Happy Halloween Officer Depp

While Johnny Depp may not be the first actor thought of at the mention of horror films, he has starred in two movies of supernaturally mythic proportions.  FROM HELL deals with the Jack the Ripper murders and SLEEPY HOLLOW finds him facing off against the headless horseman.

Depp makes a memorably heroic lead in both tales.  He first came to prominence as a star of Fox’s TV smash 21 Jump Street, in which he starred as an undercover police officer fighting crime in high school. After the series he became a leading man of offbeat films.  He is certainly a favorite of fantasy director Tim Burton, with which he has collaborated often and had a number of successes.  While I’ve never been a huge fan of Depp, he has starred in a few movies I liked greatly.  One is the 1995 black & white western Deadman.  In that movie he portrays an Easterner out of his depth after a smoke strewn train takes him west and on the run as a fugitive.  The memorable supporting cast includes Lance Henriksen, John Hurt, and Robert Mitchem.

While Halloween is many moons away, I recently watched and enjoyed Sleepy Hollow.  From director Tim Burton, the film is based on the story by Washington Irving which tells of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane’s journey into the colorfully leaf strewn autumn New England countryside.  There certainly is plenty of color in this movie, especially blood red.

While the story of the legendary ghost seeking a head stems from Irving’s pen, Burton reinvents much of the tale for the film.  Ichabod is still slightly awkward, but is now a police constable instead of a meek school teacher.  The Headless Horseman’s origin is revealed and actor Christopher Walken revels in the horrors the specter unleashes as well as engaging in exciting swordplay.  A copious amount of magic and mystery is added.  The special effects are tremendous as a world of dreams (or nightmares) is conjured.  I liked it.

There are several versions of the long lived tale.  I must admit a definite fondness for the  1980 TV film version starring Jeff Goldblum. There’s no digital effects, but the simplistic story is well served in its family friendly rendering.  It retains a scary atmosphere.

And then there’s From Hell.  Once again, Depp stars as a police officer.  This time he is residing in London’s Whitechapel district when the Jack the Ripper murders occur and must be dealt with.  The film is based on the comic book series and deals with theories attached to the mysterious murders.  There is enough blood and mayhem to label it for adults.

It’s interesting that both films transpire in the autumn.  The ideal time for a mysterious murder?

Well if you want to indulge in a fictional murder for Fall, these are two good bets.  Until then, happy Halloween.


Favorite Hurt Films

I was very saddened to recently read of the passing of John Hurt.

The guy was an ace actor, truly enveloping himself in each character he portrayed whether the part was large or small.  Maybe that’s partly why I’m not sure which role of his I first saw – but they all were memorable.  Hurt seemed most often called upon to play suffering outsiders and it was from these characters he received great acclaim.

In 10 Rillington Place Hurt portrayed the slow witted, talkative young husband who is hung for the murder of his wife, an act truly committed by his serial killer neighbor John Christie.  The film boasts powerful performances, but is grim – all the more so as it is based on a true event from British history.

Oscar smiled on Hurt’s suffering twice – for Midnight Express and The Elephant Man.  John Hurt played a prisoner in a Turkish prison in Midnight Express and was transformed by copious makeup into the outcast title character of The Elephant Man.  That film was a beautifully bleak black and white vision of the harshness (sometimes cruelty) of 19th century English society as encountered by the deformed elephant man.   The movie was born from the interesting combo of director David Lynch and producer Mel Brooks.

John Hurt also had a number of magnificent TV appearances.  In I, Claudius he was unforgettable as the flamboyantly mad Caligula whose actions as emperor such as giving a horse a position as senator was even too outrageous for the average eccentric of the Roman ruling party.  Hurt played British gay rights advocate Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant.  Most recently, Hurt was quite memorable on Dr. Who as the incarnation of the doctor dubbed ‘the war doctor’ responsible for a deadly desperate decision.

Hurt’s sci-fi profile is far from limited to TV with Dr. Who.  As spacecraft Nostromo navigator Kane in Alien, Hurt got to suffer for his encounter with an alien life form by having it burst from his chest.  Hurt engaged a mythic quest in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  In V for Vendetta, Hurt was a sinister politician controlling Great Britain.

My favorite John Hurt films are:

  1. 1984:  In the year 1984 John Hurt portrayed George Orwell’s Winston Smith – at odds with big brother and in search of human comfort.
  2. SCANDAL:  Another true story from British history, this time from the swinging 60’s with Hurt embroiled as the scapegoat instigator of an affair between a British (Ian McKellan) and a Russian diplomat.
  3. THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND:  Hurt lets his hurt escalate to wrath when he portrays a covert agent taking vengeance on those he deems has betrayed him.
  4. THE SHOUT:  Creepy, enigmatic and unusual film about a man (Alan Bates) whose shout has horrific power and consequences on the lives of others.