Archive for the Horror Category

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Blu-ray

Posted in Horror with tags , , on May 26, 2014 by monsterminions

Nosferatu InsertDuring the making of Fitzcarraldo (1982) director Werner Herzog decided to actually cart and drag a 300-ton steamship through the rainforest of the Madre de Dios region of southeastern Peru, rather than using miniatures, forced perspectives or other special effects. The final results on film are extraordinary. Herzog attempted the feat because he noted that it had never been done before for a movie, calling himself “Conquistador of the Useless.”

With rare exceptions, Herzog’s films are realistic and minimalistic character explorations. Off hand, I can think of one Herzog vehicle —Incident at Loch Ness (2004), which uses CGI. Herzog stars and narrates this film, but it was directed by Zak Penn. Herzog’s films focus on people and relationships. Some, like the largely forgotten and gorgeously photographed Where the Green Ants Dream (1984) (nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes), starring Bruce Spence (The Road Warrior, 1982) have a political message. Most of his films are beautifully shot, such as Green Ants, Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre the Wrath of God (1972), The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), and Herzog’s revisionist spin on the German Expressionist classic Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922), titled Nosferatu the Vampyre (Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht) (1979), just released by Shoutfactory as a stunning HD Blu-ray transfer.

Nosferatu the Vampyre is an exceptional homage made during the same time-frame that John Carpenter completed Halloween (1979), Ridley Scott helmed Alien (1979), and mainstream American horror was evolving into mad slasher films and creature eat ’em uppers (my term), respectively. Herzog’s boogieman of course is Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski, b. 1926 d. 1991), portrayed as a sickly and grotesque elf-like being, carrying plague and in turn being plagued by the beauty of Lucy Harker (Isabelle Adjani). There are no transformations from humanoid to bat, rat, wolf nor hyena. Herzog implies Dracula’s metamorphosis through simple images of a bat in motion or rats crawling as pestilence on the vessel Demeter or on the mainland.

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The film was lensed in a distinct expressionist style by Herzog collaborator and cinematographer Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein. I don’t know of any horror films from that era shot and designed quite like Nosferatu the Vampyre, with muted color palate, asymetrical photographic compositions (just like Murnau’s original) and dramatic use of light and dark lighting contrasts, because it’s probably the only horror film from the 70’s shot that way. I might be wrong. The European settings (Germany?) help the same way Dan Curtis’ version of Dracula (1974) works —the Count is in home territory.

The makeup effects are old school prosthetic appliances helmed by Dominque Colladant and Reiko Kruk.  Kinski is particularly vile as the Count. I think he is terrific in the lead role and along with Max Schrek (Nosferatu, 1922) and Reggie Nalder as Barlow (Salem’s Lot, ironically also made in 1979), is arguably the ugliest vampire in cinema history.   I also like Roland Topor’s performance as the insectivorous Renfield —he reminds me of Peter Lorre (who would have made an awesome Reinfield) when he laughs.

A few final comments on the Blu-ray pressing.  The film looks great and has been out of print for several years. I had an old VHS copy, but there is no comparison. Both the English and German versions of the film are presented.  The English version has an outstanding dub.  I believe Kinski performed the English dubbing for his parts, but I may be wrong. It sounds like Kinski.  I can hear Herzog calling up Kinski on the phone: “Now KLOWZ…Be nice… I need you to come in for the English dialogue….”  “Piss off VAHR-Ner…”.

There are also a few trailers and a supplemental film on Making of Nosferatu (worth watching).  This is essential horror viewing and one of the 5 best vampire films ever made.

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Uncanny Bodies (Film Book Review)

Posted in Film Studies, Horror with tags on April 29, 2014 by monsterminions

Uncanny Bodies (Cover)I found this book at the 2014 Motor City Nightmares convention.  I am familiar with and have read professor Robert Spadoni’s essay on Universal’s Werewolf of London (1935), which I like, so after a brief thumb-through and spot check on Amazon (5 star reviews),  I picked up Uncanny Bodies, The Coming of Sound Film and the Origins of the Horror Genre (University of California Press, 2007). This is a not a book about Frankenstein (1931) or Dracula (1931), although these influential films figure prominently in Spadoni’s thesis.

