IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU (2018)

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may the devil take you 2018

MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU (2018) is a horror movie that hails from Indonesia. It was directed by Timo Tjahjanto, a filmmaker who is a huge fan of the EVIL DEAD movies, and this movie, MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU, is sort of a love letter to that series.

Or at least it tries to be.

MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU is the story of Alfie (Chelsea Islan) a young woman who learns that her father Lesmana (Ray Sahetapy) is in the hospital in a coma, and nobody seems to know why. But the audience knows because the film opens with a creepy sequence in which we see Lesmana making a pact with a demon that somehow involves the souls of his children. Hmm. No daddy of the year award for this guy!

Anyway, in the hospital Alfie is reunited with her step family, including her stepmother,stepbrother, and two stepsisters. Her oldest stepsister, Maya (Pevita Pearce), does not like Alfie at all. Actually none of them like each other all that much because it seems pop Lesmana wasn’t always faithful and was only successful in business for a time, and now as he lies in a coma he’s lost everything.

While at the hospital, Alfie has a strange experience where she sees a frightening female figure in the hospital room with them, and then her father wakes up long enough to vomit deep dark blood all over the place.

Later, this same group attempts to clean out Lesmana’s home, and while they are there bickering and arguing, mysterious things begin to happen, like a freakish demonic woman crawling out of the basement. Yikes! After this, all hell breaks loose. Well, not all hell, but enough of it to make these folks miserable as they are chased down by a horrific demon, hell-bent on possessing their souls.

This actually sounds better than it is.

And that’s because while there were parts of MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU that I liked, there were just as many things that I didn’t like.

For starters, director Timo Tjahjanto does set up some pretty scary scenes. There are some really cool spooky images here, like when the woman demon shows up, from the way he films her face to the way he captures her long bony hands. There’s some really freaky stuff happening in this movie. That’s all great.

However, for a guy who’s a fan of the EVIL DEAD movies, I thought Tjahjanto’s use of gore here was pretty lame. It might have been a budget issue, but the gory scenes simply didn’t look all that good, nor were there all that many of them.

I also didn’t think the story was as tight as it could have been. Tjahjanto wrote the screenplay, and it wasn’t always clear what exactly was going on. For example, the pact between Lesmana and the demon is never clearly explained, and as a result neither are the demon’s motives.

And in many instances the characters were slow to react to things. There’d be some horrifying violent event, and then afterwards the characters would still be sitting in the next room having a conversation. I would have high-tailed it out of there within minutes of that woman emerging from the basement. But no. These folks stay. And stay. And stay.

Will you flippin run away from that house already!

Chelsea Islan is excellent in the lead role as Alfie. She plays the role with a good mix of being scared and being tough when it’s needed. Likewise, Pevita Pearce is notable as Maya, who ends up spending a good chunk of the film possessed.

Overall, MAY THE DEVIL TAKE YOU is a mixed bag. I liked its creepy scenes and enjoyed Chelsea Islan’s lead performance, but its story isn’t always clear and its gore effects aren’t anything to write home about.

While it held my interest for the most part, there were times when I wished the devil had simply taken me someplace else.

—END—

 

FRANKENSTEIN FIBONACCIS

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frankenstein -1931- monster

No poetry slams for this guy, as the Monster (Boris Karloff) in FRANKENSTEIN (1931) didn’t speak.

FRANKENSTEIN FIBONACCIS

In addition to writing movie reviews and fiction, I also teach middle school English. April was National Poetry month, and so my students have been reading and writing poetry this past month. I love teaching poetry, and I write it for fun, but it’s not something I do a whole lot.

However, I’ve been writing more poetry of late, and I thought now would be a good time to show off a few. Just for fun.

One of the forms I’ve enjoyed this year, as have my students, is based on the Fibonacci sequence, a form that poet Linda Addison spoke of this past summer at Necon.

