Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Archive for July, 2011

Terror Hotties

More ‘Scream Queen’ action, check out Terror Hotties’

Inception – Poster Art Desktop BG

I had quite a few nice responses to the Kubrick ‘A Clockwork Orange’ desktop BG from last Wednesday, so as it was Christopher Nolan’s birthday yesterday I thought I’d do  new desktop BG for ‘Inception’. Same deal, fan poster art and as Nolan is such a huge Kubrick fan I did it in a similar style. Click on the image for a full sized version.

Christopher Nolan

Christopher Jonathan James Nolan (born July 30, 1970) is an English director, screenwriter and producer. He is known for writing and directing such critically acclaimed films as ‘Memento’ (2000), ‘The Prestige’ (2006), ‘Inception’ (2010), and rebooting the Batman franchise, as well as directing the Hillary Seitz written ‘Insomnia’ (2002).

Nolan was born in London, the son of an English father who worked as an advertising copywriter and an American mother who was a flight attendant. He has a younger brother, Jonathan, with whom Nolan often collaborates on film scripts.  Nolan began making films at the age of seven using his father’s super 8mm camera and an assortment of male-action figures. He graduated to making films involving real people, and his super 8mm surreal short ‘tarantella’ was shown on PBS’ ‘image union’ in 1989. Chris studied English Literature at University College London while starting to make 16mm films at the college film society. His short film ‘larceny’ was shown at the Cambridge Film Festival in 1996, and his other 16mm shorts include a three- minute surreal film called ‘doodlebug’.

Nolan directed his first feature film, ‘Following’, in 1998. The film depicts a writer who is obsessed with following random people. Scenes are shown out of chronological order. Nolan made the film on a budget of only $6,000. He shot it on weekends, over the course of a year, working with friends he had met at the University College London film society. It began to receive notice after premiering at the 1998 San Francisco Film Festival, and was eventually distributed on a limited basis by Zeitgeist in 1999.

As a result of the film’s success, Newmarket Films optioned the script for Nolan’s next film, Memento. ‘Memento’ (2000) is a critically acclaimed cult film, which was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for best screenplay. The movie is based on the short story written by Christopher’s brother, Jonathan. It follows widower Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) who suffers a head injury and is unable to form new memories. In keeping with this inability to know what has just happened before, the film’s narrative structure runs in reverse (with an interlude between each pair of major “flashback” sequences).

In 2002, Nolan directed ‘Insomnia’, an American remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, albeit with major changes in both the plot and the nature of the main character. The plot of Insomnia revolves around two Los Angeles homicide detectives that are dispatched to a small town in Alaska, where the sun does not set, to investigate the methodical murder of a local teenager.

In 2003, Nolan, together with Blade screenwriter David S. Goyer, convinced Warner Bros. to take the risk of entrusting the first of a revived Batman film series to a relatively unknown director. ‘Batman Begins’ was released on June 15, 2005 and became a box office hit, ranking as the eighth highest grossing film of 2005 domestically and the ninth highest grossing worldwide. It received a very positive critical and public reception, with many ranking it as superior to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Strengths of the movie included its dark and intelligent storyline, strong emphasis on character, and the predominant themes of fear and duality. Batman Begins was a major winner at the 32nd annual Saturn Awards. The film won for Best Fantasy Film, Best Actor for Christian Bale and Best Writing for Nolan and Goyer. The film was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Nolan’s long time collaborator Wally Pfister.

Nolan followed up with ‘The Prestige’ released on October 20, 2006, about two rival magicians in the 19th century. It reunites Nolan with Batman Begins stars Christian Bale and Michael Caine as well as starring Hugh Jackman. Co-scripted by his brother, Jonathan and co-produced with his wife, Emma Thomas, the movie had a mostly positive response from critics and made over $109 million worldwide.

Nolan returned to Batman with ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008), reuniting the original cast and featuring Heath Ledger in an Academy Award winning  performance as Batman’s arch-enemy, The Joker. Nolan and his brother Jonathan wrote a script.The film was released  to overwhelming critical acclaim with some critics calling it the greatest comic-book based movie ever made. It also had enormous box office success, setting the record for the highest-grossing weekend opening in the U.S. with over $158 million and becoming the 3rd highest grossing film of all time domestically, and the sixth-highest worldwide at the time.

After the release of Nolan’s successful 2008 film The Dark Knight, Warner Bros. contracted Nolan to a seven-figure deal to direct the science fiction film ‘Inception’. The film was based on a script written by Nolan and has been described as being “a contemporary sci-fi actioner set within the architecture of the mind”. Inception was released on July 16, 2010 to largely positive reviews and became a box office hit, and in my opinion was the best film from 2010.

Nolan has written a script for a re-booted Superman movie which he will produce after hiring Zack Snyder to direct. However the big news is the forthcoming final instalment of his Batman series, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ which is due later this year.

Scream Queens

There are a slew of new young actresses who are carving out careers in the horror genre. But are any of them capable of carrying off the title of ‘Scream Queen’… probably not but it’s worth a look… even just as an excuse to post a few hot images.

If we go back further and look to include the likes of Fay Wray from ‘King Kong’, Hitchcock leading ladies Janet Leigh and Tippi Hedren, and the Hammer girls then this article will meander. So for the sake of sanity I’ll stick to the period from the late 70’s to present day. Oh, rules: they have to be primarily well known for their work in the horror genre, so that excludes actresses such as Naomi Watts (The Ring 1 & 2) and Michelle Pfeiffer (Wolf and What LiesBeneath) as they are more well known for other fare.  It was difficult to exclude Sissy Spacek from ‘Carrie’ (she also appeared in The Ring 2 and An American Haunting) but is an Oscar winner for more serious movies. It was also a difficult decision to leave out Mia Farrow as her turn in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ was exceptional and although she is creepy in the remake of ‘The Omen’ she’s not as good as Billie Whitelaw in the original… so she’s out.

I also left out actresses known only for one series of movies like Sigourney Weaver in the ‘Alien’ series, especially as only the first movie in that series could classify as horror. I used the same rationale for excluding Courtney Cox and Neve Campbell, as in horror they’re basically only known for the ‘Scream’ series. Does anyone really remember Campbell for ‘The Craft’..? Awful.

Nancy Allen featured in ‘Carrie’, ‘Dressed To Kill’, ‘Blow Out’ and ‘Robocop’. P.J. Soles also in ‘Carrie’, ‘Halloween 2’ and recently a cameo in ‘The Devils Rejects’. Adrienne King and Heather Langenkamp set the standard for scream queens taking a stand and fighting back in ‘Friday the 13th’ and ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’; however they’re only really known for their roles in those movies.

According to Lloyd Kaufman, shameless self-promoting head of Troma Studios, a scream queen “is more than just crying and having ketchup thrown on you”.

So who should be on the list? Obviously Jamie Lee Curtis, if you have to ask then you really haven’t been watching any of the late 70’s/early 80’s classic slasher flicks. Even if she’d only ever appeared in the original ‘Halloween’ (1978), that movie alone would have been enough to secure her place on the list. Add to that classic the likes of ‘The Fog’, ‘Prom Night’ and the Halloween sequels ‘Halloween 2’, ‘Halloween H20’ and ‘Resurrection’, and it’s obvious that Jamie Lee Curtis deserves her place on the list… at the top.

Linnea Quiqley is an obvious choice; she is best known for her role in ‘Return of the Living Dead’ (1985) which featured her fantastic nude romp on a gravestone. She has been in so many horror flicks, too numerous to mention; most notably ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’, ‘Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers’, ‘Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master’ and both the original and remake of ‘Night of the Demons’.

Dee Wallace featured in ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ (1977), ‘The Howling’ (1981), ‘Cujo’ (1983), ‘Critters’ (1986), and numerous others, as well as the re-imagining of ‘Halloween’ and the forthcoming ‘Lords of Salem’. Debbie Rochon starred in dozens of Troma horror films throughout the 90’s and was even voted by Draculina magazine as “Scream Queen of the Decade”, she has to be on the list.

The current crop is headed by Danielle Harris who has featured in four ‘Halloween’ movies, ‘Hatchet 2’, ‘Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet’, ‘Stakeland’ and unfortunately ‘Left for Dead’. Then there’s Sarah Michelle Gellar from ‘Buffy’, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’, ‘Scream 2’, ‘The Grudge’ and sequel. Shawnee Smith of the ‘Saw’ series, ‘Grudge 3’ and the ’30 Days of Night’ TV series. MelissaGeorge from the remake of ‘The Amityville Horror’, ’30 Days of Night’ and ‘Triangle’. Amber Heard, excellent as the lead in‘All the Boys Love Mandy Lane’, ‘The Ward’ and ‘And Soon The Darkness’. Odette Yustman from ‘The Unborn’ and ‘And Soon The Darkness’. Sheri Moon Zombie of ‘House of 1000 Corpses’, ‘The Devils Rejects’, ‘Toolbox Murders’ and the remakes of ‘Halloween’ and the sequel. Danielle Panabaker for ‘The Ward’ and remakes of ‘Friday the 13th’, ‘The Crazies’ and ‘Pirahna 3D’. Scout Taylor-Compton for the ‘Halloween’ remakes, however she made the awful ‘April fool’s Day’. Christina Ricci for ‘Sleepy Hollow’, ‘The Gathering’, ‘Cursed’ and ‘After.Life’ (I know those last two are awful but at least they’re in the genre). Ali Larter from ‘House on Haunted Hill’ and the ‘Final Destination’ and ‘Resident Evil’ series.

Of the current crop who I haven’t considered, Jennifer Love Hewitt, as the ‘I know What You Did Last Summer’ movies are it as far as horror is concerned, she’s known more for the execrable Ghost Whisperer, and the woeful Paris Hilton, because, well, she’s rubbish at everything.

So, who makes the top 10 list…? 1. Jamie Lee Curtis. 2. Linnea Quiqley. 3. Debbie Rochon. 4. Dee Wallace. 5. Shawnee Smith. 6. Amber Heard. 7. Sheri Moon Zombie. 8. Danielle Harris. 9. Melissa George. 10. Sarah Michelle Gellar. And Kate Beckinsale… because it’s my list and I think she’s hot!

The Walking Dead – Season 2 Full Trailer

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Free web comic

Check out the ‘prequel’ webcomic to the forthcoming movie ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’

WEB COMIC INFO: The RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES free online prelude tells the story of two apes, Alpha and Bright Eyes, living happily in the wild when  poachers destroy their way of life and sell them into captivity. Their terrifying journey will lead them to the Gen-Sys laboratories where mysterious drug experiments bring even greater horrors. But could the newly-tested 112 drug bring the key to the captured apes’ liberation, or will it bring even further tragedy? Find out in this free all-original online prelude to what’s sure to be the sci-fi hit of the summer, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES!

A Clockwork Orange – Desktop Background

Staying with yesterday’s Kubrick theme, here’s my ‘A Clockwork Orange’ desktop background. It features some rather nice fan art for Kubrick’s controversial masterpiece. Click on the image to get the full size version.

Frozen ***

Three skiers, Dan (Kevin Zegers), his girlfriend Parker (Emma Bell) and their friend Joe (Shawn Ashmore) unable to afford lift passes, bribe a ski-lift worker. Pushing their luck for one last ski before the lift closes for the night; the three are stranded on a chair, when the ski-lift is shut down due to incoming bad weather. No one knows they’re up there and the ski resort closes for a few days. How will they survive the freezing temperatures and the wolf pack that is circling them below..?

The best thing about Frozen is the premise; it’s a simple idea and has been done quite well. The script is serviceable; with fairly believable characters and pretty good dialogue. However it is also filled with convenient moments to help the story along and manufacture tension.

Frozen is the second feature from Adam Green; his debut was the retro-slasher flick ‘Hatchet’, a relatively successful movie that has gained a decent cult following on DVD. Frozen is not like that movie, it’s not a horror film in the same vein as Hatchet and the inevitable Hatchet sequel which I’m yet to see. Described by one reviewer as “Will do for skiing what Jaws did for swimming”, that’s a lazy comment as Frozen has far more in common with ‘Open Water’. It’s an old fashioned thriller, man against nature, survival against the elements.

