Movies about sadistic psychopaths seem to outnumber the number of hairs on a mad scientist’s head. But the diabolically addicting Saw shows that, as the old saying goes, there’s always room for one more.
That Blackmail should be Hitch’s first talkie is tacit in the film’s very title: a blackmailer’s irony would be difficult to capture solely through facial expressions and intertitles. The opening scene, however, initially seems a preamble to a silent film. It commences with typical Hitchcockian energy, a hustle-and-bustle approach that presages Rich and Strange or North by Northwest.
The first few minutes of Lars von Trier’s genre-defying film Melancholia do what so few films in recent memory have done: celebrate the unexpected. A woman in a bridal dress? Birds falling slowly to earth and horses collapsing on their rear ends? A dark planet drifting through space? The “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde playing in the background? And it’s all shot in super slow motion. Later on, these seemingly disparate elements will begin to make sense, but they ultimately leave the viewer in a state of quiescent post-contemplation, never clarifying their intentions with semaphores.
“It’s an evil fucking room.” Samuel L, Jackson, as Dolphin Hotel manager Gerald Olin, sums up the nature of the evil in 1408 with his usual pithy bluntness. In this intense horror flick based on a Stephen King short story and directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Håfström, there are no visible ghosts (well, maybe a few short-lived ones), headless phantoms, or flesh-eating zombies. And thank God, because it’s generally so much scarier without them. The baddies in this film are forces unseen, demons who possess a room rather than haunt it. Part nightmare, part acid trip, part psychological thriller, 1408 is one of the more successful King adaptations, combining the cerebral with the visceral in a way that may even outstrip Kubrick’s The Shining (which, for the record, has never been one of my favorite Kubrick films)..
Suspicion is an important element of the movie-watching experience. We engage with the plot by developing reasoned pre-conclusions about how events will unfold. We make assumptions before the truth is revealed. But for Lina Aysgarth (Joan Fontaine), a wealthy ingenue gripped by a growing fear that her playboy husband Johnnie (Cary Grant) is planning to murder her for her life insurance policy, suspicion is synonymous more with the terror of presumed inevitability than with the anticipation of knowing. Suspicion, however, cautions us to be ever mindful of all eventualities when solving a case.
Although movie gearheads might remember Rope as the first Hitchcock film shot in Technicolor, its more important contribution to the director’s oeuvre stems from the nature of the murder it depicts. The strangulation of David Kentley (Dick Hogan) at the hands of two university chums, Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger), has no motive. This killing is fundamentally unlike the crime of passion in The Paradine Case or even the murder swapping in Strangers on a Train. The young men in Rope are driven to the act not by greed, lust, ambition, anger, or insanity, but by mere pleasure-seeking. To them, murder is an aesthetic end in itself.