Movie Diary 6/10/2018

The Greed of William Hart (aka Horror Maniacs, Oswald Mitchell, 1948). All these years after reading about him in Denis Gifford’s great book A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, this might be the first time I’ve seen Tod Slaughter, the hammy British barnstormer (about whom Gifford had a caustic opinion). The story is lifted from the grubby saga of the Edinburgh grave-robbers Burke and Hare; supposedly a relative of one of the criminals threatened to sue the moviemakers, so the names are dubbed as Moore and Hart (the soundtrack gives a little jump every time a name appears – no weirder than anything else in this movie). Slaughter and Henry Oscar play the bad men, with enormous relish, and everything is pitched to the second balcony. The movie’s incredibly cheap, but the rattiness gives it nasty claustrophobic funk, and the fog wafting through the sets does its work. There’s also an amazing performance by Aubrey Woods, as a simple-minded (but not that much) Scots lad who keeps getting in the middle of everything. A year earlier he played Smike in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, and later appeared in The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. You are made of sterner stuff than I to resist this kind of thing.

Mary Shelley (Haifaa Al-Mansour, 2017). There’s an early scene where Mary (Elle Fanning) and Shelley (Douglas Booth) steal the communion wine and get drunk in a church, and you think well maybe we’re on to something here, but the film quickly goes in the direction of rote feminist manifesto (not sure Mary Shelley’s story needed that, at this point) and a proper scolding of the free-living poets. The casting is very wobbly, to say the least, and the “haunted summer” of 1816 looks like a collection of cheekbones posing. (full review 6/13)

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