Friday, May 26, 2017

Franchise Run-Through - Universal’s Frankenstein Series

So, we're back for another effort, and this time we're going to talk about one of the classic series in the genre which is one of the most iconic and influential series in the entire genre. Today, we're going to talk about the Universal series of Frankenstein films.

Now, usually I go through an extended setup regarding the history of the chosen franchise and its impact, but rather I'll skip that instead for several reasons. One, I have bigger and better plans in the future regarding this series as well as many other adaptations to turn that into one huge article about the novels' adaptations over the years which is of more pressing concern for retelling a lot of the history and influence. As well, there's also the fact that this one manages to have such a complex and twisting backstory throughout it's production and release that detailing all of it in this blog would render it twice the length that I would like to keep it to for these kinds of articles as, lastly, I've been fighting back a cold for most of the week and researching the whole of it is a little more than I can handle for the week.

Instead, then, we're going to skip over that section and instead go for the personal history of the series. Now, this is one that I have had quite a confusing watch-history for the series as I came to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein first when that aired as part of a celebration of their work on TV right around the time I started getting into the genre back in the late 90s. After this one, I got to the original and Bride rather quickly, but then it took me years to catch another franchise entry which actually ended up being the back-to-back efforts House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, then about a month later, Son showed up on TV. Lastly, it took me picking up the original Franchise Legacy collection set to finally get to Ghost as that, ironically, was the reasoning for buying that first DVD set. So, as you can see this is a rather odd take to get through the franchise as a whole which is why I love discussing that type of personal history.

And now, onto the films themselves.

Frankenstein

Frankly, this still one of the more important and impressive films in the genre. This one still retains its power with the legendary resurrection scene that comes off as incredibly exciting even before the creature stirs beneath the sheets which are still some of the most visually-arresting and chilling scenes in the genre. Taking plenty of advantage of the opulent Gothic sets, filled with all manner of electronic gadgets and fanciful equipment which really brings out the grand location as the second half goes into the great scenes of them attempting to control it in the laboratory which proves incredibly difficult with his violent tendencies and begins lashing out at them forcing the need to dispose of it before it escapes which is where there's plenty of fun to be had here with the creature loose in the countryside generating more solid fun. Finally, the action-packed spectacle that is the finale is one of the best in the genre with its full-scale hunting of the creature leading to the big battle at the windmill where not only is there the torch-wielding mob to contend with but also the brawling of the doctor that makes for a rather spectacular finish needed in this kind of movie. Though it gets a little slow at places with the final half with the atrocious dance number and lack of creature scenes featured, there's a lot to really like in this one. (10/10)


Bride of Frankenstein

This here was quite the exceptional sequel. Much like the original, this one exploits the concepts of life and death only to a much greater degree here. The central scene in the hermits' cottage emphasizes this quite effectively with the monster able to show compassion and friendship despite not having any need for doing so based on previous experience, and the concept of this shows this off far better than anything possible out there to attempt this and offers a great side to him that wasn't possible before hand. While this here is quite fun, the fact that there's such a plentiful amount of action here gives this a fantastic pace as there's the absolutely spectacular opening, the following chase through the woods showing the villagers forcing him through the area is really exciting as the halting chases are utterly enjoyable as he escapes several times leading to even more encounters and the film's main centerpiece sequence with the Bride at the finale. There's so much to really love with the intensity of the creature matching the original and it lifting off the table elicits the same eerie chills, and with it again playing into the life and death there's absolutely crazy finale in the castle tower which is the explosive, frenzied spectacle of the whole place coming and burying everything inside which is rather fun. Alongside the fine monster makeup for both creatures, these here are what make this one hold up incredibly well. There's only one flaw here, which is that the Bride comes into play so late in the film and doesn't really do much that it seems almost like an afterthought as there's so little screen time that it doesn't have much to do beyond its appearance. This here is what really holds it back. (10/10)


Son of Frankenstein

This here was quite the fun if overlong effort. It still holds up rather nicely with the great creature discovery and the detailed work to get him back to life as the scenes in the laboratory trying to get him repaired give this some nice scenes here. As well, once it gets the creature out this one has plenty of fun with the rampage through the castle at the end following the energetic brawl which really ends this one on a nice note. Filled to the brim with opulent Gothic atmosphere as the strange house makes for a chilling location for all the action throughout here, it does have some nice pluses here which brings this up over the fact that what really short-changes this one is the extremely long running time that slows this one considerably as the build-up to getting the creature to live again really feels way too drawn-out. Though settling the issue of what's going on and getting many of the story lines set up, the fact that it goes into overdrive with the detail of the villagers' distrust of him and their coldness towards the family as well as settling into the castle and preparing to reanimate the creature as there's quite a long time here before anything happens and altogether drags this one out far longer than it really should've been. The endless banter between everyone in the final half is a little much as well, but on the whole, it's still got some good points here. (8.25/10)


Ghost of Frankenstein

This is a surprisingly enjoyable and effective entry in the series. What really gives this one a lot to like is the fact that it's got far more action scenes than expected, really offering up a far more engaging plot than expected which is exceptionally fun. The first half has a lot of exciting scenes, and once it gets to the village scenes the return of his sympathetic side gives these some surprising pathos that holds this up quite nicely. The brain-swapping and double-crossing that carries it on through the frantic finale is another big plus and makes the film much more enjoyable as it holds it up over the flaws. Once again, we have villagers who seem fine with the family arriving and then start flipping between being outraged at their presence or ignoring them all together which is pretty inconsistent, yet it's not a huge detriment to it in any way. (9/10)


House of Frankenstein

Overall this one wasn't all that bad but did have some flaws. What this one really does well is to celebrate the big action usually required in the genre, featuring plenty of great moments here with the initial resurrection, the rampage through the woods and the high-energy finale in the castle at the end which is exceptionally fun using the atmosphere of the area to great effect. Given that there's a lot to like here with the transformation sequences features a rather startling amount of great special effects work on getting each of the monsters a big shining moment. It does have a few flaws, in that the dropping of one of the monsters halfway through is a bit of a mistake, making it seem the creature is an afterthought and turning the film into a strange conglomeration of featuring one monster for half the movie and then switching gears with the others for the remaining half. Even giving up the rather familiar turn of the off-screen kills done in silhouette which does get a little old here, this one does have some nice positives that are held down somewhat. (7.75/10)


House of Dracula

This was a rather decent effort in the series. When this one works, it's due to the rather impressive idea of having the concept of vampirism as a blood disease that can be transferred to a person rather than letting it be considered a more traditional variation of using it as a form of feeding on people. That this takes up a majority of the first half gives this a unique feel before turning over to the monster action in the second half where pretty much every one of the monsters gets a lot of screentime to really shine and moves this along at a much more frantic clip. There are several issues which do hold this back, which starts with the flimsy plot that makes no sense why the creatures are coming together and seems to just have them out for the sake of getting them on-screen. With a disappointing finale that doesn't really excite as much as possible and a lot of the special effects work looks a little flimsy that holds it back, this one is quite decent overall. (7.25/10)


Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

This is one of the greatest horror comedies ever made. What makes this so much fun is the fact that this one allows the duo plenty of familiar reign for their traditional comedy, which is wholly enjoyable here. Keeping the monsters serious and instead featuring their broad comedic chops in the initial reactions to the creatures as well as the just hilarious sight gags and wordplay that are part and parcel of their routines. Given the fact that it mixes these two themes together, from the great slapstick to startling monster action, gives this one a lot to really enjoy here makes this stand out so well here even before getting to the amazing action in the finale as the big finish at the castle gives it a strong, high-energy way to finish. About the only flaw here is to be found with those that don't prefer this kind of effort with their slapstick routines and generally fast-paced comedic timing which is possible to find but is really the only thing to do that can knock this down. (10/10)


And as usual, the ranking of the series is as follows:

1. Frankenstein (10)
2. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (10)
3. Bride of Frankenstein (10)
4. Ghost of Frankenstein (9)
5. Son of Frankenstein (8.25)
6. House of Frankenstein (7.75)
7. House of Dracula (7.25)

And with that, we're done. Hopefully, I'll do a little more as I'll be back to full health by then. Thanks for reading, and see you all next time.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Franchise Run-Through - Final Destination

Time for another entry today, and this time we're taking a look at yet another franchise that I have managed to get through in its entirety which is one of the most important parts of going through these retrospectives. Today, we're going to look at the franchise Final Destination.

