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.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Genre Run-Through: The History of Werewolf Films, Part 2

Welcome back. Last time, we took a look at the historical history of the werewolf, but now we're going into what we usually do here which is go into the films themselves. This post here is about the history of the genre and the major films involved in the launch of the genre.

Our search for the beginnings of the genre takes us to the Great White North, as shockingly the first production involving the creature is not what you may believe it to be. I have a feeling what most might believe it to be, but we rather turn back even further to the silent era as Canada of all places takes the lead with their 1925 effort Wolfblood, a quirky melodrama/horror effort about two rival logging companies at war with each other which becomes complicated when an accident to one of the companies' owners requires a blood transfusion coming from a local mountaineer's pet wolf and the usual lupine activities ensue. Granted, this one is a little hard to swallow in terms of being a true, traditional 'Werewolf' movie as we know it (I personally haven't seen this yet, but a quick glance at the reviews on the linked IMDb page shows quite a bit of time dealing with the logger camp rivalry and the love triangle being the centerpiece of the film long before we get to the werewolf transformation sequence and that doesn't come close to a more traditional offering at all) so it's drama-heavy leanings do overshadow the horror here, but it’s a fine first step.


After this first step, though, it all starts coming a little clearer as the turnover into the sound era gives us our first more commonly-accepted werewolf film. The home of horror in the 1930s, Universal Studios, ushered the first traditional werewolf film in 1935 with Werewolf of London, about a London doctor played by Henry Hull who comes into contact with a strange curse on an expedition to a Tibetan mountainside that turns him into a werewolf when he returns to the city and forces him to come to terms with the affliction. Despite not being as big a hit as other efforts from the studio at the time, this has gone on to become a film whose importance and impact on the genre cannot be underestimated. Due to the first-hand need for turning the character into a wolf/human hybrid at a much earlier time than the previous film, the need for legendary make-up artist Jack Pierce to sculpt the creatures’ look and appearance fostered a common trope with an upright, humanoid look to the beast only to have a slight if still pronounced snout and prodigious hair applied around the face and hands to signify the change into a wolf-like creature.

Beyond this physical work, the film is also noteworthy for introducing several common and readily accepted parts of werewolf mythology even though it’s widely acknowledged that these elements were made up for the film. The instances of a person turning into a werewolf after being bitten or scratched by a wolf on the next full moon after the attack is a trope simply improvised for the film. Last time we saw that werewolves throughout history were commonly shown to be the result of practicing witchcraft and were able to turn into the beast at any time, day or night. This ability to change only at night after a bite or scratch is a complete fabrication but has since gone on to become a part of the accepted norm of the folklore such that nearly every werewolf movie since has adopted. It originated here, though, which needs to be pointed out.

The fact that it wasn’t a huge hit is entirely evident in the fact that it took six years for a follow-up to come, and it’s essentially a wholesale reboot in the grandest style as this leads directly into the undisputed classic The Wolf Man. It still stands the test of time even coming up on it’s 80th Anniversary as the tale of a truly innocent man played by Lon Chaney Jr. corrupted by the power of the beast and turned into a vicious, bloodthirsty beast with the the light of the moon fulfilling the change in earnest, and finally relying on the power of a loved one to put him down for good. Widely claimed as one of the finest horror films in the genre and routinely makes the Top 5 spots in the specific subset of werewolf films as a whole, this holds up as one of the finest efforts in the Universal canon.

What makes the film so impactful beyond it being legitimately enjoyable on its own is the work done to carry the genre along into the future. The original works started in the earlier Werewolf of London, the ability to transform from a wolf bite or scratch as well as the change occurring with the full-moon, were carted over yet slightly updated with the connecting themes brought out with the immortal rhyme: "Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright." This quote has been listed in some sources as an authentic Gypsy or Eastern European folk saying. Nonetheless, writer Curt Siodmak admits that he simply made it up and the rhyme would be recited in every future Universal film appearance of the Wolf Man. Siodmak also claimed that he is responsible for the addition to the canon of the werewolf's vulnerability to silver, and this claim has often been repeated by horror aficionados, including director John Landis. According to legend, however, silver was first used to slay a werewolf in the Beast of Gevaudan, dating from the late 19th century. Novels recounting the legend appeared in the 1930's and featured the slaying of the werewolf with a silver bullet. The Wolf Man was the first film to utilize the silver bullet myth onscreen, though, which is where this claim comes from.

Another prominent aspect here is that the original werewolf designed for London became the design of the werewolf in this film, as the beastly look originally intended for Henry Hull is now the definite look employed for Chaney’s version. These would be repeated throughout the rest of the series in efforts Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula and the immortal Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein making for one of the more cohesive and solidly enjoyable franchises.

The enormous success of this film is quite impactful and noticeable, as a slew of imitators emerged in the wake of the films’ release. It’s quite obvious efforts like The Mad Monster, The Undying Monster and Cry of the Werewolf were there to cash-in on the box-office success while it’s easy to see the influence on Cat People in terms of a piece of local folklore coming back to haunt the modern society as well as the effects of the beast emerging through a transformation of one of the protagonists, which was all dropped from the sequel and is more of supernatural drama than a straight-up horror. The further success of Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman spawned the quickie cash-in Return of the Vampire which again brought the vampire and werewolf together on-screen, but it was obvious a case of dwindling returns saw none of these, bar the Universal franchise and Cat People saw any kind of commercial success. That leaves the lone holdout She-Wolf of London as the last of the cash-ins on the franchise and instead marks the only other film in the decade.

That inevitably lead into the 50s where not a whole lot actually emerged in the genre. A quickie drive-in effort, simply titled The Werewolf appeared in 1956, and a follow-up to the I Was a Teenage franchise with the expected I Was a Teenage Werewolf featuring a young Michael Landon as an angsty teenager who is ingested with a serum and turned into a werewolf who runs loose in a small town. Still, these never did much to inspire much as it became a supporting character in How to Make a Monster alongside the Frankenstein Monster but it’s not important to the film that it’s a werewolf and is instead about a movie shoot so there’s very little about it that even qualifies it for inclusion other than completions sake.

As the 60s emerged, it took the overseas market to finally bring some respectable work for the creature. In Mexico, the legendary comedian Tin Tan offered up a healthy role for the equally-legendary Lon Chaney Jr. in a 1960 spoof of his original Larry Talbot role with La Casa del Terror/The House of Terror, which had a rather odd journey to America as it arrived in the US in 1964 from producer Jerry Warren who took footage from this movie, another Mexican horror effort called La momia azteca/The Aztec Mummy and spliced the two together into a new film called Face of the Screaming Werewolf alongside a few bits of new footage to attempt to make it sensible. Nonetheless, the Mexican original is a stand-out in the genre at the time and provides Chaney with a solid late-career revival of his most famous creation and is most notable as the last time he donned the famous hair and fangs.

Other foreign efforts soon sprang up in the wake of the film’s release. Britain’s Hammer Studios, famous for their resurrection of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy, struck first with their own The Curse of the Wolfman featuring Oliver Reed as the son of a peasant girl raped by a prisoner and inheriting the lycanthropic curse which lies dormant when he’s loved and reactivates when he’s deprived of that. A little heavy on the melodramatic side, this still has quite a lot to add to the mythos here with the connection to the lupine activities being held down with the theme of love. Even without the need for silver bullets or special formulas to bring him down, this one really puts an extra emphasis on the creature being controlled and contained in that regard, and it emerges as one of the more intriguing efforts even with its flaws. Still, it did lead to the exploitative Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory which is an interesting time-waster if nothing else.

It took until 1968 for another effort to come forth, but it finally did so with a bang. The immortal Spanish actor Jacinto Molina (or Paul Naschy to his fans), spurned by his years of growing up on the Universal series of films sought to offer his own take on the genre with La marca del hombre-lobo/The Mark of the Wolfman, featuring Molina as a Polish nobleman called Waldemar Daninsky who finds his lineage cursed to undergo lycanthropy for previous misdeeds against a family of witches and forces him to wander the countryside slaughtering the innocent and when he turns to a psychic for help in lifting the curse learns that his charges are actually vampires looking to use him to further their own diabolical plans.

A virtual love-letter to the original films from the 30s and 40s, Naschy had even intended to offer the main role to Chaney one more time who passed on it due to his failing health, necessitating he step into the role himself as the doomed Daninsky. Employing all the familiar tropes established in the Universal series, from the look of the creature to the loved one being the one to finally release him from the curse, the film revitalized the genre and made Naschy an icon in the genre overnight as the success of the film spurned him to usher the Golden Age of Spanish Horror as he had his hand in a vast majority of the classics in the scene and playing every cinematic monster under the sun, from Dracula, The Mummy, a hunchback and many more throughout his career. However, it’s undeniable success spawned a series of films about the creature that lasted from ‘68 until his death in 2009 for a total of thirteen films featured the sympathetic lycanthrope with one of his last roles ending the legacy with Um Lobisomem na Amazônia/A Werewolf in the Amazon. Overall, efforts like La noche de Walpurgis/Werewolf Shadow, La furia del Hombre Lobo/The Fury of the Wolfman, El retorno de Walpurgis/Curse of the Devil and El retorno del Hombre Lobo/Night of the Werewolf helped to solidify his name in the international market offering up the exploits of the character,

Sadly, this output did nothing to diminish the creature’s status as a drive-in staple as the genre was basically ignored for the most part by the major studios as evidenced by the titles Werewolves on Wheels, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, The Beast Must Die and The Legend of the Werewolf being the only other major titles to emerge in the decade. However, moving into the 80s the genre was at the forefront of the second major renaissance in Horror as they helped to spawn the widespread use of practical, on-set effects that were later to become a hallmark of the films from that time. This was spearheaded by the twin-stylings of An American Werewolf in London and The Howling and are still some of the most beloved titles in the genre. Each has their own specific positives (London has the better characters and action while Howling has more intensity and chills) yet the most important feature to be found here is the groundbreaking special effects work pioneered by both films.

With the exception of Wolfblood and Cry of the Werewolf, every other film that offered an on-screen transformation of the creature through a process known as a time-lapse or a dissolve. Essentially, the actor would go on-set with a few small pieces of make-up applied, whether it be a few splotchy pieces of hair sprouting up around his face, a slightly more pronounced Widow’s Peak in their hair and maybe a slightly elongated set of ears or whatever was used to denote the change, a few frames of footage were shot and the scene was cut. Then several extended pieces of makeup were applied that furthered the specified changes in anatomy (the hair got thicker and covered up more of the face, the fangs started to spring out of the mouth and the ears got both longer and pointier) then they were placed back into the same spot on set and a few more frames of footage shot. This continued on until the process became complete and a normal human was turned into a vicious, snarling, hairy beast out to hunt for human blood. This was the standard and never deviated at all, regardless of effectiveness, for the entirety of the films covered here.


Both London and Howling offered something more, however. With the advancement of rubber prosthetics that could be placed on the skin and then pumped with air, the on-screen effect that emerged was the stretching and deforming of the human body into much different shapes and designs, turning the transformation into a jaw-dropping experience as the humanoid mound of fur that denoted the original wolfmen could now become much more inhuman, a lupine change that offered elongated snouts, exceptionally different claws and fangs and the ability to go into a more canine pose standing on all-fours. They still hold their power to this day, being simply shocking in their concept and flawless in their execution as the sight of people visibly changing and morphing into utterly inhuman creatures remain the stand-out sequences in each film.



