Film Review: The Elephant Man (1980)

Release Date: October 2nd, 1980 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, David Lynch
Based on: The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences by Frederick Treves; The Elephant Man: A Study In Human Dignity by Ashley Montagu
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Hannah Gordon, Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick, Dexter Fletcher, Kenny Baker

Brooksfilms, Paramount Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!” – John Merrick

Few motion pictures are truly perfect. This is one of those few.

As far as I’m concerned, this is still the greatest thing that David Lynch has ever done. And while I like his visual style and artistic quirkiness, I’m not a big fan like many other film aficionados are.

That being said, this is his most normal picture. He doesn’t get overly bizarre and lost in trying to put his own dreams to celluloid. Here, he has a real story to tell and given a more defined framework, I think he excelled as a director with this movie above all of his others.

What’s strange about that, is that this is only his second feature film after the absolutely bonkers, shrill and disturbing nightmare known as Eraserhead.

The success of this film led to Lynch getting the offer to direct Return of the Jedi, which he turned down, as well as 1984’s Dune, which I like but ended up being such a bad experience for Lynch that he pretty much quit mainstream movies and went back to making bizarre, personal art films more akin to what he did with Eraserhead and his short films before that.

Anyway, this is a review of The Elephant Man and not a review of Lynch’s career.

I love that this was presented in black and white, as it gives it a truly timeless feel and it generates the same sort of aesthetic as many of the great classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s. It also has the same sort of cinematography, as it employs a chiaroscuro visual style with high contrast between light and shadow.

Given the film’s setting and the makeup of the title character, this visual style gives it a real majestic, classic cinematic feel that probably wouldn’t have been possible if this was released in color. It helps set the mood with the more horrific elements, while also giving the film a quality of old world naivete, which is important in allowing the audience to connect to the pure innocence of Merrick, the Elephant Man.

The picture is stupendously acted. Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt are absolute perfection in this and you really fall in love with both men through this incredibly emotional and very painful journey. But you also feel their emotion to the bone when the best parts of humanity find a way to outlast the worst parts. This is a film that is just as much about the darkness of humanity as it is about humanity’s light. That’s probably another reason why presenting this in black and white is so effective.

There are terrible human beings in this movie and frankly, it’s impossible to watch this and not be emotionally effected by that darkness. This is a really hard film to experience because of that but ultimately, a positive light does push the darkness back and while the ending is tragically sad, it’s also strangely satisfying knowing that the film’s subject left on his own terms in the only place he truly felt at home.

That being said, for me at least, this is one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had with a movie. It’s not something I can go back and watch often because it really does drain on your soul, even with the mostly positive outcome.

I have no idea what it is about this film that makes it a legitimate masterpiece. I think it’s simply a perfect storm of everything just working together, wonderfully.

The Elephant Man is truly cinematic magic in how it can give you both the worst of human nature and the best. It is an astounding, exhilarating and terrifying experience.

And again, it’s motion picture perfection.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: David Lynch’s earlier work, as well as other top notch period dramas of its era.

Film Review: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1969 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Bert Batt
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward, Thorley Walters

Hammer Film Productions, Warner Bros., Seven Arts, 98 Minutes, 101 Minutes (US version)

Review:

“I have become the victim of everything that Frankenstein and I ever advocated. My brain is in someone else’s body.” – Professor Richter

It’s been a really long time since I have seen this chapter in the Hammer Films’ Frankenstein series. This is the fifth one out of the six movies starring Peter Cushing and it’s my favorite one after the original.

Even though I really like this installment, it has its ups and downs but the film really plays out like a good drama with horror and sci-fi elements thrown in.

This has some of the best acting in the series and the inclusion of Veronica Carlson was a strong positive for me. She is one of the more talented Hammer scream queens and really takes over the screen in the scenes where she is featured. It also doesn’t hurt that she is absolutely stunning in that old school, classic beauty sort of way.

I also thought that the rest of the cast was pretty damn good for a Hammer picture that came out towards the end of their two decade run as kings of horror.

Peter Cushing is absolutely dastardly in this one and while that does a fine job of building suspense, tension and the desire to see him get his comeuppance, it did feel uncharacteristic for his version of Baron Frankenstein. We’ve come to know him over the four films before this one and he’s always operated fairly consistently. Sure, he’s done evil shit before but he just has an extra edge to him here. He isn’t driven by his science and obsession over his work. Instead, he seems to be driven by the fact that he enjoys being a complete bastard. His dive into deeper evil is punctuated by him raping Veronica Carlson’s character and frankly, that’s the most uncharacteristic thing that he does in the film. He never cared about the ladies before but that changed with this movie. For the first time, it made him truly unlikable. I guess it makes him more of a pure villain but I always liked to think that there was still some way to save his soul and that he was just a victim of his own mania.

I love that the “monster” in this maintains his intelligence and isn’t just a dumb, hulking brute. It’s about time that Baron Frankenstein’s experiments reach a higher level. And I’m glad that this ignored the absolute weirdness of the previous film that saw the mad doctor trapping souls.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed benefited most by having the series’ best director, Terence Fisher, return. This felt like a true sequel to the original more than any of the other films and in some ways, it was probably another soft reboot, as the continuity in this film series doesn’t seem to matter from film to film.

This is solid, classic Hammer. This is a prime example of why they were masters of the horror genre from the mid-’50s through the mid-’70s.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: The Hammer Films Dracula Series, Part II (1970-1973)

I already covered the first four films in this series. So now on to the final four.

