Archive for February, 2011

DRIVE ANGRY 3D!

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Action Movies, Campy Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Demons, Fast Cars, Nicolas Cage Movies, Satanists, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2011 by knifefighter

Cinema Knife Fight: DRIVE ANGRY 3D
By L.L. Soares (and Michael Arruda)

FADE IN

(The scene: A long stretch of highway. LL SOARES is driving a Dodge Charger as fast as it can go, miles of desert on either side of him. Motorhead’s song “Ace of Spades” plays loud over the car stereo)

LS (shouting): Oh there you are. I’m here driving solo, reviewing the new movie DRIVE ANGRY that just came out in theaters. My sidekick is bowing out on this one…

(The music stops and MICHAEL ARRUDA’s voice comes on the radio)

MA: Hello? You there?

LS: Hey! I was enjoying that song!

MA: Yeah, well, I just want to set the record straight. I didn’t bow out on this one on purpose. I’m stuck at my house buried under several feet of snow; snow, it seems, that has been falling since January!  I mean, the snow banks around here have gotten so big they’re going to start lending money.

LS (turns off radio):  Like anybody cares. I was enjoying that song. Hopefully, he’s gone now. (Turns on radio. “Ace of Spades” is playing again.)  That’s more like it. So, where was I?  Yeah, DRIVE ANGRY.

(MA’s voice returns on the radio.)

MA:  What do you mean?  Nobody cares?  I have readers who would care if I’m stuck in the snow someplace.

(Flash to a little old lady seated in front of a computer, tapping impatiently at the screen rather than the keyboard.)

LITTLE OLD LADY:  Where’s that Michael Arruda?  I haven’t seen his reviews in a while. He writes such sweet things about these movies.

(Scene returns to LS driving in car.)

LS:  Hey, how did you know what I said if I shut the radio off first?

MA:  Actually, you dissed me as you were turning the radio off.

LS (grimaces at camera):  Yeah, I’ll buy that. Sure.

MA: So what did you think of DRIVE ANGRY?

LS: Actually, the full title is DRIVE ANGRY 3D, I guess. Although I’m sure some theaters somewhere were showing it in 2D.

DRIVE ANGRY gives us Nicolas Cage as John Milton (get it?)—.

MA:  —That would be a reference to that classic of literature, PARADISE LOST by John Milton.

LS:  Thank you, Professor. But this John Milton is a long-haired, intense guy who just escaped from hell in a souped-up car.

Turns out Hell is just a giant prison, and he’s a breakout artist. The reason he’s come back is to save his baby granddaughter, who has been abducted by Satanists. The baby’s mother – John’s daughter – was part of a cult, but got second thoughts, so the leader, the charismatic Jonah King (Billy Burke), killed her and took her baby, and is planning to use the infant to make a blood sacrifice to Satan. The plan being to open a portal and bring Hell to earth.

Meanwhile, a demonic lawman, called only The Accountant (William Fichtner) is hot on Milton’s trail, intent to bringing him back to the land of fire and brimstone. (Most people probably know Fichtner as the crooked federal agent from the TV series PRISON BREAK.)

Along the way, Milton picks up feisty blonde firecracker Piper (Amber Heard), at first for her car, and then later the two bond and she agrees to help him get his granddaughter back.

So Jonah King and his men are out to kill Milton. So is The Accountant. And Milton is intent on avoiding The Accountant and killing King and his minions, and saving the baby. Got it so far?

MA: Yep.

(We go back to the LITTLE OLD LADY, who is now getting into a souped-up 1957 Chevy and is gunning the engine)

LITTLE OLD LADY: I’ll teach them to give me a Cinema Knife Fight review without sweet little Michael Arruda! GOSH DARN IT!

(She peels out in a screech of tires)

(Back to LS)

LS: This movie creates its mood right from the get go, letting us know this is going to be an all-out, over-the-top, balls-to-the-wall, live-action loony tune from the very first scene. Nick Cage does his usual hammy overacting (he gives an enjoyable performance here, but it’s getting harder and harder to believe this guy once won an Oscar) as Milton, and Fichtner is damn near perfect as the demonic Accountant (who looks exactly like the FBI man he keeps telling everyone he is – his suit doesn’t get rumpled even once). Hell, the acting is good all around here, including Burke (the dad from the TWILIGHT movies – I knew he looked familiar) as the very charismatic Jonah King (you can believe this guy leads a cult) and the hot, tough, and fun-to-watch Heard as Piper. Other good supporting players include David Morse as Milton’s long-time friend, Webster, and Tom Atkins as the chief of police trying to chase everyone else down.

From the trailers, I thought this was just going to be a straight story of a normal guy chasing down the cultists who stole his daughter (is Nick Cage really old enough to play grandfathers now? I guess he is). I didn’t find out about the supernatural elements until a few days before the movie opened, and I didn’t know what to expect from that. All this talk of Hell and demons and vengeance smacks a lot of a previous Cage outing, GHOST RIDER (2007), which was flawed at best. But for some reason, it all works better here. John Milton is a man on a mission and Cage gives us enough intensity and his just plain patented goofiness throughout to keep the fans wanting more.

(Cherry red ’57 Chevy roars up behind him and drives up beside him)

LITTLE OLD LADY: Where is Michael Arruda this week, you mean man!

LS: Huh? What are you talking about? I’m trying to do a movie review here, lady.

LITTLE OLD LADY: Damn, smartass kids!

(She pulls out a shotgun and aims it at LS)

LITTLE OLD LADY: I represent “Old Timers For Arruda” and we are not going to tolerate reviews that leave him out.

LS: Lady, he’s stuck in the snow. It’s not my fault.

LITTLE OLD LADY: Not good enough, sonny!

(Before she can shoot, LS rams her car with his, and she goes over the railing, spinning down the hills, bursting into a giant ball of flame)

LS: So long, sucker! (cackles in glee)

Where was I?

MA (voice on the radio): You were wrapping up your review, I think. I have to admit, I’m sad you killed that old lady. She sounded very smart.

LS: Yeah, it is kind of sad to think I might have killed off your only fan.

MA: Get to the review!

LS: The dialogue gets a little absurd at times, but the silliest lines are the ones coming out of Cage’s mouth, and he says them as if they were diamonds. No one makes bad dialogue sound good and funny like Nicolas Cage.

For the most part, the script is pretty good, the acting top-notch, and the direction by Patrick Lussier – whose remake of MY BLOODY VALENTINE (also in 3D) in 2009 was one of the better horror flicks since the new 3D renaissance – keeps things moving at a nice speed throughout. Sure, there are plenty of goofy aspects to the proceedings, but they’re all part of the ride—speaking of which, there are also some very cool cars in this flick, too.

Is the 3D worth it? Well, there are stretches where you kind of don’t notice (as is the case with a lot of 3D movies), and then, suddenly, a bullet will come your way, or part of someone’s skull will hurtle towards you. This movie earns its R rating with plenty of blood and dismemberment, as well plenty of nude girls, so what’s not to love? That said, I’m still not a big fan of the whole 3D thing, and didn’t think it added that much to the movie. I still think the entire 3D craze is a sham created to raise ticket prices and sell new televisions. But when a movie is an entertaining as this one – and most 3D movies aren’t – I’m willing to let it slide. But I bet it would have been just as fun in regular 2D.

MA:  I’m with you on this point. The majority of the new 3D movies haven’t been worth the extra ticket prices.

LS:  So is this movie worth seeing? Hell yeah. After the showing I went to, there were surveys so I filled one out. One question asked “Why did you want to see this movie?” and I checked off “Nicolas Cage” with a giant X next to his name, and smaller x’s for William Fichtner and the fact that it was “Directed by the guy who made MY BLOODY VALENTINE.”

DRIVE ANGRY is a hoot and a holler and a drag race out of hell and back. I give it three and a half knives.

MA:  Sounds like a lot of fun, and I’m sorry I missed it.

(LITTLE OLD LADY’s voice come on the radio)

LITTLE OLD LADY: You better be part of the next review, Michael! I am boiling mad!

(LS turns off the radio. The vast desert on either side of him turns into walls of flame as he takes a right turn into Hell)

LS: Well, I’m home. So long folks! See you next time.

FADE OUT

© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares (with some input from Michael Arruda)

LL SOARES gives DRIVE ANGRY 3Dthree and a half knives

Meanwhile, MICHAEL ARRUDA is stuck in the snow


FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS – Part 3 – Who Was the Best Dracula?

Posted in 2011, Cinema Knife Fights, Classic Films, Dracula, Friday Night Knife Fights, Hammer Films, Universal Horror Films, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2011 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:  BELA LUGOSI vs. CHRISTOPHER LEE
WHO IS THE ULTIMATE MOVIE DRACULA?
With MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES

PART 3 (CONCLUSION)

(The Scene: Back at the Cinema Knife Fight studio.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are seated across from each other on stools.  Behind them are movie stills featuring Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee as DRACULA, as well as photos of Count Chocula and The Count from SESAME STREET.)

MA:  Welcome back to Friday Night Knife Fights.  Tonight, L.L. and I will conclude our discussion of Bela Lugosi vs. Christopher Lee and decide which one is the ultimate movie Dracula.  Lugosi came out on top after our Round 1 discussion two weeks ago, and Lee won the second round last week, so tonight’s third and final round will decide the victor.

Time for the final question.  It’s actually several questions.

LS:  Make up your mind.

MA:  I can’t.  Anyway, here we go.  Which one is more iconic?  In other words, when people think of Dracula today, who do they picture: Lugosi or Lee?  And who do you think modern audiences prefer?

LS:  I really don’t know who people today picture when they think of Dracula. It may even be neither Lugosi or Lee, since there have been other versions since then, like Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the material: BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992).

Gary Oldman caught in the act, in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

MA:  Come on!  You can’t seriously believe that anyone today would actually picture Gary Oldman as Dracula!  The guy looked like John Lennon!

LS:  Who knows what people think? What am I, a psychic? I only know what I think!

MA: I don’t think Lugosi and Lee have much competition, unless you include Count Chocula and The Count from SESAME STREET.

LS: So that’s why those photos are up. I just figured you had the mind of a child. Who knew you were going to make a point.

MA: Well, certainly not you, since you don’t know what other people are thinking!

LS:   And you do, I suppose?

MA:  I have a pretty good idea what you’re thinking right now, and I can’t say it out loud.

Anyway, people certainly aren’t going to picture Frank Langella, who played the role in the weak 1979 film version.  Who else as Dracula could they possibly imagine?

LS: Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen in the TWILIGHT movies? He’s not Dracula, but he’s certainly just as popular a vampire these days. (groans). And if he ever played Dracula, then I’m sure, for a whole generation, he’d be the definitive one. Imagine that, and be truly horrified.

But for me, Lugosi will always be my first choice. He may not have had a lot of roles that were as good as the original DRACULA (1931), but that is his shining moment, and the movie, as atmospheric and almost surreal as it is, will always be the real deal to me.

MA:  I would have to agree with you and say that Lugosi is more iconic, at least here in the United States, and that when people today think of Dracula, they most likely think of Lugosi.

The great LUGOSI, from Universal Studio's DRACULA (1931)

LS: And how do you know this? Did you take a survey?

MA:  I’m speaking in terms of Lugosi and Lee here.  If you ask someone to impersonate Dracula, chances are they’re going to do the Lugosi voice.  They’re not going to speak in a British accent like Christopher Lee.  That’s what I mean when I say that when people today think of Dracula, they most likely think of Lugosi.

It’s largely due in part to the influence of Universal Pictures.  They constantly re-package their old black and white monster movies, along with their merchandise, so that the images of the Universal monsters never seem to be out of the modern-day collective consciousness.  I think when people think of Dracula, they think of Lugosi, complete with his trademark accent.  I don’t think people today picture Christopher Lee, even though he starred in those seven Hammer DRACULA movies.

But even without Universal’s marketing department, I think people would still picture Lugosi as Dracula, which shows the power of Lugosi’s legacy.  Even after all these years, he remains in most people’s minds the definitive Dracula.

LS: I bet you there’s a whole generation who has no idea what we’re talking about, and they haven’t heard of Lugosi or Lee.

MA:  That’s why you and I write about these guys, so this doesn’t happen, so people don’t forget.  That’s why we need readers, readers, and more readers, so out there in horror movie land, if you like reading Cinema Knife Fight and this spin-off, Friday Night Knife Fights, tell your friends!  Okay, enough with the self-promotion.  Where was I?

Oh yeah.  I don’t know who modern audiences prefer.  At one time, I would have easily picked Lee as the fan favorite, but today I’m not so sure.

Christopher Lee, the star of seven DRACULA films from Hammer Films.

LS: Now you say you don’t know who modern audiences prefer? Make up your mind!!

MA: What?  Before, I said people think of Lugosi when they think of Dracula.  Now, I’ve moved on to the next question, which is, which actor do we think modern audiences prefer?  Having trouble keeping up or something?

LS:  I’m having trouble keeping up with the number of times you change your mind!

MA:  Whatever.

I have a story to share on this subject.  Several years ago, when I was teaching a movie class to eighth graders, at Halloween time I showed my classes both DRACULA and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).  In the follow-up essays, I expected students to overwhelmingly pick HORROR OF DRACULA as their favorite film, but I was surprised that this wasn’t the case.  The majority of students went with the Lugosi version, citing Lugosi’s performance as the major reason why they liked it better.  And I think it was because Lugosi played Dracula the way the students expected Dracula to be played.

LS (snoring): Zzzzzzzzz

MA: Wake up! We’re having a debate here.

LS: Huh? Your “stories” always bore the hell out of me.

MA: I’m sorry.  I forgot you have the attention span of a gnat.

All right, we’ve reached the moment of truth.  Time for us to decide:  which one is the ultimate movie Dracula: Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee?

LS:  I hesitantly choose Lugosi. Not because I don’t feel he’s the ultimate movie Dracula—because I do— but because Lee is no slouch either. I really like Lee’s take on the character and in many ways it’s just as satisfying as Lugosi’s. But for me, Lugosi is the more iconic figure: the first (at least after the silent age) and the best.

MA:  I feel your pain. I went back and forth so many times with this, it almost made me dizzy.

So, who’s my pick for the ultimate movie Dracula, Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee?  This is such a difficult choice for me to make, and I’ve gone right down to the wire with my final decision.

LS:  Just spit it out already!

MA:  Okay, okay.

Without further hesitation, here it is:

As much as I like Christopher Lee as Dracula—and even though I think he is far scarier as Dracula—when it comes to the complete package, I can’t deny that Bela Lugosi is the ultimate movie Dracula.  For the most part, this opinion is based on the strength of Lugosi’s initial performance in DRACULA.  From the way he speaks, to his mannerisms, to his commanding presence, Lugosi is Dracula.

LS: Hell, Lugosi was even buried wearing one of the capes he wore in DRACULA. That’s dedication to a role.

MA: I love Lee as Dracula, but there’s no comparison to moments where Lugosi utters such lines as, “Listen to them, the children of the night, what music they make.”  “To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious.”  “There are far worse things, Miss Mina, awaiting man, than death.”

Bela Lugosi is the ultimate movie Dracula.

So, there you have it.  The decision is unanimous, but boy was it close!

LS: (laughs) Yeah, I’m sure everyone was sitting on the edges of their seats.

MA: That was quite the bout.  I need a drink of water.

LS:  I need a drink of blood!

MA:  Well, don’t look at me.

LS (groans):  I’ll settle for a beer.

MA:  That sounds better.  Anyway, it’s been fun.

LS: Yes it has.

MA (addresses audience) :  Thanks for joining us tonight.  We had a good time, and we hope you did too.

LS:  And don’t forget to join us every weekday for new content about your favorite movies, new and old, right here at CinemaKnifeFight.com!

MA:  This has been FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS.  Good night everybody!

—-END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

THE BEAST WITHIN!

Posted in 2011, 80s Horror, Giant Insects, Monsters, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , , on February 24, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES: Humanoid from the Deep Woods
By Nick Cato

1982’s creature feature THE BEAST WITHIN was a genius of movie marketing.  By taking a typical 50’s monster movie plot, adding updated 70’s/early 80s monster-rape mayhem (ala XTRO and HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP), and packaging it with one of the best TV ad campaigns seen since the golden days of exploitation cinema, this effective, low-budget shocker gave theater-goers everything they were promised…except for a coherent plot.

For about a month before THE BEAST WITHIN‘s Feb. 15th, 1982 opening weekend (YIKES! that’s almost 30 years ago!), MGM ran a relentless television ad campaign that featured a slow zoom-out of the theater poster (see above), with a man’s voice saying something like, “The producers of this film DARE you to sit through the last 30 minutes of THE BEAST WITHIN without covering your eyes, screaming, or running from your seat!.  They DARE you!”  Ka-CHINGK!  That was the sound of every horror fans around the United States being reeled in, and of course yours truly was in attendance Friday night at the (of course, now defunct) Rae Twin Cinema, a slim but lengthy duplex that was located adjacent to an OTB.  The excitement waiting in line to see this was kind of amazing for a low-budget horror film: people bopped around (whether due to the cold or from being psyched by the TV ad, is anyone’s guess) as old men cut through the line to lay cash down next door on the ponies.

I stared at THE BEAST WITHIN‘s poster, which reminded me of a few favorites from the 70s, such as CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976) and THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972).  I wasn’t too surprised when the film began and I discovered it took place in Mississippi: despite the TV commercial having no scenes from the film, the poster just gave it that vibe.  (Okay, who am I kidding?  The pre-coverage in Fangoria magazine had spilled a few beans).

Part of the genius of DARING an audience to make it through the last 30 minutes of a film is the producers now had the freedom to give us a crappy, boring first 60.  But thankfully—and despite a slow scene or two—THE BEAST WITHIN turned out to be an effective little monster movie, beginning in the 1950s when some poor newlywed woman is raped on a dirt road by a bug-eyed creature, and of course the rest of the film dealing with her son who is the creature’s offspring.  While his parents didn’t understand this yet, the audience pretty much had it figured out from the get-go.

It doesn’t take long for 17 year-old Michael (played nicely by Paul Clemens, who starred in a few other genre outings) to start showing signs that something wasn’t right in his life.  He begins having violent outbursts, local townspeople are found dead, all leading up to one fantastic metamorphosis-sequence courtesy of underrated FX whiz Thomas Burman, who worked on the great 1977 version of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, 1978’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, 1979’s mutant-bear epic, PROPHECY, and, more famously, had a hand in THE GOONIES (1985).  Here, I dare say he even gave the Oscar-winning werewolf-transformation sequence in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON a run for its money…

THE BEAST WITHIN turns out to be some kind of Cicada-insect creature, and while it’s not even remotely explained why or how this thing exists, I always found this missing information added to the film’s overall creepiness (I remember at the time a lot of people left the theater complaining about it).  The plot is infested (full pun intended) with this and other plot holes, but people who come to a monster movie with a gimmick marketing campaign really shouldn’t be looking for logic.  They should come looking for fun—and the last 30 minutes of this delivers the goods: The BEAST is on the loose in a small town as a few rednecks take refuge in a police station (my favorite scene has one older man—who decides it’d be safer to lock himself in the jail’s small holding pen—has his head ripped off when the BEAST slams his insectoid-hands through the only non-barred side of the cage and pops his noggin’ like a dandelion!).  All sorts of carnage ensues, including (SPOILER ALERT!!) Michael/BEAST impregnating some poor lass to keep the bug-line going, shortly before his mother blows his head off via shotgun for a dark and satisfying finale.

I’m not sure how well this one holds up on cable or DVD (I’ve only seen it once that opening night, way back when), but for a bunch of high school freshman, it worked like a charm and spewed us out of the theater with wicked grins on our popcorn-buttered faces.  I think I’ll re-watch this the next time it airs on the IFC channel, which it does quite often…

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

The Beast in mid-transformation....YOWCH!

THE VENGEFUL FEMININE

Posted in 2011, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Ghost Movies, Japanese Horror with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2011 by knifefighter

The Vengeful Feminine
A Look at Female Ghosts in Asian Horror
By Colleen Wanglund, The Geisha of Gore

The female ghost is a major icon in Asian horror films. It’s as much an icon in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, as zombies or vampires are in Western horror movies. Even to Western audiences, the female Asian ghost is one of the most recognizable characters in horror movies. She rampages through schools, homes and towns bringing death to anyone unfortunate enough to be in her way. Asian movies like RINGU (1998), JU-ON (2000), SHUTTER (2004), EPITAPH (2007), and ACACIA (2003), and American remakes—THE RING (2002), THE GRUDGE (2002), and SHUTTER (2008) all have the requisite female ghost. Her appearance is generally the same—long black hair usually covering her face and a white dress or gown. Where does she come from? What is her significance?

The ghost in Asian culture, most notably China, Japan and Korea, dates back centuries. The Chinese have a very long history of ancestor worship and there is a long list of various types and classes of ghost. In Korea, the first documented ghost story dates back to the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC—668 AD) and, in Japan, female ghosts were seen in literature dating to the feudal period (1185 AD—1868 AD). While coming from three different cultures, there are many similarities to the ghost stories. All three countries have very specific rituals for dealing with the dead, to ensure the eternal happiness of the spirit of the departed. If those rituals aren’t observed, the spirit will come back to haunt the living. Ghosts are also the product of spirits succumbing to strong negative emotions that keep them here in the corporeal world.

Aside from the long-standing tradition and fear of a restless spirit coming back to haunt the living, the modern ghost story has social and political meanings as well. While women in the West have become, for the most part, equal with men thanks to the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, that has not happened in Asian cultures where women are still viewed as being inferior to men. Women in Asia tend to be more reserved and are expected to be submissive to their husbands. Even highly successful women across Asia are considered failures if they haven’t married by the age of 25. The ghost is not a symbol of women’s oppression. Rather it is a symbol of women overcoming that oppression. It represents the destroying of the traditional patriarchal society. The modern ghost story is hardly the first in Asia to express social and political anxieties.

In 15th-century Korea, a series of novellas were banned because they depicted strong-minded, independent female ghosts who had a strong sense of identity—an absolute no-no. The spirits were believed to have stayed in the human realm because of an unwillingness to conform to societal standards of the time. The ruling class feared this and made the ghost stories illegal. In feudal Japan, the country was ruled in pieces by various shogun and their samurais who fought for control of territory. It is believed that in most ghost stories from this period the female ghost represents Japan itself, and she is returning for revenge on the men who are tearing her apart. The stories gave moral as well as political warnings. These constant battles for control between the shoguns lasted for about 700 years. There is more to this horror icon than just some scares. She represents real social and political issues that have existed and still exist.

The biggest similarity and most recognizable aspect of the female ghost is her appearance. No matter what Southeast Asian country the movie comes from, the ghost looks the same—long black hair, hidden face, white dress/gown. The white clothing is traditional funeral garb for the dead, so this is why they are almost always in white. The hair is a little more complex. The simplest explanation is that this is how the ghost was depicted in Kabuki Theater. The black wig let the audience know immediately who the character was. In fact the long hair has much deeper meanings. In folklore, the hair was believed to have a magical quality to it, representing the spiritual essence of the person. Women typically wore their hair up while alive, mostly for practical reasons, and it was let down while preparing the body for the funeral. This may have released that powerful energy enabling a wronged woman to come back and seek revenge. Women, while being seen as physically weaker than men, are also perceived as being spiritually stronger than men, thus the reason for (mostly) female ghosts. The weak woman who was abused in life can now exact her revenge in death. Long hair is also believed to represent the power of female sexuality, which gives these ghosts incredible power after death, even though they were powerless in life.

The hair is also seen as some sort of organic mask, covering the face and thus obliterating any past identity or personality of the woman the ghost may have been. The ghost is driven by very definite feelings, but she has lost what made her human. There is no compassion, love or remorse. But is the female ghost just a faceless spirit with almost no connection to its lost humanity, or is the ghost a compassionate villain? While the ghosts are generally driven by negative emotions and the need for revenge, those emotions come from a pain that a female audience can understand. While fearing the ghost we can also sympathize with the reasons for its rampage. We can even pity her at times. She represents pain, rejection, betrayal and loss—feelings the female audience can surely empathize with. In a much broader sense, the female ghost also represents the social and political anxieties of the patriarchal societies that have spawned them. The repression of women still exists in countries like Japan and Korea—modern countries where you wouldn’t expect this kind of repression to exist. There is a fear in these patriarchal societies of what would happen if women escaped these bonds.

One thing to keep in mind is that these female ghosts don’t usually hurt the men who hurt them in life. They hurt others who either are related to the object of their revenge or who just happen to get in the way. In the Korean movie PHONE (2002), a young woman is having an affair with a married man and goes missing. People who have her phone number since her disappearance have died in horrible accidents and the man’s daughter is possessed, but the man himself is left untouched by the presumed ghost of the girl. In JU-ON (2000), from Japan, a woman is murdered by her husband. Her ghost then curses everyone who comes near with death, even though they have no connection to the woman or her husband. The ghosts are not hurting the men who hurt them, but others. In this sense, the representation is not that the patriarchal society will be destroyed, but the traditions that allowed it to exist in the first place. If women become the equals of men, society won’t fall apart, but the traditions of the subservient wife, the male-dominated business world, and even male-dominated politics, would fall away. Men hold all of the power in these societies and they fear losing it.

Interestingly enough, the reasons are slightly different in Indonesia. The ghost story in Indonesia is a relatively new phenomenon and is believed to be directly influenced by the movies of Japan and Korea. The political climate there has been in flux over the last decade or so, and women as well as men have taken to the streets in protest. However, the representation of the female ghost in Indonesia is more of a statement on the victimization of women as a whole. The movies themselves attempt to create a dialogue about the violence perpetrated against women when new governments do nothing to protect them or change the existing patriarchal structure. In the movie VICTIM (2009), a young woman is hired by the police to play the victims in crime-scene reenactments. The young woman says a prayer for the woman she is portraying, but over time the ghosts of these crime victims begin to overwhelm her with cries of vengeance. It is recognized that women are disproportionately victimized in Indonesia, but successive governments have failed to do anything about it. What’s ironic is that a majority of the filmmakers who use the female ghost as an analogy are men, whether it’s in Indonesia or Japan.

The female ghost is symbolic of women gaining an equal footing in a repressive society. Women have slowly been gaining ground, in that they can go to universities and can get good jobs, but there still exists a stigma for a young woman who is not married. The film industry generally reflects what is happening in society. Asian horror is merely reflecting the woman’s rising stature, as well as the fear of men who are reluctant to break with tradition. These particular ghost stories have a vagueness to them that isn’t necessarily seen in Western horror. There is no need for an explanation as to how or why the ghost is doing what it’s doing. This usually reflects the fact that there is no explanation for the existence of the patriarchal society—it just is. There is also not necessarily a finish to the rampage at the end of the movie. This is probably because there is no one who can say what will happen when these societies fall and make way for a more equal society. This is part of the fear—the unknown.

So the next time you see an Asian horror film or an American remake don’t roll your eyes at the prospect of another ghost. Cheer for her instead. The Asian female ghost is a true feminist.

© Copyright 2011 by Colleen Wanglund

UNKNOWN

Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Hitchcockian Thrillers, John Harvey Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2011 by knifefighter

Liam Neeson Gives Us “Schindler’s Fist” in UNKNOWN
Movie review by John Harvey

With Harrison Ford mellowing and taking more roles in dramas and comedies, action/thriller fans who like their heroes with a little gray hair should be relieved to see Liam Neeson‘s career shift toward films like TAKEN (2008) and now UNKNOWN.

And Neeson is perfect for these roles. Though he clocks in at 58 years-old, his physical stature (6’5” and a former boxer), his rugged good looks, and obvious acting chops make him believable in action roles. Unlike, say, Bruce Willis who these days requires that you squint and think of John McClane if you want to believe he can fall down a flight of stairs without breaking a hip.

In UNKNOWN, Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, a scientist who arrives in Berlin with his age-inappropriate wife, Elizabeth (MAD MEN‘s January Jones), to speak at a major biotech conference. Upon arriving at their hotel, Harris realizes that his briefcase (containing his passport) has been left behind at the airport. So, he jumps in a cab, almost dies in a random car accident, and spends the next four days hospitalized in a coma. When he wakes up, he finds that his wife doesn’t recognize him and another man (Aidan Quinn) has assumed his identity. Baffled and distraught, Harris must figure out why this is happening to him, while alone in a foreign country.

Compared to TAKEN, this film is driven more by twists-and-turns and suspense rather than the visceral and linear action. While it’s tempting to compare UNKNOWN to the various Jason Bourne movies starring Matt Damon, this film leans more toward an Alfred Hitchcock aesthetic. It’s doesn’t always get that aesthetic right, but it succeeds more than it fails.

When dealing with this sort of premise, you have to forgive more than a few improbabilities and impossibilities. Generally, you’ll increase your level of forgiveness proportional to how much fun you have watching the film. Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra has done thrillers before (ORPHAN (2009) and HOUSE OF WAX (2005)), and provides just enough action and suspense to let the average viewer sit back and enjoy the ride. His directing style leans toward crisp and uncomplicated, which results in above-par car chases where you can actually follow what’s happening and brutal, believable fight scenes.

Written by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwall (the latter being thriller author John le Carré’s son) and adapted from French author Didier Van Cauwelaert’s novel “Out of My Head,” the story and plotting for UNKNOWN is good, but perhaps features a few too many twists, dodges, and red herrings. The biggest trap with movies like this is that the more you paint the protagonist into a corner, the more you expect from the ending. And, more often than not, the more likely you are to be disappointed by that ending. The good news is that while UNKNOWN‘s ending isn’t uber-fantastic, it’s also not that bad. As far as story goes, perhaps the biggest flaw in UNKNOWN is that Dr. Harris takes a little too long to shift into “hero mode” where he’s taking charge rather than allowing himself to be chased around.

From an acting perspective, the biggest flaw in UNKNOWN is January Jones as Harris’ wife. One suspects that she was shooting for an ice queen vibe (à la similar roles in various Hitchcock films), but what she actually provides is a kind of vacuous, high-functioning Stepford wife. Thankfully, all the other performances here are spot-on. Diane Kruger puts in a great performance as Gina, a Bosnian cab driver who becomes intertwined in Harris’ fate. Also, the scene-stealer in UNKNOWN is Bruno Ganz (see author’s note 1), who portrays a former STASI agent turned private investigator whose attention to detail helps to unravel Harris’ mess. And Frank Langella comes in near the film’s end to effortlessly increase the menace factor.

Does UNKNOWN have its flaws? Sure. It’s not air-tight, but still manages to do more right than wrong. This is a fun movie that makes you both pay attention and care about the characters. One hopes that Neeson will put in a few more performances like this before he moves on to other things.

– END –

© Copyright 2011 by John D. Harvey

UNKNOWN
Directed By: Jaume Collet-Serra
Written By: Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwall
Starring: Liam Neeson, January Jones, Diane Kruger, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella.
Run Time: 113 minutes
Rating: PG-13

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Not familiar with Bruno Ganz? Oddly, you’ve probably seen him act many times if you’ve watched any of the popular “Hitler Finds Out…” meme’s on YouTube, where Ganz portrays Hitler in the German-language film DOWNFALL (2004), but with fans splicing in their own comedic subtitles to Hitler’s meltdown toward the end of the movie. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/downfall-hitler-meme

EDITOR’S NOTE: If Ganz seems familiar, it may also be because you’ve seen him in one of his 99 film roles, including such classics as Win Wenders’ THE AMERICAN FRIEND (1977), THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978), Werner Herzog’s version of NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979) and Wenders’ art-house hit, WINGS OF DESIRE (1987). ~LLS

I AM NUMBER FOUR!

Posted in 2011, Aliens, Cinema Knife Fights, High School Horrors, Michael Arruda Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011)
By MICHAEL ARRUDA

(The Scene: A high school hallway.  Students are bustling through the hall, some rushing to get to class, others lingering by their lockers, talking, horsing around.  A handsome young man approaches his locker, looking forlorn. He is approached by a beautiful teenage girl.  She speaks to him, but he continues to look inside his locker, as if he’s too upset to look at her.)

GIRL:  When are you going to tell me the truth?

YOUNG MAN:  I can’t.  I wish I could.

GIRL:  Can’t or won’t?

YOUNG MAN:  Fine!  I’ll tell you!  I’m an alien from another planet!  I have special powers that I’m still learning how to use, and my life is one big mess!

GIRL:  I knew it!  I knew you weren’t from this planet, Clarke!

YOUNG MAN (confused):  Clarke?  (He turns to face girl for first time.  They’re both surprised to see each other.)  Who are you?

GIRL:  I’m Lana.  I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else:   Clarke Kent.  His locker is right next to yours.

YOUNG MAN:  No, I’m Number Four— er, I mean, John Smith.

(Camera pans away and finds MICHAEL ARRUDA walking through the hall.  MA addresses the camera.)

MA:  Yes, there are similarities between today’s movie, I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011) and the TV series, SMALLVILLE, which is no surprise, since screenwriter Alfred Gough, who wrote the screenplay for this movie, also penned a bunch of SMALLVILLE episodes.

Welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  L.L. is off tonight, so I’m doing this one solo, which means I won’t be fighting with him during this review, but not to worry, for those of you who tune in for that sort of thing, and you know who you are, you’re like the hockey fans who watch hockey for the fights and could care less about the final score— there’ll be plenty of fights in this one to go around.

(MA suddenly fights his way through a hostile crowd of high school teenagers making their way to class.  MA is pushed backwards.  He manages to escape through a door, and finds himself in the waiting area of the principal’s office.)

MA:  Well, that’s not how we drew it up, but hey, here we are, as good a place as any to conduct this review of the new science fiction action thriller, I AM NUMBER FOUR, a film that is certainly science fiction, but there’s not a lot of action, and it’s not much of a thriller.

I AM NUMBER FOUR opens with a murder, as a teenager and his protector are killed by some evil aliens known as the Mogadorians.  It’s not a particularly exciting sequence, and so the movie doesn’t get off to a rousing start.

The action switches to our young hero Number Four (Alex Pettyfer), living in sunny California, who, while swimming with a hot babe at the beach, has a bizarre experience where a scar on his leg glows as if it were touched by ET.  This somehow tells him that Number 3 has been killed, and so it’s time for him, Number 4, to be on the move again.

He changes his name to John Smith, and he moves with his protector Henri (Tim Olyphant) to Ohio where they hope to lay low for a while, to keep hidden from the menacing Mogadorians.  John explains in some silly voice-over narration that he’s an alien, that the Mogadorians are bad guys from his home planet, and that they’re hell bent on killing John and his alien buddies, who are all hiding on Earth.

What’s not explained to any degree of satisfaction is WHY the Mogadorians want to kill these teens.  Something is said about the teens’ possessing the ability to destroy the Mogadorians, and since the Mogadorians don’t care too much for dying, I guess they figure they should kill off these teens.  But are they immortal otherwise?  In other words, if the Mogadorians succeed in killing all the alien teens, can’t they still die?  This plot point doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and as a result, the story lacks a convincing reason for the Mogadorians’ actions.

Also not really explained is why the teens have to be killed in order.  Why does Number 4 need to be eliminated after Number 3?  Why can’t they go after Number 5 first? Does this mean that if the Mogadorians found Number 5 first, they wouldn’t kill him, because it was out of order?  This doesn’t make much sense.

(A Mogadorian pokes his head through door, literally, breaking the glass window.)

MOGADORIAN:  We like order!

MA:  Me, too, but aren’t you carrying it to the point of ridiculousness?  Are you telling me that if Number 7 walked through that door right now, you’d let him go, because you haven’t killed Number 4 yet?

MOGADORIAN:  I don’t know.  Let me think about that and get back to you.

MA:  Here’s some advice.  Tell your screenwriters to think about these things in advance!

(Door to principal’s office opens, and principal enters waiting area.)

PRINCIPAL:  What’s going on here?

MA (points to MOGADORIAN):  He broke your door.  Kids today.

PRINCIPAL:  Alright, Mogadorian, I’ve had enough out of you. In my office now!  I’m calling your mom!

MOGADORIAN:  Ah, man! Not my mom!  (He stomps into principal’s office, and the door slams.)

MA:  Alone at last.  Back to I AM NUMBER FOUR.

In Ohio, Henri advises John to keep out of sight completely, but John just can’t stand being stuck in the house, so he goes ahead and enrolls at his local high school.  John wants to go to school.  If that doesn’t prove he’s an alien, I don’t know what does!

In school, John meets the lovely Sarah (Dianna Agron) and they soon have a thing going.  She’s an amateur photographer – probably not the best friend to hang around with when you’re trying to lay low, but strangely this doesn’t become a problem.  John also befriends the geeky Sam (Callan McAuliffe) who’s obsessed with aliens, since his father believed in aliens and later mysteriously disappeared.  How convenient that these two characters should meet, especially when it’s discovered that the aliens Sam’s dad were researching were John and his buddies.  What are the odds?  I’d say they’re not very good.  This plot point is anything but believable.

Sarah’s former boyfriend is the school quarterback turned bully Mark (Jake Abel).  Mark is insanely jealous and sets his sights on tormenting John, which means before the Mogadorians show up, John gets to show off his newfound powers against Mark and his gang of bullies.  John’s powers include the ability to jump through the air in oh-so-cool ways, and he can shoot bursts of energy through his hands like mini bolts of lightning.  He’s also incredibly strong.

(Behind MA in the school hallway, strange flashing lights are seen through the broken glass in the door.  There’s the sound of a commotion, with people screaming and fighting.  MA peers into hallway.  He catches a student by the arm.)

MA:  What’s going on?

STUDENT:  It’s the last day of school before winter vacation!

MA:  It’s awfully early to be going home, isn’t it?

STUDENT:  It’s a half day!  We’re friggin out of this hell hole!

(MA looks down hallway to see a myriad of students jumping through the air in oh-so-cool ways.)

MA:  It looks like an episode of GLEE.  Okay, back to the movie.

Eventually, the Mogadorians show up to kill John, which comes as no surprise, since this is what the movie is about.  It would have been better had they shown up earlier, so the movie could have moved on to stuff that was a surprise.

John’s protector Henri proves to be as helpful as an old lady.

(An old lady opens door.)

OLD LADY:  I resent that remark! (She throws a book at MA which hits him in the head.)

MA:  Ow!  What did you do that for?  There’s a whole hallway of students out there causing a ruckus.  Don’t you have something better to do?  How could you even hear me with all that noise out there?

OLD LADY:  Now, you’re calling me deaf?  (She throws another book at MA, then leaves.)

MA:  This is a tough school.

Anyway, Henri proves useless as he is promptly disposed of by the Mogadorians, but not to worry, for help arrives in the form of Number 6 (Teresa Palmer) a hot motorcycle-riding babe who shows up just in time to team up with John, Sarah, and Sam to kick some Mogadorian butt.

I AM NUMBER FOUR is an entertaining but VERY light movie that would have been more effective had it been more hard hitting.  The story of an alien teen pursued by evil aliens intent on killing him is compelling enough for a start, but as you would expect from a big budget Hollywood production, this story is not developed.

It takes forever for the baddies, the Mogadorians, to find John. In the meantime, we have to sit through a rather bland love story between John and Sarah, and while this story doesn’t come close to the excruciating boredom generated by the TWILIGHT movies, at times, it does come close.  I mean, there are similarities:  the high school setting, the teen angst, the lack of conflict for long periods of time.

Why not bring in the Mogadorians half way into this story?  This way, we wouldn’t be so sure of what was going to happen.  The way the story plays now, the battle happens at the end of the movie, and so it’s rather obvious to the audience what’s going to happen, obvious and not that exciting.  Does anybody in the theater REALLY think that John and his pals are going to lose?

John’s guardian, Henri, is supposed to be a warrior, which is laughable, since he’s anything but.  He gets caught and surprised so easily, John’s better off without him.

The Mogadorians, the main baddies in this movie, are genuinely creepy, and I liked them, but they’re not in this movie anywhere near enough.  Plus, even though they are creepy, they’re not dark enough.  They should be nightmare-inducing, but they’re not.

There are also some CGI created monsters which make their appearance late in the movie to take part in the final battle, and yeah, they’re pretty fake-looking.  They’re not quite as bad as the awful CGI werewolves from the TWILIGHT movies, but they’re not much better, either.

I AM NUMBER FOUR is also dreadfully slow for most of its first half.  Again, it doesn’t approach the boredom levels found in TWILIGHT, but it’s certainly missing some pacing early on.  With all the talky scenes, this story may have worked better as a TV show than a theatrical movie.

The performances in this one are all pretty good.  Alex Pettyfer as the lead, Number 4/alias John Smith, is likeable enough, although considering the kind of life he’s been leading, he doesn’t show a lot of angst at spending his life on the run.  He says he’s sick of moving around, but he doesn’t seem all that upset.  Imagine what a young Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio would have done with this role.

Tim Olyphant is good as Henri, though he’s nowhere near as memorable as he was in last year’s THE CRAZIES.  The biggest problem is that the character he’s playing, Henri, is a disappointment.  He’s supposed to be this warrior protector, but he’s all talk and no action.  As soon as it comes time for him to do something, he fails miserably.

Dianna Agron from TV’s GLEE is very good as John’s love interest, Sarah, and hers was probably my favorite performance in the movie.  Callan McAuliffe was also very good as Sam, the likeable geek.  Jake Abel as Mark made for a believable bully.

Kevin Durand, who we saw as the angel Gabriel in last year’s LEGION, plays the Mogadorian Commander.  Like the other Mogadorians in the movie, he’s creepy, but he doesn’t go far enough, nor is he in the movie enough.  These villains could easily have been developed further.

Teresa Palmer rocks as Number 6, and she’s one of the more exciting characters in the movie.  What’ s not to like about a hot alien biker babe?  However, she too isn’t in this one enough.

Also on hand is Brian Howe in a brief comic scene, comic before it turns deadly as Howe’s character meets a grisly end, which, of course, happens off camera.  Howe has a very long resume of appearances in both TV and movies, but I always remember him for his hilarious performance as Dr. Roger Fleming in the campy classic THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA (2001).  Hard to believe that one is 10 years old already!

I AM NUMBER FOUR was directed by D. J. Caruso, who also directed DISTURBIA (2007).  Here, Caruso helms a slick flick, but unfortunately he does nothing to put his stamp on this movie.  There’s nothing in this one to distinguish it from other movies of this type.  There aren’t any scares, and though there are action scenes, mostly at the end, they’re certainly not memorable.  They’re not anything you wouldn’t see on a TV show.  I’m sorry, but a theatrical action movie should have action scenes that are more exciting and more visually thrilling than what you would see in a TV series.

Alfred Gough wrote the screenplay, and as I already noted he wrote the scripts for several SMALLVILLE episodes.  There are similarities between I AM NUMBER FOUR and SMALLVILLE, including the main characters (both aliens with super powers) and the high school setting.  Gough also wrote the screenplays for SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) and THE MUMMY:  TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008).  I liked SPIDER-MAN 2 but not THE MUMMY movie.  This one falls somewhere in between those two films.

When the teens are talking to each other about real life teen stuff, like relationships and the like, the dialogue is good, but when the talk switches to aliens and John’s mission, the dialogue is forced and almost laughable at times.

The highly charged music score by Trevor Rabin is a good one and certainly helps this movie along.

I AM NUMBER FOUR has its share of weaknesses, yet it’s somehow likeable, I guess because it’s got likeable characters and a decent premise, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  So, in spite of its flaws, it still manages to entertain.   Watching I AM NUMBER FOUR is kinda like eating light ice cream.  Not the real deal, but somehow still satisfying.

I give it two and a half knives.

All right, that about wraps things up here.  Thanks for joining us. L.L. will be back next week as we review another new movie.  I think I’ll just stop off at the restroom before I leave.

(MA enters restroom and finds that the stall is occupied.  He waits, waits, and waits.)

MA:  Hey, buddy, what are you doing in there?  Reading WAR AND PEACE?

PERSON IN STALL:  I live here.  This is my home.

MA:  What?  What are you talking about?

PERSON IN STALL:  I—-  am Number 2.

—-END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS – ROUND 2 Who Was the Best Movie Dracula?

Posted in 2011, Dracula, Friday Night Knife Fights, Hammer Films, Horror, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2011 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:  BELA LUGOSI vs. CHRISTOPHER LEE
WHO IS THE ULTIMATE MOVIE DRACULA?
With MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES
PART 2

(The Scene: The Cinema Knife Fight studio.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES are seated across from each other on stools.  Behind them are movie stills featuring Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee as Dracula, as well as photos of Count Chocula and The Count from Sesame Street.)

MA:  Welcome back to Friday Night Knife Fights, as L.L. and I continue our discussion of which actor, Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, was the ultimate movie Dracula.  So far, we looked at their initial film performances as Dracula.  I thought Lugosi was slightly better than Lee.

LS:  And I thought the same thing, though as I said last time, it was a tough decision because Lee’s no slouch, and both of their initial performances were terrific.

MA:  Okay, time for the next question.

Of the two, who fared best in the sequels?  I’ll get us started by answering my own question.

I would have to say that Lee fared better in the sequels, if only because he actually appeared in sequels.  Lugosi only played Dracula in the movies twice, and the second time was in the comedy ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).  He played a vampire in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) and RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1944), and while his performances in all of these movies were topnotch, I still give the edge to Lee, since he was actually playing Dracula in his movies.

Plus, thanks to Hammer Films’ interest in the character— and Hammer was interested in Dracula because the Christopher Lee Dracula movies consistently made the most money for the studio—Lee got to play Dracula in six sequels after HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

Though it’s not a sequel, Lee also played Dracula in the non-Hammer movie COUNT DRACULA (1970), directed by Jess Franco, as well.

So, by sheer numbers alone, I give the edge to Lee.

Christopher Lee portrayed Dracula as a more animalistic, savage creature.

LS:  Unlike the Frankenstein monster and Mummy franchises (and later the Wolfman), Universal didn’t make any more Dracula movies (they did however, make a sequel to the original Dracula in 1936, called DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, but Lugosi is nowhere to be found except in a brief scene at the beginning, where his daughter burns his corpse).

MA:  Don’t forget SON OF DRACULA (1943) starring Lon Chaney Jr. as Count Alucard….

LS: Yeah, that’s a funny one. Count “Alucard.” It’s Dracula spelled backwards. What a clever ruse (laughs)

MA: And of course there was both HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945), in which John Carradine played Dracula, so Universal did in fact make more Dracula movies.

LS:  You’re right about SON OF DRACULA. It’s like Lon Chaney Jr. played every monster in the Universal cannon to see which ones he could turn into a franchise (the answers: Larry Talbot and Kharis the Mummy). As for the HOUSE movies, I always considered them almost a subgenre in themselves, since they were more concerned in packing in as many monsters as they could, rather than focusing on just one.

Besides, we’re talking about Lugosi here, and they didn’t make any more Dracula movies starring Bela, except as you said, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, and with the exception of DRACULA’S DAUGHTER, none of these other Universal Dracula movies were direct sequels to the Lugosi original.

So, the only other time Lugosi was able to play his most famous role again was in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, which is partly why that comedy is such a revered classic.

Lugosi’s other vampire roles tended to be disappointing. MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (a remake of Lon Chaney Sr.’s silent classic LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT from 1927) is okay, but in the end the vampires are really actors in disguise, which is always a big letdown.

MA:  It’s a REALLY big letdown.  I don’t like that part of MARK OF THE VAMPIRE at all.  It nearly ruins the movie.

Bela Lugosi portrayed Dracula on stage, as well as playing the role in the 1931 film version.

LS: Let’s face it. It’s not a great movie.

MA: Lugosi’s not in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE all that much, but when he’s in it, he’s good.  His performance here actually reminds me a little bit of Christopher Lee, since Lugosi doesn’t talk much in this one and actually gets to run around a bit, appear menacingly outside windows, and generally look scary.  But Lee does “scary” better.

LS: RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1944) is better, and features a werewolf in it, too, but never again did Lugosi reach the greatness he achieved in the original DRACULA, mostly because the scripts in his other movies just aren’t up to par.

MA:  Yeah, I agree, although I like RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE a lot.  Lugosi speaks lots of dialogue in this one, and he’s close to his earlier form as DRACULA, though not quite.

LS: You can’t really compare the two films. The original DRACULA was a work of art. RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE was a fun B-movie. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Lugosi is okay in RETURN, but it’s nowhere close to his performance in the original DRACULA.

MA:  I don’t know about that.  I think Lugosi is almost if not just as good in RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE as he is in DRACULA, but you’re right about not being able to compare the two movies.  DRACULA is a much better movie than RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, but I really enjoy Lugosi in both of them.

LS:  As for Lee, his Dracula sequels are much more satisfying. They’re not all great, but at least they have a level of quality that Lugosi’s other vampire roles did not.  So, I go with Lee in terms of who fared better in the sequels.

MA:  We’re in agreement then.  Must be a full moon or something.  Moving right along.

Next question:  who’s scarier as Dracula?  Lugosi or Lee?

LS:  Since Lee played Dracula as a much more menacing, animalistic creature, I think his version is scarier, hands down. Although Lugosi was really good at showing the duality of his character, at times charming and, at other times, almost as menacing as Lee.

MA:  I’ve always thought that Lee was way scarier than Lugosi as Dracula, but I don’t think the margin is quite as wide as I used to believe.

Lee, with his athleticism and quick cat-like movements, made for a very violent and brutal Dracula.

Lugosi, on the other hand, possessed none of the action-oriented characteristics which Lee so masterfully displayed.  Lugosi brought his Dracula to life strictly through the strength of his acting, and the fear instilled by his Dracula is much more subtle and hypnotic.

We fear Lugosi’s Dracula will cast a spell on us, put us in a trance to do his bidding, or hypnotize us into inaction while he creeps up to our bed and drinks our blood.  We fear Lee’s Dracula will leap over a table, grab us by the arm, pin us down and bite us violently on the neck, blood dripping to the floor as he drinks his fill.

They’re both scary, and while neither Lee nor Lugosi ever gave me nightmares as Dracula, if I had to pick one, I’d go with Lee.  His in-your-face style is scarier.

Okay, of the two’s various portrayals of vampires, which one has delivered the weakest performance?  And why?

LS: After the triumph of DRACULA (a role he first performed on stage), Lugosi’s career gradually went downhill. There are a few highlights, like the first two movies he made where he “teamed up” with Boris Karloff – THE BLACK CAT (1934) and THE RAVEN (1935).

MA:  I love THE BLACK CAT and THE RAVEN.

LS:  But by the late 1930s and the 40s, his career was in a bad way.

MA:  What?  You didn’t like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE? (laughs).

LS:  The scripts just weren’t very good, horror was slowly dying out as a popular genre due to the real horrors of WWII, (although horror would be revived in the 1950s by Hammer Studios, ironically enough). It also didn’t help that Lugosi had a thick accent that made it difficult for him to avoid being typecast as foreign villains. The opportunities just weren’t there for him to have a more respectable acting career.

Lee, despite a few weak scripts, was able to maintain the quality of his vampire performances throughout his run as Dracula, and was always very effective in the role. I think he had a better time of it playing the character.

MA:  When I asked the question, I was only thinking of their performances as Dracula, or as a vampire.  I know Lugosi made a lot of notoriously awful movies, but in terms of vampire performances, do you still think Lugosi delivered the weaker performance?

LS: My answer covered all his movies, even his vampire ones. Besides, we already talked about his other vampire movies in depth. Do we really need to talk about them again?

MA: I’m just saying I asked about his vampire performances, that’s all.  Okay, good enough.  My turn to answer.

Lugosi only played Dracula once more in the movies, and to his credit, his performance as the Count in the comedy ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN doesn’t miss a beat.  He plays it straight, letting Bud Abbott and Lou Costello get the laughs.  And as we already discussed, he also delivers a fine performance in RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE and MARK OF THE VAMPIRE.

The odds are against Lee, since he played Dracula more—seven times for Hammer Films!  I don’t think Lee ever gave a weak performance as Dracula, but there were moments where he wasn’t as effective.

For example, in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), a film I happen to like, I’ve always found Lee’s performance here a bit off, compared to his other Dracula portrayals.  His Dracula seems uncharacteristically weaker here.  One scene in particular, where Dracula battles the hero Charles in Castle Dracula, and Charles forms a cross with swords to fend off Dracula, Dracula’s response is very un-Lee like.  He jumps away in fright.

It’s also the only Hammer Dracula where Lee doesn’t speak any lines, so this doesn’t help his case.

Lee’s performance in SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) is also different, although I don’t think I’d go so far as to categorize it as weak, but it does take some getting used to.   Gone is the leaping and running around, as in this film, you never see Dracula enter or exit a room.  He’s simply there one moment, gone the next, or a character’s alone in a room, and suddenly Dracula is there with him.  I didn’t like this at first, but this and other parts of Lee’s performance have grown on me over the years.  He also is extremely violent in SCARS (which is why it’s called SCARS OF DRACULA, I guess) as he whips, burns, and stabs his victims.  Like I said, it’s not really a weaker performance, but it takes some getting used to.

LS: I love SCARS OF DRACULA. It’s one of my favorites of the series.

MA: You can make the case that his performances in the last two films in the series, DRACULA A.D. 1972 and THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973) aren’t so hot, but these two films which take place in the 1970s have more problems than Christopher Lee.  Still, in DRACULA AD 1972, he seems out of place and doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself.  Plus Lee’s performance here is hammier than usual.  He’s almost a caricature of himself.

LS: He’s supposed to seem out of place in DRACULA A.D. 1972. He is an ancient aristocrat who suddenly finds himself in the world of 1972, complete with drug-taking hippies! Talk about culture shock!

MA: So, as to which one of the two delivered the weakest performance, I’d go with Lee for these moments, in DRACULA – PRINCE OF DARKNESS, and DRACULA A.D. 1972 especially.

LS: I don’t think that’s fair. I like both of those.

MA: Well, it looks as if Round 2 of our Friday Night Knife Fight has gone to Christopher Lee, and since last week’s Round 1 went to Bela Lugosi, it looks like it will come down to our final segment before we have a winner.

So don’t forget to join us next Friday for the final segment of this month’s Friday Night Knife Fight where we’ll decide once and for all which one of these two actors is the ultimate movie DRACULA.  See you then!

—END PART 2—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares