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The Return of the Vampire (1943)
A worthy rival to Universal's horror output
From about 1931 to 1945, Universal Studios produced a rightly-famous run of monster-based horror films which have contributed greatly to the whole genre within the public consciousness. Among them was "Dracula" (1931) with Bela Lugosi in the title role, which forever cemented the image of Bram Stoker's character as an elegant man in a flowing black cape.
With the character in the public domain, Columbia Studios apparently wanted to do a sequel of sorts with Lugosi reprising the role but the threat of possible action from Universal led to Columbia shifting their plans somewhat and so the vampire that Lugosi plays in this film is named Armand Tesla. But make no mistake, he is Count Dracula in all but name.
Made relatively cheaply, even for the time, it would be a bit of a stretch to label this film a classic, but nevertheless it stands as an effective, solid and occasionally innovative horror flick of its era.
The story commences with a prologue sequence set in 1918 which depicts how the vampire, wreaking his accursed evil in London, is put to rest by scientist Dr Saunders and his assistant Lady Jane Ainsley. Fast forward about 25 years to the midst of World War II. Dr Saunders has recently died and Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Frederick Fleet is discussing with Lady Jane his concerns about revelations in the late doctor's private notes concerning driving a stake through the vampire's heart all those years earlier. In spite of Lady Jane's assurances, Fleet is of the opinion a murder may have been committed and is of a mind to exhume the body.
However, events move ahead of him. A German bombing raid disturbs the body of the vampire and Tesla wastes no time in picking up where he left off. Developing an unhealthy obsession with Saunders' beautiful daughter Nicki, he resolves to take her back to his homeland and keep her as his eternal bride. But can Lady Jane and a disbelieving Sir Frederick possibly stop him in time?
If Bela Lugosi wearied of playing vampires, he doesn't show it here and produces the same type of commanding performance that originally endeared him to the movie-going public in Dracula. Sadly we don't see him bearing his fangs, nor is there any changing into a bat. Instead, Tesla exhibits the power of mind control and, curiously, has the power to not only bring a man under his influence but also to turn him into a werewolf!
This means that instead of a deranged sycophant played by Dwight Frye, we have Matt Willis as the rather unwilling henchman to the vampire, Andreas. His werewolf make-up, although elaborate, unfortunately looks more comical than menacing. As might be expected, the transformations are achieved by a rapid series of cross-fades (as with the Lon Chaney Jr Wolf Man films of the same period) but these are generally executed rather better than those witnessed in the Universal films.
Quite unusually, it is not the dashing young fiancé of the vampire's victim who is the hero here, nor is it the police commissioner, rather it is Lady Jane, a mature female scientist played by Frieda Inescort. Credit to Columbia for going with a strong, intelligent female lead character at a time when such things were practically unheard of!
Being set in London, the majority of the characters speak in overly clipped tones or else exaggerated stone-the-crows-type cockney accents, which hasn't helped the film to age well. And sadly it retreads a lot of familiar ground - you know, teeth marks being found in the victim's neck and all that, but I suppose that's what audiences expected, even wanted. At least we do get to see Lugosi actually rising from his coffin in this film, something that was glaringly avoided back in Dracula. And the backdrop of the war is relevant to the plot rather than serving as mere window dressing.
A little more depth wouldn't have gone amiss, and some of the humour tends to undermine the piece but overall the plot hangs together well, the dialogue and imagery are sufficiently strong and the film gives Nina Foch her first big screen role in a career which was to endure for sixty years. There are many worse films to be found, and sadly the great Bela Lugosi would end up starring in some of them.
Aliens in the Family (1987)
The serials which the BBC Children's Department produced in the 1980s were often quality productions and frequently dipped into the realms of fantasy. Many were period pieces, but Aliens In The Family is something of a rarity in that it was a contemporary sci-fi adventure. Even more unusually, it tackles the issue of the modern family unit - that is, children suddenly having to accept new family members when their parents remarry.
In this case teenage tomboy Jacqueline, who prefers to be known as Jake and dresses like a cowboy, leaves home to spend the holidays with her father, his new wife and her children from her previous marriage - teenage daughter Dora and younger son Lewis. Jake and the more feminine Dora are struggling to come to terms with their parents' new relationship and, likewise, regard one another with antipathy. Amidst all this upheaval, the girls befriend a mysterious young man named Bond, who turns out to be an alien visiting Earth to gather information, and who is being pursued by the evil Wirdegens. By helping Bond escape them, the two girls slowly grow to respect and like one another.
