Quickfire Reviews #4 – Hallowe’en Special 2016

quickfire-reviews-4-halloween-special-2016

Quickfire Reviews return for a Hallowe’en special, where Darren takes a look at five films from horror’s past: The Invisible Man (1933), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), They LIve, Evil Dead (2013) and Theatre of Blood.

Everyone celebrates Halloween differently. I, being a massive coward, usually can’t stand watching horror movies. However, there are a few that I can’t help but watch most years. They may not be the best or the most famous but hey, they’re the ones that always make me come back for more.

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The Invisible Man (1933)

The Invisible Man is one of the forgotten gems in classic horror movies, I feel. Being the mostly unloved member of the Universal Movie Monster franchise, forever overshadowed by its older brothers; Frankenstein and Dracula. Even the Wolfman is better known in common circles. Still, The Invisible Man is my favourite of the bunch.

Staring a young Claude Rains as the titular character, a doctor driven by obsession to complete his invisibility serum for the betterment of mankind, he uses the dangerous Iocane Powder which completes his life’s work. However, it has side effect of turning him invisible. As he retreats to a small English village to cure himself, he begins to grow increasingly paranoid and mad. With power going to his head, he begins a descent into madness. Can he be cured in time?

Claude Rains is the perfect casting choice here. His powerful sonorous voice really captures your attention, and as anyone who has seen Casablanca knows, the man can act. Even being just a voice for the entirety of the picture can’t stop him from dominating every scene.

The effects, for the time, are groundbreaking. Using a black jumpsuit, he blended in with the closed sets rendering him invisible to the camera (similar to modern green screen). For that alone, this should be remembered as one of the cornerstones of horror.

If there is a downside to the movie it has to be a minor character played by Una O’Connor (from my hometown) who is the single most annoying character in horror. Think Willie from Temple of Doom but worse. She screeches incessantly, making a simple character insufferable. Of course, that’s the point but just because that’s what you are going for, doesn’t lessen the annoyance.

Looking past that, though, the movie has a lot of charm, commenting on the hubris of man as only black and white movies can; and having some genuinely funny scenes such as an invisible bike ride. This is one movie that should not remain invisible.

B+

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Stevenson’s novel has been adopted too many times to name. Whether it is done as a straight horror movie such as the 31’ version, a more psychological horror such as the 41’ version with Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman or as a comedic spin like the Nutty Professor, there is a lot of them in pop culture.

So, why this one? It isn’t the earliest adaption (that’s the 1913 Carl Laemmle version) nor is it even one of the most creative ones (like Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde for example), but it is possibly the most important adaption.

Dr. Jekyll is a pleasant and mild-mannered scientist who discovers a formula that unleashes the dark desire of the human psyche, transforming him into Mr. Hyde. Growing an addiction for the formula he leads a double life as the monstrous Hyde. Trying to keep this a secret he battles an inner war in which he must win or lose himself, but is the pull of the dark too strong?

Frederic March stars as our anti-hero, a role not common in 30’s cinema. A truly sterling performance, it’s not hard to see why he won an Oscar. Treating Jekyll with a polite and cautious approach, tinged with scientific curiosity, but Hyde with bold and debaucherous movements.  He leers constantly and as a modern audience, it’s hard not to be disgusted by him and his lecherous gaze.

The rest of the cast perform admirably, supporting a surprisingly dark and daring film that even by today’s standards hits a bit close to home, with the misogyny and depravity of Hyde as he rapes a prostitute or physically assaults her. This tone is one of the main strengths, being made slightly before the cinema was more harshly censored so that it really makes an impression on the darkness of Hyde.

The other strength is the camera work. Fantastically realised and executed, it works so well within the close up shots of March. The transformation being a real stand out in terms of both cinematography and special effects, as Jekyll first drinks the potion, the change seemingly happening in real time, growing and changing the noble Jekyll into a hideous beast of a man.

A dark work about the duality of man and nature, Dr. Jekyll and Hyde is a movie that should appeal to your own Dark side.

A

They Live

John Carpenter might just be the greatest Director of Cult Movies. With several classic horror movies under his belt such as Halloween, The Fog and The Thing, each a great movie in their own right, the one I keep returning to is They Live.

Like all good horror, what scares us is more than a monster or an alien; it’s more primal than that. If the Invisible Man is about hubris, and what scares us about Mr. Hyde is our own dark hearts, then what scares us in They Live is society.

Roddy Piper plays a nameless drifter in an alternate L.A. moving from place to place. Trying to get some work this blue collar hero eventually finds a job in construction and some friends in a local homeless camp. When he notes a local blind preacher nearby whose church gets raided by police, he finds a pair of sunglasses. When he wears them he can see the aliens that live amongst us. Scared but determined, after his discovery and how they control the world he decides to take things into his own hands and destroy them all, once and for all.

A highly political movie, talking about where we are hiding as a society, how consumerism affects us all and the lack of humanity in a system that should work for the people instead of shepherding them and controlling them, this might be the most actually terrifying horror movie I’ve ever seen.

A powerful critique of capitalism hidden behind memorable one-liners, great effects and possibly the single best fight scene in cinema there is a lot to love here.  Put on your own glasses and see what hides in They Live.

A

Evil Dead (2013)

As a general rule of thumb, remakes are terrible. We all know a movie we love that has a terrible modern remake. Horror is luckier than most genres in that it has a lot of decent, if not better than the original, remakes out there. Carpenter’s The Thing or the 78’ version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes to mind.

Yet remakes are always a risky business, especially when dealing with a cult favourite such as The Evil Dead.

David and his girlfriend, Olivia, go to a remote cabin with two of their friends and his drug-addicted sister, Mia. Planning on staying there for a week to allow her to purge her addiction and go cold turkey, one of the friends discover the Necronomicon, a book of evil power. After reading from the book strange things keep happening to Mia but the rest of the gang write it off as the drugs leaving her system. Can she convince them of the danger before the darkness takes her and forces her to kill everyone she loves?

This is a truly brilliant reimaging of a cult classic. The original movie might be well remembered but it has a lot of flaws, especially in the story department. However, the low budget nature of it, interesting effects and sometimes subversive nature of the plot keep you hooked.

The remake builds on the original and keeps the essence alive while becoming a bigger budget horror movie. The effects stay practical, with little-to-no CGI involved in some gruesome and gory shots of limbs dismemberment, nail guns, and brutal chainsaw hacking. One scene in particular is gut-wrenching to watch as bone and sinew are divided.

With a much more cohesive narrative that subverts the genre and nice touches that nod to the original, it makes this remake a more than worthy successor to the original.

Even if Bruce Campbell isn’t in it.

B+

Theatre of Blood (1973)

I couldn’t talk about horror without mentioning Vincent Price. The man is Horror. Along with the likes of Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney; he is one the masters of horror, being so inextricably linked with the genre.

With memorable films like House of Wax, Witchfinder General or The Fly he became a staple of the screen, using his unique voice, hypnotic screen presence and sometimes campy acting ability.

Someone is killing theatre critics. Edward Lionheart was a lauded but critically unsuccessful stage actor. Thought dead after an accident he plots his revenge on those who criticised his roles. Their deaths are gory and always related to Shakespeare plays. Can the police and the critics find who is killing them before it’s too late?

In many ways, this isn’t a good movie.

It’s hammy and schlocky, the acting, for the most part, is bearable but nothing special and the effects, while creative, lack a sense of reality.

Yet that’s exactly why I like it. It knows what type of movie it is and it owns it. Price is at his best, over the top and sparking with vitality and gothic charm as he recounts Shakespearean one-liners over his victims. Watching this (and the Abominable Dr Phibes) you can see where a lot of modern horror movies are inspired, most notably Saw as Price extracts ironic revenge in a creative manner. A memorable scene involving a pie, two dogs and a fat critic.

It is a real shame that Price himself never got to really portray Shakespeare on the stage, in part his reasoning for taking on the role in this movie. You can see the fun he is having at finally getting close to what he always wanted to do.

For a fun and campy horror movie that just embraces the ridiculousness of the genre with open-hearted glee, you could do a lot worse than Theatre of Blood.

B

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