House on Haunted Hill (1959): A Classic That Could Have Been Good

house_on_haunted_hill

We continue the Halloween theme with movies in the lead up to Halloween with the original “House on Haunted Hill.” There was a later remake and sequel to the remake that I have no desire to see, given their bad reviews and the fact that I didn’t love this film. It had a lot of interesting ideas but the characters couldn’t carry it. I’ll get into what I mean in the assessment.

The film was directed by William Castle who was also one of the producers. It was written by Robb White who was also one of the other producers. This was their project.

The premise is an eccentric millionaire named Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) who invites a group of people over to the haunted house for a party he did for his fourth wife where each will get ten thousand dollars if they can survive or stay until the morning. As everyone arrives we learn about past people who have died at the house as people are haunted and plots are hatched to use the people in the house by the millionaire and his wife and the visitors.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: Frederick Loren – The fact that he’s played by Vincent Price makes him interesting, as we learn over the course of the film he’s insane and did this all as a plot to reveal his wife and her lover knowing they’d try to kill him. He wins and we see that though there are supernatural elements a lot of it is just human characters, like him playing giant puppets to make them seem real. I wish it had just been this and there hadn’t been spirits as it would have shown that the human were  the only monsters that were to be worried about. Still, Price is a great actor and he does a great job.

Annabelle Loren – His wife is just like him and they both hate and want to kill each other. She nearly wins when she fakes her own suicide and her lover the psychiatrist almost succeeds in manipulating one of the other visitors to kill Frederick. Carol Ohmart plays the calm collected role. I wish we could have seen why she loved the psychiatrist though, her reasons for hating her husband were understandably legion, but not her love for her lover.

The Haunted House – The Haunted House looks fantastic and has all the classic elements. From the ghostly groundskeepers, to heads in closets and an organ that plays on it’s own…as well as a cellar full of acid where the psychiatrist and Annabelle die. We get glimpses of other monsters too and the talk of all the murders and deaths add a sense of foreboding about the house, truly making it feel haunted.

Cinematography – The use of lighting and shadows is done really well in this film. From hands reaching around the sides of walls and hanging corpses with blank eyes…everything is just in the shadows giving it the feel of a haunting. Carl E. Guthrie did a great job.

Okay: Generic Visitors – The other four people are tropes and never get beyond that…we have the pilot who is the hero but needs to be saved, the newspaper columnist who is always drinking, the have the damsel in distress who gets used by the Psychiatrist, the millionaire and the wife, and we have the owner of the house who believes in the ghosts so is always haunting and on edge. None of them get beyond their roles and we never learn fully why they came for the money. This is where it being like Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians falls apart as in that story the motivations were fully realized. This lack of motivation just hurt the plot.

The Cons: Extended Twilight Zone Episode – From the narration at the beginning of the owner of the house and the millionaire setting the scene between human versus supernatural manipulation this felt like a Twilight Zone episode that is just long. This would be a plus if this had been made for television, but this was a feature length film, so I have to count it against it. Unrealized potential is a good way to describe this film.

Mystery Unsolved – Why is the house haunted? What supernatural creatures are there and why? Why do the characters want the money being offered? These plot holes become apparent as scares are presented since we see that the characters would need good reasons to stay…and the monsters need motivation too, even if it is just something simple. This was a major con that took a way from a classic that could have been great or even good.

I would say check out this movie if you like Vincent Price and want to see some old classic horror films. I didn’t hate this film and like some things about it, it just couldn’t carry itself all the way through. This movie’s plot holes become more obvious as the plot progresses and the reveal of the wife as a major manipulator doesn’t feel as strong because we don’t get why she loves the psychiatrist. I said this in the assessment and I’ll say it again, this movie was unrealized potential.

Final Score: 6.7 / 10. It was enjoyably okay.

 

I, Monster (1971): Christopher Lee Owns This Adaptation

FTI, Monster

         So many horror films arose out of classic literature. From all the versions “Dracula” that came out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. To Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and for this film, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. These classic stories have been the base for countless explorations of horror and aspects of humanity in both cinema and television.

