Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sounds of Silence (1989)

Directed by:
Peter Borg

American photographer Peter Mitchell (Peter Nelson), who's still got some growing up to do, is surprised to learn that an unheard of distant relative all the way in Sweden has died and left him an inheritance. He, along with his successful mystery novelist girlfriend Sarah Richards (Kristen Jensen) and her deaf young son Dennis (Dennis Castillo), travel abroad and temporarily move into their newly aquired mansion while Peter decides whether he wants to keep it or sell it. Locals shun Peter when they find out who he's related to, some sinister people filter in and out and almost immediately Dennis starts suffering from nightmarish visions of a ghostly young boy dressed in rags at an abadoned building formerly used as an orphanage. The boy turns out to be Bill (Jonas Ivarsson), the long-dead young son of Peter's deceased spinster relative, and a grim tale of child abuse and murder soon unfolds.
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Though definitely not for all tastes (it's slow-moving, a bit overlong and virtually gore-free...), I thought this was a surprisingly good, well-made and well-plotted film that works just fine for what it was intended to be; an old-fashioned ghost story. It's atmospheric, the cold Autumnal scenery provides a nice backdrop to the action, there are some effectively spooky moments spread throughout and the cinematogaphy (including some wonderfully eerie shots of the camera floating through the haunted orphanage hallways) is often excellent. The cast is pretty good, too, with solid lead actors and nice supporting performances from Vanja Rodefeldt as a housekeeper, Rico Rönnbäck as an attorney and Gunnar Öhlund as the guy who used to run the orphanage... and has a sledgehammer wielding psycho of a son. Special guest star Troy Donahue (the only real 'name' in the cast, at least to U.S. audiences) appears in just two brief scenes.

Director Borg (who co-scripted with Marc Fiorini) also made the even more obscure SCORCHED HEAT (1987) and apparently came to America at one point only to serve as an assistant director on the schlocky CAMP FEAR (1990) before falling off the map. Wonder what happened to him?

There was an American video release years back on the Promark label, though to my knowledge it's never been released on DVD. It'll be debuting at #6 on my Top 10 for 1989.
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★★★

Strange Door, The (1951)

...aka: Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Door

Directed by:
Joseph Pevney

Based on the Robert Louis Stevenson story "The Sire de Maletroit's Door," this dark, set-bound period melodrama seems like an attempt by Universal to reboot the line of gothic horror films they used to specialize in, which had gone out of vogue in the mid-1940s. This didn't accomplish that much during its day - audiences seemed more interested in atomic age sci-fi/horror at the time - but it remains a pretty fun watch thanks primarily to the deliciously over-the-top performance of Charles Laughton. Fleeing after a bar room brawl leaves a man dead, Denis de Beaulieu (Richard "Stapley"/ Wyler), a bad egg descendant of noblemen, ends up at taking refuge in the castle home of Alain de Maletroit (Mr. Laughton). The sanctuary soon turns into an uncomfortable situation as Denis finds himself at the mercy of the gluttonous, vengeance-mad Frenchman, who keeps him there against his will and tries to force him to marry his niece Blanche (Sally Forrest). Years earlier, Alain's brother Edmond (Paul Cavanagh) stole away the woman he loved and now, you see, he wants revenge by ruining Blanche's life.
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Second-billed Boris Karloff has a disappointingly small role as manservant Voltan, who works for Alain but has secretly sworn allegiance to Edmond, who's being kept prison in the castle's dungeon away from a daughter who assumes he's dead. Though it drags a bit in the middle and offers few surprises, the film has an intriguing opening sequence and a lively finale to keep you watching. Well-acted by all (including Michael Pate and Alan Napier in supporting roles), though the entire film is pretty much dominated by Laughton whenever he's on screen. The sets and production design are both good and the cinematography's decent; though the score is comprised entirely of familiar stock music.
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A nice-looking print of the film is available on the Universal release "The Boris Karloff Collection;" a welcome box set that also includes NIGHT KEY (1937), TOWER OF LONDON (1939), THE CLIMAX (1944) and THE BLACK CASTLE (1952; which also features Karloff in a smaller role).
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★★1/2
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