Gods, Devils, Sinners and Saints — Visions of Heaven and Hell in the Movies (Part Two): Battle for the Soul

Daniel Webster (Edward Arnold) bargains with Mr. Scratch (Walter Huston) in William Dieterle’s The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941)

The Wages of Sin

Selling one’s soul for material gain, of course, is an age-old and thrice familiar routine. Derived primarily from myths and legends, one can go back to medieval times to its roots — to the story of the real life Dr. Johannes Georg Faust selling his soul to Satan for fame, fortune and youth. (Let’s not forget sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, but not necessarily in that order.)

This so-called “Doktor” Faust lived and died in-and-around old Württemberg in Lutheran-era Germany. He was known variously and throughout the realm as a magus, an alchemist, a practical joker, and “a conjurer of cheap tricks” (as well as a bugger of young boys). These activities gave rise to the notion that Faust had made a blasphemous deal with the Devil in exchange for his “magical” abilities.

Indeed, the personage of Faust and his diabolical pact have been a recurring theme in literature and folklore long before it dawned on playwrights and poets to devote full-length stage treatments to the matter. Consequently, the film and opera worlds were no strangers to the tale, for Faust was the protagonist in any number of lyric and/or cinematic ventures almost as frequent as that of Orpheus and his myth.

In point of fact, we can trace the development of the Faust legend (and its resultant tragic consequences) to the Biblical Book of Genesis — specifically, to the cautionary example of Adam and Eve.

In this early telling, the first Man and Woman share a communal lifestyle in the bountiful Garden of Eden (or Paradise, to use the more descriptive term). Naked and unafraid, the couple roams the primeval forest, blissfully unaware of their nakedness yet profoundly cognizant of their pleasurable surroundings.

Adam & Eve and the Expulsion from the Garden – Michelangelo’s panels from the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City

Tempted by the Serpent (the Devil in reptilian guise), they partake of the Forbidden Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the first recorded evidence of a quid pro quo: you do something for me, and I’ll do something for you (I’ll bet!).

As a result of her indulgence, Eve gets a tantalizing taste of the “good life” — not that it wasn’t good beforehand, mind you, but her act of defiance against God’s orders can be summed up in one apocryphal phrase: the Devil made her do it.

Eve shares the apple (or whatever fruit it happened to be) with her mate, Adam. Before long their eyes are opened to their own nude forms. They were ashamed, or so the Bible tells us, and thus sin came into the world.

One of the few motion-picture illustrations of this passage comes from the John Huston-directed, Dino De Laurentiis-produced three-hour extravaganza The Bible: In the Beginning (1966), with an athletically sculpted Michael Parks as Adam and Swedish actress Ulla Bergryd as Eve. The screenplay was credited to British author and playwright Christopher Fry, as if the poetry and high-mindedness of the King James Version needed further padding.

Eve (Ulla Bergryd) offers Adam (Michael Parks) a tasty treat in John Huston’s The Bible: In the Beginning (1966)

Blond, bland and bashful to a fault, both Parks (a dead ringer for Robert Redford) and Bergryd are oh-so-beautiful to look at, but were no match for the slimy, sinuous Serpent — voiced, to an insinuatingly deceitful degree, by that old ham Huston.

It should be noted that character and voiceover actor Sterling Holloway did similar vocal duties (to comparable if less successful effect) as Kaa the Snake in Disney’s animated feature Jungle Book from 1967. Only from Kaa’s part, it was mostly to engorge himself on the boy Mowgli’s flesh.

Faustian Bargains

The sale of one’s soul for untold riches and indescribable pleasures is explored in several film adaptations, among them F.W. Murnau’s silent version of Faust: A German Folktale (1926), which featured an international array of artists headed by Swedish actor Gösta Ekman as Faust, American Camilla Horn as Gretchen (Marguerite in Charles Gounod’s opera), and Swiss-born thespian Emil Jannings (The Blue Angel) as the highly effective Mephistopheles.

Cineaste magazine described Jannings’ “glowing-eyed demon” as a “malevolent conniver with a touch of Benito Mussolini in his burly face.” Evviva Il Duce! To my eyes, he resembles a Teutonic version of Charles Laughton.

The film exists in many versions and in several foreign languages (uh, the intertitles, that is), as was the custom in the silent era and in the early days of sound cinema. A compilation of Goethe’s dramatic play in two parts, Faust also encapsulates portions of Gounod’s operatic treatment, which concentrates on the alleged love story between Faust and the beautiful country girl Gretchen (or Marguerite, in the opera).

Mephisto (Emil Jannings) watches over Faust (Gosta Ekman) woo Gretchen (Camilla Horn) in F.W. Murnau’s Faust (1926)

In one derided ending to Murnau’s picture, Gretchen is burned alive at the stake for deliberately drowning her illegitimate daughter, fathered by the lustful Faust. Reverting to his actual old-man guise, Faust joins Gretchen in the hellish flames, only to be lifted upward, body and soul, to heaven in what has been termed “a visual effect of truly awesome tackiness.”

William Dieterle, who appeared as Gretchen’s warlike brother Valentin in Murnau’s flick, went on to direct a Faustian feature of his own. Known by various titles as The Devil and Daniel Webster, Daniel and the Devil, All That Money Can Buy, Mr. Scratch and Here Is a Man, this 1941 fantasy noir epic, adapted by poet and author Stephen Vincent Benét with screenwriter Dan Totheroh from Benét’s short story, The Devil and Daniel Webster, tells of a dirt poor New Hampshire farmer named Jabez Stone (James Craig).

Down on his luck and faced with foreclosure on his farm’s mortgage, Stone, as most fellows in his shoes would do in such dramatic circumstances, swears to sell his soul to the devil for a mere two cents’ worth of aid. No sooner does he say this when who should appear but Beelzebub himself, who answers to the name of Mr. Scratch. He’s played by a lanky Walter Huston, father of director John Huston and a notable stage and screen actor in his own right (Thomas Mitchell was originally tapped to be the devil, but withdrew due to ill health).

With an impish twinkle in his eye and equally wicked grin, Scratch sports some bristly chin whiskers and a fine rustic cap that give him the appearance of an iniquitous Robin Hood on the wrong side of the law. Scratch lures the unsuspecting Stone into his snare with gold coins that mysteriously materialize from his basement. After seven years of good fortune and several instances of deteriorating behavior on the part of Stone’s character — helped, in large measure, by the feminine wiles of alluring servant girl Simone Simon — Scratch comes back to make good on his pact.

At the end of his rope, the desperate Stone turns to the renowned orator and politician, Daniel Webster (excellently portrayed by character actor Edward Arnold), to plead his case to an infernal jury of his peers. And what a jury it is, comprised of the worst traitors and evil-doers this side of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins: “Americans all,” according to the jocular Scratch. In order to defend Stone against this deliberately stacked deck, Webster is forced to put up his own soul in exchange for his client’s release.

Walter Huston as Mr. Scratch (Image by © John Springer Collection/CORBIS)

In the grand finale, the great orator manages to sway the jury to Stone’s side, thus cementing Webster’s reputation as a literal man of his word. The picture concludes with a typically Brechtian twist worthy of Pirandello: Scratch looks straight into the camera (and out into the audience) for potential future candidates to corrupt. KER-CHING!

To counteract the feelings of déjà vu that either of these features may have engendered in viewers, we bring you 1967’s Bedazzled, a satiric Swinging Sixties twist on the Faustian fable that takes place in a very Merry Ole England.

Directed and produced by Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain), the movie stars the hapless Dudley Moore (Arthur) as a British Mod-era Faust named Stanley Moon, Peter Cook as his tempter George Spiggott (a “dirty, rotten, double-crossing devil”), Eleanor Bron as airhead waitress Margaret Spencer, and shapely Raquel Welch as one of the Seven Deadly Sins (we’ll leave it to readers to figure out which one).

This pre-Monty Pythonesque exercise in raunchiness, sex, vulgarity and double and triple entendres was written by its two stars, Cook and Moore. It positively reeks of psychedelic pop art, Beatle haircuts and micro-miniskirts, along with granny glasses, Edwardian-style suits and a typical soundtrack of the period, also co-written by Cook and Moore.

Dudley Moore & Peter Cook in Stanley Donen’s Bedazzled (1967)

In this one, George grants Stanley seven wishes before he comes to claim his prize. Henceforth, let it be known that the Devil drives a hard bargain indeed: woe befalls the individual who takes Satan — or George, in this case — at his word.

Evil intent and perfidious arrangements with satanic forces, or the Heavenly Host, are part and parcel of the genre. But never was a bargain more passionate (and, therefore, more battered and bloodied) than Prince Vlad’s renunciation of God after the premature death of his wife Elizabeta (Winona Ryder), in the prologue to Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (whose Dracula movie was this, anyway?).

This powerful sequence, which got the otherwise plodding production off to a rollicking, riveting start, was actually filmed by Coppola’s son Roman, who was in charge of the in-camera special effects. It was narrated by Sir Anthony Hopkins, who plays vampire hunter Professor Van Helsing in the main section, as well as one of the Eastern Orthodox priests in this tidbit.

Hopkins relates a back story concerning the Moslem Turks’ invasion of Vlad’s homeland in the Carpathian Mountains; how Prince Vlad (Gary Oldman) repelled the invaders through his own bloodthirsty methods (not for nothing did he become known to history as “Vlad the Impaler”); and who, upon his return to his fortress castle, was told of his beloved’s suicide through the spreading of false rumors of his demise.

Prince Vlad (Gary Oldman) weeps over Elizabeta (Winona Ryder), as the orthodox priest (Anthony Hopkins) looks on, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Angry at what he perceived to be the Lord’s betrayal of his most steadfast defender, the devastated prince renounces God and vows to rise from the ashes of his death by feasting on the blood of his enemies. Vlad wields his huge broadsword aloft and stabs the Christian cross with it, out of which blood gushes forth into a cup. Vlad drinks the blood while intoning a mighty roar upon the words: “The blood is the life,” a sacrilegious reversal of the ceremony of the Holy Eucharist.

The religious symbolism and deliberate association with the crucified Christ return as the film draws to a bloody conclusion. With a large Bowie knife sticking out of his chest, Dracula makes his way back into the castle — to the exact spot where he made his original unholy vow.

Asking why God has forsaken him, Dracula begs Minna Harker (Ryder in a dual role), the wife of one of his victims, to put an end to his suffering and give him peace. Minna complies with his request by plunging the knife deeper into his chest, out his back and into the floor.

At the words, “It is finished,” Dracula draws his last breath, as an unseen heavenly choir intones a mournful sigh of relief. Cue end credits!

(End of Part Two – To be continued….)

Copyright © 2017 by Josmar F. Lopes

Boo 2, the Sequel — Fabulous Fright Flicks for Halloween Night and a Delightful Day of the Dead

Wow, is it that time of the year already? You betcha! And do we have a bad case of déjà vu all over again! This season, we’re going to pay tribute to Halloween, along with a salute to All Soul’s Day — more commonly known as the Day of the Dead — by making critical offerings to the classic Universal monsters… Reborn, that is!

You will recall that last October 2012, we started the celebration off with a review of the Blu-ray® Disc release of original fright flicks from Universal Studio’s vaunted archives. Such vintage attractions as Dracula, Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Phantom of the Opera, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon were the so-called attractions, belatedly so, and feted with the deluxe-package treatment they deserved.

But what’s become of these “universally” touted bogeymen (or should I say the “undead”)? Where have they been since their initial release lo these many moons ago? Could they have been hibernating, lying dormant in a state of suspended animation, in anticipation of that fateful day when Blu-ray and DVD would awaken them from their slumber, to walk among us like the bad sequels they were intended to be?

To answer that question, let’s look at what Hollywood has been up to in those intervening years, shall we? Then we will see if the dead are truly dead. First up is that bloody ghoul fellow himself, the Count (and I don’t mean the Sesame Street variety).

