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Danza macabra (1964)
Castle of Blood (aka Danse Macabre) Revisiting An Old Haunt
I originally saw this movie as a boy at the old Rialto Theatre as part of a Saturday afternoon matinée triple bill which also featured Vincent Price's "Last Man on Earth" and Mario Bava's "Nightmare Castle." I had nightmares about blood lusting ghosts for a week afterwards! Though I didn't know it then, all three movies would prove to be classics of the genre. No wonder I was so scared! Though all three films frightened me, it was Castle of Blood that had the most profound impact.
It was the first on the bill. I didn't even get to see it from the beginning as we were late getting to the cinema and missed the first 20 minutes of the movie. That's lot to miss since the edited print only ran about 79 minutes (the unedited runs 87minutes). But despite this, the dark creepy atmosphere (complete with ruined castles, fog enshrouded cemeteries, shadows and cobwebs), Gothic set design, strong acting, and suspense (especially the last 20 minutes) scared the bejeepers out of me and made a lasting impression It took me years to finally get a copy of the film for my collection. Since it was a French - Italian import, it wasn't a movie that showed up on the late show in Winnipeg. I couldn't quite remember the title (remember I didn't get to seen the beginning of the film and was scared witless), and to make matters worse, the film had been released under literally a dozen different movie titles (aka Danze Macabre, Coffin of Terror, Castle of Terror, Long Night of Terror, etc...) and the USA/UK working title "Castle of Blood" was very generic, similar to dozens of other "b" horror and suspense films, making it illusive. But thanks to the internet and perseverance, I found it at last! What a treat to finally watch the film in its entirety after so many years! It may not have had quite the sheer emotional impact that it did when I was a boy, but as haunted house movies go, it's stands up well and compares favourably to similar iconic films of the period such as "The Haunting," "The Innocents" or "Black Sunday," The film is a fine early effort of Italian director Antonio Margheriti. It stars 60's scream queen icon Barbara Steele and features a well written screenplay by Sergio Corbucci about a sceptical writer (Georges Riviere) who, on a bet, spends the night in haunted house and unsuspectingly becomes part of an annual ongoing ghostly story. The hypnotic Steele is well cast as the ghostly love interest - as is Arturo Dominici as Dr. Carmus, and Margarete Robsahm as Julia.
Many of the tricks Margheriti employs to create the film's eerie atmosphere (cobwebs, creaking doors, fog, etc) are bound to seem cliché to a modern audience, but they work far more effectively in black and white than they ever could in modern day colour. Rather than using body counts and special effects, the film creates scares the old fashion way, relying on a good story, stylish direction, fine set production, interesting camera work, and strong acting performances. Margheriti does a marvellous job taking these elements and building the film's suspense as the horrifying paranormal secret of the house gradually reveals itself to the unwitting writer.
The film is not without faults. The pace drags at the beginning of the film (ironically, the 20 minutes I originally missed). This is probably worsened by Synapse films effort to restore the film to its original length. Though fans will likely appreciate the chance to see the film restored - in terms of the intro - it may have been more of hindrance than a help. The English voice dubs are merely passable and, in the restored scenes, the language shifts from English to French (English subtitles provided) which is sure to be annoying to some viewers.
However, Synapse Films deserves kudos for the quality of the print. Clearly some effort was put into its restoration and deservedly so.
I enjoyed the film immensely and highly recommend it to aficionados of 60's Italian Goth films, or anyone who enjoys a good ghost story.
Rob Rheubottom Winnipeg, MB Canada
The Raven (1963)
Raving About Roger Corman's The Raven
Raving About Roger Corman's The Raven (1963) Every October my daughter and I pick up a few spooky movies to get into the Halloween groove. This year, I had the pleasure of introducing her to one of my all time favorite horror comedy classics, Director Roger Corman's "The Raven." The screenplay is adapted (VERY loosely) from the famous Edgar Allan Poe poem. This is one of Corman's many American International Picture adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's works, and one of his best.
As the king of "b" horror movies, Corman knew had to make the most out of a tight budget. His stylish films consistently used good source material, well written screenplays, lavish set designs, locations, props, costumes and great horror stars. "The Raven" boasts no less a cast than Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Jack Nicholson, and 60's scream queen Helen Court a mind boggling cast given that this is a low budget film.
Pairing horror legends Price, Lorre, and Karloff was indeed a momentous occasion and the stars make the most of it. Any semblance to Poe's Gothic poem pretty much ends after Vincent Price reads the first few lines (brilliantly recited despite its brevity) at the intro of the movie. Afterwards, screenplay writer Richard Matheson takes the sombre mood of the original poem and turns it on its ear with his original comic screenplay.
At the outset of the film, we learn that Price's character (Dr.Craven a wizard) has lost his wife Lenore (Helen Court) and has long mourned her loss. He's interrupted in the midst of his grief by "a tapping at his door." Price opens the door to find himself confronted by a raven (Peter Lorre). The raven, it turns out, can talk and is actually a rascally wizard named Dr Bedlo who has been enchanted by the evil wizard Dr Scarabus (Boris Karloff). He entreats the amazed doctor to help him become a man again.
Richard Matheson's screenplay provides the actors with some wonderful comedy dialog with which to work. Price and Lorre had been previous teamed in Tales of Terror, and their styles blend beautifully together they are a scream! They set about concocting a potion in set designer Daniel's Haller's creepily atmospheric dungeon. After much fumbling, Price finally manages to restore Lorre's human head, but his body remains that of a giant human sized raven. Seeing Lorre strut his stuff in the Big Bird raven costume is almost worth the DVD price by itself! Once restored, Lorre swears revenge on Dr Scarabus. He asks for Price's help. But the doctor refuses until Lorre's character spots a portrait of Price's long lost wife and remarks that he's seen the woman at Scarabus' castle. The two set off for the castle along with Price's daughter (Olive Sturgess) and Bedlo's son (played by a young delightfully hammy Jack Nicholson).
When Lorre and Price reach the castle, the fireworks begin figuratively and literally. It's clear these three horror icons are having the time of their lives, hilariously spoofing their monster screen personas. Dated special effects (though fine for their day) detract little from the final magical showdown between Karloff and Price.
I never get sick of seeing this movie and happily give it a rave review! Grab the popcorn and enjoy.
Rob Rheubottom Winnipeg, MB Canada
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Ginger Snaps" A Howling Good TIme
"Ginger Snaps" A Howling Good TIme *contains some minor plot spoilers* "Ginger Snaps" takes the old cautionary tale of Little Red Riding and turns it on its furry ear. Instead of Lon Chaney Jr. howling at the moon and chasing poor unsuspecting girls through the woods - enter the Fitzgerald sisters, Ginger and Brigitte (Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins) two slightly morbid, teenage sisters entering puberty who are about to experience "the curse," and put a whole new humorous lycanthropic spin on the phrase "that time of month." Ginger has "the bite" put on her by a werewolf while walking through the woods with her sister. She then begins to experience "the change" much to the horror of her younger sister Brigitte. Ginger begins experiencing cramps, ill temper, hair in strange places, and a new found "taste" for boys much to the horror of Brigitte who must hide her sister's secret, clean up the mess, and find a way to help end the terrible curse before Ginger "snaps" again! "Ginger Snaps" is a horror at it's best. The film benefits greatly by a strong cast, particularly Perkins and Isabelle as the Fitzgerald sisters, Kris Lemche as a dope dealing, knight in shining armor/love interest, and Mimi Rogers who is a real hoot playing a well meaning but ineffectual "Beaver Cleaver" house mom trying to help her teenage daughters deal with the trials of puberty.
Though Karen Walton and John Fawcett's script was written tongue in cheek the film has many genuinely horrific moments. There is more than enough blood, gore and entrails here to keep any bonafide horror fan happy. That being said, because the film had a limited budget, it relies primarily on acting, atmosphere and suspense building to deliver the scares probably a plus rather than a minus. Our lycanthrope is seen only in glimpses a la "Alien" until near the end of the film. Thankfully, the special effects it does employ are innovative and well done.
Director John Hawcett does a fine job creating a dark chilling atmosphere. He moves the plot at a good pace, deftly interweaving moments of horror and humour. Though the scares come fast and frequent, Fawcett wisely takes the time to give us glimpses into the amusingly macabre life and relationships of the Fitzgerald sisters. Their situation may be fantastic and comic, but the Fitzgeralds, though misfits, are in many ways average teens, dealing with everyday teenage problems (problems with parents, teachers, peers, bullies, boys, etc.) and thus draw empathy from the audience. The gritty dialogue and snapshots of high school life help to underline this realism and contribute to the viewer's willing suspension of disbelief.
The only place where I felt the film didn't quite work was the ending where the I won't go into any in depth criticism and spoil it for those who haven't seen the film, but suffice it to say that I suspect the reason for this may have been that it was written with a sequel in mind ("Ginger Snaps" ultimately became a trilogy).
Despite this,"Ginger Snaps" is still the most innovative horrifying piece of lycanthropic lunacy to come down the pike in decades. I highly recommend it to fans of the genre. "Ginger Snaps" is a howling good time! Rob Rheubottom Winnipeg, MB Canada
I'm A Believer
I'm A Believer! Negative reviews did not deter me from going to see the new X-Files movie. I'm happy to report I was pleasantly surprised. The chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson is still there and both stars put in solid performances. The subject matter was edgy and disturbing (as might be expected from the groundbreaking TV series), though long time fans looking for new insights into the X-Files mythology may go away a bit disappointed. It was more of a "stand alone" episode designed to be enjoyed by both newcomers and long term fans alike. Though newbies will be able to enjoy the movie without understanding the X-Files mythology, they might find it a bit dark and initially slow paced. No need to despair. It's worth the wait.
I found the movie entertaining, thought provoking, unsettling (in a good way and, happily, it left me hungry for more. I'm dusting off my X-Files box set and keeping my fingers crossed that the movie does enough box office to fund another movie or 2hr TV special. I'll definitely be buying the DVD!
Festival Express (2003)
A singularly unique experience in the annals of rock n'roll!
I live in Winnipeg and unfortunately missed FESTIVAL EXPRESS when it rolled through back in 1970. I opted instead to go to Winnipeg's other huge ticket that summer - Manpop - which featured Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly and the Youngbloods as headliners. I've always remembered Festival Express as a golden opportunity missed - but being only sixteen years old with limited funds - I was forced to live with the consequences of a tough choice.
Seeing the film "Festival Express" isn't quite like being there in person, but it's the next best thing! For young folks who weren't even born in 1970, it's a chance to see Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, the Band, the Fly Burrito Bros, Buddy Guy, Ian & Sylvia, et al... in their prime and find out what the buzz was all about. Janis and Jerry Garcia are in particularly great voice. Janis gives a gut wrenchingly poignant performance, particularly during "Cry Baby". I'm not sure what brought the tears to my eyes, her greatness or the knowledge that she would leave us just a few short months after that performance (followed later by the tragic death's of the Dead's drummer "Pigpen" & guitarist/singer Jerry Garcia and the Band's piano player Richard Manuel & bassist Rick Danko)
The concert footage of Janis and the Dead alone justify the film's admission price. My biggest gripe was that there should have been far more concert footage included. However, a local newspaper writeup mentioned that much of the concert footage was non-usable (bad sound, out of focus cameras, sound/no pix, pix/no sound....). It was so bad apparently - the fact that anything remotely resembling a cohesive film was wrought from the mounds of botched footage was nothing short of minor miracle! Don't get me wrong - the behind the scenes footage of the band partying and jamming stand on their own merit. Jerry Garcia pops up jamming on stage and off with everyone from Ian & Sylvia and the Great Speckled Bird (on stage in Calgary) to the Band's Rick Danko (on the train along with Janis - quite schwacked - hilarious!) Shots of protesters bitching about "the pigs" and high admissions prices (Fourteen dollars - how outrageous!)are also good for a chuckle and help capture the flavour of the period.
"Festival Express'" split screen camera techniques, the documentary style narrative and band lineups are bound to invite comparisons to the movie "Woodstock." I believe the camera techniques and documentary style are intended to help recapture the time period and mood rather than to ripoff "Woodstock." Further, neither Janis', the Dead's nor the Band's Woodstock performances made it into the original "Woodstock" movie. The experience of trucking a load of monstrously talented - notoriously hard partying rock n'rollers across Canada in a train with a well stocked bar, guitar amps, and a drum kit while the cameras rolled is singularly unique in the annals of rock n'roll - so is this film! Check it out!!
Phone Booth (2002)
An innovative suspenseful thriller!
Schumacher's latest outing PHONE BOOTH takes a familiar formula and applies some clever new spins. We begin with a stereotypical `Scream' like psycho killer (voice of Kiefer Sutherland) who loves to taunt and terrorize his victims via the telephone. However, Schumacher deviates from the standard psycho killer fare in intriguing ways. Firstly, our primary victim is male (Colin Farrell) not female. Rather than being trapped helpless and home alone, the victim is duped into answering a phone call in a busy New York City telephone booth. The killer then threatens to open fire with a high power rife unless Farrell (playing a New York City publicist) stays on the line and does everything he's told.
Schumacher takes pains at the beginning of the film to paint Farrell's character as a lying, manipulative self-centered lowlife. Again, the director breaks with the stereotypical formula in which the killer's victims are innocents who draw the audiences' sympathy, by painting Farrell as a worm, Schumacher cleverly inverts the formula so that the audience actually enjoys watching the victim squirm.
The killer tells Farrell he has set other victims up in the same manner and has killed before. To prove to Farrell he means business, he kills a bystander. This acts as a reality check both for Farrell and the audience it's one thing to see a low life being made to squirm but quite another for the sniper to open fire on a crowded New York Street. The audience now expects Schumacher to start running up the body count. But the director again dashes audience expectation and turns the film primarily into a psychological thriller rather than the action suspense or slasher fare we've been led to expect. The camera and action focus almost exclusively on the phone booth (reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE) and the publicist's agony and humiliation as the killer forces him to stay in the booth, now surrounded by police, and carry out his twisted wishes upon threat of death. Unaware of the sniper's presence, the police think the publicist has the killed the bystander. Farrel's character must continue playing the killer's deadly game in hopes he can somehow tip the police before either they, or the killer, end his life. Schumacher caps the film with a nice (though not totally unpredictable) twist ending. An innovative suspenseful outing! I gave it an 8 out 10!
Wpg, MB Canada
Outlaw Justice (1999)
Bill Corcoran's film OUTLAW JUSTICE aka THE LONG KILL lacks the style of Sergio Leone, the spectacle of John Ford, or the rawness of Sam Peckinpah, but Bill Corcoran's film is nevertheless entertaining and reflects the work of all these fine directors. Co-stars Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, who play former fugitive outlaws - Lee and Tarence, are getting a bit gray around the gills, and at times greatly stretch the view's ability to suspend disbelief that these two old age pensioners can be the two fisted brawling outlaws they portray, but the actors'charisma, mutual chemistry, empathy for the characters, and some self deprecating humor combine to help them pull off the performances. Country singer Travis Tritt turns in a surprisingly decent performance as Dalton - Willie and Kris' former cohort turned good guy lawman. The late great Waylon Jennings delivers a short but sweet performance as Tobey, another of Willie and Kris' former gang members who's murdered early in the film but resurfaces to deliver voiceovers in scenes where his estranged son learns about his murdered father through a diary. The film suffers from poorly played two dimensional villains (Sancho Garcia as Holden is especially stiff), big plot holes * *spoiler **(exactly why does Colonel Lupo want to capture Lee and Tarence so bad that's he's willing to pay a reward to a man he hates equally as much - Holden - and then let the two go?), well worn clichés, stereotyped characters and certainly doesn't break any new ground in the genre, but for the stars' fans and anyone who enjoys westerns - it is entirely watchable. I gave it a 6 out 10.
A Perfect World (1993)
A Perfect World Is Perfectly Watchable!
Some aspects of this film work better than others, but overall A PERFECT WORLD is a highly watchable film. Kevin Costner delivers a fine performance as escaped convict Butch Haynes. The film primarily focuses on the relationship between Haynes and an innocent 8 year old boy named Phillip whom he kidnaps and befriends (well played by TJ Lowther). Haynes has killed two people thus far and gives the impression of a being a loose cannon, but Eastwood evokes sympathy for the character as the audience learns about Haynes troubled childhood (raised without a father by a prostitute mother - killed a man by the age of 8) and observe his genuine care and concern for the boy. Their relationship is reminiscent of Allan Ladd and the young boy in SHANE. As he slowly feeds us more information about Hayne's history, and lets the audience wrestle with its ambivalent feelings towards Costner's character, Eastwood keeps the film moving with lots of close brushes with the law, car chases and shoot'em ups.
Where the film doesn't work quite is when Eastwood himself is in front of the camera, playing a minor role - Chief Red Garnett - a Texas Ranger who's in charge of Haynes' capture. The primary function of his character, and Laura Dern's (who plays Sally Gerber - a criminologist the Governor forces upon the Chief) in the script is to supply further information about Haynes' past. Unfortunately, Eastwood tries to flesh out the relationship between these characters through antagonistic chauvinist attitudes towards Gerber and creating a power struggle between the two which (big surprise!) over the course of the film, gradually leads to a mutual respect between them! Granted Eastwood and Dern have marquee value - especially Eastwood, are fine in their roles, and, of course, chauvinism was alive and well in 1960's Texas, but I mostly found these minor subplots annoying and unnecessary. It's the scenes and issues focusing on Costner's character that are the life blood of this picture. This criticism aside, Eastwood does a solid job directing, weaving action, suspense and thought provoking human drama into a well knit weave and Costner delivers one of the best acting performances of his career.
7 1/2 out of 10
House of the Damned (1996)
For masochists or the mindless only!
Given that Roger Corman attached his name to this production, I had high hopes for this film. Corman directed many memorable low budget horror flicks in the 1960's. I particularly enjoyed his adaptations of Poe's stories such as `The House Of Usher,' and `The Pit And Pendulum' and `The Raven' which starred the late great Vincent Price. These films had solid acting, atmosphere, suspense, strong characterization, intriguing plot development and delivered some chilling moments. Sadly, `House Of The Damned,' for the most part, sacrifices these qualities in lieu of cheesy low budget special effects, gratuitous nudity and mindless gore topped with cliche fast edits and camera angles.
`House Of The Damned' starts off interestingly with some beautiful location shots in Ireland, but it's straight downhill from here. Unfortunately, instead of spending some time building atmosphere, creating characters we might care about, or building suspense - the director opts to begin running up the body count. After a brief introduction to the lead characters, a young couple and their daughter, the audience spends the balance of the film being bounced from one `spooky' event to another which, in this film, substitutes for coherent plot development. The lead characters are so ill conceived and are so badly acted - the audience doesn't care what happens to them. To make matters worse, the `spooky' events are either utterly cliché or unconvincing due to low tech - low budget special effects. The soundtrack has been lifted from `The Omen.' The plot, what little there is, borrows heavily from `Poltergeist' and `The Legend Of Hell House,' but lacks any of the qualities which made these films convincing.
If you interested in seeing well done haunted house flicks, I recommend you check out classics like `The Haunting (1963),' `The Innocents (1961) or look into Corman's early American International films and pass on `House Of The Damned' unless you're masochistic or mindless.
3 ½ out of 10.
Wpg, MB. Canada
Not "The Ring" but more intriguing than "Darkness Falls"
Craven's new film doesn't compare to "THE RING" but it's light years more cerebral and imaginative than it's more recent clone "Darkness Falls." Director Robert Harmon relies on more on interesting camera angles, atmosphere and viewer imagination a la Hitchcock to build and maintain suspense - an odd but refreshing choice given Wes Craven's role as producer with his reputation for special effects and gore. The creatures in "THEY" remain shadowy as in "ALIEN" and the viewer's kept guessing as to whether "they" are real or are the products of an unhinged mind. Newcomer Laura Regan ("Unbreakable") gives a good performance as a former psychiatric patient turned graduate student on the verge of defending her Master's thesis in Psychology who begins to have relapses of childhood nightmares after a former schoolmate commits suicide. Marc Blucas ("When We Were Soldiers" and played Reilly in "Buffy The Vampire Slayer") plays her loving but sceptical boyfriend. The special effects production values are a bit low and unimaginative. Also, the ending (highly touted by some) was, in my view, a let down. Despite this, the film does a good job of building suspense and delivers some legitimately scary moments, enough to get you squirming in your in your seat - which should make it worth the watch.