Black Cauldron Update

As an update to my Black Cauldron review the other day, I’d like to pass along this wonderful video that actor John Hurt was kind enough to pass along. It provides a behind the scenes look at his Horned King voice. Somehow this didn’t make it on the 25th Anniversary DVD…maybe Disney is holding out for a future Blu-Ray release? We can only hope.

The Black Cauldron

Image

When you set out to watch a Disney film, you’re probably looking for cartoon dancing animals, frequent songs, and a predictable plot. That’s the Mickey Mouse Mold. And it doesn’t apply to “The Black Cauldron,” by any stretch of the imagination.

As a child, I had the oversized Disney board book of “The Black Cauldron,” but it wasn’t until almost 20 years later that I watched the film. And that’s probably for the best. Before delving into this surprisingly entertaining fantasy narrative, be warned that it is NOT intended for younger audiences. Accordingly, the MPAA awarded this movie a PG rating, a rarity for animated Disney films.

The plot is a classic fantasy tale which works quite well for the Disney model. The narrative froths over with unlikely heroes and friendships, sinister villains, and enough dramatic tension to keep you on the edge of your seat despite your knowledge that everything will work out in the end. Based on Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, the film follows a young pig-keeper, Taran, who dreams of becoming a courageous knight. Supposedly, the film deviates substantially from the book, but I can’t speak on that having never read the novel. Taran is charged with protecting a psychic pig from the demonic Horned King and, naturally, accidentally releases the pig into the Horned King’s eager grasp. In his attempt to rescue the pig Taran himself is captured, though escapes with the help of Princess Eilonwy, a young girl who acts a foil and love interest for Taran, a bumbling minstrel named Fflewddur, and a magic sword. During their journey they team up with Gurgi, an ambiguous, hairy creature with an affinity for apples.

The story is driven by the Horned King’s quest for the Black Cauldron, a device he plans to use to resurrect his army of undead warriors, dubbed the “Cauldron Born.” The quartet of Taran, Elionwy, Fflweddur, and Gurgi search for the Cauldron themselves in the hopes of destroying it to save the land of Prydain. In this respect, the ragtag gang of heroes pitted against a frightening cast of purely malevolent foes presents itself as a very Disney film. Yet here the Disney ties cease.

Unlike most Disney animated pieces, there are no songs. That’s not to say there isn’t any music. The score, composed by Elmer Bernstein known for a slew of films including “The Ten Commandments,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “Animal House,” provides an appropriate backdrop to the film. During the lazy sequences where Taran and his pig Hen Wen stroll through rolling green hills the music waltzes along with them. When the Horned King appears, Bernstein queues the ominous bass notes to induce tension. If you’re looking for sing-alongs, pull out the rest of the Disney catalog. Not even Fflewddur the minstrel sings.

Further differentiating the film from the Disney cookie cutter is the animation. It’s very experimental, comparable to “Fantasia.” The Cauldron Born rise out of this glowing green mist the same color as the Slimers from “Ghostbusters.” The mist actually looks pretty realistic, for fluorescent-green mist that is. Perspective changes and color choice also help to set the atmosphere of the movie. The majority of “The Black Cauldron” backgrounds are comprised of brooding purples, burnt oranges, muddy browns, and velvety blacks. The Horned King, appropriately named for the antler horns atop his helmet is a skeletal creature with glowing red eyes and a raspy cough-like voice brilliantly executed by actor John Hurt (“Alien,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,”). Scenes of the Horned King, particularly close ups of his face, and his army of Cauldron Born are sure to scare small children. Or your middle-aged mother if she’s in the room.

Perspective changes experiment with animation and add depth to various scenes. As Taran and Hen Wen walk away from the Forbidden Forest (yes, this predates Harry Potter so not sure what to make of that…) the tree-lined path in the foreground is flat and provides the feel of a long distance shot with Taran and Hen Wen in the background. Possible the most amazing scene in the whole film is the dragon chase scene were Hen Wen is captured. The animators played around with angles to provide a 3D feel and even feature some shots as if a camera were attached to the underbelly of a dragon.

With the psychedelic colors, a gripping fantasy tale, and arguably the most impressive hand-drawn animation of any Disney film, “The Black Cauldron,” is certainly a movie you won’t want to pass over. Unfortunately it isn’t on Netflix Streaming, but throw it in your queue or pick it up on dvd. The special edition retails for about 10 dollars, and this is definitely one to own.

“A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” Review

Well, it’s that time of year again. Halloween. And as part of the October tradition, millions all over the world dust off the old horror film collection in preparation for the festivities. There are a lot of horror films out there, and a number of classics were followed by an obscene amount of sequels.

Although it’s likely you’ve seen “A Nightmare On Elm Street,” the chances you’ve seen the 8 other movies in the canon is unlikely. I actually tried to make it through each “Nightmare On Elm Street” movie and couldn’t make it past number 5. Mainly this was from the seemingly recycled script and predictability of the gags. Nevertheless, some of the sequels are actually pretty good and worth a watch. While they may not be as good as the original, this is to be expected. Instances in which a movie sequel rivals the original are few and far between.

 

Possibly my favorite entry in the series, besides the first film, is “A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.”   Nightmare part 2 is a decent follow-up and pretty entertaining, but it doesn’t feature any of the same characters besides Freddy, and he doesn’t even get much screen time. “Dream Warriors” on the other hand features the return of Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson, the protagonist from Nightmare part 1. By this time she is a psychiatrist attempting to help a new group of teenagers now being haunted in their dreams by Freddy.

 

The kids are locked in a psychiatric hospital, because their parents don’t believe their nightmares are real. Naturally. So Nancy shows up to save the day. The unique personalities of the teenage patients really make the film shine. Kristen, the new girl, has the ability to pull people into her dream, and as such empowers the rest of the gang to take control while in the dream world and fight back. Taryn, a former drug addict dons a leather suit and gloves and battles Freddy with switch blades. Will, confined to a wheelchair morphs into a Dungeons and Dragons character because of his obsession with the game. Roland becomes a strong badass…I think you get the picture. Basically, the kids have the ability to manifest their personalities in dream form and use their skills to battle Freddy.

 

Not surprisingly, while the kids can fight back there are still several death scenes, which in true “Nightmare On Elm Street” fashion are usually rather comical. Going into the Nightmare series, it’s pretty evident that the movies are meant to be campy and tongue in cheek. If you’re looking for another “The Shining,” this isn’t it. One kid gets thrown off a balcony by Freddy, controlling him from above as a puppet on strings. The aspiring actress, Jennifer, is thrust head first into a television and electrocuted as Freddy exclaims “Welcome to primetime bitch!” In true Krueger form, he spouts one-liners off whenever he has the chance. The one-liner count actually rivals the body count here.

Another enjoyable aspect of the film is learning about Freddy’s backstory. The ghost or spirit of his mother, Amanda Krueger, shows up regularly and we find out that she was actually a nun and nurse in the hospital many years before. Amanda interestingly enough becomes a main character resurfacing in several later films, notably “A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.” Parts 4 and 5 follow part 3 so if you get a chance you might want to check them out even though they aren’t quite as good as “Dream Warriors.”

 

If you’re jonesing for some laughs and need to get your Freddy fix, consider “A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.” At just under an hour and a half, “Dream Warriors” is relatively short. While it may not be the most original or revolutionary film ever made, it’s pretty entertaining and a great way to get into the Halloween spirit.