Friday, January 17, 2014

Watch Instantly Watch: Wait Until You're Blindsided aka Penthouse North

Something's hidden in the apartment of a young blind woman, and dark criminal types turn up to look for it and glean any knowledge from her they can.

That's the plot of Wait Until Dark (1967)of course, based on the stage play of the same name by Frederick Knott who also penned the play that became Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder.

The premise gets an updating in both pace and timeframe in Blindsided aka Penthouse North, now streaming on Netflix with some airings on Lifetime as well. It's penned by David Loughery and directed by Joseph Ruben (Sleeping With the Enemy.)

In Wait Until Dark, the heroine is Audrey Hepburn, the MacGuffin a doll filled with heroin. Thugs led by Alan Arkin attempt a con game to finesse details such as the combination of a safe where the doll might be stored. Things progress to brutality. 

The brutality comes sooner in Blindsided. Michelle Monaghan is a photojournalist who's lost her sight to a suicide bomber while in Afghanistan. Three years after the incident, she's living happily with a significant other in an expensive Manhattan penthouse. 

It's more like the film I thought Wait Until Dark was going to be when I was a kid, before I saw it the first time. 

The original film is a slow burn. Arkin, Richard Crenna and Jack Weston trick Hepburn's husband into leaving then try to convince her he's involved in an affair and murder with the doll he brought home from a trip. It's the item that can time him to the whole matter, so she's urged to produce it, even though she doesn't know where it is.

Things turn brutal much quicker in Blindsided. Monaghan's Sara comes home from picking up the final touches for New Year's Eve to find her boyfriend dead. The thug that knifed him's still on the premises, and he's joined after a few twists by his boss, Michael Keaton, who's back in Pacific Heights territory. He seems like the more gentle of the two, but of course…

There's no con game, just an escalating effort to terrorize Sara until she reveals what she knows about money on the premises and more. Even a little water boardings worth a try.

It's a Wait Until Dark for our era, I suppose, with a punches contemporary audiences will appreciate, clocking in just under 90 minutes. 

There are still twists and turns, and a little does-she-know? or doesn't-she? mind play, with one moment of: "If she knew, why would she let that happen?" 

It's also interesting, if you're familiar with original, to see how Keaton and Company deal differently with issues Arkin's band tackled years ago. They're a little more heavy handed today.

Keaton's good , always love Keaton, but I think Arkin's twisted psychopath is still a little more chilling. 

Check both for yourself and see what you think. It might make for an interesting double bill on an evening at home.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Maze - 1953 Atmospheric Horror


A friend's post on Facebook recently pointed me to the 1953 film The Maze, an atmospheric thriller with a Lovecraftian feel.

The story is based on the novel of the same name by surrealist Maurice Sandoz and was directed by William Cameron Menzies. 

I liked it. There's plenty for a contemporary viewer to take exception to, but if you're in the right mindset, it's a moody and interesting little ride, originally offered in 3D.

The story focuses on Kitty Murrary played by Veronica Hurst. She and her aunt are hanging out on the Riviera with her fiancé Gerald (It Came from Outer Space's Richard Carlson). They're obviously beautiful people of the day, those people Tom Ripley would love to hang out with.

Gerald's unfortunately called home to the old family castle when his uncle dies just weeks before he wedding date. 

In one of the obvious 3D moments, a bellman thrusts a cable at Kitty a short time later. Gerald writes that he can't marry her, though he promises to always be faithful to her. Have a nice life.

Kitty's not one to let a fiancé off that easily, so with her aunt in tow, they head to the cable's return address to find Gerald greying at the temples, a sure sign he's been under a good deal of stress.

He's not particularly welcoming, but Kitty offers enough excuses for an overnight stay, then connives to get a letter out inviting friends including a physician to come for a few days. The mysterious male servants lock people into their rooms at night, but otherwise it's an interesting spot for a few days' stay.

Oh, and the castle overlooks the maze of the title, a network of hedges where at least one female servant's perished under mysterious circumstances.

Without spoiling too much the plot points toward the payoff in the third act, so the journey is in the buildup. Your enjoyment of the film will be affected by your ability to accept that style of storytelling as well as your ability to tolerate classic Doctor Who-style special effects.

If you can reset just enough, the shocks are kind of fun and creepy, and, well, again if you're in the right viewing mode, kind of shocking.

If you like atmospheric horror and you have a little patience, check it out.

Aside with mild spoilers

The novel upon which the film is based is apparently inspired by the legend of The Monster of Glamis, also inspiration for Joseph Payne Brennan's "The Horror at Chilton Castle."

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