Archive for the ‘Vampires’ Category

Any survey of worldwide horror cinema, even one as haphazard as mine has been, would be incomplete without mention of the Hammer horror films, so let’s give them their due:

Hammer Film Productions was a British production company whose heyday was the late 1950s to the late 1970s.   The Hammer brand has actually returned recently, under new management, but for the purposes of this article I’m going to stick to the old-school.  Hammer made all kinds of movies – from science fiction to comedy to prehistoric adventure – ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., with Raquel Welch and Ray Harryhausen dinosaurs, is a personal favorite – but they are most renowned for the series of horror films that they churned out with methodical regularity.

Hammer was something of a repertory company for those years. You see many of the same names cropping up from film to film: Terence Fisher (director), Jack Asher (cinematographer), Jimmy Sangster (writer, who passed away in August of 2011), Anthony Hinds (writer), Michael Carreras (producer), and most famously, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the stars who topline the Hammer film I’d like to discuss today…

HORROR OF DRACULA, originally released under the more simple but often-used title of DRACULA, is one of the earliest and probably best Hammer horror movies.  It is the one that introduced Christopher Lee and the late Peter Cushing to their most famous roles – Count Dracula and Professor Van Helsing, respectively – and in doing so, made them kings to future generations of brilliant film fanatics as diverse in talent and influence as George Lucas, Joe Dante, Peter Jackson, and Tim Burton (all of whom cast either of the two repeatedly, in their own films).  HORROR OF DRACULA also co-stars a young Michael Gough, who later appeared in Burton’s BATMAN and SLEEPY HOLLOW.

Horror Of Dracula is considered by many horror fans to be one of the truer adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel, which is ironic because it takes so many liberties with the original plot in order to adapt it to film.  As in the novel, the story begins with Jonathan Harker travelling to Transylvania to meet with the mysterious Count, but under the guise of starting work as his librarian, not handling his real estate affairs.  Harker is really there with the intention of killing the evil Count (already a huge change from the book), but when given the chance he inexplicably chooses to stake the Count’s Bride rather than the Count himself.  Big mistake:  Dracula kills Harker.  (A massive change from the book.)

Van Helsing tracks down Dracula’s castle, arriving to find Harker turned into a vampire.  He dispatches his friend off-camera (though the Hammer films didn’t shy away from blood and murder on screen, they also used a fair amount of class and restraint) and heads back to London to inform Mina, who in this telling is not Harker’s fiancée.  Instead, Lucy is.   (More changes!)  As in the novel, Lucy is turned vampire by Dracula, although by the time she appears in the movie, she’s already been bitten.  She eventually becomes a full-on vampire and Van Helsing has to handle that also.

I could go on and on about the changes from the book – Dr. Seward’s role is reduced to a couple cameos as the family doctor, there is no Renfield, etc. – but I think what the scholars mean when they applaud HORROR OF DRACULA and its fidelity to Stoker’s novel is that the spirit of the adaptation feels right.   Dracula is the most compelling character in the movie – with a surprising minimum of dialogue, Christopher Lee plays him as a tall, dashing figure; ominous and threatening to men yet somehow magnetic to women (maybe he’s threatening to men because of that magnetism for women).

Moreover, Van Helsing is the true protagonist of the film, and a perfect counterbalance to Lee’s Dracula.  Dracula in this film is like a coiled snake or some other dangerous animal – he’s silent and still, bereft of emotion until he flares up and strikes at his victims – while in contrast, Van Helsing is an emotional figure, constantly fighting a horrific battle and laboring under the weight of constant loss, but he carries himself with the most English reserve.  I like the scene where Van Helsing sits in his babe lair, propped up with the most rigid posture, listening to audio tapes of his own voice, dictating vampire-killing methodology.  It’s a lonely life.

Also, a lot of the changes make sense, at least for a movie not much longer than an hour.  Van Helsing is always the most important of Dracula’s arch-enemies, and this particular story doesn’t suffer too much from the absence of Dr. Seward or the American, Quincey Morris.  Michael Gough’s character, Mina’s husband, is named Arthur, so in that way he’s a stand-in for the novel’s Holmwood.  Since a team eventually assembles by the novel’s latter half, it makes a kind of sense that Van Helsing and Harker were a vampire-fighting team.  At the very least, it’s a creative, thoughtful change rather than a travesty.  I could have done without the extra-long, extra-shticky scene at the shipping clerk’s office, but maybe that’s a mid-century British cinema thing.

