How Annabelle and the Conjuring universe is connected to the Manson family murders

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As discussed in our latest podcast on Annabelle: Creation, the Conjuring universe is certainly expanding and this latest entry into the world feels like the first to make its mark.

Cinematic universes are fast becoming the next big thing – you can’t create a movie these days without looking beyond the movie that is being produced in order to explore untapped story potential.

Annabelle: Creation is no exception and a lot has been resting on the shoulders of this film to succeed in order for The Conjuring Universe to leap ahead with its grand plans.

Already committed to the franchise is ‘The Nun’ spinoff, heading to cinemas mid-next year, plus a stand-alone film centered on ‘The Crooked Man’ from The Conjuring 2, plus a third outing on the supernatural investigations led by The Warrens.

Overseeing this universe from a writing perspective is Gary Dauberman, who not only has cast his vision across the numerous films slated, but contributed towards the much-anticipated It movie, due to be released in the coming weeks.

What is notable however in Dauberman’s writing is his fascination with the occult and those that practice or delve into the dark arts.

Despite its obvious flaws, Annabelle’s beating heart centred upon ‘Satanists’ and that of a woman from an undisclosed cult projects her twisted soul into the titular doll and thereby exacting its demonic will upon the afflicted family.

What has this all to do with the Manson family murders, I hear you cry?

Well, sandwiched in-between the release of Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation, Dauberman worked on a little movie called Wolves At The Door, a tough, hard-hitting drama horror based on the Sharon Tate murders.

Those who are unfamiliar with this case, there were 5 victims in total, murdered in the home of Sharon Tate, wife to director Roman Polanski at the time and who was 8 months pregnant when she was killed.

The murders were carried out by four of Charles Manson’s ‘family’ by climbing into the estate and carrying out one of the most brutal and documented crimes in Hollywood.

It’s a dark subject and perhaps due to its historical context makes the viewing all the more harder to take on-board despite its lenient running time.

The connection doesn’t just stop with this movie though, as a more obvious relation is at play in Dauberman’s writing in the form of this guy.

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Eric Ladin’s detective character, Clarkin was last seen in the Annabelle movie, charged with overseeing the murders that took place at the start, and would be called upon by Mae to discuss the ‘ritual’ behavior that was carried out.
“Crazy people do crazy things sometimes.”
A line that he mentions in passing to sum up all the horror that has unfolded and would be repeated again in Wolves At The Door, when Clarkin is again called in to investigate a break-in that has all the hallmarks of satanic beliefs and the precursor to the Sharon Tate murders.

His appearance may be minor in both films, but is there more to be uncovered in this character?

Does Dauberman have any plans to explore this character further? Could we expect another spinoff following Detective Clarkin’s investigations?

With the expanding universe, anything’s possible, right?

 

– Paul Farrell

 

The rise, fall, and stumbling rise of M. Night Shyamalan

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Like me, you may have believed that The Sixth Sense was M. Night Shyamalan’s directorial debut, such was the impact that movie had on his career and the horror genre.

Before this movie awakened our senses and Shyamalan became known as the director with the twist endings, he would take the helm with two other features, Praying with Anger, and Wide Awake.

The former would see Shyamalan write, direct, produce, and star (a sign of things to come) in a self-reflective story about an Indian American, who was raised in the States who goes to India to study, and a conflict of Western and Native culture collide.

Clearly, there is a lot of the director’s love and labour thrown into this project as he covers every aspect of the production process.

Six years later (1998) Shyamalan would venture into his sophomore feature with Wide Awake, a comedy drama starring Denis Leary, Dana Delany, and Rosie O’Donnell.

Once more faith, and religion (a reoccurring them in Shyamalan’s work) would play a part in this story, as a 10-year-old searches for answers around life and death.

Another signature that would return for the third movie and the film that would put Shyamalan’s name on the map would be to tell the story through the eyes of a young boy, capturing the essence of innocence in a ‘brave new world’.

The Sixth Sense

The blessing and the curse

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards and thrust Shyamalan into the spotlight.

The Sixth Sense has been referenced and parodied on numerous occasions, and cemented itself firmly into pop culture.

Starring Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, and career defining performance from Hayley Joel Osmont.

Despite all the accolades thrust toward the movie, because of its ‘surprise ending’, it falls into the trap of lost magic, once the reveal is apparent.

People may have been keen to re-watch and scrutinise every aspect for the clues set up along the way, but essentially, you could never capture THAT moment again with repeat viewing.

It’s a strong contender in Shyamalan’s canon of work, but arguably not his finest hour for this writer.

Personally, I don’t feel he has managed to top his follow-up movie…

Unbreakable

The elevation of success continues

Bruce Willis would once again work alongside Shyamalan following the success of The Sixth Sense.

This time Samuel Jackson and Robin Wright, rounding out a stellar cast that would accompany him.

Shyamalan’s ode to the comic book genre has been labelled as one of the best superhero movies of all time and you can clearly see the director’s love for the subject.

Unbreakable is a wonderful shot and beautifully told story that pits Willis’ David Dunn, a man who discovers that he is as the title suggests, unbreakable when he is the lone survivor of a train crash.

Dunn pits his strength and wits against Jackson’s Elijah, his polar opposite in that his body is prone to fracturing easily and in my mind, one of the best things about the film is the way Shyamalan’s narrative leads you to believe and identify with the reasons that Elijah resorts to villainous behaviour, a topic that many have tried but failed to convey.

