#161 Dracula

Watched: January 7 2018

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 22min

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The story of Dracula hardly needs another recap, but if you still have no idea what this is all about, check out our previous entries on the same story, Dracula (1931) or Nosferatu (1922). We’re pretty sure we summarized the story in at least one of those.

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Blood, fangs, crazy eyes and just a hint of sexy. Really all the info you need.

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That being said, Terence Fisher and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster took some liberties with their 1958 version, mainly concerning some characters and their relationships. Lucy, Mina and Jonathan Harker in particular have gone through some changes.

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Van Helsing is his old, charming self though

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Well-known story and some artistic liberties aside, Hammer’s Dracula (a.k.a. Horror of Dracula) is one of our favourite versions of Bram Stoker’s novel. Christopher Lee is sexy, suave and animalistic as the count, and Peter Cushing is magnetic and dynamic as his arch nemesis.

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We’re honestly not entirely sure how we would react if this guy showed up in our bedroom… Sure, he’s deadly, but what a way to go!

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We absolutely love this movie. There’s nothing like a good vampire story (emphasis on the “good”), and we appreciate that Jonathan Harker is as useless and boring as we’ve always thought he was even as they’ve tried to make his character a bit more interesting.

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Going from accountant to vampire-fighting librarian might sound cool on paper, but he can’t even resist one scantily clad woman. Giles he’s not!

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Now, our eternal love for Gary Oldman is well documented, but even we have to admit that Christopher Lee’s vampire count may be on par with Oldman’s. And despite the many changes to characters etc. made in this version, it stays true to the original story. There’s nothing not to love, and if you’re only going to watch one version of the ultimate vampire romance, you could do a lot worse than this.

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Pro tip: if you have no reflection in the mirror, take a full bath before bedtime. It’s so easy to miss a spot of blood.

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What we learned: If you’re trying to kill a powerful nemesis and his much weaker sidekick, perhaps it is a good idea to take out the main threat first..?

Next time: Elevator to the Gallows (1958)

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#160 Ashes and Diamonds/Popiół i diament

Watched: February 12 2018

Director: Andrzej Wajda

Starring: Zbigniew Cybulski, Ewa Krzyzewska, Waclaw Zastrzezynski, Adam Pawlikowski, Bogumil Kobiela (apologies for any spelling mistakes that may have occured)

Year: 1958

Runtime: 1h 43min

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Three guys with machine guns are lying in wait by a chapel. They kill two guys that come driving by, one of whom dies falling through a chapel door (and catching slightly on fire somehow). However, it turns out that the assassins have hit the wrong targets…

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“There is more than one car on this road? How inconsiderate. They can blame themselves for getting killed.”

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It’s the end of World War II in Poland, and the assassins, Maciek Chelmicki (Cybulski) and Andrzej (Pawlikowski) are after communist leader Szczuka (Zastrzezynski) who has recently returned to his home country. They decide to try again at local hotel Monopol, where Maciek takes a room and starts flirting with barmaid Krystyna (Krzyzewska).

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As Maciek picks the best, most romantic, and most atmospheric spots for dates, he is naturally successful in his pursuit of Krystyna.

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His newfound love, coupled with exposure to the grieving loved ones of his unintentional victims and the bodies of the dead men themselves, combine to change Maciek’s view of the world. He goes to his friend and superior officer Andrzej and tells him he doesn’t want to carry out this assassination. He wants to settle down with Krystyna and live in peace.

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Just him, his girl, and loads of shots. What a life!

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However, Andrzej is not sympathetic and tells Maciek backing out now will make him a traitor and that he’ll just have to tough it out. How will this all end?

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Rambo-style!

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Ashes and Diamonds is the third installment in Wajda’s war trilogy, and the second one on the list after Kanal. We loved the part in the crypt and Maciek’s decidedly ’80s vibe (we think it’s the sunglasses he sports and how the shadows often give the illusion of a mullet).

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The ultimate hipster – rocking a mullet before it was cool

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Like its predecessor, this film is quite weird and somewhat unsettling at times, with damaged women acting as saviours for damaged men, and lots of religious symbolism. Also, we found the dancing in the end reminiscent of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. We really enjoyed it, and at an opportune moment, we will go back and watch the first film in the trilogy, A Generation (1955) even though it didn’t make the list.

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Seriously though – doesn’t this look like it could be a still from some 1980s cop movie..? The young, charming maverick paired up with the old, cranky, by-the-book veteran?

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What we learned: Shit always floats to the top. Also, we do not know enough about Poland 1945.

Next time: Dracula (1958)

#159 A Night to Remember

Watched: February 3 2018

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Starring: Kenneth More, Ronald Allen, Robert Ayres, Honor Blackman, Anthony Bushell, and many, many more.

Year: 1958

Runtime: 2h 3min

Night

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First off, we can only apologize for the sporadic updates lately. Sister the Youngest has bought herself her own apartment, so we’re in the middle of moving and painting and everything that comes with it. Unfortunately, that means that at the moment we have less time to watch and review movies. We’ll come back stronger once she’s all settled in her new place and Sister the Oldest can once again enjoy the tranquility of her own place… Ah… The silence…

That being said, we’ve reached a new year, and 1958 starts on a very uplifting note with the epic tale of the RMS Titanic.

The band plays on as the Titanic sinks – a still from the 1958 film A Night To Remember
What a party!

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The year is 1912 and the Titanic, the largest, most unsinkable ship ever (in 1912), is on its first trip from Southampton to New York City. The passenger liner carries 2,224 souls from all walks of life, and we get to meet several of them, most notably Second Officer Lightoller (More). It is shaping up to be a wonderful voyage despite a few ice berg warnings.

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Them icebergs have better get out of the way, ’cause here we come! Whoot whoot!

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The Titanic is not the only ship out there – the Californian and the Carpathia are both sailing in the same waters, and they exchange warnings about the ice in the area. They also warn the larger ship, but because every passenger on the Titanic is eager to send messages home to brag about their whereabouts, the radio operator is too busy sending social calls to properly receive the warnings.

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“I simply MUST send a message home telling everyone we met a Second Officer! My friends will swoon!”

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Now, we all know how this ended. The ship sank, there were nowhere near enough lifeboats (thank you hubris and lax regulations), and around 1500 people died. Still, despite the awful ending, the film is really enjoyable and we loved it. We’ve been morbidly fascinated with the story ever since our grandmother (a.k.a. “Besta”) would sing sad songs about it when we were kids, so anything relating to this tragedy is eagerly consumed by both sisters.

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We were impressed with the effects, which hold up really well even in this day and age.

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A Night to Remember tells the tragic story of the maiden voyage of the ill-fated Titanic far more effectively (in our opinion) than James Cameron’s 1997 film. We loved that rather than to focus on just a couple of people, we got to follow a whole range of them, such as crew members, first class, second class and steerage passengers.

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We’re pretty sure Cameron stole some characters from this film, such as Plucky New-Moneyed American Woman (above) and Lively Irish Dancing Steerage Passengers (not pictured)

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It’s frustrating, emotionally devastating, stressful, engaging and wonderful, and like anything Titanic-related we ate it up. Thanks, Besta!

What we learned: Communication is key.

Next time: Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

#158 Wild Strawberries/Smultronstället

Watched: January 28 2018

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Starring: Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Jullan Kindahl, Gunnar Björnstrand

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 31min

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Dr Isak Borg (Sjöström) has one son, one daughter-in-law, one mum, one housekeeper, and one dead wife. He is a disillusioned man with very creepy dreams. He also has an honorary degree, which he will travel to Lund to accept. After a last minute decision not to fly, he goes on a road trip with daughter-in-law Marianne (Thulin) and various other passengers they pick up on the way.

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She’s thrilled to be stuck in a car with him for several hours

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The two stop at his childhood summer home where Marianne goes swimming while Isak has flashbacks of his summers there, and of his cousin Sara (Andersson) who he was to marry. That was, until she went for his brother Sigfrid instead and left Isak emotionally cold and detached.

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“I couldn’t help myself. He assaulted me, and you know what the Bible says about those situations.”

 

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After reliving the emotional trauma from his youth, Isak and Marianne pick up a bunch of hitchhikers mirroring his various relationships, and pay a visit to his cold, distant mother before arriving at the home of his equally cold and distant son. We see a pattern.

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Modern day Sara seemed more fun than olden day Sara, to be honest

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We had actually never seen this before, probably because it seemed a bit too “drama,” but we ended up loving it. Wild Strawberries is very engaging, sad, melancholy, funny and at time unsettling.

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Such as this creepy guy, shown completely without context

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Isak is a tragic figure who has cut himself off from all human emotion since his childhood sweetheart left him and his wife cheated on him and later died. His relationship with his housekeeper closely resembles a marriage though, and the two seem to be fairly happy together despite their bickering.

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Our favourite character and everything we aspire to be

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The second Ingmar Bergman entry on the list taught us that our dog has a more refined taste in movies than us. He was completely riveted by this – especially the dream sequence which he paid full attention. Then again, he is technically 77 years old, so he probably related more to the main character than we did. Either way, our conclusion is that Bergman appeals to older dogs and (somewhat) younger humans alike. It’s a win-win!

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Older dogs and younger humans. It’s a beautiful thing.

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What we learned: Be careful, because you shape your children.

Next time: A Night to Remember (1958)

#157 What’s Opera, Doc?

Watched: January 20 2018

Director: Chuck Jones

Starring: Mel Blanc

Year: 1957

Runtime: 7 min

Opera

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Another excellent short film by Chuck Jones, What’s Opera, Doc? is a Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd version of several of Richard Wagner’s great operas, especially Der Ring des Nibelungen (check out our classical music knowledge, people!).

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It has the added benefit of featuring the most fabulous horse in cinematic history

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As it’s a seven minutes animated short, it’s hard to say anything deep and profound about it (you know, because we’re usually known for our incredibly analytical and intellectual approach to film reviews). However, lucky for you, you can watch the whole thing here and make up your own mind. Enjoy!

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It’s just a beautiful love story, really

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What we learned: Any great operatic work can be squashed down to seven minutes.

Next time: Wild Strawberries (1957)

#156 Throne of Blood

Watched: January 20 2018

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Chieko Naniwa, Akira Kubo, Hiroshi Tachikawa

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 50min

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General Washizu (Mifune) and General Miki (Chiaki) are on their way to Spider’s Web Castle to have their excellent work recognized by Lord Tsuzuki (Tachikawa) when they get lost in Spider’s Web forest. They run into a magical old lady spinning her own web while singing depressing songs (Naniwa). She tells them that Washizu will be named Lord of the Northern garrison and Miki will take over his old post. She also predicts that eventually Washizu will become Lord of the Castle, succeeded by Miki’s son.

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As systems of government go, it’s a step up from women lying in ponds distributing swords, but it’s still far removed from general elections.

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While Washizu is content enough in his new, improved position, his wife Asaji (Yamada) becomes obsessed with the last part of the prophecy and keeps spurring him on to make it a reality. Asaji’s ambition combined with her husband’s skills as a warrior mean that soon the two start clearing the path for their social climbing, killing and manipulating their way to the top.

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“I admit it. I only want to be Lord because samurai armour is very cumbersome when you’re getting up off floors, and I ain’t getting any younger. Now I get a chair!”

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However, as the bodies start piling up, both Washizus descend into madness, and keeping their new status proves decidedly harder than getting it in the first place.

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Poster girl for sanity

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Throne of Blood is Kurosawa’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and despite it being set in a very different culture and time, it is a very true adaptation. Mifune is amazing as feudal Japanese Macbeth, and Yamada is deliciously insane and creepy as his ambitious and ruthless wife.

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Just doing some hovering in the background in the blood stained room. Nothing sinister going on here.

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We love us some samurai, some murder and some madness, so naturally we loved this. It is grotesque and creepy as well as engaging and exciting. As all Kurosawa, it is also beautifully shot and gorgeous to look at. It’s a Shakespeare tragedy, so from the very beginning you have some idea of where this is going, but watching it all unfold is still a fantastic ride.

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It’s like this shot in the beginning is some sort of foreshadowing or something.

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Love, love, love this!

What we learned: Don’t take advice from paranoid, ambitious, crazy people.

Next time: What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)

#155 The Seventh Seal/Det Sjunde Inseglet

Watched: December 17 2017

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Starring: Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, Bibi Andersson

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 36min

Seventh

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Knight Antonius Block (von Sydow) returns to Sweden from the Crusades only to find a country ravaged by the black plague and Death (Ekerot) waiting for him personally.

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Stranger Danger! Stranger Danger!

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Block, who is apparently quite familiar with death as a concept (he returns from war after all), is not fazed by the ominous man, but challenges him to a game of chess. The wager: if Block wins he gets to return to his family, but if Death wins, Block will go willingly to meet his demise.

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“So… I poke it..?” “No, man. It’s called a fist bump. You literally make a fist and bump mine. It’s all the rage in the Crusades.”

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The chess game drags on and between moves the knight travels homeward with his philosopher squire Jöns (Björnstrand, who looks like a mix between Tony Robinson as Baldrick and Rhod Gilbert). Along the way, they gather a posse consisting of traveling performers Jof (Poppe) and Mia (Andersson) with their infant son, as well as an assorted collection of other Swedes.

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#SquadGoals

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While on the surface The Seventh Seal might seem a very existential, dark and serious film, it’s not as daunting a watch as many might suspect. In fact, there’s lots of humour in it, and Swedes have the best insults. And while it explores themes of life and death, good and evil, religion and God, it’s not too heavy or too depressing (well, sort of, but not completely without hope).

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Look! There’s song and dance! With absolutely no sinister context whatsoever.

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It’s gorgeous and iconic, and a film everyone should watch at least once. Don’t be put off by the dark subject matter – it’s really entertaining. Also, it’ll make you feel totally cultural and deep, so you can speak pretentiously about Bergman at parties and become the sort of person everybody loves.

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“Oh God, just shut up about that damned movie already. EVERYBODY has seen it! It does not make you special!”

 

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What we learned: You can’t cheat Death.

Next time: Throne of Blood (1957)

Bonus: The Monolith Monsters

Watched: December 16 2017

Director: John Sherwood

Starring: Grant Williams, Lola Albright, Les Tremayne, Trevor Bardette, Phil Harvey, Linda Scheley

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 17min

NOTE: At the time of watching (and writing) this, it was #155, but we see now that it has been removed from Mr Wright’s list. Still, it’s been watched and written, so we’ll just call it a bonus post and include it anyway, dammit! For details on numbering, read this.

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Meteors have been crashing into the desert in California, and geologist Ben Gilbert (Harvey) brings home a sample of the newly arrived space rocks. There is a storm, and the next day Dave Miller (Williams) arrives only to find his colleague petrified and his lab smashed, with lots of black rocks strewn around everywhere.

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“What a mystery! This calls for a huge sciency pot of sciency coffee and much pondering.”

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Meanwhile, Dave’s girlfriend Cathy Barrett (Albright) takes her class on a field trip to the desert and sends little Ginny (Scheley) home with another sample of the same rock. It ends badly.

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If you think pet rocks are a nice and safe alternative to an actual animal for your child, think again!

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Ginny’s fascination with shiny things kills her family, ruins their farm, and starts to slowly turn her to stone. Dave and Cathy start to investigate, together with a journalist, the police, and several medical doctors. They find that the mysterious rocks start to grow when exposed to water, and suck the silicon out of everything it touches when “activated.” Thank God it never rains in southern California!

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Just kidding. Of course it starts raining.

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With huge rocks making their way slowly and steadily towards the town, smashing everything in their way, it is up to Dave, Cathy, and Dave’s old professor Arthur Flanders (Bardette) to stop the advancing threat, save the town, and save the girl.

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But where to start? Why, by looking at maps and exchanging worried glances, of course.

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The Monolith Monsters is a silly, weird and fun sci-fi. The growing rocks are actually way more sinister than we would have thought possible, and while the premise of the movie is very silly, it is played straight. And it actually works.

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Evil killer rocks. We would have loved to be in that pitch meeting.

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The growing rocks are cool, we loved the newspaper man Martin Cochrane (Tremayne), and the film is a great mix between stupid (dat premise tho!) and serious. Very campy fun – thoroughly recommended if you like strange ’50s science fiction.

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It’s proving hard to find stills from this film, so here’s another picture of the titular “Monolith Monsters.”

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What we learned: Between Them! and this, the desert is no place for little blonde girls. Also, rocks are petrifying. Pun intended.

Next time: The Seventh Seal (1957)

#154 The Incredible Shrinking Man

Watched: December 10 2017

Director: Jack Arnold

Starring: Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, Paul Langton, April Kent, Raymond Bailey, William Schallert

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 21min

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Somewhere at sea, a young couple are enjoying a day out on a boat. Louise (Stuart – who we absolutely adored), goes below deck to get Scott (Williams) a drink, and suddenly the man is enveloped by a mysterious, glittery mist.

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“Oh no! This must be one of those evil, communist, homosexual fogs that turn you gay!”

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Although he has no immediate ill effects, after a few months Scott remarks that all his clothes have become too big. Not by a lot, but definitely noticeable. A doctor’s appointment confirms that he is in fact shrinking, and together with medical experts the Carey’s start on their quest to save Scott from a terrible fate.

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“I’m not shrinking. We just underestimated the size of the new furniture we ordered.”

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As Scott shrinks, so does his self-esteem. He becomes angry and hostile towards his wife, with whom he no longer feels like the “man” of the household. He also grows increasingly pretentious as he tries to put his own existence into cosmic perspective. Or something. Oh, and he also has to go into battle with a house cat and a spider, which is less philosophical and more action packed.

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Exploring the usefulness of sewing supplies does not threaten your masculinity. Especially when you use said supplies to battle killer spiders.

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Based on a novel by Richard Matheson, The Incredible Shrinking Man explores identity, masculinity and fancy ’50s atomic science. Scott starts off as a normal, likable man in a happy marriage, but as he shrinks he becomes hostile and erratic. Then again, everything around him becomes increasingly dangerous, so you can’t really blame him for some of his attitude. Except for his anger with his adorable wife.

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“My stupid wife and her stupid cat!”

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It’s a great, old, classic science fiction film, and (most of) the special effects hold up really well even 60 years later. Scott isn’t a particularly likable protagonist/narrator, but it’s still a very entertaining watch, even if from the beginning you get a strong feeling that there’s no way this will end well.

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There’s a feeling of doom even before they bring carnies into the mix

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What we learned: To God there is no zero. Also, avoid being enveloped by mysterious fogs.

Next time: The Monolith Monsters (1957)

Bonus: The Curse of Frankenstein

Watched: December 25 2017

Director: Terence Fisher

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Valerie Gaunt

Year: 1957

Runtime: 1h 22min

Curse

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Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) is smart, ambitious, handsome, charming and rich. He is also an arrogant jerk. And imprisoned. He confesses to a priest and tells his unusual, and somewhat unbelievable, story.

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“It all started, as these things tend to do, with a dead dog…”

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Orphaned at a fairly young age, Baron Frankenstein hires his own tutor, Paul Krempe (Urquhart), to be his teacher and later partner. Together the two explore the world of science!

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That’s just normal glass – his eyes are really like that. If you don’t believe us, watch Top Secret (1984)

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Their greatest achievement, the reanimation of dead tissue, brings about different reactions in the two scientists. While Kempe’s initial reactions is “yay! This’ll make surgery so much easier and safer!”, Frankenstein’s first impulse is to go out and harvest body parts to make himself a new man-puzzle. Kempe finally starts to see the sociopath in his student, and they have a falling out.

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“It’s MY turn to reanimate the corpse!” “No, it’s MINE!” “Who’s the one paying for all this?” “Screw this, I’m out.”

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Things escalate when Victor straight up murders another intellectual to use his brain for his creation, and then uses his successfully assembled and animated creature (Lee) to kill his knocked up maid Justine (Gaunt) who threatens to expose his shady dealings if he does not marry her.

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“Sorry, sweetheart – you’re certainly not good enough for the likes of me. Think of what the children will be like??? No, I’m engaged to marry my cousin. Yay gene pool!”

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Meanwhile, Victor’s cousin Elizabeth (Court) has arrived to marry him, which adds another complication. With the death toll rising, a creature on the loose, a falling out between the friends, and a Fair Maiden innocently roaming the large house at night, how on earth will this end?

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Let’s face it: fancy, defenseless ladies roaming around castles in the night with only a small lamp for company are usually not indicative of happy endings…

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The Curse of Frankenstein is quite different from its early predecessor Frankenstein despite their many similarities. For one, the monster (or, in this case, creature) isn’t really all that important. As creepy and scary as Christopher Lee is in this, the focus is all on the Mad Scientist Victor Frankenstein.

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For such an unfortunate looking creature, he’s a surprisingly snappy dresser!

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Frankenstein himself is also very different. Personally, we feel that this take on the Baron is closer to the source material than many other incarnations – he really is an arrogant, egotistical, spoiled brat with a God complex in the book, no matter how bad he feels once everything falls apart. Cushing’s Frankenstein is particularly ruthless, and we love him for it. Well, not him as much as this version of events, we suppose. But we definitely love this film!

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…and this guy! #decompositionchic

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What we learned: If you’re going to stand up to a rich, insane, megalomaniac nobleman who doesn’t like being told what to do, you’d better have a contingency plan…

Next time: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)