The young cast are good, Shawn Ashmore (X-Men 1 and 2, The Thaw and TV’s Fringe) is well cast as is Kevin Zegers (TV’s Gossip Girl); but it is Emma Bell, whose character has more of an arc and emotional range to play with, who is particularly good. They all act and react to the elements convincingly, not surprising as the movie was shot at night in Snowbasin, Utah during the snowseason.

Overall, Frozen is well made, and although riddled with inconsistencies and odd, illogical choices by the stranded kids, it does work and is a fun diversion for an hour and a half. Well worth the effort on DVD.

Quality: 3 out of 5 stars

Any good: 3 out of 5 stars

Zombiefication: A Short Film – FREE Download

Everyone likes free stuff… click on the link to download: ‘Zombiefication: A Short Film’ free from iTunes

“Zombiefication” is the ultimate manual when it comes to the proper handling of the living dead. Recommended behavioural patterns in case of imminent Zombie epidemics are explained in comprehensible steps and vividly executed. Bloodthirsty horror fun for the entire family!

This short was reviewed as part of the ‘A Night of Horror Film Festival’ in April. Check out the article here

Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick (July 26, 1928 – March 7, 1999) was an American film director, writer, producer, and photographer, noted for the scrupulous care with which he chose his subjects, his slow method of working, the variety of genres he worked in, his technical perfectionism, his reluctance to talk about his films, and his reclusiveness regarding his personal life. He maintained almost complete artistic control, making movies according to his own whims and time constraints, but with the rare advantage of big-studio financial backing for all his endeavors. Kubrick’s films are characterized by a formal visual style and meticulous attention to detail. His later films often have elements of surrealism and expressionism that eschews structured linear narrative. His films are repeatedly described as slow and methodical, and are often perceived as a reflection of his obsessive and perfectionist nature. A recurring theme in his films is man’s inhumanity to man.

After his early forays into film, ‘Fear and Desire’ (1953) and ‘Killers Kiss’ (1955); the film that first brought him attention to many critics was ‘Paths of Glory’ (1957), the first of three films of his about the dehumanizing effects of war. Starring Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory tells the story of three innocent soldiers who are charged with cowardice and sentenced to death, allegedly as an example to the troops but actually serving as scapegoats for the failings of the commanding officers.

Kubrick was about follow up with ‘One-Eyed Jacks’ starring Marlon Brando, however the two clashed and Kubrick was sacked from the project. It turned out to be fortuitous as Kirk Douglas hired him to direct ‘Spartacus’ (1960), whose original director, Anthony Mann was similarly fired. Despite on-set troubles, Spartacus was a critical and commercial success and established Kubrick as a major director. However, its embattled production convinced Kubrick to find ways of working with Hollywood financing while remaining independent of its production system.

In 1962, Kubrick moved to England to film ‘Lolita’ (1962), where he would live there for the rest of his life. The original motivation was to film Lolita in a country with laxer censorship laws. However, Kubrick had to remain in England to film Dr. Strangelove since Peter Sellers was not permitted to leave England at the time as he was involved in divorce proceedings. ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ (1964), became a cult film and is now considered a classic. Roger Ebert wrote that it is the best satirical film ever made.

It was after filming the first two of these films in England and in the early planning stages of 2001 that Kubrick decided to settle in England permanently. Kubrick spent five years developing his next film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The film was conceived as a Cinerama spectacle and was photographed in Super Panavision 70mm. Kubrick co-wrote the screenplay with science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Kubrick reportedly told Clarke that his intention was to make “the proverbial great science fiction film.” 2001: A Space Odyssey was noted for being both one of the most scientifically realistic and visually innovative science-fiction films ever made while maintaining an enigmatic non-linear storyline. The $10,000,000 (U.S.) film was a massive production for its time. The groundbreaking visual effects were overseen by Kubrick and were engineered by a team that included a young Doug Trumbull, who would become famous in his own right for his work on the films Blade Runner and Terence Malicks recent ‘The Tree of Life’.

After 2001, Kubrick initially attempted to make a film about the life of Napoleon. When financing fell through, Kubrick went looking for a project that he could film quickly on a small budget. He eventually settled on ‘A Clockwork Orange’  (1971). His adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel is a dark, shocking exploration of violence in human society. The film was initially released with an X-rating  in the United States and caused considerable controversy. The film was extremely controversial because of its explicit depiction of teenage gang rape and violence. It was released in the same year as Straw Dogs and Dirty Harry, and the three films sparked a ferocious debate in the media about the social effects of cinematic violence. The controversy was exacerbated when copycat crimes were committed in England by criminals wearing the same costumes as characters in A Clockwork OrangeKubrick voluntarily withdrew his film ‘A Clockwork Orange’ from Great Britain, after it was accused of inspiring copycat crimes which in turn resulted in threats against Kubrick’s family.

Kubrick’s next film, released in 1975, was an adaptation of William Thackeray’s ‘The Luck of Barry Lyndon’, about the adventures and misadventures of an 18th-century Irish gambler and social climber. His films were largely successful at the box-office, although ‘Barry Lyndon’ performed poorly in the United States.

The pace of Kubrick’s work slowed considerably after Barry Lyndon, and he did not make another film for five years. ‘The Shining’ (1980), was adapted from a novel by bestselling horror writer Stephen King. The film starred Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, a failed writer who takes a job as an off-season caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, a high-class resort deep in the Colorado mountains. The job requires spending the winter in the isolated hotel with his wife, Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) and their young son, Danny (played by Danny Lloyd), who is gifted with a form of telepathy—the “shining” of the film’s title. As winter takes hold, the family’s isolation deepens, and the demons and ghosts of the Overlook Hotel’s dark past begin to awake, displaying horrible, phantasmagoric images to Danny, and driving his father Jack into a homicidal psychosis.

The film opened to mixed reviews, but proved a commercial success. As with most Kubrick films, subsequent critical reaction has treated the film more favorably. Among horror movie fans, The Shining is a cult classic, often appearing at the top of best horror film lists alongside ‘Psycho’ (1960), ‘The Exorcist’ (1973), and other horror classics.

Seven years later, Kubrick made his next film, ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987). The film appears as two films in one, the first part centres around the dehumanising training of raw recruits by the sadistic Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (an incredible turn by R. Lee Ermey). The second half throws those same recruits into Vietnam, following their advance on and through Hue City, which has been decimated by the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive.

Kubrick’s final film was “Eyes Wide Shut’ (1999), starring then-married actors Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as a wealthy Manhattan couple on a sexual odyssey. It follows Dr. William Harford’s journey into the sexual underworld of New York City, after his wife, Alice, has shattered his faith in her fidelity by confessing to having fantasized about giving him and their daughter up for one night with another man. Until then, Harford had presumed women are more naturally faithful than men. This new revelation generates doubt and despair, and he begins to roam the streets of New York, acting blindly on his jealousy.

In 1999—four days after screening a final cut of Eyes Wide Shut for his family, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Warner Bros. executives—70-year-old Kubrick died of a heart attack in his sleep. All of Kubrick’s films from the mid-1950s to his death except for The Shining were nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes, or BAFTAs. Although he was nominated for an Academy Award as a screenwriter and director on several occasions, his only personal win was for the special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Inbred – Trailer

A disparate group of young urban offenders and their care workers embark on a community service weekend in the strange, remote Yorkshire village of Mortlake, which prides on keeping itself to itself. A minor incident with some local inbred youths rapidly escalates into a blood-soaked, deliriously warped nightmare for all involved. This is a demented horror film with nowt taken out.
More on Inbred the movie Creepy kids…

The Walking Dead

Two series of ‘The Walking Dead’ toys will be released by MacFarlane later this year.

There will be a series based on the graphic novels which will feature Rick Grimes, Michonne, Lurker Zombie and Roamer Zombie.

Then in November they will release a series based on the acclaimed AMC television series which will feature Rick Grimes, Daryl Dixon, Zombie Biter and Zombie Walker.

They look fantastic, priced at US$14.95 each or series sets at US$55.95. Ideal gifts for the kiddies!

Zombie Commercials – Zombie Short Film Week

Zombie short film week. Part 7 – Sunday.

The Dark Knight Rises – Fan Posters

Batman fan poster art for the forthcoming ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

Evil Things

When the going gets tough, apparently the tough make independent horror movies. Or at least, Dominic Perez did; after he was fired from his Wall Street investment banking job, he decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of filmmaking, and the result is EVIL THINGS, arriving on DVD next month.

