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LawrenceA

Recently Watched Horror

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Svengali (1931) - Supernatural thriller from Warner Brothers and director Archie Mayo, based on the novel Trilby by George L. Du Maurier. John Barrymore stars as Svengali, a composer and music impresario who teaches singing in hopes of finding the right talent to mold into stardom. He discovers it in pretty young woman Trilby (Marian Marsh), and sets out to harness her abilities, which also requires him to exert his supernatural ability to hypnotize and dominate the thoughts of others. This understandably upsets Trilby's suitor Billee (Bramwell Fletcher). Also featuring Donald Crisp, Carmel Myers, Luis Alberni, Lumsden Hare, Ferike Boros, and Paul Porcasi.

 

Barrymore, with a long pointed beard and heavy makeup, gets to glare about and look intimidating. The scenes showing his hypnosis, during which Barrymore wears white contact lenses, are effective, as is a scene with the camera swooping over highly-stylized rooftops to show his hypnotic pull over great distances. Marsh is pretty but unpolished, acting wise, but as she was just 17 at the time, it's understandable. There's a scene of her nude modeling for an art class that could only have been Pre-Code. While this film is generally categorized as horror, I wouldn't go in expecting much of the typical horror film elements. This earned two Oscar nominations, for Best Art Direction (Anton Grot) and Best Cinematography (Barney McGill).    7/10

 

Source: TCM.

 

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Svengali (1931) - Supernatural thriller from Warner Brothers and director Archie Mayo, based on the novel Trilby by George L. Du Maurier. John Barrymore stars as Svengali, a composer and music impresario who teaches singing in hopes of finding the right talent to mold into stardom. He discovers it in pretty young woman Trilby (Marian Marsh), and sets out to harness her abilities, which also requires him to exert his supernatural ability to hypnotize and dominate the thoughts of others. This understandably upsets Trilby's suitor Billee (Bramwell Fletcher). Also featuring Donald Crisp, Carmel Myers, Luis Alberni, Lumsden Hare, Ferike Boros, and Paul Porcasi.

I like Svengali -- it reeks of antiquity, which is one of my favorite features of a movie. And I love the ending: the Jewish Svengali (so offensively depicted by du Maurier in the novel) gets the girl, in death. Great cast -- always love Paul Porcasi, often as an impresario. And I love the use of "Ben Bolt," a haunting song from the 19th century.

 

I'm not much of a book collector, but I have a first edition of George du Maurier's Trilby (1894), on which the film is based. The book of course is much more complex than the film. There's a lot more of Little Billee and Taffy. In fact, Little Billee dies. 

 

"...so dwelt the Laird upon the poor old tune " Ben Bolt,"

which kept singing itself over and over again in his

tired consciousness, and maddened him with novel,

strange, unhackneyed, unsuspected beauties such as he

had never dreamed of in any earthly music." 

 

Here's a version of "Ben Bolt," which is featured in the book and film:

 

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Despite hearing of it, and seeing variations of the story and the theme of a controlling figure over a younger artist, this was the first time that I've actually seen an adaptation of the original Svengali tale. I thought Barrymore's makeup had a bit of a Jewish caricature about it, but I wasn't sure if that was intended. It doesn't surprise me, as so many villainous and unscrupulous types were depicted that way at the time. I also wasn't aware that Trilby's author was Daphne Du Maurier's grandfather. 

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White Zombie (1932) - Prototypical voodoo zombie film from United Artists and director Victor Halperin. Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) arrives on a Caribbean island, there to be married to local bank clerk Neil Parker (John Harron). However, Madeline comes to the attention of two bad men: sugar plantation owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), and sugar mill operator and voodoo master Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi). Beaumont convinces Legendre to use his hypnotic voodoo skills to render Madeline a zombie, sapped of her own will and bound to Beaumont's. Legendre has an entire workforce of "living dead" zombies, and he agrees to Beaumont's terms. Also featuring Joseph Cawthorn, Brandon Hurst, George Burr Macannan, and Clarence Muse.

 

This low-budget independent production manages to create a sufficiently creepy atmosphere. The sets, many borrowed from earlier Universal films, are very good, and there is a lot of good camerawork. The makeup by Jack Pierce is also excellent, both for the zombies as well as Lugosi's Legendre, with thick curling eyebrows and satanic beard. The role of Legendre is one of the very best for Lugosi outside of Dracula, and he seems to have fun with it. Co-stars Harron and Frazer are pretty terrible, though. This was a rewatch for me.   7/10

 

Source: Kino Blu Ray, featuring both a well-done restored version as well as a "raw" version that leaves all of the visual and audio damage in place, for those who feel that the low-quality of most previously available editions added to the film's appeal. There's also a short vintage interview with Lugosi made during the period when he was filming White Zombie.

