Tag Archives: Dracula

Fright Club: Nosferatu’s Influence

Happy Halloween! We’re celebrating the holiday and Nosferatu‘s 100th birthday with a look at the movies most influenced by F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece.

5. Dracula (1992)

Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus called this film Francis Ford Coppola’s last must-watch. It does look amazing. Gary Oldman and Tom Waits are great, too. Everybody else…

Coppola’s inspiration for the film was Murnau’s masterpiece, which is especially obvious in the opening act. Not only is Oldman styled as a goofy older character, but his shadow seems to move on its own. A clear homage to what Murnau did to such startling effect.

At the heart of the film is a glorious Oldman, who is particularly memorable as the almost goofily macabre pre-London Dracula. Butthe film feels more Hammer than Murnau, as the lovely Sadie Frost joins a slew of nubile vampire women to keep the film simmering. It’s a sloppy stew, but it is just so tasty.

4. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

In the weeks leading up to the Unholy Masquerade – a celebration for Wellington, New Zealand’s surprisingly numerous undead population – a documentary crew begins following four vampire flatmates.

Viago (co-writer/co-director Taika Waititi) – derided by the local werewolf pack as Count Fagula – acts as our guide. He’s joined by Vladislav (co-writer/co-director Jemaine Clement), who describes his look as “dead but delicious.” There’s also Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) – the newbie at only 187 years old – and Petyr. Styled meticulously and delightfully on the old Nosferatu Count Orlock, Petyr is 8000 years old and does whatever he wants.

The filmmakers know how to mine the absurd just as well as they handle the hum drum minutia. The balance generates easily the best mock doc since Christopher Guest.

3. Salem’s Lot (1979)

Tobe Hooper was such an epic choice to direct this made-for-TV event film in 1979. Stephen King’s beloved novel seems an odd fit for network television, especially in Hooper’s delightfully macabre hands.

Though David Soul may have been the draw in ’79, it’s James Mason’s rich and peculiar delivery of every line that kept the film odd and fascinating.

Hooper’s best choice? Going full Orlock with Mr. Barlow!

2. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Also in 1979, Werner Herzog committed his own take on the Murnau masterpiece to film, and what a glorious endeavor that was! Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre looks hypnotic, and his score feels like a haunting ode to the live accompaniment the original might have boasted.

Klaus Kinski effortlessly revives the ratlike presence of Max Schreck, while Herzog’s script teases out a melancholy the original only hinted at. Isabelle Adjani’s heartbroken central figure is the anchor for the film, but Herzog has a great twist up his sleeve to leave a final scene impression.

1. Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

E. Elias Merhige revisits F. W. Murnau’s masterpiece Nosferatu with smashing results in Shadow of the Vampire. Wickedly funny and just a little catty, ‘Shadow’ entertains with every frame.

This is the fictional tale of the filming of Nosferatu. Egomaniacal artists and vain actors come together to create Murnau’s groundbreaking achievement in nightmarish authenticity. As they make the movie, they discover the obvious: the actor playing Count Orlok, Max Schreck is, in fact, a vampire.

The film is ingenious in the way it’s developed: murder among a pack of paranoid, insecure backstabbers; the mad artistic genius Murnau directing all the while. And it would have been only clever were it not for Willem Dafoe’s perversely brilliant performance as Schreck. There is a goofiness about his Schreck that gives the otherwise deeply horrible character an oddly endearing quality.

Fright Club: Best Horror Movies of the 1930s

We dig deep into the history of horror to pay tribute to some of the true cinematic breakthroughs – films that defined horror and are still imitated and adored today.

5. Dracula (1931)

Oh, Bela. When Lugosi took the screen in 1931, no one was yet tired of Dracula. It was still a literary property only made once into a film, albeit illegally and under a different title by F.W. Murnau. (If you haven’t seen the masterpiece that is Nosferatu, please do.)

Bela, alongside director Tod Browning, got to create the image that would forever define the most mimicked, reworked, revamped – if you will – monster in cinema.

4. The Black Cat (1934)

Rocky Horror owes a tremendous debt to Edgar G. Ulmer’s bizarre horror show. The film – clearly precode – boasts torture, tales of cannibalism, and more than the hint of necromancy.

Plus Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff?! What is not to love? It looks great, as does Karloff, whose lisp is put to the most glorious use. What a weird, weird movie. So good!

3. Vampyr (1932)

The well-groomed if aimless dreamer wanders with what appears to be a fishnet to a secluded little inn. But trouble’s afoot.

And dig those crazy shadows!

The great Carl Theodor Dreyer co-wrote and directed this gorgeous black and white fantasy. The painterly quality of Dreyer’s frames and the bizarre character behavior give the film a surreal atmosphere you can’t shake. His decision to limit dialog to a minimum and craft the movie with traditional silent film gimmicks benefitted the dreamscape atmosphere.

2. Freaks (1932)

Short and sweet, like most of its performers, Tod Browning’s controversial film Freaks is one of those movies you will never forget. Populated almost entirely by unusual actors – midgets, amputees, the physically deformed, and an honest to god set of conjoined twins (Daisy and Violet Hilton) – Freaks makes you wonder whether you should be watching it at all. This, of course, is an underlying tension in most horror films, but with Freaks, it’s right up front. Is what Browning does with the film empathetic or exploitative, or both? And, of course, am I a bad person for watching this film?

Well, that’s not for us to say. We suspect you may be a bad person, perhaps even a serial killer. Or maybe that’s Hope. What we can tell you for sure is that this film is unsettling, and the final, rainy act of vengeance is truly creepy to watch.

1. Frankenstein (1931)/Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

James Whale’s brilliant take on Mary Shelley’s novel looked at Frankenstein’s monster and saw the cruelty humanity was capable of committing. For him, the monster was the central and most interesting figure. Unlike Shelley’s antihero, Whale’s creature was utterly sympathetic, an oversized child unable to control himself, making him simultaneously innocent and dangerous.

Barons and aristocracy, the European setting – the film distrusts scientists and public officials as fools unable to reign in their own ambitions no matter the dire consequences.

Four years later, James Whale and Boris Karloff – with tag along make-up man Jack Pierce – returned to Castle Frankenstein for another tale of horror. What makes this one a stronger picture is the dark humor and subversive attitude, mostly animated by Frankenstein’s colleague Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger).

The sequel casts off the earnestness of the original, presenting a darker film that’s far funnier, often outrageous for its time, with a fuller story. Karloff again combines tenderness and menace, and Elsa Lanchester becomes the greatest goth goddess of all film history as his Bride.

Fright Club: Fathers and Daughters in Horror

Familial relationships can be a killer – especially in the hands of horror filmmakers. This week we look at the fraught relationships between fathers and daughters in horror movies.

5. We Are What We Are (2013, American)

As in Jorge Michel Grau’s original, one family’s religious custom is thrown into havoc when the family leader dies unexpectedly, leaving the ritual unfinished and the children left to determine who will take over. Both films look at a particularly religious family as a sort of tribe that evolved separately but within the larger population. Grau has better instincts for mining this paradigm to expose the flaws of the larger population, but Mickel takes an American Gothic tone to create an eerily familiar darkness that treads on common urbanite fears.

The always exceptional Michael Parks plays a gentle, rural doctor heartbroken over the years-old disappearance of his daughter and intrigued by some grisly bits unearthed by the recent flood. Meanwhile, the devout and desperate Parker family prepares for Lamb’s Day.

The film sets a tone that sneaks up and settles over you, like the damp from a flood. Mickel proves adept with traditional horror storytelling, casting aside any flash in favor of smothering atmosphere and a structure that slowly builds tension, and the impressive climax is worth the wait.

4. Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Dad himself isn’t even in this film, but what Dracula’s Daughter does well is to depict the hold parents can have on us – if taken to beautifully melodramatic and metaphorical extremes.

Gloria Holden is the hypnotic and almost despondent daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska. After Von Helsing (spelled with an “o” in this movie for some reason) kills the Count, the Countess travels to London to steal the body, hoping to perform a ritual that would cure her of her own awful thirst.

Holden is wonderful, as is Nan Grey as the Countess’s first victim. Lambert Hillyer’s film suggests lesbianism as the shameful curse that can’t be cured – as many a Dracula film has pointed toward homoeroticism as the true curse of vampirism. Thanks to Holden’s melancholy performance, though, instead of feeling like some unwholesome threat, Marya’s desire for women feels more like something her father and now society has made her believe is shameful.

3. Train to Busan (2016)

We are always, always interested when a filmmaker can take the zombie genre in a new direction. Very often, that direction is fun, funny, political—but not necessarily scary. Co-writer/director Sang-ho Yeon combines the claustrophobia of Snakes on a Plane with the family drama of Host, then trusts young Su-An Kim to shoulder the responsibility of keeping us breathlessly involved. It works.

Kim plays Soo-an, a wee girl on a train with her overworked, under-attentive father (Gong Yoo). They are headed to her mother’s. The filmmaker will teach Dad what’s important in this life.

Sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, always exciting and at least once a heartbreaker, Train to Busan succeeds on every front.

2. Oldboy (2003)

A guy passes out after a hard night of drinking. It’s his daughter’s birthday, and that helps us see that this guy is a dick. He’s definitely not much of a father. He wakes up a prisoner in a weird, apartment-like cell. Here he stays for years and years.

The guy is Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi). The film is Oldboy, director Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece of subversive brutality and serious wrongdoing.

Choi is unforgettable as the film’s anti-hero, and his disheveled explosion of emotion is perfectly balanced by the elegantly evil Ji-tae Yu.

Choi takes you with him through a brutal, original, startling and difficult to watch mystery. You will want to look away, but don’t do it! What you witness will no doubt shake and disturb you, but missing it would be the bigger mistake.

1. The Host (2006)

Visionary director Bong Joon Ho’s film opens in a military lab hospital in 2000. A clearly insane American doctor, repulsed by the dust coating formaldehyde bottles, orders a Korean subordinate to empty it all into the sink. Soon the contents of hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde find its way through the Korean sewer system and into the Han River. This event – allegedly based on fact – eventually leads, not surprisingly, to some pretty gamey drinking water. And also a 25 foot cross between Alien and a giant squid.

Said monster – let’s call him Steve Buscemi (the beast’s actual on-set nickname) – exits the river one bright afternoon in 2006 to run amuck in a very impressive outdoor-chaos-and-bloodshed scene. A dimwitted food stand clerk (Joon Ho regular Kang-ho Song) witnesses his daughter’s abduction by the beast, and the stage is set.

What follows, rather than a military attack on a marauding Steve Buscemi, is actually one small, unhappy, bickering family’s quest to find and save the little girl. Their journey takes them to poorly organized quarantines, botched security checkpoints, misguided military/Red Cross posts, and through Seoul’s sewer system, all leading to a climactic battle even more impressive than the earlier scene of afternoon chaos.

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Fright Club: Best Horror of the 1950s

When we first started this podcast, one hundred thirtysomething episodes ago, we devoted specific shows to the best horror movies by the decade. We started with the Sixties, but we got called on that at one point by a listener who wanted to know what we thought were the best horror movies of the Fifties.

We have finally responded to that (hopefully) very patient listener, and enlisted the help of our old friend Phantom Dark Dave. Together, we wander through the cold war movies that scared a generation.

5. Godzilla (1954)

Is Godzilla the best film on this list? No. But, more than any other film in the genre, it spoke directly to global anxieties, became a phenomenal success, and changed the face of horror.

As Japan struggled to re-emerge from the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, director Ishiro Honda unleashed that dreaded kaiju—followed quickly by a tidal wave of creature features focused on scientists whose ungodly work creates global cataclysm.

Far more pointed and insightful than its American bastardization or any of the sequels or reboots to follow, the 1954 Japanese original mirrored the desperate, helpless impotence of a global population in the face of very real, apocalyptic danger. Sure, that danger breathed fire and came in a rubber suit, but history shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.

4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Director Dono Siegel was the first filmmaker to bring Jack Finney’s Cold War nightmare to the screen. He wouldn’t be the last, maybe not even the best, but what he did with this eerie alien tale tapped into a societal anxiety and quickly became one of the most influential and terrifying films of its time.

Doc Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is just home from a short trip when he’s inundated by patients swearing their loved ones are not their loved ones at all. Sure, they look the same and have all the same skills and memories, but there’s no warmth, no passion.

With this, the fear that our very nation could be overtaken by an outside force – Russians, say, for terrifyingly immediate sake of argument – working its way through not by force, but by quietly taking over each and every person in one town, then spreading from town to town to town.

It’s the kind of insidious evil that fuels contagion horror, infestation horror, even demonic horror. But Invasion of the Body Snatchers spoke to a society’s deepest fears and became a touchstone for all SciFi to follow it.

3. Dracula (Horror of Dracula) (1958)

In 1958, Hammer Films began its long and fabulous love affair with the cloaked one, introducing the irrefutably awesome Christopher Lee as the Count.

Their tale varies a bit from Stoker’s, but the main players are mostly accounted for. Peter Cushing steps in early and often as Van Helsing, bringing his inimitable brand of prissy kick-ass, but it’s Lee who carries the film.

Six foot 5 and sporting that elegant yet sinister baritone, Lee cuts by far the most intimidating figure of the lot as Dracula. Director Terence Fisher (what?!) uses that to the film’s advantage by developing a far more vicious, brutal vampire than what we’d seen previously.