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970):

Release Date: May 7th, 1970 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Sasdy
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Gwen Watford, Linda Hayden, Madeline Smith, Michael Ripper, Ralph Bates, John Carson

Hammer Film Productions, Warner-Pathé Distributors, Warner Bros., 95 Minutes (UK), 91 Minutes (USA)

taste-the-blood-of-draculaReview:

This is one of the darkest of the Hammer studios Dracula films. Actually, I would say that it is the darkest.

The opening scene sees a greedy salesman stumble upon Dracula dying, as this scene is edited together with the closing moments of the previous film. When Dracula dies, this man takes all of his belongings and even collects his blood, which is now in a powder form.

The main group of characters, at least in the first half of the film, are these rich eccentric men and “model citizens” who have a secret club where they dabble in seedy behavior because they are bored with their seemingly humble and moral lives. When they get tired of brothels and their typical seediness, they meet a somewhat insane and possessed young man who leads them to Dracula’s belongings and most importantly, the vampire’s blood. The men are grossed out at the thought of drinking the evil Count’s blood but the crazed young man takes a swig, causing him to cry out in pain as the freaked out rich men beat him to death. In this mayhem, Dracula begins to resurrect.

The rest of the story follows Dracula seeking revenge on the three rich men for some reason. He also fancies all the women and one of their beaus has to become the hero.

I love the plot of this film but after a great setup, the last act is a bit anti-climactic.

Rating: 7/10

Scars of Dracula (1970):

Release Date: November 8th, 1970 (UK)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Patrick Troughton, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, Michael Gwynn, Michael Ripper

Hammer Film Productions, EMI Films, 20th Century Fox, MGM-EMI, 91 Minutes

scars_of_draculaReview:

They didn’t waste time making this film, as it came out just about six months after the previous installment.

This chapter in the series is infamous for being the most violent entry. It isn’t full of stomach-churning gore but it is much more bloody and intense than any other film in the series. I feel like Hammer thought that they had to up the ante somehow and more gore and more blood was the easiest route.

Scars of Dracula reintroduces us to the religious protagonist once again, after we got a break from the formula in the last movie. Although his role is pretty limited to just a few scenes. The religious hero is played by Michael Gwynn. The main protagonist is a young man looking for his missing brother, who finds himself protecting his love. Classic Doctor Who fans should love the fact that the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, plays Count Dracula’s servant.

This is a solid film in the series. Really, none of these movies are bad. It actually does amaze me though, that the quality is still there six films deep.

Rating: 7/10

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972):

Release Date: September 28th, 1972 (UK)
Directed by: Alan Gibson
Written by: Don Houghton
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Mike Vickers
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Caroline Munro, Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame

Hammer Film Productions, Columbia-Warner Distributors, 96 Minutes

dracula_ad_1972Review:

This film freshens things up a bit by bringing Dracula into what was then the modern world. It also brings Van Helsing back to the series (played by the great Peter Cushing once again) as he plays two versions of the character. He plays the original version of Van Helsing in 1872 and then plays his great-grandson, in 1972. Both amazingly look exactly the same.

The story follows a Dracula disciple named Johnny Alucard (“Dracula” spelled backwards) and his attempt to raise the evil count and exact revenge on the Van Helsing family by sacrificing the professor’s niece to the dark lord.

I actually enjoy this film a lot and think that the 1972 setting was great. The teens in the film weren’t annoying and actually were all pretty likable and cool characters. Even the villain, Johnny Alucard had a great presence and is still, to this day, one of my favorite vampire characters in film history. His death was a little bizarre though.

The film also features Caroline Munro as Dracula’s first sacrifice. She was a Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me, a few years, later and she is one of my all-time favorite girls in that film series. Here, she was a bit younger, just as beautiful and really captured the scenes she was in.

Christopher Lee didn’t get as much screen time as I would like but he still owned the scenes he was in and it was nice seeing Dracula and Van Helsing facing off once again.

Rating: 6/10

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973):

Release Date: November 3rd, 1973 (UK)
Directed by: Alan Gibson
Written by: Don Houghton
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Joanna Lumley, Michael Coles, Freddie Jones

Hammer Film Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures, 87 Minutes

the-satanic-rites-of-draculaReview:

This is the final film in the Hammer Dracula series. It is also the weakest.

For the most part, this film is enjoyable because it features Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and it is their final showdown. And frankly, I’ll watch any film with either man in it and especially any film with both of them in it.

Taking place in the modern era, like the previous film, this one misses its mark somewhat. Where its predecessor was campy and fun, this one was extremely dark, fairly gorey and was the first film in the series with lots of gratuitous nudity. In fact, I don’t think there was nudity at all in any of the previous Hammer Dracula movies.

Now I am not one to complain about nudity but the use of it in this film doesn’t really fit the vibe and style of the series. And where I would let kids watch most of the other films, I’d have to keep this one hidden on a higher shelf in my DVD library.

I feel like they should have ended the series with the previous film. This just felt forced and neither Cushing nor Lee looked all that interested in this picture when they were on screen. At least the film before this had some charm.

Rating: 3/10

*There is another film with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. It is “The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires”. Dracula is also in the film but he is not played by Christopher Lee. Also, this isn’t a straight up Hammer Horror film, it is actually a co-produced horror/kung-fu flick that was a collaboration between Hammer and Shaw Brothers (a prominent kung-fu studio at the time). I will review this at some point, I’m sure.