Monthly Archives: October 2015

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Island of Terror

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This is no ordinary B-movie

This is no ordinary B-movie

Island of Terror sets a couple of “landmarks” in place despite being small on horror history. Despite being a British production, it was the first science fiction horror film Universal distributed in a long time by as a double feature with another British sci-fi called The Projected Man. Released in 1966 (but distributed to US soil nearly a year after), it was one of the last films to have a terror made by science but to be resolved by “scientific” measures. I do hope I’m not spoiling anything there but this was part of a long run of 1950s B-movies where a scientist would create something and try to destroy with a “cure” in the lab motif. Despite being cheap looking by today’s standards, surprisingly its one of the few movies where its cheesy gets really effected depending on the viewer. But I should warn right now that if you are eating or feel easy stomached, turn away now because this one is a doozy to discuss.

On a remote island off the east coast of Ireland, a group of scientists try to find a cute for cancer. A heavy idea for the time and even then still deep for today’s standards. Most scientists in movies at that age would try things like trying to read a book with their mind but here, its a bit realistic and welcome. Well, something goes wrong and all sorts of horror is unleashed as bodies are discovered but with their bones sucked out leaving behind skin, blood and flesh. A creepy concept enough and keeps you guessing up until the monster(s) show up. Even the make-up job on the squishy corpses are enough to send chills. It looks hokey but effective.

Peter Cushing in action!

Peter Cushing in action!

Peter Cushing plays a pathologist named Dr. Brian Stanley, he’s the typical scientist that looks at the clues and tries to piece them together. Upon arriving to the island to investigate, he takes things to a detective level examining the strange bodies and trying to make sense of the situation. I find it strange how Cushing is playing another doctor after his potrayle of The Doctor in 1965’s Doctor Who and the Daleks. In a sense, this does feel like a Doctor Who episode considering the amount of build up and where it leads. And to see Peter Cushing in a doctor role is ironic and interesting. On the other hand, he was with Hammer Films playing Dr. Frankenstein and Van Helsing so its no coincidence or guess to how good of a performance he gives.

Now let’s talk about the monsters in this movie. And right now if you do have a weak stomach, turn back now because there is no way I can talk about the movie without this. Do you really want to know what’s been making those boneless bodies? Are you really sure? Get a barf bag now because this gets heavy and spoiler-filled. Ready? Here we go.

The deadly Sillicant in all its glory

The deadly Sillicant in all its glory

It gets revealed that what the scientists created on accident was a strange set of creature called Sillicates. Giant blobs that suck the bones out of human being dry. To describe the appearance, picture a mutated ravioli with a single tentacle wagging about. It doesn’t get anymore simple or cheesy than that. Silly as that description sounds on paper, its executed very creepy. The sounds of the bones getting sucked out is really horrifying to listen to. But it pushes the gross factor more when we see these giant amoebas can multiply by mitosis. You heard me right! Monsters that can reproduce by the rate of a scientific germ. But they don’t just separate by any common way. When they split apart, they leave being a mass of strange goo that has stuff like looks like a mix of chicken noodle soup and maggots. Its really nasty.

The infamous hand amputation scene...less said, the better...

The infamous hand amputation scene…less said, the better…

As stated before, the creatures may look and sound goofy but the added sound effects really amps the fear. This is thanks to Barry Gray who did a lot of sound work for Gerry Anderson’s puppet shows like Stingray. When you hear that strange humming sound the sillicates make, you know trouble is coming. It’s very reminiscent of the sounds the spaceships make in George Pal’s War of the Worlds adaption. For a cheaply made movie, it knows when to be frightening and build terror in the right spots. Sometimes it can be questionable goofy but for 1966 this was really shocking. A good example is a really horrifying scene when one of the characters as a sillicant’s tentacle wrapped around his left hand. And in order to save his life, his partner has to lob off the poor guy’s hand at the wrist. Its a gruesome idea and surprisingly we the gory impact as blood spurts out. Even more shocking is how this movie aired on Svengoolie and showed this scene intact minus the blood spurt. And its not like they do a cutaway or anything. We actually see the ax come down on the hand and cut it off. And again, I do apologize for describing this scene in deep detail as I can. But this very much sums up the whole movie.

No bones about it! This one is a screamer

No bones about it! This one is a screamer

In fact, for most of the horror films of the time, I’m surprised to see Island of Terror never got that fame or infamy it deserves. Its a suspenseful feature that relies on sound and visuals to achieve its horror. Maybe it did seeing it does have a small cult following but I feel its not very big. Or perhaps it doesn’t much talk because of the horrific material despite how small it is in does. Or gets shrugged off seeing it came form a time when B-movies of the 1960s would craft this kind of schlock. I plead in defense that is a very different movie than what would one would expect. It doesn’t sugar coat anything which I’m glad it does and seems to be very bold for the time. The only drawback is that it falls into the category of “science gone wrong” which was a popular story trope of the time making it a tad predicable. But it can be clever with its choice of monster and the performances are very good, so my recommendation is very high for this one. Again for sensitive viewers, if you made it past this point and curious enough to see this movie, I won’t stop you. Just make sure your very close to the bathroom for this one or else you will see something far more gross on your living room rug by the end of the movie…know what I mean?

 

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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puella_magi_madoka_magica_the_movie_part_i_the_beginning_story_xlgWell, I promised I would review more anime this year and I’m trying to live up to it. Puella Magi Madoka Magica is an interesting one to talk about because you don’t know what to expect going into it. Most Japanese folklore would be filled with all sorts of spiritual talk of other worlds, monsters and witches so choosing this one is appropriate for the season. In a nutshell, it’s a modern fairy tale but with a darker brush stroke. The premise alone sounds really “out there” on paper but when watching it, you’ll find this one to be a rather unique experience.

A group of girls come across a strange creature that claims to grant a wish in exchange for becoming a magical girl. And because of this new power, they have no choice but to send forth and fight off bizarre witches. And from that, it’s all you really need to give you an idea of what to expect. I do hope I won’t confuse my readers but from what I understand a magical girl uses powers for good while witches are the polar opposite. A basic concept that doesn’t get confusing but the story built around gets more complex as it goes along which is good and holds your interest.

The main character is Madoka, a typical girl that is good nature and such. But what keeps her character from being generic is the dilemma she gets. Without spoiling too much, Madoka has this choice to become one of the powerful girls but keeps putting it off or is interrupted. The pressure gets more to her when some of her friends make that choice but later see its consequences. Knowing that she is normal, we see this constant struggle for making such an ethic choice and wonder how it will turn out.

Madoka is tempted by a strange creature named Kyubey to make a wish in exchange to be a magical girl. Can you say Devil's Advocate?

Madoka is tempted by a strange creature named Kyubey to make a wish in exchange to be a magical girl. Can you say Devil’s Advocate?

