Film Review: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Also known as: The Brain of Frankenstein (working title)
Release Date: June 15th, 1948
Directed by: Charles Barton
Written by: John Grant, Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo
Based on: characters by Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Curt Siodmak, H.G. Wells
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange, Lenore Aubert, Jane Randolph, Frank Ferguson, Charles Bradstreet, Vincent Price (voice, uncredited cameo)

Universal International Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Young people making the most of life – while it lasts.” – Dr. Lejos/Dracula

I’m actually surprised that I hadn’t yet reviewed any of the Universal Monsters pictures with Abbot and Costello in them. I have an immense love of both things and having them come together, which they did a handful of times, was really cool.

Overall, this one was always my favorite but I like all of them.

In this one, we don’t just get Frankenstein’s Monster, we also get Dracula, the Wolf Man and a little cameo by the Invisible Man. With that, we also got Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. and a voice cameo by the legendary Vincent Price.

Unfortunately, Boris Karloff didn’t come back to play Frankenstein’s Monster but we did get Glenn Strange, who had already played the monster twice before this and who is really underappreciated in that role.

The only problem with this is one that doesn’t actually effect the film itself but instead, effects the ones that followed. You see, they blew their nut really early by cramming a ton of monsters into this one, so the following movies felt a bit underwhelming after the precedent this one set. But honestly, it’s why this particular one is the best of the lot.

Abbot and Costello are both hilarious per usual and their camaraderie was so solid by this point that they could’ve entertained in their sleep.

All in all, this was a really good horror comedy that took the best parts of two very different things and merged them together very well, not diminishing the performances of the two comedic legends or the coolness of the classic monsters and the legends who played them.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Abbot and Costello monster movies.

TV Review: Dracula (2020)

Original Run: January 1st, 2020 – January 3rd, 2020
Created by: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat
Directed by: Johnny Campbell, Damon Thomas, Paul McGuigan
Written by: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: David Arnold, Michael Price
Cast: Claes Bang, Dolly Wells, John Heffernan, Morfydd Clark, Joanna Schanlan, Mark Gatiss, Lydia West

Hartswood Films, BBC, Netflix, 3 Episodes, 88-91 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Yeesh!

What a fucking catastrophe this show was.

It started out kind of interesting and I watched it because Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat were the creative forces behind it. I liked most of their work even if their later Doctor Who stuff turned to shit. But I had hoped this would be more like Sherlock than late-Doctor Who but what I got was more like a botched kidney transplant.

The show really got away from itself at the midpoint of the first episode where it decided to deviate from the traditional Dracula story. While I’m okay with creative freedom and the Dracula story has been reinvented dozens, if not hundreds, of times, this was one of the worst Dracula storytelling experiments I’ve ever had to suffer through.

Now this isn’t a knock against the actors, they were mostly really good, and it’s not a knock against the quality of the production as it looked great. No, this is about the story and how stupid and batshit retarded it was.

This was damn near unwatchable once it went off the rails but there was that part of me that stuck through it, hoping that the genius of Gatiss and Moffat would somehow turn this around and make it something great or at least acceptable enough to not be a total waste.

By the time you get through the third and final episode, however, you’re left scratching your head wondering what the fucking point was.

Honestly, I have no idea and I can’t get my four and a half hours back.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: waking up in a bathtub full of ice after an abduction and a kidney gone missing.

Film Review: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Also known as: D (working title)
Release Date: November 10th, 1992 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: James V. Hart
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Wojciech Kilar
Cast: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits, Monica Bellucci, Jay Robinson

Osiris Films, American Zoetrope, Columbia Pictures, 128 Minutes, 155 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Do you believe in destiny? That even the powers of time can be altered for a single purpose? That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds… true love?” – Dracula

While I was never a massive fan of this Dracula adaptation, which I will get into, I’ve still always enjoyed it. It’s generally well acted and it looks incredible. I also have to say that it’s stood the test of time, as it doesn’t feel as dated as I thought it would and because many people still talk about it and refer to it as one of their favorite vampire films of all-time.

I think that Francis Ford Coppola did a good job in giving the famous novel some new life and helped to inject vampire movies back into the mainstream consciousness. However, it does fall short of the great 1994 Interview With A Vampire adaptation, as well as some of the other Dracula movies of the past.

This tossed away certain tropes, as Dracula no longer takes on the visual style of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and instead, was reworked with inspiration taken from Catholicism. The hair is different, the costume is different and its sort of refreshing, allowing this movie to actually break the mold and exist as its own thing, as opposed to just another rehash of what Dracula movies had been for sixty years.

The film also uses characters from the book, who were mostly ignored in the countless other adaptations. In a lot of ways, this is very accurate to Stoker’s original work. However, it also has some major differences, which makes it more of Coppola’s Dracula than Stoker’s Dracula.

The biggest of these changes is Dracula’s origin, which now connects him to Vlad the Impaler, a historical ruler of Romania, who fought off and conquered the Turks. Additionally, we see how he becomes a vampire, where the original novel didn’t really answer that question.

Beyond that, this is much more about romance, as Mina has an attraction to Dracula and he allows her to choose him. In the novel, Dracula didn’t care about love and his goal was to move to England and drain it of blood. That being said, I do like this modification that Coppola made and it gives the story more nuance, context and purpose. Plus, these moments between Dracula and Mina were beautifully shot and well acted.

My biggest gripe with the film, which sucks to admit, was that Keanu Reeves was out of his depth. I know that it is popular to criticize his performance in this film but those criticisms aren’t wrong. His British accent is somehow off, feeling forced and unnatural. Also, every time he shares the screen with Gary Oldman, he is outshined by a very wide margin. I guess Christian Slater was originally cast as Jonathan Harker and man, what a different and probably much better movie this could have been, especially when considering Slater and Winona Ryder’s chemistry in Heathers.

A strong positive for me, is that Coppola insisted on using old school effects techniques, as opposed to relying on newly developing CGI technology. The effects shots are really neat and give them film a sort of authenticity that CGI just can’t replicate, even now, nearly thirty years later.

The practical monster effects, the costumes, the hair, the makeup, all of that stuff is phenomenal and it has all held up so well.

I also like that this wasn’t filmed on location and that Coppola did just about everything indoors on massive soundstages. It gives the film a great, classically cinematic look and it reminds me of Hammer’s vampire films, as well as the old Universal Monsters pictures.

Lastly, the score is fucking perfection. Wojciech Kilar created one of the most iconic horror scores of all-time. The main theme of the film is even better, as it has become just as iconic as this film, if not, more so. I wish Kilar did more American movies over the course of his career but between this and his score from The Ninth Gate, he’s one of my favorite composers that I discovered in the ’90s.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a better film than I remembered it being. I still can’t say that it’s on my Mount Rushmore of Dracula adaptations but it’s one of the most unique and coolest versions of the story.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Interview With A Vampire, as well as other vampire films from the late ’80s through mid-’90s.

Film Review: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Also known as: Burned to Light (working title)
Release Date: May 15th, 2000 (Cannes)
Directed by: E. Elias Merhige
Written by: Steven Katz
Music by: Dan Jones
Cast: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Cary Elwes, John Aden Gillet, Eddie Izzard, Udo Kier, Catherine McCormack, Ronan Vibert

Saturn Films, Long Shot Pictures, BBC Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Death of centuries! Moonchaser! Blasphemer! Monkey! Vase of prehistory. Finally to Earth, and finally born.” – F. W. Murnau

I don’t know what it is about Nosferatu but every film within its grasp is great, whether that’s the original 1922 silent film, the 1979 remake or this, a movie that appears to be a biopic about F. W. Murnau and the production of the original Nosferatu but is actually a fictional reimagining that makes Murnau a vicious tyrant behind the camera and his star a real vampire.

Obviously, this isn’t the true story of the making of Nosferatu but it is one hell of a fun ride through an alternate dimension. It’s also well written, stupendously acted and features incredible makeup, great set recreations, as well as several tropes and techniques from the silent era reworked with great care into this modern picture.

I love this film and from the moment I saw it in 2001 or so, it quickly became one of my all-time favorite vampire pictures. It also solidified my love and respect for the talents of John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe. In fact, Dafoe would get an Academy Award nomination for this role. The film was also nominated for makeup.

Beyond those two, the rest of the cast is also superb. I especially liked Udo Kier in this and it’s one of my favorite roles he’s played over his very long and storied career. Additionally, Eddie Izzard, Catherine McCormack, Cary Elwes and Aden Gillet all put in memorable performances, each adding so much complexity and nuance to the overall production.

The director, E. Elias Merhige, hasn’t done a whole lot over the years and the only other film of his I’ve seen is Suspect Zero. I remember enjoying it at the time but this movie is certainly his magnum opus. I’m not sure why he doesn’t make more movies but as great as this one is, his lack of motion pictures feels like a great loss for cinema.

Shadow of the Vampire is pretty close to perfect from top-to-bottom and it’s just a neat, clever story featuring one of the best monsters that has ever graced the silver screen. Dafoe actually is perfect and the brightest spot in this already bright film. Malkovich is damn good, as well, and the two have incredible chemistry. They’re both villainous and it’s just interesting watching this play out, trying to see which one is the greater villain, overall.

In real life, however, Murnau was said to be great to work for and a very sensitive artist. Also, Max Schreck wasn’t a blood sucking murderer, as he’d go on to live a married life while enjoying success in many films outside of just Nosferatu.

Despite this not being real, it makes me wish that there were more movies like this. Films that would take something really cool from history and just do something bonkers but respectable with it.

Although, I guess that’s what makes this motion picture so unique and so special. It truly feels like one of a kind and it was crafted with a genuine love of the original film it tapped into.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the two Nosferatu movies, as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Film Review: Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Also known as: Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (original German title), Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night (alternative title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1979 (France)
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Written by: Werner Herzog
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens by F. W. Murnau
Music by: Popol Vuh
Cast: Klaus Kinski, Isabella Adjani, Bruno Ganz

Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, Gaumont, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, 107 Minutes, 96 Minutes (theatrical cut)

Review:

“[subtitled version] Time is an abyss… profound as a thousand nights… Centuries come and go… To be unable to grow old is terrible… Death is not the worst… Can you imagine enduring centuries, experiencing each day the same futilities…” – Count Dracula

Back in the 1970s, I probably would’ve been vehemently opposed to a remake of the 1922 classic F. W. Murnau film, Nosferatu. However, I would’ve been very wrong, as Werner Herzog, who was still a very young director back then, made an update that fit the time while also being very true and respectful to the source material it used as its blueprint.

This incarnation of one of the greatest examples of the German Expressionist style did its damnedest to try and recreate the original. It employed great art design in how it recreated the look of the characters, the locations and the overall tone.

This also had to be a big challenge, as far as the location shooting went, as they couldn’t return to the same spots as the original due to the Berlin Wall and communism being in the way. They did, however, find great spots that replicated some of the original film’s most iconic visual moments.

The biggest difference with this picture is that it is presented in color and with sound. Other than that, it feels as true as a nearly sixty year-old remake can.

What also makes this so great is the cast. There wasn’t a more perfect actor at the time to play the title role. Klaus Kinski had already made a name for himself as an extremely versatile character actor in Europe and his most memorable roles were the ones where he was creepy or villainous.

In this, Kinski is absolute perfection. He owns the role, gives it life (even though he’s undead) and has this unsettling presence and an aura of death every time he is present on the screen. Plus, he had incredible chemistry with both Isabella Adjani and Bruno Ganz.

The cinematography is excellent and even though this film had a pretty iconic visual roadmap to try and emulate, it was done so to perfection and with great care. Herzog and his cinematographer, Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein, created a dark, gritty yet very lived in world that is full of atmosphere and nuance to the point that the scenery feels like a character in the movie.

My only real complaint about the film is that I didn’t like how they switched the character’s names to those in the Bram Stoker Dracula novel, as I always felt that the original Nosferatu really did a superb job in taking that story and reworking it into its own unique thing. I feel that to truly do an homage to the Murnau film, they should referred to the vampire as Count Orlok and not Count Dracula. I know it’s nitpicky but it’s just one of those things that is kind of jarring and takes me out of the movie. This could also be due to the fact that I’ve seen the original more than a dozen times.

Overall, this is how a remake should be done: just like a cover song. It should only exist if it can take the source material and build off of it and legitimately try to improve upon it. While this isn’t as good as the original, it is still a damn fine attempt and one of the best vampire movies ever made. Plus, seeing Kinski play an Orlock-like vampire is incredible because it feels like it was his destiny to do so. 

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original 1922 film, as well as other film’s featuring Nosferatu-like vampires like Salem’s Lot and Shadow of the Vampire.

Comic Review: Graveyard Shift, Volume II

Published: June, 2020
Written by: Mark Poulton
Art by: Jon Malin, Anthony George

Haunted Pizza, 48 Pages

Review:

It’s been awhile since the first Graveyard Shift came out but these crowdfunded comics take time.

While I mostly liked the original, I was expecting more out of this one, after the setup. However, I also wasn’t expecting this to be the end of the story, as I know more volumes are planned.

However, this is the end of this story arc, which in totality, comprises about the length of four regular floppy comic book issues.

That being said, while I also enjoyed this one, the plot felt a bit rushed, as I don’t feel like we really got to know these characters well enough in the limited time we had. Add in all the action and cool stuff and the story just didn’t have enough room to breathe and properly develop.

I think that it needs more balance between developing the characters, especially this early, and the big action sequences.

Granted, I would like to read more of these and get to know these characters better. And I hope that they are explored more in the future.

Apart from the story, which I don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t read it yet, I thought that the art was a bit of a step up. Jon Malin didn’t deviate from his style but it feels more polished and refined, here. I’m not sure if he spent a little more time on this volume or if he’s just improved since last year’s release.

Ultimately, this was a fun, great looking read. It’s not my favorite series out of the crowdfunded stuff I’ve supported over the last few years but I would put it in the upper echelon. 

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent Comicsgate books like Richard C. Meyer’s Jawbreakers, which Malin also worked on.

Film Review: Count Dracula (1970)

Also known as: Dracula ’71 (alternative US title), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (complete title), Dracula (working title)
Release Date: April 3rd, 1970 (Germany)
Directed by: Jesus Franco
Written by: Augustino Finocchi, Peter Welbeck (English), Jesus Franco (Spanish), Carlo Fadda (Italian), Milo G. Cuccia (Italian), Dietmar Behnke (German)
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski, Frederick Williams, Maria Rohm, Soledad Miranda, Jack Taylor, Paul Muller, Jesus Puente

Filmar Compagnia Cinematografica, Fénix Cooperativa Cinematográfica, Corona Filmproduktion, 98 Minutes

Review:

“One of my race crossed the Danube and destroyed the Turkish host. Though sometimes beaten back, he came again and again then at the end he came again for he alone could triumph. This was a Dracula indeed.” – Count Dracula

Even though Christopher Lee had already played Dracula a half dozen times by 1970, I think it was hard for him to turn down this alternative take on the role, as Spanish director Jesus Franco wanted to make a film that was the closest version of Bram Stoker’s original literary work.

That being said, this is a pretty spot on adaptation of the novel but that also works against it, as a lot of this is boring, drawn out and more focused on drama, as opposed to horror.

The first act of the film is wonderful, well paced, decently acted and it seems to come off without a hitch. However, after that, the story moves at a snail’s pace and the only things in it that are worthwhile are the few scenes with Klaus Kinski as Renfield and the absolutely stunning beauty of Soledad Miranda, who unfortunately died way too young in real life and just barely scratched the surface of her potential.

Jesus Franco would go on to essentially make films that fit the porn category more than anything else but this one is very light on being sexually exploitative and maybe that’s due to Lee’s involvement.

The film is okay but mostly forgettable other than it existing as a Lee Dracula film that isn’t a part of the Hammer continuity.

It was shot and filmed in Spain and that kind of takes you out of the picture when it’s supposed to be set in Romania and England. Watching characters run through castles and streets full of desert sand is a bizarre thing to see in a Dracula film but I digress.

Ultimately, this was cool to see, as it allowed Lee to get more into the literary Dracula without the ham and cheese of the Hammer sequels. It felt closer to the original Hammer film than any of their sequels, as far as the Dracula character goes. However, it’s completely devoid of that Hammer charm, which made those films much more iconic and memorable.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Christopher Lee’s Dracula films from Hammer, as well as Jesus Franco’s other vampire movies.

Comic Review: The Tomb of Dracula – The Complete Collection, Vol. 2

Published: October 3rd, 2018
Written by: Gerry Conway, Chris Claremont, Gary Friedrich, Tony Isabella, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman
Art by: Gene Colan, Ross Andru, John Buscema, Dick Giordano, Don Heck, Mike Ploog, Gil Kane (cover)
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Marvel Comics, 512 Pages

Review:

Over the last few months, I’ve been reading a lot of the ’70s Marvel Comics stuff. I dabbled in some of these stories when I was a kid but they were before my time and weren’t as easy to get when I really started collecting comics circa 1990. Plus, my attention, at that time, was focused on superhero stuff, as well as G.I. Joe.

