Cinema Sunday: Black Sabbath (1963)

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Title: Black Sabbath (The Three Faces of Fear)

Distributor: Warner Bros./AIP

Writers: Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Marcello Fondato

Director: Mario Bava

Producer: Salvatore Billitteri, Paolo Mercuri

Starring: Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Michele Mercier, Susy Andersen, Lidia Alfonsi

Released: August/November 1963 (Italy/France)

MPAA: UR

 

 

As October arrives, so does another movie review! To say that I’m obsessed with Boris Karloff films at the moment would be an enormous understatement. Upon watching this film for the first time a few weeks back, I was in awe because this anthology film is introduced and concluded with Karloff himself revving up the audience for the horror they are about to encounter (and possibly see outside of the theater!), plus he stars in one segment as well! I must confess that I’m not a big fan of anthology (or portmanteau, if you prefer) films. But there are a select few that I do enjoy (Amicus Productions, of course), and this film is probably at the top of that short list.

Let us now journey into the mind of Mario Bava

 

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The first tale (“The Drop of Water”) begins with a woman (Jacqueline Pierreux) answering a phone. There’s a wicked storm rolling through, setting an incredibly eerie mood. The woman on the other end of the phone is calling to ask for help with a dead body that needs to be dressed. The woman is apparently a nurse (or an assistant), and is quite put off by the request at such a late hour. She does agree to come over though.

 

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The door is answered by a pale looking servant, who seems frantic. She explains to the woman who the dead woman was a medium, and very mysterious. And also that if anyone should try to desecrate the home or her corpse, they’ll be cursed! The woman enters the bedroom where the dead woman is lying. She immediately sees the hideous face of the medium, but then her eyes shift to a huge ring on the corpse’s finger that looks valuable. She’s immediately bothered by a fly, and it seems no matter what she does, it won’t stop harassing her. She then returns home, but begins to see things that cannot be explained. As the night goes on, her chances of living through the curse diminish.

 

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The second installment “The Telephone,” shows a beautiful young woman (Michèle Mercier) (in the Italian version, she’s a prostitute, but the American version doesn’t mention it at all), returning to her apartment for the evening. She receives two phone calls where the caller simply hangs up on her. The third time though a voice calls her by name, and tells her how beautiful she is, and that he’s watching her. He claims that she knows him but acts as if she doesn’t. The calls continue and get more explicit with each one. Rosy eventually finds out that the voice on the phone is Frank (Milo Quesada)(in the foreign version, Frank is her former pimp that she testified against and he went to prison-in the American version it’s ambiguous, and you get the impression Frank is a former lover perhaps, and he’s supposed to be dead).

 

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Rosy then calls her friend, Mary (Lydia Alfonsi), and asks her to come over because she’s frightened. Mary does come over, and believes that Rosy has gone off the deep end. After they talk, Mary provides Rosy with a knife for protection. After they have tea, Mary tells her that she slipped her a sedative to help her sleep. Later that night, an intruder breaks into the apartment and attempts to murder both women.

 

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Finally, we “The Wurdalak (a Russian term for vampire).” In 19th century Russia, we see Count D’Urfe (Mark Damon), riding through the countryside. He comes upon a horse with a man slumped over it, and a knife in his back. Upon chasing down the horse, he sees that the man also has been decapitated. He pulls the knife from the dead man’s back, and finds the nearest residence. He enters and is greeted harshly by Giorgio (Glauco Onorato), who claims that the blade belongs to his father. The Count takes Giorgio outside to explain things, and then another man, Pietro (his younger brother), appears and plunges a sword into the corpse. They tell the Count that they’ve been waiting for the return of their father as he’s been gone for a few days, trying to fight the wurdalak. They offer him shelter for the night, and he accepts.

 

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The Count was given a warning though, and he didn’t understand it. He then asks Sdenka (Susy Andersen), what the warning was all about. She explains the terror of the wurdalak, and how her father told them that if he didn’t return by 10pm on the fifth day of his leaving, they were not to let him in the house and should drive a lance through his heart. Around midnight, Gorca (Boris Karloff) returns. The family is wary but he does look normal…at first. He refuses food, talks about being very cold, etc. Before the night is over, Gorca will reveal his true colors.

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

 

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As I stated earlier, I’m not a huge fan of anthology films. This one is pretty awesome though, and Karloff has a lot to do with that fact. Just his segments before and after each tale are cool, but his presence in one of the tales is the icing on the cake. Quite honestly though, that tale was the one I felt went on a bit too long compared to the others. All three are solid though, and have good acting, sets, and musical score (Roberto Nicolosi).

Mario Bava is one of the most influential directors/writers of the century without question. Even in films with too many hands in the pot (like this one), his vision rises above the other noise, and generates something unique. I’ve only seen a few of his films, but the man had a knack for using low budgets to bring forth astounding horror films.

Look this one up if you haven’t seen it yet. The dubbed version is a little rough but definitely watchable, but if you can find the original version, definitely go that route. Oh, and did I mention Michèle Mercier (above and below) is in this film…

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Justice League: The New Frontier

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Title: Justice League: The New Frontier

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Writers: Darwyn Cooke (original story/Graphic Novel), Stan Berkowitz (screenplay)

Director: David Bullock

Producers: Bruce Timm, Mike Goguen

Starring: David Boreanaz, Brooke Shields, Lucy Lawless, David MacLachlan, Neil Patrick Harris

Released: 2008

MPAA: PG-13

 

I typically only review older films, for the simple fact that is where my greatest interest lies, and I believe film-making as a whole has lost something it will probably never regain from these past decades. After learning of the recent passing of comic book creator, Darwyn Cooke, I felt compelled to review this wonderful film based off of his story.

By the time the story was written, there were of course many origin stories written for these characters, and retcons, reboots, etc., but Cooke not only used elements of all that material, he infused something in the characters using the whirlwind of ideas found in the revolutionary times of the 1960’s. That decade is probably second place in the history of comics (as far as relevancy) to the  Golden Age that birthed Superman (Siegel and Shuster), Batman (Bill Finger and Bob Kane), and Captain America (Jack Kirby and Joe Simon), just to name a few. These pioneers shaped and molded things to come, and most certainly influenced Cooke. Godspeed, Darwyn!

 

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The film begins with a monologue, or better yet, a recounting of Earth’s history since before the dawn of man. It shows the age of the dinosaurs, all the way up to the creation of the Atom Bomb (The Manhattan Project). The person speaking is never shown, but calls himself, “The Center,” and speaks as if it’s some kind of elemental force of nature that needs to purify the Earth because of its latest discovery (atomic energy). We then see that this “person” is writing a book called “The Last Story,” and at its conclusion, the writer picks up a revolver and apparently commits suicide.

 

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The following scene shows two pilots, one of them being Hal Jordan (David Boreanaz), flying jet fighters at the conclusion of the Korean War. As the two joke around, suddenly two communist jets attack them, and after Hal causes them to crash into each other, one more appears, and shoots down Jordan. As he lands in hostile territory, he attacked by a communist soldier. He has to kill the enemy soldier, and he apparently never had to kill before, so this traumatized him to the point of having a nervous breakdown or basically, PTSD.

The scene switches to an observatory in Gotham City. A scientist is on his death-bed from a heart attack brought on by an alien (John Jones, voiced by Miguel Ferrer) from Mars that was transported to the planet while the scientist was trying to beam a message to Mars. The alien looks rather scary, but shows absolute compassion for the man, and covers his corpse with a jacket. The alien then assumes the identity of the scientist by shape-changing into his likeness. Meanwhile, a world away in Indo-China, we see Superman (Kyle MacLachlan) flying into a jungle area. He sees an entire village on fire, but then hears someone celebrating. He enters a shack, where Wonder Woman (Lucy Lawless) tells him that the women from the village were captured, while the men and children were murdered. She set the women free and let them kill their oppressors. This doesn’t sit well with Superman but after a heated conversation, she tells him…”there’s the door, spaceman!” He walks out without arguing any further about her methods.

 

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Back in Metropolis, we see the alien that assumed the form of the scientist, as he’s living a somewhat normal life, and that he’s addicted to television. On the roof of the Daily Planet, Superman and Lois Lane (Kyra Sedgwick) are trying to figure out what the “right” thing to do is these days. Over in Las Vegas, Hal Jordan and his friend “Ace” are having a good time, gambling and boozing. They talk briefly about a mission, but quickly get back to having fun. Over in a corner, Iris West is interviewing some Hollywood type sleaze, but shortly after makes a quick phone call to her boyfriend, Barry Allen (the Flash, voiced by Neil Patrick Harris). Suddenly, Captain Cold (James Arnold Taylor) bursts in the casino, and robs the place. Of course, he doesn’t get very far before the Flash shows up to apprehend him though. As he’s all but beaten, a different voice comes out of his mouth, stating that Barry’s “not like the other lesser beings” and that “the Center is coming.”

 

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Batman (Jeremy Sisto), Green Lantern, and other heroes are introduced, and we see that it seems as if a cult is rising and taking over the minds of people all over the world. We also see that the martian, has assumed a new identity as a policeman named John Jones. He has a run in with Batman and the two begin to pool their resources to figure out what’s going on. Will they be able to find out the sinister secret of The Center? Will they be able to unite the heroes of the world while the government is becoming increasingly uneasy with super-powered beings running around unchecked? Watch to find out!!!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

While I admit I haven’t rad this story yet, if it’s even half as good as the film, it must be incredible. I’ve seen Cooke’s artwork many times, and his style is very good, and not comparable to really anyone else of that caliber. His vision and use of the zeitgeist of the times was absolutely brilliant. The mysterious elements as far as the government and the cult blend together nicely. I wonder if he was influenced by Alan Moore’s Watchmen slightly, as those heroes were under scrutiny from the government and within their own minds.

The animation in this movie is top-notch, and that is to be expected when Bruce Timm is involved. He’s set a high standard for DC animation, I’m not sure anyone can ever top it. Voice director Andrea Romano has been a part of that team (Bruce Timm and company) for a long time, and always does a great job getting quality voice actors for these roles. Stan Berkowitz is another name from the good old days of Batman the Animated Series, where these names all came together to begin molding the DC animated universe into the gem it is now.

Do yourself a favor and buy this DVD/Blu-Ray, there is no way you will be disappointed by the film. It just isn’t possible, because Darwyn Cooke put his heart and soul into this story. Rather than post shots from the film, I’m going to show some of Cooke’s work from the actual comic books themselves.

 

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Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

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Title: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

Distributor: Hammer Films/Warner Bros.

Writer: Bert Batt

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward

Released: May 1969 (U.K.)

MPAA: PG-13

 

After focusing on a film starring Christopher Lee last week, I couldn’t help but gravitate towards a film starring his Hammer Films counterpart, Peter Cushing! I’ve just about exhausted all Hammer’s Vampire/Frankenstein’s Monster films, but this little gem remains! A controversial film to say the least, this is one that features not only Cushing, but also the gorgeous Veronica Carlson! She’s one of those few starlets that lights up the screen when she appears, and plays a great counterpart to evil Doctor Frankenstein!

Cushing only did one more Frankenstein film after this one (Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell), and I’ll eventually get to it down the road, but for now, let us traverse back in time, to the turn of the century. To a time when a villain like Dr. Frankenstein could get away with his ghastly experiments!

 

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The film begins with a doctor walking down a foggy street, heading for his office. He’s suddenly accosted by a man who’s carrying a basket and some bladed weapon. The man (not seen clearly) slices the doctor’s head clean off! Just then, we see a burglar (Harold Goodwin) trying to break into a home. He hears footsteps, and cannot complete his mission, so he tries the nearest doorknob, and successfully gains access to another house. He wanders around for a few seconds, and then sees a laboratory filled with unusual devices and even a frozen corpse! He gets startled, and crashes into a table. The noise alerts the man whose home he’s broken into (the same man that frightened him into the home in the first place). As the burglar waits, he hears footsteps drawing nearer. He’s then confronted by a horrifically scarred man, and the two then fight. As the two brawl, a basket gets kicked over that the scarred man was carrying. A head comes rolling out, and we now know that it was the head of the doctor who was murdered just minutes before. The burglar eventually gets away, and the other man removes a mask, and it’s revealed that it is Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) himself!

