Genuinely, how the hell can you review a film like Ghostbusters? It would be akin to asking me to review the original Star Wars trilogy. *Spoiler alert* – I’m a fan. Anyway, I was seven years old when Ghostbusters was released, and with three television channels, and no regular paper being delivered to our home, it was bordering on a miracle how we found out about any film de jour. But when me and my brother saw the trailer for it on telly, we were agog. When it came out in the cinema, we badgered our parents for weeks until they finally relented.
Our dad had taken us to see Return of the Jedi at the cinema the year before, but nothing could prepare us for what we saw when we turned the corner to the cinema. The queue went round the building. How long it took to get in, I have no idea, but we did, despite my mum having to gain some patience. Continue Reading
When folks talk about the original haunted house story, most people are referring to Shirley Jackson’s 1959 classic The Haunting of Hill House. This book has been adapted more times than any other haunted house story. From Salem’s Lot (yes, King alludes to Hill House as a comparison to the Marsten House) to even Hell House (though Richard Matheson took his 1973 book deeper into the paranormal investigative niche and spawned his own adaptions) to the most recent Netflix mini series, simply titled The Haunting of Hill House, which has spurred a resurgent interest into the old gothic tale. There are two other adaptations, of course. One we will not discuss because it is a horrible heap of garbage. The other is as close to the perfection that Miss Jackson composed within her 246 page as a movie can get. Continue Reading
As today is Friday, the Thirteenth, we had a moral and ethical obligation to pay homage to one of the biggest slasher films of all time. So of course we had more than one angle on the issue.
What scares me?
That’s a big question, one that I would have a hard time capturing in one essay. So in the context of this review, what originally scared me when I was introduced to this horror genre in which I now reside?
Horror has had a long and storied history in the cinema, dating back over a hundred years of style, mood and atmosphere. And I was lucky enough to board the ship right in the middle of one of the renaissances of the genre.
What scared the hell out of me was the realism of movies in the late seventies and eighties. Check out the work of George Romero and Wes Craven and you can see what I’m talking about. These films weren’t about the beautiful fantasy and magic of Hollywood. This was about making you feel like you stumbled across a crime in progress and you don’t dare move, lest you be spotted yourself. This is about being placed in front of something that you can’t bring yourself to turn away from. Continue Reading
Starring: Brad Dourif, Alex Vincent, Chris Sarandon, Catherine Hicks
Directed by: Tom Holland
Written by: Don Mancini, John Lafia, Tom Holland
What begins like a crime thriller quickly escalates into a bizarre horror about a dying murderer who manages to use black magic to transfer his consciousness into a ‘Good Guys’ doll. ‘Chucky’ finds a home with 6-year-old Andy, initially befriending and manipulating him into helping him commit more murders, and then Andy himself becomes the target as Chucky plans to transfer his consciousness into him before he can be killed in his doll form. Continue Reading
I had the basic plot idea for Literary Stalker – a bad writer with grudges who takes revenge on selected colleagues – many years before I wrote the novel, but it remained on the back burner because it seemed too simplistic. Then I had the further idea of making the work a pastiche, with showcased references to films and other novels, very much in the style of Quentin Tarantino. Having fun developing this, one film in particular popped into my mind – one I hadn’t actually viewed for decades, but which I remembered fondly from way back in the 1970s and ’80s. It was Theatre of Blood, and I got the DVD and re-watched it, several times. The rest, as they say, is history. Continue Reading
The most foreboding title among the horror and science fiction lexicon, besides perhaps IT or They (which is just a cheap knockoff of the more impressive film we’re about to discuss), is the 1954 masterpiece known as Them! Among the many different creature features, be it swamp critters or critters from space or super mutant hybrids, bugs freak me out the most. As defined by the omnipotent Wikipedia, “Entomophobia (also known as insectophobia) is a specific phobia characterized by an excessive or unrealistic fear of one or more classes of insect, and classified as a phobia by the DSM-5. More specific cases included apiphobia (fear of bees) and myrmecophobia (fear of ants).” Now, that being said…I think my “fear” can be measured by mass. The smaller the insect, the less I get “freaked out.” Hence, small little pests like flies and mosquitoes are simply put…pests, easily swatted or shooed away. But on the other spectrum, the bigger they get, the more I’m apted to run away screaming. If someone were to make a monster movie with the intention of provoking the mass amount of fear from yours truly, Them! would be the quintessential experience.
But it cannot be done in a silly way. If you want a serious reaction, the movie will need to have a serious undertone. Them! is a perfect example of this. As a fan of most dubbed “classics,” basically timeless pieces of cinematic history, be it 1930s or 40s or 50s or 60s or even those in the Silent Era, I took double pleasure in the fact that this now 63 year old movie can still capture that tension, that wonderful feeling of dread so fantastically. Them!, not too sound too fan-girlish, is utterly amazing. By modern standards, Them! easily tops what producers consider to be blockbusters in not just storytelling and characterization, but also special effects. It makes me curious what original audiences thought when they first sat in their parked fin-tailed red and chrome Chrysler’s at the local drive-in, WITHOUT having been desensitized by years of modern computer generated graphics.
