Spoilers follow ...

3. Sep, 2016

Frankenstein - Day of the Beast (2011)

This is a very interesting rearrangement of the Frankenstein story which manages to create something refreshingly new from the old myth.

We begin with Felix (Frank Warpeha) bringing home his new wife, Safi (Ruth Terefe) to his isolated home in the middle of the woods, which he shares with his sister Agatha (Ticia Martyr) and blind father (Bruce Spielbauer). Secreted nearby, The Monster (Tim Krueger) seems set to learn English from French Safi’s English lessons – but things never get that far, and he isn’t much interested anyway. He is after only one thing, and everyone else he meets, he kills. He has a predilection for pulling out people’s intestines.

Victor Frankenstein (Adam Stephenson) and his new wife Elizabeth (Michelle Shields) are being guarded by seven heavily armed men. Where and when this happens in regard to earlier events is not clear. The creature, whose creation is told briefly in flashback, is somewhere out in the surrounding woods. Restructuring the story into what is really a series of ‘boo!’ moments has its merits, with the creature hunting the men who are, in turn, hunting the creature. Pretty soon, these guards are fighting amongst themselves anyway, echoing the behaviour of Robert Walton’s crew in the novel.

There’s a new development here: the Monster can regenerate himself. He literally cannot die. Vaguely resembling a bulkier, pulpier version of the fiend seen in Toho’s ‘Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)’, he is something more than human. One scene, which is (I imagine) unintentionally enduring, is when its severed hand assumes a life of its own for a scene. The idea was never going to succeed visually on such a small budget!

{SPOILER} “I opened the door to something unspeakable,” admits Frankenstein. He certainly suffers in this story, but is hard to sympathise with – The Monster too has not a modicum of pathos. That is saved for poor Elizabeth, with whom The Monster wishes to mate. In a series of twists at the end, it seems such a thing is possible. Shields is excellent throughout, emerging as the central character.

I really enjoyed this. The locations are excellent – all long shadows, crispy snow and skeletal trees. What it might lack in polish is made up for in the respect shown for the story, and a cast and crew who invest in it a genuine sincerity. A genuinely fine independent adaption.

3. Sep, 2016

I, Monster (1971)

This is a film that revels in its very low budget: Doctor Marlowe’s (Christopher Lee) quarters are cramped, tatty and cluttered, the location filming is frequented by only a handful of extras and the effective soundtrack is performed by a tiny ensemble. These are not complaints – such things enhance the intimacy of what is one of the most faithful and entertaining filmic adaption of RL Stephenson’s ‘Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ novella.

Two things marred any potential success this may have had upon release. To begin with, Stephen Week’s production was intended as a 3D release, but the process was abandoned mid-filming. This lends many scenes a curiously fluid movement which again enhances its uniqueness. Secondly, the central character of Jekyll/Hyde was renamed Marlowe/Blake – although all other supporting characters have names taken from the book. Probably this was due to Amicus’ concerns that audience confusion would otherwise arise between their film and Hammer’s upcoming ‘Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde’.

And yet, there is a top-notch cast. Peter Cushing joins Lee as Utterson, Richard Hurndall as Lanyon, Susan Jameson as patient Diane and Mike Raven provides his best horror performance as Enfield. Yet it is Lee as the kind but starchy Dr Marlowe who steals the show. His descent into the initially mischievous Blake, with the death’s head grin and increasingly macabre sense of frivolity is terrific, despite the unconvincing hairpiece. He becomes frightened of the increasing power of his unsightly alter-ego in a tremendous scene in a leaf-strewn park. His earlier blurred-faced attack on a young girl in the street is surprisingly sinister. There is a finely balanced sense of sympathy/danger about Blake that is skilfully conveyed and carried through to the violent finale.

2. Sep, 2016

Blood Widow (2014)

Why is it seemingly often necessary to make the characters in slasher films so collectively objectionable? Laurie (Danielle Lilley) is pouting because drippy new husband Hugh (Brandon Kyle Peters) has invited their idiotic friends to their new house when ‘she hasn’t finished unpacking yet.’ This follows a promising pre-credit scene where an unknown photographer is exploring the grounds of the neighbouring abandoned boarding school and finds a sinister face-mask in the basement and instantly gets garrotted. The hope is that the same thing happens to this current gaggle of pearly-toothed airheads. This isn’t anything to do with the acting, it seems a deliberate policy to make these characters precocious cyphers it is impossible to care about.

Happily, it isn’t long before these fey wannabe hooligans find the boarding school and casually trash it, not for any particular reason. After all, why would they need to justify their actions? The communal view is that they’ll be able to take some impressive photographs there.

Less happily, it isn’t long before the house-warming party gives even more of these imbeciles an excuse to shock us by talking about drugs and finally letting loose those hormones. It is annoying that so much time is spent with these people, with Laurie and Hugh’s tedious arguing, with the Harmony (Kelly Kilgore – what a fitting surname the actress has) the hippie girl’s LSD induced chantings in the abandoned house, when within that house is The Blood Widow herself. We never see her true face, never really know her motives, but she is a wonderful creation, and instantly more interesting than the rest of the characters put together.

