FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.
Hey! You know what the entertainment world needs more of? Vampires!!! I’m sorry. My sarcasm is turned up to eleven because I’m a little jaded. This will probably sound like an old man boring his grandchildren about the “Good Old Days”, but I truly long for the days when vampires were frightening, bloodthirsty monsters. The days when they were wolves in sheep’s clothing, and that clothing wasn’t True Religion jeans or Tom Ford suits. The days they plucked at the entrails of their victims, not their own body hair. The days of Blade, Bram Stoker, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I know I’m not covering any new ground here. No one can argue that over the past decade, Hollywood’s use of vampires has…well…sucked. Oh, there are some outliers. However, for every Let The Right One In, there’s a fifth sequel to Twilight. For every Angel, there’s a Vampire Diaries. Even True Blood has steadily declined into nothing more than an oversexed softcore porn film set at a Louisiana college frat’s Halloween party. (Seriously, I’m more afraid of the city of Compton than Bill Compton.) Now NBC, with all the timing of a Jay Leno punchline, tries to pick the bones of this dead genre with a show about the king of all vampires. A show about Dracula.
Dracula comes to us from Cole Haddon and HBO’s Carnivale creator Daniel Knauf. The show centers around Dracula, going by the name Alexander Grayson, as he hunts down the members of an evil Illuminati-esque organization in 19th Century England. That concept might sound interesting on paper. However, when Dracula explains his reasons why, something feels a bit strange. I mean, he is a vampire after all. It works when a Hannibal Lecter punishes people he finds disgusting, but here it’s like watching Freddy Krueger take out members of Halliburton. I know it’s an attempt to place Dracula in the sympathetic protagonist role. Though, after watching the first episode, I’m not sure if it totally works. No matter how evil of an organization it is, no matter what they did to Dracula (I won’t spoil it), do you really think he’d have any difficulty taking them down in about eight seconds? Do you really think we as an audience can look at them in a light harsher than that of a demonic creature that randomly slaughters innocent people? Hypocrisy aside, I hope Knauf and Haddon don’t end up neutering the character in an attempt to make us like him. We like him because he’s a wicked, deadly, unscrupulous creature of the night, not some mopey introvert.
There are some positives I took away from the premiere. First, Dracula doesn’t sparkle in the sunlight, he burns. Thankfully, most of the traditional vampire motifs are back at play here. Secondly, it is pretty graphic for a show on NBC. The limitations broadcast television presents hasn’t seemed to hinder the bloodshed. Third, the show looks very expensive. Making a show a period piece tends to shoot the budget up a few million dollars. That’s something networks usually shy away from or alter into modern day re-imaginings. (See Elementary & Sherlock) NBC says that Dracula will be a limited series for now, which may account for the liberal use of elaborate costumes, sets and locations.
In regards to performances on Dracula , this show is totally a John Rhys Meyers vehicle. I think he’s a solid actor and I’m happy to see him in something for mass American audiences. His run on The Tudors and a brief role in Mission Impossible 3 had him poised to be a big star at one point. (We’re not gonna talk about From Paris With Love) As Dracula, Rhys Meyers is good. He has the charm, the air of mystery and brings the appropriate…um…bite when the character needs it. Sadly, everyone else in the cast stands out as well as wooden furniture in a log cabin. The closest you get to a pulse is Nonso Anozie as Renfield and Victoria Smurfit as Lady Jayne Wetherby. They appear to be having fun with their parts and relish every bit of the setting. No one else manages to grab your attention. Even Thomas Kretschmann’s Van Helsing feels ORDINARY and boring. To be completely fair, Francis Ford Coppola did have in Bram Stoker’s Dracula a British speaking Keanu Reeves and a supposedly sultry Winona Ryder. So, glass houses and all that. But the gulf between fun acting to forgettable acting wasn’t as large as it is on this show.
As a whole, Dracula does try and put some of the teeth back into the vampire genre. However, it doesn’t really grab you as much as it should. A television show focusing on the origins of the most famous monster ever should feel like more of an epic experience. This show only winds up feeling kind of ORDINARY. With its expensive budget and its Friday night time slot of death, I fear Dracula is not long for this world. Bring your garlic…and your crosses…and your holy water…and your overly elaborate staking methods…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.
The Monster Squad – Nards
The time of VHS was magical. Along with HBO, nearly all my horror upbringing came from one or the other. Growing up I would go to Blockbuster Video (RIP) every Friday and I was allowed to get one video. I always found myself in the horror section, watching any movie I could get my hands on. From cheesy B-movies to typical slasher fare, I ate it all up. Growing up in the late 80s early 90s, I was also a huge fan of “The Goonies” and any coming-of-age movie where kids went on an adventure. With that said, the day I saw “The Monster Squad” from 1987 is the day my interest in more classic horror began.
