Posts Tagged ‘Frankenstein

15
Nov
14

Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

frankensteinsarmyposterWe blindly bought a used copy of Frankenstein’s Army from a pretty impressive horror section, like, in an actual store. It was one of those days where the stack of DVDs to purchase just got bigger and bigger, and I couldn’t think of a reason why I shouldn’t just throw another one on top. What’s another $3, I thought to myself? That was, of course, before I watched the trailer for the movie. If I’d seen that first, I probably would have put it back on the shelf in favor of something else. The good news is, the movie isn’t as bad as the trailer made me believe it would be. The bad news is, that doesn’t mean the movie’s good. Just a warning, this review is spoiler-y so if you care about that kind of shit, don’t read ahead.

A group of Russian soldiers are searching for some fallen comrades in Germany during World War II. This particular troop is lucky enough to be filmed, so the folks back home can see how the war effort is going, or something. Their search for their lost brethren takes them to a derelict building ridden with nun-corpses where they encounter strange creatures that come alive when met with an electrical current. The soldiers that are lucky enough to survive find out soon enough the man behind the movie camera is there for much more than recording. Turns out he’s actually running the whole operation: there are no fallen comrades; it’s all an undercover mission to bring the mad scientist Nazi Dr. Frankenstein (yes, the great grandson of you-know-who) back to Russia alive, where Uncle Joe can exploit the good doctor’s experiments that bring the dead back to life in robotic, weapon form.

Frankenstein’s Army is a movie constructed around the idea of its strange, monstrous creations. I guess the monsters were pretty cool, but the found-footage style of the film prevents us from getting any really good glimpses of the creatures. I definitely found myself asking what the film gained by using the found-footage format… and I have no answers. If anything, it detracted from the movie’s strongest assets, all while making me want to puke with its herky-jerky movements (not a novel found-footage complaint, I realize, but some movies do it better than others).

frankensteinsarmybrain

Dr. Frankenstein’s Brain Fusion

On top of that, all of the characters are all pretty gross. I never cared if any of them lived or died. Their relationships to each-other don’t offer anything new or interesting, it’s just your typical who’s-in-command-when-the-number-one-guy-dies-at-war conflicts, and the baddest of the baddies is insufferably, annoyingly evil. I was hoping at least Dr. Frankenstein would provide us with one interesting character, but when we finally meet him he’s pretty disappointing, too! Though he’s a little off-kilter (irritatingly, ‘quirky’ is probably the best word to describe him), he’s annoyingly calculated and mechanical (hehe, get it?). I wanted him to be a much more entertainingly unhinged ‘mad’ scientist than he ended up being.

So, what does Frankenstein’s Army have to offer? Well, aside from the few shots of robot monsters (dubbed zombots), not much. Even then, you can’t really see them enough to appreciate the work that went into creating them, which is a damn shame. There’s tons of gross-out gore, including a shot of Dr. Frankenstein attempting to fuse half a gooey Nazi brain with half a gooey Communist brain in all its squishy glory, so I guess if that’s what you’re looking for maybe this movie has something for you. But even still, I don’t find any of it very interestingly done. All in all a rather disappointing purchase that we won’t be keeping.

07
Jun
14

It’s Alive (1973)

What’s that you say? Larry Cohen directs a horror film steeped in social commentary bordering on black comedy? Oh, yes, and this time it’s your new baby in focus!

Honestly, the first time I saw It’s Alive I was underwhelmed. That is likely because I watched it at a time in my life where all I wanted to see was technicolor gore. We get a little bit of that here, but most of the horror in It’s Alive is psychological.

They say nursing is a thankless job.

They say nursing is a thankless job.

Frank and Lenore Davis weren’t so sure they were going to go through with this pregnancy; they already have an eleven-year-old boy (Chris), and Lenore had been taking contraceptives prior to this “accident.” But together they came to the decision to give it another go, and when the big day finally arrives, the whole family is sweetly excited. After dropping Chris off at a family friend’s home, Frank and Lenore innocently drive to the hospital. That’s where the nightmare begins.

Lenore knows it before the baby is even born: this one is different. Her doctor insists it’s just a very large baby, and after heavily sedating and numbing her up, thinks the birth should be a piece of cake. Well, it was easier on Lenore than it was the doctors and nurses; none of them survived, after all. Seeing the Davis baby in all its malformed glory, the doctor tries suffocating it to no avail. After the massacre, the baby escapes and Lenore, tied to her hospital bed, is scared, confused, and drugged the hell up.

This baby's made Frank famous!  He loves it.

This baby’s made Frank famous! He loves it.

It’s not long before the police arrive, with a “doctor” in tow, who offers great medical advice, and is quite interested in discovering exactly how long Lenore had been taking her contraceptives, and if, perhaps, she’d been extensively x-rayed in recent months. Rather than consider Lenore’s opinion in her baby’s future, the lieutenant, doctor and husband alike agree it’s easier to sedate her than listen to her prattle on about motherly instincts and other such nonsense.

Frank experiences a different kind of torture. When he and his wife are named the progenitors of the murderous beast, his job at a public relations firm is lost to him, and he numbly accepts the responsibility of killing his own progeny. In hopes of showing the world how “normal” he is, he feverishly hunts down his own flesh and blood.

I'd be 'hysterical' too, if I gave birth to a monster.

I’d be ‘hysterical’ too, if I gave birth to a monster.

What can I say, I just love Larry Cohen’s style. His takedown of society’s shit attitude and expectations in this flick is so perfect. The Davis baby is simply a product of society; good old American marketing and consumption – everyone agrees its deformities must be a result of smog, medicine, tainted food, or some other untested evil unleashed upon the American public by companies hoping to gain a buck. The hunt for the child, and the father’s apparent zest to be the one to destroy it all point to how American society tends to reject the very monstrosities it is responsible for creating.

I’m not sure Q is completely convinced that Frank’s character isn’t a total dick. He is pretty dicky throughout the whole movie, but I think that’s because the man really had no choice: you’re either for us or against us, right? And if he blithely accepts the symbol of American fucked-upedness, he’ll surely never get his job back, let alone the respect of his neighbors and peers. That’s not to say I excuse his behavior, but maybe I pity the guy.

"It kills like an animal. When we find it, we're going to have to destroy it like one."

“It kills like an animal. When we find it, we’re going to have to destroy it like one.”

And let’s talk about Lenore for a second: the woman is nearly mute. Never do the doctors or cops ask her how she feels about the tragedy of birthing a monster, or how she feels about that monster’s right to live. Instead, she’s expected to stay within the confines of her bedroom, forbidden even to walk downstairs in her own home, and questioned as to why she doesn’t keep taking the sedatives the kind doctor has prescribed her. Now, I’ve never been pregnant or given birth, but there are certainly a great number of folks who accuse the medical establishment of treating pregnant women and babies as commodities. I think Cohen captures that pretty perfectly here, not to mention how women were (in 1973) and still are (in different ways, perhaps) considered secondary players in their own lives.

So, yes, I really liked this movie. It’s not amazing, but if you’re familiar with anything else Larry Cohen has made, you can guess what to expect. And if you haven’t seen any of Cohen’s stuff, this is as good a place to start as any. But, perhaps you should hold off watching it if you’re in your third trimester.

 

28
Jul
13

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

It wasn’t until I was six years old that I found out “they” still made new movies. Up until that point, I thought all we had to work with was what was already made; movies were just already there, making them wasn’t a thing people did. I was absolutely amazed when I learned new ones were coming out all the time. As an adult, of course this seems ridiculous and silly; why would I have thought such a thing? What misinterpretation of reality led to that belief? The Spirit of the Beehive is a film that touches on those questions. It examines the minds of children, their interpretations of cinema and also the world around them.

Ana watching Frankenstein for the first time.

Ana watching Frankenstein for the first time.

The film is set in the Spanish countryside, not long after the end of the Spanish civil war. Members of the small town gather together to watch James Whale’s Frankenstein for the first time ever. Children and old folks alike watch intently as the monster meets the little girl by the river, and later as the father carries her dead body through the town square. Ana (Ana Torrent) and Isabel, our two main characters, are particularly taken with this scene. Ana asks her older sister why the monster would kill the little girl. Isabel, in her all-knowing-big-sisterness, replies that movies are all a lie, and the monster isn’t really dead; his spirit is still alive, and if you know where to look for him, he’ll talk to you.

Ana and Isabel looking for the spirit.

Ana and Isabel looking for the spirit.

Soon after, the girls look for the monster in an abandoned building down the hill from their house. They find nothing but a large (maybe even monster-sized?) footprint, so Ana keeps going back hoping to find him. Isabel follows her, spying, perhaps realizing the power her story had on her younger sister’s understanding of reality. Things get a bit dangerous, though, when Ana meets a soldier who’s escaped and hides out in the abandoned building. She believes the soldier is the spirit she’s been waiting for, and brings him clothes and food. When she returns to the building and finds he’s gone, she runs away, launching a search party lasting all night through to the next morning.

Isabel's cruel joke.

Isabel’s cruel joke.

It’s during this night out alone that Ana finally meets the spirit she’s been searching for, and relives the scene from Frankenstein – but without being tossed in the river. In the morning Ana is recovered, and the doctors assure her parents that, while she’s had a very traumatic experience, she will soon forget everything and be back to normal, as if nothing had happened at all.

Ana and the soldier.

Ana and the soldier.

Of course, Ana didn’t really rendezvous with Frankenstein’s monster by a river on the Spanish countryside. This was either a hallucination (after all, she was out mushroom-hunting with her dad) or a dream. What matters is Ana’s imagination found a way for her to escape the world around her and create something beautiful for herself. I know this sounds maybe a little wacky, but I can’t help but compare this with Lucky McKee’s May; both Ana and May are living in less-than-perfect worlds, and both seek to escape – Ana from her war-torn family, and May from the cruel society into which she’s been thrust. It just so happens they both find comfort in monsters of their own creation. Both films have an impending sense of dread from start to finish – the difference is, The Spirit of the Beehive never really has any release; the dread seems to continue indefinitely, perhaps a hint of what it must have been like to live in Franco’s post-war Spain.

Ana and the spirit.

Ana and the spirit.

This movie is so quiet and unassuming, it took several days after watching it until I realized just how much it affected me, and what all the pieces of the puzzle come together to really mean. In his review, Roger Ebert talks about how the film is an allegory for living in Franco’s Spain, but that he prefers to think of the film by what it presents to us on the surface, and I have to agree with him. While the setting is obviously important, and the civil war has clearly wreaked havoc on Ana’s family and created the canvas onto which she paints her imaginary, it’s that imaginary that’s more interesting to me. Watching Ana interpret her older sister’s fibs into a reality brought me right back to my childhood, right back to the moment where my mother informed me new movies were coming out every day. It’s just a beautiful, evocative film that’s worth being patient for; in the age of explosions and never-ending fight scenes, what a pleasure to watch a movie that thrills you with its quiet vision rather than cheap visual effects. Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention how wonderful it is to watch Ana Torrent play the lead – her eyes are always wide open with questions, absorbing everything she sees to the fullest. It’s no wonder this is considered one of the best Spanish films out there.

10
Jun
13

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Haughty young Victor

Haughty young Victor

Seeing as how Dr. Frankenstein and his monster may very well be two of the most commonly recurring characters in cinematic history, it’s no surprise they’re already making their fifth appearance on Schlock Wave. This time, Hammer gets to tell the tale, with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee leading the way.

The tale starts off with a young Victor Frankenstein, a real entitled dandy if there ever was one. With both parents passed away and an entire estate to handle, what’s a boy to do but fool a brilliant teacher named Paul Krempe into coming to his estate to

Old-timey science!

Old-timey science!

be his tutor? Paul can’t resist Victor’s charms (?) and stays for years teaching the boy everything he knows about medicine.

Of course, as time passes, Victor becomes obsessed with the idea of reanimating flesh and becoming one of the most famous men in the world. Paul wants nothing of it and threatens to leave, but when Victor’s cousin/fiancée Elizabeth comes to live at the estate, Paul feels he has to protect her from the egomaniacal man Victor has become. As you are undoubtedly aware, the movie continues

The beautiful results of science and technology: Frankenstein's monster.

The beautiful results of science and technology: Frankenstein’s monster.

on to follow Victor piecing together various corpses to create a true abomination, played by Christopher Lee.

So, what makes this Frankenstein different than others? Well, keep in mind, this is a Hammer movie, so instead of some serious psychological examination or  meditation on the dangers of science + ego, it is more concerned with murder, brains, body parts and a gnarly-looking monster. And that’s totally okay. The real problem is that it moves a little too slowly and kind of stops dead at parts. I blame this mostly on the fact that this movie was made in 1957; Q and I both agree if Hammer had made this a decade later there’d be fewer boring parts and more boobs!

29
Oct
12

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Bride

Much as Shelley Long famously pondered in Troop Beverly Hills: “What goes better with Hobos than wine?” I wondered: what goes better with Frankenstein than Bride of Frankenstein? The answer? Well, nothing!

I love Halloween for many reasons, but my favorite aspect is the privilege of seeing old horror movies in the theater. As with the original classic Frankenstein, I’ve never seen its sequel Bride of Frankenstein. The film pretty much picks up where the last one left off: we’re made to believe the monster has died in a fire, but we find out pretty quickly that’s not the case – it’s alive and even angrier than before.

Henry Frankenstein vows to destroy his abomination, until the strange Dr. Pretorius arrives on his doorstep insisting they not only foster the education of the monster, but create a mate for him! Henry can’t fathom the idea, but the strange doctor convinces him to come to his laboratory, where he shows him his very own creations. Pretorius believes the two scientists would make an unstoppable pair, but Frankenstein is clearly going to need more convincing.

Doctor Pretorius has a whole different set of experiments going on.

Meanwhile in the Burg, we get to see a more tender side of Frankenstein’s monster. Everywhere he goes, villagers run away frightened or shoot at him, until he encounters a blind hermit who obviously cannot judge him on his looks. The scene shows us that the monster not only understands the words people speak, but also the emotions they feel, and indeed feels them himself, as he sheds a tear as the blind hermit philosophizes about friendship.

It is worth mentioning that the interview with Sara Karloff (Boris Karloff’s daughter) that preceded the Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein double-feature, while mostly throw-away, did mention that Karloff did not like the idea of the Monster speaking in the sequel. Sara Karloff disagreed, and thought speech leant a new dimension to the Monster. I’m going to have to agree with her. While I liked the first Frankenstein quite well, Bride was at least a whole star better, in no small part because of the Monster’s more prominent personality. Also, the Bride looks badass.

The Monster’s ability to speak was not the only new dimension added in the sequel – another was humor. While it was present in the first (mostly with Henry’s father The Baron) it plays an integral part in the second. As a result the film manages to be lighter and heavier at the same time, Lighter because it isn’t taking itself nearly as seriously as the first, but heavier because it manages to tackle the Monster’s loneliness at new depths not reached in the first. While I think both are worth seeing, Bride was definitely my favorite of the two.

29
Oct
12

Frankenstein (1931)

The mad doctor’s lab.

It amazes me that I lived on this Earth for 32 years before watching the classic horror film Frankenstein. Much like my belated viewing of the Star Wars trilogy, which I didn’t see until I was 30, what I knew of Frankenstein the film came from a Mel Brooks parody. Blasphemy? Perhaps. Thanks to Turner Classic Movies for their Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein double-feature I was able to remedy this problem.

I was, of course, familiar with the novel Frankenstein, so I knew at least on some level what I was in for. It’s been long enough since the last time I’ve read it though for me to forget what is true to the book and what’s Hollywood magic. Anyway, you probably know the story – Henry Frankenstein is a brilliant scientist obsessed with the idea of reanimating dead flesh. His work is too controversial for the university, so he holes up in a castle somewhere and robs graves and gallows with his gimpy assistant Fritz, sewing all the best body parts from one corpse to the winning limbs of others. His father, Baron Frankenstein, and his fiancée Elizabeth are worried about him and so head over to his castle with the intention of bringing him home.

Abby Normal!

Boy, do they have bad timing – they show up during an intense thunderstorm, which is the perfect time for Henry to inject some electricity (in the form of lightning) into his lifeless experiment. Puzzlingly, he lets them in and allows them to watch as he animates the monster. After the monster is brought to life, Henry realizes he’s made a mistake and enlists the help of his old professor, Dr. Waldman, to dissect the monster and ensure he’ll never move again. Henry then leaves with his family, assuming all will be well. Unfortunately, when you leave an old man with a giant monster, the monster is pretty likely to win. He escapes and wreaks havoc on the countryside, reappearing at Henry’s would-be wedding party.

Karloff as the monster.

I really liked this movie, despite the fact it is utterly unconcerned with the details and logic behind the story. I guess that’s another characteristic of older movies I’m just going to have to get used to; the how is much less important than the what. I guess there’s something to that, when the What is a terrifying monster who throws children into lakes! I really liked the way Boris Karloff played the monster: angry, confused, sad and lonely, just as it should be (and done even better and with more depth in the next film, Bride of Frankenstein!).

02
Oct
12

Frankenstein Sings (1995)

Certain films really bring to light how terribly depressing it must be to live life as a second-rate actor. Frankenstein Sings (or Monster Mash: the Movie) is just such a film. I think this one can be categorized as unbelievably bad.

Based on the 1967 musical I’m Sorry the Bridge is Out, You’ll Have to Spend the Night (which I’m told is source material for The

Dr. Frankenstein and his monster (probably the character with the most depth).

Rocky Horror Picture Show) this piece of crap film totally, absolutely and completely misses the mark. A young couple on their way to a Halloween party end up at Frankenstein’s mansion after their car breaks down. Also living in the mansion are Dracula and his wife, the Wolfman and his mother (played by Mink Stole), a mummy version of Elvis and his agent (played by Jimmie Walker… oh poor, poor Jimmie Walker), and of course, Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant Igor (John Kassir, a.k.a. The Cryptkeeper). Everyone wants a piece of the virgin Mary (Candace Cameron), while Dr. Frankenstein is much more concerned with her boyfriend’s brain.

I’ve never been one for musicals, but honestly the musical numbers aren’t even the worst part of this film. Is it the fact that whoever wrote it must’ve just learned what a pun was the day before? Is it all the terribly dated references to 90’s pop-culture (Soon-Yi, the Flowbee, and many forgettable others)? Whatever it is, I must say this is a terrible way to start off October’s 31 Days of Horror. Terrible. Just terrible.




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Old Wave