PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017) Will Hold Your Interest—If You’re Six Years Old

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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017).

Ain’t that the truth!

While I still enjoy the Captain Jack Sparrow character played by Johnny Depp, the PIRATES films themselves have become shallow and redundant, with no sense of storytelling whatsoever.  But I get ahead of myself.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017) is really the tale of two new characters.  Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) is the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), the dashing blacksmith who teamed up with Jack Sparrow in the first three PIRATES movies.  We learn in a pre-credit sequence that Will Turner is forever cursed to spend his days in a watery grave beneath the ocean, but his son Henry is determined to free his dad.  And what self-respecting son wouldn’t naturally try to free his deceased dad from an underwater curse?  This is the sort of thing that happens every day, right?   Anyway, the only way Henry can do this—of course— is with the help of one Captain Jack Sparrow.

To free his dad, Henry needs the Trident of Poseidon, which gives its handler total control of the seas, and the only person who possesses enough gumption to get it, I guess, is Sparrow.

The other main character is Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario).  When we first meet her, she’s about to be executed for being a witch, but she’s not a witch.  She’s just smart and enlightened, but being an intelligent woman in those days doesn’t sit too well with the men, and so she’s accused of being a witch.

When  Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his pirate buddies attempt to pull off a bold heist, things don’t go so well, and Sparrow is captured and set to be executed on the same day as Carina Smyth.  But the two escape with the help of Henry Turner, setting in motion the quest for the Trident of Poseidon.

Meanwhile, the undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) is also searching for the Trident so he and his men can escape their own watery grave and kill Jack Sparrow in the process. And if all this isn’t enough, old nemesis Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) also shows up, and he too is interested in the elusive Trident.

ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Talk about a story that generates absolutely zero interest.

And that, by far, is my biggest problem with PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES.  The screenplay by Jeff Nathanson is pretty much geared for six year-olds. Seriously, unless you’re a young child who loves pirates, I don’t know how you can sit through this movie.  It’s not even appealing to teenagers, let alone adults.  The Trident of Poseidon?  Seriously?  The story here works on the same level as something like PETER PAN, which is fine for a children’s movie, but for a PG-13 pirates adventure?  It just doesn’t cut it.

The humor doesn’t work either. The jokes are watered down and not edgy enough to earn many laughs.

The film plays like a TRANSFORMERS movie under water.  Special effects galore, but no story to be found, which is a shame, because it wastes a character I like a lot, Captain Jack Sparrow.

Directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have created a polished looking movie that is as hollow and empty as it is visually striking.  It’s the kind of movie that puts me to sleep, because there’s no story to support it, and no characters to capture my interest.

The action scenes don’t distinguish themselves, except for the early robbery scene, which was a pretty fun sequence, as Sparrow’s pirate buddies literally drag the entire building housing the safe they were robbing through the streets of the town in a rather rousing chase scene.  But other than this the action scenes fall flat.

I like Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, and I have no problem with his performance here.  The problem is with the script, which can’t seem to give him worthwhile lines or things to do. The first PIRATES movie, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN:  THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003) was a snappy, rousing, and very creative flick with a story that featured lots of satisfying twists and turns, and at its center was Depp’s Jack Sparrow.  Here, there’s barely a creative spark to be found, and Depp is stuck saying inferior lines and having his screen time reduced in favor of newer younger characters.

Javier Bardem is a fantastic actor, but I found his performance as Captain Salazar grating and difficult to watch.  It didn’t help that the character is as dull as a piece of floating seaweed.

Geoffrey Rush is another superior actor, and he benefits here from having his Captain Barbossa  character introduced in the earlier movies.  Rush actually does have some fine moments here, especially with some revelations about his character later in the movie.

Newcomers Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner and Kaya Scodelario as Carina Smyth pretty much put me to sleep.

Kevin McNally, who has appeared in all five PIRATES movie as Sparrow’s fellow pirate Gibbs, is enjoyable once again here, but like Johnny Depp, he’s contending with an inferior script.

My favorite part of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES was the music, and I’m not talking about the new score to this film by Geoff Zanelli, but the original PIRATES theme written by Klaus Badelt.  That theme was and still is perfect for this series, and whenever it was used in this movie, the film became at least tolerable, but outside of that, there’s nothing worthwhile about this movie.

Check that.  There is one more thing.  Paul McCartney shows up in a cameo as a pirate named Uncle Jack (What?  No Uncle Albert?).  His exchange with Depp’s Jack Sparrow is brief but it’s fun.

The rest of the film is flat-out awful.  Better to walk the plank than to sit through two plus hours of this sea tale.

—END—

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK (2016) – Mediocre Sequel Lacks Energy & Punch

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JACK REACHER:  NEVER GO BACK (2016) seems to be begging me to never go back to the theater to see any more JACK REACHER films.

