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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 16: The Mummy

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 16: The Mummy

I often feel like the Gill- Man from Creature from the Black Lagoon got the shaft. Other than a pair of sequels in 1955 (Revenge of the Creature) and 1956 (The Creature Walks Among Us), the scaly monster from the deep has not been featured in any other films, other than The Monster Squad and Hotel Transylvania, since his initial unveiling.

Perhaps a television show called The Creature Diaries didn’t have quite the same ring as the CW’s sudser about another creature of the night? I’m guessing The Gurgling wouldn’t have appeared as menacing atop a poster hanging in the lobby of the local cineplex as another more lupine film from Joe Dante in 1981 did. Certainly, had Kevin Bacon wanted to team with Paul Verhoeven to give us The Hollow Thing from Deep Down in a Cove Somewhere in The Amazon, the marketing people would have shot it down in favor of their other 2000 film nobody saw (get it?!).

Today’s film, however, features a classic monster that hasn’t suffered the same fate as his green gilled partner in slime.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 16: The Mummy


Director: Terence Fisher
Year: 1959
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux
Language: English
Country: United Kingdom
Specs: 88 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating:
Rating: ★★★★★ / A

After being woken from years of hibernation within his tomb, mummified Egyptian high priest Karnak seeks out those responsible for his awakening, when they disturb the tomb of his lover and Princess, Ananka, to avenge their desecration.

The opening music is amazing, deep and resonating as the opening credits unfold. Composer Franz Reizenstein helped create an atmosphere of wonder, accompanied by the wonderful sets and wardrobe expected in a Hammer film.

I always appreciated when the classic monster films were period pieces, allowing for a more immersive tale of fantasy and intrigue. This film does not deter, nor does it disappoint.

There were some directorial decisions that I found jarring, such as the numerous fades to the next scene as someone is speaking, and wondered if I were missing some excised scene, or if my stream had hiccuped. Overall, however, the calibre of the story, acting, and scenery overcame any misgivings I may have had.


The action and the suspense are simply top-notch. Special-effects are also superb, bearing in mind the time in which they were made. Many elements of these Hammer films, in part due to its being set in the past, no doubt, are timeless, and hold up against any modern film in the same genre, often surpassing it in originality.

I recommend this film to any fan of the classic Universal monster films. I suggest this film to any fan of the other entries in Hammers stable of features. Lastly, I urge any fan of the more recent outings from Universal and Stephen Sommers to view this film immediately, lest the curse of Ananka fall on you.

By the way, for those keeping score, the films/tv shows mentioned in the exordium were The Vampire Diaries, The Howling, and The Hollow Man, natch.

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Posted by on October 16, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 15: Love at First Bite

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 15: Love at First Bite

When I was a child, I loved to visit my uncle and see what new toys he had acquired since my last visit.  Years before I knew who Ridley Scott or Sigorney Weaver was, he had a 18″ Alien action figure.  While I had dozens upon dozens of Luke Skywalkers, Darth Vaders, Stormtroopers and Snaggletooths, he was the only person I knew whose parents would spring for a Tie FIghter and Millenium Falcon.  However, with all the expensive, rare, and coveted toys that he had in his massive toy box, there was one gadget that he was in possession of that was a favorite of mine, The Laugh Bag.

The Laugh Bag was a small box within a small bag, no larger than my hand, which would produce an insanely annoying laugh with the simple press of a button.  We would press that button over and over, often walking around the basement mimicking the laugh ourselves, much to the consternation of my poor grandmother.

When I originally saw today’s film, I loved it for merely one reason.  There was a character in the film that had a memorable laugh, that I found to be equally as impressionable as my uncles giggle machine.

<span style=”color: red;”>31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 15: Love at First Bite</span>

love_at_first_biteDirector: Stan Dragoti
Year: 1979
Cast: George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin, Arte Johnson
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 94 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating: PG
Rating: ★★★½ / C+

Having been evicted from his home in Transylvania, Count Dracula travels to New York, where he meets whom he believes to be his long lost love, Mina Harker, reincarnated.  As he pursues her, her former lover, a descendant of the famous Van Helsing, pursues the count.

Revisiting the film for the first time since I was a child, I only remembered that the film was a comedy.  If I were to be viewing the film for the first time, I may be surprised to find it as such at the beginning.  As the opening credits begin, a tech music track plays, giving the impression the film about to unroll is a film in the vein of The Lost Boys.  However, the moment we see Hamilton, accompanied by the overpowering sounds of howling wolves, and the line that he delivers, we know we are in for a film of a different genre entirely.

Within moments, I was shocked to see Hamilton looking pale, his bronzed skin nowhere in sight.  Johnson, as Renfeld, then delivers his memorable laugh, and the tone has been set.  There were a number of scenes in the film that were wonderfully crafted send ups, and others that were jovial attempts at juvenile humor.  The passage through customs was amongst the best, in pure Zucker Brothers fashion.  In fact, I was surprised that the film was not a product of the famous filmmakers (Kentucky Fried Movie, their first effort, preceded this film by 2 years).

Interesting of note, was the timeliness of the scene with Sherman Hemsley, especially since the newest Oxygen show on prosperity gospel preachers (Preachers of L.A.) has been in the news. I also enjoyed seeing Isabel Sanford make a cameo as the fiery judge!

Something I did not remember from my childhood, but became instantly evident upon viewing with my more mature eyes, was the tone of the films comedy.  The swinging 70s are on display in full form, with much of the humor focusing on sex and drug use.

Some of the humor was a bit stale, perhaps in part due to its overabundance of use numerous satires since.  There have been no shortage of send ups to films in the horror genre, even those that contain the count himself (Dracula Dead & Loving It).  While the film surely was no Young Frankenstein, it certainly was more entertaining than Saturday the 14th.  I’m glad I revisited this pic.  Perhaps you may enjoy doing the same…

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 14: The Conjuring

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 14: The Conjuring

Haunted houses.  They pepper the landscape as Halloween draws near.  Many festivals and campgrounds feature some form of the attraction, be it a walk-through, a car and rail, or a religious variant intent on scaring a customer into paradise.  When it comes to the celluloid variant, Hollywood is no different.

Sometimes, they combine a genuine tale of a ghostly abode with a possession film.  Thankfully, today’s film fits such a bill.

<span style=”color: red;”>31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 14: The Conjuring</span>

conjuring_ver2_xlgDirector: James Wan
Year: 2013
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor
Country: United States
Specs: 112 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35.1 / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★★★ / B+

From the opening moments of this film, I knew I was in for an immersive experience in which I would likely lose much sleep.  The music, excellently crafted, sets the tone for the film the moment the picture fades from black.  I instantly reached for my iPad to begin a second screen experience in order to see the credits of composer Joseph Bishara (Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) and cinematographer John R. Leonetti (Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2, The Mask), whose camera work was beautifully haunting as well.

The editing, something I always notice, was superb.  Each scene is allowed to breath, only cutting when necessary, facilitating the eeriness necessary to amp the nerves of the viewer into the stratosphere.

That’s not to say the film was flawless.  There were certain story elements that I found baffling, such as the hidden room being the room that contains the heater to heat the house (they didn’t notice during their initial purchase that it appeared the house had no heater nor basement?)  However, the film was so excellently crafted that I was tempted to pause and watch an episode of Golden Girls every 20 minutes in order to take the edge off.  The unknown is always more tense than what we can see, hence the reason Hitchcock’s films were so suspenseful/successful.

IMG_6285.dng

Prepare the chamomile laced with Xanax.  Otherwise it’s bound to be a long night…

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 13: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 – The Dream Master

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 13: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 – The Dream Master

Every once in a while, it’s nice to return to a storied franchise to revisit characters you connected with in prior entries.  You enjoy the charisma that a certain actor or actress brought to a character, and hope that the filmmakers are able to catch lightning in a bottle, once again.

Sometimes, it doesn’t quite work that way.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 13: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 – The Dream Master

nightmare_on_elm_street_four_xlgDirector: Renny Harlin
Year: 1988
Cast: Robert Englund, Rodney Eastman, Lisa Wilcox, Tuesday Knight
Country: United States
Specs: 93 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★★ / C-

Freddy returns to torment the remaining survivors of The Dream Warriors, in hopes to eradicate them from ever having a chance to destroy him, once and for all.

For starters, the return of surviving characters from part 3, yet with the lead being recast from the perfect Patricia Arquette, is a drastic mistake.  Tuesday Knight’s portrayal of Kristen Parker simply lacks any charisma, and fails to explore any added dimensions.

The return of gratuitous and formulaic elements that are all too common in many slasher films are here, as is the absolutely groaning one liners from Freddy.  The fact that the bones of Freddy come back together by way of a dogs urine is reminiscent of the more ludicrous Friday the 13th sequels.

As with other entries in this franchise, they also forgo the continuity of the original and instead invent their own.  In the original, when Freddy kills someone, the effects are seen in their reality.  Not here.  Also, Freddy resorts to comical ways to kill people, instead of the straight finger blades in the original.

The acting is about as ham-fisted as they come.  The plot is rather predictable (the set up of the karate lesson in the beginning of the flick).  There is zero suspense nor frights.  Freddy is a laughable goof.  The dialogues from Freddy are unneeded.  The actions are just plain dumb (as Kristen burns in a bed of flames, everyone just sits and watches, instead of putting out the fire to prevent the house from burning down, let alone save a badly burned girl).

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 12: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 12: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives (1986) had He’s Back (Man Behind the Mask) from Alice Cooper, Pet Sematary (1989) had the Ramones song of the same name, Trick or Treat (1986) had an entire soundtrack, and today’s film had Dream Warriors by Dokken.  It was a good few years for fans of both metal and horror.  I hadn’t seen today’s film in many years, and hesitated revisiting a film that I had fond memories of.  As I committed to going through the Nightmare on Elm Street series for the weekend posts of this month long series, I had little choice.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 12: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

nightmare_on_elm_street_threeDirector: Chuck Russell
Year: 1987
Cast: Patricia Arquette, Laurence Fishburne, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Craig Wasson
Country: United States
Specs: 96 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★★★ / B+

A group of youth learn to control their dreams in an effort to defeat serial killer Freddy Krueger once and for all.

A return to form, with plenty of very eery and freaky moments/atmosphere.  I love how we’ve returned to see dreams that we’ve all experienced (running and suddenly the ground is sludge and you cannot run while the bogey man chases you down!).  Very nice sound f/x and music.

Some of the acting is a bit over the top, particularly as they witness the death of the first boy.  Also, Freddy has become a bit more comical in this film, delivering some cheesy 80s one-liners.  Of course, in true horror film fashion, the ways that Freddy kills people gets more inventive and ridiculous from film to film, this film being no exception.

This well written and cleverly directed entry is actual suspenseful, and features some impressive special f/x, making this a smidgen more enjoyable than the original.  I’m guessing the fact that Frank Darabont was one of the screenwriters had much to do with that.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 11: House of Dark Shadows

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 11:  House of Dark Shadows

As a young child, I would sit in front of the television, playing with my Imperious Leader, Ovion, and Daggit action figures as my father would watch The White Shadow. I remember my mother would also make comments about Dark Shadows, a soap opera that she enjoyed watching along with the likes of General Hospital and One Life to Live. I would often confuse the two well into my early adult years. It wasn’t until recently when I truly became aware of the distinction between the two. When Johnny Depp was announced as playing the star of the remake/reboot of today’s film and its universe, I moved to seek out the original to see exactly what Tim Burton was choosing to ape.

As an aside, I’m not sure, and I’ll save this for another day, why we keep getting comedic remakes of films that weren’t originally comedies. Who are they making these films for, the original audience? They’re bound to be disappointed. A new audience are less likely to have knowledge of the source material, thus entirely missing the satirical elements of the feature..

With that being said, onto today’s entry.

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 11: House of Dark Shadows

house_of_dark_shadows_xlgDirector: Dan Curtis
Year: 1970
Cast: Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Henesy, Roger Davis
Language: English
Country: United States
Specs: 97 mins. / Color / OAR 1.85.1 / MPAA Rating: PG
Rating: ★★★½
/ C+

Vampire Barnabas Collins, a member of an aristocratic family, returns from a long slumber, where he encounters a woman who resembles his long-lost love.  He embarks on a journey to find a cure for his curse, in order that he be allowed to live life as a human once again, and be reunited with his lover.

I’ve never seen an episode of the television show that this film was based upon. I’ve noticed that there are episodes available to stream on Hulu, and while I would like to go back and visit it at some point, having learned that it’s over 1200 episodes long, it is unlikely I’ll have much opportunity in my overworked life. Thus, going in, I knew little to nothing, as you’ve already seen in my opening paragraph, heading into today’s viewing. I eagerly sat down to see what the draw was to this long-running TV show and its 2 theatrical sequels. I was curious why it had spawned numerous books, games, television reboots, and other forms of merchandise.