Here are a few of my Fibonacci poems, inspired by the Universal Frankenstein movies. Fibonacci poems follow the Fibonacci sequence: 1,1,2,3,5, 8, and so on. In poetry, each number corresponds to the number of syllables in each line.

Enjoy!

 

bride of frankenstein - dr pretorioius and monster

In THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) the Monster (Boris Karloff) did speak, and spoke of life and death, and what that meant to him.

THE MONSTER

Friend

Good

Flames Bad

Frankenstein

Made Me Live From Dead

Love Dead, Hate Living, Belong Dead!

 

colin clive - frankenstein lab

Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) screams two of the most famous words in horror movie history, “It’s Alive!” in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

HENRY FRANKENSTEIN

Sit

Down

Alive

It’s Alive!

A body I made

With my own hands, with my own hands!

 

 

son of frankenstein - monster and ygor

In SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, Bela Lugosi steals the show as Ygor, the shady shepherd who survived a hanging, punishment for stealing bodies— “they, said!”

YGOR

I

Stole

Bodies

Er– They said.

He’s my friend, and you

No touch him again, Frankenstein!

 

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF (1975)

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Legend-of-the-Werewolf-werewolf

One of my favorite werewolf movies has always been Hammer’s THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961). Directed by Hammer’s A-List director Terence Fisher, THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF features both memorable scenes of fright, a strong performance by Oliver Reed as the werewolf, and superior make-up by Roy Ashton.

However, I can’t deny that this movie does suffer from some very slow pacing and some weak story elements, so much so, that over the years, its reputation has diminished, while Universal’s THE WOLF MAN (1941) keeps getting stronger.

Now, there is another werewolf movie out there, the seldom seen LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF (1975), produced by Britain’s Tyburn Films, a company that tried and failed to compete with Hammer and Amicus, that has something that neither of the aforementioned werewolf movies have, and that something is a someone: Peter Cushing.

legend of the werewolf - peter cushing

Peter Cushing didn’t really make a lot of werewolf movies. He appeared in THE BEAST MUST DIE (1974), and he fares much better here in LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF, a movie that has always been dismissed as an inferior cousin to Hammer’s superior THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.

But in the here and now, one can almost make the argument—almost-— that it’s LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF that’s the superior movie.

I say “almost” because seriously, LEGEND is hindered by some weaknesses that can’t be ignored. However, it has enough strengths where it can seriously be involved in the conversation of classic werewolf movies of yesteryear.

LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF tells the story of young Etoile (David Rintoul) who like Mowgli in THE JUNGLE BOOK was raised by wolves. While still a boy, he’s discovered by the owner of a travelling circus and joins the show as “wolf boy.” As an adult, he runs off to Paris where he finds work at the local zoo, specifically handling the wolves there. But it’s at this time that he discovers he’s a werewolf, but he’s also a particularly selective werewolf, because as a human, he has a crush on a local prostitute, and as a werewolf, he’s able to kill only her clients.

Hmm. Perhaps this one should have been called LEGEND OF THE JEALOUS WEREWOLF.

The subplot in LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF involves medical examiner and coroner Professor Paul (Peter Cushing) who while he’s not rolling his eyes at the local authorities, likes to play amateur sleuth. And when the werewolf murders start to happen, and the police are clueless, Professor Paul decides to solve the case himself, and it’s here where Peter Cushing enjoys the best scenes in the movie.

For Peter Cushing fans, LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF is a must-see film, as it provides Cushing with nonstop memorable scenes, both full of humor as he belittles the authorities, and poignancy, as he’s the one man who actually understands the werewolf. The scene at the end of the film where he confronts the werewolf in the Paris sewers is one of the best scenes in any werewolf movie period. Really!

So, you can list Peter Cushing as the number one reason LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF is a classic horror tale.

The second reason is the make-up. Borrowing heavily from Roy Ashton’s classic werewolf make-up in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, the make-up team of Jimmy Evans and Graham Freeborn gives us the screen’s second blonde werewolf. The werewolf make-up here is very good. That being said, it’s not quite as good as Ashton’s, and it’s also not original, since it looks exactly like the make-up on Oliver Reed in CURSE.

Probably the biggest knock against the film is its cheap production values. LEGEND simply doesn’t compare to the opulent sets and costumes found in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF was directed by Terence Fisher, one of the best horror movie directors of all time. LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF was also directed by a veteran of the genre, Freddie Francis. Francis’ reputation is more as a cinematographer and did his best work on movies as a cinematographer rather than as a director. But his horror films in general are pretty good. Probably my favorite Freddie Francis directed horror movie is DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), Christopher Lee’s third Dracula movie. LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF is probably my second favorite Freddie Francis-directed horror movie.

He includes some nice touches, like close-ups of the werewolf’s bloody teeth, shots that are particularly effective.

Also working against LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF is it arrived on the horror scene late in the game. In 1975, JAWS took the world by storm, and modern werewolf classics like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) and THE HOWLING (1981) were just a few years away. Audiences in 1975 weren’t all that interested in a werewolf movie that seemed more at home a decade or so earlier.

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF also featured Oliver Reed in the lead role. LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF features David Rintoul. And while Rintoul is just okay here, I don’t think you need Laurence Olivier playing a werewolf. For what he was supposed to do, Rintoul is just fine, but he never received the praise which Reed did for his werewolf portrayal a decade earlier.

What LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF does have is a veteran cast. In addition to Peter Cushing, the film also stars Ron Moody as the cantankerous zookeeper.  Moody won the Best Actor Oscar in 1968 for his portrayal of Fagin in the musical OLIVER!, incidentally, directed by Oliver Reed’s uncle Carol Reed, who also won Best Director that year, and OLIVER! won Best Picture as well. Moody is excellent here in LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF, and the scenes he shares with Peter Cushing are well worth watching.

Hammer’s favorite character actor Michael Ripper is also in the cast. Ripper also appeared in Hammer’s THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, and not only that, but his characters have the dubious distinction of being murdered by the werewolves in both movies!

The screenplay by John Elder (aka Anthony Hinds) is also not a strength. While the story told in the movie is decent enough, and the Peter Cushing storyline a very good one, the dialogue throughout most of the movie is sub par.

Long considered a tepid entry in the werewolf movie canon, LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF is trending upward. It’s getting better with age, and in spite of some obvious weaknesses which still need to be considered, it does feature two acting greats, Peter Cushing and Ron Moody, who add a lot to this otherwise standard werewolf picture.

Is it really better than THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF? No, I wouldn’t say that. But the gap between these two movies is no longer as wide as once thought. Watch out CURSE. The LEGEND is growing!

—END—

INVASION OF THE CORONAVIRUS

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theaters closed

 

As I sit  down to write this morning on Sunday, March 22, 2020, I am not penning my usual movie review of the latest theatrical release, and the reason I’m not doing this is all the movie theaters in my area are closed.

As they are for most of you. As are many other businesses. And even if they were open, we couldn’t go to them, because we are practicing social distancing and staying at home.

And we’re doing these things because of the unprecedented spread of the novel coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19.

No, this is not the plot of a new science fiction movie. This is all very real.

So, I thought it best that before I continue writing this blog as if nothing has happened, and I will very soon, that I take a moment to pause, reflect, and think about why it is that life suddenly has changed for all of us.

And then I’ll get right back to writing this blog, writing about movies, especially horror movies, and returning to business as usual. Fortunately, writing a blog is a solitary endeavor that is not impacted by social distancing. So, the blog and the writing will continue.

But first—.

What is happening right now is not normal. Nor should it become the new normal. We should do everything in our power to make sure that what is happening now won’t happen again. Ever.

Oh, I’m not saying we won’t have other pandemics to deal with. We will. The experts say as much, and I believe them.

What I’m talking about is preparation.

