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Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee, one of the most iconic movie star of all times. He created a cult following, around the world, inspired many to take up martial arts, created a whole new genre of cinema.

In the 70s right after Enter the Dragon had released, a common sight in India, was gyms having Bruce Lee’s picture. In fact I think he was the first international star to have a massive fan following in India, later on it was Jackie Chan, Arnie and Slyvester Stallone. The impact of Bruce Lee, goes beyond just cinema, he popularized martial arts in India, matter of fact all over the world. Till then it was more restricted to Asian nations, post Enter the Dragon, every kid, youngster around the world wanted to learn martial arts. While Japan had it’s own Shaolin, Ninja, Samurai movies, they usually were at a higher level, very often intricate and philosophical. His movies on the other hand had more simpler plots, were more oriented towards the masses.

For a long time, Bruce Lee was synonymous with martial arts. In a way he was the inspiration for a whole new generation of Hong Kong martial art stars like Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li. He was the one who made martial arts a global brand across the world. One more reason for his popularity is the way he changed the Asians were represented in Hollywood. For a long time, it was common to have white actors donning yellowish paint, make up to depict Asians. He bought respectability to Asian actors there.

Also most of Bruce Lee’s movies had this Chinese nationalism theme, majority of his movies were based around Chinese immigrants or native Chinese being exploited by foreigners, and that struck a chord with most Chinese, for that matter with most of the Asian community. He was trained in Wing Chun, a traditional Chinese kungfu style of combat, he combined elements of his own philosophical thoughts, improved upon it to create a new style Jeet Kune Do, a mix and match of various martial art forms.

While Bruce Lee is known for his martial skills, not many really know that he had an excellent knowledge of philosophy, and also wrote poetry. He actually wrote books on martial arts, with his own philosophical references, and he had a huge library with books on philosophy. He was an avid follower of Jiddu Krishnamurthy one of his main influences apart from Taoism and Buddhism. Matter of fact for some one with Chinese roots, his philosophy was fundamentally opposite to Confucianism.

He was born on Nov 27, 1940 in San Francisco’s Chinatown, , the 4th of 5 children, his father Lee Hoi-Chuen was a Chinese stage actor, while his mother Grace was of mixed Eurasian ancestr, his parents returned to Hong Kong soon after his birth. As per Chinese Zodiac, Bruce Lee was believed to be born in the Year of the Dragon, his Chinese name was Lee Jun Fan, his English name was given by the doctor in the hospital where he was born. Later as a student he used the name Lee Yuen-Kam.

He grew up in a well to do environment, his father was a leading star of the Cantonese opera, while his mother belonged to one of Hong Kong’s richest families, his great grand uncle Sir Robert HoTung, was an influential businessman, known as Grand Old Man of Hong Kong. However around the same time, the city was hit by an influx of refugees most of them fleeing the Communist regime in China, and soon the tiny island became overcrowded, and dangerous too.

And soon it became overcrowded, dirty, which predictably led to the rise of gangs, street gangs and of course in a way the notorious triads that wud be a part of the city. Though Bruce Lee belonged to a more affluent family, he was often caught up in the street fights in his neighborhood, and that is when his parents felt he had to be trained in martial arts to defend himself. And this is one of the major themes in his movies too.

Though he started with the standard Wu-style taichi, he was predominantly influenced by Wing Chun, a southern Chinese kung fu wush style of close combat, and he began to train it when he was just 16 years. Training under Yip Man, Bruce Lee quickly learned the basiscs of Wing Chun,. In turn Yip kept organizing competitions for his students to keep them away from Hong Kong’s notorious street gangs.

Also fellow students were against training with Bruce Lee, due to his mixed race ancestry, he was not considered pure Asian, and the distrust of non Asians was pretty high those days. However he trained privately with IpMan and mastered Wing Chun soon. He soon got into college, and gained fame as a boxing champ. However he got into street fights often, and once beat up the son of a dreaded triad boss, which made his parents worried.

The Hong Kong triads were, matter of fact,still are, one of the most notorious crime syndicates in the world, one of the most ruthless too. And beating up a member of a triad family meant certain death. So his parents sent him back to the US again. He moved to Seattle in 1959, where he worked at a restaurant to finance his education. And he later joined the University of Washington, where he studied dramatic arts, philosophy, and also met his future wife Linda Emery, whom he married after a long courtship.

He began to teach his own version of Kung Fu, what he called Jan Fan Gung Fu in Seattle, also opened his first martial arts school there. He would later open another martial arts school in Oakland, and took part in the Long Beach karate championships. It was at the Long Beach Championships that Bruce Lee, demonstrated his by now iconic unstopabble punch. He came up with his own martial arts style Jeet Kune Do in 1967, basically a mix and match of various martial arts, with philosophcal touches.

Bruce Lee felt that the traditional martial arts style, was too rigid, and did not really suit in street fights, which essentially had no rules. He wanted a martial arts style that was practical, fast, flexible and efficient. And that led to Jeet Kune Do. Again he was the first martial arts star to emphasize on physical fitness, muscular strength, flexibility, endurance. He also used vitamins, high protein drinks, combining the typical Western fitness regime, with more Eastern elements of spiritualism. He avoided baked goods, preferred Asian cuisine of vegetables, rice, fish and milk. His book Tao of Jeet Kune Do describes this well.

He initially made minor appearances mostly as an Asian henchman, or sidekick in Hollywood crime flicks, he also choreographed action scenes for some other movies and appeared in the TV series Longstreet. His first major hit was The Big Boss in 1971, that made him a star, where he plays an ice factory Chinese immigrant in Thailand, who rebels against the exploitation of his manager. The movie also developed his by now iconic style.

His next movie Fist of Fury in 1972, was an even bigger hit. Once again he plays the hero standing up for the Chinese against their Japanese occupiers, and the movie struck a chord with the audience. Not to mention some awesome action scenes.

His other 2 movies Way of the Dragon, and and Game of Death were successful too. Basically Bruce Lee’s movies had him as the lone one man hero, who stands up for the rights of his fellow Chinese against foreign exploiters. And that is what made them so popular.

It was Enter the Dragon that would make Bruce Lee a global star, his first Hollywood movie, a true cult classic. To date remains among my favorites, one of the best action movies ever shot. It was the iconic movie that influenced many a martial art movie later on. The movie is a cult classic to date, especially the final fight in the Hall of Mirrors, one movie that I love watching again and again. Incidentally Jackie Chan had a small role in this as one of the henchmen.

Incidentally Ram Gopal Verma cites Bruce Lee’s Return of the Dragon as his main influence for Shiva. Was directed by Lee himself. Similiar kinda story, hero enters an area where a local gangster terrifies the people, and he begins to take on them.

had earlier suffered from a cerebral edema during shooting of Enter the Dragon. However he had a more fatal seizure on July 20, 1973 right after a dinner. He was burried at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle by his wife. There is a lot of speculation on Bruce Lee’s death at just 32, pointing to the involvement of the triads or a conspiracy. However what is true is that he was a truly iconic figure, made martial arts a global brand, and an inspiration to many. A true legend.

Jonathan Demme Blogathon

Noted director Jonathan Demme passed away on April 26,2017.  A director with a really good track record, notably Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia. Two of his finest, and most well known. But while he is often recognized for these two movies, he had made some equally good comedies, exploitation movies. Comedies like Something Wild, Married to the Mob, and family dramas like Rachel Gets Married to exploitation flicks like Caged Heat, Crazy Mama, a very diverse range. In tribute to a great director, would be hosting a blogathon at my site here from May 8-15.  For those interested, you can take part by posting any article on Demme’s movies, even the lesser known ones. It can be reviews, analyses, articles. So please respond in the comments section. And do promote by sharing one of the pictures given below .


Brian De Palma Blogathon- Dressed to Kill

( Apologies for the break in the Brian De Palma blogathon, as I had to travel. Now again publishing this review on Dressed to Kill  by Gill Jacob at Real Weegie Midget.

In her own words, Gill is an expat Scottish Gal, living in Finland, and blogs on Movie, TV and books. She reviews De Palma’s polarizing movie Dressed To Kill, a movie that has people either loving it or hating it)

Reading through De Palma’s filmography, I’d only seen as few of his films namely the horror Carrie (1976) – the original film – the first Mission Impossible film (1996) and Snake Eyes (1998), with Nicholas Cage. So wanting to see more of De Palma’s work, and a huge Michael Caine fan, I leapt on the chance of watching another of his 1980s movies – my favourite Michael Caine film time period – Dress to Kill (1980) for this Blogathon. So for the first time, I watched this thriller, which on its release was controversial due to the transsexual and mental health story line. Feminists claimed it was misogynistic indirectly promoting the film. It was both written and directed by De Palma. IMdb reports this the story line was based on De Palma’s early “film career” when he was asked to follow his father with recording equipment as his mother suspected he was cheating on her. De Palma appears to have used this experience and adding a female lead, played by his then wife.

To read the full review, click here

And it All Began….

(The Brian De Palma blogathon kicks off with one of my all time favorites, The Untouchables, which was also my first Brian De Palma movie. I had posted this earlier here too at Cinema View Finder )

Image result for the untouchables 1987

1988 – I was watching the Academy Awards ceremony on TV. The nominees for the Best Supporting Actor were being announced, and one of them was an actor who, to date, still happens to be my favorite Bond, Sean Connery. He was slightly older, with a salt and pepper beard, but still looking dashing enough. And then they showed the clip where he utters that dialogue,

You wanna get Capone? Here’s how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue! That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone!

The way Connery recited the dialogue, his expressions, his movements, were just totally seeti maar (a crowd-pleaser). I was not surprised when Connery won the award. Normally, I would give Oscar nominated flicks a big miss. Until then most of my Hollywood movie viewing was restricted to the big budget blockbusters and the slam-bang stuff. But this single clip just whetted my appetite. I had to see this movie. And when some of the movie magazines praised this as one of the best English language movies of the time, I was much more eager to see it. In the days before DVD, online movies, YouTube, and before HBO, the only way one could see a new English language flick, was to get hold of a videocassette. So we scoured the video shops, me and my cousin, drawing a blank that only increased our

longing for this movie.

1989 – Sangeet theater, Secunderabad, the watering hole for all the English language movie lovers of the twin cities. Our long wait had come to an end. I stepped into the theater along with my cousin, another movie fanatic like me. The screen went dark, and first came the Paramount logo, then the titles “A Brian De Palma Film”, and then the cast names. As each name appeared on the screen, the background was mostly dark. We just saw shadows that would lengthen, letters coming into focus, and then on the screen, The Untouchables in huge letters, a dark and yellow background, and the shadows sprawling across. Simple, minimal and yet so effective. One of the best opening credits ever, and add to it Ennio Morricone’s memorable opening theme. Then the movie unfolded. Robert De Niro’s introduction with the camera zooming in from the top, as he lies on the bed, having a shave, speaking to the media; Sean Connery and Kevin Costner meeting on the bridge; the encounter between Sean Connery and Andy Garcia; and of course the, by now, legendary “Odessa Steps”-inspired shootout scene in Chicago’s Union Station; and then the ending; we were totally hooked. I was now totally into the movie, and I saw it again and again, borrowing money, sometimes sitting even in the lowest class, which then cost a princely sum of Rs 5. I was not just hooked, I was mesmerized.

Even for a die hard English language movie fan like me, The Untouchables (1987) was a totally different experience altogether. It was not just the “Odessa Steps” setpiece, but so many other scenes; the dialogue; the tense confrontations; the way Prohibition Era Chicago was recreated; Ennio Morricone’s memorable score; the performances… everything. This started my fascination with Brian De Palma, and in Scarface (1983), it continued. I was not too impressed by Scarface when I saw it the first time. The staccato bursts of dialogue; the jerky camera movements; the not too likeable characters just put me off, and add to it a cartoonish climax, better suited to a Mithun Da or Rajnikanth (over the top) movie, where the hero goes single-handedly against a group of baddies. However, subsequent viewings have just made me fall in love with it, and to date, it remains one of my favorite films. Then followed a host of other flicks: Carlito’s Way (1993); Mission Impossible (1996); Body Double (1984); Carrie (1976); Dressed to Kill (1980); Blow Out (1981); and Snake Eyes (1998), that just deepened my fascination for him. What I discovered was a world of violent, gory, crazy, twisted characters; people who are not what they seem to be; camera angles that made me dizzy at times. It was not a feel good world, nor were any of his characters particularly likeable, but there was something fascinating about that. For me, De Palma’s movies are generally the inverse of Tim Burton’s dark, gothic tales. Burton creates a crazy, gothic atmosphere, populates it with strange characters, and then drives home the point that beyond that creepy looking weirdo is actually a nice, ordinary person. De Palma takes seemingly normal characters, in totally mundane places, and then takes us inside the person to show that inside him/her lies a dangerous secret. Burton takes the beast and tries to explore the human being in him. De Palma explores the beast within a human being.

It is quite ironic that my first De Palma film was quite different from most of his other movies I had seen. Sure, The Untouchables had a lot of gore, but nothing remotely close to the chainsaw murder in Scarface or the power-drill murder scene in Body Double. But what really strikes me about The Untouchables is the characterization. In sharp contrast to most of his other films, where characters are either cranked out, or inhabit a grey world between the black and white, The Untouchables has a clear cut division between black and white. In fact, The Untouchables is more of a throwback to Hollywood’s classic era movies, from its black-and-white characters, to the epic style of movie making, to Morricone’s thunderous music, to the panoramic shots. Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is the whitest of the lot, nothing seems to be wrong about him. He is an arrow-straight, honest cop; a loving husband; a doting Dad; a total family man; in total… the noble, idealistic hero. On the other extreme is Al Capone (Robert De Niro): the bad guy; the gangster who literally owns Chicago city; who has no qualms about breaking people’s heads with a baseball bat; totally ruthless and powerful. And in between there is Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), an Irish cop, who believes that going by the book is not going to help in the fight against Capone; someone who becomes Ness’s friend, philosopher, guide, and mentor; who teaches him how to fight crime ”Chicago style”. Add rookie sharpshooter George Stone (Andy Garcia); nerdy bookkeeper Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith); and a whole host of other stereotypes… the corrupt cops; the inquisitive journalist; the vicious hit man, Frank Nitti (Billy Drago). Trust De Palma to make a classic out of a movie that is totally black-and-white in terms of characterization, and which is predictable more often than not. Even now, I don’t care if Connery’s accent is really Scottish or Irish. I just love watching him deliver that ”crime-fighting Chicago style” quote, or that kickass movement when he pretends to interrogate a dead gangster and gets the other gangster to speak up. The brilliance of De Palma’s shot setups for me begins right with the opening shot of Al Capone itself. The camera zooming in to Capone, lying on his couch taking a shave as the media persons surround him shooting questions at him.

And as Capone is speaking to the press persons, the barber accidentally nicks him. The man is terrified, afraid of facing the wrath of Chicago’s most powerful person, and begins to cower. For a minute the tension level rises up, and Capone just smirks, the barber is relieved. That one bit speaks a whole lot for the way Capone was able to wield power over so many people. Another brilliant moment is the first encounter between Malone and George Stone. The fact that Stone was really an Italian, Guiseppe Petri, and had to change his name to avoid discrimination highlights the anti-Italian bias as well as the traditional Italian-Irish animosity. Here again, I loved the way Andy Garcia was introduced, people at the shooting range, Garcia’s back to the camera. Suddenly he whirls around, bang, bang, bang, totally classic film style. Then the face off:

Malone: Why do you want to join the force? Stone: To protect the property and citizenry of… Malone: Ah, don’t waste my time with that bullshit. Where you from, Stone? Stone: I’m from the South Side. Malone: Stone. George Stone. That’s your name? What’s your real name? Stone: That is my real name. Malone: Nah. What was it before you changed it? Stone: Giuseppe Petri. Malone: Ah, I knew it. That’s all you need, one thieving wop on the team. Stone: Hey, what’s that you say? Malone: I said that you’re a lying member of a no good race. Stone: Much better than you, you stinking Irish pig. Malone: Oh, I like him.

