Thursday, 31 October 2013

Nosferatu (1922)

As part of this year’s Halloween programme, our local Picturehouse cinema The Belmont screened Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s 1922 horror film, Nosferatu.  This is the first time that the character of Dracula had been portrayed on the silver screen, though due to the inability to secure the rights to Bram Stoker’s novel, names and locations had to be changed.  Most notably Count Dracula becomes Count Orlok, and the location of the heroes moves to Germany; understandable as Murnau was German.  This all has no effect on the final product because Nosferatu is tremendous.

The plot really does follow that of Dracula: estate agent Hutter travels to Transylvania to help Count Orlok purchase a property in Wisbourg where Hutter and his wife live.  During Orlok's voyage across to Germany, all of the ship’s crew are mysteriously killed or disappear.  Once in Wisbourg, a mysterious plague strikes the inhabitants, blamed on infected rats brought ashore by the ship that carried Orlok.  Count Orlok himself makes Mrs Hutter his personal mission, ever since he noticed from a photograph that she “has a beautiful neck”!

Max Schreck is incredible as the sinister Count Orlok, certainly one of the most enigmatic and iconic portrayals of the Dracula character.  I’m not sure how tall he is, but the long slim coat he wears, the bald head and the pointy ears serve to make him look even taller and even more disquieting.  Shadows and lighting are used to tremendous effect, so that the audience shares the same dread that the characters do.  The shadows perhaps give even Raiders of the Lost Ark a run for its money, and it is obvious where Francis Ford Coppola got his inspiration for Dracula’s menacing shadows in his 1992 film.  Schreck has such an overwhelming presence that any time he is on screen, the viewer is sure that something terrible is about to happen.  In this way Orlok is as ominous as more contemporary baddies such as Darth Vader or Anton Chigurh; not bad for a silent movie from the 20s.

Of course there are noticeable technical issues due to sections of the film being lost, found and restored by one way or another, but none of these issues diminish the power of the film; the music and the presence of Max Schreck make sure of that.  The film is also perfectly paced, with a run time of little over 90 minutes it clips along at a fair old pace, but never feels rushed or that any important exposition scenes are cut out; I certainly didn’t have time to get bored.

In Nosferatu, Murnau created one of the most iconic horror villains ever to appear on film, and at the same time shot some of the most memorable scenes in cinematic history.  These shots have been oft copied in movies and are now an accepted cinematic technique; almost a prerequisite for a horror film.  A wonderfully atmospheric gothic horror with an incredible performance and evil presence from Max Schreck, Nosferatu changed the way horror was made, and also happens to be magnificent.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Season of the Witch (2011)

I've been quite interested in seeing this for a while now, I think I was hoping for a Gothic horror/thriller that was dripping with atmosphere and lots of detail.  Shame.  What I got was a fairly silly movie, with little atmosphere, a puerile plot and a bad script.

Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman were OK, but in all honesty they were probably simply the pulling power for a film which otherwise would have slipped completely under the radar.  Both have been much better.  There is also a tiny and unnecessary cameo from Christopher Lee, probably just to keep his imdb entries ticking over!

I was never really sure who some of the peripheral characters were, even though they seemed to be more than red shirts.  Even worse was Stephen Graham’s character, who was specifically freed from his stocks to be the guide for the expedition.  Except he probably only said half a dozen sentences.  And after his inevitable death, no one seemed to care about the loss of the guide; they just carried on their merry way, thereby rendering the entire character pointless.  Rubbish!

OK, that's the specifics.  Overall; some of the locations were quite cool, (mostly eastern Europe according to IMDB) and the sets, in particular the towns, looked great - dirty and lived in.  I guess the (I use this word in its loosest possible way) twist at the end was nice, but overall the plot was sedentary, boring and predictable.  The finale put me in mind of Blade, but at least the SFX were better.  Director Dominic Sena seems to specialize in middle of the road thrillers: Kalifornia, Swordfish and now Season of the Witch.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Reptile (1966)

A spurious reason involving a snake-tribe from Borneo is given to account for the fact that there is a Human-Reptile living in a stately home in the English countryside, but it’s not really worth going in to.  Actually, that’s about it!  A few unfortunate folk get bitten, and shortly after, they froth at the mouth and then die (at varying speeds depending on who the character is!), including Private James Frazer (John Laurie) from Dad’s Army!  No explanation is given as to why the Reptile is so bitey; it doesn’t seem to want to poison, trap and then eat its prey; or even collect them as a trophy; it just bites and lets its victim wander off to die.

It’s all rather silly, and even though I saw it yesterday, I can’t remember much of what happens, because actually, not much happens.  In the same style as Dracula: Prince of Darkness and Rasputin: The Mad Monk, The Reptile and The Plague of the Zombies were filmed back to back using some of the same sets, the graveyard in particular was very familiar; and indeed Michael Ripper, who was a policeman in POZ is Tom the friendly landlord of the local pub.  In fact he is the best thing in this; it’s a bit of a shame his role is only a peripheral character.  Jacqueline Pearce also pops up from POZ as the daughter of the mysterious Dr Franklin (Noel Willman).  Actually, Willman was also pretty good, weirdly creeping up behind folk, and almost gliding around with his big black cloak on!

However, none of this manages to raise the movie above what it is; a hammy Hammer production with a daft plot, bad make up and huge swathes of nothing happening. I implied that Christopher Lee was the only thing worth watching Rasputin for; The Reptile is what happens if you have a naff film and don’t have Lee to rescue it!  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Los Ojos de Julia (2010)

Directed by Guillem Morales and produced by Guillermo del Toro (amongst others), Julia’s Eyes is a tense thriller with many twists, turns and hide behind a cushion moments.  A story involving two sisters who have an degenerative disease of the eyes means that the titular Julia spends a lot of the film virtually, if not totally blind; which really ramps up the creepy.  Belén Rueda is good as Julia, really making the viewer sympathise with her predicament, despite some questionable decisions later in the film.  Óscar Faura does some great cinematography work, creating some wonderfully subtle bleak and gloomy moments; then the flash photography is used to great effect as its starkness contrasts the rest of the movie.  A really atmospheric, creepy, psychological thriller which had me grimacing at the screen on several occasions.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.