Feb 212019
  February 21, 2019

oscar600” indicates Best of the options given. “oscar600oscar600” indicates actual Best when the best wasn’t nominated.

 

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

oscar600Christian Bale (Vice)

Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

 

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

oscar600 Adam Driver (Blackkklansman)

Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)

 

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

oscar600 Olivia Colman (The Favourite)

Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
Melissa Mccarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

oscar600oscar600Emma Stone (The Favourite)

 

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

oscar600 Emma Stone (The Favourite)

Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina De Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

oscar600oscar600Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

(This oddness is because they wrongly classified Emma Stone in a supporting role instead of the lead)

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

oscar600Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Incredibles 2
Isle Of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks The Internet

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

oscar600Never Look Away

Cold War
The Favourite
Roma
A Star Is Born

oscar600oscar600The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs

 

COSTUME DESIGN

oscar600Black Panther

The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
The Favourite
Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Queen Of Scots

 

FILM EDITING

oscar600Vice

Blackkklansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book

oscar600oscar600The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs

 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

oscar600Vice

Border
Mary Queen Of Scots

oscar600oscar600Black Panther

 

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

oscar600Shallow (A Star Is Born)

All The Stars (Black Panther)
I’ll Fight (RBG)
The Place Where Lost Things Go (Mary Poppins Returns)
When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings (The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs)

oscar600oscar600Hollywood Ending (Anna And The Apocalypse)

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

oscar600Black Panther

The Favourite
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns
Roma

 

VISUAL EFFECTS

oscar600Avengers: Infinity War

Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

 

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

oscar600The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs

Blackkklansman
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Star Is Born

oscar600oscar600Death Of Stalin

 

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

oscar600The Favourite

First Reformed
Green Book
Roma
Vice

 

DIRECTING

oscar600Blackkklansman {Spike Lee}

Cold War {Paweł Pawlikowski}
The Favourite {Yorgos Lanthimos}
Roma {Alfonso Cuarón}
Vice {Adam Mckay}

oscar600oscar600The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs {Ethan & Joel Coen}

 

BEST PICTURE

oscar600Blackkklansman

Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

oscar600oscar600Death Of Stalin

 

 

Not included: Sound Mixing/Editing, Live Action/Animated Short Films, Documentaries, Score, and Foreign Film.

Feb 202019
  February 20, 2019

oscar600I have a few days to dwell on the Oscar best picture race in different ways (Lying “True” Stories, What the Oscar Bigwigs Want.) and todays will be: #OscarNotSoWhite.

oscar600The first thing to note is that #OscarNotSoWhite does not involve Asians. You see all those Asian led films being nominated? No? Yeah, no one does. Well, the reasonable explanation is that almost no Asians are leading films, so there are none to choose from… Yeah, that makes it so much worse.

oscar600This is the USA, and Asians continue to be invisible in all racial issues. OK, well, what did we get?

oscar600The powers that be were stung by #OscarSoWhite and as people frowning at them leads to poor viewing numbers, they wanted to do something about it. And we’ve got 3 movies (we’ll get to the 4th in a moment) from that: Green Book, BlacKKKlansman, and Black Panther. Are all these films just around as a reaction to the glaring Whiteness? Well, partly and for today I’m talking about that part. Spike Lee pointed out he’d never gotten a directing nom before, and the reason he did this time, as well as his film being nominated, is purely due to that reaction. The Academy tried to patch things by adding some Black members and that diversity got him a nomination. I’m not going to argue with that line of thinking as I see it either as mostly or the very least, partly the truth of things.

oscar600Then the Academy enlarged the number of nominees, mainly to fit in a few films that were popular but won’t win, but that also left some room for “Black” films.

oscar600So let’s look at those 3, starting with Green Book. This Black-led film… Wait… the director is a White guy? Huh. And he did Dumb and Dumber and Something About Mary? OK. Well, at least it is about racism in the country and the star is a Black man… Wait… The star is Viggo Mortensen (White guy) while the Black man (Mahershala Ali) plays his supporting character. OK. The film is based on a true story of a Black pianist being driven through the South… Wait… The story is based on the accounts of the relatives of the White guy. The Black guys family were not consulted and have said the whole thing is a pack of lies. Well, this isn’t looking good. And what is the theme of this film? It’s that racism has nothing to do with institutions, but is purely a personal thing, and if racists (no matter how extreme) and Blacks can just both compromise and meet in the middle and chat a bit, everything will be fine. Oh God. Yeah, this is your 1980s film on racism. Or it’s the film on racism that your Republican Uncle can accept now. This film has little to do with #OscarSoWhite as this this exactly the type of film out-of-touch White people make and have made for years. It’s embarrassing.

oscar600OK, lets get to the ones that are significant. Black Panther is inspirational for Black children. It is a blockbuster, superhero film for the masses with a Black director and a Black cast… none of whom got any nominations… So… yeah. And outside of being the right film at the right moment in time, it is…nice. It is. Is it, outside of it’s significance for diversity, a good enough film for an Oscar nom? Well, some pretty rotten films have gotten noms, so sure. It’s fine. It’s message is aimed at the masses, or at the children of the masses, so everyone can get it, without, you know, thinking. It’s nice. And everyone knows it is an Oscar Best Picture nom because of #OscarSoWhite and because they really wanted a blockbuster. Is it there because it is really good? I’d say no, both to it being that good and to it being there for being that good, but the second is the important part while the first is just my review.

oscar600Which leads us to BlacKKKlansman. This is a great film with something more interesting to say about racism while still making it understandable to the masses. It’s brilliantly performed and directed, and that director is Spike Frickin’ Lee, who’s been ignored forever. It’s funny, emotional, and meaningful, and according to Lee, it got here because the Academy didn’t want more bad press about racial issues. And according to the odds-makers, it doesn’t have a chance of winning. Lee has a decent one for Best Director purely as an “Ooopsy, we forgot you for 30 years” award, but not the film.

oscar600Black Panther, on the other hand, has a chance. Not a good one, but a chance, mainly because of how Oscar voting works. Getting a 2nd or 3rd place vote on a ballot is nearly as good as 1st, and Black Panther could make a lot of 3rd places. Still, unlikely, but possible. And if it wins, it wil be beating Spike Lee and BlacKKKlansman, and that is just sad. Black Panther doesn’t need this win, but BlacKKKlansman could use it, to push it a bit higher in the public consciousness. Black Panther will always be the first Black-led blockbuster to receive a nomination, but once we have a 2nd and a 3rd, it will be seen less for its cultural moment, and more for its storytelling, and it will fade, while BlacKKKlansman will always be great.

