Cinema Sunday: The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

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Title: The Evil of Frankenstein

Distributor: Universal/ Hammer Studios

Writer: Anthony Hinds

Director: Freddie Francis

Producer: Anthony Hinds

Starring: Peter Cushing, Peter Woodthorpe, Duncan Lamont, Kiwi Kingston, Sandor Elès, Katy Wild

Released: May 1964

MPAA: UR

 

I just recently realized that I hadn’t reviewed this film yet, and this must be rectified! Falling third in the sequence of “Frankenstein” films (after The Curse of Frankenstein – 1957, and The Revenge of Frankenstein – 1958, but before Frankenstein Created Woman – 1967), this film picks up and seems to generally follow canon up to this point (other than how the creature was stopped at the end of the first film and the fate of the Baron), so that is encouraging. The masterful Peter Cushing reprises his role as “Baron Frankenstein” and as usual, owns it! Without going into too much, this selection from the franchise is one I find quite comical, some situations that were meant to be, and others not. Alright, let us sojourn into the past!

 

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The film begins with a funeral, and the corpse of a villager lying in wait, ready to be buried. We then see some unscrupulous character snatch the body! A girl witnesses this, and runs off into the woods. Before she knows what’s going on, she runs right into none other than Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing)! The home of the recently stolen corpse is visited by the local vicar, and he’s appalled by this act of terror. Meanwhile, the drunken fellow that stole the corpse takes it to a secluded home in the nearby area. He sells it to Baron Frankenstein and his assistant, Hans (Sandor Elès), and heads to the pub to spend his earnings. While there, he’s confronted by the vicar who has an idea where the corpse may have been taken (the little girl identifies the drunk). He shows up at the laboratory and begins to chastise the good Baron and his assistant, then smashes their equipment. The Baron lunges at him, and starts to throttle the vicar. Hans pulls him off, and they hightail it out of town.

 

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The scene shifts to the carriage, where both men are heading for a new locale. The Baron wakes up Hans, who’s been napping. He informs him that they’re heading to Karlstaad, and the Baron’s former residence. Hans is apprehensive about it, thinking that the Baron will be identified, and they’ll be imprisoned. Baron Frankenstein tells Hans that they’ll take some things of value from his castle, then sell them for money to start another lab elsewhere. As they near the town, they realize there’s a festival going on, and that they can work without anyone noticing them. They reach the castle, but find that it has been pillaged by unknown persons. Hans then asks the Baron about the origins of the monster, and the Baron recounts that very night.

 

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The following day, the two head into town for some food. Hans is still scared of being recognized, so the Baron buys two masks for them to wear. Once inside a cafe’, the Baron sees his old nemesis the Burgomaster (David Hutcheson), and the Chief of Police (Duncan Lamont). He gets extremely agitated when he notices a ring that the Burgomaster is wearing that was his own before he was run out of town. The police confront him about the disturbance, but he and Hans flee for their lives through the carnival. They end up in the tent of a hypnotist named Zoltan (Peter Woodthorpe). He’s performing some rather impressive feats of the mind, and then asks for two volunteers for his next act. The Baron and Hans step up on the stage, but then the police arrive, and begin to search the crowd. The Baron and Hans slip out through a back door, but Zoltan interferes and gets arrested.

 

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As the two fugitives are trying to keep a low profile, the Baron can’t help himself from confronting the Burgomaster. The two get into a verbal spat, but then the police show up. The Baron locks himself into the bedroom with the buxom young lady that the Burgomaster was “entertaining” for the evening, then uses the bed sheets to make a rope to get away. He and Hans then make their way to the mountains to escape the police. It is here that they meet up with a deaf/mute woman named Rena (Katy Wild). She shows them to a cave for shelter, and it is here, that they make a great discovery. Apparently, the monster (Kiwi Kingston) was thought to have been killed, but ended up frozen in ice. They thaw him out and take him back to the castle for some “work.”

 

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After what seems to be days or weeks, they can’t revive his mind, only the body. The Baron remembers the fantastic feats that the hypnotist performed, and thinks he can possibly awaken the sleeping giant’s mind. He does just that, but there’s one little wrinkle…the monster will only obey him! This annoys the Baron, and really ticks off Hans, but for now, there’s nothing they can do about it, so they offer asylum to Zoltan, in exchange for his helping along the mental status of the monster. The Baron believes that Zoltan is helping the monster learn, but in reality, he’s just playing along during the day, but using the monster for more insidious reasons at night!

Will this monster be able to overturn the murderous impulses that surge through his body? Or will Zoltan push him too far, and put everyone in danger of the evil of Frankenstein!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

If you overlook the slight discrepancies from the first film and the flashback in this one, you can have a blast with this film. The two “Peters” (Cushing and Woodthorpe) in this film are great, and play against each other quite well. It’s not the only film these two gentleman appear in together (also The Skull, 1965), but it’s definitely the film with the most screen time between them.

A couple of the scenes were rather dark, and made it slightly difficult to see what was going on. The sets were great, especially the castle, and the few minutes in the cave where the monster was initially found. Some good moments with the music to add some tension to a few scenes, and Don Banks is the man behind that. Finally, for the third consecutive film, we had a different actor portray the monster. This time, we had Kiwi Kingston, and he fit this part perfectly. A big man who really knew how to be imposing, for sure!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Creeping Flesh (1973)

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Title: The Creeping Flesh

Distributor: Columbia Pictures (World Film Services – U.K.)

Writers: Jonathan Rumbold, Peter Spenceley

Director: Freddie Francis

Producer: Michael Redbourn

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Norma Heilbron, Marguerite Hildern, Michael Ripper

Released: February 1973

MPAA: PG

As it’s my blessing and curse, I can’t stay away from Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee for very long! In this film, both men are on-screen a lot, and really get to play off of each other quite a bit. As it was nearing the mid-1970’s, Cushing was slowly starting to wind down the torrid pace of movie making he’d been at for the last couple of decades. Lee, however, was still going strong and still is to this day! This film was produced by a small company (World Film Services, started by John Heyman), but had bankable stars with Cushing and Lee. This one isn’t as well-known as most that these two gentlemen have been in, but we’re going to take a look at it right now!

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The film begins with a man painting  picture of a horrific looking creature (Lovecraft inspired?), and some other very odd things. A knock at the door startles the elderly gentleman that is painting, and a young man walks in, and the old man tells him that he needs him to listen to what he has to say, because no one else will. Professor Emmanuel Hildern (Peter Cushing) begins to tell the young doctor a story about a time, three years ago, when he had just returned from New Guinea (flashback to three years earlier)…

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At a sprawling estate, Professor Hildern returns to his home, and with the skeleton of a Neanderthal-type man. He’s greeted at the front door by his daughter, Penelope (Lorna Heilbron), and a colleague, Professor Waterlow (George Benson). Two men, one of them named Carter (Michael Ripper), then bring in a large box, and in it, is the skeleton. The two men pry it open, and Waterlow is stunned by the behemoth. Penelope was hoping to have breakfast with her father, but the excitement of the skeleton has him only thinking of its possibilities. She’s quite disappointed by this development. He eventually relents from his work, and joins her. She tells her father that she had to dismiss the help because they can’t afford them anymore. He assures her that things are going to change very soon because of this new discovery.

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Penelope believes that her mother died a while back, but in reality, she was committed to an insane asylum, run by her uncle, and Professor Hildern’s brother, Dr. James Hildern (Christopher Lee). Professor Hildern receives a letter that his wife died in the asylum, so he departs to see what happened. James tells his brother that she died while he was away, and that he’ll apparently be stopping the financial help he was giving him to help his research. It’s quite an awkward moment, and Emmanuel leaves feeling unsettled, and almost betrayed.

