There are few examples in the last 50 years of a film that is so defining, so absolute, and so important to cinema that they have defined a generation and a genre. This could even be extrapolated to other genres as well, music, comics, television. It’s difficult to name a singular project in the thousands that have been released that so explore, spread, and influence our modern day world.
This is one of those films. The Zombie craze of today would not, could not, exist without this work. The rules, the style, the look, even some of the types of shots and locations exist simply because George A. Romero gave us Night of the Living Dead.
So we know it is iconic. We know it is definitive, but does that mean it’s good?
The script was written by George Romero himself in conjunction with John Russo. Russo. This was their first writing credit on any film, and they would go to give us Zombie movies for the next 50 years together. 50 years. They haven’t been very prolific but consistent. There are not many folks who can claim 50 years of writing and directing as a claim to fame that are still working in Hollywood today. Of course Romero himself directed, another first for the legend.
That being said, the dialogue? Ain’t that great. It almost reads like a student film or stage play than a film at times. There are a lot of monologues and exposition to deliver information. The radio and television as a means to deliver information was actually well done. One of the better decisions is never fully committing to what may have caused the rising of the dead.
From an acting standpoint, the best performance comes from Duane Jones. He reads so natural and believable is is incredible, and perhaps a bit harmful to the rest of the cast. Not only is his acting so far above and beyond the rest of the cast, he is critical as the first African-American to have a starring and heroic role in a horror film. Judith O’dea also does remarkably well, even if she largely plays catatonic, as the infamous Barbara.
As a technical note, the camera angles and lighting choices, along with the choice of black and white vs. color also were brilliant decisions by Romero. So much of the film works because of the black and white, it allows the movie to hide some of it’s make up and flaws. There’s also a bit of genius in, what I believe, is the one of first uses of a child as the monster.
As a bit of trivia for those who enjoy these types of films, Tom Savini himself was to do the make up, but was unable to due to being sent to Vietnam.
The movie holds up almost 50 years later. Though the word Zombie is never explicitly mentioned, in fact the word used is Ghoul, it defines every single film maker, writer, or producer when it comes to this genre. It isn’t a perfect film by a long shot, if it were made today it would largely be laughed at; but because of when it was made and how it defies everything to become the legendary picture that it is.
I highly recommend this film not only for viewing, but to be in anyone’s collection.
I am ending the month of reviews with the film that I answer the question: “What’s your favourite movie of all time to?” when asked. No it’s not what I put for security questions that ask the same. I am insane, not stupid. I have seen this twice on the big screen by pure luck and enjoy it every time. I avoid the colourized version when possible and suffer through it when not. It’s important to note, when looking at the genre of Sci-Fi this is one of forerunners of the modern alien movies. Coming out in 1951 it was part of the rise of cultural xenophobia and anti russian sentiment growing in the US during the post war environment. We were already at war in Korea during this and the Russians were the boogeymen. The boogeyman can’t be a man though, not really, not then anyway, it had to be something else, something Alien perhaps?
The Day the Earth Stood Still had not come out yet that year, and the genre of science fiction has been around on screen for as long as we’ve had screens. It’s been on the air since well we had airwaves to transmit for entertainment. Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, a little thing called War of the Worlds? Novels of such things have existed even longer with a mother of science fiction in Mary Shelley, and those who followed such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The 30’s saw a rise in pulp fiction, with such literary greats as Robert E Howard and H.P. Lovecraft; or even a certain man (he might even be called super) created by Siegel and Shuster. Yet, with all of this background the idea of alien films was still very new and this is among the earliest and due to two factors more overlooked. The first factor is the Robert Wise production of The Day the Earth Stood Still, one of the top films of the same year. It would be like me asking you what other Sci Fi movie came out the same year as Independence Day, you probably can’t, and that’s ok. Some films are just so big they overshadow the rest.
The second factor leaving this one overlooked and underrated is John Carpenter. In 1982 he released his take on the same story. Both films are based on a story called “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell. While, per usual, I haven’t read the original story the Carpenter version is attributed to being more accurate to the xenophobic fear that the story espouses. Carpenters version is also widely praised by cinephiles and fans of both sci fi and horror. It’s practical effects are still a benchmark. With all of this in mind, I do prefer this film.
Let’s talk about the film in the usual way shall we?
The credited director is Christian Nyby, with this as his first film. He then moved to TV and never quite looked back with dozens of TV shows to his credit through 1975. IMDB indicates there is an uncredited director – Howard Hawks, who was also the producer. Hawks worked on some of the greatest war movies and most memorable westerns of all time, with Sergeant York (a joke in the movie I realize now), Air Force, Rio Bravo, and El Dorado; he was even the director on the Marilyn Monroe classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). So the sharp direction, wit, and conversations through the movie. For 1951 it has excellent blocking and timing with the understanding that editing was more difficult back then.
The script was written by Charles Lederer, who had been writing for two decades prior, and worked with Hawks on several films after. Probably one of the most famous films he worked on was the original Ocean’s Eleven and Mutiny on the Bounty. I think it was this man that probably inspired most of what I like about the film, the dialogue. While analyzing it as an adaptation of the source material it is a fail, for a standalone story it works. It captures the paranoia growing through the country well enough and again is one of the forerunners of alien invasion movies. It also brilliantly doesn’t demonize anyone as so many of the movies in Sci Fi from the 50s and 60’s do. There is a strong anti science sentiment, mostly due to the realization of the nuclear bombs power and that science delivered it, contrasted by scientists still saving us. It’s an interesting mix in film at the time with very strong fear of the nuclear age and those who delivered it to us. This movie lets science show it’s curiosity as much as it’s caution with several of the scientists arguing amongst themselves as to how to proceed, and I admire that. Along with this, we get a strong female who has a sexual identity of her own that helps drive the backstory/lovestory between her and the main protagonist. It’s not forced, in fact it feels very real and natural as written. The rest of the dialogue through the film almost reminds me of Aaron Sorkin on the West Wing, it is witty, quick, and relies on strong chemistry with the cast.
I wish I could say more about the cast beyond that strong chemistry. Everyone in the film is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. Kenneth Toney (Capt. Hendry), Margaret Sheridan (Nikki), Robert Cornthwaite (Dr. Arthur Carrington), and Dewey Martin (Bob..seriously); all of them were great. They played their parts well, felt like a real crew who knew each other and it was warm despite the climate. The relationship between Hendry and Nikki was absolutely believable and honestly a bit racy for the 50s; especially where he lets her tie him up for a date. Carrington’s obsession with science is portrayed as reasonable at first and grows less so, but at the same time you cannot help but appreciate his arguments – Cornthwaite is responsible for that. Bob is every sergeant story I have ever heard since. He knows all, sees all, and a good captain and officers wisely listen. They do. They even joke about it. It works.
There is of course, James Arness, who is our visitor. His name, unlike the others who vanished in to relative obscurity even with long careers, is known as Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke. They used his 6’7″ (2.01 meter) frame to full advantage which made him an imposing monster on screen.
I can’t say much about the technical aspects, it’s 1951. What they do – works rather well.
This is one of the great sci fi movies of all time and it doesn’t get nearly enough love. If you want to check it out, I highly recommend it.
I have to admit, I had never seen this movie fully until this day. Oh sure, it was impossible to not be aware of all that comes with it. There’s no twist for it anymore, there’s no real surprise. While there is some argument over what a slasher film is, I will give my definition first:
A film in which the primary weapon used for murder is a bladed hand instrument that can be use in a motion that strikes across the victim (you know a slash). Stabbing is also a method in which the victims may be expirated.
We don’t call it the stabbing genre though. We call them slashers. While Halloween is sometimes attributed as the first Slasher, it’s body count can help support that, Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out four years prior. There had been films in the 40’s and 50’s that dealt with murder, but perhaps the one that inspired the rest since then – Psycho. Because of the nature of this film and it’s influence on modern cinema, I really want to spend some serious time discussing it. So I give you fair warning now, if you just want to know about seeing it – go to the TL;DR; otherwise, let’s talk Psycho.
Consider yourself spoiled. It’s been five decades.
