Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, October 8, 2012

Halloween 2012: October 7

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)
I first saw this film in the late nineties, back when AMC’s MonsterFest was still awesome. I was around twelve and hadn’t seen the original. I remember finding this slow and off-puting. Looking back, all I remembered were a few scenes: Lucy looking into a mirror, her door opening, the vampire appearing next to her. A dinner table in a town’s square covered with rats. A man riding a horse across a swirling, wind-blown desert. It was definitely time to revisit.

Herzog’s “Nosferatu” doesn’t have much in common with the original. He, rightfully, doesn’t try to recreate too many of Mureau’s iconic images. Max Shriek’s Graf Orlok was a monstrous, soulless demon. Klaus Kinski’s Dracula is, while deeply inhuman, quietly envious of humanity. This film focuses more on the plague ravaging the German small town. It also adds a new downbeat ending. Very much a seventies Herzog film.

It’s also extremely creepy. The film starts with real-life mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico, setting up the unsettling tone. The town falling apart from the plague, dead animals in the streets, people dancing or rows of coffins being walked around, are surreal images. Klaus Kinski seems totally alien. In the spookiest moment, we see Dracula walking down a black-blue hallway, his white face slowly appearing. After entering Harker’s bedroom, he hovers over his bed. The scene recalls classical night terror imagery. Kinski is twitchy, especially when sucking a drop of blood from Harker’s finger, but mostly contains his fierce insanity, playing the vampire as distinctly separated from humanity. Scenes of him looking through a window at Lucy visually illustrates this disconnect from people yet his deep longing to belong. It’s a testament to Herzog’s sense of otherworldliness that Dracula is sympathetic but still scary. Kinski also has one of the strangest death scenes on film. It certainly outdoes Orlok fading away in the original.

While the outline of the novel is maintained, the film deviates wildly. Lucy, now Harker’s wife, is the hero. Adjani plays her as very strong, attuned to strangeness through her dreams. Though wide-eyed and virginal, she uses her sexuality to save the day. Van Helsing is no longer a heroic vampire slayer, instead a skeptical, impotent man of science. Renfield is played by a cackling, seriously insane seeming Roland Topor. He spends most of the movie locked up in a sanitarium and, when he finally meets Dracula, the vampire dismisses him, sends him on a pointless journey to his death. Mina appears in three scenes. Harker spends most of the movie confined to a chair.

The Herzogian aesthetic is obvious. There are long scenes of characters walking around caves and waterfalls, accompanied by droning music. The gypsies are given an extended role, played by actual local Roma. There’s many surreal touches, like a little boy playing an out-of-tune violin. The dream-like, slow pacing makes the film tricky to get into.

The original “Nosferatu” created startling horror imagery that resonates to this day. Herzog’s “Nosferatu” is a deeply creepy, surreal, personal reinvention of the material. It’s a horror movie not quite like any other and perhaps the most unique “Dracula” adaptation ever. [8.5/10]

Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)
What the hell, reference books and VHS collections? This is not a horror movie. Not even kind of. It is, perhaps I should have seen this coming, a stodgy costume drama, through and through. There are the most marginal of marginal horror elements. A murder, a tomb, some drug induced hallucinations, a storm, a creepy shadow cast on a wall. Despite the Victorian setting, the movie totally lacks any foggy English atmosphere.

