Tagged Tim Burton

A Halloween List: The October Non-Horror Fan Horror Guide

So I’ve already done several lists for October and the anticipation of Halloween. Up until now it’s been for those who really love horror, or at least the initiated. This list is a little different.
Knowing many friends of mine aren’t exactly huge horror-ites, and also realizing tons of people out there like a little spook around the fall when Halloween approaches, I decided to put together a nice list for those types.
Here’s a list of movies for a decent scare at the right time of year. Hope you’ll enjoy!


Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
MPW-55302This 1978 thriller, written by David Zelag Goodman and John Carpenter whose Halloween came out the same year, is a nice spooky treat for Halloween. Especially if you want something creepy but would rather not spend the rest of the night wondering if someone is going to kill you.
Chic photographer Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) begins to see through the eyes of a murderer – transported to the scene of the crimes, during the crime itself, she sees visions of death. When she goes to the police and tries to get their help, she becomes further involved in a series of killings that she is powerless to help and forced to watch.
Eyes of Laura Mars definitely has power, it isn’t not scary. However, there’s not a ton of slasher killings or any kind of super graphic horror. Plain and simple: this is a solid thriller film with a supernatural element. You can watch this to get a decent chill and actually get to sleep. Good one for a nice October evening.

The Innocents (1961)/ The Haunting (1963)
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Here’s a solid double feature full of ghosts, spirits, or the otherwise disembodied. Plus, they’re both based on wonderful literary sources.
First up, based on Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw, 1961’s The Innocents follows a young governess in Victorian England whose charge of caring for two children becomes a battle of wits against the supernatural, as she comes to believe they are being possessed, the house itself – in her mind (or is it?) – a haunted tomb of ghosts.
There are plenty of reasons to love this film. One: Truman Capote was one half of the screenwriting duo alongside William Archibald. Two: The Turn of the Screw is not lost in this adaptation, as so many great sources come to find themselves in more modern adaptations of classic novels/stories. Three: Martin Scorsese always lists this as one of the scariest movies of all-time and though I don’t care about celebrity opinions, I consider Scorsese an artists first and foremost, as well as a a film lover and fan, so his opinion carries weight for me. Four? The movie is fucking scary. Honestly, you don’t need a bunch of new, modern looking sets or special effects, none of that, when the story and the atmosphere of the film are crafted so well together. This is one of those ghost stories that may honestly stick in your mind, but there’s nothing nasty here: just pure haunted goodness.
haunting_1963_poster_02That leads me to the second feature on the bill – 1963’s Robert Wise-directed classic, The Haunting. Again, this is based on a piece of literature which is most certainly on a scale of greatness: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. There’s something truly haunting about this movie. Before Wes Craven and his brand of horror, long before Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, and other modern horror filmmakers I dig, legendary director Robert Wise gave us this atmospheric, moody and completely unsettling ghost story. The plot itself is deceptively simple yet amazing: Dr. Markaway, whose research involves that of the afterlife, the supernatural, conducts experiments in Hill House; two women and a young man are a part of the events. The way Wise creates a palpable air of dread, not unlike The Innocents, it creeps up under your skin and really takes hold for every last bit of its 112-minute runtime. There’s nothing disturbing, so to speak, but you will find yourself spooked afterwards.
No two ghost stories put onto film have ever gone so well together on a double bill as these classic movies. I’d recommend them for a couple partners or solo viewing, as they’re films you really want to listen to, pay attention and let their aesthetic draw you in. Nice scare for two people sitting in a dark room!

* For my full review of The Hauntingclick here

Sleepy Hollow (1999)
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Honestly, if you don’t like Tim Burton’s latest stuff over the past few years, fine. But please don’t try and tell me he’s never done anything good. That’s bullshit. From Beetlejuice to Edward Scissorhands to the 1999 adaptation of a classic creepy tale into Sleepy Hollow, there’s no Halloween done proper if you don’t at least toss on SOMETHING by Burton. Even his Batman films were gothic and very dark.
Here, you’ll get a dose of awesome actors, riotous wit, spooky Halloween-like imagery, and even a tiny dose of nastiness with decapitated heads rolling around like it’s nobody’s business! Burton brings his beautifully macabre cartoon-ish style to this timeless, classic story, and Johnny Depp puts in a solid performance as the clueless yet somehow knowledgeable Ichabod Crane. Pop this on for a nice treat near Halloween, or better yet on the very night. Real good one for a group, too.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
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Many will probably vote that the best adaptation of this Jack Finney novel is the original from 1956. Me, I like this 1970s version, as it came about after McCarthyism, all the Black Listing in Hollywood, along with all the new paranoias and fears of new generations, as well as the growing fears of the older generation slipping into the twilight.
In San Francisco, several people begin to discover humans are being replaced by clones, which are really an alien life form inhabiting humanity from the inside out. As they start to take over more rapidly, the group bands together in order to try and survive.
A bunch of solid actors (one of my favourites included – fellow Canadian Donald Sutherland), a tight and tense script jam packed with paranoid madness, and everything executed so well in terms of the look and feel of the movie, you couldn’t ask for better. This will give you enough of a scare to satisfy those spooky needs this October. And you may never forget the final frame, I certainly haven’t yet.

