Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Monsterthon 2012: Werewolf of London

movie poster and Amazon link

Though werewolf legends are old, the movies are really are primary source for them- the werewolf equivalent of Dracula has yet to be written and most of the lore comes to us via 1941's The Wolf Man. But before Curt Siodmak and Lon Chaney, Jr. laid down the law, there was another werewolf epic from Universal, and possibly the first movie of its kind. Werewolf of London, apart from being the inspiration for a Warren Zevon song, is an interesting primordial take on an iconic monster; blending science and the supernatural, it captures the fundamentally tragic vibe we're familiar with while having an atmosphere all its own.

Monsterthon 2012: The Ghoul (1933)

The Ghoul DVD cover and Amazon link

The first big horror movie wave of the 1930s really changed things. Through the silent era, full-blown supernatural horror was rare; it was more common to gather characters in an old dark house and have them killed off by someone masquerading as a supernatural being. Dracula and Frankenstein let actual monsters loose, but didn't wipe out the old way completely, and the UK production The Ghoul is halfway between subgenres. It's mostly built like a mystery thriller, but adds what seems to be a legitimate monster to the mix, and plays differently as a result. Despite a slightly confused approach it's an effective picture with some standout moments, elevated mostly by Boris Karloff's grim presence.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Monsterthon 2012: Plan 9 From Outer Space

Plan 9 cover and Amazon link

Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space would be a tricky film to evaluate even without the iconic status it has attained. Ignored in its initial release, Plan 9 was dubbed "The Worst Movie Of All Time" by Michael and Harry Medved (based on the results of a poll) in the early 80s, but has since come to be regarded as not nearly that bad, but rather one of the Great Bad Movies, so laughable as to be entertaining. That's partly true, but it doesn't fully explain the film's enduring appeal. Many other just as technically inept movies exist, but are too dull or unpleasant to earn such honors. Plan 9 From Outer Space has something unique to it- it's a film that fails on almost every technical level (I say almost because the cinematography isn't bad), but maintains an effervescent energy and a vaguely subversive thrill. Part of it may just be that it's one of the few B sci-fi efforts to deliver what it promises, as ineptly as it does so, and part of it just may be that its crude imagery gets to the core of what we want from movies like this.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Monsterthon 2012: Little Shop of Horrors: The Director's Cut (1986)

Little Shop of Horrors poster and Amazon link

It's hard not to love Little Shop of Horrors. It's plain one of my favorite movie musicals, and it captures so much of what was great about the ascent of genre cinema in the 80s; effects technology and audience tastes had advanced to a point where a musical adaptation of a Roger Corman movie about a man and his talking, man-eating plant was prime source material for a big budget holiday extravaganza.  Recently this film has been given a new Blu-Ray release featuring, for the very first time, a restored, darker alternate ending which for a long time was the stuff of legend. This so-called Director's Cut (Frank Oz was not directly involved) works very well in its own right while inviting interesting comparisons to the version seen in theaters, and whichever way you prefer it, it's a great film, vibrant, energetic, and strangely warm and human despite subject matter that's both macabre and outlandish.

(Note that spoilers abound after this point, since the entire difference between both versions of the film is in how they end.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Monsterthon 2012: Demons

Demons DVD cover and Amazon link

One of these days, I am going to find a tightly plotted Italian horror film. The laws of probability demand it. But it will be a long search, and in the meantime here's Demons, which is The Evil Dead in a movie theater. It stops making sense pretty early on, but it has a lot of energy to make up for it, and at times is almost awesome in its stupidity. That it works at all says there is something to the style-over-substance approach, as much as it may pain me to admit it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Monsterthon 2012: Them!

Them! poster and Amazon link

It's hard to imagine a time before giant bug movies; they were a unique product of fifties nuclear paranoia, sure, but there had to be a first impulse, a first writer or producer to suggest that the anxieties of the age were best represented by insects the size of trucks. Them! was the launching point for an entire subgenre and an influence on a number of films afterwards, but it's never quite gotten the acclaim it deserves as a classic thriller. It's tense, atmospheric, and surprisingly smart, introducing an outrageous concept with enough dedication and discipline to make it work.

Friday, October 19, 2012

In Theaters: Looper

Looper poster

Looper is one of the great surprises of the fall movie season, a picture that without much buildup emerges as a minor sci-fi classic. Time travel stories can be complicated affairs, and you risk losing even the attentive viewer among the contrivances needed to make the plot work. Writer-director Rian Johnson isn't averse to the fancy stuff, but he knows how to present it, and he manages to make it the background for a touching, character-driven story, surrounded by a smart and efficient action thriller.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Frasierquest 5.5: The 1000th Show

Frasier and Niles at the fish market

Niles: Happy Frasier Crane Day.  Or is it Merry Frasier Crane Day, I can never remember.

Many shows never last this long. As meaningless as the hundred episodes milestone is, it's one rarely passed, and so it's a good excuse for a bit of celebration and introspection on Frasier's part. But on top of being a meta exercise, "The 1000th Show" takes Frasier and the gang to a place they've never been before- the real world streets of Seattle, in an epic location shoot that provides a nicely realistic backdrop for an unusually complicated Niles and Frasier misadventure.