I’ve read this complaint in a few places; I’m not sure if it’s the opinion of several different people or just one nut who gets around a lot. Basically, some people get very self-righteous about novels, movies, etc. that disobey the vampire “rules”: vampires should not go out in daylight! Vampires should be allergic to garlic! Vampires should not sparkle!!!!!!!!!!ONE

The first argument against this attitude is that we are not talking about the laws of physics here, but about fictional, magical beings. It doesn’t make a vampire less believable to say they can walk in daylight than it does to say they live on human blood. All that is required is for the story to be internally consistent.

The second problem is the supposition that artists should subordinate their imagination to the rule of an external judge. That’s a sure way to kill creativity, especially if the imposed standards are essentially arbitrary.

The fact is that most conventions of vampire fiction were invented by writers over the last couple of centuries (as opposed to coming from folklore), and many are silly or at least outdated: Fear of crucifixes makes little sense in our irreligious age. And are you going to demand that vampires not be able to cross running water? In that case, that’ll pretty much put an end to the genre, thanks to modern plumbing and drainage. And then there is the lore that vampires have numeromania and if you throw a handful of wheat the vamp must stop to count the grains – a story that consistently enforced that rule would be a comedy, not a horror.

The best thing is to judge a work by its success or failure in dramatic terms, not by its adherence to formulaic rules. So I have no problem with any variation on the vampire myths. Sparkly vamps aren’t personally my thing, but whatever floats your boat is fine by me.

 

Revisited two outliers from the Alien universe:

Alien Resurrection DVD cover
ALIEN RESURRECTION

It’s interesting to think about why the later films are less successful than the first two. The first two are thematically very basic, 1. Old Dark House, 2. War movie. Any moral ambivalence lies in the human shenanigans.

The later two films tried to go deeper, in a way Hollywood isn’t set up to bring off. 3 is about acceptance of death (symbolised by the Alien), with the planet location being purgatory/hell. I basically like it, and it’s on my list of films to re-edit.

4 – they never quite figured it out. The overall plot motivation seems to be “We want another Alien movie.” There are ideas about the merging and crossing over of alien and human identities, but these are dropped into the plot sporadically, in amongst the action set-pieces and humorous interludes. The humour generally undermines the tone of the movie, and seems to be the film-maker winking at us, rather than something emerging naturally from the characters (as in the previous films). Weaver plays the human/alien hybrid character with a lot of smirking and artificial gestures, and is not particularly believable. Also, one thing that really bugs me, and always has, is Ripley providing a mercy killing – with a flame thrower! Surely a bullet to the head would have been kinder?

Thinking on the deceptive simplicity of the first two Alien films, I dug out my copy of

Alien vs. Predator DVD cover
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR

In terms of achieving its aims, this is a much more successful film than Resurrection. I just wish there had been more grandiosity and sense of plot direction in the later part of the pyramid section. In comparison with the earlier film, we could say this one is a tasty take-out burger, while Resurrection is a high-grade steak that is half raw, half burned to a crisp.

Next up, another viewing of Pitch Black, which David Twohy developed from his proposal for an Alien sequel set on the creature’s homeworld.

 

These are just some brief comments after having finished watching the fifth season of Supernatural on DVD.

After the fine season 4 (possibly due to good stories held back from season 3 due to the writers’ strike?), this was definitely a disappointment. Season 5 was supposed to be about the Apocalypse, but the season structure gave no great feeling of this taking place, with many episodes taking on trivial sidestories, and even allowing that these can be done well, the writing was frequently mediocre.

The producers also allowed budget constraints to trivialise their supposedly world-shaking plot, with apocalyptic figures like the Whore of Babylon and the Four Horsemen appearing sporadically to terrorise rural towns with populations of up to two dozen (!), and then be easily defeated. The quality noticably increases towards the end of the season, first with a humourous and dramatic episode about the pagan gods being miffed at the presumption of the Christian Apocalypse, and then with a defined quest to obtain the four magic rings of the Horsemen. But the pagan story was completed in one episode, and there were only a couple of episodes for the ring quest before the final episode.

In the grand finale, they again trivialised the events, with the confrontation between Archangel Michael and Lucifer amounting to nothing more than a scuffle in a field.

There was also the problem of the heroes following the advice and direction of the demon Crowley, when the previous season had emphatically made the point that allying with a demon is a no-win move. This precedent was mentioned once, in the second last episode, and I think they were just hoping no-one would notice the inconsistency.

Apart from the major structural problems, it was also disappointing to see some fine performers and interesting characters given only cursory screen time – in particular the Four Horsemen (perhaps excepting War). Max Headroom fans would have been gladdened to see Matt Frewer appear as a wonderfully disgusting Pestilence, but as I said, the character is treated as a plot device and quickly dismissed from the story.

What they should have done:

After the first few episodes resolving Sam and Dean’s relationship issues (for the most part), the finding and using of the Colt should have been done in a couple of episodes, rather than spread over half the season. At the same time, we should have been made aware that the Apocalypse was definitely happening – lots of stock footage of floods, famines, wars, other natural disasters. Our heroes should have observed that these events were widespread and definitely of supernatural origin. This should have been a constant element through the series.