And there will be more JACK REACHER movies, since Tom Cruise owns the film rights to the Jack Reacher novels by author Lee Child.  Now, while I didn’t particularly enjoy this second film in the Jack Reacher film series, I’m not at the stage yet where I’d never go back.

After all, I enjoyed the first movie, JACK REACHER (2012)  a lot.  It was a fun action movie, and Tom Cruise did a nice job in the lead role as Jack Reacher.

But now comes the sequel, JACK REACHER:  NEVER GO BACK, which takes several steps backwards.  The story isn’t as good, nor is the cast, and most disappointing of all is it’s directed by a very talented director Edward Zwick, who over his long career has made several movies that I’ve really liked, including GLORY (1989), BLOOD DIAMOND (2006), and DEFIANCE (2008).

With Zwick at the helm, this movie has no business being as flat and mediocre as it is.

JACK REACHER:  NEVER GO BACK opens with our hero, former military officer turned investigator and vigilante Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) taking care of a crooked sheriff whose been doing wrong by illegal immigrants.  Reacher credits the arrest to a  military officer named Turner (Cobie Smulders), who he has never met.  But they hit it off over the phone and agree to meet for a date.

When Reacher arrives at her office, he’s informed that she’s been arrested for treason. Of course, Reacher smells trouble, and he sets his sights on clearing her name.  He has to add his own name to the list of people to clear since as soon as he starts looking into this vast government conspiracy, he’s implicated as well, and so he has to conduct his investigation while also being a fugitive from justice.

Reacher breaks Turner out of her holding cell, and together they seek answers, but not before they add a third person to their group, a teenage girl named Samantha (Danika Yarosh) who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter.  When the bad guys threaten Samantha to get back at Reacher, he whisks his maybe-daughter away from her home so she’ll be safe, and of course she jumps right into helping them with their investigation.  Now, that’s realistic.

The first strike I had with JACK REACHER:  NEVER GO BACK is its story is nowhere near as tight or as compelling as the plot in the first JACK REACHER movie.  The mystery here just isn’t all that interesting, and the subplot with Reacher’s “daughter” is as cliche as these things go.

It doesn’t help that the villains aren’t that memorable either.  The main baddie is a hitman type named The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger), who is supposedly an unstoppable killer, but since this is a Jack Reacher movie, there’s little doubt which character will have the upper hand when the two meet for their deadly showdown.  The head bad guy, the man behind the scenes pulling all the strings to this vast conspiracy, remains largely in the shadows throughout, so much so he hardly matters at all.

And while Tom Cruise is back playing Jack Reacher, a role I really enjoyed him in back in the first movie, I wasn’t as impressed this time around.  There was something really cool about the Jack Reacher character and the way Cruise played him in JACK REACHER.  There was an edge to Cruise’s performance that really brought the character to life.  That edge seems to be gone here.

There just seemed to be far less energy behind Cruise’s performance in this sequel.  I didn’t get the same sense this time around that Reacher was a deadly force to be reckoned with, someone that could put a major hurt on a bunch of people with his bare hands.

Cobie Smulders, who plays Agent Maria Hill in the Marvel AVENGERS and CAPTAIN AMERICA movies, as well as on Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show, is fine here as Turner, the tough military officer who makes a nice partner for Reacher as they take on the crooked military villains.  But it’s not a role that jumps out at you or makes you remember the character long after you’ve seen the movie.

Likewise, Danika Yarosh is okay as teen Samantha, but the role is rather cliche.  The rest of the cast is serviceable but undistinguished.  Another strength of the first JACK REACHER movie was its cast, which was pretty darn good and featured Robert Duvall and Richard Jenkins in supporting roles.  No such star power this time around.

I wasn’t overly impressed by the screenplay by Richard Wenk, Marshall Herskovitz, and director Edward Zwick.  Combined, these guys have some pretty impressive writing credits, but that didn’t seem to help them there.  Wenk has written some movies that I’ve really liked— THE MECHANIC (2011) starring Jason Statham, for example— but his previous credit, the recent remake of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) wasn’t one of them.

The story here was pretty standard, and the dialogue wasn’t really up to snuff either.

As I said, Edward Zwich has directed some solid films, but JACK REACHER:  NEVER GO BACK lacked intensity and visual flair.  None of the action or fight scenes remain etched in my mind.

The whole film was all rather flat.

I’m still willing to see future Jack Reacher movies, since I enjoyed the first film so much, but if any more play like this one, I’ll take the title to heart and vow then and there to never go back.

—END–

SHOCK SCENES: DRACULA’S DEMISE- A Look at the Hammer Dracula Endings – Part 4

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SHOCK SCENES:  DRACULA’S DEMISE- A Look at the Hammer Dracula Endings

Part 4

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome to Part 4 of our look at the endings to the Hammer DRACULA series, where we examine how Dracula met his demise in the various Hammer Dracula movies. Previously we looked at the endings to the first six Hammer Dracula pics.  Here in Part 4 we’ll look at the rest of the series.

And remember, if you haven’t seen these films, there are major spoilers here, so proceed with caution.

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DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

Dracula meets the 1970s!

After the success of the Dan Curtis film THE NIGHT STALKER (1972), the movie that introduced reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) to the world and had Kolchak hunting a vampire in present day Las Vegas, Hammer decided that for its next Dracula movie they would take Dracula out of the 19th century and put him in the heart of present day London, which at the time happened to be 1972.

DRACULA A.D. 1972 also marked the return of Peter Cushing to the series, as he played Lorrimer Van Helsing, a descendant of the original Van Helsing.  On paper, it  sounded like a neat idea.  In reality- mostly because “modern day” at the time was the groovin-yeah-baby year of 1972, the film really doesn’t work- at least not the way Hammer intended.  THE NIGHT STALKER, it ain’t!

However, that being said, in spite of it being lambasted by critics and doing poorly at the box office, DRACULA A.D. 1972 is actually a pretty fun movie.  I’ve always really liked this one.  The dialogue is so over the top and overdone, it’s a hoot!  It’s like watching an episode of SCOOBY-DOO.

It’s also a lot of fun seeing Peter Cushing return to the series as Van Helsing, even if he is playing one of Van Helsing’s descendants.  As usual, Christopher Lee doesn’t have a lot to do as Dracula, but he makes the most of his few scenes.

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Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham) isn’t doing her grandfather any favors when she removes the knife from Dracula’s (Christopher Lee) heart during the finale of DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972).

Unfortunately, the ending isn’t anything to brag about, even with Cushing’s Van Helsing battling Lee’s Dracula once again.  Compared to the ending of HORROR OF DRACULA, the ending to DRACULA A.D. 1972 is slow and tired.  There’s a brief chase, this time with Dracula chasing Van Helsing, a brief scuffle, and then an all too easy death scene where Dracula falls into a pit of wooden stakes, set up there earlier by Van Helsing, although how he would know Dracula would fall inside is beyond me!  This is followed by the obligatory and not very impressive Dracula-turns-to-dust scene.

Far out, man!

Not really.

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THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973)

Immediately after the release of DRACULA A.D. 1972, Hammer went into production with their next Dracula movie, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973) which again starred both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and once more took place in the 1970s.

The attempt was made to improve upon DRACULA A.D. 1972, and so in this film the hippies are gone, and instead Dracula acts likes he’s a villain in a James Bond movie as he tries to take over the world with the help of other devil worshiping dignitaries. When Scotland Yard investigates and learns about the satanic cult, they turn to their resident expert, Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).

It’s a fairly interesting plot, but it’s all rather flat, and I’ve always enjoyed DRACULA A.D. 1972 more.  Because DRACULA A.D. 1972 performed so miserably at the box office, Hammer decided not to release SATANIC RITES in the U.S., until that is, five years later when it was released under the ridiculous title COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE in 1978.  The only good thing about the delay was I was 14 at the time, and when it opened at my local theater, it provided me with my first opportunity to see a Hammer horror film on the big screen.  Cool!

The ending to SATANIC RITES is actually a bit better than the ending to DRACULA A.D. 1972.  The confrontation between Dracula and Van Helsing is a bit longer this time.  It starts in a fiery house and then continues outside, as Van Helsing leads Dracula into the woods where he is able to get Dracula caught in a thorn bush.  See, in this movie, thorns are representative of Christ’s crown of thorns and as a result are fatal to vampires.  At least Hammer always remained creative!  Of course, what would a Dracula movie be without a good staking, and so Van Helsing drives a stake through Drac’s heart for good measure, which leads to the undead king’s umpteenth disintegration scene.

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Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) prepares to do battle with Dracula in THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973).

The best part about this ending is that after Dracula disintegrates, all that is left of Dracula is his ring, which hearkens back to the ending of the first film in the series, HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) where Dracula’s ring also remains after his disintegration.  In HORROR OF DRACULA, Van Helsing does not take the ring, and when Dracula is resurrected in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) he wears it again.  This time around, at the end of SATANIC RITES, Van Helsing does take the ring, symbolizing that this time Dracula is truly done for, which is appropriate, since this was the final Christopher Lee film of the series.

I say final “Christopher Lee” film in the series because even though Lee said his days as Dracula were over, Hammer wasn’t finished, and they would bring back Dracula for one more movie, without Lee.

