15 – 99mins – 2016
THE MYSTIFYING ORACLE
“This game was designed to make us scare ourselves.”
My questionable foray into Whaley House aside, my film viewing in the run-up to Halloween largely consisted of rewatching recent blu-rays I have bought (The Boy, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Witch) and first time viewings of genre classics I really should have seen sooner (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, Critters). So, on All Hallows’ Eve, I reserved a recent release I had long anticipated… what a fool I was!
… Keep Scuttling!
12 – 96mins – 2016
CRISS CROSS APPLESAUCE
“Let’s put the mac and cheese back on the stove and get this playdate started!”
KC2 is a most curious thing. Watched in isolation away from the early 90s Arnold Schwarzenegger classic it follows on from, it is a perfectly competent, if lightweight, action-comedy which once again trades on the dichotomy between a hulking, stone-faced FBI agent (step up Dolph Lundgren) and a gaggle of hyperactive, allergy-aware, accident prone pre-schoolers.
… Keep Scuttling!
12 – 90mins – 1987
THIS TIME IT’S PERISHABLE
My overriding takeaway from watching this great white four-quel in my youth was one of complete astonishment: astonishment at how poor the shark looked despite being made 12years after Spielberg’s Oscar-winning original; astonishment at the laughable number of movie magic-ruining continuity errors; astonishment that original star Lorraine Gary and megastar Michael Caine were happy to have their names attributed to such a sorry production. Even as a child I knew this was so-bad-it’s-hilarious.
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ATTENTION ALL YOU SOMBITCHES!
My series of reviews inspecting and dissecting the Smokey and the Bandit trilogy of action-comedies (which I started right HERE with the 1977 original) has hot-wheeled it over to the 80’s Picture House for film number two, so follow the link RIGHT HERE to ride on over to read my thoughts on the Burt Reynolds/Sally Field-starring sequel which was originally titled Smokey and the Bandit Ride Again.
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12 – 86mins – 1996
AN EYE FOR A LIFE
A staple of BBC programming for years before and after, this TV Movie – broadcast in May of 1996 but set on New Year’s Eve 1999 – is something of a black sheep in the serialised sci-fi family drama’s cannon. Premiering during the “wilderness years” after its 1989 cancellation it was intended as a backdoor pilot to a revived series, but never capitalising on its renewed interest in the dormant property. Doctor Who wouldn’t return to weekly episodes for almost another decade.
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15 – 75mins – 1935 – B&W
THE MONSTER’S MATE
“Be fruitful and multiply!”
Despite some flagrant concessions to lazy sequel syndrome (both ‘dead’ leads from 1931’s adapted predecessor conveniently survived apparent deaths; the same ‘man thrown from precipice’ climax is recycled) and yet more awkward tonal shifts from Universal Studio’s go-to director, James The Invisible Man Whale (from inhumane horror to hysterical humour in the space of a poorly-delivered line), this universe-broadening follow-up is otherwise an all-together superior and more refined monster.
A remarkably post-modern framing device sets the quality bar sky-high from the off, with Bride introduced by Frankenstein author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) ‘herself’, niftily recanting the original tale and teasing her lofty literary circle of Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Walton) that more is to come…
“The monster lived right through the fire…”
By bringing back both human catalyst Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his lumbering creation (Boris The Mummy Karloff), and by using the controversial scientist’s flamboyant Peter Cushing-esque mentor, Doctor Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), to coerce a “supreme collaboration” in the unholy quest to make life in God’s own image, you could accuse screenwriter William Hurlbut of orchestrating a carbon rehash of the urtext’s plot. The third time you hear the iconic catchphrase, you might feel things are being played far too safe.
However, some truly gobsmacking FX (for its day) in bringing Pretorius’ “mini monarchs” to life, and some gravitas-delivering character development for Karloff’s shamed outcast-in-hiding truly elevates this envelope-pushing production. The scene is cribbed from the hiding in a shed subplot described in Shelley’s original text (“Alone, bad. Friend, good”), but such emotional depth was largely absent from the first film, much to its detriment.
Elsa Lanchester has an electrifying effect in the second of her dual roles. Despite a scandalous lack of screen time (all of 5 climatic minutes), her twitchy and erratic portrayal of the titular mate-order Bride is an iconic revelation, delivering a cruel and crushing judgement to the hopeful-yet-ignorant Monster which makes for a bravely downbeat last-gasp dénouement: “We belong dead.”
12 – 72mins – 1933 – B&W
THE PHANTOM MENACE
Overcoming an avalanche of production issues and cast and crew shake ups which would have derailed many lesser film studios, it’s remarkable that Universal’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1897 “fantastic sensation” even made it to the screen – much less that it is now considered a “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” work of art worthy of preservation by the US National Film Registry.
If I’m being bluntly honest, I feel it falls somewhat short of such an honour, but the fact that two screenwriters were fired, a director left and the first choice of leading man (Boris The Mummy Karloff) was pushed away due to salary cuts before production even began – and then a fire on an exterior set caused considerable damage during filming – I feel somewhat obliged to forgive James Frankenstein Whale’s film its tonal inconsistency.
Claude Rains eventually stepped into the (largely unseen) role of bandage-swathed scientist Dr. Jack Griffin, who was interrupted while experimenting with a dangerous drug called monocane, turned him transparent – and raving mad. With his obsession for a “reign of terror” overpowering his commitment to researching an anecdote to his condition, it is up to Sussex police, villagers, colleagues (Henry Travers, William Harrigan) and Griffin’s fiancée (Gloria Stuart) to bait the madman into stopping his killing spree.
I will confess that that synopsis sounds suitably terrifying for a Universal Monster Movie, however some outrageously theatrical and melodramatic acting – particularly from the innkeeper’s screeching wife (Una O’Connor) – somewhat deter from the film’s initially mysterious ambiance in introducing the “disfigured stranger” one snowy night. Things almost descend into outright farce when a local bobby chases the disembodied voice around his hotel room – all that’s missing is the Benny Hill theme!
“How can I handcuff a bloomin’ scarf?!”
Thankfully, any comedic excess cannot diminish the creepiness of Griffin’s first on-screen undressing, cackling maniacally as he disrobes to reveal his “eaten away” appearance (or lack thereof). It is in its remarkably impressive effects work that The Invisible Man excels, not only in its extensive ‘ghost’ shots, but a rather spectacular car and train crash in the final act presents a grander scale and more menacing edge, sharpening the film’s frivolous self-indulgence.