Do you ever find yourself being able to forgive a movie quite a lot if it’s a very specific genre? Not horror, or sci-fi, or whatever, but the telling of a story that’s been told before so many times that it’s sort of become a genre to itself. For example, I myself will watch nearly anything that involves people trying to get from one end of a boat to another. You can do anything you want to that boat; you can put it in the middle of a tornado, you can put it space, you can even set it on fire if you want. And the people can change too; usually it’s a ragtag group of misfits with past misdeeds to atone for, new loves to save, and wises to crack, but could be a group of cranky nuns for all I care. I will watch that movie, and I will probably enjoy it, even if it’s not terribly good. For some reason that story can’t be told too many times as far as I’m concerned, I’m happy enough to sit there to be entertained by it, maybe I’ve made a sort of bargain with the story Gods that I will always be entertained by it. Maybe we all need stories like these at times of our lives where we don’t want to choose, we don’t want to wonder ‘will it be any good?’, we just want to place our tired old brains on some cotton wool. And maybe shout something at the telly every now and then.
You see, I bring this up because I didn’t realise until I watched Crescendo that there was another genre that I am quite partial to - the one where a nice person goes to stay at a beautiful house and discovers pretty sharpish that its inhabitants (usually distant relatives) are secretive, and probably homicidal, weirdos. I’m not sure what it is about that genre that I love so much. Perhaps the boy I once was who was sent off to Boarding School needs to relive the days of being trapped among beautiful buildings as the realization slowly dawns that he’s surrounded by violently unhappy people who won’t think twice about doing him harm if it makes them feel better. I don’t know? Could be, could be…
Which, of course, is a roundabout way of saying that Crescendo is no masterpiece, but I did thoroughly enjoy it. Of course, this may have to do with my past life at one of England’s oldest boarding schools, but then again maybe it’s just because it’s a well-made little horror with creepy and believable characters, and enough mystery thrown in to make you want to stick around to the end. There were also more than enough occasions where I found myself yelling at the screen even though I was alone, which is always the mark of an entertaining movie in my opinion. In fact, I was yelling right from the beginning when the incredibly loud music went on and on, prompting me to shout ‘Crescendo doesn’t just mean LOUD lads!’ Fortunately the movie understands better than its composer that its title should mean it builds slowly to a big finish, which it does rather well now that I look back on it. It did get creepier, and creepier, and even though I had a pretty good idea of what was going on, I was a bit surprised in the end, and the whole thing tied together quite nicely.
All this too from a movie that starts with a dream sequence. Because is there anything more annoying than the first scare of a movie being broken by a character waking up? It had some work to do to come back from that I can tell you. But actually the dream sequences work rather well because there’s a few more of them, and each one starts off like a happy little fantasy, and each one is destroyed by the same repeated imagery and in the same troubling way. They’re puzzling enough to keep you hooked throughout the film because the dreams clearly mean something, but what something you’re not quite sure. There’s a rather pleasing ambiguity about the way the dreamer reacts to the unfolding horror, so that you’re not sure how much of a victim he is. It’s not easy to do dream sequences that aren’t just flat-out annoying in horror movies anyway, so to have the dreams have their own sort of crescendo as well is a rather neat touch.
The characters are pretty standard, and the lead actress may as well have been a gherkin in a wig for all the personality she possessed, but the French maid was a character I’ll remember. She looked exactly like she ought to be selling dying flowers in Whitechapel, but she had a terrifically sleazy French accent, and her insatiable lust to be the lady of the house meant she got to run through a whole gamut of magnificent manipulations, desperately playing against impossible odds to try and rise above her miserable station.
But in the end it is the lead actress who gets free. She escapes from the house as fast as her legs will carry her, she just runs and runs and runs until she reaches a road, where her face dissolves into joy and relief. Which is an excellent way for a movie like this to end. An ending to my own schooldays I yearned for, no doubt. Perhaps there is something to this theory of mine after all… I might need to do some further pondering on the matter. Speaking of which…