'Here's to a world of Gods and Monsters...'

All reviews contain mild spoilers ...

21. Mar, 2015

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

It is difficult to imagine the impact the first talking Frankenstein film had back in 1931. Sound was still new at the cinema, and much was made of it to creepy effect in that original. It had eclipsed Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and made a star out of Boris Karloff. Yet it took four years for Universal to produce a sequel.

When I first read the reviews of the Bride of Frankenstein, it horrified me that mentions were made of the Monster talking, smoking and getting drunk and the line of black humour that set this film apart from its predecessor. Surely they hadn’t made the Monster into a comedy character? All this was a long time ago, of course, and this became my favourite film (both horror or otherwise) very soon after.

The Monster’s voice is soft and fragile, his scenes with the blind hermit (which is where the ‘getting drunk’ tag came from) are his only moments of lightness amidst otherwise unrelenting misery, where he is used by the other star of the film, Dr Praetorious for his villainous experiments.

It’s astonishing that director James Whale would never helm another horror film after this, and that his fame was soon to fade away. Having had to be convinced of the merits of producing a sequel to Frankenstein, he injects this story with both moments from the original novel and others from his imagination, lending a twisted perversity to proceedings which propel the film further into weirdness. Praetorious is a delight, manipulating the exhausted Dr Frankenstein and toasting a world of ‘Gods and monsters’ whilst dining at an open coffin.

Of the performers, only Valerie Hobson lapses into the kind of theatrics that her on-screen husband played by Colin Clive manages to (just) avoid. Incredible to think she was only 17 years of age when recording this.

William Pratt, or Boris Karloff, exceeds his earlier performance, even if the new variation on his monster make-up (burnt away hair and additional scarring) isn’t quite as effective as the cadaverous, sunken-eyed original. And as for The Bride (played by ‘??’ in the closing credits) … well! A streak of white electricity through the shock-beehive and fresh scarring under the jaw combine with the wide eyed beauty of Elsa Lanchester to create something truly unique, both seductive and frightening. The scenes between the new husband and wife are macabre, bizarre and heart-breaking. What a typically twisted idea to have Lanchester also playing Mary Shelley herself at the film’s opening. The creator becomes the created!

21. Mar, 2015

Chill (2006)

This is a low budget film. Let's get that out of the way. Taking it's storyline from HP Lovecraft's Cool Air, it concerns a scientist's means of extending life which becomes more and more grisly as the film progresses.

To begin with, various plot threads are presented one after the other, and this serves to intrigue rather than confuse. Everything is explained as the film goes on, and it all makes sense. The main characters are easy to care about, so when unpleasant things begin to happen, you actually care about them - this is something teen slasher films could learn something from!

I also really liked the use of location for this. Everything is set in a typical, slightly down-market town. It's an intimate enough community for the local police to get away with small-time corruption, not least the stalking of clothing store owner Maria (Ashley Laurence). Hero Sam is not your typically brave soul, he is a diabetic (which has severe consequences for him) who isn't particularly brave, but just gets caught up in events.
You get a real sense of the geography of the area during daytime, and as such it becomes familiar, reassuring even. During the night, however, such familiarity is turned on its head, and the surroundings take on a truly claustrophobic, unfriendly atmosphere.

It is not brimming with spectacular special effects and extravagant production values (there is a climatic explosion that doesn't convince). And yet it is mainly well acted, and the storyline is compelling, unravelling slowly so as not to reveal too many answers until toward the end. It is eccentric, grisly stuff and I really enjoyed it.

21. Mar, 2015

Dead Mine (2012)

Dead Mine takes some while to get going. There were times when I was watching the first half an hour that I wondered if I was watching a horror film at all. The characters we meet are invariably hard-bitten types, employed by inherited rich boy Warren Price to explore deserted Japanese bunkers from the war. The bravado exhibited by this collection of merceneries is soon put to the test as the group are attacked by pirates as they near their intended location. Shortly, the group are forced to take refuge in the nearby caves, which is presumably exactly what the pirates want … for inside the caves, things take on a much more macabre turn.

The various hybrids that inhabit the caves, and subsequently the bunkers, are wonderfully designed and realised. Variations on a theme are meticulously produced so that each creature is subtly different from the others. Soldiers, injected with a ‘super serum’ are still guarding their tombs, still fighting a war that ended 75 years ago. Other similar creatures are discovered, each in a further stage of decay/metamorphosis. Indeed, a tranquiliser full of the serum is found by Price’s girlfriend. When they are discovered and Price is injured, she injects it into him. It is her final mistake …

The characters are very well played. Price is instantly hateful, and when it is revealed he is sending his group on no more than a deadly treasure hunt, you know villainy like his will not go unpunished. The mercenaries seem a stiff and stuffy bunch, but in the film’s quieter moments, we realise they are human beings underneath it all, simply hardened by their militaristic lives. It is this hardness that inclines the viewer to hope that they will survive.

This Indonesian film makes excellent use of its subject matter, and presents the crumbling underground labyrinth as a truly claustrophobic, doom-laden myriad of secret corridors, death camps and impressive rooms, very moodily lit in a sickly green/yellow that compounds the unnatural atmosphere. When the Samurai types emerge - and there are loads of them - they appear unstoppable. Technically augmented, undying killers who know ‘no surrender.’ A terrifying presence!

