Top 10 List of Classic Horror Movie Villains

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When it comes to the horror genre, victims—and even heroes, for that matter—are a dime a dozen. Who can remember everyone Jason has killed throughout the Friday the 13th series or how Michael got his comeuppance in, say, Halloween 4? Sure, everyone knows that Van Helsing has defeated the most famous vampire of all in countless versions of the story, but how many recall who dispatched the monster at the end of House of Frankenstein? Who were the people that Godzilla stomped? Who was it that exterminated the giant ants in Them? Did anyone manage to escape the House of 1000 Corpses? It’s hard to remember!

But the villains—oh those amazing villains!—will live on for all of eternity in horror cinema…

Click here to read Madison Film Guy’s full FROM THE TOMB column–TOP 10 LIST OF CLASSIC HORROR MOVIE VILLAINS–at Horrornews.net!

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Top 5 Horror-Comedies of the Golden Age

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Comedy and horror have been kissing cousins since the early days of cinema. Moments of humor have been the go-to safety valve that horror filmmakers have used consistently to relieve audience tension and to provide a break from the suspense and terror of the moment. Over time, the approach may have changed, but the general idea has remained remarkably consistent from the early days of cinema to today. The dark humor of The Bride of Frankenstein, for instance, eventually evolved into movies like An American Werewolf in London,The Evil Dead 2, and Re-Animator: horror movies first but with a wildly comic spin at the same time. Early full-throated horror satires like The Cat and the Canary and the Abbott and Costello Meet… films eventually became modern classics like Young Frankenstein and What We Do in the Shadows.

It should be no surprise, then, that a separate and distinct subgenre would eventually evolve, fusing the horror film with the movie comedy, and for a brief, glorious period more than sixty years ago, the horror-comedy enjoyed a run of excellence the produced a string of enduring classics…

Click here to read Madison Film Guy’s full FROM THE TOMB column–TOP 5 HORROR-COMEDIES OF THE GOLDEN AGE–at Horrornews.net!

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Lon Chaney, Jr.’s Trifecta of Terror

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During the Golden Age of Horror, Universal Studios was the undisputed king of horror cinema, and its Big Three monsters—Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolf Man—remain definitive horror icons nearly a century later. Not coincidentally, the three actors most associated with those iconic Universal monsters—Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney, Jr., respectively—also remain the biggest names in classic horror decades upon decades after their final films.

Of those Big Three horror legends, though, Karloff and Lugosi have always enjoyed slightly elevated standing over Lon Chaney, Jr., who—despite a truly prolific career—has always been considered somewhat of a little brother among the Big Three…

Click here to read Madison Film Guy’s full April 2017 FROM THE TOMB column–LON CHANEY, JR.’S TRIFECTA OF TERROR–at Horrornews.net!

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Karloff vs. Lugosi: Clash of the Horror Titans

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After more than one hundred years of horror cinema, reasonable people still disagree about who is the greatest horror star of all time, but most arguments tend to boil down to Boris Karloff vs. Bela Lugosi. While the versatile and inimitable Karloff may have boasted the more robust and impactful career overall, the dark and mysterious Lugosi—despite a legacy that ultimately degenerated into self-parody and forgettable schlock—may have delivered the single most iconic horror performance of all time…

Click here to read Madison Film Guy’s full March 2017 FROM THE TOMB column–KARLOFF VS. LUGOSI: CLASH OF THE HORROR TITANS–at Horrornews.net!

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31 Films of Halloween – 10/25/15: Extraordinary Tales

Throughout October, Madison Film Guy will post new mini-reviews/recommendations/musings on contemporary or classic horror films to help celebrate my 31 favorite days of the year: the countdown to Halloween! Today’s film: Extraordinary Tales.

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Extraordinary Tales, 2015

Speaking of extraordinary, it has been an extraordinarily tricky proposition to  bring Edgar Allan Poe’s tales to the big screen.

Though many films—and many of them truly great—purport to be based on, inspired by, or loosely adapted from Poe’s masterworks, precious few have been able to actually convey the classic stories or poems as they were intended by the author.

The animated anthology Extraordinary Tales is the exception, and it is a scrumptious appetizer to this year’s delicious Halloween feast, faithfully adapting some of the best entries in Poe’s canon of “love letters to death.”

Loosely organized around a (largely perfunctory, unfortunately) conversation between the spirit of Poe—a raven—and Death herself, Extraordinary Tales spins five beautifully animated tales of madness and terror mostly narrated and/or voiced by masters of horror.

Sir Christopher Lee lends (in an original recording, one of his final performances) his authoritative baritone to the film’s take on The Fall of the House of Usher. Bela Lugosi gets inside the head of the unbalanced murderer of The Tell-Tale Heart. Julian Sands hisses his way through the grim procedural The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. Modern master Guillermo del Toro lends his grim tone to the torturous tale of the Spanish Inquisition, The Pit and the Pendulum. And Roger Corman—perhaps in a nod to his own rich catalogue of loose Poe adaptations—voices the decadent Prince Prospero in The Masque of the Red Death.

If Poe’s tales are, as the film notes, “love letters to death”, then Extraordinary Tales must be a love letter to Poe himself. Written and directed by Raul Garcia, who has worked on the animation teams for some of the biggest animated films in recent years, Extraordinary Tales brings each of Poe’s stories to life in a different style and tone. Each singularly captivating. Each gorgeous in its own way. Each expressing an inner or outer horror in ways that live-action filmmaking can rarely capture.

Though all are wonderful, there is particular joy to be found in Garcia’s take on The Tell-Tale Heart. Despite a poorly-recorded voice track (all scratches and hisses and ambient hum) that is thought to be nearly 70 years old, Lugosi’s interpretation of the narrator’s madness—from self-congratulatory calm to desperate paranoid confession—is absolutely intoxicating. At the same time, the gothic animation of the tale is bold and striking.

A close second (though why rank at all?) would be the film’s version of The Fall of the House of Usher, which perfectly captures Poe’s expression of the inexorable decay of the noble bloodline of Usher through the crumbling foundation, the collapsing walls, and the shattering windows of their ancient home.

There may be a more perfect cinematic adaptation of Poe’s greatest works…nevermore.

31 Films of Halloween – 10/2/15: Dracula

Each day during October, Madison Film Guy will post a new mini-review/recommendation/musing on a contemporary or classic horror film to help celebrate my 31 favorite days of the year: the countdown to Halloween! Today’s film: 1931’s Dracula.

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Dracula, 1931

Recommending a fresh take on Bela Lugosi’s original Dracula seems like a solid, safe pick for the 31 Films of Halloween. Universal-ly (pun intended) acknowledged as a true horror classic, Lugosi’s Dracula remains—nearly a century later—the definitive take not only on the Dracula story, but on the vampire genre itself.

But here’s the twist.

If you can find it, I strongly recommend re-watching Dracula (obviously, you MUST have seen it before) with the turn-of-the-century Philip Glass score. It will knock your socks off.

In 1999, Universal Studios Home Entertainment commissioned composer Philip Glass to compose an entirely original score for Dracula, and then distributed the scored version on DVD and VHS. When Universal later released its classics collections in 2004 on DVD, the Glass score was available on an alternative audio track on the original movie. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the Glass score transforms Dracula and makes a truly classic film truly great.

In bringing Bram Stoker’s novel to the screen, Universal produced a gold-standard horror classic largely on the strength of two things: Bela Lugosi’s iconic performance and director Tod Browning’s success in establishing a dark, foreboding, dream-like atmosphere. The former has become so seared in the cinematic psyche that Lugosi and the role will forever be inseparable. The latter is often overlooked, but combined with Lugosi’s performance, Browning’s construction of images and mood and moments—Dracula’s welcome, the appearance of the vampire brides, and so on—was simply masterful.

Where Browning stumbled, however, was in the pacing and stagey-ness of the film. While the languid pace supports the dreamy ambiance, there are moments when the film slows to a virtual crawl. Combined with the pervasive quiet—Dracula is a “talkie” but might as well have been a silent film in its disregard for dialogue and sound throughout much of its 85 minutes—the pacing occasionally drains the energy right out of the story.

The Glass score, however, brings the entire film to life, energizing the slowest scenes and adding extra zing to the film’s highest points. In the wonderful scene in which Van Helsing tricks the Count into revealing himself (or not revealing himself, as it were) in the mirror, the Glass score punctuates the dramatic moment, rises with the inner fury and fear of the vampire, and then retreats as Dracula composes himself and exits. The music lingers as Dracula excuses himself. “I dislike mirrors,” Dracula grins. “Van Helsing will explain.” As movie quotes go, it’s one of the best in the original film. With the Glass score and the dynamic filmmaking behind it, it’s one of the smartest, best moments in horror film history.

I love Dracula with the Philip Glass score.

Van Helsing will explain.