The Bride of Frankenstein (10/24/12)

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A scientist even more obsessed with creating life coerces Dr. Frankenstein to create a female creature to be The Bride of Frankenstein.

The film begins with Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton), Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon), and Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) discussing her story for the original Frankenstein. Shelley says that people seemed to miss the moral lessons she was driving at and that there was more to the story she wished to tell. The film then picks up immediately at the end of Frankenstein with the windmill burning. The creature (Boris Karloff) has survived the fire by falling into a pit under the windmill and Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has survived being thrown by the creature from the top of the windmill. Soon, Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) finds Frankenstein and shows him his miniature human creations. Pretorius wants to work with Frankenstein for creating new life. Meanwhile, the creature is on the run from the angry mob and stumbles upon a blind, lonely monk and learns to speak. The creature later finds Pretorius in a grave and Pretorius tells him that he wishes to create a mate for him.

I had never seen The Bride of Frankenstein in its entirety before and I had kind of a mixed reaction to it. On the one hand, the film is truly ahead of its time in terms of horror and even sci-fi films. Made in 1935, it sets the hallmarks for essentially every horror/sci-fi film of the 50s. Unfortunately, the film also has some very silly choices that make it veer off into comedic territory more than horror. The servant named Minnie (Una O’Conner) is basically the Jar-Jar Binks of the film; she gets way too much screen time screeching about stupid things and I found it beyond distracting. Also, when the creature is learning to talk, he also learns to smoke and drink and his voice and mannerisms are fairly hilarious, possibly unintentionally. I’m not sure how audiences reacted to these scenes originally, but the audience for the double feature thought they were hilarious – I merely found them a bit unnecessary.

The changing themes between comedy and horror in The Bride of Frankenstein are further offset by the completely archetypal mad scientist character of Dr. Pretorius. He is both villainous and cartoonish at the same time, but again, this could merely be what we are used to nearly 80 years after the original release. We have endured countless spoofs and other films that have copied a similar formula. As for the bride herself, I was kind of surprised by how little screentime she gets. Karloff is still very much the star of his film as the creature. Oh, and Dwight Frye gets yet another role as one of Pretorius’ henchman in this film as well!

I’m quite happy to have gotten the opportunity to see The Bride of Frankenstein, not only the big screen but back to back with Frankenstein. Having the films seen in tandem is hugely successful in selling the franchise as a whole (I’m not sure how The Son of Frankenstein fits in, I have yet to see that). While I’m fairly undecided about my overall feelings on The Bride of Frankenstein, I did have a great time watching it. Part of me wishes the film seemed to take itself a bit more seriously, but maybe that bit of camp has made it the huge hit that it is today.

I give it 4 Frankenstein and Pretorius creating the bride out of 5.

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Frankenstein (10/24/12)

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A scientist creates new life from human body parts, but creates an unstoppable monster in Frankenstein.

Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye) are gathering body parts from the recently deceased and other nefarious means. Frankenstein’s consuming goal is to cobble together the body parts to create new life. His fiancee, Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) worries about Henry and arrives at his laboratory just in time for his creature (Boris Karloff) to be brought to life, amidst shouts of “it’s alive!”. The misunderstood creature soon escapes and causes terror in the town, including the accidental drowning of a young girl and an attack on Elizabeth before the wedding. The townsfolk, Frankenstein included, all take up torches and pitchforks to find the creature and put a stop to him.

Frankenstein is the second classic Universal monster film after Dracula, both arriving in 1931. I’ve always had a fondness for Frankenstein, largely because the creature is so misunderstood. Considering the film’s age, the menacing tone of Frankenstein is incredibly poignant today, though there were some scenes that caused a few audience members to chuckle today that probably caused people to scream 80 years ago. As a whole, Frankenstein has a completely different feel to it than Dracula does, there is less silent dread and the creature is not a willing villain, he is just a frightened being that doesn’t belong and inadvertently causes trouble.

Like Dracula, however, Frankenstein has been given a top-notch restoration by Universal. Though I saw this in theaters as part of TCM’s double feature with The Bride of Frankenstein, afterwards I popped in the blu-ray to compare and was pleasantly surprised. The sets and scenery of Frankenstein are slightly more varied and less claustrophobic than Dracula but are no less effective. Other than their studio and their release dates, Dracula and Frankenstein are completely different horror movies. Henry Frankenstein is arguably the real monster of the film, not the creature, whereas Dracula is undoubtedly the menace of his film. Also worth noting is Dwight Frye plays sidekicks in both Dracula and Frankenstein as Renfield and Fritz, respectively.

Frankenstein’s creature as played by Karloff is still one of the most revered monsters in movie history. Countless spin-offs and sequels have been made, though the creature, who is not named in the film has been wrongly called “Frankenstein” for far too long. While much of the scares have been diminished since its release, Frankenstein is still an absolute joy to watch.

I give it 4 why the creature is depicted as green out of 5.

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Drag Me To Hell (10/23/12)

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A gypsy woman casts a curse on a young bank employee in Drag Me To Hell.

Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer up for a promotion and is advised by her boss that she needs to make tough decisions. When a gypsy woman named Sylvia Ganush (Lorna Raver) comes in for an extension on her mortgage, Christine is cursed by the gypsy and is haunted by unseen forces. Her boyfriend, Clay (Justin Long), tries to understand what is happening, but has trouble swallowing what Christine is trying to tell him. After involving a psychic medium, Christine is willing to do anything to break the curse and free herself from the demon Lamia.

Drag Me To Hell was one of my most anticipated movies, coming from Sam Raimi returning to his brilliant horror roots and it does not disappoint, even after multiple viewings. If you appreciate all the comedic elements of Evil Dead II or Army of Darkness, in addition to the gore of those movies, Drag Me To Hell should already be on your viewing list. The gypsy curse storyline is a bit played out but it never feels too dated.

The actors in Drag Me To Hell are the weakest link in the chain for me. Not only do I cringe seeing Justin Long on screen most of the time, Alison Lohman looks like she’s about to fall asleep when she isn’t screaming and something about her face just…bugs me. So Lohman and Long together onscreen as a couple is mildly nauseating to me, but it doesn’t ruin Drag Me To Hell in any major way. I imagine it was hard to cast a lead actress that is pretty and also willing to have bugs and other gross things poured into her mouth, so I’ll be a little more lenient on Lohman.

I have been out of the loop for most horror films made recently and I usually don’t feel like I’m missing out but I’m really glad I got on the Drag Me To Hell bandwagon. Sam Raimi may have lost the respect of some fans after his Spider-Man trilogy but I never lost hope. I grew up with Evil Dead and Sam Raimi was a filmmaker I admired. Drag Me To Hell is a throwback, some may say it’s a throwback to a fault, but to me, it’s pretty much just a great modern horror movie with some nostalgic sensibilities.

I give it 4 best use of possessed villainous handkerchief ever out of 5.

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DVD Court: Oct 30

Here is the newest entry of the DVD Court over at The Cinematic Katzenjammer!

It was a slow week for new releases:

  • The Campaign
  • Safety Not Guaranteed
  • Ruby Sparks

See what the Court decides for this week!

Also added for this week, new Redbox rentals and the Court of Appeals – new home video releases of movies that aren’t necessarily new.

Check it out!

 

Decalogue III (10/19/12)

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The Decalogue is a series of ten films loosely based on the ten commandments.

At a glance, it would be easy to write off Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue as religious propaganda or something similar, but that does not seem to be the intention. This is not a heavy handed approach to religion, or even morality. Though there are ten films in the series, each film does not explicitly follow a single commandment. In fact, the series focuses more on people than religion. The films are simple but powerful and though originally shot for Polish television, they are shot beautifully. The quality of the picture is not amazing and the translation seems a bit loose at times, but once you find yourself wrapped up in the story, you likely won’t even notice these things.

Decalogue III

On Christmas Eve, a taxi driver named Janusz (Daniel Olbrychski) attending mass with his family runs into a woman, Ewa (Maria Pakulnis), he had an affair with several years prior. Later that evening, Ewa comes looking for Janusz to help find her husband, who is apparently missing. Janusz lies and tells his wife that his tax was stolen and he and Ewa go out driving around. Janusz is eager to get home to his family but Ewa persists. Eventually Janusz sees through Ewa’s plan, but does not say anything right away, but after spending the entire night driving around together, Ewa comes clean.

