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The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)


Full disclosure: it’s nearly impossible for me to suspend my biases for this movie. When I was a wee lad, this was the first black and white film that I truly fell for. It motivated me to relentlessly pursue more B&W classics thereafter, and compelled me to particularly devour the ones with eerie, fog-ridden atmospheres. Basil Rathbone quickly became my favorite classic movie actor (along with Karloff and Lugosi), and it’s still impossible for me to forgo my biases when watching other actors portray Holmes (even the fantastic Jeremy Brett). Rathbone is MY definitive Holmes.

For those unaware of the ACD story: an heir to a wealthy estate is thought to be in danger, and Holmes is hired to investigate a mystery that seems to point to a curse involving a fiendish hound. The film is played out (as all Sherlock Holmes stories are) primarily as a crime mystery. Though, the foggy moors and quasi-supernatural nature of the plot make it welcome to any classic horror assemblage. There are plenty of atmospheric furnishings to go around.

Basil Rathbone fits the role like a glove. He may have additionally been known for playing swashbuckling villains, but it’s hard not to imagine him as Holmes, one of cinema’s great protagonists. Perceptively, he tried to distance himself from the role later on, fearing that it was overshadowing his career. Even though this series also furthered the stereotype of Dr. Watson being a blundering buffoon, Nigel Bruce’s Watson does provide some appropriate comic relief. The rest of the acting may seem tacky to any modern viewer, but it furthers the plot without becoming a distraction.

It’s only an hour and fifteen minutes long, but it allows the setting to saturate the narrative. One of the best things that eerie and atmospheric films can do is let their environments breathe a little; to let the uneasiness settle in rather than hastening to the impending shock. Given, the opening scene and explanatory ending may seem rushed, but the dark and dreary scenes are generally afforded the appropriate treatment. The music is also suitably absent during much of the film (present mostly in the beginning), and the thrill scenes don’t come across as gaudily dated.

If I have to (despite my partiality) pick a gripe, it’d be the token romance. Having two under-developed characters hook up and get engaged within hours of meeting each other is a markedly outdated cliché, and appears tacked on. The movie does fall into some typical devices of its time, and much of it may come across as passé now. But, as hopelessly biased as this sounds: the co-stars’ hammy acting, the colorful score (sparse at it is), and the archetypal characters only add to the charm. It’s not going to be exceptionally poignant and it’s probably not going to be frightening to anyone past childhood, but it should provide plenty of entertainment for those interested in classic thrillers.




Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)


Being one of the earliest examples of a feature length documentary, Haxan now seems like one of the greatest experiments of the 20s, and it’s still worth experiencing for some reasons that likely weren’t intended during its creation. Because of this, it’s a very difficult film to objectively evaluate. It may not be as technically groundbreaking as the most popularly upheld silent films, but the strange and unique qualities still make it one of the most entertaining and alluring ones.

Haxan may have originally been envisioned as an educational film on the subject of witchcraft, but almost 100 years later, its drawing power comes mainly from a macabre charm. Given that much of the film’s content is presented through lurid enactments, it could also be considered one of the earliest full length horror features. These enactments include depictions of demonic worship, salacious rituals, and brutal methods of torture. In the opening 10 minutes, excerpts of timeworn occult books are also highlighted (think The Ninth Gate), establishing much of the lore that the rest of the film is based on.

There’s something especially creepy about silent era effects. Maybe the diluted picture quality of the film obscures the faults typically found in make-up and set design. The demonic depictions and morbidly decorated backdrops look like old photographs come to life. The set design even stands out in a period pervaded by expressionistic German films (some of the most intriguing visually-driven films ever made).

Its risqué nature led to it being prohibited in other countries at the time. Despite this, it was the most expensive and ambitious Scandinavian film of its time. To add to its obscene and subversive nature, there was even a 1968 abridged version narrated by William Burroughs and inappropriately given a jazz score. Though, I’d advise first time viewers to stay away from that one.

