Dracula Untold (DVD Review)

15 – 92mins – 2014


 

SON OF THE DRAGON

In my post-cinema analysis of last summer’s Tom Cruise-headlined reboot of The Mummy (read my review HERE), I openly acknowledged my enjoyment of the film in spite of its skew away from horror and more towards a supernatural action-adventure. However, it seems audiences (or a lack thereof) were more critical; just one entry in and Universal’s newly-rebranded Dark Universe is already in trouble. But The Mummy wasn’t always to be the opening chapter of this Monster Movie Expanded Universe…

… Keep Scuttling!

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ZAPPED, 2.3 – “The Party” (TV Review)

Zapped.

Dave – 9:40pm – Thursday 26th October 2017

Available NOW to stream on UKTV Play

Created and written by: Dan Gaster, Will Ing, Paul Powell

Directed by: Dave Lambert


 

RICH TASTES

Halfway through this second series and stranded twenty-first century everyman Brian Weaver (James Charlie Countryman Buckley) is becoming bored with his limited circle of less-than-exceptional companions and his lacklustre new existence in the fantastical medieval province. Even news of Herman’s (Louis Emerick) upcoming anniversary party celebrating 15 years of “proper old school taverny” at The Jug and Other Jug can’t convince Brian to stay away from Munty’s newly-opened trendy bar.

… Keep Scuttling!

Underworld: Blood Wars (DVD Review)

15 – 88mins – 2017


 

SPECIES IMPURITY

“I have lived beyond my time…”

The most surprising thing about this belated fifth instalment in the lycans versus vampires action-horror series is the end credits, which revealed – much to my astonishment – that series co-creator Len Wiseman neither wrote or directed this fourth big screen sequel. My surprise was such because Blood Wars is otherwise Underworld by-numbers. Kate Beckinsale strutting and slashing in tight leather? Check. Gloomy midnight-blue colour grade? Check. Chaotic interspecies fight sequences? Check. Clunky, exposition-heavy dialogue? Check and mate.

… Keep Scuttling!

The Neon Demon (DVD Review)

Image result for the neon demon

18 – 113mins – 2016


 

CATWALK ON THE WILD SIDE

With youth and beauty on her side, innocent orphan Jesse (Elle Fanning) makes waves on the LA fashion scene, ruffling feathers amongst her old – and less natural – contemporaries. But underneath their flawless skin, stick-thin frames and bitchy attitudes the perfection-hungry models are hiding a more insidious secret which could spell danger for the waif-like “deer in headlights.”

… Keep Scuttling!

The Moth Diaries (DVD Review)

15 – 79mins – 2011


 

SEX, BLOOD, DEATH… & LESBIANISM

“Sickly sweet but rotten…”

Alabaster-skinned British model Lily Cole (St. Trinians, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) conjures a haunting otherworldly peculiarity which makes her sublimely cast as Ernessa Bloch, the enigmatic new girl with a dark secret at an exclusive all-girls’ boarding school.

Sarah Bolger (Emelie, TV’s The Tudors) plays bright-but-obsessive student Rebecca who grows increasingly concerned at the intense control Ernessa seems to hold over her increasingly-frail best friend, Lucy (Sarah 11.22.63 Gadon). Is the enigmatic flame-haired wraith a coffin-slumbering vampire, or does Rebecca’s jealous simply know no bounds?

Suicide, suspicion, strangely strong shisha, sex and the supernatural are all spun together in this diminutive but evocative conspiratorial horror, based on Rachel Klein’s Y.A. novel. There are some truly impactful standout scenes – including a Carrie-esque dream sequence and a troubling peek inside Ernessa’s dusty room – but the story is compromised by some atrociously heavy-handed editing which brings up numerous plot points (swimming lessons, period pain, inappropriate kiss, outdoor sex) only to mothball any consequences.

There is some poetic flair in paralleling the inexplicable goings on with some of literature’s bloodsucking icons in Mr Davies’ (Scott Underworld Speedman) gothic fiction class, but the abrupt, sketch-like approach to assembling the narrative means The Moth Diaries ultimately fails to take flight. What is scarier than any shocks in this jump-free teen adaptation is that it was directed by the same acute eye as acclaimed thriller American Psycho, Mary Haddon.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

Dracula’s Daughter (DVD Review)

PG – 64mins – 1936 – B&W


DADDY’S LITTLE GHOUL

With Van – sorry, Von – Helsing’s (Edward Van Sloan) return in a linking, but ultimately subsidiary, role from 1931’s iconic Dracula, and with screenwriter Garrett Fort again on script duty, you would think that Universal’s first vampire sequel was always planned this way, but it turns out that the film we ended up with was at least five drafts, two screenwriters, three directors and innumerable cast members away from the hit monster-movie studio’s original plans.

Ostensibly based on Dracula’s Guest, a “lost chapter” by Bram Stoker which was released as a short story long after his epistolary novel became a success, this money-motivated filmic follow-up (which weighs in at a featherweight one hour and four minutes, including opening title cards) actually bears precious little resemblance to the source material.

Following on directly from Bela Lugosi’s coffin-bound staking in Carfax Abbey, Dracula’s Daughter begins promisingly with a stoic Von Helsing being carted off to Scotland Yard by two bumbling policemen, who guard the murdered bodies of Drac (a wax bust to save Lugosi showing up for a lifeless cameo) and Renfield at the morgue.

Enter the mysterious Hungarian Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), who mesmerises poor bobby Albert (Billy Bevan) so to steal away her cursed father’s corpse and purge it in flames, in the hope it will break the spell and release her to once more live among the living. Sadly, Holden never comes across as particularly evil or troubled, only distant (uninvested?). Her aide/inabler Sandor (Irving Pichel), however, is a far more menacing individual – even if his role is never really pinpointed.

When purging fails, Zaleska turns to psychiatric help to battle her unwelcome impulses from beyond the grave. She becomes convinced that pioneering doctor Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger), who works in hypnosis, is the key to freeing her from her father’s bloodsucking will. By ‘coincidence’, Garth is already linked to Dracula’s case, having been hired by the incarcerated Von Helsing in lieu of a lawyer!!

Despite clocking in at little over an hour, there is still ample filler in the strained and stretched plot, with a Scotland shooting party, a news montage and prank phone calls from Garth’s infatuated assistant Jane (Marguerite Churchill) all bulking up an otherwise verbose and terror-free story which doesn’t really get going until Zaleska flees back to Transylvania with a kidnapped Jane with ten minutes to go.

With the Countess only daring to reveal so much of her backstory to Garth, progression stalls in sluggish repetitive talk of the occult. Fort drops in a couple of riffs on the original legend, particularly when the Countess attends a swanky London cocktail party and is offered a drink, however Holden’s plain delivery lacks any tonal variation and the line falls flat.

With justice, science and supernatural folklore coming together, the clashing of ideologies and ideas in this probing sequel are to be praised, however the lack of any real horror or action deprives this narrative of any pace, and I soon tired of all the talk. It’s a shame, as Dracula’s Daughter opened brightly, but too many changes and concessions ultimately lead to a truncated and unimpressive experience and I soon realised why this was left off of Universal’s 2012 blu-ray Monsters boxset.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

Dracula – The Restored Version (Blu-ray Review)

PG – 74mins – 1931 – B&W


WALPURGIS NIGHT

Excluding a silent take on The Phantom of the Opera in 1925 (which would be remade two decades later to great Oscar success), Tod Browning’s gothic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s immortal bloodsucker is often credited as the first in a seemingly never-ending production line of popular monster movies from Universal Studios throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s. It also occupies the first disc in a digitally restored high-def. box set of eight of the studio’s greatest genre flicks called Universal Monsters – The Essential Collection (2012), which I have gluttonously devoured recently.

Donning the now instantly recognisable cape and perfecting a hauntingly hypnotic stare, screen legend Bela Lugosi curls his Hungarian tongue around the Stoker-inspired script (“I never drink… wine”), which was actually adapted from a 1927 Broadway stage play, rather than straight from the page. This explains some of the more curious alterations from the 1897 source material – most obviously, it is Renfield (Dwight Frye) we follow on his business trip to Transylvania instead of Jonathan Harker (David Manners) at the film’s opening.

Nevertheless, the terse narrative still gallops apace, and Frye’s transformation from sound and logical solicitor to insipid, crazy-eyed, fly-craving vampire’s “pet looney” is scene-stealing. Also impressive are the vast gothic sets and the fog-shrouded portrayal of London’s cobbled streets. Such pitch-perfect atmosphere more than makes up for the plastic “bats” on strings and armadillos (!!) scuttling about Dracula’s shadowy castle, as well as a near-complete absence of score (besides an aged hiss).

“There are far worse things awaiting man… than death.”

Screenwriter Garrett Fort’s dialogue is also remarkably colourful and descriptive, perhaps knowingly making up for the budgetary and special effects limitations of the time. “Rats, rats… millions of them!” we are told, but most of the movie magic takes place off-screen, leaving us with an aptly stagey production comprising of long, largely static shots.

For this reason, the newspaper headline inserts upon the seafaring Demeter’s Vesta’s crash-landing on British shores impressed me by varying the delivery of exposition in a very postmodern manner. However, the curt and tension-less conclusion left me cold and craving a more satisfying resolution, reminded me how few classic films employed epilogues in their sprint for completion.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars