A Kind of Murder (2016)

I was in the mood for a mystery thriller and this one fit the bill in some ways while missing it in others. The film is based on the novel The Blunderer written by Patricia Highsmith in 1954. Highsmith is also known for writing The Talented Mr. Ripley and episodes of Armchair Detective, Tales of the Unexpected, Chillers, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and that’s a small portion of her writing credits.

The plot is contrived; the ending–well, let’s say not entirely satisfying.

I’d give it three monkeys but for the acting and period design which are both excellent and bump it to a 4-monkey rating.

Patrick Wilson and Jessica Biel are the leads, as Mr. and Mrs. Stackhouse. They are perfect in their oddities and dysfunction alone and together. She’s unhappy, neurotic, suspicious, which pushes him inevitably towards the beautiful and available young Haley Bennet who is terrific as Stackhouse’s girlfriend.

I’m surprised that Eddie Marsan (I knew him from the series Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell) did not get top billing too, as he is a scene stealer, in my opinion, holding back a world of malice behind his glasses.

Mr. Stackhouse is a successful architect who writes crime stories in his free time. His hobby is collecting true crime articles for reference. Things go south quickly when his own wife is found dead at the scene of a recent murder and it becomes apparent that Mr. Stackhouse had previously gone to meet the key suspect. It’s possible Mrs. Stackhouse killed herself, but an obsessed cop is not so sure. Stackhouse is a terrible liar. It was unclear to me why he seems to deliberately make people more suspicious of him. His obsession with the murder and the creepy Mr. Kimmel only makes the cop more anxious to prove him guilty.

Have to assume they intended the play on meaning with the title: a kind-of murder or a type of murder? Did he kill his wife? This title works better for me than The Blunderer for sure.

Honestly, the ending doesn’t quite do it for me, BUT overall, the film kept me guessing. I loved the noir-ish atmosphere. The characters are complicated. Even though I wasn’t enamored with any of them–oh, hold up, I take that back–the girlfriend is likeable–but there was enough mystery to keep me engaged.

I give it four monkeys!

My Cousin Rachel (1952) Olivia de Haviland/Richard Burton

I have a confession. I’ve never read any Daphne du Maurier. I plan to remedy this soon. She concocts impressive plots and they’ve been made into legendary films.

Saw Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) as a kid of course; fabulous.

Don’t Look Now (1974) with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, well, wow. A fine example of how parents had no idea what we kids were watching. I saw it as a young teen and it scared me silly. It remains one of the weirdest movies that I like. Haunting. Dreamlike. Creepy. I recently got the book, but haven’t gotten to it yet. Eager to know how true to the book the film was. It’s high on the to-read-next-pile.

Rebecca (1940) with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, and a small part by George Sanders who is so much fun to dislike. Also a Hitchcock classic. Perfection.

But last night, watched My Cousin Rachel for the first time. Had never heard of it! How is that possible? Wowee. In the gothic tradition of Rebecca, but directed by David O. Selznick, it should stand firmly with the greats, Rebecca (1940; Wuthering Heights (1939); Laura (1944) Clifton Webb, Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney; and Gaslight (1944) Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotton, Charles Boyer.

The plot is simple enough: a young man (Richard Burton) is raised by his devoted uncle, Ambrose Ashley. His uncle leaves for Italy, but does not return as planned, instead, he marries a distant cousin and remains in Italy. Not long after, the nephew receives two letters indicating that the uncle is unwell and suggests that his wife is killing him. The nephew packs off to Italy only to arrive too late, the uncle has just died and his wife has vacated their home.

It’s all very suspicious. The nephew vows to get revenge. All seems straightforward until he meets his cousin Rachel; she is not at all the gold-digging viper he imagined.

Or is she?

Don’t want to give too much away. This film grabbed me and kept me guessing. Just love it!

And check out how young Richard Burton was! “Introducing Richard Burton!”

The stunning film is in black and white. The cinematography is gorgeous. The acting is superb–and it really was acting, as they seem to have convincing chemistry when in real life Burton had issues with his prima donna leading lady.

Check out the trailer!


As with all films it seems, there has been a remake and even a TV mini series. Can’t speak to them; haven’t seen them. Well worth a gander at this original. Atmospheric, and I’ve heard, Burton portrayed a more refined Philip than Daphne du Maurier created. Not surprising.

I loved this film!

