Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Monster Club (1980)

1980's The Monster Club is a sort-of Amicus film. I say sort-of, because while it's made, produced, and acted (among other things) by many of the same people behind Amicus, and it shows, that company was defunct at this point in time, and the movie was instead made through ITC. The film's more of a spiritual successor to the horror anthologies that came before, as well as a goodbye, thanks to the changing market...

By the way, I keep mistakenly remembering the title to be The Monster Party, to the point where I was looking forward to reviewing this, then Mad Monster Party! Alas, that was not to be. Oh well...

Horror author R. Chetwynd-Hayes is taking a nighttime stroll when he's attacked by a vampire. Only sucking a little blood, the apologetic vampire introduces himself as Eramus, and offers to take Chetwynd-Hayes to the Monster Club, to make up for the blood he took. There, he regales the writer with spooky tales of creatures, and cruelty, malice and malediction, and much more...

The Shadmock

A Mr. Raven has posted an ad in the newspaper seeking help in cataloguing his extensive antiques collection, and a woman named Angela has come to his door answering it. Remaining mostly in the shadows, Raven warns her about his features, and tells her that she need not be frightened...And naturally Angela's immediate reaction to seeing his face is to up and leave the house without a word! She of course comes back, but her reasons are far from noble. She and her boyfriend have been looking for jobs, but not for work. Rather, they plan on scoping out a place they think will have valuables, so they can get close, and steal what they can. Seizing this seeming golden opportunity, Angela pretends to bond with Raven, but his features terrify her, worrying her greatly. Things come to a head after she reluctantly accepts Raven's marriage proposal, and attempts to empty out his safe. Soon, she'll learn the dreadful effects of a Shadmock's whistle...

This story starts off on the wrong foot by having a borderline flashback within a flashback setup, but that's forgiveable enough, I suppose, though it does make one wonder why the boyfriend is the one in the asylum, when it's his girlfriend Angela who's the viewpoint character. This too becomes apparent later, so again, it's not a big problem.

The plot here is pretty heartbreaking! Raven is a kindhearted, yet vulnerable guy, and has clearly not had a very happy life due to others' reaction to his face. He finally believes he's found happiness with someone else, but she turns out to be a craven bitch. He's awkward as heck, but nice, and so forgiving, even when catching her stealing from him, yet she still messes things up for the dude by shattering his hopes, and meets with a most sticky punishment. Not nearly as great as what Raven's been subjected to though! The ending is sad, with great imagery.

Raven is a Shadmock, which is a low-tier supernatural creature/human hybrid in the world of this movie, armed with a powerful whistle that scares even high-up monsters, and an unnatural face that frightens regular people. The reveal of his face is a bit botched however, because it's so dark, we can't see what's wrong with it. He looks pretty normal from what we can see. It's only in better light that we see his face is pallid, and he has dark rings around his eyes. Even still, he doesn't look monstrous or terrifying at all, but he does look subtly ghoulish. Another problem is the abrupt editing. The segment probably could've been longer. Thankfully it doesn't feel too constrained in its running time. It tells the story it needs to in enough time. There are just a couple of things it rushes through to fast, like the aforementioned marriage proposal (as well as his admission to being a Shadmock), which immediately cuts to later, when Angela's criminal boyfriend is pressuring her to go through with it, then once again the film immediately cuts to an overjoyed Raven, Angela having accepted his proposal offscreen.

There are a couple of little things I was wondering regarding Raven's character, like how he has a huge mansion and so much money. I suppose he was just lucky and born into a rich family of ghouls. Not too hard to believe. I also have no idea how the two thieves think they're going to get away with this! Their go-to plans are already super obvious, but one involving going as far as getting engaged, just to steal some cash and antiques? Look guys, if you get hired as a worker, steal a bunch of stuff, then bail, everyone's already gonna know you're responsible, but that's at least easier to handle than outright getting engaged. How are you going to leave without arousing extreme suspicion, even before your mark notices his riches have been plundered?!

Other amusing little touches are the amusing spaghetti western type music when we see the prowling cat watch Raven's beloved bird friend. The sound of the whistling is effectively eerie, and the masks at the ball during the climax all look really neat, with their translucent design. While some might take issue with how they're all very similar, I like that, as it makes the proceedings look quite surreal.

This is a great opener, though it also clashes the most with the framing story, as it's a deadly serious tale right after the more silly opening act.