oscar600Of course a far more likely option is that all those elderly White voters who are trying to be with it will pick Green Book. Yeah. So, there’s that.

oscar600Which means it’s time to bring up the current favorite for Best Picture, the non-Black #OscarNotSoWhite film, Roma. And that’s a weird one. There’s lots to talk about with it (as an anti-Blockbuster, we’re ARTISTS statement, as a plug for new technologies, as a crushing rebuke of what the Oscar bigwigs have been trying to do, etc), but that’s for a different post. For this one, I’d say that Roma stands in a different area as it is a Foreign film. It’s not an American film made by Hispanics as we don’t have those. And it isn’t being looked at the same way. It doesn’t seem to be part of any American racial statement (oh, its nomination is a statement, just not a reaction to #OscarSoWhite). It’s part of other conversations.

oscar600So for this year, looking at the three films that are part of this conversation, Green Book is embarrassing, but as long as it doesn’t win, it is only a little embarrassing. It is wonderful that Black Panther was nominated, but it needs not to win. And BlacKKKlansman should win for multiple reasons, but it looks like it won’t.

Feb 152019
 
four reels

High schooler Anna (Ella Hunt) is in a dark place after the death of her mother, being dumped by her asshole boyfriend Nick (Ben Wiggins), and attending a school presided over by a near psycho teacher (Paul Kaye). She just wants to escape her small Scottish village. Her ennui is interrupted by the zombie apocalypse. She teams up with other teen survivors, including her best friend and wannabe boyfriend John (Malcolm Cumming), school activist Steph (Sarah Swire), geek photographer Chris (Christopher Leveaux) and her ex to fight their way to the school to rejoin loved ones trapped there after a Christmas talent show, including Anna’s father (Mark Benton) and friend Lisa (Marli Siu). Well, it’s a zombie musical, so things get bloody, and occasionally tuneful along the way.

It’s a Scottish, Christmas, high school musical with zombies. Why didn’t everyone go to see this? It’s funny, dark, gory, and joyous about its genre mashup. It doesn’t try for new ground with those genres because mashing up high school musicals with zombies IS the new ground. Really, what more do you want?

Things start in standard teen-angst-film-style, but that standard introduces us to our quirky ensemble and they’re worth getting to know. Then things shift gears when the zombies arrive with a surprising amount of viscera. We’re not in PG-13 land Toto. Hunt treads through it all with charisma to burn, plus a fine voice, and her supporting cast is nearly as good, with Ben Wiggins and Marli Siu as standouts, but there are no weak links.

The best moments come when the songs move the story along or fill out the characters. Break Away and Hollywood Ending present the characters better than any info dump, and slyly foreshadow what is to come, while Soldier At War is a zombie-killing douche bag anthem. And nothing beats Turning My Life Around, which isn’t as hummable as those other songs, but the context is pure joy to cult film fans (I won’t spoil it; just see it).

No, it’s not perfect. A bit too much time is spent with the wannabe boyfriend, whose troubles wouldn’t be all that interesting in a typical film and are less so with zombies all around. The movie wants our sentiments to be with John at times when it would have been better to dial up the irony. And not all the songs are winners, and when such a number stops the action, as is the case with Human Voice, the lack of inertia is palpable. But when the emotions are real, the blood and humor are flowing, or Anna and Nick are front and center, those problems fade away.

Anna and the Apocalypse is the best film you didn’t see last year. Well, you can still stream it.

Jan 082019
 

cloverfield3I’m a little late for my worst fantasy and science fiction of 2018. Still, a late warning is better than none at all.  I’ve no doubt missed some of the sand, but I’ve done my best to look at every film that had a chance to get onto this list. And I’m not counting ultra-low budget films without a real release. These are films that had studio backing.

Note: If I was expanding this beyond F&SF, Mission Impossible: Fallout and Tomb Raider would take slots below, and MI: Fallout is arguably SF, but as more people than not wouldn’t count either of them, I left them off.

First, a few special awards for films that avoided this list:

Most Disappointing: Deadpool 2 (My Review)
Most Unnecessary: Solo: A Star Wars Story  (My Review)
Greatest Artistic Drop in a Franchise: Incredibles 2

Now to the 10:

 

cloverfield3

#10 – Cloverfield Paradox

Swiping from Event Horizon, 2010, Life, Alien, and many ‘80s SF films, it never decides what story it wants to tell, so fails to tell any. (Full Review)

 

#9 – Truth of Dare 

It’s a patchwork of previous movies. There is not a single moment you won’t predict, even down the order of the deaths. (Full Review)

 

#8 – The Nun

Yet another film in The Conjuring franchise, there’s talent all over this production, but there’s no story. It’s just “some evil stuff happens” till it stops. (Full Review)

 

#7 – Halloween

Maybe it wouldn’t seem like such a sleazy cash-grab if the filmmakers had anything to say or if it hadn’t all been done before in an earlier Halloween film. (Full Review)

 

The+Titan

#6 – The Titan

A sci-fi story about surviving on Titan, except there’s only 20 seconds on Titan. 50% of the film is spent in a pleasant glass house, and the rest at what I assume was a local Spanish YMCA. (Full Review)

 

#5 – Batman Ninja

This is what you show someone if you want them to hate Batman, comics, superheroes, and anime. (Full Review)

 

#4 – Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich

Shouldn’t a Nazi puppet film be fun? The murders are mean spirited, which kills the comedy. The silly moments kill the horror. And everything kills the message. (Full Review)

 

#3 – Slender Man

There’s no scares, no emotional beats, and no clever plot moments—there’s hardly a plot at all. It isn’t even memorable enough to rate as truly awful. (Full Review)

 

#2 – A Wrinkle in Time

An ugly After School Special with all the charm ripped away, it’s dull, simplistic, and an insult to children (Full Review)

 

#1 – Ready Player One

It’s a toxic stew of everything that’s wrong with fandom. It’s an obnoxious, sexist, racist rant in favor of nostalgia-fanboy mania, but it was made so poorly that the hate groups didn’t even realize it was for them till after its theatrical run. (Full Review)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 122018
 
3,5 reels

Miles Morales (voice: Shameik Moore) is a regular teen with a number of normal teen-type problems, mostly related to his father (voice: Brian Tyree Henry), until he’s bitten by a radioactive spider. He’s saved by Spider-Man, who soon after dies at the hands of King Pin (voice: Liev Schreiber). King Pin has a plan to bring back his dead family that involves cracking open the universe and will result in the destruction of the world. The first attempt with his dimensional vortex machine zaps spider-people from other universe’s into Miles’s, including a middle-aged Peter Parker (voice: Jake Johnson), Spider-Gwen (voice: Hailee Steifeld), Spider-Man Noir (voice: Nicolas Cage), the anime Peni Parker (voice: Kimiko Glenn) and the cartoony Spider-Ham (voice: John Mulaney). Together they need to defeat King Pin, and return to their own universes.

Into the Spider-Verse is the best looking animated movie in the last decade, but it ranks far higher when considering visual artistry, where I can’t think of any feature-length animated film in the last 40 years that can compete. The backgrounds are beautiful, the animation is exciting and active, merging 2D and 3D, illustration and pop art, into a coherent whole. Into the Spider-Verse then adds to that artistry a clever gimmick of having three of the stranger spider-people, as well as several villains, rendered in their own styles. That kind of creativity is rare, which makes the conventional nature of much of the rest of the film standout.

The basic story is a traditional teen coming of age one: Miles has some trivial disagreements with his father and isn’t fitting into his new school, and is trying to find his way. I’ve seen this kind of thing over and over and over again. It wasn’t all that interesting the first time, and repetition has not helped. Nothing about Miles’s story, outside of the spider-gang, is interesting because it is so familiar. That might not have bothered me so much (a lot of superhero films are filled with familiar beats) if it wasn’t so contrasted by the visual work, or the other segments of the plot. Miles and old Peter together have fine character interaction and are a lot of fun. Adding in Gwen, Spider-Noir, Peni, and Spider-Harm makes it all better. But there isn’t much of that. The ads gave the impression that the whole gang are in a major portion of the film, but half of their material, and most of their best moments, are in the trailers. There’s far more Miles brooding about his father than there is anime robot fighting of Spider-Ham with oversized weapons.

This is a routine (very routine) teen superhero original story, with the fantastic multiverse stuff tossed in, all designed beautifully. It makes for an enjoyable flick, and one of the better Spider-Man movies, that could have been more.

Dec 082018
 
three reels

Evil CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) retrieves three alien goo monsters from a comet, with a forth escaping. Drake plans to merge the creatures with humans in order to colonize space, but it is hard to find a compatible human. Enter obnoxious reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), who’d lost his career and fiancée due to a particularly stupid interview with Drake. He breaks into the lab with the goo, and is infected by one named Venom, and Eddie turns out to be a perfect host. Eddie gains superpowers but with the problem of having to reign in Venom who wants to eat people. Drake wants his creature back and Eddie wants to expose Drake, while Eddie’s ex (Michelle Williams) wants to help.

As far as unnecessary, empty, franchise, action cash-grabs of 2018 go, Venom isn’t bad. It’s better than Mission Impossible: Fallout, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Incredibles 2, The Meg, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, and not too far behind Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It has the advantage of lowered expectations. Being the trial balloon for Sony’s Spider-Man-free Spider-verse—coming after two failed Spider-Man films and the character going to Marvel—hardly suggests a quality project, but also doesn’t damn it. And like Solo and Fallen Kingdom, it’s stupid and a little childish, but fun. And it doesn’t harm any previous films, so that’s something.

Venom gives us something unusual for a superhero film, a complete loser as our main character. We’ve had flawed (very flawed) protagonists before, but Eddie is an extra level of worthless. He’s dim and makes one horrible decision after another. And he isn’t a protagonist; things happen to him. The film knows all this and never tries to make us sympathetic toward him, which means we also don’t hate him. He’s a pathetic guy and I felt sorry for him. Tom Hardy does a solid job of selling Eddie as a nearly-likable sad sack.

And while the first third of the film works well enough, things take off once Eddie and Venom join together. And I’m not referring to the endless CGI battles. Yes those are fine—for ten years ago—although mostly I was left thinking of the old Spawn movie. All the tentacle flopping and guns firing and explosions are emotionally distant and none are exciting, but I’ve seen worse. No, what works is the tone shift. Someone at Sony (probably one of the 5 credited writers, as nothing says quality like 5 writers), worked out this whole thing was ridiculous so grim and gritty wasn’t going to cut it any more than action would, so he stuck in comedy. And the humor works. As a goof-ball buddy film, Venom is pretty amusing. There’s loads of slapstick, bickering, and swapping of who controls the body. As a drama, or as an action pic, stakes are important and things need to matter. As a silly comedy, it’s not a problem that plans make no sense and everything is insignificant.

It would have been nice to have a theme. With main characters including a crusading, journalist and a corporate head who is concerned with how humanity is destroying the Earth, it took real effort to have absolutely no message. But nope, there’s nothing under the hood. You get some uninspired, bloodless, CGI violence and some jokes. That’s it. And it’s enough for a matinée or a home viewing.

 Aliens, Reviews, Superhero Tagged with:
Nov 262018
 

william-holdenWilliam Holden’s big break came playing a dim young boxer/violinist in Golden Boy, and outside of Barbara Stanwyck, the film is best forgotten. He was as unimpressed by his following string of pretty-boy roles as I am. Everything changed after his return from WWII and Billy Wilder picked him for Sunset Blvd. Time had given his face character and experience had honed his craft. Hard, cynical, broken men became his stock-in-trade and few have done it better. A wild life and excessive alcohol consumption drew those character lines deeper into his face and eventually killed him, but along the way, he became one of the biggest stars of the ‘50s and starred in multiple masterpieces.

An honorable mention for The Towering Inferno, which isn’t a great film, but is fun, and is exactly what it should be.

His best films, starting at #8:

8 – The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) — A well-shot, well-acted action film threaded with an examination of obsession and order—both parts works well, though the whole isn’t the grand statement it would like to be. (It’s also thought of as insulting—for multiple reasons—by the real prisoners who were forced into slave-labor.) Holden plays a POW-escapee who returns to blow up the bridge whose construction is being overseen by a British prisoner played by Alec Guinness, and delivers a great performance (if judged purely on Holden’s performance, this would sit several notches higher). The ending rips apart Guinness’s character for no good reason (in the book, he does not suddenly throw off his insanity and realize his mistake) and that drags the film down substantially, but there’s lot of good here.

