Film Review: The Black Cat (1934)

Also known as: The Vanishing Body
Release Date: May 7th, 1934
Directed by: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Peter Ruric, Edgar G. Ulmer
Based on: The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Heinz Eric Roemheld
Cast: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, John Carradine (uncredited)

Universal Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“You must be indulgent of Dr. Verdegast’s weakness. He is the unfortunate victim of one of the commoner phobias, but in an extreme form. He has an intense and all-consuming horror of cats.” – Hjalmar Poelzig

The Black Cat is a film that fits under the Universal Monsters banner, even if it was a one-off and not apart of their bigger series like Dracula and Frankenstein. But it does feature the stars of both those franchises: Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

The film was also directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, a guy who wouldn’t reach superstardom in Hollywood but would direct some pretty notable pictures and make a few worthwhile film-noirs.

The best part about this film is it puts Lugosi and Karloff together and not as creatures or men in heavy makeup or prosthetics. They actually get to play off of each other as humans, Karloff being the mad man and Lugosi being a heroic doctor that still exudes his Count Dracula vibe.

The name of the film comes from an Edgar Allan Poe short story. Within the film, it is a reference to Lugosi’s character and his abnormal fear of cats.

Karloff plays Hjalmar Poelzig, a difficult name to pronounce. He is an Austrian architect. Once our heroes, a newlywed couple and Lugosi’s Dr. Werdegast meet on a train, they are stuck together for the rest of the film, most of which takes place at Poelzig’s lavish and futuristic looking home. In fact, the interiors resemble a film-noir set from the late 1940s. The cinematography is also similar and maybe this is what led to Ulmer directing film-noir a decade later.

The Black Cat isn’t a great film but it is a better than decent 1930s horror flick that stars the two biggest horror icons of the time. It is a pretty significant picture for films of the genre and the era.

Film Review: Tales of Terror (1962)

Release Date: July 4th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: MorellaThe Black CatThe Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Joyce Jameson

American International Pictures, 89 Minutes 

Review:

“Haven’t I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I’m genuinely dedicated to your destruction.” – Montresor Herringbone

Director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price collaborated on several motion pictures for American International in the 1960s. Most of their movies were adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work. They also dabbled in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Nathaniel Hawthorne but it was the poems and stories of Poe that drove most of their collaborations.

This film, is a rare one, as it is an anthology piece that covers three Poe inspired tales. Traditionally, Corman picked a Poe title and turned it into one solid feature. Tales of Terror was a bit more experimental and was able to showcase famous Poe stories that wouldn’t have worked as a 90 minute feature, The Cask of Amontillado for instance, which was mixed into this film’s second story, The Black Cat.

Vincent Price is the only actor to star in all three stories. However, Peter Lorre really steals the show as Montresor Herringbone. He is only in The Black Cat, the middle and longest of the three stories, but it is one of the greatest comedic performances in Lorre’s career. Then again, every time Lorre played the comic relief opposite of Price, the results were always fantastic.

Price also works with Basil Rathbone, another horror legend. We also get to see Debra Paget and Joyce Jameson, two women who would work with Price and Corman again.

Tales of Terror is a solid outing by Corman and Price and it has the same tone and vibe as their other Poe adaptations. The anthology format makes it the most unique and different of these pictures. Plus, it has two really good stories, out of the three. The first one, my least favorite, is still entertaining though, and it is also the shortest.

This is definitely a picture worth checking out if you like Price, Corman or Poe. It is one of the best in their series of these pictures.

Film Review: Fright Night (1985)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1985
Directed by: Tom Holland
Written by: Tom Holland
Music by: Brad Fiedel
Cast: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys, Roddy McDowall

Vistar Films, Columbia Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“Hello, Edward. You don’t have to be afraid of me. I know what it’s like being different. Only they won’t pick on you anymore… or beat you up. I’ll see to that. All you have to do is take my hand. Go on, Edward. Take my hand!” – Jerry Dandridge

This was one of those movies I discovered at the video store, as a kid in the 80s. Once I found it, I rented it almost monthly for a year or two. That was, until the crappy sequel came out and sucked the wind out of this film’s sails. It could have been a stellar franchise but it wasn’t. However, this picture is still a classic and always will be, in my opinion. Frankly, they should have just left the movie alone and never made a sequel or that reboot.

Chris Sarandon makes a pretty good vampire. While he is technically the star of the picture, this really is a good small ensemble piece, though.