As the killings begin and prove to be impressive, and the Blood Widow of the title even more so, it is amusing to hear Hugh promise that he’s ‘going to get my cross-bow and get my f*****g girl back’, with all the venom of a cream horn.

We don’t learn a huge amount about the Widow (Gabrielle Ann Henry), other than she’s a wronged pupil at the boarding house, which is a shame as she looks great, in the mask and leather costume. She even has the good grace to relieve Laurie of her jeans for the final scenes. She either lives a normal life (which we know nothing of) outside the mask, or merely exists in this ramshackle building, hiding in shadows to wait for any wary passer-by. {SPOILER} Despite a plucky effort, last survivor Laurie is despatched during the pacy finale in a protracted death scene, after the film genuinely leads us to believe Laurie has destroyed her. Blood Widow Lives, a sequel, is in development, and I hope next time she has – Laurie’s last minute resolve aside - more inspiring company.

1. Sep, 2016

Hellborn (2003)

Probably the most unfortunate aspect of this film is that the first few scenes give away what becomes the entire story-line. {SPOILERS} In an asylum full of insane killers the world does not care about, a ‘Harvester’ visits at specific times to claim their souls. This is revealed by the very impressive realisation of the Harvester, the fires of Hell burning from its eyes. The rest of the running time is filled with the new Doctor, James Bishop (Matt Stasi) coming to this apocalyptic conclusion – slowly finding out what we already know.

That isn’t to say the journey isn’t entertaining. The enigmatic, cool, calm and collected Doctor McCourt (Bruce Payne) and his demonic nurse Helen (Tracy Scoggins) are terrifically creepy in their roles. A word too for Lauren (Julia Lee), Bishop’s cheerful fiancé, never seeming to realise anything is wrong despite the obvious strain her other half is under.

This is good, low-budget fun, containing few surprises, that allows you to ‘go with it’, with a few moments of effects and gore. I particularly enjoyed the notion of escape attempts being referred to as ‘patient indiscretion’. There is some briskly mentioned nonsense about The Harvester being unable to return to whence he came without a soul, so when Bishop makes his escape, the impressive creature has to claim his servant McCourt instead, which seems a little impractical … you might think.

31. Aug, 2016

Dracula's Daughter (1972)

Britt Nichols plays Luisa Karlstein who visits her terminally ill mother. Rather coldly, the rest of the family appears to have turned up simply to stand and watch as the ill old Baroness succumbs to death. With her dying breath, she tells her daughter of a family curse.

Even before this reveal, a number of ongoing, gruesome murders have been occurring. Nubile young women, often in a state of undress, have been spied upon and are then killed by what is clearly a female vampire.

As always for Jesus Franco films, such story-line as there is meanders greatly with protracted scenes of women in jeopardy, and is enlivened by ongoing scenes of soft-core sex - here, Karlstein reveals her lesbian tendencies in a number of scenes which have no bearing on the wafer-thin plot-line. This is usual for such films, as is the stunning leading lady - here, Nichols continues the tradition of delights such as Lina Romay and Soledad Miranda, but doesn't seem to have attracted the same level of attention. This may be because her appearance bolsters a film that is otherwise desperately reserved for Franco's style than a more general audience. Some time regular Anne Libert gives her usual effective and mesmerising performance as Karine.

Even the eroticism here is ... odd. There is a routine in which a 'dancer' (prior to her murder, of course) simply rolls around on the floor in a red lit nightclub. She is clearly performing an act (as opposed to suffering a fit). People watch in stony silence, she rolls around some more, smiling. Then, she stands up and they applaud! Why? It is only shocking because she wasn't escorted out of the place by medics. Where is the exotic eroticism of 'Vampyros Lesbos' or 'She Killed in Ecstasy?' Whilst hardly polished films themselves, they did nevertheless escape the drudgery that fuels each dialogue-heavy scene here.

A constant delight with Franco films is the juxtaposition of horror set in beautifully filmed, exotic sun-kissed locations. Such visual conflict often works, but not so much here, for what panoramic views we get of Portugal (where this is filmed) are rare and the footage is often used more than once.

Back to whatever passes as a story, and it appears that the undead Count Karlstein (Franco regular Howard Vernon, robbed of dialogue here) is in fact Dracula himself. He doesn't get to contribute a huge amount. In fact, his two scenes involve simply rising from his coffin, watched by a horrified Luisa, shortly before she too becomes a vampire. And yet, his wide-eyed somnambulism offers an interesting take on a more bestial Dracula - it's just a shame he hasn't more to do.

What begins as an interesting idea soon becomes choppy viewing, with one scene following another with little or no obvious cohesion or structure. Little effort is made to make any of the events entertaining or horrific or even particularly sexy. Among the points in its favour - we are treated to many brave close-ups of teeth baring fangs. Brave because, such close-ups invite scrutiny, but the fangs are very realistic - something the otherwise superior 'exploitation' film-maker Jean Rollin couldn't always get right.