I also loved the way De Palma sets up Malone’s death scene. The camera tracking the intruder, Malone’s back to us, when he suddenly wheels around, mocking the intruder for taking a knife to attack him, and as he comes a waiting Nitti lets out a stream of bullets. Finally, there’s the iconic shoot out scene. Again, here the setup is brilliant: Ness and Stone wait in the station looking for the gangsters. The air is thick with tension and the station is largely deserted, except for a few people. The camera zooms in onto the stairs, and then a lady wheels down the steps with her baby in a pram. Ness offers to help, and as he guides the pram down the stairs, the tension goes up further. The gangsters come in and the firing begins, shots intercutting between the pram rolling down the stairs, close-ups of the mom screaming out, and the gangsters and cops firing at each other, all in slow motion. And then the final coup de grâce, Stone, sliding to stop the pram, and throwing the revolver to Ness. Gosh, even now, a good 20 years after the movie has been released, this scene just hooks me. I mean no amount of CGI-induced stuff can hold a candle to this scene for me, one of the most brilliantly shot ever. Interestingly, for a director whose movies are often women-centric or have strong female characters, The Untouchables has no prominent female characters at all.

Also the movie is totally devoid of sex, again a surprising departure for De Palma, considering that most of his early movies were noted for their voyeurism and erotic scenes (most notably the steamy dream sequence in Dressed to Kill). It is as if De Palma was trying to prove that he could make studio friendly blockbusters too, after Scarface was roundly trashed by critics and criticized by many family audiences for its high level of violence. De Palma’s career itself is interesting. One of the 70s directorial brat pack, along with Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese, and Lucas, he followed his own path. He was not a studio favorite as, barring Carrie, most of his other movies were not exactly huge money spinners. But what really hurt him more was the fact that unlike Scorsese or Coppola, he was never a critics’ darling either. He was quite often dismissed as a style-over-substance specialist, or a second-rate Hitchcock, and the critical bashing reached a peak with Scarface. The fact is, most of the time, critics would benchmark his movies with others in the genre, and quite often than not it would never satisfy their expectations. Many expected Scarface to be a Cuban Godfather, but it ended up something different, totally contrary to the gangster genre. It did not really go by the conventions of what critics expected from a gangster flick. But honestly does Brian De Palma really care for critical applause? I really don’t think so. This is a man who is so passionately in love with his craft, his movies, that quite often he really does not care. Nor has he ever gone down the “Dude, where is my Oscar?” path, unlike some other directors who started off with quirky indie stuff, and then quickly turned to more studio friendly, Academy-friendly stuff. Quite often he has mocked studios and critics, showing the middle finger to them, making movies the way he loves to. But then with The Untouchables, he has shown that he could make a stylish, studio friendly, gangster epic, that still is miles ahead of the standard summer blockbuster. And it’s quite fitting that he should be an admitted influence to another rebel, Quentin Tarantino. I don’t want to get into cliche territory here, calling De Palma a genius or a maverick, this series of posts is rather my take on his work, and his movies. There is still a whole lot of Brian De Palma for me to explore: his early movies with De Niro (Greetings, Hi Mom); his pre-Carrie work (Sisters, Obsession, The Fury); and Phantom of the Paradise (1974), one of his more acclaimed movies. And I sure hope I get to watch them, sometime or other. 

Brian De Palma Blogathon, September 11-21, 2016

Very few directors have been as polarizing as Brian De Palma is, you either end up hating him totally, or adoring him. It does not help that his output has been truly inconsistent, great movies, followed by equally dud movies. Maybe this is the reason, why among the movie brats of the 70s he is not as highly regarded as a Scorsese or Copolla, nor has been as popular as a Spielberg. But personally, he remains among my favorite directors.  He is one of the best when it comes to shooting action sequences, be it the Odessa steps one in The Untouchables, the pool room shootout in Carlito’s Way or the ending of Scarface.

One thing for sure, subtlety is never the strong point of Brian De Palma, his movies are right in your face, often over the top, absolutely gory.  But they crackle with  a sort of raw energy and intensity, that keeps you hooked. And this is one director, who has made great movies across all genres, horror( Carrie), gangster( Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, Scarface), war ( Casualties of War), thriller( Blow Out). So after a long time, doing a blogathon in tribute to Brian De Palma. It would start from September 11( his birthday) to September 21st.   You could contribute to the blogathon, with posts on his movies, or his directorial style, anything related to him.  And yes if you are having your own movie blog, please do promote using one of the pictures below.

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And yes feel free to contact me at if you are interested in being part.

Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street

( As part of the Wes Craven Blogathon my second piece is on his iconic horror movie, Nightmare on Elm Street. Spoilers ahead, some key scenes discussed in the review, so readers please note).
Wes  Craven’s   had  played  upon  the  subconscious  nightmares  of  average  Americans  in  his  first  two movies   The Last  House on The  Left  and   The  Hills  Have  Eyes.   Both  these  movies  were  a typical  motif  of  the  70′s  exploitation  grindhouse  flicks,   damned as  B cinema,   but  which  in  years  later  would   have  a cult  following  of  their  own.  They  had  certain  elements  common  to  70′s  Grindhouse flicks,   copious  amounts  of  gore,  sex,  nudity  and  violence.  But  most  importantly  they  seemed  to  play  upon  the  insecurity  of  the  average   American  to  the  60′s  free sex,  free  living,  flower  power  movement. In the  Last  House,  two  teen  girls,   out  for a  quick  fix  of  hash,  on  a  weekend,  get  into trouble,  as  they  are   kidnapped, gagged,  taken to the woods,  raped,  tortured  and  finally  kiled.  Craven  seems  to  set  the  line  between  the  good  folks  and  the  bad  folks,   the  bad folks,  were  guys  who got stoned,   were slutty,  and  horny. In  an  ironic  indictment  of   the  free  sex  mood,  a  particularly  graphic  scene,  shows  the  two  teen  girls,  forced  to have  sex  with  each other in front  of  their  tormentors.   Craven  draws  the  line  even  more  clearly  in  The Hills Have Eyes,  where  the  good  All American  family,  is  stranded  in  the  middle  of  nowhere,  and  they  have  to deal  with  the  bad  guys,  the  a   family  of  violent  thugs  with  a cannibalistic  tendency.
In  1984,  Craven  came  out  Nightmare on Elm Street,   a movie ,  that   actually  preys  on  a common  fear,  of  nightmares.  So  many  times  we  would  have  had  nightmares,   waking  up  in  sweat,  and  wondering  what  if   it  really  had  happened.   Interestingly  the  word  nightmare  originates  from an Old  English  word  referring  to  demons  called  incubi  which were  thought  to  sleep on the chests of people.  This  could  be  one  reason, why  the  nightmare  device  has  always  been  a  favorite  of   horror  fiction  writers.   Wes   Craven here  again  goes  for a  kind of  what  if   scenario.   Its  like  “Hey  i  got  a bad nightmare,   now  what  if   that   nightmare  becomes  real?  What  if  the  character  in the nightmare  actually  jumped  out  from it”.    Traditionally  horror  movies  have  worked  on  the  idea  of  something  unseen  somewhere,   comming  out  and  attacking  us.   Poltergeist   played  with  the  fear  of    ghosts  comming from  a  TV  set,  and  much  later  The Ring,   toyed  around  with the  idea  of  a  spirit  comming from an old  video  casette.   The  very  reason  why  Nightmare  is to date  regarded  as   one  of  the  best   in  the  horror  genre,  is   that  its  not  just   your  routine,  evil  spirit  comes  out  and  goes  slash, cut, slash  on  screaming   victims.   Nightmares   have  often  been  said  to be  the  outcome of  our  inner  fears,  so   Craven  here  by  suggesting  that  our  inner  fears  could  actually  end  up comming true,   puts  in  a pyschological, Freudian  sub  text.
In  fact   when  the  movie  begins  we  see  glimpses  of  the  killer  its  only in  brief  glimpses,  where   we  see  a  hand  putting  the  knives  to the  fingers  of  a glove,  and  a  kind  of  dimly  lit  boiler  room.   The  hand  strikes, a  dark  canvas  is  torn into shreds,   and  then we  see a  panoramic  shot  of   the  San  Fernando  suburb near  Los  Angeles,  where  the  action  takes  place.    As  the  title  credits  roll by  we  see  a  young  teen   female  of   around  15,  by  stalked  by  a  mysterious  stranger,  in  what  must be  one of  the  scariest  opening  scenes.  What i loved  here  is  the  way,   Craven,  shows  the  credits  in  every  frame,  the  girl  leaves behind,  and  we have the   blades ripping  through  the fabric.   For   a  while  everything  goes  silent,  and  then  we have  the  mysterious  stranger  attacking  the  girl, and  she  breaking free from him,  and   then  suddenly  we   see  her  walking  up  in bed  with  a scream.

