The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

Directed by William Dieterle [Other horror films: 6 Hours to Live (1932)]

Whether this one is horror is someone’s personal decision. I think there’s a decent amount of dark sequences and the like to throw this in, allowing that it’s included with the caveat that it’s primarily a drama.

And what a damn good drama it is. The story is overly engaging (I’ve not actually read the original novel, but I do own it, so perhaps that’s something I’ll endeavor to do within the next fifteen years), and it gets somewhat involved toward the end (both groups at the church, the Beggars and the Craftsmen, basically wanted the same thing, yet utilized different methods), and the characters here are really complex, especially for a time that many might consider more simple in terms of plot.

Obviously, without a doubt, Charles Laughton’s performance as Quasimodo is the stand-out here, and it’s an emotional roller-coaster of a flick, watching Quasimodo get whipped for reasons beyond his comprehension, to see him save another in a most heroic fashion, only to end with a great line, ‘Oh why could I not be made of stone as thee,’ when speaking to a gargoyle. Laughton is no stranger to horror films, appearing in classics such as The Old Dark House, Island of Lost Souls, and The Strange Door (1951), and his dramatic performance here is just amazing.

There’s a lot of great actors and actresses here aside from Laughton, though. Cedric Hardwicke was amazing as the rather devious and horrid Frollo. Blaming and allowing another person to be tortured because he’s too weak to admit his culpability in a crime, Hardwicke definitely was a worthy antagonist in the film. Playing King Louis XI, Harry Davenport played his character with such ambiguity. At times, he was a progressive, forward-thinking monarch, at others, latching onto archaic, meaningless tradition (that courtroom sequence killed me a little).

I can’t say much about Maureen O’Hara, but she did a great job too. Her character was appropriately sympathetic, and during the latter half of the film, your heart really goes out to her. Admittedly, I didn’t love Edmond O’Brien here, as his character was a bit too flighty for me, but he did make some strong points toward the conclusion of the film. Lastly, both Thomas Mitchell and Walter Hampden were both greatly enjoyable, and Hampden in particular was a character worth remembering.

Near the end of the film, there’s a somewhat large battle that breaks out, culminating in the Hunchback not only tossing heavy rocks and large pillars from atop the cathedral, but also dumping quite a bit of molten metal onto the crowd below. I’ve seen this film before, to be sure, but I’m pretty sure I audibly gasped during that act, as I forgot just how brutal the Hunchback was during that sequence (and unnecessarily so, if you realize that pretty much everyone’s on the same side). There were scenes earlier of the Hunchback being whipped (him crying out for water, only to be ignored and jeered at, was exceedingly haunting), and some brief torture of O’Hara’s character. All of this, along with a sequence reminiscence of Freaks, in which beggars pop out of nowhere in a dark and seemingly-deserted alleyway, all lead me to understand the horror label some people throw onto this one.

9/10

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)

Directed by Rouben Mamoulian [Other horror films: N/A]

It has been quite some time since I’ve last seen this, at least ten years, so seeing it again was a bit of a treat. I’ve never been overly fond of the base story, but I certainly think this is a well-done film and, while not my favorite early 30’s horror flick whatsoever, stands out rather nicely.

The amount of melodrama in this movie is rather high, but much of it is actually both compelling and somewhat tragic. The utter struggle that Jekyll has to deal with due to an strung out engagement with Muriel (due to her father’s traditional ways) is shown well whenever both Fredric March and Rose Hobart share a scene. While the horror was quite decent, it’s this very tragic feel (coupled with a somber conclusion) that allow the film to stand out more.

That isn’t to say the cast doesn’t help, though. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s cast all do a commendable job, with Fredric March and, of course, Rose Hobart taking the top spot. The two worked fantastically together, and I definitely felt the sorrow both of them dealt with in due to their constantly postponed marriage. Related, Halliwell Hobbes did good as Hobart’s father, though his character was, to me, rather unlikable. Mariam Hopkins was fantastic in her role, and arguably more memorable than Hobart. Lastly, while his role was minor (the manservant to Dr. Jekyll), I really enjoyed Edgar Norton, who brought surprising emotion to the film.

