Frankenweenie (2012)

Film: Frankenweenie
Release: 2012, theatrical
Starring: Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer, James Hiroyuki Liao
Directed by: Tim Burton
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: After the death of his dog, the child genius Victor Frankenstein decides to bring him back to life. When the other kids in his class catches wind of it, they try to steal his secrets in other to win the upcoming science fair

Hans' thoughts:

It's starting to become general consensus around Tim Burton fans that the director is at his best when he sticks to making movies based completely on an original idea, rather than adapting someone else's work in his own unique style. So what happens when the man decides to adapt one of his own former creations for the big screen? Well, let's take a look at Frankenweenie.

Taking a middle school spin on the classic tale of the man who created a monster, Frankenweenie is a lot more heartwarming story about a boy and his dog - and how the boy decided to play god in order to have the dog stick around post mortem. The original Frankenweenie was only about 25 minutes long and the story has certainly gone through some changes in order to better fit the big screen. More plots have been added, more characters and the film is now littered with references for the horror fans to pick up on. The movie is of course, as many other Tim Burton originals, done entirely in stop-motion animation. It's a great way to pick up on the creepiness that the Burton artstyle entails, if you've seen any of Burtons other animated features (Corpse Bride, Vincent, The Nightmare Before Christmas) you can easily recognize the style. The big and heavily shaded eyes being as present as ever. This kind of story is also where this artstyle "belongs", so to speak. While I love the style personally, it is kinda off-putting to see the style used for classic childrens stories as has been done with Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland. Another thing they decided to do was make the entire movie in black & white, possibly to enhance the feeling of the story taking place in a 1930's Universal Pictures horror-movie, this also means that the movie has absolutely beautiful work with shadows - akin to that of the german impressionism and the movies of which it parodies. This isn't the first time Burton has delibaretly chosen to shoot in black & white, both the original Frankenweenie and his bio-pic of the desperate 50's director Ed Wood were done in this style. This isn't something tacked on, Burton has a geniune love for the era.

This is where I unfortunately have to put the praise to a halt, because while I definitely enjoyed myself during the movie it wasn't shot with my age group in mind. No, this film was supposed to be a childrens movie and I very much doubt that a superior number of kids would get much enjoyment out of this film. Much of the humor in the film comes from references to monster movies, little gags such as the japanese kid pulling out a camera at the sight  of a giant monster or a female poodle getting a white line in its hair much akin to the look of the Bride of Frankenstein. While I certainly got a laugh out of some of them, I picture a lot of kids wouldn't. Then again, I'm just some guy what the heck do I know what the kids are into these days? However, many countries must've felt the same because while the movie certainly got a theatrical release, it wasn't dubbed into all that many languages. In Denmark, for one, the movie was only released with subtitles. 

One the other hand, the extended story is actually pretty cute. I commend the ability of the animators to really capture what an animal would act like. Frankenweenie isn't some super intelligent dog who knows exactly what to do in all situations. He's still just a dog so he will act irrationally and misbehave sometimes, just like a real dog would. I don't know for certain if I should commend the movie on the animals being the most convincing characters however. As for the acting of the humans, they do a well enough job with what they've been given. The characters aren't particularly deep, but taking into account what the actors were given to work with, well there's not much else they could do than just sticking to their guns and try to deliver a great performance - which they do. The characters of the movie, while all fun to look at (sporting the burton artstyle helps) none of them are "normal". With the possible exception of Victors parents, all the main characters of the movie have some kind of absurd character trait. One kid looks, as an example, exactly like the stereotypical hunchback lab assistant that would show up in a Frankenstein movie. It is off-putting at first but fortunately the movie and the story is actually well-written enough to make the characters work and in spite of their absurdity I still found the characters likeable - I wanted them to succeed in their endeavours. You cannot ask for much more when the focus of the movie is elsewhere. 

Frankenweenie is a cute version of the classic Frankenstein tale, and had the movie not relied too much on referencing the entirety of the horror genre from a certain era the film could've been a truly great introduction for kids to the story. Key moments from Frankenstein are certainly present in the film to some extent, but the extra layer of movie references is just way too much to take in at once at some points. There is fun for horror fans, Burton fans and animation fans alike in this film - as for the rest of you perhaps you will find something in the tale of a boy and his dog, and how hard it can be to let go when the time finally comes.


Psycho (1960)

Film: Psycho
Release: 1960, theatrical
Starring: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Next in the series: Psycho II
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: A young woman steals a large sum of money in order to meet up with and marry her lover. Along the way she decides to stay in a remote hotel, run by nervous man and his mother.

Hans' thoughts:

Today considered a timeless classic, Psycho takes what initially seems like a "normal" thriller story and then spins it on it's head when the main character turns out to be someone completely different. Now, had I been talking about any other movie I would've considered that a spoiler and withheld the information. However, Psycho is an internationally recognized masterpiece and it is neigh impossible to be unaware of the infamous shower scene in this film. People who've never seen Psycho, know exactly what the Bates hotel is so I am going to write the rest of this article as a review of what I consider the "actual" movie, the first 30 minutes being a giant fake-out. Okay, I apologize deeply but the movie is now 53 years old and I consider it highly unlikely that nobody in this day and age would not know about the giant change of tone the film suddenly takes. Part of what makes Psycho such a good movie anyway, is that it can still be thrilling, horrifying and enjoyable in spite of people knowing what is going to happen.

