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The Wolfman (2010)
Everything a (Monster)kid could want!
Remakes, especially of horror films, generally tend to fall into three categories: 1)Crap. 2)Improvement. 3)Ones which improve on some things, but aren't so effective at others. This film is a textbook example of #3; it manages to come up with a remarkably clever twist on the original's plot which ties together a lot of disparate elements of the original and fleshes out character back-story. But it also fails at capturing the magic of the original's themes, or comes up with great new ideas, but does little with them. For example, here we are given a plausible back-story for Larry Talbot(Benicio Del Toro, who looks like a cross between Lon Chaney Jr & Oliver Reed)'s estrangement from his father, Sir John(something only vaguely explained in the original), a traumatic event in his childhood which builds up sympathy for him, and a plausible reason for why everyone dislikes and suspects him(he was once committed to an asylum in his youth). But the pathos Lon Chaney Jr built up in the original was based off of how no one believed him and thought he was insane; here, he gets caught after his first night out! A major theme in the original, subtly handled(not often you can say subtle discussing a Universal horror film)was how Sir John was inadvertently the film's real villain for his terrible parenting; here, Sir John flat out IS the villain!!! Another example of this problem comes from this version's handling of Larry's romance with Gwen(Emily Blunt); it comes up with a plausible reason for why she falls in love with him so swiftly(she was engaged to his deceased brother, who he reminds her of), but their romance doesn't come into play until late into the film, so no one really cares by that point.
These aren't the film's only flaws either; Benicio Del Toro is a fine actor, and he manages to capture Larry's suffering and lifetime of hardships, but he doesn't get to do anything else before he's bitten and becomes a werewolf. In the original, we got to know and like Larry, who was a horny, fun loving, not-too-bright, but likable fish-out-of-water. It was what made his fate all the more tragic. While I'm not saying that Del Toro is not as good an actor as Chaney Jr(Jr never could compete with his famous father in the acting department), he doesn't get a chance to make us get to know or give a crap about Larry other than: 'His life sucks, he's depressed'. Like I said, this isn't a slam against Del Toro, but he doesn't get a chance to turn in a really good performance. His dialog delivery also sucks; he's one of those actors who can emote excellently, but always flubs his lines. The film is also too fast-paced at times; this is literally a "blink and you'll miss it" sort of film.
Inspite of these flaws, the film still works as an out and out monster bash. For anyone who grew up as a "Monster Kid" in the 60's and 70's who made up their own monster scenarios in their head; this is everything they ever liked about Universal, Hammer(yes I know they made only one werewolf film) and Paul Naschy's werewolf films rolled into one. I can safely say that in terms of action, monster-design, atmosphere and gore, this is the best werewolf movie ever made: It's what you wanted, but never got. And best of all, the werewolf isn't some lame CGI effect that looks like a walking dog(like the crappy 'werewolves' of "Underworld" etc.), it's an actual guy in makeup(the transformations are CGI though, but that I can forgive). That alone makes this film praise-worthy. I always find it more satisfying to actually have something in front of the camera. The high-point of the werewolf scenes is when Talbot transforms in front of a bunch of Nazi-like psychiatrists and slaughters them before going out and wrecking London(yes, this version is in London, not Wales).
The atmosphere is great. The cinematography is the best I've seen in a modern film. It's like Mario Bava, Freddie Francis and Terrence Fisher(horror's greatest visually-oriented directors) all came back from the dead and collaborated on this. Every scene is like a painting. I'm definitely buying one of those "Art of" books for this movie.
The murder sequences are also awesome. My favorite is when a guy gets stuck in a bog while fleeing from the Wolf Man; He tries to kill himself, but his gun is jammed, so the Wolf Man decapitates him in one swipe. That alone is worth seeing the film for.
The acting is also good, Hugo Weaving is great as hypocritical police inspector Aberline(former foe of Jack the Ripper), this guy is one of those lawman antagonists you love to hate. Anthony Hopkins(as Sir John), as usual, steals the show. Whoever it was playing Maleva the gypsy was good too, I just wish she was given more screen-time, Maleva was my favorite character in the original.
Not great art, and certainly flawed, but a fun thrill ride for lovers of classic horror. I just wish that Paul Naschy(aka. Jacinto Molina), who starred in many werewolf films in his native Spain, had lived to see it(he died last year). I dedicate this review to him.~
The Black Sleep (1956)
The film which set the nail for the Hammer(films)...
Now THIS is a cast! The screen's greatest horror stars: Basil Rathbone! Star of "Son of Frankenstein", "Tower of London", and 'Hound of the Baskervilles'! Lon Chaney Jr! Star of "The Wolf Man", "Man-Made Monster", and "Spider Baby"! Bela Lugosi! Star of "Dracula", "The Raven", and "Murders in the Rue Morgue"! John Carradine! Star of 'Bluebeard", "House of Frankenstein" and "Face of Marble"! Tor Johnson! Star of "Bride of the Monster", "Plan 9 from Outer Space', "The Unearthly'! and Akim Tamiroff! Yeah, Akim! Star of such horror classics like...uh....uh...I dunno, maybe he snuck in through the back?
