Tag The Wolf Man

Monster Squad, The (1987)

The Monster Squad (1987)

You know who to call when you have ghosts but who do you call when you have monsters?

A group of young children are members of the Monster Squad, a club who idolise anything monster-orientated in their treehouse hideaway. When they find out that real monsters including Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster have invaded their small town, they realise that it is up to them to save the day as the adults would never believe them.

 

‘The Goonies with monsters’ is how most people view The Monster Squad and whilst that comparison is largely accurate, it does do this fantastic film such a disservice as there’s far more going on here than being a horror-based version of Spielberg’s kids classic. Co-written by Fred Dekker and Shane Black (considered one of the pioneer screenwriters of the action genre with the Lethal Weapon films under his belt), the smart script both pays homage to the old films and brilliantly brings them up-to-date for the then-modern era of the 1980s. This is a film which plays upon the premise that monsters, and all things horror, are the coolest things to a bunch of twelve-year old boys. They are falling in love with the genre for the first time here in their little monster club, and the audience is reminded of their first forays into the genre.

There is something quaint and innocent about this whole film that has attracted such a cult audience over the years. It wasn’t very successful upon its initial release, but time has been extremely kind to The Monster Squad over the years. I’ve never been entirely sure who the film is targeted at – I think it is meant to be a children’s film, though there is far more bad language and serious action (quite a few people die in this one) than you’d probably want to subject your own kids to. Perhaps it’s this confusion which led to both adults and children thinking it was for the other age group and deciding not to watch it. Regardless of who the film was geared towards then, it’s clear that adults have taken this to their heart, particularly those in the thirty-forty demographic who will have been young when this was doing the rounds. There is a real love and affection for the genre shown across almost every aspect of the film and it’s this endearing concept which has kept it feeling fresh.

The Monster Squad is by far from perfect and this is largely down to the plot, which is fairly loose and coincidental and harks back to the monster mash team-ups from the 40s, where the narrative was just a sketchy mess of ideas designed to throw the big monsters together. The prologue is little more than a MacGuffin to give the monsters a reason to be in suburban America, but the film assumes you don’t really care about that and just proceeds to go with the flow. The Monster Squad borders on being funny and scary from herein out. It’s funny in places, though you wish it was funnier in others. Legions of fans across the world won’t help but raise a laugh whenever they hear the “Wolfman’s got nards!” line but the film really needed more silliness like that when it matters.

Stan Winston provides the updated make-up jobs on the monsters and they all look fantastic. Frankenstein’s monster is probably the easiest one of the group to get ‘right’ and Winston opts for the classic look here. It’s the revamped versions of the Wolfman, the Creature and the Mummy which look great, particularly a brief werewolf transformation sequence that deserves more appreciation. It’s a pity that the latter two don’t get much to do in the film at all. The bulk of the monster action involves Dracula, portrayed by Duncan Regehr, and the Monster, played by Tom Noonan. Regehr’s Dracula isn’t the best incarnation of the bloodthirsty count you’re ever going to see but he manages to switch between the elegance and menace of the role well. However, it’s Noonan’s Monster who steals the show, as the lumbering brute develops a sweet relationship with a little girl. Throwbacks to the infamous scene in which the Monster stumbles across a little girl next to a lake in the original 1931 version, The Monster Squad develops the innocent bond even further here, leading to a heart-warming moment during the finale which will have even the most hardened souls reaching for the tissues.

At under eighty minutes long, The Monster Squad is one film where you actually want the production team to have rolled with it a little longer, even for another ten minutes. The film is pacey and light-hearted for the most, so you’ll be able to sit back and breeze through it. Surprisingly, the youngsters cast in the lead roles are all excellent – Andre Gower, Michael Faustino, Bobby Kiger and Brent Chalem (as ‘Fat Kid’) will not get on your nerves like the know-it-all kids from other horror films, and work together well. However, it’s little Ashley Bank who steals the show as the sweet, good-natured Phoebe who steals the Monster’s heart with their touching, though short-lived, friendship.

