Red Dragon (2002)

Directed by Brett Ratner [Other horror films: N/A]

I’ve not seen Manhunter, the 1986 movie which was the first to portray Hannibal Lecter. The film used to get a bit of a bad rap, but in recent years, I’ve heard pretty positive things about it, and when I do get to that one, I generally expect to enjoy it for what it is. Red Dragon is based off that same novel, though, and with strong star power and a decent story, the film stands out well in my opinion.

Admittedly, I like the story in 2001’s Hannibal more than the story here, but I think the cast for this one is of a higher caliber. Anthony Hopkins does well in his limited screen-time, but he’s not near as memorable here as The Silence of the Lambs. Edward Norton, an actor I enjoy in everything from The Incredible Hulk to Moonrise Kingdom, does great here, and it’s always fun to see Norton on-screen, even if he’s played a tortured FBI agent.

Ralph Fiennes (who played Voldemort in the Harry Potter films) does a fantastic job as the insane Dolarhyde. At times gentle, at times fierce, Fiennes really put a lot into his performance. Philip Seymour Hoffman isn’t a name I really know, but he stood out as a sleazy journalist. I didn’t like his character, but he did a solid job. Others who are worth a mention include Anthony Heald (from The Silence in the Lambs), Ken Leung (2004’s Saw, along with the ill-fated series Inhumans), Harvey Keitel (Pulp Fiction), Emily Watson (I don’t know her, but she is attractive, with a strong performance), and Mary-Louise Parker (a reoccurring character on The West Wing).

With as many solid cast members as there were, it’d be easy to think the story doesn’t matter, but of course it does. While I appreciated the story in Hannibal more, I did like Norton’s quest to catch the Tooth Fairy killer, and like I said, Fiennes did a great job with his role, especially around Watson’s character, who was an interesting addition.

I’d argue that, cast aside, and some story elements, the film’s not really that memorable, and it definitely doesn’t have memorable kills as Hannibal did (though the wheelchair on fire scene was pretty decent). Really, it’s an okay thriller, but since they went a slightly more psychological route, and didn’t really focus much on Lecter, I didn’t find myself enjoying it as much as I did when I’ve seen it before.

None of this means I find the film bad, as I don’t. I do think it’s closer to average than the series has come before, but I think Norton alone is able to help boost the movie up at least a point. I’d certainly recommend this, but I don’t think it’s really as good as Hannibal.

7.5/10

Vampyr (1932)

Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer [Other horror films: Prästänkan (1920)]

Sometimes called a German classic, Vampyr is a rather interesting film with unique stylistic choices. I don’t think any of it makes the film particularly good, despite the strong, often eerie, atmosphere, however.

The main issue with this film is that it’s rather incomprehensible at times. It’s experimental and dreamy, but despite the somewhat simple plot, not really coherent, so while you get some memorable sequences and rather interesting cinematography (especially regarding shadows), it’s possible that such design will fall flat if the style of the film doesn’t much enamor you.

One somewhat fun thing about the film is the sparse dialogue. The film was filmed much like it would have been during the silent era, and there are even plenty of title screens present, so the film really feels older than 1932. The dialogue they do have is generally inconsequential, and I don’t think it really helps make the story clearer.

Unfortunately, that’s my biggest problem with the film. Vampyr often feels incoherent, and while the skeleton outline of a story is there, it definitely isn’t explained well. Some may argue this helps induce a dreamy atmosphere, and it partially does, but when there’s atmosphere at the expense of story, I sometimes have problems.

As such, I can think of so many more classic horror films from the 1930’s that I’d rather watch again than this one. In fact, I might have liked this one more the first time I saw it, because it really didn’t gel with me upon my most-recent viewing. Vampyr has it’s fans, and it probably should, but I will admit to not being one of them, and despite some decent scenes and a solid aura, I don’t come close to loving the film.

5/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast – listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this film.

The Wicker Man (2006)

Directed by Neil LaBute [Other horror films: N/A]

Even to this day, I don’t think the original Wicker Man gets the respect it so totally deserves. It’s a classic that really has a lot going for it. This remake isn’t altogether dissimilar, but for entirely different reasons.

