Can a poor accent really spoil a film? Vincent Price, here playing England’s witchfinder general during the English Civil War, doesn’t even attempt a Limey tone, an oversight so distracting it mars the rest of the film. Other than this detail his performance is spot-on as the man bought in to rid villages of accused witches for a princely sum, owning every scene he’s in as he accuses all those in his way of being in league with the devil. When he confronts the accused Satanist uncle of a soldier’s wife, brutally torturing, half-drowning and hanging the poor priest, the soldier sets out to wreck vengeance upon him. The film is at times maddening at what is hoped to be fictionalised accounts of what was gotten up to back then – see the look of mirth upon the face of a torturer when he spies a colleague raping the soldier’s wife, and methods of proving witchcraft include continually stabbing a person until finding a spot that neither bleeds or causes pain, so this isn’t always the easiest film to watch. But get past the gore and inaccurate inflections and what lies beneath is a gripping look at 17th Century brutality.
First off, apologies for the lack of posts recently, I’ve been in hospital for an operation on my nose (inspiring this Top 5). Also, apologies if the posts over the next few days are a little off, I’m on a veritable Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster of meds, but I’ll try and keep everything as on topic as possible.
Johnny Depp successfully accomplished the transition from TV heart throb to serious movie actor with this, Tim Burton’s fourth directorial outing, leading to at present a further seven collaborations between the two bizarelly-haired gentlemen. Depp stars as Edward, the creation of a reclusive inventor (the legendary Vincent Price, in an all too brief cameo in his final film role) who remains incomplete after the inventor passes away. Edward looks human enough, but where five-fingered appendages should be on the ends of his arms, there are instead a multitude of blades, knives and scissors. After being discovered living alone by Dianne Wiest’s kindly Avon lady Peg, Edward is brought into the ‘normal’ world of 1950s suburban American.
As much comedy is made from Edward’s physical impairment as possible, with his blades coming into contact with waterbeds and hindering his ability to get dressed, pick up a glass, open a door or touch his face, but he shows an aptitude for carving meat, topiary, hairdressing, dog grooming, paperchain-cutting and being used as a kebab skewer. This does bring up the subject of exactly how Edward had survived alone in the castle before his ‘rescue,’ but as this is essentially a fairytale, minor plot details can be smoothed over.
As ever, Burton shows a deft hand with his casting. Depp is wonderful as Edward, showing childlike wonder at the new world around him, and expressing true depth of emotion from behind a stark appearance, all pale face, scars, bedraggled mop of hair and tight plastic and leather bondage-inspired clothing, and with minimal dialogue. Winona Ryder is cast against type (in that she wears colourful clothing and has blonde hair) as Peg’s cheerleader daughter Kim, and Alan Arkin and Wiest are wonderful as the parents welcoming Edward into their home. Anthony Michael Hall as Kim’s brutish boyfriend is more of a stretch though; the nerdy Breakfast Club star cannot be taken seriously in a bad guy role.
The film is lighthearted and entertaining, and has some genuine comic moments. The bookends of a clearly aged Winona Ryder are more obvious than the supposed narration reveal of the Notebook, but this features one of the greatest and most memorable character creations of cinema, and some fine acting too.
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