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Retro Horror Films (Part 2)

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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.

 

As promised, another selection of watched movies

 

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

 

I am not much of a fan of silent movies, but I found this one very entertaining. A classic among monster movies. Now I know where “The Bollock Brothers” got the front-picture used on their LP “The Slow Removal Of Vincent Van Gogh’s Left Ear”. The sets are impressive. The ghost does look very creepy. Obviously, the expressions and movements are hugely exaggerated at times. But how else could one convey drama these days? All in all, I thought it was a pleasant experience.

 

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

 

Not exactly the first “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” movie that was made. I’ll probably watch the 10 years older version with Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins as well. This version does have a more famous cast. I thought Spencer Tracy was suitable for this role as the split personality. The man has a naturally calm facial expression that emphasizes the contrast with the psychopathic looking Jekyll. By the way, I thought the transformation (although it looks old-fashioned) was quite successful. And then you have Ingrid Berman and Lana Turner. Two ravishing beautiful women. I wonder if other versions of “Jekyll & Hyde” reach the same level.

 

The Wolf Man (1941)

 

Yet another monster movie from Universal. Filmed in an atmospheric way, but not really exciting. But isn’t it characteristic of most horrors of that period? The most positive thing I can say about films from that period is the length of time. Perfect as a quick inbetweener.

 

Cat People (1942)

 

I found this one quite disappointing. A lot of blabbering and little action. I have to admit, I liked the 1982 remake a bit better. But that must be due to the fact that I could marvel at the sensual body of Nastassja Kinski and that this film version did indeed portray the transformation. Admittedly, in 1942 the techniques were not yet so advanced that this could be achieved. For me, it was more about love affairs and their problems, than horror.

 

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

 

This was also disappointing. Bela Lugosi is certainly not the very best Frankenstein. I fear the sole reason for this movie’s existence was the success of the other two movies. The original films “Frankenstein” and “The Wolf Man” were so successful that some smart marketing employee came up with the bright idea to put both creatures in one and the same film. Success guaranteed. However, there was certainly no quality guarantee!

 

House of Frankenstein (1944)

 

 

I thought it would be a nice idea to unite all the key characters from the monster movies. Only Dracula missed that mysterious quality you experience with Lugosi and Lee. Frankenstein looked quite comical. Too bad they gave Boris Karloff the role of Doctor Niemann. Only Lon Chaney was allowed to reprise the role of Wolf Man. All in all, I thought it was a poor continuation of the Frankenstein franchise.

 

Dead of Night (1945)

 

Another golden oldie. Who knows. Maybe one of the first anthology horror-thrillers. Some good stories (The Mirror & Dummy). One bad one (The Golf Players).

 

Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

 

Well, given the age of this film, it’s not surprising that it feels quite dated. The humor is a bit lackluster. They reminded me of Laurel & Hardy and it got a little annoying at times. Still had to chuckle a few times (the union joke and the expression on Costello’s face when he pulled a tablecloth, for example). But I don’t think I’ll immediately watch the films about the encounters of this duo with other lurid characters.

 

The Thing from Another World (1951)

 

Really a movie that fascinated me. There are certainly points of contact with Carpenter’s “The Thing“. Only that this 1951 film looks a bit dated (but still stood the test of time). Obviously, the budget was limited at the time because the conversations flash by at a very fast pace. No time to waste. Also fun to see how they kept laughing till the end during conversations, even though the world is about to be conquered by intellectual creatures.

 

The Man from Planet X (1951)

 

One word describes it best: boring. Ok I admit, it’s a very old movie. But it seems as if the alien just fled from a puppet theater. The spacecraft resembled a tin dart. “The Invisible Man” from 1933 looked much better, even though it was made about 20 years earlier.

 

To be continued …

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Animation

Movies That Are Way Better Than People Realize

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Many times, films will get undeserved criticism that almost makes it seem that the critics are just trolling in hopes that the film bombs. Of course, that isn’t unusual and people should not be surprised when it happens. However, when that happens, films suffer from it at the time of their release.

Those films may not have gotten such a warm reception because of the time they came out, the audience that they were trying to cater to or any number of factors. Here is a list of films that are way better than people realize.

The Lion King (2019)

The Lion King 2019 [credit: Disney]

This 2019 Disney remake was released to a divided critical reception but, nevertheless, made over $1 billion at the box office. Critics described the film as soulless and lacking emotions in the characters with the advanced CGI, which was said to dip down to the uncanny valley.

I saw this film on Disney+ and I have to say that this was incredibly amazing. I was astounded by the visual effects and how they made each character look like something out of a nature documentary. My friends from college even thought that the animals were real. Jon Favreau’s direction is something to be praised. 

Dumbo (2019)

Dumbo 2019 [credit: Disney]

I talked about this before and why the critics also got this Disney remake wrong. It stars Colin Farrell as wounded war veteran Holt Farrier who happens upon a big-eared baby elephant with the ability to fly.

Many critics praised Tim Burton’s direction but claimed that it lacked emotional depth which is the craziest thing that I ever heard of because this movie was the definition of raw emotion that was so poignant in its execution that it rivals that of the 1941 animated version. This was definitely another case of butt-hurt critics that were upset that a classic Disney IP was being remade as a cash-grab.

I don’t care if it was a cash-grab. I still loved this movie and thought it was as good as the 1941 film it’s based upon.

The Call of the Wild

Call of the Wild 2020 [credit: 20th Century Studios]

Audiences were greeted with this CG dog-filled 2020 film about a large Saint Bernard named Buck, who is stolen and sold for money and becomes a sled dog with Harrison Ford supporting him when he can in a lovable man’s best friend film.

The film was criticized for its CGI claiming that, like The Lion King, the animals dipped down into the uncanny valley. Again, this is just borderline nitpicking. The CGI never feels like it’s overcrowding the canvas of the film and, instead, it enhances the narrative with an incredible look at the technology standard and buoyed by an emotional narrative.

Balto

Balto [credit: Universal Pictures / Amblin Entertainment

Here’s another dog story that 90s kids are a little more familiar with. This animated dog story tells the tale of an outcast wolf-dog hybrid named Balto who attempts to bring back medicine across the freezing cold of Alaska to the ailing citizens.

Critics described the film as having bland characterization, which is something incredibly strange to note after watching the film. It has all of the tropes of a classic Disney animated film without having the title of Disney. Its score by James Horner is inescapably magnetic with an incredible voice cast from Kevin Bacon and Bridget Fonda.

A Troll In Central Park

A Troll in Central Park [credit: Warner Bros.]

Again, if you grew up or were born in the 90s, you probably also remember this movie and watching it on VHS. This is the story of a troll named Stanley who is banished to Central Park for being too nice. He encounters two children as they help him take down the evil Troll Queen Gnorga.

The film was maligned for being childish and immature. However, I remember watching the film and smiling from ear-to-ear with pure joy flooding my countenance and being filled with the splendor of happiness. Long story short, this film is colorful and worth a look. 

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Bradley Cooper Set as Lead in Steven Spielberg’s Reimagining of 1968’s ‘Bullitt’

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 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.

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Classics

Reel Recommendations: Possession – One Restoration You Do Not Want To Miss

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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.

Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill @ Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981

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.

Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill @ Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981

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.

Restoration Review

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.

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