Friday, October 19, 2018

Topper Returns

Year 10, Day 292 - 10/19/18 - Movie #3,084

BEFORE: I'm supposed to be packing a suitcase for our flight to Dallas right now, but I've got a few hours before we have to head to the airport - I can still knock off one last review, pack and grab a couple hours of shut-eye.  So the blog is dark next week, I'll be back on Monday, 10/29.

I don't have a copy of "Topper Takes a Trip", for some reason TCM didn't run that one back when they ran these other two films.  Maybe they don't have the license to air that one?  Anyway, Topper is back and he's seeing ghosts again - I'm still not really clear on whether he's unusually gifted, or if he just seems like someone that the ghosts can confide in, because it seems that time and time again, they always need his help.

Roland Young carries over from "Topper" as the title character.


THE PLOT: A fun-loving young woman finds herself murdered after trading bedrooms with her wealthy friend.  Her ghost seeks aid from a banker to find out who killed her and why.

AFTER: Well, at least this film seems a little more appropriate for Halloween time - in addition to a ghost that only Topper can see, there's a genuine murder mystery to solve, in a big mansion with a lot of trap doors and secret passages behind bookcases and stuff.  (There used to a couple of restaurants in NYC that were all decked out like the scary mansions you see in the movies, I wonder if they're still operating...).

Of course, Mrs. Topper is always jumping to the wrong conclusions, thinking that her husband Cosmo is having an affair - that woman needs to get some self-confidence.  I thought in the first film she decided to become the kind of woman that wears silky lingerie in order to keep Cosmo's interest. I'd like to think that worked out, but here she's back to thinking that he's up to no good, just because he and his chauffeur give a ride to a couple of women whose taxi broke down, and one woman had to sit on his lap.  Umm, why not just have both women sit in the back seat?  Or maybe put the luggage in the trunk, I'm just saying.  Come on, Cosmo was totally digging this, let's be honest.  He probably even put some nails down in the road just to make this happen.

Anyway, that woman is Gail Richards, friend to Ann Carrington, who's visiting her father for the first time, just before she turns 21.  But she makes the mistake of envying her friend's bedroom, so whoever set out to murder Ann kills the conveniently same-height, same-weight Gail.  Gail's ghost didn't see who killed her, so that gives her an unresolved reason to stick around on the mortal plane, and she seeks the help of Topper, who lives next door.  She appears in his bedroom (hey, it was the 1930's, couples didn't sleep in the same room, at least not in movies...) and threatens to let his wife see her there if he won't help her.

This involves being driven over to the Carrington mansion by his loyal (but constantly complaining) driver, then sneaking in to the house to find the dead body, but then the body disappears after the house's residents wake up to find Topper calling the police.  The driver heads back home and tells Mrs. Topper where Cosmo went, so naturally she has to follow too, along with her servant.  (Damn, these people were rich, they still each had their own servant, and this was during the Depression!).

I still can't figure out for sure if this film takes place in New York, Los Angeles or somewhere else, but it scarcely matters.  It's just a big old regular mansion with a lot of secret passages and trap doors, and that could be built anywhere.  This is set on the coast somewhere, that's all that really matters.

It's a big door-slamming free-for-all with butlers, cab drivers, screaming wives and eccentric millionaires, and then when the police finally show up, the head detective just manages to make everything even more confusing as he tries to get to the bottom of it all.

You may recognize the actor who played Mr. Carrington from "It's a Wonderful Life", since he played Mr. Gower in that classic film.  And you may recognize the chauffeur as Jack Benny's sidekick, a role he played for many years, and he even refers to it here when his character wants to quit working for Mr. Topper and threatens to "go back to Mr. Benny".  And George Zucco is here, playing Dr. Zeris, a character whose presence in the mansion is never fully explained, like is he Mr. Carrington's personal doctor or just a guy hanging around?  It's too bad I couldn't fit in those Mummy movies that TCM is running this year, because George Zucco is in several of them, and that would have made a great link.  But those films will air while I'm on vacation, and when I get back, there won't be any room in my October schedule to squeeze them in.  So I'm going to have to rely on some indirect links to get back to more modern films - I'm not proud of that, but I've got to do what I've got to do.

Also starring Joan Blondell (last seen in "The Cincinnati Kid"), Carole Landis (last seen in "A Day at the Races"), Billie Burke (also carrying over from "Topper"), Dennis O'Keefe (last seen in "Swing Time"), Patsy Kelly (last seen in "Rosemary's Baby"), H.B. Warner (last seen in "You Can't Take It With You"), Eddie "Rochester" Anderson (ditto), George Zucco (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes in Washington"), Donald McBride (last seen in "Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood"), Rafaela Ottiano (last seen in "She Done Him Wrong"), Trevor Bardette (last seen in "The Mating Game").

RATING: 5 out of 10 smacks from a seal (WTF?)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Topper

Year 10, Day 291 - 10/18/18 - Movie #3,083

BEFORE: I realize this wouldn't count as a Halloween or horror film to most people, but I needed a link out of the Dracula-based films, and this movie provided one.  Anyway, it's about ghosts, only they're the friendly kind, I think.  I'm going to end my Shocktober with four films about ghosts, and thankfully they're going to get scarier again as we approach October 31.