Night Watch (1973) Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey

I stumbled on this film at the library recently. Had never heard of it. Perhaps it’s a little slow for today’s standards, and reviews are luke warm, but if you like Hitchcock films, or films from the 60s and 70s in general, this is well worth a look-see. I enjoyed Dame Elizabeth Taylor in this.

A stormy night. Ellen looks out at the decrepit windows of the house next door. The shutters are closed but perhaps one is banging. In a flash of lightning, she sees a bloody body sitting in a chair by the window. She screams and calls for her husband, but of course, by the time he looks out, he sees nothing but the decrepit and closed shutters. She insists that they must call the police. As you might expect, the police arrive, search the house, find nothing. And so begins with what seems to be yet-another-wife-being-gaslit story which may lead you to lose patience with it… yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, either the creepy neighbor dude is up to something, or the husband is gaslighting her. Fine. We get it. Let’s move on.

Oh, it will get on with it! Have a little patience. The ending is worth it.

This was Elizbeth Taylor’s only performance in a “horror” movie. It’s pretty tame for a horror film, but it does qualify. I’d consider it giallo-esque, but then I’ve been deep diving into gialli lately. (Giallo = Italian mystery/slasher film)

Night Watch was based on a play by Lucille Fletcher, who also wrote Sorry, Wrong Number.

Four Monkeys!

Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974) Italian giallo

Oh, Kittymuffins, is this a humdinger of a film! This might, just might, bounce Bird With Crystal Plumage out of the #1 spot in my favorite giallo list.

Where to start…

It has all the best elements of a great giallo, plus Mimsy Farmer–she’s terrific.

If you aren’t familiar with the genre, here’s a quick catch up. In the late 50s or thereabouts, a German production company got rights to do a series of films based on Edgar Wallace novels. They were usually in black and white with less than stellar acting, a good bit of camp, some detection, some slasher stuff. They’re called krimi (=crime). About the same time, this type of thing caught on in Italy. They derived from cheap pulp novels published with predominantly yellow covers. Giallo means yellow. The giallo genre runs a spectrum from gory sadistic slashers (not my thing) to detective story. Anything mystery/thriller/horror/supernatural. But there are some elements to a giallo that make it a giallo: masked killer in designer leather shoes, paranoia, helpless heroine —

Mystèrew, I find this trope surprising really. I watched a fair number of Sophia Loren films and as I recall, she was not a shrinking violet who would just cower against the wall as the killer came at her holding a knife. And older Italian women look pretty tough–like collectively they would beat anyone to death with skillets and rolling pins while their hair remained perfect, protected in kerchiefs, know what I mean? Anyway, the trope is usually gorgeous women whose clothes seem to fall off easily (fire the tailors!) and are ridiculously easy targets. In The Killer Reserved Nine Seats for example, a woman in a cocktail dress and three inch heels goes poking about in a basement. “Hey, crazy killer– come find me! No one could possibly rescue me here! You can’t miss me, I’m sparkling in my dress and click-clacking in my heels!” But not always. Mystere is a glorious departure from this. Wish they’d make a series. She’s fabulous.

Where was I? Oh yes, giallo elements. Lots of red herrings and mystery, and sometimes, like with this one, a saturation of gorgeous colors. Plot aside, this is a luxurious film cinematically speaking. Good thing colors don’t have flavors (unless perhaps you have synesthesia, in which case, I really want to know what that blue in the bedroom tastes like!) or you’d be wanting to lick the screen.

The plot is pretty simple: Sylvia is either a chemist or a manager of a perfume company. She is invited to a gathering of friends and the discussion veers into the dark arts of witchcraft in Africa. It is explained that when a sacrificial subject is chosen, he/she will gradually descend into madness. From this moment, Sylvia begins to experience hallucinations that become increasingly more bizarre and it is obvious that her sanity has broken free from its mooring. We learn more of her backstory, including trauma from the suicide of her mother, whom she remembers sitting at her dressing table in a black dress with white polka dots, spraying herself with perfume. I don’t want to give away much more, but I will say that the ending is quite a shock. You almost feel like that time at the theater where you went to the bathroom and accidentally returned to the wrong theater. What? Zombies? This can’t be right. Oops! Wrong film! Only it’s not.

