Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Blood Thirsty Thursdays, where we watch films that are crucifix, holy water, and garlic heavy! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they try to find sanctified ground to use for a hide out until dawn.
Today’s film offering: Dracula 2000
Lilly: Oh my gosh, guys, you have no idea how long I’ve been wanting someone else to have seen this film. Like anyone else. I’ve been holding in my childish glee over it for years. Sixteen, in fact. Well. More like fourteen, since I tried to watch it, rented it and all, and then got scared so didn’t try again for another two years. True story!
Andy: Also true: my IT teacher when I was in Year 8 had the poster for this movie on his wall, and that was my only exposure to this film until today.
Dracula 2000 is the story of a robbery gone wrong when it is discovered what a mysterious Mr. Van Helsing (oh ho hoooo) has been keeping in his private vaults is a certain member of the undead. Dracula! Yes! And oh, by the way, Mr. Van Helsing isn’t the grandson of Abraham, he IS Abraham. And Johnny Lee Miller is around. Oh, and then there is this girl, Mary, who keeps seeing Dracula in her dreams (when he is played by Gerard Butler, what is the problem there?), oh, oh oh, and there is a gang of thieves, and–well. It’s great, people. Think of every plot you could have tied to Dracula, and Wes Craven clearly already thought of it and put it in this film. Andy: Yep, we’re back in the comforting arms of Mr. Craven, who when I pointed out he was probably Lilly’s favourite horror director, she responded “Huh. So he is.”
Lilly: Okay, all my excitement aside, I actually really like this film. First of all, Dracula. I have my favourites (Richard Roxburgh in Van Helsing and Keith Lee Castle in Young Dracula)– Andy: What, no Christopher Lee? What is this? Lilly: …but Gerard Butler brings up a close third with his predator romantic traitor take on the Count. There is some fantastic moments of showcasing his power, such as a cameraman watching the person he is filming get scratched along the neck to only realize Dracula is standing there once he pulls away from his camera–because vampires don’t show up on film! Get it! AhIloveit.
Secondly, throwbacks to the book. At the beginning, Mr.Van Helsing makes a joke about his grandfather not being worth a character created by some ‘Irishman’. But once it is evident everything is real, it kicks off! Van Helsing’s building is called Carfax, the main character has a roommate named Lucy, a Dr. Seward shows up, and the ways to kill vampires are narrowed down to the basics–silver or wooden stake to the heart, beheading. Boom. Vampire Basics 101.
The tone of the film definitely works with the topic matter–there are some over the top action sequences tied in with some over the top sex scenes and romancing between Dracula and Mary, and then there is the last third of the film, with scenes that just completely kick you in the face with plot, imagery, and twists.
Andy: And If I can talk about the twist for a second without spoiling it…
Lilly: SPOILER SPOILER WATCH FOR A SPOILER OR SKIP THIS BIT.
Lilly: Oh. No spoiler? FALSE ALARM. NO SPOILER. DON’T SKIP THIS BIT.
Andy: Anyway. There are some films where you feel like you should have seen the twists coming. Of course, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are the same person! Of course, Bruce Willis is dead! Then there are others that come so far out of left field that there is no way you could have seen them coming.
Then there is this film.
It has a twist of such BATSHIT insanity that I laughed, yelled ‘WHAT!’, and felt impressed all at the same time. The movie, unfortunately, is not quite good enough to pull it off, but you’ve got to admire the sheer balls it took to make the decision to go in that direction. Seriously.
Lilly: Globe sized balls, really. And that twist is actually why I figured people wouldn’t like it, why I never really pushed it on others. And I’m not wrong, I don’t think. You got to be willing to really commit to that twist to be a fan of Dracula 2000, and that’s hard.
Andy: I would say it’s worth watching for the twist alone, but for the casual vampire fan there’s not as much new going on, other than a cool Dracula and a couple of cool scenes. The scene where his coffin first opens manages to be spectacularly creepy in a genuine way – something surprisingly rare for a Dracula movie. It’s certainly entertaining. And Christopher Plummer’s in it! Brilliant. As for downsides, I can rattle them off pretty quickly – the soundtrack mostly sucks, filled with absolutely godawful nu-metal from twenty years back; there are definitely some actresses in here that suck (pun intended); it doesn’t do a very good job of exploring the few new aspects of vampire lore it does introduce aaand that’s about it. Although there are also possibly a few too many shots of people being thrown across rooms into things or through windows. It happens all the time for some reason.
Lilly: There are actors that suck, too, of course, but the women get to last longer because sex appeal. Which I can’t complain about since Gerard Butler is shirtless for a lot of the film for no reason, which I’m thankful for, so. Equal opportunity objectification? Yay? And yeah, the soundtrack doesn’t really help the film–at one point, you are hoping the music playing is just some shitty party mix they are walking by while wandering the streets of New Orleans. Andy: But that twist though. What a ludicrous thing to run into. It’s like walking into someone’s bathroom and finding a jetski in the tub.
Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Blood Thirsty Thursday, where we review films featuring characters who suck…blood. You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they sit around and reminisce about when humankind really went wrong.
