Friday, April 26, 2019
The "Monogram Nine" is a phrase used to describe a series of films that starred Bela Lugosi and were produced by one of Hollywood's most notorious poverty row studios. The films were made under the Monogram banner between 1941 and 1944, and they are usually used as an example of how Bela Lugosi's acting career had fallen on hard times.
None of the individual films in the Monogram Nine could be considered great, even by classic Hollywood low-budget standards. They've been disparaged and laughed at for a number of years--yet they still get major attention among film buffs, due to the fact that most of them have been easy to see because of their public domain status, and that Lugosi himself still has a certain cult notoriety.
A new book published by Bear Manor Media and written by Gary D. Rhodes and Robert Guffey attempts to look at the series not with derision, but with thoughtful analysis. BELA LUGOSI AND THE MONOGRAM NINE has a chapter on each film in the series, except for INVISIBLE GHOST, which gets two. (INVISIBLE GHOST is considered the best of the Monogram Nine.)
Rhodes and Guffey, who alternate chapters, believe that the Monogram Nine's collective weird and wild plots are worthy of study. The authors insist that there's more to these titles than just ridiculous, cheap thrills. Guffey in particular feels that the Monogram Nine contains examples of borderline surrealism, which supposedly explains why the movies make almost no sense. Rhodes, a renowned Lugosi expert, claims, in his own words, that the Monogram Nine represent "cinematic dissonance."
The authors' individual essays on the Monogram Nine are....interesting. One could say that they give these movies a bit too much credit....one of Rhodes' title chapters is "VOODOO MAN and the Syncretic Cinema of Conjuration". Beauty, however, is in the eye of the beholder. and I have to give credit to anyone who can write about the Monogram Nine with serious intelligence. There are times, though, when the volume gets to be heavy reading.
The book is filled with many stills from the Monogram Nine films, including several full-page pictures of Lugosi. Even though the actor's name is part of the title, Lugosi's career takes a back seat here to the analytical discussion of the films. There's also very little about the actual production history of the films themselves (those looking for such information should seek out Tom Weaver's excellent POVERTY ROW HORRORS!).
BELA LUGOSI AND THE MONOGRAM NINE might seem to have a very limited reading audience, but there are plenty of fanatic Bela fans out there. Reading this volume did give me the impetus to watch the series all over again (I have to admit that it didn't really change my mind about any of the individual titles). I have to commend Rhodes and Guffey for going out of their way and taking a different approach in dealing with a group of films that are usually looked upon as turkeys. I would much rather read a book dealing with more obscure, less popular movie titles than one that says the same thing about certain classic horror movies that have been covered over and over again.
Saturday, April 20, 2019
Probably no other entity has done more to showcase "Pre-Code" cinema than Turner Classic Movies. The cable television network constantly shows Pre-Code films day after day, and many home video collections containing titles from that era have been released with TCM's support. The network's connection with Pre-Code continues with FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD--THE PRE-CODE ERA (1930-1934), a magnificently designed book carrying the TCM banner, written by Mark A. Vieira and published by Running Press.
Mark Vieira is an expert on Pre-Code cinema, and he's written extensively on the subject. Here he takes a different tack than most Pre-Code books. Instead of focusing on the individual films or talent involved in them, he chooses to focus on the overall battle between men such as Will Hays, Jason Jay, and Joe Breen, who were trying to stop Hollywood from pushing the envelope, and the major studios and filmmakers, who became more brazen as the talkies started to take off.
Vieira does pick out a select number of films that he believes helped bring about the strengthening of the code that was already in place to begin with, including such famous (or infamous) titles such as HELL'S ANGELS, RED-HEADED WOMAN, BABY FACE, and CONVENTION CITY. Vieira doesn't go into minute detail about the making of the films--he presents how the controversies surrounding each led to more indignation toward the American movie industry. The author also shows that even though the Pre-Code era was about four years, there were many cycles of features during it--a "kept woman" cycle, a "gangster" cycle", a "horror" cycle, and so forth.
This book isn't really an exhaustive encyclopedia of Pre-Code titles and performers. For example, Warren William, an actor I consider to be the true "King" of Pre-Code, is mentioned only three times, and he's only pictured once. What the book does present is a fascinating mixture of classic Hollywood movie knowledge and American social history.
