Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Halloween 2018: October 15

Young Frankenstein (1974)

We're four weeks into the Halloween Horror-fest Blog-a-thon and I haven't talked about a Frankenstein movie yet. While there's more movies inspired by Mary Shelly's novel than you could count, Universal's 1931 adaptation – probably my all-time favorite movie – is still the most iconic. Among the many other films James Whale's masterpiece has inspired, Mel Brook's 1974 parody “Young Frankenstein” stands in a class all its own. Released the same year as Brook's groundbreaking “Blazing Saddles,” the film was a success and has frequently found itself near the top of “funniest movies of all time” lists.

A loose sequel to the Universal films, “Young Frankenstein” takes place two generations after Dr. Frankenstein first revived a corpse. His grandson, Fredrick Frankenstein, disavows his family's history of making monsters. He's happy to be a brilliant surgeon, engaged to a socialite named Elizabeth. Yet when he receives a summons to Transylvania, to inherit his family estate, he goes anyway. He meets an eccentric collection of characters – a hunchback named Igor, goofy assistant Inga, the mysterious Frau Blucher – and soon finds himself drawn into his family legacy. Fredrick regains his blood rite and builds his own creation.

I recall Mel Brooks once saying he only parodies genres he respects. And it's obvious he respects the classic “Frankenstein” movies. “Young Frankenstein” brilliantly recreates the look and feel of the Universal films. The cobweb-strewn castles and the cobble-stoned villages are maintained. The fog covered moors and shadowy woods appear as perfectly here as in 1931. The same sort of miniatures and expressionistic images are used. Brooks adapts the same cinematic language. The scene transitions typical of golden age films, like wipes and slow irises out, are also used. Even the same sound effects, like the classic castle thunder, are used. Sequences from the original series both well-known, like the visit with the blind man from “Bride of Frankenstein,” and more obscure, like the dart game from “Son of Frankenstein,” are paid homage to. Basically, if you're a hardcore fan of Universal's original “Frankenstein” cycle, you'll feel right at home with “Young Frankenstein.”

Brooks works hard to replicate that look so he can then subvert and comically undermine the seriousness of those old films. This is apparent from the moment Fredrick arrives in Transylvania. Igor stubbornly refuses to act like the usual drooling, monosyllabic man servent. Instead, he mocks the way Fredrick says his last name. From there, “Young Frankenstein” rarely misses a chance to poke fun at the serious trappings. The way the old films repeated dramatic moments is mocked with a widely misunderstood running joke involving Frau Blucher's name. The secret passageways so common in old films is bent in an absurd direction. The discovery of the original Frankenstein's old lab is defused with funny songs and an overly specific book title. The dart throwing scene, a moment of tension in “Son of Frankenstein,” elevates in silliness thanks to off-screen sound effects. The monster's first attack becomes a game of charades. Fredrick confronting his creation quickly breaks down into panicked screams.

As hilarious as “Young Frankenstein's” call-backs to the original series are, you don't have to be familiar with the older films to think the film is funny. Mel Brooks is certainly gifted at creating moments of hilarious absurdity. Kenneth Mars' Inspector Kemp, a parody of Lionel Atwill's Krogh from “Son of Frankenstein,” has a wooden arm that he frequently has to rearrange, a gag that gets funnier every time. The parody of the Blindman scene relies more on the hilarity of the Monster's reaction to the man's antics than familiarity with the original. The movie's breed of lovable goofiness peaks during the “Puttin' on the Ritz” sequence, which again correctly assumes watching Frankenstein tap dance will be hilarious. While the film smartly takes many breathers between gags, Brooks includes many small jokes that might be missed on a first viewing. Like a villager bumping his head during the walk through the woods or Igor picking up only the smaller suitcase at the train station.