As stated, there are consequences to choosing this path of fighting against witches as her friend Sayaka is a good example. She uses her wish to help out a young violinist which leads to some heavy tragedy. Without giving too much away, you sort of expect what will happen but thanks to the old phrase “be careful what you wish for,” the consequence of becoming a magical girl adds another level of tension. Even when you do make a good wish, we know it will backfire in some form. Some of this was in Disney’s Aladdin where our hero wished to be a prince but later realized the idea of being something he isn’t is a punishment toward his actions. But in that movie, the dangling consequence toward it never felt impending that much. Here, we know there is a risk and curious to see how it plays out.

But amidst the darkness, there are some fun characters and good humor. Another magical girl named Kyoko has sort of this Han Solo personality going on that leads to some humorous reactions with the other characters. I find it interesting she tries to have this cool personality and comes off as show off-ish but in a funny way. I strange character trait I found was how she keeps eating in every scene she is in. Unless I missed something, I just find that rather odd but again comedic. Normally a character like this would be smoking cigars or drinking. But here, its candy and apples that she holds in her hands.

One of the magical girls going up against a witch made of candy...trust me, its more scary than it sounds

One of the magical girls going up against a witch made of candy…trust me, its more scary than it sounds

The witches themselves are interesting too. They don’t speak or have much personality but depicted as twisted childhood nightmares coming to life. Even interesting is the style of animation they use to depict these creatures. Normal humans in the world of Madoka look like updated Sailor Moon characters while the monsters have this other type of animation design that gives a more other worldly feel. From monsters made of candy to strange mermaids, it makes the scenes with the witches more frightening and unique to watch.

Now, I could go deeper into the rules of being a magical girl and the remainder of the story but I feel its best you check it out for yourself without me ruining it. However, there are some drawbacks. First off, sensitive viewers might want to watch with caution or at least with a friend. There are some running themes here that are too dark or might upset them. There are some really clever twists and turns here but I fear it might disturb them a little. Keep in mind, this is meant to be a dark fairy tale that doesn’t hold back. Wolf Children is a great example knowing how to balance between light and darkness. Here, its the opposite. We think we are going into a charming world but find it to be paved with black bricks.

Second, this is actually a series but thankfully it was made into two movies. There is a third one that is more of an original story but the first two is really the entire show edited down a bit. I saw the movies instead and from what I read up, they do some animation enhancements that at least give fans a chance to see the movies in a different light. Part I is dubbed Beginnings while Part II is titled Eternal. I’m sure you can find them in DVD stores but as of this blog post, they are on Netflix. And because these two are connected, Part I does end on a cliffhanger. Both movies together clock in around a little over three hours so be prepared for such a binge. The only thing left to say is expect the unexpected because you in for a wild yet powerful ride with this one. Highly recommended, ’nuff said.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Night Walker

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Have you ever seen a dream...walking? You will after this one!

Have you ever seen a dream…walking? You will after this one!

Director William Castle was the king of the film gimmick. You didn’t need 3-D glasses for his movies. Audiences went in, were told they were in for the thrill of a lifetime, offered insurance in case they got scared and didn’t know what to expect. Many film historians remember him best for his movie The Tingler, where he placed buzzers under the seats that were set to go off when the monster was about. A good bulk of his movies were all about the sportsmanship and enjoyment of films. Interactivity and just plain fun where the main ingredients to what gave his films such charm and respect. Something that would later be done and perfected with Midnight Movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Pink Flamingos where audiences members throw stuff at the screen and shout lines.

But of all the movies that shouldn’t go unnoticed by Castle, The Night Walker seems to be so underrated that as of this review, it has no DVD release. Thankfully it exists on VHS and laserdisc as well as the opportunity to have an airing on monster movie host Svengoolie’s show. Instead of audience interactivity, the gimmick lies within the movie itself as Castle gives us a story with real suspense and horror. It manages to be eerie, frightening and unsettling at the same time. But does it deserve the cold shoulder it keeps getting?

The opening prologue narrated by Paul Frees does into a depth detail about the nature of dreams. What we know about them and what we fear from them. The surreal nature to the essence belief that if one where to die in a dream, they die in real life. Already by the first minute, we are hooked. Who isn’t interested in the aspect of separating reality from our own personal fantasy? It puts you in the right mood and adds to the theme of the movie. In a sense, I do wonder if cutting this opening out would change anything but the amount of description and set-up for what kind of film we are to embark on does help a bit.

Barbara Stanwyck as Irene who questions the nature of her dreams

Barbara Stanwyck as Irene who questions the nature of her dreams

Barbara Stanwyck plays Irene Trent who is married to a possessive millionaire that also happens to be blind. Also, he happens to be an inventor which is strange how you have to take into context his ability to craft such mechanical devices in his laboratory  despite the fact he can’t see. Aside from that nitpick, her husband is completely jealous when he hears Irene talk in her sleep about a mysterious man. This results in a very intense yet brief moment when they argue and he responds by beating her with a cane. Its not graphically executed but probably too intense for sensitive viewers.

Things kick off when an explosion at his laboratory takes his life and

Hayden Rorke in a spine tingling role as Irene's husband who haunts her dreams as much as her life

Hayden Rorke in a spine tingling role as Irene’s husband who haunts her dreams as much as her life

Irene has trouble with her dreams. Apparently, she keeps having visions of a strange man (Lloyd Bochner) dubbed “The Dream” in the credits. “The Dream” is very much an exact description of the person she keeps seeing in her dreams and spends a lot of time comforting her. While on the sidelines, the charred and burnt figure of her dead husband haunts her nightmares as well. This changes gears during one of the most unsettling scenes when he takes Irene to a church full of lifeless mannequins as “The Dream” tries to marry her. None of their lips move, voices are heard from them and plays out in a very creepy way. I know your probably reading this and thinking how can that be frightening. And here I say, its part of the atmosphere of the movie. In this scene alone, the haunting organ music, the abundance of dutch angles and the look of fright on Irene adds to the tension. Instead of being scary in scenes, it builds to a creepy feeling that sinks in.

The infamous church scene. Less said the better

The infamous church scene. Less said the better

Throughout the Night Walker, we question what state of reality we are in and question the cues to know if Irene is dreaming or just experiencing this in real life. From the way the scenes are shot with an other-wordily manner to how grounded reality tries to be, we find ourselves engaged in knowing where this will all lead. The plot takes many twists and turns to help us piece together what kind of person Irene is and what her “dreams” mean. Writer Robert Bloch, known for his novel Psycho, fills each frame with plenty of guesses and clues to hold our interest. Another big help is the musical score by Vic Mizzy who is more remembered for doing composing music for episodes of the Addams Family. The score is a little cartoonish but adds a nail-biting feeling at the right times.

NightWalker (4)The Night Walker is a near perfect film but sadly there is one big flaw that nearly ruins it and its the ending. I won’t spoil exactly what the huge twist is but with so much build up, you kind of expect something powerful to match the level of psychological intensity. The twist in question is acceptable but how it pays off in the end is very weak. Regardless, I do feel bad this has yet to receive a DVD release as I can see it gaining a bigger audience. I feel bad this movie didn’t do well at the box office despite being a mixed to generally favorable with critics at the time. The tone has a Hitchcokian feel in the filming as the writing is something close to Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone. If your in the mood for a very suspense filled feature, this is one worth hunting down.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: New Nightmare

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Just when you thought the sequels got campy...we get the mother to end all Nightmares...

