Friday, June 23, 2017

Worth Mentioning - Roger Corman Finds a Way

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

In the mix this week: dinosaurs, a werewolf, Abbott and Costello, Jekyll and Hyde.


After Jurassic Park came out in 1993 and rocked our grade school worlds, the possibilities of a sequel quickly became a playground topic of conversation among my circle of friends. Some thought the idea of a sequel was stupid; Jurassic Park had been a complete story, there was nothing more to say. Others were sure it was inevitable. Some of us, like myself, thought it wasn't just inevitable, but also necessary. You couldn't introduce an awesome concept like that, bring dinosaurs back to life in our modern world, and just leave it at one movie.

Most of us thought that the key to a sequel would be the container of dino DNA that had been dropped by the traitorous Nedry. Sure, it had been said that there was a short amount of time to get that container to its buyer, but maybe there could still be a way to work it into the story... Not such an outlandish idea, since a rejected draft written for Jurassic Park 4 would reference that container more than ten years later.

None of us considered the answer that Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton came up with. Everyone thought the island Jurassic Park was built on, Isla Nublar, was the only island that had dinosaurs on it. We never thought there was a second island.

Truthfully, there's no reason for there to be a second island. It's explained in Crichton's novel, and in the screenplay adaptation written by David Koepp, that dinosaurs were created and hatched on this other island, Isla Sorna, and then transported over to Isla Nublar, 87 miles away. But we saw dinosaurs being created and hatched right on Isla Nublar in Jurassic Park. So what's the point in doing it on Isla Sorna, too? There is no point. It's just a dodgy idea for a sequel.

Isla Sorna was abandoned by the dino-makers of InGen when their facility there was destroyed by a hurricane, but four years later the dinosaurs that were bred on the island are still flourishing, despite the fact that the lysine deficiency InGen gave them should have caused them to die off in a week without supplements. Life finds a way.

Crichton didn't bring back many Jurassic Park characters for The Lost World. In fact, the one he brought back to take the lead was one he had killed off in the previous book - "thinks he's a rock star" mathematician and chaotician Ian Malcolm, who had been played by Jeff Goldblum in the film adaptation. Malcolm proved to be so popular with readers and viewers that Crichton brought him back from the dead, saying that he needed the character to crack the story, it wasn't just a popularity contest.

Goldblum reprises the role of Malcolm in the sequel, which Steven Spielberg came back to direct. His return in the film isn't as problematic as it was in the book, because the character had survived the first movie. There are a few cameos from Goldblum's Jurassic Park co-stars packed into the first 15 minutes of the film, when Malcolm is called to the mansion of InGen head John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) - another character who had been killed in the Jurassic Park novel. On his way to see Hammond, who is now ill and bedridden, Malcolm briefly runs into the man's grandchildren, Lex and Tim (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello). They have nothing to do in this story, their appearance is just fan service.

Hammond tells Malcolm about Isla Sorna and that others at InGen have been wanting to exploit the dinosaurs on the island to save the company from bankruptcy in the aftermath of the Jurassic Park disaster. The outside world doesn't know that InGen recreated dinosaurs; everyone else who was present at Jurassic Park stuck to their non-disclosure agreements. Malcolm broke his NDA and tried to tell the world about the dinosaurs, but that has caused him nothing but trouble. The public did not believe him. Now the secret is about to come out.

Hammond himself is sending a team of four people to Isla Sorna to study the dinosaurs for a "living fossil record". They won't be the first people to go there since the facility was evacuated - a British family cruising around in their yacht happened to stop on the beach, where the young daughter (Camilla Belle) was attacked by little Compsognathus dinosaurs. That incident has caused Hammond's nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) to take control of InGen, and he wants to go public with the dinosaurs and go forward with the plans of exploitation. Hammond wants to beat his nephew to the punch and convince the public to petition for Ludlow to leave the dinosaurs on Isla Sorna alone.

That's all a bit muddled. The point is, there are dinosaurs loose on an island, people are going to the island, there is a group of good guys and a group of bad guys, and they're all going to have a terrifying experience when they come face-to-face with the prehistoric beasts.

