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The Supernatural and the Spiritual


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This thread is about all things spooky, spiritual, and supernatural in classic film. Which are your favorites? What moved you? What didn't come off well? There is so much to choose from. Some examples:

 

1. The Razor's Edge has a good premise, about a man (Tyrone Power) seeking the deeper meaning of life, but I thought the scenes set in India were trite and very "Hollywood".

 

2. Black Narcissus has lush cinematography and the characters' spiritual conflict gives you a lot to think about (I gave this movie a second watch on Tom's recommendation).

 

3. Dead of Night is thought-provoking because...

 

4. Other subjects can cover witchcraft, UFOs, etc.

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One of my favorite classic supernatural films, that set the standard for such fare for a long time, was The Uninvited. A classy ghost story without the standard jump-scares and score crashes that punctuate the genre today.

 

Also, I notice that voodoo and other nativist spirituality was prevalent in classic supernatural films, playing off of the fear of non-Judeo-Christian religious customs among the uninformed. 

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I Walked With A Zombie comes to mind. Those eerie shots as the leading lady is walking through the tall grasses, only the sounds of a sighing wind accompanying her. You get the creepy feeling of being in an "other world" where anything can happen.

 

Very effective cinema, and shot on such a cheap budget.

 

By the way, Eugenia, since you mentioned that you gave Black Narcissus another look, I hope you enjoyed it. The final suspenseful sequence of the "mad nun" is right out of a horror film, as far as my imagination is concerned, beautifully photographed, with that eerie male chorus on the soundtrack, and then, finally, a door swings open and you see that sudden shot of the pale face of the nun with those dark demon eyes staring like death . Great, great stuff, just about as good as it gets, as far as I'm concerned.

 

What did you think of it?

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By the way, Eugenia, since you mentioned that you gave Black Narcissus another look, I hope you enjoyed it. The final suspenseful sequence of the "mad nun" is right out of a horror film, as far as my imagination is concerned, beautifully photographed, with that eerie male chorus on the soundtrack, and then, finally, a door swings open and you see that sudden shot of the pale face of the nun with those dark demon eyes staring like death . Great, great stuff, just about as good as it gets, as far as I'm concerned.

 

What did you think of it?

I certainly did enjoy it! I knew nothing about the film and I thought it was going to be a corny religious picture, which is why I didn't give it a chance the first time. The movie slowly develops and gets darker and darker, sucking the viewer in. The final sequence gave me chills.

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Another theme in spiritual movies is religious hypocrisy.

 

In The Miracle Woman (1931), Florence Fallon is a preacher’s daughter who learns of her father’s sudden death.  She leaves the anteroom of the church, where she had mourned over his body, and slowly makes her way to the pulpit.  Facing the congregation, trying to contain her emotions, she begins by telling her audience that her father has passed on, and that she would convey her own sentiments in his place…

 

Her father, the preacher, had been asked to leave his post and Florence erupts in a violent fury to the parishioners.  She calls them out on their hypocrisy, painting her father as a good man who tried his best…  She can’t even remain in place.  She moves down into the audience as they back away in fright, out of the church.  In the end, utterly drained, she sobs at the doors she closed on them.

 

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The whole movie is terrific, but this scene in particular to me is exceptional.  The Miracle Woman is based on the life of Aimee Semple McPherson.

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Some favourite movies about life after death and the space in between:

 

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Heaven Can Wait (Beatty version is the remake of the above)

A Matter of life and Death

Between Two Worlds

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

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I love THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR and A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, and I'm glad GPFan mentioned BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, another outstanding film. It's based on Sutton Vane's play OUTWARD BOUND, a hit on the London stage and also on Broadway. Sutton Vane served in WWI and suffered from what we now call post-traumatic stress syndrome. OUTWARD BOUND came out of those experiences. The film of that name, starring Leslie Howard, is good, but I like the Warner Brothers remake, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, which updates the setting to WWII, even better. Having the Warner Brothers stock company on hand is a big plus.

 

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS touches upon the subject of how people make heavens and hells for themselves in their own earthly lives. The style is atmospheric, with some scenes that could have come from film noir. The director, Edward A. Blatt, is very obscure, but I have no complaints.

 

 

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The thing I like about Outward Bound is its attempt to use sound as a plot element, something interesting for an early talkie.

 

Speaking of Leslie Howard and the supernatural, there's also Berkeley Square.

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There is the 1933 movie SUPERNATURAL with Carole Lombard and Alan Dinehart.  Carole becomes possessed by the spirit of a deceased woman.  Only runs 64 minutes so even if you watch it and don't like the movie . . . well, Hell, it's SHORT! 

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There is the 1933 movie SUPERNATURAL with Carole Lombard and Alan Dinehart. Carole becomes possessed by the spirit of a deceased woman. Only runs 64 minutes so even if you watch it and don't like the movie . . . well, Hell, it's SHORT!

I did see that one, Mr. G. I didn't consider it one of Lombard's highlights. It was a little plodding for me. Yes, luckily it wasn't a three hour epic. ;)

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At the risk of looking lazy, here's something I already wrote in another thread:

 

Dead of Night (1945). What a wonderful, thought-provoking, creepy film! I watched this again after a too-long gap of about six years. Were there many anthology films made during this time? "Flesh and Fantasy" (1943) comes to mind but "Dead of Night" is superior. The plot involves an architect who arrives at a country house for work, in a recurring nightmare, and he's terrified because he knows how this nightmare is going to end... At the house there are a number of guests and they soon fall into talking about their own horrifying supernatural tales.

 

The stories of each of the guests range from semi-comical (the "golfing" episode was my least favorite, although there was one chilling moment in that; I won't spoil it here) to the terrifying (the best of the lot, imo, is the 'ventriloquist' episode). I think it's been commented on a number of times here on the board that Rod Serling probably drew heavily on "Dead of Night" when writing a number of scripts for "The Twilight Zone" (as just one example, the scene where the dummy bites the hand of the ventriloquist is copied almost exactly in the TZ ep "The Dummy"). I'm not sure if this movie was a blockbuster (the copy I watched wasn't spectacular in quality), but I think it was ahead of its time in terms of depth of concepts, that there is more than meets the eye...

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Aw, ain't nuthin' wrong with recycling your own posts once in a while; you said it so well the first time, might as well re-post it. Gawd knows I've done it here a few times.

 

Anyway, I agree, Dead of Night is a great film, and definitely an eerie one. Some of its stories give me chills, especially the mirror and the dummy ones.

 

 

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...By the way, Eugenia, since you mentioned that you gave Black Narcissus another look, I hope you enjoyed it. The final suspenseful sequence of the "mad nun" is right out of a horror film, as far as my imagination is concerned, beautifully photographed, with that eerie male chorus on the soundtrack, and then, finally, a door swings open and you see that sudden shot of the pale face of the nun with those dark demon eyes staring like death . Great, great stuff, just about as good as it gets, as far as I'm concerned.

 

What did you think of it?

 

Tom, I know you were asking Eugenia, not me, about Black Narcissus, but I'm going to jump in anyway.

 

Black Narcissus seems to be one of those movies that everyone here loves except me. Some of my favourite posters - including you and Eugenia, along with several others, seem to really admire this movie.

I don't get it. I didn't like it. I did not find it atmospheric and mystical and darkly erotic and all that, I was kind of bored. And also vaguely depressed - that is, I found the film kind of depressing, but not in a good way - - you know, a film that makes you feel sad or even kind of awful, but it's worth it because it also moved you and made you think.

Nope, all I could think was how dreary it was, and how silly whasisname looked in those shorts - not sexy at all ! -  and how dull everything seemed to be. I know this film is supposed to be charged with suppressed eroticism and hidden desperation and secrets and all that, but I just didn't want to be there.

A completely irrational and not always consistent "test" I have of whether I love a movie or not is whether I'd like to be in the "world" of that movie, and in the case of Black Narcissus I just couldn't wait to get out of that world - all 99 minutes of it.

I even really like Deborah Kerr, and even she wasn't enough to make me enjoy the dreary and at the same time over-wrought atmosphere of that Tibetan convent.

 

Now, having said all that: I only ever saw the film once, and sometimes once is just not enough to properly judge or understand a movie. So many people here whom I respect like it that maybe I should keep an open mind and give it another chance - next time it's on TCM.

 

Sorry if I kind of derailed things a bit here with my rant. It's a great thread idea, putting aside my aversion to Black Narcissus, let's carry on.

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I like BLACK NARCISSUS, but I have always thought it would be much better if the makers went ahead and just embraced the fact that it is a SUSPENSE THRILLER at heart, and not just given us that one hitchcockian scene near the end, but made the whole entire third Act of the film eerier, more taut, and downright scary.

 

This is kind of a weird complaint for me, because generally I don't like it when films sort of throw up their hands and go the SINGLE WHITE FEMALE route, but I feel like a real Thriller could have been pulled out of a film that settles too easily on being a drama and social and religious commentary.

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The other day on the thread Mexican Films, I mentioned, MACARIO, an eerie 1960 film dealing with death and the supernatural. A poor Indian peasant, working as a woodcutter, has many mouths to feed. All he wants is to enjoy one meal he doesn't have to share with his children. His wife arranges this, bringing him a turkey, and telling him to go into the mountain forest to eat in peace. There, he comes upon various individuals who tempt him to share his food. Hs finally agrees to do so with one of them, who he feels is an emissary from God. In return, this person shows him a spring of water, which has magical curative powers. He is instructed to use it wisely and sparingly, to restore life to persons on their deathbed. However, not all can be saved. In due time, Macario becomes rich and famous, so much so that the Office of the Inquisition begins to investigate him, as there are whisperings that he made a pact with the devil.

 

I will leave it there. Anyway, this film.has always been a favorite of mine, and I recommend it highly. It has beautiful.cinematography, courtesy of Gabriel.Figueroa, and directed.by Emilio Fernandez. I believe TCM has shown it at least once before.

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Black Narcissus seems to be one of those movies that everyone here loves except me.

 

SACRILEDGE!

 

Well, then again, maybe not. Thanks for daring to be a Black Narcissus knocker, MissW.

 

I admit that I haven't seen the film in a few years but, yes, it made a very big impression upon me. Even aside from the "mad nun" sequence (as suspenseful a piece of filmmaking as you will find in any straight thriller) there's the rich Technicolor joys of Jack Cardiff's cinematography, bringing a sort of mystical quality to those remote mountain regions where, potentially, a repressed individual might go a little nuts, while others are feeling that sexual repression, to which you made reference. This film is one of the great visual pleasures of the movies for me.

 

And, aside from the performances of Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Bryon, I've always been impressed by the charm and, yes, sensuality of a very young Jean Simmons as an Indian maiden taken with Sabu. Sometime, MissW, you might give this one another try.

 

And to think that it was all filmed primarily at Pinewood Studios, not a step taken outside them to an exotic location in the Himalayas. Ah, the magic of great moviemaking.

 

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Taking a departure of sorts and getting into witchcraft, a movie I found disturbing is Day of Wrath, directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer.

 

Dreyer also directed The Passion of Joan of Arc, so he has a certain flair or interest in the darker side of spirituality. The movie's theme is a witch hunt in Denmark in the 1600s. In one plot, an elderly woman is accused of witchcraft. She is hunted down, tortured, and put to death. I won't spoil it further, but it's well filmed and jarring and worth a watch.

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I like BLACK NARCISSUS, but I have always thought it would be much better if the makers went ahead and just embraced the fact that it is a SUSPENSE THRILLER at heart, and not just given us that one hitchcockian scene near the end, but made the whole entire third Act of the film eerier, more taut, and downright scary.

 

This is kind of a weird complaint for me, because generally I don't like it when films sort of throw up their hands and go the SINGLE WHITE FEMALE route, but I feel like a real Thriller could have been pulled out of a film that settles too easily on being a drama and social and religious commentary.

This is the problem I have with some films the first time I see them and I am expecting them to be a separate genre than they actually are.

 

Once I get beyond this I am able to enjoy a lot of movies I could no before.

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There is a supernatural aspect to Vertigo.  I rarely watch it anymore because the ending is so sad anymore for me, but there is the whole idea that maybe Kim Novak was never in that hotel and Jimmy Stewart just saw her when she was not there.

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I don't think there's anything Supernatural about Vertigo.

 

It's really all very simplistic - - these people drive James Stewart crazy because he thinks he's responsible for the suicide of a woman he loved.

 

When he finds out the truth he is crazy with revenge and anger.

 

What may seem Supernatural is actually just his Madness.

 

For some reason the European censors demanded a coda on the movie.

One that actually explains what happened and shows the guilty party being identified.

 

There may have been some legal or moral reason for that, but the way Hitchcock ended the movie was just brilliant - - and was just typical Hitchcock.

 

That ending is what you'd get from a great director. You never knew what to expect and then when you see you couldn't believe it.

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