Part of the reason why “Young Frankenstein” is a beloved comedy classic is because it assembles one of the best cast the genre has ever seen. Gene Wilder is, of course, hilarious as Fredrick. Yet Wilder is also totally sincere, bringing an incredible mad energy to Fredrick's more manic episodes. Cloris Leachman's performance is also similarly heart-felt, even when delivering intentionally ridiculous dialogue. Marty Feldman is consistently hysterical as Igor, rarely missing a chance to pepper in a silly one-liner or an absurd comedic gesture. Teri Garr is lovably goofy as Inga, showing her own strength for memorable dialogue. Lastly, Peter Boyle is pitch perfect as the monster, his expressive face working fantastically to create laughs and genuine pathos.

Here's the truth: “Young Frankenstein” isn't the laugh-a-minute gut-buster that “Blazing Saddles” or “Spaceballs” is. Some of the gags border on tasteless from a modern perspective. Some of the jokes, such as a long moment involving the little girl, drag a bit. But none of that matters. As a piece of art, the film is brilliant. This is the gold standard for parody films, perfectly capturing the atmosphere of the original film while happily having fun with the tropes and presentation. The cast is genuinely phenomenal. Even the music is great. It's not just a really good comedy, it's a great film all around. [9/10]

Hatchet III (2013)

“Hatchet II's” release was not without its controversies. The sequel was obviously released unrated, its excessive violent making an MPAA rating unlikely. Director Adam Green claims the film's theatrical release was brought to a premature end due to pressure from the rating board. I have no idea if this was true or an attempt to drum up free publicity for the movie. Either way, the  quickly extinguished release did not, it would seem, impede part two's success. Three years later, the Victor Crowley story would continue. The Hatchet Army would get to see “Hatchet III” in June of 2013.

As with “Hatchet II,” the third film picks up right where the last one left off. After seemingly taking Victor Crowley apart, Marybeth walks into the local police station. As she's covered in blood, she is immediately arrested. While the cops are eager to pin Crowley's latest massacre on Marybeth, it soon becomes clear that something stranger is going on. The cops and a special forces team head into the swamp. Meanwhile, a journalist obsessed with the Crowley legend gets Marybeth out of her cell. They get a hold of Thomas Crowley's ashes, believing they may be the key to ending Victor's curse once and for all.

It surprised me to read that Adam Green didn't direct “Hatchet III.” B.J. McDonnell, who has primarily worked as a camera operator and worked on the first two films, is credited with directing. However, Green wrote, produced, and had final cut on the sequel. Despite the obvious influence Green swayed, you can tell McDonell had his own approach to the material. “Hatchet III” treats its gory mayhem a little more seriously than the first two.  In between the guts, exploded heads, hacked-off limbs, and gallons of blood are scenes attempting suspense. Characters are pinned down in tight locations and we wonder if they'll make it out. McDonell even attempts some action movie theatrics, with slow-mo flips and the sudden appearance of a rocket launcher.

This is still a “Hatchet” movie though. The violence is the main attraction. Some of the flashier deaths include a skull ripped out through a chest, a face hacked in two, and a person dragged through a small hole. The dialogue is full of gratuitous swearing. The humor is obnoxious. Such as when the cops comment on testicles hanging in a tree. Or the appearance of a racist old man, who says racist old man things. The series tradition of obvious references to other horror movies continues as well. Within the opening minutes, Victor Crowley does a Michael Myers-style rise up from the ground. The special forces gang level a patch of swamp land with their guns, as in “Predator.” Derek Mears, one time Jason, gets killed by Kane Hodder, fan favorite Jason. Later, Crowley picks up a machete, the trademark weapon of Hodder's other most prominent role. The cutesy homage even extend to this series, as Adam Green has a jokey cameo and there's a surprise reappearance from part one. As is usually the case, this stuff could be spotted a mile away.

The cast, as is also tradition, is packed with horror convention regulars. Danielle Harris is back as Marybeth and her tough girl act is just as ridiculous and unconvincing as last time. Harris has given good performances before so I'm really chalking her acting in these flicks up to the script. Zach Galligan appears as the sheriff, who is convincing but doesn't seem entirely comfortable with the profane dialogue. Sid Haig, someone who is not only comfortable with profane dialogue but can make it poetic, shows up as the aforementioned old racist. Parry Shen returns as a different character, mugging furiously. Rileah Vanderbilt, who played young Victor Crowley in one and two, has a role sans make-up here and is very tone-deaf. Of the cast, Caroline Williams gives the best performance. She brings conviction and gumption to her role as the journalist.

“Hatchet III” is still held back by the traditions of this sophomoric franchise. I enjoy on-screen mayhem as much as the next horror fan but the “Hatchet” series remains a little too self-satisfied, in its violence and in-jokes. However, I'd say it's easily the best of the series. McDonnell has a stronger visual sense than Green, making the swamp look less flat and the gore look less rubbery. He attempts to offer something more than practical gore effects and overly crass dialogue. That's an improvement, when we're talking about movies made for and by overbearing horror fanboys. [7/10]

Tales from the Cryptkeeper: Grounds for Horror

“Grounds for Horror” is set at that favorite location of eighties slasher and sex comedies: Summer camp. The boys of Camp Rock Bottom came expecting a good time, several weeks of camping and rambunctious play. Instead, their camp counselor is Bill Magreet, a huge asshole. He acts more like a drill sergeant than a counselor, ordering the kids around and explicitly forbidding any japes, tomfoolery, or lollygagging.  As Bill's casual abuse of the boys continue, he's soon pranked by an unseen force. He hears the kids out at night, playing in the woods with someone. When pressed, the boys inform him that an invisible entity called Hoser inhabits the forest. And he hates grown-ups.

Here's another “Tales from the Cryptkeepr” episode that easily could've worked on the grown-up series. Instead of featuring zombies, werewolves, or vampires, its monster is a fairly novel idea. Hoser casts a sasquatch-like shadow but is more like a poltergeist than anything else. I also like the collection of boys, who all have nicknames that hint at their defining gimmicks. Such as Scabs, Itchy, Croaker, and 6X. I also like how the kids bond, against the asshole counselor. The horrors are pretty defanged, as Hoser's antics are nothing more than silly pranks. The episode ends with a heavy-handed moral about embracing your inner kid. Still, this one is a lot of fun. [7/10]

Wolf Creek: Chase

“Chase” picks up a few hours after the shock ending of “Outback” The surviving tourists decide to venture further into the outback, towards the crater. They carry the wounded Michelle with them. Oskar soon discovers that his medication is missing, prompting Brian and Rebecca to head back to the bus. Mick is headed in the same direction and Brian narrowly misses coming face-to-face with the killer. Afterwards, the duo sabotages his truck in hopes that it'll put him at a disadvantage. This only delays the murderer for a few hours. As a storm starts to blow in, the killer closes in on the fleeing tourists.

Following the action packed “Outback,” “Wolf Creek: Season Two” slows down a little with this one. It's an episode mostly devoted to people walking. However, that doesn't stop it from being a fairly tense affair. The scene where Ben hides from Mick, as he searches the bus wreckage, is quite suspenseful. The sequence is framed in such a way that it looks like Mick is right behind Ben. The scene also ends with a pretty good fake-out jump scare. The sequence that follows, of Mick repairing his truck, probably goes on for way too long though. It's also notable that the killer has almost no dialogue in this episode, instead just laughing and grunting quietly to himself.

There's also some touching character interaction in this episode. As Michelle's health takes a turn for the worst, she has a heart-to-heart with Kelly. The two women share some touching words, forgiving each other and reaffirming their friendship. What ultimately happens to Michelle is a somewhat ambiguous event. Hopefully the show lets that breath as an act of mercy, instead of trying to mine it for drama. Nina is also still grappling with the murder of her daughter, waking up screaming from a nightmare, but proving to be more motivated afterwards. The strong cast of characters is keeping me interested in season two of “Wolf Creek,” which is hopefully building towards some bigger confrontations. [7/10] 

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