21. Mar, 2015

Blood for Irina (2012)

Blood for Irina is a very experimental film.

In a climate where vampires are popularly portrayed as stylish teens in black leather jackets with a taste for blood, Irina could not be further removed. She is isolated by her condition, which is making her increasingly sick and ill. By night, she walks the streets finding victims and drinks from them, leaving the landlord of the rundown seaside hotel where she 'lives', to destroy the bodies afterwards. Quite what power she has over him isn't clear, and quite what power she then passes onto Pink, a rejected prostitute, isn't clear either, but it seems Irina has passed her curse over to her.

This is a very slow moving film, there is hardly any dialogue (we only hear Irina's voice briefly, and it has a distorted, ghostly effect) and there is perhaps too much dwelling on scenes of vomitting blood. And yet this is one of the most haunting and tragically effective vampire films I have seen for a very long time, perhaps ever. It stays in the mind long after it is over. Not spectacular, not ultra-gory, not big budget ... but the emphasis is placed squarely on mood, on desolation, on the grinding torture of vampirism, portrayed in such a way that makes the very most of its shortcomings. Exceptional.

I'm very pleased that, due to the critical success of this, there is a sequel called Queen of Blood.)

21. Mar, 2015

Bride of the Monster (1955)

There are those who believe Ed Wood to be a man of rare genius; others think that while his films don't feature terribly good dialogue or coherent stories, convincing actors or special effects, his enthusiasm make their appeal infectious. Others yet find him talentless and his films tacky and worthless.

Apparently, Bride of the Monster is the only Ed Wood production that actually made money. Featuring the final speaking role for Bela Lugosi as Doctor Vernoff and Tor Johnson as Lobo, it concentrates on Vernoff's experiments to create a race of atomic supermen (and women, presumably, as Loretta King's attempted conversion signifies) to take over the world, a world he curses for not recognising his genius!

The monster of the title is a giant octopus which is represented either by stock footage or by an unmoving rubber prop borrowed from another film. The stuntman who doubles for the supposedly superhuman Lugosi towards the end of the film (Eddie Parker, I think) is a good deal taller and thicker than his 'double'.

Unlike other Ed Wood pictures, the storyline makes sense for the most part, and is probably his most polished work. Lugosi seems to relish the part of Vernoff, but at this late stage of his life, it serves mainly to confirm film-makers' prejudices that sadly, as an actor, he was well past his best by this time.

21. Mar, 2015

Deathline (1972)

This gritty, low-budget, gory chiller shocks and repluses more than many of today's more sophisticated entries. It is a fine directorial debut from Gary Sherman and coaxes what could be Donald Pleasance's finest performances in his long and distinguished career. Certainly, his ratty, bad-tempered, softly spoken cockney Police Inspector is by turns annoying and hilarious (especially in his drunken, after-hours 'investigations' in his local). Norman Rossington is a terrific foil, David Ladd and Sharon Gurney are convincing as the two rather wet heroes and Hugh Armstrong is wonderful as the replusive yet sympathetic cannibal living in unspeakable squalor in an abandoned underground railway complex. His haunting cries of 'Mind the doors' (his only decipherable dialogue) are affecting indeed.

The only slight disappointment is the inclusion of Christopher Lee. His performance is typically smooth and enjoyable, but his cameo has nothing to do with the plot, leading one to presume his inclusion was merely to add another big name to the cast list.

The dinginess of the production conveys perfectly the awfulness of the cannibal's existence, the graphic scenes of his occasional and vicious murders and the grubby Inspector's social boundaries and the satisfying finale when Ladd literally kicks the monster's head in!

21. Mar, 2015

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

I can't believe so many years have passed since I saw this at the cinema, full of cynicism at 'just another hype' and two hours later ran all the way home because I could hear 'something in the trees', seriously unnerved.

It was released about the same time as the long-awaited Star Wars The Phantom Menace, and while that overblown blockbuster made mega-bucks, it was Blair Witch that was recieving all the plaudits and positive attention.

Then there was the backlash, as there often is. 'Not that frightening', 'camera shaking made me feel a bit sick', 'unconvincing acting from the leads' etc.

Three young people, all flawed in their own way, make their way to the Burkittsville Woods in Maryland after interviewing a number of local residents about the fabled 'Blair Witch'. Amidst some amusing anecdotes are some words that will ring true later on in the footage.
Leader Heather's cheerful confidence slowly unravels as she finds that she, soundman Mikey and Josh are lost, constantly going round in circles as they try to leave the woodland.
What frightens me is that every time night falls, you just know things are going to get scarier. Not in a spectacular way - in fact the frightening thing is, you never get to see anything other than tiny stone cairns and wooden tree symbols that have been left overnight. Something is out there!

Josh's disappearance is when things get very worrying. His screams somewhere in the distance amidst the crackling of tree branches (always at night) send a shiver through me as I type this. One morning, Heather finds what looks like part of Josh's jaw and teeth, wrapped in a bloodsoaked bundle made from his shirt.

When they are attacked that final night, by what sounds like children, Heather runs into the darkness. She runs into something and screams "What the **** was that??" There is nothing there.

There is nothing there!

This still has the power to scare me silly, and I've been enjoying horror films for a long time now. The ending, sufficiently open-ended and bleak, does nothing to improve my nerves!

21. Mar, 2015

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

I love the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films. There are those who deride them because of the buffoonish way Nigel Bruce sometimes portrayed Watson, but I think he adds neccessary light relief to what would otherwise be deadly serious stories, and he also gives Sherlock a reason to occasionally act like a human being! Anyway, are they horror films? Most of them, no - but this, and the Universal-produced The Scarlet Claw, certainly are.

The first thing that strikes me about this version of the story is how much money seems to have been spent on the production compared to the later films. Huge sets and locations, and a stunning cast (Bruce was pushed down to fourth billing in the credits) reeks of a big budget.

Basil Rathbone is instantly brilliant as Sherlock, whether in disguise, or gently chiding Watson. The duo's relationship is of deep affection underneath all the bluster. Watson is unwaveringly loyal, and you really feel for him when it is revealed that Holmes hasn't been entirely honest with him.

The hound itself is pretty well handled. CGI effects have been used, along with other effects, to enhance the ferociousness of the creature in subsequent versions, and the results aren't often as successful as they are here. Only the villain Stapleton's fate is a disappointing anti-climax, with only Holmes' assurances that he will be caught and brought to justice.

This contains much of what made films around this time great. Moody direction, locations dripping with atmosphere, lots of fog and the shadowy, sinister imagery you only really get with black and white films.

21. Mar, 2015

Citadel (2012)

Tommy kisses his heavily pregnant girlfriend and gets into the rundown lift in his delapidated towerblock home. Just as the lift begins its descent, Tommy sees through the grimy lift window, a small group of hoodie-wearing youths move in on his girlfriend. By the time he has made the irreversible journey in the lift and run back up the stairs, his girlfriend is unconscious, having been attacked, and has a syringe sticking out of her.

It certainly is an arresting start to the film, and understandably Tommy is hugely distraught and unable to leave his home. His daughter survives but his wife does not.
The rest of the film concerns itself with Tommy trying to find out more about the 'youths' with the help of a ranting cleric played by James Cosmo. I did get the suggestion that the youths might just be a figment of Tommy's imagination and he would be revealed as the real killer, as everyone he comes into contact with ends up dead. This results in the only problem I have with Citadel - there are many deaths, and yet any police investigation is conspicuous by its absence. People die and are forgotten.

There is a certainy ethereal nature about the production, in that you are not entirely sure what you are seeing is really happening, but it turns out that it is. The youths are real, they are blind, feral and monstrous (they remind me of similarly unpleasant juveniles in 1979's The Brood, or at a push, those from The Aphex Twin's Come To Daddy video). They appear only to see you if you exhibit fear. Again, their exact nature is not explained; nor is the fact that they have existed for this long without any interference from any authorities apart from Cosmo's foul-mouthed priest.

I'm not someone who gets upset if every mystery is not resolved or if every question is unanswered, but some rationality would have been nice.
Other than that, this is an effective and enjoyable film with superb performances, and is superbly shot. The atmosphere of bleakness in Tommy's shabby life is expertly conveyed - and the ending, which requires a fairly demanding special effect, is entirely convincing. Definitely worth seeing.

21. Mar, 2015

House of Dark Shadows (1970)

Dark Shadows was a television phenomena in the US. Designed as a dark soap opera, it wasn't until the arrival of increasing horror elements (primarily resident vampire Barnabas) that it really took off. So much so, that in 1970 - one year before it's cancellation - the cast and crew made the 'leap' from daytime TV to film.

I'm still fairly new to the show, although I'm familiar with the early part of it. It's interesting to compare the televised chronicling of Barnabas' arrival and the movie's version. The budget is bigger (though not by much) and the gore is heightened, but above that, things are very similar. What amazes me is that the crew filmed this whilst they were filming the five-day-a-week show. Did they never sleep?

House of Dark Shadows is directed very much in the way of a TV Movie, and as such, succeeds in a pseudo-Hammer manner. Barnabas actor Jonathan Frid was wary of the heightened blood content (the finale is beautifully grisly) and some have suggested the the increased gore in the film actually turned people away from the television show. Personally, I can't imagine how DS could have made the transition to the big screen more effectively.

The wonderful cast - Kathryn Leigh Scott, Nancy Barrett, Louis Edmonds, David Henesy, Grayson Hall, Thayer David, Roger Davis, John Karlen etc - really seem to be thoroughly enjoying revisiting the story. And there is a definite creepiness in seeing Maggie Evans' pale, fragile 'wedding' atrocity, with Willie Looims distraught but unable to intervene.

The only notable cast absentees are David Selby and Lara Parker, who are presumably keeping the television show afloat at the time. They will feature in the following DS film released a year later, the very different in tone Night of Dark Shadows.

My view is that DS could have kept going beyond it's original TV life with further films, each telling an individual story of various residents of Collinwood at various times. As it turned out, DS' filmic future lay in the hands of Tim Burton, who's idea of the show couldn't be more different than what is offered here.

Great fun. Hugely recommended.

22. Mar, 2015

Le Frisson des Vampires/Shiver of the Vampires (1970)

One of the many enjoyable things about the horror genre is the continual ability to surprise. I recently watched Blood for Irina (reviewed earlier), and read that it could be seen as Rollin-esque. This in turn lead me to take a look at a few films by French director Jean Rollin, who appeared to specialise in very stylistic, low-budget vampire films, beginning with the provocatively titled Le Viol du Vampire/Rape of the Vampire (1968).

Of all the few Rollin films I have seen (and I intend to see more), Le Frisson des Vampires/Shiver of the Vampire (his third) might be my favourite.
The plot is still thin and difficult to follow in places – but that is deliberate. Rollin seems instead to concentrate on imagery, atmosphere and mood. Shiver contains all these things. Equally typical, there is plenty of casual nudity which rarely actually comes across in an erotic way, rather as a perfunctory element of the whole, delirious dreamscape.

As one of the two serving girls, once again, is Marie Pierre Castel. Marie featured in a number of Rollin films, sometimes alongside her sister Catherine. Both girls are striking to look at, quite ethereal in fact, and here Marie is her usual rarely-speaking, somnambulistic subordinate who for once, appears to have a happy ending. Marie’s final Rollin role was in La Fiancee de Dracula/The Fiancee of Dracula (2002). Though not often required to do a great deal other than look alien, the Castels are mesmerising performers.

Here, the locations are truly stunning and deathly creepy. Huge castles and lush forestry, together with a freezing beach – another Rollin staple – often belie the sometimes stilted acting, especially from the two hippy/vampires.

Rarely, this film is afforded an actual ending. Often in the Rollin films I have seen, they end very suddenly, possibly as a result of his lack of budget or time constraints. No so here. There is a very final moment – which nevertheless invites the viewer to check out more of his work. Certainly, this is one of his most accessible, although no kind of compromise to ‘normal’ film-making in any way.

22. Mar, 2015

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

I always felt Hammer's later films to be very underrated. True enough, their earlier output was wonderfully gothic and expensive looking, despite their often meagre budget. As the company moved away from Bray studios and finances dictated they increased their output, there were some shoddy efforts during their later years, but some gems too IMO.

When Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell initially opened, the film was barely noticed. Only when it appeared on television and subsequently video and DVD did it pick up any kind of following.

The worst thing about it is the title - Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell sounds like some horrible B-picture, and this is hardly that. Old hands Peter Cushing and Patrick Troughton join director Terry Fisher, who had been tempted out of semi-retirement for this, his final effort.
The budget is smaller even than usual for a Hammer, and this partially necessitated the sole location of an asylum for most of the film's action. This not only helps with a very claustrophobic and inescapable atmosphere, but also makes sense of the Frankenstein continuity under Hammer - after being relentlessly shamed in the outside world, Frankenstein could only thrive in a world of his own making, and as he virtually has free run of the asylum, here he is a classic 'big fish in a small pool'.

In a storyline similar to Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), the emaciated and dandy Doctor (burnt in the previous film, he now sports gloves and a foppish wig) is allowed to indulge his madness and with the help of Shane Briant as Simon Helder, builds a neanderthal type monster, with the brain of a genius and hands of an artist. This pathetically unhappy creature has a fond eye for mute Sarah (Madeline Smith), who also helps out with the experiments.

It's a terrific film rich with lunatic characters, who naturally turn out to be innocent victims, and the establishment figures are corrupt. John Stratton, plays the perverse Director blackmailed on a daily basis by Frankenstein.

Some nice gory scenes are included, including Frankenstein using his teeth to refit veins to a severed hand, and then almost tripping over a discarded brain! Equally, the monster's growing hostility as he reverts to type, reveals a penchant for glassing people in the face - which he does successfully towards the film's close, providing one of the bloodiest scenes, which lasts all of a second!

Twists and revelations make this final Hammer Frankenstein even bleaker than its predecessor Frankenstein Must be Destroyed, but there is a wonderful open-endedness to this, with Frankenstein vowing to continue his experiments. Hidden from the real world, relentlessly pursuing his grisly dream, there is a chance he created several more abominations ... yet sadly, these never made it to the big screen.

22. Mar, 2015

Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

There are only a handful of Hammer films that I have seen that leave me cold. Sadly, this is one. I watched it some time ago and forgot what made it so unappealing to me. Having sat through it again, I am reminded why. It isn’t the lack of ‘big names’ (Edward de Souza is the best known, I think, and his character is well played, but starchy). It isn’t the failure of the effects (the finale requires a lot of Les Bowie and his uncredited special effects team), which are pretty impressive. The overall picture is just uniformly dull. Whether that be in its execution, the players (all of whom turn in solid performances) or in the actual story itself, I’m not sure – possibly a combination of the unremarkable production aspects fail to engage.

The grand finale is a scene originally intended for The Brides of Dracula (1960), and could have been rather spectacular. Certainly it is a visually strong climax to events, but someone made the decision to show these dramatic moments without music, and that robs even the film’s ending of any great impact. A shame.

22. Mar, 2015

The Frankenstein Theory (2013)

I’ve always loved the story of Frankenstein. To me, the creature represents, in a way, all of us: born into a world we don’t understand, unable to shake others’ perceptions of us, isolation, loneliness. It’s a pretty bleak similarity, but it exists. So, whenever a film has had the name ‘Frankenstein’ attached to it, I’ve had to watch it. Often, it’s disappointed, because most films have no wish to touch on those subjects and use the name purely as a way of attracting interest.

'The Frankenstein Theory' has no wish to touch on these subjects, but once you get past that, it’s great fun.

Ever since 'The Blair Witch Project' introduced the concept of ‘found footage’, a whole genre has been created. Over-used, yes, but such an approach is still an interesting way of telling a story.

Here we have Jonathan Venkenheim (Kris Lemche), a young professor who teams up with a small group of documentary film-makers to find the legendary Frankenstein Monster. He’s an obsessive, driven, and his girlfriend Anne (Christine Lakin) is furious with the team he has assembled for encouraging his eccentricities. “This will not end well,” she promises.

As the film, and their journey, evolves, it’s clear that we are being made to wait before the monster is revealed, treating us instead to Venkenheim‘s theories about him. There is a genuinely enjoyable rapport growing between the travellers that is tested when things begin to go wrong as they reach the Arctic Circle, where the monster is believed to still be living following events in the original novel.

This is often a light-hearted film, but it isn’t a comedy. The characters are very real, and have real interaction with each other. Once that is conveyed, you care about them in a way you wouldn’t about a series of CGI enhanced Hollywood A-listers.

I had great fun with this, once it became clear that Boris Karloff was never going to have his status threatened, even if the ending does make me sigh with the very real feeling I have been lead on somewhat.

22. Mar, 2015

The Girl Next Door (2007)

Based on true events is always a tagline that makes me suspicious. In this case, it makes me nauseous, because I couldn't sleep after watching this, and I've been enjoying horror films for many years.

The most horrific aspect about this story is that there are no monsters (in the traditional sense), no special effects and there is hardly any gore. The miscreant here is a mentally unhinged Aunt called Ruth, and the gang of 'normal' children who are either related to her, or simply call round for a beer and the spectacle of degrading, humiliating and relentlessly torturing Ruth's two young neices. The neices, 16 year old Meg and 10 year old Susan (who is suffering from polio) suffer unspeakable, ritualistic psychological and physical abuse.
The one glimmer of hope comes in the form of neighbour David, who befriended Ruth when she first came to stay.

Half way through this film, I questioned what the hell I was watching, but I felt I had to continue in the hope of a happy ending. The eventual despatch of the unstable Aunt wasn't satisfying. Her exit was nothing compared to the horrors she inflicted on others. What is particularly repellent is that the regime of torture was presented as some kind of game for the local kids, who came to see Meg as a vessel for their own violent and emerging sexual outlets, and even David doesn't manage to summon up the courage to act until it is far, far too late.

This is a stunningly acted film, well directed and with a minimalist score that enhances the degradation and horror inflicted upon the two young girls. I could appreciate that. I could also appreciate the braveness of a film that actually moves and effects the viewer, especially at a time when horror has become so formulaic. But did I enjoy watching it? In all honesty, I hope nobody could.

22. Mar, 2015

Return of the Vampire (1943)

This is one of the most appealing films of its time. In the 1940's, only Val Lewton's series of pictures (The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead, I Walked with a Zombie) seemed to be concerned with actually frightening audiences. Other films about that time seemed more concerned with providing 'monster romps'. This successfully mixes the two styles.

Flushed by the success of Universal's 'Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman', this Columbia vampire picture features a character called Andreas, who desperately wants to be a good man. He is fighting a losing battle though, because he is under the spell of Armand Tesla, and every time he falls under that spell, he becomes a rather sweet, talking werewolf.

Tesla is a centuries-old vampire - or Dracula under a different name to avoid copyright problems - played by Bela Lugosi. I think Bela gives one of his best performances here, and certainly has plenty to do. He is charming, witty, frightening and sinister. He also feeds, in this film, on a child and returns (hence the title) for her when she is an attractive young woman. His calls and whispers of 'come to me ... come' that reach the young woman (Nikki, played by Nina Foch) as she lies in her bed bathed in moonlight, really underline the seductive, even erotic, appeal of the vampire only hinted at in other vampire films around this time.

Tesla is re-awoken by a World War Two air-raid, which also is a rarity; the ugly face of current reality hardly ever entered into the vague timeless world of horror films. He is also despatched by falling bombs, causing Andreas to drag him out into the sunlight where he visibly melts (a wax model over a skeleton and then melted) in a very effective manner.

Another element that sets this film apart from its contempories is that the vampire's enemy is a woman - Lady Jane Ainsley (Frieda Inescourt), who provides a very mannered, stiff-upper-lipped Van Helsing varient.

It also features one of the best studio cemetries I've ever seen!

22. Mar, 2015

Halloween (2007)

It's not always easy to take someone who chooses to call themselves Rob Zombie seriously. And it was with uncertainty I viewed his imagining of Halloween, the classic film from 1978 which spawned increasingly anaemic sequels.

It seems this new version is more of a slasher-flick than the scarier original. However, I don't really have a problem with that, and there is no point in making a direct copy of the original. Hence, we see here a sympathetic take on Michael Myer's childhood and are invited to understand him, although it's clear he has dangerous killing tendncies from an early age.

His revenge on the school bully who derided his mother (played by Sheri Moon Zombie), is brutal, bloody and relentless. Like a lot of the film, in fact. There is no supernatural, CGI-enhanced cartoon violence. Here, it is all graphic pounding, black blood, and the reducing of the bully from kid-with-attitude to whimpering, hemmorhaging bloody pulp.
There is nothing stylish or sophisticated about Michael's family. Indeed, Deborah (his mother) is possibly the only vaguely sympathetic character in the film. Indeed, that might be my problem with this - with no character you can truly invest in emotionally, it all becomes a screaming, shrieking soundtrack of the slaughtered.

I did enjoy this, though, certainly enough to watch it's sequel, which Zombie has claimed is his last involvement with the venture. There is always room for a brutal slasher film laced with profanities and violence. The acting is good throughout (Malcolm McDowell is excellent) and the many scenes of murder are handled in such a way they never get repetitive.

22. Mar, 2015

The Old Dark House (1932)

Following the huge success of Frankenstein the year before, director James Whale once again worked with Boris Karloff in this very loose adaptation of JB Preistley's Benighted novel. Whale's black humour, coupled with Universal films' love of horror at that time, produced one of the most enjoyable eccentric films I remember seeing.

The cast list is incredible - Daniel Massey, Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart and Charles Laughton spend a night in the house of the title, presided over by prissy, jittery host Horace Femm, played by Ernest Thesiger (who all but steals the show with his wide eyes, hollow features and nervy mannerisms).

The travellers are forced to take refuge there because of the impressive storm that every good horror film should have.
"Beds! They can't have beds," shrieks half deaf Rebecca Femm.
"As my sister hints, there are no beds," announces Horace with perpetual disdain.

Also in the house are two other Femm relatives. Roderick, 102 and bedridden, warns them of brother Saul. Roderick is actually played by a heavily made up female actress, Elspeth Dudgeon.

When Saul is finally revealed, he is a frightened, tortured man. That is, until backs are turned and his face turns into an insane leer - Saul is as mad as the rest of them. Dangerously so!

This film was considered lost for quite a time, but thanks to James Whales' friend and fellow director Curtis Harrington, can still be enjoyed in all its creepy, bizarre glory.

22. Mar, 2015

The Hunters (2011)

This is a strange film in many ways. Le Saint is an ex-soldier beginning a new career as a police Officer, who against his boss’s wishes, decides to investigate the disappearances of local residents in the dark and mysterious Fort Goben, located in an isolated stretch of woodland. Le Saint is played by Chris Briant, who is also the Director. This may be the reason that Le Saint arrests the interest of Glee actress Dianna Agron, who plays Alice: a woman so stunning, it is hard to believe she really exists, especially in a gritty film like this. She shines like a beacon in some truly impressively over-bearing scenery which appears to be shot in deliberately cold colours. It is bleak to look at, but beautifully so.

In fact, it is the location that takes the honours here. The characters are likeable enough but a little colourless: it is hard to feel much real empathy towards them. Whilst rarely truly horrific, the cold, comfortless sense of isolation is overwhelming at times, and the discovery as to what is going on at Fort Goben - although briefly featured - is horrific indeed.

22. Mar, 2015

The Dead Outside (2009)

This is a nice addition to the post apocalypse genre. Well, I say nice ...

I love grim fiction. The bleaker the better as far as I am concerned. And yet this is unrelenting in it's gloom, indeed some scenes are so darkly lit it is difficult to see precisely what is going on. Most of the time, though, this serves the horror well. The 'zombies' here, or the undead, are shrouded in shadow, and literally do leap out of the dark. This may be due to the small budget - there are only three primary cast members - or it may be more deliberate, and there is no denying its impact.

Equally, the distant howls of macabre anguish carried by the gales on the unforgiving Scottish scrublands - always filmed in gritty, cold colour - are a reminder of the constant threat 'out there', and is much more effective than a handful of gored-up extras hovering in the background.

There's little new attempted in the storyline, but it is a compelling journey. The message seems to be 'compassion is a weakness', although it is precisely that which drives Daniel and April together. It also invites stranger Kate to join them for a time, before they are exposed to the dangers of what happens if you let the outsiders 'in'.

The performances are great, and the direction and sparse soundtrack are terrific also, apart from the occasional hard-to-define scenes. More Night of the Living Dead than 28 Days Later, there are many scenes with little or no dialogue, and little is explained; we are given clues as to the past (for the most part) with flashbacks. And it ain't pretty! Recommended.

22. Mar, 2015

The Wrong House (House Hunting) (2013)

Two families, both laced with their own secrets, meet up at a house viewing, where they are astonished to find no-one from the estate agency to greet them. Instead, there is a recorded message on a seemingly endless loop inviting them to explore each room. Bemused that both families should turn up to view the stark, isolated property at the same time, they look around briefly and decide to leave. But they can’t. All roads impossibly lead back to the house.

In true horror film fashion, a young girl, blood-stained and with her tongue removed, is running panic-stricken through the woodland. She is picked up by one of the families, and makes it clear they absolutely should not go into the house … which of course, they do. After all, where else can they go?

Marc Singer, an actor I always thought of displaying limited appeal, is the main ‘name’ here, and he turns in a truly mesmerising performance. In fact, the standard of acting is terrific throughout, with even the tongue-less girl projecting fear and resigned weariness with her expressions and reactions alone.

There is a dream-like state to it all, not all due to the madness incurred by the characters’ inability to leave the house or surrounding area for several weeks. Tins of stew are placed daily in the cupboard, just enough tins for each person. As panic gives into violence and people start dying, the amount of tins is reduced accordingly.

There are holes in the logic as there often are in films like this. Why doesn’t the tongue-less girl (who knows about the house) write down her warnings by way of communication if she cannot speak? The bodies that mount up - are they undiscovered by future prisoners of the house, because there were no other bodies around when these two families arrived. And just what is the creature/spirit in the hoodie? Of course, all of this can be dismissed by the delirious and occasionally hallucinogenic nature of The Wrong House - and when things are this entertaining, it is best just to allow yourself to be swept up in events.

As with other low-budget films, the location is very important, and this is filmed in a hugely open area with a Blair Witch-type woodland nearby, all bathed in biting, crisp sunlight, creating a very evocative visual. Also, the real villains are the ‘normal’ people, often the heads of the two families. The supernatural elements just encourage the small-time villainies to break out and cause a dangerous paranoia amongst the characters.

22. Mar, 2015

Lost Lake (2012)

Sadly for lake fans, Lost Lake is the name of a deserted town in which Uncle Vern has disappeared whilst 'ghost hunting' and not a real lake at all. Uncle Vern is played by Ezra Buzzington, a wonderfully named actor known for The Hills Have Eyes. Uncle Vern is an eccentric - we realise this when we first meet him, his scatty, fevered idiosyncracies barely disguising a deeply disturbed nature.

He seems to be under the spell of a local witch, who herself seems to be a kind of medium for local, unnamed spirits. When his daughter and her fiance come looking for him, it's not long before things turn nasty.
What this film has going for it are the performances. For once, the young (teenage?) couple seem real, not overtly glamourous and most importantly, likeable. This is essential, because it is their plight that is the sole plot here.

I always babble on about how low-budget films seem to make great use of their location - crisp, sunlit woodlands in The Wrong House; misty, damp isolation in The Hunters, for example. Here, the Mojave Desert is used as a thankless location. Thankless for the poor characters, that is, but a visual treat for the viewer. In the desert, truly no-one can hear you scream ...

Although the runaround that fills the running time here is not without cliches - couple have an aversion to spotting the blatantly obvious/are beaten and bloody one minute and are full of energy the next - Lost Lake is enjoyable. It's not going to change the world, and the twists are handled without spectacle, but the performances raise it above the mediocre.

22. Mar, 2015

Dracula's Daughter (1936)

Five years earlier, Dracula had made a star out of Bela Lugosi and a lot of money for Universal films. Shortly after, Frankenstein did the same for Boris Karloff. Strange then, that in those days of high turnover films, it took several years for follow-ups to emerge.

A sequel to Dracula without Bela seemed unthinkable, but that is what happened. Instead, his corpse is represented by a wax model seen for seconds before being extinguished on a pyre presided over by a haunted, dewy-eyed woman claiming to be his daughter.

Gloria Holden plays Contessa Marya Zeleska with a skillful mixture of the sinister and vulnerable. A very strong willed person, she is also fragile on account of what she sees as her disease. The disease is vampirism, and naively, she thinks she can be cured. No-nonsense psychiatrist Jeffrey Garth is the man she believes can help her. Garth is a likeable character despite his impatience, and his flirtatious secretary provides some appealing humour amidst the grimness.

Edward Van Sloan is back from Dracula, although his character is now known - inexplicably - as Prof Von Helsing, and it is his job to wade through the bland veneer of officialdom to continue his pursuit of the undead.
Irving Pichel plays Zeleska's servant Sandor with spine-chilling vigour, all lurking and muttering apocalyptic words of doom as only the best creepy servants to.

And yet my favourite scene involves a character called Lili. First seen looking lost but determined in a fog-shrouded street, it appears she is about to commit suicide. Little is made of her unhappiness, and her initial plight is handled as if it is a fairly routine occurance and of no great concern. She is promised warmth and food by the shadowy Sandor and with nothing else in her life, she accompanies him. That she is then cruelly used as a kind of 'test' for Zaleska to determine whether or not she can control her vampiric urges, makes Lil's case ever more tragic - her imminent death in hospital, afraid of the light and drifting in and out of reality brings the curtain down on her wretched journey. And yet, there is a daring eroticism in the scenes where Lili is posing for Zaleska to paint her - the two actresses excel here:
After being instructed to pull her shoulder strap down further, Lili asks innocently "Why are you looking at me that way? Will I do?"
"Yes, you'll do very well indeed," purrs Zaleska.

Lili is played by Nan Grey, and her plight echoes Zaleska's own. The way the loss of Lili is treated so insignifcantly makes her story a real tragedy.

22. Mar, 2015

Empty Rooms (2010)

Maddie has adopted a child in the hope of saving her marriage. Sadly, the marriage is doomed and the child is diagnosed as being autistic. However, Maddie is clearly not short of money because she buys a beautiful, spacious house in what the estate agent describes as a ‘great district’. Never trust this particular estate agent.

Maddie is character intensely played by Ramlah Yavar - on one hand, you sympathise with her and admire her patience as her young son grows increasingly out of control. On the other, your sympathies evaporate because although her son’s relentless bad behaviour is patience-stretching, Maddie’s endless hippy ethics and gooey-eyed smiling demeanour go beyond irritating and actually become quite scary. With her son (Jonah) making it abundantly clear he abhors the new house and finds it unbearable, she enlists the help of her even more hippy sister Amber, who cannot wait to come and ‘feng shui’ the place. Amber’s smile is so constant, wide and patronising, it soon becomes clear the three leads in this film are hugely irritating and difficult to care about. There answer to most problems is for the sisters to place their grins inches away from whomever they are talking to and look searchingly, adoringly into their eyes.
This is a shame, because it spoils a film that is very evocatively shot and dreamily directed, and contains one or two disturbing moments that you don’t expect. The huge, naked man who turns up in Jonah’s drawings, and then in actuality is alarming, and we’re not sure if he is real or a ghost. At one point, he appears to attempt to rape Maddie, so he must be real to some extent.
Likewise, the toothless woman who appears, screaming for her son, is quite shocking.

The film’s ending doesn’t go out of it’s way to answer many of these plot points - as is often the case, events are caught in a kind of loop, which doesn’t promise to show signs of ending any time soon.

So, this is a mixed bag. On one hand, it is good that something different is being attempted for a familiar genre of film. On the other, the intensity of the two main leads tend to alienate the viewer. Equally, and this is a point not unique to Empty Rooms, but with so many clear signs that the house is not a pleasant place to stay - naked men appearing, warnings from local vagrants, harrassment - why doesn't Maddie just get somewhere else to live? It would have saved ninety minutes worth of heartache!

22. Mar, 2015

Thanatomorphose (2012)

Laura (Kayden Rose) is a withdrawn, sullen young woman currently tolerating a borderline abusive relationship with her boyfriend. When she wakes up one morning after the latest bout of rough sex, she notices flaky bruising on her neck which is the beginning of her life getting a lot, lot worse.

I applaud any approach to the horror genre that tries something new, and this challenging-titled film does just that. The plot, such as it is, follows Laura’s slow, painful descent in to decay.

The effects are very well-realised. As body parts become mulch, as the eyes become blind and fingernails fall away, Laura’s answer is to do … nothing at all, except bind her rotting limbs with tape in order to sustain them for a while longer. This is the main criticism I can see directed at the film from online reviews – if she is so clearly dying, why does she not seek medical help? The occasional friends who pass by to visit insist she does something, but she doesn’t. And yet it’s clear her undisclosed disease has affected her mind too. She does not eat, does not drink; the only appetite she has is sexual, and desire to brutally murder anyone who threatens to interfere.
She seems content to monitor her condition alone, resigned and accepting of agonising death. Perhaps she is so damned by her ‘normal’ life, this is some kind of self-punishment she actually embraces? We’re not told, just confronted with increasingly nauseating imagery of her relentless, isolated encroaching demise.

Did I enjoy watching this? Yes, I did. There’s no glamour here, no dignity. These are raw, real people. Ordinary. One of them just happens to acquire some foul disease that slowly kills her. I’m not going to argue with that.

23. Mar, 2015

La fiancée de Dracula/Fiancee of Dracula (2002)

This is a film widely regarded as a return to form for French director Jean Rollin and was released in 2002, 34 years after his debut. And it really is – everything is here; scantily clad young actresses enduring freezing looking, exotic locations, a finale set on a beach, a meandering storyline (which, on this occasion, takes in a Van Helsing subsititute, a circus dwarf, comedy nuns and even a cameo from Rollin veteran, my lovely Catherine Castel. Castel’s appearance is so brief, you could very easily miss it, like I did a few times. She plays the non-speaking 'Soeur à la corde à sauter', or 'Sister with a skipping rope) and plenty of blood. There’s even a nod to his earlier Shiver of the Vampires in that an old grandfather clock is used for transportation and resting for the vampire

The dreamlike quality of story-telling is still very much in evidence here, and as such, a coherent storyline is almost an irrelevance. It seems mad killer nuns are grooming a young lady called Isabelle to be Dracula’s bride, which seems fair enough. When he finally appears after being whispered about in hushed tones, Dracula is a disappointment – just a pleasant looking gent in a cape who pales into insignificance alongside the sensuous, snake-like ethereality of his former, red-haired, white-faced partner.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film, it is a relief to see Rollin’s imagination and skill for creating illusory weirdness so prevalent in his later life. The music, so important for setting a scene, is very effective here also.

The whole film is delightful, mad and macabre, possibly Rollin’s most joyful yet. There is a happy ending too, of sorts – it’s very surreal, but gives the proceedings a memorable closure.