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.