Dracula (1931)

     Dracula (1931) – “Listen to them.  Children of the night.  What music they make.”  The iconic Dracula and the greatest American monster.  There have been many vampire films and remakes throughout the last 80 years, but there is only 1 true Dracula.  You ask anyone, even today, who Dracula is and they’ll describe Legosi’s version.  Bela Legosi’s portrayal of Bram Stoker’s literary creation has defined this character forever.  The aristocratic dress, the mannerisms, the speech style, and his movements are nothing short of legendary.   Surprisingly and considering this film was made in 1931, the special effects are very good.  Granted, compared to the CGI movies of today, the effects will not hold up, but you will not miss them in this film.  Rated 93% at Rotten Tomatoes and 4.5 stars at Amazon.com, the greatness of this film is not lost throughout time.

Plot – Renfeild (Dwight Frey), a British solicitor, is traveling to Dracula’s castle by stagecoach.  At one of the stops, the villagers inform him of the vampires, but he dimisses it.  He travels on meeting another coach and the ride has some strange occurances.  Arriving at the castle, he enters and Dracula (Bela Legosi) decends to greet him.  He has purchased Carfax Abbey in London and Renfield brings the papers.  Dracula provides a knock out drink and then bites Renfield making him Dracula’s helper.  They get on a boat to London, which arrives with only Renfield as the survivor and who is now a raving lunatic slave to Dracula.  He is taken to Sewards Sanitarium.  Dracula meets Dr. Seward, daughter Mina, Mina’s fiance John Harker, and family friend Lucy at the theatre.  Later, Dracula enters Lucy’s room and bites her and she later becomes a vampire.  At the sanitarium, Renfield is noticed eating spiders and flies.  Dr. Van Helsing tests his blood and describes vampires to the other doctors, who don’t believe him.  Dracula now enters Mina’s room and attacks her.  She awakes and tells of nightmares of the experience.  Dracula enters and Van Helsing sees that Dracula doesn’t reflect in the mirror.  Showing this in a cigarette case, Dracula acts violently, gathers his composure, and says that Van Helsing will explain as he exits.  Meanwhile, Mina leaves her room and meets Dracula for another bite.  Harker, her fiance, wants to take Mina away, but Van Helsing says no and decorates with wolfsbane to protect her.  Dracula enters and challenges Van Helsing, but his cross saves him.  He tells Van Helsing that he has already fused his blood with Mina and she is his.  Dracula hypnotizes the nurse to let him in and takes Mina.  Renfield is now escaped and Harker & Van Helsing follow him to Dracula’s lair.  Dracula and Mina decend the stairscase heading to the coffins as morning approaches.  Renfield sees Dracula and offers his service, but Harker shouts to Mina.  Dracula thinks Renfield led them there and strangles Renfield.  He rushes below trying to seal themselves in.  Van Helsing and Harker are able to break in and find them.  Van Helsing sends Harker to find Mina.  As he searches, Van Helsing handles Dracula.  Harker finds Mina and as Dracula is killed, she returns to normal.

Commentary – Dracula is one of the best known monsters of all time and the character is personified by Bela Legosi.  The movie is well written and structured.  The character of Renfield is essential to the story and Frey’s insanity acting is excellent.  You can’t go wrong with Dracula.  It is a classic for anyone who is a fan of horror films.  It’s not very frightening due to the desensitization of later films, but it is the film that truly started it all.  Don’t miss this iconic film.

Trivia – The film was originally to star Lon Cheney Sr., but he passed away in 1930 allowing the role to go to Bela Legosi.  Being an immigrant, it was rumored that Legosi could not speak English and learned his lines phonetically, but reality is that Legosi was able to speak English as well as he ever would for the film.  As iconic as his character is, he only reprised his role once in the comedy film Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein; even though he played in numerous other horror films.  Throughout the film, you never see Dracula blink.  In addition, Dracula never displays fangs and the only indication are the “two little holes” that the doctors keep referring.

