Another week in October, another week of horror. I never quite manage a full 31 days of Horror, but this year, I’m not doing to shabby. The plan this year is to watch several batches of horror films and their many sequels. I typically only watch the first one or two films in a franchise before backing out before they turn bad. But this time I figured it might be fun to dig deep into a few series. Initially, I had planned to hit up some '80s movies like Nightmare on Elm Street or the Halloween films, but after watching The Curse of Frankenstein, I decided to go with some classic Universal Horror flicks.
The First three Frankenstein films are terrific (even if I was constantly giggling at all the Young Frankenstein connections) but the fourth one, The Ghost of Frankenstein, is a real woofer. I’ve got one House of Frankenstein to watch before I turn to the Dracula films.
I also caught an Exorcist sequel that is better than it needed to be and a far out, bonkers Tobe Hooper sci-fi-horror flick that we’ll talk about in a moment. And without further preamble, here we go.
James Whale's 1931 film was not the first cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel, nor would it be the last, but without it, I doubt we’d still be talking about the monster today. It is a stone cold classic. It has a great performance by Boris Karloff as the monster, a totally off kilter one by Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and a fantastic bit of direction from James Whale. The sets are iconic and its use of light and shadows gives it an artistic flair that a monster movie really doesn’t deserve.
The Bride of Frankenstein
The rare sequel that is arguably better than the first. Clive and Karloff are back and James Whale once again directs. The story is similar to the first, this time Frankenstein has been enlisted by a new mad scientist to make a female companion for the Monster in hopes that this will calm his murdering tendencies down a bit. It is technically more ambitious with great use of special effects and its themes grow deeper. Karloff gives a touching performance showing that the monster really craves a human connection but all we give in return is fear and hatred.
Son of Frankenstein
Both James Whale and Colin Clive departed for this second sequel. Basil Rathbone takes the Frankenstein role, as Henry, the estranged son of Victor Frankenstein, who moves his wife and son to the family castle and swears to the villagers that he has no interest in his father’s work. It introduces Ygor (a fabulous Bela Lugosi), who finds the Monster in a coma after the dramatic events of the previous films conclusion. Ygor convinces Frankenstein to revive the Monster in hopes of curing it of its homicidal tendencies. Some pretty terrific 1930s horror ensues. I dare say the visuals on this one are even better that its two predecessors. The cavernous sets and odd camera angles give it a German Expressionist vibe and the light and shadow work is insanely great for the third movie in a franchise. This was the last full-length feature film in which Karloff plays the monster ending what may be the greatest horror trilogy of all time.
The Exorcist III
William Friedkin’s original Exorcist film is almost an art film, albeit one with projectile vomiting and crucifix masturbation. It has lofty ambitions and high quality execution. Its sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic is completely nuts-o, high budget, effects-laden mess (a glorious, wonderful mess). The Exorcist III is a pretty straightforward horror film that spends most of its run time pretending to be a crime drama (before Satan literally enters the picture in its last act). It is surprisingly good. George C. Scott plays Lt. Kinderman, a cop investigating a series of bizarre murders that look suspiciously like the work of the Gemini Killer, who was captured and executed several years prior.
Eventually he talks to James Venamun (a deliciously over-the-top Brad Dourif), a mental patient who Kinderman suspects is actually Father Karras (from the first film) who has been possessed by the Gemini Killer and is controlled by the demon from the previous films. It's all a bit of nonsense, but William Peter Blatty (who wrote and directed) fills it with some truly unsettling moments making it a much better film that it needed to be.
After the huge success of Poltergeist, director Tobe Hooper was given a truck full of money and carte blanche to make whatever he wanted to. He chose Lifeforce. a science-fiction/horror blend that is so bonkers one can hardly believe it exists. Based on a novel called Space Vampires (which is maybe all you need to know), the film follows a crew of astronauts who discover an enormous ship in tail of Halley’s Comet. Investigating, they find a bunch of giant dead spiders and three comatose naked people. Naturally, they take the naked people back to Earth. The naked lady wakes up and starts murdering people with her naked vampire, electric rays.
One of the scientists finds he has a psychic connection to naked vampire lady and sets out to find her. This leads him to Patrick Stewart’s psychiatric hospital doctor who just might be possessed by one of the naked alien dudes. Or maybe not, it might just be a ruse to get them out of London before the naked alien vampires overrun the entire city with zombies. It is impossible to describe just how bat-poop crazy this film is. It's as if Hooper given a big budget with no constraints (and no guidance from Steven Spielberg who produced Poltergeist) did every thing he could think of knowing they’d never give him this kind of money and control again. It is not even close to a good movie, but it absolutely needs to be seen.
Pet Sematary (2019)
The first teaser trailer for the new adaptation of Stephen King’s book just dropped and it looks really interesting.