The Sick, Sad Art of the Rear Window Romcom

One of the more immediately bizarre aspects of April’s Movie of the Month, the deliriously silly Mark Waters romcom Head Over Heels, is that it’s a low-key reimagining of the Alfred Hitchcock classic Rear Window. Although Rear Window does have its own sly, delicate sense of humor operating under its murder mystery thriller beats, it’s hardly the light-hearted romantic romp Waters later fused with Zoolander-style fashion world parody in Head Over Heels. A blood pressure-raising thriller plot about a shameless voyeur spying on his neighbors​ through his apartment window and possibly witnessing a murder isn’t the first place you’d expect to find inspiration for a by the books romantic comedy, but Waters amplified & broadened the once subtle humor of the Hitchcock classic to do just that. The strangest thing about that choice is that he wasn’t even the first filmmaker to get there. Rear Window had been hammered into the shape of a generic romcom before, one that was even more faithful to its almighty genre tropes.

When describing Head Over Heels in our initial conversation about the film, Boomer explained, “It’s a nineties holdover of a specific kind of romantic comedy that paid for Meg Ryan’s house and every meal she will eat for the rest of her life.” I’m not sure he knew exactly how accurate he was when he wrote that. The 1997 Meg Ryan romcom Addicted to Love shares far more with Head Over Heels’s basic DNA than I could have imagined any film could, considering how uniquely ridiculous the Mark Waters picture feels as a novelty. Not only does Addicted to Love feature Ryan, the Queen of the 90s Romcom, getting wrapped up in a Rear Window-inspired plot, but the film itself is named after a Robert Palmer song, while Head Over Heels was titled after a track by The Go Go’s. As Boomer also pointed out in that initial Head Over Heels conversation, the art of “romantic films taking their titles from classic love songs and contemporary pop music” has somewhat died off since Meg Ryan’s heyday, so it’s amusing to me that both of these Rear Window romcoms would be titled that way.

It’s worth noting that, unlike with Head Over Heels, the Addicted to Love version of the Rear Window romcom involves no investigation of a possible murder. Matthew Broderick stars as a small town yokel/brilliant astronomer whose heart is broken when the love of his life (Kelly Preston) moves to NYC and falls for another man. Broderick, in his devastated state, sets up shop in the abandoned warehouse across the street from this couple and becomes a full time voyeur, spying on their relationship through the window, waiting for an opportunity to win back his love. One night, he witnesses a break-in and the masked criminal in the apartment catches him spying. After scarily barging into his hidey-hole, they’re quickly revealed to be a no nonsense, biker chick Meg Ryan, who is seeking to exact revenge on the ex-fiancee that just happens to be Broderick’s old love’s new beau. Through various tools of the astronomy trade, the miserable pair of vengeful saps start to spy on their ex-lovers as a team, occasionally venturing past simple voyeurism into revenge-in-action. And, wouldn’t you know it, the more time they spend together the less they care about what their exes are up to. It’s a match made in miserable wretch Heaven.

The theme of voyeurism and the inability to act that runs through Rear Window makes it just about as odd of a choice for romcom inspiration as its central threat of violence. Head Over Heels dives into the spiritual darkness of this premise head first, not only keeping the witnessed murder aspect of Rear Window as a central part of its romcom plot, but also dragging its poor protagonist and her supermodel roomates through a long line of degrading encounters with adulterous lovers, horny dogs, child molesters, and human feces. I dare say that in its own moments of pitch black despair Addicted to Love manages to get even darker than that Mark Waters work, however. Matthew Broderick’s brokenhearted voyeur stops shaving and takes to chugging hard liquor. While spying on his ex, he meticulously tracks her daily routines on astronomy style charts, even documenting her smiles based on frequency and enthusiasm. Meg Ryan also gets dragged down to this desperately sad level once she finds herself squatting with Broderick in his spy nest/shit hole, at one point crawling across its unswept floorboards, pawing at cockroaches to use in a prank at her ex’s expense. She also uses Broderick’s pain against him, exclaiming, “The only way that girl is going to come back to you is if a blast of semen catapults her across the street and through the window,” and going on to describe the enormity of her ex’s dick to be “like Godzilla’s tail; he can take Tokyo down with that thing,” (which is especially funny now, given Broderick’s eventual run-in with Godzilla, tail and all). And if all that weren’t enough pain & degradation already, the big dick Cassandra from across the street eventually goes on an alpha male tirade where he threatens Broderick with the line, “I will rip out your eyes and rape your skull. Excuse my French.” This is a romcom, though, don’t forget. Ryan and Broderick do eventually become romantically linked, even if their first night together involves them getting black out drunk and dressing up like each other’s exes. Yikes.

Objectively speaking, Head Over Heels is a far better film than Addicted to Love, which is fine, but not nearly as memorable or as genuinely funny. Considered strictly on its merits as a romcom adaptation of Rear Window, however, Addicted to Love is the bigger success. Head Over Heels maintains the witnessed murder aspect of the Hitchcock classic, but branches off from there to cover everything from fashion world fantasy to ZAZ-style parody humor to Farrelly Brothers gross-outs to action comedy beats surrounding a diamond heist. Addicted to Love is much more faithful to the perverse, depressive aspects of voyeurism that humored Hitchcock in Rear Window and had a sort of novelty to the way it sticks more closely to that seminal work. It even finds a striking visual palette in its voyeurism-aiding astronomy equipment. Broderick builds a camera obscura to more easily spy on his & Ryan’s exes in his squat, and the two often watch that machine’s projection as if it were a 24 hour soap opera. All of the telescopes, flow charts, and depressive bouts of alcoholism in the world couldn’t save the picture from being just one of many titles in a long line of Meg Ryan romcoms, though. It’s a fairly generic example of a Meg Ryan Picture, except for its novelty as a Rear Window-inspired romcom, but the basic absurdity of that combination can’t be overlooked and the fact that there are at least two movies that fit that description is highly amusing to me.

For more on April’s Movie of the Month, the Mark Waters fashion world romcom Head Over Heels, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film, this comparison of its dark humor to that of fellow 2001 fashion world parody Zoolander, and this piece exploring the similarities in the premise and humor of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

-Brandon Ledet

Mark Waters, Rear Window (1954), and the Delicate Slyness of Hitchcock Humor

Mark Waters is a wonderfully talented (if occasionally inconsistent) comedic director, but something I would never accuse his best-known works like Mean Girls & House of Yes of being is subtle or delicate. Waters works in broad strokes. His jokes can be pointedly satirical & smartly written, but they’re delivered in the loud, brash cadence of a mainstream comedy, not the hushed tones of dry wit. That’s why it seemed jarring that Waters would build a flighty modern romcom starring Monica Potter & Freddie Prinze Jr. around something as tightly controlled and quietly sophisticated as a Hitchcock thriller. Waters didn’t seek to upend just any old Hitchcock thriller, either. He built his delirious romcom around the basic concept of Rear Window, which is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. It might be tempting to think of that romcom, Head Over Heels, as an act of cinematic blasphemy, a disrespectful transgression that drags down one of the Hollywood greats to the level of a Zoolander-style fashion world satire that indulges in such less-refined pleasures as shit jokes and oggling Freddie Prinze Jr.’s rock hard abs. The truth is, though, that Waters was not at all perverting a refined work of stone-faced seriousness, but rather exposing the Hitchcock classic for what it truly is: a stealth comedy in a thriller’s disguise.

