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Army of Frankensteins (2013)
Fun B-Film Horror
Army of Frankensteins is a nice B horror film, shot in Oklahoma and recently released on DVD. Running time is 108 minutes, MAYBE a bit long but not really, as most films today, I've noticed, approach the two hour mark in length.
If you are a fan of Back to The Future, Night of the Living Dead, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, or maybe even another B offering from a few years ago, Bonnie and Clyde vs. Dracula, I am reasonably certain you will like this one. The story line is simple and far-fetched enough to be great fun: a young man and an even younger boy are thrown back into time 150 years, right into the thick of the American Civil War. To stretch credibility even further, an "army" of Frankenstein clones are produced to combat the "bad" monsters, all created by a greenish serum brought from the future. The goals of our heroes are to 1. Assist in helping the North win the Civil War 2. Make it safely home to the 21st century, and 3. Meet their ancestors. Do not assume any of this is necessarily in that order.
You do not a need a detailed critique of this film for several reasons, the main one being, this is a low budget B film and should be judged as such. It is grossly unfair to compare such a film to higher budget, Hollywood productions and I hate to see that when it happens, which is, sadly, pretty often. Also, I do not wish for you to know too much more about plot and story. As they say in show business, "Leave 'em wanting more," and so I shall. Instead, I offer comments and my impressions of what is a fun film to watch.
The young boy who played Igor, Christian Bellgardt, stole the show. I am certain his father, writer/director Ryan Bellgardt, did not plan for that, but what a nice surprise for both of them. Young Bellgardt has a future in acting, and I hope he stays interested enough to pursue it.
Oklahoma horror legend John "Count Gregore" Ferguson has a fairly small but important role as the mad scientist, Dr. Tanner Finski. Many years ago, Mr. Ferguson's career path took a turn towards Oklahoma, and here we see what might have been . . . if. John Ferguson could easily have been John Carradine, and it was good to him in a substantial screen role, one he handled very well.
The special effects were pretty good. I liked the occasional use of filtered lens for a rose tint look in spots, and Solomon's (portrayed by Rett Terrell) arm cannon was very enjoyable. The story was meaningful and poignant at times, campy and fun at other times. The beard on the villainous Confederate officer resembles a large piece of steel wool and the scene where the soldier caught a cannonball and threw it back the other way reminded me of an old Republic serial I viewed many years ago. Dialogue was embellished and over the top in a fun way in places, but the underlying theme of the entire story was the young boy Igor's loss of innocence for many reasons not of his own doing.
The story creators toyed around with what I will call, for lack of a better term, a combination alternate/revisionist history of facts pertaining to that era. You will have to view the film to see what I mean. All in all, they stayed true to history, within context of a fiction story.
I am hoping Mr. Bellgardt will add a director's commentary audio to future releases of the DVD.
You may learn more about this film on Facebook. Look for the Army of Frankensteins page.
Control Alt Destroy (2011)
A Fine Low Budget Offering
****THIS IS A DETAILED REVIEW CONTAINING MANY SPOILERS!*****
This is an amusing and enjoyable little film, the sort of film I admire and add to my video library whenever I have the opportunity. Control Alt Destroy runs 64 minutes and is surprisingly well made.
The story is set on the 4th of July in the offices of Frederickson and Frederickson. (John Ferguson has a small but interesting role as Mr. Frederickson. More about that later). Frederickson's foppish son Kingsley assists his father in running the company but we are never exactly certain what the company does. The film starts out humorously, the performances from all in the cast are pretty much over-the-top and reminds the viewer of the cult classic from a few years ago, Office Space. There is tension in the office and we quickly find that the Fredericksons and employees do not like each other. Indeed, nobody seems to like anybody and we quickly see there is more than a little bit of dysfunction in all of the main characters.
Old man Frederickson announces he is leaving on business, leaving Kingsley in charge. His constant berating proves too much for several of the workers so they leave the office to spend the day eating a fast food lunch and horsing around a local playground. (Why is the playground devoid of anyone else on a sunny 4th of July?). It is during this time the guys imbibe beer and marijuana and relate their father's experiences during the Vietnam War.
Returning to the office, looking through the front door they notice armed terrorists inside. The Frederickson employees are very noisy in determining what to do and one is left to wonder why they were not noticed by the bad guys. But, they weren't and we learn that the geeky Dennis is a former Marine who just happens to have a cache of weapons hidden throughout the office!
Dennis and his pals storm the office and regain control, becoming heroes in doing so.
So, that is the basic story and it is a good one.
Now, I offer a few observations and random comments.
Director Nick Sanford has done an excellent job in combining genres. This film mixes suspense and comedy and displays elements of campy parody. There is a wonderful scene of Mike Gasper, portraying Kingsley, non-puffing on an oversize pipe while purposefully laying it on too thick as the big boss. In the space of 64 minutes, we are treated to fright and laughter, patriotism and cynicism. There is enough undeveloped characterization to lengthen the film, but I'm certain budget constraints prevented this.
The producers did a wise thing. The great John Ferguson was used in a near cameo role. I say near cameo because he was in for two very amusing scenes plus a quick shot towards the film's end. Like all good show people would, Steve Patchin and Nick Sanford left the audience wanting more of him. I have included dialogue from John's scenes:
Carl, (one of the browbeaten employees, upon hearing he has received a promotion), speaking to Mr. Frederickson in his office: "I don't know what to say. Thank you sir! This is amazing – I will not let you down! I will put this job before everything else. Before my novel, before my dog – everything!"
Frederickson, (laughing): "I'm just screwing with you! Get the hell back to work!"
A few minutes later, Frederickson speaking to Kingsley: "I'm leaving you in charge of everything while I am gone That's what important leaders like me learn to do. When we have something important to do, we leave the least equipped person in charge. That's what we learned from the Republicans!"
Kingsley: "Thank you Daddy!"
Nick did a wonderful job of mixing the genres and mood, but I felt at times the film didn't really know which way it wanted to go. That it worked as well as it did is, again, a credit to Nick.
I felt the dialogue in spots was a bit earthier than it needed to be but that is a subjective opinion. If it added to the realism then it is a good thing.
All of the camera-work and other production values for such a low budget film were excellent.
Rachael Barry as Michelle caught my eye. She has a nice screen presence which I hope she will cultivate. She had a nice comic relief scene towards the film's end after the terrorists have been defeated:
Carl: "Dennis is a former Marine. He orchestrated this entire rescue!"
Michelle, who had earlier rebuffed Carl's advances: "I think I'm not a lesbian anymore!"
I like the Halloween masks and dark appearance of the terrorists. They were almost too good, given the levity of the story.
Twist Jackson, the terrorist leader wonderfully portrayed by Jason Gwynn, was the only terrorist to not wear a mask. This enabled us to see his exaggerated facial expressions.
Al, portrayed by Eric Kuritz, made the moral decision not to execute a captured terrorist, thus claiming the moral high road over his Vietnam scarred father.
We learn that the terrorists risked everything to steal $75.00 from the office safe, although Twist places a high degree of importance in hacking into the company's encrypted accounts, ultimately to gain nothing.
I got the impression the story was padded out a bit to get it to run an hour. Nothing wrong with that but it is noticeable.
For his next effort I would like to see Nick Sanford do a horror or grim film noir feature.
An American Legend Fights a Private War
It is not surprising this film had an Anne Rice type feel to it as it was shot in Louisiana. What is surprising to me is how, as one friend described it, such a ludicrous storyline could capture my fancy as it has. I suppose my fondness for horror films with catchy names has something to do with it. However, this one is more professionally done than such films as Jesse James vs. Frankenstein's Daughter or Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. (I'm not forgetting Buffy the Vampire Slayer!).
If you have read the book, well written by author Seth Grahame-Greene, you are familiar with the story. I believe he did very well in taking a giant of American history, placing him in such a preposterous situation, and pulling it off with dignity and taste.
The storyline, in case you are not aware, is straightforward and simple. As a child, young Abe Lincoln, (very well portrayed by Benjamin Walker), witnesses his mother being attacked by a vampire. After her death, he vows revenge. As it happens, a few years later the mysterious Henry Sturgess, (Dominic Cooper), injects himself into the life of Abe, now a young man. Sturgess trains Abe on how to be a vampire slayer. They create for Abe a specially made ax with the blade lined with silver. Older viewers will be reminded of the old Wild, Wild West television program. You will love the martial arts style ax work of Abraham Lincoln as he fights vampires to the death!
We are deep into suspension of disbelief territory now, but that is the fun of films like this. Sturgess assigns Abe the vampires to be slain and Abe follows his directions to the letter. Eventually we are introduced to head vampire/plantation owner Adam, played by Rufus Sewell, who was my favorite character in the movie. His "enforcer,' the beautiful Erin Wasson as Vadoma, adds spice to an already colorful story.
Time passes and Abraham Lincoln is introduced to politics by meeting Stephen A. Douglas, (Alan Tudyk in an uncredited role) and eventually becomes the President of the United States. Abe has long since given up active pursuit of vampires, but learns the hard way that vampires and their hidden agenda are behind the secession of the southern states and the true cause of the Civil War.
There will be no spoilers here. View the film to see how Honest Abe Lincoln ultimately saves the Union.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter runs 105 minutes, just about right for a film such as this. The special effects are nicely done and, for a film about vampires and blood, the gore is not excessive. Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, perhaps without intending to, injected a slight feel of a European view of the American Civil War into the story.
This film will not be for everybody. Some will be offended at the use of Abraham Lincoln's name and reputation being used in this way. But, as stated earlier, it is done with dignity and Abraham Lincoln is every much the noble hero in the movie as we view him in real life. Something just as offensive, if not more so, is the use of the Confederacy as a mask for vampire domination. President Jefferson Davis is seen making a devil's deal with the despicable Adam and, for those of us with southern ancestry, this is disturbing. But, we need to remember this is a work of fiction, certainly not believable fiction in any way and I am certain there was no intention on the part of the writer to be disrespectful to anything or anybody.
I would recommend this film if you like modern day horror film making. It is not a great film. It is a good film and highly entertaining, which is all a film such as this needs to be.
Dark and Stormy Night (2009)
Salute to 1930s Mystery
"The reading of the will, on a dark and stormy night!" so the song goes. This is one of the many fun things in this B offering from Larry Blamire, he of Lost Skeleton of Cadavra and Return of the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra fame. It's a nice little spoof of the 1930s mystery-in-an-old-dark-house genre. It also appears to be hiding in plain sight but is, happily, available on DVD.
Mr. Blamire is interviewed by John Skerchock in Scary Monsters issue no. 79 and the subject is Dark and Stormy Night. I encourage you to find a copy and read.
This is a charming little film, my favorite of the Blamire productions. The performers seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves as we wait anxiously for the resolution to the mystery which is straight out of the 1930s. We have the rich man's will, a gloomy mansion, a couple of goofy reporters and a dysfunctional family full of cheats with at least one of them a sadistic murderer. Of course, they are banded together in a house they cannot leave because of a washed out bridge. This is a great spoof and tribute to the "Old Dark House" genre and is very enjoyable. View it with a cold drink on a lazy summer afternoon or with hot chocolate on a cold winter night. It would be best, of course, if the weather is dark and stormy with heavy rain pounding your windows.
The bonus features on the DVD are great. You may view the film in color or black and white and the behind the scenes production is fantastic. There is also a gag reel and audio commentary by Mr. Blamire and members of the cast. Don't expect a classic, that's not what B films are about, but don't miss this one!
Bonnie & Clyde vs. Dracula (2008)
Nice Low Budget Offering
Bonnie and Clyde vs. Dracula is a better film than the title suggests. I have mixed emotions about this as I normally like for my bad films to be truly bad, but will admit to being pleasantly surprised by the story and production values.
Keep in mind I am reviewing a low budget film here. The acting was surprisingly good and, at 90 minutes, the story was neither too short nor too long. I thought Tiffany Shepis as the murderous Bonnie made the film and the other players, all unknowns (at least, unknown to me) were surprisingly colorful and good. Jennifer Friend as the dim-witted Annabel was a treat as well.
The plot is about what you would expect with a title such as this one. Bonnie and Clyde are out in the country hiding from the law and planning their next heist when they unexpectedly meet up with the evil Dr. Loveless and, you guessed it, the Prince of Darkness himself. This is as far as I will go on story explanation, the title says it all.
It doesn't matter to me if the story makes sense or is historically factual in regards to Bonnie and Clyde, but I was a bit frustrated by the fact that I had trouble determining whether this was (a) horror, (b) comedy horror spoof or (c) a gangster film. It is hard to mix genres within one production and that was, at times, uncomfortably apparent. But, it was not so bad as to ruin the production and, aside from that, Bonnie and Clyde vs.Dracula is a delightful film and nice addition to my library of B-horror.
Shot in 2008 around the St. Joseph, MO. area, near my home, I looked for this one on DVD for a long time. Per its website, it made the rounds of the film festival circuit in Kansas and Missouri before being offered on DVD. It was worth the wait. It fits nicely with such 1960s films as Billy the Kid vs. Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter. I am very pleased to see films such as these back in production. If you, as I, love films such as this one, I encourage you to add it to your library. I got my DVD from Amazon and it costs around $10.00, including shipping.
I viewed this film yesterday and enjoyed it very much, as I have enjoyed all of the Indiana Jones films.
A film such as this should be judged by what it is, not by what we wish it to be. Indiana Jones would be a top notch Republic serial if this were the 1940s, but it is 2008 and this sort of story is presented today as an upper echelon feature film. I believe if we expect too much realism from the seemingly indestructible Indiana Jones, we will be disappointed and robbed of the enjoyment the people who made this film worked so hard to give us. Pretend you are ten years old again (if you are older than that!) and simply sit back and enjoy. This film is wonderful entertainment. It really dos not matter if it is "good" or not.
Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones. If you cannot think of any other reason to see this film, do it for this one.
Terror in the Pharaoh's Tomb (2007)
A Wonderful Low Budget Production
I give Terror in the Pharoah's Tomb the highest rating because I appreciate and admire so much what director and editor Susan Svehla has done. As a person devoted to the 1930s and 40s Universal horror classics, this film may as well be Ms. Svehla's personal gift to me.
The plot is basic poverty row horror. An archaeologist is missing in the Middle East and a motley, thrown together team of colorful people are dispatched to find him. (Students of classic horror will see a mixing of story lines and plot from several of the old classics and enjoy frequent insider joke dialog). Along the way, we encounter "guest appearances" by several famous actors and actresses of the bygone golden era of Hollywood, including Barbara Stanwyck and Peter Lorre, just to name a couple.
But, the real story is the story behind the story. The DVD audio commentary is fascinating for students of both horror and modern day film production. I cannot say enough about the use of stock footage and how clips from yesterday's heroes were interwoven into a modern production. I have many of those public domain source films in my personal library and look forward to viewing them again with Terror in the Pharoah's Tomb in mind.
Although everyone in the cast was marvelous, (Indeed the entire cast did a tremendous job. From what I know of blue screen technology, which is not much, it seems to me it is no small challenge to act in character without the aid of a realistic set to assist in maintaining mood), a special nod goes to the evil Queen Amanetor, excellently portrayed by the lovely Leanna Chamish. (For some reason I kept thinking of Zita Johann in 1932's The Mummy, although their characters were different from each other in many ways). "Stealing" a unique film such as this is no small task, but steal it she did. Her over the top performance as the evil queen is definitely one to be remembered. As one who has had a fondness and admiration for scream queens going back to Carolyn Craig in the original House on Haunted Hill, viewing her performance was delightful beyond description. I do not recall anyone else within this genre who projects to the viewer at the same time the interesting mixture of wholesomeness and evil sensuality.
I obtained my DVD through Oldies.com. At $7.95 it is a real bargain. Add it to your library and watch it late on Saturday night after everyone else has gone to bed. Trust me, if you are of the over 50 generation, wonderful memories of Shock Theater and Universal horror will come flooding back to you. View the feature film first, then again with Ms. Svehla's commentary. You won't be disappointed.
The Raven (1963)
1960s Horror Classic
The Raven, released in January, 1963, was produced and directed for AIP by Roger Corman and runs 86 minutes. Vincent Price was Dr. Erasmus Craven. Peter Lorre as Dr. Bedlo, Boris Karloff as Dr. Scarabus, Hazel Court as Lenore, and Jack Nicholson as young Rexford Bedlo were the remainder of the main cast. Richard Matheson did the screenplay.
The Raven is another of Corman's "Edgar Allan Poe" cycle of films. Like most of them, great liberties were taken with the original Poe tale. In this one, the raven, with the voice of Lorre, appears at the home of magician Dr. Erasmus Craven, who is pining away time lamenting the loss of his deceased wife, Lenore. It seems that the cantankerous Bedlo has been transferred into a bird after losing a battle of magic with the famous Dr. Scarabus. After a much-too-long opening sequence in which this is explained and Craven restores Bedlo to human form, Bedlo informs his host that Lenore is indeed alive and staying with Scarabus in his castle. This is too much for the grieving Dr. Craven, so he and his daughter Estelle, played by Olive Sturgess, and Bedlo with his son Rexford, who has conveniently shown up at Craven's front door, venture forth to the castle of the feared Dr. Scarabus. Fortunately, The Raven becomes much more interesting at this point.
Horror and comedy, in my humble opinion, do not often mix, but they co-exist in The Raven about as well as I've seen. The Raven, shot immediately before The Terror utilizing the same sets, is probably a better film but not as interesting to fans of pure horror as the latter.
Portions of the coach ride to Scarabus' castle can be viewed in one of the segments in Gallery Of Horrors, (1969), and the distance shot of the castle on the hill is all too familiar to Corman fans.
However, I digress. When the motley group arrive at Scarabus castle, they find that Lenore is indeed alive, that she left her somewhat dull husband for the interesting life that the aging Scarabus could provide, and that she and Bedlo were used by him as bait to lure Craven to his lair, where he wishes to learn more about Craven's superior magic skill. One thing leads to another, and the film climaxes with a magician's duel between Craven and Scarabus. The duel, eight minutes long on screen, is legendary in the annals of horror film-making. (See The Raven for this alone if for no other reason). I won't spoil the ending for you so I will only say that everyone gets what's coming to them in the end! But, there are plenty of other reasons to view The Raven. Karloff, (at his best here!) Amusing and ominous at the same time), Price, Lorre and Nicholson together in one film, for one. Film historians seem to appreciate this unique gathering of extraordinary talent more than they do Karloff and Nicholson together in The Terror, and perhaps this is to be expected. (Horror film fans owe AIP a huge debt, for it, more than any other studio, kept the careers of such players alive during this period. See Karloff, Price, Lorre and Basil Rathbone in 1963's Comedy of Terrors, a film similar to The Raven and which also includes a small but memorable role for comic Joe E. Brown). Hazel Court is beautiful and delightful as the scheming Lenore, a woman any man could easily yearn for and be seduced by. Indeed, The Raven enjoyed fine performances from all the players.
Old villain Peter Lorre. Late in his career he was pleasing in humorous parts. Lorre was not a well man during this period, but his performances live on. He was the equal of Robin Williams when it came to ad-libbing and driving co-stars crazy! It is interesting to note that young Nicholson, while not the actor he would become, holds his own very well against the veteran co-stars he played against, particularly Lorre, who portrayed his acerbic, browbeating father.
1962's Tales of Terror, a three-story trilogy, included The Black Cat, (by, you guessed, AIP), a humorous look at the Poe tale starring Vincent Price and Peter Lorre. Horror humor doesn't get any better than it is in the works I have mentioned in this article.
I give The Raven, very atmospheric with those marvelous sets, three well deserved stars, perhaps 3 1/2 stars to be generous. The magician's duel by itself would rate four stars. That classic scene would play well in a modern day film with state of the art special effects!
Go ahead and rent Comedy of Terrors and Tales of Terror while you're at the video store and make a very pleasant weekend out of it. I promise you won't be disappointed.
If you'll invite me over, I'll bring the popcorn.
I lunghi capelli della morte (1965)
Italian Psychological Horror
Long Hair of Death is a great film. I have to disagree with other reviewers regarding this, both those here on the IMDb and some in printed publications. This is 1960s Italian horror at its very best and, to me, that means it is among the very best, period. I can understand why many in today's impatient, multi-task oriented audience would not like slow moving, atmospheric films which are very dull compared to the current era's action and gore oriented offerings. Films such as these require a cultivated taste of sorts and I realize they are not for everybody.
Long Hair of Death is outstanding because it is exactly what those who do not like it say that it is. It is slow moving, contains little action and there are long periods of -- not much. Not much, except for a feeling of dread and unease that begins immediately after the story begins and does not end until literally the film's end. The slowness is the main reason the viewer sits in uncomfortable agony waiting for something bad to happen, which eventually does.
The story concerns a woman burnt at the stake in 16th century Italy, falsely accused of murder. That she happens to be a count's wife and the count's son the real villain of the story are of great importance in the storyline. Giorgio Ardisson as the evil Kurt Humboldt is one of the big screen's most despicable characters, as throughout the film he commits multiple murder and rape, but sadly most persons not interested in obscure cinema will never know this or experience his splendid performance. The great Barbara Steele (How I wish she had done a greater body of work!) plays a dual role, her characters being pretty much the same as they were in 1960's Black Sunday, (La Maschera del Demonio), as Helen Karnstein, wife of Count Humboldt and also as her daughter Mary. Again, the story is pretty much the same as Black Sunday, with the emphasis being on the executed Helen and the curse she places upon the Count and his son Kurt Humboldt. Daughter Mary, who is a lookalike for her mother, assists in the revenge by playing upon the Count's guilt to destroy him emotionally and getting Kurt to fall in love with her. The fact that Kurt is already married to Mary's sister Elizabeth, herself abused by Kurt, adds dramatically to the sense of moral decay in the Humboldt castle.
The ultimate revenge is as creative as it is brutal. Watch the film to see what it is, I won't provide SPOILERS here.
Barbara Steele remains to this day the standard which all horror (scream) queens are judged, and that is interesting because she does very little screaming and performs little if any violence in her films. She is to horror acting what Alfred Hitchcock was to suspense directing. They frighten you with "What if . . . ," instead of actual brutality and exaggerated acting. From the moment she first appears on screen in any of her films one knows trouble will soon follow and it has nothing to do with anything she says or does. Whatever "it" is, she has it in abundance. Long Hair of Death will remind some viewers of 1972's Lisa and the Devil, (Lisa e il Diavolo) another story of a decaying household but set to modern times. One wonders how much better that film would have been with Ms. Steele in the lead instead of Elke Sommer, a fine actress but out of her depth in psychological horror.
Director Antonio Margheriti has never received the credit he deserves as a fine director of subdued horror. Margheriti will take you on a painstaking walk through the dreariest of castles and make you feel the suspense of every hesitant step and so it is with Long hair of Death. I recently viewed Long Hair of Death after having not seen it in awhile and was emotionally drained by the time the end credits rolled.
If you are unfamiliar with this type of film and are unimpressed with the sensationalism of today's cinema, then find Long Hair of Death or any of the other fine films of Margheriti or Mario Bava. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised and join me in my admiration of Italian horror cinema of this period.
The Wasp Woman (1959)
Typical Roger Corman Fare
By today's standards The Wasp Woman is quite dated, but for those of us who are old enough to remember this type of film in the theaters, it is interesting and more than a little nostalgic.
The plot is the standard formula of the day. Cosmetic queen Janice Starling's company has lost business since she quit appearing in the company's advertising. She admits to her senior executives the reason for this is her advancing age. Just about this time, a mysterious Dr. Zinthrop (Michael Mark) shows up, promising to reverse the aging process with his experimental formula taken from wasp extracts. As you may guess, she becomes impatient with the process and starts administering the drug to herself, unknown to Dr. Zinthrop. The heavy dosage of wasp extract affects Janice mentally and physically, causing her to become, for short periods of time, the deadly Wasp Woman. To further complicate matters, Dr. Zinthrop is involved an accident, causing a temporary coma and loss of memory. When Janice Starling needs his help the most, he is unable to provide it.
I won't provide spoilers here. Find the film and view it to see how things turn out in the end.
Filmed in 1959, which I consider to be the golden year of B-horror in film, and released in 1960, The Wasp Woman was the initial offering of Roger Corman's Filmgroup production company. Mr. Corman could do more with less than anyone in the business, but his casting of Susan Cabot as the wasp woman didn't quite hit the mark. Ms. Cabot, who reminds somewhat of the lovely Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors, was better suited for the action and western roles which make up the biggest part of the body of her work. As usual, I was impressed with Roger Corman's restraint. We didn't see the wasp woman until well into the picture; typical A-film behavior from the king of B-film. However, when we do finally see the wasp woman, it is a bit of a letdown. She is always shown in partial shadow for brief periods of time, and it is obvious this is to conceal the fact that the costume was not overly impressive or believable, even by the standards of the time. But, remember, Roger Corman always cut corners whenever and wherever he could.
An unauthorized remake of sorts was made in 1987 titled Evil Spawn. There was also a TV remake of The Wasp Woman in 1995. (AKA Roger Corman Presents "The Wasp Woman").
The Wasp Woman runs a little over an hour and is filmed in somewhat darkish black and white. (How I miss black and white in today's films! Today's movie makers seem to have no clue as to how black and white filming assists in establishing mood and atmosphere). The last scene of the film is in color, something that filmmakers established for a short time as a fad of sorts for films like these in the late 1950s. Happily, it is available for purchase. I have a Sinister Cinema VHS tape purchased many years ago which was copied from a very good master print. It is also available on DVD.
If you have made it this far into the review, I assume you are fan of horror and science fiction films of this era. So, enjoy this late on Saturday night with the lights turned down -- and recall fondly the good old days of 1950s and 60s B-cinema.
Dead & Buried (1981)
1981's Dead and Buried is not the kind of story you normally think of when you think about 1980's horror films. This one is very good and much underrated. If you have read other reviews you know that not everyone agrees with me.
This one was scripted by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the same team that wrote Alien (1979). Stan Winston did the make-up effects, and the film starred James Farentino and Jack Albertson, starring as the eccentric Hobbs in his last role shortly before his death. If you feel this film is not very good, I hope you agree that with this talent it should be.
A sleepy New England town experiences a number of gruesome murders. Throughout the film we get the feeling that Dan the sheriff (Farentino) is not getting at what is really going on. Several surreal scenes affirm this but, even so, Dead and Buried has a nice surprise ending. I'm getting close to offering a spoiler here, but can say that Hobbs, the town undertaker who has a passion for 1940s swing music, also has a well-developed passion for his work. Jack Albertson was wonderful in this part. One wonders, had he lived, if he would have enjoyed a second career in horror films, much as Leslie Nielsen did shtick comedy after 1980's Airplane.
This was very much Albertson's film, but Farentino complemented him nicely as the over-educated small town sheriff whose marriage is not quite perfect. Indeed, nothing in this story is as it should be and the unease is felt by the viewer from the first few minutes onward. Certain scenes are dark, frightening and cause the viewer to really think about what is happening. 1980's slash gore is understated but very much present and is combined with the emotion it spawns in the viewer. The first time I viewed Dead and Buried, I was surprised by the ending, but in subsequent viewing it makes sense. The scene in which all is explained should be a classic, but again, not all feel as I do about this film and in the 25 years since its release, has never received its due.
Catch this one late on Friday or Saturday night, if for no other reason to catch comedian Jack Albertson out of character being a likable creep. I believe you will enjoy it even if you are not a die-hard horror fan. Can a 1980s horror film which offers big band music be all that bad?
Early Horror Classic
1922's Nosferatu is one of the early classics of horror cinema. Directed by the great German director F.W. Murnau, this film uses lighting and lack of sound to its distinct advantage. I've read that the Bram Stoker estate nearly succeeded in having all of the prints of this film destroyed. All fans of classic cinema should be grateful that this did not happen.
What interests me about silent era films is that they are so old now, one gets a sense when viewing them of looking back into the past through the lens of a fiction film. Nosferatu is the standard Dracula story and reminds much of 1932's Vampyre in style and tone. I'm not going to critique the story too much as most readers already know it, but would like to offer comments concerning this version.
Max Shreck as the vampire distinguishes this film from the countless other Dracula and vampire films that have been produced through the years, for in most the vampire is normally portrayed as handsome and debonair, a creature that one almost wishes will wind up in the heroine's bedroom. But, Max Shreck is garishly tall, long-fingered and bald in the ugliest way, looking more like an over-sized gnome than the elegant Dracula we are familiar with. One has to watch closely as Shreck becomes progressively uglier as the film progresses, a very subtle suggestion to the viewer of the deterioration of his life and psyche. Murnau uses rats throughout the film to tie them to the presence of the disturbing vampire. The scene on the boat where he emerges from the ships' hold is perhaps the most frightening in screen history. Nothing has topped it in the 84 years since it was filmed. Credit Murnau for this.
Much of Nosferatu was filmed on location in villages and old buildings, again reminiscent of Vampyre. In the use of lighting and camera angles, one gets the idea that Murnau and Carl Dreyer were cinematic soul mates. I have always maintained that some films are better made in black and white, and after viewing Nosferatu again before preparing this review, I am also convinced that some films, even today, would benefit from limited dialog and, in some cases, total silence. One wonders what Nosferatu would have been had it been a talkie? Perhaps still a classic, but the images of Shreck as Nosferatu benefit from the mind having no external stimulation such as background music or dialog. 1979's Nosferatu with Klaus Kinski, while not a bad film, simply does not give us an insight into what Murnau would have done with sound technology for this masterpiece.
One thing is a bit different in this version than in others. The story goes that, to destroy the vampire and the effects he has had on his victims, he must be in the company of a female virgin early in the morning when the cock crows. I don't want to offer a spoiler, here, but pay careful attention to Nosferatu's ending. It is a brilliant piece of camera work and is a wonderful ending to a great film.
The Witches (1966)
Nice Joan Fontaine Vehicle
1966's The Witches rates in the upper half of 1960's era horror. Its not outstanding but it is very interesting. I would certainly recommend it for viewing, just don't expect a classic.
Leading lady Joan Fontaine was still an impressive screen presence at this time and she portrays the courageous but vulnerable headmistress Gwen Mayfield very well.
But - a little bit about the story. Heroine Gwen suffered a nervous breakdown when in Africa, brought on by a traumatic experience with tribal witchcraft. Gwen recovers and takes a teaching job in a quiet, out of the way English village. Little did she know that even greater horror than what she experienced in Africa awaited her! It takes her awhile to realize that the town is home to a witch's coven, a coven that she will unwillingly be admitted into.
Before we get to this point, the story unfolds with some fairly decent character development. The too-jolly meat cutter Mr. Curd, the dour Granny Rigg and her overly-protected grand daughter Linda, Linda's boyfriend Ronnie and the brother sister team of Alan and Stephanie Bax, very capably portrayed by Kay Walsh and Alec McCowen as the village leaders, are the main characters which keep life interesting for Gwen. One gets a clear sense of life in a small English village, a place where fear and superstition become horrible reality.
The problem with reviewing The Witches is, if too much of the film is detailed, the ending is predictable and viewing ruined for those who have not seen it. Keep in mind this is a Hammer film and is similar to other films of the day, such as The Plague of the Zombies, (1966, also by Hammer), and 1960's City of The Dead, (AKA Horror Hotel), to name a couple.
If you are a fan of horror, and I suspect you are if you are reading this review, then you are probably already aware of this film and its exciting conclusion. This was one of Ms. Fontaine's last major screen roles so view it for this reason if for no other.
Two on a Guillotine (1965)
Hard to Find Horror
Years ago I taped this story off of TBS. As a collector, I am glad I did because this is a very rare film. Shot in 1964 by Warner Brothers and released in 1965, most reference books do not even mention it. Unless I am mistaken, it is out of print. (NOTE: a friend informed me after reading this that Two On a Guillotine is avaialbale on eBay)If anyone sees it in a video store, please let me know.
That's the bad news. The good news is that it is probably not worth tracking down, unless you are a hard core collector like me and enjoy the thrill of the hunt.
Two on A Guillotine starred Dean Jones and Connie Stevens, with a small but important role for Caesar Romero and a most unusual cameo by John (Attack of the Puppet People, 1958) Hoyt. More on that a little bit later. Running time was 107 minutes and was done in B & W, at a time when B & W was being phased out.
At best, this is a two star film, but is easy and enjoyable viewing. There is nothing extraordinary about the plot. Old time magician Romero has passed away, leaving his daughter as the sole heir to his estate. The catch is that she has to spend one night in his creepy old mansion. (This plot was worn thin even in 1965). You guessed it, odd things begin to happen, and, thankfully, reporter/boyfriend Dean Jones is usually nearby to save the day. ***SPOILERS BEGIN HERE*** At film's end, he struggles with the not so dead Romero as daughter Stevens is locked into a deadly guillotine set up in one of the mansion's rooms. Seems that Dad had a tragic accident and beheaded his wife accidentally on this same machine years before, and the guilt has ruined his life. Romero wishes to atone for the previous tragedy, so he has promised his daughter that it will work properly "this time."
Does it work properly? Well, I don't want to give the plot away, but I will say that although she was beheaded, the story ends happily.
Two on a Guillotine has somewhat of a House on Haunted Hill (1959) feel to it, probably because it was done in B & W and shared the same era, being done only six years later. Interiors of the creepy house were well done, mood music is adequate, comic relief is better than average, (indeed, almost too good as it almost ruined the horror moments), and the magician's props were used to full advantage. One trick was of a dummy on a wire trundling down a high ceiling to scare Miss Stevens. I wonder if William Castle was a consultant on this film?
But the best and oddest part of the story was when the dead magician's will was read. It was read on-stage by John Hoyt (portraying the attorney) at the Hollywood Bowl in broad daylight! For readers who live in the Los Angeles area, there are some very fine location shots in and around the Hollywood Bowl. One gets an excellent view of what that area looked like 40 years ago.
This is a nice film to watch, I'm just afraid you will not be able to find it. Not even Sinister Cinema offers it, a bad sign for lovers of obscure film.
There is no gore, and the scary moments are hardly that by current standards, so this is one horror film that viewers of all ages and tastes can enjoy. You've not seen me recommend that before and probably will not again, so take advantage. Mom, Dad, kids, friends and relatives can enjoy this one together.
I hope you find it and that you do.
A Christmas Carol (1984)
This version of Dickens' classic is my favorite. The lighting and camera work are just right and one gets a strong sense of early 19th century England at the dawn of the Victorian age. For certain this is one of the finest TV films ever made.
George C. Scott is wonderful as old Scrooge. It is a pleasure to see Mr. Scott show the viewer the many facets of his real life complex personality, a complexity shared by the Scrooge character. Most people I know relate to the Tiny Tim sub story, but for some reason I have always found Scrooge's relationship with his nephew Fred the most interesting, for we find out that Scrooge is guilty of the same thing as his father was: he blamed Fred for the death of his beloved sister as Scrooge was blamed for the death of his mother. We see the transformation of Scrooge in my favorite scene, where he visits Fred on Christmas morning. This is the great Scott at his very best, as he makes the gentle rapprochement with a suspicious nephew and step-niece.
My only complaint with A Christmas Carol (through the years to this 1984 version) is the portrayal of Bob Crachit's family. Nobody argues, none are ever shown unhappy, with the exception of frustration with Mr. Scrooge. The Cratchit family is always shown as too perfect. Indeed, they make the Ward and June Cleaver family of 1950's television seem downright dysfunctional! However, the moral message is there; of one man's redemption through enlightenment and faith that a valuable second chance had been visited upon him.
No BAH HUMBUGS here. A Merry Christmas to all.
A Christmas Story (1983)
A Christmas Story touches my heart as does no other film, and I know the reason for this is because it reminds me so much of my own 1950's boyhood. For sure it strikes a nerve in persons of my generation. This is Bob Clark's masterpiece and I know I am not the only person who feels this way.
I am going to assume that, if you are reading this, chances are you have seen the film; indeed, probably have seen it countless times as I have. This is not a film review in the normal sense. It is more a reminiscence and appreciation of a great story captured for all time in moving pictures which, in turn, captured the essence of the time and place of its setting; that time and setting being a typical town in Indiana during Christmas season in the 1940s as we observe a typical family (the Parkers) with two young sons named Ralphie and Randy.
Most of us over the age of 50 can relate very well to the story's key elements. I recall vividly family outings to crowded downtown sidewalks, Mom and Dad squeezing in a season's worth of shopping in one day and doing it under the nose of one who had a visit to Santa Claus on his mind. Staring at the prominent HIGBEES sign in the downtown square, I could almost see the words John A. Brown in its place. Browns was the main department store in my hometown of Oklahoma City and the place where I would make my annual visit with Santa Claus.
I am sure most who have seen the film realize this is Ralphie's story, but Melinda Dillon as the typical 1940's stay-at-home mom and Darren McGavin as the grumpy but kindly father made the story work. The stove in the Parker's kitchen reminds much of the one my grandmother had, and the rest of the house reminded me of the home my other grandparents lived in. As you see, viewing A Christmas Story is always a magical experience for me. It is almost as if Mr. Clark made this film with Tom Fowler in mind.
There are so many comments to make. It will be impossible to relate them all in a short review, but here are some that I know people my age will be most familiar with:
Beautiful toys displayed in department store windows. The agonizingly long wait for toys ordered via mail and learning too late they are not quite what was expected. The excitement of buying a Christmas tree, the joy of setting it up and how much bigger Christmas trees seemed then. Neighborhood bullies who were not nearly as tough as they seemed. Ralphie wanting a BB gun more than life itself. Mom covering trouble for Ralphie to his dad, and the same mom making him eat soap for uttering words -- learned from Dad. Randy sitting underneath the kitchen sink when depressed. A panicky visit to a tired Santa. An unwanted gift from a well-meaning aunt. The furious unwrapping of gifts on Christmas morning. I could go on and on. I will make two more observations and then will sign off and let somebody else speak.
In the film's sweetest scene, we see Dad coming through for his son at the last possible moment. To see the look on young Ralphie's (ably played by Peter Billingsley) face as he unwraps his best and last gift is one of filmdom's true golden moments.
But, for me the best moment was the last. Ralphie is in bed at film's end. We see snow outside and Ralphie dreaming of his wonderful gift, as the story's author and narrator Jean Shepherd, speaking as the grown up Ralphie, realizes this was the best Christmas he ever had, or ever would have.
If you are middle age or older and have not seen A Christmas Story, you are perhaps unaware that you have cheated yourself. Buy or rent the 2003 20th anniversary DVD. It will be the best money you spend this Christmas -- or any Christmas.
Dead Flesh (2001)
A Nice Effort
Warning! **SPOILER ALERT!**
I knew that Dead Flesh was going to be my kind of film when, early in the picture, the school bully/football jock appeared in his letter jacket, with an image of Vincent Price on the front! It was not hard to figure out from there that the characters in the film attended Vincent Price High School. A nice insider joke to get things started.
Dead Flesh was done by the students of the art department at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, TX. This calls to mind two earlier, similar films: 1957's Teenagers Battle The Thing and 1968's Monsters Crash The Pajama Party. These are available on video for B-film junkies such as myself.
Judged within context of who made this film and the budget constraints, Dead Flesh is a solid contribution to the B-horror film genre. A big reason for this is the presence of the main players, SFA students Tommy Merrill and Lorrie Hamm. Merrill, in particular, has a screen presence and we may soon see him again on the big screen. Lorrie Hamm, an attractive young woman who checked her ego at the door and appeared throughout the film in a dreadful wig and make-up, was a delight in her role as the zombie.
Ben (Tommy Merrill) is a student at Vincent Price High School and does not quite fit in, getting punched out early by the aforementioned bully. Receiving punishment for fighting, he meets Maggie in detention. Maggie looks suspiciously like a zombie version of Ally Sheedy in 1984's The Breakfast Club. One thing leads to another and soon Ben and Maggie are an item. Only thing is, Maggie is a zombie and needs "dead flesh" to survive. Ben, the outcast, agrees to select Maggie's choice of victims to serve as zombie meals. Throughout the film, Ben and Maggie fight over victims, zombie hunters, (Andy Cope, as "Zombie Hunter Dave," in a suit that resembles one worn by Robin the Boy Wonder, plays his role very over the top and, were he on camera more, would have stolen the film from Merrill and Hamm), and Ben's apparent waning interest until, at film's end, Maggie zombie-fies him and they move to Zombie Island in South America, to live in eternal zombie bliss.
I liked what I saw. The cartoon graphics at the beginning were first rate and the Ed Wood style moralizing, ("killing the wicked for the evil in their hearts") by Ben in the middle of the film was a nice touch. I was amused by the zombie graveyard scene, as I thought I saw a couple of them stifling laughter. Newscaster "Valerie Soapdish" was a hoot also. But, I was particularly impressed by Ben's mention of 1952's Republic serial, Zombies of The Stratosphere. The folks at SFA know their cinema history!
Taylor Lynbery did fine work on special effects. The scissors implanted in the forehead of Ben's best friend Chris was outstanding. The location selections around Nacogdoches and nearby Lufkin, Texas, showed impressive creativity.
Rated against "Hollywood" B-films, done by more experienced actors and crew with bigger budgets, I would give Dead Flesh 2 1/2 stars of a possible four. That's holding your own with the bigger fish pretty well. By SFA art department standards, this film is excellent and I give it 3 1/2 stars, which says that I hold this film in high esteem, and I've seen comparable student films of previous generations. Only 1959's Teenagers From Outer Space surpasses Dead Flesh and only because it is obvious that the producers had a higher operating budget.
A couple of things kept me from giving it a four rating. Tommy Merrill was miscast as the high school loner/loser. Merrill just does not reflect that persona. Also, there are times which the story seems to be heading in an interesting direction, then doesn't. Ben's missing mother would have been a great lead into seeing her as a zombie mom, and we never got a sense that Ben was directing Maggie's actions after we were told that Ben would help select victims. Maggie seemed to possess very much her own mind and have firm ideas as to who would be her next meal.
But -- this a fine effort by the folks at SFA. I enjoyed Dead Flesh very much and that is what films such as these are all about. Tommy, Lorri, and all of you, good job and -- what's next?
Il fantasma dell'opera (1998)
One of many versions
This and the Hound of the Baskervilles are two stories which immediately come to mind when thinking of stories that have been put to film multiple times, with varied quality and production values.
This Italian version, directed by the legendary Dario Argento and starring his daughter Asia as Christine, is not quite what one would expect from the master of nightmarish dream sequences. That's not to say that elements of shock gore and horror are not there, as this story depicts the tortured Phantom as one who has lived his life in the sewers among rats as companions, for there are some gruesome scenes, just not of the normal high Argento quality. Strangely, however, this reviewer did not dwell on those when viewing the film, for Phantom of the Opera in any version is more love story than horror. Julian Sands, who seems to have made a career out of unusual roles, plays this one with reserve and dignity -- something that has disappointed viewers who expected a more traditional Argento outing.
The Phantom story is one of those rare ones that transcends it genre, (in this case, genres), and seems to bring out the best in performers and directors, even as this filming is surely not one of the director's best. Both Dario and daughter Asia showed us a more thoughtful side to their art than one normally associates them with, as did Joel Schumacher, director of the version released this year. I will say that I was surprised and mildly disappointed that the horror aspects were not done better, not only because of the stature of the director but because, in my opinion, Italians do horror and the mood that goes with it better than anyone else.
Each version is different from the others. This one has us believe that the Phantom was an unwanted child who grew up among the rats in the Parisian sewers and therefore has a special bond with them. We see the Phantom punish those who would capture and kill the unwanted rodents, and, aside from his demeanor, this is the way we see the greater side of the Phantom. It has been interesting to me to see how this facet of the Phantom is portrayed in the various releases. (In 1943 we saw Claude Rains as the shy and retiring violinist, in 1989 we saw the murderous Robert Englund treat street prostitutes with generosity and courtesy).
I do not need to dwell too much more on the story itself, most of us are well familiar with it. This one had what I would consider good B production values, although, for all I know, this may have been an A production in Italy and the rest of Europe. I enjoyed the performances but, again, was disappointed that Argento did not breathe greater emotion into the horror aspects.
For Phantom fans this is, of course, required viewing, if you can find it. I found my VHS copy at a video closeout store and, to be honest, was not aware of its existence until I saw it on the shelf. For one who has maintained a video library for almost 20 years, I should have known. (So much for me being a self-styled expert)!
Beginning of the End (1957)
Big Bug Classic
This is one of the most enjoyable of the 1950s "big bug" movies. Filmed in 1957, in the middle of my favorite sci-fi era, this film enjoys a better than average cast than you would expect for B science fiction.
People begin to disappear in the surrounding communities outside Chicago. Photographer/journalist Audrey Aimes, portrayed by the lovely Peggy Castle, stops to visit Dr. Wainwright, the Dept. of Agriculture scientist who has used radiation on his plants to make them larger, only to discover that grasshoppers have feasted on them, thus making an army of giant sized locusts. This sounds pretty lame by today's standards but this was standard fare for 1950s science fiction, in the days when we were scared to death of having a nuclear weapon dropped on us and being taken over "from within."
After the discovery of what has happened and why, the rest of the story deals with what to do before the grasshoppers destroy Chicago. Fortunately for all, this did not happen. I won't give the ending away be will provide a hint: View 1963's Day of the Triffids.
Reviewers have not been kind to this film and perhaps rightfully so. However, within the context of the preposterous story and extremely limited budget, its not so bad. Beginning of the End starred Peter Graves, a sci-fi regular of that time in his pre-Mission: Impossible days and whose brother, James Arness, was riding high as Marshall Dillon in television's Gunsmoke. (You may recall that Arness starred in 1954's Them!, about huge ants terrorizing Los Angeles. This was the film that started the big bug craze). Peggy Castle was cool and calm as the female lead and was a forerunner of sorts to today's' strong woman in action films. And, this was yet another film of many whereas Morris Ankrum played a military general.
Special effects were not too good even for that era and are downright atrocious by the standards of today. We see grasshoppers walking upon photos of various places in Chicago and the super imposed shots are of very poor quality. The storyline stretches even the keenest imagination, as we are led to believe that Chicago can be 100% evacuated within 24 hours, and this with thousands of homeless refugees from the outlying communities camping out in the inner city!
Even so, Beginning of the End possesses the low budget charm that subsequent eras have not been able to duplicate. This is one of those films that is fun to watch and is the sole reason one should do so. Saturday night late is the best time. I like to view it alone and recall a far simpler time in my life and our world at large. At least, the times seemed simpler. Perhaps they were not and that may be what films such as these were all about.
Danza macabra (1964)
Great Italian Gothic
In the days before gore and sex took over, real horror films were made. Castle of Blood is, in my estimation, one of the finest, although other reviewers have given it mixed ratings. In an odd sort of way it reminds of the more recent The Others, which was in the theaters a couple of years ago.
Director Antonio Margheriti remade his own picture in 1970 titling it this time Web of the Spider (AKA Nella Stretta Morsa del Ragno). Why he did this I do not understand, although the remake starred Anthony Franciosa and Klaus Kinski and was very good in its own right. Perhaps he saw a good story and wished to tailor it more to American audiences. I do not really know. It is interesting that he did the original in black and white and the remake in color.
Castle of Blood is excellent Italian Gothic. La Danza Macabra is said to be an unpublished work of Edgar Allen Poe, who "appears" in this film. Poe and Lord Blackwood, owner of a haunted castle, bet American writer Alan Foster (George Riviere) that he cannot spend All Souls Night in said castle and survive. Foster eagerly accepts the bet but soon regrets it, for he is witness to a series of murders committed by ghosts. It seems that the ghosts come back to life once every few years but are doomed to re-enact the crimes they committed in life. Lord Blackwood conveniently forgot to tell Foster that his blood is needed for them to resurrect themselves on the next All Souls Night!
It does not take Foster and the beautiful Elisabeth Blackwood (portrayed by the incomparable Barbara Steele) long to fall in love, even though their romance is doomed, because Elisabeth is one of the ghosts. I will not give the ending away, but will just say that Castle of Blood is every bit a romantic tragedy as it is a horror story.
Comments. This film is greatly atmospheric, even by the excellent standards of the Italians. My personal opinion is they do true horror better than anybody, and the somewhat dim black and white filming only enhances this. In fairness, Web of the Spider was fine in its own right, even with color and greater brightness. I loved the lingering shots, something most modern day directors do not have the patience for. Indeed, when Alan first enters the doomed castle, we are treated to several minutes of him doing nothing but roaming around from room to room, the dread ands unease building in his face and mannerisms. By the time the first ghost appears, the audience is thoroughly primed and ready. There is wonderful dialogue between Alan and the ghosts, something else not often done in standard ghost stories. There are also memorable scenes, very visual for this type of film. Elisabeth's "murder" and the dance scene (reminds somewhat of the similar dance of the ghouls in 1962's Carnival of Souls) were particularly good.
Sadly, few general interest viewers will ever hear of, much less see, this film. That is a shame, for this one is a cut above the rest. I got my copy from Sinister Cinema and am not certain if it can be purchased anywhere else. For persons interested in this genre, it is a must see.
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
I believe most persons reading this review will be well familiar with the Phantom of the Opera, so I will not spend too much time detailing the story. Rather, I would like to offer comments on this filming, at least the fifth that I know about and have seen.
First, a few words about director Joel Schumacher. This is the same man responsible for such works as Car Wash (1976) and Phone Booth (2002). As with Bob Clark and The Christmas Story (1983), I did not realize he had it in him. The previously mentioned films were very good, as is much of his other work, but Phantom is excellent. Mr. Schumacher is a more talented man than I ever suspected or thought about.
You have guessed by now that I like this filming. I found it to be very visual: horrifying at times, sensitive at times. This is a neat trick to pull off in any film, but especially one with such intense emotion as Phantom of the Opera. The sets were fantastic and assisted greatly in establishing atmosphere and mood.
Of course the players are in large part responsible for this being such a fine film. It interests me that I think of Gerard Butler more as the Angel of Music than I do the dreaded Phantom. As frightful as he was, the Phantom's vulnerability shines through and I wonder, how would we have liked Vincent Price as the Phantom? I suspect that 20 years from now Emmy Rossum as Christine will be more famous for her marvelous voice than she will as a film actress, and Patrick Wilson as Raoul played off her perfectly. Miranda Richardson and Minnie Driver were excellent in lesser roles.
This has been a classic story for many years but the addition of the Andrew Lloyd Weber music makes it that much more so. Think about it: Phantom has it all. Great music. Mystery, suspense, wholesome love, misguided love, jealousy, hatred, murder, pity and, in this version anyway, redemption of sorts. Gaston Leroux, the author of Le Fantome de l'Opera, knew well the human condition and expressed it very well within the confines of the bright, beautiful opera house and dark, dank underground home of the troubled Phantom of the Opera.
La strega in amore (1966)
Italy put out some interesting horror films in the 1960s and, as Italian horror is the best in the genre as far as mood and psychological drama is concerned, The Witch is worth viewing if for no other reason.
Which is not to say it is a masterpiece because it is not. The pacing is a bit slow even by the standards of the time and the English dubbing is in places atrocious. The main character Sergio, played by Richard Johnson, (the only American in the cast), is male chauvinistic to the extreme, but to be fair we must remember that not too many years ago this was thought to be a desirable quality in any self-respecting male. But even with these shortcomings I found this to be a very interesting and disturbing film, as good horror should be. The Witch also benefits from being shot in black and white, something I wish more of today's directors would realize about these types of stories and take advantage of when filming said stories which depend upon dark mood.
Sergio has noticed an old woman (Consuela, played by Sarah Ferrati) who seems to be around him and near all the time and is quite surprised to learn that it was she who placed an ad in the local newspaper for somebody to chronicle her deceased husband's papers, which are quite erotic in nature. Sergio has doubts about this but accepts the job when he meets Consuela's' beautiful daughter Aura, ably portrayed by Rosanna Schiaffino, a dark-haired beauty who reminds somewhat of the great Italian horror actress Barbara Steele. The remainder of the story is the three-sided psychological duel between Aura, Consuela and Sergio. Sergio, very much a man of the world, surrenders his soul and self respect when he murders Aura's current lover in order to win the right to stay in the old woman's house to be near Aura. Only, the old woman has other plans, for she is a witch and can force Aura to come and go at will. For all practical purposes Consuela and Aura are one and the same person, and Consuela has been enamored of the handsome Sergio for a long time.
I won't give the ending away, will say only that Sergio at long last re-asserts himself, hopefully to rebuild the pieces of his broken life. We are led to believe at film's end this is quite possible, probable even.
Some reviewers have stated this is a film about woman hating. I do not agree as the degradation and destruction of Sergio psychologically are the main elements of the story. I would say it is a film about the hatred of men, not women.
You probably won't find this one anywhere although I have been pleased to see a number of obscure films hit the market this year on DVD at very reasonable prices. My VHS copy came from Sinister Cinema. If you do find it, happy viewing. For students of obscure horror films, it is a can't miss.
She Demons (1958)
Late 50s schlock
1958's She Demons is a fine example of late 1950's schlock horror. Those of you that have read other reviews of mine are familiar with my admonition not to take films such as these too seriously and appreciate them for what they are: Escapism and not-too-high quality fun.
Several persons are shipwrecked on an uncharted island a dozen years after World War Two's end. Unbeknownst to them a group Nazis are conducting medical experiments on attractive young women in order to find a way to restore the appearance of the commander's wife who was horribly disfigured in an accident. The shipwrecked survivors include the spoiled brat daughter (Irish McCalla) of the man who sponsored the trip; the others are males in his employ. While fighting the Nazis as they wait to be rescued, McCalla and male lead Tod Griffin fall in love as she overcomes her youthful callousness.
The very blonde and attractive, but not overly talented, McCalla should have had a more substantial career in B-films. I enjoyed her in this one very much.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The camp commander/head research doctor, played in a very over-the-top fashion by Rudolph Anders, develops a romantic interest in the leggy McCalla, which of course his wife finds out about and does not appreciate. Around this are exotic dances by curvy women with ugly (the She Demons!) faces, made so by the brutality of the doc, and torture sequences that, although obviously phony, are a bit much even by today's standards.(Even the poorest quality films have poignant moments). The film ends when the Americans shoot up the island during target practice, conveniently allowing our heroes to escape.
She Demons works, but only because it is schlock horror. The film's sets are laughable, the plot very thin and requires quite a bit of suspension of disbelief, even for a film such as this. The Nazis are portrayed in the cheesiest fashion I have ever seen, and I have seen many Nazis in film during the post war era.
Anders is a delight as the head Nazi. His affectations are so pronounced that one cannot possibly take this film seriously. But, now is a good time to remind that there was a time when this sort of film was taken more seriously than today's more jaded and sophisticated viewers. I am certain that in 1958, some viewers were disturbed and frightened by this story as they sat in the theater or outdoor drive-in and munched popcorn.
Director Richard Cunya was responsible for another film such as this in 1958. Giant From the Unknown appears with She Demons on a Sinister Cinema Drive-In double feature I purchased from them several years ago.
This one is best viewed late on a weekend night after long, tough week. It is of interest only to those with a passion in films of this genre, made in this era.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Moving and Disturbing
I viewed this film a couple of days ago and realize that it is going to be impossible for me to review it in a totally unbiased manner, for the story, as presented by Mel Gibson, is pretty much as I have always believed it to have been. That is not to say that he did not embellish and emphasize, for we need to remember that Mr.Gibson is very much a child of Hollywood in his film making. Most persons reading this will be aware that the Passion of Christ details the last hours of his life, from the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane until he breathed his last breath on the Cross the next day. We were treated to far too few flashbacks of his earlier life as the story of his trials and crucifixion played out uncomfortably on screen. It seems to me that Mel Gibson went overboard in detailing the brutality, although I realize Christ's crucifixion was brutal to the extreme. Even so, I cannot see how Jesus could survive the extreme beating he received in the courtyard scene, at the very least shock and probably death would have prevented him from marching to his date with destiny upon the Cross. In real life, the bloody and battered Jesus should have been dead long before he uttered the fateful words, "It is finished." I believe this over-dramatization was done to best convey to the viewer just exactly what Christians believe Jesus did for humanity: that he accepted the sin and agony of the world upon himself for all time. I get the impression Mr. Gibson decided to make this point in a very visual way, not the psychological way that perhaps another film maker would have done.
Many things captured my attention. Jim Caviezel was perfect as Jesus, as he played him with the quiet presence and dignity I have always perceived Jesus to possess. Jesus' mother Mary and Mary Magdalene were portrayed by very fine actresses and Mr. Gibson had the good sense to offer us many lingering facial shots of the three main characters. (Indeed, all of the casting was excellent. Give Mel Gibson the credit he deserves for doing his homework on this very important ingredient). The gentleness of Mary and the subdued sensuality of the converted Mary Magdalene enhance this disturbing film greatly. We see throughout the film Satan in the presence of a quiet, unnoticeable hooded woman which truly shook me, as did in a more positive way the thoughtfulness of Pilate's wife Claudia. The cruelty of the Romans, the callousness of the Jews. (For any group which feels itself presented unfairly, I say there was plenty of guilt to go around).
As previously stated, I wish we could have seen more of Jesus' life and ministry, particularly his comments during and after the last supper, In perhaps the film's sweetest and gentlest scene, we see Mary running out of the house to check on the very young Jesus who has gotten himself into a bit of a boyish crisis. To watch Mary see her son crucified is the story within the story. One gets the idea that Jesus inherited, in a human way, much of his grace and dignity from his mother. All in all, a film far from perfect but one which is very interesting. One which you will not forget a day, a week, a year after viewing. In this respect, Passion of Christ is a success and we need to applaud Mr. Gibson and the fine cast for bringing it to us.
Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971)
Early 70s Hammer Offering
Taken from Bram Stoker's Jewel of the Seven Stars, most viewers will probably be more familiar with 1980's The Awakening with Charlton Heston, which I believe is a much better film and another making of Stoker's story The story concerns the daughter (Valerie Leon in a duel role as Margaret Fuchs and Queen Tera, the mummy) of an archaeological professor (Andrew Keir as Professor Julian Fuchs) who is the reincarnation of an Egyptian queen discovered years before on an expedition. When Margaret reaches adulthood, the professor gives her a huge bright red signet ring which had been removed from the queen's severed hand. The ring glows with seven pinpoint dots representing the seven stars. When the stars are aligned properly, the reincarnation is to be complete. (Why the professor gives her this ring when it will accomplish the exact opposite of what he wishes escapes me; perhaps I should view the film one more time!). Add to this the presence of James Villiers as Corbeck, an associate of the professor's and an impressively evil influence on the vulnerable Margaret. Most of the screen time is spent in pursuit of several ancient relics taken from the tomb and murdering those that have them in their possession, for they too are needed to make the final reincarnation complete. I won't give the ending away but will simply say the story ends on a disturbing note. Production values are a bit shoddy, the makeup and special effects not so special. Still, as with all Hammer films, it is atmospheric and enjoyable to watch even if no classic. I was not aware of the English actress Valerie Leon before acquiring the DVD. In 1971 Ms. Leon was the typical Hammer heroine: photogenic and quite buxom. In Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, she portrays a young woman who starts out as a dutiful daughter and ends up very hard-edged -- a credit to her acting skills. The DVD commentary contains interview footage of her and she appears a very nice, genteel person in real life. I was surprised to learn she has red hair and does not sport the jet black wig she wore in the film Most persons familiar with this film know it is somewhat benighted. The director, Seth Holt, died a week before production ceased. Peter Cushing was originally cast to be the professor but withdrew shortly after filming commenced because of his wife's illness and soon, death. Judging from the comments by those interviewed in the commentary, this haunts those persons who were involved in the making of Blood from the Mummy's Tomb to this day. For we who are fans of the House of Hammer, this is a good addition to one's video or DVD library. The DVD contains 9 minutes of the commentary footage previously discussed and contains a rare location photo of Peter Cushing and Valerie Leon. This alone is worth the price of the DVD for fans of the great Mr. Cushing. One cannot help but wonder if this would have been a production of greater quality and popularity had Peter Cushing not had to withdraw (no slight intended to Andrew Weir; he was very good in his role) and if Christopher Lee had assumed the role of the evil Corbeck. No disrespect intended to James Villiers either; it is simply that nobody rivaled Lee and Cushing as a screen team, possibly the greatest in the long history of cinema.
For fans of Hammer, this is a must see. For the horror fan in general it is interesting if not a masterpiece. For everyone else it may be worth viewing late on Friday or Saturday night as long as it is accepted for what it is: an early 70s B horror film by Hammer Studios.