6 Weeks of Halloween

6WH: Slaughter High

We’re coming down the homestretch of the Six Weeks of Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, so it’s going to be all horror all the time here until we reach the glorious day of costumes and candy. Tonight, I’m playing along with the Final Girl film club and their selection of the cheesetastic 80s slasher, Slaughter High.

Meet Marty Rantzen, the uber-nerd of Doddsville High School. The resident jocks and hot chicks don’t seem to like him very much and are always playing jokes on him. Thanks to a horrible April Fool’s joke gone wrong, Rantzen is badly burned and scarred in a chemistry lab accident. Cut to 5 years later, when our unsuspecting jocks and hot chicks are invited to a class reunion at the now condemned school building. Someone’s gone to a lot of trouble to get them all there and has set up one hell of a party filled with booze, drugs, and DEATH!

Bruce Springsteens Sister

Marty the Nerd

I don’t want to get carried away with picking apart the unrealities of the plot setup, but there are a lot of things that defy logic. I mean, wouldn’t it seem odd when only 10 people showed up for a class reunion? And if you show up for your class reunion and the building is dilapidated and all locked up, would you stick around for like 5 hours before trying to get in (or, you know, leaving)? And walking around the school, the whole thing is in pretty bad shape… except for one room which is pretty lamely decorated… and this setup doesn’t set off any alarms for people? Another strange plot point is how the characters deduce that Marty is attempting to kill them all on April Fool’s day – the anniversary of his accident. But for some reason, they decide that April Fool’s day ends at noon? What? (Update: According to BC at Horror Movie a Day: “IN EUROPE that’s how April Fool’s Day works. Here in the real world of America, we celebrate that shit all day!”)

But that’s all missing the point, isn’t it? It takes a little while to get started, but it’s fun once it does. Again, the progression of the plot (such as there is one) doesn’t make much sense, but I appreciated the touch of Slasher Marty using chemistry-related means to kill off a few of the guests. I must also admit that the use of the creepy old woman jester mask thingy is pretty damn awesome (gratuitous shadow/silhouette shots of the hat, along with the auditory jingle are reasonably effective). Some of the kills strain credibility (to say the least), and because of the setup, we don’t really care about… any of the characters, really. Even Marty isn’t particularly likeable. He didn’t deserve to be burned up in a chemical fire, of course, but that doesn’t really make him a guy I want to spend a lot of time with. But the kills are at least somewhat creative at times, if not as gory as they could have been.

Bruce Springsteens Sister

Marty lurks in the shadows!

I’ve got a mixed mind about the music by Harry Manfredini (of the Friday the 13th movie series fame). There are really two modes in evidence here: First, you’ve got a so-bad-it’s-funny 80s synth-rock song that gets repeated ad nauseam throughout the movie. Second, you’ve got the typical F13/Psycho rip-off, with the shriek violins and whatnot. It’s so obvious and overdone that it actually kinda works. The film is obviously not going for any sort of emotional resonance, it’s just hoping to revel in the gory fun of your typical slasher film, and in that respect, the music works.

The ending of the film is rather bizarre, for a couple of reasons. First, it happens during the day, which is odd in itself. Second, well, I don’t want to ruin the ending, but it’s an amazingly bizarre, almost nonsensical sequence of events (which might, in some ways, answer some of the plot-related questions above – but then, it also opens up a whole new can of crazy worms).

In the end, what you’ve got here is a thoroughly 80s slasher film. It follows the conventions reasonably well and it has a few interesting touches, but it’s not very good in any sort of objective sense. In fact, it’s pretty bad, but it’s a reasonably fun and entertaining bad that’s well worth a watch if you’re a fan of 80s culture and slashers. **

More screenshots and comments in the extended entry…

Update: Stacie has posted her review, along with all the other Film Club reviews. She also points out one of my favorite things about the sex scene that I forgot to mention. Check it out.

6WH: Week 4 – Slasher Part Twos

Continuing the Six Weeks of Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, this week I take a look at sequels to slasher films…

  • It’s the Gifts That I Hate (Robot Chicken)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (trailer)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror VI: Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace (Sorry, can’t find online vid)
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge: Like most sequels, this film is inferior to its predecessor, but I found it much better than I was expecting. What makes the movie work is that it’s playing with variations on the theme instead of repeating the same stuff from the original film. In this movie, Freddy doesn’t haunt the dreams of a group of teenagers, he focuses on one specific teen. Instead of murdering the teen in his sleep, Freddy possesses the teen and carries out his kills in the real world. This movie extends and twists Freddy’s powers while retaining the brilliant inescapable nature of the original film. In that movie, you were afraid to sleep because Freddy might get you. In the sequel, you’re afraid to sleep because Freddy might possess you and make you kill your friends. In some ways, this is an even more horrific idea and the film does its best to pull it off, but ultimately it’s not as fresh or fun as the original. It has its moments though. The scene where Freddy climbs through our hero’s stomach terrified me as a kid and I have to admit that it’s still pretty effective. It’s a valiant effort, and better than most sequels. **1/2

    Freddy

  • Slumber Party Massacre 2 (NSFW trailer)
  • Scream 2 (trailer)
  • Friday the 13th, Part 2 (trailer)
  • Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers: I was surprisingly taken with the first movie in this series, and in this sequel we find Angela alive and well, and after years of therapy, she returns to camp, this time as a counselor. As usual, the camp is populated with horny, foul-mouthed kids, horny, foul-mouthed counselors, one of the greatest mullets ever captured on film, and, of course, DEATH! This movie ends up being a lot different from its predecessor – it’s silly and more self-aware. Most of the character names are taken from members of the Brat Pack and there are even nods to slasher icons Jason, Freddy and Leatherface. Angela is played by Pamela Springsteen (yes, Bruce’s sister – no joke), and she plays the role with a campy glee. For a homicidal murderer, she’s pretty likeable. In the end, the movie is a lot of fun, but it doesn’t really have anywhere to go. The ending pales in comparison with the original film (which has one of the great horror movie endings ever), making this a worthwhile watch, but ultimately not one a great film. **1/2

    Bruce Springsteens Sister

    Bruce Springsteen’s Sister (seriously)

  • Halloween II (1981 – Trailer)
  • Horror Movie Big Brother (Robot Chicken)
  • Grindhouse: Don’t (fake trailer)
  • Halloween II (2009): (Note, I actually watched this a while ago because for some reason the studios think that the perfect time to release a movie called Halloween is in August (of course!)) I actually liked Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween. The biggest problem I had with it, though, was that it was a remake of Halloween and thus demanded comparison to a film that is nearly perfect. Change a few character names, keep the killer in the mask he had when he left the mental facility, and replace the soundtrack, and you’ve got a decent throwback slasher movie. Not a classic or anything, but watcheable. Now, Zombie has made a sequel, and he’s apparently stopped trying to make any sense at all… and that part of it is actually kinda awesome. This isn’t a remake of the 1981 Halloween II (though, ironically, the best scene in Zombie’s film takes place in a hospital), so Zombie has freed himself of any necessary structure there (the second half of the first film suffered because it needed to hit all the beats of the original). The iconic Halloween theme is no longer present (though the ending makes use of some other Halloween music). The mask is barely even recognizable anymore. The only thing that remains from the original franchise are the character names, and it’s almost easy to pretend that this series isn’t even related to the original movies. The problem is with the execution. Zombie seems to have adopted the quick-edit, shaky-cam style… and let’s just say that Zombie is no Paul Greengrass. The action in this film is nigh incomprehensible. There’s no build up to the kills either – they are all so disconnected and pointless that no tension is ever established. There is some limited success at the beginning of the film at the hospital, but it devolves pretty steadily from there. Storywise, we get a lot of weird shit, and that part I like. Myers is hallucinating a lot, seeing visions of his mother and a white horse (!?) Symbolism is abound. Dr. Loomis makes a few appearances, and boy is he a douchebag. To be honest, I’m not even sure why he’s in this movie, as he serves no real purpose (but his scenes, including one that features a funny cameo, are kinda fun to watch). Laurie Strode does find out that she is Myers’ sister (this was technically from the original series, but Zombie had sorta established it in his first movie). The town of Haddonfield seems to have changed considerably in that it’s a more rural area now, but whatever. So I’m conflicted about this movie. I like some of the ideas (even the kooky ending), but the execution, especially of the action, is way off. It’s a hard movie to recommend, but if you like crazy imagery, this movie has a bunch of that. *1/2

Incidentally, why is it so hard to find Simpsons Treehouse of Horror shorts online these days? Get with the program Fox! I have most of them on DVD, but it would be nice to share, right? Anyway, that’s all for now. More on Wednesday.

6WH: Week 3 – Now Playing

For the last couple of years, I’ve strangely not seen very many horror movies in the theater. Part of the issue is that most of them don’t come out in the Halloween corridor, which makes it somewhat pointless. It seems that the Saw franchise has cornered the market on the Halloween season and studios don’t want to risk challenging it for some reason. That being said, I’ve seen several horror films in the theater lately, and I’ve really enjoyed a couple of them…

  • Shining (fake trailer)
  • The Blair Witch Project (trailer)
  • The Exorcist (amazing unreleased trailer)
  • Paranormal Activity: So I heard about this movie, right? It was supposedly scary, but it was only playing at the occasional festival and certain theaters. Then I heard it was coming to Philadelphia for a limited run of midnight shows. I thought, why not? I knew nothing about the movie, except that it had something to do with ghosts and it seemed like a found footage movie (a la The Blair Witch Project). And I loved it. Walking out of the theater, I couldn’t help but notice the copious amounts of people registering their disappointment. In an attempt to avoid my bedroom once I got home (for reasons that will be obvious after you’ve seen the movie), I started looking into the movie a bit, and man, it’s hyped to high heaven. Suddenly, people’s negative reactions seemed more reasonable. Hype is a difficult thing. Stacie Ponder summarized it well:

    Sure, we’ve all experienced movies that turn out to be not quite as good as we’d hoped, but what I’m talking about goes beyond that. I’m talking about people who buy into the hype and walk into a theater with their arms crossed and a “Scariest ever? Then prove it.” attitude. How could a movie ever please an audience like that?

    Unfortunately, if you’re reading this, it’s probably too late. The limited release strategy combined with the hype leads to all sorts of “This wasn’t worth it” feelings from audiences that drove 50 miles just to see the movie (though that wouldn’t have changed my feelings for it at all). Fortunately, it’s the sort of thing that would probably work just as well on video, if not better. If you can, avoid everything about this (no trailers, stop reading this review after this sentence, etc…) before seeing it, and don’t expect anything action packed or super-exciting. That being said, I loved it. Its got an incredibly simple concept and yet it’s everything I could hope for in a horror movie. For the first time in a while (6 months is a while, right?), I was actually scared in the theater. That industrial strength, slinking-back-into-my-seat fear is pretty rare for me these days. When I got home, I couldn’t get certain images out of my head, and they kept playing over and over again as I eventually made my way up to bed (that’s one good result of the midnight-showing-only aspect of the movie’s release). This is very much a film that relies on the fact that things that go bump in the night are more scary than gore or special effects, and the use of sound is exceptionally well done. There isn’t much of a soundtrack, but what’s there does a great job of establishing an atmosphere of dread. It’s not really breaking new ground, but it’s very well executed. I don’t want to hype it up too much though, and it’s certainly not perfect. The setting is repetitive, the daytime scenes were a bit bland, and there’s not much plot. I can see how some folks would find it annoying, but it all worked for me. The repetitiveness lulls you into a false sense of security, the blandness of the daytime scenes release the tension built at night and give you a chance to start breathing regularly again, and the plot is no less effective for being simple. For me, the film accomplished exactly what it needed to: it scared me… ***

  • Shaun of the Dead (trailer)
  • Honest Zombie (Robot Chicken)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror III: Dial “Z” for Zombies (3rd segment)
  • Zombieland: Does this count as horror? Inasmuch as it features zombies, I suppose it does. There are a couple of obligatory “boo!” attempts as well, but the film is much more interested in comedy than anything else. Fortunately, it’s quite successful on that count. The film follows “Columbus” (played Jesse Eisenberg) as he attempts to navigate his way throughout a zombie infested America. Along the way, he meets Tallahassee (played by an actor I’ve never really cared for, Woody Harrelson, in a performance that is actually quite good), who loves to kill zombies and is on a quest to find and consume a twinkie. They also run into Wichita (played by Emma Stone) and Little Rock (played by Abigail Breslin), who are trickier than they seem. The film essentially turns into a road trip movie where an unlikely group of people manage to bond and become friends (there is a romantic subplot, of course, but the film also spends time developing other friendships and paternal feelings…) Also notable is the quasi-secret cameo that caps off the second act. It’s a brilliant sequence, and it was great to see this particular actor in this type of role again. The film isn’t perfect, but it’s a whole lot of fun. ***

    Zombieland

  • Final Destination 2 (trailer)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XIV: Reaper Madness
  • The Life of Death by Clive Barker (short story from Cabal)
  • The Final Destination: This has been a relatively weird series. The first film had a somewhat clever idea. The second film took that idea to extremes and might be the best of the series. The formula was well in place for the third film, but it was executed very well there. In this latest installment, the formula is getting stale. There’s nothing really new here, unless you consider the gimmick of 3D (which, unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience). You know the drill, a kid has a psychic experience, envisioning some sort of huge accident (in this case, a crash at a NASCAR event), freaks out and saves a bunch of people from said accident. But Death doesn’t like it when you upset his plan, so he begins to take out all the survivors in the same order they would have died in the accident. In the universe of this series, Death is a huge fan of Rube Goldberg and prefers to murder victims through convoluted, indirect means. Perhaps it was the whole 3D gimmick that ruined it for me, but the deaths in this one seems awfully straightforward (or maybe it’s just that the series has run its course). I mean, one of the victims gets run over by a truck. That’s it. There wasn’t any sequence of absurd actions leading up to the crash, it just happens. I could certainly be wrong, but I don’t remember anything like that in previous installments. In the end, you know exactly what you’re getting with this movie, which if you’ve seen the other three movies, is a bad thing. It’s not terrible, it’s just not especially good and the once original idea has pretty much been beaten into the ground. **

That’s all for now. Next up… probably some more slashers.

Shocktober

Now that we’ve entered October proper, it seems that some other folks are jumping on the Halloween season bandwagon with those of us who started out a few weeks early (which consists of, uh, me and Kernunrex). Here’s a few other folks celebrating the season:

  • Stacie Ponder over at Final Girl has dubbed the month SHOCKTOBER and has vowed to watch and review a movie every day for the duration of the month (that post also contains a bunch of links to other folks celebrating the season).
  • Widge & friends over at NeedCoffee have begun their annual 32 days of Halloween, always an entertaining venture.
  • Brian eschews the whole seasonal thing and just watches a horror movie a day, all year long. Now that’s dedication.

I’m sure there are lots others, but that’s all for now. Go forth, and be scared.

6WH: Week 2 – The Slasher Calendar

As part of last year’s marathon, I watched a documentary called Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film… As a result, when I drew up my list for this year, a lot of slashers sneaked onto the list (enough for several weeks). I won’t get through them all, but there will be at least 6-9 slasher films in this year’s marathon.

One of the conventions of slasher films is a holiday themed setting. This trend was arguably started by Bob Clarke’s influential 1974 film Black Christmas, but it really kicked into gear (along with Slashers in general) in 1978 with John Carpenter’s Halloween. After Halloween‘s success, slasher films were flooding the market, many of which attempted to copy Halloween by focusing on different holidays. Indeed, at this point, there’s a pretty full calendar of slasher films that you can watch, if you’re so inclined… and in case you can’t tell, I am so inclined. I think this trend overlaps a bit with the convention of having some sort of historical element to the story (i.e. a tragedy of the past revisited in the present), but on the other hand, lots of slashers aren’t calendar oriented either. Still, it’s a common enough trope that I watched a bunch recently:

  • Thursday the 12th (Robot Chicken)
  • Uncle Sam (trailer)
  • New Year’s Evil (trailer)
  • My Bloody Valentine (1981) and My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009): One of the better films to arise out of the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th was 1981’s My Bloody Valentine. A prime example of both the holiday setting and the historical tragedy revisited, this movie takes place 20 years after a horrible mining accident in which the sole survivor was named Harry Warden. He managed to survive only by eating his friends. Warden blamed the supervisors, who had neglected their post in order to attend the annual Valentines dance, and eventually took his revenge. Harry warned the town that so long as they held the dance, people would die. 20 danceless years later, the town of Valentine Bluffs had finally had enough and started up the old tradition of the Valentines dance again. Suddenly, people start disappearing and it seems that Harry Warden’s curse wasn’t just the ravings of a madman. Again, this film is generally a cut above most other slasher films of the era. It’s more polished and it has more of an interesting story than most, not to mention that the whole miner’s outfit thing makes for a great slasher costume (not to mention the trademark pickaxe, which can come in handy for the slasher on the go). It’s the little details that make this one work though. I’m no expert, but the production design really seems to capture the mining town aesthetic, the working class characters are actually somewhat empathetic (unlike the throngs of teens in a lot of slashers), and how can you not like the killer’s poetic calling cards (a card on the first victim reads: “Roses are Red, Violents are Blue, One is Dead, And So Are You!!!”). There’s an inferior remake that was released earlier this year, and despite being slightly elevated by the gimmick of 3D, it ultimately fell flat. It’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of the original, but if you haven’t seen either, check out the original first (like a lot of remakes, this one is perhaps most notable for shining a light on a generally overlooked film). *** for the original, ** for 3D!

    The miner

  • Halloween (1978 – Trailer)
  • Grindhouse: Thanksgiving (fake trailer)
  • Graduation Day (trailer)
  • April Fool’s Day: This movie came out during the tail end of the slasher craze and its box office was ruined by word-of-mouth – once people heard about the twist ending (which I will not ruin), they stayed away in droves. Personally, I found it to be a rather unique slasher film and I appreciate the winking and nose-thumbing aspects of the movie. The film opens as a group of teens head to the island vacation home of their friend Muffy St. John for Spring Break. It being April 1st, it doesn’t take long for the pranks to start, and things get pretty hairy pretty quickly. As the weekend progresses, guests begin to disappear and Muffy starts acting very strangely. Again, it’s one of the higher quality slasher efforts, with a decent look and actors who aren’t completely made out of cardboard (indeed, many of the characters are privileged punks, so the fact that you don’t seem to mind hanging out with them is actually an accomplishment). Interestingly, the gore is surprisingly minimal here, and the real focus is on the story. The film knows what it is and it has a sense of humor, something that audiences just weren’t ready for yet, I guess. The ending does feature a bit of a twist, and I’m sure there are some who don’t like it (and don’t get me wrong, this is not a tightly written film – there are plenty of near disasterous plot holes), but I thought it was an interesting and new idea. Alas, audiences did not respond and this film seems to signify the waning interest in slashers at the time. The big three slasher series would limp into the nineties, but after this film, the slasher craze was effectively dead. ***

    Muffy is a bit strange

    Muffy is a bit strange

  • Black Christmas (1974 – Trailer)
  • Joe Vs. The Grinch (Family Guy)
  • A Holiday Character So Alluring (Robot Chicken)
  • Silent Night, Deadly Night: Slashers in general were controversial in their time, but this film apparently upped the ante to the point where people were protesting and picketing movie theaters. And they were successful – this film was pulled from theaters after a week or so, and it then became very hard to find on video (and apparently even DVD, as I had trouble getting my Netflix copy). In all honesty, this is a pretty mean-spirited movie, so I guess the protesting is understandable. I mean, this is a movie where not one, but two Santas get gunned down in front of a group of orphans (and one of the Santas was a kindly old deaf priest (the other was a homicidal axe murderer, but that’s besides the point)). This isn’t a very impressive movie. There’s no real artistry, the performances are crappy, and even the Santa costumes are pretty lame. There are some high points though, including one of the first scenes in the movie, when an old man warns our young hero that Santa is coming to kill him because he’s been naughty. He does this in a weird, grizzled old-timey tone that is just awesome. It’s probably the best part of the movie. Also, what can I say, I’m a sucker for the Christmas setting. This film doesn’t really come anywhere near the Christmas horror classics, but it’s worth a watch if you like slashers and Christmas. **

    Santas gonna git ya

    Santa’s gonna git ya

And that wraps up the slasher calendar for this year, but we’ve got another installment of slasher sequels coming, as well as some other miscellaneous slashers. In other news, The Devil Rides Out is now unavailable, so the Hammer Horror week needs to be replanned.

As usual, Kernunrex is doing it up at his site, and he’s making lots of headway. He’s even playing Castlevania (in an experience similar to mine with Metroid, he was able to beat the game using save states) and other horror related video games. It’s always funny when we have overlap too. He watched The Deaths of Ian Stone this week – a movie I watched last year (our thoughts are very similar). Other than that, not much overlap… though I can see some convergences coming later.

Six Weeks of Halloween 2009: Week 1 – Universal Horror

It’s that time of year again. Halloween is my favorite time of the year, and it provides a convenient excuse to explore one of my favorite genres of film (as I have done for the past couple of years). In preparation for this year’s six week celebration of Halloween, I pretty quickly drew up a list that could easily take me through ten weeks… I doubt I’ll get through them all, but I’m going to have fun trying. Highlights include this week’s look at classic Universal Horror films, a sampling of the later Monster revival with Hammer Horror, perhaps some Vincent Price, and of course, some slashers and miscellaneous horrors to round out the pack (including the much anticipated Trick ‘r Treat, amongst others). If you can’t get enough Halloween madness here, be sure to visit Kernunrex, who’s been doing this whole Six Weeks of Halloween thing a lot longer than I have… (Someday I’ll redesign Kaedrin so as to allow for an easy switch to Halloween colors like he does… that day is probably not coming anytime soon, but still.)

Its the nicest weather Earth has ever had!

Its the nicest weather Earth has ever had!*

As previously mentioned, this year’s marathon kicks off with a look at Universal Studios’ classic monster films. I’ve seen two of the following films before, but not since I was very young, so I figured it would be worth revisiting (as a result, I now want to revisit the original novels upon which the following films were based, which if my current queue is any indication, means I’ll get to them sometime in the 2020s). Here goes:

  • Frankenstein’s Fiancee (Robot Chicken)
  • Frankenhooker (trailer)
  • Frankenstein (1910 – Full Movie)
  • Frankenstein (1931): My memories of Frankenstein were fond but not overly enthusiastic. I remember these films being hokey and over-the-top, and to be sure, there are elements of that here, but it is much more effective than I remember it being. Adapted from Mary Shelly’s classic novel of the same name, the film is dramatically different from both the novel and the many stage variations of the preceding century. Despite the changes, the movie retains the feel and thematic resonance of the novel. This cautionary tale of technology gone awry is something that strikes a chord throughout most of history, perhaps even more now than when it was written. It certainly helps that James Whale was behind the camera and Boris Karloff was in front of it, and the movie has aged quite well (it is perhaps the best of today’s choices). ****

    Karloffs Frankenstein Monster

    Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Monster

  • Young Frankenstein (trailer)
  • Frankenstein for President
  • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (trailer)
  • Bride of Frankenstein (1935): I may have seen bits and pieces of this film before, but never the whole thing. This direct sequel to the 1931 film features mostly the same cast and crew, and as such, the technical aspects of the film are superb. Indeed, they may even surpass the original. Karloff is given more to do in this film, and while he was wonderfully expressive in the first film, he goes above and beyond in this film, infusing the Monster with emotion and even evoking sympathy. Director James Whale had also honed his skills in the intervening years and the Bride’s creation scene is particularly well done, especially when it comes to the editing. This film’s special effects also stand out, as when Dr. Pretorius displays his miniature experiments for Dr. Frankenstein (the scene holds up remarkably well, which is more than I can say for a lot of special effects from the era… (or even modern effects, for that matter)). Another standout scene is when the Monster encounters an elderly blind man, who teaches the Monster about bread, wine, and rudimentary English. He also introduces the Monster to the concept of friendship, which drives the rest of the story. I must admit that the story does get to be a bit more silly in this installment, but it still works very well. Thematically, the film expands upon the original, and adds some new twists of its own. The ending is actually quite moving, as the Monster realizes what he is and where he belongs. Many consider this sequel to be superior to the first film, and in many ways, it is. However, it is sillier and more over-the-top than the previous film. It is still a wonderful film in its own right, and something I’m glad I caught up with. ****

    Dr. Pretorius

    Dr. Pretorius

  • Vampire 7:00-8:00AM, Vampire 1:00-2:00PM, and Vampire 8:00-9:00PM (Robot Chicken)
  • Bart Simpson’s Dracula (The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV)
  • Vampire Chase (Robot Chicken)
  • Dracula (1931): I was curious to revisit this film in light of the current pop-culture craze for vampires we’re experiencing right now. There are many who believe that vampires have been watered down these days:

    Once upon a time, vampires were monsters. Creatures of the night. Beasts who crawled from their coffins at night; consorted with spiders, bats, and rats; ravaged women and tore out the throats of men. They were demonic; spawns of Satan. The best known image of the vampire is that of Bela Lugosi, whose intonation of the line: “I never drink… wine” has become the standard.

    And indeed, many recent vampire stories take a less monsterous approach, favoring instead a more emotional and empathetic creature (though I must admit that I don’t mind that approach either, just that it has become the pervasive approach). So in revisiting this classic film, it was refreshing to see Dracula portrayed as something unnatural and evil. Director Tod Browning is at his creepy best when framing Lugosi’s Dracula onscreen. Lugosi’s menacing glare is undeniably effective and his Dracula is indeed a creature to fear. Alas, the mechanics of the plot (and, uh, the special effects) leaves something to be desired. This is a little disappointing, though still quite entertaining and better than much of today’s vampire stories (I’m looking at you, Twilight!). Someday, perhaps, I’ll check out the Spanish language version of this film, which was apparently shot at the same time and using the same sets. Some believe it to be superior to the English language version… ***

    Lugosis Dracula

    Lugosi’s Dracula

One of the surprising things about all three of the above movies is that they are all between 70-75 minutes in length, significantly shorter than even the shortest movies in theaters today. It’s worth noting that many of the above films are also restored from cut versions. In particular, the scenes missing from the original Frankenstein are quite important (the missing scenes were restored in 1986 and most DVDs of the film have them), particularly the scene when the Monster plays with the little girl. It’s actually quite a disturbing scene, but Karloff was always able to walk that line between evil and misunderstood, creating a monster that was scary and sympathetic at the same time.

It’s also interesting to note that the characters of Dracula and Frankenstein are two of the most frequently utilized fictional characters in the history of film. Dracula has 200+ appearances, while Frankenstein has only had a mere 80+ roles. And I think both will continue to rack up the appearances. Interestingly, I think there are several more recent horror icons that could give the classics a run for their money… Jason Vorhees, Mike Myers, and Freddy Kreuger have established themselves pretty firmly in modern film culture, but I’m not sure they will ever be as prolific as the old Universal classic monsters. Why? Devin Faraci has speculated on this:

There is one major obstacle that’s stopping Freddy and Jason and Mike Myers and Leatherface from really getting to that position of being among the truly eternal monsters of filmland: copyright. While the versions of the Universal Monsters we love are copyrighted in terms of their appearance (although a zillion manufacturers of Halloween ephemera have skirted the edges of that legality), the characters themselves are in the public domain. This is what has allowed them to become such prominent forces in film, keeping them going in permutation after permutation. If Universal outright owned the characters then Hammer, for instance, would never have been able to reinvent them in the 50s and 60s (my colleague Ryan Rotten very astutely notes that what Platinum Dunes is doing with the characters of Jason, Freddy and Leatherface, and what Rob Zombie is doing with Michael Myers, is very similar to what Hammer did with the Universal Monsters, recasting them and re-presenting them for a new generation with new tastes). In fact, the copyright on the Gill-Man from The Creature from the Black Lagoon may be one of the things keeping him from really ascending and going places as a character. Being tightly controlled by Universal keeps him from escaping into the pop culture world at large.

Perhaps audiences will still be squirming in their seats in fear of Jason, Mike, and Freddy a century from now, but maybe not. One thing is for sure though: Audiences will still be entertained by updates on Frankenstein and Dracula…

* With apologies to the MST3K Movie for that joke, though it works even better on the newer variations on the logo…