The moral message presented at the end seems obvious by today’s standards (condemning the use of extreme torture to coerce confessions of witchery), but it does raise some thought-provoking parallels to modern society. Regardless of what intent the film was made for in 1922, it can now be appreciated in a different way. Most silent films that are still popular today may be viewed for their historical significance or influential nature, but the obscure nature of Haxan probably rules out the possibility of it being highly influential. It is instead a mesmerizing product of its time; an atmospheric relic that thankfully remains in the public eye almost a century later.




Lust for Life (1956)


Lust for Life details the notoriously tormented life of Vincent Van Gogh, arguably the most revered painter of all time. In the beginning, Van Gogh unfortunately comes across a little too much like a typical Hollywood leading man with some random psychotic episodes thrown in (Vincent Van Spartacus). There are glimpses of madness in the first half, but they seem to stem mainly from stress inflicted by other minor antagonistic characters (such as the morally corrupt clergy, the haughty art critics, and the overly-demanding father). The screenplay seemed afraid to portray a more fragile personality. To be fair, sympathetic portrayals of volatile insanity aren’t common (especially in 50s films), and it couldn’t have been easy to write a role for a character that’s supposed to express characteristics associated with mad villains of the time.

However, Kirk Douglas plunges himself into the insanity that manifests itself in the second half. Everything following Van Gogh’s hopelessly dependent relationship with Paul Gauguin does reflect the actions of a truly tortured soul, and Kirk Douglas plays the character with head-clutching intensity. Later, the story also briefly tries to underscore Van Gogh’s loneliness, as he greets Gauguin with a youthful enthusiasm. In one scene, Van Gogh even sadly refers to Gauguin as ‘Theo’ during a quarrel. Nevertheless, if Van Gogh’s interpersonal ineptitude was more pronounced, his loneliness would’ve really struck home. Overall, the movie does capture Van Gogh’s alleged instability well in the second half, but it feels more like a sudden descent into madness, rather than a persistent problem that steadily worsened over the course of his life due to epilepsy and alcohol abuse. Good as it is, I can’t help but feel the story would’ve been exponentially more interesting if we were given a less restrained version of events. On a side note: Van Gogh may have looked somewhat feeble in his self-portraits, but Douglas’ appearance is still uncannily appropriate.

Apart from Theo Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, the more minor characters are given less than complex gimmicks. The pompous art critics, in particular, are almost comically archetypal. Nonetheless, beyond some gripes with the characters, the film is a gorgeous technical achievement. It exhibits some tremendously beautiful landscapes and detailed sets. For a film about a painter known for expressive use of color, the visual component is handled appropriately; it does justice to Van Gogh’s supposed idiosyncratic perception of the world.

The score is colorful and melodramatic; typical of grand Hollywood pictures of the time. However, it tends to get a little too bombastic for a character study, and seems more akin to a military or Biblical epic (unsurprisingly, Miklós Rózsa was also responsible for scoring Ben-Hur). Whenever Van Gogh has an ‘episode,’ the score rather cheaply sinks into thriller territory as well. A more understated score would’ve been welcome, but there are still fitting moments where the music compliments the beautiful scenery and paintings.

As a biopic about a troubled painter, Lust for Life may seem like a rather humble endeavor, but it’s given the rich and vibrant old-school Hollywood treatment, complete with the aforementioned saturated visuals, lively score, and prolific actors (Anthony Quinn even won an OSCAR for his role). Despite a less than stellar start, the movie is far from boring. It is, at its best, a lush and gorgeous portrait of a complex subject.




Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Everybody who goes on about Minnelli and Some Came Running should see this - a film I've always thought was a stronger, more-colorful melodrama.
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Everybody who goes on about Minnelli and Some Came Running should see this - a film I've always thought was a stronger, more-colorful melodrama.
I'll have to give Some Came Running a go.



It's time to have some fun
I'll have to give Some Came Running a go.
Lust For Life is, like Mark said, powerful story telling. It's a must for any Van Gogh fans.

Do see Some Came Running, excellent film, but totally different in subject matter than Lust For Life. I reviewed it some months ago, loved it.