As usual, that means we start at the beginning and how the franchise got its start. The original idea was written by Jeffrey Reddick as a spec script for The X-Files in order to get a TV agent. "I was actually flying home to Kentucky and I read a story about a woman who was on vacation and her mom called her and said, 'Don’t take the flight tomorrow, I have a really bad feeling about it.’ She switched flights and the plane that she would have been on crashed," said Reddick. "I thought, that’s creepy; what if she was supposed to die on that flight?"

Building on his idea, Reddick wrote the script and got an agent, but never submitted the script to the show after a colleague at New Line Cinema suggested he write it as a feature film. One of the biggest misconceptions about the project is that it was based on the real-life disaster of TWA Flight 800 that occurred in 1996. Like in the movie, the TWA disaster involved a Boeing 747 that exploded after take-off from JFK International Airport in New York en route to Paris. Moreover, five chaperones and sixteen high school students from Montoursville, Pennsylvania, were aboard the doomed flight, heading to Paris with their high school French club. The TV spec script for The X-Files, however, was actually written in 1994. New Line Cinema bought Jeffrey's treatment and hired him to write the original draft of the script, which featured Death as an unseen force. After the script was finished, New Line Cinema submitted the script to directors, including writing partners James Wong and Glen Morgan. Both writers were willing to make it into a film, although they rewrote the script to comply with their standards.

Now, there are some other interesting tidbits to speak out about in terms of the franchise. One of the most prominent aspects of the first film to come out was the media's insistence on calling these particular type of films under the title 'Dead Teenager Movies,' which was denoted to mean that a cast that was deemed to be 'teenagers' in mortal peril with a general aim directly at the teens they were supposedly portraying. They were intended to be slick, glossy studio productions filled with a glamorous, appealing cast of recognizable and up-and-coming faces that are put into peril and forced to battle a big deadly threat as a result. A pretty popular term at the time of its release, this term was designated to appeal to films that basically equate to sheer stupidity on the stars to force themselves into dangerous situations where they're graphically killed in over-the-top manners which are what the sole purpose of the film is clearly built around. Although there were a few earlier films retconned into the genre afterward, it took off after the release of this film as the term grew in popularity based on the success of the film, and while it's no longer as impacted as it was in the heyday a few films trickle out ever year or so which is what keeps the term in use. Likewise, this is also one of the few genres to display a sense of humor within the genre by having every single character granted with a surname to have one designated from a horror film director. Not all characters have one, but those that do have one taken from the genres' past which is a somewhat nice, humorous touch.

Now, as for my personal history with these films, again there's not a whole lot to tell here. This one went pretty much straight-on through in order of release, although there's one rather intriguing bit of useless trivia here with the franchise as part 1 was the first horror film I ever bought personally on VHS. I did have films on VHS before I bought that one, but part 1 is the first one I actually bought with my own money rather than accepting a trade-off from a friend or stealing it from my school's library, which did happen once and I actually found a replacement copy of that film back on the shelf a week later as the clerk that actually forgot if they had it or not and didn't even know that was in the system so no harm was done. However, beyond that, there's not a whole lot else to say here as this one has quite a simple story, a franchise where I've seen the entire series of entries in the order of their release without any skipped over or missed out on.

So, with that out of the way, let's get on with the films.

Final Destination

This here ended up being quite the impressive and enjoyable effort. Among the numerous qualities here is the fact that there's a lot of high-quality suspense here since there's a lot of focus on the ploy of not knowing when and where Death is going to strike. That makes a big part of the film about the accidental nature of the setups here, so the random strikes and future visions here become all that more impressive and chilling while managing to offer the kind of necessary action-packed sequences that keep the pace charging along. Along with the strong manner of storyline tactics that bring about the way it portrays the character of Death and some solid gory kills, these here make this enjoyable enough to hold out over the film's lone flaw. There's almost nothing to like here about the federal investigation which gets tiring with all the different interludes fingering him without too much real info to do that with. This does bring it down somewhat but is the only real issue here. (9.25/10)


Final Destination 2

This one was an immensely enjoyable sequel that really rivals the original. Among the better qualities here is that this one manages to really portray a truer sense of dread and suspense about the situation. This one really bridges that concept about the surroundings really affecting everyday life from the first one even further here by making the accidents seem that they're simply, truly accidents brought about through actual, honest coincidences. This is compounded by the tendency to showcase the warning signs as the suspenseful nature of these supposed encounters is incredible foreshadowing on what's going to happen, and the fact that there are some rather creepy moments from these issues makes this quite fun. The film's best feature, though, is based off the most impressive part of the story here in its really freaky action-packed encounters here that really give this one plenty of impressive, stylized sequences which are a huge step-up from the original. Along with the fun, over-the-top kills that are present here these here are the film's good points which hold off the few flaws here. It's all in the finale here which really seems to meander around with numerous side-plots, rather middling suspense scenes and the rare occasions where the traps just seem contrived and the whole affair seems to be quite the letdown from what came before it. Otherwise, this one was quite the impressive enough sequel. (9.5/10)


Final Destination 3

Overall this was quite an enjoyable and wholly entertaining part of the series. Like with the others, what really works well here is the setup for the initial premonition, as the scenery at the carnival is quite well-handled and really amps up the suspense in here. There's also the film's best part here with its spectacular action scenes really carrying this one along with the absolutely thrilling crash scene that comes off incredibly well and even plausible as to how the crash could occur in real like taken to an extreme, and the later encounters offers plenty of big action. There's also plenty of tension throughout here with all the different potential hazards at play before getting to the crazy death scenes, and along with the usual high-quality gore for the kills, these here make this one quality enough to hold off the few small flaws here. The main issue here is that there's very little set-up for the kills which are just so quick and over so briefly that they don't have much in the way of suspense about them. This is compounded by the other factor here with the lame mystery about the photographs not being all that well-handled and it just doesn't have much intrigue about them. These here are what hold this one down. (8.75/10)


The Final Destination

This one wasn't that bad. Aside from several personal indiscretions the film, like the blatant and retarded 3D gags, woeful CGI and sloppiness merely there to set up the death that wouldn't happen that way in real life, which is one of the biggest set of problems in this one. The brevity is to be commended as it doesn't overstay it's welcome, there are some ingenious attempts at suspense beneath the dirge of crap hurled at the screen and it's opening crash is pretty cool. As well, the majority of the film focusing on the series of accidents that befall the group enables for quite a spectacular pace as it moves along quite nicely from one outlandish set-up to the next and provides plenty of exciting moments along throughout here. This is way better than expected, although it's still flawed. (8.75/10)