 

The Monster Squad is not perfect but it’s close. It’s rare example of a film which will have you reverting to your twelve-year old childlike state once again no matter how many times you’ve seen it. It brings back your own memories of watching horror films for the first time, whilst delivering a solid slice of 80s horror-comedy action at the same time.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

House of Frankenstein (1944)

House of Frankenstein (1944)

FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER! WOLF MAN! DRACULA! HUNCHBACK! MAD DOCTOR!

A freak accident allows Dr Niemann, a follower of Dr Frankenstein, to escape from prison along with his hunchback assistant. Killing and then assuming the place of the owner of a chamber of horrors sideshow, Niemann is shocked to realise that the exhibit contains the skeleton remains of Count Dracula. Reviving Dracula to kill those who imprisoned him in the first place, Niemann then discovers the frozen bodies of the Wolfman, Larry Talbot, and the Frankenstein monster. Promising Talbot he would rid him of his curse if he helped him find Frankenstein’s notes and continue his work, it isn’t long before Niemann encounters problems with his old enemies.

 

House of Frankenstein was the penultimate Universal monster mash (not including the comedy romp with Abbott and Costello in 1948) and it’s clear to see that the studio was running out of steam with their respective franchises. Pitting two of them off against each other in the previous entry Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, the studio beat the Marvel Cinematic Universe bandwagon by decades by acknowledging that two or more of their famous characters inhabited the same universe. The film worked well to combine the two monsters and it was a success so it was inevitable that Universal would continue the trend, adding further monsters to the mix. In doing so, they’ve watered down the formula and, far from being a battle royal of epic proportions featuring the pillars of the horror genre, House of Frankenstein turns into something of an epic mess.

The three classic monsters have all seen far better days and it’s a shame to see how shabby they are treated here. Dracula has become a stereotype of himself, all cape-wearing, wide-eyed, hypnotic and well-mannered rather than a ravenous, hissing sexual monster. The Frankenstein monster, far from the pitiful, pathetic creature of the original Frankenstein, is now just a lumbering brute who walks with his hands stretched out in front of him. The Wolf Man comes out the best but that’s purely because it’s the same actor, Lon Chaney Jr, portraying him and so there’s at least a sense of cohesion between the films. His character hasn’t shown any progression though and is still in the same self-pitying, tormented position as he was in The Wolf Man years earlier. The poor chap just can’t catch a break and desperately falls in with the dangerous Niemann who provides him with false promises.

The main problem with House of Frankenstein isn’t the portrayal of the monsters, it’s that although the film advertises the plot to feature all of the famous monsters going at each other at the same time, the reality is very different and the film is almost split into episodes dealing with the individual monsters. Dracula is first up and his standalone appearance in the first twenty minutes means that he doesn’t interact with either the Wolf Man or Frankenstein monster. The second part of the film focuses on Niemann’s efforts to deal with the Wolf Man and Frankenstein monster. The Wolf Man is the main focus here and then the monster finally comes into play in the final ten minutes or so. It’s all a very disjointed narrative and something which clearly shows the desperation to which the writers tried to crowbar every monster into the film.

At seventy minutes, the film isn’t overly long and so needs every moment that it can to give the monsters enough time to make an impression. But even with this length, the film does feel like gross padding on many occasions and the split narrative really doesn’t help. Thankfully Boris Karloff’s Niemann does anchor the film and he’s the central component to which the monsters rotate around. Karloff, returning to the series after previously portraying the monster, is in malicious form as the well-mannered but clearly insane doctor. He runs away with the film and his performance certainly adds an extra relish to proceedings.

 

Either of the separate stories could have filled the entire film and it wouldn’t have made much difference. What we do get with House of Frankenstein is a muddled effort where you get a little taster of each of the monsters, not enough to really spoil them too much, and end up wanting more of them. It’s brisk entertainment, not the best or worst of Universal’s horror films, but definitely one of a defining era of team-ups which would set the benchmark for Toho and Godzilla and Marvel and it’s superheroes in years to come.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

A Death Fight . . . Between Two Beasts!

A couple of grave robbers inadvertently awaken the corpse of Lawrence Talbot, the wolf man who many had thought died four years ago. Hospitalised after being found unconscious in the street, Talbot warns Dr Mannering about what happens during a full moon but no one will listen to him. After attacking and killing a policeman, Talbot flees to Europe where he hopes to track down the infamous Dr Frankenstein in the belief that he could free him from the curse. As Frankenstein is dead, Talbot uncovers the frozen monster and enlists its help to track down Frankenstein’s diary which contain the secrets to life and death.

 

Designed to inject new life into its flagging Frankenstein series, Universal came up with the idea for a monster mash-up – the first of its kind – between two of its iconic monsters. The fourth (and previous) entry into the Frankenstein series, The Ghost of Frankenstein, had played out the standard formula once too often and a new direction was needed for the series. However, The Wolf Man had not received a direct sequel and that material seemed fresh in the minds of Universal who wanted to produce a follow-up. An unholy union of monsters was dreamt up to kill two birds with one stone and the resultant film has become something of a landmark in the horror genre. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man saw the first time that two heavyweight horror characters came face-to-face with each other, a feat that would be repeated numerous times by Universal in the coming years, throwing Dracula into the mix as well in future films.

Whilst it’s miles away from the serious qualities of both Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the first Universal horror film which is just a plain fun B-movie. It is more of a follow-up to The Wolf Man than it is to The Ghost of Frankenstein as the bulk of the screen time is devoted to the story of the tragic Lawrence Talbot and his unstoppable ability to turn into a wolf whenever there is a full moon, with the Frankenstein monster thrown in for good measure (shouldn’t it be therefore called Frankenstein’s Monster Meets the Wolf Man?). The story is of less importance than it pretends to be – the lure of seeing these two pair off would have been fine no matter how much or little story there was. As it turns out, the story is reasonably well-thought out which tries to adhere to both series’ continuity as best as it can but ultimately ends up giving neither monster a particular good reason to fight the other.

The best part of the film is the first half which solely focuses on Lawrence Talbot. Fresh from an excellent opening sequence involving grave robbers and crypt, the film then develops Talbot’s character and faithfully sticks to consequences that had arisen from The Wolf Man. Lon Chaney Jr. returns as Talbot, bringing some apathy to the role of the doomed character. Chaney Jr’s performance is rather blunt and simple but works well and it’s arguably his best turn in the make-up. You really feel for him as all he wants to do is die to rid himself of the curse but no one will believe his story. There are a few transformation scenes which still look the part and the werewolf make-up has been much improved since the first film. It is this part of the film which showed why The Wolf Man deserved a stand-alone sequel of its own before it was thrown to Frankenstein and Dracula to save it.

Things take a turn for the worse when the Frankenstein monster is introduced to the mix and the story, which had been moving at a decent pace, eventually becomes too rushed for its own good. The second half of the film virtually repeats the same mistakes as the previous Frankenstein films, with the monster being resurrected, another scientist attempting to solve its mysteries and then the eventual showdown with the local people (in slightly different form though they have the final say on the matter). Talbot becomes less of a focus though he’s still the major player.

Bela Lugosi is the monster here and he’s pretty appalling in the role it has to be said. Apparently Lugosi was told to that the monster was blind and that it would have some dialogue (following on from the previous Frankenstein film). So his performance, all stiff-legged and arms outstretched with some mumbling lines, was meant to portray that idea but for whatever reason (presumably his thick accent) these lines were scrapped during post production and we’re never informed that the monster is blind. During the film you can see his mouth moving but nothing is coming out. The resultant bizarre performance has become the much-parodied definition of the Frankenstein monster which you’ll see people doing at fancy dress parties the world over on Halloween.

Inevitably the film boils down to the showdown between the monster and the Wolf Man. Don’t get your hopes up because the fight isn’t great on the screen but it’s pretty significant from a historical point of view. It’s no holds barred as the two tussle with each other across the laboratory. Just seeing the two together on screen for the first time is exciting enough but the film waits too long to unleash its prized assets on each other. Still, for 1943 I can imagine the anticipation at such a cinematic bout.

 

Forget the chills and spills of the previous Universal horror films, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is more of an action and adventure piece which is unashamedly exploitative with both series. But it’s a lot of fun on its own merits, working better as a spiritual successor to The Wolf Man than an amalgamation of two iconic horror characters. 

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Monster Brawl (2011)

Monster Brawl (2011)

It’s the fight of the living dead!

Eight classic monsters fight to the death in an explosive wrestling tournament set inside an abandoned and cursed graveyard.

 

That’s about as much story as you’re going to get from Monster Brawl. It’s an ill-fated film with a one-note idea – that of some sort of WWE-style professional wrestling organisation featuring classic horror monsters doing battle with each other – but it doesn’t work as a feature film in the slightest and seems to have been aimed squarely at wrestling fans. Quite simply, this has no real business being classed as a film and it’s more like watching a pay-per-view wrestling event with a handful of matches on the card.

The entire narrative is strung together by the two commentators who attempt to keep the film somewhat cohesive. But there are no character arcs to follow, no plot threads which unwind and no real centrepieces to the film. This gives Monster Brawl a very weird pace but again, it’s supposed to be aping a typical pay-per-view event so you’ll get the big attraction matches every so often with a load of filler build-up in between, as interviews and backstage clips of the competitors attempt to build the next match. Whilst it’s all done with a good heart, it doesn’t make for compelling film. Even the monsters are just there or thereabouts – nothing much is said about them, they have no real back stories or characters. It all makes for a very disjointed film which has no pace whatsoever and no real hook to keep the viewer interested.

To begin with, and the film’s biggest weakness, is that Monster Brawl requires wrestling knowledge, thus immediately alienating a lot of its potential fan base. I am a wrestling fan so it wasn’t rocket science to me to know what is going on but for novices or those with no interest in the ‘sport’ it’s going to be a bit of an ask to understand all of the in-jokes, references and actually give two hoots about what is happening. Plus there is the glaring fact that there is a lot of wrestling! Whilst a film series like Rocky managed to turn its boxing matches into exciting spectacles that non-boxing fans could watch without fuss, it also had characters and story driving them along. There are no characters here save for the two commentators and given the nature of the film, there is never any intention to develop them. Therefore the wrestling matches look just like those you’d seen on television.

The roster of monsters for the film reads as follows: Frankenstein’s monster, a vampire, a swamp monster, a Cyclops, a zombie, a wolfman, a witch and a mummy.The old fashioned monsters vary in their appearance, though one would question the inclusion of such ‘famous’ monsters as the Cyclops as a bit of a cop-out. Where’s The Gill Man? Or even the Phantom of the Opera or Quasimodo? Frankenstein’s monster looks pretty bad ass and the intimidating man under the make-up, Robert Maillet, was a professional wrestler before he switched to making movies like 300 (as the Uber-Immortal).

In fact all of the people playing the monsters were or are wrestlers in real life. So at least the wrestling matches have some degree of choreography and suspension of disbelief to them.  Given that the costumes range from the cumbersome to the silly, the matches work better than they should do, though anyone expecting a Savage-Steamboat classic (commonly heralded as the greatest wrestling match of all time from Wrestlemania III) should perhaps think twice. At times the matches get embarrassing and really hammer home the ‘wrestling is fake’ stigma that many fans like me just cringe at hearing.

Wrestling alumni Jimmy ‘The Mouth of the South’ Hart and Kevin Nash appear in small roles, presumably questioning just how low their careers have dropped since the glory days of headlining main events in WWF/WWE and WCW. And the referee is played by real-life MMA official Herb Dean. Ironically the most famous wrestler in the film, Nash, doesn’t even get chance to bust out any of his famous moves and Hart is literally hanging around the ring for name recognition only and contributes nothing to the film whatsoever. But then again, nothing much does.

Speaking of plummeting careers, Lance Henriksen lends his voice to the film, reciting a load of voiceover soundbytes that could have been lifted out of a Mortal Kombat game. At least he didn’t have to appear in it!

 

Monster Brawl would have worked well as a series of Youtube vignettes but as a film, it’s just a non-starter. These are the sort of low brow gimmicked wrestling matches you might see at a circus or carnival where the novelty value will keep you entertained for one match or so but not for the entire show. As a wrestling fan, this was a major disappointment.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Wolfman, The (2010)

The Wolfman (2010)

When the moon is full the legend comes to life

Successful stage actor Lawrence Talbot receives a letter from his brother Ben’s fiancé telling him that he has gone missing and asking for his help. He returns home to Talbot Hall where he has not set foot since a young boy and meets up with his estranged father, Sir John Talbot, to learn that Ben’s body has been found. It was in a horrific state as if he has been attacked by a savage wild beast. Lawrence investigates further and ends up at a gypsy camp where he has an encounter with a werewolf that bites him. After seemingly recovering from his injuries after a few days, Lawrence begins to transform into a werewolf when the moon is full.

 

The original is a classic – one of the landmarks films in the horror genre. Unfortunately because it’s so old, the wolfman story has been portrayed on film so many times in so many guises, with various sequels, spin-offs, spoofs, etc. I dare anyone with even a vague interest in film in general not to be able to explain the story or at least cover most of the basics of the wolfman mythology. It’s this familiarity with the story and character that is easily The Wolfman’s biggest obstacle. We know the story. We’ve seen it countless times in countless forms. So is there really anything new to add to it?

With such a chaotic production history, it’s amazing that The Wolfman has even made it to release. Directorial replacements at the last minute, re-shoots and script re-writes amongst other things, the problems are evident in the final version which is a mess that somehow manages to limp for 103 minutes before dropping dead at the end credits. It’s not that The Wolfman is a terrible film, far from it. It’s just that it’s one of the most unemotionally-investing films that I can recall watching. It’s a film that is hollow and shallow and seems to go through the motions. There’s little energy in it. There’s little sense of urgency. You get the sense that everyone here is just glad to be paid and that’s about it. It drifts from one sub-plot to the next, not sure of which direction it’s going in. Threads are picked up and dropped later in the film. It’s blatantly clear where the re-writes came and the film was chopped and changed around. Pacing is also a major problem as the film is dull as dishwater at times. The wolfman will then strike and suddenly the film becomes exciting. But then it fails to capitalise on this momentum and drifts back into its slumber, ready for the next transformation.

Let’s go with some good news though. It isn’t all bad. The wolfman himself is a mixture of CGI and traditional make-up and as poor as the CGI scenes are with the wolfman running across rooftops and the like, the practical make-up by Rick Baker is awesome and proves that computers can replace many things but not make them convincing. The make-up is terrifying at times and gives Benicio Del Toro the real chance to roar and howl like he’s never done before. The wolfman has never been more brutal than he is here. He’s a snarling, rabid animal who rips apart his victims in a shower of blood, limbs and entrails. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased by the amount of gore on display here.

The film itself looks visually stunning and it has the Gothic atmosphere nailed down to a tee. Some of the moonlight shots of the village or the fog-drenched forest are beautiful – almost Tim Burton-like at times. There’s so much eye candy on display as the sets are lavishly furnished, faithfully recreated from days gone by and brought to life with superb cinematography. The sweeping Victorian settings are faithfully recreated and it’s good to be able to see where money was well spent – take for instance the bustling streets of London during the asylum escape sequence. The nearest film I can recall to conjuring up such a world was Sleepy Hollow and I was getting the same moody vibe here.

It’s the acting and casting that is one of the film’s biggest weaknesses. Benicio Del Toro is dreadful as Lawrence Talbot. He’s bland and unemotional in his human state and has about as much go about him as a dead parrot. As attractive as she is, Emily Blunt is wasted in a throwaway role as the love interest. She’s there to pout, cry, look good and then provide some sort of moment towards the end of the film where she confronts the wolfman and he shows a brief moment of humanity. But was the romantic plot necessary? After all, she was her brother’s fiancé and he hasn’t been dead two minutes before she’s already moved onto his sibling.

Anthony Hopkins is equally as dismal as Sir John Talbot. He chews up the scenery with little conviction and slums through his dialogue as if he’s been woken up after a night out. Hugo Weaving is decent as Inspector Abberline but arrives too late in the film to save it.

 

The Wolfman is decent at times, dreadful at others. Maybe that this is the best we could have expected given the much-publicised problems it had during production but with the talent in front of and behind the camera, it should have been way better. Let’s hope that lessons will be learned from this episode and the wolfman story is given the proverbial silver bullet for the foreseeable future.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