Now here’s the thing. Up until the ending, you think you know what’s going on. As the credits role, you will probably have questions, as I did. “But…but…huh? What about–?” And while the first half of the film is pretty tame relative to the hack-and-slash gialli, it does get to the blood splatter eventually. I’m going to assume that if you are going to give this one a go, you can handle that. Brace yourself for the ending though.

I’ll be honest, I had to hunt up reviews so someone could explain the ending to me. So glad I did! Many thanks to giallo aficionado, Carlin Cook. I add the link to his review below. His take on it, and I totally agree, is that this film is similar to Identity and the ending is not literal but symbolic. Carlin suggests, and I agree, that multiple viewings would reveal just how amazing this film is–so much subtle symbolism and plot hints along the way.


Here’s a link to a video explaining the giallo genre that includes pics of the original giallo book covers:


Here’s a link to Carlin Cook’s review on YouTube:


The Indian Scarf (1963)

A bit of explanation before I jump into the film itself. You may have seen my comments on Blood and Black Lace, the 1965 Italian giallo film, which I really enjoyed. Giallo is an Italian crime/mystery film genre that grew out of the cheap pulp fiction novels of the 50s that had a predominantly yellow cover. Early giallos were black and white, but with directors like Bava and Argento, lush, saturation of color became a signature of this form of film. Other notable signatures of this genre are stylishly-dressed, masked murderers who go on frenzied killing sprees–over hours or days not weeks and months. Often there are weird dream-like sequences. Whereas in an American film, the score of a noir film may be for subtle atmosphere, in a giallo, the score is prominent, sometimes jazz, sometimes classical, always a bit jarring to the scene. A warning to the curious, some giallo are uncomfortably violent, featuring graphic and bizarre deaths. Despite my appreciation for the many remarkable filming techniques in Argento’s Opera (1987), with gorgeous operatic selections in the score, I won’t be reviewing that one as it was too much for me. Honestly, I have to wonder if some of these films aren’t gateways to lower the audience threshold for sadism, murder and snuff films. Neo-giallo is not for me.

But before Italian giallos there were German krimis. English author Edgar Wallace, best known for King Kong, wrote over 175 novels, many of them crime novels, (see link below) which a German film company used to create their own giallo-style films, called “krimi“s. There is overlap of the two genres. (Link below with more about krimis.) Here’s the fun part– the stories are by an English author, set in England, performed in German, dubbed (badly) back into English. The early ones were primarily in black and white with the same actors appearing again and again, film by film. The atmosphere and camera work is notable; the acting is over the top, reminiscent of silent films where expressions are held for unnaturally long periods of time, actions are exaggerated, fight scenes are lame and limp-fisted, and the murders are quick and almost silly in their stagey-ness.

The Indian Scarf is a perfect and wacky whodunnit. An eccentric old man dies, the heirs gather like vultures, eager to get their share and run, only to find out that the pre-will stipulates they must all live together in the house for seven days before the real will is to be read. One by one, in rapid succession, they are killed off. Oh, and we are informed that there has been a flood so the peninsula is cut off, as is the phone. No escape and no way to call for help. The bodies are piling up in the chapel. Each victim is found with a distinctive scarf around the neck. Why does the killer leave the scarves? Does the killer have an endless supply of scarves? Scarf fetish perhaps? I wish I could tell you, but unless I hiccupped during the explanation and I missed it, none is given. There is a vague mention of India, but that’s about it.

This campy, atmospheric, wild ride has been compared to Clue for its pace and feel. As with Clue, the entire film takes place within a colossal and beautifully bizarre house. The set design, like the acting, is over the top. Now that I know the story, I will have to have another viewing just to take in all the props–wildly oversized flowers in jeroboams, massive statues, hidden passages, weird art and tchotchkes abound. In fact, early on, for no apparent reason, a box is lifted, releasing a tarantula. Why was there a tarantula there? No idea. Why was the box lifted? I couldn’t tell you. It made no sense in the storyline.

Eddi Arent as Richard Bonwit

Eddi Arent stands out with hilarious comedic talent as the butler–again much like Tim Curry in Clue or Hank Azaria’s Agador in The Birdcage (1996). Looking for a fun escape? This is IT! It’s on YouTube–see link below.

