Film Review: Dracula (1979)

Also known as: Dracula ’79 (Germany), Dracula 80 (Canada – French language version)
Release Date: July 13th, 1979 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John Badham
Written by: W. D. Richter
Based on: Dracula (novel) by Bram Stoker; Dracula (play) by Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Frank Langella, Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence, Kate Nelligan, Sylvester McCoy

The Mirisch Corporation, Universal Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“In the past 500 years, Professor, those who have crossed my path have all died, and some not pleasantly.” – Count Dracula

Until this viewing of the film, the first in ages, I didn’t realize that the 1979 Dracula was a Universal release. I guess that ties it to the Universal Monsters banner and with that, kind of makes me see how it sort of matches up to the original Dracula films, tonally and stylistically.

I like that this has its own alternate take on the classic story, though, and I thought that they did a tremendous job in telling a different version of the Dracula legend while keeping it fairly true to the source material.

One thing that I really love about this movie is that we get to see one of the greatest actors that ever lived, Laurence Olivier, work alongside a bonafide and legendary horror icon, Donald Pleasence. Both men are great on their own and for different reasons but it’s like seeing what’s considered the top tier talent of motion picture history working with one of the best actors in what’s considered a trash genre by most critics and Hollywood elites. That being said, Pleasence shows that he can hang with one of cinema’s most celebrated actors.

However, even with good performances from those two legends, it’s Frank Langella who really steals the show, as the lead and title character.

Langella is a damn near perfect Dracula, especially for this story. As much as I like this take on the tale, Langella enhances the overall production with his charm, charisma and classically good looks. He looks the part and in some respects, makes it his own. Honestly, I can’t imagine anyone else being as perfect for this version of the story as Langella.

The world that this is set in is a great mixture of opulence, darkness and mystery. It feels like an extension of this Dracula’s aura and that everyone else is trapped within it with the monster, himself.

The atmosphere and tone of the picture are also heightened by the score of another legend contributing to this picture, John Williams. This was something he worked on between Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope and Raiders of the Lost Ark. These themes, however, are less adventurous and fun and more brooding and dark. Although, the score isn’t too similar to Jaws and with that, shows John Williams’ great range.

Out of all the Dracula movies ever made, this is what I would consider one of the best. At worst, it’s still top tier and features one of the greatest onscreen Dracula’s of all-time. Surprisingly, this is a movie that’s seldomly mentioned today.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: The Wolfman (2010)

Release Date: January 27th, 2010 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self
Based on: The Wolf Man by Curt Siodmak
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Asa Butterfield, Rick Baker (cameo), Max von Sydow (scene cut)

Bluegrass Films, Relativity Media, Universal Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“I will kill all of you!” – Lawrence Talbot

Critics and audiences were kind of harsh to this movie when it came out and for whatever reason, I never saw it until now. I’m rarely dissuaded by critics and casual filmgoers but I think I didn’t see it because it came out at a weird time, was gone from theaters quickly and I just never caught it streaming anywhere.

However, considering that this was a remake of a classic Universal Monsters movie, I almost feel like not seeing this for so long is a crime.

Having now seen it, I think that people were really unfair to it. I thought that it was certainly more good than bad and there are parts of the film I enjoyed, immensely.

I thought the cast was fucking great. The only really issue I had with the film, honestly, was that the story was a bit hard to follow. It was simple but it had little things mixed in that made it a bit more complicated than it needed to be. I think some of this is also due to details and reveals casually appearing in conversations where if you missed that one line of dialogue, you were fucked for the rest of the story. I think the wonky pacing of the film also had an adverse effect on the plot and how it just didn’t flow smoothly. For those who saw this in the theater, a poorly timed bathroom break, could wreck the picture.

Visually, I thought the movie was pretty damn perfect. I liked the tone, the darkness, the detail of the more opulent settings and how they used shadow and light during the werewolf scenes.

I thought that the CGI was generally good but sometimes it felt a bit artificial. I think this was mainly a problem when they were tasked with trying to make werewolf facial shots work in the dark with subtle, artificial light.

Still, the werewolf action scenes were great. I loved the first werewolf attack, which led to Benicio del Toro’s version of Lawrence Talbot getting infected with the werewolf curse. Beyond that, the sequence that ends with del Toro’s werewolf decapitating the cop was solid, as was the slaughter of the bourgeoise intellectuals in the insane asylum.

Everything comes to a head in the final werewolf vs. werewolf fight between father and son and man, I liked this a lot too. I also thought that, in this scene, they did a great job in making each werewolf resemble their actor enough for you to tell them apart.

Another thing that also enhanced this film was Danny Elfman’s score. I think it’s one of his best in more recent memory.

The Wolfman is a pretty decent Victorian era werewolf film. It’s nowhere near the caliber of considering it a classic, like the film that served as its source material, but I wouldn’t have been opposed to Universal using this as the launching pad for more Universal Monsters movies. Alas, and after multiple attempts since this movie, Universal still hasn’t figured out how to make a shared universe work, even though they invented it with this franchise in the 1930s and 1940s.

