Pretty Poison

Dir: Noel Black, 1968. Starring: Anthony Perkins, Tuesday Weld. Cult.

Returning from nearly a decade of making films in Europe, Anthony Perkins stars as Dennis Pitt, a mysterious young man with a history of being emotionally disturbed. Like many character actors who had such iconic roles as Perkins (see Psycho), it’s hard to imagine him as anyone else. But in retrospect it is easier to see him as the great talent that he was. Simultaneously charming, terrifying, and maniacal. A slapstick master to boot.

Dennis’s parole officer, Azenauer (the late John Randolph), sets the cautionary tone in the first 5 minutes with his predictive warning to Dennis: ”You’re going out into a very real and tough world. It’s got no place for fantasies.” Not only warning Dennis but we, the audience too. There is a lot of misconception and confusion thrown our way over the next 90 minutes. Dennis settles into a New England industrial town where he meets Sue Ann (Tuesday Weld). Its rural Massachusetts locale isolates it from the tumultuous atmosphere of city life during the 1960s. Essentially in a bubble, this film could’ve been made anywhere, in any time, and I think that’s the real strength of the story.

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Posted by:
Adam Payne
Apr 27, 2009 12:07pm

Psycho

Dir: Alfred Hitchcock, 1960. Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam. Classics.

Inspired by the critical and commercial success of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s arthouse shocker, Les Diabolique, Alfred Hitchcock took a break from his big budget Technicolor thrillers to make a little horror film called Psycho. Like the French film, he would shoot on a shoestring budget and in black & white. After the massive success of his previous film, North By Northwest, most of the suits at the studio thought their cash cow was off his rocker. Forgoing most of his big money crew he had worked with for years, he used the team from his anthology TV series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, knowing they could work fast and cheap and would be more open to some of the new radical tricks Hitchcock was hoping to try out. With no one understanding what the master had up his sleeve, in the end, Psycho has proved to be one his biggest hits and one of the most influential films of all time.

Perfectly taut and compact, every line of Pyscho's dialog, every camera movement, and even the casting is all carefully constructed for the scare and suspense payoffs to come. Based on a then little read novel with the same title by Robert Bloch (Strait-Jacket), Hitchcock burned through a couple of screenwriters before Joseph Stefano got the vibe he was looking for. Bloch was inspired by the horrific true-life serial killer Ed Gein (whose ghastly crimes would inspire a number of films from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Motel Hell).

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Feb 25, 2011 4:07pm

Winter Kills

Dir: William Richert, 1979. Starring: Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins. English. Mystery/Thriller.

William Richert’s first feature was every young filmmaker’s dream. He was to direct Winter Kills, a big budget thriller based on a novel from best-selling author Richard Condon, starring Hollywood stars Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Eli Wallach, and Anthony Perkins as well as international luminaries Toshiro Mifune and Tomas Milian. He assembled a crew of professionals including Vilmos Szigmond, the cinematographer of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Robert Boyle, the production designer on three Hitchcock films. And he started dating the film’s female lead, model Belinda Bauer. On its release Winter Kills received rave reviews from The New York Times and The New Yorker, yet after a week it was pulled from theaters. What sinister force didn’t want the public to see it?

In the film Bridges plays the only scion of a wealthy and well-connected family with an enduring involvement in politics. 19 years ago his brother was the President of the United States, until he was shot by an unknown sniper. Now, the location of the murder weapon is uncovered and Bridges must use the money and power that he has distanced himself from. Huston plays his eccentric, megalomaniac father and Perkins is the enigmatic “man behind the curtain” who might be the only one who knows the truth. The pace of Winter Kills is unrelenting, yielding more secrets and false leads with every twist, then swiftly doubling back and denying them. In its desire to reconcile the characters’ contradictory testimonies, the film quickly becomes a black comedy satirizing the ineffectual inquiry into the JFK assassination and its consequent conspiracy theories, but the rising body count and spasms of sudden violence keep Winter Kills a riveting thriller as well.

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Posted by:
Gillian Horvat
Mar 5, 2009 12:57pm
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