a moron too for getting just a wee bit too close to when making his grand declaration of rebellion. That scene in particular I felt was a bit much. I already got the picture that is an asshole, and he's already done at least 2 horrible things in that tavern. Showing any more just felt a bit pointless, especially when the climax approaches. I wish the finale would've happened right after he made his final grand speech to the heavens, as it would've been much more fitting. Instead it comes when there's still a little while to go.

The movie is predominately made up of Coffin Joe doing every horrible thing imaginable and going unpunished, while it's in the final act where everything come back to bite him, and he begins to know fear. It's a suitably ghoulish last act, ending on a great note. The plot may be somewhat thin in a few regards, but it's very effective in others.

The effects are pretty good whenever present. The violence is done well, if not entirely convincingly, while the supernatural stuff is more on the cheesy side. Not bad though, except for Antonio's face at the end. I also found the look on Terezinha's face after her death is pretty laughable.

The sets are all neat too, especially once you learn of the behind the scenes troubles, due to the low budget, and doubt from others in the industry. One touch to the movie's look did outright piss me off though-The opening cast montage! It totally spoils just about every death scene in the movie!

If At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul really is the first Brazilian horror film, the genre certainly started off with a bang over there, with this macabre film dealing with fears both old and new! It's well worth watching for any horror fan...

This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse

Somehow (*coughyeahrightcough*) surviving the events of the previous film, Zé is back to his old tricks. Just as fanatic, he kidnaps several women and puts them through sadistic tests to see if any of them are 'worthy' of carrying his child. All but one die, and the townsfolk are desperate for revenge. Will they finally kill , or will his evil plans succeed? Or will another force come for the mad Coffin Joe?...

This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse is an interesting film, with a lot to like, but also sharing many of the same flaws I had in the previous entry, namely a run-time and sense of pacing that began to exceed my patience. On the face of it it's a pretty daring film, and definitely pushes the envelope in terms of violence and themes. It explores the character of Coffin Joe even more, and really delves into his twisted psyche and philosophy.

Joe is still searching for the perfect woman, and kidnaps just about half the village. He gathers together all these women, and all he does is scare them with spiders. And because they failed this one single test by being afraid, he kills them all, immediately! Bloody hell, man, I was expecting you to at least do a few tests, but he does one and immediately declares the half dozen women he kidnapped as a write off.

Joe is a complex character with many sides to him, all bad. In his mind he is the only truly virtuous man in town, and intends to show the others, and the world, that he has moral superiority...By committing acts of sadism and perversion! For a character who openly and proudly hates hypocrisy, he sure is a bloody hypocrite! He also acts indignant that the townsfolk suspect his hand in the recent crimes, as if it's a witch hunt. Umm, that's all well and good, Joe, did kidnap all their women, and you fully intended to rape, torture, and possibly murder them. So maybe they do have the right to throw aspersions your way?

For such a science enthusiast, he really is a bit dim at times. He'll have his way with a woman, and no sooner than he's putting his boots back on he's convinced she's already pregnant. Hold your horses, Joe, it takes longer than that! He also always assume she'll have a son, despite the odds only being 50-50.

We see elements of a softer side to Joe, which still fits in with his mindset. While he hates the 'useless' townsfolk, he admires children, for their innocence, and their role in shaping the future. Because of this sensitivity, when Joe realises one of the women he killed was already pregnant, he's shocked senseless. It's to the point when he actually apologises to people for being rough! And yet when he openly admits why he's upset to his girlfriend Laura "One of the women I murdered was pregnant", her response is to comfort him by insulting the girl's morals, basically!

Despite only being a gravedigger with a modest house in the last film, Coffin Joe now has a large mansion, complete with specialty made torture dungeons, secret panels, and various booby traps. And they're all stocked up with well-fed animals too (presumably by new evil housekeeper Bruno, complete with hunchback). The lair even has a bed-post that doubles and triples as a trapdoor opener and snake hatch release! Damn, I want a place like this! Well, minus the torture dungeons. The booby traps are ok though.

Marcia is the only one of the 'brides' spared, because she's actually on-board with Coffin Joe, to the point that she was happy to be kidnapped, and is ready to give birth to his 'perfect' children. But the mass-killing does upset her, and leads her to break away a little (while still being loyal). Her character really is pointless. Her only purpose is rendered almost immediately moot, and she's replaced by a completely likeminded character, while she does just about nothing, before a hilariously abrupt suicide.

Laura is like Marcia if you stripped away the personality, and dialed up the poor judgement. At first it just seemed like she has terrible taste in men, but it turns out that she's just as crazy as Joe! At first I felt bad for her knowing she'd be a victim of his, but since she's so freakishly into Joe and all his beliefs, she can keep him!

What I appreciate most about this film is that it gives the townspeople a chance to make up for their cowardice in the previous film. We also get a group of thugs to solve the problem, but are out of the movie far too soon, and far too easily too! They had ample opportunity to gang up on Joe and pummel the fear of God into him, but he has a character shield they can't break.

This town also holds the stupidest legal system ever! After burly local Truncador exits the bar, Bruno conks him on the head and dumps a corpse next to him (which has obviously been killed hours ago, by non-human means), and this instantly convinces the authorities of his guilt. So they can't see Coffin Joe's guilt in all his crimes, but this is all the evidence they need to convict this innocent sap?

By far the most impressive sequence of the film is Joe's trip to Hell. The film turns to colour and the film stock changes, and what was previously a black-and-white Gothic production suddenly becomes a full-blown Bosch painting. There are devils with pitchforks and tails torturing people, asses and boobs are poking out of the walls, and the souls of the dead gang up on Joe. It's by far the film's best scene, and a highlight of Marins' career

The climax is great! Joe is ranting outside, demanding evidence of the supernatural, despite literally just seeing a vision of his victim. Then after his demand, lightning strikes the tree in front of him, and it collapses onto him. I jokingly thought 'He's so stubborn, I bet he's gonna go "That was just a coincidence, I need real evidence!".', and then he actually says just that!

The effects here are decent all round, with cheap but effective violence. The costumes and make-up during the Hell sequence are pretty over-the-top, almost feeling like a community play, but it's visually impressive, and I liked the filmy painted look the scene has.

The black and white photography throughout is good, and shots are well-framed throughout. The credits however are unwatchable. Not only do the names flash by far too quickly to read, they flicker wildly too. All over violent imagery to come that likewise is over before you can even register what it is.

This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse is mixed. It's got many good qualities, some bad too, and is wrapped up in a pretty overlong package. But it's still worth watching once for horror fans, even if the fastforward button may come in handy at times. I may not be the biggest fan of José Mojica Marins, but I at least respect him for his efforts, and for his contribution to horror cinema...

Johnny Guitar (1954)

I generally keep away from American westerns. It's not a genre that I particularly like. I much prefer spaghetti westerns! No idea why I like them so much, despite being so uncaring about U.S. ones, but I am, and rarely watch the latter. Johnny Guitar was an exception though, thanks to its stellar reputation, including high praise from some friends, so I jumped on the chance to give the movie a shot...

A small Arizona town is about to be connected with the railway, much to the anger of some locals, but to the pleasure of Vienna, a businesswoman and saloon manager. Bitter rival Emma insists on making trouble, whipping up ferment among the townfolk. She accuses Vienna of harbouring outlaws, and events soon come to a head with the arrival of old flame Johnny...

Yep, I REALLY don't take to American westerns! As it turns out, I didn't like Johnny Guitar! You know, this is why I haven't watched Shane yet! I'm sure it's a great movie, and a classic, but I'm afraid that if I watch it, its mystique as a classic of cinema will be lost on me thanks to my distaste of its genre! God, what if I probably dislike High Noon too!

I found Johnny Guitar to be very interesting at first, for over half-an-hour in fact. The first 30+ minutes are all in real-time, and works very well, with each long-ish scene following directly from the previous ones. I was really eager to see where the story would go!...Well I'll tell you where it goes-To a new damn location several hours later! That instantly shattered my notion, and it was around this point where the film started taking a downturn for me. I suppose it passed that event horizon point where you realize if a film's slow because it's effectively slow-moving, or just plain boring. Coupled with the disappointment that Johnny Guitar isn't in real time, but rather wasted almost 40 minutes on a couple of scenes pissed me off!

As for the story itself, not only did I start becoming bored, but I also feel it didn't quite live up to its potential, and I found it to be quite depressing! Vienna's got such a great thing going on, and it's utterly ruined by petty grudges, and misunderstandings. The only reason bad stuff even happens is just because Emma is horny, but too self-loathing about her sexuality to just walk up to the Dancin' Kid and make eyes at him. I would've preferred if Emma's reasons for hating Vienna been stronger (and actually related to her, rather than an acquaintance). Oh well, at the least, Johnny Guitar doesn't have a depressing ending. It's not the happiest, but not terrible, like I was afraid it'd be.

Despite my gripes, I do have positive things to say about this movie. First is its treatment of women. No, there aren't any scenes where Johnny comes back after all these years and says 'Hi honey, good job you've done prettying this place up, but the man's here now, so get your sweet body back into the kitchen, dollface!'. Just the opposite, the movie's lead is a strong, independent woman, and the villainous Emma is too, holding lots of influence over those in town, and able to start up an angry mob at the drop of a hat.

Descriptions I've read also describe the male characters as 'weak and ineffectual', but I didn't really find that to be the case. It is for a couple, but not all. Vienna's character did end up annoying me later on though, when she does fall back in love with her old beau.

I also liked how the movie takes time to psychologically develop its main characters, in a way that must have been fairly uncommon for a regular oater.

The use of colour in the movie is really eye-catching! Lots of bright colours, which clash effectively against the backgrounds. The set design and effects are a standout too.

The pacing here is decent to start with. The first third moves really smoothly at first, but it crashes to a halt after that, and ends up being a bit uneven, and overlong, with several points where I wasn't sure if the story was hitting the climax or not.

The acting is one of this film's high points, with Joan Crawford being the standout, along with Mercedes McCambridge. Forrest Tuc...I mean Ward Bond is fine, too, and John Carradine adds some heart to the proceedings. Ernest Borgnine gets to be a real villain here. None of those trademark huggable smiles! The rest of the acting is all serviceable.

I didn't find Johnny Guitar as great as I was expecting, and that left me rather disappointed, perhaps moreso than if I went into it blind. I suppose it's worth a watch if you like American westerns, and the performances and visuals totally worth it...

D.O.A. (1950)

The film noir genre produced many classics during its heyday. One of the most memorable still stands as D.O.A., and not just because the copyright lapsed!...

Frank Bigelow is a regular accountant, going out on the town for a few days, to get away from his clingy' partner, and to go drinking. The city is kind to him at first, but he wakes up the next morning feeling strange. A visit to the doctor reveals he has been fatally poisoned, and now with only a day or two left to live, Bigelow must discover who killed him and why...

D.O.A. begins in an arresting and now-famous scene, often imitated. The camera follows a man as he walks into a police station with purpose, until he reaches the chief's office. He'd like to report a murder-His own...

This immediately sets the fatalistic tone, and from then on the film is one big flashback (with a minimum of cheesy noir narration). What makes it so good is not only its delivery, but the quality of the writing. There's enough humanity and meaning so while the action may be downbeat, with a foregone conclusion, it's never depressing.

D.O.A. is nice and short at only 84 minutes, but dense with detail. Despite knowing exactly what will happen to our lead, the movie's never dull, because there's still a wider mystery at play, and he may go at any moment. Not only must he expose his killer, but also save others from this fate, in a race against time. The reveal by the end is a little confusing, and whether or not you know what's even happening or who was responsible may vary, but at least the road getting there is worth it.

Frank Bigelow starts out as a bit of a cad. He's got a loving...secretary, and while things are very much official to her, he's reluctant to commit, and sees no problem with going on the town and flirting with other ladies. Things take a turn after his diagnosis, and his likeability increases. In a way it works better that he's an ass to start with, and it makes the struggle feel more real than if he were just a perfect saint.

Despite being an accountant, he makes for a believable lead as he fishes out the truth, and goes toe to toe with gangsters. His reaction to being poisoned is great too. He's naturally skeptical at first, but not unreasonable, as he immediately seeks a second opinion. It's here when he realises the truth of his situation, and runs for an entirely different reason.

Frank's girlfriend Paula is sweet, and well-rounded despite less screentime. She doesn't come across as desperate as she could've, thanks to good writing and acting. Mob boss Majak is a pragmatic villain, while his thuggish goon Chester is a psycho with a fixation on bellies. The overall villain isn't as interesting though, since we only find out who they are in the last few minutes, and by that point Frank's focused on making them pay rather than spending half an hour chatting.

The direction in D.O.A. is great, and highlights really well the desperate and disoriented mindset of the hero. Even if it's a bit on the nose at times, like when Frank collapses by a stall full of Life magazines.

The cast are very good. Edmond O'Brien impresses as the lead, and Pamela Britton makes the most of her role. Laurette Luez is a neat addition, bringing a bit of sultriness to the film. Luther Adler is charismatic as the mob boss, while Neville Brand could be terrifying or annoying to some as manic henchman Chester. Of particular note are some of the minor players, such as the doctors, and Roy Engel as the police chief. They get across a lot of gravity with their small but sombre roles.

D.O.A.'s legacy over 70 years later is strong, consisting of a few remakes of middling quality (including one from Australia!...starring two Americans...But one of them is Carolyn Jones!), homages in many other works, and ripoffs in a few others. As much of a cliche as it is to say, this original film is still the best, and is just as fresh now as it was back in 1950...