Honestly, I've got a lot of other fears right now, so I don't need to be watching a scary movie.  In 2 days I turn 50 years old, so that's one fear, the fear of aging - and the only positive thing I can say about it is that it beats the alternative.  On my birthday my wife and I are flying to Dallas to start our 2nd BBQ Crawl, but that also adds fear of flying into the mix.  I'm fairly OK with being on an airplane, for me it's not the fear of flying, it's the fear of crashing.  Because you can't tell me that it doesn't happen, and even though I've flown many times without that happening, I hate thinking that I'm increasing the odds every time I step on a plane.  I know, I know, modern air travel is very safe, but nothing anywhere is 100% safe.

Now there's news about flooding in Texas, so let's add the fear of drowning and fear of natural disasters into the mix.  What do you do when you have non-refundable plane tickets and hotel reservations, but some of the places you're planning to visit have just been declared disaster areas?  Statistically, this has to happen for every tornado, earthquake and wildfire out there - there's always someone planning to visit that exact location, and their plans have to be changed.  No horror movie can possibly be as scary as getting stuck in an airport, or finding out that your hotel is now under water, and your entire vacation is a disaster.

Last year, there was a big tropical storm moving up the East Coast while we were on vacation, and by the time we hit Nashville (which was unseasonably cold and rainy our first night there) I was getting e-mails from Delta Airlines urging us to consider changing our flight.  But doing so would have meant leaving early, and not getting a chance to see the beautiful city of Nashville, so we stayed the course, tried to enjoy ourselves, and thankfully the storm abated and there was only a little rain falling when we landed back in New York.  So we're sticking to our plan for now, when we get down to Dallas we'll have to inquire about the flooding in Austin and determine if we need to alter our route, that's the best we can do.

Hedda Hopper carries over from "Dracula's Daughter" - Hedda Hopper was in "Topper"?  That just seems weird, that it rhymes.


THE PLOT: A fun-loving couple, finding that they died and are now ghosts, decide to shake up the stuffy lifestyle of a friend.

AFTER: I've heard so much about this film over the years that I'm kind of surprised that it's not on that list of "1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die".  Maybe I was confusing it with "Top Hat", I'm not sure.  But still, this is a classic, right?  The film that launched Cary Grant as a major star in the 1930's, if I'm not mistaken.  But truly, all I really knew about it before watching it was that it had ghosts in it.  Thematically, that was enough for me to (sort of) lump it in with Halloween films.

Cary Grant plays George Kerby (that's a weird last name, shouldn't it be "Kirby"?) who's a rich man that sits on the board of a bank, but doesn't take that responsibility seriously - he and his wife don't take much seriously, they're a fun-loving couple who enjoy dining, dancing and drinking.  Oh, and driving, only George prefers to drive with his feet for some reason, while he sits on top of the seat.  Was this a thing back in the 1930's?  Some weird fad like wearing big fur coats and sitting in the rumble seat while mixing gin and tonics?  Was drinking and driving legal back then?  I'm not even sure.  Anyway, driving fast gets him to the bank board meeting (for once) but afterwards they're speeding back across Long Island, I assume, and they miss the hairpin turn and crash the car.  Kids, this is why sensible people don't drive with their feet.

So they're dead, but it's not a gory death, and they become ghosts - which, let's remember, are a bunch of hokum, just like hypnotism, no matter how many "Ghost Hunter" shows there are on TLC.  (I don't know for sure which cable network has the most Halloween-themed programming, but I'm betting it's the Food Network, with shows like "Halloween Wars", "Halloween Baking Championship" and now "Halloween Gingerbread Challenge", which are all running in nightly marathons all month long - Jesus, enough already!) Anyway, the Kerbys decide that they haven't ascended to the next plane for some reason, possibly because they haven't done enough good deeds.  So they set out to bring some fun into their friend, bank president Cosmo Topper's life.

After Topper buys their old sports car (which doesn't make much sense, because why buy a crashed car that he'd have to fix when he could just buy that same model in perfect shape...) the Kerbys appear to him, since they can become visible or invisible at will, and they take him out on the town for a night of drinking, dancing and flirting.  Unfortunately, Topper's never had a drink before, so he ends up drunk, and all efforts by the ghosts go awry in screwball fashion, so he ends up punching out a cab driver and there's a big brawl on the sidewalk.  He gets arrested, thrown in jail, and the newspaper headlines are all about him being out on the town with a mysterious blonde, who didn't hang around long enough for a photo.

Naturally this puts a strain on his marriage, his wife thinks the marriage is over and Topper moves out for a while, into a hotel where more comic mishaps ensue.  It seems there used to be a thing called a "hotel detective" who was responsible for making sure that nobody had guests in their room, and that everyone signed in at the front desk, because apparently in the 1930's there was no hanky-panky or shenanigans allowed in a hotel.  Yet in modern society we now know that the vast majority of affairs and shenanigan-like activity takes place in hotels, so I imagine that job got phased out some time in the 1960's.

Marion Kerby wonders if she's still legally married now that she's dead, so that explains her flirting with Topper - but George Kerby is still jealous in the afterlife, so he fights to get Marion back - even though she was probably never gone in the first place.  And Mrs. Topper learns that the scandal that her husband caused was just the ice-breaker she needed to make friends among the upper crust ladies, so apparently all is forgiven.  That's the main moral here, that women need to forgive their husbands when they have affairs, because it's better for them in the long run.  Wow, that's an outdated moral, but just like in Shakespeare's comedies, the screwball ones usually have everything working out for the best, even though that seems like a bit of a stretch when viewed with more modern eyes.

I'm left thinking, though, that this movie didn't really age very well, and just gave good people bad ideas about how much fun it is to be dead and mess with the living when you become a ghost.

