Film Review: This Island Earth (1955)

Also known as: Bloodlust In Outer Space (reissue title)
Release Date: June 10th, 1955 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Joseph M. Newman, Jack Arnold
Written by: Franklin Coen, Edward G. O’Callaghan
Based on: This Island Earth by Raymond F. Jones
Music by: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein (all uncredited)
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason

Universal Pictures, Universal International, 86 Minutes

Review:

“It is indeed typical that you Earth people refuse to believe in the superiority of any world but your own. Children looking into a magnifying glass, imagining the image you see is the image of your true size.” – The Monitor

Sometimes Universal lumps this film into their Universal Monsters franchise. This is mainly due to the alien monster the Metaluna Mutant, who is one of their most iconic creations. However, as much as I like the monster and this film, it doesn’t fit within the general Universal Monsters style. Plus, this is more sci-fi than horror. Really, it isn’t horror at all, unless for some bizarre reason you are actually scared of the big brained rubber suit alien. Also, unlike the other Universal Monsters movies, this one is in color.

Also, this film has the distinction of being the only film that Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed on the big screen, as it was the one featured in the MST3K movie. That film stars Mike Nelson and it came out between seasons 6 and 7, so it was devoid of TV’s Frank and hadn’t yet given us Pearl. But I’m not here to talk about that, I’m here to talk specifically about This Island Earth. And to be completely honest, it is the film least deserving of getting roasted in the entire history of MST3K.

It’s not a bad movie for its time. It has hokey effects and doesn’t look as refined as some of the bigger sci-fi films of the time but it’s still imaginative and the effects work does its job for 1955.

The real highlight for me is the Metaluna Mutant but sadly, the monster doesn’t get much screen time. The bulk of the film deals with coming into contact with an alien society and then going into space to meet them. There is a sinister plot underneath it all but that doesn’t mean that every alien our Earthlings encounter is evil.

This used some pretty great matte paintings in several scenes and while it’s obvious, the art direction was really impressive and you do get immersed in this world.

I thought that the use of Technicolor was well done and it made this film flourish in a visual way that couldn’t have been achieved in standard black and white. The Metaluna Mutant certainly wouldn’t have looked as cool and its doubtful he would have become as iconic as he did without color. He probably would have just been filed away into the depths of old movie history with a slew of other black and white rubber aliens.

If you are into classic sci-fi from this great era, you’ll probably find this pretty enjoyable. It’s not the best film of its type but it is much better than average.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s alien threat movies: When Worlds CollideWar of the WorldsThe Day the Earth Stood StillIt Came From Outer Space and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

Book Review: ‘Frankenstein: The Shadow of Frankenstein’ by Stefan Petrucha

*written in 2014.

I like reading books that are authors takes on sequels of famous stories, especially when it has to do with monsters like Frankenstein’s big undead creation.

At some point, Dark Horse, who are known as a major comic book publisher, acquired the publishing license for the Universal Monsters franchise. Instead of doing comic books, they made literary sequels to the Universal Monsters films. This one had a pretty awesome premise.

This book takes place after the classic film Bride of Frankenstein and it ignores all the other sequels after that film and branches off in its own direction. So essentially, this is a sequel to just the two James Whale Frankenstein films.

The premise sees Frankenstein’s monster, the Boris Karloff version, arrive in London. While there, he goes toe-to-toe with Jack the Ripper. I was pretty much sold when I read the description on the back of the book. And who wouldn’t be?

The book was ambitious and started with a lot working for it but in the end it fell kind of flat and didn’t really seem to hit the mark that it needed to. I did enjoy it overall and it is a quick and easy read but it just didn’t feel as authentic as I had hoped and just didn’t capture the vibe and magic of the James Whale films.

Regardless, I still like the idea of it and it wasn’t poor execution, it just wasn’t as good as it could have been. It also felt like a lot of the book was filler or the author playing it a bit too safe with the property and not putting enough of himself into it.

The author, Stefan Petrucha is obviously a fan of the James Whale films but I don’t feel like he was able to make the tribute he could have, whether due to his respect for the source material or because the publisher had a tight leash on him. This is a problem that also appears in the other Universal Monsters books from Dark Horse: great and interesting ideas that are snuffed out early in what feels like an attempt to bring something original to these characters but too timid to really explore those ideas.

Film Review: The Mummy (2017)

Release Date: May 22nd, 2017 (State Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Written by: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman, Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari, Russell Crowe

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“Please meet Princess Ahmanet. She will claim what she has been denied.” – Dr. Henry Jekyll

Well, it’s here. This is the start of Universal Pictures’ attempt at resurrecting their old school Universal Monsters franchise into something more modern and unified like what Marvel has done with the Avengers series of films and like what DC is now doing with their Justice League movies that started with Man of Steel.