      The production was Amicus who was famous for putting horror movies years ago, and it some ways it does deserve that praise. After watching this film, I plan on seeing more of their productions. I especially want to see more Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in action given how well they both did in this film.

        “I, Monster” was directed by Stephen Weeks and written by Milton Subosky, who also served as one of the producers along with Max Rosenberg and John Dark. The story is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 

        In this version Dr. Jekyll has the name of Dr, Marlowe (both played by Christopher Lee) and when he transforms becomes Mr. Blake. He is researching the mind and how to separate the good from the bad on both animals and his patients and later himself. This leads to his transformation which he attempts to deal with first by hiding it but is forced to make a choice as his colleagues and his friend Utterson (Peter Cushing) attempt to help him.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: Utterson – Peter Cushing is great in this role, I just wish he’d been given more to do. He’s very active in the first two acts, especially once Blake arrives on the scene and he thinks his friend is being blackmailed into giving Blake full reign of his house. He confronts Marlowe once over this but seems to have given up after. For someone who is supposed to be a friend I didn’t expect him to just give up than. He still is a great character though, it’s just he isn’t given enough to do. Still going to put him down as a pro though, since he does drive the action when Marlowe and Blake aren’t.

Dr. Marlowe / Mr. Blake – Christopher Lee is the best part of this film, which is saying something since Cushing is a phenomenal actor. The Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde role is a hard one to play and much of the cons here are  more due to writing since Lee plays Marlow’s empathy for his patients and Blake’s disregard for all so well. He does a good job contorting his face and showing the calm collected control of Blake versus Marlowe too. At one point it looks like he might be about to have a relationship with a patient, which would have been a nice change from the book but they decide to follow the book more closely and only change in his colleagues finding out the truth when one dies from a heart attack when he sees Blake change to Marlowe and Utterson kills him when Blake invades his home which changes Blake back to Marlowe. His story is still a tragedy as you see him realize his loss of humanity and how his idealism has brought him nothing in the end. Marlowe’s despair before his final transformation is very palpable.

The World – The world is great. It is dark and you have the feeling of mystery and loss of control from the beginning, when the antidote makes a cat crazy and Marlowe has to kill it, pretty much setting up his own end. The murders are dark and the shadows make it so the makeup does make Lee threatening in his Blake form. In this way it adds a lot to making it feel like a horror movie.

Cinematography – The cinematography is good, especially in how it is used to show Marlowe’s dilemma when he is alone and realizes he’s in over his head, or when Blake is hunting and his dark eyes, large teeth and gaunt face stand out in the shadows. This was a good horror technique and it gets the job done for establishing transformation. Moray Grant did fantastic.

Okay: The colleagues – Outside of Utterson the others don’t do all that much. They are there to disprove and one is a mentor and they have some good conversations all together at the beginning, but it’s never repeated again. For htis reason we don’t see the breakdown of the friendship done from the experiments, which is why I can’t list it as a pro. They just weren’t given enough to do.

The Ending – The ending wasn’t great. I never got why Blake decided he had to kill Utterson. It made no sense given that Utterson didn’t fully know that Blake was Marlowe and had stopped hunting for him. I would have liked to see more happen here. Why did he try and kill Utterson? What was driving Blake at that time? Was it Marlowe just wanting to die? I liked that there was a confrontation, but it should have been in the lab and Utterson should have witnessed the transformation of Marlowe into Blake.

     This was a good, but not great adaptation. It does more with the story in that we see Marlowe’s relationships with his colleagues and also the double life he lives as Blake, which in the book you don’t get to see as much. But so many character moments got left behind which is why I can’t call it great. Marlowe’s motivation is never fully established, Utterson just gives up, why Blake targets Utterson isn’t known and the relationship between Marlowe and Blake seems non-existent. It is still a solidly good film even with these plot issues. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing add dimension to the characters and that is what makes it rich beyond how it was filmed.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10. Given more than 8 since Lee and Cushing did a great job.

Sleepy Hollow – Season 2, Episode 6 – “The Abyss Gazes Back” – A Matter of Redemption

Sleepy Hollow Season 2 Episode 6

    “Sleepy Hollow” has great monster designs and this one gives us the classic beast of the Wendigo, which is used as a werewolf analogue since it is a cursed human who changes at the smell of blood after receiving the curse from ground up bone. This episode also gives us a greater glimpse into Abbie’s mentor Sheriff Corbin as his son appears in the episode.

The episode was written by Heather V. Regnier and directed by Doug Aarniokoski.

The episode begins with Sheriff Corbin’s son Joe returned from Afghanistan and hates Abbie for feeling she stole his father from him. He is forced to seek her help after blood turns him into the Wendigo and he realizes what his curse is. From here the story unfolds as they race to find a cure and War uses the situation to his advantage to get an item of power that Sheriff Corbin had hid away.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Detective Irving – The episode begins the asylum with Irving accusing War of taking his soul, War says he traded and will owe it if Irving dies. He later manipulates him into nearly killing the man who paralyzed Irving’s daughter from drunk driving and we see the dilemma Irving is in. He’s soulless and has no good choice.

Sheriff Corbin – We see Corbin in a flashback mentoring Abbie where he expresses his love to his son. It is great seeing Tom Clancy again (especially after finishing up “Carnivale”) and we see how the war changed him in regards to making him distant, even if he never stopped loving his son.

Joe / The Wendigo – Joe is the man always going into danger because he has no time with the people he loves, given his father was never there. For this reason his redemption arc involves him forgiving Abbie and his father. He is used by War pretty effectivly though as he retrieves the artifact that his father said was buried when his father passed him on his legacy and after War transforms him, seeing his humanity as a curse. Abbie holds off till the end though and the Shawnee chant and blood from the Wendigo successfully save him.

Abbie Mills – This is a great Abbie episode. In this we see her when she was young and how the love that Corbin gave his son was what she wanted in her life, which lead to her turning her life around. This theme of redemption she carries over in order to save Joe, Sheriff Corbin’s son. She still has hangups about War though, given he locked her in purgatory…and if it comes to the tough choice and Ichabod and Katrina can’t make it, I hope she can kill or stop War…cause someone needs too. He’s one every battle so far this season.

The Shawnee – The Shawnee in this episode are cool. Their hunting party is a group of bikers and it is only through the mention of failure to save Boone that they work with Ichabod since Hawley has screwed them over in the past and sold items they traded and told him to keep. I hope we see them again.

Ichabod Crane – Crane is willing to take the step with those he isn’t attached too. He was ready to kill Joe when the curse seemed permanent. This is contrast to his unwillingness to face War or even the darkness in Katrina. I hope this has consequences later as it is something War should use to his advantage. It is here we learn that Boone was turned into a Wendigo too and the Shawnee weren’t able to help him. They help Ichabod this time though.

Henry Parish / Horseman of War – Parish is great again in this! It starts with him telling Detective Irving he can get his soul back if he kills another…a soul for a soul. He is battling for control of Irving against Crane and on his and Moloch’s designs he succeeds as he turns Joe into a Wendigo with the bone from the flute that the Pied Piper made and got the poison needed that he turns into a spider that goes into his mother Katrina’s mouth at episode’s end. His manipulation of Joe and making Irving feel hopeless is part of what makes him such a great villain. He always wins and even turns his losses into wins.

Okay: Nick Hawley – Looks like he’s a member of the team as he helps them in the search for cures for the Wendigo curse. He isn’t bad but it is hard to be attached to the guy given he lacks the charisma of the other characters.

Jenny Mills – Appears briefly but is only their as muscle to protect Joe. I hope we get a Jenny episode, as she is a great character and deserves more exploration.

The redemption theme is powerful in this episode, but I hope they show that you can’t always find it. Henry Parish is pretty evil and has destroyed all his humanity. The longer Katrina and Ichabod fail to face him, the closer he is to winning. Abbie is right and she might be the only one who can stop him given she knows how bad he is. An artificial curse is not the same as evil chosen the way Parish has chosen it. If they do take that path in the season it better make sense because right now it would look really contrived. War is committed to the cause and doesn’t have empathy even though his power is to find and eat other’s sins. Regardless, can’t wait to see where the story goes. I really like War as antagonist.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

 

The Book of Life (2014): An Exploration and Celebration of Family and Love

The Book of Life

         “The Book of Life” impressed me, and I wasn’t the only one. After the show the halfway empty theatre erupted into applause and for good reason. A lot of films just have a good time with fun characters and leave it that, but this one actually managed to have some pretty amazing points beyond just general points and messages. It truly got into the motivations of it’s characters and what defined them and critiqued and celebrated the culture that inspired it. I wish there were more children’s films like this. I’ll get into the details of what I mean in the assessment.

      This film follows both the Halloween theme (spirits and the dead) while also celebrating another culture and holiday in that it is inspired by the myths and legends around the Day of the Dead.

    “The Book of Life” was written by Jorge Gutierrez and Doug Langdale, directed by Jorge Gutierrez and produced by Aaron Berger, Brad Booker, Carina Schulze and Guillermo del Toro whose name is the first thing you see when the show begins. His vision is a large part of what made this film possible. Which is great since he’s one of my favorite directors.

       The premise of the film begins with troubled kids from detention taking a tour of the Mexican Cultural Museum where a mysterious lady who is their tour guide shows them the “Book of Life” and tells the stories of the characters after laying out the world where the afterlife has “The Remembered” in constant celebration ruled by their God La Muerta and “The Forgotten” who have been forgotten and are ruled by the God Xibalba. It begins on the Day of the Dead where three best friends have a wager put upon them by La Muerta and Xibalba on who will win the hand of Maria. Xibabla chooses the fighter and warrior Jaoquin to win her hand and La Muerta chooses Manolo, the muscian from a line of Bull Fighters. From here the story unfolds as family obligation is put on the characters, forcing Maria abroad to Spain for school, Jaoquin as a soldier for Maria’s father the General and Manolo as the Bull Fighter to win her hand. These are the main stories that unfold as the God’s act on the events around them.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The world, especially when the tour lady starts the story is fantastic! Most of it takes place in the small town of San Angel, and when it isn’t there we travel between the Land of the Remembered and Forgotten. My only issue is I wish we had seen conflict in the other worlds but that might have been the point. The conflict is among the living and among the living we see drama between lovers, family and bandits. The colors are dark and stark so when there is color it is beautiful! Every scene is rich with detail that helps give us the worlds and minds of the characters.

La Muerta – She was my favorite character in this and the one who seems to have wisdom even if she quickly will give it up for a bet. This need to take risks and bet adds dimension to her as a God especially in her relationship to Xibalba as all she wants is honesty from him and true sorrow for the things he’s done. For this reason her making Manolo her champion makes sense since he speaks the most genuine and honestly and isn’t bound by social pressure the way Maria and Jaoquin often are by their father’s legacies. He has enough will from the beginning to break that, much like La Muerta with breaking the rules so that Day of the Dead can occur and families can reunite for a time. That is her doing and there is a reason she is loved. She also has a great character design with a flowing red dress, skeleton face and candles on her hat and dress. Kate del Castillo does a great job bringing gravitas to the part.

Xibalba – Ron Perlman plays a very crafty role, which is great to see. His character reminded me a lot of Hades from Disney’s “Hercules” except that he deep down did just want love. This drives his character to strive for power as he feels slighted and jealous at everything La Muerta does and hates that he is watching over a world that is dying with people forgotten, for he feels forgotten. This drives his recklessness and makes him compelling. He doesn’t want to be alone and left out and that makes him sympathetic even as he does some pretty bad things to the human pawns in the bets (poisoning Maria and tricking Manolo into giving up his heart). He also has a great design that looks like acid and tar, which at the beginning is what he’s described of being made of.

The Sanchez Family and Manolo – The Sanchez family is fascinating, we see the legacy of bull fighting and “Being a man” a huge part which Manolo turns on it’s head by being a musician. Much of the story is his father coming to terms with that choice and Manolo’s inability to kill. It brings great drama and it is this dichotomy between tradition and doing what’s right (not to kill) that leads Maria to falling in love with him. Manolo thinks outside of himself while his family is largely obsessed with legacy. His mother doesn’t agree with legacy and shows how complex their family is in the Land of the Remembered as they had ancestors who fought in the revolution and that at the core it is character and integrity that matters, which Manolo has. He discovers all this when he meets his mother and dead ancestors in the Land of the Remembered and his mother and grandfather help him reach La Muerta who has been forsaken to the Land of the Forgotten because of Manolo’s death by Xibalba’s snake. We see him change the family legacy as it comes to a head when Xibalba will grant him life if he can defeat all past bulls killed by the Sanchez family, which he does in an epic battle that ends in a song for forgiveness for what his family has done. In the end they all grow through Manolo’s actions.

Of Jaoquin’s Hyper Masculinity – Jaoquin is obsessed with fighting and being tough above all else and this is celebrated by the culture as seen by the Sanchez all being bull fighters. His father was a hero and when he saves the General who is the mayor of the town and Maria’s father he is taken under his wing. This shapes his tendencies in viewing people as serving him rather than the other way around that when Maria returns he can’t see past himself and only wants to talk about his medals. It takes his talisman that makes him invulnerable being taken and Manolo dying for him to rethink his priorities and to stop trying to be the hyper warrior his father was. He also stops assuming what Maria wants and in the process the competition ends between the friends as they both truly act from love. His arc is growing out of his hyper masculinity and finding tenderness and balance. Malono goes through this too but much faster as for him it’s the simple choice of not to kill the bull.

Maria – Maria is an interesting character. She functions as a plot device for the boys to get out of their families shadows and become their own people, but she also is her own person too. She’d marry Jaoquin if he’d stay to protect the town from the bandits but if that isn’t an issue and if Manolo loves her, she’d choose him. She’s educated and smart and she calls on the town to fight back against the bandit invasion. I kind of wish La Muerta had chosen her as her champion. Zoe Zaldana is wonderful in this role.

Relationship Healing – Xibalba realizes how selfish he was and in the end he rules together with La Muerta again, it’s implied as they change from their human disguises (museum guard was Xibalba, tour guide was La Muerta) and they kiss. Manolo and his father make peace, Manolo and Jaoquin make peace, Maria and her father are on the same page and the town fights off the bandits. The arcs get completed and it’s all the rich for it. “Write your own story.” As the Candle Maker (the 3rd Death God) reminds us at the end.

Okay/Cons: The Kids – The kids in detention are there giving commentary like the grandson in “The Princess Bride,” and like him they are pretty forgettable. I get that they are standins for us, but they aren’t really needed. The story is rich and I cared more about the final reveal of Xibalba and La Muerta than about them.

The Music – Most are mariachi inspired covers of popular songs…this film would have worked better with an original soundtrack given it is an original world without pop culture references besides the songs. The songs kind of took me out of it for that reason.

The Beginning – Things start out really slow, both with the kids in modern day (never really cared about them) and when our heroes are children. I get why it’s important as it establishes their motivations (Maria to prevent killing and her hatred of it, Manolo and his music and bull fighting dichotomy and Jaoquin haunted by his father’s martyr legacy). But it could have been done faster. The best parts of the early scenes are when La Muerta and Xibalba interact.

The Candle Maker – Ice Cube plays a God who is kind of like Robin William’s Genie and just as annoying. I couldn’t stand how annoying this guy could get which is a shame since the Candle Maker as the neutral party is an interesting concept. He isn’t bad and has some great wisdom, but in the end is merely a somewhat annoying plot device.

       This was a really good film. I don’t know if I’d call it great because the things that are okay are at many points cons through the film. The kids are super annoying at the beginning and the slow start makes it hard initially to get invested in the characters until we see them again when they are older and active agents in their own lives. We just didn’t get enough time with the Gods in the beginning and had too much time with characters who were children. Still a fantastic film that I’d recommend. If you like animated films that have their own style and a good message, this is your film.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10, really good and a favorite.