Right now, to slow the spread of COVID-19, people are being asked to stay home from work, to not congregate in groups of ten or more, and some states here in the U.S. have mandated this. In fact, I’d wager to guess that this will be the wave of the immediate future, that the majority of states will follow suit and declare the same mandate.

When I’m not writing about movies or writing horror fiction, I’m a middle school English teacher. Students can no longer come to school, and like other schools, we are now teaching remotely, which with today’s available technology, is actually quite cool, that my students and I can all see and speak to each other at the same time from different locations. That being said, I wish this change hadn’t been forced on them. They deserve better.

I’m a firm believer in being prepared.  Whether I’m teaching an English class or directing a school play, I am preparing way in advance. With our drama program, for example, I spend months preparing the students for the performance, and I consider worst case scenarios, for instance, that a student may be ill the night of the performance and unable to perform, and I have a plan to deal with it. I’ve actually had this happen, and thanks to our preparation efforts, other students have stepped in and taken over the role. Likewise, when the week of the show arrives, the students are prepared and ready to go, and while nerves are natural, they are able to relax and approach the performance with a cool confidence knowing that we have prepared for everything and pretty much nothing will catch us off guard, and if it does, because of our preparation, we can make adjustments on the fly. I’ve done this as well, doing rewrites in between acts to fix a problem.

Now, I’m not suggesting that preparing for a small middle school play is similar to preparing for something as huge as COVID-19. What I’m saying is regardless of the endeavor there is value to preparation. It goes a long way.

Supposedly, our federal government knew of the dangers of COVID-19 as early as January and little or no action was taken until now. I do not intend to get political here. Instead, since what I am hearing is the main reason states are shutting down isn’t only because this is a deadly and contagious virus, but more so, because our present health care system is not prepared to hospitalize the potential number of patients needing hospitalization at the same time, because the stockpile of medical supplies— which in years past used to be stored in hospitals but in recent years cost saving decisions opted against this type of storage— is not there, I’m simply suggesting that it would seem to me that if the federal government knew this was coming, then preparations to stockpile the necessary supplies should have begun back in January.

My point in all this? If being prepared means fewer deaths and less social distancing and fewer businesses closing, I would certainly hope that future administrations would learn from the mistakes made here in 2020 and fix them, so that the next time, we’re not telling school children they have to stay in their houses and not interact with anyone else other than family members in their household for potentially months at a time. If this can be prevented by early preparation, then we need to make sure this happens in the future.

And that’s my message this morning. This is not normal.  And our leaders should be working as hard they can— as should we—- to make sure this does not happen again.

In the meantime, since it is happening now, and we’re pretty much all practicing social distancing, I will continue to write columns on movies, especially horror movies. There’ll be columns on classic movies of yesteryear, and perhaps some new releases that are available streaming at home.

I will continue to have fun writing about these movies, and sharing these columns with you, in the hope that you will continue to have fun reading them.

Stay healthy, happy, and positive, be kind, support one another, and most of all, stay prepared.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

THE HUNT (2020) – Ugly Thriller Fails At Both Horror and Satire

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Crystal (Betty Gilpin) fights back in THE HUNT (2020)

THE HUNT (2020), the new thriller by writer Damon Lindelof, who was part of the team that brought us the classic television show LOST (2004-2010), and who also wrote the screenplay for WORLD WAR Z (2013), is yet another of those horror movies featuring the unpleasant concept of humans hunting humans.

It’s what we saw in THE PURGE movies, and in last year’s clever dark comedy, READY OR NOT (2019), which starred Samara Weaving as a bride hunted by her new husband’s family on her wedding night. While I enjoyed READY OR NOT and its deliciously dark sense of humor, I’ve never been a fan of the PURGE movies. They simply haven’t worked for me.

Neither did today’s movie, THE HUNT.

The premise in THE HUNT is that a group of people are abducted from their everyday lives, and when they awake, they find themselves in a clearing surrounded by woods only to be immediately shot at by unseen hunters who have declared open season on humans. This actually sounds scarier than what the movie ultimately becomes, and that’s because THE HUNT suffers from a serious case of the stupids.

