ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) – Prequel to a Prequel Better Than Expected

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ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) is a prequel to a prequel.  It’s a prequel to a bad movie which was itself a prequel to a good movie.  Huh?  Let’s try that again.

ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017) is a prequel to ANNABELLE (2014), a pretty bad movie, which was itself a prequel to THE CONJURING (2013), which was a pretty good movie. And where does that leave ANNABELLE: CREATION?  Somewhere in between.  It’s better than the awful ANNABELLE but not quite as good as THE CONJURING.

In terms of quality, it reminded me a lot of another prequel to a bad movie, OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016) which was a surprisingly very good prequel to the lowly OUIJA (2014).  Heck, the two movies even share the same star, child actor Lulu Wilson.

ANNABELLE:  CREATION takes place in the 1950s, as a group of girls from a Catholic orphanage and their sponsor Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) move into a new home, a farmhouse run by a retired doll maker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his ailing bedridden wife Esther (Miranda Otto). The Mullins lost their own daughter twelve years earlier and see opening their home as an orphanage for young girls as a way to instill some life back into their world.

The girls are ecstatic to be living in a new and very large home, but Samuel tells them that there is one room in the house that is always locked and that room is off-limits (of course.)  One of the girls, Janice (Talitha Bateman) enters the room anyway (of course, again) and immediately feels a strange presence there. She realizes it is the ghost of the Mullins’ deceased daughter Bee (Samara Lee). Janice also discovers the doll Annabelle hidden away in a closet, and she experiences a sense of dread. When Janice’s best friend Linda (Lulu Wilson) joins her in the room, she too senses evil, and that’s because there’s a demon inside the Annabelle doll that wants people’s souls.  Yikes!

The girls try to warn everyone in the house that there is something evil residing there with them, but by the time they do, it’s too late.

ANNABELLE: CREATION has a lot of good things going for it. The best part about it is that it delivers some pretty good scares and crafts some memorable horror scenes.  Credit director David F. Sandberg for a job well done when it comes to the scare department. Of course, the Annabelle doll is creepy to begin with, but interestingly enough some of the better scare sequences don’t even involve her. There’s a creepy bit involving a scarecrow, a suspenseful scene on a staircase chairlift, and yet another one in a creaky old-fashioned dumb-waiter.

Then there’s the demon. One of the more interesting parts of ANNABELLE: CREATION is that it sheds more light on the background of the Annabelle doll.  It seems that the instigator of all this evil surrounding Annabelle is a demon possessing the doll that wants people’s souls.  We catch glimpses of this demon, and he’s pretty cool looking, which is no surprise since he’s played by Joseph Bishara who’s becoming quite the expert at this sort of thing. Bishara played a demon in both the INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING movies. He was most memorable in INSIDIOUS (2010) as the Lipstick-Face Demon.

There are lots of cool scares here, and that’s a good thing.  What’s not so good is the pacing.  There are a lot of slow parts in ANNABELLE: CREATION, lots of scenes where characters slowly move about in dark hallways, the kinds of scenes that drive me nuts in horror movies.  These types of scenes don’t build suspense. They put audiences to sleep.

And the film is just begging for a more frenetic pace during its third act.  While the movie’s conclusion isn’t bad at all, it never becomes that go-for-the-throat ending that makes audiences squirm and scream.

Director Sandberg does make full use of the creepy farmhouse interiors.  Most of the film takes place in dark rooms and hallways, and the atmosphere is sufficiently spooky and haunting.  The camera also gets in close, so much so you can almost smell the wood of the old hardwood floors.

Sandberg also directed LIGHTS OUT (2016), an okay horror movie that I wasn’t all that crazy about. I enjoyed ANNABELLE: CREATION more.

The screenplay by Gary Dauberman isn’t bad.  It tells a decent story and does a good job with its characters, who come across as real and likable.  I liked some of the reveals about Annabelle, and I enjoyed the characters, from the girls to Sister Charlotte to Samuel and Esther Mullins.  The dialogue isn’t always fresh, and the story Esther Mullins tells about what happened to her daughter is full of dumb lines and clichés.

Dauberman also wrote ANNABELLE (2014), and the second time seems to have been the charm, as his screenplay here for ANNABELLE: CREATION is much better and tells a far more interesting story than the previous film.  Dauberman also wrote the screenplay to the upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s IT (2017), due out in September.

Talitha Bateman as Janice and Lulu Wilson as Linda are both excellent.  It was especially fun to watch them go through different levels of emotion.  At first, they’re joyful about their new home, then there’s quiet unease and building fear, and then flat-out visceral horror as the threat becomes real. And once the demon becomes involved, there’s also some icy cold evil, which Bateman does well.

This is already the third horror movie for young Lulu Wilson, as she previously starred in OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2014) and DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014).

The rest of the girls in the film are also very good.

I also enjoyed Stephanie Sigman as Sister Charlotte.  She makes the nun a real person and prevents her from becoming a cliché.  Likewise, Anthony LaPaglia does the same for Samuel Mullins.  At times, LaPaglia plays things a bit too mournful, as he just sort of stares gloomily at the camera, but for the most part he does a nice job bringing Samuel Mullins to life.

