October 2023 Mini-Reviews – Meg 2 to Horror of Dracula

Folks that follow me and my work know that Halloweentime (which is October and as much of September and November as I can manage to make it) is one of my favorite times of the year….  And usually, I manage to cram as many films as I possibly can into the actual month of October.

However, this year (2023), my wife and I had a family-related trip across country to make during a big chunk of the month, and our attempts to make part of that trip relaxing were foiled by being chased back into the Midwest by bad weather which included both the earliest snowstorm of the season and a blizzard-like drive through what we only in the middle of it discovered was fittingly called Dead Man’s Pass (in the Blue Mountains of Oregon), and which we later found out is one of the most dangerous roads in the US.

Anyway, that ill-fated expedition (family stuff went fine, thanks) took up more than a week of our time, just before Halloween itself.  During that entire trip, I’m not sure we managed to watche even one complete movie.  Thus… I may not have piled up the numbers one might expect during a usual October.  Let’s find out…!

Ratings are out of five stars. Here’s what those stars mean to me…

* – This film is not good. Avoid it unless you tolerate dreck well.
** – A flawed film. You may enjoy it if you like this genre or the folks in it.
*** – A good solid film. If you like this genre, you’ll probably like this film.
**** – A superior film within its genre. Thoroughly enjoyable.
***** – An outstanding film on many levels. A great example of its genre.

Note that some shows I’ve given a parenthetical star rating, either adding or subtracting stars, depending on how your amusement may differ from mine. I’ve explained the meaning in the reviews themselves.  Usually.