From my understanding of the book, the Pre-Code era was really all about money. Because of the Depression, many Hollywood filmmakers tried to be as outrageous as possible to get attention and to entice people to buy movie tickets. Sometimes this ploy worked, and sometimes it backfired. In 1934, when the studios feared nationwide boycotts from major influential religious groups, they agreed to the creation of the Production Code Administration.
The author does not take the easy way out and present Will Hays and Joe Breen as nothing more than intolerant monsters. Vieira quotes Hays, Breen, and their contemporaries at length, and shows their side of the situation. While reading this book, I actually began to understand the frustrations that someone like Hays had as the head of the MPPDA. His job wasn't being a censor so much as it was preventing Hollywood from being regulated by the federal government (a very real possibility at the time). The studios all agreed to a certain code of conduct--and they constantly went out of their way to break it over and over again. I'm no advocate of censorship, but at times in the book the studio moguls come off as bratty kids who annoy their parents just to see how long it takes before they get spanked.
Vieira also quotes many trade journals and newspaper articles of the period, and many letters from regular film goers who were outraged--and entertained--by the movies of the Pre-Code era. From today's perspective we may consider the people who were disgusted by these films as naive and shortsighted, but the author presents their point of view without looking down on them--as he writes in the introduction, "Film history should never be written without a human context." As I went through this book I got a sense that the more things change, the more they stay the same, due to the discrepancy between movie goers in the Midwest and rural areas and those in the bigger cities. There's a quote in this book from Mary Pickford, in which she talks about how there's a huge part of America in between New York and Hollywood--it's a quote that one could easily find on Twitter at this very moment.
There is some enticing glamour among all the history in this book, particularly in the many wonderful stills that are included. These stills highlight such Pre-Code royalty as Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert, and Clark Gable. What's even better is that these pictures are presented on high-quality paper. and many of them are a full page. The stills easily define what an attraction Pre-Code cinema was to audiences of the era--and why some of them were fearful of it.
The term "Pre-Code" has become a trending topic among today's film buffs. Mark Vieira could have easily juts gathered together a bunch of stills, mentioned a bunch of Pre-Code movies, and left it at that. Instead he presents a true, thorough, year-by-year examination of the era. I learned a lot by reading this book, and I believe it may even cause some Pre-Code fans to adjust their thinking on the entire subject.
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
In my last post I covered THE SON OF DR. JEKYLL....and apparently the dangerous doc had a little girl as well. You won't learn that from Robert Louis Stevenson, but you will if you watch DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL, a 1957 film from Allied Artists directed by cult fave Edgar G. Ulmer.
The writer and producer of DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL was Jack Pollexfen--who just so happened to have co-written the original story on which THE SON OF DR. JEKYLL was based. DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL isn't really a remake--it's more like a reworking of the material, but the two films do have a lot in common. Both the son and the daughter of Jekyll learn about their heritage when they come of age, they both have a middle-aged man as a guardian, they both stand to inherit a sizable fortune, and they both are victims of a conspiracy to make each of them believe that their father's monstrous tendencies have been passed onto them. (Apparently Columbia Studios, which produced THE SON OF DR. JEKYLL, wasn't all that concerned about this sort-of spinoff...where they even aware of it?)
DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL starts out with a silhouette of a man drinking a potion, while a portentous voice-over informs us that the notorious Dr. Jekyll created a serum that turned him into a werewolf (!). The voice-over goes on to say that Jekyll was finally killed....but the silhouetted man turns toward us, fully changed into a werewolf, and says in a manic voice. "ARE YOU SURE??" It's a novel opening, to be sure, but some may find it to be a bit silly.