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Back at the house, Emmanuel reprimands Penelope for going into her mother’s room. He’s apparently forbade her from even mentioning her name, as well. He then retreats to his laboratory, and inspects the skeleton further. He gets some water and begins to clean the skeleton, but within seconds finds out that the skeleton reacts to water in such a way that’s astounding. Wherever water touches the skeleton, flesh begins to appear. One finger completely regenerates, and Professor Hildern quickly cuts it off. Over at the asylum, Dr. Hildern and his associates are conducting Frankenstein-like experiments on the patients, and we see what true horror is. One of the patients jumps him, and grabs the keys, but the good doctor pulls out a pistol and shoots him dead. One of the patients actually manages to escape, and now the police are helping with the search.

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Professor Hildern begins to read up on the folklore of the native people of New Guinea, and then understands that this skeleton is the personification of evil, and the water will restore it to life. Waterlow is befuddled by all of this, and Hildern begins to talk of playing God, and wiping evil off the face of the Earth. He then looks at the blood from the finger he cut off of the skeleton under a microscope, and then compares it to his own. Next, he mixes the two together and discovers that he could stop “evil” from spreading by an inoculation. Meanwhile, Penelope has stolen her fathers keys, and heads into her mother’s bedroom (a place she’s been strictly forbidden to enter). She rummages through her mother’s things for a while, but then discovers a newspaper article that tells of her mother’s mental illness.

Back in the lab, the two doctors are experimenting on monkey with the blood of the skeleton. It’s getting late, so the two men pack it in for the night. The blood under the microscope however is yielding results contradictory to what Professor Hildern originally saw when he tested it. He then heads upstairs and sees that someone is in his wife’s room. He freaks out about it, and then he and Penelope get into an argument. He begins to have a flashback of when his wife was still alive and was a “dancer” that went insane (drugs, alcohol?).

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The next morning, Professor Hildern decides to use his new serum on his daughter, suspecting that her mother’s mental disorder may be hereditary. We then check in on the escaped patient from the insane asylum, as he’s wandered into a local pub. He thrashes most of the male customers, and then makes his way out. The next day, Waterlow calls to Hildern and both men see that the serum has driven the monkey mad. Hildern runs upstairs to see Penelope, but she’s already gone. We see her, as she travels through the seedy parts of London, but so is the escaped patient. Hildern is making his way there as well, but it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. A young man sees Penelope at the bar and starts buying her drinks. Eventually, they go upstairs, but Penelope wont put out. The guy tries to force himself on her, but finds out how sharp her claws are after she rips part of his face off!

She then heads downstairs, and begins to dance around for the crowd. One sailor gets so aroused that he grabs her and tries some shenanigans. She grabs a bottle, breaks off the top, and slashes the guy’s throat!  They chase her out of the pub, and through the streets. She goes into a warehouse and bars the door. As the police and crowd are trying to break the door down, Penelope runs into the escaped patient, Lenny. As the police search the place, Lenny tries to help her escape. They go to the top of the building, but there’s no escape. Lenny looks over the edge and the people below see him. Penelope goes completely off her rocker, and grabs a two by four, and cracks Lenny over the head, and it sends him plummeting to the ground, and his death. A few seconds later, the police surround and capture Penelope.

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Of course, she’s labeled insane, and taken to her uncle’s asylum. He sees a sample of her blood, and sees the foreign agent that as introduced by her father. Uncle James realizes he has his brother cornered, and once he sees the skeleton, he strong-arms his brother into an alliance. Emmanuel doesn’t want to do it, but he may have no choice.

Can Emmanuel somehow redeem himself in the eyes of his maker? Or will James be able to force him into the world of evil? Oh yes, and what about the monster?

OK, here are my thoughts:

For a horror film, this one is more suspense than anything, well, until the end that is. Cushing and Lee are their normal selves, in that you get what you expect. Cushing is torn between morality and his love of science. Lee is a straight up villain in this one, and it was cool to see him in that role and not wearing makeup or a costume that hid his menacing faces. The supporting cast didn’t offer much, but Lorna Heilbron did give some good moments before and after her insanity took hold. A quick appearance of Hammer Studios stalwart, Michael Ripper, was comforting, and even another familiar face from that company, Duncan Lamont (Evil of Frankenstein- 1964 and Frankenstein Created Woman– 1967).

One thing of note that I must mention, was that of the musical score. Paul Ferris did an outstanding job with the music for this film, and he had to be mentioned! The makeup was headed up by none other than Mr. Roy Ashton, and anyone that knows their Hammer films, knows that name! The sets were also very good, and it should be noted that this film wasn’t financed by one of the big studios of the day, but by one that was very tiny.

Give this one a watch, if for no other reason than it was one of the last films that Cushing and Lee did together, and it holds up quite well in my estimation!

Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: I, Monster (1971)

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Title: I, Monster

Distributor: Amicus Productions/British Lion Films/Canon Group

Writer: Milton Subotsky (screenplay)

Director: Steven Weeks

Producers: John Dark, Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky

Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Mike Raven, Richard Hurndall

Released: November 1971

MPAA: PG

 

 

To cap off the two Amicus films I promised to review, I give you the adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, from 1971. Now, this film was supposed to be filmed in a newer, more experimental 3-D way, but the money ran out half way before completion, and it was abandoned. Honestly though, the performances still shine through, and with this cast, you kind of knew it had a chance.

When you say Cushing and Lee together, the names carry a weight that cannot be denied. Both men (even back then) had extensive careers, and proven credentials, especially in the horror/sci-fi genres. They carry this film, no doubt about it. Lets get right down to the movie!

 

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The film opens with a man, Dr. Charles Marlowe (Christopher Lee), working in his lab. He has all sorts of animals for his experiments, and a brilliant mind. We next see a club, and a few socialites, one of them being a friend of Marlowe’s, Frederick Utterson (Peter Cushing). The men are discussing the inner-workings of the mind, and how human behavior is either influenced or as it is from birth. Marlowe believes that people’s minds house both good and evil persona’s, and aren’t really influenced. Utterson and the other chaps believe that influence makes men evil. Marlowe is working on a serum that can separate the good and evil persona’s, but is keeping his results to himself, for now.

 

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Later that evening, Marlowe returns home, and decides to use the serum on his pet cat (after contemplating trying it on himself). The animal goes berserk, and even attacks him! He uses the poker from the fireplace to kill the cat, and does show a huge amount of remorse. Just as this is concluding, a woman shows up at the door. It’s one of his patients, a Miss Diane Thomas (Susan Jameson – image below), looking for some guidance. Marlowe tries to talk to her, but she cannot bring herself to tell him what’s on her mind. She begs him to try something new, and he persuades her to let him use the serum on her (not being 100% honest about what it might do to her).

 

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After Marlowe administers the drug, Miss Thomas loses all her inhibitions, and attempts to sexually seduce Marlowe. He goes to his lab to retrieve some sort of antidote, and when he returns, she’s completely naked. He apparently controls his urge, and administers the antidote. She’s shocked to find out how she acted, but Marlowe tells her that it’s part of her mind, and just normal to have these thoughts. Later on, back at the club, two other colleagues talk about the behavioral acts of people once again. One man, Enfield (Mike Raven – middle of image below), asks if Marlowe has had any success with his experiments. Marlowe admits to trying the drug on his lab animals, and one of his patients. His lawyer, Utterson, advises him to use legal precaution.

 

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The following day, another patient shows up, and demands to get some sort of results out of his sessions with Marlowe. At this point, Marlowe convinces him to let him use the serum on him, and he does. We see that this man was beaten as a youth, and that his anger now stems from those incidents. It’s at this point, that Marlowe decides to use it on himself. We see an immediate change in his attitude. Instead of being stuffy, he acts more wildly and carefree. He decides to cut the head from one of the lab rats, but the chimes of the wall clock throw him off. He then takes the antidote, and calms down. He visits one of his friends from the club, and gets some advice from him.

 

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The next evening, Marlowe uses the drug once again, and it drives him even more mad. He heads out for a walk, and intentionally bumps into a young man. As the man confronts him, he pulls out a scalpel, and threatens the man. He then walks by a window of a shop, and sees a cane he wants to have. Instead of buying it the following day, he smashes the window and steals it. He visits a boarding house, and rents a room. He then bumps into the same man that he threatened earlier, but this time, the other man has a razor. The two fight, and Marlowe almost kills the man, but doesn’t, because for now, the thrill of almost killing a man is enough to satiate his curiosity.

 

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Eventually, Utterson, Enfield, and the others begin to figure out that there’s a connection between a mysterious, new fiend named Edward Blake, and their friend, Marlowe. Will they find out the real secret their friend is hiding, before he goes completely over the edge?

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is one I saw for the first time about a decade ago. For some reason, I didn’t make the Jekyll/Hyde connection right away, but eventually found out through other sources. The quality of the film overall is less than desirable, but Cushing and Lee pull the film to a better than average standing. The supporting cast wasn’t anything to write home about, but Cushing and Lee definitely helped out a ton.

The sets were sub-par, and certainly were something the budget wasn’t aimed to help out with at all. Again, it isn’t a deal breaker or anything, but you can notice the low quality with that aspect of the movie. The music (Carl Davis), actually elevated a few scenes. The filming is kind of odd at a few parts where the 3-D was supposed to be, and that does stick out a bit.

If you get the chance to view this one, don’t hesitate. Cushing and Lee do more than enough to entertain for an hour and a half. You know they will always put forth their best effort!

Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: The Skull (1965)

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Title: The Skull

Distributor: Amicus Productions (Paramount Pictures – U.S.)

Writer: Milton Subotsky (screenplay), Robert Bloch (short story)

Director: Freddie Francis

Producers: Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Peter Woodthorpe

Released: August 1965

MPAA: NR

 

 

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The Amicus Films Production company gets very little press outside of the horror community, and that should not be! The company was only around (making films) for about fifteen years, but it made an impact nonetheless. With perennial stars of the horror genre, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in a few of the films, they knew that had bankable “stars” to get some people into the theaters. Throw in  stalwarts like Michael Gough, and Peter Woodthorpe, and you have a solid cast that delivers.

This film was one that dove into the “cult” fascination of the time, but not too heavily. Certain things were shown/talked about, and others mildly insinuated. Either way, you’ll be excited to see the cast, and the crazy scenes with Cushing. He really is over-the-top in this one, and any fan of the genre or the cast must watch it! let’s get on with the show!

 

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The film begins with a couple of guys robbing a grave. A young man then returns to his apartment with something wrapped in a cloth. He enters his bathroom only to find a beautiful woman bathing. She’s apparently a love interest, but he tells her to get out. She can’t understand why, but he doesn’t care, and tells her to hit the road. She gets out of the tub, and asks why, but he tells her that he must be alone tonight. We then see him boil something, and when he pulls it out of the pot, we see a skull. Suddenly, a fog envelops the room, and when the woman returns to see if he’s changed his mind, she screams in horror. We then cut to the credits.

The next thing we see, is an auctioneer (Michael Gough – image above), pounding his gavel. Two men then get into a bidding war over four stone statues of evil. The first, Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing), and the other, Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee), go back and forth until Phillips doubles Maitland’s bid, and it ends. Afterward, they discuss the bidding war, and Matthews cannot recall why he bid so high. He seems to have been hypnotized by the statues, and couldn’t control himself.

 

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The next evening, another man, Anthony Marco (Patrick Wymark), heads over to the home of Maitland, to sell him something. He has a book from the infamous Marquis de Sade, and it’s actually bound in human skin! Mr. Maitland is so intrigued, that he buys the book for £200. Marco tells him that he’ll be back tomorrow with something even more wild. Upon his return the following evening, he brings a skull, and tells him that it is the skull of the Marquis De Sade himself! Maitland doesn’t believe him at first, but then he tells him a story (one that connects to the pre-credits scene, and shows the murder of the girl), and then after dropping the price a bit, Maitland agrees to think about purchasing it. Marco gives him his address, and tells him to come over the following evening.

 

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Maitland then goes to his friend’s house, and Matthews Phillips and he have a pool game, while discussing the skull. Matthews tells Maitland that the skull is genuine, and that it was stolen from him, days earlier. Maitland encourages Matthews to come with him later when he goes to see Marco, but Matthews refuses, and tells him that he’s glad it’s gone. He states that the skull is evil, and that occultists use its powers to some sadistic means. He begs Maitland to not buy it, but you can see he’s still very interested in it.

 

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Over at Marco’s place, he rushes in to get ready for Maitland’s visit, but finds that the skull isn’t where he left it. He searches the closet vigorously, but to no avail. Suddenly, he turns around, and comes face to face with the skull! Holding it, is the building manager, Bert Travers (Peter Woodthorpe – image above), and he questions Marco about his “artifacts” that are strewn about the room. Marco tells him that nothing is of any value, and Travers leaves the room. Meanwhile, Maitland is reading his skin-bound book, that he purchased only days ago. He then gets a knock at the door, and when he answers it, two men, dressed as police officers tell him he’s under arrest, and must come down to the station.

 

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On the way to the police station, Maitland notices that they aren’t stopping there, but some other undisclosed location. He’s lead into a room, with a judge sitting at a bench, with a gavel and everything else. The two men that brought him in have a revolver, and load a bullet into it. They also load their own pistols, and point them at his head. The judge motions for him to play some Russian roulette (image above). three successful attempts, Maitland is allowed to leave the room under escort. He’s placed in a hallway that closes on both sides, and a gas begins to fill the room. Maitland passes out after seeing the skull moving towards him through the gas, and ends up in the apartment building of Marco, the shady antiquities dealer (not knowing where he is though). He goes home, and finds the address of Marco, and sees that it was where he was after the crazy roulette/gas chamber scenario. He tells his wife (Jill Bennett) what happened, and he thinks it was a nightmare.

 

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Later that night, Maitland sneaks out, and heads over to Marco’s place. The door is open, so he proceeds inside, looking for the skull. He finds it in the closet, but as he attempts to leave, he’s knocked over by the dead body of Marco. He hides the skull in the hallway closet, then calls the police.  Bert is then brought in by the police, but doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on. They ask if there are any pets in the building, such as a large dog, but Travers tells them that they aren’t allowed. The next night, Maitland is over at Matthews house again, playing pool. He once again begs Maitland to disavow anything to do with the skull, and then gives him a crucifix to protect him against evils. Maitland then returns to get the skull from the closet, but is confronted by Travers. Maitland tries to push by him, but he wont let him pass, and threatens to call the police. Maitland then shoves Travers, and the railing breaks, and Travers plummets to his death.