The Vampires

Lintom is a young boy, with bully troubles, and a loving but mysterious father, who sleeps during the day, and works all night with an unknown job. One day, a kindly priest approaches Lintom, quizzing him about his home life. It turns out the so-called priest is actually a vampire hunter, and he and his associates have been looking for Lintom's father for quite some time...

First off, I dig the fact that rather than being a flashback the movie cuts to, this segment is actually a short film the characters are watching! Even better is that while the story is said to be just a portion of a larger movie in production, which could be pretty clumsy given you'd expect this to be a complete story, it manages to work. I could buy this story being part of a larger movie, in a slice-of-life sort of way.

The problem I have with this part of the film is that this kid (who is the luckiest kid on earth, by the way, because he has Britt Ekland for a mother!) is an idiot! He knows well enough to not let a stranger take him home, but despite being vocal about that, he answers every one of the inquisitive priest's incredibly intrusive questions without a pause, up to and including his suspicions about his father possibly being a fugitive. Also weird is when e goes down to the cellar, on prompting from the 'priest', and sees his father, then runs of screaming. No idea what he's so scared about. He knows his father sleeps in the room, so what's so scary about seeing him asleep there? Sure, he's in a coffin, but he's not looking monstrous or anything. He could just be a neato goth dad! Being fair to the kid though, the questions he foolishly answer don't actually help the vampire hit squad. They already know where the guy lives, and all Lintom told them was that his father sleeps downstairs, which would've been easy enough for them to find out on their own. This is good, as it means the climactic events of the film where the family is in great danger don't occur because the son is an idiot.

The effects are ok. Prop fangs and packets of tomato sauce. Nothing to write home about, but nothing too terrible either. As for locale, I like the fact that this suburban English home has a very ooky Transylvanian castle style cellar to it. The scoring here is pretty amusing!

The ending starts off a bit of a downer, but is also darkly funny, with a bit of poetic justice, and a fun and somewhat heartwarming happy ending. Despite once again being too short, I liked this part of the movie a lot. It had some neat and funny concepts, great scenes, and a nice family dynamic, in a way.


A director is scouting locations for a horror movie he's working on, and decides to check one out in person. That turns out to be a bad mistake though, as the bleak and blasted village Loughville is a little too authentic, filled with man-eating ghouls...

This is honestly the worst segment for me. It started off great, but the problems started quickly. The story has the least to it, even by the standards of the short previous segments. The story is so basic, and there's no buildup at all, nor any lingering tension. It sprints from Point A through to Z without any stop-off, culminating in a super short tale with very little in the way of character, or plot. The twist ending is one you can see a mile away, and doesn't even make a whole lot of sense. Aside from that, it also renders the entire escape attempt portion pointless. All of this is infuriating, because this segment probably held the most promise for me.

I liked Luna, the lone villager helping the lead, well enough, but her character is likewise super rushed. She and the director meet as she's giving him food, and this instantly segues into a conversation where she tells him everything about the town in extensive detail, they immediately plot the ins and outs of their escape, and they do it. Even worse is her death scene (barely a spoiler). She's killed somehow by a rock flung at her head. I don't doubt that someone tossing a rock at your skull could cause a serious injury, but I imagine it's not the kind of thing that kills instantly for dramatic effect.

The effects here are pretty cool, with a great location, and neat ghoul effects. Less impressive are the monster teeth at the end, though. There's a diary flashback scene done through drawings, and they look quite good, fitting the scene very effectively. It's probably the best scene in the story. Another positive is the scoring, which is quite neat and ooky! Just a shame the rest of Ghoulsville couldn't live up to those.


Getting into Monster Club as a whole, the film has a weird feel to it. It was released in 1980, but has a very 70's feel to it. I guess that results from it being made at the tail end of the decade. Whatever the case, it's certainly weird watching a low-budget British 70's horror flick with such a rockin' 80's American soundtrack! Welcome though, as the musical performances shake things up, making this different from all the other Amicus type anthology horror movies of the day.

The somewhat out-of-time feel not an issue, but what is is how tonally awkward the movie's framing segments are with the rest of the film, which are otherwise serious horror tales, unlike the more comedic moments with Eramus and Chetwyn-Hayes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the segments are actually in continuity with the framing story! That is to say, with anthology movies, even though the stories are meant to be set in the same world, they usually tend to feel pretty standalone, but in Monster Club, there are little continuity details in the stories that pop up here and there and connect them with the larger story. It's a nice level of consistency that I appreciate.