 

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THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974)

This is one weird movie.  After the commercial failure of their previous two Dracula movies, Hammer decided that Dracula in the 1970s was not a good idea, and so their next vampire tale would once more be a period piece. THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES was originally not going to be a Dracula film at all, but simply a vampire movie, but this horror-martial arts combo was co-produced with The Shaw Brothers Company who insisted that since their Asian audiences loved Dracula, that Dracula had to be incorporated into the movie.

And so an introduction was filmed with John Forbes-Robertson hamming it up in thick Joker-like make-up as Dracula, where we see his spirit enter into that of an Asian warrior who had visited Dracula’s castle.  Dracula wants to seek out new blood in the Far East, and now inside a new body, he is able to assemble an army of Kung-fu vampires— the seven golden vampires— without people knowing who he is, except that old nemesis Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is also in the Far East and hot on his trail!

 

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One of the seven golden vampires in THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974), Hammer’s final Dracula movie.

There are martial arts fights galore in this very unique film that somehow actually works.  It also has a fantastic music score by James Bernard.

Unfortunately, the ending is rather lame.  After all that choreographed martial arts fighting, Dracula returns to his old body where he is promptly done in— in very undramatic fashion- by Van Helsing.  It’s a very weak way to end the series.

Aside from the ending,  THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES is actually a pretty enjoyable movie.  And even though he’s not really involved in the fight sequences, Peter Cushing still enjoys lots of screen time as Van Helsing, and as always, he’s excellent.

Look also for the inferior yet worth checking out re-edited version entitled THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA (1974).  This version was originally released in the U.S. as an exploitation flick.  It’s fun to compare the two.  THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES plays out like an elegant atmospheric A-List Hammer vampire movie, whereas THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEETS DRACULA plays like a choppy incoherent blood fest shown at the Drive-In after midnight.  Same movie, different editing.  It’s fascinating to watch these two versions back to back.

So, that about wraps things up.  Thanks for joining me on this four part look at the various Dracula demises in the Hammer Dracula movies.

Join me next time for another SHOCK SCENES when I’ll we’ll look at other memorable scenes in horror movie history.

—END—

JASON BOURNE (2016) – Fifth Film in “Bourne” Franchise Repetitive

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Jason Bourne.  Jason Bourne.  Jason Bourne.

Does that sound repetitive?  Welcome to my problem with today’s movie, JASON BOURNE (2016), the fifth film in the Jason Bourne series, the fourth starring Matt Damon.

I mean, how many movies will it take for Jason Bourne to stop looking into his past and move on to something new?  Apparently more than four, because this is Matt Damon’s fourth turn as the character and he’s still searching for answers.  Yawn.

Which is too bad because I’m a fan of the Bourne series.  I loved the first one, THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002) and enjoyed the next two as well, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004) and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007).  I even enjoyed the one without Damon, which starred Jeremy Renner, THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012).  That being said, with each  successive film I grew wearier of their plots which were pretty much variations of the same premise- Jason Bourne coming out of hiding to learn the truth about his past and make life miserable for whichever nasty good-for-nothing CIA chief  was in power at the time.

I’m sorry to say that this newest film in the series, JASON BOURNE– hey, how about that title?  Score one for creativity! Let’s call this one– Jason Bourne!— offers nothing new and  is exactly what I just described.  It’s just hard to get excited about a movie in a series with the same exact plot of the films which came before it.

So here we go.  In JASON BOURNE, former CIA operative Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is once more looking for answers about his past, this time about his deceased father’s involvement in his CIA recruitment.  So once again Bourne comes out of hiding, and this time the CIA heavy who’s out to stop him in order to prevent Bourne from exposing their secret programs is CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones).

Dewey is assisted by his young protege, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), although as the story goes along, it becomes clear that the two don’t see eye to eye, as Dewey sees Heather as inexperienced, and Heather views Dewey as a dinosaur, and so both deal with Bourne on their own terms.

They also have at their disposal an assassin named Asset (Vincent Cassel) who has a history with Bourne and is only too happy to be the man asked to eliminate the former CIA operative.

The plot in this one revolves around Dewey’s shady dealings with a young social media mogul named Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed).  Dewey basically wants to use Kalloor’s technology to spy on eveyone, and this secret alliance is endangered when Bourne in his search for answers about himself uncovers information about this union.

JASON BOURNE gets off to a rather slow start as the first half of this film could have been directly lifted from any of the previous films and I wouldn’t have noticed.  Nothing in the opening of this movie drew me in or got me excited about what was to come.  I felt like I was watching the films I had already seen.

