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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Grim Reaper is Back at WMV

It's just been reported that character actor Roberts Blossom passed on at age 87 last Friday. The mainstream press is talking about his "charming, quirky character" in Home Alone, but to me, he'll always be Ezra Cobb in Deranged, one of several films based on the crimes of real-life serial killer Ed Gein (another notable being The Texas Chain Saw Massacre).

Written and co-directed by Alan Ormsby and produced by Bob Clark, it's part of a trilogy of horror films they made in the early '70s, the other titles being Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (a 1973 zombie horror comedy) and Death Dream, a bleak 1974 chiller about a soldier who comes home from Vietnam as a bloodthirsty zombie.

Deranged, also from 1974, was shot in Canada and utilizes the unforgiving landscape as an effective backdrop for the chilling story. Blossom's Cobb is certainly a repellent character, but at times you feel sorry for this isolated individual who misses his late Mama! And it was Blossoms' only leading role—he provided memorable support in films like 1983's Christine (he sells Keith Gordon the haunted car) and Scorsese's controversial The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).

Another notable passing was Anna Massey on July 2nd at age 73. She came from an acting dynasty not unlike the Redgraves—both her parents were professionals (Raymond was her father) and so was her brother, Daniel. She had an extensive career in film, television and onstage, but two key films place her in the realm of Weird Movie Village.

In Peeping Tom, the film that derailed the career of beloved English director Michael Powell, she played the pivotal role of Helen, a young woman who lives in the apartment below Mark (Carl Boehm), a photographer who murders his models and films the killings. He has a knife attached to one of the legs of his camera tripod and a circular mirror that faces away from the lens so that his victims can see their own horror reflected as death approaches. He begins to confide in her, even showing her some of his films, and she is rightly horrified.

When it was released in 1960 (the same year as Psycho!), critical backlash was so severe that Powell worked very little thereafter. However, in the 1970s, Martin Scorsese saw that it had another release, and it's now considered a classic!

In 1972 Massey appeared in Hitchcock's Frenzy, which is in some ways similar to the earlier film. She plays Barbara "Babs" Milligan, a barmaid who is sympathetic to the plight of Richard Blaney (Jon Finch), a co-worker who is falsely accused of being the "necktie murderer" currently terrorizing the women of London.

As shocking as Psycho was twelve years before, Hitchcock took full advantage of the looser censorship of the times (and the American "R" rating) to depict a level of violence and nudity he'd not displayed before. The rape and murder of Blaney's ex-wife (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) is particularly savage, and the whole film is pretty misogynist, but it does have an impact. And alas, Massey's character doesn't make it through the film, as she did in Peeping Tom.

Another fun role for her was the "Midnight Mess" story in The Vault of Horror (1973), Amicus Films' follow-up to its hit Tales from the Crypt. In the story, Massey's brother Daniel plays—surprise—her brother who comes to the small town she's living in to kill her in order to claim her inheritance. Little does he know that the town is inhabited by vampires, including Sis, and he soon finds himself "tapped out"!

Distributor 20th Century-Fox cut Vault to a PG rating (as was a common practice at the time, since horror movies were considered kiddie fare), so all of the stories had frustrating, ridiculous freeze frames at their conclusions instead of the scenes of horror we'd been waiting for. Fortunately I found an uncut European DVD and finally was able to see the film as it was meant to be.

Here's the conclusion of "Midnight Mess" in its uncut glory:



No latchkey kid of the '70s (and I was one of them) could hear about the passing of producer Sherwood Schwartz on July 12th at age 94 and not feel that a little of his or her childhood had been snatched away. As a child of divorced parents, I did what millions of kids did at the time: come home from school, fight with my sisters, turn on the television and watch "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch" while waiting for Mom to arrive.

Two episodes of those shows that are forever burned into my psyche are the "Gilligan's Island" episode in which Gilligan (Bob Denver) dreams that he becomes Mr. Hyde when he hears about food. The way Ginger (Tina Louise) sibilantly says "ham and shwiss" when she's trying to provoke a transformation in front of a courtroom is hilarious.

The other one is the "Brady Bunch" episode in which Peter is trying to re-invent his personality to be cool. Didn't they all try that? Anyhow, he says "pork chops and applesauce" with his best Humphrey Bogart lisp, which for some reason killed me.

In 2008, I saw "A Very Brady Musical" onstage in Los Angeles, executive produced by Schwartz and featuring his grandson, Elliott Kevin, as Greg. And it was pretty good! Writer/director (and Elliott's Dad) Lloyd wasn't afraid to have a little risque fun with the squeaky-clean Bradys, especially after the hilarious The Brady Bunch Movie (1995) effectively trashed the 70s innocence completely. Greg even sang an amusing song about his Woody.

Finally, one last damn it! for the senseless death of Jackass Ryan Dunn last month. I hope that wherever he is now, he's got a whole new group of pals to mess with.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's fun to note that despite Roberts Blossom's gallery of offbeat characterizations (making him a true citizen of Weird Movie Village), he was a Harvard graduate and recognized for his poetry!

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