Welcome to the second day of the October Overlook Madness! What a first day and what a second one awaits. I hope that you are scared and already eager for the next review. As always, first we must turn to the video of today of Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness, so let’s start our travel through the land of horror films of yesteryear.
Today’s choice from James Rolfe was ‘Häxan’ (1922), and for some reason I thought that he already had reviewed it in another Monster Madness, but no, here it is, and it’s an amazing video which highlights the strengths of such an incredible film. You can watch the video here.
Personally, I’ve already seen it, so I think that it’s one of the great silent films, and maybe one of the most interesting ways in which a documentary can show the horror and the reality of how witchcraft worked in the minds of the people in the Middle Ages and beyond. I think that the information put together here is highly accurate (due to my interest in this matter I’ve read quite a bit and it all checks out), and to beat, the fiction elements are scary and funny at times. A great movie that I rate 9 out of 10. I remember that I did a short review of this film in the first version of this ‘horror-movie-month’ thing that I did in my blog, but it was barely memorable.
So, according to my rules I have to see the next Horror movie that I haven’t seen from my personal list, and from 1933 we jump to 1945 to see this somewhat forgotten movie, let’s see what ‘Hangover Square’ (1945) holds for me.
Stephen Sondheim apparently watched this movie and was inspired to make the Sweeney Todd musical that we’ve all grown to love or hate depending on who we are. And with reason, while the story of Sweeney is part of the mythology of a certain Victorian and decadent London, this story also takes place in certain streets and places of London that aren’t the most tourist friendly, but in the end, that’s where people like you and I live, and thus Sondheim must’ve been reminded by this film of that area and how it worked in the play. Now, the other concept that may have attracted Sondheim is how the music plays its role in the movie, as the film works around the events of a musician who composes a concerto for his big opening in weeks to come, how the film starts, follows its plot and ends with music in the most important position is a testament of how the director managed to ‘film’ the music, feel it and integrate it to the movie in the most wonderful and incredible way.
Our protagonist, the musician who plays the piano and spends his days in his house composing new notes and songs, has a problem though. He suffers from a severe sickness that may be more difficult and problematic than he initially thinks. Whenever he’s under pressure, with heavy duties ahead of him, and if those elements are accompanied by a high pitch sound, his mind numbs and his vision blurs, the head becomes empty, and he doesn’t remember anything. He blacks-out, but he remains conscious, in a way, following the wishes of his unconsciousness, and thus becoming quite dangerous to the people around him, if he ever becomes under a situation in which violence may occur. And obviously, this being a horror film, it happens, it happens a lot. Our protagonist is in many ways not guilty of the things that he ends up doing, his sick mind, his madness (if you decide to call it that way) drives him out of his way to device plans and remember tidbits and information from random conversations to come up with carefully planned events that lead to deaths or other ghastly crimes. Sadly, the film makes us like him, thus, the crimes he commits are seen as not much else than the command of his own wishes, liberated by his malaise.
The movie supports the visual standards of the 1940’s studio film, with its street and house recreations with an attention to detail of the time period manifested, and at the same time a world view that fixates on what would later be considered kitsch or camp, thus in a way making it undistinguishable from any other movie of the time, except, of course, for its final scenes, in which it gathers some editing and cinematography to muster up a sequence that manages to capture the mindset of the protagonist and also the way that the music travels through the mind and creatively comes out. The film spends most of its runtime following the antics of our protagonist with a singer who sings with very little clothes in bars, who wants to get a hit, and thus takes advantage of the attraction she exerts on the musician. The whole thing ends badly, of course, and the violence is the only thing that can be expected, and it’s not only just death, it’s accompanied by what seems to be the earliest reference I can think of to the celebration of the 5th of November in England, where they make bonfires to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes; thus, the way of disposal is quite mean for the time, but at the same time, we think, he is mad, thus becomes something acceptable.
While extremely short and still very well made, there are some moments in which it seemed to be that there were some editing issues, specially regarding dialogue recording, that made it distracting (sorry for putting this here, but I’m editing a film and I’m doing some dialogue editing, so I’m sensible to that). Besides that, only the insistence on the will-it-be-will-it-not romance between the protagonist and the singer is what made this film feel a tad bit longer than it really was. Still, it’s a recommended picture, one who features a fantastic ending and some decent acting. A good horror for the time, compared to other 1940’s films.