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Non-Review Review: Predator

Predator is an absolutely brilliant piece of work. It’s elegantly constructed, beautifully directed and cleverly written. Perhaps the smartest thing about Predator is the way that it so fantastically plays on audience expectations, offering the perfect bait-and-switch, teasing a jungle adventure in the style of Schwarzenegger’s Commando before morphing into something else entirely. It’s so well handled that the film’s reputation and prestige has done little to dampen its thrills.

A predator stalks...

A predator stalks…

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Non-Review Review: Twilight – Breaking Dawn, Part II

Here’s the thing. Despite all the derision that the Twilight films generate, they actually have any number of ingredients for a perfectly workable young adult horror romance. Despite the sizeable and significant flaws, and those fundamental issues that are very hard to overlook, the film does have a number of very clear thematic roots that can be traced back through horror cinema. The problem with Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part II isn’t that it’s inherently cheesy or trashy or absurd. The problem is that it’s never enough of these things. It feels far too comfortable and too casual to ever really grab the viewer, and everything feels far too safe and generic to get any mortal’s blood pumping.

Baby trouble…

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Non-Review Review: The Monster Squad

The Monster Squad is an affectionate celebration of the monster movies of yesteryear, written from the point of view of a generation that grew up with the Universal Horror monsters. When Dracula conspires with his monstrous brethren to conquer the world, it’s up to a gang of plucky kids and their knowledge of horror movie tropes and clichés to stop the lord of the vampires from swaying the balance of good and evil once and for all. It’s an understandably cheesy celebration of those old monster movies, one that benefits from never taking itself or its subject matter to seriously. However, there’s a deep and abiding affection to be found in The Monster Squad, a polite and endearing salute to the iconic monsters of the thirties (through the fifties) from a generation that has its own scary subjects to worry about.

Staying under wraps…

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Non-Review Review: The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

In many respects, The Creature From the Black Lagoon feels like a brass band funeral for the golden age of the Universal monster movies. The subgenre would continue ticking over for quite some time. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy would be released the following year, The Creature From the Black Lagoon would spawn two sequels for the two years following, and Universal would try a spate of monster movies up until The Leech Woman in 1960. However, it’s clear that – by 1954 – the golden age of the Universal monster movie was well over.

And I think that part of the reason that The Creature From the Black Lagoon works so well is because it’s almost a mournful eulogy for the genre.

Out of the depths…

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Non-Review Review: The Wolf Man (1941)

Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night,

May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.

Although hampered by perhaps the weakest leading performance of the “great” Universal horror films, I maintain that The Wolf Man has the strongest script of any of the classic Universal monster movies. Although, like so many other horror films produced by the studio, it went through any number of re-writes and executive meddling before reaching the screen, I think Curt Siodmak’s script deserves a great deal of credit for doing several very import things. On one level, it presented one grand unifying story archetype for werewolf tales, to the point where it is almost that subgenre’s Dracula. However, it also plays as a fascinating and compelling psychological drama, with an element of humanity and complexity that shines through Jack Pierce’s phenomenal make-up work.

Lon Chaney as the wolf man. Or me, early on a Sunday morning…

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Non-Review Review: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The monster demands a mate!

I always feel a little strange that I don’t completely love Bride of Frankenstein. James Whale’s Universal Monster movies are all among the very finest in the subgenre, and each of the three collected in this blu ray boxset are well worth the price of admission. And I really like Bride of Frankenstein. It’s great fun. It has a tremendous energy and surreal “buzz” around it that makes the movie fly by, no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

Whale has, as with Frankenstein and The Invisible Man, managed to draw together a fantastic cast, some amazing production design, a willingness to acknowledge the hokey nature of the material and the highest technical skill in pretty much every aspect of the finished project. And yet, despite that, Bride of Frankenstein never really feels like a single unified film. Rather, it’s a bit like the eponymous monster, strange bits and pieces from all manner of sources brought together and stitched up in a way that is far more aesthetically pleasing than its direct predecessor. I just find, personally, that with Bride of Frankenstein, the sum of the parts is actually much greater than the whole.

Scream queen…

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Non-Review Review: The Mummy (1932)

The Mummy is often unfairly dismissed as an inferior attempt to emulate the success of Dracula. It’s from the same writer, John L. Balderston, and the credits are even set to the same music – the powerful Swan Lake theme that opened that other iconic horror. I’d argue that the influence of Frankenstein can also be keenly felt on the picture, and not just in its leading actor. However, I think The Mummy is often unfairly overlooked when examining the Universal Monster Movies, playing more like a creepy existential romantic epic than a conventional creature feature horror film.

He needs his beauty sleep…

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