Flickhead
After Hours
with Richard Armstrong

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Janet Leigh as Susie

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A Touch . . . of Evil

By Richard Armstrong

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    Watching movies late at night can be uncanny. In May 2001 the 1979 version of the Dracula story, Nosferatu turned up an hour or two before dawn. I made a note of it and set my alarm clock so as to roll out of bed in time to shove a cassette in and press Record. As Isabelle Adjani sleepwalked through a square surrounded in coffins and clinging strangers, the atmosphere in my flat changed from pitch black to murky gray.
    A few weeks before, they’d put Al Capone out in the depths of Saturday night. Towards the end there is a scene in which Capone’s second wife Marina discovers that Capone had her husband murdered. Al Capone is an effective and dynamic genre gangster flick. But in the turn of a scene it became soft porn. All I needed was blood-red neon flashing in the window. A mid shot catches actress Fay Spain’s hand wringing. But her grandstanding generates less the impression of a wife and a mother’s grief than ample coverage of Spain’s bosom, which fairly heaves, cleaves and bounces in an erotic frenzy. Seen in the dead of Sunday morning accompanied only by ads for chat lines and phone sex, Spain’s big moment came to resemble some melodramatic striptease. If Adjani evoked the dreamy ascetic pallor of European art cinema, Spain fed no more refined an urge than to bed a starlet from a B-movie. The atmosphere in my flat went from tea-and-biscuits to pulp novels and the Production Code.
    I was reminded of that cold and brutal night in September 1980 when I scuttled home from an empty pub with one thing on my mind: Touch of Evil. I switched on just in time for that fabulous tracking shot with the blaring Mancini score. It was worth every step of my miserable existence just to be there. Accompanied by peanut butter sandwiches and cheap Nescafé in my dark bedroom, I became privy to a married man’s bewilderment over what to do with his vulnerable young bride in a Mexican border town. Kept awake by blood-red neon, Janet Leigh endures a flophouse nightmare at the hands of a handsome punk with a syringe. Touch of Evil threw ghastly shadows up the walls of my bedroom for days…

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Fay Spain

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This article originally appeared on the website, StickYourNeckOut

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Copyright © 2004 by Richard Armstrong