Scary movies. Teens and young adults cannot seem to get enough of them. No matter how ludicrous the concept. Guys in hockey masks. Creepy, creaky isolated houses in the woods. Chainsaws. Flesh eating genius criminal masterminds. The more pain and suffering we watch, the more screams for mercy we hear, the more young audiences seem to like it.
With one exception.
Films about nubile teenagers being attacked by saws seem to do better than films about real people dying on 9/11. Films about vampires do better than films about cancer. Why is that? Do young audiences WANT to see people dying, in pain, begging for life – just not people who seem real?
Maybe that explains why the “In Cold Blood” movie was not a huge hit. It was TOO scary and TOO real. I think it is a great film. It is also one of the most frightening movies I have ever seen.
From Crime To Book
The murder of the Clutter family in November 1959 shocked western Kansas. In an era and an area where violent crime was exceedingly rare, the seemingly senseless slaughter of a respected and well- liked family in their comfortable home was so gory as to shock the hard-bitten law enforcement people who investigated it. Across the country and a figurative world away in New York City, Truman Capote read a short wire service account of the killings and decided it would be a fascinating story to tell. Aided by Nell Harper Lee (author of “To Kill A Mockingbird”), Capote went to Kansas
and ingratiated himself with the locals, especially chief investigator Alvin Dewey and his wife. Capote invented a new art form, the nonfiction novel, as he spent years getting to know the family, neighbors and investigators affected by the massacre. Most uniquely, he spent time getting to know the killers. He befriended them over the years from their arrests until their executions. The resulting book, “In Cold Blood,” was hailed as a masterpiece. It was a bestseller and won many awards. While the absolute veracity of the book has been disproven, it remains a brilliant work.
From Book To Film: The “In Cold Blood” Movie
It was a foregone conclusion that the book would be turned into a film. Richard Brooks signed on to both write the screenplay and direct the In Cold Blood movie. He is one of the great under recognized geniuses of American film. Among the films he wrote: “Key Largo,” “The Blackboard Jungle,” “Elmer Gantry,” “Sweet Bird of Youth” and “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.” With the exception of “Key Largo,” he directed all of those films and many others, including “Lord Jim” and “Wrong is Right.” Every decision he made in the screenplay, the direction and production was perfect. He chose to shoot in black-and-white to give the film a cold, frightening and eerie feel. In 1967, most major films were being shot in color. Brooks decided to make the “In Cold Blood” movie as true to the feel of the book as possible. Amazingly, he got permission to film at the murder site. Several of the original jurors played themselves and many actual locations, including the original courthouse and jail, were used. Just as significantly, he cast unknowns (other than John Forsythe, hardly a major movie star) in every role.
A Chilling Masterpiece
Brooks’ decision to use unknown actors on the actual locations, combined with a spare, brilliant script, created a film that is unsettling from the first frame to the last. Landscapes are chilly and sparse, performances are understated, letting the drama of the events speak for themselves. In many crime films, the gore is the star and the criminals are glamorous and fascinating. Brooks wisely avoided both conventions. He makes the town the star and the killers are seen as the semi-educated losers they were in real life. The detective is stolid rather than charismatic. Viewers have to keep reminding themselves that they are watching a movie and not a documentary. Brooks’ screenplay creates constant tension an
d inspires real fear. If the all-American Clutter family can be murdered in their pretty home in the safest part of the safest state, we are all vulnerable.
A Breakthrough Performance
Robert Blake was unknown when he was cast as creepy killer Perry Smith. It is, by far, his best performance ever. It will give you nightmares, realizing that men like him are on the loose in America. (The knowledge that Blake himself may well have murdered his wife makes the performance even more eerie.)
A Unique Legacy
The “In Cold Blood” movie was the first of four filmed versions of the story. There was a made-for-TV miniseries. “Capote,” starring the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, retold the story, centering on Capote and Harper. Perry Smith was played brilliantly by Clifton Collins, Jr. He deserved an Oscar nod. “Infamous,” starring Toby Jones as Capote and Sandra Bullock as Harper took the story in a more sexual direction, suggesting that Capote and Smith (Daniel Craig) had a sexual relationship. Both “Capote” and “Infamous” are very good films and definitely well worth watching. But the “In Cold Blood” movie is a must see.