Spend Halloween with alternative to typical horror films

By Lynn Rogers

It’s Halloween weekend, and chills, thrills and spookiness are in the air. If you’re tired of the slash-‘em-and-trash-‘em horror movies, go rent a truly frightening film by Alfred Hitchcock.

Hitchcock is a master at suspense and endings with a surprise twist. From “The Birds” to “Rear Window”, the director’s work has haunted moviegoers for years. “Vertigo” is one of his most famous movies, and a classic thriller to boot.

Starring movie legend James Stewart, “Vertigo” is a cross between a ghost story and a detective story, a tale of a man who must confront his fears and overcome guilt.

Stewart is John Ferguson, a retired policeman who quit the force after a nasty rooftop experience. A fear of heights led him to inadvertantly cause the falling death of a fellow cop, and the guilt proves to be too much.

In between jobs, he spends time with good friend and ex-fiancee Midge (played by Barbara “Miss Ellie” Bel Geddes). One day, an ex-college chum calls Stewart with an offer of a detective job.

The chum, Gavin Elster, tells Ferguson he thinks his wife is being possessed by a ghost, and her unusual behavior has prompted fears of her suicide. Ferguson at first thinks Gavin is as crazy as his purported wife, but reluctantly agrees to take the case.

He follows the wife, Madeline, (Kim Novak) through the course of a day, as she buys flowers, visits a grave and hangs around in an art gallery staring at a portrait of a woman. The common thread, Ferguson discovers, is a dead woman called Carlotta Valdez.

Ferguson learns Carlotta was Madeline’s great-grandmother, a haunting beauty who had her illegitimate child taken from her and committed suicide out of despair. Ferguson and Gavin conclude Madeline somehow believes she is her great-grandmother and will thus kill herself; she is 26 and Carlotta died at the same age.

At one point, Ferguson saves her life when the distraught Madeline leaps into the San Fransisco Bay. After that, the two begin to spend increasing amounts of time together, with Madeline “wandering” and Ferguson accompanying her in the guise of protecting her.

Of course, bachelor Ferguson ends up falling in love with the wife, and they both finally admit it. She tells him it is too late, however, and goes deeper and deeper off the edge. In a terrifying moment, he once again encounters his fear of heights (“Acrophobia gives me vertigo, which makes me dizzy,” he once confided to Midge) and stands helplessly as Madeline teeters on the brink of a watchtower.

I won’t give away any plot twists, but rest assured there are many. Hitchcock shatters expectations at every turn, leading to nail-biting anticipation. Through the use of tight close-ups, cross-cutting and a chilling soundtrack, he sets the stage for intrigue and suspense. The ending is Hitchcock in his finest form.

Stewart, with an “aw, shucks” reputation, is quite convincing as the driven, obsessed Ferguson. The scenes in which he thinks he is losing his mind seem frightenly real, as are the moments later in the film when he becomes almost maniacal.

The supporting cast also puts in high-caliber performances. Kim Novak, as the dazed Madeline, exudes fragility and a sense of troubling imbalance. Bel Geddes does an equally good job as the good ol’ girl who stands by Ferguson and secretly pines for him.

“Vertigo” is classic Hitchcock_full of suspense and thrills. He builds to a crescendo, then abruptly changes gears. It’s a truly scary film and a refreshing break from horror flicks. I can only see eyeballs popping and heads chopped off so many times.

For Halloween, treat yourself to a tricky Alfred Hitchcock film. It’s well worth it.