Tag Archives: Werner Herzog

Fright Club: Mainstream Directors Making Horror

Exciting all MaddWolf Pack episode! Daniel Baldwin, aka The Schlocketeer, and Brandon Thomas join us to talk about a topic we stole from their Twitter conversation: which directors not known for horror made the best horror movies?

Be sure to listen because Daniel and Brandon both bring much knowledge (plus extra movie titles!) to the conversation. But here’s our Top 5:

5. Nosferatu, the Vampire (1979, Werner Herzog)

Sure, it’s another Dracula, but because it’s another Dracula by way of Murnau’s masterpiece Nosferatu, and it’s written and directed by the great Werner Herzog, it’s weird and wonderful.

Herzog uses the imagery Murnau created – in particular, the naked mole rat of a vampire – to turn vampirism into a pestilence to evoke the Black Plague of Europe. Klaus Kinski is that naked mole rat, and he is glorious.

Isabelle Adjani is the pure of heart maiden who is his undoing, but the way Herzog reimagines Jonathan Harker gives the film a cynical twist that feels like a surprise within this dreamlike adaptation. Gorgeous location shooting and an astonishing score help Herzog create a suffocating but captivating atmosphere.

4. The Haunting (1963, Robert Wise)

Coming off the big epics of The Sound of Music and West Side Story, no one would have expected the intimate psychological horror of Robert Wise’s The Haunting.

Shirley Jackson fans have to appreciate the way the film remains true to her vision of horror. Fans of horror have to appreciate Wise’s unbelievable knack for generating terror with sound design and imagination.

Yes, the performances are magnificent – especially Julie Harris, whose bitter Eleanor is picture perfect. But Wise’s mastery of form is what makes this G-rated film a lasting terror.

3. Hour of the Wolf (1968, Ingmar Bergman)

Like all Bergman films, this hypnotic, surreal effort straddles lines of reality and unreality and aches with existential dread. But Bergman and his star, Max von Sydow, cross over into territory of the hallucinatory and grotesque, calling to mind ideas of vampires, insanity and bloodlust as one man confronts repressed desires as he awaits the birth of his child.

As wonderful as von Sydow is as the central figure, a man spiraling toward insanity, it’s the heartbreaking Liv Ullman who owns this movie. Heartbreaking, solid, and the most unusual combination of strength and weakness, her Alma grounds the surreal elements of the movie.

The result is gorgeous, spooky, and so very sad. It’s one of the most underappreciated films of Bergman’s career.

2. The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

You know who you probably shouldn’t hire to look after your hotel?
Jack Nicholson.

A study in atmospheric tension, Kubrick’s vision of the Torrance family collapse at the Overlook Hotel is both visually and aurally meticulous. It opens with that stunning helicopter shot, following Jack Torrance’s little yellow Beetle up the mountainside, the ominous score announcing a foreboding that the film never shakes.

The hypnotic, innocent sound of Danny Torrance’s Big Wheel against the weirdly phallic patterns of the hotel carpet tells so much – about the size of the place, about the monotony of the existence, about hidden perversity. The sound is so lulling that its abrupt ceasing becomes a signal of spookiness afoot.

Nicholson outdoes himself. His early, veiled contempt blossoms into pure homicidal mania, and there’s something so wonderful about watching Nicholson slowly lose his mind. Between writer’s block, isolation, ghosts, alcohol withdrawal, midlife crisis, and “a momentary loss of muscular coordination,” the playfully sadistic creature lurking inside this husband and father emerges.

He’s not the caretaker management expected, but really, was Grady? Like Grady and Lloyd the bartender, Jack Torrance is a fixture here at the Overlook.

1. Silence of the lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme)

It’s to director Jonathan Demme’s credit that Silence made that leap from lurid exploitation to art. His masterful composition of muted colors and tense but understated score, his visual focus on the characters rather than their actions, and his subtle but powerful use of camera elevate this story above its exploitative trappings. Of course, the performances didn’t hurt.

Hannibal Lecter ranks as one of cinema’s scariest villains, and that accomplishment owes everything to Anthony Hopkins’s performance. It’s his eerie calm, his measured speaking, his superior grin that give Lecter power. Everything about his performance reminds the viewer that this man is smarter than you and he’ll use that for dangerous ends.

Demme makes sure it’s Lecter that gets under our skin in the way he creates a parallel between Lecter and FBI investigator Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). It’s Clarice we’re all meant to identify with, and yet Demme suggests that she and Lecter share some similarities, which means that maybe we share some, too.

God Save the Queen

Queen of the Desert

by Hope Madden

How many period romances set against the crumbling of the Ottoman empire must I endure in one month?

Current tally: 2, and Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert is the least endurable.

I had been cautiously optimistic about Herzog’s biopic on Gertrude Bell. Nicole Kidman (rarely a bad idea) stars as Bell, a British writer/traveler/scientist/spy who helped shape British policy on the Middle East.