Despite the flaws, I actually rate this quite highly because it is Franco at his ... Franco-ist! The mood is suitably strange and ethereal, and there is a sense of the unnerving, despite the lack of any obvious choices to make it so. The choice of locations, always one of Franco's greatest talents help immeasurably, and the musical score by Daniel White is, as always, terrific.

27. Aug, 2016

Hunting the Legend (2014)

This story is quite simply ‘The Blair Witch Project (1999)’ featuring Bigfoot. The similarities go beyond simply ‘found footage’ – we never get to see the monster, but see evidence of its activities hanging from trees. The location is very similar to the woodland featured in Blair Witch and appears to be filmed at the same time of year (lots of crisp sunlight stretching shadows over fallen leaves).

To begin, a deer hunter is killed and taken by a huge animal in the Alabama Woods. Five years later, his son Chris (Chris Copeland), dripping with a lust revenge, determines to travel to the location and track down the animal. (“It’s something I gotta do. I need to do it for myself, so,” says Chris at one point. Why do people end sentences with ‘so?’) Lucky for him the deer his father regularly killed don’t take the deaths of their number so personally.

A handful of his friends insist on accompanying him on this hazardous trip, and soon they are interviewing locals, all of whom have stories about Bigfoot, including the manager of a guitar shop, who knows of a man who lives deep in the woods. The band of hopeful film-makers then attempt to track the man down. He’s not pleased, and doesn’t wish to be filmed, but agrees to talk with them. My favourite bit is when the man says – as he’s being filmed - ‘The camera’s off, right? Make sure it stays that way.’

One gets the impression the cast were invited to improvise as their stay in the forests becomes more fraught. It is well intentioned, this update of a film that is 15 years old, but in all honesty it just isn’t really very well acted, and not frightening. People shouting and arguing over something it becomes clear we are never going to see (apart from a blurred shape behind a tree in photographs) becomes very dull viewing.

[SPOILER] One interesting moment occurs mid-way through the end credits where we see Copeland ringing a bell to attract the local Bigfoots to the dead bodies, explaining how he’s managed to survive his isolated existence in such deadly woodland for so long.

27. Aug, 2016

Death Factory/The Factory/The Butchers (2014)

Steven Judd directs this unnervingly odd horror film with a cast of outrageous caricatures that are laced with a certain realism. There is a sleazy bus driver, who manages to lose his passengers, a preaching evangelist, an aggressive Goth who cannot speak without pouting, a health obsessive, two brightly clad horny gum-chewing teen girls, and a possible hero Simon (Damien Puckler). We meet Simon at the beginning of the film, where, as a child, he clubs to death his abusive father before sprouting muscles and designer stubble and subtle tattoos. As the most sensible and handsome member of the ill-assorted crew, he soon becomes unelected leader of the pack. However, my favourite member is ‘Auntie May’ (Mara Hall), a larger lady who has seen-it-all-before and has a fine line in weary expletives relating either to her own, or someone else’s ass. (“Auntie May ain’t no b**** to f*** with,” she warns at one point.) There’s little that impresses Auntie May.

Because the characters are so extreme, the weird and unnerving situation they find themselves in seems strangely fitting, and as a result, deliberately stylised. They stumble upon a ghost town, which houses the ‘Death Factory’, a museum that had been run by occultists and dedicated to serial killers including Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer and a lesbian Jack The Ripper (amongst others). The Goth, Ren (Jeremy Thorsen) and his girlfriend Star (Tonya Kay) find a ‘Book of the Dead’, read it, and subsequently bring the serial killers to life. In such a setting, such surreal happenings don’t seem entirely unreasonable.

After that, the narrative seems to settle into a more straightforward groove, if you can call stabbing, biting, disembowelling, and softcore sex straightforward. Gratifyingly, the resurrected serial killers will just as willingly slaughter each other as any of the ex-passengers. And the bus driver? He might well be Satan, so that’s something. The finale in particular is a terrific visual pay-off, the scope of the ensuing battle is spectacular and satisfying.

Messy this is, serious it isn’t. It certainly isn’t a comedy, but the low budget cheerfulness invites you to view it a certain way, to go with it. If you think during the opening moments, that it’s going to be a certain kind of film – like I did – you’d be wrong. This isn’t like any kind of film – and it is well worth seeing.

26. Aug, 2016

Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943)

In a celebrated opening scene, two grave-robbers scamper over an impressive night-time cemetery scene, into the tomb of the Talbots. They plan to steal valuables from the corpse of Laurence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr), four years dead – and see the plaque bearing the rhyme: ‘Even a man who’s pure of heart, and says his prayers at night, may become a wolf when the wolfs bane blooms, and the moon is full and bright.’

As the camera reveals, that night boasts a full moon. Not only that, but removing the wolfs bane appears to bring Talbot back to life.

It doesn’t matter that Talbot’s left hand reaches out of the tomb for one of the grave robbers, Freddy (Cyril Delevanti), and yet the hand that grabs him is revealed to be his right. It doesn’t matter that the Welsh village of Llanwelly is peopled with Scots, cockneys and Americans, but no Welsh. It doesn’t even matter that Talbot, in his white nightwear, changes into a black shirt and trousers-sporting Wolfman and then back again. Because, despite the first two Universal Frankenstein films being my favourite movies ever, this is the most ‘fun’ of all the entries. And yet, the finished picture could have been so much different.

As at the end of the previous ‘Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)’, The Monster has Ygor’s (Bela Lugosi) brain in his head, and speaks with his voice. After considering using Chaney to play both Wolfman and Monster (both roles he had played before), it was decided subsequently to use Lugosi. Scriptwriter Curt Siodmak wrote dialogue for the Monster (“Help me to get up ... Once I had the strength of a hundred men … it's gone ... I'm sick …”), but at a premier, studio executives found a talking Monster hilarious (displaying a lack of memory and imagination, it seems) and all dialogue, and scenes including it, was cut. There’s a POV that says the Monster’s dialogue was removed because it sounded too much like the rantings of Hitler. Siodmak says Lugosi’s accent made the words too ‘Hungarian funny’. A little ungenerous of him. Also cut were references to the Monster’s blindness, and the restoration of sight and strength at the film’s climax.

Lugosi, who was over 60, suffered from exhaustion during filming, and reportedly collapsed on set at one point. This is the main reason extensive use was made of stuntmen to double for him. His opening scene, with The Monster trapped in ice, features a close-up of stuntman Gil Perkins instead, despite the scene featuring Lugosi in a promotional photograph. Understandably, the rigours of the climactic fight between the two titans of terror featured Perkins and Edwin Parker in long shots, with close-ups featuring the billed actors (there have been suggestions that close-ups of Lugosi were spliced in from an earlier scene, where the Monster escapes his bonds on the slab, which were subsequently substituted for similar actions from Chaney’s Wolfman).

So, does Frankenstein actually meet the Wolf Man? Yes, she does. Ilona Massey, lovely as Baroness Elsa Frankenstein, is visited by Talbot, who is desperate to find her father’s books, believing they can help rid him of his lycanthropic curse. Talbot is a morose, moody figure, a far cry from the buoyant flirt from his first outing. Lugosi’s much criticised Monster, is a spitting, snarling thing. His uncertain stretch-armed stiffness seems over-the-top with all explanation for his blind groping removed – none of which is Lugosi’s fault. He is the wrong shape for the Monster, and Jack Pierce’s make-up (a make-up designed for more slender features) but is performance does not deserve the criticism it gets; he breathes life into the creature, more so than Chaney did in the previous instalment.

Lon Chaney is excellent as Talbot, in what is essentially his film (with the Monster’s role sadly reduced). He is intense and brought low by his predicament, and Chaney does a good job of some exposition-heavy lines.

Maleva the gypsy woman, who had appeared in ‘The Wolfman (1940)’ was due to carriage-ride off into the night following the destruction of the laboratory, but Maria Ouspenskaya proved unavailable due to an accident which lead to temporary hospitalisation. This meant that Maleva disappears without mention.

The rest of the cast comprise of stalwarts Lionel Atwill, Dwight Frye and Patric Knowles as all-rounder Doctor Mannering. Beginning the picture as the doctor tending to Talbot, he then becomes an investigator who follows him to Vaseria and finally, for no particular reason, the mad scientist who cannot resist bringing the Monster to full strength before the tremendous and hugely entertaining final battle.

26. Aug, 2016

La Plus Longue Nuit du Diable/The Devil’s Nightmare (1971)

1971. No wonder so many horror films released at this time sank without trace. No DVDs, no VHS releases. The only time to catch these films was by seeing them at the cinema (or waiting for a possible television showing years later) – and there were so many. 1971 was like an Indian summer for horror – something of a last gasp, but a hugely prolific one.

This Belgian/Italian offering is directed by Jean Brismée and also known as ‘La Terrificante Notte del Demonio’. It boasts a terrific soundtrack composed by Alessandro Alessandroni (with mesmerising vocals from his sister Giulia.) Following a harrowing scene were, during a World War 2 air-raid, a woman dies delivering a child which is then stabbed to death by Baron von Rhoneberg (Jean Servais), we are brought up to date when a bus load of lost tourists arrives at the Baron’s castle, in search of somewhere to stay for the night. He is an alchemist in the grip of a curse involving a deal with the Devil, who has demanded the eldest daughter of each generation becomes a succubus.

As the tourists are shown to their rooms, the sinister butler Hans (Maurice De Groote) gives them a gruesome history of each room – such morbid, relentless tales become somewhat ludicrous in the telling; there is barely a curtain or a slab of stone that doesn’t hold some macabre secret – and each time, a claw-like pattern is left at the scene.

Into this classic setting, the tourists – including a feuding husband and wife, two attractive young women who discover they are lesbians (leading to inevitable softcore scenes), and a Richard Chamberlain-like priest – then meet a new guest. Lisa Müller (Erika Blanc) immediately attracts attention from the men and a certain jealousy from the women. Blanc’s sultry, pout-some presence and typically exotic, revealing clothing – as well as the way she moves lizard-like amongst them – sets her apart from the ordinary. Could she be the legendary succubus?

