Tag Archives: Charles Laughton

30 Days of Madness, Day 31 — Ranking the 30

by Tom Kapr

This has been an interesting month of film viewing, made far more enjoyable by the friends who voted on the movies I watched.

I’ve had dragons, witches, vampires, werewolves, Nazis, serial killers, beast people, alternate realities, zombies of every variety, at least two alien invasions, at least two foiled armageddons, about half a dozen mad scientists, at least half a dozen cases of possession, and at least half a dozen disembodied hands (seriously, did I watch a single movie this month where someone’s hand didn’t get proper mangled?); as well as killer ants, cars, cats, klowns, plants, goats, beavers, Drew Barrymores, and one really big octopus.

I’ve been including my Flickchart rankings with each film, so I thought as a wrap-up, it would be fitting to list again the 30 films I watched, in order of their placement on my chart. I’ve re-ranked each film to see if hindsight has had a significant change on their placement.

Here are the 30 films, by ascending rank, with a comparison to its original placement. I’m ending this month of October with 3275 titles ranked on my chart, which includes 32 more than I ended September with (I saw two new movies at the theater), so numerical rankings and percentages are always fluid.

 

-30-
ZOMBEAVERS (2014)

zombeavers

Original rank: 3202 (2%)
Adjusted rank: 3166 (3%)

Zombeavers is now 1% less terrible.

 

-29-
KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)

killerklowns3

Original rank: 3081 (5%)
Adjusted rank: 3081 (6%)

Interesting that Killer Klowns ended up at the same numerical rank but falls 1% relative to a list that is now 32 titles heavier.

 

-28-
DEATHGASM (2015)

deathgasm

Original rank: 2863 (12%)
Adjusted rank: 3036 (7%)

I actually expected this to come out higher than its original rank. Deathgasm was such a great movie for the first half. I tend to rank movies lower if they build me up only to knock me down so hard by the end.

 

-27-
Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (1982)

qwingedserpent

Original rank: 3193 (2%)
Adjusted rank: 3019 (8%)

Which is probably how Q managed to rise above Deathgasm. No goodwill built up, so less disappointment at an ending that was just as bad as the rest of the film.

 

-26-
FIRESTARTER (1984)

firestarter

Original rank: 2612 (20%)
Adjusted rank: 2643 (19%)

Here, on the other hand, Firestarter is a slog for much of its running time only to suddenly race full speed ahead with a hell of an ending. Not enough to save it from dropping a bit, though. I covered two Stephen King adaptations this month. One was a good movie called Christine. The other was Firestarter.

 

-25-
ROAR (1981)

roar

Original rank: 2634 (19%)
Adjusted rank: 2512 (23%)

I expected Roar to rise a bit, and won’t be surprised when it eventually breaks out of the bottom 25%. It might even breach the 2000 mark. I have a feeling the bizarre and singular nature of the film, coupled with the fact that it really is well shot, will cause it to appreciate over time.

 

-24-
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)

princedarkness3

Original rank: 1629 (50%)
Adjusted rank: 2049 (37%)

Prince of Darkness was my biggest disappointment based on expectations going in. Those expectations being that John Carpenter is a favorite director of mine, and this was made when he was in his prime (1978-1988). I didn’t expect it to drop quite so far on the re-rank though, and I am sure it will rise back up to around the middle of the list over time.

 

-23-
THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)

littleshop2

Original rank: 2553 (22%)
Adjusted rank: 1906 (42%)

Little Shop has one of the biggest leaps of all the films on the re-rank, a 20% jump, freeing it from the bottom quarter. I’m not totally surprised, as this one had already been slowly creeping up my chart.

 

-22-
BLAIR WITCH (2016)

blairwitch

Original rank: 2186 (33%)
Adjusted rank: 1706 (48%)

Blair Witch is another I expected to rise somewhat in the ranks, simply because I found it to be mediocre but not terrible. It definitely has some excellent sequences, and I suspect that if I watch it again on a small screen in a dark room, it will be more effective.