We then are introduced to Janet Smith (Gloria Talbott) and her fiancee George (John Agar), who travel in a vintage car to a large gloomy secluded mansion. (It appears the story takes place sometime in the early 1900s, and the location seems to be England...despite the fact that no one in the cast tries to act and sound British.) At the mansion Janet introduces George to her guardian, a Dr. Lomas (Arthur Shields). Janet is about to turn 21, and Dr. Lomas takes the opportunity to inform her that she is the daughter of the infamous Dr. Jekyll, and the estate actually belongs to her now. Janet learns from the servants that the local populace still believes that a monster prowls about at night during the full moon. Janet starts to have nightmares in her sleep--nightmares and which she roams the woods at night, killing people. She also awakes to find her clothes torn and blood on her hands. George seems to think there's a logical explanation...but there really is a werewolf, and the couple must find the truth before angry villagers decide to put a stake in her heart.
DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL isn't a great film, but it has enough unique elements to make it interesting. The "Dr. Jekyll was a werewolf" subplot comes way out of left field, but it does cause the story to turn go off on a THE WOLF WOMAN tangent, with Gloria Talbott going the Lon Chaney Jr. route in worrying about whether she is a monster. (At least she doesn't grab someone by the lapels and shout "DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND!!??") Just about the entire story takes place in and around the large estate, allowing Edgar Ulmer to avoid using a village set and actual villagers. The estate is represented by a impressive model, which the movie cuts back to over and over again (I assume a big chunk of the budget was used on the miniature house, so the filmmakers must have wanted to get as much use out of it as they could.) Most of the outdoor scenes where filmed on a set, and heavily laden with fog--a cheap effect but here they have an expressionistic look to them.
Another out of left field element is the idea that a stake to the heart is the effective way to kill a werewolf--silver bullets are never mentioned here. (I assume the filmmakers figured a stake in the heart was more visually arresting than just shooting someone.) The nightmare sequences are effective, and it looks as if Ulmer & crew actually went on location to do them. The nightmares are a result of Janet being hypnotized--another thriller ingredient added to a very mixed-up stew.
Gloria Talbott (who also appeared in I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE) performs quite well as the put-upon Janet. Legendary 1950s science fiction movie star John Agar gets stuck in the "David Manners" role, but at least he has his earnest likability to fall back on (there are times when it seems the actor is not happy about being in this picture). Agar is hampered by spending most of the story wearing a striped jacket that makes him look like a member of a barbershop quartet or a barker at a sleazy carnival. Arthur Shields is best know for being in many John Ford films such as SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON and THE QUIET MAN (along with also being Barry Fitzgerald's brother), so it's a bit disconcerting to see him in a movie like this...but then again, John Agar himself used to be a Ford regular. Tall, gaunt John Dierkes (THE ALAMO, THE HAUNTED PALACE) makes an impression as a intimidating-looking servant.
Edgar G. Ulmer is revered by many film buffs, due to his movies such as THE BLACK CAT (1934), BLUEBEARD, and DETOUR. I don't rate him as highly as others do (some of his other low low-budget efforts are a chore to watch), but he seems to be inspired here, and he makes the most out of what he has to use. One sequence that is a highlight is when the actual werewolf goes out on the prowl, and spies through a window a gorgeous blonde female in the act of dressing. She's listening to a vintage record player, and she's answering the phone when the werewolf strikes. Ulmer focuses on a close-up of the woman's terrified reaction--we never see the attack, and then he cuts to the record still playing and the old-style earpiece of the phone hanging from the wall. (Nitpickers will notice that the blonde is wearing lingerie that seems too contemporary to be from the early 20th Century.) The makeup job on the "real" werewolf isn't impressive (it's as if someone started on it then quit about halfway through), but Ulmer doesn't focus on it too much. DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL is an okay low-budget horror tale, and unlike THE SON OF DR. JEKYLL, it doesn't pull its punches--it really does have a monster (it's just not the one you're led to believe).
At the end of DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL, we see the same shot of the werewolf glaring at us that was used at the beginning...and once again, referring to his demise, he asks the audience "ARE YOUR SURE??" As far as I know, however, there wasn't a NEPHEW OF DR. JEKYLL...or a SECOND COUSIN OF DR. JEKYLL...or a YOUTHFUL WARD OF DR. JEKYLL.
Sunday, April 14, 2019
Last night the legendary Svengoolie, on his nationally syndicated program broadcast every Saturday night on the MeTV network, presented the 1951 Columbia film THE SON OF DR. JEKYLL. This is a film that, believe it or not, I had never seen before, and had very little knowledge of.