House of Wax (1953)/ The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)
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The next double feature is all about that Vincent Price, baby!
To start: House of Wax from 1953. Anybody ever says “Whann remakes whann I hate them”, say “Shut the fuck up!” and remind them even in the ’50s remakes were a thing. Starring Price as a disfigured wax sculptor, this was a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum from two decades previous. There’s a definitely creepy aspect to the entire movie and not just that, it looks fantastic. Some people nowadays, mostly young, young people, say they can’t “get into” certain old movies. To that, I don’t know what I’ll say… sad, really. Because some films from the 1940s and 1950s are better to look at than any modern movies. Not that I prefer old films over newer ones; honestly, a lot of what I love comes from the ’70s, ’80s, and post-2000, so really I’m not trying to be hip here. I honestly generally feel there was a beauty to the look of pure film, everything shot on stock back then, as opposed to so much digital in this era. Don’t mean to bash digital either, it’s great and has advantages. Just throw this in and let it take you away. The horror will come at you through the dark and beautiful imagery of the film.
abominable_dr_phibes_xlgAfter a bit of ’50s era Vincent Price, get a load of The Abominable Dr. Phibes from 1971.
Over three decades before Jigsaw reared his terrifying head, the operatic and horrible Dr. Phibes was exacting revenge on the nine doctors whom he deemed responsible for his wife dying. With lots of candy campiness, an on-point Price, and some of the most extravagant art design/set decoration you’ll ever see in a horror movie, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is absolutely a good, creepy little horror movie that’s not full of unsettling slashing. Rather, it comes off very much like a horror musical of sorts, without the musical numbers, but in the sense it takes on that grand artistic form, like a massive stage play.
These two Vincent Price movies go well together, displaying two very different sides to the same incredible actor. As well as the fact you’ll find a few scares throughout this double bill while having fun.

Taste of Fear a.k.a Scream of Fear (1961)
1-scream-of-fear-aka-taste-of-fear-everettThis 1961 Hammer horror film, best known as Scream of Fear, is – according to co-star Christopher Lee, legend, gentleman – the best the studio ever put out. I’d probably agree with that sentiment, honestly. As much as I love a bunch of the Hammer horrors which came out years and years now, there’s something terribly dreadful about this one. It’s made out of pure suspense, streaming out of every scene.
I’ll give you only this: a young woman in a wheelchair goes back to her father’s estate after a long time away, continually seeing his dead body on the property though told he is on a trip. From there, the terror builds.
Perfect for a couple people or just a solitary watch. Let this one creep on you and it’ll be a rewarding bit of horror without scarring you for life.

Nightwatch (1997)/ Zodiac (2007)
nightwatch-posterAnother double feature – each about a killer, though, one happens to be based on a real life case.
Beginning with Nightwatch, the director’s English-language remake of his own 1994 film Nattevagten, this is the story of a young man named Martin Bells (played by Ewan McGregor) who gets the job as nightwatchman at a morgue. Unfortunately, at the same time, the city is under threat of a serial killer taking the lives of various women. When Martin becomes a suspect in the murders, things get tricky.
This is a slow burn and it’s full of red herring material, which makes a fun horror with tons of excellently executed thrills full of suspense and taut tension. Also, there’s McGregor, Patricia Arquette, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, even ole Brad Dourif comes out to play. Nice, creepy flick.
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From 1997, let’s jump a decade to David Fincher’s Zodiac, based on a book by Robert Graysmith (played here by Jake Gyllenhaal) about the real life case of the Zodiac Killer who to this day has never been caught, nor identified concretely.
Fincher is one hell of a filmmaker, as a director he is another person I’d easily classify as an auteur. No matter the subject, you can tell you’re watching a Fincher film almost soon as the first frame has faded or cut. With Zodiac, the complex look of Fincher comes to the darkness shrouding everything over the 1970s when the Zodiac terrorized the San Francisco area. He gives even more depth to all the fear and chaos surrounding the hunt for this madman, along with a great script and amazing actors like Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and more. This one is chilling and it sticks to you like smoke after the finale. You almost want to turn around after it finishes, just to make sure the Zodiac hasn’t wandered up behind you.
These are two looks at the process of a murder case – one fictional, the other all too real – each film with their own aesthetic, this is an interesting double feature to go for closing in on Halloween.

The Night of the Hunter (1955)
poster_thenightofthehunterStarring the excellent Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters, The Night of the Hunter was the first film to give knuckle tattoos a bad name (coming from a man with tattoos on his knuckles). Most wouldn’t call this horror, they’d say it’s mystery and film-noir wrapped up into one maybe. To me, this has the markings of a good psychological horror-thriller. With Mitchum playing a man after a huge sum of money, and willing to go through anyone – even some kids – to get it, there’s plenty of room for terrifying moments, suspense ratcheted to the max, and actor-turned-director Charles Laughton uses every chance he gets to execute all of the tension built up throughout the film. Also, apparently Mitchum did some uncredited directorial work alongside Laughton, which is pretty neat. Either way, this is an intense little movie which I’d definitely call spooky, creepy at the very least. And it came out 60 years ago! Still has a lasting effect.