The Four Horsemen and the Whore of Babylon should have been named sooner, and made active, if unseen, players in the Apocalypse. The heroes could have observed the Horsemen and the Whore’s activities forming a predictable pattern as they created disasters across the globe, this providing sense of scale without expenditure, and giving the heroes a better reason to encounter their enemies than sheer good luck. (It would also have helped to do this with the angel armies too, rather than have them “sit on their hands”.)

The quest for the rings should have started much sooner, at least from the beginning of the last third of the season, and getting the ring from each horseman should have been a mini-arc of 2 to 5 episodes. The above method of predicting the movements of the Horsemen would be used to justify the small scale of the encounters on the basis of minimum collateral damage.

The pagan gods’ opposition to the Christian Apocalypse could also have profitably been spread across the season, providing contrast and humour. Also, after Sam was possessed by Lucifer, there should have been at least 1 to 2 episodes in which Dean is uncertain how strong the possession is, and what effect Sam might have on Lucifer’s actions, as well as trying to figure out the site of the showdown.

Finale, the showdown: it should have been in a more spectacular location. Michael and Lucifer should have fought in some exciting manner (it wouldn’t cost that much to have them blast some energy beams at each other, toss a car or two, or even fly around a bit). They and Dean should at least have moved around a little. The conclusion of the fight, with Lucifer and Michael falling into the hole, should have been more spectacular, with exciting camera angles, flashing lights, crazy sound effects, and screaming. And Cas healing Dean afterwards should have been a bit less easy.
 

  Season 1 average episode rating = 3.61
  Season 2 average episode rating = 3.36
  Season 3 average episode rating = 3.25
  Season 4 average episode rating = 3.34
  Season 5 average episode rating = 3.09
  Season 6 average episode rating = 3.27
  Season 7 average episode rating = 3.326
  Season 8 average episode rating = 2.74
 
  Season 1 ratings graph (Av rating = 3.61)
 
 5
               *         *   * *           * *
 4 *   *     *         *
           *       *             *   *
 3   *   *       *   *     *
                                   *   * *
 2
 
 1
 
 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2
                     0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2
   W W D P B S H B H
   o e e h l k o u o A S F R N T S H S P D S D
   m n a a o i o g m s c a o i h h e o r e a e
   a d d n o n k s e y a i u g e a l m o a l v
   n i   t d         l r t t h   d l e v d v i
     g i o y   m     u e h e t B o   t e   a l
   i o n m     a     m c     m e w h h n m t '
   n       M   n       r   6 a n   o i a a i s
       t t a           o   6 r d   u n n n o
   w   h r r           w   6 e e   s g c ' n t
   h   e a y                   r   e   e s   r
   i     v                     s     w       a
   t   w e                           i   b   p
   e   a l                           c   l
       t l                           k   o
       e e                           e   o
       r r                           d   d
 =============================================
 
  Season 2 ratings graph (Av rating = 3.36)
 
 5
           *
 4 *   *           *     *               * *
             * * *         *     *           *
 3       *           * *               *
     *                       * *   * *
 2
 
 1
 
 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2
                     0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2
   I E B C S N T C C
   n v l h i o h r r H P N H B T R H H F W A A
     e o i m   e o o u l i o o a o e o o h l l
   m r o l o e   s a n a g u r l a a l l a l l
   y b d d n x u s t t y h s n l d r l s t
     o l r   i s r o e t t e     k t y o   h h
   t d u e s t u o a d h s s u t i   w m i e e
   i y s n a   a a n   i h   n a l   o   s l l
   m   t   i   l d     n i o d l l   o P   l l
   e l   s d           g f f e e     d r a
     o   h     s b     s t   r s       i n b b
   o v   o     u l       e t         B s d r r
   f e   u     s u       r h a       a o   e e
     s   l     p e         e         b n w a a
   d     d     e s           b       y   h k k
   y a   n     c           h a       l b a s s
   i     '     t           o d       o l t
   n c   t     s           l         n u   l l
   g l                     y s         e s o o
     o   p                   i         s h o o
     w   l                   g           o s s
     n   a                   n           u e e
         y                               l
                                         d - -
         w
         i                               n p p
         t                               e a a
         h                               v r r
                                         e t t
         d                               r
         e                                 1 2
         a                               b
         d                               e
 
         t
         h
         i
         n
         g
         s
 =============================================
 
  Season 3 ratings graph (Av rating = 3.25)
 
 5
       *               * *
 4                             * *
         *
 3 *         * *           *
     *     *     * * *       *
 2
 