For a movie from this time period, Mr. Hyde was a well-done, despicable character. Not only does he whip Miriam Hopkins’ character (while the action itself isn’t shown, it’s alluded to), but therein lies also heavy hints of rape and other sexual abuse. Due to his violent and cruel nature, Mr. Hyde definitely stands out as a great counterpart to the rather focused, yet kind-hearted, Dr. Jekyll. I also rather enjoyed his increased agility (especially toward the end – him jumping all over the place and attacking police officers was rather fun), all of which combines to make him a memorably dark, yet occasionally fun, antagonist.

Like I said, I’ve never been a big fan of the story (in part, the idea that science should limit itself to traditional modes of study strikes me as oxymoronic), but this is a good adaptation of a story I’m not overly fond of. The drama and performances come together to create a compelling and pretty captivating movie that I think any fan of classic horror would tend to enjoy.

8/10

Karma (2018)

karrma

Directed by Nick Simon [Other horror films: Removal (2010), The Girl in the Photographs (2015), 2 Lava 2 Lantula! (2016), Truth or Dare (2017)]

For a Syfy release, Karma’s okay. It’s not particularly good, and I suspect it won’t be particularly memorable in the months to come, or even weeks, but it’s nowhere near as bad as other Syfy films such as Dead in the Water and Grave Halloween.

Story-wise, it reminded me a bit of It Follows, where, instead of a dark force following someone after sex, it follows them after they commit a terrible act. It’s not really original, but I liked some aspects of what Karma tried to do with it, though, and this perhaps wouldn’t come as much a surprise, the jumps struck me as mostly unnecessary.

When it comes to concerns, there are quite a few that Karma poses. For instance, only three of the performances in the film really stand out (being Tim Russ, despite his horrible character, Mandela Van Peebles, and Brytni Sarpy, who was also in the likewise unmemorable 2017 Syfy flick Truth or Dare). None of the other actors and actresses do particularly bad, but they’re just sort of there. And much could be said for the story itself – like I said, I enjoyed some of the aspects (such as Peebles’ attempts at removing the curse from himself during a feel-good montage), but ultimately, Karma felt pretty bland.

Once everything’s said and done, that’s the biggest problem with the movie – it was completely unremarkable. It did boast one death sequence I rather enjoyed (involving a saw blade and a hammer, in a very Final Destination fashion), so it wasn’t completely without gore, but generally, there was little of interest here, and the conclusion felt a bit off, along with being somewhat anticlimactic.

Syfy has so many better movies, such as House of Bones (2010), Neverknock (2017), Cucuy: The Boogeyman (2018), and even Stickman (2017). Karma isn’t the worse that they’ve done, but it is both tepid and ultimately forgettable, which is the main issue. I’d pass on this one.

5.5/10

Toxic Shark (2017)

toxic shark

Directed by Cole Sharpe [Other horror films: N/A]

Yet another silly Syfy shark movie. Toxic Shark, as it is, probably isn’t the worst shark film Syfy’s done in recent years, and honestly, I had more fun with it than I thought I would (and this is especially true as I’ve now seen it twice). There were elements I didn’t care for, and make no mistake, the film’s below average, but it’s nowhere near as bad as crap like 2-Headed Shark Attack and related films.

For a movie like this, much of the main cast was somewhat enjoyable. Kabby Borders and Bryce Durfee bickered a bit too much for my liking, but both were still likable characters. Michelle Cortés also puts in a solid performance, perhaps even better than Borders. I rather liked Quinn Bozza too, though admittedly he’s a bit generic. Eric Etebari was somewhat fun as an over-the-top resort manager (at least until he was dispatched), and while Jaime Wallace didn’t do much for me insofar as her performance went, she did have the cutest ass (which, in a movie in where every single woman is wearing a bikini, is somewhat of an accomplishment).

Plot-wise, it’s pretty bleh, but honestly, that can’t really come across as much of a surprise. The CGI was utterly atrocious, particularly during the times when the toxic shark sprayed a green toxic spew, which looked so awful. It didn’t help that the CGI clipped a few times, which looked so amateurish. There was also a bit of a zombie component (in the form of an infection from the toxicity of the shark) that I didn’t care for, and felt overly unnecessary. Lastly, that ending was just terrible. What a shitty conclusion.

If you’re going out of your way to watch a Syfy production called ‘Toxic Shark,’ though, I know you’re not going in with high expectations. Obviously, it’s not that great of a film, but I do think it’s more enjoyable than plenty of other Syfy films. It doesn’t get to that rare list of Syfy films that come out above average, but it is better than I first thought it would be when I saw it a couple of years back. If you’re looking for an okay way to spend an hour-and-a-half, you could do better, but you could definitely do worse.

6/10

Prophecy (1979)

propgecy

Directed by John Frankenheimer [Other horror films: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)]

I knew next-to-nothing about this late 70’s ecological horror film before I started it. In fact, I didn’t even know it was ecological, so you know I was going in blind. I like a lot of stuff about this film, but a few factors keep it from being an overly solid movie, such as some special effects issues and the run-time.

Robert Foxworth (who has been in a handful of other horror flicks, such as The Devil’s Daughter from 1973, It Happened at Lakewood Manor from 1977, and both Deathmoon and Damien: Omen II from 1978) did great as the main character, and I rather liked most things about him. Talia Shire (Connie from The Godfather movies), playing his wife, rather humanized him at times, and also did well in some emotional scenes. Armand Assante was fun too, playing a Native American of strong conviction. Lastly, Richard Dysart was also solid, though his character wasn’t particularly likable.

There’s a lot going on in this one that needs to be unpacked a bit. A dying Native American community in Maine dealing with the racist attitudes of the management of a paper mill and, of course, the authorities who back the prominent businessmen as opposed to the minority community. Also, ecological damage done by the paper mill to cut the costs of operation, which happens every single day in the USA. This, along with the casual racism (and toward the beginning of the film, poor black communities in rat-infested tenements, and the racist, greedy landlords who owned them was taken aim at also) show this a movie of strong social conscience, which I deeply appreciated.

Problematically, the horror aspects weren’t all well-done. The design for the mutated bear didn’t do that much for me, but worse still was it’s overly jerky, fake movements. When it didn’t move, it was almost tolerable, but in action, I thought it looked rather ridiculous. Also, the movie, at about an hour and forty minutes, feels too long. I suspect some would say the beginning is boring, but I was pretty engrossed in all that went down (including the look into the paper mill, which I found rather interesting). It wasn’t until the horror really started up as the focus that I felt like it was dragging, as ironic as that sounds. If ten minutes were cut, and they shorted the somewhat disappointing conclusion, I think it would have ran a lot smoother.

Kudos to the scenes, though, in which the main characters are searching for clues at a murder scene in a heavy downfall of rain. I really liked that sequence, and though there was no horror present, it did feel rather suspenseful in it’s own way. That, and the paper mill sequence, felt pretty unique to this era of movies in my opinion.

There are a lot of things I find in Prophecy to enjoy, and overall, it’s definitely a film I could see myself watching again, but it doesn’t quite get to the level I wish it did. As the movie stands, I’d probably say that Prophecy is somewhere around average, but depending on your particular tastes, it may waver from below average to just above. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’d get much higher, but you never know.

7/10

Creepshow (1982)

Creepshow

Directed by George A. Romero [Other horror films: Night of the Living Dead (1968), Hungry Wives (1972), The Crazies (1973), Martin (1977), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Monkey Shines (1988), Due occhi diabolici (1990, segment ‘The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar’), The Dark Half (1993), Bruiser (2000), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), Survival of the Dead (2009)]

Creepshow’s an interesting movie to me, because while I actually only love two of the stories in this one (‘Something to Tide You Over’ and ‘The Crate’), I think overall the movie’s pretty excellent, and definitely excels in creating that comic book feeling, which so few movies can properly do.

‘Father’s Day’ and ‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill’ are both lacking in different ways. I certainly like the revenge aspect of the former, and I do enjoy the final scene, but it just doesn’t do it for me. As for the latter, I love the concept, and think the plant life looks rather creepy (and the ending is pretty good on multiple counts), but the overly comedic style of the story wasn’t something I’m fond of.

The final story, ‘They Creep Up on You’, is my third favorite, my main issue being that I felt they could have added in something along the lines of either the recent widow or the ghost of her husband somehow being connected to the onslaught of roaches (which would have worked well, since three of the past four stories in this movie have been about revenge in some form or another). I think it’s a fine story with solid effects, but it could have been better.

‘Something to Tide You Over’ isn’t a complex story, but I think it’s rather fun, mainly because of Leslie Nielsen’s great performance. His eccentric character is fun, and I love the final line (“I can hold my breath for a looooooonngg time”), and I reference it often. No one in ‘The Crate’ is as fun as Nielsen (though I do rather like Hal Holbrook), but it’s probably a better story overall.

There are some solid performances throughout. Obviously, I love Nielsen’s role, and he stands out as perhaps my favorite character. Hal Holbrook (who appeared in other classics such as Rituals from 1977 and The Fog from 1980) did great in his role also. E.G. Marshall, while his character is despicable, does great, as expected. Others who stood out positively include Tom Atkins, Ted Danson, and Viveca Lindfors. I love Stephen King’s writing, but his acting here, while intentional in it’s campiness, didn’t really work for me.

As far as anthology horror films go, there are better examples than Creepshow, such Tales from the Crypt (1972). Still, Creepshow is arguably much funner, and is a damn good example of a campy anthology done right. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot to like about it, from the performances, to the animation, from the framing story (with a rather satisfactory ending), to the soundtrack. Not every story hits the mark, but it’s still a movie well-worth watching.

8.5/10

Devil’s Diary (2007)

diavle

Directed by Farhad Mann [Other horror films: Nick Knight (1989), The Lost Treasure of the Grand Canyon (2008)]

This Canadian made-for-television horror film definitely feels like it’s on the lower spectrum of movies. Devil’s Diary isn’t really terrible, but it does feel overly generic and derivative, and personally, while some scenes were fun, I don’t think I’d go out of my way to watch it again.

You can really tell that there was a limited budget on this, and you can obviously tell it’s a television production, what with the hideous commercial cuts (screen flashes red) apparent in the film. The special effects, such as they were, were somewhat laughable, though we did get a few scenes that bordered on decent (such as the slow-motion car sequence as a vehicle slammed into someone’s legs).

If there’s any high point to the film, it’s in the performances. Alexz Johnson and Magda Apanowicz, when together, reminded me a lot of Brigitte and Ginger (Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabella from Ginger Snaps), and I rather liked their friendship. Johnson’s character herself (Dominique) was actually pretty sympathetic, with a recently-deceased father and a borderline sexually abusive stepfather (there’s a scene in which she’s talking to her father’s gravestone, which I found particularly touching), though she loses a little bit of sympathy as the movie drags on.

While I abhorred their characters and everything they stood for, Laura Carswell, Deanne Casaluce, and Mariam McDonald all did great as the stereotypical bitchy cheerleader types, so much so that I hated their very existence from virtually their first scene. The three of them take somewhat interesting routes through the film, but I don’t think any of them come out particularly redeemed for their bullying. Brian Krause, as a priest, didn’t really leave an impact on me, but for a character who appeared only a few minutes total, I did like Malcolm Scott. Andrea Brooks’ character had a lot of potential, but they never really did much with her.

Plot-wise, I do appreciate how they threw in a few turns, and the movie did sort of shift gears around halfway though (I’m not overly pleased with the resulting scenes, but at least they tried). At the end, they sort of threw in a twist that came as a surprise, but I wish that more time was spent on why it exactly happened. Also, I really didn’t care for the enchantress powers one of the characters gained toward the back-half of the film, in which every guy desired this girl, and went to foolish lengths to make her happy. Still, generally-speaking, I think the plot’s okay, just not great.

The biggest issue I really have with this is that it feels like the type of film that could have been made much earlier, and feels a lot like fellow television movie Satan’s School for Girls (2000). There’s nothing terribly unique about this film, and the deaths and accidents are mostly bland and forgettable (a strangling being perhaps the worst, an attempted crucifixion the best). For a television movie, I think it’s okay, bordering on bad. Ultimately, though, despite some potentially bold routes the film took, I think most people would forget this one shortly after finishing it. Oh, and the ending was pretty awful, which is probably to be expected.

6/10