Dark Shadows car

I’m happy to say that while I didn’t find the film a brilliant sortie into vampire fiction, I also didn’t find it deplorable. It was simply prosaic, lacking any nuances to justify a repeat viewing. Perhaps had I been familiar with the original series I may have gained more out of my viewing experience? I was a little confused as to who the characters were, and felt that they didn’t truly offer much exposition to clear my confusion.

The cinematography did stand out, as well as the sets and locale lending an air of authenticity. The spooks and blood also did play more like a film coming from Hammer Films than a 70s television sudser. However, the acting does come across like an extended episode of a soap opera, and is theatrical and over-the-top at moments.

House of Dark Shadows [1970]

The greatest thing that I experienced while watching the film was the desire to sacrifice some of my precious time set aside that I may catch up on other storied series to watch the original series. I also would like to watch the sequel, in the hopes that I may gain more clarification to the questions I had without resorting to 600+ hours and more searching for on googling. I’d actually love to hear what others who are familiar with the television show thought of the film, or if they believe it’s worth my time and effort to visit the original series.

Perhaps, as the Tootsie Owl once heard it said, the world [me] may never know. (That actually sounds like Elmo. Oy vey)

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2013 in Movies

 

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31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 8: Byzantium

31 Days of Films and Frights – Day 8: Byzantium

Vampires. They have been the subject of numerous films throughout the decades. They have appeared, according to ranker.com, in over 197 films. To begin to entertain the idea of producing a new edition that will resonate with audiences surely must be a daunting task. To be able to offer something new that isn’t formulaic nor a simple rehash takes talent beyond measure.

I’ve stated before, (and based on the number of films, television programs, novels, and video games that continuously get released, it’s apparent I’m not alone), that I enjoy these celluloid exhibitions featuring the notorious creatures of the night. I recently heard about today’s film whilst reading an issue of Empire magazine. They stated that the film was a four star affair. I instantly knew that I had to view this film. I originally had a sequel to a rather storied franchise queued up and ready to go, bucket of freshly made stove-top popcorn at the ready, wife and children tucked away snuggly in their beds. Instead, I did a switcheroo and opted instead for this nocturnal tale.

31 Days of Frights and Films – Day 8: Byzantium


Director: Neil Jordan
Year: 2112
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley
Language: English
Country: United Kingdom
Specs: 118 mins. / Color / OAR 2.35.1 / MPAA Rating: R
Rating: ★★★★★ / A

A pair of mysterious women descend upon a small unsuspecting town, hiding from a mysterious organization that is attempting to locate them. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of the town, they bring death with them, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake.

Not since Ludwig Von Drake recorded The Spectrum Song has there been an occasion where I was instantly immersed in a world of vivid color. The use of hues by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt was amazing, and made me all the more grateful I chose to view this on a 52″ HDTV as opposed to an iPad on my train ride into work. I was instantly taken in by the mesmerizing score that opens the film. Whereas other films I’ve written about feature over-the-top musical scores that overpower the senses, Jordan opts for a more subtle, yet beautifully melancholic soundtrack, only elevated by the haunting cinematography that unfolds from the start. The film continues to play slowly, thanks to the superb editing from Tony Lawson (Michael Collins, End of the Affair, Straw Dogs), allowing each scene to breath, even during the few gruesome images that are peppered throughout. During an upsetting decapitation, instead of cutting to the beats of the latest techno mix, we are allowed to take in the atmosphere of the locale, which only serves to up the emotional impact.


I thoroughly appreciated Jordan’s ability to effectively utilize imagery in a way that most viewers will remember elements and/or scenes to the film that never actually appeared. A film about a stripper who is also a prostitute, the men she has slept with, numerous occasions of unlawful entry, and we never are witness to any of the acts nor images of humans in their “au natural” state. Pure genius. Proof positive that the imagination is much more powerful of a tool than any canvas can ever paint.

Saoirse Ronan shines in her role as the tortured soul to Gemma Arterton’s femme fatale. Her eyes are stunningly mesmerizing, and hold the viewer every single time she looks into the lens, harking back to the famous Steve McCurry photograph that graced a National Geographic cover. The rest of the cast, who are equally as impressive in their own right, also bring life to their characters in a way that never hints at mediocrity. Jordan truly displays his gift of finding such a stellar cast.


If you enjoy atmospheric films that are light on the action and heavy on the illustrative character studies, I strongly recommend this film. I’m positive you will be thrilled.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2013 in Movies

 

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