Spoilers follow ...

29. Jun, 2017

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

After Universal scored such hits with ‘Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein’ in 1931, it was clear that horrifying audiences was big business. Amongst the steady stream of cinematic terrors that followed, a year later Paramount brought us swathes of monstrosities courtesy of HG Wells and his insane Doctor Moreau.

The make-up for the ‘lost souls’ is very impressive on the more subtle mutations, but less so on the more ‘advanced’ experiments. Which brings us to the most vocal, The Sayer of the Law, played by Bela ‘Dracula’ Lugosi (as he is billed, just above ‘The Panther Woman’). Covered in fur, this is the actor that, a year earlier, had supposedly turned down the Frankenstein Monster for fear the make-up would obscure his matinee looks (which is given as one of a number of reasons he didn’t end up playing the role despite being touted for it). The Sayer of the Law would seem to debunk that particular theory.

Lota, the Panther Woman herself, is played very appealingly by Kathleen Burke in an outfit that exposes a lot of flesh for the time. Her growing relationship with Richard Arlen as Parker – a hero not quite as overshadowed by the other characters as is usual in horror films from this era – is interesting, but causes problems when his girl Ruth (Leila Hyams) travels all the way to the remote island to look for him.

Finally, what an actor Charles Laughton was. Whilst time has rendered the performances of some of the actors around him dated and theatrical, Laughton’s Moreau is every bit as convincing and villainous in 2017 as he was 85 years ago. Superbly spoken but dripping with malice, or uncontrolled and snarling like one of his own animalistic experiments, he is compelling at all times. Moreau’s ultimate fate is one of the most unpleasant you could imagine, but horribly satisfying too.

This is a mighty slice of grim and effective cinema. We could smile at some of the quaint make-up effects of course, but Director Erle C Kenton is at his creative peak here. He would go on to direct future Universal horrors, but never does he imbue them with the sense of unease and danger as is on show here. Strange, leering faces loom of out the jungle, misshapen shapes move in the shadows, revealing deformed limbs – or in one case, a solitary hoof – although we are fairly sure that their animalistic fury is directed only at those responsible for their current predicaments.

After all, ‘are we not men?’

28. Jun, 2017

Goksung/The Wailing (2016)

Shall I state the obvious? At 156 minutes, ‘The Wailing’ is very long. If it was split down the middle into two chapters, that would at least allow a breather in between acts. Alright? I’ve got that off my chest, so we can move on. Because ‘The Wailing’ is excellent. How is it that this modestly budgeted South Korean horror film, that features only occasional special effects and a cast of actors of varied ages (as opposed to predominantly young and pretty) shows up obscenely financed mainstream Hollywood output as being tired, CGI-reliant and shallow? Perhaps for precisely those reasons.

Kwak Do-won is excellent as Jong-goo, a police officer investigating a series of outbreaks of a mysterious wasting disease in and around his village. Various scenes of violently possessed and afflicted characters illustrate this. When the malady appears to affect his daughter Hyo-jinn, he sees the progression of the disease first-hand. Kim Hwan-hee is a revelation as the placid, loving daughter slowly transformed into a shrieking, snarling fiend – afraid of the shaman Il-gwang (Hwang Jung-min) brought in to exorcise her, and snarling accusatory curses at the father who is trying to save her.

“When you go fishing, you don’t know what you’ll catch. ‘He’s’ just fishing …”, to slightly misquote the reply to Jong-goo’s wearied wonderings as to why his daughter should be afflicted. As to who ‘he’ is – we have to assume the worst. And yet even her transformation isn’t the worst we see.

Jun Kunimura plays the morose hermit who may or may not be behind the witchery, and yet when Jong-goo and Il-gwang dispose of him, the shaman feels that they have done away with the wrong person …

Evocative and effective use is made of location, and especially the elements. On occasions, the atmosphere looks extremely cold, and when it rains, it comes down in torrents. Director Na Hong-jin conjures up a very convincing sense of violent evil within a small community. My only slight issue with ‘The Wailing’ is that, after all that time, there is no real ending – which is something I usually don’t mind at all, but felt this could perhaps have done with some kind of pay-off. Perhaps a sequel is a possibility …

We have time to get to know the characters, watch them grow and share with them their harrowing experiences. Productions like this, when they come along, almost re-write the structure of telling an effective story – so much so that, while over two-and-a-half hours is a long time to concentrate on a film, you certainly aren’t in any hurry for it to end.

25. Jun, 2017

Vampire Blues (1999)

I sometimes wonder what Jess Franco was like when he wasn’t shooting a film. I imagine him like a caged animal, sweating, irascible and subconsciously reaching for a camera. He probably wasn’t like that at all, but by his own admission, film-making is when he felt most alive. By the time of ‘Vampire Blues’, his collaboration with One Shot Productions had ensured that any pretence at commerciality was long deemed unnecessary.

And so we open with a stuttering camera taking in the sumptuous seaside delights of Madrid, where a young woman Rachel Crosby (Rachel Sheppard, billed rather generously as a teenager on the DVD packaging) enjoying solitary days of sight-seeing and sunbathing. Her driftings into sleep are interrupted by visions of a vampire woman. When we first see this woman, she is the only splash of colour in an otherwise sepia scene. Often accompanied by a Rocky Horror-style soundtrack, Countess Irina von Murnau cuts a curious figure (she even gets to misquote 1931’s Dracula: “The children of the night, what beautiful music they play.”). The actress Analia Ivars, is billed in the opening credits – as is everyone – without a space between her names, which lead me to read her name as Anal Iaivars, but that may just be me. Her eventual fate is shocking, and brings back memories of Franco’s predilection for sexual torture.