 1
 
 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
                     0 1 2 3 4 5 6
   T T B S B R F A M
   h h a i e e r   a D M J G L T N
   e e d n d d e v l r y u h o i o
           t   s e l e s s o n m
   m k d c i s h r e a t   s g e r
   a i a i m k   y u m e i t -   e
   g d y t e y b   s   r n f d i s
   n s   y     l S   a y   a i s t
   i   a   s a o u m     b c s
   f a t   t t o p a l s e e t o f
   i r     o   d e l i p l r a n o
   c e B   r m   r e t o l s n   r
   e   l   i o   n f t t o ! c m
   n a a   e r   a i l       e y t
   t l c   s n   t c e           h
     r k     i   u a         c s e
   s i       n   r r d       a i
   e g R     g   a u r       l d w
   v h o         l m e       l e i
   e t c             a           c
   n   k         C   m           k
                 h               e
                 r   o           d
                 i   f
                 s
                 t   m
                 m   e
                 a
                 s
 =============================================
 
  Season 4 ratings graph - episode average = 3.34
 
 5 *                                 *
 |
 4     *   * *
 |   *   *       *     *         * *
 3             *         * *   *       *   *
 |                 * *       *           *   *
 2
 |
 1
 |
 0
   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2
                     0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2
   L A I M M Y I W I
   a r n e o e t i   H F C A S D O I T J T W L
   z e   t n l ' s k e a r f e e n t h u h h u
   a   t a s l s h n a m i t x a   ' e m e e c
   r y h m t o   f o v i s e   t t s   p   n i
   u o e o e w t u w e l s r a h h   m   r   f
   s u   r r   h l   n y     n   e a o t a t e
       B p   F e   w     A s d t     n h p h r
   r t e h M e   T h & R n c   a h t s e t e
   i h g o o v G h a   e g h v k e e t   u   r
   s e i s v e r i t H m e o i e a r e s r l i
   i r n i i r e n   e a l o o s d r r h e e s
   n e n s e   a k y l i   l l     i   a   v i
   g , i       t i o l n i   e a o b a r   e n
       n         n u   s s s n   f l t k   e g
     G g       P g         p c h   e
     o         u   d     a e e o a   t     b
     d         m   i       c   l   l h     r
     ?         p   d     d i   i p i e     e
               k         o a   d i f       a
     I         i   l     u l   a n e e     k
     t         n   a     c     y     n     s
     '         ,   s     h           d
     s             t     e
               S                     o
     m         a   s     b           f
     e         m   u     a
     ,             m     g           t
                   m                 h
 =============================================
 
  Season 5 ratings graph - episode average = 3.09
 
 5
 |                                     *
 4                                       *
 |     * *   *   *     * *           *
 3   *     *         *           * *       * *
 | *           *   *         *
 2                         *   *
 |
 1
 |
 0
   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2
                     0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2
   S G F T F I T C T
   y o r h a   h h h A S S T M D D 9 P H T T S
   m o e e l b e a e b a w h y e a 9 o a h w w
   p d e   l e   n   a m a e   a r   i m e o a
   a     E e l c g r n , p   b d k p n m     n
   t G t n n i u i e d     s l     r t e d m
   h o o d   e r n a o i m o o m s o   r e i s
   y d     i v i g l n n e n o e i b o   v n o
     , b   d e o       t a g d n d l f o i u n
   f   e   o   u c g a e t   y   e e   f l t g
   o y     l t s h h l r   r   d   m n     e
   r ' y   s h   a o l r   e v o o s o t y s
     a o     e c n s   u   m a n f     h o
   t l u       a n t h p   a l '     r e u t
   h l       c s e b o t   i e t t   e     o
   e ! a     h e l u p e   n n   h   t g k
       n     i   s s e d   s t w e   u o n m
   D   d     l o   t .       i e     r d o i
   e         d f   e .     t n a m   n s w d
   v   m     r     r .     h e r o         n
   i   e     e D   s       e     o         i
   l         n e               p n         g
               a           s   l           h
             a n           a   a           t
             r             m   i
             e W           e   d
               i
             o n
             u c
             r h
               e
             f s
             u t
             t e
             u r
             r
             e
 
 =============================================
 
  Season 6 ratings graph - episode average = 3.27
 
 5
 |
 4 *         *     *   *       *             *
 |   * *                               * *
 3         *   *     *   * * *     *       *
 |       *       *               *   *
 2
 |
 1
 |
 0
   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2
                     0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2
   E T T W L Y F A C
   x w h e i o a l l C A L U M T A M F M T L T
   i o e e v u m l a a p i n a h n y r o h e h
   l     k e   i   p g p k f n e d   o m e t e
   e a t e   c l d   e o e o n     h n m
     n h n f a y o y d i   r e F t e t y m i m
   o d i d r n   g o   n a g q r h a i   a t a
   n   r   e ' m s u h t   i u e e r e d n   n
     a d a e t a   r e m v v i n n t r e   b
   M     t     t g   a e i e n c     l a w l w
   a h m   o h t o h t n r n   h t w a r h e h
   i a a B r a e   a   t g   3   h i n e o e o
   n l n o   n r t n     i   : m e l d s   d
     f   b t d s o d   i n     i r l   t w   k
   S     b w l     s   n     t s e       o   n
   t m   y i e   h           h t   g     u   e
   . e   ' h     e i   S     e a w o     l   w
     n   s a t   a f   a       k e       d
           r h   v     m     r e r o         t
           d e   e y   a     e   e n     b   o
                 n o   r     c           e   o
             t     u   r     k   n
             r         a     o   o       k   m
             u     b         n   n       i   u
             t     e         i   e       n   c
             h     l         n           g   h
                   i         g
                   e
                   v
                   e
 =============================================
 