 

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The doctor realizes that the man will go to the police in all likelihood, so he opens a hatch in the floor, and dumps the body (and kicks the head down like a soccer ball), into a stream below. The burglar runs into a policeman, and then is taken to the station. After confessing, the police arrive and surmise that the man who beheaded the doctor earlier is probably the same man who had this secret laboratory. They then begin their investigation, and it’s headed up by Inspector Frisch (Thorley Walters), who’s an odd fellow to say the least. He doesn’t seem to have any ideas as far as who the killer may be, nor does he take advice from his fellow investigators.

 

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As Dr. Frankenstein leaves the house he was occupying, he then finds a room for rent on the other side of London. He knocks on the door and is greeted by Anna (Veronica Carlson), and with her mother currently elderly and ill, she is running the boarding house. We then switch to a local asylum, where a woman is screaming like a banshee. We are introduced to Dr. Karl Holst (Simon Ward), who is a very prominent young doctor employed there. He looks in on another patient, Dr. Frederick Brandt (George Pravda), who has had a traumatic brain injury, and cannot even speak. The other doctors at the asylum believe he cannot be cured. Back at the boarding house, the other four tenants are discussing Dr. Brandt, and then after Dr. Frankenstein enters the room (under an assumed name), and they involve his name in the conversation. He tells them it’s fools like them that have blocked progress for centuries. They get furious with him, but he leaves (like a boss).

 

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Later, Karl comes to take out his bride-to-be, Anna. He drops a box (of medicinal cocaine) on the doorstep, and then heads inside to see Anna. Dr. Frankenstein finds the box, and uses this leverage to blackmail them into service of his dastardly deeds. They’ve been using the stolen drugs to sell them to support Anna’s elderly mother. The next day, Anna tosses the other four tenants out on the street to make room for Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments. He then tells Karl that he means to repair the damaged brain of Dr. Brandt, a man whom he’d been corresponding with about brain surgery. Frankenstein and Holst rob a medical supply store, and Holst murders the night watchman in fear of being caught. Frankenstein then uses Karl’s place at the asylum to kidnap Dr. Brandt from the asylum, so he can remove his brain and put it in another body, and repair it during the process.

 

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Will Dr. Frankenstein succeed in his devilish plot or will Karl and Anna find a way to not only clear their names but also put an end to the devious deeds of Dr. Frankenstein?!?!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

One scene aside, this is one of Hammer’s best films in the “Frankenstein’s Monster” franchise. It’s not the typical monster as was the first couple of films (and the Universal Studios film), in that the story revolves more around the doctor himself, and his machinations. Of course, when you have a lead like Peter Cushing this is possible. The supporting cast is great as well, and you get a wild actor like Thorley Walters, a solid job by a young Simon Ward, and the utter beauty and grace of Veronica Carlson (image below) to cap it all off.

At this point, Hammer was relying on film distribution companies in the U.S. to partially back their films, and of course, distribute them in America. So, in a roundabout way, they had some say in the content of the film itself. Hammer executive, James Carreras, demanded that director Terence Fisher (his first film back at Hammer after a few years break) add a rape scene to the film. This did not settle well with Cushing and Carlson (the two involved in the scene), but the did it, albeit begrudgingly. Quite honestly, the scene does seem a bit out-of-place, and for anyone that’s a Hammer aficionado, you’ll know that this isn’t something Dr. Frankenstein would’ve been interested in.

Definitely set aside some time to watch this one. It’s part of a great four film set by TCM Classics, and is one of my treasured compilations of Hammer Studios material!

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: X The Unknown (1956)

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Title: X The Unknown

Distributor: Warner Bros. (Hammer Studios)

Writer: Jimmy Sangster

Director: Leslie Norman (and originally, Joseph Losey)

Producer: Anthony Hinds

Starring: Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman, Michael Ripper, Leo McKern, Anthony Newley

Released: November 1956

MPAA: Approved

 

Of course, everyone that’s a fan of the sci-fi/horror genre has heard of the 1958 classic, The Blob. I’d like to spotlight a film that has quite a few similarities…and was released two years previously. Not trying to imply that The Blob is a ripoff but they certainly seemed to “borrow’ a few ideas from this film. A film that was originally intended to be a sequel to Hammer’s successful sci-fi film, The Quatermass Experiment, but the writer of that film (Nigel Kneale) wouldn’t allow the use of his main character (Professor Bernard Quatermass) to be used, so they reconstructed slightly, and moved forward.