Amidst blotchy and distracting video effects that would have been innovative twenty years before, it is impossible to ignore how this once again recycles themes and moments from earlier Franco films. I won’t list them.

It is good to see a cigarette smoking Franco cameoing as a market trader, and Lina Romay as an extravagant gypsy fortune teller Marga. As events roll on, Crosby becomes simply a pawn between the Countess and the flamboyant gypsy.

As a whole this drifts from being deeply monotonous to effectively dream-like. The sight of shaven women of a certain age indulging in protracted foreplay shot on video is an acquired taste, even for fans of Franco’s films, which are an acquired taste to begin with. This definitely paves the way for modern day film-makers like Chris Alexander, who have extolled the virtues of micro-budget project (even his star Shauna Henry looks like Rachel Sheppard, although that is probably coincidental).

Enjoying a later Franco film despite the monotonous sex scenes is like enjoying a sponge pudding despite the sponge, but although this is far from my favourite, it still contains moments that sparkle.

24. Jun, 2017

The Mummy (1959)

It’s strange to think that only 15 years separates Hammer Films’ bright and colourful version of ‘The Mummy’ and the last of Universal’s Lon Chaney fronted Mummy series. And yet, here it is: buoyed by the success of their recent internationally successful horrors, Michael Carreras’ tiny British company forged on with this tale of Egyptian tombs and legends …

… except that this has all the Egyptian atmosphere of a telephone box. Hammer were careful to reconstruct their take on ‘Dracula (1957)’ and ‘Curse of Frankenstein (1958)’ to take into account the modest budget at their disposal; ‘The Mummy’ makes little such concessions. As a result it is, to my mind, highly over-ambitious and unconvincing. There is a poky, studio-bound feel to the Tomb of Ananka and its surrounding settings that even tremendous actors like Raymond Huntley, Felix Aylmer and of course Peter Cushing cannot distract us from. Later, we revisit the tombs in a familiarly protracted flashback sequence.

George Pastell makes the first of two appearances in this Mummy series, as respectful servant Mehemet Bey, and Michael Ripper is on hand as a poacher (in some much needed lightness during what is little more than a handful of cameos) once we are back in the easier-to-convey 1895 England. Christopher Lee’s Kharis is so angry about the tomb of his princess Ananka being desecrated that he comes back from the dead, resurrected from the studio-swamp Bey’s incompetent lackey’s have inadvertently left him. Cushing’s stoical John Banning happens to be married to Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), the spitting image of Ananka.

It’s all a little staged and mannered and the story is highly reminiscent of a number of the Universal films, which were pretty familiar by 1944. Even some of the characters are very similar. Despite the intensity of the performers and the beautifully lit visuals, there is a staidness about Terence Fisher’s direction ensuring that, unlike Kharis, the film never really comes to life (although clever camera angles make it appear the mummy could indeed be the ten-foot tall he is purported to be).

Kharis is lean and powerful, and Hammer’s best looking mummy. Lee’s expressive eyes shine through the make-up, conveying the creature’s emotion as required, but this added sense of humanity ensures that, despite his power, Kharis isn’t particularly ethereal or frightening.

Events do liven up during the final reel, where Kharis and Banning once again come face to face. But, as with Hammer’s ‘Curse of the Werewolf’ the following year, an exciting finale is sadly too little, too late.

23. Jun, 2017

The Redwood Massacre (2014)

This is a low budget, Scottish slasher film about a group of friends who commemorate the anniversary of The Redwood Massacre by camping in the woods around the spot in which the murders took place. The massacre occurred because a farmer, hearing voices from his sinister scarecrow no less, lost his mind and killed his entire family. The son’s body, however, was never found … and now a creepy character in a scarecrow mask is going round killing the otherwise sensible party-goers.

I enjoyed this. Some of the acting is a little flat, much in the way of low budget productions, but the characters are all fairly likeable. Jessica (Rebecca Wilkie) sporting a mighty pair of painted-on eyebrows; Mark (Adam Coutts), her ex-boyfriend, now dating the wonderful complaining Kirsty (Lisa Livingstone); and finally Pamela (Lisa Cameron), the sensible one, spared from dullness by probably the best performance of all. The locations, mainly barns and forests in and around Aberdeen, are absolutely gorgeous - endless lush foliage it is easy to imagine getting lost in. Redwood House is also impressive, a true haunted looking house in the middle of the woods. Ironically, Clear Focus Productions had always specialised in Health and Safety training films before this project, which involved 200 pints of fake blood.

I love that appealing Pamela and sardonic Kirsty are forced by circumstances to forge a kind of bond. These character moments are so important for these kind of horror films – often the makers are in such a hurry to get from one killing to the next, any pretence at making the players anything more than cyphers is forgotten. And yes, there are plenty of killings here!

The arrival of a vengeful father of one of the victims is odd. He makes several impassioned speeches and is then killed whilst offering no resistance, leaving Pamela to push her way through the mass of strung-up corpses in her bid to escape. Some further explanation regarding the killer would be welcome. “Whatever that thing is,” seems more than human, yet not impervious to bullets and violence – is it the son slaughtered by the farmer? If so, why should he be so keen to continue his father’s murderous spree?

Ending after a series of twists, this is nevertheless a very impressive directing/writing project from David Ryan Keith who has rightfully won a series of awards. His following film is ‘Ghosts of Darkness’, featuring some of the same cast, which will hopefully be released sometime in 2017.

22. Jun, 2017

Die Marquise von Sade/Jess Franco’s Doriana Grey (1976)

And so to Uncle Jess’s apparent take on the Dorian Grey saga – ‘loose’ might describe the link best. Who else but Lina Romay, rarely fully clothed, plays the dual role of Doriana and her unnamed twin sister, born as Siamese twins and separated at birth. The result is that while her sister is mentally defective and locked away in a sanatorium (owned by ‘the mysterious Doctor Orloff’ who, bashfully, fails to make an appearance), Doriana is apparently sexually unmotivated and keeps her youthful appearance living on blood provided by victims brought to her by her servant Ziros (Raymond Hardy).

And that seems to be the storyline. Amidst the truly beautiful locations there is, for the time by 1976, a hugely increased graphic quality to the regular sex scenes, most of which feature Romay (either solo or with a friend). Franco’s camera seems more preoccupied than ever with his wife’s genitalia and this becomes more than the usual distraction – it is too invasive, too graphic. It goes someway beyond hard-core scenes featured in such films. The results are almost genealogical!

As ever, the acting is uninhibited, especially from Romay who often looks ravishing for the most part, taking into account the explicit, unsophisticated and unflattering sex scenes. The storyline is a slight variation on ‘Vampyros Lesbos’ or ‘Female Vampire’, but more gratuitous. The results are uneven; the story itself could have done with more exploration other than in the opening narration, whilst the hard-core elements could have been used more sparingly. Yet this is Jess Franco – who am I to cast aspersions on his very personal vision, other than registering my own personal opinion? Even anticipating the moment when the sisters meet has to be done bearing in mind his penchant for the unexpected. And when it comes, it is perfunctory and brief, especially compared with the X-rated delights before.

He makes great use of a local Spanish storm, the cameras lingering on the huge drops of rain crashing down on usually sun-soaked pathways, and through the ornate windows of the magnificent buildings. Unlike a lot of the intimate flesh on display, that is something you never get bored of looking at.

21. Jun, 2017

The Lodge (2008)

Michael (Owen Szabo) and Julia (Elizabeth Kell) travel to the Rocky Mountains in order to spend a romantic few days alone together. A likeable duo, their never-ending foreplay is nevertheless nauseating, and yet this is how directors Brad Helmink and John Rauschelbach feel they need to convey their feelings for each other.

They meet proprietor Henry (Kevin McClatchy) amidst a carnage of general untidiness when they arrive. No hint of an apology forthcoming, Henry proves to be … a bit of a twit, really. Ignorant and arrogant yet formidable, he refers to the couples as ‘kids’, so it makes no sense when Michael subsequently tries to ‘bond’ with him by reminiscing about past sporting achievements and telling him how passionate a lover Julia is. As such, much of the couple’s time together now becomes an awkward three-way thing.

The well-being of the twosome isn’t helped by the discovery of a dishevelled young girl Desi (Mandi Kreisher), seemingly kept prisoner in a locked room of the lodge. Why she hasn’t made her presence known before now is made clear when her relationship with Henry – not his real name, by the way – is revealed.

‘The Lodge’ is ultimately a well-made, nicely directed, convincingly acted horror thriller. There’s a good slow build-up of menace aided immeasurably by the superbly hypnotic score by Yagmur Kaplan. Not the most original or ground-breaking story you’ll ever know, but it makes no claims to be – although the DVD cover’s proclamation ‘The Shining meets Cabin in the Woods’ is guilty of overselling its effectiveness.

17. Jun, 2017

Prowl (2010)

You can’t really blame Amber (Courtney Hope) for wanting to leave her old life. She hates her jobs, her parents are useless and her friends are exactly the kind of idiots films like this can rarely do without: beautiful, beer swilling, joint smoking, lightly horny teens. So she decides to leave. She and her shallow pals hitch a ride in the back of a truck, which they are told is not strictly legal a practise, and so naturally, once in the back and sharing the space with driver Bernard’s (Bruce Payne) cargo, they’re swilling beer, smoking joints and getting intimate. Tuneless rock music, the wallpaper of such twits, is ubiquitous. So when Bernard displays erratic driving and shows no sign of stopping at their Chicago destination, or anywhere else, a little designer panic cracks their collective veneer.

I’m being overly crusty: these youths are no worse than the swathe of other film-makers’ ideas of what the young are like. It is just so frustrating that the audience is asked to sympathise/empathise with such dull, mundane, always cocky braggarts. No variation, nothing to say of any interest; they’re feeling bored because they are boring, put pretty enough for any real heartache to appear – rightly or wrongly – as entirely superficial.

Curious, they investigate the cargo and open one of the many boxes. Finding it leaking blood, they are then less than happy to find the truck stopping at what appears to be a slaughterhouse. Soon we meet Bernard’s boss Veronica (Saxon Trainor). She is a pouting diva who, if she had a moustache would be twirling it. Unluckily for the hapless pretties, she is the head of a group of vampires.

This film is well produced, it ticks all the right boxes, the abattoir environment is very effective and the idea of it being a breeding ground for vampires is a good one. But just imagine if the gang of good guys weren’t idiots – imagine if they actually had personalities and were likeable? Only Amber emerges as someone interesting and memorable, and as the ending reveals, there’s a very good reason for that. Enjoyable, but contains little to separate it from other slasher films.