Neither film is all that concerned with updating or altering the traditionally-accepted folklore, and in turn, it shows in their adherence to the mysticism offered beforehand. London offers the same tired story of love from another woman to lift the curse, and while Howling tries to point out the fact that werewolves don’t need the full moon to transform and that silver is merely another invention of the movies, the fact that each movie is more remembered for their special effects is what’s to be taken away from here as the fact that these films proved the power of practical effects sees an upswell of films in the decade that utilized the work started here. The list is too numerous to mention and rightly includes many beloved and cherished titles in the genre, from the remakes of The Thing and The Fly to films like Fright Night, Night of the Demons and Evil Dead 2 among numerous others that came about in the decade.

So what was the fallout of this for the genre? Well, in terms of unleashing a flood of titles cashing in on this new craze of werewolf titles, the only real effort from this time-period is Wolfen, a typically different werewolf genre-effort that might not have anything to with the genre as a whole as the tie-in turns itself more into Native American folklore and the Wendigo myth rather than typical werewolf fare. A roundabout title, The Beast Within, concerns itself with the process of a transformation into the creature but doesn’t really show many other similarities to the genre and is more of an outright creature feature anyway. As well, despite their success at the box office neither film is really known for having cash-ins or follow-ups, as London finally got a sequel set in Paris nearly twenty-years later that’s a serviceable effort on its own when not looked at being compared to the original but is clearly a weaker effort.

Howling, though, fared even worse, being a favorite to having the greatest drop-off in quality from an original effort to its sequels as this one nose-dived hard. The first sequel is more renowned for its director placing the singular image of a woman ripping her dress off to reveal her breasts on repeat at least ten times over the course of the finishing credits and could very well be Sir Christopher Lee’s worst film ever. Efforts Three and Four have their charms but it’s still quite clearly dredging the bottom of the barrel; Five is clearly the best of the bunch and comes off rather nicely yet both Six and Seven are just a pure pain to get through, while the reboot was fine if totally underwhelming. More will be told when the franchise comes up later, yet the fact that this one crashed and burned so quickly after reaching such a lofty peak is at least worthy of mention.

Perhaps, that in turn has lead to where we are now, as the modern-day times for the creature has left it strictly rendered back where it was in the 70s, a low-budget staple. Never afforded the same love or care as vampires or even zombies, the genre has now been relegated to the direct-to-video market so even though an effort like Ginger Snaps, Dog Soldiers or The Wolfman remake will come out those are indeed exceptions to the rule. As well, let’s face facts: they’re supporting characters in the Underworld franchise as those are all about Selene and the vampires.

Now, before we go, it’s also important to note that a few films out there do attempt to try something different with the werewolf formula, for better or worse but are certainly worth a look and at the very least mentioned:

El bosque del lobo/The Wolf’s Forest is a Spanish drama film recounting the trial of one Manuel Blanco Romasanta, credited as Spain’s first serial killer. Indeed, it’s a courtroom drama more than a horror film, but it makes a lot of serious allegations about the curse of lycanthropy in determining one’s own destiny. Don’t know much about it, but a more horror-centered version of the tale, simply called Romasanta, is also available.
The Brotherhood of the Wolf contains a rather incredibly-detailed account of the incidents surrounding the legendary case involving the mythical Beast of Gévaud, one of the legendary werewolf tales from the middle ages.
The Beast of Bray Road appears as a telling of the folklore tale involving the Michigan Dogman which is said to be a werewolf by some experts.
Blood and Chocolate offers up some points relevant to the Rougarou myth rather than focusing on strict lycanthropy.

So, there you go with the history of the creature in the genre. Not an entirely bad showing, and is filled with some hidden gems beyond the expected titles so give it a look and see what else lurks in here. See you next time.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Genre Run-Through - The History of Werewolf Films, Part 1

 photo WereWolf.jpg

So, it’s time once again to do another one of these genre write-ups, and this one is about one of the finest monsters to grace the silver screen, the werewolf. This is one of my personal favorite genres and is one that has a lot to talk about whether it be in the cinematic realm or historical one, as this is one of the rare times where a film/genre has a connection to actual history. Now, this is one of the most convoluted and twisting turns to wrap around, so up-front I’ll say that this one will be two separate posts, so this one will be covering the history of the werewolf in history with the second one coming up later will be about the creature on film.

Immediately, going into actual history, we come across a small piece that needs to be explained first. There’s the small matter of where the name comes from, and a little digging unveils a small bit about the origins of the term. The main root here is a combination of Old English and Greek, as the early term comes from the word lycanthropy, a Greek combination that comes from the combination of the words lykánthropos for "wolf" and anthrōpos for "human," so literally a wolf-human. Throughout the years, the phrase was adopted and altered, going from the German variant “weriuuolf” that eventually became altered in “wariwolf,” while Anglo-Norman sources credit the creature as “garwolf,” and Scandinavian sources name it first as “varúlfur” before later using the term “ulfhéðinn” (meaning ‘one in wolf-skin’) and in modern Scandinavian also has "kveldulf," or 'evening-wolf,' after Kveldulf Bjalfason, a historical berserker of the 9th century who figures in the Icelandic sagas.


So, with that accomplished, let’s move on to another facet to be accomplished: what is a werewolf? A werewolf is a mythological or folkloric human with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf or a hybrid wolf-like creature, either purposely or after being placed under a curse or affliction that has usually come via a bite or scratch from another werewolf. While some of these have come and gone over the years, these are the commonly-associated terms to be found throughout history in regards to how the curse is passed on.

In more common terms, the term lycanthropy has a connection to a historical figure in Greek mythology. According to legend, the term is traced back to King Lycaon who ruled the kingdom of Arcadia in ancient Greece. There are numerous variations of the legend concerning his transformation into a wolf, yet the most commonly told version pertains Lycaon tempting Zeus, ruler of the Greek Gods, with the roasted flesh of his own son in order to determine whether Zeus was truly omniscient. Upon knowing of the ruse, Zeus vented his wrath upon Lycaon by turning him and his sons into the form of a wolf. As mentioned, there are numerous variations which range from utilizing a random stranger for the cursed meal to featuring a mutilated child of one of his kids, while others make mention of a mocking sacrifice to Zeus where he butchers a child on a sacred altar, but regardless of the method the common outcome is still the same.


Another rather common connection traces itself back to the Norse legends of the Berserker. In Old-Norse writings, the word comes off as “ber-skjaldaðr,” which means ‘bare of shield,’ a common tactic of Viking warfare of entering battle adorned in animal skins rather than traditional armor favored and utilized by armies of their contemporaries. Although commonly utilized with the wearing of bear-skins, the concept of wearing the outer skin of an animal in order to harness the power of the chosen animal is a common trope associated with later forms of lycanthropy in history.


Throughout history, the werewolf has been a widespread concept in European folklore, existing in many variants related by a common development of a Christian interpretation of underlying European folklore developed during the medieval period, which lasted from the 5th to the 15th Century. Belief in werewolves developed in parallel to the belief in witches, in the course of the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. Like the witchcraft trials as a whole, the trial of supposed werewolves emerged in what is now Switzerland, especially the Valais and Vaud, in the early 15th century and spread throughout Europe in the 16th, peaking in the 17th and subsiding by the 18th century. The persecution of werewolves and the associated folklore is an integral part of the "witch-hunt" phenomenon, albeit a marginal one, accusations of werewolf activity being involved in only a small fraction of witchcraft trials. From the early modern period (or from around 1500 to about 1800), werewolf beliefs also spread to the New World with colonialism in North America.

During the early period, accusations of lycanthropy (transformation into a wolf) were mixed with accusations of wolf-riding or wolf-charming. One of the most significant efforts during this time was the case of Peter Stumpp in 1589, a serial killer and cannibal from Germany nicknamed "The Werewolf of Bedburg" who claimed under torture to having killed not only goats, sheep and lambs but supposedly fourteen men, women and children over a twenty-five year period, and in turn led to a significant peak of both interest in and persecution of supposed werewolves, primarily in French and German-speaking Europe. The phenomenon persisted longest in Bavaria and Austria, with the persecution of wolf-charmers recorded until well after 1650, the final cases taking place in the early 18th century in Carinthia and Styria. Other cases involving werewolves, including Gilles Garnier in France or Manuel Blanco Romasanta of Spain, figure prominently in the history of the genre though mentioning more will turn this into a far longer piece than intended.



