To be perfectly honest there are few sights more heart-wrenching than that of a twenty-something wearing a Jack Skellington beanie, looking more forlorn than usual after a midnight screening of a new Tim Burton film. However, twas last night that I saw such a sight and also found myself feeling somewhat similar - a tad cheerless -but thankfully without that itchy feeling for which beanies are a notorious culprit. Some people say you either love Tim Burton (referring to his films, I imagine) or you hate him. Yet, being someone prone to falling in the middle, and believing people who dichotomize such things should be slapped mercilessly with a pair of dirty, gray tube-socks, I neither love nor hate Tim Burton (referring to his films, of course!) and therefore fall into the "like" category. One of his films that I like quite a lot is The Nightmare Before Christmas. Yes, he did not direct that film, but certainly a fingerprint analysis would not be required to determine that "Nightmare" is very much a Tim Burton film. I am also very fond of stop-motion animation, and so, it would be true to say my anticipation of Corpse Bride was indeed two-fold.
The film begins with the nebbish Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp) being ushered along by his fishmongering parents to meet the fetching lass, Victoria Everglot (Victor/Victoria) he is soon to marry. It is an arranged marriage, and as such, it is a union made to benefit the parents of both bride and groom. However, all is not as it seems, and perhaps if it were not for their trade, the parents Van Dort would notice that something smells a little fishy.
After Victor and Victoria meet, things quickly go from clumsy to cozy, and fate being the fickle bitch that she is, it appears the two are ready to spend the rest of their lives with one another after only a few minutes. However, shortly thereafter, when Victor continually flubs his vows during the wedding rehearsal, the cantankerous Pastor Gallswells (voiced by a wonderfully thunderous Christopher Lee) boots Victor out of the church and tells him not to return until he gets his act straight. Victor then wanders out into the nearby woods and begins practicing his wedding vows, culminating in his placing a wedding ring on a gnarly branch that actually turns out to be the hand of the titular Corpse Bride. In a jarring turn of events, Victor now finds himself betrothed to a dead woman and thrust from the gloomy land of the living and into the colorful underworld of the dead, where he must ultimately determine which bride he wants to spend the rest of his life, or death, with.
To be sure, Corpse Bride is not without its charms. I am sure it comes as no great surprise that the film looks nice - kind of like a collaboration between the Quay Brothers and Walt Disney. The gothic touches for which Burton is so fond (as am I) are on display in the dour and moody world of the living - which also serve as an effective contrast to the color saturated underworld of the dead. However, that being said, the visual scope is not as grand as it was in The Nightmare Before Christmas, and in comparison feels rather limited. On the plus side, the film also certainly boasts a very nice vocal cast! In addition to those already mentioned are, Emily Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Albert Finney, Richard E. Grant, Tracy Ullman and Michael Gough (Hammer represent!) just to name a few.
The majority of the problems I had with the film are in the writing. Victor, the protagonist, is a very flimsy character. His basic wants and desires are ambiguous at best and he could simply be described as a pinball, bouncing from one character and scenario to the next. There is really no motivation or arc to Victor, apart from the fact that he bumbles a bit less by film's end. As for the Corpse Bride, she wants Victor to love her, well, because they're married I guess - even if it was an accident. She has a back story that sheds some light on things, but for the most part her character is not very interesting. Probably the most memorable thing about the Corpse Bride character was her sidekick, a maggot that looks and sounds like Peter Lorre and pops in and out of her head.
In addition to thin characters, the story is pretty scant as well. While there is conflict in the film's premise, often times as other conflicts arise they are set up only to be resolved in a quick and uninspired manner, and any drama quickly fizzles out. The film also hints at several interesting ideas, but fails to ever really do anything with them - almost as if someone forgot they were ever there. To make matters worse, the story then quickly deteriorates into predictability, and from about midway the film's ending is clearly in sight and its only a matter of the minor details being revealed. Sadly, even the songs by Danny Elfman are largely forgettable (and at times the lyrics are indiscernible) and pale in comparison to his other collaborations with Tim Burton.
