The Surgeons team take a look at another classic movie from horror auteur John Carpenter.
As they discuss and dissect Prince of Darkness they set out to see if the film still stands the test of time.
Listen to the episode below.
The Surgeons team continue to dissect and discuss the movies of John Carpenter in our current season.
In this episode we scrutinise Big Trouble In Little China starring Kurt Russell and Kim Cattrall, a film that didn’t pull the numbers at the Box Office but has since become a cult classic.
Listen to the episode and the thoughts of the Surgeons team below:
There’s a warm familiarity about Universal’s fourth Frankenstein instalment. Where other classic monster films have struggled to continue their respective story arcs, the Mary Shelley inspired creature horror manages to breathe new life into the story this far.
Serving as a companion piece to its predecessor, Son of Frankenstein, the story follows the devious Ygor (Bela Lugosi reprising his role) who managed to survive alongside the creature and tries to exert his power once again.
Despite Karloff’s absence as the walking husk, Lon Chaney Jr steps into the big shoes and dons the bolts effectively. In particular the running theme with the creatures’ connection with a young village girl, Cloestine, a symbol of innocence and purity. In James Whale’s original Frankenstein, this is snuffed out, so the threat hangs in the air despite it coming from a genuine place of curiosity and the need to be like her.
Joining the main players is another strong ensemble with Cedric Hardwicke as Frankenstein’s descendant, Lionel Atwill as the misguided assistant Dr. Bohmer, Ralph Bellamy as the steadfast representative of the law Erik Ernst, and Evelyn Ankers as Elsa Frankenstein (whose name is a delightful nod to The Bride of Frankenstein’s Elsa Lancaster).
The drive in this film is a mixture of writing the wrongs and striving to better oneself. The creature longs to be accepted, Frankenstein sees the opportunity to clear his family name through a brain transplant using a suitable host: not a criminal mind, and Dr. Bohmer driven by the need to be recognised in his profession.
This is Lugosi’s show though and he relishes expanding on the character of Ygor wanting initially to strive away from his deformity but throughout the film transforming this gaze to one of power.
The screenplay written by W. Scott Darling weaves in some weaves in some typical tropes that is instantly recognisable from the franchise such as the lynch mob wielding torches that bookends the film and even places the shocking theme of gassing into the mix, a subject that would have had strong reactions at the time. This combined with the direction of Erie C. Kenton delivers another strong entry into the franchise and Universal Horror.
There’s good reason that Relic has been closely associated with The Babadook, not just because it’s Australian genesis but also as it manages to expose one of humanities greatest fears from the perspective of a directorial feature debut.
Where The Babadook shone a light on grief, and how it can it can take hold of our sanity, Relic puts our response to dementia under scrutiny.
Natalie Erika James proves that she can handle the strong subject matter head on and guide highly esteemed actors Robyn Nevin (Edna) and Emily Mortimer (Kay) in a mother / daughter relationship that is already estranged but the chasm of time exposes this further through Edna’s deteriorating condition.
Muddying the waters is this strange notion that all is not as it seems at the family abode, with a dark presence lurking in the shadows.
Rounding out the trio and providing a third generation into the mix is granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote – cutting an impressive performance alongside her costars) who equally has distanced from her mother but holds a strong connection to her grandmother, willing to put a life which holds little meaning on hold to try and aid Edna’s needs, so that she doesn’t get sent to an elderly home.
Part of this films appeal definitely comes from the way the three relatives interact with one another, in some cases trust are brought to light, in others harbours away and kept from the audience as such family stories often do, but the depth of their emotional hardship is etched on the faces of the characters.
Again, a testament to the talent involved but also the strength of the script written by James and her cowriter Cristian White.
The film lures you into the mystery as Kay and Sam are called to Edna’s house when they hear of her disappearance.
It’s the crisis point that unites each relative together as they try to understand the unknown while finding themselves along the way. In order to do so however, they must face the demon head on and either vanquish or embrace it.
At its heart, Relic is a story of love and hope. When these are challenged, we’re left with hardships and invisible barriers preventing any chance of rehabilitation.
Dementia is such a harrowing experience for all involved and using horror as its genre of choice, James weaves together a story that delivers the turmoil not captured since Sarah Polley’s Away From Her.
By 1942 Lionel Atwill had firmly established himself as a veteran of the silver screen and rightfully deserves top-billing in this horror / thriller from Universal Pictures.
He hits every note of the titular character in his stride with relative ease, both dialling up the mania and subtly downplaying the more reserved moments whilst still coming across as sinister in his mannerisms.
The narrative quickly shifts from science experiment gone awry when Atwill’s Dr. Benson inadvertently kills his subject when trying to resurrect the dead.
Think Flatliners but on a minimum scale.
Now a fugitive on the run, he goes in hiding on a ship to New Zealand. Unfortunately a police detective had also boarded the ship on a hunch that Benson is among its passengers.
This results in Benson resorting to drastic measures and pushing said detective overboard.
The drama doesn’t end there however, as somehow a fire erupts on the ship causing the passengers to abandon ship and our key players (including Benson) washing up on a remote island.
Once on the island the film starts to show its age, depicting the islanders as savages and easily manipulated by Benson’s medical knowledge when he resurrects one of the villagers from a supposed death (in reality, a stroke) with a potion (adrenaline). It’s a she because this depiction does jar when viewed with a modern lens and shifts the gaze away from the terror that is trying to be depicted.
It is then down to the survivors (all of whom are pretty formulaic) to try and outwit and expose Benson his true malicious interests without putting their own lives on jeopardy.
The script does suffer from falling into predictable terrain and it could have amped up Benson’s maniacal moments to make his presence more terrifying, but hats off to director Joseph H Lewis for crafting together a fairly decent effort from a very low budget.
With a running time that’s just over the hour mark, The Mad Doctor of Market Street still amazed to entertain.
Director Matthew John Lawrence’s vision of fusing his love of horror movies and punk rock is presented in Uncle Peckerhead, the story of deadbeat musicians willing to drop everything and pursue their own dream of musical recognition.
Said punk act, Duh! consist of band leader and bassist, Judy (Chet Siegel) who ironically is incredibly neurotic and unwilling to lose control of herself, a juxtaposition against the anarchic veins that form the punk movement.
Here it serves well as Judy’s character strives to free herself of her inhibitions and letting go of her self-made constraints.
Accompanying her in the band is deadpan doomsayer drummer, Mel (Ruby McColliister), and socially awkward guitarist and frontman. Max (Jeff Riddle).
As the trio prepare to hit the road in order to gain enough festival experience to perform at their hometown, they hit a stumbling block in having their van towed away by the repo men.
Just when it appears that they are down on their luck, they have a chance encounter with Peckerhead (David H. Littleton), a seemingly sweet and friendly guy, all too willing to assist them with the use of his own van on the condition that he comes along.
What could go wrong?
The fact that Peckhead happens to transform into a blood-sucking demon at the stroke of midnight, may cause some mishap along the way.
Lawrence does his best to tap into the kind of movie that you would watch with mates over a beer and some pizza, riffing on some cool, bloody, and gore-tastic vibes and in many ways he satiates the needs of the salivating horror enthusiasts, but there is something a little off key and jarring in its presentation.
When it works, the energy of the group are positively buzzing and the effects and gore on screen are suitably macabre with a hint of dark humour, a testament to the comedic talent involved.
The problem is on the down beats, the sizzle is lost and it falls flat, so the audience can feel like there’s a dead weight being dragged along to the film’s conclusion, which is painful in a non-pleasurable way.
If it’s cheap beer, decent food, and a bloody enjoyable ride you’re after, then Uncle Peckerhead has your back.
If you want a bit more of a fine-dining experience in your horror serving, then this ain’t your kind of movie.
Best to keep on the good side of Peckerhead, let the good times roll, find your rhythm and let loose.
The Surgeons team kick off the seventh season proper which is dedicated to the films of John Carpenter films from Christine to The Ward.
First up, how does the killer Plymouth Fury hold up today?
Saul Muerte and Watch It Wombat’s Nick Allford dissect and discuss to find out. Listen to the episode below:
The introduction of The Wolf Man would mark the last of the iconic stable monsters to come out of Universal studios during its golden age of horror. Along with it comes arguably one of the production houses’ most tragic characters in Larry Talbot. Talbot’s heartfelt sorrow is all the more pained due to his magnificent portrayal by Lon Chaney Jr, who after impressing in Man-Made Monster finally got to take on a lead-role as the doomed hero.
In many ways the feature would serve as a signature to the passing of the torch from the old to the new with Chaney Jr ably supported by Claude Rains (The Invisible Man) as Larry’s father Sir John, and Bela Lugosi (Dracula) as Bela the Gypsy. The latter is all the more on the snout as Bela harbours the secret of being a lycanthrope and literally bites Talbot, transforming him and turning him into the monster.
The strength of the cast doesn’t end there though, and this is part of the beauty of this film and why quite honestly, it still resonates today. With Ralph Bellamy (Rosemary’s Baby), Patric Knowles (Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man), Evelyn Ankers (The Ghost of Frankenstein), but none more striking than Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva, The Gypsy Fortune Teller.
Her role would lend significant weight and drama to Talbot’s plight and add a dash of the mysticism behind the mythology. She would reprise her role once more in Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man.
Curt Siodmak would return once more as the screenwriter, in arguably his finest work, which is partly to do with him drawing from his own tragic history of segregation and oppressed Jew under the Nazi regime, a topic that doesn’t get lost in the narrative as Bela and Larry are both marked by the pentagram as part of their curse.
In this story, Talbot returns to his ancestral home to reunite with his estranged father.
Whilst there, he becomes infatuated with a local girl, Gwen, only to succumb to a wolf attack.
At first, Talbot believes that his plight is all too real, but when he heals so swiftly, he starts to question his own sanity, before the physical changes begin to occur.
From here, he withdraws from the world, not knowing who to turn to, afraid of what he might do.
Now that mythology is the stuff of legend, and many have transpired to go above and beyond where it all began with numerous tales of the shapeshifting beast.
The effects have come in leaps and bounds since this film, but a huge nod must go out to make up guru Jack Pierce who would produce the now infamous look from his own personal kit, including yak hair that was glued to Chaney Jr’s face in a laborious procedure.
The Wolf Man would go on to feature in a further four sequels, all featuring Chaney Jr (the only actor to play the role), which is part of its appeal, and one of the key characteristics of Talbot is his ‘nice guy’ personality that is conflicted with this plague.
The film is iconic and despite being nearly 80 years old, is still solid.
A testament to the talent involved in its creation and Siodmak’s screenplay. As my journey through the Universal horror archive, this was a welcome shift in the positive direction.
Self-confessed old-style thriller fan, Andrew Traucki has carved out a career telling stories of survival on screen since his debut feature, Black Water released in 2007.
He’s no stranger to the harsh environments that humanity must endure with his follow up features, The Reef, and Jungle, so it comes as no surprise that when offered the chance to revisit the subject that launched his directing pilgrimage.
Billed as a sequel to his croc attack movie, upon review Black Water: Abyss serves more of an anthological piece as none of its original stars nor its cranky chompster return to continue the storyline.
Instead we are introduced to a quintet of extreme sport enthusiasts (Jessica McNamee – The Meg, Luke Mitchell, Amali Golden, Benjamin Hoetjes, and Anthony J.Sharpe), who go in search of their latest thrill, some wilfully, others begrudgingly as they find an unexplored cave system, which just so happens to have a snappy predator lurking in the watery caves.
Traucki shows his experience behind the camera, pairing back the action to allow the suspense to rise to the surface and draw out the group’s plight which takes them through the bold, ignorant, panic-stricken, heartache.
On show are two couples on the verge of destruction as the film serves as a metaphor for the physical weathering of their relationships.
If they are to survive this ordeal, what will become of them at the end of it all.
Is there life worth salvaging or are they better off as croc fodder?
The cast showcase their acting chops grounding their situation in reality, moulded by a talented director.
Try not to judge the film from its opening 15 minutes or so with admittedly a bit of a shaky script.
It takes a while for the mechanisms to take a hold, but once it has its grip it takes you on a death roll towards its conclusion that leaves you asking just exactly how they will escape, if at all.
It may not be ground-breaking and doesn’t quite match its predecessor in raw appeal, but it’s an enjoyable flick that again uses real crocs in real situations to amp up the thrills.