Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Island of lost souls (1932)

Posted by Greg Butler On May - 6 - 2013

 

 

In terms of black and white horror films, few come close to the visceral impact  it had in its time and still  does today. The story starts off simply, Edward (Richard Arlen) is a survivor of a ship accident  only to be picked up and stranded on a island resided by Doctor Moreau (Charles laughton). He soon learns that the good doctor has been genetically transforming animals into advanced human beings. The results as with all crazy experiments, is less than successful. The rejects are banished to a secluded side of the island to fend for themselves. To maintain a sense of order, Moreau cracks the whip (literally)commanding a repeated mantra of his demands “What is the law?!”) reminding them of the place they were borne from; “the house of pain”). In a later sequence we see an example of this as a hybrid strapped to an operation table, howls in anguish as the doctor coldly dismisses his agony as another clinical  failure.

Bela Lugosi (before Tod Brownings, Dracula) is the village sayer of the tribe, oddly not knowing enough English off screen,   the phonetic dialogue comes off  extremely alien and effective on screen.

Laughton is definitely  the treat here. Imposing in his white seersucker Congo suit, he is the epitome of what mad scientists should strive for.  Another staged entry is the heroine (Lelia Hyams) introduction. At a shipping port, she is relieved to find her husband alive via a posted notice. She walks away relieved and gratified, as the busy activities on the street divide in front, It’s serenely graceful, a prelude of terrors to come.

Jack Pierce the make up artist must be especially noted. The Rick baker , Rob  Bottin and Dick Smith of his day. The FX  applied to the creatures are restrained, something later remakes would over indulge. It wasn’t  about what the beasts were or becoming, but the results that went awry in  between.

Director  Erle Kenton ratchets up the atmosphere  with dread  before going full throttle at the memorable  end.

I give this your best  four shot Russian vodka  with a smooth wheat beer as a chaser.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010

Posted by Greg Butler On April - 29 - 2013

 

 

Wes Craven created a booming franchise with the iconic horror monster Freddy Kruger, a phantasmal killer with homemade razor claws to slash the many cannon fodder teens unlucky enough to get in his way. Several mediocre sequels and a failed anthology TV series later, we see the inevitable reboot of the series in this DVD release.  In this version we get an added origin of sorts as Kruger, with the silly point of him being a notorious pedophile (which adds nothing to the  story, but it’s there in case murder wasn’t evil enough)  is chased down and burned alive by the irate parents. Of course with every evil character, he survives to wreak revenge on the grown kiddies of the next generation. Asides the emphasis on the origin, movie pretty much sticks quite close to the original, But where Craven took his cues by emulating  EC horror comics of the 50′s, giving it a fun, garish and gory style, this imagining takes itself too seriously, losing the comic aspects of what made the first Nightmare so memorable. I would cite the performances, but the truth of the matter is, all of it was just serviceable, the 80′s version had this acting awkwardness  that added to it’s goofy charm,  in comparison the new version seems mechanical and very lethargic, offering nothing more than another gussied up retread to get your attention.

I give this a very warm, domestic beer with a big nasty fly in it.

Dracula (1979)

Posted by Greg Butler On April - 8 - 2013

©Universal Pictures / Everett Collection

Director John Badham Romanizes up the count in this adaption of Dracula.  Loosely  adhering to the novel  by Bram Stoker,  Count Dracula ( Frank langella) arrives from Transylvania to England to settle some property affairs where he is taken by the somewhat Goth sounding  Lucy Seward( a fetching Kate Nelligan) , during  a dinner party held by  her by father  Jack Seward (Donald Pleasence).  Despite the tragic events to parade later on, the batwings…I mean the sparks fly as Dracula and a very willing Lucy engage in a romantic interlude, despite her involvement with Jonathan Harker (Trevor Eve). All this leads up to Abraham Van Helsing (Lawrence Olivier) to question the nature of the count while investigating his daughter’s mysterious death. Suspicions are later confirmed and the battle for Lucy’s soul becomes paramount.

By far the production is done well and the actors are on point, practically Langella being such a sexy beast. Olivier doesn’t fare as well; his Van Helsing is a cackling character. He spews his dialogue in overly done accent, which reveals more ham acting than acting. Badham updates the tone of the film to be more modern in tempo, there’s actually a chase scene by horse driven wagon and car that would seem reminiscent of 70’s cop movies than a horror or a gothic romance flick.  The love sequence is another forced scene, with the principle characters is silhouetted against a reddish background, while a bat flaps in and out of the picture.  Add John William’s over ripe score and the mixture seems slightly contrived not organic. What’s missing is the lustful eroticism of the Hammer films that dealt with the same subject; this seems tame, not bad by any stretch, but not as hot as it could have been.

