Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2011) In terms of gory-yet-witty send-ups of horror movie tropes, Cabin in the Woods is good, but Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is great. While the former is impressed with its own cleverness, the latter is too busy delivering some terrific character work to bother being smug. The result is a rarity in the genre, a “yes” answer to that classic question Would I enjoy watching these characters just hanging out? Heck, I’d watch Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine all day; the horror/comedy antics are just icing. And what icing! By turning well-worn slasher flick ideas into a Three’s Company-esque case of misunderstandings and shenanigans (peppered with a well-honed sense of Looney Tunes-esque slapstick), writers Eli Craig (who also directed) and Morgan Jurgenson craft some of the sharpest, smartest, and funniest comedy I’ve seen in years.
Haunted Honeymoon (1986) I have less kind things to say about Haunted Honeymoon, a passable but too inconsistent comedy that should’ve been a slam dunk considering its cast – Gene Wilder! Gilda Radner! Dom deLuise! Jonathan Pryce! – all under the direction of Wilder himself. There are some delightful moments, most notably a kooky sequence with Wilder atop a corpse in a coal chute, but these aren’t enough to carry us through the lesser bits, where the cast takes a seldom successful “louder is funnier” approach. Curiously, the best scenes are the film’s bookends, quirky asides set in 1940s live radio. These pieces shine with a crackling energy and a surprising amount of period detail. Where was this magic for the other eighty minutes?
Island of Lost Souls (1932) I’m not as big a fan of this early adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau as most, but I definitely thrill to its eerie sadism – one shot in particular, in which our hero briefly stumbles upon Charles Laughton’s Moreau mid-surgery, is one of the flat-out creepiest moments in 1930s horror cinema. Less eerie yet equally commendable is the effects makeup, deceptively simple appliances that turn Bela Lugosi and an army of extras into indefinable beast-men. Charles Gemora and Wally Westmore’s work here rivals anything Jack Pierce did at Universal.
Young Frankenstein (1974) It’s difficult at times to watch comedies with my teenage daughter. Despite a deep appreciation for silliness, she takes her movies very, very seriously, demanding empathy for even the goofiest characters. She has cringed at Ron Burgundy’s mishaps and cheered Wayne Campbell’s triumphs, and now she has chided me for daring to laugh at the creature in Young Frankenstein. He’s a sweetheart, you see, and it’s not his fault he can’t sing as well as Gene Wilder. (As she put it, “He’s trying the best he can!”) Needless to say, while she thoroughly enjoyed the film, she did not find the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” sequence as funny as I do.
The Blob (1958) One of my all-time favorite creature features, and a Halloween tradition. I’ve written about it before, apparently back when I was trying to make “The Randomness” a thing around here, for which I’m deeply, deeply sorry.
Them! (1954) Another of my all-time favorite creature features, and another Halloween tradition. I’ve always been fascinated by how well Them! plays with the mystery of its first act. So closely does it guard its secrets, so well does it dole out its clues, it seems a shame to have the movie’s actual premise spoiled in posters, trailers, and nearly sixty years of discussion. I can understand the studio’s dilemma (to sell a monster movie, you must sell the monster – or, at the very least, you must sell the admission that there is a monster), but, man, what a great slow burn the movie’s early scenes deliver. All that spare time ensures the focus is placed on characters and tone, allowing the story to thrive once the potentially ridiculous elements show up.