** Just click the images to check out the original “Dracula” at Amazon.com **


Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein

    Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein – “What we need is young blood…and brains.”  A classic horror spoof from the greatest comedy team in history.  Rated 91% at Rotten Tomatoes and a full 5 stars at Amazon.com, this movie is a freightful funfest from start to finish.  Abbott & Costello meet all of the classic Universal movie monsters from Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange), Dracula (Bela Legosi), The Wolf Man (Lon Cheney Jr), and The Invisible Man (voiced by Vincent Price) in this tale.  This is a well put together story and is probably top 5 of all the boys movies.  In 2001, it was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress film registry.  It’s silly and spooky, which they found very adaptable to their comedy stylings.  So, in the Halloween season of monsters and ghosts, this movie is a fun ride.

Plot – Chick Young (Abbott) and Wilbur Grey (Costello) work at a railway baggage office.  The beautiful Sandra Mornay (Lenore Aubert) appears as Wilbur’s girlfriend.  Larry Talbot (Cheney Jr/Wolf Man) calls from London telling Wilbur not to deliver 2 crates to a local house of horrors.  Before he’s able to explain, the moon in London rises and Talbot turns into the Wolf Man.  Wilbur doesn’t understand him and hangs up.  McDougal, the owner of the crates, shows up and wants delivery, but Wilbur’s errors cause him to want delivery to the store to inspect any damage.  That night, Wilbur & Chick deliver the crates and Wilbur discovers the monsters.  Dracula hypnotizes Wilbur and they escape.  McDougal accuses the boys of stealing them and has them thrown in jail.  A beautiful lady bails them out.  They think it’s Sandra, but it’s Joan Raymond (Jane Randolph) an insurance inspector looking for the “exhibits”.  She pretends to love Wilbur hoping he will lead her to them.  Meanwhile, Talbot arrives in America and asks Chick & Wilbur to help him find Dracula and destroy the monster, but the boys are suspicious of him.  That night, Wilbur, Chick, & Joan go to a castle to pick up Sandra and go to a masquerade ball.  Sandra is really an evil surgeon working with Dracula and wants Wilbur’s brain for the monster.  He was supposed to be alone.  She then discovers Joan’s identity and calls off the surgery. Dracula will not allow it and forces her to the party so that he can take care of Joan.  Going to the party, they meet Talbot and Talbot identifies Dracula.  Dracula mind controls Wilbur and the girls and takes them back to the castle.  Talbot turns into the Wolf Man nearly killing McDougal, but he accuses Chick and both are now running from the mob.  The next night, they get to the castle in the nick of time as they are starting to operate.  Being night again, Talbot turns into the Wolf Man.  Now, all the monsters are in full battle and an epic chase scene ensues.

Commentary – This movie is packed with action and comedy from beginning to end.  You will not get bored watching this movie.  The original classic monsters are fun to watch.  And, Costello’s is famous for his fright sequences, so pitting him against the greatest monsters in history is a no brainer.  This is the movie that actually got me to purchase an Abbott & Costello movie collection and discovered that they made many excellent films.  Give them a try and you are likely to become as big a fan as I am.  While the links go to just this movie, I highly recommend the Abbott & Costello movie collections…particularly volumes 1-3.

Trivia – The original name of the film was The Brain of Frankenstein, but was changed to indicate it was a comedy film.  Glenn Strange (the monster) found Costello so funny that he could not maintain his stoic expression and many retakes were necessary throughout the film.  They approached Boris Karloff, the original Frankenstein monster, to reprise his role, but he refused considering it an insult to horror films.  Therefore, Glenn Strange, who had played the monster in 2 earlier films, took the role.  Finally, this is the only movie that Bela Legosi reprised his role as Dracula.  It is ironic that this iconic character was only played twice by Legosi and his face is still the standard for what Dracula should be and how he should act.

** Just click the images to check out “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” at Amazon.com. **

Young Frankenstein

     Young Frankenstein – “LIFE, DO YOU HEAR ME?  GIVE MY CREATION…LIFE!!!!”  Young Frankenstein is a brilliant comedy from Mel Brooks and ranks near the top of any top comedy movie list.  Being near Halloween, this spoof of one the most famous movie monsters is the best for some spooky, light-hearted fun.  Mel Brooks is known for some silly humor, and there are some here, but they are better woven into the movie and fit better with the characters.  Rated 94% at Rotten Tomatoes and 4.5 stars at Amazon.com, this is a guaranteed hit.  Gene Wilder is excellent in the role of Dr Frankenstein’s (sorry, that’s Fronkensteen) brilliant decendant who takes up his grandfather’s work.  A young Teri Garr as Inga, the lab assistant, is wonderful eye candy and delivers some of the funniest lines.  And no one can forget Marty Feldman as Igor (eye-gore), the crazy-eyed servant.

Plot – The plot basics don’t do justice to the film’s comedy, but I’ll lay it out.  Frankensein (Wilder) is a respected lecturist at an American medical school when approached about his grandfather’s passing.  His students question him about his grandfather, but he tries to distance himself from it, even to the point of pronouncing his name as “Fronkensteen”.  He reluctantly travels to Transylvania where he meets Igor & Inga.  Strange noises are heard at the castle and he’s lured to the medical library and finds his grandfather’s notes.  Studying them, he realizes that “IT COULD WORK!!!”.  Similar to the real Frankenstein movie, he gathers parts and creates his monster.  Igor steals the wrong brain after breaking the good one.  The monster (Peter Boyle) is now alive and acting weird and violent, but Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman), the castle housekeeper, sets him free.  The monster is lost in the countryside and meets a blind man (Gene Hackman), who tries to befriend him to no success.  He meets a little girl and plays flowers and teeter totter with hilarious endings.  Frankenstein finally catches him and tries to teach him how to act.  He thinks he’s got it and even puts on a vaudeville show for the masses.  Unfortunately, due to a stage spark, the monster becomes enraged and the villagers capture him.  Due to teasing, the monster breaks his chains and escapes.  He comes across Frankenstein’s fiance (Madeline Kahn), who is visiting, and introduces her to “monster loving”.  The monster makes it back to the castle lured by the haunting violin playing.  The villagers are now after him.  Frankenstein attempts a fluid transfer to ease the monster’s brain, but the villagers break in too soon.  About to lynch Frankenstein, the monster awakes displaying new reasoning ability saving his creator.

Commentary – This is a brilliant comedy film filled with stars.  Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr, Peter Boyle, Gene Hackman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and others.  The comedy is in the classic Mel Brooks style, but this film might be his best.  In 2003, the film was inducted into the national film registry of the Library of Congress for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.  And, Wilder is at his best and no movie does his hair justice like this film.  There’s not enough room on this blog to go into everything in this film….The best way to describe it is simply….”GREAT”!!!

Trivia – Young Frankenstein was lucky to be able to utilize many of the same props and lab equipment from the original Frankenstein movie.  This adds to the continuity of the film to the original.  Many of the jokes were ad-libbed such as Marty Feldman moving his hump from one side to the other until someone noticed it…then it was added to the film.  Interestingly, the rock band Aerosmith saw Young Frankenstein in 1974.  It inspired Steven Tyler to pen one of the band’s greatest hits, “Walk This Way”, after one of the jokes in the film.

** Just click the images to check out “Young Frankenstein” at Amazon.com **

Halloween Specials for Kids

     Halloween – We’re a couple of weeks into October and I’ve been posting some of the great spooky or scary movies to enjoy.  Some are comedy with a spooky themes and others will scare you to death.  Halloween is a great holiday to carve pumpkins, watch spooky movies, and dress up your little goblins and take them trick or treating.  Unfortunately, the holiday is becoming tainted by those calling it a “celebration of evil” or those that try to use it as an excuse to do bad things.  I also find it sad that many children are denied from the holiday fun and taken to “Fall Festivals” instead of enjoying true Halloween traditions.  Yes, I do understand the history behind Halloween and the various traditions, but in American culture, it’s make believe fun and that’s all it is or ever has been.  I find it sad that such a great holiday is getting ruined by those who take it too seriously or act out trying to draw attention to themselves.  But, regardless of those people, the movies are there and this posting is to see some of the great Halloween specials for kids – – or adults who just don’t want to admit they truly enjoy them.

     It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown – “I got a rock”.  Charlie Brown is the coolest cartoon ever and the Great Pumpkin is the best Halloween special ever.  The Peanuts gang are involved in most Halloween activities and Linus waits in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin, whose description sounds very similar to Santa Claus.  While not scary, is great fun to watch the fun and remember the fun you had as a kid.  I admit it.  I watch this a couple of times each year and even my wife (who will deny it) also wants to see it each year as well.

     Garfield’s Halloween Adventure – “They know we are here.  They know who we are.”  Garfield, our fat cat friend from the 70’s & 80’s, sets out with Odie for a night of trick or treating, but finds himself in the mists of real 100 year old pirate ghosts.  It’s a good story and has a little bit more scare to it, but not much.  It’s a fun special for the kids to watch.  The dvd has the Thanksgiving (weak) & Christmas (good, but country themed) specials as well for a good value.

     The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad – “I’m telling you, brother, it’s a frightful sight for what goes on Halloween night.”  Disney’s version of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow or the Headless Horseman.  It’s an excellently done tale with romance, comedy, and scary scenes….even for kids.  This is probably the best, complete animated tale.  The dvd is great as you get the classic, animated Disney short “Lonesome Ghosts”, where Mickey, Donald, & Goofy play ghost busters.  Honestly, I skip Mr. Toad (which isn’t bad) and just watch the Halloween based stories.

Commentary – Above are 3 of the best Halloween tales for kids.  They’re fun, a bit spooky, and focus on the fun of Halloween.  Another excellent animated Halloween movie is “The Halloween Tree”, but unfortunately, it has not been released on dvd.  Regardless, Halloween is a fun holiday with spooks, goblins, and ghosts.  It’s fun to scare yourself a little and play little tricks on your friends.  My wife, who doesn’t care for Halloween that much, still loves the cute little kids dressed as pumpkins, lady bugs, or princesses.  Enjoy the holiday season for what it is and don’t let those who are trying to ruin Halloween succeed.

Trivia – Halloween was brought to America by immigrants from Europe who would sit around a bon fire in the harvest season, sing, dance, and tell ghost stories.  In America, Halloween is the 2nd most commercially successful holiday.  Snickers candy bars are the most popular Halloween treat.  The original jack-o-lanters were actually turnips and beets (to me, a better use than actually eating them..yuck).

** Just click the images to see the respective Halloween Specials at Amazon.com **

Halloween II (1981)

   Halloween II (1981) – “Why won’t he die?”  The second best Halloween movie of all-time is the sequel to Halloween in Halloween II.  Ok, maybe that’s a bit over the top.  Halloween II is not as good as the original, but sequels rarely are.  However, Holloween II takes the story from where the original left off and completes it with eerily creepy scenes and some that will make your skin crawl.  By bringing back the main characters and some new kids to kill, the story is completed.  The “scare factor” is a little less, but if you watch it directly after the original, you’ll enjoy it much more.  The movie doesn’t do well on its own.  It’s hard for the movie to stand alone when the opening sequence is the end of the original.  Rotten Tomatoes only has it at 29%, but the fans gave it a 67% and it is rated 4 stars at Amazon.com showing that critics can be too hard on a film that the regular viewer would enjoy.

Plot – At the end of the original, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is saved by Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance).  Michael Myers escapes though.  Laurie is sent to the hospital and Dr. Loomis gets with the police to continue their search.  At the hospital, the paramedic, Jimmy, tells Laurie that the escaped mental patient Michael Myers was after her.  Michael makes his way to the hospital cutting the phone lines and taking care of members of the staff.  Laurie, semi-concious from sedation, tries to elude Michael through the hospital.  After a tense chase, Laurie gets out and hides in a car.  In the meantime, Dr. Loomis is found by his nurse assistant and US Marshall and is ordered back.  She reveals to him a missing file revealing Michael’s intention for Laurie (I’ll not spoil it).  He pulls his gun and forces the Marshall to go to the hospital.  After arriving, no one can be found.  Laurie gets out and tries to get to the door, but Michael now has found her.  They let Laurie in and Loomis shoots Michael.  Believing he’s dead, the Marshall gets close and Michael does what Michael does best.  Now, he’s after Laurie and Loomis until he corners them in a surgical room….You’ll have to see the spectacular ending.

Commentary –  For a sequel, this one is excellent continuing the original’s storyline.  It is not a perfect movie and has more gore, cursing, and nudity, but it completes the story in dramatic fashion.  Jamie Lee Curtis really excelled in her acting from half-concious to terror to bravery.  And, having survived the attacks of the original, you expect her to react as she did.  Also, having the actors from the original Halloween, including the Sherriff and murdered daughter Annie, added to the continuity of the film keeping you in the original’s theme.  One important note….NEVER, EVER watch Halloween III which may be the worst movie in history.

Trivia – Dana Carvey, of Saturday Night Live fame, made his movie debut in this film as an assistant to the blond reporter.  Originally, the sequel was to be that Michael followed Laurie to a high rise apartment building years later, but it was switched to the hospital right after the original events….honestly, that would have been disasterous.  Finally, to get the role of Michael, Dick Warlock put on Michael’s mask and walked into the director’s office and stared at him.  The director asked him who he was and what he wanted, but Dick refused to respond.  Then he took off the mask and asked if he could play the role.  Creativity sometimes works.

**  Just click the images to see “Halloween II” at Amazon.com **

Halloween (1978)

     Halloween (1978) – “You must be ready for him….If you don’t, it’s your funeral.”  We’re finally in October and I continue the spooky film list with my all-time favorite Halloween horror film – the 1978 horror classic, Halloween.  I’m not sensitive to movies and this is the only horror film that ever gave me a nightmare.  I watch this film twice a year, if not 3 times, during the Halloween season.  This film is truly scary because at times you see through the killer.  My wife hates this film because the killer is actually somewhat real or plausible.  While the film isn’t very bloody or gorey, this film is the grandfather of the horror/slasher films so popular in the 1980’s such as the numerous Halloween sequels,  Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th movies.  Rated 4.5 stars at Amazon.com and given a 93% at Rotten Tomatoes, this is truly a horror classic for the ages.  In 2006, this film was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress National Film Registry.

Plot – In 1963, young Michael Myers murders his 15 year old sister in Haddonfield, IL and is sent to the state sanitarium under the care of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance).  In Oct 30, 1978, Dr. Loomis is on his way to the sanitarium to take Michael to a hearing when Michael escapes and steals a car.  Knowing Michael as he does, Dr. Loomis knows he is headed home…Haddonfield.  The next day, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) meets up with Tommy Doyle, a kid she is to babysit later, and then her friends, Annie and Lynda.  Throughout the day, she keeps briefly noticing Michael giving her the creeps, but dismisses it.  Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis meets up with Annie’s father, the town sheriff, to search for Michael.  That night, Laurie arrives at Tommy’s house.  Annie’s babysitting Lindsey across the street.  Annie dumps Lindsey onto Laurie so that she can be alone with her boyfriend Paul, but she meets Michael Myers first instead.  Lynda and her boyfriend arrive at Lindsey’s house thinking they are alone, but Michael spoils their lusty fun as well.  Laurie suspects something strange and investigates.  Bad idea….Michael is now after her.  Laurie escapes and rushes back to Tommy’s house.  As she fights off Michael’s attacks, she sends the kids for help catching the eye of Dr. Loomis.  Michael attacks again, but Laurie is saved by Dr. Loomis.  But, when he looks for Michael…..He’s not there…..

Commentary – This is one outstanding horror film.  To me, it’s the best ever.  When it is dark outside, turn off the lights, and watch this movie.  I guaranty that you will check your doors twice to make sure they locked tight before going to bed.  The film was very low budget, but masterfully utilized techniques such as first person filming through the eyes of the killer, sound effects such as the breathing, and the music.  No horror film makes better use of music to create a scary and tense mood than Halloween.  Having seen it many times, I still get goose bumps when the Halloween music plays.  It is simply the best horror film to watch during the Halloween season.

Trivia – One bit of trivia that is not much of a secret any longer is that Michael Myers’s mask is that of William Shatner, of Star Trek fame.  With the budget so tight, they got a cheap Shatner mask, spray painted it white, and teased the hair.  It is now an iconic horror mask.  Shatner even stated that he had no idea the mask was of him, but was honored that it was his.  Due to the low budget, several actors refused roles due to the low pay.  While made for only $325,000, the movie has grossed more than $47 million making it the most profitable independent film of all-time.  One of those actors, Christopher Lee, has said that turning down the role was his biggest career mistakes.  Finally, the film was actually made in the Spring.  The crew had quite a time getting pumpkins.  And, due to the low budget, they had to get paper leaves from a decorator and paint them Autumn colors.  After the scene was shot, they gathered them up to use again later.  They stretched that budget as far as possible to create the best horror film.

** Just click the images to check out “Halloween” at Amazon.com **