Universal has plans to bring back their classic monsters in what they are now officially calling Dark UniverseThe Mummy is the first of these pictures and one would hope that it would be a great start. The big problem is that it isn’t.

I’ve seen a ton of critics and fans trashing this film. While it isn’t as bad as many would have you believe, it certainly has a lot of issues that kick off this Dark Universe franchise pretty weakly.

The biggest problem is Tom Cruise. I’m not hating on Cruise per se but his inclusion in the picture is a distraction. We essentially have typical Tom Cruise making intense faces and trying to prove his manliness and coolness while two women half his age fight over him. He is just quintessential Tom Cruise and that is not what this film needs.

Going forward, a lot of huge names have been mentioned around this franchise and that’s the problem. Unlike Marvel, Universal doesn’t seem to be casting actors that fit parts the right way, they seem to be latching onto star power for the sake of star power.

Another problem is that there isn’t really a sequence that stands out from this film. Nothing is all that memorable or impressive. Its a collage of cookie cutter action sequences that tries to be something big but falls short.

The attempts at humor throughout the film also fall flat. Jake Johnson is there as Cruise’s wisecracking sidekick zombie but his wisecracks just don’t hit the right notes. Cruise tries his hand at some comic relief too but nothing really works.

While I would say that this is a better film, overall, than those atrocious Mummy films with Brendan Fraser, at least those pictures had some truly fun moments. This new Mummy flick is completely devoid of fun and while it tries to be more terrifying, it really isn’t.

There are a few highlights to the film, however.

The first being Sofia Boutella as the mummy. It was refreshing seeing a female mummy and she had a much better presence than anyone else on screen except for Russell Crowe.

Crowe plays Dr. Henry Jekyll. Yes, THAT Dr. Jekyll. He is in the film the same way Samuel Jackson was in the first Iron Man film; he is the character that is going to tie all of these Dark Universe movies together. We also get a nice peek at Mr. Hyde. Okay, more than just a peek but it sets him up nicely, going forward in this series.

As far as the other famous Universal Monsters creatures, we get a glimpse at the Gillman’s hand and a vampire’s skull. This is was done similar to the Easter eggs in the first Iron Man. But really, it just feels like Universal is trying to emulate Marvel too much and I really don’t know what the end game is? A monster Avengers team? But hopefully Universal can do better with their villains than Marvel has done cinematically.

The Mummy is not a good foundation for a franchise but it was a fair attempt that could have been better. It didn’t deter my interest in what else is coming in the future but that is also due to my love of the original Universal Monsters franchise. These monsters are beloved characters in film and literature and although they have all been reinvented more times than one can count, seeing them come together again could be a real treat if the big wigs at Universal learn from this film’s mistakes and correct those issues going forward.

Film Review: Young Frankenstein (1974)

Release Date: December 15th, 1974
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars, Madeline Kahn, Gene Hackman

20th Century Fox, 105 Minutes 

Review:

I was fortunate enough to see Young Frankenstein on the big screen this past weekend thanks to one of my local theaters being awesome and featuring films offered by Flashback Cinema. Being that I am a pretty big Mel Brooks fan, it was certainly a treat. Also, the only Brooks film I had ever seen in the theater before this was Dracula: Dead and Loving It. That was a tragedy that needed to be rectified.

I am also a bigger fan of the Universal Monsters franchise. While this isn’t a film put out by Universal, parodying itself, it still is a wonderful comedic homage to those films and it’s pretty cool that 20th Century Fox put up the cash to make it.

Written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, from a humor standpoint, it seems to have a bit more Wilder in the script. The great thing about the man, is he knew how to write comedy for himself. Brooks, on the other hand, was very good at making things work well for an ensemble of hilarious characters. He also makes completely absurd situations work. Together, these two men had a perfect marriage with the script for Young Frankenstein.

The film is as close to perfect as a parody movie can get. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of parody films, except for those put out by Mel Brooks because he just has the ability to capture the spirit and magic of the films he pokes fun at. Brooks’ parodies are more like an old school classic Dean Martin Roast of movies he loves, where the modern parodies done be filmmakers (with less than a tenth of Brooks’ talent) are just an atrocious string of racist, dick, fart and fat jokes that could be better executed by first graders on a playground. Needless to say, Brooks has mastered an art and no one else has even come close to his level. Young Frankenstein is one of the Brooks films where this is completely apparent.