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Gary Oldman as Count Dracula

Gary Oldman as Count Dracula

The conceit of inserting the name of its original author into this film’s title might have led viewers to assume a more faithful rendering of this oft-filmed tale. Except that it, too, includes more than a few embellishments to Irish author Stoker’s Gothic romance (the prologue and battle with Moslem Turks, for one) that do not appear in the novel. Be that as it may, Gary Oldman is the long-lived Count Dracula, here disguised as Romanian Prince Vlad. He’s no Bela Lugosi, but then who is? With his long hair parted down the middle, wistful expression, and tinted blue eye-shades, Gary’s a dead ringer for Ozzy Osbourne (and just as acerbic)! At the opposite acting end, we have Anthony Hopkins as that old vampire slayer, Professor Van Helsing. Hopkins plays him to the hysterical hilt, as if he’s in a constant state of flux. Winona Ryder is Minna Harker, and she’s the best thing in the picture. Her youthful radiance and dark looks contrast markedly with that of Lucy Westenra, played by sexy redhead Sadie Frost. Keanu Reeves strives mightily to maintain his British accent throughout, but manages to imbue Jonathan Harker with a high degree of detachment, as well as varying shades of hair color — an egregious performance. A real Brit, Richard E. Grant is terrific (as always) in the smaller but no less showy part of Dr. Jack Seward, expanded from the book. Bill Campbell is fine as the Texan Quincy Morris (the one with the Bowie knife), as is Cary Elwes as Lucy’s betrothed, Lord Arthur Holmwood. Both characters are customarily eliminated in most versions, but here they’ve been given their appointed task to seek out and destroy the evil vampire before he drives all of London to drink. Tom Waits plays an even loonier Renfield than Dwight Frye ever did: he takes the art of insect-eating to new heights, while longtime character actor Jay Robinson (The Robe) has a bit part as his boss. Francis Ford Coppola directs, using every conceivable film artifice imaginable to convey the story in purely cinematic terms. It’s quite impressive — both visually and aurally — with excellent Foley effects, art direction, sound, and costumes (by Eiko Ishioka). Hard to believe it was all filmed on a sound stage. All the FX were done “in camera,” but the drama lacks thrust at key moments and tends to drag a bit before the wham-bam finale, done as a fast-paced horse chase. The powerful, romantic score by Polish composer Wojciech Kilar, which alternates his orchestra with choral and percussive effects, aids immeasurably. This remake is recommended for horror-film buffs, but with reservations: despite the A-list cast the shudders never materialize, a letdown in that department.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)

Kenneth Branagh as Dr. Frankenstein

Kenneth Branagh as Dr. Frankenstein

Trying to do for Mary Shelley what he did for Bram Stoker, Francis Coppola gave up the directorial reins to actor-director Kenneth Branagh (Coppola produced instead) in the hope that Ken could bring a baroque majesty to this tawdry remake of Frankenstein. That he did, but the results are more on the level of a non-stop MTV video than a midnight matinee. Giving it the old college try, this version (much like its predecessor Dracula above), is much closer to the original novel than any of the previous films ever were. Why, there’s nary an electrical wire or flash of lightning to be found. Instead, we get an old-fashioned laboratory circa the late 18th century. Does the gimmick work? Well…yes and no. The monster, a biologically conceived aberration with a good deal of facial stitching and two mismatched eyeballs, is oddly played by a low-key Robert De Niro (Brooklyn accent intact). He’s poetic to a fault, but not nearly as frightening as he ought to be. In compensation, there’s an excellent supporting cast, with fine turns by Tom Hulce as Branagh’s best pal, Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth, Ian Holm as Poppa Frankenstein, Aidan Quinn as Captain Walton (another of those roles eliminated from most versions), and especially former Monty Python regular John Cleese as Frankie’s mentor Professor Waldman, a rather unpleasant chap who, ahem, “contributes” the brains to his star pupil’s failed experiment. The ending is right out of Shelley, which may turn many fans off; but, hey, that’s the story, folks! I only wish this big-budget version were better than it turned out to be. Some of the more horrific elements, such as a bit of chest-ripping and bloody splatters, could have been dispensed with, to the betterment of all concerned. Less is definitely more when it comes to these types of features. In Branagh’s case, more is decidedly more, and then some – and that damn camera never stops moving! Egad, Igor!!! It’s soooo distracting, and that’s about the best one can say for this modern Prometheus.

