I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?
So far we’ve been looking at the very early history of serials in America, but of course we weren’t the only country to realize the potential of continual stories presented as a way to draw patrons back to the theater each week. One of the other early adopters of the form was, unsurprisingly, the French, who were producing their own movie serials at least as far back as 1908, which was the year that Nick Carter, le roi des détectives (Nick Carter, The King of Detectives) was released.
As his name implies, Nick Carter is actually an American invention, a master detective who first appeared in 1886 in a 13 part serial story in the magazine New York Weekly entitled “The Old Detective’s Pupil; or, The Mysterious Crime of Madison Square”. The story was written by Ormond G. Smith, the son of one of the founders of the publishing company Street & Smith.
Carter proved to be a popular enough character to get his own magazine (Nick Carter Weekly, which eventually became Detective Story Magazine), and later was revived as a pulp hero during the height of that genre’s popularity. He also got his own radio show during the Golden Age of Radio.
In 1908, the Nick Carter stories were also being published in France, so the E’clair studio chose him to feature in a six-part serial. Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset was tapped to direct, and Pierre Bressol starred as Carter. Like The Hazards of Helen, which I wrote about last time, whether you consider this to be an actual serial or just a series of short films could be a matter of preference, since each film stood on it’s own, though they were released every two weeks over a limited period of time, so for our purposes we’ll let the designation stand.
The six episodes and their release dates were: Part 1: Le Guet-Apens (The Doctor’s Rescue) 8 September 1908; Part 2: L’Affaire des bijoux (The Jewel Affair). 22 September 1908; Part 3: Les Faux Monnayeurs (False Coiners), 6 October 1908; Part 4: Les Dévaliseurs de banque (The Bank Burglar), 20 October 1908; Part 5: Les Empreintes (The Imprints). 27 October 1908; and Part 6: Les Bandits en noir (The Bandits in Evening Dress), 15 November 1908.
The serial proved popular enough to garner two follow-ups: Nouveaux aventures de Nick Carter in 1909, and Zigomar contre Nick Carter in 1912.
I wonder how well Carter would have done escaping the poison gas that The Crimson Ghost had used to trap our hero last week? My guess is that he’d have done pretty well, but maybe we’d better get on with Chapter 5 so we can see how he might have done it, hadn’t we?
Next time: Chapter 6 of The Crimson Ghost: “Mystery of the Mountain”, and more movie serial history. Be here!
In the next couple of years we’re going to be seeing new CGI-animated versions of both Peanuts and Popeye. Why CGI? Because apparently a) the studios figure most folks won’t go to see traditionally-animated movies anymore, even though it was that style that made both of these franchises so popular in the first place; b) it’s cheaper to hire these out to computers than to get traditional animators to do it; and c) because they can.
As far as my own reaction goes, the Peanuts trailer actually works fairly well. Unfortunately, it really only focuses on Snoopy and Woodstock (not a surprise, as they really became the Laurel and Hardy-style focus of the later cartoons anyway), but as a way of showing the “feel” of the new movie (it’s hard to know whether this is actual footage from the movie or just something made exclusively for a holiday released trailer) it looks as though within the parameters of its purpose it hews fairly well to the look and spirit of the classics.
The Popeye trailer (actually, as it’s presented more of a sneak peek than an actual trailer) on the other hand, while probably being as good an interpretation of the characters as is possible given the limits (yes, there are limits to what can be done in CGI) of the style is definitely a step away from both the rough-and-tumble nature of the original hand-drawn features, and from the vocal characterizations of the Fleischer/Famous Studios originals, which is a real shame.
Of course, that may not be as much of a drawback in this case, since it’s doubtful that many people under the age of thirty or so have seen many of the originals to begin with, and honestly, other than it being a case of “we really should do something with the character since we own it”, it’s hard to know why Sony has chosen now (or actually 2016) to make this in the first place or who the intended target audience is. Not that that has stopped these recent updates from being made lately anyway (see, for example, this year’s Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie).
Honestly, there’s not much to say here. If this trailer for Disney’s new Cinderella is any indication it’s going to be a pretty straightforward live-action adaptation of the 1950 animated movie. Of course, there’s no real need for a live-action adaptation, but then again, why not? After all, it’s not like it’s going to replace the older one – we’ll always have that, And if it’s well done, then that’s great. And if not, well, then it’ll just fade like the rest of the recent remakes.
So what do you think?
Desperate to find some way to complete with other studios’ franchises, most particularly Marvel’s Avengers movies, Universal Studios have come forward with what may be their most wrong-headed plan yet. Since they don’t have any superheroes in their character roster, they’re going to try to remake their classic monsters into action adventure heroes and turn them into a team.
During a recent roundtable of studio executives hosted by the Hollywood Reporter, Universal’s Chair Donna Langley provided the money quote:
…we have to mine our resources. We don’t have any capes [in our film library]. But what we do have is an incredible legacy and history with the monster characters. We’ve tried over the years to make monster movies — unsuccessfully, actually. So, we took a good, hard look at it, and we settled upon an idea, which is to take it out of the horror genre, put it more in the action-adventure genre and make it present day, bringing these incredibly rich and complex characters into present day and reimagine them and reintroduce them to a contemporary audience.
In other words, we have these iconic characters, characters and images who are forever burned into the collective consciousness of the American psyche as the definitive interpretation of the entire term “monster” and whose likenesses are exactly what pops into peoples’ heads when they think of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf-man, the Mummy, or even the Invisible Man, characters that once upon a time literally saved our company from bankruptcy, and since we have no idea what to do with them, being afraid to do something different than what all of the other studios are doing, we’re going to take those images, trash the entire concept of them even being monsters, and try to make them into something just like what everyone else is doing.
This isn’t the first time the studio has done something like this. I remember my excitement years ago at walking into Universal’s remake of The Mummy (yes, I’m talking about the studio’s 1999 take which starred Brendan Frasier) looking forward to seeing just what they were going to do with this (again i can’t help but use the word) iconic monster and anticipating some good old fashioned chills, or at least something that would attempt to scare me. Instead, what I got served up was a pure action-adventure romp that was more comedy than horror, and was nowhere near what I was expecting. Once I realised that this was what I was getting (about 15 minutes into the movie) I decided to just sit back and take it in and accept it for what it was, and was able to enjoy it on that level, but the friend that I was seeing it with never reached that point, and left the theater not just disappointed, but angry at the studio for trashing her expectations and despairing that we would ever get anything resembling a real monster movie from Universal again.
In the intervening years between then and now, the studio has also given us some other abortive takes at trying to do something with these characters, such as the horribly-conceived and executed Van Helsing (about which anyone who actually cares about these characters has collectively agreed the less said the better), and 2010′s The Wolfman, which, while hewing somewhat closer to the original still went incredibly wrong.
(As an aside, that movie’s biggest flaw came in forgetting that of all of Universal’s monsters, the Wolfman is especially their most sympathetic, being the story of a man who not only is cursed to become furry and fanged under the light of the full moon, but feels the full weight of that curse – meaning you have to have an actor in that role who can make the audience feel not only the physical pain of the transformation, but also the mental and emotional anguish that accompanies it, something that Lon Chaney Jr. managed to perfectly embody and convey to the audience, which is one reason that that movie is my second-favorite of the Universal originals, just behind The Bride of Frankenstein- and substituted instead a third act that became a complete cgi-fest which I’m sure seemed a great idea on paper but in the end just completely didn’t work from either a story-telling or a technical aspect.)
Not that any of this is really news, rather it’s a confirmation of what we’ve all been expecting ever since the studio went back and re-jiggered this year’s Dracula Untold and – at the moment I can’t remember whether they outright stated it or merely implied the concept – decided that it would be a prequel-of-sorts to their upcoming slate of monster films. Yeah, that take certainly seems like a great building block for a new take on the franchise considering how well it did with both critics and audiences. (It currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 22% fresh and 61% positive with audiences and sits at a domestic box-office take of roughly 56 million on a production budget which was nearly 70 million and didn’t even win it’s opening weekend – a real franchise-making blockbuster that one.)
Of course, my real beef here is not that Universal wants to remake these movies or even that they want to, as Langley put it “reimagine” them. Actually, I think that the time is ripe for a new version of these classic films. Certainly they can be well-done-by with the possibilities brought on by new effects and there are actors working today who could, I think, take these characters and make them their own in the way that Lugosi, Karloff, and Chaney did back in the day. My problem is simply with the approach that Universal seems to be wanting to take with them, completely ignoring the fact that there is a reason that these characters are called “monsters” in the first place and thereby taking them “out of the horror genre” and putting them “in the action-adventure genre”, abandoning the one aspect that actually makes them different from what everyone else is doing and just making them one more take on superhero movies, simply with a different power-set.
Another problem that Universal is going to run into is the timing of these films. Marvel and Warners have already announced their next full slates of movies, taking both of their franchises up through 2019 at least, and unless Universal is further along in development of their movies than they’ve already stated, they’re really running the risk of simply being Johnny-come-too-damn-late-to-the-table and both facing the inevitable burnout/backlash that is likely going to come to all of this output and at the same time simply getting lost in the muddle.
Heck, even Marvel has acknowledged that they feel the weight of being sure that they’re not copy-catting themselves with each new release, with Disney head Alan Horn saying in the same roundtable
The term “superhero” has become sort of all-inclusive. But, in fact, I think there are delineations. Captain America is a spy movie to us, in many respects. Thor is a Shakespearean drama in some respects.
And, I would add, their latest hit, Guardians of the Galaxy, while again in a way falling under the “superhero” banner simply because that’s still how the general public pigeonholes anything coming out under the Marvel banner, is far and away more space-opera than anything else.
Still, in the end, these are Universal’s characters, and they can do whatever they want to with them, no matter how I or any of the other fans of the classic takes on these monsters feel about it. And the good news is, no matter how many times they attempt to “update” or “reimagine” them, we’ll still always have those classic films, the ones we first fell in love with and which, as I said above, to this day identify the collective popular image of what and who these characters should be and no matter what they might do with them in the future, they thankfully can’t take those away from us.
- Universal taking Horror out of Monster Film Franchise (bestmoviesevernews.com)
- Universal Will Reboot The Wolf Man Yet Again For Its Monster Verse (io9.com)
- How horror has influenced pop culture (theglobeandmail.com)
- Failure of Monster Movies Too Scary for Universal, Studio to Morph Genre (chinatopix.com)
Last time we took a look at the earliest movie serial, 1912′s What Happened to Mary. This time, I’d like to spend a little time with what may be the longest serial. Or, it may not be, depending on your perspective.
From November 7, 1914 to February 24, 1917 the Kalem Company, a New York City based studio which was founded in 1907 by George Kleine, Samuel Long, and Frank J. Marion, released the 119 chapter movie series The Hazards of Helen.
The reason I say The Hazards of Helen may or nay not be the longest serial is that it depends on how you actually define a movie serial. It fits the description in the sense that each “chapter” lasted only 12 minutes, and they were released serially each Saturday. However, since there is no direct continuity between the different shorts (i.e., no cliffhangers – each short is self contained) and they can actually be watched singly or in any order, the argument has been made that it should be considered a film series as opposed to an actual serial.
The Hazards of Helen was based on a novel written by John Russell Corvell and a play by Denman Thompson. It was adapted for the screen by W. Scott Darling. The first 48 episodes were directed by J.P. McGowan and the rest were directed by James Davis.
Over the course of the series, the character of Helen was portrayed by four different actresses. The original Helen was actress Helen Holmes who played the character for the first 26 episodes, except for number 18 in which Anna Q. Nilsson replace Holmes due to illness. Episodes 27-49 starred Elsie McLeod and then Rose Wenger Gibson took over the role and starred until the end of the series.
The series appears to have been quite action packed, calling for Helen to do things such as leaping off the roof of a building, roaring around a sharp mountain curve behind the wheel of a speeding car, or jumping onto a moving train from a car or a galloping horse while chasing train robbers.
Unfortunately, it appears that most of the episodes have been lost to time, but some of them do survive and are available in various places, including YouTube and the Internet Archive.
Obviously, The Crimson Ghost doesn’t have anywhere near the number of chapters that The Hazards of Helen did, which is good for our purposes, or else we’d be waiting forever – or at least for over two years – to find out who’s behind that skull mask. Instead we’ve only got 12 chapters to watch before we go to something different, so what say we move on to chapter 4?
Next time: Chapter 5 of The Crimson Ghost: “Flaming Death”, and more movie serial history. Be here!
- Saturday Breakfast Serial 003 – The Crimson Ghost (1946) Chapter 3: The Fatal Sacrifice (durnmoosemovies.wordpress.com)
In celebration of the official release of the 1966 Batman television show I thought this week instead of just posting a single episode I’d give you a series of compilations and clips from the series. For me, growing up, this WAS Batman, and that’s probably one of the reasons that my idea of what a hero should be is so seemingly out of sync with the current zeitgeist. Not that I think all heroes should be this campy, and actually I rather like a darker take on Bats (I’m really looking forward to seeing Ben Affleck‘s take on an older version of the hero in the upcoming movie – that may, as a matter of fact, be the only aspect of it that I’m looking forward to, and I’ll go see it for that, if for no other reason), I just think that there are some heroes for whom that mold fits, and others that it definitely doesn’t.
Anyway, here’s just a taste of the batty goodness I grew up on:
and finally, yes, it’s from the movie and not the actual tv show, but it’s still Adam West as Batman, and it’s also one of my all-time favorite movie scenes:
Usually I would just post the video below to the site’s Facebook page (yes, it’s true, if you’re not following the Moose on Facebook then you’re not getting the full experience, so why not click on that link or the one over in the sidebar, give us a “like”, and join in the fun there too? It’ll really only cost you a couple of seconds, and I’d really appreciate it, as it not only helps to spread the word, but gives me another way to see what you guys like and don’t, and another way for us all to have a bit more of a conversation about some of these smaller things) and not make a full post about it, but it does ask an interesting question that I’m curious about.
I ran across this video while I was downloading the latest episode of the Horror Etc. podcast, one of the few that I follow on a regular basis, and one I’ve mentioned here before. I really enjoy the interplay between the hosts, and the wide variety of topics that they cover. Yes, the title says “Horror”, but it also says “Etc.”, and that is something that they regularly embrace. Tony and Ted (and yes, Sometimes Doug) have a real affection for, and a willingness to explore, many different aspects of geek and film culture, just like most of the rest of us.
Anyway, their latest episode, which is available here, is actually a throwback to the earliest days of the podcast, when they attempted to explore and assess just where the horror movie genre was at the time, and what qualifies a movie as a “horror film”. In this week’s episode, spurred on by the video below, they revisit those questions to see how things might have changed over the intervening years.
It is, as I noted above, an interesting question, and one I’m curious to get your responses to. What is it that makes something scary to you? What kind of things do you look for when you go to see something that is billed and promoted as a horror movie? Are you a fan of the jump scare, or do you prefer more of a slow burn build to the climax? If there’s supposed to be a “monster” in a movie do you prefer to see more or less of it, or does it depend on the type of monster that it is? And perhaps most importantly, what do you want to see more or less of in horror movies in the future, and how does that compare with what you think/expect we will get?
Here’s the video that started the conversation. Give it a look, give the podcast a listen, and leave a comment or two to let me know your thoughts. I’m quite curious.