Any fan coming in to "The Black Sleep' eager to see his favorite horror stars cavorting in a 'Bat pack' of the horror genre will be sorely disappointed, as Basil Rathbone(more of a mystery star and villain in costume dramas than a horror specialist) and Akim Tamiroff(playing a role intended for Peter Lorre) get the juiciest roles, and the rest are relegated to cameos at best. This dilemma has made the "Black Sleep" more of a "Black Sheep" among horror fans, but there are worse things to lose sleep(hehe heh) over, and if you stop yer' whinin' for a minute, you'll find this to be a perfectly satisfying, and quite literate, Gothic horror film which, as has been pointed out, spreads the seeds of what would be sewn in the oncoming Hammer films cycle the following year.
Herbert Rudley plays Dr. Gordon Ramsay, a neurosurgeon(and TV chef) who is about to be hanged for the murder of a moneylender which he did not commit. He is saved by his former mentor, Sir Joel Cadman(Rathbone)who has discovered a drug which places people in a death-like coma which he acquired under mysterious circumstances(Friar Laurence needed the money you see, after that little Montague/Capulet scandal...). He arranges to have the body delivered to his wisecracking tattoo artist henchman Udo(Tamiroff); a lecherous gypsy who thinks he's the reincarnation of dozens of things. Cadman offers Ramsay the chance to hide out in his seaside manor in return for his assistance in performing experimental brain operations. Having no real choice, but grateful to the doctor, our hero accepts.(Hmmm, hero is framed and sent to prison, becomes mad doctor's assistant, what Hammer Frankenstein movie did I see this in? It may have had a MONSTER in it, FROM HELL possibly).
Right from the beginning, it becomes apparent that Cadman's medical practice is not what it seems, first, the butler named Cassimir(Lugosi) is mute, apparently as a result of Cadman's experiment, second, a gigantic homicidal maniac named Mungo(Chaney Jr) is loose! Mungo, a mute tard dressed like a medieval highwayman, runs around trying to rape/strangle a servant girl named Laurie, but all it takes to calm him is a command from Cadman's aged but attractive housekeeper, and then he's gentle as a lamb.
Ramsay recognizes Mungo as Dr. Munroe, a kindly professor from medical school. Cadman claims that he operated on Munroe to save him from paralysis, but accidentally destroyed his capacity to reason. This should be final proof that Cadman isn't as benevolent as he seems, I don't know about you, but if a formerly gentle college professor became a gigantic strangler because of a guy's experiments, who also changed his name to that of a circus gorilla and gave him clothes a few centuries out of style, I'd be mighty suspicious! It doesn't help that Laurie turns out to be Munroe's daughter(!!!). The clincher comes when Ramsay witnesses Cadman's callous experiment on a sailor's exposed brain(An amazingly graphic scene for this film's era), then there's the implication that there have been past victims of the experiments, and more to come, as Cadman is ruthlessly devoted to his secret goal....
Rathbone gives what is probably his best horror performance. His character is ABSOLUTELY a prototype for Peter Cushing & Whit Bisssel's portrayals of Baron Frankenstein, but with a considerable depth of character, as Cadman has a rather sympathetic goal(his wife is dying of a brain tumor). This also makes him a prototype for Vincent Price's various Poe-villains. Rathbone masterfully portrays a good man who has become pure evil through his ruthlessness and obsession. Rudley is a refreshingly mature and unattractive leading man, and his romance with Laurie is very convincingly played. The girl playing Laurie generates a lot of sympathy too, as she battles the monster her father has become. Chaney is legitimately menacing as Mungo, but also pitiable. Akim Tamiroff's wisecracking gypsy provides a great contrast to the dour Cadman: He may be more likable, but he's just as evil. John Carradine is a laugh riot as a test subject who thinks he's a medieval crusader("KILL THE INFIDELS!!!").
I was expecting Ed Wood-level trash, but the superb acting and literate dialogue(overlooking the plot holes and requisite horror trappings)won me over. I really enjoyed this. Don't miss it.~
The Fourth Kind (2009)
The type of alien movie we need more of.
Wow. I can't believe the hate this film got. Sure it rehashes the Blair Witch 'This is real footage' gimmick, but who gives a damn? Sure it's unoriginal, but you want to know why it doesn't matter? It does everything 'Blair Witch' does wrong, right.
As you who have had the misfortune of watching that piece of crap are familiar with, it's big claim to fame is that it was the first horror film to use (fake of course)'found footage'(it wasn't) as well as the first horror film to suggest it's monster but never show it(fine and dandy, if you overlook the many, many horror films that did the same thing many decades before, and better)and to not rely on blood and gore(overlooking the literal thousands of horror films without a single drop of blood in them). As any serious horror film fan knows, those claims are all a bunch of BS. But let's just say for a moment that( neglecting all of the obvious facts and overlooking crucial film history)all of those claims were right, the footage was real, the films of Val Lewton never existed, 'The Last Broadcast' and 'Cannibal Holocaust' didn't use the same concepts years before, and 'Blair Witch' really did innovate all the things it's fans claim it did. Well you know what? I don't care. 'Blair Witch' was a terrible movie anyway, and the fact that so many thought it was real is less a testament to the film's ingenuity, and more to the colossal stupidity of Indie film fans. Of all the 'subtle' horror films, it may be the most un-subtle ever made.
'The Fourth Kind' however, has no pretensions of subtlety or innovation. It fully acknowledges that it's a mockumentary that will try it's hardest to scare the living crap out of you, and to lure you in on an obviously bogus William Castle-style gimmick, and it delivers.
The film has all the feel of what it claims to be: A real life event which has 'real' footage juxtaposed with 're-enactments'. And if you didn't know better, it really is convincing. The 'actress' playing the 'real life' woman looks nothing like her counterpart; which provides for a wry commentary on films purporting to be based off true life events that cast super-attractive Hollywood actresses and actors as fairly average, homely people. By imitating this aspect, the film succeeds not just as a horror film, but as a subtle parody as well. Too bad most audiences can't grasp this.
The film is at it's best in the first half-hour, a real sense of menace and unease is created(the cinematography of the Alaskan mountains is top notch) and the 'real' footage that is interwoven in seems almost plausible. The characters are well-portrayed too and behave like real people, they can't believe what's going on and refuse too once they see proof. Once it's confirmed that the aliens are real, the film admittedly is weakened, but it still succeeds as an at times genuinely disturbing alien abduction flick. All of the actors do fine, intentionally hammy jobs, creating the feel of a real dramatization. I never liked Milla Jovovich, but she does a fine job here, convincingly creating an unbalanced but sympathetic character. We sympathize at first because we know she's right, but is she really? It's a truly harrowing psychological performance which is a refreshing new take on the old 'is the main character just imagining it?" trope. Will Patton also does a fine job as a despicable sheriff, who, in many ways, really is the villain of the film, but one with a considerable depth of character.
All of this helps to create a tangible atmosphere of horror. It's very similar to watching a good episode of 'Unsolved Mysteries', and if you enjoy shows like that, I can't recommend this enough. It may be fake and not based off real occurrences, but it still has that eerie, twilight feel that the best of those shows create.
But the real reason I loved this film? Simple. It finally ditches all the 'benevolent alien' crap we've had to put up with recently. I'm so sick of the belief that if aliens exist they would have grown past violence. Sure, it was great to read all those comic book and pulp stories where people would drive aliens away and find out in the last page that "Oh my god the alien just wanted peace! We are the real monsters for driving him away! WAAAA!", but that gimmick is OLD. I'm sick of it, frankly. There was 'District 9', 'Planet 51', and just recently, the biggest offender; James Cameron's "Mein Kampf' for whiggers, furries and hippies called 'Avatar'. Brrr. Give me aliens that are evil, bug-eyed, ray-gun toting monsters that abduct scantily-clad babes until some square-jawed hero blows their heads off! That's what alien movies should be! 'Fourth Kind' may not be that, but it comes closer to that awesome formula than all other recent alien movies. For daring to break away from the crappy 'sympathetic aliens' trend, that alone earns this film my eternal respect. Hopefully there will be more films like this, and finally, man can look up at the night skies again...and shiver. Just like Wells & Lovecraft wanted us to do.
So rent this movie and watch it(along with 'Invaders from Mars', 'The Thing'(both versions) 'Invasion of the Saucer Men', 'Not of this Earth', throw in 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' for laughs) cuddle 'round your fireplace(with 'District 9', 'Avatar', 'Planet 51' as firewood)) with a bottle of beer and some spicy cheezits, and take a trip back to when aliens were SCARY. Thank you so much 'Fourth Kind', on the behalf of all true sci-fi fans, you are a true rarity and a kind of film we need more of. Enjoy. Oh, and keep watching the skies!
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Pretty damn good for what it is.
I had mixed feelings about this one, but wouldn't you know it? I liked it. Sometimes great fictional characters deserve a revamp. I'm not saying go and do some 'hip' revamp of every famous fictional character, like say, make Captain Ahab into some bad-ass space marine with a cybernetic leg who fights alien whales in space or something like that, but sometimes reinterpretations can work. I can safely say that 'Sherlock Holmes' is one of them.
Here, the roles of Watson & Holmes are reversed. Traditionally, Holmes is a no-nonsense, nearly emotionless man who ruthlessly conforms, and demands conformity despite his many eccentricities, while Dr. Watson is a warm, emotional reader/audience identification figure who, despite his intelligence, comes off as an idiot compared to the brilliant Holmes and frequently makes the mistake of simply being human. Here, Holmes is the audience identification figure who makes mistakes, gives into his emotions(sexual and otherwise)and is looked on as a fish-out-of-water, while Watson is a stuffy, conservative man trying to lead a normal life who takes things way too seriously. It's an interesting twist, and thankfully obeys the golden rule of revamps: It does not in any way destroy the essential integrity of the characters. One could even say this version fleshes them out a bit. Robert Downey Jr. is an odd choice to play Holmes, but he handles the role well. My only complaint is that he never gets to wear Holmes's famous Inverness cape and deerstalker hat, although I'm sure this was an intentional move on the filmmakers part.
There are however, several flaws in the film's setup. For what is supposed to be an introduction, the film already feels like the umpteenth entry in a series, and makes the audience feel as if they missed a previous installment. This could be seen as either a good or a bad thing. Holmes and his supporting cast is so well-known that treating them as typical character archetypes(buddy cops, obnoxious boss, heroine on the wrong side of the law, depraved nobleman, hulking henchman, unseen criminal mastermind)keeps them from becoming caricatures, but it also keeps them from feeling like real, multi-faceted characters unique to their world; One could easily rewrite the film to be about James Bond or Batman. That is the film's biggest flaw, but it was easily overlook-able. And considering how stupidly most modern film-goers react to more complex and introspective characterizations(Christ, look at the bad reception 'Tropic Thunder', 'The Dark Knight', and 'Watchmen' got for their bizarre, satirical, nontraditional, or deconstructive looks at stereotypical characters), maybe this is a good thing.
I also have to give the film props for it's sets and atmosphere. The setting really does feel like Victorian London in all it's filthy, poverty-stricken glory. I also liked the old-fashioned look of some of the gadgetry, and the huge French henchman was pretty cool. For some reason, his big ears, crooked nose and grimacing brow remind me of Rondo Hatton as 'The Creeper', a supporting villain from the 1944 Universal Sherlock Holmes film 'Pearl of Death'. If that was an intentional reference, nice touch.
'Holmes' isn't perfect, but as an introduction to the character for a new generation, I have to say that it's the best I could have hoped for.~
The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
"Curse of the Werewolf" is a film steeped in uncertainty. Sometimes referred to as a wasted opportunity, sometimes considered the greatest werewolf movie of all time, "Curse" isn't really either, and although a well-made film, it isn't very good. But what I am certain of is that it's my favorite Christmas movie of all time!!!
Don Alfredo Corledo(Clifford Evans)is apparently an omniscient immortal, as he begins the film(after the creepy opening credits showing the werewolf's crying eyes)by informing us(through past-tense voice-over)of events he could not possibly have witnessed or found out about and that he states happened "200 years ago", when by the time we meet him during those events, he is clearly a middle-aged man. Oh well, the film starts with the ringing of a church bell in a small Spanish village, where a handsome but scruffy beggar(Richard Wordsworth)inquires why the bell is ringing even though it's not a Sunday. After several curt dismissals, he finds that the local Marquis has just gotten married to a village girl(and left the village impoverished by raising taxes to fund the wedding), and from what we can tell, it apparently wasn't a marriage she was willing to enter into. A sarcastic barfly tricks our rag-clad hero into going to beg the Marquis for food. And as you may have gathered, the Marquis isn't exactly a charitable man....
The Marquis(Anthony Dawson, from "Dial "M" for Murder") is a sadistic creep who loves abusing his underlings, and he makes no exceptions with the beggar, making him act like a dog and dance. After the Beggar makes a suggestive comment, he ends up being locked in a dungeon where he gradually loses his grip on reality(and his good looks too). Meanwhile, the Marquis, now suffering from leprosy and more occupied with creating houses of cards than the outside world, tries to rape a busty mute servant girl(Yvonne Romaine, who effectively uses facial expressions to emote for a role that requires no talent)who bites him. He has her thrown in the same dungeon as the beggar, who rapes her anyway. The beggar dies, and the girl escapes after killing the Marquis. She tries to drown herself, but is rescued by Don Alfredo and brought to his home, where she is taken care of by his maid, Teresa. The girl dies giving birth on Christmas eve, but because widdle baby Jeebus has some serious birthday attention issues("For an unwanted child to be born on Christmas is an insult to heaven!" says Teresa), the child, Leon, is cursed.....
I'd like to point out that this has all happened in the first 26 minutes.
Following some boring, long-winded exposition involving an explanation for Leon's affliction, a comedic subplot involving the goat-herder's rivalry with the night watchman(two of the most British sounding 'Spaniards' I've ever heard!), and some truly awful overacting(Teresa's line "I just mean--he didn't come through here!!" gets my medal as the most meaningless line ever uttered with such over-the-top conviction) balanced with some very good acting(John Gabriel gives a wonderful, naturalistic performance as a kindly priest), scenes intended to be frightening that will give rise to all kinds of lewd jokes(check out the kid's hairy palms), we finally meet the adult Leon(Oliver Reed) who sets off to work at a local vineyard and falls in love with the owner's daughter Cristina(Catherine Feller) and the story begins....at last.
Its' pretty much just a retread of "Romeo & Juliet' with elements of the 1941 universal film thrown in. The difference being that there we got to know and like Lon Chaney Jr's character. Here, we find out NOTHING about Leon, and what we do find out pretty much makes him come off as a jerk, yelling at Cristina and shaking her, even before he finds out that he's a werewolf and needs a woman's love to cure him. Cristina pretty much sees that Leon is little different from her controlling dad and obnoxious fiancée, but decides to give him a shot anyway(what girl could resist a young Ollie Reed?) Leon refuses to show some simple patience and instead goes to a brothel with his Benny Hill-like coworker Jose. Apparently being in a 'sinful' atmosphere awakens the beast in Leon, and he becomes a werewolf, Don Alfredo finds out, and you can guess the rest....
