Archive for December, 2012

“Pickman’s Muse” (2010)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 9, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas
Pickman's Muse DVD

Pickman’s Muse DVD

“Pickman’s Muse” is a 2010 independent horror movie based on the stories “The Haunter of the Dark” and “Pickman’s Model” by author H.P. Lovecraft, which does justice to neither tale.
In the film, Robert Pickman is a marginally successful artist known for his New England landscape and lighthouse paintings; however, despite enthusiastic requests from his dealer for more of the same, Robert is growing weary of his subject matter and is becoming restless for new inspiration. His dealer then encourages him to take a few weeks off to go on a vision quest of sorts to find some inspiring new sights to paint, but what Pickman finds instead is the Church of the Starry Wisdom which houses a transmitter of dark dreams from Stygian realms which fill his head with unspeakable horror and geometrical madness which quickly fill up the canvases of his studio. Wisely, the filmmakers chose to not show what exactly is depicted on Pickman’s canvases, for what may be horrifying to some most likely would just seem hokey to the average horror fan nowadays.
Pickman is hounded by voices that tell him what to paint and even though his new work horrifies even him, whenever the dark voices threaten to take away his new found “sight” he quickly yields because he cannot live without being able to “see” these ghastly visions; but the voices demand compensation for their “gift” to Robert and try to get him to give them a delivery boy who brings him some art supplies, which he refuses to do, so they take away his access to their world. He quickly regrets his hastiness and runs back to the Church of the Starry Wisdom to beg for a second chance. While groveling at the altar of the church, asking the voices to show him what he should do, he sees his answer in an old medication bottle, which once belonged to the artist Goodie Hines (a poor attempt at using an old New England name, the type which Lovecraft used so often in his stories; “Goodie” is generally a female name and was also used as a diminutive for “Goodwife”, a Middle English title for a widow), whose work Pickman’s keeps getting compared to. Hines apparently was also a patient of Pickman’s physician, Dr. Ambrose Dexter, so he pays the man a visit at the local asylum where he is being kept these days. Unfortunately, Hines doesn’t have any advice for him so Pickman kidnaps Dr. Dexter who was tailing him and also nabs his landlady’s niece both of whom he ties up in his studio. The young woman, fearing for her life keeps screaming so Pickman tells her she needs to shut up. She then asks him what he is going to do to her and her shows her one of his paintings (also actor’s P.O.V., so we can only guess what horrifying thing is represented on the canvas) and she screams louder. At this point Dr. Dexter tries to break free, so Pickman goes at him with a box-cutter, as he is trying to penetrate Dexter’s glasses with his blade, he is foiled by Dr. Dexter’s friend, Richard who arrives just in time to save the day. Pickman is then taken to the same asylum that Hines is in where he is visited at night by the voices who literally take away his sight for good for failing to come through on his second chance.
There are other minor subplots going on in this 1.25 hr film, like Dr Dexter’s investigation into the Church of the Starry Wisdom and the landlady who initially puts Pickman on a pedestal until she catches a glimpse of his new artwork, then she tries to have him evicted, but none of them are germane to the plot.
If the creators of “Pickman’s Muse” had just stuck with either original plot-line from Lovecraft’s stories they would have had a great film, but what they have is a weak hodgepodge of the two story-lines.

Original artwork by Hugh Rankin for Lovecraft's story, "Pickman's Model", in it's first appearance in Weird Tales magazine, October 1927.

Original artwork by Hugh Rankin for Lovecraft’s story, “Pickman’s Model”, in it’s first appearance in Weird Tales magazine, October 1927.

In “Pickman’s Model” (1926) Richard Upton Pickman (the real name of the artist in the story) is renowned for drawing horrifying images of ghouls and graveyards which get him booted from the Boston Art Club and shunned by everyone else. After his mysterious disappearance a former friend of his, Thurber, relates the frightening experience he had as a guest in Pickman’s studio. In the end of the story it is revealed that Pickman’s subjects may have been more than just the products of a diseased imagination.