Hammond wants Malcolm on his four person team, and Malcolm initially refuses. But then he finds out that his paleontologist girlfriend Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), who first sought him out when he was telling his dino tales, has already agreed to be on the team - and has already left for Isla Sorna without saying a word to Malcolm, hoping to get a head start on the documentation. So Malcolm joins the other two members of the team - video documentarian Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) and field equipment specialist Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff) - and heads to Isla Sorna on what he considers to be a rescue mission.

Sarah is doing just fine on the island, hanging out with herbivores like the Stegosaurus, which was my favorite dinosaur when I was a child. Malcolm still wants her to get out of there, but their argument hasn't even ended before he realizes that his daughter from a previous relationship has stowed away on the trip and joined them in this dangerous situation. Malcolm had said in Jurassic Park that he loved kids and indicated that he had been married multiple times, and we're introduced to one of the children that resulted from his marriages, Vanessa Lee Chester as Kelly.

Malcolm is still arguing with Sarah and hasn't figured out how to get any of them off the island yet when Ludlow and a small army of hunters show up in helicopters. Multiple motor vehicles are dropped off on the island and these guys go tearing around in them, terrorizing the dinosaurs, choosing ones to snare or blast down with tranquilizers. The hunt is being overseen by Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite), who has waived his fee in favor of being allowed to hunt a male Tyrannosaurus rex.

Tembo's plan to lure the T. rex involves capturing one of its babies, breaking its leg, and tying it up. As you might expect, this cruel plan causes a lot of trouble for all of the characters, good and bad. In fact, the injured baby ends up inside the camper belonging to our heroes, where Nick and Sarah do their best to help it. Of course, mommy and daddy T. Rex don't know they're helping and do their best to smash the camper to pieces in the best sequence of the movie. Half of the camper goes off the edge of a cliff in the process, causing Sarah to fall back onto the back window - the cracking glass the only thing stopping her from falling down the rest of the cliff.

As great as the cracking window moment is, there's another scene that's equally horrid. A moment in which Kelly uses her gymnastics skills - which weren't even deemed good enough for her to stay on her grade school gymnastics team, but look professional and are performed by a very obvious double - to save her dad from an attacking Velociraptor. The Spielberg who allowed that to make it into his movie was a quick preview of the Spielberg who made Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

The Lost World is pretty dull, dreary, and dumb overall. One of the dumbest things is when a ship comes smashing into the San Diego harbor because the captured T. Rex on board got loose and killed the entire crew. This giant creature even somehow killed the captain of ship inside the bridge, a room it wouldn't have been able to fit inside, without causing any damage to the door or walls. It's like this T. Rex was equipped with the ability to shrink itself down to Velociraptor size, then grows back to normal size by the time it reaches San Diego... And when the ship crashes, it's back inside the cargo hold, with the door closed! How?! Was anyone on set thinking about what they were shooting when they were filming this stuff?

The dinosaur was being brought to San Diego because Ludlow planned to open a new version of Jurassic Park there in mainland America. That plan doesn't work out, but Ludlow is successful at revealing to the public that InGen has brought dinosaurs into the 1990s. Unfortunately for him, the public becomes aware of this because the T. Rex proceeds to rampage through the streets of San Diego, eating people and pets alike. It's up to Malcolm and Sarah to save the city... And this sequence is a fun way to take a mediocre movie out on a high note.

The "Sarah on the cracking window" scene and San Diego rampage are a couple of the few things I actually like about The Lost World, which I don't feel has much to offer in the way of entertainment. There's minimal story that's not told very well. None of the new characters register as anything special The hunters are dirty, despicable, and unpleasant to watch. Ian Malcolm spends most of the film being a panicky pain to his loved ones and trying to make radio calls. There's plenty of action, but it's not very fun. It's not enjoyable to watch the hunters torment the dinosaurs. I've always seen The Lost World as a major disappointment, ever since the first viewing I had of it in 1997. Somehow I didn't get around to seeing it in the theatre, but I don't feel like I missed out. I wanted a sequel, but I thought it would be better than this.


Universal Pictures brought a lot of monsters and madmen to the screen over the years: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man, etc. They only made one feature film with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in it, though. It came along late in their monster heyday, and it was not a purely serious horror film. Instead, it was part of the studio's "Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters" series of horror comedies.

Legendary comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello play Slim and Tubby, respectively, characters who have not only managed to become American police officers but have even been chosen to go to London to learn the methods of Scotland Yard. For some reason. Unluckily for this hapless duo, their time in London happens to coincide with a rash of murders, as a "monster" has been stalking the foggy streets at night, killing people in the vicinity of Hyde Park.

The introduction of the Jekyll and Hyde element is handled deadly seriously, beginning with the murder of a man who gets whacked over the head with a cane and is then quickly strangled by Hyde's hairy hands. Slim and Tubby enter the picture soon after, getting caught up in comedic mob scene mayhem when some men folk react poorly to an "equal rights for women" song performed by protesting suffragettes. One of those suffragettes is Vicky Edwards (Helen Westcott), whose guardian is a man named Dr. Henry Jekyll. Jekyll is played by Boris Karloff, and some of the earliest scenes with this character are so dark I began to wonder how his story could possibly mesh with the antics of Abbott and Costello, even though they had already appeared.

Jekyll is a prominent scientist who believes there is good and evil inside everyone, and is seeking to find a way to suppress the evil and ultimately eliminate bloodshed, violence, and war. A noble cause... but he has instead found a way to bring his own evil to the surface, resulting in the monster Hyde. Jekyll's transformation into Hyde is activated with a serum injection, and even though we watch Karloff undergo the transformation into the furry maniac, Hyde himself is actually played by the incredibly prolific (305 stunt credits, 295 acting credits) Eddie Parker.

Even without taking the Hyde injection, Jekyll is truly a creep. He becomes murderously jealous when his ward Vicky embarks on one of the quickest courtships ever with reporter Bruce Adams (Craig Stevens), who happens to be investigating the murders. Jekyll is in love with Vicky himself, he can't let another man take her away. Not only does this film put the idea of 65 year old Karloff lusting over 25 year old Westcott into our heads, but Jekyll even confesses that he has been in love with Vicky since she was a child. Eegah.

Once Jekyll becomes Hyde before our eyes and sets out to kill Bruce, Slim and Tubby take over the movie and we get our comedy as they try to bring the monster to justice. I have loved watching Abbott and Costello since I was a little kid, and always enjoy watching them bumble their way through another movie. There aren't really any standout bits in this film, but there still deliver the laughs with clumsiness, Tubby's cowardice, and mixed-up misunderstandings. If there's one thing you could point to in Jekyll and Hyde that makes it stand out from the rest of their movies, it could be the sequence in which Tubby becomes a mouse-man after drinking something in Jekyll's laboratory.

Of course, the fact that Tubby also becomes his own version of Hyde at one point is another unique element.

In a nod to Abbott and Costello's previous monster adventures, Tubby even finds himself face-to-face, once again, with Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster. At least, wax museum versions of Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster... and somehow the Monster takes some steps when a severed power line touches it.

Directed by Charles Lamont, who captured some wonderful images of a foggy London at night, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an entertaining comedy. Universal didn't bring Jekyll and Hyde to the screen in the way you might have expected them to during their classic monster days, but they made a winner nonetheless.

Somehow this movie received an X rating in England for the Mr. Hyde scenes, even though that opening murder is the only thing I can imagine anyone objecting to. And that's over in seconds.


In 1961, Anthony Hinds served as screenwriter on the film The Curse of the Werewolf, in which a character receives the curse of the title simply because he was conceived through rape and born at midnight on the eve of Christmas. Fourteen years later, Hinds wrote this unrelated werewolf film, and  being born at midnight on Christmas Eve is also part of this Legend of the Werewolf he crafted with director Freddie Francis.

In this case, the character is named Etoile and he was born to a couple who were fleeing their homeland, driven out because the state didn't approve of their customs. While on their trek through the wilderness, Etoile's father was attacked and killed by wolves. Before she can reach safety, Etoile's mother gives birth to him - and dies in the process. A newborn stranded in the forest, Etoile would certainly have died as well, if not for the timing of his birth. Legend has it that a child born at midnight on Christmas Eve will be guarded by the wild beast, and indeed Etoile was - nursed by the female wolves, protected by the males. Myths about children being raised by wolves go back thousands of years, but for Etoile it is a reality.

Eventually Etoile is found by a traveling circus and the feral child is added to the freak show attraction, presented to audiences as the Wolf Boy, goaded into growling and lashing out at them. The years pass and the wildness fades; by the time Etoile reaches adulthood he's a nice, functional member of society. Except on nights when the full moon causes him to transform into a wolfman and go on a bloodthirsty rampage.

Etoile meets and falls in love with a prostitute, but with the beast always waiting just under the surface, ready to start coming out at moments of intense emotion, we know this is a doomed romance. As Etoile racks up a body count around Paris, a medical examiner played by genre icon Peter Cushing investigates the case...

The Curse of the Werewolf was based on a 1933 novel by Guy Endore that was set in 1800s France, but the film was set in 1700s Spain. Although Endore isn't credited for the source material, it's clear that Hinds was going back to that book for Legend, which is set in the 1800s and takes place primarily in Paris. Neither of these films are a completely faithful adaptation of Endore's book, and neither are what I would call great, but within the first 20 minutes of Legend it's already clear to me that it's the one I prefer. It moves at a faster pace, the back story of the werewolf is simplified, and it doesn't have the rape element. The adult Etoile has already undergone his first werewolf transformation within the first 15 minutes; that's a pace I can get behind.

From one story, Hinds got two very different films (with very similar looking werewolves). A viewer could certainly like both of them, but chances are you'll like one more than the other, and it's interesting to watch both and figure out which one is more appealing to your taste. Some may find Legend to be a step down from Curse, while I found Legend to be more entertaining.

I mean, this one has Peter Cushing, so how could it not be the winner?


The first Carnosaur movie was a mad scientist tale in which Diane Ladd had an insane and disgusting plan to wipe out humanity by impregnating human women with dinosaurs. The sequel that came along two years later is a much more straightforward monster movie, one that takes clear inspiration from James Cameron's Aliens. There are even some moments that were directly lifted from Cameron's film, which was only nine years old at that time. If you're familiar with Aliens, Carnosaur II will give you déjà vu.

Out in the middle of the desert is the military-operated Yucca Mountain uranium mine, where the government has also been conducting secret dinosaur-related experiments and research. When the dinosaurs get loose in the facility and wipe out the skeleton crew, a team of independent contractors are called in to see why there's been a communication breakdown. Members of this team are played by the likes of John Savage, Rick Dean, Neith Hunter, and Return of the Living Dead's Miguel A. Núñez Jr., so I'm instantly on board to follow them through whatever may be ahead of them. Especially when Núñez is allowed to be the funny, likeable guy and Dean is allowed to be the funny, appalling guy.

Led to the facility by Cliff De Young as a military man who knows more than he's telling them, the team finds the place a mess and everyone dead. The only survivor is the teenage son of an employee who had been sneaking around where he wasn't supposed to be.

It isn't long before the team comes into contact with the creatures that caused all this trouble - a pack of Velociraptors and a lone T. Rex.

Directed by Louis Morneau (Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead) from a screenplay by Michael Palmer and produced by the legendary Roger Corman, Carnosaur II is a wonderful example of B-movie filmmaking. It's a sequel that not only cashes in on the success of its predecessor but also on the success of a huge blockbuster (Jurassic Park), it lifts its story from another movie, and it's set almost entirely within the confines of the facility. Having the action take place in one interior location helps keep the budget down, especially since Corman probably already had these sets on hand.

Also helping keep the budget down is the fact that Morneau keeps the dinosaurs off screen whenever possible. But rest assured, when the prehistoric beasts start whittling down the cast piece by piece, we do get to see a fair amount of these rubbery creatures.

This movie is exactly what it needs to be, an entertaining body count flick. It gives us 80 minutes of people and dinosaurs tearing into each other, and that's all I needed from it.

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