The Ghoul

The Ghoul.
Gaumont British Pictures 1933.

Before watching the movie:

It never really seemed consistent to me what kind of supernatural entity a ghoul is. I kind of settled on a subtype of ghost that’s more corporeal than a spectre. I looked up the definition and it wasn’t very helpful. “A monstrous humanoid associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh” is broad enough to include zombies, only this is from pre-Islamic Arabia instead of from Haitian Vodou.

In this movie, Boris Karloff comes back from the dead to get revenge on those who wronged him, but I don’t think he eats flesh, just strangles or snaps necks or something. I expect a lot of overwrought tension that comes off as corny today.

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Fright Night

Fright Night. Vistar Films 1985.

Before watching the movie:

I somehow got the sense that there’s a whole blend of spooky stuff going on in this movie to the point that it might be an anthology movie or at least have an episodic progression. Turns out it’s just “there’s a vampire next door”. I guess the broad title comes from the horror show that the main character likes to watch that he eventually recruits the host from after nobody else believes him.

I’ve also gotten the impression this is really campy in just the right way, but it doesn’t seem to actually be considered a comedy, so I think I probably know what kind of tone to expect, but I thought this was a completely different movie until earlier today.

After watching the movie:

Charley Brewster is obsessed with two things: the late night horror movie show Fright Night, hosted by Peter Vincent the former star of cheesy vampire movies, and getting his girlfriend of over a year Amy to do more than kiss with him. He notices a coffin being carried into the basement of the house next door, and the next day sees a woman entering that house, and later sees the neighbor in the window brandish fangs and begin to bite her. Charley sees her appear on the news the next day as the second killing in town that week. After a failed attempt to get the police to intervene, Charley realizes he’s tipped his hand and now the vampire, “Jerry”, will be coming for him. Charley tries to solicit Peter Vincent’s help, but Vincent dismisses him too. Concerned with Charley’s obsession, Amy and their friend “Evil” Ed pay Vincent to help them prove to Charley that Jerry isn’t a vampire, but Vincent gets spooked off when, after Jerry passes the staged tests, Vincent sees that Jerry has no reflection in a mirror.

The first half of the movie seems very disconnected from the title, since Vincent only appears on TV and Charley is completely alone in his knowledge of Jerry’s secret. Even though this isn’t much more than 90 minutes, it felt like it was an hour of Charley alone and then an hour of Charley with his friends and Vincent. Eventually it comes to the point where it feels like it’s been building to make the title meaningful, but for a long time, it seemed like an afterthought title.

When I read that the horror host’s name was “Peter Vincent”, my immediate thought was that he would be a legally distinct echo of Vincent Price, but Roddy McDowall completely removed any impression of Price from my mind. He has an entirely different take on playing a former B-horror hero.

Jerry Dandridge seems to be an early step in modernizing vampire depictions. There’s a visible line running from him to the characters in Interview with The Vampire to the Twilight vampires. He’s aggressively normal, at least until his illusion slips. Charismatic in a modern sensibility. And they do take advantage of the R rating to demonstrate his seductive abilities. But I don’t think there’s any name that strikes less of a “vampire” chord than “Jerry Dandridge”.

This is just a little short of the true classic quality, but I can definitely see its merit as a cult classic, and it’s not surprising there’s an extensive franchise underneath it. The charm is there, there’s an inventiveness (or reinventiveness) to it, but it doesn’t quite have the polish it could have.

The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion.
Walt Disney Pictures 2003.

Before watching the movie:

I’m pretty sure this was greenlit on the success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. That there were no sequels or further “movies based on Disneyland attractions” projects (until Tomorrowland much much later) to my knowledge suggests it did not do as well as they hoped.

I didn’t even realize that Wallace Shawn is in this. I just knew there’s Eddie Murphy, and a house full of ghosts. Presumably there are some important ghosts.

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Spirited Away

Spirited Away
(Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi). Studio Ghibli 2001.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t know anything about this movie except that it seems to pretty consistently be considered the best Studio Ghibli movie. And I recall the title refers to something about the character being stuck in a place of spirits. I’ve seen most of Kiki’s Delivery Service, but that’s all of Ghibli I’ve seen despite having several friends and former roommates who have extensive collections.

I rarely go into movies as cold as this. Usually I have descriptions from boxes or streaming platforms, but with this one, I just decided “we’re going to watch this movie everyone loves”.

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Down To Earth

Down to Earth. Village Roadshow Pictures 2001.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t know what I would’ve been there to see, but I’m pretty sure I saw a trailer for this movie in the theater. I don’t think I got from the trailer that he was a comic, but they might as well make it thoroughly a Chris Rock vehicle by giving him a stand up career.

I’m interested to find out what reason the movie comes up with for why Lance can come back but not as himself.

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Monster House

Monster House. ImageMovers 2006.

Before watching the movie:

Part of the original concept for this blog was revisiting movies that I missed when they came around. I definitely remember Monster House being around in 2006. I think I even went to a theater for a different movie while this one was being screened there. I think it looked like more horror than I wanted in a movie at the time, but I can see more clearly now that it’s a children’s scary adventure movie.

I also have vague memories of it coming up in connection with the entertainment news show I worked with all through college, but I would have only started there over a year after it was released.

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Imagine That

Imagine That. Nickelodeon Movies 2009.

Before watching the movie:

Eddie Murphy’s work since the late 90s has a reputation for not being good, at least when it comes to his live-action vehicles or possibly anything other than the Shrek franchise. If anyone liked The Nutty Professor, nobody really cared for what came after, including the two sequels. Eddie Murphy stopped being funny on screen around the time Will Smith became a movie star somehow.

This movie is a Nickelodeon production, so it’s clearly aimed directly at children and families, but other than children-oriented movies getting ignored, I don’t see anything that would indicate why it’s not considered a Good Eddie Murphy Movie. I don’t see any warning signs yet.

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Cinderfella

Cinderfella Paramount Pictures 1960.

Before watching the movie:

It seems a natural fit that a comedian who often plays meek nice guys would eventually land in a genderbent fairytale. If Jerry Lewis has a specialty in stories, it may well be nebbish men’s wish fulfilment fantasies, and few stories are more wish fulfilment than Cinderella.

In an era where we’re taking our traditionally white male role model character roles and trying to be conscious about putting more women and people of color there, it may seem a little backward to turn one of the canon fairytale princesses into Jerry Lewis, but I think the reason I’m not too discomforted by it is that Cinderella is a pretty classical feminine role type, and it’s not a position one would expect to find a fictional man who is the protagonist in. So it’s an underutilized permutation that stands exploring in media.

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The Forbidden Kingdom

Before watching the movie:

The Forbidden Kingdom.
Relativity Media 2008.

I barely remember this being a thing when it came out. Maybe martial arts movies were especially common at the time, but they never interested me much, and I completely ignored whatever I might have seen advertising this movie.

I was so ignorant about it that, no doubt thanks to how hyped up the Jackie Chan and Jet Li pairing is, when I saw the description saying that a modern-day martial arts movie fan gets stuck in ancient China to have adventures, I wondered which of them would be the modern-day character with no direct fighting experience, which is a silly question because that would be a comedy slapstick fish out of water role that Jackie Chan would be attracted to like a magnet. However, they’re both masters of ancient China and the modern-day protagonist is a white American the domestic marketing doesn’t seem to want you to know about. I feel like this poster comes closer to telling the story I’m now prepared to see, but it’s not in English, so I didn’t use it.

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Movies of My Yesterdays: Howard the Duck

This is a little later than most My Yesterdays selections, but it’s still formative. I first saw this movie shortly before starting Yesterday’s Movies and I had Opinions, and at the same time I was looking for an internet project I could add to on a regular basis. And now it’s been ten years of putting my unsolicited thoughts about movies people have forgotten about into the void.

Howard the Duck. Lucasfilm 1986.

On one night of his perfectly ordinary life in a world run by humanoid ducks, Howard is suddenly sucked into space by an interdimensional portal, and lands on our Earth. Stuck in a world that finds him weird, freakish, and otherwise a magnet for harassment, Howard quickly gets mixed up with Beverly, singer for a great girl band with a bad manager, and helps her out. As romance kindles, suddenly a group of scientists arrive and explain that Howard was brought here by an accident with a “laser spectroscope”. Before Howard has a chance to get them to reverse the beam and send him home, there’s another accident with the machine, the police show up and arrest Howard, and the lead scientist, Dr. Jennings, has a Dark Overlord of the Universe taking over his body.

This still seems like two incompatible movies to me. The first act and the epilogue are a very upbeat music-filled story that’s almost a romantic comedy, but once Howard and Beverly are starting to settle into a relationship, an entirely different movie, and not a better one, crashes the party and takes the plot in a completely different direction. It felt like half and half originally, but the space alien section seems much longer now, mostly due to the action scenes that last three times as long as they need to.

I guess the point of that turn was to spend some time establishing a status quo before getting on with a surreal adventure, but Howard still just got there and wants to leave. Nothing is normal for him and Beverly. They’re just interrupted as they’re beginning to figure out what to do with themselves.

The swift escalation of a lot of confrontations between Howard and people who don’t get him is still cartoonish. There are the people who assume he’s a human in a costume or some kind of puppet, and the people who think he’s a deformed human or animal, but somehow, way too many of them, when they find out he’s not what they think, go straight to “picking a fight”. To the point that he practically almost gets lynched at least once. If duck people were common and a lot of humans knew them as a race they wanted to subjugate, that would make more sense than “thing I can’t identify is giving me some lip”.

The filmmakers wanted to “have fun with it”, but the main part of the movie is not much fun. There are some scenes that are trying to be comedic and muddying the tone, but the overall way the Dark Overlord story is handled is a slog of bad to mediocre ideas. It’s not a complete travesty of a movie, but it really doesn’t have much understanding of how to handle itself.