A very young Johnny Depp

The  girl  here  is  Tina( Amanda Wyss),    staying  with  her  mom  and  her mom’s  boyfriend.   Tina  looks  down  to  see  that  her  nightgown  bears   the  same  cuts  as  those  inflicted  by  her  mysterious  attacker.   The  next  day  at  school,  Tina   listens  to  the  kids  singing  “One two Freddie’s  comming  for  you”    and   is   again   reminded  of   her  nightmare,   confiding  about  it  to  her  friend  Nancy Thompson(  Heather  Langenkamp),    who  coincidentally   has  the  same  kind  of  nightmare  Tina  has  had,  as  we  come  to know  later.   Both  Tina  and  Nancy  are  typical  American  suburbian   teens,  with  divorced  parents,   prom nights  and   yes  boy friends  looking  for  a romp.    Nancy’s   boyfriend  is   Glen  Lantz(  a  certain  Johnny  Depp  in  his  debut),    while  Tina’s   on  and  off  boy friend  Rod   is  a kind of  Richard  Gere wannabe ,   black  leather jacket, studs   and all.
With  Tina’s  mom  out  of  town,   Nancy  and  Glen,  offer  to   sleep  over  at  Tina’s  place  to  make  her  feel better.  Glen  as it  turns  out is  bit of  a Mama’s  boy,  who  has  to  make  up  a  story  to  his  Mom,   to  come  over.    Rod   gatecrashes  into  their  party,  and  though  Tina  has  this  “now  i  love  u, now  i  dont”   relationship  with  him,  he  takes  her  inside  ostensibly  to  talk.   The  unwritten  rule  of   any  horror flick in Hollywood    is  “With  great  sex,  comes  sudden  death”.    Or  in  other  words,  you  have a  couple  indulging in some hot  romping  around,   you can be   very   sure,   that  in  the  next  scene,  they are gonna  have  their  party  rudely  interrupted,  of  course  unless  you  happen  to be  the  lead  pair.  I  somehow   wonder   how  the  hero  and  heroine  have  great  sex,  and  nothing  happens  to them.    Sure  enough  we  hear  Tina and Rod,  having   a  great  romp, and  then both of  them  under   the  sheets,   and   as  in  Hollywood,  the romp  under  the  sheets,  seems  to  fix  the  problems   they  are  having  in  their  relationship  for  the time being.
Sure   enough  after  some  time  Tina  listens  to the  voices,  and  as  she  rushed around  to find  out, the  mysterious  stranger  attacks  her.   As  Tina  rushes  around  seeking  help,  she  runs  to her home,  and   in the  dim light,  finds  that  the  mysterious  stranger  attacking  her  is  the  same   guy  who  haunted   her  in the  nightmare.  And   on  hearing  her  cries,  Rod  wakes  up,  only  to find  Tina  thrashing around on bed, and  in front  of   his  shocked  eyes,   she  is  cut   across  her  chest,  and  then   her  bloodied  body  is  dragged  along the  ceiling before she falls dead.  Here   Craven,  actually  uses  two  POV’s   in  quick  succession,  Tina’s   and  Rod’s.   From  Tina’s  POV,   we  see  her  being  attacked  by  the  stranger   and  then  being  killed,  while   Rod  only  sees  Tina  being  killed  by  some  strange  invisible  forces.   The  way  Craven  keeps  shifting  between  the  two  POV’s   makes   the   scene   really   unsettling.
The  cops  arrest  Rod   for  the  murder,  because  he  happened  to be  there,    incidentally  the  local  police  lieutnant  Don Thompson( John  Saxon),   also  happens   to  Nancy’s   father.    The  scene  here  is  significant  in  one  way,   for  me  in  that  Craven,  seems  to be  exploring  the  issue  of   abstinence.   Nancy  refuses   to  have  sex  with  Glen,  making  him  remark  “Morality sucks”,   while  Tina  the  girl  who  has   a  romp  with  her  boyfriend,  is  bumped  off  in  a rather  gory  manner.  Something  like  you  cross  the line,  you  end  in trouble.  As  i said  earlier,  the  late 70′s  and  80′s   were  the  time,  when  there  was  some  sort  of   conservative  backlash  against  free  sex  and  teen  pregnancy,  and  Craven   seemed  to be  playing  on  that  implicitly.
Nancy  however  is  convinced  that  Rod  is  innocent,   as  when  she  is again stalked  and  attacked  in  the  nightmares  by  the  same mysterious  stranger.   And she   sees  that  whats  happened  to her in the  nightmare  is  occuring  to her in  real life.   She  meets up  with  Rod,  and   she discovers  that  he  also  had  the  same  nightmare.  Nancy  is  convinced   that  the  attacker  is  the  one  responsible  for Tina’s  death,  but  her  father   dismisses it  off  as a case  of  hysteria.   When  Rod is  next  found  dead,  strangled  by  bedsheets  in  the prison  cell,  the  cops  dismiss it as a case  of  suicide.  Nancy   however  knows   that  its  the   stranger,  responsible  for  the  deaths,  and   its  a matter  of   time  before  she  and Glen  become  victims.  Thats   when  her  mom,  reveals  the  story  of   Freddy  Kruger,  a  notorious  serial  killer  of  kids,  who  was  caught    and   burned  to  death  in  a boiler,   by  the  angry  parents,  which  explains  the  boiler  motif  appearing  in  most  of  the  scenes.  Nancy  is  now  convinced   that  its  Kruger  himself   involved  in  the  murders.
Basically  horror  or  slasher  flicks  work  in  two  ways,   you  have  the  who dun  it  kind,  where  we  have  the  masked  stranger  going on  a killing  spree,   and  then  his   motivations   are  explained  in  the  final  reels.   The  other   is  where  we  have  a knowledge  of   the  killer,  but  the   interest  centers  around  how  it  is  encountered.   Like  in  Alien,   we  know  that  the  culprit  is  a nasty  alien,  going  on killing  every one,  but   the  tension  is  how  the  lead  character   tackles  the  situation.  Here  once  Nancy’s   mother  explains  about  Freddy  Kruger,  we  know  the  character  and   his  motivations,  but  the   interest  here  is  in  how  Nancy  is  able  to tackle  him.
And  where  Craven,  really perks  up  the  viewer  interest  is   in  the  way  he    looks  at   the  barrier  between  the  dreams  and  real  world.   We  have a  real  chiller  of  a scene,  when  Nancy  is  having  her  bath  in  the  tub,  and  she  is  pulled  under  into  a  totally  dark  pool.   Here  every  scary  scene,  which  shows  Freddy  attacking   Nancy,   is  in  essence  a dream,  but   when  she  wakes  up  from  the  nightmares,  and  finds  that  whatever  injuries  she  sustained  in  her  dream,  appear  in  real,  we  find  it  hard  to  see  the  difference.    Craven  here  gets  the viewers  into  thinking   whether  dreams  could  be  real  or  vice  versa.   Is  that  at  times  our  inner most  hidden  fears    could  come true?   Also  the  way  he  gets  the  contrasting  POV’s   of   the  characters   in  the  death  scenes  of  Tina  and Rod,   looks  at  the  issue  of  perception.   The  same  thing  could  be   seen  in two  different   ways  by  the  characters  in  that  scene.    This  constant  interpolation  of  dreams  and  reality,  the  contrasting  POV”s  of  characters,   goes  right  down  into  the  ending,  which  again  is  totally  open  ended.   And  i guess  this is  what  elevates   Nightmare  from  a mere  horror  flick  into  some  thing   more  intellectual.  It  is  the  kind  of  horror  flick,  which  could  actually end  up  making  you  think.
One  more  reason  that  puts  Nightmare  up beyond  the  standard  horror/slasher  flick  is  the  strong  female  character.   Nancy  is  not  your  average  scream  queen,  damsel  in  distress   who  needs  her  knight  in  shining  armour,  to  come  and rescue  her from  the  dragon.   She is more   feisty,  more  resourceful,   and  yes   compared  to  the  standard,  low  IQ  heroines of   horror  flicks,  who  end  up  doing the  daftest  things,  she  is  much  more  smarter.   So  while  Freddy  Kruger  is  a suitably  nasty  villian,   Nancy  is  more  than  a match  for  him.  She  is  not  there  just  to  scream  around,  run  around,  be  dumb  and  have  her  hero  rescue  her  in  the  last  reel.  She  is  more  like  Ripley  in  the Alien series,  Clarence  Starling in  Silence of the Lambs   or    Rachel  in The  Ring.   Heather  Langenkamp  does  a  fairly  good  job,  though  she  is  not  a  Jodie  Foster  or  Sigourney  Weaver.    Johnny  Depp  in  his  debut  feature  is  fine,  however   nothing  too remarkable,  honestly  his  role   here  is more of  a supporting  act.  Robert  Englund,  who  plays  Freddy  Kruger,  gained  considerable  fame,  and  is  suitably  nasty  beneath  the   latex  face and all.
Craven   also  creates  the  necessary  creepy  mood  here,  with  good  light  and shadow  effect,  especially  in  the  surrealistic  dream sequences,  and   also  the  climax.   Though  shot  on  a very  low  budget,  the  movie  does  not  have a  tacky  feel  to it, and  the  special  effects  are well done.   The  80′s   feel  is  there  though,  especially  with  some of  the  blood  spilling  scenes.   Craven  however  did  not  take much  interest in the  sequels,  though  he  wrote  for  the  3rd  part,  with  the  result,  that  like  any  other franchise,  this  also  went  downhill,  as   the subsequent  versions  just  dumbed  down  the  intelligence  of  the  original   to  make them  more audience  friendly.  Nightmare on Elm Street  is  proof  that  a  horror  movie  can  be  made  without  asking  the  audiences  to  leave  their  brains  at  home,  and  which  can be  scary  too.  It is  one  of  the  few   movies  in  this   genre,   where  you  can  have  your  gore,  thrills  and at  same  time  use  your  grey  cells  a  bit  too.

Wes Craven Blogathon- The Nightmares of Wes Craven

( The Wes Craven Blogathon kicks off today, with a post on his 2 iconic movies The Last House on The Left and The Hills Have Eyes. Some of the pictures in the post are quite graphic, so do be warned).
Though  Wes  Craven  had  directed  many  other horror  flicks,  it is  through  the  Nightmare  on  Elm Street  Series,  that  he   is  best  known.  Aptly  so,  because  most  of   Wes  Craven’s   movies   have often  played  on  some  of  our  worst  nightmares.    Freddy  Kruger is  certainly  the  kind  of  character  who  could  haunt us in our dreams   every  where  we go.   Prior  to Nightmare  however   Craven’s  first  movie   The  Last  House  on The  Left,   in  1972,  was a movie  that  even  by  today’s   standards  is  shockingly  violent and  repulsive  at   places.
The Last House on The  Left ,  was   actually  more of   a  psychological thriller cum  exploitation film.   The  movie  has  totally  gratutious  shots  of   nudity,   sex   and   torture.   And  quite  a lot of  the  scenes  do   make  you  flinch  out here.   It  deals  with  two  teen  girls  Mari  and Phyllis,  looking  for  some  pot,  being kidnapped by  a  gang of  run away  convicts,   Krug,  his  son  Junior, Sadie  and   Weasel.   The  two  girls   undergo  a  series of  tortures  as  they  are beaten,  raped,  forced  to  have  sex  with  each other  and  forcibly made to urinate.    The  irony is  that  all  this  takes  place  in  the  woods  very  close to Mari’s  home.   Phyliss  attempts to escape,  but  is  captured  and disembowelled,  while   Maris  is   again raped,  has  Krugs  name carved into her   and   is  shot  dead.   The  movie  deals  with  how  Mari’s   parents   find  out  about  the  act,  and   take  revenge  on  the  killers.    The  movie  has  one of the  most  horrifying  acts  of  violence,  where  a  guy’s  organ is  literally bitten  off.
Craven   followed  this  up  with his another  horror classic,  The Hills  Have  Eyes  in 1977.    This  dealt with  a  family  of  5 members,  Bob & Ethel  Carter,  their kids,  Lynne, Bobby and Brenda,  along  with  Lynne’s  husband  Doug  who  are out  vacationing in the  countryside.    Their  car is  stranded  on  the  road,  and  Bob goes out  to look  for  help.    The  problem is  that  the  area  is  inhabited by  a notorious  cannibal  family,  led  by  Papa  Jupiter,  who had killed  all the  livestock  on  his  farm  as a kid  and then  his  own sister.   Disowned  by  his  father  Fred,  he  teamed up  with  a whore called Mama,   and   together  with their kids,  they  waylaid  and  terrorized  the   travelers.    Interestingly  Jupiter’s   kids  are named  as  Mars and Pluto.   The  movie is  about  how  the  Carter’s  family   is  attacked  by   Jupiter  and  their   attempts  to survive.
If  one  takes  a look  at   Wes  Craven’s  first  2 movies,   certain  common  threads   come  into  picture  here.  Both  movies  show  a contrast  between  the   civilized  world  and  the  savage  world.   In  The  Last  House,   Maris  family, is  educated well to do,  and  she is  terrorized  by  runaway  convicts.   The  movie  seems  to  reflect  the  fears  of  suburbia  residents  being  swamped  by  the  others.  During  the   70′s,   many  white  families  migrated into the  suburbs,  as the  inner  city  areas  began  to  deteriorate  owing  to  problems like  unemployment,  rising  crime rates,  run down housing.   Here  too the   convicts  are shown  to be  New  Yorkers,  in  a way  reflecting the  fears of  the  suburbia  residents  that  they   their  safety  could  be  engendered.
Also  In  The  Last  House  On The  Left,  the  trouble  for  the  girls  begins  when they  go  out to  get some marijuana.    Again  this  seemed  to be a kind  of  comment  against   the  flower  power  swinging 60′s  generation,   implying  that  drugs  could  be  leading  to  trouble.    Also   the   way  the  convicts   force  the  girls  to have sex  with  each  other,  parade  them  naked,   seemed  to be  a statement  against  the  excesses  of   the  free love  Beat  generation.  While  not   as  popular  as  the  other  70′s  slasher classic,  The  Texas Chainsaw  Massacre,  in  a way both  movies   bought  in  the  realistic violence  aspect  to  the horror genre.
In   The  Hills  Have  Eyes,    the  conflict is  clearly  more  out in  the open,  between  the  civilized  Carter  family  and  the  wild,  uncivilized  family  of  cannibals.   In  fact    Wes  Craven  sets  it  up in  the  opening  scene,  when  Fred  keeps  looking  around  as  he  tries  to  escape  from  the  place,  and  then  another  girl  Ruby   pleads with him  to  take her  away.   Here  also  the  family  has to fight  for itself   against  a  bunch of  crazed  killers.    In  both  The  Last  House  and   Hills  Have  Eyes,  we  see  that  the  main  characters  strike back  in  the  same  brutal  fashion  as  their  tormentors.   The brutal  manner in  which  Maris  parents    attack  their  daughters  killers,  and  also  the  way  Doug  and  Carter  family,  fend off   Papa Jupiters  families,  seems  to  show  the principle  of   might is right.  Or in  a  way   implying  that  civil  rights  are good in principle,  but  not  in real  life.
One  more stand out  feature  of   both  these  movies  is  the  rawness quotient.   Most  of   the  70′s   horror  and slasher  flicks,  had  that  raw,  edgy  feel,  with  in  your  face  violence.     The movies  are not  slick,  unlike  the   more  sophisticated  90′s  productions,  they  had  a raw  edgy,  and  a sort of  a  home camera  feel.   The  camera  work  keeps   going at  dizzy  angles,   bringing  a giddy  feeling.   In  fact  both  of  them  were  X  Rated,  when  first  shown,  and  Craven,  had to keep  making cuts  till it came  to R.   Even  then  they  were banned  for   quite  some  time,  due  to  the  high  amount  of  gore  and  sex.
For  those  who  have  seen  Wes  Craven’s   Nightmare On Elm Street  and  loved  it,   i  would  still  recommend  both  these movies.   Yes  they  are typical  B movie  exploitation  stuff,   pretty  raw,  pretty rough,   but  they  actually  would  help  you  understand  how Nightmare  On  Elm  Street  came  into  being.

