Dexter Fletcher to Shed Light on a Henchman with Renfield

I’m a big fan of Dexter Fletcher right now. Not only did he direct the recent Rocketman, he also came aboard to complete production on Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer was let go partway through shooting. Further back, he directed the criminally underrated and underseen Eddie the Eagle, a hugely entertaining biopic.

Now, according to Variety, Fletcher has been attached to helm Renfield, a film based on Dracula’s henchman from the novels and seen in many various forms across adaptations. In the 1931 Dracula, Renfield was an amalgam of the Renfield from the novel, a lunatic who is in allegiance with the vampire, and elements of the Jonathan Harker character from the novel. In Francis Ford Coppola’s version, Renfield retained much of the insanity and imprisonment that the character was originally intended to serve, so it will be interesting to see which version of Renfield we’ll be getting in Fletcher’s version. The Walking Dead‘s Robert Kirkman pitched the story and Rick & Morty‘s Ryan Ridley penned the flick.

I really like this idea, but I’m curious about Universal’s plan for these monster films. It certainly seems as though they abandoned any thought of the Dark Universe after the poor reception of The Mummy, an interesting notion because it was not the Dark Universe that made The Mummy bad; it was The Mummy not being very good that did it.

Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, which is coming in the next few months, was previously discussed as a new low-budget entry point into a new Dark Universe, but since he was hired on, that hasn’t been mentioned since, so will Dexter Fletcher’s film be at all connected to that film or James Wan’s potential Frankenstein film, or even Paul Feig’s Dark Army monster film? I don’t need the answers right now, but it is becoming curiouser and curiouser.

There’s also the question of Dexter Fletcher’s involvement in Sherlock Holmes 3 and what’s the plan with that film? Will it come first or is Fletcher stepping away? This report raising lots of questions and very few answers.

So what do you think? Is Dexter Fletcher the right man for Renfield, and do you think he’s still attached to Sherlock Holmes 3? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 19 – The Mummy (1932)

Director: Karl Freund

Cast: Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan, Arthur Byron

Screenplay: John L. Balderston

73 mins. Approved.

 

We’re taking a look back at the original rapper…er, wrapper tonight while we talk the Universal Monster film The Mummy.

About a decade earlier, the mummified remains of the Egyptian prince Imhotep (Boris Karloff, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Black Friday) were discovered alongside the Scroll of Thoth, an artifact supposedly capable of bringing the dead back to life. When a foolish man from the recovery expedition reads the scroll aloud, he unknowingly brings Imhotep to the land of the living, going insane in the process. Now, ten years later, Imhotep, under the guise of the Egyptian man Ardath Bey, tries to reunite with his long-dead love, reincarnated as the beautiful Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann, The Sin of Nora Moran, Tiger Shark).

This was actually the first time I’ve ever seen this original version of The Mummy, and while I enjoyed it, I definitely felt the style over substance that I’d heard murmurs of from other colleagues. The lack of substance comes from a lot of the background regarding this movie, mostly that it was just a star vehicle for Boris Karloff, and it was screenwriter John L. Balderston (Red Planet Mars, The Prisoner of Zenda), a big fan of Egyptian culture, who infused the script with a lot of what makes The Mummy special. He also included some truly radical reincarnation sequences and other scenes that would have made the film more special but were tragically cut.

The substance issues of the film stem from the fact that, without Balderston’s style, the film would have been a near-carbon-copy of Dracula with a little Frankenstein thrown in, and it’s more obvious than usual. There’s the long-lost love of the villain who he’s trying to bring back, there’s the need to kill and drain life that’s so notable, and even both films opening with a version of Swan Lake’s music.

It had been a year since Boris Karloff played Frankenstein’s Monster, and he’d essentially been transformed in that time into a bona fide star, practically a household name, credited on the poster as Karloff. He’s really solid in the film, able to stretch his acting chops and flex more than he did as the monster.

I was less impressed with the rest of the cast with the exception of the always-wonderful Edward Van Sloan (Sealed Verdict, Betty Co-Ed). Zita Johann very publicly quarreled with director Karl Freund (Mad Love, Gift of Gab), and it’s fairly obvious she doesn’t want to be there. David Manners (The Black Cat, The Death Kiss) and Arthur Byron (20,000 Years in Sing Sing, Marie Galante) are both serviceable but also a bit unmemorable.

The Mummy shines because of its interesting mythology, the performance of Karloff and Van Sloan, and it’s extremely powerful atmosphere, but there are story issues and some performances just don’t make the cut. It was a good movie in the Universal Monsters pantheon, but not nearly the best.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Tod Browning’s Dracula, click here.

For my review of Lambert Hillyer’s Dracula’s Daughter, click here.

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 28 – Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Director: Lambert Hillyer

Cast: Otto Kruger, Gloria Holden, Marguerite Churchill, Edward van Sloan, Irving Pichel, Nan Gray

Screenplay: Garrett Ford

71 mins. Approved.

 

Set directly after the events of Dracula, Dracula’s Daughter starts with the arrest of Professor Von Helsing (Edward van Sloan, Sealed Verdict, Betty Co-Ed) over the deaths of Renfield and Dracula. He requests the help of Dr. Jeffrey Garth (Otto Kruger, High Noon, Saboteur) in proving his sanity. Meanwhile, a new vampire, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden, The Life of Emile Zola, This Happy Feeling), and her familiar Sandor (Irving Pichel, Destination Moon, Martin Luther) have stolen Dracula’s body in order to free her of the curse he has over her, but she quickly learns that the curse has not yet broken, and she still craves blood.

Dracula’s Daughter is very nicely paced and holds up nicely as a direct continuation with one glaring issue. While the original film is set in the 19th century, this follow-up is in the 1930s. This is a major plot hole that is thankfully not given enough time to breathe so that the audience doesn’t notice as much. Gloria Holden does a fine job portraying the daughter of Lugosi’s Dracula as does Otto Kruger, but his role is written for the time and it doesn’t age very well. The best parts of the film, though, include Edward van Sloan’s Von Helsing as he very quickly reminds us of the horrors he has faced before.

Dracula’s Daughter is oft-forgotten because it stands in the shadow of its predecessor and rightfully so, but it is a fine continuation of the story in the Universal Monster canon. Holden’s deeply-flawed and emotionally-broken Countess works as a villainess with motives and layers. This is one to check out if you enjoyed the first, even if it can’t stand up to it.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tod Browning’s Dracula, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Russell Crowe Makes Me Feel Better about The Mummy

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For those of you living under a rock, Universal Studios actually made a name for themselves back in the 30s, 40s, & 50s for their horror movie monsters. So much so that creature features like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon all exist under the title Universal Monsters. Universal was most well known for these pictures that have now become classics in film. Recently decades have proven to be less successful in terms of Universal’s monster films. Their recent slate has felt like action films badly disguising themselves as horror films.

Films like The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, The Wolf Man and Dracula Untold have not given fans much to get excited for. But now, Alex Kurtzman is bringing a new vision of the Universal Monsters to light with a Cinematic Universe of creatures, similar to the MCU. It is important to note that the Universal Monsters were quite possibly the first cinematic universe with films like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Dracula where multiple monsters came together to tell stories. The first installment (though some have counted Dracula Untold as the first, this is still uncertain), The Mummy, is lensing right now. It stars Tom Cruise and the project just recently added Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll (an interesting character to add to a story that never featured him), so it would seem like they are putting the wheels in motion to get this franchise up and going.

Not only was the addition of Crowe exciting, but the actor recently spoke to Collider about the tone of the story, remarking that it will “seriously scare the shit out of you.”

That’s what I like to hear, I think so often that Universal believes that the monsters put asses in the seats, but it has always been the tone first, and that tone hasn’t been right in some time. Now it seems, with Kurtzman at the wheel, that we will finally be seeing what we want from this franchise.

What do you think? Are you excited for The Mummy and the Universal Monsters cinematic universe? What’s your favorite creature feature? Let me know!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 24 – Dracula (1931)

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Director: Tod Browning

Cast: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan

Screenplay: Garrett Fort

85 mins. Not Rated.

 

Tonight, I wanted a classic. In the most simplistic and understandable way. I chose Dracula.

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When Mr. Renfield (Dwight Frye, Frankenstein, Drums of Fu Manchu) arrives at Castle Dracula to meet the mysterious Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi, White Zombie, Bride of the Monster), he succumbs to the Count’s convincing and becomes his slave. The Count is a vampire, a demonic force who feeds on the blood of the living, and he is heading to London to live in his new home at Carfax Abbey, where he meets Mina (Helen Chandler, The Last Flight, Christopher Strong), Johnathan Harker (David Manners, The Mummy, The Black Cat), Lucy, and Doctor Seward. As the Count begins claiming new victims, the equally strange Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan, Mission to Moscow, A Shot in the Dark) must do all he can to stop him.

Dracula is downright brilliant in so many ways. I love the lead performance from Lugosi and Van Sloan. The two play off each other so well. Dwight Frye’s work as the turned Renfield is also terrifying and unsettling even today.

Dracula continues to impress, and I suggest watching this film back-to-back with the Spanish language version (both made on the same sets at the same time). I also suggest viewing the film with the newer score from Philip Glass. Seriously, what are you doing right now? You should be watching this.

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I’m sorry. I shouldn’t tell you what to do. No wait, I don’t care. See the damn movie!

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[Happy 20th Birthday!] Frankenstein (1994)

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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hulce, Helena Bonham Carter, Ian Holm, John Cleese, Aidan Quinn

Screenplay: Steph Lady, Frank Darabont

123 mins. Rated R for horrific images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup

 

After the commercial and critical success that was Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, the decision was made to revisit another gothic horror classic novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Coppola made the decision to pass directorial duties to the talented Shakespearian director/performer Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Cinderella), something he would later in life admittedly regret, but we will get to that later.

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Frankenstein 1994 is closer to Shelley’s original novel than its 1931 counterpart, showing the story of Victor Frankenstein (played by Branagh) and his making of the iconic Creature (Robert De Niro, GoodFellas, Grudge Match), much to the tragedy of friend Henry Clerval (Tom Hulce, Amadeus, Jumper) and love Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club, Burton and Taylor).

Frankenstein suffers from a crisis of identity. On one hand, it is trying to be a gothic horror filled with a mixture of dark realism and fantastical surrealism; on the other hand, it is too much Shakespeare. Branagh seems to have difficulty playing to anything other than Shakespeare, with a series of over-the-top performances and exaggerated jubilation during the happy moments. I just couldn’t believe the events of this film as actually realistically happening.

De Niro dominates this film with his portrayal of The Creature. He studied stroke victims and other medical cases where speech patterns can be fractured in his line delivery. He becomes a tragic figure in cinema, a man who is ultimately an angry boy with a conflict of adult attraction and childhood longing for understanding. I could watch this movie just for Robert De Niro.

The rest of the cast really struggles here with giving viewers something to attach themselves to. Nobody can decide the tone and mood of a picture like this. I’m not saying the film is a complete failure, but it certainly has more detachers than strengths.

The screenplay is pretty strong here, delivered by Steph Lady (Doctor Dolittle) and Frank Darabont (TV’s The Walking Dead, The Shawshank Redemption). I enjoy the addition of unique steps in the creation of Frankenstein’s monster; this film has electric eels rather than the toted lighting. That being said, Frankenstein’s obsession with lighting in the beginning now makes less sense and has less impact on the actual movie.

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I would say that Frankenstein isn’t a worthless movie, but it has unnecessary conflict behind the scenes that reduces the tension in front of the camera. Coppola agreed that the film was scary and that Branagh completely mishandles the picture, and I can’t say my opinion differs.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 23 – Horror Express (1972)

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Director: Eugenio Martin

Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas, Alberto de Mendoza, Helga Line, George Rigaud, Victor Israel

Screenplay: Arnaud d’Usseu, Julian Zimmet

88 mins. Rated R.

In the world of horror, few performers are so widely recognized together as Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows) and Peter Cushing (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Horror of Dracula). The two practically led the horror renaissance of the 1950s and 1960s with their sensualized and gory takes on classic universal monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster with Hammer Horror Films. I recently found the 1972 film Horror Express among my unwatched film pile (it’s a pretty big damn pile, mind you) and I felt like I had to take it on considering the kind of weight these two actors carried.

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The entirety of Horror Express takes place on a train from China to Moscow. The brilliant Professor Sir Alexander Saxton (Lee) is taking a specimen found in Manchuria back to Europe when it, believed to be the Missing Link, awakens and terrorizes the passengers on board. Saxton alongside Dr. Wells (Cushing) will stop at nothing to catch the creature. Now, if only they can convince Captain Kazan (Telly Savalas, TV’s Kojak, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) that they are telling the truth.

This movie has more of a cult following than of an actual fanbase. It was not particularly popular during its initial theatrical release. I personally found it to be much more a bore than I had hoped for. As always, Lee’s performance captures the audience, but the years have not been kind to the film’s technical aspects. Perhaps it would be more likable if it hadn’t been so degraded by forty years of damage to the print. It certainly has some interesting moments and the tension of the enclosed cabins of the train, but I felt like very little plot progression actually took place.

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All in all, movies like Horror Express exist to entertain. They aren’t looking to take away a trophy. That being said, they still have to provide thrills, which this train was lacking.

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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