Uncanny Bodies is a serious treatment on the evolution of horror film from silent expressionist and Universal Chaney films to the early sound horror features from 1931 (Dracula) to 1936 (Dracula’s Daughter). This is a literate and meticulously researched book which students of film studies should enjoy.  Uncanny Bodies is not for the layman, and casual film buffs might get bored with the opening chapters.

Three of the chapters dive into the development, evolution and influences of the Universal films Dracula and Frankenstein. Lugosi/Browning and Karloff/Whale fans will enjoy these chapters. Spadoni is not a critic although he seems to agree with most critics and film historians that Frankenstein is the better film.  I too agree, but I won’t go as far as Michael Brunas, John Brunas and Tom Weaver who note (Universal Horrors, 2007):

The flaws inherent to Dracula are so self-evident that they are outlined in nearly every critique; only Lugosi freaks and the nostalgically inclined still go through the motions of praising and defending the film.

Spadoni’s basic thesis is the concept of the uncanny body modality of early sound films. I’m going to go out on a limb a bit and describe this as horror film umami —the uncanny body is an audience perception for film-goers who witnessed this new sensation. It is a modality that exemplifies the physical attributes in the fantasy (unrealistic) genre. Spadoni refers to an ethereal quality (like a ventiloquist projecting his voice) that film-goers witnessed when first viewing these unfamiliar talkies.

Spadoni uses Dracula and Frankenstein as examples of the uncanny body. MGM’s visceral adaptation of H.G.Wells’ Island of Lost Souls (1932) and Karl Fruend’s The Mummy  (1932) also certainly fall under this veil. Spadoni presents a simple graphic illustrating four quadrants with the uncanny body occupying the lower left.  For contrast I have added additional films that might occupy this illustration: The Most Dangerous Game,  a graphic and believable tale of a man who hunts humans; Hitchcock’s Psycho, a realistic mind-fuck; and Altered States,  a cerebral mind-trip.  The Silence of the Lambs (1991) might be an example of a modern horror film on the opposite spectrum of the uncanny body, while The Blair Witch Project (1999) might be a neo-uncanny body for ushering in found-footage hand held camera indie horror.  At least that is my take.

The Uncanny Body Uncanny Bodies is essential horror film reading and one of my favorite reads so far this year.

Spadoni on Uncanny Body

Spadoni’s Case Western Page

Book Review

Monster Mask

Posted in Horror with tags on December 2, 2013 by monsterminions

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Chicago Monstrous Movie, WFLD

Posted in Horror, Miscellania with tags on November 11, 2013 by monsterminions

Night of the Living Dead Amish

Posted in Horror with tags on October 26, 2013 by monsterminions

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Toledo Amish Zombies

Posted in Horror, Old School with tags on October 26, 2013 by monsterminions

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Dracula, Grand Rapids Ballet

Posted in Horror with tags , , on October 26, 2013 by monsterminions

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With the exception of Guy Maddin’s film Dracula, Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002), starring Wei-Qiang Zhang as the undead count, I had never seen Dracula translated to dance. On October 25, 2013, I attended in company Grand Rapids Ballet (Michigan) opening performance of Dracula. The ballet was presented in two acts with a brief intermission and running approximately two hours. We sat in the front row and enjoyed every blood-letting minute.

Fans of the macabre will rejoice during Act II, which features an electrifying chase sequence where the protagonists Jonathan Harker (Nicholas Schultz), Texan Quincey P. Morris (Steven Houser), Lord Arthur Godalming (Kyohei Giovanni Yoshida) and Abraham Van Helsing (Dave Naquin) pursue in athletic prowess the nefarious Count Dracula (Stephen Sanford). The resurrection of Lucy (performed with tongue-in-cheek gusto by Yuka Oba) gave me shivers, with choreography reminiscent of the restored “spider Regan staircase” footage from The Exorcist (1973). Issac Aoki probably has the funnest and most athletic role in the ballet as the insect-chewing straight jacketed madman R.M. Renfield.

Stephen Sanford is terrific in the lead, reminding me physically of actor Frank Langella (Dracula, 1979). I preferred seeing Sanford paired with Dawnell Dryja’s Mina Harker, but admittedly, I know nothing about dance and this purely comes from the opinion of a film buff.

Horror fans will appreciate a gruesome bite scene at the end of Act I. This was grand fun appropriate for all ages with a nod toward patrons of the macabre. Dracula plays through November 2, 2013 at the Wege Theatre.

www.grballet.com

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