My apologies for missing last week. My wife and I both came down with some nasty cold/allergy/flu thing and I just wasn’t up to writing about cool things when I was feeling so bad. But never fear, dear reader, I consumed many cool things during these last two weeks and I am ready to talk about them.
Today, is, of course, November 2nd, which technically means the end of Halloween season (and begins the most excellent Noirvember), but for one more day, we will be talking about a lot of horror movies. So sit back, grab your best stabbing knife, and see what I found.
My mother likes to tell the story about how the first time she watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds she was scared to death. Years later, she showed it to my brother and I when we were young, pumping it up as the scariest movie she’d ever seen. Apparently, we were quite underwhelmed with it, going so far as laughing at some of the special effects. As an adult, I wouldn’t call it scary, and those special effects do look a little hokey (the birds are clearly a mixture of real birds superimposed upon the screen and fake ones used to “bite” the actors) but it is a terrific piece of filmmaking.
It takes its time getting to the thrills and in fact, I think I prefer the story before it gets to the birds than after. It stars Tippi Hedren as a rich socialite who likes to play pranks and live it up. When Mitch (Rod Taylor), a San Francisco lawyer, plays a trick on her in the local bird store, she decides to buy a couple of love birds and hand deliver them to his apartment. There, she discovers he’s gone to the seaside village he lives in with his mother (a marvelous Jessica Tandy). Prankster that she is, she drives out to the village, learns he has a young sister (and changes the gift card to indicate that the birds are for her), and sneaks the present into his house.
I love the idea of this silly woman willing to go to such links for a silly little prank. It is a fun story that could go in all sorts of directions except some killer birds show up. Not that I dislike the killer birds, in fact, Hithcock delivers some really great moments with them including a fabulous scene in which more and more birds land on a playground behind Tippi Hedren without her noticing. But I do love that he takes his time getting to the birds and the story he’s created around the thrills is just as interesting.
A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2
For the last couple of years, I’ve tried to map out all the scary movies I want to watch during October. Both years, I’ve failed to watch everything on those lists, but it sure is fun trying. My goal this year was to watch every Nightmare on Elm Street ever made, but then I got a stack of review material to go through, and this thing happened and that thing happened and so I only watched the first two movies in the series.
Slashers from the ‘80s all blend together in my mind so I can’t remember if I’d seen Part 2 before or not. It seemed new to me as I didn’t remember anything that happened, but who knows if I had caught it before on some late weekend night when I was a teen?
A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of my favorite horror movies ever. I love the idea of a monster that can only haunt you in your dreams (and that whatever he inflicts in those dreams happen to you in real life). Wes Craven’s film is beautifully crafted, filled with eery and imaginative images, and terrifically scary. The first sequel is, well, not great.
It is clear that they wanted to expand the mythology and even came up with a pretty cool idea. A new family moves into the Elm Street house and Freddy learns how to possess the teenage boy, allowing him to wreak havoc in the real world. But then he doesn’t do much with that power. At one point, Freddy breaks into the real world and slashes up a bunch of teens at a pool party, which breaks all the rules of the mythology and is not at all explained. In so many ways, it feels like a cash-in with little thought given to making an actual good movie.
There are a couple of cool nightmares and I love living in this world, even if the rules of the world keep changing.
Scarface: The World Is Yours
Universal Studios just released a lovely special edition of two Scarface films. In 1932, Howard Hawks directed a terrific gangster film loosely based upon the life of Al Capone. Fifty some years later, Brian De Palma remade it with Al Pacino. The stories are roughly the same, but the filmmaking couldn’t be any more different. Hawks’s film is small and compact. It is tightly scripted and perfectly executed. De Palma’s film is sprawling and enormous in ever way. Both are terrific in their own way, though very different from each other.
This release brings a 4K transfer to the De Palma version and the Hawks film comes in Blu-ray for the first time ever. It also comes with a wonderful little gold statue to put on your shelf. You can read my full review of it here.
The Invisible Man
Last year, I watched a lot of classic Universal Horror films in October and I had initially planned to skip them this season. I love those movies, but my goal this year was to watch more modern horror films than old ones. But then I remembered that my wife is not a fan of horror and she wanted to spend some time with me and so I brought my Universal Box set out and we caught a few.
Made in 1933 and directed by James Whale, The Invisible Man apparently follows the book by H.G. Wells pretty well (I haven’t read it, but Wikipedia tells me so). It stars Claude Rains (in his American movie debut) as Dr. Jack Griffin, a mad scientist who has created a potion that has made himself invisible. He’s run away to a small village where he is holed up at a local inn trying to discover the antidote. He figures if he can make himself invisible then visible again at will then he can sell the potions to the highest bidder (or take over the world, depending on how far his megalomania/psychosis has taken him).
His strange behavior makes the villagers uneasy and eventually, his friends from back home show up, all of which leads to an extensive man-hunt which drives Griffin a bit mad and leads him to murder. The plot is a bit trifling, and at a brief 71 minutes, there isn’t time to develop much character, but Whale keeps things moving briskly and it's lots of fun to watch. He uses the setting to great effect (as he did in Frankenstein a few years earlier) and the special effects are top-notch. Griffin spends most of his time covered in bandages (which must have been fun for Rains) but when he takes them off, there is nothing behind them. The invisibility effect is common now but in 1933 it must have blown their minds. It is still really well done and quite effective in 2019.
I’ve always felt Lon Chaney Jr. looked rather ridiculous, and therefore completely not scary, as the Wolfman. This is one of the reasons I’ve generally stayed away from these films. A guy with hair glued all over his face and hands does not a wolfman make or something. The wife and I finally gave it a try and while the makeup still annoys me, the film is quite good.
Chaney plays Larry Talbot, a young man who returns to his ancestral home after many years away to reconcile with his estranged father (Claude Rains again). He quickly meets a pretty girl and learns of the werewolf curse. Naturally, he is later bitten by a werewolf and turns into one himself. There are old gypsies to explain it all to him and later, crowds of people with pitchforks and torches. The plot is pretty standard classic horror stuff, but it is all well done. The forest set is especially nice. It is filled with creepy trees, plenty of fog, and lots of terrific mood lighting. It isn’t my favorite Universal Horror film but is much better than I feared.
Based upon the popular books by Andrzej Sapkowski, which were also turned into a popular video game series, this Netflix series looks to fill in the Game of Thrones-sized hole in our pop-culture imagination. It stars Henry Cavill as a monster hunter who realizes that human are the real monsters of this world. I’m always down for a little sword and sorcery action so I’m hoping this is gonna be great.