Archive for the Horror Category

RIP Sir Christopher Lee

Posted in Horror, RIP with tags on June 11, 2015 by MONSTERMINIONS

The last of the horror icons has passed and he has left us with an exhaustive and artistically diverse legacy of film portrayals, punctuated with unforgetable villains, and important contributions to literature, history and being better people.  RIP Sir Christopher Lee.

Christopher Lee

WER, 2013

Posted in Horror with tags on January 12, 2015 by MONSTERMINIONS

WER_Titles

To me there are at three variants in the Lycanthrope film genre: 1) those that predominantly rely on CGI and those that use traditional prosthetic makeup effects, 2) films which go for broke and just assume yes werewolves are real and supernatural beasts, as opposed to films that explain the lycanthrope affliction through a medical condition, and 3) films that portray the monster as an upright walking man-beast (Lon Chaney, Jr.), which is contrary to the four-legged shape-shifting werewolf as popularized in films like An American Werewolf in London (1981). I like all kinds of Lycanthrope films, from upright walking beasts in Werewolf of London (1935) and The Wolf Man (1941), Cry of the Werewolf (1944), which featured a German Shepherd, to the modern CGI-mapped Underworld films (now tentatively on the table for reboots), which are not so modern anymore.

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This all brings us to the American-made and Romanian-shot WER (2013), which is one of the better Lycanthrope films of the last 10 years.  I found it infinitely better than Universal’s idle-brained remake of the Lon Chaney classic, starring Benicio Del Toro and retitled as The Wolfman (2010). The film opens right off the bat with action and grabs your attention when a family of three is brutally attacked by what appears to be a large animal, while camping in rural France. The husband and young boy are killed, but the woman survives to explain the attack to police.

WER_Surviving Victim

Soon afterward, a hulking and unkept peasant named Talan Gwynek, aptly played by Brian Scott O’Connor, is apprehended by police, led by prickish Klaus Pistor (Sebastion Roché).  Human rights activist and attorney Kate Moore (A.J.Cook) agrees to represent the shackled Talan. Her legal team consists of asshole mole Eric (Vik Sahay) and former boyfriend and forensic examiner Gavin (Simon Quarterman). Kate’s interview and encounter with Talan suggests she is representing a gentle, introverted, and crippled client incapable of mobility, let alone violent and brutal slayings.

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Gavin performs an autopsy on the victims. The lower mandible of the father was removed and portion of the tongue was consumed. One of the thighs was chewed to the bone.  The child’s arms, abdomen, lower torso and legs are missing. Gavin concludes that the bite marks and patterns are consistent with a large animal attack.

WER_Child on Slab

Upon meeting with Talan’s mother (Carmilia Maxim), the legal team learns that Talan is not French, but Romanian, and has a “condition” passed down through the paternal lineage of his family.  After consulting with a doctor in the USA, Gavin believes the affliction may be Porphyria, described in the film as an extremely rare blood condition that leads to limbic motion retardation.  The legal team decides that by demonstrating that Talan has a muscular-skeletal debilitating disease is the best defense that he couldn’t possibly murder the campers. The team finds a medical specialist to perform a Porphyria test, which consists of a corneal impression and wet reagent assay and a blinking light test.  In real life this is all hogwash, but it looks good on film.

WER_Talans Eye

Let’s run this glass slide across your eyeball….

WER_Eye Test

Now, let’s run the strobe test….

WER_Talan Qwynek

WER works both as a faux-documentary film (thankfully, it’s not a found footage movie) and a good old-fashioned horror film. Some of the cock-fighting between the lead guys gets old, but it serves a plot device. In the end we get to see some blood-letting and it delivers the goods. It’s also refreshing to see CGI used for key scenes where it would be cost-prohibitive or dangerous to use real sets, or in one key scene, have a human jump out of a building several stories above ground level.  The story is unusual, with a lawyer defending someone who may or may not be a Lycanthrope.   This is no classic, but director and writer William Brent Bell has fabricated an underrated, interesting and welcome additional to Lycanthrope filmdom.  Claws up! I’ll watch this one again.

WER_Negotiation with the Lycanthrope

 

The Woman in Black 2 (2015)

Posted in Horror with tags on January 2, 2015 by MONSTERMINIONS

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In many ways, Hammer’s sequel The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014) is better than the original. Both films clock in at short running times less than 100 minutes, which I find refreshing in today’s opulence of three hour CGI synthesizia, and center around odd dealings in Eel Marsh Manor, a creepy abandoned estate stuck on a tidal-locked and fog shrouded Tombolo in Northeastern England. WIB2 takes place 40 years after WIB, during the Luftwaffe bombing raids on England in WWII. This sets up a nice plot device to relocate several adolescent war orphans from the war torn landscapes to the foggy coastal environs of Eel Marsh, and you guessed it -a haunted house. The central characters are an introverted and shell-shocked boy Edward (Oaklee Pendergast), nannie Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox), RAF pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine), and head mistress Jean Hogg (Helen McCrory, who you may recognize from some of the Harry Potter films and the latest 007 Skyfall).

Once the party reaches Eel Marsh Manor, the usual hijinks occur, including cliché bullying of young Edward, creaks and thumps, shadowy apparitions, plenty of bus shots, broken windows, explorations of chests and basements and a very creepy room full of weathered mechanical toys. Of course only Edward can see the woman in black at first.

However, the film is indeed atmospheric and expertly lensed. Some of the cinematography is striking and the amateur photographer in me senses that portions of the film were shot by candlelight using extremely fast and wide open lenses (ala Kubrick). The film looks like a ghost story should be and most closely resembles Guillermo del Toro’s superior The Devil’s Backbone (2001), and his production The Orphanage (2007). It’s also well acted by a fine British cast. I much prefer Phoebe Fox’s heroine in the lead over the somewhat stiff Daniel Radcliffe (no, I’m not a big fan) in the original. As far as ghost stories go, this is competent work, but why release this in January? I would have loved seeing WIB2 this past Halloween.

Only $478,000

Posted in Collectibles, Horror with tags on November 25, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

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SOURCE

Unusual Vampire Films

Posted in Horror with tags , , on October 27, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

I’m estimating that I’ve seen Béla Lugosi’s film Dracula (1931) at least once a year since I was about 6 —I’m picking that age because I know I watched Frankenstein (1931) on the original Svengoolie’s Screaming Yellow Theater circa 1971, so I was bound to have caught Dracula too. That’s 43 years ago, so I am thinking I’ve seen Drac 5o to 100 times, and the real number is probably teetering closer to 200.  Compared to several other horror films from the Golden Age (1931-1939), Dracula falls short of my top ten list (however, it is in the top 20), largely due to uninspired and static cinematography (I think Browning had reins on Karl Freund) and the slow deliberate pacing of the later half. However, Lugosi’s performance is so mesmerizing I can’t help but watch the film every year during the Halloween season.  Sometimes I’ll even live on the edge and tune into the Philip Glass Kronos Quartet score (Egads). To me, Dracula is Lugosi and Lugosi is the definitive count. Sir Christopher Lee is a bloody capillary length away as No. 2.

I also appreciate Edward Van Sloan as vampire specialist Van Helsing. He’s to vampires what Quint was to sharks. For a long time as a kid I thought Van Sloan was comparable to Charleton Heston in thesbian stature or heroic abilities, having played a slayer of vampires, an expert on the occult, and advisor to Dr. Frankenstein! This guy had the juiciest roles in filmdom as exemplified in this publicity still from Dracula, which stages Edward Van Sloan vs. Dracula.

Dracula

This year I’m exploring a bit and have dug up a few unusual vampire films. They are not rare, but are discussed less than your garden variety nosferatu film du jour.  These movies experiment a bit with vampire behavior and abilities, and push the boundaries of what we expect out of our blood-sucking Strigoi (to borrow from Romanian folklore and Guillermo Del Toro).

My friend and fellow horror film aficionado Dan opines that Dracula’s Daughter (1936), which came at the end of Universal first horror cycle is a better film than its predecessor. Just as I don’t follow the camp that says the Spanish version of Dracula is superior, I’m not buying into the notion that Daughter is a more enjoyable film. To me, Lugosi’s presence trumps direction, cinematography, pacing, lighting, casting, score and all those attributes rolled into a tightly constructed deliverable. Even a bad film like The Ape Man (1943) is watchable because of Béla.  He’s that good.

Dracula's Daughter_Titles

I consider Dracula’s Daughter an unusual vampire film. On one hand it is a direct sequel to Dracula, starting immediately after the scene where Dracula is staked by Van Helsing, but it tries to stand on its own as a horror film with a fairly interesting story with Gloria Holden’s Countess Zaleska coming to grips that she too is a vampire, even after Dracula’s death, and an effective sub-plot with Van Helsing being investigated for murder.  Edward Van Sloan is fine again as Van Helsing, but it is Otto Kruger as Dr. Jeffrey Garth who carries much of the film. I also like Irving Pichel (The Most Dangerous Game, 1993; She, 1935) as Zaleska’s henchman Sandor. Dracula’s Daughter is often cited as an early film with lesbian precepts —two of Zaleska’s victims are women. Compare this to RKO’s Cat People (1943), with obvious lesbian undertones.

Director Lambert Hillyer helmed several genre films including The Invisible Ray (1936), with Karloff and Lugosi, a Batman Serial (1943), and several westerns.  While no classic, Dracula’s Daughter has some effective horror moments and is worth a look as a double-bill with Dracula.

Gloria Holden

Much has be written about the Spanish language version of Dracula (1931), which was filmed at the same time and using the same sets as the English version, but with a Spanish-speaking cast and alleged budget of $66,000.  The film was thought to be lost, but was discovered in the 1970’s, and has since been restored and is available as a supplement film on various re-issues of Dracula on DVDs and Bluray.

Spanish Dracula_Titles

I prefer George Robinson’s fluid photography in the Spanish language version of Drácula (1931) compared to Karl Freund’s (Metropolis, 1927; The Mummy, 1932; Mad Love, 1935) rather static camera in Dracula (1931).  The best way to watch this film is back-to-back with the Lugosi version. You’ll notice several differences in staging and composition, particularly in the scenes through the Borgo Pass and those occurring at Dracula’s castle. I also like the romantic leads in the Spanish version. Lupita Tovar is stunning in the lead. However, I don’t agree with Tovar who has said in an interview that the only difference between Carlos Villarías and Lugosi was in the hands (Lugosi has long angular and expressive fingers).  To me there is no comparison. While Villarías is ok, Lugosi had honed his role on stage and personified Dracula in film. However, Villarías is interesting enough where I would love to see him in his remaining 1930’s horror films The Mystery of the Ghastly Face (1935) and The Super Mad Man (1937).

The Spanish Dracula was directed by George Melford, best known as a character actor in many westerns produced in the 1940’s and 1950’s and for directing the notorious The Skeik (1921), starring Rudolph Valentino.  The real star is George Robinson’s photography. Robinson went on to be DOP for several notables, including Son of Frankenstein (1939), Tower of London (1939), The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), Son of Dracula (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), one of the best and most atmospheric Sherlock Holmes mysteries The Scarlet Claw (1944), House of Dracula (1945), The Cat Creeps (1946) and the seminal big bug classic Tarantula (1955).

Spanish Dracula

Director Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932) may be the oddest vampire film ever made. I’ve watched it a half-dozen times and still haven’t decided if I like it or not.  The film was exquisitely lensed [through a thin veil of gauze] by DOP Rudolph Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928); Foreign Correspondent (1940); Gilda (1946), When World’s Collide (1951)). The film is best described as an atmospheric dream [nightmare?].  Film historian William K. Everson believes Vampyr to be the greatest horror film of the 1930’s.  It’s also plodding and difficult to follow.

VAMPYR_Titles

But with images like these….

Vampyr_Poison

Vampyr is worth a look.

Vampyr_Coffin

George Romero has been around as a director for approximately 45 years and has helmed less than 20 films.  He is best known for his zombie films, but three of my favorites include the vampire flick Martin (1978), the unique Knightriders (1981), starring a young Ed Harris, and the disturbing Monkey Shines (1981), which affirms the notion that I will never ever own a “pet” primate.

Martin_US One Sheet

Martin is a well-crafted horror thriller garnering a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.2/10 through IMDb.  Romero has claimed that Martin is the favorite of all his films.  Tom Savini provided the blood-letting. The film works by having real-life scenarios, with Martin doping victims and slicing wrists, and being treated by a religious Lithuanian zealot grand-uncle using Old World vampire exorcism techniques (use of garlic, wielding of crucifix, use of stakes). Romero has never been better.

The Vampire_Titles

Kenneth Tobey in a vampire film? Look no further than this 1950’s gem The Vampire (1957).  John Beal (The Cat and the Canary, 1939) stars as a hometown doctor who is accidentally doped with a serum derived from vampire bats!  This film has the irresistible low-budget aura like The Hideous Sun Demon (1959) and The Werewolf (1956).

The Vampire_Victim

Plus there are some shoking scenes!

Vampire was directed by Paul Landres, who is best known for his work on The Lone Ranger (1952-1953), The Cisco Kid (1950-1954) and the underrated The Return of Dracula (1958), starring Francis Lederer as the count (also worth a look). Check out John Beal as The Vampire….

The Vampire_John Beal

Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002) is my vote for the most unusual of vampire films.  Warning —Horror fans stay clear.  This is a film adaptation of a ballet rendition of Stoker’s novel. It’s gorgeous to look at and the choreography is stunning as presented in an expressionistic style, but a little bit of dancing and music goes a long way.  There are effective horror moments.  Dracula’s resurrection is as effective as any I’ve seen in any film this side of Nosferatu (1922). Virgin’s Diary is an experimental film from the creative mind of Canadian Guy Maddin. Curious art-bent folks might enjoy this spin.

Dracula, Pages from a Virgins Diary_Titles

You haven’t lived until you see Wei-Qiang Zhang as Count Dracula.

Zhang Wei-Qiang as Dracula

 

 

 

Word Lens for Spanish Dracula

Posted in Horror with tags , on October 26, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

I’m watching the subtitled Spanish language version of Dracula (1931). Right after the Demeter arrives in English port with a crew of the dead, a headline appears. Unfortunately the good folks at Universal home media didn’t subtitle the headline. Fear not -I used my trusty “Word Lens” app to translate.

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The Monster, Colorized!

Posted in Horror with tags on October 21, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

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