 

-21-
IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955)

itcame2

Original rank: 1588 (51%)
Adjusted rank: 1612 (51%)

It Came from Beneath the Sea manages a 24-spot jump but doesn’t shake its 51%. This is another one I found disappointing, certainly not by its special effects, which are still awesome thanks largely to Ray Harryhausen; but because the story framing them was much less well done than other favorite Hollywood creature features of the 1950s like Them! and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.

 

-20-
EVIL DEAD II (1987)

evildead2

Original rank: 1510 (51%)
Adjusted rank: 1531 (53%)

Evil Dead II has been in and out of the “gateway” position into the top half of my chart; that is, when I add a new title, this is the one it often comes up against, being at the middle. I honestly don’t know which way this one will head over time, but the 2% indicates an appreciation in hindsight. Sam Raimi’s ingenuity and Bruce Campbell’s campy, cult-status-cementing performance will be the deciding factors.

 

-19-
PHANTASM (1979)

phantasm

Original rank: 1206 (63%)
Adjusted rank: 1425 (56%)

Phantasm probably doesn’t deserve to have fallen even further, and I think it’ll probably rise back up a bit over time.

 

-18-
CAT PEOPLE (1942)

catpeople

Original rank: 1607 (51%)
Adjusted rank: 1297 (60%)

Cat People managed to rise a couple hundred spots, thanks in no small part to the fact that it’s just a technically well-made film. It’s my aversion to some of the norms of the time period (xenophobia and animal abuse being unfortunately among those crimes) that will keep it from making a showing in the Top 1000.

 

-17-
XTRO (1982)

xtro

Original rank: 1894 (42%)
Adjusted rank: 1261 (62%)

Another 20% leap, this time from the bottom half well into the top half. Xtro is the one that has appreciated the most in my mind, and rather quickly. It may have been the tug-of-war between my awe at its visual effects and my repulsion to those same visual effects. I’m sure it also helps that this has become somewhat of a favorite in the past month among my fellow horror aficionados. It’s a strange film to bond over, but hey, if it works, it works.

 

-16-
GREEN ROOM (2015)

greenroom

Original rank: 1230 (62%)
Adjusted rank: 1031 (69%)

Green Room is another I expected to appreciate a bit, though I don’t expect to see too much greater movement.

 

-15-
MAY (2002)

may

Original rank: 761 (77%)
Adjusted rank: 887 (73%)

I was actually surprised to see May drop out of the top quarter on the re-rank. This is one that will always have favor based almost entirely on its wonderful lead performance by Angela Bettis. That will be the deciding factor anytime it’s up against a film of similar quality.

 

-14-
TRIANGLE (2009)

triangle1

Original rank: 782 (76%)
Adjusted rank: 885 (73%)

Triangle. I’m still not sure what to make of this film. It will definitely take a second viewing to know how I feel about it. For now, I expect it to bounce around the top middle quarter of my chart.

 

-13-
I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943)

walkzombie

Original rank: 919 (72%)
Adjusted rank: 884 (73%)

Zombie rose a bit, and no surprise. Sometimes a film’s effective qualities stick more than its ineffective ones, and this one is a slow-build of a scary film that overcomes its bad narration and the hard-to-swallow romantic relationship at the center. It also has the distinction of introducing me to the work of producer Val Lewton, whose catalog I wish to complete.

 

-12-
HUSH (2016)

hush

Original rank: 804 (75%)
Adjusted rank: 876 (73%)

Hush is the one that I was second-guessing the most on whether it deserved the A I gave it, or if it was really more of a B. It works far more often than it doesn’t, but some of those things that don’t work stick with me. This will probably be one of those films that is always just on the verge of being knocked out of my top 1000.

 

-11-
ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932)

islandlostsouls

Original rank: 877 (73%)
Adjusted rank: 826 (75%)

Another film that manages to overcome an inauthentic romantic entanglement with a genuinely horrifying story, a strong heroine, and an iconic villain courtesy of Charles Laughton, Island of Lost Souls manages to climb to the brink of the top quarter on the re-rank.

 

-10-
CHRISTINE (1983)

christine

Original rank: 511 (84%)
Adjusted rank: 666 (80%)

Christine dropped just enough to land at #666. So, yeah. Devil car.