Also starring Constance Bennett, Cary Grant (last seen in "Destination Tokyo"), Roland Young (last seen in "The Philadelphia Story"), Billie Burke (last seen in "The Barkleys of Broadway"), Alan Mowbray (last seen in "Terror by Night"), Eugene Pallette (last seen in "The Adventures of Robin Hood"), Arthur Lake, Virginia Sale (last seen in "The Thin Man Goes Home"), Elaine Shepard, Theodore von Eltz, J. Farrell MacDonald, Elaine Shepard, and cameos from Ward Bond (last seen in "You Can't Take It with You"), Hoagy Carmichael (last seen in "The Best Years of Our Lives"), Doodles Weaver (last seen in "Another Thin Man").

RATING: 5 out of 10 pink ladies

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Dracula's Daughter

Year 10, Day 290 - 10/17/18 - Movie #3,082

BEFORE: It seems like Dracula was a busy man, in addition to a son he also had a daughter.  I still have so many questions about this, like about whether vampire reproduction is the same as it is with humans, or is it different?  And if so, how?  Does this mean Dracula mated with another vampire, or with a human?  Does this mean some lady gave birth to a vampire baby, or would that be a half-vampire?  Are the living and the undead even compatible when it comes to reproduction?  Like, I guess vampires are still the same species as humans, but their bodies don't work the same way, so what gives?

Or are the terms "son" and "daughter" used more in the spiritual sense than the literal sense?  Could they just be chief followers of Count Dracula who see themselves as his son or daughter as some kind of honorific term?  I'm not getting any clear answers here.

This is the only film that's a true sequel to the 1931 "Dracula" film with Bela Lugosi, at least where continuity is concerned.  All other sequels just threw that first film out the window, something that was really ahead of its time, because that's what happened later on with the James Bond franchise and, more recently, with the "Halloween" films. 


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Dracula" (1931) (Movie #2,746)

THE PLOT: Hungarian countess Marya Zaleska seeks the aid of a noted psychiatrist, hoping to free herself of a mysterious evil influence.

AFTER: Once again, no actors carry over - it's just a quirk of fate that no character actors from the 1930's appeared in both this film and "Son of Dracula".  However, the character of Dracula makes a brief appearance here, in the form of a corpse.  Can that count? 

I'm out of luck, we don't get any answers here about how this woman could be the daughter of Dracula, or whether that term is meant to be taken literally or figuratively.  She's a Hungarian countess, so what does that mean?  Was her mother Hungarian royalty that fell for Dracula, and somehow she had a relationship that went beyond letting him drink her blood?  And if so, what made her more special than all of Drac's other victims?

She's a vampire, too, so the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but does that mean vampirism is passed down from parent to child, or was she born normal, or as a half-vampire, and converted later?  Dammit, I want more of a back-story, with clearer answers about how she came to be who and what she is.  All we know is that she shows up after Dracula dies - just minutes after the ending of the 1931 film, which allows us to see Von Helsing arrested for Dracula's murder.  (I know, he was Van Helsing in the last film, but here he's "Von", with no explanation.)

The Countess wants access to Dracula's body, because she believes that if she can destroy it, she can get away from his influence and live as a human.  Nice try, honey, but we all are what our parents made us, and it takes a few decades to get rid of their influence.  True change comes from within, not from destroying your father's body, though it may feel cathartic to do so.  Perhaps she realizes this, because she turns next to psychiatrist Jeffrey Garth, who's been called to the scene to prove the innocence of his old teacher, Von Helsing.

When the Countess can't get herself free of her vampiric urges, her weird manservant Sandor hires a young girl to model for her, and this is where we learn that the Countess inherited her father's interest in young ladies.  It's also the first of MANY cutaways, because it was 1936 and showing a woman biting another woman in the neck would just a bit too close to two women kissing, and they sure couldn't show THAT.  Jeez, they barely get away with that NOW on TV, and we're supposed to be much more understanding and accepting and stuff.  I saw a commercial on TV the other day with couples out on dates using their credit cards to pay for stuff and get 4% cash back or something, and I barely noticed that one of the couples was too women, it's no longer a big deal, sponsors aren't afraid to lose business by showing two women on a date in an ad.  (I noticed there were no couples with 2 men in that ad, but progress happens slowly I guess.)

They also cut away when the Countess stepped out of her coffin - there was a shot of her hand pushing open the coffin lid, and then the camera sort of drifted away, and when it came back to her, she was standing outside the coffin.  This could mean that this particular actress had a fear of closed spaces, so it was a different actress' hand pushing open the coffin, or it could mean that there is just no graceful way for a woman to climb out of a coffin.  After all, they weren't designed with that purpose in mind.  If you think that's bad, there was a moment in "Son of Dracula" where the vampire bat attacked the old Gypsy Queen, and since they cut away from the moment of the attack, I'm guessing they didn't get the shot that they wanted.  Either the actress couldn't pretend to be attacked by the bat convincingly, or they couldn't get the puppet bat on a string to attack her in a realistic manner.

NITPICK POINT: I've said it time and time again here, hypnotism is a bunch of B.S.  But they believed in it back in the 1930's, especially in movies.  In fact, the main reason that people today believe that hypnotism works is because it's so often used as a plot point (crutch) in cinema.  There's no mind control in real life - but the main question here is, if Countess Zaleska is a true vampire, why does she need to hypnotize her prey with her gem?  Dracula never needed a shiny ring, he just used the power of his mind.  Is her mind not as strong as his?  Did she never finish the lessons about how vampire mind control works?  Because it should be all in the eyes, right?  So what's with the ring?

Also starring Gloria Holden (last seen in "Dream Wife"), Otto Kruger (last seen in "Another Thin Man"), Marguerite Churchill, Irving Pichel (last seen in "I'm No Angel"), Gilbert Emery (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes in Washington"), Edward Van Sloan (last seen in "Dracula"), Halliwell Hobbes (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes Faces Death"), Billy Bevan (last seen in "Terror by Night"), Nan Grey, Hedda Hopper (last seen in "The Patsy"), Claud Allister (last seen in "The Private Life of Henry VIII"), Edgar Norton (last seen in "Top Hat"), E.E. Clive (last seen in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"), Vernon Steele (last seen in "Mrs. Miniver"), Hedwiga Reicher, Christian Rub (last seen in "You Can't Take It with You").

RATING: 4 out of 10 clueless constables

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Son of Dracula

Year 10, Day 289 - 10/16/18 - Movie #3,081

BEFORE: I feel like maybe I did October a bit backwards this year, because ideally the movies should get scarier as I approach October 31, and this year the opposite is the case.  Since I started with "Crimson Peak", "It" and "The Mummy" (2017) in the first week I guess maybe there was no place left to go but down.  Then I watched the scarier (or at least gorier) Hammer Studios "Dracula" films before moving backwards in time to the much sillier Universal films that were sequels to the Bela Lugosi film.  I'm not sure how I could have flipped it - but after I finish these Dracula films I'm going to move back to ghost stories, maybe one or two of them will be scary.  First I'm going to take a week's vacation, though, and then finish the month with two films when I get back.

Lon Chaney Jr. carries over from "House of Dracula", where he played the Wolf Man.


THE PLOT: Count Alucard finds his way from Budapest to the swamps of the Deep South; his four nemeses are a medical doctor, a university professor, a jilted fiancé and the woman he loves.

AFTER: If all goes well, this Saturday I'll not only turn 50, but I'll be getting on a plane to fly to Dallas for a week's BBQ Crawl (oh, great, another sequel...) that will take us from Dallas down to New Orleans.  Now, while I'm not a fan of cajun food - you can take gumbo, jambalaya, po'boys, grits and blackened catfish and throw them in the Gulf of Mexico for all I care - but I have heard tell that Louisiana BBQ does exist, you just have to look a bit harder to find it.  Plus we're going to take one of those "Spooky Tours" around New Orleans, since we'll be there just a few days before Halloween.

The Son of Dracula was apparently thinking along the same lines, since he pulled up stakes (literally...) in Europe and headed for the Bayou himself.  Don't let the gray hair fool you, he might look old, but in vampire years, he's still just a teenager - why else would he head over to NOLA for spring break?  Hey, this makes a little bit more sense than Dracula heading out to sunny Southern California, right?  New Orleans is the home to voodoo, and many above-ground cemeteries, and also some of Anne Rice's vampire stories that came decades later were also set there.  And oh, yeah, "True Blood" was also set in Louisiana, but I never watched that show.

But let's start with the basic questions - when did Dracula have a son?  Are we talking about a real son, or a figurative one?  Does this mean Dracula had sex with a woman, instead of just seducing her via mind control?  So many questions about this, like who was the son of Dracula's mother?  Was she a human or a vampire?  Do vampires reproduce sexually, or do they just create more vampires by infecting people via blood exchange?  Wikipedia, on the other hand, says that this is the SAME role that Bela Lugosi played in "Dracula", so what gives there?  Is this the first Count Dracula or the second Count, is he the son of the original, or just the original going under another name?  Or does "Son of" in the title just mean "Sequel to"?

Funny thing, the movie never gets around to answering any of these questions, which is a damn shame.  But we do see Dracula ship himself to America again, so I've got the same NITPICK POINTS here that I did for "The Return of Dracula".  Was Dracula inside the coffin for the whole trip to New Orleans?  If so, then why did he buy a train ticket?   And did he not drink blood during the entire trip? Because that's like a week of not eating, and can he do that?  He sure didn't look any thinner once he got to his destination.  And if he did come in and out of the coffin, which was inside of a large crate, how did THAT work?  This is why Dracula needs to travel with an associate like Renfield, someone who will open the crate every night so that Dracula can get out of his coffin, and seal up the crate during the day so nobody can look inside.  Dracula traveling alone, however, doesn't seem possible.  More to the point, did he ship his own crate via DeadEx, or Boooo P.S.?

Also in this film, Dracula travels under the name "Count Alucard", and the problem here isn't that people can't quite seem to make the connection via backwards spelling, it's the fact that the ones who DO make the connection don't seem to do much about it.  I mean, come ON people, get with the program, if you spell something, SAY something!  But the general problem here among the townspeople seems to be a proclivity for over-analyzing and over-stating things, like they always seem to have to belaboring every point at least three times before taking any action.  It's very possible that the movie was running very short, so they asked the actors in every scene to say each line multiple times, and they all ended up in the film to stretch things out.

What, exactly, is the problem with these townspeople?  They KNOW that Dracula means evil, that on the evil scale he's right between Satan himself and whoever wrote that "Kars for Kids" jingle.  Why can't they stop talking about doing something and start DOING something?  How much proof do they need that a vampire walks among them?  Even after the dead woman starts walking around again, and they find her sleeping in a coffin, they're STILL not convinced.  The vampire expert, Professor Lazlo, checks off every box that there is, and still people aren't sure what to do about Count Alucard.  Is this because they live in the Deep South, or is everyone in Louisiana some kind of born skeptic?