Rating: 7/10

TV Review: 100 Years of Horror (1996-1997)

Original Run: 1996 – 1997
Created by: Ted Newsom, Dante J. Pugliese
Directed by: Ted Newsom
Written by: Ted Newson, Jeff Forrester (uncredited)
Cast: Christopher Lee (presenter), Roger Corman, Hugh Hefner, Fred Olen Ray, Richard Denning, Bela Lugosi Jr., Hazel Court, Robert Wise, Beverly Garland, Gloria Talbott, Sara Karloff, Dick Miller, Caroline Munro, John Agar, Ralph Bellamy, John Carpenter, Richard Matheson, Linnea Quigley, various

Multicom Entertainment Group, 26 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’m glad that this documentary television series was made when it was, in the mid-’90s, as it allowed for the children of multiple horror icons to be involved and to tell stories about their fathers, their careers and their personal lives outside of the public eye.

Additionally, I love that this was able to include a lot of the filmmakers, writers and actors that were involved in a lot of classic horror films. Had this been made today, a lot of these people wouldn’t have been able to tell their stories in their own words, as they’re no longer with us.

Also, I love that Christopher Lee was the presenter of this series, as there wasn’t a more perfect choice available.

This series features 26 episodes, roughly 22 minutes apiece. Each episode tackles a different subject, be it a type of monster or a legendary horror actor. Plus, each episode covers a lot of ground for its running time, jumping through history and trying to show the audience everything it possibly can on the subject.

There really isn’t a dull episode, as there are so many different things that can be covered. There could’ve been more episodes and there still would’ve more topics to explore.

I like that this just dives right in and delivers so much. In fact, every episode showed me something I wasn’t aware of and helped me expand my list of old school horror movies that I still have left to watch and review.

All in all, this was pretty great and classic horror fans will probably find themselves lost in each episode, traveling through time and seeing things they still haven’t seen before.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The Invisible Man (2020)

Also known as: Untitled Universal Monster Project (working title)
Release Date: February 24th, 2020 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Leigh Whannell
Written by: Leigh Whannell
Based on: characters and concepts by H. G. Wells for The Invisible Man
Music by: Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Nash Edgerton

Goalpost Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“He said that wherever I went, he would find me, walk right up to me, and I wouldn’t be able to see him.” – Cecilia Kass

As a lifelong fan of the Universal Monsters film series and all its reinventions (good and bad), this one just didn’t resonate with me at first glance. I thought the marketing was pretty dull and then it came out just before COVID shoved movie theaters into a flaming dumpster.

I’m glad to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this, though.

Initially, I wasn’t a big fan of seeing a modernized take on the classic story but honestly, this is just inspired by the original H. G. Wells novel and is very much its own, unique thing.

This takes the Invisible Man formula and brings it in to modern day, showing a psychotic ex-boyfriend using his ability to be invisible to destroy the life of the woman that left him. Since he’s invisible, he obviously does horrible things that only she’s aware of while her friends start to think she’s going insane. As the film rolls on, the scumbag gets more and more ballsy and eventually, people are aware that the woman (now in an asylum) isn’t lying.

Since this takes place in modern times, the Invisible Man in this is a Tony Stark type of inventor that has made a legit stealth camouflage suit. Also, the suit is really f’n cool looking and inventive, being comprised of what appear to be hundreds of small cameras/projectors. The scenes where the suit is partially exposed come off really damn well and the special effects, as a whole, are pretty seamless, believable and impressive.

What I found most impressive about this movie, though, was Elisabeth Moss’ acting. Man, she stepped up to the plate and hit homeruns in just about every scene. What I sincerely appreciate, as a long-time horror fan, is how serious she took the subject matter and put her all into it, giving one of the most believable performances I’ve seen in a horror picture in a really long time.

My only real complaint about the film was the twist ending. I mostly saw it coming and it felt kind of cheap, ending the way it did. At the same time, you really can’t keep the villain alive, as you don’t know what kind of technological tricks he might have up his sleeve.

This doesn’t end in a way that leaves it open for a sequel and I hope there isn’t one, as it would probably diminish the effect of this single, pretty solid picture. Basically, don’t be like Saw.

Now that doesn’t mean that I’d be against other modern takes on the Universal Monsters properties after seeing how well this one was executed. It certainly blew Tom Cruise’s The Mummy out of the water.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the older adaptations of this story, as well as some of the actually good, modern horror flicks.

TV Review: Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

Also known as: The Colgate Comedy Hour
Release Date: 1954 (originally aired)
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello

Colgate-Palmolive-Peet, NBC, 59 Minutes

Review:

I bought this pretty sure that it had never actually been a movie. I was right. But considering that I love the Gillman more than any monster to come out of the Universal Monsters franchise, I had to buy it.

Plus, I also love Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and every time they cross paths with horror icons, it makes for really good results.

This is actually an episode of the comedy/variety show The Colgate Comedy Hour, which was a very early variety show in the earliest days of television.

You have to sit through about forty minutes of comedy skits, interviews, ice skating and dancing routines but you do eventually get to the section that stars Abbott and Costello.

Their segment is less than fifteen minutes and while it is rather funny, it only features the Gillman for maybe five seconds. The segment actually features more of Frankenstein’s Monster than it does the “creature” from the Black Lagoon. While that’s underwhelming and disappointing, the skit is still funny.

I wouldn’t call this a waste of money, by any means, as it was like five bucks. However, it’s packaging and title are pretty misleading and I can see where most people will end up with a product that pisses them off. For me, it’s just some weird novelty that’s been added to my classic horror collection.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the Abbot and Costello monster movies.

Film Review: Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

Release Date: June 23rd, 1955
Directed by: Charles Lamont
Written by: John Grant, Lee Loeb
Music by: Joseph Gershenson (supervisor)
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Marie Windsor, Michael Ansara, Peggy King, Richard Deacon, Mel Welles

Universal International Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“There is no curse that a gun or a knife can’t cure.” – Madame Rontru

This installment in the Abbott & Costello/Universal Monsters mashups is one of the best.

While I still like their Frankenstein movie the most, this one is really close to it.

Being that this one lacks the star power and all the famous monsters of the Frankenstein picture, actually makes it a bit more impressive, as it was able to almost live up to that one with far less at the comedians and writers’ disposal.

In fact, I like this movie so much, it is my favorite Universal Mummy movie ever made after the original 1932 Boris Karloff one. The main reason is that this just hits the right notes in regards to the Mummy franchise while also being loaded with great gags and clever comedy writing.

Abbott and Costello are always hilarious and perfect as a pair but they really upped the ante in this one. I also liked seeing multiple mummies on the screen, even if all the dudes wrapped in bandages at the end, weren’t actual mummies.

This did a great job with the sets and making the world feel authentic and real. Well, as much as it could with the limitations of the time.

I also really enjoyed the addition of Mary Windsor, here, and it’s one of my favorite roles she’s played as she got to ham it up with the comedy legends and was convincing in her villainous role, which probably comes from spending so much time acting in classic film-noir pictures before this one.

Ultimately, this is a fun movie that lives up to both of the brands it brought together. Frankly, it’s probably the best way that Abbott and Costello could’ve ended their series of Universal Monster films.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Abbot and Costello monster movies.

Film Review: Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953)

Also known as: Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde (working title)
Release Date: August 1st, 1953
Directed by: Charles Lamont
Written by: Lee Loeb, John Grant, Sid Fields, Grant Garett
Based on: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Music by: Joseph Gershenson
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Boris Karloff

Universal International Pictures, 76 Minutes

Review:

“How do you like that Dr. Jekyll! He turned me into a mouse… the rat!” – Tubby

This entry into the Abbott & Costello and Universal Monsters crossovers was definitely a step up from the Invisible Man film but I still wouldn’t put it as high as the Frankenstein one.

The great thing about this picture was seeing Boris Karloff in it as the monster. He really got to ham it up and I’m a fan of him in horror comedies, as he was great in both The Raven and The Comedy of Terrors.

There are a lot of really good gags in this movie, my favorite one being the bit where Lou Costello is turned into a humanoid rat and shocks everyone in a tavern.

Honestly, this picture was pretty clever between just the verbal jokes and the physical gags. Karloff added a hell of a lot to the proceedings and I wish he had been involved in all of these horror-themed Abbott & Costello flicks.

All in all, this was fun and amusing. It was a great mix of talent, a good yet fresh adaptation of a famous and quite overused horror classic, and it certainly made up for the fairly lackluster film before it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other Abbot and Costello monster movies.

Film Review: Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

Also known as: Meet the Invisible Man (working title)
Release Date: March 7th, 1951
Directed by: Charles Lamont
Written by: Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, John Grant, Hugh Wedlock Jr., Howard Snyder
Based on: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Music by: Erich Zeisl
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Nancy Guild, Arthur Franz

Universal International Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“The evidence says I did. When I stepped out of the shower that night, I found O’Hara beaten to death on the locker room floor. The cop outside the door swore nobody else had come in, so they pinned it on me.” – Tommy Nelson

I love the Abbott & Costello mashups with the Universal Monsters franchise, however one of the film’s has to be the weakest link and this one is it.

That doesn’t mean that it’s bad, as it’s still really enjoyable. It’s just that this one feels like it’s the least horror-y and it also just creates a new Invisible Man character, as opposed to being tied to any previous version, even after they already had the duo come into brief contact with the Vincent Price version of the character at the end of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Oddly, this is more of a comedy sports movie. Which is actually achieved pretty cleverly in that the comedic duo use the Invisible Man to help give Lou Costello an edge in the boxing ring. It’s an ingenious and hilarious scheme and even if the joke feels one-note, they stretch it out in this movie and the physical comedy is so good that it works longer than it probably should.

Abbott & Costello are both as great as usual and even if the Invisible Man character felt weak when compared to past versions, he still meshed well with the two leads and everything came together fairly well.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Abbot and Costello monster movies.