Final Destination 5

As much as I wanted to absolutely love this one, there's still a few problems here that need to be mentioned. The new twist on the hero's plight doesn't make much sense, for something as supposedly vicious and cruel as what's stalking the heroes to just roll over like it does here with this new twist doesn't really make any sense at all, for that changes around the entire purpose of the events that transpire, and that also ends up giving us the finale in the restaurant which has no business being here and nearly ruins the film on its own just for its inclusion. It's also much to laid back about going after them once they've survived, taking forever to start knocking them off and we get way too much time with their personal lives here, making it way too boring. The deaths are still a lot of fun (if a bit hokey at times in the Rube Goldbergian-ness of their set-ups) the gore is spectacular and the suspense is decently handled. All in all, a pretty decent entry if not overly spectacular. (9/10)


As for the rankings:
1. Final Destination 2 (9.5)
2. Final Destination (9.25)
3. Final Destination 5 (9)
4. Final Destination 3 (8.75)
5. The Final Destination (8.75)

And that wraps up another look back into the different franchises within the genre. I know that some out there want this series to be resurrected and continued to this day, and personally, it's not the worst idea out there. As well, it's worth mentioning here that this one definitely has more in terms of other media out there, with two lines of comic book runs telling similar stories to the films' proper, as well as a set of novels that were initially reprintings of the first few films before they started in on their own individual, unique stories which were popular enough to spawn a few entries before that line was discontinued. These won't be covered as they're not movies which is what this site is about, but as usual a mention of them is required and is thus duly noted here.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you all next time.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Random Article - A Treatise on ‘Torture Porn’


Welcome back to another entry here, and this time we’re going for something rather different with this post. Rather than take a specific look at a franchise or subset of the genre, we’re going to deal with an issue that I’ve wanted to talk about that really bugs me: the “Torture Porn” movement.

Frankly, I’ve long had an issue with these types of films, but it’s not in the manner some may think. I really don’t mind the extreme, excessive gore, the overlong setups or the constant social-political messages within the films, and while I actually have problems with plenty of them by themselves there’s another reason why I’m not a huge fan of the genre and the whole point of this post. Frankly, I’ve never agreed with the genre tag: ‘Torture Porn.’

It’s really odd that I have a problem with the specific tag for a small subset of films, but it’s always been an issue that bothered me and it took me a while to figure out why. It’s not like there’s a rather misleading bit of information to be found in the name, there’s certainly plenty of that to be found in these films and there’s plenty of stellar work in detailing the general gruesomeness that comes with the territory in the genre so there are some fun elements with the genre.

However, I’ve never cared for the title at all. It’s the connotation that the films feature a connection with the torture as porn scenes instead, which is frankly not the case in the slightest. It’s not a big deal to admit that I've thought of this for a while, and in terms of what is produced within the porn industry featuring short scenes rather than full-on movies, there are two general subsets you can find which comprise around 90% of the industry: the interview and the fantasy.

As for ‘The Interview,’ this is probably the more common and readily-found types of scenes. In this scenario, it’s usually a short sequence that lasts on average of four-to-five minutes showing the titular starlet posing around the location of the shoot, whether it be outside by a swimming pool or inside the house around the living room or kitchen before it turns to the cameraman asking her questions and basically doing an interview with the performer in question. Naturally, that can even include the male performer of the scene talking with her as well as the option to have the two of them perform a rather risque activity together, and at the end of it all it turns into the  main sexual act that lasts anywhere from 15-20 minutes to a half-hour, depending on various elements within the scene.

For ‘The Fantasy,’ this one tends to play out more like an actual movie scene. It usually consists of more varied locations and tends to bring out a sexual fantasy to play with. Whether it be taking the neglected wife of your best friend, the mother of their girlfriend or the sisters’ best friend among many other supposed fantasies at play here, the main point here is that this one plays out more like a movie scene that happens to include a fantasy sexual element driving them together into each other where there’s no winking at the camera at before delving into the  main sexual act that lasts anywhere from 15-20 minutes to a half-hour, depending on various elements within the scene.

Now, granted each of these names are my own personal take on the scenes as a whole and are my own nicknames that I don’t expect anyone else to follow or adapt as their own names, but it’s easier to understand these types of scenes better with the nicknames. Given that it’s possible to claim at least 90% of hardcore porn would fall under these two categories, it’s hard to tell where the connection to these films and the ‘Torture Porn’ films come from. If we’re comparing the amount of time they showcase their own particular selling points, then it comes off incredibly uneven with the general setup in hardcore porn being 5-10 minutes of foreplay before the single-take 20-30 minute ‘main attraction.’ When it comes to the ‘Torture Porn’ films, there’s a wildly unbalanced tone here with the films ranging from 30-40 minute foreplay scenes and then only sporadically tackling their ‘main attraction’ which comes and goes throughout the remainder of the movie.

Now, when it comes to softcore there’s a bit more clarity when it comes to the naming. Rather than going for different scene-setups like with the hardcore stuff, here it’s mainly just a plain movie that tends to build frequent excuses for the ‘main attraction’ to come along through the course of the familiar plot, and these scenes are indeed multiple offenders that tend to go about four-to-seven minutes at a time at regular intervals. Now, in theory, that sounds closer in spirit and tone to the ‘Torture Porn’ series of films, but yet there’s a major difference to be had that to me makes them slightly different. In softcore, the focus isn’t on selling you on the ‘main attraction,’ rather it’s about the setup and the spoofs that it’s railing against. There’s almost an air of trying to be a legitimate movie that just so happens to go into these sequences at sporadic intervals which oftentimes stop the film cold to get them in and then try a wild reach-around to get back to its main story. They’re not the main focus or else not only would these scenes be written into the film a lot more coherently but they would also be integral to the film itself: it wouldn’t play out much differently had those scenes been taken out.

That is the main crux of my contention with the naming. ‘Torture Porn’ sells itself on the titular torture, it’s the reason for being there. The way the human body is cut up and bleeds profusely from the massive wounds inflicted upon it while the usually lackluster manner handled around the rest of the film, it’s not hard to see that’s the main selling point and the outlandish scenarios created to try to top the one that came before it are what sell that fact more than anything. In traditional porn, regardless of the set-up found, it never tries to top what came before and instead relies on varying the formula between its two principle factors: stars and location. Nothing else really changes from one to the other than who’s performing the scene and where they’re going at it, which means that the act itself is thus the ‘main attraction.’ On the whole, these issues here have really kept me from really embracing that label.

So what do we do in the meantime? I know the issue won’t mean much to many of you out there, but still, on the whole, it’s something that is a rather curious affair, keeping the misleading genre tag for something not many may care about. So, what can we do in its place? Personally, I’ve always used the title ‘Torture Slasher’ when describing these films even though it also has some misleading properties and can cause confusion. The films as a whole aren’t really based on a typical slasher premise, but the fact that each individual torture sequence here can line up and replace a traditional stalking scene found in a slasher film does hold far more weight and connection than the other label. It’s good enough for me now, but might be one worth more thought in the future as a resurgence might mean more thought and care for a better tag.

Whatever the case may be, that’s all for now. See you next time.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Franchise Run-Through - Scream

So, it's time now for a new franchise effort, and this is the time for a rather big one to do. It's the time for the Scream run-through as this is a rather large franchise to cover here. So, let's get into it.