 

-9-
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)

pitpendulum1

Original rank: 438 (87%)
Adjusted rank: 615 (81%)

Pit seems to have dropped a bit, but I won’t be surprised to see it claw its way back into the top 500. Of the two Roger Corman pictures I covered this month, this was the good one. (The other was The Little Shop of Horrors.)

 

-8-
TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007)

trickrtreat2

Original rank: 614 (81%)
Adjusted rank: 595 (82%)

Trick ‘r Treat was a pleasant surprise and a great film to end on. Full disclosure: this is the second time I re-ranked this. The first time, it came up against Fargo, which was inexplicably low and kept it from even breaking into the top 1000. After re-ranking Fargo (which jumped way into my top 250), Trick ‘r Treat was able not only breach the top 1000 but the top quarter of the list.

 

-7-
HALLOWEEN (1978)

halloween

Original rank: 397 (88%)
Adjusted rank: 417 (87%)

Halloween has been on my Flickchart for years. It had started out in the 500s before I saw it on the big screen this month. The re-rank didn’t hurt it much, and I expect it to be a staple of my top 500.

 

-6-
PHASE IV (1974)

phaseiv-1

Original rank: 751 (77%)
Adjusted rank: 383 (88%)

Phase IV was probably the greatest surprise of the month. What I expected to be a cheesy 70s creature feature turned out to be a thoughtful piece of sci-fi. No great surprise that it jumped a few hundred spots on the re-rank. Sometimes it just depends on what films it comes up against.

 

-5-
THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)

bodysnatcher

Original rank: 177 (95%)
Adjusted rank: 318 (90%)

Again, sometimes it just depends on what it comes up against. I didn’t expect The Body Snatcher to drop as far as it did, but nor do I expect it to depreciate over time. Even if it weren’t an excellent film, it would be kept afloat by Boris Karloff alone. But this is a great film that will continue to haunt my 300s.

 

-4-
THE WITCH (2015)

thewitch

Original rank: 329 (90%)
Adjusted rank: 316 (90%)

The Witch was another pleasant surprise: not surprise that it was good, but because it was nigh impeccable. I think the only thing that keeps it from climbing any higher is its extremely disturbing subject matter. The higher on my list we go, the more likely we are to see films that emphasize the beauty in life rather than the horror. But The Witch is about as beautiful as a truly disturbing horror film gets. It had its general release in 2016, and I expect it to be on my year-end top 10 list.

 

-3-
GOJIRA (1954)

gojira

Original rank: 347 (89%)
Adjusted rank: 270 (92%)

Gojira makes the leap to the borderlands of my top 250. This was a film that actually got more engaging as it progressed, and has appreciated quite a bit in my mind.

 

-2-
EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)

eyesface4

Original rank: 389 (88%)
Adjusted rank: 178 (95%)

While Eyes Without a Face, with the benefit of some time to process, leaps effortlessly into my top 250. I was considering compiling my list of the best horror film of each year, only to realize that it would have to be between this and Psycho. That’s not a decision I want to make, but it does speak volumes about how good this movie is to challenge an established favorite.

 

-1-
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013)

onlylovers

Original rank: 150 (95%)
Adjusted rank: 145 (96%)

I knew this was going to be the top spot. I was pretty sure about it even when I watched it on day 4. I was expecting Only Lovers Left Alive to be a challenge to sit through, but it is such a beautiful, engaging, life-affirming film–about vampires. It’s funny, heart-warming, shimmering with music and art. I certainly didn’t expect it to take a place among my  favorite films, but now that it’s there, I don’t see it leaving any time soon. Thank you, Jim Jarmusch.

And thank you everyone who read and commented and voted and helped make this such an unpredictable movie-watching adventure for me.

30 Days of Madness, Day 8 — Island of Lost Souls (1932)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

islandlostsouls

 

Directed by Erle C. Kenton. Adapted by Philip Wylie & Waldemar Young from the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells.

“Do you know what it means to feel like God?” — Dr. Moreau

This was the first film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, criticized by Wells for focusing more on the horrific aspects of the work than the philosophical aspects. This is one of the Wells novels I have not yet read (though I love The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds) so I can’t comment on the adaptation itself, but I will take the author’s word for it. Indeed, there isn’t much gray area explored when it comes to genetic engineering done of Moreau on his secretive island. He does come off as more of a villainous mad scientist; but oh what a villain!

