What is Halloween without zombies? Netflix instant play has the movie that started this subgenre as well as the Tom Savini-helmed remake. If you can’t stand black & white films or just want better splatter then watch the remake but the tension and atmosphere are much higher in the original.
WATCH: Night of the Living Dead (1968) – Unrated (the remake is rated R)
“Director George Romero’s low-budget horror classic continues to inspire heebie-jeebies, in part because of the randomness of the zombies’ targets. As dead bodies return to life and feast on human flesh, young Barbara (Judith O’Dea) joins a group of survivors in a farmhouse hoping to protect themselves from the hordes of advancing zombies. But even with assistance in slowing down and killing zombies, soon only one person remains in the farmhouse.”
What can you say about a classic? This is the only horror movie to ever scare me on television – and that on a grainy UHF station with commercials. George Romero started an entire subgenre (and one of my favorites to boot) with this film. Sadly due to a copyright error, this movie is in the public domain so while Romero receives full props for his masterpiece, he does not receive money for it. This is a very intense, claustrophobic black and white thriller with a fair amount of social commentary (a trademark of Romero’s). Also please note that this was filmed during the civil rights era and features an African-American hero who has no problem ordering around others including an older white man. Performances are quite good for a first feature.
U.S. remakes of foreign films have a spotty history as often what made the foreign film so special is lost in translation. Even the well adapted ones often pale in comparison to the original. Netflix currently has Quarantine, an adaptation of Spain’s [REC], available for instant play.
WATCH: Quarantine (2008) – “While on assignment shadowing firemen, a Los Angeles news reporter (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman (Steve Harris) get trapped in a quarantined apartment complex with a vicious unknown killer. With all forms of communications cut, the news crew keeps the cameras rolling as they search for a way to escape rabies-infected zombies. John Erick Dowdle writes and directs this frenzied horror film that also stars Johnathon Schaech.”
In 2007, Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza made the wonderful [REC], a Spanish horror film about an out of control rabies infection. In 2008, John Erick Dowdle remade this as Quarantine. Many of the scenes in Quarantine are slavishly copied shot-for-shot from [REC] although I found this to be a good thing as [REC] was unavailable in the US until after Quarantine’s release. Jennifer Carpenter plays the lead and makes Angela a very different character from her portrayal as Dexter’s sister in Dexter. The movie plays out much like a roller coaster – you have some build up for a while as we get to know the reporters and firemen then once we reach the apex (the first confrontation with an infected resident), it’s a non-stop thrill ride straight to the end. The whole movie is shot POV (Now with shaky-cam!) which works well but after The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, this, and Diary of the Dead, I’m hopeful that we can give the Verite a bit of a rest. The story is fleshed out a bit in-between the screaming and running but is actually easy to miss. There is a very effective feeling of claustrophobia and there are a few added bits not in [REC] that add a little more depth. All in all this is a very fun thrill ride – [REC] is definitely better but this is a good adaptation.
I love both versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 and 1978). Netflix has Abel Ferrara’s more recent Body Snatchers (1993) available on instant play. Jack Finney’s source novel was adapted again into The Invasion in 2007 but while it is enjoyable, it is the least of the adaptations.
WATCH: Body Snatchers (1993) – “Young Marty Malone (Gabrielle Anwar) and her family have just moved to a Southern military base so that her father (Terry Kinney) can study a curious environmental issue. Just as she’s settling into her new life, Marty learns that an alien attack is imminent and that the creatures are planning to turn humans into “pod people” as they sleep. Marty and her friends must now band together to fight off the aliens.”
In 1993, sleaze-meister Abel Ferrara (Ms. .45, Driller Killer) turned to Body Snatchers after completing Bad Lieutenant. He does place his unique stamp on this classic tale and while it is a nice romp, it does not quite measure up to the first two. Part of the point of the original, set in small-town America, was that people you’d known your whole life might have been replaced. Abel Ferrara makes his film more about alienation and powerlessness – the protagonist is an alienated teen, her father is an EPA investigator and as such not exactly welcome at the military base. Marty’s mother is a stepmom and her friend’s mother is an alcoholic. There is one wonderfully creepy scene in a classroom where the children all show the pictures they’ve drawn. Ferrara keeps this moving at a brisk pace – the invasion is underway before Marty even arrives. Although the last 15 minutes of the movie make little sense, it is a fun ride.
People watchers: the versatile Forest Whitaker has a small part as a troubled Major.
Whoops somehow missed posting yesterday so I’ll need to post 2 today. Clive Barker came out with the most marvelous horror short stories when I was growing up. They were quite outrageous for their time and were collected in the Books of Blood. Later he branched out into novels but I’ve always enjoyed his earlier edgier work more. He has several movie adaptations of his work of which Hellraiser is the best. Candyman is the only current film of his on instant Netflix.
WATCH: Candyman (1992) – “While researching urban myths, grad student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) learns about the Candyman (Tony Todd), a hook-handed creature who’s said to haunt a Chicago housing project. In this creepy film based on a Clive Barker story, the Candyman is made flesh by other people’s belief in him. Not surprisingly, Lyle manages to summon him. Soon, the Candyman has committed a series of murders, and the cops are holding Lyle responsible.”
Candyman covers the topic of urban myths far better than the later Urban Legend series of movies ever did. Clive Barker’s short story forms the basis for this movie adapted and directed by Bernard Rose. Rose takes Barker’s fanciful tale and grounds it in reality. The notorious Cabrini-Green housing project is actually filmed for the movie (exterior shots) as are gang members from the area. Tony Todd is marvelous as the eponymous Candyman even though it is very much a supporting role. By the way he really did have bees in his mouth. Bernard Rose does well showing how the Lyles live versus life in the projects while still keeping the horror story as the focus. The movie isn’t perfect – Candyman’s backstory and motivation could have been better expressed and some of Helen’s early decisions, such as venturing unprotected into Cabrini-Green dressed in upscale clothing, seem brain-dead even for someone with a sheltered life. Overall though this is a nice effective chiller.
People watchers: look for the ever-delightful Ted Raimi in a small role at the start of the film.
Here’s a nice one that sadly is only available until November 1st.
WATCH: The Medusa Touch (1978) – “John Morlar (Richard Burton) is a writer with an inconvenient talent: the ability to see disasters before they happen. So when he’s attacked by an unknown assailant, a Scotland Yard investigator (Lino Ventura) can’t help but wonder whether he saw it coming. With John languishing in a coma, it’s impossible to ask him any questions. But his psychiatrist (Lee Remick) could shed much-needed light on John’s troubled past.”
Outdoor scenes not withstanding, this really comes off as a well-acted stage play. Richard Burton is wonderful and adds a certain gravitas to his role and Lino Ventura and Lee Remick play well singly and off each other but it is definitely Burton’s show. The premise is nifty and was likely greenlit right after the success of Carrie. There are only a few, though effective, scenes of violence and no sex which is part of why this seems like a stage play. Unfortunately not only is this film only available until the 1st of November but it has never been released on DVD in the US.
People watchers: look for the always wonderful Derek Jacobi in a small part.
Here is a little movie you may have missed – a horror movie to terrify the guys.
WATCH: Teeth (2007) – “When virtuous high school student Dawn (Jess Weixler) becomes the victim of a sexual assault, she discovers that she has an unexpected line of defense: a toothed vagina. But for Dawn, coming to terms with the power and dangers of her anatomical anomaly may be easier said than done. Director Mitchell Lichtenstein’s provocative feminist horror flick also stars John Hensley, Hale Appleman and Josh Pais.”
Mitchell Lichtenstein wrote, directed, and produced this hysterical horror comedy so he certainly deserves almost all the credit. The cast is quite good and Jess Weixler projects a wonderful sense of naivete. The film skewers horny teenagers (well men in general actually) as well as the only teach abstinence crowd. One of the funniest parts in the movie is a low-key scene in a classroom that is drawn straight from real life. There is also a neat running joke involving the twin stacks of a nuclear reactor. Even if it doesn’t cause you to think about its overall message, the movie can be enjoyed just for laughs. Warning the film does contain sexual scenes of a disturbing nature and a rape sequence – odd but necessary given the nature of this feminist parable.
Takashi Miike has made a career out of making very disturbing and brutal films. Let me reiterate – this is a VERY disturbing and brutal film – caveat emptor.
WATCH: Audition (1999) – “Director Takashi Miike fashions an explosive drama in Audition. Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) has lived as a widower for too long and decides it’s time to marry again. But how will he find a wife? When a friend suggests he hold a fake audition to pick the right woman, he takes him up on it — only to realize that his choice may be a better actress than he bargained for.”
If you are new to Japanese horror, the three important films to see are Ju-On, Ringu and Audition. Audition is the slowest moving but the most disturbing. Thankfully the description doesn’t give too much away. This film builds very very slowly and carefully to a riveting and uncomfortable payoff. Eihi Shiina is absolutely amazing as Asami. You don’t find many films these days willing to spend 2/3 of their running time setting up the ending (Ridley Scott’s Alien comes to mind). Strangely while I find this to be a very important horror movie that is exceedingly carefully crafted, I do not find this to be an enjoyable film. I highly recommend it if you want to see something new in horror and don’t mind the casual brutality of films like Saw.
Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff starred in 8 films together. This is the only one where they don’t appear together but hey it’s free on instant Netflix.
WATCH:Black Friday (1940) – “A life-saving act turns destructive in this haunting horror film by Arthur Lubin. In an effort to save his dying friend Professor Kingsley (Stanley Ridges), Dr. Sovac (Boris Karloff) transplants part of an ailing gangster’s brain into Kingsley’s. What the two didn’t expect was that Kingsley would start flip-flopping between his mild self and that of an angry gangster out for revenge. Bela Lugosi co-stars.”
Boris Karloff is the star here – Bela doesn’t have any lines until the halfway point but still receives second-billing. Stanley Ridges is quite good as Professor Kingsley/Red Cannon. Unfortunately this is a rather weak film – other than the two personalities in one body, this is a straightforward revenge story. Boris’ character is a scientist with little personality (and for that matter little science as well). The film isn’t bad but without Boris and Bela, it would have slipped into obscurity by now.
This is Boris Karloff’s other iconic contribution to the Universal classic monster lineup. Geek test – if someone says Frankenstein and you know that that is the scientist and not the monster then you are a geek.
WATCH: Frankenstein (1931) – “Unbeknownst to his fiancée (Mae Clarke), young scientist Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) — aided by his hunchbacked assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye) — has been building a monster made of spare parts. But no one is prepared, not even the doctor, when the creature comes to terrifying life. Boris Karloff stars as the iconic Frankenstein’s monster in this classic piece of horror cinema, based loosely on the novel by Mary Shelley.”
Colin Clive is fun if a little over the top as Frankenstein and Mae Clarke (sans grapefruit) and Edward Van Sloan provide good support but John Boles is wooden as Victor. Character actor Dwight Frye (Renfield in Dracula) has a delightful turn as the hunchback Fritz but is unfortunately overshadowed by Bela Lugosi’s Ygor in Son of Frankenstein. After the success of Dracula, Bela was offered and turned down the role of the monster. Director James Whale gave the part to relatively unknown Boris Karloff (Karloff had been in over 60 movies already but mostly as a bit player or minor heavy). For such a star-making performance, Karloff doesn’t get off the table until almost the halfway mark and is fourth-billed. His first appearance backing into a room and then turning around slowly to show off Jack Pierce’s incredible makeup is startling. James Whale keeps the action moving at a brisk clip. The expressionistic sets are fantastic (in both the literal and figurative sense) and owe much to German horror cinema of the 20s.
Please note: this is the restored version – Colin Clive’s line comparing himself to god had been cut on rerelease during the Code years but is present here as is the scene where he throws the little girl in the lake. While I appreciate ‘lost’ footage being restored, I do feel that that scene works better with the implied violence.
Bela Lugosi played many wonderful genre roles but this is of course the role that defined his career. He only assayed it twice – once for Dracula (1931) and again in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) – although he did play a vampire in several other films.
WATCH: Dracula (1931) – “Bela Lugosi turns in a landmark horror performance in this 1931 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel. Revisit Transylvania for the eerie mood created by spectacular cinematography and Lugosi’s oft-copied take on the infamous Dracula. Dwight Frye as Renfield also helps define the grotesque and sniveling sidekick role” – Even though Bela Lugosi was famous as Dracula in the Hamilton Deane stage play, Universal planned this for Lon Chaney. With Chaney’s untimely death (is anyone’s death timely?) in 1930, the role passed to Lugosi. Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan were the only two actors carried over from the play. The production, as most early talkies were, is very stagey but Lugosi’s performance is delightful as is Dwight Frye’s as Renfield. The sets are wonderful amd the atmosphere is appropriately thick. While he did not get credit, cinematographer Karl Freund ended up directing portions of the film as Tod Browning was still quite distraught over Chaney’s passing. At night after filming was finished, a hispanic crew came in to film the Spanish version on the same sets. The Spanish version is available in the Legacy collection.