Shyalaman’s third success would come in the form of…

Signs

The last hurrah?

Signs would complete Shyalaman’s hat trick of successes before his fall from grace.

Once more faith is put under scrutiny when Gibson’s Father Graham Hess is struggling to identify with his religion after the loss of his wife.

It’s his acceptance of that grief that shoulders him and ultimately his family through an alien invasion that threatens their way of life.

With each movie Shyamalan has released his formula had been pretty consistent, but audiences were starting to wisen up to his craft.

His next feature would break the camels back and see a downward trend in Shyamalan’s fortunes.

The Village

The one trick pony revealed

I’m gonna ask a question here relating to The Village, which in my opinion has received unfair criticism towards it.

If Shyamalan had not been the director, would we (the audience) have been so scornful?

Too many people had become familiar with the directors trick of adding a surprise ending that when said trick arrived in The Village, there was a sense of being let down.

“Oh, is that it? WTF!!”

However, if you take Shyamalan out of the equation and simply look at the movie on its own merit, it’s actually a lot stronger than our immediate reactions warranted.

Joaquin Phoenix returns as Shyamalan’s latest muse, this time portraying Lucius one of the next generation of a secluded villagers that we’re led to believe darkens back to days of yore, such is the existence that the inhabitants lead.

Believing that their secret is set to be exposed, the Elders are rescued by a stroke of luck when a blind girl, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) ventures out into the outside world to retrieve some much needed medicine.

As I said, I liked this movie. Agreed not Shyalaman’s finest hour but it’s a solid movie.

Any fans of the directors work that found themselves sitting on the fence of uncertainty about Shyalaman’s directing prowess, would find their confidence drift further with his follow up film…

Lady In The Water

The fall from grace

There’s no doubt in my mind that Shyalaman is a smart man.

His intelligence brims to the surface of all of his movies.

But like another smart man once said, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’

And with his recent run of successful movie hits, one can’t help but thing that Lady In The Water is an example of how the directors vision had left his vision firmly in the clouds.

You have to commend him for the effort portrayed in infusing a fantastical world based in reality, but Shyalaman is so absorbed in his own creation and egotistical views that he fails to see the bigger picture, and because of this, he loses his audience in a convoluted mess of a fairy tale.

What makes it worse, is the now notorious self-casting of the writer come to save us all.

It feels so egotistical that and the delusion is worrying sign for a director/writer who had shown so much promise.

And as if he were hell-bent on destroying his career, Shyalaman decides to kill off a character within the plot who just so happens to be a movie critic.

If Lady In The Water has one saving grace, it’s that Giamatti’s performance keeps the narrative bopping above the surface, but not even the addition of a good cast in support, notably Bryce Dallas Howard as the nymph, Story, and Jeffrey Wright as Mr Dury can help save this film from drowning in a pool of its own vomit.

So, where to from here?

His first box office disappointment and Shyalaman chooses to push on regardless with…

The Happening

The film that limped across the line.

With a point to prove, Shyalaman would turn his attention next to a B-Movie horror with smarts.

But The Happening was hardly a victory.

Starring Mark Wahlberg, who himself criticised the film and Zooey Deschanel, an actress who usually sets the screen alight with her strong performances.

With a promising start, The Happening does hold promise, but the audience once again finds themselves lost in the lack of plot structure and smothered by the overbearing message on environmentalism.

By now, we’ve reached the mid-way point of Shyalaman’s career thus far and the feeling I get as I survey his filmography is that he’s a man with grand visions and ideas, but he’s not necessarily going to execute them effectively.

Case in point…

The Last Airbender

Dead on arrival

Based on the successful kids tv series on Nickelodeon, The Last Airbender should have been a success given its strong following, and this could be in part why it received a fairly strong opening weekend at the Box Office.

But the first movie that Shyalaman would attempt from a story that wasn’t his own would prove to be another failure for the director.

This film to me feels like a move from a guy who is lost in the world and with no sense of direction or where he is going.

Which is understandable considering his recent run of poor performances.

With a central character who displays no personality whatsoever and a script that clearly doesn’t connect with the writers ethos, The Last Airbender is a film that doesn’t even register on the Richter scale and doesn’t stir any emotion at all.

This is Shyalaman’s lowest point in his career.

When you reach rock bottom there’s only up though, right? Right?

An interesting response from Shyalaman during this time was to put on his producer hat and support another movie released in 2010 called Devil.

This film was actually quite good and showed promise, but importantly saw a success under Shyalaman’s name but this time not as a director.

That particular journey had still needed to right itself and was by far from finding solid ground.

Instead we’re treated to…

After Earth

The forgotten failure

This movie was essentially a passion project of Will Smiths.

Based on an idea that he developed, After Earth would also star Smith’s son Jayden and produced by Smith himself alongside his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith and Shyalaman.

The latter of whom feels like is still in self destructive mode, clambering up the sides of the hole of failure, which he pretty much dig himself.

As if he didn’t learn his last lesson, Shyalaman plummets into another disappointing film by tackling a story that is not his own.

Ironically, the director had lost faith in himself. Ironic in that faith is the very subject that fascinates this director when approaching storytelling.

Will Smith would describe After Earth as his most painful failure and there’s a reason that most people have tried to bury this movie from their minds, which falls just short of being the worst post apocalyptic sci-fi film of all-time.

No one can take Battlefield Earth off that mantle.

Wayward Pines

The much needed reprieve

Although his next move saw Shyalaman only serve as director for the pilot and serve as Executive Producer, the choice was an important step in his career.

By turning his attention to a different medium, (a tv series), Shyalaman would be able to realign himself once more.

Take stock and arguably bring him back into contention as an auteur once more.

The Visit

The reawakening

This could very well be the turning point that Shyalaman was searching for in his climb back into the realms of success again.

On face value it struck me as just another found footage horror, with the protagonists played by sibling kids, Becca and and Tyler (Olivia De Jonge and Ed Oxenbould who both deserve high recognition for their performances in this) who go to stay with Nana and Pop-Pop, grandparents they’ve never seen before, which automatically sent signals off for me.

The plot line is a little clumsy in places as Shyamalan stumbles his way through telling a story on new-found confidence, albeit a little shakily.

There is another strength in the tale though to allow Shyalaman to stride forward in his tale, as the right ingredients are in place to propel the story forward with fear and trepidation combined with a genuine care factor for the central characters involved.

My only niggle was the slight arrogance from Shyalaman from the role of Becca.

She speaks intelligently enough but it just dips slightly into the level of annoyance and too many scars are on display still from Shyalaman’s previous outings.

This aside, it plays along nicely enough with a reward that doesn’t feel forced.

It’s a strong sign of things to come.

Split

The return to form?

By the time I came around to watching this the word was already out and the spoilers had hit the net.

The audience reaction was… divided and yet I intended to come into this film with an open mind.

The pace and build up was faultless and thrust the viewer headlong into the ordeal that the 3 kidnapped girls face.

James McAvoy is simply outstanding displaying so many diverse personalities, although we only ever see 8 of the 24 in the film.

Perhaps because this would have been too confusing and the audience would have been lost.

Maybe Shyalaman has learnt his lesson after all?

Also making an impact on the screen in films such as Morgan and The Witch is Anya Taylor-Joy who delivers another defining turn as one of the kidnapped girls, Cassie, who has her own skeleton in her closet which becomes integral to the closing scenes of the movie.

There are some moments that he action is a little scattered in places but overall Shyamalan delivers a solid movie with the promise of an Unbreakable / Split crossover in the near future.

This news has got fans salivating at this prospect but also has film lovers in a frothing frenzy of anger at the idea of another movie being released by the director.

Has Shyamalan burnt too many bridges in his audience trust?

Is he bouncing back from redemption? And does have what it takes to another another successful feature?

Love him or hate him, I’ve come to admire his appetite to keep challenging himself and delivering compelling stories.

Each story he produces takes him in a different direction and he seems fearless to take on his visions.

Yes he may not land with every punch, but there’s not many other directors out there in the mainstream that continue to offer something new to the scene and to produce conversation with every project that he overseas.

For good or Ill, I’m glad to see someone like Shyamalan still producing in the film industry.

And I’ll have to hang my hat on that unpopular statement.

  • Paul Farrell

Movie Review: Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

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The first sequel to the Universal Dracula franchise would be released just five years after its predecessor.

In the last outing we saw the demise of the titular character at the hands of Professor Van Helsing, (played once again by Edward Van Sloan, and the only returning character to the franchise) who interestingly enough is on trial for the murder of the Count.

That in itself is something I’ve often pondered about. In a world where vampires and werewolves are the stuff of legend, if they were to exist, how would one prove it after they’ve been through such an ordeal and essentially disposed of the evidence?
Anyway, I digress.

Dracula’s Daughter is not only a sequel, but the start of a trend for Universal in order to keep their booming business going when your lead villain has been dispatched – by introducing an offspring.

We would see this repeated again with the likes of Son of Dracula and Son of Frankenstein.
In this instance the Dracula bloodline flows down to his daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska, with a suitably melodramatic performance from Gloria Holden (The Life of Emile Zola).

Her portrayal of the female vampire with a craving to be human (an act that she hopes will come true with the destruction of her father’s body) served as an inspiration to Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned.

The notion of a vampire’s desire to be human has often been looked at in films and novels throughout the years, but as far as I know, this is the first instance of it on the silver screen.

When Countess Zaleska burns the body of Dracula, with the help of her manservant, Sandor, she discovers that the curse has not been broken, so resorts to an alternate method of psychiatry instead.

In steps Dr. Garth (Otto Kruger, Saboteur) who may just have the answer she needs. Garth entices her to confront her demons head on, but her desire for blood proves too strong and she attacks a girl named Lili.

Broken and lost, the Countess feels her only option is to remain a vampire, but decides that Dr. Garth would prove a suitable companion in the after life.

So she resorts to kidnapping his true love, Janet (Marguerite Churchill, The Big Trail) and luring him back with her to Transylvania.

Dr Garth is willing to give up his life for the sake of Janet’s freedom, and all seems doomed for the Doctor, when the manservant Sandor puts a halt on the proceedings and kills the Countess in a jealous rage with an arrow through her heart.

Before he is able to exact his fury further, he too is brought down, when he is shot by a policeman.

~

Critics have been somewhat split in their reviews of Dracula’s Daughter, some citing its lush cinematography and praising both Director Lambert Hillyer’s work and the performance from Holden. Others say that it pails in comparison to Dracula.

I for one, found it strangely mesmerising and almost hypnotic with some of its lesbian overtones and this is in part down to Holden’s captivating presence on screen.

And like other critics, I too noticed a similarity to Sunset Boulevard in its themes, a film that I’m a great lover of and perhaps why I find myself drawn to this movie, despite it not carrying the same weight as Dracula.

I applaud its effort to push the story into a whole new direction and to offer some alternative narrative to the tried and tested monster storyline.

For this alone, I believe that Dracula’s Daughter its place alongside the movies that made Universal pictures a force to be reckoned with, and its perhaps a shame that it has been lost in the shadows of time due to the overwhelming impact that both Dracula and Frankenstein had on the industry.

– Paul Farrell
Lead Surgeon

Movie Review: XX (2017)

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Horror has a new voice and it’s all woman.

Xx is released on Blu-ray and DVD today, so I thought I’d write this review and share my thoughts.

Warning: contains spoilers for those who’ve not seen it yet.

I soooo wanted to like this movie.

So long now, women have been forced into the shadows unable to have a voice (with a few exceptions) so when I heard that four female directors would team up to deliver a collection of short horror stories for a feature, I was beyond excited about shifting that ‘male gaze’ with a much-needed feminine skew.

I have to say though, I was let down, although only marginally.

Features that contain short stories rarely work in my opinion.

Some come out stronger than others and the overall feel of the feature as a whole is a little unbalanced as a result.

Unfortunately, the weaker of these stories occur at the beginning of the movie.

So, let’s scrutinise this further by examining the shorts in question.

First up we’re presented with…

The Box

XX_The-Box

…which was also written by Jack Ketchum, who has 4 Bram Stoker awards to his name, so he is no stranger to the dark world, but with all due respect to him, I was kind of hoping that these collections would be 100% female orientated.

Not just with the writing but with the writing too and his addition mars this ever-so-slightly.

The Box presents a mysterious story centred around a mysterious red box that a guy is holding on a train.

A boy, Danny asks what’s inside and when he peers in an eerie transformation occurs, where he won’t eat anything anymore.

One by one the other family members succumb to this strange ‘virus’, all except the mother played by Natalie Brown (Channel Zero: Candle Cove).

The family end up starving to death, and the mother is left wandering the tubes in search of the man with the box and an answer to the mystery to no avail.

The Box has a cold heart at its core, and whilst it’s interesting enough leaves the viewer feeling a little empty and therefore struggles to pick up any energy moving forward, which it does attempt to do with the more light-hearted….

The Birthday Party

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Which stars the wonderful Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures) and it’s refreshing to see her on screen again.

Here she plays Mary, a housewife struggling in a troubled relationship

With her husband, David.

When she finds her husband dead on his home office, she struggles to hide this from her daughter, who just coincidentally is having her birthday party that day.

A sort of warped version of Weekend at Bernie’s, The Birthday unfolds with a comic lilt and is great insight into the vapid world of the social elite told from a mother struggling to keep up with the Joneses and all appearances to be pristine.

Written and directed by Annie Clark from St Vincent, this short feature would be best served as a single entity rather than absorbed in this group.

It’s certainly not a horror film despite it shedding light on a much heightened side of society, but by sitting alongside its fellow shorts here, it feels and makes the complete picture incredibly disjointed.

Next up…

Don’t Fall

XX_Dont-fall

Written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin, the third instalment feels like a nod to old school horror, and is quirky enough to stand out here, but rather than push the feature on in a stronger direction, it limps towards the finish line.

Set in remote desert, four campers encounter a creature that kills them one by one.

It has its funny moments of banter in the dialogue, but the care factor for the characters are low and because of this lack of engagement it’s hard for the viewer to empathise with their plight.

With more room to breathe and a possible feature in her hands, director Benjamin could still be someone to look out for as it does feel that she has more to say, and there’s enough in her writing that makes me willing to listen.

Onto the final instalment…

Her Only Living Son

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Thank God for Karyn Kusama.

Just when it feels like XX is dying out with a whimper the director of the brilliant The Invitation comes along with the final offering and you can certainly see that she owns her craft and her skillet is a lot higher than her female counterparts.

Her Only Living Son is a glorious tale of a mother who soon discovers that her suspicions about her son being the spawn of Satan are true.

I have to commend the performance from Christina Kirk as the matriarch caught between the love of her son and knowing that she must prevent the evil from seeping into the world before it’s too late.

It feels like Rosemary’s Baby told from the view of the baby reaching adulthood and that despair of being caught between doing the right thing as painful as that decision may be.

Thankfully Kusama’s story elevates Xx back up to a semi-decent level.

It’s not the best of features and it certainly struggles in places, but it does have its strong points too and by the very nature of its existence, it will have an important place in horror film history.

 

  • Paul Farrell
    Lead Surgeon

 

Movie review: The Invisible Ray (1936)

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THE BORIS KARLOFF / Bela Lugosi horror express kept on trucking along for Universal Pictures, but this was definitely Karloff’s showpiece and this lesser known film from the iconic duo probably deserves more recognition than it currently holds.

Karloff plays the eccentric scientist, Dr Janos Rukh, a man with a wild belief that he can use a telescope to reach out to the Andromeda Galaxy and use images of light to capture Earth’s past as seen from space.

Scoffed at by his colleagues, it is only when he is able to present his findings to Dr Benet (Lugosi) and Dr Stevens (Walter Kingsford) and is able to capture when a meteor had crashed into the Earth, that his skeptics sit up and take notice.

An expedition is planned where Rukh is charged with finding the fallen meteor.

When Rukh finds the meteor, he is unwittingly exposed to the radiation, Radium X, which effectively makes him glow in the dark with a fatal touch with skin to skin contact.

He is aided temporarily by Benet who discovers an antidote that can keep the radioactive poison at bay, but it’s not long before it starts to eat away at his mind and Rukh goes on a killer rampage fuelled with jealousy.

By this time, Rukh’s estranged wife has fallen in love with Ronald Drake, the nephew of Dr Stevens.

At first, Rukh reluctantly let’s her go, but this soon turns to hatred and moulds into his vicious plan to rid the world of those responsible (or so he believes) for his downfall.

Rukh succeeds in killing the Stevens’s and then ventures to off the remaining few.

As the film proceeds, it feels certain that the only person who can stop him is Benet, but even he is thwarted in a surprise move considering the casting of Lugosi attached to this character and perhaps more could have been done to play with this encounter.

Instead, it comes down to Rukh’s mother, (who is magnificently played by Violet Kemble Cooper)

to intervene and destroy the antidote, thus rendering Rukh to succumb to the radiation and go out in a blaze.

It’s a painful story, which treads a similar path to The Invisible Man, but in this instance there is more sympathy laid out to the central character, which is a testament to Karloff’s handling of such a role.

Special mention should go to Kemble Cooper, who almost steals the show with every scene that’s she’s in, deftly displaying a balance of eeriness with her psychic ability and blindness combined with the motherly love and protectiveness that she bestows upon Rukh.

Not a lot has been written about this movie and from what I have read, they err on the side of negativity, but I feel that there’s enough of a plot and structure to this movie that it warrants further scrutiny.

I found it a lot more engaging than Karloff and Lugosi’s previous outings and that The Invisible Ray could potentially be a forgotten classic as a result.

  • Paul Farrell

Movie review: The Raven (1935)

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IN THEIR THIRD appearance together for Universal Pictures, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi have the routine down pat.

Lugosi oozes maniacal glee as the Poe-obsessed surgeon with a torture chamber in his basement.

And Karloff, (who was billed with just his surname for this picture, which goes to show how symbolic his name had become in the industry) plays a fugitive on the run from the police.

The film begins with an actress, Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) hanging on for dear life after a car accident.

Her father and her betrothed seek the help of a retired surgeon, Richard Vollin (Lugosi) to pull her through.

Vollin then develops an unhealthy infatuation towards Jean, who is indebted to him for saving her life.

Vollin attempts to sway her much to the reluctance of Jean’s father.

A crazed plan only comes to light for Vollin when a chance encounter with Edmond Bateman (Karloff) seeking refuge with a proposed operation to change his appearance.

Bateman’s words hang firmly in the mind of Vollin when he mentions how being ugly may have led to him doing ugly things.

In what Bateman hopes will be a transformation for good, Vollin seizes upon this and turns him into a disfigure monster followed by a promise that he will aide him in exacting revenge on the Thatchers.

The conclusion of the movie centres on a dinner party which soon descends into the basement of torture, where one by one the guests face the likes of the pit and the pendulum, and the shrinking room.

It is Bateman’s tortured soul that wins the day though, as he searches for a good heart within and turns the tables on the fanatical Vollin, forcing him into the shrinking room and in turn his demise, but not without inflicting a fatal bullet wound in the process.

Upon release the movie received poor box office receipts, which is a shame, as I found the narrative and performances to be one of the strongest outside of the ‘monster’ features.

Both Lugosi and Karloff are particularly strong in their respective rolls, but it was deemed the subject matter of torture and disfigurement (themes that would be welcomed today among cinema-goers) too strong for the audience.

The following year would see Universal Pictures change hands, and the proprietors were less interested in the stories of the macabre and The Raven’s poor performance was evidence enough for them to make this decision. It not for long.

  • Paul Farrell

Movie review: Werewolf of London (1935)

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IT SEEMS ALMOST criminal that this movie has been somewhat forgotten albeit from the hardcore cinephile.

Werewolf of London will forever be cemented in history as the first mainstream Hollywood feature to centre on lycanthropy and as such contains all the ingredients that would inspire more well-known horror films down the track, chief among these would be An American Werewolf In London.

The film centres on Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull), a wealthy English botanist who ventures into Tibet in search of the rare mariphasa plant.

Whilst on his expedition, Glendon is attacked by a werewolf but lives to tell the tale, but must carry the curse inflicted upon him.

Glendon’s quest was not a complete failure as he was able to obtain a sample of the mariphasa plant and as luck would have it contains the antidote (albeit a temporary one) to the traits of lycanthropy.

Upon his return to London, Glendon meets a fellow botanist, Dr Yogami, with a peculiar background, and just do happens to also be a werewolf.

A conflict arises between the two of them, particularly as Glendon learns that Yogami was the same werewolf that bit him in Tibet.

As his condition escalates, Glendon ventures transformed into the streets of London raising havoc and carnage and attacking and killing people along the way.

Glendon’s plight increases further when Yogami steals the plant sample for himself.

The rage boils over and an almighty clash arises, resulting in Glendon overpowering his foe.

Now succumbed to the curse, Glendon is drawn to his one true love, Lisa (Valerie Hobson) and is finally ploughed down when he is shot and killed in his attempt to murder her.

His dying words are ones of  gratitude, as he transforms back to his former self, a tragic tale, which would be conveyed to its cinema going audience and many werewolf tales to come.

Hull’s performance is impeccably sound as Wilfred Glendon and captures both his profession and eventual transformation with great believability.