William Ragsdale really gets the most screen time. This was before he had that cool Fox sitcom Herman’s Head and this was his most famous role outside of that show. His girlfriend is played by Amanda Bearse, who would also go on to be in a major Fox sitcom shortly after, Married… with Children.

The cast was rounded out by veteran Roddy McDowall, who is superb in this, and Stephen Geoffreys, whose character “Evil Ed” gave birth to two of the most overused catchphrases in the 1980s: “You’re so cool, Brewster!” and “To what do I owe this dubious pleasure?”

The film is an 80s teen horror romp. It exists in a similar vein to movies like Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad, albeit more violent and less child friendly than the latter.

The special effects are pretty good but this was when practical effects were at an all-time high and the effects maestros of the 80s were on a different level, especially in regards to their ingenuity and creativity. The wolf effects, at the end, as well as the final battle between the heroes and the vampire were great. There’s a reason why I love movies like this, the aforementioned and An American Werewolf In London. Even at their most absurd, they still have a sense of realism because what you see is there in the physical world on set.

Fright Night is one of the top horror films of the 80s that isn’t connected to a famous slasher. It sort of revitalized the fantasy horror genre at a time when Jason Voorhees was chopping through everything in sight.

Book Review: ‘Dracula the Un-dead’ by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt

*written in 2014.

There have been several sequels to Bram Stoker’s literary classic Dracula. Only one of them however, was written by a member of the Stoker clan.

Dacre Stoker, great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker teamed up with Ian Holt to pen this novel, which was ambitious and interesting.

I guess that being a family member gives Dacre some justification for continuing the tale, as countless others have sequelized and bastardized the Dracula name for well over a century. If everyone and their mother has a right to touch Dracula, then why not Bram Stoker’s own kin?

A problem I have, is that Dacre wanted to clear up a lot of inconsistencies in his great-granduncle’s classic novel. Family or not, I feel like criticizing the work you are trying to build off of is a bit bizarre and kind of dismissive of what Bram Stoker created.

This book falls victim to a few things.

Most notably, like many modern updates of classic stories, it tries to string together a bunch of unrelated historical and fictional elements. This book ties Dracula to Elizabeth Bathory, Jack the Ripper and the Titanic. I’m not going to spoil it and tell you how, other than to say that Bathory is the villain of this story.

Additionally, Dracula is sort of the hero and the younger Stoker, whether he realized it or not, turns the elder Stoker’s classic tale into just one big misunderstanding, as Dracula wasn’t the villain in the original story but was in fact in London to kill Bathory (who is also his cousin, by the way).

Calling this book a mess isn’t really accurate. It is full of interesting ideas but it more than pales in comparison to the great work it is based off of. I would expect a book like this from an author trying to make a quick buck off of the Dracula dynasty; I wouldn’t expect it from a member of Stoker’s family, as it paints its own colorful picture while dismissing and retconning the intent of the original story.

Is it worth a read? I think so. However the almost 500 page count is a bit hefty for such an unsatisfying payoff.

And I don’t want to sound like I am bashing the book. As I said it is interesting and ambitious. It is just that with that ambition came a lot of liberties that downplay the significance of the original story.

Truthfully, creating a great book to follow what is one of the most beloved novels of all-time, is an uphill battle and very few people would be satisfied with the end result, regardless. I commend Dacre Stoker for trying and it is a decent book on its own. It just doesn’t build off of Bram Stoker’s original tale with anything truly substantial or necessary.

Film Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Release Date: October 3rd, 2017 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Based on: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, David Dastmalchian, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young

Alcon Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Scott Free Productions, Torridon Films, 16:14 Entertainment, Thunderbird Entertainment, Warner Bros., 163 Minutes  

Review:

“Replicants are like any other machine – they are either a benefit or a hazard. If they are a benefit, it’s not my problem.” – Rick Deckard

Here we go, I’ve been waiting for this movie since Ridley Scott first mentioned that he had an idea for a followup. This is the film I have most anticipated in 2017. So how did this sequel, thirty-five years after the original, pan out?

Well, it is mostly pretty damn good. It is also a very different film than its predecessor.

While Ridley Scott produced and was originally set to direct this, he gave the job to Denis Villeneuve, a guy who is really making a name for himself as one of the best directors in Hollywood. Between ArrivalSicario and now this, the 50 year-old director has found his stride and may be blossoming into an auteur for the current generation.