I'm used to seeing Lon Chaney as a Sad Sack, when he played the Wolf Man he was always complaining about his condition and how nobody would help him.  He's a completely different character as Dracula, he's more confident, much more of a go-getter, he's not afraid to take charge and hypnotize women.  But still, there's something of a disconnect with Chaney as Dracula, because he doesn't have anything close to the signature European accent that Lugosi had, or even the one Frances Lederer had.  We expect Dracula to sound foreign, and here he just doesn't, so that's a big disappointment.  And then near the end, when he finds his coffin burning, Chaney slips into that "helpless" character again that seemed to come so easily to him.  Count Dracula wouldn't scream at the guy who just set his coffin on fire to get help to put the fire out, he'd hypnotize the guy to make him extinguish the flames.

Throughout this whole movie, nobody seems to know what to do when something is on fire.  I guess back in 1943 the fire extinguisher hadn't been invented yet, so people's first inclination was to pick up a board and try to beat the fire out?  This seemed very weird, like didn't they know back then how to go get a bucket of water?

Also starring Robert Paige, Louise Allbritton, Frank Craven, J. Edward Bromberg, Patrick Moriarity (last seen in "The Lost Weekend"), Evelyn Ankers (last seen in "The Pearl of Death"), Adeline De Walt Reynolds (last seen in "Shadow of the Thin Man"), Etta McDaniel (last seen in "The Thin Man Goes Home"), George Irving (last seen in "Sergeant York"), Samuel S. Hinds, Cyril Delevanti, Robert Dudley, Jack Rockwell, Walter Sande.

RATING: 4 out of 10 shadows on the wall

Monday, October 15, 2018

House of Dracula

Year 10, Day 288 - 10/15/18 - Movie #3,080

BEFORE: Well, this is either a horror movie or the worst fashion line ever created - "House of Dracula".  Their tagline is "We hope you like capes, because that's all we sell.  Capes and those weird vests that go under the capes".

Still moving backwards in time through the Dracula films I haven't seen before, essentially playing clean-up here, because I'd like to clear the category, so next October can be devoted mainly to mummies and zombies, plus whatever random monsters and demons are left at that point.

No actor link today, I'm counting on the character of Dracula carrying over to see me through.


FOLLOW-UP TO: "House of Frankenstein" (Movie #2,473)

THE PLOT: Count Dracula and the Wolf Man seek cures for their afflictions, while a hunchbacked woman, a mad scientist and Frankenstein's monster have their own troubles.

AFTER: Just about two years ago, I watched the first of Universal's monster mash-up movies, and now finally I can follow up with the other one.  In "House of Frankenstein", Boris Karloff played a mad scientist who wanted to put the brains of his enemies into the bodies of the Wolf Man and the Frankenstein monster, for some reason.  Here the Wolf Man came to him, looking for a cure, and the doctor's answer was a brain transplant?  OK, that officially counts as not helping.  Meanwhile, Dracula's body was discovered in a carnival side-show, and someone pulled the stake out, just to see if the Count would come back to life, and he did.  OK, now we know - DON'T DO THAT.  But then Drac couldn't get back to his coffin before the sun came up, so his part in the movie turned out to be rather short.

At the start of this film, Dracula is alive again (somehow) and going under the name of Baron Latos.  This time it's Dracula who seeks out the help of the mad scientist, to see if modern medicine could come up with a chemical cure for his vampiric condition, because I guess he's tired of always getting the stake through the heart, or getting turned to dust by the sun.  I would imagine that both of those things would be very painful for him, and by the way, maybe his whole life is very painful for him, what with his medical handicaps and all that.  (Dracula as victim?  I'm not sure that's gonna fly...).

Dr. Edlemann thinks that he can cure Dracula by giving him transfusions - but wait, doesn't he sort of get a transfusion every time he drinks a victim's blood?  I don't know if this doctor is on the right path here, and putting Dracula in the same room as a couple of hot nurses is not exactly a way to keep him from finding new female victims to seduce.  Something tells me this plan will not succeed.

Shortly after this, Lawrence Talbot shows up at the same doctor's office - he must have gotten the same referral from his primary physician, just like Dracula did.  He wants a cure for his lycanthropy, since the brain transplant in the last film didn't go as planned.  (That never would have worked, plus his HMO - healthy monster organization -  didn't approve it, so he would have had to pay out of pocket...).  Dr. Edelmann suggests that his Wolf Man condition is not caused by the full moon, but instead by pressure on his brain.  I've got to call a NITPICK POINT here, because of all the other Wolf Man films that show Talbot turning hairy JUST as the moon comes out, so there's plenty of empirical evidence to show a cause-and-effect relationship here.  Besides, there's a simple fix to reconcile the two diagnoses, just say that just as the full moon affects the tides, it also affects the liquid in Talbot's brain, therefore creating pressure that turns him into the Wolf Man.  Jeez, do I have to fix all the plot holes myself?  And if it's NOT the full moon, then why, after getting the operation, do they have to wait until the next full moon to be sure that the procedure was a success? A-HA!

