Tag Archives: The Phantom of the Opera

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)

30 Days of Madness: Day 31

Well, I made it through 30 Days of Madness none too worse for the wear. The only major difference in my life is a series of YouTube videos that show me, a shy introvert who never was much for public performance, occasionally acting like a lunatic for all the world to see. Did I learn anything? I learned I never want to do anything this intense again. I learned a lot about the history of cinema. I learned a lot about my own abilities in film criticism. I reaffirmed that, especially when it comes to horror movies, there are a lot of good ones, a lot of bad ones, and a lot of stuff that is just plain ugly.

Let me take a quick look back over the movies I’ve watched this month of October:

Day 1: Nightbeast (1982) Hey, my first movie was from the year of my birth. How fitting. My inaugural flick was my personal introduction to Troma and one of the worst movies I’d ever seen, but one I would watch again with friends. My response video was only my second YouTube video, after my introductory video which is available for viewing on my channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/KapriciousT.

Day 2: Redneck Zombies (1987) My second Troma movie, and the first movie I ever refused to finish. I would like to wash my memory clean of this one. This one I actually was watching with friends (the only time during the month I was able to do so), and I was embarrassed about it.

Day 3: The Call of Cthulhu (2005) My third movie was a huge step up in quality, one that I would recommend to anyone, horror fan or not, and one that I would watch again by myself or with friends.

Day 4: Puppet Master (1989) My fourth day, I started having a little more fun with the video responses. This is actually my first scripted video to appear on the Internet–at least, the first one that I scripted. (There are one or two other videos floating around out there featuring my acting skills.) I would definitely watch this one again with friends.

Day 5: The Black Cat (2007) Surprisingly, the best thing I watched this month–for this project. (I’m not counting The Social Network or Amélie, which I watched almost immediately after finishing up with Day 30. Call it a palate-cleanser.) I may watch this one again, but it was so horrifying, I might have to wait awhile. I highly recommend it only for people with a high threshold for gore and horror, and especially for cinephiles and fans of Edgar Allan Poe.

Day 6: My Name Is Bruce (2008) Possibly the most disappointing movie I watched this month, in terms of expectations I had going into it, but also possibly the most fun I had doing the YouTube response. I might begrudgingly watch it again with other people.

Day 7: Pandorum (2009) Possibly the most pleasant surprise. (The Black Cat, while amazing, was one of the most horrific things I’ve ever watched and a bit difficult to get through.) I had a great time watching this one, and I’d watch it again by myself or with friends. I’d recommend it to most people.

Day 8: Zombies of Mass Destruction (2009) The second movie I refused to finish. The humor went from obnoxious to ridiculous to offensive. Nowhere near the level of Redneck Zombies, but not one I care to ever revisit.

Day 9: Funny Games (1997) One of the toughest movies I had to watch, and even more difficult formulating a response. This may be the most personally contentious film I’ve ever watched. I would not recommend this to anyone but serious film students. I had a great time doing the video though. Mmmm-bananas.

Day 10: Black Sabbath (1963) This was a really boring one, maybe not even worth watching with friends. I might revisit it at some point for a more in-depth review though.

Day 11: Fright Night (1985) Probably the movie in which my mood most changed (for the better) from the beginning to the end. I started out hating it and by the end was legitimately enjoying it. I’d watch it again, alone or with friends.

Day 12: Sometimes They Come Back (1991) I doubt I’ll ever bother with this one again in any setting.

Day 13: The Fly (1986) One I had been meaning to see for years, and I am glad I finally did. It was one of my favorites of the month, and I highly recommend it. Horrifying, humorous, heartbreaking. I’d watch it again alone or with friends.

Day 14: The Phantom of the Opera (1925) A classic, but one I probably will never sit through completely again, unless I get to see one of the other edits of the film floating around. Definitely worth revisiting for certain scenes and for its importance to cinema. Also, my first silent video response.

Day 15: Lo (2009) One of the true pleasant surprises of the month, and one that has appreciated the more I’ve thought, written, and talked about. Not only would I like to watch it again, I almost feel like I need to, as I’d be seeing it from a completely different perspective thanks to the way the plot wraps up. Did a Flickchart segment in my video, which is less interesting when it’s just me talking. Also gave me a chance to talk up http://www.Flickchart.com and http://blog.flickchart.com/index.php/category/flickfights.

Day 16: The Burrowers (2008) This one, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it immediately after watching it. It’s a well-made movie that doesn’t have a very good ending, and is also one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen. I may never watch it again, but I’m glad I saw it once.

Day 17: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) The final scene of this film still makes me uneasy to think about it. It’s definitely one of the best of the 70s-80s horror. I may watch it again someday, maybe with friends who could handle it.