Overall, HORROR OF DRACULA is a cool, classy Dracula film, and a great gateway into the Hammer world.

This essay originally appeared here last year, but I’m re-running it because Turner Classic Movies is showing HORROR OF DRACULA this evening.  Also airing will be 1957’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, 1959’s THE MUMMY, and 1964’s THE GORGON, all starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  It all starts tonight at 8pm! (Check local listings just to be sure.)

 

See me turn into a bat on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

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DAYBREAKERS is a horror/sci-fi mash-up that shows us a world where the vampires have won the eternal nocturnal war against humanity.  Unfortunately for them, the supply of human beings that they keep in order to harvest the blood they need has dwindled to dangerous levels.  Blood-crazy monster vamps hide away in the sewers, making the occasional home invasion, while the white-collar vampires stay high above ground, buying blood frappucinos at premium prices.
The ever-underrated Ethan Hawke plays the head “hematologist” at a super-conglomerate company that has a monopoly on the world’s blood supply.  The always-welcome Sam Neill plays his boss, a monster capitalist who shares none of Hawke’s concern for the drastically reduced human population.  The brilliant Willem Dafoe plays a key member of an outlaw band of humans who recruit Hawke to help them kickstart humanity against steep odds.  I mention these three guys specifically because they are largely responsible for everything that works about the movie – Neill’s purring villain conveys both the allure and the threat of worldwide vampirism, Hawke’s likability makes us care to follow his underwritten protagonist role, and Dafoe brings some badly-needed humor and charisma to a pretty dour scenario.  I hate reviews that single out actors without giving credit to the craftsmen behind the camera (or praising one while dismissing the other), but this is one of those cases that it’s necessary, as I’ll get to in a moment.
The other reason I credit these three actors is because no one else in the cast makes any impression – no one else seems to have been directed to be too interesting, particularly not compared to the leads.  There’s a fairly significant female role, a human confederate of Dafoe’s, but she has all the appeal of a young Heidi Fleiss.  I don’t know why movies in this genre (both horror and science fiction) have such an immense problem depicting active, attractive, grown-ass women, but they really do, and DAYBREAKERS is just another afflicted member of what I’m about to start calling “DARK KNIGHT’s Disease.”
The Australian writer-director team of Michael & Peter Spierig do a solid job of conjuring a convincingly detail-oriented world of BMWs with tinted windows and underground commuter walkways, although some of these details are way more unintentionally funny than they seem to be intended.  (The riot at the Blood Starbucks, for example, is a little too on-the-nose to be taken perfectly straight-faced.)  I also regret how so many movies of this type insist on arriving with FIGHT CLUB wanna-be cinematography, all blue/green shadow and dingy/metallic hues – although at least this particular movie has a decent reason to look this way.
There’s also something off about this movie’s pace – while a lot of stuff happens and it’s never exactly boring, my mind wandered off somewhere around the halfway mark and never totally returned.  There are some good ideas here, and some not-so-good ideas.  I would guess that the initial problem scene is where the narrative leaves Ethan Hawke’s character and starts following side characters like his brother in the vampire army and Neill’s daughter in the human resistance (as cute as she may be).  It’s never a good sign when the narrative fractures in such a straightforward setup. Speaking of that vampire army – I would bet good money that the scene where the vampire soliders start turning on each other is the reason why DAYBREAKERS sat on the shelf for a little while and is only now being released. I’m sure the Spierigs thought there was valid social commentary to that scene, but my audience squirmed.  The point wasn’t clear, and this isn’t a good time in history for muddled-message scenes involving military men.
Otherwise, DAYBREAKERS isn’t particularly bad – as I hope I’ve mentioned a few times, a lot of it is pretty damn decent.  But it’s probably only for people who are already into this kind of stuff. The audience I watched it with was a very vocal one – they hooted, laughed, and hollered during the KICK-ASS and PIRANHA 3-D trailers – but while they were respectfully quiet and even captivated during most of the movie (except those unintentionally funny parts), they seemed unmoved by the time the credits rolled. I overheard this verdict a couple times on the way out: “It was ‘iight.”
On a scale of 1 to 10 or of A to F, DAYBREAKERS was ‘ight.
 Agree? Or disagree?  Tell me either way on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

For all the shit that gets talked about Cleopatra, Heaven’s Gate, Ishtar, Howard The Duck, Gigli, Waterworld, and John Carter, 1980’s The Apple is one of the lesser-acknowledged costly debacles in cinematic history.  Coming from the legendary Golan-Globus production team, The Apple is a sci-fi disco musical/ Biblical allegory set in a future America (1994!) but filmed in Germany.

