I often like to post tributes in May to horror icons Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price, as all three of these actors had birthdays in the fifth month of the year, Cushing on May 26, and both Lee and Price on May 27.
This year I’d like to have some fun with their genre of choice, horror! These three actors terrorized movie audiences from the 1950s through the 1980s, with Price actually starting way before that, in the 1940s, and while Lee continued to make movies all the way into the 2000s. The big screen may not see the likes of these three gentlemen ever again.
Each one has their devoted fans with their own ideas as to who is their personal favorite. For me, it’s Peter Cushing, but that doesn’t take away from my admiration and affectionfor Lee or Price.
For the sake of this column, they are all equally influential.
So, instead, as we celebrate their birthdays here in May 2021, we’ll look at some numbers.
For example, of the three, who made the most horror movies?
By my count, the prize goes to Christopher Lee for appearing in the most horror movies, 57!
Here’s the breakdown:
Christopher Lee: 57
Peter Cushing: 46
Vincent Price: 34
But who caused the most horror on screen? That’s debatable, but we can look at who starred in the most movies with the word “horror” in the title!
Again, the prize goes to Christopher Lee who made five movies with the word “horror” in the title. Strangely, Vincent Price never appeared in a movie with “horror” in the title.
Christopher Lee: 5. HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), HORROR HOTEL (1960), HORROR CASTLE (1963), DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965), HORROR EXPRESS (1972)
Peter Cushing: 3. HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), DR TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965), HORROR EXPRESS (1972),
Vincent Price: 0.
Okay, so what about terror? Who instilled the most terror? Well, again, let’s look at the numbers. Let’s see who made the most movies with the word “terror” in the title? This time the prize goes to Peter Cushing, who starred in three movies with “terror” in the title.
Peter Cushing: 3. DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965), ISLAND OF TERROR (1966), THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR (1968),
Christopher Lee: 2. THE TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961), DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965),
Vincent Price: 2. – TALES OF TERROR (1962), THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963).
So, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this playful tribute to these three icons of horror. Of course, the best way to celebrate their birthdays is to watch one of their movies. So, on that note, I won’t keep you any longer.
THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD (2021), a new thriller starring Angelina Jolie which premiered last weekend in theaters and on HBO Max, not only has a nifty title but is a pretty good movie in its own right.
Hannah (Angelina Jolie) is a Montana firefighter reeling from a tragedy. At a recent forest fire, she misread the wind, and people ended up dead. As a result, she is dealing with trauma and relegated to occupying a fire tower in the Montana wilderness. She’s also hearing it from a local deputy Ethan (Jon Bernthal) whose begging her to get her sh*t together.
Meanwhile, two deadly assassins Jack (Aidan Gillen) and Patrick (Nicholas Holt) are hot on the trail of a forensic accountant Owen (Jake Weber) and his young son Connor (Finn Little) because as Owen tells his son, he found out some information that people will kill for, but he assures his son that “he did the right thing” and that he didn’t do anything wrong. It turns out that Owen’s brother-in-law is deputy Ethan, and as Owen makes his way to Montana to seek his help, Jack and Patrick follow him there.
There’s a confrontation in the woods, and young Connor escapes and later meets up with Hannah, who finds that defending this boy from the men who want to kill him will help her with her own personal demons.
As stories go, the one told in THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD is a halfway decent one. It gets contrived at times, and the characterizations are nowhere near as on target as they need to be. It also never gets as deadly as one would expect. And for a movie that features forest fires heavily in its plot, and utilizes a major forest fire in an integral plot point, it doesn’t take full advantage of the spectacle. You don’t really feel the heat in this one. The forest fire action is all rather superficial.
THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD was co-written by Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt, and Taylor Sheridan, who also directed. Koryta also wrote the novel on which the movie was based. Charles Leavitt also wrote the screenplay for BLOOD DIAMOND (2006), one of my favorite Leonardo DiCaprio movies, as well as the underwhelming IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (2015).
Taylor Sheridan, one of my favorite screenwriters working today, suffered a major misfire a few weeks back with the subpar WITHOUT REMORSE (2021) which starred Michael B. Jordan. THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD is better than WITHOUT REMORSE but nowhere near as good as Sheridan’s earlier movies, like SICARIO (2015), HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016), and WIND RIVER (2017). The best part of those Sheridan screenplays is they all contained deeper subtexts which really made their stories stand out. That’s simply not the case here with THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD. It’s a much more superficial movie than his previous efforts.
The cast is strong though.
Angelina Jolie is perfect as the scarred but resilient Hannah. She has a fearless off the wall personality that instantly makes her a compelling character. The only flaw is like the rest of the characters, there’s simply not as much depth or backstory as expected.
Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult make for an entertaining pair of assassins. They both possess personalities which lift them above cardboard cutouts. However, these personalities are never completely defined. The running “gag” which becomes almost a catchphrase, is that they “hate this place” as everything seems to go wrong for them on their quest to hunt down the boy. Which is true. So as the movie goes along, I couldn’t help but wonder: are these guys simply incompetent? They are certainly not meant to be comic relief… they’re assassins out to kill a boy… but at times, their plights becomes almost laughable. It’s a weird combination. But both actors are enjoyable.
Aidan Gillen has starred in PEAKY BLINDERS (2017-2019) as Aberama Gold and in GAME OF THRONES (2011-2017) as Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. I’ve enjoyed his performances in both, and he’s just as good here.
Nicholas Hoult has a ton of credits, from Beast in the new X-MEN movies to playing J.R.R. Tolkien in TOLKIEN (2019) and Nikola Tesla in THE CURRENT WAR (2017).
Jon Bernthal is always good, and he doesn’t disappoint here as deputy Ethan. Medina Senghore is even better as Ethan’s pregnant survivalist wife who gives the assassins more than they bargained for in one of the movie’s best sequences.
Jake Weber adds fine support in a small role as Owen, the dad who became a target of assassins because he “did the right thing,” and Finn Little is very good as young Connor.
THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD is a solid piece of entertainment that kept me hooked for its brief one hour and forty minute running time.
At times, it flirted with being a deeper film, but sadly never succeeds in this endeavor, repeatedly returning to a superficial and shallow story that works no better than a pre-summer popcorn movie.
Yup, this is one forest fire movie that simply isn’t as hot as it should be.
HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) is the second of the Universal Monster series to feature all three of the major Universal monsters, Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the Frankenstein Monster. It’s also the last of the serious movies in the series, as the next one also starred Bud Abbott and Lou Costello— but that’s no knock, as ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) is a better movie than both HOUSE OF DRACULA and its monster-fest predecessor, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944).
HOUSE OF DRACULA is also the fifth Universal DRACULA movie, the seventh Universal FRANKENSTEIN movie, and the fourth Universal WOLF MAN movie. There’ll be a math quiz right after the column!
The jury is still out as to which of the two Universal monster party movies, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN or HOUSE OF DRACULA, is the better film. In my conversations with horror writers, film critics, and fans, it’s pretty much even-steven. I slightly prefer HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, for a number of reasons, chief of which is it stars Boris Karloff as the menacing Dr. Niemann, and his evil presence is missed in HOUSE OF DRACULA.
One way that HOUSE OF DRACULA is superior to HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is its Dracula scenes. John Carradine enjoys his best on-screen moments as Dracula in this movie. While I’m not a big fan of Carradine’s noble and well-mannered Dracula, I do like him here. In fact, he gets most of the movie’s best moments. His conversation with his intended victim Miliza Morelle (Martha O’Driscoll) at the piano is mesmerizing, and later, when Dracula attempts to abduct her from the home of Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens), director Erle C. Kenton pulls out all stops and imbues the sequence with plenty of suspense, complete with on-target music beats for the Dracula/bat transformations for maximum effect.