I have to get this off my chest first, though: I just cannot take Nicholas Cage seriously. I just can’t. I love his character in National Treasure, but as an actor, Cage is a hard person for me to see in serious light – I think Next (2009) was the only time I remember his character coming across as a bit more normal, for lack of a better word.

Because of his presence, what really is an interesting and almost mostly-well written story (even with it being a remake of a far better film) just comes across as silly much of the time. It’s not just some of Cage’s more questionable lines, either, be it ‘What’s in the bag, a shark or something,’ or his yelling at the end about ‘goddamn honey.’ His actions are just as ridiculous, such as that scene where he punches out one of the women without comment, or kicks another one (while wearing a bear costume) into a wall.

If they had gone for someone a bit more generic, but brought less unintentional camp into the film, it’s possible The Wicker Man wouldn’t be as memorable, but I also think it wouldn’t be nearly as panned as it has been.

I have little complaints about others in the film. While few of them really stood out, Kate Beahan was moderately decent in her role. While by no means a big actress, Leelee Sobieski was nice to see, as I know her from starring in the 2006 British film In a Dark Place. Even James Franco has a small (and unexpected, as when I first saw this, I had no idea who Franco was) appearance at the end. Otherwise, no one really did much for me, aside from Cage, who I’ve already spoken extensively about.

The Wicker Man is a hard movie to talk about because of the fact that Cage’s performance overshadows so much of the actual story, which, like I said, is decently enjoyable. I rather loved the conclusion (though, as always, I thought the original did a better job), and generally, I think the story’s both somewhat interesting and fun.

Truth be told, this is a difficult one to rate. It feels really ridiculous at times, but I cannot pretend that I wasn’t amused or engrossed with the story playing out on-screen. On one hand, I think it could have been shortened by at least ten minutes, but on the other, that’d mean ten minutes less of Cage’s antics.

Love him or hate him, ultimately, this is the Nicholas Cage show, and while I really didn’t care for what his presence did to an otherwise pretty interesting plot, this is one that I’d watch again just due to the sheer amusement it brings forth.

6/10

Mute Witness (1995)

Mute Witness

Directed by Anthony Waller [Other horror films: An American Werewolf in Paris (1997), Nine Miles Down (2009)]

This is a pretty mixed ride, and much of that due to the fact the film sort of switches up genres toward the end, going from a tense slasher-esque flick to an almost black comedy/crime movie.

That’s not entirely fair, though – the comedy, most of it black, wasn’t terrible, but given the first two-thirds of the film, I thought it was going a bit far. It’s going from horror to crime that bothered me, and although it made sense story-wise, I didn’t care for the shift.

Most of the movie is quite suspenseful. A long chase scene as a mute woman attempts to outwit two people who she saw murder someone. That sequence, especially the ending, was well-done, and the follow-up scene was too an elongated, albeit more peaceful, sequence, wrought with both confusion and frustration.

There wasn’t a bunch of gore here, but what there was ended up being fine. The biggest selling point, by far, is the suspense anyway, which the film does really well. But the last third of the film felt a lot like a crime movie, and the triumphant ending doesn’t erase the distaste I rather had of that portion.

Russian actress Marina Zudina (who is somewhat well-known in her home country) does really well here, playing a mute character in a rather dangerous situation. Fay Ripley and Evan Richards, though, contributed most of the black comedy, and like I said, I could have done without that addition. Really, Zudina should get the most props, by far – her performance here is excellent.

I like a lot of things about this movie. Like I said, the slasher-portion of the film is tense as hell, and until the movie shifts to a crime-feel, the movie was on it’s way to a way above average score. As it is, the final thirty minutes really didn’t do much for me, so while I still recommend the film, especially for 90’s horror, I wouldn’t call Mute Witness amazing.

7.5/10

Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (1924)

Waxworks

Directed by Leo Birinsky [Other horror films: N/A] & Paul Leni [Other horror films: The Cat and the Canary (1927), The Man Who Laughs (1928), The Last Warning (1928)]

A far more well-known silent anthology than Unheimliche Geschichten (1919), this Paul Leni film (commonly known as Waxworks) has an entire different set of problems, but at the same time, still comes out a slightly better film.

With two stories comprising most of the hour and 23 minute film (each story an average of 38 minutes), the biggest issue with Das Wachsfigurenkabinett is that it’s tone isn’t that consistent. The first story is a bit of a light-hearted adventure, with jaunty sequences and music. The second was a much slower, almost somber, historical piece about Ivan the Terrible. And the last sequence was a mere six minutes or so, which is where most of this movie’s horror elements come from.

So an adventure/history/horror mix is certainly an interesting idea, and the framing story (a writer comes up with stories on some waxworks figures) is certainly decent, but how is the movie as a whole?

The first story, starring Emil Jannings (previously seen in the 1918 Die Augen der Mumie Ma) as a Caliph, was lot of fun, with some great looking set pieces and an enjoyable story. The second, with Conrad Veidt (from 1919’s Unheimliche Geschichten and 1920’s classic Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) was certainly more in the vein of horror, but the story didn’t do much for me until the pay-off at the end. And the third sequence, with Jack the Ripper/Spring-heel Jack was just too short to really warrant strong opinions one way or the other.

For any anthology movie, I feel that there should be a base of three to four stories, and not counting the framing story, Waxwork had two, all things considered. And while one of them was pretty fun, and many sequences looked cool (along with a fight on top of a temple), this movie didn’t have what I really look for in anthology films.

Paul Leni, who later directed such titles as 1927’s The Cat and the Canary, 1928’s The Man Who Laughs and The Last Warning (perhaps one of my favorite silent horror films), did an okay job, but again, the tone didn’t really work for me. That said, this is still considered a classic for a reason, and providing that you’re able to locate the right print, if you’re a fan of silent flicks, this is still worth a watch (if for nothing else, the expressionist set pieces), but all-in-all, it falls a bit below average for me.

6.5/10

Schatten – Eine nächtliche Halluzination (1923)

Warning

Directed by Arthur Robison [Other horror films: Nächte des Grauens (1917), Der Student von Prag (1935)]

Known most commonly as Warning Shadows, this German classic, originally titled Schatten – Eine nächtliche Halluzination (what a mouthful that is), is a somewhat difficult movie to talk about. On one hand, I deeply appreciate and like the idea of what director Arthur Robison was going for, but on the other hand, past a certain point, I can’t help but think that the movies drags.

It’s not a lengthy film, at only an hour and 23 minutes. But most silent films have intertitles (in order to get dialogue across to the audience), and Robison decided to opt out of using those. Which means without paying attention to the characters and their relationships with each other, given there is zero dialogue given throughout the film, you’ll most likely feel lost.

Which is, in theory, a neat idea, and really lends to the film’s expressionist and often moody feeling. But after forty minutes, it’s a bit much.

The plot, in which a shadow-player’s (think a magician of sorts who focuses on manipulating light and shadows) arrival at a dinner party exasperate the already struggling relationship between a baron and his flirtatious wife, is decently fun, although I do think there’s a few too many characters afoot. The route the film takes is an interesting one, and while I do think it drags, I’d say the story works out pretty well.

This is true, in part, due to many factors. Most of the actors and actresses do well at expressing themselves without the use of intertitles, with Alexander Granach (also in the classic Nosferatu), Fritz Kortner, and Ruth Weyher standing out the most.

The color scheme for the version I saw was mostly a purple tint, which I thought went a long way in helping create the moody atmosphere of the flick. The score, too, added to the effect. While the score I heard wasn’t at all the original (an electronic portion showcasing that much), it went from dark and brooding to festive in all the right moments. Lastly, the visuals of the movie were pretty cool, which, given it’s an expressionist movie, you probably wouldn’t expect anything less.

Given all of these positive elements, though, I just can’t get beyond the fact that, after half the run-time, I found myself losing focus. In truth, I feel sort of ashamed of it, as this is one of those classic movies you really want to like and spread the word on, but I was struggling to care past a certain point. Because of that, despite the plenty of positive aspects, I’m giving it a bit below average.

That said, this is one of those films I recommend anyone check out, because I think that it’s the type of movie that most people would get a kick out of, at least to a certain extent.

One last note: Arthur Robison, the director, made 21 movies, most of them lost with time. The only other movie of note is a 1935 version of Der Student von Prag, the 1913 version being the first intact full-length horror film, which was previously reviewed. Just a little factoid.

Warning Shadows is worth a watch, but like I said, don’t be surprised if you find it a little sluggish.

6/10

Schloß Vogelöd (1921)

Haunted Castle

Directed by F.W. Murnau [Other horror films: Satanas (1920), Der Bucklige und die Tänzerin (1920), Der Januskopf (1920), Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922), Faust: Eine deutsche Volkssage (1926)]

Directed by F.W. Murnau (who later directed both Nosferatu and Faust), Schloß Vogelöd (or The Haunted Castle) does a pretty good job at creating an interesting early mystery/horror hybrid, held back by it’s length and related, some of the scenes.

This compelling story, revolving around possible lies about a three-year old murder, has a lot of mystery and secrets, with a twist or two, throughout. It has a moderately dark atmosphere, and is overall a fun movie.

It does run on a bit longer than it really needs to, though. At an hour and 22 minutes, I can’t help but think that things dragged a bit through some of the acts (this movie is divided into five acts), especially the second and fourth. There’s a dream sequence that, while not overly lengthy, feels a bit out of place, and I could have done without that.

Arnold Korff (who played the host) and Paul Hartmann (Oetsch, who was accused of killing his brother) both do really well in their roles, and while no one in this movie does a bad job (aside from maybe Julius Falkenstein, and that may have just been because his character was more comedic relief than anything else), Korff and Hartmann stand out the most.

To many, if not most, The Haunted Castle would be a minor German movie, a silent mystery, of little interest. Personally, I think the story is very solid, and while many may not, I’ve seen this movie twice and still consider it a horror flick, albeit one very borderline. Regardless, though, if you like silent movies, or are willing to give one a shot, aside from the fact that this runs a bit long (though I would recommend the 1 hour and 22 minute version over the 55 minute, more common, cut), I think you’d enjoy this one.

7.5/10

Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920)

Golem

Directed by Paul Wegener [Other horror films: Der Student von Prag (1913), Der Golem (1915), Der Golem und die Tänzerin (1917)]

A true classic of the silent era, Der Golem, wie er in der Welt kam (a prequel to the lost 1915 Der Golem) is a great watch, even if you’re new to silent flicks.

The one caveat is that if you do seek this movie out, make sure you find a version with a score. I’ve seen this twice before, both times with a score, but for this most recent rewatch, I was watching a truly silent version, which I don’t like doing and can affect the film. That said, I will do my best to not let that interfere.

The setting, a slum that the Jewish population are forced to dwell in, was captivating, and showed some inklings of the impressionist style that Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is better known for. Homes made of stone, the people wearing little more than robes, really showed the desperate situation the Jews found themselves in, and when they’re told they’re to be expelled by the emperor, it really helps show why one of them would go to the lengths of crafting a Golem.

Which is somewhat ironic, as one of the reasons they’re being expelled is due to their practice of dark magic, which, by creating a Golem, sort of proves the emperor’s point. But that flawed logic aside, I do get where they’re coming from.

Not much of the cast really stood out aside from Albert Steinruck, Paul Wegener, and Lyda Salmonova. Really, the standout is Wegener’s performance as the titular Golem, a very Frankenstein-monster esque creation. He didn’t express all that much a range of emotion, but he did have, at times, a very threatening presence (not all that far removed from Frankstein’s monster from the 1931 classic Frankenstein).

There’s many prints of this flick floating about. This time around, I saw the 1 hour and 42 minute version, which, at times, does occasionally feel as though it’s dragging. Still, there’s shorter versions out there if you want a more digestible taste of this flick. Der Golem, wie er in der Welt kam isn’t my favorite silent horror flick, but it is a classic for a reason, and I’d highly recommend a watch at least once in your life.

7.5/10

Unheimliche Geschichten (1919)

Unheimliche

Directed by Richard Oswald [Other horror films: Der Hund von Baskerville, 3. Teil – Das unheimliche Zimmer (1916), Der Hund von Baskerville, 4. Teil (1916), Nächte des Grauens (1917), Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray (1917), Nachtgestalten (1920), Cagliostro – Liebe un Leben eines großen Abenteurers (1929), Der Hund von Baskerville (1929), Unheimliche Geschichten (1932)]

The first anthology horror movie ever made, Unheimliche Geschichten (known as Eerie Tales, or Uncanny Tales) further cements Germany’s domination in the horror genre, but also presents us a mixed bag of uninspired stories.

Out of the five stories within this anthology (The Apparition, The Hand, The Black Cat, The Suicide Club, and The Spectre), the only one that I really didn’t like was the final story, The Spectre, which is based off a poem and has a much more light-hearted feel to it. But that’s not to say the other four stories are good – in fact, really, only one story is above average, being The Suicide Club, while the other three are either average or below, being held back by either my perceived unoriginality or too stagy a vibe.

The Apparition is, for the most part, decent, and there is a rather spooky vibe to it, and I even like the ending reveal, but it was just lacking additional meat to the story. The Hand was decently well done, but again, there’s not much to it. Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, The Black Cat was enjoyable to a degree, but just fell short of actually captivating me. The Spectre, which is unfortunately the worst story within and the worst to end the flick on, wasn’t my thing whatsoever.

The framing story wasn’t amazing, but I’m giving that a break – being the first anthology horror movie (preceding the 1945 classic Dead of Night by 26 years), I don’t expect an amazing set up. The actors throughout were okay, but some were prone to overacting even within the silent era of film, which is saying something. Perhaps Conrad Veidt did the best, playing roles in all five stories, along with the framing sequence (something also done by both Reinhold Schunzel and Anita Berber).

Unheimliche Geschichten is a piece of history, and for fans particularly of anthology horror movies, it might be worth a look, but to say that it is occasionally stale, and comes across far more average than you could hope, would be understating it. By no means a bad film, when all is said and done, there are plenty of other silent German films I would recommend before this one.

6/10

Die Augen der Mumie Ma (1918)

Eyes of the Mummy

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch [Other horror films: N/A]

This is a moderately difficult flick to talk about, mainly because it straddles the line between horror and non-horror. Ultimately, I do think that Die Augen der Mumie Ma (The Eyes of the Mummy, as it’s commonly known) is a horror movie, but I would not at all excuse anyone else for thinking otherwise.

If you’re expecting an actual mummy, as many viewers tend to, then that might lead to many of the disappointments this movie brings. It’s a heavy drama-laden flick, not to mention romance, which overshadows the horror aspects. Luckily, toward the end, things do pick up. Not that much, though. While I’m a fan of the ending, it comes in far too late to make that positive an impact, and unfortunately, there were too few scenes prior that had much a threatening feel to them.

Another thing that I can’t help but criticize: most of the times, actors in silent flicks are about as good as you would expect, with a few standing out above the others. Here, it just seems to me that many of the actors’ and actresses’ hearts weren’t into it. Harry Liedtke was fine, but didn’t have the power to really carry the protagonist side of the plot, and sadly, neither did Pola Negri (her dancing didn’t do much for me either, on a side-note).

Emil Jannings did the best, by far, with his performance. While he was nowhere near as good as other early mad men (he’s no Lorre from Mad Love, or Barrymore Svengali), to be sure, and he didn’t get a hell of a lot of characterization, I still felt that most of the time, Jannings came across as a threat. I just wish he had more screen-time to do so.

Die Augen der Mumie Ma will probably disappoint most horror fans going in expecting a Nosferatu or Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. Perhaps one of the few missteps Germany took during their reign over the horror genre (and it is entirely possible that this flick was meant far more a drama/romance than horror), this movie just doesn’t have much to recommend, especially considering far better movies that came out around the same time.

5/10