It’s not a bad movie, though it is slow paced. Claude Rains gives an excellent performance as Uncle Jasper. The character, as written, could have been an obvious villain, leeringly lusting after a girl twenty years younger then him, an opium addict, so clearly plotting revenge. However, Rains makes him a real person. Though Rosa is disgusted by him (A little unfairly), his love for her is true, his devotion sincere. He shows remorse for his action, especially at the end. His decisions aren’t calculated, but rather rich with doubt. Rains’ gravelly delivery is used extremely well. The rest of the cast too, notably Douglass Montgomery as the accused boy, who even makes the somewhat absurd old man disguise actually work. The girls seem like very stereotypical Victorian ladies at first but do eventually develop personalities. There’s one really cool shot of a paper aging before our eyes, showing the pass of time brilliantly. Otherwise? I can’t say I was too horribly interested in this one. [5/10]


Life Returns (1935)
Also not a horror movie. Shit. This film is loosely based (Very loosely based) on a real life incident where scientist revived a dead dog. The filmmakers, for some reason, choose to build one of the most hackneyed melodramas I have ever seen around that premise. You’ve got a young, ambitious scientist who’s dreams of reviving the dead are crushed by the cold harsh realities of corporate commercialism. His wife dies of reasons never further elaborate on. His young son can’t sell newspapers and is constantly threatened with “Juvenile Hall,” as if that was hell on Earth. Soon, the kid meets up with a gang of young rapscallions, right out of fucking Little Rascals. After the kind of mean, sadistic dog catcher that only exists in crappy movies like this steals his beloved pet, the kids do a daring escape and release all the dogs from the pound. Meanwhile, Little Jimmy’s Dad kind of sits around, getting more depressed. Eventually, the beloved dog is killed and we finally get to the central gimmick the whole movie is built around. Instead of recreating the actual experiment, the characters in the film instead look off-screen at the actual stock footage of real scientist doing their thing.

I’m sure in real life the scientists just killed a dog for the expressed purpose of reviving it. And I’m fairly certain, after they brought the animal back to life, the beloved owner didn’t kneel before the operating table and cuddle. The movie’s in the public domain and is freely available on Youtube. Turning the hilariously incoherent close captioning on actually makes the film somewhat entertaining. [3/10]

High School of the Dead: “Dead Storm Rising”
Hey, what’s a beloved zombie movie cliché? People in confined spaces yelling at each other! The students talk to a group of adults. Because subtly isn’t in this show’s DNA, what should have been a reasonable conversation immediately degrades into outlandish shouting. The people committed to non-violence are portrayed as accusatory fascists. Japan, you so crazy. After a long-winded discussion between Smart Girl and Fat Nerd, everyone decides Boring Hero Guy is the leader of the group, an obvious conclusion the show came to in the second episode. After that, Boring Girl reveals that the only thing she looks for in a man is niceness and good looks before confessing her undying love to Boring Guy. He can’t decide to kiss her or slap the shit out of her. (Direct quote.) Then they almost fuck. Because leaders get pussy.

Then Evil Teacher shows up. Apparently him and all his students have been hanging out in that fucking bus for the last week. The show doesn’t answer the question of where they’ve been pooping. By the way, it’s a literal fucking bus. Because there’s nothing high school girls want to do more then have wild orgies with their teachers, especially ones that are so blatantly manipulative and power-mad. Anyway, gratuitous cleavage is enough to get them into the compound. Boring Girl overacts wildly and we finally find out what the hell her problem with this guy is, beyond the fact that he’s obviously evil. He held her back a grade. He held her back a grade and she almost bayonets him. I mean, the dude’s an obnoxious scumbag, but seriously? Also, in an expositionary monologue, Evil Teacher says that his dad was a tyrannical douche and his mom killed himself, wah, wah, Freudian excuse. Anyway, him and his orgy brigade jump back on the bus and leave. So there’s a dangling plot thread resolved in the most unexciting manor possible.

In a scene that amounts to squad and zip, Smart Girl’s asshat dad, who we are apparently suppose to like, gives Sword Girl what basically amounts to a +1 Katana. Hero Protagonist decides to leave the mansion and give finding everyone’s parents one more shot. Saeko, decked out in her latest ridiculous outfit, decides to follow him. Boring Hero Girl gets insanely jealous. The USA launches their nukes, plunging the world into nuclear apocalypse, as observed by a pair of astronauts on a satellite. Even the woman astronaut is stacked. One more episode. [4/10]

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