  Season 7 ratings graph - episode average = 3.326
 
 5
 |
 4                 *         .     * .   * * *
 | *       * * * .         * *   .   *         *
 3   *           *   * . *     * *     *
 |   . * *             *
 2
 |
 1
 |
 0
   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2
                     0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3
   M H T D S S T S H
   e e h e h l h e o D A T T P R O T P O T R T S
   e l e f u a e a w e d i h l e u h a f h e h u
   t l   e t s   s   a v m e u p t e r   e a e r
     o g n   h m o t t e e   c o     t g   d r v
   t , i d u   e n o h n   s k   w b y r g i e i
   h   r i p f n     ' t a l y m i o   a i n   v
   e c l n , i t 7 w s u f i   a t r o v r g w a
     r   g   c a , i   r t c P n h n n e l   i l
   n u n   D t l   n d e e e e     - ,     i l
   e e e y r i i t   o s r   n   t a   i w s l o
   w l x o . o s i f o     g n   h g G m i     f
       t u   n t m r r i t i y   e a a p t f b
   b w   r P     e i   n i r w     i r o h u e t
   o o d   h       e     m l h   o n t r   n   h
   s r o l i     f n   b e s i   l   h t t d b e
   s l o i l     o d   a     s   d i   a h a l
     d r f       r s   b a   t     d   n e m o f
         e             y f   l     e   c   e o i
                 a a   s t   e     n   e d n d t
                   n   i e   '     t     u t   t
                 w d   t r   s     i     n a   e
                 e     t           t     g l   s
                 d i   i t   m     y     e     t
                 d n   n i   a           o
                 i f   g m   g           n
                 n l     e   i           s
                 g u         c
                 ! e         a           a
                   n         l           n
                   c                     d
                   e         m
                             e           d
                   m         n           r
                   o         a           a
                   n         g           g
                   s         e           o
                   t         r           n
                   e         i           s
                   r         e
                   s                     t
                                         a
                                         t
                                         t
                                         o
                                         o
 =============================================
 
  Season 8 ratings graph - episode average = 2.74
 
 5
 |
 4                
 |             *     * *   *       *
 3           *   .       *   *             * . *
 | * * *   *     * *           * *     . .   *
 2       *                           * * *
 |
 1
 |
 0
   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2
                     0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3
   w W H B B S A H C
   e h e i l o   u i T L A E T M R G F T P T C S
     a a t o u l n t o A s v r a e o r a a h l a
   n t r t o t i t i r R   e i n m o e x c e i c
   e ' t e d h t e z n P t r a ' e d a i -   p r
   e s a n   e t r e     i y l s m b k   m g   i
   d   c   b r l i n a a m b     b y s d a r s f
     u h   r n e     n n e o a b e e   r n e h i
   t p e   o     H F d d   d n e r   a i   a o c
   o ,     t c s e a     g y d s   s n v f t w e
           h o l r n f t o     t t t d e e
   t T     e m i o g r h e h e   h r   r v e
   a i     r f c i   a e s a r f e a g   e s
   l g       o e c   y     t r r   n e   r c
   k e       r   i   e r b e o i T g e     a
     r       t o     d e y s r e i e k     p
   a           f       a       n t r s     i
   b M                 l   H   d a         s
   o o         K           i     n         t
   u m         e       g   t   w s
   t m         v       i   l   i
     y         i       r   e   t
   K ?         n       l   r   h
   e
   v                           b
   i                           e
   n                           n
                               e
                               f
                               i
                               t
                               s
 =============================================
 
 

This is all episodes of Buffy rated out of 5, displayed in a graph form for each season. I don’t want to get into a detailed discussion of the episodes or my reasoning behind the ratings; just note that I have rated some of the fan favourites fairly low. By average rating, the best season was the second, followed by the fourth.

SEASON 1 – Average episode score = 3.25

5
|             *
4                       *
| * *             * *
3     * *   *         *
|         *
2               *
|
1
|
0
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1
                    0 1 2
  W T W T N T A I T
  e h i e e h n   h N O P
  l e t a v e g r e i u r
  c   c c e   e o   g t o
  o H h h r P l b P h   p
  m a   e   a   o u t o h
  e r   r k c   t p m f e
    v   ‘ i k   , p a   c
  t e   s l       e r m y
  o s     l     y t e i
    t   P       o   s n G
  t     e a     u S   d i
  h     t         h   , r
  e       b     J o     l
          o     a w   o
  H       y     n     u
  e             e     t
  l       o
  l       n           o
  m                   f
  o       t
  u       h           s
  t       e           i
  h                   g
          f           h
          i           t
          r
          s
          t

          d
          a
          t
          e
=============================================

SEASON 2 – Average episode score = 3.75

5     *                     *
|                                         * *
4           *       *     *   * * *   *
| *       *   *   *     *
3   *   *       *     *             *   *
|
2
|
1
|
0
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2
                    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2
  W S S I R H L T W
  h o c n e a i h h W T B S I P B P K I G B B
  e m h c p l e e a h e a u n h e a i   o e e
  n e o a t l     t a d d r n a w s l o   c c
      o   i o t d ‘ t     p o s i s l n f o o
  s a l m l w o a s ‘   e r c e t i e l i m m
  h s   u e e   r   s   g i e s c o d y s i i
  e s H m   e m k m     g s n   h n     h n n
    e a m b n e   y m   s e c   e   b h   g g
  w m r y o     a   y       e   d   y a
  a b d   y     g l             ,     v   P P
  s l   g       e i l               d e   a a
    y   i         n i           b   e     r r
  b     r         e n           o   a e   t t
  a r   l         ? e           t   t y
  d e               ?           h   h e   1 2
    q             P             e     s
    u             a P           r
    i             r a           e     f
    r             t r           d     o
    e               t                 r
    d             1             &
                    2                 y
                                b     o
                                e     u
                                w
                                i
                                l
                                d
                                e
                                r
                                e
                                d
=============================================

SEASON 3 – Average episode score = 3.27

5
|                 *                         *
4 *                   *   *         *     *
|               *   *   *       *     * *
3       *     *             * *   *
|     *
2           *
|         *
1   *
|
0
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2
                    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2
  A D F B H B R L T
  n e a e o a e o h A G H T B C D E E C T G G
  n a i a m n v v e m i e h a o o n a h h r r
  e d t u e d e e   e n l e d n p e r o e a a
      h t c   l r w n g p     s p m s i   d d
    m , y o c a ‘ i d e l Z g e e i h c P u u
    a     m a t s s s r e e i q l e o e r a a
    n h & i n i   h   b s p r u g s t s o t t
    ‘ o   n d o w     r s p l e a       m i i
    s p t g y n a     e   o s n n         o o
      e h     s l     a       c g         n n
    p   e       k     d       e
    a &                       s L         D D
    r   b                       a         a a
    t t e                       n         y y
    y r a                       d
      i s                                 P P
      c t                                 a a
      k s                                 r r
                                          t t

                                          1 2

=============================================

SEASON 4 – Average episode score = 3.48

5
|             *
4 *   * * *           * *     * * *
|   *       *   * *                         *
3                   *       *             *
|                                   * * *
2                         *
|
1
|
0
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2
                    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2
  F L T F B W T P S
  r i h e e i h a o H D A T G T W S W N T P R
  e v e a e l e n m u o   h o h h u h e h r e
  s i   r r d   g e s o N e o i o p e w e i s
  h n h ,     I s t h m e   d s   e r     m t
  m g a   b a n   h   e w I b   a r e m Y e l
  a   r i a t i   i   d     y y r s   o o v e
  n c s t d   t   n     M i e e e t t o k a s
    o h s   h i   g     a n , a   a h n o l s
    n   e   e a         n     r y r e
    d l l   a t   B       t I ‘ o     r f
    i i f   r i   l       e o s u   w i a
    t g     t v   u       a w   ?   i s c
    i h       e   e       m a g     l i t
    o t                       i     d n o
    n                         r       g r
    s o                       l     t
      f                             h
                                    i
      d                             n
      a                             g
      y                             s

                                    a
                                    r
                                    e

=============================================

SEASON 5 – Average episode score = 3.34

5
|             *             *
4   * *                         *
| *                 * * * *         *   *
3       *   *   *             *   *       * *
|         *                           *
2                 *
|
1
|
0
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2
                    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2
  B R T O N F F S L
  u e h u o a o h i I T C B C I T F I T S T T
  f a e t   m o a s n r h l r   h o n o p h h
  f l     p i l d t t i e o u w e r t u i e e
  y   r o l l   o e o a c o s a   e e g r
    m e f a y f w n   n k d h s b v r h a w g
  v e p   c   o   i t g p       o e v   l e i
  s   l m e   r   n h l o t   m d r e l   i f
      a y         g e e i i   a y   n o   g t
  D   c   l   l         n e   d     t v   h
  r   e m i   o   t w   t s   e     i e   t
  a   m i k   v   o o               o
  c   e n e   e     o         t     n     o
  u   n d         f d         o           f
  l   t   h       e s
  a       o       a           l           t
          m       r           o           h
          e                   v           e
                              e
                                          w
                              y           o
                              o           r
                              u           l
                                          d