From a visual standpoint, while Villeneuve had a hand in it, the credit really has to go to cinematographer Roger Deakins. He’s a veteran of cinema that has worked on some true classics, including twelve collaborations with the Coen brothers, three with Sam Mendes and now three with Villeneuve. Blade Runner 2049 is something Deakins should truly be proud of and it may be his magnum opus as a cinematographer. His work and vision is a clear homage to the original Blade Runner while updating it and moving it into the future. It is still a neo-noir dreamscape with a cyberpunk aesthetic. It employs the same lighting techniques as classic film-noir, as did the 1982 Blade Runner, and it brings in vibrant and breathtaking colors. This is one of the best looking films to come out of Hollywood in quite some time.

The screenplay was handled by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. Fancher co-wrote the original movie and was partly responsible for giving life to these characters and their world. While the original Blade Runner conveys emotion in a more subtle way, by the time you see the character of Deckard in this film, thirty years later in the story, he clearly wears his emotions on his sleeve, which is a pretty welcome and refreshing change.

We also get little cameos by Edward James Olmos and Sean Young. With Olmos, we see how he has evolved and he gives insight into Deckard. Sean Young appears in order to get a reaction out of Deckard from a narrative standpoint.

Now the star of the picture is Ryan Gosling. Harrison Ford doesn’t really show up until the third act of the film. Regardless, Gosling really knocks it out of the park in this. He is one of the best actors working today and he gives a performance that is very well-balanced. Where Ford gave a pretty understated performance in the 1982 film, Gosling feels more like a real person, which is funny, considering that you know he is actually a Replicant in the beginning of the film.

The cast is rounded out by three great females: Robin Wright, Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks. Wright plays Gosling’s tough as nails commanding officer. De Armas plays Gosling’s right hand, a digital maid, companion and quite possibly the real love of his life. Hoeks plays the villainous Replicant who works for the story’s main villain and is sent into the field to fulfill his hidden agenda.

The film also features small but pivotal parts for Jared Leto and Dave Bautista. Leto plays the villain of the story and is the man who bought out the Tyrell Corporation and has made an even larger company that makes a ton of products but primarily focuses on further developing Replicant technology. Bautista plays the Replicant that Gosling is looking for in the very beginning; he has major ties to the film’s overarching plot.

One thing that makes the film so alluring, apart from the visuals, is the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. It is a departure from the style Zimmer usually employs. While it still has his touch, it is a score that is truly an artistic extension of Vangelis’ work on the original Blade Runner. It has those Zimmer flourishes in it but very much matches up with the audible essence of the first picture.

Everything about this film is pretty close to perfect, except for one thing: the pacing. While there isn’t really a dull moment in the film, it does seem to drag on longer than it needs to. Some of the details could have been whittled down. The thing I love about the first film is that it just sort of moves. While a lot doesn’t happen in it overall, it still flows, things happen and it isn’t over saturated with lots of details or plot developments. Compared to the first, this film feels over complicated. Plus, it is just so long. Maybe I’m getting old but I just don’t want to sit in a theater for three hours, unless it’s some grindhouse double feature. But I also sat through the first Blade Runner before this, as I caught this on a special double feature bill. I could have just been antsy after being in my seat for over five hours with just a quick intermission.

Blade Runner 2049 is very much its own film. It works as a sequel but it also works as a sole body of work. The fact that it doesn’t simply retread the same story as the first and instead expands on it quite a bit, is what makes this a picture that can justify its own existence. Was this sequel necessary? We were fine for thirty-five years without it. But it proved that it is more than just a Hollywood cash grab because of its brand recognition.

Few films these days are truly art; at least films from the major studios. Blade Runner 2049 is a solid piece of cinematic art. While not perfect, it’s about as close as modern Hollywood gets these days.

Film Review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (2005)

Release Date: October 22nd, 2005
Directed by: David Lee Fisher
Written by: David Lee Fisher
Based on: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari the 1920 film written by Hans Janowitz, Carl Mayer
Music by: Eban Schletter
Cast: Judson Pearce Morgan, Daamen J. Krall, Doug Jones, Lauren Birkell

Highlander Films, Image Entertainment, 76 Minutes

Review:

I’ll admit it, initially, I was pretty stoked about this movie before it came out in 2005. I remember a friend directing me to the website where I watched the trailer and read about the development of the picture. I was then quick to buy a copy as soon as it was made available. I wanted this to be good.

Unfortunately, it falls short in a lot of ways.

First, the film is a technical achievement in how it was shot and presented. While it is filmed with a lot of green screen work, the actors are transported into the visual world of the original The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Most of the technical work goes off without a hitch but in some spots, sets may have worked better and its not like recreating the original sets would have been that costly, it may have been cheaper and easier than filming in green screen and trying to get the actors to match up with the original shots. Plus, I’m not sure that a shot for shot remake was necessarily the best idea either.

Also, the acting, for the most part, is pretty bad. I can dismiss it to a point, due to it being a recreation of the original body of work, as silent films employed a lot of physical action and overstated expressions but this film overstates its performances pretty profoundly. I’d hate to come off as a dick but it felt like a community theater troupe giving the film a Shakespearean panache.

The only real acting highlight was Doug Jones as Cesare. However, Jones is well-known for his physical performances, which is why he constantly plays weird sorts of characters and will forever be employed by Guillermo del Toro. Lauren Birkell was also fairly good, as she was the only major character that was subtle and mostly played her part to a t.

It is hard to remake a bonafide classic, however. I just feel like it would have been better had the filmmakers done their own interpretation of the film, as opposed to trying to seamlessly recreate it with the addition of sound. It put them into a box and it was a box that was already perfect the way it was.

I’m not against a Caligari remake, it just needs to have its own identity and breathe its own life into the story. Look at what the 1970s remake of Nosferatu with Klaus Kinski did; it was a stellar film in its own way and still a fantastic homage to the original silent classic.

I can’t deny the appreciation that the filmmakers had for the original, however. It is obvious that their intentions were noble and they tried their damnedest to recreate the Caligari world but the approach and execution were off.

Film Review: Cult of Chucky (2017)

Release Date: October 3rd, 2017
Directed by: Don Mancini
Written by: Don Mancini
Based on: characters by Don Mancini
Music by: Joseph LoDuca
Cast: Fiona Dourif, Alex Vincent, Michael Therriault, Adam Hurtig, Jennifer Tilly, Brad Dourif

Universal 1440 Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“A true classic never goes out of style.” – Tiffany

I really thought that the Child’s Play franchise was going to die with Child’s Play 3 but then they started the more comedic turn and started putting Chucky’s name in the titles with the fun Bride of Chucky and the weird but entertaining Seed of Chucky. Then the series felt dead but nearly a decade later, we got the more serious Curse of Chucky, which was surprisingly good and felt like a return to the roots of the series.

Now we have this sequel, which seems to be walking a tightrope between the original Child’s Play trilogy and the more comedic Chucky movies. While this is a series with multiple personality disorder, Cult of Chucky does a decent job tapping both wells and presenting a happy medium.

This film is far from perfect and it doesn’t live up to the great precedent of the film before it but I did find it entertaining and amusing. It’s certainly worth a view if you are a fan of Chucky and this film series. It also brings back Jennifer Tilly and Alex Vincent, who gets a bigger role in this one and not just a cameo like the end credits scene of the previous film.

Fiona Dourif, daughter of Brad (the voice of Chucky), returns as Nica. She is still paralyzed from the waist down and bound to a wheelchair. However, she is now in a mental hospital due to the events of the previous film and for her being blamed for the murders committed by Chucky.

Alex Vincent steps back into the role of Andy Barclay, his first time playing the part, other than a brief cameo, since he was a child. For those who might not know, Andy was the original child protagonist that Chucky haunted in the first two Child’s Play movies. For a guy that doesn’t act a lot, especially since childhood, Vincent really held his own and did a good job in this. I hope to see even more of him in a future film.

This chapter sees Nica struggle in a mental institution. Early on she is moved from a higher security facility to a minimal security one where she can finally receive visitors. It doesn’t take long before Chucky shows up to torture her mind and the people around her. The big twist in this film, which is alluded to in the title, is that there is more than just Chucky to worry about. Now there are several Chucky’s and Tiffany is back in human form as Jennifer Tilly.

This entry into the Child’s Play series, sees the ante upped. At one point, we get three Chucky dolls working together and with his voodoo spells, you’re never quite sure who may have been infected with a piece of Chucky’s soul. Honestly, I was hesitant at this new plot twist but it paid off really well and added a good shot of adrenaline into the proceedings.

Cult of Chucky works but it just doesn’t hit the high quality mark of Curse of Chucky. Still, it is a good addition to the series and even seven pictures deep, I’m game for another one, especially with how this chapter ended.

Oh, and like the previous movie, there is a cool surprise after the credits.