Reviews May Contain Minor Spoilers

If you're reading a review you should expect to hear some spoilers. I try to keep them to a minimum though.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Night 13
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) By: Robert Louis Stevenson

Lawyer Gabriel John Utterson hears from his cousin Mr. Enfield about a man who callously trampled a little girl and just walked on. Once the people surrounding the scene threaten to make the trampler infamous, he offers to bribe them. Enfield reveals his name is Mr. Edward Hyde and Utterson realizes that he has a strange connection to this man. He returns home and looks at the will of his kindly friend Dr. Henry Jeykyll. He is horrified when he learns that Dr. Jekyll may leave everything to this monstrous individual. Utterson decideds he needs to find out who this mysterious Mr. Hyde is and what hold he has over Dr. Jekyll.

That doesn't sound like the Jekyll and Hyde you know? That's because most of the other media assumes you already know how the mystery turns out. Reading this was like watching the Sixth Sense and already knowing the ending (except this story is better). Unlike the Sixth Sense, the ending of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has some fascinating and introspective writing about the nature of man's inhibitions and the fun of evil.

Our Hero
Gabriel John Utterson is a fairly nondescript person. He actually springs into action when he suspects his friend is in trouble, but he reads like a reader insert character. That being said, he's competent and a bit gentlemanly so it is easy to put yourself in his place. Well, if you can imagine you're an upper class man in the 19th century that is.

Civilized Observers
Most of our observers are acquaintances of Dr. Jekyll, and they don't have very much to them. They're gentleman or servants and serve to provide furthers stories and interactions outside Utterson's scope.

Dr. Jekyll is someone we don't get to hear from until the end of the novel, but his motivations are probably the most interesting for a modern reader. His interpretation in many films as a hero are not shared with the novel.

Mysterious Foe
Mr. Hyde has one scene where he gets rather gruesome, but other than that he is shrouded in mystery. He's not the hulking gigantic beast we've come to know through other media. He is depicted as shorter than Jekyll and horrible to look at. Though he is described throughout act one as a 'juggernaut,' so he is fairly muscular. The whole thrust of the mystery is to find out who he is and what he has to do with Dr. Jekyll.

Mysterious Atmosphere
The mysterious London streets are well represented as an ominous place where a monster has been lurking. The houses, especially Hyde's, are given a mysterious air with an emphasis on how little you can see into them from the outside.

In the End
As I've said the end is where everything is explained. It is the reason people have been reading this book for so long. The mystery, before it became well known, must have kept people entranced.

This book is one that everyone should read. It would be best to read it without spoilers, but that is nearly impossible. Instead, read it for Jekyll's explanation at the end. Read it!

Remember to read it on Project Gutenberg for free!

Also, the 31 Days of Macabre Movies at The Good, The Bad, and The Magnificent has reviews of both the 1931 and 1941 versions of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde films. So, check them out!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Willows

Night 12
The Willows (1907) By: Algernon Blackwood

Two men canoe into a remote and treacherous section of the Danube river. The narrator begins to personify the surrounding area. They stop on a small island that is due to be engulfed by the rising tides. He and and his friend soon spot what appears to be a body in the surf, but rationalize that it must be a river otter. What strange forces lie in the far reaches of nature and are they coming to get the pair?

"'The gods are here, if they are anywhere at all in the world.'
'The elements are always the true immortals,' I replied."

This story is gorgeously written and has some of the best and most terrifying descriptions in horror. The slow build from a travel story into a full on ghost story is awesome. We are offered several good and creepy suppositions by the narrators and left to decide on our own what happened. The idea of paranoia is present, but not overwhelming or obvious. It has moments where you doubt the characters, but more moments where you're just as scared as they are.

Paranoid Observers
The main character is an Englishman who constantly feels a strange presence in the area around him. He sees the area as malevolent, but questions whether he is projecting his feelings or not.

The Swede is our secondary character who is initially described as an imaginationless dullard, but becomes more interesting as the story moves on. The two mention a shared history, but acquire a more mutual respect over the course of the story.

Sublime Atmosphere
The atmosphere is the real antagonist in this story and thanks to the beautiful writing it manages to feel quite menacing and omnipresent. Despite the horror it made me really interested to visit the Danube delta area.

In the End
The end could've used a bit more punch, but certainly had its creepy factor. The way it wraps around to the beginning is excellent and it does provide an effective cliffhanger.

A creepy and chilling tale that I think that everyone should read. I highly recommend it. Be sure to read it at night possibly with some creepy music to enhance the feeling. Check it out!

Read it free from Project Gutenberg and Kindle!

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Invisible Man - H.G. Wells -

Night 11
The Invisible Man (1897) By: H.G. Wells

A man covered head to toe, except for his shiny nose, enters the town and begins doing strange experiments. He is strangely irritable and eccentric cursing at anyone who enters his room. Soon impossible robberies begin happening throughout the town.

The Invisible Man is an interesting novel to read since it doesn't exactly have a protagonist. We follow the observations of various townfolk who come into contact the invisible man, but, much like the Great Gatsby, we never get our protagonist's point of view. The end provides quite the payoff.