Alas, those day’s are gone forever.
All we can do now is cherish the time we had.
For those who have not had the pleasure, here is a quick synopsis of Them!
“The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization.”
Boom. You don’t really need anything more than that, do you? Needless to say, IMDb isn’t wrong. In a nut shell, those are the stakes. A mutated strain of ants are multiplying in the New Mexico desert and could very well threaten civilization. And not just any mutated ant species, but a mutation of the Cataglyphis genus, better known as Desert Ants. These sand dwellers are among the most aggressive of ant. The perfect bugs to supersize for a horror/science fiction movie, right?
One of the fun aspects of Them! is how the movie starts off and is treated more or less throughout the entirety as a “detective” story. The movie opens with a patrol car doing their normal patrol and pickup a little girl, no more than six years old, strolling through the desert alone dressed in a nightgown and cradling a broken doll. They try talking to her but she is catatonic, speechless, staring blankly out at the brown sand. That feeling of dread we talked about begins to weave slowly into the movie and as the policemen investigate a nearby trailer, finding it mostly destroyed, pulled apart from the outside (they deduce) the tension builds even further.
The next scene certainly adds to not only the mystery but also the horror when police sergeant Ben Peterson’s (played by the very awesome James Whitmore) partner “disappears” off screen investigating a strange sound. He get’s off a couple of shots and then screams, that kind of scream that sends chills down your spine. The sound the officer investigates permeates throughout the entire movie. A familiar nature melody for anyone living in suburbia or out in the country. The sound of cicada or crickets singing in trees or in tall grass. Come summer, that sound is still quite pleasant to me, despite this film’s attempt to ruin it. Though, there is a lingering feeling of “what’s really making that sound? Are they, Them! watching me?”
And I love how, despite the excellent movie art on the poster, knowing there will be giant ants in this movie, the story stalls the BIG reveal, forgive the pun, until the absolute right moment. And that moment, much how the newly brought on character, FBI agent, Robert Graham (played by man’s man James Arness), to its frustrating conclusion through the “comic relief” of sorts Professor Harold Medford (played by Santa himself Edmund Gwenn) and his “if a boy can do it a girl can do it too” daughter Dr. Patrica Medford (Joan Weldon). The Dr. Medord’s are not really that comedic, the old man is sort of how we might think brilliant old men are, a tad absent minded to every day tasks, but a genius in their preferred fields of study. And the female Dr. Medford, despite her strong grace of femininity, wasn’t overpowering or preachy. She was meek but smart and willing to go places most men wouldn’t dare go. In a decade before feminism really took off in America, it’s hard to place the purpose of her character. Regardless, I was and am very pleased with her performance, second to her father perhaps, how she was not the ditsy romance how most other movies place actresses. Harold may have been love struck, but everyone else called her Pat, a genderless name, and I prefer it that way.
The reveal was perfect, as I said. A sandstorm kicks up and everyone’s goggled and stumbling around for clues. Somehow Pat get’s separated from the group. That chilling buzzing, ringing, clicking cicada sound starts again, getting louder and louder, and everyone is looking around wondering what that noice is and where it’s coming from. Above Pat on a dune, emerges a large black head with giant orb eyes long furry antenna and large sharp looking mandibles. She screams, alerting the others who begin opening fire, destroying the ant’s antenna (to the suggestion of Dr. Medford). The ant is killed and while the others are staring at this impossible horror, Dr. Medford makes a statement, the inspiration and message of the entire movie, I think. He says, “We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true – ‘And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth.'” He says something very similar towards the end of the movie, stating, “When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.”
The Atomic Age…
Full of sparking large logos and flashy gadgets and a new generation of fast food and drive-in theaters and modern jazz and rock-in-roll, but this was also an era of uncertainty. Hiroshima and Nagasaki awakened something in humanity. Something more than just awe and dread. Something darker and more pious than religion. The Atomic Age was this new fear of the bomb. Uncertainty over world powers, the growth of the Cold War, and a horizon in modern science to which many did not understand. Not knowing is the greatest fear of all, at least according to H.P. Lovecraft. The Atomic Age also gave birth to this very feature we find ourselves enjoying (hopefully), the birth of unnatural monsters such as Godzilla and Them! Better known as Creature Features.
Them! acts as a cautionary tale. Be warned, what will await us on the other side of the door. Will science bring upon us destruction and darkness? Will man’s ignorance? Them! isn’t about the dangers of real giant bugs, its about consequences. That in everything we do or strive to bring about, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, as Newton had once said. Its a message every new generation hears, right? Cautionary warnings from the old folks rocking on the porch, talking about how things used to be.
The rest of Them! takes on that similar detective story we were introduced to in the beginning. They hunt down the hive and destroy the giant ants with poison, only to discover a few queens had escaped prior. Now the once localized investigation turns into a global event. Hush hush, of course, to avoid widespread panic, the team with the added benefit of the military and select government officials quickly work to destroy Them! But the movie doesn’t end like some monster movies with the creatures being destroyed…there is a feeling of uncertainty, astute given the era, and we are left wondering if perhaps there are more giant mutated ants out in the desert thanks to atomic weaponry. And as Dr. Wedford said, “nobody can predict.”
My rating: 5 out of 5
Who doesn’t love a good story? From great works such as, All Quiet on the Western Front and Salem’s Lot, Thomas S. Flowers has a passion to create similar character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore fests to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, Thomas has published several novels, including, Reinheit, The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, Beautiful Ugly and other Weirdness, Feast, and PLANET OF THE DEAD. In 2008, Thomas was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served 3 tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Military Police Officer. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at http://www.machinemean.org, where he contributes reviews on movies and books along with a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. Follow Thomas on his website www.ThomasSFlowers.com.
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Among the horror community, there are certain names that can go unnoticed. New directors and cult indies that simply do not get enough limelight. And there are others in which one ought to know regularly. If there was a quiz, you should know the names of Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, George A. Romero, Alfred Hitchcock, James Whale, Guillermo del Toro, Sam Raimi, and Tobe Hooper as the most easily recognizable of horror directors. Wes Craven gave us (among so much more) Freddy Krueger. Cronenberg gave us Videodrome (among his other visceral work). Romero created an entirely new monster subgenre, zombies. Hitchcock paved the way for most of everyone on this list, starting, I think, with Shadow of a Doubt (1943), but most people probably know him best for Psycho. James Whale, another original pavemaker, gave us Frankenstein. del Toro brought horror into the depths of imagination. Sam Raimi locked us away in the cabin in The Evil Dead. And Tobe Hooper chased us into the sunset with a chainsaw. All these names of known for certain achievements. And in all transparency, even while you’re reading this article, there are probably differing movies you remember or associate with each director best. One director, obviously unnamed in my little list here, if we dug deeper in the cesspool of horror fandom, we’d probably wallow in some pretty nasty disagreement on which of his movies he is best known for. Personally, as a fan of his work, our still yet unnamed director (can you guess?), I’d be amiss not to do a “favorites list” on this the day of his birth. To keep things not too lengthy, this will be limited to my top five favorites (which will NOT be easy) ending on THE movie I think he is best known by. So, hold on to your butts, from least to best, the following are my five favorite movies by none other than John Carpenter.
5. The Fog (1980)
If we’re talking personal favorites, The Fog would certainly go to the top of the pile. But if we’re talking which of Carpenter’s movies he is best known for, well…I have my doubts, even within the horror community, of those who associate Carpenter with The Fog. For starters, The Fog isn’t as over-the-top as some of his later projects. It is simple. Banal. And contained. Yet, in that simplicity, there is a wonderfully fantastic film built on classic gothic themes. A weather-beaten old fisherman tells an ancient tale of betrayal and death to fascinated children as they huddle together by their campfire. An eerie fog envelops Antonio Bay, and from the mist emerge dripping demonic phantoms of a century old shipwreck…seeking revenge.
4. Escape From New York (1981)
Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. However, much like The Fog, I’m unconvinced how well known Escape from New York is a John Carpenter flick. I think most would be able to tell you Kurt Russell is in it, but other than that…? Regardless, Escape From New York is definitely on my top five list for Carpenter pictures. Here, Carpenter introduces us to some rather complex characters without having to spend too much time on them. Instead, Carpenter focuses on the action as he bravely takes us into the future, a not so far fetched future where crime is out of control and New York City is converted into a maximum security prison. When the President’s plane crashes in old Gotham, the powers that be recruit tough as nails Snake Plissken, a one-eyed former war hero now turned outlaw, into bringing the President, and his cargo (nuke codes), out of this land of confusion.
3. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Without a doubt, not only do moviegoers in the horror community know and can easily associate Big Trouble in Little China with John Carpenter, but so can those who do not frequent horror movies, and that’s mostly because Big Trouble in Little China is not technically a horror movie. I think it could be labeled mostly as sci-fi fantasy and comedy action. And as ole Jack Burton says, this flick is one of the most quotable of all of Carpenter’s work. The film is an unexpected classic following a tough-talking, wisecracking truck driver named Jack Burton whose life on the road takes a sudden supernatural tailspin when his friend’s fiancee is kidnapped. Speeding to the rescue, Jack finds himself deep beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown, in a murky, creature-filled world ruled by Lo Pan, a 2000-year-old magician who mercilessly presides over an empire of spirits. Dodging demons and facing baffling terrors, Jack battles his way through Lo Pan’s dark domain in a full-throttle, action-riddled ride to rescue the girl.
2. Halloween (1978)
His one movie that sparked a franchise, I’d be really shocked to discover anyone who didn’t know this flick was one of John Carpenter’s. And I swear to all that is holy, if I ever asked someone, “Hey, have you seen Halloween?” And they told me, “Oh, you mean that Rob Zombie movie?” I’d slap them silly. Halloween is a classic to be sure. The score alone is probably more recognizable than the directorial name. And a movie that typically makes it onto everyone’s Halloween holiday movie lineups, a movie that started on a cold Halloween night in 1963 when six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17-year-old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30, 1978, during the night before being transferred for a court hearing, a now 21-year-old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith’s Grove. He returns home to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he searches for his sister.