Just when you thought the sequels got campy…we get the mother to end all Nightmares…

If it wasn’t for Wes Craven, horror fans wouldn’t have a boogeyman to fear and thrill over. Freddy Krueger was the brainchild of Craven from his own childhood so it made sense when it came for Wes to do his Nightmare sequel, he would be given proper care. However, this vision he had didn’t come to light because New Line deemed it too risky. But like most ideas, they never go to waste. This concept of doing a Nightmare sequel in a more cerebral context was used for the seventh film in the franchise. It was looser, not faithful to the original themes present in the first movie and far darker than any of the other films. Despite praise from critics, this Nightmare wasn’t a huge box-office hit despite taking in a modest gross. However, it wouldn’t be till over time this one would be recognized better through home video as one of the best.

New Nightmare is an all together different movie because it doesn’t continue any of the storylines from the Nightmare films. Wes gives this one its own spin and becomes more of a commentary on movies and the impact they leave. The stardom they craft and the negative things that surface. Heather Langenkamp plays as herself; the Nightmare franchise has her labeled so deeply that she can’t avoid it. So much that the studio begs her to do another sequel under her reluctance. Throughout the whole movie, she experiences twisted nightmares of a much different Freddy who kills the actors of the Nightmare franchise and brings a far more deep menace than the cartoon he eventually became.

Right off the bat, this is not your average movie but filled with so many fourth wall moments that it feels more like a mirror. We get to see the impact of what these movies do for not just the audience but also the people who play a part in them. Instead of seeing them as glamorized and star struck, they try to cope with the fame and live a normal life. This is evident in Robert Englund’s scenes as he enjoys every moment being Freddy for the kids and signing autographs but yet senses a dark cloud on the horizon when taking up painting. This is one of the few movies where I feel it states that those in the business are people too. We know some can take the fame to their head but others just see it as a job or something to pass through life.

Nancy her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) spend some quality time with Rexy

Nancy her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) spend some quality time with Rexy

But more important is the commentary on the effect of horror and its audience. Heather has a son in New Nightmare named Dylan (Miko Hughes) which leads to more curiosity to the interviews when asked if the movies she is are are safe to expose to her kid. Its that common morale question of how much an impact something like Freddy has made to our culture for audiences of old and new. At this point in the franchise, Freddy is seen as a one linear spewing clown and that’s the side audiences want to see more than anything.

Real Freddy. Not as fun as you think he will be...

Real Freddy. Not as fun as you think he will be…

New Nightmare, however, gives us two Kruegers for the price of one. While Robert prances around in make-up for the kids, we also see a more darker take (also played by Robert Englund). This darker variation is the Freddy we know exists but don’t wish to. A more sinister take that plays with audience’s fears than enjoyment. I must applaud Wes for giving us this different version that was originally closer to what was intended for the first film. This Freddy doesn’t clown around. He is a vicious killing machine that inhabits our deepest fears. The design is so different from the one we are used to that it almost feels terrifying to look at from skeleton-like claws and a darker color for his clothes.

As Heather is plagued with visions, so do we question what is the real world in this movie and what is the fantasy of the film. The line is burred so well that we keep questioning it or just don’t care and let the film enrich us. In order to describe what I mean, I would have to ruin the final 30 minutes as the film world of Elm Street invades Heather’s reality. In a struggle to choose, she eventually decides to face the monster that she was cast in one last time in order to bring reality to order. The whole tone of the movie is so surreal that it almost does have a dream like quality. Even right down to using fairy tale cliches to contrast with the moral question. If we let kids read dark Grimm tales like Hansel and Gretel, then what is holding us back from showing an R rated movie?

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“… when the time comes, you’re gonna have to make a choice….Whether or not you will be willing to play Nancy one last time.” – Wes Craven

Its funny how this movie came out right before Scream would later take the stand as seeds of it can be seen in New Nightmare. Scream, however, takes what New Nightmare did and attempts to perfect it into a narrative film. New Nightmare I feel is the better movie. Sure it gets crazy in the last third but its very engaging. And its director Wes never talks down to his viewers or tries to paint them in a negative light. He shows both sides and lets us make our own decision based on what he gives us. New Nightmare is more than just a great entry that deserves a watch. But a love letter to horror movies, the audiences that love them and the people who lend a hand in making them. And nowhere is that prominent than in this grand outing.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: A Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise (Part 2)

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Even the poster sums up how weird the movie is

Even the poster sums up how weird the movie is

After Dream Warriors, the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise sort of went downhill. Unlike Friday the 13th where the concepts got more ridiculous, there was at least an attempt to try and stick to what made the first film so memorable. The idea that dying in your dreams can be real and how surreal a dream can be. Well, they took these elements and things got campier as each sequel was made. In fact, the next three movies really had some bizarre stuff the more I think about it.

Case and point is how Freddy gets resurrected in the fourth film The Dream Master. It’s so weird that it needs to be seen to be believed. A dog urinates fire on Freddy’s grave and that’s the trigger to how he comes back. It feels like it comes out of nowhere. Of all the things to try and bring back the dream demon, it all boils down to a canine peeing flames. Supposedly, this idea was originally a joke by director Renny Harlin but later used in a metaphorical manner from what Robert Englund stated. He sees it as a Hell-Hound and how evil Freddy is. Even without that context, its a weird scene.

As Freddy returns, he dispatches the dream warriors with such ease that it feels like the movie should be over. But no, the torch is passed down to Alice Jonson (Lisa Wilcox) who somehow gets Kristen’s powers before she dies. The rest of the movie I guess makes some sense as Freddy starts to kill Alice’s friends in gruesome ways but it sort of defeats the purpose. Freddy was supposed to kill the kids on Elm Street for the parents that burned him to a cinder. Now, he is used as a Jason prawn going around and killing random folks. You could argue it sort of works seeing Alice has Kristen’s powers and Freddy is doing this to taunt her. But even then, it sort of doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Even Alice is sort of uninteresting. I guess they wanted another Nancy-ish character but crank up the heroic levels. In a nutshell, she comes off as a mini-Ripely clone by the end and even when the movie does try to clear up the logic of her powers and everything, it still seems off. She only exists to carry the torch of the franchise because Nancy’s story ended in the third film and Kristen along with her friends got killed off in the opening. Even Ken Sagoe who plays Kincad told his fans that if they were to see the fourth film, they would have to see the movie immediately after getting their ticket or else “my ass will be dead.”

Speaking of which, the staging of the kills are interesting in a sense leading to a lot of creativity. Some are basic like Freddy literally sucking the life out of a teenager and others are over the top like one where a girl turns into a human cockroach and crushed. At least this movie tries to deliver the fun when needed even things don’t add up. Freddy is more campier than before just as the deaths feel a tad more cartoony. At least with Dream Warriors, the theme of the dreams and cinematography helped make the nightmares look dark despite having an exaggerated look. With Dream Master, there’s more light and certainly less menace. Its all about the fun fact and less about the scares.

And then came Freddy with a baby carriage...wait, what?

And then came Freddy with a baby carriage…wait, what?

Thankfully, it didn’t end up as weird as The Dream Child. Lisa Wilcox returns as Alice who graduates from college and might possibly be pregnant. Of course, Freddy returns again but this time wants to take control of her unborn son making her child a monster. As expected, he goes around killing teens she knows in order to give power to the baby in her belly. Yeah, I dare you to make a shred of sense of that. It just raises too many questions and certain too many ethical ones too. I’d go into deeper detail but its hard to deal with the subtext of teen pregnancy and mix it with dark fantasy. Moments when they considering things like abortion come off as awkward and feel really forced. I guess after something heavy like teen suicide, they wanted another heavy topic to explore. But this one doesn’t feel full realized and comes off as awkward and uncomfortable.

Even the death scenes push a little too much of the dark toll for something that is trying to be dumb fun and serious at the same time. A kid’s motorbike morphs into him in such a graphic way and in one infamous scene that had to be cut down, Freddy feeds the innards of a character’s guts to herself. Its absolutely nasty and feels a bit too gruesome. I know the deaths can be creative but also frightening too. Here, there is no sense of fun and we just watch on in disgusted shock. The only exception is a kid who turns into a super hero but gets defeated by (ugh) Super Freddy who slashes at him like tissue paper. Already too soon for such a grim entry and way too over the top for something like this. I admire the effort in trying a new direction but it comes off weird and clunky in the long run.

They said it was the best...but we know better

They said it was the best…but we know better

Even thought Freddy’s Dead was supposedly the last one, we had that suspicion there would be another one. But after all the franchise went through, New Line Cinema felt it was best to end the series while they had the chance. Nice idea but I wish we got a more serious entry. Instead, it goes for a more horror comedy vehicle as Freddy kills his victims in a Looney Tunes fashion. From dressing up as the Wicked Witch to even using Nintendo for a kill, the deaths get sillier and sillier as the movie goes along. Again, I still respect the creativity but at this point, a straight up comedy just felt really like desperation. And nowhere is that more evident with cameo appearances by Rosanne Barr, Tom Arnold or even Johnny Depp (which honestly is one of the more funnier moments in the film.)

However, there are some welcome exceptions like seeing Alice Cooper as Freddy’s father and there is something enjoyable about the deaths even when they get way too bonkers. And at least they have a story that is trying to be engaging even when it doesn’t make sense like Freddy having a kid and trying to find out who it was. The biggest highlight is the climax which was seen theatrically in 3D but ends on a lame note as Freddy is defeated with such a simple weapon that is too weak to describe here. And if watched in 2D, your very much looking at stuff being tossed out at the screen. There is a box set that contains a version with the ending as it appeared in theaters but of course, you have to set up yourself to get a “good 3D reception.” It feels like New Line went all out on this entry and they really tried to make it a spectacular finale but it fails because of how it overdoes itself. Considering how uneven Dream Master and Dream Child are, I’m slightly more forgiving seeing it falls as a guilty pleasure for me. But even with that knowledge, I still can’t find the guts to recommend it.

It feels like after Dream Warriors, the series transitioned itself to be more fun and light. These three tired to be dark when needed but felt unnecessary when you take into effect how off putting it is. I can’t say 4, 5 and Freddy’s Dead are the worst but they are not the best. Fans make some exceptions with the fourth film but I just have a few too many problems it. I say stick with the first film and Dream Warriors if you want a good dark fantasy about nightmares. But as for these three, pick your own poison.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: A Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise (Part 1)

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In order to discuss a franchise and its sequels, certain plot elements have to be explained. In short, spoiler alert!

"Never sleep again..."

“Never sleep again…”

Of all the horror franchises to come out of the 1980s, there are two distinctive ones that I feel defined the decade. Friday the 13th provided a wealth of roller coaster entertainment with cheesy stories of kids going out to party only to have a killer on the loose. It was pure fun but there is another that I feel defines not only the era but also the culture at the time. A Nightmare on Elm Street opened a lot of doors that excelled the slasher genre into ways unimaginable. The idea of a horror revolves around dreams is a very unique one. Who isn’t interested in dreams? The question of what they mean and how they connect to real life. A film series like this has a lot of room for creative concepts and ideas. Thankfully, each movie took the opportunity despite how good or bad they got.

In the first film, we were introduced to Freddy Krueger, a child murder who exists in teenager’s dreams who sought to avenge his death. The mythos goes is that disgusted parents burned Freddy alive in revenge for the kids he murdered. Now, he haunts the nightmares of the parent’s kids by killing them in their sleep. Its a scary thought that leads to much potential and tension. We have a common fear of dying in the most innocent and unlikely way. And I think we all can agree that getting murdered in your sleep is the worst fear imaginable.

Robert Englund: The man that launched a ton of nightmares

Robert Englund: The man that launched a ton of nightmares

The first entry treats Freddy like a mysterious monster hiding his face in shadows and seeing less of him. Its a clever idea when can sense his presence at times when you don’t see him. Once our heroes enter the dream land, nothing is the same as we question what is real and what is a dark fantasy. In the world of Freddy, everything is twisted and distorted much like a dream which raises the stakes. Even when he’s on screen, the performance of Robert Englund helps by making him unpredictable with his powers and how sick minded he is to deliver a scare. One the most chilling scenes is when his face appears through a wall as he looks on the next victim. Believe it or not, the special effect is really a spandex sheet but the lightening and execution makes it a bone chilling moment.

Unlike Friday the 13th which had stock teens, we are given characters to care about with personality and want to see them live. In the middle of it all

Nancy faces off her worst nightmare in the climax

Nancy faces off her worst nightmare in the climax

is Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) who tries to remain one step head of the nightmare walker and figure out his weakness. This is a perfect definition of a smart female protagonist. She will even under go experiments which much risk in order to see a way to defeat the monster. As her friends get axed off, the levels of terror get raised so much that we care for her. She is surrounded by her parents who secretively know but only dismiss it as a myth. Without much help, we sympathize in Nancy’s dilemma and hope she will survive. This was during a time when the teenager of the 1980s was hitting some hard times from rebellion to young death as well. And for a horror movie to subtly inject these themes was very rare. Mostly it would just be a thrill ride but we get something deeper here as parents ignore the adolescents while the kids strive to prove not only they are right but more than just party kids.

The deaths in this one are truly iconic. I don’t think anyone will get into a bed again after seeing how Johnny Depp gets killed and I’m certain viewers will want to sleep a night without bed-sheets after seeing Rod’s death scene. For the limited budget, less is truly more as director Wes Craven had to get really creative with the special effects. Even the point they had to build a rig that would turn a room upside down just to get a scare performed right. There’s such a level of detail pertained to here that not only does it pull us into this world and frighten us but keeps us engaged. There’s such a great balance between story and horror that my own words can’t do much justice. This is a horror classic that deserves  to be watched around this time of year.

So much potential...but man....

So much potential…but man….

