Archive for August, 2011

Fright Night (1985)

Directed By: Tom Holland

Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys, Roddy McDowall, Jonathan Stark

Subgenre: Vampires

Fright Night

Synopsis: Charley Brewster has all the normal troubles of a teenager, school, girls and his single Mom.  Things get much more complicated when new neighbors move in and one of them turns out to be a vampire.

Thoughts: Has there been a better decade for vampire flicks than the 80s?  Fright Night is one of many great flicks to come out of that decade and from what I can tell the first to be remade.    Do yourself a favor and check out the original before going to see the remake.  It’s a great blend of horror and comedy.

The characters and acting in Fright Night is top notch.  William Ragsdale is near perfect as Charley Brewster, and while his character was unconventional, most horror fans know Stephen Geoffreys as Evil Ed.  His easily recognized laugh, ridiculous haircut and signature phrase, “You’re sooooo cool, Brewster!” should be trademarked!  Roddy McDowell is great as Peter Vincent, horror host and would be vampire slayer.  He exuded Peter Cushing, so much so that I was just waiting for Christopher Lee to show up as Dracula.  Speaking of vampires, Chris Sarandon gives us one of the best ever seen on screen.  He doesn’t get the attention of Bela or Lee, but it was a great portrayal of a vampire.  About the only role that I didn’t love was that of Amy, portrayed by Amanda Bearse.  For some reason, she just came across as a little too annoying and I had a difficult time seeing her as an object of desire, for both Charley and Jerry.  No offense, I just don’t find her all that attractive.  Overall though, this was a great cast for a horror movie.

Tom Holland’s direction is great as well.  Holland is a guy that should get more credit within the genre, both as a writer and as a director.  It’s been awhile since he brought us anything, but I sure would like to see him direct something new.  The fact that he brought us Fright Night and Chucky is impressive, and he also gave us to good, although lesser known, Stephen King adaptations (Langoliers and Thinner).

The special effects are great, utilizing practical applications with great success.  There are some shots that require quick cuts, but honestly, I love the practical FX of the 80s.  It just seems more “real” than the CGI of today.  I really like how the vampires here have different “levels” of turning.  They can simply bare fangs or go to a full-fledged monster.

Fright Night is a must see for horror fans.  It is a perfect blend of horror and comedy, with a large dose of sex appeal to top it off.  There are portions that may not have aged all that well (clothes, etc), but immerse yourself in the 80s and enjoy Fright Night, for real.


13 Assassins {Jūsannin no Shikaku?} (2010)

Directed By: Takashi Miike

Starring: Koji Yakusho, Hiroki Matsukata, Takayuki Yamada, Kazuki Namioka, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Yusuke Iseya, Gorō Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura, Mikijirō Hira

Subgenre: Samurai, Exploitation

13 Assassins

Synopsis: 13 Assassins, consisting of 12 Samurai and one hunter, set out to kill the evil Lord Naritsuga, brother to the existing Shogun.

Thoughts: While Takashi Miike has given us some amazing horror films, it is impossible to categorize him as a genre director.  He has shown his skill in everything from period pieces, family films, westerns and yakuza flicks.  In 13 Assassins, Miike brings us a gripping epic set at the twilight of Feudal Japan, but adds his penchant for amazing works of violence.

The movie is essentially split into two parts, with the first hour telling the story and building on the characters.  The acting is superb and you really feel closer to the Assassins by the time the second half starts.  The second half is one of the most amazing battle scenes I recall seeing on film. It literally lasts an hour and includes amazing sword play and ingenious booby traps.  The only other battle scene that I recall being drawn into like this was the beach scene in Saving Private Ryan.  Miike has mud and blood splashing the camera lens to really draw you in.

I can’t recommend this one enough.  It really isn’t a genre film, but with Miike’s reputation and the final battle scene, it has a place on my review list.  I am going to have to give it another watch, but this may land on the top of my list of movies Directed by takashi Miike, which is saying a lot.

