An expertly told monster story, The Wolf Man might not boast the most… MoreAn expertly told monster story, The Wolf Man might not boast the most complex manner of storytelling but it nonetheless claws itself to top of the Universal horror stable through pure entertainment value. With this, Universals werewolf do-over following in the claws of 1936's Werewolf of London, all of the components came together for one of its most atmospheric and iconic monster flicks to date. The story takes place in Wales (though the script never actually mentions this fact), but the whole package forever put audiences in that eerie shadow-laden stretch of woods so synonymous with 20th Century horror and pop culture. In fact, the journey was so fun and thrilling that they never left.
In this unrated start to the Universal franchise, a practical man (Chaney) returns to his homeland, gets attacked by a creature of folklore, and infected with a horrific disease his disciplined mind tells him cant possibly exist.
So long associated with the many monstrous roles he continued playing (he later realized Dracula, Frankenstein, AND the Mummy on-screen as well), Lon Chaney, Jr. deserves great acclaim far outside of the shadow of his more-famous silent screen icon father (1923's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1925's The Phantom of the Opera). Afterall, he rightly garnered great critical acclaim for playing Lenny in 1939's Of Mice and Men two full years before donning Jack Pierce's legendary hirsute yak hair make-up. Under the handsome direction of George Waggner, you truly feel sorry for his tragic once-bitten full moon conundrum. Much credit belongs to screenwriter Kurt Siodmak, however, who single-handedly invented most of the werewolf lycanthropy himself, coloring outside the lines of the legend. Twilight and so many other wolf tales owe his legacy a fat royalty check.
Bottom line: King of the Beasts
Evincing quite a suspenseful bite, H'Wood's first mainstream werewolf… MoreEvincing quite a suspenseful bite, H'Wood's first mainstream werewolf movie plays out more like a lycan Jekyll and Hyde than the iconic reboot that was to follow. Bafflingly, this entertaining gem never caught fire on either side of the Atlantic, but still deserves to be remembered in its own right. True, it leans a little too closely to Robert Louis Stevenson's classic split personality tome, but shows a lot of teeth of its own. The setting rings true, the story keeps you invested, and the monster convinces. End of story.
In this unrated Universal horror flick, the juice of a rare Tibetan flower is the only thing that keeps Dr. Glendon (Hull) from turning into a werewolf during a full moon.
Stuart Walker (1934's Great Expectations)s direction proves atmospheric enough and the cast delivers beautifully. While title character Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) is never as sympathetic as The Wolf Mans Larry Talbot, his plight nonetheless keeps horror fans' fur flying. Perhaps, the biggest star remains Jack Pierce's pioneering wolfen make-up, experimenting with an early look before going with the now-iconic version Full-Moon-Fever in 1941.
Bottom line: Tooth and Awe
Blander as opposed to bolder, the skinteenth telling of Bram Stoker's… MoreBlander as opposed to bolder, the skinteenth telling of Bram Stoker's vampire tale approaches the character from a unique angle but ultimately shows very little bite elsewhere when it comes to originality. Borrowing just as liberally from Francis Ford Coppola, however, this Untold chapter outright steals costume and production design from the director's stylish 1992 re-telling of the literary classic, Bram Stoker's Dracula. Dracula comes to the party dressed in the same Japanese-inspired battle armor and eventually skewers his enemies on a battlefield in silhouette, just as in a certain particular 22 year-old horror flick. We get it: THAT movie looked cool and served as inspiration. So it falls upon Dracula Untold to boast some edge and style of its own. Sadly, this comes in the form of stale sounding dialogue and rehashed SFX from better flicks. Granted, some sequences truly wow the eyeball (okay, the man-to-bat-swarm transformation looks cool...the first 10 times), but it's only a cog in an oftentimes square wheel.
In this PG-13-rated thriller, besieged ruler Vlad the Impaler (Evans) looks to make a deal with dangerous supernatural forces with the stipulation that he not succumb to the darkness himself. Sure, the author based the title character on aspects (true or not) surrounding the legend of this Transylvanian ruler.
Undoubtedly, the production's smartest acquisition is its hiring of Luke Evans. After years of attention-grabbing supporting roles (Fast & Furious 6, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), this talented actor deserves a star turn that bodes well for his career. Granted, he and the cast spend an embarrassing amount of time trying to act around some insipid dialogue ("Sometimes the world does not need another hero. Sometimes what it needs...is a monster."), but he exudes a convincing amount of menace and/or dread at the appropriate times. Unfortunately, the script he's been saddled with follows a predictable filmic formula (wife and child getting captured/re-captured, the Big Bad - Dominic Cooper - having a second in command who needs to be dispatched first). The conclusion provides a somewhat pleasing coda/sequel segue, but - as with the connect-the-dots first three acts and climax - it's not entirely unexpected.
Bottom line: Dracula Undone
Moving the inaction of this series to the Louisiana Bayou, the Mummy… MoreMoving the inaction of this series to the Louisiana Bayou, the Mummy gets extricated by archaeologists, only for an evil Egyptologist to resurrect him and his thoughts of endless love. For its plus, The Mummy's Curse boasts an original story not pieced together from other Universal Horror staples. Nonetheless, with this unnecessary go-round, this creature feature sputters to a stop simply because the series is out of gas.
In this unrated continuation of the Universal horror series, an irrigation project unearths Kharis the living mummy (Lon Chaney, Jr.), who was buried in quicksand 25 years earlier. And, of course, he goes on a killing spree.
Still a bit fun but shambling long past its sell-by date, this Mummy tale sees Chaney return for his last lead-footed turn as Kharis. Some new writers point the goings-on in a different direction but Curse, filmed the same year as Ghost, just can't distinguish itself away from its last 3 ragged forebears.
Bottom line: That's a Wrap
Looking for love and horror in all the wrong places, undead shambler… MoreLooking for love and horror in all the wrong places, undead shambler Kharis returns with Lon Chaney, Jr. again in the stuck-on-Band Aid role...to what end, God only knows. Better than its predecessor by a Country Nile but a far cry from the Frankenstein series, Mummy Dearest searches for the spirit of his long-dead lover in a museum and - pause for laughter - college campus. By now, the thrills and story are enjoyably laughable...even when this chapter proves to be a bummer. That's right--The Mummy's Ghost gets bleak by the time the rags unfurl in the final act. Strangely, this twist in tone elevates the material a slight bit.
In this unrated continuation of the Universal horror series, an Egyptian high priest (John Carradine) travels to America to reclaim the bodies of ancient Egyptian princess Ananka and her living guardian mummy Kharis (Chaney).
At this point, Chaney coasts through the undemanding role and Carradine, who also played an anemic version of Dracula in House of Dracula, enacts the thankless role of racist Egyptian caricature masquerading as High Priest. For such a straight ahead horror romp, there's a lot of story here and both actors shamble and deliver to good effect.
Bottom line: Tut Tut
Shambling briskly toward Z-Moviedom, this Hand follow-up finds the… MoreShambling briskly toward Z-Moviedom, this Hand follow-up finds the Mummy in America and horror fans filing for the door. Of the two preceding chapters, The Mummy's Hand shouldn't have been the one to receive a sequel...but it strangely and sadly does. In this proto-slasher film that brings the 'story' stateside, some much-needed humor goes the way of the Sphinx and the Mummy becomes a molasses-slow forebear to Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers.
In this unrated continuation of the Universal horror series, a high priest (George Zucco) travels to America with the living mummy Kharis (Lon Chaney, Jr.) to kill all those who had desecrated the tomb of the Egyptian princess Ananka 30 years earlier.
From what brainless depth do the screenwriters keep dredging up these crazy cultists willing to enact revenge using a murderous rag doll? Someway somehow, a Canadian actor (George Zucco) assumes this role in the form of a racist Egyptian caricature. The leads from the preceding chapter return, only this time in poor elderly make-up so that their characters can get unceremoniously bumped off one-by-one. What? It doesn't count as spoilers if the script is awful, does it?
Bottom line: Grave Mistake
Digging up the Mummy name for a new story of Hieroglyphic Hocus Pocus,… MoreDigging up the Mummy name for a new story of Hieroglyphic Hocus Pocus, the bizarrely comic but often entertaining Mummys Hand has nothing to do with a certain appendage but introduces the title character as a rag-wearing shambler who kills on command. With this deuce, the franchise wraps itself in the B-Movie threads that audiences would associate with the brand more than Karloff. Lead-footed silent creature? Crazy cultist using said creature to enact revenge? Damsel carried away by creature? Yep, these boxes all get checked. Fun more than frightful, however, The Mummy's Hand strangely stands on its own ragged feet.
In this continuation of the Universal horror series, an ancient mummy is revived to destroy those that would invade the 3,000 year old tomb of an Egyptian princess.
Interestingly, Abbott and Costello weren't the first comic duo to bring slapstick to this creature feature. In an overlong buildup to the action, Dick Foran and Wallace Ford enact hi-jinks. Oh, and they get an American magician to bankroll their expedition! Its oddities like this that distinguish this follow-up from its forebear and in other ways what was to follow. Though future installments took their story cues and characters from this go-round, the tone was never this freewheeling again, for better and worse.
Bottom line: Pyramid Scheme
Presenting a subtler horror film that trades in a manmade monstrosity… MorePresenting a subtler horror film that trades in a manmade monstrosity for a monstrous man, The Mummy uses atmosphere rather than a traditional fright night to generate thrills. For those who haven't actually seen this austere yarn unfold, the shambling rag-wrapped corpse only appears in an early scene. Most of the film centers around Boris Karloff, bowing in his high-profile follow-up to Frankenstein, as undead flesh-faced high priest Im-Ho-Tep. Granted, his powers never get fully explained, but super strength and hypnotism seem to be among them. Indeed, the films biggest weakness involves Egyptian hokum-pocus of this sort and casting Caucasians as, well, everybody but the camels.
In this 1932 Universal horror classic, a living mummy stalks the beautiful woman he believes is the reincarnation of his lover.
The true star of this non-creature feature ends up to be director Karl Freund, whose mastery of lighting creates a ethereal shadow-drenched mood all of its own. Frankenstein director James Whale may've used expressionistic devices, but The Mummy is pure Expressionism. The film also gains points for keeping Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing to Lugosis Dracula and Dr. Waldman to Karloffs Fankenstein) in the Universal Monster fold.
Bottom line: Nile High Club
In stripping down an '80s TV crime drama and rebuilding it as a… MoreIn stripping down an '80s TV crime drama and rebuilding it as a vehicle for ever-reliable tough guy Denzel Washington, 2014's Equalizer succeeds mostly on the strength of its leading man but boasts more than a few white knuckle moments on its own slick merits. Of course, this update shares some DNA with the original. Like the Woodward version, Washington plays a former intelligence operative with a secret past who uses whatever's on-hand to brutally take down oppressors of the weak. Sadly, some of these pathetic victims happen to work alongside our anti-hero at a Home Depot-esque super-store. It's not enough that we watch them become easy prey, but we have to get sucked into their sadsack lives as well. Sure, Washington hasn't donned a long dark coat and started taking beat-down requests like his forebear yet, but that's just because this is an origin tale. Even a weekend tete-a-tete with a former high-ranking associate smartly keeps his mystery veiled and brings to mind a thinking man's actioner vibe. Whenever moviegoers get another glimpse into the world of, say, a heavyset wannabe security guard, however, it just kills the tone and adds unnecessary padding onto what could've been a taut killing machine.
In this R-rated crime-thriller based on the 1980s CBS TV series starring Edward Woodward, a mysterious man (Washington) armed with dangerous skills comes out of his self-imposed retirement when a young call girl (Chloe Grace-Moretz) comes under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters (Csokas, et al).
With every line spoken and fist thrown, Denzel Washington delivers times ten. Honestly, you could gleefully watch this man read a self-defense manual, which oddly defines this performance to a T. Liam Neeson and the Expendables might pop up more frequently and not have their fights edited so tightly, but this actor makes you believe every bone-crunching and revenge-plotting measure to your core. Also, don't count Chloe Grace Moretz among one of those supporting Achilles Heels. Her perfect grasp of her character's plight gives the story the emotional heft it needs to spin into a more sinister - and NC-17-courtingly bloody - conspiracy tale. Antoine Fuqua exhibits great chops as an action director, giving Washington some of the tightest and most jaw-dropping hand-to-hand combat moments ever committed to digital.
Bottom line: Training Melee
In presenting the umpteenth tale of a homecoming rife with relative… MoreIn presenting the umpteenth tale of a homecoming rife with relative dysfunction in umpteen years, This is Where I Leave You paints an interesting family portrait but brings nothing new to the table save for a few keen performances and very little umpt, er, oomph. The Family Stone. Death at a Funeral. Home for the Holidays. Four Christmases. At least THIS movie had the decency to take place away from the holidays. With enough entries to warrant its own genre, flicks of this ilk pretty much follow the same pattern, unveiling unlikeable sibling and significant other after unlikeable sibling and significant other while generously gifting us with a semi-reasonable Everyman to latch onto. In this case, the honor falls upon perennial put-upon do-gooder Jason Bateman, who's given the thankless task of navigating us through the failings and fisticuffs of a family that came apart at the seams years ago but needs to deal with it now...hopefully with comedic results. The only laughs, however, come out of sympathy for the material. It's rather mishandled. Oh, there are quirky characters, situations, and revelations aplenty but the narrative struggles to feel unique in the undertow of numerous other such stories without the benefit of much verve to distinguish it. This is not to say that This is Where I Leave You leaves you completely déjà vued. Unlike most of the WASPy fams flapping their gums in flicks like this, the Altmans prove to be Jewish. Aside from going to temple once and trading barbs with a dweeby rabbi, however, this distinction doesn't define this particular clan. Nor should it. The characters' misadventurous lives should've at least played out even a bit differently than, say, the PG-13-rated Christmas Vacation. Instead, it's just another broad pratfall-laden helping of FUBAR family matters.
In this R-rated comedy, four grown siblings (Bateman, Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stall) return to their childhood home for their fathers funeral, forced to live under the same roof with their over-sharing mother (Jane Fonda), an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens.
Director Shawn Levy handles the overstated family friendly comedy of The Pink Panther reboot and the Night at the Museum flicks exceedingly well but fails to apply a defter touch in relation to the adult material here. Nope, he just serves up R-rated material in the same heavy-handed manner he did with the rather dreadful The Internship. The ensemble cast boasts some impressive names but few throw any real sparks save for Bateman and Tina Fey as simpatico siblings. There's genuine warmth generated from their interactions, which can't be said for this Jonathan Tropper adaptation as a whole.
Bottom line: The Big Chill Pill