Here we are then, the worst film ever crafted. From the daft and weird mind of Tim Burton and the collaborative efforts of industrialisation commentary and working-class woes. But it worked better when it wasn’t so aggravating or sickly to look at. Acknowledging the insanity of a man that owns a chocolate factory that employs squirrels is the only positive step taken by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a film that fails to provide much use in its adaptation of a Roald Dahl classic. Still, no film with Noah Taylor can be truly bad, right? There are exceptions to the rule. Sadly, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of them.
Back when sequels could be crammed with pop culture references and a story that can coexist with cameos, an equilibrium was met. A satisfactory one. It was not leaps and bounds of a culture coming together to provide such an amazing system between the two that every pairing of regressive cameo and lukewarm storyline would make sense or even work, but Joe Dante was batting with better odds in the 1990s. Gremlins had, somehow, taken the world by storm. The simplicity of their design and the simple aim of having them be violent critters, but not violent enough to shun a larger audience, was a smart move. It opened Gremlins 2: The New Batch up to that same audience, its only issue being the continuation is replicant, rather than charging through with something new.
Ensembles like this, provided by director Eugenio Martín, were a dime a dozen for the Hammer Horror era and even the post-Simon Oakes era of terror. Horror Express comes hot off the heels of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing leaving their mark as established talents, and just three years after Telly Savalas proved himself of being more than capable of besting James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Perhaps it is the name value that lets these films linger on the mind decades after their release. In the case of Horror Express, it is not just that, for the quality of the frights and the writing of the characters is a demanding and impressive experience.
What we as audience members and movie lovers must remember is that there is no such thing as a bad idea. Not really, anyway. Adapting Alice in Wonderland to the live-action arena, for instance, is not a bad idea. Animation provided Disney with some magnificent visuals and a thoroughly well-defined feature that brought the characters written by Lewis Carroll to life with faithful effectiveness. What we as audience members and movie lovers must also remember is that, if there is even a little crux of whimsy found in a feature film, then Tim Burton would, probably, love to adapt it and slather his strange shtick all over it. Hence, Alice in Wonderland, of course starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
Big names do not equate to big results. Duds are few and far between the filmography of Steven Spielberg. The appeal of working with the man that made Jaws was far too alluring for the likes of Christopher Lee, Toshirō Mifune and Warren Oates, all of whom appear alongside Saturday Night Live alumni Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. A weird and odd ensemble indeed, but it is what Spielberg does with them, or the lack of what he does within 1941 that is most concerning of all. With so much talent on display, nobody is inevitably going to get their fair share of screen time. At the very least, though, there is an expectation of quality from those involved. It is hard to provide quality when the actors do not gel with the content.
While some of us may look at the system of modern horror with great disgust, it is difficult to differentiate the problems of now with those of the past. Hammer Horror may hold itself as a legendary cult vehicle that saw the likes of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee frequently appear in era-defining roles, but they were few and far between. They did produce a great number of stinkers, clangers and mediocre, bumbling features. Not everyone can knock out a classic every time. A few strikes are expected. The Gorgon isn’t so much a strike as it is a bit of a fumble. It is the middle ground that combines the best and worst parts of the Hammer mindset. Big names paired with boring premises do not always elicit the best response.
Arriving on the strange shores of Summerisle, director Robin Hardy shows that something is immediately afoot. What it is, that is anyone’s guess. There is something simply off about the men, women and children of this small island. Normal people do not act the way these inhabitants do, nor do they speak or conform to life as oddly as this. That is the beauty of The Wicker Man, which utilises this underlying fear rather immediately, and manages to stretch it through its running time with incredible effect. Edward Woodward plays the well-to-do copper, Sgt. Neil Howie. His questions lead to nowhere in particular, aside from annoyance, which slowly builds as anger, verbal mania and eventually his point of no return.
A slow crawl towards the tomb of the deceased vampire and the spritz of blood that soon follows gives audiences the terror and horror only Dracula could bring. Another entry into the Hammer Horror era of classic filmmaking, director Terence Fisher offers the chance to experience the work of a collation of brilliant British actors at the height of their powers. The top form presented is a clear sign, indicating the real strength of the industry and their talents of adaptation for books of old. Here is no surprise, Dracula is everything the genre at the time offered to those wanting chills and thrills, all set to a timely backdrop of grand castles, worthy parents and one doctor striving to figure out the aims of a villainous beast residing in the halls of a grandiose manor.
Channel surfing in the dead of night, hoping for one bit of quality to fall into your lap between the gambling coverage, news cycle and re-runs of sitcoms from days gone by, there’s something rather terrifying about sifting through television broadcasters with a dead-eyed glaze. The Hound of the Baskervilles, a Sherlock Holmes adaptation from Hammer Horror hero Terence Fisher, feels similar to the quality broadcasting you may luck out on. Those endless escapades into finding some ounce of quality to numb the mind in the early hours would be met with ITV4, broadcasting Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary detective. Peter Cushing’s first of two big-screen outings as the plaid-donned detective fit rather nicely into that remit of late-night treats.