Young Frankenstein is magic. It recaptures the look and feel of the James Whale Frankenstein pictures of the 1930s almost flawlessly. It is impressive how authentic the sets and props feel. The cinematography is a near match of those films, especially the lighting and the tone. The use of contrast creates a great sense of depth that makes it feel like those old classic horror pictures. It is also worth mentioning that the great score really adds a lot of character to the film’s presentation and helps to enhance the visual side of things.

This is one of the absolute best roles that Gene Wilder has ever played. The same can be said for Teri Garr and Marty Feldman. Peter Boyle has had a weird mix of fantastic and different roles over the years but he’s perfect in this as the Creature. Madeline Kahn is also stupendous and utterly hilarious. The one character I have always loved though, is the Inspector played by Kenneth Mars.

Young Frankenstein is a great movie and certainly a classic that deserves its fanfare. I think its biggest strength is its story. While it parodies the many Frankenstein pictures put out by Universal in their horror heyday, it is its own unique tale backed by complete hilarity and a talented cast and director.

Film Review: The Monster Squad (1987)

Release Date: August 14th, 1987
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Written by: Shane Black, Fred Dekker
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Andre Gower, Duncan Regehr, Stephen Macht, Stan Shaw, Tom Noonan, Jonathan Gries, Jason Hervey

Home Box Office, Keith Barish Productions, TAFT Entertainment Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 82 Minutes

monster_squadReview:

The Monster Squad is one of the best kids movies from the 1980s. Coming out in the decade when I was a kid, I was more susceptible to the pop culture of this era than any other. Also, when this film came out, these kids were essentially the same age as me. I also loved classic monsters like these kids, so it wasn’t a hard film for me to connect to.

This film is constantly compared to The Goonies, which was a bigger budget, more popular film that had Steven Spielberg’s and Richard Donner’s names on it. The Monster Squad had Shane Black’s and Fred Dekker’s names on it. At the time, neither were really well known but Dekker had written and directed the pretty stellar Night of the Creeps a year prior. Both men have gone on to make some great films and still work together on some projects. They’re currently working together on a reboot of Predator (Shane Black acted in the original).

Getting back to The Goonies comparison, I find this film to be much better. In fact, I felt that way even in 1987 when this movie came out. To start, you’ve got a group of kids fighting five of the classic Universal Monsters: Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy and the Gillman (or as many call him, “the Creature From the Black Lagoon” or just, “the Creature”.).

While Dracula and the Mummy both look very much like their Universal Monsters incarnations, the other creatures are updated. The Gillman is now scary and frightening, while the Wolf Man is more bad ass. And while still on the monsters, Duncan Regehr (best known as Zorro in the late 80s) was a perfect Dracula, Jon Gries (Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite) did a fantastic job as the human form of the Wolf Man and Tom Noonan (known for being the Ripper in Last Action Hero) truly owned the role of Frankenstein’s monster and should be considered one of the best to play that character.

The other thing that makes this film better than The Goonies, in my opinion, is that the kids are more real. They cursed, they were often times perverts, they watched slasher films and their parents didn’t give a shit and they felt like boys I’d hang out with at school where the Goonies crew was cool but they seemed like a bunch of kids doing their own thing and came off as less authentic and less organic.

I also love the names in this movie. The token fat kid is called “Fat Kid” even though he reminds people that his name is Horace. The creepy old recluse dude that ends up being totally awesome is only ever called “Scary German Guy”. The character of Patrick has a slutty sister that is only ever referred to as “Patrick’s Sister”. By the way, “Fat Kid” is way better than Chunk from The Goonies, as he doesn’t just eat ice cream and do the truffle shuffle. No, the token fat kid in this movie, picks up a shotgun and saves the kids who bullied him – winning their respect.

This film is campy as hell, fun as hell and just a great fucking motion picture. If you love The Goonies but haven’t seen this, you are doing yourself a huge disservice. If you love classic monsters, you definitely need to get off of your ass and watch this now.

Film Review: Universal Monsters, Part VI – The Creature From the Black Lagoon Series (1954-1956)

I have reached my sixth and final series of Universal Monsters franchises to review.

Now let me state that this is my favorite series. I’m not sure why but the Gillman (a.k.a. the Creature From the Black Lagoon or just the Creature) is my favorite movie monster of all-time. Something about the prehistoric aquatic swamp beast just tickles my fancy.

While I don’t consider these films to be as good as the James Whale films for Universal, I do watch them more and find them to be more entertaining overall. But let me get into each film and elaborate.

Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954):

Release Date: February 12th, 1954 (premiere)
Directed by: Jack Arnold
Written by: Maurice Zimm, Harry Essex, Arthur A. Ross
Music by: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein
Cast: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva

Universal Pictures, 79 Minutes

creature_from_the_black_lagoonReview: 

This may just be my favorite classic horror film of all-time and it is rated “G”.

Creature From the Black Lagoon is a masterpiece. Is that a bold statement? No.

This film, for its time, was incredibly unique. Being a part of the Universal Monsters franchise, even though it came out more than a decade after that franchise peaked, this movie stands on its own and didn’t need other monsters sprinkled in to capture the public’s attention. In fact, this film was so successful that it spawned two sequels within two years.

Getting away from the standard Universal gothic horror style that was a staple in the Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolf Man series, this film brought us to the Amazon and gave us a creature from the depths of the swamp. And with that, we got a new formula. No mad scientists, no undead creatures, no supernatural horror. Instead, we get a prehistoric monster that is smitten with a girl and just wants to swim with her. Granted, he eventually wants to go one step further and kidnap her and take her to his cave so she can lay on rocks and look sexy all day.

I just love the tone of this film and I can’t necessarily say that it brings a level of terror and dread as some of its predecessors at Universal, but it is a fun film and the most adventurous one in the Universal Monsters catalog. Plus, Julie Adams is really nice to look at.

Revenge of the Creature (1955):

Release Date: March 23rd, 1955 (Denver premiere)
Directed by: Jack Arnold
Written by: William Alland, Martin Berkeley
Music by: Herman Stein
Cast: John Agar, Lori Nelson, Nestor Paiva, Clint Eastwood (uncredited – first role)

Universal Pictures, 82 Minutes

revenge_creatureReview: 

The first sequel in this series is the weakest installment overall but it is still a great film and really enjoyable.

In this one, the Gillman is captured and brought to an oceanic park in Florida to be treated crappier than the orca in Blackfish. The Gillman doesn’t like it, the Gillman gets pissed, the Gillman escapes and tears up the oceanic park, flips a few cars and goes off into the ocean to leave humans behind.

Except there is that new girl he is smitten with who isn’t as cute as Julie Adams but is still cute. The Gillman stalks the leading lady like an aquatic swamp pervert should. He eventually gets her and then carries her around for the rest of the film until the heroes show up to save her.

The plot moves a bit slow, as a big portion of the film deals with the scientists interacting with the Gillman while he is in captivity. It is worth mentioning though that this is Clint Eastwood’s film debut and his role is somewhat bizarre.

I should also mention that this film in the series is featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956):

Release Date: April 26th, 1956
Directed by: John Sherwood
Written by: Arthur A. Ross
Music by: Henry Mancini
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason, Leigh Snowden, Don Megowan

Universal Pictures, 78 Minutes

the_creature_walks_among_usReview: 

So what do the logical and ethical human scientists decide to do to the Gillman in this film? Well, they think it is a good idea to give him surgery in an effort to make him better fit in with humans. By surgery, I mean they cut off parts of his face and body and pretty much butcher him alive. Yeah, the plot is bizarre and insane and makes little sense but we don’t watch these films for logic and sometimes crazy equals awesome.

This film and the others in this series all have a consistent vibe and even though there is some experimentation with the plots in each sequel, they all feel like they belong to the larger series’ narrative. And the experimentation is kind of refreshing in this series, as each movie has its own identity. We’re not subjected to a string of rehashes of the same film like the Mummy and Frankenstein series.

This film also explores the humanity of the monster – does it exist, who is the Gillman, what motivates him, can he be human? It also explores what it means to be human and are we really just monsters ourselves. There is a lot of psychology at play in this film which makes it a pretty special experience for a horror film of its era.

And at least in this movie, the last shot of the film isn’t a beaten and bloodied Gillman sinking to the bottom of the river assumedly dead. This time the disfigured and biological tampered with monster just wants to get away from humans and go home and after all the horrible things that have been done to him, he at least gets back to his familiar environment.

Compared to the other two films in this series, this one really connects the audience to the creature on an emotional level and that is what makes this movie special.

Film Review: Universal Monsters, Part V – The Wolf Man Series (1935-1946)

I’ve now gotten up to the Wolf Man’s series of films. Only two films here actually feature that character: The Wolf Man and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. So in addition to that, I am also reviewing the two other werewolf films put out by Universal during this era. Plus, they are also included in the Wolf Man collection of my Universal Monsters DVD box set.

The Wolf Man character was a late bloomer in the Universal Monsters franchise. Granted, he beat the Gillman of Creature From the Black Lagoon by more than a decade but unlike the Gillman, at least the Wolf Man got to mix it up with Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula a couple of times.

The Wolf Man (1941):

Release Date: December 12th, 1941
Directed by: George Waggner
Written by: Curt Siodmak
Music by: Charles Previn, Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner
Cast: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, Ralph Bellamy, Warren William, Patric Knowles, Maria Ouspenskaya, Evelyn Ankers

Universal Pictures, 70 Minutes

the-wolfmanReview: 

In The Wolf Man we are introduced to Larry Talbot, played by the great Lon Chaney Jr. Chaney’s interpretation of this character is almost heartbreaking at times, as he really connects with the audience and conveys real genuine emotion as the tragic title character of this film. In fact, the Wolf Man is probably one of the top five most tragic figures in film history. And without Chaney in the role, chances are that the Wolf Man would’ve been just a pretty one-dimensional monster.

In quality, this film really could rival the James Whale films Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein and The Invisible Man, as well as the first Dracula film under the Universal Monsters banner. The Wolf Man like every other first film in each of Universal’s classic horror series was the pinnacle and a great kickoff to what would become a reoccurring character in the larger shared mythos.

This film also gives us two other horror icons: Claude Rains and Bela Lugosi. Rains plays Larry Talbot’s father, Sir John. Bela Lugosi plays the gypsy man who is the werewolf that infects Talbot. Lugosi was awesome in this role and it is my favorite thing that he did for Universal after Dracula.

There isn’t a lot that anyone can criticize this film for. It is a classic horror gem and still plays well today, over 70 years later.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943):

Release Date: March 5th, 1943
Directed by: Roy William Neill
Written by: Curt Siodmak
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: Hans J. Salter
Cast: Lon Chaney Jr., Ilona Massey, Lionel Atwill, Bela Lugosi, Patric Knowles, Maria Ouspenskaya, Dwight Frye

Universal Pictures, 74 Minutes

frankenstein_meets_the_wolf_manReview: 

This is my favorite of the Universal Monsters team-up or versus movies.

It truly is a Wolf Man movie that Frankenstein’s monster just happens to appear in but isn’t much of a focal point, as Lon Chaney Jr.’s performance as Larry Talbot takes over this film.

The film follows Talbot, who comes to life in his tomb after being disturbed by grave robbers. Coming to the realization that he cannot die, he seeks out the legendary Dr. Frankenstein in hopes that he can find a way to euthanize him by scientific means.

Dwight Frye from Frankenstein and Dracula shows up in this film in a minor role. Bela Lugosi returns again but this time as Frankenstein’s monster.

This film is awesome and it feels like a true sequel to The Wolf Man, as opposed to just a crossover film. It is much less of a sideshow attraction than the films that followed it: House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula.

Werewolf of London (1935):

Release Date: May 13th, 1935
Directed by: Stuart Walker
Written by: Robert Harris, John Colton
Music by: Karl Hajos
Cast: Henry Hull, Warner Oland, Valerie Hobson, Lester Matthews, Spring Byington, Clark Williams, Lawrence Grant

Universal Pictures, 75 Minutes

werewolfoflondonReview: 

This is not part of The Wolf Man storyline and is its own film. In fact, it came out before the Lon Chaney Jr. masterpiece. The Wolf Man’s adventures continue in the films House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, which I already reviewed in my pieces about the Frankenstein and Dracula series of films.

Getting into this film, it is well done and the special effects are great. This was Universal’s first werewolf film and this was a good early version of the effects they would employ in later werewolf films.

This film works all on its own and in fact, is considered a classic in its own right, regardless of The Wolf Man being more popular and launching its own mini-franchise.

I love this movie. It is real good classic Victorian horror and it has a lycanthrope in it. What’s not to love?

She-Wolf of London (1946):

Release Date: May 17th, 1946
Directed by: Jean Yarbrough
Written by: George Bricker
Music by: William Lava
Cast: June Lockhart, Don Porter

Universal Pictures, 61 Minutes

shewolfoflondonReview: 

As a stand alone film, this thing is pretty good. As a horror film, it is pretty bad.

The marketing for this film was all wrong. With the title of this film, it was trying to tap into the previously released Werewolf of London. However, don’t watch this expecting some werewolf action. What you get is a mystery film with some suspense and a not so ingenious plot.

The acting of June Lockhart and Don Porter was top notch but it didn’t save this film from being poorly marketed and being represented as something it is not. I say all this so that if someone is to watch it, they don’t go into it expecting the Universal Monster supernatural horror formula.

One more Universal Monsters review is coming. Next up will be the Creature From the Black Lagoon series.