31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 29 – Cursed by the Moonlight, A Doomed Changeling – The Wolf Man (1941/wri. Curt Siodmak/USA)

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. 

We’re almost at the end of the month and I’ve saved my best two choices for review for the last two nights, but in the meantime, I’ve noted my pointed reviewing of the two main faces of Universal Studios early horror classics, without addressing the third big face to that dynasty (though arguably the third big face is The Monster’s Bride and, much as I hate to dismiss it, but she did only appear in one film).

That particular face is particularly hairy. And grumpy. But it is undoubtedly one of the more original entries into the Universal horror cannon.

Granted, it’s not entirely original. I mean, it’s not as though Universal invented the lycanthrope. Or even less so the idea that The Wolf Man was Universal’s first werewolf picture (Warren Zevon knows damn well what the first werewolf picture Universal Studios made is).

But much like Nosferatu invented our image of the modern vampire, The Wolf Man basically takes the werewolf and changes him around for the rest of pop culture to remember. The werewolf is not just a wolf that’s a man. He is in constant fear of the pentagram. He is vulnerable to silver, the gypsy is the mortal enemy of the werewolf, yadda yadda yadda. And you got one name to thank about all of that…

Curt Siodmak’s screenplay proves to not only be a creative source of nightmare fuel for generations afterward, but it also provides a surprisingly decent story to entertain someone for a movie that is only intent on defining and exhibiting the terrifying habits of a man who can totally turn into a werewolf.

That story is of Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr. – who I named one of my kittens after), a man who returns to his Welsh hometown, upon hearing of the death of his older brother. Living under his father’s resentment (his father being played by Claude Raines), Larry begins investigating both into the matter of his brother’s death as well as the possibility of making himself more and more at home in the town, now that he is the next heir to the Talbot estate.

Of course, his stay becomes significantly less welcome upon the fact of his attack by a werewolf and slowly but surely Talbot begins witnessing upon himself symptoms of lycanthropy that doom him immediately.

It’s really not much more pedestrian than that, but it’s a very great work not only because of how much Siodmak takes out of himself to detail a background land that he isn’t as obligated to do this time around, but also from Chaney’s performance. Chaney Jr., for lack of a better explanation, was a haunted man for his entire life. He lived under the shadow of his father (whom I consider a better actor) and the grip of his own alcoholism, which would hurt his lifestyle and his career significantly. But his real-life tragedy gives extra sympathy to the character of Larry Talbot, who is not at all a bad guy and, like Chaney Jr. did, has to deal with the shadow of both his father and his brother. But, that’s just what Chaney Jr.’s history and the script give the actor to work with – Lon emphasizes these elements tenfold by mulling in misery without being annoying or something out of a Robert Smith lyric. He is just a guy like us, totally relatable, but the way he’s down on his luck is what really makes us realize well, our own problems aren’t a total match to his. And Chaney’s mask-like face, inherited from his father, has a sort of clay-like sadness consistent to it that showcases well, even when Chaney has the biggest smile. It’s sad because we’re sad for Talbot.

I think that’s why Chaney Jr. has constantly been the only man to portray The Wolf Man in its original run. Any break in familiarity would have totally killed the sympathy and the audience would have known it’s not the same guy we once fell for.

But hey, that’s not the only saving grace, it’s just what makes Chaney Jr. stand out in a full-on cast of competent performances, including Raines – who never has bored me once, no matter how small his role is. For a pedestrian project, the effort put into this work makes it stand out as one of the greatest productions Universal Studios had put out at the time.

The larger strength in the movie is the introduction of legendary Jack Pierce’s design for the Wolf Man, originally intended for yet scrapped during production of Werewolf of London. Pierce, in his innovation during the 1930s and 40s horror hierarchy of Universal Studios, created iconic pieces for most of the monsters we now remember in nostalgic and classic movie reverence, The Wolf Man being now exception. These days, most werewolf pictures tend to reject the human aspect of the monster, but the Wolf Man is still unique in many ways for its balance of man and monster, a mythological uncontrollable force dwelling in the hearts of most people, now brought out to our faces. It’s a frightening and yet fascinating study come to life visually solely by Pierce’s work.
For all intents and purposes, Universal Studios owes much of its legend to Lon Chaney Jr., Jack Pierce, and Curt Siodmak together.

Moving on, the final aspect of The Wolf Man that makes it so rewatchable is the dream-like atmosphere of the sets, namely when they are at the fair or at the moors. George Waggner’s direction and Joseph Valentine’s cinematography has a very small haze for every outdoor scene, accented by the sets hint of German Expressionist basis. Add in a little fog and BAM! The shots end up absolutely hypnotizing and it makes The Wolf Man more of a visual treat than it is given credit for. I especially enjoy shots like the wide of Sir Talbot (Rains) at the observatory or the shop of Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers)’s father. But the shots in the woods during the Wolf Man’s rampage are excellent.
I can’t talk down even the exotic design of the gypsy’s cart.

Once again, this was a movie invented only to turn a man into a wolf and then have him succumb to fate. That’s it. It didn’t have to become anything more than that to fulfill its purpose. But The Wolf Man stands one of the truly glimmering films of the 1940s because it took a simple storytelling exercise into a display of everyone on their A-game and became a pretty brilliant hurrah for Universal Studios, standing in the end as amongst NosferatuFrankenstein and (begrudingly I state) Dracula as among the most influential horror legacies on the silver screen.

Just, y’know, have it avoid that silver screen.

Get it?

Anybody?

Cause he’s a werewolf and the screen is silver?!

No takers?

Fuck you all, I’m hilarious.

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 28 – Beneath the Marquee – Halloween Season

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween.

This is basically going to be a continuation of a program I’ve decided to make an occasional thing, but that I have already entertained in a previous post.

So, let’s say this Friday, you have nothing to do by one circumstance or another. You just got off work and are too tired to party, or your ride is down, or whatever and so you’re just trying to make it a chill night at the house without killing the spirit. Or how about we can say you’re having a party and just want something up as background imagery or background noise or what have you. Or whatever circumstance you have for deciding you want a movie playing on Halloween and then realizing ideally a movie is two hours and the night will still be young…

I’ve made it a constant practice to have double feature screenings at my place for my friends and usually anyone they invite that I don’t have beef with (I am an easily angered person and an even easier soul in begrudging, so there’s that). The idea is usually that not only would it happen to be fun, but that people would be introduced to films they otherwise wouldn’t know. And hence it’s in my best interest, in the furthering of cinema as a culture, that anybody go ahead and try this with themselves or, preferably, with friends.

This post is to ideally just serve as a template or suggestion for any other people who might want to go ahead and try their own showcase of films for the season of the witch. Here, I’ll be suggesting four particular double features for y’all and can easily suggest you change them up on your own or even make them up. Fit your own style. I’m just posting my own.

I only follow two simple rules (which are completely arbitrary and you don’t have to follow my shit)…
1 – THEME IS MANDATORY Just because I like having everything so connected.
2 – CANNOT BE TWO FILMS IN THE SAME FRANCHISE – I like to mix them up that way. Likewise, I try to avoid making it two films by the same director.

Let’s get rambling.

I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT GIALLO – Halloween (1978/dir. John Carpenter/USA) and Suspiria (1977/dir. Dario Argento/Italy)
Giallo is one of the major Italian film movements that have made a huge presence in horror cinema, even today, and slasher films especially are indebted to it. Halloween and Suspiria (the latter of which is constantly mistaken as giallo) are after the fact of the movement that inform themselves of much of the stylistic makeup of giallo – saturated colors, psycho killer moments, a drive to solve what’s going on, synthesizer ditties and so on and so forth.

UNDER THE ROOF OF MADNESS – House (1977/dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi/Japan) and Evil Dead II (1987/dir. Sam Raimi/USA)
Maybe you or the people in your company aren’t so keen on being scared so much as you’d just like to go the opposite spectrum of human reaction and just have a laugh. Well, that laugh’s gotta add something to the being of horror cinema and it kind of does. What makes House and Evil Dead II perfect horror comedies is how they add to the madness of the moment, how the situations and the scenarios are inherently comedic, but the suffering going on shocks the audience just as much. And then the line is blurred and that’s where the real fun stuff begins.

GODS AND LIARS – Faust (1926/dir. F.W. Murnau/Germany) and The Wicker Man (1973/dir. Robin Hardy/UK)
Well time to go down and into the religious spectrum of horror… The fear of God or what is against God. Which honestly neither film really cares for and I really don’t either but that’s besides the point. Faust and The Wicker Man however do have a religious element that adds either more to the cosmic nature of the situation in the case of Faust or how the cultural clash occurs between the leads in The Wicker Man and how either ends up rides on how that element is treated by the end of the film. The Wicker Man‘s ending has me more gleefully grinning to be honest, but nothing can at all beat Faust‘s opening.

 

WELCOME TO HELL (aka SEE? THE 80s WEREN’T THAT FUCKING BAD) – Hellraiser (1987/dir. Clive Barker/UK) and The Beyond (1981/dir. Lucio Fulci/Italy)
Ok, I’m not normally a fan of the 80s, but there are some real gems of fablesque storytelling or mystery treatments within their horror films, assuming you can sift through most of the Jason Voorhees knockoffs. These two in particular touch upon a similar fear of a hell-like dimension being opened inexplicably and leaking into the real world, with the possibility that the characters have doomed us all. There’s a real terror in not knowing what’s going until it’s too late and real guilt in what might be invoked worldwide unless proper action is taken.

Well, there we have it. Like I said, watch ’em however you want, this way or that. Happy Watching.

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 27 – The Black Halo

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. 

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I’ve already previously talked about how much expressionism has informed most of modern horror cinema, but let’s briefly just go over it. Germany’s expressionism style from the beginnings of their film industry had a way with shadowplay and overdramatics that really made for compelling genre storytelling as it was direct and blunt, with a very hard hit to the sensibilities of the audience and a clear communication of what the intention of each scene is. If they wanted you to laugh, their physical comedy would be the biggest thing you’d see, if you wanted to be scared, they’d make the shadows that are most scary the biggest on the screen and so on.

But it also could make for particularly compelling melodrama. The play with the amount that we see on the screen and what we don’t see gives a sort of gap for the audience to fill in, involving themselves into the story and investing themselves outright in the story. Murnau arguably had created the greatest melodrama put to celluloid in 1927, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, which I dare you to watch and not feel compelled emotionally by the plight of the characters. However, I want to move backwards one year, right before Murnau left Germany to America, his very final film for his home country.

The 1926 film Faust is an incredibly interesting look into what makes expressionism as a style so moving and touching as it plays with both the elements of the style that make it genre filmmaking – primarily a horror film, but other genres get used in here as well – in addition to melodrama – as the tragedy of Doctor Faustus is a fable of old consideration in European culture.

It’s also pretty much one of the greatest possible toybox films ever put to screen, considering that Murnau, who was again in the midst of leaving UFA, probably just wanted to burn his skills out as much as possible (which, thankfully, he did not as his next two films were brilliant). He pulls out all of the possible stops that a film demands out of a filmmaker, making the production the most expensive that UFA had dealt with.

… at least until a little guy named Fritz Lang came around and demolished the company with his own masterpiece called Metropolis the next year.

But in the meantime, Faust… the most recognizable parable on deals with the Devil even if you don’t know that you know Faust. Doctor Faustus (Gosta Ekman) has been carrying the weight of his land’s plague in his hands, trying desperately to provide a cure for it and prevent any further dying at his hands. This pursuit leads him to extreme desperation that challenges his faith in God. Unknown to Faust, the plague is in fact a concoction of God and Mephisto (Emil Jannings giving a polar opposite performance from his work in The Last Laugh and fucking nailing it), who have a wager that Faust will never truly go astray from his humanity and fall into Mephisto’s clutches, regardless of the circumstances. With Faust at his weakest and most vulnerable, Mephisto approaches Faust to seduce him with the possibility of having license over life and death and, as a damned bonus, youth and all the great shit that makes you enjoy youth. Faust considers it and so the struggle truly begins.

I’ve always had a fascination with the tale of Goethe’s Faust, not just generally as a tragedy that easily tugs at heartstrings of guilt, shame, and mistakes, but as a compelling discussion of how far one goes towards his or her passions and how is he or she willing to deal with the consequences of this pursuit. Faust as a film, however, is interesting in that it dilutes much of these themes to a very streamlined tale that is easily consumptive to the film. Gone are much of the verbose prose of Goethe’s piece, as well as the entirely abstract philosophy preaching of the second half of the tale. The ending is fixed up and there’s even some Hollywood-ish inserts into the story, like UFA wanted to match the true titan they were currently competing against. It’s enough to understandably get under the skin of the real Goethe purists and while I do enjoy his work, thankfullu I’m not so much a purist that I would dismiss the movie (but I’m sure the band Kamelot would not be pleased to discover that I usually watch the silent film using their double album concept Epica and The Black Halo as my soundtrack to the film. They seem like Goethe purists.)

However, the true crown jewel of the film goes beyond its treatment of the tale of Faust and instead in the treatment of its spectacle. It’s an epic in every sense of the word, surrounding like Mephisto at the iconic opening scene where he wraps himself around the city and steals away the sunlight from the poor townspeople.

Let’s use that shot as an example. You goddamn well know it’s a model, you know it’s just a painted background that got progressed upon, you basically don’t see the strings to this puppetry but you know how it’s done and it’s there, similar to how we discussed with House. But this time it’s that the imagery is so chilling, so captivating that we don’t care… it doesn’t matter how it says what it’s saying, what matters is what it says and it says “Be afraid.”

This approach is the absolute pinnacle of German Expressionism by using the entirety of its production to present the effect of the image. That means large makeup on Jannings face as he portrays the Devil, that means giant worlds invented with the paint and the lens, that means larger than life actions…

Speaking of larger, the fact that the story – which is not bad but never really the forefront – is just incidental to the imagery that Murnau elicits, the globe-spanning that Mephisto induces in order to cater to Faust’s pleasures similar to the ambitious D.W. Griffith production Intolerance but without the fat, is just further proof in the end that actions will speak larger than words, especially in a visual medium like film. Even though the film gets pretty long by the end of it, Faust has never faltered as a hidden gem of visual artistry from one of the finest filmmakers ever to walk the earth.

I actually do take a moment to wonder whether or not Carl Theodor Dreyer or Ingmar Bergman were themselves influenced by Murnau’s work here, as the environment that the black plague-era villagers give off brings accessibility, both in the level of detail brough to build the village up and have it afflicted with all of these different effects Murnau gives them and with its familiarity to the audience after seeing The Seventh Seal or Ordet. But that’s just me thinking out loud.

In the end, the film historians don’t talk as much about Faust as they do the other films of Murnau and I personally find that a severe shame. Because dammit does Faust have a visual language that I personally feel is only surpassed in Murnau’s career by the brilliance of Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. And that comes once more from Faust‘s complete dominance over the genre elements of Expressionism… providing a chilling mentality, a grand adventure, a moving tragedy, and a compelling drama before making us come around to leave the movie going

“Well damn, they don’t make it like that no more.”

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 26 – Fan-Casting a Dream Project – John Dies at the End

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. 

So, this is going to be something I might make a regular thing out of, but since I’m working on being a successful filmmaker alongside my other jobs and this blog (by way of a for instance, I am currently in the middle of two more short films and one of them should hopefully be posted by Halloween. As well as the videos I am haphazardly making for this blog), I have dream projects.

Several of them. Without any real regard usually to how they have been treated before.

John Dies at the End and its sequel novel This Book Is Full of Spiders, Seriously, Dude Don’t Touch It, both written by Cracked editor-in-chief David Wong, have been at the top of this list of dream projects that are adapted from other works forever (since the majority of my dream projects are original treatments and original scripts that I personally drafted). It has already been adapted by Don Coscarelli in 2012 and my feelings for that movie have already been half-laid out (I feel a re-review is in store), but let me briefly recap: I don’t just think it is a terrible adaptation, I think it’s a terrible fucking movie and the only Coscarelli work I dislike other than Phantasm III (I have not seen his pre-Phantasm movies though).

However, I do feel like the casting is one of the few things done right for that movie and that could have probably made it work. But since I read the book, I already had my own personal vision of the characters and in making my own adaptation, I’d do best to adhere to my vision, rather than Coscarelli’s.

To briefly go over the book before I dig into my fan-cast, it is like so: Two good-for-nothings in the middle of the most ghetto town in America, David Wong (our author surrogate) and John Cheese (it is explicitly stated that these are not their real names) have an unfortunate encounter with a drug labeled “soy sauce” that unfortunately allows them to be able to see, interact, and experience an invisible-to-the-naked-eye and completely real hellish dimension to the world they live in. As a result, they are thrust into roles that involve addressing and dealing with the Shadow People that threaten to wreck the reality they know. It also feels more like three narratives tied together loosely in a haphazard arc. Because that’s, from what I understand, exactly what it is – three short stories Wong wrote tied together at the last publishing second.

Which is why I would prefer to make it into a miniseries if nothing else.

It is an extremely juvenile book that is easy to read, yet drifts into tangents at points and sometimes loses focus. I’ve heard it described by a friend who hates as if a 14-year-old were forced to recite a whole Stephen King novel. I do not dispute this description at all and understand why people would hate the book for it, but that’s actually a hefty amount of what gives the novel the charm I find in it. The fact that it’s unreliable narrator is so impotent that he can’t even tell a complete story, making us doubt that he and his constant party-headed friend could possibly be able to deal with real life, even before they have to walk up to the task of being this world’s heroes. It at once makes the story darker, funnier and, honestly, scarier to know that the fate of what happens to us without even knowing rests on the hands of these failures and how doomed and deserving of eradication we all are. It is like if a nihilist to the degree of Matthew McConaughey’s Rustin Cohle from True Detective decided he had just read… say… something by Douglas Adams or, I’d even daresay Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and decided he wanted to write something really funny like that, but his ideology just gets in the way (and the fact that he’s not much of a writer, like he’s not Herman Melville – it shows that the writer of the book is in charge of Cracked now).

And it’s descriptions of the horrors that Wong and Cheese encounter really really touch on me as a deliberate, pointed parody of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing style, using these flourishes and very intimate details under simple and descriptive language to talk about stupid ass shit like a flying mustache or a monster made out of meat. There is no fucking way Wong has never read a book by Clive Barker or at least Lovecraft and if I ever hear him deny that, I will call bullshit on him.

So, yeah, it’s easy to see the book and its sequel (which actually is a lot neater as a narrative and also one of the most depressing fiction reads I’ve ever dealt with and that puts it alongside Les Miserables and Kafka’s works, for Odinsake, I read a lot) are among my favorites. And I am so involved in it that I have such ideas on how to adapt it and make it an active living, breathing work of cinema, that I am prepared to go to the most extraordinary lengths to prove to David Wong that this is my fucking style of story and that I can make it in the best way possible.

When I know that I can. Which is not now, I don’t think I’m quite capable of the task, but when I finally feel I am ready, he will need to either allow me the rights or get a restraining order to shut me up.

In the meantime, here is the cast (short of some actor friends I work with – they have been replaced with my ideal public persona) in my mind when adapting it, with some explanation, description and a few minor spoilers of the book (many of which don’t feature in the movie).

“My name is David, by the way. Um, hi. I once saw a man’s kidneys grow tentacles, tear itself out of a ragged hole in his back and go slapping across my kitchen floor.”

DAVID WONG, our dark untrustworthy idiot narrator is kind of a character that I pictured a certain friend of mine I don’t feel right to namedrop for the role. But in the case of a demanded brand name rather than an unknown, I’d go with DANE DEHAAN (The Place Beyond the Pines), for the simple reason that he is easily the most darkly intense actor we have these days at the same age area.

“You don’t even exist. We’re all just figments of my cock’s imagination.”

JOHN CHEESE, the oblivious eager center of energy for the entire story has been and will always be ANDREW WK in my mind. Because no fucking way does anybody party harder than WK does and I also have serious doubts that anybody would be as open to the possibility of fighting shadow monsters on a fucking hangover in Vegas.

AMY SULLIVAN, the just-as-wrecked redheaded girl whose missing hand shows her apparent damage matches David and John’s hidden damage, deserves not only an actor who knows who can tune into the dark scenario of the story but also an ability to become as homely as possible for a love interest with David, so it’s not so much “she’s hot, she’s obviously gonna get it with David/John” as it is “David and Amy deserve each other”. I think JANE LEVY is absolutely beautiful, but since seeing Evil Dead, am certain she can pull Hilary Swank-esque task.

“ARNIE BLONDESTONE” is just a working stiff trying to get his stories done when he figures he will indulge David for the frame narrative of the story. It needs a reporter vibe, but I also think BRUCE CAMPBELL (The Evil Dead trilogy) hasn’t been given truly enough stuff to do and it’s kind of the stock character that he could definitely add gracious flavor to. And The Hudsucker Proxy proved playing reporters is nothing new to him.

Without elaborating hugely, I think I’d also like to add a cameo by a certain Afro-American horror titan into the role for the latter moments of Arnie’s appearance and so I come to mind TONY TODD (Candyman) or KEN FOREE (Dawn of the Dead) in the role. Not much acting to be asked of though.

“Do you dream, mon? I interpret dreams for beer.”

BRUCE “ROBERT MARLEY” MATTHEWS is easy-peasy as fuck. TAI BENNETT‘s performance in the Coscarelli film is my single favorite moment of a movie I didn’t like and that’s not faint praise, I promise. He did the role exactly how I imagined it, with the perfect hint of con artistry and frightening intuition. I would not hesitate in casting him again. I’d maybe turn his bullshit artist up a notch to let the audience’s guard down when he really gets into David’s head, but that’s it… he was perfect.

FATHER ALBERT MARCONI needs to be a figure of obscure stature and the one true sense of grounding in a world with madness, even though the main reason that he can deal with these supernatural things is probably because he is able to embrace his own madness with it. For that, two fucking words: WERNER HERZOG (though I also consider OTTO JESPERSEN – based on his hilarious performance in Troll Hunter – or if the producers demand a brand name, JAVIER BARDEM).

For “BIG JIM” SULLIVAN, Amy’s Bible-dependent large and protective older brother, I really don’t have much to say beyond the fact that, while I think he’s too old and too far-gone now, the picture for the character was of the 90s COREY TAYLOR (of Slipknot and Stone Sour) back when he was a bit more chubby, but still imposing, and had long hair (with those Iowa sideburns). So I can’t say beyond that type of actor…

DETECTIVE LAWRENCE “MORGAN FREEMAN” APPLETON is just the easiest typecast for DANNY GLOVER to the point that I almost feel sorry for just making Glover a role he pretty much played in the Lethal Weapon movies and Saw. I’d almost not cast Glover just out of sympathy, until I realize Wong would be hilariously (possibly racistly) referring to Appleton as “Morgan Freeman” for the duration of the film and realize there is no way I am not taking this chance.

JENNIFER LOPEZ (Not THE Jennifer Lopez) is just pretty much supposed to be the ideal perfect girl David so desperately wants to be with, with just enough character that she doesn’t become a meat puppet. ALEXANDRA DADDARIO is the closest realistic match I can make for the character and while I’m not a fan of her as an actor, I don’t think he failing in this role would demolish the story as a whole.

John’s police detective uncle, UNCLE FRANK, is just another role to be snug for ENRICO COLANTONI (Veronica Mars). A shamus, a semi-concerned relative, and suspicious man. Basically a less involved Keith Mars.

Man, for those of you have seen The Place Beyond the Pines, didn’t any of you get as much of a fucking twerp wannabe gangster vibe from EMORY COHEN in his role (which I think he did brilliantly making me dislike him). If nothing else is perfect in this fancast (and I honestly don’t think it is), I really really really think Cohen is the damned possession monster SHITLOAD aka JUSTIN WHITE.

I’ve seen KATRINA BOWDEN in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil which gives me enough understanding that she’d be tuned in enough to such a genre picture as John Dies at the End to provide an emotional source for the second third of the tale and becoming among the major clients of David and John, the heavy-handed Christian KRISSY LOVELACE, in search of her close friend (possibly more than friends)…

… DANNY WEXLER, tv weatherman, who should be a recognizable enough face without being too notable. For that reason, when I had conceptualized this cast last November, I had thought of CHRIS PRATT who is personable enough and well known enough… Except that now, he’s become too much of a star as of recent and I need someone more downplayed. I consider it a curse that JOEL MCHALE has not reached the stardom Pratt has, but in this case, I’ll take its advantage.

For the rest, which I won’t describe as much, but will at least elaborate…

FRED CHU Steven Yeun (Definite unfortunate victim man in a situation he never asked for)

“SHELLY MORRIS” – Well not to bag two Walking Dead actors in one, but Lauren Cohen. Because Supernatural shows well enough she can give the creeps and she can probably handle the more unearthly beauty of the role.

ROGER NORTH – I have no problem with using DOUG JONES again (I’d do more with him than Coscarelli did), but I honestly pictured a thinner STEPHEN FRY (I’d hate to be the guy to tell him to lose weight, but he’d be great for it).

“FRED DURST”/MOLLY – For this very brief yet notorious scene in the book, I’m going to beg on the good will of FRED DURST himself (frontman of Limp Bizkit) and hope he has a sense of humor regardless of my not liking his music… or really liking him (or David Wong liking Durst from what it seems). If not him, we always VANILLA ICE proving he has one.

If you know me… you know I have a huge musical crush on MIKE PATTON. And if you know Mike Patton, you know he can do so many creepy and crawly and eerie voices (just check out his work on the Darkness games or Left 4 Dead or for the vampires in I Am Legend or just his music in general). Hence, it should come as no surprise to anyone at all that I’d be dying to have him do the VOICE OF KORROK, THE MEAT MONSTER AND ANY POSSESSED BY KORROK for the source of real sonic terror in the film.

And that’s pretty much the most of it, except for addressing one thing I want to add about the story being adapted to film (among a few cool things I want to try when I go ahead with this project)….

SPOILERS

I want to use a very relatively unknown actor to portray Todd Brinkmeyer, who is doomed from the climax of the first third of the miniseries, to be rendered out of existence from his ill fate at the hands of the Shadow People (referred in the books as simply “Them”). He’ll be uncredited. He’ll be appearing in only select shots and sometimes for a blink (this will be a collaboration between the actor, editor, cinematographer and I) – akin to the Fight Club effect. He won’t be acknowledged until the reveal in the diner scene after the Luxor battle. So that when David is going over the Luxor incident with Arnie, the audience will get that same feeling of knowing somebody who doesn’t exist anymore. It needs to be precise to work well.

END OF SPOILERS

And that’s for the most part it. All the ones I’ve been thinking about for a film adaptation of John Dies at the End. Maybe later on, I can continue to address other facets of dream projects or any fancasts or what not. We’ll see.

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 25 – Playlist of the Damned

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween.

I have a habit of making playlists with the music I have, much as I make playlists or screening alignments of the movies I have. Making an arrangement of music to fit mood, since music is one of the ephemerally tricky things to exist… swaying our emotions and attitudes to whatever we get elicited from the tune…

It’s October. It’s almost Halloween. It’s bout that time to get spooks. And when you’re in the dark, thinking and listening, you got that nice little melody to get you nice and limbered for some spooks.

Hence I begin to do this arrangement of songs that I will provide as my own playlist for the Halloween season.

… well, I was going to make it a meme, but decided against it on the consideration that I doubt other bloggers would follow suit. However, if anybody wishes to do so, all one needs is to do is to tag this original post, follow the rules I lay out and then tag at least one other blogger…

Ok, so the rules…

1 – Maximum ten songs. Minimum five.

2 – It cannot be about a horror theme. Aye, there’s the rub. I want something that really brings up a thought of what makes the night go bump without being coaxed and manipulated outright. It makes it more interesting. In addition, the lyrics can’t be too gothic to the point of knowing “oh, this is meant to be a zombie.” I use “Cemetery Gates” by Pantera as the threshold of what is too gothic… the song talks about the loss of a loved one, but it invokes the Edgar Allen Poe like obsession with suicide to reunite with her ghost. A similar song may be “Hail Mary” by Makaveli (y’know, 2Pac), talking about taking vengeance from the grave. Not very subtle.

3 – It cannot be included in the soundtrack of any work of horror, no matter what the main object of the song is. Movies, video games, books, television, none of these works are to have added these songs in their own compilation if they are horror. You get that immediate association and that’s just no fun (It’s fine if you didn’t know for a particular song and, since I don’t have any way of particularly knowing if one is telling the truth, I can’t police this – or any of the rules. But let’s just say I won’t buy somebody not knowing “Tubular Bells” was in The Exorcist.)

4 – No repeating artists.

Ok, anyway, before I begin, I may as well try tagging the people I think of:

Phil from The VHS Graveyard
Joel from Lost in the Movies
Tim from Antagony and Ecstasy
Erich from Acidemic

Instead of listing all the film bloggers I read, I am merely most intrigued by these four to the point of wondering about their music selections. Optional for them and anyone else (you don’t need me to tag you to do this). Anyway, let’s begin with my 10-song pretend-soundtrack to a horror movie.

1. “I Know It’s Over” by The Smiths. It was honestly so much of struggle between this and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” but “I Know It’s Over” ended up having more of a lonely Saturday night driving feel that laid some melancholy for a midnight cruise down the wrong part of the woods.

2. “Asylum of Glass” by Buckethead. Really if I ever make a horror feature film, Buckethead is either scoring the movie or I’ll be scoring the movie trying my hardest to sound like Buckethead. Most of his tunes give off a feeling that something’s off his rocker (assuming you’ve never seen a picture of the guy), but “Asylum of Glass” has more of that surrounding ominous feel than any of his more emotional works, an urgent demand for you to survive the night.

3. “Floods” by Pantera. Because of it being a dark and stormy night, how assaultive the bridge of the song becomes, and most of all, the ghostly distance of that guitar outro.

4. “Vancouver” by Jeff Buckley. Jeff’s unfortunate and untimely death have given pretty much all of his songs a ghost-like presence in my mind, but “Grace” seems a bit more affrontive in its talk of dying and “Hallelujah” is a bit too similar to being in a church (plus I’d slap myself in the face for including a Leonard Cohen cover and not a Leonard Cohen song in this playlist). “Vancouver” is uninterested in any of those things, merely reliving a lovely memory that faded as quickly as it existed and a structure of the song that borders on stream of consciousness. Dat climax. It also was released after he died. That helps.

5. Mike Oldfield – “Moonlight Shadow”. I honestly am quite shocked by how many songs about John Lennon’s death exist. I am also a lot more stunned that this song is about John Lennon’s death and not about a little legend of a travelling man who was misfortunate in his encounters in the middle of nowhere with no way to be helped. I pictured that sort of thing the moment I heard this song and it can never be shaken from my head. It’s like a little legend that passes itself on how alone one can truly be on the road. And it especially evokes a folksy feel similar to the music playing in The Wicker Man.

6. HIM – “Wicked Game”. I do not have with Chris Isaak covers those same qualms I have with Leonard Cohen covers. And honestly, it’s pretty much fine by me how Ville Valo’s voice drops with a darker richness than Isaak (I do like Isaak, though). I mean, isn’t it the most non-gothic gothic song ever to exist? (Linking the Rock am Ring performance of the song, just for that Type O Negative like moment in the middle and the Italian horror score-like use of the synthesizer).

7. Danny Brown – “Dip”. Brown has made himself known as the king of making very uncomfortable hip hop songs and this is honestly one of if not his most accessible song. But it’s so rapid and fast-paced and dizzying of a song that discusses the allure of ecstasy while making it sound (probably deliberately) so dirty and uncontrollable that it puts me off so many things at once and sort of resembles the infamous Elizabeth Pena sequence in Jacob’s Ladder in my mind.

8. “Bleed the Freak” by Alice in Chains. The lyrics really don’t hide how much the song holds accountable atrocities of religion and I don’t disagree with it, but this song sounds like the sort of thing you’d find in a cult… fuelled by this song some crazed maniac will slit your throat because he believes it’s the right thing to do and it is God’s will that he make you suffer. It makes me shiver like hell and it’s something I don’t want to think about when I’m going cave-diving or looking in places I shouldn’t be looking in.

9. “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol. Alright, it’s showtime. You’re locked in a room with only a handful of survivors left. You’re only exit is in the bloodied corridors behind your one door with the ghouls and monsters and fiends in your way. You need to fight your way out. What the fuck do you want playing as you struggle? That’s right. Billy Fucking Idol, baby. Get your blood pumping, your adrenaline running, and send ya ta Hell fast looking good!

10. “Hidden Place”by Bjork. Sure, it’s adorable like anything by Bjork, but it’s also kind of delusional. Like in any sort of danger, you can just lull yourself away and pretend your oppressors, the terrors aren’t there. There’s a true pessimism in making up your solution in your mind, while in the real world, you are about to be devastated. Like the twist ending of a movie having the character escape her horrors, only to discover after the fact that its a mental recession before she truly suffers (yeah, I know it’s the ending to a certain recent British horror movie… I’m not gonna name it though for the people who ain’t seen it.).

NOTE: I had so much trouble picking a song by Sponge, but the closest I almost came to was “Welcome Home”, which sounds semi-nightmarish in a 90s sort of way. I will leave it here.

Whelp, time to return to rambling on my next topic for 31NoH.

31 Nights of Halloween – 23 – The Creature Walks – Frankenstein (1931/dir. James Whale/USA)

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween.

Ok, you know what it is. I know what it is. We’re all totally knowing what it is.

The makeup, iconic in all its glory, with the shadow falling on the face from the protruding forehead and the sadness in the cheeks. The dark and stormy lightning bathing the ominous castle in the distance.

What terrors are held within the fiendish experiments of Dr. Henry Frankenstein? What perversions of nature have been occurring by his hand. Why?

In 1931, after Dracula proved a big hit – probably because audiences back then just couldn’t realize how to get creeped out, Carl Laemmle Jr. went off his head figuring to his dad “Hey, there’s a whole genre we can take advantage of. A whole film world we can make out of this monster business.” But they would have needed one more stepping stone to get themselves up from the “company that made a horror movie” zone to the “Universal is Halloween” zone. And for that, they once again looked to the popular literature of the time and were glad to take Mary Shelley’s modern prometheus Frankenstein and turn it into one of their damn movies.

Thankfully, that movie turned out fantastic and really did stamp Universal on the map as the source of true horror terrors lurking all through the Hollywood Studio System.

To the genre’s credit, not only were Dracula and Frankenstein not the first horror movies brought in Hollywood, they were also not the first horror films Universal Studios had made.

But anyway, after deciding to fast track Frankenstein onto the screen and decidedly loosely basing on the novel but sharing the same basic premise, the movie’s director’s chair was handed over to Robert Florey and, based on his success as the bloodsucking count, Bela Lugosi was himself slated to play the mad scientist who brought a living cadaver into the world. But, Lugosi proved one way or another to not entirely be as well-suited for the role as an English-speaking doctor as the producers wished and so they downgraded him to the part of the Monster which he balked at, due to Florey’s script not really handling any pathos or giving the Monster a true stance beyond being a killing machine, leading Lugosi to decry “I was a star in my country and I will not be a scarecrow here!” One way or another, sources disagree, but Florey and Lugosi both left the project.

After a few cleans on the script by Francis Edward Faragoh and Garrett Fort, we got a new script for two new power players in Hollywood horror to take charge of: The uncanny Boris Karloff in the green skin of the Monster and an eager James Whale to the director’s chair. What resulted is one of the most iconic films in horror cinema and certainly among the strongest film in the repertoire of Universal Studios’ monster films (only to be surpassed by its sequel).

But really, this is already at least twice I’ve been tooting the horn of how wonderfully goosebumps-inducing I find the classic Frankenstein film, so I think it is about high time I dig into what I find making it so special.

For the, y’know, uninitiated: Some creepy stuff is going on with Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), which concerns his mentor Waldman (Edward Van Sloan) and his fiancee Elizabeth (Mae Clarke). Frankenstein’s apparently been having an interest in raising humans bodies from death and has recruited a hunchbacked outcast in order to help him with his latest experiment in this Godlike endeavor, stealing cadavers and bodies and brains and working with the seasons in order to create a Monster out of the men who are among the dead.

It works. It is the most terrifying success story because of the philosophical, ethical, moral, and religious questions it raises upon his actions and also because the Monster (Boris Karloff) is pretty goddamn strong and it doesn’t seem like Frankenstein and his team can hold on to him for very much long, so it is up to Elizabeth and Waldman to bring Frankenstein back to sense soon enough to dispose of the creature before he causes any further havoc.

In all honesty, this sort of story lends itself to the actor playing Frankenstein to the center stage and prove himself as the best among the set. And, honestly, Clive doesn’t get enough credit – because he does it fantastically. He is the most engaged, the most dynamic, the most energetic performance in a film that includes Dwight Frye in the cast. Clive knows he’s at the core of the film and so he provides enough enthusiasm for his fiendish experiment to make us fear his outbursts and mania, but he still knows that he must remain the protagonist and never goes entirely so far as to make Dr. Frankenstein (in the book named Victor, rather than Henry) a cartoon or completely irredeemable. As for the regret and suffering that Henry has to go through in the later half of the film as he pursues the elimination of his work and questions where he stands in the world, it’s quite the balancing act to become a man of heightened posture and facial expressions and still carry the audience’s sympathies the entire way despite being the catalyst for the destruction and terror that occurs all throughout the movie. The guy’s not the monster, he’s human, and yet he can clearly enter the realm of protagonist and antagonist.

Of course, that has to be a double act – with an actor just as willing to switch roles alongside Clive in terms of audience engagement that leads to Karloff’s iconic and well-remembered performance, one which overshadows Clive’s still-goliath and respected work. Karloff doesn’t get to speak. He doesn’t get to do much with himself. He is a lumbering mass of being, accented by the melancholy of Jack Pierce’s impeccably inspired work of makeup on his face. And well, it only accents features we already noticed on Karloff without makeup. But there it is. And how does one deal with only movement and looks to tug at people’s heartstrings? Well, you make your character a child. But that’s easier said than done and Karloff effortlessly falls into the place of a man who is only now trying to figure out this life he suddenly had thrust upon him with the limited power of his brain.

The danger of the Monster mixed in with this unconscious lack of knowing leads to being a game way to switch sides from protagonist to antagonist in this dance Karloff does with Clive. I think, this movie brought that possibility out best and it seems there have been attempts to replicate more so than to approach the material of the dynamics between the doctor and Monster in any further way (most recently, it showcased baldly during a Royal National Theatre run of Frankenstein as a stageplay directed by Danny Boyle and with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch switching roles per night as either Dr. Frankenstein or the Monster).

As for the use of expressionism in the shadow drenched lairs of the film, it should be very obvious that Frankenstein elicits it moreso than Dracula with the painterly direction of James Whale providing a backdrop for the battle between Frankenstein and the Monster with the help of his Arthur Eddeson. When the Monster is locked in the castle and the men of science are deciding what to do with him, the walls literally feel like they’re closing in as the Monster shakes and tries to free himself into the light from moon. The very ending of the film, which I don’t think I should spoil on the off chance that you haven’t seen the movie, but it’s straight the fuck out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – a world in anger, a chase, a struggle, a look of fear on our protagonists, all spiraling towards a grandiose climax of fire and night. And I can’t even begin to touch upon the more emotive scenes out of context – like the infamous Maria and her encounter with the creature (how the creature, like Frankenstein, does not realize he has done something terribly wrong until it is too late) or the moments of Fritz’s gleeful torture of the creature where it’s clear sadism is in the midst.

It’s not the most perfect film, but I can’t think of a better way someone could have heralded what sound cinema could have done to shock audiences with content rather than screams and gore like it does today (not that I’m complaining about the latter). And all and all, I can’t not once in a while find myself indulging in the simplicity if still flawed form of storytelling that is the movie Frankenstein. Whether I prefer it to the book is kind of another story that I haven’t yet solved the ending to, but the movie still shakes me up when we first get our glimpse of that poor unfortunate soul in the doorway doomed to change lives forever – both in the film and off the screen.

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 10 – Ten for Ten – Favorite pre-1973 Horror Films

I’m very sorry. My sister, who was publishing these pre-drafted posts in my absence as I was taking a brief respite upstate without my computer, accidentally posted the wrong article first and then forgot to post the second one the next night. I provide Article 10 of Movie Motorbreath, promise to be more careful next time (as will she, who is very apologetic) and promise a unique installment in 31 Nights of Halloween by the afternoon today for Night 12. Just when I was ready to get this shit back together, it gets out of control again. It’s my first time… Thanks for your patience.

-STinG

This was about a year ago, but the Film Experience had two little list challenges for their contributors about horror pictures, dividing them in classifications of classic (before and during The Exorcist) and modern (after The Exorcist). I don’t know why the fuck they chose The Exorcist, but ok, I’m game and I decided to participate on my own… partly because lists are fun and largely because I’m not on my computer and my sister is posting this pre-arranged article for me. Sorry to cheat you guys out like that, but I wanna keep on schedule (despite how late my posts arrive), so here we go with my choice for my favorite ten horror films before and during 1973.

10. Godzilla (1954/dir. Ishiro Honda/USA)
For being the beginning of the modern kaiju picture and the heights that it would never reach again.
9. Freaks (1932/dir. Tod Browning/USA)
For the idea of a monster right on its head and still reaching out as completely humane despite its cynicism and anger.
8. Rosemary’s Baby (1968/dir. Roman Polanski/USA)
Intruding on domestic paradise with paranoia, deceit and violation… and the irony that it came out of Roman Polanski’s lens of all people.
7. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919/dir. Robert Wiene/Germany)
For making you feel just a little tipsy, for making things seem not like they should, for still frightening you in the eyes of Cesare and then confirming all your suspicions.
 
6. The Wicker Man (1973/dir. Robin Hardy/UK)For being both a criticism of culture and rejection of culture.

5. Psycho (1960/dir. Alfred Hitchcock/USA)
For having Hitchcock do what he does best… Change film’s playing field.

4. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935/dir. James Whale/USA)For helping itself to all different sorts of genres and elements of Whale’s life and Shelley’s story to create one of the most unique tales of horror ever gracing the screen.

3. Night of the Living Dead (1968/dir. George Romero/USA)
For eschewing too much gore and marrying the horror of ideas into the real shocker of the century.

2. Faust (1926/dir. F.W. Murnau/Germany)
Because it gave one of the greatest filmmakers who ever lived one more chance to change a genre’s standing and he did it so beautifully with one of my favorite tales that it almost made me cry.

And number 1

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943/dir. Maya Deren/USA)
See for yourself…

Until then… see you tomorrow with the next list…

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 11 – The Other Ten – Top Ten post-1973 Horror Films

Maybe this will show I’m much less classically inclined than I like to paint myself, but honestly here is where I completely had trouble making my list as opposed to yesterday where I just picked the horror films that affected me most profoundly. But The Film Experience commands (other bloggers who are not me) and I follow up.

But before I do… I would like to at least address the many movies I considered for this post-1973 Horror Movie list that just didn’t make the cut…

HONORABLE MENTIONS

  

Inland Empire (2006/dir. David Lynch/USA)
Videodrome (1983/dir. David Cronenberg/Canada)
The Vanishing (1988/dir. George Sluzier/Netherlands)
The Evil Dead (1981/dir. Sam Raimi/USA)
The Thing (1982/dir. John Carpenter/USA)
The Descent (2005/dir. Neil Marshall/UK)
The Shining (1980/dir. Stanley Kubrick/USA)
The Beyond (1981/dir. Lucio Fulci/Italy)
Phantom of the Paradise (1974/dir. Brian De Palma/USA)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974/dir. Tobe Hooper/USA)

10. Suspiria (1977/dir. Dario Argento/Italy)
For playing with the sensibilities of a child in fear and painting it in bold saturation.

9. Dawn of the Dead (1978/dir. George Romero/USA)
For being the funniest little piece of satire while being the most disturbing little piece of isolation.

8. Evil Dead II (1987/dir. Sam Raimi/USA)
For being the funniest, the scariest and the most ridiculous all at the same time… Three Stooges Halloween edition.

7. Eraserhead (1977/dir. David Lynch/USA)
For telling me more about the darker psychology of filmmaking than hamfisted dialogue could.

6. Mulholland Dr. (2001/dir. David Lynch/USA)
Because fuck Hollywood, David Lynch goes fiddy tho!

5. Alien (1979/dir. Ridley Scott/USA)
For violating the audience sadistically, gleefully and where no one can hear us scream…

4. House (1977/dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi/Japan)
For being the most adorably creepy and relentlessly exciting ghost story put together by a 13-year-old

2. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992/dir. Francis Ford Coppola/USA)
Because I totally forgive it.

and number one…

Jaws (1975/dir. Steven Spielberg/USA)
Because it’s Twin Peaks with a shark instead of a killer.

I promise to be back tomorrow.

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 9 – Look What Your God Has Done to Me – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992/dir. Francis Ford Coppola/USA)

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. Dracula Untold is right at the gates of the fortress, preparing to unleash its bile on the already tarnished legacy of the tale. Is there anybody who can save us from the curse of Dracula that is not Hammer Films? Well, there is, but it’s not even close to perfect enough for mopping up the mess. It’ll just do.

Once upon a time, Francis Ford Coppola was a titan of filmmaking. At the top of the world, the director of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, the Palme d’Or winners The Conversation and the anarchic Apocalypse Now and heading the 70s bad boy auteurs straight out of UCLA and USC. But that is a time well enough long past by the time we reach the era of the movie we are about to hit up. See, like Icarus, Coppola had supposedly went too high over budget and over schedule with his wild dreams as an artist in the infamous production of Apocalypse Now. He didn’t very much clear the financial hurdle so much as just trip over it and he didn’t learn his lesson of caution with that movie.

One from the Heart in 1982 was almost as much too tall a Tower of Babel as Apocalypse Now and this time its financial bombing came crashing down to topple Coppola’s company American Zoetrope – once a beacon of light to new filmmakers looking to create art instead of a business. To add insult to injury, most of the techniques in One from the Heart went on to being fundamentals of film stylization, just the sort of profound innovator of film Coppola liked to fashion himself as. But at what cost, Lois?! AT WHAT COST?! Well, the cost of filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and being laughed at by every critic in the country. Zoetrope was ruined.

But these are stories for another time, same as all the films in between 1982 and 1992 where Coppola became the whipping boy of many a film studio to pay off the debts necessary to keep Zoetrope afloat. Most of these films became failures outright until 1990 when Coppola found himself somewhat back in the consideration of his peers with the return to his magnum opus the Godfather films and, though I personally am disappointed with The Godfather Part III in more ways than one, the movie succeeded financially and critically at the time and made Coppola return to figuring out just maybe one more passion project for himself to really let out his being through film like he once did through Apocalypse Now and The Conversation.

Then came the day that Winona Ryder approached Coppola with a script for an adaptation of Dracula as an olive branch for declining to appear in The Godfather Part III (although it led to one of the most atrocious performances reluctantly put on screen by Sofia Coppola, I can’t really blame Winona for such a good call). Recalling how at one point when he was a camp counselor, he would read Dracula for all the children of the night to sleep to (Questionable approach, but again, I’m the guy who grew up on Sin City and Tales from the Crypt) and figured “why not?”. He knew the potential of it as an epic like Carl Laemmle Jr. didn’t get to make. He wasn’t some noise junkie like Stephen Sommers. He knew how to make pictures. Or at least, he used to know, he just had to get himself back in the gears.

Well, let me be clear, I will start a glowing review about all the wonders of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but first we need to understand that it’s not even close to perfect. And I probably in fact do not need to tell you that when I start reviewing the movie. Most of my friends who I showed it to have had either a mixed reaction or a negative reception towards it. There was never anyone in my peers as enthusiastic about the film as I was, except maybe a girl I was with a few years ago. On one hand, it is a bit dismaying and alienating. On the other, if you want someone to showcase all the shining examples gleaming in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I think you’ve come to no better person than yours truly, the Movie Motorbreath. Let’s get started.

And to begin with, the main intention of Coppola with this film was realizing there really wasn’t a very faithful adaptation to Bram Stoker’s Dracula – from Universal to Hammer to all the other stuff that’s been floating on by. They never really stuck entirely to the story as Stoker told it. A lot got close, but they’d usually dilute details understandably. Coppola wanted to make this movie completely ripped from the pages of the book.

Let’s get things straight: A faithful adaptation does make a good movie. It makes a faithful adaptation. That’s it. A movie stands on its own merit. Most people have a problem realizing that in regards to any film, that the two mediums do not entirely suit each other and sometimes you need to accommodate. I know for a fact that fucked up Universal’s Dracula to go ahead and just about For instance, The Thin Man, fine fine fine book but it’s the only Dashiell Hammett work I had to work through. Add the cadence of William Powell and Myrna Loy, despite its third act deviations, The Thin Man as a movie is a classic of screwball and murder mystery works. Vice versa, we got Stephen King’s The Shining. While the book was actually a pretty fascinating piece on personal demons, the miniseries in general falls short of scares or any real emotional impact.

The best adaptations to me, keep the essence of the source material while either enhancing the themes or perspective or actually making a new one. And surprisingly, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is willing to do that all over the edges of the story. James Hart’s script applies the character to his real-life historical roots and inspirations, namely in the form of Vlad the Impaler, which mixes mythology with a more involving grounding now. It does however use dialogue that merits only the highest classification of acting (and I guess Coppola couldn’t reign that kind of acting in, but more on that later). In addition, there’s a lot more of a sixth sense within watching the picture… if that makes sense (and it really doesn’t since you can only hear and see movies)…

Let me fix it then, unlike the Universal film, there is a dynamic aura within the film. You know what you are meant to feel and have no trouble feeling it because the movie has no problem with grabbing you by your arms and tossing you about. Namely there’s a more erotic and sensual basis within the story (I hope Coppola was not reading to the kids like that). The movie brings out more of the violent sexuality in Dracula to attack Mina and Lucy and even Jonathan Harker with and that’s not exactly a terrible thing. It’s just a lot more evoking, a lot more provocative, and when it comes with a story like Dracula, a horror story, you need a reaction from audiences – that is the point of horror storytelling.

You see, just to quickly go over the story, Vlad the Impaler (Oldman) is a 1400s bad mother in war who returns to find his wife (Ryder) has killed herself after the Turks vengefully sent her a letter claiming to have killed Vlad. When the clergy insists that Vlad’s love has been damned for her suicide, Vlad renounces God and swears to remain on this earth as a human plague.
Fast forward to 1897 and Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) has been sent to complete a sale of land in London to Count Dracula’s home in Transylvania. Even a child can tell Dracula is Vlad immortal. Vlad sees Jonathan’s fiancee Mina (Ryder again) in a picture of his and immediately obsesses to the point of imprisoning Harker in his castle and heading straight for London, causing many strange and unnerving events to happen. Jonathan escapes and joins Abraham Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) and company, who by this point have begun their fight to save Mina’s soul and stop Dracula, in the process avenging a damned beloved.

Anyway, how we get to that ability of evocation is the most marvelous part about the movie. Coppola believed that in the presence of a vampire, things essentially don’t make sense. Vampires should not exist and don’t exist, so when you have to deal with one… the rules of the world change. You get more of a misunderstanding about the atmosphere. And how much more – I don’t want to say subtle because it’s usually right in front of the screen but… – poetic for him to do so than through avant-garde methods reminiscent of the techniques of Murnau and Dreyer. It’s a gigantic toybox of on-camera tricks, like multiple exposure, angles, film reversal, perspective shooting, lens, filters, you name it all, Coppola pulls out of his bag.

We all know how much I am a fucking sucker for practical effects when done right. The process of planning and performing the effects as well as the ambition necessary to go ahead with it makes me admire practical effects a world more than CGI admittedly (and I like CGI too when done right). Coppola brings us back into the world of the story by not just stating we are in Transylvania in the very balance between the 1800s and the 1900s, but by pulling us in with his archaic visual sensibility which is quite frankly a joy to look at. It’s a silent picture except it gets to use sound. It is especially unnerving in the Transylvania scenes, where physics goes completely wonky. Shadows move by themselves, liquids drip upwards, rats scrawl wherever they damn well please and these moments are just inexplicable except that a vampire is in the midst, beware. And each act has its own style (though admittedly the third act is the most generic of them all) – The very prologue going over Vlad’s heinous deeds at war is basically a bunraku shadowplay… the Transylvanian moments feel like a more fleshed out Nosferatu, the intimate scenes between Dracula and Mina is a tragic romance largely lit by candles…

But that’s only part of the visual aesthetic, lovingly captured warmly in a crisp nostalgic brown rot in Transylvania, a black nightly abyss with blue tangents in London’s night scenes by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and then arranged at the most precise order by editors Nicholas C. Smith, Glen Scantlebury & Anne Goursaud, marrying the trippy aspects of the film with the patience of a bedtime story for the doomed. The movie begins by taking its time laying the groundwork that by the first half ends, you’re ready to fight and then, once Van Helsing steps in, the movie raises through setpiece after setpiece of intended moments of reasoning and action. It finds itself skipping over stuff, but we’re really eager in the end to see who will win: Dracula or the humans. And here’s the rub, the script goes the right way of arranging sympathy for both characters without dismissing who is good and who is evil. That’s pretty solid by me.

And these setpieces are magnificent, ripped right out of a Cocteau film. The castle of Dracula is a nightmare of Escher arrangements and crypt-like decadence, a seemingly endless labyrinth of dungeons of stone, while London is imposingly aristocratic, civilized and stuffily Victorian. Nevermind the arena-like arrangement in the snowy gates of Transylvania where the final battle is staged.

Toss inside some frightening makeup that turns Dracula from a human pillar of ash to a very sexy Victorian rock star to an exaggerated anthropomorphic bat and all of the above, plus career-best work by legendary Eiko Ishioda in costume design, ingraining her personality and background of Japanese influences to add to the conglomerative whirlwind that makes Bram Stoker‘s Dracula the shellshock of worlds that it is and we end up with essentially the single most expressionistic piece of filmmaking past the 1950s. And holy shit am I happy with that. I have friends who say it’s basically Coppola on Apocalypse Now excessive ambition and my response to that is “You may be right? But so what?” It works. It gets you understanding the moods and tones and forcefeeds it to you and you swallow it and get involved. Coppola himself wanted the film too look like a great big painting or dressing or decoration for what he insisted were the “jewels” of the feature.

And unfortunately that’s where the film sort of has its weakness.

What Coppola failed to realize was that the acting in Bram Stoker’s Dracula is… pretty godawful, I gotta say. Or maybe he did realize it and for the most part only took what he could get. Or maybe we just have to face the fact that 80s-Present Coppola is fucking terrible at directing actors (and the 70s were a fluke for him) as opposed to just creating visual atmosphere. Whatever the case, a lot of the moments are either dented or damaged (depending on your perspective) by the extremely faulty acting. First off, if they weren’t Gary Oldman, Tom Waits or they weren’t doing their own accent like Richard Grant was, they all sound ridiculous. I can’t put a finger on what the fuck Hopkins’ accent is meant to be, Reeves is just laughably not even capable of a Transatlantic and Bill Campbell is a fucking stereotype of Slim Pickens proportions with his accent. Then there’s the fact that what these actors are discussing at many moments, the lines that would come out of their mouths is very imperative to the situation at hand in the story, but they kind of let it slide down and then overact unessential lines. Like for instance, when Dr. Seward (Grant), Arthur Holmwood (Cary Elwes), and Quincy Morris (Campbell) are discussing the symptoms of Lucy Westerna (Sadie Frost, who is quite alluring all throughout the movie) with Van Helsing, they don’t really show any real concern. They show excitement, they’re not wooden, but they’re talking about it like it’s just a simple science lesson when they should be as urgent as Mulder and Scully in an episode of The X-Files.

In the meantime, an earlier moment where the three men would be courting Lucy, a scene which is essential as background noise and subtle progression of character relationships but still inconsequential to the main story, they’d all be acting like they were putting their heart on their sleeve… If their heart was made of felt and not actually beating… A lot of these actors are not entirely certain where their characters stand in the film. But they can still at least provide stock grounding. Tom Waits doesn’t need to, but he’s still quite a joy to behold as the insane Renfield in a more 90s darkness tone. Gary Oldman goes as far as he can go to be diabolical and broken at the same time without hamming it up like he sometimes does deliberately with performances in Leon or The Fifth Element. For the horrible horrible inconsistency in his accent, Anthony Hopkins has not yet begun phoning it in like he has been doing in films as of late. He’s got just enough crazy in him along with wise to be a curious little presence in the film.

But how about that crowning jewel of all of the fuck-ups?

People expect me to say Keanu Reeves, but I’m honestly unsurprised by how bad he was. He certainly hurts the film more than anyone else and is definitely not qualified for this role if not his career (I won’t immediately say he is the worst actor around – shit, James Franco exists – but he’s not making it easy). The person I am most disappointed with is Winona Ryder as Elisabeta and Mina. She puts on the same face and hams up her moments with Oldman’s Dracula, and that would be maybe excusable for a few of the supporting characters (though not really, since acting is an essential part of the storytelling of film and the actors do have a responsibility to pull into the world of Dracula)… but Mina is the center of this arc between Jonathan and Dracula and she needs to sell herself being torn apart. Ryder is not up to it, she hits one exact note on her performance and stops there, refusing to go further. It makes it all the more painful to hear this heightened language that she needs to act like it’s coming straight form her heart and jamming it into her throat… It’s not heart-wrenching, it’s cringe-inducing for fuck’s sake Wino!

Like imagine Kristen Stewart reciting Shakespeare. That’s how Winona feels as Mina. And if the movie just about is dented by most of the acting, Winona’s terrible job outright tears the foundation of the romantic storyline and nearly undos all of the hard work the crew did to surround you with this fantasy world and make it seem real and get you involved in how our characters are going. It’s sadly up to the discretion of the audience in the end to decide to hold it together or not.

Me, I choose to hold it together. The world looks too fantastic, too beautiful to let it go down to the toilet. Coppola has come too far for one more hurrah and I kind of was eager to give it to him, so it wasn’t out of my way to put in a little more suspension of disbelief and when I look at the film, rather than listen to it… the fog… the light balls… the cemeteries… the castles… the rose… all around… it pays off to me in the end.

To put it more basically, when the actors are not the main reason to look at the screen, it’s like my wildest dreams come true. When the acting is at the forefront and neither Waits nor Oldman are there to save it too much, I can live without it. But, you have to take the good with the bad and in the end, Bram Stoker’s Dracula proves to be one of the only two adaptations of Dracula yet that actually pleases and entertains as a picture as much as it should. And if Coppola’s career had to descend afterwards (and it did), I can’t think of no better way to go out than through the complete explosion of auteur intuition he once had.

31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 8 – It Sucks – Dracula (1931/prod. Carl Laemmle Jr./USA)

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. It’s still the week Dracula Untold is slated to be released and I figured it may as well be necessary to look at the original monster flick this movie is attached to reboot and see just how high the bar is for Dracula Untold to have to clear it. My low expectations for Dracula Untold aside, it’s barely knee-high…

Wow, was my title a bit too blunt? Did it really frighten you more than anything that happened in Dracula (which isn’t saying much)? Do you expect to just spout out “It insists itself” as my excuse as most of you are perplexed at my attitude?

Let me help you ease into this, then. When I was a child, I was obsessed with the Universal Monsters. I really liked seeing their design and was excited to see anyone of them. I know for a fact that was only because of how classic their status is than any real recognition of standard in the film. Van Helsing eventually hyped this up to 11 and since that led to me finally purchasing Dracula at the first chance I get, there’s another reason to hate on Dracula irregardless of its content.

But I swear my dislike for Dracula is for its content and, while it at least kept me up to finish the extremely short movie (at 75 minutes) the first time I watched it, it got boring and boring and slower and slower to me with each viewing. But again, I was just a high schooler, I couldn’t put my finger on what made me more square than any of the other kids who were not exactly watching Dracula but instead living into The Grudge and The Ring with the new wave of J-horror that was still surging strongly in young American audiences.

Move on to me going to college, I’m finally learning tricks of the trade realizing, holy crap, by 30s standards, Dracula is a really amateur production. Disturbing from one of the heads of Universal studio at the realm, with one of the greatest cinematographers in film history, Karl Freund (’cause y’know German expressionism is never a joke), and a veteran master of direction Tod Browning. But here we are with a very very watered down sense of storytelling people better than this? And it probably would suggest that the movie was made as a quick buck, but it really ain’t.

Carl Laemmle Jr., son of the head of Universal Studios at the time Carl Laemmle Sr., got a greenlight to produce an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s book, but they really found that they weren’t going to be able to capture the epic quality of the book’s inherent battle og good vs. evil because of the Great Depression greatly depressing them out of making a huge picture.

Luckily they found a solution in the form of a stage production of Dracula that was scripted by Hamilton Deane. They simply adapted the book’s story through the stageplay and began using limited sets, save for opening with a prologue that takes place in Transylvania that the stage production neglected to adapt from the book. The fact that the stageplay did not have this moment in the book actually is the first sign that I would have gotten that this script they were translating instead of the book was inadequate for filmmaking. Or really telling any story at all.

Remember when I called Nosferatu the second most diluted watered-down telling of Dracula in history? Say hello to number one! And at least Murnau was just trying to avoid being sued.

You see, Dracula as a story is supposed to be a sweeping grand spanning the globe as Dracula proves to be an immortal evil now terrorizing London requiring a team of individuals to actively pursue him and defeat him. Underneath that epic quality is meant to be a critique on sexuality in conservative London and particularly an honestly pretty misogynist but still interesting filter on the sexual awakening of women in an era where men like Stoker and others insist that it would bring out evil and invite harm to the woman.

Deane’s script did away with all that and just wanted to get from plot point to plot point in the most shortest way possible. And it is not even a quarter as effective. The Transylvania prologue inserted in by screenwriter Garrett Fort actually starts off pretty promising, with moments of exposition that I can’t imagine being translated beyond boring dialogue in the one-set stage production. Then, after some dread setting in by locals of Transylvania, our initial surrogate into the story Renfield (Dwight Frye) meets with Dracula (Bela Lugosi) to discuss the purchase of land – taking place in the single great set of the film a giant staircase of gossamer cobwebs that seems to disappear into interior fog – and the story really begins…

You don’t need me to talk about Lugosi. You know how Lugosi is. He is the only damn reason this movie is near as influential as it is, his Dracula bringing about such suaveness, such alluring exoticism in his manner and restraint, that even if he’s not your favorite Dracula, Lugosi is the one that you will always remember first. He did to that role what Sean Connery did to James Bond. Lugosi was brought in from the stage production (one of two actors to have been brought into the film from production, the other being Edward Van Sloan as Abraham Van Helsing) and that wasn’t a bad thought. I mean, sure, it would probably be considered camp today, but it’s still miles ahead of most of the other actors who either have absolutely no emotive performance in them and prove to sink the movie lower to just being a boring little film.

Anyway, the movie eventually gets to London and two major things happen to the movie: One, the movie begins to just descend into static scenes where nothing actually happens on-screen to progress the plot and everybody who is not Van Sloan, Frye or Lugosi would just drone out lines while the three actors themselves would have to devour the scenery until they were engorged to the point of bursting to avoid the movie making people fall asleep. Every once in a while, there’d be something resembling the sort of fights I’d expect a retirement home to stage for its residents, like Dracula just slapping a mirror down or Van Sloan holding up a cross and Dracula bailing. But really nothing worth a damn happens on account of the other actors and moments even feel unnecessary by losing their purpose – Lucy is just the first kill (and if I can recall Dracula’s only kill) while there’s comic relief in the form of a maid and a mental hospital guard that… well, the less said about them the better. The less said about any actors who aren’t Lugosi, Van Sloan, or Frye, the better. None of them are worth mentioning.

The movie’s shooting style in the generic English manor that only is next to a mental hospital because the dialogue mentions it and that stands in for London rather than any really iconic imagery that would show London’s character is actually just making the terribly acted second half a lot worse. It is uninvolving and static and it feels like I am watching it on a tv screen because there is nothing to bring me into this artificial world. It’s just too empty, too useless. It is the most uninspired work Browning has ever done and we know it’s because Browning was too busy getting hammered, mourning the death of his close friend Lon Chaney, Sr. The poor workmanship of these scenes gets me to thinking that Karl Freund, who we know had to direct some scenes, was in charge entirely of the fantastic Transylvania opening. Also there’s how pretty badly edited the film is (I swear they use the same shots of Van Sloan and Lugosi nodding twice each), and like I said, these scenes are so empty, you could probably mix and match an order, though it’d be better of if you just deleted every frame and started over. This doesn’t cut it, guys.

The other thing that happens is that Frye proves to be a better actor than Lugosi, being a wide-eyed creep who affects my goosebumps significantly more than Lugosi playing off being the Most Interesting Man in the 1930s. Because honestly the only thing threatening about Lugosi is what he says with his Hungarian air, but Frye’s giggles alone in his madness becomes the real shivers-maker. Due to the terrible editing, there’s some moments where we could do without him, but hey, anything to keep my mind off of how lazy the film feels.

Somehow, someway, the movie sees fit to get to the conclusion of the film where Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker, and Mina see fit to go ahead and jump Dracula where he sleeps. The movie goes through its final cinematic crimes, particularly refusing to show us the staking we were all waiting for and making these characters look like they’re passing by the same underground arch over and over and over and making expert Van Helsing look lost, before the movie finally figures out that its finished, with myself sitting down thinking “I feel cheated out of 75 minutes. I could have done taxes or laundry or something. Fuck!”

Anyway, I don’t know why they thought this would pass as a movie. It wouldn’t even pass as a stageplay. It’s droll, it’s boring and when it feels like the silent film Nosferatu says more than your SOUND film Dracula, you need to feel like you’ve done something wrong. It’s lucky it actually has the horror legacy you got out of Lugosi’s coattails and being alongside better classics like Bride of FrankensteinFrankensteinThe Mummy and The Wolf Man, because this movie doesn’t deserve it. (which really doesn’t help Lugosi anyway – Lugosi’s career was famously barren past Dracula, with one return to the role and occasional bit parts, save for the end of his life where he was used in Ed Wood’s pictures… yeah, you know which ones.) Your movie is bad and you should feel bad.

Ok, I’m drained now.