Peculiarities on Parade
With the annual run-up to Halloween underway, director Tim Burton’s latest big screen venture Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, based on Ransom Riggs’ 2011 young adult novel about a haven for supernaturally gifted sprites on an isolated Welsh island, opens today and will undoubtedly prove a daft and bewitching showcase for the filmmaker’s own gifts for depicting weird personalities and events in visually wondrous and deliciously scary ways. The considerable cast – Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Ella Parnell, Judi Dench and Samuel L. Jackson – will indisputably carry the part of the load not covered by the elaborate special effects. On the homefront, Twilight Time offers its own pair of youngsters whose otherworldly connections can lead to horrifying results. Actor-turned-novelist Thomas Tryon scored his first literary triumph with his best-selling gothic 1971 page-turner that would be filmed a year later as The Other (1972), a sinister study of the luridly evil influence twin sibling Holland (Martin Udvarnoky) has on his susceptible brother Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) during a languid 1935 New England summer in a small rural community. The events that unfold, some mischievous, others lethal, arise from a psychically powered “great game” the boys were taught by their wise grandmother Ada (Uta Hagen), who only comes to realize to late the terrifying consequences unleashed in the unsuspected bond the boys share. Director Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird, Summer of ’42) builds a quiet, slowly suffocating aura of dread as Holland’s “peculiarity” malevolent asserts itself through Niles toward a breath-catching climax. Our other unusually possessed scamp faces her shudder-inducing challenges in the chill atmosphere of the Big Apple of the late 1970s. The special case of 10-year-old Ivy Templeton (Susan Swift) is that she’s possibly a vessel for the reincarnated soul of the tragically deceased Audrey Rose (1977), and through a gradual and probative process of escalating visual cues and psychological clues, we become convinced of it, courtesy of the unsettling tension created by director Robert Wise (The Body Snatcher, The Haunting), screenwriter Frank De Felitta (adapting his own novel) and the performances of Marsha Mason and John Beck as Ivy’s undone parents and Anthony Hopkins as the grief-crazed father whose clairvoyant sleuthing brings this startling revelation to their doorstep and sets up the film’s finale as a clarifying fire (the same motif employed in a different way by The Other). And of course, a survey of uniquely gifted individuals should not omit a most peculiar someone who, though certainly older in years, is certainly childlike in outlook with a voracious desire to be loved for who he is…or, umm, can be. That would be Woody Allen’s Zelig (1983), a “human chameleon” who became a Jazz Age sensation and World War II hero by his astonishing ability to assume the physiological characteristics of the clan, class or clique into which he sought to assimilate. Allen’s brilliant comic documentary offers scant coverage of its subject’s early years, except by way of offering the stimulus for the outgrowth of his phenomenal skill, born of deep-seated insecurity. Narrator Patrick Horgan informs us: “As a boy, Leonard is frequently bullied by anti-Semites. His parents, who never take his part, and blame him for everything, side with the anti-Semites. They punish him often by locking him in a dark closet; when they are really angry, they get into the closet with him.” There’s motivation for one to develop an extraordinary coping mechanism, beautifully depicted via painstaking, technologically cutting-edge archival resurrection and period recreation that earned the film Oscar® nominations for the enormous key contributions of cinematographer Gordon Willis and costume designer Santo Loquasto. In each one’s horrifyingly spine-chilling, tensely nerve-wracking or humorously side-splitting vibe, The Other (available here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/25888/THE-OTHER-1972/), Audrey Rose and Zelig, celebrate the uniqueness of every individual and offer one-of-a-kind, pictorially remarkable diversions on TT hi-def Blu-ray.