First, as usual, let's learn a little more about this franchise. Originally written by television writer Kevin Williamson, his original script was bought by Miramax and developed under the Dimension Films label by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who recruited Craven to direct, who in turn recruited composer Marco Beltrami to score the film. This team went on to be involved in each film in the series though Williamson was forced to take a smaller role for Scream 3, writing only a brief plot outline due to his commitments to other projects, with Ehren Kruger replacing him as the screenwriter. The series' violence resulted in conflicts with the Motion Picture Association of America and news media concerning censorship resulting in a reduction of violence and gore in Scream 3 when the Columbine High School massacre brought increased focus on the media's influence on society. Scream became notable for its use of established and recognizable actors which was uncommon for horror films at the time, yet has since become common in part due to Scream's success. A TV spin-off of the series was released by MTV on June 30, 2015 which follows different characters and new storylines and is not connected to the film series.

The series, particularly the first two films, has received significant critical acclaim. Scream has been credited with revitalizing the horror genre in the late 90s by combining a traditional slasher film with humor, awareness of horror film cliché and a clever plot. Scream was one of the highest-grossing films of 1996 and is still among the highest grossing slasher film in the world. However, this is somewhat of a contentious area for me personally as some these issues are completely absent from the film as a whole.

Initially branded as a film where people use their smarts about horror films to outwit a killer trying to kill them using the set-ups from the films for his crimes yet that is not a part of the series at all. In fact, it outright blatantly features people who show little to no horror movie knowledge here (with one of the main characters in the first film flat-out admitting that they're 'insulting') and far too often what occurs in the movie itself is rather a point-by-point affirmation of slasher-film cliches rather than utterly parodying them. Considering the fact that almost immediately after it's release, a small glut of similarly targeted slasher/horror films with the same self-referential film fans who make constant references to movies with a similar situation, it seems odd that a film originally intended to spoof the situation actually found itself at the head of a following featuring familiar content.

That indeed comes from a rather startling fact about the film: it's not really all that funny. Despite all the talk about its hip-and-young cast spouting off one-liners and self-referential jokes about their situation, there aren't a great many laughs to be had within the films as a whole since the biggest mark against them is that the laughs are intended to be the characters' reactions to scenes of gruesome violence, a situation that has no bearing at all in generating laughs and instead features plenty of material that's disturbing at their utter lack of sorrow and grief as they can do no better than to crack a joke about the situation. Now, while the material does let up on this later in the series, at first it's a pretty tough sell.

Aside from this, there are a few personally things that should be mentioned. This was actually a personal record for me as it was the very first horror franchise I had seen in its entirety to completion, which isn't much of an honor since it was being released right at the time I became a horror fan, and has only a few entries in the franchise so it's not so big a deal but the fact remains that there's something to be said for being the first horror franchise l had ever seen to completion. Now, as expected l didn't really go crazy with the viewing order, it's straight-on in order of release, and that includes the latest effort more than a decade after the original end to the series.

And with that, it's time to get to the films:

Scream

This here is a pretty overrated but still enjoyable enough entry. One of the biggest issues here is the fact that, despite initially being targeted to be a commentary on the clichéd nature of horror, Slasher films in general, it seems to be more about offering a chance to utilize those clichés rather than poke fun at them. Far too often it expends a great deal of time to warn about a particular situation familiar in horror, such as running up the stairs to escape the killer or that he's not dead at all and comes back for one more scare despite being the subject of inhuman torture, then decides to play off a sequence that allows for such a moment to transpire. As well, many of the claims about this being funny are incredibly inaccurate as there's absolutely nothing in here that's really funny material, and the stuff that's here which is being called funny is reprehensible, deplorable and quite a stretch for anyone to call funny stuff. As such, it's the shining example that a reputation is far more damaging to a film than anything. That said, it does have some good stuff in some particularly chilling chases and stalking scenes including the rousing opening, some incredibly brutal, gory deaths and some fine moments of real suspense that are far more developed than expected. Overall, though, it's a victim of its false reputation and can't overcome that. (8.5/10)


Scream 2

Overall, this is a fairly worthy sequel and one that actually has a fair deal going on with it that makes it superior to the original. One of the better elements here is the film's rather emphasized use of suspense after the complete and utter dropping of comedy that ruined the original, which allows those scenes to be all the better. With the frantic scramble around campus to find the intended killer using only the cell-phone usage on campus to identify the caller, the killer appearing amongst a horde of similarly-costumed individuals in a play to a merely breathless escape from an incapacitated police car with the killer in the front seat and no other way out but to go over them is just a few of the truly spectacular sequences pulled off here that makes this one a lot more creepy and chilling than the original. Also on strong support is a nice body count that supplies some nice gore, some truly clever and original turns in the storyline that not only expand the original as well but provide enough to keep you guessing at this one, and when added together with some fine stalking scenes and excellent use of a school campus to set up some scares, it's got a lot to love. What isn't impressive is the killer's motive, which is an absolute travesty and a complete joke as to its inclusion, it just reeks of trying to be relevant to the times and offers nothing but ridicule, but otherwise, this is a solid and utterly enjoyable entry. (9.25/10)


Scream 3

Frankly, this one isn't as bad as some think it is. The fact that, for once, the stalking scenes are suspense is one of the greatest strengths as there's a slew of strong scenes, from the opening in the house to the chases backstage through the different areas of the film set, the assault on the house is fantastic and the ending back in the basement of the owner gives this one a thrilling finish. Giving this some nice action alongside some rather nice closure to the central storyline running through the franchise by filling in some nice holes in the series about everyone's connections to each other and really making this feel like a well-rounded trilogy. It does have a few flaws, mainly from the padded running time going through far too long explanations which really take forever to get through. This one also lacks in the slashing departments as the kills are hardly unique and not really featuring any gore at all. These small flaws are what keep the film down. (8/10)


Scream 4

This was easily the weakest of the series and didn't have a lot going for it. The biggest problem with this was the fact that there's just so much talk about the rules and regulations of horror versus real-life and it just got old after a while. It wasn't all that interesting to constantly hear from these supposed experts on the genres to blurt out something that can save their lives, then do the same thing to get them into trouble with the killer, exactly like what happened with the original which really turned me off the first time I saw it. As well, the finale was an unmitigated disaster, with no surprise from the killer's revelation, a motive which was just plain embarrassing to see used in a major film that also made no sense on top of that, and the ending in the hospital tends to go on for far too long, almost seemingly to bump it's running time up for no real reason just to make it a similar length to the others. A little more variety in the kills would've been nice though they were gory enough, and a few stalking scenes were good, but overall this one wasn't all that great. (7.75/10)


And now it's time to rank these:
1. Scream 2 (9.25)
2. Scream (8.25)
3. Scream 3 (8)
4. Scream 4 (7.75)

And with that, we wrap up the series. As usual, I must make mention that there is a TV series that spawned from this series which doesn't have any real connection to the movies other than adapting the killers' basic look (albeit changing this mask slightly) and the need to chase after them for a crime connected to a past tragedy, but I will not be covering that here for it's not a film and this is just a movie overview site. However, due diligence means it still deserves a mention and thus, having been mentioned, time to close it off here and see you all next time.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Director Run-Through - William Castle


Welcome back to another entry here, and the time has come for us to discuss one of my personal favorite directors. Much like the last director I covered, this one isn't about a very prolific person but is instead more of a pronounced individual that left a large mark on the scene as a whole, and with it having been his birthday this past Monday what better way to honor him than by going for a retrospective on William Castle.


As per usual, let's get to know a little more about our chosen director:
William Castle was born William Schloss Jr. on April 24, 1914 in New York City. Orphaned at 11, Castle dropped out of high school at 15 to work in the theater. He came to the attention of Columbia Pictures for his talent for promotion, and was hired. With a German-Jewish surname, he originally translated it 'Castle' which became his pseudonym when he arrived to work in the movie business. He learned the trade of filmmaking and became a director, acquiring a reputation for the ability to churn out competent B-movies quickly and on budget. He eventually struck out on his own, producing and directing thrillers which, despite their low budgets were effectively promoted with gimmicks, a trademark for which he is best known. He was also famously the producer for Rosemary's Baby.

Now, let's get into a little more about why we're covering Castle. Once again, we're not covering a prolific director as the film's here are covering only a seven-year period of time and are pretty much consisting only of one film per year on average, so frankly there's not a whole lot of work to be said here about his work in terms of quantity here. Instead, it's rather the quality of his work, as for the majority of the films he's done there's not a whole lot of flaws to be found, and with one exception I really can't find any that aren't any good at all, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. The main reason to do this one is the opportunity to discuss something that's quite intriguing with Castle, as he's renown for the inclusion of theater gimmicks for his films that are just as famous (or in some cases, infamous) than the movie they accompanied. Now, I'm not incredibly fond of gimmicks (I'll get into that in due time) but frankly, these films are still fun even if you take into account how the films are structured in order to get the gimmick into play.

So, as usual, let's get to his films.

Macabre

Overall, this was an exceptionally flawed and not really all that worthwhile effort, as the gimmick isn't that great and the movie's little better. The central premise for this one is quite chilling, with the abduction of the daughter and being buried in a grave that requires a man and wife to find her, means we get some incredibly wonderful Gothic atmosphere with the scenes in the cemetery that are quite creepy in design and chilling in how the story's built up. These scenes here and their bantering about where she is and where to dig are really the only parts of this that are worthwhile, as the rest of the time it doesn't have a whole lot to really get interested in. As it goes around with all the potential suspects and why they're interested in seeking revenge, the flashback nature of these participants and why they're out for revenge is not in the slightest bit interesting and drags the movie to a halt as it goes about this section of the movie, dropping all potential horror angles and does so for the majority of the film's running time. Even more so, the fact that the central premise doesn't allow for a lot of time dealing with the graveyard search forces this upon the viewer, a rather unfortunate handicap right off the top. It's got its moments, but not a whole lot of them. (5.25/10)

So, what's the gimmick? He came up with the idea to give every customer a certificate for a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd's of London in case they should die of fright during the film. He stationed nurses in the lobbies with hearses parked outside the theaters.


House on Haunted Hill

This is a little flawed, but there are some good points to it. When it gets to working right, the film is really on. The biggest instance is the film's incredibly creepy finale, which is one of the most creative ideas ever used to end a film. There are a couple of really great jump scenes in here where the ghosts pop out and terrorize the characters, including one really great one near the end where several individual jump scenes converge at once to throw in a really spectacular scene. The fact that the house looks pretty creepy works for it, for the big halls and huge spaces make it stand out in the creepiness factor. This does have some great moments, but there are some problems with this one that really lowers this one. The biggest one is that film really makes no mention of the ghosts haunting the house for most of the movie. It's mentioned several times throughout that they're responsible for several past incidents in the house and it's built around them, yet they are hardly in the movie. Once the marital strife subplot is brought up, the ghost angle pretty much sinks into the background and is completely ignored for most of the film that winds up hurting the film's premise for the majority of the time. The other really big flaw is that there's a really drawn-out pace for this one. The constant dealings with the married couple, which take up the majority of the second half of the film, is completely dull and boring as nothing interesting happens during the entire part. Seeing them argue with each other is boring and slows down the film, offering nothing much interesting for the film as all the bickering and pretend-deaths get old fast and take time away from the film's purpose. These are the film's biggest flaws. (7.75/10)

So, what's the gimmick? The film was filmed in "Emergo," where a skeleton with red-lighted eye sockets was attached to a wire and floated over the audience in the final moments of some showings of the film to parallel the action on screen when a skeleton rises from a vat of acid and pursues the villainous wife of Vincent Price's character. Once word spread about the skeleton, however, kids enjoyed trying to knock it down with candy boxes, soda cups, or any other objects at hand.


The Tingler

This one provides enough entertainment to prove worthwhile. One of the best features is that there's a really new and creative idea presented in the film to inspire terror. The fact that the creature is born from the human body's attempt at processing fear, and through a sense of experiments it comes to reason that its whole being is itself entirely creative. The film's at its best during its dream sequences, which are quite creepy and more than a little different from the other types out there. The design of the creature isn't that bad either, going along with the cheesy tone here with the theater sequences at the end, quite obviously put in there as gags for the theater experience long ago. These elements help the film become quite fun, while there's not a whole lot wrong with this one. The film's biggest flaw is that this stops dead for the opening and closing monologues by featuring him talking directly to the audience. Granted, they're inherently charming in their own way, but there's just the more obvious fact that you're watching a gimmick rather than actually being around something like this in real life. The only other one that strikes the film down is that there are way too many subplots at the beginning which just drag the opening out. The beginning really should've been about the discovery of the creature and the condition that creates it, not the marital issues that plague the characters. That really makes it feel like it's a part of a really different film, and doesn't really offer a lot of good moments. Otherwise, this one was pretty good. (8.5/10)

So, what's the gimmick? The film was filmed in "Percepto." The title character is a creature that attaches itself to the human spinal cord. It is activated by fright, and can only be destroyed by screaming. Castle purchased military surplus airplane wing de-icers (consisting of vibrating motors) and had a crew travel from theater to theater attaching them to the underside of some of the seats. In the finale, one of the creatures supposedly gets loose in the movie theater itself. The buzzers were activated as the film's star, Vincent Price, warned the audience to "scream – scream for your lives!" Some controversy about this has emerged over time, however, as sources incorrectly state the seats were wired to give electrical jolts. Filmmaker and Castle fan John Waters recounted in Spine Tingler!: The William Castle Story how, as a youngster, he would search for a seat that had been wired in order to enjoy the full effect.


13 Ghosts

This one has some really good stuff about it. The single best feature is undoubtedly the special effects used for the ghosts as most of the time about them is spent seeing shadowy, translucent forms. These are done quite well, and they really give this quite a creepy feel as few glimpses of them where we can get a clean look at them, they do look quite unsettling and a little disturbing. The fact that they also make up a large amount of screen-time, resulting in some great scenes, is quite nice with plenty of fine action here in the basement, the Ouija game the children play and the séance scene has some creepy moments in it. Along with a great pace and action-packed conclusion, these are the film's best moments while this one here didn't have a whole lot wrong with it. One of the big flaws is the presence of one of the biggest leaps of logic in movie history. The clues can be found towards the end, with all the secrets, but isn't hidden and is easily found. The other big flaw is that no attempt is made to make the house seem creepy at all. This one really could've played with the atmosphere and turned up the creep factor significantly, and it doesn't do that. Some of the effects might be considered cheesy, but on the whole, the other flaws are much more harmful. (8.25/10)

So, what's the gimmick? The film was filmed in "Illusion-O," where each patron received a handheld ghost viewer/remover. During certain segments of the film, a person could see the ghosts by looking through the red cellophane or hide them by looking through the blue. Without the viewer, the ghosts were somewhat visible. The DVD release included red/blue glasses to replicate the effect.


Homicidal

Overall this one really wasn't all that great even though there are a few solid points here. The main problem here is the near-total reliance on tactics that just aren't in the least bit threatening. The majority of her interactions with others makes for a thoroughly uneventful time here with all of these segments never once doing anything to prove she's nothing but a mere loony rather than mentally disturbed. As well, there's the rather bland method of going through a really long time to finish off the investigation of her activities, as the supposedly secretive actions are announced to all at nearly every opportunity affording not only a lazily-relaxed investigation manner but also affording them an opportunity to sabotage what's going on and keeping the ruse going. There are some good points here. The film's best part is the opening, which is a shocking and quite gruesome sequence that gets the shock by nicely intermingling the calmness before the attack to a rather startling sequence, the sheer suddenness bringing about a rather creepy time here and then the act itself works with the stabbing being quite brutal and leading to a fine escape. As well, the investigation makes this one feel quite a bit more suspenseful than expected here as this slowly breaks down the inevitable which is where there's a lot to like and really enjoy here by how this sets up the story. The last positive here comes from the finale, where the big suspenseful walk-through of the house and following brawl in the living room where it gives off a great revelation to the set-up throughout here that's quite original and makes for a really fun time here. These here help this one and move it up, but the flaws are a little too much for this one. (6.5/10)

So, what's the gimmick? There was a "fright break" with a timer overlaid on the film's climax, as the heroine approaches a house harboring a sadistic killer. The audience had 45 seconds to leave and get a full refund if they were too frightened to see the remainder of the film. He came up with 'Coward's Corner,' a yellow cardboard booth manned by a bewildered theater employee in the lobby. When the Fright Break was announced, and you found that you couldn't take it anymore, you had to leave your seat and, in front of the entire audience, follow yellow footsteps up the aisle, bathed in a yellow light. Before you reached Coward's Corner, you crossed yellow lines with the stenciled message: 'Cowards Keep Walking.' You passed a nurse who would offer a blood-pressure test. All the while a recording was blaring, "'Watch the chicken! Watch him shiver in Coward's Corner'!" As the audience howled, you had to go through one final indignity – at Coward's Corner you were forced to sign a yellow card stating, 'I am a bona fide coward.' In an early showing, wily patrons simply sat through the movie a second time and left at the break to get their money back; to prevent this in future, Castle had different color tickets printed for each showing.


Mr. Sardonicus

This was a fairly pleasant and enjoyable surprise. The main factor here is in the rather nice Gothic atmosphere on display here with the typical heavy fog rolling in on the landscape variety that creates a memorable impression all the way to the incredibly chilling moments in the graveyard later on during the flashback. This redeems the film drastically by looking incredibly tense and creepy, the actions being done during this section gives off a great vibe and there's a fantastic shock within when it gets to the casket revelation. The torture chamber scenes are just plain creepy, taking place in a stone cavern within the building that manages to produce a mood of utter despair and dread, the perfect setting to cast instruments of terror. There's even a nightmare sequence that's played up even more due to the fact that the room seems to be in on it as well and does whatever it can to enhance the terror as the shorter scenes work so well. Given the great look of the paralyzed individual, there’s a lot to like here while there wasn't a whole lot here that didn't work. The main one here is that the film decides to act out the back-story rather than just say it out. They play out way too long and just could’ve used a special backstory to tell it, as instead, these scenes drag a little. It’s what holds this back, (9/10)

So, what's the gimmick? The audience could vote on the villain's fate in a "punishment poll" during the climax. Castle himself appeared on screen to explain two options. Each member of the audience was given a card with a glow-in-the-dark thumb they could hold up or down to decide if Mr. Sardonicus would be cured or died. Supposedly no audience ever chose mercy, so the alternate ending was never screened. Though Castle claimed in his autobiography that the merciful version was shot and shown occasionally, many believe otherwise. In the drive-in version, drivers were asked to flash their car headlights to choose.


Strait-Jacket

There wasn't a whole lot to this one either way. The film's only real virtues are its creepy scenes towards the end. The body count picks up slightly and there are even a few good suspense scenes thrown in from some nice stalking in the yard by the barn to the scenes by the house that are quite nice. The final twenty minutes, where the real stalking and suspense take place are the film's best moments being full of stalking, the revelation of the killer in the twist and much more to be had that make this one really fun. These here are the film's good parts as there wasn't much with the film. The film's main flaw is that it's incredibly slow and boring. The film doesn't do much of anything until the end, and there's plenty of inactivity to be had from the film during these parts. The sheer fact that nothing happens until the end makes the beginning a real chore to sit through since it takes forever to get going and seems far longer than it really is. It's nearly impossible to get any excitement out of them, since it follows the pattern of setting up a potential moment, only to laugh it off when they break it down to them being deranged but only threateningly. As there’s a problem with it being unable to really commit to a style rather than go for a more thrilling moment, these here really lower this one. (6.5/10)

So, what's the gimmick? Actually advised by his financial backers to eliminate gimmicks, Castle hired Joan Crawford to star and sent her on a promotional tour to select theaters. At the last minute, Castle had cardboard axes printed that were handed out to patrons.


And with that, that's all for this entry. See you all next time.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Genre Run-Through - Jiangshi: The Hopping Vampire

Well, it’s time now for another write-up, and this time we’re going to tackle a topic that’s one of the best reasons for what the purpose of this blog is about. We’re going around the world to a special subset of horror films most might not have seen but has a thriving subset of films deep in the history of this particular country.

So, what is this mystery horror set of films I’m referring to? Well, by random chance this weeks’ discussion is a specific Chinese legend called the Jiangshi. A jiangshi, also known as a Chinese "hopping" vampire, ghost or zombie, is a type of reanimated corpse in Chinese legends and folklore. "Jiangshi" is read goeng-si in Cantonese, cương thi in Vietnamese, gangshi in Korean, and kyonshī in Japanese. It is typically depicted as a stiff corpse dressed in official garments from the Qing Dynasty, and it moves around by hopping, with its arms outstretched. It kills living creatures to absorb their qi, or "life force" which usually occurs at night, while during the day it rests in a coffin or hides in dark places such as caves. Jiangshi legends have inspired a genre of jiangshi films and literature in Hong Kong and East Asia which we'll get to in just a bit.


Now, being that this is a creature that is based on actual Chinese folklore, there is the need for a brief history of where the creature came from. A supposed source of the jiangshi stories came from the folk practice of "transporting a corpse over a thousand li." The relatives of a person who died far away from home could not afford vehicles to have the deceased person's body transported home for a burial, so they would hire a Taoist priest to conduct a ritual to reanimate the dead person and teach him/her to "hop" their way home. The priests would transport the corpses only at night and would ring bells to notify others in the vicinity of their presence because it was considered bad luck for a living person to set eyes upon a jiangshi. This practice, also called Xiangxi ganshi, was popular in Xiangxi, China where many people left their hometown to work elsewhere. After they died, their bodies were transported back to their hometown because it was believed that their souls would feel homesick if they were buried somewhere unfamiliar to them. The corpses would be arranged upright in single file and be tied to long bamboo rods on the sides, while two men (one at the front and one at the back) would carry the ends of the rods on their shoulders and walk. When the bamboo flexed up and down, the corpses appeared to be "hopping" in unison when viewed from a distance away.

