#397- Frankenstein

Quick recap: The classic story of Dr. Frankenstein, who manages to create a monster that wreaks havoc on the countryside and still lives happier ever after.

The monster even mauls the bride and SHE STILL MARRIES HIM

Fun (?) fact: Boris Karloff, who played The Monster, was such an unknown that he wasn’t even invited to his own film premiere.

I don’t get it either, buddy

Thoughts and Observations:

Welcome to another year of Horrorfest, that wonderful time of year when I only watch Horror movies from the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die list. In years past I have done themes but this year my goal is to watch whatever is streaming.

We start with Frankenstein, which is actually the perfect movie to kick off this celebration. As a monster, its terror factor falls somewhere between witches and werewolves. A bit scary when you think that it’s a dead guy, less scary when you realize his childlike nature. I talked my 11 year-old into watching with me, which was a task in itself because he has vowed to not watch any horror. ‘Space is frightening enough for me!’, he says more often than you’d imagine.

We both agreed that the effects were so good for this era and both regretted a little that we have lived only through the parodies and references. I think had I been around in the 1930s, this definitely would’ve creeped me out some. The first ‘reveal’ as Dr. Frankenstein coaxes The Monster into the light is so masterfully done. It gave me chills in a way I didn’t imagine a movie this old could. The fear was short lived as Karloff does such a wonderful job of playing a frightening monster as well as such a sympathetic man. My son felt the same until the scene where he drowns the little girl, and then he wanted only revenge. I’ll admit that scene of the father carrying his dead child through the wedding celebration was absolutely heartbreaking, but I still just wanted The Monster to be ok and maybe be loved by someone.

But that’s not to be, as we all know. I remember being shocked when I read Frankenstein in high school to find that it doesn’t end the same as the movie because to me at the time, they were one and the same. It says something to the makeup artists and designers that our version of Frankenstein comes directly from the movie and not the novel, even though it paints a much more horrifying picture. Even the beginning credits seem to downplay the novel, referring to Mary Shelley as ‘Mrs. Percy Shelley’. And the scientist seems more situationally mad in this adaptation as well, which I guess helps the audience to forgive him at the end for making something so awful.

Watchability score: 4/5 This made me want to binge watch all of the monster films of this time period

Up next: Only Horrorfest knows!

#396- Babette’s Feast

Quick recap: A woman who has escaped the civil war in France has come to live with two deeply religious sisters. To show her appreciation for them, she spends her lottery winnings on a feast for them and their weird cult. 

Fun(?) fact: Alton Brown, of Alton Brown fame, says this is the ‘greatest food movie of all time.’

But would he know what to do with this massive sea turtle?

Thoughts and observations: I tried everything in my power to delay watching this film, mostly out of fear that I might die of blandness if I did. And I am here to tell you, now that I am on the other side, that this movie is in fact bland. But bland in the most comforting sense of the word. Bland, like chicken noodle soup and saltines when you are sick. Maybe not what you wanted or planned for, but what your needed.

The story is as exactly as it appears to be- two religious sisters have no skeletons in the closet and no enemies and are just absolutely lovely people. They spend their time bringing food to the sick, knitting and counting their meager savings. The story starts with a flashback to the women when they were young and wooed by a couple of men. The first, a wayward general, falls in love but is no match for Jesus. The second is a famous Swedish opera singer who gives one the girls music lessons and despite his best efforts, is ultimately rejected. And so it goes that the two girls and their religious father and his sect live happily in the small Danish village. It isn’t until years and years later that Babette arrives, sent from France after her son and husband were killed in a civil war. I suspected this would upend things greatly, but it did no such thing. She fit in well, learning to cook traditional Danish dishes and the village and churchgoers all loved her.

When Babette wins the lottery, she tells the aging sisters she wants to use some of the money to prepare a feast in celebration for their father’s 100th birthday. The girls attempt to dissuade their housekeeper but she insists. And thus begins the second part of the film as she buys the ingredients and scares everyone to death with her mysterious cooking. It was hilarious to me that the women freaked out when they saw the wine and champagne, jumping to the conclusion that Babette must actually be a witch. They form a plan to eat what is given to them at the feast but to make no comment so that their souls will stay intact. The rest of the movie revolves around watching Babette make each dish and then cut to the congregation doing everything in their power not to lick each plate clean. It is so clear that they love each bite but have sworn to do or say nothing. I can’t describe how much joy it brought me to see the savoring and sipping and the absolute pleasure on everyone’s faces. The general, not having gotten the message about talking, makes sure to compliment every course and talk about how exquisite it all is. Having survived the feast unscathed, everyone realizes how insane they were to not trust Babette and literally skip out of the house, dancing and singing from happiness.

When the women run to Babette to offer their praises and apologize for ignoring her, she informs them that she used to be the head chef at a fancy restaurant and has spent all of her money on the feast. It is such a lovely conversation between the women and made me feel like I was watching something genuine. This movie may be bland, but it’s like a warm hug we could all use.

Watchability score: 5/5 You get a sweet story with mouthwatering food. A perfect combination!

Up next: Guys and Dolls

#395- Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song

Quick recap: I’m just going to use the description from IMDb because it is perfectly stated: ‘After saving a Black Panther from some racist cops, a black male prostitute goes on the run from “the man” with the help of the ghetto community and some disillusioned Hells Angels.’

Yeah. That’s what I watched.

Fun (?) fact: The band Earth, Wind, and Fire contributed to this film but have still not been properly compensated.

from season 5- Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Badassss Song

Thoughts and Observations:

Still hungover after my encounter with Shaft, I had nothing but good vibes going into this movie. Finally, my film education can truly begin!

…..And the first scene of the movie is of an early teenage boy having his first sexual encounter. The audience learns that this is the origin of Sweetback, who is apparently really good at sex. My expectations of watching another revolutionary film began to tank. It’s hard to find anything I enjoyed about Sweet Sweetback’s Badassss Song but just like Pink Flamingos, this is not a movie meant for me. This a community, a group of people, that I did not grow up with and so can not really comment on. From the viewpoint of someone who just enjoys movies, this was incredibly hard to sit through. The acting is very stiff and amateur and the film quality leaves a lot to be desired. Yet, it also fascinated to me to feel like I was watching something ‘real’. The plot wasn’t real but the encounters with the community felt more like someone had just turned on a camcorder and started recording than it did a filmmaker orchestrating the whole thing.

Watchability score: 1/5. There’s only so much I can take of watching a guy run.

Up next: Babette’s Feast

#394- Au Revoir les Enfants

Quick recap: Two boys from completely different backgrounds form a strong bond during World War II.

Au-Revoir-Les-Enfants-1

Julien and Jean

Fun (?) fact: When Quentin Tarantino worked at a video rental place he couldn’t pronounce the name of this movie and so called it ‘that reservoir film’.

Thoughts and observations:

Knowing only that this was a French film about a boys boarding school, I already had some expectations of what I might encounter:

  • underage smoking
  • light to moderate horseplay
  • bedtime shenanigans
  • homoerotic implications

And this movie had all of that but also it was an emotional gut punch. I don’t use that term often but there’s just no other way to describe what I watched. As a matter of fact, after the credits were finished and I had mostly stopped sobbing, I grabbed my 10 year old and made him watch it with me again because it is just so important.

What makes this movie so unique is that the audience gets lulled into a false sense of security. On the surface, this is a story about a boy who is an outsider (Julien) who forms a strong bond with the new kid (Jean). It’s been done before, of course, but what’s different is that Jean is not just a new kid- he’s Jewish and being hidden away in this Catholic school during the height of World War II. Aside from a few clues- he doesn’t pray with the others, he doesn’t eat pork and his real last name is Klippenstein- the matter isn’t discussed in detail. For the most part, these boys are all surviving the war in their own way and how they treat Jean is similar to how they might treat any newcomer who happens to be very bright and introverted. It really made me think everything would be ok and the plan to hide the boys would work.

But of course, it doesn’t. The Gestapo raids the school and because of an unintentional glance towards his friend, Jean is outed by Julien as Jewish. The last scene of the boys standing in the cold and saying goodbye to their principal as he and the Jewish boys are taken away is one that will live with me for a long time. According to the director, who says this film is mostly autobiographical, all 4 were sent to a concentration camp and later murdered.

Watchability score: 5/5. Essential viewing. We also watched Jojo Rabbit afterwards, which turned out to be a suitable companion piece.

Up next: Sweet Sweetback’s badasssss song