I've been going ahead with Post-Tober, finishing off a set of horror films that I either planned to watch during the big Hoop-Tober horror marathon (such as "Maniac Cop 2"), hoped to watch but couldn't get hold of in time (such as "Baskin") or was inspired to watch as a result of the horror marathon dominated by classic Universal monster movies ("Gods and Monsters" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space").
#1 Gods And Monsters (1998)
Best thing: Well naturally Ian McKellen, but also Lynn Redgrave and Brendan Fraser. They are all wonderful. Whatever happened to Brendan Fraser eh?
Worst thing: There are points where the attempts to give Brendan Fraser's character an arc are a little too obvious. Essentially the main purpose of his character is to act as an outsider who is drawn in, just like the audience, as well as to provide a contrast between McKellen's portrayal of James Whale. He is young, Whale is old, he is heterosexual, Whale is homosexual, and then there's their differing experiences of the military. But what is Brendan Fraser's character supposed to have learned from the experience in the end? That he should settle down and have a family? That's the take-away from his time with an ageing homosexual film director with mental illness? Really?
Gods And Monsters is an absolutely wonderful film with an amazing central performance from Ian McKellen. All the character interactions are interesting, there are moments of humour and there are plenty of surprises. I like that when James Whale's condition makes him relive the past he is ashamed of his class background that he has spent his life trying to leave behind and he is not at all ashamed of his sexuality. This was a very refreshing perspective and, as understand it, true to the historical figure. I'm glad that common movie themes weren't allowed to trump historical accuracy in this case.
After watching all the Universal films it was easy to see how the big fan in the movie would be excited to see all the old movie stars together. Comparing John Betts in "Gods And Monsters" with Boris Karloff in "Black Sabbath" they clearly did a fantastic make-up job.
Gods And Monsters is a film that relies on the character interactions and the performances to make it all come together and they chose the right cast for that. I was gripped from start to finish. It's the same small and powerful drama as we see in Bill Condon's later film "Mr. Holmes".
#2 Baskin (2015)
Best thing: Undoubtedly the best thing is the horrifying character that appears towards the end. He is intensely creepy and the third act of the film is utterly terrifying as result of his appearance.
Worst thing: I had a bit of trouble distinguishing between the characters in the early scenes. When you have a group of utterly despicable characters it can helpful in a film like this to be able to work out which ones are least despicable.
There's much that is original in the film Baskin; not least having frogs as an omen of doom. Frogs are a regular motif throughout the film.
Baskin is a genuinely horrifying film, but I feel a little lost on the meaning by the end. The film spends quite a while on the build-up but then things go very crazy very fast. So by the end the build-up feels like it was a bit chaotic. Nevertheless there's no doubting that by the end of the film we have a seriously creepy atmospheric climax. Yet even so, I feel that there was room for another stage in the film. Perhaps some clue as to the scale of the powers of the main villain or some further clues to his philosophy?
I'd be surprised if Baskin doesn't leave the majority of viewers a little puzzled, but you don't need to understand the larger meaning to have a great time. This is an intriguing horror film and deserves further scrutiny.
#3 The Visit (2015)
Best thing: Towards the end we have some somewhat out of place music, revealing to us that a character in the film has edited the footage together. That was a nice touch.
Worst thing: The film is chock full of false starts supposedly intended to build tension. The scene in the trailer where the granddaughter is asked to get in the oven in order to clean it is remarkably flat in the actual film. When the film is reaching its climax Shymalan still doesn't seem sure what to do with the tense moments.
Towards the climax, a character is fixed in fear.... and he gets a nappy put on his head. Perhaps that could have seemed threatening. In the movie it just felt silly and detracted from the creepiness.
While they say "write what you know" it can be annoying when writers write about writers and filmmakers make films about established or budding filmmakers. Here, the two kids want to make films. The brother wants to be a performer (and unfortunately likes to rap) and the sister is more interested in the behind the scenes aspect. I find it harder to relate to these characters because the distinguishing characteristics of them are that they are filmmakers and performers. It also makes it harder to forget that these are actors.
I feel that people give this a lot of credit for being a Shyamalan movie that is capably put together. But while it might not be terrible, this remains a pretty dull film and the climax doesn't really seem to pay off as well as it should. The twist is fine, but it doesn't make up for the rest of the film.
More aspects that are set up feel they should pay off in the third act. Paying attention to what the old couple say they seem to have some weird mythology producingan internal logic. By the end it seems like they are just nuts and that's all there is to it.
This is a film that doesn't reward the viewer for taking it seriously and isn't crazy enough to amuse those who don't.
#4 Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Best thing: While not exactly a completely terrible movie, the best things about this film are its charming flaws. I think the best thing is probably the performance by Dudley Malove as the alien managing the zombie attacks. He has some of the most memorably terrible lines such as, “You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!” And what makes it better is that he delivers them so passionately.
Worst thing: There are any number of flaws to list here, but they are all such endearing flaws. The real problem with this film is the pacing. But then again, to give this faster pacing would have required the director to recognise that he was failing to build a spooky atmosphere.