Once it came to the movies themselves, the films were quite adept at featuring elements in common with the films at the time. Adopting these visual elements for the creature, it plays more in line with the American idea of zombie films from the 30s and 40s which were mindless slaves unconcerned with more familiar tropes as in flesh-eating or even the vampiric sense of blood-drinking. Rather, they were presented as relics of a bye-gone era in visual appearance that were extremely proficient martial artists that used those skills to carry out the deeds of their supernatural controllers. This concept provided the films with not only extremely fun and fluid action scenes in the martial arts battles between the vampires and those that it comes into contact with but the concept of this mindless denizen looking like a relic from the past hopping around like a kangaroo is the source of really awesome comedy. Still, being a horror film the threat is taken with utter seriousness and the situation is given plenty of room to be threatening as well, giving it some solid horror workouts in the end.

Well, now that we’ve taken a quick look at the origins of the creature, let’s take a look at some of the films in the genre here. The earliest concerning vampires is Midnight Vampire, directed in 1936 by Yeung Kung-Leung although not much information about the film is available beyond the fact that it was made but it nevertheless remains the first one until the 70s where the genre picked up a little more. Starting with the Shaw Brothers/Hammer Studios crossover The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires which was a cross between traditional Gothic melodrama as only Hammer could do with the mixture of chop-socky martial arts courtesy of some of the finest kung-fu performers on the Shaw Brothers roster, the film brought a reintroduction of vampires into the Hong Kong cinema and resulted in several other releases in the genre although none of them contained any connection to the Chinese variant on the style. Ranging from efforts like The Spiritual Boxer to Fake Ghost Catchers and Those Merry Souls, these efforts are more line with treating the spirits as more ghost-like and Western-leaning in their behavior rather than the more traditional Chinese variations.


It would take one of Hong Kong martial arts cinema's favorite sons, Sammo Hung, to be the one to exploit these more traditional tropes. In the classic Encounters of the Spooky Kind, about a young man who is continually forced to spend the night in haunted temples where a demonic witch brings out all sorts of ghouls and creatures to defeat him so that it's employer can finally get with the man's wife, one of the main creatures raised by the witch is the jiangshi as a hopping vampire who sets out to kill him. The casting of a real martial artist in the role, Sammo's long-time friend, and fellow Kung Fu-tier Yuen Biao, allowed for a series of fantastic martial arts to be displayed which are jaw-dropping in their physical prowess while also containing some of the finest physical comedy in the scene.


A bonafide tour-de-force and one of the country's finest movies ever regardless of genre, the film was naturally a box-office smash in its native Hong Kong and laid the groundwork for a slew of ripe and vicious horror to emerge from the country. While not necessarily inclusion into the topic covered here, the mix of black magic, sorcery and utterly inclusive Taoist teachings present in Spooky Encounters can be seen as the precursor to fare like the Shaw Brothers' Black Magic series of films, popularized by BewitchedThe Boxer's Omen and Seeding of a Ghost among others. Other knockoffs, as Devil Fetus and Black Magic with Buddha also emerged in that time and helped to cement the newfound relaxed censorship in the country by offering far more gruesome exploitation than the kind-hearted Spooky Encounters reveled in, dropping the slapstick comedy for revolting scenes of live animals and insects being vomited up or crawling over oozing wounds to varying effect which all nonetheless come across as the kind of work influenced by this success. As well, Revenge of the Zombies, The Miracle Fighters and Dreadnaught also emerged within a relatively quick time after that initial success and further the Hong Kong cinema's increasing use of period settings, religious mysticism, bone-chilling thrills and side-splitting comedy that were all in grand display and served as fine links in the line to the later efforts.

Alongside these releases, several other big films emerged to help spread several of the themes featured in the emerging hopping-vampire genre. First up was Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave, which features a young man who employs hopping ghost assassins to avenge his father's murder. Continuing to exploit the evil wizard character whose magic powers are complemented by considerable kung-fu skills, the film is mostly notable for having the Taoist priest summons Count Dracula to fight for him which makes for a rather interesting turn-around of the earlier Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires where the vampire instead possesses the body of a Chinese priest in that film. Other efforts, including the stand-out The Spooky Bunch which brings the genre out of the period setting and uses a more modern setting in its tale of a group of incompetent Chinese Opera company called out to a remote island for a performance only to find themselves beset by vengeful ghosts. Other fine efforts from that time period, including The Trail and Sammo Hung's follow-up film The Dead and the Deadly all manage to further the exploits of the genre.


However, no other film in the genre looms higher or more intensely than the legendary Mr. Vampire. One of the few legitimate rivals to the throne of finest Hong Kong horror film ever made, this gut-busting effort features the efforts of a Taoist priest and his bumbling assistants to try to curb the exploits of a hopping vampire accidentally released in a small village. With plenty of jaw-dropping martial arts courtesy of the late-great star Lam Ching-ying and supporters Chin Siu-ho, Billy Lau and Yuen Wah as well as exceptionally hilarious physical comedy from the two students who are completely overmatched by the ghosts and vampires suddenly in their midst, this one also manages to feature many of the usual tropes to be found in the genre to come in the form of a wise, benevolent Taoist priest that's adorned with a unibrow, proficient in the practice of spell-casting and martial arts who sets out to rid the town of the influence of the wandering ghosts and would become the standard-bearer for the genre henceforth.

The effect this film had on the industry as a whole is quite profound. Three loosely-connected sequels immediately followed in the late 80s, while officially-accepted sequel Mr. Vampire 1992/New Mr. Vampire arrived several years later in the early 90s. By then, the genre had bloomed into a fruitful enterprise with another effort titled New Mr. Vampire but a whole slew of films capitalizing on the success of the original which includes the efforts Vampire vs. Vampire, Magic Cop, Crazy Safari which itself is a second spin-off capitalizing on the success of The Gods Must Be Crazy, The Ultimate Vampire, The Musical Vampire and finally Exorcist Master all of varying quality but all still loosely connected to the same central themes established for the series.

Now, this form of gluttony cannot possibly be expected to continue on, and indeed that was the case here as this rabid onslaught of films forced the genre to die up. Not even an American attempt to cash in on the craze, The Jitters, brought out any kind of special attention to the genre after the glory years and managed to strike the rotting corpse back into the grave, seemingly forever.

In the new millennium, however, it did come crawling out for a tentative first few steps with a small handful of throwback efforts to the genre's heyday. The first effort, Vampire Controller is a rather straightforward and by-the-numbers affair that throws in the strong action and comedy that was prevalent in the style, even casting a few leading actors from these original group of films. The next two efforts, The Era of Vampires and The Twins Effect both tried some new elements into the mythos with Era going for a straight film without any comedy at all even with the throwback nature of the plot and special effects while Twins goes to more European vampire influences with the Dracula stand-in and behavior rules alongside the Hong Kong style previously utilized throughout here.

More recently, though, it hasn’t lead to much else for the genre. The most recent offerings, a postmodern take on the subject titled Rigor Mortis which goes so far as to recast most of the surviving cast members of Mr. Vampire but to make it take place in a world where they’re actors who must take out the creatures they did in the movies and a final traditional offering in the genre, Sifu vs. Vampire which goes back to the traditionally established norms of the genre. It’s the most recent effort in the genre and really does seem like it should kickstart the genre once again but nothing else has emerged in the time since, and thus we leave it here in terms of the genre.

Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Director Run-Through - James Whale

Well, we're back now and it's time for a new effort today, and this one is one I'm a little proud of in sharing here. Today's entry is going to be a director run-through for one of the founding fathers of the genre as he is perhaps one of the more important directors in the shaping of the genre even if he's not as prolific as some may like. Today, we're looking at the legendary James Whale.


So, why are we looking at Whale today? Several reasons, the first being that the nature of this blog allows me to look at the history of the genre from the beginning to today (so long as it's not Silent) and Mr. Whale here is perhaps one of the singular faces defining the history of what came after. Second, he only has four credible horror titles to his resume so this won't be a taxing read on you or as strenuous as it was for me to write up as the last two episodes on this blog were so a nice, breezy effort like this where it's light but I'm still providing content might be perfect to cleanse the palette after a brief break last week. Lastly, perhaps my all-time favorite podcast, The HorrorCast, have been producing incredibly high-quality discussions this year on Universal's monster movies which has included James Whale amongst their work, yet there are a few films of his that haven't been covered so this might fill in some of the gaps in their coverage.

With that out of the way, let's learn a little more about our selected individual here with a special biography:

James Whale was an English film director, theater director and actor. He is best remembered for his four classic horror films: Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man (1933) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Whale also directed films in other genres, including what is considered the definitive film version of the musical Show Boat (1936).
In 1931, Universal Studios signed Whale to a five-year contract and his first project was Waterloo Bridge. Based on the Broadway play by Robert E. Sherwood, the film stars Mae Clarke.
Also in 1931, Universal chief Carl Laemmle, Jr. offered Whale his choice of any property the studio owned. Whale chose Frankenstein, mostly because none of Universal's other properties particularly interested him and he wanted to make something other than a war picture.
In 1933, Whale directed The Invisible Man (1933). Shot from a script approved by H. G. Wells, the film was a blended horror with humor and confounding visual effects. It was critically acclaimed, with The New York Times listing it as one of the ten best films of the year, and broke box-office records in cities across America. So highly regarded was the film that France, which restricted the number of theaters in which undubbed American films could play, granted it a special waiver because of its "extraordinary artistic merit".
Also in 1933, Whale directed the romantic comedy By Candlelight (1933) instead of a sequel to Frankenstein as he feared being pigeonholed as a horror director even though he eventually relented with the masterpiece Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Bride hearkened back to an episode from Mary Shelley's original novel in which the Monster promises to leave Frankenstein and humanity alone if Frankenstein makes him a mate. He does, but the mate is repelled by the monster who then, setting Frankenstein and his wife free to live, chooses to destroy himself and his "bride." The film was a critical and box office success.
He committed suicide by drowning himself in his Pacific Palisades swimming pool on 29 May 1957 at the age of 67. He left a suicide note, which Lewis withheld until shortly before his own death decades later. Because the note was suppressed, the death was initially ruled accidental.-credit:IMDb

Now, that biography did indeed spoil the contents of the films in the post but that doesn't mean we can't take a look at each of these:

Frankenstein


Frankly, this still one of the more important and impressive films in the genre. Though not the first adaptation of the classic story, this one still retains its power with the legendary resurrection scene that comes off as incredibly exciting even before the creature stirs beneath the sheets which is still one of the most visually-arresting and chilling scenes in the genre. Taking plenty of advantage of the opulent Gothic sets, they're filled with all manners of electronic gadgets and plenty of fanciful equipment which really bring out the grand nature of the location as the second half goes into the great scenes of them attempting to control it in the laboratory which proves incredibly difficult with his violent tendencies and begins lashing out at them forcing their need to dispose of it before it escapes. There's plenty of fun to be had here with the creature loose in the countryside generating more solid fun with the legendary sequence of it with the little girl and finally appearing at the house during the wedding which is another great and truly fun sequence. Finally, the action-packed spectacle that is the finale is one of the best in the genre with its full-scale hunting of the creature leading to the big battle at the windmill where not only is there the torch-wielding mob to contend with but also the brawling of the doctor that makes for a rather spectacular finish needed in this kind of movie. Though it gets a little slow at places with the final half with the atrocious dance number and lack of creature scenes featured, there's a lot to really like in this one. (10/10)


The Old Dark House

Though this is definitely the weakest of the man's films, there's still a lot to like here. The grand Gothic manner is enjoyable in the set-up here as the layout of the house is incredibly chilling and creepy, the antics of the family come off as far more creepy than what would be found in a normal family makes the groups' initial appearance at the house seem better than expected and the fact that there are so many introductory elements found here from the classic trope of strangers stranded for the night being forced to stay at the creepy old house with the creepy family within. That alone is reason enough to get into this one before getting into the rather hilarious comedy featured throughout here, from the incredibly witty wordplay or the goofy situations that come about here which are quite genuinely funny and work so well together with the films' horror-based tone. It does get far more fun in the finale which gets the big burning-down-the-house routine, but its impact is lessened by the fact that much of what came before it comes off way too stilted and bland, a product of its source material origins being adapted from the stage play. That ends up hurting the film where it feels overly staged and stiff during the middle half which makes it somewhat dull in these spots but overall it's still got a lot to like. (8.75/10)


The Invisible Man

This is one of the greatest horror films of all time. One of the best parts about this one is the special effects which are absolutely amazing, especially when you take into consideration that they were virtually inventing methods of composite mattes in the film to make the invisible man truly come alive and real. The effects are used liberally, giving scenes showing a shirt running around seemingly by itself or more difficult ones showing him unwrapping the bandages in a mirror to inanimate objects being controlled by themselves and are still a remarkable achievement to the technical prowess of the effects. The effects are not only used to build suspense and inspire fear, they are used to create a few comic moments as well which makes for quite the fun time here as this provides some nice laughs along with the chills. The action works nicely here with some big set-pieces with the train accident, the car crash and the police ambush at the very end, while the different tactics to try to corral him are clever and quite inventive. There isn't a whole lot at all to dislike. The biggest issue here is that romance angle between the two here doesn't work at all as there isn't much chemistry at all, and it's a hard time understanding what she saw in him even before he became invisible. There's also the fact that he seems to be remarkably immune to the cold despite the fact that it is winter, and he is buck naked whenever he goes about invisible. It would have better to see that angle explored a bit more as well as the issues of food, sleep, and shelter. Aside from these relatively excusable problems, this is a real classic film with a lot to like about it. (9.5/10)


Bride of Frankenstein

This here was quite the exceptional sequel with so much to really like here. Much like the original, this one exploits the concepts of life and death only to a much greater degree here. The central scene in the hermits' cottage emphasizes this quite effectively with the monster able to show compassion and friendship despite not having any need for doing so based on previous experience, and the concept of this shows this off far better than anything possible out there to attempt this and offers a great side to him that wasn't possible before hand. While this here is quite fun enough as it is, the fact that there's such a plentiful amount of action here that gives this one such a fantastic pace as there's the absolutely spectacular opening that not only follows through on fixing the ending from the other film while generating the proper action to start this one nicely, the following chase through the woods gives this plenty of great shots showing the villagers forcing him through the area is really exciting as the halting chases are utterly enjoyable as he escapes several times leading to even more brawls and chasing, and the film's main centerpiece sequence with the encounter with the Bride at the finale. There's so much to really love with the intensity of the creature coming back to life matching the original and it lifting off the table elicits the same eerie chills, and with it again playing into the life and death there's absolutely crazy finale in the castle tower which is the explosive, frenzied spectacle of the whole place coming and burying everything inside which is rather fun. Alongside the fine monster makeup for both creatures, these here are what make this one hold up incredibly well. There's only one flaw here, which is that the Bride comes into play so late in the film and doesn't really do much that it seems almost like an afterthought as there's so little screen time that it doesn't have much to do beyond its appearance. This here is what really holds it back. (10/10)


And with that, thanks for joining us for this look at one of the more important directors of the genre. We'll see you next time.