Friday, December 27, 2013

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)
Directed by John Gilling
Written by Peter Bryan
Starring: Andre Morell, Diana Clare, John Carson

1966`s The Plague of the Zombies is Hammer film studios attempt at a zombie. It predates George Romero`s genre defining zombie film "Night of the Living Dead"  and to the best of my knowledge was the last traditional zombie film before Romero reinvented it. But I must say its a very good movie and not only one of the best films by Hammer but one of the best films of all time.

For people who have been reading my blog since I started it, might recall I reviewed this film back in 2010 and that I wasn`t really crazy about it. Now its been a few years and i`ve seen the film a couple of times i`ve come to really love the film and view it as a incredibly under appreciated movie. The films story is about a doctor answering a plea to come help from one of his former students whose now a doctor in a remote small village in Cornwall and who cant figure out what mysterious disease is killing off the young villagers and how to even begin to help them. When professor Forbes (played by Andre Morell) arrives in the village to help, he finds it under the iron grip of its sinister magistrate whose less than enthusiastic to have them snooping around for the source of the plague. Which as they look deeper into the case they are plunged into a world of murder, black magic, and voodoo.

     All I can say is its just a really good horror movie. It has a great spooky atmospheric English film that ranks up with some of Hammers best. It also has been a very influential film influencing such movies as Night of the Living Dead itself and the imagery of many other zombie movies. This is a zombie movie that is a more traditional zombie type movie were that its more like "White Zombie" and "I Walked With a Zombie", (which means there`s no gruesome flesh eating). Yet its still a great effective movie and for me one the best zombie movies of all time. Plus this has one of the greatest posters and film title ever.

     John Gilling was an interesting director he had previously directed "The Flesh and the Fiends" with Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence which was a excellent black and white horror movie about the Burke and Hare murders and than a really cool pirate/adventure film for Hammer called "The Pirates of Blood River" with Christopher Lee. After The Plague of the Zombies he went on to to direct other horror films for Hammer such as "The Reptile" and "The Mummy`s Shroud" but neither really compare to this film. The film is written by Peter Bryan who had written such films as the excellent Sherlock Holmes film "The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) "  and "The Brides of Dracula (1960)"which were both for Hammer. Unfortunately after "The Plague of Zombies" his work gradually declined in quality going on to write such terrible films as "The Blood Beast Terror" in 1968 which stared Peter Cushing who went on to later say that it was the worst film he was ever in and the film "Trog" in 1970 a film on par with "Troll 2" in badness which I find weird considering that there were a lot of talented people working on "Trog" I think even John Gilling was one of the writers or something, Oh well. Anyways on a different note the film has a well assembled cast with Andre Morell who might remember as Watson in "The Hound of the Baskervilles", the beautiful Diana Clare playing his daughter in the movie, and the always awesome John Carson who is very young in this movie and plays its haunting villain Squire Clive Hamilton.

     I really like this movie a lot and its fortunately been recently released on Blu-Ray! Unfortunately its only been released on region B format so that means that Americans like me can`t watch it yet cause were on region A, so I cant get it on Blu-Ray until its released on region A. I've heard though that  its Blu-Ray looks really well restored and has some good special features to boot, but i`ll just have to wait till it gets its region A release. Other than that I can`t recommend the film highly enough its actually become one of my favorite films from Britain`s Hammer films and is definitely just an incredibly underrated film. So if you get the chance watch The Plague of the Zombies watch it, because i`m sure you wont be disappointed.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Skull (1965)

The Skull (1965)
Directed By: Freddie Francis 
Written By: Milton Subotsky, Based on the short story"The Skull of the Marquis De Sade" by Robert Bloch
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark 

1965`s The Skull was a Gothic period horror film made by Hammer studios rival Amicus. Its directed by the great Freddie Francis who had just previously directed "The Evil of Frankenstein" for Hammer and "Dr.Terrors House of Horrors" for Amicus and based on a short story by Robert Bloch (who wrote the novel Psycho in case you don't know who that is). The cast is then assembled with some of the greatest English actors of all time with Peter Cushing in the staring role and Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Patrick Wymark,and Patrick Magee. The final film though is a very interesting result, that will probably have peoples opinions divided, my opinion is that its a fantastic film and one of the best of its kind, but I can understand why people would not be attracted to it.

The film is like I said based on a short story by Robert Bloch called "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade"; in which an avid collector of  occult artifacts and antiques Dr.Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing) who purchases the skull of Marquis de Sade. In case you dont know who Marquis de Sade is he is i`ll give you a quick overview of him; he was a french aristocrat whose extreme perverse sexual preferences and erotic writings gave rise to the term sadism. His writings combined philosophy with pornography depicting sexual fantasies that emphasized violence, criminality, and blasphemy against the Catholic Church. He spent over 30 years in an insane asylum and wrote most of his works there. I could go on about him but if your curious to know more just go to Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica, they have a lot of information on him. All you need to know about him in regards to this film is he was a really crazy person and his skull is the cursed skull in the movie. Anyways after Maitland is convinced its the actually skull of De Sade he buys it and almost immediately begins to suffer from a series of nightmarish events that drive him to the brink of madness.

I personally really do enjoy this movie and have actually grow to like it more over the years. I do have to warn some people though its kind of a slow film. Its not fast paced horror movie and takes on the more slow burn style horror film, I prefer it that way and personally feel its what helps make the film more effective. It also allows the actors to be more naturalistic and gives the director Freddie Francis who by the way was also a Oscar winning cinematographer, to be more at ease and artistic with  how he set up shots and scenes.

One major thing worth mentioning about the movie is how great the cast is. Its one of the best assembled casts for an Amicus film. First off you have the star Peter Cushing who is one of my favorite actors of all time playing the lead. Obviously he does a great job and plays the role completely convincing and is joy to watch when every he`s on screen. Christopher Lee has supporting role in the film as Maitlands friend and fellow collector of items of the occult Sir Matthew Phillips. Another Hammer film regular Michael Gough plays a small role as an auctioneer who actions off Occult items to rich British people. English actor Patrick Wymark who was in bunch of great movies like Prices`s "Witchfinder General" and Polanski`s "Replusion" plays a seedy graverobber/thief who gets hard to find items for Maitland, no questions asked. And Patrick Magee ("A Clockwork Orange" & "Masque of the Red Death") makes a welcome appearance in the film as a police surgeon.

Overall you cant go wrong with The Skull. Its a wonderfully directed atmospheric film, that's presented in a fantastic 2:35 format. The story is a great and entertaining occult/possession film that never gets dull or derivative. Of course though the cast alone makes this movie worth checking out, Cushing and Lee are at there best here. So if you get the chance I highly recommend checking out this great little lesser known English Gothic horror film.                                                    

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Five Favorite John Carpenter Films and my Number one Least Favorite

John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors and he definitely has one of the most accomplished careers of any director. Admittedly in the last 20 years his movies have been very hit and miss and only shadows of the quality of his past movies. In fact his latest movie 2010`s The Ward was his first feature film since 2001`s Ghosts of Mars, I just hope he puts out a couple more movies before he quiets for good. Anyways here are my top five FAVORITE John Carpenter movies and my number one LEAST favorite;

1. THE THING (1982)
 For me this is John Carpenters masterpiece. Its the perfect mixture of science fiction and horror, as well as being probably the best remake ever made. On top of that the special effects are some of the greatest practical effects i`ve ever seen. I could go on and on about how much I love this movie and everything about it but I think you get the idea.

2. Assault On Precinct 13 (1976)
 I have to give this movie credit for really being the Carpenter film that made me appreciate and realize how awesome his films are. This movie is one of his very early films and instead of a "horror" film its a brilliant thriller that doesn't hold back.

3. HALLOWEEN (1978)
 Halloween is just such a great horror movie in almost ever way. From its iconic soundtrack to its great Halloween season atmosphere this is a film that is a true classic.

     Another simply brilliant film. It has a amazing cast with Kurt Russel, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgine, Donald Pleasence, etc. Then its title main character Snake Pliskeen is one of the coolest antiheroes since Clint Eastwoods "the man with no name" character. Not to mention the film is just great to look at, the art direction is just amazing.

5. THEY LIVE (1988) 
  What can I say I just love this crazy movie. Though really "They Live" is a great satire at its core (in a Dawn of the Dead sort of way) but its message doesn't get in the way of the film at all. Instead it succeeds in still being an enjoyable horror film with great dark comedic elements.

That about does it with my top 5 favorite Carpenter film unfortunately a couple that I really loved didn't make the list like The Fog, Christine, and Vampires. All three of those are just really great films that I highly recommend checking out as well. Unfortunately though John Carpenter has made some duds, since the beginning of the 90`s its been real hit and miss for his movies on one hand you have Vampires (1998) and In Mouth of Madness (1994) which actually are really good movies. Then you have Escape From L.A (1996) which I don`t think is that bad of a movie I just think it was forced to live up to impossible standards that audiences were giving it, which is one reason why I think most people despise it, but in my opinion I think its alright not anywhere near as good as New York but an OK movie none the less. Anyways the worst film ever done by John Carpenter is by far:

Most people will probably agree with me that this movie is Carpenters worst. Its just so bad and its really unfortunate because I feel like it could have been possibly been good. Instead its a lame science fiction film, with a lackluster story, uninspired acting, and really bad dialogue. Unlike with some of his other bad movies like Memoirs of an Invisible Man which is a pretty forgettable film but it at least has some funny moments and Village of the Damned which is a awful remake but does have a few good scenes, Ghosts of Mars has nothing and is one of those bad films that is so bad its hard to finish.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Vampire Bat (1933)

The Vampire Bat (1933)
Directed by: Frank R. Strayer
Written by: Edward T. Lowe Jr
Starring: Lionel Atwill, Fay Reagan, Melvyn Douglas 

   The Vampire Bat is actually one of my favorite Lionel Atwill movies and is a great little gem in regards to 1930s horror. Utilizing some great actors, creepy atmosphere, fantastic sets, and some dash's of  funny humor. I`ve also got to say its one of the  best movies in the public domain; along side films such as White Zombie, Carnival of Souls, and of course Night of the Living Dead. Of course not as good as those movie but its up there with them.

   The movie is set in the village of Klineschloss were locals are scared stiff of a "vampire" who is killing villagers and then draining them dry of their blood. This fear of the killer becomes so strong the people in the village start to become hysterical, which only gets worse when the Burgomaster and town doctor Otto Von Niemann (Lionel Atwill) declare it is officially a epidemic of vampirism. Only police inspector Karl Brettshneider remains skeptical of the "vampirism theory", though with the increasing body count and mounting evidence towards vampirism he doesn't know what to believe. Up until the epic and rather surprising climax were everything is reveled.

      One thing about The Vampire Bat is that its one of the best independent horror films of the 30`s. The sets alone are fantastic, though that mostly has to do with the fact that they were getting to use Universals European village sets at night when Universal wasn't using them, in fact if you think Lionel Atwills office looks familiar its because its the same interior sets from Universals "The Old Dark House". On top of having great set design director Strayer does a marvelous job at photographing the scenes and creating this great unique atmosphere that echoes influence from German Expression and other Universal horror films from that period. The point i`m trying to get at is it doesn't feel like a "cheap quikie" like it could have been, instead it utilizes all its resources and crafts a inspired period piece that holds up to films like Dracula and Frankenstein despite only having a fraction of the budget that they had.

       Not mention it has a really good cast. With the always great Lionel Atwill as the town doctor, Fay Wray from King Kong fame as his niece, and future Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas as police inspector Karl, Lionel Belmore who was the Burgomaster in Frankenstein plays the Burgomaster in this film (so they were recycling Universal sets as well as supporting actors I guess) and good ole Dwight Frye plays the slow odd Herman Gleib whose made a scapegoat for the killings, oh and not mention Robert Frazer from White Zombie has a small role in this movie as well. The cast alone is reason enough to check out this movie and if you like Lionel Atwill and haven't seen this movie there's even more reason now to check it out, cause personally its one of my favorites of his.

      Altogether The Vampire Bat is a great, well made early 30`s independent horror movie. Its a film that so easily could have been bad but wasn't and since its a "spooky old dark house" and "bats flying everywhere" type movie its a perfect movie for Halloween time. So if your a classic horror fan, I definitely recommend giving The Vampire Bat  a chance.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Gorilla (1939)


  The Gorilla (1939)
  Directed ByAllan Dwan
  Written By: Ralph James and Sid Silvers, based on a play by              Ralph Spence
   Starring: The Ritz Brothers, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill

   The Gorilla is a comedy/horror film made by the comedy duo the Ritz Brothers, it costars horror icons Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill. Now just to put it out there this is the only Ritz Brothers movie i`ve seen, unless you count Harry Ritz`s cameo in Mel Brooks Silent Movie. But i`m not sure now if this was a good place to start because the film is neither very funny, spooky, or even memorable. To be fair i`ve heard that this is far from there best movie and the production and making of this film were plagued with difficulty's.

           The Gorilla is about a serial killer called The Gorilla who warns people via paper message when hes going to kill them. When he threatens the wealthy man Walter Stevens (played by Lionel Atwill) he hires private investigators (the Ritz Brothers) to protect and investigate for him.. When suddenly a real gorilla gets loose in the house, Walter Stevens goes missing, secret passages and rooms pop up, and real conspiracy's begin to surface in the plot. Unfortunately this whole thing feels quickly and hap haphazardly thrown together and just results in a mess of a movie.

        Though to the films benefit it has some really good actors in it; two of my favorite in fact Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill.; Lugosi plays the butler who is who your supposed to think the Gorilla is but obviously he`s not and Lionel Atwill plays the target of the Gorilla Walter Stevens who the Ritz Brothers are supposed to be protecting.Now I know that the Ritz Brothers are supposed to have better material (hopefully) but all I have to say after seeing this is they are no Abbott and Costello or There Stooges in this. and this is why; For one the humor they use in this movie is really dated, two unlike the Three Stooges you had three different distinguishable characters with the Ritz Brothers I couldn't tell one from the other they all look and acted the same, and then they used the same gags through the whole movie at first they were worth a chuckle but than it just got really boring and old. One of the funniest moments is actually when Lugosi`s character tells the maid Kitty to shut up, because she screamed the whole movie and then talked in a high pitched voice when she wasn't screaming her lungs out, its the way Lugosi said it its almost like he genuinely wanted her to shut up.

         There were things I did like about this movie though, other than Lugosi and Atwill. I really liked the set design in this movie. It was your classic spooky old fashioned mansion set with your constant rain, thunder, and lightening going on outside the whole time. Which looked especially good in its Black and White Photography.

        Sadly though I feel this movie feel short. Its not funny or scary and as far as it could be from a horror comedy like Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein. Its also a very forgettable movie on top of it all and I really wouldn't  recommend to anybody unless they are a Bela Lugosi fan maybe. There are just so many better horror/comedy's from the era like as i`ve mentioned already  Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein,   Boris Karloff and Peter Lorres The Boogie Man Will Get You, and the super underrated Bela Lugosi movie One Body Too Many. So unless your really curious to see this movie and hey you might watch it and like it more than I did, otherwise go ahead and skip this one you wont be missing a thing.




Monday, July 8, 2013

Witchfinder General (1968)


Witchfinder General (1968)
Directed by: Michael Reeves
Written by: Michael Reeves and Tom Baker; based on a novel by Louis M.Hayward
Starring: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Heath

Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm because American distributors wanted to cash off Roger Corman`s Edgar Allan Poe series) is not only one of my favorite Vincent Price films but one of my all time favorite movies ever made. I`ve seen this movie a good number of times and its truthfully never lost its touch on me and ever time i`ve shown this film to someone despite what skepticism they might have no one i`ve ever shown it to has been disappointing. Now its considered a horror film but to be honest its more of a historical piece because its based on a true story in history and this guy Matthew Hopkins was a real person who really did the kind of  horrible things he does in this movie.

This film is set in England during its civil war were it was the Royalists vs the Parliamentary party both fighting each other over control. Its thanks to this conflict that's ongoing people like Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) are able to go village to village exploiting fears and superstitions by offering his services as a "Witchhunter"and than killing who ever he pleases and sees fit to bill as a witch, and than walking away with a profit. All this works splendidly for Hopkins until he targets the wife of the young soldier Richard Marshall who despite risking treason for desertion from the army pursues Hopkins with only the thought of making him die painfully.

     Vincent Price is at his best in this movie. In most of Vincent Prices horror movies he incorporates a certain level of charm to his villains that make them sympathetic like in House on Haunted Hill and House of Wax, but not here. In Witchfinder General he is pure evil in his portrayal of Matthew Hopkins. One other thing that's really interesting on Prices part is he plays the role in a way that you feel like the character Matthew Hopkins is so consumed in greed, lust, and hate that he cant feel sympathy and lacks the emotion that a normal human would have. And Price translates this to the screen marvelously in his performance. Now one person in particular that i`d also like to mention is the actor Robert Russell who plays Matthew Hopkins accomplice  John Sterne. In all the reviews of read on this movie no one seems to mention him, so naturally I feel obligated to mention him and point out what a perfect person he was to play that role. John Sterne is a greasy mean little man who delights in torturing and inflicting pain onto people, and Russell just does it too well. You might just have to see it to understand.

Sadly though this was to be director Michael Reeves last film, as he died at the age of 25
of    alcohol and barbiturate overdose after this movie came out. Anyways his direction in this movie is nothing short of incredible. For one he really does a good job at completely immersing the movie into a deep period setting, making the film really look and feels like the sixteenth century. Furthermore he makes the movie quite gory especially for the 60`s and obviously because its so bloody the censor boards and critics at the time completely balked at the film over that. 

      Overall I obviously love this movie and would recommend it to everyone ( in fact I like this movie so much I have a painting of the Vincent Price character Matthew Hopkins by artist LJ Dopp above my bookshelf  in my bedroom), but I don't love the movie for the sole fact that it has my favorite actor Vincent Price in it or that its based on a subject matter that's very interesting to me. But because its honestly a incredible piece of work, and everyone whose a fan of not only cult cinema but of film in general should have to watch and experience Witchfinder General.