I did watch a lot of horror films, don’t worry. But apart from my mandatory dives into October’s premier genre, I also returned to university and watched some films based around my courses as well. All in all, a nice, diverse bunch this month, and a surprise from a franchise I don’t normally care for.
Night of the Creeps
I went into Night of the Creeps expecting a silly 80’s b-movie that’s so bad it’s good – what I got was a silly 80’s b-movie, but it’s actually full of quality. The film does a brilliant job taking itself seriously, with effective scares, genuine character building and great tension, as well as a fun vibe with horror references (characters are named after horror directors like John Carpenter and George Romero). Furthermore, the film’s campy aspects never detract from the great story or character moments and the balance of horror, comedy, action and thrills make for a surprisingly good zombie film that definitely deserves more attention.
Over the past few months I’ve watched three different Dracula films. The Count of Transylvania is an immortal literary, film and horror icon and naturally, since the dawn of film he’s had a fair share of adaptations. I love the book and consider it one of my favourites – it’s a fascinating story of late Victorian era science vs faith and the underlying fears of empire and occupation, and I’ve always meant to write about it.
There are way too many interpretations on the Dracula mythos for me to count, so for this year’s obligatory October horror post I’m going to be focusing on the three versions I’ve seen, all iconic in their own ways. I’ll be looking at Universal Picture’s 1931 adaptation, Hammer Horror’s 1958 adaptation, and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation.
I don’t want to start this however without acknowledging Max Schreck in 1922’s iconic German expressionist Nosferatu. Due to legal issues with Stoker’s estate, director FW Murnau couldn’t actually adapt the book, so he just changed the names and went ahead and did it, only to get sued anyway. However, it’s still clearly an adaptation, and the “Nosferatu” vampire look is probably the second most iconic vampire look after Lugosi. Everything from the 70’s Salem Lot to the Master in Buffy to What We Do In the Shadows takes from him, so we can’t exclude him from the vampire pantheon. But, alas, I have not seen the film (yet) so for fairness’s sake we’ll leave him out. But let’s be honest, none of the three we’ll discuss have a moment quite as iconic as this.
Right, on with the contest. I’ll be judging the films on four criteria – the Dracula, the Van Helsing, the rest of (or lack of) the other characters and faithfulness to Bram Stoker’s original text. We’ve already been through the Counts and Van Helsing is the only other character to get equal focus in all adaptations so he gets a separate category. The rest of the characters are often condensed, reduced or cut out entirely so we’ll explore which one does the best job with this juggling act. Lastly, which one gets the spirit and meaning of the novel? Thematic depth and focus on the story’s subtext will be the focus here. Let’s begin –
In five days I start university again, and to be honest it’s quite surreal. Not that I’ll be starting film studies again with a lack of films to discuss – this month, I broke a record again, with nearly 20 films. And yes, we’re discussing all of them.
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
This epic month started off with a Harryhausen classic, a 70’s take on Sinbad in the style of old fashioned Hollywood epics. Whilst Ray Harryhausen’s effects are fantastic, the main problem with the film is the utterly bland lead characters, who are completely upstaged by the monsters, the villains and a scenery chewing Patrick Troughton at his absolute best. The titular character in particular is a huge Gary Stu – a character with no flaws or personal issues to face, just a hunky hero to fight the monsters, which includes WALRUSES! KILLER WALRUSES! The best scenes involve Troughton (obviously) and the awesome gold minotaur statue the villains use as a warrior. It is however still a very fun way to kill a couple of hours, with fun set pieces and a so bad it’s good charm to it.
Yesterday I finally watched the film everybody, and I do mean, everybody is talking about – Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. Hailed as the film that will save cinemas from the pandemic, the film is… good. Yeah, I enjoyed it. Pretty much what I expected from a Christopher Nolan film.