Unfortunately, like HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN before it, HOUSE OF DRACULA kills off Dracula way too early in the movie. While the undead Count survives a bit longer here in HOUSE OF DRACULA, he’s gone for the entire second half of the movie, which is too bad, since he was clearly the best part of the first half. Edward T. Lowe Jr. , who wrote the screenplays for both HOUSE movies, for some reason keeps the monsters separate for the most part, with minimal interaction. That’s one of the best parts and reasons why ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is clearly the superior movie of the three, as the three monsters interact more and have ample screen time.
In HOUSE OF DRACULA…or as it could also be known as, DR. EDLEMANN’S GENERAL HOSPITAL FOR MONSTERS, Count Dracula (John Carradine) shows up at the home of Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens) seeking a cure from vampirism… or so he says! He’s really there because he’s got his fangs…er, sights, set on the lovely nurse Miliza (Martha O’Driscoll) who he had met some time earlier and hence followed her back to the home of Dr. Edlemann, where she works. And evidently lives. Stalker! Night stalker, that is!
Anyway, Dr. Edlemann, being the kind-hearted doctor that he is, agrees. A short time later, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) arrives at the castle seeking a cure from lycanthropy. The doctor tells him no, that he is too busy trying so save Dracula, and he can only handle one monster at a time. Besides he’s not part of the network of doctors on Talbot’s health plan… no, I’m joking, of course! Edleman agrees to help Talbot as well.
Frustrated and impatient, Talbot attempts to kill himself by leaping from a cliff into the ocean below. Edlemann believes Talbot may have survived the plunge (of course he survived! He’s the Wolf Man! He can’t die! Which of course begs the question, what the heck was Talbot thinking by jumping in the first place? I guess he just wanted to go for a swim). Anyway, Edlemann makes his way down to the caves by the ocean, and there discovers the Wolf Man, who nearly rips out his throat, but strangely and without explanation, the Wolf Man changes back into Larry Talbot and all is well.
As they make their way through the caves, they discover the ailing body of the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange) along with the skeletal remains of Dr. Niemann. So… Dr. Edlemann brings the Monster into his castle as well, and now he is taking care of three monsters at the same time!
As stories go, the one told in HOUSE OF DRACULA is pretty weak. It’s just an excuse to get the three monsters in one movie. The screenplay by Edward T. Lowe Jr. is not a strength.
While the appearance of the Frankenstein Monster is explained when he is discovered still alive with the skeletal remains of Dr. Niemann, no mention is made at all of how either Dracula or the Wolf Man overcame their deaths in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. They just show up, as right as rain.
As I said, Dracula fares best here, and John Carradine as Dracula delivers the best performance in the movie. Again the decision to kill him off midway through the movie is a puzzling one. As such, the first half of HOUSE OF DRACULA is really good, while the second half loses quite a bit of steam. Before he is destroyed, Dracula mixes his blood with Dr. Edlemann’s, and the result is the doctor turns into an evil Mr. Hyde-like creation, going into the village and wreaking havoc. A good deal of screen time is spent on this character, which works against the movie. It would have been far more interesting had Dracula continued to be the main menace in this one.
And while the big news in HOUSE OF DRACULA is that Dr. Edlemann proves to be the best doctor ever!!!…as his attempt to cure Larry Talbot of lycanthropy is… wait for it, wait for it!… is successful! Yes, in HOUSE OF DRACULA, Talbot is cured and walks away free from his curse of being the Wolf Man! The truth of the matter is however that Lon Chaney Jr. enjoys some of his worst moments as the Wolf Man right here in HOUSE OF DRACULA.
The Wolf Man scenes are few and ineffective. The best sequence, in the cave, where he attacks Dr. Edlemann, is marred by the ridiculous and inexplicable moment when he suddenly turns back into a human! Also, Larry Talbot’s scenes are among the worst in the entire series, as he’s stuck saying only his stock cliche lines of “living the life of the damned,” woe is me, blah, blah, blah. His scenes in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN were far better, and his brief love story with the gypsy woman was exceptional. Nothing like that here in HOUSE OF DRACULA. And in terms of acting, it’s one of Chaney’s weakest performances as the character. In fact, after this movie, his contract with Universal was not renewed.
Anyway, he was cured!
The Frankenstein Monster scenes are also negligible, as once again the Monster spends most of the movie lying on his back on a table unable to move until he’s zapped with electricity, to rise for a few seconds, before being killed off again in the film’s finale. Glenn Strange played the Monster three times, and it’s not until ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN that he actually gets to enjoy some decent moments in the role.
In the climax to HOUSE OF DRACULA, there is a little bit of suspense as the cured Larry Talbot emerges as the hero and confronts the newly revived Frankenstein Monster, and since fans had followed this sympathetic character through several movies, there’s some suspense wondering if Talbot would survive or succumb to the Monster. And since the fiery climax in the castle is actually footage from the end of THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), in which Chaney played the Monster, in this film, as Talbot and the Monster, he’s basically fighting against himself!
Erle C. Kenton directed HOUSE OF DRACULA, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN. HOUSE OF DRACULA is the weakest of the three. It’s also incredibly quick, clocking in at just 67 minutes. This one could have been fleshed out way more.
Lionel Atwill appears here once again as yet another police inspector, Police Inspector Holtz. Sadly, Atwill was suffering from lung cancer during production, and it shows. He would die a few months later.
HOUSE OF DRACULA also lacks any memorable female roles. Both Martha O’Driscoll as nurse Miliza, and Jane Adams as the hunchbacked nurse Nina fail to make much of an impact. In fact, they generally share the worst scenes in the film, unfortunately.
And a quick shout out goes to character actor Skelton Knaggs who nearly steals the movie as grumbling villager Steinmuhl. “Dr. Edelmann killed my brother.” When Knaggs says that, he’s scarier than any of the monsters in this one!
Taken as a whole, HOUSE OF DRACULA is a tepid entry in the Universal monster series. But its Dracula scenes are very, very good, and John Carradine gets to shine as the character, until sadly, the sun shines on him, turning him into dust once again, strangely right in the middle of the movie he was dominating so easily!
So, when visiting the HOUSE OF DRACULA, it’s highly recommended you spend time in the Dracula wing.
That is, before he develops a pair of wings and flies away as a bat!
And on that note, it’s time to say so long, before things get really… batty!
Yup, this new thriller, based on the Tom Clancy novel and starring Michael B. Jordan, starts off well but then quickly deteriorates into a muddled mess of confusion and cliches that ultimately sinks this one beyond the point of rescue.
Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher of all is that the screenplay was written by Taylor Sheridan, one of the best screenwriters working today. His screenplays include SICARIO (2015), HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016), and WIND RIVER (2017). He’s also the creative mind behind the TV series YELLOWSTONE (2018- ). Yet the screenplay for WITHOUT REMORSE is pretty bad. Really bad. Again, it’s a head-scratcher. Well, I guess we’re all entitled to a dud once in a while.
WITHOUT REMORSE, now available on Prime Video, opens with a Navy SEAL rescue mission in Syria in which the elite soldiers discover they have just extracted a person from Russian special forces rather than from Syrian soldiers as they were told. This doesn’t sit well with soldier John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) who calls out their CIA operative Robert Ritter (Jamie Bell) who had provided them with the intel on the mission, and Ritter’s cavalier response does nothing to assuage Kelly’s misgivings about the error in intel.
Kelly’s instincts prove accurate, as later Russian forces seek out and kill members of the Navy SEALS team. When they get to Kelly’s home, Kelly survives the attack, but his pregnant wife and unborn child do not. Kelly then makes it his mission to seek out answers, to find out who murdered his wife and unborn child and why, and to do this, he will proceed without remorse.
Blah, blah, blah.
Actually, I enjoyed the beginning to this movie. Up to the murder of Kelly’s wife and unborn child, this movie had me. I was intrigued by the opening, and I was primed and ready to go along for the ride with Kelly as he took no prisoners on his way in search of answers and retribution. But it’s here where the film drops the ball and completely unravels, which is not a good thing since this makes up the bulk of the movie.
So, what went wrong? The story, for starters. None of it is all that convincing, and the reasons for the original mission and the whole Russian connection remain muddled and unclear. The storytelling just isn’t very sharp, which is again very surprising since Taylor Sheridan wrote the screenplay. Sheridan’s films also usually have a strong subtext which make them work on a much deeper level. There is no subtext here.
There are plenty of action scenes, and the violence is way up there, but sadly none of these scenes really resonated with me. The sound editing was pretty good though. The sound effects, especially the gun fire, were loud and effective. My living room sounded like a war zone. Unfortunately, visually, these sequences weren’t anything special.
Director Stefano Sollima includes plenty of hard-hitting violent scenes of gun battles and killing, but in terms of cinematic choreography, none of it wowed me.
I did like Michael B. Jordan in the lead role as John Kelly. A lot. In fact, his performance is the best part of the entire movie, and about the only reason to watch this one. He makes Kelly’s plight believable, as you really feel for the guy. He sweats intensity. He also looks the part, and is very believable as an uncontrollable elite soldier. Jordan is a terrific actor who I enjoy a lot. He was especially notable in the lead role in the recent CREED movies where he plays Apollo Creed’s son in the continuation of the Sylvester Stallone ROCKY series. One of my favorite roles though of Jordan’s was his turn as the villain Erik Killmonger in Marvel’s BLACK PANTHER (2016). Not only did he play one of Marvel’s best movie villains to date, but he also arguably outshined Chadwick Boseman’s lead character Black Panther.
On the other hand, no one else in the cast really stands out. Jodie Turner-Smith is okay as Kelly’s SEAL’s leader Karen Greer, but the role isn’t written all that well, and the character never really comes to life.
Jamie Bell is actually very good as shadowy CIA operative Robert Ritter, but again, he’s done in by some lackluster writing. Guy Pearce also adds some solid moments as Secretary Clay.
The inferior script was co-written by Taylor Sheridan and Will Staples, based on Tom Clancy’s novel of the same name. And that’s the other thing that’s surprising about this film not having much depth, that it’s based on a novel.
I was extremely disappointed with WITHOUT REMORSE. While I certainly didn’t hate it, as watching Michael B. Jordan’s performance certainly kept me at least partially interested, I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much.
Without much to like, WITHOUT REMORSE is simply without merit. Which means, in terms of my recommendation, it goes…. without.
THINGS HEARD & SEEN (2021), a new Netflix ghost story thriller starring Amanda Seyfried was better than I expected.
Which isn’t saying much since I went in with low expectations. It’s getting bad reviews, and its trailer was meh, but this one isn’t half bad. In fact, there’s a lot I liked about it. And the only reason I didn’t love it is the direction it takes during its second half is much more formulaic and forced than its intriguing and mysterious first act.
Married couple Catherine Claire (Amanda Seyfried) and George Claire (James Norton) and their young daughter Franny (Ana Sophia Heger) relocate to rural upstate New York when George accepts a new professorship at a prestigious private college. It’s a tough move for Catherine as she leaves behind a thriving career as an art restorer, but she feels she should support her husband. They move into an old farmhouse with a long history behind it, and it’s not long before both Catherine and Franny begin to see and hear things which make them believe the house is haunted. George, on the other hand, wants no part of what he views as fanciful imaginings.
But the folks around them aren’t so dismissive. George’s department head, Floyd DeBeers (F. Murray Abraham) is very open to the possibility of hauntings and even suggest to Catherine that they hold a seance inside the house. And George’s fellow professor Justine (Rhea Seehorn) takes a liking to Catherine and becomes very sympathetic to her needs.
