The Changed, Darling, Threads, Dracula: The Original Living Vampire, and The Phantom of the Opera (1990)
Horror Bulletin Reviews for Week 162
This week, we’ll watch another handful of films, including the 1984, anti-war film, “Threads,” along with a made-for-TV-miniseries version of “The Phantom of the Opera” from 1990. We’ll follow those up with a trio of newer movies, from “Darling” to “Dracula: The Original Living Vampire” as well as the brand-new “The Changed.”
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where this week, we cover”
1973’s “The Boy Who Cried Werewolf”
The 2015 documentary about sleep paralysis and night terrors: “The Nightmare”
Next week, we’ll be back with more horrible films!
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Here. We. Go!
Directed by Mick Jackson
Written by Barry Hines
Stars Karen Meagher, Reece Dinsdale, David Brierly
Run Time: 1 Hour, 52 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s not strictly horror, but more of a what-if scenario of a horrible situation. It’s grim and realistic and thoroughly depressing. It’s the sort of movie you hope people in power watch and say, “Naw, let’s not do that.”
“In an urban society, our lives are woven together in a fabric. The connections that make us strong also make us vulnerable.” Credits Roll.
Sheffield, March 5th. Ruth and Jimmy, a young couple, watch jets flying overhead. They make out and get pregnant.
May 5th. We see satellite images of a Soviet convoy on the move in Iran. They blame the US for prompting all this. Ruth tells Jimmy that she’s pregnant.
May 9th, and the war has escalated. Jimmy’s parents aren’t happy to hear about the baby, but he wants to marry her. The Americans promise to send forces into Iran if the Russians don’t pull out.
More stuff happens with Jimmy, Ruth, and the war continues to escalate, mostly off-screen. We watch Mr. Sutton, the local wartime controller, making preparations for bad things. People are talking about all those jets flying over. Before long, there are nuclear war protests, and there are grocery shortages, but mostly things run as usual.
By the 24th, the war heats up. People are packing up and going to the country. Jimmy’s father watches the neighbors leave, and he wonders if staying is a mistake. On the 25th, there are reports of nuclear explosions in the Middle East. The museums start packing away their major artwork.
By the 26th, the radio explains what to do with dead bodies in fallout shelters. It’s sounding pretty bleak.
Then the air raid sirens go off and people. freak. out.
The first EMP takes out the electricity and communications. There are flashes and mushroom clouds over Sheffield. Between 2-½ to 9 million people die in the blast. An hour and a half later, the fallout arrives.
Jimmy’s parents are burned, but they survive and get radiation sickness. Ruth's family is safe and well in the basement of their house.
By the end of the first week, the government has taken control of the food sources, but they won’t be able to distribute it for two weeks. The government experts and managers, along with Mr. Sutton, are trapped in the basement of the building. They’re arguing about wasting food on the people who are going to die from the radiation anyway.
In ten days, the fires have gone out, but the radiation has become more of a problem than before, since all the water is contaminated. Ruth goes outside and sees all the dead people and pets, skeletons and burnt meat. The clouds blot out the sun; it’s dark all the time and the temperature drops significantly due to the darkness.
Twenty-two days after the attack cholera, diphtheria, and typhoid start becoming a problem. There are 10-20 million corpses laying around in London. The guys trapped in the government building have all suffocated by this point.
Things just get worse and worse as starvation, the cold, and radiation take their toll. Things revert to a medieval level of living. Then winter sets in…
The first fifty minutes show a pretty believable political situation. The rest is after the attacks. It’s sort-of a documentary and sort-of a drama; it flashes back and forth between the two styles.
So– the USA and the Soviets and a hot spot in Iran. That could never happen, right? The political stuff sounds pretty dated, except it’s not, really. Only the specifics are. The stuff that goes on before the attack looks very believable and realistic, and we saw a lot of the same stuff back when COVID was at its peak. You know it’s bad when the museums pull the paintings off the walls to put them somewhere procted.
The special effects are really non-existent, but they make really good use of stock footage and other sources. It’s pretty hard to believe they aired this as-is on BBC TV back in 1984. It’s pretty gory, and it’s even worse because it’s all so believable.
Yeah, it’s not a fun film. This is what kids like us watched on TV in the 80s, predicting the future. And they wonder why we prefer horror films; monsters and slashers are all so tame compared to this kind of reality!
The Phantom of the Opera (1990)
Directed by Tony Richardson
Written by Gaston Leroux, Arthur Kopit
Stars Teri Polo, Charles Dance, Burt Lancaster, Adam Storke
Run Time: 2 Hours, 48 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s pretty great, but also pretty long. They fluffed it out a bit to make it a two-night television mini-series. The acting is all excellent, the settings are amazing since they were able to use the actual Paris opera house. They manage a decent body count while not making it too graphic for television.
Part One begins as Gerard Carriere gets fired as manager of the opera house. That afternoon, Christine shows up for her singing lessons; The Count sent her to Gerard for singing lessons, but now she’s out of luck. Alain and Carlotta, new owners of the opera house, want an inventory of what’s in the basement, and the man who goes down there has heard stories. He sees a man in a mask and falls to his death.
Gerard explains to Alain “the rules.” “Don’t go down below,” he explains about the phantom and his territory down below. Alain says he doesn’t believe in ghosts as things start falling down around him.
Gerard asks the air if the man is dead, and Erik answers “Yes.” Gerard clearly knows all about what’s really going on. Gerard lets Erik know that he’s been replaced and can’t help “the phantom” anymore. They both hear Carlotta singing, and they both say it’s terrible. They seem to be good friends, and the Phantom jokes about killings, but he seems like a nice guy.
Christine gets a job in the costume department, working for Carlotta. She gets a small place to live in the building,, and the phantom overhears her singing. He watches her from the shadows over the next few days.
Erik the Phantom appears before Christine and introduces himself. He compliments her voice but says she’s untrained. He wants to give her singing lessons– but secretly. The Phantom sends repeated letters to Alain demanding a box and that he get rid of his own wife as the star of the show. He rents out Box 5 and also keeps Carlotta as the star. Both decisions go badly. Alain calls in Inspector Ledoux to help.
The Phantom trains Christine to sing in the evenings. She tells him about Count Phillippe, and Erik says that the count is unworthy of her. The count arrives soon after, and he hasn’t forgotten about Christine.
The count throws a party at the bistro, and they always sing there. Erik says this is Christine’s big opportunity. When Christine shows up at the party, everyone is stunned. She’s in a dazzling dress and sings beautifully. Everyone says she’s amazing. Carlotta joins in trying to keep the spotlight on herself and Christine outdoes her. The count and Gerard are impressed; Alain offers her a job on the spot.
We then spend nine hours with the count and Christine reminiscing about their childhood together.
It’s Christine’s big night, and Carlotta gives her a special thing to drink. Surprisingly, Christine loses her voice during her solo. The crowd gets nasty, the phantom gets upset, and the chandelier ends up falling on the audience; that’s gonna hit the papers in the morning. Part One ends.
Part Two begins with the panicked stampede from the disaster at the opera house. The Phantom has led Christine backstage to avoid trouble, and Phillippe chases after them to save her.
Erik leads Christine “down below” into his world. They board a boat and paddle through the catacombs towards Erik’s secret lair. He sings her to sleep. The police head down there as well, but they can’t find anything. Two of them are killed with booby-traps. The Phantom confronts Carlotta, and well, she won’t be singing anymore; he drives her completely insane.
Gerard goes down and tells Erik to let Christine go; Erik refuses. As Erik prepares more booby-traps, Gerard reveals Erik’s whole backstory, including the fact that Gerard is actually Erik’s father. Gerard couldn’t marry his mother, so she drank half an abortion potion, and the baby was borm horribly disfigured. Since then, Erik’s been making all the decisions for the opera house, and Gerard was basically just his mouthpiece. Anyway, Christine hears the whole true story, but refuses to leave Erik’s dungeon. Gerard goes back upstairs alone.
He takes her on a picnic in his hand-planted forest full of taxidermied animals. She asks to see his face, and he refuses. She finally talks him into it, and she faints dead away. Oops. He goes off and has a temper tantrum. She wants to leave now, so he locks her in a cell. She gets out.
Upstairs, Count Phillippe and Gerard talk about Christine; Phillippe is also in love with Christine. The two men take Christine out to the country, and she regrets everything. She wants to go back to make amends.
She goes back to the opera house and sings Faust for a real audience. It’s excellent, and Erik hears all of it. Halfway through the show, Erik starts singing along, and everyone sees and hears him, including the police, who have been searching for the phantom all along. Everyone gets a standing ovation until the cops start shooting. Erik grabs Christine and carries her away. Gerard gets his own gun as Erik and Christine run for the roof.
Phillippe and Erik fight on the rooftop of the opera house. Erik saves Phillippe’s life and lets Gerard shoot him. As Erik dies, she unmasks him and smiles with affection as she looks him in the face.
The Phantom here has a habit of taking off his mask to reveal another mask beneath. This time we get to see him! Nope. At no point do we ever see his real face; he’s always turned away from the camera. The scenery and sets were excellent, as this was filmed at the actual Paris Opera House.
The problem with most versions of Phantom of the Opera is that there’s so damned much opera in them. There are multiple complaints from Erik about how awful a singer Carlotta is, but to our untrained ear she sounded pretty much as lyrical as Christine.
Erik is the very definition of creepy stalker. In this version, he’s more sad and pitiable than evil. The man who dies in the beginning was due to his own clumsiness; Erik’s not directly a murderer. Christine even hugs him a few times. He’s so friendly and nice that I’d probably date him, mask or not.
Burt Lancaster gets top billing to go with his fifteen minutes of screen time; in this version, he basically plays Alfred the butler to Charles Dance’s Batman. Dance, most well known for his portrayal of Tywin Lannister, is fine here as Erik, but he’s easily the least menacing of any incarnation of the Phantom. Alain and Carlotta can’t decide whether they’re going to be villains or comic relief, and they don’t do either particularly well.
It was created as a two-part made-for-TV miniseries, and it’s obviously padded to fill out that much time. It’s really atrociously long and dragged out. Lingering shots of the opera house filling up, unnecessary flashbacks, and of course, opera tunes. Almost every single scene feels like it has some filler in it to extend things. There were some strange additions and changes from the original story, but none of them are terrible.
If you’re really into the Phantom of the Opera story and lore, then you may really like this one, as you get to spend a lot of time with the characters and locations. If you’re looking for scares or thrills, look elsewhere.
Directed by Mickey Keating
Written by Mickey Keating
Stars Lauren Ashley Carter, Sean Young, Brian Morvant
Run Time: 1 Hour, 18 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
A lonely girl's violent descent into madness. Darling takes a job house sitting for a strange woman, but the house has a history that is more than she bargained for.
We start out in black-and-white and stay there for the whole film. It gives a kind of timeless, artsy look to a movie that would otherwise be pretty dull. There are long stretches with no dialogue and very little action of any kind; just Darling looking at various places in the house.
It’s a little vague on when this takes place. There’s no technology shown more advanced than an old-fashioned landline phone, and the clothes and hair indiciated maybe the 60s or early 70s. It is shot in a style very reminiscent of “Psycho,” so we’ll say it’s supposed to be contemporary to that.
It’s weird, it’s slow, but it is effective. Very creepy.
We begin with gritty black and white images of New York City.
Chapter 1: Her
The Madame pays Darling and leaves her phone number. Darling will be house-sitting for her, and she mentions that the house has bad stories and a bad reputation; she’s honestly surprised that a young girl like Darling would want to stay there alone. Someone once killed themself there. Alone now, Darling wanders through the big old house. Credits roll.
After the credits, she spends a great deal of time exploring the beautiful yet creepy house looking at things. There’s one room that she’s not able to get into. Night falls. Darling dreams about climbing over the railing and jumping to her death. The next day, she goes out shopping. She drops a necklace on the street and when a man picks it up for her, she has flashes of him killing her; he apologizes for scaring her and walks away. She then follows him home and stares ominously at his building.
Chapter 2: Invocation
Darling’s back in the house, and she starts hearing noises in the hallways. She notices a light is on in the forbidden room. She goes out to the balcony again, leaning out over the drop as if it’s calling her there.
The next morning, she continues to have mental flashes of that man from the street. She goes to a coffee shop and seems completely zoned out. She might just be losing her mind.
Darling goes out for the evening. She waits in the dark outside the man’s door. The man comes out, and she follows him. He goes into a bar named “Thrills.” He sees her and thinks she looks familiar. They talk, and she hears voices in her head. She goes into the restroom and screams at herself in the mirror. She goes back out to the man and invites him over to her place.
He’s well aware of the history of the house and that it’s supposed to be haunted. He tells her about an old lunatic that used to do conjuring rituals in this house. He talks while she goes into the kitchen, grabs a knife, and returns to stab him to death.
Chapter 4: Demon
She finishes off the man, who still isn’t quite dead yet, and then cleans up the mess. She leaves the body in the bathtub and then goes to sleep. She dreams about the body getting up in the night and attacking her.
Chapter 5: Inferno
She undresses the dead man and finds a hacksaw and hammer. She goes to work, ignoring the ringing telephone. She then has a long breakdown in the clean bathroom.
Chapter 6: The Caretaker
Darling finally answers the phone. The lady finally got hold of her reference, Dr. Abbott. Darling lied about her experience. ”Dr. Abbott says I’m OK now,” she explains. The woman asks her to leave the house, and Darling tells her that she killed Henry Sullivan again. Darling says, “I think I’ll become one of your ghost stories now.”
She tries again to get into the forbidden room. She takes the scissors to all her clothes.
The police bang on the door with another girl. They come in with a key and look around. They find the bag of neatly-packaged body parts. Darling, in the meantime, goes up to the roof and jumps off the balcony.
After the credits, we see the Madame again, hiring a new caretaker for the house…
Dracula: The Original Living Vampire (2022)
Directed by Maximilian Elfeldt
Written by Michael Varrati
Stars Jake Herber, Christine Prouty, India Lillie Davies
Run Time: 1 Hour, 26 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
A modernized retelling of the Dracula story with a confusing mish-mash of anachronisms, poor script, excellent visuals, cool special effects, and very mixed-bag of acting. It’s an interesting watch, both very entertaining and not good at the same time.
Plot-wise, it’s a fun, modernized retelling of the story with a bunch of familiar characters in new roles. I say modernized, but it’s never quite clear what year this takes place. There seem to be a lot of anachronisms that aren’t even hard to spot. There are carriages and candles, but also modern wristwatches, WWII-era pistols, and openly-coupled lesbians.
There’s a lot of exposition and explanation and speeches, which makes sense early on, but it continues throughout the film. I was initially tempted to blame the acting, but it soon becomes clear that it’s a script issue; there’s just too much telling, not enough showing. The lighting, cinematography, and CGI settings look really sharp and clean.
Michael Ironside, as Dr. Seward, is the only recognizable name in the cast. He’s here, but it’s not one of his best performances. This is the first major role for most of the other actors, and for the most part, they do pretty well here with the script they’ve got, with one very notable exception. It was all going really well until Dracula showed up. He is completely miscast; in his more human form, he immediately made me think of a cosplayer or renaissance-fair actor, while later in the film, Kevin says that Dracula reminded him of both Meat Loaf in that I Would Do Anything For Love music video or the Frankenstein character from the Penny Dreadful series. He’s far too young-looking and has no on-screen presence at all; exceptionally bland.
And this is where Kevin jumps in to further clarify. Kevin thought he was very good for the role, blending in as a low-key, non-threatening human until the gloves came off.
Overall, quality-wise, this is either a really well-made indie film or a really poorly done mainstream film. That’s really it– a weird conflation of some really good aspects and horrible directing.
A woman meets up with a man in a cape, and they have sex. He has really long black fingernails. Suddenly, she screams.
Amelia Van Helsing arrives on the scene in the morning, called in by Captain Renfield of the police. The wound matches what they’ve seen before. Dr. Seward does an autopsy. The dead girl wasn’t killed by a blade, it’s almost like a bite. There was a case a hundred years ago just like it; all the blood has been drained out of the body. She takes a blood sample to Harker; he’ll look for anything unusual. He pulls a book off his bookshelf, “Nosferatu.”
Meanwhile, Captain Renfield gets a visit from the long-haired man he calls “Master.”
Amelia then heads home to Mina. Mina’s got a new account– some foreign dignitary is looking for some property locally. The dignitary is here, in their house for dinner. They talk about the strange murder case that’s in all the newspapers. Harker rushes in to say that the blood sample indicates that vampires are afoot! Amelia chews him out for his silly theories.
There’s another murder, and Amelia, Harker, and Seward investigate. Red hair, trauma to the neck, and all the same signs of the same killer, but this time the room was locked from the inside. Harker says it proves his theory.
When Amelia returns home, there’s someone in the house who runs off. They didn't get any visitors other than Dracula earlier tonight. She goes back home and she and Mina talk over their problems and have sex afterwards.
Harker comes to see Mina, and Dracula is there too. Mina says Dracula is looking at buying old Carfax Abbey; they’re going over there tonight to look at the property. Dracula and Harker talk about folklore and myths. Harker notices Dracula’s lack of reflection in the mirror and follows them.
Seward talks to Renfield about everything he’s figured out. Renfield then stabs Seward. He lives long enough to tell Amelia that it was Renfield. She confronts Renfield and shoots him. She thinks he was the killer, but Harker comes to the conclusion he was only finding victims for someone else. Meanwhile, Dracula kidnaps Mina.
Harker and Amelia head over to Dracula’s house. Inside, they find Renfield and a couple of the female victims-now-vampires. The duo kill all the vampires except for Dracula, who is across town finishing off Dr. Seward. Dracula arrives and defeats them both.
Dracula explains to Mina that she’s the reincarnation of his dead fiance, and he plans to restore her. She disagrees,
Amelia and Harker go home and load up all their weapons in an “lock-and-load montage.” They can’t stand up to Drac, and Mina has to intervene to save them. Suddenly, it’s time for “grrl power,” and they fry Dracula with sunshine.
Afterwards, we see that Amelia has become a vampire.
The Changed (2021)
• Directed by Michael Mongillo
• Written by Matt Giannini, Michael Mongillo
• Stars Clare Foley, Tony Todd, Jason Alan Smith
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 18 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
“A low- budget, generic, and dreadfully dull ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ ripoff,” says Brian. Kevin says it did remind him of Body Snatchers, and a bit like a film from 1991 starring Mimi Rogers called “The Rapture,” and he thought it was pretty darn good.
We begin with a view of space, then switch to the big city. We hear John Carpenter-esque music play as the credits roll.
Jane wakes up while Bill and Mac have coffee outside. Mac complains that people seem different; nobody cares anymore. Bill laughs and says there’s nothing to worry about; conspiracies without proof is paranoia. We see that Bill is just friendly with a hint of creepy (it is Tony Todd after all).
Jane and Kurt talk about how they sense it too, but also think it’s just paranoia. Kim is an old-looking teenager in high school. Skye tells her she doesn’t have to be like that. She’s helpful in a creepy way as well.
A manager tells her subordinate not to be so intense. She gives him the day off to think over what she said. Jane complains to Ethan about the phones not working, and then he attacks her. We then get numerous shots of happy people chasing down others who are screaming. The jogger, Sara, comes on to Mac in the driveway but is interrupted when Kim shows up.
Suddenly the tornado sirens go off. Something is definitely wrong. The governor has declared a state of emergency. Everyone is told to go to shelters or face criminal indictment. They decide to wait for Jane. A navy captain breaks onto the radio and says to trust no one; the government has been infiltrated; trust no one! The Internet, phones, television broadcasts, nothing is working now.
Jane comes home and tells Mac and Kim about the attack at work. No one is acting normally.
Bill comes to the door, and he talks like Mr. Rogers. They tell him about the weirdness, but he says he hasn’t noticed. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he says as he attacks Mac. Jane grabs the shotgun, and they tie him up. He says that he’s changed; perfected. It seems to be transmitted by kissing.
Kim’s Uncle Kurt comes to the door, and he seems normal. “We’re trying to help you,” says Bill. Kurt thinks they’re all crazy and starts to argue. Sara comes back to the door, and she wants to have sex with Mac. Mac orders her to leave. They all see people hiding in the backyard. Kim goes outside and has a long conversation with Sara. Kurt gets angry and go outside; The Changed get him. But he seems so blissed and happy that it makes you wonder if it really is okay.
There is much angst and discussion of the issue. Finally, Bill manages to kiss Jane, and Mac shoots them both. Jane talks for about an hour before she finally dies. Mac and Kim talk incessantly after she dies.
A woman comes on TV and… talks… addressing the few resistors who haven’t been changed yet. Join us or be forced, she warns. Will Mac and Kim give in or fight?
It’s basically “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” with a lot less action and more paranoia.
Five minutes in, and Brian said it was the “attack of the self-help gurus.” That might have been better than what we ended up with. There’s an awful lot of telling-not-showing as we are told about shootings and things going on outside the house, which is certainly a limitation of the budget. But then the talking went on and on, and that’s really all that happened: talking with maybe three minutes of action.
The acting seems generally fine all-around, but there seems to be a directorial issue here. Every scene is pure talking and seems stretched out. Between scenes of talking, we see shots of clouds blowing overhead. The music is extremely low-key and seems almost intentionally bland.
Basically, it’s boring as Hell.
And then Kevin offered the counter point that he thought it was pretty entertaining, not great, but a solid 7. He wasn’t bored. It was a kinder, gentler takeover that gets the viewer to thinking about the what-if aspects of how you’d react in a situation like that.
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