Wait, what? 

A couple Israelis take an inexperienced Canadian cast to Germany in order to tell a story about the religious collapse of a futuristic version of America, and the entire thing is set to song?  At the apex of the disco era? 

No way that could fail, right?

Now that you know what it is, here’s what happened when I watched The Apple at 2am one morning while signed in to Twitter:

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Now watching The Apple, because I love weird disasters and torturing myself with movies.

Here’s the trailer to The Apple:

 

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This movie is already hysterical.

Since one of the first sights we witness is that of a battalion of armored policemen synchronized in dance, I have no choice but to follow this movie wherever it leads.

From what I can tell thus far, The Apple is basically a nihilistic, dystopian Running Man/ American Idol fantasia.

The Apple presents us with the Golan-Globus team’s idea of the future, which in 1980 is how they referred to 1994.

Who are Golan-Globus?  The production team of Menahem Golan (The Apple‘s writer & director) and Yoram Globus, they also brought us Cobra, Over The Top, the Breakin‘ films, and a whole lot of ninja movies, among others.

     

   

And this is their musical.

Here’s the opening scene:

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(Notice how this movie uses the word “bim” more often than my pals over on Tremont Avenue do.) #thebronx #theapple #urbandictionary

Choose any scene at random, and two things become clear:  A) This movie is an absolute disaster, and B) it’s hard to discard the notion that it’s still got more imagination in five frames than most movies do in fifty minutes.

Half an hour into the movie, and they’ve gone to Hell for a musical sequence with animal masks. There are no longer words.  There are, however, vampires.

 

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But is there a reggae-aerobics musical number? Yes! There is that also.

 

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The kaleidoscopic musical number “Coming” marks the first time I’ve ever seen a musical number that is explicitly about fucking.

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A disco-porno-sci-fi musical featuring clowns, midgets, and Canadians? Yeah. There’s plenty here to chew on comedically.

You might have noticed “Mr. Boogalow.”  He’s this movie’s incarnation of the Devil, and he is mentioned by name very many times. 

There he is, the shit version of Roy Scheider in ALL THAT JAZZ.

Glad I’m not drinking while watching  because if I was, I’d drink every time someone said “Mr. Boogalow”, and if I did that, I’d be dead.

At one point in the story, the young hero seeks refuge in a colony of hippies “from the 1960s.”  Hippies from the 1960s still partying in 1994.  Do you know what that means?  GOLAN-GLOBUS PREDICTED WOODSTOCK ’94!!!

The movie’s heroine is played by Catherine Mary Stewart, who I loved in Night Of The Comet.  Me and every other horror nerd in the universe.

Catherine Mary Stewart in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.

Catherine Mary Stewart in THE APPLE.

 

Catherine Mary Stewart’s character in The Apple is named Bibi, which is also the name of the robot from Deadly Friend. #Iwatchbadmovies

BB in DEADLY FRIEND.

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Catherine Mary Stewart is lovely, but did you know The Apple also gives you a svelte young Miriam Margolyes (The Age Of Innocence, Romeo + Juliet, James & The Giant Peach, Magnolia)? 

Miriam Margolyes as you may know her today.

Miriam Margolyes in THE APPLE.

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And as long as we’re looking up pictures of distinguished character actors who appeared in The Apple, let’s all take a moment to enjoy Joss Ackland’s IMDb headshot:

 

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You know Joss Ackland as De Nomolos from Bill & Ted‘s Bogus Journey, or as the villain in Lethal Weapon 2

“Diplomatic immunity.”

True Hollywood Trivia!:  When director Richard Donner heard Joss Ackland’s …um… distinctive singing voice in The Apple, he considered adding a musical number to the climax of Lethal Weapon 2. #nottrue 

Revision to True Hollywood Trivia!:  If there had been a musical number in Lethal Weapon 2, it would have been called “Diplomatic Immunity.” #definitelytrue 

Just so you know: Near the end of The Apple, God comes down from the clouds in a space-Bentley and walks all the hippies up to heaven.