Its no surprise A Nightmare on Elm Street would be such a big hit for how original and engaging it was for audience back then. And without it, New Line Cinemas would just be an independent studio when you think about it. The Nightmare franchise really got its legs off the ground and without it, we wouldn’t have the studio that it is today. But perhaps I should back up and mention there was no sequel intended as Wes Craven wanted the movie to end without a hook. Unfortunately, Nancy never got her happy ending thanks to studio executives who opened the door for a sequel. Sadly, the first sequel Freddy’s Revenge has some promise but falls due to the weak tropes and cliches the first movie was re-writing and improving. Instead it becomes a flat slasher clone with some interesting ideas.

This time, Freddy is haunting a shy teen named Jessie (Mark Patton) who plans to posses his body in order to kill more teenagers. Apparently, Jessie’s family moved into Nancy’s house upon discovering her dairy as he tires to find a way to defeat the dream demon. There are some good moments here and again, I can’t deny a good special effect. But the rest of the movie is full of stock teenagers and stiff characters that it really goes against what the first Nightmare was doing. We had teenagers with soul and personality trying to deal with their walk into adulthood while a Freudian monster axed them down under their own fears. The way this entry is executed feels more like a Friday the 13th clone and it doesn’t help the death toll is very low. In fact, its probably the lowest in the franchise with only two deaths.

I can tell the actors are trying to make this a workable entry. In fact, I’m positive Mark Patton is a nice guy and is trying to bring on the same innocence that Heather Langenkamp delivered. But there is nothing really that interesting about his character. Just an awkward teenager that is trying to find a balance between his identity and fitting in. Some critics have gone on to claim there is a homosexual subtext with the character but it feels more like a distraction and something tagged on as opposed to fitting in with the story. Yeah, Jessie goes to an S&M bar and there are some homoerotic overtones but they just feel like filler to me or come off as awkward execution.

"You got the body...and I got the brains!"

“You got the body…and I got the brains!”

A good example is the death scene of his gym teacher (Marshall Bell) who throughout the whole movie has a sadistic sense of punishing his students with push ups. I really don’t understand the motive behind this character or his purpose. Is he supposed to be a bully? Does he have this twisted mentality for punishing students this way for his own pleasure? The way they set him up is just weird. Even stranger is the death scene when he gets tied to the showers by gym ropes under Freddy’s control, stripped butt naked, spanked with towels and eventually clawed to death by Jessie under Freddy’s control. Yeah, the way that scene plays out has me really confused. Is it meant to be some kind of homosexual subject or is it just there for shock value? Or am I looking too deep?

In fact from what I heard the writer of the script deliberately wrote these “subtexts” into the movie and yet director Jack Sholder didn’t pick on them. I’m not positive if everyone was aware of these “elements” but someone had to have at least ask why it exists. And I’m not someone who is against questioning sex orientation or having it be depicted in a movie. But the way these scenes play out makes it awkward and weird. Even the dialogue doesn’t help pushing it further. “Something is trying to get inside my body.” Jessie says while trying to sleep over at his friend’s Ron’s place in fear of Freddy. And Ron’s response is “Yeah, and she’s female, and she’s waiting for you in the cabana. And *you* wanna sleep with me.” I don’t think I need to sum up anything else.

I guess I’m a tad forgiving on Freddy’s Revenge seeing it was New Line Cinema’s first sequel. But with so many problems in the story and campy tone that plague it, this entry becomes harder for me recommend. It feels more like an annoyance because there is some potential and its well-shot. But the concept dives into a generic slasher motif and the climax still has me scratching my head in confusion as Freddy attacks teens at a local party for no reason and somehow is defeated by a strange way.  It pays off like a weird and clunky haunted house that doesn’t know if it wants to be creepy or dumb campy fun.

Arguably, the best

Arguably, the best

Thankfully, Wes Craven returned and made a script for the third film. After the negative reception from critics (yet still was a box office hit), things returned to basics for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. However, Craven’s script was deemed too dark and intense despite a good bulk of his material remained in the final cut. The results was an entry that went back to the roots of the first film making kids the heroes and increasing the tension. Arguably, I think its better than the first movie because it expands a lot more on the Freddy myth while giving us a story that surprisingly goes more darker than the first.

Freddy is back terrorizing kids on Elm Street but this time make its look like his victims are committing suicide. Already, this idea is really crawling under its viewer’s skins as a bulk of the movie takes place in a hospital where other youths are being treated. The subtext is much deeper here as we question not just the aspect of reality and fantasy but also the mind of a teenager. As Freddy makes the kills seem like self-harm, we start to question if these kills are really the control of the dream killer or a craft by the kids themselves. Of course, seeing this is Nightmare on Elm Street, the viewer knows that nocturnal demon is to blame as parents begin to wonder about the sanity of their kids. Its a heavy concept already but the likeness of these characters really help us through.

At the center of it all is Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) who befriends the group while trying to ward off Freddy. Already we feel sympathetic because we know she is telling the truth and yet next to no on believes her. That is expect for Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) who returns as a worker on the ward. She is aware of what these kids are talking about and fears the worst when she finds out the monster from her teen years is back with a vengeance. If that wasn’t enough, we learn that each kid has a certain power that pertains to their personality when they dream. One kid is strong, one is athletic, another is a wizard and so forth. It questions more than just the nature of dreams but what we can do in a dream. Our dream is our own reality and we can bend it anyway possible. This gives new rules and ideas that are deeply explored more that were left ambiguous in the first film.

A new kind of breakfast club

A new kind of breakfast club

As for Freddy, well Robert Englund is back and more frightening than ever. Now, Freddy can morph into different things and finds new ways to kill off the unfortunate kids. The only drawback is that he has a more campy menace with one liners but it adds a dark comedy feel that doesn’t go over the top or groan-inducing. The deaths do get a little over exaggerated but its a fresh welcome seeing how surreal and demented they get. My favorite kill has to be when the dream demon morphs with a television to kill a kid. It sounds crazy on paper but on first watch, it comes as a huge surprise. The unexpected moment almost becomes laughable due to how unpredictable it feels.

However, Dream Warriors is not for everyone. The concept does get too dark and may upset some viewers with themes of suicide explored along with some disturbing images. These scares are not heavily dark as the first film but they come nearly close. If you are really sensitive to things like self-harm and questioning one’s mental capability, I say watch with caution or with a friend for comfort. Other than that, I think this surpasses the first movie in many ways and already this entry is one of my favorite horror movies. Some can see it as overrated but I feel everything works in the film’s favor. We get to explore more the unlimited dream world and even the origins of Freddy as well. And with a kick-ass theme song by Dokken, you can’t go wrong. It ties the knot with everything from the first film and ends it all nicely. It could have made for a perfect conclusion for a possible trilogy. But oh no, they couldn’t leave Freddy alone…..

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Monster on the Campus

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Universal's Sci-Fi didn't go out on a high note...but a tolerable one

Universal’s Sci-Fi didn’t go out on a high note…but a tolerable one

During the 1950s run of B-movies at Universal Pictures, Jack Arnold was a very big name back then in science fiction. Well known for titles like The Incredible Shrinking Man, Tarantula, It Came from Outer Space and the famous Creature from the Black Lagoon, Jack could take any outlandish premise and just turn it into gold. Unlike today’s directors of pure crappy schlock, hew the concepts to his movies were not meant to be taken serious. And yet somehow he approached them like big budgeted A-list movies treating them with such care in story and believably. So its very fitting this film he directed would make the last time Universal would ever work on a science fiction monster film, at least till 1966. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Monster on the Campus is truly a step up from The Land Unknown because there is a lot of promise and imagination for such a simple story. Again, Jack Arnold could take any idea and make it pure entertainment. Not to mention the script was written by David Duncan who would be best remembered for his screenplay work on The Time Machine and Fantastic Voyage. These two talents are a true match made in heaven who know what kind of material they are deal with. And it was very coincidental for their sci-fi talents to cross here and bring something fun and entertaining to the table.

Arthur Franz with his catch of the day! As long as he doesn't throw it back, I think we'll be fine

Arthur Franz with his catch of the day! As long as he doesn’t throw it back, I think we’ll be fine

Arthur Franz is a college professor that acquires a frozen prehistoric fish for pure study. But as it turns out, the blood was infected with radiation as anything it comes into contact becomes de-evolved. This includes a dog that gets ridiculous saber tooth jaws, a giant dragonfly and our lead who turns into a Neanderthal monster with tons of hair. And very much the whole movie deals with him trying to understand the workings of the fish as the police try to investigate some small murders that might have a link with the campus teacher.

Right off the bat, we have no idea what to expect on first watch. The idea already feels like something taken from an EC Comic but obviously executed in less gory fashion. I do like the premise and how they play around with what happens when things like bugs or other animals get in contact with the fish’s blood. It leaves the door open for many possibilities even if we don’t see every creature get infected. Unfortunately, there are ground rules here as any creature that gets infected with the irradiated blood has the prehistoric effects for only a short time. But still, when we see a dragonfly become big as a falcon, we still believe. In fact, the special effects for the scene when the de-evolved dragonfly runs about the classroom are not half bad. Again, Jack Arnold always paid attention to detail even when the special effects get cheesy.

I've heard of fly fishing but this is ridiculous!

I’ve heard of fly fishing but this is ridiculous!

If there is one problem (nitpick) I do have with the movie, its a certain plot element. Apparently, the effects of the fish’s blood work for a short time. And after the effects wear off, the being returns to its civilized self. Yet the professor keeps claiming the monster within him won’t go away even when he’s already back to normal with the blood possibly out of his system. If he keeps whining about how he doesn’t want to be a killer creature, then why does he keep injecting himself with the irradiated blood? I know for one point its for study but there really isn’t too much of a inner struggle. If he just stopped altogether and starting having temptations, it would make sense. Then again, this movie is already a revamp of the Jekyll and Hyde story but even in that story, Jekyll wasn’t constantly taking the potion. If I remember correctly, the potion was so deeply embedded that Jekyll could transform without the use of the serum. I could be wrong but if the potion is the case, then why keep having it around when its poisonous to your moral ethnics.

The Monster is ready for his close-up, Mr. Arnold!

The Monster is ready for his close-up, Mr. Arnold!

Aside from that, the rest of the movie holds up fine. I can’t remember a performance that was terrible or a special effect that was too goofy to take seriously. The make-up job on the monster when the professor transforms is actually not bad. Sort of a primate version of the Wolf Man in a sense. Then again, some might be put off by the Jekyll and Hide parallels of the story while others might look at this with an open mind. I still say its harmless fun either way. While its not a grand outing (in fact, the ending very much just ends without a big finale), it was still nice to see some effort placed in. I can only imagine what it would have been like if Monster on the Campus was placed in different hands. It would have been cheaper and done in a very schlocky manner. But thanks to a good writer and a director that knows his footing, we get a movie that is not half bad and at least brings some entertainment that knows not to take itself too seriously. Overall, its a decent flick that’s worth checking out.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Land Unknown

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Excitment...danger.....cheapnesss

Excitment…danger…..cheapnesss

At some point, Universal’s golden era of B-movies started to wind down. Premises of other worldly creatures and strange new worlds with odd monsters began to diminish. No longer where they the norm by the time the 1950s ended. Instead they got campier and goofier well into the start of the 1960s when A-list horror movies were rare or starting to blossom like George A. Romero’s Dead series. I can’t exactly pinpoint when the decline happened but I can say The Land Unknown is proof the B-movie era was starting to wear thin at the time.

The story isn’t completely new and can be described as a near poor man’s take on The Lost World. A group of scientists discover a small area in Antarctica’s waters that is strangely warm. They go to investigate via helicopter flight but unfortunately the rotors break and find themselves low on fuel. Once they land, our group find themselves surrounded in thick jungle from the prehistoric age along with its inhabitants. And this is where the movie either gets interesting or laughable the way you look at it.

The "Oscar" worthy effects in The Land Unknown

The “Oscar” worthy effects in The Land Unknown

The creatures in this strange world are dinosaurs but the effects are so cheap that you can’t help but stare in amazement or disbelief. Lurking in these strange trees include a giant monitor lizard that is green screened, a pterodactyl on a wire, a large sea serpent puppet that could qualify for a Gerry Anderson tv show, a carnivorous plant that is held by wires and dips its victims into a weird dip on its head to eat them and one Tyrannosaurus rex suit. And that very much sums up the special effects as well as the rest of the movie.

Supposedly, The Land Unknown was going to be directed by Jack Arnold (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space) and was going to have a bigger budget. Jack envisioned this film as an A-list science fiction movie and knowing his directing style, it could have been salvaged. But Universal made some big budget cuts and Jack left town giving the directorial duty to Virgil W. Vogel who would later do episodes of Mission Impossible and Bonanza. It also didn’t help that the studio already spent its money on the special effects to the point it couldn’t be filmed in color like planned. Perhaps that is for the best.

The crew working on the sea serpent which is honestly not THAT bad of a puppet...but still...

The crew working on the sea serpent which is honestly not THAT bad of a puppet…but still…

I feel bad seeing there is a unique charm to these puppets and keyed-in lizards, but find myself laughing in disbelief. There is effort to the sets to provide something there to interact and walk around. But most the time, I feel like I’m watching an episode of Land of the Lost with a slightly bigger budget. The story is your typical explorers lost in an new world motif and it doesn’t help when your actors are obviously green screened in when they are running from a man in a T. Rex costume. I’ll give the effects this much; they really tried. I can’t say the effort wasn’t all for nothing. In fact, its best to have an attempt in effort than none at all.