The effects in the framing sequence are noticeably inferior to the rest of the movie. Not necessarily because the segments had all that great effects, but rather the ones on display during the monster party scenes are a little embarrassing! They look like Halloween masks (minus a pretty good Wolf-Man)! Good Halloween masks, mind you, but still, it's a downgrade.

Delving deeper into the soundtrack, it's interesting. On one hand, whether or not it fits at all with the rest of the movie is up for discussion, but if nothing else, the presence of these rock songs between each segment really makes Monster Club stand out, and feel more unique. I really like the main theme (Monsters rule, ok!), as well as I'm Just a Sucker for Your Love, and Stripper. The latter culminates in a niiiiiice striptease that turns into a delightfully ghoulish silhouette animation. The former is a highly enjoyable song, but with painful staging! Not only is the camera only focusing on the singer's face and nothing more, but it keeps zooming in and out, in and out, in and out, and it's nauseating!

The final number is my least favourite for two reasons. First, I just don't like it much, and that's enough to sour the ending a tad. Secondly, I discovered this film thanks to a clip on Youtube, of Vincent Price singing The Monster Mash (opening with the great speech he gives at the end). I was looking forward to that ending as I made my way through Monster Club, knowing it'd be a great way of closing out the movie!...As it turns out, that was a re-edit, with an overlay of Vincent singing Monster Mash, and clips from elsewhere interspersed with the finale. Goddammit! Instead, we just get a random rock song to play the movie out. Not even a particularly good one, either! A crying shame, because I thought the ending was really special!

There's plenty of acting to discuss here, that's for sure! Vincent Price is as great as ever, delivering his lines with such an infectious glee. The man was a true king of horror! John Carradine is entertaining as the author behind the stories the movie is based on. Donald Pleasence is a ball of fun, but doesn't get much to do, due to the length of the segments. The rest of the acting, from Barbara Kellerman, James Laurenson, Britt Ekland, and more, is all fine.

When it comes to being an adaptation, The Monster Club isn't the greatest, and R. Chetwynd-Hayes was pretty peeved at how it turned out. It's not hard to see where he's coming from, what with the film's goofy humour, and the ill-fitting rock musical interludes, as well as his stories being altered too much to his liking. Still, I like the film nonetheless. Another anecdote I've read is that apparently Christopher Lee was offered the role of Chetwynd-Hayes, but instantly turned it down upon hearing the movie's title, which if true is NOT fucking cool. Talk about judging a book by its cover! It's probably untrue though. I doubt a title like The Monster Club was too much for Lee, not only because it's not exactly an outlandish title (especially compared to other films in Lee's extensive filmography), nor do I think he'd be against acting in a comedy. If I had to guess, he probably was offered the role, and did turn it down, but more because of horror burnout. This was after all the time he started branching out to other genres.

One final thing of note are the in-jokes, including the name of the filmmaker who opens the second segment, named Lintom Busotsky, an anagram/spoonerism (maybe?) of Milton Subotsky, the film's producer (and producer of many prior Amicus films).

Well this sure was a long review! Funny, considering how little I had to say about Asylum (the only other Amicus film I've reviewed thus far)! The Monster Club is a fun horror movie, and regarded by many to be the 'last hurrah' of classic horror before the genre changed, and more slasher and gore movies came onto the scene. I sure hope classic horror makes a comeback. While part of me is afraid that it can't be recaptured, and these films could only have been made back then, I have faith that more will come in the future, no doubt!...

Monster Mash (1995)

The first film I'll be looking at this October comes courtesy of a very familiar song. No doubt you've heard Monster Mash, by Bobby 'Boris' Pickett? If not, it's a classic Halloween staple that's endured for around 50 years, for good reason! In 1967, Pickett and others produced a stage play with what is quite possibly the best title in existence! I'm Sorry, the Bridge is Out, You'll Have to Spend the Night. Yes, really! Unfortunately the 1995 movie adaptation I'll be looking at today didn't keep that amazing name, going by the simpler Monster Mash...

Mary and Scott are a young couple headed for a Halloween party when their car breaks down, and they go to a nearby castle to use a phone to call for help. The servant Igor tries warning them away at the door, but they stay too late, and the excited Dr. Frankenstein notices their presence, beckoning them inside. Before too long, lightning seemingly destroys the bridge leading to the castle, and the 'good' doctor allows the couple to stay the night. They realize that Frankenstein, nor the other guests staying at his humble abode are all that hospitable, and they try avoiding the advances of monsters like Dracula, his wife, the Wolf-Man, a servant to the Mummy, and more, all the while, Frankenstein has his own dark plans for Scott's brain...

