Took a couple weeks off the blog, now back to the SHOCKtober backlog. Got a new visual theme to support larger images (and incidentally phones/tables/etc) so beginning with this post, screenshots are no longer limited to 640px wide. Party!

After enjoying The Tenant, I decided to rewatch the rest of Polanski’s “apartment trilogy:” this and Repulsion, both of which I’d seen on cable so long ago that I may as well have never seen them at all before now. Obviously these movies were the highlight of Shocktober this year, alongside Hellraiser, Scanners and Possession. After not paying him much attention until 2011, I’m a big Polanski fan. All three apartment movies have terrific peephole shots, and this and Repulsion both have a dream sequence in which a ticking clock is the only sound. I found out in the extras that Polanski threw off the lipsynch in another dream sequence on purpose – I’d been annoyed at the technical flaw but he meant it to add to the unreal atmosphere.

Omaha native Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and husband Guy (John Cassavetes, same year as Faces) shop for an NYC apartment with realtor Elisha Cook (Phantom Lady, The Killing), settle on a place with nosy neighbors whose previous tenant passed away just a few days before. Mia’s first friend (Victoria Vetri, Playmate of the Month right before this filmed) jumps to her death soon after they move in. Already this is sounding like The Tenant, but instead of the new tenants going slowly insane, aspiring actor Guy makes a deal with the intrusive Castevet couple next door to have his wife impregnated with the antichrist.

Collateral damage: the suicide woman, who it’s assumed was meant to be the demon child’s host before Rosemary came along, Hutch, the couple’s best friend before the whole demon pregnancy thing (Maurice Evans, a lead ape the same year in Planet of the Apes), Guy’s competition for a major acting role (he goes inexplicably blind). I think Rosemary’s doctor, the great Charles Grodin (as opposed to the doc the Castevets choose for her, Ralph Bellamy of The Wolf Man), is allowed to live.

Even without the demon baby, moving in next door to the Castevets seems like horror movie material – this may be what led to The Tenant. Paradoxically, the crazy Castevets also keep the mood light, injecting humor into the horror. Ruth Gordon won an oscar (beating the star of Cassavetes Faces), would star in Harold and Maude a few years later, and Sidney Blackmer played Leslie Nielsen’s dad in Tammy and the Bachelor. The ending is intense, though – Rosemary discovering the whole conspiracy, walks into a room with her demon baby, her traitor husband and a bunch of revelers yelling “hail Satan,” and instead of hurling herself out the window or burning the place to the ground, she approaches the cradle and starts to rock it gently.

Polanski’s first American film after Repulsion and two others in England. There was a sequel! It starred Pontypool‘s Stephen McHattie as the demon kid now in his twenties, with Patty Duke and Ray Milland. Mia Farrow starred in Secret Ceremony, another disappearing child/hysterical mom movie the same year as Rosemary’s.

Author Ira Levin in 2003:

Lately, I’ve had a new worry. The success of Rosemary’s Baby inspired Exorcists and Omens and lots of et ceteras. Two generations of youngsters have grown to adulthood watching depictions of Satan as a living reality. Here’s what I worry about now: if I hadn’t pursued an idea for a suspense novel almost forty years ago, would there be quite as many religious fundamentalists around today?

I watched the blurry-looking-and-sounding 90’s DVD of this a decade ago, didn’t understand a bit of it and didn’t see what was the big deal. It helps to have some context, to realize that it was unique to release an independent film based on improvisations in America in the 1950’s. And it helps that the Criterion DVD is less murky – some of the dialogue is still hard to make out, but important to appreciating a movie is having a clue what is going on. Not that I’m the world’s biggest appreciator of Cassavetes or jazz music, and this wasn’t some kind of revelation (I still prefer Faces), but at least I feel like I’ve properly seen the movie and I liked it.

It takes a while to figure the character relationships, since the dialogue is naturalistic, no big opening exposition scenes. Hugh is a washed-up, unfashionable singer, taking bad jobs at crappy bars, serious looking with a light beard. His brother Ben (short curly hair, usually sunglasses) plays trumpet, hangs out with friends every night, borrowing money, hitting on girls and getting into fights. And their very light-skinned sister Lelia hangs out with a dreary artsy guy named David who hosts literary meetings. David introduces her to Tony, who literally grabs David’s would-be girl and runs off with her while they’re walking in the park. Lelia’s line after her first sexual experience: “I didn’t know it could be so awful.” This is pretty intense for 1959, a year when Doris Day and Pillow Talk were getting oscars.

