Favorite Christmas Movies: A New Addition–The Man Who Invented Christmas

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The_Man_Who_Invented_Christmas

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

I have several Christmas movies that carry great meaning to me and that I have loved over many years. I have written about them before in this blog, and I will continue to do so. Now, however, I want to make a new entry into my list of favorite Christmas movies.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is an extraordinary film that was released last year. It is a wonderful movie  that explores the creative process of Charles Dickens as he wrote the classic novel, A Christmas Carol. The director is Bharat Nalluri, and this work is marvelous! We get a direct entrance into Dickens’ mind as he struggles with his writing. His characters appear and talk to him, which is an excellent touch.

The film is based on the book by Les Standiford, and the stars are Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, and Jonathan Pryce. The entire cast, without exception, give extraordinary performances. Christopher Plummer as Scrooge is especially brilliant. Dan Stevens should be recognized as one of the finest actors today.

This film delivers the message of Dickens’ masterpiece, that humanity should be the business of everyone, that money should not be the focus of our lives, and that we should all try to help each other. It will capture your heart and soul, and it is a film I recommend completely! On a system of 5 stars, I give it five!

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Please, do yourself a favor, and watch this movie!

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Favorite Christmas Movies, Part I–Revisited

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This is a post that I have used before, but given the season of the holidays, especially at a time when giving as opposed to greed should be happening (although that should always be  the case), I will repost this series. Scrooge1970Film

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

There are so many aspects of this holiday season that are wonderful to me: getting together with loved ones, friends and family alike; the spirit of giving that I hope continues to grow; celebrations; the holiday music; and the memories of happy times.  Among the favorite memories I have are a few specific Christmas movies.

The movie I will talk about today is Scrooge with Albert Finney as the star; he does a magnificent job in his performance as the miserly and misanthropic loan-shark. This musical version of A Christmas Carol is one of the finest filmic adaptations of the classic Christmas Eve ghost story and morality tale.  This film follows  the story closely with Scrooge being visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, of Christmas Present, and of Christmas Future. Among the movies best songs are Scrooge singing “I Hate People” which clearly shows his despicable and greedy nature,  “Thank You Very Much” in which a tap dance is done on Scrooge’s coffin in the future, and “I Like Life” in which the ghost of Christmas Present teaches Scrooge about experiencing life as well as having empathy for others.

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https://christmascarolindoha.wikispaces.com

This movie does an excellent job of showing Dickens’ critique of a greed based society and one that did little or nothing to help alleviate the enormous difficulties of the poor.  When first confronted by the ghost of his dead partner Marley, Scrooge tells him that he was always a good man of business.  Marley’s ghost responds, “Mankind should be our business.”  This is a sentiment that stands today.  We should be putting the good of humanity above the pursuit of greed.

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https://commons.wikimedia.org

I was a teenager when this movie was first released in 1970, and I loved seeing it with two of my closest friends.  We were captivated by the music and the story, and it remains as powerful to me as when I first saw it. If you have never had the opportunity to see this particular film, I give it my highest recommendation.

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https://commons.wikimedia.org/

I also remind all of us, in paraphrasing the Master Charles Dickens, that we must always remember to make the good of others our business. That matters more than accumulation of wealth.

What Is Your Favorite Horror Film?

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October is my favorite month of the year. Not only does Fall typically make its full appearance, complete with painted leaves in a wide palate of colors, but October is also the month of my favorite holiday–Halloween!

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The history of Halloween is a subject that I will cover in another post, but I also have a life-long affinity for the Gothic and Horror, including in movies and books. For the purposes of this post, I am interested in hearing from you what your favorite horror film is. I will address the question of favorite horror novels in the near future.

It would, of course, be completely fair to ask me the same question. If I pose such a question to my students in college classes at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA or the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, I always make it clear that they may turn the question on me.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

If I had to choose just one horror film, among the many possibilities, it would be It (2017) based on Stephen King’s brilliant novel. I was prepared to dislike this movie, because I am typically very critical of adaptations of books, but this time I was very pleasantly surprised. The film deals well with the narrative dilemma of two intertwined time periods in the novel by presenting them in two separate movies. The movie not only shows the supernatural horror clearly, and much better than the made for TV version, but also the film shows, in the most powerful manner, the fear and horror that children can experience from bullying.  This is a theme King often incorporates in his writing, and this movie shows this disturbing reality that many children face very well. If you have not yet seen It, then I recommend this movie highly!

Once again, what is your favorite horror film?

 

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Favorite Horror Films: The Horror of Dracula: Revisited

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I am returning to my series of examinations of horror movies through various decades.  After the great horror  cycle of movies from Universal Studios in the 1930s and 1940s culminating in the Abbott and Costello spoofs, serious horror movies vanished for a period. They were replaced by the spate of giant critter movies spawned by the fears of nuclear fallout post World War Two and the ominous threat of nuclear armageddon of the Cold War.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

In 1957, Hammer Studios, a British film company initiated a new cycle of horror films with the release of The Curse of Frankenstein. Following on the success of that film, Hammer then produced its new version of a filmic adaptation of Dracula by Bram Stoker: Horror of Dracula (the American title) or Dracula (the British title).  This film not only allowed this film studio to emerge as a major force in horror films, but also it, along with The Curse of Frankenstein, spawned a new cycle in horror that would span nearly two decades. The film starred Sir Christopher Lee as Dracula, Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing, and Michael Gough as  Arthur Holmwood and was directed by Terence Fisher.

Christopher_Lee_at_the_Berlin_International_Film_Festival_2013

(https://en.wikipedia.org)

This film dramatically changed the course of horror films.  Prior to Horror Of Dracula, most horror movies, especially  the classic Universal films were shot in black and white; this film was in vivid color. Also changed noticeably from the 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi was the pacing and the level of over sexuality and violence. This movie moved at a very rapid pace with condensed action and compression of characters from the book.  A very lively film score added to the tension and feeling of almost constant movement.

 

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(https://fr.wikipedia.org)

Christopher Lee brought an imposing physicality to the role and played the count with a noble British accent. He showed great strength and mobility in his performance. And this film introduced  the vampire with fangs and blood.  When he emerges in full fury after the vampire girl has attacked Jonathan Harker, he is a demonic image.  This was a representation of the vampire that was entirely new and very powerful.

In Britain, this movie received an X rating because of its, what was for the time, overt sexuality and violence. The women sometimes wore low cut gowns, and Dracula’s attacks carried a not too subtle sexuality, although by today’s standards, this shocking sensuality certainly would be tame or almost quaint.

Horror Of Dracula was a success both financially and critically. Hammer studios would make numerous sequels to this film and would also base the release of other movies, principally on Dr. Frankenstein , on their good fortune. If you enjoy horror films and have not seen this particular movie, I recommend it.

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Favorite Horror Films: The Curse of Frankenstein: Revisited

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Terence Fisher directed The Curse of Frankenstein for Hammer Studios in England, and Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Hazel Court starred. This 1957 movie was the first in the Hammer Studio’s emergence as a major producer of horror films and it was the beginning of a new horror movie cycle. The result was an innovative, fast paced, and  vividly colored film. Hammer Studios completely changed the approach to horror movies of the Universal Studios that had dominated the horror movie cycle from 1931-1945. Color, explicit violence, and sexuality were introduced as central filmic components.

The Curse of Frankenstein was, like so many other movies, loosely based on the great work of Gothic English Literature by Mary Shelley: Frankenstein: Or The Modern Prometheus (1818). Yes, that is the accurate subtitle, although it is usually omitted in most printings of the book.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

This movie was highly successful, both financially and critically.  And like Horror of Dracula would, as Hammer Studios expanded their treatments of classic Gothic novels, it spawned a long series of sequels. A major difference between the direction of the following films was the focus: the monster Dracula was the recurring character in the vampire movies, while Dr. Frankenstein, and not his creature was the repeating protagonist/antagonist of the Frankenstein movies. This is also an  important distinction between the Hammer and the earlier Universal movies in which the Creature was the primary recurring character.

The Creature was also a mindless killing machine in this film, and none of the Creature’s humanity was kept from the novel, which is the film’s major flaw. It is, nevertheless, an important film from this era, and if you enjoy or are interested in horror films, then I recommend it.

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Favorite Horror Films: The Wolfman: Revisited

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“Even a man who is pure at heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.” (The Wolfman)

This is the well-known poem that is at the heart of the 1941 Universal Studios film The Wolfman. This film completes the quartet of monsters that are at the heart of the Universal horror franchise: the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, The Mummy, and the Wolfman. While there were certainly other creatures and monsters in the films in this time period, these are the four most prominent.

While we see science run out of control and ancient evils in the other films, in The Wolfman, we view a story of tragedy that is focused on an ordinary man, Larry Talbot, who is swept up in unfortunate events beyond his control. Because he is bitten by a werewolf while trying to save a girl and lives, Larry Talbot is fated to become such a beast himself.

The director and producer was George Waggner, and the writer was Kurt Siodmak. Most of our contemporary views about werewolf behavior do not come from ancient traditions or medieval European beliefs but from the mythology that Siodmak created for this movie. Siodmak created the idea that the time of the full moon is when a werewolf takes it form and that to become one, a person must be bitten by a werewolf and survive.

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More importantly, he included elements of tragedy, of a man fated to murder and to be destroyed, despite his desire to be a good person. The incantation the gypsy woman Maleva intones over Larry Talbot after his death illustrates this theme:

“The way you walked was thorny through no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Now you will have peace for eternity.” (The Wolfman)

Siodmak also addressed contemporary issues, specifically the idea of a star marking the next victim of a werewolf, much like a star marking the Jewish people of Europe by the Nazis. Siodmak was a German Jew who had been successful as a writer but had to flee Germany with the take over by the Nazis. While the reference is not direct, it is still a clear metaphor for the horrors of the Nazis. The film demonstrates that evil is both natural and human created.

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In addition to excellent writing, the cast was also of the very best. Along side the star Lon Chaney Jr. were Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Evelyn Ankers. Jack Pierce, as in the other main Universal horror films, created the unforgettable makeup that is the foundation for all other filmic and literary werewolves.

It was a film that was excellent in every level of production, and it maintains its excellence today.

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Favorite Horror Films of the 1940s: Cat People: Revisited

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In 1942, producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Torneur, advanced the making of horror films by expanding the possible topics and boundaries. This extraordinary film is not one that relies on a standard “monster”; instead, Torneur employs psychological suspense and subtle development of terror.

This film offers a sophisticated and understated treatment of sexuality and its impact on people. The main character, Irena, a fashion designer, born in Serbia, and played by Simone Simon combines the modern world of high fashion in New York City with the old world beliefs that she is descended from people who are shape-shifters and who turn into big cats when sexually enticed and aroused. Torneur builds a new variation on the established theme of lycanthropy, in which a male changes into a wolf. Additionally, the film demonstrates the tension between science and superstition, the modern era versus the medieval times, and religion versus secularism.

While to a contemporary audience, this movie might seem dated and subdued, I believe it still carries great impact in its study of horror that is felt rather than seen, slowly created rather than visceral, and suggestive rather overt.

Cat People did very well at the box office, but it received a mixed range of reviews at the time. Since the 1940s, it has come to be seen as one of the more important horror films of the 20th Century.  If you have the opportunity, I recommend watching Cat People.

Jaguar

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