Oliver Reed is one of my favorite actors, but he doesn't get to do much here. We see or hear so little of Leon, and what we do makes him come off as an impatient jerk who is hard to pity. He does however, pull off the transformation scenes incredibly well, and as the werewolf, he's simply one of the coolest-looking monsters of all time. Larry Talbot couldn't escape a bear trap, Leon can rip a rip an iron prison cell down and chuck doors and bales of hay at people! The rest of the cast is competent, Clifford Evans is obviously disinterested, Hira Talfrey overacts badly as Teresa, and although she does a good job as Leon's mute mother, Yvonne Romaine has little screen time(despite prominent billing and poster art depicting her as Leon's love-interest!). Martin Matthews provides good comedy relief as Jose. Catherine Feller isn't believable as an object of affection for two handsome men, but she succeeds at evoking sympathy, and is the film's most pitiable character. The real standouts however, are Wordsworth and Dawson as the Beggar & Marquis. Both actors deserved better careers.
"Curse' isn't great, despite nice sets and cinematography, but it's great to pop in at Christmas time! Where else can you see a movie about Christmas with cruelty to the homeless, food wasting, leprotic lechers, a mute woman being raped, werewolves, drunk guys named Jose who kiss paper-cutouts, and 'Spaniards' who talk like Monty Python extras?
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
"You see, I'm under contract too"
Ah, what better film to review for my 50th than Brian De Palma's weird and wonderful Rock & Roll send-up of "Phantom of the Opera'. Alternately overpraised as a Kubrickian genius, or dismissed as a lame Hitchcopycat, De Palma is still a genuinely interesting director to study if not exactly easy to understand. While I agree that 'Carrie' is his masterpiece, his most unique and re-watchable film is this bizarre take on Gaston Leroux's often-filmed tale, which is filmed with lots of things which will alternately make you marvel or start scratching your head in confusion, not the least of which being that this version probably features THE most faithful portrayal of the Phantom since the days of Lon Chaney Sr and drives home the Faustian element of the story farther than any other version, and in some ways, much better than even in Leroux's own novel.
Yeah, you read that correctly.
The film sets its tone with the opening scenes(following a bizarre "Twilight Zone'-like voice-over)as we see a greaser nostalgia group called the Juicy Fruits perform a deceptively cheerful song about an unsuccessful musician who kills himself so that he will become a legend overnight so that it will help support his sister. Scenes like this are great, as they pretty much tell you that you will be getting more of the same in alternating doses of effectiveness. The whole film is like this opening: Fast-paced, bouncy, but with an underlying sense of menace, tragedy and heartbreak. If James Whale was alive in the '70's, this is the film he would have made.
The plot is a comedic update of the 1962 Terrence Fisher version of 'Phantom'. William Finley plays Warren Zevon-look a like Winslow Leach, a character clearly patterned after Herbert Lom's Professor Petrie. The nerdy but easily angered(he goes berserk at the prospect of his music being sung by the Juicy Fruits, whom he despises)Winslow is writing a rock opera based on 'Faust' which he insists on performing himself, and although he does quite a good job in my opinion, record dealer Swan(Paul Williams, playing a cross between Phil Spector, Dorian Gray and Michael Gough's Lord D' Arcy character from the 1962 version)decides he likes the music more than Winslow and steals it. After several unsuccessful attempts to get his music back, Swan has drugs planted on Winslow and he ends up getting life(?). However, after hearing his music performed on the radio by the Juicy Fruits, our hero snaps, kills a guard and escapes in a montage straight out of Loony Tunes, only to get disfigured by, wait for it, a RECORD PRESS.
You can tell what happens next, but that doesn't mean things don't become more and more twisted. He may now be the disfigured, caped masked madman, but Winslow is soon going to discover he's not the only one inhabiting Swan's performance house who is worthy of being called "The Phantom".
Often criticized for his overindulgence(only in the '70's could such a minor celebrity have so many guest appearances) and diminutive size, Paul Williams nevertheless crafts a wonderfully slimy and urbane villain in Swan. The Phantom may be deformed, kill and terrorize, but Swan is the real monster in more ways than one. William Finley shines as Winslow, managing to make us instantly care and sympathize with him despite being a nerdy, naive, egotistical goof-ball. Yet, as the Phantom, he is genuinely menacing. Winslow, much like Erik in the novel, is more at home writing and performing than interacting with other people, and although he is targeting a genuinely evil man, he nevertheless has no qualms whatsoever about brutally slaughtering innocent stagehands and musicians he does not care for, annoying though they may be. It is genuinely disturbing watching him cackle insanely with his high-pitched robotic voice as he maims and kills people. Like Erik, he may be a tragic victim, but he really does enjoy being an evil monster more than he would care to admit. Finley makes his murders progress from bad tempered outbursts, to circumstantial ones to "Wheeeee!!! Murder is FUN!" in a believable fashion. And his Phantom costume, depending on your point-of-view, is either the best or worst ever created, even though he looks more like a superhero(or villain)than anything else. Husky-voiced Jessica Harper is also good as Winslows' love interest, man can she sing. Despite prominent billing, Gerrit Graham has little more than an overlong cameo as quite possibly the biggest gay stereotype on the face of the earth; a metal singer named Beef(!!!??)who ends up being killed in an outrageously offensive quadruple-visual pun(I'll let the smart people guess what I mean, and no, it's not because of his Frankenstein costume).
