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.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Franchise Run-Throughs - Alien

So, it's time for another one of these franchise write-ups, and this time we're choosing to honor the recent passing of one of my most beloved actors, Bill Paxton, with the franchise role that made him famous, the 'Alien' franchise. I would've gotten to the series eventually, but his death will instead spur the catalist to do this series now.

Now, like before we need to start the franchise at the beginning. After completion of the film Dark Star (1974), writer Dan O'Bannon thought to develop some of the ideas (especially the theme of "alien hunts crew through a spaceship") and create a science-fiction action film. Provisionally called 'Memory,' screenwriter Ronald Shusett collaborated with O'Bannon on the project, adding elements from a previous O'Bannon script, Gremlins, which featured gremlins causing mayhem aboard a World War II bomber and wreaking havoc with the crew. The duo finished the script, initially entitled Star Beast, which was later changed to Alien after O'Bannon noticed the number of times the word "alien" occurred in the script. Their script was sold to Brandywine Productions, a company formed by producers Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill that had a distribution deal with 20th Century Fox. The writers imagined a low-budget film, but the success of Star Wars inclined 20th Century Fox to invest millions on the production.

In the original script, the ship has an all-male crew although the script's 'Cast of Characters' section explicitly stated that "The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women", including the Ripley character, who would be played by actor Tom Skerritt. Later, when Fox president Alan Ladd, Jr. and the producers at Brandywine heard rumors of Fox working on other titles with strong female leads, Sigourney Weaver was cast as Ripley and Skerritt became Captain Dallas. Shortly before filming began, Veronica Cartwright was set for the Ripley role, but Ridley Scott opted for Weaver following screentests.

Swiss painter and sculptor H. R. Giger designed the alien creature's adult form and the derelict ship, while French artist Mœbius created the look of the spacesuits and Ron Cobb provided most of the on-set design.

While the first film was successful, Fox did not consider a sequel until 1983 when James Cameron expressed his interest to producer David Giler in continuing the story. After Cameron's The Terminator became a box office hit, Cameron and partner Gale Anne Hurd were given approval to direct and produce the sequel scheduled for a 1986 release. Cameron wrote the screenplay from a story he developed with Giler and Walter Hill.

Following the second film, Weaver was not interested in returning to the series and so producers David Giler and Walter Hill commissioned a third film without the Ripley character. The premise was to return Ripley in a fourth installment, but Fox's president Joe Roth did not agree with Ripley's removal and Weaver was offered a $5 million salary and a producer credit to make 'Alien 3.' Released in 1992, the film was troubled from the start, with production beginning without even a finished script. Having already spent $1 million, music video director David Fincher, the third director considered for the film, was hired to helm the project. Giler, Hill and Larry Ferguson wrote the screenplay, based on a story from an earlier script by Vincent Ward. After production was completed in late 1991, the studio reworked the film without Fincher's involvement or consent. The death of Ripley was designed to bring closure to the franchise by killing off the principal character.

While fans and critics initially did not receive 'Alien 3' well, the film still did well at the box office worldwide and piqued Fox's interest in continuing the franchise. In 1996, production began on the fourth film, 'Alien: Resurrection.' Ripley was not in the script's first draft, and Weaver was not interested in reprising the role, although she later joined the project after being given a reported $11 million salary and more creative control, including being able to approve director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The script, set 200 years after 'Alien 3,' resurrected the Ripley character via human cloning. The film, released in 1997, experienced an extended production and was described by screenwriter Joss Whedon as having done "everything wrong" with his script.

And there we go with the full history of the series. Now, I would like to point out that I realize it's stopped at Resurrection rather than carrying on with not only the two Alien vs. Predator films but also the prequel series Prometheus and the upcoming Alien: Covenant. First, there's very little horror about either of the AvP films which are somewhat suspenseful Action/Sci-Fi films more than anything else and thus fall outside the scope of the purpose of the blog. The series as a whole does have a problem with this to begin with, and it's really exagerated in these films to the point of not being really pertinent in being here. As for Prometheus, there's even less horror elements here and it leans quite heavily in the sci-fi elements with a mystery about why they're there at the moon rather than dealing with any kind of horror elements. Covenent isn't out yet, so there's no way to have seen it. These here are what will keep them from being included.

Finally, one last big before we get to the films proper, my personal history with the series. There's not a really interesting story about the history of watching the series, as it's pretty much just straight on through in order. The first one came on TV when I was around 13 or 14, which prompted me to find the VHS of 2 and 3. It took a few years until I got the last one, and then the others were all seen shortly after they came to cable TV and home video. So, with that all done, let's get on with the films.