16. Jun, 2017

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

For a project with a running time in excess of three hours, ‘Frankenstein: The True Story’ seems in a hurry to get on with it, at least initially. Five minutes in, and we’ve already witnessed the death of Frankenstein’s brother William and his subsequent frustration with the fatality; his fianceé Elizabeth (Nicola Pagett) is exasperated by his plans to thwart death by recreating life – it seems as if the telling of the story has almost started without us!

Once we’ve been hurriedly ushered in, the pace slows considerably and most of the first ‘chapter’ proves to be extremely talkie. Many ominous musings about creating ‘the second Adam’, some realistic dismembered limbs and the steady unveiling of the incredible cast notwithstanding; it is a necessary build-up to Frankenstein’s obsession getting more delirious, and with his friend Clerval’s passing, it is finally time to put the impressive laboratory set to good use.

David McCallum as Clerval – in this adaption, a medical man (and brain donor) even more driven than Frankenstein himself - is afflicted by a physical malady that fuels his intent. A plethora of famous faces also includes Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Tom Baker (only months before his acclaimed role in Doctor Who), Peter Sallis, Yootha Joyce, and – excellent as Prima – Jane Seymour. Considering that Leonard Whiting as Frankenstein is the least prolific in that gang, he is never upstaged by his co-stars; one wonders why he didn’t enjoy a lengthier career.

Michael Serrazin’s very human looking creature is something of a disappointment initially, purely because he is so un-terrifying. No misshapen monster, his slender, bandaged form is indeed what Clerval seemed to be striving for. And yet, like Michael Gwynn’s human monster in Hammer’s ‘Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)’, this is a prelude to genuine tragedy – that the handsome, playful, contented child-man soon witnesses his looks deteriorate cruelly. It is telling that when ‘pretty’, his childish ways amuse his creator – as ugliness begins to take hold, Victor loses patience with him. Serrazin puts in a consistently superb performance throughout, ranging from charming, to vulnerable, miserable, vengeful and downright demonic.

The second and final chapter begins after the Creature’s unsuccessful suicide attempt and it is during this episode the already tenuous titular claim of a ‘true’ story becomes even more fractured – but that can be forgiven when the results are so entertaining.

Prima proves to overshadow the original creation in every way possible – embraced by high society, loved by all she meets, in fact infuriatingly perfect – especially at manipulation and bitchiness. In possibly this story’s most famous scene, she pays the price. The only bit of the original Agatha, with whom the creature had formed an attachment, is her head; in a splendid scene, in front of all, the dishevelled, betrayed, deteriorating creature, violently removes it.

After this, the pace enters the uneven phase it did at the beginning. In no time at all, a ship bound for America is an epic battle ground. The creature, now full of understandable hate, has a demented, fiendish persona – laughing as he hoists the terrified Polidori to his death (his – or Clerval’s – mocking chants of ‘Poli Dolly’ thrown against the stormy skies), reduced to skeletal scraps by the lightning he deplores.

Despite some unconvincing day-for-night shots, and a lacklustre dummy used for a clifftop stunt, this remains a visually impressive spectacle. ‘The True Story’ is an intelligent, brilliantly played take on the original novel. It also contains nods (deliberately or otherwise) to other filmic versions and yet presents its own very memorable version of the classic tale.

15. Jun, 2017

Macumba Sexual (1984)

The quote on the cover of this DVD is taken from the mighty Immoral Tales tome, and describes this film as ‘one of the last glorious death throes of European sexploitation.’ An apt way of describing possibly Jess Franco’s most perverse project – at least, from those I have seen.

The plot, as ever, is straightforward – the supernatural Princes Obongo (Ajita Wilson), the Goddess of Unspeakable Lust no less, ensnares Lina Romay in her Candy Coster wig, playing Alice Brooks together with regular Antonio Mayans, billed as Robert Foster, playing Novio de Alice. To be honest, Novio doesn’t get much of a look-in – the story seems really to centre on the smouldering, deadly relationship that occurs between Alice and Obongo.

Transsexual actress Wilson, who died five years after this was completed at the age of 37, is described by Franco as a kind of female Christopher Lee – not so much an actress, more a presence. And this is true. She cuts a truly memorable, and at times terrifying, figure – tall and prone to wearing flowing white robes, striding across deserts with her two unnerving ‘dog-slaves’, or laughing maniacally as she seduces a naked Alice via her dreams.

Franco’s camerawork, at times restrained and others frantic (the blurring zooms during the many sex scenes against the glare of sunlight is purposefully disorientating) glories in the delights of the Canary Isles, and also wife Romay’s (at times shockingly) uninhibited performance, both in and out of a straining pair of hot-pants. Franco turns up briefly as another of the lunatic cyphers he loved playing so much.

The results are an acquired taste – what else would you expect? I enjoyed it, as I’ve enjoyed most of Franco’s films. His filmic perversions took on a new and personal level once his native Spain had relaxed their laws on hard-core pornography and I can only admire his unique pursuance of this during this time. Such a singular approach drew him ever further into cult territory, which he seemed to fully embrace for the next 23 years.

14. Jun, 2017

La noche de los asesinos/Night of the Assassins (1974)

This terrific slow-burner is Spanish Director Jess Franco’s old dark house mystery in the style of a giallo – a historical one, no less. It is a spectacularly underrated film – consistent, intriguing, well-played and possessed of some impressive twists.

Lina Romay, in possibly her best role, plays Rita, shamed servant girl. Without the distraction of hubby Franco’s predilection for sex and gore, her performance shows what a true talent she was. Rita is humble and subversive, a million miles away from many of the other parts she played. Antonio Mayans, who would star with Romay years later in the notorious ‘Mansion of the Living Dead (1984)’, is excellent as Alfred, who may or not be Rita’s brother. Franco himself, never a hugely impressive actor, also gives what maybe his best performance as drunken old lawyer Andy. Dependable Alberto Dalbés as Major Brooks and Vincente Roca as Inspector Bore (pronounced ‘Borey’, fortunately) also spice up the 74 minute running time.

The direction is restrained – no lingering, graphic sex scenes or manically zooming lenses here – and really conveys a classic haunted house thriller. Indeed, Edgar Allen Poe is credited as an inspiration in the opening moments, although there is nothing specifically similar that I can see.

A darkly shot project – occasionally too dark – this drips with atmosphere, with Franco making the most of his splendidly intimidating location.

10. Jun, 2017

Lust for Frankenstein (1998)

“From now on I hope I never dream those stupid things again.”

Lina Romay plays Moira, who is in the midst of estranging herself from her husband Cyrus (a truly dreadful, one-note performance from Robert King). Added to that, she is regularly visited by the bloody, dishevelled spirit of her father, Frankenstein. Dubbed in a thick, almost impenetrable Spanish accent (possibly by Franco himself), he instructs his daughter (the timeline of this project is in a world of its own if we are to believe he is the character from Mary Shelley’s novel) to revive his creation, named Goddess.

That Goddess (Michelle Bauer) is a nymphomaniac is no great surprise, but she is also a very possessive one. The insatiable, cocaine-addled swinger next door has a plethora of lovers too, and they all fancy middle-aged Moira (whether she likes it or not), which enrages Goddess. They enter into a sadomasochistic relationship of punishment and counter-punishment, with the creature wearing nothing but the trade-mark of many Frankenstein Creations: big boots. Shiny ones.

Written, produced and directed by Jess Franco for One Shot Productions, this is shot entirely on video which, along with the inherent special effects that medium provides, somehow manages to date this production far more than anything Franco produced in the 1970s. The soundtrack ranges from an effective, synthesised funereal rhythm to much-repeated rock music – provided by the band (The Ubangis) Moira plays to herself ad nauseam.

And yet amongst the atrocious film and sound quality, the often incomprehensible Spanish/English which scuppers performances (especially that of Romay, who is otherwise as wonderful and uninhibited as ever) there is … something compelling. Amateur home-made film-making this maybe, but Franco offers a genuine nightmare quality to all the disjointed moments and the ham-fisted (!) eroticism. Goddess explains, through a modulated voice, her heart is full of love (ie: sex) but her mind is full of hate. A definite contradictory creation, and an inner turmoil it is easy to sympathise with, especially when conveyed by Bauer’s powerful performance.

As I see it, Franco was, by this time in his career, as far from populist film-making as he had ever been, and fulfilled by increasingly micro-budgeted but entirely personal projects such as this. Kudos to him for travelling down this road, and to wife, actress and film-editor Romay for remaining loyal and adding her talent to his vision.

9. Jun, 2017

Orloff and the Invisible Man/Doctor Orloff's Invisible Monster (1970)

“Who sent for me to see the master of the house?” asks Dr. Garondet (Frances Valladares).
“Don’t ask me,” replies the surly menial.
“Then who should I ask?” persists the doctor.
“Me,” replies the menial.

Some of the English dubbing occasionally threatens to tip this French/Spanish horror film into farce. Such ill-advised dialogue never gets a hold though, and it is entirely possible to enjoy this effective mad-scientist story. Orloff is played by Jess Franco veteran Howard Vernon, who once again is excellent in this mad-eyed role. Director Pierre Chevalier might lack the imagination of Franco, but his straightforward style makes great use of the locations and doesn’t shy away from various unnecessary scenes of young ladies disrobing.

Garondet is called out in a storm-lashed night to the mysterious Orloff’s tremendously gothic chateau. Such is the ferocity of the storm that Garondet stays the night in the company of Orloff, his allegedly deranged daughter Cécile (Brigitte Carva) and the invisible man/creature Orloff has created.

The story seems a kind of mix of Dracula (Garondet’s trip to the castle is more than a nod to the classic vampire story) and Frankenstein, with Orloff as the insane experimenter. With an invisible ape-man thrown in, we end up with a weird and not unenjoyable tapestry of horror elements, with wonderfully creepy gothic tunnels and a hero with the most garishly red lined cloak. The invisible man-thing of the title isn’t the focal point of the film until the final reel, his longest scene being the rape of the young housemaid in a stable (the sight of an invisible character indulging in the sex act has to be seen to be believed). This and his brief reveal are the film’s most eccentric moments.

This is a definite oddity. Jess Franco-esque, muddle headed and lacking a satisfying ending, this is what I suppose you might call classic Euro-horror from the 1970s. An ape-man with an insatiable desire for sex and mayhem is one thing, but an invisible one is a different budget-free ball game entirely.

8. Jun, 2017

Faceless (1987)

As the 1980s sparkled on, Director Jess Franco pursued ever more personal and lower financed projects. ‘Faceless’ proved to be the exception. A collaboration with French video magnate René Chateau ensured this was a multi-million pound venture and Franco’s biggest ever budget.

Always willing to surprise, his venture opened with the strains of a George Michael-style vocal song (performed by Vincenzo Thoma) that is repeated sporadically throughout – you may well know each verse word-for-word before the end credits roll. The subsequent sight of Jean Rollin leading lady Brigitte Lahaie (playing Nurse Nathalie) sitting in a car watching Barbara (former Hammer star Caroline Munro) snorting cocaine is delightfully surreal – two genre icons from widely differing backgrounds together! Perhaps surprisingly for a Spanish/French collaboration, the dialogue is spoken in English.

The impressive cast is bolstered further by Anton Diffring, and a cameo from Howard Vernon as Dr. Orloff. Terry Savalas, in his last performance, stars as Terry Hallan, Barbara’s concerned father – she has gone missing and is a prisoner of Berger’s clinic.

‘Faceless’ could be seen as a partial remake of Franco’s first hit, ‘The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962)’, which could be seen as a partial remake of French classic ‘Eyes Without a Face (1960)’. There are some good effects – the slightly fey Docteur Flamand’s (Helmut Berger) unfortunate daughter Ingrid (Christine Jean) looks convincingly scarred after an acid attack, and a later injection into an eyeball is achieved very realistically. There is a retarded servant, the eyebrowless Gordon (Gérard Zalcberg) who also gets to commit a number of gory attacks.

The story meanders somewhat from its fairly straightforward premise, but is a lot more enjoyable than it might have been, especially given the creative stagnancy in the horror genre in the late 80s. There is no real pathos for the scarred Ingrid as she is played without any suggestion of sympathy, and the open ending (changed from an upbeat finale by Franco) has irritated some – but I really enjoyed this film.

7. Jun, 2017

The Brood (1979)

This wonderfully disturbing film deals with some complex psychological themes, and pulls no punches in conveying them to the audience. In some ways, it shares similarities with ‘The Omen (1976)’ in that ‘something evil’ is out there, and anyone that gets too close to it suffers a brutal death in a series of memorable set-pieces.

All of these scenes are unsettling, none more so than the graphic clubbing to death of the teacher Ruth Mayer (Susan Hogan) in front of a classroom of horrified pupils.

The protagonists are a growing tribe of sexless, toothless infants with rarely glimpsed deformities and a fleshy sac between the shoulder blades which ‘feeds’ them. That these deformed and apparently very physical creatures can completely disappear after each killing is my only cause for question. They are dressed in hooded anoraks, which obscure their unfinished features.

This is my favourite David Cronenberg film. His fascination with body horror is rarely more effective and although low budget, this features a terrifically talented cast. Art Hindle is the hero, Frank, whose estranged wife Nola (Samantha Eggar) is a patient of Doctor Raglan (played to perfection by a restrained and therefore very powerful Oliver Reed). Raglan’s unconventional methods of therapy for his patients is extreme, and although he is hailed a genius by his students, could be seen as unscrupulous. As it turns out, despite their being links between his methods and the murders, every proclamation he makes is correct and of course, he pays the price. The scene towards the end, where he is making steady progress through a darkened room as Nola’s condition is revealed in all its glory is a masterpiece of tension and grotesquery. Apparently, it was Eggar’s suggestion that Nola should lick the blood off the latest new-born.

Cronenberg wrote this whilst his recent divorce was still in his mind. Nola, he said, shared characteristics with his ex-wife. Whatever heartache compelled his writing and directing of ‘The Brood’, the result is surely one of horror cinema’s greatest chillers. I love films recorded during the winter months, as is the case here. The bleakness, the flakes of floating snow and the skeleton trees really add another level of crisp gloominess to the proceedings.

3. Jun, 2017

Diary of the Dead (2007)

There’s something faintly ludicrous about the opening shots of this ‘found footage’ entrance into George A Romero’s entry into his ‘Living Dead’ series. A live news broadcast is interrupted when corpses in the background come back to half-life and start attacking those around them. To me, found footage works best when you don’t see too much – the characters on screen reacting to something out of the audience’s vision works very well in that style. Fully made-up zombies fit better into a more stylised, ‘professionally filmed’ scenario.

Things don’t improve hugely when we meet a film crew, including actors playing actors playing both in front of, and behind the camera. ‘Hilarity’ ensures when two cast members ‘have to pee’, leaving the rest to view on the news reports how the dead are coming back to life. Amongst the teens, we have a uproariously well-spoken elderly ham Andrew Maxwell (Scott Wentworth) who clearly feels he’s demeaning himself by appearing in the film being made. Whispering, identical horny youngsters, someone (Jason – played by Joshua Close) who films *everything* despite being repeatedly asked not to, posturing, wall-to-wall expletives – all the staples of a teen horror, and by Romero’s standards, BAD. Apart from anything else, the advantages and unique qualities of the archive formula are simply not used here. The ‘story’ doesn’t need to be told in this way, and is just a gimmick. Could it be Romero was seeking financial success by attempting to attract the youth demographic?

It is explained at the beginning that, to make events more frightening, the young film-makers have added incidental music to events – and yet failed to edit out moments when (as is always the way in these things) the cameras start to fail and cut off.

Anyway, as events fail to progress, I am gagging for some cadaverous zombie to limp in and violently dismember people. When they eventually turn up, they are half-hearted, under-made-up and easily dispatched. The alleged good guys remain personality-free, rather a growing band of posers ‘doing what they gotta do’. How did Romero allow this to be made? To spend so much time with these people and for not one of them to effect any kind of personality for the duration is one thing, but when the undead action is as scarce as it is here, it makes for a hugely dull experience.

Happily, the next in the series ‘Survival of the Dead (2009)’ is a huge improvement on this.

1. Jun, 2017

Blood Bride/Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970)

After the splatter-coloured opening credits, action man John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) introduces himself in a voice-over as a paranoiac. Seemingly trapped in a loveless marriage with a wife who will not let him go, he is haunted by psychedelic dreams of some childhood trauma that seem to be tipping him towards murder. I describe him as an ‘action man’ not because he commits acts of great physical prowess, but because his perfectly manicured, coiffured, extravagantly made-up appearance makes him look like a male doll. Despite the distraction of his exquisitely chiselled features, Forsyth is good in the role, and throws himself into the character’s apparent lapses into violent insanity.

Director Mario Bava emblazons the picture with lush, packed visuals, much use of garish colour and hallucinogenic effects and the rasping musical strains of Sante Romitelli. He even at one point has the characters watching a scene from his own ‘Black Sabbath (1963). Although I feel that Bava’s style is too garish and brash to generate any real sense of horror – and I realise I am in the minority with this – Harrington’s continual confusion as to whether his wife is haunting him or not is well conveyed. With no real answers forthcoming, it is a genuine mystery as to what quite is going on.

While the regularity with which his dead wife appears and disappears threatens to get monotonous, this remains a solid entry into the giallo genre. If you are a fan of Bava’s work, there is undoubtedly much to enjoy here. As an entirely personal note, I find his style too stylised for my tastes and tends to obscure, instead of enhance, the mood.

31. May, 2017

Mondo Cannibale/The Cannibals (1980)

It is my own fault, of course. Watching a film about cannibals, directed by Jess Franco, was always going to be a gross experience. And true to form, only a short time into the 90 minute running time, explorer Professor Taylor’s wife Elizabeth has been eaten alive in uncomfortable close-up. The effects are far from sophisticated, the camera-work deliberately blurred, but this raw direction makes the gratuitous suggestions of innards being torn out and offal eaten wince-inducing and repulsive (the close-ups appear to be repeated later on in further attacks – which are mercifully few and far between). Jerry Taylor (Al Cliver) subsequently has his arm torn off, but otherwise manages to escape the cannibals who have invaded his would-expedition. Worse for his daughter, Lana. The cannibals have kidnapped her, calling her their White Goddess.

But not to worry – the wayward acting and truly atrocious dubbing numbs any effect of elongated revulsion. I am watching the French version of this, dubbed into American. As soon as a character speaks, we are relegated to the production levels of a porn flick (although there is no sex on display here, rare for a Franco film). Equally, guaranteed to break any intended atmospherics, the jazzy Daniel White music is typically inappropriate (other credited composers are Roberto Pregadio and Franco himself.

Years later, after being nursed back to semi-health by Lina Romay as Candy Coster as Ana the nurse, Taylor vows to return to the ‘jungle’ (which looks like a palm tree park and is shown to be located on the edge of bustling civilisation) with a group of people led by a rich couple who don’t believe his story anyway and think the whole thing will be a bit of fun. As luck would have it, by this time, his daughter is now a beautiful, blow-dried blonde (17 year-old Sabrina Siani, described somewhat uncharitably by Franco as the worst actress he had ever worked with). She is still the white goddess to the cannibals, however, most of which are moustachioed Caucasians with curiously hip haircuts. “Death to the white invaders,” yells the cannibal chief at one point, presumably not noticing the majority of his tribe are white themselves.

Franco’s disinterest in the cannibal genre is something he has never been shy about and it is possible these films were foisted upon him by producers at Eurociné. As such, much like his ‘Oasis of the Zombies’ a couple of years later, this is a perfunctory work – quite enjoyable and not without merit, but containing little that is compelling. The best thing is the acting from Romay/Coster and Al Cliver, whose performance is head and shoulders above anything else here.

Lana as a child is played by ‘Anouska’, who also played the little girl Helena in the film Franco deserted, ‘Zombie Lake (1981)’, subsequently directed by Jean Rollin.

This project is also known as ‘Die Blonde Gottin (The Blonde Goddess)’, ‘White Cannibal Queen’, ‘A Woman for the Cannibals’ and ‘Barbarian Goddess’.

30. May, 2017

Bram Stoker's Legend of The Mummy 2 (1999)

In the midst of the inexplicable success of 1999’s CGI-fest ‘The Mummy’, this sequel to the previous year’s ‘Bram Stoker’s Legend of the Mummy’ slithered out onto the straight-to-video market. Like that first entry, this is cheap, hackneyed, badly acted and clichéd. However, whereas the first film barely featured a Mummy at all, this time we see more of the creature – much more. Christopher Bergschneider, billed as Anton Falk, plays a shorter, more overweight Mummy than I have ever seen, and is impossible to take seriously. By its very nature, such a creature should be skeletal, cadaverous, and that is not the case here. So it must be tongue-in-cheek. You would think. But no – it is played straight, or as straight as can be by this group of second graders. Strangely (or not), hunky braggart Morris (Michael Lutz) is the most convincingly played – you fully believe he is a lazy, arrogant, ignorant braggart. Also, he clearly fills the tight boxer-shorts he parades round in well enough for the casting director.

So then, an ancient Mummy has been found and placed in an insecure country compound and is placed on a slab, entirely open to the peccadillos of the young students staying there. Cretin Morris takes away an amulet so to impress chipper, chirpy Janine (Michelle Erickson), whilst Norman (Trent Latta), the butt of everyone’s jokes – who initially appears to be autistic – is actually an Aztec priest. Luckily for Morris, Janine is instantly in love with him when he gives her the amulet, so that’s nice. The big fat Mummy, buried with a circular blade (which makes you wonder why he didn’t use it to slice his bonds and escape his incarceration all those thousands of years ago) stalks the compound during an endless storm after the picturesque young people. For a compound, the location seems more like an average sized house, which is adequate, as only about 7 people are staying there.

Actually, I quite enjoyed this. It’s not quite so bad it’s good, but it is along those lines. The dialogue is ham-fisted and clichéd, but it’s eventful, well-paced and as cheesy as a cheese-burger in a stilton sandwich. It is an old style chiller – although not really very chilling – with a small budget and an undistinguished cast. It just isn’t particularly good on several levels, but perfectly enjoyable on another.

“Your time on this planet is over, Don!” I’m pretty sure that dialogue has as much to do with Bram Stoker as everything else on display here. And yet I still enjoyed this more than the Brendan Fraser efforts.

28. May, 2017

Les possédées du diable/Lorna: the Exorcist (1974)

It is worth pointing out that there are no exorcists, or exorcisms, in this film. To make up for any disappointment this revelation may bring, we are recompensed with numerous invasive scenes featuring Lina Romay (who plays Linda), Jacqueline Laurent (Marianne) and Pamela Stanford (the very frightening Lorna of the title). In fact, the films opens with a ten minute scene of graphic lesbian pornography. You guessed it – this is a Jess Franco picture. As such, it is almost as if two separate projects have been spliced together. For a change, however, this is almost certainly not the case. What we have then, is a Faustian storyline played by a very good cast, interspersed with elongated moments of pretty hard-core porn. Does one element distract from the other? That’s for the individual to decide – for me, it presents blatantly, even by his own standards, Franco’s unwillingness to play by any rules.

The story. Patrick Mariel (Guy Delorme) is a wealthy businessman with a loving wife and occasionally troublesome daughter, who is about to celebrate her 18th birthday. His problems stem from his own stupidity – many years ago, when he was penniless and suicidal, he made a deal with the mysterious Lorna (with whom his daughter suspects he is having an affair), whereby he would become financially successful in exchange for his then unborn daughter, on her 18th birthday.

Stanford as the formidable demon, sports the most appalling overuse of eye make-up. Such a mask-like touch could look ridiculous, but she actually looks incredibly unnerving, in part due to her confident and alluring performance. Her henchman Mariuziuz is played by Howard Vernon, but with her powers, he seems superfluous – which is something of a waste of Vernon’s talents. Knowing Franco’s schedule, Vernon was probably busy working on another film for the director at the same time! During the longest of his two scenes, Mariuziuz throws Mariel out of Lorna’s apartment, after trying unsuccessfully to open a stubborn sliding door two or three times. Strange they didn’t allow a retake.

To add to the spice, Lorna refers to Linda as her daughter throughout, which gives the sex scenes between them an extra incestuous edge. There is also a scene where Marianne is festooned with crabs which is extreme and guaranteed to raise an eyebrow or two. Equally, the brutal use of a dildo later on makes the viewer wince somewhat. Franco’s camera is obsessed with every area of intimacy; with any other director, you might assume the zooms and out-of-focus moments are borne out of over-excitement – with Franco, it’s a trademark. Inappropriate music abounds (courtesy of classical guitarist André Bénichou and Robert de Nesle), especially in the climactic scenes, which due to Romay, are powerful and delightfully unselfconscious. Her scenes toward the end, when her ‘new’ nature takes over, are really well acted – subtly to begin with (not something you often find in these kind of films), and full-on terrifying the nearer we get to the end. And the camera, so intrusive, does Romay few favours, lingering far too long on a final huge-eyed close-up.

A genuinely perverse and affecting film then, and one of the director’s most personal. I enjoyed it, but wouldn’t recommend watching it on a first date.

27. May, 2017

Blackcountry/Blackfoot Trail (2014)

A young couple Alex and Jenn (Jeff Roop and Missy Peregrym, turning in excellent performances) decide to backpack through the Canadian forests. They are sprightly, funny and highly likeable. So much so that when they are joined by a third, Brad (Eric Balfour), he is immediately unwelcome, no matter how friendly he seems to be. And friendly he is, though there’s no denying he has a darker side, which occasionally manifests in their conversations. His appearance some way into the film makes us pretty sure we’ll see him again later …

The other player here is Nicholas Campbell who is great in the small role of the grouchy Ranger-on-the-make.

Likeable though Alex seems, it is difficult not to resent him when he ‘reasonably’ insists they continue their trek despite strange noises at night and other unnerving occurrences – we, the audience, know Jenn is bound to be right in wanting to go home, and Alex’s foolhardy refusal to take a map guarantees trouble.

In fact, the more we get to know Alex, the less likeable he becomes. When he reveals his bullheadedness extends also to relieving Jenn of her mobile phone and leaving it in the car, and then succeeds in getting them both lost, our sympathies lie 100% with his partner. Of course, being lost with no way of communication with the outside world is integral to stories of this nature, and here is made entirely believable due to Alex’s need to prove himself by turning down any offers of help. This allows Jenn to move centre stage and salvage a situation that descends from Very Bad to Even Worse, when they unknowingly wander into black bear country and become of great interest to a large, predatory killer. When Alex is frantically looking for his axe to ward off an approaching bear, I commend Jenn for resisting the temptation to say, “Maybe it’s with my phone.”

We wait a long time for the attacks to come, but when they do, they are expertly handled and very effective. And more gory than we expect. This is an extraordinary debut from writer/director Adam MacDonald and I hope he has a long a fruitful career, because this a film with only four cast members, is extremely easy to enjoy. It should be said, however, that the ending is slightly disappointing, although the atmospheric use of the incredible location – crisp, taught camera angles; at one point, the swaying of the trees has an almost hallucinatory effect – ease the shortcomings due to a lack of proper pay-off.