 

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I’ll stop here, but rest assured, this doesn’t end happily for Maitland, and those that surround him!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

Of all the Amicus films I’ve seen, this one holds the most water. The story is good, you have four really strong players in this film (six if you count the few moments Michael Gough is on-screen in the beginning), and some good special effects. The sets are very good too, well, except for the Russian roulette scene where everything looks vanilla. Now, that may have been the choice to not give Cushing’s character anything to go off of if he went to the police, but that’s kind of doubtful. Although Lee isn’t in more than a few scenes, he does add his normal macabre atmosphere even though he’s the voice of reason in this film. You get what you expect from a pro like Cushing. His character delivers a believable performance, and mixes well with Lee, Woodthorpe, Wymark, and his on-screen wife, Bennett (who died tragically from suicide in 1990).

The musical score is good, but not anything super exciting. It does add some intensity to the last chapter, and for that, we have Elisabeth Lutyens to thank. The film does give you that Hammer film feel, but it is set in modern times, not the previous century (or earlier) that Hammer typically used. The film holds up well for one that was released fifty years ago (wow, 50 years!), and I can’t see it losing any of its charm in another fifty years. Get out and see this one, you wont be disappointed!

Click here for the trailer!

 

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Cinema Sunday: The Mummy (1959)

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Title: The Mummy

Distributor: Hammer Studios/Universal

Writer:  Jimmy Sangster

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys, Michael Carreras

Starring:  Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Eddie Byrne, George Pastell, Michael Ripper

Released:  September 25, 1959

MPAA: UR

 

It recently occurred to me. that I’ve never reviewed a “mummy” movie! This must be rectified immediately, and it’ll be in grande fashion in the Hammer Studios style! The acting credits include two giants, Cushing & Lee, the people behind the scenes are no slouches either (Sangster, Fisher, Keys, Carreras), so for those that haven’t seen this flick yet, what are you waiting for exactly? I’ll keep the intro short because I’m on a deadline for a few surprises for this spooky week! Get ready, because we need to set the WABAC Machine a long time for this one!

 

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The year is 1895, and we zoom in on an archaeological dig in the deserts of Egypt. Three men, Stephen Banning (Felix Aylmer), his son, John Banning (Peter Cushing), and Joseph Whemple (Raymond Huntley), have just discovered the tomb of Ananka (the high priestess of the god, Karnak). As they’re just about to enter the tomb, a man (George Pastell) approaches, and begs them not to enter. He tells them that they will be cursed for doing this, but they dismiss him quickly. John has a broken leg, so he cannot go in, but his father, and uncle both enter. Once they see the remains of Ananka, Joseph runs out to tell John that they’ve found what they’ve been looking for after twenty years of research. Back inside the tomb, we see Stephen, as he’s searching for more relics. He removes the “scroll of life” from a cubbyhole, and it activates a nearby doorway. It opens, but before we see anything, the scene switches back to the tent, and the conversation between John and Joseph. Suddenly, they hear a blood-curling scream from the tomb. Joseph rushes in, and finds John, acting like he’s had a mental breakdown.

 

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A couple of years later, we see John and Joseph, as they’re wrapping up crating all the relics from the tomb. One of the servants then lights a fuse, and they seal the tomb, forever. They return to England, and John visits his father in the mental ward. Back in Egypt, the local man who warned them against this act, prays to his gods, to take revenge against these infidels. Back at the asylum, John’s father begins raving about a mummy that attacked him while he was inside the tomb, but John doesn’t believe him. His father again warns him about the scroll, and the mummy, but John just thinks he’s gone insane. We next see two men in a pub, discussing how they were contracted to transport some goods to a local home. The cargo is ancient Egyptian relics, and we get a feeling things aren’t quite right. Back at the asylum, John’s father goes completely off his rocker, and smashes the windows in his room. The delivery guys hear the racket, and drive the cart faster, it then is almost upset, and a large crate falls off.

 

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Later that night, the creepy Egyptian dude uses the writings on the scroll to call forth the mummy from the swamp where the crate fell into earlier. The mummy (Christopher Lee), emerges from the swamp, looking like he’s going to open up a can on somebody. The Egyptian dude then commands him to go and kill those who desecrated the tomb. The first victim is John’s father, over at the asylum. He’s now in a  padded cell after his outburst. He looks over at the window, and sees an enormous shadow approaching. He begins to shout and pound on the door, but they can’t hear him. The mummy rips the steel bars off of the window, smashes the glass, and kicks the fence in. He then descends on the old man, and throttles him to death. The police say it was a “lunatic,” and move on.

 

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John and his uncle Joseph talk about who could have done this heinous act. Joseph tells John about the Egyptian guy that warned him back during the dig, but he doesn’t seem to be worried. The two discuss the dig, and the origin of Ananka. We see a priest (Christopher Lee), as he performs a funeral for Ananka, and things end up going terribly wrong. As they attempted to bury Ananka, the priest violates the sacred tomb (he attempted to resurrect her from the dead) , and then must pay the price. The Egyptians cut out his tongue, and mummify him. They place a curse on him, and put him in the tomb, so that he may guard her for eternity.

 

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One by one, those who dared to desecrate the tomb are getting killed off. Will John be able to figure out the key to stopping this undead fiend or will the Mummy have his revenge!?!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

I know most are high on the Universal Studios version of “The Mummy” and rightly so, but honestly, if you watch this one, you’ll have to admit that its right up there too. Cushing delivers a grande performance, as is his calling card. He really sunk his teeth into this one, and you get a bit of his “Dr. Frankenstein” vibe to spice things up. The rest of the cast is solid, but nothing crazy awesome. Lee does his thing as the monster, but let’s be honest, you can’t even tell it’s him. Now, when he was in the flashback scenes as the priest, that was pretty cool.

The music score for this one is top-notch (Franz Reizenstein), and really has some fantastic spots where it lends so much atmosphere to the movie. The direction is also great, and when you have someone like Terence Fisher calling the shots, you know you’re in good hands. A few quick scenes with Hammer stalwarts Michael Ripper, and George Woodbridge, are the icing on the cake. Listen, you need to see this film, it’s definitely a must see for any old school horror fan!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Horror of Dracula (1958)

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Title: Horror of Dracula

Distributor: Hammer Studios/ Universal Pictures

Writer: Jimmy Sangster (Screenplay)

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Hinds

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh

Released: May 8th, 1958

MPAA: PG

It just occurred to me that this film wasn’t among the many Hammer films that I’ve reviewed. This cannot be so any longer, as I intend to showcase the first vampire film that Hammer Studios released, and the one that vaulted the career of Christopher Lee into orbit! Peter Cushing was already a commodity, and Michael Gough, Lee, and others had plenty of experience, but Cushing is the driving force behind the movie, make no mistake. Rather than me slobbering on forever about it, I’ll just get to the plot, which isn’t exactly like the Bram Stoker novel, due to legal issues with Universal and the estate of the Stoker family, but rest assured, it still is a classic!

The film opens with Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen), a young man who’s making his way through the Carpathian mountains, to reach a castle. Once there, his internal monologue tells us that he has a “job” to do, but what that is, we’re not sure. He sees food on the table, and decides to sit down and dine. After starting a fire, he begins to go through his personal items. He accidentally knocks over a plate, and as he’s picking it up, a beautiful woman (Valerie Gaunt) approaches. He introduces himself as the new librarian of the estate, but the woman only wishes to be rescued from being held a prisoner by the owner of the castle. Just then, the woman quickly races away, and Harker has a feeling there’s a good reason. He slowly turns around, and at the top of the staircase, is a dark figure, looking down ominously. The man quickly descends, and greets Harker, introducing himself, as Dracula (Christopher Lee).