Today’s film offering: Only Lovers Left Alive
Lilly: You all have no idea how long I’ve been trying to get Andy to watch this film. I’m not entirely sure I didn’t suggest the theme of vampires for Thursday just so I’d have an excuse. Ever since it was announced Tilda Swinton (yesss) and Tom Hiddleston (Hiddleyesss) were going to be in a vampire film, I was on board. But. I don’t have to convince him to watch it anymore, now it is you lot I have to work on, so! Here we go! Andy: It’s worth starting out mentioning that this film is really, really good. Really good. I should have watched it some time ago. It may be my favourite new film I’ve seen this year.
Lilly: Only Lovers Left Alive is the story of two vampires who have spent their immortal lives intertwined, living together and apart all while desperately, deeply in love. Their relationship is compared to Einstein’s “spukhafte Fernwirkung” or “spooky action at a distance” entanglement theory. These vampires are intellectual romantics and the film does not shy away from that. And while Adam reminds you of the melancholic vampires of Interview with the Vampire (see our review from last week!), the main difference is that he suffers depression not due to his love for humanity and his desire to grasp onto it, but rather the opposite. He detests humans (or ‘zombies’ as he refers to them) and doesn’t want to put up with them anymore. Yes, this is the story of a vampire who wants to end it all–and apparently not for the first time has this desire struck. Andy: It’s actually a very good representation on film of depression. He doesn’t want to die because he’s sad; he wants to die because he feels nothing any more. Ennui and disaffection have seeped into his soul, and he’s stuck in a rut, to put it mildly.
Lilly: The mirror opposite and perfect fit for Adam is Eve (aha, get it?), a vampire who loves life, engages with her environment, and, while she acknowledges the world can be difficult, sees life as something to cherished. She can have that view and not be contradictory due to the fact that vampires in this world don’t need to feed off the blood of innocents and drain them dry–in fact, a small glass of blood, practically a shot, seems to do them well. She even comments at one point that draining a human dry and killing them is ‘13th century’ of a vampire to do. So not civilized. Love it. Andy: Plus this is one of the very small number of films to show immortality being done right. If you had all the time in the world, of course you would speak a dozen languages, play a dozen different instruments and read The Temple of the Golden Pavilion in the original Kanji script. I mean, I would. What you do with your eternal lifespan is your business.
Lilly: So, if it’s not obvious, I really enjoyed this film. Unlike some vampire films that explore immortality (seelastweeksreview) with a sort of lazy ache about missing out on human experiences, this one seamlessly moves between the two viewpoints of the protagonists. Adam doesn’t want to be alive anymore because the zombies around him are so aggravating while Eve embraces life of all sorts and faces each night with a fresh new curiosity to explore. And either viewpoint seems valid, really, the optimism and pessimism of living forever perfectly explored. Andy: Yes. It’s so, so good to see a movie that doesn’t conflate vampirism with nihilism. That’s one of the reasons myself and many vampire movies may not have got on. As the great philosopher Harvey Danger once said, if you’re bored, then you’re boring.
Lilly: And oh, the beauty of the film! Using shots that echo drug use scenes in Trainspotting for when they feed, the visual of what it is like to drink blood in this universe is captured in expressions of satisfaction and ecstasy. Long shots of beautifully chaotic rooms, Eve’s costume designs, suitcases full of books–Yes, yes, yes. If that is what being a vampire is, sign me up.
The mythology of the vampires is also intriguing. Their eyes are made to glow unnaturally, so they wear shades. They have hands cold as death, so they wear gloves. They do not have to be invited in, but it is considered ‘bad luck’ to cross a threshold uninvited. Wooden stakes are still a threat, and fast movement is a staple that isn’t left out. Then there is the very interesting use of dreams to ‘call out’ to other vampires, the appearance of Eve’s sister in not only her dreams, but Adam’s (plus their friend Kit’s, or rather, Christopher Marlowe, played by John Hurt) is a sign she is looking for them. Beautiful. I love it. They have lived forever, so name drop names like Tesla, Byron, Shakespeare. Of course! And why not! Throw in the drama about blood being more and more contaminated due to the environment humans are living in, so vampires have to seek out the ‘good stuff’ from specialised doctors, and well. Yes, please, thank you, please.
To sum up (because otherwise I would go on about this for ages), as said before, we both really enjoyed this movie, so go, find it, watch it, enjoy!
Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Sequel Sundays, where we give second (and third) films second chances. You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they get their sunglasses and suit up in leather for an adventure with a certain hunter.
Today’s film offering: Blade II
Lilly: For those of you who only know Wesley Snipes from his brilliant role of Noxeema Jackson in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (which was the case for me), the Blade films are based off comics starring vampire hunting Blade, a human with vampire traits (or a “daywalker”) that hunts vampires. The first film features Blade storming about the place, making life difficult for any vampires that think they can get one by him.
Andy: It helps that the vampires in the Blade universe are ridiculously vulnerable to just about everything.
Lilly: Some mother effers are always trying to ice skate uphill, or so the ever-wise vampire hating Blade quoted in the first film, and the second film carries on in the same vein. After getting rid of a vampire that had been pesky to the vampire higher ups, Blade is asked to step in by the monarchy (of the vampire world) to help with a pest control problem.
Andy: Of course, in the first film, it appeared like the vampires were ruled by a council of Elders, which raises interesting questions about who is actually in charge of vampires. Also, can you have a nation without any land? Genuine question.
Lilly: Anyway, we end up with Blade hunting a super vampire with a super vampire disease that infects those bitten and turns them into Reapers, or vampires wrapped around a parasite that needs blood (and will feed off the host if it can’t get it from an outside source). Why not! He joins a team of vampires who have been training for This Day by training to hunt him–fun!
Andy: The scene where they break into his base to get him to join them has some of the most hilariously bad CGI I have ever seen (seriously guys, just green screen or something. Never, ever do this) but it’s made up for by Blade’s introduction to the team. He’s not much of an inspirational leader, but the way he gets a bunch of bloodthirsty psychos who hate his guts to follow his orders is really, really funny.
Lilly: Blade II was directed by Guillermo del Toro, and boy does it ever show. Whimsically gross death scenes and vampire biology that comes to be the focus of his Strain series, you see touches of del Toro from the creature design to the fact that Ron Perlmen is in it. And let’s talk about those creatures! Unique Reapers with a design more like a parasitic organism than any vampires going today, and the actual vampires are like 90s rave wet dreams in leather with fierce gold eyes. The characters of Blade II are creative right down to the fact that the vampire Lord has blue blood. Ha! Get it?
Andy: AND he looks like the vampire from Cronos, which is kinda cool.
Lilly: As vampire films go, this is a lot in line with the Underworld series, wherein they are action films that feature vampires. Blade II has vampire politics (purebloods and half breeds, etc.), a sub-plot of power struggles within the rank of a unit, and then you suddenly find yourself in a conspiracy plot to boot. Then there is all the stuff with Whistler, an old ally Blade was hunting at the beginning of the film who needs to have one eye on him at all times in case the torture he underwent left him a bit undependable. It’s engaging, and treated like a serious thriller, not just a CGI fest with vampires that has a bit of plot. Andy: Oh yes. It’s almost like this is a dry run for the other big del Toro superhero Hellboy. There’s a real style to the whole thing that makes it cool, bt a very different kind of cool from the first film. There are, however, some problems.
Andy: The bad CGI I’ve already mentioned – this is not a problem that really goes away at any point, as many fight scenes feature this ‘enhancement’.
Lilly: An ‘enhancement’ which has CGI Blade moving a bit like the guests at your park in Roller Coaster Tycoon when you pick them up, all weird movement and limbs not quite swaying right.
Andy: Another is that while the fight scenes are fun, there are a few moments where you just think to yourself “Wait a minute – did he just suplex that guy?” Wrestling moves are purposely designed to be big, flashy and not actually crippling. When you’re supposedly fighting for your life, a different approach may be in order.
Lilly: I smelt what Blade was cookin’, is all I’m saying.
Andy: However, it is fun, and a worthy companion to the first film and an interesting alleyway of Guillermo del Toro’s career.
Lilly: Absolutely. I’d give it a chance if you are into horror action films, though watching Blade first is definitely needed. Unlike some sequels, there are a good few tie-ins in this one that could stand the background information. So, watch both! Heck, throw in Blade: Trinity and have yourself an evening in with Wesley. Why not. Enjoy!
Hello and Hallo-welcome to Thirsty for Blood Thursdays, where our brave bloggers will be facing the children of the night (and whatever music they might make). You join your reviewer, Lilly, as she settles down to have a chat with a melancholy member of the undead–what could go wrong?
Today’s film offering: Interview with the Vampire
Lilly: Imagine you’re a reporter, looking for a story, looking for a lead, looking for anything that could make your dismal existence exciting again, to make it worth getting up in the morning. You are out one night, having a drink to make things that much less dull when you stumble upon a man like no other. And is he a man at all, with his pale skin and long nails, eyes shining brightly in the dim streetlights? Andy: I’m assuming you mean he’s a vampire and not a sex wor…
Lilly: Whoops! Sorry, I think I got some of the film’s melodramatic atmosphere on me. Bit carried away there. And shoo, you aren’t even part of this review! Shoo!
Today’s film, Interview with the Vampire, is one near and dear to my heart. Just as Andy is the resident zombie fan, I’m Hallowfest’s vampire groupie, and this is one of the heavy hitters in the world of vampire cinema. Before we get to talking about the film, I do want to make a quick little note here: while this film does feature vampires and blood and all that fun stuff, I’d be more likely to put it into the gothic category than horror. It’s decadent and romantic and full of death, and that’s pretty much textbook gothic right there.
Interview with the Vampire is the story of Louis Pointe du Lac, a melancholy member of the undead portrayed by the magnificently maned Brad Pitt. It follows his life from the beginning of his life as a vampire, found at the pointy end of the fang of Lestat (or the oddly cast Tom Cruise, who, production lore says, had to stand on boxes to give off the tall, demanding air of the vampire when in the room with the actually tall Pitt). We see him change from a morose human to an even more morose vampire (you apparently don’t only get hotter as a vampire, you get more introspectively sad) as he blunders along, trying to understand the world with the less-than-understanding Lestat as his guide. We learn very early on that Louis’ maker isn’t the best at teaching (it’s a hard job, okay?) and soon, once the honeymoon period wears off, their relationship becomes antagonistic. In an attempt to make Louis happy, and to make him stay at his side, Lestat makes him a little friend. Enter Claudia (or the very teensy Kirsten Dunst).
Now, I keep name dropping because this is a horror film, my gothic labelling aside, that had some big names in it. Christian Slater is the aforementioned reporter! Antonio Banderas even shows up after his success in Philadelphia. Tom Cruise was still bankable, Brad Pitt was wanted–I mean, seriously. That’s impressive for a vampire film. And their performances are not phoned in. Even teensy Kirsten Dunst (who snagged her first kiss from Pitt! From Pitt! Jealous.) is excellent as a child growing up yet staying the same physically, and all the mental angst that causes. There is real weight to every performance that you don’t always get in a film that features vampires. It’s like they know the motivation of the characters beyond ‘be vampires’ or something. And the Ricean vampires are definitely layered, so this cast had a job. And they managed it.
Interview is a great example of a book-to-film adaption, as well. I try to veer away from comparing books to films since they aren’t the same thing, duh, but if one were to read The Vampire Chronicles novels, you’d get the same sort of atmosphere in the novels as you find in this film. It’s decadent, it’s homoerotic, and it treats the story as one not of vampires but of creatures trying to adapt and survive who happen to be vampires. It’s over the top, but then, so is the existence of vampires–it is above and beyond that of a human. The film really captures that with the music, the costuming, the ambience, the Brad Pitt. Plus, you don’t need to know the vampires and their lore well, as the film covers most questions one might have about them (how they die, how they live, etc.) throughout it through the maker/made relationship between Lestat and Louis. I know this because Andy asked the questions to have them answered within five to ten minutes of each film interruption.
The thing is, I think Interview with the Vampire is more along the lines of films like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil then Twilight or Underworld, where the vampires are less monsters that eat people and more monsters who were people (who now eat people). You hear me?
Lilly: Oh my gosh, shoo already! Go. Andy will be back later in the month with his opinions on this film, but not. Right. Now.
Lilly: I preach the gospel of the Anne Rice Vampire Chronicles novels whenever I can, and laud Queen of the Damned (even if it was a messed up jumble of a story that didn’t match the Ricean universe really at all, ssh) and Interview with the Vampire is no different. If you are into vampires, and enjoy a bit of introspection in your walking undead, then do give this film a watch. Also, you get to see so much gasping sex faces as Brad and Tom give and take blood, and can you complain about that?
Lilly: Nope! I can’t and this is my review, so there! Go, watch, enjoy!
Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Laugh-it-off Monday, where we try and start our week from a point of laughter, to really build up to those screams. You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they sit down for a house meeting to discuss the ground rules, such as who does the dishes when and whether or not blood stains will invalidate their lease.
Today’s film offering: What We Do in the Shadows
Andy: Remember how last week we said New Zealand was becoming the King of Comedy-Horror? This is the jewel in the crown, as far as we’re concerned.
The plot couldn’t be simpler – a documentary crew follows around four housemates as they try to navigate an increasingly complex 21st Century. Also, they’re all vampires. The result is something like Parks and Recreation crossed with Interview with the Vampire. You think kids think you’re out of touch at 30? Try being 400. The genius of this film is that the vampires are not only trying to appear cool and with it to the outside world, they’re also trying to do it for the film crew. The embarrassing asides about how they have to draw each other’s appearances because they can’t see their reflections, or endless bickering about housework, are not gracefully swept under the rug, despite their best efforts.
Lilly: This film tries to combine not only numerous sources of vampire lore, but numerous styles of comedy, with the cut-to interviews, plays on words (‘evil bidding’ was one of my favourite moments in the film), and lad comedy with pranks and in-jokes being awkwardly explained to only have backfire. Then there was comedy around their killing, because yes, they’re vampires, they kill, so what–it was great. Again, this was a film, like Young Frankenstein that actually seemed to like the source material it was parodying, paying some attention to the tropes you get–the very fact that they had varying styles of vampires based on how old they were–the oldest, Petyr, looking like Nosferatu–was brilliant.
Andy: And, they’re just so earnest, and the result is a quartet that is oddly endearing, as well as shambolic. You almost forget that they are essentially looking for people to eat on their nightly jaunts. There’s just so much to like in this film, from the clearly very carefully thought out difficulties of being a vampire in the 21st Century, as well as keeping a low profile, all the way to their relationship difficulties – ex-girlfriends, overly-familiar familiars and a hilarious local rivalry with an equally useless pack of werewolves.
