Category Horror Movie Reviews

12 Days of Terror (2004)

12 Days of Terror (2004)

Based on the terrifying true events that inspired Jaws

It’s 1916 and the beaches of New Jersey are packed with swimmers, eager to forget the stories of the war brewing across the Atlantic. However that all changed on July 1st when, during a twelve-day period, a killer shark takes up residence in the waters, threatening New Jersey’s thriving tourist industry.

 

Ah, the killer shark genre. Never has a sub-genre been so inept at coming up with anything remotely as exciting as the original Jaws. The first true killer shark flick and it’s still head and shoulders above the rest despite more recent films having bigger budgets, access to better special effects and shooting schedules that don’t go wrong at every opportunity. So how is it that the likes of Shark Attack, Shark Swarm, the Jaws sequels and even Deep Blue Sea (arguably the best of the Jaws-wannabes) have come nowhere near recapturing the scares, the thrills and the overall entertainment of Spielberg’s classic? 12 Days of Terror is actually a different take on the whole genre. Instead of just copying scenes or rehashing elements, this one takes its cue straight from history and bases itself around the true events which inspired Peter Benchley to write Jaws. It’s no coincidence that this one plays out pretty much the same way as the classic blockbuster but at least it can’t be called a copy.

Given the recent spate of killer shark flicks, 12 Days of Terror has a refreshing approach to the same genre material. I guess it’s the period setting which helps the film. With it being based in 1916, the film has to pretend it knows nothing about sharks: there’s the lack of scientific facts really understand what they’re about (no quotes here about sharks smelling blood in the water from miles away) and there’s the lack of modern equipment to track and combat them (the very primitive steel fences that are erected around the bathing area look useless). It’s almost as if the people don’t know how to handle the situation because it’s totally new to them – watch the scientists laugh at the suggestion that a shark killed the first victim, suggesting it was a torpedo that did it. This period feel also helps during the attack scenes as there’s a real sense of helplessness for the victims. I know people are screwed when they’re attacked by sharks at the best of times, but here you know that the people watching on the beach have no clue as to go about the situation. The attacks consist of little more than the people thrashing around in bloodied water and the shark rarely makes a full appearance. When it does turn up, it’s reasonably effective. Some scenes are CGI but some are clearly animatronics with a splash of CGI thrown in for good measure.

12 Days of Terror has one glaring problem and that it’s downright tiresome. I am sure that the actual events were a lot more exciting than this makes out, given the plodding pace and real lack of anything to get the audience involved with the film. There’s a tepid love triangle between the main characters which is totally pointless and just serves to pad time out. Despite this film being based on the events that inspired Jaws, it seems more like the other way around and that Jaws inspired this film given the way things pan out with the mayor not closing the beaches, the lead characters setting off to sea to kill the shark – which apparently didn’t happen in the true events either. According to the reports, the shark was never caught and it just swam back out to sea. So the finale here with the characters trying to kill the shark in a rickety old boat seems to have been fabricated to add a little bit of excitement. This begs the question: if the writers were going to take liberty with the outcome, why not take liberties with a few other parts of the film too? Either keep it realistic or bling it up with gore and shark attacks!

 

12 Days of Terror has a refreshing approach on the generic killer shark film and manages to raise itself above most of the straight-to-video Jaws rip-offs. But its tedious plodding drama and lack of real bite when needed throw this one back into the chum with the rest.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 


13 Hrs (2010)

13 Hrs (2010)

A deadly secret is coming home.

After taking time to set up her new life in America, Sarah returns to her isolated countryside home in England for a much-delayed visit. However she comes to back to trouble: her mother is missing and assumed to be visiting a lover; her father has financial issues; and her ex-boyfriend Doug has gotten together with her childhood friend. But when a storm knocks out the power, they realise that they’re not alone in the house as a deadly creature is now roaming the corridors.

 

Sailing on the coattails of the fact that it’s produced by one of the guys who produced Dog Soldiers, 13 Hrs can’t hide the fact that’s a film low on budget and even lower on fresh ideas. I can’t be too hard on it since it was shot in six weeks, edited quickly afterwards on a meagre budget and the fact that it is British (supporting my home film industry and all of that….). Actually I can be hard on it since surely there’s more that one can do with a bit of imagination and creativity than simply rehash tired old clichés and band them together with a shoe-string plot.

I honestly had no idea that this was meant to be a werewolf film (shows you how little attention I paid to the DVD cover which actually mentions werewolf!). Nothing throughout 13 Hrs points towards lycanthropy and the brief glimpses of the creature give us nothing to connect the dots. The first section of the film introduces us to the characters and they’re all irritable, bland or a combination of the two. Even the heroine has a rather nasty streak to her. There’s no one to root for as they’re continually bitching to each other and this one of the film’s glaring problems. Siding with an unknown enemy against this irritating cast isn’t so good when you’ve made your allegiances within the first ten minutes.

The cast aren’t great but it’s not like they had a lot to work with. Gemma Atkinson has been cast for her physical attributes but must have had a good agent so that she didn’t strip down at any point and show us those attributes. Tom Felton, of Harry Potter fame, also gets a headlining role but it’s hardly the role he needs if he wants to break free of the Draco Malfoy stereotype. It’s also pretty sad that this was the late Simon MacCorkindale’s last film and his cameo role at the beginning is a pitiful way to call time on his career. Though I’m sure Jaws 3-D was never high on his list either.

The creature looks more like a relative to the Crawlers in The Descent with its balding head, lack of body hair and sharp claws. You won’t have a clue what it’s meant to be and the characters assume it’s some rabid animal at first. Red POV shots are banded around to try and make the creature seem scary but it’s hardly on screen long enough to even bother turning it into some sort of major threat. Attack scenes are quickly edited so you have little clue as to what is going on and most of the creature’s bloody rampage happens off-camera. There’s a subplot about a local animal handler who is recruited by the police to respond to the 999 call at the house but this literally becomes a dead end plot which serves no purpose to the film except kill a bit more running time. The plot twist and revelation at the end is also about as shocking as finding out that the Pope is Catholic. It’s signposted almost right from the get-go and is a little too obvious to make the ending anything but unsatisfactory. But when the rest of the film is just as plodding, it’s hardly going to make much difference.

 

13 Hrs is passable entertainment, no doubt watchable enough for anyone who’s never seen a horror film before but for anyone else, it’s just a film which goes through the motions and makes no qualms about doing that. There is potential here but it’s clear that everyone involved played it as safe as possible. Even the bald werewolf!

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

2-Headed Shark Attack (2012)

2-Headed Shark Attack (2012)

1 Body, 2 Heads and 6,000 Teeth.

A group of students are aboard a Semester at Sea vessel ship which becomes damaged when it hits a dead shark floating in the water and starts to sink. As the crew attempt to repair the damage, Professor Babish decides to take the students to a nearby atoll. What they haven’t realised is that there is a deadly two-headed shark lurking in the region which begins to pick off the students as they enter the water, cutting off their escape route back to the ship. Though the atoll provides temporary refuge, it is soon apparent that it is slowly sinking into the sea. Soon there will be no hiding place from the monstrous two-headed shark.

 

A shark with two heads? Let’s face it fans of monster movies, the idea itself is inspired and definitely catches the attention for a few minutes if only for perverse curiosity of what the end product could be. Not content with increasing the size of their killer monsters to ‘mega’ size with the likes of Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus and Mega Piranha, The Asylum have now decided to add extra heads to their monsters to give them that bonus bite. I’m still not entirely sold on the entire that two heads are better than one is this case especially since they both share the same body but it’s still a great selling point and makes for a kick ass DVD cover. It’s a shame that the film itself predictably fails to deliver anything nearly as inspired.

2-Headed Shark Attack completely wastes the idea of a shark with two heads, simply having the creature do exactly the same thing a normal shark would do, except that it has twice the biting power. Any uniqueness to the creature is seemingly lost apart from the title and the poster. So the film just trots off the usual shark flick clichés. I find it hard to enjoy films when they are this silly. The script is all over the place and everything happens simply to push on to the next set piece, no matter how daft or overblown it may be. I’m still not quite sure why they all had to leave the boat and head to the atoll as the crew were still aboard and it didn’t look like it was sinking. Oh yeah, there wouldn’t be a film if they hadn’t gone to the atoll.

From then on, it’s just finding enough excuses to get the teenagers into the water for them to be fed to the shark. It seems that some characters even throw themselves into the water because they believe that swimming with a two-headed shark is a lot safer than being a boat or dry land. The attack scenes are repetitive and, since the shark gets fed pretty well, you’ll be seeing the same scenarios over and over again. Predictably, the shark itself looks awful. There’s a fake head used in brief flashes during attack scenes but for 98% of the film, it’s all CGI. The shark has the ability to change size at any given situation, being as big as a boat in some shots but then being unable to fully squeeze into a partially-submerged church later on. Taking a cue from Jaws: The Revenge, this shark roars a lot and has the uncanny ability to still exist when it loses a head – did it mutate into the Hydra at some point? The scenes of it chomping through its human prey look exactly what they are – computer scenes. No explanation is given as to why it has two heads: there is some musing amongst the cast but it’s not high on the agenda.

Unfortunately even these moments provide little entertainment as the editing is so frenetic. It’s a trademark of The Asylum’s films to feature ridiculously rapid editing to keep things moving at light speed but it gets too fast and there’s rarely a moment to just sit back and take things in. Sometimes you need that it films. I’m not saying that the material on display here needs you to sit and think but in order to process images and sounds, the human brain needs a rest. Having non-stop rapid-fire editing throughout a film might make it look high-octane entertainment but it’s taxing on the brain.

Directed by Christopher Olen Ray, son of notorious low budget schlock director Fred Olen Ray (with such politically-correct films like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and Scream Queen Hot Tub Party on his CV), it’s clear that Olen Ray Jr. has followed in his father’s footsteps with his taste for the female form. Carmen Electra gets top billing, and although she provides a requisite bikini scene and spends the entire film parading around in tight cut-off jeans and a low top, she has a total of about ten lines. I’m sure her fee would have been better spent elsewhere. That said, her body still looks great so no complaints here!

It’s sad to say that the best thing on display here was Brooke Hogan. Despite writing off her performance before I had even watched (having already seen the disastrous Sand Sharks), Hogan does alright in her character of Kate. It’s pretty obvious she’s only getting cast because she’s the daughter of legendary wrestler Hulk Hogan and though she’s decent-ish in this, she shouldn’t give up her day job which is…..erm, being the daughter of Hulk Hogan I guess. She also spends the entire time parading around in a bikini and the script has her doing a lot of running. Go figure. At least the script isn’t making her out to be some sort of scientist. It only has her being a multi-talented handywoman who can fix boats, repair generators and rig crude explosives from oil barrels.

 

2-Headed Shark Attack is a predictably terrible film which relies on its gimmicky notion to sell itself – and then proceeds to do nothing different with it than hasn’t been done in x number of killer shark flicks. Two heads are better than one? Not a chance. Where is Roy Scheider and a couple of pressurised tanks when you need him?

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

28 Days Later (2002)

28 Days Later (2002)

Day 1: Exposure – Day 3: Infection – Day 8: Epidemic – Day 15: Evacuation – Day 20: Devastation

When animal rights activists break into a medical research laboratory to release the captive chimpanzees inside, they inadvertently unleash a highly contagious rage-inducing virus which spreads via blood and saliva and quickly infects living beings. 28 days later and Jim awakens in hospital after being in coma to find London completely deserted. Meeting up with a pair of survivors, Jim discovers that the virus spread quickly among the populace, resulting in complete societal collapse, and the group attempt to find sanctuary to escape from the hordes of infected roaming the streets.

 

Between 1985 and the early 00s, mainstream zombie films were few and far between as they had fallen out of favour. Much like the slasher film fell by the wayside at the same time, the humble zombie film had become oversaturated and on the decline. But then in 2002, a low budget critically-acclaimed horror from Trainspotting director Danny Boyle was snapped up by an American distributor and the rest is history. Largely credited with totally reinvigorating the zombie genre and bringing it back to the mainstream, 28 Days Later was the first zombie film in years to receive a widespread cinematic release and became a big hit across the world, scoring over ten times its budget back in ticket sales.

28 Days Later is still fundamentally just another zombie film that we’ve seen before, only with some nice reinventions on the sub-genre tropes (don’t call them zombies for a start!). The story still has to weave through the same conundrums for the characters to conquer: searching for food, water and a safe place; suddenly learning how to survive after being brought up in a modern society; trust issues with strangers they encounter; realising there is more of the infected than there are survivors; and dealing with loved ones once they’ve become infected. 28 Days Later addresses all of these issues with a sense of stark realism – there isn’t going to be a happy ending for many people in the film.

Shot on digital video to give it a grimy, bleak appearance, 28 Days Later introduces a fantastic post-apocalyptic vision within it’s opening five minutes – the empty streets of London (a nice early 4am shoot to get the desired effect) looking eerily like they’ve never looked before. This isn’t some burnt-out, buildings collapsing wasteland but just the same old London without people. It’s an uncanny effect. The main character, fresh from hospital treatment and unsure of what has happened (potentially in a nod to The Day of the Triffids in which the main character follows a similar post-operation trauma without realising the Earth has been overrun with killer plants) staggers around the place, looking bewildered and disorientated. It’s this disorientation which helps to channel the narrative because there’s little exposition to fill in the gaps. Not knowing just what has happened and how quickly adds to the panic and fear.

It’s the realism and down-to-Earth nature of the film which helps 28 Days Later keep a strong bond with the audience. There isn’t a reliance on gore or even standard issue ‘boo’ moments to throw out a few cheap thrills and spills. 28 Days Later has a generally calm atmosphere with a strong underlying sense of dread where you know that something bad could happen at any moment but the characters have accepted that and tried to put it to the back of their minds. The film punctures this false illusion of security every so often with some shocks and Boyle wants you to remember the sudden shocking outbursts of violence, making them more effective in the process as you’re kept on the edge of your seat. Although there are relatively few action sequences in the film, the ones that are here are memorable enough to make you think you’ve seen more. An opening chase from a church and a thrilling sequence inside a tunnel are memorable purely for the speed and frenetic energy they’re presented in, rather than their length.

Whist not quite zombies by the usual definition, the infected certainly fall into the same category given there’s no real alternative nametag. Boyle’s rage-infected humans charge forward in a hyperactive, frenzied state, able to sprint, leap and do things that the usual slow-moving shuffling walking dead can’t do. It gives them a unique presence, something that Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake was quick to capitalise on a few years later. The scenes with the infected work far better than they should, given Boyle’s preference to shoot a lot of the film with an eerie peace and tranquillity. After all, why would there be a lot of background noise in the world when pretty much everyone is dead? The snarls and roars of the infected are made twice as scary when they pierce through the silence – you might not see them, but you can hear them coming. They also don’t need to eat brains either, which just turns them into savage killers with no rhyme or reason for doing what they do.

Cillian Murphy went on to do a lot better after this, starring in films such as Batman Begins, Inception and Dunkirk, and probably most famously now as the lead role in BBC TV show Peaky Blinders. He’s great in the lead role here, pretty much stumbling around in confusion and not having much of a clue as to what is going on. Strong support comes from Naomie Harris and Brendan Gleeson. Christopher Eccleston, who would go on to star in the revamped version of Doctor Who, appears just over half-way through as the leader of a bunch of soldiers holed up in a country mansion for protection.

It’s at this point where 28 Days Later is let down by its final third, as the story heads off in a slightly different direction to everything that came before it. I guess Boyle thought he needed to up the action ante in the film’s climax as the narrative becomes the generic men with guns vs ‘zombies’ shoot-out and all mayhem comes to the fore as the walls of the mansion are breached. Given this is what happens in a large majority of zombie films towards the end, 28 Days Later is hardly in unfamiliar territory, especially with the whole ‘humans are worse than zombies’ undercurrent. But we do care about the main characters by this point and, some plot armour moments aside, you will be rooting for their survival.

 

28 Days Later has become something of a modern-day standard bearer by which recent zombie films have been measured against and there’s a good reason for that – it’s one of the best to come out of the genre for a long time. Though far from perfect, Boyle’s horror film is full of moments of peace and tranquil beauty, juxtaposed with kinetic energy and raw savagery, keeping tension and suspense high and audiences on tender hooks. Bleak, pessimistic and a whole lot of perverse fun for genre fans.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

3-Headed Shark Attack (2015)

3-Headed Shark Attack (2015)

More heads, more deads

A group of scientists are attacked in their underwater lab by a killer 3-headed shark. Then the shark moves on to attack a cruise ship full of partying teenagers. The survivors must band together to try and stop it.

 

I really can’t be bothered wasting my time trying to make the plot sound more exciting than it was because it’s just a mess of appalling writing. OK, so 2-Headed Shark Attack was hardly a high art concept and sold itself on the ludicrous premise alone with predictably dire results. How do you top something so silly? Just add an extra head of course! 3-Headed Shark Attack is somehow even worse than its predecessor. It’s a film which exists solely based upon its premise and where the makers of the film clearly thought “we don’t need to bother with making a coherent narrative which logically moves from A to B because there’s a 3-headed shark in it.” Whilst 2-Headed Shark Attack revelled in its absurdity, treating proceedings with tongue firmly in cheek, this one tries to be too serious.

3-Headed Shark Attack falls straight into The Asylum’s typical formulaic approach – no real plot exposition, gets right into the thick of the action from the opening scene, throws a load of characters with no development into the mix and then just attempts to butcher it together with some awfully choppy editing. There’s literally something going on in every frame of film and it’s a constant assault on the eyes, with some frames lasting seconds before the next edit kicks in. In Asylum films, there’s little room to take time out, get to know characters or build plot – it’s just full steam ahead and it’s so annoying. All you see are people on the screen running away or swimming away from something that’s so badly rendered in CGI that it isn’t even funny. Names? Backgrounds? Relationships to other characters? Nope. Forget that. They’re just faces on film. All they have to do is look into the camera, pretend to stare at something off-screen and then attempt to emote when the time dictates…and they even fail at that.

There are almost three separate films crammed in here and all could have been expanded further. There’s the opening twenty or so minutes with the shark destroying the underwater lab (again, there’s no real point in introducing a load of these one-note victims to kill them off a few minutes later) and forcing the characters to leave the safety of dry land and into a boat (I know, it makes no sense). It’s almost like watching Deep Blue Sea but rushed through in a quarter of the time. Then the few survivors from this end up on a boat full of partying teenagers and the next ‘mini-film’ commences. Finally the survivors from this part then meet up with Danny Trejo’s fisherman character for the last ‘mini-film.’ But that’s what you get with the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach from The Asylum. Just take a chill pill and stretch things out a little more to generate some suspense or tension. At no point during this film did I feel remotely scared, tense or even worried because there’s so much going on, and so much that doesn’t make sense, that it’s hard for your brain to compute. Films need to retain some element of realism in them to allow the audience to comprehend even the silliest of storylines, characters or special effects yet 3-Headed Shark Attack is devoid of realism.

The shark just turns up in the opening scene with no explanation or build-up and then just wreaks havoc, smashing up the lab and eating as many people as possible over the course of the film. It gets to the point of overkill because the shark is always killing people. Remember when only four people (on-screen that is) were killed in Jaws? You don’t need to keep feeding the shark to make it a threat. In fact the opposite happens and it becomes almost a drinking game to see how many people the shark will eat within the next ten minutes of film. The shark looks reasonably good when it’s swimming around doing nothing – the heads are pretty scary and it does look freakish. However as soon as it’s required to do something like breach the water, bite someone or flip into the air, the ropey CGI kicks in. Coupled to this is a soundtrack which doesn’t fit the action and is just there to artificially generate tension and excitement.

Danny Trejo and professional wrestler Rob Van Dam are the two ‘names’ in the film. Trejo is seemingly on a quest to star in every single low budget straight-to-DVD film made in the last two years and has clearly been cast in this for one particular sight gag involving the shark and a machete. RVD proves he should stick to wrestling.

 

It’s like pulling teeth trying to enjoy 3-Headed Shark Attack and considering that there are a lot of teeth on display, that’s a lot of pain to suffer. Those who like The Asylum’s specific ‘brand’ of filmmaking will find more of the same here but for those who want something a little more down-to-Earth, realistic and generally better made, the hunt for a decent killer shark flick continues.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

51 (2011)

51 (2011)

Welcome to the future

After political pressure from the media forces the American government to re-think their approach to Area 51, a small group of reporters are allowed into the top secret military facility for a limited-access tour. The tour is designed to provide non-essential secrets to be purposely leaked so that the media’s attention is diverted away from the real secrets that the base holds. But one of Area 51’s alien captives takes advantage of the situations and breaks free, releasing other captives and trapping the group of reporters in the facility.

 

I’m all for original horror films being released, especially ones that are free of the cruel, strangling grip of mainstream Hollywood cinema. So when After Dark Films began to release a stream of ‘original’ horror films in 2011 and 2012, I had faith that at least some small studios were attempting to do their own thing. Unfortunately once I sat down and watched a few of them (Husk and Prowl spring to mind), I realised that the films were exactly the same sort of thing that I’d been watching for years only with lesser budgets and lesser casts. ‘Original’ they were not – derivative most definitely. Case in point today: 51.

Starting off with the promise of some good ideas, 51 simply reverts back to the standard ‘people trapped in a confined space with a monster loose’ formula by the twenty minute mark. Then it’s a case of how many times the film can rip-off Aliens, Predator and the scores of alien flicks made since. The original idea of allowing the media a glimpse into the workings of Area 51 was a solid, if somewhat shallow, set-up but at least it allowed for some interesting ideas. There’s little in the way of hidden political messages to this, just a novel idea which is discarded pretty quickly when everyone starts to turn into alien nosh. The film could have done a better job at presenting ‘Area 51’ for a start– the most secretive place on Earth yet here it is guarded by a handful of marines who seem more bemused with their pointless posting than worrying about what is lying underneath them in the facility.

Nevertheless, the story just serves as a set-up to get a load of people into the facility and once the aliens break free, we don’t care whether they’re reporters, cameramen, scientists or generals. This is where the film shifts into Aliens mode, providing the alien escapees with not only the reporters but another handful of bodies to rip through, sending in a batch of marines to rescue the survivors and indulge us with the token action scenes. We know that the marines aren’t going to succeed because there wouldn’t be a story if they did. So it’s just a matter of waiting for the inevitable to pass by so that we can get back to the main characters that actually have first names. It’s also daft to believe that a bunch of well-armed marines are taken out a lot quicker than the reporters but hey, this is the movies after all. Both groups of people continue to run around the same sets for the majority of the second half and there’s little variation to the film. One warehouse looks the same as another one. Every corridor seems to be the same but just shot from different angles.

On the plus side, the special effects are pretty good. The aliens are all brought to life through practical effects. So they’re either guys in suits (like the shape shifter in his indigenous form) or slimy prosthetic creatures. Again, like I stated in my recent review for The Blackout, it’s painfully obvious where the creatures get their inspiration from, with black, shiny skin and dripping mouths (including the now-obligatory shot of a helpless victim lying in front of an alien rearing its head up and about to attack). H.R. Giger has a lot to answer for and it seems almost canon that 90% of aliens in film now must look like the xenomorph from Alien. That’s a real credit to Giger’s immense creation but also a damning indication of the lack of imagination that everyone else has when it comes to original alien design. Surely designers can come up with something other than another black-skinned, acid-spewing monster with sharp teeth and an aggressive streak? Obviously not. There’s also very little in the way of CGI and the deaths are pretty gory too which is a bit strange considering this aired on the Sci-Fi Channel.

 

51 isn’t terrible but it’s so unimaginative and thin on story and script that in the hands of a better director and writer, a few more risks could have been taken to give it that extra dimension. As it stands, 51 is a perfect example of just how little originality there is left anywhere at the moment – everyone is too content to play it safe, tow the line and make underwhelming films. Whatever happened to the risk-takers and the pioneers?

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1953)

Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1953)

All New ! All Wild ! All Fun !

Two Americans cops visiting London to study police tactics find themselves drawn into the hunt for the murderer of a prominent physician. Their search leads them to Dr Jekyll, who can transform himself into the murderous Mr Hyde after injecting himself with a serum he has invented.

 

When Universal had exhausted the rehashing of their classic monsters after pitting them against one another in a series of ever-diminishing horror films, the studio only had the comedy spoof option left and they allowed their popular duo of Abbott and Costello the chance to goof around with them instead. Starting with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948, the bumbling pair also crossed paths with the Mummy and the Invisible Man. Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is arguably the least of their antics with the Universal monsters but features plenty of their trademark humour.

Like the other Abbott and Costello films, the plot is simply a flimsy excuse for the comedy duo to go through their usual slapstick motions. So if your tolerance for old school shenanigans isn’t high, then maybe it’s best to skip this one. But I’m a sucker for old school and some of the silly, juvenile comedy hits the right notes from a time when you didn’t have to rely on crude humour or gross-out gags to entertain an audience. The duo opt for the more physical slapstick comedy route in this one as opposed to the witty verbal exchanges of the previous films and it’s this lack of sophisticated comedy which hurts the film in the long run. There’s only so many times you can see people tripping up, falling over, bundling themselves around and running around like silly devils before it gets tiresome.

The highlight scene of the film involves ‘Tubby’ (Costello) accidentally injecting himself with the serum which then leads to all manner of mayhem as the main characters get the real Mr Hyde and the fake one mixed up. This leads to a sometimes-funny, sometimes-groan worthy chase through the streets and across the rooftops of London.

There’s also plenty of annoying burlesque dancing which Abbott and Costello films are unfortunately full of. It’s a bit out of place in turn-of-the-century London but when the streets are stereotypically fog-drenched and there are fish and chips shops on every corner, you could be forgiven for a few historical inaccuracies. To be fair, the Gothic sets do a good job of portraying Victorian London and there are moments when the film does strike a chord into the hearts of traditional Universal horror fans. But then the silliness starts up again and the good atmosphere and Gothic vibe is blown away with a series of childishly funny gags and routines.

Horror legend Boris Karloff stars as the sinister Dr Jekyll. Unlike other versions, Jekyll is just as dangerous as Mr Hyde. He’s a schemer who is madly in love with his young ward and is overcome with jealousy when she attracts the attentions of a dashing journalist. Jekyll actually likes turning into Hyde here – it’s not so much of a dangerous side effect to the drugs he’s experimenting with, it’s as if he turns into Hyde simply to get away with his lusts for murder. Karloff is completely wasted in the role and seems very restrained. Thankfully the character doesn’t degenerate into camp but it’s a pity Karloff’s considerable acting talents weren’t put to better use.

The transformation scenes do the convincing job that they need to do on the budget that the film has to offer and Mr Hyde looks more than a little monstrous when he’s decked out in his make-up. But this film is played strictly for laughs and any true horror elements are watered down to insignificant proportions. He might as well have been dressed as a clown for all the good it would do in the long run.

 

You’ll either love Abbott and Costello or hate them so Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is going to be a weird one for most. I’d suggest watching the far superior Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein if you want to see the duo in their crossover prime. This one is strictly for fans.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Jeepers! The creepers are after Bud and Lou!

Two hapless freight handlers, Wilbur and Chick, are asked to dispatch two crates to a local wax museum, allegedly containing the bodies of Dracula and the Frankenstein monster. In the midst of their bumbling behaviour, Dracula is freed and he sets about reviving the Frankenstein monster to act as his servant. In order to make the monster more docile, Dracula decides to implant another brain into it and singles out Wilbur for the host.

 

After Universal Studios had exhausted their iconic horror monsters by pairing them off against each other in less and lesser films like House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, they looked for a new hook in which to breathe new life into their flagging fortunes. At the same time, popular comedy duo Abbott and Costello were beginning to run out of ideas and they too needed a new injection of life to keep themselves on the top of their game (being one of the biggest box office draws of their time). Someone came up with the madcap idea of pairing both Abbott and Costello and the Universal monsters off against each other and thus a legacy was born.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is quite simply fantastic comedy-horror at its most innocent and delightful. There are no pretences here. No smut. It is not desperate to make you laugh. It’s all natural, light-hearted entertainment. This is mainly down to the leading pair. Like many successful double-acts, their teaming has a simple set-up: Abbott is the straight man, Costello the buffoon. The two react to each other perfectly, retorting with slapstick, physical comedy or some zippy one-liners. One particular routine that they re-use is one in which Costello sees the monster of the piece but it disappears before Abbott comes along. Then Costello desperately tries to convince Abbott that he’s just seen something horrible but Abbott won’t believe him. It’s a good routine and one which they re-used time and time again. Add in a revolving door, Dracula and the Frankenstein monster to this skit and you’ve got one (or two since the routine is worked twice here) of the best examples of comic delivery from this era.

What is great about the film is that the script treats the monsters with respect. They are not the sources of the comedy and the butt of the jokes but are portrayed as serious characters. Rather it is the actions and reactions of Abbott and Costello which provide the laughs. The monsters follow on from their previous cinematic treatment: Dracula is manipulative and charismatic, the Wolf Man a tragic figure and the Frankenstein monster as a lumbering giant with an infant mentality. The monsters are given reasonably equal screen time so that you get a decent dose of each one.

Bela Lugosi is back as Count Dracula and I was shocked to find that this was only the second time he had played the role of the famous vampire, following on from Dracula in 1931. Dracula is the main villain of the piece, getting slightly more to do than the other monsters throughout the film as a whole but suffering a little towards the finale. The Frankenstein monster does the opposite to Dracula, starting off as a bit player but becoming the main focus in the last third. The Wolf Man, played by horror legend Lon Chaney Jr, gets little more to do than run around growling in the background most of the time when the other monsters are around. The script could quite easily have worked just as well without him (and in fact save the Wolf Man for a less-crowded sequel where he could be the main focus) but he does get his own individual moments to shine with a few transformation scenes.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was the final Universal film to feature Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man for fifty six years until the release of Van Helsing. Oddly enough, despite the monsters being paired off against each other in previous films, it is in this one where the Wolf Man and Dracula physically get involved with each other.

 

It’s a fitting finale to this classic period of vintage horror and the overall send-off that the monsters receive in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the perfect kind-hearted tribute to a golden era. Easily one of the greatest comedy-horrors of all time.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

AS PRIVATE EYES…they’re getting an Eyeful!

Boxer Tommy Nelson is accused of killing his manager and injects himself with an experimental invisibility serum in order to hide from the police and find out the real killer. He enlists the help of two bumbling private detectives, Bud and Lou, and with their help, he devises a plan to trap the real killer by having Lou pose as a boxer, aided by his invisible punches.

 

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was such a popular hit that the much-loved comedy duo were regularly paired off against some of Universal’s classic gallery of monsters. The seeds for Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man had been sown at the end of their first horror outing, as the Invisible Man (voiced by none other than Vincent Price) introduces himself to the duo at the end of the film. Price sadly does not return in this one but maybe he saw what was coming. The result is a film which grossly fails to live up to the potential shenanigans that Abbott and Costello should have been getting up to with an Invisible Man.

I really don’t get the love for this one. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is nowhere near as funny as some of their other ‘Meet’ films yet it has received way more critical praise and was financially more successful than their horror outings. This one is hardly played for the horror factor as the character of the Invisible Man was never really meant to be in the same league of monstrousness as Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man. It’s perhaps this which doesn’t do the film any favours. The character of the Invisible Man, Tommy Nelson in this one, is played seriously and there are attempts to give him some sort of story with the warnings of becoming psychotic after being invisible for too long. But unlike the horror elements of their previous outings, the drama doesn’t really click here. Abbott and Costello don’t really seem out of their element as they did when they were up against Dracula and Frankenstein and everything happens as a matter of fact. The duo go along with Nelson’s plan from the beginning, taking on board the notion of an invisible man with little apprehension.

The highlight set piece of the film is the boxing bout at the end where Lou is to go up against tough boxer Rocky Hanlon, with Tommy providing invisible punches. I’m sure it all sounded a lot funnier on paper and what we get is an overlong sequence of Lou pratting around in the ring in his shorts and pretending to fall over, slip, trip and stumble like the buffoon his character is meant to be. The physical comedy just isn’t funny and I always preferred the verbal sparring that Abbott and Costello did with each other, most notably their variations on the “Who’s On First?” routine. They manage to hit a few decent home runs with a couple of scenes but there’s nowhere near enough material to keep the film consistently funny. Lou Costello was always the stooge and his clowning around can get pretty tiresome as he looks at the camera with that knowing look to break down the fourth wall with the audience. One of the highlights of the other ‘Meet’ films, even the worse ones, was that Costello spent the majority of the film trying to convince Abbott that there were monsters lurking around. This lead to all manner of mishaps with bodies appearing and disappearing, chases around corridors, castles and tombs and Costello trying to hold it all together before he thought he was going crazy. But here, Abbott learns of the existence of the Invisible Man quite early which strips away most of the comedy potential. Seeing the two work hand-in-hand with the monster of the movie isn’t as entertaining as watching Costello fall apart on screen as Abbott reprimands him.

The true star of the show is the invisibility special effects. Truly excellent for 1951, we get to see scenes of Bud and Lou playing cards with the invisible man and taking him out to dinner where he eats spaghetti. The invisibility aspect plays host to a number of sight gags throughout the film as various characters don’t know where Tommy is. In the film’s best effect, the Invisible Man receives a blood transfusion and begins to visualise, with his veins materialising first as the blood is pumped in followed by the rest of his body. The effects were great for their era and still hold up extremely well today. It’s a pity that the comedy doesn’t.

 

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is an undignified end to Universal’s Invisible Man series and a run of five previous films featuring H. G. Wells’ classic character was to come to an end. Abbott and Costello would be back to face more Universal monsters but this is not one of their better efforts and doesn’t hold a candle to the classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

It has been said that a man’s best friend is his mummy…

Two bumbling and broke treasure hunters sitting in a coffee shop in Egypt overhear a conversation with a famous archaeologist and they follow him back to his hotel in the hope of securing a job transporting his newest acquisition, the mummy of Klaris, back to the US. However a secret cult tracks the professor down and murders him for taking a medallion from the tomb which supposedly holds the key to finding the whereabouts of a great fortune. The two men arrive on the scene too late and are framed for the murder. But they find themselves in possession of the medallion and the cult and the police are both soon after them.

 

The last film they made with Universal, Abbott and Costello round up their ‘Meet’ series by coming face-to-face with the mummy, the only one of the Universal big hitters that they hadn’t come up against. The comedy duo was on the slide, their careers were winding down (this was their penultimate film) and you can tell right from the start that their hearts just weren’t in it anymore and the chemistry that they once had seemed to have evaporated. If you’ve never seen one of these films before, then think of it as a really early precursor to something like Shaun of the Dead where a popular comedy duo is thrust into the world of horror to deal with something monstrous. There’s no real modern day version of their antics against the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula and co. but maybe that’s a good thing.

Considering how poor some of their later work was, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy is surprisingly entertaining for fans of the duo and does just enough to get by. Its full of the hallmarks of the Abbott and Costello Meet… series including Costello being the only one who sees the monsters until the end of the film and no one believes him, monsters which look intimidating but end up being wet blankets and pure comic foil, bad guys who robotically speak awfully contrived dialogue to make themselves sound tougher, dead bodies which disappear right before Abbott comes on the scene and who then has a go at Costello for making things up, hidden passages which lead to all manner of crazy situations and much more. There’s no plot to speak of, just a continual number of set pieces, characters shifting allegiances and then stalking each other around the desert and then the tomb of Klaris.

It’s pretty flimsy plotting and the film just goes wherever the heck it likes most of the time, drifting from routine to routine without any particular structure. It stretches everything out to pad the running time as much as it can and there’s little material for a short let alone a full feature film. The routine that the duo go through are all well-worn by this point so if you’ve seen any of their previous work, you’ll know what to expect. They do their classic “who’s on first?” exchange (for those who don’t know, check it out at Wikipedia as it’s too complex to explain in a review) with a fantastic argument between Abbott and Costello about a shovel and a pick. The rest of the jokes fall a little flat for the most. It may have been funny back when they first hit it big but by this point, most of it was just too daft or repetitive to laugh at. They’re going through the motions big time and it shows.

Despite Abbott and Costello hamming it up at every opportunity, the rest of the cast play it completely straight which doesn’t work in their favour, especially the cardboard cut-out bad guys. They don’t get anything to do other than run around some of the cheapest-looking sets ever made. The ‘desert’ set looks like a cut-rate school production and the Egyptian tomb must have been for the most hard-up prince because it’s sparsely decorated. Films are supposed to do a job in making you believe that the actors are in these exotic locations but the only thing you’ll believe is that there’s a chance someone would trip and fall into the background, causing the whole set to crash into the ground. Even the mummy looks pathetic – he’s a skinny, shabby mess which looks like a guy who got into a fight with a toilet roll dispenser and lost. This is the sort of cinematic mummy that gave the monster a bad reputation. The mummy does little in the film other than bumble around the tomb at the end of the film and seems to have been forgotten about as the duo try to evade the various groups out to get the medallion for themselves. It’s an afterthought but in a film with little energy, creativity or spark, there’s no wonder that the mummy would prefer to lay in it’s sarcophagus for the duration.

 

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy is far from their best work but contains a few decent moments. Fans may get a few chuckles out of seeing the same routines wheeled out for one last time and as daft as it gets, the finale involving three mummies wandering around the tombs is silly fun. If you’re new to the duo then you’re best off checking out their first, and best, pairing with Universal’s monsters in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (and Dracula and the Wolf Man too!).

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