Monday, October 31, 2011

“Dracula” and “Drácula”

Less than a decade after “Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens” Universal studios obtained the legal rights to “Dracula” from Stoker’s widow, and filmed what is quite possibly the most famous vampire film ever. Directed by Tod Browning, it is based not on the novel, but on a popular play version of the story by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. The play had done well in England and both on and off Broadway in the United States. As a result of the requirements of the theater, the number of characters is reduced, and the Transylvania sections of the book are absent from the play.

The Browning version of “Dracula” has been criticized for its lack of vision in using film techniques. In spite of the work of gifted cinematographer Karl Freund who had filmed “Metropolis” and would go on to direct Universal's “The Mummy,” it comes across as merely a filmed play, with few of the embellishments that the medium of film would allow. Some go so far as to credit any good portions of the film to Freund and not Browning. (The Spanish version, filmed concurrent with the English has a more creative approach to the subject.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The 20 Best Horror Movies

Here is a list of—in more or less ascending order of quality—the best horror films ever made. Not scary thrillers or tense action, but the stories that creep that disturb on a thoughtful level. These are not the scariest, goriest, or the most squirm inducing films. They have something to communicate. They want you to think about things that are important to think about. That does not mean that what they have to say is always right, but they are making an attempt.

20. Shaun of the Dead (2004) (for more thoughts click here)

19. Shadow of the Vampire (2000) (for more thoughts click here)

18. Dracula (1931) (both versions as the Spanish one is better in some aspects)

Friday, October 28, 2011


One of those movies that everyone seems to praise these days simply because it is old and cutting edge for its time, “Vampyr” was largely panned in its day. If “real” people were to watch it today (rather than film historians or artsy critic types) they too would probably not give it much praise. The film is lethargic and dreamy, if you can stay awake. Any early sound picture, it is a poor example of the use of sound—even for those early days. An example such as Hitchcock’s “Blackmail” is a much better first effort.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Fright Night" 2011

This year’s “Fright Night” gave us a perfect example of a remake that hits the basic plot points of a story but manages to completely miss the point. The original was so much more than just a “vampire next door” story. That and the fact that the characters share the same names are almost all that these two films have in common.

In the original, we had a fan of classic horror fiction realizing that such monsters were real and that one lived next door to him. He had to spend a good deal of the movie convincing others of that fact, and then fight the monster to save the day. In the original, he teamed up with a has-been actor who was an expert in the fiction but someone who had to be convinced of the reality of the situation. The film was mostly about faith and believing in a reality that most cannot or do not want to accept.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Let Me In"

The remake of “Let the Right One In” is unusual. Often an American remake of a foreign film is either unnecessary because the only “improvement” it brings to the equation is that American audiences do not have to read subtitles; or a shame because they change things that make the picture worse. In this case the differences are subtle, but a slight improvement in some areas. In the end, however, it probably ranks in the unnecessary category.

Among the changes that are improvements:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Wir sind die Nacht"

“We Are the Night” is a light piece of contemporary vampire fiction. One cannot call these sorts of films horror anymore, as there is not attempt to scare people in this new wave of the genre. On the positive side, at least this is not one of those “vampires are so wonderful” stories. Actually it may be more of a response to that.

In this tale the vampires start out glamorous and powerful, but their (un)lives are empty and unfulfilling. All of them are female, as the male vampires were too reckless and attracted attention leading to them being killed off by humans or, eventually, the females seeking more anonymity. (Laughable with the high profile the females in this film maintain.) The story is told from the perspective of a thief whom the main vampire turns. She does not hold to the evil ways of vampiredom and gets the others all noticed and killed.

Overall the film is well done. The second unit shots of Berlin are great, in fact. The director Dennis Gansel’s previous film “Die Welle” is high on my list of German films to see, but this one is not on the same level of importance.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Demonology and Eschatology, Hollywood Style Part 2

The world after the turn of the century is similar in many ways to the way it was in the seventies. (See Part 1) In spite of the changes in world politics and in cinema technology, the same sorts of stories are speaking to people. In the supernatural horror genre, much of the commentary from the original “Exorcist” and “Omen” apply to their sequels and reboots. However, some of the battles against demonic evil explore some interesting ideas.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

10 of the Scariest Films I Have Seen

Most “scary” movies are scary the first time around. There’s always the unknown—will there be a jump right around the corner? Is something gross about to pop out of nowhere? However, after you know what is coming, there is almost no movie that can truly scare. Perhaps gross-out, depress or traumatize but that is not exactly scaring. Most horror these days is not about scaring people—at least not in the way that makes you keep thinking about the scariness and the implications of the horror after you leave the theater. What follows are ten plus movies that truly do scared me, and still do every time I see them:

1. “Rear Window” 

The well crafted suspense thriller from Hitchcock places the viewer in the perspective of the hero/man damsel in distress so effectively that when the killer looks right at the camera towards the end, audiences audibly react, and I still get shivers every time.

2. “El Laberinto del Fauno” 

Creepy throughout in that fairy-tale way; especially in the scene where our heroine is tasked with stealing a dagger from the Pale Man. All she has to do is resist the food on his table. Anyone familiar with fairy-tales sees what is coming a mile away and is on pins and needles throughout the scene.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Demonology and Eschatology, Hollywood Style Part 1

Hollywood has a renewed interest in the Christian audience (and its wallets) since the success of “The Passion of the Christ.” However, that is not the first time Christianity—and Catholicism in particular—has generated a lot of interest from the movie industry. In the seventies, there was a huge interest (not overly welcomed by the Church) generated with films like “The Exorcist” and “The Omen.”

The thing that stands out in these films is the religious nature of the Church. Normally, a Christian worldview informed by the Bible would see reality as being completely under the sovereign control of God, with no power in creation able to oppose Him. All creatures and all of history are under His control. Instead in the Hollywood version of Catholicism (as well as unfortunately throughout the history of the Church) Christianity is just one among many religions representing competing, often regional deities. The priests in these films always seem on the verge of failing and, in doing so, screwing up the will of God.

The demonology and eschatology of Hollywood is—not surprisingly—unbiblical and quite messy. Is that all these films have to offer, or is there something to be salvaged among all the questionable theology? Looking at the examples from the seventies will get us started:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Russian Horror Fantasy

A few years ago, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov made a splash in world cinema with his “Night Watch” and “Day Watch” movies. It was for Russian cinema sort of like the moment in 1977 when Lucas released his first “Star Wars” film. Both are instances of elaborate, visionary and epic story telling while still a bit corny and technically limited by circumstances. Unfortunately for Russia, Bekmambetov was scooped up by Hollywood. His production “Apollo 18” came out this year and he directed next year’s highly anticipated “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

His “Night Watch” films are entertaining and rich, if a bit hard to follow in their complexity. It is your classic good vs. evil story in the same vane as “Star Wars.” However, much like “Star Wars,” it contains a troubling and widely held flaw of a worldview.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Let the Right One In"

One of the biggest dangers for film critics (especially “real” ones who get paid to watch nearly every film released in a year) is the fact that novelty and distinctness stands out and is rewarded. Sometimes the critic forgets to ask, “Is this film great?” and falls into the trap of rewarding a film simply because it stands out as being unique. Uniqueness is good, but only one among many factors by which a film should be measured.

Others would be things like technical quality, intrinsic beauty, and the qualities of the story—its truth, its message and its structure.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Red State"

Kevin Smith comes across as a somewhat talented, intuitive storyteller. He may work at studying and developing his craft, but that isn’t apparent in the results he has produced thus far. That being said, “Red State” is unlike his other work in tone, style and themes. Where it is not, is in his effort to make a statement about the wrongs he observes in the culture; as well as in his resulting need to tweak the conventions of that culture.

In “Red State” there is something for everyone. The most talked about inspiration for this movie has been the most recent in a long line of groups co-opting the name “Christian” to spout hate and vitriol. However, there is also plenty of uncomfortable satire reserved for the American government as well in this movie. Both of these targets are thematically and ideologically tied together in American culture; with the way that our society has been increasingly isolated into extreme camps of thought since the early nineties. Thus the name of the movie, which refers to the division as seen in the red vs. blue states; although the film may be seen to imply that the conservative elements in society today are the only ones capable of extreme tendencies.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"The 'Burbs"

“The ‘Burbs” is not cinema greatness. Even in the cannon of Joe Dante films it is not among the first few to spring to mind. It is good eighties fun though. You have the Americana setting, the dark humor, and Tom Hanks still in his “funny” everyman as opposed to his “respected and powerful” everyman. Everything is great up to a point.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

1981 in Film

1980 may have been a tough year to rate here, but 1981 is decidedly harder. One of the more entertaining tools one can use to help rate films and jog the memory is over at However, a perusal through 1981’s films makes one wonder where a bunch of those movies have been hiding for the past thirty years; though most don’t make one want to go find them. Here are the meager memories of 1981 from NonModernBlog:

Personal Best Films of 1981: 

1. Chariots of Fire
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
3. The Great Muppet Caper
4. Buddy Buddy
5. For Your Eyes Only
6. Clash of the Titans
7. The Fox and the Hound

Films I Still Need to See:
On Golden Pond
Time Bandits
Die Bleierne Zeit
Christane F. Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Formative Film Moment

When I was sixteen years old, a classmate of mine told a bunch of us that he had a movie we had to watch. He said it was art. Now, that could go one of two ways. I had classmates who were really into film. One of them had a notebook where he kept a record and review of every single movie he had ever seen. Then I had the classmates who were into the things that 16 year olds were into. I didn’t know which sort Alejandro was.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Oh, Those Kooky Virgins!

Why is it that in the world of movies, all the crazy, psychopathic women are repressed virgins?

Last year we had Nina Sayers in “Black Swan.” The story received a lot of critical acclaim. It was well made and interesting viewing, but hardly among the top ten most riveting stories told. At first glance it seems to benefit from its novelty, but it really isn’t that fresh. The story is the old one of a girl who is too nice to succeed and must find her darker self to overcome. It has the old elements of a haunting doppelganger (which will concern this blog later this year in more Charles Williams fiction), the currently popular body horror, and the nutty female who is afraid of sex.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"The Mist" ...a Review with Spoilers

This is the movie that caused my wife to declare she will not watch any more of my horror movies with me ever again. That is not because it is scary. She doesn’t generally scare anyway. Let’s just say it is the feel-bad movie of its decade; and we saw “Children of Men.”

Premise: man and son head to the store after a major storm to stock up on supplies before they are all sold out. While there a mist covers the town and there are things in the mist that kill people so no one can leave.

In this sort of story you don’t really have to fear the monsters. It is easy enough to shut them out and stay away from them. What you fear is society, the people in the store with you. You can’t easily get away from them and you never know what a group of people under stress will do.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Buffy Excursus: Repentance

Willow and Buffy demonstrate some good illustrations of repentance in season six.

In “Smashed” and “Wrecked” we see Willow descend into the depths of denial and addiction to the point where she actually hurts others. In the before this crash happens, she is warned by her friends that she has a problem, and she even says she will do something about it when Tara threatens to end their relationship. However, this is a good example of the way others cannot force us to repent of something that we do not see as a problem.

A Buffy Excursus: Community

One of the major themes in traditional vampire literature and story is the importance of the community of faith. It is not always highlighted in film adaptations and interpretations, but the novel Dracula accentuated the need for a group of people to band together to resist the evil threat.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” has always made a point to stick to this theme. Even when most see the core idea as one of feminism and inverting the damsel in distress trope; the thing that makes Buffy the most successful in the long line of slayers preceding her is the fact that she has a group of friends and family that help her in her quest. She does not stand alone against evil.

