Wednesday, July 02, 2003


Terence Stamp plays a swinging 60's British variation of Norman Bates, a socially and emotionally stunted young man who kidnaps Samantha Eggar, a lovely and vivacious art student he has been stalking for years. At heart Stamp isn't a killer or even a rapist (perhaps only because he's so repressed); what he wants is for Eggar to fall in love with him. Though a sense of menace is sustained, there are times when the proceedings almost turn comic. It's essentially a two-character drama, presented very much like a play (a bit like WAIT UNTIL DARK without that movie's taut suspense). Stamp attacks Eggar, chloroforms her, and holds her prisoner in the rather spacious and nicely decked-out cellar of a country home that he was able to buy because he won a lottery--we briefly see Mona Washbourne (the aged nanny in BRIDESHEAD REVISITED) in a flashback as his aunt who comes to the bank where he works to tell him about his winnings. Aside from his boring clerk job, his only other interest seems to be collecting butterflies (symbol alert!!). Stamp thinks he's treating Eggar well, feeding her and stocking her cellar with clothes, books, and art he thinks she'll like, but he also handcuffs her when he takes her up to the house to bathe. One scene of comic suspense involves such an incident where a neighbor visits while she's bathing and Eggar cunningly tries to escape. Inevitably, Eggar bears the brunt of some violence, although she also dishes some out to him, in the movie's most exciting scene.

Even though he's dumb enough to think that his treatment and her isolation will cause her to love him, he's also smart enough to know when she's patronizing him, which she is dumb enough to keep doing, again and again. This is a fault in the movie; for much of its running time, they simply go back and forth in a slippery power dynamic which gets old fast. Distinctions of class, looks, and intellectual ability are brought up in their conversations: he doesn't like modern art, doesn't understand why she loves "The Catcher in the Rye," and resents her upper-middle class ways. More knowledge of the backgrounds of both characters would have been helpful; he doesn't need to be "explained" like Norman Bates is in the last minutes of PSYCHO, but some understanding of how he came to be nervous and repressed would be nice. She is actually even more of a cipher; aside from what Stamp observes about her, we don't get to know her at all. She remains a symbol of a way of life rather than a flesh and blood person. I don't want to use any spoilers here, but after a long and draggy middle, the last 15 minutes or so pick up in speed and action, and the ending is nicely chilling, though it's way too subtle to work in today's brutal milieu of movies about slashers and cannibals. Maurice Jarre's music is terrible, drawing attention to itself and constantly interrupting the otherwise sublte moods developed by the acting and the camerawork. Stamp's intense gaze serves him well and his handsomeness is downplayed here in favor of nerdy creepiness--he wears ill-fitting clothes and never smiles (imagine a Crispin Glover character who bathed and wasn't on speed). At a full two hours, it's too long, especially in the first half, but it's an interesting and worthwhile film.

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