Our Villain
The invisible man starts a a potentially persecuted scientist, but we soon learn that he is a deranged madman. The funny thing is that he was always a madman even before the transformation. The movies make it seem like the serum drove him mad, but the book's idea of his own selfishness causing him to create the serum is fantastic. The slow reveal serves to build his fall and it works. The only problem is that the middle seems a bit aimless.

The Mob Mentality
Doctor Kemp is the only one who stands to compete with invisible man. It is interesting that Kemp does it by showing some compassion and trying to understand the invisible man. However, Kemp soon realizes that he's nuts and comes up with some rather inventive ways to combat him.

The others in the story range from stupid peasants to baffled onlookers. They are alright, though many of their stories seem superfluous: like cutting away from a murder to describe a little girl's point of view of the victim walking before he is killed and then saying it isn't reliable.

The descriptions in this book provide a nice look back into the late 19th century. Also, the descriptions of the weakness of the invisible man as well as his strengths are rendered beautifully.

In the End
The end is a tense chase to stop the invisible man before he can subject the town to his reign of terror. It does switch to the perspective of one of Kemp's neighbors rather than staying with Kemp, as it should have. The final defeat of the invisible man is wonderfully gruesome. It ends on a sort of cliffhanger showing that an invisible man can still be made.

This book is basically dressing down the superpower of practical invisibility. Often thought of as a great power, this book proves that if you don't think through the invisibility it can be a curse. It is handled with the thoroughness that has caused Wells to be called one of the grandfathers of Science Fiction.

So read it on Project Gutenberg and Kindle!

Also, the 31 Days of Macabre Movies are still going on at The Good, The Bad, and The Magnificent! So check them out!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Bond: Skyfall

Skyfall (2012) is a wonderful celebration of 50 years of Bond.

The film starts with Bond coming upon several dead agents. A hard drive was stolen from them. After an intense chase, Bond struggles with one of the thieves atop a train. M orders fellow agent, Eve, to take a shot at the thief. She hits Bond and he falls from the train. With Bond presumed dead, the hard drive disappears. We discover the hard drive contained a list of agents embedded in terrorist cells. After M discovers someone has hacked into her computer Mi6 headquarters explodes. Bond returns to track down the enemy who's targeting M and prevent the list from being used for further destruction.

Skyfall is an exploration of loss and, to some extent, identity. These are heavy themes, but this movie lets you know from the start that this will not be the joyless adrenaline ride that Quantum of Solace was. Bond has some witty repartee with his fellow agent Eve and this movie keeps it going all the way through. Bond struggles with his wounds throughout this film. It started off a bit cluttered, with a lot of plot points all over the place, but they all manage to come together nicely. Some of the dialogue is a bit unnatural, but it doesn't do too much to detract from the overall film quality. This is full of one liners and great action scenes that are the staple of the series.

James Bond's serious wounds hider his super spy persona; however, it is nice to see him at half strength. It lends a lot of tension to scenes where his victory would be assured otherwise. It is a nice slow climb back up to full strength, but worth every second of it. We also get to see more about Bond's past, but just enough to lend flavor and enrich the character.

Bond Girls
Sévérine works for Silva. She is the only character in this who should have been left out. She's pretty, but her relationship with Bond just didn't work. Her scene with both Silva and Bond is a great look at both men, but the character has a badly handled introduction and it isn't helped by a follow up scene that was just gratuitous. Double woman in refrigerator?

Eve is a counterpoint to 007's super agent. She's a decent agent in her own right, but far from perfect. Her off and on relationship with Bond is one of the highlights of this movie.

Adept Agents
Gareth Mallory is the tough new government guy who hopes to help M clean up Mi6. At the start of this movie his scenes seem out of place, but as the film progresses, it becomes very apparent that he is crucial. Ralph Fiennes plays the character brilliantly.

Q is one of the more nerve inducing new additions, but the new take blends well. It is rather reminiscent of the gradual introduction of the original Q. He's the head of the Quartermaster branch and an elite hacker. He represents the information age and he is played with just the right level of cockiness.

M is Bond's boss and she shows a tremendous amount of confidence in him. This is almost more M's movie than 007's. She has a personal relationship with Silva that drives the second half of the movie. She also has a political scandal that is a little superfluous at the start, but the way it is resolved. M is given more backstory, and her history reveals how she tends to deal with problems.

Disturbing Foe
Raoul Silva is the phenomenally disturbing opponent that Bond must face. Javier Bardem proves he can play an insane evil person in a variety of ways. Let's just say that this is an entirely different role than his famous turn as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. His rivalry with Bond is excellent, and he is sure to go down as one of the greatest Bond villains.

Radiant Atmosphere
This film is absolutely gorgeous. We see fantastic luxury casinos and abandoned cities. Whoever did location scouting for this film deserves a raise. I need to take a trip to Macau now. We also get "Skyfall" the song performed by Adele complete with intense opening that blends the old Bond openings with a sleek new style.

In the End
The end sold this movie. It has some tense action scenes that draw you in and leave you wondering how Bond will deal with such an overwhelming threat. Plus, the ending scene will make any Bond fan smile and applaud.

This is a return to form for James Bond, but it doesn't lose any of its modern sensibilities. It is fun and flashy and has so many references to the history of the series that I couldn't keep track. It manages all this without breaking any of the new continuity. This movie brings Bond into today while gracefully acknowledging all that has passed. It isn't quite Casino Royale, but it is a great entry in the Bond series It is a must see for fans of good fun movies.

The Dunwich Horror and Others

Night 10
The Dunwich Horror and Others (1920-1935) By: H.P. Lovecraft

Another short story collection with over 13 tales by itself, though I can't recommend reading them all at once.

In the Vault (1925) 5/10
A slothful undertaker takes his time burying bodies. One day he gets trapped in a crypt and some of the dead are unhappy with his shortcuts.

This one had great potential to be a creepy tale, but the delivery was very confusing. It shifts between talking about the present and the past too much.

Pickman's Model (1926) 4.5/10
An artist creates terrifying and otherworldly images, but how does he think them up.

I think the big problem with this one was that he describes a lot of pictures, but without really being able to see them I think it loses the horror. Also, the ending was predictable.

The Rats in the Walls (1923) 7.5/10
A man reacquires his ancestral home and begins renovating it. He has heard of his family's black history, but feels he can move past that. However, there are still some old secrets hidden in his house.

This one was recommended by a friend and I thought it was pretty good. The build was excellent. slowly providing doubts and building a mythos about the estate and the family. I only wish the ending had been less abrupt.

The Outsider (1921) 8/10
A man is locked in a tower and cannot recall ever seeing the sun. He goes in search for it and encounters the outside. He soon learns why he was locked in the tower.

The Outsider is a cool reversal of the typical person encounters what is beyond. The ending may be predictable, but it is one of Lovecraft's most interesting tales.

The Colour out of Space (1927) 6/10
A meteorite lands in a farm and slowly infects the surrounding countryside even the family who live there.

This one was creepy, but I thought it took to long to build to its climax and then dwelt too long on the horrors that occurred.

The Music of Erich Zann (1921) 7/10
A man arrives at a new town and takes a cheap apartment. He hears some strange yet beautiful misc coming from an apartment nearby. He goes up and meets a strange little man and asks him to continue playing. The man plays on, but it isn't the same music as before.

This one could have fallen into the trap of Pickman's Model with us not being able to hear the music. However, it actually worked quite effectively in making me really want to hear this maddening music from the man upstairs.

The Haunter of the Dark (1935) 7/10
A writer moves into a new house and notices the beautiful skyline of the city and in it a mysteriously enticing church. He decides he must find it.

This one has a nice journey and exploration story. The main problem with this is that the ending once again gets a bit long.

The Picture in the House (1920) 7/10
A man seeks shelter from a storm in a seemingly abandoned hut and encounters a rare book. After looking through it a strange old man comes down from the second floor. He points out a picture that fascinates him.

This one is actually too short. The man's fascination is really disturbing and full of some great and gruesome imagery. When Lovecraft steps away from his expansive mythos, he creates some really effective true horror.

The Call of Cthulhu (1926) 7.5/10
It features an anthropologist trying to piece together information on a newly discovered cult and slowly coming to realize that their god may actually exist. 

One of the longer tales and perhaps the most famous. Excellent tale in three parts piquing the horror and leaving the reader with an ominous ending.

The Dunwich Horror (1928) 6/10
This details the history of the area and of the Whateley family in Dunwich and of the Dunwich Horror, which causes everyone to avoid the rustic town. It details the preparations of Wilbur Whateley to raise an elder god.

This one is really long and that hurts the rising tension the most. The best part about it is that it fleshes out H.P. Lovecraft's universe. We get to see how people view the insane events with reverence and horrors.

Cool Air (1926) 6/10
A man moves into a new apartment and meets the mad scientist upstairs. Through several conversations he learns the doctor is obsessed with staying cold. One day his refrigeration unit dies and we learn the true reason for his obsession.

The story is enjoyable until the abrupt ending. With a little more of the doctor's fit at the end, this one could have been on of the best.

The Whisperer in Darkness (1930) 5/10

A man becomes embroiled in a controversy over the existence of extraterrestrials. He corresponds with the man and gains a respect for him. He learns of mysterious assaults on the man's property and is soon drawn to the farm to try and collect some proof.

This one was definitely too long. The suspense built in chapters 2-4 is long dead by the time we get to the house in chapters 7-8. This is a good one if you like the universe HP Lovecraft built as it expands it into space with the introduction of the Mi-go.

The Terrible Old Man (1920) 4/10
Some men decide to steal from a crazy old man. Bad idea.

This one was too short and, aside from some creepy hobbies, offers little in the way of horror. We don't even really get a description of what happened.

The Thing on the Doorstep (1933) 7/10
A man marries the strange girl from another country. He begins having more and more issues with their marriage and soon has random times when he disappears.

The ending was a little predictable, but the end got me. It was about the right length for one of Lovecraft's longer stories, but could of used some editing in the middle section. This would have been more compelling if we'd gotten to see some of the details of Asenath and Edward's relationship.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1931) 7.5/10
Sections I and II relate Robert Olmstead's reasons and journey to Innsmouth. Section III gets a bit more interesting with a description of the city's history, though told through the town drunk named Zadok Allen's annoying accent. The fourth chapter becomes much better with a description of his harrowing escape from Innsmouth. The final section details a curious nagging idea in the Robert's mind and has a really creepy twist ending.
This one had a slow start that might have been fascinating had I not read 14 other Lovecraft stories prior to this.

The Shadow Out of Time (1935) 5/10

A man went insane for five years and lost his family and career.Once cured, he tries to find out why his life went so bad and learns a terrifying truth about his experience.

This is an outline for an alien race more than a story. It has some interesting science fiction concepts mixed together, but it doesn't scare. It can be creepy, but a lot of the information just kept being repeated with better descriptions. Especially at the end of a long string of Lovecraft, it is just redundant.

The problem with Lovecraft is that his writing his very similar and he tends to explore three emotions: fear, paranoia, and doubt. While he often does this effectively, it can get a bit old after sixteen stories. He's best read one or two at a time over a long period. 
his best stories are those that step out of his comfort zone: stranger goes to weird place and is driven insane. He is still worth reading. You can find all his stories free on various websites. I chose these because they are all from the same published collection. So read them here.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Turn of the Screw

Night 9
The Turn of the Screw (1898) By: Henry James

A governess is hired to care for a man's niece and nephew, but not to contact him at all. She finds the children to be little angels, but learns the boy, Miles, has been expelled from his boarding school for unspecified reasons. Then she begins to see the ghosts of a former driver and the former governess. Is the madness all in her head or have the children seen the ghosts too.

The only thing I knew about this before reading it was that it was a famous ghost story. This is very literary tale, even by the standards of Frankenstein. In my opinion it is too literary to enjoy. There aren't really any characters, yet it seems to explore be exploring insanity and the supernatural nature of ghosts. This is a story along the lines of Jane Eyre.  

Warning possible rant follows.

Mad Heroine
The Governess is our unreliable narrator and we don't really get to find out much about her. She sees the ghosts as sinister and threatening, but they never do anything. That is part of James' point and I guess he was among the first to do it, but it just seems like bad writing now. Also, she has a bent with proving that the ghosts are read and vindicating herself. For me, this served to make her seem even more crazy and irritating. All in all, it seemed like a man writing an overly hysterical woman. Classy.

Strange Observers
Miles is the creepy little boy that she must take care of. He was expelled from school for... something, and seeks to test the limits of his freedom. He is an annoying, overly smart little brat, so of course our crazy heroine loves him. The most we really find out about him is that he is nice and smart.

Flora is Miles' sister and suffers from super smart child syndrome as well. She may or may not have seen the ghosts and may or may not lie about seeing them at any given time. Why do I care about either of these children? Oh yeah, I don't.

There's also a housekeeper Mrs. Grose who acts as the governess' confidant. She is described as infinitely kind and doesn't serve to help the situation much.

Literary Atmosphere
This is so ambiguous and wordy that it is hard to understand without a Master's Degree in literary theory (I do not have one of those). I guess that was intentional, but it also makes it frustrating to read. Especially when the mystery and characters are so lackluster that I don't care about them either. Henry James also has an annoying style of capitalizing words for emphasis. I don't have a problem with this usually, but he does it one or two times a page. Also, James tends to, often, interject colloquialisms into the writing separated by commas (like I tried and failed to do at the beginning here). This makes his writing long, wordy and difficult to read.

In the End
I thought the end was abrupt and stupid, but I might be stating that a little harshly. It did end. Resolutions? That is for literary theorists I guess. I pity the students who have to read this for a class.

I can't recommend this to a casual reader. It was frustrating enough for me to read. It is short and I suppose it could have fans with those who like Jane Eyre. That is clearly not me, though. All the characters are meant to be sugar sweet, but are so badly descried that I barely care to tell them apart. The mysteries involving the intentionally unscary ghosts and the reason for Miles' expulsion are never solved. Yay, literature! Maybe I just don't 'get' it. It's no wonder people don't read.

Oh and it's free and stuff.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Bond: Quantum of Solace

Following the spectacular new direction forged by Casino Royale, the series promptly goes completely off track while trying to be dark and brooding.

Quantum of Solace (2008) or how to mess up your successful reboot.

A car chase in Sienna Italy that ends with Bond handing over Mr. White who was captured at the end of Casino Royale. White reveals that they have people everywhere then one of the random agents shoots the other and M. Bond chases the renegade agent and kills him. Back at HQ, traced money turns up something to sidetrack Bond, er... a new lead. Bond winds up saving a girl named Camille from being killed by Dominic and then General Medrano. Dominic is part of Le Chiffre's organization and plans to acquire oil by helping General Medrano take over Bolivia.

The problems start right away. We have no idea why Bond is in a car chase or who's shooting at him. Starting by leaning on the previous film then taking an abrupt left turn. "Another Way to Die" by Jack White and Alicia Keys isn't a bad Bond theme, but it isn't memorable. We're also back to the naked ladies for the visuals. Hooray. It isn't long before we get a flimsy excuse for another action scene that tries to replicate the opening to Casino Royale except it is haphazard and silly. There was a finesse about the opening to the previous one and this seems just mindless. Bond shoots a guy while hanging upside down after getting his foot caught in a rope. It's meant to be intimidated, but by this point in the last film we'd been introduced to the plot and our main enemy. This film seemed to be about the organization behind Le Chiffre, but it doesn't end up doing that. It is Bond trying to stop a bad Le Chiffre copy from destabilizing a country and getting oil. This film should have been a more serious rendition of the opening to Diamonds are Forever.

James Bond deals with revenge, I guess. He talks a lot about Vesper and wanting to find the people responsible, but it just seems like he's doggedly pursuing criminals like the last film. He seems competent mostly though everyone else's incompetence.

Bond Girls
Camille Montes is ex-Bolivian secret service seeking revenge on General Medrano for killing her family, how original. A minute after she is introduced, she's already flirting with then trying to kill Bond. Usually, this is left to the villainous bond girls like Helga Brandt and Xenia Onatopp, not the actual good Bond girl. It could be an interesting play, but the move just makes Camille look suicidal. Especially when she goes back to Dominic right after due to her desire for revenge. After she is saved again, she shows right back up and nearly gets killed a third time by Greene. She end up as a Bond girl in the same line as Christmas Jones. We are meant to believe she's strong and capable, but she doesn't do much to prove it. We have little stake in her revenge because we barely know her.

Strawberry Fields is sent to get Bond back for M. She starts off trying to be a tough girl but then jumps right into bed with Bond. Also, she appears to be wearing nothing but a trench coat and boots when she meets Bond, classy. Naturally, she gets shoved right into a refrigerator to try to make Greene seem threatening and make a Goldfinger reference. It fails.

Shoddy Agents
M is very out of touch in this movie. She gets pissed at Bond killing people but doesn't ask for explanations to try to understand why. Not that Bond explains either. Not a great M.

Rene Mathis is back and helps get Bond set up after Mi6 disowns him. He is a much more tragic figure after the end of Casino Royale. He gets some touching moments with Bond over memories of Vesper. Sadly, they are ultimately wasted since this film is not actually about Vesper. She just exists for pathos and because this film has to lean on its better predecessor.

Felix Leiter sits around and looks disgruntled as his hands are tied by his corrupt politician boss. He obviously lies to his boss but helps Bond as much as he can. He's consistent but sadly underused.

Cocky Foe
Dominic Greene runs an environmental agency as a cover for taking over the world's resources. His real plan is much more insidious stupid. He's playing all these countries against each other, but it really comes off as a big extortion scheme. He's annoying and deserves what he gets, but he doesn't inspire anything. He doesn't even have a rivalry with Bond. Best he gets is Camille's sleazy ex.

Royal Atmosphere
The oil covered Goldfinger reference was cool, but not good enough to save this clunker. The sets are nice and as big budget as you expect. Sadly, the action scenes have little stake. We know Bond will be okay and we usually don't care about any other character in them. Every action scene in Casino Royale is moving toward Bond's purpose of getting the people responsible. Here we just have them because it's a Bond movie.

In the End
Action scenes! Something about Bond's emotional scars. A closing scene reminding us what this movie should have been about. Great.

I was wondering why I had a bad impression of this movie, but couldn't remember much about it. That's because its a bad rehash of Casino Royale with more action scenes shoved in and a political corruption story trying to cover for lazy writing. Most bad Bonds are at least fun, this one sucks all the fun out with its overly serious revenge theme. I wouldn't say it is necessarily bad, but it is boring and pointless.

Fortunately we get much more Casino than Quantum with the next movie. Tomorrow, I see how the Bond films have learned their lesson in Skyfall!

Bond: Casino Royale

Casino Royale (2006) is the fantastic reboot of the Bond franchise.

James Bond, a freshly recruited agent for British intelligence, tracks a bomb through terrorists while trying to find the man behind it all. He finally confronts him at a poker game

When this movie came out, I was hesitantly excited. Bond was back after four years, and Martin Campbell the director of Goldeneye resumed the helm. Goldeneye was my first Bond in theaters and is still considered one of the best. There was a lot of controversy about Daniel Craig around the premiere, but I like to give people a chance before insulting them (most of the time). However, the two prior Bond films, The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day,
were both over the top near parodies. Thus, I went into Casino with low expectations. It is awesome as everyone now knows. The film did extremely well critically and commercially as well as revitalizing a dead franchise.

James Bond is a rookie who struggles with his first kill before easily accomplishing his second. The final steps of the evolution into the agent from the previous films. he even gets his signature 1964 Aston Martin in a poker game. He goes between cold killer and suave lover with remarkable ease. He's a man who believes in his cause and has everything to prove. All this is revealed in the first chase scene where he faces a superior physical opponent and must use brains and brawn to outwit him. This Bond is genuinely funny without the reliance on one liners that the series and action films in general. A smart slick Bond for the new millennium.

Bond Girls
Solange is the minor bond girl (aka the one who dies). She is married to one of the links in the bombing chain that Bond is investigating. Shesuccumbs to Bond's charms and aides him, paying the price for her encounter with Bond. The damage that Bond leaves behind is one of the big themes in this film, and Solange is the human casualty in the chain.

Vesper Lynd is an Mi6 accountant and femme fatale. She has some great repartee with bond as well as mirroring for the harsher sides of Bond's work. In previous Bond films there had been smart women (Pussy Galore, Wai Lin, M), but there are a vast majority of girls that are part of the scenery. Vesper is a truly smart girl and initially resists Bond's sex appeal. Eventually, they form a relationship based on shared hardships and respect.

Expert Agents
M is Bond's boss. She's the only hold over from the last several Bond films and a welcome one. She has some issues with Bond's methods, but they gradually develop the trust from later films.

Rene Mathis is Bond's contact and provides humor throughout and explanations during the poker game. His character is a great addition, but his explanations get a bit out of hand. Pointing out Le Chiffre's tell for a second time and saying Bond's going all in before he does it are lovely little notes from the studio that tell the audience that they're idiots. Fortunately, aside from the forced explanation, he is very funny.

Felix Leiter is James Bond's American counterpart. Yes, the previous Felixes had been white, but they've always been different actors with inconsistent personalities. Jeffery Wright easily defines a funny, confident new Felix. He gets one of the more infamous lines "Does it look like we need the money?" referring to American being wealthy and well off. Post 2009, this is very anachronistic.

Tearful Foe
Le Chiffre isn't the most intimating villain. He's a criminal accountant who rigs bets, cries blood and has asthma. His stand out scene is the torture scene. This is straight from the novel and perhaps the most brutal Bond scene to date, yet it manages to be funny. His ferocity comes from his desperation and he is one of the few foes to actually get to Bond.

Royal Atmosphere
Right from the get go we are treated to the awesome "You Know My Name" by Chris Cornell as our opening tune. Unlike previous Bond entries, there aren't any naked girls, just a stylized bond taking out baddies with poker symbolism. The sets are gorgeous from the intimidating construction set that Bond smashes through to the Montenegro hotels that Bond charms his way through. What's not to love?

In the End
The ending is heartfelt and traumatic. Normally, Bond has sex with a girl as credits roll, but this film has class hearkening back to On Her Majesty's Secret Service. We see the final layers of Bond's emotions removed and have him go into the end credits with his catch phrase and theme. The perfect end to a fantastic movie.

There are some corny lines and redundancies, but this is action done right. Some people took issue with a lack of Q and his gadgets, but they clearly hadn't watched any early Bond, especially Dr. No, the first Bond film, and the novels. The gambling scenes can be a little slow, but they have some nice action breaks and didn't get muddled in the rules of the game. This film takes all the right stuff from its predecessors and leaves the rest. It combines amazing action scenes, a smart plot, and interesting characters into a great Bond for the new generation and is the best Bond film to date.

Next time: Overconfidence leads to the reboot's first misstep.

The Were-Wolf

Night 8
The Were-Wolf (1896) By: Clemence Housman

A small village receives a strange guest during the winter. Her name is White Fell and she has fallen for Sweyn, a handsome young villager. However, his brother, Christian sees her for what she really is, a werewolf.

This is among the earliest in werewolf literature and the mythology is completely different. Werewolves can only change back into their wolf for at midnight and holy water kills them. So more of the mix of the vampire mythology from which werewolves diverged. Yes, werewolves and vampires used to be almost the same thing. This also has some nice ideas that I think are left out of modern horror fiction. Christian mentions at the end that the belief empowers holy water and so he uses his own blood fueled by belief in his cause. Also, we finally get another woman writer in the 13!

This starts as a wolf in sheep's clothing style narrative, but I think it evolves beyond that in the closing chase scene. "He grew bewildered, uncertain of his own identity, doubting of his own true form. He could not be a man, no more than that running Thing was really a woman; his real form was only hidden under the embodiment of a man, but what it was he did not know." Beautiful. I cannot tell you how awesome the final section of Christian chasing White Fell is. He begins to get delirious and has a lot of strange thoughts and visions and doubts. Some of them bring up some interesting thoughts that I hadn't expected from this story.

Our Hero
Christian is a superstitious hunter and the more odd of the twins. Everyone feels he is the uglier of the two, but he is happy and loves his brother. The love is mutual until he speaks against White Fell, and his brother gets stupid. He is admirable in his knowledge of his own faults and belief and his cause. He has a full range of emotions and expresses them throughout the story. He reacts reasonably to his feelings and is apprehensive about his hunches. I wanted a more complete back story from him and I wish he'd been our point of view character from the start of the story.

Obstinate Observer
Sweyn is the handsome hero of the village and he soon falls in love with the pretty stranger. His doubt in his brother is fair, but he quickly falls into the fallacy of accusing his brother of jealousy and insanity. To be fair, he is acting like a young man in love, but his growing hatred of his brother does seem a bit strange (and cliche nowadays).

Cunning Foe
White Fell is a cunning villainess who seduces Sweyn in order to secure her hunting ground. When she sees the end of her secrecy coming, she decides to cut her losses. It is her intelligence that makes her a true threat. She knows her limitations and her power and is all the more dangerous for it.

Deadly Atmosphere
The village and surrounding forest are beautifully rendered complete with the deadly majesty of a harsh winter. You can almost feel the chill in the outdoor scenes and the death it can bring in the chase at the end.

In the End
The end is a powerful and thrilling chase with a grisly ending. They do a little too much to point out the obvious Christ symbolism, but otherwise the ending is fantastic.

I picked this one because I wanted a werewolf story and this one is a surprise hit for me. Most of the other unpopular stories have been average to decent, but this one is clearly above the rest. I'd almost say it deserves to be a classic with Frankenstein and Dracula. It is not perfect. The novella starts with a child being a stupid bored little prat, but it soon becomes more interesting with the introduction of Sweyn, White Fell, and Christian. Just make it past the opening and this story is great. So, read it!

Free at Project Gutenberg and Kindle!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Dracula Reboots! - Hammer Horror -

Scars of Dracula (1970) More like Bats of Dracula.

A young woman is carried into town having been bitten by a vampire. This raises a mob to go and burn down Dracula's castle.  When they return to their town, they find that all their women and children have been brutally slaughtered by bats. We then cut to Sarah's birthday! She and her lover Jonathan are curious as to the disappearance of Jonathan's brother. His brother is having a fling with the Burgomaster's daughter and gets run out of town. He ends up at Dracula's castle.

The opening with the bat was tacked on by the studio. This movie was always intended to reboot the series. The opening credit scene is reminiscent of the classic Universal Frankenstein scene of a man walking through the town with the dead child. Also, Simon has to climb down to Dracula's chamber using a rope, much like Jonathan had to do in the novel.

Our Hero
Jonathan is a law student who wants to marry Sarah, but has some competition in his brother. His devotion to his brother and Jessica is touching, but I wish we got a bit more beyond that. We could have cut most of Paul's plot to make more time for him, but he does have adequate screen time and doesn't do much with it.

The Mob Mentality
Paul is Jonathan's handsome womanizing brother. He is chased out of town and ends up in Dracula's castle. The main driving point of the movie is finding out what happened to him. He gets a great deal of screen time that doesn't make us care for him. I suppose we were supposed to sympathize with him, but all I know is that he hit on every woman he came across. Charming.

Sarah is the love interest who we're meant to care about because Jonathan and Paul do. The real reason is for gratuitous shots of her breasts. She has some charming scenes at her birthday, but they are undermined by her lack of identity. She is kind of engaged to Jonathan, but she seems ambivalent. We never get a reason for her refusal beyond that she finds Paul attractive for some reason. Then they go along like they're engaged for the rest of the movie.

The Mob is irrational and hurt over Dracula's slaughter of their women and children. There are some scenes where they are afraid, but the only effects we see are shouting matches and lying to strangers to get them out of town. The relationship between the village leader and the barmaid Julie could have been interesting.Unfortunately in an amazing display of ineptitude.

Fascinating Foes
Klove has the most interesting story in this. He is Dracula's servant who becomes obsessed with Sarah's picture. Klove becomes so in love with her that he defies Dracula and helps the lovers escape. His feelings are torn the entire movie and you can see his struggle. There are similarities with Renfield, but with a more direct and personal connection to Dracula. The film would have been much more interesting if it centered on his struggle. Also, he's played by  Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor in Doctor Who.

Dracula is a much more human embodiment of cruelty in this. He inflicts torture and callously murders any brides he creates. Christopher Lee is in fine form as the cool and suave count. With a much larger part, we get more of the gentleman with a seething monster within.

Fine Atmosphere
The day for night is terrible, but the overall feel is similar to other Hammer Dracula movies. This one is a little lower budget, but it doesn't show that much. Bat attack scene is comically bad. That is a scene where they should have followed the less is more rule.

In the End
We get moments for both Klove and Jonathan which was really nice. In the end it is kind of a fluke that kills Dracula, but it is an interesting way for him to go. Unfortunately. Dracula's screams sound really bad.

This film does a lot right and a lot wrong. I loved Klove's story line and Dracula's very human cruelty. I didn't like the use of Sarah and I thought Paul's whole storyline was a waste of screen time. The mob scenes at the beginning are shocking. We could have used more of the priest and the town's reactions to their crisis. I think it could be re-cut to be way better, though it'd probably be an hour long. I do have to recommend it for fans of Dracula.

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) Because it won't be dated at all in 40 years...

"Alright, no fooling around!"
We start with Lawrence Van Helsing and Dracula fighting atop a carriage in what looks like the end of a much better movie. Dracula is staked and turns to ash. A man takes his ashes and scoops them into a vial.  Jump Cut to 1972 and the swinging 70s music. Then to a groovy 70s party! The guy who took Dracula's ashes, Johnny Alucard, is at the party. After it breaks up he invites them to a Black Mass because those were the thing back then. Jessica Van Helsing stops in to exchange exposition with her grandfather before heading out again. At the black mass, Johnny summons Dracula and everyone just sits around while he slits his wrist and pours blood all over a girl. Then they run away leaving the sacrifice and she sits there crying. Dracula enters and drinks her blood.

So this cannot be a serious review. There is no way this was made seriously. The music is so badly over the top.  One of Jessica's friends walks around in a Monk's habit.  Some of the lines in this movie are "Come in for a bite" and "You better leave me alone man." It is so bad it's good.

Our Hero Again!
Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing is played as the crazy old man. The funny thing is that Peter Cushing makes everyone he has a scene with look bad. He is still giving his all even with this crap. He deserved a better movie than this. Sometimes I don't know what Hammer was thinking. He and Chris Lee are great actors and they get this crappy movie.

Damsel in Distress
Jessica Van Helsing is our damsel in distress. That's right. Screw women's power! She has large breasts that can be exploited! Jessica has a sexy see-through nightdress that her wears at her grandfather's house. Awkward.

EVIL! Foes
Johnny Alucard is Dracula's minion who has an eternal life of drinking and partying Is it a thing to see a person turn to ash and then have to collect it into a test tube? Why is this normal in the Hammer universe? Johnny screaming "You'll never find her!"

