Retro Horror Films (Part 1)
For many years I have ignored black and white films. Not because I thought they were extremely bad or uninteresting. Maybe it was because they seem so dated and mostly terribly slow compared to movies of our time. But thanks to a “Horror Challenge” and the encouragement of a like-minded person, I started watching movies from the old days. And to be honest, after a while I started to appreciate them. Admittedly they are dated and some of them are terribly slow. Yet they radiate a certain charm and you can consider many films from that time as the foundation for later films.
Hence this first episode with a summary of watched horrors from days long gone.
Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)
Well, you always come across this one somewhere at the top of a horror list. Apparently it’s mandatory to watch this ancient movie. Historically of inestimable value. But not my dada, such a silent film. Though, it does have an original design for its time. The sepia colors, the abstract and avant-garde design of the sets.
The illustrious figure Dracula. A classic and I think the first time that Bela Lugosi takes on the role of this blood-sucking count. A suitable person for this role with his imposing eyebrows and diabolic look. It’s strange, however, that this vampire’s razor-sharp fangs do not come into view for a moment. And not a drop of blood can be found. Also, I found it weird that Renfield runs loose every once and a while in the so-called psychiatric institution. Furthermore, I thought John Harker was a kind of a stick-in-the-mud who acted overly nerdy. Edward Van Sloan was brilliant as the infamous Van Helsing. Add to that the atmospheric and dark sets and you get a hell of a movie.
Most famous monster in movie history. And probably Boris Karloff’s most famous role. To think that a whole series of movies have been made starring Frankenstein’s monster. Most, however, cannot rival the original movie.
The Mummy (1932)
A pretty meek and super slow story about Imhotep, an Egyptian prince buried alive, who comes back to life and somehow wants to be reunited with his wife. The only thing that impressed me was Boris Karloff’s face with a skin that looks like parchment.
This one had been on my wish list for a long time because it kept popping up in some Horror list. I’ve always put it off for myself because of the year 1932. I was already expecting blurry images, a terrible soundtrack (or no sound at all), and wooden acting in this almost 100-year-old film. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I saw the quality of all the listed aspects. Perfect picture quality and the way it’s portrayed. This film was way ahead of its time. And the acting was simply formidable. No exaggerated gestures and facial expressions. No wooden characters and forced dialogues. And a bizarre world was sketched. So hats off. The only thing I have a problem with is the horror label. I’d call it a drama with a moralistic slant. According to IMDb, the most confronting scenes were left out. Apparently, there was a scene where Hercules was neutered and then showed up at the end as a member of the freaks with a high-pitched voice. Maybe it would have been a bit more horror then after all.
King Kong (1933)
Finally, I’ve watched the original King Kong movie. Probably a breathtaking spectacle for the public at that time. Now it looks quite dated. The stop-motion technique worked, but the perspective was sometimes not so perfect. The close-up of Kong’s face also caused hilarity. It seemed as if this bloodthirsty primate kept grinning. Still quite daring for that time in my opinion. The monster was not exactly mild to its victims. And the lead actress sometimes wore little disguising clothing. In the end anyway when Kong ripped off her clothes and she made frantic attempts to cover certain body parts. I can imagine that the female public was quite outraged about this. All in all, a pleasant experience to watch this piece of film history.
The Invisible Man (1933)
A real classic. For such an old film, it’s fantastic how they achieved those special effects. Admittedly. The acting is a bit wooden and over the top. It seemed like Comedy Capers at times. The hysterical screaming of the inn’s owner was just hilarious. And you can’t really call it horror. Am convinced it was unbelievably scary and thrilling for the audience at the time.
The Black Cat (1934)
Two icons from classic horror films, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, playing in the same movie. You’d expect fireworks. Well, they used blanks in my opinion. First of all, I didn’t really think this was a horror. Second, I wondered why this was called “The Black Cat” as this beast didn’t really play a major role (besides the fact that Bela is terrified of it). There’s only the terrifying gaze of Karloff. The story itself can be described as thin and quite sober. In my opinion, the changing of bedrooms felt like slapstick. No, this was a minor setback. Fortunately, it was a short movie.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
After the great success of the first Frankenstein film, a sequel was destined to be made. “Bride of Frankenstein” picks up where the first story ended. This film is not really more exciting. The humor level was increased considerably. You can see how the monster learns to talk, smoke, and drink. The only downside for me was the fact that what the film is initially about (namely the bride) is only briefly included in the story. I thought this was a missed opportunity.
