#15 It! The Terror Beyond Space (1958)
Best thing: While the effects have dated and often look daft, I still want to credit the way the filmmakers make the most of what they have. Shadows on the wall, a face in the dark or the flailing man in a suit. At one point the creature is kept at bay by an acetylene torch.
Worst thing: The characters are dull. The opening premise is that the survivor of the original mission to Mars is suspected of murder. They don't seem to treat him even remotely like someone who might stab them in the back and he doesn't really feel like someone with any more familiarity with the alien threat than anyone else. Whether it's the script, the acting or the direction, that character's backstory feels completely mishandled and it just doesn't seem to play into the story beyond the occasional naysayer.
I have to admit that the effects are laughable, the characters are boring, the story is flimsy and I really can't recommend this film.
Even so, if you want the quintessential space monster movie with effects which were exciting at the time, even if they don't remotely hold up now, this is the film for you. The script isn't winning any awards but there's enough of a story here that it won't bore you to tears. So what I mean to say is: I don't regret watching this trashy dated sci-fi yarn.
Also it was nice to see the female crew had roles as scientists and doctors. Actually they seemed like they had the most professional expertise in the whole crew.
#16 Maniac Cop (1988)
Best thing: The premise is set up very cleverly as a mystery to be solved. It's very cool how the shots are composed so that we never see the maniac cop's face and we also can seriously believe that witnesses to his crimes won't have seen it either.
Worst thing: While it was disappointing to see Bruce Campbell playing it straight, he's fine in the role - if a bit bland. What was odd for me (and nothing was wrong with the performance) was the way the female officer who arrests people who pay for prostitutes by posing as one still has the same overdone makeup in her uniform. We are now pretty used to seeing female police officers with their hair tied back, but she seems like she's ready for a night out and it just makes her look unprofessional as an officer. Perhaps I’m blaming on her outfit what is really better explained by her performance. I never really get the impression that she’s had police training. (Or perhaps it’s the direction. Bruce Campbell seems distinctly lacking in decorum here too.)
Maniac Cop begins with a series of shots of a police officer dressing, putting on his gun holster, his badge and other accessories. I found it a little dull. I think living in a country where the police generally don't carry guns the image of a scary police officer isn't so creepy. That being said, I'd also note that most deaths here don't involve guns.
The central villain here is scariest while his face remains hidden. When finally his face is revealed, he doesn't look so intimidating. When the film moves away from its initial mystery to an all-hell-breaks-loose scenario I was reminded of the film The Hitcher. That film had a rather creepier Rutger Hauer in the lead role.
Overall this was a lot of fun but lost momentum in the second half when it crossed a line and became a bit too silly. But in the first half the mystery absolutely gripped me.
#17 Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Best thing: Dr. Pretorius is brilliant and has some great darkly comic moments. (And he’s played by Ernest Thesiger from “The Old Dark House”!) I love when Frankenstein asks the servant to send him away, she says "Right away sir!" and leaves through the door, only for us to see Dr. Pretorius immediately emerge from a completely different door.
Worst thing: I always find it very odd that Pretorius is so fascinated with Frankenstein's work when his own creations seems more advanced. I don't want to give away too much for newcomers but Pretorius appears to be able to create life from scratch, not from dead bodies.
Bride of Frankenstein is funnier than Frankenstein, darker than Frankenstein and has more emotional depth. This is definitely a sequel that improves on the original film.
#18 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Best thing: The more Lou Costello imitates Frankenstein and Dracula the more it cracks me up.
Worst thing: It's great to see Bella Lugosi returning in the role, but with this comedy style he seems really sweet instead of terrifying. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a little disappointing.
I never thought I'd be so happy to see the same actor returning as the Wolf-Man. While Abbott essentially plays the straight man he's also the sceptic. Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf-Man, being the most reluctant of the monsters, has to be the one to provide the exposition of an evil plot by Dracula involving Frankenstein. He is wonderful and works very well alongside the two comedic foils.
While I hope to see House of Frankenstein, where the different monsters are also reunited, as yet this is my first Universal horror monster mash. The recent plans of Universal to cash-in on the craze for shared universes make a lot more sense now, seeing how well the different monster worlds cone together here. That being said, Dracula's horror does feel a little diluted as a result (though that's probably because of the emphasis on comedy here).
Can Universal revive a shared universe like this? All these horror franchises have had a long history since the 30s and 40s. There were mixed receptions for Branaugh's Frankenstein and also for the more recent Victor Frankenstein penned by Max Landis. Werewolves are pretty big but while Ginger Snaps, Teen Wolf, and The Howling all have cult appeal, the straight adaptation with Benicio Del Toro was widely trashed. Dracula has had endless adaptations, but the attempt to make him a relateable anti-hero in Dracula Untold seems like a real misstep.
Part of me thinks they should just jump straight into a monster mash, but the film that comes to mind with that format is Van Helsing with Hugh Jackman where the whole thing went goofy as hell (think X-Men 3 levels of chaos. Fun enough, but kind of daft too).
Abbott and Costello's mash-up film is great fun and regularly had me laughing out loud. They have great comic timing and continue the same wonderful charm of earlier entries in the Universal series. It's worth remembering that the Universal movies often include a bit of comedy. Even Dracula has moments with the asylum staff, such as when one announces: "Sometimes it feels like we're the only sane ones here, and I'm not sure about you." Abbott and Costello is very much building on what has come before and carries the same fantastic charm.
#19 Ghoulies (1984)
Best thing: While the ghoulies themselves look very cool, the best thing is the dwarf warrior spirits. In a supposed horror comedy, they were the only ones with any comic timing.
Worst thing: When someone has time to call out "Why?" before toppling to their death down the stairs a second or so later. So dumb!
If this was just plain old creepy it could have been a cool film, but there isn't really much of an atmosphere in this film. The protagonists' friends are pretty boring. Yet on the other hand this isn't really a comedy either. The ghoulies are disgusting and adorable but they pretty much unimportant to the story.
This could have worked but the script needs to be completely reworked, the dad needs to come back sooner (we all saw that coming), the ghoulies need to do something either funny or terrrifying and the deaths need to be way more inventive. But without all these changes? Meh, it's just about watchable.
#20 April Fool's Day (1986)
Best thing: The fools day pranks, such as the collapsing chair, are quite fun.
Worst thing: I heard this was a comedy, but there are no laughs to be had here. There aren't even interesting characters to follow. We have the actor who played Biff in Back To The Future being a bit of a clown and we have a bookish girl stereotype, but the script doesn't really go anywhere with those characters.
There were some really low points when I was working my way through the Friday 13th series. Sure, I'd say there are Friday 13th films worse than this, but even Jason Takes Manhattan is way more fun.
For a film about practical jokes and serial murder this is unbelievably dull.
#21 Room (2015)
Best thing: I had always felt awkward about seeing this film because it is about a kidnapped abused girl/woman. It felt like the film would either be horrifying or it wouldn't be treating the subject matter with enough respect. But I hadn't realised that the real focus would be on what happens to someone after they escape from captivity. The way the child, who has always been told to stay well clear of the one person who isn't his mother, won't address anyone directly. Sadly the film doesn't really explore this terribly well by the end.
Worst thing: Every time the kid does one of his monologues it is teeth-grindingly irritating. It doesn't help that this quiet kid doesn't really seem much like the talkative child doing the monologues. And frankly, the monologues add nothing to the story and are really awkward because they trivialise the drama.
There are some wonderful moments. This is a very well directed movie. Unfortunately the script leaves much to be desired. There ought to be so much to say about the mental and physical consequences of a childhood spent in a small shed. But here that is basically just boiled down to an odd mythological understanding of the world and the real world ramifications are glossed over. There was potential here, but the film doesn't seem to explore the subject matter comprehensively enough to really convince me.
And the tv interviewer who seems to be actively trolling the kidnapping victim by trying to fuel their survivor's guilt? What is up with that?