Alfred Hitchcock’s reputation as a filmmaker is difficult for me to contextualize. It took a long while for the director to be recognized as the master that he is, since he often chose to work in the trashy trenches of genre cinema, mainly with thrillers. I grew up in a world where Hitchcock was already a respected name, so it’s difficult to conceive that high art thriller works Psycho & The Birds were initially considered by some critics to be tawdry, gimmick-heavy works of populism. Rear Window is a great, distilled example of the meticulous visual mastery that eventually earned Hitchcock his deserved respect. It finds him working with big Hollywood budgets & stars (you don’t get much more Hollywood than James Stewart & Grace Kelly), delivering a beautiful, Technicolor-rich mystery thriller where every image feels tightly controlled & meticulously planned. The sets of Rear Window have a proto-Wes Anderson dollhouse quality to them. The lavishness of the costume design tops even Douglas Sirk productions like All That Heaven Allows. Not a single hair feels out of place and each mechanical piece of the plot moves along like clockwork, even though the film’s star, Stewart, is supposed to convey a pathetic, disheveled state with his broken leg & unwashed body. With all of the film’s intricate visual design, complex plotting, and trick photography innovation at the inevitable climax, it’s easy to see Rear Window only as a gorgeous middle ground between a populist thriller & a high brow art film. The truth is, though, that the movie also slyly functions as a morose comedy. It never approaches the broadness if its 00s romcom counterpart, but it can still be openly silly all the same.

Rear Window is an intense thriller about a disabled man who can only watch in horror as he pieces together the murder of a neighbor by her traveling salesman husband. It’s immediately jarring, then, that the movie opens with the most upbeat jazz music imaginable, almost as if its credits were leading into a 1950s sitcom. It’s not a direct, 1:1 comparison, but the upbeat club music that deliriously pulsates throughout Head Over Heels seems to echo that exact tonal clash. The Mark Waters romcom also echoes the way Rear Window builds comedy around friction between the sexes. Monica Potter’s openly spying on her hunky (and possibly murderous) neighbor and her various musings on how she can only find the worst men in NYC are basically just a gender-flipped version of James Stewart’s idle banter about how women are weak-willed nags & his casual gawking of a young ballerina who practices her routines in her skivvies across the courtyard. Hitchcock pokes subtle fun at his debilitated protagonist for being something of a pervert & a misogynist by making him physically impotent while two strong women (a nurse & a girlfriend) run circles around him, acting on suspicions he can only voice. The stakes of the central murder mystery are severe, much more severe than they are in the convoluted diamond heist plot of Head Over Heels, but Rear Window‘s tension is constantly eroded with dry, verbal wit and the occasional visual gag to the point where the whole movie almost feels like a subtle comedy that just happens to revolve around a murder mystery. It even concludes on a comedic gag, a whomp-whomp reveal of James Stewart’s second broken leg (and just when the first one was almost healed!).

Head Over Heels is certainly much broader in its humor than Rear Window and doesn’t even attempt to match its inspiration’s attention to visual craft, but I don’t think its reduction of the Hitchcock classic to the level of trope-laden romcom is at all blasphemous. Head Over Heels borrows the basic voyeuristically-witnessed murdered aspect of Rear Window‘s thriller plot as a launching point, but deviates from Hitchcock’s tightly-controlled tension-builder, contained entirely in a single apartment, by branching out all over NYC into various genres & tones. Although it’s a much more restrained, subtly humorous work, Hitchcock’s classic is a sort of tonal mashup in its own right, refusing to take its morbid subject matter entirely seriously, even when life & love are dangling on the line. I can’t speculate that the director would’ve enjoyed watching what Mark Waters did to one of his most revered works, but as he was no stranger to populist cinema & tonally inappropriate humor himself, Head Over Heels feels oddly at home with his prankster spirit, especially for a by the books romcom.

For more on April’s Movie of the Month, the Mark Waters fashion world romcom Head Over Heels, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film and last week’s comparison of its dark humor to that of fellow 2001 fashion world parody Zoolander.

-Brandon Ledet

Supervixens (1975)

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“Is the fucking you get worth the fucking you get?”

