Saturday, October 31, 2015

Movie Review: The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen)

The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen) a.k.a The Phantom Chariot a.k.a The Stroke of Midnight
Svensk Filmindustri (SF), Sweden, 1921.
The Phantom Carriage Körkarlen title
Based on Selma Lagerlöf's novel "Körkarlen" a.k.a "Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness!"

Let's continue with "Svenska Stumfilmklassiker" DVD collection!

Salvation Army sister Edit (Astrid Holm) is dying of galloping consumption (i.e. tuberculosis). She wants to see David Holm (Victor Sjöström) but her mother (Concordia Selander) opposes. Sister Maria (Lisa Lundholm) goes to search for him but finds only his wife (Hilda Borgström). 
Sister Edit is dying
David is in the graveyard drinking with his friends
It is New Year's Eve and David is in the graveyard drinking with his friends. David tells a story about His friend Georges (Tore Svennberg).  He who meets with a fatal accident on New Year's Eve must drive Death's chariot and collect the souls of everybody who dies during the next year. Georges died on New Year's Eve so he became the chariot driver. 
Tore Svennberg
Death's chariot
Salvation Army officer Gustafsson (Tor Weijden) finds David but he does not want to go. David is knocked out by his drinking buddies just as the clock strikes twelve. Georges and the chariot come to collect David's soul. Georges says that David picked up bad habits because of him. Otherwise he would have lived a quiet and happy life with his wife and children. 
Georges comes to reap David's soul
Victor Sjöström
David Holm
David causes troubles for his family
Instead David has been drinking and causing troubles for his family. He caused his brother (Einar Axelsson) to drink and brother was jailed for manslaughter. David promises to mend his ways but falls again when his wife leaves him. He swears to find her and get revenge. David is an evil man and he has tuberculosis. He does not care infecting other people. Later he goes to the Salvation Army station where Edit works. Edit wants to save him, but is disappointed several times. Edit gets tuberculosis from David. 
David in the Salvation Army station
Lisa Lundholm
Astrid Holm
"Körkarlen" is powerfully dramatic and tragic film. It is like "It's a Wonderful Life" but the other way round. Or a "Christmas Carol" style morality play with horror elements. Instead of showing David what the life would have been without him, Georges shows all the evil David has caused with his unsavoury ways. Several flashbacks tell the David's story and why Edit wants to meet the evil drunkard.
Here's David!
This version is the 1998 Swedish Film Institute restored version with Matti Bye's soundtrack. Music is melancholic with hints of Waltz, gypsy music and horror tango with violin sounds imitating screeching chariot.

Selma Lagerlöf wrote the novel to inform people about tuberculosis but also to deal with social ills of alcoholism and domestic violence. The realistic style is combined with supernatural ghost story. Ingmar Bergman was influenced by the film and certainly reaper of souls Georges has similarity to The Death in "The Seventh Seal." One scene reminds of "The Shining." Film was photographed by Julius Jaenzon. The filming method was difficult, hand-cranked camera and double exposure was used to film the ghostly transparent scenes. Masterpiece.

Rating: Excellent

Starring: Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström, Tore Svennberg, Astrid Holm, Concordia Selander, Lisa Lundholm, Tor Weijden, Einar Axelsson, Olof Ås, Nils Aréhn, Simon Lindstrand, Nils Elffors, Algot Gunnarsson, Hildur Lithman, John Ekman, Edvin Adolphson, Elof Ahrle, Emmy Albiin, Anna-Lisa Baude, Josua Bengtson, Helga Brofeldt, Julia Cæsar, Mona Geijer-Falkner, Carl Harald, Arthur Natorp, Fridolf Rhudin, Signe Wirff 
Director: Victor Sjöström

Friday, October 30, 2015

Movie Review: Häxan

Häxan a.k.a Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages a.k.a The Witches
Aljosha Production Company, Svensk Filmindustri, Sweden, 1922.
Benjamin Christensen's cult film "Häxan" is a historic-cultural lecture in seven parts.

The first part tells about ancient world views. The evils in the world were thought to be caused by evil spirits and demons. The witches were thought to be in allegiance with Devil.
Witch has enchanted a man's shoe
Second part depicts a witch boiling various magic potions in her dwelling. Grave robbers bring her raw ingredients i.e. corpses of executed criminals. One customer orders a love potion. Elsewhere physicians also do some grave robbing to study the anatomy of human body. They are mistaken as witches. Poor old witch Apelone (Wilhelmine Henriksen) dreams of flying to Devil's castle and attending a witches' gathering.
Witch in her house
Some incredients are not fresh
Physicians beginning an autopsy
Third part shows the witch judges starting a witch hunt. Fear and superstitions made people believe in weird things. People saw witches and devils everywhere. Anna (Astrid Holm) accuses an old woman Maria the Weaveress (Maren Pedersen) of putting a spell on his husband who is now dying. The Pater Henrik (Johannes Andersen) orders a witch hunt. The inquisition arrests the old woman.
Finding out if a man has been cursed
Johannes Andersen
Pater Henrik, Witch Judge
Maren Pedersen
Maria the Weaveress is arrested a witch
Fourth part shows the torture and interrogation of the accused witches. While tortured the old woman confesses fantastic sins such as flying to attend the Black Sabbath and kissing Devil's butt. Facing a death on a stake she also pulls some of her enemies with her including those who first accused her.

Fifth part: every accused witch has informed ten other witches. Many families have lost their family members. Those who oppose arresting witches are of course themselves witches.

Young Monk John (Elith Pio) has fallen in love and become obsessed with Anna's sister (Karen Winther) so naturally she must be a witch. After purging the town of "witches" the inquisitors move to next town.
Elith Pio
Young Monk John
Monk tries to make Anna's sister confess
Karen Winther
Anna's sister
Sixth part examines further reasons for accusitions. Some of the witches' confessions are completely absurd. Sometimes people practicing folk magic and natural healing were thought to be witches.

Tools of torture chamber are examined more closely. Who wouldn't confess the most preposterous things when tortured? In nunneries nuns torture themselves for mortification of the flesh. The religious fervour causes many nuns to go crazy. They begin to see devils and commit blasphemous acts.
Boot torture apparatus
Actress test thumbscrews
Nun sees the Devil
Seventh part is set in modern times. Most of the witches were poor old women. In medieval times having a physical deformity or mental illness gave a suspicion of person being a witch. Witch mania has much to do with bad nerves, obsessions or sexual frustrations. Christensen draws parallels to the psychology of the 1920s. With the development of psychology these symptoms were referred as hysteria. Today's people do not fear devils or witches anymore but superstitions still exist. Weirdly acting people are not burned at stake anymore but locked in asylums.

This version is the 2006 Swedish Film Institute restored version that can be found in a DVD collection box "Svenska Stumfilmsklassiker." It contains Matti Bye's soundtrack with musicians Bye, Kristian Holmgren, Lotta Johansson and Lau Nakkarinen. The ambient music works well and brings tragic tones to the dramatic scenes.

Benjamin Christensen found the topic for the film after finding the notorious medieval witch hunting manual Malleus Maleficarum. Christensen spent years 1919-1921 finding source material for "Häxan." It was the the most expensive Scandinavian silent film. The director appears himself as the lewd tongue-wagging Devil. The movie's structure is very unconventional and experimental. The representation consists of lecture type documentary with medieval woodcuts and paintings, acted scenes and some stop-motion animation. The acted scenes with partially intertwining stories combine fantasy, horror and drama. The visual style is impressing with imaginative sets and differently tinted colour filters. The film has a bizarre and unique atmosphere.
Benjamin Christensen as the Devil
As the film criticises church's violence against women, it was opposed by Catholic Church and banned in many countries. The dark subject is lightened by occassional dry humour as when a young actress tests thumbscrews. The movies (then) shocking, blasphemous devil worshipping scenes and even raunchy scenes have inspired also the exploitation and nunsploitation moviemakers of the 1970s. However these later movies focused mostly on shock values instead of the social criticism and humanist message of "Häxan."

Rating: Excellent

Starring: Maren Pedersen, Clara Pontoppidan, Elith Pio, Oscar Stribolt, Tora Teje, John Andersen, Benjamin Christensen, Poul Reumert, Karen Winther, Kate Fabian, Else Vermehren, Astrid Holm, Johannes Andersen, Gerda Madsen, Aage Hertel, Ib Schønberg, Emmy Schønfeld, Frederik Christensen, Ella La Cour, Elisabeth Christensen, Henry Seemann, Alice O'Fredericks, Knud Rassow, Ellen Rassow, Holst Jørgensen, H.C. Nielsen, Albrecht Schmidt, Karina Bell, Karen Caspersen, Holger Pedersen
Director: Benjamin Christensen

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Movie Review: An American Haunting

An American Haunting 
Allan Zeman Productions, Midsummer Films, Remstar Productions, Media Pro Pictures, After Dark Films, Redbus Pictures, Sweetpea Entertainment, UK, Canada, Romania, USA, 2005. 
Based on the novel "The Bell Witch: An American Haunting" by Brent Monahan and inspired by Bell Witch legend

In modern day Jane (Isabelle Almgren-Doré) sees nightmares about a little girl ghost. Her mother finds a letter that tells about the Bell Witch. In Red River, Tennessee 1817 Betsy Bell (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and her family live with their parents John (Donald Sutherland) and Lucy (Sissy Spacek). Witch woman Kate Batts (Gaye Brown) accuses John of stealing her land. John loses the case but Batts is not content and curses the Bell family. 
Isabelle Almgren-Doré
Donald Sutherland
John Bell
Sissy Spacek
Lucy Bell
John begins to see hallucinations and the family hears weird noises in the house. Teacher Richard Powell (James D'Arcy) is worried about Betsy. An invisible entity begins to harass Betsy. James Johnston (Matthew Marsh) tries exorcism to banish the evil spirit. It does not work. Teacher Powell tries more scientific approach. Maybe someone is just trying to scare the family. 
Rachel Hurd-Wood
Betsy Bell
Gaye Brown
Kate Batts
The supernatural attacks become more vicious. Teacher Powell loves Betsy and would like to protect her. Some dark family secrets are about to be revealed...
James D'Arcy
Teacher Richard Powell
Supernatural entity haunt the family
The beginning of the movie is promising. The 1800s setting is atmospheric and feels like a horror version of "Little House on a Prairie." Actors are good and cinematographer knows his business. What is sad again is that after some cliched supernatural events the film tries a clever twist that contradicts everything previously happened. It would be okay to suggest a twist explanation if there were some hints given about it but this movie's internal logic fails and in the end the poor viewer feels cheated. Also the story could have managed without the modern day side story.
Little Ghost House on a Prairie
Rating: Bad

Starring: Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, James D'Arcy, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Matthew Marsh, Thom Fell, Zoe Thorne, Gaye Brown, Sam Alexander, Miquel Brown, Vernon Dobtcheff, Shauna Shim, Madalina Stan, Philip Hurd-Wood, Vlad Cruceru, Alin Rosca, Andrei Serban, Isabelle Almgren-Doré, Susan Almgren, Howard Rosenstein, Lila Bata-Walsh, Courtney Solomon, Pat Fitzhugh 
Director: Courtney Solomon

Movie Review: Trucks

Trimark Pictures, Leider-Reisberg Credo Entertainment Group, USA Pictures, Canada, 1997.
Trucks title
Based on the short story by Stephen King. 

In town of Lunar (just next-door to Area 51) pick-up truck becomes alive and starts killing people. Hope (Brenda Bakke) runs a tourist business for people who want to see UFOs. She gets customers Abby (Amy Stewart) and her dad Thad (Roman Podhora) who is a former military man, and old hippie Jack (Jay Brazeau). Maniac truck tries to kill the tourists. 
Brenda Bakke
Amy Stewart and Roman Podhora
Abby and Thad
Jay Brazeau
Mechanic Ray (Timothy Busfield) and his son Logan (Brendan Fletcher) receive a distress call from Hope. Then a chemical truck goes out of control and destroys a power station. The trucks surround a truck diner where the survivors are hiding. Toxic Intervention Team is sent to clean up the chemical spill. Not only trucks but also other machines start to kill people. It is never explained why some machines are murderous and some are not.
Timothy Busfield
Brendan Fletcher
Trucks go crazy
This is a TV-movie version of the same story "Maximum Overdrive" was also based on. "Maximum Overdrive" was not perfect either but it was quite fun with hard rockin' AC/DC soundtrack. This gets soon dull as the killer trucks spend most of the time just driving around the diner. The main heroes Ray and Thad are single-fathers who have problems with their teenagers. Most fun character was old hippie Jack who alternates between wise and crazy.
Toxic Intervention Team
Truck meeting
The film editor Lara Mazur has fun with some cuts: guy pours gasoline in the bottle, next scene has cook putting soup in a cup and after a truck explosion we see a beef. Some plus points come from two bizarre death scenes: death by a toy truck and murder by Hazmat suit. 
Interesting cut
This is gonna hurt

Rating: Bad 

Starring: Timothy Busfield, Brenda Bakke, Aidan Devine, Roman Podhora, Jay Brazeau, Brendan Fletcher, Amy Stewart, Victor Cowie, Sharon Bajer, Jonathan Barrett, Rick Skene, Don Granberry, Barbara Lee Edwards, Gene Pyrz, Kirk Harper, Harry Nelken, David Brown, Shane Cardwell, Erich Martin Hicks, Terence Kelly, Chuck Robinson, Geoff Williams 
Director: Chris Thomson

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