Renowned pulp artist Hannes Bok tries his hand at the final painting by Richard Pickman for the story's appearance in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, December, 1951.

Renowned pulp artist Hannes Bok tries his hand at the final painting by Richard Pickman for the story’s appearance in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, December, 1951.

In the “Haunter in the Dark” (1935-36) fictional horror writer Robert Harrison Blake, a thinly veiled reference to Lovecraft correspondent author Robert Bloch, becomes obsessed with the Shining Trapezohedron he finds while rummaging through the abandoned remains of the Church of the Starry Wisdom, a sort of scrying crystal which opens up cosmic vistas and gives access to other worlds to the gazer much like the Palantiri in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. The church, unfortunately, is also the home of “the Haunter of the Dark”, a foul smelling, bat-winged demon with a singular three-lobed luminous eye that dwells in the darkness of the boarded-up church. The Haunter, a possible manifestation of Nyarlathotep, catches on to Blake’s lust for the Trapezohedron, and begins stalking him. Since it cannot abide light of any kind, Blake is safe during the daytime to come and go at will as long as he leaves before dusk. However, during an electrical storm one night, which causes all of the street lights to go out, the creature leaves it’s lair to hunt him down. Recording in his journal the impressions he receives from gazing into said crystal, Blake can also see the Haunter as he approaches in between the lightning strikes; of course, things do not end well for Blake:

The Haunter of the Dark, as interpreted by artist Emily Stepp.

The Haunter of the Dark, as interpreted by artist Emily Stepp.

“I see it—coming here—hell-wind—titan blur—black wings—Yog-Sothoth save me—the three-lobed burning eye…”
Doctor Ambrose Dexter, a peripheral character in the story, ends up finding the Shining Trapezohedron in Blake’s things after his preternatural demise and throws the crystal into the “deepest channel of Narragansett Bay”. However, as with the hobbit Merry and the Palantir in Tolkien’s tale, the taint of the crystal lingers on in Dr. Dexter and provides Nyarlathotep access to the good doctor, whom he later possess for his own nefarious purposes in Robert Bloch’s sequel to this story, “The Shadow from the Steeple” (1950).
Now wouldn’t either of these story-lines have made better films than the script to “Pickman’s Muse”?

Eye of the Devil (1966)

Posted in British Thrillers, David Hemmings, David Niven, Day of the Arrow, Deborah Kerr, Eye of the Devil 1966, Philip Loraine, Sharon Tate with tags , , , , , , , on December 4, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas
Belgian poster for

Belgian poster for “Eye of the Devil” featuring the flagellation scene and the dove offering.

Filmed in black & white, “Eye of the Devil” is a moody 1966 British occult thriller which, makes decent use of atmosphere and features an all-star cast, although it’s mostly notable for being one of the few films to feature actress Sharon Tate before her untimely death a few years later.

The novel

The novel “Day of the Arrow” by Philip Loraine.

Based on the book “Day of the Arrow” (1964) by Philip Loraine, the film tells the story of the Marquis Philippe de Montfaucon, played by David Niven, a vineyard owner who receives a visit during a soiree at his Parisian estate from a bearded gentleman whom we only see tell him “I am sorry, monsieur le marquis”. We later find out that he has been informed that the family vineyards are repeatedly failing and he has been asked to return to the family estate in Bellenac ( an apparently fictitious French village) to set things right.

Philippe tells Catherine he must return to his hometown of Bellenac.

Philippe tells Catherine he must return to his hometown of Bellenac.

His wife Catherine, played by the lovely and talented Deborah Kerr, is troubled by the change in his usually happy demeanor and, despite his explicit wishes for her to stay home with their two children, she decides to follow him a few days later.
Immediately upon arrival she is startled by a dove which is stricken out of the sky above her head by an arrow shot by Christian de Caray, played by a very blond David Hemmings. Christian and his sister Odile, played by the gorgeous Sharon Tate who may have hypnotic powers and also shares his platinum blonde locks, are from a neighboring family who have had hunting rights on the Montfaucon land for centuries so they come and go freely about the estate and stare icily at everyone and declaim, rather than speak, passive-aggressively in monotones. The both of them seem to take pleasure in tormenting Catherine throughout the film: Christian by constantly threatening her with his arrows (phallic symbolism?) and Odile by quietly insinuating herself into the children’s lives and slowly turning them against their mother.