I want to open this with the trailer. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it before or anything since. Let me share first –
Hitchcock himself, just talking on screen. He tells us about the motel, so unassuming, then moves to us to the house. Even the music is light hearted as he speaks about diabolical acts. He then tells us about the movie, I don’t mean lightly – HE DESCRIBES THE DETAILS; all of them, then…he stops. Teasing us with descriptions. He keeps hinting and how horrible it all is. How gruesome and even indescribable some events are. Through out this trailer he masters the concept of the tease, he begins to talk about something then cuts himself off – it is magnificent. The unfinished descriptions leave us wondering, but also tell us when and where to pay attention in the film. He also speaks of this as if it were real. It is absolutely brilliant. Again, to my knowledge nothing before, nothing since. I don’t know that anyone could do it now. I don’t know that anyone is that skilled a director to even try. I am sure some might consider it, but would the studios allow such a thing? Probably not, but I almost want someone to try.
Of course, the trailer just gets us in. Then there is a script by Joseph Stefano pretty much an unknown at the time, but would go on to write and produce for one of the greatest sci-fi/horror shows of all time, the Outer Limits. The script may have been written by Stefano, but it was based on a novel by Robert Bloch one year prior, thus proving Hollywood has always been basing their films on a book. Bloch would also go on to write for Hitchcock himself, on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Now, not having read the book yet, as is normal for me, I am going strictly by Wiki here. I know how dangerous that is, but the final screenplay is pretty much lock step with the story. It is worth mentioning the story could be inspired by the, at the time recent, arrest of Ed Gein, one of the most famous American serial killers. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was also inspired by Gein, as was Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. Though it is said Bloch did not research the Gein case beyond the news, it does also prove how much art may imitate reality when the stories are locked at side by side. As an aside, I know way too much about serial killers.
To sell this sort of story you need good actors. We’ve seen in recent decades, now 54 years later, what happens if you try this without mediocre or bad actors. Let’s work up the chain shall we?
John Gavin (Spartacus, is our start, playing Sam Loomis the fly by night lover of Marion Crane. He is a man we in the modern age that many can relate to. He has debts from his family, debts from an ex wife he needs to pay alimony to, and a woman he loves that he wants to be a better man for. For the 60s, this is fairly racy, as he is not quite having an affair since neither him nor his lover Marion are married, but there’s is a secret relationship which is at its tipping point. He is perhaps the catalyst for the story as much as anything else and it is because of him we reach a, I suppose the word here is, satisfactory ending to the film. He ends up being the one to stop our killer, but not alone. This leads us to Vera Miles, as Lila Crane, the sister to Marion. She is gorgeous, honestly one of the prettiest women I have ever seen. She is also, as Lila, single minded and focused in attempting to find her sister. She will do what it takes to do so and really only has a weak moment when she confronts something that is worth having a freak out over. She also reprised her role in the sequel twenty three years later. She was a force on screen in the film and able to drive those around her. Though this may be her only real characteristic, it is worth mentioning.
The two left of course are Janet Leigh, as Marion Crane. She already was a name in Hollywood having worked with greats such as Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, and Tony Curtis. Of course, as mentioned in The Fog, she is the mother of Jamie Lee Curtis. Much like Miles, she is also one of the most beautiful women to have ever graced the silver screen. The first 45 minutes of movie focuses on nothing but her. She owns it, every scene. Every bit of dialogue, internal monologue, and blocking. She dominates. She is a near perfect actress in this film, worthy of her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win for this part. So much of the film relies on her and her expressions and it works. Even the opening with her in naught but a bra and a slip – racy at the time and rarely seen but she made it natural. Then..there is her exit stage right.
The shower. That magnificent scene which all other slashers must compare to at some level. Leigh, never took a shower again after viewing it, it was how vulnerable she felt, how vulnerable we are there that drove her this way. Not the filming as some report. She has to sell her death on screen and does so with the hand (or scream) of a master.
This of course leads us to the master of the house. Anthony Perkins
A face only a mother could love right?
It is impossible to not know that face and what movie he goes with. His performance is iconic. He is able to sell us both the dutiful motel owner, the loyal son, and of course Psycho. He is just so much the gentleman, but when the light hits just right you see the glint of madness. Of course, we all go a little mad sometimes, right? It’s both a reserved and manic performance. He demonstrates the insanity perfectly and because of this the final scene is *not* offensive. The police quickly go to “he’s a transvestite” and the doctor quickly corrects them saying no. This is often overlooked, the psychological break within his mind is shown so well, so perfectly by Hitchcock and Perkins that such distortion of the psyche is sometimes culturally benchmarked against this movie. This is what we go to, and unfortunately, as a culture it is for the worst. Despite the film saying what kind of madness it is, we associate the man in a dress one step away from a killer. I blame society not the script.