Lilly: It takes something that has been blown way out of proportion (vampires) in the last ten years of film and makes it more, y’know, human. Part of the terror of vampires is that, unlike a lot of the monsters and things that go bump in the night, they are actually often able to blend in–sure, they have fangs, or long nails, or are strong, but so do goths who weight lift, right? You can mistake a vampire for someone like you, and these vampires even more so. You can see this most in Vladislav’s struggle with seeing his ex at an event they are going to. Who hasn’t angrily huffed over the ex daring to show up some place you wanted to show up? And he’s immortal, so it’s going to keep happening! I mean. Come on. It doesn’t ignore either genre, horror or comedy, in its undertaking, and I really appreciate that. It’s a perfect balance, and a perfect film to end our laugh-it-off Mondays with.
Andy:It’s just so effortlessly good. Horror-Comedy fans, definitely check this out.
Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Laugh-it-off Monday, where we laugh in the face of danger, ha ha ha! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they just get their reservations in order.
Today’s film offering: Hotel Transylvania 2
Lilly: Dracula is back in this family fun sequel to Hotel Transylvania, a story about love transcending differences, to try and transcend even more differences. It’s a few years after the first film (which I highly suggest you see before this one, naturally) and Dracula’s daughter, Mavis, has married her ‘zing’, Jonathan, and they have had an adorable red-headed son named Dennis (or Denisovich, as Dracula insists on calling him). Question is, is Dennis a human like his dad, or a vampire like his mom?
Andy: We’ve seen Old Drac (Bleh Bleh Bleh) in a few guises over the years, but Doting Grandfather is certainly a new one on me. And thank heavens, before we go any further, that the pregnancy and labour aren’t, er, laboured. That has been done to death.
So yeah, five years on they have little Denisovich, who is very much a typical five year old. He likes animated puppet shows, rather than sahking blahd. Which is a problem for Dracula, because as his descendant, he feels he should be a vampire. So he packs off Mum and Dad to visit the in-laws, and then resolves to bring out Dennis’ latent vampirism. How does he do this? Road trip! Lilly: That was actually a cool bit of vampire mythology there, wherein a vampire doesn’t necessarily get his fangs right away, and has until he is five to show them–if he doesn’t have them by five, he’s not a vamp after all. So, extra pressure on the kid.
Who is adorable, by the by. You know how cartoon kids (and sometimes real ones) can be too cute? In a way that has you just rolling your eyes? Dennis definitely avoids that, with his big eyes and red hair and adorable little voice–he just wants to make his Granpire (aaha they make this joke in the film twice and it’s still good) happy, and it’s ridiculously sweet.
Andy: Plus, the road trip idea gets the ‘gang’ from the first film back together – Frankenstein, Wolfman, The Mummy – and have them riff off of each other. And again, thank you movie for not going down the ‘lads away from their wives’ route. They’re just out to have a good time, not go crazy. It’s also really nice to see a family film focus on a Grandparent for once – and not one where the parents are dead or absent but there and disagreeing with them.
Lilly: Hotel Transylvania explored the idea of what happens when your little girl wants to leave home, and Hotel Transylvania 2 continues along that thread. While it appeared at first that love was enough to keep his little girl at the hotel, this film doesn’t actually give Dracula that security of his family remaining close so easily. It doesn’t just let the relationship falling into her lap stop Mavis’ want to leave–the character actually grows, changes, and becomes even more interested in the outside world, driven by giving her son a chance to be accepted. Her desire is blindly driven, to the point that she doesn’t pick up on the word ‘normal’ being used in regards to humans until near the end, and it’s a good insight for a film pitched at children. What if he is ‘normal’ by the standards of her in-laws? What would that make her?
Andy: We also then get two stories – the aforementioned wacky road trip, and the subtler, sweeter story of a man taking his wife back to his hometown, and seeing it through their eyes. There’s also the absolute joy of having Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally as Jonathan’s parents. They absolutely nail that awkwardness of ‘normal’ people trying to be accommodating to outsiders and just ever-so-slightly getting it wrong. It’s far too subtle for kids, but I’m sure adults watching this cringe. I know I did.
Lilly: Absolutely. It takes off the experience of any mixed couple (be it race, social class, nationality, whatever), and it is really truthful to the experience of trying to find where you fit as a couple when you no longer fully fit into where either of you came from. Honestly, it’s really impressive how it is handled in this film.
Also impressive is the character of Winnie, one of Wayne the werewolf’s many, many pups. She has to be one of the strongest female characters I’ve seen in a children’s film. She was a great contrast to the sweetness of Dennis, and she was treated with the respect of a lead character when really only having ten minutes tops of screen time.
ALSO impressive is that this film still does what the original did, throwing back to classic monsters and tropes, from Jonathan’s fancy dress costume to a character this time around called Bela–get it? Eh? So good. Andy: Having said that, we’re reading a lot into this film ,and what it is is a really fun, pretty funny family adventure. It’s better than Igor, that we reviewed the other day, and is probably about on par with the original in terms of quality. Definite recommend from us, bleh bleh bleh.
Hello and Hallo-welcome back to Throwback Thursday, where you join your faithful bloggers, Andy and Lilly, worshipping at the altar of Boris Karloff. They built it themselves. Today’s Film Offering: Black Sabbath (1963)
Andy: We love a good portmanteau here at Hallowfest don’t we, Lilly?
Lilly: If I could marry a portmanteau, I would, Andy.
Andy: And this is one of the best. Lilly: Black Sabbath is a collection of stories brought together by director Mario Bava, hosted by the ever-so-amazing Boris Karloff. Yes, that Boris Karloff. The face of Frankenstein. The voice of the Grinch. He greets the viewers of the film and gives the usual warning this era of films had–watch your hearts, careful of any acid reflux issues, do you have a next of kin, etc. that were beautiful gimmicks to get the audience warmed up for the horror–as well as starring in one of the three tales. It’s a different tone to anything we’ve reviewed so far this year, and Boris being the creepy and playful host is part of the reason that’s the case.
Andy:The first of our triple bill of terror is the weakest of the three – “The Telephone”. A woman is menaced by creepy telephone calls which claim to be from her former lover Frank, who recently escaped from prison. It’s the weakest of the three, by far.
Lilly: I have never wanted someone to pick up a phone so much as I did, watching this short story. Just…pick up the phone and deal with the murderous Frank, would you? Come on, lady. Not only was it slow and tedious with all the phone ringing/hand wringing, but the twist didn’t really make sense. Or it did, and I didn’t care. Whichever.
The second tale in this odd collection is “The Wurdalak”, and it definitely perks the film up a bit. Maybe I am biased due to my deep love of Boris Karloff and vampires, but this story of a special kind of vampire that only feeds on the blood of those it cares about the most is super fun. It has campy horror moments, such as Boris Karloff’s character, Gorca, looking directly at the camera before he’s off to menace the lead. It has interesting colouring and makeup choices as well, that make the film smack a bit of Hammer Horror, which I am always, always behind.
Andy: It’s pretty great. The third is by far the most terrifying, featuring a woman who decides that stealing from the dead is a good idea, and gets menaced by the awful spectre of the victim in a gaudy, glorious display of sheer horror. It’s genuinely scary.
Lilly: It really is! The face of the woman she is haunted by really sticks with you, and the final scene leaves you relatively unsettled, not to mention wanting to leave all the lights on.
Andy: Also not to mention the vomited-into-a-kaleidoscope look that reminds you this is an ITALIAN horror movie. One of the things I like about this film is how well it brings across three strands of European horror. We have the Giallo inspired opening, with creepy phone calls and black leather gloves stalking maidens without enough clothes on, the Hammer centre with its colours and quasi-medieval setting, and then the future Bava/Argento terrifying carnival ride through crazy land. It all works so well together, rather than being dissonant as hell, which is what you’d expect.
Lilly: It gives a taste of what was going around at the time in the horror genre, and then is all tied together by a delicious horror host, which I wish was still a thing. Why don’t we have more portmanteaus with weirdo hosts, huh? Huh?
Andy: It’s a pretty solid recommend from us. Just watch it in English, and the original Bava version, not the AIP version that screws up the order of the stories and does other not-cool things.
Hello and Hallo-welcome to Twofer Tuesday, a double bill of deliciously devilish delicacies that we dissect with our decidedly dry wit! Join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who think you’re so cool, Brewster.
Today’s Film Offerings: Fright Night
Lilly: Both! Because one film was not enough for how frightful that night was, apparently.
Picture it: the 1980s. Wait, you don’t need to, because Tom Holland’s Fright Night from 1985 paints that picture brilliantly. A tale of a horror-film loving nerd (wait…) who finds himself suddenly living the terrors he is used to enjoying on screen, Fright Night is a classic tale of the boy who cried ‘vampire’. Charlie Brewster, a nerdy teen with a sweetheart named Amy, is menaced by his new neighbour, Jerry Dandridge, who may or may not be a vampire–he super is, which we find out pretty early on in the film. The rest of the film is Charlie’s attempts at getting other people to believe this, which fail at varying levels. Eventually, however, enough people die to make it apparent that Jerry isn’t just the charmer next door.
Andy: Picture it: the early 2010s. A tale of an ex-nerd who is menaced by his new neighbour called Jerry Dandridge, who may or may not be a…yeah, you get the idea. We’re in remake land! Lilly: Not just remake land, but the even more exciting territory of good remake land!
Andy: A little detour:
Now obviously we’re not a massive fan of generalisations here, and there are all sorts of people who hate remakes on general principle. The arguments seem to be as follows: 1) Hollywood is out of ideas, 2) Remakes are cheap cash-ins trading on the name of the original and 3) All of them are bad anyway.
I can’t speak for Lilly, but I find the idea that Hollywood is ‘out of ideas’ particularly now is frankly a little bit silly. Remakes are nothing new at all – the first film we reviewed this Hallowfest was House of Wax, which was a remake of an earlier film called Mystery of the Wax Museum from 1933. In fact a lot of ‘classic’ horrors are remakes – one of the most famous is John Carpenter’s The Thing, a remake of another movie from 1951 called The Thing from another World directed by Howard Hawks.
Lilly: Not to mention Frankenstein, which we are reviewing later on in the month, was originally a film made by Thomas Edison (surprise!) which was then remade by James Whale which was then remade by everyone ever. And with each remake, you get new things piled onto old ideas, so the notion that Hollywood is ‘out of ideas’ is ridiculous–at the very least, they had one idea, which was to remake a film, after all. Pfft.