The Changeling (1980)
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Directed by Peter Medak (The Krays/Romeo Is Bleeding) and starring one of the greatest actors ever, George C. Scott, this 1980 horror is a haunted house film with a great plot and wonderful story.
The Changeling sees Scott’s character move into a large, old mansion after a tragic accident takes his wife and child from him. Within the walls of the new place, he begins to experience strange, supernatural events all around. Soon, he figures out the house’s secrets.
While there are a couple disturbing plot elements, I do feel like Medak’s haunted house horror movie is scary while not being too outrageously unsettling. So for the people who want a nice little spooky movie for Halloween season, The Changeling makes for a solid pick – especially if it’s the haunted house sub-genre you’re craving.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
pans_labyrinth_ver11_xxlgGuillermo del Toro is a consistently, constantly interesting and evolving artist. There’s something utterly magical about his 2006 dark fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth, which is just about indescribable.
Taking place in Spain during 1944, del Toro’s story follows a young girl whose life around her crumbles while the eye inside her mind comes alive, sometimes in the most terrifying ways imaginable.
Not saying there isn’t anything at all disturbing here; most certainly, there is. However, I think it’s somehow presented in a digestible way. Doesn’t lose any of its impact in that del Toro gives us everything wrapped in fantasy. Just makes the terror more palatable, in a way I can’t describe any better than I’ve already done. Mostly, it’s the incredible and fascinating visual architecture of this movie that will draw you in: whether it’s simply beautifully captured exterior shots or the dark realm of the fantastical imagination at work, this fantasy horror film has teeth and yet still I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t strictly into horror. This is mostly fantasy with little horror edges.

The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (2012)
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I’d heard the name of this movie announced a long while before it ever got released, and knew of the premise, so altogether I was pretty pumped to finally get a look at this one. The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is extremely interesting in that it’s centred around a single character while an entire world almost is built around him through the story and its plot.
A young man who collects antiques inherits his mother’s house after she dies, and goes on to discover it’s a place devoted to a strange cult; believing his mother to somehow, some way still be present in the house, she may or may not be trying to send him a message, possibly even a warning.
There’s no way to describe this film any further without ruining things. You’ll find yourself surprised if you go in knowing only the basic premise. Even what I said there is probably more than you need to know beforehand. Still, this will slowly grow on you. There’s a dark and sombre aesthetic all around about this film and the lead actor, Aaron Poole, does great stuff with a plot he basically has to carry almost entirely on his own. Featuring excellent narration/voice-over by the massively talented Vanessa Redgrave, I can’t think of a creepier yet fitting movie for the non-horror initiated. It’s a Halloween season film, deserving of your time. Scary, but won’t wreck you. Some fun, spooky storytelling.

Nosferatu (1922) /Vampyr (1932)
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The last two titles, one more double feature, are fittingly along similar lines.
First, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu – perhaps the first unofficial adaptation ever? I’m no film historian, though, I don’t think I’m far off. That’s no matter. This is basically Bram Stoker’s Dracula adapted to screen in the silent era, without proper authorization from the Stoker estate; Murnau was promptly sued, I believe.
Doesn’t change a thing. The origin of creepiness in the horror genre comes out of Murnau and his German Expressionist take on famous Count Dracula and his visit from Jonathan Harker. Of course here it’s Count Orlock and Hutter. What a haunting classic. Isn’t the FIRST horror movie, though, it’s one of the first – if not the first – with such a heavy impact. Not overrated in the slightest; the only people who say those types of things are the ones who have no idea about what good movies are, anyways. The individual shots are almost all tableaus of expressionism, especially once Orlock begins to creep among the shadows in the night throughout his castle.
9203650982_9341dc2c96_bThat brings me to the other half of the bill – Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 horror Vampyr based on a book by Sheridan Le Fanu.
Talk about method and technique when it comes to horror, here Dreyer piles on the surrealist, dreamy imagery until there’s absolutely nothing left to us but brain and bone. It’s not one of those floor you, devastate you, terrifying your dreams into nightmares sort of horrors, but Vampyr came far before its time. It is one of the most wonderfully eccentric and gorgeous to look at black-and-white films I’ve ever seen with my own two eyes, personally. I’ve owned the Criterion Collection DVD for years now and it’s a movie I can watch over and over. Perfect to get your spook on during October.
This double feature will have you in a dream-like state of imagery, where you won’t find terror in blood or gore or jump scares. Instead, you’ll find the horrifying aspects of these movies build up in your brain and the lingering shadows of these movies together will have you remembering scenes for weeks to come. Great duo of classics from the early half of the 20th century, like a lesson in horror history.


Another list has come to an end. As I’ve said before, I’m hoping there’s at least one or two titles on here you’ll come across, enjoy the sound of, and then indulge over the month of October. So many of these are perfect for Halloween. These are great movies in general, though, I really feel they’re right for movie lovers who aren’t exactly into the horror genre but don’t like the stuff us other horror hounds are lapping up regularly. Find a scare or two in here, ripe for Halloween. And please, let me know what you think or if you’ve enjoyed (or hated) any of them before now.
Cheers and #HappyHalloween!