Day 18: White Zombie (1932) The article in which I started doing a scene-by-scene recap but had no time to finish. I’d like to go back and finish, possibly to use in another project that I’ll be working on in conjunction with IncidentalDog.com. If you’re as big a fan of http://AgonyBooth.com as I am, you already have an idea of what I’m going for.

Day 19: Peeping Tom (1960) There was a lot to laugh at and a lot to admire, but I don’t know if I’ll ever watch it again.

Day 20: Planet of the Vampires (1965) A movie that is as important as it is ludicrous, I’d love to go back and do more of an in-depth critique of this film. This one would probably be fun to watch with friends.

Day 21: Ringu (1998) The one I realized I never wrote an article for. I’d been wanting to see this film for years. Now that I have, I can compare it with the American remake, which I love. I may go back and explore these two films in an actual complete article.

Day 22: The Last House on the Left (1972) One of the biggest surprises of the month, in how poorly made a movie it is. I’ve heard that it’s a must-see in the horror genre, but it’s really not. And it’s too unpleasant to be fun for a group or for a scene-by-scene recap. As far as the video response goes, there were apparently a few people who watched it without having watched my video response for Ringu. I appreciate everybody almost calling to make sure I was okay.

Day 23: Fido (2006) I’d been waiting for a real good zombie flick, and Fido delivered. The messy ending and some less-good performances kept it from perfection, but I’d watch it again anytime. And it’s a PG-13 zombie film, which is just weird.

Day 24: The Masque of the Red Death (1964) I’d recommend this film for just about anyone. It’s well enough constructed to be respectable, but there’s also plenty to have fun with. I might like to revisit this one for a more in-depth look someday.

Day 25: Empire of the Ants (1977) This was one of the most ludicrous films I watched this month, but it would be a lot of fun to watch with a group of friends or to do an extended review of. I totally forgot about all those fake giant ants I had sitting around when I did the video response. Oh well.

Day 26: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) Another respectable but slightly-cheesy flick I’d watch again, especially with a group.

Day 27: The Washingtonians (2007) I paid the price for cheating on choosing the next movie title out of my jack-o-lantern in the previous YouTube video, because this movie was awful in every way. I don’t think I could tolerate sitting through it again.

Day 28: Cat’s Eye (1985) Much like Fright Night, I was much more into this movie at the end than I was in the beginning. This would be fun to watch with a group. Also, a note on my YouTube video: I learned that the deep guttural growl of a cat does not pick up on my laptop mic, so while my cat sounded really pissed off to me, to the audience it looks like I’m just holding a silent cat. Oh well. Crazy is as crazy does, I guess.

Day 29: Attack of the Puppet People (1958) I’m glad I got to bring back Shakes and Lefty for this one, because they are much more interesting than I am in the videos. Attack would be fun to do a more in-depth review of. Maybe someday.

Day 30: Sugar Hill (1974) I did not choose Sugar Hill at random. I did it as a present to my friends who chose it for my jack-o-lantern and kept mentioning how much they wished it would come up. They may be underwhelmed, though, because I enjoyed the movie alright. Sorry, honks, it wasn’t nearly as awful as you were hoping.

I am so happy to be done with this so I can start watching other movies I’ve been wanting to watch. Between watching the movies, preparing and recording the YouTube videos, and writing the articles, it took roughly four hours per movie, so this frees up my time a fair bit. One final thing I’d been wanting to do is some sort of a Top Horror list, so what I did was, I went back through all the titles available for instant streaming on Netflix and chose what I consider to be the 31 best horror films (out of what I’ve seen–there still are a ton of horror flicks on there I’ve never watched).

Some are relentlessly horrific. Some aren’t specifically horror films but still have a strong element of horror in some aspect of the narrative. Here are my Top 31 picks (an asterisk indicates a title from the 30 Days of Madness):

1. Aliens (1986)

2. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

3. The Black Cat (2007)*

3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

4. The Call of Cthulhu (2005)*

5. Carrie (1976)

6. Child’s Play (1988)

7. The Crazies (2010)

8. Creepshow (1982)

9. Diabolique (1955)

10. District 9 (2009)

11. The Exorcist (1973)

12. Fido (2006)*

13. The Fly (1986)*

14. The Host (2006)

15. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

16. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)*

17. Jaws (1975)

18. Lo (2009)*

19. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

20. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

21. Nosferatu (1922)

22. Pandorum (2009)*

23. Paranormal Activity (2007)

24. Peeping Tom (1960)*

25. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)*

26. Reign of Fire (2002)

27. Signs (2002)

28. The Sixth Sense (1999)

29. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

30. Them! (1954)

31. Zombieland (2009)

Thank you Alban, Nate, and Steve for your support this past month, and to everyone else who left encouraging comments along the way. Thanks to Cindy (my dog) and Putty and Kunj (my cats) for their appearances, and special thanks to Jack-o, Shakes, and Lefty. Finally, thank you to the film makers whose good films made the bad ones more bearable. Happy Halloween.

