To Remake or Not To Remake. That is the Question.

I’m on the record saying I hate remakes. If it was genius in the first place, why mess with it? If it stunk, why bring it back? Are you so ego driven Mr. Director that you feel your “version” outshines, oh say, Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho? Or Mr. Director, do you so lack creatively that you cop-out and warm over some – why was it made in the first place (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) flick?

That being said, there are those exceptions. Websters’ definition of a remake is: to make again or anew as in a new form or manner. If a film can pay homage and capture the essence of the original but also bring freshness, I consider that film to be a great remake!

 

This classic has a great remake:

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

 

Directed by Don Siegel and Produced by Walter Wanger, the film starred Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter. This 1956 sci-fi thriller taps into a hideous nightmare, what if we went to sleep and awoke as a “pod person?” (Our physical self but void of emotion.) This movie in and of itself is an update of the 1950’s fear of space, atomic energy, and aliens. However, instead of giant mutated spiders, this tale is of an invasion from within.

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

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“From deep space the seed is planted.”

Directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams, this remake ups the ante. It honors the original sense of foreboding but the degree of terror is raised to a pandemic level.

There’s a scene in the original involving a dog that alerts the “pod people” that “Becky” (Dana Wynter) isn’t one of them. In this version they remake the dog scene but takes it to a much freakier place.   Outstanding!

I won’t give away the ending but, holy crap, that was frigging frightening!  Totally fresh update!

 

A box office success, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was well received by critics and is considered by some (myself included) to be among the greatest film remakes.

To Remake or not to Remake. That is the Question.

In this instance – YES!

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iheart Halloween!👻

Halloween is my favorite holiday! It’s a day for self-expression. A day for fun and fantasy. A day for taking control of phobias and fears and turning your back on Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Where’s your power now Fred? Way to shut that mess down.

It’s also a day to indulge in all your favorite classic, creepy, monster, sci-fi horror films.

Therefore, in the spirit of Halloween, let’s pay homage to the original man of horror. The “Man of a Thousand Faces”- Lon Chaney.

 Man of a Thousand Faces – Lon Chaney

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Lon Chaney (April 1, 1883 – August 26, 1930), born Leonidas Frank Chaney

Born to deaf parents, Lon learned to express himself and communicate visually. He took his desire to become an actor and created an art form and space for himself that was revolutionary to the motion picture industry. His makeup artistry allowed him to transform and become grotesque characters in films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). He’s regarded as one of the most important character actors of the silent film era.

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The original “monster maker”, he would scout out the daily call sheets for a studio finding out what types of extras were needed for that day’s shoot. He created a make-up toolbox of possibilities for him to achieve the look and characterizations needed to be chosen for a role. This talent was the impetus for his unparalleled reputation in the burgeoning film industry.

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This flick is by far my favorite Lon Chaney! 

Chaney’s alliance with Director Tod Browning was inspired! Browning was into the macabre and best known for his films Dracula (1931) and the cult classic Freaks (1932) and Lon Chaney had the acting and makeup skills to realize any twisted character the director could come up with.

My favorite movie line is from their 1927 silent film The Unknown – “crack of your ass”. (okay, I can’t swear that’s what he said) But, seriously, as Alonzo the Armless, he threatened his co-star Joan Crawford with bodily harm if she did not bend to his will. Remember Grandma Klump from Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor(1996)? “You might walk over, but you limpin’ back! “Chaney totally went there. Check it out:

Let’s talk about the level of twisted in this movie:

A word of advice, if you’ve got a thing about someone that’s all consuming and you’d do anything to get with that person, forget about it!

Plot: This crazy man, Alonzo the Armless (Lon Chaney) has a knife throwing act using only his feet and is in love with Nanon (Joan Crawford) who”can’t bear to be touched.” He has arms but pretends not to for his act and so Nanon will talk to him. When it’s discovered that he indeed has arms, he blackmails a low-rent surgeon to amputate them. Sick!

Nanon and Alonzo

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After his surgery, Alonzo returns to the circus and his knife throwing act. Hoping to rekindle his relationship, he strolls over to Nanon’s circus wagon to see his rival Malabar, the circus strongman, (Norman Kerry) with his hands all over his love. Holy crap, it’s on! Alonzo schemes to get his girl back by rigging the speed of Malabar’s horses in his act which will dislocate and sever his arms during the live circus performance.

Alonzo

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Alonzo’s sick plan is working until Nanon realizes what is happening and tries to stop the performance. And then boom! The”crack of your ass” line. As you saw in the clip, things didn’t really work out the way he saw it play out in his mind.

Malabar

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This documentary, Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces is a great biography for more in-depth background information and presents a great opportunity to discover your own Lon Chaney gem.

Here it is, Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces

Lon Chaney is also the father of Lon Chaney, Jr best known for his role in Universal’s The Wolfman (1941).

The Black Prince of Darkness – Blacula 1972 💀🎃

Original 1972 theatrical poster

Way to turn the classic “Dracula” on its’ head! I think the idea to present Blacula as an 18th Century African prince during the slave trade was historical and topical. Although considered a Blaxploitation horror film, it was taken with a serious approach and hits the mark on the classic Universal horror flick.

This trailer is so typical of an American International Picture, high on exploitation and drama. Formed on April 2, 1954, from American Releasing Corporation (ARC) by James H. Nicholson, former Sales Manager of Realart Pictures, and Samuel Z. Arkoff, an entertainment lawyer. It was dedicated to releasing independently produced, low-budget films.

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Samuel Zachary Arkoff (June 12,1918 – September 16, 2001)

The ARKOFF formula:

  • Action (exciting, entertaining drama)

  • Revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas)

  • Killing (a modicum of violence)

  • Oratory (notable dialogue and speeches)

  • Fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience)

  • Fornication (sex appeal, for young adults)

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The plot of Blacula is the story of Manuwalde (William Marshall), an African Prince. It’s a modern twist on the classic Dracula legend and is told in a very compelling and chilling way.

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William Marshall “Blacula”

In the year 1780, while on a goodwill visit to ask Count Dracula (Charles Macaulay) to help him suppress the slave trade, (which existed in parts of Africa, like the rest of the world, and was a part of the economic structure of some societies for many centuries), he is refused by the Count. Instead, Manuwalde is turned into a vampire by Count Dracula and wife, Luva (Vonetta McGee) is killed.

Quote – Dracula: You shall pay, black prince. I shall place a curse of suffering on you that will doom you to a living hell. I curse you with my name. You shall be… Blacula!

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The scene then shifts to the year 1972 with two interior decorators from modern-day Los Angeles California traveling to Castle Dracula in Transylvania and unknowingly purchasing the now-undead Mamuwalde’s coffin, which they ship to Los Angeles.

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One of the interior decorators – Could he be Richard Simmons’ twin or what?😄

Later unlocking the coffin, the decorators release Mamuwalde, becoming his first two victims, turning them and the others he encounters into vampires like himself in his bloodthirsty reign of terror. (Wikipedia)

Blacula was released on August 25, 1972, to mixed reviews.  American International Pictures’ marketing department in an effort to ensure that black audiences would be interested in Blacula; created posters for the film including references to slavery, hence, blaxploitation.

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Noted for creating the Blaxploitation horror genre, Blacula debuted at #24 on Variety’s list of top films. It eventually grossed over a million dollars, making it one of the highest-grossing films of 1972. A sequel to the film titled Scream Blacula Scream was released in 1973 by American International. The film also stars William Marshall in the title role along with actress and star of (“Foxy Brown” 1974) Pam Grier.

 

Trivia:

Blacula was in production between late January and late March 1972. While Blacula was in its production stages, William Marshall worked with the film producers to make sure his character had some dignity.

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His character name was changed from Andrew Brown to Mamuwalde and his character received a background story about being an African prince who had succumbed to vampirism.

Blacula was shot on location in Los Angeles, with some scenes shot in the Watts neighborhood and the final scenes taken at the Hyperion Outfall Treatment Plant in the beachside, west Los Angeles Playa del Rey.

The Hues Corporation - Blacula 1972

The Hues Corporation 1972

The music for Blacula is unlike that of most horror films as it uses rhythm and blues as opposed to haunting classical music. The film’s soundtrack features a score by Gene Page, who was one of the most prolific arrangers/conductors of popular music during his time and worked on more than 200 gold and platinum records.

A variety of the artists Gene Page worked with:

The Supremes, The Four Tops, Buffalo Springfield, Barbra Streisand, Donna Loren, Martha and the Vandellas, Cher, Barry White, The Love Unlimited Orchestra, Whitney Houston, George Benson, The Jackson Five, Roberta Flack,Elton John, José Feliciano, Leo Sayer, Seals & Croft, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Frankie Valli, Dobie Gray, Peabo Bryson, Lionel Richie, Jeffrey Osborne

Music on the soundtrack also included contributions by The Hues Corporation. They are best known for their 1974 single “Rock the Boat”, which sold over 2 million copies. (Wikipedia)

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In the spirit of Halloween and Throwback ’70’s, check it out. I think you’ll “Dig it”!

Favorite Trailers That Make The Cut!🎬

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I was working on a post the other day and the TV show Nothing but Trailers was on in the background. It got me thinking about some of my all-time favorites and what constitutes a great trailer.

First of all, it can’t just be a series of scenes from the movie. That really irks me! What’s the point of me going if you’ve already given me your best shots? Just lazy.

An excellent trailer peaks your curiosity gets your heart-stirring and demands that you’re first in line to see it. An incredible trailer gives you minimal information but builds the anticipation with atmospheric music, punctuation shots, and an ending that elicits the core emotion of the film.

This is the criteria I applied to the following trailers and is the basis for them being some of the most memorable.

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Number One has got to be the 1979 sci-fi classic – Alien. “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

Starring Sigourney Weaver, director Ridley Scott scared the crap out of me and the little boy sitting in front of me at the theater. Oh, and to make matters worse, I was pregnant at the time. Yikes! (if you’ve seen it you understand if you haven’t, what?? You must!) And my girl Sigourney Weaver showed the world what a badass woman in space looks like.

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Sigourney Weaver

This is the epitome of an incredible trailer. Little bits and moments and truly haunting music. My heart was racing and I had no idea of what I’d just seen.

The visuals were outstanding! There was absolutely nothing familiar in the images coming off the screen. The Alien and its accompanying elements were designed by Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger. (I don’t know how he slept with those images in his head) The film received both critical acclaim and box office success, receiving an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

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Number Two is the sci-fi thriller –The Dark Knight (2008) – “Why So Serious?”

First of all, Heath Ledger. Second of all, Heath Ledger!! Even in the trailer, his intensity shines thru. He draws you in and you’re compelled to see more. His Oscar-winning performance was incredible and the most talked about that year.

Ledger almost made a complete sweep of over twenty awards for acting, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor, the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Heath Ledger

Unfortunately, we lost him, but his genius as The Joker lives on. Starring Christian Bale as the caped crusader and directed by Christopher Nolan, when I saw this trailer I knew where I was going to be on opening night. Totally lived up to the hype.

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And, Now Presenting… “The Master of Suspense”!

In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock shocked the world with his groundbreaking thriller. Unsuspecting moviegoers stood in lines that wrapped around the block with no one being allowed admittance after the movie began. Intensifying the anticipation, each patron’s directive was to NOT reveal the ending.

Watch this legend pull on your tension string. From the “Master of Suspense”, Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s – Psycho (1960) “…she just goes a little mad sometimes.”

This trailer shows Alfred Hitchcock taught the world just how horror is done. Fits all my criteria for an incredible movie trailer and then some. Starring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, my heart is racing right now re-visiting this magnificent piece of cinema.

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Sir Alfred Hitchcock – (13 August 1899 – 29 April 1980)

Hitch’s stylistic trademarks include the use of camera movement that mimics a person’s gaze, forcing viewers to engage in a form of voyeurism. In addition, he framed shots to maximize anxiety, fear, or empathy and used innovative forms of film editing. (Wikipedia)

To quote me, “An incredible trailer gives you minimal information but builds the anticipation with atmospheric music, punctuation shots, and an ending that elicits the core emotion of the film.”

An unquestionable classic!

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Now that I’ve shared some of my faves, I’d love to hear some of yours! 😎

 

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The Evil Men Do – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

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The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

“I am jealous of everything whose beauty does not die. I am jealous of the portrait you have painted of me. Why should it keep what I must lose? Every moment that passes takes something from me and gives something to it. Oh, if it were only the other way! If the picture could change, and I could be always what I am now! Why did you paint it? It will mock me some day — mock me horribly!” The hot tears welled into his eyes; he tore his hand away and, flinging himself on the divan, he buried his face in the cushions, as though he was praying.”

“Dorian Gray” – Oscar Wilde’s -“The Picture of Dorian Gray”

 

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Dorian Gray

If you could, would you, sell your soul for eternal youth?

