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!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Horror Express (REVISITED)


1906, anthropologist Alexander Saxton has discovered the frozen body of a half-man half-ape creature. He believes it to possibly be the “missing link”, and if so it would be the discovery of the century. So Saxton loads the creature onto the Opulent Trans-Siberian Express in order to get himself and his find from China back to Europe. On board the train is Saxton's rival anthropologist Dr Wells. But both, although they have their differences, soon have to team up as the creature not only comes back to life but it also escapes and is amongst the passengers. But this one isn't going to be easy to find, it can possess anyone making everyone a suspect.

Horror Express is a 1973 Spanish made Benmar Productions and Granada Films production. It stars Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas. It is directed by Eugenio Martin. The film wasn't successful in Spain, but in the UK and other countries where the Hammer style horror audience was pre-established the film did rather well. When Peter Cushing arrived in Madrid to begin filming he told one of the producers that he couldn't do the film as he was still distraught over his wife's recent death. But Christopher Lee stepped in and put him at ease just by talking to him about their films together and changed Cushing's mind.

Ah I see that makes sense, Saxton's “fossil” (as he calls it) is evil because the Monk wasn't able to draw a white chalk cross onto the white cloth which is covering the crate containing the creature. Wait a minute, no it doesn't! That doesn't prove anything. How did he ever expect white chalk to show on a white cloth. It's a good theory he has that the cross can't be drawn on an evil object but what he should have done is used a black marker then maybe he would have something substantial.

NO! DON'T LOOK AT IT'S EYES! Ah to late. Whoever looks into the creature's red eyes begin to bleed from their eyes, nose and mouth resulting in their death leaving them with plain white eyes and (as Wells discovers after an autopsy) a completely smooth brain, which Wells explains has been erased of it's memories as all the wrinkles on a person's brain are that person's memories. It is later discovered that the creature boils a person's head resulting in the white eyes and at the same time absorbs the person's memories and knowledge.

Poor Dr Wells just can't get any, he either gets cock blocked or just gets mocked. Firstly, he was about to share his cabin with a nice young lady then suddenly Saxton bounded in with his luggage and informed Dr Wells that they're bunk buddies. Secondly, when he's a having dinner with the young lady some stupid twat comes and sits with them whilst they were enjoying a nice romantic meal with just the two of them. Thirdly, Dr Wells leaves his meal in order to perform an autopsy and says to his assistant Miss Jones “I shall require your assistance” to which she replies “Well at your age I'm not surprised” and looks at the young lady at the table. Dr Wells looks to see what she's referring to and in shock informs her “With the autopsy.” Lastly, there is just Dr Wells and the young lady in the cabin, before going to bed she just pops to the bathroom but...OH NO! The creature kills her. Poor Dr Wells, no one will let him get his end away, not even the Neanderthal creature, what a bastard.

If you thought a Neanderthal creature running rampant on a train boiling people's brains and stealing their memories was bad, well as the story develops it turns out that the creature can transfer it's life force from one person to another. Leading to a situation where no one is safe because anyone could be the creature. This situation allows for my favourite line of the film. One of the passengers talking to Dr Wells and Saxton, claims that as the creature could be anyone it could even be one of them two, to which Dr Wells replies “One of us the monster? We're British you know.”

There's some cool science in this, through taking a sample of blood from the creature's eye and looking at it under a microscope Dr Wells and Saxton are able to see what the creature has seen. They see what the creature saw whilst on the train and what the creature saw before it was frozen, which were dinosaurs and even a shot of the Earth which could only have been seen from space. (GASP) IT'S AN ALIEN! Though the Monk has a different theory, he believes it to be “the evil one” who was said to have looked down upon the Earth from the Heavens. So either way it's still bad, they've either got an alien or the devil on their hands. Bugger.

In 1906 mankind was apparently on the verge of being able to journey into outer space, but the creature kills the man with the knowledge to have it for itself. BLOODY ALIENS! Putting humanity SIX DECADES behind. We could have been on Mars by now!

Telly Savalas' Captain Kazan is the coolest motherfucker ever to have lived. The first time we see him he's in bed with a woman which is in a station office. But best of all, when he kicks into action on the train he casually and with ease throws a knife underarm into the creature's back and then whips out a gun and starts shooting it.

The creature explains to Saxton that it doesn't have a physical form, it is an entity that can possess other physical beings and that it is from another galaxy. It and others have been on Earth a very long time shaping humanity. So it was an alien all along.

The passengers manage to get a Morse code message sent out to a station to switch the tracks so that the train will plummet off a cliff. The people at the station don't seem to really question this request they just say maybe its war. Anyhoo, the end carriage containing all of the passengers gets unclipped from the rest of the train just in time. So only the creature goes off the cliff and dies.

I really like Horror Express, it's just really enjoyable. There isn't a dull moment, even with things like the Monks flawed logic it just adds to the entertainment factor. There's horror, there's a bit of violence and (for 1973) gore, humour, action, interesting characters and a great story. It may not be British made but it's made for the Hammer audience and even stars the two most iconic British Hammer stars; Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. So for me this is a must see, it's very good.

Horror Express 5/5

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Asphyx


A scientist, Sir Hugo Cunningham, has been investigating what happens at the moment of death. As he has captured on film what he believes to be the soul leaving the body, which appears as a smudge mark on the photos. After creating a device (a light booster) to allow him to see the being more clearly he discovers that it is infact an Asphyx (a Spirit of Death), every person has an Asphyx and it only appears at your moment of death to take your soul. Using his light booster he believes he can capture the Asphyx and transport it via the beam of light into another light booster in the form of a box with a constant beam of blue light to keep the Asphyx imprisoned. If he can successfully capture and imprison a person's Asphyx, then that person's soul can never leave their body and this will allow them to live forever. But to what cost is Sir Hugo willing to go in order to immortalise himself?

The Asphyx
is a 1972 Glendale Film Productions prduction. It stars Robert Stephens, Robert Powell and Jane Lapotaire. It was directed by Peter Newbrook. A remake of The Asphyx is currently in the works.

First of all, I'd like to commend whoever designed the Asphyx, as the actual Asphyx itself is of rather eerie design, and accompanied with it's horrifying squeal, it makes for quite a disturbing and terrifying creature.

I love the science to this story, I may not understand all of it, but it's well within reason and belief. With the exception of those “magic” blue crystals which power the blue light in the light boosters, I'm not too certain as to why they can trap the Asphyx. Other than that the science is sound. Essentially, everyone has an Asphyx (their own personal Spirit of Death which takes their soul at their moment of death) and so if you can capture your Asphyx and stop it from taking your soul then your soul in turn can not leave your body and theoretically you can live forever. I think that's a brilliant premise for a story.

Hugo not only uses photographs to capture the soul leaving the body but he also uses moving pictures using a device he has invented to do so. So essentially, he has just invented the world's first camcorder and hasn't gone public with it. Doesn't he realise he could make a lot of money of this invention? Then he'd have even more money to fund his experiments.

That is hilarious! Sir Hugo has enlisted the help of his adopted son (Giles) and now they are conducting the experiment to trap Hugo's Asphyx so that he may live forever. Now in order to do this there are two very important pieces of equipment that have to be turned on; both light boosters. So that should be simple enough to remember. The Asphyx only manifests itself at the moment you are about to die, so Hugo straps himself into an electric chair and Giles is in control of the light booster. Everything is going tickety-boo until Giles has captured the Asphyx in the beam of light from the first light booster then realises he forgot to turn on the other light booster to contain it in and in horror shouts “THE OTHER BOOSTER!”. All the while poor Hugo is still being electrocuted, which is done brilliantly by the way, it's horrible there's even smoke coming off him because he's been a good while getting electrocuted that now he's actually beginning to burn. Don't worry all gets sorted in the end. Hugo's daughter comes down after hearing the screams from her father as he's being electrocuted and the screams from the Asphyx. So Giles gets her to hold the light booster while he turns the other one on.

(note: it's a good ending, and as such I want to discuss the sheer brilliance of it, but obviously if you don't want it spoiling skip the next 2 paragraphs)

Hugo promises to immortalise both Giles and his daughter whom Giles wishes to marry. After being pressured into being made immortal, the experiment goes wrong and Hugo's daughter is killed. This leaves Giles resentful and as such he plots against Hugo. Hugo now no longer wants to be immortal because he no longer has anything to live for, but he doesn't know the combination to the locked door on the room which contains his trapped Asphyx, so now he's unable to release it. Only Giles knows the combination and makes a deal with Hugo so that if he immortalises him he will give him the combination. Giles explains that he wants to be immortalised so that he may actually have a chance to overcome his guilt of his wife-to-be getting killed, as one lifetime wouldn't be enough to do so. Hugo accepts the terms of his agreement. Just before the experiment, Giles gives Hugo a sealed envelope containing the combination. Giles' chosen method of death is to be gassed, but having no intention of being immortalised he changes the blue crystals for white ones, which results in Hugo not being able to capture the Asphyx, believing his equipment to not be working. Then when Hugo isn't looking Giles strikes a match and ignites the gas which is being used to bring him to his moment of death. Giles is killed leaving Hugo believing that he has killed Giles as well as his daughter, so heads down to the room to release his Asphyx so that he may die. But as he gets there he thinks about what Giles said about needing more than one life time to be able to overcome his guilt for what he had done and instead burns the envelope containing the combination. Then we see a very old Hugo in present day 1972, who walks out into the street in between two cars just as they are about to collide, then the screen freeze frames and we hear the cars crash. Now to back track to the beginning of the film which I haven't mentioned yet, it starts out in 1972 with a policeman attending to a crash where we see a man's legs sticking out of the wreckage so the policeman goes to pull him out and states that the man is still alive. Which I think is a great ending, the film actually comes full circle.

Alternatively, the American cut has an extra 10 minutes or so of scenes that were deleted from the UK cut. One such scene I feel is redundant as it shows Giles burning the combination, leaving the audience to believe that he is double crossing Hugo giving him either an empty envelope or (what I was expecting) a letter explaining his double crossing just to piss Hugo off. But no, it ended the same as the UK cut, with him burning it in order to overcome his guilt, so for me the American cut isn't as good because the ending doesn't fully make sense, that scene with Giles burning the combination is irrelevant.

Overall, I thought this was a great film with a brilliant and original story. The acting was really good, except maybe Jane Lapotaire, she seemed a bit over the top at times for me and just not as good as the others, she was a bit of a disappointment compared to the other actors who were good. Robert Stephens was brilliant as the man obsessed with his work, obsessed so much that he wouldn't even let his daughter who didn't want to be immortalised stop his plans of having his family immortalised. Robert Powell was great too, being a fan of him anyway, I just love seeing him in stuff even though whenever he shouts all I can think of is him shouting at Jasper Carrott in The Detectives. So far I've only seen (because I only know of) 2 British horror films starring Robert Powell (Asylum and The Asphyx) and both are great. So hopefully there are more out there, all I can say is “Keep 'em coming”. Back on the topic of The Asphyx, there may be some aspects of the science that I don't fully understand but as I mentioned earlier it's not completely out there and unbelievable, it's fully within the parameters of believable reality and as such makes it even better. I personally feel it is made better for being set in the 1800s, it's just a personal preference that I have for quite a lot of horror films. So I'm really hoping that the remake isn't set in present day which I have a really bad feeling it will be, as most horrors usually are these days. So yes, go see this. Seek it out and watch it, it's very good. But don't get the Anchor Bay release from the early 2000s as the quality is terrible, get the 2 disc release that came out either last year or the year before.

The Asphyx 5/5

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Crucible of Terror


Jack Davies, a London art dealer, is in financial trouble and needs more work from the reclusive artist Victor Clare, whose work Jack has shown at his exhibition is selling very well. So he and his fiancée Millie travel to Victor's remote house where they stay a few days to finalise a deal to sell his art work. Whilst there it's clear to see not all is right in the Victor Clare household. His wife clearly has a mental illness yet all he does is bully and insult her, he himself has an obsession with the capturing the beauty and essence of the female form. Just about the only normal people there are Victor's old friend and his current model, which he is quick to ditch whenever he sets his eyes on a new young woman. On top of that people begin to get killed off by an unseen assailant, these people are then claimed (by Victor) to have driven back to London. But who could this murderer possibly be?

[note: I wasn't able to find the original poster for this anywhere, so I'd really appreciate it if someone happens to come across it and could let me know]

Crucible of Terror is a 1971 Glendale Film Productions production. It stars Mike Raven, James Bolam and Mary Maude. It was directed by Ted Hooker.

WAHEY! The Likely Lad himself (well one of them) James Bolam stars as the art dealer Jack Davies. Obviously this was before he became reknown for Grandpa in My Pocket.

After Jack and Millie arrive at Victor's house they all sit down for dinner. Referring to Marcia; his latest model, Victor says this at the dinner table:
“Look at her, beautiful isn't she? Now look at my wife. She was beautiful once. Weren't you my dear.”
To which she actually replies “Sorry Victor”


Then later in the film, he says this to his wife in a room with other people:
“You're old and ugly. Look at her.”


Mike Raven is rather good in this, he's great as the obsessive artist and is a complete bastard in it, especially to his wife. He has such an eerie presence, no offence to the guy but he is pretty creepy looking in his films and his creepy acting on top of that really heightens his all round creepiness. He seems to have a sort of screen presence similar to that of Christopher Lee. Which on the topic of Christopher Lee, Mike Raven reminds me quite a bit of him, in the sense of screen presence, acting style and a similar sort of look. Hell, he should have been Christopher Lee's replacement as Dracula in The Legend of The 7 Golden Vampires, he'd have been great!

It's a bit of an odd film this one. There's the whole obsessive (possibly) psychopathic artist story, there's the haunted tin mine story and there's the whole Millie experiencing deja vu and strange visions, especially when she's around ancient objects. Could this be a possible reincarnation plot also being thrown into the mix?

[note: it's actually not a bad ending, the twist was pretty good so if you don't want it spoiling then skip the next paragraph.]

After a nasty piece of art at the start of the film involving a woman being made into a bronze sculpture whilst still alive, the audience is left fairly confident that the killer is obviously the artist Victor Clare. Well you'd be wrong, well no you'd be right about that murder, that one was Victor Clare's doing, but the others weren't. The twist at the end actually got me by surprise, and for that the film improved slightly for me because prior to that it had been a bit dull and boring. Anyway the twist, the statement made earlier in the film about spirits being able to possess the living and make them do stuff for them comes back. As it turns out, the Japanese woman at the start who Victor is seen to have bronzed alive, her spirit has possessed Millie through her kimono which she bought at a market. What are the chances you might ask? Well the guy explaining this to Jack has an answer, the forces of evil are always more powerful than the forces of good. So as soon as Millie wore the Japanese woman's kimono she was able to possess her and go about exacting her revenge. So all the deja vu and visions were infact memories from the Japanese woman. Now I rather liked this ending because I really didn't expect it. I actually narrowed the unseen killer down to being either Victor or Marcia, yes, obvious choices I know, but I also thought that there could be an outside chance of it being Victor's wife. But I didn't ever expect it to turn out to be Millie.

Overall, this is not a great film, I don't even think I'd call it a good film. It's just watchable, the ending certainly knocked it up a notch but that's just for it being a decent twist that I didn't see coming. Mike Raven is probably the best bit about this film, though I wouldn't say it's worth watching just for his performance. He is good don't get me wrong, he is great at doing creepy and in this film him being a creepy artist is good. But the film itself is at times just dull and boring. There's a few nasty murders which is always good in a horror. But aside from that it's just not that good of a film.

Crucible of Terror 2/5