But this isn’t going to be a review of the conventional sort. Oh no. No no no no no. As the title dictates, we’re going to be doing something quite different today. I wasn’t planning to review Tenet at all. Until…
With cinemas and new releases beginning to gradually return, the next few months should be very interesting. But for now, here is every film I saw in July, encompassing basically every genre and decade, from high art to b-movie schlock. And because finding film clips has become really tiresome, I will instead be adding One Random Observation that I had whilst watching. So let’s begin –
AKA “Jake Gyllenhaal goes insane for 2 hours”. Focusing on a freelance cameraman who will do anything to get a good story, Nightcrawler is a perfect depiction of a sociopathic individual and a scathing critique of news media. Gyllenhaal’s character has the demeanour and attitude of a perfectly normal and charismatic individual but peel back the surface and a very cold, cynical persona emerges. The film presents crime and the media cycle as one and the same, with neither being able to exist without the other. The film’s ending is brilliantly dark and perfect for the film’s themes of obsession and detachment from humanity. It’s on Netflix right now so give it a watch if you want unique, complex and dark storytelling from the streets of LA.
One Random Observation: “Hey, I’ve been on Santa Monica Boulevard!”
If you study media, you’ll have heard of the term “death of the author” thrown about, particularly with regards to works that are up to interpretation. No, this isn’t when the creator of a work dies, it’s the idea that when a work is published or released to the public, the consumer or spectator gains control of the meaning and intent of the work and the creator “dies” in that whatever their intention is is ultimately irrelevant to how the individual spectator views art.
Essentially, the individual audience member, reader or listener’s interpretation of the art has more meaning and value than the person who created it. As part of my film studies in both college and university, this idea has a lot of weight and discussion around it. In fact, I’ve applied it myself to some films I used in my essays. For my final piece on film theory, I chose to create a personal interpretation of one of my favourite films Donnie Darko, acknowledging director Richard Kelly’s intended meaning but choosing to focus on mine, using the film as contextual evidence.
About halfway through this month I realised I was watching too many horror films. I love the genre but I always want to make these monthly film lists more varied and I’m keen to explore genres outside my usual ones. So let’s go straight into this-
It appears that I watch one Studio Ghibli film a month and this month it was the highly entertaining story of a an Italian pig pilot. No I’m not joking. With a great score and beautiful visuals, Porco Rosso’s story is in typical Ghibli style very weird and vague but once again, that’s not the point. The point is to have a talking pig do talking pig things. Miyazaki has said that this was his attempt to create a simple, straightforward and fun film for the explicit purpose of watching on planes. And there’s nothing wrong with that – it shows a filmmaker willing to make any kind of film he wants and no one can tell him otherwise. It’s no Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, but it’s not trying to be.
The world’s in a state right now, so I want to talk about something to hopefully distract people- comedy. It is incredibly hard to write and direct good comedy – but it’s even harder to act in a comedy. In fact I’d argue many of the performances I mention here were worthy of Oscar nominations or wins.
Yes, some actors can cry on command and recite page long monologues but can they embarrass themselves on camera whilst still preserve their dignity, can they react to absurd situations in a completely straight manner and can they do that well? Here are ten (technically) performances in some of my favourite comedy films that demonstrate the importance of comedic timing, hiring talented actors to play those parts and how to give a layered comedic performance-
It’s become impossible to ignore current world events with regards to entertainment and the media industry. Yesterday, the events surrounding the #BlackLivesMatter resulted in Little Britain being removed from Netflix and iPlayer, and discussions are now being had surrounding countless other television shows and films that may be seen as inappropriate by today’s standards. Whilst I tend to avoid directly discussing real life issues on my blog, considering I focus on media and film on this blog, even studying it as part of my university degree, I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring with regards to how we view media that has outdated values.
Simply put, I do not agree with removing TV shows like Little Britain, films like Gone With the Wind and countless others from discourse. Rather, I believe they should be allowed to stick around, as a symbol of the past and as a reminder as to how society has moved on.