This doctor has found some spores that produce a certain mold, and this gives him the ability (again, somehow) to re-shape bone.  He was going to use this mold to fix the hunchback on the otherwise attractive nurse, but she agrees to wait until the next batch of mold can be grown.  Or maybe she wants to see if the mold will really do what the doctor says, and not make the patient even sicker.  Or maybe she just doesn't want some strange mold being put in her body, and I can't say that I blame her. Some of those black molds are toxic, right?  Ewww.  That stuff scares me more than vampires and wolf men do.

Meanwhile, Talbot (as the Wolf Man) hides out in the cave below the castle (oh, yeah, the mad doctor's office is in a castle for some reason...) and accidentally discovers a dark, humid place which is the perfect spot to grow some mold faster!  Umm, Hurray, I think?  Oh, and they find the body of the Frankenstein Monster (don't call him Frankenstein...) down there too, this is where he and the body of the last mad scientist ended up, after drowning in quicksand in the last film.  The Monster is only "mostly dead", and so Dr. Edelmann has the option, nay, the obligation, to plug his electrodes into an outlet and bring him back to life!

This doctor's got a lot going on, trying to cure two monsters while reviving another - plus he's got to deal with Count Dracula putting the moves on the hotter (non-hunchbacked) nurse, which is very forward of him, to stamp out the sexual harassment when he sees it.  He might be able to cure Dracula's vampirism, but there's no medical cure for him being a sexual predator.  So, he has to die, even though that makes all the work trying to cure him rather pointless.  But hey, there's only so much that the magic mold can do, and we've got to have our priorities.

But the Doctor doesn't know that Dracula reversed the flow of the transfusion, which is another unnecessarily added plot point.  All they had to do was to say that there was some cross contamination during the transfusion, and this would explain why later on, Dr. Edelmann started acting like a vampire himself.  Because NITPICK POINT #2 says that during a direct, person-to-person transfusion, they would logically connect an artery from the donor (Edelmann) to a vein of the recipient (Dracula) because that's how blood flows.  You can't just flip a switch and "reverse the flow" of a transfusion, because the IV tube is connected to the donor's artery, and blood doesn't flow backward into an artery like that.  Arteries take blood away from the heart, and wouldn't suck blood back in as seen here.  Sorry.  My point here is that there were easier ways to get the Mad Doctor infected with vampirism (Dracula biting him would have been just one way), instead of forcing a transfusion to fail in a way that they just can't.

But hey, maybe it's the moon or the pressure in Dr. Edelmann's brain that makes him think he's become a vampire.  Or maybe he felt guilty about killing Count Dracula, so he had a hallucination where he became a vampire to take his place in the world.  Anyway, it sort of becomes a shout-out to a "Jekyll & Hyde" situation when Edelmann starts acting like an evil vampire, and then resurrecting the Frankenstein Monster the rest of the way to defend him from the Wolf Man and the angry mob.

Tempers flare among the townspeople, and finally all the real action of the film takes place in the last 5 minutes as all the pieces of the monsters' storylines come together.  People get electrocuted, things start catching on fire, and the only one who really comes out on top here is the Wolf Man, because we never see him turn hairy again, so maybe he's cured?  Everyone else doesn't fare so well here.  And if the ending here feels very rushed, that would be correct - essentially this film didn't even have a real ending of its own, they just re-used footage from "The Ghost of Frankenstein", which is both cheap and a form of cheating.  This is proof, though, that all of these monster films tend to end the same exact way - so why shoot a new ending if you can just use an old one?

(NOTE: The poster still has the nerve to describe the picture as "All New..." which is a lie, if they re-used footage from a previous monster film.  This should have been amended to "All New...except for the ending" but I can see how that might have turned away some movie-goers.)

Starring John Carradine (last seen in "The Hound of the Baskervilles"), Onslow Stevens (last seen in "Them!"), Lon Chaney Jr. (last seen in "House of Frankenstein"), Glenn Strange (ditto), Martha O'Driscoll, Jane Adams, Lionel Atwill (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon"), Ludwig Stossel, Skelton Knaggs (last seen in "Terror by Night"), with a cameo from Boris Karloff (also last seen in "House of Frankenstein") in the flashback sequence.

RATING: 4 out of 10 hissing cats

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Return of Dracula

Year 10, Day 287 - 10/14/18 - Movie #3,079

BEFORE: Well, I started my Dracula chain with the 1958 film "Horror of Dracula", and worked my way forward to 1972, though continuity-wise, it wasn't exactly a straight path.  Now I'm jumping back to another film from 1958, and I'm going to work my way backwards through the Dracula films that followed the original Lugosi film.  I figure there wasn't much attempt to make a cohesive overall franchise story going forward, so really, it doesn't matter what order I watch them in.

So no actor linking tonight, just the character of Dracula carrying over.  But the concept is similar, since last night's film brought Drac into the modern-day (at the time) year of 1972, and this one brought him forward in time to the modern (at the time) year of 1958.


THE PLOT: After a vampire leaves his native Balkans, he murders a Czech artist, assumes his identity, and moves in with the dead man's American cousins.

AFTER: Damn, but it's hard to know even where to start with this one, which takes Dracula out of his usually cloudy and rainy Transylvania and sends him to Southern California.  Like, if sunlight kills him, is there a worse place for him to go and visit?  Maybe the Sahara desert, but California's probably a close second.  I was joking last night about putting Dracula in a sitcom, but this really puts him in that idealized TV world, like something out of "Leave it to Beaver" or "Father Knows Best".  They should have just called this "Dracula Knows Best" or maybe "I Love Lucy Westenra" and been done with it.  This is the worst idea since putting the Gill-Man in a cardigan and giving him a house in the suburbs in "The Creature Walks Among Us".  But then again, last year the literal "fish out of water" storyline in "The Shape of Water" won the Best Picture award, so I guess you never can tell.

