I have this vision that anytime Eric Kripke and Ben Edlund get in a room together and start sharing their ideas, everyone else backs away very slowly and leaves them alone. These two so far have produced such off the wall classics as “Hollywood Babylon”, “Bad Day At Black Rock”, and the most crazy of all experiments, “Ghostfacers”. Now we get another classic, and once again they have outdone their warped minds.
This time the gem is “Monster Movie”, a faithful and brilliant recreation of the campy horror films of the 1930’s. Dracula, The Werewolf, and The Mummy all appear like they never left, freaking out the modern day Sam and Dean plus a nice looking damsel in distress via the well overdone backdrop of Oktoberfest. Background themes in these films were never subtle and naturally the creative minds here went for the works.
In coming up with this review, I found it hard to give a critical opinion on the acting, writing, directing, and continuity in the traditional sense. Instead, I did my best to scrutinize the classic horror movie elements and determine how well the lofty visions were accomplished. Given the fact that I actually took one cinema appreciation class in college, I’m thinking I could pull such an analysis off.
Anyone Else Watch Turner Classic Movies?
It’s hard for many to remember (including myself), but before Star Wars films actually went at a slower, less jagged pace. These films were done before short attention span theater, where there weren’t a lot of fancy camera movies or tricky focus techniques. The primary goal of movies was storytelling, thus keeping the focus on the actors, not the background noise.
Plots weren’t fast moving in these times either, especially in the horror genre. The villains often played their parts with elaborate and diabolical conduct. In other words way over the top. The formula was usually the same, hero (in this case heroes) arrive into town, love interest is introduced, hero unfolds the villain’s dastardly plan, villain attacks said love interest who is rescued by the dashing hero, villain strikes back by capturing hero, he escapes and comes back to foil villain. Granted the hero usually doesn’t get changed into a silly costume while captured, but that’s likely everyone having fun with Jensen.
For those cinema history buffs, this episode is a pure treat. Jensen Ackles proves that if he was born about sixty years earlier, he’d be an iconic Hollywood leading man. He plays his part as well as it’s written; dashing, sexy, charming, funny, tough yet tender, a selfless hero, irresistible, and basically every woman’s dream. Not that he isn’t those things already, but his performance for this particular setup reminded us why Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, and Cary Grant were all so popular. At least those of us that watched the Turner Classic Movies channel.
It’s well known that Citizen Kane changed all the rules of moviemaking in 1941. One thing it introduced was deep focus, or a large range of focus in which the foreground, middle, and background are all in sharp clarity. “Monster Movie” followed the pre-Citizen Kane rules with shallow focus in which the characters were clear and the background fuzzy. The shots weren’t as wide either. Robert Singer, the director, deserves huge congratulations for pulling off such an antiquated style with modern day equipment.
There are other techniques that well identified the era as well. Intentional clues are clearly shown, like the close up on the napkin with the lipstick from the first time it happened. Clues aren’t so heavy handed these days. Also, location shots were unheard of at the time, so every scene was recreated in a studio. The lovers in the parked car, complete with fog and fake backdrop, intentionally has that studio feel. Otherwise it would have looked sorely out of place.
The lighting had to have been difficult to master, for it involved plenty of dark shadows with just enough filtered light to illuminate a face or sign and scare us with figures emerging from the dark. Even the score is recreated perfectly. Horror film scores in the 1930’s were considered revolutionary because of their use of twelve-tone scales and their role for atmosphere as opposed to evoking strong emotion. In other words, this was before the days when Hitchcock decided screeching violins could scare the crap out of us as much as the characters themselves.
Absurdity Done Right
Despite the old-school feel, the usual strange humor and formulas were intertwined enough where this still felt like a Supernatural episode. For example, scary Dracula captures Dean and his planned execution is long and played out, switching between devious villain and struggling victim as a snail’s pace. Then that’s all interrupted because Dracula has to answer the door for pizza delivery, which he pays for with a coupon. Brilliant! Absurdity done right. Also, Dracula made his getaway from Dean not by disappearing in the dark shadows, but on a motor scooter.
Another great example of the dry humor comes from Sam and Dean interrogating both witnesses. They both have seen their share of crazy in their lives but still manage to be stunned by these witnesses. Both characters are hilarious in their bizarre recollections, and I’m taken back delightfully to “Tall Tales” when the victim recounted his horror of alien probing and a forced slow dance. Strange characters are a Ben Edlund trademark and this episode is no exception.
Then there’s our villain himself, his true identity revealed during the attack when Dean pulls his ear off. He’s a shapeshifter. He’s also a classic movie buff and wants to be like the monsters of the old days. He wants life to be like a movie. You and me both pal.
The shapeshifter getting lost in the part of Dracula is so bad it’s good. His death scene mirrors the era perfectly; long, drawn out, and so completely fake. At first I questioned why the shapeshifter talks to Jamie with such honesty and heart breaking vulnerability, but then my mind goes back to “Skin” and it all made sense. I’m not sure if this is the moment where such continuity is required, but it made sense.
Sam for some strange reason ends up playing sidekick to Dean’s dashing hero, but he has his moments. The most notable is that he’s actually shown eating something, not once, but twice! His lack of eating in contrast to Dean’s pigging out has long been a running gag in this series and probably overdue for a debunking. Maybe this is also a subtle sign that things have indeed changed since Dean has been gone.
Sam also got what I think is the funniest line of the night. He goes to pull off the ear of Mr. Brewer, only to find he’s not the shapeshifter. “It’s supposed to come off,” to which a horrified Mr. Brewer replies, “No, it’s not!” I also loved Sam kicking down the fake door, mirroring Frankenstein’s monster. An inside joke poking fun at Jared’s huge size perhaps?
This episode though belonged to Dean. Even though he proves his worthy shot at Hollywood stardom, some pretty strange things came out of the boy, showing the real Dean is still there. Re-hymenating? I’m not going there, but a few months in Hell makes one think crazy things doesn’t it? Porky’s Two? That’s the movie he wants to live in? What, Porky’s wasn’t good enough? I’d personally go for Repo Man myself.
It’s all good though, especially when Dean Winchester meets lederhosen. That’s not just funny, that’s disturbingly funny. We knew Sam would show up with a Hansel joke. The moment that got everyone talking though is Dean’s open conversation with Jamie. He talks of his “near death” experience and confesses that since he’s “woken up,” he’s on mission from God. There, he said it! He believes now. The honest and heart melting delivery seemed strange coming from a novelty episode, but he did it perfect and got the girl to kiss him to boot.
Other Great Moments Worthy Of Mention
I got chills over the old fashioned credits roll at the beginning, complete with classic Warner Brothers opening logo. Awesome. Same with the big “The End” at the end. I’m still trying to figure out when in history all that went away.
“97.2 FM ROCK FM. Classic rock that really rocks.” How many small town hokey festivals have you been to that had something that stupid on the festival banner? Ohio is loaded with them.
Sam saw the new Raiders of The Lost Ark without Dean. He did go on with his life! Don’t worry Dean, I haven’t seen it yet either. After the latest South Park episode, I’m not sure I want to.
Agents Angus and Young. Fantastic! Why did it take four seasons for that one to happen? AC/DC’s been on fixture on this show since the pilot.
That giant beer stein Mr. Brewer drank out of. I want one!
Intermission. Granted the Monty Python one is way funnier, but isn’t it weird how those were used in the theatres back then? Talk about breaking the mood.
Abbott and Costello meet the monster. How funny. I remember growing up watching all those bad Abbott and Costello meet a different creature films on Saturday afternoons on channel 20. Yes, I was that bored. So is Sam “Abbott” and Dean “Costello?” That kind of makes sense.
The promo for next week’s episode! Holy Hell! Dean freaks out? Sam, Telekenesis? Yellow eyes? Dammit, I have to wait seven more days for that???
Grading humor episodes is always so hard, but I’ll give this one an A-, which puts it a cut above “Ghostfacers”. So much effort went into giving this one authenticity, so the technical aspects get a standing ovation from me. Story, not so much, but after all, films in the 30’s were part of a simpler time.
If some of you are scratching your head asking, “Where’s the recap?” that’s because this is the first episode I’m trying the new format. Recaps are fun for me to write but they’re not for everyone and very time consuming to read. The recaps aren’t going away, they’ll just be available every Sunday or Monday on my personal blog site, www.jesterz.net.
So what movie would you want your life based on? What did you think of another crazy Supernatural experiment? Come on, sharing is fun.