29 September 2014

Country Horror and Scares!

Country Scares Round Up!
By Kristin Battestella

Rednecks, hicks, desolate locales, and backwater crazies certainly make for a bevy of horrors, death, cannibalism, and disturbia. Enjoy the frights herein, y’all!

Creepshow – Terror titans George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead)  and Stephen King (Carrie) present this 1982 anthology featuring a spooky fun cast including Ted Danson (Cheers), Ed Harris (Apollo 13), Leslie Nielson (The Naked Gun), Adrienne Barbeau (Maude), and Hal Holbrook (The Senator). The expected anthology frame blessedly remains as only opening and closing bookends with a few scary winks, letting the animated transitions, red and blue lighting, and comic book styled backgrounds or cell frame designs accent the scary and carry the pulp homage. While some nods are too obviously placed or too humorous for some, the lighthearted, almost camp and endearing at times tone is in keeping with the creators’ nostalgic Tales from the Crypt creepy of yore feeling. The first “Father’s Day” tale is a little short but has a now dated kitsch and gruesomely bemusing result. “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” however, is kind of dead end. It’s surprising that Stephen King can act as the stupid hick so well, but a vegetation meteor run rampant doesn’t have that much impact – no pun intended. Fortunately, the lengthy “Something to Tide You Over” provides pretty but deadly beachy with vengeful tides and a quality, watery comeuppance. “The Crate” has some obnoxiously fun performances to match its hokey, inexplicable monster, and the final “They’re Creeping Up on You” is surely not for people who dislike bugs, namely cockroaches. Lots of cockroaches – many, many cockroaches everywhere! Certainly this can be uneven in scares and brevity as anthologies often are, but all in all, there’s a good, macabre ride here.

Deranged – You’ll never look at Home Alone the same way again after seeing Roberts Blossom in this 1974 AIP slasher! Deaths simmer thanks to fine build ups, suspense, and pursuits – not to mention the gross necrophilia possibilities, skin wearing, morbid transvestite extremes, human bones about the house, and au naturel instruments adding to the macabre ambiance. The sense of dementia, local language, warped small town unassuming, and backwoods suggestion create an ironic old time quaint, accented by bent organ music and askew religious views. Corny narrator Leslie Carlson (Black Christmas) appears in early scenes as an onscreen reporter recounting the Ed Gein true story genesis, but the fourth wall breaks smartly disappear as the second half escalates. Brief nudity and lingerie work with the appropriately dark humor as well while over the top quips, chubby women, fake séances, and bungling sex innuendo match the sinister planning and delicate but twisted craftsmanship. The acting and cast may not be in everyone’s style today, yet the performances fit the material and tone perfectly. Thanks to the sense of past isolation for contemporary audiences, the very effective mood, atmosphere, and disturbia here has aged fairly well, making this one a must see study for horror fans or criminal and psychology scholars in comparison to other Gein inspired pictures. 

Motel Hell – You just know what the secret ingredient is in this 1980 country cannibal thriller! Ironic use of hillbilly music and television evangelist Wolfman Jack contribute to the charming and quaint but disturbed feeling here – the mix of late seventies styles and early farmhouse contentment doesn’t seem dated at all. Hanging pigs and slaughterhouse gore aren’t too over the top, but enough bloody suggestion and touches of nudity and kinky accent the dark humor and bizarre yet sentimental familial relationships. Rory Calhoun (How to Marry a Millionaire) has some sick and disturbing fun here yet remains strangely endearing, heck, even likeable. Vincent Smith’s reducing the riff raff population and keeping the community fed – it all seems like a real win win, and the winking tone pokes fun at this irony without being laugh out loud. The audience can chuckle at the soothing New Age eight track music amid the escalating events and interfering romance. Who’s next? When will the good guys find out? The pig mask and chainsaw duel in the finale are stupid and not scary now, hampering the otherwise bemusing wit and multi layered action. However, all in all this is some down home simmering and well done entertainment.

Skip It!

Trip with the Teacher – A faded picture, bad seventies styles, bug eye goggles, and tacky music are the least of this 1975 short bus desert escapade gone awry’s problems. The biker badass never comes thanks to brothers just playing at punks and terrorizing women while other characters remain stupid via poor scripting and acting. The rape revenge terror nasty has been done better elsewhere, and the time here aimlessly escalates the violence as it somehow also remains too tame – PG-13 brief nudity and the inability to say dirty words despite such heavy subject matter. We never find out why the perpetrators have such a ‘tude; the teen girls look way too old to not suspect what these jerks want to do to them and thus they remain reactive instead of forward thinking. The skimpy hot pants and catfights may be enough for some viewers along with the innate lecherous and natural isolation, but nothing is done with either. Some bike chases up the ante, but unclear motivations hamper any endearment for the victim or fear of the villain. Are we supposed to care about the bad guy’s malfunction? Sexual violence suggestions should be scary enough, but such implications feel cheap and the revenge empowerment nonexistent – four women can’t subdue one unarmed drunk guy? Everybody watches but no one does anything until a heroic man arrives? Even the end credits have scenes of each player with the women receiving credit over their most degrading shots while the guys have cool smiling stills. Wtf? The possibilities for silent, sinister isolation are lost in weird, artsy, and time wasting clichés here. Yes, walk passed that fully functioning motorcycle as you run into the desert for help!

27 September 2014

Dracula (2013)

Late Dracula Flawed but Still Entertaining
By Kristin Battestella

I was excited for NBC’s 2013 prime time limited series Dracula. However, network demands and a rocky start seem to have unfortunately done in the series’ potential, and gothic, horror, and steampunk audiences are sadly left to wonder what could have been with this entertaining one shot.

The latest suave American inventor in 1896 London is none other than Dracula himself! Posing as Alexander Grayson, Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) seeks vengeance against the corrupt Order of the Dragon with the help of Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann) and R.M. Renfield, Esq. (Nonso Anozie). Meeting Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), however, expedites Dracula’s desire for a vampirism cure. He hires Mina’s paramour Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) as his assistant, using his newspaper know how whilst also romancing the Order’s lead huntsman Lady Jayne Whetherby (Victoria Smurfit) away from her vampire killing duties. Unfortunately, Mina’s best friend Lucy Westerna (Katie McGrath) also has romantic folly on her mind…

Episode 1 “The Blood is Life” jumps right into resurrecting Dracula from his spiky prison in proper bloody fashion, but this first installment feels ironically slow paced with seemingly little actual set up and too many new characters and changes to the Stoker tale audiences were probably expecting to see. Couldn’t Dracula take down these angry, interfering businessmen with supernatural ease? Conflict over fantastic industrialism and wannabe Tesla designs feels unnecessary and takes up valuable narrative for purists, and steampunk enthusiasts – who, despite what the recent mainstream bandwagon would have us believe, have been around for decades – may be put off by these very changes meant to attract such an audience. Though historically based and possibly interesting, the Illuminati-esque Order of the Dragon and its thinly veiled but thickly laid modern technology talk of wireless power versus corrupt oil detracts from Dracula’s opportunities as the tormented villain. “A Whiff of Sulfur” shows Grayson’s blackmail cunning and character conflicts and thus does much better in getting to the action of how and why Dracula was resurrected. Had Dracula begun here with Episode 2 or as a full 90-minute premiere the reasons behind his revenge may have been more hard hitting. Dangling the weekly carrot with flashbacks to start each episode feels uneven, as does the mix of steampunk and seers horrors. Stockholder plots and majority shareholder papers in “Goblin Merchant Men” feel limp or easily played and gay blackmail comes across as too trite. We didn’t need this villainous organization against Dracula’s intimate quest for a solar vaccine – his psychic battles and eerie visions with the seers are far more occult fun then the Order’s gents playing at being bad. Early on Dracula simply can’t decide with which vein it wants to tell its tale, industrial allegory or gothic good times.

Fortunately, Lady Jayne gets her fight on with the vampire coming out party in “From Darkness to Light,” and guest star Alec Newman (Dune) makes the intrigue between her and Grayson as both lovers and antagonists more complex. These juicy elements should have come a lot sooner in the series in order to hook the audience – energy scenes and power demonstrations are simply not as wondrous to us and feel tacked on amid superior past vampire angst and threats on who knows Grayson isn’t the romantic do gooder scientist he claims to be. Despite an excellent progression on the Van Helsing character and his daylight serum, this lingering, feeling itself out writing and drastic book changes all at once do not work on network television today. Familiar vampire intrigues and an already delightful core story don’t need Ottoman Empire conspiracies, either. Thankfully, “The Devil’s Waltz” continues the great cliffhanger from Episode 4 with sexy dreams and Victorian torture. It’s on the nose perhaps, but also violent, kicked up, creepy yet nonchalant. Up close cinematic filming, askew angles, and dark Frankenstein turns for Van Helsing up the demented fantasy horror along with the delightful Renfield developments. Loyalty, laboratories, predatory blood and violence – the scenes of horror and irony in Dracula are excellent. Subterfuge and deceptions tie together perfectly with vampire sexy, shocking, and tender. “Of Monsters and Men” also ups the saucy and suspicions over Grayson’s plans – daylight meetings increase the intensity and Mina is far more interesting as a snooping Van Helsing assistant. Lady Jayne and Lucy manipulate wonderfully and great skin and bloody special effects keep the pace, confrontations, and toppers entertaining.

The excellent blackmail and character entanglements continue in “Servant to Two Masters,” and Dracula gets close to showing some scandalous for NBC. Primal filming distortions, tempting heartbeats, sensuality, and angsty vamp out resistance accent the simmering man versus nature and himself. Likewise “Come to Die” brings stimulating personal dynamics, and with such medieval takedowns and revelations, it’s baffling why Dracula ever began with generic overreaching revenge. I would rather have seen Lady Jayne’s pursuits and dramatic love triangles before the early Order of the Dragon piecemeal. Renfield and Dracula both play devil and angel on each other’s shoulders as needed while torn arms and impalements remind the audience that Dracula was always going to be a show about vampires – even if the series got away from that foundation at its start. Grayson’s orchestration goes deep, and the Order framework was never needed if “Four Roses” can bring all the abductions and character revelations together like this. The innocent are caught in the bloodbath crosshairs, and the pace upticks thanks to daylight interference and changing allegiances. I don’t want to spoil these final episodes, although “Let There Be Light” does inexplicably return to laying the Order’s purpose on thick when huntsmen versus fangs action and gruesome threats are done better. Bombs, horror violence, and questions on who is really the hero or the villain counter any quibbles. Granted, some maybe, maybe not character fates are unknown thanks to the show’s cancellation and seeds left for more in hopes of continuation remain hanging. Dracula, however, concludes with the confrontations that needed to happen and a quality dramatic finish.

In recalling his early, pale, androgynous roles, it’s surprising that Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) has not played a vampire previously, for he is perfectly cast as both the medieval warrior Vlad Dracula and his incarnation as the Victorian entrepreneur Alexander Grayson. Yes, it’s unusual that he puts on an American twang rather than simply coming from the continent as the Stoker source says. However, Meyers embodies the charisma and scandal nonetheless thanks to animalistic nuances for the more toothy scenes, a sexy stealth making his lady victims so ecstatic, and a well aware, calculating slick. I’m not sure why Grayson is made to drink so much considering Meyers’ off screen alcohol difficulties, but he carefully accents the character within a character suave using the glassware and props. There is unfortunately some flat foil and weak dialogue hampering him, scenes without Meyers tend to drag, and playing politics with a different Order of the Dragon chap each week is a waste of Dracula’s primal potential. Why does Dracula need outside revenge or romance? Why can’t he be a vampire for good energy or bad daylight power for his own motivation? Grayson’s desperation over not being able to keep his proverbial fangs in his pants adds more dimension – his vampire nature is the very thing that mucks up his plans most.

