Tag Archives: Francis Ford Coppola

The Halloween Big Four Monster Mash

It’s that time of year again, when innocent pumpkins are slaughtered and mutilated in their thousands and children dress up as murderers, ghouls and monsters in order to blackmail sweet confections from total strangers. Tell me this isn’t better than Christmas!

Horror movies have provided the inspiration for costumes for many a year. Watch the streets on the 31st and you’ll find a variety of contemporary icons of the macabre in miniature form. However, it’s a fair bet that the majority of Halloween costumes will represent four of horror’s most enduring and classic monsters; Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy and the Werewolf. So, in honour of Halloween, here’s a potted history of The Big Four, from their origins to the best that celluloid has given us in their name.

Origin

The vampire has its origins in a plethora of myths throughout Eastern Europe. These myths evolved from a variety of sources, such as premature burials, pre-psychology lunacy and diseases like porphyria and rabies. John Polidori’s The Vampyre, in 1819, first devised the character of the seductive, gentlemanly vampire, elevated beyond the dirty and decaying creatures of folklore. However, it was Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, and the subsequent movie adaptations, which really pushed the vampire into mainstream consciousness. Taking the name from that of Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon), and his son Vlad III (The Impaler), who would used the name Dracula, Stoker created one of the most iconic characters in literary history.

Movie highlights

F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu was the first movie adaptation of Stoker’s novel. Well, sort of. With no copyright permission, Murnau simply changed the names of all the characters and rewrote the ending. Count Dracula now became Count Orlock, and was portrayed by the terrifying Max Schreck. However, no-one was fooled and Stoker’s widow succeeded in suing Murnau, who was ordered to destroy all prints of the film. Fortunately some survived, and Nosferatu still stands as one of the finest adaptations of Stoker’s novel to date.

Perhaps the most iconic Dracula performance was that of Bela Lugosi in Universal Studio’s 1931 Dracula. As with most adaptations of the novel, the story and details were altered significantly. Having played the character on stage, it is ironic that Lugosi only got the part after Todd Browning’s original choice, Lon Chaney, died. Lugosi spoke very little English at the time and had to learn his lines phonetically, but his accented delivery became the standard for corny Dracula impersonations forever. After he died, poverty stricken and largely forgotten, Lugosi was buried in his cape.

When Hammer Studio’s joined the fray, with Christopher Lee as the titular vampire, they made even more changes to the narrative. Jonathan Harker is now a vampire-hunter rather than a solicitor and is turned into a vampire before being killed by Van Helsing. Still, Lee is charismatic and engaging as the seductive Count, a role which would ultimately become something of a millstone to the actor. Lee would not return for Hammer’s next Dracula movie, but did make a further six movies as the character with the studio.

In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola’s effort, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was an attempt to create a more faithful adaptation of the original novel. Certainly, it adhered to Stoker’s book more than the movies before it, even if it did take the liberty of making Dracula the Vlad III, rather than simply a character inspired by him. Gary Oldman’s charming Count grows younger throughout the movie, as he does in the book. Few actors could retain their dignity while wearing a wig that looks like a huge ass, but Gary manages it. Luckily, he has Keanu Reeves’ dreadful English accent to attract the derision.

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Origin

Created by Mary Shelley in her novel Frankenstein, published in 1818, the story of Victor Frankenstein and his attempts to create life from death is the original cautionary tale of the dangers of man playing God. Driven by a thirst for knowledge, Frankenstein takes the bodies of the dead and creates a monster beyond his control; one which will ultimately spell his doom, and the doom of those he loves. Widely considered to be one the first entries in the Science Fiction genre, Shelley was only 18 when she wrote it, supposedly after a nightmare. That was some bad dream she had, it has to be said. Frankenstein is bleak, violent and tragic. Yay.

