Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween 2012: October 30

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
Given that the Invisible Man series had wander into comedy once before, picking him as the next monster to team Bud and Lou with makes sense. “Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man” is nowhere near as funny as the previous film. It’s still pretty amusing.

Bud and Lou are well-suited to their parts as sham detectives, ones that profit off of entrapping customers. Their business quickly puts them in contact with a boxer, on-the-run and framed for murder. A friend of his just happens to have the invisibility formula lying around, apparently willed it by Claude Rains’ original. (Jack Griffin in the original, John Griffin here.) Despite being well warned of the insanity side effects, the boxer immediately mainlines the potion. As to be expected, Bud is drafted as a boxer, while the invisible man does all the actual work, until the real murderer reveals himself.

The movie strikes a decent balance between invisibility gags, Costello’s scared reactions, and the duo’s trademark back-and-forth. Costello’s reactions get the most laughs. When taking the invisible man his clothes, amid a beautiful fog covered forest, Lou slowly becomes aware of the unseen man’s presence. Big laughs come from an early moment where a shrink attempts to hypnotize the stout one, which doesn’t go as expected. The invisibility gags take center stage, as you’d expect. A funny dinner scene involves conflicting orders and floating plates of spaghetti. When a nosy detective walks in on their poker game, the guys take an unexpected route of hiding their invisible roommate. Oddly, most of the boxing stuff falls a little flat. Training in a gym provides some decent laughs but the finale’s boxing match is played surprisingly straight.

As you’d expect, the horror aspect take a backseat. This is a decidedly non-murderous invisible man. The insanity side-effects mostly show through loud speeches about how powerful invisibility makes him. (Which is, you know, true.) The movie gets the guy in bandages and goggles once, mostly out of obligation, since it doesn’t feed into the plot any. The ending is appropriately goofy. I wish Bud had a little more to do in this one. Aside from an early threat to smack Lou around, he’s mostly relegated to a supporting role. At this point, the Meet the Monsters series was still rolling along at an amenable pace. “Meet the Invisible Man” isn’t a masterpiece but is lots of fun. [7/10]

The Black Castle (1952)
One of the purposes of the Universal Classic Horror Mega-thon was to revisit movies I had seen before. Barely. Stuff I had watched in the middle of the night while dozing or while doing homework on my laptop, the DVD playing in the background. Some of these films, like the Inner Sanctum Mysteries or “Tower of London,” I found myself actually enjoying and appreciating far more then before. Some of the movies I found as unengaging and dull as before. “The Black Castle” falls into that category.

Once again: Not a horror movie. For a fact, it’s something of a companion to “The Strange Door” in that both are period revenge melodramas that relegate horror star Boris Karloff (and, in this case, Lon Chaney Jr.) to small supporting roles, with some minor atmosphere or a macabre element here and there. The horror fake-out continues to the opening credits which recycles the overturn from “The Wolf Man” for the umpteenth time. Set in a castle in the Black Forest, a mythic setting that the film doesn’t use much, the story revolves around a sinister count (You know he’s sinister because he wears an eye-patch) plotting revenge against some people who screwed him over in a war in African or something. Our hero, Richard Greene, wanders into the castle unaware of this and subsequently has to escape several death traps. When not having passive-aggressive conversations with the count, he’s wooing Rita Corday’s beautiful countess. Karloff plays a doctor who comes off as malicious at first but eventually is revealed to be a nice guy. Chaney plays a mute, brutish servant, a character type the actor would reprise repeatedly through the end half of his career, mostly because he was slowly dying of throat cancer at this time.

There’s some fog around the castle, especially in the early moments. The Count, in his various journeys through Africa, has amassed a collection of deadly animals. A memorable moment involves a fist fight above a dungeon mote full of crocodiles. Lions and jaguars also show up. The most horrific element involves a drug that induces a death-like state. People laying in coffins, thoughts bouncing around in their still heads is actually sort of frightening. Once again, the movie never really exploits this element. Karloff and Chaney aren’t given much to do. At least “The Strange Door” had Boris kicking some ass. Stephen McNally does all right in the villainous role. Director Nathan Juran would direct numerous sci-fi/fantasy classics in the fifties, like “20 Million Miles to Earth,” “The Deadly Mantis,” “The Brain From Planet Arous,” “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman,” “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” and “Jack the Giant Killer.” He was better suited to that genre. [5/10]

Final Destination 2 (2003)
I never would have thought that “Final Destination” would become one of the most enduring millennial horror franchises. The original wasn’t a bad movie. It was a clever update of the slasher formula and owed more then a little to “The Omen.” (Both series dispatch their victims through convoluted Rube Goldberg-style accidental death traps.) However, it was horribly earnest and, beyond the wacky death scenes, had nothing much else to offer. I think the only reason the “Final Destination” series has had such longevity is, unlike the “Saws” and “Paranormal Activities,” the series hasn’t burnt itself out with yearly installments. The movies are elaborate enough to force a few years between each installment. The reason I say this is because none of the movies are all that good. Except for this one. (And part five but I’m not talking about that right now.)

And it’s good the same way a “Friday the 13th” sequel is good. From a writing perspective, these movies are… Dumb. The entire premise is dumb. Lots of people survive near death experiences every year and most of them aren’t brutally killed afterwards in ridiculous, contrived manners. There’s a reason that, despite five films being made, none have ever attempt to build any kind of mythology, aside from throwing out more ways to escape “Death’s design” that most certainly don’t work. It’s never been said but can certainly be assumed that the psychic visions that open each film are provided by Death. So why does Death give people these vision with the intention of then brutally murdering them afterwards? Why does Death brutally murder people anyway? It’s Death! He can off you in any way! Why make such a show of it? The only real thing we can gleam from all of this is that the Grim Reaper has an utterly brutal sense of irony and is also a passive aggressive dick hole. Tony Todd’s character shows up every couple of movies to sinisterly hiss some bit of vague misinformation, as if he really knows what’s going on.

So the story is utter nonsense. Like “Friday the 13th," each entry in the series has the same blueprint. Character has vision of horrific accident that gorily kills shitloads of people, some how manages to avoid said accident, him/herself and friend proceed to suffer horrible accidental deaths… Or deaths that seem accidental anyway. Part two is no different. The characters aren’t great. They roughly break down into stereotypes: Final girl, an initially skeptical love interest, stoner guy, snarky chick, Mom, Son, Angry Black Man. Some of the characters get a smidge of personality. Angry Black Man panics nicely. My favorite moment is when Stoner Guy knows he’s the next in line to die. He tells Final Girl to, after he dies, go into his apartment and remove all his drugs and porn, anything that will “break his mom’s heart.” It is a surprisingly touching moment in a movie that otherwise dispenses with any character moments. None of the actors are bad, with one exception: Ali Larter, the returning survivor from the first movie. Holy shit, how did this lady become a star? She’s wooden, wears one slightly constipated expression throughout, and can never make a single line sound convincing. The “Resident Evil” movies clearly deserve her.

None of that matters anyway because the entire movie is built around the death scenes. And, holy cow, they are incredible. The opening freeway pile-up is hugely intense. The motorcyclist sliding across the glass is uncomfortably realistic to anyone who has survived a bike crash. The entire sequence will make you nervous every time you pass a truck hauling logs. It’s a hell of way to open the movie. The kitchen sequence is the first sign of the movie’s darkly humorous wit. It’s an over-the-top, extended game of misdirection that has an amazingly nasty, unpleasant payoff. Characters explode into ludicrous gibs with little provocation. A battering log smears a man into splattered meat. In the best kill in the movie, a teenage kid is squashed by a falling plate of glass, dissipating into an explosion of blood and gore. Person one second, puddle the next. Even for a seasoned gore fan like myself, it’s almost too much. The dark humor shows up again when the Jaws of Life have the opposite effect. My second favorite kills involves a flying barb-wire fence dissecting a guy into four parts. The stunted look on his face is almost hilarious, even if the globs of flailing intestine aren't. The movie never quite tops those moments even if the hospital-set last act rolls along at a decent pace. The gore comedy mentality continues into the final scene, which features a severed limb falling in just the right spot.

And that’s why “Final Destination 2” is awesome. The death scenes are some of the wettest ever put to film and any mean spirit intentions are grinned away by the movie’s dark wit. That’s one of the reasons why three and four disappointed me so much. They returned to the dead serious tone of the first entry. Only five featured the same sick kills and gruesome humor. Hopefully the inevitable part six will continue that tradition. [7.5/10]

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