Another week, another story on the attempt by Universal Studios to create a “Monsterverse,” leading to another bit of fretting on my part. I agree with the points in this piece, and I’ve already written about why I think the approach is misguided (at best), but after some online conversation with some friends, I am increasingly of the opinion that Universal’s project would be doomed no matter what the approach. Much as it pains me to admit it, we may be past the era in which any revival of these characters would stand a chance. [Read more…]
Ib Melchior passed away on March 13, at the age of 97. His death was rather overshadowed in genre circles by those of two far more famous figures in the field, so I’m going to take a few moments now to remember the contributions of the novelist, screenwriter and director. While his most notable contributions have been more SF than horror, there are enough horrific elements in his work that I think he has a place in this column.
The most high-profile works associated with him are ones where his involvement was in one way or another indirect. He wrote the English-language script for Mario Bava’s SF/horror masterpiece Planet of the Vampires (1965). His concept Space Family Robinson (later a comic book) was, he claims, plagiarized by Irwin Allen as Lost in Space, and indeed, when the film version came along in 1998, Melchior was a paid consultant. And his short story “The Racer” was the basis for Paul Bartel’s brilliant (and ever-more-topical) satire Death Race 2000 (1975).* [Read more…]
Like almost everyone else, my first encounter with Leonard Nimoy was in his Spock role. But as I watched endless reruns of Star Trek in my elementary school years, I did not have much awareness of the actor behind the character. The names in the credit sequence meant little. They were less real than the characters themselves. I knew that Spock wasn’t real, of course, but imaginatively and emotionally he was. The real person behind the character barely registered in my consciousness. [Read more…]
February is Women in Horror Month (details about which can be found here), and in the spirit of that celebration, let me say a few words of appreciation for Ruth Rose, the screenwriter to whom all giant apes owe a great debt. Her most celebrated contribution to horror film is her re-writing of the script for King Kong, though she also wrote Son of Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949). I want to pause on her contribution to King Kong, though, because what she did with an already existing story gave it a sophistication and a depth that the film’s remakes, no matter how ambitious, have failed to equal.
King Kong’s original script was by the mystery novelist Edgar Wallace, who died before he could revise the initial draft. This was extensively reworked by James A. Creelman, and then his script was, in turn, reworked by Rose. Ray Morton’s King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson describes Ruth’s specific contributions, such as streamlining the plot and improving the dialogue, but what I find most interesting is this: [Read more…]
I didn’t get the chance to read as many books or watch as many films as I would like this year, and so any ruminations on my part about what might or might not constitute the best of the year should be taken with a Dead Sea’s worth of salt.
My impression is that by and large, this has not been a stellar year for horror movies in the theatres. The box office returns tend to confirm that perception, which leads to Scott Mendelson’s gloomy appraisal of the situation here. But what needs to be factored in, regarding horror’s relatively poor showing in terms of numbers, is how few of this year’s films are actually any good. Compounding the problem is the fact that the two recent movies receiving the most glowing acclaim — Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook — have received criminally minimal distribution. Last I heard, The Babadook, which by all accounts is absolutely terrifying and would be leading my Best-Of list had I been able to see it, has only played in a single theatre in all of Canada. I hope to catch both of these films in 2015, but as I have yet to see them, I can’t say anything else about them in the context of this column other than express my anticipation. And here, have a trailer. [Read more…]
In 2012, we witnessed an unusual (to put it mildly) phenomenon: The Avengers was simultaneously the start of a new franchise, and a sequel to four other franchises: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk. There was, however, a precedent. Almost 60 years earlier, in 1943, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was a sequel to both The Ghost of Frankenstein (and thus the fourth Frankenstein film) and The Wolf Man. The two series merged into one, and Dracula would be added to the mix in the films that followed. The continuity was very loose, but it was there all the same.
Now, Universal has announced that it is rebooting (yet again) its monster titles with the purpose of aping the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All the icons from the 30s and 40s will be present: the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and the Invisible Man. Also present is the late arrival from the 50s, Universal’s last classic monster: the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Though the official start to the Monsterverse is the Mummy reboot in 2016, it appears that Dracula Untold has been rejigged slightly to act as a prologue (assuming it isn’t a miserable failure). [Read more…]
There is no denying that extreme horror, at its worst, fulfils pretty much every outside observer’s worst surmises about quote-unquote torture porn. But at its best, it has a merciless rigour that pushes viewers into places they may not wish to go but are important for them to confront. Fabrice Du Welz’s Calvaire (2004) is a case in point.
Calvaire is a Belgian film and not, strictly speaking, part of the New French Extreme trend in horror films (Inside, High Tension, Martyrs, etc.). But if we reconsider the term slightly as the New French-Language Extreme, then it fits in very nicely with its dark cousins (and Martyrs, a France-Canada co-production, becomes a better fit as well). While not as gory as some, its unblinking willingness to explore the heart of darkness marks it, for me, as part of that loosely defined movement.* [Read more…]
July 31 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of director Mario Bava. If this means something to you, feel free to skip the rest of this blog. If the name is unfamiliar to you, let me bend your ear for just a few minutes. Here are just a few of the reasons why horror (and, to a lesser degree, SF) owes him so much.
1. Black Sunday (1960). Bava’s directorial debut kicks off the age of Italian horror cinema. The film’s extraordinary beauty would be reason enough to celebrate it, but it also brought horror stardom to Barbara Steele. Steele is one of the few women to become a horror icon for playing both victim and villain — sometimes both in the same film, as is the case here. [Read more…]
As something of an appendix to our Shoot the WISB discussion of the new Godzilla (where we were joined by Rachael Acks), I thought I’d talk a bit about something that I’ve always found very striking about It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955): the portrayal of Faith Domergue’s character, Professor Lesley Joyce. She is, on the one hand, part of a mini-trend in 50s monster movies where women are scientists (Them!, Creature from the Black Lagoon), roles that were virtually non-existent in the films of the preceding decades.* What makes It stand out, though, is that the narrative is at least as concerned with Joyce’s struggles to be taken seriously in a male-dominated world as it is about Ray Harryhausen’s magnificent octopus.
Joyce is, unsurprisingly, the only female character of any importance in the film. What is unusual, however, is that we are meant to notice her position, repeatedly pointed out in her interactions with submarine commander Peter Mathews. The latter is played by Kenneth Tobey, doing very much the same self-confident officer as in The Thing (1951). He keeps refusing to take her seriously, and the body language in the (colourized) still below is pretty telling: [Read more…]
The Marvel logo that introduces the company’s movies (and their respective trailers) is a pretty sharp piece of work. That flipping by of comic book images primes the viewers, gesturing toward the history of all that came before. I bet that many viewers feel a bit of a thrill the moment that logo appears, even if — when seeing a trailer for the first time — they don’t know what movie is coming up after those images.
I have much the same reaction to the new Hammer logo, which you can check out here. Hammer Studios are a storied institution. They brought Quatermass to the big screen and revived Gothic horror with 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein. That first pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee has a hallowed place in horror history, as do the films that followed. But the late-sixties and early-seventies brought difficult times to Hammer. Films such as Rosemary’s Baby, Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist changed the face of the horror film. Hammer’s period pieces, which had been so radical with their colour, gore and sexuality (tame though those elements appear today), now seemed quaint. Attempts to modernize (Dracula A.D. 1972) were met with mixed success (to put it kindly). The last theatrical hurrah was To the Devil… A Daughter in 1976, an attempt both to follow up the earlier success of The Devil Rides Out and mimic The Exorcist. [Read more…]