Gothic Tales from very scary Women

Here’s another film festival, one intended to give you the willies from mid-July to late August. Modern Cinema: Haunted! (subtitled Gothic Tales by Women). It will play at SFMOMA‘s Phyllis Wattis Theater.

SFMOMA’s latest “Modern Cinema” series looks at gothic stories, most of them horror of some sort. All of them are written by a woman, or co-written by a woman, or was adapted from a novel or short story written by a woman.

Here are the films I’ve seen recently enough to write about them, listed from best to worst.

A Beauty and the Beast (1946 version), Saturday, August 17, 2019

I’d be hard-pressed to think of another film that’s anything like Jean Cocteau’s post-war fantasy. It’s a fairy tale, told with a charming and often naïve innocence, and contains absolutely no objectionable-for-children content. It’s also a supremely atmospheric motion picture, and one that takes its magical story seriously. Its slow pace and quiet magic never panders to unsophisticated viewers–and yet, I once saw a very young audience sit enraptured by it. See my Blu-ray review.

From the story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.

A To Kill a Mockingbird, Saturday, August 10, 1:00

The film version of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel manages to be both a nostalgic reverie of depression-era small town Southern life and a condemnation of that life’s dark and ugly underbelly. Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch is the ultimate decent and moral father, a character so virtuous he’s only believable because the story is told through the eyes of his six-year-old daughter. (It’s worth noting that in the recent sequel to the novel, the now-grown daughter discovers her father’s flaws.)

Based on Harper Lee’s novel.

B+ Interview with a Vampire

Anne Rice’s kinky epic tells its story from the creature’s point of view, and it’s not a happy one. Brad Pitt, in his breakout role, plays a morally conflicted vampire uncomfortable with taking human lives. Tom Cruise, in one of those rare roles where he actually acts, plays the nightwalker who brings Pitt’s character to the dark side. With Antonio Banderas in a small but important role, there’s a lot of handsome here. But the most impressive performance comes from a 12-year-old Kirsten Dunst as an emotionally mature vampire in the body of a little girl.

Anne Rice wrote the screenplay from her own novel.

B+ A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Thursday, August 8

A vampire is haunting Tehran. But it’s okay; she’s a nice vampire, and rarely attacks people who don’t deserve it. She travels on foot – or sometimes on a skateboard. Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature, filmed in black and white, has an atmosphere all its own. Strange cinematic and musical riffs, along with a very loose story, makes for a unique but entertaining experience. And no, this isn’t really an Iranian movie; it was made in California.

Written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour.

B Frankenstein
(1931 version), Thursday, July 18, 7:00

Frankenstein did more than create a monster. He turned James Whale into a top director and Boris Karloff into a major star (no mean feat since Karloff neither spoke in the film nor received screen credit). Several individual scenes are masterpieces of mood, horror, and crossed sympathies, but there’s so little story that the movie feels like a warm-up for the infinitely superior sequel, Bride of Frankenstein. Still, it was one of the most influential horror movies ever made, and Jack Pierce’s makeup for the monster is still iconic almost 90 years after the film’s release.

From the novel by Mary Shelley.

B Don’t Look Now, Thursday, August 29, 7:00

Nicolas Roeg at his most conventional and commercial, and it’s still pretty weird.  Don’t Look Now is a horror film, and a fun one – sort of. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie star as a British couple (well, the husband is obviously American, but that’s never discussed) in Venice trying to get over their daughter’s sudden, accidental death. It’s all about ESP, seeing dead loved ones, and predicting the ghastly future. The film contains what just might be cinema’s longest and most graphic sex scene between major stars – and it feels just thrown in.

Based on a story Daphne Du Maurier.

B- The Handmaiden, Thursday, August 22, 7:00

This atmospheric Korean thriller boils over with lies, double crosses, larceny, surprise plot twists, and a lot of sex–much of it quite kinky. At 90 minutes, it would be a great entertainment, but at its actual length of 144, it often drags. The handmaiden of the title works for a young Japanese lady she plans to rob. Things get messy. Overall, the good scenes in The Handmaiden are worth wading through the bad ones. Read my full review.

Inspired by the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.

I saw, and liked, these films, but that was too long ago for me to write about them: