This blog is a place for Me to review classic British films (in particular horror films) by Hammer, Amicus and the like. But I will occasionally branch out and review international films as these are the international counterpart to the British films, some of which will include works by American International Pictures, Mario Bava et al. I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Creeping Flesh

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

In 1893, Professor Emmanuel Hildern has returned from an expedition in New Guinea with a skeleton he believes to be of pure evil pre-dating the existence of man. As he experiments with his belief that evil is a disease that can be cured from the human race creating a Utopia on Earth, he uses blood samples from the skeleton that appears to be more dormant than dead as when it comes into contact with water it begins to regenerate. Using the blood from the skeleton he creates a serum that he believes will vanquish evil from a person, so he tests it on his daughter who he is concerned will end up like her mother; in an asylum, which he blames the mental illness on her having the disease of evil inside her. Now as he struggles to protect his daughter from discovering the truth about her mother spending the remainder of her life in an asylum he also has to stop his half brother from stealing his work, which could end drastically for all of humanity if the skeleton ends up in the wrong hands and is allowed to come into contact with water



The Creeping Flesh is a 1973 Tigon Pictures and World Film Services Production. It stars Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Lorna Heilbron. It was directed by Freddie Francis.

Right away we're off to a creepy start as the camera creeps around this creepy painting. It eases in and pans across this painting of what appears to be some sort of demon eating something bloody. The creature is surrounded by images of horror including hands with missing fingers and even those missing fingers floating in mid air. It is essentially a rather creepy painting, the perfect introduction for a film called The Creeping Flesh.



AWESOME! Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee play a pair of half brothers; Professor Emmanuel Hildern and Dr James Hildern. And not just that but there is a rivalry between the brothers. They are both competing for the Richter Prize, and coincidentally they are both experimenting in the same field about evil being in the blood and so on.

I love the fact that this isn't one of those typical “It should never have been discovered” kind of monsters. Instead Emmanuel states that it has been discovered 3000 years too early, it was always meant to be discovered but naturally when it would rise to the surface itself at a time when humanity would be much more advanced and capable of handling such an evil being. I also love this idea that it's a being from a war that started before humanity even existed, a war between good and evil. The fact that he has discovered this being that is beyond mere man and he is using it to win the Richter Prize is brilliant.



This film has a great story with several intertwining plot strands happening at once. I counted four plots within the same story.
1.Professor Emmanuel Hildern's experiments into evil and his discovery of the ancient skeleton.
2.Dr James Hildern's experiments into mental conditions which rival Emmanuel's chances for winning the Richter Prize.
3.Emmanuel's daughter, Penelope, who he is striving to protect from the knowledge of her mother being committed to James' asylum. Penelope instead lives in the knowledge that her mother died when she was very young. Emmanuel dare not let his daughter know the truth in case the knowledge makes her go the same way as her mother.
4.The patient who has escaped from James' asylum.

All these plot strands meet each other at various points throughout the film.

Since water is what gives life to the skeleton, then it was inevitable that the skeleton would go without touching water. So when James gets his carriage driver to steal the skeleton he carelessly lets it's hand fall into a tub of water whilst carrying it, which left me shouting “No, not the water! Anything but the water!”

I love the shot from the creature's point of view. This seems to be a recurring shot that Freddie Francis does in his films, he does it in both this and The Skull. Coincidentally both times the being that the point of view is of just so happens to be looming over Peter Cushing. These monsters do seem to have an eye for Peter Cushing.



WARNING! I'M ABOUT TO DISCUSS THE ENDING! WARNING!

The ending is great, it all turns out that Emmanuel has been in James' asylum the whole time he was telling this story to the man who visited him in what appeared to be his lab at the start of the film. So we the audience are left thinking was this all just the ramblings of a mad man? James explains to the man that Emmanuel believes a fellow patient to be his daughter pointing at Penelope, the man then informs James that Emmanuel believes that James is his half brother. Then James remarks that Emmanuel has been at his asylum for 3 years, in fact since the week he won the Richter Prize, then we see Emmanuel in his cell and then the camera zooms in on his hand which has a finger missing just as he did at the end of his story when the creature took it.

Overall, I think this is a great British horror. It stars both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing who are both great in this. I love the various plot strands that cross and intertwine. The film at times is rather creepy, especially scenes that feature the evil being, even more so when it begins coming to life. I just plain and simple enjoyed the story, above all what I liked most was the fact that it was something I haven't seen before. This idea of evil being a disease that can be cured, I'm not sure if this has ever been done in a film before or since The Creeping Flesh, as far as I'm aware it's a new concept, new since 1973 that is. All in all The Creeping Flesh is creepy, scary and intriguing, it's definitely worth seeing.

The Creeping Flesh 4/5

Friday, 24 December 2010

Asylum

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

Dr Martin arrives at a secluded asylum for an interview for a job. Once he arrives Dr Rutherford has a unique method of determining whether he is suitable for the job. The previous occupant of the now vacant job position was Dr Starr who has recently become one of the patients. So Dr Martin must listen to four patient's stories and determine which one is Dr Starr, if he is correct he will get the job.



Asylum is a 1972 portmanteau Amicus production. It stars Peter Cushing, Britt Eckland and Herbert Lom. It was directed by Roy Ward Baker.

Right away the first person that graces our screens is ROBERT POWELL! Obviously this is before he became the messiah and then downgraded to the dim witted Detective Briggs.



At various points there is a noticeable use of music that is reminiscent of Hammer's music especially that of what was used in Dracula (1958). Very loud and powerful, bounding music that uneases the viewer. It's used rather effectively as Dr Martin mooches about the asylum looking at eerie drawings on the walls.

The first story is about a man and his lover who plan to kill his wife who studies voodoo, after killing her the the wife and the voodoo have a few tricks up their sleeves.

After hacking her to pieces with an axe and packing her into a freezer he says “Rest in pieces.” HO-HO-HO BU-DUM-TSH.

When all seems well (except the fact he has the hacked up body of his wife in his freezer) he hears a noise then turns to find her head rolling, of it's own accord, towards him. So what does he do? He throws his bottle of whisky at it. Then next thing, the head is gone. So he investigates further. He wonders down into the cellar where the freezer is only to find the freezer door wide open. Now he knows he closed that door and he's just seen the head moving, so logic would tell you to get out of there. If the head is moving then surely other parts could be too. But no he sticks his head in the freezer and gets himself strangled by one of her hands.



What started out as rather surreal and eerie becomes ridiculously funny once the lover turns up and finds her lover's corpse in the freezer. As after that every body part starts to wriggle it's way towards her; legs, arms, the head, even the torso! The torso which has no limbs to move it somehow glides across the floor towards her. It all ends with a hand grabbing at her face and her trying to get it off by hitting it with an axe. Then we return to the asylum where we see that she has scars on her face from the axe.

The second story is about the owner of a tailor shop in desperate need of customers to pay off his bills. Just as luck would have it Mr Smith turns up wanting a suit made for his son from an odd material, which he states must be made precisely to his instructions, which includes only making it between midnight and 6am each day. After making the suit, the tailor discovers that the man's son is dead and that the suit is some form of black magic to resurrect him. After telling him he has no money yet to pay him the tailor refuses to give him the suit, resulting in a brawl with a gun ending with Mr Smith getting shot. The tailor flees the scene and returns to his shop where he tells his wife of what happened and tells her to burn the suit. But instead she places it on the shop mannequin which brings the mannequin to life with the life force of Mr Smith's dead son. Then after the story the tailor proclaims to Dr Martin that the mannequin is still out there killing people.



I have found that Peter Cushing always has this way of playing these small but very poignant roles. As such this is no exception. Playing the grieving father of a dead son who has sold everything he owns in order to buy a book of black magic which details how to produce the suit that will bring his son back to life. He's brilliant, you watch him and you believe his sorrow, you actually feel sorry for him. He may well be meddling with nature but in that moment when he explains everything you want the tailor to just give him the suit.

The third story is about Barbara who is returning home from a period of time in an asylum. She's being looked after by her brother and her nurse. Then after taking some medication, Lucy appears who proceeds to “free her” and in order to do this she kills Barbara's brother and her nurse. Then we return to the Asylum where she proclaims to Dr Martin that it was Lucy who did it. And says she's here in the room with them, pointing at the mirror.

Possibly the best imaginary friend ever (except Drop Dead Fred of course) BRITT ECKLAND!

The whole Lucy being an imaginary friend and being a manifestation of Barbara's personality was clever but still very obvious. I pegged from the start as soon as she took the medication and Lucy appeared. Unless of course the writer was trying to be clever and bluff us only to surprise us with the fact that the bluff was in fact a double bluff all along. Even with the obviousness of the shock ending to that story what is creepy is the shot when Barbara points at the mirror and there we see Lucy as her reflection looking back at her laughing.



The final story is about Dr Byron who has been constructing miniature figures of himself which he believes he can transfer his life force into and control. Without listening to his full story Dr Martin leaves to see Dr Rutherford and tells him how this asylum is a disgrace as the patients aren't even being helped they're just being locked away and left in their own worlds. All the while Dr Byron is transferring his life force into a miniature figure which he makes go downstairs and stab Dr Rutherford in the back of the head. Dr Martin horrified that Dr Byron was telling the truth stamps on the miniature figure revealing that inside it isn't all nuts and bolts but instead blood and guts. Dr Martin then dashes upstairs to Dr Byron's room only to find he too has been crushed. After this he wonders into another room and discovers a dead body here he discovers the true secret of the asylum and his predecessor.



There are a collection of comically silly moments (the little mini tin versions of Dr Byron being able to kill Dr Rutherford even with the immensely slow speed in which it was moving towards him. The torso gliding across the floor towards her husband's lover.) but they're not bad, they're just funny and then we get the brilliant ending which shouldn't be spoilt, you have to see it. It was great, it completely surprised me. The ending itself made me like the film even more than I already did up to that point. With it's running theme of bringing life to inanimate objects; the mini tin men, the shop dummy, hell even the chopped up dead body, Asylum scares, amuses and haunts. One of the most haunting moments for me was the hysterical laugh at the end that sounded like a cross between a laugh and a baby's cry, it was eerie enough when I heard it in the trailer but when you see it in context it's horrifying. Another aspect I really liked about Asylum is that, aside from the last story, you don't actually know which stories, if any, are true or if they are simply the ramblings of the mentally insane. The decision is completely at the viewer's discretion.

Asylum 4/5

Sunday, 12 December 2010

And Now The Screaming Starts!

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

England 1795. Catherine has just married Charles Fengriffen and moved into his castle. Unbeknown to her there is a dark secret surrounding the castle and the Fengriffin family, but no one dares to tell her the truth as they fear the ghost with the severed hand will kill them. Terrorized by the ghost she goes in search for answers only to discover the horrifying truth about Charles' grandfather.



And Now The Screaming Starts! is a 1973 Amicus production. It stars Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom and Patrick Magee. It was directed by Roy Ward Baker. It is based on the novel Fengriffen by David Case.

This is from Amicus, the production company most famous for it's portmanteau films, this is one of the company's few full length horror stories. Others include The Skull (1965), I, Monster (1971) and The Beast Must Die (1974).

If you liked the short story in Dr Terror's House of Horrors where a severed hand hunts and attacks Christopher Lee, then this is the film for you.

There's a great jump scare pretty early on in the film, I'm saying nothing more as I don't want to completely spoil it but yeah it caught me off guard. Enjoy.

I love the make up used on the ghost. It's very well done to appear like he has no eyes and a severed hand. Accompanied with a blood dripping stump it looks great and rather scary.



I was disappointed to find that although Peter Cushing is top billed in this film he doesn't actually appear until over half way through. As it is, his presence is great as ever.

There are some brilliant and beautifully creepy shots that feature in this film. This is one of my favourites.



Although And Now The Screaming Starts! is very appropriate for this film as all Catherine does is scream, I still can't help but feel it's a bit of a lazy title, surely Amicus could have come up with something better. But I have to hand it to them with a title like And Now The Screaming Starts! it's pretty hard not to be sold on that alone, and it does exactly what it says on the tin.
Severed Hand “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH”
Ghost “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH”
Smashed Window “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH”
Medicine “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH” (Well for the medicine it was more of a horrified look then a hysterical laugh)

A moment of awesomeness is when the ghost comes to Catherine and tries to open the window, but when she locks it shut. He then smashes it by punching it with his stump. This ghost is awesome!



The big reveal of the family secret is horrible, Charles' grandfather, Henry, rapes Silas' wife on their wedding night and cuts off Silas' hand for fighting back and trying to stop him. So in return Silas puts a curse on the Fengriffen family promising that the next virgin bride to enter the household shall be violated just as Henry had violated his wife. Now this explains why the ghost haunting Catherine has a missing right hand, but it doesn't explain why he has no eyes. But then by the end of the film the woodsman who bares a remarkable resemblance to Silas even down to the birthmark on his face gets shot in the eyes, so his face looks like the ghost but he has both hands. So what confuses me is why the ghost has a severed hand and missing eyes, he has features of both Silas and the woodsman; whom I believe to be Silas' son. But if he isn't his son then somehow without ageing the woodsman is Silas then that wouldn't explain the ghost unless it was a future ghost. So either this film doesn't make a lot of sense or I've missed a very big plot point, I think this is one of those films that requires a second viewing, just in case you've missed an important plot point as I obviously have.

Overall, it's far from being a bad film but it equally doesn't stand out amongst the greats, I'd say it's an average Amicus production and although a decent film with an interesting plot, I still believe it'll be forgettable. The visuals in it were great, the violent bits were just right, again the make up for the ghost of Silas was great and really creepy, and it was at times just beautifully shot. The atmosphere was really good, it was dark and eerie. The ending was good but rather predictable. Even though it had so many good points it was still missing something, and for that it was just an average Amicus horror story.

And Now The Screaming Starts! 3/5

Friday, 3 December 2010

Frankenstein Created Woman

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

Baron Frankenstein is now experimenting into the metaphysical aspect of life, specifically the question of one's soul and it's relation to the human body. At the same time a young man (Hans) and a disfigured young woman (Christina) fall in love, all the while she is constantly bullied by three snooty upper class young men. After they get Hans framed for murder and executed, Christina kills herself. Frankenstein then comes into possession of their bodies. He repairs Christina's disfigured body and places Hans' soul into it. With a new, seductive look and the souls of both Hans and Christina they go about avenging each other by killing the three upper class men.



Frankenstein Created Woman is a 1967 Hammer production. It is the sequel to 1964's The Evil of Frankenstein. It stars Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg and Thorley Walters. It was directed by Terence Fisher. It was originally planned to be the sequel to 1958's The Revenge of Frankenstein but eventually went into production in 1966. It is one of Hammer's most critically acclaimed films. It is one of Martin Scorsese's favourite films, he even chose to show it as part of his 1987 National Film Theatre season. He was quoted as saying "If I single this one out it's because here they actually isolate the soul... The implied metaphysics are close to something sublime."

What's different about this one from all the other films in the Frankenstein series is that it's not just about science. It crosses science with religion. Frankenstein is experimenting with the transference of one's soul and it's connection to the physical body.

Another difference from other Frankenstein films is that there are two interweaving stories happening at once. Firstly, that of Baron Frankenstein and his experiments. Secondly, that of the two lovers; Hans and Christina. In fact their story seems to be more important than Frankenstein's. Obviously his is important too as it's his experiments that allow for the revenge plot but it's the story of Christina and Hans that is prominent throughout, Frankenstein's is almost a sub-plot to the love story one. They start off separate with Hans connecting the two, as he works for Frankenstein and is in love with Christina. Then about half way through the stories merge into one when Frankenstein acquires their dead bodies. Although Frankenstein is doing stuff that is key to the plot, it's still almost as if he is a secondary character featuring in a story about Hans and Christina. Which I have to say by no means is a bad thing, it's just different to the usual format and as a change spruces it up a bit and makes for a very interesting new format. This format also allows for character development of Hans and Christina, as they are the two new main characters to the series that can develop, whereas Frankenstein on the other hand doesn't have much where else to develop to as we've seen his character take centre stage for the three films prior to this one. So to have some of the individual film's characters develop is great.

Frankenstein in the court room made me chuckle for two reasons. 1. It's probably the only time he's been in court without being the one on trial. 2. He's a terrible witness, as he's being questioned about the accused (Hans) he is just idly flicking through The Bible and asking if he has to be here because he's a busy man.

When we get the reveal of Christina's new look after Frankenstein's surgery to repair her damaged body, we see that he has completely removed all evidence that she was ever disfigured, he has made her a beautiful, young woman. She doesn't even have her limp any more. What's more is that she now has blonde hair where she was once a brunette. Obviously removing her disfigurements wasn't enough, he had to dye her hair too because dying hair is a very skilled scientific process on par with plastic surgery.



In Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, Frankenstein says “If I succeed this time then every sacrifice will have been worth while.” But he obviously hasn't succeeded, one reason being that he never does, his creations ALWAYS go wrong. Maybe he should go for another occupation, like a hairdresser we've all seen in this how well he dyed Christina's hair. The other reason is just looking at the “monster from hell” he obviously hasn't succeeded in creating the perfect human, his greatest achievements have been in The Revenge of Frankenstein where he created a normal looking bloke and in Frankenstein Created Woman where he made an “ugly” woman beautiful, he removed her disfigurements and her limp creating a “perfect” and beautiful woman. His skills obviously peaked with Christina because after her he just went downhill. In the next film he creates a bald man, and in the final film he creates the “monster from hell”. So look at his creations and you tell me which was the closest to a success. Bare in mind I'm talking physically because they all end up with mental problems, whether it's a damaged brain caused by a bullet or their lover's soul telling them to kill.


Frankenstein Created Woman, 1967


Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, 1974

The one niggle I have with this film is the order in which Christina kills the three upper class men. Generally in revenge plots the avenger takes out the henchmen first and builds up towards a climactic finale with the head of the group. In this she kills the leader (Anton) first. Now the other two aren't henchmen, all three are of the same level, but Anton seems to be their leader. So for him to get killed off first and then the other two afterwards confused me. But it's no biggy, it doesn't spoil the film.

I really like this Hammer film. I agree with critics in that it is one of Hammer's best productions. It's one of my personal favourites along with 1958's Dracula and The Revenge of Frankenstein. I love the changes it made compared to other films in the series, the introduction of a love story that doesn't involve Frankenstein, and the fact that he isn't the main character in this film. I found it to be a very ingenious change to the usual template, and it worked. It gave new life to the Hammer format. Another thing I'll point out is that it didn't seem as violent as I would have expected for a Hammer. You don't even see the detail of Christina killing the three men, it cuts away before hand. We see a couple of decapitated heads, well the same head but at different times. But it has a great story so the lack of the usual amount of violence doesn't effect the quality of the film. On another note, I really liked the blending of science and religion in this film, where in the past they've always been about science, to bring in the aspect of one's soul and link it with science was fantastic. It's a brilliant tale of love and revenge, science and religion with a dash of murder and monsters. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is into Hammer.

Frankenstein Created Woman 5/5

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Oblong Box

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

After being disfigured by a voodoo curse whilst in Africa, Edward Markham is locked away from the public in his brother, Julian's mansion. After an attempt to escape goes wrong, Edward accidentally gets buried alive, but fortunately for him some grave robbers dig him up and bring him to Dr Neuhartt who experiments on dead bodies. But Edward is still alive and blackmails the doctor into allowing him to stay at his home while he goes about taking care of business along the way causing havoc for the local people.



The Oblong Box is a 1969 American International Pictures production. It stars Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Rupert Davies. It was directed by Gordon Hessler. It is credited as being an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's story The Oblong Box, when in actuality it only bares the same title.

FOOL! The guy was warned several times not to get too close to Edward. Since his disfigurement he can't control his anger and can lash out. But no the guy still went close enough for Edward to grab him by the throat, luckily for him he's in league with Edward and they are both plotting his escape. So the strangling malarkey was just a threat. The guy's still an idiot though, he knows Edward is troubled and was warned several times to be careful.

After Edward escapes he begins taking care of business, thusly by killing people who have wronged him. Now I presume being stabbed is a nasty experience, but this guy has a great “being stabbed face” and from the look of his face it must have hurt yet not even a whimper of pain left his lips.



Poor Dr Neuhartt, everyone threatens to use the knowledge of his experiments against him. First, Edward blackmailed him into letting him stay at his house otherwise he'd tell the town about his methods of experimenting on stolen corpses. Then there's Sally the maid, who does the same when he tries to discharge her, she says she'd need money and that he best make it worth her while to leave otherwise she'll tell.

This film depicts what must be the secret origins of Sadomasochism, after all it's set in 1865. “You can leave your mask on, I don't mind.” says the prostitute to Edward who is parading around town wearing a red cloth mask.



WHY DOESN'T ANYBODY EVER LEARN?! DON'T FUCK WITH THE GUY WEARING THE CREEPY RED MASK. He'll end up cutting your throat or smashing a vase over your head. So whatever you do, DO NOT REMOVE HIS MASK! He doesn't like it.

Even by these type of films' standards the throat slitting effect is pretty poor. It's obviously getting sprayed from the knife. There's even a point were you can see the “blood” has been smudged on the victim's throat, and ends up just looking like a mucky mark. But the worst one is on Christopher Lee as he is at the time filling the screen so we can clearly see his throat hasn't been slit, it looks more like a nasty knick if anything. It looked best on the prostitute, but even then it didn't look great, I suppose at least when it was on her it didn't look like a smear.



Vincent Prices' Julian Markham is so impatient when knocking on someone's door. “Hello. Anybody there? Hello, Hello.” then just opens the door and walks in anyway. How rude.

The big reveal of Edward's face at the end was so naff. The film was made so cleverly as to not show his face at any point, we only see glimpses whether it be from the back of his head or the top of his head. And the build up was great, it left you imagining horrifying ways in which his face must look, due to people who see his face screaming and falling to the floor because their legs have gone weak from fear. It's even stated at one point that Edward's face is inside out, which added to the horror of how disfigured he must now be. So to see that his face instead looks like he has a slight case of Eczema or some form of rash accompanied by him keeping his eyes closed, was more than slightly disappointing. Infact at the very end after Edward has bitten Julian and it's revealed that he has passed on the disfigurement to him, we see this by the fact that the cheek on one side of his face has began to blister and presumably turn inside out, the effects on this were much better than the BIG ONE we were all looking forward to and also dreading (due to how extreme they made you think his face was going to appear.)



We don't get to see Edward's face before the voodoo curse is put upon him, this, I suspect, is because when audiences see his disfigured face they would then realize “Hey he looks pretty much the same except for the Eczema and the fact he's walking around with his eyes closed.” So for various characters to scream in fear of his so called “inside out face” is just uncalled for. The man has Eczema, so give him some ointment.

The big appeal of this film is that it stars not one but TWO horror legends; Christopher Lee and Vincent Price. The problem with that is they only appear in one scene together, and in that Christopher Lee's Dr Neuhartt is kind of in the middle of dying, so it's not a big exciting scene containing two great horror icons. It's certainly not what you would expect from a film that has acquired these two actors to star in it.

Overall, I'd certainly say that the film is watchable but nothing at all special. The story is decent enough, it keeps you guessing as to what Edward's appearance is going to be like, even if it is a disappointment. Regardless of the disappointment of Edward's face, the build up is great it keeps you pondering for the whole film. I also liked the twist at the end, the reason why the voodoo curse was put upon Edward, what he had done to deserve such a fate. It's just unfortunate that I found the film to be a disappointment. Just don't expect too much from it, infact watch it with no expectations otherwise you'll end up being disappointed with it like I was.

The Oblong Box 2/5

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Vampire Circus

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

The children of a village have been going missing, the villagers then discover that it's the doing of a vampire called Count Mitterhaus with the help from a wife of one of the villagers who has joined the vampire. The villagers lay siege to the castle and slay the vampire but not after he puts a curse on their village and swears his return. 15 years later, the village is dying of the plague and a circus comes to town, unbeknown to the villagers the circus is a group of vampires who are using the blood of the innocent to reawaken Count Mitterhaus.



Vampire Circus is a 1972 Hammer production. It stars Adrienne Corri, Thorley Walters and Anthony Higgins (as Anthony Corlan). It was directed by Robert Young.

The battle at the start of the film is pretty good, especially by Hammer's standards. The vampire Count Matterhaus takes on a group of villagers one after the other, biting their throats, cutting their throats with a knife and so on. It also has to be said that Robert Tayman is great as Count Matterhaus, he is at times very creepy looking and makes you feel quite uneasy. It's just such a shame that he only appears at the beginning and the end of the film.

I could swear that guy just staked him in the crotch.



He DID! He DID stake him in the CROTCH! I realise it didn't hurt him because it wasn't a stake to the heart, but you'd think surely even a vampire would react to getting a stake to the goolies. But no, not him, he's a bad ass vampire with balls of steel!

Now I know it's a circus but the film is set in a time when people would yell “WITCHCRAFT!” if someone was good at holding their breath under water. So for them to think nothing of a panther transforming into a man or a pair of bats transforming into a twin brother and sister is more than a bit odd. Surely this would be a call for “WITCHCRAFT!” They should at least be suspicious, especially seen as 15 years earlier they fought a vampire, and vampires are commonly associated with bats and that of the ability to transform between human and bat.

The graphic violence seems that bit more graphic than usual for Hammer, notably when we see the remains of 3 people after they were slaughtered by the panther. Another strong moment was when we see a female victim with blood oozing out of her throat after being bitten by one of the vampires.

I think this is the only other thing I've ever seen Lalla Ward in other than Doctor Who, and it's quite a change from the family friendly Romana she would go on to play several years after the role of a seductive, kidnapping vampire in this.



It's evident that this was one of Hammer's experimental films, made when they started experimenting with their greatest asset; period vampire tales. Around this time they continued to make vampire tales but changed them slightly to give them a fresh new angle, to try and branch out and keep with the times, because in the 1970s audiences were growing away from typical period horror films. Other experimental films Hammer made around this time were Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter which tells the tale of Captain Kronos who was once a vampire but cured himself of it and now hunts vampires, it was a sort of Gothic style Blade. There was also Dracula AD 1972 which does exactly as it says in the title, takes Dracula and plonks him in 1972. After that there was The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, which crossed Gothic vampires with Kung Fu. HAI YAH!

Awesome Moment Number 1: Lalla Ward's character getting staked by a giant falling cross. Which not only kills her but also her twin brother because they're twins they are for some reason connected so they feel each other's pain. She gets staked and he gets a huge puncture hole in his chest, killing them both.




Awesome Moment Number 2: Count Matterhaus getting decapitated by the wire of a crossbow. He gets his head put through a crossbow then the guy holding it fires causing the wire to go straight through Count Matterhaus' throat, taking his head clean off.




Overall, I rather liked it. It was different to other Hammer vampire tales, the violence seemed to step up quite a bit compared to usual. The story was fresh and original and succeeded in what Hammer had intended; a fresh new take on classic vampire tales. I would definitely recommend this to fans of Hammer and other classic British horror films.

Vampire Circus 4/5

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Vault of Horror

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL!

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

Five man enter a lift which takes them to the secret basement vault of an office building. Unable to return to a higher level, they sit at the table and begin exchanging stories of their dreams that all end in their demise. The dreams range from vampires and voodoo to good old fashioned insurance scams.



Vault of Horror is a 1973 Amicus production. It is an anthology/portmanteau story made up of five short stories accompanied by an additional framing story that begins and ends the film. It stars Dawn Addams, Tom Baker and Michael Craig. It was directed by Roy Ward Baker. It is the sequel to 1972's Tales from the Crypt, and is also based on the Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt comics that inspired the Tales from the Crypt film.

To begin, this is one of my favourites, if not my favourite portmanteau Amicus Production. This and Dr Terror's House of Horrors I'd say are my top favourites.

The first story is about a man who kills his sister in order to claim the full inheritance from his deceased father. Little does he know that the town is over run by vampires, he soon finds out when he dines at the local vampire restaurant and is asked how he would like his blood clots, roasted? etc. The vampires realise he isn't one of them and then they string him up from the ceiling and stick a tap in his throat, allowing them and his vampire sister to have his blood on tap.



The second story is about an obsessive compulsive who makes his wife's life a living hell with his constant idea of “everything in it's place and a place for everything” he explains this to her by showing her his workshop where every single item has a designated position (Useful tip: DON'T MESS WITH HIS WORKSHOP HE WON'T LIKE IT). He even has a chart in his kitchen cupboard so he knows exactly how much of each item of food he has. She tries her best but by the end of the story her clumsiness takes over as she causes havoc to his orderly household through a calamity of slapstick events that unfold like tumbling dominoes. From a simple cup mark on the table she ends up spilling polish on the carpet, knocking a picture off the wall which rips the nail out of the wall. Then in order to fix the picture she heads down to his workshop and empties all his jars of various nails. [NOTE: THIS IS DEFINATELY A BAD IDEA, YOU KNOW HOW MUCH HE LIKES HIS ORDERED NAILS!] It's almost cringe worthy how clumsy she is and how much damage she is causing, especially when she messes about with his work shop because we all know how much he loves the order of his workshop items, and she messes it all up and breaks so much stuff. Then he arrives to see what has happened, tells her off but she snaps and wallops a hammer smack into the top of his head. Then we see that she has tidied the house and sorted everything into it's designated place. She has even sorted him into various jars; Eyes, Liver, Odds and Ends and so on. She's even picked up his motto “Everything in it's place and a place for everything” then laughs maniacally.



The third story is about a couple who travel to the East and try to steal the Eastern people's “magic tricks” for their own magic show. When they are refused a price for the secrets to their magic acts they turn to committing murder to obtain the flute that can make a rope stand erect from a basket high enough to be climbed. The robe then kills the couple and we see the woman who the couple killed is no longer dead but has somehow come back to life and is still continuing her magic flute and rope act.



The fourth story is about a man who has faked his own death in order to claim his life insurance, he's even took it as far as to be buried alive. The plan being for his friend to dig him up after the funeral. He also plans to kill his friend after he has collected the money for him. But his friend has other plans, he decides to leave him buried alive and collect the life insurance for himself. As the story unfolds his friend dies in a car crash and the graveyard caretaker kills the man in the coffin as a natural instinct to seeing a dead man jump out of a coffin at him.



During the fourth story we get a not so subtle reference to the previous film Tales from the Crypt, we see the man reading the novelization of the film, to which the camera zooms in on the book. They could have at least tried to make it subtle, I like the reference but I don't think it needed a close up of the book to reinforce that.

The fifth story is about an artist who after being cheated and robbed for his paintings learns how to perform voodoo through his artwork. His reason “to get revenge on those who wronged me”. He creates a painting of each of the men that wronged him then damages them in ways he deems appropriate for each individual, the loss of sight for the man who is an art critic, the loss of hands to the man who handles art work and for the man who oversaw it all, he is made to shoot himself in the head. But the artist also has a self portrait which before he can return to it in time a workman accidentally spills turpentine all over it resulting in the artist getting ran over, leaving his face resembling his now ruined painting.



WARNING! I'M ABOUT TO DISCUSS THE ENDING! WARNING!

The end, after they have all told their tales the lift doors open revealing a graveyard to which they all walk off into and each disappear one by one. The last of the men explains to the audience that every night they must come together and tell of the evil things they did when they were alive, that they must do this every night for all eternity. This I think is brilliant, its so dark and horrific, the idea of every single night having to tell of the evil things you have done for all eternity. This is a brilliantly horrifying concept.

In true Amicus tradition it's a horror with a dash of comedy. It contains both intentional and unintentional comedy. The unintentional tends to come from the actors' hammy acting (as usual), but we love it!



The best stories are the second and the fifth, the second one is more funny than horrifying but the fifth one which is the best of the lot is rather horrifying the idea of an artist taking revenge through the use of voodoo art, its brilliant and creepy at the same time. Plus Tom “The Doctor” Baker is the artist, I can't think of anyone else who would have been better than him, he isn't as eccentric as in Doctor Who but he's still good. The third story kind of bores me, it's definitely the weakest of the five, the fourth one is pretty decent with it's extravagant life insurance scam, the first one is ok, but nothing special, but the ending is good so that makes up for the rest of it. The idea of vampires sticking a tap into a man's throat so his blood is on tap is brilliant. I think I may have found the tap thing a lot funnier than I probably should have done, especially seen as I didn't find it scary just funny. I would definitely recommend this film to anyone interested in Amicus productions.

Vault of Horror 4/5

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Devil Rides Out

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

Set in the 1930s in the South of England, Duc de Richleau and Rex investigate the goings on of a friend, Simon, who has become involved with the Occult. The Occult headed by Mocata plan to baptise Simon and Tanith, another young member, in the name of the devil. The Duc and Rex manage to rescue the two young members, but Mocata is determined to get them back, so now The Duc and Rex along with the help of a few others must help Simon and Tanith from falling into the clutches of Mocata once again.



The Devil Rides Out is a 1968 Hammer production. It stars Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Nike Arrighi and Patrick Mower. It was directed by Terence Fisher. The film is based on the 1934 novel, The Devil Rides Out, by Dennis Wheatley. The film was first proposed in 1963 but due to censorship on the subject of Satanism it took 4 years for the censorship to ease allowing the film to go into production in 1967. In the US the film was released as The Devil's Bride.

Right, where to begin? Well for starters, we've got Charles Gray as the baddie Mocata, you may remember him more famously for one of the several portrayals of Blofeld in the James Bond films, or as the guy giving you the step by step low down on just how to actually do the time warp. “It's a jump to the left.”

As the Duc de Richleau, we've got Hammer legend Christopher Lee, who is rather brilliant. Apparently on many an occasion, Christopher Lee has stated that of all his films this is his favourite, and is the one he would most like to see remade with new special effects and that he would like to reprise the role of a mature Duc de Richleau.

Then there's our victim; Simon. Patrick Mower in another role where he is caught up in other people's evil doings. If it's not being under the spell of a vampire (Bloodsuckers), then it's meddling with black magic and the Occult. He just doesn't learn.

Leon Greene's Rex van Ryn is brilliant. There's a scene where he's in a car chase, Mocata frosts up his car windscreen and unlike any normal person who would at least have a second of panic or rationally stop the car or try to look around the windscreen, his initial reaction, his split second decision as soon as the windscreen frosts up is PUNCH IT! And amazingly he is the only person who can punch their entire fist right the way through a glass windscreen and not cut their hand.



During the ritual where Mocata is about to baptise Simon and Tanith, just before The Duc and Rex rescue them, we see the devil himself in the form of the Goat of Mendes. Now what this film taught me is that you can make the devil explode by throwing a cross at him as (my favourite character) Rex shows us.





So remember kids. If you're confronted by the devil in Goat of Mendes form. Throw a cross at him, he'll explode.

There is a great scene in the last half hour of the film where The Duc and three other people are in a room and standing within a chalk circle, the circle being the only protection they have against the black magic attacks Mocata is sending their way. They have to fight off a night full of black magic attacks, well when I say “night full of black magic attacks” you'd expect a lot. Well there's two big ones and a couple of minor ones if you count them as attacks; the candle lights were dimmed and the fresh water was made to taste bad. Them aside we're left with the two decent attacks, firstly there's a giant tarantula. Sorry I'll rephrase, GIANT TARANTULLA! Then after the GIANT TARANTULLA! is defeated by throwing a jug of water on it, the next attack is from the Angel of Death, who rides into the room on horseback and whips his helmet off to show us his bare skull. He is then defeated by The Duc who chants some form of incantation to vanquish him.





Overall, I rather liked The Devil Rides Out. The cast was great, the story was good. Terence Fisher's directing was (as always) spot on. It's one of those Hammer Horrors that is up there with the greats, it's not brilliant but it's definitely worth a watch and I would recommend it any day, unless of course you really don't like the devil...or goats.

The Devil Rides Out 4/5

Friday, 8 October 2010

Incense for the Damned (aka Bloodsuckers)

A group of people travel to Greece to search for a missing Oxford student; Richard Fountain. They discover that wherever Richard has been there has been an unsolved murder. They dismiss the idea that these crimes are Richard's doing and press on with their search, when they find Richard they discover he is under the spell of a vampire. Believing they have killed the vampire, they return to England with Richard. Unbeknown to them the curse has returned with them, and Richard becomes under the vampire's spell once again.



Incense for the Damned (also known as Bloodsuckers) is a 1972 Titan International Productions and Lucinda Films production. It stars Patrick Macnee, Peter Cushing and Patrick Mower. It was directed by Robert Hartford-Davis. This film is based on the novel Doctors Wear Scarlet by Simon Raven.

I've heard a couple of things about this film, the first thing being that the film's budget ran out part way through production so a number of scenes weren't filmed and the film was pieced together with what they had filmed so far. To help with any inconsistencies they added a narrator over the top to fill in the gaps. The second thing I heard about this film is that when it has appeared on television it has been the full uncut version, whereas the versions that were released in the cinema, and then on home video and DVD were various cut versions. In fact, on the DVD one of the cut scenes is used as an extra feature appearing as a deleted scene, why it wasn't just left in the film I don't know. It's annoying because it's the scene likely to have been controversial as it features sex, nudity and blood, exactly what these films were famous for; extremity and causing controversy, constantly pushing the boundaries, and they cut it out.

The synopsis to this film sounds rather good, but the final piece is disappointing, even more so when you look at the cast. Although Peter Cushing is credited in the top 3, he appears as a still image at the start and appears properly in the latter half. Then we have the Avenger himself, Patrick Macnee, but he gets dropped half way through the film, literally dropped off a cliff. There's even Edward Woodward who appears for one scene just randomly in the middle of the film. And then we have Patrick Mower again another good actor, at least he lasts the film's duration. Even with all these great actors the film fails, these actors aren't given the opportunity to be as great as they are in anything else they are in.

Some of the action sequences did have their moments, funny moments. Best of all being Patrick Macnee hitting a guy's head between 2 gates. Even then it was just slapstick violence, very much like the sitcom Bottom, when they hit each other in the head with the fridge door, which I don't think was the intended approach for this horror.



Now I know they hadn't killed the vampire as she was still able to have her influence over Richard later in the film, but to think she had been killed by being pushed off a small flight of stairs is ridiculous. An ordinary human could survive that fall, so for a vampire to be killed by it is a bit naff, presumably the reason she survived is because they didn't stake her, but still for a fall to even injure her is pretty poor story telling. SHE'S A VAMPIRE FOR GOD'S SAKE!

Overall, this film is a big disappointment, although it has its moments of action that amused me, I still found it dull and boring for most of the film. The great actors aren't used effectively or to their potential. As I mentioned earlier about the missing scenes, this makes the story a bit confusing at times and again rather poor. It's just very poor and not what you would expect as the final piece when you've read the synopsis. The synopsis leaves you with high hopes and intrigue, but the film let's itself down and spoils a potentially great story.

Incense for the Damned 1/5

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

London, 1874. On the belief that within every person there is two personalities, one who they are, the other who they could be without moral restrictions, Dr Henry Jekyll studies endlessly on the human mind and creates a serum that will unleash the other personality and create a person free of life's moral restrictions. He tests the serum on himself and becomes Edward Hyde, as Hyde he discovers that his wife Kitty is having an affair with his friend Paul Allen. Paul Allen, whom always uses Dr Jekyll for his money, in order to pay off his own debts. Jekyll begins questioning just who he is when Hyde and Allen become friends and begin exploring London's seediest nightspots. Jekyll decides to close the door on Hyde and destroys his work, but Hyde still manages to resurface regardless of the serum. Now Jekyll must do battle within himself, two personalities fighting for control, the two faces of Dr Jekyll at war within the same mind and body.



The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll is a 1960 Hammer production. It stars Paul Massie, Dawn Addams and Christopher Lee. It was directed by Terence Fisher. In America the film was released under two different titles; Jekyll's Inferno and House of Fright. It was based on Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

This is quite a dark depiction of Mr Hyde, especially so for a 1960 film, its rather clear that Hyde has raped Kitty, obviously we don't see it but what we do see is him forcing himself on her and the aftermath where he has already left but she awakes with scratches and cuts on her. On top of this we see him strangling a woman who we later see with strong red marks on her throat to show how forcefully he was strangling her. This I thought was quite a daring move on Hammer's part, again evidence towards the aspect of hammer constantly pushing the boundaries.

On a lighter note, there were a lot of funny faces pulled by Mr Hyde in this film, so I think The Many Faces of Mr Hyde would equally work as an appropriate alternate title.





WARNING! I'M ABOUT TO DISCUSS THE ENDING! WARNING!

As the poster puts it “A shock ending that you dare not reveal!” well, I dare reveal this “shocking” ending. The ending seems somewhat rather promising for a while, Mr Hyde kills three people and frames Jekyll for the murders, putting Jekyll in a situation where he must give up to his Hyde persona and allow him full control. To which Hyde then destroys Jekyll's research and sets up the scene of the crime to look like Jekyll killed himself. Allowing Hyde to escape and live a new life free of Jekyll. This I thought was brilliant. Next, we see Hyde and a group of others at a hearing about Jekyll's crimes. As they leave Hyde walks alongside Jekyll's old friend, a fellow scientist we see at the start of the film, Hyde then grabs hold of the man and says “Help me” in Jekyll's voice. Now, that for me would have been prefect, what should have followed should have been Hyde shrugging off Jekyll and walking out the building presumably to live a life of his own. Instead, Jekyll begins to fight Hyde once more, then he transforms back into Jekyll who says that he has destroyed Hyde, to which the other scientist says that he has also destroyed himself. Which I quite like the aspect of saying that he has destroyed himself, not physically but mentally, as Jekyll a mild mannered, dull reclusive has now become a murderer and a rapist, and will now most likely be executed for his other persona's crimes. I suppose its a decent ending but I wouldn't call it so “shocking that you dare not reveal!” I think a more shocking ending would have been everything up until the point where Hyde speaks with Jekyll's voice saying “Help me.” so that we know Jekyll is still alive in there. Then have him shrug it off and leave to live a notorious life all the while with Jekyll having to bare witness to all the horrors Hyde inflicts on people. That for me would have been a more shocking ending and a much more horrifying prospect to happen to Jekyll.

This is a decent Hammer film, I personally think Terence Fisher has directed better Hammer films but this isn't at all a bad film. What I do like about this Jekyll and Hyde adaptation is that it's different to other adaptations, its still the same story but certain aspects are changed, and more crucially its one of few adaptations that doesn't have Jekyll/Hyde die at the end. It's also unique for making Jekyll a dull and bland character in contrast to Hyde who is portrayed more exciting and suave. The reason for this was to reflect Terence Fisher's belief in what critics have called “the charm of evil”. I really liked the dark yet charming depiction of Mr Hyde, it worked very effectively, and I think made the character that bit more terrifying than having him just simply being a bad man all the time, in this he comes across as a gentleman, which allows him to gain people's trust but even Mr Hyde is two faced. This is definitely one for any Jekyll and Hyde fan, I wouldn't say this is the best Jekyll and Hyde adaptation but it is good, and made better for tweaking certain aspects and bringing a fresh new angle to the classic tale.

The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll 3/5