Halloween (1978): A Masterpiece of Tension and Horror

halloween-original

    John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors of all times and this is partially due to him not only being a great director but being an amazing writer and composer too. The original “Halloween” that spawned a franchise is living proof of this. I was originally going to do a comparison of the old “Nightmare on Elm Street” with the remake, but I wanted to take a risk and watch a movie I knew would be good versus the almost always crappy quality that comes with most remakes (though the Original “Nightmare” is terrible too so mostly I just wanted to watch something good). Suffice to say, I’m glad I did. This is a movie that is a classic for so many reasons that I look forward to going into more detail on, later in the review.

      “Halloween” was directed and co-written by John Carpenter while being co-written and produced by Debra Hill.

      The story starts with 6 year old Michael Myers killing off his teenage his sister in 1963. Fifteen years later he escapes his asylum when he takes advantage of a storm and the asylum preparing to bring him to court to go to trial. From here he returns to his original home and begins to kill again, leaving it up to Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) to stop him.

The Pros: The World – The world of “Halloween” is fascinating because it is like ours but also not quite like our world. Myers isn’t all human it is implied and the reaction to him escaping is downplayed from the beginning showing people in authority in this world don’t actually care that much about risks or most people…with the exception of the Dr. We see this in our world and sometimes it is worse or better but it still exists completely in the Universe Carpenter and Hill created.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is gorgeous as the light of fire from pumpkins or the light from a lamp that can quickly go dark, putting our characters into a dark shadowy world where we see enough to get the humanity of the victims or the inhumanity of the monster. The film is gorgeous and captures how open environments are where you are safe from the monster and closed environments when the monster hunts.

The Soundtrack – Carpenter created a beautiful and iconic score that I plan on using for my own writing. The film reminds me most of “Psycho” as there is an overlay of tension that pervades it and feeds into the silence when silence is used.

The Writing – The writing is fantastic! Our characters are real and sympathetic and very much who they are, Loomis is a Dr. who knows Myers and is paranoid because of it, the teenagers are different levels of free within themselves and their relationships or bound by their duties and responsibilities and all of them care about each other even as they do the crappy things teens and people sometimes do to each other. The writing in this is golden and illustrates showing rather than telling.

The Characters – As I said in the writing segment, most of the characters feel fully defined and real and it makes them compelling even as you know they are going to die as they play into the tropes and the types of people that Myers kills (sexually active teens like his older sister when hew as six). The dimension they have, even if it is only a little showing them both as selfish and selfless, gives the story shape.

The Teenagers – The teenagers are selfish and selfless and manage to feel like real teenagers, not adults playing teens, which is a lot to say of any film, but especially horror films that have bland stilted teens who are there to die. Here they exist as characters rather than props.

The Kids – The kids are there to show the mystery and terror of Halloween as it is one of them who notices Myers and calls him the bogey man. They also end up protecting the main teen protagonist Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) as she is babysitting and isn’t going over to the party house where Myers is slowly killing off her friends.

Dr. Loomis – Pleasence does a fantastic job as Loomis and isn’t the traditional hero as is unable to save most of the teens and only saves Laurie because she’d fought Myers prior, slowing him down and sent out the kids for help. He’s human through it all and you get why people don’t trust him as he is overly frank and sounds paranoid.

Michael Myers – Myers is one of my favorite monsters in cinema now. From the beginning he is messed up kid with sexual hangups and targets those because of it. It’s established from the beginning he doesn’t have humanity but there are elements of humor to him too, such as when he dresses up as a ghost or reacts to the environment around him. He’s threatening and as far as we know unkillable, but he is still defeatable and he’s better because of it.

The Theme  Music – The theme music is as iconic as “Jaws” and captures the beauty and tension of the this film so well. It is simple and accomplishes so much, which is a great analogy for the script and direction. You don’t need complex or big to scare or tell a great story.

Halloween and the Holiday Theme – The theme of Halloween is huge as that was when the first killing happened and in it the trick or treat theme as one could easily see the ones who are killed after having sex getting the trick after the treat they’d shared. It is those who are already cautious and ready for the trick (Laurie and the kids) who survive. Also the theme of masks and fear are big too as Myers panics when Laurie tries to pull off his mask when he is trying to kill her.

The Art of Tension and the Slow Burn – Myers doesn’t start killing immediately, there is a slow build up as he stalks the teenagers and hunts and gets to know his old home and town again. We have him breathing deeply and him always being far enough away to disappear but close enough to get our protagonists creeped out. This makes when the killings finally happen as we see him always out of site and isolating his quarry all the more suspenseful and scary.

Fear In What Isn’t Seen – Rarely do we see the killings happen, it is always out of sight and quickly and usually done in the dark. This adds mystery and terror and us reading whatever we want into Myers. He is the unstoppable and large threat who we see is capable of anything (as established at the beginning) and may not be human. We fear him because of not only what little we see but because we don’t see so much except only what little we are shown.

The Killer’s View – Tied into fear in what isn’t seen is seeing the world through Myers’s point of view. We get the monster in his heavy breathing and in how he acts like an animal, but we know he is human. He is a monster in the stalking as we know what is coming and from the beginning this is someone who acts and is a threat.

 Elements of the Monster – Breathe, size, mask, simple elements (stabbing and strangulation) and obsession. Both the physical and mental aspects of Myers are what make him so terrifying.

Great Use of Horror Tropes – Sexually active folks get killed, responsible and taking care of the kids and fine…why this works in this film though is we see Laurie getting more isolated. She wants to be with her friends and they want to be with her, but she can’t and as Myers picks them off in different ways we see her isolation grow. She’s in a place she’d rather not be having to be responsible as her friends are doing what she wants to do. Ironically it saves her but it also her curse, she hears her friend die over the phone and see how Myers displays the bodies when she finally goes over when the kids are asleep and is greeted by a nightmare she has no control to end.

  The Cons: The Sheriff and the Other Doctors – These are the guys who are antagonistic towards the Doctor and useless as characters. They are the only stock characters in the film and the only reason I won’t rate this film as perfect as the very least they could have been was not annoying since they weren’t helping at all.

    This is a movie that is not only a great horror film (easily one of the best of all time) but is also an all around great film because it does what every film needs to do but doesn’t…it shows rather than tells and it does it through camera work, editing and dialogue. This seems simple but it is something most horror films and other movies as a whole miss. A monster isn’t scary because it looks undead or is a cannibal, a monster is scary because you don’t know what it will do, except you know it will be something terrible. I wish more movies would remember that as this movie had me on the edge of my seat and was rewarding from beginning to end. Debra Hill and John Carpenter are clearly a dream team and Carpenter is one of my Top 3 favorite directors  and this film captures so many of the reasons why he is. Check this film out if you haven’t, chances are you won’t regret it.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Horror Month – October Reviews

horror

    October is around, which means this month I am going to tackle horror stories! This is going to involve both the watching of the classics I haven’t seen before, such as “Nightmare on Elm Street,” and “Halloween” and also psychological horror stories like those from “Black Mirror” and “The Twilight Zone.”

   I’m open up for any more suggestions as we still have good ways to go until Halloween I just need them to be slasher films of some sort or psychological films and episodes of terror.

   I’m going to be kicking it off with “The Entire History of You,” from “Black Mirror.”

Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987): Beautiful Horror Camp

Hellraiser Poster

 

Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” is a beautifully campy film. It presents a fascinating universe that leaves me wanting more and helped me to understand what sustains horror Franchises like “Alien” “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween” (and of course many others). The fact that one of my favorite actors is in it (Andrew Robinson – Garak from “Star Trek: Deep Space 9”) is another point in it’s favor and lead to further enjoyment.  Also, this was a great film to end the Halloween cycle of horror or supernatural based films.

I am not a horror guy, but I love a good thriller. This is a movie that managed to succeed in pulling off both in equal measure as well as giving us some good fantasy too.

The film was directed by Clive Barker who also wrote it and based it off his novella The Hellbound Heart, the producer was Christopher Figg.

The premise begins with Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) recieving a puzzle box from a mysterious man. After he pays for the box transports him to a hellish world where his body is torn apart. We are then brought to the present where his brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Larry’s wife Julia (Clare Higgins) are moving into Larry’s old home where he and Frank grew up. It is here mysterious events begin unfolding as Larry’s blood brings back Frank who had an affair with Julia and asks her to bring him bodies so he can resurrect and they can be together (and so he can escape the beings from the Hell – the Cenobites). From here the story unfolds as Julia tries to hide all this from Larry and their daughter Kirsty as events unfold.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Special Effects – The effects are beautiful and campy. It kicks off with electricity and the brutal scene of a Frank’s body being torn apart by hooks. These gruesome affects continue as Frank takes the bodies to build his own. We also see the different levels of a human being too, from when he is mostly bone, to when he can taste again but is covered and veins…and finally when he has skin again. The Cenobites also look amazing too with some looking like ogres or trolls, or like demonic dark elves with of course Pinhead as the greatest example being covered in pins and a coat that looks inspired by bondage gear.

The Cenobites – These guys are great antagonists because they don’t see themselves as bad. They know some people like to be tortured  and that they give pleasure while inflicting pain. They are alien and otherworldly and travelers bringing their twisted “Gospel” to those who open the puzzle box. This makes them fascinating and I want to know more about their people…which means I’ll probably watch the other movies later and read some of the comics.

Frank Cotton – This guy is a monster and the primary antagonist, which makes when Kirsty tricks him into falling into the Cenobites trap it is quite rewarding. He uses Frank’s wife Julia on her wedding day and later murders her in cold blood once she’s killed enough people for him. He’s the definition of psychopath and got what he deserved from the Cenobites for escaping them. He’s played by a few different people but the best versions are Oliver Smith who plays him when he’s skinless and Andrew Robinson who plays him when he’s wearing Larry’s skin. He has the charm and terror down the best.

Andrew Robinson – Andrew Robinson does a great job as Larry Cotton, a well meaning guy who is sometimes dominated by social pressure but always come through for his wife…and of course when he is Frank Cotton at the end and laughs as the Cenobites and murders Julia. He does a good job driving this film as he looks like the primary protagonist initially.

Julia Cotton – Julia does a good job playing the conflicted lover who goes bad at the end when she sells her soul in the murders she commits for Frank. Her death isn’t missed as we see her fighting for Larry not to be killed but than going cold after Frank comes clean about the Cenobite threat coming his way. It is than she goes full evil and lets Frank take Larry’s skin. She even tries to kill the daughter Kirsty. Clare Higgins does a great job with what she’s given.

Kirsty Cotton – Ashley Laurence does a good job in the young hero role and manages to hold her own against Frank and un-summon the Cenobites. Her boyfriend is just kind of there but her relationship to her father is wonderful and how she fights her Uncle Frank. She is the only one who sees through him, much like her dad did and this gives her what she needs to figure out how to close the puzzle box which saves her and her boyfriend from the Cenobites.

The Ending – There is a homeless man creeping on Kirsty throughout the film who steals the puzzle box in the end. It turns out the old man who gave frank the box was really the skeletal demonic dragon. This was a cool twist and showed that the Cenobites will always have people seeking them out or helping them in their cause, even after they’re defeated. I liked that since it made it bittersweet as our hero won but the Cenobites are still in action.

Okay: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack isn’t super memorable so I can’t really endorse it.

The Cons: The Boyfriend – I’m don’t even care about his name he was unmemorable. He’s generic, he’s there and he lends nothing to the plot as the drama revolves around the family. If he’d help figure out that Frank was hiding upstairs or how to defeat the Cenobites he might actually mean something but in the end he lends nothing to the plot and was not needed.

If you like camp, horror or thrillers…you will probably like this film. I enjoyed it immensely and thought it pulled off everything it needed to do. I cared about the characters, the antagonists were interesting, the universe was rich and there wasn’t a happy ending. It was bittersweet and that is usually the type of film I enjoy. My only issue is the boyfriend could have been an actual character and I wish we could have explored Julia and Larry’s relationship more. Why did she marry him? This question is never fully answered. Regardless, this movie is a favorite and gets a recommend.

Final Score: 9 / 10. A solidly great campy horror thriller.

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.

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.