Limited budgets have never stopped Hammer Studios from producing great material, and this film is no exception. The cast isn’t very recognizable to fans of Hammer’s horror films (except for Michael Ripper!), but don’t let that dissuade you from watching. Alright, let the storytelling commence!

 

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The film opens with a soldier, Corporal “Spider” Webb (Anthony Newley), as he’s using a Geiger counter to search an area for radioactivity. He gets a reading, and then finds something buried just below the surface. We then see that it’s a training exercise, and the soldiers are prepping for a mission. We see Sergeant Grimsdyke (Michael Ripper) and he’s told to retrieve Major Cartwright (John Harvey) because one of the soldiers is getting a reading nowhere near one of the test areas. They then try to find the device they planted for the exercise, but the muddy ground begins to bubble near the other site, and one of the soldiers gets frightened. Grimsdyke orders the men to back off, but before they can get away, two of the men are caught in an explosion. We see a “Y”-shaped crack in the Earth, and smoke pouring out of it.

 

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Over at a lab, we see Peter Elliott (William Lucas), and Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger), conducting experiments. Royston seems like a bit of an eccentric old chap, and has an affection for oddities of all kinds. Royston then gets orders to go check out the radioactive area that the Army discovered. The area doesn’t seem to be radioactive anymore, so Royston is skeptical. He then gets a look at the soldiers that were burned in the incident, and changes his mind. He immediately requests for his equipment to be brought out to the site. There are some reporters there and they start to badger the military.

 

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Later that night, two kids are up to some shenanigans, and one ventures out to the restricted area by the fissure. He nears a structure, but then stops when he hears a noise. He’s stopped in his tracks by something horrific that is sizzling like bacon. He runs so fast that he passes out his mate that waiting for him. We next see the boy in the hospital (he eventually dies from the encounter), and Dr. Royston has been brought in to examine him. It seems the boy has radiation burns. Royston questions the other boy about their whereabouts the night before, and he confesses that they went near the restricted area.

 

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Royston heads to the Tower near the restricted area to do some investigating. He finds a old man making moonshine, and then also a metal canister from his lab. He rushes back to his lab, and sees that it has been broken into by some unknown person(s). The lab is ransacked, and there’s a strange film over everything. Peter arrives and is shocked at what has happened. Inspector “Mac” McGill (Leo McKern) is sent by the local authorities to investigate the strange goings-on. That very night, a doctor and a nurse are “fraternizing” but get interrupted by the same unforeseen force that burned the boy. It chars the man to ashes.

 

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Out on the marshes, two soldiers are attacked by the radioactive force, and killed. Royston concludes that there must be a sort of radioactive prehistoric creature that is causing this havoc, and that it must be stopped or many more will die a horrible death! They hatch a plan to repel down into the fissure, and see what exactly they are up against. Elliott volunteers to be lowered down, and as he’s being lowered down, he sees the remains of one of the soldiers that was killed. The creature then moves in to attack, and the army tries to fight it off with guns and flamethrowers. They next attempt to seal the creature below by filling the fissure with concrete. Royston tells them that it wont work, because it already made its way to the surface through tons of rock.

Will Dr. Royston be able to concoct a plan to stop this radioactive nightmare or will the entire countryside be burnt to a crisp?!? Tune in to find out!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Although this film is very good, it does lack star power. The other films (in the Quatermass trilogy) have a very strong lead, and that certainly helped them stay a bit more on point. Dean Jagger isn’t bad or anything like that he just lacks any real “oomph” on-screen. The erst of the players are good but not great, so there’s really no support to help push the cast ahead. There is some great atmosphere and thrilling moments in this film, and they give it a feeling of comfort while watching.

The soundtrack is average, and the sets just above that bar. A few moments of humor are well placed, and throw a good curveball into the mix. There is one glaring omission from this film that you typically find in all of their films- an attractive but competent female role. It would’ve’ benefited the film immensely, and added a nice and missing angle from the film.

Overall a good sci-fi flick that helps set the tone for the other Quatermass films that follow down the road. Definitely set aside some time for a viewing!

 

Click here for the trailer!