Mild Spoilers ...

3. Apr, 2016

What Have You Done to Solange? (1972)

Whilst enjoying an afternoon on the river, married teacher Enrico (Fabio Testi) is stoically attempting to coerce one of his young students Elizabeth (Christina Galbo) into having sex with him, when she notices on the bank, the glint of a knife in the sunshine. Dismissing this as an excuse not to give into his demands, Enrico is therefore stunned to later hear on the radio of the murder of a young girl in the area that very afternoon.

Selfishly, Enrico initially forbids Elizabeth to report her suspicions to the police, for fear his liaison will be exposed. However, sympathies with Enrico begin to materialise when it seems his affair with Elizabeth isn’t simply a whim. His wife Herta (Karin Baal) is cold-hearted and unloving, and what Enrico and Elizabeth share might well be true love. As the murders continue, the film enters into proper horror territory, with nightmares and growing graphic atrocities conspiring to tighten the proverbial noose around Enrico’s neck, as he appears to be the main suspect.

In a further shock, Elizabeth herself is murdered, and this appears to bring Enrico and Herta closer – it is interesting that in softening her character, Herta takes to wearing make-up, as opposed to the harsh ‘freshly scrubbed’ appearance she had adopted earlier.

(Spoiler) Solange, when at last she appears, is the character around whom the murders all centre. Her father has posed as a Preist in order to obtain confessions from Solange’s school-friends who arranged an illegal abortion for her against her will. This brutality destroyed her mind. The final frame of the film has her sobbing gently as her father shoots himself, having at last been discovered.

This has been billed as ‘giallo’ film, which is what Wikipedia describes as a ‘20th-century Italian slasher genre of literature and film, usually with mystery elements and often with either supernatural horror or crime fiction elements.’ As such, it fits the description well.

The flawed nature of Enrico fuels the story – he is far from perfect and a ready-made scapegoat for the murders. He is not given to passionately protesting his innocence, and it may well be that un-emotive nature that robbed his wife of her love for him; darkly poetic then, that such a harrowing tragedy should bring them back together.

28. Mar, 2016

Twins of Evil (1971)

Playboy ‘playmates’ Mary and Madeleine Collinson play Maria and Frieda, two recently orphaned twins from Venice, who have the additional misfortune to be coming to live with their Uncle Veil, the constantly furious leader of ‘The Brotherhood’, a group who bastardise their interpretation of religion by sacrificing young girls whom they believe are ‘servants of the devil’. One of the best lines in the film is Veil’s response to his nieces not wearing black after two months of mourning. On seeing their smart clothes, he intones, finger raised to the Heavens, “WHAT kind of PLUMAGE is this??”

Peter Cushing gives one of his best performances ever as Gustav Veil, a fairly complex character as written. With seldom few genuine ‘good guys’ on display (hero Anton (David Warbeck) is a teacher with less than professional designs on Frieda, who is, after all, one of his students) , Veil is typically written as a hypocritical, tyrannical yet ultimately fragile and humane authority figure. Cushing plays every contrast to the hilt, so that rather than hating him, the viewer is drawn into the moral dilemma of how to deal with the demonic forces he has given his life (and the life of those around him) to destroying, when such forces infest his own family. In his perverted translation of religion, he and his followers, all aroused by each other’s vehement hatred of impurities, are responsible for the deaths of more innocents than the corrupt Count Karnstein – and yet when Gustav falls, as he inevitably must, he dies a (kind of) hero. Real life tragedies etched ten years of age onto Cushing’s countenance (compare his appearance here to his last Hammer outing ‘The Vampire Lovers’) and leant him a forlorn countenance that adds to Veil’s vulnerability.

Damien Thomas was rumoured to be in line to play Dracula for Hammer once Christopher Lee had finally hung up his fangs – and from his performance here, it is easy to see why. The twins are also very good here, despite having little formal acting experience – subtle differences in responses separate the mischievous Frieda from the wholesome Maria very well; no mean feat considering they are dubbed throughout. Dennis Price is exceptional as the weasely Dietrich. Often wasted at this stage of his career on cheap sex-comedies and low-budget horrors, he is exemplary here, especially when ineffectually attempting to excite Karnstein with some inept devil-worshipping entertainment. Harvey Hall, the only actor to have appeared in all of this trilogy (alongside Kirstin Lindholm who is briskly burnt at the stake), is his usual dependable self as Franz, one of The Brotherhood. Finally, Katya Wyeth plays the third incarnation of Carmilla/Mircalla, (who speaks in crisp, clipped RC English, without the European intonations of her predecessors) who – in her one scene – incestuously seduces The Count and turns him into a vampire (which begs the question, who was responsible for the vampire attacks on villagers before Karnstein’s turning?). Apparently, Ingrid Pitt was offered the part, but possibly due to its brevity, turned it down.

Director Tim Burton often cites Hammer films as an inspiration for the visuals of his films, especially ‘Sleepy Hollow (1999)’. It is easy to imagine he refers specifically to ‘Twins of Evil’ as virtually every scene is reminiscent of the darkest gothic fairy-tale, with great use of rich colours against the shadows. Apparently the budget for this wasn’t much higher than the previous ‘Lust’ film, which is astounding, as this looks magnificent and a true credit to Director John Hough.

The music also separates this from others in the trilogy. The bombastic score is exciting and plays against some of the more gruesome scenes (the elongated burnings, for example), and yet makes them more tragic and frightening than if more traditional incidentals were used. ‘Twins’ is as good as anything Hammer has ever produced.

27. Mar, 2016

Curve (2015)

Sun-kissed, breath-taking landscape, stunning young blond lady meets hunky hitch-hiker who, within seconds, has removed his shirt, and the finger is hovering precariously over the off button. But any worries this may be Baywatch soon dissipate.

Mallory (Julianne Hough) is driving around the Grand Canyon, when her car breaks down. Christian (Teddy Sears) helps out, and she gives him a lift to the motel where he is staying. Christian’s transformation into perversity and psychotic evil is initially unthreatening in the extreme, but the power of Sears’ performance is a slow-burner. His slow, methodical taunting of Mallory is sadistic and measured, underlining the fact he likes to be in complete control of the situation - especially when Mallory deliberately crashes the car and becomes trapped inside, while Christian is free and happy to leave her to suffer.

As time goes on, the punishing imprisonment means many demeaning moments for Mallory, but just as luck seems to reach an all-time low, she might just be alright. Well, of course she’s alright. Not only that, but she saves her aggressor’s other victims, holed up in the motel – and sees off Christian as well. And that’s after 48 hours trapped upside down in a car.

Stretching credibility as it does, this nevertheless has some tense and harrowing moments, and the acting is excellent throughout – especially as the bulk of the film is essentially a two-hander.

22. Mar, 2016

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

Fresh from playing an unnamed vampire in this film’s prequel ‘The Vampire Lovers’, actress Kirstin Lindholm here plays an unnamed peasant girl in the pre-credits sequence. She is attacked by another wraith-like bloodsucker stalking the countryside in broad daylight, which seems perfectly acceptable for the undead in these latter day Hammer films.

Immediately, the same studio-bound low-budget tattiness that afflicted the earlier film is evident here. Former DJ Mike Raven plays Baron Karnstein (presumably the same character John Forbes-Robertson played in ‘The Vampire Lovers’), dressed in suit and cape and dubbed by Valentine Dyall. He spills the girl’s blood to resurrect, in a nice gory sequence, Carmilla. Close-ups of Christopher Lee’s eyes, complete with red contact lenses, spliced from another film, are inexplicably inserted during this scene, further under-lining the gleefully cut-price nature of this production – and this barely ten minutes in.

Unlike the episodic nature of ‘The Vampire Lovers’, this gives us more time to get to know the characters. Ralph Bates – in a role originally written for Peter Cushing – plays Giles Barton, a fascinating character who exudes prim fussiness as schoolmaster in an idyllic Finishing School for girls, but hides a dark desire. He is chided by the girls for being a pervert, whereas the less interesting hero Richard LeStrange (Michael Johnson), who lies his way into the position of supply teacher so he can ogle new pupil Mircalla more closely, is welcomed with open arms by the students.

Pippa Steele returns from ‘The Vampire Lovers’ to play a different, equally doomed, character, as does the splendid Harvey Hall, but the titular Carmilla has been recast. Instead of Ingrid Pitt’s mastery of seduction and devilry, we have Yutte Stensgaard’s far less complex interpretation. Well worthy of a mention is Suzanna Leigh as Janet Playfair, the schoolmistress who tries to attract LeStrange’s eye. Christopher Neame, one of a gaggle of villagers would go onto play Dracula’s servant Johnny Alucard in ‘Dracula AD 1972’.

Barton’s moonlit rendezvous with Carmilla is my favourite scene from the film. Barton wishes to be a servant of the Devil, having studied vampire lore and disposing of Carmilla’s victims. His crumbling entreaties to the unfeeling girl as she drains him of his blood are a perfect mix of seduction and doom. Almost as mesmerising is Carmilla’s later love scene with LeStrange. This scene has been much derided, mainly due to the inclusion of a song (‘Strange Love’ by ‘Tracy’) throughout its duration, but I really like it. With horror, you either have to ‘go with it’ or not, and this scene helps to sell the haunting, dreamlike atmosphere – and yet it is telling Hammer never tried anything like it again. Ah well.

Having succumbed to the charms of a mortal, Carmilla’s days (or nights) are numbered. The Karnsteins return to their castle and a fiery finale involves a burning wooden stake hurtling from the ceiling, impaling the girl as the Count and Countess face their fate. I’m not sure whether I prefer this to the previous film or not. Both have flaws – usually budget-related – but many merits too. One thing I am sure about, however, is that the final picture of the trilogy, ‘Twins of Evil’ ends the project on a high.

21. Mar, 2016

Afflicted (2013)

Some films are better watched when you know nothing about them. This is one. Please be aware that reading the following will lessen the impact of much of what ‘Afflicted’ offers.

This is an expertly crafted found footage film directed, written by and starring Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, playing themselves, recording a round-the-world trip instigated by the news that Derek is suffering from a cerebral arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which could kill him at any moment. Whilst meeting friends in Paris, Derek takes home a girl called Audrey. Leaving them alone in the apartment for the night, the friends eventually find him unconscious, alone and bloodied after an unspecific attack.

If watching a cheery young man descend into a ravenous, blood sucking vampire with incredible strength and agility can be described as fun, then this is probably it. Clif stays with him, and despite attempting to get Derek to hospital, it seems events conspire against them. The camaraderie between the two is touching and very realistically played; these are silly, life-loving young men who have been afflicted by something they cannot understand.

When Clif is eventually killed and bitten by Derek, the story begins to meander a little. The restrained CGI effects take hold - we’re all familiar with the familiar horror pattern of tragic monster pursued by authorities, but this is a rare occasion where we see such a hunt presented by the victim’s own point of view. When Derek finally locates Audrey do things become interesting once more: Derek is incurable. At least he won’t die from AVM – he won’t die at all; this strain of vampirism seems to provide immortality, so Derek continues to feed on criminals and low-lives. If he doesn’t, the curse will completely overtake him.

