The Bride of Frankenstein

January 21, 2018

bride

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Frankenstein’s Monster didn’t die in the first movie (or any of the subsequent ones) and Dr. Pretorius, who is obsessed with creating life, teams with Dr. F to create a female companion for the monster.

This movie has been a running joke for as long as I can remember…but on the other hand, I have never seen it. And when Craiggers and I were driving for nine hours to get back home, and listening to Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This podcasts about the lives of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff (which were awesome for a car trip) we had to watch this the next evening, having seen Dracula the night before.

I had grown up with monster movies on TV, running almost continuously on the weekends. Many of them were hosted by people like Elvira or Seymour, who made fun of the (mostly awful) movies they hosted…and I mentally lumped this in with all the other Frankenstein knockoffs, of which there are many.

But Longworth said this was arguably the best, even better than the original, and talked about it at great length, so Craiggers and Mr. Otter and I cranked it up after dinner.

This movie was completely different than I expected, even after hearing the podcast description. The beginning of the story, where Mary and Percy Shelley and Lord “I’m So Cool” Byron are talking and Mary tells them ‘the REST of the story’, is cheesy, and of course they have to recap the original and show how the monster survived by hiding in the basement. But after that, it gets very good.

The look of it is very modern, and in fact, even though the frame story is set in the very early 1800s, the story itself is in late Victorian times, which is a little weird. The sets are big and angular and blocky, almost modernist, and not what one expects from a mad scientist’s castle.

Karloff, in the continuing role of the Monster, is now much more sympathetic. He is befriended by a hermit, and learns to speak a few words; this calm period ends when they are discovered by huntsmen who attack the Monster, who runs away and is found by Dr. Pretorius, who convinces him to kidnap Dr. F’s new bride; the only way Dr. F can get her back is by helping Dr. P create new life, a woman to keep the Monster company, which does not work out well at all.

There are some interesting things about this movie…firstly, Elsa Lanchester as a thin beautiful woman, playing both Mary Shelley and the Bride…not the impression I have of her from later films, nor the mental image I had for this movie.

Secondly, Dr. P’s examples of being able to ‘create life’ are shown to be these weird creepy little people in jars who are playing roles- the lecherous king, the clergyman, the beautiful woman- and trying to get out of the jars to interact with each other. Very strange.

The other thing I didn’t realize is that Mel Brooks’ brilliant movie, Young Frankenstein, is more a parody of this than the original Frankenstein; there are many scenes and characters (like Madeleine Kahn, Chloris Leachman’s character, the policeman, and the hermit) that are instantly recognizable. Interesting.

The ending was not what I expected…stark and abrupt, although it had been foreshadowed, and of course the Universal checklist* of what horror movies must include does not make a happy ending for the monster a possibility. And Elsa Lanchester! I had only seen parodies of her character, including Madeleine Kahn’s amazingly funny performance…seeing the real thing was scary and kind of sad. And it was such a short (although powerful) scene to have become so legendary.

This was worth watching; we mocked frame story and the ‘tiny people in bottles’ scene, it was silly, but the rest of the movie was actually a good psychological thriller, and both Karloff and Lanchester really give us characters to identify with.

If, like me, you have not yet seen this classic, you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

*From Scare ’em to Death- then Cash In by Richard Hubler,
Saturday Evening Post, May 23, 1942 (seven years after Bride of Frankenstein)

…More than most Hollywood productions, tbe horror film bas a set formula. George Waggner, an easy-going, slow-apoken ex-Philadelphian, is entrusted with the production of most of Universal’s chillers—which means moat of those in the industry. He says they must have specific characteristics:

  1. They must be once-upon-a-time tales. In one film, executives insisted upon having the word “legend” in the preface stand out in boldface.
  2. They must he believable in characterization. A scientific premise, such as the building of a monster, may seem phony, but never the character or motives of Doctor Frankenstein.
  3. They must have unusual technical effects. One of the best was the operating table ascending into the lightning, a sequence ao good in the original Frankenstein that it was repeated in the latest.
  4. Besides the major monster, there must be a secondary character of weird appearance, such as Igor, the brokennecked mentor of Frankenstein.
  5. They must confess right off that the show is a horror film. In the first Frankenstein picture an interlocutor appeared to tell the audience to brace itself.
  6. They must include a pish-tush character to express the normal skepticism of the audience. This sacrilegious fellow must he later confounded, as was stout fellow Ralph Bellamy in the latest horror productions.
  7. They must be based on some pseudoscientific premise.