7 – The Country Girl (1954) — One of the string of behind-the-scenes-in-theater/movies dramas that popped up in the 1950s (and too often starred Holden—Forever Female being a lesser one while a greater one sits higher on this list). It’s the acting that rules here, mainly that of Grace Kelly who pick up a much deserved best actress Oscar. Bing Crosby is good as a drunken washed-up singer, and Holden is at home as the misogynist director who means well, but this is Kelly’s film as the abused wife. The story doesn’t live up to the performances.

6 – The Wild Bunch (1969) — A pivotal film in the evolution of its genre; it was the beginning of the bloody, nihilistic western. Holden’s real-life hard drinking ways had caught up with him, and he looked his age plus a decade, making him the right star to symbolize the end of an era.

5 – The Moon Is Blue (1953) — A romantic comedy of words. Holden is fine, but his work isn’t what got this on this list. The production code-breaking script has a good deal to do with it (it was thought very edgy for the time), but a bigger factor is co-star David Niven. He has the juicier part as the father of Holden’s ex who takes an interest in his new flame, and he runs with it. It is often said to be Niven’s best performance. As a whole this is a smart, fun film that gets too conventional in the end.

4 – Stalag 17 (1953) — I really don’t know how Wilder pulled this off. No one else could have. It’s a dark prisoner-of-war film where the Nazis are taken quite seriously and yet it bounces into pure comedy, before bouncing back into drama. William Holden, in one of three great films he made with Wilder, plays a selfish, cynical hustler who deals with the Germans… And he’s the hero. He won the Oscar for his performance, and he deserved to. [Also on the Great Directors List for Billy Wilder]

3 – Sabrina (1954) — Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn), the chauffeur’s daughter, has a crush on David (William Holden), the playboy of the house. When time abroad turns her into a suitable target for his shallow affections, older brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) sees trouble and tries to break things up. Hepburn is an obvious choice for a romantic comedy, but Bogart? But it works. [Also on the Great Actors Lists for Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn and on the Great Directors List for Billy Wilder]

2 – Network (1976) — Has any film said more about our times? Dark as a Noir, yet funny, Network is a satire, though author Paddy Chayefsky claims it isn’t because it is reality. Holden puts in a great performance as the last of a dying breed of media men, but was beaten to the Oscar by co-star Peter Finch who yelled, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.” The astonishing thing about Holden’s career is that this magnificent film doesn’t end up at #1

1 – Sunset Blvd. (1950)Sunset Blvd. takes on the film world, which it loves and loathes simultaneously, showing how it uses up people. It’s a dark twisted comedy that sees life through a funhouse mirror. It has amazing performances and Wilder’s most interesting cinematography; it is one of the great Noirs. [Also on the Great Directors List for Billy Wilder]

 

Back to all Best Films By The Great Actors Lists

Nov 162018
 

Mark-SandrichSandrich didn’t have the time to create a great number of master works as he died at 44 from a heart attack generally attributed to overwork. And he was stuck with the likes of the unfunny vaudeville-like team of Wheeler and Woolsey for several films. But in his brief career, Sandrich made his mark. His best films came in collaboration with Fred Astaire. Sandrich knew how to film a dance, and when to stay out of a dancer’s way. That may have been his great skill: to not get in the way of the story. No other director made as many great musicals. Who knows what he might have done with another twenty years.

An honorable mention to Follow the Fleet (1936). The film as a whole doesn’t work, but the dance for Let’s Face the Music and Dance is one of the greatest in cinema history. And another for Carefree (1938), a screwball comedy that includes the classic dance number Change Partners.

#8 – So Proudly We Hail! (1943) — A propaganda piece on wartime nurses that’s low on glory and high on “we’re all in this together.” It’s two hours of death, suffering, explosions, and endurance. It’s too long and has some tonal problems (I’m not sure Paulette Goddard belonged in a serious picture), but Claudette Colbert is solid, Veronica Lake is spectacular, and the emotions are real.

#7 – Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men (1933) — A pre-code romantic comedy where a lower-class beauty who falls for brutes ends up with a wimpy rich guy and sets out to change him. Things do not go where you’d expect.

#6 – Love Thy Neighbor (1940) — An expansion of the Jack Benny radio show onto the screen, complete with the bit where he is having a feud with fellow radio comedian Fred Allen. While only for fans of the radio shows (there were a lot of those in 1940), if you are one, this is a good time, with decent music (sung by Mary Martin) and great bits by the two stars and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson.

#5 – Melody Cruise (1933) — While I applauded Sandrich’s ability to stay out of the way, half the fun of this film is his directing flourishes. The film is stuffed with innovated shots, unexpected angles, playful transitions, and unusual use of music. As a pre-code sex farce, almost nothing could have been filmed a year later (particularly the two lingerie-clad girls, known for taking their clothing off when drunk, stuck in a man’s stateroom).

#4 – Shall We Dance (1937) — An Astaire/Rogers musical, the 4th directed by Sandrich. I find this to be the funniest of the pair’s films, with Astaire playing a jazz dancer whose made it in ballet so must put on a persona of an arrogant Russian. The songs are solid, with “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” the standout. [Also on the Best Actors lists for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers]

#3 – Holiday Inn (1942) — Sandrich’s 6th collaboration with Astaire. This is a perfect holiday movie for pretty much every holiday as it has songs for New Years, Valentine’s Day, Easter, the 4th of July, and Washington’s Birthday. It also includes the song “White Christmas” and it was from this film’s re-recorded sound track that it became a hit. (Full Review) [Also on the Best Actors lists for Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby]

#2 – The Gay Divorcee (1934) — The 2nd Astaire/Rogers film, and the first with them as leads, this one has Rogers attempting to get a divorce from her absent husband and mistaking Astaire as the gigolo she planned to use for cause. Horton and Blore appear again. [Also on the Best Actors lists for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers]

#1 – Top Hat (1935) — The 4th Astaire/Rogers picture and they’d perfected the routine, with Sandrich showing his mastery of the look of the film while leaving the dance routine’s in the hands of Astaire and Hermes Pan. The jokes are solid and the fantasy world of shining marble is wondrous. Rogers falls for a very forward Astaire until she incorrectly deduces that he’s the husband of her good friend. Horton, Blore, and Helen Broderick add to the comedy. [Also on the Best Actors lists for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers]

Nov 092018
 

Nothing is creepier than Asian horror. Well, sometimes.

Asian Horror isn’t a genre nor sub-genre, so it has no defining qualities, besides being made in Asia. It is made up of multiple genres and movements. I’m not just including the J-Horror films with their long haired ghosts, contortionists, and cursed electronics, nor just adding K-Horror (and #-Horror), but also the stylized Japanese horror flicks of the ’50s and before, the Kaidan movies of the 1960s, and Hong Kong action-horror. Most anything that can be called horror and was made in Asia. The exception is that I’m not counting daikaiju (that’s giant monsters for those not into fan terminology; those get their own list). For my reviews of films that fit under the umbrella of Asian Horror, look here.

My ten films span 5 countries and at least 4 cinematic movements. Starting with #10:

 

#10: The Ghost {aka Ryeong} (2004)

From Korea, The Ghost, also known as Dead Friend, is the perfect 10th place film as it isn’t original, but encapsulates the J/K-Horror movement. There’s a long haired ghost connected to water, old school friends getting murdered, and an amnesic girl who needs to find out why. It has enough twists and tension to satisfy horror buffs and enough clues and complications for mystery enthusiasts, but really wins on character. J/K-Horror is often weak on character development, but here we really get to know the heroine. If someone asked me what J-Horror was, I’d say watch this. (My review)

 

 

#9: Bloody Parrot (1981)

We move to Hong Kong and a wildly different type of movie. A master swordsman under suspicion of robbing the Emperor tries to uncover the real thieves, and the path leads him to a weird town filled with secrets. This is a Shaw Brothers martial arts film, that also happens to have demons, gore, spells, a vampire, and nudity. It’s definitely horror, but it is aiming for fun. The colors are psychedelic and the fights are energetic and well choreographed. It has a few more flaws than the other entries on this list, but I give it an extra point or two for being unlike those film. When you’ve had enough long-haired ghosts, or are a wuxia fan, this is your film.

 

 

#8: Pulse {aka Kairo} (2001)

Pulse appears to be a Ringu clone, with a computer disk standing in for the tape, until it isn’t and everything we thought turns out to be either wrong or inconsequential. Pulse is an art-house discourse on existentialism, with J-horror trappings. If that’s what you are looking for, you are going to be in heaven. If you wanted a sensible horror film, you will be less pleased. It’s an easy film to rip apart, and yet still be in awe of. It sticks with me, and is arguably the most meaningful work on this list. There’s an American remake, that tried to make sense of it, correcting the “flaws” by supplying answers, except the original wasn’t going for answers. (My Review)

 

 

#7: Shutter (2004)

Thailand’s swing at joining the J/K-Horror movement, and they hit it out of the park. A photographer and his girlfriend hit a young woman on the road one night, and after appear to be haunted by a ghost. Our heroine assumes it is the ghost of the girl they hit, but the story is thicker than that, and the answer is in the photographs. This one rips at you in the final act. A huge hit in Thailand and a string of smaller countries, Shutter has been remade 3 times; the American remake oddly is set in Japan and has a prominent J-Horror director at the helm.

 

 

#6: The Maid (2005)

An innocent Filipino takes a job as a maid in Singapore, and not knowing the rules, apparently offends the ghosts that all the locals believe walk the streets in the 7th month.  Soon, she is seeing ghosts everywhere and needs to figure out what they want. The Maid was Singapore’s first horror film and they got it right the first time. The acting is flawless, the characters are involving, the culture is fascinating, and the story is one of the strongest among “recent” ghost movies, It’s also the most accessible Asian horror film for Americas as the main character is no more familiar with Singapore than the average Westerner, so we can learn as she does. (My review)

 

 

#5: Ju-On 1&2 (2000)

Ju-On is one of the two foundational films of the J-Horror movement. Which Ju-On? Things get complicated. In 1998, director Takashi Shimizu created two very short segments for the anthology film School Ghost Stories Great. In 2000 he expanded these into Ju-On, and its sequel Ju-On 2, which were made for TV/home video, and are sometimes known as Ju-On: The Curse 1 & 2, but generally not.  Ju-On 2 repeats close to 30 minutes of the first film (taken from the beginning and the end) and is not a sequel but a seamless continuation making one film. The films were such a success that theatrical versions were made—not exactly remakes, but not exactly sequels either.  These films were called Ju-On and Ju-On 2 as well.  In the West they sometimes are called Ju-On: The Grudge and other times a suffix is added that’s a Japanese word meaning “theatrical.”  Then a semi-American version was made, just titled The Grudge, and still set in Japan and still with Shimizu directing, but with White Actors taking the lead roles. This is a semi-remake, semi-sequel, incorporating pieces in the previous versions. It is the original home video version I’m ranking here. It is as creepy as horror gets, with a sense of utter hopelessness. (My review)

 

 

#4: Onibaba (1964)

Coming out of the kaidan horror movement, but dropping the Kabuki theater remnants in favor of a hyped-up realism, Onibaba feels like a poem put on film. Based on a fable, but then twisted out of its religious basis to make a very different statement, Onibaba spends most of its time with a woman and her daughter-in-law who murder weakened samurai on their way home from war in order to sell their weapons and armor for food. If that sounds dark, you’re on the right track. Japan is depicted as a hellhole where survival is difficult in the moment and unlikely longer term. The duo’s murders are depicted less as evil and more as basic reality. The greater evil seems to be the older woman’s desire to deprive the younger of a bit of pleasure (as life only has bits). The supernatural aspect comes toward the end, but it is up to the viewer to decide if that is where the horror lies, or in the basic savage existence of the characters.

 

 

#3: Ringu (1998)

And this is the other foundational film of J-Horror, giving us a cursed piece of technology (a video tape) and a long-haired ghost performed by a contortionist, and the result is unsettling. Ringu is exciting, frightening, and very clever. It works so well because it is, for most of its runtime, the standard ghost story: Several heroes who have nothing to do with the cause of the haunting find themselves in a haunted situation and investigate the tragic event behind the haunting; when they find the answer, they confront the ghost, at which point it vanishes or it becomes clear the ghost will always be there and attempt to leave themselves. Almost every ghost story follows this pattern, with the best ones simply doing a better job of it. Ringu does an excellent job, until near the end, when it turns the tables and reveals it is something different. The American remake, starring Naomi Watts, is even smarter, replacing psychic readings with detective work. (My review)

 

 

#2: A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

A naïve tax collected ends up in a haunted temple in a haunted woods, where he is seduced by a ravishing and adorable ghost (played by the ravishing and adorable Joey Wang) who is under the command of a evil demon. This Hong Kong thriller is like The Evil Dead merged with a martial arts film and then merged with a romance, and it’s a joy from beginning to end. It generated two sequels, a remake, an animated version, and a whole series of fantasy films, but nothing could touch the original.

 

 

#1: Kwaidan (1962)

A three hour, four part anthology film, it is unsurprisingly part of the Kaidan tradition (the translated film title usually gets the “w” while the movement does not). Each story is a period ghost drama, mostly fables where the evil or foolish are punished for their lies or jealousy or cruelty. It could easy be performed on stage instead of on film, providing that the stage was ridiculously gorgeous. Reality is not the goal, but beauty is at least one of several. It’s mesmerizing, which at three hours, it needs to be.

Oct 262018
 

90s horror has a bad reputation, remembered as made up of fading franchises and the bloom of self-award/meta horror, that seemed so clever at first, but most people find irritating now. And yes, there is truth in that reputation. Notice how many on my list have numbers after their title. Originality was hard to find. It’s been suggested that the 90s has no identity of its own, but then, when you are stuck between the two worst sub-genres, slashers and the yet to come torture porn, maybe no identity is a good thing. And the problem with those meta films is less the “meta” nature and more that they are meta-slashers. My top 50 is a drop from my 80s list, but not a huge one, and it actually has stronger bottom third.

This is a horror list, and I split horror from thrillers. Where that line is is up to the individual, so I’m only concerned with my line. That means no Silence of the Lambs or Se7en. Horror comedy gave me some trouble as it is unclear where to draw the line. I include all the horror comedies when chatting with friends, but for here I’ll pull that back a bit, so I’m only going to give honorable mentions to The Addams Family and Death Becomes Her, both of which would be quite high on the list. Also an honorable mention to the Gamera trilogy, which was an unexpectedly good daikaiju series; while I have a few giant monster films on my list, I decided these fall outside of horror.

 

#50. Sleepwalkers (1992)

We’re in 50th place—you didn’t expect a great film? This is gonzo silliness written by Stephen King when he was in a goofy mood, and elevated by Alice Krige.

 

#49. Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992)

Perhaps the definition of an unnecessary sequel, Tsukamoto takes the cyber-body-horror surrealism of the first film and tries to make it coherent. It’s much less than the first, but the first was fantastic, so lesser is still good.

 

#48. Frankenstein Unbound (1990)

Some films are worthwhile purely based on weirdness. Roger Corman directs a Brain W. Aldiss story that sends John Hurt’s scientist back in time to meet Frankenstein. And that’s not even the weird part. (My review)

 

#47. Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)

Sure, the word that comes to mind is “disappointing” but it is less disappointing than Hellraiser 3, and it, at times, feels like a Hellraiser film (the only one after the first two to do so). Doug Bradley still works as Pin Head, and Valentina Vargas in a fine new demon. The rest… well, the prelude stuff is good and the space stuff is zany.

 

#46. Mimic (1997)

A bland, nothing-special horror story handed to a master. Guillermo del Toro couldn’t make a masterpiece out of this, but he gave this giant bug movie a lot of style.

 

#45. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

The best of the 90s meta horror films as the actors and director of A Nightmare on Elm street play themselves being haunted by an actual Freddy after making the film about Freddy. (My review)

 

#44. The Haunting (1999)

Call it Art Design: The Movie. It gets unfairly criticized for not being the same as the 1963 film, but this has a different goal and a different audience. That one was for people who dislike ghosts but love unnecessary narration (My review). This one is people who love set decoration and CGI ghosts.

 

#43. Night of the Living Dead (1990)

If this had come out in the ‘70s, I’d rank it higher. It isn’t that it is specifically an unnecessary remake, but that it is generally unnecessary. But if you are looking for the same old thing, this is a reasonable version. Besides, I’ve met Tom Savini and he’s a hoot.

 

#42. A Chinese Ghost Story III (1991)

The second sequel to the classic A Chinese Ghost Story is essentially a remake. As the original was so good, this one is good as well, but it is a copy. Once you’ve watched the first multiple times and feel like watching it one more time, then try this.

 

#41. Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Space horror from the director of Amelie… Well, that’s…odd. Alien 3 was a miserable A-movie, so they went for B-movie this time and did OK. It’s not deep or emotional or sensible. It’s guys with big guns fighting monsters and Sigourney Weaver playing way over the top. It’s stupid fun.

 

#40. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

John Carpenter ruled the ‘80s, but this is his only passable entry in the ‘90s. It’s one of the better Lovecraft-inspired films. I like it, but find it disappointing. It should have been more. Carpenter would revisit the themes in 2005 with Cigarette Burns.

 

#39. Bride of Chucky (1998)

It took them multiple attempts to work out that the franchise should be comedic, and then they got it right. Jennifer Tilly was the perfect addition (she always sounds a bit like a killer doll).

 

#38. The Craft (1996)

The precursor to Charmed, there’s more high school social structure here than spells, but it works either way. This is where the pop culture version of a witch took the final step from Satanic hag to hot Wiccan. (My review)

 

#37. The Faculty (1998)

A nice little teen alien monster flick, with a fine cast and solid direction from Robert Rodriguez. It doesn’t break any ground, but it doesn’t need to.

 

#36. Haunted (1995)

The first of two miscastings of Aidan Quinn on this list. He does his best to drag down the film, but can’t quite manage with everything else so good, particularly Kate Beckinsale. It’s a nice version of the standard movie ghost story. (My review)

 

#35. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

It has been superseded in the public consciousness by the TV show, as it should, but that doesn’t mean this version doesn’t have some things to like, particularly Kristy Swanson’s take on Buffy.

 

#34. Meridian (1990)

It’s a dark erotic fairytale that starts with roofies, rape, and evil carnies, and slides into were-beasts and ghosts. It is the best looking film made by Charles Band and while it isn’t to all tastes, if it is to yours, it’s hard to forget.

 

#33. Idle Hands (1999)

The best of the slacker horror comedies. A demon possessed hand kills a stoner’s parents and friends and his buddies are too lazy to bother going into the light. The jokes are good and Jessica Alba is adorable,

 

#32. The Prophecy II (1998)

Extremely unnecessary and what’s good is a rehash, but it’s still wonderful to watch Christopher Walken do his thing as Gabriel, the perching angel. (My review)

 

#31. Predator 2 (1990)

Another sequel! Much like the first. Danny Glover is a no-nonsense tough guy, but instead of a soldier he’s a cop. The Predator comes to town and things play out as expected. (My review)

 

#30. Practical Magic (1998)

Aidan Quinn appears a second time in a movie he shouldn’t have gotten close to. The romance and Quinn don’t work, but Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman are so cute together that nothing else matters. Their late night party, with Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest makes it worthwhile.

 

#29. Species (1995)

A ‘50s-style alien film merged with ‘70s Euro-cult and it comes out as stupid and as enjoyable as that sounds. The turnaround is nice—the alien wants our men instead of our women. (My review)

 

#28. Bride of Re-Animator (1990)

Re-Animator was one of the great surprises of the 1980s. This sequel is… good. Jeffrey Comb’s Herbert West is one of the finest mad doctors, so it worth spending a bit more time with him, even if it was done better before. (My review)

 

#27. Nightbreed (1990)

What might have been. Chopped up and left with an unfinished story, it is still Clive Barker at his most Clive Barkerist. It’s a celebration of monsters and blood and sex and the night.

 

#26. Blade (1998)

The beginning of the horror-action craze and the rebirth of superhero films, Blade was a revelation. It can’t compete with what was to follow, or even its own immediate sequel, but it’s still cool. (My review)

 

#25. Trancers II (1991)

Trancers was B-movie mogul Charles Band’s greatest work. Trancers II is much like the first, but a little less. Tim Thomserson is again a riot as Jack Deth, zombie slayer, and where else are you going to see Helen Hunt in a low budget horror film? The series would continue, but best to ignore that fact.

 

#24. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Two separate films stuck uncomfortably together. I’m not fond of Tarantino’s crime section, but Rodriguez’s vampire strip club is exciting and sexy and funny. Salma Hayek’s erotic snake dance is the high point.

 

#23. Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996)

Hey, it’s another sequel. I can just simply cut and paste my comment: It’s much like the first, so it’s good because that one was, but not quite as good.

 

#22. Innocent Blood (1992)

John Landis’s companion piece to An American Werewolf in London. I prefer this one. Anthony LaPaglia is wrong for the part of the romantic cop, but Anne Parillaud is a sexy bloody vampire and this is my favorite Robert Loggia mob performance. (My Review)

 

#21. Return of the Living Dead III (1993)

It’s not often that the third is the best, but Brian Yuzna dialed down the wacky comedy of the franchise and added his brand of twisted humor and created one of the best zombie movies. Mindy Clarke’s pierced zombie doesn’t hurt either. (My Review)

 

#20. Dreams {Yume} (1990)

I got Akira Kurosawa onto a horror list! This strange anthology includes fairytales, ghost stories, science fiction, and post apocalyptic demons. It doesn’t all work, but some of the imagery is fabulous.

 

#19. Braindead (1992)

Before Peter Jackson went nuts on big money, never-ending, fantasy epics, his skill lay in splatter comedies, and this was his best. It’s claimed to be the bloodiest movie ever made (at least at the time), and the lawnmower massacre scene supports that.

 

#18. Army of Darkness (1992)

The one where Sam Raimi got a budget. There are 13 different cuts of this demon-zombie-comedy, and some are better than others, so good luck on the search.

 

#17. The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

A Faustian lawyer flick with Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. It’s better than it has any right to be. Unfortunately, a lawsuit has made the theatrical version impossible to find (they didn’t get rights to include a relief sculpture that I mentioned in my original review).

 

#16. Event Horizon (1997)

Think Hellraiser in space, done far better than when they actually made Hellraiser in space. This is another of those “what might have been” films, with 30 minutes cut and now missing. What we have is good, but it could have been a masterwork.

 

#15. Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

In an alternate reality where magic is common, detective Phillip Lovecraft searches for the Necronomincon. Made for HBO, It didn’t get a theatrical release, which is a shame.

 

#14. Deep Rising (1998)

Before Stephen Sommers made The Mummy, he tried it out here. It’s the same feeling, but in the water. Treat Williams makes an amiable hero after Harrison Ford bowed out. It’s all fun and explosions and monsters eating bad guys.

 

#13. Candyman (1992)

It’s poetry meets slasher and both are caught off guard. Candyman is an atmospheric art film with hooks rending flesh and pools of blood. Tony Todd creates one of the great modern horror icons. (My review)

 

#12. The Forgotten One (1990)

Maybe it’s the purity of it that works so well. This is the standard ghost story told straight. No wild effects or twists to complicate or screw things up. It’s just a haunting and a mystery and a hot ghost who likes to take baths. (My review)

 

#11. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

The story is overwhelmed by appearance, but that’s because the appearance is spectacular: magnificent gothic structures, writhing vampire babes, a half-human bat, extravagant gowns, independently moving shadows, and translucent lingerie. Sometimes overindulgence is what you need. (My review)

 

#10. Wolf (1994)

It’s a satire mixed with a monster mash which works out nicely. Jack Nicholson works well as the broken man who goes a little nuts (that’s his bread-n-butter), though James Spader steals the show. It’s easily a top 5 werewolf film of all time. (My Review)

 

#9. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

More of a gothic soap opera than a monster movie, Interview gives us beautiful people in beautiful surroundings doing beautiful things. It’s not surprising that the film is as seductive as its characters are supposed to be. (My review)

 

#8. Tremors (1990)

I must have seen this film twenty times during the ‘90s, and it never got old. Lots of gore and lots of jokes and some characters to care about. It doesn’t aim high, but it also never misses.

 

#7. The Ninth Gate (1999)

Johnny Depp, before he went crazy, stars in this calm and focused mystery involving a book that may have a supernatural connection. This is Roman Polanski’s second shot at Christian-mythological horror and he does it better this time.

 

#6. Ringu (1998)

Ringu kicked J-horror into high gear and set the path for a decade of cinema. It’s also excellent, appearing to tell the standard movie ghost story right up until it doesn’t. Few films are half as creepy. (My review)

 

#5. The Prophecy (1995)

It asks the question, “Would you want to meet an angel?” and answers it: no. The conception of angels is marvelous, but the specific execution is even better. In any normal movie, Viggo Mortensen would steal it all with his powerful and frightening Lucifer, but not here. Christopher Walken rules as the warped Gabriel. (My review)

 

#4. Sleepy Hollow (1999)

This is the perfect Halloween celebration movie: emotional, creepy, and beautiful. Tim Burton creates a lush, dreamlike, bewitching world where even a beheading looks elegant and the grotesque is alluring. (My review)

 

#3. Jurassic Park (1993)

Yes, it’s a horror film. People get hunted by monsters in the dark—that’s horror. It also has a strong theme, which everything in the film contradicts. Is making dinosaurs a bad idea? Sure. Would I do it? In a second. It would be wondrous.

 

#2 The Mummy (1999)

One of the finest adventure films of the last 50 years, and one that’s surprisingly gory. The dialog is clever, the characters pull you in (both the likable ones and the villains), the effects look great, and the monster is menacing. This is Deep Rising perfected. (My review)

 

#1. The Sixth Sense (1999)

What else could it be? It’s the best ghost movie since the 1940s. It does what other twist movies fail to do—that is, have a great story without the twist. The twist just makes it so much better. It’s been a long time since M. Night Shyamalan and Bruce Willis were thought of as great talents, but in 1999, they were. (My review)

Oct 222018
 

Mad Scientists. You have to love them. I do. Where would our monsters come from without them?

For my reviews of Mad Doctor/Scientist films, check out my full list here.

This is a horror list, so I’m trying to stick to that arbitrary line. That means I won’t be counting any of the myriad evil super scientists in spy and superhero films. Honorable Mention goes to The Rocky Horror Picture Show for so many reasons.

Starting with #10:

 

#10: Return of the Living Dead III (1993)

The third Living Dead film is the best (and the only one that would qualify for this list). Director Brian Yuzna takes the franchise in a less camp direction, instilling this movie with his darker sense of humor, while keeping the violence and gore of its predecessors. He also slips in a great deal more character development as this is a love story. Think Romeo and Juliet with zombies and the military. Our mad doctor is trying to weaponize zombies. Bad plan. Yuzna will return to this list two times, in the role of producer. (My review)

 

 

#9: Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

I debated if this film qualified, as the mad doctor is the 6th banana, but the plot is built around mad science, and it is filled with all the trappings, so yes, it counts. Here we have a full on comedy, and one of the best horror comedies of all time that also happens to be the best Abbot and Costello film, the best of the Universal classic monster mash-up films (there were only 5), and only the second time Dracula was played by Bela Lugosi. While Abbot and Costello do their normal wacky bits, the monster side of things is treated respectfully. It was the perfect way to end an era.

 

 

#8: Island of Lost Souls (1932)

The first, and best adaptation of H. G. Wells’s novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau shifts the tone of the tale away from science fiction and toward horror. In doing so, the story is given power and one of the great cinematic “mad” doctors is created. There’s so much to bite into. You can spend the entire film dwelling on the twisted Garden of Eden myth or you can examine what it means to be human or or the nature of laws and society or of religion and a lesser god. Too thoughtful? Then skip all of it and wallow in the horror of the House of Pain. There are plenty of thrills and chills. This is Charles Laughton’s film. His Moreau isn’t mad. He’s suave, clever, domineering, and evil. He enjoys his work, and enjoys the worship of his creations. Island of Lost Souls won my Foscar Award for 1932. (My review)

 

 

#6: Re-Animator (1985)

Based so loosely on a H.P. Lovecraft story that it’s hardly worth mentioning, Re-Animator is as much fun as you can have with a re-animated corpse. It has all the violence, gore, and nudity of your standard survivors-fight-zombie-horde movie, but with wit and one hell of a mad scientist. And it’s that mad scientist that makes the film.  Jeffrey Combs plays him as an intense sprite and it is one of the great performances in horror.  It’s not surprising that Herbert West has so many devoted fans. (My review)

 

 

#7: The Fly (1986)

An honorable mention to the 1958 The Fly which almost made this list, but was beaten out by this re-make. Perhaps re-imagining is a better word as the first film was a family drama focusing on the wife, and this is body horror as metaphor for the dating scene. David Cronenberg was the Western cinematic master of twisted flesh and he finally had the backing to fulfill his vision. It is something to see. The Fly radically changed the view of actor Jeff Goldblum, who previously was limited to “nerdy” friend parts.

 

 

#5: From Beyond (1986)

The Re-Animator team return in a more Lovecraftian film. This may be the only Mad Scientist flick that manages to make a persuasive argument for giving up science and hiding out on a farm somewhere. Gordon has pulled out all the stops to make From Beyond a joyride of gore, nudity, sadomasochism, violence, retribution, and dark humor.  There’s a giant, man-eating worm that sucks off hair and a few layers of skin, and there are flying barracudas that do pretty much what the swimming ones do. There are ax-attacks, brains sucked through eye sockets, and a shape-changing rubber demon with a breast obsession. And there’s Barbara Crampton, first in a ripped nightgown, and then in S&M gear. If you can’t find something to enjoy in that list, you’re not trying. (My review)

 

 

#4: Jurassic Park (1993)

I refuse to say there is anything mad about the science in Jurassic Park. If you can make a dinosaur, then make a dinosaur. I can’t even call it a mad businessman film as I find the business reasonable..ish. They just needed to work on their security. Well, it is close enough to count for this list (and yes, this is a horror film—kids about to be eaten in a kitchen counts for horror). Jurassic Park is a great film in so many ways (frights, action, character), but its true achievement is in pulling the audience into the wonder of it all. And yeah, as we find out in the sequels, the main scientist is a touch on the amoral-obsessed side.

 

 

#3: Altered States (1980)

Filled with all the weirdness director Ken Russell is famous for, Altered States follows a scientist played by William Hurt as he fanatically searches for the meaning to the universe, and finds it. Sometimes it is best not find what you are looking for. It is brilliant and thought-provoking, though could use a few less minutes of drug trips. I question if this film counts as horror, but it has elements that tend that way and others count it, and there’s no question we have a truly obsessed doctor.

 

 

#2: The Invisible Man (1933)

No one has done more for horror and mad doctor cinema than James Whale. The man who formed Universal horror had a brilliant eye and a quirky pitch black sense of humor. This was his second Universal Monster, and skating on a major success, he relaxed and let himself go, slipping a great deal of comedy between the frights. There are no times when Una O’Conner screaming isn’t wonderful. It was also the big break for the greatest character actor of all time, Claude Rains.

 

 

#1: Frankenstein (1931)
       Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
       Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Yes, this is a cheat, putting the three films together, but otherwise half this list would be from the 1930s. Besides, separating the three wouldn’t change much; two of the three would keep the top positions and Son of Frankenstein would only slip a few places. So, the original Frankenstein films take the top spot. James Whale, Boris Karloff, and Jack P. Pierce created the greatest horror icon of all time and a magnificent film. Then they returned, with the help of composer Franz Waxman, and made an even better film. Son of Frankenstein suffers without Whale’s touch, but excels with beautiful German expressionist sets. Frankenstein won my Foscar Award for 1931, though Bride only made runner up in a more competitive year, and Son was a nominee for 1939.