Andy: As for the second point, sometimes, yes. There is no doubt in my mind that the slew of slasher remakes from about 5 – 10 years ago was driven mostly by the fact that cashing in on 80s nostalgia was big at that moment in time. However, all movies set off with the intention of making money, and at the end of the day, the people greenlighting these things are just trying to minimise their risk.
Lilly: Lots of things trade on names, by the by. Think about trailers which say ‘and starring Whoever, star of This Other Film You Loved So Maybe You’ll Love This One’.
Andy: Look on the bright side – remakes almost always spark a renewal of interest in the original, and next time you feel a remake is stepping onto sacred ground, take comfort in the fact that a special edition DVD or Blu-ray set is almost certainly coming for the old classic. And if the remakes are really bad, they tend to drop off the radar very, very quickly. Who remembers Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, for goodness’ sake?
Lilly: I do and I thought it was aggressively alright. So there.
Andy: As for them all being bad, well, that is a matter of opinion. In this particular case, we may disagree. End of detour.
Lilly: Thanks for joining us!
Andy: The other thing is that while zombies tend to be my thing, Lilly’s much more about the vampires. I don’t hold anything against the toothy bloodsuckers, but I just don’t love them in the same way. However, there are one or two vampire movies that I like a lot – Christopher Lee is awesome whatever he’s doing – and I’ll generally get behind any story as long as it’s entertaining. It’s just that she’s a tad more ‘qualified’ than me.
Lilly: I’m a big vampire freak, in other words. True thing. So, let’s get down to business. Again, much like with the Hostel films, we have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get to it!
Looking at the 1985 version of Fright Night, you actually get a cool insight into the attitude of the time towards horror fans. Nerds who spend Saturday night at home, watching old schlocky films with far too many descriptors in the title (think The Dark Night of Terror on Black Mountain of Blood and Doom with Monsters) are the protagonists of this film and who the audience is supposed to be able to relate to. ‘Sure,’ you should be saying, as you, I don’t know, admire the feathering in Amy’s hair-do, ‘I can so relate to that nerd because I, too, am a nerd’. Horror wasn’t seen as cool or shocking to mainstream genre film go-ers and you can feel that this film is playing with that. Only dorks like horror, and this dork is the dorkiest–but is he? Because he, spoiler alert, manages to get himself together enough to try and be the hero, not just the nerd who watches tv at home. His knowledge of horror helps him out, and it’s just…fun. That’s the best word for it.
Andy: Equally interesting, the character in the 2011 version seems to be trying to move away from the stereotypical ‘nerd’. He has his girlfriend, his Mum and his useless motorbike, but in the not too distant past he seems to have embraced the really nerdy end of the spectrum – the kind where you basically record yourself LARPing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course, but it’s very telling that Evil Ed uses this footage as leverage when Brewster’s loyalty as a friend is called into question. Also, he’s the one that needs convincing rather than the One Sane Man. A skeptical character who’s nevertheless obsessed with image? This seems a bit more ‘modern’ to me.
Lilly: Also fun is Peter Vincent, who, in the original, is a great shout out to Larry Vincent, or “Seymour Sinister”, a horror host who hosted Fright Night on a local LA station for five years in the early seventies–the man whose death lead to the invention of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, to fill the position. And did she ever fill it! But I digress. Vincent is a great way for those who aren’t relating to Brewster to get into the film–he’s just trying to keep his job even though horror hosts are going out of style, and now vampires are real? Poor guy!
When it comes to vampires, Fright Night has a weird mythology in itself which does have some regular staples–stakes, blood from the vampire turning his victims, flying, turning into bats and animals, etc.–and some lesser used ones, such as the vampire form being massive and bat-like. A lot of fun for the special effects and make up team, no doubt. Vampires needing to be invited in is an important plot point in both versions (and how 2011’s Jerry gets around it is super sinister). It also features familiars, which we see with the live-in carpenter friend who is…whatever he is. Watch the film and let me know because I still have no idea (which might be why his character is absent from the remake). Andy: One of the most interesting elements (Lilly will tell me if this is an original idea) is that crucifixes require faith to work – this makes them much more tricky and less of an instant protection.
Lilly: Well, that’s a weird one–I mean, remember The Fearless Vampire Killers where the girl holds up a cross and the vampire responds with ‘Oy vey, have you got the wrong vampire!’ implying the object has to be holy to the vampire themselves…but then in Forever Knight (have I made you watch that yet?), any holy item can affect them, including ancient Egyptian relics. I love that trope, though–why wouldn’t they need faith to back them up?