The back-to-back financial failures of Russ Meyer’s near-campless Blacksnake & The Seven Minutes left the director pretty shaken. Runaway successes like Vixen! & Beyond the Valley of the Dolls had inflated Meyer’s already oversized ego to the point where he was convinced that the sex film was a fixture of his past, something he had outgrown. Although I felt the vicious critical reception of The Seven Minutes was largely unjustified, audiences were very clear that Meyer films without over-the-top silliness (& endless parades of gigantic breasts) just weren’t doing it for them. The director heard them loud & clear. Supervixens was supposed to be Meyer’s return to his roots, a back to the basics tour through his (recent) past life as a sexploitation schlockmeister. Self-reflection wasn’t the only thing on the director’s mind, though. Fresh from a nasty divorce from actress Edy Williams (a featured player in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls), Meyer let his troubled love life poison his work even more than it ever had before. The vitriolic war of the sexes the director had explored before in his delightfully hateful soap operas Good Morning . . . and Goodbye! & Common Law Cabin paled in comparison to the (literal) romantic warfare he punished the world with in Supervixens.

In its own strange way, Supervixens plays like a greatest hits of Russ Meyer’s past achievements. The film is crawling with “super” versions of bombshells from Meyer’s past work: SuperCherry, SuperLorna, SuperSoul, SuperHaji, SuperVixen, etc. Callbacks to classic lines like the “Suck it!” snake bite scene from Motorpsycho! & the “Can’t wait to strap on your man sometime” line (wow, that really has changed meaning over the past few decades) are almost word-for-word passages from old screenplays. Then there’s the farm life pastiche from Mudhoney, Mudhoney‘s despicable portrayal of a deaf & mute “perfect woman”, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!‘s desert sands drag racing, and the mindless go-go dancing of his “documentaries” Mondo Topless & Europe in the Raw. The difference is that the ugliness of Meyer’s past work is cranked up to an impossible heat, one that intentionally corrupts the frivolity on display with a severely misanthropic take on the state of male-female romance.

At first it may seem that the war of the sexes on display in Supervixens is no more dangerous or violent than it is in Meyer’s past films, but it gets rough. Clint, a brutish gas station attendant, is shamed for ignoring the advances of his oversexed wife & eventually blows his top, berating her in the following tirade: “Always dealing from a position of strength, blowing my hard-earned  bread . . . Angel #1, screw everybody else. Giver her what she wants, when she wants it, how she wants it. Money! A shit pile of it, just lay it on Angel. Forget where it comes from, right?” Not one to take this lying down (after she’s through having sex, anyway), SuperAngel taunts Clint into a frenzy until he punches her & winds up in trouble with the law. SuperAngel then seduces Harry, the police officer in charge of the case, in order to further punish her husband, only to discover that Harry is impotent (another classic conflict in Meyer’s work). SuperAngel then turns her womanly villainy on Harry, taunting him with homophobic slurs & shouts of “All those muscles & not the one that counts! Get out of my  bedroom, you phony!” Henry reacts . . . poorly, stabbing SuperAngel in the shoulder just before stomping her to death in a bathtub. That bathtub stomping is one of the most violent attacks I’ve ever seen on film, much less in Meyer’s work, and it’s followed by a ridiculous, cartoonish death-by-electricity finisher. As a whole, the scene is Supervixens in a nutshell: horrific violence in one breath & over-the-top camp in the next. It’s a difficult combo to rationalize, but so is most of Russ Meyer’s catalog.

