Horrorella’s 31 Days of Halloween: Drácula

Happy Halloween! Our countdown culminates in the scariest, most celebrated night of the year. For today’s entry, I chose a different rendition of a Halloween classic.

Nothing quite fits the Halloween spirit like Dracula. Even if you don’t watch the Universal classic on the regular, the season itself always inspires images of Bela Lugosi as the quintessential caped vampire, walking slowly around his cobwebby castle, waiting for the perfect opportunity to drink your blood. The imagery from this film and the presence that Lugosi projected in the role that he made famous are iconic, and have been burned into the minds of generations, always to be called up during the scariest month of the year.

What you may not  have been aware of is the fact that Lugosi was not the only actor to play Dracula in 1931. Tod Browning’s film has become one of the ubiquitous tellings of Bram Stoker’s story, but it was not the only version that Universal put out that year. They simultaneously shot a Spanish version on set as well, with the American actors filming in the day, and the Spanish cast and crew filming in the evenings (directed by George Melford). They shot on the same sets and tell the same story, but shot a bit differently, giving this version its own unique feel. I had never seen it before, so I decided it was time to give it a watch.

Drácula runs a bit longer than Browning’s film, which really allows it to take its time – particularly during the second half. I feel like the film had more of an opportunity to build toward the finale. I really enjoyed Lupita Tovar’s performance as Eva (Mina). She really made the character come alive and gave her more depth than I was used to seeing. And Carlos Villarías’ portrayal of Dracula himself was fantastic. He channels the same energy as Lugosi (I understand he studied the actor’s dailies in an attempt to create a similar interpretation of the character), but Villarías feels a bit more dangerous in the role. Where Lugosi is threatening in a very controlled way, Villarías feels a tad more unhinged, with wide eyes and facial expressions that make him look as though he might lunge for your neck at any moment.

I’ve seen Browning’s film multiple times (and love it – that part hasn’t changed), but I am not familiar enough with it to have been able to instantly recognize where a lot of the changes come in, or what specifically works better in one film or the other. Some day, I would really love to sit down and do a double feature of both so that some of these details are more apparent.

Any version of Dracula is a good film to celebrate Halloween with, but if you haven’t seen this one before, you should definitely check it out. It’s a different take on the story that shares many similarities with the Universal classic, yet varies in some very unique ways. It’s a film that was rediscovered in the ‘70’s and has grown to be greatly appreciated among film fans – many even consider it to be superior to Browning’s film.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Horrorella’s 31 Days of Halloween: Birth of the Living Dead

I have a particular soft spot for film docs. It’s fascinating to delve into a documentary based on a movie that I love and devour every aspect of it. Interviews with the cast and crew, retrospectives, examinations of the film and the impact that it made…it’s like crack for me.

So when I heard about Birth of the Living Dead, I couldn’t wait to sit down and watch it.  This new documentary from director Rob Kuhns is a fascinating look at the history and legacy of George Romero’s groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead.

This film isn’t heavy on the behind-the-scenes stuff, so be prepared for that going in. There is a lot of interview footage with Romero himself, but that’s about it in terms of the original cast and crew. This isn’t as much a retrospective on the production of the film (though, some of those stories do make it in there) as it is an examination of the film’s cultural impact and legacy. Which is fascinating. How the film fit into the American political climate of the late ‘60’s  – particularly in terms of the racial culture at the time and changes that were coming about as a result of the Civil Rights Movement, how it played against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, how it was received as a low-budget horror film.

Particularly interesting was the time spent discussing the racial implications of the film, and how the film itself was affected by the racially-charged climate at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Romero and company hired African-American actor Duane Jones for the lead role of Ben, which impacted both how the film was received (in 1968, having a black man in the lead role of a film wasn’t terribly common), as well as how the story played. Given the racial tension that existed in the country at that time, certain traits and actions of the character stood the risk of taking on a different meaning or being read differently by audiences with a black man in the role.

