Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee – Dracula (1958)

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Christopher Lee CollageThe success of Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 signified a change at Hammer Studios. After years of having moderate success producing a variety of films, the horror genre would soon become its primary focus. Having successfully adapted the classic Mary Shelley novel, it was only logical that their next adaptation would be Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This time, Christopher Lee would assume the lead role in the film and take on a character that would define his career for the rest of his life.

Securing the rights to the novel was not an easy task for Hammer. Universal had signed an exclusive rights contract with the Bram Stoker estate, ensuring that only they would be able to produce films with the character. This would explain why Dracula rarely appeared in a film by any other studio during this time. Hammer’s deal allowed for them to make the film but Universal had distribution rights in the United States. Ironically, Dracula became public domain in 1962, for better or worse depending on your point of view.Horror of Dracula poster

The two driving forces behind Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula, as it was released in the United States) were two mainstays from the Hammer family. Terence Fisher was the director while Jimmy Sangster wrote the screenplay. Sangster would makes changes, some subtle and some quite obvious. You won’t find the Renfield character here while some names were changed. Yet, at its core, Dracula remains the same story. Johnathan Harker (John Van Eyssen, Quatermass 2) arrives at castle Dracula to become the librarian. He is quickly met by a woman who claims to be a prisoner only to quickly disappear when the Count arrives. Yes, she is indeed a bride of Dracula.

HoD 1Christopher Lee initially enjoyed the role of Dracula. Not only did have speaking lines at the beginning of the film, he was not encased in makeup this time. His portrayal is perhaps a more sexual one that we saw Bela Lugosi display in the 30s and certainly surpasses Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine in that department. Yet, there is an intensity and underlying horror that was also absent in previous incarnations. Part of this is that it was now the late 1950s and certain restrictions once present in films were being lifted. Hammer was becoming the master at mixing the sexiness of their Hammer girls with ample amounts of that bright red blood, both of which would become the standard for Hammer horror flicks.

Lee’s good friend Peter Cushing plays the hero of the piece in Abraham Von Helsing. One difference here is that we are introduced to Von Helsing not in England but in the village of Klausenberg as he is searching for Dracula. He is quickly established as a hunter, dispatching of Harker after discovering him lying in a coffin. The story begins to follow more established guidelines with Harker’s fiancé Lucy (Carol Marsh, Scrooge) becoming the object of Dracula’s affections while her brother Arthur (Michael Gough, Black Zoo, Konga) struggles with the reality of the situation. Soon, sister-in-law Mina (Melissa Stribling, Crucible of Terror) becomes Dracula’s next target and the race is on to find out where Dracula lies.

HoD 2Lee’s performance as Dracula is stunning and iconic. Many actors in the years that followed would attempt to replicate the style in which Lee made the role his. He would go on to play the role six more times in the next fifteen years. But, he would not always be happy with the scripts and would try his best to distance himself from the character. Ironically, one of his more favorite Dracula films wasn’t even done by Hammer but by director Jess Franco. In Count Dracula (1970), Lee portrays the vampire as older and growing younger as he would drink blood, serving as both an elixir and a rejuvenator.

In his autobiography, Tall, Dark and Gruesome, Lee would express how depressing it was to see the films deteriorate, a factor that ultimately made him decide to depart from the role after The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973). But clearly, Lee owned the role and would forever be associated with the legendary vampire. Dracula would make him a star and would afford him great film opportunities in the future.HoD 3

Dracula (1958) was covered in the very first episode of the 1951 Down Place podcast. I highly recommend it as Derek, Scott and Casey have a passion for all things Hammer that is unrivaled.

Next time, its 1959 and Christopher Lee is once again under the makeup fighting the ever-heroic Peter Cushing in The Mummy.

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Tribute to Sir Christopher Lee – Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

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Christopher Lee CollageOn June 7, the horror community lost the last of the true legends. Sir Christopher Lee passed away at the age of 93 due to heart problems and respiratory failure. It is natural to mourn the loss of an actor with 278 acting credits, one of which hasn’t even been released yet. However, almost everyone who was a fan of his work is choosing to celebrate an incredibly long and productive life. Here, at Monster Movie Kid, we’re going to join in the celebrations by dedicating the month of July to a selection of his films, some classics and some not-so-much. But all made better by his presence on the screen.

Christopher Lee was born in 1922 but he didn’t make his first film appearance until 1946. His life before film was an adventure unto itself. While he did act in some school productions, the start of World War II in 1939 meant it was time to put aside the stage and volunteer in the armed forces. His service during the war was what films were made for. Yet, right until his death, he refused to talk of his time attached to the SAS. He admitted to being in the Special Forces but that was it. An amazing life just waiting for someone to bring it to life on the big screen.COF poster

He would return to acting in 1946 with one of his earliest roles being in Hamlet (1948) as an uncredited spear carrier. He would work his way through bit parts, uncredited cameos and occasional TV roles. Then, in 1957, he would take his first steps into the horror world by accepting the part of the Creature in Curse of Frankenstein (1957). This would begin his long association with Hammer Films as well as his good friend Peter Cushing. It wasn’t Shakespeare but Christopher Lee would never approach any project with less than 100% dedication. That doesn’t mean to say he was entirely happy with the production. He hated the makeup and was greatly disappointed by his lack of lines. Yet, his performance was magnificent and, personally, I think one of the more definitive interpretations pf Mary Shelley’s creation, if not entirely accurate to the written word.

COF 1The story is at its core the same with minor tweaks and changes along the way, adding a touch of British flare. Dr. Frankenstein is also a Baron here, which allows Cushing the opportunity to add his unique touch to the role. At time the epitome of British upper class, at others a madman digging through graves for body parts. His mentor and tutor is Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), who begins as an ally and ends up being the voice of reason the Baron ignores. This would be the first time that Frankenstein’s grisly work would be seen so graphically, another typical Hammer touch. And let’s not forget the ever present Hammer women. Hazel Court (The Raven, The Masque of the Red Death) would turn in a great performance as cousin and future bride Elizabeth while Valerie Gaunt would star as lustful maid Justine.

COF 2The makeup work was a stark contrast to what Universal had done in the 30s and 40s. This was quite deliberate to ensure no legal issues once the film was released. Graphic and somewhat crude, the end result seems to add a measure of authenticity and realism. Supposedly, the Creature’s first appearance so shocked the London filmgoers that many needed to go for their smelling salts (good old-fashioned marketing hype right there). Lee’s mannerisms of walking and his difficulty getting up and sitting down are some details other actors have easily overlooked in other adaptations. Despite his lack of lines, Lee made the role his, bringing forth both pity and fear from the audience. It laid the foundations for his partnership with Cushing that would be cemented one year later in Dracula (1958).

COF 3Curse of Frankenstein was raked over the coals by the British press for being so horrific. Yet, the audiences loved it on both sides of the pond. It ultimately grossed more than seventy times its production costs. It redefined the horror genre and began the Hammer horror era of dominance. Many have discussed this film over the years but I recommend checking out my friends over at the 1951 Down Place podcast. They covered it back in 2011 on episode 2. Go listen right now and tell them Monster Movie Kid sent you. Meanwhile, check out the official clip from Hammer on YouTube. It’s available on a variety of DVD releases but is only available on region 2 Blu-ray at this time. However you track it down, if you’ve somehow never seen it, I highly recommend it.

Next time, Christopher Lee takes on the role that would define his career in 1958s Dracula.

Monster Movie Kid Joins Dread Media Podcast with Tales of Dracula (2015) Review

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The Monster Movie Kid blog launched in October 2012 but before the blog, many knew me as “Richard from Wichita” via my voice mails on numerous podcasts. Dating as far back as 2006 with my first voicemail for Joe Barlow’s Cinemaslave, I’ve been sharing my thoughts to a very kind audience. Over the years, I’ve been lucky to be a guest co-host on several podcasts and last fall, I even had several of my articles published in The Basement Sublet of Horror magazine. Now, with the blog back on a regular schedule, it’s time for the next step.

Tales of DraculaI’m excited to announce my first official film review on the Dread Media podcast. In this weeks’ episode (#410), after years of leaving voice mails, I make my debut on the show with my look at the new flick, Tales of Dracula (2015). This is the first of what will be a new regular feature on the show. I want to thank host Desmond Reddick for the tremendous opportunity. The reviews will be unique and separate from what I do here at Monster Movie Kid. However, when possible, they will tie into whatever theme month I may have going on here.

That said, we lost the last of the true legends last month with the passing of Sir Christopher Lee. To honor his fantastic film legacy, July will be a month-long tribute to the films of Mr. Lee. I’ll be taking a look at some classics as well as some first time viewings. It all starts tomorrow with his first true creature role as the Monster in Hammer’s Curse of Frankenstein (1957).

Thank you for your ongoing support here at Monster Movie Kid and if you aren’t already a listener, check out Dread Media. Desmond and all of the gang have entertained me for years, and I’m excited to now be able to add my two random cents worth of cinematic opinion. Let me know what you think!

Revisiting the Terminator Franchise – Part Six

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Terminator Genisys posterAnother six years have passed since the last Terminator sequel. Terminator Salvation wasn’t necessarily a box office failure but it was the least performing film in the franchise to date. It didn’t generate a lot of interest or demand in seeing the planned new trilogy move forward. Furthermore, the ever-present legal problems once again popped up and quickly killed off any ideas of a sequel.

Once again, years of rumors of sequels circulated Hollywood while the rights went up for auction. Arnold Schwarzenegger was often mentioned, now that he had left politics and returned to the more welcoming film industry. Even a title, Terminator 3000, was announced at one point. However, nothing became firm until the deal was closed in 2012 when the brother and sister team of Megan and David Ellison purchased the rights for $20 million. Everything was off the table and they started clean with a new script. Arnold was soon announced as the confirmed headlining main star. But was the audience really still there and did they want to see the now 67 year old actor return to the role he made famous some 31 years ago?

Most fans will agree that the first two films in the franchise are the best and stand as classics in the sci-fi and adventure genres. Terminator 3 suffered from being more of the same while Terminator Salvation had plenty of action but little of anything else. Now, in 2015, we have been given Terminator Genisys. And like its predecessors, it takes the timelines and plot points established in the original two films and twist them into something of a mix between homage and reboot.TG 1

It starts off in the year 2029 and John Connor is now played by Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). We are witnessing the final attack on Skynet as the resistance is ready to end the war and reclaim Earth. But Skynet is once step again and the Terminator T-800 is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor. John’s friend, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, I, Frankenstein), volunteers to go back and save her. Sound familiar? Indeed, established territory so far. However, as Kyle begins to travel back in time, he witnesses a mysterious figure (Matt Smith, Doctor Who) attack John, saying “You didn’t think it would be that easy did you?”

TG 2What follows is an alternate sequence of events featuring the T-800 and John Connor arriving in 1984. However, this time around, we have an already militarized Sarah Connor (Emelia Clarke, Game of Thrones) and her guardian “Pops” (Arnold Schwarzenegger) very much aware of the original timeline. Throw in a T-1000 and a revelation that this new guardian saved Sarah from an attack in 1973, we now know that Skynet has sent more than one Terminator back in an attempt to save itself.

Time travel films are tricky and can get convoluted very quickly. This is where Terminator Genisys suffers and will probably frustrate some. However, I have to admit, I found the idea more exciting than the last two films. They changed up events simply to help tell the story they wanted to tell. Here, events are being changed as part of a bigger and, admittedly, more complicated overall story. Yet, here is where the film also suffers. There are too many unanswered questions. I understand that there are already two sequels planned, with the first supposedly arriving in 2017. And the mid-credits sequence clearly sets the stage for those films with Matt Smith playing a potentially bigger part in the story going forward. But many will be frustrated by what they will perceive as an incomplete film.

TG 4It always seems to come back that the first two films told a complete story and everything else really seems unnecessary. That said, Terminator Genisys is my favorite since Terminator 2. Even James Cameron is praising the film, stating it is the unofficial third film in the franchise. Indeed, it really does ignore the last two films. While some will groan that Arnold is back, I think he is more entertaining here than he was in Terminator 3. And I enjoyed seeing the series of events from the first two films play out differently, even if it was, ironically, a little predictable at first. The action sequences were great and I thought Emelia Clarke was fun as Sarah Connor. But she isn’t as good as Linda Hamilton was in the role, and that supports the general response in that the series should have ended in 2001.

I’m definitely in for the sixth film but before we buy our tickets, I suspect the franchise could be on shaky ground. Based on early numbers, Terminator Genisys won’t win the box office and might even be the least performing film in the franchise since 1991. That may not be enough to stop the sequel, and I hope it doesn’t, but it certainly doesn’t help this aging franchise.

TG 3Don’t let the naysayers dissuade you from giving this film a try. Having revisited the entire franchise over the last two weeks, Terminator Gensiys is my third favorite in the series. It’s not without its faults but it doesn’t disrespect the past. It has simply revised it for a new audience and created a new timeline, setting forth an unknown future.

If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t seen any of the trailers, I would suggest you don’t and just go into the movie blind. One of the biggest mistakes of the marketing department was to give away a plot point that should have been left a surprise. Another case of Hollywood giving away too much. Terminator Genisys is a fun, it not overly convoluted, summer flick that I enjoyed probably more than I should have.

Revisiting the Terminator Franchise – Part Five

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Terminator Salvation posterIn April 2009, Fox would air the final episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. However, fans would only have to wait a month before getting a new theatrical film. Terminator Salvation would ignore the new timelines established by the TV series and follow the events of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, more or less. Unlike the first three films and the TV series, this fourth film would be entirely set in the future and, for the first time, mankind’s war with the machines would be the main storyline.

Terminator Salvation is set in the year 2018. However, the opening moments are set in 2003, just a year prior to Skynet initiating Judgment Day. Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Parts One and Two) from Cyberdyne is in a prison convincing a convict named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington, Clash of the Titans, Avatar) to sign over his body for scientific research. We then flash forward to 2018 and Earth is now in apocalyptic ruin. John Connor (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) leads a resistance group along with his pregnant wife Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard, Jurassic World). John’s team is sent on a mission only to find human prisoners and schematics for a new type of Terminator that has living tissue. When the base is attacked, John is the sole survivor and he heads towards Resistance Headquarters. They have intercepted a kill list that includes John’s name and that of Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek). Nobody knows of Kyle yet but John knows that he will someday become his father in the past.Terminator Salvation 1

While the Resistance moves forward with a plan to attack Skynet, Marcus Wright awakens in this strange new world, eventually befriending Kyle. Through a series of events, Marcus discovers he is now part cyborg yet he thinks of himself as still human. After initially being thought a threat to John before saving his life, Marcus and John find themselves working together to reach Skynet to help rescue a now captured Kyle and the other human prisoners.

Terminator Salvation 3Terminator Salvation was clearly designed to be the start of a new direction for the franchise. The very open ending, with John stating that the battle had been won but the war was far from over, seemed to promise more adventures that never came. With a proven director in McG (Charlies Angels, We Are Marshall) and a solid cast, not to mention a successful franchise and the music genius of Danny Elfman, Terminator Salvation seemed to be destined for success. Unfortunately, it would become the least successful of the franchise to date.

Arnold Schwarzenegger would not return for this film despite the brief appearance of the T-800 Terminator. With CGI technology incorporating his younger face onto the body of Roland Kickinger, who had previously played Arnold Schwarzenegger in See Arnold Run (2005), Arnold is still essentially here, at least in spirit. While he initially praised the film, he later admitted it was very disappointing. The same thoughts were expressed by James Cameron as well as Linda Hamilton, who briefly reprised her role as the voice of Sarah Connor.

Terminator Salvation suffers from being heavy on the action and light on the plot and character development. It doesn’t have much to offer and hasn’t improved with age. It is noteworthy for being the final film for the legendary Stan Winston, who would pass away prior to the film’s release and received a special recognition onscreen. Beyond that, Terminator Salvation is ultimately disappointing.Terminator Machinima poster

A prequel animated series entitled Terminator Salvation: The Machinima Series consisted of six episodes centered on resistance fighter Blair Williams (voiced by Moon Bloodgood, reprising her role from the movie). It was mildly entertaining back in 2009 but has become mostly irrelevant due to outdated video graphics. What was once fun for a one-time viewing and an interesting tie-in to the movie, like Terminator Salvation, it has become mostly forgettable.

Next time, we flash forward to the present as the franchise is reborn with Terminator Genisys (2015).

Revisiting the Terminator Franchise – Part Four

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Terminator TV posterSome five years after Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was a box office hit, the Terminator franchise seemed DOA. However, rather than keeping the franchise alive in movie theaters, C2 Pictures would revive it as a new television series on Fox. Production dated back as early as 2005, clearly showing that C2 had given up on theatrical releases and wanted to move to the smaller screen, albeit with a smaller budget to match.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles would debut with a shortened nine episode first season in January 2008. It would ignore the events of Terminator 3 (2003) and pick up where Terminator 2 (1991) left off. In the pilot episode, it’s 1999 and we find Sarah (Lena Headey, Game of Thrones) and John (Thomas Dekker, Laid to Rest) on the run from the FBI. While hiding out in New Mexico, a new Terminator arrives to kill John, only to be stopped by a reprogrammed Terminator named Cameron (Summer Glau, Firefly). Cameron has been sent back in time by John to protect his younger self. Cameron creates a temporal shift and takes Sarah and John to 2007 to escape the Terminator. However, FBI Agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones) remains a man in pursuit of the mysterious Sarah, even after she disappears for years and resurfaces some eight years later.

It’s debatable whether this TV series is set in a different timeline or Terminator 3 is. Either way, both are clearly different continuations of the convoluted Terminator timeline. This TV series would quickly establish that our main characters would not be fighting a new Terminator every week. Nor are the characters the same as we had seen before. Lena Headey plays Sarah with less of a disturbed kickass persona that Linda Hamilton had in Terminator 2. She is still tough as nails but her human side is allowed to be shown more in a weekly series where it couldn’t as easily in a two hour movie. John is allowed to be shown as growing young man with a rebellious streak with hints of the leader he would someday be. It’s easy to see how both characters were expanded on from the 1991 movie and, for the most part, believable.Sarah Connor

Summer Glau’s performance as Cameron (in a clear nod to director James Cameron) is a bit mixed. She is clearly there for the sex appeal, which is a little disappointing in how it is handled at times. However, the actress does a wonderful job of mixing emotions with robotic mannerisms and gestures. As the series developed, we would be introduced to a new character named Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green). Derek is the older brother of Kyle Reese, John’s father. He does not trust Cameron and the conflict between the two eventually becomes one of the shining aspects of the series.

The villains of the series are Catherine Weaver (Shirley Manson), a T-1001 Terminator, and a T-888 Terminator who uses the names of Cromartie and John Henry (Garret Dillahunt). It’s interesting to see these characters, especially Catherine Weaver, develop and move beyond the simplistic killing machines that we’ve seen in the movies.

John ConnorThe biggest problem with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is that it expected the fans to ignore Terminator 3. Some critics took issue with how the series seemed to dumb down the characters for the small screen and make the oncoming war with the machines seem less epic. Ratings were good enough in the first season for a full second season to be ordered by Fox. Unfortunately, despite a huge cliffhanger that would have changed the course of a third season, Fox would cancel the series. Fans were left to wonder what would happen to John, having gone ahead to the future only to discover than nobody has ever heard of John Connor.

I remember watching all of season one but losing interest about mid-way through season two, picking up the storyline in the last few episodes. My biggest problem with the series was the overt sexiness Cameron seemed to display each episode, reminding me of how Star Trek fell into the same trap with the Seven of Nine and T’Pol characters. It might be worth going back to revisit the series but it’s been virtually forgotten since leaving the small screen after it ended in April 2009.

Tomorrow, we stay behind in 2009 for the fourth theatrical film in the series, Terminator Salvation. The war with Skynet is finally the main focus of a movie but will it be everything we hoped for?

Revisiting the Terminator Franchise – Part Three

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Terminator RM posterIt was another long wait between Terminator films after Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a box office success in 1991. The fan base remained hopeful and vigilant even as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s star in Hollywood began to slowly diminish. In the summer of 2003, we all were sent back into the world of Skynet with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.

Once again, rights issues were the primary cause for the long gap between films. Carolco Pictures went bankrupt in 1997, resulting in their 50% ownership of the franchise to go up for sale in a liquidation auction. Carolco founders Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna would purchase the rights and then acquired the remaining 50% from original producer Gale Ann Hurd. However, by this time, James Cameron had little interest in returning as he had moved on to other projects. This would cause Arnold Schwarzenegger to initially turn down the offer to return in the third film. But once James Cameron convinced him to return for a significant salary, Arnold agreed.

Once Arnold was secured, the main issue became the script. A series of rewrites and other pre-production woes kept the film from becoming a reality until 2002. By this time, Arnold was beginning to have political aspirations as governor of California. He would set those aside until post-production. He would ultimately run and be elected in October 2003, making Terminator 3 his last starring role until 2013 saw him headline The Last Stand.Terminator RM 1

With this being his leading man swan song for a decade, Arnold was back as a Terminator, this time a model T-850. He is once again reprogrammed and sent back in time to save not only John Connor (Nick Stahl, Sin City) but his future wife Kate Brewster (Claire Danes, Homeland). A new and more deadly female Terminator, the T-X, has arrived in Los Angeles and kills all of John’s future lieutenants before targeting John and Kate. John has been living off the grid following the death of his mother Sarah from leukemia in 1997. He inadvertently runs into Kate just as the T-X arrives to kill her. Luckily, the T-850 has arrived also.

Terminator RM 2John is initially confused as the T-850 looks like the T-800 from the previous film but has no memories and does not possess the humor he once had. Its then than John realizes that not only is this a new Terminator but that they never really stopped the creation of Skynet. The timeline has been changed but Skynet’s rise to power is inevitable. Skynet has become the governments answer to a virus affecting all of the computers all over the world. Unfortunately, what they don’t realize is that Skynet is the virus and the rise of the machines is becoming a reality.

Unlike its predecessors, Terminator 3 doesn’t seem to stand the test of time. The film suffers from seeming repetitive when viewed back-to-back with Terminator 2. The T-X is a little different but not much more than what we already saw the T-1000 do. Schwarzenegger isn’t as fun as he was in the previous film, even feeling like he was going through the motions at times. Nick Stahl assumed the role of John after producers had concerns over Edward Furlong’s sobriety. This would result in some confusion over John’s age that viewers need to simply overlook as a plot inconsistency. Linda Hamilton would not return as John’s mother Sarah due to what was a reduced and essentially unnecessary role in the original script. Kristanna Loken (Bloodrayne) is fun as the new T-X but never seems as deadly as the T-1000. Earl Boen is back one more time in a cameo role as Dr. Silberman, once again finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.Terminator RM 3

Terminator 3 was a huge success at the box office and seemingly guaranteed a fourth film. Most critics were not kind to the film and it didn’t quite have the lasting appeal as the first two films. Personally, I found the movie heavy on action and light on character and story, ultimately making the film a little less appealing and turning it into a throwaway popcorn matinee at best.

Next time, we return to the Terminator universe not for a fourth film but for a television series that takes the already confused timeline and just throws it out the window.