Rubber (2010)

Posted: August 16, 2011 in Movie Review
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Rubber (2010)

Directed By: Quentin Dupieux

Starring: Stephen Spinella, Roxane Mesquida. Jack Plotnick, Wings Hauser, Robert the Tire

Subgenre: Experimental


Synopsis: Robert the tire comes to life in the middle of a desert and soon discovers his telepathic powers.  He uses those powers to begin a path of destruction and exploded heads in a remote desert town.

Thoughts: Rubber makes it very clear that it is based on randomness.  The actors break the fourth wall right away, asking the audience why E.T. was brown, why we can’t see air and numerous other questions where the answer is “because.”  Not everything can be explained, least of all telekinetic, psychopathic tires.

You can’t explain Rubber to people; you just have to experience it.  It’s easy to see that Rubber is not for everyone, but for someone that can appreciate experimental film along with exploding heads, I thought it was pretty good.  It could have, and probably should have been, much shorter.  I think had it been a short, it would have been fantastic.  It does tend to drag on a bit, but I did love the ending.  If you do decide to watch it, don’t ask too many questions, just soak it in.  Besides, most of your questions don’t have answers other than “because.” 

I really liked what I saw from the director, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the general public never hears from the guy again.  His style is unique and doesn’t jive with general Hollywood principles.  I would love to see him tackle another project.  Some of his shots were pretty great. 

It is a little tougher to critique the acting, as the movie is so random and absurd at times.  There are times when the acting is amazing and yet others where it seems like Uncle Jimmy got a part because he was in that play back in the Sixth Grade.

I think I watched Rubber at a “good” time for me.  I enjoyed it, but honestly, I could see me hating this in a different frame of mind.  Such is the nature of experimental films, or really, any films for that matter.  I suggest checking this out, just for the originality and the fact that you can tell people at work that you watched a movie about a sentient killer tire.

Event: Graveyard Shift: Full Moon Double Feature: An American Werewolf in London (1981) & Fright Night (1985)

Where: Alamo Drafthouse, West Oaks Mall #429, Houston, TX 77082

When: Saturday, August 13th, 8 p.m.

Event Description: The Graveyard Shift is a new monthly event at the West Oaks Drafthouse where classic horror cinema is shown.  This is not merely a screening of the movie however; it is accompanied by some great vintage trailers that fit into the theme of the night, as well as fun, games and prizes galore.

My Thoughts: This would be my second outing at The Graveyard Shift, and after seeing The Fly last month, I was really excited to see both An American Werewolf in London and Fright Night this time around.  I made sure to purchase a ticket in advance, and I was really glad I did, as the theatre was packed.  It was the first sellout for The Graveyard Shift but I doubt it will be the last.

Organizer Robert Saucedo had his usual array of free goodies this month including Fright Night remake posters, Fright Night tattoos, vampire fangs and last, but certainly not least, free Moon Pies!  Rotten Cotton was in the house as well with a table full of American Werewolf and Fright Night t-shirts.  It looked like most of the Werewolf shirts were gone by the end of the night, with one of them being in my possession.  Yet another worthy addition to my collection of horror t-shirts.

Prior to An American Werewolf, the audience was treated to a few trailers and clips from notable werewolf movies such as The Howling and Company of Wolves, as well as Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.  It was pretty damn cool seeing that video on the big screen.  Robert introduced the movie and Alan Cerny, writer for Ain’t It Cool News, who also spoke a bit about Werewolf.  I was surprised at the number of people in the theatre that were first time viewers for both movies!  I was admittedly a bit jealous that all these people were experiencing these movies for the first time on the big screen with an audience full of genre fans.

It was amazing being in the theatre and witnessing the reactions of the viewers, from the laughs to the gasps, and just how silent the audience was during the legendary transformation scene.  Werewolf was another great addition to The Graveyard Shift.

After Werewolf, it was time to take a quick break and play some games.  Robert unveiled an original painting of David Naughton in the buff, to which a bunch of balloons was attached.  A couple of audience members got to throw darts at the balloons in an attempt to win some vintage VHS tapes, ranging from awesome (American Werewolf) to not quite as awesome (Blade II).  Next up was a mannequin in a coffin that bore an uncanny resemblance to a certain vampire from Twilight.  Some very lucky audience members got to be blindfolded (or double eyepatched) and stake the vampire.  Did I mention that Robert was wearing a bat costume, complete with a working head the entire time?

Rob the Bat with the doomed Vampire

I grabbed this picture of Robert's Facebook Page

After the games it was time for the trivia contest, which I look forward to.  Unfortunately, the quartet of contestants chosen this time around knew nothing about horror movies, or at least nothing about the movies of the night.  It’s tough to have a successful trivia event when no one knows the answer.  Robert adjusted on the fly and gave away the prizes to other audience members.  Maybe some qualifying questions are needed next time around?

So, after a bit of a fizzle with the trivia, it was time for Fright Night, for real.  More trailers led into the movie, including a trailer for Bram Stoker’s Dracula that I didn’t recall seeing before.  I love the vintage trailers before the movies, the more vintage the better.

While it was cool seeing Fright Night, it didn’t quite compare to the awesomeness of Werewolf.  Fright Night is a cool flick in its own right, but Werewolf is the best werewolf movie made, in both my opinion and in the opinion of many fans.  It was still fun to watch the movie with an audience though; the laughs, gasps, and jumps really amplify the experience, which in essence, is what The Graveyard Shift is all about.

If you live in the Houston area and are a fan of horror movies, this monthly event is a must for you to check out.  Buy your tickets in advance though, as it looks like this is only going to get more popular with time. 

House of Dracula (1945)

Directed By: Erle C. Kenton

Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, John Carradine, Glenn Strange, Onslow Stevens, Martha O’Driscoll, Jane Adams

Subgenre: Vampires, Werewolves, Frankenstein

House of Dracula

Synopsis: Both Dracula and the Wolf Man are looking for cures to their “curses” and seek out the assistance of Dr. Edelmann.

Thoughts: First off, this is a direct sequel to House of Frankenstein, so it is best to watch that first, but you can still check this out on its own.  This also happens to be one of the last of the Universal classics that featured Dracula, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster (with the exception of Abbot and Costello gigs).  The world of horror was on the verge of its foray into Science Fiction inspired horror.

Sadly, this is also one of the weaker entries with all the “classics.” I prefer House of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man much more.  It just seems as if Universal wanted to hurry up and get another movie out there with all their fading stars before it was too late.  There is very little interaction between the monsters, and Frankenstein’s Monster seems to have a “throw-in” part, just so he can be included on the billing.

Lon Chaney Jr reprises his role as Lawrence Talbot, which is a role that I think he could play in his sleep.  Talbot and Chaney are synonymous to me, and even interviews I see with Chaney, I see a lot of Talbot.  I really think he could show up on a set and play the character without any knowledge of what the movie was about.

John Carradine takes his turn as Dracula, and while he does a decent job, I just have a difficult time not seeing Bela in the role.  This isn’t so much a knock on Carradine as it is love for Lugosi.  A very interesting turn was Jane Adams as the hunchbacked assistant.  This character had historically been played by a disfigured man, but Adams is quite attractive, minus the hump on her back.

House of Dracula seems to be the pioneer in something horror fans would see for with many popular franchises, as the studios went to the well one too many times.  Even so, House of Dracula is still pretty fun for me to watch.  I guess I am just a sucker for the Universal classics, much in the same way I can sit through any of the Friday the 13th movies multiple times (yes even Jason takes Manhattan).  That being said, I would only suggest to other fans of the Universal classics.

Son of Dracula (1943)

Posted: August 8, 2011 in Movie Review
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Son of Dracula (1943)

Directed By: Robert Siodmak

Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, Louise Allbriton, George Irving, Evelyn Ankers, Robert Paige

Subgenre: Vampires


Synopsis: The mysterious Count Alucard arrives in America at the invitation of a rich plantation owner’s daughter.  Katherine knows Alucard’s secret, and desires immortality for herself, but doesn’t plan on spending the rest of eternity with him.

Thoughts: After a bit of a break, Universal returned to the story of Dracula, this time time with his Son, who is using the oh so clever name of Alucard.  It is more than a little weird to see Lon Chaney Jr playing the role of Alucard, I kept waiting for him to turn into a werewolf at the first site of a full moon.

Even though it is still a decent watch, this is probably my least favorite sequel to Dracula.  It seemed rushed and as if the actors weren’t really into it.  I think that Universal intended for the effects to be the real star here.  Son of Dracula marks the first time that the bat to vampire transformation is shown on screen.  There are a handful of other effects in the movie as well, and honestly, that is the most memorable aspect of the movie.  If you can mentally transport yourself back to that era, the effects are pretty amazing to behold.

Son of Frankenstein was directed by Robert Siodmak, who would go on to direct a handful of popular film noir titles in the 40s.  Son has hints of this Noir style in it, but I think even more could have made this a better movie.

After Son, Dracula and his brethren would share screen time with some other Universal greats in both of House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, among a few others.  Those mark some of my favorite Universal flicks from this era, as they are fast paced and jam packed with horror icons.  Look for a review to House of Dracula soon.

Son of Dracula is worth seeing for fans of the Universal classics, and really, it’s only 80 minutes long, so there are worse ways to burn your time.  It seems like I end up watching it in succession with the other Universal Dracula flicks found in the Legacy Collection.  Like I’ve said before, those are easily worth owning.

Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Posted: August 6, 2011 in Movie Review

Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Directed By: Lambert Hillyer

Starring: Gloria Holden, Otto Krueger, Marguerite Churchill, Edward Van Sloan, Gilbert Emery

Subgenre: Vampires


Synopsis: Picking up right where Dracula left off, we find Van Helsing trying to explain why he destroyed Dracula.  Countess Marya Zaleska, Dracula’s Daughter, soon shows up to destroy the remains of Dracula in an attempt to break her curse.  When this doesn’t work, she turns to Dr. Jeffrey Garth, a psychologist to help her break the curse. 

Thoughts: While Dracula’s Daughter was initially set to be based on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula’s Guest” it went through so many changes in preproduction that it has very little in common with the story.  While it was not as successful as Dracula in the theatres, it did do well with the critics.  It’s an effective story with a great vampire, portrayed by Gloria Holden.  I’ve read that Holden was not happy about being assigned to a horror movie, but in the end, that may have helped her portrayal of a vampire that hated being a vampire.  Self-loathing seemed to work well for her.

It’s not a stretch to see the obvious lesbian tones in Dracula’s Daughter, but believe it or not, earlier versions of the script contained even more, as well as scenes from Zaleska’s bedroom showing several whips and leather restraints.  Pretty damn spicy for the 30s!

I really liked this sequel, not nearly as much as The Bride of Frankenstein, but it was still a pretty great sequel to Dracula.  It takes the story in a different direction, while still tying to the original.  The only returning player is Van Helsing and a wax bust of Lugosi in the coffin.  The acting is superb, and there is real chemistry between Holden, Krueger and Churchill.  The romance angle is not overdone, but is still very prevalent in the story.

James Whale was set to direct this sequel, hot off the success of Bride, but he was hesitant to do back to back horror movies.  The job went to Lambert Hillyer instead.  While he did a pretty great job, it would have been interesting to see what Whale would have done with it.  Hillyer would not direct much after Daughter, but it is worth noting that he did direct the 1943 Batman serials.

This is well worth seeing for fans of the Universal classics and it probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves.  While it’s not up there with the greats, it is a pretty good movie.  Check it out!