I was all doped up with cold medicine when I watched The Apple so it seems fair to consider the possibility that I hallucinated that last part. #butIdidnt

IMDb reports that: “Reportedly, during [the premiere of The Apple], audiences threw their free souvenir soundtracks at the screen, causing extensive damage.”  Yet the damage had already been done.

IMDb also reports, “Director Menahem Golan has said that he felt like committing suicide after the picture was booed at the 1980 Montreal Film Festival.” 

I know how Golan felt, or at least I have ever since I wrote up the phrase “a svelte young Miriam Margolyes.”

Seriously though, imagine having to watch this movie over and over again in the editing room.  The rest of us only have to watch The Apple one or none times.  How many times did Menahem Golan have to watch it?  And is it any wonder why he turned his attention primarily towards making violent revenge movies afterwards? 

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If you want to learn more about The Apple, there’s this review of the DVD from Entertainment Weekly (they gave it an A!!!), or better still…

Please check out the epic episode of the great Projection Booth podcast which features interviews from many of the principals, including Catherine Mary Stewart.  It gives a thorough picture of the production and the reception of this uniquely bizarre movie, and features more than the usual amount of utterances of the word “Menahem”, which is also great.

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And if you’re in need of more from me, follow me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

Book Review: THE PASSAGE.

Posted: April 10, 2012 in Books, The Future, Vampires

I’m revisiting this piece I wrote on The Passage because the next book in the projected trilogy is due out in a month.  There’s not much chance I’ll re-read the first book before then (it’s long, and besides, I gave my copy to someone else to read), so my summary will have to do.  If you haven’t read it yet though, please read the following:  It’s a pretty friendly recommendation. 

The other night, I finished all 766 pages of The Passage, the gigantic new horror novel by Justin Cronin.  That’s a heavy load of dead trees, and it seems to me that the longer the story, the greater the risk:  When an author asks his or her audience to commit to a book or a movie or a series, they’re making an implicit promise that the time spent will be worthwhile. With The Passage, Justin Cronin delivers fully on that promise.

The most striking thing about The Passage, before the plot even gets going, is the quality of the writing.  Cronin’s prose is impeccably rendered, so that even the most traumatic incidents have a beauty to them.  This helps captivate interest from the start, because the story takes some time to build, before it hits its crescendo, and from then on, refuses to let up.

Technically speaking, The Passage is a vampire novel, but when I say that, it probably creates all kinds of genre expectations in your mind, and The Passage defies them all.  The monsters in this story don’t go by the name – the word “vampire” is scarcely used, save for a couple of references to Tod Browning’s Dracula.  Cronin takes great pains to ground the familiar myths in believable reality, but either way the creatures are generally peripheral players in a much wider, much more human story.  There are long stretches between the attacks and the action scenes, in which you get to know (and care about) a wide range of characters.

This is a story about how bad things can truly get, and about what humanity is capable of once things get down to it.  The Passage will be compared to the best of Stephen King (specifically The Stand), and that’s not inaccurate.  It also has a spiritual kinship with I Am Legend.  But it reminds me even more of The Lord Of The Rings, as far as the massive scale of the story and the generational sweep of it all.  To say any more would be to spoil the surprises, and that would be criminal.  Just know that The Passage is ambitious, impeccably written, and never predictable.  On the very last page, just as the story seems to be winding up, something happens that calls out for a sequel, and it’s to this big beautiful book’s credit that I can’t wait to read it.  Somehow, I’ve been convinced that all those trees didn’t die for nothing.

Find out more at: http://enterthepassage.com/

And from me here: @jonnyabomb

Cold, cold, cold.  That’s all I hear about, the second the thermometer drops below 40.  But at the moment, all the complaints are pretty valid.  It actually is very cold in New York, 16 degrees worth, as evidenced by the fact that my scrotum is tucking itself up in my grundle.  That’s gross, so it’s a good time to change the subject and look at the greatest Winter Movies ever made.  There aren’t as many of them as you’d think — probably because the majority of folks who make the movies live in Los Angeles and they don’t have the same meteorogical issues to ponder.

So what makes a great Winter Movie? 

First of all, forget the holidays – we’re well beyond all that happy-joy-joy nonsense.  A Winter movie isn’t about celebrating, quite the opposite in fact, and it probably doesn’t end happily.  A great Winter Movie may or may not have snow in it, although all ten of my choices do, so maybe that is a criteria after all. 

OK, a great Winter Movie convincingly depicts snow.  That’s number one.  But it goes much deeper than that. 

