Mild Spoilers ...

6. Aug, 2015

Levres de Sang/ Lips of blood (1975)

Jean Rollin describes this as his best written film, but not his best screenplay. The reason for this is that a week before filming commenced, one of the producers decided not to be involved, and withdrew his funding. This meant that instead of four weeks filming allocation (already a pretty tight deadline), there was now only budget for three.

So it is a surprise that this is as good as it is – and it is very good! It isn’t flawless, of course. The vampires, although very effective, backlit in the distance, traces of blood on their lips, lose their effectiveness when close up due to the outsized fangs being a little too large (a common problem in Rollin’s films, but not his first, ‘Rape of the Vampire’, in which the fangs were more subtle and effective) causing the actresses to appear to smile to reveal them.

Also, at the end, when two vampires encase themselves in a wooden coffin that goes floating off to sea, it is worth remembering that running water is deadly to such creatures, so the hope is that the coffin is sealed. And yet I regret criticising that, because – as with all films by Rollin – the whole project is written and directed as a kind of dream-like fairy-tale, not bound by the limitation of rules, even vampire lore. Indeed, the scene at the end, typically filmed on ‘Rollin’s beach’ is one of his best known, and is poetic and effective even now, fusing perfectly ‘the beauty of obscenity’.

So too, is the death scene of the Castel twins (featured on much of the accompanying merchandise). Despite being well known to fans of Rollin, Marie-Pierre and Catherine only appeared in two films together. This isn’t quite as effective use of them as in the earlier ‘The Nude Vampire’, but they are still seductive and mesmerising and ethereal and sinister, all at once.

The central performance by (co-writer) Jean-Loup Philippe as Frederic is very strong. Indeed, ‘Lips of Blood’ features one of Rollin’s strongest casts. Frederic’s ultimate decision at the film’s close is a satisfying twist and once again successfully blurs the line between ‘good’ and ‘evil’, much as ‘Dracula’s Fiancee’ did 27 years later.

The locations are stunning and lovingly shot. The camera lingering over the enticingly-lit castle, or the ramshackle (and soon to be demolished) shopping arcade, with the (presumably dubbed) sound of whistling wind and thunder, accompanied by eerie flute music, is as atmospheric as anything from a big budget extravaganza. Kudos, also, for doing something very rare in vampire films (especially at this time) – actually using real bats. If this hugely impressive picture was done with a truncated budget, I truly wonder what could have been achieved were Rollin fully funded.

Alongside ‘The Iron Cross’, this was the French director’s least successful picture. Agonizingly, to bring it into profit, Rollin re-edited his work, adding scenes of a pornographic nature and renaming it ‘Suck me, Vampire.’ Yes, truly. Needless to say, the new version was a lot more profitable.

6. Aug, 2015

As Above, So Below (2014)

This is a very slick found footage horror film, featuring a group of young locals who agree to lead Professor Scarlett Marlow (Perdita Weeks) through the catacombs underneath Paris to find the legendary Philosopher’s stone. As is only right and proper in situations like this, there is nothing but grisly trouble for these entrepreneurs.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this film fails for me. I’m generally a fan of the found footage genre and feel that, if used skilfully, it is still a terrific, intimate way of telling a story. But, while the locations are excellent and the cast are capable (especially Weeks, who avoids allowing her character to becoming the headstrong know-all, as written), there’s nothing particularly scary, or unfamiliar here.

Soon after the ensemble enter the catacombs, any individuality they initially had evaporates and they all become a mass of screaming, bloody noise blurrily picked out by the ever-shaking camera. After a while of this, it is all too easy to lose track of who is who and just what is going on. The last thing this jumble manages to be is frightening.

30. Jul, 2015

Curse of the Crows/Wrath of the Crows (2013)

This intriguing supernatural horror hits the ground running from the opening moments and doesn’t let up until the final credits have finished rolling. In a lengthy pre-credit sequence, we are made familiar with the inmates of an unspecified gothic prison where a character called Skinny is being tortured by two perennial guards. The rules seem to be set for what is to come: people who have been brutally sinful in life are taken away and maimed and killed brutally. After we are introduced to the motley crew of prisoners – a new inmate arrives.