Still, the film is about seduction, though, which gives Lee’s brute force an unseemly thrill. Unlike so many victims in other vampire tales, it’s not just that Melissa Stribling’s Mina is helpless to stop Dracula’s penetration. She’s in league. She wants it.

Ribald stuff for 1958!

2. The Bad Seed (1956)

The minute delicate Christine’s (Nancy Kelly) husband leaves for his 4-week assignment in DC, their way-too-perfect daughter begins to betray some scary behavior. The creepy handyman Leroy (Henry Jones) has her figured out – he knows she’s not as perfect as she pretends.

You may be tempted to abandon the film in its first reel, feeling as if you know where the it’s going. You’ll be right, but there are two big reasons to stick it out. One is that Bad Seed did it first, and did it well, considering the conservative cinematic limitations of the Fifties.

Second, because director Mervyn LeRoy’s approach – not a single vile act appears onscreen – gives the picture an air of restraint and dignity while employing the perversity of individual imaginations to ramp up the creepiness.

Enough can’t be said about Patty McCormack. There’s surprising nuance in her manipulations, and the Oscar-nominated 9-year-old handles the role with both grace and menace.

1. Diabolique (1955)

Pierre Boileau’s novel was such hot property that even Alfred Hitchcock pined to make it into a film. But Henri-Georges Clouzot got hold if it first. His psychological thriller with horror-ific undertones is crafty, spooky, jumpy and wonderful.

And it wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the weirdly lived-in relationship among Nicole (Simone Signoret) – a hard-edged boarding school teacher – and the married couple that runs the school. Christina (Vera Clouzot) is a fragile heiress; her husband Michel (Paul Meurisse) is the abusive, blowhard school headmaster. Michel and Nicole are sleeping together, Christine knows, both women are friends, both realize he’s a bastard. Wonder if there’s something they can do about it.

What unravels is a mystery with a supernatural flavor that never fails to surprise and entrance. All the performances are wonderful, the black and white cinematography creates a spectral atmosphere, and that bathtub scene can still make you jump.

Fright Club: Rock Stars in Horror

The rock star/horror movie crossover seems a natural extension of the darkness and cool of each, and it has happened countless times. Some of the crossovers are almost too obvious – Ozzy Osbourne in Trick  or Treat or Grace Jones as an aggressive stripper/vampire in Vamp. John Mellencamp, Iggy Pop, Cherie Curie, Jon Bon Jovi, and, of course, Meat Loaf – these rockers and others have lined up to dance with the dead.

But here are the best rock star performances in horror.

Listen to the full podcast HERE.

Alice Cooper: Prince of Darkness (1987)

Let us just get this out of the way now – we don’t care for this film. Yes, John Carpenter is a master of horror, but this film felt stale in ’87 and it has not aged well.

However, perhaps the greatest stroke of genius Carpenter had when filming was to cast Alice Cooper as the leader of the demon-possessed band of shopping cart people.

As scientists and theologians hole up inside an abandoned church in a very bad neighborhood, they begin to notice the attention of the silent, menacing homeless man outside. And every time they look, he has more friends. It is possibly the only genuinely chilling image in the film, and much of the success is due to Cooper’s effortlessly menacing presence.

Alice Cooper’s stage persona makes him a perfect fit in horror – perhaps moreso than any other rock star. Indeed, he’s gone on to play Freddy Krueger’s father, a vampire, and all manner of supernatural lowlife in film. But for his most unsettling turn, all he needed was a disheveled appearance and his own natural presence.

5. Tom Waits: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Francis Ford Coppola took his shot at Dracula in ’92. How’d he do?

Cons: Keanu Reeves cannot act. Winona Ryder can act – we’ve seen her act – but she shows no aptitude for it here, and lord she should not do accents. Anthony Hopkins has always enjoyed the taste of scenery, but his performance here is just ham-fisted camp.

Pros: Tom Waits as Renfield – nice! Creepy yet sympathetic, with that haggard voice, Waits brings a wizened mania to the character that’s more than refreshing. Likewise, Gary Oldman, who can chomp scenery with the best chewers in the biz, munches here with great panache. He delivers a perversely fascinating performance. His queer old man Dracula, in particular – asynchronous shadow and all – offers a lot of creepy fun.

Still, there’s no looking past Ryder, whose performance is high school drama bad.

4. Henry Rollins: He Never Died (2015)

With a funny shuffle step and a blank stare, Henry Rollins announces Jack, anti-hero of the noir/horror mash up He Never Died, as an odd sort.

Jack, you see, has kind of always been here. The “here” in question at the moment is a dodgy one bedroom, walking distance from the diner where he eats and the church where he plays bingo. An exciting existence, no doubt, but this mindlessness is disturbed by a series of events: an unexpected visit, a needed ally with an unfortunate bookie run-in, and a possible love connection with a waitress.

From the word go, He Never Died teems with deadpan humor and unexpected irony. Casting Rollins in the lead, for instance, suggests something the film actively avoids: energy. The star never seethes, and even his rare hollers are muted, less full of anger than primal necessity.

Rollins’s performance is strong, offering Jack as a solitary figure who clings to all things mind numbing as a way to pass the time without complication or human interaction. As a survival mechanism, he’s all but forgotten how to behave around humanity, a species he regards without needless sentimentality.

3. Sting: Brimstone & Treacle (1982)

Easily the best acting of Sting’s career, his con man Martin turns out to be a far more malevolent presence in the Bates household than poor Norma (Joan Plowright – wonderful as always) and Tom (Denholm Elliott) could imagine.

Martin feigns a fainting spell on the street long enough to lift Tom’s wallet. When he returns it – cash light – to the address on the license, he quickly eyeballs the surroundings and claims to be the fiancé of their bedridden daughter Pattie (Suzanna Hamilton).

The film mines layer after layer of repression – societal, sexual, religious and other – as it plays on your constantly expanding sense of dread. Sting is wonderful. His playfully evil performance and the way he eyes the audience/camera gives him the air of something far more unwholesome than your run of the mill conman. Maybe even something supernatural.

2. Debbie Harry: Videodrome (1983)

As bizarre as anything he ever made – even CosmopolisVideodrome shows an evolution in David Cronenberg’s preoccupations with body horror, media, and technology as well as his progress as a filmmaker.

James Woods plays sleazy TV programmer Max Renn, who pirates a program he believes is being taped in Malaysia – a snuff show, where people are slowly tortured to death in front of viewers’ eyes.

Punk goddess Deborah Harry co-stars as a seductress intrigued by the slimy Renn. Harry is, as always, effortlessly sultry – a quality that works queasyingly well in this Cronenberg head trip.

But the real star is Cronenberg, who explores his own personal obsessions, dragging us willingly down the rabbit hole with him. Corporate greed, zealot conspiracy, medical manipulation all come together in this hallucinatory insanity that could only make sense with the Canadian auteur at the wheel.

Long live the new flesh!

1. Bowie: The Hunger (1983)

Tony Scott’s seductive vampire love story has a little bit of everything: slaughter, girl-on-girl action, ’80s synth/goth tunage, David Bowie. What more can you ask?

Actually the film’s kind of a sultry, dreamily erotic mess. Oh, the gauzy, filmy curtains. It looks great, but the internal logic of the vampirism as a disease doesn’t work very well. Lots of meaningless parallels with some experiment apes don’t help.

Catharine Deneuve is the old world vampire Miriam, David Bowie is her lover. But he suddenly begins aging, and she needs to find a replacement. Enter Susan Sarandon as a medical specialist in unusual blood diseases and a fine actress who’s not above smooching other girls.

There are three reasons people still watch it: Bowie, Catherine Deneuve’s seduction of Susan Sarandon (classy!), and the great dark-wave Bauhaus number Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Together it’s a Goth Trifecta! And Goths do love them some vampires.

Fright Club: Best British Horror

We are thrilled to have Senior British Correspondent Craig Hunter of SCREENRELISH join us to look at some of our favorite British horror movies. From classics of Hammer to some of today’s most disturbing films, we count down the five best.

5. Dracula (Horror of Dracula) (1958)

In 1958, Hammer Films began its long and fabulous love affair with the cloaked one, introducing the irrefutably awesome Christopher Lee as the Count.

Their tale varies a bit from Stoker’s, but the main players are mostly accounted for. Peter Cushing steps in early and often as Van Helsing, bringing his inimitable brand of prissy kick-ass, but its Lee who carries the film.

Six foot 5 and sporting that elegant yet sinister baritone, Lee cuts by far the most intimidating figure of the lot as Dracula. Director Terence Fisher uses that to the film’s advantage by developing a far more vicious, brutal vampire than what we’d seen previously.

Still the film is about seduction, though, which gives Lee’s brute force an unseemly thrill. Unlike so many victims in other vampire tales, it’s not just that Melissa Stribling’s Mina is helpless to stop Dracula’s penetration. She’s in league. She wants it.

Ribald stuff for 1958!


4. Kill List (2011)

Never has the line “Thank you” had a weirder effect than in the genre bending adventure Kill List.

Hitman Jay (a volcanic Neil Maskell) is wary to take another job after the botched Kiev assignment, but his bank account is empty and his wife Shel (an also eruptive MyAnna Buring) has become vocally impatient about carrying the financial load. But this new gig proves to be seriously weird.

Without ever losing that gritty, indie sensibility, Ben Wheatley’s fascinating film begins a slide in Act 2 from crime drama toward macabre thriller. You spend the balance of the film’s brisk 95 minutes actively puzzling out clues, ambiguities and oddities.

As Kill List drifts toward its particular flavor of horror, Wheatley pulls deftly from some of the most memorable films of a similar taste. For those looking for blood and guts and bullets, Kill List will only partially satisfy and may bewilder by the end. But audiences seeking a finely crafted, unusual horror film may find themselves saying thank you.

3. Eden Lake (2009)

The always outstanding Michael Fassbender takes his girl Jenny (Kelly Reilly) to his childhood stomping grounds – a flooded quarry and soon-to-be centerpiece for a grand housing development. He intends to propose, but he’s routinely disrupted, eventually in quite a bloody manner, by a roving band of teenaged thugs.

James Watkins’s screenplay keeps you nervous and guessing with some clever maneuvers and horrific turns.

The acting, particularly from the youngsters, is outstanding. Fassbender’s bravado strikes an honest note, and Reilly’s Jenny is capable, smart and compassionate. More than anything, though, the film owes its unsettling ability to stay with you to an unnerving performance from the up and coming Jack O’Connell.

It’s an upwardly mobile urbanite nightmare, well made and crafted to stay with you.

2. The Descent (2005)

A caving expedition turns ugly for a group of friends, who will quickly realize that being trapped inside the earth is not the worst thing that could happen.

This spelunking adventure comes with a familiar cast of characters: arrogant authority figure, maverick, emotionally scarred question mark, bickering siblings, and a sad-sack tag along. And yet, somehow, the interaction among them feels surprisingly authentic, and not just because each is cast as a woman.

Writer/director Neil Marshall makes excellent use of the story’s structure. Between that and the way film and sound editing are employed, Marshall squeezes every available ounce of anxiety from the audience. Long before the first drop of blood is drawn by the monsters – which are surprisingly well conceived and tremendously creepy – the audience has already been wrung out emotionally.

1. 28 Days Later (2002)

Activists break into a research lab and free the wrong fucking monkeys.

28 days later, bike messenger Jim wakes up naked on an operating table.

You know you’re in trouble from the genius opening sequence: vulnerability, tension, bewilderment, rage and blood – it marks a frantic and terrifying not-really-a-zombie film. (They were not dead, you see. Just super pissed off.)

Danny Boyle is one of cinema’s visionary directors, and he’s made visceral, fascinating, sometimes terrifying films his entire career – Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Millions, 127 Hours – but 28 Days Later is certainly his one true horror film. And it is inspired.

The vision, the writing, and the performances all help him transcend genre trappings without abandoning the genre. Both Brendan Gleeson and Cillian Murphy are impeccable actors, and Naomie Harris is a truly convincing badass. Their performances, and the cinematic moments of real joy, make their ordeal that much more powerful.

Listen to the whole conversation on the FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.

Christopher Lee Dies at 93

The most imposing of all the Draculas, Christopher Lee died Sunday in London at the age of 93. With a powerful voice and formidable presence, Lee made his name as the villain in scores of British horror films from Hammer studios, memorably portraying Dracula, Fu Manchu, Frankenstein’s monster, Rasputin, Mephistopheles, the Mummy, as well as dozens of other random evil Counts, bloodthirsty vampires, suspicious doctors, nefarious priests, and various other sinister ne’er do wells.

He found use besides terrifying young maidens for that saucy baritone, recording a metal album in 2010 entitled Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, and the follow up in 2013, Charlemagne: The Omens of Death.

Though Lee never struggled to land work, in his Eighties he found himself in the unlikely position of starring in two of the most financially successful franchises in movie history: Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. He also worked regularly in his later years in blockbusters directed by Tim Burton, and was a ready, welcome face in an assortment of indie horror flicks in his later years.

Lee was truly among the most iconic, most elegant, most impressive actors working in or outside of genre filmmaking. Do yourself a favor and rediscover some of the darkly magical work of the great Sir Christopher Lee.

Dracula (Horror of Dracula) (1958)

In 1958, British studio Hammer began its long and fabulous love affair with the cloaked one, introducing the irrefutably awesome Christopher Lee as the Count.

Their tale varies a bit from Stoker’s, but the main players are mostly accounted for. Peter Cushing steps in early and often as Van Helsing, bringing his inimitable brand of prissy kick-ass, but it’s Lee who carries the film.

Six foot 5 and sporting that elegant yet sinister baritone, Lee cuts by far the most intimidating figure of the lot as Dracula. Director Terence Fisher uses that to the film’s advantage by developing a far more vicious, brutal vampire than what we’d seen previously.

Still the film is about seduction, though, which gives Lee’s brute force an unseemly thrill. Unlike so many victims in other vampire tales, it’s not just that Melissa Stribling’s Mina is helpless to stop Dracula’s penetration. She’s in league. She wants it.

Ribald stuff for 1958!


The Wicker Man 1973

In the early Seventies, Robin Hardy created a film that fed on the period’s hippie versus straight hysteria.

Uptight Brit constable Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward) flies to the private island Summerisle investigating charges of a missing child. His sleuthing leads him into a pagan world incompatible with his sternly Christian point of view.

Hardy and his cast have wicked fun with Anthony Shaffer’s sly screenplay, no one more so than the particularly saucy Christopher Lee. I love him in the role of Lord Summerisle, though it helps that he gets all the great lines. For instance, “Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent,” he deadpans.

When Howie asks, “And what of the one true God?”

Summerisle responds, “Well, he’s dead. He had his chance and, in modern parlance, blew it.”
Blasphemy indeed! No wonder Howie’s so up in arms. Plus there’s that naked barmaid and her sexy come-hither dance.

The film is hardly a horror movie at all – more of a subversive comedy of sorts – until the final reel or so. Starting with the creepy animal masks (that would become pretty popular in the genre a few decades later), then the parade, and then the finale, things take quite a creepy turn leading to what is still a very powerful climax.

Burke and Hare (2010)

Throughout his career, Lee made numerous, memorable cameos. Playing on his decades in genre film work, his quick appearances delivered a wink and a shudder to any true horror fan. From the LEGO Movie to The Wicker Tree to just about everything Tim Burton did after Mars Attacks, films benefitted from that otherworldly presence, even if only for a moment. Among the most fun is John Landis’s 2010 horror comedy about Europe’s famed corpse makers, Burke and Hare.

The film, loosely based on historical fact, follows William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis – greatest living performance-capture actor making a rare flesh and blood appearance). It’s the age of enlightenment, and advances in medical science necessitate more fresh dissecting corpses in Edinburgh’s medical colleges. In a touching tale of capitalism in action, these two blokes simply found a need and filled it.

Landis’s approach is darkly comical, a choice he announces in the opening moments: This is a true story, except for the parts that are not. His game cast – including the always welcome Tom Wilkinson, the gloriously weird Tim Curry, and Lee as the pair’s first real victim – proves up to the challenge.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

I admit it – I had not read these books when I took my son to see the first of these films. As he and I huddled together in our seats, hoping little Frodo and Sam could outrun the Wraiths with the help of the magnificent Ian McKellan, we were naïve enough to believe that the White Wizard would be their salvation. Until I saw who it was.

I whispered to my boy, “He is not going to help them.”

Such is the effortless villainy of Christopher Lee. His simple presence fills you with fear – and then he speaks. That voice, so commanding and mocking and glorious.

Lee was 79 years old when Peter Jackson filmed the first trilogy and he twirled that staff, mounted that horse and commanded those Orcs like an ageless power. Like a boss.

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Beginning in the late 1950s, Britain’s Hammer studios begin making lurid period horror, banking on the awesome horror duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Their first collaboration was longtime Hammer director Terence Fisher’s take on the Shelley text, Curse of Frankenstein.

All bubbling potions and bunsen burners, Cushing’s laboratory (don’t forget to pronounce that middle ‘o’) is as fine a home to unholy alchemy as any. Jovially laissez faire in matters of a moral nature, his sinister acts in the name of science are well played.

His mad doctor is, at heart, a spoiled child. His behavior is outrageous, repugnant, but fascinating.
Christopher Lee made a fantastic Dracula – all elegance, height and menace. His Frankenstein’s monster is an almost unrecognizable change of pace. He’s rotty flesh, dead eye and sutures. Though his performance certainly lacks the vulnerability and innocence that made Boris Karloff’s version iconic, his version is more raw menace.

When Worlds Collide

Story of My Death

by Hope Madden

Infamous womanizer Giacomo Casanova’s autobiography “Story of My Life” became an irreplaceable documentation of 18th Century Europe. His libertine lifestyle and the age it represents come to an unusual conclusion in the hands of Spanish filmmaker Albert Serra, whose film Story of My Death introduces Casanova to another major European literary figure, Dracula.

