Mild spoilers ...

19. Jan, 2016

House of Whipcord (1974)

‘This film is dedicated to those who are disturbed by today’s lax moral codes and who eagerly await the return of corporal and capital punishment ….’

Penny Irving plays Ann-Marie Di Verney, a gullible French model living in London. She is picked up by Mark E Desade (Marquis Desade?), who shows absolutely no sign of being anything other than a wrong ‘un. As he drives her to meet ‘his mother’, she is frightened by his wayward driving and he tells her to go to sleep – which she does! Her innocence is over-played, but Irving nevertheless convinces as someone who truly does not deserve all the truly appalling, and unlikely, things that happen to her (‘First we will kill your vanity, then the rest follows of its own accord,’ she is told at one point).

Of the Pete Walker directed ‘sexploitation’ films I have seen, this is my favourite. It is focussed, features some great central performances (stalwart Sheila Keith is horrifyingly realistic as sadistic warder Walker) and contains a truly disturbing sense of growing hopelessness – a feeling that turns out to be mostly justified.

She is taken to a private prison, a secret place run by Margaret (Barbara Markham) who was fired from her earlier job running an all-girls’ school after one of her pupils - a French girl - killed herself (in truth, it was Margaret who murdered her). She and her warders are dangerously and passionately insane, and now run what they call this ‘private clinic’ away from the eyes of the public. As latest inmate Di Verney (guilty of flaunting her body) is also French, Margaret is intimidated by her presence and determines to have her killed.

To have people imprisoned and punished for lack of morals by ‘respectable’ authorities who turn out to be offenders on a far greater scale is too perverse to be taken seriously as a wholehearted statement ... or is it? It did cause some offence for its ‘oppressive right wing tone’ on its release. As a horror film, though, it all works terrifically well and superbly played by all. Having said that, Di Verney’s friends (including ‘The Flesh and Blood Show’s Ray Brooks) – who are desperately trying to track her down throughout – are dwarfed by the larger than life prison staff.

Although the death toll is shocking, and the location throughout stiflingly austere, I maintain the most frightening thing is the sound of creaking stretched rope that accompanies each of the successive hangings.

A highly recommended low-budget feature.

19. Jan, 2016

Livide/Livid (2011)

Catherine Wilson (Catherine Jacob) is a home care nurse and is introducing young Lucie (Chloé Coulloud) to the job. Visiting eccentric old Deborah Jessel, a dying millionaire (several times over) in a coma in her sprawling mansion, Catherine insists on going to tend to her alone, leaving Lucy in the car outside. And yet Lucie is naughty and decides to follow her anyway – she also breaks confidentiality rules and tells her boyfriend Will about Mrs Jessel and her fortune. Naturally, the two of them (together with Will’s brother Ben) decide to relieve the old lady of her riches one dark night …

There’s more than a hint of Del Torro in the way the house and its shadows are revealed to the trio as they explore it. The find the enclosed corpse of Jessel’s daughter (is she the legendry ‘treasure?’) and things get progressively more weird from there. As the two lads become increasingly frustrated about not being able to locate any riches, they start smashing the place up. This changes them from impudent rob-dogs into people we actively dislike. But if we think they are behaving badly, the ‘little old lady upstairs’ is about to incur evil on a different scale.

I hope there’s no point trying to make too much sense out of what happens in the remainder of the film, because I enjoyed simply basking in the uneasy atmosphere of every nightmarish set-piece that is relentlessly displayed, and abandoning any intricate story strands. It’s likely that you could pause the film at any time throughout and have a beautifully detailed horror image presented to you.

‘Livid’ is not reliant on CGI effects, but those that are used are restrained and extremely powerful. They add, rather than detract from, the film’s mesmeric quality. In all, ‘Livid’ combines wincing gore, violence and a true atmosphere of doom with some serene, haunting, even beautiful imagery: it is the darkest fairy-tale complete with reanimated animal heads, china dolls, tea-parties and the most haunted of houses. As it ends, you are greatly moved, and yet unable to pinpoint exactly why (although the wistful performances have a large part to play). A wonderful film.

18. Jan, 2016

Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)

As British horror films entered their twilight years, there were some underrated gems released with little fanfare. This is one.

Peter Edmonton (Simon Williams) brings home his intended bride Rosalind (Tamara Ustinov). Sadly for her, aggressive snobbery is prevalent in this ‘folk horror’ – as she is just a serving wench, she is condemned to spend the night in the dreaded attic, wherein she is disturbed by something that sends her hurtling into insanity. As she’s bundled off to the bedlam by the local judge (an excellent Patrick Wymark in one of his last films), Edmonton too succumbs to the curse of the attic and chops off his hand believing it to be the appendage of a devil. At around the same time, wholesome Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews on top form) discovers a malformed skull that subsequently disappears when the authorities are alerted.

This was originally conceived as an anthology of three stories, which may explain the staggered nature of the narrative – characters come to the fore and then disappear into the background again, creating a choppy flow to the proceedings. It is possible this contributes to the film’s great feeling of unease as events become increasingly nasty and demonic.

And nasty they are indeed. Unsightly growths of animal-like hair on the bodies of the victims, the distressing rape and murder of local youngster Cathy (Wendy Padbury), and the briefest glimpse of the ghoulish demon behind it all. All this is conveyed convincingly by a tremendous cast determined to make things as real as can be. Marc Wilkinson’s mournful score is suitably organic sounding and atmospheric.

And yet it is 17 year-old Linda Hayden who all but steals the show as the possessed Angel. Expertly flicking between innocent vulnerability and genuine sensual wickedness, it is surprising she didn’t go on to find greater acclaim as befits her talent. Rather ungallantly, Director Piers Haggard has said he had to use her because she was under contract to Tigon supremo Tony Tenser. She shares top billing, alongside Wymark, and deservedly so.

This is filmed almost entirely on location in wintry woodlands, complete with a constant soundtrack of rooks and farmyard animals to heighten the lack of modernity. There is an authentic feeling that this cut-off village is a law unto its own pagan superstitions, and as such, is dangerously easy prey to legendary evil such as the demonic Behemoth (wisely kept to the shadows most of the time). With such an enigmatic premise, the climax seems comparatively perfunctory. Still, this is a tremendous film.

18. Jan, 2016

Zombie Massacre 2: Reich of the Dead (2015)

Watching this film is a frustrating experience; it’s a mixed bag. Powerful moments, direction, location, nicely restrained CGI effects and pacing are punctuated with some wooden acting (Aaron Stielstra as Sergeant Calhoun and Ally McLelland as Matt) and some dreadful dialogue. We are witnessing hard-bitten soldiers trapped in an unforgiving environment facing, as the title suggests, the living dead – so naturally every sentence should be comprised of macho cliché and relentless expletives so out of context, the profanities are unintentionally quite funny. As a result, we spend a lot of time with people it is impossible to like. We can’t even long for their deaths, because their stilted delivery doesn’t provide us with any personality, adverse or otherwise.

Only Andrew Mills as Will lends his role any pathos, sense of fear or even, dare I suggest, personality. That is why, in the scenes toward the end, when he is all but alone against the modest hordes of zombies, does the tension improve greatly. Luckily, the end credits supply us with character pictures to go with the actors, because it is hard to work out otherwise, who is who.

To concentrate on the positives, the visuals are stunning. There is a bleak oppressive nature to the choice of location, and the soldiers’ sense of isolation and hopelessness is expertly conveyed. The film has a slightly grainy took to it, which enhances the punishing conditions – and by that token, the occasional flashbacks to Will’s sunny, carefree childhood, come across as tear-jerkingly wholesome and idyllic, which imbues the return to his present predicament with an even greater emotional impact.

The ending is an enigma. Will is guided by a young woman to the sprawling run-down hospital run by Doktor Mengele, who is responsible for the creation of the undead hordes (another lunatic striving towards the perfect solider motif). The woman turns out to have been an hallucination. And yet, the end would suggest she is the spirit of Will’s mother, which begs the question, why would she lead him to his doom – because that is exactly what Will’s fate turns out to be. On top of that, a final scene suffused in the closing credits seems to indicate Will’s entire experience has not been real at all, suggesting a ‘dream ending’ cop-out.

Zombies during war-time is a theme that has been visited several times (‘Frankenstein’s Army’, ‘Dead Snow’, ‘Dead Mine’ for example) and works rather well. With a little more effort made to give the leads personalities, this would have been so much more satisfying.

18. Jan, 2016

The Hunger (1983)

At the time of writing, Dave Bowie has recently died. To describe him as a singer/songwriter doesn’t even begin to describe his musical genius – he was a true pioneer, several times over – and he has been widely recognised as such. His acting career, however, has attracted more mixed comment.

He initially impressed in Nick Roeg’s ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ film, in which he very convincingly played an alien in human form. He was using cocaine regularly during this time and his memory of the film is somewhat hazy – possibly that leant something to his ‘out there’ performance, which was powerful and desperately fragile at the same time. After a spell on stage playing The Elephant Man (without make-up, using his body and vocal inflections to communicate John Merrick’s physical deformity) other parts followed, including that of John Blaylock, partner of Catherine Deneuve’s Miriam Blaylock and centuries old vampire in this Tony Scott (brother of Ridley) directed film.
Critics have not been kind about ‘The Hunger’. The main comment has been that it is ‘style over substance’. Whilst the direction, lighting and pace is extremely artistically framed and shot, the storyline is thin at best. But is that a criticism? Not as far as I am concerned. Some of my favourite films are very languid in their telling (a number of them are reviewed here) and surely the lack of a fast pace allows us to become familiar with the characters, their lives, their relationships and the world in which they inhabit. When things happen to them, we care more because we know them better than if their characters had been communicated between spectacular effects shots or a desire to get the story over and done with amidst, as Bowie might say, ‘tits and explosions’.

So when John Blaylock begins to look his age, it is apparent something is very wrong. It seems Miriam has tired of him somewhat, and he is alone seeking help in a hospital waiting room. The staff at the hospital seem determined not to come to his aid, and in the space of a day, he appears to age 70 years. The make-up and performance are incredible here. As Blaylock’s hair comes off in clumps in his hands, as we are given glimpses of the heavy lines appearing and deepening around his eyes, we are witnessing a slow, uncomfortable demise.

It is never specifically established that he dies. He is placed in a coffin, now a crumbling shell of a man, by Miriam whilst still showing signs of life – indeed, he appears to haunt her towards the film’s end, although this could be an hallucination.

Deneuve and Susan Sarandon (whose characters become inter-twined) get the lion’s share of screen time – the idea of the eternal vampire living in accepted society has been done a number of times, of successfully so. This is no exception. It’s as convincing portrayal of the supernatural existing in our time as any I have seen.

17. Jan, 2016

The Flesh and Blood Show (1972)

'The Flesh and Blood Show' reminds me of a slimmed down version of the mighty Vincent Price vehicle ‘Theatre of Blood’, which was released the year after this. Filmed for the most part in the Pavilion Theatre in Cromer, this involves a group of unemployed young actors who are invited to the abandoned playhouse by the sea to perform a play, where one by one, they get brutally murdered. The location proves to be an excellent horror venue. Cut off from reality to certain degree, it becomes a world within a world wherein literally anything can happen.

The underrated Ray Brooks is the head of the young actors group and he provides a reassuring lead as much around him falls apart. The occasional showing of the police doesn’t seem to improve the situation, and only the friendly local Major Bell (encountered in a local café, which provides a brief yet strangely sinister respite for the troupe) seems to provide a reassuring outside presence.

Jenny Hanley, whose identity is somewhat enigmatic by the close, plays posh Julia Dawson. Unlike her appearance in Hammer's ‘Scars of Dracula’, she is allowed to use her own, un-dubbed voice – which is fine. Quite why the producers of the 1970 Hammer picture insisted she be dubbed by another actress is a mystery – and to her also, according to interviews. Hanley is also subject to clearly having a body double for revealing close-ups. I wonder how she felt about that?

This is one of Director Pete Walker’s better films. Not quite on a par with ‘Frightmare’ a couple of years later, it coasts along at a good pace, and punctuates the uneasy atmosphere with occasional effective scenes of gore. The climactic moments were apparently shown in 3D on the film’s initial cinematic release.

17. Jan, 2016

The Fear/The Perfect House (2013)

This anthology film starts in a refreshing manner. A standard family emerge from their home in sunny suburbia to have dinner at a neighbours’. Whereas often the family would be swapping cutesy witticisms with each other, this one is arguing and cursing before their own front door is shut behind them. As it turns out, this family returns to feature in the last of this trio of tales involving various bloody misdeeds that have occurred in the basement of this house over the years.

Of the three stories, the first is an enjoyably perverse, open-ended piece in which hints are given about possible unsavoury relations between four family members involved in a séance.

The second is my favourite, and features a gleefully animalistic character who keeps his ‘guests’ in two cages. One, he abuses regularly but keeps alive – she is his ‘audience’. The second cage is used far more regularly, as the unfortunates he brings to that one don’t live for very long after he begins to systematically torture them in various graphic ways. The relationship takes on an almost humorous familiarity before it, too, ends with no real sense of closure.

And to the third story, which deals with the original family being tortured also, in various horrifying ways – perhaps the worst is the daughter of the house stabbed multiple times and then thrown into a bath of lemon juice. Without any real narrative, however, this emerges simply as scenes of torture for the sake of it.

There’s no real conclusion to the overall story either, which is disappointing, other than now, in the present day, someone has actually brought the property, and already there is a body in the basement …

This is an odd experience. At turns gratuitous, funny, but ultimately fairly plotless.

11. Jan, 2016

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Those villagers. Those rampaging, outraged villagers. They had been a staple of the first three Frankenstein pictures, just as they would be in the three that followed this. Stuck in the middle film (excluding Abbott and Costello’s meet-up) of the series, their anger bookends ‘Ghost of Frankenstein’. It is ironic that this virtuous mob, already furious even at the film’s beginnings, are the ones who resurrect Frankenstein’s now silent creation by blowing up the family castle.

Cedric Hardwicke is Doctor Ludwig Frankenstein, son of Colin Clive and brother of Basil Rathbone, and by the far the most restrained family member, possessing none of his relatives’ intensity. Bela Lugosi returns as Ygor, happily unaffected by being ‘riddled with bullets’ in the previous film. His balance of mischief and malice is finely crafted and Ygor remains the picture’s most animated character. Ralph Bellamy’s rather dully efficient hero Eric, and his glamorous partner Elsa (Evelyn Ankers) are the alleged goodies, as always less interesting than the villains, a clan aided by Doctor Bohmer played by the mighty Lionel Atwill.

The Monster’s first appearance, clumsily stumbling out from the now hard-set sulphur pit that incarcerated and preserved him, is effective. One's hope is that the monster’s initial robotic groping is a result of his incarceration, but that is pretty much the sum total of Lon Chaney’s (the ‘Jr’ is now gone from his name in the credits) interpretation of the role. Having said that, the following scene, with Ygor chasing after him across the blasted health-land as The Monster tries to find the best spot to attract the lightening has a charming surreality about it; like a panicking father trying to gain some control over an errant child.

And yet the people the mis-matched duo meet in Vasaria, as they search for the latest Baron Frankenstein, are disappointingly unafraid of them. More a curiosity befalls the young maiden and gaggle of townsfolk as they set eyes on the unsightly couple, and this, alongside Chaney’s soulless performance, undermines The Monster’s effectiveness greatly.

Once in Vasaria, the Monster is captured and imprisoned. As Ludwig is brought forward and pretends not to recognise the creature, we catch a glimmer of emotion on his/its face as anger takes hold (to balance with this, there is a scene much later where Ygor, gesturing towards the Monster, exclaims ‘Can’t you see? He is for the first time happy in his life’. Chaney’s unmoving, unblinking, totally statue-lie performance gives no indication of any emotion whatsoever, and either renders the scene ludicrous, or displays Ygor’s humour extends to heavy sarcasm).

To remind viewers of The Monster's creation, we are treated to a flashback from the original film, also reminding us how much more moodily lit, extensively furnished and interestingly directed the 1931 picture was by comparison, although it substitutes a close-up of Chaney’s monster in place of the original Karloff. Director Erle C Kenton makes great use of shadows when dealing with the Monster – sadly, the shadow close-ups bear little resemblance to the Monsters actual actions or placing within the composition.

The ghost to justify the title is that of the original Baron (this time with Hardwicke playing Colin Clive’s role) visiting his son and introducing the idea of placing a different brain into his creation.

It is just possible that Chaney’s subdued take was deliberate to highlight how startlingly changed he is by the film’s finale. With Ygor’s brain in his head, he speaks with Ygor’s voice in an impressively dubbed scene. This new evilly grinning personality is how the Monster would remain (theoretically) throughout the next four Universal films since no further transplant takes place. Suddenly blinded by an averse blood-type reaction, the Monster causes the laboratory to explode, lending us some nice shots of his face blistering and frazzling in the flames, before some cheerful ‘wrapping-up’ music accompanies Eric and Elsa happily away to safety leaving the evil-doers to burn.

More a ‘monster movie’ than a ‘horror film’, this is fast moving and fun (more so than the previous 'Son of...', although it lacks the spectacle of the earlier offering). Yet it is a step down from the ambitions of the preceding Frankenstein pictures. By this time, WW2 was in full swing, and it’s real-life horrors outweighed anything fiction had to offer. Perhaps, along with the financial constraints, Universal deliberately set out to make their horror output more lightweight.

11. Jan, 2016

Frightmare/Cover Up (1974)

“It’s such fun being night people, isn’t it?” Sheila Keith, one of Director Pete Walker’s repertory stalwarts, asks at one point. Here, she plays Dorothy Yates, recently released from an asylum after displaying violent cannibalistic preferences, now completely cured. A quick look at the gleam in her eye and it is clear such a prognosis was … optimistic, to say the least.

Sheila Keith has been underrated, despite her numerous appearances in Walker’s films, and she is never better than here (at least not in the films I have seen her in thus far), and she is given material she can really, if you will, sink her teeth into. Her long-suffering brother, also committed, is played by Rupert Davies in one of his last films. Edmund Yates is guilty only of covering up his sister’s actions. Her brand of insanity attracts a certain loyalty. Imagine if she had other relatives?

Of course, she does. The wayward Debbie, whose dewy-eyed innocent looks belie her murderous nature, and Jackie, who secretly visits Edmund and Dorothy late night.

This is my favourite of the films directed by Pete Walker so far (I’m not watching them chronologically). It has a central theme that doesn’t meander, features well-written parts for all cast members, and every part is very well played. It has the crisp starkness of a low-budget UK thriller and is directed very much in the style of television series at that time. It is really a showcase for Keith’s magnificent, towering performance. Yet she’s supported by a fine cast (including cameos from Andrew Sachs, Leo Genn and Gerald Flood), and the proceedings are given a pleasingly open-ended climax.

1. Jan, 2016

The Mummy (1932)

Originally known as ‘Cagliostro’, the subsequent tweaking of the script and title (and scant minutes that actually feature a traditionally bandage enwrapped mummy) ensured that this would quickly join ‘Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein’ (both 1931) as one of the most iconic (that over-used word) horror films of all time.

Reviewers have noted this could be seen as a re-write of ‘Dracula’, and stars two of that film’s players (Edward Van Sloan and David Manners). The former film’s use of ‘Swan Lake’ as opening music is also re-used here. The inclusion of ‘Frankenstein’ Boris Karloff further compounds Universal Films’ impressive growing repertoire company of the time.

Bramwell Fletcher plays Ralph Norton, the hapless explorer who foolishly resurrects the mummy from his long slumber, and his crazed hysterical laughter as he (but not the audience) witnesses Imhotep talking ‘a little walk.’ Another classic horror moment.

As far as the mummy is concerned, that is all we see – a flickering eyelid, twitching fingers and a reaching hand, and finally two long bandage trails signifying the departing wizened creature. These frightening moments are accompanied by no musical score whatsoever, which heightens the isolated nightmare.

Karloff is seen from that moment onwards – ten years after his reawakening - as Ardath Bay (an anagram of Death by Ra, I recently discovered, 84 years after the film’s release), literally a living mummy. Face and hands leathered and broken (an arduous make-up by resident genius Jack Pierce), Karloff does indeed look and move like a reanimated cadaver. It is a wonderful, restrained performance. Even his eyes lack any lustre until the very end, just before the character meets his doom.

For such a slow moving, unspectacular film, things could become a little dull. Luckily the heroine Helen Grosvener is played by Zita Johann who is lively and headstrong (and apparently had a less than joyful time filming, feeling she was a ‘scapegoat’ for Director Karl Freund). Certainly she gives more of a performance - even when Grosvenor is possessed by Bey - than David Manners who, like his turn in ‘Dracula’, is charming but stodgy - (indeed, between her two would-be suitors, Grosvenor might find Bey has more life in him!).

‘The Mummy’ stands shoulder-to-shoulder within its mighty triumvirate and has gone onto inspire generations of horror films. Fans might be disappointed that it wasn’t until the first sequel (‘The Mummy’s Hand’ 1940) that we become more familiar with the traditional looking pharaoh, and this is a very slow film, very of its time. And yet it contains a creeping sense of dread, an overwhelming atmosphere of reincarnated, ancient horror that any sequels or remakes could never quite emulate.

1. Jan, 2016

Jessabelle (2014)

Not only is this an exceptional film in its own right, it has restored somewhat my faith in modern horror cinema. I’ve seen a run of recent films that have really disappointed. Here we have a tale of possession, of haunting, about a spirit returning to avenge itself. It’s not a hugely original run of events, but it is done extremely well. Acting, direction, (and especially) pace – all these things come together to make a thoroughly satisfying whole.

From the beginning, when (SPOILERS) a perfect couple are separated mid-sentence by a fatal car crash, to the very ending when it becomes apparent that good doesn’t always win, things never let up. That’s not to say anything is rushed for the sake of sensationalism. Equally, the special effects are mainly reduced to very powerfully staged crashes and bangs. We know precisely what is going on except for where the story is actually heading: the producer (Jason Blum), director (Kevin Greutert) and writer (Ben Garant) have us right in the palm of their hands.

Everything and everyone shines here: Sarah Snook is hugely effective as Jessie, by turns appealing, terrified, confused and sinister, all achieved with apparent ease. Hers is a talent I would like to see pay dividends. Certainly, the filmography is lengthy for the Australian actress. From her accent, I wasn’t even aware she was Australian.

The main Louisiana location is used to very good effect. The swampland surrounding the isolated community provides a necessarily uneasy backdrop for the powerful scenes of Voodoo, and the old family house is perfectly decked out with a setting of homely familiarity gone mainly to ruin.

At one time during the film, I thought I cleverly figured out that Jessie was actually dead, ‘Sixth Sense’-style, but the results are so much more original than that. There’s no real gore to speak of, but as a really good, solid ghost story expertly handled, I’d recommend this unreservedly, especially to anyone beleaguered with the current spate of popular horror films.

1. Jan, 2016

Incense for the Damned/Bloodsuckers (1970)

Minutes into this film, we are bombarded with information, some star names and some sumptuous foreign filming. It’s a project desperate to hit us from the very beginning. Only when things calm down a little do we get know any of the characters – played by an impressive array: Peter Cushing, William Mervyn, Edward Woodward and Patrick MacNee. Of them all, MacNee gets the most to do, but even he is killed off well before the final curtain.

Patrick Mower (currently hamming it up in missable Brit-soap Emmerdale) is extremely good as Richard Fountain, who has gone missing in Greece. This allows us some expansive foreign locales, but sadly, this film lacks the ability to deliver a straight-forward, comprehensible film. Whilst the idea of Fountain having been attacked by a Grecian vampire in this sunny, most un-vampiric paradise is an appealing one, so little time is given over to any kind of character development that we don’t really care about Fountain’s plight – or indeed have time even to notice the girl is a vampire until the brief act is carried out and she is despatched. Things become interesting when Mower’s character behaves more and more erratically, climactically speaking out in a rousing rejection of the well-to-do scholars that would see him sensibly married off and educated. That only vampirism can free him from the shackles of his peers is also an interesting idea, but has no time to breathe before Fountain his unspectacularly killed.

This was a troubled shoot, apparently. Director Robert Hartford-Davis found the budget ran out before the film was finished and he removed himself and his name from the project. I was very much reminded of the work of Director Peter Walker (Schizo, Die Screaming Marianne etc) such is the mishmash of pleasing directorial flourishes and messy narrative, but at least at 89 minutes, the project isn’t allowed to meander too much. A horror film filmed in a determinedly un-horrific way, a few more chills – or indeed any at all – would have helped balance the tone out a little.

27. Dec, 2015

La Vampire Nue/The Nude Vampire (1970)

Men in folky animal masks pursue, imprison and monitor a young lady (Christine François). The imagery is at once bizarre and unsettling, but it doesn’t stop there. We see Cathy and Pony Tricot next, French Director Jean Rollin’s Castel twins as maids, dressed in extraordinary metal and spike-adorned fetish gear. They don’t speak initially, just observe in a detached fashion and tend to the members of the house. Their presence is sprinkled throughout the film; always they are resigned looking, forlorn and fascinating.

Olivier Martin (actually Rollin’s brother) is Pierre Radamante the hero of the piece, typically rather fey nevertheless provides a welcome wholesomeness in the face of so much apparent evil and strangeness. His father Georges (Maurice Lemaitre) is the head of the organisation that has enslaved the young girl, and his secretary Solange (Ursule Pauly) is his nefarious subordinate.

The young girl is being enticed as a form of spectacle for the mask-wearing guests of the house, tempted by blood. It seems as if she is a vampire and they are a secret suicide cult hiding under a veneer of respectability. There are long periods where there is no dialogue, and this at the film’s beginning, revealing no compromise to the telling of the story. It is there, but you need to pay close attention. It is a good half hour before any explanations are forthcoming.

At times this can be ponderous: scenes are inserted for their own sake that appear to have no bearing on anything else. The ending could almost be seen as a tribute to the Universal films of old (watching ‘House of Dracula’ is cited as one of Rollin’s formative horror experiences) with masses of people (lead by Michael Delahay nicely underplaying the Grandmaster, a role he would repeat in the following year’s ‘Le Frisson des Vampires/Shiver of the Vampires’) with fiery torches descending en masse.

The apparent death of the evil Solange is accompanied not by strident music, but simply by the guttural shrieking and bleating of night animals, making her demise an isolated, detached affair. Solange is responsible for the unforgivable act of injuring, or possibly killing, the twin maids in one of the film’s most notorious sequences. Knocking them both down with an iron candelabra one twin falls all the way to the bottom of the lengthy flight of stairs, in actuality knocking herself out in the process! Luckily, they both appear later, bloodied but alive, and it is due to them that Solange meets her fate.

The Castels appear sporadically throughout Rollin’s films (though sadly not in his retrospective ‘La Nuit des Horloges’ (2007) – at least not outside the archive footage used to represent them). They are more effective than ever here, the stars of the show. Dark haired, dressed in a variety of eccentric costumes, they are mainly unspeaking. Inexperienced as actors they may have been, but their twin presence is extraordinary. Even an uneventful scene of them going about the business of changing clothes or procuring refreshments for their masters or slowly descending stone stairs with their crackling fiery torches, is enlivened by their other-worldly silence, their silent observation of each other’s actions. ‘The Nude Vampire’ is their greatest achievement, and the overall alien atmosphere would have been far lessened without their contribution.

The end of the film, customarily filmed on ‘Rollin’s beach’ in Dieppe, provides the platform to reveal the imprisoned young girl was never a vampire, indeed there have never been such things as vampires (!) – rather, she is a mutant. The nature of her condition is unspecified, but it seems to be impervious to bullets and display distinct vampiric tendencies. Indeed, these mutants are what the human race will become.

As far as my poor old reviews are concerned, this is the last Rollin ‘horror’ there is, and it saddens me greatly there are no more. ‘The Nude Vampire’ was also the first of the director’s films I ever saw, and that might explain why it remains my favourite (amongst stiff competition). Viewing his projects has been an incredible, immersive journey that has greatly enriched my experience of all things ‘horror’ – even though Rollin himself distanced himself from the term. Naïve, seductive, ridiculous, gothic, macabre, gory, innocent, unforgiving, psychedelic, confusing, optimistic, dream-like … and hugely, hugely enjoyable. Thank you, Jean Rollin.

27. Dec, 2015

Clown (2014)

Imagine what it must be like to dress up as a clown and then never be able to remove the make-up? Well, now you don’t have to – because that is what happens in this film. Unfortunately, that is all that happens in this film. Kent McCoy (Andy Powers) then descends into a vengeful murderer who goes through the motions of many other human/monster hybrids, trying to regain his sanity whilst becoming more monstrous by the moment.

Except that his monstrousness is pretty anaemic, both in visualisation and acting, and this kind of thing has been done much more effectively elsewhere – the distinction here is that the creature is a malevolent demon trapped in a clown suit, and it is the ridiculous nature of that which separates this from other such films. Never once is the viewer invited to worry about the juvenile victims of the creature, never is pathos or sympathy squeezed in between the hollering parents and copious amounts of blood, and sadly, rarely is the titular clown actually particularly scary despite his handful of (off camera) misdeeds, at least not until the end, when the mutation nears completion. By this time, of course, McCoys hitherto placid wife has become ‘supermom’, able to bounce back from her husband’s repeatedly ‘fatal’ attacks.

I seem to have recorded some scathing views about this, and the film really doesn’t deserve them. But what irritates is that, bar the originality and silliness of the central premise, this follows the same route as so many other films. Wife becomes concerned with hubby’s behaviour, finds he has become possessed, seeks the help of someone else who has been possessed and overcomes the evil so she and the family youngster can live safely ever after. Reassuringly, however, it is revealed the demonic suit still exists and is being held by the police as part of the evidence concerning the swathe of killings. So you never know, Clown may be back.

26. Dec, 2015

House of the Long Shadows (1983)

Desi Arnaz Jr plays Kenneth MacGee, a bull-headed American writer who boasts to his agent Sam Allyson (Richard Todd) that he can write a novel in 24 hours isolated in a remote Welsh mansion. It is to Arnaz Jr’s credit that MacGee emerges as such a likeable character, so brash is his character written.

All the horror atmospherics are then applied - an endless storm, long shadows (naturally) and – in the film’s major selling point – four of the genre’s most celebrated actors. John Carradine is Elijah Grisbane, grouchy, irascible and ancient. Peter Cushing appears next as Sebastian Grisbane, lisping, tipsy and nervous. Out of the night then steps Vincent Price as Lionel Grisbane, suitably theatrical and soliloquizing. Finally, Corrigan emerges, played with typical fruity authority by Christopher Lee. Sheila Keith ably joins the ensemble as the frightening house-keeper, and Julie Peasgood, who seems to be utterly delightful in every acting job and personal appearance she has given, plays wide-eyed Mary Gorton.

Emerging as an enjoyable, but far inferior version of ‘The Old Dark House (1932)’, this proved the final filmic project of Director Pete Walker, who had helmed a string of 1970’s ‘exploitation’ horrors (‘House of Whipcord’ and ‘The Flesh and Blood Show’ amongst them). Never meeting with huge success, he retired from the profession after the release of this was also met with a muted response, despite being the only grouping of the four legendry thespians.

A fondness of Walker is to end his film with a twist. The twist here is not only as improbable as the others, but there are several of them, piled one after the other, which leaves the viewer a little shell-shocked. Here, the twists push the narrative further towards being almost entirely tongue-in-cheek, which is either detrimental or beneficial to the film, depending on your point of view.

Despite a bigger than usual budget, the director’s work is still a little murky, the murders awkwardly staged. The results prove enjoyable despite the flaws, mainly because of the tremendous cast enjoying themselves.

23. Dec, 2015

Die Screaming, Marianne (1971)

Director Pete Walker (whose ‘Schizo’ film was reviewed earlier) is notorious for his low-budget horror films throughout the 1970’s. This, his first, is a horror in title alone, and a couple of mildly grisly moments. The film aims to be some kind of slow-burning psychological thriller concerning Marianne’s crooked relatives attempting to kill her so to claim her vast inheritance, but contains too few surprises and a pace far too slow to sustain that.

Susan George plays the titular character and is terrific throughout, her initially headstrong behaviour played as naïve and confused rather than as reckless as she first appears (also, for an exploitation picture, she wears her various skimpy costumes extremely well). Barry Evans is the good guy, Eli. Evans seems too fey for the role (Patrick Mower and Ian McShane were also considered), but his niceness is reassuring against the shenanigans of ratty Sebastian (Christopher Sandford). Judy Huxtable gives probably the best performance as Hildegarde, but the character’s decline into madness is beyond even her talents.

Sapphire and Steel composer Cyril Ornadel produces a memorable musical score (his theme was written so as to be in time with Susan George’s stylish and much-discussed go-go dance routine during the opening credits) including a haunting, possibly ‘cheesy’ song illustrating Marianne’s plight that is repeated at various intervals to arresting effect.

Ultimately, like other Pete Walker ventures, the project might well have been improved if slightly shorter, possibly cut back to 80 or 90 minutes. Marianne’s relentless plight becomes too elongated to care about, the most potent moment being a nicely staged slow poisoning in a sauna that Marianne cunningly defeats by climbing out of the window.

20. Dec, 2015

Perdues dans New York/Lost in New York (1989)

Barefoot and wearing nothing but a raincoat, a woman strides across a deserted rail track. In the sunny streets of France, an elderly woman makes her way through the streets and alleyways. The chalky cliffs next to a rain-lashed beach are seen next. What can it mean? As the credits usher in this 1989 film by French Director Jean Rollin, already interest is piqued.

I’m not sure this is actually a horror film (at 52 minutes and made-for-television, I'm not even sure if it 'officially' a film). It is difficult to define Rollin’s work – but with only a couple more of his productions to include, I’m going to let the fact that a vampire features briefly here on a New York skyline count it – roughly – as a horror. Also, the image of one or two young women standing by a cold looking seafront wearing featureless theatre masks, is one of the best known of Rollin’s visuals. It is sinister, fascinating, sombre and strange – just like his pictures, in fact. The masks are everywhere; the woman in raincoat is wearing one, the two lead ‘charming young’ girls (Marie and Michelle) are wearing them on Rollin’s Beach. And then – pop! They are separated and running down the streets of New York, narrowly missing each other, and often accompanied by some tinny 1980’s music, which is very of its time. This is a travelogue, shot over a few days, book-ended by scenes of two elderly ladies (aged versions of the two girls in NY) at last finding each other once again.

There isn’t a huge amount to get engaged with throughout, but Rollin’s talent for poetic imagery on no budget (night-time neon adverts, scenes shot through the haze of steam rising from the street, a red rose on a rain-dulled pavilion) is evident throughout. The film was shot spontaneously, with just Rollin and two actresses in The Big Apple. The overall theme - that of searching for something - is a typical dreamlike scenario. The woman in the raincoat emerges as a moon-goddess, whose naked dance probably influences the climactic reuniting of the two leads.

16. Dec, 2015

Schizo (1976)

It is hard to believe this was made the year before Star Wars. A low, low-budget British picture, with grizzled, familiar British actors from the time stomping around in freezing locations and cramped interiors, in film so gritty it’s like looking through a cigarette fog.

Lynne Frederick, who had been so pure faced and natural in Hammer’s Vampire Circus five years before, is fully a product of 1970’s fashion here. An underrated actress, she puts in a fine leading performance as Samantha Gray, who appears to be losing her mind. Pursued by William Haskin (Jack Watson), she never appears pathetic or hopeless, just vulnerable and attempting to make the best of her spiralling situation.

The film, shot very much in the style of television psychological drama (with added gore), becomes a sluggish affair after it becomes obvious that nothing is really going to deviate from the familiar ‘woman in peril’ storyline. Having said that, there are some grisly low-key moments (the brief possession in the village hall is memorable). Also, there is a grimness on display here that doesn’t let up – the world in which Samantha appears to be trapped is relentless.

Director Pete Walker was prolific in the 1970’s, producing a number of similarly low-budget horrors. Whilst many derided his work at the time, others have named him as a UK Jess Franco or Jean Rollin. The similarities are there. Exploitative, under-funded, commercially compromised – and suitably modest in interviews, saying of his films, ‘All I wanted to do is create a bit of mischief.’ His last horror film was 1983’s House of Long Shadows, which prided itself on uniting stars Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, John Carradine and Vincent Price for what turned out to be last time.

Ultimately, ‘Schizo’ goes on too long with too little incident to prevent the interest waning from time to time, although the performances are suitably solemn, and draw the viewer back in again. The twist at the end is very much like something of the TV series ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ (ie: stretching credulity) but brings events to a satisfying conclusion.

16. Dec, 2015

Damned Sea Vampires/Beast of the Bering Sea (2013)

It’s uncanny. Feisty, pretty Donna Hunter (Cassie Scerbo), who works with her dad and younger brother (they are Gold Hunters in the arctic) welcomes new deckhand Owen Powers (Brandon Beemer) with as much venom as she can muster – but he’s almost as pretty as she is! Turns out he’s a good guy as well, so one would consider it an inevitability they are destined for a long and fruitful life together. And yet to criticise such ‘cheesiness’ (cheesy: (a). Of poor quality; shoddy: a movie with cheesy special effects. (b). Vulgarly pretentious or sentimental: a cheesy romantic comedy) is proof of not understanding the point that it’s ‘cheese’ is entirely deliberate. Therefore, it is beyond criticism because it is supposed to be ridiculous.

I’ve never really understood this. A horror comedy that is neither horrific nor comedic, just hovering somewhere in between. You either go into a horror film wanting to enjoy it by laughing at it, or to invest in the story it is telling and go along with it. It’s impossible to go along with this film because the titular creatures, the Sea Vampires disturbed by the salvagers are adorably bad. Even the illustrations on publicity material depict them as being just as cartoon-like as they are on-screen. And yet the players are earnest and don’t play anything for laughs.

The creatures appear to loosely be based on stingrays, but with bulbous eyes and wide, frog-like mouths. For the hilarity of their every appearance, they are deadly beasts, killing Donna’s father as well as other peripheral characters. But not to worry too much – she and Owen are finding comfort in each other’s melancholy. It seems as if the ice maiden is about to be thawed out. So disturbing a race of killer jellies has its benefits!

The creatures are routinely defeated by grow-lights used by the local villain to cultivate marijuana (the swine), which is inventive, if nothing else. Ultimately, this film seems to have been produced to fit the ‘so bad its good’ criteria, which as an ambition, baffles me.

13. Dec, 2015

Frankenstein's Army (2013)

A found footage-style film from the Second World War is not something I would have been expecting to take seriously, due mainly to the highly improbable nature of ‘home movies’ being shot with cameras from the 1940’s. Indeed, there is a certain tongue-in-cheek style to proceedings as if the producers are urging us to go along with a story they clearly believe is worth telling, however unlikely the circumstances.

With a few blemishes on the recordings to at least remind us the footage has apparently been lost for 70 years, we meet a group of Russian soldiers answering a fuzzy distress call from deep in the misty German countryside. The transition from the unforgiving, snow-flecked terrain and the underground bunker they discover, with its spitting electric cables and an adornment of torsos with weaponry grafted into their flesh is very evocative and succeeds in drawing the viewer in to this hidden world.

When the monsters emerge (‘sewing dead people together’), they are very impressive. There is very little CGI here, but physical, constructed monstrosities (many created by Richard Raaphorst for his previous, aborted ‘Worst Case Scenario’ film).

While the creations are wonderful, the human characters fare less well. Their dialogue soon becomes a hysteric mass of shrieking and cursing (understandable, given the circumstances) and it’s difficult to know (or care) who is who – which is fine: this is a monster show, and these people are largely fodder. When the soon discovered Victor Frankenstein turns out to be just another shrieker and curser, the interest begins to wane. He’s clearly insane, but just as two-dimensional as his (human) co-stars.