Link to film on YouTube:


Link to blog on Edgar Wallace with list of books:


Link to list of Krimi films: https://mubi.com/lists/krimi-1959-1972

strangle scene from The Indian Scarf which I have to mention has some super sound effects

I give The Indian Scarf FIVE MONKEYS for weirdness and camp.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

60s/Thriller/ Suspense/Foreign

I remember this moment like it was earlier this morning. I was an early teen watching television. Commercial break, ho hum. The commercial had a creepy sing-song to it, and what I thought was a Prell commercial with Jacqueline Smith brushing her hair became a trailer for Suspiria. The hair-brushing figure turned around to face the camera with a skeleton face. I levitated off the couch and was down the stairs before I knew what I was doing.

This was my introduction to the giallo genre. Giallo is an Italian creation derived from cheap paperback thrillers popular in the 60s. That trailer terrified me so much that it took forty years for me to sit myself down and watch Suspiria. It turns out, it’s not at all what I expected. It wasn’t scary at all, in fact, at a glance, it could be dismissed as a silly 70s movie best seen while under the influence of hallucinogens. Certainly not the kind of movie that would earn commendation for a great plot, clever dialogue or anything remotely close to terrific acting. It’s campy and weird…but it’s the weird that gives it artistic merit. Strange camera angles and vivid colors create a lush dreamy/nightmarescape. Dario Argento’s Suspiria is always listed in the top must-see giallo films.

This subgenre of slasher/detective/mystery has influenced a myriad of directors and continues to have a cult following. Slasher films are not my favorite; men hunting women to cut them up does not appeal to me as the real world has too many predators, I don’t need to watch this as entertainment. I do like mysteries and artsy films. Mario Bava, like Argento, is considered a master of the giallo. I gave Blood and Black Lace a go. The plot is simple: a serial killer has targeted fashion models at a particular design house. Atmospheric, stylish, fast-paced, with plenty of suspects, this mystery was engaging and cinematically stunning. This should be mandatory viewing for film students. Look at this still for a second–the whites of her eyes matching the white white bra, the blue of her eyes, the color of the water. Perhaps it is the fake blood and fantasy (by which I mean that she’d hardly look like this if she were really murdered) that doesn’t run me off. She’s gorgeous. The shot is beautiful. Pure cinema.

Links to trailers and articles on giallo below– I’ll be on to the next one soon: The Bird with Crystal Plummage (1970). Contemplating getting a boxed set of Argento and/or Bava’s best films.

Four monkey hearts!

Blood and Black Lace Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeV29jEtqm4

Article on Giallo films by Furious Cinema:


Article: Why Watch a Giallo?


And Soon the Darkness (1970)

Directed by Robert Fuest Stars Pamela Franklin, Michele Dotrice and Sandor Eles

I’ll say right up front that I loved this film though I have some issues with it. First: what I love about it. Simple enough premise, two English nurses go on holiday to bicycle through France. Cathy soon tires of bicycling all day and becomes increasingly recalcitrant. She wants to mingle with people. She’s done with the countryside. She’s going to rest. With reluctance, Jane leaves her behind, assuming that she’ll catch up in her own time. Jane arrives at a desolate little cafe and stops to wait for Cathy, who does not come. And does not come.

This horror film was a daring departure from its predecessors– we don’t have creepy castles and cobwebs, we have open air and sunshine. For modern horror lovers, this may be a slow-paced and predictable offering. I’ve seen some reviews that include “boring”. Yes, the tension mounts slowly as Jane tries to get help and discovers that none of the townspeople feel trustworthy, in fact, the men are all downright creepy. The French are not painted favorably in this picture, particularly the men. The increasing feeling of being trapped in a wide open space is remarkably well done. I felt incredible empathy for Jane’s plight. What happened to Cathy? There doesn’t even seem to be a place to stay within miles. The locals are almost hostile as well as creepy. For film buffs, this is a must-see for its cinematography–long shots of farmland and endless road that should be lovely but feel sinister.

And now for some spoilers. First up, a wee technical problem. Okay, it’s summer, and the two women have next to no luggage. Cathy hangs out her lingerie to dry, so we can assume they have packed extra light and are washing their clothes often. However, both women are wearing skin tight shorts and short sleeve tops. Jane leaves her bicycle multiple times during the movie–with ALL her stuff which has to include her wallet, traveler checks (remember them? 1970 here folks, no swipey cards) and ID as well. Sorry, this doesn’t work for me. You would have all that with you at all times, and yet Jane does not carry a purse or any kind of pouch or anything, and she surely does not have ANYTHING in her pockets! Minor thing, but it bugged me.

Here’s my big problem: PAUL. We meet Paul and he seems sketchy from the start. We feel a modicum of relief when he indicates that he is a detective on holiday, who came back to this dreary little town in hopes of solving the murder of a young girl (who looked very much like the now missing Cathy). But his behavior is still weird and we come to suspect that he might be the killer.

Moody and atmospheric, making great use of closed and open spaces (woods, the road, the abandoned trailer park, the gendarme’s house) I found myself on the edge of the couch cushion in anticipation of the big reveal. Who did it?

Spoiler alert: stop here if you haven’t seen the film yet!

We find out that Paul is not the killer. He rescues Jane at the end. The credits roll. So, if he wasn’t the killer, then why did he expose the film? Why was he leading her to the bicycle he found? It was obviously a sketchy place and the murderer was nearby. Why not call for backup? Why didn’t he say what he found? Why was he chasing her like a stalker? His behavior just doesn’t make sense unless it’s just another jab at the French that his machismo has gotten the better of him. At one point he even pounds his chest, screaming “you can’t get away from ME!” I just don’t get it. Thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think of this film.


Even though I’m irked about the red herring issue, there is so much I LOVE about this film, it gets FIVE MONKEYS.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) Dana Andrews, Joan Fontaine

A reporter turned author is having trouble finishing his book. Discussing the ills of capital punishment with his future father-in-law, they concoct a scheme to frame him for an unsolved murder. Once he is convicted, they will prove his innocence and reveal the flaws in the system. The father-in-law carefully documents all their activities as they plant evidence.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this, but as a fan of Fritz Lang, I gave it a go. Enjoyed it though I will admit it is nothing compared to “Metropolis”, “Secret Beyond the Door” “Scarlet Street” or “M”.

Bleak subject? No chemistry between Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine?  Not enough tension? It did not do well at the box office and is not listed in Lang’s top films. But it IS still a Fritz Lang picture. Noirish  lighting. Funky camera angles.

Interesting concept though, and there’s a surprise at the end. Well worth a watch if you enjoy classic films and mystery.

There was a remake in 2009 with Jesse Metcalfe. Haven’t seen it. Usually, I’m not a big fan of remakes, but might have to give this a go for comparison.




Black Rainbow (1989) Jason Robards, Rosanna Arquette, Tom Hulce

Don’t get me wrong, I really really liked this movie, but oooh! The ending! I’m a big Rosanna Arquette fan and was tickled that Tom Hulce is in this. Remember him from Amadeus? This film wouldn’t have launched him to stardom but it’s not bad.  I wish I was in a movie club like a book club so we could discuss this film.  The plot: a psychic with an exploiting bastard for a father is kept virtual prisoner by him. They travel doing psychic shows and enjoy moderate success but the father squanders the money away.  The psychic begins to get messages from the dead… before they are dead. This unsettles everyone involved, most of all her.  For 3/4 of this film I wondered where the supernatural element was going to come into play as it seemed mostly a psychological drama. And it’s a good one.  But the ending…  Most films with a twist like Sixth Sense do a nice recap at the end where you can see where you were fooled. Not so this one. Now I’ve heard that a more recent version has been released with a commentary track. I need to hunt this down because, dang… the movie ended and I thought… wait. Did I go to the bathroom and miss something? Nope. So either there is a gaping plot hole that I fell into or there was a super subtle moment that I missed… or it ended up on the editing room floor. I don’t know. If you’ve seen this movie, please tell me your explanation of the ending!

See Internet Movie Database:  https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099143/

***Spoiler alert…. stop here if you haven’t seen it but intend to***  So the big question: When did she die? She doesn’t get shot in the final scene in the hotel yet she’s in two places at once. So I’m thinking she must have been already dead.  So is she dead the whole time?  If so, why on earth would she remain stuck doing essentially parlor tricks to keep her Dad afloat. And why have the fling with the reporter? Just cause? I’m so confused… 

Gaslight (1944)

Get the popcorn and turn off the cell phone! This is where the term “gas-lighting” comes from… Charles Boyer plays a sinister husband out to systematically make his wife crazy. It holds up! Great acting and ratcheting tension. A must see if you like movies. Nominated for seven Oscars. Ingrid Bergman won for Best Actress; a very young Angela Landsbury was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. This film holds up as a classic.  There is a 1940 British version as well…not bad, worth watching for comparison, but Boyer, Bergman and Landsbury are tough to beat.