Sunday, March 20, 2022

Spring Into Folk Horror: Robin Redbreast (1970)

I did one of the worst things I could possibly do. I watched a movie about movies. Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched documents the history of folk horror films from all over the world. It is a thorough and interesting investigation that naturally inspired me to add to my burgeoning collection, as I couldn't resist exploring more of my favorite kind of horror movies involving backwoods pagans and witches. 

One of the movies documented was Robin Redbreasta BBC television play from 1970 that seemed appropriate viewing for the first day of Spring. In this movie, Norah Palmer decides to take up residence in a vermin infested, remote country cottage after breaking up with her boyfriend of 8 years. She retains a local housekeeper, Mrs. Vigo, who seems to know everything there is to know about everybody; is accosted in her garden by Fisher, who immediately asks to examine her yard for sherds and always seems to be lurking about; and comes across handsome Rob, née Edgar, attacking a pole in the woods, clad only in a speedo. They all seem to have common knowledge of an artifact she found on her windowsill, asking her if she'd brought it into the house with no apparent way of knowing she found it outside, all describing it as a marble cut in half.

She invites "dishy" Rob to dinner, discovering just before their date that her diaphragm has mysteriously gone missing, though his incessant, one-sided conversation about the SS makes it unnecessary, killing any cougar desire she may have harbored for him, and she bids him goodnight. 

She awakens to find a bird trapped in the house and her screams bring him rushing back to comfort her, making her ripe for his ardent advances. 

The next day, Mrs. Vigo invites her to church for a harvest festival, but despite her claims that she's agnostic, she's finally bullied into going, seemingly unaware that most churches don't typically display dead chickens and rabbits on the altar.

She tells her London friends soon thereafter that she's pregnant, describing how her birth control went missing and reappeared the night after. She wonders if someone purposefully put the bird down the chimney to draw Rob back into the house, or if he did it himself. Her friends offer to help, but she says she can find an abortionist herself. 

Rob comes looking for her in the city, begging her not to kill his son. She says she wants the child as much as she doesn't want it. He notes that she has the half marble with her and she says she found it in her suitcase, claiming Mrs. Vigo probably stuck it in there. She tells him when she comes to the cottage again, she doesn't want to see him, no matter what she decides about the child. 

Once she returns to the cottage, Mrs. Vigo insists she must remain there until Easter. When she tries to leave, she finds her car is no longer working, and when she calls her friends to come get her, the connection is lost and her phone stops working. She attempts to take a bus, but it refuses to stop for her. She realizes that she's unable to leave and feels trapped. She writes a letter to her friends, imploring them to come get her, but Fisher tells the woman at the post to hold on to her letter for a few days. This would be a good place to stop reading if you don't want to know how this movie ends. Go check it out on YouTube or Amazon Prime Video and come back here when you're done. 

The night before Easter, Rob stops by. She lets him in when he says he's got nothing to do with it. He tells her he's leaving in the morning, and that Fisher paid for his ticket to Canada. She asks what service he provided that inspired Fisher to put up the money for a ticket, and realizes it was a stud fee. As she begins to add up all the clues, she becomes agitated, demanding to know why she's being kept there until Easter, and the purpose of his being there. She threatens him with a knife, as people try to get in through her locked doors. He claims to not know what's happening and says he's on her side. He says he's not one of them, and she sees that he's scared. 

Peter emerges from the chimney with an ax and Nora passes out. Rob is led away and Peter follows with the ax. Rob's terrified screams are heard. 

Norah comes to and finds Mrs. Vigo in her kitchen. She tells her she's taking her to church, informing her that the part for her car has arrived and Fisher's picking it up. She asks where Rob is, and Fisher enters and tells her he's gone to Canada. 

She asks why he is allowing her to go, when she could go to the police. He asks what she'd go to them about. He tells her about a legend of the goddess of fertility, who would couple with a pampered young king. The king would then be sacrificed and crops would spring up from his blood. He connects it to Robin Hood, Robin of the Dale, and the robin redbreast, saying that the male lives only one year and the female has many partners. He suggests that the police would think her foolish if she went to them with a tale like that. He offers to make arrangements for her babe at a local orphanage, but she declines, backing out of the cottage. She gets in her car and drives off as they watch her go.

This is an utterly creepy movie that recalls to mind the Wicker Man and Rosemary's Baby. The unexpected ending was effective, and while the baby does not end up being claimed by the clan, it's not hard to imagine this crafty group will find a way to arrange to bring the lad home when he comes of age to serve as the next sacrificial king. There are some interesting shots and a strange dream sequence to enjoy. This movie was initially presented in color, but it is well suited to this surviving black and white print. This was an entertaining film that I would gladly watch again. 

Friday, March 18, 2022

365 Days FAIL

I'm still here on the earthly plane, in case anyone was wondering. It was disappointing to come to the cruel realization that it was not feasible to complete my daily movie mission when I was just beginning a glorious celebration of cinema with French February. I had some fabulous French movies lined up that I just wasn't able to dedicate the time to enjoy. I suppose I was determined to attempt this impossible task for the second year in a row because my underlying motivation was to reclaim some personal time, in addition to making some headway in watching the many movies I've collected but not yet seen. Perhaps some of you cinephiles can relate. So many movies, so little time. 

Fortunately, some of my work demands have recently decreased, allowing me more time to indulge myself in the Pre-Code Paramount collection of films on The Criterion Channel. This is a wonderful collection of fascinating films from this era. While I've seen the majority of these films, I would gladly revisit all of them again. I recently discovered This is the Night, which has an unfaithful wife (Thelma Todd) trying to cover up a planned romantic getaway to Venice with her lover (Roland Young) from her javelin throwing husband (Cary Grant in his film debut), who has returned home sooner than expected from the Olympics. This is a funny, lighthearted film that provides a nice getaway from these dark times. Some of the pre-code delights include the chauffeur accidentally disrobing the unfaithful wife on a number of occasions, and a man who is tricked into buying what he believes are naughty cards of Parisian beauties.