Thinking back on the post 30 Films That Aren’t As Bad As You Remember got me thinking about a similar topic: Which films had I seen that I originally didn’t like -or outright hated– but grew to really like after the fact?
I figured there would be plenty of examples of this but after thinking for a while, only three came to mind. Interestingly, the reasons for my switch in attitude on each of these three films was radically different. In one case, the change occurred almost like a thunderclap. I went from not liking the film to loving it, all in the course of one more viewing. The other occurred very gradually. I was unimpressed with the film but over a very long period of time found myself loving it. The third is a classic example of focusing on the trees and missing the forest. Or, to put it more bluntly, a case of the film was good and I needed to lighten up.
The first film is Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. When I originally saw the film, I considered it one of those “of their era” type films. It was one of those films I figured really must have shocked people when it was originally released but, over time, the shocks lessened. However, as a big Alfred Hitchcock fan, I couldn’t help but also think that The Birds might just be one of those over-hyped films that simply wasn’t as good as his many others. So for years I couldn’t understand why so many loved this film when, clearly to my mind, such films as Lifeboat, Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, Strangers on a Train, etc. etc. were so much better. And then one day, it all changed.
On that day long ago, the film was on TV and I caught its climax. Watching the ending of the film made me think about the rest of it and, just like that, I had an epiphany: The Birds was Alfred Hitchcock’s attempt at making his own version of those monster attacks-type films that were so very popular in the 1950’s. Only instead of using giant ants or spiders or scorpions, he used the common bird. But that wasn’t the only subversion of those monster movie cliches. There was no “cool under fire” scientific type that, working in concert with the military, figures out a way of controlling the menace. The heroine, for her part, is left by the end of the film near-catatonic. There is no happy ending here.
It was absolutely brilliant.
Needless to say, my opinion of The Birds changed at that very moment. What I felt was a grossly over-hyped Alfred Hitchcock vehicle became, in my opinionm Mr. Hitchcock’s last truly great film (I’m not saying the rest of his movie released following this were “bad”, its just that I don’t feel the handful of post The Birds films were quite as good as what came before, and that’s an opinion that hasn’t changed over time).
The next film in this list of three took literally years to percolate in my system. Back in 1980 I wasn’t all that familiar with one Stanley Kubrick, but was intrigued with the upcoming release of The Shining. Stephen King’s novels were becoming a nation wide phenomena and the idea of seeing Jack Nicholson in a scary feature had me eager to see this. My father and I went to the theater upon its release and, frankly, I was completely unimpressed with what I saw. To be even more blunt, rather than scare me the film proved a bore.
I subsequently learned of Stanley Kubrick’s other films and became a big fan of his works. But The Shining, I still felt, simply didn’t do it. Then, over the next five or so years, I caught bits and pieces of the film on TV. With each little clip I saw I realized that this was a film not about outright horror but rather about slow tension and suffocating dread. This is a creepy film that draws you into its icy grip one chilling scene after the other. While I still agree with some of the critics that perhaps Mr. Kubrick should have given Jack Nicholson’s character a more gradual flight path toward insanity, even that criticism became irrelevant. The Shining is a film you drink in. Like its protagonists you start to feel yourself trapped in this elegant, well lit (!), yet incredibly menacing setting. Like them, you realize there’s no escape, even as one of your own starts showing signs of not being all that right in the head…
So over the years my opinion of The Shining changed. Not only did I feel this was a great film, but I began to feel that it could well be one of the all time best horror films ever made! Quite a change in attitude!
The third film on my list was one that was incredibly popular upon its first release. Call me a movie snob, but when I saw it (coincidentally, also with my father), we both laughed at its silliness and brushed it off as a dumb film.
Why did we feel this way? Because in the opening sequences of the film, when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch has his little chat with Carl Weathers’ Dillon, they talk about a mission Dutch didn’t take to Libya. Dutch tells Dillon something to the effect that “I don’t participate in massacres”. Yet a few scenes later, Dutch and his boys (including Dillon) effectively do just that, attacking a small village of poorly equipped rebels and, yes, overwhelm and massacre the entire bunch of them. In fact, the massacre is so complete that I was almost expecting Dutch and his gang to start slicing off rebel ears and making necklaces out of them.
So bothered was I by this silliness that it took me out of the film entirely and, as I mentioned above, lost sight of the forest because of those particular trees I was focused on. It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize I was being waaaay too silly here myself. Yeah, Dutch’s conversation with Dillon remains hypocritical but, so what? Get over yourself and enjoy the film for what it is: A great action/horror hybrid. Along with Aliens, perhaps one of the best ever.