Jacques Tourneur, uno dei grandi registi dell'horror,
diresse Cat People (1942), storia di una modista
slava che rifiuta di concedersi al marito perché teme una maledizione che
colpisce tutte le donne della sua famiglia e che, quando cessano di essere
vergini, le trasforma in felini omicidi; il marito si sfoga
con un'altra, ma la moglie si tramuta in pantera e semina il terrore
finché muore presso la gabbia delle pantere.
Leopard Man (1943)
In una cittadina esotica del New Mexico un gigolo`, Jerry Manning,
prende in prestito dal saltimbanco Charlie un
leopardo per far fare bella figura alla sua donna, la chanteuse Kiki, che
e` sempre gelosa del successo di Chiquita, ballerina di flamenco.
Il leopardo pero` fugge e la notte stessa sbrana una ragazza che tornava
Manning e Kiki si sentono colpevoli dell'accaduto.
La polizia e i volontari danno la caccia alla bestia, servendosi dei consigli
di un esperto, Doug Galbraith, che e` venuto a dirigere il museo.
Un'altra ragazza viene sbranata dal leopardo, ma Manning si insospettisce che
la bestia sia rimasta in citta` invece che dileguarsi nei boschi.
La ballerina, a cui l'amica chiromante ha fatto le carte ottenendo sempre
cattivi presentimenti, e` la vittima successiva, proprio quando un ricco
amico le aveva donato dei soldi per la sua bambina. Jerry e` tanto convinto
che si tratti di un uomo e non del leopardo che decide di rinviare un viaggio
e fermarsi in citta` a risolvere il mistero. E infatti Charlie trova la
carcassa del leopardo, apparentemente morto da giorni. Qualcuno lo ha scuoiato
per impossessarsi della pelle. Nella notte in cui una processione di
incappucciati celebra un evento storico della zona, Jerry e Kiki tendono una
trappola a Doug, e lui ci casca. A ucciderlo e` il fidanzato della prima
Jerry non e` l'eroe positivo, e` un codardo, un fannullone e un gigolo`
che trova la missione della sua vita. Fatalismo noir.
I Walked With A Zombie (1943, Tourneur)
Una giovane infermiera viene assunta da un ricco possidente, Paul, per accudire
la moglie gravemente malata, Jessica. Paul e` un uomo freddo e altezzoso, odiato
dal fratellastro Wes.
I due, la madre e l'inferma vivono reclusi in un forte circondato dalla
giungla in un'isola esotica. La prima notte la giovane, Betsy, viene spaventata
dalla vista di Jessica in vestaglia che sale le scale della torre. Apprende
cosi` che la donna non da` segni di vita, e` priva di emozioni, ma per il resto
gode di salute normale.
I servitori neri la introducono alle superstizioni voodoo del luogo. Ogni sera
in cui si alza il vento lei sente i tamburi dei cerimoniali.
Wes odia Paul perche' lo ritiene colpevole di cio` che accadde a Jessica.
Betsy si innamora invece di Paul in quanto si accorge del dolore profondo che
questi prova. Ma il suo amore la spinge a tentare di guarire Jessica. Decide
di provare il voodoo e porta la disgraziata dai neri. Scopre pero` che il
dottore voodoo a cui questi si affidano altri non e` che la madre dei due
fratelli. Mentre loro parlano, un nero infila una spada nel braccio di Jessica:
dalla ferita non esce sangue. Jessica e` una zombie.
La visita di Betsy dai neri accende gli animi. I neri adesso credono che Jessica
sia una zombie e non si danno pace finche' non la guariscono. Paul non crede
alle leggende, ma la madre gli confessa che Jessica mori` effettivamente
ed e` sua la responsabilita` che sia stata trasformata in zombie.
Wes invoca la morte per Jessica. Si capisce che Jessica e Wes stavano
diventando amanti quando Jessica cadde malata, e Wes non si e` mai dato pace.
Jessica adesso sente i richiami dei tamburi: i neri hanno fatto un pupazzo
a sua immagine e somiglianza e lei risponde ai loro comandi. Una sera tenta
di recarsi al cerimoniale. Paul chiude il cancello, ma Wes lo riapre e la
accompagna. I neri infilzano il pupazzo con un ago, Wes uccide Jessica con
una freccia. Poi porta il corpo alla spiaggia e si lascia avvolgere dalle
onde finche' annega. I pescatori trovano i cadaveri e li riportano al forte.
Experiment Perilous (1944)
Out Of The Past (1947) is a film noir centered on a loner and a femme
fatale. A rather boring, implausible and pointless story.
A mysterious man, Joe, drives into a small town and stops at a gas station
to inquite about the owner. The owner, Jeff, is fishing at a lake with his
fiance' Anne. Jeff is not happy to meet Joe. Joe invites him to a meeting with
his boss. Jeff takes Anne with him and on the way to the meeting place,
he tells her (in an Orson Welles-ian voice) the secret of his life,
starting with his real name. He used
to be a private detective, and one day was hired by a mobster to track down
the woman who betrayed him and ran away with his money. When he found her
in Mexico, he was fascinated by the attractive woman and decided to keep her
for himself. Kathy told him that she never stole the money from the mobster.
They started a happy life together, but one day Jeff's old partner showed up
and blackmailed them; and she killed him. Then she took off, and he found out
that she did have a bank account with the money that had been stolen. The story
is over, and they have reached the meeting place. Anne drives back, while
Jeff walks into the majestic villa. The mobster wants a job from him, and
casually introduces Kathy, who has returned to him. Jeff accepts the new job,
but senses that it's a set up: he is taken by another attractive woman
to an attorney's home so as to leave his fingerprints around (he even tells
the attorney so). Sure enough, the attorney is killed. Jeff cleans up the
apartment and hides the body. Then he visits Kathy, accuses her of being
part of the set-up and tells her that he tipped off the attorney who escaped.
Kathy, scared, confesses, and tells him that the mobster wanted to get a
briefcase from the attorney, and have Jeff be arrested for the murder. Now
Jeff knows the motive (the briefcase) and takes off. Joe walks in and tells
Kathy that he has indeed killed the attorney. She, who was still playing
the part of the poor victim, realizes that he has only
extorted from her the information about the briefcase. In fact, Jeff steals
the briefcase and hides its content: files that would send the mobster to
jail. He wants the gangsters to clear his name. The newspapers are carrying
the story of the murder and that the suspect still at large is Jeff. Anne
reads the newspaper in the small town. Joe tries to kill Jeff, but is killed.
Jeff visits the mobster and Kathy. It turns out that Kathy had misled the
mobster too: she has been lying to everybody to get what she wants,
and she's the one who ordered Joe to kill Jeff. Jeff's only consolation is
that Anne believes Jeff is innocent of the murder. But an old flame of Anne
threatens Jeff: Jeff is not good enough for a simple girl like Anne.
Back to the villa, Jeff finds that Kathy has killed the mobster. It's the
perfect solution: now Jeff will be accused also of this murder, and he
will never be able to prove that he is innocent of the attorney's murder.
He is at her mercy. It turns out she doesn't want to destroy him, she wants
him to follow her back to Mexico and start a new life. She also tells him
that he is not good for the good town girl. He has no choice anyway.
So she packs the money in her briefcase and the two of them leave in a car.
But the villa is surrounded by the police, and she realizes that he has
betrayed her. She kills him, and then the car crashes and kills her.
Berlin Express (1948) is instead an amateurish and implausible
spy thriller in which Westerners
fight a secret Nazi society. It has a didactic undertone: the four winning
powers uniting to save a German.
The film's only value is the images of a devastated Frankfurt after the war.
Just after World War II, the French accidentally intercept a secret message
in German but they don't know what to do with it. It is actually the number
of a train from Paris to Frankfurt.
On that train four men from the four occupying powers that
have won against Germany are travelling and get to meet:
Robert from the USA, Perrot from France,
a Russian soldier and Sterling from Britain.
There is also the attractive secretary Lucienne who works for a German
At the station a German passenger is also allowed to board the train, Hans.
One compartment is reserved for a mysterious guest, who turns out to be
a German doctor who is the leader of a pacifist movement to reunite Germany.
The doctor has just invited the others to a dinner in his compartment when
a bomb kills him. They have just reached Frankfurt, a ghost town after the
war bombings in which a cigarette is a treasure.
A middle-aged man takes a tram to downtown and is recognized by an old woman
in the street. The international passengers are taken to a USA base and
interrogated. The USA investigators calls them one by one. When they call
the inconspicuous German businessman, Franzen, we learn that he is the real doctor:
the bomb killed a decoy. Lucienne is his secretary. Ironically, the other
passengers dislike precisely this German. When they are all transferred to
the train station, they ignore Franzen. An old man, approaches him, and
Franzen recognizes him as his old friend Johann. Johann is upset by something.
Seconds later they both disappear: Franzen has been kidnapped. Lucienne
explains whom Franzen really was and begs the four men to help her find him
because they are the only ones who know his face and his voice.
Franzen is at Johann's place, guarded by the woman who recognized the middle-aged man.
Johann confesses to Franzen that he helped the resistance
kidnap his old friend Franzen because they promised to reunite him with his
long lost life. However, the young insurgents tell him that his wife is dead.
When Lucienne and the men find Johann, he has just hanged himself.
On a hunch, Robert and Lucienne visit a cabaret where they
witness the show of the sexy mind-reader Maya. Through her they reach the
group that is holding Franzen, whose leader is the man of the tram.
Robert escapes, helped by a clown who has infiltrated the group,
but is captured and Lucienne thinks he is killed.
The clown runs away wounded and dies in a cabaret, where the authorities
identify him as Hans, a German agent who was assigned to protect the doctor.
Hans has time to tell them where Franzen is held. The group is quickly
surrounded by the occupation forces and defeated. Perrot corners the leader
and coldly kills him after revealing that he is his boss. The others,
unaware, congratulate him for killing the leader of the gang.
On the train to Berlin, where the doctor is to attend a peace conference,
Robert begins to doubt Perrot's actions: he lied about his knowledge
of the German language, and he knew the bomb was a grenade even before
the experts figured it out. The others ignore Robert's suspicion. Then
Robert sees reflected in another train the scene of Perrot trying to strangle
the doctor (the only impressive shot of the film) and enters the doctor's
compartment just in time. Perrot is shot dead by a guard and the doctor
arrives safely at his conference, while the others can finally continue
their trip. In the last scene Robert tries to reach out to the Russian,
who has never truly mingled with the others (a metaphor for avoiding the
Nightfall (1956), adapted from David Goodis's 1947 novel, is a film noir in the vein of Out Of The Past. The story is told in a rather hysterical
manner, with abrupt scene shifts.
The plot is like a disjointed puzzle that slowly reveals itself as the pieces
are added up.
A man, Jim, is walking around town after dark. He is briefly approached by a stranger who asks him for a cigarette. In a bar Jim meets a woman,
Marie (Anne Bancroft), who begs him to loan her money because she has lost her wallet.
In the meantime the stranger arrives home to his wife and we learn that he, Ben,
is an insurance investigator who is tailing Jim.
Back at the bar Marie is nice and Jim invites her to dinner.
Then as they walk outside, suddenly two men approach them.
The woman was hired by them to bring Jim to them. And they call him Ray, not
The two thugs take Jim/Ray out of town, to an abandoned oil derrick, to torture
him unless he tells them what
they want to know. The two gangsters want to know where a huge sum of money
is: Ray claims he doesn't know where it is.
In the meantime the insurance investigator Ben tells his wife that there
is enough evidence against Ray to send him to the electric chair, but they
first need to find the money. Ben has been following Ray for three months.
He knows Ray's every habit. And he is beginning to have doubts that Ray
committed the crime alone.
A flashbach shows Ray hunting in the mountains with his best friend, an
older doctor. Ray is a good, honest man. The doctor tells him
abut his wife, twenty years younger than him, and, aware that she is too young
for himself, seems to offer her to Ray. Suddenly they witness a car accident.
They rush to the site and help the two men who were in the car: the very same
two thugs. One has a broken
arm that the doctor fixes temporarily. Far from being grateful, the two thugs
pull out a gun, take Ray's car and discuss where to kill the two dangerous
Back to the oil derrick the thugs are ready to finish Ray when he finds a way
to escape. He has Marie's address and heads to her apartment. She tells him
that she thought the two thugs were police officers hunting down a dangerous
criminal. Realizing that she is in danger as much as himself, Ray tells her to
get dressed and flee with him. While she is getting dressed, he tells her the
story of what happened in the mountains: how the two thugs told them that
they had just robbed a bank and then killed the doctor in cold blood and
wounded Ray making it look like it was an argument between Ray and the doctor
in which each killed the other. Then they picked up the doctor's bag thinking
it was their bag and left. Back to Marie's apartment, Ray and Marie flee just
in time before the thugs arrive. As the thugs search Marie's apartment we learn
that Marie is a fashion model.
Ray and Marie hide in Ray's apartment, that is spied day and night by Ben.
Seeing Ray with a woman, Ben feels that he was right to suspect that Ray had
an accomplice. Ray tells Marie what happened on the mountain after the thugs
left. They left him for dead, but he was only wounded. He picked up the bag,
realized that was full of money, and walked away, knowing that the thugs would
come back looking for him.
When they found out that the doctor's wife had written love letters to Ray
(that's why the doctor was offering him his wife),
the police determined that Ray had killed the doctor and started a manhunt.
Ray had to run away from both the police and the gangsters, changing name
to Jim and moving from town
to town (and not knowing that the insurance investigator was his real nemesis).
When Ray goes to the bus station to buy two tickets for the mountains, Ben
does the same. Then Ray has to rescue Marie from the thugs at a fashion show.
The two (who are now lovers) board the bus and think that they ran away, but
Ben is on the same bus. Ben approaches Ray and believes in his version of
the story. The two drive to the shack where Ray hid the money, but the thugs
have preceded them and they already captured Marie. Luckily the thugs turn on
each other. One is killed. Ray grabs the gun of the dead one and chases
the other one into a snow plower. They fight. The gangster is run over and
mauled by the snow plower.
Curse of the Demon (1958), adapted from Montague James' "Casting the Runes" (1911), is one of the best horror movies of the time, directed in the
style of Val Lewton at the fast pace of the best detective movies.
A distraught man drives late at night through a forest to a secluded mansion.
He is a professor and frantically begs the owner, a doctor, to call off their
public fight, admitting that the doctor was right. The professor apologizes that
a parchment written in ancient runic language burned. The doctor wants privacy
for himself and "his followers". The professors promises and drives home
Suddenly he sees a white cloud approaching in the sky that takes
the shape of a giant monster. Frightened, he tries to drive away but crashes
the car against a powerline pole
and dies a horrible death, electrocuted by the electrical wires.
In the mansion the doctor burns a newspaper that talks about a devil cult
that he is accused of running and that should be exposed at a forthcoming
conference on the supernatural.
A USA psychologist, John, is flying on a plane and trying to catch some sleep.
At the airport he is welcome by an assistant to the professor, Lloyd. Before the
assistant has time to tell him of the tragedy, the reporters surround the
psychologist and ask him questions about the conference.
Another passenger, an attractive lady, tries to phone the residence of the
professor. At the professor's home the assistant introduces John to a coworker
of the dead professor, Mark, who shows him the drawing of the devil made
by a former cult member who is now in custody for a murder and who has fallen
into a catatonic state.
Mark is a scientist too but has come to believe that the devil committed
the murder. John is surprised, as the whole point of the conference is to
disprove the phony supernatural powers of the cult. He is introduced to an
Indian professor, who flatly states that he believes in the supernatural.
John visits the museum and asks for a rare volume, but it is mysteriously
missing. The doctor is standing nearby, overhears the conversation, and offers
John a copy of the rare volume. The doctor is friendly, while John is hostile
and promises to continue the investigation. The doctor hands him a business
card. John reads a warning on it, but then the writing disappears.
Back home with Mark and the Indian, John realizes that he keeps humming a
tune. Both Mark and the Indian recognize it as an hymn to the devil in both
the Irish and Indian cultures. Mark also notices that all of the pages in
John's desk calendar after the 28th have been torn out. John visits a laboratory and asks them to
analyze the business card: he is still puzzled that the writing disappeared.
He then pays tribute to the dead professor at the funeral home and meets
the professor's pretty niece, Joanna: the fellow traveler that he never
realized was on the same plane (in fact, the seat behind his) and that tried
to call the professor from the airport. She warns him that he is in danger.
She found her uncle's diary and reads passages to John. The uncle had come
to believe that a parchment with runic symbols contained a curse from the
doctor. Having learned that the body was mutilated, she is determined to find
out the truth about his death, and scolds
John for refusing to look into witchcraft.
The laboratory calls and tells John that there never was any handwriting
on the business card.
John invites Joanna to visit the doctor's mansion.
In the garden a magician is entertaining a group of children: it's the doctor
himself. He looks and sounds harmless, but then he invokes a strong wind and
John witnesses a strong tornado that scares the children away. The doctor
suddenly turns hostile and gives John only three days to live, until the 28th.
Later he tells Joanna, and Joanna reads more of her uncle's diary:
the professor too had found all the pages of his desk calendar torn out,
and he had died on the day of the last page. John reads on, and finds out
that, according to the professor, the doctor's curse was in the form of
a parchment with runic symbols: once given to someone, this person's only chance
to survive would be to give it to someone else. John sarcastically tells Joanna
that he never accepts gifts from strangers. But Joanna guesses that the doctor
may have given him something without John realizing it: sure enough John finds
a parchment with runic symbols in his briefcase, and the parchment flies away
towards the fireplace as if it was trying to get burned, but is saved by the
fireplace grate. John puts the parchment in his wallet.
John visits Stonehenge and finds the runic symbols inscripted on one
of the monoliths.
Joanna takes John to a seance. John thinks it's ridiculous, but the medium
assumes the voice of the dead professor and warns John against the demon,
declaring that the doctor was successful in translating the rare volume
John, thinking it an hoax, leaves the room. John is finding scientific
explanations for everything, but Joanna, a kindergarten teacher, feels
that he is in danger: it is the eve of the 28th.
At night John and Joanna drive to the gate of the mansion. John wants to find
evidence that the doctor is a charlatan,
Joanna wants to convince him that the curse is real. John jumps the
wall, walks through the forest to the mansion, and climbs into a room.
In the library he finds the translation. Then the cat turns into a leopard
and attacks him. Awakened by the noise, the doctor walks in and would like to
escort the visitor out but John prefers to go back through the woods. There he
is chased by a white cloud. Shaken by all these unexplainable events, he
accepts Joanna's suggestion to talk to the police, but there is nothing the
cops can do. Later someone kidnaps Joanna.
The following day (it's the 28th) John leaves for the conference
with his fellow scientists. At the conference they awaken the cult member
who had fallen into a catatonic state, and then hypnotize him, Under hypnosis
the man says that he was given a parchment and therefore was condemned to die.
He reveals that there is one way to survive: return the parchment to
the sender. He then escapes and jumps from a window to his death.
John realizes that he has to return the parchment to the doctor before it's
too late. The Indian professor tells him that the doctor's mother has called
to asked them to stop her evil son and that he's boarding a train. John
rushes to the train station and boards the same train. He finds the doctor
with is hostage: a hypnotized Joanna, who tells John that the doctor is running
away from him. John confesses that now he believes, and tries in vain
to return the parchment to the doctor. There are only five minutes left
before his appointment to death. The cops have been following the doctor
based on Joanna's accusations and intervene when they hear the two men arguing.
The doctor decides to get off the train but John manages to drop the parchment
into a pocket of his coat. The doctor pulls it out and the parchment flies
out. The doctor chases it like a madman: there are only two minutes left.
The doctor jumps off the train and runs after the parchment that is rolling
on the railtracks. The time is over: the parchment self-ignites and a huge
white cloud appears, carrying the giant monster. Trying to escape, he falls
in front of a train and is mauled to death by the demon. The train's engineer
swears that the train did not hit him, but they found a mutilated body and
decide that the doctor must have been hit by the train. John and Joanna
agree that it's better not to know the truth.
Frontier Rangers (1959) was a historical western about an expedition
through the Northwest territory.
Comedy of Terrors (1963) is instead a satirical burlesque with Boris
Karloff making his self-parody.
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