Archive for The Mummy

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.

Vlad to the Bone

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2018 by dcairns

Welcome back to Watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula with director Francis Coppola, in which Fiona and I watch BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA with director Francis Coppola.

We were talking about the intimations of homosexuality in the novel, and how the movies occasionally make this apparent. And, interestingly, the first line of the IMDb’s short plot synopsis reads “The centuries old vampire Count Dracula comes to England to seduce his barrister Jonathan” while the second line continues, “Harker’s fiancée Mina Murray and inflict havoc in the foreign land.” There it is — the flash of gay ankle followed by the chaste covering-up.

Now, let’s all don our pink shirts and join Uncle Francis.

I think a positive thing is that we told it as a love story. 

Coppola credits screenwriter James V. Hart (PAN) for “finding” the love story and “weaving it in,” and “finding” is in fact a very good word here as he’s swiped the reincarnation idea from Karloff’s THE MUMMY. But Coppola is talking about the story of Vlad Tepes’ love who killed herself.

I liked Sadie Frost, she was a very nice girl and appealing and pretty and sexy. I was sort of surprised […] we haven’t seen much of her.

We see quite a lot of her here. Including a huge close-up that doesn’t do her neck-wound make-up any favours, followed by a dissolve through the puncture marks to a wolf’s glowing eyes, which must be the worst transition ever (beating the cut to Jeff Goldblum yawning in THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK by a lupine whisker). Van Helsing himself, Antony Hopkins, once cautioned against attempting humour in a segue (in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) but I think he’s wrong. What one shouldn’t do is attempt a completely ludicrous segue without any trace of humour.

Rarely is a movie shot 100% in the sound stage and I think this is.

Well you ought to know. (Later, Unc Fran will admit that it wasn’t.)

Clearly Lucy is being affected by her encounter with Dracula and has been affected in a way and infected I should say because she has the metaphoric blood of a vampire in her, which means that she too will be a vampire.

And by “metaphoric blood,” I suppose we mean cum.

Here was a scene in which we tried, Roman and I were very pleased to do this, tried to portray an early nickelodeon and on the screen are some very early motion pictures

And we get TRAIN APPROACHING A STATION — sometimes called the first horror film due to the consternation it inspired in audiences — appearing in synch with Oldman. Only it seems to be being projected in negative — which connects it to the literal Phantom Ride in Murnau’s NOSFERATU (for which Murnau must have had Graf Orlok’s black carriage painted white, and the black horses replaced with white ones).

The supposedly early porn doesn’t convince — wrong body types — and the assumption that such films were screened openly, with ladies present, rather than at secretive “smokers” shows how the movie really doesn’t get Victorian England. Looking more closely, there’s a suggestion that the porn is showing in a back room, curtained off, but it’s a mere dolly-ride away for Mina and the Count. In principle it could be a nice metaphor for him taking her to the dark side (of the cinema).

This shot, of Dracula literally sweeping her off her feet of course was a mechanical effect, he takes her and then they’re on a little trolley that is pulled. It was interesting, when I did this shot with her, just to show the kind of kid that Winona was, she looked at me, I mean she was a little too smart for her own good in a way, as a kid. She said, “Well, I’ve already done this shot once,” ’cause this was a tricky set-up, they had to step onto this moving thing, I said “Oh really?” she said “Oh yes, I did it with Tim Burton.” But I have always felt that Winona had a deeper well of talent than she was willing to dip into.

Nice back-handed comment, and strange segue. Coppola is apparently still smarting from the suggestion that Burton had anticipated him in any way. It’s clear that she was a touch resistant to his direction, including that one time he yelled “YOU WHORE!” at her to help her get into character. I have to assume that, since she got him the job in the first place when his career was pretty ice cold, it wasn’t that she didn’t want to be directed by Francis Ford Coppola, she just didn’t want to be directed LIKE THIS by THIS Francis Ford Coppola.

I want to give Uncle Francis credit where it’s due (family loyalty) but I’m on Winona Ryder’s side here.

Don’t ever try this with a wolf, by the way. This is not something that you wanna do. Again, it’s used to show Dracula’s seduction of Mina, the sensuality that lay under the skin of the vampire legend, it’s so confused with sex and romance and love and death, the two sometimes are difficult to separate.

“Well, that’s not two things, Uncle Francis, that’s a whole long list of things,” objects Fiona. She’s right, I counted them, that was definitely either four or six things.

LOVELY transition!

Now we introduce essentially a new character, Doctor Van Helsing.

Yep, definitely new. Though he did narrate the captain’s log montage earlier.

One of the good things about James V. Hart’s script (and there ARE good things) is that the writer is aware of lots of different resonances the vampire myth has, and has researched the period enough to find things that connect with the Victorians and also with those of us watching in 1992. In Van Helsing’s lecture we get stuff about the spread of syphilis which we can easily connect to vampirism and thus to AIDS. The bad thing about this is that he just sticks it in, in the form of a lecture. It’s inelegant, but I’m still kind of glad it’s there.

Cut to Keanu Reeves looking thoroughly drained.

“Shagged out… after a long squawk,” says Fiona. And then: “You don’t have to be naked to drain somebody’s blood,” she says, referring to the naked, smoochy Bellucci girls.

“But it helps,” I suggest.

Watching this with the commentary, sometimes you’re mainly focussing on what Uncle Francis is saying, sometimes on the pictures, and it feels like when you miss bits of plot it’s because the movie really isn’t interested in those things. For instance, somehow Keanu is going to escape from Castle Sitting Down Dracula. But I have no memory of how he does it. Doesn’t he sort of jump out a window and then land back in England?

Hopkins turns up in a shot which seems to be nodding towards THE EXORCIST, which may be a bit on the nose, but so’s everything in this film. Apart from Sadie Frost, who’s bit on the neck. Coppola explains that his big idea was that anyone who’s devoted his life to the study of vampires must be a bit crazy, so he instructed Hopkins to play it that way. “Whadda LOON!” Coppola guffawed on the set after one particularly fruity take.

I think Coppola’s logic is sound, but that this is still not a good way to play Van Helsing. I think Edward Van Sloan’s method was fine. Peter Cushing’s was brilliant. Jack MacGowran, playing a variant on the character for Polanski, was just fine in context. The character seems a great way to explore, consciously or not, the unpleasantness of being in thrall to medical professionals, and there’s a touch of that here. But it’s dissolved in a welter of ham theatrics.

Coppola credits the big window Gary Oldman shows up at to THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN. I like how he’s basically providing the whole filmography of influences for us. It’s a good reference, since the dream sequence in Capra’s film also seems to refer to the idea of the vampire seducer from the East. It is quite a 1930s-esque window, though, but they get away with it.

We brought in a singer, a vocalist, named Diamanda Galas to provide some very orgiastic and other feminine sounds of intensity to help us with this sequence.

“She’s only a child!” exclaims Van Helsing, which might not be my first reaction to a tits-out Sadie Frost, but we’re all different, which is one of the themes of this film anyway. He prescribes an immediate transfusion, which is of course risky as doctors at the time hadn’t figured out blood groups. He gets every male in the neighbourhood to transfuse into Sadie and miraculously they’re all the same type (Type O). Sadie’s type. (In fairness: I think that’s the way it is in the book. Coppola once shows the Dread Pirate Roberts donating, albeit without a blood test. But I’m assuming Withnail and the Rocketeer also get in on the act. The more the merrier.)

Interestingly, blood transfusion, another example of modern technology at the time, and we did it as authentically as we knew how, we tried to find out how did they do transfusions, and we did it the way they did, however, shows what a pansy director I am, it wasn’t really a transfusion, it was just a movie scene, however, the great director Clouzot, in one of his movies actually had the character get a blood transfusion and the actor showed up and they began to shoot the scene and he had brought a doctor and they did a real blood transfusion while they were shooting, and so I realise I’m not as I like to think I am, and Damn, why didn’t I have it be a real transfusion? and Clouzot was Clouzot and I don’t think I would have gotten away with it.

“He would have liked to, though,” suggests Fiona.

Clouzot transfused Bernard Blier in QUAI DES ORFEVRES, and did it again to Brigitte Bardot in LA VERITÉ, or at least he certainly had the needle in her arm. And, having gone that far, I think we all know he would have kept going.

Bad nipple continuity here: Sadie’s bosom has a strange now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t approach. The trick with getting away with continuity errors is to calculate where the audience is looking. Hard to see how anybody could miscalculate the centre of attention when Sadie is writhing about in what I believe is known as deshabille.

Coppola starts to tell us about Byron and Shelley and the Villa Deodata set in his own unique manner ~

Now these people in those days were sort of like the equivalent of, you know, Snoop Doggy Dog. They were the hip people of the day, as when I was young it would have been Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer and what have you, going off to Switzerland.

BWAHAHAHA I just can’t

Please accept my humble Egyptologies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 23, 2013 by dcairns

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Van Beuren was an animation studio in Hollywood in the thirties — Frank Tashlin worked there for a bit (he worked everywhere) and created a comic strip character called Van Boring. Until now, what I’d seen of the studio’s output, which lacked the jazzy energy and character of the Fleischer Bros work, seemed to confirm the implied criticism in Tashlin’s choice of name.

But this one, MAGIC MUMMY, is kind of nice. It begins with two cops in a patrol car — they’re rather bland stick figures with smiley-face heads, their design seemingly based solely on ease of reproduction rather than upon any desire to suggest character or humour. But then things get weird as they listen to a musical number over the radio, and we discover it’s being broadcast from their very gay headquarters. Having just watched Mark Rapport’s entertaining documentary THE SILVER SCREEN: COLOR ME LAVENDER, loaned to us by David WIngrove, I was primed to appreciate this material in all its resplendent campery.

But more weirdness is to follow.

The song is then interrupted by an announcement that another mummy has been stolen from the museum. Another mummy? I’m intrigued. But we’re never going to learn about any of those previous stolen mummies, and the ultimate fate of this one will remain a total mystery too…

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The patrol car now turns into a sniffer dog, because this is a cartoon, and leads the intrepid but unnamed constables (I’m going to call them Larry and Kelton*) into a deserted graveyard overlooked by a ruined building. It’s all very PLAN 9, but twenty-six years earlier. And now we meet the black-robed figure lugging a small sarcophagus. This proves to be a witch, in traditional garb but with the less usual head of a skeletal cow, or possibly dog. I’m picturing Billy Drago for the part in my live action remake. Magicking open a fresh grave, Billy the Dead Cow Witch enters the bowels of the earth — the rest of this cartoon will be a series of descents ever further into Stygian terror, like Lovecraft’s The Color Out Of Space mixed with a Scopitone musical.

In his/her PHANTOM OF THE OPERA style lair, Billy Drago telekinetically extracts a bandaged bundle from the casket, and zaps the bandages off to reveal a shapely female in a VERY low-cut gown. Sitting at a piano which appears by the magic of bad continuity, Billy the Witch commands the somnolent lady to “BREATHE!” and breathe she does, bosoms expanding. It’s interesting to see elements of PHANTOM, THE MUMMY and witchcraft all bundled together like this, as early as this — the Karloff movie was brand new, but already the iconography had been crammed into a trunk marked “spooky Halloween stuff.” And interesting, now that I think of it, that Hollywood in the thirties did very little to do with witchcraft, as if the implications were too upsetting to religious sensibilities, even though the carnivalesque side of sorcery was celebrated every October 31st with little real controversy.

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Larry and Kelton , having crept into the crypt, now decide to bust the witch, but are blasted with a cruciato curse which threatens to pull the ink from their bones. Then they’re knocked through a hatch and the witch and mummy descend still further into the subterranean depths, to what turns out to be a theatre. Excellent image of the witch winding up a disintegrating curtain to reveal an audience of skeletons. At a stroke of his/her baton/wand, a skeletal orchestra rises from the earth like the children of the hydra.

Now Billy Drago’s darker purpose manifests itself, as he compels his mesmerized mummy companion to take part in a Betty Boop style musical number, interrupted by Larry & Kelton again who have extricated themselves from a drain pipe and snuck onstage. Strange image of Kelton raising the witch’s skirt — for why? — and looking aghast at her tibia and fibula.

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The cops announce a raid and the skeleton audience flees as if caught at a speakeasy. Then there’s a chase into still deeper depths of the earth, a place of stalactites and Clangers-type potholes leading, presumably, to Hell itself. One of those scuffles in the dark that’s so cheap to animate follows, and Kelton, alone and apparently unconcerned as to his friend’s fate, emerges from the graveyard entertainment complex clutching the hard-won sarcophagus and speeds back to police headquarters to show his homosexual cartoon policeman friends.

But — oh horror! — when he opens the case it is his buddy Larry who staggers out, his once-circular eyes replaced by the unseeing X’s of Death. Iris in. The End.

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The moral: don’t pursue bovine skeleton witch’s to underground musical theatres no matter what your sniffer dog car suggests.

*But apparently they are called Tom & Jerry. They are the original cartoon T&J, long before that cat and mouse act.