L’Atalante (1934)


L’Atalante follows a newly married couple as they venture out to sea aboard a rather meek vessel adorned with the movie’s title. Immediately following marriage, a crowded boat isn’t exactly a desirable setting for Juliette (the female lead), especially when its occupied by a seemingly endless slew of cats and a weary oddball named Père Jules. So when the opportunity presents itself, Juliette is naturally lured to the dazzling lights, animated characters, and majestic reputation of Paris. Longing for adventure and feeling tempted after a brief glimpse into the stimulating spirit of the city, the girl is naively drawn away from the boat. The film then shows that the city can be far less fruitful and attractive when experienced alone.

Paris isn’t presented in metropolitan grandeur, but modestly as a place of free-spiritedness and excitement. The highs and lows of the city are captured in the city’s nightlife, music, and personalities (ranging from the delightfully eccentric to the unscrupulous). Contrastingly, the crowded cabins aboard L’Atalante are supplied with detail that accentuates claustrophobia, making it easy to see why anyone confined aboard the vessel would long for an enticing life beyond. The offbeat and Romantic nature of the story and the unique cast of characters with their identifying quirks seems to have noticeably rubbed off on the likes of Jean Pierre Jeunet (parallels could be drawn between Jules and One in The City of Lost Children, for instance).

Though the story is primarily about a struggling marriage, there is an unusually quirky atmosphere that may catch the fancy of those who aren’t necessarily drawn to classic romance movies. In particular, the eccentricity of Père Jules and his cabin (stocked with a trove of strange trinkets) adds a bizarre element. Père Jules is arguably the most intriguing part of the film. Despite being a third-wheel, he stands out in every scene he’s in. His character may be dopey enough to provide comic relief, but he also has a sympathetic charm. One can’t help but feel for the louse who gets manipulated, laughed at, and abused for the duration of the movie. When his cabin is explored, his apparent world-traveled past adds another dynamic to consider. He may be a grunt, but his cabin reveals exotic relics from the world over that he shows off with a humble candor; and his scarred and tattooed body suggests a troubled past that has potentially wreaked havoc on his mental state.

Père Jules character may be intentionally exaggerated, but the rest of the film is pleasantly understated and unpretentious. Despite the odd detail put into the vessel, there’s a modest lack of attention put on glamourizing the city (even a modicum of activity is enough to attract Juliette). The plot, which focuses on emotion instead of contrivances, may be a little too minimal for some, but it should appeal to those that find satisfaction in poetic simplicity.




The Revenant (2015)


Modern audiences seem to crave more stark realism in pop films. It seems the days of English speaking Nazis in WWII films are over, and audiences have grown more keen and critical of overbearing forced contrivances. The Revenant may carry its share of emotionally manipulative traits, but in the spirit of 2015, it seems to have found a more tolerable balance between realism and melodrama (that strongly favors realism).

The story effectually derives from the legend of Hugh Glass, which concerns a man that was ravaged by a bear and abandoned by his colleagues. It’s a simplistic plot revolving around survival and revenge, but the simplicity works. It’s only in the second half, when the plot started to grow slightly more complicated, that my interest began to falter a bit. The dream sequences of Glass’ family do flirt with tedium as well. DiCaprio winning an OSCAR seems to have overshadowed the rest of the movie. He predominantly grunts and moans as he meanders through the wilderness, but he definitely looks the part while doing it. I suppose one can expect more physical acting in a story based on survival in the face of harsh nature.

With blunt violence, naturalistic acting, unhurried pacing, and a mostly unaltered environment, the atmosphere in The Revenant encourages immersion, and goes out of its way to envelop the viewer in the period. It may come across a little like OSCAR bait, but the realism doesn’t exactly hinder the film either. Before watching, one should also know that there are few relieving affectations; the film is mostly bleak and gritty, emphasizing humans savage treatment of one another.

Of course, the easiest thing to admire about the film is the beautifully shot setting. We are given an abundance of vast picturesque views of the wilderness, elevated by beautiful cinematography that gives the scenery a sort of animated feel (especially the water). The stylization almost looks more attractive than real life. The slow pace of the film also accommodates the setting by letting the viewer study each area carefully and soak in the environment.



The score is appropriately dramatic for the most part, doesn’t get too sappy, and thankfully refrains from getting too bombastic during the tense moments. It’s not subtle, but also not overbearing. It does do that movie trailer thing where mounting tension is heightened by replaying a sampled noise over and over again. That may be somewhat unoriginal now, but it’s cool when done appropriately. The score is far from typical though; the more unusual or piercing moments even remind me somewhat of experimental composers like Xenakis or Ligeti.

Pervaded by symbolism and the aforementioned artsy flourishes, The Revenant seems to draw more from art house films than other Hollywood thrillers. That coupled with the somber and violent plot likely won’t appeal to many that are simply cycling through flicks from last year’s award season. Its technical merits do make it well worth a look though.




The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993)


One would be pressed to find many stranger films than Tom Thumb outside of its own inspirations. It seems heavily influenced by the works of Jan Svankmajer (for the quirky pervasive stop motion) and the brothers Quay (for the sense of dilapidated splendor and detailed model backgrounds). As with many of Svankmajer’s films, Tom Thumb is mostly absent of dialogue and the sound is permeated by samples. The samples accentuate odd noisy creaks and minute sound effects, which add to the offbeat charm.

The story begins with the birth of a tiny Eraserhead-looking baby. It certainly sets a tone, and the first five minutes are weird enough to ward off intruders, or weed out those who aren’t gonna be able to stomach the rest. The baby is then kidnapped by a mysterious organization (that is left ambiguous), setting forth an adventure that brings us to a laboratory occupied by surrealistic abominations and later a hidden village of micro people.

Much of the film is set in a surreal town with colorful and shadowy streets containing odd creatures. The town is also filled to the brim with insects in nearly every shot, likely to accentuate the grimy environment and filthy people within. Moreover, within the town’s establishments, every detail seems to either be crumbling or unbalanced. Though the concentrated areas of the town are architecturally proportional, the town is very expressionistic from afar, with a claustrophobic sky. The smaller areas that serve as the setting for the models are also given a nice amount of detail. Humans are presented as sweaty, buffoonish ‘giants,’ that mainly serve to cause trouble for the more innocently presented micro people.


Unusually, even the live actors are filmed in stop motion. This would be easily digestible in an experimental short film, but it can be unappealing for nearly an hour, as the actors’ movement appears slow and jagged. The stop motion does have occasional charm though (namely in a quick ‘fight’ scene). The stop motion with the models (that takes up much of the movie) is really smooth for the most part, which makes me think the live actors’ movement was intentionally stutter-y to juxtapose the (mostly thoughtless) humans to the craftier models.

Maybe I’ve become desensitized to these kinds of films, because everything else I read about this seems to describe it as twisted, creepy, disturbing, etc. Apart from the bits in the laboratory of horrors, I saw it more as dark and offbeat. I must also point out the fitting lo-fi Residents-esque soundtrack that surprisingly has odd moments of beauty. For anyone, like myself, who is interested in stop motion surrealism, Tom Thumb is a must watch. It should also oblige anyone looking for a really weird and stylish gem.




Kin-dza-dza (1986)


Kin-dza-dza opens with Vladimir, a man leading a drudgingly normal life. He is the Russian everyman; content with an average factory job, an average home, and an average wife. After stumbling upon a strange homeless man claiming to be from another planet, Vladimir (along with a new found comrade) is abruptly transported to a strange, backwards, and scarcely populated alien planet known to the inhabitants as Pluke. The protagonists are then unusually greeted (KOO!) by Russia’s answer to Danny DeVito and John Cleese. The main characters, searching for a way back to Earth, must bitterly conform to Pluke’s social standards and find ways of obtaining necessary resources. They do this by performing enjoyably terrible song and dance routines.

Pluke is a vast desert with occasional glimpses of life. The planet is filled with bizarre post-apocalyptic looking sets and wonderfully imaginative contraptions the would make Terry Gilliam blush. Being set in a mostly barren desert, the world isn’t really fleshed out until the film’s latter half when the protagonists are taken underground. Unfortunately, by that time much of the planet’s mystique is diminished. Though Russian is spoken on Pluke, there’s also a comprehensive list of terms that viewers must familiarize themselves with. Koo, most prevalently, is a ubiquitous term that’s relayed in Kin-dza-dza about as many times as f*ck is relayed in Snatch.


This film definitely comes with a substantial emphasis on social commentary, no doubt culturally promoted by the Soviet Union at the time. The screwy sci-fi world of Pluke is an overt worst-case scenario of classism, and could be seen as a reproach of capitalist society. Pluke’s population is senselessly divided into three main classes: the patsaks (the menial laborers, traders, or slaves), the chatlanians (middle), and the etsilops (council members to which every other citizen must bow). The lower classes must wear bells around their noses, foolishly greet superiors, and stand in cages when confronted by a higher rank. The social hierarchy of Pluke seems to be self-imposed by the inhabitants, with no one but the main characters posing any questions. The people also have grown exceptionally deceptive and greedy, driven by a world ruthlessly bent on unscrupulous bartering and tensions between classes. The protagonists, while begrudgingly putting up with the outlandish ways of the society, logically argue that no man is better than another on any superficial basis. However, as a philosophical rebuke of capitalism, this can all come across as somewhat trite.

Politics notwithstanding, watching two civilized men traverse a crazy unknown world is simply a fun premise. The humor is delightfully subtle at times, and the charmingly eccentric supporting characters are wonderful. The film loses a bit of steam towards the end (as it focuses less on the captivating exposition of Pluke), but it’s still good enough to be considered a cult classic in its homeland. Being a Soviet film, it doesn’t get the attention it deserves in the West though. Agree or disagree, I have to give it props for presenting a thought-provoking cultural outlook, and being really funny all the while.




Until the End of the World (1991)


Until the End of the World is an adventure film in the grandest sense. It takes the viewer through an industrialized quasi-cyberpunk Europe to the scarcely populated outback, and through an unusually diverse set of places in between. All of the environments are given fitting treatment; the vibrant scenery is allowed to settle and unique cultural differences are highlighted. It might seem clustered, projecting so many different moods from different settings, but it also instills an unparalleled sense of scope and unpredictability.

The cast of characters is every bit as diverse as the environments. Claire Tourneur is the unconventional female lead who longs for purpose in life, and is desperately committed to realizing it. Sam Farber is a mysterious noir throwback, who is pursued by a fairly inept Australian hitman. Eugene Fitzpatrick is a writer, and serves as the film’s narrator and voice of reason. Then, briefly seen are the mad paranoiac, the French bank robbers, the sequestered Japanese plant doctor, and a myriad of others. The interactions between characters often seems unnatural and hammy. I suppose this could be relegated to poor or disengaged writing, but for someone as hopelessly enamored with this movie as me: the dialogue furthers a dreamlike quality (which later ties into the crux of the story). The communication between the two leads almost seems like hallucinatory discourse. The same is true for the minor characters at some points (such as the crazed paranoiac that Claire Tourneur meets in a bar, and casually tells that she will never forget). The film’s radically different locations are met with an unreal nonchalance by the world traveled characters as well.

The film is indeed a product of its time. Pop songs permeate much of the film, so having a taste for them helps. The score itself (composed by Graeme Revell) is a mish-mash of music styles to accompany the various settings and moods, and anyone familiar with SPK knows that Revell is no stranger to experimental music. Additionally, as with all depictions of the future, the technological ‘advancements’ have dated rather quickly, but are still cool and amusing as far as cheesy gadgets go.

This may not be as philosophically or emotionally driven as Wim Wenders’ other prominent art films. Wings of Desire may be a beautiful film about passion and mortality, but the philosophical diatribes tend to come across as pretentious. Paris, Texas is another personal favorite, but the nature of the story doesn’t make for an easy watch. Until the End of the World may be considered an art film, but it shouldn’t scare away those who don’t want to get swept up in another artsy filmmaker’s monotonous attempt to vicariously give us their life’s philosophy. It is a strange, fascinating and multifaceted film, but it’s also entertaining.

Until the End of the World is not a complete mindbender pervaded by ambiguity and surrealism; the movie is just strange. This is mainly a product of the narrative and visuals, but also has a lot to with Wenders’ relaxed direction (even in the ‘thriller’ parts). It doesn't come without a share of shortcomings, but for those that find allure in all of this, there are few films (if any) with an equally odd sense of grandeur and ambition.


On a side note, the Director’s Cut may not be the most obtainable version of the film, but it’s preferable to the condensed version. It’s a long haul at about 4 ½ hours (in 3 installments), but with so much more room to expound upon the story, it’s far clearer and more understandable than the 2 ½ hour abridgment.




Split Second (1992)


Cool. Split Second takes place in a dystopic London in the near future (2008, for perspective). London has been direly affected by global warming (shown through flooded streets and water-worn environments). The plot simply follows an officer named Stone (played by Rutger Hauer) as he trails a killer monstrosity that likes to munch on people’s hearts. Stone is a cigar smoking, trench coat wearing, shotgun toting cop who, despite being in pursuit of a highly dangerous killer, insists on wearing sunglasses at night and indoors. Stone is almost too bad ass for the movie’s own good. Seriously, some puny ass monster stands about a snowball’s chance in hell against this guy.

Stone is said to be an unstable ex-alcoholic rule breaker who has been relieved of duty time and time again. But, “they say he’s the best,” so I guess it’s OK then. Stone is eventually assigned a new poindexter of a partner that he affectionately calls “Dick.” As they pursue the killer, we begin to see that this cunning, all-purpose monster is somehow smart enough to taunt the police department, is capable of handling firearms, and follows elaborate occult rituals. It also really loves heavy breathing when creeping up on someone.

Hauer fittingly hams it up, seemingly well aware of what kind of film he’s in. His character is given the best one liners you could hope for, and brandishes a magnificent hand cannon throughout most of the film. There’s also a surprising appearance by Pete Postlethwaite who, bless his heart, actually seemed to put some effort into his performance.

London is almost always shown at night, with a drab, predominantly faded blue hue. Within the watery setting, the lights love to flash too. If you want a cheap strobe light for Halloween this year, just drape a thin sheet over your TV with this playing underneath. There’s also a gritty synth score that at times seems reminiscent of Blade Runner (minus the atmospheric beauty of Vangelis’ score). Split Second also follows the classic horror tradition of not fully exposing the monster until the very end. I guess you can fault the marketing campaign for showing it on the poster.

At an hour and a half runtime, the movie is appropriately succinct, and never gets too boring. With big guns, cheesy one liners, hammy acting, graphic violent effects, and plenty of exaggerated action, it’s also a bastion of unadulterated testosterone. In 1992, this could be a 17-year-old boy’s Holy Grail. Now, it’s enjoyably dated, and should be fun for those that appreciate campy products of the time.





Necronomicon (1993)


The overarching plot revolves around H.P. Lovecraft (looking like Bruce Campbell’s doppelganger) searching for the infamously cursed and secretly guarded titular text. Once he uncovers and begins to explore its passages, an anthology of horror tales is vividly enacted. The first story (a story within a story within a story) is a bizarre haunted house tale, with some nice tentacle-y stuff thrown in. The second (another story within a story within a story) is a Cool Air adaption with an unexpected appearance by David Warner. This may be the weakest part; it lacks the style of the other bits, and even with low, b-movie appropriated standards, the dialogue comes across as terribly hammy. The third story is actually genuinely unsettling. It follows a cop on the trail of an elusive murderous underground monstrosity. There are some awesome underground tombs, a wonderfully eccentric and mysterious old couple, and some of the most balls-out schlocky effects you’re likely to ever see.

The score is composed by Daniel Licht. It fits the period bits well, and is surprisingly rich for a b-movie. The orchestral bombast really enhances the camp factor. There are even unmistakable traces of Licht’s later work on Dexter. There’s also some decent shadowy cinematography with occasional boldly colored lighting, and plenty of great gooey, slimy, stretchy looking effects. Oh yeah, and monsters! Bizarre seaweed monster! Resurrected human tentacle monster! Flying alien vagina monster! And a satisfyingly cheesy giant Cthulhu-esque monster!

Two of the four segments are directed by Re-Animator producer Brian Yuzna. As hard as it is to contain my biases towards Re-Animator, Yuzna has a less than stellar track record directing. Along with Society, his Fulci-esque work here is probably his best. The other two segments are helmed by Christophe Gans (Silent Hill) and Shûsuke Kaneko (Death Note).

I know fans may long for a more serious and ambitious adaption of Lovecraft’s tales. None of the stories here are too faithful, but strive to be told in the spirit of Lovecraft. Necronomicon has the charm that hopefully inspires others to hunt down similarly schlocky grotesque flicks. It’s stylish, weird, campy, and twisted fun, which is about all you can reasonably ask for here. I must also point out that this rating isn’t a measure of technical quality as much as pure entertainment value. Of course it’s going to look like a steaming pile alongside Gone with the Wind, but it should do more than satisfy those that like this kind of thing.




Dagon (2001)


Though Lovecraft’s influence on the horror genre is prevalent, there are few direct adaptions of his works. Dagon, helmed by Stuart Gordon, is taken from HPL’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth and Dagon, and it’d be difficult to find another adaption with a more faithfully ominous atmosphere.

The story follows small vacationing group that ends up shipwrecked after a turbulent storm. Paul Marsh, the central protagonist of the group, is mysteriously drawn to a small local fishing village called Imboca. Unfortunately for Paul, Imboca happens to be inhabited by fish people (FISH PEOPLE!) that emphatically preach the power of Dagon. Before we’re given any significant thrills, the atmosphere (enforced by the murky village and intimidating townsfolk) is built up extremely well. Maybe a little too well, as the film’s plot exposition hardly lives up to the mounting atmosphere.

The town of Imboca is pervaded by boarded up windows, unkempt buildings overrun with vines, and omnipresent rainfall. The often dark cinematography is also illuminated by flashes of lightning. The fish populace (not the smartest antagonists) effectually act like zombies with funny vocal chords, but they can be creepy. There’s also some decent occult-ish set design, and a constant two-tone color scheme of cool blue (mostly outdoors) and yellow (mostly indoors).


Paul Marsh is played by Ezra Godden in a somewhat hammy performance. His character starts off as a whiny, business driven poindexter that annoys the locals by attempting Spanish by adding ‘o’ to the end of every English word. By the end of the film, his character develops into a slightly less whiny poindexter that annoys the locals by setting a few on fire. The rest of the cast is pretty decent. In particular, the town priest is great (channeling Bela Lugosi), and the town drunkard (played by Francisco Rabal in one of his last roles) is f*cking perfect with his timeworn, scarred face, broken dialogue, and vocal chords that sound like they were put through a blender and drenched with alcohol.

I suppose the budget (or lack thereof) shows in the special effects. The monster make-up is fine and dandy, but the PS2-esque CGI was probably dated back in 2001, and some of the ‘gold’ props look a little too plastic-y. The music is absent during most of the thrill scenes (this heightens the immersion and suspense so much), and the more mystical parts of the story are accompanied by beautifully ominous choir and harp music. There are some overused clichés (such as tripping during a chase scene or dropping an item when it’s needed), but they don’t cast a long shadow.

Beyond the despondent setting and macabre story, Dagon is sort of a comedy in disguise. There are no musical cues, and the humor isn’t as overt as something like Re-Animator, but it’s hard to deny the humor in Paul Marsh pulling a fish man’s coat around his shoulders, kicking him in the groin, and repeatedly smacking him in the head with a cell phone when he’s down. Many of these wonderful moments are accentuated by amusing clobbering samples as well. Despite this, there’s actually some really well paced suspense and one particularly disturbing moment involving a priest and some divine knives. Dagon is a rare film that’s equal parts cheesy b-movie and genuinely atmospheric horror, and can give you the virtues of both.




Dun dun dun…

Re-Animator (1985)


No time is wasted as the opening sequence establishes a splatteriffic precedent, wherein we’re introduced to the now notorious Herbert West. This leads to a superb opening credit sequence driven by Charles Band’s (best name for a solo musician) controversial rendition (or homage, to put it… erm… nicely) of Bernard Hermann’s Psycho theme. We’re then introduced to Dan Cain, the movie’s moral protagonist. It’s not long before Cain apprehensively gets involved in West’s dire experiments aimed at reanimating dead body tissue with glow stick formula.

Surprising for an over the top 80s horror comedy, the humor can actually be quite subtle. Notice the Talking Heads poster on Cain’s wall. Har har. Moreover, the dialogue is full of immensely quotable one-liners delivered with self-aware panache. The music seems to be in on the joke as well; nothing is beat to death by accompanying comedic musical cues. Of course, being a shameless rip-off of the Psycho score, it’s a joke in itself. Beyond the main title, the score is a fitting amalgam of orchestral thriller music and cheesy 80s synths and drums.

Jeffrey Combs (in the role that sparked a significant horror film career and following) couldn’t be more perfect as the austere mad scientist. Even as an unscrupulous scientist with little regard for anything beyond his work, he’s the clear shining point of the movie and one of the most unusually lovable characters in horror cinema. The rest of the cast fulfill their duties well enough. David Gale gives a notable performance as Carl Hill, a clearly classic horror inspired villain. Considering his performance here, it’s regrettable that he didn’t become a mainstay in the horror genre (given an untimely passing). Robert Sampson also gives an underrated and versatile performance as Dean Halsey, a role that has him going from stern authority figure to brain dead lunatic. The special effects are another important facet of the movie. From the hilariously stiff stuffed cat to the gore soaked finale, the effects are still awesome for a film of its age and budget.

Re-Animator’s most appealing quality may be its originality. One would be pressed to find any zombie (using the word liberally) film with a similar premise or style. It is an H.P. Lovecraft adaption, but beyond a somewhat bizarre atmosphere and a horrific climax, it’s not really the most characteristically Lovecraftian film out there (no tentacles, occult flourishes, or spectacular monstrosities are on display, I’m afraid). Apparently Lovecraft himself even considered it one of his lesser, pulpier stories. Nonetheless, Re-Animator’s cult success helped affirm Lovecraft as an icon of the macabre, and cemented Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna as premier Lovecraft-to-film transcribers (with a catalog that includes From Beyond, Dagon, Necronomicon, and Castle Freak).

All in all, Re-Animator comes as advertised. There’s not much to write an essay on here. It’s unique, tasteless, over the top fun, and very few films pull it off better.




You seem to be on a real Lovecraft kick, have you seen The Last Winter or The Color Out of Space? I'd be interested in reading your reviews on either one, or both.



You seem to be on a real Lovecraft kick, have you seen The Last Winter or The Color Out of Space? I'd be interested in reading your reviews on either one, or both.
Yep. Rediscovering much of what I loved during my teens. I might put some more Lovecraft stuff in the movie tab eventually.

I've seen The Last Winter, if you're referring to the Fessenden one. I do love Fessenden's more artsy style, and I wish he'd make more movies. I've added The Color Out of Space to my list.



Yep. Rediscovering much of what I loved during my teens. I might put some more Lovecraft stuff in the movie tab eventually.

I've seen The Last Winter, if you're referring to the Fessenden one. I do love Fessenden's more artsy style, and I wish he'd make more movies. I've added The Color Out of Space to my list.
That's the one. Apparently his last directorial work was back in 2014 when he did a segment for ABCs of Death 2. He's still very involved in acting it seems. I'm also big on Lovecraft inspired films but there are so few that are actually good.