Anyway. Moving on. Amy, the sweet girlfriend, is a lot less…experienced in this film than in the remake, and that’s super interesting, just like how Brewster is the doubting one and not Ed in the 2011 feature. I am a firm believer in not comparing a remake to the original in the sense of one being better than the other–just like you don’t say ‘the book was better’ when watching a film because that’s silly–but I am always curious as to why certain elements are changed. Who thought 2011’s audience would better relate to a doubting protagonist who was a reformed nerd? Who thought Amy had to be more sexualized, and more aggressive with her doubts about Brewster’s vampire troubles? And who thought Charlie’s mom had to have more of a role? Andy: To be fair, she was so inconsequential in the original I had to think hard about anything she, y’know, did or said. And you can’t sideline Toni Colette. Lilly: And Ed! Evil Ed was so much more sympathetic in the 2011 version, a bullied, lost nerd who no one listens to, not even his best friend, compared to the Evil Ed of 1985 who was just. So. Awful. With his weird laughter at literally everything. Don’t get me wrong, I have dealt with teenagers like him in my former occupation but still. I wanted him dead ASAP just so I wouldn’t have to hear him anymore. Did someone comment on that, so he was changed? Or did it fit the new story better? Or what? What! Andy: They’re both odd time capsules of when they were made, so unpacking them raises all sorts of interesting questions.
Lilly: The pace of 1985’s Fright Night is a lot slower and has a lot less scenery changes than the remake, but that was definitely the style of the time. It was just the story of a boy and his neighbour, not saving the world as we see in 2011’s narrative. It kicks off soon enough so that you aren’t left waiting–you know Jerry’s a vampire from twenty minutes into the film, and the rest of the time you are wondering how Brewster will make it out of this. Andy: The pacing is so off in the original that you’d swear the remake was the much shorter film. They are in fact, exactly the same length.
Lilly: Before we spend more time on the 1985’s fun (I could talk about Evil Ed’s wolf scene for aaages), let’s talk about 2011’s Fright Night (in 3D!)
Charlie Brewster, as mentioned, is a former nerd and current cool guy who is trying to balance his new life and hot girlfriend with his old life and weird friend, Ed. His oh-so-real struggle is broken up when Jerry moves in next door, a handsome guy with dark eyes, a charming smile, and no reflection. Whoops, he’s a vampire, and only Ed seems to believe that. Andy: Although with the addition of him not appearing on digital film either, which is a fun update. So how do the characters compare?
Lilly: First, let’s talk about Jerry. Now, Chris Sarandon was a fantastic Jerry, and so is Colin Farrell. One (Sarandon) is a suave sort, wearing turtlenecks and charming people with a smooth, calm demeanour. The other is, as Ed quips, ‘The shark from Jaws’. I loved both (and Sarandon even had a fun cameo as ‘Jay Dee’–get it? Jerry Dandridge, eh? Eh?–in the remake) but there was definitely a big difference in their approach. One was all charm and cocktails after dark and the other was all raw animal energy and smirks around sharp teeth. The physicality of the vampire didn’t change between films–there was still far too many teeth to be sensible in their mouths at times and sassy long nails-which was nice. Kept them in the same mythos, so to speak. Even with the added history in 2011’s film, a neat addition to the story of Jerry.
Andy: Chris Sarandon seems to be carrying baggage from the ‘classy’ era of vampires – he looks good, all the time. 2011 Jerry seems to be happy in a wifebeater, confident in his vague hickishness – he’s much better disguised.
Lilly: Peter Vincent. David Tennant can admittedly do no wrong in my books, but this character was perfect. While 1985’s was a throwback to Seymour Sinister, 2011 sees us facing a Criss Angel wannabe, and I loved it. I’d go to his magic show. Twice. And watching him disrobe and take apart his own character in front of Brewster is fantastic–it’s like watching Jerry change from charming neighbour who gets the ladies swooning to his more threatening self, all dead dark eyes and fangs, but in reverse. Vincent’s character gets a bit more development in this film (a common thing in this film, actually, everything seeming to go just a bit deeper than the older film) and it was well worth the time to explore him. He adds so much to the story, and is hilarious to boot. Andy: There’s not much to say about how brilliantly realised this character is, other than the obvious – it’s David Tennant, in leather pants, swearing and being cowardly. Every moment he’s onscreen is a scream. Amy, though, the eponymous girlfriend, is a swing and a miss. While it may be very 2010s to have a sexually liberated woman, she’s too aggressive. At one point, something’s clearly bothering Charlie, and she almost forces him to have sex. The scene is uncomfortable – imagine if the roles were reversed – and her character never recovers.
Lilly: It’s true. Even if you were looking at it as an inversion of Brewster’s pressuring of her in the original film, it’s resolved in a way that makes her come off pretty badly. 1985 Brewster ends the fooling around because he’s freaked out, and 2011 Amy ends the fooling around because she’s annoyed by him being freaked out. Does he often look out the window and try and avoid sex by claiming his new neighbour is going to hurt the go-go dancer neighbour? She certainly acts like he does.
The story itself is a great one, and these films are both ones I’d recommend, especially if you are a vampire fan such as myself. Especially with the 2011 remake, you get a lot of fun nods to vampire tropes that make the genre what it is. They are both a bit comedic, a bit camp, and still scary when they need to be, and I can really get behind that. Andy: Same. Even as a non-vampire fan, these films have enough to offer that they’re worth a watch. I think this is one of those rare occasions where the remake edges out the original – it’s paced better, the cast is better, it’s funnier – but neither are bad films in the slightest. As a side note, the remake has one of the best credits songs ever. If you’re into that sort of thing.