Decalogue III is possibly the smallest film in scope so far of the series. The film is largely just Janusz and Ewa driving around and there is fairly minimal dialogue as well. We learn a lot of Janusz and Ewa at a personal level and we can infer much about their personalities. Janusz cares greatly for his family but he also seems to have feelings for Ewa, though maybe not necessarily on a sexual level. Janusz does nearly succumb to weakness, but when he doesn’t he seems relieved more than anything. The main issue I had with Decalogue III is probably the pacing. There are long stretches with little to no dialogue and my interest started waning a few times. Still, the humanistic relationships built in an hour are better than most movies with twice the length.

I give it 4 out of 5.

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Little Shop of Horrors (10/16/12)

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In Little Shop of Horrors, a man finds a mysterious plant that becomes a huge sensation but has a unique appetite.

Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) is a nerdy man working in a small, failing flower shop alongside the owner, Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia), and the woman he secretly fancies, Audrey (Ellen Greene). One day, after an unexpected solar eclipse, Seymour finds a strange little plant  and dubs it Audrey II. After they decide to put Audrey II in the window of the shop, the little plant draws a huge crowd. The plant soon gets sick and starts wilting and Seymour finds the plant has a taste for blood. When the plant grows too large for sucking on Seymour’s pricked fingers, Seymour learns that Audrey II can talk and it is demanding more than just a few drops of blood.

Although Little Shop of Horrors is kind of a remake of the 1960 Roger Corman film of the same title, this 1986 version is actually the film version of the off-Broadway musical. Director Frank Oz, who worked as a puppeteer with Jim Henson, captures both the comedy and horror – as well as the music – in a brilliant mix. Oz’s background in puppeteering makes Audrey II really shine, and even close to 20 years after its release, the effects still look pretty great.

However, the stars of Little Shop of Horrors for me not the effects but are actually the cameos; We have Christopher Guest, Steve Martin, John Candy, Bill Murray, and Jim Belushi all making guest appearances. Since Bill Murray is a god, he pretty much makes every film a masterwork. Considering my general distaste of musicals, Little Shop of Horrors has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. The songs are fun, funny, unique, and catchy. My wife, who had never seen Little Shop of Horrors before, and I were both still singing Skid Row a week after watching it. The voice work for Audrey II was done by musician Levi Stubbs, who has such a unique voice that gives the man-eating plant a Motown swagger that is both hilarious, menacing, and fun to listen to.

Little Shop of Horrors has been a favorite of mine since I was young and though I hadn’t seen it in far too long, I still remembered much of the music and admittedly “got” more of the humor as an adult. The film has held up better than I expected, actually. The recently released blu-ray gives this film the love it deserves and even includes the cut, original ending. Little Shop of Horrors is still a unique film experience (where else can you find a musical about a man-eating plant?) and the music will likely get your toes tapping.

I give it 5 “Feed Me, Seymour”s out of 5.

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Decalogue II (10/16/12)

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The Decalogue is a series of ten films loosely based on the ten commandments.

At a glance, it would be easy to write off Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue as religious propaganda or something similar, but that does not seem to be the intention. This is not a heavy handed approach to religion, or even morality. Though there are ten films in the series, each film does not explicitly follow a single commandment. In fact, the series focuses more on people than religion. The films are simple but powerful and though originally shot for Polish television, they are shot beautifully. The quality of the picture is not amazing and the translation seems a bit loose at times, but once you find yourself wrapped up in the story, you likely won’t even notice these things.

Decalogue II

An elderly doctor and a younger woman both live in the same building. The two run into each other in the elevator and we can sense there is a tension between the two. Later, the woman runs into the doctor again and asks if he remembers her. He does – she ran over his dog several years back. The woman wants the doctor to assess her husband’s medical condition but he is reluctant to do so because of their history. The woman persists and informs the doctor that she is pregnant with the child of a man other than her husband. If her husband lives, she will abort the baby, but if he is to die she will carry the baby to term.

Another hugely impactful film, Decalogue II I found a bit harder to follow and had a harder time caring for the woman, Dorota. The moral decisions surrounding the events are all heavy topics and are treated with absolute care, though. Even with the graveness of the situations at hand, we understand the fate of the characters is set by their own actions. Decalogue II is a bit more gloomy overall, but the events in it kept me thinking long after it was over.

I give it 4 out of 5.

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