From a technical aspect, it cannot be understated that Psycho was filmed in black and white intentionally. We love our colour films these days, but there is an artistry to black and white. You have to understand colour to use it. The way to light things and how to make shadows fall on the face are so perfectly done. There is a reason this movie is such a classic and cultural touchstone decades later.
The movie is a masterpiece. I’ve owned a copy of the poster for years, despite not having seen the film just because of how iconic it is. If you really enjoy the slasher genre and you want to see where it all began – watch this film.
If you celebrate classic cinema and have not seen it, as I had not, watch this film.
If such things are not your forte, I would say – try this film. Appreciate the art, but if you still don’t enjoy it there is nothing wrong with that.
This is a film great. It belongs in the top of any “greatest works of film making” list. It may not make someone’s favourite film list, but thats taste and preferences, regardless of artistry. I am glad I got to see it on the big screen, today.
Psycho – a must see film within anyones life time.
Continuing my reviews of the Universal Classics, I must touch on Frankenstein. It was the second film in what is considered the Universal Monsters set. Dracula was a near Valentines Day release, with Frankenstein being a near Thanksgiving release. This gave the producers and directors time to see how Dracula did and make modifications based on audience response. There are some really nifty factoids and tidbits worth mentioning so I want to cover them in this review. Please consider yourself warned this review does have Spoilers; at 83 years I think I am beyond the statute of limitations.
The movie was produced by the owner of Universal at the time Carl Laemmle Jr., son of the founder of Universal and heir to the empire from 1928 to 1936. This was one of the first directorial roles for James Whale, which would then be followed by the Invisible Man (1933) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). It is easy to see he took a different tact to the film making than those who made Dracula. There’s at times an almost clear sense to take a more clinical and far less romantic approach to it. Even the writing, blocking, and delivery of the actors has started to drift away from the stage plays and silent films before. Not entirely mind you, but some of it is showing, mostly in the scenes with Henry Frankenstein and Fritz. It has more in common with later science fiction than it does with the some of the other horror films at the time; or perhaps more in common with Jekyll and Hyde. For those that like the movie Young Frankenstein, I recommend watching this and then the comedy. You will be amazed at how many references and callbacks were made with all due respect to the original films.
The story of course is inspired by the original work of Mary Shelley, adapted by Peggy Webling, then further adapted by John L. Balderston, and adapted once again to the silver screen by Garret Fort and Francis Edward Faragoh. I would say this suffers from the writers curse of too many writers, but movies were so nascent at this time it is difficult to tell where some of those story issues lie. Of course it is worth mentioning some of what we know about Frankenstein was not in the original film at all. The movie actually begins with the grave robbing and acquisition of the brain. It was not Igor, but Fritz – played by the magnificent Dwight Frye. The doctor is Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), not Victor; who is played as a friend of Henry. Boris Karloff, was not credited originally. The title card simply read:
That sort of thing is unheard of these days. I mean sure actors go uncredited in movies, but a major character within the film? Awesome. The movie also wastes no time getting us into the “action” of the piece with friends and the love of Henry coming to see him concerned about his well being before he even animated The Monster. The movie also couches much of itself in the science of the time; even if it is technobabble, it is the technobabble of the 30s. In a rather interesting twist, rather than turn his people away before the animation he actually shows off his work to the intrigue of his former teacher Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan – again, see I told you he was in everything). His fiancee, his best friend, and his mentor not only watch the animation but help to keep it secret from the rest of the world! There’s no argument. There’s no fighting about if it should or could be done. It has happened and they just go with it. I actually miss the simplicity of that.
The famous “It’s Alive” , is so beautifully done by Colin Clive who does not nearly have the career he deserves; due to a too early death. It gets cut off in most modern clips you hear, mostly due to censorship in the late 30’s, but when its said in the film its chilling, I am giving you the text, but you just need to see it!
“It’s alive, it’s alive. In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God…”
The beautiful arrogance is wonderfully entertaining. I may be the Vampire Princess, but I prefer the acting in this film to that of Dracula, mostly around Clives performance. The conversations between him and Waldman are professional discussions on what has happened, not the moral implications. The science is the conversation. The risk of such an experiment in that name as well. Even as the movie progresses it is still a conversation and a partnership – no matter how dark it goes.
