Frankenstein (1931)

★★★★★

And so here I am, exactly a week before going to see a screening of Benedict Cumberbatch perform Frankenstein. and it wasn’t until today that I actually watched the 1931 classic. At only 71 minutes, James Whale wastes no time establishing everything, making this a quick and atmospheric Halloween watch.

Even though I have never seen Frankenstein, I know everything about it, the plot, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”, and of course the monster (Boris Karloff). This film has, like Victor Frankenstein’s monster itself, stumbled into its legendary pop culture status. The strongest point of this movie other than Karloff’s performance, is the atmosphere which, for a movie made in 1931 still is impressive to look at. The editing and film making represent a different more primitive time in Hollywood. The abrupt editing of scenes and the over the top delivery from some characters. None of these things even come close to ruining this film. Why not? Because it is Frankenstein. Sure there have been more adaptations of the story but this is not one of them. It makes up for the awkward moments with the Gothic atmosphere, and the studio sets add to this making it seem more like a stage play if anything else.

Frankenstein has cemented itself in its legendary status is everything that came after it and the influence of it still shines bright through all horror films in some way and a good place to start for anyone looking to study the genre.

Hoop-Tober Film #7 of 35 

A Page of Madness (1926)

It is a somewhat common belief that as a culture we have become desensitized to violence and horrifying images. But then, how did a 91 year old silent movie be one of the scariest horror films I have ever witnessed? Teinosuke Kinugasa’s A Page of Madness is one memorable and avant-garde trip through the psyche of the insane.

What is it that makes this movie so unsettling? Is it the un-restored footage? Is it the creepy masks? (Pictured above) Is it the fact that the movie was lost for forty-five years? All of these may have something do with the effect that A Page of Madness had on me. The strange imagery must have been revolutionary at the time of filming because it still has the intended effect to make anyone’s skin crawl.

However, the plot remains the biggest enigma of them all. It is very difficult to follow as no intertitles are provided and during the original showing, there would have been narration. The film is, of course about an insane asylum; but without looking it up, it is hard to decode the motives of the characters. Music is also lacking from the print, which was also supposed to be performed live during showings. I found this to be a passable version. Providing so weird and intentionally irritating accompaniment to the picture.

A Page of Madness is a groundbreaking piece of cinema. A pioneer in the horror genre that clearly took inspiration from German expressionism and gave it a cultural spin for Japanese audiences. It provides a view of human psychology that was unmatched at the time and is essential to watch for anyone studying not just horror cinema but cinema in general.

Hoop-Tober Film #6 of 35

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

★★★½

Wes Craven knew how to correctly kill off Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund). Instead of making another installment set in the fictional world why not bring Freddy to ours? After the disappointment that was Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), Craven returned to the director chair for the the first time since his original masterpiece to fix the damage that had been done to the series. We get to see Craven, Robert Englund, John Saxon, and Heather Langenkamp all portray themselves in a world where Nightmare on Elm Street is just a film franchise. It’s a really cool and inventive sequel that has a lot of fun with the premise and tries to make Freddy scary again.

Heather Langenkamp is the focus in New Nightmare. Few are slain by Freddy but when they are, they are characters that matter and people that Heather cares about as well. Her son, Dylan (Miko Porter) is also having nightmares about Kruger and it makes him all sorts of creepy. In New Nightmare Kruger was given a slick, new design. His face is much more dark and there seems to be less skin left from when he was burned alive by the parents of Elm Street. His iconic glove also looks like it is one with his hand connected to his bones and everything. The CGI used in this movie isn’t really the best an looks a little goofy; but it doesn’t take away from the experience too much as they use practical effects too (like that great scene with Kruger’s tongue).

Overall, New Nightmare is a really interesting and original premise for the Elm Street series. It was a good way to temporarily end the franchise for nine years; finally ending the series for good with Freddy vs. Jason (2003). After the original Nightmare this would probably have to be my favorite. I think Craven succeeded at making a sequel that managed to not disregard continuity and instead, just made a movie disconnected from the whole entire series.

Hoop-Tober Film #5 of 35

Lifeforce (1985)

★★½

You have to try pretty hard to make a movie about space vampires not even fun to watch. Which is how, even though, I found Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce to be dull at many times, it still isn’t a bad movie. Lifeforce is a movie fighting for its identity. Switching between a more serious film and something that is over-the-top.

So here’s the deal. A naked space vampire (played by Mathilda May), goes around seducing people as well as sucking the life out of them (with some awesome prosthetic effects) and then it turns out, the space vampires can also turn people into zombies. Patrick Stewart also shows up and he has hair blood shoots out of his eyes as his head explodes in one scene. That plot sounds like some cheesy 80s fun. But the issue is all the stuff in the middle of the plot I described. I think the film lacks focus and relied too much on the characters running around trying to stop the space vampires rather than showing the actual space vampires in action.

