Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Pillow of Death

1945, US, directed by Wallace Fox

The final in a series of low-budget chillers, this isn't a bad illustration of what you could do when you had even the limited resources of a big studio behind you. Despite the film's B status, it has some excellent old dark house sets, and a few lovely mobile shots, particularly using the crane, which makes an appearance in just the second shot. A couple of shots later, there's a nice composition from below, immediately casting suspicion on one character -- the kind of atmosphere that the film milks quite capably for an hour before revealing its shock, though I couldn't help but think that the film gave its creepiest character a free pass.

Another of the films banned by the Gold Coast censor in 1946, Pillow of Death was condemned on the basis that "During the first five minutes of this film no less than six murders are committed. Elsewhere the film contains numerous scenes of horror and violence and also a good deal of matter very unsuitable for illiterate audiences." The description of the opening minutes is wholly inaccurate, since the entire film doesn't have six murders, and they are generally shown quite discreetly. It is possible that the censor was describing another film -- the censorship board commonly reviewed several films in a single evening, usually by watching only selected reels from each picture -- but also possible that the writer mis-remembered the film or chose to exaggerate the violence in the early going. The film contains scenes of spirit communication and the moving of a body, the kind of fare that the censor often assumed would be problematic for African audiences, and that may have counted more against the film than the body count.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States