Thursday, October 30, 2014

NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979, WEST GERMANY)

12 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN!
DAY 11
Nosferatu 1922
Nosferatu 1979
Nosferatu, the Vampyre (1979) is how you do a remake! You bring all the elements from the original: the creepy castle of Nosferatu, the ill-fated ship transporting the vampire, and the confrontation between Nosferatu and his beloved at the end of the film. But you add new elements to the story to round the whole thing out. The embellishment on the details of the plague is the chief example, as well as the surprise twist to the ending that those that have seen the original (me at least) may not have been expecting here.

The scariest thing about the original is just the look of Max Schreck's Nosferatu. You may say his exaggerated features make him look too non-human. But I think Schreck's look is the best thing about the original. Klaus Kinski's Nosferatu  in this remake is still scary looking, but his appearance is toned down considerably. His eyebrows are less out of control, his ears less exaggeratedly pointy, but he is still a scary looking vampire. His at least reasonable proximity to a man does give him room to seem closer to the human species than the original. But not by much.

Additional casting notes: I recall on the commentary track for the movie Fitzcarroldo, how director Werner Herzog talked about how difficult Klaus Kinski was to work with. It should tell you about how good Kinski was that Herzog would keep using him in film after film. He is a marvelous and intense Nosferatu and is great to watch on screen. Extra hazard points to director Herzog for being able to rein in this difficult thespian here and elsewhere.

The movie also benefits from two strong actors in the roles of Jonathan and Lucy Harker: Bruno Ganz (later my all-time favorite Hitler in Downfall) and Isabelle Adjani (two-time Academy Award nominee.) 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

PONTYPOOL (2008)

12 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN!
DAY 10


Pontypool is actually not in the 1001 book, but I had heard some good things about it and thought I might be give it a go.

The plot concerns a radio station featuring a radio shock jock named Mazzie and his station manager who slowly gets word of odd events in their town that leads them to eventually realize that their community is being overrun by strange and monstrous forces.

The big difference in this film and other zombie films I have seen (I admit I haven't seen too many of this genre) is that it relies heavily on dialogue and suspense as supposed to shock value. Admittedly, there are a couple of  scenes of traditional horror like the engineers descent into the undead in the picture above, but much is left up to the viewers imagination.

But is this film actually an allegory on how the words that spew from these radio shock jocks infects its listeners and causes them to be zombies at best or angry and violent at worst? Maybe Ted Nugent should have played the lead.


Additional casting notes: I didn't really mean that about casting Ted Nugent because Stephen McHattie does such a grand job in this role. McHattie has seemingly been around forever and ads a grizzled deep-throated credibility to the role of Mazzie. I was wondering what I remember McHattie the most in. He's played small parts in big films like 300 and Watchmen, TV shows like Seinfeld and movies like Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills, a movie that I somehow missed. For some reason, I also remember him in an uninspired TV remake of Rosemary's Baby from the 70's called Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

THE BLACK CAT (1934)

12 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN!
DAY 9


I still have a great deal of affection for those Universal horror movies from the 1930's. They can be a bit stiff and clumsy and these old films seems ready to snap, crackle and pop off the screen at times! But that's part of their appeal. This loose adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story features Bela Lugosi as Dr. Peter Verdegast (a great name) who through a series of circumstances ends up at the creepy home of his former colleague and adversary Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff! and another great character name). He  arrives there with a couple he met at on the coach on the way to see Poelzig. The movie is creepy at times and silly at other times, but really, the main reason to see the movie is Bela and Boris.

Additional casting notes: Bela Lugosi hit big with Dracula in 1931 and Karloff hit it big with Frankenstein the same year. It was only natural that Universal would quickly try to team the two of them up. The Black Cat was the first of eight films they made together. 

Lugosi can go over the top at times. It's really part of his charm, to be honest. His screaming at the sight of a black cat is a little much for me. But the scene where he gets emotional over his departed wife is pretty touching. Karloff does sinister well. He exudes that old world charm, but you always suspect him of having bodies in the basement. In this film, that is literally true! It is great to see them together and I even enjoy the scenes of them playing chess.

The Tim Burton movie Ed Wood shows Bela at the end of his life as a drug addict who can only appear in movies with the worst filmmaker in the world (Ed Wood Jr., not Tim Burton). He is shown as being hopelessly jealous of Karloff and out of touch with reality, but the film's closing crawl points out that Bela's memorabilia far outsells Karloff memorabilia.

But in the Bela vs. Boris debate, I'm definitely a Karloff guy. So many good horror roles (Tower of London, The Body Snatcher, The Bride of Frankenstein) over the years and his final role in the 1968 film Targets, where he essentially plays himself is a favorite of mine. By all accounts a very proper English gentleman (real name Henry Pratt), who loved the game of cricket and a good cup of English tea, but when cameras rolled, the proper Mr. Pratt became Boris Karloff, the greatest horror star of his time.


Monday, October 27, 2014

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970, ITALY)

12 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN!
DAY 8


I really wasn't planning to watch two Dario Argento movies in the same week, (Suspiria being the other) but that's the way the tables often turn going through this list at times. This film does have a serial on the lose and contains its share of violence, but it is primarily a police procedural with a fish out of water American caught in the middle of a murder investigation and gets too heavily involved in trying to help solve it. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a pretty good thriller at that and doesn't play its plot hands too quickly.

Additional casting notes: It was great to see Tony Musante pop up as the lead in this movie. I remember Tony mostly from his one season as Toma, the master of disguise cop TV show from the early 70's. Tony left Toma after one season and the show was changed into Baretta and became an even bigger hit.

It's was also great to see  leading lady Suzy Kendall (To Sir, With Love) in anything. Truly one of the great beauties of the 60's.