‘Princess’ is an intriguing, enigmatic character, played with brilliant intensity and sensuality by Tiffany Shepis. At times it seems she could be more than human, a saviour, or a witch. At one moment, she appears to have been killed, but after a period of self-healing, transcends death. Is she just another prisoner, or is she somehow in league with the Eastern European sadists who act as prison officers? Certainly they seem in awe of her, even afraid. Or is her position above them?

Each inmate’s former crimes are investigated in flashback, until ultimately, we (kind of) learn who (or what) Princess is, and what is her relationship to the blind Charlie (Gerry Shanahan). When they come, the explanations are ambiguous all round, to say the least.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. It has a compelling story to tell, and wastes no time in telling it. The direction is wonderfully creepy (cameras linger lovingly over rusted, dirty surroundings or fast-track across forbidding skies underlining the sense of bleakness). There are plenty of gory moments for those who enjoy such things, although a lot of the violence is there seemingly for the sake of it – the comically vile character of Spoon (Emanuele Cerman), for example, has little to do with the overall structure, but is no less enjoyable because of that. The ending, which threads its way through even the end titles, suggests that the narrative is ongoing and will continue as long as evil exists in humanity, which indicates the stark prison cells will never be empty. Such whirlwind pacing right up until the end does leave the viewer wondering exactly what they have just witnessed, but (for me at least) in an appreciative way, and a way that invites moments from the film to linger in the mind long afterwards.

24. Jul, 2015

Vampire Nation/Vampyre Nation (2012)

Interesting idea - it is accepted that vampires live amongst us. As such, they are quarantined to the smoky desolation of ‘section 5’. As would probably happen in real life, pro-life protestors proclaim that they are people and are being treated like prisoners when they have a right to life. As a contrast to that, the vampires are also described as 'an affront to God' and deserve to be segregated by other-minded souls.

Within the vampire community, comprising of low-lives who make undercover exchanges of synthetic blood substitute for the right price, there is an even bigger danger; something is killing the vampires. To this end, a group of hardened criminals are granted a partial pardon if they make it their mission to destroy this new threat.

The characters presented are exactly the kind of designer-stubbled, black-leather jacket wearing poseurs that I feel has given the vampire concept an image that goes against everything interesting about the original concept. The 'good guys' fair no better, a crew of strutting wise-cracking men or perfectly manicured, improbably attractive females who are strong in determination but always happy to bow to the wishes of the men folk. Impossible to like, everyone postures, smoulders and puckers as much as the screen time will allow them to do. The one exception is the main cop's right hand man, who is from the North of England and is the relentless victim of the team's self-obsessed put-downs.

The good central ideas aside (which apparently are startlingly similar to teen-soap 'True Blood' – indeed this film is widely billed as ‘True Bloodthirst’, giving up all pretence at originality) this well-shot, nicely scored film is a chore to get through. No-one is remotely real, just a collection of glistening catwalk models happy to parade themselves, self-satisfied, through a series of borrowed tension-free set-pieces and the whole enterprise emerges as a darkened, elongated music video. Soulless.

20. Jul, 2015

The Island of Doctor Moreau (1996)

This is adapted from the story by HG Wells in 1896, which was famously filmed as ‘The Island of Lost Souls’ in 1932, concerning animal/human hybrids.

Initially, Douglas’s (David Thewlis) disrespectful comments about Moreau’s cross-bred children, whilst in their presence, grinds alongside their exemplary manners. Indeed, the agent is told there is not one note of malice in them. However, it soon becomes obvious that Moreau’s control over them is far from humane, and the good doctor is – not that there was ever much doubt – insane.

Marlon Brando wrestles with an upper-crust British accent and some outsized false teeth. The accent is perfect, the prosthetics less so, rendering occasional moments of dialogue incomprehensible. His performance though, is terrific. Dangerous and a lot of fun. From his first appearance, draped in white, outsized sunglasses and a full face smothered in white ‘sunblock’, he is delightfully bizarre.

The film loses something when Brando’s presence is removed, and events become a bit of a jumble. Val Kilmer’s Montgomery, who takes Moreau’s place, is good, but he’s no Marlon Brando.

Ultimately, ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’ is a thoroughly enjoyable film. David Thewlis (who joined the film after shooting had started, replacing another actor) initially seems miscast as Douglas, but he soon proves himself as the talented actor he is. The same can be said for the various hybrids, most of who really take advantage of the excellent make-up jobs and imbue them with tangible emotion which would be lost if everything was achieved with CGI.

It is difficult to ignore the critical mauling the film received, due in part to a series of unfortunate occurrences behind the scenes. Viewed almost 20 years after its release – and I speak as someone yet to see the original Charles Laughton version, so therefore have no other film to compare this to – I found it hugely enjoyable.

20. Jul, 2015

La Nuit des Traquees/Night of the Hunted (1980)

French director Jean Rollin tries his hand at a David Cronenberg-type horror/thriller set, for the most part, inside a massive clinic, wherein the patients are all suffering from some sort of mental relapse where they remember nothing about themselves. The idea of an ordered society collapsing into chaos puts me in mind of JG Ballard’s work, particularly his ‘High Rise’ story.

Here is an environment where just about every awkward and uncomfortable bout of spontaneous sex results in graphic death, giving us the chance to witness more nudity than usual for a Rollin film, and moments of genuine shock/gore.

After a strong beginning, the film becomes a series of events featuring characters we don’t ever get to know, which causes the action to drag without the audience being allowed to care aboutwhat is happening. Elizabeth, who has escaped only to be recaptured, is pursued by Robert, who initially discovered her (and her friend Veronique) wandering along a country road in the beginning of the story. In turn, they are pursued by the clinic’s officials.

“I want them alive,” one of the guards shouts to his three men, as they fire several bullets at them. Like ‘Killing Car’, this is an environment where just about everyone has a gun.

It’s a story that offers little hope for the characters. Those who don’t end up dead have their minds wiped once again (the female vocal music that sweeps in at moments of intensity is illusory and highly effective). The Government are behind events, unsurprisingly, and hope to cover up the experiments to avoid a scandal.

The outside views of the tower blocks and various areas of Parisian industry, shot in characteristically cold colours suggesting dawn or twilight shoots, are often accompanied by (what I suspect to be) dubbed chill wind sound effects and prove that once again, Rollin is a master at creating unsettling atmospherics in familiar looking places. The finale, with Elizabeth and Robert slowly walking away, hand in hand, high above a landscape of tower-blocks and industria, is a typical example of understated Rollin beauty. A deceptively simple viewpoint, made haunting and plaintive. With the film’s preoccupation with indoor locations, impressive and austere though they are, we are robbed of much in the way of such poignant imagery, which is why ‘The Night of the Hunted’ is not my favourite Rollin film (although it possesses a nicely unsettling atmosphere throughout) . Pornographic actress Brigitte Lahie acquits herself very well with the demanding role of Elizabeth, but again, her pouting good looks rarely fail to remind me she is acting; she doesn’t quite possess the natural unearthly lure of Le Masque de la Méduse’s Marlène Delcambre, Little Orphan Vampire Isabelle Teboul or the Castel twins.

18. Jul, 2015

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Due to unexpected popularity (which caused round-the-block queues) of the original ‘Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein’ re-screenings, Universal at last lifted their curfew on horror pictures with this hugely budgeted, star-studded sequel to the mighty ‘Bride of Frankenstein.’

Alongside Basil Rathbone’s ambitious Baron Wolf Von Frankenstein, the viewer is literally transported from the real world into a vast, rain-lashed and unforgiving removed reality of horror via a train journey that really does traverse from one to the other very effectively. The town (now also called ‘Frankenstein’) is populated by those who want nothing to do with the new Baron, his wife, or his mop-headed, curiously Texan-sounding son Peter (played by future voice artist for Bambi, Donnie Dunagan). Understandably, they remember well the chaos brought about by Henry Frankenstein’s creation, or more accurately, their own townsfolk’s brutal treatment of him.

Rathbone is brilliant in this, transforming from impetuous family man to hysterical ‘mad doctor’ with great skill. Bela Lugosi plays Ygor in one of his greatest performances, a part that was strengthened in order to give Lugosi a greater share of the action. Lionel Atwill, enjoyable in any part, gets probably his best role – that of Inspector Krogh, the wooden armed Police Inspector determined to protect both Wolf’s family and the townsfolk.

The sets are huge and expressionist, casting great shadows and rising imperiously above the tremendous cast, and the music used here would crop up again and again in future, less well-funded Universal horrors and mysteries.

So why does this film seem slightly disappointing to me?

Even after all this time, I still cannot answer that. Could it be that Peter, such an integral part, is entrusted to a four year old? Dunagan is a terrific performer for his age, but perhaps if the role was given to someone slightly older, they could invest it with just a hint of gravitas. Could it be that a thicker, jowlier Boris Karloff is given a strange sheepskin vest (presumably by friend Ygor, who upstages him regularly) and given no scenes of sympathy as he was so effectively in earlier films? Could it be that the film is just slightly overlong, and suffered from an unfinished script at the time of filming, which as a result, means that it plods – rather like the monster – in places?

I don’t know why I’m less than satisfied by this. Maybe it is because it follows what I consider the greatest film of all time? There’s no doubt that so many elements are excellent here, and this clearly is one of the last Universal horrors to benefit from a generous budget (indeed it was their final ‘A’ production for a Frankenstein film).

18. Jul, 2015

Treehouse (2014)

‘Treehouse’ starts off in an intriguing manner with the very young looking Elizabeth (Dana Melanie) coming home to find her young brother ‘little Bob’ missing after, bizarrely, being left in the family house alone.

Two brothers, the bullied Killian (J. Michael Trautmann) and wholesome Crawford (Daniel Fredrick) discover Elizabeth trapped in a treehouse, before Crawford disappears (he appears to be one of several figures hung from the tree in probably the film’s most effective sequence) and the two youngsters then have to fend for themselves.

What happens next is a jumble of flashbacks and tantalising glimpses of what appears to be a creature in the distance. The creature turns out to be one of three hillbillies who seem intent on killing the two juveniles.

There were some sound problems (loud music and quiet dialogue), but ‘Treehouse’ has been shot and directed very well, much of the action appearing to take place in crisp early morning sunlight which helps give the woodland setting a stark, uncomfortable look. The acting too, is very good until the very end when the two surviving leads are required to be hardened and detached by events, ready to take on the world – which is asking too much and fails to convince.

17. Jul, 2015

Husk (2011)

This is an effective, mildly graphic shocker of the ‘Jeeper Creepers’ variety where a selection of teens get themselves involved in the eerie ritualistic machinations of animated scarecrows eager to recruit more innocents to become like them. There is no CGI, the scarecrows are physical, solid creatures, and as such, provide a tangible and frightening threat.

The location is beautifully shot and lit. The use of colour is especially worthy of note. The cornfield and decrepit farmhouse nearby provide a wonderfully creepy location for many of the events.

The teens are a formulaic bunch. Johnny, the one who goes missing; Brian, the square jawed hero; Chris, the untrustworthy one; Scott, the one in glasses (he seems empathetic and witnesses an insight into the ‘scarecrows’ past), while talented Australian actress Tammin Sursok has the thankless role of Natalie,‘the girlfriend’. And that is where I find this film lacking. Directly below this review is a film called ‘Beckoning the Butcher’; in it, we get to know the leads well, they are rounded characters. They laugh, joke and argue with each other. There are no jokes in this film – just posturing performers with whom we only sympathise when they begin dying. That isn’t to specifically knock ‘Husk’, which is an extremely well made and well-paced film – but just how more involving (and scary) would it have been for audience if they were actually invited to be invested in the main characters?

It is very effective, throughout much of the film, that the ongoing pattern of the spirit’s plan continues relentless, no matter what our heroes try to do. One by one they are strung up and killed, become infected by the ‘curse’ and, zombie-like, lurch towards the upstairs farmhouse room to fashion themselves a new scarecrow mask. It is through the mask that their possession is complete. When that is removed, their spirit then animates another in the ever increasing army.

The ending is as open-ended as any can be, and provides a real punch-the-air moment. It seems Chris is on the verge of rescue by two passers-by, even though another scarecrow is lurking in the foliage nearby. Fade to black.

12. Jul, 2015

Beckoning the Butcher (2014)

Found footage films, as a way of telling a story, has really taken off since ‘The Blair Witch Project’. The approach has its fans and detractors, but to me remains an intriguing and legitimate way of telling a story. More than that, the approach invites us here to become the sixth member of a five-person group. We are invited into their mildly intimate thoughts by way of their ongoing filmed blogging (designed to be uploaded onto a website specialising in ghost-hunts), and we get to know them all in a way that wouldn’t be as effective as if this were a straightforward film. That way, when the whispered legend of ‘the Butcher’ begin to come true and mildly spooky things start happening in the remote building in which they are staying, the scares make us jump too. We’re even mildly irritated when Tara (Stephanie Mauro) is the only one to refuse to produce blood next to her signature when agreeing to take part in the project, although that has fatal repercussion later.

Many of the successful elements of ‘Blair Witch’ are present in this Australian slow-burner (watches stopping, member of the group going missing, trying to escape but going round in circles etc). So while the boxes are ticked, there is no lessening of their impact – this is a successful formula, and ‘Beckoning the Butcher’ uses it very well. It doesn’t reinvent the ‘found footage’ formula, but it utilises every successful element of the genre. And on a personal note, it works entirely – after watching this I’ve just tentatively visited every room in my apartment to make sure there is no-one there. Irrational? Embarrassing? Both, more than likely, but if a low-budget film like this can have that effect on a jaded old long-time horror-fan, then ‘found footage’ is medium that has secured a DIFFERENT way to scare.

The five main cast members are good, natural performers. There’s no element of ‘putting on a show’. Only the physicist Shannon (Janet Watson-Kruse) threatens to dampen the illusion, and that’s because she’s been lumbered with fanciful eulogising dialogue about ‘spiritual intervention’ and ‘time bubbles.’ However, it is her words that come to mind when the group’s collective time-pieces stop working. They are captured in perpetual night (3.am) that will not end until ‘the Butcher’ has had his way with them.

‘Beckoning the Butcher’ is non-specific title, and the DVD cover, featuring the cast in a selection of horrified grimaces, could almost suggest something comedic. Don’t be fooled, this is no comedy; it is one of the best examples of its kind.

11. Jul, 2015

Le Viol de Vampire/The Rape of the Vampire

‘In my big glass palace, the sun shines freely
And at night the pale moon shines its soft light
Princess, my beloved princess, a kind gentleman said to me,
Your face is a cameo, with your beautiful dewy eyes.’

This is French film director Jean Rollin’s first full length feature film. It was released at a time of local political unrest, and was one of only a few films available. As such, it drew large audiences who were often angry and scathing at the unconventional nature of the story-telling.

A lot of the back-story is initially conveyed by narration. The four sisters who are convinced they are vampires are suitably seductive and other-worldly, and the three who travel from Paris to ‘cure’ them of their perceived illness are, by contrast, very ordinary. No professional actors were used for budgetary reasons, except for Jean-Loup Philippe.

Typical Rollin flourishes are here from the outset: it takes less than three minutes for a young topless girl to be seduced, for example. In a scene where the character of Brigitte is stumbling across an open field, there are glimpses of the real world – society, industry – in the distance, but always out of reach, always on the periphery. The events are firmly rooted in a heightened reality, cocooned almost by the unreality of the world of the vampires. This is a theme prevalent in many Rollin pictures.

Denying a Rollin film colour is stripping it of one of his most defining hallmarks, but monochrome nevertheless gives his usual flair for imagery starker, more desolate tones far removed from the comparative ‘comfort’ of his love for rich palettes. The dilapidated buildings look colder, the skeleton trees in the woodland look starker.

It isn’t until act two (the film was originally intended to be a short, but another chapter was added so that it could be released as a full-length film) that we see the first glimpses of ‘Rollin beach’ (Pourville-lès-Dieppe) which would feature in many future productions. It is this location in particular that Rollin favoured as it left a haunting impression on him as a child, and that eagerness to lend a child’s view impression on his projects is what makes them so appealing to fans of ‘personal’ films. The filming here always takes place in the cold months, under grey, heavy skies – in black and white, it looks very barren indeed. A perfect location for the arrival of the vampire queen (Jacqueline Sieger). Sieger’s acting is very theatrical, but there is no denying she brings an extreme and exotic nature to her character that sets her apart from the others.

The chaotic jazzy/violin soundtrack is used to both work for and against the unsettling mood: ‘against’ because it seems so inappropriate, and ‘for’ because that very jarring quality makes even straightforward scenes unnerving.

The vampire fangs are achieved more successfully here than in probably any other Rollin film. More subtle than usual, they are located on the teeth outside the incisors.

The titles of the two chapters are ‘The Rape of the Vampire’ and ‘The Vampire Woman/Queen of the Vampires’.

11. Jul, 2015

The Sleeping Room (2014)

To me, an out-of-season sea-front is an ideal place for horror stories. Ever since MR James’ ‘Oh, Whistle, And I'll Come To You, My Lad’ perceived such a location as an isolated, ghostly, shunned arena for supernatural phenomena, it has amazed me the location hasn’t been utilised a lot more within this genre.
‘The Sleeping Room’ makes excellent use of Brighton sea-front for such a premise, for both interiors and exteriors. The retro tackiness of some of the décor in various rooms conveys a nice suggestion of timelessness into which this somewhat standard story is set.

Of the cast, Joseph Beattie as Bill really impresses, transforming from being shy and slightly awkward, into a ‘The Shining’-style lunatic with great skill. Sadly, there is an occasionally lacklustre performance from scratchy voiced Leila Mimmack as Blue, who nevertheless comes to life in moments of tension. Julie Graham, David Sibley and Chris Waller provide excellent support.

The secret room in Bill’s new apartment carries ghostly remembrances of ‘Frisky’ Fiskin, a terrifying perverted murderer. It’s a fairly routine story given extra flourish by the director. It rushes through the events somewhat, leaving little time to dwell on the threat – especially during the climactic events.

9. Jul, 2015

Finale (2009)

This is almost an excellent film, but you have to work to understand what is going on.

A family is devastated by the apparent suicide of the son, with the mother Helen (Carolyn Hauck) in particular, making it a personal mission to get to the truth. The acting in this low-budget project is mostly top notch – in Hauck’s case, possibly too good; her obsession pushes her into very obvious insanity that wouldn’t go unnoticed by those she comes into contact with. It goes beyond ‘tell her she’s mad, dad’ and would surely lead to steps being taken to secure proper care for her – but she’s right, of course, to an extent, although the director fills the narrative with so many sped-up shots, blurred images, flashbacks and other effects that occasionally events become incomprehensible. Whilst this is a good way of conveying how Helen (who to me, has a smattering of Sigourney Weaver about her) now sees the world, it can leave the viewer confused. As a result, often the ‘quieter’ moments are most effective.

Suthi Picotte as daughter Kate is also very good in a cast who actually appear to be more concerned with acting than posturing, which can be one of the pitfalls of many modern horror/dramas.

There are many films I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but it is doubtful I’ll visit them again. This deserves more than one airing however, to enjoy again events packed into the fast moving runtime, and also to see many things undoubtedly missed out on.

8. Jul, 2015

Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Films and stories with a twist at the end can be risky. If they get it right (‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘The Others’, for example), audiences will be thrilled and eager to watch the production again to look for clues as to the denouement. Other ventures, such as this one, has proven to leave audiences feeling betrayed and reticent to re-view such a tremendous build-up, knowing that the final revelation is such a colossal let-down.

By 1935, director Tod Browning’s career was floundering. Three years earlier, his ‘Freaks’ production met with a disastrous reception for one reason and another. Here, he returned to more familiar ground, reuniting with Bela Lugosi (whom he directed in the ground-breaking ‘Dracula’ in 1931) in a remake of Browning’s ‘London After Midnight’ (1927).

What might have made the build-up even better would have been if MGM hadn’t cut out nearly 15 minutes from its original version. Amongst the material cut was the story of Count Mora (Lugosi) and his incestuous relationship with daughter Luna (Caroll Borland), his subsequent killing of them both (explaining the bloodshot he sports on his temple throughout) and how he was condemned to spend eternity as a vampire.

What we have left is one of the most beautiful horror films ever made. Languid, steeped in atmosphere, meticulous in detail, sumptuously played (Lionel Barrymore’s Professor has been criticised by some, but for me is a perfectly judged creepy performance) and seductively directed. The murder victim is played by Holmes Herbert, (an actor curiously denied enough credit for his many horror roles) and it is his murderer Baron Otto (Jean Hersholt) who is the subject of a colossal hoax upon which the ‘twist’ hinges. Apart from the twist being unreasonable on many levels, Otto is hypnotised into a confession at the end anyway, rendering the hiring of actors to create the whole scenario pointless.

Such a huge shame. Everything else is so good, from the grotesque hag being frightened by a bat at the beginning, to Luna’s spectacular (but briefly featured) flight on outsize wings (a scene that took many takes to perfect), there is a rich sense of eeriness throughout. Lugosi plays his second vampire film silent (except for his brief dialogue at the end, as the actor PLAYING the vampire), which was (probably unintentionally) mirrored by Sir Christopher Lee’s second outing as Dracula in 1965, which was also without dialogue.

8. Jul, 2015

Savage (2009)

For a big lad, Big Foot is very adept at killing people whilst keeping himself out of sight. We don’t get to see him for a while, and when we do, we are given tantalising shots of silhouettes and various limbs speeding past.

At first, the tone of 'Savage' seems to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with knowing performances from some of the cast. As time goes on, either the tone gets a little darker or I became used to some of the flippant moments. Either way, as the death toll mounts, we are effortlessly invited into darker waters (speaking of which, a solitary eye floating in the river is a moment that provides a perfect mixture of shock and mirth).

For a horror film, this isn’t going satisfy everyone, although there are some moments of gore and some tension, even if it is difficult to sustain an atmosphere of terror in blazing sunlight. For a low budget project, setting the action amidst forest fires is ambitious (the resultant fires don’t look like they need much controlling), but having those fires disturb the habitat of Bigfoot is an interesting plot device.

7. Jul, 2015

The Dark Hour (2006)

The Dark Hour is a Spanish film which explores an unknown dystopian society.

It’s a risk featuring a child actor in a dominant role in a film; the child’s acting maybe be adequate but not convince, or worse, he can produce a precocious, obnoxious performance which can lose the character sympathy. Luckily, Omar Muñoz is both convincing and appealing, which is refreshing, especially as his character Jesus is written as a mischievous scamp.

Jesus could be seen as the eyes of the viewer. He lives with a group of what appear to be survivors of a holocaust which may or may not have wiped out the rest of mankind. Their world is a sealed bunker of sorts. It seems to be infiltrated by ghost-like mutants, necessitating regular curfews. The relationships between the others is nicely outlined by Jesus, who seems intent to record a video-diary – however, this is not a found footage film, for reasons that become clear at the story’s end.

The bleak setting is beautifully conveyed, however the lack of apparent answers until the very end leads to middle sections of the story dragging a little occasionally. The carefully built-up atmosphere is stiflingly grim, and there is a genuine sense of hope when the remaining characters manage to escape the bunker … or do they?

I won’t give away the final twist, which is tremendous and haunting. There are elements of zombie films here, although I would cautiously suggest this is better than most. It branches out into sci-fi territory, but is assuredly a claustrophobic horror film.

6. Jul, 2015

Halloween Haunting (2012)

Don’t be fooled by the ‘cheeky’ packaging. It features a hooded figure that could be Michael Myers and the ‘Halloween’ part of the title is highlighted in a familiar font. This is nothing to do with any ‘Halloween’ series – it was originally called ‘Hayride’ and then ‘Pitchfork Murders’ before settling on its current derivative title.

The first thing that occurs to me is how garish the colours are, which is unusual for horror, making the grass look grassier, the (CGI) rain look rainier and the blood look bloodier! Then the main characters, cutesy young couple Steven and Amanda show up making fun of creepy local superstitions. They are not obnoxious in the way teens are often portrayed as being, but as their bland, squeaky exposition continues, I look forward to the prospect of the stocky escaped ‘bat shit crazy’ killer coming for them – although as events roll on, their inoffensive simplicity is probably the most consistent thing about this story. Having said that, my favourite character is Richard Tyson’s Captain Morgan, who is at least given a modicum of gravity and humour, and who is undoubtedly the most likeable of them all – a good thing really, as it is he who has to recount the plot via an elongated flashback sequence. Sadly, like most others, he is eventually killed in one of many unfocussed scenes staged so darkly, it is difficult to see what is happening.

The Halloween Hayride takes place at the same time as the legendry killer appears to be on a killing spree. So while the young people are having a great time scaring each other, nearby a couple of policemen stumble upon a number of the killer’s victims. Do they warn the youngsters about what is happening? Not at all, they are happy to let them continue unprotected. It is this kind of curious lack of logic that makes it difficult to retain interest in the goings-on.

The score is a familiar collection of orchestral swirls and stabs that could have been lifted from many other sinister films, often used when nothing of note is happening.

The twist is that the person we think is the killer actually isn’t, and the heroine decides – after exposing herself to danger throughout - that the moment of their assailant’s death is the time to announce she is pregnant. Cue a post credits scene that reveals the killer isn’t dead after all.

Low budget films can be incredibly good. They belie a lack of resources by being unconstrained by the limitations imposed by big studios and money-men. But when the main purpose appears to be the intention of making a horror-by-numbers that has been done many times before in the last 25 years, it’s confounding.

5. Jul, 2015

The Pack (2010)

I suppose it’s a bid to assure the teen audience that horror is ‘cool’, but there seems to be an unwritten rule that films of this genre often have to feature a soundtrack made up of ‘college rock’ music. This faux-aggressive accompaniment is one of the first things we hear in ‘The Pack’, but thankfully it is just to let us know the sole heroine Charlotte (Emilie Dequenne) is dark and dangerous. The young man she gets to know Max (Benjamin Biolay) bears an uncanny resemblance to Gollum actor Andy Serkis.

Before too long, Charlotte has been customarily tortured, fed and bled and offered up as a sacrifice to some horrifying, sightless, hairless creatures in boiler-suits, that dwell underground. “I think she’ll hold out,” muses Le Spack (Yolande Moreau), the mother of the Texas Chainsaw-style family responsible for events.

And that’s what the films turns out to be, ultimately. A kind of French mash-up of ‘Chainsaw Massacre’/’Wrong Turn’ (there’s even some hillbilly banjo music towards the end). The nature of the sightless creatures is enigmatic (miners who ‘dug too far’ underground), and the group of comedy bikers who attempt to save the day are simply … odd.

Ultimately, ‘The Pack’ is a little disappointing after an intriguing start. It has an illogical ending and features characters with very inconsistent motives. It is, nevertheless, stunning to look at; the locations are very atmospherically shot and drive home a constant sense of grim, cold isolation.

4. Jul, 2015

Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974)

Hammer films were grinding to a halt by the time this film was released. Even James Carreras admitted ‘we can’t go on remaking Dracula every year.’ And yet it seemed Dracula was still Hammer’s most well-regarded monster/villain. As ‘Brides of Dracula’ had proven over ten years earlier, Christopher Lee wasn’t essential to the success of such a venture, and so John Forbes-Robertson played The Count (briefly) in what was tagged as ‘The First Kung Fu Horror Spectacular’.
Whilst not exactly living upto the hype, the film (also known as ‘The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula’ and ‘The Seven Brothers and Their One Sister Meet Dracula’) isn’t as bad as its reputation sometimes suggests.

Despite the familiar Hammer music by James Bernard, and the inclusion of Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, the atmosphere is markedly different from the opening shot, as the lone Shaman Kah makes his way to Castle Dracula. Once inside, he meets Forbes-Robertson’s Count(dubbed by David de Keyser – which makes one question why cast Robertson if he is to be so heavily bewigged, made-up and dubbed). The effective scene is powerful, and ends with Dracula assuming Kah’s physical appearance, allowing him to escape the castle, which appears to have become his prison.

From then on, any attempt at character is quickly glossed over, at best. We’re familiar with Van Helsing, of course – his son Leyland (Robin Stewart), Hsi Ching (David Chang) and wealthy widow Vanessa Buren (Julie Ege) are given the most cursory of introductions, but still fair better than Ching’s brothers and one sister. However, this is perhaps the point – the characters are merely ciphers, relentless participants in the many kung-fu exchanges with the vampires. These vampires look very effective en masse. Roy Ward Baker directs some supremely creepy scenes of them rising from graves, hands and skull-like faces emerging from the dried soil, and there is a true nightmare ambience as they make their way through the night – on horseback, marching, or in some cases hopping in the style of the Chinese jiangshi reanimated corpses. In close-up, however, their somewhat tatty design becomes apparent.

The picture ends with Cushing facing Kah alone and chiding him to reveal his true face. In the resulting slo-mo transformation, there is a moment where Forbes-Robertson looks exactly like Christopher Lee – which answers my earlier question of his casting. Before a hoped-for exchange has really begun, Dracula appears to leap onto Van Helsing’s upturned spear, destroying him once and for all via some very rubbery decomposition effects.