Let's look at the logistics of this for a second, because they sort of gloss over Dracula's travel with a train trip where he kills a man and assumes his identity, a 5-second shot of an ocean liner, and then next thing you know, he's arriving in California on another train.  I'm going to put the brakes on this story right there, because everything we've been told about Dracula up to this point is that he HAS to return to his coffin in his castle every night, before morning, or he'll die.  And if he needs to go on the road, it must be in a coffin that contains some of his home soil, or again, he'll die.  (This was all laid out in "Dracula A.D. 1972" with a song that ripped off Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover", called "50 Ways to Kill Your Vampire".  Who can forget the memorable lyrics "Just cut off his head, Ned / Get a new stake, Jake / Just let in the sun, Hon / and get yourself free... Pick up a cross, Ross / You gotta believe, Steve!" and so on.")

So while he was taking that train, and relaxing on that cruise ship, where was his coffin?  Didn't that raise a few eyebrows, when the porters were asked to deliver a coffin full of dirt to his cabin?  Of course, he probably had an interior cabin with no balcony or even a porthole, probably saved a lot of money that way, but I bet the cruise director got annoyed that he never turned up for shuffleboard during the day or even went swimming in the pool.  But I bet he enjoyed the nightlife on board, and the late-night dining, but since there were probably fewer passengers on the ship when it docked than when it left port, that probably raised a few concerns, no?

Then he had to spend what, like three days on another train to get to California, while his coffin was in a giant crate.  Again, this is a huge problem because we've been told that he absolutely must be in his coffin every morning before the sun comes up, so this sort of trip would have been impossible without breaking the vampire rules.  (I wonder if they addressed this sort of thing in "Hotel Transylvania 3"...). But there would also be problems with immigration, if he went through Ellis Island, and he didn't match the physical description of the guy he was pretending to be.  Or did he kill this guy, Bellac Gordal, because he sort of matched Dracula's height and weight?  It's tough to say.  Either way, immigrating from a Communist republic like Romania at the height of the Cold War was probably quite difficult, even for a vampire - did he have to hypnotize the immigration officers, or did he tell them he was a vampire, but not a Communist?  Better undead than red, I guess.

Then when Dracula finally makes it to Carleton, California, how does he know so much about Bellac Gordal, the man he's pretending to be?  He killed him in the train car before he could learn anything about where he was going, who he was going to be staying with there, and so on.  But when he hits town, he somehow knows the name of Bellac's childhood friend, Cora Mayberry, and the fact that she's a widow with a teenage daughter and a son.  Then there are times when he can't seem to remember key details of things that happened to Bellac when he was young, and these are, for some reason, easily glossed over and not focused on.  But bear in mind, this was 1958, when internet scams and catfishing hadn't been invented yet, so why on earth would someone pretend to be a lowly Czech artist emigrating to America?

Bellac's strange sleeping hours are similarly explained away due to re-adjusting to a new time zone, after traveling a great distance - but there's no jet lag if you didn't take a jet to get somewhere.  And another NITPICK POINT, how did he get his coffin crate delivered to that cave outside of town?  The freight people would have needed a specific address, you can't just put "that cave outside Carleton" on the shipping invoice - and someone HAS to be there to sign for it between the hours of 10 am and 5 pm, and that's when Dracula needs to be sleeping in his coffin!  I don't think most people realize just how hard it is to be a vampire in the modern world - take it from me, because of my late-night movie watching I basically keep vampire-like hours myself.

The good news is that the stray cat and stray dog problem around Carleton seems to have been solved, and then they went through a period where nobody saw a tramp or a hobo for a good long time.  But then Dracula eventually had to turn his sights on teen girls again (I wonder if a vampire has to go knocking on his neighbors' doors when he moves into a new neighborhood, to let them know there's a predator living on the next block...).  He not only tries to seduce Rachel, Cora's daughter, but also a blind girl named Jennie who lives in the "parish home", whatever that is.  Seems to be some form of assisted living run by the church, which again, would only be a problem for Dracula to get into if there were a bunch of priests and crosses everywhere.

But would Dracula be able to seduce a blind woman?  We've been told that he uses a form of hypnotism, which would imply that someone would need to make eye contact with the Count in order to be enthralled, but here he invades Jennie on a psychic level, and he promises to bring her out of the dark and into the light, which seems like a bunch of B.S.  But if Dracula made a blind girl into a vampire, would she then be able to see?  Or would the process heighten her other senses, like smell and taste, to make up for it?  Because if not, then she'd be able to turn into a bat, but then fly around and bump into things, at least until she figured out how to use that echolocation thing.  These are the things I think about that concern me.

Starring Francis Lederer, Norma Eberhardt, Ray Stricklyn (last seen in "Somebody Up There Likes Me"), John Wengraf (last seen in "The Thin Man Goes Home"), Virginia Vincent, Gage Clarke, Jimmy Baird (last seen in "Rebel Without a Cause"), Greta Granstedt, Enid Yousen, William Fawcett (last seen in "Sex and the Single Girl"), Robert Lynn (last seen in "An Affair to Remember"), John McNamara, Belle Mitchell (last seen in "The Spider Woman"), Norbert Schiller (last seen in "Kismet"), Charles Tannen.