One of the key aspects of many of these instances is their ability to transform into a wolf. Many of these supposed trials were conducted under the idea that these people were transformed into wolves through the use of magical wolf-skin pelts, worn by their intended victim and that transforms them into a wolf. This has a great deal to do with the berserker legend of Norse mythology, and even the fact that there’s never been a confirm recovery of one of these wolf-pelts didn’t stop the persecutions from continuing. A large amount of these cases, for example, have recently been taken into account as a physical condition known as of congenital porphyria, stating how the symptoms of photosensitivity, reddish teeth and psychosis could have been grounds for accusing a sufferer of being a werewolf. Though greatly debated, the possibility exists of this as a possible contender for the origins of this particular myth.

Outside the scope of Europe, there isn’t a great deal of work to be had here which manages to restrict this to a few small, isolated cases. Mainland Asia associates the legend with werecats, where the afflicted usually become tigers. In India, the weretiger is often a dangerous sorcerer portrayed as a menace to livestock who might at any time turn to eating man. These tales traveled through the rest of India and into Persia through travelers who encountered the royal Bengal tigers of India and then further west. Chinese legends often describe weretigers as the victims of either a hereditary curse or a vindictive ghost as ancient teachings held that every race except the Han Chinese were really animals in disguise so that there was nothing extraordinary about some of these false humans reverting to their true natures. Alternatively, the ghosts of people who had been killed by tigers could become a malevolent supernatural being known as "Chang", devoting all their energy to making sure that tigers killed more humans. Some of these ghosts were responsible for transforming ordinary humans into man-eating weretigers.

Also, in Japanese folklore, there are creatures called bakeneko, a type of Japanese yōkai that are similar to “kitsune” (or ‘fox spirits’) and “tanuki” (‘raccoon dogs’). In Thailand, a tiger that eats many humans may become a weretiger while there are other types of weretigers, such as sorcerers with great powers who can change their form to become animals. In Thailand, however, the were-crocodile is more famous than any other werebeast. In the folk tale “Krai-thong,” for example, the titular hero defeats Chalawan the Giant, who could take the form of a crocodile with diamond teeth. Chalawan was nearly invulnerable and could use magic as well; however, all of these will be covered at length in later dates.

In both Indonesia and Malaysia, there is another kind of weretiger, known as Harimau jadian. The power of transformation is regarded as due to inheritance, to the use of spells, to fasting and willpower, to the use of charms, etc. Save when it is hungry or has just cause for revenge, it is not hostile to man; in fact, it is said to take its animal form only at night and to guard the plantations from wild pigs. Variants of this belief assert that the shapeshifter does not recognize his friends unless they call him by name, or that he goes out as a mendicant and transforms himself to take vengeance on those who refuse him alms. Somewhat similar is the belief of the Khonds, as for them the tiger is friendly, and he reserves his wrath for their enemies. A man is said to take the form of a tiger in order to wreak a just or sound vengeance. Also in Malaysia, Bajangs have been described as vampiric or demonic werecats, although that tends to blur the lines of what we're attempting here and again will be covered in detail at a later time.

Finally, we end up in America and find our focus on a specific creature that ties back into European folklore. Known in some quarters as the loup-garou, the more prominent spelling and pronunciation is the Cajun variant, the Rougarou. A shapeshifter from the swamps of Louisiana primarily, the rougarou most often is described as a creature with a human body and the head of a wolf or dog, similar to the werewolf legend. It's most often used to instill fear and obedience into young children with numerous sightings and rumors tying the creature into the areas's native superstitions concerning the holiday Lent, where in some areas it's said that the method for turning into the creature is for an individual to bring the rules of Lent for seven years in a row. Being a shapeshifter, the creature is not always concerned with being a dog-like creature and in some instances has been said to be anything from rabbits to insects and all manner of small animals living deep in the swamplands with a slight difference found in the change by being able to control their transformation into the beast either on regimented days or can be done at will.


Now, with that out of the way, what’s the particular connection between the historical connection and their film counterparts? Well, you’ll have to wait for that part next time.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Franchise Run-Through - Leprechaun

So today's a new day and time for a new write-up here, and due to the timeframe, there's no better way to go about doing this than the Leprechaun series. So grab your Lucky Charms, down your favorite green ale and celebrate St. Patricks' Day with this mischievous little devil.

Like always, we go to the beginning and start with the original. Despite its 1993 release date, the original was actually shot in 1991 and is most notable as being the debut film performance of Jennifer Aniston before she found fame on Friends. Beyond that, the film is also noteworthy as the first in-studio project of its production company, Trimark Pictures, to be released theatrically which had previously done theatrical releases of other independent work. Due to the continued need for reshoots to add more gore in order to appeal to older viewers as well as an issue the cereal brand Lucky Charms that needed to be removed after they grew upset over the film including the brand, the film finally came out early in 1993 and signalled the start of the franchise which came out in yearly increments for the first four installments and then carries on into several other entries later on for years to come.

So, there isn't a whole lot of behind-the-scenes trivia here on the production side, and while it will always be known as Aniston's launching pad no matter how hard she tries to deny it, there's little else to be found here regarding the series. One of the more important elements in the series, though, is that it helped to foster the rebirth of the urban horror motives later on in the early 2000s due to the final two sequels really enhancing those elements and putting the creature into those environments to somewhat different success as we shall see shortly. However, before we get there we again need to take a quick trip through the history of how I saw these. Now, it is a little bit of a random order, as I went from the original first to Back 2 tha Hood, then part 2, part 4, then the first in the Hood and then part 3 and topped off with Origins which I saw for the first time specifically for this write-up.

And with that, time to set these off:
Leprechaun

There was some good stuff to this one. It really manages to get a nice amount of suspense featured here in some of the attack sequences in the house as the singular location setting and relentlessness it goes after them makes for quite a fun time here, from the battles in the living room to the outside chase into the woods in a demented hide-n-seek game being played in the woods and the cheesy goodness featured in the mental home which manages to really get quite fun here. By introducing that cheesy nature with his constant quips and limericks, there's a lot of good times to be had here which does tend to really lower some of the later attempts at suspense with them stuck in the house attempting to figure out his intentions. The change in tone isn't a huge detriment in here which is a nice plus as the fact that there's plenty to like without a whole lot of flaws makes it a really solid effort. (9/10)



Leprechaun 2

This was a decidedly enjoyable if somewhat lackluster effort. The biggest plus here is the fine mind-games he plays on the victims, with the hallucinations and games he plays out in the real world coming across rather nicely in delivering some solid action as well as the utterly fun tormenting done when she's captured. The word-play games, the endless inescapable tunnel routes that hold her there and the way he constantly appears when she least expects it makes for a lot of great fun throughout here, and combined with the rest of the goofiness present gives this some solid positives. The new weakness introduced into the mythology doesn't make much sense as it's not tied into their history at all, there's little about the need for putting the curse on the girl in order to get her into this situation which makes sense and the final resolution fails to follow through any of the usual methods featured here, but there's still plenty of positives to be found here. (8.5/10)



Leprechaun 3

There's quite a lot to really like about this one. The reintroduction of more suspenseful stalking is a big plus, from the opening resurrection in the pawn shop to the hospital set-ups and the different sequences down in the casino all come off rather nicely, but the fact that there's still plenty of utterly cheesy antics throughout here. The new Leprechaun powers introduced here are utterly fun and silly, the way the coin continually passes to everybody around them gives this a rather fun atmosphere and so many of the kills here are just utterly goofy and silly that it really can't be taken seriously which expands on these elements even further from the previous efforts. The down-on-his-luck storyline in the first half is way too bland and doesn't really make it interesting while keeping the kills and the leprechaun off-screen which drags the pacing off, and some of the differences of tone between the cheese and the suspenseful makes it a tad jarring at times, but otherwise this one comes off rather fun. (8.75/10)