That was the choice made by Dorian Gray. His story is a classic cautionary tale. Be careful what you wish for.

Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) is a striking and wealthy young man living in 19th century London. While posing for his portrait with his artist friend Basil Hallward (Lowell Gilmore), he meets the cynical and audacious Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders) who tells him that youth and beauty are fleeting and while he’s young he should entertain every worldly pleasure. Dorian is naive and in the presence of an enchanted Egyptian cat wishes he would stay forever young and only his portrait would age.

 

 

While visiting a local pub, The Two Turtles, he meets the beautiful and demure Sybil Vane. She sweetly sings “Goodbye Little Yellow Bird” and Dorian is totally enamored. Falling in love, he asks Miss Vale for her hand in marriage and invites both Basil and Lord Wotton to the pub to meet his love.

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Sybil Vane

When Dorian informs Lord Wotton of his intention to marry Sybil, Wotton suggests he tests her virtue by inviting her to spend the evening with him. If she rebukes him then she’s chaste if she accepts she’s a tramp and as the saying goes “why pay for the cow when you can have the milk for free.” Dorian buys into this plan thus beginning his downward spiral into narcissism and pleasures of the flesh.

 

 

Sybil accepts Dorian’s request to stay with him and the following day Dorian sends her a breakup letter expressing his disappointment in her. Heartbroken, Sybil is devastated and Dorian becomes aware of the first signs of cruelty to appear upon his portrait’s face.

 

 

Years pass with his peers aging, but Dorian’s youth remains. Gossip swirls and his friends begin to shun him; questioning why his appearance is the same. Dorian goes full tilt debauchery until he finally reaches rock bottom.

There are people today who could benefit from heeding the lesson in the “Picture of Dorian Gray.” The evil you do comes back to bite. Karma is a bitch.

 

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Remake or Not to Remake -“House on Haunted Hill”

I usually hate remakes, check out a previous post on this very subject – “To Remake or Not to Remake, That is the Question” – especially when the original says it all, you can’t imagine any other actors (think Casablanca) and is iconic.

Or, the movie is just horrible, to begin with, and we don’t need to be put through that torture again. WHY??!!!

However, there are a few exceptions to this rule and I’m going to put the remake of the 1959 classic “House on Haunted Hill” by legendary film director, William Castle on the EXCEPTION list.

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William Castle April 24, 1914 – May 31, 1977

The film was written by Robb White and stars the incomparable Vincent Price as eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren and (Carol Ohmart) as his wife Annabelle, who have invited five people to the house for a “haunted house” party. (Wikipedia)

Whoever stays in the house for one night will earn $10,000. As the night progresses, all the guests are trapped inside the house with ghosts, murderers, and other terrors.

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Elisha Cook – Watson Pritchard

The owner of the house, Watson Pritchard’s vivid descriptions of all the deaths and heads in the house is awesome! The more he drinks the more colorful the tales become.

Vincent Price’s disembodied head narrating during the opening credits is (sorry, had to do it) Priceless! 😁

I’m a huge fan of the B-Movie Director because he personifies the “show” in show business. His movie gimmicks are legendary! In my favorite, “House on Haunted Hill”, it was Emergo (A skeleton with red lighted eye sockets that floated over the audience in the final moments of the film)

Once word spread about the skeleton, kids had to get in on the act by trying to knock it down with candy boxes, soda cups, or any other objects at hand.

I saw the film at a Halloween special performance and the skeleton floating across overhead was Fantastic! Classic Castle!

If it weren’t for my kids, I probably wouldn’t have sought out the remake but, when I walked into the family room and caught a glimpse of the action on the big screen, I was immediately drawn into the atmospheric effects.

Didn’t think I’d ever say this because William Castle films are sacred but, the remake is awesome, ratchets up the effects, and is creepy as HELL!!

Geoffrey Rush was fantastic as the sinister Steven Price (I believe the name change is an homage to Vincent), an amusement park mogul with a wicked sense of humor.  As in the original, his spoiled trophy wife, Evelyn Stockard-Price (Famke Janssen), in a disintegrating marriage with Steven insists on a haunted house themed birthday party. Capitulating to his wife, Price leases the house from the owner, Watson Pritchett (Chris Kattan).

