Friday, October 31, 2014

DRACULA (1931)

12 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN!
DAY 12

Bela
 Librarian’s Journal
(January 7)
I was in a state of great consternation when I saw the Count again. My fear was he and all that surrounded him would be too slow moving, that his pacing would be too static. These were justifiable fears, but I must say I found him to be largely accessible. Iconic is a word bandied about and I think my time with the Count reinforces that thinking with me as well. Other Counts have come and gone and some have made a lasting impression, but our image is now and will probably always be of this Count.

His castle was a wonder. The swirling stone steps, the giant cobwebs, the candles, the armadillos. The armadillos? I confess I have never seen a castle with armadillos before and I don’t know how they got there, but I hope it is a sight I will never see again. The three women of the night will be filling my dreams for a fortnight, I’m sure. Whether for good or for evil, God only knows.

But the count, the women, the castle and the armadillos were outdone by one. The one who made the greatest impression on me. The one referred to below.

Dwight
Librarian’s letter to the late Dwight Frye

(January 9)

Dear Mr. Frye,
I understand that you left this plane in 1943, but I hope you can somehow get the message that you are so cool! Love your laugh and your crazy smile and did you know that Alice Cooper wrote a song about you? I love that song Billion Dollar Babies . Do you like Billion Dollar Babies, Dwight? May I call you Dwight? Sorry about that whole typecasting thing and lack of roles after Dracula, but honestly, who would ever remember you if you played a kindly clergyman in some Robert Montgomery melodrama or the renegade brother in a Fred MacMurray/Claudette Colbert historical romance?
But we remember Renfield. Yes, we do!
In conclusion, just let me reiterate: RENFIELD RULES!

Lupita
Librarian’s Correspondence to the Criterion Collection

(January 8)

Dear Criterion,
Another excellent job with The Dracula Legacy Collection. Restoration was a success. Version with Phillip Glass musical store, though interesting, proved to be too much over the long hall. The commentary with Dark Carnival author David Skal was very good. He incorporated the Bram Stoker novel in the discussion at all the right times. The documentary about the evolution of Dracula from original conception to 1931 film was informative. Other movies included in this collection: Son of Dracula (Sorry, Lon Chaney Jr. is NOT Dracula), Dracula’s Daughter (Missed Lugosi and Frye in this one and who is Gloria Holden again?), House of Dracula (Just throw all the monster in and see if any of them stick) and the Spanish version of Dracula (This was the best of all the extra movies, and is a must for Dracula buffs and not just for the scantily dressed Lupita Tovar..) Good work Criterion. We’ll meet again.

And one more picture of Lupita because
there is no such thing as too many pictures of Lupita Tovar!
Memorandum
(January 10)
From Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, and McCormick M. D. M. R. C. S. L. K. Q. C. P. I ETC, ETC, ET AL, ET AL, vis-à-vis, i.e., in lieu, to wit, semi colon, ipso facto, quote unquote.
Gentleman? (On the penultimate not on the diphonic)
Forgive me, I need to brush up on my Transylvanian, so get a Transylvanian and brush up on him. In relation to the letter, remember to not leave out the body. Which isn’t a given when you’re dealing with Vampires. So, leave the body and mark it fra-jilly. If you can’t spell it, look it up under fragile. Let’s also include two quotes. Which makes four pints. Four pints? Well, that takes care of dinner for the evening. And that reminds me of the time I shot a vampire in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know. I was saying something about sending the soil from my homeland to London. But I made two carbon copies of this letter and threw the original away. Then I threw the carbon copies away.

Regards and Happy Halloween!…

Thursday, October 30, 2014

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979, WEST GERMANY)

12 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN!
DAY 11
Nosferatu 1922
Nosferatu 1979
Nosferatu, the Vampyre (1979) is how you do a remake! You bring all the elements from the original: the creepy castle of Nosferatu, the ill-fated ship transporting the vampire, and the confrontation between Nosferatu and his beloved at the end of the film. But you add new elements to the story to round the whole thing out. The embellishment on the details of the plague is the chief example, as well as the surprise twist to the ending that those that have seen the original (me at least) may not have been expecting here.

The scariest thing about the original is just the look of Max Schreck's Nosferatu. You may say his exaggerated features make him look too non-human. But I think Schreck's look is the best thing about the original. Klaus Kinski's Nosferatu  in this remake is still scary looking, but his appearance is toned down considerably. His eyebrows are less out of control, his ears less exaggeratedly pointy, but he is still a scary looking vampire. His at least reasonable proximity to a man does give him room to seem closer to the human species than the original. But not by much.

Additional casting notes: I recall on the commentary track for the movie Fitzcarroldo, how director Werner Herzog talked about how difficult Klaus Kinski was to work with. It should tell you about how good Kinski was that Herzog would keep using him in film after film. He is a marvelous and intense Nosferatu and is great to watch on screen. Extra hazard points to director Herzog for being able to rein in this difficult thespian here and elsewhere.

The movie also benefits from two strong actors in the roles of Jonathan and Lucy Harker: Bruno Ganz (later my all-time favorite Hitler in Downfall) and Isabelle Adjani (two-time Academy Award nominee.) 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

PONTYPOOL (2008)

12 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN!
DAY 10


Pontypool is actually not in the 1001 book, but I had heard some good things about it and thought I might be give it a go.

The plot concerns a radio station featuring a radio shock jock named Mazzie and his station manager who slowly gets word of odd events in their town that leads them to eventually realize that their community is being overrun by strange and monstrous forces.

The big difference in this film and other zombie films I have seen (I admit I haven't seen too many of this genre) is that it relies heavily on dialogue and suspense as supposed to shock value. Admittedly, there are a couple of  scenes of traditional horror like the engineers descent into the undead in the picture above, but much is left up to the viewers imagination.

But is this film actually an allegory on how the words that spew from these radio shock jocks infects its listeners and causes them to be zombies at best or angry and violent at worst? Maybe Ted Nugent should have played the lead.


Additional casting notes: I didn't really mean that about casting Ted Nugent because Stephen McHattie does such a grand job in this role. McHattie has seemingly been around forever and ads a grizzled deep-throated credibility to the role of Mazzie. I was wondering what I remember McHattie the most in. He's played small parts in big films like 300 and Watchmen, TV shows like Seinfeld and movies like Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills, a movie that I somehow missed. For some reason, I also remember him in an uninspired TV remake of Rosemary's Baby from the 70's called Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

THE BLACK CAT (1934)

12 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN!
DAY 9


I still have a great deal of affection for those Universal horror movies from the 1930's. They can be a bit stiff and clumsy and these old films seems ready to snap, crackle and pop off the screen at times! But that's part of their appeal. This loose adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story features Bela Lugosi as Dr. Peter Verdegast (a great name) who through a series of circumstances ends up at the creepy home of his former colleague and adversary Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff! and another great character name). He  arrives there with a couple he met at on the coach on the way to see Poelzig. The movie is creepy at times and silly at other times, but really, the main reason to see the movie is Bela and Boris.

Additional casting notes: Bela Lugosi hit big with Dracula in 1931 and Karloff hit it big with Frankenstein the same year. It was only natural that Universal would quickly try to team the two of them up. The Black Cat was the first of eight films they made together. 

Lugosi can go over the top at times. It's really part of his charm, to be honest. His screaming at the sight of a black cat is a little much for me. But the scene where he gets emotional over his departed wife is pretty touching. Karloff does sinister well. He exudes that old world charm, but you always suspect him of having bodies in the basement. In this film, that is literally true! It is great to see them together and I even enjoy the scenes of them playing chess.

The Tim Burton movie Ed Wood shows Bela at the end of his life as a drug addict who can only appear in movies with the worst filmmaker in the world (Ed Wood Jr., not Tim Burton). He is shown as being hopelessly jealous of Karloff and out of touch with reality, but the film's closing crawl points out that Bela's memorabilia far outsells Karloff memorabilia.

But in the Bela vs. Boris debate, I'm definitely a Karloff guy. So many good horror roles (Tower of London, The Body Snatcher, The Bride of Frankenstein) over the years and his final role in the 1968 film Targets, where he essentially plays himself is a favorite of mine. By all accounts a very proper English gentleman (real name Henry Pratt), who loved the game of cricket and a good cup of English tea, but when cameras rolled, the proper Mr. Pratt became Boris Karloff, the greatest horror star of his time.