At heart, a great Winter Movie must make you feel COLD.  Just watching it, regardless of season, will make you feel cold in your bones (and aforementioned other parts.)  A great Winter Movie leaves you lost and snowblind and deeply suspect at the very concept that springtime will ever come.

The following ten (give or take) are the movies that I chose.  If you have your own suggestions, I’d love to hear ‘em…

P.S.  Having seen Joe Carnahan’s bruising, brutal new film The Grey, be forewarned that this list will very soon be either amended, addended, or extended.

 

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10. Encounters At The End Of The World (2008)

In keeping with his absolute lack of fear at jumping right into foreign situations, the iconoclastic director Werner Herzog made this documentary about daily life at McMurdo Base in Antarctica.  As with every one of Herzog’s documentaries I’ve seen, there are moments of bizarre eccentricity and moments of extreme sadness and sometimes both at the same time.  Herzog makes profound observations about an isolated culture made up of people who have abandoned the rest of the world, and captures otherworldly images that will blow your mind.  (The underwater footage literally looks like life in another galaxy.)  The must-see moment in this movie happens when a penguin goes insane and heads off alone to certain death.   When Herzog warns you at the beginning that this ain’t no March Of The Penguins, he isn’t kidding.

9. Never Cry Wolf (1983)

This movie is based on a book by Farley Mowat, a famous naturalist, and it’s about a scientist who is sent to the Arctic to study wolves who have been [wrongly] blamed for a drop in caribou numbers.  It stars Charles Martin Smith (American Graffiti, The Untouchables, Starman), Brian Dennehy, and a bunch of wolves.  I haven’t seen this movie in more than twenty years (holy crap!) and still it makes my list.  That’s some memorable cold.

8. Orca (1977)

I’ve written about Orca before, in the context of its intentions as a post-Jaws horror movie, but Orca’s major cinematic contribution is less its ability to scare you, and more its ability to make you shiver in the literal sense.  The movie is set on the wintery coasts of the Canadian North, and killer whale or no, these people are getting in the water.  Crazy!  The feeling gets more frigid as the movie’s action moves away from civilization.  As star Richard Harris pursues the vengeance-crazed killer whale further and further north, the scenery goes white and looming ice floes are as dangerous as the primary threat. Things don’t end well for the human half of the cast, so be forewarned:  this list gets ever bleaker from here on out.

 

7. Fargo (1996)

One of the touchstone movies of the 1990s, this movie probably needs little introduction.  If you love movies, you’re probably a Coen Brothers fan, and if you’re a Coen Brothers fan, you’ve seen this one.  It’s set in Minnesota in the dead of winter, and while serious critics can go on and on about the originality of the screenplay and of the choice of a pregnant police chief as protagonist, all I think of when I think back to this movie is “BRRRR.”  That refers to the cold existential state of criminality displayed in the movie, sure, but mostly to the physical reality that a state of constant snow and ice presents.  Essential Winter Movie scene: Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), frustrated and furious, venting his blind rage on his iced-over windshield with an ice scraper.

 

6. Let The Right One In (2008)

Another film set in the dead of winter, only this one takes place in Sweden, where I’m not sure if they even get any other season.  Have you heard about this movie?  It made just about everyone’s year-end best list back in 2008.  It really is that good – atmospheric and affecting.  It’s a story about a young boy, tormented at school, who meets an unusual little girl who moves into his apartment complex with her much-older companion.  Safe to say, she isn’t what she seems.  (I won’t reveal it here, but what she is becomes clear fairly quickly, although you’ll never guess how the story develops.)  I feel like a movie that’s this good about showing the breath escape from a just-killed person on a freezing night is guaranteed a place on this list.

Honorable Mention: The American remake, Let Me In, from 2010.  Nearly as chilly as its inspiration.

5. Groundhog Day (1993)

Yeah, it’s a comedy.  There’s a happy ending.  Am I breaking my own rules here?  Maybe – but remember how dark this particular comedy gets in the middle, even if it never relinquishes its hold on hilarious.  Quick synopsis, as if anyone needs it:  Bill Murray, the most profound of comedians, plays a nasty, self-obsessed weatherman who finds himself reliving the most boring day of his life over and over in a quaint town in Pennsylvania.  At one point, the monotony gets to him so much that he decides to take his own life.  Which doesn’t work, don’t worry, but let’s see something that dark make its way into a Sandra Bullock comedy.  Won’t happen.  No one else has the guts.  Bill Murray’s never been afraid of the big questions in his comedy, which is why he’s been so successful in recent years in more dramatic roles.   Additionally, Groundhog Day is linked to an earlier wintry Bill Murray movie, Scrooged, in a fairly depressing way – both movies feature Bill Murray encountering a homeless person who has died from ailments related to prolonged exposure to cold.  In Scrooged, the homeless guy is literally frozen, but in Groundhog Day, it’s arguably more upsetting since it plays out in a more realistic way.  For a while there, Bill Murray was uniquely concerned about not letting the homeless freeze to death.  It’s not a very humorous concern, but it sure the hell is something we could all stand to think about in this weather.

 

4. A Simple Plan (1998)

When people think of Sam Raimi, they are either thinking of the Evil Dead movies or the Spider-Man movies.  It takes a moment to recall that he had an intriguing transitional period between those two “trilogies,” where he started to merge his incredible horror-cinema skills with a more mainstream sensibility.  A Simple Plan is the best film from that period, adapted from a novel by Scott Smith and starring Bill Paxton, Bridget Fonda, and a hardly-recognizable Billy Bob Thornton.  A trio of small-town guys find an abandoned airplane full of cash in the middle of the woods, and decide to keep the money.  Things go bad.  It’s better the less you know going in, so I’ll ruin no plot details – just please note that we’re now in the top five bleakest Winter Movies ever, so you know I mean seriously bad.

 

3. The Shining (1980)

A Winter Movie rises in greatness proportionally to the level of movie star who is frozen solid at the end, and in The Shining, one of the hugest movie stars of all time is frozen solid.  This movie needs no introduction and it’s best remembered,  fairly, for its terrifying horror imagery.  (The moment with the highest pants-pooping potential, in my opinion, is this one.)  But beyond its status as one of the most memorable horror movies ever made, let’s not forget its Winter status. Jack and his family are cooped up in that spooky hotel all winter – it’s the season, even before the ghosts, that turns him into an unfriendly lumberjack.

2. The Great Silence (1968)

If you’ve seen Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, congratulations!  You’ve seen the greatest movie ever.  But even if you’ve seen every Western that Leone made (which you ought to), you’ve only scratched the surface of the vast reserve of wonderfulness that is Italian Westerns.  Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence is among the best-regarded of those movies – it’s about a mute gunslinger that tries to help a small community who have been besieged by vicious criminals led by the ever-disturbing Klaus Kinski.  And it all takes place on a wooded frontier blanketed with snow – even the horses have a hell of a time getting anywhere.  The Great Silence has probably THE down ending of all time, and the score by Ennio Morricone (already on this list for his contributions to Orca) is one of the most haunting I’ve ever heard.  If you think you can handle it, then I couldn’t recommend this movie any more highly.

 

1. The Thing (1982)

Skip the shite remake, with all its CGI and sound stages.  This right here is the G.O.A.T.  Accept no substitutes, or more specifically, beware all imitations. 

What can be said, at this point? John Carpenter remade a sci-fi classic by his hero, Howard Hawks, and arguably, he beat it. It’s still a brilliant set-up – a malicious shape-shifting alien being plagues twelve guys manning a research station in Antarctica – and the follow-through is equally brilliant, between the direction by Carpenter, the imagery by cinematographer Dean Cundey, the effects by Rob Bottin, the score by Ennio Morricone (him again!), and the eclectic ensemble cast of character actors (some you’ve seen before; some who were never seen again), led by Kurt Russell and the legendary Keith David.  The end result is the greatest movie T.K. Carter was ever affiliated with NOT named Doctor Detroit.  It’s arguably Carpenter’s masterpiece.  It’s a classic in science fiction, a classic in horror, a classic study in isolation and paranoia, and it’d be all of those things even without that remarkable ending, which is legendarily, chillingly, ambiguous. Carpenter has said that he has the answer to the famous question in that ending, and naturally I have my own take on it – what’s yours? See the movie (again) and let’s hear your opinions!