Movie highlights

Edison Studios, the production company owned by Thomas Edison,  produced a 13-minute-long Frankenstein that was the first ever adaptation of the book for the screen. Made in 1910 by J. Searle Dawley, it featured a particularly bizarre looking monster, played by Charles Ogle, and has great curiosity value if nothing else. Check out the early special effects during the creation sequence, as Dr Frankenstein seemingly creates his creature from a skeleton. Not for the last time, Shelley’s tragic story was given a happy ending.

Universal Studios went the same way for their classic interpretation of the tale in 1931. Boris Karloff is perhaps the most iconic monster, originating the square head and neck bolts. Why a man made from bits of other men should have a flat, square head is beyond me, but it looks pretty cool. Director James Whale followed his Frankenstein with Bride of Frankenstein, a superior sequel in that the monster was made far more sympathetic than he appeared in the first movie; an interpretation much closer to the novel. Elsa Lancaster’s hair is probably the most memorable ‘do in cinema history.

Hammer Studios added their own spin on the tale with The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, with Christopher Lee as the monster. While wisely ditching the square head, the movie does deviate even further from the source material. Victor Frankenstein is now a murderer as well as a creator. Played by the imcomparable Peter Cushing, the character became increasingly more evil with each subsequent sequel, even to the point of becoming a rapist in Frankenstein Must be Destroyed, which is still regarded as the best of Hammer’s many efforts in the series.

Perhaps the most faithful screen adaptation is Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in 1994. While still altering certain narrative details of the original novel, all the important elements are kept true to the source. Robert De Niro’s reanimated patchwork creature is not only a rampaging monster, but a thinking, reasoning man; both victim and threat. The novel’s ending was kept, with all its snowbound tragedy and pathos, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein also looks gorgeous. Definitely my favourite interpretation of Shelley’s novel, and sadly underrated.

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Origin

Egyptian mummification can be traced back as far as 3300 BC, but the idea of the reanimated mummy is a little more recent. Edgar Allen Poe’s 1845 short story Some Words with a Mummy is possibly the first instance of such a character in fiction. Arthur Conan Doyle devised the notion of the reawakened mummy as a tool of vengence in his story Lot No. 249, in 1892, and Bram Stoker’s 1903 novel The Jewel of Seven Stars concerned an archaeologist’s attempts to revive the mummy of an Egyptian queen. But it was the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922, and the subsequent deaths of many of those who found it, that brought the idea of Egyptian curses into the mainstream.

Movie highlights

The first mummy movie, entitled Cléopâtre or Cleopatra’s Tomb, was made in 1899 by the great pioneer of the moving image Georges Méliès. It is 2 minutes long. However, up until the thirties the bulk of mummy movies were comedies. It was Universal who brought on the horror with the 1932 The Mummy, starring Boris Karloff as the revived priest Imhotep, blending into contemporary Egypt after 10 years and searching for his lost love, Princess Ankh-es-en-amon. Or someone who looks like her, anyway. You know how it goes.

Christopher Lee took on the role in Hammer’s The Mummy, released in 1959. Tall and imposing, Lee makes a particularly creepy mummy. Unlike Karloff’s, Lee’s mummy is a silent, relentless killing machine and much scarier as a result. Hammer continued a run of mummy movies, using Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars as the basis for Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971). Of all Hammer’s efforts, it’s The Mummy’s Shroud that sticks in my mind from childhood as the scariest. I haven’t seen it since so apologies if you watch it and it sucks.

Dawn of the Mummy, a low budget movie made in 1981 by Frank Agrama, is not a great movie but it does feature one of the creepiest mummies put on celluloid. Played by an uncredited actor who is skinny as hell and about 8-foot tall, the mummy of Sephriman is the best thing about this movie. Again, however, it’s been a long time since I saw it. Interestingly, what Dawn of the Mummy did that no mummy movie had done before was to latch onto the George Romero inspired undead fever and put zombies into the mix. Sooner or later someone was going to do it.

