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Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)
Superman vs. Pinhead
'Hellraiser: Hellworld' is the eighth film in a series of movies (i despise the dreaded word franchise!) that is as undead and unkillable as shambling revenant Uncle Frank from the classic original - something that many people declared creatively dead a long time ago, and yet found the energy from somewhere to keep on twitching.
Released upon an uncaring world in 2005, i have only just today, in 2013, got round to sitting down and watching this instalment: having read Doug (Pinhead) Bradley's memoirs "Behind the Mask: Confessions of a Horror Film Actor" quite some time back, Mr Bradley himself did not exactly paint a great or happy picture of the last few Rick Bota helmed instalments in the series - confessing that at the time of writing he had not even watched the film in question. I therefore went in with some trepidation, and suitably lowered expectations.
What we got was a fairly routine if competently made slasher movie / whodunnit, with Hellraiser elements grafted on, which is par for the course with any Hellraiser instalment after part four: Dimension Films seem to have used a few spliced-in scenes of Pinhead and the Lament Configuration Box to spruce up any old script that was lying around the office. As i said, however, it is at least decently crafted, with nice production design and some nice directorial flourishes, but it is the cast that make the film worth watching. I don't just mean the gorgeous Katherine Winnick in her crop top and leather pants: but that certainly didn't have my attention wandering at all (Ms Winnick is, in my estimation, the Hellraiser series' fourth hottest chick: after Ashley Laurence, Paula Marshall and Sasha Barrese). The standout cast members are undoubtedly the legend that is Lance Henriksen - yet again unphased in the face of drivel, and never knowingly phoning in a performance, and most amusingly of all Henry Cavill, star of the forthcoming 'Man of Steel'. For the concept of Pinhead Vs. Superman alone, this film deserves its place on my DVD shelf! (PS: SPOILERS: Kal-El comes off second best).
A beast of a comedy
This is a somewhat forgotten show it would seem - sad to say, as unlike quite a lot of the BBC's sitcom output of the late '90s and early 2000s is was actually pretty funny. It's not for nothing that there was quite a long period of abominations such as the ill-advised (to put it extremely mildly)Jasper Carrott / Meera Syal vehicle 'All About Me' which were known as s**tcoms. This at least had some jokes. Inasmuch as the concept of a sitcom involving a misanthropic veterinarian who hates animals can be, anyway.
Alexander Armstrong has always been good value for humour, whether it be in his prime on 'The Armstrong and Miller Show' or currently whiling away the twilight years of his career on the quiz show 'Pointless', and he makes a good... erm... fist of things here. The two standout things about this series that make it stick in my memory are without a doubt: a) the lovely Emma Pierson as the receptionist (my, she was gorgeous, sadly i think she was last spotted in the awful 'Hotel Babylon". Tragic.), and b) the bit where Armstrong rides naked on a pig down a street. Some memories just won't leave your brain no matter how hard you scrub.
Long before the dawn of man... there was EVIL EVERYWHERE!!
This is a little neglected gem of a movie that i have very fond memories of staying up way past my bedtime to watch on TV. I was around ten years old, and it was a school night, but i was intrigued by the thought of a superhero musical starring Dracula himself: Sir Christopher of Lee! At that age i was into anything and everything superhero related: every Marvel and DC comic i could find, the Bill Bixby 'Hulk' series, the Nicholas Hammond 'Spider-Man' flicks, and even the old 'Batman' and 'Superman' movie serials that used to run on morning TV during the school holidays. But nothing could quite prepare me for the warped genius of 'The Return of Captain Invincible'!
From the dropout ex-hero's drunken ramblings of how he intercepted Skylab as it plummeted through he atmosphere ("I attempted to catch it... but it was moving... at great speed!"), through his rehab programme to become a fit and active caped crusader again and foil the plot of the diabolical Mr Midnight ("Hold on / Sit tight / You never, ever did right / Roll on Midnight / You're spoiling for the big fight!"), to the perfidious villain's tempting of the good Captain will the delights of alcohol ("Choose yer booze!") this was an unremitting joy that still lingers in my mind years later. Shame that it's apparently still not out on R2 DVD, but i may well try and seek out a region 1 copy if it's cheap enough, just to relive this little classic.
I'm insensible for Captain Invincible!
K9 was company... this is a crowd
Alright, so this makes for... what?... FOUR spin-off series from 'Doctor Who' now? (Counting the '81 "K9 and Company" pilot, "Torchwood", and the late lamented "Sarah-Jane Adventures"). Wheras the others mentioned above retained the spirit and feel of the parent series, this Australian co-production is sadly lacking that certain Gallifreyan je ne sais quois (to say nothing of any allons-y or molto bene).
Screened in the UK on the less than prestigious Channel 5 in their early morning kiddie slot, this show sadly fitted in with the pre-teen brightly coloured attention deficit disorder chaos that surrounded it. Lacking the strong (or even coherent) plot lines and - with one or two caveats - the acting of its parent and sister shows, and with special effects on a par with a scrag end Graham Williams story from 1979, this result of K9's co-creator Bob Baker's years of work to get it off the ground is sadly not worth the effort.
There are a few decent ideas at play here, and the cast isn't irredeemable: Robyn Moore as Jorjie's mother June can actually act (Moore also featured in Aussie 'zom-com' "Undead", another project which leaves me unsure whether to smile indulgently or grit my teeth whilst watching). Robert Moloney as Professor Gryffen is OK too, beneath a 'zany inventor' act that can become as wearisome as season 28 David Tennant. The alien creatures however, are worse than a bad mandrel, or even a mad bandril - the muppets populating Jabba's palace in ROTJ were better.
I hear rumblings that a belated second season may be in the works. Hopefully a total reboot with no return for the original scriptwriters, please. Kid's TV can be so much better than this.
Rote Lippen, Sadisterotica (1969)
What the hell did i just watch?!?
I just performed a feat that many would probably balk at: i sat through Jess Franco's bizarre-a-thon '60s crime caper / spy-fi / horror flick "Sadisterotica" (aka "Two Undercover Angels") for the second time in two days.
Glutten for punishment, you may well say: making the 'sadist' part of the title almost apt. Sadly for a movie involving the buxom charms of Rosanna Yanni and Janine Reymaud, though, there is precious little of the 'erotica' that one would expect from crazy Jess after seeing later works such as "Vampyros Lesbos" or "Female Vampire". Ah, well: you can't have everything, and i was focussing too hard on trying to detect a plot and keep tabs on the myriad characters to be distracted, anyway.
The two titular (arf!) lovely ladies of the 'Red Lips' detective agency are on the track of missing models, which lead them to murderous pop artist Klaus Tiller, with his amazing disguise kit of fake beard, fez and eyepatch that will have precisely no-one fooled, and his inexplicable werewolf sidekick - named Morpho, as is de riguer for deformed henchmen in a Franco flick.
If you can cope with the excreble dubbing in the English-language release - which really is terrible: my brother and i used to do better making stuff up on the spot with a microphone and the video's audio-dub button - then this kitsch and campy slice of late '60s madness does yield some enjoyment. Gawd only knows what was happening most of the time, though. It made more sense when i watched it drunk: i recommend everyone does the same.
All-time great late '80s video funtimes
One of my all-time favourite horror flicks, eagerly rented from the late lamented Ken Vision's Videos when i was but ten years old, to revel in the fun, the gore, and - yes, oh yes indeedy! - the scenes where the lovely Deborah Foreman is chained up and whipped into a frenzy of sweaty ecstasy by the Marquis de Sade. Powerful stuff indeed, which had a profound effect on my hormonal adolescent self, producing very powerful sensations in my brain and body.
A great cast for those of us who waded through many an '80s fantastique flick at the time: Zach Galligan of "Gremlins" fame, Dana Ashbrook, soon after to star in "Twin Peaks" and "Sundown: the Vampire in Retreat", the aforesaid vision of loveliness that is Ms. Foreman, also a "Sundown" alumnus as well as the brilliantly cheesecore "Lobster Man from Mars", Michelle Johnson of "Werewolf", and David Warner and John-Rhys Davies, both from... pretty much everything! We are treated to a gourmet feast of horror tropes: werewolf, Count Dracula and his alluring vampy brides, "Night of the Living Dead" zombies, and a standout performance from J. Kenneth Campbell as the Marquis de Sade himself. The old video box called it 'more fun than a barrel of mummies' and i really can't put it better than that myself. Genius.
La casa 3 (1988)
Welcome to the house of fun
Italian goremeister Umberto Lenzi (under the hilarious almost Nabokovian pseudonym of 'Henry Humbert'!) takes on the well-worn haunted house sub-genre with effective results in this neglected little chiller from 1988, marketed as an 'Evil Dead' sequel in Italy.
A ham radio DJ and his girlfriend team up with another interested party to investigate strange goings-on at an Old Dark House, the scene of strange murders 20 years earlier, after intercepting a radio distress call from their own future. Some great shock and gore moments follow (check out the falling guillotine scene!), along with a creepily atmospheric haunting theme tune for the evil clown doll. Yes, a clown doll: truly the stuff of nightmares!
The thing that stood out for me the most, though, was hot thoroughly steeped in the 1980s the films fashions are! From the hero Paul, dressed as 'Back to the Future' Marty McFly complete with "life preserver", through Mark (played by Eddie Redmayne masquerading as a "Run to You" - era Bryan Adams), to Susan (styling by The Bangles) and Tina (charmingly described on the UK DVD box as a 'teenager with a face like a slapped arse'!) who looks like Molly Ringwald gone wrong. Truly a product of its time!
Half shark, half octopus: all craptastic brilliance!!
I purchased this little nugget in a four-pack of DVDs that also contained cinematic treats such as "Dinoshark" and "MegaPython vs. Gatoroid". I suppose there was no way i could ask for a refund afterwards, as it can't be said that i didn't know what i was getting myself into. Not that id've ever entertained such a notion: for these films are the stuff of a madman's dreams - the kind of thing you and your friends would make up when drunk, and never think someone would actually make.
The man forever to be known as "T.V.'s Eric Roberts" (or, in our house, "The Master from the rubbish version of Doctor Who") stars - or at least turned up for the afternoon to film his scenes, possibly for the Scotch he gets to neck on the boat rather than actual wages - as Nathan Sands, mad scientist creating a deadly hybrid monster for a shady government defence project. Will these people never learn? Along for the ride are Sands' hot daughter (Sara Malakul Lane), an ex-marine shark hunter played by possible the most annoying actor ever to walk the face of the earth (Kerem Bursin), a hot in a sleazy kind of way female reporter who looks like she'd be filthy in the sack (Liv Boughn), and comedy drunk fisherman / eyewitness Pez (Blake Lindsay) - who almost salvages this by being pretty funny. Not to be approached when sober!!
No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)
An all-time '80s action classic!
This film has long held a pride of place in my personal pantheon of classic '80s action flicks, alongside other luminaries such as "Bloodsport" and "Deadly Prey". In fact, i think a great night in with beers 'n' snacks with all three of these bad boys is long overdue - though i may well die from an overdose of pure unadulterated genius.
Basic kung-fu revenge plot involves a young man called Jason (although for some reason for years i remembered him as being called "Dan"... i have no idea why, unless i'd somehow conflated this with "The Karate Kid". Which seems impossible, what with this being 5000 times better!) avenging the crippling of his karate sensei father (the appalling acting stylings of Tim Baker, take a bow!) at the hands - and indeed feet - of martial arts gangsters. The twist here is that the inevitable training montage in order to take vengeance is aided not only by bizarre break dancing Michael Jackson impersonator R.J., but by the ghost of Bruce Lee (played by Kim Tae Chung himself, the not very Bruce Lee Bruce Lee from "Game of Death")!!! After a gruelling training regime involving quality '80s music and some terrifying homoeroticism with R.J., Jason / Dan takes on the high-kicking, splits-performing Jean-Claude Van Damme himself. Though whether or not JCVD is playing 'Ivan Krezinsky the Russian' or 'Carl Brezdin' depends on whether you believe the dialogue or the credits!! Either way, Jason / Dan vs. Ivan/ Carl is a true clash of the titans that fans of hokey genius cannot afford to miss!!
Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011)
Lizards vs. MILFs
This is a very strong contender for the title of best film ever made in the entire history of time.
Now, i'm not saying that it's a great film, or even a good one really. It's just that the very existence of a film wherein '80s popstrels Debbie Gibson and Tiffany fight in a swamp... Debbie Gibson and Tiffany... mud-wrestling... It's like someone hacked into the dreams of my ten-year-old self and beamed them directly onto celluloid. The fact that the movie also contains giants lizards is just the icing on the cake.
Said gargantuan reptiles may not be the greatest effects committed to film (in fact, the word "special" is possibly not applicable to these effects), but that just enhanced the charm. Speaking of "charms", hasn't Tiffany grown? She now resembles Karen Gillan's MILFy mother, and that ain't no bad thing. Still more of a Gibson fan, myself, though.
Monsters, ex-teen pinups, and in-jokes galore. When the lines "I think we're alone now..", "There doesn't seem to be anyone around!" were uttered, i think i nearly spontaneously combusted with joy. Truly the stuff of a madman's dreams.
Strippers vs Werewolves (2012)
You like strippers? You like werewolves? Well then...
I truly can't believe some of the terrible reviews that this flick has garnered on this site. I thought that horror fans had more of a sense of humour. Perhaps, like a rotten corpse to a ghoul, it simply isn't to everybody's taste.
I, however, found it absolutely hilarious, and great fun. Thrills, spills, gorgeous chicks in states of undress, cameos from horror and fantasy legends... i fail to see what's not to like. Seriously. Any film that manages to star Robert Englund (oh, come on, you know who he is!), Sarah Douglas (Superman II, Return of Swamp Thing, etc.), Barbara Nedeljakova (Hostel), and Lucy Pinder (Zoo and Nuts magazines. Regularly. Ask yer dad or uncle) cannot be A Bad Thing. Oh, and the lovely Ali Bastian off of the Hollyoaks, and Adele Silva from Emmerdale Farm. And they're both really good!
From the opening scenes, with "Hungry Like the Wolf" ringing in my ears from the titles and a horny Martin Kemp turning into a lustful lycanthrope who is dispatched in a singularly original way (the scene caused me to wonder whether the penis or pen is mightier than the sword...), i knew i was on a ride that was going to enjoy, and happily wasn't disappointed. Hot strippers: check. Bloodthirsty werewolves: check. Needless but very hot cameo by British porn starlet Syren Sexton (trading here under her real name of Gloria Savage - which somehow seems more of a made up name) wearing nothing but a crucifix and lace gloves: check.
Absolute heaven. Add to this cameos by the likes of Steven Berkoff and Lysette Anthony, and the promise of a sequel featuring werewolf strippers vs. vampires... i fail to understand why i can be the only one who's excited? Good unclean fun. More, please!
The City of the Dead (1960)
Lee's Lovecraftian loveliness
"The City of the Dead", known in the US by the somewhat more rubbish title of "Horror Hotel" - which both says nothing about the plot and makes the film sound like a downmarket B-flick, which it most decidedly is not - is something of a neglected classic among horror films.
College student Nan Barlow (played by the lovely Venetia Stevenson) attends the classes of Professor Alan Driscoll (master of the macabre Christopher Lee). The syllabus of this particular educational establishment is somewhat odd, carrying as it does seminars on witchcraft and the occult: Prof Driscoll's speciality. Nan's interest is piqued by his tales of the witch trials of old New England, and the potty prof directs her to take a trip to the Raven Inn in the town of Whitewood, scene of an infamous witch burning. Of course, this being a horror flick, Nan's holiday does not go according to plan: picking up a mysterious hitchhiker played by the Man in Black himself, Valentine Dyall, being her first mistake.
Director John Llewellyn Moxey, who went on to make a name for himself in TV movies, proves himself in this - his debut feature - with a knack for roaming cameras, spooky angles, and a wonderful fogbound (and studio-bound) village set. The cast are uniformly, particularly Sir Chris of Dracula, the aforementioned Mr Dyall, and Patricia Jessell as the reincarnated witch with a sideline as a small town hotelier.
The film has a great eerie atmosphere, and gives the feeling of an HP Lovecraft tale without being based on any of his stories. Highly recommended to any audience willing to enjoy a spooky thrill in the wee hours of the morn.
Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)
"By the 6,000 Terrors of Hell, I baptise thee!!"
"Dracula AD 1972" is often snarkily dismissed even by the most ardent Hammer fan as a low point of the Hammer Dracula cycle. Kitschy, camp and dated, it is admittedly a long way from the glorious dizzy heights of the original "Dracula" ("Horror of Dracula" to heathens) and "The Brides of Dracula" (Cushing's best performance as Van Helsing), but there's just something about this movie that - like a deformed and demented child locked in the attic - i find impossible not to love, even if i know i shouldn't.
The early '70s hippy slang may have been dated even by the time the film was released, and the gang of 'teenagers' are so blatantly in their late 20s / early 30s they put the cast of "Smallville" to shame, but amidst the psychedelic chicanery are some marvellous pieces of acting, characterisation and direction. Cushing gives it 100% as always, and even on autopilot Lee is mesmerising - he even gets an original line of Stoker Dracula dialogue in here: "You would play your brains against mine? Against me, who has commanded nations?". A young Stephanie Beacham is gorgeous as Van Helsing's damsel in distress granddaughter, and i will happily watch anything with the lovely Caroline Munro in it (seriously. I didn't sit through "Slaughter High" for my health, y'know). The standout performance, though, has to be Christopher Neame as Johnny Alucard. Brilliantly camp, preening like a peacock in a ruffled shirt and velvet jacket combo possibly looted from Jon Pertwee's locker at the BBC, Alucard is one of the greatest evil henchmen in screen history, all the way up to his memorable death by running water in a power shower. I fail to see the truth in the accusations that Hammer were running short of ideas by this point.
Pure brilliance, and - "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" notwithstanding - a fitting epitaph to Cushing and Lee's immortal battles as Van Helsing and Dracula. Requiescat in pace, ultima.
The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)
The Occidental Tourist
Sax Rohmer's fiendish menace from the Orient, the diabolical Dr. Fu Manchu, springs to life on the silver screen embodied by the decidedly European Christopher Lee in this, the first of five fiendish flicks of fright.
I find it very hard to take these films seriously, coming back to them after Steve Coogan and Mark Gatiss' superb parody in "Dr. Terrible's House of Horrible". I almost expected the legendary Mr. Lee to come out with lines like 'Something has happened to my Woo-Woo', or indeed 'You have walked into my trap, and now the time has come for me to shut my trap'. However, Lee is superb as always, with able support from the lovely Tsai Chin as Lin Tang, deadly daughter of Fu Manchu. These menaces from the East are ranged against Nigel Green as Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard, and Howard Marion Crawford as his stalwart sidekick Dr. Petrie, who must stop their plan to distil the deadly poison of the Tibetan black hill poppy.
Despite an obvious limited budget, with Dublin standing in for 1920s Limehouse, the film holds up well. Co-production cash from Germany means we get a decidedly Teutonic supporting cast (including the gorgeous Karin Dor, probably best known as Helga Brandt in "You Only Live Twice" - costarring Tsai Chin, funnily enough). One of the biggest distractions for me, however, was the sight of Jim Norton, Bishop Brennan of "Father Ted", in the small role of the professor's driver.
All good pulpy fun, from the days when it was acceptable to "yellow up" a white actor to play an Asian. They don't make 'em like this anymore.
Chocks away for adventures in time!!
In answer to the insistently-asked question in the theme tune - yes, i do indeed want to be a hero, as evidenced in my bravery in admitting that this is, and long has been, a favourite film of mine.
This is a one of those films many people refer to as a "guilty pleasure", well - i feel no guilt or shame in declaring my love for this movie. It's simply brilliant fun. Great action adventure larks, with likable characters, a neat time-travel plot, a groovy '80s theme tune, and an appearance by genre legend Peter Cushing (in his final screen performance). Honestly, what more do you need? Oh, you need more, do you? OK, then: Francesca Gonshaw, the really cute barmaid from early seasons of 'Allo 'Allo, as a Belgian resistance fighter (i swear, if she's said "Listen very carefully, i shall say zis only once" in that accent, my mind - and indeed my pants - may have exploded). Also, for all of us watching Doctor Who in the mid to late '80s, roles for both James Saxon and Marcus Gilbert. How'd'ya like them apples?
Absolutely sublime nostalgic fun. To be watched with a few ales, alongside "The Living Daylights" or "Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear". Bliss!
Poignant and Primal
Edgar Rice Burrough's classic character of John Clayton, Viscount Greystoke, aka Tarzan, Lord of the Apes springs vividly to life in the most accurate celluloid rendering of the original novel "Tarzan of the Apes" (given a somewhat more unwieldy title here - the only demerit against this spectacular adaptation).
Christopher Lambert (of "Subway" and "Highlander" fame) heads a cast of luminaries such as Ian Holm, and - in sadly his farewell performance - the late Sir Ralsph Richardson as Tarzan's grandfather, Earl Greystoke. With superb direction by Hugh Hudson following his Oscar-conquering "Chariots of Fire", we are swept from the bleak moors of Scotland to the primal uplands of equitorial Africa and back again as we follow Clayton/Tarzan from his birth to shipwrecked aristos, through his youth amongst the great apes and to his return to, and disillusionment with, Western civilisation. A young Andie McDowall gives her debut performance as Jane Porter (of "Me Tarzan, you Jane" fame, although that line is not uttered here, or indeed, in any Tarzan story or movie much to the amazement of many), with a vocal performance dubbed by Glenn Close.
Some of the greatest performances in the movie however come from the apes themselves, or rather the performers portraying the apes. The scenes of the young Tarzan cradling his dying ape mother, and later the adult Clayton discovering his ape father caged in the back of a museum, are extraordinarily poignant. No wonder Tarzan rejects the bland, soulless and vicious humans to return to the wild life among the apes: the simian characters show more humanity than some of the people on display here.
I have seen some commentators calling this film "pretentious", usually whilst championing earlier Tarzans, such as the Johnny Weissmuller efforts of the '30s and '40s. All i can say to that is, if it is pretentious to actually stay true to the original text and character, then there is something strange going on. That's like championing Adam West's Batman over Christian Bale: baffling.
This is a superb movie, and certainly the best portrayal of Burrough's story and characters on screen thus far. I simply can't see it being bettered any time soon, unless someone picks up the rights and does straight adaptations of Burrough's original novels and stories. I can't see that happening somehow, so i'm more than happy to stick with this.
Samey Van Doren
Well... where to begin? Any remarks about the bulk of this film's content, i've already made in my review for "Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet", for in true no-budget tradition, Roger Corman and chums basically rereleased the same movie (which was in itself a redubbed cannibalisation of the Russian space opera "Storm Planet"), with some newly-shot additional footage.
This new stuff entirely concerns the titular (in every sense!) women, the scrumptious Mamie Van Doren and assorted other leggy lovelies, lounging around the rocky shores of Venus in shell bikinis, eating raw fish, and emitting a curiously familiar siren song. If i were in a kinder - or drunker - mood, i might try to compare the way in which this film occurs 'in the wings' of the earlier movie to Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead". But i won't, for that way lies madness.
This was all enjoyable enough, if very familiar apart from the half-baked clam-shelled clambake. However, i became unduly concerned towards the films conclusion when Ms. Van Doren psychically told her telepathic friends that their heretofore deity, the great dinosaur god Ptera, was no longer good enough, because "there is a greater god!". As they hurled stones and tore down their effigy of the late pteranodon lord, i got a sinking feeling. Surely brief exposure to human (Russian dubbed-as-American) spacemen hadn't suddenly converted the Venusians to the Judeo-Christian god? The idea of them "seeing the error of their ways" and becoming merely spaceborne Americans had me groaning internally. If they were to suddenly convert to an Earth religion, why not Buddhism, or Shintoism? Or, indeed, any at all?
I need not have worried. As they pulled the magma-petrified remains of John the Robot from the mud and set him up as a shrine, i began to smile. One god's as good as another, after all. As another spaceborne robot, Marvin the Paranoid Android, said at the end of "So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish":
'You know... i think i'm quite happy about that'.
Ben Hur (2010)
Well, this little thing certainly caught me by surprise when it cropped up on British TV recently: i was completely unaware of this remake-of-a-remake (with a third version of "The Thing" playing in cinemas at the moment, it seems to be the in-thing these days...).
And yet i was not as let down as i expected to be. Despite the flaws of an obvious television budget - although stretching to some very picturesque location cinematography - the well worn story of Judah Ben-Hur is related and realised in an accessible and enjoyable fashion. Featuring a cast very familiar to viewers of sci-fi and fantasy - Alex Kingston (Doctor Who), Kristin Kreuk (Smallville), Ben Cross (Star Trek), and Ray Winstone (err.. Robin of Sherwood? I may be stretching a point here) - we are treated to a small-screen epic of Roman intrigue, family infighting, and brother against brother in the ancient world. Of course, some of the most famous setpieces of the famous Heston movie are recreated, some done very well such as the naval battle at sea, some not - like the epic chariot race reduced to a glorified Go-Kart chase around a dirt track.
So some of the grandeur and pomp is missing, but the heart of the original story is still here. Unfortunately, the actor portraying Messala lacks the charismatic evil of Stephen Boyd, coming across at times like a thuggish Roman skinhead. Thankfully, however, our Ben-Hur is no Heston, and actually imparts some emotion into the role instead of macho and mannequinish posturing. It's sad to see that the homoerotic subtext that film screenwriter Gore Vidal imparted into the relationship between the two protagonists was not recreated: if Vidal could smuggle it unsuspected past Heston in the '50s, then surely it could have gotten by the network censors today?
In any event, this was a thoroughly enjoyable romp through an oft-told tale. One can only hope that this story can be left in peace for a while now. Oh, and one more thing: i would've thought they'd cast a more charismatic actor as Jesus. I had trouble thinking anyone would follow this bloke into the pub,never mind the Kingdom of Heaven.
John the Robot's Russian rampage
You've gotten hold of a bunch of really cool footage from a Russian sci-fi epic about cosmonauts exploring the surface of the planet Venus. What do you do? Why, you cannibalise and re-dub it to make at least two completely different films, that's what you do! Yes, just like "Queen of Blood", the dream team of Roger Corman, Curtis Harrington and Stephanie Rothman crank out another epic space B-feature in under a week and for about $8. And it's great fun into the bargain.
Basil Rathbone, on what looks like the same lunar base set from QoB, and playing pretty much the same character under a different name, is a scientist heading the first mission to land men (and a robot - but not women, she has to stay up in the orbiter and mind the store) on Venus. Faith Domergue, her starlet days over, is the 'astronette' stuck in orbit like a female Michael Collins - the space guy, not the Irish Republican Army one. Both of these performers appear courtesy of new footage shoehorned into the original movie, and therefore communicate only via radio with the main cast and John the Robot, a much more impressive piece of tech than the grating Robbie of "Lost in Space" fame. If only Robbie had tried to fling Will Robinson into an extraterrestrial lava flow like John attempts with two of his erstwhile friends here.
Great pulp SF fun ensues, with great spacesuit and robot design, plus a cool hover car that beats Luke Skywalker's by a mile. Our cosmonaut pals battle with lizard-men, a flying reptile something like a Ramphoryncus / pteranodon hybrid, and the previously benign John, who goes from toppling rock towers to fashion bridges for his compadres to giving up halfway through piggybacking them through magma and deciding to chuck 'em in. Mental stuff, well worth a laugh when drunk, along with the pseudo-serious meditations on survival and evolution, and the possibilities of a Venusian civilisation.
I'm a fan of these hybrid re-edit movies, cf: any Hong Kong ninja movie made by Godfrey Ho, and this one is done particularly well - even the dubbing on the Russian footage matches up with the actor's lip movements. To be honest, if i didn't already know the film's background i probably wouldn't have guessed at all. Highly recommended to those with a love for the backwaters of SF cheese and a sense of the absurd.
Now to track down "Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women", which i am told uses some of the same footage but with the added incentive of Mamie van Doren in a bikini. Sounds like trash movie heaven to me. I'm in.
Crooked House (2008)
Ghoulish goings-on gratis from Gatiss
As a long-time fan of British horror of the golden age, from the 1950s to the 1970s, i have always has a special fondness for the 'portmanteau' form of storytelling. Usually comprising three to five short stories interlinked by a framing story, this device was well used by Amicus films in such gems as "Asylum", "The House That Dripped Blood" and "From Beyond the Grave".
This BBC Christmas offering from a couple of years ago revived the format that has, i suppose, lain dormant since '80s US revivals such as "Creepshow" and "Tales from the Darkside". Written by actor and writer Mark Gatiss - no slouch when it comes to knowledge of the sinister side of the silver screen as his "History of Horror" documentaries proved - this tells us three tales involving the history of the sinister Geap Manor, relayed by a sinister museum curator (Gatiss) to a schoolteacher (Lee Ingleby).
The first story is set in one of Gatiss' favourite historical periods (at least going by League of Gentleman sketches and his Doctor Who story "Phantasmagoria"): Georgian Regency England. Philip Jackson plays the vile Bloxham, a mercenary capitalist who gets his comeuppance when his cherished new wainscoting turns out to be made from the wood of Tyburn gibbet and inhabited by the restless souls of hanged men. This story generates a nice period atmosphere, helped by supporting performances from Julian Rhind-Tutt and Andy Nyman, but not very much fear despite the best efforts of Jackson and the sound designer - going for a "The Haunting" type approach that sadly fails to come off.
The second story as far superior, some 1920s set whimsy at a party full of Waughian "Vile Bodies"-style Bright Young Things that slowly creeps into a tale of hushed family secrets, betrayal, and vengeance from beyond the grave. The legendary Jean Marsh, no stranger to the time of Charlestons and "Topping, what-what", appears as the grand dame of the family. I must confess, however, that my own attention was distracted somewhat by the gorgeous Anna Madeley as the haughty and snooty Katherine in her Cleopatra outfit. Ding dong, filly.
The closing tale of this trilogy of terror is a continuation of the wraparound story, as Ingleby's character finds his antique doorknocker, having once adorned the threshold of Geap Manor, has turned the doorway of his suburban Barratt Home into a portal into the past. Ingleby's growing sense of fear and panic as the tale wears on is almost palpable, and when the horrific Abomiation appears in his front hall, crouched in the shadows before advancing like a Fuseli nightmare sprung to life, genuinely managed to spook this veteran of horror. While the revelation of the true nature of Gatiss' "caretaker" character and the twist ending are quite workoutable (is that a word? It should be), it is, as always, the journey that is important rather than the final destination.
A cold collation to chill the cockles at Christmastime.
Dubbing? Rudimentary, my dear Watson
There are several criminal aspects to this sub-krimi German co-production, first among them being the fact that the filmmakers neglected to get Christopher Lee and Thorley Walters in to loop their own dialogue. It's somewhat jarring to watch an actor with so readily identifiable a voice as Mr Lee speaking, yet the words come out of his mouth spoken by what sounds like a Transatlantic drawl. Or an American dubbing artiste doing a poor Lee imitation.
If one can get past this surreal experience however there is fun to be had. Lee and Walters are ideally cast as Holmes and Watson, at times certain shots looked like Sidney Paget illustrations come to life. Hans Sohnker does a creditable job projecting a sinister air as Moriarty, despite the handicap of dubbing even more atrocious than that of the English-speaking cast. He's no Eric Porter or even George Zucco, but better than some lesser efforts. The direction, however, co-credited to the masterly Terence Fisher of many a Hammer classic fame, is somewhat workmanlike. Perhaps Fisher's heart wasn'tin it, or he was held back by his Teutonic cohort, but it's not in the same league as his and Lee's earlier essaying of "The Hound of the Baskervilles".
The supporting cast are more than adequate, with the lovely Senta Berger in an early role adding some class and beauty to a female cast of East End slatterns played by burly hausfraus. It really is a shame though that Lee's icily incisive portrayal of the great detective, perfect for the role in every way, was only seen in this film and a couple of early '90s productions. Still, there's always the consolation of being the only actor (so far as i know) to have played bot Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, as well as Sir Henry Baskerville. That's got to count for something.
By the way, i saw this under the title "Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace" (somewhat reminiscent of the Basil Rathbone series, the middling entries of which it is on a par). The alternate title of "The Valley of Fear" is somewhat misleading, as apart from characters such as Holmes, Watson and Professor Moriarty this film has very little in common with the Conan Doyle novel of the same name. However, for a Holmes fan wanting a diverting hour and a half on a rainy afternoon, this more than does the trick.
Walking dead, Wooley, and Wildlife
Sheer insanity from "Vincent Dawn", aka Bruno Mattei in a film with more alternate titles than cast members. Here we have a plot which is reminiscent - to put it mildly - of Romero's classic "Dawn of the Dead" (commando squad storm a building in the opening ten minutes, one rogue member of said team is a trigger-happy psycho), and also semi-Fulci "Zombie Flesh Eaters 2" (zombie outbreak caused by toxic clouds from chemical plant / lab/ refinery / whatever); although as this movie came around seven years earlier than that particular abomination, we can rule out any ripo... er... 'homage' on that score.
We follow this crack commando squadron (not, so far as we know, framed for a murder they didn't commit) to the tropical wilderness of Papua New Guinea - portrayed by Italian parks plus stock natural history footage - to contain a zombie outbreak caused by a chemical leak from a factory/lab setup known ironically as a "Hope centre". As BP can tell you, this sort of thing is not good for business.
Along the way, our team hook up with hot ace reporter Lia and her camera dude. Lia is, thankfully, an expert on the customs of the local natives, and - having obviously watched Alexandra Della Colli in "Zombie Holocaust" - knows that the best way to avoid being eaten by cannibals is to get your baps out and paint yourself strange colours. Hey, man, it worked for me. Cue a mishmash of stock footage of native dances, until relief arrives when the zombies showup to massacre the village. Phew.
The standout character here is definitely Santoro, played with crazy-eyed intensity by Franco Garofalo / Frank Garfield. It's as if Wooley, the crazy SWAT gay from the opening scenes of DOTD, went on to be major character throughout the whole movie. I dunno about you, but i've always wanted to see that: and here it is. See him grin and laugh as he shoots rotting revenants thru the head. See him cackle with glee as he sets a ghoul ablaze with a burning torch. I loved it. He should have his own series. Also competing for Most Bizarre Behaviour by a Commando is Osbourne, who when told to check out the basement of a seemingly deserted house in zombie territory, ransacks the wardrobe to dress up ina tutu and top hat before beinf eaten alive. I'm sure it's how he wanted to go.
All this, and a quality tongue-ripping and eye-gouging to end on. A veritable feast of entertainment that i highly endorse.:)
Meng long guo jiang (1972)
Dragon Whips his Tail!!!
There are a great many people out there who will tell you that "Enter the Dragon" is THE martial arts film par excellence, and the greatest movie of the late Little Dragon himself, Bruce Lee. These people are, of course, wrong. This is.
Written by, directed by, and starring Bruce Lee, "The Way of the Dragon" showcases his martial philosophy and incredible skills, as well as a flair for comedy. Lee stars as T'ang Lung (literally "China Dragon"), a naive martial artist who travels from China to Italy to work along with his fellow countrymen in a restaurant - which happens to be located on some prime Rome real estate sought by a Mafia boss and his hired goons. After some humorous "fish out of water" situations arising from his unfamiliarity with Western customs and behaviour (and Campbell's soup!), his amazing kung fu skills are utilised to protect his friends from the predations of the criminal gwai-lo.
With great villainous support from Jon Benn as the unnamed Boss (whose incredulous "Kung FU?!?" always raises a smile), and the great Wei Ping-Ao giving a reprisal of his fawning henchman role from "Fist of Fury" but with the camp factor cranked all the way up to eleven. The gorgeous Nora Maio is the leading lady exasperated by T'ang Lung's country bumpkin behaviour, and Malisa Longo (credited quite accurately as "Italian Beauty") gives nice eye candy titillation in a brief topless scene.
But the aspect of the movie that everyone is familiar with, and we are all eagerly anticipating, is the gladatorial conflict between Lee and karate champion turned right-wing loon Chuck Norris in the Roman Collosseum. Called in by the Boss after Korean hapkido expert Wong In-Sik and American karate exponent Bob Wall (as Bob / Fred - couldn't they have decided on what his character was called?) have failed, we are introduced to the mighty Colt (Norris) in a frankly disturbing shot that sees him disembark from a plane and march groin foremost straight towards the camera. It's a good thing this movie wasn't in 3-D.
This clash of the titans is witnessed only by a small Italian kitten who, speaking neither Engliash nor Cantonese, cannot hope to follow the gargantuan combat taking place before his tiny eyes. But as the fight ends, as it must, with the stunning defeat of Colt / Norris, T'ang Lung must bid farewell to his new-found friends with their new-earned respect, and head off into the distance with his knapsack on his back like Dr. David Banner.
Or like Caine from "Kung Fu".
Death Curse of Tartu (1966)
Seminole swamp swimmer
Another dubious "classic" to file away at the back of the brain under "What the hell was i thinking watching this? - What the hell was anyone thinking filming this?!!?"
This is another of those films that hold a rancid but special place in my black and evil heart due to repeated viewings via worn-out old VHS in the early 90s. Some annoying American students decide to trip out, drop out, and - thanks to our undead friend - check out in the Florida Everglades of the 1960s. Tartu himself is - so far as memory serves - a mummified Native American (can we say that these days?), who periodically lolls back and forth in his tomb in a spectacularly unmenacing fashion, before taking on such forms as a crocodile etc., to despatch the defilers of his tomb, like a z-grade mummy meets Manimal on acid. Only crapper than that sounds, because that actually sounds cool.
Seemingly filmed on the '60s equivalent of camcorder on a budget of booze and jellybeans, this is film that i love to hate, and hate to love.
With thanks to the now defunct Spotlight Videos of South Shields for causing me to suffer this circa 1993. I have never fully recovered. Thank you.:)
The wind of the wings of madness
Excuse the seemingly pretentious quote from Boudelaire in the title if you will, but this mere "horror film" more than deserves to be held up beside poetry and art.
Traveller David Gray (or Allan Gray, depending upon which version the viewer is watching) arrives at a remote inn, wherein he experiences terrifying appiritions - including a long and haunting sequence of his own premature burial, Poe-style - including dancing shadows, a scary old woman and her doctor henchman.
The story of the film (supposedly lifted from LeFanu's Cramilla via "A Glass Darkly") is slight, yet raises an atmosphere as the young girl in the nearby château finds herself preyed upon by her own sister, newly recruited to the ranks of the undead. Gray remains a curiously passive hero, as much an observer of events unfolding as the viewer, and the film's climax - wherein the villain is suffocated by the pure whiteness of the flour in the mill - may not make total narrative sense, yet we are here in the realm of the fairytale, and the purity of white overcoming the darkness seems in this context much more acceptable than it otherwise might be.
Class thru a glass.