TV Review – DRACULA (2020)

Image result for dracula bbc 2020DRACULA (UK, 2020) **
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: Hartswood Films / British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) / Netflix; Release Date: 1-3 January 2020; Running Time: 3 x 90m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Atmos; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Jonny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, Damon Thomas; Writer: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat (based on the novel by Bram Stoker); Producer: Ben Irving, Larry Tanz, Sue Vertue; Executive Producer: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Ben Irving, Sue Vertue; Director of Photography: Tony Slater Ling; Music Composer: David Arnold, Michael Price; Film Editor: Colin Fair, Tom Hemmings, Paulo Pandolpho; Production Designer: Arwel Jones; Art Director: Harry Trow; Casting: Kate Rhodes James; Costumes: Harriet Ferris; Make-up: Dave Elsey, Lou Elsey; Sound: Doug Sinclair; Special Effects Supervisor: Paul Dunn; Visual Effects Producer: George Tully.
      Cast: Claes Bang (Count Dracula), Dolly Wells (Sister Agatha Van Helsing/Dr. Zoe Van Helsing), John Heffernan (Jonathan Harker), Morfydd Clark (Mina Harker), Joanna Scanlan (Mother Superior), Lujza Richter (Elena), Jonathan Aris (Captain Sokolov), Sacha Dhawan (Dr. Sharma), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Adisa), Catherine Schell (Duchess Valeria), Youssef Kerkour (Olgaren), Clive Russell (Valentin), Natasha Radski (Mother), Lydia West (Lucy Westenra), Matthew Beard (Jack Seward), Mark Gatiss (Frank Renfield), Lyndsey Marshal (Bloxham), Chanel Cresswell (Kathleen), Sarah Niles (Meg), Phil Dunster (Quincey Morris).
      Synopsis: In 1897 Transylvania, the blood-drinking Count draws his plans against Victorian London.
      Comment: Adaptations can go one of two ways. Either a faithful representation of the source material or a completely different take. So, what to make of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s take on Dracula? It seems to me that it tries to be all things to all people and will therefore likely end up disappointing most. Why? Moffat, in particular, for some-time now has been trying to be too smart in his writing, going for showstopping revelation after show-stopping revelation. He brings that thinking to Dracula as the adaptation veers increasingly further away from its source material as it painfully slowly progresses the narrative. The story is divided into three distinct sections across the three episodes. the first deals with Jonathan Harker’s visit to Castle Dracula and the horrific discoveries he makes there. the second with Dracula’s voyage to England and the third with the ultimate showdown in London. Gatiss is an ardent fan of the horror genre and of Hammer films in particular. His influence is seen at its greatest in the atmospheric first episode, which for the most part establishes a truly gothic and horrific setting. The problem is that after this promising opener, the second episode stalls during the interminable and repetitive voyage, with Dracula picking off the crew one by one, before it finally veers off the rails completely in the third episode by moving the action to a modern-day setting. The result is jarring and neither does justice to Stoker nor succeeds as a post-modern interpretation. Gatiss and Moffat’s vision comes across as two writers trying to be overly smart without the needed controlling hand to challenge their increasingly wild ideas.  It’s a shame because there is a lot to commend the production from a technical standpoint and in the charismatic performances of Bang and Wells – if you can accept both in their wise-cracking characterisations. Viewers not familiar with the Dracula legacy both in print and on-screen may find much to enjoy, but those more acquainted with Stoker or Lugosi or Lee will likely see the smugness of the characters as an unnecessary enhancement. For me, I finished the viewing experience having enjoyed aspects, mostly those which steered a closer course to my ideal, but was frustrated by the liberties taken with the material and the looseness and laziness of some of the writing –  the close of episode two with Dracula emerging from the sea after over one hundred years only to find a police task force and helicopter waiting is written for effect without a care for logic. Stronger editing could have condensed this self-indulgent and bloated misfire into something leaner and more efficient. A shorter piece would have made the viewing experience much more rewarding and avoided a lot of the repetitiveness. Four and a half hours of Gatiss and Moffat’s trying to demonstrate how clever they are as writers to me detracted from the core story and whilst their vision for Dracula can be seen as a brave attempt to do something different it strays too far from the novel and legacy to be satisfying.

Film Review – FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

Image result for FRANKENSTEIN 1931FRANKENSTEIN (USA, 1931) ****½
Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); Production Company: Universal Pictures ; Release Date: 21 November 1931 (USA), 25 January 1932 (UK); Filming Dates: 24 August 1931 – 3 October 1931; Running Time: 70m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.20:1; BBFC Cert: PG – mild horror and violence.
Director: James Whale; Writer: Garrett Fort, Francis Edward Faragoh (Based on the novel “Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus” by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and the composition of John L. Balderston from the play “Frankenstein” by Peggy Webling); Executive Producer: Carl Laemmle; Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr.; Associate Producer: E. M. Asher; Director of Photography: Arthur Edeson; Music Composer: Bernhard Kaun (uncredited); Film Editor: Maurice Pivar, Clarence Kolster; Art Director: Charles D. Hall; Costumes: ; Make-up: Jack P. Pierce; Sound: C. Roy Hunter; Special Effects: John P. Fulton (uncredited).
Cast: Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Mae Clarke (Elizabeth), John Boles (Victor Moritz), Boris Karloff (The Monster), Edward Van Sloan (Doctor Waldman), Frederick Kerr (Baron Frankenstein), Dwight Frye (Fritz), Lionel Belmore (The Burgomaster), Marilyn Harris (Little Maria). Uncredited: Ted Billings (Villager), Mae Bruce (Screaming Maid), Jack Curtis (Villager), Arletta Duncan (Bridesmaid), William Dyer (Gravedigger), Francis Ford (Hans), Mary Gordon (Mourner), Soledad Jiménez (Mourner), Carmencita Johnson (Little Girl), Seessel Anne Johnson (Little Girl), Margaret Mann (Mourner), Michael Mark (Ludwig), Robert Milasch (Villager), Pauline Moore (Bridesmaid), Inez Palange (Villager), Paul Panzer (Mourner at Gravesite), Cecilia Parker (Maid), Rose Plumer (Villager), Cecil Reynolds (Waldman’s Secretary), Ellinor Vanderveer (Medical Student).
Synopsis: Horror classic in which an obsessed scientist assembles a living being from parts of exhumed corpses.
Comment: Following the success of Dracula, released in February 1931, Universal quickly put this adaptation of Mary Shelley’s literary horror classic into production. The result was an even stronger film that brought a greater cinematic presence to the stage play adaptation. This is notable in the production design, with its angular sets echoing those seen in the silent expressionist films from Germany. The set design and atmosphere are heightened by Edeson’s use of contrast in his cinematography. Like Dracula, this production did not feature a musical score and potentially loses some tension as a result. This is more than made up for by Karloff’s performance as the Monster, in which he manages to which evoke sympathy from the audience despite his horrific appearance. Frye, who produced the best performance in Dracula, returns here as the hunchback assistant to Colin Clive’s Frankenstein. Clive’s own performance may be melodramatic but convincingly conveys the character’s descent into madness. Van Sloan (another carry-over from Dracula) is effective as Clive’s mentor. Mae Clarke plays the love interest and provides the screams. The result is a monster classic that set the bar for all Universal horror productions, including a host of sequels commencing with BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), to follow.
Notes: Van Sloan (Dr Waldman) also makes an uncredited appearance as himself in the film’s prologue, in order to warn audiences of what follows. In 1991, the Library of Congress selected Frankenstein for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Film Review – DRACULA (1931)

Dracula (1931; USA; B&W; 75m) ****  d. Tod Browning; w. Louis Bromfield, Tod Browning, Max Cohen, Dudley Murphy, Louis Stevens; ph. Karl Freund; m. Philip Glass (1999 release).  Cast: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, David Manners, Herbert Bunston, Michael Visaroff, Frances Dade, Joan Standing, Charles K. Gerrard, Dorothy Tree, Tod Browning. The ancient vampire Count Dracula arrives in England and begins to prey upon the virtuous young Mina. The original Universal horror shows many signs of its age – from its static stage play background, lack of musical score to build the tension and hammy acting – particularly from Lugosi in the lead. However, these faults have to be taken in the context of the history it helped create. Despite his sometimes overwrought delivery, Lugosi does create a hypnotic spell over his victims and the audience. Frye gives the film’s best performance as Dracula’s fly-eating servant, his descent into which is set up in the opening sequence. The production design is truly gothic and helps create an atmosphere of unease. Much better was to follow, but this is still a historic moment in cinema history. Universal released a newly restored version of the film in 1999 that included a musical score by Glass. The original “Swan Lake” music during the opening credits was removed. Based on the play by Hamilton Deane, John L. Balderston and Garrett Fort adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker. Followed by DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936). [PG]

Film Review – HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)

Related imageHouse of Frankenstein (1944; USA; B&W; 71m) **½  d. Erle C. Kenton; w. Edward T. Lowe Jr.; ph. George Robinson; m. Hans J. Salter.  Cast: Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., J. Carrol Naish, John Carradine, Anne Gwynne, Peter Coe, Lionel Atwill, George Zucco, Elena Verdugo, Sig Ruman. An evil scientist and a hunchback escape from prison and encounter Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster. Suffers from having to cater for too many monsters and therefore each story feels rushed and is ultimately disappointing. Karloff and Naish, as the mad scientist and his hunchback assistant, do their best with the material, but this is only mediocre entertainment. Based on a story by Curt Siodmak. Followed by HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945). [PG]