Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Writers: Jaume Balagueró (screenplay), Luiso Berdejo
Release Date: 23 November 2007 (Spain)
Since its release back in 2007, REC has since become something of a modern horror classic, and is no doubt destined to be in the pantheon of greats in the many years to come. Like it’s found footage forebear The Blair Witch Project it elevates its limitations to enormous strengths – creating a building and palpable tension throughout that will have you creeping closer, and closer to the edge of your seat as it reaches its horrifying conclusion.
Co-written and directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, REC presents itself as ‘real’ footage recorded when a local TV reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) cover a fire crew about their day-to-day lives, and join them when they respond to a vague emergency call about an elderly lady in a local apartment building. Continue Reading
Of all the Universal Monsters, the Mummy is one of my favorites. For this reason, I felt inclined to say a few words regarding my affection. Why the Mummy? Certainly, as you will discover here with this review by the most excellent Mr. Chant, The Mummy is not the most flamboyant of creatures. Considering how monster-ish Frank and Drac are and continue to be through the duration of their respective films, one wonders why The Mummy was so…well, droll. And yes, its true, The Mummy is droll to many monster fans. But as it were, still, I adore The Mummy. The Mummy, Ardeth Bay, Imhotep, Boris, what have you, reminds me of another would-be villain from my 90s childhood, Mr. Freeze. In the Batman animated series, Mr. Freeze is both a brooding and terrifyingly stoic, yet tragic and very much human. His motivations make sense and its because of this the character, to me, feels more real and thus more horrifying than a majority of the classic monster tropes. As it were, monsters are of personal taste and perspectives, so without further ado, I present to you this second installment in the Universal Monsters in review. Enjoy!
THE MUMMY: a monstrous retrospective
By: Daniel Marc Chant
The Mummy, directed by Dracula cinematographer Karl Freund, shares a lot of similarities with Universal’s breakout vampire hit. Both films have luscious imagery, a great central concept and a ponderous (if somewhat dull) plot overshadowed by the performance of its titular monster. In other words The Mummy isn’t a great film, even when viewed with a wave of heady nostalgia, but it’s an important one nonetheless and is more often remembered for its legacy than its content.
After the lucrative success of Dracula and Frankenstein, Universal was looking for another monster smash and followed the studio formula we still find in Hollywood today, that of utilising established and proven talent from past blockbusters in the hope of creating a new one.
Inspired by the archaeological find of Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb by the British Museum in 1921, and the subsequent tabloid craze about the curse unleashed by opening it, there was an untapped demand for Egyptian mystery at that time and Universal saw an opportunity to cash in on the craze a decade or so later.
Dracula screenwriter John L. Balderston took the idea and wrote his draft, originally titled Cagliostro, which was largely a beat-for-beat remake of his work on Dracula. His work as a Playwright first and foremost shines through both works as they often play like a theatre production as opposed to a film – set pieces and cast are minimal, it’s as though it were intended for the boards rather than film. Indeed I dare say The Mummy would be better as a stage play than a film but that’s just me.
The film opens with a stereotypically British ensemble of archaeologists uncovering the ancient tomb of high priest Imhotep, buried with the mystical scroll of Thoth, and a warning that whoever disturbs his eternal slumber shall suffer the bitter consequences. Dr. Miller (Edward Van Sloan), Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) and scenery chewing Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) discuss their findings while the good Doctor and Sir Whemple head outside leaving Norton to mess about with the scroll, reading from it with young foolishness. It’s here that we see the Mummy, and really the only time too, as Boris Karloff’s Imhotep is shaken to life after the reading. As Imhotep stumbles to life and takes the scroll Norton erupts into a camp cackling descent into madness that would embarrass a Lovecraft character.
This is where we flash forward ten years and another expedition by Sir Whemple’s son Frank (played by David Manners) is frustrated by the lack of discoveries. A ponderous Egyptian calling himself Ardeth Bay (an anagram of “death by Ra”) enters claiming he knows the exact location of Princess Anckes-en-Amon’s burial chamber. Ardeth is so obviously Karloff that the ‘bait and switch’ reveal is signposted a mile off but that’s not the real point – Ardeth’s undying love for his dead lover is supposed to resonate with us, creating sympathy for the devil as it were.
It’s here that Ardeth first sees Helen Grosvenor (actress Zita Johann) who possesses many similarities to the deceased Princess and that beguiles him to her charms. And as British born Boris Karloff portrays both Adeth Bey and Imhotep, his performance is fantastic and excruciatingly slow.
While it might be looked down upon to speak negatively of old classics I’ll be the first to say that Universal’s Dracula isn’t that good a film. It’s pacing is monotonous and dull. As I mentioned beforehand the hand of a Playwright writing cinema has created a production better suited for one of London’s great theatres rather than the silver screen.
Director Karl Freund, cinematographer on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis let’s not forget, is capable of delivering stunning imagery – more potent given the technical limitations of the time – and his Germanic expressionist roots made Tod Browning’s Dracula more visually exciting than the director ever could alone. Especially considering that Browning abandoned the set after a well-documented disorganized shoot leaving Freund to pick up the pieces and stitch together the Godfather of horror films.
The Mummy and Dracula also share more than just Freund, actors David Manners and Edward Van Sloan return to essentially play the same characters and screenwriter Balderston imbues The Mummy with the same presence of Dracula within the script. Hell even the framing of Karloff employs the same cinematic methods applies to Lugosi in Dracula. Remember when I said Universal was utilising established and proven talent from past blockbusters in the hope of creating a new one? Here we see it in full force.
The most disappointing thing about The Mummy is the fact that the phenomenal make up by Jack Pierce is only seen for five minutes or so at the start of the film when Imhotep is uncovered. The rest of the time Karloff is playing Ardeth Bay, with aged make up rather than bandages. This is a monster movie without a monster.
Regardless The Mummy stormed to massive success in 1933 and Universal had their new hit to join the ranks of Dracula and Frankenstein. The Invisible Man would soon follow, as would The Bride of Frankenstein and more. There would even be further journeys into Imhotep’s legacy, with 1940’s remake The Mummy’s Hand and its subsequent sequels. Also Hammer Film Productions took their swing at the bandaged bastard in the 1959 film The Mummy, itself based on The Mummy’s Hand rather than the original. And lest we forget Stephen Sommers’ gleefully fun 1999 re-imagination as a rollicking adventure.
The Mummy is a curiosity of a film. A piece of history. A relic. Its legacy is more important than itself. It is wrapped in history like its monster in bandages, unable to escape them but more interesting because of them.
Daniel Marc Chant is the published author of several terrifying tales, including: Maldicion, Burning House, and his newest venture, Mr. Robespierre. Daniel is also one of the founders of The Sinister Horror Company, the publishing team that brought us such frights as, The Black Room Manuscripts and God Bomb!. You can follow Daniel on his blog, here.
Beyond this door is another dimension. Another reality utterly unfathomable to the human mind. Real terror exists, I’m afraid. Its the same fear that pulls your eyes to the nearly shut closet, the over-consuming cawing of the mind, like some hellbound raven. The persistent thought that something indeed in hiding under your bed. Yes. Beyond this door leads to a world of unrestrained imagination. Of sight and sound. Of shadow and superstition. At the summit are the limits of knowledge. Below, are the pit are our fears. But on this highway we’ll find discovery and a wanton taste for delicacies untold. On this road we’ll discover the opus cravings writers of macabre crave most. For every wordsmith craves knowledge. So come, cross the threshold. What is there to fear, but fear itself?
Daniel Marc Chant:
When Thomas S. Flowers asked two books I’d recommend I was wracked with indecision and frustration. Each fleeting moment of thought made me focus on a book I’d read and consider it for inclusion, often the latest one that came to mind would replace the one before it, and so on. Like a mad carousel of interchanging novels my head spun round and round, unable to settle or decide on just one – let alone two.
It’s immediately obvious to those that know me I’m a massive fan of Lovecraft. I’ve had so many discussions on Lovecraft’s influence on not only my life but the lives of those more talented and verbose than I. So while I felt I could include any of his work in a ‘best of’ list his impact on me is no secret. I felt obliged to include other authors. I usually rely on two stock answers to questions – “My favourite author is H. P. Lovecraft and my favourite film is John Carpenter’s The Thing.”
Thanks to this challenge I cannot rely on these answers so will attempt to capture my adoration for the genre I now occupy, the one of the mysterious and the macabre.
These tales had a meaningful impact on me for various reasons and, if you haven’t read them, I’d strongly suggest you do.
After all there’s nothing like a good book. But there’s especially nothing like sharing a good book.
Hell House by Richard Matheson
Hell House is written by Richard Matheson, most of you probably know him by his little known work entitled I Am Legend.
While I Am Legend tends to steal the spotlight Hell House is equally as terrifying, personally I think a thousand times more. Small time indie author Stephen King once commented, “Hell House is the scariest haunted house novel ever written. It looms over the rest the way the mountains loom over the foothills.”
First published in 1971 it tells the tale of Dr. Barrett and his wife Edith together with two mediums Florence Tanner and Benjamin Franklin Fischer. It’s a classic set up as millionaire William Reinhardt Deutsch, on his death bed and desperate for some form of immortality, hires the team to investigate the possibility of life after death. The group heads to Maine and stays at the notorious Belasco House, regarded as the most haunted house in the world.
It’s a wonderful premise and one that doesn’t fail to deliver throughout its brief 288 pages. The house was the site of ancient blasphemy and the walls of the titular Hell House now cause those within its walls to deteriorate into madness and insanity. There are some wonderful subtexts at play here as the house preys on each person’s weakness – each character serving as a vessel for wider societal issues with spirituality, arrogance, insecurity, pent up frustration and more all swiftly eviscerated, challenged or twisted by the malevolent house.
It’s because of this the book played on my mind, and still does. The book spends its first half carefully building tension, creaking doors but never slamming them, and the whole book is peppered with a bleakness and eeriness that I find lacking in a lot of horror. It’s all the more impressive given its age that it can still shock, still surprise and still offend those of a delicate nature.
It’s often described as a product of its time (aren’t all books that?) but I say silence the naysayers and pick a copy of this up. Dim the lights and light a candle and read undisturbed. I guarantee it will get inside your head. And it will stay there.
The Witches by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is well known in literary circles and beyond. He’s a titan with a massive legacy. He’s given us Willy Wonka, James and a Giant Peach, The B. F. G. and more. Reading his books is a rite of passage for young readers.
First published in 1983, when I was a mere 5 years old, I can’t exactly recall when or how this book came into my possession. All I know is that I read it in a night. The words and Quentin Blake’s illustrations captured my young imagination like a trap and I didn’t so much read this book as experience it.
Witches have cropped up throughout society and literature for hundreds of years, most famously in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but in Dahl’s tale witches are trying to rid the world of children by turning them into mice because the smell they give off is odorous to witches. It’s down to a small Norwegian boy and his cunning grandmother try and save the world’s children from these hideous bald vultures.
It doesn’t pull any emotional punches despite the fact it’s a kids book. It’s dark, subversive (some have claimed it’s sexist and/or misogynistic) and has a genuinely sad and depressing ending (something the film adaptation chose to leave out).
Reading Roald Dahl’s books made me feel like he had respect for me as a reader, not as a child, but simply a young reader. I think Neil Gaimain is similarly capable of not pandering and talking down to young readers but instead challenging them and shocking them. I firmly believe that if you give children respect in fiction they will give fiction respect. It’s why Roald Dahl remains one of the best loved children’s authors of all time.
I want to thank Daniel Marc Chant for taking the time and telling us a bit about the two books that have influenced and shaped his tastes for the strange and unusual. Daniel Marc Chant is a delectably brilliant author who has recently released his debut work of horror fiction, Maldicion, available on both paperback or eBook. Daniel is also the mastermind of an upcoming horror anthology that has pooled together some amazingly talented indie writers, The Black Room Manuscripts. You can keep in touch in Daniel Marc Chant on his website or on Twitter.