Monday, October 13, 2014

Where's Count Floyd When You Need Him?

I have to confess, my Halloween viewing has been pretty danged dreary so far this year; and it’s been full of reversals. Well, a guy can change his mind, right?
I started with a few Universal programmers from the ‘forties, of which the ones I liked best were the ones I remembered liking the least. It just goes to show, I suppose, that low expectations can go a long way. I particularly enjoyed a B horror/comedy called Horror Island, with Dick Foran starring and Leo Carillo in a colorful role as an ex-pirate. Carillo was one of those steady supporting players who was really, really good at doing what he was good at: providing the color, much of the charm, and the comedy relief. The picture is a complete toss off intended as filler for a double bill… not even remotely scary and only a little bit funny, but I did find it enjoyable this time, strangely.

Of course King Kong is still the monster of all monsters; still a great picture with hardly a frame of wasted footage, and a picture that in no way needed to be remade by anyone… much less turned into the ponderous, overbearing sap-fest that is Peter Jackson’s version. But Mystery of The Wax Museum, made that same year and starring Kong’s leading lady, Fay Wray? I had fond memories of this… only to fall asleep on it last night. It’s good bits are still very, very good indeed (and the final revelation of the villain remains the best and most effective unveiling of any criminal mastermind, bar none, as Fay pounds Lionel Atwill’s face in self-defense) … but the good bits are so far between: after an arresting opening the thing descends into a very ordinary procedural headed by a very uninteresting Gal Reporter. Fay isn’t introduced until almost halfway through, and then the director doesn’t know how to photograph her to best advantage. Atwill is marvelous when we see him, but we don’t see enough of him. When this was remade as House of Wax nearly three decades later, the procedural was dumped and the filmmakers wisely did not fall into the trap that Mystery does of revealing the monster’s face early and often. I can’t say House of Wax is a better movie but — in all but that one single scene, that one single shot of Atwill’s face cracking and breaking under Miss Wray’s blows — it is smarter.

Probably the biggest reversal of all was the movie version of Todd MacFarlaine’s comic series Spawn. The first time I saw this a couple of years ago, I thought it was harmless, goofy fun, with lots of well-designed demons filling the screen and lots of action. 

What the hell was I thinking? Was I drunk? Ehhhh, could be. This is one of the worst funnybook movies I’ve ever seen, and I have seen some stinkers! Poor John Leguzamo mugs underneath literally piles of make-up; meanwhile, Martin Sheen gives hands-down the worst performance of his career (actually embarrassing to watch), Nicol Williamson phones it in and collects his check, and the hero never ever seems to put the mask on to cover his ugly face. Mix it up with an old, old revenge motivation, a really cringingly painful script and direction from poverty row… and I feel asleep on this load of crap, too.

Honestly, for this and other reasons, this Halloween viewing season has been mostly disappointing. Who in hell is the damn programming director? Oh, wait… that would be me.

— Freder

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