Herzog + Kidman = reason for optimism.

Unfortunately, that math doesn’t really work out.

I’m not going to lie, I had no idea who Gertrude Bell was before I saw this film. Ten seconds on google and I found out that she was an absolutely fascinating human being. It’s crazy. She explored everywhere, climbed everything, learned new languages, informed culture and politics, wrote about all of it, had torrid affairs, never married, and determined the boundaries of modern day Iraq. All in the early 1900s.

That should have been a hell of a movie.

Unfortunately, director Herzog cannot tell this woman’s wildly unconventional story without framing her in the most conventional way possible. She exists exclusively in terms of her relationships – or the absence of a relationship – with men.

We’ll lay that at the foot of Herzog the director, but this God-awful dialog? That’s on Herzog the writer.

Kidman, almost tragic in her earnest commitment to this part, manages to wrestle Herzog’s humorless and hackneyed prose into submission. But Lord, James Franco cannot.

The plotting is no better than the concept or dialog.

Scene after needless scene shows Kidman in the office of one man or another, announcing her plans to do something they don’t need to know about, only to suffer their indignant rebuffs. She responds with obstinate will. Cut to Kidman doing whatever it was those men told her she couldn’t do.

Repeat ad nauseum.

This woman hand-drew the border between Iraq and Jordan – in a time when women couldn’t vote in England. That alone could be unpacked and considered from about 30 different perspectives. There are so many things worth knowing about Gertrude Bell, but all I really learned from Queen of the Desert is that she was, “a woman without her man.”

That’s a real line of dialog. Good God.



See This in 3D While You Can


Cave of Forgotten Dreams

by George Wolf

Thursday, March 5th, as part of the “Essential 3D” series at the Wexner Center, film fans in Columbus get a great chance to see this again in 3D – truly a remarkable experience. Below is my review that first ran in 2011.


Seldom has a film transported an audience back in time as effectively as Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

The time is over 30,000 years ago, and the place is France’s historic Chauvet Cave, home of the earliest known recorded visions in human history.

The cave was discovered in 1994, and the French government has been impressively careful with its treatment. A small scientific team is granted access for two weeks twice a year – and then for only a few hours each day. Not only are the cave’s radon and carbon dioxide levels dangerous to humans, but too many human breaths can produce mold inside the cave’s pristine setting.

Last year, writer/director Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man) was granted permission to take a small production crew inside, and the result leaves you grasping at superlatives.

Breathtaking. Stupendous. Exhilarating. Awe-inspiring.

Herzog films in 3-D, reminding you the technique can be so much more than a gimmick to sell kid’s movies. You feel the depth of the cave, the breadth of its reach and the beautiful contours of its walls, adorned with the work of incredibly sophisticated artists. Herzog’s camera lingers as the art from tens of thousands of years ago speaks to you so loudly you may find yourself holding your breath.

When Herzog mixes the prehistoric findings with the futuristic testing methods of the science team, he creates a wonderful merging of past and future that raises questions not only about where humankind has been, but where it is going.

Hopefully, it will be going to see this film.






Demanding to be Seen


by George Wolf


Surreal, perverse, curious and horrifying, The Act of Killing demands to be seen as much as any film in recent memory.

It is anchored in the atrocities committed during the overthrow of the Indonesian government in 1965. Paramilitary death squads and ruthless gangsters captured, tortured and killed at will, all under the guise of exterminating “communists.” Over one million Indonesians lost their lives, and those responsible continue to gloat about their actions from a seat of power they still enjoy today.

Co-director Joshua Oppenheimer met with some of the most famous death squad leaders and made them a distasteful yet ultimately brilliant offer:  would they re-enact their savagry on camera?

The result is mesmerizing, can’t-believe-what-I’m-seeing-stuff.

As they gleefully reveal their love of American film genres, the murderers show themselves as man-children, the result of lives lived running amok without fear of parental or social reprisal. Throwing themselves into the task, they utilize makeup, costumes, props and local extras to film dimly lit drama scenes and extravagant musical numbers, while discussing their bloodlust with a devastating casualness.

Three specific paramilitary leaders take center stage, two of whom show little to no remorse for their actions, explaining that “war crimes are defined by the winners.” The third, an aging grandfather named Anwar Congo, is different. As the ghosts of his past are unearthed, we see a man often struggling to come to grips with himself. While it is not a sympathetic portrait, the transformation in his demeanor is fascinating.

Fearing reprisals, many names in the final credits (including that of the Indonesian co-director) are replaced with “Anonymous.” Two names that do stand out are those of acclaimed documentarians Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line/The Fog of War) and Werner Herzog (Cave of Forgotten Dreams/Grizzly Man), who serve as executive producers.

Recalling the finest of their work, The Act of Killing is unforgettable. It calls to mind past cruelty, an Orwellian present and an uncertain future, emerging as essential, soul-shaking viewing.