Monday, 25 November 2013
It's odd to think that two vastly different films with 30 years between them could both be lumped together under the same generic genre banner. But that's what happens when you start classifying anything old as "classic" - like, for example, the 1924 silent feature The Phantom Of The Opera and the mid-50s monster flick Creature From The Black Lagoon both being labelled as Classic Horror. The fact that the technical tools available to the filmmakers were worlds apart and their aims were very different don't seem to matter. If it wasn't for alphabetical order, you'd find them side by side on a video store shelf.
Of course, both films are even further removed from modern day fare. Some might claim they suffer for that, but it really does depend what you want from a horror film. Do either of these films shock or scare you? Likely not in an immediate, jump out of your seat kind of way (though the iconic reveal of the Phantom's face can still unsettle), but that's not necessarily the only thing horror can do to you. There's something chilling about the idea of unseen monsters living in a foreign environment right under your feet which could - at a moment's notice and through no fault of your own - rise up and destroy your life. As well, both films provide haunting images of their monsters in close-up that can leave rather disconcerting feelings within you (put the dead-looking eyes of the Creature alongside the contorted, deformed face of the Phantom and your sleep may be interrupted tonight). The jump scares are few and far between, but good horror leaves an impression, not just a brief quickening of the heartbeat due to the crash of sound and image. So the two films do have a good deal in common I guess.
Even the plots contain some overlap as each film has its own secretive "monster" that lurks below the surface and only fights back against the populace above when he is threatened (or when the woman of his choosing is denied him). The Phantom, of course, is well known from stage, screen and just about every other medium - even most of the characters in the movie have heard about him from the very beginning of the story. Everyone seems to know about the rumours of a ghost at the Paris Opera House and that it may somehow be related to the mysterious and cloaked figure who owns box number 5. Everyone, that is, except the new owners. They get acquainted with him rather quickly, though, as several events happen in rapid succession: they see a cloaked man disappear suddenly from his box seat, the ballet dancers see a shadowy figure as they run off stage and the Prima Donna singer Carlotta gets a note ordering her not to perform the following night. In regards to that last occurrence, the Phantom wants Christine to play the role of Marguerite instead and though Carlotta and her mother put up a good fight and refuse to be insulted in such fashion, when show time rolls around the marquee singer seems to have fallen ill. Christine gets the spotlight and The Phantom later pledges to her (through the walls of her dressing room) that he will impart all of his art to her, but she must renounce all her possessions until the day when he will show her his form. Her current boyfriend Raoul is none too pleased at these developments, but Christine tells him that she cannot ever leave the Opera House and it would be best for him to forget her. As if to underscore this, the next night Carlotta decides to sing and The Phantom follows through with his threats. A great chandelier crashes down upon the audience below causing mass pandemonium. In the aftermath, he pulls Christine to the other side of the mirror and down deep into the caverns below...
Those dark depths are the domain of the Phantom, just as below the surface of the murky water of the Amazon is the territory of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He's (It's?) been happy to stay hidden there lo these many years, but as an expedition returns to his particular corner of the river (after finding some fossil remains of large webbed hands), he begins to feel threatened. The expedition is on alert after returning to base camp to find two of the team dead, but they push onwards. The administrative director of the expedition is concerned mostly about finding something - anything - to avoid being labelled a failure, while the remainder of the crew (apart from the captain of the boat) are scientific staff interested in finding and studying the beast. David is the head of the science expedition and he and the director are at loggerheads for most of the film - not just because of their different approaches to the expedition ("You don't sound like a scientist, you sound like a big game hunter out for the kill"), but because they both have eyes for the only woman on the trip. Kay is already David's girl, but director Mark makes it known to her with the occasional creepy remark that he wouldn't be overly upset if David were to disappear and he be left alone with her. Once the creature sees Kay swimming in the water, though, this triangle expands into a quadrilateral. With Kay often left on her own since David and the crew have qualms about "going into unexplored territory with a woman...", the creature actually has several chances at stealing her away. The story from here doesn't so much progress as it repeats a common cycle: attempt to catch and study the creature then fail. The creature, for his part, tries several times to get onboard the ship and finally succeeds at capturing Kay and bringing her to his secret grotto. However, the paralyzing drug they been using to try to capture him finally takes hold and they rescue Kay while finally caging the beast. That doesn't last long and they go back to the cycle of cat and mouse.
In many ways Creature Of The Black Lagoon is a run of the mill 50s sci-fi/horror - impulsive characters doing stupid things, women present only for the sake of being rescued and to have men fight over them, and action being driven simply because the plot requires it. However, it differs in several key ways that firmly place it in the realm of "classic horror". First and foremost is the quite spectacular underwater footage that 60 some years later still looks impressive and must have been very difficult to capture at the time. It's not just the frequency or the realism of seeing the beast and the crew swim around the lagoon, but director Jack Arnold (It Came From Outer Space, This Island Earth, Tarantula, The Incredible Shrinking Man, etc.) gets creative by having the camera follow alongside the swimmers, film over top of them, from below and by playing with the light streaming through the water. This leads to some wonderful shots and, when both man and beast are in the water at the same time, provides actual suspense. As much as I enjoy a great deal of the 50s films from this genre, there are rarely moments as tense as some of these underwater sequences. Arnold keeps the film moving at a decent clip and even though it has a tendency to fall back on standard tropes of the genre and times (such as later in the movie when the beast blocks the boat's path and one of the crew tells Kay to go lock herself in her room to be safe...), as a whole, it's a pretty damn effective monster flick. Even within those restrictions, it plays with the alpha male competition between David and Mark (though never quite allows Kay to do much), appears to be a solid proponent of evolution and its role in helping to foster this strange mix of fish and man (an early montage shows the beginnings of life in water), and consistently uses music very well (blaring horns dominating when the creature pops up from behind a rock while strings help along the creepier sections).
The Phantom, of course, can't readily fall back upon genre characteristics or shortcuts since they were still developing at the time. It does make use of some expressionistic filming which provides some gorgeous use of shadows (even in the relatively crappy DVD version I watched), but otherwise it has to figure out its own path to the creation of an eerie environment designed to frighten its audience. The strategy is focused very much on mood - using shadows, set design, makeup and acting as the tools. As mentioned earlier, that reveal of the phantom's face just after Christine removes his mask has easily made its way to the list of all time horror movie moments and still has the power to shock. Lon Chaney must be given the lion's share of the credit as he created the phantom's horrific features solely from twisting his own face and using makeup that he took great pains to do himself. He's the star of the show, but certainly has to share the stage with those rather stunning sets that stand in for the sewers and dungeon pathways under the opera house. There are several trips through the passageways throughout the movie and numerous times you find yourself hoping that the plot holds off just a bit longer before intruding upon the surreal visions on screen. Adding further to these images is the Bal Masque D'Opera scene - a yearly event where all classes in Paris mingle in costumes and masks and is the only portion of the film with colour. While the revellers are in hues of pink and purple, the phantom stands out in glowing red (on my DVD copy it was more like magenta, but it's obvious how much he contrasts with the rest of the partygoers). At this point Christine has betrayed him, so his costume of the Red Death is highly appropriate. Having previously uttered sentences such as "If I am the Phantom, it is because man's hatred has made me so" and "Feast your eyes - glut your soul, on my accursed ugliness", this is not a guy who is going to be terribly open to second chances and excuses. He has learned of Christine and Raoul's plan to run away and snatches her after the next performance of Faust from the stage. The Phantom has desired Christine's love in order to redeem him ("so that which is good within me, aroused by your purity, might plead for your love"), but now that he sees her as having betrayed him he becomes desperate. Raoul gives chase into the tunnels (along with the French secret police and eventually a mob) and sets up the finale which also turns into a bit of cat and mouse suspense.
Though Phantom Of The Opera is undoubtedly one of the more original and long-lasting documents of horror filmmaking, both films have influenced (in different ways) and entertained countless fans and aficionados over the years and easily deserve their reputations as being classics. Horror or otherwise.
Sunday, 3 November 2013
Is she winking, squinting or wincing? Or all three? Whatever the case, I'm continuing my October horror posts into November.
Visiting Hours (Jean-Claude Lord - 1982) - You can only suspend belief for so long, you know? I can forgive much of the silliness in the plot of this killer-stalks-hospital slasher - especially when it handles several early scenes with pretty decent tension - but the last 30-40 minutes so obviously contrives a final showdown that you can't help but throw your hands up (several times). It's sheer laziness really - I get why they wanted to have Lee Grant run through long empty hospital corridors with the relentless Michael Ironside chasing her, but couldn't they be even slightly creative in figuring out how to clear out other people? With all the commotion that had been going on in the busy hospital and with it crawling with cops, the film (without any explanations or reasons) has the killer chase his intended victim across 3 separate floors without running into a single person. Well, except for the nurse he recently wounded who was lying on a cart completely unattended (even though she was moments earlier hurriedly wheeled in due to him stabbing her). Even William Shatner couldn't make me forget that.
We Are What We Are (Jorge Michel Grau - 2010) - Though I saw Jim Mickle's remake of this Spanish film a week or so beforehand, it didn't lessen a single thing about the original. Both take their time with their story and keep gore to a minimum in the early goings, but each stands alone and takes a different path towards expressing its title. While Mickle uses 2 teenage girls and a very young boy as the children of a cannibal family, Grau builds his family unit through 3 teenagers (2 boys and a girl). Each of the three has a different approach and reaction to the death of one of their parents, but they all know that they must now take on a much greater role in keeping the family fed - which means sourcing and bringing "food" back to their home. The situation is chilling enough, so when violence does occur, it's quite shocking. It's rare to find a remake made so soon after its original be in the same league, but both these films complement each other wonderfully well.
The Omen IV: The Awakening (Jorge Montesi, Dominique Othenin-Girard - 1991) - Of all the horror films I've yet to see - many of which are right at my fingertips due to the disparate methods of finding and watching them - I had to go and choose The Omen IV. I was actually pleasantly surprised by both the second and third films in the series (neither of which are "all-timers" but progressed the story well and provided some memorable moments), so I figured I should get closure with the fourth when I discovered its existence at my neighbourhood video store. Only later did I realize that this was a made-for-TV affair which made it pretty obvious that no one was interested in turning this rather pointless continuation of the story into a feature film. This time around, a baby girl is adopted by a wealthy couple from a convent and slowly shows signs of increasing evil. Well, actually my main feeling towards the girl was simply one of annoyance - likely a combination of the acting and the poorly realized character. Her father gets into politics and quickly proves to be a strong contender for a future run at president, but the story bounces from one short cut to another in such bland fashion as to never give things a chance to build up to anything sinister. When you use crutches like a boy peeing his pants because he's scared or a woman fainting on the spot, you simply have nothing imaginative to say. Couldn't wait for this thing to end.
Basket Case (Frank Henenlotter - 1982) - In comparison to the lame Omen IV, Henenlotter's super low-budget attempt at exploitative gore is even worse on many fronts (acting, dialogue, consistency...Oh, I could go on...), but it beats it hands down where it counts: it allows you to accept the movie for what it is. This, in turn, actually makes it kind of entertaining. The concept of a man carrying his twin brother (amputated from his right side at 12 years old) in a picnic basket as they seek revenge on three doctors for the operation is quite ridiculous - especially when you see what's left of the twin brother - but it's not like the film doesn't realize that. By using stop-motion animation for the blob-like remnants of the twin, blinding bright red for the blood and guts, and tight close-ups to reinforce some of the facial contortions of the cast, Basket Case plays up its shortcomings. I don't quite understand the cult following that has grown around the movie (though with a crowd, it could be a hoot), but short of some, ahem, dialogue sections that drag somewhat, it made me laugh and cringe a couple of times. Which is exactly what I think it wanted to do.
Thursday, 31 October 2013
A near perfect title (targeting viewers as well as certain characters within the film) for a near perfect exercise in escalation, Cheap Thrills follows two desperate souls as they dive deeper into a game of cruel one-upmanship (for cash and prizes!). There can only be one possible direction for the game to finally take and the film steps you there in believable (and, fortunately, entertaining) fashion. As our contestants Craig and Vince out-do and under-bid each other at each step, the comedy turns darker and an uncomfortable reality sets in to the viewer - are we just as guilty as the two hosts of this private party?
The party in question is for Violet's birthday (played by Sara Paxton and looking far different than her tom-boyish character in The Innkeepers) and it's being hosted by her husband Colin (David Koechner). The party-hardy Colin chats up Vince at a bar (where he and Craig were catching up on old times) and manages to rope the two of them into celebrating the beautiful Violet's special day (even if she seems totally uninterested in just about everything but her phone). Craig hasn't exactly had the best day - he just got fired from a crappy job on the same day he received a final eviction notice on the apartment he shares with his wife and infant child - and he was just considering bailing on home when Colin and Vince convince him to stay for an additional drink or two. He really has no reason to stay (he had only accidentally ran into his old "friend" Vince at the bar anyway), but Colin's ease with flashing money and willingness to make little side bets (e.g. "I'll give you $20 if that girl slaps your face...") has him intrigued. He's in dire straits and currently has no immediate options for making any money. Since his going-nowhere writing career won't provide for his family any time soon, he decides to stay...
Of course, the bets become more valuable, but also a bit more challenging and slightly dangerous ("$500 if you punch the bouncer first!"). They shift venues and finally end up back at David and Violet's house. By now, a rivalry has been set up between Craig and Vince in order to pit them against each other to win individual bets and contests. Only the winner gets money - second place gets nothing. This leads to moments like Vince punching Craig in the stomach during the who-can-hold-their-breath-the-longest challenge when it looks like his clocking may not hold up. In just about any other plot scenario, you might get a bit frustrated that at no point do Craig and Vince consider working together or giving each other a break - to David and Violet's amusement, the game has turned into a complete selfish drive for each player to make as much money as possible. However, the lead up to the events is handled ever so gradually and in a way that completely makes sense given the circumstances and the characters. Vince has been down the loser path before and has seen the inside of prison, so as he eagerly falls into David's keep-the-party-going ethic you can definitely see his how lack of empathy easily morphs into the need to maximize his returns from the game. Craig is much more thoughtful, but his self-esteem, his family and his failure to achieve his goals as a famous writer (or at least as a paid one) allow him to miss the forest for the individual trees. The events force each guy to think that they need to live up to their "manhood". The film acts somewhat as a warning about buying into the cultural framework of masculinity as defined by: Don't take any shit, act tough, suck it up, be the sole provider, don't ask for help, don't look weak, do it all yourself and for God sake dude "Man up!". Pride sure can be a deadly sin...Craig subjects himself to these games (which become somewhat sadistic trials along the way) for his family's well being, but since he hasn't even considered other options or included his wife in any conversation about what they should do next, there's a strong feeling that he is doing it to regain that loss of his hunter/gatherer role. At what cost though?
Even with the view that the film is a commentary about the consequences of following societal conventions, you still can't help but wonder what you might do in the situations presented. At what point would you tap out? Would you not have even joined the party? Do you leave before entering the home of David and Violet? When the previously disinterested Violet suddenly shows interest in you and offers a, uh, win-win activity (with some additional cash for you too), how hard do your scruples push back? In the case of Craig, he puts up a decent enough fight sometimes, but he's sucked in big time to the temptation of immediate money and a solution to his immediate problem. Pat Healy (Paxton's cohort from The Innkeepers) does a great job in selling Craig's desperation and not for one minute did I ever feel that the plot was making those decisions for him - the characters drive the plot. Koechner too is very good - dialing things down a bit from his better known broader comedic characters, he brings just a shade of menace to the role of Colin that always keeps things tense, but can still deliver a funny line at a moment's notice. The film's ability to drop both big and little surprises throughout while still moving towards an inevitable conclusion is a strength that sets it apart from most genre movies. A film that delivers far more than it promises.
Monday, 21 October 2013
If you've ever channel surfed and gone around the horn perhaps a few more times than a rational thinking person really should, you may have some idea how Ian Folivor (the central character of Don Thacker's film Motivational Growth) feels. Only some though...You see, Ian has reached the grandmaster level of couch potato-ness. He hasn't left his apartment in over a year, pizza boxes and various dishes litter the furniture and it's probably a tie between the floor and his beard as to which contains more food scraps. His couch is well worn in and except for the fairly regular bowel movements, he has mostly settled into a slouched zombie position as he flips constantly between stations. The mammoth remote control stays firmly in his hand as he stares at his old relic of a family TV (the old kind with tubes that came in crate sized cabinets). He's lost his way, doesn't know how to find it again and has pretty much given up hope of ever finding the desire to look for it. We know this because after his TV conks out on him, he confides it all straight into the camera to us. Without the TV, he's even lost the will to keep living, so he concocts a poisonous mixture in his bathtub, breathes in the fumes and resigns himself to sweet oblivion. It's around this point that Ian notices mold in the corner of his bathroom - mainly because it speaks to him.
Sorry, I should say "The Mold" (as it likes to be addressed). After Ian crashes down on the bathroom floor trying to seal off that damn bathroom fan that's constantly churning (along with spiffy 8-bit computer game music - also known as chiptune - it's the only other sound on the soundtrack), The Mold informs him that things need to change. The Mold has a plan and Ian is to follow every step. The Mold is here to help him. Ian is resistant, but after a series of encounters with people in his apartment (groceries, TV repair, landlord, etc.), he strikes a deal with the fungus. Ian begins to clean himself and his apartment up, tackles several tasks assigned to him and starts to envision an actual life. Hopefully one with that really cute woman next door that he has been peephole stalking on a daily basis.
At its core, Motivational Growth is a cautionary tale of what can happen if you don't get off the couch. As the rapturous, almost heavenly shots of Leah standing outside show (she looks angelic bathed in bright white light), it's borderline sinful to let your life just slip past you. Based somewhat on Thacker's own experiences after moving to Los Angeles (a reality check that he cashed in 1991 - hence the timeframe for the movie), there's a great deal more to the film than just its moral. There's an abundance of religious iconography, bits of physics, a playfulness with words, the science of spores and plenty of references to film, music and video games (including some great 8-bit video game animation that might have you hoping there's an old NES machine still working under your bed at home) to keep anyone guessing as to where the dialogue may turn next. It's unlikely any single viewer will catch or enjoy every reference, but there's easily enough to go around. Thacker's lengthy Q&A showed where it all comes from - he is simply bursting with things to say, connections to make and ideas to share.
That's the beauty and charm of the movie - it's overall message is straightforward, but there are hundreds of other thoughts at work. Some spill from Ian's own conversations with the camera, others from the visitors to the apartment and still many more from The Mold itself. With a tendency to call people "Jack" and the ability to instantaneously pop up different fungal derivatives throughout Ian's place, The Mold (wonderfully and energetically voiced by Jeffrey Combs) has very firm plans for his protege. Just when you think The Mold is all about helping, though, he throws Ian into disarray or into a potentially awful situation. Does it have an overriding master plan for him or is it just an evil grey growth in the corner of the bathroom messing with his head? The Mold, by the way, is done all via puppetry and its large gaping maw was apparently synched live with voice. Add that to the single location (comprised of just two sets) and some neat interplay with early 90s fake TV show/commercials on the TV, and you have to marvel at the amount of creativity Don Thacker has squeezed out of his relatively mild budget. Better yet though, marvel at how much fun it is to be taken on this ride and how original the film is. If it comes to a theatre or festival near you, just make sure you get up off the couch to go see it.
Sunday, 20 October 2013
There's always the danger of too much hype affecting the viewing pleasure of a new film - particularly when it's screened at a film festival where the programmers introduce their own choices. You'd think that the sell job would already be done (after all, your butt is already in the seat), but there's a strong desire to reinforce to the audience how much of a treat they're in for...Though I was very much looking forward to the first Indian entry ever to be presented at Toronto After Dark - the revenge thriller Eega - the on stage introduction to it felt perhaps a bit too rapturous in its praise. It was definitely a genuine excitement, but when we were told that the film also contained the greatest Intermission title card EVER, I thought I should scale my own expectations back a bit. After all, could a story of a reincarnated housefly seeking revenge on an underworld boss really provide that much fun? And could a single title card make a crowd spontaneously break into applause?
Turns out the answer is Yes on both counts.
Particularly that title card. Though we didn't actually stop for an intermission (the international cut of the film has been trimmed by 25 minutes or so to about 108 minutes), when our heroic fly strikes a pose in freeze frame after announcing its intention to the big bad boss that it will kill him, our entire theatre burst into cheers and laughs followed by a palpable sense of anticipation for the back half of the film. Those are the moments that the theatrical experience was designed to be. Forget whatever "experience" your megaplex theatre promises you, the best ones are when an entire crowd joyously hand themselves over to what's on screen. Of course, that specific moment wouldn't have happened had the movie not already won us over to it. The story starts out a little slow during its character introductions, but by the time the musical number has graced the screen you should already be sold on the film's rhythms and tone (which is distinctly and very knowingly goofy).
Nani has been chasing Bindhu for a couple of years, but has finally broken through her reserve. Things are just about to blossom when Sudeep (a wealthy criminal who appears to get any woman he wants) enters the picture and feels rebuffed when Bindhu only has eyes for Nani. Without missing a beat, Sudeep kidnaps the young man and dispatches him to clear the way to his latest infatuation. Without any explanation, Nani's soul leaves his body and lands squarely into an unhatched fly egg. The implication is that everyone is reincarnated, but since Nani's feelings for Bindhu are so strong, they spill over to his new physical manifestation. In short order after its birth, the fly has remembered everything and now seeks out Bindhu to protect her and take down Sudeep.
The film works as well as it does because it lays down its foundation early. Within the first 20 minutes or so you've experienced the sparks flying musical number as the two fall in love, the over-the-top smugness and greasiness of Sudeep, many slow zooming close-ups and an almost continuous wall of sound and music. This isn't a subtle drawing room drama. The film knows its CGI isn't suppose to look realistic, plays up many tropes and simply wants you to have fun. For example, when the fly first attempts to communicate with Bindhu, it feels somewhat like Lassie trying to tell someone that Billy fell down the well. Then there's the workout montage as our bug hero gets himself in shape to go after Sudeep in his own house (best use of a light bulb's filaments EVER). There are a few moments that do tend to drag a bit (several sequences of Sudeep trying to swat away the pesky fly tend to be repetitive), but that feels like too much nitpicking after all of the sheer energy and amusement the film has provided.
Tuesday, 15 October 2013
Not watching horror films this October? Bela Lugosi feels sorry for you...
The Night Flier (Mark Pavia - 1997) - Miguel Ferrer runs roughshod all over this film and holds together a story that could easily fall apart, but strangely doesn't. The titular character has been flying into small airports and killing the unsuspecting souls that he encounters. Dubbed the "Night Flier" by a tabloid reporter (due to the black plane only taking flight during the evening hours), this serial killer ends up being a different take on the vampire mythology. Ferrer plays the reporter who gets deeper into the story than he should - simply in order to get back on the front page. But as the Flier seems to know his every move and begins to warn him not to follow, will the grumpy, hard-nosed sensationalist be able to let it go? As an under the radar Stephen King adaptation, I was surprised by how much I actually cared about the answer to that question.
White Zombie (Victor Halperin - 1932) - "But what if they regain their souls!?" "They will tear me to pieces. But that my friend...SHALL NEVER BE!". If you can picture Bela Lugosi saying that second line and it brings a smile to your face, then you will love this progenitor of all the zombie films. There's some expressionistic use of shadows, some creative transitions & screen wipes and a couple of vultures, but its main selling point is Lugosi. His delivery, his emphasis on certain words and his glaring I'm-looking-into-your-soul eyes all make for great classic horror entertainment. The plot has goofy moments and forces a few things just to keep the story going (seriously, if you're stealing a body from a mausoleum, close the freaking door when you leave!), but this is simply 65 minutes of great, creepy fun.
Aswang (Wrye Martin, Barry Poltermann - 1994) - A couple pay a young woman to give up her baby to them in order that he may inherit the entirety of his family's estate. She must also accompany him for a weekend with his mother and pretend to be his wife. After an uncomfortable and slightly creepy initial meal, it's apparent not everything is as it seems - there's a "touched" sister in the cabin out back, a Filipino housekeeper who insists the pregnant girl drink her homemade cider, the stuck up secretive husband, his ailing mother and weird cocoons littered over the grounds with baby-like skeletons inside them. And then things start to get weird. Especially once you hear about the mythic Aswang - a vampiric beast who feeds on unborn children. Shot like it's an old 1970s relic, it has a similar feel to many of those slow paced, yet engaging horrors from that time period - until it picks up its pace substantially. A great find.
The Invisible Man (James Whale - 1933) - "He's mad and he's invisible". I daresay, that's a prickly combination...This classic is best known for its many "invisible man doing things" tricks (which look to be pretty impressive given the 80 year old technology), but it's really all about Claude Rains - at least his voice anyway. At the halfway mark of the film, you still haven't seen his actual face but you know for sure you've met a monstrous being. Whenever he's (so to speak) on screen, the film comes alive. Whenever he isn't, it flags and becomes, well, kind of commonplace. In particular, any scene with the screeching innkeeper's wife is almost unbearable (whether she was meant as comic relief or not). But Rains pulls it together and you totally believe how he suddenly moves from grumpy scientist to master evil criminal in the blink of an unseen eye. A well-deserved, if not always successful, classic.