My Thoughts on: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Continuing the Frankenstein marathon, I promptly moved on to the fourth film in the series, The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), a decent enough film, though it’s more than obvious that the story is starting to go off the rails just slightly. This is not only the first Frankenstein film without Boris Karloff involved in any way, it also stretches credulity by now following Frankenstein’s second son Ludwig (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), yet another doctor-scientist who has mostly managed to escape the stigma attached to the name of Frankenstein.

Here’s the thing about The Ghost of Frankenstein: surely we must assume that a number of years have passed since Son of Frankenstein because that is the only way I can believe that Sir Cedric Hardwicke is the younger brother of Wolf Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone). If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was the other way around. Forgetting the noticeable age difference between the alleged brothers, there’s also the not-so-minor-detail of Lon Chaney Jr. now playing the Monster. It’s not that he does a bad job, he’s actually quite believable. It’s just….I can tell it’s not the same person, and that bothers me every time I see this film. Also, is it just me or does Lon Chaney spend most of the film with his eyes closed?

Speaking of recasting, the one element of this film I dislike is that Hardwicke is used to play the ghost of his father Henry (originally played in two films by Colin Clive). I sort of get why they did so, but you’re telling me they couldn’t find anyone to serve as a sound alike for Colin Clive? I feel like they missed a big opportunity by not casting in a way that made it appear the ghost of Colin Clive’s Henry Frankenstein was really present and it’s the one detail I would change if I could.

Those issues aside, the film is otherwise a direct sequel to Son of Frankenstein, with Ygor (Bela Lugosi) still leading the Monster around in an attempt to fulfill his longterm goals. This is the film where the explanations for how the Monster survives from one film to the next start to become ridiculous. I can believe that the Monster dropped down into a cavern when the mill burned down in the first film, I can believe he survived the lab blowing up at the end of Bride of Frankenstein. However, you want me to believe that the Monster survived being dropped into boiling hot sulfur that then hardened around him? Nope, that’s one step too far (it gets more ridiculous from here).

Also, how is it that all of the Frankenstein children manage to get their hands on electrical equipment necessary for reviving the Monster? I can sort of understand how Wolf pulled it off by rebuilding the laboratory on the estate, but explain to me how and why Ludwig also has the right tools when it’s implied he’s a brain surgeon? Funny how that works isn’t it.

The Ghost of Frankenstein also starts the recurring subplot of giving the Monster a new brain to “fix” him (a plot point that will return in House of Frankenstein). It’s an interesting thought, though I notice no one ever explains to the Monster that this would essentially erase him from existence (since the brain is what makes everything work). I was suitably impressed by how the combination of Ygor and the Monster came off (the Monster is perfectly dubbed with Ygor’s voice). The explanation for why it doesn’t work is also perfectly simple and, it makes sense.

The Ghost of Frankenstein isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is definitely below the three films that came before it. A significant stretching of the imagination is required to enjoy this film without asking any questions about how it works (I particularly roll my eyes when the Monster is “recharged” by bolts of lightning). Your mileage will definitely vary on how much you enjoy this film.

Let me know what you think about The Ghost of Frankenstein in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Frankenstein (1931)

My Thoughts on: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

My Thoughts on: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Film Reviews

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My Thoughts on: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Once I got my hands on the Universal Classic Monster 30 film collection (on blu-ray, it’s excellent and I highly recommend it), I was briefly stymied as to where I should start with so many classic horror films to choose from. And then it dawned on me: I’d already watched Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), it follows that I should continue the pattern with Son of Frankenstein (1939).

As the title implies, Son of Frankenstein follows the adventures of Henry Frankenstein’s eldest son Wolf (an almost neurotic Basil Rathbone), a plot development likely necessitated by the death of Colin Clive two years earlier in 1937. There is, however, a delightful homage to the actor in the form of a gorgeous oil painting that hangs in the main hall of Castle Frankenstein. In a way then, Clive literally looms over the story, though he is not physically present. I also like that the film reveals, in part, what happened to Henry after Bride of Frankenstein. Far from getting off scot-free in regards to creating these monsters, it seems that the truth came out and Henry spent the rest of his life shunned by the community and deep down never gave up his dreams of creating life. Unfortunately, one can only imagine what Clive would have brought to a third Frankenstein film, but these homages and references really are a nice touch.

In a further nod to continuity, Frankenstein’s laboratory is in ruins from the explosion that decimated it in the conclusion of Bride of Frankenstein (we’re meant to forget the fact that the building was completely demolished at the end of that film). Wolf Frankenstein has returned with his family in an attempt to make a new life there, but due to all the events with Frankenstein’s monster, the welcome is less than warm. Matters become unbelievably complicated when the hideous Ygor (Bela Lugosi in a brilliant performance) reveals to Wolf that the Monster is in fact alive, but injured. For the record, I believe these injuries are why the Monster can no longer speak (having learned to do so in Bride of Frankenstein).

This is the first Frankenstein film I saw that made it perfectly clear where Young Frankenstein (the Mel Brooks spoof) got a big chunk of its source material from (The Ghost of Frankenstein being the other). There’s something that makes it different from the two films that came before it, and I’m still struggling to put a finger on exactly what it is. Basil Rathbone, as I mentioned before, puts in a somewhat neurotic performance as Wolf Frankenstein, but it’s still an enjoyable performance, especially as you watch him get drawn into his father’s work bit by bit.

And speaking of Wolf….Son of Frankenstein has an unintentionally hilarious (at least I think it’s unintentional) moment where Wolf basically gives the Monster a complete physical in order to find out how he functions. There’s something surreal about watching the Monster’s blood pressure get taken, blood drawn, X-rays given, just like he’s a normal person (though one can argue the Monster is hardly normal). It’s also interesting, by the way, to watch Wolf and the Monster interact. When they first meet, I think it’s implied that the Monster mistakenly believes Wolf to be his father, hence his initial reaction to strangle Wolf. And then, most interesting, the Monster stops mid-action, as if it dawns on him that “this isn’t my creator, this is someone else.” It’s one of my favorite moments in the entire film.

I was also surprised to learn that THIS is the film where Ygor first appears. I grew up believing that Ygor was always a part of the Frankenstein story but that is simply not true. In the book, Frankenstein has no assistant at all, and in the first film his assistant is named Fritz. It’s well worth the wait though to finally see Ygor. Bela Lugosi is brilliant as the hunchbacked friend of the monster with a hideously disformed neck (they tried to hang him but it didn’t stick). I still haven’t figured out yet if I like Ygor or hate him, because Lugosi plays him so well, you’re not sure what to think about him.

One other detail I have to mention that is the presence of Wolf’s son Peter (Donnie Dunagan). First of all, cool trivia point: if Donnie’s voice sounds familiar that’s because he’s the voice of young Bambi in the 1942 film of the same name. He’s so adorable, and I love how any time he enters the scene, all the action briefly pivots to center on him (he was all of 4 at the time). Peter is also part of my second favorite scene in the film, when he innocently tells his father about the “friendly giant” that’s been visiting him in his bedroom (re: the Monster). The moment when little Peter imitates the Monster’s walk (making it crystal clear whose been visiting him), complete with a snipped of the Monster’s musical theme, is one of my favorite moments in the film, not least because of the complete panic in Wolf’s reaction to it.

Son of Frankenstein is, unfortunately, not quite up to the level of Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein, but it remains an enjoyable film, the last to feature Boris Karloff in the role of Frankenstein’s Monster. I would recommend watching this film once you make your way through the first two Frankenstein films.

Let me know what you think about Son of Frankenstein in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Frankenstein (1931)

My Thoughts on: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

My Thoughts on: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Film Reviews

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Soundtrack Review: Metamorphosis (2020)

Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to check out the soundtrack to a new game called Metamorphosis, with the soundtrack composed by Mikolai Stroinski (The Witcher 3) and Garry Schyman (BioShock). In this game, the player finds themselves transformed into a tiny bug and must navigate a suddenly unfamiliar world in that form in order to find out what has happened and how they can regain their former shape again.

Regarding their work on the game’s soundtrack, Mikolai Stroinski and Garry Schyman had the following to say:

“This very unique game, inspired by Franz Kafka’s famous novel, takes place in a bizarre and nightmarish world inhabited by insects and a corrupt bureaucracy. The game gave us an astonishing opportunity to write music inspired by the expressionist era of art and music in the early 20th century. Composers Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, as well later composers such as Bernard Herrmann were inspirations. We incorporated techniques of the era such as Sprechgesang (half spoken half sung), 12 tone, aleatoric, tonal and atonal harmonies to invoke a past age that worked perfectly for the world of Metamorphosis.”

I knew going in that this soundtrack was inspired by the works of Schoenberg and Berg, that alone told me this was going to be an unusual soundscape. But I still wasn’t prepared for just how expressionist and atonal this music was. If you haven’t experienced expressionist and atonal music before, then the music for Metamorphosis is going to hit you like a bolt out of the blue. This isn’t like the rich, orchestral music that accompanies games like God of War or Horizon Zero Dawn. This is music that is eccentric, off-kilter, and will keep you constantly on edge from beginning to end. For any of my readers who may have studied music theory as I have, imagine a video game with the soundtrack of Wozzeck and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Metamorphosis sounds like.