This element of the film (along with many others), led Night of the Living Dead to be far ahead of its time, and to be a very impactful film. It broke ground in ways that Hollywood productions hadn’t yet, placing it far ahead of its contemporaries in many respects. The interviews include Romero, Gale Anne Hurd, filmmaker Larry Fessenden as well as film and history scholars, and they all lend interesting viewpoints to the topics at hand.

I always love hearing behind-the-scenes stories on film that I love, but I also love delving into them in an academic light and examining just how they worked and played against the time period that they came from. Birth of the Living Dead offers just such an opportunity. Night of the Living Dead came about at a particularly restless and volatile period of American history, making its own history and development all the more rich.

If you are a fan of Night of the Living Dead (and you probably are), or an all-around film buff with an interesting in film history, I highly recommend this one. It’s a fascinating examination of both the film and the time period.

Birth of the Living Dead is now playing in theaters and on VOD.

Horrorella’s 31 Days of Halloween: An American Werewolf in London

It’s impossible to go through the Halloween season without knocking back at least one werewolf flick. Werewolves are just as tied to the holiday as vampires, witches and candy. Last night, I was fortunate enough to catch a screening of the John Landis classic, An American Werewolf in London at Seattle Cinerama. This is hand-down my favorite werewolf film, and the opportunity to catch it on the big screen was too much to pass up.

Written and directed by Landis (who, at the time, was known only for comedies) An American Werewolf in London is the story of two friends, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), backpacking through Europe. They are attacked one night on the moors of England by a large and fierce animal. Jack is killed, and David is sent to a London hospital, where he spends the next three weeks in a coma. When he awakens, he begins seeing visions of the corpsified ghost of Jack, who tells him that the creature that attached them was a werewolf, and that David, who was bitten during the attack, will turn during the next full moon, in just a few days’ time. Jack’s soul is doomed to roam the Earth in a state of limbo until the werewolf’s bloodline is severed and he can finally be put to rest. He urges David to end his own life, rather than subject Jack (and the others that David may kill as a wolf) to an eternity of undead purgatory.

An American Werewolf in London is iconic thanks, in large part, to the absolutely stellar makeup and effects work from artist Rick Baker. This is one of the few films that really nails the transformation (and does it the best, in my opinion). It works so well. You immediately recognize just how difficult the change is. Being a werewolf is no pleasant experience – it fucking HURTS. Your frame elongates and stretches into an entirely different form. Your bones snap and break and reposition. This is more than just sprouting hair and fangs. It’s a change in to a completely different creature. I’ve seen this film many many times, and it’s still impossible for me to go through the transformation scene without cringing. It works so perfectly. And Landis is in no hurry to get it over with quickly. He makes the audience savor every excruciating moment of the transformation, from man, to wolf, to everything in between.

It’s a pretty simple film, but that’s where its genius lies. No plot twists, no complicated mythology. Just a straightforward story about a guy on the verge of becoming a werewolf and trying to come to terms with that reality and the attached consequences. And a girl. There’s a girl too (there’s always a girl). And I love it for that simplicity. It doesn’t get bogged down with bullshit. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s filled with likeable characters and it’s really freaking entertaining. And incredible practical effects.

An American Werewolf in London is one of my favorite films, as well as one of the great horror classics. If you haven’t seen it, you absolutely MUST check it out. This is a film I find myself being drawn to several times a year (usually on a full moon).

And for another werewolf classic to add to your Halloween viewing, head over to The Monster Popcorn to learn more about Joe Dante’s The Howling.

Horrorella’s 31 Days of Halloween: Favorite Unnecessarily-Sexy-Halloween Costumes

It’s time for another round of Horrorella’s Favorite Unnecessarily-Sexy-Halloween-Costumes!

Even into adulthood, we love the opportunity to dress in costumes and spend just one night of the year pretending to be something or someone else. We spend the entire year being normal (well, for the most part), but on this one night, all bets are off. Halloween provides the perfect (not to mention safe and sanctioned) opportunity to let you inner-demon out. And sometimes, that inner demon is a succubus.

