Archive for An American Werewolf in London

Wham! Embalm! Thank you, ma’am.

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2020 by dcairns

I had to eventually see the 2017 MUMMY, not so much because two modern genre filmmakers I quite like, Christopher McQuarrie and David Koepp, helped write it, but because it’s not every film that can lay claim to destroying an entire cinematic universe.

Universal’s plans for an interconnected, MCU-type set of horror-action franchises involving various of the creatures/characters from their ’30s, ’40s and ’50s back catalogue didn’t strike me as very well-conceived to begin with, and THE MUMMY’S returns at the box office were ultimately insufficient to justify embarking on such a costly venture. Or put it this way, if you’ve found a way to make a Tom Cruise action movie that’s not financially successful, it’s unlikely a major studio is going to hand you the keys to their intellectual property.

(In fact, director/co-writer/co-producer Alex Kurtzman continues to exert control over Star Trek and its spin-offs.)

Hey, remember the trailer with the missing sound? Did any Universal employees turn up mysteriously murdered after that came out?

The reason for my lack of enthusiasm may have been my dissatisfaction with the 1999 MUMMY. To me, THE MUMMY will always be Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney and Tom Tyler and Christopher Lee, and he will be a monster movie character, not an action movie villain. The contortion that made that Stephen Sommers movie possible was that the INDIANA JONES movies were an action series with supernatural and icky moments and an archaeological framework. Sommers stole all that and called it THE MUMMY and made a fortune and some increasingly awful sequels.

With its plagues of bugs and sandstorms with faces, the Kurzman MUMMY explicitly references those earlier films, but sets the action in the here and now. For me, that’s enough to break the logical connection from the Karl Freund original (set in the then-contemporary 30s world) to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK to the Sommers MUMMY. Without RAIDERS being evoked at the back of our minds, there doesn’t seem any excuse for a MUMMY movie to be an action adventure.

But that might not be the reason for the film’s lack of B.O. oomph. Maybe the audience rebelled against the idea of a female mummy — horror films are popular with girls but action films skew more to boys — the idea of Tom Cruise fighting a girl may not have seemed like a good premise, and indeed at the film’s climax it does seem unpleasant. Or maybe the fact that Crusie plays an asshole is the problem?

It’s an interesting and bold choice, I’ll grant that. When the Cruiser gets his pal Jake Johnson into a life-threatening situ at the film’s outset, I thought, “OK, he’s a jerk, but so long as he doesn’t get his pal killed he’s redeemable.”

SPOILERS:

But then he DOES get his pal killed, and is by extension responsible for ALL the deaths in the film (mostly nameless cops, paramedics and assorted redshirts). True, in the film’s coda he brings his buddy back to life, but that’s a little late for me to stop resenting his relentless ass-hattery, and has he reanimated everyone else slain as a secondary consequence of said ass-hattery, too? I take leave to doubt it.

Steals: QUATERMASS AND THE PIT: subway extension uncovers ancient menace; LIFEFORCE: sexy monster sucks life from and zombifies supporting players; AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON: hero’s slain pal returns from dead for expository purposes — leading to the secret assignation in a public toilet which seems to be an unofficial Tom Cruise movie trope (see also VALKYRIE and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT).

The film is quite poorly designed in places. Even in the high-octane chase/race/fight structure, there are some effectively creepy zombie scenes, but once Sophia Boutella has to start being sinister and sexy at the same time, everyone seems confused about what look they’re going for. Supernatural eyes, decay, KWAIDAN-style pictograms, crumbling gauzy coating — there’s too much going on for an effective creature design (Lon Chaney Sr. would reportedly subtract something whenever he thought he was finished with a makeup) and the little crinkly bit on the bridge of her nose is a fucking disgrace. The missing cheek is just there so they can spend money on CGI, because every monster has to have some CGI now.

(Maybe the worst thing about the Sommers film, apart from the jaw-dropping racism [Sommers, from his own audio commentaries, seems like a jerk], was the CGI beetles-under-the-skin effect. A visual that’s really creepy when done with bladder effects in SHIVERS and ALTERED STATES becomes pure garbage when handed over to the pixel-pushers.)

The main element of Dark Universe world-building is the inclusion of Russell Crowe as Henry Jekyll, head of an organisation assigned to fight supernatural evil. There’s one obvious reason why he might not be the ideal chairperson, can you guess what it is? Though I enjoyed the silliness of Crowe’s alter-ego talking with a cockney accent, I think Alan Moore might have a legal case (although, as a result of the terrible LEAGUE OF EXTRORDINARY GENTLEMEN movie, Moore was himself sued by Larry Cohen, who’d written something comparable called CAST OF CHARACTERS. I’d rather the Cohen film had been made that LOEG or this MUMMY, needless to say). Also, the fact that Hyde looks just like Jekyll is a pathetic shortchanging of the audience. I guess Crowe, like Jack Nicholson in WOLF and maybe Malkovich in MARY REILLY, didn’t want to be covered in prosthetics. Screw those guys! Don’t hire them to play monsters! What the hell, people?

Still, I sort of enjoyed this inept bunkum, but it really doesn’t work. At the end, Cruise is seen galloping off towards the pyramids as music pounds. TO DO WHAT? We are given absolutely no expectations. He’s just galloping for no reason.

“Why don’t we just trot?” his pal might have suggested. “I mean, since we have no particular goal, it can’t really be urgent, can it?”

I can see why they didn’t have him make that objection. Still, if a character CAN raise such a point at the end of your movie, you’re probably not launching a successful franchise.

Exhumed ex-humans

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2019 by dcairns

The credits of CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD aka LA NUIT DES VAMPIRES aka DER FLUCH DER GRUNEN AUGEN aka BLUTRAUSCH DER VAMPIRE  (1964/5) feature the guy with the greatest Halloween nickname ever, as his real name: Stane Sever.

It’s a West German-Yugoslavian co-production. Alone amid the Eastern block countries, protected by Tito, Yugoslavia made some fun cheesy horror movies in the sixties. Michael Reeves made his first film there, THE SHE-BEAST. This one, however, is directed by Akos V. Ratony, aka Akos Rathonyi, who was nearing the end of his thirty-year career.

Intrepid, boozy, sex-mad detective Adrian Hoven (later a PRODUCER of Euro-horrors) is sent to investigate a series of mystery deaths near a “famous grotto,” each fatality accompanied by a power cut. A story David Lynch might enjoy.

His car conks out just as he arrives at the inn — electromagnetic pulse? or something more sinister, but stupider? Amusingly, when power is restored the next day, the radio is still playing the same tune. That’s how it works, apparently: the radio will pick up where it left off, but maybe play slightly faster until it catches up with the current live broadcast. Either that or Radio Belgrade only has one record to play.

We meet a tavern keeper, a cavern creeper, a wise woman, an unwise woman, a professor who can make his big black candles flame up by breathing on them, like WC Fields, and a deaf mute who’s “harmless, really,” but keeps attacking people — plus he plays the accordion. Not that I’m holding that against him, but it seems inconsistent with his deafness. I suppose he can enjoy the vibrations though. Maybe that’s also why he keeps attacking people. He enjoys the vibrations from his fists thudding into them. While it was, in a way, refreshing to find a hard-of-hearing character portrayed in this unusual way, I felt the other characters were wrong to constantly refer to him as deaf. The thing about this guy isn’t that he’s deaf, or mute, or maybe slow-witted or whatever. The thing about him is that he’s a surly, violent arsehole. The dialogue should not be, “Don’t mind him, he’s deaf,” but rather “Don’t mind him, he’s a violent, surly arsehole. Or maybe do mind him, and give him the occasional punch in the breadbasket.”

There’s also a black manservant working at the local castle (John Kitzmiller from DR. NO). While he’s portrayed as superstitious re vampires, this is perhaps forgivable as he’s RIGHT. More interesting is the fact that the villagers are superstitious of HIM, because of his race, and they’re NOT right. Despite working for the mad scientist vampire troglodyte, he’s thoroughly decent.

I became convinced that at least one, maybe two of the dubbed voices were the same as one of the detectives in Orson Welles’ THE TRIAL. Well, those scenes were seemingly shot in Yugoslavia… but would they have been dubbed there? It seemed unlikely. But I couldn’t shake it. Maybe it was the cavernous echo, and that constipated quality dubbing actors all seem to have because they’re trying to voice three or four different characters. (Welles did a lot of the voices in THE TRIAL himself, and I’d always assumed he was doing that detective. With accompanying strain in voice.)

Really, really shoddy script — we never find out why there are power failures, though we do helpfully cut to the power station at the end where they’re puzzled, too. But old Akos seems to be having fun with a few spooky shots and clever transitions, and his native land has coughed up some good locations.

Am reminded that John Landis conceived AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF OF LONDON after witness a body being buried at a crossroads at midnight on location in Yugoslavia while he was working on KELLY’S HEROES. He later shifted the location to Yorkshire, because they both begin with a Y, I guess.

CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD stars Professor Henri Vollmer; Jo le Suedois; Dr. Mabuse; Quarrel; and Stane Sever.

Bride of the American Werewolf

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2018 by dcairns

We’re going to see BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN at Filmhouse today, introduced by John Landis.

Landis has a nice ongoing relationship with Edinburgh — he was retrospected by Edinburgh International Film Festival, he shot parts of BURKE AND HARE here (here hare here) and now he’s a guest of Dead By Dawn, our long-running horror fest.

My connection to the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, always intense (though I never saw it as a little kid — took me years), is even more meaningful now, since I recently completed an epic video essay for the forthcoming Masters of Cinema release of THE OLD DARK HOUSE. So I can call myself a Whaler with the best of them.

The confluence of Landis and BRIDE makes me want to pitch a sequel to his maybe-best film — Anthony Waller’s AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS is best forgotten, which is fine, because it has been. BRIDE OF AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON would star Jenny Agutter, who provided the romantic interest in the first film. It would turn out that lycanthropy is also a sexually transmitted condition. I mean, who’s to say she didn’t get bitten by her boyfriend during their sexytimefun in the original movie? There’s definitely something oral going on.

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(Big cunnilingus scene in KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE too. Obviously a Landis favourite. Maybe that’s why he wears a beard, so he always feels like he’s… Should I ask him? Probably best not.)

Anyway, werewolf Agutter, that’s the pitch. We can work the details out later.

This prospective encounter feels very timely, since my friend Stephen Murphy, a brilliant make-up artist, just met Rick Baker, creator of Landis’s werewolf (and so much more) at the Monsterpalooza convention (yes, this a thing). Stephen was made up as a zombie Rick Baker at the time. I can’t compete with that.