The film clocks in at a mere 78 minutes and I think that with another fifteen minutes some of these problems could have been fixed, and the story and characters could definitely have used more time for some much needed fleshing out. It's common knowledge that animation is a painstaking, time-consuming process, and I can only imagine that if as much work had been put into the writing of the film, as went into animating it, Corpse Bride would have been much, much better. While not a disaster, the film just did not live up to my expectations, and if your expectations for this film are high then you might very well be disappointed. So, while I can't recommend the film I can offer one piece of advice however - if you own a Jack Skellington beanie, just leave it at home.
Originally published at Horrorview.com
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a film rooted in reality, as it is loosely based on actual mass murderer Henry Lee Lucas. Originally a Floridian, Henry (played by Michael Rooker) and his story are transplanted to the hustle and bustle of Chicago. In the film Henry works, when he can get it, as a pest exterminator. However, Henry's true occupation (see title) and vicious handiwork are revealed in several grisly shots interspersed throughout the film's opening.
Living with Henry in a rundown inner city apartment is Otis (Tom Towles), who is based on a real accomplice of Henry Lee Lucas. Like Henry, Otis has spent his fair share of time in the stir, and is working sporadically as a gas station attendant in desperate want of some customer service skills. Like a warped version of Three's Company, Otis' sister, Becky (whose "husband" is in jail for murder) decides to move in with her ex con brother and his (unbeknownst to them both) serial-killing compadre.
Henry proves to be a latent gentleman when he offers to sleep on the couch and gives Becky his room. Touched by this gesture, and prompted by an inkling that she and Henry have something in common, Becky attempts to bond with Henry by comparing childhood traumas over a few beers and a friendly game of war. Later, Otis and Henry also create a bond of sorts. After trying to put the moves on his sister, and being remonstrated by Henry, Otis accepts Henry's invitation to go out for a few beers. As is too often the case, cheap beer leads to picking up prostitutes, dalliances in a dark alley, and a double murder. Any reservations that Otis may have had vanish soon thereafter, and he and Henry form an unspoken pact, which results in a killing spree, and some of the film's most infamously harrowing scenes.
The major reason why Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer works so well, and has disturbed so many viewers, is that the filmmakers and cast took a very real approach to the subject matter. In Henry, glamorization and artifice are eschewed for stark realism and an unflinching approach to violence. John McNaughton's previous experience as a documentary filmmaker serves him well here, as do some really amazing and totally believable performances from Michael Rooker, Tom Towles and Tracy Arnold. Along with the nuanced and gripping performances turned in by a cast of then unknowns, the screenplay by Richard Fire and John McNaughton is also full of subtle touches that reward a close viewing. With this in mind, anyone expecting Friday the 13th type thrills (if there is such a thing), or a plot-driven psychological thriller will be sorely disappointed, as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (as the title implies) is really a character study.
While the film holds up extremely well twenty years after it was made, one quibble I have is with the score. The main "piano" theme which bookends the film is very effective and memorable; however, throughout much of the film the electronic score only seems to distract and undermine some otherwise powerful scenes. In fact, the film seems to work best (and is all the more startling) when the diagetic sound can be heard without the intrusive electronic score.
In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Dark Sky Films has released a really spiffy two disc set brimming with bonus features. The film itself is presented in a High Definition transfer from the original 16mm negatives, and is an improvement on any previous editions that I've seen. In addition to the film, the first disc includes a commentary with director John McNaughton, theatrical trailers, and a stills gallery. The second disc boasts an interesting documentary (made in association with Blue Underground) titled Portrait: The Making of Henry, a fascinating second documentary on the real Henry Lee Lucas called "The Serial Killers," several deleted scenes and outtakes with McNaughton commentary, as well as the original storyboards for the film. Also worth noting, the DVD comes with a reversible cover which features the original, long lost theatrical poster designed by artist Joe Coleman. Undoubtedly an exemplary DVD release befitting for this unforgettable, low-budget classic.
Originally posted at Horrorview.com.