But sometimes the makers of the sexy costumes let their creativity get a little ahead of their brains, and turn out costumes that probably didn’t need to be sexified to begin with.

So here are my top 10 Needlessly Sexy Costumes (in no particular order)

Sexy Chucky
Yes, Chucky may be kind of cute when he’s in Good Guy mode (at least that’s what the characters in the movies seem to think. I’ve always found him to creepy no matter what state he’s in). But the fact that the heels make it impossible for him to get any good killing done just renders this costume impractical, in addition to ridiculous.

Sexy Cabbie
Cabbies aren’t traditionally sexy. In fact, historically, they’re kind of gross. There is the exception to every rule, certainly, so if you’re a cabbie, don’t take offense, but you spend all day sitting in your car and you probably don’t always smell so great.

Sexy Crayon
If there is anything my childhood was missing, it was blonde hair and long legs on my crayons.

Sexy Garden Gnome 
What? Really? These things are creepy enough when they are dotting your grandmother’s lawn. But the idea that the might come to life and seduce you is just terrifying. In fact, if any directors want to work with me to turn that one into a screenplay, I would be happy to sell you the idea.

Sexy Gene Simmons
Okay, I know that Gene Simmons is his own brand of sexy – he would kind of have to be in order to have bung the 2.5 million women that he has gotten busy with over the years. But this is just kind of ridiculous.

Sexy Twix Bar 
Like last year’s Sexy Blowpop, this is just stupid. also lazy, considering it’s just a dress with the Twix logo printed on it.

Sexy Luigi 
Again, not to slam anyone’s profession, but plumbers are not generally known for sex appeal. If the costume included fireballs, that might be something different, but since it doesn’t, it’s just needlessly sexifying something from my childhood.

Sexy Pumpkin
Pumpkins aren’t sexy. They’re vegetables. Vegetables that we carve cute/funny/scary faces into once a year to scare away evil spirits.

Sexy Raccoon
Sexy cat, I get. You get to dress up in a short skirt or a skin-tight outfit and strut your stuff in the most alluring manner possible. But a raccoon? At least with a cat you’re emulating a particular mannerism. Raccoons are bumbly creatures that dig through the garbage.

Sexy ?????
I don’t know that this should necessarily not be sexy, I just don’t know what the fuck it is…

Horrorella’s 31 Days of Halloween: This is Halloween

It’s impossible to go into Halloween without at least touching on The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s a film that plays perfectly to both holidays (which means double the excuses to watch it throughout the year). Tim Burton’s artistic style is childhood Halloween incarnate, and that is perfectly represented in the opening segment, “This is Halloween.”

I am the who when you call who’s there…

Horrorella’s 31 Days of Halloween: House on Haunted Hill

This piece is written as part of The Nitrate Diva’s Halloween Vincent Price Blogathon. A group of writers getting together to each contribute a piece on a given subject – in this case, and in the spirit of Halloween – the great Vincent Price.

For my contribution, I chose House on Haunted Hill. It was the very first Vincent Price film that I ever watched, and even though it was old and in black and white and I was an uncultured tween with little appreciation for anything, it still creeped me out. It’s been years since I had seen it, so I figured this was the perfect opportunity to revisit it.

Directed by schlock-master William Castle, and written by Robb White, House on Haunted Hill is the story of a group of people invited to spend the night in a reputedly haunted mansion. The film begins with an introduction delivered by Price himself, explaining the genesis of the evening that lies ahead. He explains that his wife, Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), thought up the idea of a “haunted house party,” and that a small group of guests have been invited to join them for the evening. He proceeds to introduce each of the guests as they ride up the road (in funeral cars). At the end, he informs the audience that each of the guests will receive $10,000 if they can last the night in the House on Haunted Hill.

This entire scene is dripping with showmanship. Price delivers the lines with all of the fervor and the desire to scare of a haunted house carnival barker, but with the professionalism and control of a well-trained actor. It sets the tone nicely for the film that follows, encouraging the audience to settle in for the creepy events at hand, yet, at the same time, sort of reassuring them that it is all in good fun.

Throughout the first act of the film, Price keeps it up. Every line he delivers is accompanied by the tiniest of smirks – as though he has a private joke that he refuses to share with the group, but he wants the audience to be in on. This smugness transitions ever so slightly as the film progresses and things start to look a bit more sinister. When people start dying and it looks as though Loren might be behind it all, the smirky, good-natured delivery quietly transitions to something darker and more menacing. It’s really quite a nuanced performance, given the fun, schlocky nature of the film.

The thing that I have always loved about Vincent Price is the presence that he brings to his roles. Menacing when the situation calls for it, but always in an elegant, controlled way. And it is used quite well here. Even though they only worked together twice (on this, and again on The Tingler), William Castle and Vincent Price were a match made in horror movie heaven. Price lent such a perfect tone to the character and to Castle’s film, selling it almost as well as the various gags and scare tactics that Castle concocted to accompany his movies.

House on Haunted Hill is one of the great William Castle projects. Part filmmaker, part P.T. Barnum, Castle sought to make his films an experience – one that made the audience a part of the movie itself. These tactics went from wiring vibrating buzzers under theater seats to shock audience members (The Tingler), to stationing nurses in the lobby (Macabre), among other things. In House on Haunted Hill, he displayed his new technology, “Emergo.” In a scene near the end of the film, a skeleton is seen onscreen. Castle rigged the theaters with a wire-controlled “floating” skeleton that would emerge from a box next to the screen and hover around the theater. The gags on display were almost more memorable than the films themselves, and Castle knew how to thrill. And, of course, sell.

This film surprisingly still works. For the most part, it feels like a fun, light horror flick. It never gets particularly terrifying, and while the effects are pretty simple, in a couple of scenes, they are still pretty damn effective.This is a fun, light horror film – perfect for a stormy evening and a bowl of popcorn. And if you’re looking for other Vincent Price classics to help you celebrate your Halloween, be sure to check out the Vincent Price Blogathon over at The Nitrate Diva for tons of great reviews and suggestions over the next couple of days.

Horrorella’s 31 Days of Halloween: Prom Night

Prom Night came up on my viewing list thanks to The Monster Popcorn’s 31 Days of 80’s Horror series, which reminded me that it has been a long-ass time since I have seen the 1980 slasher, so I picked it up. I didn’t remember much about it, other than the opening sequence and the fact that it features Leslie Nielsen as the father of Jamie Lee Curtis (marking the first time that I understood that the guy from the Naked Gun movies had once done serious roles too).

Prom Night is just one in a barrage of slasher films that hit theaters in the 1980’s capitalizing on the success of Halloween. It is also one of the horror films that cast Jamie Lee Curtis in the lead, helping to solidify her title of “Scream Queen.” And while it doesn’t really have the charisma of Halloween or Friday the 13th, it is an interesting and worthy entry into the genre.

The film opens with a scene set six years prior to the events of the movie itself, wherein a group of kids are playing hide-and-seek  in an abandoned building. The group gangs up on one of the younger members, who falls out a window to her death. Six years later, on prom night, the group prepares for the most magical night of their lives. Someone else has other plans though, as the teenagers are gruesomely picked off, one by one.

Prom Night represents a part of the slasher phase that focused on having a masked killer, but didn’t turn him into a boogeyman. Some of these stories had a Michael or a Jason that would come to define the genre as being about an abstractly supernatural killer who would spend the film’s runtime dispatching a group of teenagers, and being defeated in the end, only to mysteriously turn up again in the next film.

Movies like Prom Night went a different route, giving you a fairly generic killer, but wrapping the story in a mystery. Prom Night is just as much who-done-it as it is a slasher film, because the killer’s identity and motivation remain somewhat ambiguous throughout the film. Is it the sex offender who was originally accused of killing the little girl and who is now back in the area? Could be. Is it the creepy and sort of pervy school janitor? Could be. The film gives you tons of possibilities, and they all seem pretty equally likely. Writer William Gray and director Paul Lynch are just as concerned with keeping the killer a mystery and keeping the audience guessing as they are in the body count.

Overall, it’s a fun slasher that just doesn’t pack the punch of some of the classics. The story isn’t bad and I enjoyed the way it dangled the various killer possibilities in front of me – it kept things interesting. The characters aren’t terribly well-written, but enough is going on around them that the proceedings never get dull. Additionally, there is disco dancing. TONS of disco dancing. And in 1980, when disco had officially been pronounced dead.

Prom Night is a fun slasher and a good addition to your Halloween viewing. If you haven’t seen this one yet, I recommend you check it out.

Horrorella’s 31 Days of Halloween: Living Dead Girl

Musician and filmmaker Rob Zombie has been a fan of horror since about the day he was born (obviously). Before becoming an established horror director, his influences were well-documented and utilized in his work with White Zombie and as a solo artist.

Like in the video for “Living Dead Girl”. Here, we see Zombie channeling his inner German expressionist, as the video is an homage to Robert Wiene’s 1920 horror classic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Enjoy!

Horrorella’s 31 Days of Halloween: The Awakening

While ghost stories are appropriate at any point during the year, I especially enjoy them during the Halloween season. Tales of spirits and specters seem right at home in the weeks leading up to the one night of the year when the dead return to walk among us.

So I decided sit down with The Awakening. In this film, Rebecca Hall plays Florence Cathcart, a woman who spends her time debunking spiritualist claims and ghost stories in post World War I England. She visits a remote boarding school at the request of one of the faculty members to disprove reported sightings of the ghost of a dead boy on the premises. The scientific truths and logic that she clings to prove to be of little use when she begins to realize that sometimes, the unexplained is actually possible, and not everything is governed by logic and reason.
This is an interesting story, first part mystery, and then part ghost story, as Florence tries to unravel the truth behind the ghostly sightings at the school. At first, the haunting seems pretty cut and dry, with reason once again winning out over superstition. But as the story goes on, it becomes clear that the situation at the school isn’t at all what Florence had initially assessed.

One particular element that makes the story so interesting is that it takes place in 1921 and is led by a logical, well-educated woman (a fact that the film unfortunately goes to length to point out several different times). A woman who plays something of a Sherlock Holmes character in the way she goes about investigating these claims. She has her kit of scientific instruments, measuring devices, chemistry and a ton of knowledge which she uses to sniff out real-world explanations for strange phenomena, which, more often than not, prove to be hoaxes, rather than simple, unrelated occurrences, or even (gasp!) ghosts. It quickly becomes clear that Florence has her own reasons for bringing the world of the paranormal into the light of the modern world, and that even she is driven by demons.

This is a very European ghost story, with the scares playing second string to building the atmosphere that surrounds the story. It steeps you in the setting and in the ambiance of the ghost story, only ever letting the element of surprise (jump scares) come into play rarely. Mostly, it delivers an unsettling tale that is more parts mystery than it is terror.

The setting of the school is a genuinely creepy one, taking place in a large old stone house, that is beautiful, but rather worn down and hollow-feeling itself. And the post-war time period only adds to that, giving it certain amenities from the modern era (automobiles, science, etc.), but still leaving it feeling very old-world and mysterious at the same time (plus, I love any story that includes cloche hats). Add to it the fact that post war Europe was the epicenter for spiritual activity, mediums and seances, and you have yourself a very creepy setting indeed.

The Awakening is a story that takes its time, letting the ghostly setting take the lead, rather than delving into a specific, highly-conceptualized mythology. The result is an intriguing story that puts the focus more on the mystery and the atmosphere, rather than on the scary moments (though, those are a part of it as well). Excellent viewing for getting into the Halloween spirit.