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Lost Hearts (1973)
Chilling ghost story
A few days before his 12th birthday, young Master Stephen is sent to the country to spend some time with his elderly cousin, Mr Abney, who is to be his new guardian, at his country manor. As he nears his destination he sees two young children waving at him in a slow synchronicity, he thinks their movements are odd, but when he takes a second look, they are gone. On arrival, he is shown to his cousin who immediately strikes Stephen as being very eccentric, being a man who writes down every trivial event of the day no matter how menial, Mr Abney seems very excited to learn that Master Stephen will soon be twelve on Halloween night, a fact he immediately leaves to the room to enter in his daily log, much to Stephen's bemusement. Mr Abney we learn is a man of science? his study is full of strange paintings and statuettes and studies it by way of his vast collection of antiquated books, but what exactly his work is, is anyone's guess? although Astrology and the Black Arts are hinted at. Stephen is a bright boy and is soon gleaning plenty of information on his cousin, from cook Mrs Bunch, he questions her about other children staying there, but there are none he learns, but there used to be, Mrs Bunch tells him. There was a young girl some years previously who Mr Abney brought home, he looked after her for a few weeks before she disappeared, Mr Abney's theory being that the girl was a gypsy and had been taken by them, still though he had trawled the nearby lake just to be sure. Then after her, there was an Italian orphan boy, Giovanni, whom Mr Abney found walking nearby, the boy was obsessed with playing the hurdy-gurdy, again Mr Abney took him in but the boy didn't stay long either and disappeared soon after, leaving behind his beloved hurdy-gurdy, a fact Stephen jumps upon as very odd. Stephen's dreams are very soon haunted by dreadful visions of the two children he had seen before, Are they real or ghosts, Stephen is unsure, as he continually catches fleeting glimpses of them here and there around Abneys estate. He also begins to hear voices, he learns he's not the only one either, as Mrs Bunch and handyman Parkes also hear them. On the eve of his birthday, Mr Abney invites young Stephen to a Halloween midnight rendezvous, to experience the gift of a lifetime, Stephen is at first hesitant as he is sure at that late hour he will be too tired, but eager to please his very insistent cousin, he agrees....
It always amazes me how Clark is never mentioned is dispatches, when best horror director lists are being compiled, for he truly had a unique vision on how supernatural films should be filmed and should be better known and admired for his rather obvious talents. Again he delves into M.R.James's Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and ensures the screen equivalent is just as terrifying as the written word. He uses the beautifully stunning English countryside to perfection, as the ghostly children stand transfixed amidst wind rustled trees, as stealthily creeping fog encircles them, their gaze fixed on Mr Abney's manor. The look of the children is quite eerie and unsettling, especially their twisted fingers and elongated fingernails and is added to immensely by Giovanni's rather odd hurdy-gurdy music. Abney himself on the surface seems friendly, but behind the eccentric facade and failed experiments, we just know something dark lingers and its not long before our suspicions of his predatory nature are realized. For its time, the 1890's, James's extremely dark work seems to herald future, more modern concerns and yet still seems to contain even more unspeakable ideas. Stephen's dangerous and fateful midnight meeting, is the subject of the films finale and succeeds in providing us with yet more unsettling imagery. And yet another superb entry in the series is realized.
Witchfinder General meets La Chiesa
London 1649: England is in the midst of a civil war, as suspicions grow of ones neighbours political alliances, so too does it grow for those neighbours who might be practicing witchcraft. Witch hunts and burnings are a regular occurrence as religious fervour and fear spread across the country. Martin, an aspiring artist is persuaded by Daniel Haswell, the head of the local secret coven, to paint a satanic mural on the wall of the local church, in order to negate the churches powers and to empower his movement to greater evil. Soon after though, he is racked by guilt and confesses to Father Ambrey, his part in the evil deed. Father Ambrey promises Martin absolution only if he betrays those in the coven, this he does, all known members are caught except for Haswell, who entraps Martin and buries him alive within an alcove of the church, Haswell knowing his time is numbered joins Martin behind the wall and pledges to return in another life to fulfill his satanic prophecy.
London 1985: The site of the old church is now on government land within a derelict area of London with few inhabitants, Peter Whiteway (Gareth Hunt) has been assigned the task of clearing the land for a new Military Nuclear Base, which includes the imminent demolition of the church, but during this process a worker is strangely killed after boring a hole in a wall within the church, a police investigation ensues, Whiteaway's task is made all the harder by the arrival of Caroline Trent, who wants to check that the church is not a heritage site. With more strange deaths occurring daily in the church, Whiteaway and Trent begin to believe there might be more behind these events than sheer bad luck.
After the success of Hammer House of Horror(1980), it was no surprise that Hammer followed it up with the Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense, the only surprise being it took so long to commission. As you night expect it boasted the usual array of familiar faces from both sides of the Atlantic, ( a good marketing ploy) and again turned to reliable horror stalwarts like Val Guest, Peter Sasdy, Cyril Frankel and John Hough. For this film The Beast Must Die helmer Paul Annett was entrusted with directing. He adequately builds up a decent feeling of dread about what lurks in the church behind the walls, our modern day characters are given but the briefest glimpses through the small opening in the wall of what seems to be a painting that changes colour and shape, but its probably just the darkness playing tricks with their minds. As the body count increases it soon becomes obvious that within the church there are evil powers at work, is this the time that the prophecy will be fulfilled? The period scenes are done rather well and seem to catch the flavour of the times. Haswell played by Peter Wyngarde with his unusual and striking visage, provides us with a foe of note, his dark robes, piercing eyes and trademark handlebar moustache giving him a notable air of evil. The acting on the whole is pretty good, as are the characterizations which in the limited time frame are given time to flourish. The modern setting provides us with some decent moments of horror, but its all just a little too bit predictable, its not hard to guess whats going to happen, especially as the same actors who played in the period setting return in a modern guise, waiting for some sign or message from the past to trigger some past behaviour in a modern setting. The grand finale set within the church, as good again faces evil in a fight to the finish isn't as slick as it should be from a character stand point, but as the wall collapses in the ensuing fracas, we see that within Haswell's agenda, there is a hidden political message aimed at the contemporary audience, not that surprising for the time the film was made, its quite subtle though so it doesn't quite spoil the mood. The overall feel is quite tame for modern audiences, who will no doubt find it dull as its effectively a cross between Witchfinder General and La Chiesa, still though its nicely played out and fans of this era of British horror will find plenty to enjoy and as its a short TV production there is of course the obligatory surprise twist.
Survival of the Dead (2009)
After some less than enthusiastic reviews of Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead, its probably fair to say the heralding of the next Romero zombie film has been somewhat muted, perhaps a little unfairly, as it would seem he is doomed criticism wise, to keep reinventing the wheel so to speak. Survival of the Dead is the sixth installment in the series and it leaves off where Diary ended, within six weeks of the outbreak.
Plum Island: An island divided by two feuding families, both of Irish origin, they are the O'Flynns and the Muldoons. Patrick O'Flynn is the leader of his clan, he is ruthless is his search for zombies and nobody living or dead can stop his cause to rid his island paradise of the living dead. Muldoon on the other hand has different ideas, he wants to preserve the dead, including some of his own family, in case there is a cure, but he also has ideas of harvesting the zombies, his mad scientist role is, through trial and error to find a new food source for the zombies so that man and zombie alike can live together.
Mainland: 'Nicotine' Crocket leads a crack group of 4 soldiers, they have been randomly searching and stealing food and other supplies from passing vehicles, they meet up a with a young man with $1million cash locked in an armoured van, oping for a share they befriend him, he tells them he has seen a video message on the internet inviting all living souls to come to Plum Island and start a new idyllic life. Crocket is against going, he deems it to be a trap, sure enough he is voted down and as it turns out it is a trap set by a now exiled Patrick O'Flynn and his cronies. O'Flynn is out-gunned and soon they are all allies on a rejuvenated carferry heading for Plum Island to live out their existence in an island paradise...not! So has Romero hit Zombie Gold with this one? Lets analyze? First off we have a smooth enough link between this and Diary, viewers will remember Crockett and his group from Diary, where they attempted to rob the film crew. The zombies by Crocketts own admission in the film aren't to be feared, they are now seen as more of a nuisance and as such the film plays to these notions, the Zombies aren't given as much space as normal, they seem to be a backdrop to the ensuing feud, a raison d'etre for a social comment about a feuding civilization hellbent on a power struggle, no matter the cost to society, both sides being portrayed at times as being right, others as being very wrong, either way neither side comes across in a positive light. This social comment isn't as strong as in Romero's previous films though, so it doesn't feel like he's preaching, but it might be perceived by some to get in the way of good zombie movie. The zombie make-up isn't all that convincing on the whole, some don't even have the basics of a pale skin tone, it would seem George saved his budget for the head explosions of which there are many, some very creative ones at that, that will keep the faithful very happy, including a fire extinguisher to the mouth that leaves a zombies head explode after his eyeballs pop, delightful, a flare to the torso of another that lights up his body and head before it explodes in flames, very delightful. The zombies are also more agile than usual, we have an underwater zombie attack...cool, zombies driving cars, goddamit there's even gorgeous female zombies on horseback.