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After they exchange pleasantries, Count Dracula shows Harker to his room. He informs him that he’ll be away until tomorrow evening, so he can make himself at home. Dracula then notices a picture on the desk, and asks who the woman is, and Harker tells him that it is his fiancé, Lucy Homewood. Harker then writes in his journal, that he has gained access to the house, and that he is ready to do what must be done, about Dracula. As Dracula leaves, Harker is startled by the fact that he locks him in his room for the night. Later though, he hears the lock get unlocked, and he investigates to see who it was that was responsible. He heads downstairs, and runs into the same woman who approached him before. She pleads with him to rescue her from Dracula, but she isn’t clear about why she needs rescuing in the first place. As she hugs on to Harker, she also moves closer to his neck. He fangs pop out, and she readies herself to feed on the unsuspecting man.

Just as she attempts to bite him, Harker feels it, and shrugs her off. In the next seconds, you hear a godawful hiss, and we see Count Dracula at the top of the stairs, blood dripping from his mouth, and looking insane. He pounces on the woman, and scares Harker. But Harker tries to stop him from manhandling the woman. Dracula chokes him nearly unconscious, then grabs the woman, picking her up like a child, and carries her off to some other place in the castle. Harker then passes out in the living room.

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The next morning, Harker awakens in his room, and is horrified to see that the woman actually broke through his skin, and bit him on the neck. He breaks down emotionally, and we see that he has some knowledge of this affliction. He writes again in his journal, and leaves a message for someone who he hopes will read this, and be able to help.

The next day, Harker embarks on a mission through the castle, to find the resting place of Dracula. He finds the woman, slumbering in a coffin. He wastes no time in driving a stake through her heart, but then notices the sun has gone down. As he looks towards the door, Dracula creeps in, and you know that Harker is no more.

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Soon after, a pub is the new scene, and we watch as a man, Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), enters and begins to ask questions about his friend who recently passed by, named Harker. The pub owner (George Woodbridge) acts as if he doesn’t know anything, but the waitress tells Van Helsing that she remembers him. The pub owner scolds her, and sends her into the kitchen. Van Helsing questions the pub owner some more, but he refuses to get involved. When the meal is ready, the waitress brings it out, and hands a journal to Van Helsing. It is the journal of Harker, and it details the happening at the castle. Apparently, both men are sort of vampire hunting team.

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Van Helsing goes to the castle, and searches for Harker (having not yet read the journal). He finds that Harker’s room has been ransacked, and that he seems to be missing. As he descends into the lower levels, Van Helsing finds Harker, dead in a coffin, with bite marks on his neck. He then reaches into his bag, and pulls out a stake and a hammer, then proceeds to do the deed. The next scene shows Van Helsing at the residence of the Homewood family. Van Helsing informs them that Jonathan is dead, and that he was cremated. Arthur Homewood (Michael Gough), is the brother of Lucy (Jonathan’s fiancé), and he is quite upset with Van Helsing, and his being very mysterious about Jonathan’s death.

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later that evening, Lucy is in bed, and she gets out, with a very creepy look on her face. She makes sure that her door is locked, then she unlocks the patio doors, that lead to her bedroom. She also removes her crucifix, and readies herself for a visitor. We then see that she has bite marks on her neck. Across town, Van Helsing is listening to a recording about ways of fighting these undead creatures, such as Dracula. The following morning, Lucy is very ill, and almost on the brink of death. Mina Homewood (Melissa Stribling) goes to see Van Helsing, and to ask for his help with Lucy. Van Helsing then examines Lucy, and sees the bite marks on her neck. He then instructs Mina to keep her doors and windows locked at night-time, and to keep garlic flowers in her room.

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After she does what Van Helsing instructs, night falls, and Lucy cries out to the maid to take away the flowers, and to open the windows. She does as Lucy asks, and the next morning, Lucy is dead. Van Helsing visits, and Arthur is very crass towards him. Van Helsing then tells him to read Jonathan’s journal, and then, he will understand. In the evening, a policeman visits and brings Tania (Lucy’s niece) back to the house. Tania claims to have been visited by Lucy. Arthur then goes to the crypt, and finds that Lucy is missing. He then witnesses Lucy, as she’s about to snack on Tania. He calls out to her, and she attempts to attack him, but Van Helsing is there as well, and brandishes a cross. He burns her forehead with it, and Lucy runs away screeching. Van Helsing and Arthur then go to the crypt, and pound a stake through Lucy’s heart, ending her nightmare, and releasing her soul.

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Dracula then focuses his attention on Mina, and it’s up to Van Helsing and Arthur to try to stop this evil entity!

OK, here are my thoughts:

If there’s anyone out there that hasn’t seen this film yet, get to it. Even if you aren’t the biggest horror movie fan or a fan of old movies, you need to see this one. This is the beginning of the Cushing-Lee horror combo, that Hammer Studios would use to build an empire. The acting is superb, as the two main characters, along with Michael Gough, put on performances that make this classic what it has been and always will be as a landmark in cinema. This film was made only one year after Hammer struck gold with Frankenstein, and the hits would keep coming for more than a decade.

Along with the great acting, the people behind the scenes were just as responsible for this gem. Starting with James Bernard, and his wonderful music score. You get some thunderous music, and other times a frightening interlude. He really nailed this one, and was simply perfect. The script by Jimmy Sangster was quite good considering he couldn’t use the story from the book or the screenplay from the Universal film either. Terence Fisher gives us his usual brilliance with direction, and the team of Hinds and Keys rounds out the production of the film. Everything from the costume designs, the sets, lighting, you name it, this film was top-notch. Hit up your local store or just get to Amazon and grab a copy, you wont be disappointed. I own a set a four Hammer Films that TCM put out a few years ago. It has this film, plus three other classics that you’ll love.

 

Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: Legend of the Werewolf (1975)

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Title: Legend of the Werewolf

Distributor: Tyburn Films

Writer: Anthony Hinds

Director: Freddie Francis

Producer: Kevin Francis

Starring: Peter Cushing, Ron Moody, Hugh Griffith, Roy Castle, David Rintoul, Michael Ripper

Released: April 1975 (France)

MPAA: R

 

He we are with another werewolf film, but hey, that’s never a bad thing! This little film is from a small studio that was kind of like a little brother of Hammer Studios. It never really got far off the ground, but they did produce a couple of films (last week’s “The Ghoul“) that I thought were worth mentioning. The company missed the boat so to speak with the horror genre slowing down considerably  by the mid-1970’s, but make no mistake, this one is worth watching! Let’s get on with the show!

 

As the opening credits roll a voice (Peter Cushing), tells a story of how some European families were forced out of their homes. As they journeyed through the woodlands, sometimes they were subject to attacks by wolves. A woman among the crowd bears a child, but shortly after she does, a pack of wolves attacks her and the baby’s father, killing them. Instead of eating the baby though, the wolves raise it as their own.

Fast forward a few years, and a traveling circus is rolling through the forest. They stop at a road sign, but then see a corpse hanging from a tree. It scares the helper ( a guy to do the heavy lifting), but the owner of the circus tells him to ignore the warning, and go look for some food. The man (Norman Mitchell) takes his rifle, and heads out into the forest. He sees a rabbit, and attempts to eye up his target. Just as he does, a small boy, running like an animal, grabs the rabbit, breaks its neck, and begins to eat the animal. The hunter gets mad that his super has been eaten, so he yells at the boy. The boy runs away, but before he gets too far, the hunter shoots him. He then carries the boy back to camp.

 

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Once they’re back at camp, the helper tosses the boy into a cell, and the owner (Hugh Griffith) decides to use him as the main attraction of the circus. This “wild boy”, is his only hope of making some money. The next day arrives, and the “show” must go on. The first act is a dog…that walks on its hind legs. The second act is a woman whose entire body is covered in tattoos. She looks to be about 75 years old…yeah. As the crowd gets restless, the circus owner creeps back behind the cage, and pokes the boy with a knife. This causes him to go wild, and try to tear the cage apart. He becomes the star attraction, but eventually grows up and becomes a normal young man. Thus his usefulness is gone.

One evening, some wolves are howling nearby the camp, and the head honcho orders the muscle to go out and shoot them before they make trouble. As he does this, Etoile (David Rintoul), who’s now grown up, begins to show signs of a condition. As the wolves howl louder, he gets hairier. We then see something prowling around, and we see through its glowing red eyes, it locates the goon with the gun. It savagely attacks him, killing him on  the spot. Etoile is horrified by the events, and quite confused, so he runs off.

 

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After a few days of running, Etoile finally comes upon a city. He walks into the local zoo, and befriends some of the animals, but especially the wolves. The man who runs the zoo (Ron Moody) sees the man has a way with animals, so he agrees to hire him to help out (room & board, but little pay). Etoile agrees to take the job, and starts right away. He shows some “ladies” around as they eat lunch. He eats with them and discusses his new job with them. He takes a liking to one of them named Christine (Lynn Dalby), and they laugh because Etoile isn’t aware that the zoo is right next to a brothel, where the girls “work’.

 

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Later, a few kids wander in to the zoo, and begin to throw rocks at the wolves. Etoile sees this, and savagely attacks them, but he’s able to control himself enough, that he doesn’t do any real harm. The zookeeper returns from his martini lunch, and tells Etoile that he did a good job. Switch scenes to the local coroners office and a man, Professor Paul (Peter Cushing), is examining a murder victim. He talks with a policeman, Max Gerard (Stefan Gryff), about this case. Later that very evening, Etoile, heads over to Christine’s place of employment, and asks to see her. The Madame (Majorie Yates), tells him to get lost, and he doesn’t understand. He does however hear Christine laughing above in her room. He climbs up to see what’s going on, and sees her entertaining a “client”, and gets so furious, that he begins to change into the wolf. He smashes through the window, and begins to throttle the older gent. The Madame bursts into the room, and hits him over the head, knocking him for a loop. It is now, that Etoile finds out that Christine is a hooker, and it breaks his heart.

 

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After a quick shouting match between the two of them, Etoile seems to be very upset with her, and almost enough to hurt her. He instead turns his anger on the locals, and begins a siege of murder that has everyone perplexed. Everyone except Professor Paul, and he believes a wolf is responsible for the murders, but even he begins to wonder if something more sinister is afoot!

I’ll stop here to not give away any spoilers, but rest assured that the body count rises, and Etoile eventually meets up with another movie legend…Michael Ripper (image above)!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This film isn’t on par with Hammer Studios “Curse of the Werewolf“, but only because Oliver Reed was so strong in that one. Otherwise, this is a pretty good knock-off of that film. Cushing takes command when he appears, as he does in most films he’s in, and that’s something that puts the viewer at ease. You don’t feel as sorry for the wolf/man in this film like you do in “Curse” either, but that’s due to the murders being so bloody and of very high frequency. Of course, there are other inconsistencies and loop-holes with the story, but overall, it’s entertaining enough.

The special effects were above average, and gory (for that time). When the werewolf attacks his victims, you see close-ups of him biting the people, and tearing at their throats. Bloody mouths shots, and throats shots full of blood and torn flesh, are plentiful and add some good shock to the film. The sets are good, and definitely resemble a Hammer flick. The soundtrack needs some help, but does have a few good moments. The camera work is also decent, and is actually above average at some spots.

If you see this one floating around the interwebs or on T.V., give it a look. Let’s be honest, see it if for nothing else other than Peter Cushing and a gruesome werewolf. Those two things are always worth the time!

 

Watch the trailer here!

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Ghoul (1975)

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Title: The Ghoul (Night of the Ghoul – U.S.)

Distributor: Tyburn Films

Writer: Anthony Hinds

Director: Freddie Francis

Producer: Kevin Francis

Starring: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, John Hurt, Don Henderson, Alexandra Bastedo

Released: May 1975

MPAA: R

 

After two of Hammer Film Studios psychological thrillers, I thought I’d switch gears a bit, and spotlight some of the films that Tyburn Studios added to the crowded horror movie scene of the 1970’s.  The first one I chose is called “The Ghoul“, and it stars Peter Cushing, and Veronica Carlson, two Hammer Studio staples from the previous decade.

This film was an interesting contrast to the earlier film by the same name (starring Boris Karloff and  Cedric Hardwicke, 1933). A bit low-budget, perhaps, but when you get Cushing, and Carlson in the same film, it can’t be all that terrible. Alright, enough nonsense, let’s get to the movie!

 

The film begins with some people having a party at a mansion (sometime in the Roaring ’20s). There’s a scene where a beautiful woman is making her way through a dark house, and being called out to. She enters a room upstairs, and finds a man with a hook through his neck, hanging and in his death throes (image below). The woman doesn’t scream, and then we’re shown that it was a game, and bets were made if the girl would scream or not.  One woman in particular stands out from the crowd. Her name is Daphne (Veronica Carlson), and she seems to have quite an attitude. She acts as if she’s interested in a man named Geoffrey (Ian McCulloch), and the two make a plan to drive to Lands End. Before they can leave, another man, Billy (Stewart Bevan), approaches them and asks where they are going. He also tells Geoffrey that his car is inferior to his, and Daphne knows a way to settle the dispute. She challenges Billy to a race, his car against Geoffrey’s. They race to Lands End, and whoever gets there first is the winner. They go back inside and tell the other guests that they’ll begin with the race as soon as all the champagne is gone.

 

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Later, after everyone is good and drunk, Daphne decides she wants to go with Billy instead of Geoffrey, and another woman, Angela (Alexandra Bastedo), jumps into Geoffrey’s car, to go with him (there seems to be a bit of a rivalry between the two women). A man counts down, and the race is on. Daphne has not only orchestrated this entire ordeal, but also jumped in the driver’s seat of Billy’s car, and zooms down the road. Geoffrey is shocked at well she can drive a car, and at first he has trouble just keeping up with her. He eventually overtakes her, but his passenger, Angela, gets ill, and he must pull over. Daphne uses this opportunity to pass them out, and Billy is shocked that she didn’t stop to help them.

After a short while, Daphne runs into a thick fog bank, loses control of the car, and then pulls over, running out of gas. She urges Billy to take the spare container and go find some fuel so they can get going. After some bickering, he does leave with the can to look for some fuel, leaving Daphne alone. Suddenly, we see a hand stroking the fur coat that Daphne is wearing (while she naps), and as she wakes, the hand disappears. A man watches her from the forest, and she writes a note on the windshield for Billy, explaining that she didn’t want to keep waiting for him, so she wanders off on her own. She quickly runs into the man, Tom (John Hurt), who was watching her, but he tells her that there is no fuel anywhere near here, so she leaves. He follows her, and she finds a house with an old iron gate. He tells her that it’s abandoned, but she’s frightened of him, so she runs toward the house anyway. He grabs a rock, and bounces it off of her head, knocking her unconscious.

