This Canadian film from 1988 is yet another one of my favourites that has become a 'cult classic'. I hate that term because it infers that something about the film prevented it from becoming either a commercial or critical success and therefore it is relegated to the $0.99 bin at your old video store or on Amazon. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that PIN was lost in the sea of horror films (mostly bad) that were manufactured and rolled off the conveyor belt in the 1980s. That it was a Canadian film didn't help matters in the distribution department. Simply put, PIN is a good scare and one of the best psychological thrillers ever made.
In one of his first roles, David Hewlett is fascinating as Leon who becomes too attached to the anatomically correct medical dummy PIN. His performance is thoroughly engaging. Terry O'Quinn and Bronwen Mantel perfectly play his distant, authoritative and rule-laden parents. Cynthia Preston as Leon's sister delivers a tortured, compelling performance as she struggles to comes to terms with Leon's mental instability. Based on the novel PIN, the story takes center stage and it's completely believable.
Wrongly labelled a horror film, PIN is instead a character study of mental illness. It treats the subject with real issues and circumstances instead of using it as exploitation to only scare the audience and make people afraid of schizophrenia. Leon doesn't just suddenly think PIN is real. He always has and this becomes the touchstone of the central issue of the story - Leon's mental illness. What makes this film so good is we learn that Leon has always struggled with mental illness, but it is those around him who act they way they do that create the tension, stress, thrills and scares of the film - not Leon.
Director and screenwriter Sandor Stern had the vision to craft this film as a character study - not an exploitation horror film. When a character study involves so much rich, emotionally wrought circumstances, the drama (and in this case, thrills and scares) flows from it naturally. When you look at this film from this point of view, it becomes much more compelling and in the end, the film becomes an example of the best of its genre. Thoroughly recommended. Highly praised, this little 'cult classic'.
Hands down, the best political thriller ever made. The plot is brilliant. The screenplay is perfect. The actors are in the zone. The direction is flawless. The black and white backdrop is appropriately filmed. Like 'Citizen Kane', I make a point of watching this film once every year. There is always something new to capture and admire. But that is what it's like with great films. It only takes one viewing for you to fall in love with it, but it takes multiple viewings to really discover how great it is because there is so much to discover.
This is one of Frank Sinatra's best performances. Laurence Harvey in the lead role is fantastic. I am quite sure that had this film had a bigger box office, had not had the unfortunate timing of being released at the time of John F. Kennedy's assassination and had not been pulled from distribution, Sinatra, Harvey, John Frankenheimer (the director), George Axelrod (the screenwriter) and the film would have all been nominated for Academy Awards.
A note to any film maker who wants to do a remake of any classic film: Don't do it! The unfortunate remake of this film in 2004 was, I'm sure, well-intentioned, but completely unnecessary. Classic films do not need to be remade. There is no point in remaking a film when it is perfect to begin with. Two other remakes of widely acknowledged classics (Psycho and Carrie) were also unfortunate.
So, about Angela Lansbury. I have come to terms with the fact (after many decades) that she did not win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. That is not to say that I agree with the decision. It is one of the most outrageous, mind boggling losses in the history of the Academy Awards. Lansbury's performance is easily one of the best supporting performances in the history of film. After I saw this film for the first time in 1991, the back jacket of the VHS said about her in part: "... in an Academy Award nominated performance." Well, of course. Later, when I found out that she had not won, I was stunned. It was like watching a tire on your car quickly deflate before your eyes. That she had won the Golden Globe and was the National Board of Review's winner was little comfort.
I have not an ill word to say of Patty Duke's performance in 'The Miracle Worker'. She does an admirable job. But when you have just watched a performance that is so revolutionary, awe-inspiring, gripping and iconic, when that performance is not rewarded by the highest accolade in film, you feel let down by that same institution. Lansbury in 'The Manchurian Candidate' commands your attention. When she first appears with such bravado and zest, you want to see her again and again. And she doesn't let up. Her ground-breaking final scene with Laurence Harvey is chillingly incredible. All of her scenes are mesmerizing. She looks the role. She is the role. A complete and career performance. She is so good. Even in her earlier works of the 1940s and 1950s, she's amazing. In 1948's 'State of the Union', she completely upstages the great Katharine Hepburn. She's an amazing actress in any medium.
When Martin Scorsese revealed his scariest movies of all time list in 2015, I'm sure there were a lot of people who cocked their heads to the side inquisitively and wondered 'really?' I wasn't one of them. Of the 11 on the list, I've seen all but four: 'Isle of the Dead, 'Uninvited', 'Dead of Night' and 'Night of the Demon' - all of them early 20th century British black and white films. It's strange because those films have all of my favorite elements. Some of those 11 films have made it onto my list.
It's important to point out here that Scorsese's list is of the 'scariest' - not the bloodiest. I don't consider the films on his list to be classified as typical horror films. Most of them are meant to be scary - through sight, sound (or the absence of such) and atmosphere. Most of them are actually forerunners of contemporary horror and thrillers. These are the films that are the blueprints for all of the formulaic horrors and thrillers that arrived in the late 1970s and that over-populated the film universe in the 1980s. As the trend tired itself out, the 1990s saw a resurgence of a more cerebral-style, back-to-basics horror/thriller - until once again, the genre did itself a disservice by cranking out way too many bland, run-of-the-mill copycats. Both of those eras still owe a great deal of gratitude to the films on Scorsese's list (and my list).
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