Film Review – THE MUMMY (1932)

Image result for the mummy 1932THE MUMMY (USA, 1932) ****
     Distributor: Universal Pictures; Production Company: Universal Pictures; Release Date: 22 December 1932 (USA); Filming Dates: mid September – mid October 1932; Running Time: 73m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG – mild horror and violence.
     Director: Karl Freund; Writer: John L. Balderston (from a story by Nina Wilcox Putnam & Richard Schayer); Executive Producer: Carl Laemmle; Producer: Carl Laemmle Jr.; Associate Producer: Stanley Bergerman (uncredited); Director of Photography: Charles J. Stumar; Music Composer: James Dietrich (uncredited); Film Editor: Milton Carruth; Art Director: Willy Pogany (uncredited); Costumes: Vera West (uncredited); Make-up: Jack P. Pierce (uncredited); Sound: Joe Lapis (uncredited); Special Effects: John P. Fulton.
     Cast: Boris Karloff (Imhotep), Zita Johann (Helen Grosvenor), David Manners (Frank Whemple), Arthur Byron (Sir Joseph Whemple), Edward Van Sloan (Doctor Muller), Bramwell Fletcher (Ralph Norton), Noble Johnson (The Nubian), Kathryn Byron (Frau Muller), Leonard Mudie (Professor Pearson), James Crane (The Pharaoh), Henry Victor (The Saxon Warrior (scenes Deleted)), Arnold Gray (Knight (scenes deleted)). Uncredited: Florence Britton (Nurse), Jacob Dance (Party Guest), Jack Deery (Party Guest), Bill Elliott (Party Guest), Leyland Hodgson (Gentleman #2 at Cairo Party), Eddie Kane (Inspector’s Assistant), Tony Marlow (Police Inspector), C. Montague Shaw (Gentleman #1 at Cairo Party), Pat Somerset (Helen’s Dancing Partner), Arthur Tovey (Nubian).
      Synopsis: A resurrected Egyptian mummy stalks a beautiful woman he believes to be the reincarnation of his lover and bride.
     Comment: Another of Universal’s horror classics. This one relies on atmosphere and mood rather than thrills and shocks. Karloff gives a mesmerising performance as the re-incarnated Imhotep. Jack Pierce’s make-up is first-class and is well lit by cameraman  Stumar – notably in scenes were Karloff takes over the minds of those who would get in his way. Johann makes for an effective descendant who comes under Karloff’s spell, using her eyes and body to alluring effect. Van Sloan follows up his appearances in DRACULA (1931) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931) by again playing the expert doctor, here figuring out the mystery behind Karloff’s plans. There is only a limited musical score resulting in lapses in tension and the story feels a little one-paced as a result. A host of sequels, remakes and copies followed, but at the time this was a unique and unsettling experience that sat just behind its illustrious predecessors.
Notes: The main theme music to the opening credits is the exact same movement from “Swan Lake” used to open DRACULA one year earlier. Unlike other Universal Monsters films, THE MUMMY had no official sequels, but rather was reimagined in THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940) and its sequels, THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942), THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944), THE MUMMY’S CURSE (1944), and the studios’ comedy-horror crossover movie ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY (1955). These films focus on the titular character named Kharis (Klaris in the Abbott and Costello film). Remade in 1959 and 1999.

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 – HALLOWEEN (2018)

Image result for halloween 2018Halloween (2018; USA; Colour; 106m) ***  d. David Gordon Green; w. David Gordon Green, Danny McBride; ph. Michael Simmonds; m. John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, Daniel A. Davies.  Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Virginia Gardner, Nick Castle, Will Patton, Toby Huss, Miles Robbins, Haluk Bilginer, Jefferson Hall, Andi Matichak, Christopher Allen Nelson. Laurie Strode comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago. Whilst this ignores much of the HALLOWEEN legacy, including H2O, it recalls some of the themes of that twentieth-anniversary sequel by concentrating on the impact of the events of the 1978 original on Curtis’ character. Green lacks Carpenter’s artistic vision and use of camera and lighting, but still conjures up a solid chiller with some nice nods to the original. [18]

Film Review – HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER (1998)

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998; USA; Colour; 86m) ***  d. Steve Miner; w. Robert Zappia, Matt Greenberg; ph. Daryn Okada; m. John Ottman, Jeremy Sweet.  Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Michelle Williams, Josh Hartnett, Adam Arkin, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, LL Cool J, Adam Hann-Byrd, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Janet Leigh, Chris Durand. Laurie Strode, now the dean of a Northern California private school with an assumed name, must battle the Shape one last time and now the life of her own son hangs in the balance. Horror sequel is a largely effective thriller with its fair share of tension and shocks. Curtis returns to the franchise and delivers a performance of depth, which stands out against more familiar genre material. Let down by its insistence on going for one climax too many. Early role for Hartnett as Curtis’ faithful son. Followed by HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002). [18]

Film Review – LIFE (2017)

Image result for life blu-rayLife (2017; USA; Colour; 104m) ***  d. Daniel Espinosa; w. Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick; ph. Seamus McGarvey; m. Jon Ekstrand.  Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya, Alexandre Nguyen. A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth. Derivative sci-fi horror adds nothing new to the genre but is a professional and competent chiller. The visual effects are excellent and the cast is strong, but there is little in the material for them to work with outside of the admittedly tense conventional thrills. If you’ve seen ALIEN, you’ll recognise the by-the-numbers plot mapping. [15]

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]

Film Review – HALLOWEEN II (1981)

Image result for halloween iiHalloween II (1981; USA; Metrocolor; 92m) ***  d. Rick Rosenthal; w. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; ph. Dean Cundey; m. John Carpenter, Alan Howarth.  Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Pamela Susan Shoop, Tony Moran, Lance Guest, Dick Warlock, Hunter von Leer, Leo Rossi, Gloria Gifford, Tawny Moyer, Ana Alicia, Ford Rainey, Cliff Emmich, Jeffrey Kramer. Following the events of HALLOWEEN, Michael Myers finds Laurie (Curtis) at the Haddonfield Hospital. More formulaic and bloody continuation, but makes effective use of the hospital setting. Curtis gives a physical performance requiring little dialogue, whilst Pleasence manically tries to convince others that Myers lives. Most effective moments are those that mirror set-pieces from the classy original. Followed by HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982). [18]

Film Review: ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)

Image result for alien covenant blu-rayAlien: Covenant (2017; UK/Australia/New Zealand/USA; Colour; 122m) ***  d. Ridley Scott; w. John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen, Michael Green; ph. Dariusz Wolski; m. Jed Kurzel.  Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Demián Bichir, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Amy Seimetz, Callie Hernandez, Benjamin Rigby, Alexander England, Uli Latukefu, Tess Haubrich, Guy Pearce, Noomi Rapace, James Franco. The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination, and must attempt a harrowing escape. It extends the dense religious mysticism of PROMETHEUS and mixes it with bug-movie action and horror. The script has many obvious triggers and offers nothing new to the series. What is left is an ultimately unsatisfying blend that has been expertly assembled, but plays it safe and would have benefited from tighter editing. [15]

Film Review – ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932)

Island of Lost Souls (1932; USA; B&W; 70m) ****  d. Erle C. Kenton; w. Waldemar Young, Philip Wylie; ph. Karl Struss; m. Arthur Johnston, Sigmund Krumgold.  Cast: Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Kathleen Burke, Stanley Fields, Arthur Hohl, Paul Hurst, George Irving, Tetsu Komai, Hans Steinke. An obsessed scientist conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as the self-styled demigod to a race of mutated, half-human abominations. Laughton is terrific in this creepy and atmospheric horror movie. It may seem a little creaky by today’s standards and tension would have been built even more with a full music score, but this remains an unsettling and memorable viewing experience. Special nod goes to make-up man Wally Westmore for his creations. Burke is billed at “The Panther Woman”. It was not passed for release by British censors until 1958 – and even then, with cuts. Based on the novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau” by H.G. Wells. Remade in 1977 and 1996. [PG]