Victoria Smurfit (Ballykissangel) as Lady Jayne may seem shoehorned in to Dracula for no reason or too Selene ala Underworld to start thanks to an off kilter mix of slo mo fights hindering her suspicion of Grayson – she looks unnecessarily played and stupid in not knowing he’s a vampire. Fortunately, her Old World pretty and kick ass make for a unique, sexy conflict, and Jayne’s chemistry, dialogue, physicality, and confidence match Dracula’s game. Her intriguing upmanship with Katie McGrath (Merlin) as Lucy Westerna adds a fresh element as well, and where Mina’s bemoaning seriously impedes Dracula, Jayne and Lucy’s twists work wonderfully. Simply put, McGrath should have played Mina instead. Her flashy style and flirty pish posh perfectly hide Lucy’s subtle lady leanings, and again, this viewer aside is a pleasing character improvement upon Bram. We know the reasons why Lucy may seem too pretentious, but despite these positive strides, Lucy isn’t fully utilized until the later half of the season. Jessica De Gouw (Arrow) as Mina is far too bland in comparison and remains typical as the off and on, wishy washy, maybe reincarnated love interest instead.  It’s quite progressive that she is a Victorian medical student, but Mina is also squeamish and set back with nervousness and romantic idiocy. Her seemingly feminist dreams and juvenile behaviors don’t match the character’s would be strengths nor Grayson’s sophistication, and one wonders why all these people are so desperately enthralled with her.

Likewise, Oliver Jackson-Cohen (World Without End) overplays the wannabe rich and snot reporter Jonathan Harker. The potential for early old-fashioned newspaper designs and muckraker happenings is ruined with his clunky – Harker does not have the who’s who and what’s what finesse to be an insightful investigative reporter and conflict is created purely by his being a jerk or stepping into it with everyone or everything. Along with the equally plodding Order of the Dragon, the character could have been written out with the show no worse for the wear. Blessedly however, Nonso Anozie (Game of Thrones) as R.M. Renfield is an ingeniously urbane henchman. He likes that Grayson is not a “proper” employer and dislikes Dracula’s bouts of morality but stands firm and remains loyal in wise, quiet villainy. This Renfield smartly sees through people, deduces their nature, and will use or dismiss anyone as needed. Another very positive character development for Dracula along with Thomas Kretschmann’s (Avengers: Age of Ultron) cantankerous Professor Van Helsing. Old time medical gear aids his rocky relationship with Dracula and the debating between these expected enemies now allied is meaty fun. Science and revenge both help and hinder, and again, Dracula could have been solely about this search for a desperate daytime cure with Van Helsing’s side dose of revenge. His retribution feels far more believable, and his ruthless motivation leads to some intriguing questions on who is the worse monster on Dracula.

Though not as costume bespectacle as big screen productions of old and a bit too modern in hairstyles, fabrics, low cuts, and pants wearing women, the 19th century style on Dracula is high end, flashy, and colorful – frocks, feathers, jewelry, long coats, and top hats! The elegant men are refreshingly refined alongside quality blood, creepy graves, cobblestone streets, carriages, early cars, and plenty of fog and rainy feelings. Delicate society highs and lows are here along with skeletons, medical gruesomes, and head choppings. Sometimes the false illumination technologies seem overhyped, but dangerous window light and swaths of streetlight make for mood and interesting shadows. CGI rooftop battles are obvious as are Highlander style swordfights and too much slow motion, but thankfully, these designs are gone after the first few episodes. Did someone realize such action was unnecessary? The blink and you miss them opening credits, however, seem trapped in a contemporary blue tinted and steampunk atmosphere – complete with gears and goggles as if NBC felt they had to package the show with such forced edge. Ironically, these expensive production values and showy misfires when compared against the resulting ho hum Friday night numbers are most likely what cooked Dracula’s goose. Different writers and directors across the series created no clear vision of progression, and with only 43 minutes per episode, the story felt like it was just getting started when it was time to stop. I had hoped NBC might develop other gothic properties or literary works for a rotating classy prime time block. However, network television is increasingly cutting its nose to spite its face, and Dracula is no longer available On Demand or Hulu while one awaits the incoming 3-disc set from Netflix. With its faulty start, it was tough enough to watch Dracula from week to week. NBC could have made a real autumn event by having several Dracula episodes airing on back to back nights or even showcased the entire show in the true mini series format of old with two hour television movie chic. Viewer styles have changed and the production team here was simply not up to pace.

Longtime Bram Stoker fans can’t go into this Dracula expecting a faithful book retelling. In fact, the plot as ended feels more like a prequel to the novel we know and love. Yes, it is slow to start. Yes, mixed motivations will have you yelling at the TV. Fortunately, progressive characters, excelling performances, and superior plots save Dracula. Despite its brief life, the intriguing changes, gothic style, and moody spins here are perfect for a sophisticated vampire viewer’s macabre weekend marathon. 

16 September 2014

Unscary 80s and 90s Macabre!

An Un-Scary 80s and 90s Horror Helping!
By Kristin Battestella

Do you want to see something really scary? These cult classics of decades yore provide varying degrees of scares, spooky, sinister, and nostalgia better served for drinking game delights and evenings when you take the ominous none too seriously. Look out!

Amityville 2: The Possession – Very good zooms, askew camera perspectives, and haunted house phantom forces highlight this 1982 AIP sort of prequel starring Burt Young (Rocky), Rutanya Alda (Mommie Dearest), and James Olson (Rachel, Rachel).  Though a touch toward campy at times, the possession makeup and demonic bodily designs are seriously creepy, and the somewhat stereotypical family dynamics and abuses are no less disturbing and sinister as the household terrors increase. Unfortunately, the latter half of the picture inexplicably dispenses all the fine atmospheric build and turns into a wannabe Exorcist clone with bureaucratic church officials, red tape corruption, and inexplicably poor policing. What the heck happened? After such pleasingly juicy family fears, the finale goes for all the nonsensical cheap thrills, and as a result, the Amityville franchise timeline is completely miffed. This so-called prequel never reveals itself onscreen as such – in fact, it looks decidedly dated eighties, further confusing the supposedly real world happenings and horror movie liberties that already both make yet ruin this film series. Is this installment an account of the DeFeo Family from the Murder in Amityville book or not? If you leave the history out of it and forget the legalese meets exorcism ending, this is an excellent haunted house picture. For all its first half good, it’s a pity someone behind the scenes dropped the ball on this one. I don’t want to be so split on it, but this movie just unravels itself.

Kingdom of Shadows – Of course, this 1998 70 minute documentary narrated by late great Oscar winner Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night) isn’t suppose to be scary but informative, and with early silent evidence and obscure footage, writer and director Bret Wood (Hell’s Highway) details the foundations of horror onscreen. The black and white visuals, cinematic screams, ominous scoring, and swift editing make for a fun eerie feeling, but the tone here is a touch too esoteric or highbrow thanks to a confusing, even ridiculously wordy approach. What’s trying to be said about the sex, demonic depictions, sadomasochism, and torture of uncensored silent film? Analysis on early religion and science as evil take up too much time, and these heavy segments aren’t meant for younger viewers. Fortunately, there is quality horror education in the F.W. Murnau talk and good versus horror clips from “The Golem” and “Faust” along with famous topics like Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein, and Lon Chaney’s monstrous roles. The audience here, however, has to be one already familiar with movie history and horror film – the sole focus on silent movie making macabre combined with the lofty voiceover, necessary subtitles, and philosophical structure requires a finite niche indeed. Counterpoint interviews and expert discussion would have broken up the academia, and a resolution showing how these early beginnings translated into future horror cinema would have set off the silent spooky. For fans of foreign horror and often unknown early cinema, this is a nice treat – but it also makes a great atmospheric party showing on mute! 

Phantoms – Sisters Rose McGowan (Charmed) and Joanna Going (Inventing the Abbotts) arrive in a sleepy Colorado town turned deadly and join Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia), Ben Affleck (Argo), and Liev Schreiber (Scream) against evil in this 1998 barely R rated adaptation of Dean Kootz’s 1983 novel. We get right to the creepy ghost town suspense with fine simmering discovery, eerie bodies, subtle gore, and no technology or communications – it’s nice to see women thinking on their feet amid the unknown, too. Old time ringing phones, jump buzzers, and more fun sounds create shock moments and ironic use of Patsy Cline classics adds to the discomforting uses of light, dark, mysterious messages, and severed hands. The brooding, character piece direction and in camera action in the first half of the film is quite effective compared to today’s herky jerky in your face every minute awe and hype. Unfortunately, the ensemble atmosphere turns somewhat stupid once the cowboy hat wearing, too young, laughable, and woefully miscast Affleck arrives. Folks begin shooting at nothing and running off alone – I half expected Affleck to break character and ogle over the delightfully Cushing-esque O’Toole. Is this a small thriller or military action? We’ve seen other better small town invasion SF/horror, and the middle section here unravels with anonymous deaths, gruesome cool, and inexplicable monsters. We’re supposed to care when the initial players disappear for entire segments only to return for a redundant science versus religion, preposterous under siege battle of wits finale? So long as you don’t take the faux Lovecraft feelings too seriously or think too much on the smart but ridiculous techno babble, one can enjoy the early mystery and ultimately outrageous finish here.

Screamtime – There seems to be very little information online about this 90 minute 1983 anthology, and its very dated British on the streets low budget vibe will turn off some. The framing story is also fairly dull with bad dialogue and wooden acting, but the obligatory boobs pop out soon enough and that nostalgic charm can help heaps. It’s a top loading VCR! Those huge glasses! Puppetry and homely Robin Bailey (I Didn’t Know You Cared) anchor Tale 1 “That’s the Way to Do It” along with his pressuring wife Ann Lynn (The Vise). He clings to his childlike profession and the pace is slow to build beyond the family strife, but dizzyingly good killer perspectives, dark angles, and violent bludgeons overcome some of the laughable elements. It’s a familiar concept; sure, however several solid shock moments and the innate creepiness of Punch and Judy dolls make up the difference. For the Second Story “Dream House,” expected but suspenseful creaking sounds and household scares such as creepy kids, flickering lights, a conveniently non-functioning flashlight, and ominous bloody bathwater make for interesting jumps and twists. Is this ghosts, gaslighting, or hysteria? Though slightly dull to start and similar copycats like Psychosis are fairly recent, there’s a pleasingly effective downward spiral here. Next “Do You Believe in Fairies?” presents seemingly classy old ladies Jean Anderson (The Brothers) and Dora Bryan (Last of the Summer Wine) telling their thieving handyman about evil fairies and murdered lovers. Although there’s more of the same freaky dolls and gnomes, this is a quiet but crazy set piece with a mystical wink and some scares. Everything here is a little too humorous and this should be tighter in getting to the juicy of each tale – the woeful frame story breaks up the demented atmosphere, too – but the now period designs and spooky anticipation make for a relatively good time here. If only it were available on DVD!

The Twilight Zone: The Movie – Narrator and original Twilight Zone alum Burgess Meredith leads this 1983 anthology starring Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters), Albert Brooks (Defending Your Life), John Larroquette (Night Court), and many more. From the traditional opening titles to tapes stuck in the tape deck, old TV theme songs, and one hulky boob tube, the nostalgia and sentimentality is here for older audiences who appreciate the reflective charm. Though still relevant with nice wartime designs, foreign language uses, and intensity to match its disturbing social analysis, “Time Out” is a little too heavy handed compared to Rod Serling’s original subtly. The bigotry from the late Vic Morrow (Combat!) is upsetting, yet we feel for him as he learns his much-warranted lesson in a most unfriendly past. “Kick the Can” also makes statements on bitter ageism and a second chance at youth but keeps its whimsy thanks to Scatman Crothers (The Shining). The twist is obvious in this retelling and old folks playing can be silly, but that’s kind of the point, too. Kathleen Quinan (Apollo 13), Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and Bill Mumy (Lost in Space) lead “It’s a Good Life” and its bizarre family analysis endears with its freaky funhouse style. Some of the effects become annoying and compromise the would-be black comedy commentary, but there are precious few scares here. Fortunately, with its fun thunder, lightning, music, excellent editing, airplane fears, and apprehensive shocks, the highlight “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” remake starring a perfectly panicky John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun) in the famed William Shatner role is still superbly relatable. While there are no bridging stories pigeonholing the reworked plots from longtime TZ writers Richard Matheson and George Clayton Johnson and Melissa Mathison (E.T.) and Jerome Bixby (Star Trek), the suspense and/or lighthearted attempt to capture the varied spirit of the unforgettably superior series is woefully uneven. Though speculative and thought provoking, the scary claims are definitely misleading, and the rug is taken out from under any momentum because we know how these remakes end. Directors John Landis (Animal House), Steven Spielberg (hello), Joe Dante (The ‘Burbs), and George Miller (Babe) feel late on the scene. Thanks to the tragic behind the scenes helicopter accident this try hard homage becomes an unnecessary, shoddy, and latent blockbuster vanity project. Sure, it looks great on blu-ray and can be enjoyed by those who’ve somehow never seen The Twilight Zone, but most of this is too dated for young audiences and too tainted for older viewers to appreciate.

This article originally appeared at Horror Addicts.net. Search our Kbatz posts for more macabre! 


07 September 2014

Just Vamps Quatro!

Just Vamps, Quatro!
By Kristin Battestella

Another night, another quartet featuring a variety of bloodsucking delights past and present!

Count Dracula – This 1977 BBC adaptation starring Louis Jourdan (Gigi) as the oft-adapted eponymous vamp bills itself as “A gothic romance based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” There are noticeable changes, namely of Lucy and Mina as sisters and the combination character of Quincy P. Holmwood, however this longer two and a half hour episodic format begins with a bright and sunny Harker departure before spending more time with his Transylvania imprisonment than other film versions. The fashions feel a bit later, more Edwardian than the 1897 setting suggests but more dialogue from the book adds to the dark castle, spooky stonework, and moody tone along with creepy carriages, candles, Dictaphones, and fog. Frank Finlay (The Pianist) has the traditional sound and perfect style befitting as Van Helsing, but Jordan’s posh accent and echoing hypnotic sounds take some adjustment. While his freaky nails, hairy palms, and hint of fangs suggest something more sinister, his good looks, suave delivery, and fully clothed vampire brides feel too tame compared to then scarier vampires or, dare I say it, passé to fans of the millennial glitter vamp trends. Fortunately, the play like presentation and television filming of the time allow the story to take center stage. Though jarring at first, the reverse coloring, red distortions, and negative effects used are both crappy and psychedelic try hard cheap and strangely effective. The music is very minimal and the Demeter scenes are neutered to a mere mention over tea, but we do see Dracula walking down his castle wall. Creepy coffins, cemetery locales, bloody trickles around the mouth, and quality if hokey stakings with plenty of splatter keep up the atmosphere against the small scale design. Horse chases and action confrontations also escalate for final half hour, negating any of today’s slow or lacking saucy perceptions. This is a bit too long for the classroom in its entirety, however the mild tone and overall book faithfulness is perfect for showing and discussing selections of scenes not often found in the standard Dracula tellings, and Stoker enthusiasts will find this quite fun to see.  

Only Lovers Left Alive – I confess, I’d never actually seen a Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) movie before this unconventional 2013 vampire tale from writer and director Jim Jarmusch (Night on Earth) co-starring the always ethereal Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton). The intercut beginning – who is who, what’s happening, why they live apart – will confuse some, but secretive, spooky blue tones and soft, exotic yellow hues distinguish locales and feelings. These colors may seem too saturated or overly processed and deliberately dream like or off kilter and the brief CGI equals super speed actions are too noticeable. However, slowly spinning and descending camera angles and layers of décor create a cool, aged feeling and psychedelic mood along with great locations and sweet records. They aren’t pretty per se but these vamps looks like the old collectors we expect them to be, both of this time with modern technology yet accumulating piles of books and clutter. Their vampire nature is never out rightly stated and isn’t revealed until a half hour into the film with a ritualistic, sex scene-esque, ecstatic blood drinking high. There are dark, spooky moments, but the allure here is in the witty, mature script and sardonic but reflective banter between the ensemble. Hiddleston’s Adam is a moody musical fellow who dresses up as “Dr. Faust” to obtain his blood supply, and fun Byronic and historical references balance his pouty along with Swinton’s Eve and her contrasting white hair and Old World happiness. The couple would seem mismatched but her light content and his dark depressing are wonderfully kinetic and sensuous. John Hurt (Alien) is equally charming as Christopher Marlowe and Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale) amuses as the blood procuring Dr. Watson. Though the silent montages and heady atmosphere fits the tone, this seemingly aimless, desolate Detroit style won’t be for everyone and nothing much happens until the perfectly juvenile and obnoxious Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre) enter half way through the 2 hour time. Fortunately, the parallels and social commentary of quality genre fiction are here –these vampires influence art and science and accumulate knowledge while humanity ignores our spark and degrades into the mundane. They must learn how to live and love, too, and you know, handle the 21st century pressures in finding uncontaminated blood!

The Vampire – There’s pointless repeating for an old lady hard of hearing and a typical fifties kid on a bicycle to start this 1957 vampire and science blend, but otherwise the mysterious doctors, animal experiments, spooky house, thunder, and eerie music move swiftly for these 75 minutes. Interesting widower and father/daughter dynamics are introduced quickly and remain believable even while most of the fantastical science and old time doctoring will be shoddy today. Yes, mistaken pills and vampire bats plotting are obvious nowadays and fast talking cops or boring secondary characters are typical – never mind the whole lot of hooey and faux medical babble. However, the fifties over the top and expected horror hysterics are minimal, and a few red herrings add enough intrigue along with this likeable family threatened by naughty control serums and science gone awry. Although the simmering looses some luster once we see the goofy titular make up designs, the black and white shadows, darkness, and mostly off screen violence work wonderfully. There’s a pretty nurse and a whiff of a love triangle, but the romantic subplot is subdued enough and laced within mini suspense moments and crime vignettes. The guilt over these murders, vampire bites, and a deadly blood virus feel quite Jekyll and Hyde in spite of the preposterous science babble. The escalation progresses well, and dare I say it, the addiction parallels, viral paranoia, and suicide talk while not too deep to ruin the mid century fun do seem somewhat modern or ahead of their time. Some surprising turns and an enjoyable action finish round this one out nicely. 


One for the Kids!

The Return of Dracula – A hokey narration catches us up on this 1958 black and white vampire yarn, but it’s a bit odd to hear Transylvania talk alongside sweet classic cars, Leave it to Beaver nostalgia, and you know, Dracula in sunny California. At only 77 minutes, too much time is taken just getting started, and dangerous stakings and fine cemeteries are dismissed for a cliché older mom, teen daughter, and an annoying golly gee kid – heck their last name is Mayberry, coughandygriffithcough. Instead of unnecessary fifties niceties or aimless transitions, the script should be tighter; this mix of young romance, coppers on the case, and would be horror tries to do a bit of everything. The quality eerie parts seem like they are from a different movie thanks to smoke, howling dogs, wolf attacks, scared patients, coffins, and ominous music, and the few and far between supernatural leaves Francis Lederer (The Man I Married) with the bare minimum Dracula to do despite his proper look and pedigree. Fortunately, there are some interesting plot twists – from a sinister mistaken identity and dead cats to an unusual for the time widow and the suspicious male relative upstairs. Old fashioned over the top screamers and story possibilities are here, yet an uneven short sightedness, and trapped, B drive-in style will hamper the viewing for some. While it’s cool to see the mid century fashions, sewing, and décor, such wistful is unatmospheric compared to the spectacle of Hammer’s Horror of Dracula. One smart use of color, however, adds to the period entertainment here. Yes, there’s hardly any vampness per se, but the harmless taking itself seriously tone and obligatory Halloween Costume party finish make this one perfect for today’s spooky juveniles.