It’s of course worth mentioning that the stiff arms out did not come until a later film (Frankenstein meets the Wolfman 1943) when The Monster was blind, his movements are rigid but not nearly as clunky as we think of. There is such subtlety in the expressions Karloff gives the monster, there is a reason he is considered a legend and a reason we remember him today. The iconic look was created by the infamous Jack P. Pierce – you will be hard pressed to find a make up expert in the industry who was not at some point inspired by Pierce. Even though it is a massive departure from Shelley’s description, it is what we remember. Even the green grey look we consider for the monster was due to the grease paint used to make him look dead on screen and off colour from the other performers. That look, by the way, is under Universal copyright until 2026 and I am sure it will be renewed after. I do, also, recommend the most recent releases to watch as they contain less unedited footage, including what happens to the little girl, Fritz, Dr. Waldman, and more importantly how the monster reacts to them.
Some of the technicals are not as solid as the make up work. You can clearly see it is a backdrop painting on a set, but other than that it is more solid than some of the films we get now!
Look, this is an awesome film that holds up better than most of the Universal Monster films. If you love the classics you should have already seen this, but if not. SEE IT.
I had an opportunity a year ago to see this and the Bride of Frankenstein as a double feature in a theatre. I do not regret it. If you have options to see this on the big screen take it.
This one is a great and it should be treasured and watched for all time. Here’s to the House of Frankenstein!
Going back to the classics is fun. Watching how they were shot, how they were scripted and acted. Dracula is no exception to this. When I was a little girl my elementary school and the public library had books on some of the Universal Monsters. I devoured them with special attention to the Wolfman and Dracula, though unsurprisingly Dracula was the one that truly captured my attention then and forever. I tried to read the book around the same time, but as bright as I am told I was, the wording was too dense for me at the tender age of 7. I have long since fixed that and even managed to get my hands on the tome that is the Annotated version. So being able to review this movie, while not quite the best, it is definitive. All other Dracula and Vampire movies after owe something to this.
While not the first time the name graced the silver screen -I am not including the stage plays – , it was the first authorized time. Ok, there is also a little known Hungarian Film “Dracula’s Death” which has a character who thinks he is Dracula in it. FW Murnau’s Nosferatu was the first film vampire, though this was unauthorized after a suit from Stokers widow and all copies were ordered destroyed. This can also be considered the first supernatural thriller, I will add the addendum, by American hands. Universal studios hit something special when they did it. Little known fact that a Spanish version of the film was shot simultaneously. Now you might be going “alright cool, they made a version in spain at the same time.” Yet, I return with “No! They filmed on the same set.” The american version shot on the stages during the day and the spanish version at night. The spanish version is sometimes considered technically superior and for the time a bit racier and sexier than its American counterpart.
The movie was directed by Tod Browning officially, though behind the scenes stories and comments made by cast and crew indicate there was either a total lack of direction or that Karl Freund, the cinematographer, stepped in. Browning was a go to director for studios having done dozens of films prior, including the Lon Chaney classic London After Midnight. His expertise was in silent film and outsiders. This explains much of the silence within the film and certain choices that were made. Freund for his part was just as important. Tracking shots , high camera dollies, and even the atmosphere within the movie are largely attributed to him. Horror movies in general owe so much to this, both good and bad.
Edna Mode does not approve.
Its hard to talk about a story and the writers since everyone knows it. Of course it is inspired by Bram Stokers novel from 1897. Stoker for his part had heard of the man Dracula and used him as a springboard with next to no research and never having been to Romania himself. This accounts for many of the descriptions of places and things within Transylvania not being remotely like how they’ve been filmed. His novel then was adapted for the stage, officially, by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston (Didn’t I mention him recently in the Mummy). Garret Fort has credit for a version of the play script. When it comes to the movie however, this one falls under the movie writer curse: 5 total writers, including the director. There are significant changes from the source material to this of course, no real change there from Hollywood, but the biggest and probably most impactful is the Lugosi look. Dracula was always described as off putting, yet here we have something and someone foreign and handsome.
The Borgo Pass: Erosion the true terror of Dracula
Lugosi was not the first pick. He wasn’t even the second or third. The original choice was Lon Chaney who died, before production began, due to cancer. Called the Man of A Thousand Faces, his roles in Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame made him one an easy pick. I don’t know what he would have looked like in the make up, he was one of the rare actors who truly enjoyed the chair and the prosthetics. Lugosi however with his look, powerful and hypnotic eyes, and trade mark accent ended up with the role and the world has never been the same. Sadly the studio did not offer him a contract after the success of Dracula, as they did with Karloff on Frankenstein and he had trouble being seen outside of a certain genre after. Perhaps one of his greatest single work after shows the mans true talent for acting, The Black Cat, in which he starred against Karloff himself.
The rest of the cast has Helen Chandler as the ever staring Mina, who was fantastic on stage but did not make much of an impact in movies. David Manners, who also appeared in the Mummy and Frankenstein as John Harker here. Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Van Helsing. Seriously all this man plays is the Doctor who knows it all! Dwight Frye though is the standout. His Renfield defined the role for almost a century to come. It was as problematic for him as it was for Lugosi in the work field after. He shows the widest range of acting in the film with his eyes, vocal pitch, laugh, and mannerisms are truly iconic.
Even the movie magic of the day was amazing. While obviously not a lot of it holds up today, some tricks like Dracula walking through a spider web really do. Today someone would use some half baked CG work and give us something laughable, this wasn’t. This was alien and new and creepy.
I highly recommend any cinephiles to see this at least once in their life, if they have not already. If you are a fan of all things vampire like I am this is a must have in your collection.
If you want to see where it all began, absolutely watch this.
Modern movie goers will eye roll at the acting and some interesting flubs in the film, but it is a classic and worth watching – at least once
I promised I would spend time this year talking about the Universal Monsters. These are the originals. These are what all else since has been based on, inspired by, or outright copied from. Sure there were a handful of adaptations of some of these works before hand, but these were the ones that caught the public eye and the imagination of an generations. There have been a few false starts and failed reboots in the past twenty years or so of some of these original creature features and rumor has it that Universal is going to try again with these films. The recent remakes have had mixed success with fans, critics, and the box office. So for todays film, lets discuss archaeology a bit, shall we?
Some spoilers below.
Egypt had been awash in mystery and mysticism to the western world for decades when this film came out. The celebrity status of the ancient culture had gone, well quite frankly, viral ten years prior when Howard Carter had discovered the intact Tomb of Tutankhamun (King Tut). This launched (or relaunched I suppose) the modern era of Egyptology. It really comes as no surprise that after the success of Dracula and Frankenstein in 1931 that Universal would be seeking out another monster to fill their slate. They had to look no further than sensationalist newspapers tales of the Curse of the Pharaohs. I suppose the media blowing things out of proportion isn’t as new as we thought neh? With the ideas of curses on mummies and their tombs and an audience hungry for something to scare them magic was bound to happen.
The story was originally written, though uncredited, by Richard Schayer and Nina Wilcox Putnam. It was adapted to the screenplay by John Balderston, who also wrote the screenplay for Dracula and Frankenstein. Balderston, fascinatingly, was a foreign correspondent who covered Carters opening of the Tomb in 1922. He also prior to this had written stageplays for both Dracula and Frankenstein. He also adapted the first version of the film Last of the Mohicans. If we thought Hollywood was a factory now, churning out writers and spitting them out, it looks to have been worse in the early days with people going uncredited, underpaid, and in some cases having no rights to their work and being forced to sue.
The film focuses on the recent discovery of an intact mummy, by the name of Imhotep, found in unusual circumstances. The movie wastes no time before the title character resurrects himself through the greed of a young explorer. Imhotep plans his not so nefarious plot to resurrect his equally dead and mummified love Ankh-es-en-amon. Yes, that is right – this is a love story with the focus on a monster. He isn’t the rotting corpse image we often imagine, but rather a dry and only slightly emaciated individual who actually spends time amongst people and takes on the name Ardeth Bay, in his search for the reincarnation of his lost love. He finds her in a young british socialite named Helen Grosvenor and begins to use his powers to remove those who would stand in the way of his love; while our “heroes” try to save the young woman’s life. It’s fascinating to me how much I find myself siding with the so called monster as I watch this and want him to succeed. What is equally fascinating is that, for its time, it is no act of our protagonists but rather the female center of the film that wins the day.
