DON'T LOOK NOW

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Movies Nick Kaufmann Review by
Nick Kaufmann
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SHOULD YOU?
TIP JAR
DON'T LOOK NOW - 1973
Paramount Pictures
Rated: Finland: K-16 / Norway: 18 / Sweden & UK: 15 (18 uncensored) / USA: R / West Germany: 16

In 1973, two of the film world's biggest sex symbols were Donald Sutherland (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS [1978], THE PUPPET MASTERS, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, VIRUS) and Julie Christie (DEMON SEED, FAHRENHEIT 451). So when Nicolas Roeg (THE WITCHES), a British director already notorious for the eroticism he injected into his first two features, cast them in his third, it was understandable that audiences around the world expected something that would get their pulses jumping.

They weren't disappointed, though not for the reasons they expected. DON'T LOOK NOW is one terrifying movie, with the kind of can't-take-your-eyes-off-it suspense that labels anything an instant classic. It creeps up on you, demands your attention, gets you to care about the characters, then pulls the rug out from under you and declares, "You should have seen this coming."

John and Laura Baxter are hurting. They've lost their little daughter Christine (Sharon Williams) in a freak accident and, in an attempt to pull themselves together, John accepts a project in Venice restoring an old church. Together they leave England and try to get on with their lives in the romantic city of canals.

The Pond Scene

There, they meet two middle-aged sisters (played brilliantly and, at times, hilariously by Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania), one of whom is blind and, more importantly, psychic. And boy does she have something to tell the Baxters. It seems little Christine's not as gone as they think, her spirit's tagging along for the ride with some urgent information.

Laura immediately believes, but John is skeptical, even after the sisters insinuate that he, too, has some latent psychic abilities (somehow, he knew Christine was in danger right before she died - and is that his daughter he keeps seeing, ducking just out of sight along the streets of Venice, wearing the same red raincoat she died in?).

Then the proverbial shit hits the fan, because that's not all, folks. It seems there's also a maniac stalking the streets of Venice, killing people indiscriminately and baffling the police with every new victim. How these two disparate plots - a family coping with unimaginable loss, a city under siege - come together is the basis for one of the most harrowing, tragic and beautifully directed climaxes in horror film history.

The script by Allan Scott and Chris Bryant (who also collaborated on Peter Collinson's thriller THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE), from a story by Daphne DuMaurier (REBECCA, THE BIRDS), takes its sweet time, and for a while you're not quite sure what you're watching.

Is this a horror movie? Is this a family drama?

Things build slowly, but patience is duly rewarded. It's definitely not a slam-bang horror ride like RESIDENT EVIL or BLADE, but believe me, it's worth every second. DON'T LOOK NOW is the kind of movie where clues and portents show up in every scene, even if you don't realize it right away, and if you don't have the patience for a slow build, this isn't the movie for you. But if you're interested in an intelligent, thoughtful and well written horror movie from an time before the Marketing Department started dictating script development, DON'T LOOK NOW won't disappoint.

Unfortunately, the DVD itself does disappoint. It offers nothing special at all, just a widescreen (1.85:1) transfer and a theatrical trailer. The movie's presented in mono, too, which is a real shame considering Pino Donaggio's (CARRIE, THE HOWLING) suspenseful and beautiful score. Director's commentary would have been more than welcome, especially since the film itself is so filled with omens and symbolism. The picture, however, is much clearer than those old, out of print VHS tapes, and the widescreen presentation makes Venice look even more beautiful than the video ever could. So while I may be complaining about how Spartan the disc is, I'm still very happy this movie's finally on DVD.

Oh, and one last thing. Nicolas Roeg didn't disappoint the flesh-seekers in the audience after all: DON'T LOOK NOW does include an incredibly steamy sex scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. Enjoy!

Five Shriek Girls, even though I'm tempted to take one away for the lack of DVD extras.

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 1999 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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