Recently Rated Movies: Catching Up with Christopher Lee (the actor, not my brother…) Pt. 6

The Resident (2011)
Dir: Antti Jokinen
TC4P Rating: 5

I know Hilary Swank likes to work, but why The Resident? Isn't there something more noble she could do with her time? Isn't there a stern, hardheaded frontierswoman that needs to be portrayed somewhere? Yeah, I know she started out in the original film version of Buffy, but you just don't think of her in this genre. Not that it is a bad thing to have her in something horror-oriented, but I cannot imagine what would have attracted her to the job except a sizable paycheck. 

The Resident is product, cut and dried. Mostly dried, because it is as rote and numb as a stalker film can be. From its case, to its DVD label, to its trailer, to its DVD menu. Every move telegraphed, every camera angle expected, every emotion cut out with the rest of the cookies. The poster I show at the right has one big head (Swank's), and I chose this one over the other one with two big heads (Swank's and co-star Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who is fairly effective as her sweaty lover/antagonist). I did this to downplay to you, the reader, that you are going to look at a review about an edit-by-numbers feature, otherwise you might not stop by. Two heads: Too obvious. Must automatically be a dull, shitty movie. One head: Mmmm, maybe there is something more to this... nope, dull, shitty movie.

Christopher Lee's part in The Resident is the best thing in the film. He gets to be pretty creepy as Morgan's truly terrible, haranguing grandfather. It is not a surprise that something awful will happen to him eventually. Maybe working with Lee was the reason Swank did the film, but I am going to doubt she really knew much about him. Maybe working with the resurgent Hammer Studios was an attraction? I doubt that too, though they may have thrown some money her way to get a big name star for one of their comeback features. I just it would have been for something more fun-sounding like, say, Amelia Earhart: Gremlin Hunter.

Dark Places (1973)
Dir: Don Sharp
TC4P Rating: 5

An interesting thing (well, I find it interesting) happened to me while I was preparing my capsule for Dark Places, a typically well-mannered British horror film from the mid-1970s. I had worked up the first two paragraphs of what I thought was a solid short review, when I changed my mind. The cranial swerve engaged because, in the middle of the third paragraph, I went back to watch a couple of sections of the film a second time, as I wanted to make sure I had some details correct in my head. It struck me quite suddenly that this was the not the film that I was writing about earlier. Yes, it was the same film, but perhaps due to being tired or bored with the thing at the time I first viewed it, I had somehow burned the wrong remembrance of it into my brain. I also blame the several days delay between the viewing and the writing of the review. Thus, I ended up backtracking and watching the entire thing again.

In my original version, I was firm on the point that my chief problem with the film was the dual lead performance of veteran character actor, Robert Hardy. I had worked up details on my early exposure to him as Siegfried Farnon on All Creatures Great and Small in my teenage years, and how I have indeed enjoyed him in numerous parts ever since. And then I declared that despite the fact that I did like him, Hardy often comes off as too stagy for me. I reasoned that perhaps when the part was cheesy enough, he felt the need to serve a little extra ham with it, in a way that you could often get away with it on the boards, but rarely without notice on the screen.

But on the second watch, I settled into his performance, and I realized that the fault was mine entirely. Hardy was playing it as he needed to and I was the one who was approaching it with a jaundiced and incorrect viewpoint. I suddenly noticed that he actually introduced some nice subtle character differences between the psychological breakdown his main character is experiencing in the film and the raving, murderous lunacy off his secondary role. Because of my haste in getting through the film, I almost missed what is actually a decent performance.

Outside of this, the story is not particularly thrilling (heir to an estate returns home while various vultures roam about trying to locate some lost suitcases full of cash), but Dark Places has a bit of spookiness at play in its isolated country estate main setting, and it is chockablock with the sort of actors who generally make these sort of affairs so enjoyable; chiefly, notable British ones. Christopher Lee and Joan Collins (both at home here) are a kinky pair of scheming siblings who are trying to locate the money, as is the dependable Herbert Lom, downplaying his notorious scene-swiping and coming off very effectively. Jane Birkin is lovely in a small, undemanding role. Finally, a favorite of mine from childhood, Jean Marsh, gets to engage in some fantastic histrionics while she displays, in separate scenes, precisely how not to clear a large dining table and how not to keep your husband’s attentions from straying in the bedroom.

As for the horror bits, they are for the most part a little too understated for my tastes, but there is at least one good bloody reveal that works well, and there is a pretty memorable pickaxe scene that I enjoyed even more on the second go. And if you want to annoy me to Hades, add little giggling towheaded brats to your cast, and then punctuate their appearance by employing their disembodied giggles and voices on the soundtrack as added torment. I will wish the worst murder on them from the second they appear on the screen. (Just don’t renege on the promise of this.)

I am not afraid to switch directions on a review, or reverse my opinion altogether if I see a movie anew and leave the screen with a different take on it. But, even after my turnabout on Hardy’s performance, this was the first time that I was thinking noticeably different about a film but still came away wanting to give it the same exact rating as I had planned to give it. While there is much to recommend within the frames of Dark Places, I just couldn’t come around to moving it up to my “generally good” rating (a "6"). It has all that stuff you like in British horror from the 1970s, except that the results are more middling than anything. But I did end up accepting Robert Hardy in it.

Too Hot to Handle (1960) [aka Playgirl After Dark]
Dir: Terence Young
TC4P Rating: 5

I am not a Jayne Mansfield fan. As far as potentially unhealthy obsessions with dead blonde movie stars from the ‘50s go, I am solidly in the Marilyn Monroe camp. (And I actually got over her a good while ago.) But with Jayne, I find little about her that fascinates me. She has her defenders (every “star" does) and I am totally fine with that. She just has never done it for me. I have always seen her more as a gimmick than an actress. Director Frank Tashlin knew just how to walk that line with her, employing her talents effectively in The Girl Can’t Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, films that are in my personal canon.

Jayne has the lead role in Playgirl After Dark, which can be found online in various places as Too Hot to Handle, but the film is not really about her. It’s a tough little British gangster pic, and the plot revolves chiefly around a “key” club owner, Johnny Solo (yeah, that’s his name), in London who runs afoul of another club owner, and decides to fight back against the protection racket. Mansfield plays his stripper/performer girlfriend named Midnight Franklin, and Jayne gets several opportunities onstage during the film to let the girls breathe.

In the mix is the real reason I watched this film, Christopher Lee, as Johnny Solo’s duplicitous right hand thug, Novak. It’s a small role, but Lee’s presence adds a lot to the film. Also here is Barbara Windsor as a newly hired blonde stripper named Pony Tail. She is also a tad bit underage, so I wonder if that will add anything to the plot? Oops! I recently got to see the chipper Windsor in a couple of Carry On films (her inclusion here and her inclusion there will tell you something of her looks) on TCM, so it was a pleasant surprise to see her show up in this.

Playgirl After Dark is a bit too monotonously talky for a gangster flick, and it is not particularly well-filmed. That said, for a low-budget crime piece, it does move along well, the plot is fairly engaging, and the stage performances and the OK songs break things up nicely. I prefer some of the other performers to Jayne, but that is just me. Must be the non-fan in me.


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