#398 and 399: Dracula (Draculi?)

Quick recap: The classic tale of the vampire Dracula, as filmed in 1931 and 1958.

                          Classic Dracula

Fun (?) fact: The Spanish version of 1931’s Dracula was filmed at night on the exact same set at the exact same timeframe as the English version.

and melodramatic Dracula

Thoughts and observations:

Having no time to do much of anything besides work these days, I feel it most efficient to combine two similar movies into one post. Interestingly, the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die list is chock full of various vampire films. I watched these two for Horrorfest this year but there are several more just waiting for my attention. In this post I will put Dracula head to head with…….Dracula, to see which film is the most Dracula of all time.

Opening scene: This round starts as a tie, since both begin with a traveler. The 1958 version edges ahead by just a bit because of the captured woman begging for help.

First Dracula appearance: no competition here, the 1931 version featuring Bela Lugosi is the champion. The first moments with him are creepy but also intriguing and I kept wanting more and more of this character.

Best looking mansion: Both mansions are creepy in their own rights but when I imagine the Transylvania castle, it’s the 1931 version that sticks with me. There’s just something about the appearance of abandonment that sends more chills than an ornately designed place. In other words, I would totally AirBnb the 1958 version and stay far away from 1931.

Renfield: This also goes to 1931 since 1958 didn’t have the character at all. Renfield should be necessary to any Dracula retelling.

Best Mina: This was a tough one! The 1931 version shocked me more but the 1958 version was just so dark. She was enthralled by Dracula and you could see how she both tried to fight but also gave in so easily.

Best Blood: Once again, 1958 is the winner. The director never shied away from any gruesome scene, and I can see a clear link between this film and later bloodbaths such as Saw and Hostel. 

Overall Impression: Despite sharing a number of characters and a basic plotline, these Draculas are so different. If you are looking for a classic retelling of Dracula, maybe something to show at a Halloween party, you can’t beat the 1931 version. But if you like your vampires to be oozing with sexuality, then the 1958 is the way to go. The 1958 version is also especially melodramatic, if that’s also your thing.

Watchability score:  4/5 for both films and a proper ending to a too short Horrorfest

Up next: Number 400!

#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