Friday, October 21, 2011

Diary of the Dead 2011: Week 3

I’m logging my Monster Movie Month © viewing with ultra-mini reviews every Friday in October (this year I’ll only be discussing movies I haven’t reviewed elsewhere on this site). I write it. You read it. No one needs to get hurt.

October 14th

Frankenstein Unbound (1990- dir. Roger Corman) **

Roger Corman hadn’t directed a movie in nineteen years when he made Frankenstein Unbound. Why he decided to make his comeback with this insane hooey is anyone’s guess. John Hurt is a scientist in the year 2031. He creates a WMD that somehow produces a Hun on horseback who zaps him and his Knight Rider car back to 1817. There he meets the similarly disaster-prone scientist Dr. Frankenstein (Raul Julia). For some reason, Percy (Michael Hutchence!) and Mary Shelley (Bridget Fonda) coexist with her literary creations. Corman holds up Frankenstein and his monster as forerunners of all the bad, bad science that would wreak destruction in the future. An interesting idea, and Hurt and Julia are great actors, but the package is just so damn silly. Corman plays it totally straight, so Frankenstein Unbound never achieves the campiness that is its true calling.

October 15th

The Evil Dead (1983- dir. Sam Raimi) ***

Once you’ve seen its brilliant sequel/remake, The Evil Dead is tough to view as anything but a rough demo. Sam Raimi intended his first feature to be serious horror, but the cheesy script and acting prod it toward camp. By fully embracing that inclination, he made Evil Dead 2 one of the funniest and most energetic horror/comedies. Its predecessor
isn’t nearly as good. Taken on its own terms, The Evil Dead is a Z-grade shocker from a filmmaker who clearly possesses an A-grade imagination. Fortunately, the movie was successful enough that Raimi could refine his ideas in Evil Dead 2.

October 16th

Hercules in the Haunted World (1961- dir. Mario Bava) **½

Mario Bava’s wackadoo fusion of the gothic horror that is his forte and the sword-and-sandal hokum that isn’t. Not surprisingly, Hercules in the Haunted World doesn’t come to life until Hercules enters the Haunted World to rescue a damsel from evil (and underused) Christopher Lee. As the title slab of beef, Reg Park has the charisma of a cardboard doorknob. When above ground, Bava compensates for dull images of sand and togas with atypically fast-paced editing. When down in haunted Hades, he allows his camera to linger on strange creatures and environments bathed in his trademark rainbow lighting. Such ogle-worthy visuals are almost enough to neutralize the crap script.

October 17th

Full Moon High (1981- dir. Larry Cohen) **

Robbed of Ed McMahon, Bob Saget, Jm J. Bullock, Demond Wilson, Pat Morita, and the dad from “Just the Ten of Us”, “Hollywood Squares” was probably forced to go on hiatus while Larry Cohen shot Full Moon High. What a waste. Cohen’s attempt to wring sub-Mel Brooks gags out of I Was a Teenage Werewolf is nothing but lame. His sluggish direction wrestles the few decent jokes to the ground and farts on them.

October 18th

The Cat and the Canary (1927- dir. Paul Leni) ****

Annabelle West (the marvelously named Laura La Plante) must prove her sanity in order to inherit her rich, dead uncle’s estate. Her greedy relatives want the dough for themselves and some of them scheme to drive her bonkers. Paul Leni’s adaptation of John Willard’s popular stage play was one of Universal’s flagship spook shows, even though the haunted house and psycho killer angles are red herrings. Perhaps The Cat and the Canary isn’t supernatural, but that doesn’t curb Leni’s wonderfully weird touches: the double-exposure and trick shots, the animated intertitles. And where would “Scooby Doo” be without this movie's swiveling bookcases and sliding panels that secret furry claws? Nowhere, baby.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988- dir. James Signorelli) ****

Somewhere in the cleavage between amazingly corny and just plain amazing lays Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. The horror hostess’ debut feature is more than a nonstop barrage of boob jokes. It also has pussy and dick jokes. Most importantly, it has Elvira. The vampire from the valley can sell the lamest jokes. That’s a good thing, because this movie is lousy with lame jokes. But there are some good ones too; none better than a puritan cook out that evolves into a pagan orgy. Elvira’s mentoring of the teens in the repressive, conservative town of Fallwell, Massachusetts, is legitimately endearing. Director James Signorelli does an admirable job of playing Tim-Burton-on-a-tight-budget. The concluding song-and-dance number goes too far, but by that point you’re either with Elvira, Mistress of the Dark or you’re against it. Plus, Edie McClurg.

October 19th

Moon of the Wolf (1972- dir. Daniel Petrie) ***

A local mob thinks wild dogs killed a young woman on the bayou. They didn’t. I’ll give you one hint what the real perpetrator is: this movie is called Moon of the Wolf. David Janssen is no longer a Fugitive; he’s the voice-of-reason sheriff. Daniel Petrie’s made-for-TV movie mostly plays as a bone-dry police procedural, so when we finally get some werewolf scenes in its final stretch, they feel like they’ve been spliced in from a loonier movie. A short running-time and a spirited performance from Barbara Rush as Janssen’s love interest keep Moon of the Wolf from getting too dull. But Petrie should never have given us a clear look at the werewolf, which looks like he was fashioned from a 99-cent Halloween makeup kit and a can of Aqua Net.
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