Well. I tried guys. It’s a new update to this thing I do, and it’s a short one. Like I said in last weeks post, comic con fell this week and took up all of my time after Wednesday. So it really falls down to a slim pickings of movies, but good ones at that. So sit back and give this a quick read. I should be back with a good dose of cinema next week.
Director: James Whale
Starring: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, and Henry Travers
I’m slowly but surely making my way through the Universal Monsters movies. It’s taken some time but I’m doing it. These movies should have been in my catalogue a good deal before this, being such massive entries into the horror field. Iconic doesn’t even really do the films justice. When people think of the classic movie monsters, they think of Frankenstein or Dracula. They weren’t even the first, but people don’t immediately jump to Nosferatu or The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. And within those Universal monster movies, of which there were a good deal made, that are a bit undervalued and fall a bit by the way side. Having now gotten to this entry, I think it’s the best I have seen and it’s the one that is a bit sidelined compared to the Icons. It’s a simple mad scientist story that doesn’t waste any time. Being slightly longer than an hour doesn’t give much time to fuck around and they don’t. The good doctor (Rains) is already inflicted with invisibility, hiding this by dressing up head to toe in society. But he’s already a bit mad and goes down hill from there. Economic storytelling is the word here. We get quick work in explaining what happened and why he’s gone mad. No need to make it some tragic motivation for his insanity. He just took some bad shit in his experiments and he’s now cuckoo. And cuckoo is too light, as the man essentially becomes a terrorist. There’s a montage of violence he commits and in the middle of it, he derails a train that kills 100 people. It’s such a nonchalant act of terrorist that you gotta get taken aback at how different the times were back then. An act in a movie today would be a massive event that changes the way you look at a villain, going from tragically broken to deranged supervillain. It’s not so much scary, although the idea of a man possibly being next to you at all times without knowing is creepy on some level. It’s actually quite humorous, a blackly comedic movie that has some tragedy to it but has quite a bit of fun. And there’s two reasons why this works. One is Rains, doing great work as the pompous monster. He’s an outlier too as he is just a man, one of few in the canon of Universal monsters. His voice work is great and the physicality when he’s covered up is awesome. The performance is alive. The second thing that makes this movie is the effects. To us modern audiences it may seem a bit primitive. But for a good deal of it, the effects work is really effective and holds up. It’s quite crazy to see how an early movie like it could just do some wondrous effects work, probably blowing the fuck out of the audiences minds back then. I didn’t think it would become by favorite over Frankenstein thus far, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. Unique and funny and quite unflinching in the violence, its a hell of a movie that does a good deal for me.
The Wolf Man (October 5th, 2015)
Director: George Waggner
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, and Ralph Bellamy
If Dracula and Frankenstein are the most well known of the Universal Monsters, The Wolf Man probably follows in third place. And for good reason. He’s a striking looking monster and an early example of special effects making someone into a monster in front of their eyes. Looking at it now, especially with An American Werewolf In London, it seems very primitive. Just some slow dissolves into new layers of prosthetics, obviously not an immersive effect now. But it’s a minor part of the movie, which is my biggest problem with the flick. The movie is the first in the line of Universal monster flicks that feels way too short and rushed. The transformation doesn’t really happen until the last act, and that’s way too long. And then the movie wraps up way too quickly. So for a horror movie in the fantastical realm, there is not enough of the fantastical. Which is a shame since the movie works decently enough in the lead up, setting up Larry Talbot (Chaney) as a decent man who gets screwed over for doing the right thing and the family he left behind but has come back to. It’s some good stuff and he works well with Rains, who plays his father. The romance doesn’t work as well as in others, which adds to the rushed feeling as the ending kinda hinges on the romance. But the resolution with his father is the real juicy stuff and it makes the movie feel complete. It doesn’t work as well as the prior Universal movies and feels like the first real regression from them, as it had been all uphill from there. It’s got it’s charms and should be seen from a simple historical level. But it’s a sadly weaker film, and I wish it wasn’t.
Bram Stokers Dracula (October 6th, 2015)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, and Anthony Hopkins
This is the last time Coppola was a good director, giving the world any sort of project worth a damn that lives up to his iconic name. His downfall has been as public and iconic as his buddy George Lucas’ was, but cinephiles have seen a sharp decline from the man. He’s gone towards his beginnings, making more experimental movies that just don’t work. You can’t say the man doesn’t go for broke though, and that experimentation and ballsiness runs through this adaptation of the classic horror novel. And aside from some winks and nudges to the classic Universal movie with Bela Lugosi, this is more in line with the book but in a major way not really. It’s a much more mythic, romantic story than that of the book. The movie does contain a good deal of material from the book, but they change Dracula’s motivation for heading to London a bit. In the book, he is just aiming to spread the vampire curse. In the movie, Dracula (Oldman) does so because the wife he lost centuries prior appears to have been reincarnated as the fiancee of banker Johnathan Harker (Reeves). Mina (Ryder) is caught up in this mythic battle of good and evil, her closed off life being turned upside down by Dracula’s love bringing her past memories back to the fore. We still get Van Helsing (Hopkins) leading a charge against Dracula and Mina’s friend Lucy being attacked by Dracula warning the group of the vampiric shenanigans. A lot of this is similar, but Coppola made a really romantic love story out of it and makes it work. Vampires have always had a sense of sensuality to them, so the decision was wise to go tragic love story with this one. The visuals are all bonkers, so stunning and unique that you can’t believe it’s all done with no CGI. And aside from a pretty stunningly miscast Keanu, the performances all about are amazing. Oldman can’t be praised enough, essentially having to play three characters and all of them given so much depth and thought. It’s a stunning performance in a career of them. Hopkins is great as the easy to jump to vampires Doctor, a man with a great mind and a willingness to believe the fantastic when the proof is in the pudding. He’s blunt and no nonsense, great for Hopkins. And Ryder, who I’m not always the biggest fan of, does good work too for the most part. Aside from struggling with the accent at times, she’s pretty good at conveying the naive young school teacher to the heartbroken but triumphant woman at the end and all the shades in between leading up to her transformation. It’s a pretty stunning movie on all accounts and one that should be seen by all. To me, it’s the best Dracula movie by far, leaving Lugosi in the dust.