Colorized American lobbycard showing Odile charming little Jacques and Antoinette.

Colorized American lobbycard showing Odile charming little Jacques and Antoinette.

As if that weren’t enough, Philippe seems to be losing his grip slowly as he gets lost in reveries and in one instance absentmindedly crushes a glass in his fist whilst talking to his wife. In his few lucid moments he tells Catherine to take the children and go back to Paris as soon as she can, but she wants to stay and find out what is going on in this madhouse estate.

American colorized lobbycard featuring Odile (Sharon Tate) offering the dove Christian killed at the ritual.

American colorized lobbycard featuring Odile (Sharon Tate) offering the dove Christian killed at the ritual.

Once she starts snooping around, she stumbles upon what appears to be a dark ritual of some kind taking place in one of the rooms of the mansion which involves several robed figures and the de Caray siblings who offer up the dove Christian had recently killed. As she starts asking questions around the household she is shunned by the family and the de Caray siblings step up the harassment. In one hair-raising scene Odile almost talks Catherine into walking off of a parapet with a sheer drop to the ground below. In another scene she is overwhelmed in the woods by the robed figures from the earlier ritual scene and passes out.

German lobbycard showing Catherine and an encroaching dark figure.

German lobbycard showing Catherine and an encroaching dark figure.

Upon waking, she finds herself in her bed back at the mansion where she drifts in and out of consciousness having panic attacks and nightmares. When she feels a bit more herself, she tries to break out of her room but the family ignores her attempts to get their attention and keep her locked up and away from her children. During a visit with the local physician, she finds out that they have been giving her belladonna to keep her in a torpid state.

German lobbycard showing Catherine awaking to find herself a prisoner in her room.

German lobbycard showing Catherine awaking to find herself a prisoner in her room.

Although Catherine eventually figures out what is going on, she is ultimately helpless to change the impending outcome. What’s worse, the finale leaves a hint that her little boy Jacques may already have been indoctrinated in the family rites.
Although there is not much action in the film, it does build up a nice tension with atmospherics and implied terrors. One can almost feel Catherine’s nerves fraying as she the time runs out for her to save her husband from the horrible fate he seems resigned to accept.
Donald Pleasance adds to the spook factor with his portrayal of the creepy “Pere” (French for “Father”) Dominic who seems not so holy as he presides over Philippe’s ceremonial blessing at the local church repeatedly intoning “procedamus in pace” Latin for “go in peace” as he sends Philippe to his fate.

German lobbycard featuring Pere Dominic and Catherine.

German lobbycard featuring Pere Dominic and Catherine.

Sharon Tate stands out as an icy beauty that smolders in her quietude but shows some fire when flagellated by Philippe for almost killing Catherine on the parapet.

German lobbycard featuring the late great Sharon Tate as Odile de Caray. Notice her amulet, which she later uses to hypnotize Catherine.

German lobbycard featuring the late great Sharon Tate as Odile de Caray. Notice her amulet, which she later uses to hypnotize Catherine.

All said and done, the movie comes off as a sort of genteel version of “The Wicker Man” (1973), and oddly enough, despite the robed figures and vaguely paganistic rituals the film has no devil to speak of, although there are a couple of amulets which feature prominently that could be construed as “eyes” and there is a painted “eye” on the ceiling of the room in which another ritual takes place involving Philippe paying obeisance by kissing one of said amulets; Odile uses hers to hypnotize Catherine. The film does however contain the usual Gothic trappings; an ancient estate, a dysfunctional family, even a hidden relative in the attic, so if you like your thrills to be more subtle and less visceral, then it is definitely worth your time to check out “Eye of the Devil”.

Warner Archives DVD of

Warner Archives DVD of “Eye of the Devil”.