Her transformation from lithe, mysterious seductress into a mad-eyed, chiselled malignant spirit is hugely effective, a triumph of minimalist make-up and a powerhouse performance. Scary and deadly as she is, she isn’t quite the main monster here, for Satan himself appears. Another supremely frightening performance, this time from the skeletal (Daniel Emilfork) ensures we don’t forget the appearance of the Devil in any hurry – it is he who orchestrates events that land the tourists into the castle in the first place, and then to a more permanent state in a twist ending.

Ironically, only Müller and the priest (Jacques Monseau) remain at the end. Only after reading a synopsis of ‘The Devil’s Nightmare’ did I realise a further detail to this excellent, underrated euro-film – each death represents one of the Seven Deadly Sins, with the Priest volunteering to sacrifice his soul to save the others, representing Pride. A highly recommended low budget frightener.

25. Aug, 2016

The Unfolding (2016)

This is another found footage film, where a convincing, likeable young couple stay in a remote house, hear noises at night, get up to investigate and find nothing. It is familiar territory and the frights are sparse, but it’s done so well, making such good use of what is a genuinely creepy Dartmoor location, it provides some good chills.

Tam Burke (Lachlan Nieboer) is a fledgling psychic investigator, and his cheerful, silly girlfriend Rose Ellis (Lisa Kerr) becomes increasingly unnerved by his insistence to stay in the remote country house – and understandably so: when Rose, with tears in her eyes, tells Tam that she wants to go home, we are all with her. To such an extent that we resent both Tam and Harvey Waller (Nick Julian) – a friend who shows up and is initially thought to have caused sinister damage in the kitchen (cutlery attaching itself to the ceiling and walls) – for ensuring that they all stay ‘just another night.’

AS events threaten to overwhelm them, experts Professor Chessman (Robert Daws) and medium Muriel Roy (Kitty McGeever, in her last role) open up a dialogue with the spirit, or spirits. Once we have reached this plateau of tension, the film doesn’t quite know how to proceed, it seems to me. And so it stumbles slightly, falling back on shaky camera/screaming/blurring of events to cause familiar audience unease. Also familiar is Rose distancing herself from her friends as she seems to develop a ‘bond’ with whatever spirits are in the house.

I was not sure of the relevance of the seemingly imminent nuclear war, which is broadcast in radio snippets throughout, other than to give the owners of the house a reason to leave (to see their families). Ultimately, it is this background threat that envelopes them all, which somehow over-eggs the plot, and side-lines the carefully built-up supernatural element.

24. Aug, 2016

Frankenstein Unbound (1990)

The brilliant John Hurt, who seems incapable of ever delivering a bad performance, wrestles with some very American dialogue in cult Director Roger Corman’s adaption of the Brian Aldiss novel. In a sleek, silver, self-driving car, Hurt – as Doctor Joseph Buchanan - is transported from Los Angeles 2031, to Switzerland 1817. He travels through a time rift he himself has created as a side-effect of a pioneering ‘ultimate weapon’ he has determined would eventually bring to an end all wars.

This was Corman’s first directorial job after 20 years, and his final to date. The mixed reception which greeted his horror/science-fiction fusion and disappointing sales probably fuelled his decision.

Joining Hurt is Raul Julia, who is excellent as Doctor Frankenstein, whose bewildered reactions to Buchanan’s futuristic accoutrements forge an instant bond. As Frankenstein’s orange haired creation, Nick Brimble features under a wide-eyed, square jawed make-up seemingly inspired by Charles Ogle’s look in the ten minute 1910 adaption of Mary Shelly’s tale.

This is almost excellent, marred by some of the performances and the jumbled narrative in the middle portion of the film. What emerges is a series of wonderful set-pieces, often shot in beautiful locations (filmed in and around Italy). Strands of the original story – the Monster’s murder of William, Justine Moritz’s wrongful execution, the Monster pursued across snowy wastes (though by Buchanan, not Frankenstein) – are woven throughout Buchanan’s meeting with both Frankenstein and Mary Shelley, as well as his burning desire to return to his present time – which he eventually does through another time rift. Only he inadvertently takes Frankenstein, his Monster and the Monster’s bride with him.

He emerges in the snowy wastes of the far future (which is also where we first see Buchanan during the opening moments). This provides some wonderful imagery, a certain surreality in which Frankenstein and the bride ultimately perish, leaving Buchanan and the Monster to battle in the remains of Buchanan’s laboratory. The world, it seems, has been decimated by the ramifications of Buchanan’s ‘ultimate weapon.’

As a whole, this is a flawed but very interesting project that just manages to evade greatness. Yet, as an original take on the Frankenstein legend, it remains of great interest.

20. Aug, 2016

Shut In/Intruders (2015)

Beth Riesgraf is excellent as agoraphobic Anna, who has spent years looking after her dying brother Conrad. On the day of his funeral, three men forcibly enter her home, believing her to be away. They intend to rob Anna of the money she has stashed away in the house, a detail revealed to them by Dan (Rory Culkin – MaCauley’s brother), who delivered food to Anna.