Alien


While this may be regarded as a legendary film, this one instead comes across as overrated. While it may have a countless number of influences from the different aspects surrounding it (the set-design, ship, the alien, etc) the fact remains that, if taken on as a singular film devoid of any of its influences, this one isn't all that great. Plus, for all the later imitations of the film, none of it is really important to the film itself and speaks far more to the reaction of the public rather than anything else to do with the film itself. It's so slowly paced and lifeless at times that it's a struggle to stay invested in what's going on, hardly inventive at all since these are where it's money-makers are spent, the building-up of the suspense in what's going to happen next. Giving a reason to remain in a state of suspense is just as important as the release, and this one forgets to do that constantly. You also have the fact that this one barely contains anything about the alien, either featuring scenes of it or getting to know it, that there's just such a dearth of knowledge about what it's doing that there's very little beyond the physical, which is pretty impressive admittedly, to really get worked up with this one over. As mentioned, the psychical appearance of the creature is really the film's best idea, suitably foreign and extraterrestrial in concept and execution and looking quite imposing when first viewed with some really nice features about it that make it something to be feared. It also has a few rather fun shock scenes that are quite impressive, which are well-known and won't be repeated and the stalking scenes in the later half are really suspenseful, so there is some good stuff here, but overall this is still somewhat overrated. (7.75/10)



Aliens

This is an almost-flawless film, with tons of stuff to really love and very little to dislike. In fact, the only parts not to like here result from the film's near gargantuan running time, which is tempered by the continuous action but still has a lot of extras in it that are wholly unnecessary and don't really serve much purpose beyond character development, which is quite extended in the later half with the surrogate-mother storyline being the main culprit that really hampers the action. In fact, that alone is really the film's main shining quality, it's stupendous and utterly thrilling action scenes which are some of the best filmed in the genre, and among the top in many other genres altogether. From the initial swarming shot in the colony to the encounters in the infirmary and the numerous shoot-outs with them, its pace is nearly frenetic and nonstop by giving off so many impressive scenes that there's a real sense of thrills to come from them. That also includes the aliens themselves getting more screen-time, and the extra exposure does them good as they come across, in all their stages, as a really imposing and fantastic life-form, and the extra knowledge acquired about them doesn't hurt either. The gore is ratcheted up with some more bodies to get ripped apart, the locations much more suspenseful and the film as a whole doesn't have a lot wrong with it, leaving this as a fantastic sequel that is far better than the original. (10/10)



Alien 3

This wasn't all that bad of an entry and is a surprisingly underrated effort. One of the better efforts here is that it's got some really decent stalking scenes among the prison set, including the fabulous set-ups in the ventilator shaft after finding skin on the ground before being attacked, a pretty tense altercation in the infirmary before an attack and a real rousing sequence where it escapes a trap and starts a massive chain reaction of explosions and fireballs through the facility that takes out most of the group being among the highlights here. Also helped along is a series of good stalking scenes, nicely done from the start through the intimidating, foreboding locations in the prison and the final plan to deal with the creature is great fun, with the corridor chases through the alien viewpoints, great kills and tense confrontations that are highly enjoyable, despite the few flaws present. The CGI for the alien is really embarrassing and makes no sense to be included, the prisoners are made so unknown they're barely worth remembering and their inclusion into the fighting stages in the second half is rather weak. The main weakness, though, comes from the fact that, against the others before it, it's really weak and doesn't really hold up with them. Still, overall, this one isn't bad if it's not measured up against the others. (7/10)



Alien: Resurrection

This here is an unjustly maligned sequel and actually has a lot of good stuff going for it. One of the better areas in the film is the high-intensity action that permeates the surroundings, really from the start and manages to get in a lot of great stuff from it. There's a multitude of chases here that are a ton of fun and really high-energy, from the walk-through of the flooded corridor and the swim through the underwater section all the way through to the trap with the eggs and the resulting shoot-out there, as well as other scenes from the rampage through the ship and taking out the evacuees in the escape process as well as the rather impressive attack in the escape pod at the end which contains a lot of great parts to it and really works well. This is helped by a rather well-designed ship location that allows for these tension-packed scenes to take place and generate a lot of fun. Another good plus is the high gore on display, from scarred faces, jaws ripped open and other extremely graphic kills that give off a great feel, and as usual the aliens are incredible. The only real flaw to this one is the rather inane segment that keeps a dead crewmember around for no reason than to keep a big-name member more involved in the film at that point. Also problematic is the early scenes of the clone interacting with the crew which goes nowhere, but overall this one is a lot of fun. (6.75/10)



So, there we go with the original franchise. Now, lets see where they rank:
1. Aliens (10)
2. Alien (7.75)
3. Alien 3 (7)
4. Alien: Resurrection (6.75)

And before we leave, yes there's a whole section of franchise tie-ins and expanding done here which not only features the films listed above in the two Alien vs. Predator films but also the prequel Prometheus and that sequel Alien: Covenant but also we got tons upon tons of comics, graphic novels and other write-ups that carries on the world established in these films. I know next to nothing about these except for their existence so I can't say anything about what they're about and how well they carry on the series, so if that's something that appeals to you then by all means carry on with it. Otherwise, see you next time and once again, RIP Mr. Paxton.