In fact, one could go on to argue that it is because of his performance and believability grounds this movie into reality and harnesses his despair even further.

Credit must also go to Jack Pierce, the man responsible for Boris Karloff’s make-up as The Monster in Frankenstein, and would produce the make-up here too, although a minimal version from what he had intended.

According to accounts from Hull’s family, he had insisted on pairing back effects so that his face could be more visible and recognisable.

Despite Pierce’s disapproval, Hull would succeed in getting what he wanted with the support of studio head, Carl Laemmle.

Pierce would however get to flex his creativity once more, six years later on Lon Chaney Jr in The Wolf Man, but event that didn’t go down too well and Pierce fast got a reputation that was unlikeable among his peers.

Despite all this, director Stuart Walker was able to steer the ship and deliver a solid movie as a result, which can feel a little dated by modern standards.

Classic horror enthusiasts may enjoy the trip back to where it all began, but it is tame compared to the films being generated today.

  • Paul Farrell

 

 

 

Movie review: The Mummy (2017)

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Or too many cooks spoil the cloth?

AT FIRST WHEN Universal first posed the concept of a shared Universe, now known as the Dark Universe, in order to release a string of movies that would link all their classic monsters together, I wanted to say that it was a bold approach, but it’s not exactly new.

As a fellow horror enthusiast pointed out on a social thread, Universal were the originators of the crossover worlds with the likes of House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula.

They were though, wanting to relaunch this product into a modern world for a contemporary audience, but there are a few things that prove as an obstacle to completing their vision.

And with these obstacles, Universal find themselves navigating a minefield of troubles which leads the picture to snag on every component along the way and unravel before our very eyes.

So let’s take a look at these obstacles, starting with the elephant in the room, otherwise known as…

Tom Cruise

Mummy-Tom-Crusie

I’ve been reading a lot about this in the past few days and something that strikes me a little is that people are very quick to point their fingers at Mr. Cruise, citing too much involvement and interference on his part.

But here’s the thing, whether or not this is true, the buck has to stop with Universal and their director.

They decided to cast Cruise in this vehicle and with that you have to expect him to bring some weight and opinion to the piece.

He is known for getting hands on with every project that he takes on, including all the stunts that he performs himself.

So why so surprised when this turns into a Tom Cruise project?

Director Alex Kurtzman may have handled big picture projects as a writer, but prior to The Mummy, he has handled only one other feature at the helm, People Like Us.

So was this a case that veteran actor, Cruise took advantage of this and began to steer said film instead?

Perhaps more questionable is that the script itself is so disjointed and incoherent that you wonder how someone like Kurtzman, (who also wrote this movie) with the vast amount of writing credits to his name managed to make such a botch job of it.

Which comes to the second point.

Lack of character.

Mummy-Ahmanet

Sure enough we are presented with a back story to Princess Ahmanet, but at no stage do we engage with her or identify with her plight.

This basically means that her level of menace is weakened and the fear element is lost – the anchor of the PG-13 rating on it and like the Mummy, the film spends most of the time restrained and unable to break free.

By the time that she does, it’s all too little too late.

I really had high hopes for the female Mummy component and seriously wanted her to kick arse, but when it did happen, it was fleeting and reduced to a whimper.

The supposed transformation of Russell Crowe

Mummy-Russell-Crowe

So restricted were the creative team behind The Mummy that even Russell Crowe was reduced to a feeble example of Mr Hyde.

On paper, this casting sounded perfect as we have seen portray some notably dark characters on screen before.

Instead we’re present with a gruff version of himself with yellowy eyes.

Sure, I get that they may have wanted to go with a more subtle approach, but why do this if the whole point is to let the monsters loose?

Zombie Vail

Mummy-Buddy-Vail

“You can be my wing-zombie anytime.”

While it was good to see Nick Morton (Cruise) spa with his buddy Vail at the beginning of the movie, which highlighted his recklessness, and I know I might be sounding fickle here, but it kind of got my goat, when they started riffing off An American Werewolf In London and have Vail come back as a zombie-buddy.

Even more so in the films climax, when they walk off into the sunset, ready for their next adventure.

The question is, will there another adventure?

Going off the poor box office receipts, you’d be forgiven to think that Universal would scrap their plans, but my overall feeling is that they’ll give it another push to win over their audience, which means there would be a lot riding on their next feature Bride of Frankenstein in order for them to see any payoff.

If the dominoes are now set in place for the crossover stories to take hold, then maybe, just maybe the producers will be free to flex their writing muscles and let the narrative go into some bold, new territory.

Ironically for their Dark universe to truly see any reward, Universal need to consider living up to the brand they’ve living by and take it darker.

As such, The Mummy was a mess that was placed too far into the light feel-good category for it to have the impact that horror fans were craving for.

 

  • Paul Farrell

Movie reviews: The Stephen Sommers era

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BACK IN 1999, Universal looked to resurrect The Mummy franchise with a fresh, new approach.

The last time the bandaged fiend had graced the screens for the picture company, was in 1955 accompanied by comedy icons Abbott and Costello.

Apparently the original premise for this remake had British horror/filmmaker Clive Barker at the helm with the offering of a much darker route that was sexually charged and filled with mysticism.

One can only wonder at the concept of Imhotep taking on the Hell Priest, Pinhead.

As it was, Universal decided on a different approach when hiring Stephen Sommers and for the next 10 years, a second wave of Mummy movies was formed.