Plan 9 definitely works better once you know the story behind it. Not least that this film shoehorns some ill-fitting footage of Bela Lugosi into the story.
Weirdly zombie Bela Lugosi swishes his cape like Dracula. Then again Vampira very much looks dressed as Vampira and not as Bela Lugosi's dead wife. And of course the narrator is very much still a cheesy fortune teller. Ed Wood clearly made this film by bringing his friends together and not worrying too much about the mismatched results.
Just considering his flying saucers on string. Most of the time the effect isn't so bad but when the wobbling of the saucers gets out of hand it starts to look ridiculous. What gives Plan 9 its charm is that Ed Wood genuinely wanted to make a great film and comes close enough to making a serviceable mediocre film as to make his ridiculous dialogue and production flaws charming and hilarious.
While this is certainly not a good film, anyone watching this with the benefit of proper context cannot help but be amused and fascinated by this heroic failure.
#5 Krampus (2015)
Best thing: Santa's evil killer toys. An evil toy robot, an evil teddy bear and an evil toy angel all terrorise the family in glorious Gremlins style horror-comedy violence.
Worst thing: Krampus is such a poorly realised villain. In Rare Exports the main villain is only seen as two enormous horns sticking out of a block of ice and yet it still feels like a more well-realised villain.
I've mentioned my hatred of ghost stories many many times before. One of many reasons a ghost story can frustrate me is the lack of clear consistent rules. I've heard it said that ghost stories are exploiting a fear of going mad, but that's not what is happening here. The family are perfectly clear thinking, but the situation they are in is distressing, as well as quite wacky. Instead of giving us a consistent villain we just see the protagonists barraged by wave after wave of different threats and the family antics aren't compelling enough to make up for the lack of a consistent villain.
It's really unclear what Krampus wants to achieve and so I was left frustrated. That's especially annoying considering the humour in this horror comedy feels a bit lacking too.
Krampus has a lot of potential and that's clear even before the monsters show up when we are presented with a horrifying vision of Christmas shopping. But instead of being drawn in, the family drama between this catalogue of stereotypes just felt more and more contrived as the film went on. There were promising moments with the villains but without a consistently interesting human story it was hard to care.
A mostly cliched and unfunny comedy interspersed with some isolated moments of horror-comedy excellence. A real pity.
#6 Maniac Cop 2 (1990)
Best thing: There's a very original kind of car chase sequence. Sparks flying from a wheel with no tyre and a woman with her arm handcuffed to the wheel. So cool!
Worst thing: Is this how you go about assessing whether your officers are fit for duty? This is a seriously chaotic process.
I wondered how Maniac Cop 2 could live up to the original. The best part of Maniac Cop was the first half where the cop always seemed to be mysterious and in shadow and a big part of the plot was a mystery. When we get to see what he looks like and he turns out to be a Terminator-esque unstoppable killing machine, I felt the film became much less interesting.
However, Maniac Cop 2 starts again with the same trick of having the central villain's face in shadow again. And, as it turns out, there's a good reason for this. The villain's features have further deteriorated and he looks seriously badass as a result. The modus operandi of the maniac cop changes somewhat in this film and so we do get a new source of mystery and it's actually a bit more consistent this time around.
There are some very cool action sequences including the car chase sequence mentioned above and also a sequence where the maniac cop is on fire. And the maniac cop seemed more intense this time too.
While this lacks a compelling performance from Tom Ellis (who plays the central detective in the first film) , it still feels like the better of the first two Maniac Cop movies to me. The action is more exciting and the tone is more consistent. Maniac Cop 2 is a lot of fun.
#7 Young Frankenstein (1974)
Wow, this is awkward. Look, I love The Producers, okay? I think that is a fantastic and hilarious film. And I grew up enjoying Mel Brooks' Star Wars spoof "Space Balls". But it seems that I don't like Mel Brooks most beloved classics.
I saw Blazing Saddles nearly 10 years ago and I wasn't all that impressed. I wasn't sure whether the problem was a lack of familiarity with old westerns, a lack of familiarity with current race issues in America or simply not finding the comedy was to my taste.
Now rewatching Young Frankenstein, I think we've finally resolved that mystery. Young Frankenstein is Mel Brooks' spoof of the old Universal horror films. Thanks to recently checking out those films, there's no way that familiarity with the subject matter could be a problem. (And certainly many elements here are taken directly from Son of Frankenstein.) There's also no contemporary social context that could cloud the issue. And I was convinced that, despite being a bit non-plussed by Young Frankenstein when I watched it as a child, I would definitely enjoy it a lot more now I'm older and know the references.
Yet I found very little amused me. After "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" had me in stitches, it's baffling how little I seem to be entertained by "Young Frankenstein" where oddly I feel the 70s humour feels even more dated.
After Gene Wilder had finished screaming at the lightening, in what felt more like a typical performance as Frankenstein rather than parody, I decided to call it a day.