@jonnyabomb

The Lost Boys is one finely-aged wedge of 1980s cheese. I don’t know what experience a first-time viewer would have with it, but for those of us of a certain age, there’s a fondness. For those of us who were high school comic book geeks, it was one of the first times we were represented on screen (by  Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, still a few years away from traumatizing us by, among other confused acts, double-teaming Nicole Eggert from Charles In Charge), and for everyone else, it’s a camp classic – and not just 1980s camp.  Hall-of-fame camp. There’s no other classification that is able to house a movie with dialogue such as  “How are those maggots, Michael?”, “You killed Marco!”, “Death by stereo!” and of course, “Christ!” (Corey Feldman’s single greatest acting achievement.)

The Lost Boys has dual protagonists: young Sam (Corey Haim) and his older brother Michael (Jason Patric, interestingly enough, the son of Exorcist star Jason Miller).  Sam and Michael and their mother (Oscar-winner Dianne Wiest) move in with their eccentric grandfather (Barnard Hughes) in the coastal west-coast town of Santa Clara.  All three newcomers quickly fall in with their own social groups:  Mom meets and starts dating a friendly video store owner (Edward Herrmann).  Michael meets a beautiful, unfortunately-named girl named Star (Jami Gertz), who hangs with a creepy but charismatic dude named David (Kiefer Sutherland), who rolls with a gang of troublemakers.  And Sam meets a pair of comic book store employees named Edgar and Alan Frog (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander), who are convinced that both Mom and Michael’s new friends are hideous bloodsucking vampires.  And they happen to be right.

David and his boys are definitely vampires, trying to recruit Michael to their brood.  Can Sam save his brother?  Does Michael want to be saved?  In a three-way collision of tone, the scenes between Michael and Star are eerily romantic, the scenes with David and co. inducting Michael towards the dark side are pure horror movie, and the scenes with Sam and his buddies, as they try desperately to prove the existence of vampires to Sam’s oblivious mom, are goofily comedic.  I have to admit, I still think it all somehow comes together.  It’s a movie so anxious to please, bursting forward with a little something for everyone, that it can’t help but continue to endear.  I’ll still stop to watch this movie if I happen to see it running on TV.

Time Out New York once called The Lost Boys “the Twilight of its day” but they’re wrong; Despite the tenous Peter Pan connection and the disturbingly dated fashions (Corey Haim dresses exactly like Kristy Swanson did) and the operatically cheesy soundtrack, The Lost Boys at least tries to scare you. This isn’t “vampire romance” — these vampires might have then-stylish mullets and ear jewelry, but they’re nasty S.O.B.’s, and not easily killed.  There are a couple surprisingly lengthy and intense stake-slayings, and the way that the movie withholds the image of the vampires in flight actually kind of succeeds. No doubt it was a practical and budgetary decision, but it helps to force you to imagine a much scarier image. The way-better-than-average cinematography goes a long way in that direction; the film was shot by Michael Chapman, who shot Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. I also think that my man Kiefer is always at his best as a villain, and he certainly goes a long way towards stacking the odds against the heroes in this movie – against an angry fanged Kiefer, what shot can the Coreys possibly have?

And now here’s some credence towards my argument that you can almost never entirely write off anyone: Joel Schumacher directed this movie. The film-geek community probably doesn’t like much light to be shone upon this fact, and I can’t blame them, after what Schumacher forced us to endure with his 1997 Batman & Robin.  But he keeps The Lost Boys moving at a brisk pace and he keeps the humor in its right places and he stays out of Chapman’s way when a visually atmospheric moment is working.  The only real Schumacher-ism that comes immediately to mind is the greased-up shirtless saxophone player attacking a microphone like it was a bachelorette party. And that’s pretty damn funny, so who can complain?

I can’t call it a personal favorite, but I like The Lost Boys enough to have eye-tested the first direct-to-DVD sequel, The Lost Boys 2: The Tribe. Skip that one. It’s not that it’s bad – it’s maybe worse than bad, since it’s not bad, just serviceable. I don’t remember any character except the lead vampire, who was played by Kiefer’s younger half-brother – I thought he was good, understated and charismatic, but the sad fact remains that there’s already an alpha-vampire in the family. Besides, the sad emo cover version of “Cry Little Sister” just pales.  A third sequel came out last year, but I can’t do it.  It’s too sad.

Some movies are too much of their era to ever be replicated.  The Lost Boys is so much a piece of the 1980s that to separate it from its time is to destroy its appeal.  If you truly love the vampire, you must leave the vampire to its cave, or else it collapses in a pile of dust.

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A survey of worldwide horror cinema, even one as haphazard as mine has been, would be incomplete without mention of any Hammer movies, so let’s give them their due:

Hammer Film Productions was a British production company whose heyday was the late 1950s to the late 1970s.   The Hammer brand has actually returned recently, under new management, but for the purposes of this article I’m going to stick to the old-school.  Hammer made all kinds of movies – from science fiction to comedy to prehistoric adventure – One Million Years B.C., with Raquel Welch and Ray Harryhausen dinosaurs, is a personal favorite – but they are most renowned for the series of horror films that they churned out with methodical regularity.

Hammer was something of a repertory company for those years. You see many of the same names cropping up from film to film: Terence Fisher (director), Jack Asher (cinematographer), Jimmy Sangster (writer, who just passed away, in August of 2011), Anthony Hinds (writer), Michael Carreras (producer), and most famously, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the stars who topline the Hammer film I’d like to discuss today…

Horror Of Dracula, originally released under the more simple but often-used title of Dracula, is one of the earliest and probably best Hammer horror movies.  It is the one that introduced Christopher Lee and the late Peter Cushing to their most famous roles – Count Dracula and Professor Van Helsing, respectively – and in doing so, made them kings to future generations of brilliant film fanatics as diverse in talent and influence as George Lucas, Joe Dante, Peter Jackson, and Tim Burton (all of whom cast either of the two repeatedly, in their own films).  Horror Of Dracula also co-stars a young Michael Gough, who later appeared in Burton’s Batman and Sleepy Hollow.

Horror Of Dracula is considered by many horror fans to be one of the truer adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel, which is ironic because it takes so many liberties with the original plot in order to adapt it to film.  As in the novel, the story begins with Jonathan Harker travelling to Transylvania to meet with the mysterious Count, but under the guise of starting work as his librarian, not handling his real estate affairs.  Harker is really there with the intention of killing the evil Count (already a huge change from the book), but when given the chance he inexplicably chooses to stake the Count’s Bride rather than the Count himself.  Big mistake:  Dracula kills Harker.  (A massive change from the book.)

Van Helsing tracks down Dracula’s castle, arriving to find Harker turned into a vampire.  He dispatches his friend off-camera (though the Hammer films didn’t shy away from blood and murder on screen, they also used a fair amount of class and restraint) and heads back to London to inform Mina, who in this telling is not Harker’s fiancée.  Instead, Lucy is.   (More changes!)  As in the novel, Lucy is turned vampire by Dracula, although by the time she appears in the movie, she’s already been bitten.  She eventually becomes a full-on vampire and Van Helsing has to handle that also.

I could go on and on about the changes from the book – Dr. Seward’s role is reduced to a couple cameos as the family doctor, there is no Renfield, etc. – but I think what the scholars mean when they applaud Horror Of Dracula and its fidelity to Stoker’s novel is that the spirit of the adaptation feels right.   Dracula is the most compelling character in the movie – with a surprising minimum of dialogue, Christopher Lee plays him as a tall, dashing figure; ominous and threatening to men yet somehow magnetic to women (maybe he’s threatening to men because of that magnetism for women).

Moreover, Van Helsing is the true protagonist of the film, and a perfect counterbalance to Lee’s Dracula.  Dracula in this film is like a coiled snake or some other dangerous animal – he’s silent and still, bereft of emotion until he flares up and strikes at his victims – while in contrast, Van Helsing is an emotional figure, constantly fighting a horrific battle and laboring under the weight of constant loss, but he carries himself with the most English reserve.  I like the scene where Van Helsing sits in his babe lair, propped up with the most rigid posture, listening to audio tapes of his own voice, dictating vampire-killing methodology.  It’s a lonely life.

Also, a lot of the changes make sense, at least for a movie not much longer than an hour.  Van Helsing is always the most important of Dracula’s arch-enemies, and this particular story doesn’t suffer too much from the absence of Dr. Seward or the American, Quincey Morris.  Michael Gough’s character, Mina’s husband, is named Arthur, so in that way he’s a stand-in for the novel’s Holmwood.  Since a team eventually assembles by the novel’s latter half, it makes a kind of sense that Van Helsing and Harker were a vampire-fighting team.  At the very least, it’s a creative, thoughtful change rather than a travesty.  I could have done without the extra-long, extra-shticky scene at the shipping clerk’s office, but maybe that’s a mid-century British cinema thing.

Overall, Horror Of Dracula is a cool, classy Dracula film, and a great gateway into the Hammer world.

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