Let The Madness Begin…Enter Mr. Boris Karloff!

2

KarloffTwo years ago, on October 1, 2012, a mad scientist in a rural suburb of Wichita gave life to his creation…Monster Movie Kid. Or perhaps, I finally got around to writing creatively again and put forth my ramblings for the people to read upon their leisure. In any case, this blog was born and we’re coming upon on our anniversary month. That means it is time for the 3rd Annual 31 Days of Halloween. That annual event where this writer goes insane by attempting 31 consecutive days of movie reviews.

Now, taking into consideration how busy my life has been lately, it does indeed sound like madness that I would attempt this again. However, it’s October and I’m going to be watching horror movies anyway, so why not share this experience once more with all of you. However, I’ve decided to stir some things up and, rather than do random selections, I’m going with a theme. This year, it’s the films of Boris Karloff. In fact, 36 films in 31 days!

Some of his work has already been reviewed here (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and The Black Room, to name a few), so those will not be done again. I’ll also be skipping over a few well-known Universal flicks (Son of Frankenstein and House of Frankenstein) to make way for other entries from his long career. Some omissions may upset a few of you (Targets is not one of the 36 films) while others left off the list should make everyone happy (The Ape is not a favorite of mine). And, before anyone asks, yes, I am going to review those final horrible films Boris made down in Mexico.The Old Dark House poster

As usual with this annual project, the reviews will be shorter but I hope to add some facts and maybe some Karloff quotes along the way. Since I acquired most of these films about 14 years ago, I am quite anxious to revisit some old friends. The films will be reviewed in chronological order and our journey begins this Wednesday. To get yourself prepared, check out the great documentary Boris Karloff: The Gentle Monster. Then, be here as I take my first step towards madness with The Old Dark House (1932).

The Quiet Ones (2014) is a Lukewarm Entry from Hammer

0

For many, the real Hammer Films died in 1976 with To The Devil A Daughter. One final film, The Lady Vanishes, was released in 1979, ultimately driving the company into bankruptcy. Following two television series in the 1980s, Hammer silently disappeared. That is until 2008 when Hammer rose from the dead with Beyond The Rave. Truthfully, this wasn’t really the same Hammer Films but this new company does respect its’ past. Admittedly, they have one of the coolest movie logos around besides Marvel. Whether or not this new Hammer holds a candle to the past seems to be an ongoing debate.The Quiet Ones poster

Personally, I’ve never seen Beyond The Rave and don’t seem really inclined to track it down, mostly due to lackluster reviews. I thoroughly enjoyed Let Me In (2010), despite it being a totally unnecessary English remake of Let The Right One In (2008). The Resident (2011) was salvaged only by the presence of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and a cameo by Christopher Lee. It isn’t horrible but far from being a classic. Wake Wood (2011) was good and even had the feel of some true Hammer Films. Now, The Woman in Black (2012) got mixed reviews but I really liked it. It had a great gothic setting that gave it an eerie atmospheric touch. The weakest part of that film would be its reliance on jump scares. Now, two years later, Hammer returns with The Quiet Ones.

Quiet 2The year is 1974 and the setting is Oxford University. Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) is conducting an experiment to prove there is no such thing as the supernatural. With two assistant students, they are studying a young girl named Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke, Ouija). Jane is disturbed and has been abandoned by the system. Strange occurrences follow Jane as she talks about someone named “Evey”.

The experimentation, which includes loud music to prevent Jane from sleeping and to push her beyond her mental limits, is bordering on inhumane. When the professor hires a photographer, Brian McNeil (Sam Claflin, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), the experiment begins to escalate. The students see that “Evey” is a real force to be reckoned with but the professor refuses to stop. How far will the professor push Jane and what will the consequences be when the truth is revealed?Quiet 1

I really wanted to like The Quiet Ones. It generated a creepy atmosphere and the countryside setting enhanced the feeling of isolation and evil permeating through the film. However, the photography plot device comes across feeling like a 1970s version of shaky cam, which really ruined the film for me. I have long since grown weary of the found footage films, viewing them as a cheap way to crank out a film without having to worry about plot or photography or even good acting. Sure, there are exceptions but those are exceptions to the rule. Now, The Quiet Ones never quite devolved into those stereotypes but it had its moments.

I couldn’t watch this film without thinking about The Stone Tape, a superior 1972 made-for-BBC TV film about a research team investigating a haunted Victorian mansion. Personally, I think that “ancient” flick from so long ago achieved more with its limited budget and it is well worth checking out.

Quiet 3The Quiet Ones does stand out above so many other disappointing modern horror films but it doesn’t necessarily show that this new Hammer is releasing guaranteed hits either. Take the time to rent it and you won’t be too disappointed as long as you go in with lower expectations. A better marketing campaign and a bit more time spent on production and The Quiet Ones may have been more successful. The trailer sets things up nicely so you can judge for yourself.

Dead in Tombstone (2013) Ultimately Disappoints

0

Dead in Tombstone posterThere’s always a reason that a movie goes direct-to-video. Sometimes it’s because they couldn’t find a distributer and other times it’s because it’s bogged down in legal issues or production problems. And sometimes it’s simply because the movie isn’t good enough for a theatrical release. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some good direct-to-video flicks out there. But there are a lot of rather forgettable ones too. Nothing more disappointing than a good trailer getting you all excited, only to be ultimately let down in the end. Such is the case with Dead in Tombstone (2013).

Now, Danny Trejo is one of the busiest actors around. He currently has 16 movies either completed or in post-production with another two currently filming and six more in pre-production. He has 286 films to his credit. However, only one came out in a theater this (Muppets Most Wanted) and his biggest last year was Machete Kills, which generally got poor reviews. He’s making a good living off of his on-screen character and there’s no denying that it is really all thanks to his grizzled features and bad-ass one-liners.DIT 1

So, going into Dead in Tombstone, I knew exactly what I was getting. It’s the old west and Trejo stars as Guerrero De La Cruz (despite being listed as Guerrero Hernandez on the back cover of the DVD), leader of the outlaw Blackwater Gang. Our movie opens up with the gang breaking his brother Red Cavanaugh (Anthony Michael Hall, The Dark Knight) out of prison moments before he is to be hanged. We learn that they share a mother and that Guerrero may have been responsible for Red’s incarceration. Red forgives his brother and talks the gang into raiding Edendale, a small Colorado town full of gold. Once there, Red turns on his brother. He has worked out a deal to mine the gold and share the profits with an unscrupulous British businessman. The gang murders Guerrero and he ends up in Hell.

Once there, he meets the Devil (played by a phone-in-the-performance Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler). He works out a deal where he is given 24 hours to kill the Blackwater Gang in exchange for his freedom. Upon his return, Guerrero teams up with a local alcoholic priest and the widow (Dina Meyer, Saw) of the town’s sheriff. One-by-one, he gains revenge, leading up to the ultimate showdown with Red. Will Guerrero make it by midnight and will the Devil play fair and make good on the deal?

DIT 2The real question here is whether or not we had a real script writer and film editor. The biggest drawbacks to this film are its’ weak script and horrible editing. I really liked the premise of an outlaw coming back to seek revenge and save his soul. Sadly, the script was all over the place. I was even willing to overlook the typically bad CGI. However, in order to do that, I at least need a good script. Top that off with some really bad editing and Dead in Tombstone comes off looking like a forgettable direct-to-video disappointment.

For example, after Guerrero is killed the second time and we the sheriff’s widow leaning over him, he goes back to Hell. He’s given one last chance to collect the last soul. Upon his return, she is now tied up to a bed, captured by Red. No explanation at all. I had to rewind it to see if I missed something. It’s an irritating mistake. Visually, the film had some great locations and Anthony Michael Hall turned in a surprisingly good performance. Trejo was great at doing what he always does. Rourke…it’s just sad to see how he squandered his second chance in Hollywood.DIT 4

I can’t really recommend Dead in Tombstone. This might have been considered a good flick…if it had been a SyFy original. As it is, it’s forgettable. Look elsewhere for your old west horror entertainment. May I suggest The Borrowers? Not great but better than we get here.

Byzantium (2012) Follows a Vampiric Mother and Daughter Pair Through The Centuries

0

Byzantium (2012) has been on my radar for some time now. In part because it looked like an interesting twist on the vampire lore (without throwing in sparkles) and, also, because…well, Gemma Arterton. ‘Nuff said there. Much like Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), we’re seeing a different take on what makes vampires tick. The end result was entertaining and, admittedly, there was more story here than Only Lovers Left Alive, just without the cool appearance of John Hurt.Byzantium poster

Our tale is told both in current time as well as through flashbacks interwoven into the story courtesy of a diary that details the background of our primary character, Eleanor Webb (Saoirse Ronan, Hanna, The Grand Budapest Hotel). Our movie begins with her throwing pieces of paper over the balcony of an apartment building only to have them picked up by an old man. When Eleanor comes down to the steps, the man engages her in a conversation that eventually ends up in his home. He is old and ready for death. He has heard tales and knows what she really is. Eleanor proceeds to drink his blood using a talon-like fingernail. Eleanor is a vampire but clearly not out of a novel as she is able to walk in daylight. In fact, these vampires don’t follow most of the rules other than needing to live off human blood. Eleanor chooses to bleed out the elderly and sick. Her mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton, Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters, Quantum of Solace) follows a different path.

Byzantium 1Clara is a stripper and, as the movie unfolds, has been a prostitute for centuries, doing what she knows best. However, she wasn’t always that way. We see flashbacks that recount how she was forced into it by an evil officer during the Napoleonic Wars. After being pursued by and ultimately killing a mysterious man, Clara and Eleanor are forced to leave their home. They find their way to an old hotel, the Byzantium, after Clara seduces a lonely man who just inherited it. Soon, Clara is running a brothel while Eleanor is falling in love with a young local boy. As the flashbacks continue to reveal, we see how these vampires are actually more of a brotherhood where women are not allowed. Elders of the brotherhood are in pursuit as Clara and Eleanor’s unstable world may soon come crashing down around them.

While there are some elements of romance, the real story here is that of a mother and what she will do to protect and avenge her daughter. Saoirse Ronan was very engaging and believable as a young girl trapped forever in her teenage years. Gemma Arterton uses her sexuality to show both the passion and anger that torment her. The supporting cast does well but the story is really about how different yet similar Clara and Eleanor are. There are some great visuals, including the blood falls (convincingly done by CGI) set across a perpetually gray landscape. Unlike Only Lovers Left Alive, where the music played a key part, nothing really stands out in the soundtrack here. However, the story was engaging enough that I didn’t feel anything was missing.Byzantium 3

I’d definitely recommend Byzantium for those of you wanting something a little different from your usual vampire movies. You’ll get some gore to satisfy the bloodlust but it is secondary to the story. Take a look at the trailer and judge for yourself. The movie is readily available to own and rent on home video and streaming.Byzantium 2

Black Pit of Dr. M (1959) is a Wonderfully Creepy Mexican Horror Classic

0

BPODM 1It’s always fun to take a stroll down Mexican Horror Film Lane. It isn’t a place that I go too often but whenever I visit, I’m always discovering something new. Sometimes, the visit is filled with the odd and bizarre, other times it’s like I stumbled upon a lost Universal horror classic. Such is the case with The Black Pit of Dr. M (1959) aka Misterios de Ultratumba, a flick just oozing with atmosphere that could easily fit as if it had come from the legendary Universal studios.

First, a big part of any good Mexican horror movie is the imagery. From the very first few frames, we gaze upon an old house filled with cobwebs and neglect. The narrator explains that this is the site of something horrible and shocking. We are taken back to witness the death of Dr. Aldama, who makes a deathbed promise to Dr. Mazali that he will fulfill their pact. Both men swore to the other that whoever died first would return to share the secrets of the afterlife. After Aldama is buried in a graveyard that seemed straight out of Frankenstein (1931), Mazali then conducts a séance to summon Aldama back to Earth. It turns out that Mazali can experience the afterlife but it will cost him greatly. What follows is a tale that involves an asylum, crazy patients breaking loose, a hideously disfigured madman and unrequited love.

What truly makes The Black Pit of Dr. M enjoyable is the overall appearance of the film and the strong performances. Rafael Betrand turns in a wonderful role as Dr. Mazali. He is also known for starring in the last film of Boris Karloff’s career, The Isle of the Snake People (1971). Of course, no horror movie is complete without the femme fatale, Mapita Cortes, who stars as Patricia Aldama. Director Fernando Mendez isn’t a household name but he clearly understands the genre as he masterfully commands the lighting and use of shadows to elevate the film beyond what many others were simply cranking out at this time.BPODM 2

For many years, The Black Pit of Dr. M was impossible to find. In fact, the English dubbed version is still considered lost. Thankfully, Casa Negra released this film on DVD in 2006, looking as great as it ever would have in 1959, if not better. This only adds to one’s depression that Casa Negra has since folded, leaving many other Mexican horror classics unrestored and unreleased, only to be forgotten in some dusty old film library. It is now out-of-print but can still be found at a reasonable price from various sellers. It is also available to rent on You Tube.

Check out the trailer and prepare yourself to be surprised. Also, be sure to listen to episode 299 of the B-Movie Cast with Vince and all of the gang as they review and discuss this classic.BPODM 3

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) is a Gothic Romance with a Vampiric Twist

0

Assuming we all agree that vampires exist, we know that not every vampire goes around saying “I want to suck your blood” nor are they bloodthirsty savages. Sometimes, they are trapped in their existence, struggling to survive day-to-day. Searching for blood without taking a human life is a challenge in this modern day where everyone is constantly connected virtually and cameras capture our every movement. It can lead to depression for vampires and isn’t quite the glamourous life Hollywood makes it out to be. That is the background to the main story director Jim Jarmusch presents in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013).OLLA poster

The main vampire of the flick is Adam (Tom Hiddleston, Thor), a musician who has become a recluse, living in a rundown home in Detroit. He is off the grid as he powers it with energy sources he learned from Nikola Tesla. He hates the modern world and the people in it, referring to them as zombies. His countless centuries have left him depressed at the downfall of mankind. He travels to a local hospital at night posing as a doctor so he can get his supply of blood from Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright, Quantum of Solace). He enjoys a mysterious celebrity status for his music, occasionally seeing fans walking up to his door seeking him out. His only friend in the real world is Ian (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek), who brings him guitars and musical equipment.

OLLA 2Adam is contemplating suicide and asks Ian to find someone who can create a wooden bullet. He claims it is for a project but he actually plans to kill himself. Just as he is ready to do it, he receives a video phone call from his wife Eve (Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer). Eve lives in Tangiers, lurking in the shadows and getting her blood supply from a fellow vampire named Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt, Alien). Eve travels to Detroit in hopes of saving Adam. Upon her arrival, they rekindle their love and passion for each other. The veil of darkness over Adam is lifted…until Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) arrives. Ava is young without control and their peaceful existence is rapidly pushed aside as their lives soon spiral out of control.

Blood and gore play a very little part to the story behind Only Lovers Left Alive. In fact, vampire fangs are almost entirely absent. The true story here is the gothic romance between Adam and Eve (intentionally symbolic names). The film is almost entirely set at night, adding a mysterious shroud over the film full of atmospheric clichés that truly work here. Seeing Hiddleston in a role other than Loki is great as he embodies the character of Adam. Swinton offers up her usual otherworldly charm while Hurt puts in an understated performance. Wasikowska does well in her role as the annoying and troublesome Ava. A small but very talented cast bring what is a simple story to life.OLLA 3

The final piece to the cinematic puzzle is the music behind the film. From Adam’s musical creations to the haunting song performed by the street singer Yasmine in Tangiers, it helps this film stand out amongst other vampire films. The singer is Yasmine Hamdan, an accomplished musician easily found on YouTube. Check out her music and you’ll be drawn into another world.

OLLA John HurtWe’ve seen just about everything we can when it comes to vampires, so when something this fresh and different comes along, it’s worth recognizing. Only Lovers Left Alive was recently available through On Demand and released on home video. Check out the trailer and seek out this unique film. It’s one of my personal favorites of the year and I highly recommend it.OLLA 1

Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem (2013) is a Visual Feast

0

You know going into a Terry Gilliam film, the experience is going to be unique. The Monty Python star-turned-director of such classics as Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985) and 12 Monkeys (1995) takes on another look at a dystopian future with his latest, The Zero Theorem (2013). With two-time Academy Award-winning actor Christoph Waltz (2009s Inglourious Basterds and 1012s Django Unchained) heading up the cast, you know the ride is going to be a special one.ZERO poster

Waltz stars as Qohen Leth, a computer programmer who works for a company called Mancom. He has been waiting for a mysterious phone call while questioning his existence. He hates to leave his home (an abandoned church) because of the world in which he lives is surrounded by advertisements and sensory overload. He wants to be assigned to home duty but instead is given virtual therapy sessions with Dr. Shrink-Rom (Tilda Swinton, The Chronicles of Narnia). He wants to meet with management (Matt Damon, Elysium), which may or may not have eventually happened, depending on how you take the events of the film.

ZERO 1At a company party, Qohen meets Bainsley (the enchanting Melanie Thierry) who appears to have feelings for Qohen but isn’t quite whom she claims to be. After Qohen is assigned solve the Zero Theorem, a mathematical formula that may hold the meaning to life, he begins working with Bob (Lucas Hedges), management’s son. His life begins to spiral out of control as he ignores the outside world, hiding within the confines of his home and maddening work. Why is management watching him? Is Dr. Shrink-Rom really trying to help Qohen?

If you’ve never seen a Terry Gilliam film, then you are in for a treat as long as you go in with the right expectations. There are so many visuals to take in while watching the film, it requires multiple viewings. The musical score from British composer George Fenton (Planet Earth) is haunting and greatly enhances the experience. Waltz puts in an amazing performance, every bit as great as his Academy-Award winning films but less likely to earn him any mainstream recognition. Gilliam offers up films that are a far cry from the usual Hollywood fare. Enhancing the film with brief appearances by Damon and Swinton adds to a complete package that is unique and hard to honestly describe.Still from Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem

With all of that said, I really enjoyed it. Not my usual type of film and one that I really needed to be in the mood for. Thankfully, I was in the right state of mind to enjoy it. The Zero Theorem is currently making the rounds through On Demand services and streaming services such as Amazon and iTunes. However, there is no North American home video release date yet. As you start searching for it, watch the trailer to get a glimpse of the journey that awaits you. I recommend you check it out however you can.ZERO Matt Damon