“Legend has it, in the mystic land of Prydain, there was once a king so cruel and so evil, that even the Gods feared him. Since no prison could hold him, he was thrown alive into a crucible of molten iron. There his demonic spirit was captured in the form of a great, black cauldron. For uncounted centuries, the black cauldron lay hidden, waiting, while evil men searched for it, knowing whoever possessed it would have the power to resurrect an army of deathless warriors… and with them, rule the world.”
As opening narrations go, it’s a fairly dark one. A man thrown into molten iron while still alive, bringing forth an army of the undead… these are not light-hearted concepts. One could easily be forgiven for thinking this was the opening to a particularly dark fantasy story for adults. As it happens, though, it’s the 25th film in the Disney Animated Canon, The Black Cauldron. Based on the first two novels of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, this 1985 animated feature stands apart from other Disney films in several ways. Perhaps most particularly, it was a financial failure, making only $21 million in the box office on a $25 million budget. Even more unusually, it hasn’t been vindicated by history the way Fantasia and Pinocchio were. While those are accounted as masterpieces today, The Black Cauldron‘s following is more on the lines of a cult classic.
And yet this black sheep of the Disney family has considerable merit to being more than just a cult favorite. Continue reading →
Mary Shelley first published the story of Frankenstein in 1818. The story of a scientist tormented by the life he had created easily captured the imagination of the public. In 1910, Thomas Edison created the first film inspired by the characters, which I reviewed earlier this month. Universal Studios released their version in 1930, and Boris Karloff is still the iconic version of the monster. Since then, dozens of films have been released that are either direct adaptations of the novel, or inspired by Universal’s film, or just use the characters in some form or other. There is no shortage of films with which to compare the novel to, but for this edition of “Version vs. Version”, I decided to go with the 1994 film, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh. Marketed as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it purports to be closer to the original novel than other films.
In some ways, this is accurate. In other ways, it really, really isn’t. Continue reading →
In 2011, I watched the original Halloween for the first time, and it was one of the highlights of the season. This year, feeling that it wouldn’t be right to let October go by without at least one entry in the series, I decided to watch the immediate follow-up, Halloween II, from 1981. (This was a rare case of me renting a film, as nobody had the good grace to air the film this month.) Halloween II is a direct continuation of the first film, with the same actors reprising their roles as the night of Michael Myers’ return continues. Interestingly, John Carpenter moves to a producer role for this film, with Rick Rosenthal taking over as director, in what would be his feature film directorial debut.
Halloween II has a lot of the same strengths as the original film, but unfortunately it also has some weaknesses not present in the original. Further, since it’s very literally a case of “more of the same”, it winds up feeling rather superfluous — the main thing it adds to the story is the reason why Michael Myers is so fixated on Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) to begin with. Continue reading →
I have to hand it to Dreamworks. As easy as it is to churn out sequel after sequel — and they certainly do so, with Shrek having four films and a spinoff, and Madagascar on its third film — they also take shots at some different concepts. Monsters vs Aliens says exactly what it is upfront, but while it would be easy to expect a children’s movie with such a clear-cut premise to be simply a brainless bash, it is actually a fun and funny film — which certain adults may even enjoy more than the children in the audience, as the team of writers and directors (headed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon) crafted a film that, while perhaps not particularly deep, is very much aware of its lineage and its own general silliness.
The story starts with Susan Murphy, voiced by Reese Witherspoon. The film uses a lot of celebrity voices, but doesn’t fall victim to the frequent problem of the voice actor’s fame dominating the character; when hearing Susan speak, it feels natural and doesn’t call Witherspoon to mind. Susan is preparing for her wedding when she’s struck by a radioactive meteor. Mid-ceremony, she begins glowing and growing, achieving gargantuan heights and wrecking both the ceremony and the church. The military is called in to subdue her, even though she’s not rampaging intentionally. Continue reading →
Vacancy, released in 2007, is the English-language debut of Hungarian-American director Nimród Antal. Though it has an estimated budget of $19 million dollars — comparable to either of Rob Zombie’s Halloween remakes — it has a very “independent horror film” feel to it due to a purposefully-limited setting and a very small cast. Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale star as David and Amy Fox, a bickering couple whose car breaks down when they take a shortcut off the interstate. Stranded for the night, they check into a roadside motel run by a weedy man named Mason (Frank Whaley). The motel is rundown, the water is discolored, and their room could use some pest control. Trying to wind down after a hard day, David pops a video into the VCR — the motel is nowhere near up-to-date enough for a DVD player — and sees what looks like an amateur horror film, of the slasher variety. After Amy’s objection, he tries another video, and finds something similar. Then he realizes the room shown in the movies is the same… and is the same as their motel room. David and Amy realize that they are watching snuff films — films of people actually being murdered — and that they are in danger. Continue reading →
Producer Roger Corman is primarily known for two things. What most people know him for is a lot of B-grade and occasionally C- or D-grade movies, often in the horror and suspense genre. But inside Hollywood, as shown in some featurettes on the producer, he’s known for being very generous when it comes to giving people a chance in film making. In the case of Dementia 13, a production assistant who had done some uncredited directorial work on a couple of “nudie cuties” — low budget softcore porn works — wanted a chance at directing a real film. Corman was working on The Young Races, and allowed the young man to use the same set and filming crew, and a few of the actors to film a script the man had written.
The young man was Francis Ford Coppola, and the film was Dementia 13, his first official director credit. From that beginning, Coppola went on to other films, which immediately began attracting critical attention. (His very next film, You’re a Big Boy Now, nabbed a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Geraldine Page.) It’s possible that without Corman letting Coppola make Dementia 13, his later works including The Godfather may not have happened. Continue reading →
1313 Mockingbird Lane was a proposed series for NBC, featuring an updated take on The Munsters, making it arguably a touch darker and shifting it to a dramatic comedy instead of the pure farce of the original series. As production costs rose, NBC gradually lost faith and decided to cut their losses; on October 26th, in an attempt to recoup the costs already sunk, they aired the pilot — directed by Bryan Singer — as a one-hour TV special, dropping the house number to make it simply Mockingbird Lane.
Watching failed TV pilots is always interesting. They’re often treated as made-for-TV movies, but they were meant to continue, and it’s usually clear where the series was meant to go from there. Even more importantly, it’s easy to see why they thought it could make it as a series — and why they thought it couldn’t. In the case of Mockingbird Lane, the merits of the series are clear, but it’s just as clear why it didn’t make it. With the budget they had to have had pouring into this, it needed to be great, and sadly it’s just “Okay”. Continue reading →
One thing that I have to give this independent film credit for is that it lets you know just what kind of film it is from the title. Die-ner (Get It?) — and yes, the “Get It?” is part of the actual name — immediately positions itself as a comedic horror movie. Written and directed by Patrick Horvath, it was released in 2007, direct-to-video as far as I can determine. The film stars Joshua Grote as a serial killer named Ken (at least, that’s what he says), who comes to a remote diner and kills a couple of the staff members there, after having killed the trucker he hitchhiked with. He then gets ready to kill a couple of diner patrons who arrive after he has cleaned up his work, but is interrupted when he discovers that his handiwork isn’t staying put. His victims are coming back as zombies. Continue reading →
As I watched The Messengers, I kept wishing that I could have sent a message myself to the directors of the film, the brothers Oxide and Danny Pang. There are a great many areas in which this 2007 horror film comes so close to being a really good film that it feels like it just needed a little bit of work to salvage it.
The premise is a fairly traditional haunted house story, with some obvious inspiration from The Shining. A Chicago family moves to an isolated farmhouse so the father Roy (Dylan McDermott) can take up farming sunflower seeds. The mother (Penelope Ann Miller) has a strained relationship with the daughter Jess, played by Kristen Stewart before the Twilight films made her a household name (for good or ill). And there’s the youngest of the family, Ben, played by Evan and Theodore Turner, who doesn’t speak. As might be suspected, the farmhouse turns out to be haunted, and only Ben and sometimes Jess are able to see the phenomena. Continue reading →
Yet another film that has caused more than a few people to ask me “How have you not seen that yet?”, Alien has long been regarded as both a classic science-fiction film and a classic horror film. The film brought both Sigourney Weaver and director Ridley Scott to prominence, and created one of the most iconic movie monsters — possibly the most iconic of the modern era. It’s been parodied and homaged and sequelized many, many times.
Given its pop-culture ubiquity (at least in horror film fan circuits), there’s a degree of familiarity with it even without having actually seen it. To some extent, watching it might have been even more enjoyable for me if I had been able to watch it fresh, without any preconceptions, the way people viewing it on its initial release would have been. In my defense, the film was released in May 1979, and I was only three months old at the time. Even had my parents taken me to see it, it probably wouldn’t have made an impression at that time. Continue reading →