Meg 2 :The Trench ** Jonas is back, but more super-martial-artist than scientist. His girlfriend from the last film has been “put in the freezer” (current parlance for killing or otherwise writing out the female lead). Her daughter is grown up, and the girl’s uncle is a 2nd super-heroic type — because a film with this much Chinese backing needs a Chinese hero. The story from the book has been almost completely abandoned & we get some underwater CGI James-Bond-type stuff instead. In fact, this film tributes MANY films & comes up short in comparison. And the Meg(s) and dinosaur-type things… They mostly take a back seat to the human combats. Maybe I’ll like this better when I view it again, but right now, the 15 minutes of action at the end don’t make up for the rest. Next time you make a movie about a giant shark, have more shark.
Balls of Fury *** A martial arts film about… Ping Pong? Yeah, it’s a comedy take on Mortal Kombat/Enter the Dragon & pretty funny if you know those flicks.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot 10-3 Cards on the Table ***** Poirot & 3 other detective-types (one writer resembling Christie or her Miss Marple) are invited to a rich eccentric’s house along with 4 people who might be murderers. Naturally, someone turns up dead & Poirot must sort it all out. Clever, as usual.
Gamera: Rebirth ***** Clever reimagining of the Gamera kaiju universe with some cool reimagined designs of the monsters & an intriguing reworking of the backstory, siinster government & private plots & at least one twist that took me by surprise. Four of the main characters are children, but interesting ones. It has nice symmetry & some payoffs — including the main one — that had me cheering. Despite the great wrap-up, I hope there’s more to come. This outshines the similar Godzilla re-imagined anime series, which was far better than the Godzila anime movies.
Sharktopus *** Corman produced SyFy monster epic about a weaponized shark-octopus hybrid that gets away from its masters. Fun mayhem ensues.
Ahsoka (S1) **** Anakin’s Jedi apprentice is all grown up (as seen in the Mandalorian) & gets her own galaxy-spanning show, with her own headstrong apprentice, as she & her allies (including a cute Twylek rebel general) battle to keep evil Grand Admiral Thrawn from returning the Empire to power. Some interesting side characters, including Ray Stevenson, in what sadly turned out to be his last performance. Starts slow but ends well. Bring on S2! Until then, I guess we may have time to go back to watch all of the Star Wars animated series that led do this.
Mortal Kombat (1996) **** Sets & FX are kind of cheesy & the martial arts aren’t Jackie Chan quality, but this movie’s enthusiasm & low-budget charm make it fun.
Disney Haunted Mansion (2023) *** Re-imagining of the Disney ride turned into a movie works better this time as a disparate group find themselves trapped in the mansion.
Haunted Mansion, The (2003) ** The original ride-inspired movie has good production but by-the-book story, despite good actors, though Murphy’s schtick wears thin.
Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021) ***** Take the best ideas about the Disney ride, put in the Muppets with Great Gonzo in the lead & you get clever, heartwarming delights.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) *** Angelina Jolie is fine as Lara, but despite the gunplay & big set pieces, this fairly rote adaptation misses the fun & thrills of the video game.
Wolf Man, The (1941) ***** Great cast including Lon Chaney, Jr., as Larry Talbot & amazing photography, mood, & script make this classic the best werewolf film ever.
Lake Placid 3 *** SyFy took the concept of the film & just kept doing it, but a good cast & enthusiastic cheese makes this fun to watch. (#2 isn’t in streaming.)
Murder Mansion *** Euro-horror/suspense film has couple stranded with strangers in Old Dark House with some (fake) supernatural overtones. Enjoyable.
Lake Placid: The Final Chapter *** Well, really there are 2 more. This one, Yancy Butler is back, on the side of the law this time. Still very cheesy gator battles, but still fin.
Lake Placid vs. Anaconda ** Even Yancy Butler, converted to sheriff, couldn’t save this gator vs. snake installment of the Lake Placid series. Now it’s worn out.
Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman (La Noche de Walpurgis – International Cut) ***** This Waldemar Daninsky werewolf film, Naschy’s 4th, brought in a good, collaborative director (Klimovsky) & kicked both of their careers into high gear. Naschy’s werewolf anti-hero is revived & retreats to a remote mansion. But soon, 2 women come looking for a legendary tomb, revive the vampire sleeping there, & all kinds of (sometimes sexy) chaos gore follow. Moves fast; don’t blink or you’ll miss something, but this is great fun. It also starts one of the most productive & entertaining creative bursts of Naschy’s career. Totally worth seeing.
Unforgotten (S5) ***** The body of a young woman stuffed into a chimney challenges Sunny & his team, as well as their new commander, to untangle a web of details to solve the murder, amid trying to solve some of the worst personal crises of their lives. Brilliantly written & acted.
Van Der Valk (S3) ***** Van Der Valk, Lucienne, & the rest of the team face a series of 2-part puzzlers, including a demoniac death, in a great series continuation.
Professor T (S2) ***** Though every episode of Professor T stands alone, his ongoing life & problems form the backdrop, by turns funny & tragic. Well acted.
Howling II: Your Sister’s a Werewolf **(*) I’m not sure why I like this movie. On most levels, it’s not very good. It’s a TERRIBLE sequel to the brilliant first film. The FX are often cheesy. It messes with werewolf mythology for no good reason… Yet, Christopher Lee plays his part as though he’s the Duke de Richelieu (from The Devil Rides Out), & I really like the punk band & their song, & Sybil Danning ripping her top off is fun, too. 2 stars, 3 for me.
From Beyond the Grave (1973) ***** One of the best of the Amicus portmanteau films, Peter Cushing as the sinister curio shop owner is the highlight of this film, which has stories that are both gross (the first: about the mirror) & truly chilling: the last one about the door, with our star holding them together.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot 10-3 After the Funeral **** When a man’s will is suddenly changed just before he dies, disinheriting his primary heir, & his sister is found savagely murdered after the funeral, Poirot must untangle the usual skein of motives & suspects to catch & bring the murderer to justice. Standard fine Christie.
Death Kiss, The (1932) ** When an actor is unexpectedly killed in a film’s murder scene, studio members including David Manners & Bela Lugosi solve the crime.
Lake Placid Legacy (2018) ** Well, the old gator lake plot had worn out, so why not steal a bit of piranha & a bit of alien for a refresh? Because I don’t care. That’s why.
Midsomer Murders 14-5 The Sleep Under the Hill **** A farmer found murdered in the middle of a stone circle starts off a string of mysterious happenings for John Barnaby & Jones, who must sort the real from the possibly supernatural while avoiding getting killed themselves, whether by druids or murderous farm tractors.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb **(*) Based on a story by Bram “Dracula” Stoker, the mummy in this movie is actually a beautiful, well-preserved corpse of a mysterious & evil Egyptian Queen (Valerie Leon) who apparently wants to reincarnate herself into the body of an archeologist’s daughter, who resembles her. The ideas here are interesting & the production nice to look at, but the film always seems slow to me, thus my 2 stars, but maybe 3 for you.
Freaks (1933) ***** Tod Browning’s eerie masterpiece portrays the freaks as normal & many of the normal folks as money-grubbing & evil. Shot with real circus performers/attractions, it was controversial in its day, banned in England (&elsewhere) for decades, but is now seen as a sympathetic portrayal of outcasts & the differently abled. A real film oddity that could never be repeated today, with a harrowing rain-drenched climax.
Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman (Spanish Integral version) **** The 4K blu-ray of this film was 3 major different versions. The longest one is the Spanish version integrating both the nude international scenes & the extra scene(s) created for the “clothed version,” but the extra footage only slows the film down. Watch the international cut.
Cosmic Monsters (1958) **(*) Forest tucker & English scientists studying cosmic rays end up with giant bugs on earth, or maybe from Planet X & the aliens living there. The bug footage is cheesy even for low-budget films of the time (2 stars), yet I find myself watching it again & again, so 3 stars for me.
Primeval (S2) **** Anomalies are back, pulling in prehistoric monsters & creatures from the future. The big curve at the end of last season & the start of this one plays throughout the season & our main characters struggle against a new bureaucracy. Though my memory says this series crashes next season & fails to properly follow through with this season’s cliffhanger-like endings, the 1st 2 seasons of Primeval are still a joy.
Man Who Saw Frankenstein Cry, The (2010) ***** Excellent biopic of Jacinto Molina a.k.a. Spanish Euro-Horror writer/actor/director/star supreme Paul Naschy, starting with his family’s early days during the Spanish Civil War & struggling under fascism to Paul’s rise in the film industry, the creation of his werewolf persona Waldemar Daninsky, his later struggles to get films made, & his final acceptance as one of the true Masters of Horror. The title is explain only at the end. Naschy has become my favorite Euro-horror star over the last few years & I’m writing an official Daninsky werewolf book.
Dracula (1931) ***** Tod Browning’s direction moves from brilliant in the early parts to stage-bound in the later ones, but Karl Freund’s atmospheric photography remains eerie throughout. Lugosi is brilliant as Dracula as is Van Sloan’s Van Helsing & Dwight Frye as Renfield steals every scene he’s in. Though a little stiff & stagey by modern standards, this film set the stage for all US horror/monster films to come. A must see.
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) ***** Lugosi plays Dracula for the 2nd (!) & final time on screen, Lon Chaney, Jr., returns as the Wolfman, & Glenn Strange is the Frankenstein Monster in the greatest of all horror comedies. Bud & Lou crack the place up with their antics, while Dracula & co. play it straight in a a scheme to power-up the monster , and lLarry Talbot/the Wolfman tries to stop their evil plans. Horror & comedy mixed to perfection.
Invaders from Mars (1986 – Sven) *** Tobe Hooper’s remake of the classic SF film has nice SF by John Dykstra & Stan Winston & plenty of good production values, but it lacks the heart & style of the original & ends up looking & feeling more dated than the original. Still worth a look.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot 10-4 Taken at the Flood **** Poirot must help a young window protect herself from predatory relatives after an explosion leaves her sole hear to the family fortune.