Things eventually do get better as finally the film begins to take on its own identity.  About the time Bourne gets to London things pick up with one of the film’s better sequences where Bourne outsmarts both Dewey and Heather’s forces.  It’s also about the time when it’s clear that Dewey and Heather are not working together, which is one of the more interesting dynamics of the film.  And that’s because Heather is one of the more compelling characters in the movie, although she certainly is far from original.  Most of this interest comes from Alicia Vikander’s performance.

The cast is decent.  I’ve always enjoyed Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, but his performance here is like the rest of the movie:  nothing I haven’t seen before.  This movie is just screaming for a different plot.  Put Jason Bourne in a different situation, for crying out loud!  Have him try to save the world or something!  Does he have to be stuck in the same God-forsaken plot in every Bourne movie?  Apparently so.  There’s nothing wrong with Damon’s performance, but the character does the same things he did in the previous films.  He doesn’t even have any memorable lines.

The best peformance in the movie, hands down, belongs to Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee.  Vikander made a big splash in the science fiction film EX MACHINA (2015).  She also starred in THE DANISH GIRL (2015), and I liked her a lot in the underrated THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015)  She’s excellent here once again.  Granted, there’s nothing all that special about her character, Heather Lee.  But Vikander gives her a nice combination of icy professionalism with chiseled sexuality.

Tommy Lee Jones is actually very good as CIA Director Robert Dewey.  He makes Dewey quite the despicable villain, and he does it effortlessly, as you would expect from someone with Jones’ talent and experience.  It’s just too bad the character is the same exact type of CIA villain that all the Bourne films have had.

And Vincent Cassel makes for a formidable foe for Jason Bourne as the assassin Asset, but since the title of the is film is JASON BOURNE, there’s little doubt as to which character will have the upper hand here.

JASON BOURNE was directed by Paul Greengrass, who directed the second and third films in the series, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM.  If he succeeds at anything it’s making the films look consistent.  The style for all these films is the same.

There are the expected action scenes, but I was actually disappointed with the film’s centerpiece action sequence, the high speed chase through the streets of Las Vegas, where they destroy about 50 million cars along the way!  Seriously, it’s insane how many cars they wipe out during this chase.  All without any bloodshed.  Imagine that!  I should have loved this scene, but it was edited with such quick edits that I often found the action happening too quickly, so much so that I almost had to turn away at times.  It was a case where I was noticing the camerawork which is not a good thing.  Had the camera moved in close to the action and remained there, rather than  cutting this way and that, the scene would have had a grittier more realistic feel.  As is, it plays like a swiftly edited television commercial.

The fight sequences were okay, but they certainly didn’t blow me out of the water.

The screenplay by director Greengrass and Christopher Rouse was meh.  The biggest knock against it is it’s just not original.  It’s a rehash of all Bourne films which came before it.  The dialogue is nothing special either.  Of course, their screenplay is based upon characters created by Robert Ludlum in his Bourne novels.   So, I suppose one could argue that they were simply being true to the spirit of the Ludlum novels by not shaking things up here in their latest Bourne movie.  I don’t know about that.

I do know, that this film would have been a better movie if, in the words of that other more famous spy from the other side of the ocean, its plot and its characters had been shaken, not stirred.

 —END—

SHOCK SCENES: DRACULA’S DEMISE- A Look at the Hammer DRACULA Endings- Part 2

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SHOCK SCENES:  DRACULA’S DEMISE- A Look at the Hammer Dracula Endings

Part 2

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome to Part 2 of our look at the endings to the Hammer DRACULA series, where we examine how Dracula met his demise in the various Hammer Dracula movies. In Part 1, we looked at the endings to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) and THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960).  Now, it’s on to Part 2.

And remember, if you haven’t seen these films, there are major spoilers here, so proceed with caution.

 

DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966)

Although THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) was a sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), it didn’t feature Christopher Lee.  DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS did.

And that’s because Lee had avoided reprising the role of Dracula like the plague to avoid being typecast, but after years of unrelenting Hammer pressure, he finally gave in and agreed to play the role again, providing fans a chance to be terrified once more by their favorite blood-sucking vampire.

DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS was released eight years after HORROR and the story takes place ten years after the events of the first movie.  It was once again directed by Hammer’s top director, Terence Fisher.  DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS probably comes closest to any of the other sequels to duplicating the feel of the original, although it certainly lacks its potency.

Dracula is absent for the entire first half of the movie, as the film uses this time to build up the dramatic rebirth of Dracula.  This in itself is a good idea, but the problem is, once resurrected, he’s only in the film for about 20 minutes before meeting his demise once again.  To me, Hammer would have been better served not to destroy Dracula at the end of every movie.  After all, he had survived hundreds of years before Van Helsing finally caught up with him and destroyed him, so wouldn’t it make sense if he survived that long again?  Wouldn’t it make him scarier if it really were that difficult to stop him?  Of course it would!  Plus, when Van Helsing defeated him, it made sense because Van Helsing was a brilliant scientist, a one-of-a-kind adversary for Dracula, but in the subsequent movies Dracula’s opponents  are less and less impressive, yet they still destroy him.  But I digress.