More on this in a moment.

It doesn’t take long for nearly every character in the film to meet a grisly and horrific death. We’re talking in the first ten minutes of the movie. Which leaves one character Crystal (Betty Gilpin) to stand her ground and fight back. Fortunately, Crystal is the one interesting character in the entire movie, and Betty Gilpin’s performance here is the main reason to see this one. Otherwise, it would be a complete disaster. That being said, it’s still pretty bad.

See, the premise here in THE HUNT is a group of liberal elites who spend their days talking about fighting racism, taking care of the environment, and other “liberal” issues decide to take it upon themselves to help the world by ridding it of some of its less desirables, people of the opposite political persuasion- in short, people they see as rednecks.

Or so it seems. Eventually we learn the real reason why these victims were selected. It’s a very specific reason and one that really strains credibility. In fact, it’s flat out stupid.

The liberal elite hunters come off as caricatures rather than real people, which really hurts this movie. Likewise, the victims are also exaggerated stereotypes. Both sides are portrayed as pigheaded bigots, which I suppose is the point of the movie, a point that would have been more effectively made had its characters behaved like real people rather than cliches.

The screenplay by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse also can’t make up its mind whether or not it wants to be a straight thriller or a satire. Its over the top dialogue definitely has it leaning towards the satire end of the spectrum, but the writing isn’t sharp enough to pull this off. Not only didn’t I laugh, but I was hardly even amused. Attempts at humor failed left and right. No pun intended.

And then the premise just gets dumber and dumber. When we finally meet the person behind the hunt, Athena (Hilary Swank), and learn her back story, it asks the audience to accept a plot point that is absolutely ludicrous.

The climactic fight scene between Crystal and Athena is a good one, and one of the bright spots of the movie. But there aren’t too many positives here. Director Craig Zobel keeps the blood flowing throughout, but few scenes have any resonance. The over the top violence seems to be going for laughs, but it doesn’t really work.

The only reason to see THE HUNT is for Betty Gilpin’s performance. She’s really good, and Crystal is the only character in the film who doesn’t wear her political views on her sleeve. The rest of the characters all do, and none of them seem all that realistic.

The film is a sloppy attempt to make a statement about the divisions in our current society, but it completely fails. The writing isn’t sharp, the characters come off as phony, and the humor doesn’t work.

THE HUNT is an ugly movie which most likely will be attacked by both sides of the political spectrum as doing a hatchet job on their respective camps. And in this case, both sides would be correct.

—END–

Netflix’ DRACULA (2020) – New Mini-Series’ Take On Stoker’s Novel Difficult to Digest

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Dracula - episode 2

DRACULA (2020), a three-part miniseries available now on Netflix, is brought to us by the same folks who brought us SHERLOCK (2010-2017), which starred Benedict Cumberbatch.

Their take on Bram Stokers’ iconic novel, one of the most revered horror novels in the English language, and one of my personal favorites, is one that pushes the envelope at every turn, so much so that for Dracula purists like myself, the end result is not easy to digest.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like DRACULA. I did. Or, at least parts of it.

But there were more parts that I didn’t like, aspects that made it clear that the series’ makers were sacrificing story and truth for ingenuity and chaos. In short, the goal here seems to have been to make as many dramatic and in-your-face changes as possible to make this a fresh and original take on the tale. The trouble is, at the end of the day, there’s not a whole heck of a lot left that resembles Stoker’s original novel.

This in itself I don’t have a problem with. I’m open to re-imaginings. The problem with this reboot is the bold changes get in the way of the story, and that’s never a good thing. It’s like being aware that an actor is acting. Here, it clearly seemed that changes were being made just for the sake of being different. In short, I think the filmmakers were simply trying too hard.

DRACULA opens with a very ill Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) at a convent being interviewed by Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells), who wants to know as much as possible about his experience at Castle Dracula. Now, in Stoker’s novel, Harker does convalesce in a convent after he escapes from his horrifying ordeal at Castle Dracula, so I thought this was a neat way to open the mini-series.

The events at Castle Dracula then unfold as Harker recounts his story, and it’s in this telling that we first meet Count Dracula (Claes Bang). This is all well and good until it’s revealed that Sister Agatha’s last name is Van Helsing, meaning that in this interpretation, Van Helsing is a nun.

Okay. Stop right here.

Van Helsing is a nun.

Let that sink in for a moment.

My first thought was, okay, a bit dramatic, but I can live with this. I’m on board. I’m ready for this interpretation. But it doesn’t stop there. Van Helsing in this DRACULA is hardly the Van Helsing we’ve seen before. Sure, she’s Dracula’s adversary, but barely, and like other aspects of this version, as the interpretation goes along, it becomes unrelatable, and that simply gets in the way of good storytelling.

So, Part I is mostly the tale of Jonathan Harker’s ordeal at Castle Dracula. Part 2 covers Dracula’s voyage on the ship the Demeter on his way to London, and then Part 3 gets wild and crazy. Without giving too much away, if you’re familiar with Hammer’s DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) you know which direction the third episode takes.

There’s no doubt that Claes Bang’s interpretation of Dracula was meant to be fresh and original, and it is definitely unlike previous takes on the character. Bang’s Dracula has a wise-cracking quip about everything, and he seems to have walked off the set of a Marvel superhero movie. He’d be right at home exchanging barbs with Iron Man and Doctor Strange as he battled them for supremacy of the world. In short, I didn’t like this interpretation. For me, Dracula works best when he is flat-out evil, which is why I’ve always enjoyed every Christopher Lee performance. His Dracula is always evil.

That’s not to say that Bang plays Dracula as a nice guy. His Dracula is definitely a villain, but he’s just a little too colorful for my tastes. That being said, Bang does deliver a powerful performance which grew on me with each episode. So, for me, it’s a case where I thought the actor did a tremendous job but the writing tweaked the character too much for my liking.

Likewise, Dolly Wells does a nice job as Sister Agatha Van Helsing, but again, the writing took this character and did things with her that diminished her impact. For starters, Van Helsing simply isn’t as powerful a presence here as Dracula. That in itself is problematic.

I can’t say then that I was a fan of the teleplay by Mark Gatis and Steven Moffat, where changes seem to have been made solely for the purpose of being different without taking into consideration how it would affect the story. Still, it’s an incredibly ambitious screenplay. There is just so much thrown into this mini-series. That in itself is impressive. But sadly most of it didn’t work for me.

The rest of the cast is okay. The only other cast member who stood out for me was Lydia West as Lucy, who shows up in Part 3. When Dracula finally meets Lucy in Part 3, it makes for some of the most compelling moments in the entire miniseries. I loved this part, mostly because of West’s performance here, as she and Bang share some sensual chemistry, but sadly, this sequence doesn’t last all that long, so as good as it is, it’s far too brief.

Then there’s Mina, here played by Morfydd Clark. Mina is a central character in the novel, and she’s always been one of my favorite characters in the novel. Few movie versions have ever done her justice. In the novel, she’s probably the strongest character, but in the movies, she’s generally reduced to being a victim who needs to be saved by Van Helsing. In this version, she’s barely a blip on the proceedings, which is too bad.

I did like the way this one looked. A lot. Especially the look of Castle Dracula in Part 1. Evidently it’s the same castle exterior that was used in the original NOSFERATU (1922). How cool is that?

I also enjoyed the homages to other classic Draculas, especially to the Hammer Draculas. Early on in Part 1, Dracula is depicted as an old man, as he is in the novel, and the look here resembles Gary Oldman in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992). Later Dracula’s guise resembles Christopher Lee, and then in Part 2, while he’s on the Demeter, his costume mirrors that of Bela Lugosi. I appreciated these touches.

And for Hammer Film fans, there’s an Easter Egg for DRACULA A.D. 1972, and for HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), specifically that film’s classic finale. So I give credit to directors Johnny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, and Damon Thomas for these moments.

But overall, DRACULA struggled to hold my attention. I found its dramatic revisions distracting and far less captivating than the story told in Stoker’s novel.

And while I can comfortably say it was not the version for me, I have a feeling that somewhere down the line I’ll watch it again.

Some day.

 

When I’m ready to once more entertain the notion that Van Helsing is a nun and Dracula a comic book villain.

—END—

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966)

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war of the gargantuas - two gargantuas

WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966) has always been one of my favorite Toho giant monsters movies.

One reason for this is nostalgia. In addition to its regular play on the popular Saturday afternoon Creature Double Feature back in the day, it also received a much-hyped prime time showing on our local UHF Channel 56 in Boston that had all the neighborhood kids, myself included, chirping about it before, during, and after it was aired.

But the main reason is it’s a darn good movie. Well, at least among films in the Toho canon, and this is no surprise since it was directed by arguably their top director, Ishiro Honda, who also directed the original GODZILLA (1954), THE MYSTERIANS (1957), KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) to name just a few.

I was recently able to view the original Japanese version of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, which includes the Frankenstein references that were removed from the film when it was released in the U.S. back in 1970.

And there are Frankenstein references because WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is a sequel to Toho’s Frankenstein flick, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965). I’m not sure why the Frankenstein connection was initially severed, but it’s too bad it was done, because the film works even better as a Frankenstein movie.

The story of a giant Frankenstein monster and his “brother” is much more intriguing than a story about two random gargantuas. And WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is a better movie than FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, which means it’s one of those rare cases where the sequel is an improvement on the original.

In WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, a mysterious monster is terrorizing the countryside attacking and eating people. It is also avoiding detection, as it always disappears quickly after it attacks, preventing the authorities from being able to stop it. It’s assumed that this is the same creature which escaped from the lab of Dr. Paul Stewart (Russ Tamblyn) and his fellow scientists. Of course, in the original version, this was the Frankenstein monster from FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. Dr. Stewart doesn’t think it’s the same creature, because the one which escaped from his lab was peaceful and would never harm humans.

It’s later discovered that there are two gargantuas, the original who escaped from Stewart’s lab, and a new more menancing one, who is believed to be a sort of clone from the first. These two behemoths eventually do battle. Hence, the war of the gargantuas.

The best part of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is that there are lots of scenes featuring the gargantuas. In lesser Toho movies, you have to sit through long stretches of usually boring dialogue and bland characters while you wait for the monsters to make their appearances. Not so here with WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. These creatures are in this movie a lot. There is a ton of giant monster action.

And director Ishiro Honda, who also wrote the screenplay,  fills this one with a lot of memorable scenes. The film opens with a frightening sequence where a slimy looking giant octopus attacks a ship, only to be deterred by an even scarier looking gargantua, who makes quick work of the octopus before turning his attention to the crew of the ship which he promptly consumes for a yummy dessert

There are a bunch of rather frightening scenes in this one. In spite of this being a silly giant monster movie, there are some dark moments. The scene where a group of hikers encounter the gargantua waiting for them in a dense fog has always been one that gives me the shivers. Likewise, in another sequence on a boat, the gargangtua is seen staring up at the passengers from under the water. We’re gonna need a bigger boat!

And the battle scenes here are second to none. There’s an excellent sequence where the gargantua comes out of the water to attack an airport, and of course, the climactic battle between the two garagantuas is a keeper.

If you’re a fan of the Toho movies, this is one film you do not want to miss, and if you’ve never seen a Toho film, this is a good one to start with, although I do recommend watching FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD first, since this is a sequel to that movie.

All in all, if you love giant monster movie action and want to see an A-list director at the top of his game, then check out WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS.

It’s a gargantuan good time!

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