My Week in Movies: Oct. 21-27

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996) Other people need to use this ladder, you know.

The Monster Squad (1987) After years of “dude, you’ve never seen The Monster Squad?” from friends younger than I who apparently have the same nostalgic attachment to that film as I do to The Goonies, I finally gave in. Its corny 80s-ness irked more than charmed, the monsters (except Frankenstein; Tom Noonan is terrific in the part) never quite register as vital characters and have too little weight as villains, and the script felt a bit too thin (the second act is particularly rushed, with jumps in action and logic helping keep the pace brisk but creating a choppy narrative at times). But the bulk of the film was fun and light, in line with Fred Dekker’s previous Night of the Creeps. Most impressively, it presents tweens in a way far more accurate than Goonies; these kids cuss and smoke and complain and generally behave the way everyone does in those awkward years between child and teenager. The movie seems caught in that awkward stage as well, however, at times being a cutesy kid flick, while at others being too grown-up for kids who might dawww at, say, the cute beagle. The final result is an uneven but mostly enjoyable work, although I’ll probably leave this one with the nostalgists.

The Girl Who Dared (1944) Ya know, nobody ever seems too upset at all the murder going on in Ten Little Indians-esque mysteries. Sure, bodies are piling up and the killer could be anyone in the house, but now’s the time for some light banter between the romantic leads! The Girl Who Dared is about as lightweight as this brand of thriller gets (the darn thing doesn’t even reach the one hour mark), but it’s perfectly fine for some quickie B-movie fun, with pleasant characters carrying us through a wafer-thin but enjoyable plot.

Nightmares in Red White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (2010) The problem with documentaries detailing the history of horror cinema (there are, I believe, currently over eight thousand of them so far) is that sooner or later, each one devolves into a clip show, struggling to squeeze in as many shots from as many important titles as possible before the closing credits. With this one, the first half or so does a capable job discussing early horror films’ connection to two world wars; in this regard, it makes a nice companion piece to David J. Skal’s The Monster Show (still one of the finest books written on the topic, and an obvious influence here). But as the timeline moves forward, the film loses focus, becoming a parade of interviews that sometimes offer depth (listening to Romero, Carpenter, and Dante dissecting their films will never not be interesting), but mostly just offer “man, Freddy Krueger sure was somethin’, huh?” in a rush job frenzy. 96 minutes just isn’t enough time to cover everything as fully as the filmmakers want, especially when they waste too many of those minutes on montages that offer nothing other than shots of gore/shocks/familiar scenes, presented in a rapid-fire format with a “hey, cool!” attitude that undermines the attempts at academic study preceding them.

Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein* (1948) Any picture combining Bud and Lou with the Universal Monsters is bound to be one of my favorite comedies, naturally. The plot is a mess, the result of Bud and Lou’s schtick being wedged into what had begun as a serious horror flick, but no matter. The wordplay and the slapstick are top notch, with the duo getting in some of the most quotable lines of their careers. I’m always amused by how much of the humor revolves around dated slang (“I’ll bite!”) – and impressed by how well those jokes still hold up. Also impressive: how seriously the supporting cast treat the material, punching up the comedy by playing it straight. That’s the smartest kind of parody. I saw what I saw when I saw it!

The Invisible Man (1933) While it’s only been a year since I last watched Claude Rains gather nuts in May, it’s been fifteen or so since I last read H.G. Wells’ novel. Having now revisited both, I’d forgotten just how far the script strays from the book – no surprise, really, considering Universal’s history with source material, monster-wise, but still. The film condenses Wells’ set-up immensely, removing the mystery and getting to the goods more quickly. But Wells, a writer whose ideas often trump plot, requires heavy reworking for adaptation, so stepping up the pace helps the story work on the screen. A more interesting alteration is the notion that it’s the title villain’s experimental drug that drove him mad, a major move away from Wells’ suggestion that anyone could turn to evil when free from accountability. This removes most of the social commentary from the proceedings; James Whale fills that gap with plenty of camp (although not as much as he does in Bride of Frankenstein). The film is therefore a shallower work, but on its own terms as entertainment, it unquestionably works.

*(Yeah, I’m going to be one of those guys and be a stickler about the title. Sorry.)

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