Lifeforce lacks the ability to be a serious or thought provoking horror film but also lacks the ability to fully embrace the extremely silly plot. But, the scenes where the film embraces the extravagance are easily the best parts of this uneven film.

Hoop-Tober Film #4 of 35

House (1977)

★★★★

Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House does haunted house movies right. In this mix of comedy and horror, nothing is too far-fetched. It is a tough film to write about because it is difficult to all take in. In one scene a skeleton is dancing then in another scene, a man transforms into bananas. What can be said but, House is one hell of a ride and one up’s itself with every scene.

Some of the effects in House look intentionally cheesy. The intention by Obayashi was to make the film’s effects look almost childish. This adds to the effect and tone of the movie. As this is not fully horror, but a farce as well. This film definitely has surrealist comedy elements. As shown through the bizarre practical effects and the various scenes in the haunted house.

Where the film is lacking is in the acting department. Many of the actresses had never had acting experience before, so it is excusable to an extent and the characters are playing exaggerated versions of various character archetypes so it does not get in they way all too much. I think the tongue-in-cheek way the seven girls’ names (Melody, Kung Fu, Gorgeous etc.) also defined their characterization was quite humorous.

House, is a fabulously unique take on the haunted house. There is never a dull moment in this 88-minute film as everything builds up to its grand finale of chaos.

Hoop-Tober Film #3 of 35

Final Destination 2 (2003)

★★½

Final Destination suffers from the ever prevalent “horror sequelitis” plaguing the genre. The first film, had a good idea going for it, with the dark comedic tone it had. But since it made back over four times its 23 million dollar budget, a sequel was imminent. Horror sequels tend to always need to “up the ante” to surpass its predecessor (Halloween II (1981) being the best example of this). But this usually has to sacrifice something such as the actual quality of the film being made. Such as repeating the plot of the first movie with only minor differences. Final Destination 2, does just that. It is centered around a car accident instead of a plane crash this time, however. But it still very much relies on the same “cheating death” premise.

The death sequences are the best part of the film, which is expected. But to get to them, you need to sit through the same exact realizations the characters in the first Final Destination had. The film would have been much worse, if it wasn’t for the fact that sole survivor from the first movie, Clear Rivers (Ali Larter) is at least here to speed through the process. Another issue that I had, was how none of these rules really needed explanation. Death was supposed to be a mysterious force and there was no way of stopping fate from happening. The explanation behind how to avoid death doesn’t really make for enjoyable or frightening entertainment.

Part of me enjoyed Final Destination 2 for what it was, a film version of Spike’s tv show, 1000 Ways to Die. However, I have now seen the first three of these movies and I can safely say this one is my least favorite of them. The deaths are not as completely outrageous as the characters in Final Destination 3 (2006) meeting their demise. I will most likely get around to watching the final two movies eventually, because those elaborate death sequences are quite a scene to behold.

Hoop-Tober Film #2 of 35

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

★★★½

It is good to see film that was so hated in the past undergo a critical re-evaluation. Some of the most famous examples would be: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) (Now considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time) as well as Buster Keaton’s silent masterpiece The General (1926). Now, I am not here to declare Halloween III: Season of the Witch to be even of comparable quality to those two films, but at the time, the reason why this movie was so hated was just because it lacked slasher-icon Michael Myers. So, it seems as if people back then did not even pay attention to the actual quality of the movie itself and just were angered at the sudden genre shift towards much more witchcraft and magic-oriented horror. However, now people are realizing that Tommy Lee Wallace directed a pretty fun, albeit uneven B movie.

Where John Carpenter’s Halloween (1979) just happened to take place on the night of Halloween, Halloween III is completely centered around (and relies upon) the holiday. We have a creepy mask factory, some cool practical gore effects, and TV’s sending out signals to take back Halloween to its sacrificial roots. The film manages to be mostly original with its plot, but sadly, it still falls into some lazy writing clichés such as a really pointless and undeveloped romance between Dr. Challis (Tom Atkins) and Ellie (Stacey Nelkin). Other instances of Halloween III‘s clichés are much more fun and really help it shine as a B grade horror film. Such as, a creepy town that is very unwelcome to visitors as well as an evil businessman pent on world destruction.

The soundtrack is a synthesizer extravaganza, composed by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth. It gives off an eerie and unsettling vibe that fits the town of Santa Mira and the subject matter at hand. Possibly the most remembered song is the “Silver Shamrock Halloween Commercial” which is an ear worm (set to the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down”) that is near impossible to get out of your head whenever this film comes to mind.

Halloween III is an interesting and overlooked horror film that seems to be gaining more recognition as time goes on. The film was supposed to help turn the Halloween series into an anthology series with all planned films also centered around Halloween. This idea most likely confused too many people as Halloween II (1981) had Michael Myers in it. And the backlash was so heavy and the box-office returns so little that, six years later they gave the public what they wanted with Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988).

Hoop-Tober Film #1 of 35