Wes Craven Blogathon( Sept 15-Sept 30, 2015)

Wes Craven, the name often brings back, many memories on screen, not necessarily pleasant. It would be easy to dismiss as homes as mere gore and sex fests, but at a deeper look, he explores our own fears, our own insecurities. The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, played upon the eternal theme of civilization vs barbarism. Last House on The Left, was on what happens in you stray away, basically a kind of morality drama, where the 2 young girls who seek to have some fun on the side, have the most horrifying experience ever. Hills  Have Eyes, was on a common fear, what if we are stranded in the middle of nowhere and have to face the barbarians there.  One more common feature, when it comes to survival, the “civilized” are as barbaric as their enemy, be it the girl’s parents in Last House on The Left or the family in Hills have Eyes.  Craven’s horror works because it plays on the viewer’s insecurity, both Last House… and Hills Have Eyes are scary, because they could actually happen to you.  And this is what comes out in his iconic movie Nightmare on Elm Street, where he takes the phrase “worst nightmares come true” to a literal level. Freddy Krueger would be one of the most iconic horror movie characters in history.  And Scream, literally mocked Hollywood’s various horror movie cliches.


Wes Craven is no more, passed away on Aug 30, but has left behind a great legacy in the horror movie genre. In tribute to him, organizing a blogathon, starting from Sept 15 tentatively. Like most other blogathons that have been conducted here, any articles on Wes Craven, his movies, interviews will be accepted.

You can use these images for promoting at your blog.

wc1 wc2 wc4 wc5

Just send the link to your article to my email address


John Frankenheimer Blogathon-The Manchurian Candidate

(This post is being published by me for the John Frankenheimer Blogathon, one of his best movies to date. One classic piece of movie making with a tight narration, some great writing and an outstanding performance by Angela Lansbury as the domineering mother).
Spoiler Alert:  Some crucial scenes in the movie are discussed, readers please note.

It is, I think, an indisputable fact that Americans are, as Americans, the most self-conscious people in the world, and the most addicted to the belief that the other nations of the earth are in a conspiracy to under value them.-Henry James

