Dracula: Prince of…..Slashers?

October 20, 2010

Every Friday night this month, cable channel Turner Classic Movies has been running three or four Hammer horror films. Thanks to this gift of programming, I’ve been able to catch up on a lot of stuff from the venerable British studio’s catalog that I haven’t seen before, including several of its Dracula flicks and some stand-alone stuff like The Gorgon. I was closing out this past weekend with a look at Dracula: Prince of Darkness when I began to think that something about it was feeling very familiar, but for all the wrong reasons. I knew I hadn’t seen the movie before, and it was playing out differently from the other Hammer Dracula flicks I’d seen. It wasn’t until a half-hour or so into the movie that I nailed it, a revelation that continued to strengthen as the rest of the movie unspooled.

I was watching a slasher film.

It was one particular scene that really brought it home for me, but afterwards I could see that the movie’s very set-up was straight out of Slasher 101. Two couples are vacationing together, travelling the world in order to “broaden their minds” when they find themselves stranded in a remote location near a castle that the locals won’t even acknowledge exists. Cirsumstances lead them right through the front doors of the castle, where they find no people but an otherwise welcoming atmosphere, complete with lit candles and a table set for four. As they stand around debating what to do, one of the men decides to head upstairs – alone- to check things out. And that, as we all know, is a big no-no.

Actually, the guy gets away with it, mainly because his friend promptly joins him in his search. They are soon joined by a hulking man-servant who offers a half-hearted explanation for the mysterious welcome they’ve received, and the four take to it willingly enough, sitting down to enjoy a fine meal before heading off to bed. There’s one suspicious voice among them, a shrewish gal who’s been complaining the whole movie (and, according to another characer, the whole trip), but her concerns fall on deaf ears.

That night, the shrew’s husband repeats Slasher Movie No-No #1, wandering into the strange house alone to investigate some noise or other, actually folllowing the noise into the basement, and this time he pays for it via what appears to be an ice pick in the back. If that ain’t slasher, I don’t know what is.

This turn of events eventually leads to Dracula’s resurrection, something I figured would bring a halt to the slasher movie formula, but the similiarities continue to pile up. Most surprising is that Dracula is portrayed this go-round as a mute killer. Christopher Lee doesn’t utter a word as the Count, instead doing his best Jason Voorhees/Michael Myers impersonation, popping up out of dark places with savage suddenness before disappearing into the shadows again.

The ending comes straight out of slasher lore, too, as our heroes (including the one character who knows all the villain’s secrets, a’ la Dr. Loomis) confront Dracula. There’s a battle, and at the end of the battle the heroes walk away triumphantly, convinced that they’ve vanquished the evil – so convinced, in fact, that they don’t bother to check the body. Hmmm….now where have we seen that before, and how did it work out?

I don’t know if any of the filmmakers behind early slasher classics like Black Christmas or Halloween have seen Dracula: Prince of Darkness, but if so I think they may have been influenced by it. And yes, many of the things mentioned here are staples of all horror, not just slasher films, but the beats here play out so much in tune with so many slasher movies it’s a hard comparison to avoid. The choices made – especially that of removing all the seductive charm of the Count, who I fully expected to have a field day wooing the two lovely ladies n his castle – make for a very different Dracula movie than most.

I’m telling you – if you could have thrown a hockey mask on Christopher Lee, put a machete in his hand, and upped the body count into the teens, you’d have a fine entry in the Friday the 13th series here. As it is, it’s a curious but thoroughly entertaining bit of Hammer history. Thans, TCM, for giving me a chance to see it.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the trailer:


Freddy’s New Nightmare

May 4, 2010


Caught the Nightmare on Elm Street remake today and, much like the remakes that have come before it, I find myself liking some things and not caring for others. When Nightmare 2010 was trying to be its own thing, it did pretty well. When it was trying to walk in its forefather’s footsteps, however, it tripped.

Robert Englund as old school Krueger circa 1984.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen some of the iconic moments the new version tries to recreate from the original, such as Freddy’s gloved hand emerging from Nancy’s bathtub…while Nancy is also in the tub. That’s a straight lift from the original, as is the scene where a ghostly Krueger bends a wall to his will. Neither of these is executed as well as they were in the original, and were really unnecessary to begin with – there are some clever nods to such scenes later in the film (remember Freddy’s tongue licking Nancy through the phone? This time he does it in person, and it’s even ickier than the first time) that work better because they aren’t exact duplicates.

The movie does play with Freddy’s backstory a little more, and while I like what they were going for – hinting that Krueger may not have been guilty of everything his killers believed – it was brought down by ham-handed execution. The kids quickly jump to the conclusion that the accusations they made against Freddy when they were little were made up, and then just as quickly discover that, no, the parents were right and Fred was a perv. That could have been drawn out a little longer and been more effective.

Jackie Early Haley as Freddy 2.0.

Those things aside, though, let’s talk about Freddy. I was worried about anyone other than Robert Englund wielding the glove…until they hired Jackie Earl Haley. Haley brings a sick, twisted sense of sleeze to the character that Englund was just too charming to manage. Don’t get me wrong, Englund still owns the part, but Jackie has brought us a new version that I hope to see a lot more of.

That’s right. I liked this enough to want more. While it was, like all the Platinum Dune remakes thus far, maybe a little too slick and polished to really capture the spirit of the original, I think this one has come closest so far. The nightmares could be a little more surreal, the characters a little more fleshed out, and there could be less reliance on the jump scares, but all in all this new Nightmare holds its own against a pretty tough standard.

(For the record, the movie geek in me really got all fired up when a character named Quentin used a needle full of adrenaline straight to the heart to wake up another character – just like John Travolta did in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Nice.)

Dracula’s Soul Brother

February 2, 2010

I just finished my first viewing of Blacula, and I had to share the love. This is one of those great ’70s flicks that provides both unintentional laughs and a few effective scares, all wrapped up in one great, camp-filled package. William Marshall owns the screen as Mamuwalde, an African prince from the 1800s who seeks out the original Count Dracula’s help in ending the slave trade. Instead, he discovers that the Count is all but a card-carrying member of the KKK. Dracula offers to buy Mamuwalde’s wife, then turns his minions loose on the prince and his bride. Just before sealing them into a vault, Dracula bites Mamuwalde and curses him with both an eternal lust for blood and the nickname “Blacula” in a scene you can see in the trailer below:

Naturally, Mamuwalde is resurrected years later, and pursues a woman who appears to be his reincarnated wife. With a name like Blacula  you might expect a heaping helping of crude stereotypes, but with the exception of a couple of gay antique dealers, that’s mostly held in check. What you will find is a movie that’s surprisingly effective in places. Marshall is an intense, intimidating presence on screen, and when he goes into full vampire mode his eyebrows rival those of fellow ’70s stud Dean Stockwell. All in all I had a great time with this flick, and can’t wait to hunt down the sequel, Scream Blacula Scream.

Now, from a bonafide ’70s success to one that appears to capture the look and feel of what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite film decades. I’m posting a trailer for a movie that I’ve just recently heard about, The House of the Devil. Set in the ’80s, the film apparently uses film techniques and technology from the late ’70s/early ’80s, and is played as straight-up horror. It’s out on DVD this week, and I can’t wait to see it. Here’s a taste:

‘The Wolfman’ cometh

February 2, 2010

I’ve been wanting to write a post for several days now, but things have been busy. I’ve been wanting to let you know about the new short story I’m writing, and about the new reviews (Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror Vol. 3, Under the Dome) that’ll be popping up over the next couple of weeks, about the interviews I’ve been running over on my Examiner.com blog, but there’s just been no time. I’ll get to all that, but not today.

Today, inspired by the interview I’m working on with Jonathan Maberry, who has written the novelization of the upcoming remake of The Wolfman, I thought I’d share the movie’s trailer with you. So here it is:

The Wolfman somehow became the battleground over the last year or so for the practical effects vs. CGI argument that’s been raging ever since Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I’m typically a pro-practical guy, but I’m not against the careful use of computer graphics to augment the final effect. But all of that is beside the point – what I want from The Wolfman is a taste of good old-fashioned Hammer-style horror, with a dash of the contemporary thrown in. I plan on seeing this one as soon as I can, and I’ll let you know if it fills my particular bill.

2009: The Year in (Motion) Pictures

December 31, 2009

I watched a lot of movies in 2009. I don’t know if it’s a record number for me, but it feels like it. For one thing, I had the chance to hit the theaters quite a bit this year, and got to see more new release movies in the proper setting than I have in a while. Netflix and a couple of HD movie channels offered by my cable company helped pad the list as well.

Below, for posterity’s sake, is a list of every movie I watched this year. Following the list is my own personal Top Ten. I should mention that, unlike most yearly Top Ten lists, I don’t restrict mine to movies released in the corresponding year. If it was new to me this year, it was eligible for the list.

So, without further ado….my 2009 in moving pictures:

What I Watched (In the order I watched them…)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Friday the 13th Part VII: New Blood
Ocean’s 11
Ocean’s 12
Ocean’s 13
The Fall
Friday the 13th (Uncut)
Burn After Reading
His Name Was Jason
Friday the 13th 3-D Deluxe Edition
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The Dark Knight
Friday the 13th (2009)
Pineapple Express
The Midnight Meat Train
Black Sunday
The Green Mile
The Human Tornado
Isle of the Dead
Groundhog Day
Two Minute Warning
Diary of the Dead
Saw IV
The Mist (B&W)
Let The Right One In
Reservoir Dogs
Blow Out
Ghost World
The Incredible Hulk
The X-Files: I Want To Believe
Synecdoche, New York
Return of the Living Dead
The Wrestler
Pineapple Express
The Strangers
In Bruges
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
A Nightmare On Elm Street
12 Monkeys
Star Trek (2009)
The Illusionist
Flesh & Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror
True Romance
Silence of the Lambs
Born on the Fourth of July
Back to the Future
Black Sabbath
Terminator: Salvation
Raging Bull
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Friday the 13th Part 2
Drag Me To Hell
Friday the 13th (2009)
The Driller Killer
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Role Models
Mystery of the Nile
Friday the 13th Part 3-D
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Runaway Jury
Big Fish
Five Across the Eyes
The Shawshank Redemption
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Sin City (Recut & Extended)
Gran Torino
The 40 Year Old Virgin (Unrated)
Bay of Blood
Uncle Buck
House By the Cemetery
The Conquerer Worm
The Aviator (Blu-Ray)
Blood on Satan’s Claw
Rob Zombie’s Halloween
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Grindhouse: Planet Terror
Grindhouse: Death Proof
Inglourious Basterds
Halloween II (2009)
Dracula (1979)
Audrey Rose
From A Whisper To A Scream
The Dunwich Horror
Trick r’ Treat
Shaun of the Dead
Evil Dead II
The Cooler
Friday the 13th (2009)
Lost in La Mancha
The Raven
Fight Club
I Love You, Man
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
The Blind Side

My Top Ten

10. The Blind Side: I’ve had a movie-crush on Sandra Bullock ever since Speed, so it’s great to see her having such a good year. This is a feel-good movie that manages to push all the right buttons without feeling manipulative.
9. Adventureland: It’s not just that they got the ’80s right – they did – but they got everything  right. If this doesn’t take you back to the time in your life when you began to realize that you could be your own person, instead of the person your parents and family thought you should be, then you haven’t reached that time in your life yet. Funny, heartwarming, and heartbreaking all at the same time.
8. I Love You, Man: Romantic comedy? Bromance? Buddy movie? I don’t know what you call it, but I call it fun. This movie made me want to gather all my guy friends for a weekend of male bonding – I mean, it really, really made me miss the times when I saw those guys practically every day. As they say, it’s funny because it’s true.
7. In Bruges: Speaking of buddy movies, this is one of the best. Two mismatched hitmen hiding out in a small town. Hilarity and a little tragedy ensue. Colin Farrell, if only you could be this good more often.
6. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: A beautiful meditation on time and the toll it takes on us.
5. Star Trek (2009): I don’t like Star Trek. Klingons and phasers and the Federation, oh please. So what’s this doing on my Top Ten? Well, it took a series I don’t like, and showed it to me in an all-new way. A really cool, fun way, one that kept all the stuff that was good about the original and brought it up to speed with what’s good today. The most successful re-imagining in film history. Can’t wait for II.
4. Trick r’ Treat: This little anthology film captures the look, feel and spirit of Halloween like no film since, well, Halloween. I’m a guy that loves me some horror movies, and yet only one cracked my Top Ten this year. See it and see why.
3. Gran Torino: Clint Eastwood is in his 70s, and yet he can still convincingly play the toughest SOB on the block. The great thing about this is we get to see what a softy his character really is without losing the fear that he’ll kick our arse if we drop a candy wrapper on his lawn. A movie with a message that doesn’t beat you over the head with it, plus some of the most jaw-droppingly racist language I’ve ever heard in a film.
2. The Wrestler: I’m an old-school wrestling fan from way back, and over the years I’ve watched the guys I grew up cheering for burn out and fade away. This movie tells so much truth: about guys who can’t give up the glory, and about the fans who want to relive that glory through their heroes just one more time. It’s all about taking us to a place when things were better and brighter. Welcome back, Mickey Rourke.
1. Inglourious Basterds: And welcome back, Quentin Tarantino. You haven’t let me down yet, but this one is special, combining everything you already knew about dialogue with everything you learned on Kill Bill and Death Proof about action. I can’t wait to see what you do next…and I can’t wait to see this again.

Finally, while I watched a lot of good stuff this year, I sat through some real stinkers, too. Here are the worst offenders of the bunch:

Four Films I Wish I’d Never Met
The Driller Killer
Five Across the Eyes
The Raven
From A Whisper To A Scream

These aren’t even worth a couple of lines explaining why they are so bad…just trust me on this. I’ve saved you hours that you’d otherwise never get back.

Farewell Summer

August 15, 2009

Summer is almost at an end. Of course, here in the Deep (Fried) South, summer weather will continue well into September, sometimes spilling over into my beloved October as well. But summer as we recognize it – those three heat-hazy months of swimming, grilling, cutting grass, no school, sweating, and summer blockbusters – is almost at an end.

This has been an unusually busy summer at the cinema for me. I caught pretty much every summer movie I wanted to see: Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation, Drag Me To Hell, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (I know that’s not a lot, but truthfully, there wasn’t a ton I was dying to see in theaters this year.) Of those, only Star Trek really blew me away, and that’s probably because I’m no Trekkie, and I went in with my expectations low.

But now, as we near the end of the dog days, I’ve got back-to-back weekends where the two movies I’ve been looking forward to the most this summer – and, truthfully, this year – are coming out.

August 21 brings us Quentin Tarantino’s war flick Inglourious Basterds:

“And cousin, business is a-boomin’.” I can’t wait.

August 28 sees Rob Zombie’s “family film,” Halloween II:

I know people had problems with Zombie’s first take on John Carpenter’s classic slasher. I had problems with it. Zombie had problems with it, too. But the more I revisit it, the more I find to like. And this one looks like Zombie is going right for the jugular. Gritty, raw, and unrelenting. Again…I can’t wait.

Will these two films bring a somewhat lackluster summer cinema season to a blazing finish? Or will the disappointment continue? I’ll let you know.

R.I.P. John Hughes

August 8, 2009

John Hughes can’t be dead. He was too young. Numerically, he was 59, but he always has been – and always will be – a teenager. He had to be. No adult could get teenagers the way he did. And not just teens in the ’80s, which was when I was a teen and Hughes was in his heyday. Teen movies usually date themselves out of relevancy within a year or two because that particular group changes so fast. But not John Hughes Teen Movies. Those live forever, films that someone growing up in the 2000s can relate to just as much as someone from the dark and distant 1980s.

I have a lot of good memories tied up with John Hughes movies. Watching Sixteen Candles  over and over at my best friend’s house.

Watching The Breakfast Club with my cousin, only to have his father turn it off after hearing this:

Watching Christmas Vacation every Christmas with my family.

And watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles for the first time with my mom, both of us laughing until we thought we were going to pass out. The ending always chokes me up, though, and it seems a fitting way to go out. R.I.P. Mr. Hughes, and thanks for the memories.