You’re Killing Me (2023) *** Teen goes to a Heaven & Hell party to gain favor for college entrance, but soon ends up in nightmarish trouble. Anne Heche’s last role.
Night of Dark Shadows **** When Quentin Collins & his wife move into the family manse, they are threatened by ghosts that take over their lives. Unlike the first Dark Shadows film, this one does not follow a story from the show, but rather takes elements for a new story. Good, but there’s a Director’s Cut that is probably better, if the studio ever deigns to release it. (The restoriation work is apparently done, but…!)
Legend of Hell House, The (1973) **** Richard Matheson’s take on a Haunting-like ghost story has paranormal investigators threatened by the evil in an old house. Creepy.
Ghost Ship (2002) *** A tragedy aboard an ocean liner leaves many dead & their ghosts haunting the place for when others come to salvage it. Some gory fun.
Ouija (2014) *** Spirit contacted through a Ouija board causes the death of a teen & then haunts her friends in deadly ways. What is its secret?
Midsomer Murders 14-6 The Night of the Stag **** Strange murders in apple & cider country include a grown man shaken to death for John Barnaby & Jones to solve.
Murder by the Clock (1931) *** A standard mystery where a rich woman dies & then her heirs start dropping off one by one before the will is read.
Skull, The **** Peter Cushing is a collector of occult memorabilia who becomes obsessed with the murderous skull of the Marquis de Sade. Chris Lee, too!
Burn, Witch, Burn **** Strong adaptation of the Lieber book. Professor pooh-poohs his wife’s attempts to protect him using witchcraft, until his life goes bad.
Death Ship (1980) *** Shipwreck survivors find a drifting ghost ship, but when they go aboard, they start dying in grisly ways as the crew becomes possessed. Shot in a practical way without a lot of gore effects & with flat lighting that makes it less spooky than it might be.
Night Stalker, The ***** Richard Matheson’s script from Jeff Rice’s story brings a vampire to modern Las Vegas & reporter Carl Kolchak is the only believer. Great.
Night Strangler, The **** Matheson’s follow-up to The Night Stalker takes Kolchak to Seattle, where mysterious murders are committed on a decades-long timetable.
Hold that Ghost **** Abbott & Costello inherit a house from a gangster that is rumored to contain a fortune in stolen loot & possibly ghosts, too. Fun comedy.
Robot Wrecks **** Spanky & Our Gang build their own robot. Comical chaos & pranks ensue in this classic short. Really amusing & nostalgic.
Laurel & Hardy Murder Case, The **** Laurel & Hardy inherit and Old Dark House. But when they go there, they get wrapped up in murder & spooky mystery in this short.
From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money *** Plans for an elaborate bank heist go wrong when the crooks are turned one-by-one into vampires & things go seriously wrong.
From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter *** Sequel takes us back into the Old West for a story of outlaws eventually stumbling into the supernatural bar from the original movie.
Prince of Darkness *** John Carpenter’s tale of researchers who discover a mysterious container full of gunk that may actually be Stan. Some good gore scenes, but the story of this one seems a little disjointed & trippy to me & lacks the coherence of his best work. But I have friends who love it.
Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters, The (1954) *** Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, & the boys get trapped in the house of a creepy family engaged in mad, monstrous, experimentations. Silly fun.
Plague of the Zombies, The **** People in a British mining town end up dead & then mysteriously coming back to life to kill others in this classic Hammer living-dead flick.
Giant Gila Monster, The **** This really well done low-budget monster movie has hotrods, rock songs, & the titular monster causing chaos in a lonely western town. The new blu-ray release of this by Film Masters is probably the best the movie has ever looked.
Werewolf by Night (2023 – color) **** With the strikes going on, Marvel decided to re-release last year’s terrific werewolf movie in Bava-tastic color & it’s still great fun.
Director by Night **** Film on the life from childhood of “Werewolf by Night” director-composer Michael Giacchino as seen through the eyes of his brother.
Black Sabbath (1963 American) **** Boris Karloff is the narrator of this creepy trio of Bava stories & also stars as a vampire in one. Good anthology, but better in Euro version.
Mummy’s Hand, The **** Second Universal Mummy film is the first to introduce Kharis the Mummy who drives the rest of the series. Good comedy-adventure-horror.
Horror of Dracula ***** Christopher Lee is Dracula; Peter Cushing is Van Helsing in this classic Hammer adaptation of the book with more blood & action. Great.

So, that’s it for my abbreviated October watching.  How did I do, by the numbers?

Despite all that personal drama, October 2023 garnered is astonishing 62 movies, shows, and notable shorts, for a grand total of 548 for the year 2023 thus far.  Pretty darn good, all Dead Man’s Pass things considered!

NEXT MONTH: Halloween season bleeds over, at least a bit, into the Holiday Season — but you know I always watch SF/F/H films anyway!  That’s why you’re here, right?  Tune in for more genre TV and movies and maybe even some more complete seasons.  See you then!  Happy Holidays!

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