Oct 22 – Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979): In the hands of any other director, a sexed up remake of the silent classic Nosferatu would probably end up being the kind of groan-inducing hack-work we’ve come to expect from Hollywood. Complete with an A-list celebrity donning the ookie Dracula make-up and ripping out the throat of some up-and-coming young talent—Oh right, like what Francis Ford Coppola did in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Almost forgot about that one. But in the hands of a mad genius director like Werner Herzog, what we get instead is a sexed up version of Nosferatu that’s also a spellbinding masterwork of ambiance and mood.
Set amongst a misty Germanic landscape, Herzog’s Nosferatu sets on viewers like a fog, enveloping everything in the movie with an oily glean as if the world has become slick with rot. Every aspect of the movie services the mood like the haunting score, the sickly-looking cast, and the army of plague rats scampering around in every corner. What sets Herzog’s remake apart from its ilk mainly stems from the director’s obvious admiration of the original, but he maintains a clear will to create a vision of his own. The original Nosferatu remains a remarkably unsettling movie with a vampire who no doubt still creeps into the nightmares of small children to this day. But with Klaus Kinski, Herzog manages to give us a vampire that matches Max Schreck’s iconic features, while imbibing the character with a slimy fluidity that the stiff original lacks.
Oct 23 – The Wolfman (2010)
Remember what I said about how Herzog took Nosferatu and made it sexier and scarier without compromising the original? Well The Wolfman does the opposite of that. Oh, it ramps up the sex and violence all right, but the only thing that the added gore accomplishes is muting what is supposed to be Universal’s most sympathetic monster. It’s hard to feel for a guy after watching him chomp on a man’s liver, and what’s worse is that lead actor Benicio Del Toro never manages to sell his character’s remorse. This should be a story about a moral man dealing with an uncontrollable beast inside of him, not about some dullard trying to iron out his daddy issues in between sessions of collecting the local’s spleens.
So to say that The Wolfman leans heavily on the carnage is a bit of an understatement. Even in the face of boatloads of decapitations, severed limbs and all sorts of goopy innards flinging about, the film still feels like a dull slog. Del Toro, who is a dead ringer for Lon Chaney Jr.’s surly Lawrence Talbot, sleep walks through his role, and Anthony Hopkins oversells it as Talbot’s mad father. The dead weight of the two leads is too much for the livelier half of the cast, Emily Blunt and Hugh Weaving, to make up for it. It’s a feat to make a movie this chaotic and bloody feel like such an endless grind, but the film’s criminally wasted pool of talented actors managed to to find a way.
Oct 24 – Survival of the Dead (2010)
To be fair, I rather liked Diary of the Dead, George Romero’s last soulless cash-in to the recent zombie renaissance we've had lately. I thought its found footage construct was clever enough, and that the movie as a whole was steam-trained by the release of Cloverfield, which went into production after Diary was in the can, but beat it to theaters by a few weeks. As a consequence, Diary caught quite a lot of undo flack, and was quickly written-off by critics and horror fans as a clumsy rip-off of Abrams’ smash hit.
So when Romero sneaked another Living Dead film into theaters this year, this one about a group of AWOL soldiers caught between a Hatfield-McCoy style feud, I was hopeful that the aged director might be able to pull off another Diary, which works well as a kind of supplemental entry to his long-running franchise—competent enough, with some sharp social commentary for garnish. But what Survival of the Dead does is take everything that worked in Diary, its panicked chaos and mildly interesting take on the YouTube generation, and excise it completely. What’s left is a husk of a movie, with flat, dull characters bickering over some nonsense quest to domesticate the undead, which all leads up to the inevitable brains buffet. It’s zombies-by-numbers—the kind of lame horror that should be beneath a genre director as accomplished as Romero.
What’s worse is that Romero’s best quality, his broad-but-apt social insight, is largely absent from this entry. When you strip away the mediocre acting, the dull visuals and the outlandish zombie deaths, all that’s left is… what? A bare-bones commentary on partisan politics? Something about religious indoctrination? I think? Who knows?