THE MUMMY (1999)

Prior to stepping on board to write and direct the feature, Sommers had four movies under his belt with Catch Me If You Can, The Adventures of Huck Finn, The Jungle Book, and Deep Rising.

So enough charge to take the lead in a bold, new direction, one that was in complete contrast to Barker’s vision, dialing down the horror and injecting more action, special fx, and comedy.

The result saw an Indiana Jones style romp through Egypt, as the rogue-ish Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser), (who accidentally discovers the city of the dead, where the High Priest, Imhotep rests) teams up with the bookish Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) and her bumbling buffoon of a brother, aptly played by John Hannah.

The trio head back to the city, despite being warned by an Egyptian warrior, Ardeth Bey not to intervene, to discover the Book of the Living.

As they discover the statue of Anubis, deep within the tomb, they also encounter the remains of Imhotep.

Meanwhile, their counterparts, a group of Americans led by the cowardly Beni discover the Book of the Dead among some jars, which carry the preserved organs o Anch-su-Namun, mistress of Pharaoh Seti I, and lover to the afore-mentioned Imhotep.

When Evelyn reads a page from the Book of the Dead, she unwittingly awakens the High Priest, who casts the 10 plagues back to Egypt.

One by one, the Americans are dispatched with great fashion, heightening the scare partially through darkened alleys, and all-out assault on the victims.

It is down to our trio of archaeologists to put an end to Imhotep’s reign of terror and entomb him once more.

It may be nearly twenty years on since it’s release now, but I think that it’s fair to say that The Mummy still stands the test of time, partly due to the great mix of comedy and action on display, plus the chemistry between Fraser and Weisz on screen is enjoyable to watch.

Credit should also be cast towards Arnold Vosloo, who portrays Imhotep with enough menace to make it the fear placed on our protagonists seem genuine and his performance has come close in signature to his predecessor Boris Karloff some 67 years prior.

The Mummy proved to be a perfect mix to entertain and generated a generous draw at the box office, which could only mean one thing. A sequel would be a certainty.

THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001)

The inevitably would occur a couple of years later and would see the return of O’Connell, Evelyn, (now married), Jonathan, Ardeth Bey and as the title suggests, the return of Imhotep.

The original players would come back to resurrect their roles and to ignite that much-loved chemistry once more for the silver screen.

Joining them in this movie is Alex O’Connell, the son of Rick and Evie, and the instigator of Imhotep’s rise from the grave.

With Alex’s life on the line, our intrepid heroes must try to save him within seven days, thus providing a tension of sorts to the mix.

Added to this is the unerring threat of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as The Scorpion King, who vowed to give Anubis his soul for the power to defeat his enemies. Here is a hint of an inevitable showdown with two foes on the horizon.

Along the way, Evelyn is captured by the reincarnated Anck-su-namun, who is eventually released but not without discovering that she lived a previous life as the Princess Neferiti. Go figure – let’s just crowbar that subplot in there.

There’s more drama in the mix as Alex is kidnapped too, then Evelyn is killed, only to be resurrected when Jonathon and Alex recite from the Book of the Dead.

The final showdown sees our heroes triumph over evil, of course, and riding off into the sunset, but the paying audience couldn’t help but feel slightly cheated by the special fx overriding care towards the character and plot, and because of this, some of the magic wasn’t carried across from its predecessor.

That didn’t deter our filmmakers from a third installment though, but first…

A VAN HELSING HIATUS – VAN HELSING (2004)

The last attempt that Universal took to amalgamate their Monsters universe would arrive in 2004, and would once again see Sommers at the helm to deliver the success received at box office with his previous two outings.

However, any harsh criticism that The Mummy Returns received seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as the same mistakes were repeated and furthermore, delved deeper still in the dire and diabolical.

Sommers goes hell-bent to deliver a CGI in fuelled overload with little or no care factor for the characters involved.

The result is that despite the desire to thrust the ”Monsters’ front and centre in an adrenaline, action-packed thrill-ride, there is no audience connection to said creatures and the desired impact leaves us wanting.

The usual ticks are there, with the distraught Frankenstein’s at the loss of his father who not only carries more compassion than the entire cast combined, but also the key to life – one that the melodramatic Dracula (and all-out bad-guy in this movie) played by Richard Roxburgh.

In fact the whole movie screams at high volume and extreme velocity that there’s no time to stop and think, but this is perhaps the director’s ruse all along – a vein attempt to hide that there is no substance or heart to the film at all.

As much as they try to inject some humour into the mix, with David Wenham’s friar, Carl, it’s not enough to elevate Van Helsing.

It’s saving grace if we can call it that comes in the form of the film’s leads, Kate Beckinsale as Anna Velarious (hot off the back of Underworld) delivering attitude aplenty, and Hugh Jackman as the titular character, dialling his Wolverine shtick up to 10.

Ultimately though, Van Helsing was a doomed experiment that falls short of Universal expectations and with it, the audience satisfaction.

THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008)

The final effort during this era would come to an end in 2008, which says a lot about how the movie was received.

However, there was a lot going for the final act in the trilogy that shouldn’t be so easily scoffed at.

But let’s look at these pros and cons with a little bit of further dissection.

Firstly, out of the picture goes Stephen Sommers, which may actually be a good thing when you scrutinise his last couple of efforts.

Sommers has since gone on to what exactly? Directing the start of another franchise with GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra before disappearing into Egyptian dust.

In his place steps Rob Cohen, who had overseen action fare with Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Daylight, The Fast and the Furious, and XXX.

Also out was Rachel Weisz, for supposedly ‘citing problems with the script’ and to look after her newborn son.

This already sparked debate, as part of the appeal of the original movies was the chemistry between the leads.

The role of Evelyn O’Connell went to Maria Bello, who as fine an actress she is, couldn’t capture Weisz’ magic on-screen.

The script-writers do go some way to replicate this obvious change in dynamic by having Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser who does return) and Evie bored with the lack of adventure in their lives, but the damage is already done.

The leads are left to claw their way out of an impossible sandstorm of dialogue to try find that gem or sparkle between them.

The last of the returnees is John Hannah as Jonathon, but despite he’s spot on comic ability struggles to haul the deadweight of a script to life.

The injection of youth to the fore rests solely on the shoulders of a now grown up Alex O’Connell played by Luke Ford an actor schooled on the Meisner technique (a form of Method acting) in which you can’t fault him on his approach to authenticate his character, but once again the humour is missing which you could look to the script for its fault here.

Ford is believable enough, and is able to pull off the action-based moves with ease, but his character simply isn’t engaging enough.

The strengths though do reside with the Eastern contingency of the movie.

The choice to move away from Egypt and set up in China was bold, but the right one.

The franchise could have been in danger of stagnating, and this choice allowed for fresh new life to enter the fold.

Likewise the performances from Jet Li as Emperor Han aka The Dragon Emperor helped to lift the action from page to screen

As does Michelle Yeoh as Zi Yuan who performs with such gravitas that she puts the other actors to shame, such is the strength of her delivery.

It’s hard though to look beyond the faults though.

Despite the cast and crews best efforts, the audience is left with feeling like they’ve just witnessed the story as a square peg being rammed into a round hole.

A shame, as the ideas were there, but with too many of the original players falling by the wayside, the whole notion of recreating the magic.

Despite talks of a fourth instalment and Luke Ford attached to another 3 movies in the cabin, the truth was written in the sand with the poor box office return.
– Paul Farrell

Movie review: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

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I REMEMBER THE first time that I watched this film guided by the critical praise that had been heaped upon it and feeling somewhat bewildered by this.

I couldn’t get beyond Doctor Pretorius’ invention of the little people, which the FX were incredibly convincing for it’s time, but I just found that it threw me out of the picture because it defied logic and reasoning.

The science behind the novel and indeed it’s predecessor were ground in reality, but this felt like it had crossed a line and into the world of fantasy.

Some people out there might suggest that this is a good thing, but despite Bride of Frankenstein being described as James Whale’s masterpiece, I struggled.

Fast forward to today, when I sat down to review the movie once more, I still stinted at Pretorius’ revelation, but pushed this aside to discover a new-found appreciation for the film.

The opening in particular was a refreshing nod to the inspiration, and creator behind the novel, Mary Shelley.

It recounts of the now infamous discussions between Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron.

In this instance she recounts how the original story was only the tip of the iceberg and ventured to tell the tale of more monsters lurking within.

It is here that the story picks up where Frankenstein left off, with the supposed demise of the monster within the burning windmill and Dr Frankenstein (Colin Clive resurrecting his role) being rescued from the rubble.

When lo and behold the monster resurfaces and swiftly dispatches a local and his wife along the way.

Our maniacal Doctor Frankenstein has softened, seeing the error of his ways and is hell bent to put an end to his studies, but is lured back into the laboratory by a fellow scientist, the afore-mentioned Pretorius.

Pretorius seeps into a place of darkness, as he journeys into a mad new “world of Gods and Monsters” in order to see through his experiments.

The strength of the movie though doesn’t come from our protagonists but instead by our antagonist, The Monster, who is once more played by Boris Karloff.

This is his movie and his chance to shine, and shine he does as the script allows him to show more of the human, loving, and misrepresented character.

One of the most powerful scenes comes about when The Monster is stumbling around in the woods and happens to come across a blind man.

This man befriends The Monster and is not swayed by judging him by his appearance.

The friendship is a strong one, as they share in the delights of music and smoking, but this world of companionship would soon come crashing down as some passing hunters discover The Monster and he is forced to flee once more.

The subject of companionship is a strong one in this movie, and drives the plot line forward.

Pretorious seeks the companionship of a fellow scientist as he seeks to carry out his experiments; Frankenstein ultimately is willing to end this in favour of the love he has for his wife; and of course The Monster seeks friendship and when he stumbles upon Pretorius, his offer is all too great and he is willing to follow the mad man.

The cruelty would come at full force though, when The Bride (played by Elsa Lanchester, who also doubled up as Mary Shelley in the film’s prologue scene) is ‘awakened’ but finds the sight of The Monster too horrible to comprehend.

All hell breaks loose and the walls come tumbling down, crushing all but Frankenstein and his wife, who manage to escape just in time.

The film is beautifully shot with some of the framework simply stunning, and along the way has heralded some of the most iconic images to fall in the Universal Monsters universe.

Karloff hits the heart with perfect pain and angst, and his harrowing demise (albeit a rushed conclusion) is the only fitting way for his life to find closure…

Forced into a world that wouldn’t accept him and then just as swiftly dispatched from it, with a cold and abrupt end.

It is worthy successor to the original movie and probably one of the finer sequels to ever have been made.

  • Paul Farrell