#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 30

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At what point does our fiction become our Mythology? When does our Mythology become passe? The Universal pantheon of monsters is firmly entrenched in pop culture to the point that not only have these properties been re-made, re-imagined, co-opted and assimilated into virtually every medium, but the Monsters themselves have become…loveable.

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Horror Icon Boris Karloff captured the imaginations and nightmare of generations of Fright Fans by bringing Frankenstein’s Monster, as well as The Mummy to life. We all know the images, most of us know the stories, but do they hold up?

It seems almost every time someone mentions The Mummy, they are talking about the remake starring Brendan Fraser. Now I’m all for paying respect to the classics, but as much as I hate to admit it, the remake is a vastly superior film in just about every way you care to name. Sure, it may have some really awkward CG effects, but the original has almost NOTHING happening in it! Aside from Karloff using a truly chilling stare to pierce its way into our nightmares, the film is a total bore. Yes, I know that the standards and expectations for Horror films were much different back then, however this film just does not hold up. Full stop.

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Similarly the Wolf Man was also treated to a modern remake (which I reviewed here:  ), yet perhaps has a richer legacy the the Mummy. Lon Chaney Jr plays the cursed Lawrence Talbot, along with other Horror Icons as Bela Lugosi, and Claude Rains. Thanks to the Crestwood series of Monsters books (the ones with the Orange logos that you always tried to take out of the Library at school), I knew all about the story of the Wolf Man, as well as the rest of the Monsters, long before I had seen the film. I knew that Chaney’s character is meant to be portrayed as cursed, his affliction being a tragedy. When I finally did watch the film I was somewhat surprised at how so many aspects seemed cliche. The slow transformation, the Gypsy, the Tormented protagonist, etc. These tropes had been incorporated heavily into pop culture to the point that seeing them in their original context was almost humorous. Two things really stood out to me though, the setting and atmosphere and overall look is phenomenal. To be fair, ALL the Universal Monster films have this in common.

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What I’m getting at is these films have a legacy of greatness, reputations that precede them, and have kick started the Nightmares of Movie-Goers for generations…yet when I first viewed them, I was bored. Could it have been that I had already watched more frightening films? As filmmaking has evolved, so have the tactics used to scare us, so by the time the late 80s/Early 90s rolled around I wasn’t too concerned with Drac, Wolfie and Franky…I was more worried about Jason, Freddy and Chucky! Or maybe it was because by this time, I had already seen these monsters reduced to Saturday Morning Cartoons. Scooby Doo, Looney Tunes, the Flintstones and others have all featured the iconic Monsters, and always seem to portray them in an unflattering light. Sure, they are established as supposedly scary, but they end up being bumbling boobs. When the Dracula character is bested by Barney imitating a Rooster crowing, then something is seriously wrong. I know these are intended for children, but our Monster Gods deserve a bit better than that!

Over the years, there have been several attempts to re-launch the Universal Monsters, and with the exception of the UKs Hammer Films(Full article forthcoming), and the Francis Ford Coppola produced remakes of Dracula and Frankenstein, the attempts have fallen flat. Either the films were plagued by turmoil behind the scenes, or the films drew poorly at the box office, or the films were successful for the wrong reasons. The Brendan Fraser remakes of the Mummy are a prime example of success for the wrong reasons as the films were moved away from Horror and into Action/Adventure. As I mentioned previously, I actually enjoyed these films more than the original Mummy, but it gave Producers the notion that taking the Monsters away from Horror was the right choice. As a result we got garbage such as Van Helsing, and the newly released Dracula Untold. Both are overly CGI heavy and employ little to nothing in the way of scares.

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What is my point with all this off topic rambling? That these films are classics and should have a rich and respectable legacy, but instead have been rendered little better than Cartoons and Cereal Mascots. Newer generations will never get a chance to appreciate the Monsters for what they were intended to be, they have been de-clawed long before us youngsters ever got a chance to be afraid of them. As a child, I was more afraid of Paul Reubens as a Vampire from Buffy The Vampire Slayer than I was Count Dracula. There is something profoundly wrong with that!

For my final review of October*Editors Note: Yes I know this is coming extremely late, but it’s my life and I’ll be like Dale Keown if I fucking feel like it! *, I’ll be tackling one of my favorite films from childhood. It’s also a film that may be responsible for a bit of the tarnish upon the Monsters Legacy. It’s Nostalgic, it’s funny, it’s dripping in Halloween awesomeness, it’s an 80s bomb that turned into a fantastic, awesome, kick-ass classic…The Monster Squad!

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#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 19

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The stink of Van Helsing pretty much put the kibosh on Universals plan to reboot their classic monsters. Dracula films always seem to pop up every few years, and most are hunks of shit. It should be fairly obvious to my regular readers that I fucking love Werewolves, and am predisposed to liking their films despite what can sometimes be glaring flaws, so hearing that Universal was releasing a dedicated reboot of the Wolfman, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

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What we got was a somber, moody, dare I say Gothic interpretation that draws from greater influences than just its original source material. The story is largely the same, Lawrence Talbot becomes cursed after a cruel run-in with fate. He will become a savage beast with the rising of the full moon…and just as before, the Gypsies know EXACTLY what is happening to him and do nothing to stop it, just spew exposition. That part always bugged me.