It’s actually a really bold choice to go in this direction with a video game soundtrack. If you’re meant to go into this game feeling lost and unsure as to what’s going on (which is bound to happen if you suddenly wake up in the game as a bug), then the music is only going to help make that happen. I also really like that the soundtrack has Sprechgesang (speak-singing that sounds really demented when combined with atonal music). It’s a constant reminder that you are not in a normal environment. I would have to imagine that this music combined with seeing everything from a bug’s perspective would be quite the mind-bending experience.

I was also struck by how short some of these tracks are. In fact, some of them are barely 30 seconds long. There isn’t a set length for tracks in a score, for video games or otherwise by any means, but I’m more used to tracks being several minutes long at minimum. Having these tracks be so short is also startling, as they can end without warning and I can only imagine how that plays out during gameplay.

The soundtrack for Metamorphosis definitely ranks as the most unusual soundtrack (for film, television or video games) that I’ve listened to this year. And quite frankly I think that’s a good thing. It’s nice to listen to something completely different every now and then.

Let me know what you think about Metamorphosis in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Video Game Soundtracks

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Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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My Thoughts on: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Having watched Frankenstein (1931) already for this year’s Halloween celebrations, it goes without saying that I had to watch the equally famous follow up Bride of Frankenstein (1935) as well. This is the film you’ll always hear about when people mention sequels that are superior to the original film, and boy does Bride of Frankenstein fall into this category. It’s not that Frankenstein is a bad film (it isn’t), it’s just that Bride of Frankenstein improves on the original in so many areas that it makes the original film look primitive in comparison.

While a sequel to Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein is still based on plot concepts found in the Frankenstein novel. In fact, the entire concept of a “bride of Frankenstein” comes from the second half of the book when the Monster demands Victor Frankenstein build a mate for him, so that he can live the rest of his life apart from human society (which he has sworn off for rejecting him), but with the company of one of his own kind so he won’t be lonely. That attempt ends badly as Frankenstein rejects the idea, destroying the “bride” just as he’s about to give her life. In the film, of course, this doesn’t happen and we get to see the Bride of Frankenstei (Elsa Lanchester) n take her first steps on screen (though don’t expect too much, the Bride only gets about 3 minutes of screen time).

What makes the plot of Bride of Frankenstein really interesting is that Henry Frankenstein (played one last time by Colin Clive) isn’t the mad scientist villain of the story this time around. That dubious honor goes to Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), one of Frankenstein’s old professors, who has dabbled with the power of life in his own twisted way and now wants to use Frankenstein’s talents to build a female equivalent to the Monster (why is never made quite clear). Frankenstein, for his part, wants nothing to do with it, but Pretorius coerces him into it and the plot proceeds from there.

Unlike Frankenstein, which is pure horror and drama straight through, Bride of Frankenstein has a touch of comedy about it, mostly in the scenes with Minnie (Una O’Connor). I’ve never quite known how to feel about this, as I feel that it doesn’t always fit. Take, for example, the scene at the beginning of the film when Minnie comes face to face with the not-dead-after-all Monster and runs away gibbering down the mountainside. It’s funny, but it’s a complete 180 from what we just saw (the Monster killing Maria’s parents). However, the dry humor of Dr. Pretorius is most welcome, as it helps to highlight just how evil he is, especially when you compare it to Frankenstein’s manic joy (and despair) when he created his own monster in the first film. Frankenstein feels the consequences of his actions, Dr. Pretorius does not. In fact, sometimes I get the feeling the mad doctor views all of this as a colossal joke.

This film does have one of the most beautiful (and heartbreaking) moments in the story of Frankenstein’s monster, and that’s when the Monster comes across the blind hermit. Every time I see this sequence I think “if only there had been a way to leave these two in peace together.” It’s not only touching to see the two become friends, with the Monster learning to more or less talk in simple sentences, it’s also further proof that, given the opportunity, the Monster would prefer to live in peace and not engage in wanton destruction. In other words, he has the capacity for good somewhere inside him, but almost no one can see it because they’re distracted by his appearance. Of course it wouldn’t be much of a horror film if it ended that way, so the Monster is conveniently forced away from the hermit so the story can continue.

I find it interesting that Boris Karloff didn’t want the Monster to speak. It seems the actor felt the performance of the Monster was far more effective when it was all pantomime (like in the first film). I enjoyed that performance, but I don’t agree with Karloff’s thoughts on the matter. It seems to me the logical next step in the Monster’s development would be for him to develop speech. After all, the book version of the Monster could speak quite well, why not the film version also? Besides, without the Monster learning to talk, we wouldn’t have gotten one of the best lines in horror film history:

The Monster (to Frankenstein & Elizabeth): Yes! Go! You live!

(To Pretorius & The Bride): You stay. We belong dead.

More on the ending in a little bit…..

Considering she’s on screen for less than five minutes, I find the Bride of Frankenstein to be utterly fascinating. Given that she’s Frankenstein’s second creation, it makes sense that she’d be far more glamorous and beautiful than the first Monster. After all, the second time you do something is usually easier and you can fix any mistakes you might’ve made the first time. Hence the reason the Bride has perfect proportions, and except for some scars around her chin and neck looks completely human. I love that after her reveal, the camera cuts around to different angles highlighting how beautiful the Bride is.

I’ve also long thought that the Bride’s reaction to the Monster isn’t what you think. Remember in the first film how the Monster reacted badly to the fire and he ended up chained up because of it? Well, I think the Bride is only reacting to Frankenstein in fear because she was a) just created a matter of moments ago and b) doesn’t know how to talk or express her feelings yet. If there had been more time, maybe the Bride could have been made to understand but the problem is that Pretorius clearly promised the Monster that the Bride would love him. Once the Monster feels he’s been rejected, that brings out the end of the story.

Now back to the ending that I referenced before. I love how, in just a few sentences, the Monster is able to sum up how Frankenstein deserves to live while the rest (including himself) deserve to die. Frankenstein deserves life because he has Elizabeth who needs him and, I’m pretty sure the Monster has observed that Frankenstein was only involved in the Bride’s creation because Pretorius forced him too. For that alone, the Monster is willing to let his creator go. Pretorius, on the other hand, has no excuse. He dragged the Monster into this, and the Monster has already admitted before now that he “hates living.”

I also need to stop and mention Franz Waxman’s gorgeous score for Bride of Frankenstein, the biggest difference between this film and the original Frankenstein. If you’ll remember, the 1931 film, apart from some opening and closing music, has no score at all. The music in Bride of Frankenstein is practically wall to wall and I love every minute of it. Each of the major characters has their own leitmotif, and it just helps to propel Bride of Frankenstein to even greater heights. Honestly, the music is so good it deserves a blog post of its own, so I’ll pause on the discussion of the music for now.

One interesting final detail I want to mention: if you watch the ending when the laboratory explodes very closely, you’ll notice that Frankenstein is still in there (he’s pressed against the wall on the left hand side of the room). This is because originally Frankenstein was supposed to die with the rest of them. But Universal insisted on a “happy ending” so the scene was hastily rewritten for Frankenstein to escape with Elizabeth just before the building exploded. But there was no money in the budget to reshoot the destruction scene, so the error remains.

Bride of Frankenstein is, in my opinion, the best Frankenstein film ever made, and one of the enduring highlights of Universal’s Classic Monsters era. 85 years later, they haven’t come close to topping this film (and I hope they never do).

Let me know what you think about Bride of Frankenstein in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Frankenstein (1931)

My Thoughts on: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

My Thoughts on: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Film Reviews

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

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Soundtrack Review: The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020)

So just the other day I shared the news that the original soundtrack for The Wolf of Snow Hollow (by Ben Lovett) is now available. Today, I actually got the chance to sit down and listen to that soundtrack and present my thoughts on it below.

My god…..this soundtrack is beautiful. Even in this severely truncated year of films, I’ve been able to listen to my fair share of soundtracks this year, and I can sincerely say that The Wolf of Snow Hollow is one of the best, if not THE best soundtrack I’ve heard in 2020. The music was composed by Ben Lovett, who has also scored the likes of Synchronicity (2015), The Ritual (2017), and The Night House (2020), just to name a few examples.

From beginning to end, this soundtrack is amazing. It feels very much like a throwback to the kind of soundtrack you’d hear during the Golden Age of Cinema (approximately 1933-1960, the exact years vary depending on who you ask). And this is a very good thing! Film scores like this are filled with rich musical layers, the strings in particular range from menacing to thoughtful (but still full of tension). I also like how Lovett doesn’t give too much away with the music. Some scores, this year’s The Invisible Man comes to mind, openly project where and when certain moments (like jump scares) happen. The Wolf of Snow Hollow doesn’t do that. You feel a certain rise and fall fo tension to be sure, but if any one specific moment happens, the music doesn’t give it away.

And that music….Lovett openly admits that he wanted the music of The Wolf of Snow Hollow to be referential and is it ever! The influence of Bernard Herrmann is all over this score, in particular I heard multiple references to his iconic score for Psycho (1960). Not, I should clarify, anything that references the iconic “shower scene” moment that the film is most famous for. Instead, I swear I heard hints of Hermmann’s score from the opening of the film, particularly in the track “Third Crime Scene.” I love that this score pays such direct homage to one of Herrmann’s best film scores, and it makes me very excited to eventually watch this film and hear the music in context with the story. If I get the chance to speak with the composer, I plan on asking about this score’s connection with Herrmann and Psycho because that is a story I need to hear.

It would be impossible to overstate how happy listening to this soundtrack made me. From the opening track, the music sucked me in, and it never lets up. This is one of the best use of strings that I’ve heard in years, I know I’ve said that before but it’s done so well I have to mention it again.

I could go on and on, but honestly it all boils down to this: you need to listen to the original soundtrack for The Wolf of Snow Hollow at your earliest opportunity. This music is so beautiful, with a great homage to Bernard Herrmann, and I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a score that surpasses this one in what little remains of 2020. Ben Lovett has knocked it out of the park with this one.

Let me know what you think about the music for The Wolf of Snow Hollow in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Soundtrack News: ‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow’ Soundtrack Available Now

Film Soundtracks A-W

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Soundtrack News: ‘Tower of God’ (Original Series Soundtrack) Available Now!

Milan Records has released the Tower of God (Original Soundtrack) with music by Kevin PenkinAvailable everywhere now, the album features music from the critically acclaimed Japanese anime series Tower of God based on the South Korean action fantasy web manhwa of the same name created by S.I.U.  The soundtrack consists of 44 original tracks by Penkin. He crafts an expansive, ethereal, and engaging sonic journey to mirror the adventures of the series protagonists Rachel and Bam. 

Kevin Penkin, based in Melbourne, is a BAFTA-nominated composer for Japanese animation and video games. He is best known for composing the award-winning score to ‘Made in Abyss’, and the music to the BAFTA award-winning game ‘Florence’. Kevin moved to London in 2013 to complete a Masters degree in Composition for Screen at the Royal College of Music. During this time, Kevin collaborated with legendary video game composer Nobuo Uematsu on a number of Japanese video game titles, which eventually led him to break into the Anime industry. After releasing his breakthrough score for Made in Abyss, Penkin continued to compose music for Japanese animation, with scores for both The Rising of the Shield Hero and Tower of God.

Of the soundtrack, composer Kevin Penkin says:

“Tower of God has been an extraordinary challenge, with an even more extraordinary reward. I’d like to thank and acknowledge the co-composers, musicians and staff—all of whom I call friends—that helped make this soundtrack what it is. This has been a once-in-a-decade project, and it’s an honor to compose for this series.”

Reach the top, and everything will be yours. At the top of the tower exists everything in this world, and all of it can be yours. You can become a god. Tower of God tells the story of the beginning and the end of Rachel, the girl who climbed the tower so she could see the stars, and Bam, the boy who needed nothing but her.

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Soundtrack News: ‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow’ Soundtrack Available Now

Lakeshore Records released The Wolf of Snow Hollow—Original Motion Picture Soundtrack digitally on October 9th. Composed by Ben Lovett (The Ritual, The Wind), the album is a strikingly orchestrated, multi-faceted work inspired by old school Bernard Herrmann-era suspense thrillers reflecting all the dimensions of the offbeat horror film—from darkly comedic to tension-fueled terror to oddball mystery caper.

In The Wolf of Snow Hollow, a small-town sheriff, struggling with a failed marriage, a rebellious daughter, and a lackluster department, is tasked with solving a series of brutal murders that are occurring on the full moon. As he’s consumed by the hunt for the killer, he struggles to remind himself that there’s no such thing as werewolves…

The Wolf of Snow Hollow is written and directed by Jim Cummings (Thunder Road) who stars alongside Riki Lindhome (Knives Out, “Garfunkel and Oates”), Jimmy Tatro (“American Vandal,” Bad Education), Chloe East (“Kevin (Probably) Saves the World”) and the late Academy Award nominee Robert Forster (Jackie Brown, The Descendants) in his final feature role.

Speaking about working with the director Cummings, Lovett noted: “After seeing Thunder Road I leapt at the opportunity to collaborate with Jim and tried to match his energy every step of the way.  Jim is a big music fan and had tremendous enthusiasm for the process. We talked about everything from Prokofiev to Bernard Herrmann and I could tell he wanted to go big.  We had a tiny budget but a lot of ambition, and I wanted to see if we could pack big ideas into small packages.”

Expanding on the score, Lovett adds: “On a score like this the aim is to be referential without being derivative, to celebrate the influences instead of trying to hide them.  I like folding a love letter into what I’m doing but try to keep from getting too caught up in that, ultimately I’m just chasing an instinct about a sound and feel that hopefully expands on the personality and character of the film.”

Track List

  1. The Werewolf
  2. Welcome to Snow Hollow
  3. Little Red Riding Hood
  4. First Full Moon
  5. First Crime Scene
  6. Snow Hollow Mystery
  7. Second Full Moon
  8. Second Crime Scene
  9. Slopes
  10. Relapse
  11. Werewolf Stories
  12. Third Crime Scene
  13. Utah
  14. Detectives
  15. Second Relapse
  16. Full Moon Fever
  17. Snow Hollow Killer
  18. Returning Evidence
  19. For Protection
  20. New Sheriff

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My Thoughts on: Trick r Treat (2007)

I honestly don’t remember how I first learned about Trick r Treat. But somehow, a few years back, I found a copy of the film online and watched it out of curiosity, not sure what to expect (and you know my general feelings on scary horror films if you’ve been following this blog for a while).

To my complete and utter surprise, I was HOOKED! Enough that the film remained in the back of my mind for years, until I finally decided to watch it for a second time this month to set down my thoughts on it.

If you haven’t seen it, Trick r Treat takes place over the course of a single Halloween night in Warren Valley, Ohio, and features four separate stories that overlap in a number of ways. The four stories in a nutshell are: Principal Wilkins carves a jack o lantern with his son; Rhonda and a group of bullies revisit the Halloween School Bus Massacre at a rock quarry; Laurie loses her “virginity” at a bonfire party; and old Mr. Kreeg learns the true meaning of Halloween.

That’s a big part of the film’s appeal for me. Because the stories intersect at numerous points, every time you watch the film you’re going to notice a new background detail that connects one story to another. And of course I have to mention Sam, the most pivotal character of the story. Sam is, for lack of a better word, the personification of Halloween. He is there to enforce the rules of Halloween, those including: Wear a costume, give out candy, and NEVER blow out your jack o lantern before midnight. Throughout the night those who disregard the rules of Halloween are punished in a horrifyingly brutal fashion.

And yet….that is also part of the film’s appeal. The victims, for the most part, are all assholes who deserved what they got (Principal Wilkins is by far the most notable example). There are naturally exceptions, but I don’t find myself feeling particularly bad for the victims at any given point (not even the asshole kids in the rock quarry, as far as that goes I identify with Rhonda all the way). My second favorite moment in this film is the climax of the rock quarry sequence when the bullies get what’s coming to them. I wasn’t pranked as badly as Rhonda was at that age, but I know exactly how she felt at times, so I was in full sympathy with her actions at the climax of that story.

My favorite moment, and the one I’d like to discuss in detail is the segment with Laurie and the bonfire party. This is the part that’s always stuck in my brain. From the start, you know that something is up with Laurie, her sister, and her friends. My initial guess was that they were all secretly vampires (and based on how their transformation starts can you blame me for thinking so?) but the truth was so much better. Watching Laurie and the others transform into werewolves to the tune of Marilyn Manson singing “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” is just spine-chilling and mesmerizing. The fact that their last victim, Principal Wilkins, is alive to watch this happen (and clearly about to die) just makes the payoff all the sweeter to experience.

And then there’s Sam, who I will keep coming back to given enough time to talk about this film. For most of the film Sam is a mostly adorable figure (in a creepy sort of way), who is clearly dangerous based on his actions in the prologue, but you don’t really see how until the last segment. Seeing what Sam really is underneath his burlap mask is, quite frankly, terrifying. I’d almost prefer the mask to stay on and preserve the illusion that Sam is this cute (but terrifying) Halloween creature, but I also kinda get why Sam would get unmasked (for that extra scare).

In conclusion, Trick r Treat is one of the best films to watch for Halloween. I guarantee by the time it’s over that you’ll never look at this holiday the same way ever again. (And you’ll definitely think twice about destroying jack o lanterns).

Let me know what you think about Trick r Treat in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Frankenstein (1931)

When I decided that I was going to embrace the Halloween spirit and watch “Halloween-ish” movies during the month of October, I knew that Frankenstein (1931) had to be somewhere on that list. This film, to me, is essential viewing for the Halloween season, as I consider it to be the most iconic film ever made about Frankenstein and his Monster (here portrayed brilliantly by Boris Karloff).

As you might expect, Frankenstein sets out to tell the story of Henry Frankenstein (renamed from Victor for some reason and also played brilliantly by Colin Clive), and his quest to imbue a body of his own creation (Boris Karloff) with life. While the experiment works, things quickly go sideways and soon the Monster is terrorizing the countryside (though whether or not he’s aware that he’s doing so is something I’ll address later). At the same time, Frankenstein is also hoping to get married to his long-suffering sweetheart Elizabeth (Mae Clarke) to ease the mind of his equally long-suffering father (Frederick Kerr).

Truthfully, having read the original Frankenstein novel, I can tell you that this film only bears a superficial resemblance to Mary Shelley’s story about “the modern Prometheus.” Most of the book’s plot, in fact, is excised to allow the film to center around the Monster being given life and the chaos that follows. Possibly the biggest difference between book and film is that the loquacious Monster in the book is almost completely silent in the film, his speech being limited to grunts and cries of pain and anger. It’s somewhat disappointing, as Karloff had a beautiful voice and I believe would’ve done justice to the Monster’s lines in the book. However, I understand what director James Whale was going for in this film, and also support the notion of a Monster that cannot talk, at least at the beginning (this changes in the sequel film The Bride of Frankenstein).

However, despite all these differences from the source novel, Frankenstein is a wonderful film and remains an iconic take on the story of Frankenstein and his Monster. While bearing a different name, Colin Clive’s Henry Frankenstein remains for me the iconic take on the titular character. He’s filled with a nervous energy that becomes especially palpable during the scene of the Monster’s creation. I’ve yet to see anyone else play the role of Frankenstein and top this performance.

I think my favorite scene in the film is the Monster’s creation scene. This is what I always imagined the creation scene looked like in the Frankenstein story (and I was so disappointed to discover the book does NOT tell you how Frankenstein brought the Monster to life) and it’s spine-tingling to hear Frankenstein howling with joy “It’s alive….IT’S ALIVE!!!” Surrounded by the crackling electricity, it’s an exciting moment that’s just pure in its intentions.

The biggest element the film gets right is the doubt it sows throughout about the Monster’s intentions. While the Monster of the book is undoubtedly a cunning creature inclined to villainy once it experiences rejection on multiple levels, the Monster of this film is another matter entirely. While the story almost immediately sets up the idea that the Monster will be and MUST be evil because an abnormal brain was used in its creation, the Monster’s action throughout the film suggest something else. Think about it…what evil did the Monster do and in what context? Yes, he did kill Frankenstein’s assistant Fritz but only after the latter tormented him with fire (the thing he hates above all else) even after being told to stop. True, he also killed Dr. Waldman but to be fair the latter was about to euthanize him and the Monster, being a living being, naturally wanted to continue living. Waldman somewhat brought his fate on itself by not being open at any time to the idea that the Monster was anything but evil. And after that, the scene with little Maria, anyone can see that her death was a tragic accident. The Monster was clearly enjoying playing with the little girl, and only threw her into the pond because he’d run out of things to throw and thought she would float like the pretty flower boats. This version of the Monster, I believe, is not inherently evil at all, but is only acting the best way he knows how, and it’s only through a series of errors that the entire village is stirred up against him.

Speaking of getting stirred up, I find it so interesting that no one in the village ever finds out that the monster Frankenstein is helping to hunt down was created by Frankenstein himself. You’ll notice Frankenstein never publicly volunteers the information that he created this monster that he’s working to destroy. Sure, he feels guilty about what he’s done, but not enough to publicly confess. I’m not sure if that’s hypocritical or selfish on Frankenstein’s part (or maybe both), but it is interesting.

And I think the biggest clue of all that the Monster in this film is not evil is how he reacts when the mill is set on fire. Fearing fire above all else, the Monster is clearly afraid, in pain, and just wanting to be left alone. It’s heartrending to watch, and it makes me wonder how the story could’ve been so different if Frankenstein had taken more care with his creation instead of immediately chaining him up the instant he wasn’t 100% obedient to him.

One more interesting detail I wanted to point out is that there’s really no music in this film except for the opening and closing titles of the film. In some scenes (like the Monster’s creation), this could probably be argued as a creative decision. However, I also know that in 1931 many films didn’t have proper musical soundtracks as we understand them today. This is largely because, while the technology of making a “talking film” had largely been figured out, the technology of making a “talking film with music in the background” had not. Hence, except for the village celebration scenes (and the opening/closing titles), there is no background music in Frankenstein. You’ll note, however, that this issue was corrected by the time of The Bride of Frankenstein in 1935.

I know it’s an older film, but I highly recommend adding Frankenstein (1931) to your Halloween viewing list. It’s classic horror in every sense of the word and really you should watch it for Boris Karloff’s performance alone.

Let me know what you think about Frankenstein (1931) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

My Thoughts on: Son of Frankenstein (1939)

My Thoughts on: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Film Reviews

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My Thoughts on: Halloween (1978)

*deep breath* I did it. I’m scared out of my mind but I did it, I watched the original Halloween from beginning to end without stopping.

I should explain: I’ve had a fixation with horror/slasher movies for years, by which I mean I’m fascinated by them but I’ve always been too scared to watch them (being the kind that scares quite easily). However, this year, with everything that’s been going on in the world, I decided that now was the perfect time to dive in and check out some of the films that I’ve always been too scared to try in the past (YOLO right?). The original Halloween seemed like the perfect place to start (and also like the one I’d be most likely to get through given my other options were A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th).

If you haven’t seen it, Halloween is the first film to feature the silent killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle), who might be the Boogeyman given how callous he is when it comes to killing people. Fifteen years after committing a brutal murder (in a first person sequence that had me scared to death), Michael escapes from an asylum to return to the scene of the crime…and it’s on Halloween night. Michael is pursued by his doctor, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance), who hopes to stop Michael before it’s too late. Unfortunately, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is in for a Halloween she will never forget.

I knew going in that I’d be scared, but my God…..from the moment the film started I was neck deep in a sea of tension. And why? Because of that iconic music!!! You know what I’m talking about: that spooky piano melody that permeates the film. As soon as I hear it, it sends chills up my spine and puts me completely on edge. And that music can start at ANY time, you never know when it’s going to start up again, and it just makes things so scary! Speaking of music, I was also spooked by the sudden “moan” that comes into the music whenever Michael lunges out for the kill. It’s almost just as terrifying as the iconic theme. This is definitely one of those films where the music 100% contributes to the terror.

Despite this feeling, it actually takes most of the film for things to get messy (i.e. violent). Except, by that point (when Michael finally comes after Laurie), the tension has become completely unbearable. By this point (when Laurie finds out what’s happened to her friends), I’ve been watching Michael stalk (and kill) for over an hour, and I’m thoroughly spooked. So much so, in fact, that when Michael’s face slowly appears out of a darkened doorway behind Laurie, I swear to God I nearly screamed in terror. THAT is how you do a scary horror movie, build the tension to by-God-unimaginable levels of terror and then turn the scary killer loose on whoever’s left standing. I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep tonight, but by God I can admit when a film is well done, and that was well done indeed! (Also, I had no idea the sound of breathing could be made to sound so scary!)

Donald Pleasance is a joy to watch in this film. The way he talks about Michael speaks volumes about the silent character, how soulless and evil he is. Which is quite helpful since, as Michael himself never speaks, we have no way of knowing anything about him other than what Dr. Loomis tells us. I think what got to me the most though, was how calm Dr. Loomis was about it all, like he expected all of this would happen sooner or later. Then again, there was a pretty blatant hint about “unescapable fate” early in the film….

I identify so strongly with Laurie Strode it scared me to death. Like Laurie, I was the goody-two-shoes who focused on her studies, babysat, and wasn’t really interested in boys. I could easily see myself in her place and it was scaaaaary (particularly when Laurie was hiding in the closet). Even though I knew Laurie would come out of this alive (I always read plot summaries for films that I know will scare me so I know where most of the jump scares are), the film does such a good job of making it scary that I was freaked out the whole time.

Honestly, I have no idea how I’m going to sleep soundly tonight. I haven’t been this scared in I don’t know how long. Halloween was just as scary as I always thought it would be, but it wasn’t quite for the reasons I thought. The terror comes from the tension and anticipation of what Michael will do, less on what he actually does (although that’s just as scary too).

Am I glad I watched Halloween? Ultimately, yes, yes I am. I got through it, and even though I was really scared I didn’t turn it off. Will I be watching the movie again anytime soon? Ehh…..I wouldn’t hold my breath on that (it’ll probably be a yearly thing….maybe). I am really proud of myself though, for finally watching what everyone told me was an iconic horror film (and they were right!)

Let me know what you think about Halloween in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Reviews

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