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Hammer's most famous and greatest 'mad science' franchise is, of
course, the great Frankenstein series starring the almighty Peter
Cushing as the ruthless and yet somehow very likable Baron Victor
Frankenstein. While THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959) is by no means
as great as Hammer's Frankenstein films it is a very atmospheric
mad-scientist-flick with an excellent cast. Directed by Hammer's Number
one, Terence Fisher, THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH is an adaptation of
a play that was first filmed as THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET (1945)
which I haven't seen yet.
The mad scientist in this film is played by the always-sinister Anton Diffring, who had played Baron Frankenstein in Hammer's own TALES OF FRANKENSTEIN, a 1958 pilot for a planned Frankenstein TV-show that wasn't made. Actually, Diffring's character in this movie, Dr. George Bonner isn't really that 'mad', regarding his situation: In Paris of 1890, Dr. Bonner is a man who seemingly is in his 40s. However, he is in fact 104 years old and keeps his youth with the aid of a serum. In order to survive, he needs periodic gland transplants from young and healthy victims. Needless to say he is willing to kill for his life...
THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH co-stars two Hammer icons, British Horror-beauty Hazel Court and the inimitable Christopher Lee. Both deliver great performances as usual. Personally I like Christopher Lee most when he is evil, but hero-roles such as in this film also fit him well. Anton Diffring is a specialist for sinister and macabre characters, and he is once again excellent here. 19th century Paris is a good setting for a Hammer film; even though most of the movie plays indoors here, director Fisher once again makes great use of the Hammer-typical visuals, creating a thick Gothic atmosphere. Overall, THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH offers few surprises and may not be an essential must-see, but it is tense and atmospheric Gothic Horror and should not be missed by my fellow Hammer-fans.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
DEATH LINE aka. RAW MEAT (1973) is an unusual and genuinely disturbing
British 70s Savagery/Cannibal Horror film that no true genre lover
should miss. The film by American director Gary Sherman (who is also
known for the 80s Horror classic DEAD & BURIED of 1981) is an
adaptation of an original story written by Sherman himself, which was
allegedly loosely based on the real-life case of the cannibalistic
Beane family in 16th century Scotland.
Set in contemporary (70s) London, DEATH LINE is about a cannibal fiend who dwells in the Underground tunnel system. A young couple stumble over an unconscious man on the stairs of an Underground station; when they come back with a police officer in order to help, the man is gone. Shortly thereafter, more people disappear from the same Underground station by night...
The film's premise and its execution are exceptionally disturbing. The gory makeup effects are very grisly, and the Underground tunnel system is a genuinely creepy and unsettling Horror location. The menacing and truly scary fiend's persona which is something in-between cannibalistic monster, human being and animal is maybe the most disturbing aspect of the movie.
The performances are very good, especially the magnificent Donald Pleasence is once again great in the role of the eccentric and overall not very friendly investigating Scotland Yard Inspector. The Inspector's cynicism and eccentricities provide some humor in the otherwise disturbing film. Sharon Gurney, who plays the female lead, is also known for another British Horror film, THE CORPSE of 1971. Horror icon Christopher Lee has a cameo as an MI5 agent. Hugh Armstrong is incredibly creepy as the Cannibal fiend. His role reminded me of the Italian Gore-classic ANTROPOPHAGUS (1980), to which it may or may not have been inspirational; while I love ANTROPHAGUS, DEATH LINE is much more subtle and intellectual in its explanation of the reasons for people turning to Cannibalism.
DEATH LINE is a highly disturbing and unsettling film that nobody who likes true Horror should miss. Highly recommended.
The Italians were the kings of the Horror genre from the 60s to the
80s, and, as far as yours truly is concerned, the combination of this
genre, era and country is as great as cinema can possibly get. The rise
of Italian Horror/suspense cinema started with atmospheric Gothic tales
(such as the brilliant films by the ultimate master Mario Bava, Antonio
Margheriti and Riccardo Freda) in the late 50s and early 60s. In the
70s, a time when the Giallo genre had replaced the Gothic tale as the
dominant sub-genre Italian suspense cinema, some (but by no means all)
of the Italian Gothic Horror films that were still being produced were
very low-budget and sleazy, but nonetheless elegant Exploitation
TERROR! IL CASTELLO DELLE DONNE MALEDETTE aka. FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS (1974) is a super-cheesy slice of 70s Italian B-movie Gothic Horror which will certainly not give anybody the creeps, but which is incredibly entertaining nonetheless. Directed by the American Dick Randall, the movie puts a lesser emphasis on the typically Italian elegance and atmosphere, and, sometimes looks more like one of the many contemporary Spanish Gothic Horror films (which is probably due to the low budget). Sleaze-fans should not be scared off by the PG rating (as according to IMDb), since this little trash gem contains plenty of female nudity, perverted characters and some very cheesy gore effects. The film doesn't take itself too seriously, and the demented characters alone make it worth a look for my fellow Euro-Exploitation fans.
Count Frankenstein (Rosanno Brazzi) lives in a castle with a bunch of freaky helpers including a necrophiliac midget, a hunch-back who has rough sex with the housekeeper when her sadistic husband (Luciano Pigozzi) is not around. His hot daughter (Simonetta Vitelli) comes to visit with her fiancé and an equally hot friend (Christiane Rücker). Both of the women have exhibitionist tendencies. What follows is a sleazy and incredibly entertaining succession of very absurd horrors.
While FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS is below-par in terms of style and elegance by the high Italian Gothic Horror standards it is still very stylish for a rather nonsensical B-Movie of the kind in international comparison. The most well-known faces in the cast are former strongman and B-movie regular Gordon Mitchell (in the role of the undertaker) and the Peter-Lorre-lookalike Luciano Pigozzi, a great supporting actor who was in all sub-genres of Italian cult-cinema, including several films by Mario Bava and Umberto Lenzi.
Overall FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS is a sleazy, very cheesy, and often unintentionally funny trash-gem that is incredibly entertaining and should not be missed by true lovers of European Trash flicks. However, one should definitely be acquainted with the many great Italian Gothic Horror films before watching fun trash like this one. For Italo-Cult buffs like myself this film is often hilarious and vastly entertaining.
Amando Crispino's L'ETRUSCO UCCIDE ANCORA aka. THE ETRUSCAN KILLS AGAIN
is an interesting and somewhat unusual Giallo from the greatest
Giallo-year 1972. 1972 was the year of several of the greatest genre
masterpieces including Sergio Martino's YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND
ONLY I HAVE THE KEY, Fulci's DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING, Massimo
Dallamano's WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE and Emilio Miraglia's THE RED
QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES. While L'ETRUSCO UCCIDE ANCORA is not as
essential as these aforementioned titles it is highly interesting and
creepy as the sight of this Giallo's mandatory murder series is an
ancient Etruscan burial ground, which gives this particular Giallo a
The American archaeologist Jason Porter (Alex Cord) is head of a team that has discovered an ancient Etruscan burial ground including fascinating and mysterious pieces of mural art. Shortly after the discovery, a young couple is murdered in the same manner as depicted in the Etruscan tomb, which had not been opened for 2,500 years. It seems as if someone is trying to point out Jason, a womanizer with a drinking problem, as the murderer. Is the culprit one of the eccentric people in Jason's surrounding, or has an Etruscan fiend risen from tomb to perform his bloody deeds? As in most good Gialli, almost every character in the movie is a suspect.
L'ETRUSCO UCCIDE ANCORA is elegantly filmed in nice Northern Italian locations and accompanied by a very good and intense score from the great Riz Ortolani. The murders are quite bloody and well-made, most of them being Giallo-typically filmed from the murderer's perspective. The female cast members are all lovely to look at, especially Samantha Eggar and Christina Von Blanc, who is known for her mostly exhibitionist roles in some of the Spanish Exploitation-icon Jess Franco's movies. Besides Alex Cord, the cast includes several other well-known actors including John Marley (THE GODFATHER) as a sadistic elderly orchestra conductor and the always-sinister Horst Frank who plays a flamboyantly homosexual designer here.
Overall, L'ETRUSCO UCCIDE ANCORA may not be an outstanding Giallo-masterpiece, but it is definitely an elegant and creepy specimen of the genre that should not be missed by my fellow Giallo- and Eurohorror fans. My rating: 7.5/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Riccardo Freda's L'ORRIBILE SEGRETO DELL DR. HICHCOCK aka. THE HORRIBLE
DR. HICHCOCK(1962) was only the third Gothic Horror film starring the
wonderful genre-goddess Barbara Steele, the first two being two
masterpieces, Mario Bava's LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO (BLACK Sunday/THE
MASK OF Satan) of 1960 and Roger Corman's PIT AND THE PENDULUM in which
she starred alongside fellow Horror-deity Vincent Price. While this is
not one of the most notable among the nine Italian Horror films
starring the divine Miss Steele it is yet another creepy must-see for
fans of Italian Gothic Horror and Barbara Steele in particular.
In 1885, Doctor Hichcock (Robert Flemyng) leaves London after accidentally killing his wife with an overdose of an anesthetic. He returns several years later with his new wife Cynthia (Barbara Steele). It soon becomes clear that the Doctor has necrophiliac tendencies and that his weakness for anesthetics has to do with his own perverted desires...
Director Riccardo Freda was one of the pioneers of Italian Horror cinema, having directed the first post-WW2 Italian Gothic Horror film I VAMPIRI (1956), which was, in fact, finished by the ultimate Italian Horror director Mario Bava (my personal choice for the greatest Horror director of all-time). While Freda's Gothic Horror films are very good they don't quite reach the quality of those by the incomparable Mario Bava and Antonio Margheriti, in my opinion.
The most convincing reason to watch the film is, of course, Barbara Steele, who simply is the greatest Horror actress of all time in the humble opinion of yours truly. It is regrettable, however, that her role is restricted to that of the damsel in distress here. She played double-roles in many of her Italian Horror films (LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO, I LUNGHI CAPPELLI DELLA MORTE, AMANTI D'OLTRETOMBA, UN ANGELO PER SATANA) in which she combined the innocent and pure evil, and was always brilliant in doing so. In some other Italian Horror films her characters always had something mysterious and eerie about them. Not so in L'ORRIBILE DR. HICHCOCK, in which she has the role of a pure scream-queen. Personally I would have rather seen her as the villainess. However, she is still great and stunningly beautiful and her performance alone makes the film worthwhile.
Another great aspect is the thick Gothic atmosphere which is created by the typically great use of camera-angles, darkness and shadows, the superbly creepy set pieces in an eerie old mansion and a nice, eerie score. Cinema does not get more elegant than Italian Gothic Horror from the 60s, and this film is yet another example for that. The film's theme of perversion and necrophilia is typical for early 60s Italian Gothic Horror, which wasn't yet quite as explicit as the Gialli and Horror films of the late 60s and 70s but was already thematically exploring the perverse and controversial.
For quite some time, DR. HICHCOCK was the last Italian Horror film with Barbara Steele that I had yet to see. Freda made a sort-of sequel to this film one year later with LO SPETTRO (1963), which easily surpasses this one as it is even more atmospheric and Barbara Steele's role is way more sinister and macabre. Overall L'ORRIBILE SEGRETO DEL DR. HICHCOCK is not one of the highlights of Italian Gothic Horror but it is definitely a must-see for my fellow fans of the Genre and the wonderful Barbara Steele. For absolutely essential Italian Gothic Horror masterpieces starring Barbara Steele, watch Bava's LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO and Antonio Margheriti's DANZA MACABRA (CASTLE OF BLOOD, 1964).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
MOON OF THE WOLF (1972) is an OK-at-best, made-for-TV werewolf flick that has one outstanding quality: the setting in the Louisiana Bayou. I tend to love Horror films set in the Deep South and the setting in this one seems very genuine. After several locals turn up murdered, the sheriff (David Janson) of a rural Louisiana Bayou community suspects a werewolf to be responsible... MOON OF THE WOLF offers no real surprises, to me personally the identity of the Werewolf was clear pretty soon (actually, it was too obvious, which gave me a lick of doubt). A romance between the sheriff and his high-school sweetheart is thrown in as a filler. The film occasionally becomes somewhat boring, which, regarding the screen time of 75 minutes, is quite an accomplishment. Yet, the film has its qualities. As mentioned above, the setting is awesome. The Bayou landscapes all look very genuine, as does the small-town, and a vital part of the movie takes place in a Colonial mansion. Some of the bit-part players make a genuine redneck impression, one of them the prolific Geoffrey Lewis, a great supporting actor whose filmography includes great films of many genres, including MY NAME IS NOBODY, Clint Eastwood's HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, DILLINGER and Tobe Hoopers SALEM'S LOT. MOON OF THE WOLF may be enjoyed for the Deep Southern atmosphere, but overall nobody who hasn't seen it has missed anything.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS (1975) is doubtlessly one of the most
notorious Exploitation movies of all-time, and for good reasons. There
is no doubt that the film is sick and sadistic, and it is
understandable that many find it to be despicable. Yet it is also
undeniable that this is classic Exploitation stuff and that every
hardcore lover of cult-cinema (such as yours truly) kinda has to see
it. Along with Tinto Bras' SALON KITTY (1976), director Don Edmonds'
film which was produced by the prolific David F. Friedman (who also
produced Hershell Gordon Lewis' early gore films) spawned the
Nazisploitation (or Nazi-Exploitation) sub-genre (which practically is
a sub-sub-genre of the WIP or Women In Prison movie). These films,
mostly from the otherwise best Exploitation country Italy, usually
managed to be extremely sleazy and brutal, yet very boring at the same
time. ILSA is the undisputed classic of the Nazisploitation genre, and
certainly the most memorable film of its kind. Whether that is a
recommendation lies in the eye of the beholder. While ILSA (and all the
other Nazisploitation films) are strongly against the Nazis who are
entirely portrayed as evil, it also trivializes this very sensitive
topic, which is of course even more questionable since way more
Holocaust-survivors were still alive in the 70s. (Then again, the
producer's name is Friedman, and I recently saw a documentary about the
popularity of Nazi-porno novels in 70s Israel, so who am I to judge...)
The eponymous sadistic female Nazi-villain Ilsa (played by the huge-breasted blonde Dyanne Thorne) is the commander of a Nazi experiment camp. In order to prove that females are better soldiers than men, she conducts gruesome experiments on the female prisoners. She also has sex with the male prisoners, whom she castrates after being disappointed in the can. This changes when the super-potent American prisoner Wolfe is brought to the camp and satisfies her non-stop...
Apart from the idea of Nazi-exploitation as such being questionable, ILSA also has a somewhat anti-feminist message: Even the man-eating villainous bitch gets tamed when she is properly getting... err... satisfied. The film is incredibly perverted and gruesome, and while the violence is often exaggerated to a ridiculous point and hard to be taken seriously it is yet very disturbing. The female cast members, most of which are naked for the majority of their screen time, are beautiful, but the setting and sadistic violence makes that impossible to enjoy. Without getting into detail, I can say that there are plenty of notoriously gruesome sequences, some of them hard to look at even for experienced exploitation fans, others more ridiculous than truly disturbing.
Interestingly, this is a German-American co-production, even though the film was banned in Germany (probably both for the violence and the controversial Nazi-topic). Apart from the countless rip-offs, the movie also spawned two sequels, ILSA: HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS (1976) and ILSA THE TIGRESS OF SIBERIA (1977), as well as the unofficial sort-of-sequel GRETA: HAUS OHNE MÄNNER (aka. ILSA THE WICKED WARDEN, 1977) by the Spanish Exploitation deity Jess Franco.
In a nutshell, ILSA is highly questionable and I can understand everybody who finds it despicable to make such a trashy movie about such a sensitive topic. However, it is a must-see for my fellow Exploitation fans (even though nowhere near as essential as other super-notorious classics such as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST or MARK OF THE DEVIL in my opinion). Definitely not for the easily offended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The great Ken Russell, who just passed away at age 84, was doubtlessly
one of the most uncompromising filmmakers, who enriched cinema with a
variety of often controversial and bizarre cult films including SAVAGE
MESSIAH and ALTERED STATES. Even though I am not (yet) an expert on the
man's filmography (having seen seven or eight of his films), I think it
is save to say that THE DEVILS of 1971 is one of his most unique,
imposing and unforgettable works. An atmospherically overwhelming
cinematic experience, THE DEVILS is Russel's brutal and brilliantly
bizarre biographical story of the real-life unorthodox 17th century
French priest Urbain Grandier. Due to its criticism of the Catholic
church, bizarre sequences of religion paired with violent excess and
orgiastic sexuality, THE DEVILS was heavily censored and only available
in mutilated versions after religious moralists had stirred
controversy. As always, the controversy stirred by reactionary
institutions had opposite effects: THE DEVILS is maybe the most
important film for the the rise of Nunsploitation, a sub-genre of
mostly European and generally sleazy films about naughty and possessed
nuns that engage in all sorts of sexual, violent and blasphemous
In the 1630s, the infamous French Cardinal Richilieu orders the destruction of French towns in order to prevent a rise of the Hugenots (French Protestants). The charismatic Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) is the priest of the French town Loudoun, and a womanizer whom women generally can't resist. Grandier sleeps with nuns and noblewomen alike, and manages to temporarily prevent the destruction of his town. The crippled, deformed and mad mother superior of the Loundon convent, sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) has fallen in love with the priest, and when he secretly marries another, hell hath no fury like this nun scorned. The nun's accusations against Grandier are welcomed by his powerful political opponents who send an obsessed Exorcist (Michael Gothard) who is to prove Grandier's association with the devil...
THE DEVILS is a remarkable in many aspects. It arguably marks Ken Russell's, Oliver Reed's and Vanessa Redgrave's finest hour. Oliver Reed was doubtlessly one of the greatest British actors in the history of the country's cinema, who is far too often remembered for his (cool and highly original) drunken antics instead of his brilliant performances. His charismatic performance as Urbain Grandier here is one of the finest ever given. Vanessa Redgrave is fantastic in her display of a disturbed woman who dabbles between devilishly vengeful intrigue, pure evil and pathetic desperation and insanity. Equally great is Michael Gothard in the his role of the obsessed religious fanatic Father Barre. The film is visually overwhelming, often beautifully disturbing and bizarre. Some sequences, such as the 'Christ' dream sequence are highly surreal to a unique point, comparable maybe only to Alejandro Jodorowsky's films.
While it has some lengthier parts, THE DEVILS is generally a film that overwhelms in all regards. It is a bizarre, often brutal and always uncompromising masterpiece that is visually stunning and magnificently acted. Along with Michael Reeves' equally uncompromising WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968, starring the great Vincent Price) and Michael Armstrong's ultra-gruesome HEXEN BIS AUFS BLUT GEQUÄLT (MARK OF THE DEVIL, 1970), THE DEVILS was one of the films that spawned a trend of (especially European) Exploitation films about Inquisition and (mass-)murder in the name of religion. It is beyond me why decent DVD-copies of this great film are still difficult to purchase as it was mostly released in mutilated versions. A true must-see for every lover of uncompromising cinema, one of the great British films of the 70s.
R.I.P. Ken Russell, a truly fearless and uncompromising filmmaker has passed away.
The Philippino B-movie maker Eddie Romero is probably best known for
two WIP (Women in Prison) flicks starring the gorgeous Pam Grier, BLACK
MAMA WHITE MAMA (1973), which he directed, and fellow cult-director
Jack Hill's THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972), which he produced. The prolific
Mr. Romero has been active in various sub-genres of low budget
Exploitation cinema. His filmography includes several gory Horror films
including this awesomely titled BEAST OF BLOOD (1971). While this
incredibly cheesy but quite gory Horror effort is certainly not what
one would call a 'good' film, it is certainly recommendable to my
fellow fans of low-budget-Horror, and especially to admirers of Eddie
Romero. BEAST OF BLOOD is actually a sequel to Romero's earlier Horror
film MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1968), which I have yet to see.
After some mysterious attacks, the protagonist Dr. Bill Foster (John Ashley) returns to an island where an evil scientist is keeping his monstrous creation alive. Among his traveling companions are the sexy journalist Myra (Celeste Yarnall) and the equally sexy native chief's daughter Laida (Liza Belmonte)... BEST OF BLOOD is cheesy as hell, in an incredibly entertaining manner. Considering this is a very-low budget movie, the gory outbursts are very gory and very well-made. Especially the eponymous monstrous creature is made very well, even if its depiction on the supremely cool cover art is a little exaggerated. Both female leads take their clothes off for no real other reason than nudity at one point in the film. The acting performances are B-movie-standard-bad, but not abysmal, which adds to the trashy charm of the film. The one complaint I have about his amusing slice of sleaze-cheese is that BEAST OF BLOOD is quite a bit too long for its own good. Whit a running time of about 90 minutes a film like this one will inevitably get tedious at times. Still it is entertaining and shouldn't be missed by my fellow trash fans. One to avoid for those who find fascinating plots, logic and great performances essential in a movie, but warmly recommended to everyone who can enjoy low-budget cheese.
P.S.: The poster/cover artwork which shows the monster holding its own severed head must be one of the coolest B-movie posters ever.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I cannot yet claim to be an expert on Mexican Horror films, but I'm
becoming more and more of a fan of the country's Horror output with
every movie I see. Personally I'm a fan of the classic Mexican Gothic
Horror tales such as the masterpieces MISTERIOS DE ULTRATUMBA (aka. THE
BLACK PIT OF DR. M, 1959) or LA MALDICION DE LA LLORANA (CURSE OF THE
CRYING WOMAN, 1963), as well as the weird Exploitation flicks of the
70s such as Juan Lopez Moctezuma's bizarre cult flick ALUCARDA, LA HIJA
DE LAS TIENEBLAS (1978).
Carlos Enrique Tabadoa's Haunted House flick MAS NEGRO QUE LA NOCHE (BLACKER THAN THE NIGHT) of 1975 is yet a completely different style of Mexican Horror film. As opposed to any of the aforementioned representative films, this film is rather slow-paced, and furthermore very sleaze- and gore-less for a mid-70s Horror film. This is not to say that MAS NEGRO QUE LA NOCHE is not recommended, however: the beautifully shot movie oozes creepy atmosphere from the beginning to the end, continually getting eerier and more tense.
After a mysterious old lady has passed away, her niece inherits her eerie mansion and moves in with a bunch of other young women. They disregard the aunt's will that the house belongs to her true heir, her black cat, and strange things begin to happen. When the cat gets killed, hell breaks loose...
MAS NEGRO QUE LA NOCHE is a classic Haunted House flick in which many of the Horror remains unseen. In her essay ON THE SUPERNATURAL IN POETRY, the famous English Gothic writer Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) once distinguished between the terms Terror and Horror in that Terror is the obscure, the anticipation of something horrible that is about to happen, whereas Horror is the actual experience of the horrible. MAS NEGRO QUE LA NOCHE is doubtlessly a film that mainly (though not merely) lives off the Terror according to Radcliffe's definition. The events in the film are not surprising, but somewhat predictable (in a positive sense), the tension being built up through their anticipation. The film's strongest point is the thick, truly creepy atmosphere, a lot of which is built up by the super-eerie mansion setting and creepy set-pieces, great camera work and a fantastic usage of different colors of darkness. Set pieces such as the portrait of the old lady alone build up an incredibly gloomy mood.
Even though it is very slow-paced in the beginning MAS NEGRO QUE LA NOCHE is highly recommendable film. Fans of rather suggestive Haunted House flicks such as THE HAUNTING (1963) should love this one.
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