Why'd I sign up for this?

Dracula is just hilarious. Christopher Lee has some looks where he has to be thinking, "I can't believe I'm doing this."

Groovy Atmosphere
We sit through a whole concert of "Alligator Man". Dracula has 70s swagger music. After Van Helsing finds out his granddaughter has been captured we get loud 70s action music as he races to save her.

In the End
More 70s music. Some chase scenes. Jessica in a low cut top. Oh and Dracula slips to his death.

It does get a little slow in the middle, but I have to recommend at least the first 20 minutes. It is so over the top seventies you cannot help, but laugh. It has to be a parody doesn't it?
4/10 Critically 7/10 Comically

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Night 7
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904)
By: M.R. James

A collection of supernatural short stories.

"Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book" 3/10
A gentleman goes to an old abbey and notices a book that he'd like to get. In the back are pictures of a hideous hairy creature. He hears strange sounds and his host doesn't like him to be alone. He buys the book and heads out to face the unknown dangers.

This might be a little harsh, but I don't think anything happened in this story. The end is anticlimactic. The story is written vaguely. It is badly dated since I can't imagine many people frequently head out to old abbeys to buy books these days. Skip this dull tale.

"Lost Hearts" 7/10
A boy, Stephen, goes to stay with his uncle and is warmly welcomed by him. The landlady tells him of a gypsy girl and an Italian boy who stayed there before, but ran off. He has a strange dream in the night of a frail corpse being in the upstairs bath..

This tale had a great build. Most people can relate to a child having to spend at least some time with a distant relative. The description in this story is much better and brings the town of Lincolnshire and the old house to life. There are more than just a few vague creepy events and it is more real and relatable. The end is both interesting and chilling.

"The Mezzotint" 5/10
A scholar acquires an old print of a house that seems to change over time. Soon a creature appears crawling toward the house.

A mezzotint is an early style of printing. M.R. James has a thing with old men acquiring strange old pictures. This story was better than the first, but not great. There is a cool creepy story about watching this picture do strange things. The problem is that the end is boring. Nothing happens.

"The Ash-tree" 7.5/10
A man reports a local woman for witchcraft because she has been cutting pieces off an ash tree near his house. Whenever he has tried to confront her, she has vanished and all he sees is a white rabbit fleeing from the scene. The witch disappears before being burnt, and, later, he is found blackened and shriveled in his room.

The ash-tree is the kind of of witch story that causes one to ruminate on its subject. It makes some interesting suppositions about the witch trials and doesn't really focus on them. We have a series of mysterious events and then a surprisingly creepy twisted ending.

"Number 13" 6/10
A man arrives in Denmark and stays at one of the older hotels in room 14. He notices that room 13 is absent, but later that night he almost enters a room 13. He also notices his room is smaller and has less windows. During the day the room isn't there. Then he hears a voice start singing.

This story had an excellent build with suspenseful and interesting scary moments. The problem is that we get sections of the narrator talking about the religious text and then they become part of a dud of an ending. This ends much the same as "Scrap Book" and "Messotint" do.

"Count Magnus" 6/10
An Englishman comes to Denmark to study the ancient Norse families. He encounters some gruesome paintings in the home of the family he's staying in, especially one of Count Magnus. While reading in the library he comes across an unfinished note by the Count describing how to obtain immortality. He begins to question if the Count is still alive.

This one is a little predictable, but pretty good. A nice build-up with some suspense and shifty characters. He shies away from the ending again which is disappointing.

"'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'" 7/10
An old professor heads to a lonely cottage near a golf resort and some ruins. On a walk he decides to check out the ruins and finds a whistle. He returns to his room and blows it once. Nothing happens. When he blows it a second time, a massive and forceful wind whips up. After closing it he has a waking dream about a figure being chased by a large white form. When he awakens the next morning he finds the spare bed in his room has been slept in.

Not quite as good as "Lost Hearts" or "Ash-tree," but interesting and creepy in its own way. We actually get to know the professor pretty well and we get some nice descriptions of the beach. The thing he summons is a creepy, but it could have done more than it does. Not bad though.

"The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" 5/10
 A man is researching Abbot Thomas in an abbey and begins to notice the same three unrelated biblical figures (Job Patriarcha, Johannes Evangelista, and Zacharias Propheta) appearing around in various things. This leads him on a treasure hunt, but what is the treasure and should it be found?

This tale is more of a proto-Lovecraftian treasure hunt mystery than a ghost story. Ninety percent of it is unraveling the mysterious code in the abbey. I might have enjoyed this more if I understood more about biblical figures. This tale is disturbing, but I don't think it makes it to scary. It would be a Lovecraft tale with a little more obsession and if the story had actually explained more about its ending.

I actually put this one on here in hope of some ghosts. I suppose there was one in whistle, but it really had variety: monsters, warlocks, witches, giant spiders, curses, ghosts, demons (?) and possibly a vampire. This is another short set that has some lacking stories, but a few good ones. I think this has enough interesting stuff in it that I'd recommend it to someone looking for some good old fashioned creepy stories.
7/10 (Yeah, I don't care about math)

Free at Project Gutenberg and on Kindle of course!