Thursday, April 30, 2020

April Quick Picks and Pans

The Strangler (1964) This overlooked little thriller is worthy of rediscovery, thanks to Victor Buono’s gloriously unhinged performance as Leo Kroll, a man frozen in a stage of arrested development. The standard police procedural plot is nothing special, hampered by wooden acting from David McLean and Baynes Barron as obtuse cops. Buono takes the film to a different level as Kroll with his intimidating presence, sociopathic tendencies and idiosyncrasies (he targets nurses and collects dolls, which he keeps locked in a desk drawer). He’s tormented by his hospitalized, domineering mother (Ellen Corby), who teaches him to distrust women. In one of the most memorable scenes, he expresses his love to a horrified arcade prize booth worker. If you can excuse the dated psychology, it’s a compelling portrait of a profoundly disturbed individual.  

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD and Tubi

The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974) Mimsy Farmer stars as Silvia Hacherman, a successful chemist, in director/co-writer Francesco Barilli’s (writer of Who Saw Her Die?) unconventional, slow-moving mystery. She’s confronted by many questions and few answers, as she comes face to face with a young girl who seems to know a little too much about her shady past. The film invites viewers to separate reality from delusions, with shades of Repulsion and multiple references to Alice in Wonderland, as Silvia’s sanity gradually erodes. The story moves with a deliberate pace, in a giallo seemingly devoid of murders, but stick with it as the bodies pile up in the third act. The conclusion is as baffling as it’s disturbing

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Kanopy

The Believers (1987) Martin Sheen stars as police psychologist Cal Jamison, a recent widower, who relocates to New York. He barely gets settled before becoming embroiled in a case involving a series of ritualized child murders (linked to an extremist sect of Santeria). As he digs deeper for answers, his young son (Harley Cross) is targeted by the murderous cult, whose tendrils spread far and wide. Sheen is over the top, but there are some good supporting performances by Robert Loggia as a police lieutenant, Harris Yulin as a wealthy philanthropist, and Helen Shaver as his landlord/girlfriend (she has the honor of being in the film’s ickiest scene). Director John Schlesinger builds a modicum of suspense and paranoia, although it probably would have been wise to omit the dodgy opening scene, depicting the improbable accident (milk and coffee makers don’t mix) that killed Jamison’s wife. The film might not make you a believer (pardon the pun), but there are worse ways to spend 90 or so minutes.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Prime Video

Burke and Hare (1972) Despite the tremendous potential of the subject matter, this movie somehow squanders its retelling of the infamous Burke and Hare murders, which occurred in Edinburgh, Scotland in the early 19th century. Vernon Sewell’s 1972 film attempts to be erotic and comic, yet fails on both counts. Ne’er do wells Burke and Hare (Derren Nesbitt and Glynn Edwards) hatch a scheme to get rich, selling bodies to an anatomical school. In order to meet the increasing demands of the school, and their greed, they resort to murder to keep the product flowing. The film suffers from lethargic pacing (spending too much time with a subplot about a local brothel, frequented by doctors and medical students), feeble attempts at comedy, and does little to evoke a sense of horror or atmosphere. The theme song by The Scaffold is kind of catchy, though.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Kanopy

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