Shot on a quick schedule in New York’s Catskill Mountains, EVIL THINGS, follows five college students as they travel to the country house belonging to one’s aunt for a weekend vacation/birthday celebration. During their drive, they realize someone’s following them, and that someone begins tormenting and killing them once they arrive at the remote house, with all the terrorization captured on one of the friends’ video camera. Laurel Casillo, Morgan Hooper, Torrey Weiss, Ryan Maslyn, Elyssa Mersdorf and Gail Cadden star. “It took me three months to write EVIL THINGS, seven days to shoot it and one month to edit it,” Perez teld Fangoria magazine, “but it took me 41 years to finally believe that I could do it all.

“I had been planning our very tight shooting schedule for months,” he continues. “Everything had to be perfect—and then a snowstorm hit the northeastern United States on our first day of shooting. A good friend said that it would be a blessing or a curse; I decided to allow the storm to be our blessing, and so it was.”

That wasn’t the only unexpected element that would up being worked in EVIL THINGS’ plot. “In the world of low-budget indie filmmaking,” Perez notes, “you should plan every detail and then let it all hang loose and just make it happen. If your main actress becomes incredibly ill and you only have one day to shoot something, instantly rewrite the script and make her illness part of your story. The story gods must have wanted her to be sick for that particular scene. Reality is usually the best fiction.”

Check out the official website

Zombie Commercials – Zombie Short Film Week

Zombie short film week. Part 6 – Saturday.

Dublin Zombie Walk 2010 – Zombie Short Film Week

The Dublin Zombie Walk brought together a large group of zombie-loving people, who walked the streets to benefit The Irish Cancer Society and the RNLI. Creatively shot, the video footage of the spooky event was paired up with Johnny Cash’s ‘The Man Comes Around.’ If you watch the video of the Zombie Walk in Dublin, you’ll spot everything from a Gaga zombie to a plastic baby on a string. You will also see blood spewing mouths everywhere. Look Dead, the Zombies are Coming on the 23rd of July 2011 to Dublin.  It’s gonna be horrible! Facebook Event here 

James Whale

James Whale (22 July 1889 – 29 May 1957) was an English film director, theatre director and actor. He is best remembered for his work in the horror genre, having directed the Universal Pictures classic movies ‘Frankenstein’ (1931), ‘The Old Dark House’ (1932), ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933) and ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935).

Born into a large family in Dudley, England, Whale early on discovered his artistic talent and studied art. With the outbreak of World War I, he enlisted in the British Army and rose to the officers rank. He was captured by the Germans and during his time as a prisoner of war he realized he was interested in drama. Following his release at the end of the war he became an actor, set designer and director. His success directing the 1928 play Journey’s End led to his move to the United States, first to direct the play on Broadway and then to Hollywood to direct motion pictures.

Whale directed a dozen films for Universal Studios between 1930 and 1936 (his uncredited work on the war epic ‘Hells Angels’ having been done for independent film producer and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes at United Artists), developing a style characterized by the influence of German Expressionism and a highly mobile camera.

Having purchased the film rights to Journey’s End, British producers Michael Balcon and Thomas Welsh agreed that Whale’s experience directing the London and Broadway productions of the play made him the best choice to direct the film. Journey’s End was a tremendous critical and commercial success and placed Whale at the top of the British film industry. Universal Studios signed Whale to a five-year contract in 1931 and his first project was ‘Waterloo Bridge’ (1931), based on the Broadway play. The film stars Mae Clarke as Myra, a chorus girl in World War I London who becomes a prostitute. It too was a critical and popular success.

In 1931, Universal chief Carl Laemmle, Jr. offered Whale his choice of any property the studio owned. Whale chose Frankenstein, mostly because none of Universal’s other properties particularly interested him and he wanted to make something other than a war picture. Casting the familiar Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and Mae Clarke as his fiancée Elizabeth, Whale turned to an unknown actor named Boris Karloff to play the Monster. Released on 21 November, Frankenstein was an instant hit with critics and the public. The film received glowing reviews and shattered box office records across the country, earning Universal $12 million on first release. It is one of only a few of Whale’s films that has remained in the public eye and is regarded as a classic of the horror genre.

Next from Whale were ‘Impatient Maiden’ and ‘The Old Dark House’ , both in 1932. The Old Dark House is credited with reinventing the “dark house” subgenre of horror films. He made ‘The Kiss Before the Mirror’ (1933), a critical success but a box office failure before turning his attention to ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933). Shot from a script approved by H.G. Wells, the film was a blend of horror, humor and confounding visual effects. The film was critically acclaimed and broke box office records in cities across the country. So highly regarded was the film that France, which restricted the number of theatres in which undubbed American films could play, granted it a special waiver because of its “extraordinary artistic merit”.

He followed The Invisible Man with ‘By Candlelight’ (1933) and ‘One More River’ (1934) before being tempted back to Mary Shelley again for his masterpiece, ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935). Whale had long resisted doing a sequel to Frankenstein as he feared being pigeonholed as a horror director. Bride hearkened back to an episode from Mary Shelley’s original novel in which the Monster promises to leave Frankenstein and humanity alone if Frankenstein makes him a mate. He does, but then destroys the female without bringing it to life. The film was a critical success and a box office sensation, having earned some $2 million for Universal by 1943. Lauded as “the finest of all gothic horror movies”. It is my all-time favourite from the 30’s golden era of horror.

Whale made ‘Show Boat’ (1936), considered by many to be the definitive version of the musical. He followed this with ‘The Road Back’ (1937) which caused such a stir in nazi Germany that the film was banned in numerous territories. His career never really recovered and he only made B-movies of minor success thereafter.

James Whale lived as an openly gay man throughout his career in the British theatre and in Hollywood, something that was virtually unheard of in the 1920s and 1930s. He and David Lewis lived together as a couple from around 1930 to 1952. While he did not go out of his way to publicize his homosexuality, he did not do anything to conceal it either.

Whale’s final months are the subject of the 1995 novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram. The novel focuses on the relationship between Whale and a fictional gardener named Clayton Boone. Father of Frankenstein served as the basis of the 1998 film ‘Gods & Monsters’ with Ian McKellan as Whale and Brendan Fraser as Boone. McKellen was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Whale.

Play Dead – Zombie Short Film Week

A zombie apocalypse unites a ragtag pack of dogs in the ruined streets of Miami. Immune to the epidemic, they must stick together to survive in the midst of ferocious undead and human survivors. Sit. Stay. Play dead… Zombie short film wee. Part 4.

The Tree of Life ****½

A new Terence Malick film is something of an event. They don’t come around very often and when they do the anticipation levels rise stratospherically. I love ‘Badlands’; ‘Days of Heaven’ looks beautiful but I’m not a fan of Richard Gere; ‘The Thin Red Line’ is good but ‘The New World’ was just okay. So I went to see his latest film, ‘Tree of life’ without the usual expectations…

Tree of Life is hard to describe, in simple terms it is a small story about the loss of a child and the loss of childish innocence; however on a grander scale it also encompasses everything from the beginning of time, evolution, the birth of life and God.

Much of the film focuses on a typical family living in small town rural Texas in the early 1950’s. Mr O’Brien (Brad Pitt) is a stern disciplinarian father of 3 boys and husband to the much softer Mrs O’Brien (Jessica Chastain). Through narration, Mrs’ O’Brien informs us early on that in life we must choose between nature and grace, she is a spiritual character who has obviously chosen grace. Mr O’Brien has chosen the way of nature, he tells the boys that their mother is ‘naïve’.

We follow the birth of their children, eldest son Jack (Hunter McCracken), R.L. (Laramie Eppler) and to a lesser extent Steve (Tye Sheridan) as they develop familial bonds with each other, their mother and strain those bonds with their father. This story is intercut with Jack (Sean Penn) as an adult, now living in the city and clearly still affected by the loss of his brother. Then to show just how miniscule a part we play in the grand scheme of things, Malick throws in the bigger picture journey of the creation of the universe, by God or evolution, and the birth of all life as we currently understand it. 

The Tree of Life is cinema as art; it’s audacious, visionary, ambitious, questioning but not lecturing or sermonising, Malick has made a beautiful, poetic film about love. It won’t be for everyone, the film is a journey which you can choose to go with and will probably feel rewarded for; although for some it will feel pretentious and overlong. I went on the journey and I loved the scenes with the family, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain are both excellent; however it is the scenes with the children that really give the film its emotional heart; they were played perfectly and the performances from the young cast were exceptional. However, I don’t think that the scenes with the elder Jack worked as well as those 50’s scenes and the film dragged when we were in the ‘modern world’.

This is obviously a very personal film for Malick; he grew up in Texas, in a similar era and as he never gives interviews or even appears to promote his own work we can only speculate as to just how personal. As an attempt to explain and accept the mysteries of life, and death, through mankinds belief in God, evolution or the possibilities of something else, this at the very least shows how at peace Malick is with whatever that may be.

The Doug Trimbull directed special effects sequences are spectacular. It is these scenes which have drawn the comparisons to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, hardly surprising as Trimbull was also responsible for those ground-breaking effects in that film. He wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for 2001, although he was nominated (but didn’t win) for his effects work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner, if he doesn’t win for Tree of Life there must be a n Academy conspiracy against him!

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Any good: 4 out of 5 stars

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Excellent preamble by Andy Serkis for an extended clip from the forthcoming ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’. Check it out here. Look out for the arts and craft project that Caesar is working on… nice little in joke.

Gravedate Teaser – Zombie short

Zombie short film week. Part 3 – Wednesday.

The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower, the ultra-ambitious adaptation of the Stephen King 7-novel series that was going to encompass a trilogy of feature films and two limited run TV series. The studio has said, No Thanks. Universal has passed on going forward with the project, dealing a huge blow in the plan for Ron Howard to direct Akiva Goldsman’s script, with Brian Grazer, Goldsman and the author producing and Javier Bardem as gunslinger Roland Deschain. Now, the filmmakers will have to find a new backer of what might well be the most ambitious movie project since Bob Shaye allowed Peter Jackson to shoot three installments of The Lord of the Rings back to back.

This stunning development comes after Universal in May pushed plans to start production this summer on the first film. The studio claimed to be on track for a February, postponing to reduce the budget. This temporarily dispelled rumors that Universal was putting the project in turnaround, rumors that cropped up when the studio put workers on hiatus. But it was only a temporary respite. I’m told that this time, the studio reviewed Goldsman’s script for the first film and the first leg of the TV series, and would only commit to the single film. That wasn’t good enough for the filmmakers, who had already hired comic book and Heroes and Battlestar Galactica writer/producer Mark Verheiden to co-write the TV component with Goldsman, which was to be made for NBC Universal Television (studio insiders deny that the studio was only willing to make the movie and not the series). I know the filmmakers planned to make it all part of the first shoot while they had the cast in place and the sets erected. I’d heard back in May that Warner Bros–where Goldsman’s Weed Road is based and which is fully financing two installments of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit–was a possible landing place for the adaptation of King’s 7-novel epic that is that author’s answer to Tolkien’s LOTR novels. The Dark Tower is about the last living member of a knightly order of gunslingers, with Deschain becoming humanity’s last hope to save civilization as he hits the road to find the Dark Tower. Along the way, he encounters characters, good and bad, in a world that has an old West feel.

For whatever reason Universal decided not to go forward, they weren’t saying, at this point.  Nor were the filmmakers. Universal has put big money on the table for several tent pole films and maybe that has something to do with it. Universal also recently passed on green lighting At The Mountains of Madness, which Guillermo del Toro was to direct with Tom Cruise starring, based on HP Lovecraft horror tale. That time, the studio balked at funding a $150 million film that gave del Toro the latitude to deliver his cut with an R-rating.

Dead Island Trailer – Zombie Short Film Week

This unbelievable Dead Island official trailer will change everything you thought you knew about video game advertising…permanently. Featuring tragically beautiful art direction, cinematography, graphics, music and storytelling, the Dead Island official trailer is more akin to an artistic masterpiece than a game commercial. In fact, its wildfire spread across the internet has had the unimaginable effect of prompting some users to respond that they were literally reduced to tears. Not what you’d expect from a trailer for a gory Zombie video game… Zombie short film week. Part 2.