I give this two mild bloody marys.

Insidious

Posted by Greg Butler On March - 18 - 2013

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne

Someone tell Hollywood producers to put a hold on that Poltergeist remake they were thinking of doing, while they’re at  it put a kibosh  on the Nightmare on Elm street reboot,  director James Wan managed to patch together more than a few over used tropes to create this somewhat promising but utterly disappointing fright flick.

A direct template from Poltergeist but substituting a child as the source of the problem instead of a dwelling, the Lambert parents (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne), go through the usual nine yards of haunting as par in all ghostly films. Calling in the ghost busting experts. Wan makes the mistake of trivializing the events for cheap laughs as the investigators bumble their way in a nerd like stereotypes. Compounding the tone even more, the plot point psychic Elise (Lin Shaye) show up. In one sequence a séance is conducted on the son (Ty Simpkins), in ludicrous but effective moment. Elise dons a long nosed snorkel attached to a machine of tiny flash bulbs that pop off in frequency when a paranormal event is approaching, all the while breathing Darth Vader like whenever we come back to her point of view. By the time we get to the final shot, the ending pompously pushes for a sequel.

To Wans credit, he ratchets up the eeriness of the film and less CGI driven gore, but falls prey to familiar motifs and a unsure hand in maintaining the seriousness or the humor within the material

I give this a decent domesticated beer; follow by a mediocre shot of house whiskey. 

 

Prometheus

Posted by admin On August - 12 - 2012

Scream Queen: Noomi Rapace as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw searches the cosmos for a metaphysical connection to God and finds something entirely different from what she was hoping for.

 

Like the Depeche Mode song Black Celebration, human beings search the stars for the scientific explanation of God and paid a horrific price in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

 

Not a direct sequel to Alien, Scott created a stunning look to a very average story running congruent to its franchise cousin, alien. In this film, the story revolved around the Space Jockey race that left an iconic space crypt in the famous scene in Alien that left lingering questions for the next 25 yrs. While Scott answers some of the questions of the Jockey’s purpose, it’s writer Damon Lindelof, famous for Lost and Star Trek that adds more questions to the list. How far you’re willing to search for your answers may lead to arguing with your friends regarding the film’s interpretation of genetic recombination and evolution of organic technology. All roads seemed to point to life as the ultimate biological weapon that the Jockeys wielded like gods but what happens when God fails?

 

That’s where the movie switched tracks and the horror element felt forced and pedestrian at best. After 45 minutes of the most intriguing components of space exploration, the trigger that excelerated the film to its third act was nothing more than an act of stupidity none of which was convincing. Alas what came after was elementary.

 

The heart and soul of Prometheus is the theories where science and faith intertwine. Similar territory in Contact but with much more dire consequences.

 

Noomi Rapace

Season of the Witch

Posted by ron On July - 6 - 2011

Now showing Blair Witch 3 Crusader's march of fools.

Innocent blood spilled, two knights of the Crusade abandoned their posts as merchants of death in the name of God only to find that they have begun a journey through plague ravaged towns that could lead them to redemption or eternal damnation. Season of the Witch starring Nicolas Cage and directed by Dominic Sena won’t challenge Lord of the Rings or Army of Darkness for cult status because it’s not trying to be anything more than a straight forward tale that has been told in one form or another.

This film was about how faith can screw with your moral compass. However it takes itself as seriously as a morning cartoon. It romanticized the endless battles of the Crusade to near comical levels. The two main characters are having an entire conversation as they swung swords wildly with CGI in the background. Do they even suffer a scratch? Does it really matter now that Nicolas Cage will say yes to any project in order to pay his debt off? No.

Perhaps the biggest plot hole in the entire story revolved around why Cage as Behmen decided to abandon his quest for God. Seemed implausible that a man who slaughtered hundreds of Moors would finally wake up after the death of just one innocent. Yet, after the death of a few traveling strangers he’s ready to kill what may be an innocent girl who may or may not be a witch.

Fortunately, Ron Perlman has a lot of experience in playing second fiddle to stiffer leads. His performance brought the lowbrow fun as the first Crusader to drop F-bombs in the 13th century. As Felson, his devil may care personality desensitized the audience to its predictable discourse. The other components of the cast stayed within the skeleton of a thin plot.