Miranda Otto as Esther Mullins is in the film less than LaPaglia, and as a result has less of an impact, and unfortunately towards the end of the film she does get some of the worst dialogue in the movie.

In a small role, Mark Bramhall has some fine moments as Father Massey, the priest who drives them to the Mullins’ farmhouse and who returns later in the movie. He also gets one of the more humorous lines in the film.

The story ends with a solid tie-in to ANNABELLE.  The way screenwriter Gary Dauberman and director David F. Sandberg tie the two movies together is creative and satisfying.

I liked ANNABELLE: CREATION much better than I expected I would.  It’s a decent horror movie that rises above the muck of inferior sequels and prequels, yet it’s not quite as good or at the level of an INSIDIOUS or THE CONJURING, those horror movies that are destined to be remembered for years to come, the ones you want to watch over and over again.

I guess that would be asking too much from a prequel to a prequel.

—END—

THE DARK TOWER (2017) – An Inconsequential Blip on the Dark Tower Universe

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I’m guessing there are going to be a whole lot of disappointed Dark Tower fans after they watch THE DARK TOWER (2017), the new fantasy thriller based on the epic novels by Stephen King.

There are eight novels in the series, and while I haven’t read any of them, the idea that this very short movie— it clocks in at a meager 95 minutes— could do an eight book series justice is difficult to fathom. It’s just too quick and inconsequential.

Strangely, this movie version of THE DARK TOWER is supposedly a sequel of sorts to the series, as the events in the film take place after the book series ends, and I also hear there’s a possible TV series in the works. Now, a television series makes sense to me. That’s exactly the kind of canvas needed to do a book series proper justice.  The movie THE DARK TOWER as it stands would barely do a short story justice.

In a nutshell— and that’s what this movie felt like, really— THE DARK TOWER is about a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who’s struggling to cope with life after the death of his father.  He’s haunted by recurring bad dreams in which he sees a Gunslinger (Idris Elba) battling a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), and it seems this Man in Black is trying to destroy a black tower, and the Gunslinger is trying to prevent this.

Jake’s mom Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) arranges for Jake to spend a weekend at an institution so he can receive help, since he’s getting into fights at school and generally having a difficult time with life, but Jake runs away and finds a portal which leads him into the world of the Gunslinger and the Man in Black.  There, he befriends the Gunslinger and helps him in his fight to stop the Man in Black from destroying the world, which will happen once the dark tower is destroyed.

Yawn.

The plot for THE DARK TOWER isn’t going to win any awards for the most compelling screenplay ever written.  The story is simple and isn’t fleshed out in the least.  And four writers worked on this thing:  Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and director Nikolaj Arcel.  Not that it mattered.

The story as told in this movie left me with so many unanswered questions.  Who is the Man in Black?  Why is he hell-bent on destroying Earth?  Who is the Gunslinger?  Why is he the man in charge of killing the Man in Black?  The movie provides no back stories on these characters.  I also wanted to know more about young Jake.

Things happen too quickly and too easily.  Jake finds his way into the Gunslinger’s world with about as much effort as entering a neighbor’s front door.

Again, for a movie based on an eight book series by Stephen King, the story it tells is about as skeletal as you can get.

Nor is THE DARK TOWER all that visually impressive. Director Nikolaj Arcel’s vision of the Dark Tower and its surrounding world is meh. Not much too look at, and not much going on. The scenes which take place in New York City work better, and the whole film plays better when the characters interact in modern-day surroundings.  Every time they enter the world of the Dark Tower the film slows to a crawl.

I’m a big Idris Elba fan, but he continues to land film roles in which he just isn’t allowed to do much.  He’s terrific in the lead role on the TV series LUTHER (2010-2018) but he’s yet to land a movie role in which he’s allowed to show off his talents.  Still, I enjoyed him here as the Gunslinger.

Likewise, I enjoyed Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black as well.  He was sufficiently cold and nasty, a decent villain.  Although his power to make people do whatever he says has been done a lot lately, especially on TV,  from the villain Kilgrave (David Tennant) in the Netflix Marvel series JESSICA JONES (2015), to Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) in the AMC series PREACHER (2016-).

In fact, my favorite part of THE DARK TOWER was watching Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. They’re the best part of the movie, although neither one made me really like this movie all that much. But when they’re on-screen, and they’re actually engaging in dialogue rather than running around in bland action scenes, the film is much better. Unfortunately, they don’t get to do this all that much.

Tom Taylor is decent as Jake Chambers.  Seen better, seen worse.  The rest of the cast is okay but hardly memorable.  Speaking of the TV show PREACHER, Jackie Earle Haley who was so memorable in Season 1 of that show, barely causes a stir here in a thankless role as one of the Man in Black’s minions, Sayre.

I was fairly entertained by THE DARK TOWER, but for an adventure fantasy thriller based on an eight book series by Stephen King, it’s pretty sparse.  Sadly, it’s yet another example of an inferior adaptation of a Stephen King work.

But it’s not awful.  It’s just not that good.

At the end of the day, it’s just an inconsequential blip on the Dark Tower universe.

—-END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

Memorable Movie Quotes: THEM! (1954)

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Welcome back to another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, that column where we look at cool quotes from cool movies, especially horror movies.  Up today, it’s THEM! (1954), the classic science fiction horror movie about giant ants on the prowl first in the deserts of New Mexico and then in the sewers of Los Angeles.  THEM! is arguably the best of the 1950s giant monster movies.  It also one of the finest horror movies ever made.

One of its strengths is its well-written and very smart screenplay by Ted Sherdeman.  It tells a compelling story, the first half of which plays like a hard-hitting crime drama and mystery, as people are disappearing, and the New Mexico State Police and the FBI work together to find out why.  The second half, when the giant ants are revealed, becomes a classic 1950s horror fest.  The entire film is chilling throughout.

The script also includes many memorable lines.  And on that note, let’s have a look at some of these lines from THEM!, screenplay by Ted Sherdeman.

Early on, the dialogue drives the suspense and sets the tone.  Like in this early scene where the coroner details the cause of death of one of the victims:

CORONER:  Well, Old Man Johnson could’ve died in any one of five ways.  His neck and back were broken, his chest was crushed, his skull was fractured… and here’s one for Sherlock Holmes – there was enough formic acid in him to kill twenty men.

Later, when FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) and police sergeant Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) are in search of clues, they investigate a large sugar theft from a railway yard, a theft that has gotten the night watchman arrested, since he claimed he didn’t see a thing.  Of course, Graham and Peterson know sugar is just the thing on the giant ants’ menu, and so they are intrigued and question the night watchman.

GRAHAM:  Is this the only job you ever had?

NIGHT WATCHMAN:  Yes, sir. I’ve been with the railroad thirty years and never a blot against my record.

GRAHAM:  Well, the yard cop seems to think you made a deal not to see that car broken into.

NIGHT WATCHMAN:  What kind of sense does that make? Is sugar a rare cargo? Is there a black market for it? Did you ever hear of a fence for hot sugar? If I was gonna make a deal with crooks to steal something, it wouldn’t be for forty tons of sugar. And I’ll swear I didn’t hear a thing Friday night.

Smart, realistic, writing.  And there’s also plenty of humor, too.  Like when the railroad yard cop asks Sergeant Peterson why the FBI is so interested in a sugar theft.  Peterson’s reply?

PETERSON:  He’s got a sweet tooth.

In fact, there’s a lot of humorous lines in THEM!  And they’re necessary.  For a film as tense as THEM!, moments of comic relief are very welcome.

Let’s have a look.

When they are preparing to saturate the massive ant nest with cyanide, a nervous Graham quips:

GRAHAM:  If I can still raise an arm when we get out of this place, I’m gonna show you just how saturated I can get.

When Graham and Peterson first meet the attractive daughter of Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn), Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon), they have this exchange:

GRAHAM:  I shoulda had this suit pressed.

PETERSON: She’s quite a doctor, eh?

GRAHAM: Yeah. If she’s the kind that takes care of sick people, I think I’ll get a fever real quick.

One of the funnier bits in the film occurs when Peterson and Dr. Medford ride together in a helicopter and Dr. Medford attempts to talk to his daughter via the radio.  Of course, Edmund Gwenn, who played Dr. Medford, was no stranger to comedic roles during his career. Gwenn is probably most famous today for playing Kris Kringle in the original MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947).

DR. MEDFORD:  Search Able to Search Baker.

PETERSON: Say “Over.”

DR. MEDFORD: Huh?

PETERSON: Then say “Over.”

DR. MEDFORD:  “Over?”

PATRICIA MEDFORD:  Medford in Baker to Medford in Able: Go ahead, Dad. Over.

DR. MEDFORD: Have you found anything yet?

PETERSON: Say “Over.”

DR. MEDFORD: I just said it.

PETERSON: I know. Say it again.

DR. MEDFORD: Oh. “Over!”

PATRICIA MEDFORD: Baker to Able: Not yet. We’re about three-quarters of the way across our sector. We’re now at coordinates Charlie-Six. Over.

DR. MEDFORD: Well, don’t pass up any possibilities. Let me know the moment you find anything.

PETERSON: If you’re finished, say “Over and out.”

DR. MEDFORD: But she knows I’m through talking with her.

PETERSON: I know she does, Doctor. It’s a rule, though. You gotta say it.

DR. MEDFORD: Ah…

PETERSON: Isn’t that right, General?

GENERAL O’BRIEN: Right, Sergeant.

DR. MEDFORD: This is ridiculous! A lot of good your rules are gonna do us if we don’t locate the…

PETERSON (over the headset): Over and out.

DR. MEDFORD: Oh, now you’re happy!

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And when they’re examining the wall of the ant nest:

DR. PATRICIA MEDFORD: Look! Held together with saliva!

PETERSON: Yeah! Spit’s all that’s holding me together right now, too.

One of the most famous lines from the film, and if you’ve seen it, you no doubt remember it, is when Peterson and Graham travel to a local hospital to interview a drunk who may or may not have seen the giant ants.  It turns out, the drunk, Jensen, has seen the ants and gives them some valuable information which leads them to the ants’ whereabouts, but not before he has this lively and memorable exchange:

JENSEN:  General, I’ll make a deal with you. You make me a sergeant in charge of the booze and I’ll enlist. Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze! Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze!

And of course, the film gets its title from the screams of the little girl who Sgt. Peterson finds roaming the desert in the film’s opening moments.  She’s in a catatonic state of shock, but later, when Professor Medford revives her, she screams out:

LITTLE GIRL:  Them!  Them! Them!!!

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In spite of his comedic background, Edmund Gwenn as Dr. Medford also has some of the more somber and poignant lines from the movie.  Like here, when FBI Agent Graham reacts to the news the ant they just killed was only one of many.

GRAHAM:  And I thought today was the end of them.

MEDFORD: No. We haven’t seen the end of them. We’ve only had a close view of the beginning of what may be the end of us.

And as Dr. Medford, Edmund Gwenn also gets to have the final say at the end of the movie:

GRAHAM: Pat, if these monsters got started as a result of the first atomic bomb in 1945, what about all the others that have been exploded since then?

PATRICIA MEDFORD: I don’t know.

DR. MEDFORD: Nobody knows, Robert. When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.

Cue end credits.

THEM! is a superior horror movie, taut, well-acted, well-written, with decent special effects.  It succeeds because the ants aren’t the main focus of the movie.  It’s the characters in the film and their reactions to the events around them that make THEM! a classic of 1950s giant monster cinema.

I hope you enjoyed these quotes from THEM! and join me again next time on the next MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES when we look at memorable quotes from another memorable movie.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: SALEM’S LOT (1979)

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I read Salem’s Lot by Stephen King shortly after it was first published when I was in the 6th grade, and it was the first novel that ever truly scared me.  More importantly, as someone who spent his childhood watching Hammer Films and the Universal monster movies, it was the first book that ever truly entertained me.  It was that book that got me hooked on reading.

As such, my expectations were high when four years later the film version of SALEM’S LOT (1979) arrived as a TV movie directed by Tobe Hooper and starring David Soul and James Mason.  And while it was well-received by critics and fans alike, I was somewhat disappointed by it.  I just couldn’t shake my feelings for the novel, which I felt was vastly superior.

The biggest disappointment for me at the time was the film’s interpretation of the story’s vampire, Mr. Barlow.  Barlow was creepy and terrifying in the novel, with lots of dialogue to back up his evil presence.  In the film, he was changed to a mute Nosferatu clone, and while he did indeed look frightening, the fact that the make-up resembled the classic 1922 Nosferatu make-up on Max Schreck was a let-down.

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Reggie Nalder as the vampire Barlow in SALEM’S LOT (1979).

Anyway, it had been years since I had seen the film version of SALEM’S LOT, and so I thought it was time to watch it again and place it IN THE SPOOKLIGHT.

In SALEM’S LOT, writer Ben Mears (David Soul) returns to his childhood home of Salem’s Lot (Jerusalem’s Lot in the novel), drawn there by the Marsten House, a house that watches over the town like a demonic gargoyle.  In short, it’s the town’s haunted house. Ben has been obsessed with this house his entire life, an obsession that began when he ventured into the house as a boy on a dare and saw the hanging body of a man there, a man who while hanging opened his eyes and looked at him.

This moment is a perfect example of the difference between the movie and the book.  In the book, this scene, this image, although not even a major part of the plot, was one of its most frightening.  Indeed, for me, of all the scenes and images from the novel, this is the one that scared me the most back in 1975 and stayed with me the longest, the hanging man who opened his eyes.  In the movie, it’s mentioned briefly by Ben Mears in a conversation, and it’s nothing more than an afterthought. There you go.

So Ben returns home to write about the Marsten House and seek out old acquaintances, like Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia), who he starts to date. He’s writing about the Marsten House because he believes the house itself is evil, and as such it attracts evil.

And he’s right, because currently living in the house are two men, Mr. Straker (James Mason) and Mr. Barlow (Reggie Nalder).  Barlow is a vampire, and Straker is the man empowered with protecting him.  Together, they prey upon the townsfolk of Salem’s Lot, gradually changing nearly everyone in town into a vampire.  Unless that is, Ben Mears can stop them.

It’s a great story, but it plays better in the novel than in the movie, which is hindered by dated dialogue by screenwriter Paul Monash.

I was a huge fan of the TV show STARSKY AND HUTCH (1975-79) back in the day, and so at the time when I first saw SALEM’S LOT I gave David Soul who starred in the show a free pass. Watching it today was a different story.  Soul’s interpretation of Ben Mears has its problems, mostly because at times Soul seems to be sleepwalking through the role.  He also doesn’t do fear well.  When Ben Mears is supposed to be terrified, he comes off as more dazed than anything else.

By far, the best performance in the movie belongs to James Mason as Mr. Straker.  Of course, this comes as no surprise as Mason was a phenomenal actor who was no stranger to villainous roles.  His dark interpretation of Dr. Polidori in FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (1973) was one of the most memorable parts of that horror movie, and his villainous turn as attorney Ed Concannon in THE VERDICT (1982) was every bit as effective as Paul Newman’s lead performance as Frank Galvin.  Both men won Oscars for their performances that year, Newman for Best Actor, and Mason for Best Supporting Actor.  These roles are from the tail end of Mason’s career, which began in the 1930s and spanned five decades.