After the brutal bathtub scene, Clint is convinced that he’ll be blamed for Harry’s murder of his wife, so he hits the road in an attempt to escape the charges. It’s on this cross-country trip that he has run-ins with hot-to-trot bartenders, farmer’s wives, motel owner’s daughters, and diner waitresses (all of which sound like the set-ups to bawdy jokes or letters to Penthouse) in a Middle-America take on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. After that bit of adultery-laden silliness, SuperAngel magically reappears both as a goody-two-shoes version of herself named SuperVixen and as a Greek chorus ghost version of her former incarnation. I’m not going to pretend that this particular detail makes sense in any way, because the movie doesn’t either. Following SuperAngel’s transformation, the Supervixens‘ war of the sexes becomes literal as Harry catches up with the now-happy  couple of Clint & SuperVixen, attempting to blow them up with stolen dynamite on a desolate mountaintop while SuperAngel’s ghost comments on the action from the mountainside perch of out-of-nowhere bathtubs & bed frames. It’s pretty nuts, but it’s also so vile in its violence that it’s difficult to fully enjoy as campy entertainment.

A few people cite Meyer’s next film, Up!, as the early signs of the director’s gradual mental decline & as a hint that he may have dealt with unaddressed issues of repressed homosexuality. Although many of the director’s friends & fans would deny both accusations outright & chalk up the bizarre crumbling of Meyer’s plots and his newfound interest in gigantic dildos & half-dressed beefcake to a growing disinterest in traditional narrative structure, I find that there’s a good deal of credence in those two claims. In fact, I think traces of Meyer’s mental decline & possible bisexual attraction surface as soon as Supervixens. There’s no doubt that there’s some sort of subliminal symbolism at work in Clint & Harry’s violent war over SuperVixen, but what it means exactly is anybody’s guess. At times it feels like it could be that Meyer’s conscience (Clint) & his violent sexual id (Harry) are battling it out as an external projection of an internal struggle, whether that was a conscious decision or not (probably not). Still, there’s enough homosexual subtext to support a possible romantic connection between the two characters. The two are shown congenially entering a bathroom together, sensually fellating cigars, stroking police batons, and often spurning the sexual advances of women they obviously hate.  Even with all of the film’s the-lady-doth-protest-too-much homophobic slurs (when Harry turns down a blowjob from SuperAngel, for instance, he spits “Knock that queer shit off!”), there’s way too much macho beefcake on display between the pair for that reading to be dismissed entrirely. Even their character names, Clint Ramsey & Harry Sledge, sound like the lead credits for a gay porno.

Russ Meyer made a deeply strange film with Supervixens, one that earned its X-rating from its violence alone (not that the boobs didn’t pitch in). It was validated both  by the public at large (making an impressive $17 million profit from a measly $221,000 budget), but also from Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock himself, who reportedly had immense respect for the brutality of the bathtub stomping scene. It’s tempting to read a lot into the film’s homoerotic subtext mentioned above, but there’s just so much unusual-for-Meyer weirdness going on in this film– female on male rape, gigantic breasts used as weapons, sudden use of Nazi imagery & sound cues, female masturbation, rampant F-bombs, Olympic fucking that tears down beds & buildings, reincarnated ghosts — that it’s difficult to say if Harry & Clint’s potential romantic attraction means any more or less than anything else in play.

The only clear thing going on in Supervixens is Meyer lashing out at ex-wife Edy Williams and, thus, womanhood at large (it’s probably no coincidence that the title sounds similar to “supervillains”). I think the rest of the film is a coin flip between either Meyer’s growing indifference for  clear narrative structure or the early signs of his fading mental facilities, something apparently very recognizable in his final three films.  The result of that dichotomy’s internal struggle is a strange work both at times deliriously campy & disturbingly misanthropic. It’s difficult for me to say if these dueling tones ever reach a harmonious balance. It’s more like they co-exist side-by-side, difficult to digest, amounting to the cinematic version of what Clint orders from his reincarnated wife when he finds himself in her roadside diner: “a cheeseburger with everything.” It’s just that the “everything” in question sometimes includes enough hatred & violence to spoil the trashy, fast-food charms of the cheeseburger camp.