I must say after watching the trailers for this i was a little wary of Kenneth Welsh's "Oirish" accent, it is quite deplorable, but as it turns out, there are others that are just as bad in the film, why make Americans and Canadians act Irish, why not just make them American, you guys have feuds too, it not like it was essential to the plot anyway, having said that, Welsh's portrayal of O'Flynn is very enjoyable, he is a rogue for sure but he has his moments of humanity that give him depth of character.
The science twist where Muldoon tries to alter a zombies feeding practices, is an interesting plot line, not one i remember having seen before, it works quite well, i think it will be a guaranteed plot line in any further installment. The only real negative i have to say about the film is its negating of the zombie as a creature to be feared, that combined with Romero's choice of slow zombie doesn't leave the viewer with any sense of fear in the film at all. Overall, i'm sure Romero fans will enjoy it, it has a good post apocalyptic feel, there's some good splatter, a couple of good gory zombie attacks all surrounded by some good set pieces and on the whole there is a good pace to the film.
Una vela para el diablo (1973)
Atmospheric Spanish horror
With Spain beginning to enjoy the benefits of modern tourism for the first time, some areas still find it hard to deal with the liberalism and sexual freedom of those who travel there. Among such people are Marta (Aurora Bautista) and Veronica (Esperanza Roy), two rather unattractive spinster sisters who run a guest-house in a conservative and religious town in the Ronda valley. Marta's guest-house earns her a very steady income, her restaurant has never been so busy, but she would trade it all for quieter times, if the clientèle were of like mind to her. One day while preparing a meal, Veronica and Marta hear a commotion outside, they rush upstairs to find a gang of excited local youths taunting one of their female guests who is sunbathing topless on the roof, this is the final straw for an irate Marta, she physically pushes the girl towards the door, unfortunately the girl falls down the stairs, her head crashes through a stained glass window and her throat is slit by a large shard of glass, Veronica wants to call the police, but Marta studies the shard intently, it is that of a religious sword. Marta takes this as a sign from God, that she has done right in her quest for a greater morality in society, so her death goes unreported.
Within minutes of the girls death, another girl comes calling at the guest-house, she introduces herself as Laura Barkley (Judy Geeson), the sister of the girl who now lies in a bloody mess upstairs, both sisters tell Laura that her sister left earlier that morning without giving a forwarding address. Laura finds this odd as she was meant to meet her sister there, she decides to wait around. As the days go by, Laura notices other strange goings on at the guest-house, she decides to investigate further the disappearance of her sister, as it would seem her disappearance is not the only one. Both puritan sisters hide a darker side, Veronica is scared of Marta, but it doesn't stop her from stealing some of the takings for her secret amour, she sneaks off most days to enjoy her lustful afternoons with him. Marta, who had been ditched by her husband to be on her wedding day, from which she has never quite recovered, is also shown to have secret lustful thoughts, a trait she despises in her guests, the murder of the girl seems to have triggered greater more evil thoughts in her head, but will she act on them?
Eugenio Martin's film captures rather well the troublesome transition of a society from a puritanical one with no money to an affluent one which has thoughts of compromising its own morals and standards to attain previously only dreamed of financial rewards. Geeson (Fear in the Night)who has claims to being the star is rather underused, mainly as she's off somewhere looking for her sister, but its Roy(Return of the Blind Dead) and Bautista who take the acting plaudits, both give solid performances, Roy convinces as the the sister with a heart, whose heart isn't really in the killings, Bautista is both sinister and rather scary as the overly fanatical elder sister. but its all rather ironic that at first they are both rather unattractive on the eye, seeming older than their years, but as both give in to their carnal and murderous urges they become more attractive and younger on the outside, but colder, more evil on the inside. The rest of the cast are on the whole rather forgettable, Martin's direction is OK, not up to the standards of his Horror Express,but here he builds up a nice atmosphere, with dead bloody carcasses of animals littering the kitchen, a furnace where evidence is routinely burned and a wine cellar where more gruesome things happen adding to the overall affect. the killings though are slow and the gruesomeness is more implied than seen, but thats the way i like these films so its not really a negative for me. The killings could of course have been stopped if someone had just called in the police, but hey we wouldn't have a film then, so i'll forgive this oversight. The ending is rather odd as villagers who have acted on a piece of cannibalistic evidence, lead the police in slow motion to the hostelry, just in time to save our heroine...well maybe? So if you like low budget Spanish horror from this era, this is certainly for you.
A View from a Hill (2005)
A welcome return to a great series of films
The young Dr. Fanshawe(Mark Letheren), an avid archaeologist, is dispatched by his Museum boss to the large country home of Squire Richards(Pip Torrens), where his task is to find provenance for and catalogue the collection of antiquities and curios belonging to the recently deceased father of the Squire. The Squire is surprised by the arrival Fanshawe, he hadn't been expecting him for another week, but none the less welcomes him and gets his only servant, Patten (David Burke..of Dr Watson fame), to show him to his room, as Fanshawe must stay over for some days in order to finish his rather large task. Patten it would seem is not the friendliest sort and seems to resent the extra work that Fanshawe's visit will entail, the large empty house providing an endless amount of cooking, cleaning and maintenance for him. Fanshawe is a fussy sort, very neat and precise with everything having its place, whether they be his clothes or his books and papers and he is rather disgusted by the dirt in his room. Needless to say he is rather eager to begin his work, but unpacking he finds his binoculars have been damaged in transit, so he asks the Squire for a replacement pair, The Squire who is a modern thinking man but also it would seem rather uncultured with such matters, is also eager to get rid of the clutter around the house, so he obliges and walks Fanshawe to the top of the hill so that he can survey the estate and the surrounding villages, there the Squire directs him to points of interest, including Gallows Hill, where locals were hung for their crimes and misdemeanours, his interest is also taken by a local abbey which the Squire describes as a ruin, but Fanshawe can see through the binoculars that it clearly isn't, he investigates further and pays a visit to the site of the abbey and is shocked to find that there are but a few stone remnants? Fanshawe doesn't have too much time to think about this conundrum as he darkness falls he feels he is being watched, he feels a presence, he begins to see moving shadows in the woods, startled he runs home. Over dinner he imparts details of his harrowing day to the Squire, Patten overhears the story and suggests an explanation for it..The Binoculars! they used to belong to a local man called Baxter, whom it would seem collected bones and skulls from Gallows Hill, boiling them up for some concoction or other, Baxter had disappeared mysteriously one night, the late Squire had acquired his belongings, including a mask made out of a skull and some old etchings of the area. These etchings fascinate Fanshawe as they portray the Abbey he seen through his binoculars, but he learns that the abbey had been destroyed during the reign of Henry VII and so it would be impossible for Baxter to have drawn the sketches, never the less they are signed and dated by Baxter to the recent past so he concludes that the binoculars have some special power. That night he has horrifically vivid dreams, when he wakes, he sets off with the binoculars to have a closer look at the abbey through them, what he finds surprises him but has he put himself in perilous danger by doing so? Fanshawe finally becomes trapped in his dangerous obsession, as darkness falls the Squire and a search party go in search of the now missing archaeologist, they are alerted by dozens of loudly cawing crows circling above Gallows HIll, they quicken their speed, but will they be in time to help or save Fanshawe from his destiny? The Ghost Story for Christmas series of films made by the BBC sadly ended its initial run of films in 1978 with The Ice House, they were for the most part based on the work of the great M.R. James. In 2005 and 2006 the series was revived briefly and thankfully A View from a Hill also marked a return to the work of James, whose ghostly writings have haunted many generations of readers. Director Luke Watson being new to the series might have worried fans of the older films, but he returns to the period setting abandoned by the later films which immediately sets the tone for a great Ghost story, his direction is assured as he stays true to the mood of the masters works and gradually builds up the fear factor to a terrifying climax, all the while keeping what the viewer sees to a minimum, thus upping the tension and mystery. The Autumn countryside provides oodles of atmosphere, the falling leaves and low lying sun providing an unsettling backdrop for the sinister events to come. The cast it must be said are all superb and are perfectly cast in their respective roles. The idea behind the binoculars is simple but very effective, the use of a man made object to see supernatural beings and events that the naked eye cannot see, may even have influenced Álex de la Iglesia in his film La habitación del niño (2006) of the following year, with which it bears striking similarity. I had heard mixed reviews of this particular film, but i must say i found it at all times intriguing and it even raised a few hairs on my head and gave me a few shivers, something that doesn't happen much these days, i think any negativity surrounding the film can only be attributed to its pacing, which to my eyes is perfection but to modern audiences it will be seen as deathly slow. Plenty of time is given, even within its brief 40 minutes running time, for character development and plot expansion and i must say its a new favourite of mine and certainly one of the better films of the decade.