The Mummy (1999)

The Mummy (1999)

Rachel Weisz & Brendan Fraser

Having nothing in particular to do with the classic Boris Karloff/Karl Freund version, The Mummy is far superior technically to most films of the genre, but devoid of the requisite chills the story demands. After a terrific prologue, it’s strictly tongue-in-cheek all the way, and played mostly for laughs. Many of the gags are in the spirit of silly slapstick, or a Saturday-afternoon kiddie caper, than a grisly horror tale — but that’s okay with us! The film stars Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) as Evelyn, a bumbling British archeologist in search of the City of the Dead; John Hannah as her ne’er-do-well brother Jonathan; and goofball Brendan Fraser (George of the Jungle) as Rick O’Connell, a down-on-his-luck soldier of fortune who sweet-talks them both into taking him on their excursion. The dead come back to life in this action-packed spoof of Mummy movies, which went on to spawn several sequels of its own. Kevin J. O’Connor plays the hapless servant Beni, Israeli actor Oded Fehr displays his matinee-idol looks as Ardeth Bey, a defender of the dead, and Arnold Vosloo is the proto-wrestling incarnation of Imhotep. Also in the cast are veteran character actor Bernard Fox as forlorn English pilot Winston (!) and Jonathan Hyde (Titanic) as a condescending Egyptologist. As an adventure yarn, it’s better than the misguided The Phantom of a few years back, or the underrated The Shadow, but not by much. Along with the latter film, it shares an exotic film score by the late Jerry Goldsmith, the resident dean of movie composers. Good computer graphics and miraculous transformations, however, does not a horror-movie make! There’s a feeling this whole show will play better at home, where the warm, sunset colors and sweeping romantic vistas can be savored at one’s leisure. Still, there’s something amiable, in a slapdash sort of way, about this picture, due primarily to the flair for fun and mischief shown by an energetic cast. The premise is suspect even in our cynical TV age, but please don’t take any of it seriously. I’d place this remake in the “hokey but tolerable” category. It’s certainly better than Hammer Studio’s moth-eaten attempt from 1959, which starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. A hollow compliment by any means!

Hollow Man (2000)

Kevin Bacon is the Hollow Man

Kevin Bacon is the Hollow Man

Talk about hollow! This modern-day updating of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man is, for lack of a better word, atrocious. I say this despite the Oscar-nominated state-of-the-art effects. The mad-scientist-gone-amok theme is taken to absurd levels with this unnecessarily violent offshoot. In the end, it gets downright mean and vicious, with lead scientist Kevin Bacon (yes, that Kevin Bacon, all six degrees of him) left to his own devious devices. Hollow Man purports to be a modern retelling (kinda, sorta) of Wells’ novella, but what we have instead is an intensely leaden fable with no morals whatsoever, whose overwrought main protagonist experiences an insatiable lust for power, sex and control — with a survival-of-the-filthiest mentality to boot — that gets worse as the movie trips along from crisis to crisis. Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, a master of over-the-top features such as RoboCop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers and Total Recall, is exactly that. This leaves the viewer with little to no redeeming characters or values to root for — with the possible exception of the superior FX display, but that’s not saying much. Elizabeth Shue as Bacon’s unattainable love interest; Josh Brolin as the monkey man in the middle; and poor Rhona Mitra as a helpless victim of mad scientist Bacon’s erotic fantasies, do their best with what they get to work with. However, it’s grade Z material from start to finish, unworthy even of a slasher film (a la those Friday the 13th monstrosities), which this one tries to copy. Will someone please make this picture disappear, once and for all? You’d be doing the sci-fi world a favor. And next time an action director wants to try his hand at an Invisible Man redux, have him sit through several screenings of a real classic: James Whale’s fabulous original (he may change his mind after that).