It didn’t take long to figure out whether or not the girl was a witch and while Season of the Witch wasn’t a bad film, its crime was not being terribly memorable. However as a late night 3am alternative on Netflix streaming or Cable TV, it’s the perfect multi-tasking distraction in the background.

Season of the Witch rated as a decent cheap beer so long as it doesn’t cost you anything it shouldn’t hurt you very much.

Cheers,
Ron

Piping hot filth!!!!

The Rite

Posted by ron On May - 30 - 2011

Forgive me father, for I have sinned. I mailed in yet another performance for a buck.

The son of an Undertaker tried to scam the clergy for free education but ended up getting more than he bargained for when he interned with an exorcist. The Rite was the perfect cinematic instrument of faith that served as an entertaining commercial for joining the ministry of faith. While it was based off a true story, battling demons had little to do with one’s relationship with God but it most certainly sold an entertaining lifestyle of traveling to Rome, taking classes in the apple store looking Vatican classrooms, and fighting demons under the Tuscan sun.

As the reluctant protagonist, Actor Colin O’Donoghue was more form than function. Taking the cloth to the GQ extreme, his pretty boy cynicism was an easy sell but he undersold the transition to a reluctant believer. Hiring established thespians, Anthony Hopkins, Rutger Hauer, and Toby Jones to serve, as lynchpins didn’t hurt either in trying to make the film more appealable. However, their roles are foreplay to the center of the story, which has to little do with faith and has more in common with the prequel to the Exorcist.

Converting the cynic is nothing new but the story telling and acting was fresher in 1408.

Jan Mikael Håfström, director of 1408, tried to tell a tale about the trouble in men’s souls but there’s just too much eye candy between O’Donoghue and Alica Braga. Like any story based off truth, too many distractions from Michael Kovak’s relationship with his father ended up making the story cliché on top of being formulaic. The camerawork repetitive and effects nothing of the extraordinary. In essence, there’s just not enough material in the Rite to substantiate it as a movie. Hence, there’s not enough to write about the Rite.

The Rite rates as a beer with no defining characteristics that would make you want to order another any time soon.

Cheers,

Where's my straw goddam it?

Ron

Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Posted by ron On October - 24 - 2010

Back in the 80s Wes Craven invented a new horror franchise with an iconic monster who attacked teenagers in their dreams. In yet another prime example of horror retreads gone horribly wrong, the modern re-telling of A Nightmare on Elm Street delivered none of the pop-corny, sugar rush fun. Instead Director Samuel Bayer delivered the theatrical release of Dateline’s To Catch a Predator.

Jackie Earl Haley played a very straight edged, no nonsense Freddy. He didn’t waste any time getting down to business. Every brooding teenage victim had their appointment with the sommelier of nightmares. Most teenagers party, drink, and have sex without parental supervision but these teenage victims brood. The decision to strip the sex appeal out of A Nightmare on Elm Street was a bold move because the detached sleep deprived teens definitely fit the profile of disturbed children. However fleshing out the truth behind their behavior made Freddy Krueger secondary to such a transparent story.

The critical flaw in the modern version of A Nightmare on Elm Street was the omission of Nancy’s father who was the town sheriff. In Craven’s version, the relationship between Nancy and her father was an important dynamic in a role reversal of authority. Nancy’s dad, the most powerful authority figure in the town, was powerless to protect his only girl from a man he killed. Hence his ignorance forced a desperate Nancy, the main protagonist to take matters into her own hands. Thus, what began as a whiny screaming teenager developed into a strong willed survivor. In this film, the Sheriff role was reduced and demoted to the father of Nancy’s potential boyfriend. He became a character that went nowhere. Hence, multi-talented Clancy Brown had very little to work with. Without the father-daughter dynamic, this modern take on the development of the Nancy character just didn’t feel quite so complete without a better designed transition scene. The elements were there but the director didn’t make better use of the parental roles. In fact, they were so non-existent that it might have been a better departure from the original if the kids were orphans unaware of their past.

Bayer, renown for the music videos of Metallica and Garbage, didn’t favor the build up of suspense. He substituted Craven’s “the thrill of the hunt” approach with creative camera effects and disturbing visuals. However such stationary targets undermined the entertaining savagery of Krueger’s kills.

Alas, the film took itself too seriously. A Nightmare on Elm Street led you to believe Freddy was a pedophile who raped these teens when they were too little to remember. One wonders who made the executive decision that it wasn’t enough to kill a child to be a heinous monster but now, the monster had to molest them before killing them? Maybe if the teens had molested Fred Krueger but blocked it out of their minds, Bayer might have had something. It’s just un-necessary to make something that was inherent to be explicit if there was nothing to add.

