Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Best Movies You May Have Never Seen (Oct 2015)

Never Take Candy from a Stranger (1960)  (reviewed by Toto from the Classic Film & TV Cafe)

In the opening scene, two little girls are playing on a swing in the woods, laughing and enjoying a lovely afternoon. Then we see they are being watched by an old man with binoculars in a nearby isolated house. One little girl tells the other that she knows where they can go to get candy. As the two girls skip off together in the left side of the screen, we see that the abandoned swing dominates the foreground on the right side--a sign of leaving childhood behind.

Jean (Janina Faye) and Lucille (Frances Green) leave childhood behind.
That night, Jean Carter, one of the girls, tells her parents about her day and innocently reveals that she and her friend danced without their clothes on for the old man. Her horrified parents mask their emotions and the mother questions her daughter. The parents conclude that she wasn't molested, but they know that some kind of action must be taken.

Janina Faye as nine-year-old Jean.
There are two prevailing themes in Never Take Candy from a Stranger. The first is the threat of losing childhood innocence, which is symbolically represented in the film by the empty swing, an abandoned bicycle, and a stuffed animal. The second theme is societal isolation. Early in the film, we learn that the Carter family has moved from England to a small industrial Canadian town so Peter Carter can become the principal of a school. The town's residents refer to the Carters as foreigners more than once. Initially it seems to be in jest, but it quickly becomes clear that there are some townspeople who resent the "trouble" caused by "the outsiders."

Niall MacGinnis questions the witness.
It doesn't help that the prosperity of the town centers around a mill owned by the Olderberry family. The retired family patriarch turns out to be the old man that the Carters accuse of improper conduct toward their daughter. The eventual trial places young Jean on the witness stand, with the Olderberry's attorney (effectively played by Niall MacGinnis) questioning her aggressively, his face jutting toward her on one side of the screen and then the other.

With a first-rate cast, a literate script, and excellent direction from Cyril Frankel, Never Take Candy from a Stranger should have garnered stellar notices. Instead, it was panned by critics and ignored at the boxoffice. Undoubtedly, the title didn't help (neither does the original British title Never Take Sweets from a Stranger). I also suspect that moviegoers expected a more conventional tale of horror from Hammer Films, the home of Dracula and Frankenstein.

This one includes a truly horrifying scene near the climax as the two girls are chased in the woods and find a rowboat. They climb into it, thinking they are leaving danger behind...when they realize the boat is still tethered to the dock. Their pursuer then grabs the rope and begins to pull them in.

Without ever showing violence, Never Take Candy from a Stranger ranks as one of Hammer's most frightening films, right down to its somber conclusion.

“X” The Man With The X-Ray Eyes   (reviewed by Grand Old Movies)

Roger Corman’s unsung 1963 masterpiece, “X” The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, is a film examining cinema’s very essence—the act of seeing. As movies capture the world in visual terms, we thus experience movies as visual objects, viewed through our faculty of sight. Corman thrusts that notion right at us from his film’s first shot, a giant eyeball staring at us as we in turn stare back at it. This is how we understand what’s before us, the film seems to be saying, through our own fleshy orbs—the only pair each of us has, as one character notes. Eyes are our primary organ for taking in the world around us, and we’d better be damn careful how we use them.

Except that the film’s protagonist, Dr. James Xavier, has lost all caution in regards to his own. A medical researcher experimenting with increasing the range of vision, he’s developed a drug to expand the eyes’ ability to see light, and becomes his own guinea pig. A colleague warns him that “only the gods see everything”; “I’m closing in on the gods,” Xavier replies, and indeed he does. From seeing through paper, clothes, and then walls, he then sees through flesh (including his eyelids) and bone, into interior organs, able to diagnose disease and even impending death. But Xavier gets hooked on his drug and applies it more and more; the result, far from achieving heaven, plunges him into hell. He no longer recognizes a human being, but only “a perfect breathing dissection”; an urban metropolis appears “dissolved in an acid of light—a city of the dead.” The more Xavier sees, the more the world loses substance, evaporating into particles and atoms, into wavering light itself. He now gropes like a blind man, longing for only one thing—to again “have the dark.”

As with Xavier’s vision, Corman’s film looks beneath its low-budget, sci-fi surface, and finds mythic resonances in its anti-hero’s quest. Is Xavier a doomed Prometheus, enduring torture to bring fire to humanity, or a disobedient Adam, defying divine law in seeking knowledge? But in its hallucinatory effects and theme of expanded vision, the film also anticipates how the Sixties generation pursued mystical experience via drugs and esoteric religions. While working as a sideshow attraction Xavier masks himself with a bandanna decorated with a large, open Eye, a reference to the “third eye” that signals inner perception, beyond mere physical sight. Xavier’s irony, however, is that the more he sees, the less he knows; people, places, the world itself, have slipped away from him, leaving him in a spiritual abyss.

Yet the film’s overarching viewpoint is seemingly Biblical, especially in the famous final scene, in which Xavier staggers into a revival meeting and hears the preacher exhorting his flock to repent. Instead, Xavier proclaims his own apocalyptic vision: beyond “there are great darknesses,” he cries, but at the center he can see “the Eye that sees us all.” Has Xavier’s sight finally reached God? No answer is given; rather, the appalled reverend responds with Matthew’s advice to the lagging sinner: “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out!” And so Xavier does, raising two bloodied sockets to our own appalled gazes. The screen swiftly goes black; then light gradually returns—or rather, waves and lines of light, through which skeletal impressions of buildings and landscapes bleed through, as if the camera now participates in Xavier’s torment, its mechanical eye imprinted with his human ones. It’s a vision of unending horror: of knowledge that can’t be unlearned, and of eyes that can’t be closed.

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)   (reviewed by Rick from the Classic Film & TV Cafe)

Sharon Tate as Sarah.
Whether intentional or not, The Fearless Vampire Killers comes across as a perfect parody of Hammer Films’ fangs-and-damsels formula. One’s affection for the film will depend, in part, upon familiarity with the Hammer approach. All the expected ingredients are present: attractive women in low-cut attire, a Transylvanian setting, an eerie castle, garlic hanging from the ceiling of a beer haus, a hint of eroticism, and a well-prepared vampire hunter. To this mix, Polanski adds a dash of the unexpected: a bumbling lovestruck assistant, a Jewish vampire, a gay vampire, and a darkly humorous ending.

The vampire killers of the title are Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran, looking like Albert Einstein with a big red nose) and his assistant Alfred (Polanski). Shortly after their arrival at a snowy Bavarian inn, a young maiden named Sarah (Sharon Tate) is kidnapped by Count Von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne). The girl’s father sets out after his daughter, but later turns up dead—the blood drained from his body. Knowing now that vampires are at work, the Professor and Alfred head toward Von Krolock’s castle to destroy the bloodsuckers.

Polanski, who had not yet directed Rosemary’s Baby, shows a genuine flair for the horror genre. There’s a masterful scene in which Sarah is taking a bath, while Von Krolock watches her through a skylight. Snow begins to float into the bath water. As Sarah looks up, the vampire crashes through the glass and bites her neck. Bath water splashes against the door suggestively and then stops. Later in the film, Polanksi stages a ghoulish scene in which vampires emerge from graves in a cemetery, still wearing their rotting clothes, as they make their way to the Midnight Ball.

Alfred tries to destroy a vampire!
As an actor, Polanksi proves himself to be a skilled comedian. He and Tate share a funny scene in which she talks about the joys of taking a bath which he misconstrues as a proposition (“Do you mind if I have a quick one?” she asks). The supporting cast has its share of comic highlights, too, especially Alfie Bass as a new vampire who wants to keep his coffin in the Krolocks’ vault (and not in the drafty barn!).

Originally, Polanski planned to cast Jill St. John as Sarah, but a producer friend introduced him to the stunning, red-haired Tate. The two were married soon after The Fearless Vampire Killers. Tate’s career was on the rise (she co-starred in the trashy but popular Valley of the Dolls) when Charles Manson and his cult murdered her in 1969.

Released as Dance of the Vampires in Britain, The Fearless Vampire Killers was trimmed nine minutes for its U.S. release. The video version is the full 107-minute film. The famous subtitle Or, Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck never actually appears in the film credits. (For a more in-depth review of this film by Cafe contributor Sark, click here.)


  1. Man wlth X-Ray Eyes rumored to have cut its last line "i can stll see!", whlch makes sense in the film's context. it does end on an awkward freeze frame.

  2. It was interesting to see Don Rickles play it straight in this film (I love seeing comedians try something different), and I thought he made a pretty good villian.

    1. Studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. The comedy came after.

  3. Rickles had already appeared i Run Silent, Run Deep and The Rat Race.

  4. Three good choices. I remember Polanski's film getting ripped apart by the critics of the day.

  5. Thanks for posting and including me with a great selection of bloggers & films!

    1. Thanks for participating, GOM! That was an excellent review of a first-rate Corman picture. I agree with everyone that Rickles contributes an effective supporting performance. Ray Milland is equally good; it may be his best 1960s performance.

  6. Toto, NEVER TAKE CANDY was an excellent choice and your review did it justice. I never saw it until I bought the Hammer Icons of Suspense (a great DVD set) a couple of years ago. Janine Faye stood out for me as the daughter. I remember her from THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. As you pointed out, her scene with Niall McGinnis is masterful. I hope your review inspires others to watch this forgotten drama.

  7. Never Take that sounds like a creepy film, but one I'll probably end up seeking out and watching before the month is over.

  8. Grand Old Movies, you did an excellent job reviewing "'X' the Man with X-Ray Eyes". I loved that you reminded us about the importance of film as a visual medium. Rick, I know how much you enjoy "The Fearless Vampire Killers" and your review truly reflects that. It is fun reading about films we may not even have heard of. This is a great addition to the Cafe.

  9. As advertised - "best films you may not have seen". I love that these are left for me to discover.

  10. Toto, excellent review of a movie I've never seen and would like to! I'll have to look for it. GOM, I am a big fan of X-Ray -- always loved Ray Milland, and this is just a good B movie! And of course, Rick, Fearless Vampire Killers is just plain fun! Wonderful idea for a post!