RATING: 4 out of 10 broken mirrors

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Dracula A.D. 1972

Year 10, Day 286 - 10/13/18 - Movie #3,078

BEFORE: I've reached the end of my Hammer Films chain, for now, until I tackle more Mummy-based films next year.  I still have four Dracula films - after this I'll head backwards in time to some of the classic Universal films that I skipped over last year.  But only 6 more films until I go away on vacation, then 2 more horror films when I get back, then October will be over and I'll hit the home stretch for the year.

Christopher Lee carries over from "Taste the Blood of Dracula" for another appearance in the cape.


THE PLOT: Johnny Alucard raises Count Dracula from the dead in London in 1972.  The Count goes after the descendants of Van Helsing.

AFTER: This film somehow found a way to both follow the continuity of the Hammer Films series, and also break with it at the same time.  The last time we saw Dracula, in "Taste the Blood of Dracula", he died inside an old London church, and in this one, that's where he's resurrected, decades later.  So that tracks, assuming it's the same church.  But then the prologue here shows Dracula battling Van Helsing, and he dies in a carriage accident, when he's impaled on a broken wheel, and Van Helsing breaks off the round part of the wheel, leaving one of the spokes to function as an impromptu stake.  But when does this happen?

It can't be a reference to "Horror of Dracula", because Van Helsing defeated Dracula there by opening the castle curtains to let the sunlight in.  (Why does Drac's castle even HAVE curtains?  You'd think he would have had the windows bricked over as a precaution, but whatevs...). Does that mean he was resurrected again after Van Helsing killed him, and then Van Helsing killed him again?  That messes with the continuity where Dracula died in some of the previous films and then revived in "Taste the Blood of Dracula".  Are we just going to ignore his various resurrections in between 1872 and 1972?

Of course, there was the 1970 re-telling of Dracula's original story, which I watched last October, but that wasn't a Hammer Films production, and it also didn't have a carriage chase in it and a wagon-wheel impalement.  And Herbert Lom played Van Helsing in that one, not Cushing - so just like with the James Bond series, there's very little regard for continuity between the films.  If this film says Dracula died by carriage wheel, the story just has to roll with that.

For convenience's sake, of course the same actor would play Van Helsing in the flashback sequence, and then his grandson, Lorrimer Van Helsing in the 1972 scenes - but does this really work?  How many people are the spitting image of their grandfathers?  I can handle the fact that the modern guy has the same last name, because that just takes one guy having a son and then that son having a son, but the physical resemblance thing is a little off-putting.  How much in-breeding was there in British society to allow that to happen?  This also happens with the Alucard character, the guy in 1872 that collects Dracula's ashes appears again in the modern scenes, but they don't say if that's supposed to be the same guy, or his grandson, or what.

Pity how hard it is to be British, because as we saw in the last film, people are all so bored with culture in the U.K. that they have to turn to the dark arts, just to get a few kicks.  But I feel like some screenwriter totally mis-read the room here, maybe he used the Rolling Stones' song "Sympathy for the Devil" here, plus the fact that the kids were listening to bands like the Zombies, Black Sabbath and the Grateful Dead, and figured the next logical thing was for kids to go from go-go dancing to rock and roll straight to black masses and trying to resurrect vampires.  And that just wasn't a thing back in the early 1970's, it never caught on.

A couple of NITPICK POINT things here, like the fact that it takes way too long for anyone to figure out what "Alucard" spells in reverse, and similarly it takes too many tries for Johnny to bring Dracula the woman that he wants to possess.  Like, there are only three birds in the group, and one of them has Van Helsing as a last name - dude, it's probably her.  Why does he keep seducing the wrong girl,  is he really that bad at following Dracula's directions, or is he screwing up on purpose, just to get laid?  And another huge N.P. would be - why would Drac use an old church as his lair, wouldn't there be crosses everywhere?

There were also some missed opportunities here, like what would happen if somebody was stoned on LSD and then Dracula drank their blood - would he get high or would he spit it out?  And having been dead for 7 or 8 decades, what did he think of modern music, or cars, or telephones?  I guess we'll never know.  Could he seduce a woman who was attracted to women and not men?  And the other side of that, would he have an easier time seducing a gay man, or does Dracula not swing that way?  Certainly all the ladies in London here found out that "Once you go Drac, you never turn back".  But that's because he drank all their blood.

And if Hammer Films had kept making the Dracula films, what would have come next?  Would they have followed the trends of the 1970's, and moved Dracula to New York, for a "Saturday Night Fever"-inspired spin through the disco scene, or maybe "Welcome Back, Dracula", where the Count would then return to his Transylvanian home town to teach high school?  It's tough to say.  I'm also sorry that the "Johnny Dracula" spin-off never came to be, I thought that one might have some legs - but I guess there's no place for vampires in the 1970's if they can be defeated so easily by modern plumbing.

Also starring Peter Cushing (last seen in "Dracula: Prince of Darkness", Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame (last seen in Licence to Kill"), Marsha Hunt (last seen in "Never Say Never Again"), Caroline Munro (last seen in "The Spy Who Loved Me"), Janet Key (last seen in "1984"), Michael Kitchen (last seen in "My Week with Marilyn"), Lally Bowers, Maureen Flanagan, Michael Coles, William Ellis, Philip Miller, David Andrews, Constance Lutrell, Michael Daly, Artro Morris, Jo Richardson, Brian John Smith, Penny Brahms.

RATING: 5 out of 10 goblets of blood