Leprechaun 4: In Space

This is one of the greatest efforts in the series. The film's at its best with the total adherence to the cheese, offering up not only the action with the introduction of the laser guns and the technology present in the time-period makes for the perfect world-building with the now side-splitting jokes, quips and limericks that are in play with the way the film goes out. The high amount of action doesn't hurt it and there's even more throughout here, from the opening rescue that springs this on to the garbage container shootout, the Marines encountering the creature in the underground tunnel makes for a nice sequence and the big battle in the cargo hold while he's now become gigantic is the perfect cream of the cheesy crop here and really enhances this one rather nicely. The CGI doesn't look that great, and the cheesiness doesn't for a second make for a threatening or even suspenseful tale here, but that's beside the point here as this one's charms come through much higher. (9.25/10)



Leprechaun in the Hood

This one here wasn't that bad and had enough going for it to be entertaining. Going full-bore into the cheesy storyline here is quite nice, as the transposition of an Irish Leprechaun into an urban, predominantly Africa-American neighborhood makes so little sense on its own yet still makes for a nice mixture of cheesy action and some thrilling moments. The first encounter in the subway station is a great way to start this, the rampant encounters in the ghetto are rather fun and the big encounter in the church gives this some really impressive moments. The film's biggest issue is the way it stops the plot dead in order to get the rap-battles out, as the gangster talk and lifestyle shown here are irritating to sit through and don't really move this along at all, the allusions to the lifestyle are innocuous if you're not a fan and they keep the creature off-screen for a large part of these scenes which isn't a big plus here. It has some decent moments, but there are some big flaws as well. (7/10)



Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood

This was a far better sequel than expected. One of the major improvements here is the comfortable manner of integration this has with the urban setting, as there's little here that feels at odds with the rest of the franchise. Dropping the hip-hop lifestyle in favor of a more universal story that at times feels like a remake of the original in terms of the creature seeking revenge for the perceived crime against him, not only feels like part of the other entries but gives this one quite a lot of action. From the rampage through the party to the stalking in the house, the car chase to escape the city and the big final confrontation in the abandoned lot, these all make for quite a series of highlights that feel quite in line with the rest of the action in the series, and along with some great kills and bloodshed offers a lot of positive here. The biggest issue is the change in the characters' motivations, as the dropping his tricks or wish-corrupting in favor of an ordinary supernatural villain is a little weaker of a villain than what it should be. It's really the biggest issue against this one. (9/10)



Leprechaun: Origins

This one here is quite the odd and rather confusing entry. There's a lot that works here, from the strong influx of local history and folklore into the storyline which gives this one a rather nice and enjoyable feel, the action of the creatures' attacks are quite fun especially in the first cabin sequence and the finale in the house and that also results in some nice brutality in the kills which are exceptionally graphic in tone and execution. Still, the fact that the storyline goes all over the place in terms of motivation for the creature, a thing of folklore that needs to be placated or a simple-minded beast out for specific items they have on them gives this a herky-jerky storyline which manages to leave this feeling like it's not even a part of the franchise as it has no real tie-ins to what's going on. Coupled with a disappointing and even infuriating creature which looks rather cheap and impossible to make-out with the quick-cut editing. These here hold it back but it's still got some positives overall. (8.5/10)



And so now we come to the ranking part:
1. Leprechaun 4: In Space (9.25)
2. Leprechaun (9)
3. Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (9)
4. Leprechaun 3 (8.75)
5. Leprechaun 2 (8.5)
6. Leprechaun: Origins (8.5)
7. Leprechaun in the Hood (7)

So, there we go with another run-through of a different franchise. A little controversial, but it's my thoughts on this series and one that I hold due to the series' rather fun and enjoyable outpouring of cheese that really appeals to me. Lighten up and have some fun with these films, you may find yourself enjoying them like I do. Thanks for stopping by and see you next time.