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Beetlejuice: The Afterlife and Raunchy Ghosts

Beetlejuice. 1988. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Michael McDowell & Warren Skaaren.
Starring Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, Winona Ryder, Annie McEnroe, Glenn Shadix, Patrice Martinez, Sylvia Sidney, Robert Goulet, Dick Cavett, and Susan Kellermann. The Geffen Company. PG. 92 minutes.
Comedy/Fantasy/Horror

★★★★1/2
beetlejuice-posterTim Burton doesn’t always appeal to everyone. His style, as far as I’m concerned, makes him an auteur. Even in his less cartoony, gothic-styled films, there is always an ever present sense of Burton and his unflinching vision of the stories he tells. Most of his movies I do enjoy, though, some I’m not huge on. Either way I can’t help deny my major love for a few of his movies.
One such title is the 1988 fantasy, quasi-horror, full-on comedy Beetlejuice, which later toned down into the 1989-1991 cartoon series of the same name. This is one strange piece of work, at the same time it’s amazingly near perfect in other ways. With a refreshingly innovative take on the afterlife, hauntings, the “life” of ghosts on the other side and tons of fun Burton-like imagery and makeup effects, this is one hell of a fun film. Beetlejuice has a bit of everything: death, suicide, laughs, calypso music and dancing, and Micheal Keaton.
beetlejuice-beetlejuice-the-movie-30941820-1920-1080After a tragic car accident, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin/Geena Davis) find themselves back at their house… only a little removed from reality. They find a book in their attic – The Handbook for the Recently Deceased – and then eventually discover a way into the waiting room of the afterlife, where a case worker named Juno (Sylvia Sidney) explains they’ve died and are contracted to remain in their old home for many, many years. Tasked with scaring out the new owners – Charles and Delia Deetz (Jeffrey Jones/Catherine O’Hara) along with their young daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) – Adam and Barbara eventually come across an unethical ghost named Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) who would much rather kill the new owners than just scare them out. And once Betelgeuse sets his sight on Lydia to be his wife, the newly deceased couple have to decide whether they’re ready to give up their home, or give up the life of an innocent young girl.
tumblr_npbu2xlhfu1uq538fo9_1280So much to enjoy about this slice of Burton work.
One of my favourite sequences of the film happens early on when Adam (Baldwin) and Barbara (Davis) try to scare the new owners, before they’re initiated into the world of being dead. First, Barbara hangs herself in the closet, then rips the skin off her skull when Otho (Shadix) and Delia Deetz (O’Hara) look inside, yet to no avail. Then, Barbara stands – knife in hand – with Adam’s bloody, decapitated head in the other, trying to look sinister. Nothing works! But the kicker is when Adam tries to run up and lock the attic door, with no head, and he’s banging into things, bumping every object nearby. Riot, love it. Awesome few scenes here, especially in terms of makeup effects and horror imagery; the skin off skull bit is nasty and cool.
The waiting room scene is another perfect bit. We see the various dead people sitting around until their name is called: one man is a hunter of sorts, his head shrunken to a prune; another merely charred remains of a man smoking a cigarette; a guy who choked to death, chicken bone still sticking through both sides of his neck; an attendant showing patients in whose body is hung on strings, flattened out from tire tracks; and a man hung by the neck, on the same track as the other attendant, passing files off to a secretary while he’s carted about the office building. What a great and also tragic sequence. This is also part of why I’m so in love with Beetlejuice; because of its unique charm in the face of death.
winona-ryder-beetlejuice-2Lydia: “My whole life is a dark room; one… big… dark… room.
BEETLEJUICEWhat I dig most about Beetlejuice overall is its take on the afterlife. On one hand, you’ve got all the “regular” ghosts who are merely regular people moving onto another plane. On the other hand, there’s Beetlejuice himself. But it’s the little handbook, for the recently deceased, the waiting room, the giant sandworms, and so on, which intrigues me. Such a neatly cartoonish and macabre world for Burton to play around in. At the same time, I find the way it portrays ghosts pretty unique. So underneath all Beetlejuice’s gnarly exterior and vulgarity, beneath the story of a haunting, there’s a genuine attempt here to dissect what a true afterlife might be – instead of the idealized heaven or hell, Burton’s film taps into a more satirical approach to being dead and trying to move on. Plus, seeing things from the side of the deceased doesn’t hurt either. While we’re right alongside the Deetz family, even in the scarier moments after the Juice runs loose, much of our perspective comes from Adam and Barbara, as well as later a similar yet different perspective from the still-living Lydia. All in all, the way this movie presents death and the afterlife is both hilarious and fresh.
vlcsnap-2013-11-14-04h25m48s120 391ccd14f69e49feacc3502aa1857b63 393689There’s plenty of creepy horror stuff going on, but the dark and sometimes raunchy comedy is very much happening here. For instance, even in the morbid scene where Lydia (Ryder) contemplates her suicide writing a note for her family to find later, there’s a downright funny, laugh out loud moment as she rearranges the words, choosing better ones to put in place to make the note sound more appealing. The whole character of Lydia is fun and funny at once. She’s simultaneously deep and gothic while also playfully satirizing the whole goth lifestyle.
When it comes to comedy, though, obviously Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice is the centrepiece of this entire thing. Clearly, right? Even more than you think. For those who don’t remember properly, Beetlejuice is a dirty dude, both physically and in his speech. In the original screenplay, the character was much darker and more violent; he wanted to rape Lydia, here it’s toned down slightly to a creepy crush. But the darkness all around, from his actions to his comedy, is still quite present. Keaton brings Beetlejuice to life from one moment to the next. He’s mostly hilarious, yet always with the chilling side directly under the surface, every now and then coming out into the open fully. Some of my favourite bits are when Beetlejuice is still stuck in the tiny model town, in its cemetery; Keaton did a nice bit of improvisation, if I’m not mistaken, which is awesome because he did a great job with the character.
BeetlejuiceBeetlejuice: “I’m the ghost with the most, babe.

Even with the changes inflicted upon the original screenplay, the toning down, the film’s finale remains pretty dark. Regardless of the cartoon-ish, at times, quality Burton gives the story and its visuals, there are equal amounts of very macabre and eerie sequences. When Beetlejuice is called back into reality by Lydia the final time, in order to try and save Adam/Barbara, the movie turns into a dark carnival. This section starts out in a sort of lighthearted horror-comedy way. Then, slowly, it moves towards treacherous territory, as Beetlejuice attempts to take Lydia as his bride. I mean, it’s sketchy! Very creepy, unsettling stuff. Delia’s sculptures come alive to hold the witnesses in place for their impromptu ceremony, which are super weird and gothic through Burton’s eyes. Just cannot get enough of this effective finale. Also, the very last couple scenes are a whole ton of fun capping things off on a more lighthearted ghost story note.
lbf-bettlejuice-jambeTotally a 4.5 out of 5 star film for me. Always loved this and truly feel it’s an effectively dark comedy using shades of horror in the best way. Plus, it’s a satirical look at the traditional ghost, which makes the comedy work that much better. Combining the eccentric talent of Tim Burton with a couple of great performances, namely Michael Keaton as the titular ghost with the most, Beetlejuice elevates itself from just another comedy to something near legendary.
I’m beyond excited there’s going to, hopefully, be a sequel with Burton, Keaton, and Ryder all supposedly onboard for the ride! With that team, as well as the spirit of the original at heart, I bet a sequel could be almost as spectacular this time around as it was the first. Watch this for Halloween; great to put on any time, but even better around the fall season as the 31st approaches on the calendar.

Batman Returns with Burton’s Gothic Style

Batman Returns. 1992. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Daniel Waters from a story by Waters & Sam Hamm.
Starring Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Michael Murphy, Cristi Conaway, Andrew Bryniarski, Pat Hingle, Vincent Schiavelli, Steve Witting, and Jan Hooks.
Warner Bros./PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.
PG-13. 126 minutes.
Action/Adventure

★★★★★
102114_BatmanReturns_PosterA huge fan of Batman now for about twenty five years, I only recently reviewed Tim Burton’s 1989 film; a favourite of mine. While there’s definitely even more of a cartoon-ish vibe with Batman Returns I almost can’t decide which one is my favourite. So many want to say Batman is better, however, this one combines even more of what I loved about the first one: the darkness and the campy nature of the comic books and graphic novels. With this film there’s not only a deepening of the visuals in terms of those aspects, Burton’s sequel to his own film also goes a little deeper into character than the first.
The character of the Joker is fundamentally supposed to be a bit of a mystery, so even the fact we saw Jack Nicholson as Napier before his transformation was more than you might anticipate. With Selina Kyle and Oswald Cobblepot in this film, there’s a lot of chances for Burton to dive into their characters alongside more and more Bruce Wayne. More than this, I find the look and feel of the movie makes things so much creepier than the first. There are plenty who would say creepy is not something Batman ought to be as a film, yet I say different. There’s lots of adventure, plenty of thrill and superhero fun, but Batman and many of the characters – especially those included here – are most certainly at least a bit scary. They aren’t as outright megalomaniac-like, except for the Joker and even he has an inordinate amount of darkness in him as a character. Batman Returns brings the cartoon comic nature of Batman and the villains to the world of film, and at the very same time excels by including so much of the darkness and violence you’ll likely not see in another comic book ever again (except for maybe the violence I anticipate will have found its way into Deadpool; hopefully at least).
Either way, I don’t feel this sequel gets enough credit, nor does Burton in general for making such wonderful adaptations of Batman. This is possibly my favourite of them all, though, I still can’t make a definitive decision whether or not I’m more a fan of this or the previous movie. Too much great stuff in them both, yet I’m always leaning towards this one for whatever reason. We’ll see if maybe I get to the bottom of it.
Batman_Returns_-_BatarangTo start, I love the look of the movie, from costumes to the makeup and special effects, to the scenes themselves. The cinematography in this film is courtesy of Stefan Czapsky, whose work includes Vampire’s Kiss, Director of Photography on Errol Morris’ incredibly documentary The Thin Blue Line, as well as D.P on the odd and wonderful Edward ScissorhandsA Brief History of TimeEd Wood (another Burton film I dig a ton), Matilda, and more. Czapsky also worked as gaffer and assistant camera on a bunch of awesome movies like Larry Cohen’s God Told Me ToQHe Knows You’re Alone, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, and At Close Range among others.
He really does some good work here as D.P. Lots of interesting shots he captures, which really express the Tim Burton style. I imagine after working on Edward Scissorhands a couple years before with Burton they had a feel for one another, their style and methods, so much of that I feel comes out in this film. Throughout the movie, mostly due to the fact the setting happens around/on Christmas, Burton and Czapsky conjure up this incredibly dark carnival sort of atmosphere, and the tone stays pitch dark from start to finish.
Honestly, my pick for top shot of the film is right at the beginning where we get to watch little baby Oswald wash down the river in his basket, down into the sewers where he’ll remain for 33 years; it’s a great sequence following behind the basket, watching it float on through the water. So creepy and immediately makes us aware how grim this film aims to be from the outset.
Moreover, I think Burton and Czapsky draw out so much animal imagery throughout the movie. From penguins to cats to bats, there are a bunch of different moments where the animals show up in interesting ways. Great stuff, even if it may seem heavy handed. I thought Burton did good work in those terms, too.
5-things-you-might-not-know-about-tim-burton-batman-returns-20th-anniversaryThere’s something in this movie I love even more than the first: score. Fact is, even though I do love the sequence in the museum from Batman set to the Prince song “Partyman”, there’s a little too much of it all the same. Here, in Batman Returns, I think Danny Elfman has more of a chance to branch out, as opposed to the first. Studio involvement made the first a mix, with Prince and Elfman ending up both thrown around in the movie. This time around, though there were apparently troubles in the relationship between Burton & Elfman, I think the score is absolutely fantastic! Each character has their own theme, an aesthetic all to their own, and much of that comes from Elfman’s pieces. Like the bits with the cats and Selina, as they lick and bite her (et cetera), there’s neat idiosyncrasies happening in the score with violin strings scraping and screeching, and more. Elfman has a style all of his own, which really compliments much of Burton and his own aesthetic.
batman-returns-selinas-resurrectiondda12d1eebf83736f78a5b8e0a216f15One particular favourite scene of mine is when Selina (Pfeiffer) returns home after being thrown from the window by Shreck (Walken), and somehow surviving. There’s a creepiness and black humour to the whole sequence, alternating back and forth. The way Selina stumbles home, bleeding a little, her entire skin tone has changed to an almost milky white, it’s super weird in all the right ways.
This is another aspect I love even above the 1989 film. In this story, there’s even more violence and a further edge. While Nicholson’s Joker had some highly disturbing aspects to his character (think: Alicia the living & disfigured art installation), I can’t help but think of so many moments in this sequel pushing those boundaries.
Such as the nose biting scene. Of course there’s a darkly comedic feel to that scene, as well as what follows. But the actual visuals are nasty as hell. Penguin (DeVito) has enough black crap trickling out of his mouth as it is, then when he bites the poor unsuspecting Josh (Steve Witting) it is so vibrant, the gushing red from the nose all over the victim’s face, running down Penguin’s chin; such vivid violence while also it stays, at the same time, almost like a cartoon. It’s that fine line Burton manages to tread in so many of his films I find interesting when it comes to his take on Batman.
Burton-Batman-still-4I know most people will say I’m reaching way too far on this aspect, but here goes..
Batman Returns brings out an incredible aspect of the story between Batman and the Penguin (at least in his current form out of this screenplay). These are each two orphaned children, though, for very different reasons. It shows the difference some times between a hero and villain, that edge where one person falls over while the other person somehow manages to cling on tight. Penguin is the type who fell completely over, letting the darkness take him fully; Batman, while in the dark and very much gripped by it, has managed to hold onto the edge and not let go, refusing to even. While so many people focus on the parallel between Batman and Joker, a recurring plot and thematic device constantly used over and over in the films as well as the literature, I think this screenplay and the way Burton brings things to life really show a strong duality between Bruce Wayne and Oswald Cobblepot.
There’s a ton of further duality happening between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Most powerfully is the big costume party, or masquerade; you’ll obviously notice they’re the only ones not masked. Clearly you can tell these are two people more comfortable in their superhero personas, in their own costumes, than in their own skin – out in the open at a masquerade? More like their real face and their actual skin is their costume. Selina is truly Catwoman, deep down, as is Bruce actually Batman underneath it all. While I find the parallels between Bruce and Oswald most interesting, and furthest explored, it’s worth noting this excellent parallel between Bruce and Selina, as well. These are the little nuances of the script which take this above simply being a Batman vs. two villains film, as some see it. An appropriate sequel to the first, there’s even more character explored here than before with Nicholson’s knockout performance as the Joker. Not to mention the fact both DeVito and Pfeiffer are perfect in their roles. No one else could have done these roles justice like the two of these actors. Each are creepy and unnerving in their own right, offering plenty of fun and madness to counteract the more calm, calculated performance out of Michael Keaton.
br3There’s more of the weird, loner-style Bruce Wayne here out of Keaton. Even more than the 1989 film. Not to say either performance is better, simply I like how more of Bruce comes out in this screenplay. He’s a little more lonely, a little darker in a sense. Further than that, Bruce has also lost Vicki Vale since the first film and he’s got a broken heart. Already a man with a broken heart, Keaton brings out the vulnerability of Wayne. I’ve got to reiterate, for those who also love the Nolan trilogy like myself, Bale is awesome as Batman for me, I enjoyed him; however, Keaton and the screenplay for the two Burton films really emphasize the sadness of Bruce Wayne, the loneliness inside him, even more than anything in the Nolan films. Wayne is a weird guy, there has always been this quality to him even from the original comics. This is something Keaton brings out plenty, especially with a second chance here in Batman Returns.
Overall, while I gave Batman the same 5-star rating, I’ve got to admit over the years Batman Returns has evolved as my favourite of the lot. Still a huge fan of Nolan’s works as well, there’s simply something inescapably interesting and dark about Tim Burton and his two Batman films which draws me back, over and over. As much as I can watch the Nolan films, even back to back, time and time again, there are moments in Burton’s films which are engrained on my soul. Maybe it’s because they’re the ones I originally grew up with, but I think there’s more to it. Again I say it’s the cross of the perfect elements for Batman: the darkness and the grim side of him/the villains in Gotham, plus there’s the campy and fun nature of the comics and some of the original 1960s series preserved, which amounts to a potent combination.
Batman Returns is a vibrant and Gothic story of Batman/Bruce Wayne, including several villainous entities out of Gotham City, and Tim Burton brings it to life in the most wonderful way imaginable. Check this out if you’ve not seen it, especially if you love Burton and I think the same can be said if you do love the Batman comics in particular. This is great stuff and once more I say truly underrated.

Tim Burton’s Batman. The Best Batman.

Batman. 1989. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Sam Hamm & Warren Skaaren; based on characters created by Bob Kane & Bill Finger.
Starring Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Jerry Hall, Tracey Walter, Lee Wallace, and William Hootkins. Warner Bros./The Guber-Peters Company/PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.
PG-13. 126 minutes.
Action/Adventure


★★★★★
54748a_lg Tim Burton is the sort of filmmaker people either love or hate, I think. There’s no real halfway marker between sentiments with Burton’s movies, which is fine. Personally I think he’s a great, innovative, and influential filmmaker. In essence, he’s an auteur. You can say he’s no good, or whatever, but at the end of the day you cannot deny he has a style that is VERY MUCH all his own; nobody else does dark and weird in the cartoonish sense like him. From Beetlejuice, to both the Batman movies, Edward Scissorhands, the incredibly strange and fun adaptation of Sleepy Hollow, to Ed Wood and Mars Attacks! (brilliant and overlooked), Big Fish, Corpse Bride – I think Burton has made enough films that are of a high calibre I’m able to count him among other great filmmakers of his generation.
While Burton himself has said his Batman is boring and that it’s more of a cultural phenomenon than anything, I feel he’s shortchanged himself. I’m a massive fan of the Batman character, have been for years. I’ve read comics, graphic novels, seen all the films – including the original television series and the movies of which I’m a big fan honestly for their campy style. So don’t hate on me for saying this, but at the base of all this Batman is still a superhero, and superheroes are a tiny bit silly. You’ve got to admit it. When David Cronenberg expressed his distaste for Nolan’s trilogy, or at least his “I don’t care” attitude about superhero movies, he wasn’t trying to be a dick: it’s the truth. While you can try to make a superhero film as gritty and realistic as possible, at the end of the day Batman – or any other comic book superhero – is still a guy running around dressed in tights, fighting zany, megalomaniac villains with their own equally foolish-looking getups. Again I repeat – I love Batman, in all forms. But I think the ultimate thing I love, above the darkness and the style and the wildness of so many moments from the Joker’s laughs and horror to the action scenes, is that Tim Burton treats his Batman in the way it’s meant to be treated: part serious and dark, part campy and fun. If you can’t recognize that, fine. But don’t say this is a bad adaptation, it’s just not. It is a classic and it helped lead the way for more action films to come in the 1990s and long after.
Batman-1989-batman-2687182-1024-576In Gotham City, the criminals have been running scared: rumour has it some giant, human-like bat has been roaming the streets and taking care of the underbelly of society. While reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) teams up with star journalist Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) to get to the bottom of the story, other things are brewing in the dark city.
Mob boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) has a bit of trouble with his… right hand man, Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), who winds up in a bad spot all due to Carl’s backstabbing. Things get really bad when Napier runs into Batman during a shootout with police; Jack ends up disfigured after falling into a vat of chemicals. Remerging, after a bit of off the books surgery, Jack becomes the Joker. Hellbent on tearing Gotham to pieces, as well as rooting out Batman, Joker becomes a powerful force of terror in the hearts of the citizens and nobody is safe.
And Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) keeps on working hard, day and night, trying to conceal the biggest secret of all: he’s Batman.
batman-1989-wallpaper-movie-897The first time we actually see the Joker’s face in the shadows is actually creepy. Even before, not seeing his face was almost creepier, as he smashes the mirror, laughing, walking out of the basement leaving behind his terrified doctor. Numerous scenes involving the Joker, as well as his henchman in various shapes and forms, are incredibly dark. Which brings me to one of my major loves about this 1989 Batman as opposed to even the Christopher Nolan films (I’m a fan by the way).
All the darkness of Burton is present here. Even more than that, he keeps the cartoonish nature of the comic books and also brings the dark nature of Batman/Bruce Wayne himself into the mix. While Nolan’s films have a sort of dark side, it’s not near the same as what Burton presents. The plot of the film, everything happening with the story in this adaptation, isn’t even the best of it – Burton uses his auteur style in order to infuse this film with something spooky, something full of idiosyncrasy and madness and chaotic mayhem.
For instance, the scene where the Joker meets Vicki Vale at the museum and shows her his latest art project – living, breathing art created with nastiness, a young woman named Alicia with her face disfigured underneath a Phantom of the Opera-style mask. That part always creeps me out, right to pieces. Even the oddly chipper, upbeat commercial by the Joker for Joker Brand products, with all the women sporting a Joker face, it’s SO UNSETTLING! There’s a campy side to it, yes, there’s no denying that. Though, Burton has the talent to take those saccharine sweet looking visuals and lean them into the dark pit of the human heart. Again, it’s why I say he’s an auteur; only the best are able to make the darkness look and feel so utterly compelling.

Y’ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?
batman-1989-c-030People will rail on and on about how Michael Keaton is no good as Batman.
Whatever, man.
Think what you will, I found him excellent. There’s even more to that sentiment in Batman Returns, as the darkness I love and crave so much in Bruce Wayne comes out further than it does here in the first (though I love this movie a tad more).
Keaton is solid. So what he’s not jacked? That’s honestly, basically, the opinion of some: his physique isn’t particularly muscular enough to portray Batman. Why does someone have to be huge in order to be a good fighter or intimidating? Was Bruce Lee huge? Nope, yet I’d have been mortified to have to fight the man. The whole point to Bruce is that he learned to fight and combat villains in the way of a ninja, so it’s not like he has to be this massive man. For those purposes, the suit does its work, and looks great.
Above all, I love the way this Batman – and in part this is due to the writing and Burton’s presentation of the material – not only fights crime, he actually wants to scare the criminals. Yes, Nolan goes for that in his newest trilogy. Not in this way, though. There’s something extra creepy to the opening sequence where those two robbers sit atop the building, counting their cash, while also talking about the supposed Bat Man lurking about Gotham – how Batman slips in behind them, frightening them, terrorizing. It’s very dark and grim. The way the movie started out always creeped me to the bones when I was a kid. I’ve been watching this movie since I was like 6 years old, probably about two years after the original release, and one of the parts I always found myself fascinated with was the very beginning because it has this ominous, terrifying feel, but in the most excellent sense. Works wonder for the tone of the film. Also, a big part of this is in the way Keaton plays Batman with a quiet, calculated performance in the right moments.
It’s the rawness of Wayne which comes out of Keaton. He has an awesome presence as Batman, particularly aided I think by the fact he couldn’t hear much of anything (if anything at all) while in the suit. I love what Bale did with the Batman voice, regardless of how anyone else might feel to the contrary – I think there’s a necessity to the voice, you’d have to disguise it or else someone would absolutely make the connection between Bruce and Batman. But more subtlety in the voice comes in Keaton’s performance. He doesn’t go to the length Bale does, which again I thought was good, yet there’s a slight change in his voice here when you listen to him carefully from one scene to the next, Bruce to Batman; it’s a good touch. Plus, there’s just an introverted quality all around to Keaton as Bruce: from the moment he pretends not to be Bruce Wayne when Vicki Vale asks about him at the party near the film’s beginning, to the solitary (and obligatory) Bruce moments brooding in the Bat Cave. I’ve always loved this aspect to Bruce Wayne, and while Christian Bale does a splendid job in the Nolan trilogy, I honestly have to give my vote to Keaton as best. Simply because there’s a real strangeness, a dark and at times weird side to his Bruce Wayne, which you’re likely never to see again. Ever. Nobody else will bring that out the way Keaton does. Maybe part of that is the fact it is a Burton film, as well as the sequel, in which Keaton is another odd element. But I like to think it’s all a part of Keaton as an actor; someone I’ve always liked, not just a bandwagoner after Birdman. Ever see Ron Howard’s Night Shift? Do yourself a solid, watch it.

Jack Nicholson.. oh my. What can I say that hasn’t been said? He’s a brilliant actor whom I’ve enjoyed over and over throughout my 30 years. There’s a cartoon quality in his performance, just as there is in Burton’s aesthetic throughout the film. Still, Nicholson adds a truly gritty and horrific sensibility to the Joker. Yes: he definitely hams it up. Yes: there are over-the-top moments. But again, this is a guy whose face has been warped into a permanent smile; the chemicals messed him up and the doctor somehow moulded his face to look like a kind of demonically happy plasticine doll. So, c’mon – you have to expect a bit of ham and cheese! You’re not being honest with yourself or watching this film honestly by trying to say he should have gone for more realism. If it’s an attempt at realism (though again: superhero films aren’t realistic from the get-go) you want then try Nolan, I guess. But this Burton version of the Joker is magnificent and macabre; one half of that comes from the writing/Burton, the other and the heftiest portion from Nicholson and his brilliance.
snapshot20090103185002Finally, if I haven’t stressed it enough it’s Burton who makes this film what is it – above the story, above the performances from Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton, it’s the aesthetic of the film, it’s atmosphere, the tone, which really boost this above any other comic book film especially. I don’t care what you say, this is what a comic book movie should be like and I’ll always feel that way! There’s no amount of realism you can try to instil in a movie based on a graphic novel or comic book which can take the story where it needs to go because THAT IS NOT THE SPIRIT OF THE COMICS. Be your own judge, tastemaker. But these are my feelings.
4223383-batman-1989-batman-confronts-the-jokerThis is a 5 star film. Hands down. The one which started the whole trend proper. Tim Burton does a fascinating job with this comic book adaptation, giving it enough campy fun to satisfy those yearning for a return to the Adam West-led Batman and retaining all the darkness of the original character and some of what Frank Miller threw in with his graphic novels. Above all else, there’s a great look and feel to every scene, Burton dripping from the shots like sticky candy, as well as the fact Keaton and Nicholson act their chops off with their mix of seriousness and silly charm. Add in fun music from the soundtrack (I don’t care what you say Tim Burton: I love the way Prince is used!) and compositions from Danny Elfman, and this is one slick adventure.
Seen it? Tell me what you think. If not, what the fuck are you waiting for? Batman Day 2015 has come and gone, but it’s never too late, or too early, to start diving into the legacy of the Dark Knight on film. Go forth to Gotham and find yourself lost in its beautiful, grim shadows.