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 6a)

Season Six has always been my least favorite prior to this viewing. That does not mean it does not have a lot to say, nor that it is not well made and thought out. It is just some of the hardest good television to watch.

<--Season 5d  Season 6b-->

As the series reached its end on the WB Network it pulled out all the stops and came up with a great, climactic END. When UPN resurrected the series, the storyline suffered much of the same difficulties that the characters were facing. The result is a depressing look at some depressing characters making a bunch of poor life choices.

This is metaphorically seen in the way I am watching the seasons this year. Seasons one through five (and seven for that matter), are all ones I have owned for years and are on region 1 DVDs. They do not contain the “previously on Buffy” introductions before each episode. Season Six, being the one that I never cared for and therefore didn’t own, is region 2 and does have the handy recap scenes included. This serves to heighten the soap opera aspect of the show; which is a bit over the top this year.

The big change/problem of this season emerges right away:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hollywood and Another Spirituality Fail

Hollywood has always tried to tap into the religious market, and to tell stories that explore spiritual and philosophical themes. In the last decade, “The Passion of the Christ” reminded them that this audience in particular is a good target to shoot at, and renewed interest in stories that address spiritual and religious directly. Of course, horror has always tended toward those ideas but even before Mel Gibson mixed Christianity and Grand Guignol, filmmakers started taking a closer look at faith and the philosophy of religion in movies like “Candyman,” “In the Mouth of Madness,” and “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.”

So, when Craven wrote and directed last year’s “My Soul to Take,” and the previews showed a potential spiritual aspect to the story, interest here was peaked.

Friday, October 7, 2011

More Top Movies: Wallace and Gromit

Another medium that deals surprisingly frequently with themes of horror is animation. It shouldn’t be so surprising, though as the best children stories are always somewhat scary. That is the way stories should be if they want to entertain, inform, and moralize for children.

The “Wallace and Gromit” series of films is a great example of this idea. The four shorts and one feature staring the pair have all been inspired to one degree or another by horror fiction. The very first adventure had the pair flying to the moon and contending with an alien robot. Next they took on a lodger who turned out to be a murderous thief, and echoed a lot of early Hitchcock along the way. They then had to fight a lamb thief and a serial killer. (Yes, a serial killer!)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Horror Out of its Element: Musical

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is just one of many examples of the Horror genre delivered in the ironic medium of “the musical.” One may think of films like “Little Shop of Horrors” or “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for other examples. These efforts use the expectations of the musical to make the horror all the more intense and… horrifying. It may be bad enough to have a story about murder and cannibalism; but what if the characters were singing and dancing their way through the piece?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Twins of Evil"

“Twins of Evil” came late in the Hammer Horror classic run, about the time when their brand of scares had gotten more than a bit rusty and they were desperately trying to hang on to an audience through dubious means. That translated into more blood and breasts, but even considering these movies are 40 years old these films can seem quaint and tame in the “adult content” department. Most of these late Hammers are devoid of any quality or thought, but “Twins” is surprisingly deep in its content.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Doctor Who??

There is an old story of a magazine writer who wrote serialized adventure tails. After on particularly amazing cliffhanger, he asked for an increase of pay, and quit when he didn’t get it. The editor tried desperately to get someone to write the hero out of his predicament, but no one could solve the problem. Finally he was forced to hire the writer back. The next story began with the line something to the effect of: “After escaping from his last tight spot…”

Monday, October 3, 2011


What would happen if the Zombie apocalypse was a result, not of an alien virus or germ warfare gone bad, but due to a mental contagion? That is the disturbing question that “Pontypool” tries to answer. It is a well done example of a film that tells a big story with little expense or scope. It could even work very well as a stage play. (In fact, the script was simultaneously used for this film and a radio drama.
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