And as they begin to learn that perhaps this spirit isn’t an evil one, but one who’s trying to protect Claire, we begin to learn that hubby George isn’t quite the man everyone thinks he is.
And there’s your plot of THINGS HEARD & SEEN. The first half works much better than the second. The story it tells early on is quite captivating, in spite of the “been there done that” ghost story elements. The characters in this movie are all rather interesting, and they held my interest deep into this movie.
But as George emerges as the main villain in the film’s latter stages, the movie becomes more farfetched and much less enjoyable. And the ending is very disappointing and is by far the weakest part of the movie.
I’m a big fan of Amanda Seyfried, and I enjoy her in nearly every movie she is in, even the bad ones. She’s coming off her Oscar nominated supporting performance as Marion Davies in MANK (2020). Before that she starred with Kevin Bacon in another “haunted house” thriller YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT (2020) which wasn’t very good. I enjoyed THINGS HEARD & SEEN more. And while the MAMA MIA! (2008) star has been in a ton of movies, probably my favorite performance by Seyfried was her portrayal of Linda Lovelace in LOVELACE (2013).
Here, in THINGS HEARD & SEEN, Seyfried knocks it out of the park once again. Her portrayal of the ever increasing anxious and suspicious wife is imbued with strength, and she never ever becomes a frightened victim, which is why her ultimate fate in this movie is so disappointing and the worst part of the film.
James Norton, playing a role that is a far cry from his portrayal of John Brooke in LITTLE WOMEN (2019) is sufficiently sinister as the hubby who isn’t what he seems but doesn’t care because he seemingly can get away with anything.
THINGS HEARD & SEEN boasts a strong supporting cast. Rhea Seehorn, who plays Kim Wexler on BETTER CALL SAUL (2015-2022), is solid here as Justine, a character who takes on a more prominent role as the film goes along.
Natalia Dyer, Nancy on STRANGER THINGS (2016-2021) is excellent here as Willis, a college student who crosses paths with George and becomes an object of his lust. It’s an interesting role because Willis can’t stand George but she has sex with him anyway. Dyer makes the most of a small role.
Karen Allen shows up as real estate agent Mare Laughton, and later she shares some crucial scenes with husband and sheriff Pat (Dan Daily).
Alex Neustaedter plays Eddie Vale, a young man whose parents lived in the house before George and Catherine and who also met with a terrible fate. Vale and Catherine eventually have an affair of their own. Neustaedter’s scenes with Amanda Seyfried are some of the best in the movie.
And F. Murray Abraham adds class as department head Floyd DeBeers.
While I found the first half of this movie intriguing, none of it is all that frightening, which works against this being a thriller. It works better as a drama/mystery than a haunted house thriller. The scares just aren’t there.
The seance scene is also rather ridiculous. If spirits spoke this freely and easily we’d be giving them smart phones. Speaking of smart phones, they’re not in this movie since it takes place in 1980. Why? I have no idea. It just does.
The film is beautifully shot by directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. They capture the beauty of the rural countryside, and they do some nice things with the ghosts in this one, as the spirits and their spectral presences are often captured with lighting effects that imply warmth and love as opposed to evil. Again, intriguing, but not scary.
They also wrote the screenplay, based on the novel All Things Cease To Appear by Elizabeth Brundage. They do a great job creating captivating characters, but run into trouble devising a plot that holds its weight for the entire two hour running time.
Thematically, I get it. Women are frequently victims of powerful men, and there seems to be no change in this pattern, but in terms of the story told in this movie, with such a strong main character, Amanda Seyfried’s Catherine, I can’t help but wish the writers had decided to take this one in a different direction.
THINGS HEARD & SEEN is a well-acted drama/mystery with a talented cast, led by Amanda Seyfried, and its first half is very watchable, but as its script becomes more formulaic, its second half struggles to keep things going. The result is a mixed bag of a movie that I liked well enough but certainly can’t say that I loved.