1. The Thing (1982)
Was there really any surprise The Thing is my number one pick here? Yes, there could be some debate on whether The Thing is an easily associated film of Carpenter’s. And there are two sides to this coin. While I do admit, I have some serious doubts people outside of horror fandom would even recognize the movie title let alone the director, but within the horror fandom world, The Thing has become an inescapable cult classic of behemoth proportions. I do not think I’ve seen another movie that has gardened such a fanbase as The Thing. And for good reason, too. The Thing, besides The Fog, has one of the most simple sets imaginable, the kicker really being how isolated the characters are and how audiences can feel that itch of madness, being cooped up too long, stir crazy, etc. etc. The paranoia drips from the screen. And much like Escape from New York, we’re given rich complex characters without the need of some unnecessary backstory for any of them, even Kurt Russel’s characters MacReady is really only known by his actions. Nearly 35 years later, the practical effects in this movie are still considered high quality. If that doesn’t say something, I don’t know what will. The story is grounded and easy to follow. After the destruction of a Norwegian chopper that buzzes their base, the members of the US team fly to the Norwegian base hoping to find survivors, only to discover them all dead or missing. What they do find among the carnage are the remains of a strange creature burned and haphazardly buried in the ice. The Americans take their find back to their base and deduce that it is not human, not entirely, but an alien life form. Soon, it becomes apparent that the alien lifeform is not dead, and to make matters worse, it can take over and assimilate other life forms, including humans, spreading much like a virus does. Anyone at the base could be inhabited by the Thing, tensions soon escalate.
0. They Live (1988)
I’d be amiss not to include at least one honorable mention. Originally, I really wanted to include Carpenter’s They Live, starring late great Roddy Piper, on this list of top films. Call me lazy, but I didn’t want to spend all morning writing about which of Carpenter’s movies are the best or most recognizable as being his, I’d be here all day if I did that. I gave myself a five movie limit and stuck with it. That said, I think They Live, at least within the horror community, is a really recognizable Carpenter flick, and probably one of his most (sadly) relevant films to date. The action is def. cheesy, and the concept is bizarre, but the message is a real punch to the gut, one that I’m sure many a film student as spent dissecting and discussing.
Did you like what you read here? Consider joining our mailing list and stay up to date on new releases, hot deals, and new articles here on the blog. The above list are my picks for Carpenter flicks, but I want to know what are some of yours? Comment below with your number one or give pick of John Carpenter’s most recognizable movie. Thanks for reading, and as always, do not forget to live, laugh, and scream!
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving (coming soon), are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
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The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Tim Burton musical that debuted back in 1993. The movie begins with Jack Skellington and the rest of Halloweentown performing their yearly masterpiece, This is Halloween (“This is Halloween! Everybody, make them scream!”)—but Jack has gotten bored with performing the same old shtick year after year. One thing that could definitely shake Jack out of the doldrums is Sally, a rag doll kept locked up by a mad scientist (that’s not creepy) who’s crushing on him, but he’s so self-absorbed he doesn’t notice her.
Jack and his ghost dog, Zero, go for a walk and end up in a remote part of the woods, where different trees correspond to different holidays. Jack goes to Christmastown and is amazed at the inherent magic of the holiday. So what does he do? He hatches a plot to take over Christmas. He recruits some creepy kids to kidnap Santa (Sandy Claws), enlists the townsfolk to whip up decorations…and proceeds to ruin Christmas as best he can. What else would you expect from an animated semi-demonic skeleton?
All in all, The Nightmare Before Christmas is ninety minutes of fun and very singable songs. It does get a bit hairy when the kids turn Santa over to the Boogeyman, but it’s all in good fun. Or gore. Either way, you’ll be singing about feet all rotten and covered in gook for weeks, and who doesn’t want that around the holidays?
Jennifer Allis Provost writes books about faeries, orcs and elves. Zombies too. She grew up in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and had read every book in the local library by age twelve. (It was a small library). An early love of mythology and folklore led to her epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Parthalan, and her day job as a cubicle monkey helped shape her urban fantasy, Copper Girl. When she’s not writing about things that go bump in the night (and sometimes during the day) she’s working on her MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Connect with her online at http://authorjenniferallisprovost.com
It has just occurred to me that I have never written a biographical piece on English-India born character actor William Henry Pratt, aka Boris Karloff. Never. Not once. Sure, I’ve had other writers on here talking about some of the movies he has been in, namely Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and even The Mummy, but never, not once have I stepped up to plate. That ends here. For those who are betrothed to the dark and unusual of filmage, that this, horror movies, the name Boris Karloff is not unfamiliar, it is, in fact, legendary. And for good reason. Even tempered natured folks who do not ordinarily dabble in nightmare landscapes know, rudimentary, who Boris is, that is, the Monster, that Frankenstein monster that is. And they wouldn’t be wrong. That’s his role, after all, no skirting the issue or sipping from your craft beer or wine, dressed in some flannel button up with a shaggy beard, pretending as if he never endured the makeup. Just because you saw him in The Black Cat (1934) or Targets (1968) doesn’t negate his crowning achievement. He was the Monster. Don’t walk through the past with blinders on. He will always be the Monster. And here and now, I’d like to correct my above-mentioned misstep and celebrate his career (his work), as it is, highlighting briefly my top 5 favorite Boris Karloff movies.
5. House of Frankenstein (1944). I’m not entirely sold on House of Frank, particularly concerning the Dracula character and how easily he was dispatched; however, I cannot negate Boris’s role as Dr. Niemann, a mad scientist who has supposedly discovered Frankenstein’s secret to immortality and the creation of a new human race of perfectly made people. His role here, obviously, is not the Creature. And as a tip of the hat, I would say he was very dark in this movie, uncaring of dispatching anyone who got in his way.
4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). Say what you will, but I would feel horrible if I did not mention this classic film. Especially now that we’re shuffling towards the holiday season and Turkey Day tomorrow, I would be amiss to ignore one of my favorite Christmas movies. Even at the tender age of 79, Boris’s voice, his deep growls, and slight lisp is uncanny. His performance as the narrator is actually what draws me to the cartoon. If it had been anyone else, I’m not sure I’d enjoy it as much.
3. Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Seems like a total cop-out, but no, back to my above argument, we cannot ignore his masterpiece of horror cinematography. The Frankenstein monster was a role that was limited in dialogue, and so he had to manipulate audience reactions and emotions through gesture and skewed hardened facial expressions. Bride of Frankenstein showcases the evolution of the creature, from mute stumbler to an array of humanistic-like qualia. He was driven, not by fear, but by necessity, the most basic human desire, companionship, a mate.
2. The Black Cat (1934). One of my favorite Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in a string of Poe-inspired films, among such as The Raven (both 1935 and 1963), House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, etc etc, The Black Cat wins the prize, for me at least. The story is adapted for the 1930s era and is based just after The Great War, which ended in 1918. Dr. Vitus Werdegast is on a quest for revenge against the man who took his beloved wife and daughter, an old friend and comrade in arms, Hjalmar Poelzig. Poelzig is harboring a few dark secrets, most of which he shares openly, all but for his insidious religion. Caught in the middle is a young American couple on their honeymoon. The Black Cat is not action oriented, but rather, filled with an overwhelming sense of dread and some of the best dialogue I’ve heard in a long time. If you’ve been holding out, you need to see this movie. This 82-year-old movie may shock you.
1. The Mummy (1932). Without a shadow of a doubt, unashamedly, The Mummy is my all time favorite movie starring Boris Karloff. Why? Sure, we know and love and celebrate him for his role as Frankenstein’s monster, however, for me, his total sum of charisma and stage performance is defined in his role as Ardath Bey, aka Imhotep, priest of Pharaoh Amenophis, mummified for attempting to resurrect his forbidden lover, the princess Ankh-es-en-amon. regarding the other Mummy movies, though Lon Chaney Jr. did his best with what he had to work with, they did not, however, capture the tragedy that is Imhotep. Is he the villain? Perhaps. He certainly has his own agenda in mind. But there’s more. He’s a romantic. Deeply so. All he wants is his beloved princess. Not power or gold or influence, nothing political. He manipulates those he must. And strikes down those who get in his way. Love is not all puppy dogs and rainbows, it’s brutal at its core. Violent even. A man desperate enough to do whatever he must so he can attain that which he desires the most. True love. And Karloff, he plays the role wonderfully.
And there you have it folks, my top 5 Boris Karloff movies. I’m sure you’ve got a few in mind. What are some of your favorite Boris Karloff movies? Comment below in the comment box to enter for your chance to win a signed copy of my latest book, Conceiving (Subdue Book 3), scheduled to release next week on November 29, 2016. Now available for preorder on Amazon (wink wink), you can get your copy here. And if you are curious about my other books, you can find them on the altar of Amazon by following this link here. As always, you can stay connected with me on Facebook, where I post reviews, new book info, and other horror related topics. Thanks for reading everyone!
We are well into the Christmas season, past it perhaps if we are to measure the span in which Hobby-Lobby set out this years decorations. Besides seeing Ho ho ho signs and Jolly Saint Nick animatronic statues several months in advance, what really gets me excited about this time of year are the movies. Yes, time with family is also important. Get together parties and work functions, as well. The music is also good, though come mid December you may be ready to rip out your car stereo. Much like Halloween, Christmas movies are my thing during this time of year. However, the big difference between Halloween movies and Christmas movies is that I can watch Halloween movies everyday of every second of the year, whereas Christmas movies only feel appropriate one month of the year, December. So, in a way, Christmas movies have a special reverence. There are only but a few on this list that you could watch outside of Christmas, especially the more action induced flicks. But still, the argument holds. And FYI, most of these movies are currently on Netflix instant streaming! So, without further adieu, here is my top Christmas movie list spectacular!!
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992):
Kicking things off right, I want to start with one of my most favorite Christmas movies!! I’ve loved this one since I was a kid, in fact, I’m fairly positive my parents still have the VHS copy somewhere in their basement. What’s not to love? Micheal Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge is fantastic, and Miss. Piggy, Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Rizzo the Rat and the gang are also superb in this classic retelling of Charles Dickson’s short story, “A Christmas Carol.” The comedy is on par and, despite being a children’s movie, the horror-esk aspect remains somewhat intact.
2. Ernest Saves Christmas (1988):
Kids today have somehow lost an appreciation for Ernest P. Worrell style comedy. I know, sad, right? This 1980’s classic comes on the same stock as “Ernest Scared Stupid,” or “Ernest Goes to Camp.” I bet kids nowadays don’t even know the name… Anyways, enough lamenting. This holiday CLASSIC (that’s right you damn kids!) is a heart warming story about Santa passing on the torch (or magic if you will) to the new select Santa. Its a movie about self-discovery, family, doing the right thing, selflessness, and how even rich cooperate CEO’s can get what they want on Christmas, even snow. And as always, the late great Jim Varney is especially on par!
3. Bad Santa (2003):
Changing gears here to the more adult themed Christmas movies, Bad Santa is one of my favorite “raunchy” holiday flicks. Billy Bob Thornton plays such a great deplorable character. And Tony Cox is as usual witty and hilarious. There are a number of late great actors in this movies as well, including both: John Ritter and Bernie Mac. Bad Santa is a fun dark comedy about a pair of poorly teamed con-artists who, once a year, reunite to rob outlet malls on, you guessed it, Christmas Eve. Billy seems like a natural drunk, his performance looked very genuine! This one may be better suited to watch after the kids go to bed and the beers come out.
4. Scrooged (1988):
Yet another take on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” What makes this one highly watchable is because it has the ever supreme Bill Murray as the leading role as Frank Cross (Ebenezer) who apparently in this retelling is a wildly successful television executive with cold ambition. Scruffy voiced Bobcat Goldthwait makes an wild shotgun toting appearance in this classic movie. As well as a full cast of late greats who help Murray re-evaluate his actions and right the wrongs of his past. Another dark comedy, def. worth your time to watch after the kids go to bed!
5. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989):
I couldn’t possible conduct a list of top Christmas movies and not include one of Chevy Chases’ best hits in the National Lampoon archive, could I? No! This family friendly comedy is probably on the shelf of every red-blooded American, right beside those creepy nightmare Elf on the shelf’s….eek! Christmas Vacation is classic story about a family man trying to do everything he can to pull off a perfect Christmas. But in most, if not all, Chevy Chase flicks, nothing ever goes according to plan, yet somehow everything eventually finds it way back to some kind of warmhearted object morality. “Awe, kidnapping and assault is okay, kids. I learned the real meaning of Christmas!”
6. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946):
Moving into the more classic of holiday traditions, this legendary black and white Frank Capra movie has been in the queue of the last three generations, no doubt passed down from great-grandparent to grandparent to parents to the kids of today. How could you not fall in love with this one? It’s a classic suicide tale with George Bailey (played by the late great James Stewart) having wished he had never been born, when an angel is sent to earth to make his wish come true. But soon after, George starts to realize how many lives he has changed and impacted, and how they would be different if not worse off had he never been there. I’ve seen so many renditions of this story, the best are usually in short skits or collection movies like “Beavis and Butt-head do Christmas.” This is most certainly a classic you’ll want to watch with your kids. They might grumble at first, but when they get older and can (hopefully) appreciate the classics, they will appreciate your effort and cherish the movie as it properly should be!
7. Die Hard (1988):
Time for the violence!!! Die Hard is a masterpiece that can be enjoyed year round, but during Christmas it holds a significant meaning for the children of the 1980’s! Bruce Willis proved with this action flick that he could hold his own as one of the great pillars of 1980’s action heroes. Die Hard is a classic story of a New York City policeman by the name of John McClane who just so happens to be visiting his estranged wife and daughters on Christmas Eve in LA, cause everyone knows LA is full of weird-o’s. He joins wifey at a holiday corporate Christmas party where she works. But the festivities are interrupted by a group of hodgepodge terrorists who take over the exclusive high-rise. Not only does Die Hard have one of our nations greatest fictionalized heroes, but also our top fictionalized villains, Hans Gruber, played by the ever talented Alan Rickman.
8. Black Christmas (1974):
And now for the horror!!! Some may be surprised, but Christmas isn’t without its freights! There are plenty of horror themed yuletide mayhem for those with a taste for something a little darker than “A Christmas Carol.” Black Christmas is my pick for horror during the month of December. Its a tale following a group of sorority sisters, who begin to receive anonymous, lascivious phone calls. Initially, the girls egg the caller on, but stop when he responds threateningly. Soon, one goes missing from the sorority house, and a local adolescent girl is found murdered, leading the girls to suspect a serial killer is on the loose and it may just be the killer on the phone! Cue dramatic music (Da-Da-Daaaaa!). Black Christmas, in its own right, is a classic slasher, maybe even borderline exploitation, following the great sorority house murder movies during this era. You can find this gem free on YouTube! Enjoy!
9. And everyone else!!!
As this list has progressed, I’ve noticed just how many great seasonal flicks there are to watch! Its just too numerous to list them all. So, in the object of saving some time, lets go through the honorable mentions waiting in my Christmas Queue:
Lethal Weapon (1987) classic action!
Trading Places (1983) classic racial comedy!
Batman Return (1992) classic awesomeness!
Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972) another old school 1970’s horror!
Gremlins (1984) everyone’s favorite don’t feed your pet after midnight movies!
Fred Claus (2007) Hey, no judgments!! I thought it was funny!
The Santa Clause (1994) still no judgments, I saw this when I was a kid, and I still love it!!! And I love Tim Allen!!!
Well, here is my list. What are some of your favorite Christmas movies?
Before I say anything about this topic of Renfield and Dwight Frye, I want to show you a short clip from Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931):
Admittedly, my first screening of Dracula (1931) was only a few short months ago. There is no explanation or excuse for this, except to say that in my youth, the classics paid little interest for me. I was too busy enjoying the classics of my own generation. These, according to my own worldview, were the new pillars of horror, 80’s and 90’s classics such as: Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and demonic flicks like Hellraiser and Demon Night. George Romero flicks were popular as well when I was growing up, or at least with me they were always popular!! Honestly, looking back, I’m not sure I would have appreciated these black and white originators of terror. It takes a certain amount of patience to sit through a movie of images and dialogue, without much action involved. Patience, you can say, developed through age. So I’m not entirely sure if I should be happy or a little worried that I’ve reached that pinnacle of maturity? Nevertheless — let age come as it may — within the last five years I have been digesting the TRUE classics of horror, going back to the old silent greats, such: Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney Sr., and The Cat and the Canary (1939) with the ever enchanting Paulette Goddard, The Hands of Orlac (1924) with the haunting Conrad Veidt, and even the curious film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920). Just to name a few. In 2014 alone, I’ve seemed to digest more of the old greats than at any other point in my horror film fanatic career. When I watched the Wolfman (1941) with Lon Chaney Jr. at the helm, I fell absolutely head-over-heels. Chaney Jr. played such a pitiful role, you really began to feel sorry for the man. But the conversations and the way people used to speak with one another calls to that nostalgic reminiscence of “those were the days,” even if we never even lived in “those days!”
This brings me to my discussion with you here today. During my first screening of Dracula (1931) my mood was abuzz with an-tic-i—-pation (think Dr. Frank-n-Furter). Watching Bela Lugosi dawn the cape and cowl for his signature role was mesmerizing. The man didn’t say much, but his — whats the right word — presence (that’s the one!) was strong. And while I love Tod Browning’s style of Dracula and the images he used to bring the character to life, or un-life, so to speak, there was just something about Dwight Frye as Renfield that was more powerful, more terrifying than Dracula himself. Lugosi as Dracula, though amazing, was still played as a borderline caricature, instead of a character. Frye shinned as Renfield because he was a character actor in its truest sense. If you’ve watched the clip above, then you know what I’m talking about. There are so many scenes, such as this one, in which you really feel the madness Renfield internalizes. He’s almost funny, in that awful, gut wrenching, maniac kind of way. The best kinds of horror that delve into madness usually — always — borderline comedy. Consider Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove: or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb (1964) as one of the best examples of the nature and influence of “dark-humor” and how off-putting it is. Dr. Strangelove was not a horror movie per-say, but its subject matter and delivery were apocalyptic nonetheless.
Dwight Frye as Renfield is just one of those instances where the minor supporting character out performed the main protagonist or antagonist, depending on how you look at it. Lugosi as Dracula was a noteworthy performance. Hell, Dracula was Lugosi’s signature role — he was buried in the damn costume for crying out loud!! He was — is — Dracula. I’m not trying to take anything away from that. I’m just saying, for me, Dwight Frye as Renfield was more frightening. He was more convincing. One moment he was sane and rational. And the next…a complete raving lunatic who still thought and rationalized in his new normality. Interestingly enough, Frye went on to play Fritz in Frankenstein (1931) later in the same year he played as Renfield. He also went on to play in other horror classics, such as: The Vampire Bat (1933), The Circus Queen Murder (1933) and, of course, Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Despite being such an amazing actor, in my opinion at least, Dwight Frye would not succeed as the main star for any of his later films. Authors of his biography, Gregory William Mank and James Coughlin, said it best in Dwight Frye’s Last Laugh: An Authorized Biography, stating:
“The black magic of Universal had seemingly thrown a curse on Dwight Frye … The actor who so desperately wanted to act a variety of roles was suddenly typed as a ghoul; more personally and ironically, a Christian Scientist with a deep sense of religion found himself linked with movies blazing with the occult, blasphemy and the supernatural” (111).
Why in the seven worlds is Universal opening its vault for the sole purpose of rebooting/rehashing its classic anthology of movie monsters? If you haven’t seen or heard the news yet, let me break it to you. You may want to sit down. Apparently Universal Studios is bringing back everyone’s favorite classic movie monsters, we’re talking Frankenstein (1931), The Wolfman (1941), Dracula (1931), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), The Mummy (1932), and The Invisible Man (1933). “What’s so terrible about that?”…you may ask. Well…let’s talk about it. According to most of every article I’ve read on the subject, this rehashing has been going around the table for some time. Lots of rumor and speculation has boiled the pot into an absolute frenzy among horror nerds and bloggers, such as myself. But why are we so worked up? More movies is good movies, right? Unfortunately that is not the case. More/new movies does not necessarily mean good, as in quality. In fact, we’re more than likely to get flicks representative of 2004’s (a decade ago, if you can believe that!) telling of Van Helsing (which stared Hugh Jackman, our lovable Wolverine). Which is to say, a boring story with plenty of action. Now, I’m not personally saying Van Helsing was horrible. It was actually a fun watch. A movie you where you could unplug and allow your brain to ooze out the ear. Van Helsing was a popcorn movie, no doubt. But weren’t the original Universal monster movies more than that? Van Helsing may have been fun to watch, with all the flashing lights and bells, but it had no meaning, no purpose. The original films said something about the era in which they were made…God, I hope that doesn’t hold true for the films we’re putting out today!
Frankenstein had the subtext of a world torn apart by The Great War and reassembled in this new world order. Dracula, for me at least, dealt with xenophobia and blood mixing. Powerful stuff in the 1930’s, perhaps more nowadays if you so happen to turn on the news. The Wolfman was a classic Greek tragedy where beneath the fur and fangs, you saw the terrified glimpse of Hitler’s raise to power in Nazi Germany. Not that the Wolfman was Hitler, but rather Talbot represented European Jewry during a time of mass hysteria and persecution. A power manifested image of how people may have felt to be looked at differently.
Do you see where my concern is coming from? The classics had significant meaning and purpose. What significance or meaning will the reboots bring? Well, as it turns out, Universal is only looking at the dollar signs. With this huge insurgence with cinematic universes being explored with both Marvel and DC, Universal wants to cash in, the only issue is that they do not have anything in their stable, but the classic monsters, to bring back. And to make matters worse, the most recent rumor is that Universal executives want to cut out the horror aspect in the films and turn them into action films instead. This goes back to my Van Helsing comment. This films might end up being fun to watch, something we can unplug our brains to, but it will not have any significance. And the removal of the horror aspect makes no sense to me. The entire essence of the classics are in themselves horror. How is it even possible to do such a thing? Perhaps the executive who mentioned it or started the rumor meant that the films were going to be geared toward horror/action and not just horror in general.
To tell the truth, when I first heard the news that Universal was bringing back the classics, there was some excitement there. The most recent rehash with The Wolfman (2010) was not entirely horrible. It wasn’t the mind numbing action of Van Helsing, thank goodness. The only thing they got wrong on that one was the overuse of CGI. Hairy Hopkins would have been forgivable had the producers/director stuck with practical/traditional effects. Had they called in Rick Baker….damn…it could have been a phenomenal movie!! In my opinion, the acting in the 2010 Wolfman was on par with the 1941 original. And as far as scripts go, they retold the story without ignoring the roots. It really shows how close they came, but ultimately gave up because of poor reviews and revenue. Some may disagree with me on this one. But hey, its just my opinion.
My hope is that all these rumors are just that, rumors. Creating a cinematic universe with the original baddies of horror is not entirely awful. There are many classic crossovers in the vault to compare. The Wolfman meets Frankenstein (1943) is my personal favorite. However, if the new ventures become nothing more than another meaningless Van Helsing rendition, well… in retrospect it’ll be nothing more than another golden opportunity lost in creating something with real, lasting significant.
Let me just say, that I have been a Romero fan for a very long time. Longer than when I started considering myself a “horror guy.” I’ve been a fan, considering my age, since the release of Savini’s directorial foray with Night of the Living Dead. Even after finally watching the original (of which I love more now that I’m older), I still consider the remake as a Romero flick. Why? Simple enough. He wrote it. Savini directed. End of story.
The feel I had watching one of Romero’s “dead” flicks is a very fond and pleasant memory. Friday night. Popcorn. Pizza. Junk food. The life, right? I still get that feel watching movies, but especially horror movies, and even more especially when watching any one of Romero’s trilogy: Night, Dawn, Day.
When I finally sat down to watch Dawn of the Dead, the movie became an instant favorite. I wouldn’t dare say Dawn is better than Night, but Day…well..
So, why am I a Romero fan? Good question. In all of film, horror is the most honest. Horror will show you the ugly mess society often turns things. Film makers normally are not intentionally making a movies with social commentary in mind; social commentary is usually a byproduct of the times the movie was made. However, with horror, more often than not, social commentary is intentional. Or at least most of the time! And Dawn of the Dead, all of Romero’s original trilogy, even Diary of the Dead, are chocked full of subversive commentary!!
This is part of the reason why I’m turned on to horror. You can tell a fun and exciting story, filled with interesting characters and creatures, whilst also turning over the apple cart, as Romero has said during an interview with Nightmares in the Red, White, and Blue. With horror, you can be as brutally honest as you want, just so long as it makes sense politically, and in the context of the story.
Dawn of the Dead was released in 1978, yet amazingly and tragically (in a way) its bit on consumerism is still so very relevant. The things that fill the void, so to speak. Stuff can only make us happy for a little while..and then.. “What the hell are they?” And so on!