Possibly the most imaginative use of a mummy, and my personal favourite of the genre, is Don Coscarelli’s 2002 Bubba Ho-Tep. The residents of a retirement home are being terrorised by a mummy, and only the aged Elvis Presley and a wheelchair-bound black man who claims to be JFK can save the day. Featuring an inspired turn from Bruce Campbell as the geriatric King, Bubba Ho-Tep took the mummy movie full circle, back to comedy again. Together with Stephen Sommers more adventure orientated mummy trilogy, it may be some time before this character regains its horror status.

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Origin

The werewolf has its origins in various myths scattered throughout the world, going as far back as the Ancient Greeks and possibly beyond. Many of the tales share a connection to vampire folklore and origins. Pagan rituals involving the moon and the wearing of wolf skins, carriers of rabies, legends which built up around the savage, fur-wearing Vikings, and stories of children raised in the wild have all contributed to the belief in lycanthropes. Greek mythology tells the story of cruel Arcadian King Lycaon, who was punished by Zeus by being transformed into a wolf. The werewolf has appeared in folklore and fiction longer than any of the other classic monsters.

Movie highlights

Universal’s Werewolf of London (1935) was the first movie to feature the werewolf in its best known form, as a man who involuntarily transforms into a wolf during the full moon.  This was followed in 1941 with the superior The Wolf Man, with Lon Chaney Jr. as the titular character. Chaney plays Larry Talbot, who returns to his family home in Wales after the death of his brother. He is bitten by a wolf while defending a woman from it. Soon he finds himself having to sit in the make-up chair for four hours a day. Chaney reprised his iconic role four more times, but never to such success.

Hammer Studios only ever made one werewolf movie, The Curse of the Werewolf in 1961, with Oliver Reed. Based on the 1933 novel The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore, the film moves the story to 18th Century Spain. Reed plays Leon, born on Christmas Day and cursed to become a werewolf at every full moon unless his spirit remains pure. Or something. Frankly, who cares? We just want the werewolf and when we finally get it, after a very long build-up, it’s a classic. Few people are as convincing when running around growling as the late Oliver Reed.

The werewolf genre suffered something of a slump for a long while, until Joe Dante hit with The Howling in 1981. Special effects guru Rick Baker created startling new transformation effects for the movie which he then went on to perfect in John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London in the same year. Quite simply the best werewolf movie ever made, this story of an American student infected by a werewolf while backpacking in England was also the first to have a lycanthrope that looked more like a wolf than a man.

In 2002 Neil Marshall reinvigorated the once again flagging genre with his debut Dog Soldiers. Pitting six British soldiers on a training mission in the Scottish Highlands against a pack of indigenous werewolves, Marshall’s movie made magic with a limited budget and a talented cast. Dog Soldiers took its cues from An American Werewolf in London by using humour to sharpen the horror. The werewolves themselves, returning to the bipedal variety, were well executed and the location was especially spooky. Dog Soldiers proved that there’s life in the old genre yet.

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15 Directors Meme

I got tagged by Peter at Magic Lantern Film Blog for this Meme. The mission? Come up with 15 filmmakers that helped shape the way I look at motion pictures. These are the filmakers whose movies not only inspired (or fanned the flames of) my passion for cinema, but taught me the rich language of the genre. The education never ends, of course, which is why I love it so much.

I’m running late, due to a two week holiday, but here I am and here it is. Enjoy, discuss, mock or admire.

1. Steven Spielberg

If you were to perform some crazy chemistry experiment and dilute cinema down to its purest form you would probably end up with a Steven Spielberg movie in a test tube. You can write him off as a bubblegum filmmaker if you like, but few directors can boast such a distinctive style and absolute grasp of the visual medium as this guy can. Able to inject his work with simple human warmth or terrifying human cruelty with equal ease, Spielberg understands his audience and how to entertain them. His influence is everywhere, in a generation of talent, and his adoration for the moving image is tightly woven into every frame he shoots. Absolutely peerless.

Signature movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark

2. David Fincher

One of the most striking and unique filmmakers to emerge in the last twenty years, Fincher’s lens peers into the darkness and brings it to life. He survived the studio and star nightmare of Alien 3, picked himself up and moved from strength to strength. Unlike many of his imitators, Fincher combines style and content, making intelligent and brooding films. Innovative title sequences, dizzying camera work and stark imagery that burns itself into the mind are the hallmarks of a Fincher movie. That, and his often surprising project choices. Frankly, he’s the only director who could make me interested in seeing a movie about Facebook.

Signature movie: Fight Club

3. John Carpenter

Carpenter has waned considerably over the last twenty years, and yet I still look forward to his upcoming The Ward simply because this could be the movie where he gets his mojo back. And Carpenter with his mojo is a force to be reckoned with. With Halloween, Carpenter demonstrated a mastery of suspense that few have matched. Of all the carbon copies that followed, not one ever measured up. And they’re still trying 32 years later.

Signature movie: Halloween

4. Alfred Hitchcock

Obvious choice, of course, but how can you avoid this one? Hitchcock may or may not have been the greatest filmmaker of all time , but he was certainly one of the most inventive. Without Hitchcock there might never have been the Dolly Zoom, director cameos, the slasher movie or Brian DePalma. Hitchcock constantly came to blows with the censors and pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable, plausible and possible in filmmaking, paving the way for modern cinema.

Signature movie: Vertigo

5. Francis Ford Coppola

If you need a lesson in the pitfalls and insanity of filmmaking, look no further than the CV of Francis Ford Coppola. From the daily battles with studio execs which haunted the production of The Godfather (where Coppola was often shadowed by a replacement director in case he was fired) through the Hurculean task of getting Apocalypse Now made (a production so troubled it got its own documentary), to the single-minded madness of One From the Heart (the cost of which eventually bankrupted him), Coppola is the guy who gets what he wants on film, at any cost.

Signature movie: Apocalypse Now

6. Martin Scorsese

The little guy with the big talent, Scorsese is the director you would want as a mentor. A walking encyclopaedia of cinema, he talks with the same frenetic pace that his movies use to tell their stories. With incredibly long tracking shots, slow motion zooms, fast zooms and quick cuts, Scorsese’s camera is an extension of the man’s boundless energy and is rarely still. He is also one of the industry’s best arrangers of soundtrack music, always choosing the perfect song to complement his scene.

Signature Movie: Goodfellas

7. Ridley Scott

His style has mellowed a little of late, his movies becoming grander in scale, but early on in his career Scott was one of the most visually unique directors around, producing two of cinema’s most influential Science Fiction films. Taking a B-movie script called Star Beast, Scott added his inherent eye for design, a desire to elevate the movie beyond the B, and gave us the outstanding Alien. He followed this with Blade Runner, which set the standard for visions of the future for years to come. Design has always played an important part in Scott’s work, and it is an area in which he excels.

Signature movie: Blade Runner

8. John Hughes

As a kid developing a passion for movies in the 80s, it would have been impossible for me not to include the late John Hughes in this list. Hughes was a capable talent behind the camera, but his true strengths lay in his screenwriting, his ability to coax career-best performances from his teenage casts and the warmth he instilled into his movies. Few filmmakers before or since have possessed Hughes’ skill for representing teenage angst without falling into the more patronising traps of lesser efforts. Hughes was a man of his time, who struggled when that time was over, but he was the best at what he did.

Signature movie: The Breakfast Club

9. The Coen Brothers

From the release of Blood Simple onwards, the Coens have continually marked themselves out as true originals with a remarkable record of hits. Save for only one or two exceptions, every Coen movie has been both singular and excellent. The next Coen project is always worth looking forward to. As accomplished as screenwriters as they are as directors, you are guaranteed cracking dialogue, inspired visuals and characters that are just a little larger than life. You will also most likely get screaming fat people, repetition of a single line for comic effect and at least one speedy tracking zoom. There’s no movie quite like a Coen movie.

