Scary Movie Review: Vampires vs. the Bronx (2020)

Title: Vampires vs. the Bronx
Release Date: October 2, 2020
Director: Oz Rodriguez
Production Company: Broadway Video | Caviar

Vampires vs. the Bronx uses the invasion of vampires into a Bronx neighborhood as a metaphor for gentrification, and not at all in a subtle manner. The movie blends horror and social satire with humor and a lot of heart. It’s very 80s Spielberg-ian in the way that kids must team up to fight the evil threatening their community. In this case the threat is a real estate company buying up local businesses and buildings, not to make luxury condos, but to make a nest for vampires. The most chilling line in the film is when a vampire states that they want to be in a neighborhood where no one cares if people go missing.

A team of young teenagers are the lead vampire fighters. Their leader is Miguel (Jaden Michael), a young activist known as Lil Mayor. His nerdy friend Luis (Gregory Diaz IV) has the knowledge of vampire lore. The wild card is Bobby (Gerald W. Jones III) who is being recruited to join the local street gang. Their hangout is the local bodega run by Tony (a great performance by Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez). A late addition to the team is Rita (Coco Jones) an older girl who is Miguel’s crush. All the young actors are great and seem like real kids.

The movie is not a groundbreaking in horror and/or social messaging, but it’s also not overly scary or gory like, say, Get Out. So a family could potentially watch it together. It is also is feel-good movie depicting a community coming together to save their neighborhood.

Rating: ***1/2

Scary Movie Review: A Ghost Story (2017)

Title: A Ghost Story
Release Date: July 7, 2017
Director: David Lowery
Production Company: Sailor Bear | Zero Trans Fat Productions | Ideaman Studios | Scared Sheetless

I’ll say it up front that this movie is not at all scary as it is basically Casey Affleck wearing a sheet with eye holes and standing still for most of its 90-minute run time. But it is a movie that cinematically deals with the ideas of grief, mortality, and what last legacy we leave during our short time on earth. So that’s a little bit scary, or at least unnerving, right?

Affleck plays a man killed in a car crash who haunts his house, observing his wife (played by Rooney Mara), and then future occupants of the house, and time travels to a future when the house is replaced by a skyscraper and a past when the land is staked out by a pioneer family. The movie is very slow-moving with minimal dialogue so it really makes you ponder the passage of time. On the other hand, if you have a fetish for Rooney Mara eating pie, well this is definitely a movie for you.

This movie is an interesting experiment, and worth watching once, but I don’t think I need to ever revisit it.

Rating: ***

Scary Movie Review: House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Title: House on Haunted Hill
Release Date: February 17, 1959
Director: William Castle
Production Company: William Castle Productions

I somehow never watched a Vincent Price horror movie before and I wanted to address that in my Scary Movies series this year. House on Haunted Hill has a good reputation and even a remake but I wasn’t overly impressed. Price portrays an eccentric millionaire named Frederick Loren who invites five strangers to an allegedly haunted mansion, promising the reward of $10,000 for anyone who makes it through the night. Curiously the exterior of the building is Frank Lloyd Wright’s modernist, Mayan-inspired Ennis House in Los Feliz California, while the interiors are more of a late 19th-century Victorian more typical of haunted house stories.

The party plays against the marital tensions between Loren and his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart), and they have several great scenes of exchanging catty dialogue. For a 75 minute movie, it takes a looooooooooong time to establish the premise. The “scary” parts of the movie are mostly focused on only two of the five guests: Nora Manning (a young employee of one of Loren’s companies, portrayed by Carolyn Craig) and the test pilot Lance Schroeder (Richard Long). There are a couple of big twists to the story involving Annabelle that ground the story in human deceit rather than the supernatural. But overall the movie is uneven with a lot of unexplained loose ends. I feel it could’ve been tightened up to make an interesting television story on something like The Twilight Zone, but as a movie it’s a bit of a chore.

Rating: **1/2

Scary Movie Review: Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Title: Bride of Frankenstein
Release Date: April 20, 1935
Director: James Whale
Production Company: Universal Pictures

This sequel is widely-regarded as better than the original, and I agree with the assessment. Some of the iconic moments of Hollywood Frankenstein lore originate in this movie rather than its predecessor. This includes the absolutely brilliant sequence where the monster (Boris Karloff) befriends a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) which is full of humanity. Of course, we also get to see the monster’s “bride” (Elsa Lanchester) with the famous streaked hair, but not until the very end of the film.

The movie does have some surprises though. It begins with a delightfully campy prologue in which Mary Shelley (Lanchester, again) tells her husband and Lord Byron that there is more to the story. I’m also pleased that Shelley gets credited under her own name this time. With Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) having regained his sensibilities, a new and madder scientist appears in the form of his mentor Doctor Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger). In one of the weirdest and most unsettling moments of the movie, Pretorius shows off that he has created living humans, albeit tiny ones that live in jars. The movie also prominently features Una O’Connor as Minnie, because the one thing the Frankenstein franchise was lacking was a comical Irish maid.

The Bride of Frankenstein is a bit uneven, but better paced and more surprising than its predecessor. The pair of movies still make for an enjoyable evening of scary entertainment.

Rating: ***1/2

Scary Movie Review: Frankenstein (1931)

Title: Frankenstein
Release Date: November 21, 1931
Director: James Whale
Production Company: Universal Pictures

I’d never watched Frankenstein before, but it’s so full of iconic moments that it feels like I have. Think of the scenes and ideas that have permeated culture for the past 90 years:

  • a hunchback assistant (named Fritz, not Igor)
  • brains in jars, one brilliant, one criminal (and all the pop psychology that goes along with that)
  • a stormy night, a laboratory in a creepy castle, and a pulley system to raise a gurney
  • “It’s alive!”
  • the monster and a little girl (Marilyn Harris) throwing flowers in a lake
  • an angry mob bearing torches and pitchforks (this may be the first time I’ve seen this done non-ironically). I did wonder if the mill owner was upset that the mob just burned his mill down

The odd part is the non-iconic scenes that link this all together. Despite the prologue where the audience is given a trigger warning for the horror to come, the movie today is a bit slow and the acting is melodramatic and wooden (especially Mae Clarke as Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancée Elizabeth). Colin Clive is suitably manic as Dr. Henry Frankenstein. But the acting star of the film is Boris Karloff as the creature. He brings real emotion and nuance to his grunts and movements, especially in the scene when he is exposed to the sun for the first time and the scene with the girl by the lake.

One summer when I was a teenager I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (who is rather offensively credited as “Mrs. Percy Bysshe Shelley” in this movie). I stayed up late to finish the book and then had to wait in the dark alone until sunrise because I was too spooked to go to sleep. The movie didn’t have that affect on me, but I can appreciate it for the incredible influence it’s had on film and the great acting of Karloff.

Rating: ***1/2

Scary Movie Review: Dracula (1931)

Title: Dracula
Release Date: February 14, 1931
Director: Tod Browning
Production Company: Universal Pictures

This is the classic film that set the template for all Dracula stories to follow and kicked off the Universal Horror movies. The movie, especially the earlier parts, creates a great atmosphere with the camera work, sets, costumes, lighting and the charming but unnatural performance of Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. I particularly like how lights are used to illuminate Dracula’s unblinking eyes. The movie owes a lot to the weirdness of Nosferatu at first while moving it into more of a drawing-room drama in the later parts. Still, it has its own share of weirdness such as armadillos inhabiting the Dracula crypt in Romania or the movies lack of a musical soundtrack which lends it an eerie quietness. This movie is not likely to scare most viewers today, but it is worth watching for its influential role in horror movie history.

Rating: ***1/2