The Devil Rides Out: The Classic Hammer Movie

Now that I’ve examined Dennis Wheatley’s 1934 occult thriller The Devil Rides Out, I can get to the main event: the 1968 movie version, which is quintessential October viewing.

The Devil Rides Out is one of the best movies to come from the Hammer House of Horrors. It was not an enormous success on its first release, either in Great Britain or the US, where 20th Century Fox retitled it The Devil’s Bride out of concern that the original sounded like a Western. The movie’s reputation grew despite of—and possibly even because of—its antique and quaint approach to Satanic thrills, which dated the film from almost the moment it came out. The Devil Rides Out arrived before an onslaught of Satanic-themed horror movies hit theaters, such as The Exorcist and The Omen. Compared to them, the Hammer movie seems tame and quaint with its 1929 setting and fully clothed “orgies.” 

Continue reading “The Devil Rides Out: The Classic Hammer Movie”

I Try to Find Nice Things to Say About the Red Sonja Movie

Yesterday I beamed down my digital copy of Red Sonja, the 1985 fantasy flop starring Arnold Schwarzenegger that hastened the death of the sword-and-sorcery boom of the ‘80s. My intention was to find something to like about the movie. Red Sonja has a terrible reputation and I’ve never found myself on any side of the opinion spectrum more positive than, “Yep, this is pretty bad.”

But I try to avoid extreme negativity about art when writing on my website, even just for the laughs. One of my most popular posts is a semi-defense of Exorcist II: The Heretic, and that shows people do enjoy reading a few good words about a despised picture. I couldn’t mount the same defense for Night of the Lepus. And, sorry to report, I can’t do much for Red Sonja either after returning to it more than a decade after my last viewing.

Continue reading “I Try to Find Nice Things to Say About the Red Sonja Movie”

Black Angel, The Movie (1946)

No author furnished more material for the classic film noir era than Cornell Woolrich. And none of his novels got a better straight noir adaptation than his 1943 classic The Black Angel. Universal’s 1946 movie version, Black Angel, (I don’t know why they lopped “The” from the title) is as quintessentially Woolrich as his adaptations get. Yes, Rear Window is a better movie, but it’s distinctly a “Hitchcock movie,” while Black Angel is 100% a “Woolrich movie” from the era he helped to define. Phantom Lady (1944) established what a Woolrich novel could be on screen; Black Angel (1946) is the full maturation of Woolrich film noir and is on my shortlist for the best of the style from the 1940s.

Continue reading “Black Angel, The Movie (1946)”

Noir at Its Zenith: Criss Cross (1949)

The big studio film noir hit its peak during the final years of the ‘40s. What had started slowly at the beginning of the decade and burst open in 1944 became feverish and brilliant during 1947–49. Few films represent this zenith better than 1949’s Criss Cross, a personal noir favorite. 

Criss Cross is one of the most noirish film noirs ever to noir. It’s as essential as Double Indemnity (1944) and Out of the Past (1947). It’s the best movie from director Robert Siodmak, who helped usher in the grand age of film noir with Phantom Lady (1944) and The Killers (1946). All three films, by the way, are currently streaming on Criterion Channel as a Siodmak noir trilogy. 

Continue reading “Noir at Its Zenith: Criss Cross (1949)”

The Emergence of Film Noir: Phantom Lady (1944)

What’s the first film noir? The Maltese Falcon (1941) is most often given that honor, but you can make a strong case for Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once (1937) and the obscure B-movie Stranger on the Third Floor (1940). The latter is the one film historians most often tag as the first “true” film noir.

Whatever its starting point, 1944 is the year when film noir emerged as a major cinematic style. (I prefer Alain Silver’s designation of film noir as a style rather than a genre.) Nobody knew the term film noir yet; it would take post-War French critics to recognize the changes in the Hollywood crime film and give it a beautiful name. But the success of several stylish psychological melodramas in 1944 created the phenomenon that would extend to the end of the next decade. Double Indemnity, Laura, and Murder, My Sweet are among the big titles of the 1944 film noir wave and were three of the movies that inspired French film critic Nino Frank to coin the term film noir two years later.

But the first film noir to reach screens in 1944 was Phantom Lady, a work from two influential figures in the style: director Robert Siodmak and writer Cornell Woolrich, author of Phantom Lady’s 1942 source novel and the most important writer of literary noir. Add Siodmak’s expressionist visuals to Woolrich’s existential urban suspense tale and you have film noir fully realized. The film’s success boosted Siodmak to A-list director status after work in programmers, and it made Woolrich into a hot property for Hollywood studios, with twenty more feature film adaptations during the classic noir cycle.

Continue reading “The Emergence of Film Noir: Phantom Lady (1944)”