Though a bit eccentric, Norman seems like he would've been
the hero in any other movie
Psycho is a horror mystery movie and a very good one, by some considered the movie that kickstarted the Slasher sub-genre. Part of what makes the movie is our main character. Norman Bates. He seems like such a rational innocent man, if a bit weak willed, who just has a deep love for his mother whom he takes care of. This is partly because of the performance of Anthony Perkins. Perkins seems like such a sympathetic person in this picture and the fact that he would hide such dark secrets is truly unthinkable. It is no wonder that Perkins' career would later suffer from typecasting in other movies. He really steals every scene he's in, partially because in other movies he would probably be the dashing hero, saving the damsel in distress from some evil plot. Good old Hitch sure pulled a fast one on audiences with this one.

What exactly is going on in the Bates household however, I won't disclose here. Let's just say that the answer to that question is definitely a surprise. Our other characters also do a very good job. While we don't learn much about them, their motivations are always clear and nothing they come off as for the sake of plot convenience. There is no unnecessary exposition here. It can honestly be compared to the story of Citizen Kane, where we become intimately familiar with a character through the conversations of others. As is always the case with Hitchcock movies, the film is shot incredibly well. The biggest testament to this is the formerly mentioned shower scene, parodied and referenced in all sorts of media since - right down to even Looney Tunes Back In Action, that is far cry from the tone of the original (what else is, Looney Tunes Back In Action was made in 2003. The likelihood of the movie's intended audience having actually seen "Psycho" is.. very small). 

Now, if you know anything about history you're probably wondering "Why in the world was a film from 1960 filmed in black and white?" That is indeed an interesting detail - as the story goes Hitchcock himself felt that making "Psycho" a color movie would render it far too bloody and gory for a wide audience. That's a legitimate reason that I would have accepted - had the decision not been made by someone as sneaky as Alfred Hitchcock. What I mean by this is that Hitchcock had received training in German silent cinema in his younger days, studios well known for their impressive work with light and shadow. I refuse to believe that is coincidence then, that this movie sports a lot of absolutely beautiful lighting work. Shadows showing the duality of characters, or making the sets feel more dark and foreboding.

This poster awaited late customers hoping to
watch Psycho, unfortunately time has taken it's toll
and left this movie without it's biggest twist.
Not to forget about this movie is the films score. While many scenes are as silent as reality, the now iconic screeching theme just MAKES some of the scenes. It just works really well and it may have been an early sign of perfecting the technique of "the jump scare". Only difference being that this is used in scenes that would actually be scary even without the music, amplifying the fear and shock effect rather than triggering a common reflex to high noises as most modern pictures unfortunately tend to do. Don't believe me? Try watching modern horror movies and count how many times the supposed "fear" comes from a sudden high noise and change of imagery rather than being the result of a well-constructed atmosphere.

In the case of Psycho, one could argue that a piece of art is only great in it's completely intended form. With the advent of the internet, many films has lost it's twists (some even before they're officially released). People today will throw around spoilers left and right, assuming everyone has seen the film because of it's age and thus ruining some of the fun for later generations or merely potential viewers. While this is certainly a sad scenario (you try finding someone who doesn't know the truth about Luke Skywalkers parents) I have to admit that most of the enjoyment of Psycho actually comes from the film alone. Plot twist or not, this movie certainly stands on it's own even to this day, and what more can you wish for as proof of a films quality? I say make some popcorn, huddle up in your couch and watch a masterpiece that helped define a genre.


Count Dracula's Great Love (1973)

Film: Count Dracula's Great Love
Alternate Titles: Dracula, Dracula's Castle, Dracula: The Movie,Cemetery Girls, Vampire Playgirls, Cemetery Tramps, Enter Dracula and Dracula's Virgin Lovers
Release: 1973, theatrical
Starring: Paul Naschy, Rosanna Yanni, Haydée Politoff
Directed by: Javier Aguirre
Description: When their stagecoach breaks down in the middle of a forest, four young girls and a professor has to rely on the hospitality of an Austrian doctor living in a secluded castle, unfortunately the good doctor turns out to be none other than the king of vampires himself, Dracula!

Hans' thoughts:

In the 1960's and early 70's, the classic horror icons had made a triumphant return to the screen with the movies by Hammer Films. The films had blood, gore and beautiful women becoming victims of overpowering monsters. One of the most popular monster series from Hammer was the Dracula films starring Christopher Lee, a role in which he would become simply iconic. I imagine those were what the creators had in mind when a small spanish studio decided to do their own Dracula feature, filled with all the big selling points from the era. Before you make any assumptions, no I'm not saying that the Spanish can't make horror movies, in fact they created what many consider the best version of the 1930's Dracula movie, shot side by side with the Bela Lugosi version. El Gran Amor Del Conde Dracula however, is nothing like that. This movie is as barebones as it gets.

the most convincing actors of the movie, the horses, unfortunately
leave early on.
So after an actually not too bad opening scene, we see the first problem with the movie. During the opening credits, the death scene of a man rolling down some stairs is looped. blatantly. I don't know if the creators had run out of time when they got to this point, but just for the record: If you want to show all your credits in the beginning of the film please at least show something else in the background than what amounts to looking at the same .GIF animation for three minutes. I'll be honest and say that I actually shut the movie off by this point for a couple of hours, I needed mental preparation for what I was in for.

