Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Gorgon

I started this Halloween list by crowding in some Hammer Films. I am generally a fan, when in the right mood, of their interpretations of my preferred Universal filmed monsters. Occasionally, Hammer took a step away from the traditional Dracula and Frankenstein to feature some lesser known critters. Hence, we have The Gorgon here.

If you are not familiar, a Gorgon is a snake headed creature who will turn you to stone if you look at her. Think Medusa. You should think too much about the Gorgon for this film, though. The wig of rubber snakes is laughably pathetic. At least the powers that be knew it. Every effort I made to keep her in the shadows, to imply rather than show directly. It is quite effective, all things considered. But make no mistake--the gorgon is the worst aspect of the film.

One interesting touch is that victims do not automatically turn to stone. The process takes about an hour or so. Characters have time to further the plot with exposition and emote about the tragedy of their fate. At least that appears to be the main purpose. The Gorgon herself is going after the members of a certain family in some streak of revenge. Peter Cushing, as the town doctor, os altering the death certificates in order to hide her rampage.

Cushing is playing the villain to Christopher Lee’s good guy professor, who isa friend an protector of the family. The interplay between these two is always great, but it isstrange that Lee does ot show up until halfway through the film in order to play the hero. It violates conventional wisdom is have the hero come in so late and it did bug me. Though not as much as the goofy looking Gorgon.

Those two strikes take The Gorgon down a couple pegs. I thought it was entertaining in spite of some flaws, but not a classic. Hammer definitely did traditional Universal monster much better.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Creepshow II

The moderate box office success of Creepshow allowed for a cheaper, more scaled down sequel to be released in 1987. There are only three stories this time around, cut down from the planned five because of budgetary restrictions. The budget also limited the number of high profile actors who would appear. Nevertheless, Creepshow II is Dorothy Lamour’s final film.

Yeah. Sad end to an otherwise great career.

“Old Chief Wood’nhead”

Also like the original, the first segment is the weakest. It is a straightforward revenge flick as a wooden Indian outside an old couple’s store comes to life and scalps a group of sadistic hooligans who torture and murder them after robbing the store. The young guys robbing the place are more vicious than Chief Wood’nhead, but the special effects are pretty neat, considering the budget.

“The Raft”

Tis segment makes the film for me. It may be my favorite out of all eight. A group o sprig break vacationers go to a remote lake. They find a wooden raft floating out in the middle, so they swim out to it. One of tem spots what appears to be a living oil slick approaching the raft. It reaches up between the cracks and grabs each one of them, dragging them into itself. The final kid thinks he has escaped when he buys enough time to make it to shore by sacrificing his girlfriend, but he as not. “The Raft“ definitely as the best ending of all eight segments.

“The Hitchhiker”

A lady hits a hitchhiker on a remote road while going home, but dries off in order to save herself from a murder wrap. Not tat the guy is actually dead. He keeps turning up, either in front of or on her car, while progressively more mangled and bloodied as she fights him off with her car. I cannot do just in writing how chilling his repeated, “Tanks for the ride, lady! Thanks for the ride!” You can probably guess where and how this one ends.

I am not as big a fan of Creepshow Ii as I am the original. This one does not feel like it was done as the lovingly homage to EC Comics the first is. The lower budget is clearly evident. With only three stories, the flaws carry more weight. “The Raft” makes the Film.” The other two are nothing special, save for that incredibly disturbing, “Thanks for the ride, lady! Thanks for the ride!” A disappointment overall.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Creepshow

I am a big comic book enthusiast. My tastes run more towards super heroics and science fiction, but any panelologist worth his salt holds the classic EC Comics horror titles in high regard. Said comics inspired Stephen King ad George A Romero to create tis darkly humorous box of poison bon bons as an homage to those comics of yore.

As I have said before, I am not a big fan of 80’s slasher flicks that relied exclusively on blood, gore, ad the occasional bouncing pair of boobs to sell tickets. Creepshow is a major exception. There is more than enough blood and gore to go around, but it is the clever stories and gruesome plot twists just like EC comics like make this my favorite modern day horror flick.

There are five separate stories:

“Father’s Day”

The first story is the weakest of the bunch. It is a revenge tale about a daughter driven to madness by the death of her husband. He was killed by her father, so she takes revenge by killing him. Daddy dearest return from the grave and makes her severed head the centerpiece of his father’s day cake. “father’s Day’ relies too much on gore to be interesting.

“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”

Written by and starring Stephen King, this one is a classic. Jordy, a lonely not too bright hick, gets infected by outer space kudzu when he touches a crashed meteorite out in the desert. His imagination runs wild as he is slowly covered by the stuff. The horror of this one is accentuated by Jordy’s dumb reaction to his own plight. It is bot funny and terrifying that he does not understand any of what is happening to him.

I defy you to not shout, “Meteor sh*t!” every time you accidentally et something on your hand after watching this segment.

“Something to Tide You Over”

This one stuc with me more than ay other. It is revenge plot involving Leslie Neilson burying two people up to their necks on the beach, then letting them slowly drown as the tide comes in. The two including Ted Danson, return as undead creatures who bury Neilson in the same manner. But it is not the zombies that keep this one fresh in your mind. It is the claustrophobia of being buried up to your neck and the fear of drowning that get you.

“The Crate”

‘The Crate” may well be the bloodiest horror story I have ever seen. A college professor discovers a monster trapped in a crate. He uses the creature to dispatch his annoying, uncouth wife. There is more blood in this than a Red Cross storage unit. It is unsettling, but intriguing viewing.

“They’re Creeping Up on You”

A Howard Hughes type mycophobic who is killed when his hermetically sealed apartment is over run by cockroaches. I do not have a particular bug phobia, but I am told by many who have seen this film this segment creeps them out the most. To each his own disturbances, I suppose.

I love this movie. It is certainly not one to dive into if you cannot handle ’80’s horror or are unfamiliar with the tone of EC comics stories. Even HBO’s Tales from the Crypt seven years later was tamer tan Creepshow.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Black Cat

I am both a fan of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi horror films as well as an ailulophile, so I figured this film would be right up my alley. My suspicions were correct. I liked this one a lot, even tough Lugosi‘s character, who suffers from a near paralyzing fear of cats, kills Karloff’s cat with a knife. Gruesome happenings for a 1934 film.

The interesting twist about this film, other than it bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the Edgar Allen Poe that supposedly inspired it, is that Lugosi is a good guy. He is a World War I veteran who has come to Europe to confront te mn who stole his wife. That would be Karloff, who is a brilliant architect and Satanist. Not necessarily in that order, of course.

While on a Lugosi meets an young American couple. They are the stereotypical innocents abroad. Their “aw, shucks” demeanor is annoying even for the time period. But they serve as a means to get us to like Lugosi. He is a charming fellow who befriends them both. He winds up reluctantly taking them to Karloff’s house when an accident injures the girl.

Karloff, as a High Priest of Satan, wants to sacrifice the girl as he did Lugosi’s wife, whom we discover as a corpse in the dungeon.. Lugosi does not get much credit for being a fine actor, but when he sees his dead wife, you can literally see his soul die. Having no soul is convenient, too, considering what he does to Karloff in revvege.

Lugosi does save the girl. He wagers her life on the outcome of a chess game. But that is irrelevant compared to what he does to Karloff. Lugosi makes a ritualistic sacrifice of Karloff. The deed is done mostly in the shadows, ut it is disturbingly sadistic even by today’s standards.

I love this movie. You can feel the tension between the two actors as their characters spar with one another. There I some dispute as to whether the pair had a friendly rivalry or truly did dislike one another. Whichever the case, the raw emotion helps make The Black Cat a classic.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Mephisto Waltz

The Mephisto Waltz used to be o heavy rotation at odd hours during the early, much more interesting days of the Sci F Channel. I watched it once or twice back then, mostly because I was amazed Alan Alda would star in such a thing. How one goes from this to MASH is beyond me. I see now after watching the DVD quite a bit of interesting stuff was edited out of the televised version. By lots of interesting stuff, I mean Jacqueline Bissett stark naked.

Frankly, the movie drags on and on. About halfway through, you have figured out the entire plot and are just waiting for the film to hit its marks. And for Bissette to take off her clothes again.

Alda plays a failed musician who has resorted to journalism to make a living. When he gets a call from a famous, aging pianist granting an interview, Alda jumps at the chance. The old man takes a disturbing interest in the two. He befriends Alda while encouraging him to resume his piano playing.

Here is the catch--the old pianist and all his friends are bona fide Satan worshippers. To make sure the audience gets the message, they throw a party featuring a do with a human face. If that does not convince you of their devotion to old scratch, the ol man has sex with his daughter to punctuate the affair. the whole deal is the pianist is on the ere of death, so he wants to transfer his soul into Alda’s body. Which he successfully does well into the film.

This is when The Mephisto Waltz loses it way in reams of exposition and a meandering affair Bisset engage in with another man. If you have to explain your movie so flat out, you have not done a good job with the narrative. As for adding te affair to the story--I do not now. Maybe it is an excuse for Bisset to take off her clothes again? It is not worth complaining too much about, with that in mind.

In spite of the dragging, the ending has always freaked me out. Bisset, realizing it is not her husband inhabiting his body any longer, decides she wants him anyway. So she stries a deal with Satan, too. She takes over the daughter’s body so the two can continue o as lovers. I kid thee not. A happy ending with a Satanic twist.

The Mephisto Waltz is fairly typical of low budget Hollywood’s flirtation with real Satanism in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. it tries to make up for the cheap budget with shock value--dogs with human faces, incest, dead children, weird nightmare sequences, and pacts with the devil. But unless you are a hue fan of the genre, which I am not, it falls flat.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Omega Man

You have heard me say this before, and you will definitely hear me say it again, but The Omega Man is a film I watched at an age far too young to be watching something like it. An indelible impression was left. It is low budget shlock, but a sentimental favorite. It is easily the best adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend out of Vincent Price’s Last Man on Earth The Omega Man, Will smith’s inexplicably 2007 big hit, the only one to carry the original title.

None of the films are particularly faithful to Matheson’s novel. The Omega Man is more a product of its era than anything else. Charlton Heston plays Robert Neville, a scientist who appears to be the only survivor of a biological war which has wiped out humanity. Neville spends his days cruising around the ruins of Lo Angeles in the far flung future of 1975 by day, but by night, he has to hold up in a barricaded luxury sky rise apartment in order to avoid being killed by a group of albino mutants. They consider Neville as reminder of the corrupt society which created them. So he has to die.

The first third of the film is the est. You watch Neville desperately try to hold onto his sanity by maintaining as much normalcy as possible. He is safe I the daylight. Ut contrat that with night, when the mutants come out and completely devote themselves to lurig him out of his sanctuary. It is a nerve-racking terrifying existence. It is to the extremes of both lonely and suffocating, depending on the time of the day.

The film begins to drift one Neville is captured by the mutants. He is rescued by Rosalind Cash, who plays a giant Afro sporting radical feminist while delivering some o the most dated black power slogans this side of Good Tmes. The two begin an implausible romance which would brig the film to a screeching halt if the appearance of more survivors and incredibly heavy imagery of Neville as Jesus did not already beat it to the punch.

The Omega Man is worth seeing for its atmosphere. It does produce the appropriate emotional response remarkably well for a low budget picture for the first bit. But the film falls apart pretty quickly amid some of the sillier aspects of the sunshade wearing mutants and all the jive turkey comments from cash. It was probably cool in 1971. Perhaps even a serious cautionary tale about the dangers of total war. But it has definitely lost something in the last 39 years.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mad Love

Mad Love is the great Peter Lorre’s American film debut. What a beginning to a career that will pair him up with Humphrey Bogart and give him his own detective series.in Mad Love, he cuts a brilliant, but tragic figure. He plays Dr. Golgol, a brilliant surgeon who has, as is noted, saved countless children and maimed soldiers in his career. But Golgol has been cursed with a short, stocky frame with a bald head and bulging eyes. He may appear to have it all, but the one thing perpetually out of his reach is true love. He is just too darn freakish.

His behavior has much to do with that. When we first meet him, e distending a theater performance by Yvonne Orlac, played by the scrumptious Frances Drake, for the fortieth night in a row. He is carrying a torch for her desperately. On this night, he finally meets her face to face after sending gifts. The meeting does not result in her falling in love. In fact, he feels patronized. What is worse, he learns she is married to a gifted pianist. So she is totally out of his grasp anyway.

Gogol sees his chance to win her over when her husband’s hands are crushed in a train accident. He secretly transplants the hands of a recently executed knife murderer onto his body after every doctor has advised amputation instead. Performing the ‘miracle” of saving her husband’s hands still does not impress her. Gogol descends even further into madness. He now wants to frame her husband for murder.

The plan becomes extraordinarily easy to pull off as the man egins demonstratig an expertise with throwing knives and a growing temper. Gogol meets the man one night after he thinks he has murdered his father over an argument about money. Gogol is wearing the disguise pictured above. He claims to be the knife murderer with is ead reattached by Gogol, but metal hands in the place of those attached to the pianist husband. Their confrontation is theocracies bit in the film. It really makes the whole movie.

Not that Mad Love is not packed with such moments. Gogol has a conversation with himself in a mirror to represent the conflict between his sane and insane selves. He also talks to a wax stature of Yvonne he stole from the theater. He keeps it upstairs I his home and talks to it frequently. The husband’s new found penchant for knife throwing factors into the climax in a surprising way.

Mad Love is genuinely terrifying, particularly for 1935. The scary parts are contrasted by infrequent, but effective comic relief. Te bits usually involve Golgol’s alcoholic housekeeper, who is completely oblivious to everything that is going on around her. She appears to only be aware of the parrot perpetually perched on her shoulder. Te rest are from Ted Healey, who plays a journalist digging for the whole story. You may recall Healey was originally teamed with The Three Stooges in Vaudeville before they struck out on their own.

I loved this film. For me, this was what horror is all about. No blood orguts, just tightening the screws as horrible things happen to people in seemingly ordinary situations. Mad Love runs at a very brisk pace, so some may feel like the story is not well developed. That is an unfair criticism considering how quickly you get the feel for the characters. No onw in the film is a particularly good or bad person, so you have mixed emotions about the thins that apen to tem. Watch the film, and you will be transfixed on trying to decide with whom you sympathize. You will not notice the too quick time jumps. In fact, you will have an 9u)righteously good time.

Rating; ***** (out of 5)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

Frankenstein must Be Destroyed is often cosidered the most compelling of the Hammer Films featuring the character, but I am afraid I must defer from popular opinion. The two main themes of the film, the tracing of a brain transplant from plot to completion ad the preservation of genius rather than the creation of life, are well executed, but not really knew within the series.

In a spectacularly odd sequence, Frankenstein defends his laboratory against a thief by fighting him off while wearing a grotesque mask. Weird, but highly effective. Frankenstein opts to move to a safer place for his experiments, so he moves into the cellar of Anna Spengler, your typical buxom blonde. Frankenstein learns her fiance, a doctor at the asylum, as been stealing drugs and selling them in order to support his future mother-in-law. He uses the knowledge to blackmail Dr. Karl Holst into serving as his assistant.

The brain transplant is successful. The monster is not a lumbering, misunderstood creature this time around, but an intelligent, yet tragic figure. Before his finale confrontation with Frankenstein, he tells off his wife for being the cold, heartless woman she was in his previous life. The monster is no less psychtic, in spite of Frankenstin’s best efforts. It sets the house o fire and gives Frankenstein a choice--fire or the police.

I am still less enthused with Frankenstein Must be Destroyed than the two previous films in the series. Peter Cushing is great in his third turn as Frankenstein, but I feel like the character was deeper and more interesting in the previous two. But there is nothing new. It is not a bad movie, but it taes the best elements of its predecessors and combines them Such may satisfy many fans, but I was let down.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Revenge of Frankenstein

There will be a bit of change of plans for the horror movie theme throughout October. I was just released from the hospital after a lengthy stay, so I have not had the opportunity to view, muc less review, the movies I have lined up. I am still going to do them, but the horror movie theme is going to spill into November rather than end on Halloween. Not a big deal, ut it is not as neat as originally planned. Such is the way things go.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is Hammer films second turn with peter Cushig as Baron Victor Frankenstein. Once again, the emphasis is on Frankenstein rather than his monstrous creation. The opening scenes set the tone, as Frankenstein is headed for the guillotine as he was at the end of The Curse of Frankenstein. Someone is executed, though we do not know who. The next scene is of two thieves I a tavern. One dares the other to rob the grave of a recently deceased baron. When they open the grave, they find a priest, not the expected Frankenstein.

Three years pass. Frankenstein, living under an assumed name, has two thriing medical practices. One is for the wealthy, who get the utmost care. The other is for the poor, who wind up having limbs amputated at an alarming rate. Nevertheless, e is the most popular doctor I town. The local association of doctors is not thrilled, so they visit to either force him to join, or shut down his practice.

The meeting is not productive for them, but one doctor stays behind. He knows who Frankenstein really is and blackmails to become his assistant. Frankenstein shows him the experients he is working on. Most involve severed limbs, of course. The masterpiece plan is to place the brai of a brilliant, but crippled colleague into a new body.

The operation appears to be success, util the poor guy is attacked by the janitor one night and kills him in self-defense. Looking at the corpse, he has a complication to eat it. Cannibalism is one heck of a side effect to brain transplant surgery, no? He lumers off to find Frankenstein to ask for help. Unfortunately, he blows Frankenstein’s true idetty in the process.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is an interesting film because it develops the character of Frankenstein. He changes from the first film. He is much more demented here than in The Curse of Frankenstein. Why should he not be? He escaped death only to become a hero to future patients, and made a scientific breakthrough only to have it blow up in his face at the most inopportune time. His journey into madness is very well done for a low budget Hammer Film.

In many ways, I like The Revenge of Frankenstein better than The Curse of Frankenstein even though the original monster, whom I am usually the most intrigued by, is no where to be seen. It is a fine character study of Frankenstein well worth seeing. The cannibalism bit comes from out of left field, but there was a gore quota to be filled, I suppose.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Curse of Frankenstein

While I started thee horror movie reviews with Dracula and there will be plenty more vampires to come, Frankenstein as always been my favorite horror movie staple. I have always enjoyed the religion versus science undertones as well as the exploration of what it means to be different, misunderstood, and lonely. You do not get that with any of the Dracula stories.

I enjoy both the universal and Hammer Films interpretations of Frankenstein. They are markedly different. The Universal series are more about the alienation of the Frankenstein Monster, albeit with decreasing quality as the film series progressed. The Hammer Films emphasize Baron Frankenstein’s obsession in reanimating life and increasing evil. Universal’s version is a much more humanitarian type. Taken together, both series pint a fascinating picture that no filmmaker, in my humble opinion, at least, has ever combined effectively I one film. Perhaps if someone ever lets me make a movie myself.

Peter Cushing, Grand Moff Tarkin himself, plays the demented Baron Frankenstein very effectively. In an interesting twist that allows us to not stray too far from the previous films reviewed, the Monster is played by Christopher Lee. It is difficult to tell that is him under all that make above, but it is. You will also note the make up job insignificantly different from what you would normally visualize in your mind’s eye. Universal had exclusive rights to the traditional design and only allowed hammer Films to use a similar make up scheme once its series of Frankenstein films had died off. I like the Hammer Films version better. Perhaps it is blasphemy, but the Hammer Films version looks far more like a reanimated corpse than the giant, square headed green giant.

The story is told in flashback as Baron Frankenstein relates his exploits to a priest while in prison. Frankenstein and his assistant successfully brought a do back to life. The assistant is ecstatic and wants to present their findings to a medical convention. Frankenstein has loftier ambitions. He wants to use human body parts instead of canine..

Frankenstein’s quest to gather the body parts is a gruesome endeavor. He takes much of them from a hanged man on the allows. The brain he takes from a professor. The brain is damaged in a scuffle, so when the Monster comes to life, he is instead psychotically violent rather than an intellectual.

The Monster escapes from Frankenstein twice before he is ultimately destroyed by falling into a vat of acid. One has to wonder if it was the real monster, however, since Frankenstein murders his maid who wants her to marry him because she is carrying his child and threatens to go to the police an tell all about his experiments if he does not. It is for her murder he winds up in jail, set to be executed.

The Curse of Frankenstein began Hammer Films’ revival of gothic horror films in 1957 because of its popularity with moviegoers. Critics, on the other hand, hated the film because of its excessive violence and deviation from the 1931 Universal original. I have already addressed my thoughts on the differing perspectives of the two series above. If you area Frankenstein purist, you may not like the Hammer Films version. It is definitely more for those who like true horror films rather than an existential look at the human tendency to fear that which is different. I am very much into the latter myself, but cannot dismiss the entertaining virtues of what The Curse of Frankenstein set into motion.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Devil Rides Out

Out of Christopher Lee’s vast body of work, he cites The Devil Rides Out as his personal favorite. That sounds like an peculiar choice until you consider he timeshare turn as the protagonist. Thus the movie stands out among the usual lee fare. Ut it stands out for the best of reasons.

The Devil Rides Out is based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley. It had a perilous journey from novel to screen because of censorship fears regarding its blatant satanic content. After watching, I have to say it is some pretty tame stuff by today’s standards. Nothing would merit an Iron Maiden album cover. Still, I can recognize how it might have upset audiences in a more innocent time. Then I lament for the briefest of moments how unaffected my jaded soul is by it.

I would call the film more of an action film than horror. Lee plays Duc de Richlieau, a man investigating the strange behavior of his friend’s son, Simon. He suspects Simon has fallen in with the Occult. He is correct. Simon is an acolyte of Satanist Mocata, played menacingly by the future Blofeld and Crminologist himself, Charles Gray. De Richlieau has to match wits with Mocata and his followers through, whom he has a hypnotic spell over a night of satanic rituals, a giant tarantula, and finally, the Devil himself on horseback, hence the title. Mocata winds up losing is soul in dealing with Old Scratch.

The Devil Rides Out is unusual Hammer fare vastly different than their usual monster flicks. Horror fans would probably like it more if it were remade today with modern special effects. As it is, one has to have a certain suspesion of disbelief. Even with the Bob Jones university brainwashing of my youth, I barely got a chill beyond the giant spider. Then again, I am not fond of the eight legged critters in the first place.

It is worth watchig if for nothing else than the novelty of Lee as a hero. Unless you have a pronounced unease at Satanism presented in entertainment, the scary bits will hardly register on you. It is worth watching for the entertainment alue, ut the world has outgrown its horror elements.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave

I go back and forth as to whether I consider Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee as the quintessential Dracula. My opinion generally rests on which gentleman I have seen portray the Lord of the Undead most recently. Needless to say, I am currently in the Lee camp. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is obviously not Lee’s first turn as the Count, but it is my favorite. Hence, it earns first review status.

The movie begins where the previous left off. Dracula has been killed, but the locals still cower in fear. A monsignor arrives to place a golden cross on the door to Castle Dracula to remove the town’s curse. He rings along the local priest, who is a cowardly soul who will not go to the castle door. The monsignor leaves him behind as he goes to complete the blessing. In a freak mishap, the preacher is injured and bleeds. The lbood reaches the buried Dracula. It is enough to revive him.

Dracula is incensed his castle has desecrated y the cross, so he vows vengeance on the monsignor’s family. Unfortunately, he just happens to have a lovely, buxom niece named Lydia who serves as a perfect target for Dracula’s intentions.

The battle against Dracula’s kidnapping and eventual and eventual attempted murder of Lydia sets up an intriguing study about faith. The main protagonist is Paul, Lydia’s boyfriend and an avowed atheist among devout Christians. Both believers and non-believers are forced to deal with their worldviews in light of the supernatural evil of Dracula, something that conflicts with both of them.

The priest is such a coward, he allows himself to become Dracula’s assistant in the kidnapping plot. It is well into the climax before he realizes his faith in God is too strong to allow him to go through with his assigned task. Paul is brave enough to confront Dracula, but because of his lack of faith, the Christian rituals he has to undertake in order to destroy the vampire are not strong enough to work! He finally catches Dracula off guard and physically impales him on the golden cross barring the door to Castle Dracula. He also becomes a Christian for good measure. I am certain atheists are very fond of this movie.

What impresses me most about Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is how much Lee dominates even though he has very little screen time and virtually no dialogue. I think he says ten words at most throughout. But his mere presence is frighteningly staggering. It is enough to manipulate certain characters witout having to turn them into mindless slaves.

The movie has flaws, including one very large plot hole to begin the proceedings. In the first scene, an altar boy cleaning the church discovers the fresh corpse of a woman stuffed into the church ell. She has fang marks on her neck, so she has been murdered by Dracula. But how? The whole point of the first act is setting up his rising from the grave. He is not around to kill her yet. Looking at a screen cap of the scene, you can tell why it was thrown in despite the logical problem:Let us just assume Dracula’s spirit killed the poor girl and anyone who disagrees is a boob, all right?

A couple other minor quibbles are some incidental reflections cast by Dracula in background mirrors and once in a pool of water. Everyone attached the to production ought to know vampires do not cast reflections. That should have been an easily avoidable problem. The other problem I had is lee’s overacting in Dracula’s death scene. He is standing with the cross impaled in his chest, contorting about and grunting far longer than was necessary to get the pain of death across. He looked like he was engaged in an interpretive dance there.

Regardless of those two quibbles, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is right up there wit the best of vampire flicks. It is certainly one of the best of Hammer Films’ offerings. A must see for fans of the genre.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

To make up for the severe lack of posting last month, October is going to be a month of regular horror movie reviews. I am more into classic horror films, so expect to see a lot of Universal and Hammer films among those reviewed, as well as some selected dead teenager flicks that have stuck with me over the years.

I am canning the motif of the movies I review being connected to one another in some capacity. That was harder to deal with than I thought. Aside from some sequels probably being reviewed back to back, the movies selected from here on out will be chosen on a whim.

We start horror movie month with the unsung Vincent price classic, The Abominable Dr. Phibes. I remember watching the 1971 classic on some Saturday matinee many, many years ago. It scared the bejebus out of me when Dr. Phibes finally removed his mask to reveal his horribly disfigured face. The Abominable Dr. Phibes definitely had to go first in my list of reviews.

Dr. Arthur Phibes is a noted organist and theologian (!)) who is believed to have died in a car accident while rushing to the hospital to be by his sick wife, Victoria’s side. He survived the crash, but is horribly disfigured. He fashions a mask for himself to hide his deformities and uses a tube connected to his windpipe in order to speak through a gramophone.. That was another aspect that creeped me out back in the day. In seclusion, he learns that his wife died on the operating table. Instead of hiring a lawyer and suing for millions, Phibes utilizes his theology expertise to enact revenge on resurgent based loosely on the ten plagues of Egypt.

These are not Cecil B. DeMille’s plagues from The ten Commandments. They are imaginative and gruesome often made even moreso by the low budget special effects. I am into old fashioned filmmaking anyway, not so much on the CGI business. Your mileage may vary. Phobes and his mute assistant, Vulnavia (!?) kill eighth doctors and one nurse by means of a bee swarm, bats swarm, crushing by mechanical frog mask, bleeding to death, freezing to death, crashing a plane because of ravenous rats, eaten by locusts, and attempting to murder one surgeon’s oldest son.

In the climax, Phibes rains a the blood from is own body in order to join his wife in death. I assume that represents the darkness plague. I do not now. Maybe Phibes blew it with that plague. His theological training did not seem to stick as well as his musical acumen.

Regardless of the ambiguity there, I love this film. It isa guilty pleasure that still cannot be viewed too often. I am afraid I still get the heebie jeebies over some of the make up jobs, even if they are rather cheap by today’s standards. I you do work up the courage to watch--and I hope you do--keep an eye out for a few things. The lovely Caroline Munroe plays Phibes doomed wife, although she goes unaccredited. Joseph Cotton plays the head surgeon. He appears to have fallen quite far rom . Watch out for a weird organ playing sing-a-long, if you did not think the film is strange enough.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes should solidly be considered a Vincent Price vehicle. He steal every scene in his own indomitable way. The other characters, particularly the doomed medical staff, are caricatures of real people with their evil and/or perversity serving as their only character aspect. That is not to say the film is a cheapo, one trick pony. Price alone is well worth the price (pardon the pun) of admission. Fans of gory, modern days revenge trash like Saw need to watch The Abominable Dr. Phibes to see how its done right..

Rating: **** (out of 5)