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 24: The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death (1964) Written by Charles Beaumont & R. Wright Campbell. Directed by Roger Corman. Starring Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, David Weston.

The personification of the Red Death is one of the story's most interesting elements.

The Masque of the Red Death is adapted from the short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe, with elements of another of Poe’s short stories, “Hop-Frog,” included as a subplot, starring Vincent Price as Prospero. This is my second film this month adapted from the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, and though surprisingly well-directed in a classic 1960s style by Roger Corman, Masque falls far short of the quality of Stuart Gordon’s “The Black Cat.” (Interestingly, this is also the second film from this month’s viewings, after The Phantom of the Opera, to draw inspiration from Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”)

The art direction and cinematography deliver designs and color schemes very pleasing to the eye–with “much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm,” as Poe himself wrote, and “much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might [excite] disgust.” In this way, the film captures the spirit of Poe’s vision. The script is well-written with plenty of memorable dialogue, and the cast, led by Price, is well to the task.

My issues with the film are largely with its supernatural embellishments upon the original story. In the film, Prospero is depicted as a satanist, and the plot elements involving satanism tend to become tiresome in places. Furthermore, the overly theatrical ending does not begin to rival the horrific impact of the climax of Poe’s original short story.

My Netflix rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

30 Days of Madness, Day 14: The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera (1925) Starring Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin.

This silent classic is an adaptation of the novel Le Fantôme de l’Opera by Gaston Leroux, starring Lon Chaney as the titular Phantom. There are various edits of this film floating around, but the one Netflix has available for instant streaming is the 92-minute version which, I hope, would account for a couple of plot holes. Other than that, and some under-developed characterization from some of the characters, I really enjoyed watching this one. Chaney is great fun to watch, the makeup and art production are phenomenal, the acting is decent all around (if a bit theatrical, as is to be expected from this era), and Gabriel Thibaudeau’s 1992 musical score complements the 85-year-old film perfectly.

And now, here are….

25 Things I Learned From Watching The 1925 Classic The Phantom Of The Opera:

1. Grown men with funny mustaches will hold hands and run away when confronted by a strange figure in a cloak.

2. Ballerinas like to twirl a lot, even when they’re off-stage being chased by ghosts.

3. Mothers of prima donnas can be real prima donnas.

4. Opera can be just as annoying in a silent film.

5. Guys named “Raoul” are vowel hogs.

6. Mary Philbin, a.k.a. “Christine Daaé,” was a babe.

7. Some women are so career-oriented that they will totally accept doing the bidding of a disembodied voice, no problem…

8. …until they learn the voice belongs to a disfigured guy in a creepy mask. Then they get freaked out.

9. Falling chandeliers aren’t funny when they land on you.

10. The shortened form of “Mademoiselle” is “Mlle. ” (See, movies can be educational.)

11. “Phantom’s Rendezvous” would be an awesome name for a band.

12. Kidnapping a girl isn’t a great way to win her over.

13. However, repeatedly referring to a guy as “Master” could be seen as leading him on.

14. Women faint a lot. They must be very delicate creatures.

15. Ominous organ music makes the ladies positively weak in the knees.

16. Then again, kidnapping is probably about as effective a dating technique as any other…

17. …but threatening her with death? Not so much.

18. Lon Chaney is, indeed, the Master of macabre makeup.

19. Keeping a lovesick viscount on the back-burner is pretty reliable insurance against any vengeful hermits one may have sworn one’s allegiance to in a moment of passion.

20. Clowns are way scarier than phantoms.

21. “Beneath your dancing feet are the tombs of tortured men–thus does the Red Death rebuke your merriment!” is my new icebreaker for parties.

22. When your opera house is home to a being commonly referred to as “the Phantom,” it is best to assume such a being is listening to your conversation at any given time and therefore not discuss clandestine plans to go behind his back and betray him while still on the opera house property.

23. Cats, aside from being sadistic killers who exist “half in” the demonic realm, apparently also have a proclivity for leading angry mobs.

24. Keeping one’s hand in the air is a good way to make sure you’re not strangled by someone dropping a noose on you from above. Don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it.

25. Mob justice is terrifying no matter who’s on the receiving end or whether they deserve it.

My Netflix rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr