Bubba Ho-tep (2003, Don Coscarelli) Grade: B
Directed by Phantasm perpetuator Don Coscarelli, Ho-tep would seem to live and die by its premise: a low-budget remake of The Mummy re-set entirely within a Southern rest home and featuring Bruce Campbell as an aging Elvis and Ossie Davis as an aging JFK. There's your instant cult classic, yes? Somehow, no. Even more baffling, Roger Ebert's right - it isn't a film that caters to the camp audience, nor is it fixin' to be a horror film. Instead, it's a laid-back -- very laid-back considering its not terribly imaginative -- ode to old age, dementia (possible or not), and good old fashioned non-aggressive whimsy. What's more, Campbell seems to have turned in one of the most affecting performances of the year, never once pandering to his audience and, in an unprecedented move, disappearing completely into his character. Whether Coscarelli followed suit because he's an incoherent auteur ("Let's continue the story of Phantasm") or because he's riding alongside his protagonist's malaise is up for discussion. I'm thinking the latter...but, yes, some more imagination would have been appreciated.
Marnie (1964, Alfred Hitchcock)
Let me try to unravel this.
So, a klepto misandrist who freaks when she sees red (Tippi Hedren) is caught in the act of looting by a wealthy, charismatic playboy (Sean Connery) who, for reasons he prefers to glibly shrug off, decides he's going to keep her by blackmailing her into marriage. Prematurely out-Fassbindering Fassbinder is what Hitchcock is on about here, laying out a complex, ever-morphing series of traps and one-upmanship that, as always, have a hefty metaphorical kick. (It's marriage, isn't it? Hitch was never one for marriage, as seen in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Rebecca, Dial M For Murder and Notorious.) Of course, it's a wildly ridiculous film, with a Hou Hsiao-hsien-slow first hour and a finale that wraps things up in leftfield dubious psychology. But once Connery has first ensnared Hedren and up to the shock finale, it's arguably the tightest he's ever wrenched an audience. In this hour-or-less, Hedren goes increasingly insane, with every outlet cut off to her by amateur psychology from Connery, Connery's lascivious semi-incestuous sister-in-law, and, at one point, actual rape. There's really no way to end it, and the guy who made Vertigo knows what to do: just provide some convoluted Movie Thriller Reason for the whole thing. As ever, I'm partially on a fence: are the lapses into stupidity forgiveable for one of the freakiest, blood-curdling and addictively watchable tales of unrequited love and abuse? Most of us can forgive Vertigo the silly murder plot, after all...
Also, the crowds are right: Louise Lathan is indeed the best Hitch mom ever. No diss on the Notorious, Psycho, To Catch a Thief, The Birds, et al. moms. That, and a shout-out to Connery's book, literally entitled Sexual Aberrations of the Criminal Female. Is that still in print?