Toying with her and her illness, Perry (Martin Starr) throws her outside the house, where she panics and almost has a seizure. Little gestures like Anna self-consciously pulling her skirt over her knees after she has involuntarily wet herself really endear her plight to us. The thugs are hateful, as is the duplicitous Dan, but it isn’t until Perry casually bludgeons Anna’s pet canary to death that we are really clamouring for his suffering.

We are given plenty of reasons to spur Anna on to kill these low-lives. Apart from Perry and the slimy Dan, the ‘leader’ is convincing hard-man JP (Jack Kesy) and right hand Vance (Joshua Mikel). Bad enough they strive to rob someone who is at the funeral (they think) of the long-suffering brother they have cared for, but the powerful acting gives them an extra edge of nastiness. Their inevitable demises are, if anything, not horrible enough.

The house, in which the whole thing is set, provides an effective maze-like prison for them all as they begin to realise that Anna’s intimate knowledge of the place has its advantages, and the building, it seems, has secrets of its own.

This is another ‘home invasion’ project, where the comforts of a familiar environment are turned on their head upon the arrival of uninvited ‘others’. Although the format itself may be limiting, it clearly works if used well and interspersed with interesting, well-defined and finely acted characters and sinister dilemmas. Happily, this is one such film.

19. Aug, 2016

The Raven (1935)

Bela Lugosi, second billed, plays Doctor Vollin, a genius surgeon, accomplished musician and devotee of Edgar Allan Poe. He seems to be held in high esteem, is charming and talented. However, when he’s wearing his surgeon’s mask, the camera focusses on those sinister eyes, and we really don’t know quite what is going on inside the old scoundrel’s head.

He seems besotted with Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware), whose life he has just saved in a delicate operation. And yet she is promised to ultra-suave, moustachioed Jerry (Lester Matthews – fresh from playing a similarly disapproving, debonair gent in ‘Werewolf of London’ earlier that year). We then meet Bateman (Boris Karloff), bearded and shadier than a factory full of umbrellas. Every movement, stance and rolling of the eyes tells us Bateman is a villain through and through, and here he is on Vollin’s doorstep, asking the surgeon to ‘change his face’. Bateman has had a lifetime of rebuttal; “Maybe if a man is ugly, he does ugly things.” Karloff, billed first, is not well cast here. His lisping English lilt doesn’t convince when given lines like “I don’t want to do bad things no more.” There was always a studio-managed rivalry between him and Lugosi, but here, Lugosi’s theatricals are far more impressive.

Vollin does as he is asked and changes Bateman’s face, but the result is a grotesque deformity. Bateman is promised another new face if he accedes to Vollin’s villainous wishes – which begin with Bateman assuming the role of unsightly butler for a dinner party Vollin is hosting. Being such a fan of Poe, it’s not entirely surprising Vollin has a torture room filled with devices taken from Poe’s tales, chiefly ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’. Vollin doesn’t just torture people, he takes time to describe exactly the agonies his victims are facing, with Bateman as his henchman.

If this were released today, it would surely fall under the category of ‘torture porn’. Seen that way, ‘The Raven’ was ahead of its time; possibly this proved to be its downfall. Following disappointing returns and heavy criticism, it hastened the premature ending of horror film production (the feint hearts of the UK critics fuelled this too), at least until 1939, when ‘Son of Frankenstein’ proved there was still an audience for the macabre.

To say that Lugosi fails to resist the temptation to go wonderfully over the top towards the film’s close is an understatement, whereas Karloff’s villain becomes a Monster-esque misunderstood, maligned good guy - and too quickly after the villains have received their just desserts, ‘The Raven’ comes to an end with a briskly light-hearted ending.

Outrageous, but glorying in its outrageousness, this is not Universal’s best horror, but possibly it is their best vehicle for Lugosi, who owns every scene he is in. Were it not for the gleeful ham on display, the subject matter could have been deeply unsettling. The censors and critics who were appalled by Vollin’s vow to be "the sanest man who ever lived" took it all far too seriously, with dire consequences for Lugosi and horror films in general.

18. Aug, 2016

Torment (2013)

Corey (Robin Dunne) and his new wife Sarah (Katharine Isabelle) move into a fairly isolated house, with Corey’s son Liam. Sadly, little Liam (Peter DaCunha) resents Sarah because he misses his mother, which is understandable. However, as is so very often the case, scenes with a minor acting in a brattish and petulant fashion immediately causes audience rankles to rise. Corey’s endeavours to ‘understand’ the child make me wish he’d just wallop the little sod and cause me to become irritated by his ineffectuality (“Promise me you’ll give her a chance, boss,” he implores more than once). From the very beginnings of ‘Torment’ I find this a big hurdle to overcome.

One night, after hearing some noises around the house, they find Liam is missing. Instead of celebrating, they call the police. Thus begins another in the sub-genre known as ‘home invasion’, where the calm and comfort of home is forcibly interrupted by some nightmarish killer or other. As a sub-genre, its immediate limitations mean any film to fall under this category is virtually guaranteed to be surprise-free.

This doesn’t mean such projects cannot succeed as horror films if they are well done. And thankfully when the often silent invaders strike, dressed in tatty animal head-pieces, things liven up. For even though their features are masked, they are more interesting than the remaining two bastions of ‘family’.

As the opening quote indicates (“When one has not had a good father, one must create one” – Nietzsche), it is the concept of ‘family’ that tries to propel this story. Just as Sarah is given the thrilling prospect of adding further children to Corey’s litter, the barely-glimpsed mutants are looking for their own ‘new’ mothers and fathers to add to their clan. That such a perfunctory thriller results from this, should we then be heart-warmed when, (spoiler) after Corey has been killed and Sarah has been repeatedly beaten, munchkin Liam finally ‘forgives’ his new mother and decides she isn’t so bad after all? Personally, I would have been more satisfied if the little twerp had somehow been behind the horrific events.

18. Aug, 2016

Sie tötete in Ekstase/She Killed in Ecstasy (1971)

Buoyed by his film ‘Vampyros Lesbos’, Director Jess Franco quickly employed a very similar cast and crew for this typically leery-titled horror/drama.

The mighty Soledad Miranda plays the wife of Doctor Johnson, whose experiments with embryos has caused him to be vilified by his peers and banned from continuing his work. Taking care to wear a series of tight shirts unbuttoned to reveal some handsome jewellery, he then goes through spiralling turmoil ending in suicide. His wife determines to get revenge on those who drove him to this.

As with just about all Franco films, scenes of tension are accompanied by exotic and jaunty jazz music that sometimes works because it is so inappropriate and sometimes doesn’t. The former Mrs Johnson’s subsequent seductions-prior-to-murder are scored with grimly fitting incidentals, and together with Franco’s obsession with close-ups and zoom-outs, concoct a heady, disorientating nightmare. Surprisingly, Franco regular Howard Vernon is the first person to cop it.

Apart from making her name in ‘exploitation’ films, there’s no denying Miranda’s power as an actress. She is tremendous throughout despite (on the DVD I am watching) being buried beneath unbefitting dubbing and subtitles, and has a genuine sense of presence that makes the routine seduction/death plotline far more interesting than it would have otherwise been. Her early death on the eve of what looked like global stardom remains a great tragedy.

17. Aug, 2016

The Day the World Ended (2001)

‘I’m your Princi-pal!’ screams the poster on the school wall. Next to it, Santa flashes a winning cardboard smile. Such cheeriness is in otherwise woefully short supply in the ‘small American town’ where Dr. Jenniffer Stillman has started her job as school therapist. Stillman is played by Nastassja Kinski, who is utterly wonderful – and very patient, for most of her new co-workers appear, on first meetings, to be ignorant bullies.

The local town doctor’s son Benjamin James McCann (Bobby Edner) is the victim of frequent mistreatment from both pupils and teachers. He’s transfixed by sci-fi and horror and appears top exhibit increasing telepathic powers. An adopted child, the impression given is that Ben is waiting for his real ‘alien’ father to come and take him away.

When the more boisterous idiots that make up the town end up being killed by a dripping, tentacle creature, it seems likely that what Ben is saying just may be true. In true ‘Salems Lot’ style, we are treated to the indiscretions of otherwise ‘respectable’ townsfolk that are paled into insignificance when compared to the new threat. Inevitably, those same respectable townsfolk rise up, furious, and take their guns, comb the land, shouting, ‘find this thing … and kill it!’

It is hard not to side with the alien in the woods, dripping and tentacled though he is. Possibly the film-makers thought so too because the ending is a satisfying one. ‘The Day the World Ended’ is an ambitious title for what is a TV movie whose style could slot easily into the schedules at any time since the mid-1980’s. Whilst Kinski is rather better than the material given her, this is enjoyable, if mainly mild stuff, with the very occasional expletive or moment of gore thrown in.

14. Aug, 2016

Vampyros Lesbos (1971)

The title of this says it all, and the fact it is directed by prolific Spanish Director Jess Franco lets the audience know exactly what it is in for. Soledad Miranda’s mesmerising Countess Nadine Carody is a powerfully erotic force of nature, and she has set her sights on American Linda (Ewa Strömberg). Catching Linda’s attention during an erotic dance display at a local club, she then haunts her through dreams. It is a convincing dream-like entrapment, made more so by the beautiful and well-directed Turkish locations. Of all the Jess Franco films I’ve seen, this is his most effectively directed – there is less reliance on endless zooms in and out of the action than usual, and the legendary psychedelic music score, especially with its occasional weirdly distorted vocals, adds to the delirious atmosphere.

Swirling red lined stairways, sun drenched castles and ornate buildings are all filmed beautifully, and yet as always with Franco, the storyline meanders into the inconsequential. Only when Dennis Price’s Doctor Seward has a stand-off with Carody is a real kind of tension invoked (Price, who was nearing the end of his life by this time, looks healthier than he does in other films he made during this period).

Whilst this never descends into an endless parade of soft-core ‘action’ like ‘Female Vampire (1973)’ and there is actually an element of supernatural horror here, things tend to drag, especially in the middle portion of the film. And yet ultimately, this is my favourite Franco film (so far). The wraith-like presence of the sensuous Miranda combined with the more tangible acting chops of people like Dennis Price lends a definite nobility to the trance-like, vaguely erotic horror.

13. Aug, 2016

The Last Girl Standing (2015)

There’s something faintly disorientating about seeing the ‘end’ of a horror film at the beginning: already traumatised teens are dying/have died in a series of gorily extravagant ways by what appears to be a killer in a mask before he too is despatched in a moment that might have been more effective if we’d had substantial running time leading up to that point. Although incongruous, such scenes are necessary for this exploration of what happens after the horror is over for the last girl standing – in this case, Camryn (Akasha Villalobos).

The notion of someone trying to rebuild their life after a horrific sequence is usually featured in the first sequel to any slasher film, but here the adjustment provides the thrust of the story. Having awkwardness and insecurities heaped upon her could make for tedious, patience-stretching viewing, but Camryn’s subsequent trials prove to be full of sufficient incident to remain interesting. Writing, acting and direction are all very much to be praised for this.

The group’s murder, which made the newspaper headlines (according to the clippings Camryn keeps) would, you’d think, have led to the sole survivor being under some sort of ongoing after-care. Therapy or medical monitoring don’t seem to be part of Camryn’s life. When she meets friendly co-worker Nick (Brian Villalobos), she is very much isolated and on her own. But when Nick’s friends become her friends, she is saved from self-pity by the revelation that one of the group, Danielle (Danielle Evon Ploeger) has also suffered her own personal traumas – and it is she who convinces Camryn to revisit the site of her friends’ killings, as a form of closure.

There’s a tragic inevitability about the final twist. In horror, there is no closure, and while the climactic events are not a massive surprise, they are all the more effective because of the truly persuasive warmth and closeness of the characters. ‘The Last Girl Standing’ becomes more of a slasher film in its own right rather than an exploration of what happens after one, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Part financed by the ‘Kickstarter’ scheme, this is a very impressive debut for Director/Writer Benjamin R Moody.

11. Aug, 2016

Sanatorium (2013)

The usual collection of smart young hot-heads are embarking on a paranormal investigation for this found footage horror, visiting ‘the infamous Hillcrest Sanatorium’.

DJ Hazard plays Irwin Stacks, whose job it is to lead the entrepreneurs through the impressively sinister building and regale them (and us) with sinister stories as to what happened over the years, culminating the deaths of an estimated thousand people. The team’s frivolities and high spirits are mercifully calmed by this, as well as their eagerness to persevere (“Let’s get the **** out of here,” is a popular viewpoint).

Tuberculosis claimed the health and sanity of patient ‘Richard’ in 1955 who took his own life after bludgeoning to death three sleeping children. It is about this time that ‘Sanatorium’ begins to weave its sinister magic, which proves to me once gain that ‘found footage’ should not be maligned as a spent force in film-making – used with skill, it still packs a punch.

The over-insistence of one of the male characters in asking ‘are you kidding me?’ gets more than a little tiresome. As the usual scares reach a certain stage and one of their team, Tyler, goes missing in a quietly creepy episode, and his newly pregnant girlfriend descends into uncomprehending despair, it’s increasingly clear no-one is kidding anyone.

The resultant fate of the characters is very nicely achieved, although it might have been more effective had the producers resisted the temptation to add swirling ‘spooky’ music to highlight the effect. The POV shots of them slowly being raised to the ceiling, where they are left dangling, is terrific.

10. Aug, 2016

Symptoms (1974)

This film relies very much upon its tiny cast, so the importance of its casting cannot be underestimated. Spanish Director José Ramón Larraz, the often volatile personality who went on to direct cult classic ‘Vampyres’ the same year, selected an ensemble that could hardly have been bettered.

Considered a lost film since its last showing on television in 1983, this carefully paced, deeply atmospheric tale is only beginning to find a new level of appreciation since its rediscovery. Peter Vaughn, often cast as ‘heavies’ at the time is quietly menacing as Brady, the ‘odd job man. Lorna Leilbron, who was so good in ‘The Creeping Flesh’ plays Anne, eminently sensible and unflappable. And, providing her usual extraordinary performance, Angela Pleasance plays Helen, who lives in her huge inherited estate in the middle of secluded English countryside, convalescing from some undisclosed breakdown and yet still clearly suffering. Whilst not quite as other-worldly as she was in ‘From Beyond the Grave’ earlier in the year, her more subtle playing of quiet madness reveals itself as the story plays on.

The direction is sedate and restrained by Larraz’s standards, yet drenched in doomy, sinister atmosphere. Even a scene as seemingly innocent as Helen sitting alone in the spacious living room, darkened by the heavy clouds outside, the windows buffeted by the storm, is oppressive and unnerving.

The storyline is thin and it comes as a huge non-surprise to find the deranged killer on Anne and other sundry characters is Helen. And yet the fact that Brady is too obviously a red herring (although hardly unimpeachable) doesn’t disappoint because Pleasance plays it so fascinatingly well.