Frankenstein Island… Okay… Uh…

Yeah, what's up with that?
Yeah, what's up with that?

Synopsis! Yeah, maybe start with a synopsis. Ok, the balloonists from Mysterious Island land on the Island of Dr Moreau where they're met by Tarzan and the Leopard Women. Then they meet Sheila Frankenstein and her husband Dr van Helsing, who was the assistant of Dr Frankenstein, because WHAT?

This plastic Halloween devil pitchfork is actually supposed to be a high tech superweapon. No, really.
This plastic Halloween devil pitchfork is actually supposed to be a high tech superweapon. No, really.

...continue reading "Frankenstein Island – 1981"

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The last US Godzilla remake was severely criticised for its concentration on a human character thereby limiting Godzilla's screen time, which is historically an unfair criticism. Godzilla movies are always a bit of a mixed bag. There's always a mix of city-stomping action and boring people being boring. As such, this criticism of the US Godzilla is unfair – though the criticism that maybe the human it should have been following was Brian Cranston has a little more merit.

The most recent Japanese Godzilla movie is also a mix of dull humans and the city-stomping star of the show and it gets the mix even worse than the American version. It follows the worst of the American remake's example and goes for a somewhat dour movie. Shin Godzilla is clearly an attempt to get back to basics and recapture the spirit of 1954's original Godzilla with its serious tone and clear-cut message, and to leave out the outrageous silliness of the later Godzilla films.

The result is, frankly, slow and dull. While the effects on the new Godzilla monster itself are excellent, the film is mostly concerned with Japanese politicians and bureaucrats organising the fight against the monster. You remember how in the old-time Godzilla movies there would always be a scene where our heroes have a conversation in front of a bunch of non-speaking extras in suits and uniforms who are meant to represent the Japanese government? Well, imagine an entire film about those non-speaking extras, and you basically have Shin Godzilla.

There are a couple of interesting points here. A couple. They touch on constitutional issues, like 'does a kaiju count as an aggressor nation for purposes of mobilising the Self Defence Force'? Trouble is, while a question like that might be an interesting exercise for some Japanese legal students down at the pub, it's kind of pointless in a Godzilla movie, because of course they're going to call out the SDF. And there's a serious plot line involving the Japanese defenders trying to find a way to defeat Godzilla before the Americans nuke him. Again, of course the Americans won't actually be allowed to nuke Tokyo, even if the writers have to find the most unlikely way to halt Godzilla's rampage for long enough for a realistic non-nuclear option to be discovered.

Other than that, it hits so many problems with gritty reboots. In attempting to shear Godzilla franchise of its glorious nonsense it ends up dour and colourless but ultimately fails to actually get rid of all the nonsense. In spite of all the obvious thought that has gone into this movie, I think I'd rather have just rewatched 1969's Destroy All Monsters again.

Even if it did have Minilla in it. Ugh, Minilla

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In 1970, Elvis Presley met Richard Nixon. He arranged this simply by turning up and asking to see the president and by basically, you know, being Elvis.

Elvis and Nixon is an enjoyable, low key historical comedy/drama, documenting Elvis' campaign to get into the Oval Office and speculating on what passed between the President and the King. (Nixon had not yet begun recording his meetings, so there's no actual record of what was said.) The handwritten letter that Elvis wrote to Nixon is still around, and we know that Elvis basically wanted to be made a secret Federal Agent so as to save America from hippies.

No, really.

The film works mainly because of excellent performances by the two main actors, Michael Shannon playing Elvis and Kevin Spacey as Nixon. These are damn tricky performances. After all, Elvis and Nixon have to me two of the most imitated men of their time, and yet Shannon and Spacey avoid doing straight out imitation. Yes they keep some of the mannerisms but they're more interested in getting to the humanity of their respective characters. This is very important, because the gap between the public and private faces of celebrities is a key theme of the movie.

It's also a hugely funny movie. It's not a comedy in the sense of being about set-ups and jokes, but about the basic absurdity of the entire situation. Some of the humour comes from the weird way in which two very different and yet very similar forms of power interact, overlap and contradict. Some of the other laughs come from the specific characters of Elvis and Nixon and the different ways in which these two leaders keep their subordinates in line.

Elvis and Nixon is an unusual thing in an American historical movie, steering away from the huge issues and explosions, working on a small scale. Taking place on one day in a handful of locations it nonetheless has an awful lot to say about an event which was not particularly important, and yet which manages to be deeply telling.

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We open on one of the Hammer Frankenstein series' most enduring symbols – the guillotine. A prisoner is being lead to his death, drunken and defiant. He seems fearless and utterly unashamed of whatever act has lead him here – until he sees that his young son Hans is watching. He dies, quiet and glum.

Years later Hans (Robert Morris), now grown up, passes the guillotine on his way to his work. He is assisting the kindly, Gepeto-like Dr Hertz (Thorley Walters) with an experiment. Hertz' partner Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) has frozen himself to see if he can be revived. He's duly thawed and shocked back into life.

I'm alive. Alive!
I'm alive. Alive!

This is what he's up to, now. Finding ways of improving surgical survival rates. The Baron's work has taken a somewhat mystical tern. He's concerned with keeping the soul – keeping it in the body, it seems. ...continue reading "Frankenstein Created Woman – 1967"

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Ok. Got some booze to dull the pain. My wife's out, so she won't hear me yelling abuse at the screen. Let's do this. I, Frankenstein.

Yeah, it's that sort of a movie.
Yeah, it's that sort of a movie.

Quick retelling of Frankenstein. Creation, abandonment, murder of Elizabeth, death of Frankenstein. The Monster (who, far from looking like a misshapen creature capable of causing terror in anyone who sees him, looks like Aaron Eckhart with a scar) buries Frankenstein. He is confronted by demons and fights them. Then… ...continue reading "I , Frankenstein – 2014"

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And I seem to find the happiness I seek, When we're dancing close together cheek to cheek
And I seem to find the happiness I seek, When we're dancing close together cheek to cheek

The scene: Toho Studios, 1964

Producer: We need a new monster movie. What have you got? Giant bee? Giant crab?

Writer: I think we should look outside the box a little. We're having some success selling our monster movies in America, so I have an idea to adapt a monster from Western lore - Frankenstein's Monster!

Producer: How big is this monster?

Writer: Seven feet.

Producer: Pass.

Writer: I mean seven-ty feet?

Producer: …I'm listening. ...continue reading "Frankenstein Conquers the World – 1965"

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This is going to be a short review of a strange movie. It's the first ever film version of Mary Shelley's novel and it's… special. Historically, it's much less of a big deal than the 1931 version. James Whale's Frankenstein created much of the modern iconography of Frankenstein – the stitched together body, the slab, the lightning.

The Monster discovers that it can't hail a taxi in Frankenstein's living room.
The Monster discovers that it can't hail a taxi in Frankenstein's living room.

The 1910 version has none of this. It's based to some degree on the stage tradition of Frankenstein, which often had Frankenstein create the Monster through alchemical means. This is not completely at odds with the novel, in which Victor is inspired as much by alchemical thinkers as by contemporary science. What it meant in terms of staging is that the actor playing the Monster often made his appearance springing out of a huge cauldron, and something similar happens here. ...continue reading "Frankenstein -1910"

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"It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world." -- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

"Wolfman's got nards." -- Horace, The Monster Squad

In ye olden days, van Helsing and his friends tried to destroy Dracula (Duncan Regher) but their plan failed. Now it's the 1980s and Dracula is trying to conquer the world again.

The boys are back in town
The boys are back in town

He reckons without a bunch of kids who have a monster fanclub. They are looked down on by their principal and bullied by the older brother from the Wonder Years (Jason Hervey). However, they win the respect of the coolest kid in school, Rudy (Ryan Lambert), who looks like he just stepped out of a kid's version of The Wild One. He's made to complete a quiz on how to kill monsters and is allowed to join the club. The leader of the monster club, Sean (Andre Gower) happens to come into possession of van Helsing's journal. ...continue reading "The Monster Squad – 1987"

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When I was a boy, I got a couple of books about the Universal Monsters out from my local library, and they were both scathing about Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. At the time, I sort of bought the argument. Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolf Man reduced to foils for a pair of bumbling idiots? Hah!

'Rah! Why you not understand 'Who' is name of first baseman?'
'Rah! Why you not understand 'Who' is name of first baseman?'

I mean I like an Abbot and Costello movie now and then. They're no good for binge watching, because they reuse too much of their own material, but they're fine entertainers. Perhaps they lack the genius of the great comics of the 1920s and -30s – Chaplin, Keaton, Fields, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers – but at their best they're both very talented and at their worst they're still perfectly competent. They're rapid back-and-forth routines are legendary – so much so that Lou Costello's skill as a physical comedian is often quite underrated. Still, bottom line, they're comedians and the great monsters deserve to come off better than second best to them.

But (and yes, you can ignore everything I said before 'but') watching the Universal Monster series in order changes this superficial assessment. Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein may be a parody, but it's way better than most of the later Universal Monster films. It's the best Wolf Man movie since Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. It's the best Frankenstein's Monster movie since Son of Frankenstein, if not Bride of Frankenstein. And it's the best Dracula movie since, well, Dracula. ...continue reading "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein – 1948"

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House of Dracula. Seventh Universal Frankenstein movie. Forth Wolf Man.  Either third or fifth Dracula, depending on whether you count Dracula's Daughter and Son of Dracula. The poor old series is very tired now. Tired, and in dire need of a little nap.

Please count, treat my house is if it were your own. It's the only way we can justify the title.
Please count, treat my house is if it were your own. It's the only way we can justify the title.

There's a spooky house on a hilltop. Dracula (John Carridine) arrives late at night, and checks out a woman sleeping inside. But he's not there for her. He lets himself in and talks to the house's owner, Dr Edelman (Onslow Stevens) who is dozing in a chair. The two men have a rambling conversation. Dracula leads the doctor to the basement and shows off his coffin. Dracula wants to stay there and have the doctor treat him for his vampirism. The kindly doctor rattles off some rationalisations for vampirism, and agrees to help.

In the morning, he discusses his work with his hunchbacked nurse, Nina (Jane Adams). He then examines Dracula's blood and asks Nina to prepare an antitoxin. Now that's how you cure vampirism! Get your nurse to do it. ...continue reading "The House of Dracula – 1945"

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