So after being huddled up in a corner muttering to myself for a few minutes, I was ready to jump right back into the movie. Forcing myself to sit through the draining force of the opening credits. What awaited me on the other side was almost just as bad. We meet our "heroes" in the stagecoach. Here they're having a conversation about local tales from the area, what fascinates me is that even through the poor English dub of the movie, I could still recognize poor acting ability AND poor writing. I don't know if the sentence "What beautiful stories I will have to tell when I get back to Munich" followed by the horrific legend of Dracula sounds natural in the movie's native language but I very much doubt it. This is of course, a pretty shortsighted attempt at delivering exposition. Get used to this, because almost every line spoken by any character in most of the movie is not natural conversation at all but rather blatant exposition dumping. 

To be fair, being told a good horror story is not the reason this movie was made at all. It becomes pretty clear by the 20 minute point that this movie was made almost exclusively with the male demographic in mind, when the main characters aren't flashing their mammaries, they're walking around with pretty low-cut dresses. At the very least the film is honest about it's intentions early on. I don't think it's a secret to anyone why this particular piece was a feature on "Movie Macabre", a TV-show presented by hostess character "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark". It was a late night comedy tv-show where the hostess would sport revealing clothing and show B-list horror films. Therefore, once you've come to terms with what exactly this film is you can most likely turn your brain off and enjoy the fun. The rest of the movie is pretty much what you would expect from a film like this. The four girls are turned by Count Dracula one by one and forced to torture young women from the nearby village. 

I have to defend something in this movie though: I really like the sets. As cheesy as it is, whatever mansion was chosen to act as the castle in this movie gets the job done and when it does have to at least pay homage to the setting of the film, it does so well. Poor acting abilities aside, I like the scenes where they actually attempt to build up an atmosphere even though they fail in most cases. If you're able to watch absolute lowest denominator crap and still have a good time with it, this is for you. This movie just barely hits the "so bad it's good" mark which is what made it tolerable. You have to give the movie points for at least trying to deliver a fun experience, if you want a different look at Dracula this is a fun, albeit poorly made, attempt.

As with "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter", this film is in the Public Domain, meaning you can watch the movie RIGHT NOW. Right here in the article. Alternatively you can download the film right HERE


Series of Events: Another (2012)

In "Series of Events" we take a look at finished TV-shows.

Series: Another (アナザー Anazā)
Release: 2012, Television/Simulcast
Length: 12 episodes
Starring: Atsushi Abe, Natsumi Takamori
Directed by: Tsutomu Mizushima
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: The young Kouichi transfer to a new school and class in a small rural town. However, there is a mysterious girl in his new class who everybody seems to ignore deliberately, and his meddling soon opens the door to a mystery and a horrific curse that has haunted the Yomiyama Middle School for ages.

Hans' thoughts:

Based on a novel by the same name, Another proves once again the aptitude the Japanese have for horror. Setting the tone with a low retelling of the beginning of the curse, and some really creepy music, we're introduced to the tale "Mizaki", a person in the 9th grade class 3 who died 26 years prior to the story's beginning. This is just a very good example of things to come, the entirety of the series has the feeling of a really well-told ghost story and the music throughout manages to hold this level of creepiness.

This is also partially because of the series intro Kyomu Densei, while upbeat the use of rhythm changes sounding almost like several different songs blending together. This combined with creepy imagery of the abandoned school building, dolls and several accidents happening just serves to up the creepy even more. I have to say though I am not that big on the closing theme, while certainly pleasant to listen to I feel it is way too reminiscent of ending themes from other series, even those not of the same genre. It also feels really jarring to have this peaceful of an ending theme when an episode leaves off on a chilling cliffhanger.

Character-wise this show really threw me through a loop, when I first watched the series I thought I knew exactly how all the characters were going to be - only to be wrong on so many different occasions. Especially the secondary main character Mizaki would throw me through a hoop a couple of times. Unfortunately our male lead, the character of Kouichi, could've have been written a lot better. He seems way too easily manipulated by the events around him, I don't know whether this was intended to be a character fault of his but he comes off as way too interchangeable, however it's worth noting that by the half-way point of the series he really comes into his own and becomes an interesting protagonist - it's just the initial crawl you have to get over first. There is not much to say about the minor characters, they are all your common high school anime fare. You have the no-nonsense class president, the wisecracking male sidekick and the nervous girl.  The death scenes in this show are on the hand pretty well done, often times coming when least expected.

There is not much difference from other shows, art-wise
Another manages to be cartoon show that's actually scary, something I very much doubt could've been pulled off in western animation, in any case I've yet to see it happen. The withholding of information and the absolute oozing of atmosphere is just a testament to the fact that western writers are far too quick to reveal everything about the main villain, a big problem to me about the slasher genre as an example is that once we know what the deal with the killer is, it stops being a scary story and becomes just a series of imaginative death scenes. Another is a good old fashioned ghost story and really, sometimes that's all you really need to make something scary. The show also manages to not overstay it's welcome and instead only runs 12 episodes. Enough to be given enough time to tell a scary story and wrap things out without padding the story once we already know what is going on.

Another was shown on TV in Japan, but Simulcast throughout most of the west. Simulcast means that episodes of the show were made available for streaming online shortly after it aired on TV. The show was simulcast on the website Crunchyroll.com, where it's still available to watch for free should you be curious to check it out.