 

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White Zombie (1932) - Prototypical voodoo zombie film from United Artists and director Victor Halperin. Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) arrives on a Caribbean island, there to be married to local bank clerk Neil Parker (John Harron). However, Madeline comes to the attention of two bad men: sugar plantation owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), and sugar mill operator and voodoo master Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi). Beaumont convinces Legendre to use his hypnotic voodoo skills to render Madeline a zombie, sapped of her own will and bound to Beaumont's. Legendre has an entire workforce of "living dead" zombies, and he agrees to Beaumont's terms. Also featuring Joseph Cawthorn, Brandon Hurst, George Burr Macannan, and Clarence Muse.

 

W.B. Seabrook's book, The Magic Island (1929) is a sensationalist (but fascinating) account of Voodoo and zombies in Haiti. It is the work that basically introduced zombies to America and inspired White Zombie and zombie movies that followedA more scholarly book is Voodoo in Haiti (1959), by anthropologist Alfred Metraux.

 

Here's an image from Seabrook's book:

 

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The Bye Bye Man (2017) - Routine horror thriller from STX Entertainment and director Stacy Title, based on the novel The Bridge to Body Island by Robert Damon Schneck. College student Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas), and his best friend since childhood John (Lucien Laviscount) rent a large, dilapidated house. Elliot discovers an end-table with some writing inside: "The Bye Bye Man". When he mentions this name aloud during a seance conducted by psychic friend Kim (Jenna Kanell), he unknowingly curses all four of them to death at the hands of The Bye Bye Man, a sort of ill-defined supernatural boogie man that causes anyone that hears his name to suffer gruesome hallucinations. Now Elliot and his friends must fight to survive until they can find a way to stop this unholy menace. Also featuring Carrie-Anne Moss, Michael Trucco, Erica Tremblay, Marisa Echevveria, Cleo King, Leigh Whannell, Doug Jones as the Bye Bye Man, and Faye Dunaway.

 

One would be forgiven for assuming that this was another Blumhouse production, what with the presence of Whannell and the film's attempt to create a new distinct-look bad guy, as in InsidiousSinisterThe Conjuring or any of their sequels. However, I guess we've reached the point where that company's product is being copied, which is strange since all of their films seem like rehashes anyway. The opening segment is eerie, and there are some creepy moments early on, but this runs out of steam really quickly and becomes a bore despite the increasing violence. By the time Moss shows up as a perplexed cop, or Dunaway in a pointless exposition cameo, I was long past caring about anything in the movie.   4/10

 

Source: Universal DVD.

 

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In his introduction to Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Ben Mankiewicz said aficionados rate this movie as the second best in the Hammer canon featuring Christopher Lee, after the first, The Horror of Dracula from 1958.  I won’t go so far as to rate them, suffice to say that Taste the Blood of Dracula is very good, with clever camera movements, particularly the snake charmer’s mesmerizing dance in the brothel.  Indeed, the brothel sequence was quite stylish, while also offering sly commentary on the hypocrisy of Victorian morality.  And of course, there’s Christopher Lee as Dracula, who pops up sparingly, but in this case less is more. Filmed from a distance, with his imposing height, and that enveloping cape, Lee still looks menacing.  The supporting role that stood out for me was Ralph Bates as the libertine occultist who sets the plot in motion.  Bates’s performance veered into ham acting, but in a good way.  I also found him, ironically, the most sympathetic character.

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The Ghoul (1933) - British horror thriller that combines elements of earlier Karloff films like The Mummy and The Old Dark House, while essentially ignoring the source novel and play, from Gaumont and director T. Hayes Hunter. Karloff stars as Professor Morlant, a rich eccentric with a penchant for the occult and Egyptology. Dying of some unnamed disease, Morlant has ordered a special Egyptian-style tomb to be built on his property grounds. He believes that if he offers a fabulous jewel to the god Anubis, he will be granted life after death. However, when he dies and is buried according to his wishes, his family and associates gather at his estate for the reading of the will, which turns into a hunt for the jewel. Those in attendance include Anthony Bushell and Dorothy Hyson as the youngest surviving family members, weird manservant Ernest Thesiger, crooked lawyer Cedric Hardwicke, and new neighborhood vicar Ralph Richardson. Also featuring Kathleen Harrison, Harold Huth, and D.A. Clarke-Smith as Mahmoud.

There's too much talking here, and Bushell and Hyson make for unlikable leads. Thesiger is always a treat, and Hardwicke and Richardson are welcome additions to most movies. There are some very good, atmospheric shots scattered about, and one scene seems to have inspired that iconic shot from The Exorcist of the figure standing under a streetlight on a foggy night. Karloff's make-up is odd but effective. This was a re-watch for me, and I liked it a bit more this time, although I still wouldn't quite rank among Karloff's best. It certainly isn't his worst!  (6/10)

Source: MGM DVD.

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Amityville: The Awakening (2017) - Atrocious pseudo-sequel to the long-running series of horror films, based on a phony "true story" best seller, from Dimension Films, Blumhouse, and writer-director Franck Khalfoun. Teenager Belle (Bella Thorne) is a mopey goth chick whose twin brother James (Cameron Monaghan) has been in a vegetative coma for the past two years, kept alive by a ventilator and other devices. Their mother Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh) moves them, along with lil sis Juliet (Mckenna Grace), to the infamous house in Amityville, New York. When James begins to inexplicably show signs of mental and physical activity, Joan thinks it's a miracle, but Belle begins to consider whether the house's sinister history may be the cause. Also featuring Jennifer Morrison, Thomas Mann, Taylor Spreitler, and Kurtwood Smith.

Shot in 2014 and held up in distribution hell for the next few years, this finally debuted in a handful of theaters this year to a dismal response. The filmmakers' decided to try and take a meta approach to the material, having the story set in the "real world" where the Amityville events are common knowledge and the movies are watched by the townsfolk. This doesn't really add anything to the story, in fact it just makes things even dumber in the end. The cast, led by the famous-to-teens Thorne, and including many TV performers who have done quality work in the past (Monaghan, Morrison, Smith), are blandly unexceptional. Leigh, the biggest movie star of the bunch, is downright awful, but the script and poor direction are most likely the culprits. This is the 18th (!!!) Amityville movie.   (3/10)

Source: Lionsgate DVD.

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Let Us Prey (2014) - Flawed but entertaining British metaphysical horror from director Brian O'Malley. It's Rachel's (Pollyanna McIntosh) first night as a policewoman in a new town, and when a mysterious stranger (Liam Cunnigham) is brought into the police station, all Hell breaks loose, and the sins of the prisoners and the police officers come back to haunt them. Also featuring Douglas Russell, Bryan Larkin, Hanna Stanbridge, Niall Greig Fulton, Jonathan Watson, Brian Vernel, and Sophie Stephanie Farmer.

There's a lot of style on display, from the music to the moody widescreen cinematography. The performances from the leads, both of whom are currently featured on cable TV's biggest hits (Cunningham on Game of Thrones and McIntosh on The Walking Dead), are very good, and raise the material up a few points. The violence depicted is very graphic, almost to a comical degree at times, and the script could have used a little more polishing, as the mid-section, with frequent time-jumps and location changes, is disorienting. Still, this was better than many of the horror films of recent years, and I enjoyed the ending. Filmed in Scotland and Ireland.  (7/10)

Source: Dark Sky Blu-Ray.

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On 11/14/2017 at 6:15 PM, LawrenceA said:

Amityville: The Awakening (2017) - Atrocious pseudo-sequel to the long-running series of horror films, based on a phony "true story" best seller, from Dimension Films, Blumhouse, and writer-director Franck Khalfoun. Teenager Belle (Bella Thorne) is a mopey goth chick whose twin brother James (Cameron Monaghan) has been in a vegetative coma for the past two years, kept alive by a ventilator and other devices. Their mother Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh) moves them, along with lil sis Juliet (Mckenna Grace), to the infamous house in Amityville, New York. When James begins to inexplicably show signs of mental and physical activity, Joan thinks it's a miracle, but Belle begins to consider whether the house's sinister history may be the cause. Also featuring Jennifer Morrison, Thomas Mann, Taylor Spreitler, and Kurtwood Smith.

Shot in 2014 and held up in distribution hell for the next few years, this finally debuted in a handful of theaters this year to a dismal response. The filmmakers' decided to try and take a meta approach to the material, having the story set in the "real world" where the Amityville events are common knowledge and the movies are watched by the townsfolk. This doesn't really add anything to the story, in fact it just makes things even dumber in the end. The cast, led by the famous-to-teens Thorne, and including many TV performers who have done quality work in the past (Monaghan, Morrison, Smith), are blandly unexceptional. Leigh, the biggest movie star of the bunch, is downright awful, but the script and poor direction are most likely the culprits. This is the 18th (!!!) Amityville movie.   (3/10)

Source: Lionsgate DVD.

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I know characters in horror films have to do stupid things or the movie would be over in ten minutes but who in their right mind would move into that house?

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1 hour ago, jaragon said:

I know characters in horror films have to do stupid things or the movie would be over in ten minutes but who in their right mind would move into that house?

That's addressed in the movie, and there are actual plot reasons behind them moving there, but they are stupid reasons.

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