The ending to DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS is actually very memorable, but not quite as powerful or as visually impressive as the ending in HORROR.  Once more, Dracula is chased back to his castle, this time by the knowledgable Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) and the dashing young Englishman Charles Kent (Francis Matthews) as they try to rescue Kent’s wife Diana (Suzan Farmer) from Dracula.

As Dracula’s coffin lay on ice by the castle, having fallen there from the back of the horse-drawn coach at the end of the exciting chase, Charles attempts to drive a stake through Dracula’s heart before the sun goes down, but he’s too late.  Dracula bursts from his coffin and engages Charles in a physical battle on the ice.  Diana urges Father Sandor to shoot Dracula, but he tells her it would do no good, because as we all know, bullets cannot harm vampires.  But Diana grabs the rifle anyway and fires a shot, which rips a hole in the ice, which gives Father Sandor an idea:  according to vampire lore, vampires cannot cross running water (who knew!) and in this movie, they can’t swim, either!  How convenient!

So, Father Sandor shoots around the ice, allowing Charles to escape but trapping Dracula on the quickly sinking slab.  Dracula tries to hold on, but slides screaming into the underwater grave beneath the ice of Castle Dracula.  While it doesn’t contain the eye-popping special effects from the HORROR OF DRACULA ending, it’s still a pretty unique and impressive ending to a Dracula movie.  And director Terence Fisher gives it style, as the last part of Dracula to fall into the ice is his cape in a dramatic last shot.  We even get to see Dracula submerged in his icy grave as the end credits roll!

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Dracula (Christopher Lee) slips into his watery grave in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).

It would also prove quite convenient for resurrecting Dracula.  After all, Dracula was reduced to ashes which blew away in the breeze in HORROR OF DRACULA.  It took half of DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS to set the events in motion for his resurrection.  It would be much easier in the next film.  And there would be a next film because DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS made lots of money at the box office.  There would be no turning back now for Christopher Lee and Hammer.

As Dracula movie endings go, the conclusion to DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS is very, very good.  Definitely worth a look.

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DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)

The third Christopher Lee Dracula film for Hammer was the aptly titled DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968).  Terence Fisher did not direct this movie, making it the first Hammer Dracula film that he did not direct.  In fact, Fisher wouldn’t direct any future Hammer Dracula films.  While he helmed HORROR OF DRACULA, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, and DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS, from here on out Dracula would be in the hands of other directors.

For DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, it was Freddie Francis, a respected camera-man who also directed many horror movies.  While I’m not as big a fan of Francis’ work as I am Fisher’s, Francis struck gold here with DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE.  In terms of style, it doesn’t come close to the Fisher Dracula films, but it boasts a strong script by Anthony Hinds in spite of it being a simple revenge story.

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE was so successful at the box office that it remains today Hammer Film’s biggest all-time money maker.  Dracula was Hammer’s bread and butter, and because of this, there would be four more Christopher Lee Dracula movies over the next five years.

Dracula (Christopher Lee) shows up much quicker this time around than he did in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS.  A pair of priests go to Castle Dracula to perform an exorcism to keep Dracula’s spirit confined forever, but one of the priests, a cowardly sort, loses his way (literally and figuratively) and slips and falls on some ice, banging his head, cracking the ice where we see Dracula resting below.  The blood from the priest’s head wound seeps below the ice and makes its way to Dracula’s lips, reviving him.

While I do like DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE a lot, its ending isn’t the strongest part of the movie.  It’s okay, but it certainly falls several notches below the endings in the previous movies.  This time the hero is young atheist Paul (Barry Andrews) who’s trying to rescue his girlfriend Maria (Veronica Carlson) from Dracula.

Dracula forces Maria to remove the cross by the door to his castle, placed there by the priests at the beginning of the movie. She throws it off a cliff, where it lands upright, which is about as realistic as having Dracula spend an entire movie chasing down Maria in the first place to get her to remove the cross from his front door when he could have hypnotized anyone from his neighborhood to do it in about a minute’s time.

Paul arrives, he scuffles with Dracula, and they both fall off the cliff.  Paul is fortunate enough to grab onto some bushes, breaking his fall, but Dracula is not so lucky, as he lands directly onto— you guessed it!— the cross sticking out of the ground.  Yup, Dracula is impaled on a cross.  Sure, it’s somewhate dramatic, although like I said, it’s rather far-fetched.  There’s lots of blood dripping from Dracula’s wound and eyes as the cowardly priest, who had been turned into Dracula’s slave, redeems himself by reciting a prayer to help destroy Dracula once again, and he is destroyed, this time being reduced— not to ashes– but to gallons of blood.