The story to Monster Mash is flawed, but entertaining. In some respects, it feels like a more kid-friendly version of Rocky Horror. The majority of the movie is different, but there are those same thematic cues, like the young couple whose car is stranded in the middle of nowhere, leading them to a castle for help, where a mad scientist takes quite the interest in them.

The plot is pretty decently written, and progresses nicely. I like how all these different parties want the couple, for different reasons. Other elements don't work as well though, like the super 90's hip-hop Fresh Prince of Bel-Air type character, which I felt really didn't fit into a spooky Universal-inspired horror comedy...However, I DO like the fact that such an against-type character is the one who wants to sacrifice a virgin to resurrect a mummy.

The acting in the movie is decent to great. I got definite Frank-N-Furter vibes from Bobby Pickett. He's great in the role, exuding this sort-of deliberate transparent jovial attitude, with barely concealed true intentions, getting across the hilarious mix looking simultaneously like an accepting host, and someone who'll tear you to shreds in an instant. You don't believe a word the guy says, and he knows it, not giving a damn.

John Kassir straddles the line of amusing and grating. He's a bit of both sometimes. Candace Cameron and Ian Bohen are fine as the leads, though by default the least interesting characters. Anthony Crivello makes a fun Dracula, certainly looking the part, and Sarah Douglas as his wife is my second favourite character in the movie! Jimmie Walker too ranges from amusing to annoying. I wish he was playing the role of the Mummy's servant/manager.

The humour in Monster Mash is mixed. Some jokes get at least a little laugh, while others not so much. Some of the humour is overt, some subtle. As for gags I disliked, I didn't much care for the Elephant Man line joke, nor for a horrifying joke involving Scott and his maths teacher! The film is never unfunny though. A couple of not-so-good jokes here and there, but never consistently bad or anything. The dialogue is downright golden in some places, from lines like "Permit me to introduce you to my wife, Natasha. She's also a Count, but she spells it differently", to Frankenstein's wonderfully alliterative put-downs, usually aimed at Igor.

As an adaptation, there are apparently several changes from the source material, including added songs, removed songs (what?!), and various pop culture jokes that weren't present in the original play, such as Elvis Presley being the Mummy (he was of course very much alive in 1967), a Beavis and Butthead gag, then-modern political gags, etc. Some of these are worth a chuckle, but others fall pretty flat. As for dialogue and character changes, I don't know what's different from play to film.

The effects in Monster Mash aren't that great, though the location and sets look pretty good. The costume for the Frankenstein Monster is ok. Oddly enough, it kinda looks like Elvis! I have to wonder why he isn't The King, when the Mummy only has a couple of tiny scenes, and is unrecognizable as who he's meant to be. I suppose the reasoning was that Elvis as a mummy clad in bandages was fine, but Elvis' visibly hacked-up corpse stitched together and reanimated may have been a little disrespectful, maybe? The 'Wolf-Man' is a little inconsistent, and unfortunately we don't see the transformation. It's offscreen! And we don't see Mary's reaction to it either. It's just next scene, he's a werewolf, and the two leads aren't all that fazed in the slightest, despite not knowing anything supernatural is up yet. The rest of the effects are ok enough. The opening credits are pretty dull, though.

Onto the soundtrack, I really like the movie's scoring (though it's not very ooky or scary most of the time), but am mixed the musical numbers themselves. None are awful, and a couple are great, but others are merely ok. The sound mixing on the titular Monster Mash song is weird though, as it doesn't mesh well with the spoken dialogue. Not a big deal though, and you adjust soon enough.

One confusing thing is the seeming lack of three numbers! Wikipedia lists there being nine songs, and these three absent ones are Too Late to Change Your Mind, a reprise of On a Night Like This, and They Came Back. In the movie, however, those latter two aren't even present, and the former is in the movie, but during the credits, after a Monster Mash reprise. Judging by the soundtrack listing in the credits, it's not the movie's fault for this confusion, but rather the Wikipedia page, which seems ill-informed in that one respect. Anyway, onto that reprise of the titular song. It's played over a montage of scenes, and also new footage corresponding more with the lyrics! Neat! And funnily enough, the Frankenstein's Monster effects look best there, when more in the shadows.

Monster Mash isn't a great movie, but at its worst, it's never terrible, and its positives far outweigh any drawbacks, with Bobby Pickett's performance alone being worth it. I definitely recommend it if you're in the mood for a freaky musical!...