An enjoyable mess
World renowned criminologist and sometime occultist William Sebastian (Robert Culp) calls on the help of his former partner Dr Hamilton (Gig Young) to assist him on an intriguing new case in England, a complex case that he claims will revolutionize theories on the subject of the occult. Hamilton, not one for believing in the occult, calls to his old friends home but is immediately intrigued, after he witnesses a tussle between good and evil, as Sebastian confronts and defeats an evil Succubus there. Sebastian tells him he has been hired by Anitra Cyon(Ann Bell), a member of an aristocratic family, who has concerns that her elder brother Sir Geoffrey Cyon (James Villiers) has become possessed by some evil spirit. They agree to travel to London together to investigate further, they are met at the airport by Mitri Cyon (John Hurt), the younger brother, who is to fly them by private jet to their destination. Almost immediately unseen forces seem to hinder their progress, as the plane looses power, but as Sebastian explains, things will get worse before they get better and that their journey will be "an unimaginable horror, a descent into hell". On arrival in London Sebastian and Hamilton go to visit an old friend, Dr Qualus, when they arrive they find his home in flames, on entering they find him dead on the floor, he had died seemingly trying to get inside a pentacle etched on the floor. Sebastian grabs Qualus's diary from the burning embers, only to be stopped from leaving by a large demon who is trying to gain access. The arrival of the local police wards off the hideous beast, Inspector Cabell (Gordon Jackson) an avid fan of Sebastian's, hopes they can work together in tracking down the brutal killer who is at large in the city, a killer whom he believes has just struck again with the killing of Qualus. The killings he tells them may have links to Sir Geoffrey or further up to members of parliament, a fact that may hinder progress in the case. Arriving at Kentworth abbey, the home of the Cyons, the duo find their intrusion less than welcome by Sir Geoffrey, more dangerous supernatural events begin to occur as they get closer to finding out the deadly truth. Spectre is a strange film, it purports to be British and yet with its American stars and its distinctly American look you'd never guess its origins. Written as a pilot by Gene Roddenberry(Star Trek) It is for all intents and purposes a modern re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson mixed in with some other shows, the fluffy harpsichord score is obviously aimed at the Columbo/Murder She Wrote set, the fact that Culp is involved, rams the fact home none too subtly. I'm not to familiar with Roddenberry's non Star Trek work, i know he had many failed attempts at creating a successful pilot, if i had to guess why he failed so often, i'd say its because he had too many ideas. Spectre has some intriguing premises, most of which have are none too original, but all mixed up they do have a certain charm. First off we have demons, a succubus, a demon lord called Azmodeus, ape like creatures, dreamy sex vixens, primordial stone circles, ancient pagan gods, witchcraft, evil dwarfs, old crones, satanic sacrifices, the list goes on...another odd thing is that the production does seem to have a decent budget and yet when it comes to the creatures they look as though they had a 50c budget, as they are given "lucky bag" creature teeth, the grand lord Azmodeus is but a man in a bad rubber lizard suit, the human/demon hybrids have lumps of moulded plastic stuck on their foreheads, a little too reminiscent of the Klingons for comfort. If the finances weren't there, most of the creatures should have remained off screen, it would have made for a less distracting movie and certainly one of better quality. That said director Clive Donner has assembled a fine cast, the performances are all quite watchable, Culp is believable and Young is amiable and they work quite well together, i think this film could have worked well in better hands, but sadly it never came to fruition, as it stands its a very enjoyable mess.
Whilst holidaying in Europe, American tourist Abby Stevens (Pamela Franklin) decides to travel to England to meet up with her fiancé Doug, who had said he was going to call on an old friend of his Alan Smerdon (Oliver Tobias) who also happens to be Abby's cousin, whom she hasn't seen since she was a child. Abby's visit has a duel purpose as she had promised Alan's parents that she would make the visit as they haven't heard from him in a couple of years, they only know he's safe because he still collects his sizeable monthly allowance. Alan's an artist and lives in a community of artists who have taken over the small country town, much to the chagrin of the locals. Once Abby arrives, she immediately feels uneasy, there is something in the air that just isn't right, this isn't helped by the fact she is given an uneasy welcome by the sinister Frank Dean (Ian Bannen), a leather glove wearing thug, with a violent past, who always has a knife in his hands, he thrusts it into Abby's face and makes it clear she isn't welcome. Eventually Alan arrives with some friends, Abby mistakenly identifies one of his friends, for him, but thats OK as Alan didn't really recognize her either. Alan tells her Doug never arrived, but Abby who has telepathic powers can tell this isn't the case. She asks to stay just in case she is mistaken and that Doug meant to arrive in a couple of days time as a surprise for Alan's upcoming birthday. Abby who had a close telepathic relationship with Doug, begins to hear his voice and feel his presence, the voice leads her to a dark gloomily lit Victorian era cellar where Alan and his girlfriend Beryl produce their horror related sculptures, there she feels something evil present. When another friend due to arrive goes missing, Abby is sure that something amiss is going on, through her intensifying psychic abilities, Abby believes that they are all dead.
The multi talented and prolific writer, Brian Clemens, was responsible for the writing duties behind the highly acclaimed Thriller series from 1973-1976, the series itself was generally a good mix of crime thriller, Mystery and horror. Won't Write Home Mom, I'm Dead was a film from the third series and as with most films in the series they managed to gather a group of talented actors together to appeal to a wider audience. Bannen's character is a little one dimensional to start with but as the film gathers pace we find he is a much more complex character and Bannen duly earns the acting plaudits here. Pamela Franklin (And soon the darkness,1970) here in her second outing in the series, is good too as the demure investigative psychic, her scenes bringing a good supernatural element to proceedings. Oliver Tobias is suitably suave and charming, his character hides a secret, thats for sure, he might not be on the level, but is he the killer? The country setting with its misty woodland and cawing crows add to the overall atmosphere, the supernatural element too is fine if a little hokey, but on the whole the story fails to materialize quick enough for my liking. The black gloved killer with flick knife in hand obviously takes its influences from the Italian Giallo, but there the influence ends. The dark secrets of the film are undoubtedly to be found in the gloomy cellar, where terrible events along the lines of Mill of the stone women are only hinted at without ever being fully revealed. Is Alan really Alan? is another plot line that is explored and revealed only at the end. On the whole its a little disappointing but still quite watchable.
The Green Man (1990)
Entertaining sexually charged ghost story
A few miles outside Cambridge in the countryside sits The Green Man, a well preserved stately 17th century hostelry of some renown. Today it is a hotel that also boasts a gourmet restaurant aimed at tourists and the idle rich. Its present owner is the lecherous alcoholic, Maurice Allington (Albert Finney), who lives there with his wife Joyce, his daughter Amy and his father known commonly as "Gramps". The success of The Green Man in most good food guides is owed mainly to Maurice, for he's a genial sort who likes to regale his customers with his knowledge of fine wine and tales of ghosts that still haunt the corridors of The Green Man. Most people take his ghost stories at face value and believe them to be part of an act, but Maurice does regularly see the ghost of a young woman in a long black hooded cloak lurking in the corridors or on the stairs. At a birthday dinner for Maurice, his father (Michael Hordern) begins to act strangely, after he appears to have seen something horrifying, a vision that nobody else sees, Jack a friend of Maurice's present at the meal and a doctor, diagnoses a cerebral hemorrhage, the father dies shortly after wards. That night Maurice is drinking heavily and he sees a vision of his dead father and soon after wards a spectral vision of a man in 17th century clothes in the dining room, guests put his screaming and histrionics down to his keeping the ghost story myth going, but Maurice is seriously disturbed by it and he soon finds the identity of the man to be is a 17th century cleric by the name of Underhill, a man of ill repute, who used his power and mind games and tales of demons to lure underage girls to his bed against their will and he's intent on continuing his dastly deeds. Soon after Maurice is also visited by a winged demon while in the bath, this is the final straw for Jack who now believes Maurice is stressed and should cut back on the booze for the sake of his health. Is Maurice going mad, is he just a drunk or are his visions in some way related to the death of his father, with the help of his lover Diana he investigates further with a spot of grave robbing....
The Green Man was a three-part mini series commissioned for the BBC and based on Kinglsey Amis's 1969 novel of the same name. For the most part it plays a like a mundane drama, concerning the ins and outs of running a hotel, keeping the staff and guests happy and of course the celebrity food writers who seem to visit most nights. Its full of dark humour that alleviates from the darker more horrific themes that ensue, its a balance that needs to be exact or the production can fall between two stools, being neither one thing nor the other, but while it does this quite well, it doesn't quite succeed completely, with the lighter end of things winning out. Still though there's enough spooky goings on to satisfy, the mysterious Dr Thomas Underhill striking an imposing image, his long black hair set against his deathly white face is a disturbing sight. There's also a spot of grave robbing in a mist bound cemetery, some dreamlike visions containing demonic vines in an evil wood that bind and ravish young maidens, Maurice even receives a visit from a whiskey drinking God who helps him tackle the evil of Underhill by suggesting he use the powers of the local "Hippy" vicar, nicely played by Nickolas Grace, a vicar who doesn't believe in an afterlife.The cast are very good, Finney excels, his comic timing is very good as are his more dramatic moments, a large range of emotions are called for and he succeeds on all counts. His clumsy attempts to get his lover in to bed with his wife for a threesome are also a joy to behold, especially when it doesn't turn out quite as he planned, as the ladies soon forget he's there. Hordern is left with little screen time, but like a real old pro he still delivers a very memorable performance. All in all The Green Man is a fun sexually charged ghost story with a lot of ideas, there's even time for an exorcism. As a ghost story its visuals are striking, but the humour does take away from its power somewhat, still though the its all very entertaining.
Beasts: During Barty's Party (1976)
Best in the series
Angie Truscott (Elizabeth Sellars) is a bored housewife, she lives in her remote country home with her husband Roger (Anthony Bate), a successful businessman. After taking an afternoon nap one day, Angie is awoken suddenly from her slumber, had she imagined the blood curdling screams that woke her? they seemed so real, Angie is shook up, matters aren't helped by the fact she is all alone and that there is a sudden scratching noise, its origins unknown, coming from below the floor or is it the walls, she resorts to turning up the music full blast to drown out the incessant noise. Roger duly returns home, he's had a hard day business wise, but its the weekend and all he wants to do is have a quiet night in, so he is a little irked to find his wife in a bit of a state. She tells him of her dream and the persistent scratching, Roger tells her its just a rat under the foundations, he calms Angie a little by telling her the rat can't get in. As for her dream Roger puts that down to her simultaneous mixing of sleeping tablets and booze. Angie overhears a phone call Roger makes to a colleague, where he is asked if the commotion out his way has ended, Roger oblivious to the news report, continues talking business. Angie however now concerned again, decides to put on the radio to hear the news report, she tunes into to the Barty Wills Party Hour, Barty is an annoying DJ, prone to funny voices, bad jokes and the occasional prank., he reports of an odd event taking place near their home, where thousands of giant rats stopped traffic for ten minutes as they crossed the nearby motorway. Roger dismisses it as a hoax and the show as intellectually below them and castigates his wife for listening to such rubbish. However Barty soon has a rodent expert on the show, he tells of a new breed of super rat, more intelligent and immune to modern poisons. Roger is now beginning to get scared, their dog is missing too and the abandoned sports car (presumably belonging to would be lovers) at the end of their road is still come nightfall. The noises however continue, there now seems to be more than one rat, Angie notices that they seem only to scratch at the floor of the rooms they are in, Roger is now the nervous wreck and Angie is left to make the decisions, she rings Barty's radio show only for the phone to inexplicably get cut off, soon the power goes too and they are left in the dark, both terrified the scratching becomes deafening, the rats are almost through the kitchen door, Angie decides to make a run for it, but as they do so, they hear their neighbours car pull up, the scratching stops, the Truscotts relieved think they are safe, all in quiet now but as they call to their neighbours, they see them attacked and over powered by thousands of gnawing rodents. In the headlights of the car outside, Angie and Roger huddle together and await their fate...
The genius of the great horror writer Nigel Kneale (Quatermass, The Stone Tape) shines through in this episode of his "Beasts" series, a series based entirely on animals and other exotic creatures. Kneale is known for his intelligent science based stories, renowned for their credibility and just that hint of "it could happen", his tension filled script is given meticulous direction by Don Leaver, a TV journeyman perhaps best known for his excellent Hammer House of Horror films, Witching Time and The Mark of Satan. The script is taut and the film is loaded with dialogue, full of important little notes that build up the characters and drive the plot on to its excruciatingly horrific finale. Of course all the horror is in the mind of the viewer, we never see the rats, we only hear them, a fact lost on modern filmmakers is that imagination is the greatest horror, you don't need to show everything to make a scary film, Kneale of course was a master of this craft. Right from the first scene, the brooding horror is evident, an abandoned car within sight of the Truscotts and in the distance we hear some laughter from the unseen lovers which are replaced almost immediately with that of blood curdling screams, this leads straight into Angie's nightmare, was it all a dream? There are only two actors in the film and both Sellars and Bate perform admirably, showing a range of emotions as their lives are slowly turned upside down. Overall the film is rather dull visually and it can't hide its TV origins, but the fear factor and psychological tension it musters along with some very inventive sound effects more than make up for this.
Unique take on the Frankenstein tale
Howard Lawrence (Gordon Jackson) the esteemed biographer of romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary, enters the Club of the Damned, (a London based secret society that admits only those whose stories of the supernatural are believed as true) to regale the members with his truly shocking story. A story, he tells them that can never be published, such is its horror. His story begins near Geneva, where while travelling with his wife Elsbeth and daughter Mary, he was researching the aforementioned biography of Shelley. Shelley, his wife to be Mary and author of Frankenstein, along with Lord Byron had made some names for themselves across Europe, especially their renowned escapades at the Villa Deodatti. Lawrence had long dreamed of writing the definitive story of Shelley's life and had long been a believer that due to her worldly writings and her young age, her influence for Frankenstien had not come from a dream, but from another more real source. Lawrence's travels had proved fruitless and he was resigned to writing another successful, but unremarkable tome on the renowned author. So it was that on his way home, he and his family stopped at an Inn, The Ritterhoff, to shelter from the incumbent cold weather, there they are welcomed by the owner Herr Hubert (Vladek Sheybal) an odd personage, of cool demeanour and pale complexion, whom if one were to guess, would probably say he had noble blood. Elsbeth cannot settle in the Inn, her sleep is disturbed by strange visions and soon she wants to leave, but Mary has fallen in love with the Inn, it has an air about it, that transfixes her and prompts her to return to her writings with gusto. Lawrence himself would have been happy to abide by his wifes wishes had he not stumbled upon some old complimentary books provided in his room, that would seem to belong to Percy Shelley, he also finds a copy of Frankenstein there, his imagination runs riot, what if the three famous poets had stayed here on their travels, they had after all lived close by, maybe this is where he will find his holy grail. The deciding point for his decision is that their host Herr Hubert is putting on a show in their own theatre, a show as Herr Hubert puts it, "with a difference", the Marionettes contained within having somewhat of a reputation locally as do the productions. The family gathers in the small put packed theatre, full of local colourful characters, it is lit by candlelight, that glistens in the cobwebs in the rafters above, a perfect setting for an unusual show? The lights dim, the show begins, a pale white princess is at home in her bedroom, unseen by her, outside her window lurks a demon. Back in the demons lair, he contrives to give life to a tall, burly dark haired creature, with a pale white face, he is dressed in black and white clothes, a striking image, the creature stirs into life and is soon at the princess's room where he proceed to defile her before killing her. Lawrence is convinced this is the influence Shelley's Frankenstein and confronts Herr Hubert, little knowing the truth is far worse than the fiction.
Night of the Marionettes is an enjoyable twist on the Frankenstein tale, the setting is excellent, a labyrinthine Gothic guest house with plenty of odd characters, not least Herr Hubert, whose pale skin and gaunt bone structure would strike fear into anyone. Gordan Jackson plays the troubled biographer Lawrence, supremely well, calling on all his experience to give a rather unique performance in his filmography. The highlight of the film is undoubtedly the Marionette show, which one soon realises is done with real people and not puppets, the demon is Japanese in origin and boasts a mask with a terrifying facial expression, one to even rival that from Kaneto Shindo's classic Onibaba (1964). The monster is also certainly one with a memorably striking image, despite the film being in colour, the monsters monochrome image will remain in your memory for some time. Overall there's a decent atmosphere built up, but the video quality lets it down somewhat. Night of the Marionette's had previously been derided as a bad film from a bad series, i wholeheartedly disagree, its a unique tale given a delightful Gothic touch.
Oh and i nearly forgot, you may want to know how Lawrence got on in the Club of the Damned, did they believe his story, remember those not accepted faced death, hey its a horror flick you work it out? ]