Archive for the ‘thriller’ Tag

The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)   Leave a comment

telegraph poster

Victoria Kowelska (Valentina Cortese) loses her husband in the war and the Nazis send her to Belsen. She befriends a sick woman in the concentration camp and tries to help her regain her strength. When the woman, Karin Dernakova dies just before the allies liberate the camp, Victoria assumes Karin’s identity. Neither woman had relatives left alive in Poland, but Karin has family, including a young son in the United States so New Karin travels to the US to care for her friend’s son. No one there has seen Karin so they believe her story. Once in New York, Karin meets the handsome and charming Alan Spender (Richard Basehart), executor of Karin’s rich aunt’s will and guardian to her son.

Did you say iocaine powder?

Alan sweeps her off her feet and after a whirlwind romance, they marry and move to the family mansion in San Francisco’s toney Telegraph Hill section. Almost immediately, Karin senses tension in the household. The housekeeper, Margaret (Fay Baker) resents her presence and seems too attached to both Alan and her son, Christopher (Gordon Gebert).

Margaret’s domain.

Karin perseveres because of her increasing attachment to the boy, but her worries increase as a series of accidents plagues the household. She also meets and falls for attorney Major Marc Bennett (William Lundigan) who happens to have helped Karin at the refugee camp in Poland. Karin begins to suspect her new husband, but are her fears rational or is guilt about her own lies making her paranoid?

scary rich
Hi honey!

Directed by the talented and eclectic Robert Wise (The Haunting, The Day the Earth Stood Still), The House on Telegraph Hill is a thriller with a crime/noir feel that keeps you guessing. The death of her friend paves the way for Karin to start a new life in America. Is survivor’s guilt making that life impossible or are Karin and the child really in danger? Richard Basehart can play naïve innocence or cunning evil equally well and he leads a decent cast of actors in this little gem of a picture. Fay Baker channels Rebecca’s Mrs. Danvers at times and Valentina Cortese was convincing as the beleaguered concentration camp survivor. Gordon Gebert as the little boy does a nice job too.

Hands off! He’s mine!

I’ve always liked this film. The small cast and relatively simple story line give the characters room to develop and their acting chops carry off the mystery and deception well. The locations in and around the Telegraph Hill section of San Francisco are lovely even without Lucien Ballard’s cinematography and the sets and costumes also help set the mood. If you like crime films with a bit of old school flair, you’ll like The House on Telegraph Hill.


Psst: Richard Basehart and Valentine Cortese married in 1951…

…and divorced in 1960.

Wait Until Dark (1967) 31 Days of Horror: Terror-Thon at the Somerville Theatre   Leave a comment

wait poster

A trio of con men try to trick a blind woman into giving them a doll stuffed with heroin. The simplicity of the plot allows writers Frederick Knott, Robert Carrington, and Jane-Howard Carrington to embellish their characters which makes for an entertaining and thrilling film. Audrey Hepburn stars as the woman in peril who has a lot more on the ball than the bad guys think. The three bad guys, Richard Crenna, a wonderfully evil Alan Arkin, and Jack Weston play different parts in an elaborate scheme to get their drugs from the beleaguered Hepburn. Wait Until Dark looks more like a play than a film. Knott wrote it for the stage. Because of that, you get a real sense that Hepburn has to outsmart the trio. She has no way out and therefore no choice.


I’ve never been a Hepburn fan, but she plays her part beautifully. It could easily have played with a lot of flailing and “Why me?”, but it wasn’t and for that reason it really works. Alan Arkin does the most with his part as the demented Roat. He’s a sociopath who delights in torture and a truly scary guy. After seeing this film, I’m even more impressed by Arkin’s acting talent. Within three years he made The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming, Wait Until Dark, and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. The man has range. Directed by Terence Young (Dr. No, From Russia With Love) Wait Until Dark had tight direction, a Henry Mancini score, a talented cast, and a wonderful script. It also looked great in the theatre. Don’t miss this one.

Roat introduces us to


October 20, 2014

Shock (1946) 31 Days of Horror   Leave a comment


While waiting for her husband to return from the war, Janet (Anabel Shaw) looks out her hotel window and sees a man bludgeon his wife to death. Her husband Paul (Frank Latimore) arrives at the hotel to find his wife in a catatonic state. The hotel doctor (They used to have those.) recommends a specialist. Enter a youthful Vincent Price who decides Janet needs urgent care.

This ought to do it.

He transfers her to his private psychiatric hospital in the country where Janet can get the help she needs. Soon Janet feels great so she goes home with her husband and they have babies and a house in the suburbs. The End. Not so fast, bub. It seems Dr. Cross (Price) and his favorite nurse, Elaine (Lynn Bari) have more than a passing interest in Janet’s case and each other (wink wink). They want her to remain catatonic, go mad, or die to keep her from telling anyone what she saw. Janet lies drugged and unable to defend herself as her husband and the police race to get to the real story before things head even farther south.

Claus von Bulow’s role model.

Director Alfred Werker (He Walked By Night, Walk East on Beacon!) must have run a tight ship. In a compact 70 minutes, he tells a compelling and often harrowing tale of murder, lust, and conscience. Eugene Ling and Martin Berkeley wrote a taut screenplay based on Albert deMond’s story. Between their script and Werker’s direction, there’s not a wasted moment. Music by David Botolph (House of Wax, Kiss of Death) sets the tone for this noirish thriller. Though not technically a horror, the idea of being at the mercy of a doctor sworn to help, yet determined to harm seems pretty scary to me.


I wrote this for the 31 Days of Horror Challenge. Check out @cinemashame and @30hertzrumble on twitter and for more horror stories. I’m @echidnabot on twitter.


Manhunter (1986)   2 comments


A serial killer strikes during the full moon and kills entire families in their beds. When local police come up empty, they call the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, Jack Crawford (the always awesome Dennis Farina) for help.

See? I told you I was awesome.

Crawford, in turn calls his best profiler, Will Graham (William Petersen). Graham has a knack for getting into murderers’ heads and seeing horrific crimes through their eyes. This ability has taken a toll on his psyche however and Crawford finds him at his beach house recovering from a nervous breakdown. Crawford talks Graham into working the case and soon he’s back in the mind of another maniac.

Manhunter starts with a well worn movie plot. The burned out cop comes back to work on a big case and conquers his own demons. In the hands of another director, Manhunter could easily resemble a made-for-TV movie doomed for the USA network between a commercial-heavy showing of Top Gun and a rerun of Psych. What elevates this film is the stylish direction of Michael Mann (Thief, Heat) and the top drawer performances by the film’s cast.

Petersen, who made To Live and Die in LA with William Friedkin the year before, is at the top of his game as the world weary Graham. His stillness and intensity are perfect for this film, especially when he’s walking the crime scenes, reliving the murders. He describes in detail the actions and thoughts of the killer. It’s his empathy which allows Graham to discover the first solid lead in the search for the killer dubbed the Tooth Fairy by police. After making discoveries he can’t explain, Graham looks to serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), the man who nearly killed him a few months before, for information on the Tooth Fairy. The doctor toys with Graham and they share the best dialogue in the film.


Graham:”I thought you might enjoy the challenge. Find out if you’re smarter than the person I’m looking for.”
Lecktor: “Then, by implication, you think you’re smarter than I am, since it was you who caught me.”
Graham: “No. I know I’m not smarter than you.”
Lecktor: “Then how did you catch me?”
Graham: “You had…disadvantages.”
Lecktor: “What disadvantages?”
Graham: “You’re insane.”

Point taken.

I have to talk a bit about Brian Cox here. His Lecktor has all the menace of the Hopkins version without the theatrics. Don’t get me wrong. I like Silence of the Lambs a lot and Hopkins does a terrific job in his role. Brian Cox took a different, subtler approach though and it seems a lot more likely that he could hide in plain sight than Hopkins could.

After the conversation with Graham piques Lecktor’s interest, he uses his technical acumen and charm to hotwire a telephone and cajole Graham’s home address out of an unwitting receptionist. After a terrific forensic investigation sequence featuring talented character actor Bill Smitrovich, Crawford and Graham discover that the Tooth Fairy has reached out to Dr. Lecktor, putting Graham’s family at risk. Graham and Crawford make a move designed to bring the Tooth Fairy out into the open. The shocking scenes that follow give us our first glimpse of the killer. When his plot backfires, Graham must reexamine the crime scenes and walk with the killer again.

While Graham crawls inside the head of the Tooth Fairy, we see our madman at his job. Withdrawn and desperately lonely, the killer (Tom Noonan) presents us with a problem. We know about his brutal crimes and yet we pity his awkwardness and even cheer for him when he makes a connection with his blind co-worker, Reba (Joan Allen).

I wish I were a tiger.

We care about him. We care because Tom Noonan delivers a nuanced and frightening performance. We care because Thomas Harris and Michael Mann wrote a compelling screenplay. We care because director Michael Mann combines the straightforwardness of a police procedural with the artiness of a 1980s music video and the drama of grand opera. A haunting soundtrack by Michel Rubini, The Reds, and The Prime Movers, along with stellar use of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida provides the setting for a fascinating cerebral thriller. Kim Greist, as Graham’s loving, yet fearful wife, and Stephen Lang, as a ruthless tabloid reporter, show great range, but it’s Petersen who really shines. After watching Manhunter and To Live and Die in LA, I wonder why he didn’t get more leads or at least a few juicy character roles. Manhunter depicts the analysis and pursuit of a serial killer. If it stopped there it would be a satisfying watch. It doesn’t.


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