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Halloween Greetings

Hello, my ooky friends. Tis the time for hijinks of the ghostly and macabre variety! This year I shall be looking at a variety of things that you may find interesting. I'll also be writing some gloomy poetry, perhaps aiming for one per day, or at least every few days. Beyond that, I plan on knitting a pumpkin, and maybe crocheting a skull. Here's hoping I do well! I'll post pictures of the finished products come the end of the month, along with my pumpkin carving! See you soon for the first review of the month, and as Elvira says, Unpleasant dreams!...

Friday, September 30, 2016

Ninja the Mission Force (2012)

One of these days I'm gonna talk about Brad Jones (aka The Cinema Snob), because I've got a LOT to say! For now, I'll be discussing the Dark Maze Studios (now Neon Harbour Entertainment) comedy webseries Ninja the Mission Force!...

The Evil Ninja Empire, led by Bruce (Brad Jones), have set their eyes on the Avian ninja warriors, mystical items that grant the user incredible powers once all six are found. Opposing them is Interpol agent and ninja Gordon (Ed Glaser), with the help of his various friends (Brandon Lee, Ernest Borgnine, John Travolta, Charles Bronson, Richard Harrison, and more). Gordon finds himself battling against cheese ninjas, science ninjas, space ninjas, and other assorted dastardly schemes as the two forces fight for ultimate ninja supremacy...

Created by Ed Glaser, Brad Jones, and Meagan Rachelle, Ninja the Mission Force is inspired by the IFD ninja flicks, courtesy of Hong Kong filmmaker Godfrey Ho. He'd snatch up unreleased or unfinished films, film around 20 minutes of extra footage with Caucasian actors to appeal to the Western market, usually centreing on ninjas (and later commandos or police, once ninjas started 'going out of fashion' (As if such a thing could happen!)). These two separate entities would be stitched together pretty unconvincingly, thanks to overdubbing, and convenient phone conversations (These characters are totally in the same movie, trust us!). The IFD movies have developed a big cult following on the internet. One of the greatest stars of these was Pierre Kirby, who I've discussed before, and most certainly will again. Ninja the Mission Force uses footage from public domain movies such as Laser Mission, Cold Sweat, Night of the Living Dead, Planet of the Dinosaurs, Street Fighter (the Sonny Chiba one), and more.

While I enjoyed it more on original release, I'm sad to say I didn't really enjoy Ninja the Mission Force much at all this time round!

I hesitate to say the creators missed the point, because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Glaser and co. understand the 'source material' perfectly, but it doesn't feel like it when watching Ninja the Mission Force. The reason those movies are so amusing is because despite how outlandish things may get, they're still taken completely seriously, and play everything straight, whereas this series is just completely farcical. Seeing ninjas fighting with balloons, frisbees, sticky hand toys, and flying gerbil plushies on string aren't the kinds of things I'd want to see in an IFD inspired production. Plus, an unfortunate side-effect to the overt goofiness is that it robs the proceedings of as much humour as there should've been during moments like the Garfield phone, which is genuinely funny, and faithful to those old movies. If we only saw outlandish stuff happening every now and then, it'd be way funnier whenever Ninja Gordon cracks out his amazing telephone, for example. Quality, not quantity.

As for the quality of writing itself, it varies. The main stuff is usually fun, though too silly for my tastes, but the overdubbed sections didn't impress me much. I didn't feel the writing was all that great, sometimes borderline bad, and didn't fit the footage at all...No, I don't mean like that. Obviously this absurd dialogue didn't originally go with, say, The Stranger, but sometimes it's so mismatched that it's just a bit annoying, and doesn't really work, like extended pauses because the original actors weren't speaking, or laughs when they were totally serious, and other irksome details. Yeah, that's probably deliberate and meant to be funny, but I didn't find it all that amusing, and it feels like a better job could've been done in some spots finding footage that the dialogue would go into easier, or altering the dialogue to fit better. Sometimes what's going on is just so goofy or stupid that it doesn't mesh with the otherwise normal proceedings in the original movies used.

What really bugs me is that the majority of each episode is the overdubbed movie footage. Yeah, it's to emulate the IFD movies, which did the same thing, but do you know what the least interesting parts of those films are? The Movie A segments! The Movie B parts (the added-on ones) are the fun and noteworthy parts, which inspired this series in the first place. Thankfully in the case of Ninja the Mission Force, the episodes are only around 10 to 15 minutes long, and thus don't drag as much as the Movie A footage can in actual Godfrey Ho movies, but they're still an annoying distraction. What's worse is that at such a short length, too little of these other movies are shown, making their usage feel disjointed and abrupt. The two worst cases of this are the Space Ninja in Space episode (which uses only around 6 minutes from the over-two-hour-long Star Odyssey), and the mostly painfully unfunny Christmas special (a bonus episode on the DVD). That one at least integrates the footage from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians into the main story rather than having it be a separate tangentially related plot, but it's still not integrated well, since again, so little of the movie is used, they might as well have used nothing.

Onto more positive aspects, the humour is funny at times, with amusing lines like "This encyclopedia salesmen threat smacks of the evil machinations only the Evil Ninja Empire could...organize", "Prejudiced ninja biologists! The worst kind!", "Heartless ninja bastard!"  and of course the most often used "What's a ninja?"-"They're a fairytale. They don't exist.", usually spoken before or after blatant discussing of ninjas.  some of the ideas and moments are hilarious, like the television nature of Gordon's wife (the ending to Ninja Virus is great!), or the golden exchange of "Gordon, I need you to go into space"-"Ok, I will". There are also some really neat visuals, like the above ninja biologist.

The acting is a mixed bag. Glaser and Jones are great in their main roles, as is Meagan Rachelle's voice acting and Sarah Lewis' visual performance as Gordon's wife, but the problem I have is the other voice actors, or rather lack thereof. In the overdubbed movie segments, it's always just Glaser and Rachelle, over and over again, and it's a little annoying when almost every single character in the whole series sounds the same. Also, some of said voices are more annoying than others, with the most grating being in Ninja Virus, which uses footage from Boy in the Plastic Bubble (Yes, really!).

In closing, Ninja the mission Force is a mixed bag, sometimes leaning more to the negative side, but if you're into really goofy Z-grade parodies, then I might recommend it.You could check out the trailer to see if it's your cup of tea or not...

By the way, I may as well talk about this here. You see the Garfield phone above? That's of course inspired by the use of such an amazing phone in Ninja Terminator, and other such IFD flicks, where the serious and straightlaced hero used this goofy novelty phone. As you can imagine, I wanted such a phone! I searched for one for the better part of five years! I only finally procured one earlier this year with the help of my blog friend Justine, and it's just as amazing as you'd expect!...

Corpse Bride (2005)

The awesome Holly of Holly's Horrorland and Emma of Little Gothic Horrors are hosting the Tim Burton Blog Bash, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to finally get around to watching his 2005 effort Corpse Bride. Better late than never, I suppose!...

In a small Victorian village, clumsy and awkward Victor has been arranged to marry Victoria, the meek daughter of two nefarious and unscrupulous aristocrats, whose only interest in the marriage is the money they hope to get from it, so they can restore their penniless family to past glories. The two young lovers hit it off, falling for each-other fast, but after failing to remember his vows during a disastrous wedding rehearsal, Victor goes out into the deep dark woods, where he practices, finally getting his vows right...and inadvertently proposing to an undead bride, who accepts. Victor is dragged to the underworld, and has to figure out how to get out of the sticky situation he's found himself in before he's stuck in the land of the dead forever...

Coming from the guy responsible for The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride is an enjoyable Gothic romp, and exactly what you'd expect from Tim Burton when he's actually making good movies. The plot is inventive, even if some elements and characters are predictable and a bit cliched, and it culminates in a great climax, with lovely visuals.

At only 78 minutes long, Corpse Bride is short and sweet. On one hand, I wish the movie was longer, particularly so we could have more character interaction, and so there'd actually be a friggin denouement! But then again, I do like shorter films, and I also admire the fact that the creators knew the story they were telling would only fill out so much time, and decided to keep it short, rather than try and extend it longer, possibly compromising the experience. Not that I think that would've happened if the movie was 90 minutes though, nor do I actually think that's the reason for the length. It might be a reason, but I have a pretty good idea that it's because the studio didn't want to spend any more money on the very costly and time consuming stop-motion than they already had. Figures. *sigh*

The Danny Elfman soundtrack is very good. At first I was skeptical about the idea of there being songs in a 78 minute long movie, because it's already short enough without the plot being repeatedly interrupted for several minutes, but thankfully the musical numbers aren't intrusive, nor do they take away much from the movie.

Corpse Bride is of course animated through stop motion effects, and looks wonderful, and highly detailed. The film has a neat look to it, what with the surface world of the living being drab and muted, while the land of the dead is vibrant and colourful. The characters all look distinctive, both the living and the dead, especially the latter party, and far from being lifeless or dead-eyed, the character models give off lots of life...or lack thereof in some cases!...

The acting here is quite good, which is surprising considering I just barely tolerate the two lead actors at the best of times. Probably the only reason I could stand Johnny Depp was that I kept forgetting it even was him. Helena Bonham Carter is entertaining, and Emily Watson's character is a bit milquetoast, at least compared to the titular corpse bride, but she plays the role well. The rest of the cast is superb, with actors like Michael Gough, Christopher Lee, Albert Finney, and more giving fine performances.

I definitely recommend Corpse Bride! It's a fun little film, and darkly gorgeous to boot!...

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975)


In the 1800's, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson routinely solve mysteries, as per usual. On this occasion, however, Holmes 'sublets' the case of missing royal government documents to his younger brother Sigerson, who harbours deep resentment towards him. Aided by the kooky Sgt. Orville Stanley Sacker, 'man with a photographic sense of hearing', Sigerson is quickly found by the compulsively lying music hall singer Jenny Hill, who knows something about the missing papers, but refuses to let on, and soon the trio have to evade assassins, and uncover the truth, before the evil Professor Moriarty can fulfill his evil plans...

The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother is a pretty bad movie! It's a 1975 Holmes-themed comedy written and directed by Gene Wilder, and for that reason I was looking forward to it, despite being skeptical at a Holmes movie with an American lead. Boy, did this disappoint! It's a boring piece of trash, to start with! It isn't funny at all! I mildly chuckled here and there, but for the most part, the movie is either lame, outright unfunny, or just plain gross and grotesque!

The story is pretty barebones. There's a macguffin that the characters need to find, and they need to get it before a villain does bad things. A lot of the film is annoyingly unexplored. Take for example Sherlock 'subtly' aiding Sigerson, which is completely dropped after the first theatre scene, and the great detective isn't seen again until the last few minutes of the movie. Also annoying are things like how Marty Feldman's character is entirely superfluous. I wish they would've written his part better, so he'd have more to do in the story. At least he becomes more proactive in the last half hour.
What also confuses me is the title and concept as a whole, which doesn't hold water. Sigerson isn't smarter than Sherlock, so it doesn't make much sense on face value, but he's not portrayed as dumb or clueless, so it doesn't work ironically* either. I guess it's just because of how Gene Wilder wanted to make A Sherlock Holmes comedy, but didn't want to 'make fun of the well-loved character' by actually having him as the lead, and thought that title was funny.

*I am at peace with the fact that I probably misused the word 'ironic' above.

The biggest issue with the plot is that it's unclear why Sherlock even drafted Sigerson into this case. The almost-reason given is tenuous at best! Related to this is Sigi's relationship with his brother. Why does he hate Sherlock so much? Never explained. It would've been neat to see that aspect explored more, and to have a conclusion to that plot thread. Maybe they could've written Holmes getting Sigerson onto the case as giving him a push to becoming his own detective, but rather than that, we get nothing.

The film's largest problem by far is that it simply doesn't feel like a Sherlock Holmes movie at all. There's little to no detective work, and no Holmesian deduction, while the unsuited comedy distances the movie further from the source material. A good counterpoint would be Without a Clue, which was fantastic, both in actually being funny, and how it felt like a Holmes movie! Come to think of it, these two movies side-by-side are actually good indicators of British vs. American humour.

The acting is hard to judge. From Gene Wilder, to Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, and others, these people can act, but the writing holds them back. Sometimes a good actor can make reading bad lines enjoyable, but sometimes it's just unworkable, as is the case here. Even worse? I was so happy to find out that Leo McKern is in this movie as Professor Moriarty! He'd be great in the role, without a shadow of a doubt!...However, this movie's wretched quality is indeed responsible for a greater sin than anyone could comprehend-It wastes Leo McKern, and THAT is a crime I cannot and will not forgive! When not completely wasting his great talents, and making him a completely unintimidating villain, it's making him annoying! Shocking, I know! Beyond that, his Irish accent keeps slipping. Also wasted is John le Mesurier. And also the whole cast, come to think of it. I'd say it was a shame for the leads, if not for the fact that they wrote and directed the film, so at least they were presumably happy with the end product.

The music in this film is weird. Weird in that it's not a musical, but there are a couple of spontaneous short songs, as well as a long-ish opera scene during the climax. As for how they sound, regardless of how odd their inclusion is, they range from ok to pretty decent. The Hop Like a Kangaroo one is actually the most painful to watch in a way, because it's so out-of-left-field and ill-fitting that I couldn't help but wince, but the tune and lyrics are actually quite fun!

Finally, the look of the film. It's fine. It looks like a typical Victorian period piece, and what you'd expect from a Sherlock Holmes story, in the visuals of the setting, at least.

To finish, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother is a pretty garbage watch, and it's a Holmes movie I can totally advocate avoiding adamantly! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd best get to writing my review for Young Frankenstein, to make up to Gene Wilder for trashing this movie!...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Without a Clue (1988)

As mentioned many times before, no doubt, I'm a massive Sherlock Holmes fan, and greatly enjoy seeking out movies about the character! Whether or not said films are any good though is another matter entirely! But enough about Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady. Especially interesting are the pastiches and comedies, that take an interesting approach with the source material, such as movies like The Seven-Percent Solution, They Might Be Giants, and the one I'm looking at today-Without a Clue...

In 19th Century England, the famed detective Sherlock Holmes is at large, solving mysteries and catching criminals wherever he goes, always with his sidekick Dr. Watson by his side. However, the roles are actually reversed. Watson is the true genius, and Holmes is a fictional character he stands behind, using out-of-work actor, drunkard, and gambler Reginald Kincaid to play the role and bring the illusion to life. Unfortunately, given 'Holmes'' temperament, and inability to understand or utilize Watson's deductive skills effectively, constantly on the verge of embarrassing himself, he's thrown out on the streets. However, Watson finds he has trouble getting anywhere without the great Sherlock Holmes, and everyone treats him as a mere nobody, making sleuthing next to impossible for the good Crime Doctor.

Meanwhile, some plates for the 5 Pound bill have been stolen, and realizing he's getting nowhere fast without 'Holmes', Watson decides reluctantly to bring him along for one last case. The plot thickens when Watson is seemingly killed, and the bumbling Holmes has to solve the rest of the mystery himself...

Without a Clue is a great Sherlock Holmes film, as well as a highly amusing buddy adventure! Due to synopsis' I'd read, I was actually under the impression that Watson is missing for much of the film, but that's not the case. The duo are together for most of the film, and it's the better for it, as they work off each-other really well, and it'd be annoying if one half of the team was gone for the majority of the runtime. The plot moves along at a slow pace for the first half, but is never sluggish, and there's always stuff happening in the movie. The mystery progresses really well! While the film is definitely a comedy, it never sacrifices the seriousness of its plot and gives into farce. The fact that the mystery itself is played totally straight is great!

Without a Clue's core concept is an inventive one, with so much potential for jokes and amusing moments, which the movie absolutely lives up too. It's clever, too, in how it also mirrors real-life, with Arthur Conan Doyle's own relationship with the character if Sherlock Holmes. Between that, and other elements, the writers clearly know their stuff.

The film looks great, too, never appearing unconvincing. Same goes for the score. It's a
rousing and upbeat soundtrack that complements the proceedings well. Finally, both the opening and closing credits utilize neat visuals, with what look like photographs with watercolour treatment done to them to look like period paintings.

The acting is all great! Ben Kingsley is an excellent straight man, while Michael Caine plays his role as both bumbling, as well as determined as the film goes on, handling the material perfectly. Probably the only weak-ish link in the film's casting is Paul Freeman as Moriarty. He's definitely fine in the role, but he doesn't appear quite enough. Thankfully what we do see is well-handled, and he exudes villainy, never feeling hampered by being in a lighthearted comedy. The rest of the cast is fine too, from Jeffrey Jones as Lestrade, Pat Keen as Mrs. Hudson, Lysette Anthony (of Krull! Not overdubbed this time either!), and of course, the indispensable Prince the Wonder Dog!...

One thing of note about Without a Clue is its positive portrayal of a seemingly transgender character! It's nothing major, since the character only comes into play in the last 20 to 30 minutes, and has just a few lines (though they're still an important player), but it's still a breath of fresh air. The movie never belittles or makes fun of them, and they're treated with respect by the characters, and the film itself. It's rare enough seeing a movie treat trans people with dignity NOW, let alone back in 1988!

Without a Clue is both a really enjoyable movie, and a great Sherlock Holmes story! I highly recommend it, whether you're a fan of the character, or just into mysteries and humour in general...