Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween 2012: October 23

Dead Man’s Eyes (1944)
List of careers Lon Chaney has held in the Inner Sanctum series: Neurologist, professor of folklore, portrait painter. It’s a good things these movies are unrelated, isn’t it? Otherwise that shit would get super convoluted. Anyway, after “Calling Dr. Death” and “Weird Woman” were surprisingly good, “Dead Man’s Eyes” is the first dud in the series. As is the standard for this series thus far, two different woman are in love with Chaney: His fiancé and his model. In an act of jealousy, the model switches the artist’s eye-wash out with acid, burning his corneas. The only man willing to give Chaney the corneas he needs is his girlfriend’s rich dad. Naturally, the dad is murdered, and other murders follow. Once again, a hard-ass police detective gets on Chaney’s case even though he is, per the series’ rules, totally innocent.

“Dead Man’s Eyes” is a snore. The direction is, compared to the first two films, bland. Chaney actually starts out as a very happy man but, as soon as he’s blind, he falls back into his typical angsty mode. The movie notes briefly the recently blinded man’s tendency to drink, possibly touching on Chaney’s real-life alcoholism. This story thread is dropped quickly as the movie focuses on the murder-mystery. Unlike the last two, the murder-mystery is the only horror element in the film, placing this one on the margins of the genre. There’s fewer voice-overs too and covering Chaney’s eyes takes away a major acting factor of his. It’s fairly easy who the murderer is and far too much of the movie is spent discussing the location of a pair of eyes or character’s condition. Acquanetta plays the jealous model and it’s easy to see why she didn’t have any lines in the Paula the Ape Woman movies. Her performance isn’t very good. Chaney has some okay chemistry with Jean Parker, the actress playing his girlfriend and Thomas Gomez, as this entry’s hard-ass detective, is fun as well. The super-happy ending wraps everything up way too cleanly. Hopefully the remaining Inner Sanctum films will be more like the previous two then “Dead Man’s Eyes.” [4/10]

The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)
For a change, “The Mummy’s Ghost” doesn’t start with stock footage from the previous movie. Instead, it starts with a college professor giving an exposition filled monologue about what happened in the last movie. I don’t know if that’s an improvement or not. “The Mummy’s Ghost” is the first mummy movie since the original to bring up the issue of resurrection. While it wasn’t mentioned much in the last two, apparently the mummy of Princess Ananka was brought back to a museum in Mapleton, MA. At it once again are the priests of Arkam (Pronounced AH-Kam, not like the asylum or the town), apparently taking over for the Priest of Karnak even though George Zucco is back as the aging high priest with a broken arm. John Carradine heads to Massachusetts and boils himself some Tana leaves tea under a full moon. Despite being burnt to ashes in the last movie, the tea ritual apparently summons Kharis magically out of thin air. Meanwhile, a young female student at the college is experiencing a strange connection with the mummy. When the priest try to perform a ritual over Ananka’s mummy, she dreams Kharis is floating over her. She sleepwalks when he is about. And her hair is slowly turning white…

I’d compare “The Mummy’s Ghost” to “Son of Dracula.” Oh, that movie is much better then this one but both films share a dark streak, both visually and in their story. Amina, the resurrected Princess Ananka, provides an interesting angle. Not only is she unambiguously the reincarnation of the dead princess, she seems to be becoming a mummy as the film goes on. I wish actress Ramsay Ames was giving a little more to do besides look fantastic in a tight nightgown and pass out on a slab, because she shows some talent. I suspect if Universal had wanted to, this could have been a Val Lewton-style story of a girl realizing her own strange, and frightening, legacy.

But “The Mummy” sequels have much more modest goals. “The Mummy’s Ghost” is content to be the same-old-same-old story of a dusty old mummy rampaging across New England. The last movie tried to make the slow, shambling mummy frightening by suggesting a supernatural influence on his environment. This one emphasizes his strength. The first thing Kharis does upon resurrection is smashed through a wooden fence. Later, he crashes through a barn wall and destroys a museum display. Once again, Lon Chaney does he best to act under the ungainly make-up. John Carradine does his thing and, once again, the High Priest character falls in love with the girl in peril at the last minute. Kharis proves to be the jealous type. The movie is infamous for its downbeat ending. I’m not quite sure why they went in that direction, though it is surprising. Weirdly, the movie ends with one of the “God punishes though who meddle” message but this time it’s talking about the Egyptian Gods. Dogs also featured prominently in this one for some reason. If it wasn’t for that ending, “The Mummy’s Ghost” would probably be utterly unremarkable. With it, it suggests a much more interesting film could have been made from these reliable, schlocky stock parts. [5.5/10]

Intruders (2012)
Here’s a thriller from just this year that’s been overlooked. Juan Carls Frensnadillo is one of those Spanish genre directors that rode into the American film industry in the early 2000s on a wave of interest in Spanish. Like a lot of those directors, he quickly fizzled out. “Intruders,” similarly, starts out extremely promising before being derailed by a kind of lame ending.

The film is rooted in childhood fears, which is extremely fertile ground for horror. A girl, while visiting with her grandparents house, pulls a matchbox out of a tree. In the box, is a fold-up piece of paper telling the story of a boogeyman named Hollow Face, a creature that snatches children’s faces. Soon, the girl is haunted by the spectre. Despite this juicy premise, the film actually focuses on her father, played by Clive Owen, and how he deals with the mysterious intruder in his home, violating the privacy and sanctity of the child’s bedroom. With the focus on childhood fears, the girl’s twelve birthday, her desire to grow up, her relationship with her father, and some growing animosity with her mom make me think this was going to be a story about childhood, coming of age, and night terrors. It’s not really about that. There’s a parallel story about a Spanish child similarly being haunted by the same entity, his single mother helpless to do anything about it. The film ties these two story threads together in the least interesting fashion position.

As I said, “Intruders” has so much potential in that premise and set-up. As the two frightened, hapless parents, Clive Owen and Pilar Lopez de Ayala both give excellent performances. Sequences of a black, shadowy figure, intentionally recalling the shadow people concept, emerging from a closet proves deeply creepy. The subtle score helps builds these thrills, even if they are sometimes undermined by some sketchy CGI effects. The mystery and intensity of the situation builds to a high pitch… To the middle of the film. At which point, the story is revolved in a really uninteresting manner. I mean, it tries to be interesting. The film handles the trite twist in a way that builds into the story’s themes. But it still can’t overcome the inherent lameness of the twist. Especially when we get to the story’s proper climax, which keeps playing it for supernatural thrills even though we know the truth now, feels a bit tedious.

All of this is a real bummer because the beginning really is promising. There are the building blocks here of a thrilling, original horror film playing on real life fears and tensions. Faceless people are almost always creepy and this movie plays into that well. So I still don’t know what to make of Fresnadilo as a talent, since “28 Weeks Later” also left me with a mixed reaction. Maybe eventually he’ll make an awesome horror movie that doesn’t compromise its own premise. [6/10]

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