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
It’s a pity that after 7 years no real progress had been made in the field of special effects. It looked almost identical to the first movie. Only now Vincent Price had the honor of playing the invisible man. There were no real comic situations here. And strange but true. In the first movie, it was monocane that made you invisible. Here it was duocane.
To be continued …
Bradley Cooper Set as Lead in Steven Spielberg’s Reimagining of 1968’s ‘Bullitt’
It was just a few years ago that Oscar-nominated actor Bradley Cooper was courting offers from tons of directors such as Adam McKay, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino before settling on two films that released last year and were nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Cooper selected the lead role in Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley and a small, supporting role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza. Following the success of his own directorial debut, A Star is Born, Cooper was highly coveted and now, he’s about to work with the most famous filmmaker of all-time.
According to Deadline, Bradley Cooper will star in the latest film from Steven Spielberg which will be a new original take on the legendary character Frank Bullitt played by Steve McQueen. The report details that the movie is not a remake of the original film, Bullitt, but a completely new idea that is centered around the character from the 1968 crime thriller. In the original movie, Bullitt is a sensible police officer from San Francisco who’s on the hunt for a mobster that killed one his witnesses in a case he’s on. The role is one of the more quintessential roles of McQueen’s career, so it’s interesting that someone of Spielberg’s stature would want to recreate the character for an actor such as Cooper. Having said that, this is an all-star pairing and continues Cooper’s streak of working with some of the best working directors in Hollywood. The film will be written by Josh Singer, who previously penned Spotlight and The Post.
The report also notes that the development of this project has been in the works since the COVID-19 pandemic. Spielberg and Cooper have been trying to work together ever since American Sniper, a film for which Cooper earned his third and fourth Oscar nominations, which eventually was helmed by Clint Eastwood. After that partnership fell through, Spielberg reached out to Cooper to direct his Leonard Bernstein biopic, Maestro, which Cooper eventually obliged. Following his performance and achievement in directing A Star is Born, Spielberg thought that after years of developing Maestro but maybe not having the time to direct himself, he handed the film off to the multihyphenate. Spielberg is currently on a press tour for his semi-autobiographical film, The Fabelmans which stars Paul Dano, Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen coming off of the heels of his incarnation of West Side Story which released in 2021.
Reel Recommendations: Possession – One Restoration You Do Not Want To Miss
One of my favorite elements in the horror genre is taking a contemporary story and somehow implementing the genre’s core elements. Take the film Cure (1997) directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa; the film is about a detective who is investigating a series of grizzly attacks by a serial killer. On the film’s surface, it is your simple crime-thriller ala David Fincher’s Se7en (1995) or his 2007, Zodiac. However, throughout the film, the viewer gets inside of the mind of his victims in a psychological battle between light and dark; understanding the killer’s motivations and way of attack. Enough talk about Cure (1997), that is for another time.
I hold this element of the genre close to my creative heart because the genre does not always need a monster or killer or the loose, the genre is about set-up, execution, and the atmosphere in which those two elements listed are contained. If you are looking for more horror films like that, that are not about unstable detectives, look no further than Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession.
This 40-year-old lost film has recently been gaining a cult following and the film distributor Metrograph has graced film fans with a restoration. My thoughts on that are listed below the review.
Possession is a film about how division; division of two people who seem to be at odds and have fallen out of love for one another amidst the middle of the Berlin Wall, a division of communication between a couple and the affair that has brought them down as well as a division of body and state. Possession is about the breaking point between a couple as they’re in the very early stages of a divorce. They both have simply fallen out of love with one another and have started sleeping with other people, mainly Isabelle Adjani’s Anna. As Sam Neil’s Mark understands the situation unfolds, the more angry and sickly he becomes. There are points where he will look like he has not eaten in days and looks incredibly pale-skinned. There is a moment throughout the first 25 minutes where Neil is having a seizure in a cold sweat.