I enjoyed the first volume in this massive collections of The Tomb of Dracula, so naturally I wanted to check out this one too. In the end, I liked this one even more. I think a lot of that has to do with this taking place more in the modern world, which allowed Marvel’s incarnation of Dracula to interact with some of Marvel’s famous superheroes.

In this collection we get to see Dracula meet Spider-Man, Werewolf by Night and Marvel’s version of Frankenstein’s Monster. We also get a small cameo by the Human Torch, as well as the debut of Dracula’s daughter, Lilith. This even had a swashbuckling tale in it.

Now this had a ton of different writers and artists, as it bounces around to different titles that featured Dracula, at the time. Despite this, the book feels consistent, which is a testament to how great Marvel’s editorial was in the ’70s. As far as that company has fallen in recent years, they wouldn’t be able to pull this feat off in 2020.

Most of the stories here were good, it was an energetic read with great art by several legends and it is a fantastic example of ’70s Marvel horror at its finest.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Dracula stories, as well as other ’70s Marvel horror titles.

Comic Review: The Monster of Frankenstein

Published: 1973-1974
Written by: Gary Friedrich, Bill Mantlo, Doug Moench
Art by: Bob Brown, John Buscema, Val Mayerik, Don Perlin, Mike Ploog
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Marvel Comics, 533 Pages

Review:

After reading the first big collection of Marvel Comics’ The Tomb of Dracula, I wanted to check out some of their other horror titles that are based off of classic monsters. So naturally, their ’70s Frankenstein series seemed like the next one I should read.

From the start, this was a pretty cool series. It initially starts way back in the original era of Frankenstein’s Monster but it moves through time with each story arc, bringing the lovable brute into more modern times by the end.

My favorite arc within the series was near the middle and it featured the Monster meeting Dracula. Now I wasn’t 100 percent clear as to whether I was supposed to interpret the character as Marvel’s Dracula or not. I’d assume so, despite the ending making me question it. But the reason why I see him as the same character is because Frankenstein’s Monster also crosses over with the Marvel superhero universe, which links the characters and puts both of them in Marvel canon, officially.

The only real down side to this series was that it switched artists and writers a lot. Now most of the stories were good and the art was always cool but it felt like it lacked cohesion and fluidity because of this. Three writers and five main artists over just eighteen issues is a lot.

Still, if ’70s Marvel horror is your thing and you haven’t read these comics yet, you might want to pick them up at some point.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula series, as well as Werewolf by Night and The Living Mummy comics.

Comic Review: The Tomb of Dracula – The Complete Collection, Vol. 1

Published: October 4th, 2017
Written by: Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin
Art by: Gene Colan, Alan Weiss, Gil Kane (cover)
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Marvel Comics, 518 Pages

Review:

This was an interesting collection, as it not only featured the first few story arcs of The Tomb of Dracula comic book series but it also featured issues of the black and white comics magazine Dracula Lives!

Additionally, this features the first appearance and first story of Blade, the character made most famous by Wesley Snipes in the film trilogy that kicked off in 1998. It also has a story that pits Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane against Dracula, capitalizing off of the popular sword and sorcery trend in comics at the time.

Overall, this is a pretty neat comic and since I love the Dracula character in many of his incarnations, it’s cool seeing Marvel’s take on him. I also like that Dracula exists within Marvel canon, as well as Robert E. Howard’s canon, because it opens up a lot of possibilities. Sadly, I don’t think we ever got a Dracula and Godzilla crossover even though both of them existed at Marvel at the same time.

I absolutely love the art in this whether its the stuff from the Tomb stories or the Lives! ones. But I do kind of wish that they would’ve made this a beefier collection of just The Tomb of Dracula while also making a collection just for Dracula Lives!

Both series are great but they’re also very different in that the Dracula Lives! comics didn’t have to adhere to the Comics Code Authority and therefore, were a lot darker, more violent and much sexier.

Anyway, I enjoyed both halves of this huge collection and I look forward to delving into the second volume in the near future.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the later Marvel Dracula stories, as well as other ’70s Marvel horror titles.