Inferno (1980) – Rock N Rolla

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Inferno feels like a mashed-up jukebox with lots of gore and blood spilling out from the four corners of the screen than a plot driven about witchcraft. You have a DJ here mixing the songs and giving us what we expect from Dario Argento without caring much about how we get there. Yet, what Argento promises, he delivers: rollicking background scores drumming up the intensity and scenes flowered with artistic brilliance. Not to ignore the gory sights of human destruction at the hands of supernatural forces.

Inferno feels more b-grade than its predecessor and is more in line with Mario Bava’s films than Suspiria (1977). No wonder as Bava worked as Argento’s advisor in Inferno overseeing the visual effects. His son, Lamberto Bava, is the assistant director. Inferno is the second installment of Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy. It’s more explicit in explaining the nuances of the three death-personified women than Suspiria was, and treads a path more honest to the gaillo genre than its predecessor.

That doesn’t mean it’s equally compelling or artistic. It takes the theme forward through Mater Tenebrarum—the most dangerous of the three witches—from Mater Suspiriorum in Suspiria. Comparisons are bound with the former as Inferno is a thematic sequel to Suspiria and that may have been the undoing of this otherwise grisly movie.

Mater Tenebrarum is the Mother of Darkness. In Suspiria, we saw the eldest witch, Mater Suspiriorum, popular as Helena Markos. She was the Mother of Sighs. In the much-delayed third part, we round off the trilogy with Mater Lachrymarum, the Mother of Tears – the most beautiful and powerful of the three witches. She makes an appearance in Inferno as the cat-eyed, hypnotic music student (Ania Pieroni), but not much is shown after her brief appearance and the blood that she deliciously spills.

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Inferno opens with Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle), a poet living in an apartment in New York. Her next-door neighbor owns an antique store where she buys classic books. One of the books she acquires is the Three Mothers – a loose biographical musing of Arnold Varelli. Varelli, we learn, was an architect and built three mansions for the Three Mothers – one in Freiburg, another one in Rome, and the last one in New York. Those three mansions are the dwelling places of the witches and the land in and around the area are cursed forever because of their sheer presence.

Rose becomes engrossed in the book and suspects that she might be living in one of those Varelli marvels. She writes to her brother in Rome about it. And, there begins a fatal turn of destiny, as those who have read the book remain in danger of dying. Apparently, there are only five copies of the books. Three of them are destroyed by the end of the movie – leaving only two.

In Suspiria, the male characters were all underscores in Suzy Bannion’s investigation of the occult. That’s not the case in Inferno. Mark Elliot (Leigh McCloskey) has a pivotal part in unraveling the mystery of the horrific second witch even if he does it by chance and fate – more than will and appropriate planning. That is the problem with Inferno.

There’s no concrete point-of-view to follow. We travel from New York to Rome and understand the events through the eyes of Mark’s fellow music student, Sara (Eleonara Giorgi) as she happens to read Mark’s letter from his sister, Rose, which ticks her curiosity on the matter. She proceeds to a traditional library and gets her copy of the Three Mothers. This leads to the episode of witch haunting, or Sara’s passage into nightmare. The place of library is suggested to be the home of the third and most deadly mother.

The perspectives keep altering between Rose and Sara, and we see a rehash of one of the famous plot points from Hitchcock’s Psycho (1961).

Even in Suspiria, you could say that all the pieces slot in right together, but – unlike in Inferno – Suspiria was a high-octane horror, with a captivating mystery angle and a plot furthered by Suzy’s inquisitiveness. In Inferno, the inquisitiveness is lacking, or feels rather deceptive, and the resolution that Varelli hints at in the book stumbles upon the characters without a pretense of struggle.

For much of the movie, things happen randomly. And, a lot happens – for sheer pleasure than narrative compulsion. Dario Argento’s screenplay, consequently, lacks crispness in punctuating key points of the movie. The blood and gore are the only highlights of the movie, with the story serving merely as a bonus.

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This doesn’t make Inferno boring to watch. It makes it less exciting than the first part. The sequel mayn’t have been necessary. I don’t think many would have minded, yet it suffices to say that we’d have missed the brilliant visuals and cinematography (Romano Albani) of the film. The underwater scene with Rose in the underground cellar is astonishing and beautiful to watch – heightening the senses, beautifying the movie. To think, Irene Miracle did it all naturally is a humbling aspect and a testament to Argento’s mastery as an artist.

The artist that he is, nonetheless, the music (Keith Emerson) isn’t as gravitating as the Goblins’ master class in Suspiria. It’s too loud at times, mistimed at others – and doesn’t have the same chill or hypnotism.

Inferno is poor man’s Suspiria. If you enjoyed Suspiria, you won’t dislike it. If you go in with the expectations of another Suspira, you’ll be disappointed. The key, therefore, lies in forgetting Suspiria and enjoying for what it is – Dario Argento’s visual magic and the folklore of Italian gaillo.

Indeed, it’s all going to burn down just like before. In Suspiria, the movie was phoenix ashes. In Inferno, it’s just ashes. Once it burns down, you forget about it.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) – Proving the Absurd

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Scott Derrickson) opened to a negative response in 2005. Quite contrary, what impressed me was the baffling concept of demons and Satan reaching the court of law to prove or rather disprove whether Emily was indeed possessed, or her state was a case of neuropsychological disorder. It does sound strange that a fact-based institution would accept a case on spirits and ether.

It happens, and apparently, it is based on true events about a parish priest exorcising a possessed teenager when medical science was proving to be of no help. The case is of Anneliese Michel of course, a young German girl exorcised in 1976 leading to her alleged death. The date 1976 becomes important because we’re looking back at medical science 40 years ago. Surely, not as sophisticated.

The irony in this courtroom drama lies in our two lawyers, an agnostic as the defendant and a man of faith in the opposition – proving how demons don’t exist and what Emily experienced was, “merely,” psychosomatic.

The two attorneys go back and forth with Ethan Thomas (Campbell Scott) trying to prove the silliness of the case and Erin Brunner (Laura Linney) trying to prove how supernatural forces did have a say in Emily’s death (played by Jennifer Carpenter). Flashback sequences show the horrors Emily passed through – her physical state eerily resembling the crushing state of Regan from The Exorcist (1973). William Freidkin’s Exorcist is an explicit tale on possession where the exorcism itself is the highlight of the movie. Emily’s story focuses on the rationalizing of exorcism and the existence of demons—in the house of logic no less.

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The accused, Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson) isn’t concerned with his impending fate. All he wants to do is tell Emily’s story and reveal how forces beyond our understanding exist in a realm that separates this world from the ethereal world. The courtroom drama scenes, hence, are tight and tense. They’re convincing.  The two attorneys know their trade and go back and forth to prove what they stand for as professionals. Thomas doesn’t let his faith interfere, nor does Brunner let her agnostic beliefs interfere.

The flashback scenes, although not abundant, is spooky. You wonder if these demons actually existed, we’d be in a chaotic world with such vengeful beings in control. Yet, if we take a rational standpoint and accept it all as neuropsychological hallucinations, we’d be better relieved for there are ways to control and subside these symptoms.

As a viewer, I wouldn’t be able to say which party is closer to the truth. The flashback scenes make me tilt towards the father, but how logical is the pseudoscience of possession? Occurrences that are difficult to explain seem to find solace in outright dismissals. When such a claim is disputed in court, sometimes you have to wonder – how the court could meddle with an inconceivable truth.

Despite a hot-potato issue, The Exorcism of Emily Rose makes sense and is well written, well shot, and honestly portrayed. Bravura performances from the starcast only help in convincing us that even though the tale mayn’t be true, it’s not untrue either. There is a grey area somewhere – some things aren’t tangible, but just because they aren’t, that doesn’t mean they really aren’t.

As Father Moore says, it’s not about what is true or untrue. Whether the dead really die away or Anti-Christ forces lurk in the corridor. His only mission is to tell her (Emily’s) story and through her – to warn humans that Anti-Christ forces exist, whilst also comforting people with the presence of Virgin Mary and her divinity.

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose convinces because of that. The courtroom drama and procedural only give it a legitimate claim and testimonies by experts on the area pose a hypothetical scenario of the existence of a spiritual world.

The movie has its shares of thrills and scares – moments of madness and fright. It makes you think from the perspective of Emily’s family. And, asks you a question: what do you do when science fails? Do we go for suggestive therapy, as the exorcism is most likely to be? Or, do we accept defeat and let somebody close to us die away without a proper trial?

It’s an individualistic question – one that may confront us. Not in the same manner of course. However, there are many facets in our lives where we may have to abandon rational explanation and go for a route that is irrational, unseen – enamoured with consolation nonetheless.

The movie plays along these lines: trying to prove the unknowable by using logic. And, maybe in doing so, we’re giving ourselves too much credit by assuming there is a logical answer to every question.

On balance, Emily Rose is a person who degenerated into a vile object. The sequences that show her as an object are disturbing, yet compelling to watch. The courtroom exchanges between the characters are relishing, witty, and tense. Amid all of this, there is a feeling of legitimacy in the case and the unfolding doesn’t feel out of place in the court of justice.

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Ethical dilemma and morality also stand in defence. The long-debated philosophy of ethics finds ample references and lives as a character on its own. There are discussions about legality and ethics. In any profession, ethics is subjective, law imperative. Emily Rose chose an ethical path sacrificing her for the greater good, and you’d feel – ultimately, ethics does prevail over forced reinforcement of law because one is an exterior precondition, the other is an inherent choice.

You need to approach The Exorcism of Emily Rose with an open mind. If you do so, you’ll enjoy this debate on life and death, especially in a tangible stage designed for arguments. Only this time, matter seems to submerge with spirit – giving us one fine movie that engages us and makes us feel for Emily Rose.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) – In Bedlam

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The trampled Lovecraft and his insane stories…

John Carpenter pays homage to HP Lovecraft and his extraterrestrial sagas with In the Mouth of Madness. The name itself is inspired from Lovecraft’s own, At the Mountain of Madness. It takes extra liberty from Lovecraft’s most popular story, The Call of Cthulhu and other similar stories. Consequently, In the Mouth of Madness contains elements typified by Lovecraft—insanity, unknowable powers, inconceivable horror, extraterrestrial powers enslaving humans, and of course—the dampening, sickening degeneration of people thanks to the unknown.

When filmmakers pay tribute to their favorite authors, especially in horrors, they walk on a thin rope. Roger Corman, with his favorite actor Vincent Price, did a fine job of respecting Edgar Allan Poe’s classic stories and poems in the 60s. They’re generally popular as B-grade classics. Vincent Price (one of my personal favorites) always made these movies appear larger with his inimitable persona and a piercing voice. Roger Corman is a handy director too—not avant-garde, but he’s okay.

In cases when other filmmakers have adapted horror classics, there have been instances of inventiveness. The Innocents (Henry James, adapted by Clayton), The Haunting (Shirley Jackson, adapted by Wise), Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin, adapted by Polanski), The Exorcist (William Blatty, adapted by Friedkin), The Shining (Stephen King, adapted by Kubrick), and of course Misery (Stephen King, adapted by Reiner) are some of the most brilliant examples of a movie propelling the book into folklore.

In the case of Madness, Carpenter, whilst being a phenomenal presenter of violence and destruction, just doesn’t seem to bring his A-game. You can’t doubt Carpenter for the brilliant visuals here, but the story itself is loopy, pretentious, and Lovecraft’s obscurity is misguided, even though authentic. Take even The Fly (both versions – Newmann and Cronenburg); both movies use the story by George Langelaan to present a discreet view of powers in imprudent hands. The unknowable matches well with the unknown, and such a combo terrorizes viewers. In terrorizing them, the makers are honest.

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The honesty is lacking from John Carpenter in the third installment of his Apocalypse Trilogy. The first two are The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987). There’s a major point when the entire movie could have been thrown to water, if only the powers to-be acted in best interests of the society. If Sutter Cane’s (Jürgen Prochnow) book was notorious in driving his readers insane, why doesn’t anybody just ban the book, or abolish it? If that works against freedom of expression, well, we don’t have the right to drive people crazy thanks to freedom of expression.

Sure, if all of what John Trent (Sam Neill) experienced was sheer hallucination, which it was—the movie fails again in its ploy to pretend as a hopeful psychological thriller along the lines of The Innocents (1961, a bona-fide classic). With such an intriguing plot—books of a bestselling horror writer driving his readers crazy—Carpenter fails to hit the mark, big time. Poor writing and ineffective treatment would be the reasons. It could have been a masterpiece as a psychological thriller, or a surreal drama, yet the monstrous horror on screen allows few chills, but ultimately fails to invoke any sense of connection with the characters or the story.

Viewers will realize that sanity is fragile, and at any given moment, we could lose it. Sure, that’s a nice start, but what next? Carpenter sends us to the allegorical town of Hobb’s End just to manifest his brilliance as a master scarecrow—scaring us with disgusting beings (Lovecraftian elements) and presenting a redundant drama on the possibility of people ardently believing in the myths present in horror books.

Horror writers do have a knack of deluding themselves with what they write. Stephen Kind openly admitted how he had nearly lost himself while writing The Shining. Here, the writer Sutter Cane seems to lose his own grip of reality, but how is that supposed to make sense when the character he bases the book on, John Trent, himself is lost in a hallucinatory whirlpool?

We get it – they’re all insane and end up believing in what they read and write. Cane is taken over by the monsters he creates and Trent by the monsters he reads in those books. But it’s not just stimulating, let alone enjoying or thought provoking. When you look at Carpenter’s previous classics, especially Halloween (1978) and The Thing (1982), it’s amazing how he loses the plot here.

What makes this even worse is how Carpenter toys with themes of duality and phenomenology in his chaotic world. Trent experiences the world, as it is, through Cane’s books and by the end, he starts seeing the world that way. If there’s a positive in the underbelly of Madness, Carpenter highlights the line between reading a book (or, watching a movie) and being obsessed with it. And that’s the sad part because the premise is so damn good, the movie could have been foundational.

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In the Mouth for Madness can be scary at times. Carpenter masterfully creates an uneasy atmosphere and his control over the visual elements is excellent. Yet, that’s where it ends. With a weak script (written by Michael De Luca) and formulaic execution, Madness is just madness from Carpenter. It’s one of those movies that you either love or hate. I didn’t like it, but I know a handful that would, so all is not lost.

Madness is twisted and sickening and that’s about it to say. Maybe it doesn’t help that I don’t find the works of Lovecraft intriguing either, but hey – at least you could try.

Teorema (1968) – The Theory of Everything

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Pier Paolo Pasolini is a renaissance man in its truest form. Philosopher, poet, novelist, political activist, and a filmmaker, his works are more popular for their political ideologies than for well-weaved narrations. With his roots firmly set on communism, Pasolini told stories from the lens of a Neorealist showing the grave lives of the poor, the proletariats, while underlying the vanity of the lives of the bourgeois. Teorema, or Theorem, is exactly as the name suggests—it formulizes the way of life in Italian society years after the Second World War.

When a strange man (Terrence Stamp) visits the house of a discreet bourgeois, he emanates bizarre vibes seducing the father, the mother, the son, the daughter, and the maid. They find him irresistible and are unable to understand this enigmatic being, yet they’re all attracted to him. In return, this Visitor “grants them their wish” and seduces them one-by-one: the maid, son, mother, father, and daughter.

One morning, he leaves abruptly, and after he leaves, their lives spiral out of control as they seek redemption through their own actions, which doesn’t appear forthcoming for this elite family. There are various interpretations as to who this Visitor could be; whether it is God, or the Devil itself—but that’s not the main point. Whoever this Visitor is, he seduced all of them; everybody (except the maid) confided to him, and ultimately—he transformed their lives, for better or worse.

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Paolo (Massimo Girotti), the father, finds no purpose in living. He renounces his material possessions and strips naked before entering the barren desert—a symbol that recurs throughout the movie.

Lucia (played by famed Italian actor, Silvana Mangano), the mother, realizes that she’s lived a life with no meaning. She has no special skills. She’s merely a passive spectator, without any silver lining. After the Visitor leaves, she wanders around trying to search for this seductive creature and ends up seducing young men who look like him.

Pietro (Andrés Soublette), through his homosexual encounter with the Visitor, loses his innocence and engages in his passion, painting, through which he tries to find the image of this ripple-less man.

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Odetta (Anne Wiazemsky), the daughter, who once negated herself and avoided men, finds herself in love with the Visitor. She tries to live in his memory, but finds herself unable to, thereby, entering a catatonic state.

Finally, Emilia (Laura Betti, playing the maid)—out of all, she was the only one who didn’t confide in the Visitor. She leaves the house, goes to a rural locale, and attains, what we’d call, a state of Nirvana before immolating herself, as she no longer feels the need to burden the world. The Hindus would call this Samadhi.

Teorema is a strange, minimalist movie. With little dialogs and recurrent symbols of bareness in the desert, the clouds drifting above, it symbolizes the nakedness of the bourgeoisie life. It points towards the eventuality of change—an initiation that is beginning to surface the layers of European society. Many theorists argue that Teorema highlights the inability of the elites to live a sacred life in harmony with existence. As a result, they’re unable to attain liberation—unlike the maid who attained Moksha. Yet, the film goes much deeper in its psychological portrayal of the vainness of people who live inside mansions and “own the poor.”

Pasolini uses deep spaces and extreme wide shots to fortify his stance of emptiness. He shows how the world is ultimately open and free to all, and no matter how much we stuff our lives with material possessions; at the end, everybody engulfs into this planet. Everything is without meaning, yet in this meaninglessness – there is divinity.

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In the outskirts of Milan, the poor sympathize with Emilia. In the metro, the rich can’t handle the vibrations of the heart, the purity of the soul, and through nurture—more so than Nature—these people are conditioned in living behind the veil of materialism. When vanity of matter is exposed, they have nothing to hold themselves. They fail to march on and embrace a life of spiritual substance because their souls are as hard and lifeless as their concrete foundation failing to realize that the only thing permanent is change itself.

In the context of the narrative, the Visitor appears to be the self-regulating mechanism of society—theorized into a symbol and well put in account by Pasolini. He, or it, is the subtle element within society that keeps it evolving. Only here, sexuality is the trigger, however, when one analyzes sexuality; it’s also the first path to liberation, of transformation, and towards creation of the new. The Visitor, comes from nowhere, and converts these people—constructing a new avatar within them. This renewed self is much more conscious and intelligent than their previous sleeping selves. But the impressions of their hardcore minds try to reject this rejuvenated self for they are left in a limbo, neither here nor there.

When these transformed beings, fresh as new, look at the world from their new gained perspective, the old starts wearing off; the new starts seeming too wild, too intimidating, and perhaps too wonderful for them to ever comprehend. Their defense mechanism kicks in. Those who could leave behind their traces are left transformed (Emilia) and those who couldn’t, run insane (Paolo), or into a perennial cul-de-sac (Lucia).

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Behind the wonderful visuals and paradoxical story, Teorema, in essence, pays homage to Freud’s psychoanalysis and Marx’s dialectical materialism. Sexuality remains in the subtext throughout the movie. Viewed as a positive force, Emilia in this case, is born again. To those who consider it a passion of the body, the guilt haunts them and to undo one vice, they falter into a series of vices.

Ultimately, though, the theory of oppressor vs. oppressed forms the main text of the film. Whom are they oppressing? Who is oppressing whom? What is matter? What good is materialism? How to evolve from this material state into something far more ethereal—is it even possible? Teorema tries answering these questions, but leaves much to the discretion of the viewer.

Pasolini’s views run throughout the movie. His ideologies of anti-consumerism, communism, and renunciation ultimately form an arc that catapults Teorema as a discourse on society than a feature film. Pasolini isn’t concerned with how the movie progresses. He wants people to talk about the movie after it’s over. And, he’s succeeded because Teorema starts where the story ends. He only gives us the beginning. The middle and the end are entirely up to us.

All of this makes Teorema a peculiar movie that’s a hybrid of documentary, pure montage, and narrative cinema. It’s stimulating and opens the gate to issues surrounding Italy and most of Europe two decades after the Second World War. The movie provokes people into thinking about societal tendencies, about life, and about phenomenology as very few movies have, before or after. And that’s where the movie manages to stump us, with its uncommitted observation of the microcosmic reality present in our society.

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Watch Teorema when you have the time. Sex is treated pure, in its primeval sense, leading to creation of the new, consequently, giving birth to originality, whilst providing a continuum to the inherent virtue of humans. It’s a cathartic movie leaving you with many questions, few answers – and that’s the romance of this splendid movie. It doesn’t say a lot, but the little it does—encompasses the grand theories of an individual’s place in an ever-changing reality.

Rear Window (1954) – Peeping Tom

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Rear Window looks into a close-knit neighborhood—diverse people engaged in personal endeavors, occupied by trifles, and immersed in living.

When ace photographer L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is bound to the confines of a wheelchair after an accident, he has to ease into a temporary cast and remain indoors to heal and recuperate. In those long, boring days, he passes time by surveying the activities of his neighbors, observing their lives, and empathizing with their conditions. He’s the poster child of Peeping Tom and loves, notoriously, to peep into the lives of people irrelevant to his.

One night, deep awake, Jeff notices something bizarre from his window. A married man stuffs something in his briefcase and goes out of the house many-a-time. Next day, he finds the wife missing and suspecting this man for murder of his wife, James begins a couch-based investigation – using his binocular, long-focus lens, phone, camera, and his sophisticated girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, played by the dignified Grace Kelly. But, James has a major problem: he doesn’t have rock solid proof against the man. His girlfriend and personal nurse (played by Thelma Ritter) do seem to buy his story. Is that enough though?

Based on a short story by Cornell WoolrichRear Window is a suspenseful crime drama. It’s cramped into the flat of Jeff, with the movie revolving around this bubbly community. A ballerina living opposite to Jeff, a musician to his right, a loony woman a floor below the mysterious couple and of course—the point of attention, the man accused of murdering his sickly wife, living beside the odd couple; these people have their own untold stories and a unique life – amusing and revealing for the temporarily invalid photojournalist.

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Viewers observe the life of a ballerina living in practice, indulging in food, and becoming a prey to man-hunters. The couple upstairs lead their own isolated life, but their tiny dog connects them to the rest of the society. In the same manner, the newly married neighborhood romantics enjoy and engage in amorous activities until they start growing sick of one another. The woman below, who’s lonely and oh so seeking a life partner, finds no respite, whereas the musician—sick and tired of solitude—seeks to find the perfect hymn to instill his life with melody. Not to ignore the couple that most intrigues Jeff, the sickly wife bed-ridden and the husband tired and exhausted, could he have been the one to eliminate this perceptual thorn from his life?

Rear Window opens up a world, a microcosmic reality within society, and tells of the different tales people would witness if only they observed. All you need is to peep around, listen not hear, watch not look, and contemplate not analyze on people’s lives around you to reach an enlightening climax and gain profundity on people and society.

Jeff evolves from the drifter he was initially to a responsible man with a sense of duty when the film climaxes. For Lisa, the elegant socialite, she stands very much different to Jeff’s rogue ways. Yet, love bonds them together – romance sparks a light above their heads. She evolves from the sophisticated Lisa Fermont to the adaptable woman who’d gain from the best experiences of both worlds.

Masked as a thriller, Rear Window is actually a satire, a social drama on the various elements of life. Only when we stand to observe can we really relive life and only when we’re held together by a cast in a predicament unchangeable—can we excel and evolve. It is the law of nature.

The movie is slow at times, but very profound. With minimalistic locations and a tight, claustrophobic charm, Real Window is a movie celebrating reflection. The movie came out 60 years ago; it’s amazing how it hasn’t aged a bit and stands the test of time, unlike many other Alfred Hitchcock classics. The storytelling is crisp, the performances natural, and the world as it is.

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One of Hitchcock’s great films, Rear Window is similar to Dial M for Murder that coincidentally came out later that year, but is shot with a different lens—told by a different narrator. It’s up there with Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960),and The Birds (1963), and has its own unique stamp as one of Hitchcock’s finest thrillers for Rear Window isn’t merely about a crime; it’s about crime and punishment, about actions and consequences, about cause and effects.

If you’re an admirer of Hitchcock’s vision, Rear Window is just what you need to peep into. It tells a lot about Hitchcock and through him—about those around us.

Soul Sister (2015) – Eternal Darkness of the Sauntering Mind

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Soul Sister is dark, dreary, and devoid of life. It’s unbuckled, which makes for a placid experience, but ultimately goads you to tussle with a myriad of illusions set forth by Prashant Rasaily in this pseudo-psychological thriller.

Meet Maya (Namrata Shrestha), a lonesome figure who’s lived under the warmth of her aunt (played by Raveena Deshraj Shrestha) since her Mom passed away when she was still a child. As Maya grows to become one fine woman, her aunt turns her attention to her own life—and at last, settles down. She crosses the oceans of reality with her fiancée (Rajesh Hamal in a cameo) leaving the depressed Maya behind to wrestle with her own illusions.

Maya returns to her old house. It is in this isolated hermitage, she comes to terms with her inner demons, her subconscious setting the stage for a surrealistic finale.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the case with Soul Sister.

Prashant Rasaily captures the scenic beauties of Sikkim and Kathmandu like it has rarely been shown in Nepali feature films. His intelligent use of lights and beautiful composition of shots need no vindication for audiences conversant with Rasaily’s cinema. Soul Sister has a soulful tone and painted with a gloomy ambience, it feels calm and serene—very mystical. Yet, it’s not a film for everybody. Amidst the murmurs of bored cine goers 10 minutes into the movie, it was clear that the movie failed to hold the attention of the fickle multiplex audiences.

With Soul Sister, Rasaily tries his hand at the so-called Avant-garde cinema rather than laying the emphasis on telling a story about a woman’s journey. Precisely why, Soul Sister seems pretentious, especially the English dialect, which covers 80% of the conversation. For such a grave movie, one would find it difficult not to chuckle after hearing Namrata Shrestha force her oratory muscles with poetic proses that are neither hummable, nor lyrical.

For its flaws, Soul Sister does have an anecdote to tell. A bare tale of a platonic extramarital affair, Prashant Rasaily manages to weave it as a philosophical discourse on human psychology. Maybe taking it a too far in his quest for abstract realism.

As a movie, Soul Sister is a winner at conceptual level, but that is also sadly, where it stumbles. What appears to be a beautiful flash of creative spark seems to have become the blueprint for this movie; the makers not bothering in developing it as a tangible story, which would have been acceptable if the abstract hadn’t imploded in the final act. The climax pours water over anything positive in Soul Sister. It’s not only drastic; it’s impulsive and nullifies the novelty of this otherwise ominous-looking movie.

Soul Sister is perfect imperfection defined. It appears beautiful, but is a classic case of style over substance, vanity over sincerity, indulgence over contemplation. It fails to encompass the nuances of phenomenology or do justice to the theory of absurdity, Rasaily was intending for. Half-baked is the right word.

Suspiria (1977) – Welcome to Freiburg

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Suspiria is unique in many ways. The enchanting visuals embedded with the tenacity of Dario Argento marks the beginning of the Three Mother Series, a supernatural horror trilogy, through which he explores the age-old myth of witchcraft. This combination results in a stellar drama that surpasses standard norms of horrors, transcends the genre, and questions the scantiness underneath the skin. At its heart though, Suspiria is about people. How events manipulate people and if they have the belly to overcome the odds.

As a movie, Suspiria isn’t about a great story told. It revisits the legend of witches in a loose, consequential style where the story isn’t the king, nor the concept. Yet, the unusual merger of a peculiar story and Argento’s vision is the masterstroke that lobs Suspiria into the upper echelon of classics and places it as one of the best horrors ever made.

When Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives at Freiburg for the first time, it’s pouring. When she leaves, it’s raging in fire. This symmetry completes the movie and tells you all of what she does, and goes through in this mysterious dance academy. Coming all the way from America to study ballet dancing at the Tam Ballet Academy—little does Suzy expect the bleakness awaiting her within the confines of the grand haunted mansion, with a rich heritage of its own; rich, yet, dampening and dreadful.

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Speaking about the plot too much would spoil the suspense since it’s so delicately poised. For the viewer of 2014, the story of Suspiria mayn’t seem as new as it would have for viewers back in 1977. But, that’s the catch. Despite having a simple plot, straightforward and hardly complex, Suspiria is intriguing for all the reasons people watch films. It grips the fancy of the viewer and the most compelling part of this horror movie is the passage from the beginning until the climax.

Unconventional for horrors, the climax of Suspiria is hardly out-of-this-world-type surprising, but it’s satisfying. You couldn’t call Suspiria an investigation of the occult. Everything drifts and the characters just go with the flow doing what they have to do. Just as the occult is the daughter of supernatural, our destiny is the same, perhaps the son of the supernatural. When the two collide, the supernatural takes care of everything. That seems like an appropriate way of framing Suspiria’s outlook.

Filmed with neon lights of red, blue, and green throughout, Suspiria feels surreal at times. The use of shadows and lights is enchanting and is a nice compliment to the artistry of the ballets. At times though, the alluring visual overrides the plot, but it still works because it adds to the aesthetic charms of the movie. Also capturing the splendor of Germany, the cinematography (Luciano Tovoli) makes this horror much more alienating, thereby, adding a tinge of coldness and making it an exhilarating watch. Not only is it beautiful, but the team ensures that the locales feel detached and even intimidating. When the ambience is so corrupt, the actions in the middle could only borrow from the same corruptness, which is what Dario Argento achieves through Suspiria.

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Adding to this depravity with panache is the music (Italian-band Goblin). The chilling background score blends hard drumming with ailing whines provoking you to a state of alarm. Many times the rhythmic music associated with death—la la la la la la la whum!—alone creeps into you and alerts you of the looming disaster. Other times, the banging of drums and the drastic switch of the tone, from stillness to hyperactive mayhem, configures Suspiria as a menacing little movie that articulates the chilling vagueness of the unknown. It wouldn’t be so chilling without the haunting tone, the manipulative lights, and the gothic captures.

Suspiria ranges from sordid and downright uncomfortable to gripping, terrifying, and ultimately enjoyable, which bodes well to the masterful direction of Dario Argento and seamless performances by the cast. Suspiria is also uncannily arty for a horror movie. Based on essayist Thomas de Quincey’s Suspiria de Profundis, especially, the essay—Levana and our Ladies of Sorrow—the movie balances all the elements crisply to give us a deadly movie that not only goads us into buying the shrilling occurrences, but also ultimately manages to accomplish that by entertaining and keeping us at the edge of our seats.

Many similar movies have come out over the years, but Suspiria remains superior and is a landmark in the genre. You may be spiked out due to the blood, which can be uncomfortable to watch and looks unnatural at times, but you’ll love the ambience. That’s probably what separates this movie from the rest: the atmosphere.

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An all-time classic, this one certainly isn’t for the numb. If the death scenes aren’t gory enough to make you shudder, the dramatic sequences are haunting on its own for the sheer uncertainty surrounding this palace that has much more to express than it reveals. The aesthetics of Argento is at full show for viewers to enjoy and appreciate. Callousness comes together with sensibility, a rare marriage, but one for the ages.

Gone Girl (2014) – Gone baby, Gone!

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David Fincher adapts the bestselling book, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, in his latest outing and as you’d expect from the master storyteller, he crafts it with full-on Fincher traits. It’s dark, it’s brooding, with an animosity that could spike you into mayhem, and it’s so vengeful; David Fincher might have just given a new dimension to another bestseller after Fight Club and Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. The movie is a fascinating watch; uncloaking of a marriage in peril, or a marriage in bliss, or perhaps a marriage gone awry—maybe just maybe, the perfect marriage!

Retaining much of the first-person narrative of the book, David Fincher constructs an atmosphere ardently using varied color tones to set the tone of visuals right from the moment Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne questions those latent tendencies of a marriage. The opening scene, with Nick Dunne stroking his wife’s blonde hair simultaneously worded in a monologue rearing to know the inside of his wife’s mind kick-starts this saga with a sinister hook. His wife, Amy Elliot-Dunne, played by the pretty Rosamund Pike, is the focal point behind the mystery in this spine-chiller—a saga of a couple in the wake of realization.

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When they first meet though, Nick Dunne and Amy Elliot seem like a match made in heaven. Both writers, they dash off against each other one night and from there on, there’s no looking back. Blissful in marriage, Nick and Amy are super intimate and seem to love caressing the union. As with every marriage, their marriage too hits the mountain—where one ought to work hard, or else wrought to chaos. Nick and Amy aren’t really like those couples. They’re distinct; they’re cool until catastrophe strikes when both find themselves redundant in the professional scene. During the same time, the creators of the terrific comic franchise, Amazing Amy, the parents of Amy find themselves in a financial rot and want her trust fund back, deep in debt. As if it couldn’t get worse, Nick’s mother is diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer and he has to shift back to his hometown, Missouri, to be with her. But remember, Missouri has the death penalty.

Intertwined in a proverbial twaddle, Nick and Amy’s affection decrease, and coldness and isolation increase. It reaches to a point where Nick isn’t even aware of Amy’s personal life and Amy is aware of everything—like every damn thing. On the day of their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears (kidnapped/murdered/held hostage—you could suppose) leaving behind a glorious disarrangement in their house. Nick Dunne, confused and unaware of his emotions, informs the cops, with detectives coming home to investigate the disappearance, but the problem…? You guessed it! Nick Dunne finds himself prime suspect for the murder of his lovely wife, the Amazing Amy, and if he is to plead his innocence, he needs to prove that he is innocent. Tough luck, Nick.

Gone Girl is very well written story, with Flynn having a cult following for this immaculate thriller. David Fincher snatches this thriller off Flynn and sticks it on the screen to create a typical Fincher movie—tight and gripping, with mysterious characters and a pinch of suspense so deep that it would leave you in a state of slipups because they just so happen to be slick.

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The characters have to be the best aspect of the movie. The unassuming, everyday-Joe husband played by Ben Affleck is perhaps the weakest character, but he’s not weak for lack of fleshing, but simply because the character of Nick Dunne lacks spine. He’s such a clay figure that anybody could sway him, and he’d remain this bemused guy who really isn’t certain about anything. On the other hand, Amy Elliot-Dunne is somewhat of an enigma. She could be the dream wife for any suitor, but when you get to bottom of her character, she’s as good as they come—and to not risk spoiling it for those who haven’t read the book, in short, she’s the cerebral pillar in this gutsy thriller.

In Gone Girl, Fincher and Flynn don’t merely explore the external mystery, but get right into the psychological dispensation of both characters. As the movie rolls, viewers get closer and closer to the psychic manifestations of both Nick and Amy, and what you discover through them is mind numbing. Both the writer and director are meticulous in how they plot the thriller; Flynn adapts her own book into a screenplay with finesse and Fincher has the same ‘ol duteous bravura in revealing his stories and character psychologies.

Essentially, Gone Girl is a story within a story. The first layer of story is the perceived life of this couple. The second layer zeroes into the inner conscience of Nick Dunne and Amy Elliot. The third layer is the climax—that’s an external story within the internal stories of the couple manifesting into one defiant climax, unpredictable for those who haven’t read the book. Hence, the last 30 minutes of Gone Girl is like the aftermath of a rainstorm.

The rain stops, the storm subsides, but the sheer carnage of the rainstorm allows the atmosphere to carry the smell and taste of the storm, which is what Fincher achieves—with excellence—in the last 30 minutes. The actions before allow those last 20–30 minutes to merely float by and the entire sequence forms a penultimate dénouement right from the moment viewers receive the final twist. It’s very impressive, but also a testament to the prowess of Fincher as a storyteller.

For what it was, the climax of Gone Girl is poetic, and with poetry—it not only has a rhythm to it, but also is alarmingly a sneak peek into the future for the bewildered Nick Dunne and the colossal Amy Elliot-Dunne. “What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other?” Sounds about right.

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Gone Girl is slick—backed by great performances, a rich story, and a taut staging of a marriage gone wrong. All of this is embroidered by Fincher’s trademark styles. For those who’ve read the book, it allows a different perspective and for those who haven’t, the movie is one of the most vicious thrillers of recent years and the viciousness of the story matches the viciousness off the story. Together, these two come off as one heck of a combination that’s sure to startle you and keep you gone into the world of this girl, Amazing Amy, and her boy, Not-So-Amazing Nick.

Los Ojos de Julia (2010) – Light and Shadow

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Twin sisters Julia and Sara (both played by the magnificent Belén Rueda) suffer from the same degenerative eye condition that leads them to blindness. When Julia finds Sara hanging in the basement, she suspects that her sister couldn’t have actually committed suicide. One thing leads to the other and Julia is all of a sudden in deep water. She’s stuck between her deteriorating vision and the apparent murderer walking loose like a shadow, a true psycho.

Directed by Guillem Morales, Julia’s Eyes is intense, sublime, and aesthetically very pleasing, but it could have been so much more. It could almost be the perfect homage to the graphic Giallo genre. The climax of course mirrors the classic neck slash scenes of Mario Bava and Dario Argento movies, but the mystery in the film is an ode to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). The air has same tension as Psycho, and no, there’s no multiple personality disorder here.

Midway through the movie, Julia’s Eyes feels like a riveting mystery—brilliant screenplay, pacing, and terrific performances all heading to a transcendental climax. The scene where Julia goes blind is part of one memorable sequence bringing together the music, shot, atmosphere, and Julia’s own expressions in summing up this incredible piece of storytelling. But from thereon, the story dips and treads on the usual path of psychotic thrillers. It loses its mystical element and becomes rather predictable, a bit too theatrical at times.

Initially set as a firm, intelligent mystery, the story turns into a watered down survival journey of a woman who was full of conviction at first, but is later devoid of rationality. Although one could suspect that the tragedies in her life play an equal part in breaking her; still, many of the decisions she makes doesn’t quite fit with the woman who’s shown to be Julia at first. That notwithstanding, Julia’s Eyes is almost a classic if you shut it right at the point Julia loses her eyesight. Howsoever the movie may have turned out, and it’s still fine, Rueda deserves all the praises for her emotive, dejected, and tragic showing as both Julia and Sara.

Julia’s Eyes has a great start, a not so great ending. The eventual twist is hardly exciting and leaves you expecting more, yet the initial hour is some of the finest exhibition in  horror/mystery filmmaking. In its visual form though, Los Ojos de Julia is sheer beauty. The second half lets it down.

The Wicker Man (1973) – That Damned Island

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A loose adaptation of Ritual (a David Pinner novel), Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man is a bizarre drama about pagan rituals. With a bittersweet melody and brooding suspense, Hardy tells an elusive story luring audiences into an illusionary world, hence, creating the ultimate illusion through this wonderful looking and starkly contrasting mystery.

When Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) flies to the island of Summerisle to investigate the disappearance of young Rowan Morrison (Gerry Cowper), little does he expect the absurdities he comes to see in this thwarting island. Ushered by Christian codes of conduct, Howie is a devotee of the Lord in all its forms and virtues. In contrast, the island of Summerisle has people stuck in pre-history appeasing Gods through ritualistic sacrifices in hope of proper harvest and harmony in their lives.

Sexual liberation at its peak, Summerisle folks treat the phallus as a regenerative force, fire as the proprietor of fertility, and sex as the symbol of sacredness. For a devoted Christian, this free lovism culture leaves Sgt. Howie in a state of incomprehensible shock. But he’s here to find the missing girl. When he goes about business, he’s much shaken to realize how none of the residents seem to acknowledge her existence let alone her disappearance. Resolute in his mission, Sgt. Howie pledges to unravel the mystery of this perplexing island and in doing so, he comes to terms with the bare realities and deceitful allegiances of this sinister island.

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The Wicker Man is deceptively charming. It’s like those castles of illusions that appear blissful from the outside, but are terribly devastating from the inside. What helps the movie achieve this peripheral balminess, despite being mazy throughout, is the beautiful music. The celebratory tunes, most of the time bawdy, and the timely score keeps you expecting something warm, something feel good, but that never comes. By the end, the movie treads into tragedy. The finality of this bizarre film is all too cruel, nasty, yet ultimately true and an event that reflects the grim reality of what was once a common happening.

The king of this mystery of course is the climax. Chilling, almost nerve-wracking, it’s shocking and goads you to do something, to hope against hope for something supernatural to occur—and that is the highlight of the movie. For large portions, one is amazed at the scenes Sgt. Howie sees. The feeling is mutual as what seems normal for the isle is completely abnormal for others. Viewers would find the startling sexuality, the loose mannerisms of the natives, and the mysterious hue surrounding this island equally puzzling. But the tone makes you believe otherwise; believe that there’s a chink somewhere.

The performances of the actors here is another major plus. Edward Woodward as the staunch Christian is a fine performance, whilst the legendary Christopher Lee as Lord Isle steals the show. Britt Ekland and Diane Cilento as Willow and Miss Rose bring a sensual variation to this colorful tale and help garnish it with a dash of mystery and absurdity to make it seem sexually ripe, especially the part of Willow. As a running motif, sexuality here appears omnipresent and forms the base of this transcendental drama spiritualizing sex and presenting it in a holy, regenerative essence.

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The Wicker Man mayn’t be as popular as other horror/mystery movies from the 60s and 70s like Suspiria (1977), The Exorcist (1973), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Repulsion (1965) et al, but that has more to do with fate than quality sadly. Although, it’s not an outright horror, this movie has its own prescriptions of mystery, thrills, and suspense. It is a quality film with a seamless screenplay (Anthony Shaffer) and together with the music and the perfect direction of Robin Hardy, it’ll keeps you engaged and perplexed, but above all, the climax stands as something iconic, lasting, and utterly dismaying.