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!

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 Nightmare (1964)

Suspense/Thriller/60s/Hammer Horror

In 1952 the French novel Celle qui n’était plus (She Who Was No More) was published by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. 

In 1955 the French film Diabolique based on the novel was released. (Excellent. Atmospheric. Recommend if you can handle subtitles.)

In 1964 Hammer did it again without Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, castles, crypts or a healthy budget for fog machines. One might not recognize this gem as a Hammer film at all.

In 1996 Diabolique was remade again with Sharon Stone. It’s quite good, too.

But don’t dismiss the Hammer version, it’s atmospheric and suspenseful. In this version, Janet’s mother went mad and killed her father on Janet’s birthday. She was soon packed off to a boarding school for girls where she frightens the other girls with her terrifying screams at night. She is plagued by recurring dreams that her mother is luring her to a room at the asylum; Janet is tormented by the fear that she will go mad like her mother. She is soon sent back home to the cold care of a distant guardian, a hired nurse and a housekeeper. Her terror continues as she hears and sees things no one else does. Is she going mad? She has another birthday looming. The birthday cake with candles is a trigger of past trauma; the birthday seems nothing to celebrate…

Jennie Linden does a terrific job as a terrorized teen. Moira Redmond– trivia point, she tested for the Emma Peel role in the Avengers–she has that cool beauty–won’t say more but she has a juicy part! Even though I’d seen Diabolique, I wasn’t quite sure how this was going to end. Had me anxious to find out! The dog wanted to go out with eight minutes left to the end. Aargh!

I give it

Four Monkeys!

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.

MIDNIGHT LACE (1960) Doris Day, Rex Harrison, Myrna Loy, Roddy McDowell


I’m going to kill you, Mrs. Preston,”  promises an unnatural high-pitched voice that ought to set the goosebumps scampering over your skin.

   An American woman (Doris Day), wed three scant months to an Englishman (Rex Harrison), lives in London and is terrorized by a stalker threatening to kill her. The threats always seem to come when she is alone and has no one to corroborate her experiences which occur with increasing frequency.

   This film may seem tepid amidst today’s offerings of graphic violence and terror, but for Doris Day fans, old movie fans and folks who just don’t want graphic frights, this movie holds up. The story takes off in the first moments; suspects abound, the tension never slacks.

   Doris Day refused to act in any other such film and opted for comedies for the rest of her career. No small wonder as her character, Mrs. Preston is under stress from the first moments of the film. In one climatic scene, her method acting turned to real hysteria and she collapsed.

   Costume designer Irene Lentz was nominated for an Oscar for her outfits in Midnight Lace. She and Doris Day were friends, and Day trusted her for her costumes as well as her own wardrobe. If you enjoy Hollywood fashion, this film is a goodie just for that.

   As a huge Myrna Loy fan, it is a treat that she is Mrs. Preston’s kind aunt. Roddy McDowell has only a few scenes but they are noteworthy and memorable. I’m not much of a Rex Harrison fan and this role did not make appear to push his acting abilities, but no grumbles about his work here.


Related article about Irene Lentz:

 Midnight Lace Trailer:

I give it Five


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:

***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… 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2018)

One of my favorite books made into a movie!

The book of the same name by Shirley Jackson, is one of my all-time favorites, and this film captures the feel of the book well. A common theme in Jackson’s work is the sense that “polite society” is just a thin veneer of gentility with an underbelly seething with judgement, hostility, and menace. At a glance, the two sisters seem peculiar but how did they get that way? Are they the frightening ones?

As a largish woman with red hair and glasses, Jackson did not align herself with the June Cleevers of the world or a society in which women were not expected to have intelligence and were expected to host cocktail parties to promote their husbands, enjoy housework and raise children.

This novel and film focus on two sisters, who live in a rambling mansion with their mentally-impaired uncle Julian. The rest of their family died in a poisoning accident at dinner. The older sister was the main suspect. Though she was acquitted–apparently along the lines of “a nice girl like that could never do such a thing” –the townspeople regards the two girls with fear and suspicion.

Mary Catherine, aka “Merricat” must foray into town once a week for food. As a nervous introvert, she dreads these encounters with the outside world. Her sister Constance and uncle Julian never leave the house.

When an estranged cousin arrives to “help”, he upsets the harmonious dynamic of the household. Constance, portrayed in the film as a Barbie-esque product of the 50’s, a submissive woman who will look to a male figure for guidance and smile her way through any unpleasantness and only see the good in people, welcomes him into their home. Merricat sees through his charming façade. A self-made witch, she works charms to protect them from his insinuating presence. Charles is strong. Merricat feels him turning her beloved Constance against her. Unlike her pliant sister, Merricat will fight back with all she’s got.

The film follows the novel well but took a liberty with the ending regarding cousin Charles. A pity that Shirley Jackson is no longer with us to interview regarding this departure from her story. Personally, I think it works logically and adds some tension cinematically though it does change the yin/yang dynamic between the male and female characters.


Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

This is not a supernatural film as you might expect; it’s a psychological thriller about a devoted husband, Billy Savage married to an unstable wife, Myra. She believes she can channel the spirit of her dead child. To validate her claims to be a powerful medium, She coerces her husband to kidnap a child. She will then help the family and the police to recover the child and thus validate her claim as powerful medium. Outstanding performances by Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough and a satisfying conclusion make this well worth watching. And for film buffs, a great study in music, atmosphere and camera work.

This is an old-school style gem that without relying on any gimmicks, computer graphics or special effects, is very effective.

More info on Internet Movie Database:

Onibaba (1964) Japanese

This artsy, black and white film has a slow build and a straightforward plot. Two peasant women, mother and daughter, are forced to kill samurai returning from war. By selling their belongings, they can purchase grain. They live in a hut in a huge grassy field. The daughter develops a relationship with a man nearby. The jealous mother tries to subvert this relationship by telling the daughter that sex without marriage is sinful and she will go to hell. When the mother kills a peculiar samurai wearing a mask, her karma ripens swiftly.

The lighting in the latter half of the film is extraordinary and the ending is worth the wait.

Director: Kaneto Shindô


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.