=============================================

SEASON 6 – Average episode score = 3.43

5
|                         *
4       * *         * *
| * * *     *   * *     *   * *   *(*)* *
3                                   *     *
|                               *           *
2             *
|
1
|
0
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2
                    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2
  B B A F L A O T S
  a a f l i l n a m W G D D O A H N E S V T G
  r r t o f l c b a r o o e l s e o n e i w r
  g g e o e   e u s e n u a d   l r t e l o a
  a a r d   t   l h c e b d e Y l m r i l   v
  i i   e s h m a e k   l   r o ‘ a o n a t e
  n n l d e e o   d e   e T   u s l p g i o
  i i i   r   r R   d   m h a       y   n
  n n f   i w e a       e i n W B A   R s G
  g g e   a a   s       a n d e e g   e   o
          l y w a       t g   r l a   d
  P P         i           s F e l i
  a a         t         P   a   s n
  r r         h         a   r
  t t                   l
              f         a   A
  1 2         e         c   w
              e         e   a
              l             y
              i
              n
              g

=============================================

SEASON 7 – Average episode score = 3.14

5
|
4     *         * *         * * * *
|       *           * *             *
3   *     *   *         * *             *
| *
2                                     *   *
|                                           *
1           *
|
0
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2
                    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2
  L B S H S H C S N
  e e a e e i o l e B S P T F G S L D E T E C
  s n m l l m n e v r h o h i e t i i m o n h
  s e e p f   v e e i o t e r t o e r p u d o
  o a     l   e p r n w e   s   r s t t c   s
  n t t   e   r e   g t n K t i y   y y h o e
  s h i   s   s r L   i t i   t t m     e f n
      m   s   a   e o m i l D   e y g p d
    Y e       t   a n e a l a D l   i l   D
    o ,       i   v     l e t o l p r a   a
    u         o   e t     r e n e a l c   y
      s       n     h         e r r s e   s
      a       s   M e     i       e   s
      m           e       n       n
      e       w     N             t
              i     i     M       s
      p       t     g     e
      l       h     h             t
      a             t             o
      c       d                   l
      e       e                   d
              a
              d                   m
                                  e
              p
              e
              o
              p
              l
              e
 

Have you seen this? The studio attempt to “fix” the climactic sequence involves some crudely blatant post-dubbing:

“Ow! Let me out of this bag! Ow! You’ve broken my legs! Stop this crazy thing, you maniacs!”

The shitty cherry on top of one really shitty script.

Monster mash (AKA Monster rally): an entertainment exploiting the appearance of two or more popular horror monsters; especially the films produced by Universal Studios in the 1940s, all of which included an appearance by Frankenstein’s Monster.

The 1930s saw the first talking horror pictures, which came chiefly from Universal Studios. These films were also notable because a scientific explanation, with which silent Hollywood horrors had typically concluded, was now excluded in favour of a supernatural aura previously unknown in mainstream American cinema.

The first of these films was Dracula (1931), which, being hugely successful, was shortly followed by Frankenstein in the same year, and The Mummy in the year after. This initial trilogy saw a burst of low budget successors from other studios, but none had the impact of these three. Universal produced other horrors too, including Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), starring Bela Lugosi, but did not attempt to capitalise on its prime properties until 1935, when James Whale was convinced to direct a sequel to Frankenstein, his Bride of Frankenstein.

Bride showed that a sequel recalling previously known characters could be a commercial success (this had been known in the theatre for years, but apparently the lesson had not transferred to the screen). Bride also showed, importantly, that a horror film could be fun. Fun is perhaps the chief differentiating characteristic of this sequel, as embodied in the arch observations of Dr Thessinger, the Monster’s picaresque adventures through the countryside, and, perhaps most of all, a rollicking tone which could only originate from the director’s shear joy at letting loose, cinematically, thematically and dramatically.

The success of Bride of Frankenstein saw sequels also produced for Dracula and The Mummy, plus a couple of new properties, The Invisible Man (1933)and The Wolf Man (1941). Most of these sequels were not only inferior to their forebears, but mediocre in general cinematic terms. Dracula’s Daughter (1936) had a terrific star in Gloria Holden, but was otherwise a shabby “B” picture, let down most of all by its wooden male lead, Otto Kruger. Son of Dracula (1943) was a relatively lavish successor, which was successful in its Southern Gothic atmosphere, but let down by its cast, especially Lon Chaney Jr. as the eponymous Count “Alucard” – he seemed more sad than sinister, and this weak threat made for a poor protagonist. The best performance here was from male lead Robert Paige, who starts out unpromisingly as a conventional juvenile lead, but becomes more convincing as his circumstances begin to straiten.

Lon Chaney Junior was the weak link in a number of Universal horror films, beginning with the title role of The Wolf Man, and following this with roles including Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Mummy. Resting his career entirely on his famous father’s name, he brought little to his roles except a strangely flabby face and an acting range limited to a constant hangdog expression, which passed for gravitas chiefly in the role of the accursed Wolf Man, which was his best part.

On the other hand, the 1940s Universal horrors show Bela Lugosi in a couple of his best performances preserved on film, as the jovial psychopath Igor. This character appears first in Son of Frankenstein (1939), which may have claim to be called the first of Universal’s “monster mashes”, seeing as it is the first horror film to feature several of the archetypal monsters, or at least grotesque characters brought to life by actors notably associated with horror (trailers from the height of the monster mash frenzy tried to bump up their monster count by enumerating generic types such as “the mad scientist!” and “the hunchback!”).

In this film, Lugosi defies critics who call him a clown with little acting ability. In the few film opportunities he had to demonstrate his range, he impresses as, variously, the aristocratic Count Dracula, the leering, jeering Igor, and the obsequious cabby in The Bodysnatcher. What Lugosi lacked was not so much acting ability as a good agent, since, despite his accent, he could have done well filling roles as diverse as Earthy Peasant, Herr Professor (AKA the explainer), and various types of Foreigner, instead of the badly written villain roles in the series of “poverty row” pictures that doomed his reputation.

Karloff is here too, of course, in his last appearance as the Monster. Sadly, after starting well, this film drags heavily in the second half, chiefly when the Monster is on screen. Karloff complained of having little dramatically to do in this film, which can indeed also be said for later incarnations of the Monster, all though not all those later films drag so much as Son. Basil Rathbone plays the Son, though mostly on one cranky note. Lionel Atwill adds to his cult notoriety as the wooden-handed, darts-playing police chief. The Monster ends up falling into a pit of sulphur beneath Frankenstein’s laboratory.

The first really successful monster mash was Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). Again, the only “official” monster on site is Frankenstein’s monster, now played by Lon Chaney, who seems to find even this shop’s dummy role a stretch. However, the very “sequelitis” of the film gives it that monster mash tone – here are the same characters, again, in another variation of the old, old story, again (the Monster even befriends a little girl, in a deliberate echo of the first film, though this time she doesn’t come to such a sticky end). Bela Lugosi’s Igor appears for the second and final time, and is again the bright spot and anchor of the movie. There are solid performances by Cedric Hardwicke as the other son of Baron Frankenstein, with Lionel Atwill as his thwarted assistant, and an appearance by B-movie lead Ralph Bellamy as the juvenile lead.

The pacing of the narrative has also improved from Son, and, to be blunt, from Bride and the original as well – this new decade seems to have seen the first glimmerings of insight that films do not always have to move at a walking pace, but can rattle along like a fast-going train. At the time this was regarded as poor film-making, and mainstream cinema still tended to the deliberate and respectable. It wasn’t until the 1980s that cinema as “ride” became a mainstream phenomenon.

But the classic monster mashes, at their best, give an early glimpse of this new, effervescent character of story-telling. Ghost of Frankenstein is, along with House of Frankenstein, the most successful in this respect (both were directed by Erle C. Kenton). There may be weak spots, but we are carried over them by the enthusiastic rhythm of the piece as a whole.

Ghost concludes with Igor’s brain transplanted into the head of the Monster (following which the building explodes for some reason I don’t recall). The sequel semilogically sees Bela Lugosi now playing the Monster, while former Monster Lon Chaney returns as the lupinely challenged Laurence Talbot, AKA the Wolf Man, in Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (1942). Reportedly, test audiences laughed when they heard the Monster speak in Lugosi’s voice. He had of course uttered a few words at the end of Ghost, but otherwise the Monster had not articulated verbally since the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein. Plus, of course, Lugosi’s Hungarian accent was by this time irrevocably associated with Dracula. As a result, Lugosi’s speaking scenes were cut entirely, except a few moments where you can see his lips moving silently. Even the Monster’s growls were dubbed by a presumably less accent-impaired actor. This is a shame, firstly because this historically unique performance has disappeared forever, and even more so because the surviving portion of the film is so woeful.

Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man was directed by Roy William Neill, best known today for directing Universal’s classic Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone. Sadly, just as Rathbone belied this success by turning out to be one of Son of Frankenstein‘s weak points, so Neill revealed that without a solid cast he could not produce a creditable motion picture. The film is reasonably well made, though lacking the pace of Kenton’s Ghost, but the lead actors (beside the mute Lugosi) are uniformly wooden, making this film resemble nothing so much as a compendium of bad acting. Chaney as the Wolf Man is probably the best thing here, let down by Ilona Massey as his uninviting love interest, plus the tedious Patrick Knowles as Dr. Mannering, and (from the first Wolf Man film) Maria Ouspenskaya’s amateurish turn as the Gypsy Lady. To be fair, the way in which they deliver their lines without any apparent concern for their meaning may be due to (1) lack of diligence on director Neill’s part, used as he was to the stage-bred cast of the Holmes films, who properly prepared for their performances, and could power their way through the story on sheer charisma; and (2) what is the silliest of all the Frankestein movies in terms of plot, leading to dialog which would have been awkward in the mouths of the most capable actors. Holmes veterans Lionel Atwill and Dennis Hoey (who played Lestrade in the Holmes films) are wasted here. There is also a truly woeful song-and-dance number to suffer through. In the end, the cast are done away with by an exploding dam, which presumably also carries away the revolting population of the nearby village of Visaria. Together with the chopped-up nature of the final product, this constitutes the weakest of the monster mash movies, and is best avoided except for the sake of having viewed the complete cinematic cycle.

Luckily, things pick up again with House of Frankenstein (1944), the other high point of the monster mash films. Karloff appears (as “the mad scientist!”), assisted by J. Carroll Naish (as “the hunchback!”), and together they are the best part of the film. The film is notable for its quaint episodic structure: in the first half, our above-named “heroes” escape prison, revive the skeleton of Dracula, and send him to do their bidding, only to see him get a permanent and fatal suntan. In the second half, they recover the frozen bodies of Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man, revive them too, and come to a sticky end. Director Erle C. Kenton directs with rare flare – the brief scene in which Naish falls through a castle wall into an underground cave is remarkable in its assured, dynamic movement, and sophisticated use of special effect-rigged sets.

John Carradine plays Dracula (AKA Baron Latos), not much more effectively than Chaney had done, but the fast action of the story stops us worrying about that too much. The Monster is now played (mutely) by Glenn Strange, who despite the little screen time he got in the role, is possibly my favourite incarnation of this character (his resemblance to Herman Munster probably helps!). The Wolf Man is Chaney again, and he spends his time complaining about his lot, as usual. There is also a plumply attractive gypsy girl, plus cult favourite George Zucco – he shines in the role of house of horrors host Lampini, before immediately being bumped off by Naish. In the end, Karloff’s mad scientist is dragged into a swamp and submerges along with the Monster, a surprisingly powerful scene, while Naish is thrown out a high window, and Chaney is shot with a silver bullet.

Only Chaney and Carradine return for the final monster mash, House of Dracula (1945), also directed by Kenton. Dracula visits scientist Onslow Stevens (“the mad doctor!”) in his seaside castle/laboratory, to ask for a “cure” for his vampirism. The doctor is assisted by a surprising innovation: a female hunchback (Jane Adams). Soon Chaney turns up, also seeking a cure, having somehow survived a silver bullet in the last film, and then the Monster is discovered in the sea caves under the castle. This film is often derided, unfairly, I think. The plot is plainly silly, but it is certainly more enjoyable than Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man, and makes a decent conclusion to the series. The only real problem is the abrupt ending, when the Monster comes to life for the shortest time so far, and perishes in flames only a minute later.

So the core monster mash movies are:
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man (1942)
House of Frankenstein (1944)
House of Dracula (1945)
–of which best are the fourth and the second.

After these films, Universal included their monsters in a series of comedy films starring the team of Abbott and Costello, starting with Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948), starring Lugosi as the Count, Chaney as the Wolf Man, and Strange as the Monster, and devolving through Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949), Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951) and Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (starring Karloff again) (1953), to Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955). Some fans of the 1940s monster mash movies include these comedies within the oeuvre, but I am not a fan of Abbott and Costello, and I don’t consider these overt comedies to fall within the horror category.

In 1944, Bela Lugosi appeared in Return of the Vampire, playing a role which was Dracula in all but name, assisted by a werewolf companion. This film is supposed to be quite good (I haven’t seen it), and was apparently successful enough that Universal asked Columbia to cease making films that could possibly infringe on their intellectual copyright. We might consider this little-known team-up to represent one of the classic monster mash movies.

A note on the music.

While mainstream Hollywood movie music followed Korngold’s lead, in producing scores influenced largely by Richard Strauss, Wagner, and the ballets of Tchaikovsky, composers in shadowy genres like horror and film noir saw the opportunity to write music in a more contemporary style. While Waxman’s Bride of Frankenstein score was still largely beholden to the Late Romantic model, the 1940s saw opportunities in this vein increase, and we hear this in the Universal horror scores by Frank Skinner, Hans Salter, etc. Most of these scores have their requisite Korngoldian romantic moments, but in fact are largely in the same family of tonal modernism as composers Shostakovich and Prokofiev, Hindemith and Vaughan Williams. Career film composers do not have the same opportunities for respectability, but listeners with open minds will find much gratifying music in these scores, particularly as John Morgan and William Stromberg have done so much good work reconstructing and recording these scores for the Marco Polo and Naxos record labels.

I note that the film House of Dracula has no composer credit, only a credit for musical director to one Edgar Fairchild. However, there is at least one interesting piece of “original” music here, a piano performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata that devolves (thanks to Dracula’s evil influence) into a Mephistophelean mood piece in the style of Debussy, before returning to Beethoven and then stopping abruptly. I hope some diligent person will transcribe and record this music separately at some point.

Universal horror’s little-known cousin.

I must take this opportunity to mention the little known RKO horror films of the 1940s. These were produced in response to Universal’s success in the monster genre. Responsibility was given to one Val Lewton, previously an associate of David O. Selznik, but a gifted producer and writer in his own right. In this unique deal, Lewton was given a free hand to produce the films he wanted – provided he use the lurid titles bestowed upon him by the studio publicity department. In response, Lewton produced a series of horror films notable for their intellectual subtlety, and emphasis on atmosphere over sensationalism. The two best films in this series of seven are the first two, Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie, both directed by Jacque Tourneur. Boris Karloff joined Lewton to star in the last three films, and in The Body Snatcher was teamed again with Bela Lugosi, who takes the rare opportunity to shine as the wheedling cabby. Any fan of early horror movies should take the opportunity to become acquainted with these little-known gems of the genre.