To this potpourri of rules, Waggner claims to have added his own ingredient, modern psychology. He tries to make the hero not only horrible but likable, to work up audience sympathy. “My horror films have to be tragic and inevitable,” says Waggner. “Just like a Greek play.”

 

 


Dracula (1931)

January 21, 2018

dracula

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From the novel of the same name by Bram Stoker. If you haven’t read it, for goodness sakes do it, it’s great.

An ancient vampire moves to England and makes a play for beautiful Mina. Can her fiancé stop him?

Craiggers and I were driving for nine hours together, and we had been together all weekend. We had been staying up too late and we were tired and talked out. I know he likes horror movies. I have this podcast series, I said, and I haven’t listened to it yet…want to try it?

And he did.

The series is Karina Longworth’s excellent and eclectic take on Hollywood’s first hundred years, called You Must Remember This. She has done many excellent serial podcasts, and the one I just happened to have on my ancient iPod Classic was a six-part series about Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, which we greatly enjoyed.

And that night, we had to watch this…I’m sure I saw it when I was a kid; it was always on TV, and my mom had seen it in the movie theater when she was six, when it was new. She said she sat in the front row with her older brothers, and when the closeup came of Dracula about to bite Mina’s neck, she went scampering to her parents in the back of the theater.

But I really couldn’t remember actually sitting, watching it and paying attention to it. And after hearing the podcast, I wanted to, as did Craiggers.

This was really really good. I love Tod Browning’s work, and had read about this from the other end in a bio of Browning; he was originally going to cast superstar Lon Chaney for the part, but Chaney died…this might have made him a better Dracula if it hadn’t seriously impacted his acting ability…! So Lugosi was hired to play the role, and did it to a T. He is suave, creepy and very Transylvanian. The closeups of his eyes, with a strip of light across them, are awesome, as is his whole presence.

Renfield, the lawyer who helped Dracula sell his castle (and imagine buying that!) and who is Dracula’s creepy minion, is great as well, chewing scenery with the best of them with his mad passion for eating gross insects, and Mina is ethereal and beautiful and not as passive as one might have thought.

Bela Lugosi was 48 at the time this was made, and this was literally the high point of his life…it seems like the rest of his career was an attempt to recapture the glory he had in 1931 for about 9 months, until Frankenstein (starring Boris Karloff) was released, eclipsing his star. Such is fame.

But all in all, an excellent movie, both as a film and as a piece of cinematographic and literary history. If you haven’t seen it, watch it (after you read the book, of course!) You will thank the Otter.


The Brothers Karamazov

January 9, 2018

kara

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From the novel of the same name by Dostoyevsky.

Ivan is in love with Katya is in love with Dmitri is in love with Grushenka who is sleeping with the brothers’ father Fyodor while brother Alexi the priest tries to make peace and everyone despises Smerdyakov, Fyodor’s smarmy illegitimate son.

No kidding. I thought it was going to be yet another Russian political the-government-is-evil-let’s-have-a-revolution kind of thing…but no. It’s a big ol’ thundering family drama, full of anger, tears, forgiveness and lots of people ending up unhappy (because Russian).

Ottersis, Mr. Otter and I wanted to see this…not only is it the last movie we had chosen and not seenfor the New Year’s Day Moviefest 2018 (theme: Hollywood’s take on other countries) but also Ottersis and I are in complete agreement on the hotness of Yul Brynner, which is awesome. In fact, I am now promoting him to Serious Honey. You’re welcome, Yul.

So this takes place in the 1870s in Russia, and everyone is fighting over money and sex, and it’s actually really good. Although it clocks in at 2 1/2 hours, it moves really well, and what developed in the last half hour surpised me, if not everyone (Mr. Otter says he read the book but doesn’t remember it that well.)

And the cast list is a 50s roll call of good actors: Brynner, Lee J Cobb, Harry Towne, Claire Bloom, Richard Basehart, and (we were all surprised to see) William Shatner playing the priest brother. And he was actually good, and SO young!

But the best was Serious Honey Maria Schell, sister of Maximilian Schell, as Gruschenka. She was so good when she was onscreen you couldn’t look away from her- beautiful, a good actress, a worthy foil to Yul and his high horse, which he kept getting on…she was just amazing. I looked at the list of her credits, and as I thought, I’ve never seen her in anything except (and I didn’t remember this) a forgettable part in the first Superman movie from 1978.

Anyway. This was really worth watching- lots of drama, tension, pretty good writing and good plotting. Guess I’m going to have to read the book now…


Bright

January 7, 2018

bright

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Two cops, one of whom is a despised ethnic group, and the other is his partner under protest, stumble on a gang, several murders and a conspiracy, during which they learn to respect each other and maybe take a few steps toward being friends.

And the cop nobody wants to partner with is an Orc…

This takes place in a future LA, with annoying fairies, rich and beautiful Elves who live in an enclave, and Orc hooligans and gang members. Will Smith’s partner (yes, Serious Honey Will Smith is back in a really good role, yippee!) is an Orc who has cut off his tusks (and is called ’roundtooth’ by other Orcs) but all he wants to be is a good cop.

This is an excellent example of taking a plot everyone has seen many times, and remaking it with one element (fantasy creatures in our world) changed, and thereby creating a new and interesting story. The worldbuilding is good, there are rules for the magic and abilities and the plot makes them clear, and the writers stick to the rules.

Mr. Otter was kind of rolling his eyes at this and claiming that it didn’t explain stuff or follow the rules, but he doesn’t read fantasy novels, and I do, and I say this was really good.

You better watch it for yourself, though, and see what you think.


Gold

January 4, 2018

gold

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A modern-day prospector (1980s) strikes it rich in Indonesia, and along with a lot of money comes a lot of trouble…

This was movie #5 for the New Year’s Day Videofest (theme: Hollywood Goes Around the World) because A) a lot of it takes place in Indonesia and B) I wanted to see it in theaters and missed it.

Matthew McConaughey is one of my favorite actors, as well as being a Serious Honey. He has reinvented himself from romantic lead in romcoms to a lot of varied and interesting movie roles, and is very very good at them.

This one was no exception. Here he is the 3rd generation owner of a family mining company that is going down the tubes and he is desperate to make that one big strike…with the help of a South American playboy/prospector he does, only to run into trouble from the IRS, the Indonesian government, and Wall Street investors.

This movie is loosely based on real events but they change a lot of the later ones, including the ending. Having said that, this was interesting, exciting, and well-written. McConaughey (aka Mr. Dimples) is awesome as a desperate wheeler-dealer caught up in his own story and devastated when things go south. Bryce Dallas Howard is also excellent as his love interest, and Edgar Ramirez as the gold-finder are good as well.

A good roller-coaster of a movie, with an ending that is not easy to predict.


The Thing

January 4, 2018

thing

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Based on the short story, “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Scientists at a research station in Antarctica are attacked by a Thing.

It was the New Year’s Day Videofest, and the theme was Hollywood’s Version of the World. I have always wanted to see this IN A LIGHTED ROOM WITH LOTS OF PEOPLE AROUND so it was a perfect choice for Antarctica.

And not only was it good, but it was not oogie at all…it’s basically Alien or Jaws, the monster picking people off one by one, the survivors getting more frantic and over-the-top with damage control.

The underpinnings (scientists alone at a research station, no way out, can’t let it get loose or the world will end) were very good, and the buildup was great. Kurt Russell was his usual no-nonsense kick-ass self, very enjoyable, and the characters of the scientists who had to deal with this menace were good.

And the monster was scary and gross, and very well done.

A good time was had by all!


The Brave One

January 4, 2018

brave

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A Mexican boy raises a bull for a bullfight.

The New Year’s Day Moviefest (theme: Hollywood goes Around the World) was in full swing, and there were a bunch of us having a great time watching movies. This was the entry for Mexico, and Mr. Otter and I had been wanting to see it because it won a Best Picture Oscar in 1957 for Best Original Story for Dalton Trumbo, whose name couldn’t be on it because he was blacklisted.

And in fact his name was not on the version of the movie (streamed from Amazon) that we watched, either.

It’s sweet and sentimental, and very very dated.

On the one hand, it’s a good straightforward story-the boy raises the bull for the ring, kind of ignoring the whole ‘the bull dies at the end’ thing. At the last minute, he tried to get him reprieved, even talking to El Presidente, but the reprieve comes too late. The ending is good, and believeable.

On the other hand, it’s old fashioned, predictable and sentimental. It’s a story we’ve seen over and over, and there was pretty much nothing new added.

The thing that was good about this (and I’m sure this was Trumbo’s writing shining through) was that the Mexican characters were all normal characters, rather than ethnic stereotypes. There were scenes in the school with the teacher talking about Mexican history (chronologically backwards, which made us all laugh) and in the end, the boy is going from famous place to famous place through the very modern Mexico City, and much of that seemed like it was put in to show American audiences a non-stereotypical view of Mexico and its people.

The one thing that was very very dated was that everyone spoke stiff formal English, to show that they were really speaking Spanish to each other, instead of just talking like normal people, but that’s a small quibble.

For the time, and the kind of movie it is, this was pretty good.