Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Halloween 2011: October 4

Ever-present movie watching pal JD joined me today to ring in the proper begin of Halloween season. He requested a vampire theme for some reasons, and, well, vampires were had.

Horror of Dracula (1958)
JD wanted to see this one when I told him that it concluded with a big throw-down between Dracula and Van Helsing. Indeed, one of the things that are so appealing to me about the Hammer horror films is how physical both Christopher Lee’s Dracula and Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing are. Early in the film, while his bride attempts to seduce Harker, instead of just telling the girl to back off, Dracula leaps over the table, grabs her by the arm, and tosses the vampire across the room. Cushing would graduate to full-on action star in “Brides of Dracula,” but he still remains pretty badass in this one, especially during the final confrontation with the count. (Compared to the Universal Dracula, where the Count is disposed of off-screen with a simple stake to the heart, it’s a quite a culture-shock.) Lee’s massive physicality is used to horrific affects as well. As the Count barges into Mina’s room, filling her door way, he backs her into a corner, onto a bed, and pushes her down. It’s an implicit rape and I’m shocked Hammer was able to get away with it.

While “Curse of Frankenstein” would really set the standard for Technicolor gore, “Dracula” still has the vivid bright colors. It’s almost more like a comic book then a movie, heightened reality. It’s as much a part of the Hammer atmosphere as the black-and-white Gothic fog is a part of the Universal series. It takes a while to get started, but it’s easy to see how this film revived and reinvented the classic monsters in the fifties. (8/10)

The Monster Squad (1987)
This is pretty much the perfect dude movie for JD and I. We can shout along with the best dialogue. We laugh during the hilarious bits, cheer along with the exciting parts. Cheese-covered junk foods are required while watching. It’s easy to see ourselves in multiple members of the cast. I’ve seen the movie multiple times but it never stops being awesome. If anything, it’s more entertaining with each repeated viewing. (We even provide our own one-liners. “That’s a wrap.” You guy’s know what I’m talking about.)

Something I noticed about the movie this time is that it’s pretty rough for a supposed kid’s movie. Dracula is really a vicious bastard here. He blows up a cop car, completely immolating somebody. (The black guy, obviously. At least he’s not the first one to die.) He has a trio of innocent schoolgirls locked up in his closet, in a moment that carries more then a few unpleasant implications. In a great scene, he walks down the street towards his desired target, decimating any of the cops that try to stop him with simple hand movements. Of course, he also blows up a tree house that he believed to be full of little kids. All of this is before screaming in a little girl’s face and calling her a “Bitch!” Dracula is always undeniably evil, but he’s usually not this mean. The movie’s tone is dissonant in other ways too. The Wolfman getting blown up is pretty gory for a PG rating. The Gillman does crush a guy’s head, albeit bloodlessly. And, of course, Scary German Guy sporting a concentration camp tattoo is unusually sobering. All of this occurring back to back with Wolfman’s nards and Dracula getting burnt with a slice of pizza makes for a bit of whiplash.

I don’t really mind though, obviously. The movie’s tone is actually perfect because it’s exactly the kind of thing a twelve year old monster fan would write, mixing the goofy, classic, and gory in equal measures. This is somewhat ironic since, when I was a twelve year old monster fan, I didn’t actually like “The Monster Squad.” I found it too campy and nitpicked little things, like monsters of divergent backgrounds being brought together with little or no logic. Now I realize it doesn’t really matter how the monsters came together or even why they’re together. The movie is about the classic monsters hanging out, not about why they’re hanging out. The movie is cheesy, campy even, enthusiastically so in spots. But now I get why that’s awesome too. You learn a lot with age. (9/10)

The Night Stalker (1972)
Since I did do a comprehensive “Kolchak” marathon last Halloween, I wasn’t planning on revisiting the series this season. However, JD requested a vampire theme tonight and had never seen the original “Night Stalker” movie, so we popped it in. (He thought it was too slow, by the way. He’s not use to seventies television.) I don’t have too much of anything else to say about this one that wasn’t said last year. Kolchak remains my fictional hero and, while this movie is very good, has a fantastic villain, and an intense finale, I contend that the Kolchak formula wouldn’t be perfected until the TV series. (7/10)

Countess Dracula (1971)
I really like the early seventies Hammer output. The company was experiencing diminished returns with their gothic horror films and, instead of switching to modern stories, just decided to toss some graphic sex and gore onto their traditional period settings. Basically an amplified version of their usual style. The company was still out of business by the end of the decade, but they did give us “Vampire Circus,” “The Vampire Lovers” and “Lust for a Vampire,” fantastically entertaining guilty pleasures. “Countess Dracula” comes from that same time period and, while it’s not as good as the above mentioned title, it has a lot of the same chutzpah. Of the few Elizabeth Bathory films I’ve seen, this is definitely the best. Ingrid Pitt maybe wasn’t a great actress, but she was always easy to watch in a film, and for more then just the obvious reasons. This is a strong leading role for her. The supporting cast is great too while the short running time, copious nudity and gore, and sadistic story make this a pretty tasty snack for horror fans. (Also, not technically a vampire movie, but close enough.) (7/10)

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