I think part of the success of the film resides in the reserved yet deeply emotional performance of Boris Karloff. Karloff, a man so awesome all they used was his last name on the poster, was already forty-five when he took this role and had a huge career behind him. He had recently been thrust into the limelight as Frankenstein. The films made the man seem a towering giant against his cast mates, yet he was only 5’11. He had decades of acting experience before him in both stage and silent pictures before. It’s worth mentioning amidst this praise that the rest of the cast does well. The style of film at the time had movies shot as if they were stage plays rather than motion pictures. Blocking, dialogue, even a bit of hollow over acting come from that particular style. Along with Karloff, Edward Van Sloan was a regular in these original films, always playing the same character by type if not by name. In the Mummy he is the wizened Doctor Muller, who understands the powers of The Mummy, his goals, and the fact that “the old gods of egypt still have power here…”
Another special mention goes to director and cinematographer Karl Freund. Sadly uncredited in Dracula for his work, he was given the appropriate credit in the Mummy. His knowledge of the camera was probably some of the best in the world at the time having worked in film since 1914. He was also the cinematographer on the German classic Metropolis. His eye for the technology, light, and even color (its important in black and white…) gave the Mummy its much needed atmosphere.
The Mummy is a classic and if you truly appreciate old Hollywood needs to be part of your collection or at least watched. It will not satisfy modern movie goers a single iota, but if you want to see where we came from. If you want to see what inspired so much in the years to come. Take 73 minutes of your life and give it a watch.
The next review will cover it’s most modern remake and I will touch on all the things they took from this film.
So this was a four movie weekend, with November Man, As Above So Below, a second viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy, and this release – Ghostbusters. I had the lovely opportunity to see this on an XD screen friday night. Why the late review? Two main reasons with the first being the boring stuff of housework. The second being I wanted to wait to see how the box office panned out for this weekend to give me something additional to write about.
Well what about the movie itself?
We have a story written by Harold Ramis (Meatballs, Stripes, Caddyshack) and Dan Aykroyd a relative unknown to the writing circuit with only Blues Brothers to his name. Now, they also have some TV under their collective belts as well with Aykroyd as a writer for 56 episodes of Saturday Night Live, now in its 8th season. Ramis is no slouch either, with his work on 47 episodes of the Canadian variant SCTV (Second City Television). It also helps these two are both natural actors and comedians themselves with quite the body of work on them combined. Aykroyd is most famous for his turn as Elwood Blues and his recent success in Trading Places which stayed in the top 10 for an amazing 19 weeks, made more even impressive by it having only 700 theatres for the final 10. Ramis, like Aykroyd also stared in the show he wrote, as well as his own appearance in Stripes.
Pair this comedic writing talent with a director who understands the people he is working with and it should be a recipe for success right? Well thats where we get Ivan Reitman. Director of Meatballs and Stripes. He also was a producer on the wildly insane Animal House and even stranger animated movie Heavy Metal. A good set of writers and pretty good director should make for a good movie. Thats where acting comes in.
I’ve already talked up Aykroyd(Dr. Raymond Stantz) and Ramis (Dr. Egon Spengler). The three main leads are rounded out with Bill Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman. You may have seen him in Meatballs, Caddyshack, or Stripes. Noticing a pattern here? In some cases such repetitive work doesn’t pan out, its like lightning in a bottle. In this case it does as the men can play off each other amazing well with a natural chemistry and charm that makes even Murray’s Venkman, who is rather unlikeable, somewhat charming.
What of the costars?
Off setting the raw comedic talent is the tough girl of sci fi – Sigourney Weaver (Dana Barrett) who played Ellen Ripley in 1979’s Alien. She recently worked with newcomer Mel Gibson in the Year of Living Dangerously, but with only three credits to her name putting her in this comedy is a bit odd. It works, it works perfectly. Another TV to screen transfer is Rick Moranis also from SCTV. There are rumors he has some writing credit on this movie as well – which wouldn’t be a surprise. His portrayal as Louis Tully is a different kind of comedy than the boys with the proton packs give and works fairly well. Another TV star joins the cast as well with William Atherton as an antagonist – who sadly I tend to agree with his ideals if not his methods. Character actor Ernie Hudson plays the straight man to the boys in brown as Winston Zeddemore. He is just just what this film needed aside from Weaver to ground everything in something relatable and touchable.
From a technical standpoint they did a lot right. They went as practical as they could. Miniatures, composite shots, layers, all of the tricks of the trade were used. The animation work holds pretty well too and in some cases is actually pretty scary when seen on high definition TV.
This movie is funny. This movie is entertaining. I think it can hold up for quite some time to come. If you didn’t see it this weekend – you should have but you have the rest of the week to see it!
Do so. This movie is for all ages! Let me know what you think. I’m ready to believe you.
Now…for the entire surreal element to end. I wanted to write this review as if I was writing it for a new release. It deserves that. Nostalgia aside this thing holds up 30 years later in nearly every department aside from FX. Even then, most of those hold up. The movie is one of the all time greats and is absolutely worth seeing this week.
Now as far as the box office. I said i wanted to write about it. On the four days of release Ghostbusters at 30 years later did almost as much as Sin City 2 did in its second week. Now, that isn’t a fair comparison. You see A Dame to Kill for had FOUR times as many theatres as Ghostbusters. THAT is awesome for a movie 30 years old and terrible for a movie only in its second week. Another kind of awesome fact about Ghostbusters, in its 30 week run back in 1984 it was #1, 2 or 3 for 16 weeks. Only Purple Rain and Red Dawn knocked it out during that time.
If you were an adult who saw this as a child – take your child to it. The kids in my showing really seemed to enjoy it.
Now there’s only one real question – Who ya gonna call?
The full title of course is Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. I thought I should conclude my every other day vampire review with the first (available) of the films to feature Dracula. As always I watch the film prior to the review and while I have two copies of this in my collection it never ceases to amaze even now 90 years later at what they were trying to do with film back then.
It’s worth mentioning this film was unauthorized. The studio that produced it could not and/or did not obtain the rights to the film. According to stories Stokers wife was sent a copy of a playbill advertising the film and demanded it be stopped and destroyed. The courts agreed with her and all the work prints were destroyed. Or at least thats what was thought, obviously as I am reviewing this tonight a print survived to allow us to enjoy now. Curiously the original film had changed the names of all the principal characters prior to its release to try to make them “original”. Makes me wonder why Vanilla Ice thought he could get away with it musically 70 years later.
The copy of the film I watched tonight had the title & scene cards changed back to their intended (and more accurate) formatting rather than the release versions. The infamous Count Orlock was once again Count Dracula. It is Jonathan and Nina (not Mina) Harker rather than Hutter and Ellen Hutter. Jonathan’s good friend Westenra and his wife Lucy vs the ‘original’ Harding and Annie. In researching this review I looked for IMDB, Wiki, etc, that had these more current credits and they are not in any of the main resources. The script however is available, which had them. I think I might have to make a point to get my hands on a non americanized copy.
The movie was directed by F.W. Murnau (Faust – 1926) who filmed on location in various places within his native Germany and eastern Europe. In the fashion of many modern directors Murnau actually rewrote several pages of the script for the ending of the movie. Unlike modern directors it was because the pages by scripter Henrik Galeen were reportedly lost. The film is without a single line of recorded dialogue and instead has orchestral music playing over the hour and twenty minute running time.
The acting is that of the stage; which is to say its completely over the top and meant to emote at a distant audience. The make up on the principals is designed for the same, where every color and line is made thicker and richer. Looking at it now it is admittedly ridiculous but when you consider how many people had worked in film by that point it makes sense. Max Schreck deserves special mention as the infamous Count. He enters and vanishes into the part in a way that some actors today could try to learn from.
Story wise there are significant variations from the Dracula you know and love, but the core is still there. Orlock/Dracula’s death is still an amazing piece of effects work for a film to attain in 1922.
For the TL;DR – go back and read. This is history.
Nosferatu is a cinematic classic. It is not scary in any way shape or form now. It is however worth watching for its aesthetic and historical content. I honestly wouldn’t expect most folks who aren’t vampire aficionados or film students to get through it, but I would say try.
This really is one of the ones that started it all.
There will be no review tomorrow, but Halloweens review wants you to Put..the Candle…Back.