As Straker, Mason is frightening.  The scene where he taunts a priest is one of the best in the film.

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David Soul and James Mason in SALEM’S LOT (1979).

The rest of the cast, which is chock-full of character actors, is so-so.  In the key role of young Mark Petrie, the boy who loves monsters and monster movies, and the character who I obviously identified with when I first read the novel in 1975, Lance Kerwin is just okay.  Like David Soul, his interpretation of fear comes off more like a “deer in the headlights” daze.

Likewise, Bonnie Bedelia is okay as Susan Norton, but Lew Ayres is effective as school teacher Jason Burke, and unlike Soul and Kerwin, Ayres does do fear well.  Ed Flanders is solid as Dr. Bill Norton, and Geoffrey Lewis enjoys some fine moments as Mike Ryerson, especially once Mike becomes a vampire.  Veteran actors Elisha Cook Jr. and Fred Willard are also in the cast.

And while Reggie Nalder does look horrifying as Barlow in his Nosferatu-style make-up, ultimately he doesn’t make much of an impact in the movie because his scenes are few and far between.  Even though I prefer the Barlow character from the novel to the one here in the movie, I still would have liked to have seen the vampire more in the film.

The story, which flows naturally in the novel, with its expansive cast of characters, doesn’t flow as well in the movie, as the townsfolk and their personal issues play like characters in a soap opera.

Director Tobe Hooper, fresh off his success with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), definitely puts his personal stamp on the movie and creates some scary scenes. Chief amongst them is the creepy and very memorable scene- it might be the most memorable of the entire movie— of young vampire Danny Glick floating outside Mark Petrie’s window, beckoning to be let inside.  It’s certainly one of my favorite parts of the movie.

Another frightening image features Geoffrey Lewis’ Mike Ryerson as a vampire, sitting in a rocking chair.

But the biggest parts of the story strangely fall flat.  The end, for instance, when Mark and Susan enter the Marston house in search of Barlow, lacks the necessary suspense.  In the book, these scenes were terrifying.  In the movie, not so much.

The pacing is a little off as well.  The film runs for 184 minutes and originally aired on television in two 2 hour segments.  The bulk of the first half is spent introducing all the characters, while Barlow doesn’t really show up until the second part, and then things move very quickly, often too quickly.

The film did very well and earned high ratings, and for a while there was talk of turning it into a television series, but the idea never materialized.

I like the film version of SALEM’S LOT, and even though it hasn’t aged all that well, and is a bit dated— in contrast, the classic TV vampire movie THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) still holds up remarkably well today— it’s still a fun movie to watch, with some genuine creepy scenes, especially for a TV movie, and we certainly have Tobe Hooper to thank for that.  While the vampire is OK, and the leads meh, you do have James Mason chewing up the scenery as the diabolically evil Mr. Straker.

The biggest drawback is that the source material, the novel by Stephen King, is so darned good, it makes this above average thriller seem much more ordinary than it really is.

SALEM’S LOT is kinda like its vampire, Mr. Barlow.  Scary, but nowhere near as powerful as depicted in the novel by Stephen King.

—END—

 

THE HORROR JAR: Genre Films Where PETER CUSHING Did NOT Play A Doctor/Scientist/Professor

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Peter Cushing and the Skull in THE SKULL (1965), a horror film in which Cushing did not play a doctor.

 

Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, that column where we look at lists of odds and ends pertaining to horror movies.

Up today, my all time favorite horror movie actor, Peter Cushing.

When you think of Peter Cushing, his two most famous roles immediately come to mind, Baron Frankenstein and Dr. Van Helsing, two characters who were also both doctors.  In fact, a lot of Cushing’s roles in horror movies were of medical doctors, professors, or scientists.  So much so, that I thought:  when did he not play a doctor?

Turns out— many times.

Here’s a look at those roles, the times Peter Cushing starred in a horror or science fiction film but did not play a doctor or scientist.

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959) – Sherlock Holmes.  Technically not a horror film, but that being said, Hammer Films added plenty of horror elements to their rendition of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tale.  Directed by Terence Fisher, with Cushing as Sherlock Holmes and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville.  Superior little movie, atmospheric and full of thrills, with Cushing’s energetic Holmes leading the way.

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Cushing as Holmes in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959).

 

NIGHT CREATURES (1962) – Rev. Dr. Blyss – even though the character is identified in the credits as “Dr. Blyss” he’s really the vicar of the small village of Dymchurch— check that, he’s actually the infamous pirate Captain Clegg, hiding out, posing as the vicar, while secretly smuggling rum in this rousing adventure/horror tale by Hammer Films.  Cushing at his energetic best.

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Peter Cushing delivers one of his best performances, as Captain Clegg/Dr. Blyss in NIGHT CREATURES (1962).

 

SHE (1965) – Major Holly – lost cities, a supernatural woman, and lots of action in this fantasy adventure by Hammer Films.

THE SKULL (1965) – Christopher Maitland – plays a private collector interested in the occult who purchases the skull of the Marquis de Sade with deadly results.  Christopher Lee co-stars as Cushing’s rival in this fine horror film by Hammer’s rival, Amicus Productions.

TORTURE GARDEN (1967) – Lancelot Canning – another film by Amicus, this one an anthology film featuring five horror stories based on the works of Robert Bloch.  Cushing appears in the fourth segment, “The Man Who Collected Poe,” once more playing a collector of the macabre.  Jack Palance co-stars with Cushing in this segment.

THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR (1968) – Inspector Quennell-  One of Peter Cushing’s worst movies.  In fact, Cushing himself considered it his worst.  Produced by Tigon Films, a company that tried to join Hammer and Amicus as a voice in British horror but ultimately failed.  The monster is a woman who turns into a giant moth that preys on men’s blood, and Cushing plays the police inspector (in a role originally written for Basil Rathbone) who tries to stop her.

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970) – Major Heinrich Benedek – pretty much just a cameo in this film, famous for being the first time Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price all starred together in the same movie.  A bizarre flick, perfect for 1970, but ultimately a disappointment as Cushing and Lee only appear briefly, while Price gets a bit more screen time.

THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) – General von Spielsdorf – Cushing finally appears in a vampire movie where he’s not a doctor or a professor!  This time he’s a general, but he’s still hunting vampires in this atmospheric and very sensual vampire film from Hammer, starring Ingrid Pitt as the vampire Carmilla.  The first of Hammer’s “Karnstein” vampire trilogy.

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971) – Philip Grayson – Another anthology film by Amicus.  Cushing stars in the second segment “Waxworks” and plays a retired stockbroker who runs afoul of a nefarious wax museum.  Director Peter Duffell once said in an interview that Peter Cushing’s entire segment in this film was simply a contrivance to place his head on a platter, which remains one of the more shocking images from the film.

TWINS OF EVIL (1971) – Gustav Weil – Cushing is excellent (as he always is) in this vampire film from Hammer, playing a different kind of vampire hunter.  He leads the Brotherhood, a fanatical group of men seeking out witches in the countryside, a group that is every bit as deadly as the vampires.  As such, when the vampire threat becomes known, and the Brotherhood turn their attention to the undead, it makes for a much more interesting dynamic than the typical vampire vs. heroes.  It’s one of Cushing’s most conflicted roles.  There’s a scene where he laments that he only wanted to do the right thing, that really resonates, because for most of the film, he’s been doing the very worst things.  The third “Karnstein” vampire film.

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Peter Cushing as the fanatical Gustav Weil in TWINS OF EVIL (1971).

 

I, MONSTER (1971) – Utterson – plays a lawyer in this version of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale by Amicus, which changed the names of Jekyll and Hyde to Marlowe and Blake, played here by Christopher Lee.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) – Arthur Edward Grimsdyke – famous Cushing role in yet another anthology film by Amicus.  Cushing appears in the third segment, “Poetic Justice” where he plays an elderly junk dealer who is terrorized into suicide by his neighbors, but a year later, and this is why the role is famous, he returns from the grave.

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972) – Captain – cameo in this Vincent Price sequel.  Blink and you’ll miss him.

ASYLUM (1972) – Smith – appears in the segment “The Weird Tailor” in this anthology film by Amicus.

FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1972) – The Headmaster – plays a sinister headmaster, in this thriller written and directed by Jimmy Sangster, and also starring Joan Collins and Ralph Bates.

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974) – The Proprietor – plays the owner of an antique shop, and the man in the wraparound story in this Amicus anthology horror vehicle.

MADHOUSE (1974) – Herbert Flay – plays a screenwriter in this one, and best friend to Vincent Price’s horror actor Paul Toombes.  Toombes is having a rough go of it, as the character he played in the movies- Dr. Death – seems to be committing murders in real life.  A really interesting movie, not a total success, but definitely worth a look, mostly because Price and Cushing share equal and ample screen time in this one.

TENDRE DRACULA – Macgregor – bizarre ill-conceived French horror comedy, notable for featuring Cushing’s one and only performance as a vampire.

LAND OF THE MINOTAUR (1976) – Baron Corofax – plays the villain to Donald Pleasence’s heroic priest in this tale of devil worship and demons.

STAR WARS (1977) – Grand Moff Tarkin – aside from his work in Hammer Films, the role which Cushing is most known for.  As Tarkin, he’s the one character in the STAR WARS universe who bossed Darth Vader around and lived to tell about it.

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Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS (1977).

 

SHOCK WAVES (1977) – SS Commander – Nazi zombies attack!    Nuff said.  With John Carradine.

THE UNCANNY (1977) – Wilbur – Cushing plays a writer who learns that cats are a little more “active” than he first imagined in yet another horror anthology film.

MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND (1981) – William T. Kolderup – plays the “richest man in America” in this bizarre horror comedy.

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983) – Sebastian Grisbane – famous teaming of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, and John Carradine in the same movie for the first (and only) time ever, this really isn’t a very good movie.  It tries hard, and ultimately isn’t all bad, but could have been so much better.  Price and Lee fare the best.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE MASKS OF DEATH (1984) – Sherlock Holmes – Holmes comes out of retirement to solve a case.   Again, not horror, per se, but since this film was directed by Roy Ward Baker, written by Anthony Hinds, and of course starred Peter Cushing, there is a definite Hammer Films feel about this movie.  John Mills plays Dr. Watson.

There you have it.  A list of genre films starring Peter Cushing where he did not play a doctor, scientist or professor.  Perhaps next time we’ll have a look at those films where he did don a lab coat or carry a medical bag.

That’s it for now.  Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

47 METERS DOWN (2017) Doesn’t Ratchet Suspense Up

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In general, I like movies about sharks.

Obviously, there’s the classic, JAWS (1975), the best movie about a killer shark ever, but there have been a few other enjoyable shark movies as well, although admittedly not very many.  I thought last year’s THE SHALLOWS (2016) was rather fun, and even the subpar sequel JAWS 2 (1978) had its moments.

But most of the movies about killer sharks have been pretty bad.  Today’s movie 47 METERS DOWN (2017) joins that list.

Sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are vacationing in Mexico, enjoying the beaches and basically getting away from it all.  Specifically, they’re there because, as Lisa tells her sister, her boyfriend has broken up with her, claiming that he got bored with their relationship, and she thinks taking this trip will show him that she’s not so boring after all.  Really?  I think Lisa would be better served if she dropped her loser of a boyfriend and found someone else rather than trying to impress a guy who dumped her for being boring.

Anyway, the film wastes valuable minutes early on setting up this back story which is a waste of time since the audience knows exactly what this movie is about and isn’t sitting there at this point thinking, Gee, I wonder what’s going to happen next?  We know exactly what’s going to happen next.  The film easily could have opened with the sisters on the boat getting ready to dive into the water inside the shark cage. Instead, we have to sit through a dull opening back story before the sisters finally meet a couple of fun loving young men who convince them to take the shark cage tour under water.

The boat belongs to Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine), and although the sisters still have reservations about taking the cage underwater, the two guys go first and they come back up without incident.  I found this plot point strange.  They’re there on a date.  Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Lisa and Kate to go underwater with their respective dates rather than with each other?

Anyway, Lisa and Kate do go underwater, the sights including a large shark, are fabulous, and for a brief moment they are happy they made the trip, but then the line breaks and the cage falls to the ocean floor, which is 47 meters down and well out of range for their radios, and so they are not able to communicate with Captain  Taylor.  To do so, Kate has to leave the cage and swim up into the shark infested waters to reach Taylor by radio.

And the waters are full of sharks, and so the rest of the movie is about the sisters trying to survive long enough to be rescued.

This sounds like a very exciting movie, but strangely it is not.  The whole thing is all rather flat.

You’d think that a tale about two women trapped in a shark cage underwater surrounded by sharks would make for one relentless thriller, but that’s not what happens here.  Instead, there’s some rather uninspiring direction by Johannes Roberts. And there just isn’t much suspense here.

The film also struggles with realism.  While I’ve seen worse CGI effect, the sharks don’t look all that real.  I never believed that these women were being hunted by real sharks.

I also never felt the fear that these women should have felt.  They might have been stuck in an elevator for all I knew, rather than in a shark cage.  Their emotions were never that intense.

Part of this is the script by director Roberts and Ernest Riera.  The dialogue is hardly memorable, and the sisters get stuck saying things like “I don’t want to die!’  and “Help us!”  There’s definitely a lot of whining going on.  I wanted to see them react and fight to survive.

The two leads, Mandy Moore as Lisa and Claire Holt as Kate are adequate, but when they go underwater and they’re wearing their oxygen masks, which is for the majority of the movie, their personalities become like their faces, hidden by water and their masks.  I thought they grew increasingly dull as the film went along.

And Matthew Modine, seen last summer as the questionable scientist Dr. Martin Brenner in the hit Netflix TV show STRANGER THINGS (2016) is wasted as Captain Taylor.  We hardly see him in the movie at all.  For most of the movie we just hear his voice over the radio, saying things like “Don’t leave the cage,” “We’re coming to save you,” “Stay in the cage,” “Do you have any threes?  Go fish.”  Okay, that last quote isn’t real, but it could have been.  That’s the kind of emotion Modine displays as Captain Taylor.

I was really surprised at how dull this film was.

Maybe Lisa’s boyfriend had the right idea after all.

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IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017) – Quiet Horror Movie Frighteningly Real

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IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017) is everything that the rebooted THE MUMMY (2017) is not.

It’s simple in its execution, it’s believable, it’s frightening, and its depiction of horror on the big screen is as pure as it gets.  The only thing the two films have in common is they opened on the same weekend.

IT COMES AT NIGHT takes place during a time when some unknown disease has crippled the world, thrusting people into heavy-duty survival mode.  We meet a family of three, the father Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) just as they’re dealing with Travis’ grandfather Bud (David Pendleton), who has succumbed to the disease.  They perform a mercy killing and then burn the body.

The family lives inside a house which they keep locked and boarded up, and they don’t venture outside without gas masks.  With all contact with the outside world shut down, they can only guess as to what is going on.  All they know is that infections happen and people die.

