Friday, October 13, 2023


 by Anthony King

Scary Movie Month Adjacent Perfection.

With Arrow's brand new Blu-ray of William Wyler's ultra-tense film noir being released on Tuesday, October 17, I thought it'd be fun to write up a few horror adjacent home invasion thrillers for those who want to participate in Scary Movie Month but tend to shy away from the “scary” part of the month. But first, a review of this spectacular disc.
Humphrey Bogart stars as Glenn Griffin, an escaped convict, joined by two other fugitives: his brother, Hal (Dewey Martin), and Kobish (Robert Middleton). The three will be joined by Glenn's lover who is traveling across the state, but in the meantime needs to find somewhere to hole up. That hole happens to be the Hilliard residence, home of Dan (Fredric March), his wife Ellie (Martha Scott), their teenage daughter Cindy (Mary Murphy), their young son Ralph (Richard Eyer). As the criminals interlude drags on, tensions begin to flare, patience wanes, and suspicions from outside arise. Deputy Sheriff Jesse Bard (Arthur Kennedy) has been tasked with locating the criminals, and, after discovering their hideout, teams up with Cindy's boyfriend, Chuck (Gig Young), to bring the Griffin brothers' and Kobish's stay at the Hilliards to an abrupt end.

While The Desperate Hours isn't the first home invasion movie, it could be looked upon as the film from which all preceding home invasion stories draw inspiration. The final showdown between March and Bogart is one for the ages. While other home invasion movies end with more explosive violence than The Desperate Hours, the tension spills from the screen as March finally becomes so fed up he's willing to risk it all. As the tables turn, Bogart's usually aggressively cool demeanor completely disappears and we see a side of Bogey rarely seen. Few screen pairings surpass March/Bogart in The Desperate Hours. (De Niro/ Pacino in Heat (1995) is the stick which all are measured and March/Bogart come very close.)
As the other two accomplices, Martin and Middleton deliver their roles with grace. Martin as Hall Griffin is the younger, more empathetic of the trio. He doesn't like this plan from the get go and would prefer to hit the bricks instead of disrupting innocent peoples' lives. Middleton as Kobish, on the other hand, is perfectly despicable. Kobish is the slimy greaseball who thinks he can take whatever he wants, including any young woman. As the matriarch of the Hilliards, Martha Scott plays the mother weakening with fear minute by minute to the hilt. Between her and March, I found myself getting lost in their performances as they were able to project the fear parents would feel in this situation so well. Arrow's disc delivers the film in a beautiful presentation with a brand new restoration from a 6k scan of the original negative. Historian Daniel Kremer provides a wonderful new commentary to the film. “Trouble in Suburbia” is a brand new appreciation of the film by professor Jose Arroyo, “The Lonely Man” is a new visual essay by programmer Eloise Ross, and “Scaled Down and Ratcheted Up” is a new audio interview with Catherine Wyler, daughter of the director. All three are wonderful additions that provide fascinating background on this very special film.

Now, for those who prefer a little less stabbing and mutilating and haunting for their Scary Movie Month, I've got three more fabulous horror-adjacent home invasion films for you.

1. Fight for Your Life (1977, dir. Robert A. Endelson)
Quite possibly the film most inspired by The Desperate Hours. This was certainly the one I kept thinking about while watching March and Bogey go toe-to-toe. William Sanderson is the leader of our trio of escaped convicts this time around who invade the home of the Turners, a black family. Robert Judd is the patriarch of the family, and racial tensions overflow, creating a story fraught with anxiety. This is The Desperate Hours if the classy film noir were tarred, feathered, assaulted, and left for dead in a rat-infested alley. Obviously it's glorious.

2. Lady in a Cage (1964, Walter Grauman)
Here's a movie I've never stopped thinking about since I saw it two years ago. Olivia de Havilland stars as Cornelia, a woman with a disease that has left her progressively weak. Because of her affliction her put-upon husband has installed an elevator in their Los Angeles home. On the hottest day of the year, a power outage occurs just as Cornelia is descending in the elevator, a contraption that resembles a giant bird cage, while her husband is away. As the temperature rises, the world outside seems to go crazy and criminals enter her house. Cornelia is helpless to the transients ravaging her kitchen and booze. All have been harmless until three lunatics, led by a young and handsome James Caan, enter the house and begin to terrorize the lady in a cage. Caan has never been more unhinged, De Havilland is remarkable in a role seemingly outside her melodramatic wheelhouse, and Lady in a Cage becomes a movie that makes you sweat just by watching it.

3. Wait Until Dark (1967, Terence Young)
Known more for his action-oriented films, Terence Young delivers an unforgettably stressful and weird little film. Audrey Hepburn is Susy, a blind woman whose husband has inadvertently come into possession of a doll filled with heroin. The doll is stashed in a safe, and the criminals, for whom the smack was originally intended come knocking. With hubby away, the criminals realize they're dealing with a blind woman and come up with their own tricks to retrieve the drugs. Oh, the criminals include Alan Arkin in a typically bonkers performance, a suave and debonair Richard Crenna, and Jack Weston. Hepburn is phenomenal, but Arkin is on a completely different level (think Little Murders or Deadhead Miles).

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