All I Want For Halloween is Victorian Monster Movies

This Halloween I was really excited about reviewing the new Mummy— the first film to launch a new Universal Pictures  own Cinematic Universe named the  “Dark Universe” which is a reboot of their industry changing black and white monster films. However, we will not be reviewing that film because it was simply awful (and here I would like to direct you to the review by Screen Junkies on YouTube). Instead I would love to take a moment to celebrate the original films and their frequent connections to the wonderful world of steam.

Note: Many of these films contain elements that are not exactly steampunk visually, but the science, creativity, and technological creations in them are entirely within the spirit of the genre.

Frankenstein 

Creator: Mary Shelley (novel) Peggy Webling (adaptation) James Whale (director) Boris Karloff (starring)

Media Type: feature film (1931)

Audience: Though originally a spine chilling horror film, a modern audience would rate it at ages 10+

Summary: The one that started it all! Eccentric academic Henry Frankenstein retreats to an incredibly rainy castle with his laboratory assistant Fritz to conduct experiments in reanimating dead tissue, resulting in birthing a monster. The film solidified the image of the mad scientist surrounded by lighting strikes, switch boxes, and scalpels. The film takes creative license with many of the original novels theme though, focusing less on the relationship between the Monster and his Creator and more on the impact the monster had on the surrounding town– switching the conversation from the evils of man to the domino effect of evil.

Bottom Line: A must see for fans of horror films, steampunk, and groundbreaking special effects.

Find It: Amazon and YouTube

Murders in the Rue Morgue

Creator: Edgar Allan Poe (novel), Robert Florey (director), Bela Lugosi (starring)

Media Type: feature film (1932)

Audience: Produced during the pre-Code era in Hollywood, this film is generally fine for modern 13+ audiences but the Librarian recommends pre-viewing.

Summary: A mad scientist engaging in ape/human genetic experimentation begins abducting women from the streets of 1840s Paris. Based on Edgar Allen Poe’s novel of the same name, the story is credited with being the first piece of modern detective fiction. Filled with human experimentation, murder, and dramatic chase scenes this film became part of the foundation of the genre.

Bottom Line: Generally reviewd as “A for Effort”. While not everything about the film withstood the test of time, the obvious creativity in every scene makes it well worth the 62 minutes of your time.

Find It: Amazon Video and Youtube

The Invisible Man

Creator: H.G. Wells (novel),  R.C. Sherriff, Philip Wylie and Preston Sturges (adapted by), James Whale (director)

Media: feature film (1933)

Audience: 14+.

Summary: Dr. Jack Griffin, a chemist, has been experimenting with a new drug which unintentionally turned him indivisible. This new-found feature leads Dr. Griffin away from research and on a new path: murder and world domination. The film was a well respected success, so a sequel The Invisible Man Returns was released in 1940. The new invisible man was played by Vincent Price which alone makes it worth a watch.

Bottom Line: This is one of the few films to earn a 100% on RottenTomatoes, which says a lot. Many modern reviews also still call the film frightening, which isn’t the case for most “classic” films (look at Dracula for example, which at the time was horrifying but is now often given a G/PG rating).

Find It: Amazon and YouTube

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Creator: Robert Louis Stevenson (novella)

Summary: Dr. Henry Jekyll is a well respected physician in a fashionable piece of Victorian London. His experiments with chemistry and pharmacology, while originally pure in intention, soon turn dark. Drunk on the freedom from Victorian social expectations (and the law) his new drug offers him, Jekyll creates a whole new persona for himself, a Mr. Edward Hyde. But as the allure of Hyde’s debauchery grows Jekyll has to ask himself: who is he really? An excellent continuation of the Victorian theme of the inner battles between monster and man.

A myriad of film and TV adaptations have been created. Here are links to as many of them as I could find.

1912 short/silent film, directed by Lucius Henderson.

1913 Short/silent film, directed by Herbert Brenon.

1920 silent film, directed by John Robertson. Note: there are two other 1920 versions of Jekyll/Hyde as well. One was filmed in Germany The Head of Janus (German: Der Janus-Kopf)  directed by F. W. Murnau, and another Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde directed by J. Haydon. However the Haydon film did very poorly and the director was known to have hated it.

1931 feature film directed by Rouben Mamoulian.

1941 feature film directed by Victor Fleming

Did I miss your favorite? Tell us about it on Twitter: @SteamLib

 

 

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Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart

“Jack et la Mécanique du Coeur” (original title)

Creator: Mathias Malzieu (original novella/composer of all music through his band Dionysos/voice of Jack in the original French tracks)

Media Type: Feature Film, 94 minutes

Audience: Tween to Adult (regardless of what Netflix says).

Note: there isn’t any gore/violence/overt sex that typically warrants a tweens and up suggestion.  And yes, it is a musical, but not a Disney musical with fully orchestrated sing-alongs. Instead this CG film is very surreal and moves very quickly with operatic styled music, which would likely lead it to bore most small children.

Summary:

On the coldest day in history, on the edge of Edinburgh a young woman is desperate to make it to the midwife in time to give birth to her son. The time in the cold, though, has taken it’s toll and the boy is born with a heart made of ice. The midwife (a doctor/inventor named Madeleine who is rumored to be a witch) quickly replaces this ineffective heart with a cuckoo-clock and tells the baby that there are three rules he must follow to keep his cuckoo-heart running:

  1. Never touch the hands of your heart
  2. Keep your temper under control
  3. Never, ever, fall in love.

Jack lives for ten uneventful years safely cooped up in the home he shares with Madeleine and several of her eccentric friends. For his tenth birthday he begs his adoptive mother to let him visit town, which he has never been allowed to do before. She agrees but implores him to abide by his three rules.

He doesn’t.

Instead he falls in love with a beautiful Spanish girl he hears singing at a fountain and decides he must chase the girl of his dreams all the way across Europe. But as time goes by, he begins to worry. Will she remember him? Will she love him the way he loves her? And if she does, can his fragile heart take it?

The Good:

  • This is an incredible film from a visual standpoint. The graphics are fabulously detailed and keep your attention throughout the film.
  • The steampunk elements are frequent (locomotives with bellows segments and horseless carriages to name a few) and intelligently used.
  • The music is emotionally resonant and unique; a breath of fresh air into the musical genre.

The Bad:

  • Tragically, this film suffers from terrible translation issues. The dialog is rushed and doesn’t allow you any time to reflect on what’s said before three more lines are spoken. The US Netflix version is only available in English, but if you can I suggest watching it in the original French with subtitles.
  • It’s weird.
    • Normally this isn’t a negative, but the surreal nature of the film made it sometimes hard to follow. For instance, Jack the Ripper makes an appearance during a traveling song, and it’s not explained or ever brought up again.

Bonus:

Remember this video I posted a few weeks ago?

It’s the single from the Dionysos album called La Mécanique du Cœur was composed and recorded to accompany the novella which the film is adapted from. The above music video was created by the director of the film and in a similar (though not identical) style.

Learn more about The Novella

Learn more about The Album

Learn more about The Film

Also instead of a trailer, below is a clip from the film. This is where Jack meets Miss Acacia. It gives a great taste for the films music and style. 

et en Français:

Let me know what you think of the movie in the comments or via Twitter @SteamLib.

Frankenstein’s Monster

Creator: Mary Shelley (novel) Written/Produced by Judith B. Shields, Directed by Syd Lance

Media Type: Feature Film, 84 minutes

Audience: Family Friendly (but use your best judgment with extra-small children)

Summary: This micro-budget, independent film adaptation from First Step Cinematics, Frankenstein’s Monster tells the story of The Monster, his creator, and the lives ruined in the name of mad science. Following the original frame narrative the film opens with Dr. Victor Frankenstein being saved at sea. He befriends the vessel’s captain and spins his tale of the creation of the murderous Adam, his science project made from the pieces of the dead and subtle steam-powered mechanics. Unlike the novel the story is told through third-person perspective across a single time-line and allows for insight and conversation with non-primary characters. These characters desperately try to help Victor maintain his sanity, but how can a man keep his wits with a monster on the loose and no one to stop it but himself? This adaptation is the most true to the source material I’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t mean it is without differences — most noticeably the inclusion of dream sequences and the removal of portions of Adam’s story.

The overall feeling is more like a play being recorded than it is a feature film, which helps keep its novel like feeling since the focus is on the characters and their dialog, not flashy creation scenes and gory monsters. One major flaw of the film, though, is the delivery of that dialog. All the dialog is in early 19th century English, not modern English and unfortunately the actors fell victim to what many Shakespearean actors do: the dialog felt memorized instead of free-flowing and emotionally driven. At two instances the speech pattern felt so odd I half expected them to break out into song. However the music is so well put together you don’t lose the emotion of the moment even when the language delivery is off.

Bottom Line:  It may not win any Oscars, but I highly suggest it for classrooms and libraries that want a visual companion for the novel. It will likely keep younger viewers’ attention better than a recorded play thanks to it’s score and sweeping artistic landscape shots.

Read More: First Step Cinematics 

Watch It via Amazon Streaming

Buy It on DVD

Watch the Trailer:

Also a huge THANK YOU to Producer Ms. Shields for reaching out to the Library and submitting the film for review. I really enjoyed it and hope to see more from you in the future!

Thoughts or comments on the movie? Comment bellow or send your reviews to submissions@steampunklibrary.net

Review: Snowpiercer

Review Submission by Amanda Bishop, MLIS

Title: Snowpiercer

Creator: Bong Joon-ho (director), Bong Joon-ho and Kelly Masterson (screenplay); based on the graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette

Tags: ice age, ice, snow, global warming, Earth, leader, leadership, rights, trains, engineering, class, passengers, cargo, machine, engine, Movie, adults, rated R

Media Type: Film

Audience: Adults (18+) (film is Rated R)

Summary: Some seventeen-or-so years in the future, the remainder of human life on Earth lives on a single train, which is in constant motion across the planet. A global warming initiative taken on by world powers in 2014, of which the viewer learns in radio broadcast flashbacks at the beginning of the film, created a second Ice Age whose effects were so rapid that nearly everyone died. The Snowpiercer is the engine which sustains life for the wretched few that have managed to survive. This train hearkens back to a bygone time in which the (steam) engine was the pinnacle of modernity, although the Snowpiercer and its “eternal engine” is clearly vastly different in terms of its operation. As the vessel moves throughout this tale, the viewer sees it blast through ice formations in a snow-covered world, and learn increasingly more about this mysterious yet powerful conveyance right up until the end of the film.

While the engine itself may be the namesake and setting for the film, the story centers around the efforts of passengers of the “tail” of the train to better their conditions, led by Curtis (Chris Evans). The tail and its residents are unspeakably filthy, abused regularly, and the residents of these crowded and labyrinthine quarters get by on slippery-looking “protein” bars as their only source of food. Guarded ferociously by men in full military gear, occasional visits (and speeches) by Mason (Tilda Swinton), the conductor’s right-hand woman make it clear that the conditions for passenger cars more towards the front of the train are idyllic in comparison. Determined to fight against the injustices that are perpetrated upon the tail passengers, Curtis leads a blood-saturated charge to the front (just another in a long history of revolts) with the help of a drug-addled man named Namgoong Minsu and his daughter Yona. Interspersed with scenes of violent clashes (so fierce that this reviewer had to look away) are glimpses of how the other half lives – in luxurious comfort and good health. This constructed dichotomy between the haves and have-nots is not new, and divisions of humans predicated on class or socioeconomic standing in such a way also alludes to a more historic origin than the futuristic setting of Snowpiercer.

Bottom Line: Including this film in a list of steampunk resources may seem like kind of a stretch, as the engine isn’t steam-powered, but the class struggles and train setting decontextualizes the tale from its temporal situation.

Find It: In theaters

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1706620/

Around the World in 80 Days

Creator: Jules Verne (novel), David N. Titcher (screenplay), Staring Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, and Jim Broadbent

Media Type: Feature Film, 120 minutes

Audience: Family Friendly

 

Summary:

Phileas Fogg is a brilliant inventor living in Victorian London. His inventions fill his home with whistle-activated light bulbs, an automated fan system, and a steam-hydraulic vehicle for when he doesn’t want to wear his wheeled shoes around. After he discovers that man can travel at 50mph via experiments with steam-powered rockets, he goes to announce his discoveries to the Royal Academy of Science. The Royal members, though, are unimpressed. Desperate to earn the respect of his fellow scientists Fogg makes an incredible wager: if he can make it around the world in 80 days he replace Lord Kelvin and become the new head of the Academy. However, if he loses, he must publically denounce his inventions, destroy his laboratory, and never enter the Academy again. With the assistance of his newly acquired French-Chinese valet, Passepartout, Fogg sets out to complete his quest. The journey already promises to be difficult from the word go, but the sabotages set upon them by Lord Kelvin, as well as a mysterious assembly of Chinese assassins focused on Passepartout, this wager could cost Fogg more than he bargained for.

 

Bottom Line: Filled with steam powered inventions, colorful cravats, and a hilarious collection of unexpected guest appearances this movie is an all around delightful.

 

Read More:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0327437/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Wild, Wild West

Creator: Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Staring Will Smith, Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, and Salma Hayek

Media Type: Feature Film, 106 minutes

Audience: Family

 

Summary:

When the American Civil War came to an end, the nation was teeming with gunslingers, saloons, and angry defeated confederate soldiers. One soldier, Arliss Loveless, refuses to accept the new order of the US and begins building a heavily weaponized machines. His machines, based partially on the design for his own steam-powered wheelchair, are the support for his plan to force US president Ulysses S Grant to divide the states once again. Set to stop him are an unwilling pair: gunslinger Capt James West and US Marshal Gordon. The two are facing an uphill battle again ex-Confederate troops as Capt West struggles to maintain authority as a black officer in the prejudiced South and the steam-hydrolic technologies may just be more than the pair can handle. Assisted by Rita, the daughter of one of Loveless’ engineers, will the US be able to maintain its rebuilt unity? Or will the Transcontinental Railroad be a failed attempt at cohesion, leading to all out war?

 

Bottom Line: A little corny but a lot of fun WWW offers an American spin on steampunk. Filled to the brim with weapons, flying machines, and the iconic Spider this film offers a chance to sit back with the family and laugh while appreciating the American corset style for a change.

 

Read More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Wild_West

Find It: http://www.worldcat.org/title/wild-wild-west/oclc/527853299

Castle in the Sky

Creator: Hayao Miyazaki, Director

Media Type: Animated Film, 124 minutes

Audience: Family

Summary:

Prepare for an adventure mystery that leaves you in awe. Miyazaki films are known for their incredible animation and gripping stories, and this is no different.

Aboard the immense flying warship Goliath the mysterious Muska is holding young Sheeta hostage. Sheeta is the last living inheritor of a long family secret to the flying city of Laputa; part El Dorado myth part steampunk sky-city. When the Goliath is attacked by air pirates Sheeta escapes by jumping from the airship. She takes refuge with Pazu, an orphan living alone in a harsh mining town. With Muska and the pirates hot on their heels, the two must race to reach Laputa and understand her secrets before her technologies can be used for war.

Bottom Line: Absolutely beautiful film with all the fantastical steampunk elements (airships, robots/automatons, in-charge female air pirates captains) you want from a movie, but with a new animated flair.

 

Watch It:http://www.worldcat.org/title/laputa-castle-in-the-sky/oclc/822886354

Find More: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092067/?ref_=nv_sr_1

The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box

Creator: Directed By: Jonathan Newman, staring Michael Sheen and Aneurin Barnard

Media Type: Feature Film, 100 minutes

Audience: Children

 

Summary:

It’s 1885, and Mariah Mundi is watching is young brother Felix run amuck in the British Museum while his father gives a lecture. When a severely wounded man suddenly appears demanding to see his father, Mariah knows something isn’t quite right. Mariah and Felix soon find themselves on the run when their parents go missing and the wounded man, Capt. Will Charity, may be their only hope of finding them. The search takes them to the Prince Regent Hotel off the coast of Scotland, where mystical spas heal the sick, for a price. A family-safe adventure based around a reimagining of the King Midas myth, this beautifully costumed film offers a lot for the eye but little for the imagination. A mix of mysticism, G-rated action, and terrible plot holes The Adventurer is best suited for young audiences with a flair for fashion. Additionally, the forced cliffhanger credit scene will likely only serve to frustrate older audiences.

 

Bottom Line: The only steam-powered device in the film is an over-sized elevator, despite elevators being in existence since the 1840s; grossly insufficient to carry the Steampunk label Netflix gives it.

Find More:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1376213/

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello

Creator: Anthony Lucas (2005 Academy Award Nominee)

Media Type: Animated Short, watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vORsKyopHyM

Audience: Teen, Adult

 

Summary:

This short film is pure steam punk. In a fully mechanized world with visible gear-shift elevators, flying machines, steam spewing carts, and Gothic shadow animation. This Australian short film was nominated for the 2005 Academy Award for Short Films – and for good reason. Not only is the shadow/back lit animation flawless, an almost whispering narration paired with creative, heavily stylized yet wholly functional engineering makes the film beautiful to experience. At only 27 minutes, the film is not a major time commitment, but the characters, adventure, and unexpected plot turns will leave you talking about it for days.

 

Bottom Line: Beautiful, creative, and should have won the Oscar.

Find It: http://www.jaspermorello.com/gazette/