Things are relatively calm for them until one night a man named Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their home.  When they learn that he has a wife and young son, they debate whether or not they should invite them inside.  On the one hand, they know it’s best not to trust anyone, but on the other hand there is safety in numbers, especially since the surrounding woods are seen as threatening, as no one knows what is really happening, other than people will do anything to survive.

They decide to invite Will and his family into their home, and the two families work together, until the inevitable matter of trust or lack thereof begins to rear its head and mess with their minds.

IT COMES AT NIGHT is an example of movie making at its finest.  Writer/director Trey Edward Shults has taken a simple straightforward story— it’s basically THE WALKING DEAD without the zombies, and in fact, shares the intensity of the show’s best episodes— and made it compelling and frightening, all without gimmicks or special effects.

The best part about this movie is Shults’ directorial style.  The bulk of the action takes place inside the boarded up home, and as such makes for a very claustrophobic experience.  The audience definitely shares the feelings of isolation with the characters.

The film is quiet and unassuming.  There are no major special effects or extreme scenes of violence and carnage, yet the suspense is high throughout.  A walk into the surrounding woods at night is a sweat-inducing experience.  The camera stays in close with characters, who we get to know and care for.

And that’s because Shults’ screenplay is a good one.  He creates three-dimensional characters who we care about, and so as the movie goes along and lines are drawn between the families, you don’t want to see either family harmed.  It makes for some wince-inducing storytelling.

It also creates a threat— an unknown disease— that works as a major menace in the movie even though we know absolutely nothing about it, other than it kills.  It puts the audience in the same place as the characters, and it works wonderfully.

Joel Edgerton, an actor I like a lot, is very good here as the head of the household, Paul. He trusts no one and armed with a shotgun will kill without hesitation to protect his family, but he also is extremely sensitive and caring towards his son Travis.  He goes out of his way to explain to Travis why he does certain things and why these difficult decisions have to be made.  Travis comes off as a dedicated family man who must do whatever it takes to protect his family.

I’ve seen Edgerton in a bunch of movies, and I’ve pretty much enjoyed him in all of them, from his role as Tom Buchanan in THE GREAT GATSBY (2013), to his fine work opposite Johnny Depp in BLACK MASS (2015), to his battling aliens in the rebooted THE THING (2011).  Edgerton’s work here is as good as ever.

Carmen Ejogo, who played Coretta Scott King in SELMA (2014) and who also just starred in ALIEN: COVENANT (2017), plays Paul’s wife and Travis’ mom, Sarah.  She’s sufficiently serious and thoughtful.  No one in this film is a loose cannon or an idiot.  As such, you care about them all.

Christopher Abbott does a nice job as Will, the man who breaks into their home and then claims he was just looking for supplies for his wife and little son.  Abbott makes Will a fine three-dimensional character.  There’s something less than trustworthy about him, yet he does have that family, and the suspicion about him could certainly stem from his own agenda, that he has his own family to take care of.  Again, it puts the audience in the same seat with Paul- do you trust Will, or not?

Also excellent is Riley Keough as Will’s young wife Kim.  Like the rest of the cast, she creates a three-dimensional character.  Kim is also involved in a sub-plot where teen Travis develops a crush on her, and the two share some very interesting scenes.  Keough, by the way, is the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley, making her the granddaughter of Elvis Presley and Priscilla Presley.

And Kelvin Harrison Jr. really stands out as Travis.  For most of the film, Travis is a quiet introspective young man who is very sensitive.  We see the horror of what’s going on in their world through his eyes.  It makes some of the film’s more disturbing scenes all the more powerful as we experience them along with Travis.

Travis is also prone to having vivid dreams, several of which make for some frightening moments in the movie.  The dreams are symbolic of the dreams of youth, although in this case, they are all dark and nightmarish, showing us firsthand that this is now the world that young Travis has been left with.

It’s also worth noting that the family here is of mixed race.  Paul is white and Sarah is black.  While refreshing, it’s also the type of thing that needs to happen more and more in the movies, and when it does, it’s important to celebrate it.

While I loved IT COMES AT NIGHT, it does have some flaws, and I can see how some people might be disappointed by it.  For one thing, the threat here is never explained, and while I didn’t have a huge problem with this, had the film taken that next step and immersed us into a specific threat, it might have been a stronger movie.

I saw it with an audience full of teenagers, and when it ended, they were vocally disappointed. Someone said, “It comes at night?  Nothing came!”  I wanted to lean over and say in my best Donald Pleasence voice, “Death came at night.”  Because, really, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.  The specific threat isn’t important.  If the characters aren’t careful, they’re going to die.

IT COMES AT NIGHT shares a similar tone and feel with the quiet zombie movie MAGGIE (2015), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I liked IT COMES AT NIGHT much better because it packs a bigger punch with its horror elements and with the suspense.

If you like your horror pure and simple, without convoluted stories or  overblown special effects or gratuitous blood and gore, if you simply like to be scared, and to watch a story about characters you care about thrown into a situation which puts them in extreme danger, then IT COMES AT NIGHT is the movie for you.

It’s the type of horror movie that’s good for the genre, a horror film, like the recent GET OUT (2017), that makes horror fans proud.

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