Story-liners: 5 Days a Stranger (2003)

Game: 5 Days a Stranger
Release: 2003, Freeware
Created by: Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw
Next in the series: 7 Days a Skeptic
Homepage: Link opens in a new window
Description: A nameless cat-burglar thinks he's in for a smooth get in-take all job in an abandoned mansion when the window suddenly locks behind him. He soon realises he's locked in with 4 others - who one by one starts to show up dead.

Hans' thoughts:

Before becoming well-known for his game review series on The Escapist Magazine, Zero Punctuation, Ben Croshaw aka. Yahtzee was best known for creating freeware video game titles and releasing them on his homepage, Fully Ramblomatic. Arguably his most popular games were the "Chzo Mythos" games, a series of lovecraft-esque horror adventure games, mostly centered around the concepts of helplessness and seclusion. 5 Days a Stranger is the first in the series, sharing it's gameplay and graphics engine with the adventure games of the early 1990's released by Sierra and Lucas Arts.

5 Days is one of those horror stories that by-passes limitations with it's creepy atmosphere and keeps your attention with a well-written mystery. The murderer could be anyone, and the eerie sense of looming danger that the seemingly harmless mansion manages to create is something that should be taken note of by any aspiring horror writer. What exactly is going on, and why everything is happening the way it is turns out to be more complicated than it seems to be initially and in spite of the low resolution graphics, your suspension of disbelief will kick in quite quickly. This isn't a game that abuses the jump scare tactic like most modern works, in fact I'd argue that there really is only one and that one is set up so well that critics of the technique won't have anything to complain about. 

Of course the game does have it's shortcomings, though they are few and far inbetween. The most obvious one would be the lack of voice acting, though I would argue that the silence the game has throughout most of it (There is little to no music in this game outside of events or the title screen) manages to emerge you in the seclusion, your footsteps on the floor being one of the only sounds when you make your way through the mansion. I simply cannot recommend this game enough, if you feel you have trouble with the low-resolution graphics I strongly suggest giving it a try and playing through it anyway. It will give you the same feeling as a novel would give - the writing is certainly just as good. I'm sure you will have chills down your spine as you explore the dark history of the old house and it's surroundings.

As I mentioned, 5 Days a Stranger is a freeware title, meaning the original creator has made the game for free use by anyone who want to. Therefore you can get your fingers on the title RIGHT HERE.

And sweet dreams.


Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966)

Film: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter
Release: 1966, Theatrical
Starring: John Lupton, Narda Onyx, Cal Bolder
Directed by: William Beaudine
Description: While on the run from the law, notorious criminal Jesse James hides out in the castle of Maria Frankenstein, the granddaughter of the legendary scientist who created monsters from the bodies of the dead.

Hans' thoughts:

Originally released as part of a double feature with another famous horror icon meeting a real life western legend (Billy The Kid Vs. Dracula). This film is probably the one with the most serious tone, core concept notwithstanding. Set in 1882, the movie actually takes place after the announced death of Jesse James. For the curious here's some actual historical insight: In the movie they state that James is supposed to have been hanged publicly before the events of the film, but in reality Jesse James was shot in the back of the head, betrayed by a member of his gang. The other titular character is the GRANDdaughter of the original Doctor Frankenstein (why the title says daughter I have no idea), she and her brother has continued the original doctor's experiments and been forced to move to America from Vienna. If we're strictly counting years, these being the grandchildren of Doctor Frankenstein would sort of make sense, if we go by the logic that the original tale took place at the same time of the novel: 1810.. But I digress.

Narda Onyx (right) and John Lupton (left) each play the
titular characters of the movie.
As far as the concept of the movie goes, I have serious trouble believing that there was a market for this particular crossover. As far as I can tell, the two stories have absolutely nothing to do with each other and the "golden age" of horror films had ended in the beginning of the 1940's. Strange as the crossover may be, I actually really like the character of Maria Frankenstein. She makes for a great villain, with little to no regard for her fellow humans. She even treats her own brother, the disillusioned and reluctant Rudolph, with little to no respect. While nothing like the historical Jesse James, I also like the performance by John Lupton. He's very calm and collected, unphased by most of the problems around him so he makes for your typical bad ass western hero. As for the monster of the movie, they chose to go with a sort of Mice & Men dynamic between Jesse James and his partner who would later become the mindless creature. He's a physically strong, slightly dimwitted man who seems to be merely misguided into the criminal life. The design of the monster is also VERY simplistic to say the least, most likely due to the movie being low-budget. But honestly, in spite of their choice to make a notorious robber and murderer into their main character, the Jesse James in the movie is played nothing like the sort of person who would become this feared.

Acting wise, while both of our titular characters are given pretty good performances, the rest of the cast are kind of stiff in their deliveries, most things are also "over-explained", giving the feel of a story that was originally meant for an anthology comic, ala Tales From The Crypt. Honestly I feel that the more restraining time-limit the movie would have been given in a anthology piece, perhaps Creepshow, would've worked more in the story's favour. As it stands, I feel the movie has way too many scenes with out characters just being in the wild west, completely leaving out Maria Frankenstein for almost the entire second act. Instead we have a few western-clichés, like doing a robbery or fighting native Americans. This doesn't help the movie at all, because as I said the only two really good performances in the movie are those of the two titular characters and having most of the movie leaving out one of them just leaves the audience losing their patience. When the two titular characters finally DO meet up, there is a love triangle in the story that, frankly, seems like it came out of nowhere. Giving Maria Frankenstein more of a reason to hate Jesse James does make for a nice motivation from a dramatic standpoint, I just wish the movie instead had spent the time trying to build up the atmosphere or, more importantly - Have more scenes with the monster.

Yes, poor design of monster aside I would very much have preferred to have more time with it than the time we got. It is obvious who the monster will be from the beginning of the film and having more time of Jesse James duking it out with Doctor Frankenstein and her monster would have made for some great action scenes. It would also have made for potential drama, considering the monster is made from Jesse James' former friend. I would have liked to have seen more of that, instead of a love triangle that never really starts before it ends. Once the monster does show up however, this is when the movie actually gets enjoyable and the sheer cheese factor of the monster creation scene sold the entire movie for me. This is what I came to see and I was not disappoint by how much scenery chewing the good Doctor gets to do in this scene. That and wearing a funny hat. A funny hat always helps.

Now normally, this is where the article would end. Leaving you to find this very obscure film to your own but it just so happens that Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter is an abandoned film and therefore in the public domain. Therefore I am glad to present to you with the film, right here in it's full length for your enjoyment. Alternatively you can download it from The Internet Archive right HERE and watch it at your own leisure. Was I right? Was I wrong? Feel free to watch it and leave me a comment to this article!

Dead Heat (1988)

Film: Dead Heat
Release: 1988, Theatrical
Starring: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Lindsay Frost
Directed by: Mark Goldblatt
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: When investigating a number of strange robberies, it suddenly occurs to the criminal investigative team of Robert Mortis and Doug Bigelow that some of the corpses in the morgue are returning customers.

Hans' thoughts:

When talking about cinema in the 1980's, it's no secret that a defining genre of the decade was the buddy cop comedy. A rag-tag duo of a serious by-the-book cop and his wisecracking partner with a heart of gold trying to stop some larger than life crime organization from whatever plot they have in the work is a pretty easy frame to put in whatever gimmick you'd like to. Normally it would be something easy for the audience to latch on to, like K-9 where a no-nonsense cop is paired with a dog who has a major attitude problem. The all-time greatest showcase of buddy cop movie conventions (as well as other urban crime action movies) would later show up in The Last Action Hero starring musclebound hero Arnold Schwarzenegger coupled with a movie-loving loudmouth kid. But enough about that, this time we're looking at Dead Heat.

Combining all the well-known clichés of the buddy cop movie with a zombie movie is a pretty unconventional move indeed, which is probably why this particular feature didn't receive much of a commercial success and only a limited international release. This can most likely also have something to do with the niche-nature of the zombie "genre" at the time of the movie's production. While zombie movies were certainly around at the time, Hollywood didn't think much of it and the movie was made long before it became basic practise to copy the kind of zombies (now considered classic) found in George A. Romero's Zombie series. No, these zombies are nothing like the zombies found in pretty much any other zombie movie. For starters, the zombies in this film retain their personality from their past lives, and the (limited) gore in the film comes less from epic fight scenes and more from a fault in the resurrection process. It's actually kind of fascinating to see something this different from the usual kind of mindless brain-munchers that show up in most modern media. No offense to the classic type of zombie, though you'll find no overwhelming hordes in this film.

Unfortunately the movie does have it's faults. Easy to recognize badly done stage falls, poor comedic chemistry between the two main characters and little to no actual character development are among it's most criminal offenses. Now, the actors are actually fair enough but they seem to be phoning in their performances, probably because of little regard for the material they're paid to deliver. The movie is also very "safe", throwing in a sudden action scene when movie's producers must've felt the audience was about to fall asleep. This wasn't a very popular genre at the time, so the fact that the writers felt the need to explain everything in the universe as quickly as possible must've been an attempt to at least have audiences keep up with the concepts. I'm not saying the movie is not entertaining, but unless the setup of the movie tickles your fancy to begin with, there is not much here besides spectacle. Boy is there ever spectacle, in a move that I have scarcely seen repeated in other movies, the resurrection technology appears to also work on animals. I'm not saying where this comes into play, but if you love over-the-top goofball spectacle this is worth a watch for that particular scene alone. 

If you like zombies and you want to see a very different kind of zombie movie, this could be it for your movie night. The buddy cop element of the movie may not be very good, I'd say average compared to other films in the sub-genre, this manages to at least hold your attention while the story is told. Perhaps with a cast that actually had an interest in the parodied material, this could have been a truly great comedy. As it is though, it makes for an excellent excuse to eat popcorn and enjoy those 80's special effects. Personally, this stands as somewhat of a "guilty pleasure" of mine, and if I could choose one movie to give another shot, this would probably be it. This movie was just not made for the era it was produced in, and perhaps a modern crew with more experience with the zombie genre could do the concept justice.


Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Film: Shaun of the Dead
Release: 2004, theatrical
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Next in the series: Hot Fuzz
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Shaun is an aimless middle class man who decides to turn his life around and get back his girlfriend, unfortunately the very same day a zombie plague breaks out in his small british hometown.

Hans' thoughts:

Perhaps the most unexpected combination of genres ever, Shaun of the Dead is a romantic comedy that just happens to take place during the zombie apocalypse. Kickstarting what would later be known as "The Cornetto Trilogy", Shaun of the Dead represents the best of modern British comedy, as well as a love letter to perhaps the goriest genre of all: The Zombie movies. 

To start off, Shaun of the Dead is "very British". Presenting drama in it's stories without taking it too seriously and being absolutely drenched in the kind of sarcasm and dry wit yet bizarre situations that British comedy has become known for internationally. If you're a fan of "britcoms" ala Black Books, Keeping up Appearances or Red Dwarf, chances are there is something for you in this movie. Simon Pegg does an excellent job as the duty-full but still childish Shaun who struggles to keep his priorities straight, this is only helped by the somewhat opposite of Nick Frost as the best friend who's been living on his couch, smoking weed for the last three years. Of course, a concept can be as good as it wants to be but nothing will work if the frame for the movie, the zombies, aren't done well and I'm happy to report that as far as zombie movies go. These are very classic zombies. Do not expect anything as bleak as a "serious" zombie movie though as the tone of the movie is pretty lighthearted and these zombies aren't all that gory. This is partially because the zombies haven't been dead for very long, which is a great detail. Normally in Zombie movies, the zombies will look incredibly gory and rotted away even after a few hours of being "turned". There are none-to few "running" zombies as well, and the concept of others being turned after a bite is kept around. Making the zombie origin story very simple would be considered a weak point in any other film but because it isn't the forefront of the movie at all, it makes a pass.

No, the "meat" of the story is very much a late coming of age story for Shaun. Here he is, too old for anything, being a middle-manager in a store where he has to take sarcasm from ambitious people much younger than himself and unable to break his daily routine of meeting up with the same old gang and going to the same old bar. His girlfriend is tired of him not being able to take the next step and make a serious commitment, or as other people would say "To grow the f... up". The focus on the romantic comedy element rather than the zombie lot is what makes this movie so approachable, I've been able to show this movie to people who don't even have a passing interest in horror and still seeing them laugh. 

If you normally just watch comedies and you want to get into the Halloween spirit, this could very well be the right choice for oyu. It has spooky elements without being scary, plus it has a easy-to-understand plot and some of the best comedic writing this side of the year 2000.


Reader survey

Hi folks! 

We're trying to determine what people think of the site, so we've created a short 5 question survey

you can take the survey HERE

Doing so would be very appreciated :)

The Wolf Man (1941)

Film: The Wolf Man
Release: 1941, Theatrical
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains
Directed by: George Waggner
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: After the death of his brother, the last surviving heir to Talbot castle returns home to England from California. However, something becomes really wrong with the small country town when a gypsy family comes, just as the wolfsbane blooms.

Hans' thoughts:

Bringing us many of the now accepted elements to the werewolf legend, Universal Pictures' 1941 monster classic sat at the very tail end of the golden era of Horror movies. Like it predecessors, The Wolf Man brings in human issues to the mix to better appeal to a general audience. In The Mummy, it was a love story that spun a thousand years, in Frankenstein it was giving flesh to ones deepest desires and here in The Wolf Man, the story is very much about the duality of mankind. The fight between reason and instinct, as it were. Our reluctant hero, played by Lon Chaney Jr., is a happy go lucky simple man of simple pleasures. Unlike his father who's into astronomy, he is not a scientist and prefers to work with his hands rather than jot down theories and trying to comprehend the universe. That's what makes Larry Talbot such an appealing character, aristocratic ancestry aside, Larry is very much an every man - compare that to the obsessed genius of Doctor Frankenstein or the cruel sexual predator of Count Dracula and the reason for the popularity of the character himself becomes clear. He did not bring himself into the problems he face, instead he is a victim of circumstance. That must've sat pretty well with the audience of 1941, in the beginning years of a world spanning war and the final years of the depression, the people of the movie's contemporary time stood before challenges they often times had little to no chance of fighting against. Lon Chaney Jr. would go on to portray both The Wolf Man (and later The Mummy) in several films afterwards, some of them in continuity with this one following the increasingly desperate attempts from Larry Talbot to get rid of the curse.

This is a very atmospheric movie, set in Great Britain (it's undisclosed exactly where) the night scenes are abound with foggy wooden areas, where the ground is so damp that one's legs disappear into invisibility. Throughout the movie a poem is repeated meticulously, probably to make it catch on to audiences and make sure they understand exactly how the curse works. The photography of the movie is pretty well done and the werewolf cane remains one of my favorite cinematic props. The design is just so bizarre, yet straight forward. One can only wonder who - or what would create an item like that. That is left in the dark though, rightfully so, it is more creepy to let it be left to the imagination. On the acting side we have a pretty good performance from most of the cast, much in contrast to Frankenstein even the minor roles does a good job in this one. There's not really any stand out performances in this one, so consider this a "good job" mark to the entire cast. The look of the movie is very cool, as I said most of the movie takes place on foggy night and I really like what they did in regards to The Wolf Man himself, not looking all that much like an actual wolf but still something beastly and unnatural - something that will give into desire and instincts.

The Wolf Man is a very straightforward film, much like the nature of our main character. It gives us an interesting spin on the werewolf legend, one that oddly enough hasn't been imitated all too often. Honestly, compared to modern werewolf designs who look like giant wolves walking on two feet, or in some cases just plain big wolves, this design is much more streamlines and dare I say it, humane. This monster actually looks like a man taken over by the beast within more than just a person turned into a big anthropomorphic wolf creature like in movies like Underworld, Van Hellsing or Dog Soldiers, but I digress. If you want the movie that kickstarted werewolves into public conscience, this is most definitely it. And it is a timeless tale of being overcome by the duality of man.


Frankenstein (1931)

Film: Frankenstein
Release: 1931, theatrical
Starring: Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff
Directed by: James Whale
Next in the series: Bride of Frankenstein
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: The young genius and heir to the Frankenstein baronial title, Henry, has secluded himself with his work. Far away from prying eyes. His highest ambition to give back life to the dead, he steals corpses in the night.

Hans' thoughts:

Released at the heels of Dracula and arguably the most popular of the classic Universal Pictures horror line-up, Frankenstein has become one of the most imitated monster movies of all time. From the scientist/hunchback dynamic to the childish demeanor of the monster itself. When people think of Frankensteins monster these days, the look of it is almost always similar to the monster design from this movie, it is just iconic. Rightfully so, for this is to this day a really good movie and honestly one of the best ever made. People who has not even seen this film know of scenes from it and can make at least one quote from it. It's just that much of a powerhouse.

Normally, this is credited to actor Boris Karloff who portrayed the monster. I can see why, he manages to turn the monster into both an imposing and sympathetic creature. Held back by the world around him and treated cruelly despite of how calm it starts out. My personal favorite performance of the movie however is that of Doctor Henry Frankenstein himself, Colin Clive plays the doctor and boy does he do a good job, through the first part of the movie he is obsessed with his work and he pulls a face of pure desperation and insanity, it's so intimidating yet unpredictable that it's stunning, you can never really tell what kind of lengths this man has gone for the sake of his experiments.

As for the other actors they all do a decent enough job, mind you however that this was just after the silent movie era and you can tell that some of these actors mimic more convincingly than they talk - probably originally trained for theatre. By that I mean that some of the supporting cast is unfortunately really stiff in their delivery, case in point is the female lead who just isn't interesting to look at, however I will give her credit for being a frontrunner for the scream queen characters.What more can you say about this version of Frankenstein? From it's well thought out sets to some of the most quoted lines in history Frankenstein from 1931 has turned out to be one of the most well made movies to this day, the even more interesting part is that it still holds up even more than even some movies released much later.


Real Steel (2011)

Film: Real Steel
Release: 2011, Theatrical
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Karl Yune
Directed by: Shawn Levy
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: A former boxer and failing robot-boxing promoter is about to lose everything when he suddenly has to spend the summer with his estranged 11-year old son after the death of his mother.

Hans' thoughts:

Putting a new spin on a tried and true formula, Real Steel combines 3 well-known plot-types with some of the best CGI special effects in years. It is both an Underdog movie, with the newcomer reaching the big leagues, a family drama, with our two main characters trying to reconnect and a movie about companionship, with the boy and his robot angle, it's likeness seen before in movies such as E.T, The Iron Giant and even to some extent Studio Ghibli's Ponyo. Set in the near future of the 2020's, human boxers has long since been outsourced in favor of the potential for carnage in having machines fight each other. 

There is drama here, not that the movie ever gets particularly dark, mind you. It was definitely made with a kid and teenage demographic in mind but the roots of the drama of the story isn't exactly roses and daffodils. The drama of course, stems from the relationship between our two main characters. Hugh Jackman plays the failing boxing promoter Charlie Kenton that gets by in life by running from loan sharks and being overzealous, apparently repeating the same mistakes constantly as his downward spiral just continues. This is interrupted when he is contacted to sign over the rights to a son he barely remembers he had, his ex has just passed away and he now has to deal with the responsibility of trying to connect with his 11-year old son, a boy in whose life he's never played even a minor part. As far as child actors go, Dakota Goyo manages to get the job done without making it painfully obvious that he's not had to carry a movie to this extent before, having mostly appeared in minor and supporting roles to that point. This movie was not made for an adult audience, and thankfully so as these types of niche movies tend to rely far too much on the nature of so-called nerd demographic to try and unnecessarily "dignify" their choice of movie with it being as dark and gritty as possible, almost childishly so as a result.

The movie at heart is a fun little father-son adventure, set in a robot boxing universe. But while the main plot is simple, the execution is stellar and the audiences curiosity for the universe surrounding our main characters will make for a fun, if simple experience. There is nothing deep here, and you should not expect to be enthralled by a dramatic moment or a message. What you should expect, is fun to-the-point robot fighting action with some of the best CGI effects in the genre. Robots really take the center stage in this movie and some of the designs of these things are pretty imaginative, and while not as great a movie I would wager that they're better than those of more recent robot movie Pacific Rim. I should elaborate, while the design of our main robot is pretty basic (basically a big metal person) a few of the designs of the minor robots are pretty stellar and I highly support the decision to make every robot almost have it's own little signature, minor things like having the robot with a cowboy design raise it fists in a rhythm that would suggest shooting two revolvers into the air in true western fashion are just neat little touches to brighten up the atmosphere of the movie. Thankfully, the action scenes are also shot in a manner to try and show off the designs of the characters, meaning that unlike movies like Transformers you will never have trouble recognizing who's who in the ring. Honestly, at some points I felt that the robots really were there if only for a brief moment.

Bringing the underdog sports movie into the new millenia, Real Steel is the kind of movie you would expect to have been made in the eighties and nineties - I could probably have found myself playing with toys of these characters alongside those of Ghostbusters figures. As it is though, I consider it some of the best live action children's entertainment in recent years. I recommend it to kids and childish adults everywhere.


The Devil's Advocate (1997)

Film: The Devil's Advocate
Release: 1997, Theatrical
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, Charlize Theron
Directed by: Taylor Hackford
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Kevin Lomax is the most successful lawyer in his hometown in Florida, when he gets a job offer in a prestigious New York based law firm everything seems to be going his way, except for a boss that might have a very different agenda from what he first let on.

Hans' thoughts:

At first glance, this movie seems like it will be pretty predictable. Keanu Reeves plays a young ambitious up and comer lawyer that puts aside his morals to do whatever it takes to win his cases. He's then hired by a major law firm and given the opportunity of a lifetime in the city of New York. Very simple crime thriller-like storyline with a star-studded cast. However, the movie is actually pretty well executed as the young Mr. Lombax loses his ability to keep up with both personal and work related matters as the high pressure makes the world crash around him slowly. Around the half-way point, the movie suddenly changes. Strange things are starting to happen and our main characters mentor and boss seems to be very different than he first let on. That could have been a good enough movie on itself, and I certainly would've enjoyed the movie much more had it not been for the climax of the movie. A film that has till now seemed like a very by-the-book crime thriller suddenly turns into something VERY different. Had this been more clear earlier in the movie, I probably would've accepted it but this turn of events just feels so over the top and out of nowhere that I just couldn't suspend my disbelief any longer when it was time for the big reveal.

On the acting side, it is very hit and miss. While Al Pacino phones it in as Mr. Milton, Keanu Reeves tries his best to be taken seriously with a fake southern accents. Overall, the acting from the minor characters is a lot better but unfortunately not present for for most of the film as the main focus of the movie is conversations between Reeves and Pacino. Charlize Theron tries her best in the movie, but it is obvious she was cast for her looks and not her acting ability. The Devil's Advocate turned out to be a movie with a pretty decent setup that unfortunately just fell flat, what could have been a very good crime thriller about big business and career pressure went down a road where a combination of so-so effects (even by the standards of the era it was made) and poorly argued soapbox ranting that goes nowhere.

There is some very well-shot things in the movie, the look of the sets are pretty well thought out and the references to the city of Babylon fit the themes of the movie. But these are unfortunately not enough to make up for some frankly poorly written dialogue and lack of proper consequence for the characters of the movie. The message of the movie is also vague at best, mostly because of the aforementioned soapbox ranting.


Article 100: The Neverending Story (1984)

Film: The Neverending Story
Release: 1984, Theatrical
Starring: Barret Oliver, Noah Hathaway, Thomas Hill
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
Next in the series: The Neverending Story II
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: The daydreamer Bastian is a troubled child, hounded by bullies he flees into a bookstore and makes a life changing choice

Hans' thoughts:

When I had to choose what to make Article 100, I was split between choosing the greatest movie ever or something that's special to me alone, both of which would've been articles I've already written. 

So I chose to go with a definite in-house favorite of both of us, The Neverending Story. To date, perhaps one of the greatest children's fantasies ever put to film. So what is the movie about? A young boy is living alone with his father after his mother's death, this was apparently recently as they both had trouble moving on afterwards, the father trying reluctantly to keep his son grounded in reality, even though he seems supportive enough. We quickly get established that Bastian is a daydreamer with his head in the clouds, he doesn't really think his decisions through and would rather spend his day reading or drawing - using his imagination as escapism. 

The movies theme however is about using escapism for the right reasons, during the movie Bastian overcomes his fears again and again to follow the tale of Atreyu on his quest to save the mythical kingdom of Fantasia. It deals with having the correct balance between imagination and reality, dealing with reality without forgetting the magical expanse of one's imagination. Not losing hope despite hardships, in other words.

On the technical side, most of the movie is done with practical effects, some of the weirder and more outlandish creatures being puppets. While the eerie atmosphere of the movie certainly helps to enforce the reality of the creatures, one can't help but notice the slight problems with lip syncing. this is especially apparent with the luckdragon Falcor who barely has any lip-movements, making him feel way too much like a puppet. It's not too bad however, you quickly accept the look of his character and your suspension of disbelief will have taken over well before he actually shows up in the movie anyway.

This is in my opinion largely due to the score and cinematography of the movie, the first shot of the Ivory tower early on in the movie never fails to give me chills. This is because of the otherworldliness of the synthetic music combined with the grandeur of the look of the actual Ivory tower, we have several slow panning shots of the tower, starting with a full total, then a few shots circling upwards from the bottom before giving us a birdseye view of the outdoor throneroom, filled with imaginative creatures of all shapes and sizes. The music in this movie was as I mentioned mostly done technologically, this was a growing trend at the time but what makes it work in this movie is that the story is supposed to take place in the world of fantasy, making the unnatural instruments fit the theme. It may not have been taking into consideration at the time, but it definitely works. 

While The Neverending Story has a very simple story and a theme that one has seen again and again, this is just awe-inspiring in the way that everything just kind of works, from the heartwarming moments with the friendly characters to the absolute sense of dread that comes with the main villain of "The Nothing". Indeed, making the evil our heroes fight against into the mere concept of everything disappearing leaving nothing in it's wake is just creepy to a whole different level than a visible being, it's a high concept and in a way, very Lovecraftian like the being Cthulhu, waiting in the depths of the oceans, sleeping in a death-like state till the stars align and he will consume all, no hope even for the believers. Leaving NOTHING behind. That's a pretty abstract creature for a child to comprehend, and I applaud both the original author of the book and the creators of the movie for taking a chance with giving us a villain without an actual face. The more visible villain stating "I was sent by the power behind The Nothing" only allows our Id's to scare us even more.

Project Wonderful 3