Friday, 16 September 2016

Watching old, old movies part 1

So for a few years now I've wanted to watch the really old black-and-white horror movies that sort of set the standard for everything we have today. I know horror has evolved a lot and I didn't expect to get scared by them (even modern horror scares me very rarely), but I wanted to see them none-the-less. I didn't know where to start but I found a huge list on IMDB and decided to follow that :)

1. Dracula (1931)
This movie is iconic, and I'd heard of it so many times before, but never watched it. The first time I heard the name of Bela Lugosi was actually in the Johnny Depp movie Ed Wood. I know the story of Dracula intimately, though I have never really managed to read the novel (might try again now). Because of the Great Depression this movie's budget was cut, and a great deal of changes had to be made. The movie was originally supposed to be an adaptation of the novel, but due to the cut budget it became instead an adaptation of the play from the previous year. What stood out to me the most being used to modern movies was the lack of ambient music. I don't really notice the music in today's movies so the silence was basically deafening in this one. No ambient music, no suspenseful music... The lack of music actually made the suspense even more suspenseful. The special effects were about what you'd expect for an 85-year-old movie (not many and those that were, quite dreadful by today's standards). The propriety of early 20th century was there. You'd always see Dracula closing in on his female victims, but the camera always diverted or scenes were changed when he was about an inch away from her. Can't show a man tocuhing a woman on film! ;P Another thing that struck me was that I always imagine Dracula in the late 19th century (as in the book and most modern film adaptations) but all the women in this movie had short 1920s hair-styles, so I took it as this movie took place sort of contemporary as to when it was made (despite all the sail ships and horse carriages - they did have steam ships and cars in the 1920s). But what has lingered the most with me was Bela Lugosi's Dracula. I loved his mesmeric eyes; his hypnotic stare. And the scene where Mina is entranced to go into his arms and being encloaked by his cloak was beautifully haunting and at the same time that sort of creepy-cosy that I like.
So despite the choppy storytelling and the weird editing of this movie (due to the cut budget), I really liked it. Also, Dwight Frye was masterful as the insane Renfield (pictured to the right above) - and now I finally realise that Alice Cooper's The Ballad of Dwight Fry actually is all about Frye's Renfield. Makes sense since Cooper himself is a major fan of old school horror!

2. The Wolf Man (1941)
This movie was ridiculous and there are so many things I didn't like. Most of the things I think were due to the times. Not just that it aged badly, but because the way Larry acted towards Gwen. If he had done that today he'd most likely be charged with stalking and/or get a restraining order (if Gwen had had the guts to tell on him to the police). You don't spy on a girl through a telescope (that's creepy and stalk-y) and you don't insist on making a date when she tells you no, and you most definitely don't kiss a girl after she tells you she's about to get married very soon! Was that mirroring the times or was he just genuinely creepy? Other than that the movie was angsty and had basically no plot. Gypsies come to town, Larry and two girls go there to have their fortune told. The gypsy man (played by Bela Lugosi btw) is a werewolf who turns while they're there and kills one of the girls. Larry kills the werewolf but not before he has been bitten. So he turns into a wolf man (no explanation why the gypsy turns into a wolf, but Larry just turns into a man with fur and a wolfish snout).
The villagers find the murder weapon and it's such a unique thing that they know that it's Larry's so he's charged with the murder of a man (the gypsy changed back upon death) while he insists he only killed a wolf. He turns into the wolf man at night and roams around the woods. The villagers set out to kill the wolf they hear at night. Larry is killed. The end. It might just be because I've never been into the werewolf thing, but there's nothing I liked about this movie.

3. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The zombie movie that set the standard for the rest of the century! I'm not a huge fan of zombies either tbh, but this one was interesting because it's so different from what I'm used to, especially how the zombies look, but also that they have some sort of cognitive brain function left. To me it was obvious from the beginning that none of the characters would survive, and I could figure out a lot of what was going to happen by just knowing how zombies usually work. But seeing as they didn't know back then I expect it was a lot more thrilling at that time. Anyway, Barbra and her brother Johnny arrive at a graveyard to place flowers on their father's grave. Johnny is an ass and scares Barbra who runs basically into the arms of a zombie (who they don't realise is a zombie). Johnny dies while defending Barbra and she flees to a house in the middle of nowhere. The house turns out to be abandoned and she finds a dead body on the upper floor (no explanation to why this dead person doesn't come back to life as a zombie). Barbra spends the rest of the movie being an incoherent mess and not doing anything at all but screaming at times and whimpering at others.
She is joined by a black guy named Ben who immediately reinforces the house and blocks all entry. He tries to work with her, but later gives up and just lets her sit in the sofa. Here I was slightly wondering who would die first, which Hollywood trope they'd implement - the black guy or the dumb blonde? They are suddenly joined by another group of survivors who'd apparantly been hiding in the basement of the house. (Why didn't Ben bother to check there when he checked the rest of the house?) A married couple who does nothing but argue, and a young couple who turn out to be quite resourceful. The married couple has a daughter who's sick. We're eventually told that she's been bitten by one of the dead (and that's when I realised exactly how the whole plot would unfold). The group listens to the radio and the TV and decides to try and get to the safehouse in the closest village. Here we're told that the rising dead is caused by the radiation from an exploded spacecraft, and we're shown a big group of villagers that have volunteered to go around killing all the zombies. They promise to be done in less than two days (lol). To get to the village the group needs the truck in the front yard. But it needs gas from the gas tank further along in the front yard. Ben and the young couple decide to get there using fire to scare off the zombies. Except fire and gas don't really work, and as expected the truck blows up with the young couple inside. Ben manages to get back to the house, but the married dude doesn't want to let him in. Ben forces his way in and almost kills the guy. Then all hell breaks loose. The daughter is turned and all the zombies from the front yard are attacking the house in force.
They break through and kill everyone except Ben who manages to survive by hiding in the basement. The next day he hears voices and quietly goes back up. It's the villagers who have arrived to kill off the zombies. They mistake Ben for a zombie and shoot him. The end. As a whole I liked this movie, but there were a lot of things that bothered me, especially Barbra. Surprisingly, the ending didn't bother me. It was the only unexpected thing in the movie and I quite liked it. I later learned that Ben's character was originally supposed to survive, but as this movie was made during the Black Rights Movement in America, Duane Jones (his actor) wanted to have Ben die. At this time black characters apparantly didn't live, they were supposed to die, and Duane Jones didn't want to seem entitled or as if he was asking for attention or anything, so he asked to have his character die.

1 comment:

What's the first thought in your head after reading this? Let me know!