Quite often  it  is  said  that  if  even the  average  American had no  enemy, he  would have  invented one.  In  a way same holds true for   the  Russians too,  considering  they  rarely get  along with any of their  East European  neighbors and vice versa.   The  Cold  War,  was essentially a battle between two  paranoia,  the  Americans  feeding on the fear of the “Soviets” who  would  take over America or it’s  satellite  nations, and turn them into one  vast  military camp, replete  with gulags, psychiatric wards,  KGB  agents.  Not to be outdone, the  Soviets and  it’s   satellite  nations, played upon  the  fear of  “the  Decadent  Western world” corrupting  the  “pristine, ideology of  the  Revolution”.   It  was the  Cold  War,  that  gave  rise  to  an  industry  of  it’s  own,  the  conspiracy  theory  industry,  that  found  it’s  way  into  novels and  movies.   The  Cold  War was  a fertile ground for  the  conspiracy  theory  writers,   and  events like  the Korean War,  JFK’s  assassination,  Bay of  Pigs,  Fidel Castro,  Kim Philby, the  spy ring in Britian,  the arms and space  race provided a ready fodder  for  the  feverish  imaginations  of  novelists,  script  writers and movie  makers.  It  was  the time  of  novelists  like  John Le Carre,  Frederick Forsyth, Robert  Ludlum,  Graham Greene, who  churned  out  some  great  thriller  fiction,  mostly  built  around  conspiracy  theories.   The  end  of  the  Cold  War,  not only  saw the  demise of  the  Great Soviet  Empire,   but  to writers  who  reveled in building  conspiracy  theories,  the  major  enemy  was  not  there any  longer.   Bereft  of  the  great enemy,  writers, movie makers   did  not  really  know where to  point it.   Where  Moscow  was the focal  point, and all  conspiracy theories  seemed to emerge from there, now  the enemy  became more  ambiguous.  It  ranged  from  Colombian  drug cartels to  Arab terrorists  to    East  European rebels  wanting  to establish  a  Russian empire once  more ,  basically  which  ever nation  was  not in the good books of  Uncle  Sam,  became the enemy by default. For  a major  part of the 90′s,  you  could  guess who  was in Uncle Jee’s  bad  books,  just  by taking a look at  the  latest  Hollywood  blockbuster.   In  Stallone’s  John Rambo, the  baddies  are  not  the  evil  Ruskies,  it is the Burmese  military junta,  and  apna  Stallone  Paaji aids the  Karen tribes people  in their  fight  against  the  junta.  Of  course  i  bet  that it  would be  some  time since Hollywood  makes  a movie, showing   Stallone  Paaji helping the  Balochistan  tribes  fighting  against  the  Pakistan  Govt. Of  late though in  order  to  present  a more  friendly  face  to the  world,  Hollywood  has  found a  new  enemy,  it is  within,  or  the  enemy  inside.  So  the  introspection  has  resulted in  movies like Syriana,  where  the  enemy  is  not  some  nasty  Arabs,  but  more  specifically the oil and  energy  companies, that seek to prop  up  dodgy  regimes in the Middle  East.
The  major  difference  between  the  2004  and  the  1962  versions   of  The  Manchurian Candidate , Richard Condon’s Cold  war  conspiracy thriller  novel.  Where  the ’62  version  was  about a  Korean war  hero,  who  was  actually  captured and  brainwashed  by the  Communists( the  Russians and N.Koreans here) to act  as a  sleeper  mole,  the 2004  version  has  a  Gulf  War  hero ,  and  the  evil  agency  here  Manchurian Global,  an international  arms  manufacturer,   that   brainwashes  and  programs  the  protagonist.  I  feel  this  is  where  the  1962  version  has a  definite  edge  over  the  2004  version.  The  ’62  version  has  more  believable  villains  and  is  more  rooted  in  reality,  the   bad guys  being  the  Russian-N.Korean  agents,  and  also  with  the  Bay of  Pigs & JFK’s assassination   taking  place  around  the  same  time  frame,  it  looks  much  more  sinister.    The  Soviets  trying to  take over the  White  House using  the    sleeper mole  looks  much  more believable,  while  the  entire  thing of   a  global  Arms  cartel,  trying to  control  the  White House, looks  pretty much like  one of  those  Robert  Ludlum  novels.  Sure the  notorious  Arms  Lobby  in  US,  does  influence  Capitol Hill,  but  i  really  doubt  how  willing  they would be to  do a  take over of  the  White House.
Director  John  Frankenheimer,  had  earlier  helmed  the  biopic,  Birdman of  Alcatraz, about a  real life prisoner at  Alcatraz  who  makes  friends with the  birds  to get  over  his  loneliness.   The  Manchurian Candidate  was  his  first  shot  at  the  dark  and  murky  world  of   espionage  and  conspiracy,  and  later on he  would  also  direct  Seven Days in May,  that  starred  his  favorite  actor  Burt  Lancaster,  as  a disgruntled  US  General, who  tries to lead a coup  against the  President, with  Kirk  Douglas,  playing  a US  Marine, who  tries to foil  the  entire  conspiracy,  and  later on  Black  Sunday about  a  Palestinian  terrorist  attempt  to  explode  a bomb in a crowded US  stadium.   The  opening  scene,  starts  off  with  American  troops   stationed  in  Korea,  grumbling  about  the  fact  that  they  are  not  allowed  to  enjoy  at  a local  brothel  bar in  Korea,  thanks  to  Sgt.  Raymond  Shaw(  Laurence  Harvey),  who  curtails their  activities,  the  other  person  in  the  platoon  is   Cpt.  Bennet  Marco( Frank  Sinatra).    Shaw’s  gruff , surly  attitude,  makes  him  unpopular  among  the  platoon  members,  and  later  on  during  a night time  operation,  the  platoon  is  ambushed,  and  taken  away  as  captives  to  Manchuria.
As  the  credits  play  over  a  button  having  images  of  the  Star  and  Stripes  with  Queen of  Diamonds,  the  camera  now  slowly  shifts  to  the  image  of  a  military  band, beating a  drum,  having  the  image of  the  American eagle on it.    I  feel  the  recurring  image of  the  Queen  of  Diamonds could  be due to the  legend  about  it being  inspired  by  Agnes  Sorel,  the  mistress  of  Charles VII of  France, who  exercised  unlimited power  at  his  court.  Shaw  who  has now  come  back  as a  war  hero,  is  dominated  by  his  mother  Mrs.Elanor  Iselin( Angela  Lansbury),  who is  power drunk  and  has  high  political  ambitions.     Shaw  hates  his  domineering  mother(  shades of  Pyscho  here),  as  well  as  his  step  father,  Sen. John  Iselin( James  Gregory),  who is  an  onscreen version of   Senator  McCarthy, right  wing  in outlook,  idiotic  and  paranoid,  also  standing  for  Vice  President.  If  we  take  the  particular   shot  introducing  these  2  key players  in  the  drama,  the  camera  first  pans to the  Stars &  Stripes,  and  then to the  couple, pretty much  an  ironic  metaphor,  or  as  some  one had  stated,  “Patriotism is  the  last  refuge of  a scoundrel”. The  juxtaposition  of  the  American  flag, the  eagle  symbol  with  that  of  the  power hungry  couple, their  son,  is  a  symbol  that  patriotism  here  has  become  the  last  refuge  of  many a  scoundrel.  And  as  stated  earlier,  the  Queen of   Diamonds,  here  shows  how  both  the  father  and  son,  are  being  manipulated  by  Lady  Iselin.   Shaw  is  disgusted  when  he  comes to  know  that  the entire  victory  parade  was  organized by his mother.

Disgusting three-ring circus…Johnny’s up for re-election in November. You’ve got it all figured it out, haven’t you? Johnny Iselin’s Boy, Medal of Honor winner. That should get you one of the fifty thousand votes.

Pretty  much  sums  up  the  way  military  operations  have  been  used  for  politicians  for  their  own  benefits.   Raymond  further  manages  to  infuriate  his  mother and dad,  when  he  announces  he  will be going to New  York to work  for  a  publisher,  Holborn  Gaines,  who  has a  liberal  outloook,  something  that  is  anathema  to his  mother.  Predictably  she  denounces  Gaines  as a  communist,  standard  term  during  that  time,  for  any  person  whose thoughts  were  on the  more  liberal  side.   Watch  out  for  Angela  Lansbury’s expression  here,  forceful,  at  the same time  subduing  her  rage, quite  chilling.
Marco  is  now  serving in the  Army  intelligence,  and  a  voracious  reader.    However  his  rather  peaceful  life,  is  being  interrupted  a  recurring  nightmare.  For  a movie  that  was  shot  in the 60′s  and  in  B&W,  the  way  director  Frankenheimer,  depicts  the  surrealistic  symbolism  is  brilliant.   The  camera  does   a  360  degree shot,  showing  ladies  present  at  some  garden  party  in  New Jersey,  covering  one of them  speaking, and the  rest  taking  in her lecture.  As  we wonder  why  the  shot  of  the  ladies  party,  the  camera  now  cuts to the stage,  and  the  lady  speaking is  now  replaced  with  a  communist  doctor-spy  Yen Lo,    and  the  camera  again  pans  to the  audience.  It  has  a smattering of   Koreans,  Soviets, Chinese,  and  most  important, the  platoon  that  was  ambushed  and  captured  in  the opening  scene.  What  we  see  here  is  the  juxtaposition  of  the  reality  with  the  imaginary,  using  hypnosis.  The  Communist  regimes  were  pretty  much  notorious  for  using  psychological   techniques  to brainwash  people  or  get  the  information  out  from  dissidents.    What we  see here is  the  real  and  imaginary  overlapping, the  lady speaking  and  the  other  ladies  listening  is  what  the  captured  soldiers  imagine,  the  reality  is  Yen Lo, is  the  lady  in  question,  and  the   ladies  listening to her are  in  fact,  the  captured  soldiers.

Allow me to introduce our American visitors. I must ask you to forgive their somewhat lackadaisical manners, but I have conditioned them – or brain-washed them, which I understand is the new American word. They believe that they are waiting out a storm in the lobby of a small hotel in New Jersey where a meeting of the ladies’ garden club is in progress.

That  comes  to  fore , when  in  one of  the  best  moments ,  Raymond  is  slowly  brainwashed,  by  what  he  imagines to be  the  elderly  lady Mrs. Whittaker,  when  in  reality  it is  Yen  Lo  doing  the  job.  The  camera  inter cuts  between the  3  characters,  Raymond, Ms. Whiitaker and  Yen Lo.    And  now  Shaw  fully  brain washed,  into a  killing  machine,  strangles  one of  the  soldiers, Ed  Mavole, on the  instructions  of  his  Communist  masters.   This  surrealist  dream sequence  itself  is  one  reason,  why  the  ’62  version  scores  over  it’s  2004  one.  This  entire  dream sequence  sets  up  the  plot, the  entire  raison d  etre.  The  ends  in  the  plot  are  tied  when  it  was  revealed, that  out  of  the  entire  platoon,  that  was  supposedly  “rescued” by  the  heroic  Raymond  Shaw, only  2  died,  one of  the  was  Ed Mavole.  While  Marco,  sees  Raymond,  strangling  Mavole  to  death in  the  dream, he is  not  convinced  of  his.  The  fact is he too has  been  brainwashed  into believing   Shaw  indeed  is  the “hero”  he  has  been made out to be.
Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life. 
The  use  of  symbolism  becomes  more  apparent  later on,  when  Sen.  Iselin,  harangues  the  Secretary  of  Defense,  claiming  that  the  State  Dept  is  teeming  with  communists, after  he  announces  cuts  in  defense  spending.   Frankenheimer  uses  different  perspectives of  the  same  event,  on  one  hand,  you  have the  Senator  taking  on  the   Defense  Secretary,  at  the  same  time,  Ms. Iselin,  is  looking ecstatically  at  the  event on TV,  rocking  back  and forth,   leaving  no  doubt  in  the  minds of  the  viewer, where  the  real  power  lies.
The  plot  now  gets  thicker,  when  another  member of the  platoon,  Corporal  Al  Melvin( James  Edwards) begins to have  the  same  nightmare.  Another  shocking  scene,  in the dream like sequence,  when  Raymond Shaw,  shoots  one of  the  most  popular and  the  youngest  member of  the  platoon, Bobby  Tembeck, straight in the head.  The  blood  spilling  on to  a large  portrait of Stalin  in the  backdrop.   Strangely  Melvin too believes  that  Shaw indeed is a hero,  and  he  parrots  out  the same  line  which  Marco had done.   But  the  main  reference to the  Queen of  Diamonds  follows,  when  playing a  game of  Solitaire,   Raymond  Shaw, gets  a phone  call right at  the  point  when he  gets the  Queen of  Diamonds,  and  hears  a mysterious  voice  asking  him to come to a sanatorium.  The  fact  is  that earlier on in the  dream  sequence,  Raymond  Shaw  was  actually  motivated to turn into  a killing machine,  when the  lady( who in  reality  is  Yen Lo)   brainwashes  him  using  a game of  Solitaire.
In  another  chilling  scene,  Raymond  Shaw  is  now  met  at  the  sanatorium  by  a group of  Communists, that  includes   Yen  Lo  and  a communist  inflitrator  Zilkov.  The  brainwashing  further  proceeds,  as  Yen Lo  impresses upon   Shaw,  his  mission,  his  difference  from the  average  American.

Do you realize, Comrade, the implications of the weapon that has been placed at your disposal?…A normally-conditioned American, who has been trained to kill and then to have no memory of having killed. Without memory of his deed, he cannot possibly feel guilt. Nobody, of course, has any reason to fear being caught. Having been relieved of those uniquely American symptoms, guilt and fear, he cannot possibly give himself away. Ah, now Raymond will remain an outwardly-normal, productive, sober, and respected member of the community. And I should say, if properly used, entirely police-proof.

Marco  inspite of  all  the  brainwashing  is  not  convinced  that  Raymond is worthy  of  the  Military Honor. The death of   the  publisher  Gaines(  actually  assasinated  by  Shaw)  as also  Melvin,  begins to  convince him  that  something  fishy is  afoot.  But  the  biggest  motivation for  him  to  suspect  that  Raymond  Shaw,  was  not  really  the hero, who would  save  his  own  unit,  is   Shaw’s  own character.  He  was the  most  hated  men  in his  unit.
It isn’t as if Raymond’s hard to like. He’s IMPOSSIBLE to like. In fact, he’s probably one of the most repulsive human beings I’ve ever known in my whole – all of my life.
Marco,  now  on  a leave, begins  on  his  mission to get  the  whole truth  about  Raymond  Shaw.  A  mission  that  sees him  meet  with  a mysterious  female  Rosie  Chaney( Janet  Leigh),  on the  train.  They  have  a  pretty much  random conversation  about  some of  the  states,  a  football  team  and her real name  and nickname.  On  face  of it, looks  quite  random,  but  considering  that  nothing  is  what  it seems  here,  was the  entire  conversation  some kind of  cryptic  message.  Also  consider  this  Rosie  is  the more  dominating person here,   putting  across  the  conversation,  while Marco  is  the  passive  person.  Is  Marco  also  being  manipulated  by  Rosie here?
While  by now  we  are  pretty  much  sure  about  Raymond,  who  is  manipulated   by  the  Russians-N.Koreans,  we  are still  not  sure  of   the  relation between  Marco  and Rosie.  The plot  gets  thicker and thicker,  when  an “Asian”  gentleman  Chun Jin,  is  taken  in  as  Shaw’s  translator, something  which  Shaw  can  never  make  sense of.    The  Manchurian  Candidate  is  the  kind  of  pyschological  conspiracy  thriller  that  works  on multiple  levels.  At  one  level,   Raymond  Shaw,  is  the  Manchurian  candidate, the  helpless  pawn in the  entire  chessboard,  who  is  moved  by  his  masters  in  the  Communist  establishment.  But  Shaw’s  plight  is  even worse,  not  just  being  manipulated by the  Russians,  he  also  is  manipulated  at  the other  end  by  his  own domineering mother.  While  his  mother  and  the  Communists  are  at  the  opposite  ends of  the spectrum,  there  is  not  much difference in  the  way both  use  him, for  their  own  purposes.  The  threat  to  the  nation,  comes  not  just  from  the  enemy outside, it  is  as much  as  the  enemy  inside, power  hungry  maniacs  like  Eleanor  Iselin.    In  one  way  using  the  Queen of  Diamonds  card  to brainwash   Raymond  into  killing, is  symbolic  of  how  he has often  been  manipulated by  his own mother from childhood,  he  hates  it  but is helpless.
The  Manchurian  Candidate  is  a movie  that  needs to be watched,  for  it’s  rich  symbolism,  its  metaphorical  allegories,  as  also  the  deeply  multi layered  plot, that  reveals  a new  angle  every  time  another level  is  uncovered.  There  is  not  much  of  action,  except  for  one  karate  fight scene(  i  believe  the  first of it’s  kind in American cinema)  between  Frank  Sinatra  and  the  Asian  valet.  This  is a movie  that  works  entirely  on  its  plotting  and characters. Of  the  greyish  tones  it’s  characters  acquire,  and a  sinister  world  where  nothing is  what  it  seems.  And  add to it some  great  performances.   Frank  Sinatra is  excellent  as  Marco,  the  protagonist  who  strives  to dig deep into  what  seems  a  convoluted  mystery.   But  the  best  performances  would  go  to  Laurence  Harvey as  Raymond  Shaw, brilliantly  capturing the  guilt,  the  agony, the  ruthlessness of  a person,  who  ultimately becomes  a pawn  in a deadly game,  and  above  all  Angela  Lansbury,  in   a performance  that  is  just  awesome  as  the  ruthless, domineering Ms.Iselin, cold, chilly, ruthless,  she  manages  to terrify the  audiences, just  with  her  expressions.

John Frankenheimer Blogathon( Feb 19-March 1, 2015)

John Frankenheimer, remains one of those directors, who often remains an enigma. At one time, touted as the next Orson Welles, the later part of his career, stumbled from disaster to disaster, before he redeemed himself somewhat with the 90’s thriller Ronin.  Yet this man made some of the best ever Cold War thrillers,  The Manchurian Candidate, about an American citizen, brainwashed by Chinese to assasinate the President, and 7 Days in May, about an extreme right wing plot to overthrow the US President. In fact some of his best output came during the Cold War era, with a series of gritty, tightly scripted thrillers. He also proved he was equally adept at the War genre, with his WWII drama, the Train,  and the gritty crime drama, French Connection II. Beyond thrillers and crime,  he proved he was equally good at human drama, with his tale of redemption, Birdman of Alcatraz. Technically he was  a genius, check out the tracking shots and amazing camera work in the Train, or the breathless car chase scenes in Ronin.

In tribute to a director, who has really not got his due, will be hosting a blogathon from February 19- March 1. You could contribute with either reviews of his movies, or other aspects too like his collaboration with Burt Lancaster or any other aspects of his movies.  And yes please do promote with one of the promo pics below.







We have also hosted blogathons earlier on Mike Nichols, Oliver Stone, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Michael Mann, Sydney Pollack, Howard Hawks, Roman Polanski and Steven Soderbergh, which you can check out.