Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Young Frankenstein (1974) - Mel Brooks

Young Frankenstein (1974)
Director: Mel Brooks
Writers: Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Mary Shelley (Novel)
Starring: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, Gene Hackman

The filmmakers that are making spoofs these days could learn quite a few things from Mel Brooks. A good spoof movie should be like a roast. The subject of the roast should be the butt of many jokes but the subject of the roast should also be respected. That is the point of a roast, to show someone how much we care about them by making jokes at their expense.

Young Frankenstein (1974) is a very funny movie that makes several jokes at the expense of the Frankenstein story but it also keeps the heart of that story intact. Dr. Frankenstein is still portrayed as a man obsessed with creating life to the point of insanity. The creature he creates is portrayed as a gentle and misunderstood character. The comedy elements that are added are funny but they do not take anything away from the story.

This was the main problem I had with Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). While Mel Brooks showed respect for the story, Abbott and Costello pretty much pissed all over three of Universal's greatest movie monsters. Dracula, Wolf-Man and Frankenstein's Monster were all relegated to bit parts with none of the bite of their original characters... and on top of that, they weren't very funny.

While I didn't find the film laugh-out-loud funny, Young Frankenstein was still very amusing. Gene Wilder does an excellent job as Dr. Frankenstein, he portrays the obsession and insanity of the character very well. He also does so in a very humorous way. He takes his performance just enough over-the-top to make it funny but not so over-the-top that it loses its edge.

Peter Boyle does a wonderful job as the creature. He has a great screen presence and very good comedic timing but he also brings heart to the role and makes the creature sympathetic. It really felt like he took a lot of inspiration from Boris Karloff when working on his role as Frankenstein's creation. The make up used in the film for the creature is also very similar to that worn by Karloff in Frankenstein (1931).

Marty Feldman is also extremely funny as Dr. Frankenstein's assistant Igor. I spent a lot of the movie wondering how exactly they got his eyes to bug out so much in the film only to find out that his eyes look like that in real life. Teri Garr and Madeline Kahn also do a great job with their respective roles as Inga and Elizabeth. Also, keep an eye out for a very amusing cameo appearance by Gene Hackman.

The film manages to have a lot of the same great visual style of Frankenstein (1931). This has a lot to do with the fact that Mel Brooks was able to use a lot of the props from the original film while making this film. That isn't to take anything away from Mel Brooks' direction though, he did an excellent job of taking what has become the most iconic portrayal of the Frankenstein legend and adding his own comedic flair to it.

The three films Mel Brooks did with Gene Wilder are probably Brooks' three best films. Of these three films, the other two being Blazing Saddles (1974) and The Producers (1968), I think this one is the least funny though. Don't get me wrong, Young Frankenstein is much funnier than any Mel Brooks film that came after it but it is not on the same level as these other two movies. I don't think Brooks would ever be able to recreate the magic he had with Gene Wilder and it is a shame that they didn't do more films together.

Rating: 7/10

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) - Terence Fisher

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
Director: Terence Fisher
Writers: Bert Batt (Screenplay), Anthony Nelson Keys (Story), Mary Shelley (Characters)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward, Thorley Walters, Maxine Audley, George Pravda, Geoffrey Bayldon, Colette O'Neil

When I first started this Frankenstein blog-a-thon the only Hammer film I had planned to watch was the first in the series, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). However, Joshua from Octupus Cinema recommended that I see Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), the fifth film in the Hammer Frankenstein series. After being assured by Joshua that the film would stand on its own and I would not need to see all the films in between I decided to give it a go.

This film is a pretty different take on the Frankenstein legend. In this version Dr. Frankenstein is no longer attempting to create life but instead is trying to perfect a method for transplanting a brain from one body to another. However, the information he needs to perfect this procedure is trapped in the head of a man that has gone insane. He must cure the man's insanity to get the information that he needs before he can continue with his experiments. However, things never go that easy for Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

It is hard to compare this film to other versions of the story because of how different it is. It is certainly not the story I am used to seeing when I think of Frankenstein. There is no creature created by Dr. Frankenstein in this film, at least not the in same way that there is in the other films. The lack of a creature created by Dr. Frankenstein is something that I missed while watching this film. However, this film does get a lot right with the character of Victor Frankenstein and stands on its own as a pretty decent film. I actually enjoyed this film a bit more than The Curse of Frankenstein (1957).

Peter Cushing does a great job portraying the madness of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. His obsession with his work really shows through in this film. He will do anything to continue his work even if it means kidnapping and killing. However, there is one part where I thought they may have gone to far Victor's madness. At one point in the film Victor rapes the character of Anna (who is the wife of the Doctor that Victor has forced to aid him in his work). I thought this was a bit out of character for Victor and according to the IMDB, Peter Cushing was not particularly happy about the inclusion of this scene either.

While there is no creature created by Dr. Frankenstein in this film there are people that are effected by his experiments and none of them are very happy with the results. This does lead to some of the similar dynamics that we normally see between Victor and his creation in other versions of the story. In my opinion this actually begins to make up for the fact that there is no creature in this film. The animosity that some of these people have towards Victor leads to a very exciting and suspenseful conclusion that over rivals the end of some of the earlier Frankenstein films.

Overall I thought the film was pretty good even though it is not the story I am used to seeing. It is certainly not topping out the list of my favorite Frankenstein movies but it is enjoyable. It does tell a pretty interesting story that has its roots in the legend of Frankenstein. The madness of Dr. Victor Frankenstein is, for the most part, portrayed extremely well and while there is not creature there are still some moments in the film that make up for that fact.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973) - Jack Smight

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)
Director: Jack Smight
Writers: Don Bachardy, Christopher Isherwood, Mary Shelley (Novel)
Starring: James Mason, Leonard Whiting, David McCallum, Jane Seymour, Nicola Pagett, Michael Sarrazin, Michael Wilding, Agnes Moorehead

When I first started watching Frankenstein: The True Story (1973) I was hoping for a story that would be more faithful to Mary Shelley's novel. The story of Frankenstein has been told many times on film but none of these films had stayed very close to the story of the original novel. This isn't really a bad thing but I was hoping to see an adaptation that was both interesting and true to the novel.

Twenty minutes into the film I had realized that it was going to take just as many liberties with the story that all other adaptations had done. The difference with this adaptation though is that the changes made would not be the least bit interesting. At a very early point in the story I could already tell that the changes made would be rather pointless. They were not done to make the story more cinematic as they were in Frankenstein (1931), they seemed to be changed for the sole purpose of making the story more convoluted.

Characters in this version of the story are completely different than they are in the book. Victor isn't even the main driving force trying to create life in this film. Henry Clerval, Victor's best friend who has nothing to do with creating the creature in the novel, is the character most obsessed with creating life in this version of the story. There is even a point in the film where Victor refers to Henry as the brains of their partnership. I can not think of any reason for this change and in my opinion it takes a lot away from the story of Dr. Frankenstein.

I am not a fan of the changes made to the creature in this version of the story either. He is not anything like the creature that Mary Shelley had envisioned. I don't want to give too much away about the film but the creatures evolution from gentle creature to monster is nothing like it is in the original story. In this version he is not shunned by Victor, in fact Victor does his best to educate the creature as best as he can. When creature begins to look ugly (he is attractive when first created and slowly begins to deform in this film) he decides for himself that he will not fit in with society and run out on his own. It seems like the writers of this version of the story had no respect at all for Mary Shelley's work.

From that point on the film begins to deviate more and more from the original source material. Normally I don't have a problem with a film changing the story from its source material but in this case I do. It would seem from the title that this film would try to stay closer to the source material but the writers seem to have no interest in that at all.

On top of how much the film deviated from the source material, it is overall just an uninteresting film. I did not care enough about any of the characters to be invested in anything that happened to them in the film. Victor was changed so much that the dynamic that normally exists between him and his creation is non-existent. The story told in the film is just dull, as is most of the acting and the directing. With a three hour run time the film just ends up being ridiculously hard to sit through.

Rating: 4/10

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) - Terence Fisher

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Director: Terence Fisher
Writers: Jimmy Sangster (Screenplay), Mary Shelley (Novel)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Valerie Gaunt

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) is my first foray into the Hammer series or horror films. I think I have seen bits and pieces of some of the Hammer Horror Dracula films but I've never taken the time to sit and watch a whole film. I've heard some good things and some bad things about them but I had never really taken the time to find out for myself.

The Curse of Frankenstein did not really impress me that much though. I felt there were a lot of parts that should have been cut out all together and there were some other parts that should have been fleshed out a lot more. I wouldn't call the movie bad but I wouldn't go as far as to call it good either. It is one of those movies that balances perfectly in the realm of the average.

It felt like the film was trying to build the kind of slow tension that Mary Shelley created in her novel but was unable to achieve it. Far too much time was spent on Victor Frankenstein working to create his monster. The film tries very hard to show how obsessed Victor is with creating life but in the end it just spends to much time on aspect of the story.

I think that a good twenty minutes could have been cut from first act of the movie. The story does start to pick up once the monster is created but this is when the film should have taken more time to flesh things out in the story. After the monster is created the story just breezes along with Victor trying to capture the monster so he can experiment on him.

The problem is that the character of the monster is never really fully realized. In this version of the story he is just a mindless monster that does nothing but kill. The film does not take any time for the audience to connect with the monster and feel for him. The monster in this film is more of a prop to show off Victor's insanity than he is an actual character.

Without any way to feel sympathy for the monster and with a Dr. Frankenstein that is too insane to identify with it becomes very hard to connect with the movie on any emotional level. I know this version of the film is supposed to be a straight horror film but what makes the story of Frankenstein so great is the emotional impact, without it there is nothing.

Christopher Lee does a pretty decent job as the monster considering how little he had to work with. The monster also has a somewhat different and unique look in this film, I'm not sure if I mean that in a good way or not though. At first glance the monster make up is very effective and gives off an extremely creepy vibe. However, the more you look at the monster the more the make up starts to look like a cheaply made mask.

The rest of the acting in the film was passable but not perfect. Even though I wasn't a fan of this telling of the story I won't deny that it is an interesting approach to the legend. The cinematography was very interesting and the use of color in the film gave it a very eery feel. The use of a lot of muted colors and earth tones gave the movie a very fantasy like, other worldly feel.

Overall the film was an interesting take on the Frankenstein legend and very different than Frankenstein (1931) but in the end just fell flat. The movie wasn't bad but it wasn't a very good telling of the Frankenstein legend either. It was missing a lot of things that make the story one of my favorites. It is a watchable film but in the end it just doesn't rank very high with me.

Rating: 5/10

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) - Charles Barton

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Director: Charles Barton
Writer: Mary Shelley (Characters), Bram Stoker (Characters), Robert Lees (Screenplay), Frederic I. Rinaldo (Screenplay), John Grant (Screenplay)
Starring: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange, Lenore Aubert, Jane Randolph, Frank Ferguson, Charles Bradstreet

Before watching Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) I wondered how I should go about reviewing it. Since it is part of my Frankentstein Blog-a-thon should I review it based on how Frankenstein's monster is presented through the film? Should I just review it as a straight comedy since it is an Abbott and Costello film? Well... it turns out that this would not be such a problem because the film didn't work for me on either level.

This was my first foray into the comedy of Abbott and Costello so I wasn't sure what to expect but I think that perhaps their comedy is just not my cup of tea. I found myself chuckling a little bit during the film but these chuckles were very few and far between. I don't want to say that the comedy was bad, I guess I can see how this could be appealing to someone else but it didn't work for me. I guess it is possible that this is just not one of their best films and I might enjoy another. According to IMDB Lou Costello didn't even want to do the film because of the bad script and was only convinced to do it when he was offered a $50,000 advance in salary.

The film also doesn't do a particularly good job in its presentation of Frankenstein's monster. He is pretty much just treated as a prop instead of a character. The film turns him into the mindless servant of Count Dracula, who isn't really portrayed that well in the film either. Bela Lugosi was great in the original Dracula (1931) and it is kind of sad that he became relugated to playing this kind of spoof of the character of Dracula. Of course the inclusion of Wolfman isn't handled particularly well either. The film pretty much made a mockery of the three classic monsters that it portrayed. I know the film was supposed to be a comedy and not horror but a better job could have been done with the characterization of the monsters.

Frankenstein's monster wasn't even in the movie for that long. Both Dracula and Wolfman have more screen time than the monster that gets to share the title with Abbott and Costello. The film could have just as easily have been called Abbott and Costello meet Dracula. In fact that probably would have been a much more fitting title for the story that was told. The story revolves more around Dracula than it does Frankenstein's monster.

In the end I just didn't really care for the movie for its comedy or for its portrayal of one of my favorite movie monsters. The DVD I got from Netflix was actually scratched and I wasn't able to see the last ten minutes of the movie but I really didn't care. I was so uninterested in the story that I didn't really care whether or not I finished the film. I am pretty sure that there wasn't anything in that last ten minutes that would have made me change my mind about the film.

Rating: 3/10

Monday, July 6, 2009

Flickchart or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Pick the Better Film

I have a new addiction and if you are fan of the internet and a fan of movies you may have heard about it. In fact you may already be addicted to it as well. That new addiction is Flickchart. The site itself is deceptively simple. After signing up you are presented with two films and you have to pick which film you like better. After picking you are then given another two films and you have to make the choice again. You then repeat this process a few thousand times.

I know what you are saying, "that seems pretty boring, what is the point?" Well, as you make more and more choices the site builds a list of your favorite movies. Now you question why you need a site to make these choices for you. You know what your favorite movies are and you can make your own list. Well, you would think so but if you ask me, making a list of favorite films is actually pretty hard to do. I know what films I really like but what order do I put them in? How do I rank movies that are so different.

Well, Flickchart forces you to make hard choices. When given the choice between two movies that you love you have to choose one. You may doubt that the choices would be that hard but you don't know what a tough choice is until you have been forced to choose between Ghostbusters (1984) and Back to the Future (1985). There is no option for "I like (or hate) both of these movies equally." You have to give it some thought and make a choice. After making quite a few hard choices you might just be surprised by the list Flickchart creates for you.

Of course the problem is that once you start rating movies it is hard to stop. You say to yourself, "Ok, one more match and then I am done for awhile." Then the next match up comes and you are presented with a choice that you can't resist making. So you give it some thought and make your choice and then are presented with another irresistible choice. This is how you end up spending several hours on the site just rating movies and wondering where the day went.

The site is still in its beta testing so you can't just go to the site and immediately sign up for an account. You can put in your e-mail address to sign up for the beta version of the site but you might not get your invitation right away. The other way to get in is to know someone that has an account and get them to invite you (sorry, all my invites are spoken for).

So, if movies are your thing and you always have trouble really making a list of your favorite films, or if you are just looking for a good time waster, sign up for the beta and try to get an account on the site. It is pretty fun but it can be addictive and may eat up a lot of your time. I personally can not be held responsible for the time you waste on the site though.

You can check out my profile on the site by clicking here. The list it has created for me needs a little work but is getting more and more accurate as I rank more and more movies. The site is missing some of my favorite foreign and independent films but as I understand they are working as fast as they can to add as many movies as they can.

Have fun.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) - James Whale

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Director: James Whale
Writers: Mary Shelley (Novel), William Hurlbut (Screenplay), John L. Balderston (Adaptation)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester, O.P. Heggie

From most of the things I have been reading lately, it seems that Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is widely considered to be a better film than Frankenstein (1931). While I really enjoyed the movie I am not sure I agree with this general consensus. It is a wonderful film but I think that it is just shy of reaching the same level of greatness as the first film.

Overall Bride of Frankenstein does continue many of the themes presented in the first film. It takes on the issues of playing God head on. It really turns these issues on their head though by presenting some interesting religious imagery, including a scene where the monster, still played masterfully by Boris Karloff, is tied to a pole and then stood upright in a position almost parodying a crucifixion.

The film also deals just as much with the creatures feelings of abandonment and loneliness as the first film did. For the first time the creature finally finds a friend in an older blind man. This man can not see the creature's hideous visage and is not afraid of him as everyone else is. They become good friends and the blind man even begins to teach the creature to talk. However, this does not last long because other people, knowing the monster's true form, will not let this friendship last. No matter how hard the monster tries he will never be accepted by humanity.

This leads to Dr. Pretorius, a scientist that has also succeeding in creating life on a smaller scale, trying to take advantage of the monster. Dr. Pretorius tricks the monster into forcing Dr. Frankenstein to create a bride for him. The creature has come to believe, with the help of Pretorius, that only someone created like him could truly be his friend. I am not even sure that the creature understands what it means to have a bride, he only understands that he will have a friend that is just like him and he might not be as lonely anymore.

Many of these plot points are grabbed directly from Mary Shelley's original novel. The monster's attempt to become friends with an old blind man and learning how to talk happen in Shelley's novel but not in the same way that they happen in the movie. While these scenes are very a condensed version of the similar scenes from the book they still invoke the same kinds of emotional reactions.

The monster's desire for a bride is also taken directly from the book, however in the book he comes to this conclusion on his own and is not tricked into it. Even though he does not come to this decision on his own in the film, we are still able to understand his desire for wanting a friend that would be more like him. However, the creation of the bride and what follows is almost as shocking and heartbreaking as the ending of the first film.

In many ways the emotional impact of Bride of Frankenstein is as great as it is in the first film. My only problem with the film is that it gets a bit too campy for my taste and I didn't really think that this fit well with the themes presented in the movie. The way the monster acts when he is excited and happy seem just a bit too childlike to me. I understand that the monster is a child in many ways but for some reason it just came across as too silly in my opinion.

I also thought that the tiny people created by Dr. Pretorius were just a tad to far on the campy side for me. I understand I am watching a film that involves a lot of fantasy elements as well as the creation of life but this was just went to far over the top in my opinion. It seems like it was added as comic relief and in the end it just didn't work for me. Of course I thought the whole character of Dr. Pretorius was a bit over the top as well.

The set designs were just as great in this film as they were in the first. The castle where Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Pretorius do their work still has that almost surreal quality to it that was presented in the first film. This surreal quality also exists in the underground crypt where Pretorius and the monster meet for the first time. If nothing else these films could be remembered for their iconic imagery alone.

The look of the monster's bride is an extension of this wonderful iconic imagery created in the film. Although she only has a few minutes of screen time her image has become almost as iconic as that of any of Universal's classic monsters. Her famous hair along with the way she acts and moves just add such a wonderful feel to the character and add so much to the film. My only disappointment with the character was that she had so little screen time. However that small amount of screen time was used well and served the story perfectly.

Bride of Frankenstein ends up being a great sequel that in many ways lives up to its predecessor. There are a few places here and there throughout the movie that are a bit to over the top but in the end it has the same kind of emotional impact as the first film. The evolution of Karloff's monsters is well done and at times very heartbreaking. The introduction of his bride has a wonderful impact and leads to a very emotional climax to a great film.

Rating: 8/10