Signature movie: The Big Lebowski

10. Sam Raimi

Joel Coen began his career helping out on the editing of a friend’s debut movie. That movie was The Evil Dead, and the director was Sam Raimi. Made on a shoestring budget, The Evil Dead showcased the arrival of an inspired, and rather crazed, talent. Raimi delivered the kind of camerawork usually reserved for those with far more expensive equipment at their disposal, and a few of his techniques can be seen in subsequent Coen movies. However, Raimi’s anarchic style seemed a little lost in mainstream cinema until the arrival of Spider-man.

Signature movie: Evil Dead II

11. Terry Gilliam

The least seen member of the Monty Python team, Gilliam makes movies brimming with the singular and surreal imagination which was present in his Python animations. Usually working with the most meagre of budgets, allowing him to retain creative control over all his work, Gilliam has sometimes struggled to get his projects completed. However, when they are completed they have a magical style and a sensibility all their own. They usually feature characters whose imagination is too large for the world they live in, crushed by the mechanics of a clockwork society. The irony is clearly not lost on Gilliam.

Signature movie: Brazil

12. Sergio Leone

The man who made Clint Eastwood famous with his trilogy of ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, Italian director Leone took the western genre and made it look ugly. Rejecting the good guy/bad guy set-up of classic American westerns, Leone’s contributions were simply filled with varying shades of bad guy. Even Eastwood’s ‘Man with No Name’ is merely the best of a corrupt bunch. The characters are unwashed, morally vacant and greedy, the landscapes unforgiving and barren. Leone’s frontier is a harsh place to be. Often utilising both extreme close-ups and haunting long-shots, Leone has long been held by Eastwood as a major influence on his own directorial style.

Signature movie: Once Upon a Time in the West

13.  John Landis

During the 80s, Landis was responsible for some of the best comedies of the decade, including The Blues Brothers and Trading Places, but it was when he introduced horror into the mix with An American Werewolf in London that he really reached his peak. Landis made comedies that looked as good as any of the more high-brow movies, each littered with his unmistakeable trademarks (static shots of watching statues or paintings, and references to ‘see you next Wednesday’). His career tailed off toward the end of the decade, but perhaps the forthcoming Burke & Hare will be a return to form.

Signature movie: An American Werewolf in London

14. George Lucas

As a director, George Lucas is included in this list on the basis of one film, and one alone. But what a film. Star Wars changed everything. It’s impossible to gauge exactly what impact that movie had on the 7-year-old kid I was, but I know it was profound, as it was with almost every kid around my age. Star Wars was like saying hello to the wonder of cinema for the first time. We’d never seen anything like it. There were a few flashes of that directorial skill in the three prequels, but for the most part those films were engineered rather than directed and Lucas would not have made this list based on those. But for changing the way we viewed cinema, his one contribution cannot be underestimated.

Signature movie: Star Wars

15. John Lasseter and Pixar

Before Toy Story, the feature length animated movie industry was sputtering along at an uninspired pace. Disney’s output had suffered a gradual slump in both quality and popularity, boosted only by the success of The Lion King. Pixar, a computer company which was originally part of Lucasfilm, had been experimenting with computer animation for years and entered into a deal with Disney to produce three computer animated movies. Toy Story was the first, directed by John Lasseter, and the rest is history. Not only did Pixar revolutionise how movies were animated, but they also completely modernised the storytelling. Suddenly, animated movies were not just for kids, but were written with a sophistication which could appeal to all ages. Pixar kick-started animation, with other studios quick to follow suit, and they are yet to produce a bad film.

Signature movie: Toy Story

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Okay, my turn to tag. Apologies in advance if you’ve already done it and I missed it.

Cantankerous Panda at Back in the Day

Rory Dean at Above the Line

John at John of the Dead

Dan at Top 10 Films