The film has great songs, and a fun cartoon sensibility that makes several gaping plot holes and outrageous coincidences overlook-able. The film's only flaw, is that it is too short, and too fast-paced. Nevertheless, this is still essential viewing for any cult film enthusiast.~
Always nice to see an actor making a comeback....Even if he's dead...
One of the biggest ironies of film is that, even though moralist losers would have you believe that everyone involved in horror films is a warped sicko, the truth is that just about every major genre star from Boris Karloff to Robert Englund has been extolled by co-stars as a nice, in some cases, unusually nice person, while 'respectable' stars of light-hearted films or "A" dramas like Danny Kaye, Judy Garland, Stan Laurel, Marlon Brando and Joan Crawford are infamous for being less than pleasant to be around off-camera. Sure The Chaney family was eccentric, Bela Lugosi would probably have preferred being Dracula than himself, Christopher Lee is(lovably)arrogant, John Carradine was a less than ideal father and Herbert Lom is less than eager to talk about his horror work, but horror stars are, by and large, often friendly people. My interactions with many of them at conventions(as well as a once in a lifetime encounter I had with Peter Cushing while on vacation in Britain)have confirmed this for me. Even minor actors like Whit Bissel and Paul Ehlers(star of the silly slasher movie 'Madman')have come off as very normal or down-to-earth in person.
But wouldn't it be great, however, if for once there WAS a horror film star who truly was just as much a fiend off-camera as on? It may not be very good, but Norman Thaddeus Vane's 'Frightmare' aka. 'The Horror Star' provides you with an opportunity to see such an actor!
Ferdy Mayne, who gave what is in my opinion, the greatest portrayal of a vampire of all time as the menacing Count Von Krolock in Roman Polanski's 'The Fearless Vampire Killers' plays Conrad Ragzoff(mispronounced 'Ragoff' and 'Radzoff' several times)an aging horror film star with a homicidal temper who has this hilarious ability to brutally murder people in plain sight and just walk away from it. Still, Ragzoff comes off as the closest thing to a sympathetic character in this. It's clear he loves his wife and fans. Although I eagerly anticipated each coming slasher flick in the era when this film was made and I was young, my true interest lay in the classics of Hammer & Universal, so I felt like a fish out of water back then. I could really relate to Conrad as I too felt like a discarded relic; a fan of Gothic castles, foggy cemeteries and moonlit nights rather than horny teens getting sliced and diced(and now in this era of crappy remakes and lame plot twists I'm nostalgic for those things too!).
After dying, Conrad's body(still wearing his vampire costume) is stolen by a gang of the most blandly nondescript teenagers(each of whom pretty much has VICTIM stamped on their heads) imaginable. Seriously, the cast was almost entirely killed off and I still had no clue to who they were!(one of the teens is played by a young Jeffrey Combs; take a guess who gets top-billing on bootlegs of this movie). Conrad's grieving widow contacts him through an obnoxious medium, and he comes to life with demonic powers and goes on a killing spree, But because the teens are so nasty, with them humiliating Ragzoff's body by kissing him and dancing with him, one's sympathy ultimately ends up lying with Ragzoff rather than the teens.
It's here where the film starts going to hell. For the first 17 minutes it is a good send up of the horror film industry, with a great performance by Mayne(though nowhere near as good as Krolock)but then it just turns into a typical slasher film with Gothic overtones, Conrad may as well just be Jason wearing a Dracula costume since he has no dialog. The murders are well-handled, but fairly uncreative(though a scene where Conrad levitates a coffin to bash a woman unconscious, and later to levitate a coffin with a live victim inside into a crematorium is so awesome it must be seen to be believed.). The film also has lighting that ranges from very nice, soap opera-like chiaroscuro to so bad you can hardly see what's going on. The plot has lots of holes too, the teens specifically mention that their boarding house is where Ragzoff once lived, and it's apparently the same building that we see him living in just a few days earlier! Did his heirs rent it out THAT fast? It's obvious the teens had been living there for some time. It also seems unrealistic that Ragzoff would be allowed such an elaborate and well-publicized funeral considering that he was working in commercials and it's made clear that he wasn't an "A" horror actor like Karloff or Price but a "B" lister like George Zucco or Lionel Atwill, one of the characters even says "His entire life was a B-movie". Bizarre.
Still, there's a nice chase through a cemetery at the end, as well as a consistently creepy atmosphere. The ending is also superbly downbeat. I'd say it ranks with 'House of the Long Shadows' as an interesting attempt to revive classic horror.
Ferdy Mayne never got the deserved chance to become a horror star, but at least he got to show what he could have done. Long live Conrad Ragzoff! Let him rank with Paul Toomes('Madhouse"), Byron Orlock("Targets"), Basil Karlo(Batman villain Clayface), Luis Belski(From Marvel Comics "Dracula Lives" magazine) and Paul Henderson("The House that dripped Blood") as the greatest(fictional)horror star who ever lived!
"What is it, art or something?"
^^^^This is a quote from the film, and it sums up my opinions on this film perfectly. The difference being that I know it's not art, but I'm not sure what it is.
Wikipedia lists 'Spookies' as an Indie movie. As anyone who has followed me for any length of time knows, I'm in the minority in that I actually take some time to decide whether an Indie film is good or not, I don't automatically grant any indie movie a 10 just because it's an indie, I judge it as a movie, what I rate it depends on how good or bad it is. But do not think this means that I HATE indie films, I respect their makers for trying to make films outside of the Hollywood system, I just don't automatically rate any Indie film a 10 in order to defy 'The Man'. People need to learn that there's a fine line between respect and ass-kissing.
So what has this to do 'Spookies', you ask? Simple, this film shows it's indie roots firsthand. Rather than relying on the typical mainstream filmic ingredients for what makes a movie; such as Plot, Characterization, Thematic content, Acting, storytelling etc, the film instead offers us in their place these elements: 1) Gravestones that quiver like bed-sheets. 2) A werewolf in effeminate-gypsy clothing that looks like Zacherley in black-face with pointed ears who has a hook for a hand who makes cat noises and puts tree branches in the road for some reason. 3) A 13 year old boy on the lam because no one celebrated his birthday who talks in soliloquies where he explains EVERY single thing that happens who stupidly enters an abandoned mansion he's never been in before thinking his family is waiting inside for a surprise party. 4) A creepy sorcerer who looks like Warren magazines's Uncle Creepy who is trying in vain to bring his dead, preserved, non-decayed wife back to life. 5) A bickering group of teenagers who look so old that you think at first that one couple are their parents. 6) An abusive tough-talking wise-ass Italian-guy named Duke. 7) An alcoholic who can't slam the car door properly. 8) A comedy-relief guy who looks like John Waters who has a hand-puppet he uses to scare everyone with. 9) A cute but whiny broad-shouldered British chick named Adrian with the most British accent I've ever heard in a white business suit who looks like me and shares the same name. 10) A birthday party that appears out of nowhere with a severed head inside a box. 11) A creepy midget in a druid robe with green face-paint all over his face but who has normal flesh-colored hands with which he holds a knife. I can't tell if he's MEANT to be a real monster but has crappy makeup, or is meant to be wearing crappy makeup and is just a normal midget.
I've seen all of this in just the first 20 minutes. I think I may have found the greatest WTF movie of all time.
And it gets better. There literally are skeletons in the closet, who have Ouija boards in their arms that Duke thinks is a Parcheesi board. 'Spookies', where have you been all my life?
Then the zombies come!!!
And then it has the greatest line of all time....that I've heard this week: 'I've never met an electrical cord that can get the best of me', but that's not the best part. Guess what's next?
Farting wine-soluble mud mummies with pickaxes!!!!!!!!!!!
I think this movie just destroyed my brain, and I love it.
Go and buy this movie! Now! This may just be the pinnacle of all film! I'm resigning from my job, I'm going to start a church for this movie!!!
Family comes first.....
I think I may have done it. I have discovered a sure-fire crowd pleaser that will satisfy virtually anyone. It's not a GREAT movie, Per Se, but it's time to re-evaluate that often-used word.
What makes a movie great? Some say acting, some say atmosphere, some(mostly fundies)say family values, some say music, some(mostly liberals)say method of distribution, but what makes a movie great in my opinion is themes. Love, hate, death, betrayal. Throw all that in, handle it well, and I'm usually pretty satisfied.
'Spider Baby or The Maddest Story ever Told' has all that and all of the other stuff I mentioned, but in spades.
It has atmosphere(the Merrye house is so creepy it doesn't need fog or full moons to look foreboding), music(Lon Chaney Jr. practically invents rap with the theme song: "Shrieks and groans and bats and bones, teenage monsters in haunted homes, a spook on the stairway, a vampire's bite! Better beware! *heh* *heh* There's a full moon tonight!". Eat your heart out Kanye West, MC Chaney's slammin' it old skool, dawgs), great hammy acting by the whole cast, a complicated distribution history(it was filmed in 1964 and not released until 1968)and family values so prevalent you can eat them.
Lon stars as Bruno; a chauffeur who acts as father to the Merrye family. The Merrye's suffer from a syndrome caused by inbreeding which makes them mentally regress after puberty. And since this is a horror movie, you can count that it's not going to simply be some sappy Lifetime feel-good crap about a bond between an adult and some retards like that new Sandra Bullock movie or 'Radio', nope, the Merrye's are homicidal maniacs who wear pigtails, subsist on a healthy diet of cats, grass, mushrooms and human flesh, pretend to be spiders and kill washed up Poverty Row comedians. These are my kind of mentally handicapped people!
So yeah, as irredeemably monstrous as the family is, Bruno still loves them dearly, trying to impart them with strong morals and manners even after they brutally butcher strangers. Since the father is dead and Bruno has no other acquaintances, it's clear that he functions as a kind of quasi-father figure to them. It's actually very poignant and touching. But Bruno's idyllic world he has created for them is threatened when a greedy businessman named Schlocker arrives. Can family overcome the evils of the outside world?
Whats interesting is that, as dangerous as the Merrye's are, it's clear that they never leave the house, and hence, pose no danger to anyone. Everyone they kill is an intruder of some sort. Even Bruno mentions that the only person from the outside world they have harmed were kids who broke in once(who escaped), it's clear that the family is no danger to anyone so long as they are left alone in their own little madhouse. Bruno has taken great means to protect them, and is successful for the most part, they never harm anyone in his presence and invariably obey, they only kill when he's not around, and sadly, he has to go away a lot. But that doesn't make him irresponsible either. It makes you wish that a different fate was in store for them.
From that point-of-view, the real villain of the piece is not the family; who cannot help being what they are, or Bruno; who covers up for their crimes, but Schlocker, an amoral man so set on controlling everyone and everything that even when he is killed he goes out babbling less about being murdered but at 'the indecency of it all'. He is a 'square' who the audience must have cheered to see butchered. He represents the 'bully' presented by the outside world that all families must face, and as Bruno says, 'There will be many more Mr. Schlockers, and worse'.
Ironically, the family is destroyed from within. Associates of Schlocker arrive who are distant relations to them. The one who treats them kindly survives, while the one who doesn't ends up going mad, and dies writhing among them; her rage making her indistinguishable from them.
Chaney gives what is probably his best performance as Bruno, who, in many ways, is a commentary on his role as Lenny in 'Of Mice & Men' in that here, he gets to play the George figure. He watches out for the family(Lenny)and in the end, kills them to spare them the world's cruelty. Always great to see actors playing the anti-thesis of their usual role. Karl Schanzer is wonderfully slimy as Schlocker, Jill Banner & Beverly Washburn are wonderful as the twins, who feel like real bickering siblings anyone could have, only homicidal, yet they still seem innocent(and sexy in a Lolita-ish way)despite their blood-lust. Sid Haig is very funny as lovable pinhead Ralph, and Mary Mitchell and Quinn Reddeker are refreshingly funny romantic leads, going into long, hilariously pointless discussions about health food and movie monsters. If only falling in love was so easy in real life.
'Spider Baby' may not be the maddest story ever told, but it's still one I'd rather re-experience numerous times again than that other '-est Story ever Told'.
The Ghost Breakers (1940)
"It's a zombie!" 'It ain't baby snooks!'
'Gather round children, I got a story for you all. There once was a magical land called Cuba that everyone in America saw as a high-class equivalent of Mexico where you could do all kinds of crazy stuff you couldn't in America. It was the perfect place to go when hiding out from the law, smoking fancy cigars and finding romance and intrigue. Like Vegas if it was an island. Everyone lived happily, until a big fat man introduced communism, and soon Cuba became a land of poverty and woe.
But in it's heyday Cuba captured the popular imagination of American storytellers and held it in it's grip for quite a while, and a great way to recapture that nostalgic appeal is 1940's 'The Ghost Breakers'.
Bob Hope plays Lawrence Lawrence Lawrence(his parents were unimaginative), a corrupt radio broadcaster who stays in cahoots with local racketeers for stories. After a chain of circumstances(which must be seen to be believed)leads to Lawrence believing that he murdered a man, Lawrence and his chauffeur Alex(Willie Best)come into contact with a beautiful young heiress named Mary(Paulette Goddard)who has inherited a reportedly haunted castle in Cuba, and they follow her.
Hope isn't as funny in this film so much as charming and witty, but he does a good job and his mastery of wordplay is used expertly here. Goddard captures the perfect combination of strong-willed heroine and fainting ingénue as Mary. Good supporting performances by Paul Lukas & Richard Carlson(who would also play a similar role to his role here the following year in the Abbott & Costello comedy 'Hold that Ghost', before starring in many 50's sci-fi classics like 'It came from Outer Space')help round out the cast.
Modern audiences may be turned off by Best's performance and role, however. Truth be told, Alex is a 'Yes massa' stereotype with little redeeming qualities, and is the butt of several truly offensive jokes which ARE race-based(there's a joke about Lawrence threatening to paint him white and even, wait for it; a fried chicken joke), so one can't dismiss his role as one that had no racial malice in it that a white actor could have filled easily. The role isn't helped by the fact that Lawrence thinks very little of him and bosses him constantly. Still, at least Alex is portrayed as no more incompetent or cowardly than Lawrence is, and Best still manages to make the role quite funny, and easily manages to hold his own with the rest of the cast. He even gets to save Lawrence & Mary at the end, basically making him the hero.
For a comedy, the film also has an undeniably spooky atmosphere in the scenes at the castle. There's even a legitimately suspenseful scene with a zombie, that succeeds in raising more shivers than most serious horror films at the time were doing. The scenes of horror and humor are expertly balanced, such as when Mary runs from the zombie and gets her dress stuck; it's both tense AND funny, the shock and slapstick as she tries to pull it out makes it amusing, but each unsuccessful pulling brings her closer to to death as the zombie advances. Most modern horror films could learn from this, especially 'parodies' like 'Scream'.
Other highlights include a scene where Mary impersonates a look-alike ancestor, a truly eerie scene with a real ghost, and a surprising twist-ending which leads to one of the most hilariously random villain deaths of all time. It's all great fun, don't miss it.~