Tony visits Lelia’s apartment and can’t deal with the fact that her brothers are black (and therefore so is she), gets all blustery until Hugh chases him out. Tony tries to get himself figured out, but the siblings have moved on – Lelia starts dating a nice (and black) guy named Davey Jones, and Benny ditches his friends and goes off on his own, an evocative ending.

So I’m with you here… Cassavetes was a great man who made great films. This doc is so convincing, in fact, that I want to give two movies I disliked some years ago (Chinese Bookie and Shadows) another shot. And there’s good footage: film clips, interviews with cast and crew, and behind-the-scenes stuff. And I understand if you’ve got that much good stuff you want to use it. But three and a half hours of pure Cassavetes love is an awful lot to take!

Good to see the actors from Faces thirty years later. Good to see Peter Falk… every story he tells is golden. And of course, good to see my favorite actress Gena Rowlands.

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JC:
“In this country, people die at 21. They die emotionally at 21, maybe even younger now. For those of us who are lucky not to die at 20, we keep on going, and my responsibility as an artist is to help people get over 21. The films are a roadmap through emotional and intellectual terrains that provide a solution to how one can save pain. As people, we know that we are petty, vicious, violent and horrible, but my films make an effort to contain the depression within us and to limit the depression to those areas that we can actually solve. The resolution of the films is the assertion of a human spirit.”

Whew, a not-too-good late-70’s-looking thriller with hardly any thrills, this wasn’t nearly as good as I’d hoped it’d be. Funny how in a week I went from watching John Cassavetes masterpiece Faces to watching a movie that ends with John Cassavetes exploding.

Boom!!:
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Movie opens in “Mid East 1977.” Kirk Douglas (below) loses his psychic son Robin to evildoer Cassavetes who subjects him to experiments we’re barely shown for reasons we are never told (and JC doesn’t seem to sweat it when Robin is killed at the end). Kirk goes deep undercover to rescue his son, enlisting Carrie‘s Amy Irving (who gets killed by a car in a botched escape) and psychic troubled girl Carrie Snodgress to help him infiltrate the secretly Cassavetes-backed psychic rest home run by Charles Durning (the president in Twilight’s Last Gleaming). Kirk finds his son but Robin has turned evil and they both plummet to their deaths from the roof. Carrie is miffed and explodes John Cassavetes again and again from fifty-six different camera angles.

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A brief timeline of stories featuring psychic kids and exploding bodies:
Carrie (King, 74)
The Fury (John Farris, 76)
Carrie (De Palma, 76)
The Fury (De Palma, 78)
Firestarter (King, 80)
Scanners (Cronenberg, 81)
Firestarter (Mark Lester, 84)

One of those cool De Palma signature perspective shots:
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Cassavetes (you can tell he’s evil by the black-gloved hand in a black arm cast) with Charles Durning:
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Robin (Andrew Stevens, vet of 70+ crappy movies) looks like he’s wolfing out, but really he’s hanging off a rooftop from his father’s arm full of psychic rage:
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Whoa, I thought I knew lead actor John Marley, but I guess I’ve only seen him in The Godfather. Definitely know Gena Rowlands, the greatest of all actresses, as John’s new girl. Lynn Carlin is best known for this, and was oscar nominated for it, as was Seymour Cassel in his first big part, looking very young and smooth as Chet.

Cassavetes’ second canonical film after 1959’s Shadows, although he directed some others in between and co-wrote Too Late Blues.

Film looks terrific, all blown-up grainy b/w, sometimes a nice long take to let an actor’s piece play out, but it seems less like an improv than Shadows was. Wouldn’t mind reading up on Cassavetes to see how the film was conceived and constructed.

In short: Richard and Maria are rich, bored, and have no sex life, so Richard leaves her for Jeannie and Maria has an affair with Chet the same night, but they end up at home together, not exactly reconciled, but maybe resigned. Ruminations on love, sex, fidelity, aging, and being too obsessed with yourself and your wealth to have a real human relationship.

Supremely non-entertaining, an honest and hurtful film, one of the best I’ve seen.

Some faces:

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