Let me start with the good here, before I get into my problems with this film. First off, I have seen the 1996 trainwreck of an adaptation that starred Marlon Brando as Dr. Moreau. It was one of the most storied troubled film productions in history, and if you’re interested in that sort of thing, may I recommend the wonderful 2014 documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. The stories are insane. Brando was clearly insane, or had by that point gotten so high on himself that he shanghaied the production with his antics. Maybe he thought he was the second coming of Charles Laughton. Well, I have seen Island of Lost Souls, and you, Mr. Brando, are no Charles Laughton. Laughton is fantastic as the creepy, obsessed, manipulative doctor. And this film is far superior to what they managed to spit out in 1996.

Other good stuff: Kenton’s direction is pretty solid, and all the technical stuff is solid. It seems the studios just knew how to produce a film in the 30s. The makeup is excellent. And supporting players Arthur Hohl, Leila Hyams, and Bela Lugosi (my second Lugosi performance this month after The Body Snatcher) are all fine. And the ending is truly horrifying. It reminds me of my reaction to the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera, which I covered during my 30 Days of Madness project six years ago. Whether its target is deserved or not, mob mentality is terrifying.

Now the not-so-good stuff. The plot feels a bit rushed, and as it centers on the brick wall that is protagonist Edward Parker (played by Richard Arlen of Wings fame), a character whose disposition toward his predicament seems to change from scene to scene (and sometimes mid-scene), it also feels like it meanders sometimes. His first night on the island he is so horrified by what he witnesses that he calls Moreau a monster–then just kind of hangs out afterward.

And then there is the “Panther Woman” subplot, where Moreau sends his one female creation, Lota, to Parker to see if she will react toward him with a woman’s emotions rather than an animal’s instincts. I understand what they were going for here, but it really is the weakest part of the entire film, compounded by the fact that each scene focuses on a brick wall and a woman who had never acted before. The scenes are clunky and unbelievable, ethically wishy-washy, and frankly not much more than a gimmick to sell the film. (Also, the Panther Woman reminds me a little too much of a girl I once dated.)

There is a scene in which Parker gives in to his attraction to Lota, but then walks away looking disturbed. She then runs to him and puts her arms around him, and he sees that her hands have animal claws, and is understandably horrified. I feel like they were trying to convey that, despite being in love with his fiancée Ruth, he was momentarily overcome by animal desire. But you know what? Many men wouldn’t lose their self-control so easily. And, dude, before you were horrified by her fingernails, when you were making out with this beast woman, do you realize that your devoted fiancée was moving land and sea to find you? This, of course, is never addressed as a problem.

Ruth, thankfully, is the strongest character in the film, despite screaming like a typical horror movie heroine at a couple points. When Edward doesn’t show up, she doesn’t sit around wringing her hands. She tells off the captain of the ship that marooned Edward on Moreau’s island, probably destroying his career in the process, and then goes herself across the sea to rescue Edward instead of just sending a crew and sitting around fretting about it. When she gets to the island, she shows more backbone in the face of entering scary caves and jungles than the ship captain who is accompanying her. (Though why one woman and one ship captain venture onto a strange and mysterious island to rescue a castaway who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances and bring no crew with them is a question I’d like answered. Oh, right, because it’s in the script.)

Last negative criticism: I have a difficult time with seeing real animals in distress, which happens so often in old monster movies. Seeing tigers being riled into viciousness in a small cage hurts me inside. I am glad, however, that they didn’t do the same to a real gorilla. I’ll take an obvious man in a suit in a case such as this.

I know that all makes it sound like a really disliked this film, but I actually think it’s a decent horror film, and Laughton’s performance plus the makeup of the beast people and the real sense of horror it conveys bring this up to classic status. Final thought: I wonder if director Jonathan Demme was inspired at all by this film. There are several shots where characters are speaking in close-up directly into the camera.

Final grade: B

My Flickchart ranking: #877 (out of 3255, a relative 73/100)