In tackling the sensitive subject of children affected by the break-up of their parents' marriage, this serial was bravely facing an issue which must have touched a significant percentage of its 1980s audience when few other children's dramas were doing so.
Unfortunately the science fiction element, which was probably its big draw, plays very much second fiddle and is very lightweight, from some cheap effects (though the alien make-up is passable) to a rather vague and illogical reasoning behind Bond's mission on Earth (why does his sister have to be disguised as a radio?) There's a sequence where the protagonists are transported back through time, but... Well, since they're in a field, you can't tell the difference anyway. Even more bizarrely, the Wirdegen threat is dismissed at the climax through a plot device that leaves the viewer feeling cheated, and we're left knowing no more about this mysterious force than when the serial started.
The two leads, Sophie Bold and Clare Wilkie, deliver rather wooden performances that fail to capture the intensity of emotion that their characters are experiencing, and the videotaped look of the whole serial lends a pervading air of cheapness throughout. Roger Limb provides one of his trademark tinny synthesised soundtracks, which again fails to lend any gravitas to the drama.
The young viewers at the time may retain a certain affection for this serial, but the BBC's other children's dramas from the time, such as "Moondial" and "Running Scared", are streets ahead in terms of execution.
Wings still soars...but not so high
Obviously films made almost a century ago are going to look dated but even so, Wings has not aged particularly well. Certain silent films such as Greed, The Crowd, The Gold Rush, Nosferatu, Safety Last or The Wind are just as effective nowadays as they were when they were first released.
The big draw towards Wings back in the Nineteen-Twenties was for its spectacular and innovative depiction of air combat during World War I and for the time these scenes were handled well and largely 'done for real' when there wasn't CGI technology to fall back on. When viewed now, however, the air battles seem overlong and unspectacular, and the constant interruption with descriptive captions hardly helps either. The problem is that they've just been bettered so many times since. Wings couldn't, and doesn't, compare well with something like, say, Pearl Harbor (2001), a modern equivalent in many respects.
Luckily, Wings has more going for it than just aerial duels and I found that its strengths lay in its human drama rather than the action scenes as it sports a good cast on top of their game with a plot centred around two friends who are both love rivals for the same girl, a situation complicated further by another girl whose love for one of the protagonists is unrequited.
Here and there are some moments of great innovation with the camera and even some unexpected turns of the plot - for example, and most unusually for a war movie of the time, the enemy is not portrayed as wholly evil.
Although Wings is essentially a serious film, there are some comedy sequences along the way which I found tedious and unfunny (much involving El Brendel's character). The business with the champagne bubbles extended way past the point of interest. And yet other moments are strangely absent: What happened to Jobyna Ralston's character at the end?
A triumph in its day, Wings is still very watchable, but there are other films from the same period which can still offer a much richer viewing experience.
The Invisible Boy (1957)
There's not much excitement visible either...
This film remains of interest to sci-fi fans because of its reputation as the "other" Robby The Robot film, though forever in the shadow of the classic "Forbidden Planet" which gave Robby his impressive debut.
But although it gives Robby plenty of involvement, there's really very little to recommend it. I found the film exceedingly dull throughout, the only sequence that rises above the general tedium is that towards the end when Robby single-handedly engages a battalion (I pitied the poor actor in the Robby suit when all those explosions were going off right next to him).
The plot has some credible ideas, including its central premise of a super computer looking to usurp the human race as the dominant life form on Earth, but just meanders, and the boy turning invisible is a superfluous plot device to give the film some comedy - except that it really isn't very funny.
This isn't a cheap film; although lacking the colour of its more famous cousin, it looks quite polished with decent sets, acting, direction and (on the whole) special effects but it just lacks punch. And it can't seem to decide whether it's a light-hearted comic tale for kids, or a more dramatic sci-fi horror for an older audience: it's both, and yet it's neither. What audience was this film pitched at? The kids will find the serious stuff too technical and boring, the adults will find the film lacking depth with too much time devoted to the more whimsical elements.
Overall, "Forbidden Planet" fans may enjoy seeing this as a curio, but other viewers may find themselves switching off before the end.
When sci-fi takes a nosedive...
I'm never quite sure about "Star Wars", whether it really deserves its status as a classic film or whether it's actually not all that good once you cut through the above-average design, effects and musical score. But when I watch something like "Starcrash" one of the copycat movies rush-produced in its wake, I'm forced to conclude that "Star Wars" had a lot more going for it than its surface gloss. However much "Starcrash" may try and emulate its more famous predecessor, it falls desperately short in every respect.
There are a few token ingredients which "Starcrash" shares with "Star Wars", such as shoot-outs with hand-held laser weapons, dogfights in space, a laser sword or two, a robot sidekick with a human personality, a quest to find/rescue a person of noble origin whom the main protagonist subsequently falls in love with, and an evil empire bent on subjugating all other races, the leader of whom is in a space station ready to put his sinister new super-weapon into action.
But there the similarity to "Star Wars" ends and "Starcrash" goes off on its own tangent of banality. The plot casts a pair of space smugglers in the hero roles: Stella Star (Caroline Munro), described as the best pilot in the galaxy, and her alien (but human-looking) companion Akton (Marjoe Gortner) who, likewise, is supposedly the galaxy's best navigator. Despite their combined skills, the pair get caught by patrols and are sentenced to hard labour on a penal colony. Feisty Stella soon contrives an escape (running away, no less, while her fellow up-risers get slaughtered) only to then find she would have been freed anyway for the Emperor has need of her services he wants Stella and Akton to find his missing son who was on a top secret mission to stop the evil Count Zarth Arn from using a deadly new weapon to take control of the universe.
That is the catalyst for Stella to be propelled from one deadly situation to the next as she travels from planet to planet encountering a race of unfriendly Amazon warriors and their giant robot (which itself sports a pair of female breasts), nearly freezing to death on an ice planet, being trussed up by a band of babbling troglodytes (who either want to eat her or sacrifice her, it's not clear which) and so on. She ultimately locates the missing son who of course is a heart-throb even if he does wear the same amount of eye-liner as she does, and they return to the Emperor who launches an all-out attack on the Count's base, which proves unsuccessful. The one last hope for the galaxy is for Stella to wipe out the Count's fortress by engaging in a desperate kamikaze mission the 'star crash' of the film's title.
If that all sounds like exciting stuff, then don't raise your hopes: writer-director Luigi Cozzi completely wastes whatever potential this storyline may have had. The action sequences are perfunctory but lack impact because the whole film is devoid of soul. The characters are so bland and one-dimensional that the viewer never feels any real involvement with them. Worst in this regard is Count Zarth Arn, a snarling pantomime villain prone to frequent bouts of maniacal laughter. He even has the standard goatee beard to prove he's the baddie... He's so camp you have to wonder how anybody takes him seriously, let alone how he rose to such a position of power. And his ambition? Well, to conquer the universe, of course! Equally bad, and yet by some degree entertaining because of how lame it is, is the dialogue. Some choice lines include "I don't tolerate malfunctions!", "No one can survive these deadly rays!", "What in the universe is that?", "I'll fix you!", "Soon I will join you as your prince of darkness!" and, "Imperial Battleship: Halt the flow of time!" The script is also riddled with far too many token utterances such as "What's that?", "Hey, look out!", "Let me go!" and "Come on!" which demonstrate just how little effort was put into it.
As the main character, Stella may certainly look the part thanks to Munro's stunning physique, garbed in a series of outfits that Barbarella probably discarded on the grounds that they were too kinky, and she may be gutsy, but... Well, she doesn't actually do very much except blunder into a series of perils in the best traditions of Pearl White and get saved by one of her colleagues, often via a hitherto unmentioned special ability. These abilities know no bounds of credibility, such as freezing an entire planet in one moment of time, or being able to foresee the future whenever the situation calls for it! The special effects are variable, with nothing reaching the standards of even "2001: A Space Odyssey" which was produced a decade earlier. The spaceship models look decidedly chunky, almost like they're made from Lego. At one point in the movie Stella has been frozen and when she thaws out, the effect is achieved via a rather poor series of cross fades reminiscent of the the effect used for the transformations of Lon Chaney Jr's Wolf Man in the Universal films of over thirty years earlier.
Did I mention the acting? That's bad too, almost without exception, although it's difficult to blame the actors when they're equipped with such a bad script. Also, many of the cast have been overdubbed in the English language version, including Caroline Munro, so it's not actually her voice we hear.
Even John Barry, one of cinema's best composers, is operating below par on this one. He probably realised when he saw the rushes that it just wasn't worth the effort. If so, he was right. 'Starcrash' is beyond redemption.
Night Train to Murder (1983)
A sluggish ride
A successful double-act on stage for many years, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise eventually made a successful transfer to television after some initial teething troubles in the Fifties, and in 1968 joined the BBC for a ten-year spell which would produce their funniest and most enduring work, making them Britain's best loved comic pair.
Their rise in prominence had witnessed three rather weak feature film entries in the 1960s and in 1978, at their peak, they were lured away from the BBC to Thames Television with a more lucrative contract and an agreement to take them beyond their established variety sketch show format with the possibility of producing a made-for-television film.
The transfer to Thames did not go smoothly, as it took a while for Thames to also secure the services of their primary writer, Eddie Braben, and Eric Morecambe suffered a serious heart attack barely a year after signing the Thames contract. The TV shows eventually continued, though never quite with the same success as the earlier BBC ones. Even the ITV network seemed to be losing faith with the pair, as from 1981 their annual Christmas show was moved away from the prestigious Christmas Day slot where it had been a fixture since the late Sixties.
Morecambe, in declining health and possibly motivated by a desire to demonstrate his versatility before the end came, appeared to be tiring of the format and even, possibly, of the double act itself and was pursuing other projects including solo ventures such as writing novels and appearing (without Wise) in some film subjects for director Charles Wallace.
'Night Train To Murder' seems to have been a half-hearted concession by Thames to allow Morecambe & Wise to make another film subject. The immediate problem is that it is not a film, it is shot on videotape which immediately gives it a cheaper, more amateurish look. The script, apparently written by Morecambe & Wise themselves along with producer-director Joe McGrath, places the duo in the rather clichéd plot of travelling on an overnight train to the reading of a will in a big, isolated old house where surviving family members (including Morecambe's niece, played by Lysette Anthony in one of her earliest TV roles)stand to inherit a considerable fortune, providing they don't first get killed off by a mysterious figure who seems intent on being the sole heir.
Although hardly an original idea, the premise at least lends itself better to the duo's style of comedy than their earlier feature films. They're backed up by a pretty strong cast, too, including Richard Vernon, Kenneth Haig, Edward Judd, Pamela Salem and, particularly, Fulton MacKay, an actor of sharp talent who never seemed to be fully appreciated when he was still alive.
The script, however, all seems rather sloppy. The gags are rather hit and miss, and even though it's not meant to be taken too seriously, the plot still defies logic (why does the villain have to adopt all the disguises? And if he's a master of quick-change disguise, why wear a rubber mask at times?) But even when the jokes work on paper, McGrath's direction rarely maximises their potential and too many of them fall flat.
Eric Morecambe sadly died in May 1984, the tributes hailing him as one of Britain's greatest comics. 'Night Train To Murder' had still not been broadcast and was held back until the following Christmas period, but it is perhaps significant that ITV kept it away from the big nights, only screening it on the rather insignificant night of 3rd January 1985 with relatively little fanfare.
In this context, it is poignant that the production opens (even before the opening titles) with Eric and Ernie attending a funeral, telling the audience that one of the cast members died during production (setting up a gag that comes later on).
In summation, this production hardly shows Morecambe and Wise at their best and leaves one wondering what might have been. Even so, it gives us one final chance to see them doing something different, and the scenes early on where Morecambe momentarily drops the comedy and plays an avuncular figure opposite Lysette Anthony give us a rare, possibly unique glimpse of a wholly different facet of the man. It's tempting to wonder how this might have been developed had Morecambe lived and had time to explore further creative avenues. The sad irony is that he didn't, and that it was the BBC rather than Thames who were soon making feature-length versions of some of their top comedies shot entirely on film, such as Only Fools And Horses and Last Of The Summer Wine, for the Christmas schedules.
Like its star, this film is showing its age
As the years tick by, it seems that modern audiences have less and less time for the comedies of the earlier decades of motion pictures. Certainly here in the UK you'd be hard-pushed nowadays to find any of the output of Chaplin, Keaton, the Marx Brothers or Laurel & Hardy on television. As for Harold Lloyd or Harry Langdon - forget it.
W C Fields has, perhaps, never enjoyed a particularly strong following on this side of the Atlantic but even so, there was a time when his films would populate the TV schedules. That time seems past and Fields is unquestionably becoming something of an obscurity. The image of an ageing, obese comedian fell out of favour when audiences turned their backs on once-popular stars of more recent times such as Benny Hill and Bernard Manning and the liquor-loving lechery of W C Fields in this context is unlikely to find much support.
Fields oughtn't be so casually dismissed. He was a strong identifiable and quite unique character on screen, and a comedian with a sharp repartee who knew his craft. "Never Give A Sucker An Even Break" dates from the latter stages of his career as ill health was beginning to take a grip of him, but his wit is still on top form and he is still able to engage in a surprising amount of physical comedy.
The film betrays the notion that it had a rather turbulent production. The original script apparently contained scenes that are not even alluded to in the finished picture, which would have expanded upon the relationship between Fields and his niece (played by Gloria Jean). Several actors who allegedly shot scenes for this film are wholly absent from the final cut. And at one point even Fields himself breaks the fourth wall to actually tell the watching audience of a scene which was excised at the behest of the censors! What we are left with is a slightly disjointed mess. The plot, such as it is, involves Fields visiting a film studio to try and sell his latest script to a producer. Along the way we are treated to glimpses of the rather chaotic life at the studio where Fields' niece is employed as an up-and-coming star.
As the producer reads through Fields' rather far-fetched story idea, the events in the script are related through live action so we actually get to 'see' the movie as Fields' character envisaged it, albeit with interruptions from the producer.
This story-within-a-story approach is novel for the time, and is an interesting mirror of the true genesis of "Never Give A Sucker An Even Break", but it is also rather limiting. The 'Esoteric Studios' plot is simply too weak to hold up a feature film and is far more the sort of situation you'd expect to find in a Three Stooges short subject.
Much more interesting is the 'inner story', that is the plot of Fields' script that the producer reads, which concerns Fields falling out of an aeroplane and landing in the isolated mountain-top residence of a man-hating woman and her beautiful daughter who has grown to adulthood without even being aware of the existence of men. The arrival of Fields in this situation is ripe for comedy and has great potential, but that potential is barely tapped as too many possibilities are spurned and Fields leaves the scene all too quickly.
Fields is easily the most interesting character in this film. Unfortunately too many of the others are found wanting and the sequences where Fields is absent suffer badly because they rely on weak comedy from others (notably Franklin Pangborn as the film producer, and juvenile double-act Butch and Buddy) and rather superfluous musical scenes in which the very capable Gloria Jean sings numbers which are badly dated now.
The film ends rather abruptly after a lengthy car chase sequence which again has little relevance to the plot, and seems contrived to give the film a more spectacular conclusion, but in reality it's not a conclusion at all - whilst Fields' character was determined to reach a specific destination the rather thin plot, sadly, was not going anywhere and so the film just - well, ends.
Never Let Me Go (2010)
Don't let this one go
I put this film on last night having no prior knowledge of what it was about, and I certainly hadn't read the book from which it was adapted. The intriguing storyline soon sucked me in and I remained completely absorbed throughout. As this is a spoiler-free review, I won't say too much about the plot, but it unfolds at an acceptable pace with a few nice twists and turns along the way. It raises questions here and there, but provides enough clues for the viewer to fill in the blanks without leaving him confused and, thankfully, without having to labour every point. The story is mainly centred around 3 characters, Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, and follows their lives over a period of many years. It's debatable which is actually the main plot - the love triangle, or the sci-fi/moral element of the narrative, but these two strands are woven together well and as well as being handled sensitively and with refreshing subtlety, they are also thought-provoking. The characters themselves are believable, a far cry from the usual stereotypical protagonists of modern film. I was also relieved that as this film progressed it didn't descend into clichéd action-thriller nonsense with the main characters being relentlessly pursued as they try to escape their destiny, as is so often the case. The film is also well directed and boasts some lovely cinematography, showing off some excellent scenery throughout. All in all, my viewing of this film was a most pleasurable surprise. I shall file this one away under "Excellent - must watch again."
One Way Pendulum (1965)
Inventive surreal comedy that will linger in the memory
I watched this film with practically no prior knowledge of it and for the first fifteen minutes or so I thought it was shaping up into a typical farce or situation comedy of the era with one or two elements which seemed a little too far-fetched. However, the dialogue and the situations become even more bizarre and then, at about 40 minutes in, the film turns completely on its head with a wholly surreal twist.
This film is wonderfully bonkers, incredibly inventive with a small but excellent cast and a plethora of richly absurd lines of dialogue. The characters almost without exception see the peculiarities in their peers whilst being completely oblivious to their own eccentricities and in that sense is a wonderful observation of our own individual failings. It won't appeal to everyone, but if you like the humour of Monty Python, Spike Milligan or, especially, The Strange World of Gurney Slade, you should love this overlooked, and largely forgotten gem.
I see it flopped on its original release, maybe it was too ahead of its time, or more likely people watched it with expectations that this film would deliver a comprehensible plot with traditional gags. It doesn't. Like the main character, Mr Groomkirby, it exists in a world of its own - and we are privileged to be afforded a glimpse into it.
The Reptile (1966)
This reptile lacks bite!
This 1966 offering from the famous Hammer studios starts off fairly well, building up a nice air of mystery in spite of a pre-credits sequence which rather unnecessarily lets the cat out of the bag. It's all very clichéd stuff, really - Captain Harry Spalding and his wife arrive in a small Cornish village to take possession of the cottage that belonged to his late brother, who recently died in mysterious circumstances.
Spalding finds the locals very stand-offish, and they have an annoying habit (but convenient to the plot) of talking in riddles about a "black death" which is killing people, whilst also hinting that "they" are responsible for the deaths without elaborating further.
The Spaldings are visited in turn by their abrasive and evasive neighbour Doctor Franklyn and his considerably more affable daughter Anna, who seems to be frightened of her father and repressed by him.
Ultimately, of course, it turns out that the beautiful Anna is the victim of some curse from an Eastern 'snake cult' which causes her to transform periodically into a reptilian monster, whose lethal bite is causing the mysterious deaths in the village.
Unfortunately, the plot begins to unravel more and more as the film progresses and rather than explaining most of the mysterious things that have been happening, the subsequent events serve only to ignore them.
The locals' hostility towards Spalding is never explained beyond an initial "they don't like strangers in these parts" comment. The ransacking of Spalding's cottage is never explained. There's a shocking lack of exploration into the psyche of Anna/The Reptile - Why does she kill? What's her motivation? Is she even aware, when in human form, that she becomes this monster? It's just not made clear.
Likewise, her father's behaviour is a bit bizarre and seems to stem from a need to add drama and intrigue into the plot rather than any logical motivation. Supposedly he's keeping Anna repressed to limit the harm she can cause in her reptilian form, and you could understand him not wanting people poking their noses into his affairs, but even so, his rudeness to others seems extreme whilst wandering into other people's property uninvited is clearly going to make people curious about you, as does angrily smashing up a sitar in front of dinner guests because you don't like the way your daughter is playing it (an interesting sequence which again is left very ambiguous). Franklyn's treatment of his daughter suggests she's at fault for everything, he certainly doesn't show her an ounce of sympathy for the condition his actions brought upon her. This is at odds with the rest of the film which suggests Anna is the innocent victim.
Things get progressively sillier. For a start, is it really necessary to go digging up bodies just to see if they have bites on their neck? Where are the police in this film? Or the local doctor? You know, the sort of people you expect to arrive on the scene when people are dying mysteriously.
The reason the deaths are a mystery, of course, is that a bite victim dies quickly, before they can raise the alarm and explain what has happened to them. So why, when Spalding is bitten, does he have time to run all the way back across the moor to his house? Furthermore, with the deadly venom having had time to circulate around his body, how does making a small cut in his neck prevent him from dying? How does he even know to do this when, by his own earlier admission, he has absolutely no medical knowledge at all? Even more absurdly, reptiles need to keep warm so Franlyn's mansion has a convenient bubbling sulphur pit in its cellar. I wonder how long it took him to find a property on the market with such a facility? Still, it's not all bad. The cast are generally very good, with Michael Ripper (in a sizable role for once!) and Jacqueline Pearce being particularly worthy of mention. Sets, costumes and effects are mostly good, the exception being the rather weak appearance of the monster, though these are wisely kept to brief glimpses. Playing the story out as a mystery at least keeps the viewer interested in it throughout, even if the ending isn't very satisfying.
I'd much rather have seen a bit more depth to the relationship between Franklyn and his daughter Anna, and seen her more visibly locked in some struggle between her good 'human' persona and her evil 'reptilian' one, and Franklyn portrayed as a more sympathetic character torn between his love for his daughter and his horror at the murders she is responsible for. However, this is ultimately a film designed for 'surface' horror, easily-digestible set pieces which we're not supposed to think about too much.