If you think about “The Monster Squad” as “The Goonies” of the horror genre you’ve hit the nail on the head. The rundown goes like this; a group of young horror fans, who call themselves “The Monster CLUB,” stumble upon a plot by the newly resurrected Count Dracula. The Count plans to obtain a mystical amulet used by Abraham Van Helsing to banish evil from Transylvania 100 years ago. Only the Squad, a Scary German Guy, that kid* from “Kids Incorporated,” a “virgin,” and Frankenstein’s Monster stand in Drac’s way for world domination.
What I always thought was cool was the fact that Dracula was able to bring together a group of monsters to fight for him, which included The Wolf Man, Creature From the Black Lagoon (or The Gill Man if you will), and The Mummy. Seeing that as a kid was astonishing, and considering that the late, great, Stan Winston did the creature effects was even more amazing.
Aside from Stan Winston, there were some really creative minds behind “Squad,” including Fred Dekker, who directed the underrated “Night of the Creeps” which is pretty much the predecessor to the also shamefully underrated “Slither.” And Shane Black, who you might have heard from that low budget movie that’s coming out next year called “Iron Man 3.” This film has class written all over it.
The one complaint that I have about “Squad” is that upon watching it now, it does seem dated. It’s super 80s, in the same way that “The Lost Boys” seems dated. Most movies, and this is especially true for the horror genre, all seem to be trapped in a time warp in the decade they were made. Keep this in mind, I’m not saying dated is a bad thing, but this brings me to an important point. Maybe this is the reason why all of these hack filmmakers want to re-do all these old horror movies for the new, hip (and stupid) “horror” audiences. The good news with “Squad” is that it was PG-13 back in the 80s so they won’t have to turn an R-rated movie into an audience friendly, and money making, PG-13 version.
“The Monster Squad” isn’t all blood and guts, its actually a fun little movie and something I would show my kid(s) and not feel like I was corrupting their soul(s). As October, and Halloween, comes to a close, take a break from the gore-fests that you might be enjoying and check out “The Monster Squad,” and remember……”Wolf Man’s got nards.”
*that kid is Ryan Lambert
Fun Fact: Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula” and Boris Karloff’s “Frankenstein” were both released in 1931 by Universal Pictures.
Grindhouse – Ambitious
Here’s the problem with kids these days; they don’t appreciate shit! I’m an old-school type of guy (and if I’m already a curmudgeon at age 28, well, you know what you can do), that’s why I hate crap like “Twilight”and any other abomination that co-ops things that were once bad-ass and turns them into little emo-bitches who sparkle, or shoe-gaze for over two hours. Has any “scene kid”or emo kid seen “Dracula” from 1931 or maybe even “The Wolf Man” from 1941 (once again dating myself). If Lon Chaney, Jr. or Bela Lugosi were alive to see what had become of their beloved characters, well, I’m sure Lugosi would get hooked back on morphine and Chaney would gladly take a few silver bullets to the heart. I’ll give you this, if you’ve seen “The Lost Boys” I’ll give you a bye….but that’s it.
By the way, this review isn’t even about werewolves (well kind of) or vampires, I simply had to get that off my chest. However, there is something special about taking something old and making it new again. Take 2007’s “Grindhouse,” the two-movies-in-one masterpiece by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.
“Grindhouse” while fantastic, was a flop, and to me, that’s frustrating. People, and unfortunately the studios, either prefer shitty remakes (there are a few exceptions) or…….gulp……PG-13 horror (and shame on you if you dare defend PG-13 horror). Rodriguez and Tarantino gave a big “F You” as they usually do, and decided to dig up old exploitation movies from the 1960s and 70s and make a three-hour epic of sleaze, blood, guts, sex, and even more sleaze. Throw in some fake trailers, done by the likes of Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, and Eli Roth, and you have something special. Too bad people have the attention spans of circus fleas because I would love to see more films like “Grindhouse” make a comeback.
The first film, “Planet Terror” directed by Rodriguez, deals with, SICKOS, not zombies, but SICKOS, kind of like psychos, but instead they eat flesh and their balls melt. Here are the major plot points; there is a chemical weapon unleashed, people get sick and start eating and killing each other, there’s a government conspiracy, a stripper loses her leg and has a gun reattached to the stub, and we have some “From Dusk Till Dawn” references. Simple, right? Yeah, it is.
The second film, “Death Proof” directed by Tarantino, is a take on the slasher genre which stars the awesome Kurt Russell as “Stuntman” Mike who kills young women with his “death proof” stunt car. People say this is the weaker of the two films, but I highly disagree. While it might not pack in as much action as “Planet Terror” the dialogue is good, acting solid, and like I said before, it has Kurt Russell. What else do you need?
Rodriguez and Tarantino go back to basics for “Grindhouse” and it works so well. It’s simple, stupid fun that is lost upon the modern horror audience. Not everything has to be a love story between Kristen Stewart, a vampire, and a werewolf. Or a ghost story shot with a shaky camera. Or…….”The Wicker Man.” Maybe that was too easy, but I will give Nick Cage props for this.
If you haven’t already, please check out “Grindhouse,” it’s so good, it’s scary.
Fun Fact: Grindhouse cinema derives from the defunct burlesque theaters located on 42nd Street in New York City.