Dracula was a blood drinking warrior whose legend was turned into an allegory for Elizabethan sexual awakening. The wolfman was a combination of ancient folklore and a variation on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Frankenstein was a young girl’s attempt to win a bet among her literary peers while zombies seem to have erupted from ancient religions and slave mythology. Indeed, all horrors have origins, from restless sleep to real life experiences extrapolated down to their cautionary tale basics. Ghosts are former members of the living lost in the afterworld while demons and devils come from Hell’s half-acre. Whether roasted over a campfire or cooked up in the fertile brain of a writer, these creatures come from somewhere, and our affinity for terror is glad that they did.
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In some ways, it’s a natural subject for cinema. It has scope. It packs inherent drama. It has all the swagger, the allure, and the blood-spattered spectacle that makes the visual medium so viable. Yet the war film or TV series—an indirect derivation of the thriller, action effort, and (sometimes) critical commentary—is often foiled by the very elements it has to cater to. Offer up too much realism and the audience looks away in dismay. Play up the arrogance or the attraction and your motives are questioned. Human conflict is a tricky concept to completely nail down. In fact, the war at home is often is as intriguing both during and within the aftermath, than the depraved acts that brought us to the point of battle. In fact, some of the best material in this regard occurs not on the front lines, but in the front rooms of those left behind.
Cinema is a lot like Soviet Russia. It loves to rewrite history in order to make its case, pro or con, for the artform and its import. Of course, the media helps in this regard. It pimps out its agenda for or against certain filmmakers, actors, and studios, cementing their part in what is often a pointless and puerile discussion of value. Time is the only thing that warrants and provides real critical consideration. You have to be able to walk away, to provide a bit of perspective, before you can claim an abject masterpiece, or define a full blown flop. That’s why so many classics were once considered crap, back in their day. A gut reaction is never as valid as one garnered after much decision and deliberation. But with said stomach (and audience reaction) acting as a guide, several sensational movies were unfairly dismissed in their time.
Sometimes, they are pure evil. In other instances, they are nuttier than a squirrel’s sauna. Usually, they are a combination of both, the better to match the whole “mad scientist” label. But not all inventors have world domination on their mind. Some even believe in bettering mankind with their sometimes insane ideas. Of course, when the final ‘solution’ is unveiled, the true purpose is often more awful than first imaged. From the first Gothic horror novels to our flawed ‘50s ideal of science and experimentation, the crazy doctor, determined to do something mere mortals shouldn’t be capable of, has been a media given. In books and film, TV and theatrical extravaganzas, the unhinged inventor has been a genre go-to, and as a result, a bit of a cliche. That’s why coming up with a list of our 10 favorites is so tough. In looking over the possible candidates, one usually ends up coming to the same set conclusions.
When the history of Summer 2013 is written, the biggest story won’t be the return of legitimate terror or the wealth of off the radar gems one can uncover outside the standard Cineplex experience. No, everyone will go overboard discussing the various flops, from The Lone Ranger (which we liked, so sue us) to White House Down (we preferred Olympus Has Fallen for our sampling of faux Die Hard cheese). They will try and decipher why certain known quantities—Johnny Depp, family films ala Turbo—failed to inspire while adding their own bits of baseless schadenfreuda. For us, the answer is always a question of connection. A movie can be smart and savvy, or poorly conceived and cobbled together, and if audiences don’t agree with your particular approach or aesthetic, the effort will fail, no matter what we critics think or say.