The 12th Doctor – Series 8, Episode 10 – “In the Forest of the Night” – Too Much Fantasy

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Since Moffat has become showrunner of “Doctor Who” after Russell T. Davies left there has always been an element of fantasy in his series. The strongest of this and the best version of it was Series 5 when Matt Smith was the 11th Doctor, and weakest was the series 7…Smith’s final season and one of the most inconsistent seasons that gave us a lot of the worst of Moffat’s writing and themes. This episode is not as bad as the worst of series 7 and would have been good if not for the ending, but because of the ending I can only call it okay. I’ll get into what I mean in the assessment.

The episode was directed by Sheree Folkson and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce.

The premise is that the world has become overgrown by a forest that grew in a day. The Doctor doesn’t know why it happened and is left with Clara and Danny as they find that one of the Coal Hill Students Maehb maybe tied to the events and are left facing this new mystery and whether it is something good and temporary or a the signs of an invasion. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a forest overgrowing the world is a great idea! Especially since it adds a lot of mystery and in this instance plays into the human fear of the woods. Which we see in fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood both of which are made visual illusions to in the episode. There is a sense of danger and a sense of loss too given the events of the fairy tales.

Danny Pink – Danny is good at being the one grounded on being in the moment and looking after the kids to make sure they are connected. We see how this appeals to Clara even though she is so drawn to the excitement, mystery and adventure of the current circumstances. She assumes the Doctor can sort things out, Danny assumes nothing. We learn that this was due to his experiences as a soldier and he has no desire to repeat it given what he wants most is right in front of him (Clara). It’s a sweet moment and I liked how he was handled in this episode. Even with Clara lying about adventures with the Doctor and them even happening he is there until she can figure things out.

Clara Oswald – Clara is very much the companion in this episode, and she loves it. We see her separate herself from the Doctor at the end though when she asks him to run since if humanity will go extinct they will do so together and she doesn’t want to be the last of her kind. We see her attachment to Earth in this episode and her love of Danny even if she doesn’t know how to fully communicate her situation with the Doctor and being straight with them both. But she grows some in this episode which leaves things curious in regards to how her leaving will be handled at the end of this series.

The 12th Doctor / The Twelfth Doctor – The Doctor is interesting in this episode. We see him not being very good with children in that he isn’t very aware of them and is drawn in the most to the mystery. It takes a student being connected to the events for him to truly care and though he says he will stay with humanity he is rejected like he rejected helping humanity in “Kill the Moon.” I liked him in this episode but he couldn’t save it as there were other things bringing it down.

The Cons: Child Actors – Having one is bad enough, but this one had a bunch. They weren’t bad all the time but it make the threat seem so much less since it’s a family show…they aren’t going to kill a kid. This made the episode feel G when it was dealing with mortality, which was a shame.

Everything is Okay Again – I really don’t like how this series, especially when the episode has a kid (“Kill the Moon” again, and “The Caretaker”) try to keep consequences from occuring. The Earth doesn’t change and the Doctor talks about people forgetting. There was no point for the episode beyond it advancing the character arcs, which is a waste of a premise. “Kill the Moon” at least gave Clara reason to doubt and for a while was actually a great thriller so the concept was handled better. This one, not so much.

Everybody Lives – There are aliens that predate the Doctor in this episode and apparently they saved Maehb’s sister. “The Doctor Dances” did this so much better, because it was a war, there was consequences going on, there was despair and death so people living meant something. This corny ending gave nothing to the Whoverse and made Moffat going dark feel like a lie. Well, we’ll see how the final goes. Most episodes have been good but this ending is part of what’s wrong with Moffat. It’s too much fantasy, and not the good kind where magic is an element but not a magic reset button of entire character situations.

This episode could have been worse, the mystery was better than “Robot of Sherwood” at least and the character moments did improve the story. But they got to stop using child actors…I know this is a kids show but the original Star Wars didn’t have any child actors and was better for it. Kids can take dark, and some of the darkest Doctor Who (Series 1-3 on “Doctor Who”) were actually quite amazing. Fantasy writing shouldn’t be an excuse for not having stories without consequences. Happy endings should have a cost, or better yet be bittersweet.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10. Would be lower if not for Clara, Danny and the Doctor.

Nosferatu (1922): Visually Stunning But Not a Great Adaptation

Nosferatu

     As we get closer to Halloween I’ll be reviewing more films associated with the holiday (or Day of the Dead as well). We start with “Nosferatu” a film that is visually brilliant but not a great adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’ll go into the reasons why in the assessment.

      The film was directed by F. W. Burnau, produced by Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau and written by Henrik Galeen based of course on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

        The story mirrors Dracula with some characters changed or deleted (No Doctor Van Helsing) but the premise of the hero (in this case Thomas Hutter) is sent by his employer as he is a solicitor to sell the home nearby to Count Orlok. He leaves his wife Ellen behind to make the trip. He travels to Transylvania and people react in fear when he says where he is going. He meets the count and finds himself having nightmares and after the Count signs the contract of ownership over the home he prepares to travel to Wisborg all the while feeding off of Hutter. Hutter is left behind and has to make escape as Orlok heads to his hometown spreading “The Plague” along the way.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The world is lived in, you feel the desperation of the people and the plague feels very real. From bringing plague rats with him, to all the coffins that are in every area…whether Wisborg or Transylvania. You can see how Count Orlok and vampires fit into this world.

The Music – The film is a silent one and the orchestra does an amazing job showing emotions…from Thomas and Ellen’s joy together, to the horror of Orlok. Hans Erdmann did a fantastic job!

Cinematography – The visuals in this film are the best part besides the world and music, which is needed as the characters aren’t all that interesting. There are good uses of shading and shadows, especially when Orlok stalks his prey. This I think is what made Count Orlok such a memorable villain. Fritz Arno Wagner and Gunther Krampf did a good job at creating great visuals.

Count Orlok – Max Schreck plays a very memorable monster, he is both visually scary with his large clawed hands and dark gaunt face and also has a very high body count. He has great power too and gets to Wisborg without needing a crew for the ship as he controls it with magic and Knock is his slave even before he arrives and is the one who is blamed by the townsfolk, keeping Orlok protected from suspicion. It takes a lot to bring him down, which I appreciated.

The Ending – The characters aren’t all that memorable…the couple is young love and you don’t get their motivations, and the Doctors are their simply for exposition and to make comparisons between other predators (venus fly traps, etc.) to Vampires. But in this Ellen saves the day. She lures Count Orlok out and he stays to feed on her leading to his demise as he is up until the dawn and the light kills him. I liked this twist as she was the only character who actually did anything and in Dracula the character she is based off is only there to be rescued.

Okay/Con: The Characters – The best way to describe the characters is one dimensional. They have a single desire and that is it. Knock wants money and later to serve Orlok, Ellen and Hutter want each other, the Doctors just want to study and later just stop the plague and even Orlok just wants blood. The thing is in the end the only active agents are Orlok and Ellen. Ellen figures out how to stop Orlok and Orlok just keeping reeking havoc. This is a pretty big issue as I would have cared more about Ellen’s sacrifice if I’d gotten to know her character more, I would have cared about the townspeople if I’d seen what it was they valued. You don’t really get any of that, which brings the film down.

     This is a classic horror film and it is worth checking out. It is not the best adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula as in the book and some other versions I’ve seen the characters have more than one dimension and I care about what happens to them…not so much for this film. It is worth it though for the music, cinematography and monster design. Count Orlok looks amazing as a monster and I can see why so many shows post this film have called upon his visuals for their monsters.

Final Score: 7 / 10. It was okay.

Carnivale Finale – Season 2, Episode 12 – “New Canaan” – The Final Battle

Carnivale New Canaan

So ends “Carnivale,” and what a fascinating journey it has been. So, how does the final hold up and bringing all the pieces together? A lot of major threads get pulled together and major arcs brought to an end…while others are left open. It is that even though the show was canceled, you can tell Knauf, the creator wanted to do more. I do hope he can someday so in comics so that it can get the complete wrap up he had in mind.

The finale was written by Daniel Knauf with the original story by Tracy Torme. The episode was directed by Scott Winant.

The episode begins with the carnival being hosted at New Canaan, “For the Children.” As Samson visits with his entourage to invite Justin to ride the Ferris-Wheel. This is all part of the plan that he and Jonesy work out with Ben so that Ben can use his healing powers to suck the life from Justin and keep him trapped on the Wheel. Sofie catches Justin without his shirt on and realizes who he and his taken to the room that her mother was held in as Justin arrives at the carnival and the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Carnival in New Canaan – This is brilliant. We got to see some of this when Justin and Iris look out the window and Iris knows she has Justin trapped in obligation and when her and Samson are negotiating in the episode before. This carries over as the Ferris-Wheel traps Justin as Ben seeps his life to heal the injured members of New Canaan. It is fantastic and the magic of the carnival and religion are really well done here…the red sky just adds the effect of it all and the darkness that comes later.

Jonesy – Jonesy is changed and is truly a good guy looking out for others. We see him keep the Ferris-Wheel going after the healing start and is only stopped after Stroud punches him and Justin uses his power to stop the Wheel. Sadly he doesn’t survive the episode as darkness has inhabited Sofie and after he rescues her she shoots him in cold blood. His loss actually means something, season 1 I cared nothing for this character.

Samson – Samson is great as the manipulator and puts everything into play so that Ben won’t have to risk his life like past Avatars like Jesus did. From making certain Justin will come by holding back tickets after Iris’s fear of heights comes out, to his pep talk with Ben, “The hardest part is living.” I think Ben gets that because he goes along with the carnival’s plan and embraces their love of him for healing Jonesy. Samson is there through it all and ends with making Ben Management by putting him on Management’s bed. As they leave New Canaan you see him ready for the next adventure. He also gives Rita Sue the money from New Canaan to pay off the debts they owe because Samson looks out for family. I loved the scene and it showed that through it all he was looking out for Rita, Stumpy and Libby.

Pastor Justin Crowe – Crowe goes full bad in this and we see the darkness Avatar in him made manifest when he lashes out at being used to heal others. This leads to him killing members of his congregation, his adopted father Norman and injuring Ben before he is killed. He is a good threat and when he’s in the cornfield (the dream Ben had from season 1) you get the tension and fear as this is someone who has killed and in this state…lives for killing. Surprisingly even here he doesn’t kill Iris though, showing something remains of his humanity. His death is left ambiguous though as we see Sofie performing a healing on him as the carnival leaves and the plants die the same way the plants died when Ben first healed the little girl’s legs.

Rita Sue, Libby and Stumpy – We see sadness and resolution here as they tell her to believe Jonesy will come back even as they know he’s dead. It is a sad scene since you see that they have always cared about him. Their debts are paid off now but they lost a new member of their family. In a way New Canaan is Babylon.

Ben Hawkins – Finds that he is family in the carnival and they do what they can to support him to take Justin down. We see how this has changed him too as he puts beating Justin as the priority over finding Sofie. He’s thinking more like Management and wants to do what he can to win no matter what, how he is different though is he listens to Samson. He doesn’t have to risk his life to win because the carnival is hear to help. The moment between them is priceless and you get why they make him Management at the end and carry him off like a savior. His arc is complete and he’s become the leader and no longer the man alone.

The Cons: Sofie – Sofie being possessed by darkness is never explained…as is her role as the Omega. Why did she bring back or try to bring back Justin at the end after knowing he raped her mother? Why didn’t she rejoin the carnival? What did her mother’s ghost haunting her mean?

Professor Lodz – He tells us Sofie is the Omega and he tells Lila next time he’ll be seen in the flesh in a past episode but that never goes anywhere. What’s Lodz’s deal? What was his motivation? What was his connection to Scudder and Management?

The mythology wasn’t fully explained and Lodz and Sofie were never used to their full potential (or Lila or Ruthie for that matter) but this episode does a solid. Nearly everyone plays a role to help Ben take down Justin and it is beautifully executed. Barring the questions and plot holes (which are a problem I have with the series, not just this episode). This episode was great and one of my favorites. I’ll do a look back at the show later with how I think it worked and didn’t…but until then, this is a great finale and well worth watching.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10