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Geoffrey Rush

Evelyn gives Price a lengthy guest list which he promptly shreds to spite her and then creates one of his own. Five guests arrive for the party – Jennifer Jenzen (Ali Larter), Eddie Baker (super-fine Taye Diggs), Melissa Margaret Marr (Bridgette Wilson), Dr. Donald Blackburn (Peter Gallagher), and Pritchett himself. The guests are not those Price invited and neither Evelyn nor Price know who they are. (Wikipedia)

Despite this, Price continues the party’s theme, offering $1 million to each guest who stays in the house and survives until morning. Those who die forfeit the $1 million to the survivors.

Setting the house as a former insane asylum with a totally twisted Dr. at the helm, manifested a disturbing backdrop. Nothing worse than psycho ghosts trying to make you one of them.

With the remake of the 1963 haunted house classic, “The Haunting”, the 1999 version starring Liam Neeson, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, this updated “House on Haunted Hill” needed to insert a lot more horror and gore.

Produced by Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver, it features special effects by famed make-up artists Gregory Nicotero and Dick Smith. Terry Castle (William Castle’s daughter) was also a co-producer on the project.

In keeping with the spirit of William Castle‘s tradition of releasing each of his films with a marketing gimmick, Warner Bros, and Dark Castle supplied movie theatres with scratch-off tickets that would be given to anyone who paid to see the film. The scratch-off ticket would give each movie patron a chance to win money much like the characters in the film. (Wikipedia)

Although not my beloved original, I found this remake to be a creepy fun time.

 

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Pre-Code Horror Censorship

I joined the Turner Classic Movies Facebook group which I thoroughly enjoy. Talking about our favorite films, creepiest, classic vs. neoclassical films and which should be shown on TCM.

In our conversation on creepy movies,  “The Black Cat”, Universal 1934, was mentioned and the fact that this member didn’t realize pre-code films had this type of content; mummified women’s bodies in the basement, the proposed torture of skinning Boris Karloff alive, etc. If you haven’t seen it, put it at the top of your must-see list.

In the comments, I suggested in addition to “The Black Cat” to also check out “Mad Love”, Universal, 1935. It stars Peter Lorre and is a total freak fest. Another must-see flick. It stars Peter Lorre as the mad Dr. Gogol who’s obsessed with the wife ( Frances Drake) of a renown pianist whose hands he’s transplanted after a train wreck. Gogol has a definite fetish side and will do anything to have Miss Frances Drake.

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“Mad Love” – Peter Lorre  (Dr. Gogol)

I love Pre-Code films because they had so much leeway in terms of subject matter, even wardrobe. I always recommend adding Pre-Code to your film history education. By definition Pre-Code films:

Refers to the brief era in the American film industry between the introduction of sound pictures in 1929 and the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code censorship guidelines, popularly known as the “Hays Code”, in mid-1934.

In 1922, after some risqué films and a series of off-screen scandals involving Hollywood stars, the studios enlisted Presbyterian elder William H. “Will” Hays, a figure of “unblemished rectitude”, to rehabilitate Hollywood’s image. Hays, later nicknamed the motion picture “Czar”, was paid the then-lavish sum of $100,000 a year (equivalent to more than $1.4 million in 2015 dollars). (Wikipedia)

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William “Will” Hays

As a result, films in the late 1920s and early 1930s included depictions of sexual innuendo, profanity, illegal drug use, promiscuity, prostitution, infidelity, abortion, intense violence, and homosexuality.

Unlike silent-era sex and crime pictures, silent horror movies, despite being produced in the hundreds, were never a major concern for censors or civic leaders. When sound horror films were released, however, they quickly caused controversy. Sound provided “atmospheric music and sound effects, creepy-voiced macabre dialogue and a liberal dose of blood-curdling screams” which intensified its effects on audiences, and consequently on moral crusaders.

Boris Karloff in Frankenstein(1931).

The monster’s brutality, and the doctor’s declaration that “”Now I know what it feels like to be God!”, shocked many moviegoers. By the time of Bride of Frankenstein(1935), the Code was in full effect.

The Hays Code did not mention gruesomeness, and filmmakers took advantage of this oversight. However, state boards usually had no set guidelines and could object to any material they found indecent. Although films such as Frankenstein and Freaks caused controversy when they were released, they had already been re-cut to comply with censors. (Wikipedia)

So, the next time you or anyone else believes that black and white films are a bore, remember to check out “The Black Cat”, or “Mad Love”. If you do, leave a comment; I’d be intrigued to read your thoughts.

 

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