What makes THE SON OF DR. JEKYLL unusual is that it was produced in the early 1950s, an era when the Hollywood-made classic horror film was all but extinct. Columbia was a studio that had made very little classic horror product to begin with. One assumes that the movie was supposed to be a Gothic thriller, but it winds up being a slow-moving tale that doesn't come close to matching the highlights of the other Jekyll-Hyde adaptations made up to that time.
The best part of the THE SON OF DR. JEKYLL is the opening sequence, where a torch-bearing mob chases a desperate figure through the streets of London in 1860. The figure is actually Dr. Henry Jekyll, in his guise as Edward Hyde. He flees to his laboratory, where he tries to change back to his normal self. A raging fire forces the man to try and escape through a high window, where he falls to his death (and changes back to Jekyll). Jekyll's friends Dr. Lanyon (Alexander Knox) and Utterson (Lester Matthews) discover that Jekyll-Hyde has murdered his wife, but the couple's infant son is unharmed. The child is raised by Utterson, a distinguished solicitor, and the Jekyll estate is managed by Lanyon. In 1890 the now grown Edward Jekyll (Louis Hayward) is determined to find out the secrets of his father's experiments. His investigations are thwarted by the London press, and by his fears that he may have somehow inherited his father's dual personality.
THE SON OF DR. JEKYLL has many of the elements one expects to find in a Jekyll-Hyde movie--men wearing frock coats, cloaks, and top hats; shadowy wet streets filmed in black & white; some very shaky Cockney accents; and the importance of a walking stick, which at one point the younger Jekyll brandishes at a noisy reporter. But while the script sets up all the elements, it seems at a loss to know what to do with them. At one point the younger Jekyll does successfully recreate his father's formula, and he does turn into a Hyde-like creature....but his transference lasts for a very, very, short time, and it is revealed later that he was given "help" in concocting the formula. The whole movie is in fact a bit of a cheat--I don't want to reveal too much of the plot, because this is not a well-known film, but the younger Jekyll is a victim of a conspiracy concerning his family's money.
The movie also avoids any sort of sexual tension whatsoever, unlike the 1920, 1931, and 1941 versions of the tale, which revel in it. Usually in a Jekyll-Hyde film there's a respectable girl for Jekyll and a lower class one for Hyde. Here Jekyll has a fiancee in Utterson's niece (Jody Lawrence), but her part is negligible and she doesn't even wind up being threatened during the climax. The idea that the original Jekyll-Hyde had a secret wife is an interesting touch. It's mentioned that the wife was an actress, and one gets a hint that she was really a streetwalker. This subplot kind of gets lost. The other interesting touch is how the London tabloid press bothers the younger Jekyll when they find out who his father was--but when you are watching a film with a title like THE SON OF DR. JEKYLL, you don't want to spend time viewing a guy trying to fend off the media.
Louis Hayward in a publicity still for THE SON OF DR. JEKYLL
Louis Hayward does a good job as the son of Jekyll, and he has an irritated intensity about him. (The script tries to make the audience believe that because of his temper, the young Jekyll might have inherited something from his father's experiments--but at times the story also tries to cast doubt on whether the original Jekyll even came up with a formula at all...another example of the movie trying to avoid all-out classic horror.) Hayward also plays his character's father in the opening sequence. The movie is helped by a supporting cast that features Universal veterans such as Lester Matthews, Paul Cavanagh, and Doris Lloyd, along with the excellent character actor Alexander Knox. Unfortunately the rest of the cast, including Jody Lawrence, seem ill at ease in the late 19th Century London setting.
The director of THE SON OF DR. JEKYLL was a man named Seymour Friedman, and he does a typical low-budget Hollywood job of that period--acceptable, without being notable. The attempt at a 19th Century period London is acceptable as well (I do believe I recognized some sets used in Three Stooges shorts made during the same time).
THE SON OF DR. JEKYLL is set up to be a classic horror chiller, but it never comes through on its promise. It's a rather bland affair, and one has to figure that if it had been made in the 1930s or 40s, the Gothic elements would have been more pronounced.
Saturday, April 13, 2019
A wild and wacky horror-kung fu mashup, Hammer's THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES comes to Region A Blu-ray courtesy of Shout Factory.
This movie was a result of Hammer head Michael Carreras trying to find new avenues for the company during the early 1970s. Carreras entered into a two-picture deal with Hong Kong based martial arts movie mavens the Shaw Brothers. THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES was the first film produced, entirely in Hong Kong in 1973. (The second film of the deal, SHATTER, is a sleep-inducing mess, and one of Hammer's worst.) The character of Dracula was added to the script to entice Warner Bros., but Christopher Lee absolutely refused to participate this time. Thankfully Peter Cushing did return as Professor Van Helsing.
Many of the usual members of the Hammer behind-the-camera team participated in the production, such as director Roy Ward Baker, but the actual filming was a complicated and frustrating affair, with the British and Hong Kong crews having to deal with the others work techniques. Added to the various difficulties was the fact that by the time the movie was released, the kung fu craze had all but died out--and the movie didn't get any kind of general release in America until a few years later in a badly-edited version called THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA. (For those that viewed this version, did they expect to see Howard Keel in it?)
The main story, set in 1904, concerns seven Chinese brothers and their one sister, all masters of the martial arts, who are determined to rid their ancestral village from the scourge of a group of vampires and their zombie army. They enlist the help of the world's greatest vampire hunter, Dr. Van Helsing, who just so happens to be in China on a lecture tour. The fighting family travels into the Chinese interior, accompanied by Van Helsing, his son (Robin Stewart), and a rich beautiful Scandinavian widow (Julie Ege). It all leads to a epic battle in the village, where Van Helsing learns that the power behind it all is Count Dracula himself!
THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES has always had a mediocre reputation among film writers and critics, but I personally consider the movie to be something of a guilty pleasure. It's as goofy as all get out, and the plot makes no sense if you actually think about it--if the ancestral village had been ravaged by the undead for over a century, all the inhabitants would have been killed off, or ran away, a long time ago. But this is the type of movie you shouldn't think about--you should just sit back, except it for what it is, and enjoy the cheesy fun. The movie may be dopey, but it's definitely not boring, with all the various action scenes. The fight scenes lack the too-perfect fluidity one finds in today's superhero romps, but I think that gives them more of an edge. David Chiang, who plays the lead brother, is very good, with a charismatic screen presence, and Shih Szu, who plays the brothers' sister, steals the film with her combination of shy loveliness and ferocious kung fu ability. Julie Ege fills out the gorgeous blonde Hammer scream queen role quite admirably.
The most important performer in this film is of course Peter Cushing, and the major highlight of this film is watching him, in period costume as he should be, battling vampires for the very last time in his movie career. As usual, Cushing elevates the tale just by his very presence, and the determination he brings to the part helps the storyline immeasurably. When Cushing's Van Helsing yells out "STRIKE AT THEIR HEARTS!!" during one face off against the undead, I want to leap onto the screen and fight alongside him. No matter how many times you watch this movie--and I've seen it plenty--you can't help but be impressed by the 60 year-old Cushing giving it his all in the many physical confrontations he goes through.
The character of Dracula has basically a cameo here, and he's played by John Forbes-Robinson, who is hampered by a facial makeup job that makes him look like a low-budget TV horror movie host and a over-the-top voiceover. The 7 Golden Vampires are quite effective, and I find their hopping zombie army rather creepy (the atmospheric scenes where the zombies rise from their graves reminded me of similar sequences in the later ARMY OF DARKNESS). Mention must be made of James Bernard's bombastic score, one of the best he ever did for Hammer--it fits the action sequences like a glove.
THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES isn't one of the best Hammer movies of all time, but it is exploitative fun. I would even venture to say that the movie was ahead of its time--it anticipates the UNDERWORLD series of films and the Stephens Sommers Mummy movies with its combination of hand-to-hand combat battles and classic horror characters.
Shout Factory advertises its Blu-ray version of the movie as coming from a new 2K scan of the original elements. The picture quality is a bit soft at times, but it's rather colorful, and it looks much better than the various earlier home video releases of the film. The DTS mono audio showcases James Bernard's score. The movie on this Blu-ray is the uncut original theatrical version, and it is in the proper 2.35:1 widescreen format.
The re-edited American theatrical version of the film, THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA, is also included on the disc. The visual quality of that version is not that good, but it's not like you need to watch it over and over again--the editing makes a shambles of the story. A still gallery, a TV spot, and trailers from each version are also here.
There's a couple of featurettes--a short new interview with David Chiang, who shares very warm thoughts about his experiences with Peter Cushing, and a talk with Hong Kong film fan Rick Baker, who if anything appreciates this movie more than I do.
The main extra is a brand new commentary by writer Bruce Hallenbeck. Bruce has been writing feature articles on Hammer movies for Richard Klemensen's LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS magazine for years, and he knows his stuff. His excellent talk thoroughly covers all aspects of the troubled production, and he even divulges some on-set gossip. He also presents his own personal analysis of the film--like me he realizes its limitations, yet at the same time is still able to enjoy it. Bruce sums up the tone of the movie very well.
THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES is very much a junk food type of film, but there's nothing wrong with that. The fact that Peter Cushing fights vampires in it alone makes it worth seeing. Shout Factory continues to do the Hammer film catalog right with this release.
Saturday, April 6, 2019
HOUSE OF THE GORGON was written, produced, and directed by Joshua Kennedy, and it was filmed during the spring of 2018 in Southeastern Texas. The movie is a "Gothic Fairytale" (that phrase actually appears onscreen under the title in the opening credits)--a tribute to the classic horror productions made by Hammer Films in the 1950s and 60s.
The movie actually stars four Hammer veterans--Caroline Munro (CAPTAIN KRONOS, VAMPIRE HUNTER), Martine Beswicke (DR. JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE), Veronica Carlson (DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE), and Christopher Neame (DRACULA A.D. 1972). It also features--in a very, very, small role--yours truly, the author of this blog. Because I contributed to the movie's Indiegogo budget fundraiser, I received a copy of HOUSE OF THE GORGON on DVD, thus allowing me to finally see the film in its completed state. (A general home video release of HOUSE OF THE GORGON for the public is planned for the near future.)
When I told Josh I had received my copy, his response was "I can't wait for your blog post on it." I was taken aback at this, because I hadn't planned to write one. I figured that I was far too close to the production--I worked behind and in front of the camera on it, and Josh is one of my best friends. Veronica Carlson herself has become a friend of mine, and anyone who knows me (or has read some of my blog posts) is well aware of my love and admiration for anything connected to Hammer Films.
Nevertheless, Josh felt that I could remove myself from the production enough to give it a try, so the following is my honest appraisal of the film. I'm not going to go very much into plot detail, since so many people have not had a chance to see it yet.
HOUSE OF THE GORGON is very much a Hammer-inspired production. Josh knows the English Gothic genre like the back of his hand, and his mines it most emphatically. The young, beautiful leading lady (who just so happens to wind up in a nightgown), the frightened and suspicious villagers, the friendly pub keeper, the mysterious brooding aristocrat, the sense of an ancient evil lurking and waiting to strike--these are all here, and more. The settings, the characters, the plot...all these various elements will be familiar to Hammer fans--but Josh has put just enough variety in his script to avoid making the story seem like a obvious pastiche.
The English Gothic mood is enhanced by the Hammer veterans, who all get a chance to shine, and in some cases are allowed to show their ability more than any other time in their respective acting careers. Caroline Munro and Martine Beswicke are the deviously wicked sisters, and Caroline in particular seems to enjoy playing against her nice girl image. Martine has a Bela Lugosi-like way of giving every single line of her dialogue much more meaning that it presumably has, and she uses this to the hilt. Veronica Carlson, who has more to do here than just about any role she has played since FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, is a revelation--she's touching, funny, emotionally upset, and finally, strongly determined to prevent those that she loves from being victims. Christopher Neame gives the entire story a strong foundation as the village priest who has lived with guilt and shame at what has happened to him and the people he was supposed to have helped.
Georgina Dugdale, who is Caroline Munro's daughter, plays the leading lady here, and she has great screen presence and a lovely speaking voice. She's not just a damsel in distress--her role is a fully realized character. Joshua Kennedy holds his own very well among the more experienced performers (I do think he was channeling Charlton Heston more than, say, Vincent Price).
One thing that needs to be said about HOUSE OF THE GORGON is that it is decidedly not a typical 21st Century example of filmed entertainment. It is very stylized, in acting and in manner--and the particular styles that one finds in this film are almost never used today. It also features a striking and vibrant use of color, thanks to Rosa Cano's lighting design. The use of such bold colors is something that is also not seen very much now. There is no overt gore or violence--I would say the film should be rated as PG-13. (I must also make mention of Reber Clark's atmospheric original music score, which adds much to the proceedings.)
I also need to point out that HOUSE OF THE GORGON had a very limited budget. If one is able to put this into context, and is willing to use one's imagination, this shouldn't be a problem. But we live in a world today where creativity and suspension of disbelief are secondary to snarky sound bites on the internet. I've already seen on social media where a few people have asked if HOUSE OF THE GORGON is some sort of spoof. It is most assuredly not--but the type of classic horror that this movie represents is almost extinct. Devotees of the classic English Gothic cinematic style, such as myself, will appreciate HOUSE OF THE GORGON for what it is. I sincerely hope, though, that the movie does not just have a limited audience of like-minded fans.
One could call HOUSE OF THE GORGON a throwback--but why can't films like this be made anymore? And why can't the Hammer veterans who are still blessedly with us be used to the fullest of their capabilities? Joshua Kennedy has proven it can be done--and he did it without major financing or major connections. HOUSE OF THE GORGON is not a joke, or a spoof, or some sort of fanboy dream. It's an English Gothic fairy tale, made in the good old US of A, and produced with care, love and respect for the many screen legends who influenced all of us monster movie fans.
Tuesday, April 2, 2019
If you've watched TV or gone on the internet in the last week or so, you've doubtless seen an untold number of ads for the latest Disney live-action remake, DUMBO. The movie is directed by Tim Burton.
When it comes to Tim Burton, I have a certain way of looking at the man and his work. For me, there are two Tim Burtons. There's the 20th Century Tim Burton, the man who directed such unique and entertainingly off-beat films such as PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, BEETLEJUICE, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, and ED WOOD. I was a huge fan of the 20th Century Burton.
As for the 21st Century Tim Burton...he doesn't really make movies anymore--he remakes them. PLANET OF THE APES, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, DARK SHADOWS, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and now DUMBO. All directed by Tim Burton, and all of them remade from material that, in my opinion, didn't need to be reworked in the first place.
Setting aside my old white guy bias against remakes for a moment, the 21st Century Tim Burton keeps using a style that was once fresh and intriguing, but now seems pedestrian. Most folks are familiar with the Tim Burton style...the faux-goth art direction, the quirky characters, visuals over plot construction, the Danny Elfman music....all accomplished film directors have certain elements that they use frequently, but with Burton it just seems all same old, same old. When you hear "Tim Burton movie", you know what you are going to get. (My brother Robert took his family to see the new DUMBO, and while he told me he liked it, he also said it was what he expected.)
I'd love to see someone as talented and visionary as Burton go back to some original type of material, and get off the Disney "family movie" highway. But, honestly...does he really need to?
Think about it. Burton is one of the few major film directors that keeps putting out theatrical features on a regular basis. (Many of Burton's director contemporaries from the 80s and 90s don't even make movies period.) Burton's association with Disney is rather advantageous--when he does release a film under their banner, it's going to get plenty of publicity and playing dates, and having a relationship with the most powerful company in entertainment certainly doesn't hurt. His films always make a fair amount of money (family movies always have a long shelf life on home video and TV, because there's always going to be kids to watch them), and he constantly works with well-known performers. Burton is one of the few directors that has name recognition among the general public, and he gets to hang out with Eva Green.
Film geeks like me can whine and moan about how his career has turned out, but I'm sure he isn't complaining. It's not like he's going to listen to what someone like me is going to say anyway. But, just in case by some unthinkable chance he did....making a THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS type of story and bringing Michael Keaton back as Batman would be a fantastic idea. I'm just sayin'.