-Brandon Ledet

High Anxiety (1977)

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My first experience with Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t actually with the work of the man himself. When I was a child, my grandparents lived in Waukegan, a suburb of Chicago, and I would often spend a month or two with them every summer. There was a station they received that would show the same movie every day for a week, perhaps longer, and it was on this station that I first watched Back to the Future II (at least a dozen times) and often-overlooked Joe Dante flick Explorers, both of which I loved. The best movie shown on this repeating station, however, was Mel Brooks comedy High Anxiety. Although not as well known or beloved as pictures like Blazing Saddles, The Producers, or Spaceballs, High Anxiety remains, to this day, my favorite of the entire Brooks oeuvre. It’s a pastiche homage to the films of the Master of Suspense, and, as with Head Over Heels, I couldn’t stop thinking about it during and after watching Dario Argento’s Do You Like Hitchcock? I didn’t understand the references when I was a child, but every time my grandmother would laugh out loud, she would explain which of Hitchcock’s films was being parodied, and why the joke worked. I recently rewatched the film and was worried it would pale in comparison to my memory of it, but I’m delighted to say it’s only gotten better with time.

Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Brooks), a Harvard professor, has just flown to California to take over as the director of the Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. After making his way through a notably dramatic airport, he is greeted by his driver, Brophy (Ron Carey), a motormouth shutterbug who exposits about the institute and its staff, whom Thorndyke meets upon arrival. Many of them are played by part of Brooks’s recurring stable of actors: Cloris Leachman plays Nurse Diesel, a parody of Rebecca‘s Mrs. Danvers; Harvey Corman is Dr. Montague, who is engaged in a scheme and a BDSM relationship, both with Diesel; and Dick Van Patten portrays Dr. Wentworth, who tries to warn Thorndyke that something is amiss. Thorndyke is eventually led to investigate the institute’s violent ward, where he is introduced to the very wealthy patient Arthur Brisbane, now suffering under the belief that he is a dog, the result of a nervous breakdown. On a business trip to San Francisco, Thorndyke meets Brisbane’s daughter, Victoria (longterm Brooks collaborator and one of the greatest comediennes of all time, Madeline Kahn), with whom he discovers that Diesel and Montague are attempting to steal the Brisbane fortune and that the man Thorndyke met was a random patient. The dastardly duo hire a hitman to frame Thorndyke for murder, causing the good doctor and Victoria to flee the city while Brophy works to prove Thorndyke’s innocence. And, as with most Hitchcock homages, there’s a climactic altercation at a great height waiting at the end.

The above plot summary outlines the larger elements of the Hitchcockian thriller narrative but belies just how funny this movie is. Film comedy, by its nature, does not demand that its plot be tightly structured in order to be successful; many comedies have only the barest of plots, which exist only to be a skeleton upon which jokes and gags are hung. I’m always more impressed when a comedy takes the time to construct an intricate plot that would stand alone as a decent mystery without comic elements, which is probably why I love Clue (also starring Madeline Kahn) and Hot Fuzz (which is basically the apotheosis of mystery comedy) so much. While High Anxiety‘s plot isn’t as airtight as it could be, it does stand out as part of what makes the movie work.

The homages run fast and heavy, and they work much better here than they did in Argento’s film. The overall plot about a scheme within a mental institution that is brought to light by the newly arrived overseer is taken from Spellbound, my second favorite Hitchcock (side note: Salvador Dali was an art director on Spellbound, which makes it an absolute must-see for any fan of art and cinema). The finale, like Do You Like Hitchcock?’s, borrows most heavily from Vertigo. But there’s also the scene in which Thorndyke tries to escape from a huge flock of birds, or Birds, and the scene in the hotel which presents Thorndyke’s framing for murder is evocative of the similar scene in North by Northwest. Meanwhile, the gags range from broad (wealthy heiress Victoria Brisbane drives a car that is covered in Louis Vuitton leather—not upholstered, covering the outside) to the specific (future Good Morning, Vietnam director Barry Levinson plays an uptight bellboy who attacks Thorndyke with a newspaper in the shower, causing gray newsprint to funnel into the drain, just like Marion Crane’s B&W blood in Psycho) and some fall all over the spectrum.

Hollywood legend says that the Master of Suspense himself sent Brooks six bottles of 1961 Château Haut-Brion to express his appreciation for the thorough and engaging send-up of the British director’s body of work. That alone speaks volumes about just how much love and effort went into crafting High Anxiety‘s homages. It’s reflective of the amount of adoring attention that went into, say, Argento’s adaptation of Poe’s “The Black Cat,” but not his more metatextual and by-the-numbers Hitchcock piece. High Anxiety is a movie that anyone who loves comedy, or classics, or Hitchcock should watch and watch again.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond

Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005)

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Way back when I first started working my way through the films directed by Dario Argento, I opened my review of The Bird With the Crystal Plumage with a reference to  the early U.S. promotional materials for that film, which banked on the connection between the young Italian director and Alfred Hitchcock. The quotation from Hitchcock cited therein, that he found Argento’s work to be troubling, fascinates me, especially as Argento himself was known at the height of his career as the Italian Hitchcock. As I reach the end of Argento’s C.V., I have to note that this comparison is reductive and does a disservice to both men. Even at their worst, Hitchcock’s stories always made sense, and his reprehensible antihero protagonists were viewed from a distance that was sufficient to allow the audience to have ambivalent feelings about them. For instance, famously, the intent of the scene in which Norman Bates pushes a
car into a bog was designed to elicit an anxious reaction when the vehicle failed to sink, because part of you wants him to succeed. After three and a half decades directing films, Argento was finally able to go full Hitchcock in this tepid made-for-tv picture.

The film opens with an utterly inconsequential sequence in which young Giulio (Elio Germano) is riding his bike in the woods before stumbling upon two women, who make their way to an abandoned shack. He spies on the two through the window as they excitedly slaughter a rooster and dance about in its blood. They discover him peeping and chase him away, screaming after him that they will catch him eventually (they don’t). We then see Giulio in the present day; he’s now a film student working on a thesis about German expressionism, whenever he can tear himself away from peeping on his neighbor, Sasha (Elisabetta Rocchetti), in various states of undress. He also bears witness to Sasha’s frequent altercations with her mother. One day, while visiting his local video rental outlet, he notices Sasha and a blonde woman, Federica (Chiara Conti), both attempting to rent Strangers on a Train. Sasha ultimately rents the movie, but promises to bring it back the very next day so that Federica can have her turn. Giulio befriends the slacker shop owner, Andrea (Ivan Morales). A few nights later, an intruder enters Sasha’s home and kills her mother. Because Giulio had previously seen Federica and Sasha laughing together in the park, he becomes obsessed with the idea that they’ve entered into a murder pact, Strangers on a Train style.

Giulio’s girlfriend Arianna (Cristina Brondo) thinks he’s being absurd, and her mood doesn’t improve when she realizes his evidence gathering technique involves spying on nude women. Giulio begins snooping around Sasha’s apartment while cleaners are there and goes so far as to steal a piece of her mail, which shows how much she stands to inherit from her mother’s death; Sasha realizes Giulio is spying on her. Later, while he is in the shower, an intruder breaks in but is scared off, prompting Giulio to have his locks changed. The next day, he meets up with Andrea, who asks him to mind the shop for a moment; Giulio uses this opportunity to get Federica’s address from the customer database, and to flirt with Sasha when she stops in. Giulio then follows Federica from her home to work one day, where he sees her supervisor behaving inappropriately. He follows the two back to the boss’s apartment, where it is revealed that she stole money from the company and that he is blackmailing her for sexual favors. Before he can force himself upon her, however, he notices Giulio doing what he does best, peeping, and pursues the kid into the street, where he sustains an injury to his foot before absconding on his comical scooter. He’s in full-on Rear Window mode now, with his binoculars and his foot cast, and when evidence starts to mount that he might not be as crazy as was initially suspected, including an attempt on his own life, Arianna joins him in his investigation.

Do You Like Hitchcock? is an unimaginative movie, full of twists that ultimately render the mystery moot and featuring a thoroughly unlikable protagonist. Giulio is a creeping peeping tom, and there’s no way around it; his Harriet the Spy hijinx are not adorable when applied to an adult who only becomes aware of a murder because it interrupts his voyeurism. This is, apparently, the message of the film, given that the final frames are dedicated to reminding the viewer of all the times he spied on people without their knowledge. There’s no denunciation of his activities on the part of the film, and the only person who calls him out on the inappropriateness of this behavior is Arianna, who is presented as an unlikable shrew who lashes out and fails to believe Giulio when he needs her to.

As an Argento product, this is most clearly similar to The Black Cat, except that here the object of emulation is Hitchcock, not Edgar Allan Poe. There are a few reasons why that film worked and this one doesn’t; first and foremost is in the different lengths of the two films. It’s not as if giving Argento a shorter running time will guarantee a great picture (as we’ll see next time), but a lot of Black Cat‘s tautness can be attributed to its abbreviated running time, which ensured the director’s digressions were largely kept to a minimum. Secondly, the characters in the 1990 film were pastiches of ideas and character traits from several different Poe characters, so they felt both familiar and novel, grounded and immortal at the same time; here, it’s impossible not to compare Giulio to both James Stewart’s L. B. Jeffries and Harvey Keitel’s Usher, and where the latter two are consequential, the former is blandly nonpresent, existing only as a cipher through which the plot can happen. And that’s not even getting into the vast difference in acting ability.

There’s also the fact that, in Black Cat, characters couldn’t just walk around saying, “Oh, this killer’s M.O. reminds me of ‘Berenice’,” or “oh, this crime scene is just like ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’.” Hitchcock could have gone all the way with this metatextual reframing of the narrative, making this movie like Scream with Hitchcock films in place of slasher flicks. Instead it falls flat, as Giulio says things like “I thought they were doing Strangers on a Train, but they’re doing Dial M for Murder!” Subtlety has never been Argento’s forte, but this movie has virtually no subtext whatsoever, save for one recurring visual that is probably unintentional. There’s a rather large poster for Il cartaio on the video store door, right next to a poster for Hitchcock’s latter day thriller Marnie, which is largely forgotten or reviled these days, with good reason (if you ever wondered what it would look like if James Bond raped Tippi Hedren, Marnie is the movie for you, you sick bastard). Cartaio and Marnie are very dissimilar films, but they both represent a period in each of their respective directors’ careers where the bloom was off the rose, so to speak; their best works already having been completed and canonized as classics, but neither director was ready to go quietly into obscurity.

The connection to Marnie is further underscored by Federica’s similarity to the title character of that film, as both are blackmailed and assaulted by their employers for having stolen funds. Aside from the obvious references to Strangers and Dial M, there are also a few other appearances of elements from Rear Window, some of which are updated for modernism in a way that I actually enjoyed. If you ever wondered how the finale of Rear Window would have been different if Stewart could have just called Grace Kelly on her cell phone, this is the movie that will answer that question for you, for better or worse. The rooftop pursuit has elements of Vertigo in it while also harkening back to a similar chase sequence in Cat o’ Nine Tails, which is a nice touch. Maybe it’s the inherently small nature of television that held this film back, but all in all, it’s one that’s not really worth bothering with. If you want to see Argento try his hand at Hitchcock and succeed, go back and rewatch the opening of Sleepless again; the train-bound chase sequence that centers around the retrieval of mysterious files and papers is very much a spiritual descendant of similar scenes in North by Northwest and The 39 Steps, and packs more of a punch (and more respect for Hitch and his legacy) into 13 minutes than this film does in its entire runtime.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond