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Lost Hearts (1973 TV Short)
8/10
Chilling ghost story
22 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
A few days before his 12th birthday, young Master Stephen is sent to the country to spend some time with his elderly cousin, Mr Abney, who is to be his new guardian, at his country manor. As he nears his destination he sees two young children waving at him in a slow synchronicity, he thinks their movements are odd, but when he takes a second look, they are gone. On arrival, he is shown to his cousin who immediately strikes Stephen as being very eccentric, being a man who writes down every trivial event of the day no matter how menial, Mr Abney seems very excited to learn that Master Stephen will soon be twelve on Halloween night, a fact he immediately leaves to the room to enter in his daily log, much to Stephen's bemusement. Mr Abney we learn is a man of science? his study is full of strange paintings and statuettes and studies it by way of his vast collection of antiquated books, but what exactly his work is, is anyone's guess? although Astrology and the Black Arts are hinted at. Stephen is a bright boy and is soon gleaning plenty of information on his cousin, from cook Mrs Bunch, he questions her about other children staying there, but there are none he learns, but there used to be, Mrs Bunch tells him. There was a young girl some years previously who Mr Abney brought home, he looked after her for a few weeks before she disappeared, Mr Abney's theory being that the girl was a gypsy and had been taken by them, still though he had trawled the nearby lake just to be sure. Then after her, there was an Italian orphan boy, Giovanni, whom Mr Abney found walking nearby, the boy was obsessed with playing the hurdy-gurdy, again Mr Abney took him in but the boy didn't stay long either and disappeared soon after, leaving behind his beloved hurdy-gurdy, a fact Stephen jumps upon as very odd. Stephen's dreams are very soon haunted by dreadful visions of the two children he had seen before, Are they real or ghosts, Stephen is unsure, as he continually catches fleeting glimpses of them here and there around Abneys estate. He also begins to hear voices, he learns he's not the only one either, as Mrs Bunch and handyman Parkes also hear them. On the eve of his birthday, Mr Abney invites young Stephen to a Halloween midnight rendezvous, to experience the gift of a lifetime, Stephen is at first hesitant as he is sure at that late hour he will be too tired, but eager to please his very insistent cousin, he agrees....

It always amazes me how Clark is never mentioned is dispatches, when best horror director lists are being compiled, for he truly had a unique vision on how supernatural films should be filmed and should be better known and admired for his rather obvious talents. Again he delves into M.R.James's Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and ensures the screen equivalent is just as terrifying as the written word. He uses the beautifully stunning English countryside to perfection, as the ghostly children stand transfixed amidst wind rustled trees, as stealthily creeping fog encircles them, their gaze fixed on Mr Abney's manor. The look of the children is quite eerie and unsettling, especially their twisted fingers and elongated fingernails and is added to immensely by Giovanni's rather odd hurdy-gurdy music. Abney himself on the surface seems friendly, but behind the eccentric facade and failed experiments, we just know something dark lingers and its not long before our suspicions of his predatory nature are realized. For its time, the 1890's, James's extremely dark work seems to herald future, more modern concerns and yet still seems to contain even more unspeakable ideas. Stephen's dangerous and fateful midnight meeting, is the subject of the films finale and succeeds in providing us with yet more unsettling imagery. And yet another superb entry in the series is realized.
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6/10
Witchfinder General meets La Chiesa
20 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
London 1649: England is in the midst of a civil war, as suspicions grow of ones neighbours political alliances, so too does it grow for those neighbours who might be practicing witchcraft. Witch hunts and burnings are a regular occurrence as religious fervour and fear spread across the country. Martin, an aspiring artist is persuaded by Daniel Haswell, the head of the local secret coven, to paint a satanic mural on the wall of the local church, in order to negate the churches powers and to empower his movement to greater evil. Soon after though, he is racked by guilt and confesses to Father Ambrey, his part in the evil deed. Father Ambrey promises Martin absolution only if he betrays those in the coven, this he does, all known members are caught except for Haswell, who entraps Martin and buries him alive within an alcove of the church, Haswell knowing his time is numbered joins Martin behind the wall and pledges to return in another life to fulfill his satanic prophecy.

London 1985: The site of the old church is now on government land within a derelict area of London with few inhabitants, Peter Whiteway (Gareth Hunt) has been assigned the task of clearing the land for a new Military Nuclear Base, which includes the imminent demolition of the church, but during this process a worker is strangely killed after boring a hole in a wall within the church, a police investigation ensues, Whiteaway's task is made all the harder by the arrival of Caroline Trent, who wants to check that the church is not a heritage site. With more strange deaths occurring daily in the church, Whiteaway and Trent begin to believe there might be more behind these events than sheer bad luck.

After the success of Hammer House of Horror(1980), it was no surprise that Hammer followed it up with the Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense, the only surprise being it took so long to commission. As you night expect it boasted the usual array of familiar faces from both sides of the Atlantic, ( a good marketing ploy) and again turned to reliable horror stalwarts like Val Guest, Peter Sasdy, Cyril Frankel and John Hough. For this film The Beast Must Die helmer Paul Annett was entrusted with directing. He adequately builds up a decent feeling of dread about what lurks in the church behind the walls, our modern day characters are given but the briefest glimpses through the small opening in the wall of what seems to be a painting that changes colour and shape, but its probably just the darkness playing tricks with their minds. As the body count increases it soon becomes obvious that within the church there are evil powers at work, is this the time that the prophecy will be fulfilled? The period scenes are done rather well and seem to catch the flavour of the times. Haswell played by Peter Wyngarde with his unusual and striking visage, provides us with a foe of note, his dark robes, piercing eyes and trademark handlebar moustache giving him a notable air of evil. The acting on the whole is pretty good, as are the characterizations which in the limited time frame are given time to flourish. The modern setting provides us with some decent moments of horror, but its all just a little too bit predictable, its not hard to guess whats going to happen, especially as the same actors who played in the period setting return in a modern guise, waiting for some sign or message from the past to trigger some past behaviour in a modern setting. The grand finale set within the church, as good again faces evil in a fight to the finish isn't as slick as it should be from a character stand point, but as the wall collapses in the ensuing fracas, we see that within Haswell's agenda, there is a hidden political message aimed at the contemporary audience, not that surprising for the time the film was made, its quite subtle though so it doesn't quite spoil the mood. The overall feel is quite tame for modern audiences, who will no doubt find it dull as its effectively a cross between Witchfinder General and La Chiesa, still though its nicely played out and fans of this era of British horror will find plenty to enjoy and as its a short TV production there is of course the obligatory surprise twist.
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7/10
Romero's back
15 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
After some less than enthusiastic reviews of Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead, its probably fair to say the heralding of the next Romero zombie film has been somewhat muted, perhaps a little unfairly, as it would seem he is doomed criticism wise, to keep reinventing the wheel so to speak. Survival of the Dead is the sixth installment in the series and it leaves off where Diary ended, within six weeks of the outbreak.

Plum Island: An island divided by two feuding families, both of Irish origin, they are the O'Flynns and the Muldoons. Patrick O'Flynn is the leader of his clan, he is ruthless is his search for zombies and nobody living or dead can stop his cause to rid his island paradise of the living dead. Muldoon on the other hand has different ideas, he wants to preserve the dead, including some of his own family, in case there is a cure, but he also has ideas of harvesting the zombies, his mad scientist role is, through trial and error to find a new food source for the zombies so that man and zombie alike can live together.

Mainland: 'Nicotine' Crocket leads a crack group of 4 soldiers, they have been randomly searching and stealing food and other supplies from passing vehicles, they meet up a with a young man with $1million cash locked in an armoured van, oping for a share they befriend him, he tells them he has seen a video message on the internet inviting all living souls to come to Plum Island and start a new idyllic life. Crocket is against going, he deems it to be a trap, sure enough he is voted down and as it turns out it is a trap set by a now exiled Patrick O'Flynn and his cronies. O'Flynn is out-gunned and soon they are all allies on a rejuvenated carferry heading for Plum Island to live out their existence in an island paradise...not! So has Romero hit Zombie Gold with this one? Lets analyze? First off we have a smooth enough link between this and Diary, viewers will remember Crockett and his group from Diary, where they attempted to rob the film crew. The zombies by Crocketts own admission in the film aren't to be feared, they are now seen as more of a nuisance and as such the film plays to these notions, the Zombies aren't given as much space as normal, they seem to be a backdrop to the ensuing feud, a raison d'etre for a social comment about a feuding civilization hellbent on a power struggle, no matter the cost to society, both sides being portrayed at times as being right, others as being very wrong, either way neither side comes across in a positive light. This social comment isn't as strong as in Romero's previous films though, so it doesn't feel like he's preaching, but it might be perceived by some to get in the way of good zombie movie. The zombie make-up isn't all that convincing on the whole, some don't even have the basics of a pale skin tone, it would seem George saved his budget for the head explosions of which there are many, some very creative ones at that, that will keep the faithful very happy, including a fire extinguisher to the mouth that leaves a zombies head explode after his eyeballs pop, delightful, a flare to the torso of another that lights up his body and head before it explodes in flames, very delightful. The zombies are also more agile than usual, we have an underwater zombie attack...cool, zombies driving cars, goddamit there's even gorgeous female zombies on horseback.

I must say after watching the trailers for this i was a little wary of Kenneth Welsh's "Oirish" accent, it is quite deplorable, but as it turns out, there are others that are just as bad in the film, why make Americans and Canadians act Irish, why not just make them American, you guys have feuds too, it not like it was essential to the plot anyway, having said that, Welsh's portrayal of O'Flynn is very enjoyable, he is a rogue for sure but he has his moments of humanity that give him depth of character.

The science twist where Muldoon tries to alter a zombies feeding practices, is an interesting plot line, not one i remember having seen before, it works quite well, i think it will be a guaranteed plot line in any further installment. The only real negative i have to say about the film is its negating of the zombie as a creature to be feared, that combined with Romero's choice of slow zombie doesn't leave the viewer with any sense of fear in the film at all. Overall, i'm sure Romero fans will enjoy it, it has a good post apocalyptic feel, there's some good splatter, a couple of good gory zombie attacks all surrounded by some good set pieces and on the whole there is a good pace to the film.
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6/10
Atmospheric Spanish horror
11 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
With Spain beginning to enjoy the benefits of modern tourism for the first time, some areas still find it hard to deal with the liberalism and sexual freedom of those who travel there. Among such people are Marta (Aurora Bautista) and Veronica (Esperanza Roy), two rather unattractive spinster sisters who run a guest-house in a conservative and religious town in the Ronda valley. Marta's guest-house earns her a very steady income, her restaurant has never been so busy, but she would trade it all for quieter times, if the clientèle were of like mind to her. One day while preparing a meal, Veronica and Marta hear a commotion outside, they rush upstairs to find a gang of excited local youths taunting one of their female guests who is sunbathing topless on the roof, this is the final straw for an irate Marta, she physically pushes the girl towards the door, unfortunately the girl falls down the stairs, her head crashes through a stained glass window and her throat is slit by a large shard of glass, Veronica wants to call the police, but Marta studies the shard intently, it is that of a religious sword. Marta takes this as a sign from God, that she has done right in her quest for a greater morality in society, so her death goes unreported.

Within minutes of the girls death, another girl comes calling at the guest-house, she introduces herself as Laura Barkley (Judy Geeson), the sister of the girl who now lies in a bloody mess upstairs, both sisters tell Laura that her sister left earlier that morning without giving a forwarding address. Laura finds this odd as she was meant to meet her sister there, she decides to wait around. As the days go by, Laura notices other strange goings on at the guest-house, she decides to investigate further the disappearance of her sister, as it would seem her disappearance is not the only one. Both puritan sisters hide a darker side, Veronica is scared of Marta, but it doesn't stop her from stealing some of the takings for her secret amour, she sneaks off most days to enjoy her lustful afternoons with him. Marta, who had been ditched by her husband to be on her wedding day, from which she has never quite recovered, is also shown to have secret lustful thoughts, a trait she despises in her guests, the murder of the girl seems to have triggered greater more evil thoughts in her head, but will she act on them?

Eugenio Martin's film captures rather well the troublesome transition of a society from a puritanical one with no money to an affluent one which has thoughts of compromising its own morals and standards to attain previously only dreamed of financial rewards. Geeson (Fear in the Night)who has claims to being the star is rather underused, mainly as she's off somewhere looking for her sister, but its Roy(Return of the Blind Dead) and Bautista who take the acting plaudits, both give solid performances, Roy convinces as the the sister with a heart, whose heart isn't really in the killings, Bautista is both sinister and rather scary as the overly fanatical elder sister. but its all rather ironic that at first they are both rather unattractive on the eye, seeming older than their years, but as both give in to their carnal and murderous urges they become more attractive and younger on the outside, but colder, more evil on the inside. The rest of the cast are on the whole rather forgettable, Martin's direction is OK, not up to the standards of his Horror Express,but here he builds up a nice atmosphere, with dead bloody carcasses of animals littering the kitchen, a furnace where evidence is routinely burned and a wine cellar where more gruesome things happen adding to the overall affect. the killings though are slow and the gruesomeness is more implied than seen, but thats the way i like these films so its not really a negative for me. The killings could of course have been stopped if someone had just called in the police, but hey we wouldn't have a film then, so i'll forgive this oversight. The ending is rather odd as villagers who have acted on a piece of cannibalistic evidence, lead the police in slow motion to the hostelry, just in time to save our heroine...well maybe? So if you like low budget Spanish horror from this era, this is certainly for you.
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A View from a Hill (2005 TV Movie)
9/10
A welcome return to a great series of films
17 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The young Dr. Fanshawe(Mark Letheren), an avid archaeologist, is dispatched by his Museum boss to the large country home of Squire Richards(Pip Torrens), where his task is to find provenance for and catalogue the collection of antiquities and curios belonging to the recently deceased father of the Squire. The Squire is surprised by the arrival Fanshawe, he hadn't been expecting him for another week, but none the less welcomes him and gets his only servant, Patten (David Burke..of Dr Watson fame), to show him to his room, as Fanshawe must stay over for some days in order to finish his rather large task. Patten it would seem is not the friendliest sort and seems to resent the extra work that Fanshawe's visit will entail, the large empty house providing an endless amount of cooking, cleaning and maintenance for him. Fanshawe is a fussy sort, very neat and precise with everything having its place, whether they be his clothes or his books and papers and he is rather disgusted by the dirt in his room. Needless to say he is rather eager to begin his work, but unpacking he finds his binoculars have been damaged in transit, so he asks the Squire for a replacement pair, The Squire who is a modern thinking man but also it would seem rather uncultured with such matters, is also eager to get rid of the clutter around the house, so he obliges and walks Fanshawe to the top of the hill so that he can survey the estate and the surrounding villages, there the Squire directs him to points of interest, including Gallows Hill, where locals were hung for their crimes and misdemeanours, his interest is also taken by a local abbey which the Squire describes as a ruin, but Fanshawe can see through the binoculars that it clearly isn't, he investigates further and pays a visit to the site of the abbey and is shocked to find that there are but a few stone remnants? Fanshawe doesn't have too much time to think about this conundrum as he darkness falls he feels he is being watched, he feels a presence, he begins to see moving shadows in the woods, startled he runs home. Over dinner he imparts details of his harrowing day to the Squire, Patten overhears the story and suggests an explanation for it..The Binoculars! they used to belong to a local man called Baxter, whom it would seem collected bones and skulls from Gallows Hill, boiling them up for some concoction or other, Baxter had disappeared mysteriously one night, the late Squire had acquired his belongings, including a mask made out of a skull and some old etchings of the area. These etchings fascinate Fanshawe as they portray the Abbey he seen through his binoculars, but he learns that the abbey had been destroyed during the reign of Henry VII and so it would be impossible for Baxter to have drawn the sketches, never the less they are signed and dated by Baxter to the recent past so he concludes that the binoculars have some special power. That night he has horrifically vivid dreams, when he wakes, he sets off with the binoculars to have a closer look at the abbey through them, what he finds surprises him but has he put himself in perilous danger by doing so? Fanshawe finally becomes trapped in his dangerous obsession, as darkness falls the Squire and a search party go in search of the now missing archaeologist, they are alerted by dozens of loudly cawing crows circling above Gallows HIll, they quicken their speed, but will they be in time to help or save Fanshawe from his destiny? The Ghost Story for Christmas series of films made by the BBC sadly ended its initial run of films in 1978 with The Ice House, they were for the most part based on the work of the great M.R. James. In 2005 and 2006 the series was revived briefly and thankfully A View from a Hill also marked a return to the work of James, whose ghostly writings have haunted many generations of readers. Director Luke Watson being new to the series might have worried fans of the older films, but he returns to the period setting abandoned by the later films which immediately sets the tone for a great Ghost story, his direction is assured as he stays true to the mood of the masters works and gradually builds up the fear factor to a terrifying climax, all the while keeping what the viewer sees to a minimum, thus upping the tension and mystery. The Autumn countryside provides oodles of atmosphere, the falling leaves and low lying sun providing an unsettling backdrop for the sinister events to come. The cast it must be said are all superb and are perfectly cast in their respective roles. The idea behind the binoculars is simple but very effective, the use of a man made object to see supernatural beings and events that the naked eye cannot see, may even have influenced Álex de la Iglesia in his film La habitación del niño (2006) of the following year, with which it bears striking similarity. I had heard mixed reviews of this particular film, but i must say i found it at all times intriguing and it even raised a few hairs on my head and gave me a few shivers, something that doesn't happen much these days, i think any negativity surrounding the film can only be attributed to its pacing, which to my eyes is perfection but to modern audiences it will be seen as deathly slow. Plenty of time is given, even within its brief 40 minutes running time, for character development and plot expansion and i must say its a new favourite of mine and certainly one of the better films of the decade.
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Spectre (1977 TV Movie)
6/10
An enjoyable mess
10 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
World renowned criminologist and sometime occultist William Sebastian (Robert Culp) calls on the help of his former partner Dr Hamilton (Gig Young) to assist him on an intriguing new case in England, a complex case that he claims will revolutionize theories on the subject of the occult. Hamilton, not one for believing in the occult, calls to his old friends home but is immediately intrigued, after he witnesses a tussle between good and evil, as Sebastian confronts and defeats an evil Succubus there. Sebastian tells him he has been hired by Anitra Cyon(Ann Bell), a member of an aristocratic family, who has concerns that her elder brother Sir Geoffrey Cyon (James Villiers) has become possessed by some evil spirit. They agree to travel to London together to investigate further, they are met at the airport by Mitri Cyon (John Hurt), the younger brother, who is to fly them by private jet to their destination. Almost immediately unseen forces seem to hinder their progress, as the plane looses power, but as Sebastian explains, things will get worse before they get better and that their journey will be "an unimaginable horror, a descent into hell". On arrival in London Sebastian and Hamilton go to visit an old friend, Dr Qualus, when they arrive they find his home in flames, on entering they find him dead on the floor, he had died seemingly trying to get inside a pentacle etched on the floor. Sebastian grabs Qualus's diary from the burning embers, only to be stopped from leaving by a large demon who is trying to gain access. The arrival of the local police wards off the hideous beast, Inspector Cabell (Gordon Jackson) an avid fan of Sebastian's, hopes they can work together in tracking down the brutal killer who is at large in the city, a killer whom he believes has just struck again with the killing of Qualus. The killings he tells them may have links to Sir Geoffrey or further up to members of parliament, a fact that may hinder progress in the case. Arriving at Kentworth abbey, the home of the Cyons, the duo find their intrusion less than welcome by Sir Geoffrey, more dangerous supernatural events begin to occur as they get closer to finding out the deadly truth. Spectre is a strange film, it purports to be British and yet with its American stars and its distinctly American look you'd never guess its origins. Written as a pilot by Gene Roddenberry(Star Trek) It is for all intents and purposes a modern re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson mixed in with some other shows, the fluffy harpsichord score is obviously aimed at the Columbo/Murder She Wrote set, the fact that Culp is involved, rams the fact home none too subtly. I'm not to familiar with Roddenberry's non Star Trek work, i know he had many failed attempts at creating a successful pilot, if i had to guess why he failed so often, i'd say its because he had too many ideas. Spectre has some intriguing premises, most of which have are none too original, but all mixed up they do have a certain charm. First off we have demons, a succubus, a demon lord called Azmodeus, ape like creatures, dreamy sex vixens, primordial stone circles, ancient pagan gods, witchcraft, evil dwarfs, old crones, satanic sacrifices, the list goes on...another odd thing is that the production does seem to have a decent budget and yet when it comes to the creatures they look as though they had a 50c budget, as they are given "lucky bag" creature teeth, the grand lord Azmodeus is but a man in a bad rubber lizard suit, the human/demon hybrids have lumps of moulded plastic stuck on their foreheads, a little too reminiscent of the Klingons for comfort. If the finances weren't there, most of the creatures should have remained off screen, it would have made for a less distracting movie and certainly one of better quality. That said director Clive Donner has assembled a fine cast, the performances are all quite watchable, Culp is believable and Young is amiable and they work quite well together, i think this film could have worked well in better hands, but sadly it never came to fruition, as it stands its a very enjoyable mess.
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Thriller: Terror from Within (1975)
Season 5, Episode 3
6/10
Unremarkable entry
21 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Whilst holidaying in Europe, American tourist Abby Stevens (Pamela Franklin) decides to travel to England to meet up with her fiancé Doug, who had said he was going to call on an old friend of his Alan Smerdon (Oliver Tobias) who also happens to be Abby's cousin, whom she hasn't seen since she was a child. Abby's visit has a duel purpose as she had promised Alan's parents that she would make the visit as they haven't heard from him in a couple of years, they only know he's safe because he still collects his sizeable monthly allowance. Alan's an artist and lives in a community of artists who have taken over the small country town, much to the chagrin of the locals. Once Abby arrives, she immediately feels uneasy, there is something in the air that just isn't right, this isn't helped by the fact she is given an uneasy welcome by the sinister Frank Dean (Ian Bannen), a leather glove wearing thug, with a violent past, who always has a knife in his hands, he thrusts it into Abby's face and makes it clear she isn't welcome. Eventually Alan arrives with some friends, Abby mistakenly identifies one of his friends, for him, but thats OK as Alan didn't really recognize her either. Alan tells her Doug never arrived, but Abby who has telepathic powers can tell this isn't the case. She asks to stay just in case she is mistaken and that Doug meant to arrive in a couple of days time as a surprise for Alan's upcoming birthday. Abby who had a close telepathic relationship with Doug, begins to hear his voice and feel his presence, the voice leads her to a dark gloomily lit Victorian era cellar where Alan and his girlfriend Beryl produce their horror related sculptures, there she feels something evil present. When another friend due to arrive goes missing, Abby is sure that something amiss is going on, through her intensifying psychic abilities, Abby believes that they are all dead.

The multi talented and prolific writer, Brian Clemens, was responsible for the writing duties behind the highly acclaimed Thriller series from 1973-1976, the series itself was generally a good mix of crime thriller, Mystery and horror. Won't Write Home Mom, I'm Dead was a film from the third series and as with most films in the series they managed to gather a group of talented actors together to appeal to a wider audience. Bannen's character is a little one dimensional to start with but as the film gathers pace we find he is a much more complex character and Bannen duly earns the acting plaudits here. Pamela Franklin (And soon the darkness,1970) here in her second outing in the series, is good too as the demure investigative psychic, her scenes bringing a good supernatural element to proceedings. Oliver Tobias is suitably suave and charming, his character hides a secret, thats for sure, he might not be on the level, but is he the killer? The country setting with its misty woodland and cawing crows add to the overall atmosphere, the supernatural element too is fine if a little hokey, but on the whole the story fails to materialize quick enough for my liking. The black gloved killer with flick knife in hand obviously takes its influences from the Italian Giallo, but there the influence ends. The dark secrets of the film are undoubtedly to be found in the gloomy cellar, where terrible events along the lines of Mill of the stone women are only hinted at without ever being fully revealed. Is Alan really Alan? is another plot line that is explored and revealed only at the end. On the whole its a little disappointing but still quite watchable.
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The Green Man (1990– )
7/10
Entertaining sexually charged ghost story
2 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
A few miles outside Cambridge in the countryside sits The Green Man, a well preserved stately 17th century hostelry of some renown. Today it is a hotel that also boasts a gourmet restaurant aimed at tourists and the idle rich. Its present owner is the lecherous alcoholic, Maurice Allington (Albert Finney), who lives there with his wife Joyce, his daughter Amy and his father known commonly as "Gramps". The success of The Green Man in most good food guides is owed mainly to Maurice, for he's a genial sort who likes to regale his customers with his knowledge of fine wine and tales of ghosts that still haunt the corridors of The Green Man. Most people take his ghost stories at face value and believe them to be part of an act, but Maurice does regularly see the ghost of a young woman in a long black hooded cloak lurking in the corridors or on the stairs. At a birthday dinner for Maurice, his father (Michael Hordern) begins to act strangely, after he appears to have seen something horrifying, a vision that nobody else sees, Jack a friend of Maurice's present at the meal and a doctor, diagnoses a cerebral hemorrhage, the father dies shortly after wards. That night Maurice is drinking heavily and he sees a vision of his dead father and soon after wards a spectral vision of a man in 17th century clothes in the dining room, guests put his screaming and histrionics down to his keeping the ghost story myth going, but Maurice is seriously disturbed by it and he soon finds the identity of the man to be is a 17th century cleric by the name of Underhill, a man of ill repute, who used his power and mind games and tales of demons to lure underage girls to his bed against their will and he's intent on continuing his dastly deeds. Soon after Maurice is also visited by a winged demon while in the bath, this is the final straw for Jack who now believes Maurice is stressed and should cut back on the booze for the sake of his health. Is Maurice going mad, is he just a drunk or are his visions in some way related to the death of his father, with the help of his lover Diana he investigates further with a spot of grave robbing....

The Green Man was a three-part mini series commissioned for the BBC and based on Kinglsey Amis's 1969 novel of the same name. For the most part it plays a like a mundane drama, concerning the ins and outs of running a hotel, keeping the staff and guests happy and of course the celebrity food writers who seem to visit most nights. Its full of dark humour that alleviates from the darker more horrific themes that ensue, its a balance that needs to be exact or the production can fall between two stools, being neither one thing nor the other, but while it does this quite well, it doesn't quite succeed completely, with the lighter end of things winning out. Still though there's enough spooky goings on to satisfy, the mysterious Dr Thomas Underhill striking an imposing image, his long black hair set against his deathly white face is a disturbing sight. There's also a spot of grave robbing in a mist bound cemetery, some dreamlike visions containing demonic vines in an evil wood that bind and ravish young maidens, Maurice even receives a visit from a whiskey drinking God who helps him tackle the evil of Underhill by suggesting he use the powers of the local "Hippy" vicar, nicely played by Nickolas Grace, a vicar who doesn't believe in an afterlife.The cast are very good, Finney excels, his comic timing is very good as are his more dramatic moments, a large range of emotions are called for and he succeeds on all counts. His clumsy attempts to get his lover in to bed with his wife for a threesome are also a joy to behold, especially when it doesn't turn out quite as he planned, as the ladies soon forget he's there. Hordern is left with little screen time, but like a real old pro he still delivers a very memorable performance. All in all The Green Man is a fun sexually charged ghost story with a lot of ideas, there's even time for an exorcism. As a ghost story its visuals are striking, but the humour does take away from its power somewhat, still though the its all very entertaining.
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Beasts: During Barty's Party (1976)
Season 1, Episode 2
8/10
Best in the series
28 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Angie Truscott (Elizabeth Sellars) is a bored housewife, she lives in her remote country home with her husband Roger (Anthony Bate), a successful businessman. After taking an afternoon nap one day, Angie is awoken suddenly from her slumber, had she imagined the blood curdling screams that woke her? they seemed so real, Angie is shook up, matters aren't helped by the fact she is all alone and that there is a sudden scratching noise, its origins unknown, coming from below the floor or is it the walls, she resorts to turning up the music full blast to drown out the incessant noise. Roger duly returns home, he's had a hard day business wise, but its the weekend and all he wants to do is have a quiet night in, so he is a little irked to find his wife in a bit of a state. She tells him of her dream and the persistent scratching, Roger tells her its just a rat under the foundations, he calms Angie a little by telling her the rat can't get in. As for her dream Roger puts that down to her simultaneous mixing of sleeping tablets and booze. Angie overhears a phone call Roger makes to a colleague, where he is asked if the commotion out his way has ended, Roger oblivious to the news report, continues talking business. Angie however now concerned again, decides to put on the radio to hear the news report, she tunes into to the Barty Wills Party Hour, Barty is an annoying DJ, prone to funny voices, bad jokes and the occasional prank., he reports of an odd event taking place near their home, where thousands of giant rats stopped traffic for ten minutes as they crossed the nearby motorway. Roger dismisses it as a hoax and the show as intellectually below them and castigates his wife for listening to such rubbish. However Barty soon has a rodent expert on the show, he tells of a new breed of super rat, more intelligent and immune to modern poisons. Roger is now beginning to get scared, their dog is missing too and the abandoned sports car (presumably belonging to would be lovers) at the end of their road is still come nightfall. The noises however continue, there now seems to be more than one rat, Angie notices that they seem only to scratch at the floor of the rooms they are in, Roger is now the nervous wreck and Angie is left to make the decisions, she rings Barty's radio show only for the phone to inexplicably get cut off, soon the power goes too and they are left in the dark, both terrified the scratching becomes deafening, the rats are almost through the kitchen door, Angie decides to make a run for it, but as they do so, they hear their neighbours car pull up, the scratching stops, the Truscotts relieved think they are safe, all in quiet now but as they call to their neighbours, they see them attacked and over powered by thousands of gnawing rodents. In the headlights of the car outside, Angie and Roger huddle together and await their fate...

The genius of the great horror writer Nigel Kneale (Quatermass, The Stone Tape) shines through in this episode of his "Beasts" series, a series based entirely on animals and other exotic creatures. Kneale is known for his intelligent science based stories, renowned for their credibility and just that hint of "it could happen", his tension filled script is given meticulous direction by Don Leaver, a TV journeyman perhaps best known for his excellent Hammer House of Horror films, Witching Time and The Mark of Satan. The script is taut and the film is loaded with dialogue, full of important little notes that build up the characters and drive the plot on to its excruciatingly horrific finale. Of course all the horror is in the mind of the viewer, we never see the rats, we only hear them, a fact lost on modern filmmakers is that imagination is the greatest horror, you don't need to show everything to make a scary film, Kneale of course was a master of this craft. Right from the first scene, the brooding horror is evident, an abandoned car within sight of the Truscotts and in the distance we hear some laughter from the unseen lovers which are replaced almost immediately with that of blood curdling screams, this leads straight into Angie's nightmare, was it all a dream? There are only two actors in the film and both Sellars and Bate perform admirably, showing a range of emotions as their lives are slowly turned upside down. Overall the film is rather dull visually and it can't hide its TV origins, but the fear factor and psychological tension it musters along with some very inventive sound effects more than make up for this.
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Supernatural: Night of the Marionettes (1977)
Season 1, Episode 7
7/10
Unique take on the Frankenstein tale
22 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Howard Lawrence (Gordon Jackson) the esteemed biographer of romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary, enters the Club of the Damned, (a London based secret society that admits only those whose stories of the supernatural are believed as true) to regale the members with his truly shocking story. A story, he tells them that can never be published, such is its horror. His story begins near Geneva, where while travelling with his wife Elsbeth and daughter Mary, he was researching the aforementioned biography of Shelley. Shelley, his wife to be Mary and author of Frankenstein, along with Lord Byron had made some names for themselves across Europe, especially their renowned escapades at the Villa Deodatti. Lawrence had long dreamed of writing the definitive story of Shelley's life and had long been a believer that due to her worldly writings and her young age, her influence for Frankenstien had not come from a dream, but from another more real source. Lawrence's travels had proved fruitless and he was resigned to writing another successful, but unremarkable tome on the renowned author. So it was that on his way home, he and his family stopped at an Inn, The Ritterhoff, to shelter from the incumbent cold weather, there they are welcomed by the owner Herr Hubert (Vladek Sheybal) an odd personage, of cool demeanour and pale complexion, whom if one were to guess, would probably say he had noble blood. Elsbeth cannot settle in the Inn, her sleep is disturbed by strange visions and soon she wants to leave, but Mary has fallen in love with the Inn, it has an air about it, that transfixes her and prompts her to return to her writings with gusto. Lawrence himself would have been happy to abide by his wifes wishes had he not stumbled upon some old complimentary books provided in his room, that would seem to belong to Percy Shelley, he also finds a copy of Frankenstein there, his imagination runs riot, what if the three famous poets had stayed here on their travels, they had after all lived close by, maybe this is where he will find his holy grail. The deciding point for his decision is that their host Herr Hubert is putting on a show in their own theatre, a show as Herr Hubert puts it, "with a difference", the Marionettes contained within having somewhat of a reputation locally as do the productions. The family gathers in the small put packed theatre, full of local colourful characters, it is lit by candlelight, that glistens in the cobwebs in the rafters above, a perfect setting for an unusual show? The lights dim, the show begins, a pale white princess is at home in her bedroom, unseen by her, outside her window lurks a demon. Back in the demons lair, he contrives to give life to a tall, burly dark haired creature, with a pale white face, he is dressed in black and white clothes, a striking image, the creature stirs into life and is soon at the princess's room where he proceed to defile her before killing her. Lawrence is convinced this is the influence Shelley's Frankenstein and confronts Herr Hubert, little knowing the truth is far worse than the fiction.

Night of the Marionettes is an enjoyable twist on the Frankenstein tale, the setting is excellent, a labyrinthine Gothic guest house with plenty of odd characters, not least Herr Hubert, whose pale skin and gaunt bone structure would strike fear into anyone. Gordan Jackson plays the troubled biographer Lawrence, supremely well, calling on all his experience to give a rather unique performance in his filmography. The highlight of the film is undoubtedly the Marionette show, which one soon realises is done with real people and not puppets, the demon is Japanese in origin and boasts a mask with a terrifying facial expression, one to even rival that from Kaneto Shindo's classic Onibaba (1964). The monster is also certainly one with a memorably striking image, despite the film being in colour, the monsters monochrome image will remain in your memory for some time. Overall there's a decent atmosphere built up, but the video quality lets it down somewhat. Night of the Marionette's had previously been derided as a bad film from a bad series, i wholeheartedly disagree, its a unique tale given a delightful Gothic touch.

Oh and i nearly forgot, you may want to know how Lawrence got on in the Club of the Damned, did they believe his story, remember those not accepted faced death, hey its a horror flick you work it out? ]
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The Mad Death (1983– )
4/10
Poorly executed drama
21 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
A woman smuggles her cat into the UK, an illegal act, the ban on animals traveling having been put in place to retain the country's Rabies free status. The woman is unaware that her cat has just been in an altercation with a fox, but back in the UK it begins to act odd. After a series of scenes involving the passing of the deadly virus from animal to animal, an American businessman Tom Siegler (Ed Bishop) resident in the UK comes across a seemingly stunned fox at the side of the road. The fox appears docile and is amiable to being petted, so Siegler takes him home, but the fox soon turns on him, Bishop becomes infected and is the first to die. The authorities become aware and immediately set in place some restrictions in the area, a cordon is placed within a five mile radius of his house. Michael Hilliard is a veterinary expert who is persuaded to take charge of the investigation and straight away he sets out to find anyone who came in contact with the dead man before he died, his actions and restrictions don't go down well with local animal lovers and the press also make him out to be a bit of a loon. But as the virus spreads, he seems to be justified, but can he restrict the spread and make the country virus free again? In the 80's there was a real fear that rabies aka "The Mad Death", might spread to the UK, there were frightening TV advertisements to warn and scare the public away from smuggling animals into the country from the continent where Rabies was widespread. A frightening premise for a film? well sure the reality of it is scary, but to make it as a horror The Mad Death really needed to push home the fear, sadly it doesn't. The Fear element just isn't explored, The Mad Death is called that for a reason, its a terrible death, but these factors are just not explored well enough to either strike fear into the viewer or to deter would be smugglers. Little or no tension is built up, too much time is spent early on showing in a rather dull way, how it spreads from fox to cat to fox to dog to human and so on, that soon the viewer will be asking what all the fuss is about. I can also say that I have never seen animal lovers portrayed in such a bad light, every single one in the Mad Death, is played as crazy or with murderous intentions, they have no interest in stopping the spread of the virus, even the merest of actions like keeping your dog indoors is treated with apathy and anger, all in all not very believable. The acting is stilted beyond belief, with numerous silences and laboured pauses, actors staring into space and these aren't the ones that are infected. There's also a love triangle going on that is dull in the extreme. The restrictions set in place by police and Dept of Agriculture are also quite laughable in their laxness, if such an outbreak occurred in reality, the UK would be absolutely doomed. Now i realize some elements of plot have to be there to further the story, but here it is pushed to ridiculous extremes. So has the Mad Death got anything going for it? well, there are a few interesting set pieces, a rabid fox locked in a garage, a rabid Alsatian loose in a shopping mall, spring to mind, but even these are lazily handled. In a time when viruses are a real threat to humanity, its hard to get scared by a poodle and a Labrador running wild in a forest. If the filmmakers were out to scare the audience they failed miserably, if they were out to educate the public as to the risks, they also failed as its a little too preachy
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The Ice House (1978 TV Short)
6/10
Unusual finale to a superb series
15 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Paul (John Stride) is trying to come to terms with the fact that his wife has just recently left him. He books himself into a remote health spa on an old country estate, where relaxation, massage and some nice lunches are the order of the day. The spa is run by a brother and sister, Clovis and Jessica, both of whom seem friendly, maybe even a little over friendly towards Paul. Paul begins to get suspicious of the resort as everyone seems to have ice cold hands, he first notices this when masseuse Bob, apologizes for his "fit of the cools" before pleading for help from Paul to get him out of the resort, but before Bob can elaborate more, their conversation is interrupted by Clovis. The following day Bob has disappeared and Paul has more questions for the increasingly odd Clovis and Jessica, who increase their hands on approach to their most recent guest. They show him their prized Ice House in the garden around which grows a very unique vine, containing two highly scented trumpet shaped flowers, one red, one white. Jessica beckons Paul to climb the vine and inhale deeply the wonderful scent, Paul declines...

Paul's sleeping habits have been interrupted too, on his first night, there was a wrapping noise on his window which disappeared when he opened it, this of course left the him to deal with the noise of local wildlife. The second night, he notices that his window now has a small hole in it, a hole that gets increasingly bigger and grows in the shape of a trumpet shaped flower? all the while of course the overly aromatic scent of the flowers (which is more active at night) creeps its way into Paul's room.

Paul decides to investigate further by himself at the mysterious Ice House, which he finds locked despite the fact that Clovis and Jessica have told him its always open. That night under darkness, Paul makes another attempt to enter, this time the old oak door creaks open with ease, what ghastly deeds will he find there? The Ice House was the final film in the initial run of the annual Ghost Story for Christmas series that ran from 1971. This time it retains the modern setting adopted by the previous years Stigma(1977) although it still retains an old fashioned air about it which i liked. For the first time too, Lawrence Gordon Clark did not helm, perhaps a sign that the series was coming to an end. Its an oddity for sure, its brief running time and its theme giving it at times, the feel of a Twilight Zone episode. The strange otherworldly owners and guests with their mannered speech are more reminiscent of a 50's Sci/Fi flic a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers or of Day of the Triffids than the usual ghost story fare, Are these odd personages aliens? pod people? plants in human form? ghosts? who knows?...little is explained in this regard or to any plot point for that matter, as is de rigeur with the series, all such matters are left purely to the instincts and imagination of the viewer. For the most part it kept this viewers interest, Its finale too sticks firmly to the vagueness of previous films and is somewhat fitting. Not as bad as its rating, thats for sure.
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7/10
Ancient forces control an English village
9 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
A scientist, Adam Brake(Gareth Thomas) has a 3 month opportunity to study and write a thesis on electromagnetivity in neolithic stones in the remote English village of Milbury. He brings along his young son Matthew, whom he enrols in the local school for the duration of their stay, Matthew is a budding scientist himself with lofty ideas for his future. Adam is keen to start as soon as possible and is delighted when Margaret, the curator of the local museum offers to show him something rather startling concerning the stones. Margaret asks him simply to touch the stones, this Adam does without any fear, but that soon changes as he hears ancient voices and sees strange visions just before a strong surge throws him feet into the air. Something else is at work here, but Adam doesn't know what. Margaret also warns him that he will soon feel very alone here as the residents are an odd bunch, with odd sayings and customs, in fact the village seems divided into regular people and what are known as "The Happy Ones" Matthew notices this in school right away, as the Happy children also show that lighter demeanor and are vastly more intelligent than the other kids.

Matthew befriends Dai (Freddie Jones) a local tramp, whose social status belies his intelligence, for he has been spying on the residents and immediately knows Matthew is different, he warns that he will not be able to escape the boundaries of the village because of the power of the stones. The oddness seems to be being controlled by the town leader Rafael Hendrick (Iain Cutherbertson) a Lord Summerisle character and a former astro physicist of some renown, who on the outside seems friendly but he hides whats really going on very well. As the numbers of regular people begin to dwindle Adam and Matthew who has suddenly developed telepathic powers, begin a dangerous fight with unknown forces.

Children of the Stones sure is an oddity, it was a 7 part series initially aimed at a school going audience, but there are some confounding themes at large here, some perhaps too dark, even the title sequence with its deeply unsettling choral vocalizations, while seeming perfect for the subject matter, does seem out of place for their target audience. It draws on many areas of Horror and Sci/FI, there's echoes of The Wicker Man, with the Hendrick character and the pagan pageantry, Village of the Damned, its odd and gifted kids, Invasion of the Snatchers, The Stepford Wives and perhaps most closely of all, The Quatermass Conclusion.

For a children's TV program it does well to retain a sinister air and never dumbs down the plot. The cast is for the most part excellent, Thomas providing the assured hero figure with the gravitas and intelligence the role requires. Cutherbertson is his usual sinister self, he seems to revel in the Faustian roles and duly fulfills the task with gusto. Jones is also delightful as the eccentric tramp who knows everything. Overall its an enjoyable watch, it lacks some of the believability factor when it comes to the science and technology though, what a shame it wasn't written by Nigel Kneale, it would surely then have been considered a classic
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Stigma (1977 TV Short)
6/10
What lies beneath?
8 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The Delgado family Katherine, Peter and their daughter Verity, have just moved into a new country home very close to some Neolithic stones. As it would happen their plans for their lawn are on hold as there is a large stone blocking the area. Efforts to try and move it are proving futile, some local men using a JCB manage to budge it a little, but as Katherine watches on, a large breathtaking gust of wind emanates from beneath the stone, Katherine begins to act oddly as if in a stupor, this feeling passes quickly though and Katherine feels herself again. However while making dinner, she suddenly finds blood on her hand, she checks but she is not cut, then there is blood on her blouse, panicking she rushes upstairs to the bathroom and finds blood all over her torso, again though there is no wound? Katherine keeps these events to herself, but that night Peter awakes in their bed to the sound of dripping, Katherine and Verity both appear to be asleep, he hears murmurs and moans from downstairs, he goes and checks but finds nothing, although some objects do appear to have moved by themselves, Peter is bemused and returns to bed. The next morning the men are back with a large crane to remove the stone, beneath it they find skeletal remains, there are ceremonial daggers everywhere, the person appears to have been murdered. . Verity watches the men digging and comments that this kind of burial was one given to witches. Peter awakens to find Katherine in a large pool of blood, he panics, the local doctor is none the wiser, they both carry Katherine to the car and head to the hospital....

Stigma was the last time Clark directed in the Ghost Story for Christmas series of films, despite the fact that for the first time the traditional period setting for a ghost story has been abandoned, its still retains the Clark look we are used to, the quiet countryside still has that misty landscape painting look, it still seems to have a life of its own which adds to the overall atmosphere. Its no use saying the modern setting helps though, i'm a traditionalist and there really isn't any reason this story couldn't have had a period setting, its a pity it wasn't, maybe it was down to a budgetary restraint? Stigma like other films in the series, hints at ancient rites, primordial times and of things unknown, if you're looking for a film with a vacuous fully explained ending this is certainly not for you, this series of films gets the viewer thinking, they resonate in your head long after you have seen them, as the merest of plot points explodes in your imagination. Stigma will always suffer when compared to other Clark films, on its own though its a nice slice of British horror.

6/10
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Possession (1981)
9/10
Disturbing beyond belief...
6 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
A young married couple, Anna(Isabelle Adjani) and Mark(Sam Neill) living in West Berlin split up at Anna's behest for unknown reasons. Mark is left to care for their young son, but becomes increasingly more paranoid that Anna is having an affair, so he hires a private detective to follow her. His fears are soon realized and Anna admits to being more satisfied by her new lover. However when Mark tracks this lover (Heinrich) down, he says their relationship has been over for some time, Mark soon realizes that there is another mysterious lover, but what he finds is more terrifying than he could have dreamed. My first Zulawski film i had been warned was just a little odd, while not the most linear of films to start with, i had no idea where or when the craziness would start or how it would present itself. It begins with a couple being destroyed by a lack of intimacy, paranoia, jealousy and ultimately separation. I must say that this aspect is brilliantly realized by Zulawski with two incredible performances to back it up, i really felt the guilt, the betrayal and the pain for both of them as they spun into self destruction. . Mark soon finds a lover of his own, strangely its his sons teacher Helen, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Anna . As the film evolves Anna becomes ever more manic, as a result, every one she knows seems to come to a bloody end, can anyone survive the mysterious beast that hides in Anna's apartment? I guess there must be many explanations for how and why the film evolves the way it does, my take is that both Mark and Anna invented their respective lovers to compensate for their own failings, of course others may look at it as a skewed version of Invasion of the Body snatchers. Adjani provides the viewer with perhaps THE most manic female performance since Shelley Duvall in The Shining (perhaps even ever), she even makes that performance seem restrained, such is her dedication to her performance that she really does seem possessed. Neill is equally strong, putting in what could be a career best performance. The standout performance for me though was the bizarre and crazy Heinz Bennent who plays uber mannered Heinrich, i was in awe of his every word and movement, he even made me laugh out loud. Zulawski for his part controls things to perfection, his camera is always moving making even mundane scenes seem really interesting. The setting of Berlin before the wall came down is a constant reminder of separation that mirrors the couples plight. Again though i feel this is a film that will benefit from subsequent viewings, i did lose my train of thought towards the end, still though it didn't spoil my overall enjoyment. If there's one over riding memory i'll take from the film, besides its bizarreness, that would be its incredible eroticism, despite the fact there is almost no sex contained within, it left this viewer a little hot under the collar. Before i finish off, its hard not to mention Anna's real lover, but how can one give justice to him, seeing is believing. Its onward and upward with Zulawski for me, next up Diabel.
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9/10
Quixotic adventure
6 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
In the midst of a bloody Napoleonic battle in Saragossa, Spain, two officers from opposing sides sit down in a heavily shelled Inn, put their differences aside and become engrossed in a large tome entitled "The Saragossa Manuscript". Its writings and lurid graphic images immediately put a spell on them, even more so when one of the officers realizes that the tale being told is that of his grandfather, Captain Alfonse Van Worden, himself an officer in the Walloon Guard. Van Worden's quest begins with his quest to reach the Sierra Morena, a mountainous pass would seem like the shortest route but he is warned by his servants that that area is haunted by demons and spirits. Ignoring their pleas they arrive at the Venta Quemada Inn, there he meets two Moorish princesses, Emina and Zibelda who try and convert him to Islam, claiming that he is the only choice to marry them as he is a distant relation. Despite Alphonse having an inkling they might be ghosts, he drinks from a skull goblet and wakes up under a gallows back where he started from. He then meets a holy man and a possessed man, gets captured by the Spanish Inquisition, gets rescued by the Zoto brothers, a group of bandits that were supposed to be dead, he also meets a Sheikh and drinks from a goblet and again awakens by the gallows, then meets and befriends a Caballist and the leader of a band of Gypsies etc etc..... Based on a novel by Jan Potocki, "The Manuscript found in Saragossa", Has's film has been for a long time a forgotten film. It won some awards when it was initially released, though it received a severely edited release in the US before it disappeared from public consciousness. Jerry Garcia is famed for his love of the film, he tried many times to get the rights to it, with the help of Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola, they finally succeeded, but failed to do so before Garcia's death. The Saragossa Manuscript is a Quixotic labyrinthine epic that really needs multiple viewings in order to gain any real sense of it, contained within are flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, jumping back and forward in time, it will truly test the patience of the average film fan. Its mighty 3hr+ running time may not help matters much either. Writing this i cannot honestly claim to know what its all about, what its hidden meanings and metaphors pertain to, i think its one of those films that will get better with subsequent viewings as it slowly reveals its mysteries to the dedicated viewer. Visually its a real treat, its crisp black and white film makes the figures jump with life from the screen, DP Mieczyslaw Jahoda makes great use of the wonderful period setting, his fluid constantly moving camera adding a great depth to the overall feeling of authenticity. There are also many remarkable visual tricks that i still haven't worked out how they were done, one in particular towards the end where we see Alphonse in the Inn, he opens a door and there in a desert he sees himself with the two Moorish princesses, his double approaches him and they meet face to face in what it turns out is a mirror, astounding! The cast are for the most part excellent, but too numerous to single out. As a film it explores many avenues, comedy, tragedy, romance, religious zealotry, eroticism, forbidden love, incest, the list goes on, so its a credit to Has that any cohesion at all comes from the final product. I'm still reeling after my first viewing, can't for a repeat. The ending is also pretty cool and messes with your head just a bit about all that went before.
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Macario (1960)
9/10
Magical fantasy tale of peasantry in Mexico
30 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Macario is a simple peasant, struggling to make ends meet. He gathers firewood in the nearby woods, to sell at market to help feed his large family. However no matter how hard he works, he still finds his children are starving and this hits him hard. With the Day of the Dead festival approaching, he finds it difficult to take that wealthy families are able to make such large offerings of food to their deceased relatives, while he and his family can barely get the bones of a good meal together. He goes on a hunger strike so that his children can have his share, this naturally worries his wife. His wife presents him with a large Turkey for him to eat all by himself, a craving he had confided in her some days previous, he gladly takes it and sets off into the forest to eat it before he starts his working day. Suddenly a man appears all dressed in black, the man beckons him to share the turkey, but despite the man offering him immense wealth in return, Macario refuses. Macario is then confronted by a bearded man dressed in white, again he is asked to share his feast, but Macario refuses yet again. Hungry and more frustrated Macario goes deeper into the forest, where once more he is asked for a share or the turkey, this time by a starving peasant, this time Macario agrees, the man is delighted and offers Macario a rare and special gift in return, he fills his flask with water from a spring and tells him that but one drop from the flask will cure any illness, with one proviso, that the third man will appear at the foot of the bed of the ailing if they are to be cured, but if he appears at the head of the bed, then they must die. Macario gets a reputation as a healer after saving his own sons life and after helping a local richman to save his dying wife, they go into business together and Macario is soon just as wealthy, as people from all walks of life arriving in his town looking for a cure make donations in thanks. Not everyone is happy however, the towns doctor and coffin maker find business hard to come by and its not long before Macario is reported to the Inquisition, they have him arrested and against the odds he must prove he is not a heretic or a sorcerer, his life depends on it.

After two years of gathering dust on a shelf, i decided it was finally time to watch this highly rated Mexican film. A tale of poor peasants struggling to get by is not the most attractive of premises to me, so i was quite surprised at how the film immediately struck a chord. From the opening credits where peasants carry skulls in a Day of the Dead procession, i was hooked, as visually the film is a real treat. Gavaldon is a multi award winning director and it shows, the film is beautifully structured, the story is unfolded with impeccable pace as both visuals and characters are given equal importance, a striking dream sequence with skeletal marionettes and the grand hall of the Inquisition being particularly memorable. There's a wealth of characters that are all interesting to watch, their plights are intriguing to follow as they struggle with differing lessons in life. The film is full of symbolism and metaphor, some of which even Macario is aware of, in particular concerning the three strangers he meets. The First being a metaphor for Evil, Greed and represented by a Satan figure, The second representing Good, Generosity and represented by a God figure, the third one would seem to be an Angel of Death, The Grim Reaper, Starvation and represented by the lost soul of a peasant. Like in a Christmas Carol, All three come back to haunt Macario, giving him guidance or leading him astray and guiding him to his ultimate fate.

Macario is a wonderfully captivating film, that has plenty of great horror imagery, it has a great fantasy element too and also delivers some good wholesome life lessons, both comic and tragic and is pretty much intriguing on every level, i loved it. It also has a fantastic twist at the end.
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Hammer House of Horror: Witching Time (1980)
Season 1, Episode 1
6/10
Flawed but interesting tale of witchcraft
20 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
David Winter (Jon Finch) is a reclusive hard working film composer, he lives in the remote Woodstock Farm which he as converted into a recording studio. His wife Mary (Prunella Gee) is a successful actress, who is off working most of the time which leaves David thinking she is having an affair, as a result he is constantly hitting the Scotch and his work has subsequently been affected. On one such evening when his spirits are low, David goes to tend the horses in the stable as a sudden storm is about to break, there huddled in the straw he finds what he thinks is his startled dog hiding from the storm, but it turns out to be a woman, naked but for a loose fitting hooded cloak. She is startled by her surroundings and introduces herself as Lucinda Jessop, a witch no less who proclaims to have been transported from the 1600's to the present, back to Woodstock Farm her former home. Having been on the run from the local Witchfinder, she takes great glee in taunting her former adversary. Needless to say despite her seeming authenticity, David believes she is an escaped lunatic and locks her in an upstairs bedroom, while he calls his friend Dr. Charles Henderson who may be able to help. Charles who is Mary's secret lover is none too surprised when he finds nobody in the still locked bedroom, believing David is hallucinating due to the mix of alcohol and medication and suspicion of adultery, he sedates David. After his wife returns, David explains that the witch has him under her spell, a spell he doesn't feel able to fight, she doesn't believe the story either, although after Mary finds deep scratches in his back she does some local detective work that shows that such a witch did exist and was the only witch to escape the clutches of the witchfinder. So is David just drunk or going mad? or is there some truth to the story? After an accident that sees her in hospital, Mary is left with no doubt.

A tale of witchcraft from Hammer's House of Horror, is for the most part an interesting story, that provides some background into witch hunts of the past. Irish actress Patricia Quinn may be nothing to look at, but her portrayal of the traumatized and menacing witch Lucinda feels very authentic, she nails the character with an effective mix of wide eyed cackling and some fine acting. Jon Finch perhaps best known for his role in Hitchcock's Frenzy, is here, a good few pounds heavier and fairly unrecognizable with a tired and disheveled look, his demise into an alcoholic stupor coupled with his fear of being powerless gives us a hint of his past glories. Director Leaver is more used to detective and crime shows and was probably the wrong choice to helm this one, in more horror friendly hands it could have been very good. As tales of witchcraft go, this isn't bad though, a suitable atmosphere of menace and magic is built up and when all seems like being lost for the Winters, there is a satisfactory and somewhat exciting and fiery climax to events. There is some nudity involved here which is strangely rather distracting, in a bad way, i don't say that often, but this is a case in point where a clothed witch would have made for a better film.
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The Witches of Pendle (1977 TV Movie)
6/10
Flawed adaptation of the famous Pendle Witches
10 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
At a crossroads near Pendle, Alizon Device, a beggar, is given short shrift by a passing soldier, resulting in her having a nasty gash at the back of her head, her anger apparent she seems to put a spell on the now distant soldier. While she waits for the next traveller along the lonely highway, she has discussions with her friend Jim Crow, a normal practice one might think, except that Jim is in fact a crow. Alizon spies an elderly local peddler, John Law watching her, she begs him for a pin to fix her torn dress, he laughs at her, they exchange insults, again Alizon screams abuse at the man and fantasizes about violent retribution. Not long after, John Law is struck down in the street with what seems to be a stroke, Law points the finger of blame at her, but Alizon who is present, pleads she had nothing to do with it. Frightened she returns to her home, where she is castigated by her family for returning empty handed, for it would seem it was her daily job to bring home money either through begging or "other" ways.

Meanwhile Abraham Law, (James Laurenson) son of John Law accuses Alizon Device of witchcraft and gathers evidence and testimony from other locals all of whom have had some bad luck or tragedy in recent times. Roger Nowell (John Stratton) the local justice of peace is the man who must decide if the charges have merit and warrant a court case. At first he sees no harm in the girl, but after the angry protestations of Abraham Law, he agrees to investigate further. He is surprised to hear directly from her that she believes in her powers, she willingly gives him details of her past deeds and those of her family, including the boiling down of her two dead children for fat, both children being aborted by her mother, due to the incestuous relationship with her brother James. Alizon seems possessed, she pleads for help and collapses to the ground in convulsions, fearing Satan himself possesses her, Nowell flogs her. A usually tolerant man Nowell sees no alternative under the present strict rule of King James than to bring them all to justice or fear losing his job.

Pendle Hill was a small town in Lancashire England, The trials of the witches of Pendle 1612, are some of the best recorded and relate in detail the goings on in a turbulent time, that saw huge unemployment, failing crops and a general malaise. Whether or not the eleven women and two men involved were indeed witches is open to conjecture, as for a time it was the custom for some to admit the fact, for monetary benefit, through begging or selling their potions for healing purposes. Looking at it from a modern perspective, its hard not to think of it all as baloney, a time where witches were hanged because they had a birthmark because it was deemed to be the mark of Satan. Alizon could have been an epileptic or had some mental issues and with incest being rife amongst the "Witch" community portrayed, that would hardly be a huge surprise. There's also the issue that other families with such business could easily remove their opponents by making a complaint of witchcraft against them. The Witches of Pendle was adapted by the BBC from a work by Barry Collins, it plays for the most part like a docu-drama but it also has a very strong feel of a play adapted for the TV screen, with a lot of the dialogue having a high brow sentiment that also at times borders on soliloquy, it also has a strong earthy feel, with forces of nature, the countryside and wildlife to the fore, which given the subject matter, is a satisfactory and suitable style to add atmosphere to what otherwise is a very slow moving piece. The trials aren't given that much air time, but its no big deal as the build up to them is given plenty of time and character development seems to be the main aim of the piece with most of the main characters given room to develop on screen.

The film does have its failings though, the language of the time with plenty of Thy's and Thou's added to the strong local accents, do add an air of authenticity, but at times its hard to hear or understand what exactly is going on plot wise. The docu drama stylings also add a coldness to the proceedings, there is little warmth to any of the characters, that may turn away fans of the genre. Some of the elderly witches are also prone to cackling in an annoying way, their histrionics again more suitable to a stage play of Shakespearean provenence. The extant print quality is also tinged with a pink hue throughout which is infuriating at first, but those used to such bad prints will soon forget it if they are drawn in to the story. That said, The Witches of Pendle isn't as bad as its made out to be, as a fan of witchcraft themed films, i found it interesting, but i'm sure there is a better adaptation waiting to be made
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The Ash Tree (1975 TV Short)
8/10
The dead are dead
9 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
While spending his time in Italy, where he learned his artistic skills, man of leisure Sir Richard (Edward Petherbridge) receives notification that his Uncle has died, bequeathing him his stately country manor and all its lands. On his return to England he immediately sets about taking stock of all legal matters concerning his new property, but during these dealings Sir Richard seems to be more than a little distracted, he hears echoing voices from a distant time and the viewer is shown flashbacks of Sir Matthew his great Uncle who he learns died a terrible death. The facts surrounding Sir Matthew's death are quite murky, he was found in his room, his body blackened with all life drained from it, initial impressions were that he had been poisoned but tests were inconclusive. The oddest fact surrounding his death was that anyone who touched the dead body was immediately given stinging sensation followed by terrible pains in the hands and arms for weeks after the event.

Settling in to his new home, Sir Richard learns of a local woman known only as Mother Soul who is buried there in unhallowed ground, a woman from Sir Matthew's time who was hung after being accused of being a witch, her dying words cursing those who would take her life. Her grave must surely be dug up to make way for a newly built extension to the chapel. Sir Richard's work continues and he decides that the best room in the house for him, is in fact Sir Matthews old room, the one he died in that has been boarded up for many years since his death, it seems to have the suitable requirements of privacy and sunlight that he needs, except for one Ash Tree that stands outside his window, a curious anomaly he is told to have such a tree so close to the house, a species of tree that can do untold damage to a house's foundations. Sir Richard decides to have it cut down, but before he can he begins to see strange shadowy figures in the tree and hear faint screeches like those of an infant. Are these the portents of doom for him? Sir Richard says "The dead are dead" there can be no possibility of harm or retribution from the other side? The fifth installment of the A Ghost Story for Christmas was broadcast in 1975, its brief running time of 35 minutes making it one of the shortest in the series. Again M.R.James's Ghost Stories of an Antiquary has been plundered for this adaptation and its another good one. On watching it first, it didn't strike me as being very good, so i watched it again the following morning and enjoyed it immensely. I think tiredness may have been a factor in my indifference the first time, although having said that i think that overall the film still lacks immediacy and even in its short running time it is rather hard to figure out exactly whats going on, so it may not appeal to everyone. Sir Richard is certainly being haunted, not only by a vengeful witch and witchfinder's but perhaps also by his own ancestor? I've always had a liking for trees with a soul, that exude evil in some way and the Ash Tree here, has some nasty surprises for those who would wish to cause it harm, the Gremlin/Spiderlike creatures which reside there, are surprisingly well done for the time and media and pose an interesting foe for Sir Richard. The flashback scenes of 17th century England are beautifully realized, the style of dress and the themes involved immediately bring to mind memories of films like Witchfinder General(1968), the countryside therein also being like an uncredited character, with the delightful sounds of nature allowed to hold sway over intrusive dialogue. Edward Petherbridge plays the dual roles of Sir Richard/Matthew with a great deal of gravitas, he exudes an eloquence of speech that can't hide his stage past of some renown. Director Clark again passes muster with another excellent entry, the film benefits greatly from its almost docudrama style that lends the film an instant air of authenticity. The horrific ending is supremely handled, perhaps heralded just a little, but James fans will not be surprised but most certainly enthused by it. Again like all James's work its leaves more questions than it provides answers, just the way i like it.
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Apparitions (2008– )
9/10
Superb tale of demons and exorcism
28 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Father Jacob(Martin Shaw) is an English priest whose job entails him to investigate claims of miracles worldwide. Using the evidence gained he has an important role to play in saying who gets canonised as a Saint. Its while investigating the claims of a budding novice priest Vimal, who as a boy in India had suffered from Leprosy and then been cured by Mother Teresa of Calcutta after a brief meeting, that he becomes aware of some strange events surrounding the death of Mother Teresa, she was seemingly possessed by a demon before she died, so with Vimal showing the signs of this himself, Jacob believes the demon may have taken up residence inside Vimal too. He seeks out the help of an old friend Monsignor Vincenzo, who happens to be the Vatican's chief Exorcist in Rome, he tells Jacob that demons have already been in touch with him and that they have warned Jacob off being the next Chief Exorcist, slightly sceptical Jacob laughs it off and says he has no intentions of becoming an Exorcist, Vincenzo explains that the demons fear this most of all as it will slow their final push for world domination. However some startling turns of events and some personal tragedy soon hurl Jacob towards his fate.

I stumbled on this recent series completely by accident, so I had no preconceived ideas on its merits other than I liked Martin Shaw and the religious aspects greatly appealed to me. Written and directed by Joe Ahearne, Apparitions was a pet project of Shaw's for some time before the BBC decided to take up the option. Consisting of six 1 hour episodes, it follows Father Jacob's plight as he becomes embroiled in a series of possessions that drags him against his will into being an Exorcist. His immediate superior is Cardinal Bukovak is none too pleased either especially as the cases become very public, Jacob is warned his position may become untellable and he risks excommunication. After some gruesome deaths, Jacob finds a spy in his midst that brings that possibility forward. The episodes have separate stories, but there is an ongoing plot that threads them all together. Plot lines include, a child in danger who pleads for Jacob's help as she believes her father to be possessed, an abortion clinic where the anti Christ is due to be born, a Muslim boy who sees Christian visions, which could cause a religious war and the imminent arrival of a demon army hell-bent on world domination, a busy time for a priest not particularly enamoured by a role forced on him.

Some mighty big ideas for a TV production, you might think, but to my surprise its all superbly done, Ahearne's scripts are taut and crammed with intriguing ideas that cleverly link in recent world events political social and religious, so as to give the whole thing a credibility and also propose the idea that the theories that all we know of these events may not in fact be true. Appartions is a very credible attempt at bringing ideas from such films as The Exorcist, The Omen and Stigmata into one plot and it has to be said it all works incredibly well, there's even time to include more topical issues like sexuality of priests. The special effects of possession are superbly realised, certainly better than most cinematic outings, the acting is also top notch, there's not a bad or hammy performance to be found, in fact if there's one thing that makes this intelligent production stand out, its that it made this Atheist fear the fires of hell and almost want to take up religion again, lest my soul be eternally damned and all this despite the fact it doesn't ram religion down your throat. It really is very well directed and the pacing is spot on, in fact after the first hour I thought I'd watched twice that as there had been that much crammed in. Its also a damn good thriller with more than a air of religious mystery and the ending has the double whammy of being both wrapped up nicely and yet still left quite open ended, I hope...no, pray that there is another series.
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6/10
A medieval convent is haunted by a spectral Black Nun
19 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Investigative journalist Jemima Shore (Maria Aitken) has a successful career on TV exposing pertinent social and political issues of the day. She's a busy woman with little time for socialising and as such has no qualms about having an affair with a married politician, the lack of ties suits her lifestyle. She is shocked one morning to read of the tragic death of a former school friend Miriam who had become a nun. Sister Miriam who having gone missing was found dead after having apparently starved herself to death in a locked room in a medieval tower on the grounds of her former convent's estate. Soon after she is given the opportunity to investigate at the convent at the behest of Mother Ancilla, who informs her of the details of her deceased friends case. Jemima is surprised to hear that her friend Sr Miriam was in fact a wealthy heiress, with not only a huge property and land portfolio in the centre of London but that she also owned the convents grounds. Mother Ancilla invites her to stay a little longer to reacquaint herself with her old school and some old friends there. She agrees and immediately she befriends a small group of schoolgirls whom it would seem were close friends with Sr Miriam. One very nervous asthmatic nun, Sr Edward, tells Jemima that she believes Sr Miriam was murdered by Mother Ancilla, but before she can tell the whole story she herself dies in suspicious circumstances, although the protective nuns tell her it was natural causes. The schoolgirls tell Jemima that the death of a nun is always preceded by a vision of The Black Nun, a faceless spectre that haunts the darkened corridors of the medieval convent. Sure enough she was seen on both occasions, Jemima investigates further but seems to be blocked by the nuns who aren't as open as she would like. There is also a rumour that Sr Miriam changed her will before her death, leaving it to property tycoon Alexander Sharbeck, if that is the case the grounds could be sold and the convent would be no more, a good reason for her untimely death perhaps? Quiet as a Nun is perhaps the best known entry in the Armchair Thriller series than ran from 1967-1980. This particular tale ran for six 30 minute episodes, in fact this was so successful, that it spawned its own TV series Jemima Shore Investigates(1983) with Patricia Hodge replacing Maria Aitken in the title role. The striking setting of a medieval convent has probably a lot to do with its popularity, for the dimly lit chapels, crypts and corridors along with candlelit religious statues really do add some nice atmosphere. The overall pacing is rather slow, as with most TV plays of the day and perhaps too much exposition is given to mundane matters instead of the concentrating on the real meat of the story, the murders? the missing will and the Black Nun. My overall feeling is that it missed some fine opportunities to make a really great production, there are just too many moments of silly conspiracy theories, characters are made more suspicious than they need to be with the result that you don't trust anyone, even with all the tragic events occurring there, we never see any police involvement, not even when one girl who knows the whereabouts of the missing will goes missing, presumably kidnapped my the mysterious killer or the Black Nun. There doesn't seem to be any hurry to find her either, we are lead to believe there might be a hidden underground passageway that leads from the crypts under the convent to the old tower where Sr Miriam died and that this is where the girl might be, but instead of going right away in daylight, they fall for the old horror cliché of waiting for nightfall, admittedly though this ploy makes sense for the production. The cast is decent David Burke of Dr Watson fame plays the adulteress politician rather well, British horror fans will also recognize James Laurenson who does a fine job too as the unscrupulous property developer and the demure Aitken also does a fine job. The nuns are a mixed bag acting wise. Perhaps the most memorable thing about the series as a whole is the striking credits where a creepy shadow of a man makes his way towards a large chair all to the very atmospheric theme tune written by Roxy Music's Andy Mackay. I watched this on its initial run and loved it, this time around it didn't make that much of an impact. The ending may surprise some, I found it a bit Scooby Dooish, overall though its not a bad nights viewing, although the 3 hour running time along with its slow pace will turn many off.
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Hammer House of Horror: Rude Awakening (1980)
Season 1, Episode 3
7/10
Dreams within dreams
16 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Norman Shenley(Denholm Elliott), a country estate agent, turns up for work on Monday morning, he quickly gropes his secretary Lolly (Lucy Gutteridge), whom he desperately desires to be with, once he gets rid of his old frumpy wife. Their unprofessional canoodlings are interrupted by the first customer of the day, who introduces himself as one Mr Rayburn(James Laurenson), who as the executor of a clients will, wishes Shenley to deal with the selling of his deceased clients property, one Lower Moat Manor, an old home some 15 miles north. So with a hand drawn directional map in hand, Shenley leaves right away to survey the property, having been left the keys by Raeburn. Once there he finds the keys don't work, but no matter as the large oak carved front door creaks open, hesitantly he proceeds in to commence his survey, the house is large and unlived in, but it is furnished and very dusty, seemingly having been left as it was before the owner strangely disappeared. Shenley lightheartedly talks into an old intercom and is surprised when he is answered, the voice tells him he "shouldn't have done it" Shenley asks who it is but again he gets the same reply, he questions what it is he shouldn't have done, the reply is that he "shouldn't have killed his wife", this unsettles him. Shenley pleads innocence from the unknown voice, saying he only just had breakfast this morning with his wife, the voice replies "you killed her on Friday the 13th". With that a dead body of a woman falls from a dumbwaiter, its his wife, in terror, Shenley flees the house...with a start he awakes in his bed at home, it was all a dream, somewhat relieved he sets off for work, where he tells Lolly his sexy secretary, the strange story of his bad dream, she tells him to go check on the house to see if its really there, to settle his nerves, Shenley agrees that that would be a good idea and anyway he says reaching in to his pocket, "I still have the map Raeburn gave me" Shenley and Lolly look at each other startled, how can this be? Rude Awakening it must be said messes with the viewers head more than once, as the viewer is continuously led to believe the present scene to be the reality an the previous one to be the dream, but director Sasdy, keeps pushing the dream sequences until they cross reference each other in a way that is frankly absurd but wholly intriguing. Shenley's nightmares truly do take on a reality as the characters that inhabit his life change drastically in each subsequent dream, this makes the deduction of which is the reality all the harder to work out. The Lolly character in particular goes from ditzy bimbo to punk rocker, to a very staid conservative character indeed, so the possibility that they do or do not have a relationship is also kept under wraps until the final scene. Elliott portrays the despair of a man increasingly losing control of his life and mind superbly, although his scenes with the rather delicious Gutteridge do seem a little forced and uncomfortable, perhaps due to his sexuality. There's some rather amusing scenes with Shenley and his wife, as they discuss his dreams and their impending divorce, that she apparently knows nothing about, Mrs Shenley, despite her frumpiness seems rather nice, intimations being that it is actually her that is the hard done by one in the relationship. Sasdy, a veteran horror director with some fine films behind him, holds it all together very well indeed, its pacing is spot on and the viewer never tires of the unfolding drama. There's a few good set pieces too, even one homage to Antonio Mercero's La Cabina(1972) where Shenley is trapped in a phone booth, another has him trapped in a block of flats that is being demolished by a wrecking ball. There is one alternative possibility to the supernatural link and that is that Shenley is told he has a tumour on the brain, so like in The Mark of Satan there is maybe a possible rational explanation for his odd behaviour and his ultimately tragic deeds, either way it leaves the ending somewhat open to interpretation. This is certainly one of the better episodes in the Hammer House of Horror and 70's fashions aside, it still seems very fresh.
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Count Dracula (1977 TV Movie)
8/10
Excellent adaptation with a great cast
6 May 2009
Jonathan Harker is sent to Transylvania to go over the finer details of a property purchase by one Carpathian, Count Dracula. On his journey he finds the locals making strange gestures in his direction, he asks a fellow coach passenger, the significance of this, he is told it is a sign that they wish you good luck. Harker questions why he was singled out for such a gesture, the passenger asks where is his journey taking him. Harkers reply that he is going to the Borgo Pass and then on to the home of Count Dracula on business, strikes fear into his fellow passengers, they urge the coach driver on through the grim forest, to make the pass before nightfall, where Harker is abruptly left. Out of the darkness he sees what seems to be two yellow eyes, but on closer inspection it is a coach to bring him up the hill to Dracula's castle. There he is met by the Count ( Louis Jourdan), a handsome man of some refine, together they exchange pleasantries and despite the late hour get down to business. Harker is asked to respect the history of the castle and not stray into certain rooms and under no circumstance fall asleep in the library. Harker naturally agrees to his hosts demands. The following evening, after some discussions, the count asks Harker to stay on for a month or so, Harker questions the need, but is convinced by Dracula to stay, but he soon regrets his decision and he realises just what his host is and that he is his prisoner. After the Count leaves for England with his vast shipment of ancient soil, Harker makes ready his escape without haste to stop the Count.

For a TV adaptation, the production values and attention to detail are evident from the start, the build up to our first meeting with the Count is beautifully crafted with tension and apprehension of what lurks in the dark mountainous forests of Transylvania, through Harker, we see the terrified eyes of superstitious locals, their fear of this as yet unseen man is palpable and thus we await our first glimpse, what shape of form will this evil take? Harker's journey takes him to the imposing castle doors, there we meet the evil one, its none other than Louis Jourdan. There have been many great cinematic Dracula's, Lugosi perhaps being the most famous, Lee didn't speak much, but to a certain generation there is no other, Oldman camped it up nicely, Langella was a more romantic Count, so to many the choice of Jourdan as Dracula might come as a surprise and not a good one either. The viewers fears are instantly laid to rest as Harker and Dracula get down to business in the dimly lit library, immediately we see he is no monster, he is just a man, he talks like a normal man, but he is also handsome, debonair and exudes an aristocratic class. Together their conversations are literary and at times rather profound. I enjoyed these scenes immensely, never having read the original novel, it gave me an impression of it, that I haven't found in other more famous adaptations. The first hour is taken up with the dealings in Dracula's castle before we move to England as Dracula makes his moves on Mina and Lucy, Harker someway behind in pursuit of the Count. Once there we are introduced to the dealings of the Westenra family and the local asylum where one Renfield seems to be telepathically in touch with the Count. He is a different Renfield to be sure, perhaps a more realistic portrayal of a mentally disturbed man. Soon after a heavy storm, Lucy begins sleep walking and remains for some time quite ill, in a desperate attempt to save her life, her former love, Dr Seward employs the assistance of his mentor Abraham Van Helsing (Frank Finlay), a specialist in rare diseases, once he arrives his methods instantly bring an air of calm. Van Helsing instantly deduces the problem and makes plans to protect Lucy from this unseen terror. Finlay for his part is a wonderful Van Helsing, he brings the right blend of knowledge, calmness and forthrightness under pressure that the role requires, strangely in his looks, he reminded me of an older Al Pacino. Getting back to the production, they are of a very high standard indeed, the majority of the sfx are pretty good for the time, some though it must be said are rather iffy, director Saville even resorting to a swirling animated entry to a room by the Count, there's also some very very rubbery bats. Still though these can be put down to budgetary restraints and Saville certainly does seem to have a visual eye and there are a number of memorable flourishes, like the invisible Lucy in the mirror trick and the reflection of a crucifix on the face of Dracula and also a raging plume of smoke from a coffin. The cast is way above average for such a production, there's even a nice score, but for me Jourdan and Finlay make the film, at 150 mins though it might be a little long or drawn out for some, I found it riveting, I felt like I was watching a really great stage play, the dialogue is always interesting and as such this is a great success.
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The Stalls of Barchester (1971 TV Movie)
7/10
Slightly flawed, but still intriguing ghost story
5 May 2009
The Stalls of Barchester(1971) Lawrence Gordon Clark

One Dr. Black is commissioned to catalogue the finer points of Barchester Cathedral Library and report back on the more interesting entries. Black struggles however to find anything of remote interest, finding the books in bad condition or just interminably dull. He enlists the assistance of librarian, in the hope that he may direct him towards more interesting tomes. Together they find little of interest, but stumble on the unread diaries of one Archdeacon Haynes, the former head of the diocese. The librarian informs Black of the strange circumstances of Haynes's death, theses facts and a quick browse through his writings immediately strike a chord with Black. Initially he finds the entries to be about the mundane clerical workings of the diocese and also on his ambitions to succeed the incumbent Archdeacon Pulterney, who it would seem was going to live for ever before he himself also died in odd circumstances after a fall down the stairs. But what really rises Black's interest is Black's writing on the strange happenings within the cathedral and his home after he did take over. Haynes's becomes aware of peculiar events, noises and whispering voices, that seem to have no solid basis in reality. He questions his own sanity, analyses his family's mental history and quickly denies the possibility that he is going mad. But when his fears rise after some hellish visions, he must again question what the reasons for it are.

The Stalls of Barchester was the first in the BBC's series of Ghost Stories for Christmas and after the success of Jonathan Miller's Whistle and I'll Come to You (1968), the makers again took inspiration from the works of M.R.James. I must admit that I found this film a less well defined adaptation than later films in the series, while it certainly holds your interest, there is a distinct lack of scares. Sure it has its creepy moments, ghostly whispers, doors opening by themselves, even some evil looking cats, but one very unsettling ghostly hand apart, it lacked the fear factor I craved. The cause of this may be one of two things, either this is too faithful a literary adaptation or Clark hadn't developed a style for adapting James' work. Either way the viewer never really comes to terms with Haynes's fears, he remains rather aloof and his fears are given so little time on screen, that some viewers may lose interest or worse still just not care. Another reason maybe the fact that the story telling is done through a third party, namely Dr Black (usually a successful ploy in other James's works), but here perhaps less so. Still though the premise remains intriguing and the film on the whole retains interest throughout, there's even time for some wry black humour concerning Archdeacon Pulterney, whose clutches to life becomes a continuing annoyance to Haynes. A youthful Hardy is excellent in the role, despite the aforementioned aloofness of the character. Clark for his part created a fine debut film, slightly flawed perhaps, but still brimming with good ideas, that would develop even more throughout his directorial career.
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