Van Helsing (2004)

Hugh Jackman (right) as Van Helsing

Hugh Jackman (right) as Van Helsing

This is what happens when video game technology and graphic novels collide, creating an amalgam of genres that clash in the most outrageous fashion. But there’s one thing this likeable film’s got going for it that others don’t: it’s fast and furious, with non-stop action and a biggest-bang-for-the-buck mindset that grows on you after repeated viewings. Written and directed by Stephen Sommers (who did the Mummy remake mentioned above), Van Helsing’s got a similar tongue-in-cheek tone (no pun intended). It certainly goes for the throat (now that pun was intended) almost every time. The premise turns the rugged and fairly youngish Van Helsing (a stalwart, leather-clad Hugh Jackman) into a roving Clint Eastwood, a lone gunman-type who tries his best to keep a sharp eye out for werewolves, split personalities, flying vampire babes, treacherous hunchbacks, and wisecracking friars, while at the same time falling for luscious Anna Valerious (slickly played by Kate Beckinsale). If ever there was a man born to play these larger than life characters (think Wolverine from the X-Men series), Hugh Jackman is that man. The prologue, in high contract black-and-white, is just the opening salvo, where Dr. Frankenstein puts in a guest appearance prior to his handy disposal by an ersatz Count Dracula (tongue-tied Richard Roxburgh). Dracula’s not bad, just lacking in charisma. The Frankenstein monster (a hulking Shuler Hensley) isn’t too bad either, although he looks like a walking erector set with a glow-in-the-dark dome for a brain. The Wolfman is here, too (uh, several of them, to be exact) and boy, does he get an extreme makeover! Another aspect I liked is its downbeat ending. No last-minute cavalry to the rescue here, but instead the story sticks basically within the confines of its comic book origins. And maybe that’s how it should be (just waxing philosophical). Robbie Coltrane provides the gelatinous voice of a monstrously-conceived CGI Mr. Hyde, in the London prologue. It seems to me that life back then wasn’t nearly as fast-paced as it’s depicted in this flick, but whatever.

The Wolfman (2010)

Benicio Del Toro as The Wolf Man

Benicio Del Toro as The Wolfman

This technically superior remake, redux, or whatever you want to call it, has an intriguing plot line. It’s based on the old Lon Chaney Jr. version, but goes in a completely and unexpectedly eerie direction. The Wolfman, in this case Puerto Rican actor Benicio Del Toro, is Lawrence Talbot, a Shakespearean lead who looks and sounds about as Shakespearean as I do. Then again, Chaney Jr. didn’t seem quite so British either, nor did he have any physical resemblance to Claude Rains, who played his father in 1941, which is where this edition makes good headway. It’s miles and away the best in terms of special FX, for which it won an Academy Award for Best Makeup (Rick Baker, take a bow). After the death of his brother Ben, Talbot is coaxed by Ben’s fiancée (Emily Blunt) to come back to his ancestral home at Blackmoor, where he learns all about those nasty skeletons in the family closet, courtesy of dear old deranged dad, mischievously portrayed by a real thespian, Sir Anthony Hopkins. From there we’re led on a wild chase through dark forests, gothic interiors, and gypsy camp sites, with the full moon casting its baleful light on a fiercely determined Del Toro — determined, that is, to kill and maim his victims to a bloody pulp. The transformations are spectacular, with the resultant beast looking about as convincing as any we’ve seen (Benicio, is that you under there?). The killings are all-too real as well. Poor Wolfman dies in the end, of course, and that’s to be expected. But the howl continues nevertheless (you’ll see what I mean). The strong supporting cast is headed by Hugo Weaving as Inspector Aberline, perennial fall-guy Art Malik as family servant Singh, Antony Sher as non-believing Dr. Hoenneger, and lending a touch of class is Geraldine Chaplin as the gypsy woman Maleva. Veteran director Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer) took over the helm when several of his predecessors bowed out (lucky them). At first Danny Elfman’s atmospheric score was rejected, then substituted with a rival composer’s, only to be reinstated in the end. The whole trouble-laden production was filmed in England, at Pinewood Studios and on actual locations, which gave it an authentic look and feel.

The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Herbert Lom in The Phantom of the Opera

Herbert Lom in The Phantom of the Opera

There has been no – let me repeat that – no viable modern film depiction of the old Gaston Leroux gothic-horror tale for many generations, unless you count the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (which we don’t — and it isn’t very scary, either, so there!). The two most frequently screened versions are, of course, Lon Chaney Sr.’s silent classic from 1925 and Universal’s Technicolor sound remake (from 1943) starring Claude Rains. Chaney’s death-head skull makeup went down in movie history as one of the most horrific ever seen, while Rains’ lamer characterization was nowhere near as shocking — there was more opera than phantom in that one, anyway, than most people cared for, despite the proficiency involved in its making. So where do we go from here? Why, there’s Hammer Studio’s veddy British take, naturally, which stars some hefty players and boasts a modernist music score! And it’s pretty frightening, too, a decent little shocker that will remind viewers of the heyday of Hammer horror. While there’s no Lee or Cushing to push us around, we do have a worthy enough pretender in Herbert Lom as kindly Professor Petrie, a.k.a. the Phantom. His story is told in flashback, revealing that a pompous, no-talent bastard named Lord Ambrose D’Arcy (played with a sneer and a smile by the lugubrious Michael Gough) stole his best work, among which is a complete opera based on Joan of Arc, thus leading poor Prof. Petrie to seek revenge on this miscreant. Unfortunately for Petrie (but fortunately for fans), he gets disfigured and takes up residence in the sewers underneath the opera house, whereby his mysterious appearances and disembodied voice strike terror into the hearts of all within. Now that’s a horror flick! Bravos to all concerned, especially director Terence Fisher, adapter John Elder, cinematographer Arthur Grant, and composer Edwin Astley. The story picks up steam from this point on, and ends up pretty much as we expect it (watch out for that chandelier!). The sterling cast features Lom (in grisly makeup), Heather Sears as the opera singer Christine, stalwart Edward de Souza as the curious Police Inspector Harry Hunter, and the inimitable Mr. Gough. Three cheers!

The Monster Squad (1987)

Cast of The Monster Squad

Cast of The Monster Squad

This is the only picture of the seven above that features nearly all of Universal’s classic monsters (no Invisible Man, sorry), along with the first and, to date, only reappearance of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, here dubbed the Gill-Man. But it isn’t the original Gill-Man, people — far from it! Because of authorship rights and a plethora of legal/copyright issues, the iconic Creature getup is banished from this geeky, mostly kid-point-of-view fright flick that owes much to Richard Donner’s The Goonies from two years prior. It undoubtedly influenced J.J. Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg to shoot Super 8 (Spielberg executive produced Goonies as well). As far as the story goes, Monster Squad is now considered a cult favorite among you fully-grown former yuppies out there. The plot: having come into possession of Abraham Van Helsing’s diary (oh, brother!), the kids of Monster Squad seek out “that old German guy” (Leonardo Cimino) to help read the contents —which, as you may have guessed, is written in German (oh, really?). Anybody out there speak German? Oh, and by the way, is there a virgin around to read it? Well, maybe, maybe not. You see, once every hundred years, someone’s got to read those words from Van Helsing’s diary, which will then open up a portal that will transport … Uh, never mind, just watch the movie. A hilarious take on horror flicks in toto, and kid-friendly matinee features in general, ya gotta love a film that packs more mayhem, dry jokes, foul language, and schlocky effects into its 82-minute running time than most. The stereotypical kiddies, including the fatty, the nerd, the hottie, the know-it-all, the smoker, et al., share a wonderful rapport with each other. Dracula is the hammiest he can be, but what did you expect when he’s played by tall, handsome, smarmy-looking Duncan Regehr? Not-so handsome Tom Noonan is well cast as Frankenstein’s monster (who turns out to be the good guy in this version), along with Carl Thibault as the Wolfman, Michael MacKay as the Mummy, and Tom Woodruff Jr. as the bogus Gill-Man. With the exception of Drac and Frankie, and possibly Wolfie too, the other monsters are just walk-ons (or foot draggers, as the case may be). After a poor opening day in 1987, and a brief two-week run at most theaters, fans of this fun flick will be happy to know it’s available on a deluxe DVD by popular demand, as well as an anniversary Blu-ray Disc edition. And with that, my friends, we come full circle. Hope to see you next time when the undead sequel returns. Trick or treat everybody!

Copyright © 2013 by Josmar F. Lopes