In my three liquor rating scale of one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer The Nightmare on Elm Street remake rated a very dissatisfied flat beer with two flies.

Cheers,
Ron

American Werewolf in London

Posted by ron On October - 18 - 2010

Perhaps nothing satisfies your craving for top shelf, lowbrow humor quite like a John Landis film. From the Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House, and the Blues Brothers, one should be prepared for sleazy, raunchy satirical fun. Yet Landis’ crude but effective tactics never failed to pay tribute to the works that inspired him. If imitation is the best form of flattery, An American Werewolf in London was a fitting 80s tribute to the 1941 classic, the Wolf man starring Lon Chaney Jr. In this re-telling of a grim tale, two NYU college kids were backpacking across the English countryside on a damp cool night until a vicious man-beast would forever change their fortunes.

Unless you’ve been living on the moon, one would find it extremely difficult not to have some preconceived knowledge of the werewolf curse. Werewolves continue to be one of the oldest folklore legends, so Landis made the executive decision not to waste any time with the origin of the curse. In the London hospital, the bitten survivor played by David Naughton literally referenced Lon Chaney Jr in the Wolf Man in order to blatantly spell out a familiar fate for our sympathetic character that conveniently shared the bed of his Florence Nightingale.

The film attempted no plot twists but Landis upgraded the main character’s guilt with visceral visuals of David’s nightmares and hallucinations generated by his subconscious. It’s a crude but inventive way to externalize, internalized thoughts. It’s also a vehicle to utilize some of the greatest special effects artists in the history of cinema that continue to be spoken about today. In the third act when David sat in the XXX movie theatre and spoke to his deceased best friend, one wondered if this later inspired a similar scene in Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko. Horrific imagery might have undermined the actor’s ability to project a tortured soul but it fit Landis’ personality to perfection.

If you’ve seen this film before, try substituting the werewolf curse for socialized medicine and one might have some refreshing fun in a second take. An American college kid backpacked across England, jumped by hooligans, and taken to a London hospital. Now reconstitute this film with every public servant having dismissed a crazy American believing in the infectious idea of affordable healthcare but never doubting its existence before having to put him down for good.

In my trois liquor rating scale of one bourbon one Scotch and one beer, An American Werewolf in London rated a relaxing fall beer as a guilty pleasure to share with old friends during this Halloween.

Cheers,
Ron

The Devil’s Backbone

Posted by ron On October - 15 - 2010

Cronos, Mimic, Blade II, Hellboy, and Hellboy II: The Golden Army highlights a healthy body of work by Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. A master storyteller who mixes bizarre visual language with desperate characters caught in a maelstrom of danger. It’s this fragile emotional sense of loss conveyed by these isolated characters at their most vulnerable moments that gives Del Toro’s films meaning and transcends all language barriers.

Much like its successor Pan’s Labyrinth, the characters were swept up in the middle of the Spanish Civil War in The Devil’s Backbone. A naïve boy named Carlos was given sanctuary in an orphanage haunted by a dark secret. Like Carlos, the audience was isolated from what was going on in the orphanage. What appeared to be an institution with good intentions harbored something evil. A giant defused bomb served as an ominous metaphor that was symbolic of the infidelity, murder, and hidden treasure subplots. More than just a poltergeist, this Spanish film had a lot of rich subtext to its story. It was as much a coming of age story as it was a horror film.

As a brilliant storyteller, Del Toro slowly but surely mixed all the ingredients to a steady boil. At a very young age, Carlos was left in the care of strangers. He was forced to adjust to his new existence. As the new kid on the block, he had to earn his place amongst the other orphans. His interactions with the other characters revealed pieces to the puzzle. What happened to the previous occupant of bed #12? As Carlos delved deeper into the mystery of Santi, it became clear the threat within the Orphanage exceeded the dangers that it was supposed to shelter him from.

The Devil’s Backbone didn’t rely on jump scares but the uncomfortable feeling of being alone and vulnerable. The film was a play on what we don’t understand and what we would rather believe. It didn’t have to rely on the look of the apparition itself because the suspense was generated with care. The horror was in knowing something awful was going to happen but not knowing exactly when. It’s this off balance feeling of terror where the film’s effectiveness was instrumental.

When the story concluded, every character paid the consequences for their involvement as the overlapping storylines drew to a close. No evil was left unpunished and some things cannot be left behind.

In my three liquor grading scale of One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, the Devil’s Backbone rated as a very rich dark beer during the fall as the October nights grow closer towards Halloween.

Cheers,
Ron

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