***/**** DVD - Image A Sound A BD - Image A- Sound A+ Extras A- screenplay by Caroline Thompson, based on a poem by Tim Burton (adaptation by Michael McDowell) directed by Henry Selick
by Vincent Suarez You know the feeling: too many movies, too little time. You walk down the corridor of your local multiplex, relishing the titles on the marquees and posters, and you know that many will unfortunately have to be seen on home video. If you're lucky, you'll make wise choices, but, occasionally, your home viewing includes that film you regret not seeing theatrically. For me, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (hereafter Nightmare) is one of those films. Having grown weary of Burton's quirkiness after the disappointing Batman Returns, I passed up Nightmare in favour of movies I now cannot recall; what a shame. Fortunately, Touchstone's optical disc presentations of this magnificent film (the previous LaserDiscs and last year's DVD release) provide more than a glimpse of what was surely a wonderful theatrical experience.
by Bill Chambers Sanity and fatigue are ineluctable corrupting influences on an aging filmmaker, but it brings me great pleasure and no small relief to be able to report that while Mother of Tears: The Third Mother--Dario Argento's long-gestating conclusion to his "Three Sisters" trilogy--is neither as artful as Suspiria nor as dreamlike as Inferno, it nevertheless surpasses expectations fostered by Argento's recent work to emerge as his best movie in decades. Fitting that Argento should choose to tell the Rome-set story of Mater Lacrimarum last, marking this as a homecoming in more ways than one.
***/**** Image C Sound C|A (with Glass score) Extras A+ starring Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye screenplay by Garrett Fort, based on the novel by Bram Stoker and on the play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston directed by Tod Browning
DRACULA (1931) ***/**** Image C+ Sound B- starring Carlos Villarias, Lupita Taylor, Pablo Alvarez Rubio, Barry Norton screenplay by Garrett Fort, based on the novel by Bram Stoker and on the play by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston; adapted in Spanish by B. Fernandez Cue directed by George Melford
DRACULA'S DAUGHTER (1936)
***½/**** Image B Sound B starring Otto Kruger, Gloria Holden, Marguerite Churchill, Edward Van Sloan
screenplay by Garrett Fort, based on the story "Dracula's Guest" by Bram Stoker
directed by Lambert Hillyer
SON OF DRACULA (1943)
*/**** Image B Sound B
starring Lon Chaney Jr., Robert Paige, Louise Allbritton, Evelyn Ankers
screenplay by Eric Taylor
directed by Robert Siodmak
HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945)
½*/**** Image B Sound B
starring Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Martha O'Driscoll, Lionel Atwill
screenplay by Edward T. Lowe Jr.
directed by Erle C. Kenton
by Walter ChawTod Browning's Dracula finds its way to the DVD format for the second time as part of a handsome "Legacy Collection" heralding the theatrical bow of the studio's lead balloon Van Helsing, possibly denoting the first time that a cynically-timed archival video release was announced with pride and fanfare instead of slipped surreptitiously into the marketplace. Never mind that a purchase of the Legacy collection whole (essaying Dracula, The Wolf Man, and Frankenstein) proves to be far better for the soul than shelling out a few bones to catch Stephen Sommers's latest assault on sense and cinema, even if doing so feels a little like letting Universal have its cake and eat it, too: There are worse things in the world than a mainstream shipwreck inspiring a vital resurrection.
CAT PEOPLE (1943) ****/**** Image B Sound C+ starring Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen directed by Jacques Tourneur
THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944) ****/**** Image B+ Sound B starring Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph, Ann Carter screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen directed by Gunther V. Fritsch and Robert Wise
I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) ****/**** Image C Sound B- starring James Ellison, Frances Dee, Tom Conway screenplay by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray directed by Jacques Tourneur
THE LEOPARD MAN (1943) ***½/**** Image C- Sound B- starring Dennis O'Keefe, Margo, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell screenplay by Ardel Wray, based on the novel Black Alibi by Cornell Woolrich directed by Jacques Tourneur
THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943) ****/**** Image C+ Sound C starring Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell, Kim Hunter screenplay by Charles O'Neal and DeWitt Bodeen directed by Mark Robson
THE GHOST SHIP (1943) ***½/**** Image A- Sound B starring Richard Dix, Russell Wade, Edith Barrett, Ben Bard screenplay by Donald Henderson Clarke directed by Mark Robson
THE BODY SNATCHER (1945) ***½/**** Image C- Sound C+ starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henry Daniell, Edith Atwater screenplay by Phillip MacDonald and Carlos Keith directed by Robert Wise
ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945) */**** Image B- Sound B- starring Boris Karloff, Ellen Drew, Marc Cramer screenplay by Ardel Wray & Josef Mischel directed by Mark Robson
BEDLAM (1946) *½/**** Image B- Sound B- starring Boris Karloff, Anna Lee, Billy House, Richard Fraser screenplay by Carlos Keith and Mark Robson directed by Mark Robson
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNINGS IN EFFECT. It's not too much to speak of Val Lewton as the American Jean Cocteau. An enigmatic figure with his hand, like Cocteau, in more than one media (a novelist, he often did uncredited work on the screenplays for his films), the movies produced under his RKO watch are a repository of dream sleep, enough so that an overview of his key pictures--something made possible by Warner's rapturous DVD collection of his horror fare--uncovers a treasure trove of indelible nightmare images. Where Cocteau affected a studiedly casual mien and came to film in his sixties, however, Lewton (who died at 47) seems the product of financial expediency and, perhaps more impressively, stamped the products of his hand despite roadblocks placed in his way. Yet the similarities are striking: Above and beyond the dreamscapes affected, there's a common fascination with masks and false identities; an obsession with budding sexuality turned subtly aberrant; and a cycle of seduction tied to corruption in the move from innocence to experience. I see in these recurrent themes a man fascinated by the blinds that men throw before them to deny the unknowable tides governing their emotions and actions. It's that illusion of civilization that informs Lewton's pictures; the horror of them is in the ripping away to expose the insect underneath.
***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras A- starring Adrienne Corri, Laurence Payne, Thorley Walters, Anthony Corlan
screenplay by Judson Kinberg
directed by Robert Young
by Jefferson Robbins I'm risking all kinds of things here, not least the prospect of becoming That Guy At FFC Who Finds Too Much Depth In Hammer Horror Movies, but this is my take: Vampire Circus is about the plight of the Jews in Christian Europe. I rubbed my eyes and swabbed my ears at first, but attentive viewing didn't dispel this impression. And looking at Hammer's entire output in the fright genre, it seems like a logical consequence. The British studio always made shockers that grappled with subtext, but by 1972, Hammer was fighting for life. Its bread-and-butter franchises had been comedically pricked five years earlier by Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers, which threatened to bleed gothic horror of its frights just as Blazing Saddles would soon gutshoot the Western. As Hammer's market power waned and it threw open the doors to more explicit sex and more visceral gore, some larger story ideas were bound to creep in.
*½/**** Image A- Sound B Extras B-
starring Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox
written and directed by Michael Dougherty
by Walter Chaw Less a portmanteau than a Tarantino time-shift/overlap, Trick 'r Treat is a handsomely-mounted bit of fluff that dribbles out like the Cat's Eye redux for which no one was clamouring, with more than a few images borrowed from other Stephen King errata such as Creepshow and Pet Sematary. Michael Dougherty's hyphenate debut, it, a lot like co-writer-on-X2 Dan Harris's own first feature, Imaginary Heroes, has a pedigree and the benefit of the doubt in its corner but washes out as something that needed to marinate longer to reach the full flower of any potential. The buzz surrounding Trick 'r Treat, though, in particular the Internet outrage over the studio's alleged mishandling of it, is peculiarly deafening and--as with most buzz around most projects falsely promised theatrical distribution--in large part hysterical and unjustified.
*/**** Image B+ Sound B Extras B-
starring Harvey Keitel, Adrienne Barbeau, Ramy Zada, Sally Kirkland
screenplay by George Romero and Dario Argento & Franco Ferrini
directed by George Romero and Dario Argento
by Walter Chaw George Romero's Dawn of the Dead is a groundbreaking satire of our consumerist state, says the party line, the first film to be shot in that new phenomenon of a shopping mall and full of cogent commentary on how capitalism has become at once a Skinner box and religion instead of merely an organizing principle. That it's also deadening and sophomoric--or that it's dated in a way that Night and Day haven't, or that it's just not very scary, or tense, or, at the end of the day, deep--is seldom mentioned. Still, and despite the failure of Land of the Dead, there's Night of, Day of, and Diary of to confirm that Romero's zombie flicks are worthy genre pieces alight with insight into social issues.
*½/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B- starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, based on the television series "Dark Shadows" by Dan Curtis directed by Tim Burton
click any image to enlarge
by Angelo Muredda Like so many of his recent dioramas, Tim Burton's Dark Shadows starts off looking suspiciously like a real movie. The director's tendency to Burtonize cherished texts into gauche self-portraits is suppressed in an economical opening that tells with a straight face the dolorous tale of Barnabas Collins, once-imprisoned and newly-freed vampire star of Dan Curtis's late-afternoon soap. The mood is sombre--a nice hat-tip to Curtis's morose series, which, if you'll pardon the wonky chronology, played out like a Smiths song drained of irony. Alas, before long Barnabas awakens in 1972 to meet his distant relatives and dissipated hangers-on, and the mere presence of pasty-white, pink-shaded, ginger-wigged Helena Bonham Carter as family psychiatrist Julia Hoffman is enough to break the spell. Carter's mannered and carefully-sculpted weirdness alerts us that this is yet another wax museum standing in for a film no one had the heart to finish.
***/**** Image A Sound B- Extras C starring Walter Brennan, Walter Huston, Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based on the novel by Vereen Bell directed by Jean Renoir
by Walter Chaw Jean Renoir's Swamp Water stands out as an example of how an
artist's genius can assert itself even when his product
has been taken away from him, re-edited and in some places reshot. Renoir's insistence on actually shooting on location in Georgia's
Okefenokee, declared a Federal Wildlife Refuge by FDR in 1937, resulted in a
grassroots movement lobbying Darryl Zanuck to hold the premiere locally. It was
an artistic choice Godard would later say "revolutionized Hollywood."
I'm not sure what Okefenokee residents must have thought of the picture, one that is equal
parts offensive cornpone melodrama and haunted, gravid Romanticism. There's an indelible, hard-to-quantify melancholy to the film that's
at odds with its boilerplate narrative; it feels like a Joseph Conrad, even if
it reads like a Vereen Bell. It's an interesting case study, too, because it
might never have happened were Renoir's masterpiece The Rules of the Game not savaged by critics and audiences in his native France, where it would go on to be radically
recut, twice-banned, and destroyed in a bombing raid. I like this story,
because I think Americans get a bad rap for not recognizing the fruit of their
creativity. I like it even more because the French get a lot of credit for
being the ones who do.
**/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B
starring Bette Davis, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Kyle Richards, Carroll Baker
screenplay by Brian Clemens, Rosemary Anne Sisson, Harry Spalding, based on the novel by Florence Engel Randall
directed by John Hough
by Walter Chaw John Hough's cult favourite The Watcher in the Woods is a movie about how a camera presents a point-of-view and of how that point-of-view, if it's not attached to a specific identity, can become menacingly voyeuristic; shame that The Watcher in the Woods isn't also about a story with characters in whom you're interested and performances that don't set teeth on edge. One of the more unusual Disney productions of the late-Seventies, the film becomes yet another showcase for an aging Bette Davis's hiccupping hag archetype and, sadly, an opportunity for figure-skater Lynn-Holly Johnson to demonstrate how good athletes seldom become good actors.
**/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras D starring Anthony Hopkins, Colin O'Donoghue, Alice Braga, Rutger Hauer screenplay by Michael Petroni, suggested by the book by Matt Baglio directed by Mikael Håfström
by Walter Chaw Though it's not particularly surprising that The Rite isn't scary or innovative, it is a bit of a surprise that The Rite doesn't completely suck. It's not good, but there's some ambition in its tale of a tortured seminarian. Michael (Colin O'Donoghue) is dealing with his odd childhood at the knee of his dad, a widower and overzealous mortician (Rutger Hauer), as well as a crisis of faith handily addressed by the traumatic, traffic-related death of an innocent whom God, the picture suggests, throws in front of a truck to get Michael to reconsider leaving the priesthood. In the same stroke, God cripples Michael's mentor, Father Matthew (Toby Jones), leading one to revisit Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star" for a dose of non-Scriptural skepticism and rage if one were so inclined. No matter, as Michael, because of his lack of squeamishness, is packed off to The Vatican to attend a modern exorcism school. Which is also something of a surprise, I guess--that said exorcism school really exists and is alive and well, well into the 21st century. Although that surprise is ameliorated a little by the fact that Catholicism also still believes in a literal transubstantiation of the host. Small wonder that Catholicism is my favourite Christian sect.
**½/**** starring Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, John Lynch, Carice Van Houten screenplay by Dario Poloni directed by Christopher Smith
by Walter Chaw Christopher Smith follows up his listless slasher-farce Severance with the handsome-looking Black Plague/witch-hunting flick Black Death--a well-played, well-conceived piece that's ultimately distinguished by a few sticky after-images, even as it doesn't quite get to where you hope it's going. Set in a pleasingly grimy, disgusting Dark Ages, the picture finds our hero, monk Osmund (Eddie Redmayne), besotted with comely Averill (Kimberly Nixon) and beset on all sides by the inexorable tide of the bubonic plague. Enlisted by Bishop-appointed Holy Roller Ulric (Sean Bean) for his familiarity with the countryside to locate a strange, untouched-by-plague village, Osmond becomes, er, plagued by crises of faith. The problem, besides his wanting to nail Averill in a most unholy way, is that the village in question appears to be untouched by disease because it doesn't believe in God.
ZERO STARS/**** starring Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Billy Burke, Julie Christie screenplay by David Leslie Johnson directed by Catherine Hardwicke
by Walter Chaw That Catherine Hardwicke keeps getting jobs speaks to a deep, ugly dysfunction in the Hollywood dream factory. Not the thought that money talks, but the idea that people like Hardwicke and Adam Sandler and Michael Bay are handed the keys to the executive washroom because they understand what it is that certain critically-deficient demographics want and proceed to provide it in massive, deadly draughts. In other industries, there would be regulatory agencies--though it's fair to consider that checking the poster for Red Riding Hood would give you all the nutritional information you probably need. Namely that Hardwicke is the main ingredient, and that had I remembered this before the screening, I never, ever would have gone, in exactly the same way I wouldn't eat scrapple again. I'm sure a lot of people like that shit, but grey pig-mush is grey pig-mush. Red Riding Hood is easily the worst movie I've seen since probably all the way back to A Sound of Thunder, and in a lot of the same ways: horribly written; horribly performed (but they didn't have a chance); directed by someone that cameras should file a restraining order against; and edited by a cast-iron moron (make that pair of morons: long-time Hardwicke accomplice Nancy Richardson and poor Julia Wong). At least there's Gary Oldman along for the ride to order his Moorish henchmen to, at one point, "put him in the elephant!"
**½/**** starring Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson screenplay by Guillermo Del Toro & Matthew Robbins, based on the teleplay by Nigel McKeand directed by Troy Nixey
by Walter Chaw There are so many opportunities squandered, so many set-ups dishonoured, so many promising moments clearly assembled into incoherence in the editing bay, that it's kind of amazing how Troy Nixey's Don't Be Afraidof the Dark still manages to coast along on its monsters and its lovely, gothic atmosphere. It's not a good movie, but it's a good time, for the most part--the part where you're not thinking about how irritating it is that in movies like this parents are constantly leaving their children in peril. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro, the picture feels an awful lot like another Del Toro production, 2008's The Orphanage, which also provides solid atmosphere, a couple of gross-outs, and an overall feeling of pleasant well-being. The major difference is that Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is so disjointed and spotty that the predominant aftertaste is frustration. What a shame.
***/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras B starring Victor Sjöström, Hilda Borgström, Astrid Holm, Tore Svennberg screenplay by Victor Sjöström, based on a novel by Selma Lagerlöf directed by Victor Sjöström
by Bryant FrazerThe Phantom Carriage, a seminal achievement in silent filmmaking from that other great Swedish auteur, Victor Sjöström, is a stern, supernatural moral drama that rails against social problems of the day by enlisting an emissary from the Great Beyond to lecture the feckless, abusive protagonist on what a rotten shit he is. Sjöström remains best known internationally for his later Hollywood films, made with the likes of Lillian Gish and Greta Garbo, but The Phantom Carriage already testified to genius behind the camera as well as in front of it. When the movie finished playing, I picked up the disc's keepcase and squinted at it, in all my ignorance, to determine who so expertly essayed the central character of the alcoholic David Holm. When I read the answer (Sjöström himself), I wanted to fling the box across the room. Show-off.