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Dracula (Christopher Lee) gets a bad case of heartburn in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968).

Not a bad ending, but also not one of the best. Still, the rest of DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE is excellent, and this one may be the most satisfying and entertaining sequel of the entire series.

Okay, that’s it for now.  Join me next time for Part 3, when we look at the endings to the next films in the Hammer Dracula series, including TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969).

See you then!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – Inferior Sequel All 2 Familiar

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Movie Review:   THE CONJURING 2 (2016)

By Michael Arruda

I’ve got to say this right here.  I loved INSIDIOUS (2010) and THE CONJURING (2013), both by director James Wan, and I really wanted to like THE CONJURING 2, especially since Wan was back directing again, but I gotta tell you, I did not like this one at all.

The film starts off with lame prologue showing husband and wife paranormal investigators Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) dealing with the infamous Amityville haunting.  Now, in real life, Ed and Lorraine Warren became famous for investigating the Amityville situation, but this prologue serves no purpose in the movie other than to tie in with the first film which ended with their being summoned to Amityville.

The action switches to London in 1977, where another family is experiencing another haunting.  Eventually, the Warrens are called in to investigate, upon the request of the Catholic Church no less, to find out if the hautning is credible.

Now I could go into more plot details, but I don’t see the need.  And that’s one of the biggest problems I had with THE CONJURING 2:  the story bored me to tears.  Family is terrorized by a demon, or in this case a combination of ghosts and demons (and this combintation has been done before as well), there are lots of strange noises at night, loud knocks on doors, children being possessed, etc.  The Warrens arrive, they investigate, blah blah blah.

Now I’ll be the first to tell you that I was very surprised I didn’t like this movie.  As I said at the outset, I loved INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING, and I fully expected to like this sequel.  But I did not.

In terms of scares, there are a lot of them in THE CONJURING 2, and as you would expect in a James Wan movie, most of them are of the jump scare variety.  I don’t have a problem with this.  I like jump scares.  The problem I had with the jump scares in this movie was that they simply were not scary.  And they weren’t scary for me because I was bored with the story and so I knew, okay here’s the part where something creepy will happen with the child’s toy.  Okay, and here’s the part where the demon will show up in the dark corner.  Now for the young girl to start saying weird things in a deep male voice.  I mean, almost everything that happened in this movie I felt I had seen already.  Many, many times.

James Wan does a fine job constructing all these scenes, but he did the same in INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING and there just wasn’t much that was fresh here.

I liked the demon and the ghosts, but some looked better than others, which were a bit thick with CGI effects.

I like the two main actors a lot, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  I’m a huge fan of Farmiga, but I didn’t think either actor was able to rise above the material here.

I thought the script by Carey and Chad Hayes, David Leslie Johnson, and James Wan was particularly bad. I thought the dialogue at times was laughable, especially during some of the conversations between Wilson and Farmiga.  And the story is about as fresh as a loaf of stale bread.  Demon manipulates spirits to haunt a family.  Okay, I get it. Let’s do something else already.

And there are spirits and demons everywhere.  There’s so much supernatural activity going on inside this house it’s like a GHOSTBUSTERS convention.  It reaches the point of ridiculousness.  It also works against the plot, which presents us with a more skeptical Ed and Lorraine Warren.  Are you kidding me?  We’re supposed to believe that they have doubts?  After seeing everything that happens in this movie?  The only way they could have doubts after seeing this much spectral activity in one place would be if they were blind, and they’re not blind.

I did enjoy Madison Wolfe who played Janet Hodgson, the young girl who becomes the main victim of the film’s demon.  She was believable.  I also enjoyed Frances O’Connor’s performance as the single mother Peggy Hodgson raising her family.  She had a gritty feisty strength about her that was just right for the role.

But as a whole, I found THE CONJURING 2 to be a major letdown, and I’m someone who really enjoys this type of movie.  I mean, I like stories about demons and hauntings, but this story added nothing new.  If you’ve seen THE CONJURING and INSIDIOUS, you’ve seen everything that happens in this one.

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10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) Is NOT the Sequel CLOVERFIELD Fans Have Been Waiting For

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Let’s get this out of the way right now:  10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) is not a sequel to CLOVERFIELD (2008), arguably one of the best giant monster movies ever made.  For this reason alone, this well-written, acted, and directed thriller is flawed.

It’s flawed because producer J.J. Abrams resurrected the CLOVERFIELD name, resurrected the anticipation and excitement of fans the world over of the original movie, only to put out a film with as much in common with CLOVERFIELD as THE MARTIAN (2015) has with GODZILLA.  Yeah, but if you pay close attention, you’ll see that the astronaut in THE MARTIAN had a cousin who worked for the company responsible for resurrecting Godzilla.  Isn’t that cool?  Isn’t that a wild connection?

No, it’s not.

It’s geeky and annoying.  Now, obviously, there is no connection between GODZILLA and THE MARTIAN, but the example shows the level of connection we’re talking about between CLOVERFIELD and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.  It’s minuscule.

It’s also embarrassingly clear that J.J. Abrams threw in the Cloverfield name simply as a marketing ploy to attract viewers.  Shame on him.  Sure, you can argue otherwise, but you might just sound like Donald Trump doing it.

Other than this though, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a pretty nifty thriller.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is leaving her boyfriend.  He calls her (that’s Bradley Cooper’s voice on the phone.) asking her to come back, but she’s not interested.  She no sooner turns off her cell when she’s involved in a nasty car accident which leaves her unconscious.

When she awakes, she finds herself imprisoned in an underground bunker, and she assumes she’s been kidnapped.  When the peculiar Howard (John Goodman) shows up and tells her that he hasn’t abducted her but rather has saved her life after the car accident, she doesn’t believe him; and when he tells her she can’t leave because outside the bunker the world she once knew doesn’t exist anymore as some unknown apocalyptic event has poisoned the air killing everyone on the surface, she thinks he’s crazy.

Even when she meets the third tenant in the bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who confirms Howard’s story, she’s still not convinced.  But later, when Michelle tries to escape and sees a woman outside the door whose skin seems to be peeling from her face and acting crazy, it appears as if Howard has been telling the truth.

The three then set their sights on surviving, and life is good, until certain things come to light that confirm Michelle’s worst fears.

The story told in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is tight and well-written.  It’s an excellent screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle.  There’s an uncomfortable feeling permeating throughout this film, as you’re never quite able to feel at ease around John Goodman’s Howard.

John Goodman delivers a phenomenal performance as Howard.  He’s the best part of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.  Goodman is almost always good, but his performance here in this movie is extra special.  He’s just “off” enough where you’re pretty sure you don’t trust him but you’re not quite convinced because the crazy things he says all seem to be true.    He’s a difficult character to read, which is one of the reasons the story works so well. Should Michelle trust him?  Or should she try to kill him?

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is equally as good as Michelle.  She is not a helpless victim at all. At first, she’s constantly trying to escape, and even later, when she more or less believes Howard, she still keeps her eyes wide open.  No one is going to pull  a fast one on her.

And John Gallagher, Jr. rounds out the phenomenal trio with a decent performance of his own as Emmett.  At first, you’re not sure how much Emmett knows or what his intentions are, but as the story goes on, he becomes Michelle’s biggest ally.

Director Dan Trachtenberg, in his feature film directorial debut, does a nice job at the helm.  He gives this film a claustrophobic feel as he puts the audience right in the middle of the action with the characters in the underground bunker.

There are plenty of suspenseful scenes as well.  There’s one scene in particular where they are playing a game, and it goes from funny, to suspenseful, to back to funny again all in a matter of seconds.

Strangely, the weakest part of this movie is its ending, and it’s strange because it should have been the best part.  This is where the film should have tied in with the original CLOVERFIELD, but alas, that’s not how things play out.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a tight little thriller, a stand-alone movie that would work on its own merits even without the CLOVERFIELD name in the title.  Unfortunately, however, the name is in the title and the fact that is so loosely connected is a shame.  It’s pretty much not connected to the earlier movie at all.  Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS (2012) was more connected to the ALIEN series.

Why does this matter?  Let me use another movie to make my point.  Take JAWS (1975) for example.  And let’s say instead of JAWS 2 (1978) the next movie in the series was called 10 JAWS LANE, and in this movie, there’s no shark, there’s no Brody, no Matt Hooper, it doesn’t take place on Amity Island, and heck it’s not even about a shark!  It’s about an unknown threat that may or may not be lurking in the ocean while our characters are holed up in an underground bunker.  It’s a well-made movie, but without even one reference to the events in the previous film, I think audiences would have been miffed, and they probably would have felt cheated.  That’s how I felt towards 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.

All this being said, I still enjoyed 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, although it’s nowhere near as good a movie as CLOVERFIELD.

It is suspenseful, though, as it plays more like an Alfred Hitchcock movie than a horror movie.  Is this bad?  Not at all, but again, it works against the expectations generated by the CLOVERFIELD name.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a decent thriller, but it’s not CLOVERFIELD, nor is it related to it in any way shape or form.  And when your namesake is one of the finest giant monster movies ever made, the fact that you share no connection to it, is definitely not something worth celebrating.

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