But then the story gets more ridiculous. Henry Brandon plays a scientist that was stranded in the world for a long time and has sort of

Shirley Patterson scream queening during her big scene with the carnivorous plant. And yet a few years later, Roger Corman would make a more convincing one

Shirley Patterson scream queening during her big scene with the carnivorous plant. And yet a few years later, Roger Corman would make a more convincing one

become this Tarzan-ish jungle man. He controls the creatures with a conch shell and supposedly tries to act as a chief to them by means of destroying their eggs for population control. It also gets more absurd when he demands the female scientist to stay with him in the prehistoric world for exchange in helping them. I can understand this character is probably disillusioned but really think about it? If you were stranded for that long and gone nuts, I wouldn’t want to stay in a world with prehistoric beasts when help comes along. It comes out of nowhere and almost gets a little Lord of the Flies-ish.

And I can already imagine how many will be put off by the old “there’s only one female in a group of male scientists” motif just for this plot line and sadly plagued others like This Island Earth. But at least in This Island Earth, Faith Deomergue’s character as Ruth was giving things to do and served a purpose to the story. Shirley Patterson’s character in The Land Unknown, however, is giving little to do outside of being in the middle of the men’s situation and playing with a cute creature that later becomes plant food for no reason. Ironic how she later be casted in It! The Terror From Beyond Space and given a little more to do.

One of these is a keyed in effect, the others are miniatures. Can you tell which is which?

One of these is a keyed in effect, the others are miniatures. Can you tell which is which?

Overall, The Land Unknown did have a lot of promise for its time. But critics didn’t like it and I don’t recall this movie being a flop or even a huge hit either.  At this point, the B-movie era was starting to wind down and this was proof. Cheap special effects, hokey acting and really convoluted plot lines. This is no means a terrible movie and some have defended this movie as underrated which is a good thing. Films of good and bad will have an audience no matter what they are. And to be honest, I do see this as a bit of a guilty pleasure just for its ludicrous execution. Land Unknown had a lot of promise but due to the studio powers that be got cut back on a lot of limitations. Then again, it is a harmless film to watch outside of the anti-feminist tone which plagued other B-movies at the time. And for something filmed in CinemaScope, at least the camera work tries to make great use of the wide aspect ratio. Filling everything with something cheesy and well crafted for what its worth. I know a film like this is not to everyone’s liking but its worth watching if you want good old cheesy fun and cheap yet ambitiously attempt effects. Besides, when your movie has a man in a dinosaur suit, I think you’ll know exactly what to expect.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Dracula Untold

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Marvel Comic's Dracula...I mean the reboot that does something new....yeah, its that kind of movie

Marvel Comic’s Dracula…I mean the reboot that does something new….yeah, its that kind of movie

As I thought more about Dracula Untold, I kept thinking about how the well embedded Bram Stoker’s novel was into the public conscious. You think films would stay true to the source but there happens to be a small amount of Dracula adaptations that stay true to the original book. Even the 1931 Universal classic had its roots taken from a stage play giving a different take. But for all the different takes, each Dracula had one thing in common; they were scary. This variation we are looking at today is not meant to be horror based which is rather unfortunate. But hey, maybe there is something salvageable?

Luke Evans plays Vlad III Tepes, who looks nothing like Vlad the Imapler if you look at his portraits. As opposed to a long haired Romanian that looks like a Sultan, we get a young and innocent Prince with a couple of shirtless scenes to please the YA crowd. But hey, let’s give the movie a chance. And besides, Luke’s performance is not bad. He can be intimidating when he channels his vampire powers and presents his character as a tortured soul much more than the blood suckers in Twilight. True, he doesn’t care the menace that Lugosi or Christopher Lee left seeing they are playing this Drac to be more heroic. But hey, there’s over 100 Dracula movies out there so no worries.

The story to say the least is a creative mixed bag. I say that because there are some things I do like about it but some stuff that I feel iffy about. Apparently, Prince Vlad is under force by a Turk army to cough up 1,000 boys to be trained as soldiers in debt for some missing scouts. An Ottoman from the army thinks Vlad killed the scouts but its revealed that a nearby vampire in a cave took them as a midnight snack. Even more ironic seeing Vlad pays a visit to this vampire to ask for his powers to save his family and people before they are slaughtered by the Turks.

Luke Evans worries about the monster within him

Luke Evans worries about the monster within him

I like part of this idea despite it being a “Game of Thrones” variation. There is some interesting mythos to the Dracula story like his origin and the world itself is very grimy but appeasing to the eye. Again, this is not meant to diminish the original in any shape and does this new take. But unfortunately, there are some limits we have to accept when donning a new version of a story that has been told before again and again.

As stated, this new Dracula movie is not meant to shock or frighten. Instead, it has the pace of a Marvel comic book movie and this is where some of the problems begin to surface. Vlad is giving vampire powers for three days to help save his people. The catch is that he has to resist feasting on human blood or else doomed to be a vampire for eternity. A little fairy tale-ish but I can buy it. I am use to dark and brooding fairy tales like something along the lines of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller. But where Henson’s Storyteller knew when to be adult and smart, Dracula Untold feels like something crafted from the mind of a teenager that just inhaled glitter up their nose. The powers Vlad gets from this transformation really seem odd. Who knew a vampire could get super strength, the ability to see warm blooded figures and super sonic hearing.

Does he turn into a bat? No but a whole flock of bats. Its insane. The idea of Dracula and his entire body (along with his clothing) turning into a small bat is understandable but a whole gang of flying rodents? That’s just nuts. I guess each bat is a part of him and in one scene we see Vlad control a huge array of bats to vanquish an army much like in 1999’s The Mummy when Imhotep controls a sandstorm. So yeah, this is very much a Marvel Comics version of Dracula. I can’t say it doesn’t have any creative liberties seeing it is doing creative stuff and clearly there is a lot of effort thrown at it. But at the end of the day, your just looking at a Dracula movie to cash in with the younger crowd who love brooding and tortured souls and superhuman people with problems like Thor or Captain America.

On the other hand, there are some drops of Stoker’s novel here and there but its far and few between. There is this Renfield style character but he only gets one small scene and doesn’t show up until the very end of the movie. The idea of someone assisting a young Vlad could have been interesting and does raise tension when we see him try and avoid biting another one’s neck. But with only so few moments tossed in, it makes the story feel rushed as it builds to the big climax between Vlad and the Turk army while wrapping everything in a matter of minutes than let the story flow naturally. It irks me when little scenes here and there could have been played to be big and plot moving when they really feel more like a small drop of water. There is a good moment when Vlad’s people realize the monster he is and try to destroy him. Its great scene that could lead to some interesting character depth with the citizens he gave a home to and where Vlad stands with his decision. But then we have to focus on this big battle next making everything before that a small road block that could have added something.

At least the effects are decent seen here with the make-up work on the vampire that transforms Vlad into a creature of the night

At least the effects are decent seen here with the make-up work on the vampire that transforms Vlad into a creature of the night

Supposedly, Dracula Untold is meant to be part of this reboot of the Universal Monster franchise and it does feel like it. The ending clearly sets up a possible shared universe much like what the films of Marvel Comics are doing which is not a bad idea. Why not have a movie with Dracula teaming up with the Wolf Man? Or have the Mummy try and play off the Frankenstein Monster? Would the Phantom of the Opera be there? And what about the Invisible Man? Does Gill-Man (Creature from the Black Lagoon) have a bad-ass appearance like he did in The Monster Squad? We will never know. But after hearing that these new movies would be more action-adventure and less horror, it has my eyebrows raising in caution. What made the originals work was the horror and the shock aspect. Trying to image say the Wolf Man being set up as something like Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk feels very double edged sword to me. Are these monsters now superheroes or just anti-heroes?

Perhaps this idea of a shared universe is not fully throughout that much. On the other hand, Dracula Untold is a the first start of this “reboot franchise.” And if this is how each movie will be planned to be, I’m curious but at the same time part of me is disappointed. I do like the new stuff in this movie even if it gets a little over the top and out there. And the performances are trying to make this a good movie overall. On the other hand, maybe I’m too hard. This is meant to be more dark fantasy with curses and knights. I don’t think this is a bad movie none the less but the recommendation is difficult. I say see it as a rental just for caution. But fans who are looking for this faithful retelling of the Dracula myth might be biased and disappointed. I once again stress this is not meant to be a horror movie in anyway but more of a comic book movie which is interesting but also unfortunate. I am glad to see there are different variations of the Dracula tale out there and keeping the vampire fresh in the public’s minds. But I’m positive this harmless flick won’t do much damage to those who love the bloodsucking favorite but I’m positive this outing won’t be as memorable either. Not 100% bad by any means but not good either. Then again, as they always say, it could have been a lot worse….

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Horror of Dracula

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Of the many incarnations of Dracula, this one can't be missed!

Of the many incarnations of Dracula, this one can’t be missed!

Across the pond lies another movie studio that made an impact on the horror industry. They were known as the Hammer Horror Films. Unlike Universal where the shock was in black and white, theses movies from the UK didn’t hold back. They were in color, increased the violence, cranked up the sex appeal and not to mention adding an element the Universal Monster franchise was missing; blood. And each film relished in showing it. Back then, this was fairly new and shocking to see such edgy material for the late 1950s.

While Curse of Frankenstein was the first one to kick off this wave of gruesome infamy, Horror of Dracula (or Dracula if you live in the UK) perfected this choice of entertaining terror. Even right from the opening shot with blood dripping on Dracula’s coffin, you know what your in for. These movies were free of censorship (sort of) and sought to make their own iconic footprints. Rather than clone the classic Jack Pierce make-up or follow the story, Hammer Films made their horror movies with fresh and different takes even if did mean sacrificing certain liberties.

A good example is the story and how it adapts the original Dracula story. Those who are huge on “sticking to the source” might be disappointed as it takes elements from the Bram Stoker novel while twisting them into a different story altogether. John Harker (John Van Eyssen) still visits the Count but this time ends up getting turned into a vampire and sending out notes of his demise to Van Helsing. To me, this follows something like Pyscho did where the main character gets killed off after the first half of the feature. It plays with your expectations but again, some can be sticklers on sticking to the source. And personally, I think veering from the novel works here.

Christopher Lee IS Dracula!

Christopher Lee IS Dracula!

I know I have been deep on how an adaptation should stick close to the source but there is a right way and wrong way to do that. In some cases, one can take elements or ideas while utilizing them into something completely new and fresh. Phantom of the Paradise is a great example taking the story of Phantom of the Opera and giving it a rock musical quality with some Faust tossed in. Why make another film adaptation of a story that we already know when you can play with expectations? Heck, the 1931 Dracula was actually sourced from a Broadway play and less of the Bram Stoker novel. The Dracula mythos is so embedded deep into the public conscious that changing up really works here.

While Bela Lugosi left an impact, so does Christopher Lee. When we see him as Dracula, Christopher channels a lot of the gentleman traits while feeling hypnotic. He’s very inviting and you almost want to take in his hospitality. But when the sun goes down, a different personality emerges. Now, Dracula becomes brutal and animalistic with blood dripping from his fangs and giving a predatory stare. Surprisingly, I found a lot more terror from Christopher Lee’s portrayal than I did with Lugosi’s take. On the downside, he doesn’t get much speaking parts and his appearance is downplayed. But his visual expression and appearance still leave a huge impact. When he kills his victims, he doesn’t say a word and jumps right to his satisfaction.

Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) questions the nature of his enemy

Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) questions the nature of his enemy

Peter Cushing also gives a great performance as Van Helsing who seeks to destroy Dracula while convincing Arthur Holmwood (Micheal Gough) that his sister and lover are the vampire’s next entrees. Peter will always be chilling and engaging no matter what role he will be in. His take of Helsing is intimidating and doesn’t mess about. He knows what monster he is going against and tries to remain one step ahead while remembering the fanged fiend’s weaknesses. Even more ironic how previously, Cushing was Dr. Frankenstein and yet Christopher Lee was his monstrous creation. Interesting to see how the roles are similar yet different.

Again, the positive is how faithful it remains to the novel while adding some new material to keep it fresh. Harker is very much a minor character that keeps the story going while Lucy gets the first to be a vampire. In the novel, her character as sweet tooth hunger for younger kids and the movie manages to keep it in without being blunt about it. Its creepy and unsettling while never forcing the aspect too much. Sadly, the only major cut is the character of Renfield, Dracula’s demented servant. It would have been nice to have at least a little nod to the crazy assistant but the movie still works fine without him. Its a deletion that I do miss but what can you do?

One of the many restored shots of Dracula decaying under the sunlight. These shots when missing until 2012 saw the release of a new cut with the missing bits restored...but only available in the UK.....lucky blighters

One of the many restored shots of Dracula decaying under the sunlight. These shots when missing until 2012 saw the release of a new cut with the missing bits restored…but only available in the UK…..lucky blighters

The ending is another huge highlight as it builds and builds. Even if its a short climax, it feels really engaging as Helsing and Dracula square off against each other. But perhaps iconic about this finale is that we get to see a vampire decay under the sunlight. And I mean really decay! No fades into a skeleton. Dracula decomposes and gets cooked to a cindering crisp. Its not nasty as you think but its a very cool yet haunting special effect and a testament to how great practical effects can be. But as it turns out, some extra limb decay and a shot of Dracula clawing at his rotted face was considered too gross for 1958 and was cut. These shots were deemed missing until 2012 when they were restored into the movie thanks to an uncut print found in Japan. The good news is that a copy of this cut exists but the bad news is that the Blu-Ray is Region B, meaning you have to live in the UK or own a universal Blu-ray player that can read international DVDs and Blu-Rays. Regardless, its nice to hear some lost history finally rediscovered.

British actor Christopher Lee plays the vampiric Count in 'Dracula', 1958. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

In Memory of Christopher Lee

Bottom line, Horror of Dracula doesn’t trump the power of any other incarnation but offers its own take. And that is a good thing. I would rather have another Dracula movie try new things out than rather be a straight telling of the novel. This is a perfect fit that not only respects the source but also gives a new representation of the Count that is new and scary. Its well shot, has great performances and grabs your attention from beginning to end. I do wish Christopher Lee was given a bit more to do or at least play around with his “gentleman” personality. But he still gives an edgy take that is iconic, memorable and its easy to see why.