While Possession is a body horror in terms of visual effects, its a body horror from the performances given. We see both of the films leads reach sadistic and stomach-churning when it ocmes to range. The first half being dedicated to Sam Neil’s perspective of the situation and how he is treating himself during this change, where he goes from calm to physically abusive. Then as the story unfolds, Żuławski pays more attention to Adjani’s Anna, as an audiences we are opening the curtain to what she has been up to when the camera is not focused on her. The camera work works in one takes with very abrupt takes in its editing. Żuławski wants everything to feel like one fluid motion rather than have multiple takes for one single scene. The subway scene in particular roughly has about two-three takes and you do not evne notice because of how hypnotized you are to Adjani’s otherworldly performance. I am treading lightly on the plot due ot the genius of this film is to go in knowing nothing.
Possession is one of those horror films that were lost in time but recently have been gaining a resurgence through word of mouth and many clamoring for a Criterion blu-ray release, and for good reason. Possession includes some of the best performances I have ever witnessed with direction that is unpredictable and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. If there is one restoration you should have eyes on it is this one.
Possession not only is a wonderful film but is also one of the best restorations I have seen recently. Metrograph elevates the horror film and at times looks like it was made from the last decade. The stark blue color pallette shines due to how cold and emotionally distant the characters are. The sound design is wonderful, every whisper is heard and understood, every scream feels like a scare, every tension-building moment plays like gangbusters. This is one restoration you do not want to miss especially for cult-genre fans.
Reel Recommendations: The Exorcist III
This sequel to a horror classic needs more love and attention nowadays!
If there is any horror film synonymous amongst film fans and horror movie veterans, it is William Friedkin’s masterpiece The Exorcist, and for good reason! It’s a living nightmare of a film; a cinematic embodiment of what it means to fear for your own life especially when it comes to the residential home life. Also touching subject matters of helplessness and grief. Friedkin not only created something atmospherically disturbing but metaphorically terrifying as well, thus creating a classic status towards the film. And while many horror sequels attempt to capture that “lightning in a bottle” energy that its predecessor has created, some succeed and some fail at doing so. It is rare for a film to even be better than that first film, but William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III is one of those rare instances where it completely outshines the original.
Set 15 years after the original film, The Exorcist III is a film that pulls a Halloween III: Season of the Witch approach of storytelling and not particularly be about any sort of monster rather than a social issue. In this film’s case, it is about the mysterious “Gemini Killer”. We see Lt. Kinderman solve the case through hospitals and even his own nightmares. Sure, the film does not seem like a straight sequel to the original film, but that’s the genius of it all. Kinderman and Father Dyer are still shaken after the events from the previous film, both meeting up once a year to catch up and try to forget. Doing so by either drinking or seeing a movie, both still living normal lives up until that day rolls around the corner. George C. Scott plays the role of Kinderman with such explosive range; from his most emotional and down-traught to his craziest when he comes close with Brad Douriff’s “The Gemini Killer”. Speaking of Douriff, he is an absolute standout and a delight to watch on screen. Even in other films, he is always the best-acted one not only in the room but in the cast listing and The Exorcist III just might be my favorite performance from him. On the surface, The Exorcist III is a typical mystery-thriller but it truly is elevated by its atmospheric tone and off-the-walls third act. What elevates it in terms of creep-factor and effectiveness of being considered in the horror genre is its slow-burn aspect and unexpectedly hitting the audience with startling imagery. Tonally, compare The Exorcist III to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, both completely different films from their predecessor but sequels that reinvent the wheel in their franchises. The Exorcist III plays the same in terms of structure from the first film; depicting a man who is living in a nightmare and is constantly haunted by his past and is constantly battling that struggle via recent events. The Exorcist III is the perfect Halloween film and one of my favorite horror movies of all time and will consistently rewatch it and be mesmerized that a film like this exists in our lifetime.
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