Drawing influences from Jack the Ripper, The Hound of The Baskervilles as well as Werewolf of London, the film feels like a completely new experience while maintaining an iconic familiarity as well. Hugo Weaving is perfectly suited in his role of Inspector Aberline, and Anthony Hopkins, though restrained, is amazing as Sir John Talbot. His muted and sometimes lifeless portrayal fits that of an aging man who has been afflicted from Lycanthropy for years, has had it take his loved ones from him, and who now only lives for when the Moon is full. As much as I usually love Benicio del Toro, I found his portrayal of Lawrence Talbot to be odd. The Lawrence from this version has been in an asylum from a young age, and has spent much of his adult life as an acclaimed actor. It’s established from early on that Lawrence has a troubled relationship with his father, stemming from the night his Mother died. Any interaction between the two as adults is tense, cold and usually slows the pace of the film right down. Ultimately, I think it works though. The eerie setting of Talbot hall provides a creepy backdrop for these damaged characters to explore the tragedy of their lives. One criticism is that nobody really has big reactions to anything, but it kind of makes sense. Sir John is distant and aloof and has been ever since the death of his wife. “Look into my eyes Lawrence. You’ll see that I’m quite dead”. For Lawrence, the death of his brother basically sits on the surface, “I’ve missed his whole life”, and discovering that both he and his father are Werewolves feels to him like he is relapsing to his “delusions” as a child. He knows them to be true, because the insane don’t know they are insane, yet the insanity is real…making him  sane after all. Maybe I’m reading too much into it and it’s just shitty acting/writing. OK, enough bullshit…WHAT DOES THE FUCKING WEREWOLF LOOK LIKE?!?

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I like the design, it feels like an updated/more fleshed out version of the iconic Lon Chaney Jr. version. Making good use of both practical and CG effects, and the creature runs both upright, as well as on all fours. FX legend Rick Baker lent his mastery to the project, although I was disappointed the transformation scene was CGI, instead of letting Baker dazzle us with another groundbreaking scene. Is the film perfect? Fuck no. But it hits all the needed requirements for an excellent fright Flick. Now if they would just make good on the tease of a sequel starring Hugo Weaving, I’ll be happy.

I’ll leave you with words from The Man himself, Sir Anthony Hopkins.  http://youtu.be/z98S-o2Oy2E

#31DaysOfHorror: Oct 16

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Right, so this film is terrible. I think we can all agree on that. The only reason I watched it again is I saw this as a HUGE wasted opportunity for Universal pictures. Originally intended to be a sort of reboot of the classic Universal Monsters line-up for contemporary audiences, the release also coincided with DVD reissues of the original films as well.

We meet the infamous Van Helsing, an enigmatic Monster Hunter in the employ of the Catholic Church. Van Helsing is played well enough by Hugh Jackman, but anything he may have done well is overshadowed by the seemingly endless piles of shit littering the film.

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The creature designs for the Vampires and Werewolves look decent enough, but they fall apart once rendered in this films flagrantly over-used CGI. They are left looking like something out of a particularly cool looking cartoon. Post-Interview with a Vampire, pre-Twilight, Vampires were still pretty popular and had not worn out their welcome yet. Still, somehow Van Helsing manages to give us some of the most insufferable Vampires ever depicted. OK, its kinda cool that when they Vamp out they turn into a kind of Demonic Bat Human hybrid…but was it really necessary to depict the Vamps cloaks/dresses morphing into their wings? What happens if they are naked? Do they still get wings? Fuck sakes… I can’t remember who played Dracula, nor do I care to look it up… It felt like the dude was trying very hard to imitate Bela Lugosi, and as you can imagine, he fails. Dracula is one of the most famous characters of all time, if you are going to portray this character effectively, you need to bring something special to the role. Also, one of the Brides is far too tan, Ginger, and big-titted for me to ever buy that she was once a Romanian villager.

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Yup…that’s how they’ve decided Frankensteins monster looks now. It’s like Frankie just decided to stitch on extra muscles when assembling him. The one thing about this abomination of an abomination that I enjoyed is the idea of the Monster being a tragic, misunderstood, and sympathetic character…even if he was overly articulate. Its not all bad though. The visuals in the film as stunning. Everything from the set design to character design(apart from the silly looking Frankenstein) looks fantastic. I’ve already mentioned Jackman doing a good job, but Kate Beckinsale deserves praise here too, although if she hasn’t already planned on fighting Vampires and Werewolves while wearing a Corset, I really have no idea what else she would do with her time. My favorite character was sadly killed off early on. The Creepy Undertaker.

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He had a presence about him that made me want to know what that creepy lil fuck was up to. He distrusts outsiders, Morbidly goes about measuring them for caskets during conversations, and even tries to kill Van Helsing, simply stating “It’s my nature”. I would have enjoyed the film far more if he were tagging along with the hero’s the whole time, working towards the same goal of killing Dracula, but still taking any opportunity to cause trouble and sew dissent.

If you have no particular affinity for the classic Universal Monsters, or aren’t much of a fan of Horror films, then this film actually works fairly well as an action/fantasy film. Its got all the right ingredients to succeed with mainstream audiences, except for heart. As we’ll discuss in later entries, the re-boot train has not stopped rolling, but does appear to be riding much more smoothly. Ultimately, Van Helsing was ambitious, and had some great ideas…but I think it stands as an example of what NOT to do.