As the credits roll in, they are interspersed with blurred killings, the last one of which seems to be carried out by an also-vampirised Clif.

20. Mar, 2016

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

By 1970, the formula that had been successful for Hammer was sliding out of fashion. Audiences were tiring of the European ‘bloodshed and bosoms’ stories the company were releasing with regularity. Their answer was to up the quotient of both, and the cleavage on display here is provided by no less than three main players – Kate O’Mara, Pippa Steele, Maddie Smith and especially Ingrid Pitt.

Based on Sheridan de Fanu’s masterful ‘Carmilla’ tale, this forms the first in a trilogy of films to feature the titular character, although ‘The Vampire Lovers’ is the only one that really uses the original novel as its inspiration. The sequels, ‘Lust for a Vampire’ and ‘Twins of Evil’ feature Carmilla/Marcilla/Mircalla as an increasingly peripheral figure played, bizarrely, by three different actresses. Perhaps the writers Harry Fine/Tudor Gates/Michael Style were trying to suggest that not only does she transcend age and time, but occupies multiple personalities too.

After opening with a voice-over (strongly reminiscent of the opening of Hammer’s ground-breaking ‘Dracula (1957)’) and a convincing model effect of the castle, the low-budget is betrayed in a very studio-bound yet sinister graveyard as Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) witnesses the arrival of a wraith-like vampire (Kirstin Lindholm) before beheading her. The story proper begins with the introduction of Marcilla to a rather threadbare party, where she is placed in the care of General von Speilsdorf (Peter Cushing) and his niece Laura (Pippa Steele). It is then that strange dreams and occurrences begin in earnest. Following Laura’s death, Speilsdorf is written out of the narrative for much of the film, leaving George Cole’s Roger Morton and his niece Emma (Maddie Smith – and her Governess Kate O’Mara) as Carmilla’s later protagonists/victims for a brief spell before he leaves ‘for Vienna’. Jon Finch plays young Carl, who completes the quartet of angry men with a grievance against the mysterious vampire woman.

‘The Vampire Lovers’ is an enjoyable, unpolished production. Occasional scenes are dogged by signs of the raggedness that was creeping into Hammer’s dense production schedule at this time. The inn where the butler Renton (splendidly played by Harvey Hall) visits is filmed in close-up to avoid revealing a lack of customers; there are recurrent location scenes featuring a tennis court complete with chain-mail fencing; also, the camera lingers on scenes of Carmilla casting reflections – although she happily exists in daylight, suggesting she is perhaps more than a vampire.

Perhaps the best scene is a brief one. Witnessing the funeral of one of her victims (although no-one has yet made the connection between the mysterious girl and the succession of blood-drained victims) in the woods, Carmilla is terrified by the religious symbolism, and the ceremony overwhelms her.

Whilst it is great when the four protagonists finally gang up to rid 19th century Styria of Carmilla, to have them fractured throughout the film means that each one is severely underwritten. They are little more than cogs that come together, rather than characters with personalities.

The greatest written part goes, of course, to Ingrid Pitt’s titular character. The actress rises brilliantly to the challenge of playing a seductive, occasionally vulnerable, centuries old vampire. Her apparent infatuation with Emma is brought to life more by the actresses than anything in the script, and that is what stalls her plans to seduce everyone in sight. Never a step out of place, Pitt’s charm and presence underlines how incredible it is that she never played the part in the following two films in this trilogy.

19. Mar, 2016

Mara (2011)

Mara – according to Nordic mythology is a supernatural, female creature who haunts you at night and causes bad dreams.

Jenny is being interviewed by the police in a darkened room. In flashback, she tells us how she sees the sees the spirit of her mother, but that’s impossible, because her mother has been institutionalised for years after chronic post-natal depression. However, Jenny learns she has actually been released two years earlier, which seems to validate her sightings of the woman who had abused her as a child.

The flashbacks continue. She is at a party with her cousin and some friends, at her mother’s house. Jakob and Stina seem to be getting close and Jenny doesn’t like it. After more images of her mother appear, Jenny at last gets some sleep. When she wakes, everybody has gone. It is tempting to speculate that they left her because of her moody nature, but the truth is much worse.
After an age of Jenny thinking she hears and sees ghostly images, she finds her friends stabbed to death. Her mother appears to be descending the stairs, bloody knife in hand. Jenny runs outside, blood staining her clothes and ample bosom. The police arrive and tell her to ‘drop the knife’. Looking at her hand, she is shocked to see she is holding the stained kitchen knife.

At this point, I was fairly disappointed in the resolution – neurotic girl imagines spectres are killing people, and we are left unsure whether or not it’s all in her mind. I was hasty.

Back to the interrogation. Jenny has told the police all she knows – and is then told her friends are alive and well. Confused, perhaps, but unharmed. So, the inspector reiterates, where did all the blood comes from? Jenny looks to the camera, and we see an image of her mother – dead and bloody, lying in a wood.

Too long is spent going through the rigmarole of seeing things that turn out not to be there again and again, but that notwithstanding, this is a very enjoyable low budget gore-thriller.

11. Mar, 2016

Limbo/Children of the Night (2014)

‘Limbo’ is a Spanish film renamed ‘Children of the Night’ for its American release.

Alicia (Sabrina Ramos) is a journalist who is requested by Erda (Ana Maria Giunta), to travel to the Argentinian orphanage called Limbo (where she is Matron), where a large group of children with a rare disease are housed. As Alicia becomes acquainted with the youngsters, some who seem strangely older than their years, we learn she is a haemophiliac, and that is a possible reason why she was rejected by her mother when she was a child herself. This gives her an immediate kinship with the plight of the young folk, which becomes a curiosity: she is sure she has seen many of them before. Considering she was investigating the local disappearance of juveniles as part of her job, it’s surprising it takes her so long to realise these are the missing children.

‘Limbo’ is a home for vampires, who still look the same age they were when they were bitten, some many years ago. ‘Why are there so many children?’ Asks Alicia. ‘Because’, the subtitles tell me, ‘the young looks and tastes more nicer’. Erda weeps for the children because they suffer so much, comparing their affliction to a drug addiction.

Amusement is had when Alicia compliments the youngsters in a maternal way, and is responded to as would an adult who is being flirted with. In another scene, tiny children pass round and subsequently critique a bottle of blood as would seasoned wine tasting professionals. Alicia’s boyfriend, who makes the mistake of visiting (only to leave shortly after), is strung up by his hands, and a tap fitted to his stomach, so the children can cipher off his blood. Dark humour indeed.

Young Seigfreid (Toto Muñoz) was Alicia’s childhood sweetheart, but at 33, still looks like a twelve year-old, (shades of ‘Let the Right One In’). His relationship with her is sweet and tragic and more than a little creepy.

The ‘men in black’, ostensibly the ‘good guys’, (interestingly, the blood-suckers are dressed all in white) who pursue and destroy the children, are definitely the villains here, in their manner and in their deeds. No Van Helsings these. Apart from the revulsion of them attacking (what appear to be) children, we have grown to know these young vampires and when their revenge comes, it is a deliberately orchestrated joyful – and very satisfying - finale. Innards are pulled out and used as skipping ropes, and it is clear whose side Alicia (and the audience) is on.

The ending would seem to indicate that Alicia elects to stay in ‘Limbo’, and uses a webcam recording of her being bitten as a way of blaming and framing the men in black, by having the images feature on the news, and indicating the men in black were responsible, and therefore should be hunted down.

Some of the playing from the juveniles is, as one might expect, a little awkward, but the scenes of them attacking as a group sustains the dangerous quality they nevertheless possess. A strange and enjoyable film.

10. Mar, 2016

The Monitor/Babycall (2011)

This solemn Norwegian gem features Anna (Noomi Rapace) who has been relocated to a flat following an incident with her abusive husband and father of eight year old Anders (Vetle Qvenild Werring). She exists in a constant state of neurosis and is monitored by two Child Welfare Officers. To relieve her worry that somehow her husband will find them and inflict further harm, she buys a baby monitor so she can listen to her son even when he is in another room. Sometimes, she hears the sounds of a child being beaten on the monitor, but Anders is sleeping soundly … so where do these sounds come from?

She befriends shy Helge (Kristoffer Joner), whose mother is on a life-support machine in hospital, and they begin a fragile relationship. And yet the disturbing incidents continue; the male welfare officer Ole takes an unprofessional interest in Anna, and the woman she believes she has heard on the monitor appears to drown her son at the picturesque nearby lake Anna often visits to relax. Anna dives into the water to rescue the boy. The next thing she knows, she is in hospital.

Anders invites a friend round, but we don’t get to know his name. The two lads share a kinship, and it appears the friend has been beaten by his mother. Whilst joining Anna for supper one evening, Helge meets the nameless boy and assumes it to be Anders, whom he hasn’t met. He sees bruises on the boy’s arm and assumes Anna has been beating him.

The final straw in Anna’s punishing ordeal is when Ole tells her that Anders’ father has gained custody of the youngster. She stabs Ole with the kitchen scissors, takes Anders and leads him to the open window, high above ground level. Helge bursts into the flat, past the bloody body of what actually turns out to be the caretaker, and gets to the bedroom just in time to see Anna and her son plummet to the ground below.

Only Anna’s body is found. It transpires Anders died two years ago, and so did his abusive father. Everything else we have seen was a mixture of the truth and the product of Anna’s ruined mind.

Poor Helge. An honest, decent man who witnesses it all, and loses first his mother, and then Anna. As he reads a final child’s poem to Anna by her death bed, we see visions of her and Anders strolling through a summer’s forest and sitting by the lake, happier than we’ve ever seen them. This is either a flashback to glad times, or a snapshot of where the tragic blighters are now; somewhere better.

This is an involving, bleak, intimate film that packs a punch with some very intense acting and a haunting incidental score.

10. Mar, 2016

Shame the Devil (2013)

A disembodied, distorted voice ingeniously fits various torture devices to its victims and then encourages them to tell the truth and ‘shame the devil’. If they tell a lie, something messy happens to them. This is most successfully employed at the very beginning of the film, when a hapless grocery store manager manages to scrape through the test unscathed by admitting to an affair. When his wife arrives on the scene and finds him strapped to chair with a rifle pointing at his face, and a lie detector strapped to it, she vows to get help. “I love you,” she says. “I love you,” he replies. BANG! The store manager no longer has a face. It’s a gruesome and darkly hilarious moment. It’s also the most horrific scene in the film – something Director and Writer Paul Tanter seems aware of, as there are interminable flashbacks to that scene throughout.

The rest of the film is more of a detective thriller, with London Detective James (Simon Phillips) intrigued by the case, and then obsessed by it, as events seem to be trailing him around, eventually ending up in New York and the lovely Sarah (Juliette Bennett).

This is a decent film, which could have done with some more gruesome moments. It starts off very much as a ‘Saw’ type of film, and then becomes something less horrific, but still interesting, with a good twist at the end. It is interesting in a film concerned with making people tell the truth, how the finale sees James defeated by a lie.

9. Mar, 2016

Dracula Reborn (2015)

It took me a while to realise there are two vampires in this. There are similarities between vampire Corvinus and another, cowled figure who makes several repetitive attacks. Turns out the second fellow is Dracula himself. We alternate between Dracula attacking his victims and the three journos lounging in a room interminably tapping their phones or computer keyboards in silence. It may be true to life but it isn’t scintillating viewing. The only mildly diverting character is Hanna (Tina Balthazar), because she brings to the ‘role’ the most remarkable cheekbones. Chloe Dumans plays Emmy, Hanna’s friend, who are joined by Michael Mariconoi as the third reporter Nate. Offering support to the group is Yannis Baraban who plays Xavier.

Corvinus, is a Nosferatu-type, played by eccentric performer Yves Carlevaris, whose ill-fitting fangs make his dialogue 95% inaudible. Also, despite cavorting flamboyantly through the streets of Paris in a long flowing cape lined blood-red, he manages to attract no attention from anyone whatsoever. At times, he seems to be investing the role with some sort of camp humour, which might have been worth exploring, whereas the other actors look beautiful but don’t contribute anything other than flirting in art museums and sipping wine meaningfully whilst uttering perfunctory dialogue in broken English. There are no characterisations as such, and any hint of a personality is by accident (Hanna and Chloe, researching vampires, find Vlad the Impaler references in a library. Their professional opinion of the dictator? ‘A bad ass mother-f****r’).

When they reach Transylvania, a young girl whom they are interviewing is attacked (in a sequence featuring improbable CGI blood flying from the apparent bitings) and carried away - it actually appears something of interest may be about to happen, but no. The very next scene finds the remaining group tapping cell-phones and drinking coffee once more and we are back to admiring the beautiful scenery. The direction seems happy to allow the camera to float through spacious hallways and rain/snow-flecked streets, making the most of the magnificent architecture – which dwarves the efforts of the cast without any problem at all. The music, by Mark Yaeger, is very striking. It is as if the budget has been raised for an excursion through these wonderful cities, and some semblance of a movie has been added as a kind of afterthought.

There are many strangely contradictory online reviews – either 5/5 proclaiming ‘Grate fun’, or ‘It’s good! It’s great! It’s super!!!!’ (the vast majority of them are written in pigeon English) - or 1/5 proclaiming this as the worst film they have ever seen (these critiques sometimes consist of as many as one or two words). I wouldn’t wish to cast aspersions about ‘Dracula Reborn’s’ cast and crew writing favourable reviews, but the extreme difference of opinion makes oddly hilarious reading. I’m not sure the film is quite as entertaining, but it has its moments.

8. Mar, 2016

Zoltan, Hound of Dracula/Dracula's Dog (1978)

Being a dog owner is not the first thing you would associate with Count Dracula. Indeed, it would be tempting to imagine this film to be a parody. But not only does it take itself seriously, it makes a convincing case for a vampire/canine partnership.

Beginning during excavations of a Romanian crypt, Russian soldiers uncover a tomb containing coffins belonging to Dracula’s family. A soldier unknowingly removes the stake (why do people in films do that?) from one corpse and Zoltan leaps out from under the wrappings. Soon, we are treated to a flashback in which the dog is bitten by Dracula in bat form that causes the creature’s vampirism, and against the odds, the resultant scenes are very successful – real bats are used, which helps to convince.

Zoltan, his eyes glowing eerie yellow, kills the soldier and retrieves Veidt Smith (Reggie Nalder, who also plays the vampire Barlow in ‘Salem’s Lot’ a year later), former innkeeper, now vampire slave. Nalder plays Smith very well, an echo effect applied to his voice, which gives him an ethereal effect. Before Dracula himself can be revived, further blasting necessitates the escape of man and dog. As Smith states, ‘Now Zoltan, we must find our new master …’

This he does, and locates the family of Michael Drake, last descendent of The Count (despite having two children); Nalder is then reduced to staring moodily ahead and saying ‘Soon, Zoltan, soon …’ without much else, other than looking haunted, which he does with great effect. Drake sees Dracula in old family photos, which shows a surprising lapse in vampire lore.

So spectral are Nalder and the hound, they often overshadow other cast-members, including Jose Ferrer as Inspector Branco, a sub-Van Helsing type as well as Michael Pataki as Drake (as well as doubling for Dracula in brief scenes) and his family. The family are extremely appealing and escape the bratty interpretations juveniles can sometimes bring. The inclusion of their own dogs, especially the puppy, adds to their endearing qualities (the puppy’s death is a genuinely sad moment – we are all effected by mistreated animals, aren’t we?).

Sometimes, requiring animals to ‘act’ can result in awkward-looking scenes. That only very occasionally happens here - and the creature playing Zoltan is a magnificent looking Doberman, especially with moonlight glinting off his sleek fur. The various dog attacks are pretty well staged, especially when Drake recognises his own vampirised dog among their number.

‘Zoltan, Hound of Dracula’ doesn’t garner massively positive reviews. This may be due to its low budget, or viewers unable to take seriously the central premise. And yet I found it enjoyable and sincere in a way many bigger productions are not.

Just as Andrew Belling’s haunting, minimalist score runs into the credits, we are offered the probability that the story isn’t quite over. And if your heart doesn’t melt when you see the family’s undead puppy with glowing moonlit eyes, then chances are, you have no soul.

'There's More To The Legend Than Meets ... The Throat!'

7. Mar, 2016

Throwback (2014)

There’s something in the trees. It’s big and it’s shaggy and could possibly be a Yowie, a kind of Bigfoot-type. Only glimpsed sporadically and often partially obscured by rampant foliage, this familiar trick by Director (and writer) Travis Bain is used to tease us as to the specifics of the creature’s appearance, and also to obfuscate any short-comings of the man-in-a-suit costume. No CGI here.

Kent and Jack (Anthony Ring and Shawn Brack, soon joined by Melanie Serrafin as Rhiannon) are such good fun that despite the former’s continual misdeeds, it is a shame when he dies – partly because, because he has proven to be such a louse, he deserved a more prolonged send-off. The dialogue contains many moments of humour, but this is never allowed to dispel the carefully built up scenes with the Yowie, which rarely transcends its man-in-a-suit origins, sadly.

Some of the set pieces last just a little too long – there is a scene with a Detective McNabb that could have done with some judicial trimming. The creature has no end of bullets fired into it without apparent effect, and yet the human protagnonists still believe a bullet will stop it.

This is a good, solid story, full of surprises and twists that belies the very small budget. A couple of the gore effects are very convincing, and the scenery of misty, remote Queensland jungles are very well shot. From start to finish, this is really enjoyable, with a very satisfying ending.

7. Mar, 2016

Ghost Story (1981)

A small town in the grip of winter. Four seasoned gentlemen delighting/torturing themselves by telling ghost stories by the fire-side, under the aegis of The Chowder Society. A mysterious young woman whose face is a blur in any photograph. And then the mysterious deaths begin …

This film is based on the novel by Peter Straub and has a glittering cast of veteran entertainers – Fred Astaire (as Ricky), Melvyn Douglas (John), John Houseman (Sears), Douglas Fairbanks Jr (Edward), and comparative youngster Craig Wasson as both David (who dies early on after the girl he’s sleeping with turns into a rotting corpse) and Don Wanderley, Edward’s two sons. Wasson is excellent throughout and makes a real impression, not easy in the company of such great performers.

To join the ranks of the Chowder Society, Don tells a ghost story of his own. He talks of a girl, Alma, whom he was seduced by. This girl, played with brilliant eccentricity by Alice Krige, displays increasingly erratic behaviour until Don tells her he wants to end their relationship. A month later, Alma strikes up a relationship with his brother David. Shortly after, David is dead.

This story seems to resonate with the old men, and they have their own tale to tell. 50 years earlier, the four of them got together with an upper crust ‘good time girl’ Eva. Petty jealousies, alcohol and general immaturity turn events nasty one drunken evening, and Eva’s toying with their collective affections and egos seals her fate. By accident she is murdered, and in panic, they bundle her into a car and drive it into a river. As the car slides beneath the water, she moves, her hand scrambling to find an escape from her inevitable doom.

This is what the Chowder Society have been living with all these years, and it becomes apparent that Alma is somehow a physical manifestation of Eva as she was back then. Why she has waited 50 years to exact her revenge is unknown. As the car is at last dredged from the water, her putrefying corpse lumbers out and collapses, dead one final time: very effective but after all the build-up, rather too brief.

The film is too long. Some pruning would have helped, especially an unexplored sub-plot concerning two low-life red herrings who serve no purpose, other than to look conspicuous in the modern setting. And yet the effects, used very sparingly, are excellent and there are moments of real tension. Equally, the town in the icy grip of winter is extremely well achieved and makes the closed off community look particularly inescapable.

6. Mar, 2016

We Are Still Here (2015)

When a middle-aged couple Anne and Paul Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) move into an isolated, creepy looking house, in a film called ‘We Are Still Here’, it’s no great surprise to guess what will happen.

I love horror films that use natural elements to underline a sense of isolation. Fog, sea, rain, nightfall – or a neighbourhood in the icy grip of snowbound winter, as here – all provide a background of seclusion. The Director (and writer) Ted Geoghegan makes great use of this, generously using imagery of icy branches, frosted pathways or snow blown like smoke by gales across fields, which really promotes the atmosphere, as inside the house, things begin to get creepy almost from the get-go. One moment we are treated to a build-up of a ghostly nature; the next, a sedate panorama of the whitened beauty of the environment.

At first, delving so soon into early frights seems like a mistake. Eerie noises, disowned footsteps, shadows moving of their own accord – all these flourishes aren’t particularly effective when we don’t know the characters they are inflicting themselves upon, or indeed any kind of backstory. And yet the pace does not dissipate. Things get progressively bloodier. Other characters are introduced, and if they are lucky, they are not graphically killed by blackened, glowing-eyed dead things. And by this time, we have learnt enough about the main couple - that they are still grieving over the loss of their son, and that they think the spirit in the house may be his – to invest empathy in their fate.

One thing that sets this film apart from many others is that the main characters are middle-aged. The young couple, when they arrive, don’t last for very long before they are despatched, their bodies never found or mentioned in the narrative again. And yet events occur at such a pace as the story moves on, there is little time to take stock.

Explanations are brief and scant. We learn that the house may have been built upon an ancient burial site, was owned by the Dagmars, and that they used the place as a funeral home and sold the corpses. Whatever the explicit reasons, there’s more than enough ghoulishness within the premises to make reasonable the current hauntings.

The superb score is composed by Wojciech Golczewski, and was released in 2015.

5. Mar, 2016

Kill List (2011)

This begins with a full-throated argument between Jay and Shell (Neil Maskell and MyAnna Buring), who live the kind of life documented by the likes of EastEnders. Gal and his new partner Fiona (Michael Smiley and Emma Fryer) come around for a dinner party typically punctuated by further profanity lead disagreements – and then Fiona visits the restroom, lifts the mirror off the wall, and scratches a symbol on the back. When she leaves, she takes a tissue with a sample of Jay’s blood. The next day, she and Gal have split up.

Gal and Jay are contract killers. Their new job is with A Client (Struan Roger) who insists on sealing the deal by cutting hands and exchanging blood. After a series of violent exchanges that threaten to tip the drama into a graphic crime caper, Jay sees Fiona from his hotel window, inexplicably standing outside in the night, waving. Equally odd, a number of the men they have been assigned to kill make a point of ‘thanking’ Jay shortly before he kills them.

Unnerved, the two men try to end their contract with The Client, who promises their families will all die if they renege. So, they continue to their next kill. This involves a group of cultists, who they see commit a human sacrifice. It is at this point that it is suddenly obvious that Gal and Jay, so cocksure and secure in their violence, are wholly out of their depth and dealing with forces they cannot understand. It is also at this point that the domestic drama cum crime caper has entered its true nature of fully fledged horror.

(Spoilers) In the final ‘chapter’, entitled The Hunchback, Jay is forced to combat a hunchbacked, masked character as the cultists surround them. He wins the contest by killing his assailant with multiple stab wounds. On removing the robes, he sees it is Shell, with their son strapped to her back, who he has killed. He is the victor, and is applauded by the cult, who embrace him as their own. As the other cultists remove their cowls, The Client, Jay’s doctor and Fiona are revealed to be among their number.

Like Director Ben Wheatley’s later ‘A Field in England (2013)’ this is almost impossible to categorise, and leaves the viewer wondering if everything that has occurred during the last 95 minutes actually comes together to make sense. The imagery stays in the mind, and, like in a dream, it is a challenge to put some of the pieces together. It is unsettling, graphic, convincing and compelling and the acting from all is exemplary.

4. Mar, 2016

Freddy vs Jason (2003)

Very much in the spirit of early team-ups that begun with ‘Frankenstein meets the Wolfman (1942)’ (with Jason as the lumbering Monster and Freddy Krueger as the more lithe, even sinewy Wolfman – and it maybe coincidental, but their fiery ‘demise’ on a boardwalk is reminiscent of the Monster’s final death in the Universal films, namely 1948’s ‘Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein’) ‘Freddy vs Jason’ is enjoyable very much as a ‘romp’, which makes it surprising to me that we are reminded quite graphically of Freddy’s penchant for juveniles. (“Freddie’s coming. He loves children, especially little girls.”)

Firstly however, we are introduced to the usual array of teens, vile in every way except cosmetic – after all, this is a ‘celebration’ of Freddy/Jason films, so it wouldn’t do to miss out on this particular staple. Some have returned from a previous entry, others are a new breed of laconic vacuousness; more ghastly than either of the titular monsters, it isn’t long before they are despatched, one by one, to the relief of much of the viewers.

Considering Freddy had assumed increasingly jocular and bizarre brief alter-egoes over the many sequels, he is, if anything, comparatively restrained here; apart from outsized shadows, he appears as a drug induced caterpillar, but that is the only concession to his wilder, younger days.

Of course, we really want to see the two Big Names fight. And fight they do, in a series of terrific set-pieces. Krueger is frustrated by Jason killing Freddy’s victims before Freddy does, and violence erupts between them, first in the dream world where Freddy resides, and then in reality. The self-mocking tone of earlier scenes is replaced with good old fashioned (or new fashioned, as there are plenty of CGI enhancements) fisticuffs. After many scripts were rejected for this, it seems the producers were more than happy with a thin, straight-forward knock-about instead of the more spectacular, intricate ideas originally discussed.

Neither Jason nor Freddy are victors, and yet perversely they both are – however, this is their last throw of the dice to date. It would be seven years before another Freddy film was attempted, but this was a spineless remake of the 1984 original and offered nothing new.

3. Mar, 2016

The Beast in the Cellar (1970)

In a year awash with horror films comes this oddity, built around the familiarity and fondness cinema-goers had for the leading ladies. When Beryl Reid’s Ellie potters over the hillside, or Flora Robson’s Joyce is introduced sternly cleaning the house, it is the actresses we are being treated to, with the characters of Ellie and Joyce yet to be introduced to us.

The production is more reminiscent of a heartfelt Ealing drama interspersed with briefly glimpsed moments of graphic horror than usual Tigon fare.
Apparently, the flashes of gore – and a brief scene of underwear removal during a kiss-and-cuddle scene to ‘spice it up’ – were added after filming was over, at the insistence of Producer and Distributor Tony Tenser who felt, understandably, that this was a very tame presentation.

‘The Beast in the Cellar’ could have been lifted from a stage production, as much of the focus is inside the farmhouse, and there is a tendency for the leading players (Ellie, Joyce and soldier Alan, played by John Hamill) to indulge in lengthy preamble, telling each other and the audience what they already know.

James Kelley’s creeping direction often makes the most of the evocative location but wastes too much time on mundanities; there is a scene where Ellie discovers the Beast has escaped, which has her scuttling through the house, down some stairs, into the garden, by the side of some sheds, into the barn – and then back again - which seems to drag on forever. Soldier Alan visits the ladies to make sure they are alright, to tell them of the frightening events and killings occurring all around them, and then to assure them not to worry. His cheerful visits are relentless, and surprisingly nothing is made of the friendship between him and wholesome local nurse Joanne Sutherland (Tessa Wyatt).

The ‘beast’, when revealed, is … a wide-eyed bearded old man. Hardly a thing of nightmares – indicative of the film as a whole, in fact. Well played by all concerned, the story is too thin (indeed, everything you need to know is summed up in the title) and sedate to satisfy. And yet some elements remain unexplained - just why does Joyce take to dressing in her late father’s army coat and cap when she thinks no-one is watching? The reason for brother Steven’s incarceration is murky at best. These things would have been more effective had the audience furnished with some reasoning or motivation. What could have been truly frightening results in an inoffensive, even quaint, pot-boiler.

23. Feb, 2016

Ghost Story (1974)

Supercilious Duller, prissy McFayden, ever-enthusiastic Talbot (Vivian MacKerrell, Murray Melvin and Larry Dann) are three ex-college friends who meet up after four years for a reunion in MacFayden’s sprawling country house. One gets the impression the three were rather associates by necessity rather than bosom buddies, as their waspish glances and sneering comments – usually directed at poor, silly Talbot – would attest. Such needling among them seems deliberately provocative, with McFayden giggling, “He’ll go mad,” as Talbot makes his way to bed on the first night.

As the most sensitive, it is Talbot who is afflicted by a strange haunting. Dolls seem to come to life, and imagery of the house’s former residents Sophie (MacFayden’s cousin, as it turns out) and Mrs Rennie (Marianne Faithful and Penelope Keith). Sophie is being persuaded she is losing her mind thanks to Robert (Leigh Lawson), which in turns informs Talbot’s further visions of an austere insane asylum. The reasons Robert wishes to do away with his sister in such a way is because he finds that he ‘fancies her’.

The performances are very theatrical, slightly larger than life (Melvin is a theatre veteran and specialises in fragile, effete characters, whereas MacKerrell was a notable eccentric in real-life: the subject of the film ‘Withnail and I’) and the substituting of Bangalore Palace in India, where this was filmed, for creepy 1920’s England in the height of summer adds to the not-quite-rightness of the overall atmosphere. Talbot is being invited to witness events, but is given no clue as how to rectify them (it is his inability to help that ultimately brings about his death via some non-special effects). The sweaty, spacious visuals are very effective, as are the scenes in the asylum when the inmates finally break-out and subject their doctor Borden (Anthony Bate) to an excruciating, lengthy wet shave.

Irritated to a point beyond even his usual unpleasantness, Duller leaves – his temper no doubt fuelled by his own inability to communicate with the spirits that are clearly drawn instead to Talbot. The depiction of the house he leaves behind is extremely creepy, and it is almost possible to sympathise with the waspish McFayden – suddenly the victim of Talbot’s wayward behaviour now he is left alone with him – for not wanting to stay there alone. This unease is exemplified by Ron Geesin’s eerily out-of-place music. The film is an unsettling oddity, and directed by Stephen Weeks who also directed the Christopher Lee film ‘I, Monster (1970)’ at the age of only 22.

22. Feb, 2016

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

“It’s alive!” So gasps Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein, as he infuses the spark of life into a creature previously dead. On this occasion, it is a puppy used as an experiment. Cushing, taking over from Melvyn Hayes (as the younger Baron), makes the part instantly his own. Every flicker of the eye, every movement, every sideward glance is meticulously measured – a trait of Cushing’s acting, and one of the reasons he has been admired over the years by fans and fellow cast and crew members. As ‘Curse of Frankenstein’ starts, its credits intoned over swirling red smoke, Frankenstein is dishevelled and desperate, imprisoned for his foul deeds and a cert for the guillotine – his story is told in flashback.

This was Hammer’s first major success, the Mary Shelley novel condensed by writer Jimmy Sangster (but not as much as Dracula was the following year). Robert Urquhart, who played Paul Krempe, Frankenstein’s tutor, walked out of the premiere, and in disgust gave an interview slating its horrific nature; needless to say, he never appeared in another cinematic film for Hammer. He was not alone – ‘revolting, degrading, pathetic and depressing’ are four words amongst many scathing reviews of ‘Curse of Frankenstein’ upon its release, usually from the prissy pens of the British critics. Happily, the film made seventy times the money that was needed to make it, which tells its own story.

Goat’s eyes, severed hands and heads, and Cushing’s blood spattered lapels certainly brought ‘Curse’ a huge level of notoriety upon its release which fuelled its popularity and put Hammer forever on the map – as well as making stars out of both Cushing, and his ‘creature’ Christopher Lee (a role for which Bernard Bresslaw was also considered). Lee was chosen mainly for his height and smothered in car-crash make-up and an obvious wig, which provides an effective scare but is hardly memorable in the way that Jack Pierce’s make-up had been for the Universal original. It is unfair to compare the two films however – they were made in a different age for a different audience - and that is the last time I shall do so.

The few wisps of humour in this doom-laden story are provided by The Baron’s affair with maid Justine, who naively believes his lies and tried to blackmail him, and another scene which involves The Baron politely asking for the marmalade during a genteel breakfast directly after the scene in which he locks Justine into his filthy laboratory with his reborn creature.

The Creature has a magnificent introduction. Left in an emptying water tank, with its chest heaving, there is a crash which leads Frankenstein to scurry into his deserted laboratory. There stands his creation, uncoordinated arms and hands reaching to rip away the bandages covering his face. Phil Leakey’s make-up is revealed, and the creature (or rather the late Professor Bernstein, whose brain is in the monster’s head) immediately recognises the man who originally killed him and reaches out to strangle him. No mild-mannered monster, he still invites a kind of sympathy – in the way a rabid dog would invite sympathy for its plight, if not for its temperament.

At the finale, we return to The Baron’s incarceration, with Frankenstein facing the guillotine after his last hope, Paul Krempe, has wilfully failed to save him. Krempe is hardly as virtuous as he seems, I think. For all his gallant protection of Frankenstein’s intended Elizabeth (Hazel Court), it is clear he has designs on her – by the film’s end, he happily places an arm around her as he escorts her out of Frankenstein’s cell. The cad.