Weird, right?

Well, it is certainly unique, as is every frame of Serra’s film. Utterly naturalistic performances, a judgment free approach to the proceedings, a painterly cinematic quality and a very loose narrative structure keep the film feeling simultaneously realistic and surreal.

Casanova (Vincenc Altaio) spends his waning years in his castle penning memoirs, then embarks on an extended journey to more rustic locales in the Carpathian Mountains.

Altaio brings something wonderfully fresh to his turn as Casanova, a performance that’s all sensuality and no smolder, no seduction. Delighted by bodily functions and enamored with every sensuous aspect of daily life, he makes for an unusual hero in a deeply peculiar film.

His Casanova is an overripe figure – something, like his era, just a bit past its spoil date. We spend fully half the film lazing about his castle with him and his coterie, slurping pomegranates (among other things!) and waxing poetic. Serra’s lighting and framing take on a magisterial quality, but all this – the flouncing, the debauchery, the balance of light and dark – develops a more brutal, sinister quality as the film moves to its second half out on the mountainside.

The daintiness of the chateau has no place in this land of the hardy. While Casanova’s behavior back home elicited nonchalance, here in Romania it finds disdain, whispers of condemnation, worries over wickedness.

Why does Casanova meet Dracula (Eliseu Huertas)? Serra’s image is less a monster mash up than a metaphor. By pitting iconic figures of the two eras, the film animates the moment that the age of reason gave way to the Romantic period, when reason took a back seat to darker thinking.

Serra’s film is never quite as simple as that, with every seemingly random and spontaneous scene nonetheless riddled with metaphors and busy with details. From concept to execution, his film is a unique piece of art that will confound and entertain in equal measure.


Best Draculas Countdown

There is a new Dracula movie, which begs the question: Do we need a new Dracula movie?

No. There’s nothing new to say, and with so many worthy options already available, why buy new? With that in mind, we have pulled together a list of our favorite cinematic Draculas. (Note, we cheated here and there. Sue us.)

10. Frank Langella

In 1979, Frank Langella recreated the Stoker anti-hero as a virile romantic lead and the ladies swooned. Langella is a consummate actor who brings a wry charm to the screen.

9. Jack Palance

Breathy and weird – as always – Jack Palance makes the vampire into a strange beast in a film that’s campy and ridiculous but worth watching.

8. Udo Kier

Speaking of weird! The effortlessly bizarre and uniquely compelling Udo Kier is the anemic and pathetic monster at the heart of Andy Warhol’s Dracula – a gorgeous piece of vampire trash if every there was such a film.

7. William Marshall

Officially, no, he is not Dracula. He is Blacula – respect him! Fear him! Dig him!! There are few Seventies blaxploitation films that can hold a candle to this one, mostly because of Marshall’s rich baritone and compelling presence.


6. Klaus Kinski

In 1979, Werner Herzog revisited F. W. Murnau’s masterpiece Nosferatu – a film that was originally meant to be a Dracula film, but copyright forbade it. Herzog fixed that, with a mesmerizing Kinski as the bloodthirsty count Hypnotic and creepy, Kinski nails it.

5. Gary Oldman

What I love about most of the vampires on this list is that the actors zero in on the inherent weirdness in the role. Oldman channels the Count’s smolder, but that granny version early on is the one we remember.

4. Willem Dafoe

OK, so this is a bit of a stretch. In Shadow of the Vampire, Dafoe plays Max Schreck, the actor who played Count Orlock in Murnau’s Nosferatu. But Orlock was supposed to be Dracula, and the point is, Dafoe is amazing – hilarious, creepy and terrifying all at once. He is easily one of the best.


3. Bela Lugosi

Sure, #3 may seem low for the actor most linked to the role. He’s the icon, we give him that, and even if there are others we find scarier or more interesting, Bela will always be image of Dracula.

2. Christopher Lee

But Christopher Lee – the six foot five inch baritone – is so much more menacing. This was the Dracula to fear. This was the one we believed could turn into a wolf and tear your throat out, the one that had the strength of ten men, the one who could woo the ladies. Christopher Lee was the one.

1. Max Schreck

Hopefully we’ve made the case by now that Murnau’s Nosferatu counts, and our favorite Count is Orlock because Max Schreck is one sick genius. So sick that an entire brilliant film was created to due him honor. He’s the creepiest, most memorable, all time best Dracula, even if he is a vampire by another name.