 

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The next scene we see is that of a small cabin or room, and Daphne is on the floor, just waking up. She’s surprised by Tom, who’s watching her, creepy-style from a shadowy corner. He tells her that he had to do what he did, because he didn’t want her going up to the house. He tells her that something sinister is up there, but not exactly who or what. She doesn’t believe him, and tries to get by him. He pushes her down, and when she attempts it again, he pimp slaps her to the ground. She seems unfazed though, and gets up, knees him in the family jewels, and runs outside. He chases after her, but before either of them can do anything, a man pops out of nowhere. She explains to this man who another man attacked her. Dr. Lawrence (Peter Cushing), is this man, and he tells Daphne that she’d better come with him. She explains to him the circumstances of her situation, and he invites her to stay for a while, and rest. An Indian woman comes into the room, and she’s apparently the servant of Dr. Lawrence. He instructs Aya to get some tea, and to prepare a room for Daphne.

She falls asleep, and when she wakes up, she realizes poor Billy must still be lost on the moors. Dr. Lawrence tells her that he’ll tells his gardener (Tom), to investigate her friend’s whereabouts. Tom finds him back at the car sleeping, and murders him by pushing the car off the ledge with him in it! Tom laughs like an insane person, and steals something from pocket of the dead man. Back at the house, Aya enters the room, and tells Dr. Lawrence that Tom is back, and then Tom tells them that there was no sign of Billy, but there was a note. Dr. Lawrence reads the note and tells her that it says he went home. Daphne is more at ease then, and settles in as a guest. She begins to get quite chummy with Dr. Lawrence.

 

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In the kitchen Aya is making lunch, and we can then hear some Phantom of the Opera style music coming from somewhere in the house. Daphne is drawn to it, and investigates. As she does, Dr. Lawrence is praying by an altar. Daphne walks in on him, and he invites her inside. They then dine together, and then Daphne goes to her room for some rest. As she rests, Aya is doing some sort of ritualistic ceremony, and Dr. Lawrence is playing his violin. Tom is hanging out in the garden, looking creepier than ever. As Daphne begins to awaken, Aya is still up to something, and she unlocks a door near the attic. We only see feet, but it’s implied something horrific came out, and is making its way down to Daphne’s room. We see this shape, enter her room, and stab her to death.

 

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The next scene shows the kitchen, and it seems that Aya is going to cook Daphne for a meal. Tom watches in horror as Aya cuts the corpse to ribbons. Aya leaves the room, and Tom removes something from the body, and takes it back to his cabin. Then Aya takes some “food” to the resident in the attic to eat. The beast reaches out for the meal, and its hand is hideous. Meanwhile, Dr. Lawrence is weeping in his prayer room, but that doesn’t stop Aya from doing her prep work for more “meals”.

The following part shows Angela and Geoffrey, as they’ve been informed that the body of Billy has been found. The police show them the location of the car, but Geoffrey is unconvinced that this was an accident,and that Daphne was lost in the moors (quicksand?). Geoffrey then sets out on foot to try to find some answers. Angela waits in the car, and we see a familiar cycle ready to begin anew.

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This is my first viewing of this film, and my initial thoughts are that I enjoyed it. Many feel the acting wasn’t up to snuff, but I disagree. Was it the best performance of Cushing’s career? Certainly not, but it’s far from bad acting. Seeing Veronica Carlson is this type of role was actually quite refreshing. She usually plays the woman in distress, and gets tossed around. She was actually very tough in this film, and could hold her own. Ian McCulloch was good too, and made a good hero. John Hurt played a good psycho, and really dialed up the creep factor.

The “ghoul” was just okay, with nothing extremely frightening about him. The Indian woman was pretty evil and scary though, and helped move things along nicely. There have been comparisons to Hammer Studios “The Reptile”, and rightly so, because that film and this one have similar plots. They both have a cult-type angle as well (snakes/zombies). Maybe that’s why I liked this film too, because I love The Reptile! Give this film a look and decide for yourself if it’s worthy!

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Shock Waves (1977)

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Title: Shock Waves

Distributor: Blue Underground

Writers: Ken Wiederhorn & John Kent Harrison

Director: Ken Wiederhorn

Producer: Reuben Trane

Starring: Peter Cushing, John Carradine, Brooke Adams, Fred Buch, Luke Halpin

Released: July 15th, 1977

MPAA: PG

At last, Cinema Sunday has returned! After being on vacation and spending time at the beaches of Delaware, and then some time in New York City, I’ve returned to offer a look at a strange film from 1977, starring the one and only, Peter Cushing! This Nazi-zombie movie is quite intriguing, and offers some different perspectives on the genre (or sub-genre) that are interesting indeed. Well, instead of prattling on, I’ll just get right down to  the plot…

The film opens showing a picture of a Nazi platoon, and a voice telling us that during WWII, the Nazis experimented on their soldiers, while alive, but in this case, and more importantly, even after they died. The voice then tells us that Allied soldiers ran into a Nazi platoon that fought bare handed and killed mercilessly. As the war raged on, most of the Nazi soldiers were either killed or captured. None of the members of this platoon however, were ever seen again.

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As the action begins, we see a ship, and it comes upon a small boat, drifting along the ocean. As they look inside, they find a woman, Rose (Brooke Adams), who’s obviously been through a traumatic experience. The men beg her to tell them what has happened, and then she mentally recounts the previous few days. We see that she was a passenger on some sort of charter/dive boat, and that the boat had broken down near a small island. The captain (John Carradine) barks at his first mate, Keith (Luke Halpin), and tells him what direction to head out. As the boat is making its way through the waves, suddenly, it passes over a sunken ship at the bottom of the ocean. The waves get higher, and the sun turns blood-red. The captain and Keith are spooked, and so is Rose (who’s been tanning on the deck).

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The scene switches to nightfall, and we see a couple, Norman and Beverly (Jack Davidson & D.J. Sidney), arguing about this “cruise” they’re on. Another passenger, Chuck (Fred Buch), joins the argument, and the ship’s cook, Dobbs (Don Stout) throws in his two cents. As they all sit down for dinner, the captain notices that the passengers aren’t exactly having a good time. Norman voices his displeasure with the condition of the vessel, and about the comments that Dobbs has made. The captain tells them that Dobbs is full of it, and that there’s nothing that happens that cannot be logically explained. Norman also thinks the ship should turn back, but the captain refuses. Later that night, Rose hits on Keith, and then there seems to be something else afoot, something sinister. All of a sudden, a ship appears, and slams into the side of the vessel. The passengers and crew come to the top deck, and the captain scolds them, and tells them to go back to their cabins. The captain doesn’t believe Keith, but then fires a flare out in the direction of the ship, and sees it for himself!

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The next morning, Keith and Dobbs are looking for the captain, but cannot find him anywhere on the ship. Keith dives into the water, thinking he may have gone for a dive to check out the bottom of the ship, but he doesn’t find anything. The decision is then made to head over to the island, and look for him there. Keith also informs the passengers that the hull has been breached, so they must go to the island in fear of sinking. Dobbs searches for the captain, but cannot find him anywhere. The small boat that they are using can only transport two at a time (plus Keith, who’s oaring), so they have to make multiple trips. When Keith is taking Norman and Beverly over, Beverly notices something when she looks at the bottom of the boat (it’s a glass bottom boat). It’s the captain, and he’s as dead as Julius Caesar, floating under the surface of the water. They drag him to shore, and then explore the island.

As they explore this creepy island, they come upon a huge residence, that seems to be empty. Out at sea, there’s activity at the “ghost ship”, and we then see some ghastly creatures walking along the bottom of the ocean. They begin to make their way toward the island. As they look around it, suddenly music begins to play, and they make there way to the room where it is coming from. Just then, a voice rings out, asking them why they are here. They explain that they hit a wrecked ship out at sea, and need help. The person reveals himself to them (Peter Cushing), and explains that he’s been alone their for a long time. He asks them about the ship out at sea, and they tell him it’s old and rusted. The man then disappears, and we see him on the beach, checking out the ship for himself. We also see one of the zombies going back into the ocean.

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The passengers have made themselves at home in the old hotel, and bed down for the night. We then see dozens of the zombies arise from the sea, and they begin to make their way to the island. The next morning, Dobbs is cranky, but agrees to go to the ship for some food. He only makes it about halfway, before he’s assaulted by some of the zombies. They drag him under the water and kill him. Back at the hotel, the passengers finally run into the old man who spoke to them earlier. They ask for his help in getting out, but he tells them about a small boat that they can use, but they must leave tonight, because there is trouble. We then get the obligatory scene of Rose swimming around in her bikini (not that I’m complaining), and swims right into the corpse of Dobbs.

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She’s shaken up, and the others find a Nazi symbol in Dobbs’ hand, and then they see two of the zombies from far away, and get out of there immediately. They return to the hotel to question the old man about Dobbs. The old man explains to them that he is inadvertently responsible for the deaths of the captain and Dobbs. He explains to them about the Nazi soldier program to create these zombie soldiers or “Death Corps”, and they are a bloodthirsty bunch that has come to kill everyone in their path. He then also reveals that he sunk the ship intentionally, hoping to kill them. They don’t believe him at first, and then he tells them that they must leave.

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Meanwhile, outside the jungle, the zombies are making their way to the interior of the island for some more killing. Keith and the two women go and find the boat that the old Nazi told them about. Speaking of the old man, he sees his “soldiers”, and calls out to them, attempting to stop them from killing the others. At the same time, Norman and Chuck are getting as much supplies as they can bring. One of the zombies has targeted the old man, and he kills him brutally, leaving the passengers without anymore help. One by one, the zombies target the passengers, and most if not all wont survive!

OK, here we go:

Listen, this is a solid film, and really good for the budget (app. $200,000), but didn’t do very well at the box office for some reason. The film was reportedly shot over a period of thirty-five days, and you can kind of tell when you watch it. Again, a low-budget usually means tight scheduling, but to reiterate, it’s a very solid film. You get some decent acting from John Carradine, and also from Luke Halpin. Cushing does a great job too, but he really has very few scenes in the film. I’d guess that he only has about 20 minutes of screen time (the movie is around 90 minutes).

The shots out at sea are pretty cool, but undoubtedly the best parts are those of the zombies. They aren’t too heavy with the make-up or special effects (again, low-budget), but they are still super creepy, and really give you the willies when they attack or even just rise out of the water. I’m glad I checked this one out, and anybody out there that’s a fan of Cushing, or the zombie genre, needs to see this one pronto! Heck, anybody looking for an hour and a half to kill that likes horror flicks should check it out for kicks!

Cinema Sunday: Horror Express (1972)

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Title: Horror Express

Distributor: Severin

Writers: Arnaud d’Usseau, Julian Zimet

Director: Eugenio Martin

Producers: Bernard Gordon, Gregorio Sacristan

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Telly Savalas, Alberto de Mendoza

Released: October 1972

MPAA: R

 

Although the memory of the first time I watched this film is alluding me, one thing is for sure, it’s one of my favorite films starring Cushing and Lee. It definitely has a Hammer, or Amicus vibe to it, but isn’t a production of either studio. There’s so much to say about this Spanish horror flick, I’m just going to get right down to it!

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The film opens with Sir Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee), as he and a search party are looking for fossils in Manchuria (image above). The trip is a complete success because they find something that looks half man/half ape, frozen in a block of ice. The scene quickly switches to the train station where the Trans-Siberian Express is about to head out from Shanghai. As Saxton is arguing with the man in charge at the train station, another man, Doctor Wells (Peter Cushing), and his assistant walk into the room. Wells then bribes the station manager to get two compartments, and storage space for his specimens. This infuriates Saxton, who then knocks everything off of the manager’s desk. Just as he’s about to get thrown out, a military man and a squad of soldiers show up, and offer their services to help, as they were commanded by their superior officer. Outside the office, a thief attempts to steal the ape creature from the crate, but winds up dead a few moments later.

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As Saxton returns to the crate outside, he sees a priest, Father Pujardov, as he’s trying to open the crate. A policeman, Inspector Mirov (Julio Peña),  investigates the attempted robbery, and asks Saxton what is in the crate. He tells him it’s only fossils, and the policeman seems skeptical. Meanwhile, the priest is trying to convince everyone involved that something evil is afoot, and the crate is inhabited by an evil presence.

Everyone boards the train, and in the baggage car, Saxton and Wells hear a moaning sound from inside the crate. Saxton denies hearing anything, and then a countess (Silvia Tortosa) enters the car. She checks  a bag that has something valuable, but then her dog is startled by the crate. Saxton assures her nothing is amiss, and they retreat to their cabins. Saxton ends up bunking up with Wells, and a strange woman has also made her way into the cabin, asking for Dr. Wells to help her get out of Shanghai. After a quick moment of awkwardness, we are also introduced to a scientist that’s aboard the train as well. In the private compartment of the Count (José Jaspe) and Countess, as they are joking about their mortal lives. Their religious companion, Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza) gets angry at how flippant they are, but he gets put in his place by the Count.

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As the train speeds along, the baggage man is snooping around the crate that Saxton brought aboard. As he peeks inside, he’s hypnotized, then killed by the inhabitants of the crate. Soon after, Inspector Mirov discovers that the baggage man is missing, and orders Saxton to open the crate. He refuses even after he’s threatened with being pistol whipped. Inspector Mirov and his men use an axe to open the crate, and then find the dead baggage man inside the crate, but no frozen Yeti. Saxton is confined to his compartment, and then Inspector Mirov orders his men to search car by car until they find the Yeti. As two of the soldiers move in on the Yeti, it kills them both, and appears to exit the train.

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Next, Dr. Wells is having dinner with the strange woman who asked for his help earlier. The scientist that made an appearance earlier sits down and recognizes the girl, but she tells the man that he must be mistaken. Suddenly, Inspector Mirov interrupts the dinner, and asks Wells to help out with another killing. He and his assistant, Miss Jones (Alice Reinheart), saw open the head of the baggage man, and notice that the brain is completely smooth, and devoid of any knowledge. Wells explains to Mirov that something has erased the memories of this man. We then see that the Yeti has not left the train, but made its way to the baggage car. As Wells and his “partner”  are settling in for the night, she excuses herself, and heads for the baggage car. Little does she know, that the Yeti is there, waiting for its next victim!

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The yeti kills the female thief, but doesn’t make it out the door as Inspector Mirov seems to shoot and kill the beast. As the creature is dying, it hypnotized Mirov, and he passes out. As the train speeds on, we now notice that Inspector Mirov is hiding something. The engineer has radioed ahead, and notified the next station that there has been a murder. They alert the Cossacks (image above) that are stationed there, and now we get to see the bizarre Captain Kazan (Telly Savalas). He begins to search the train, and question the passengers. Tensions are running high, and the train begins to once again move towards its destination of doom!

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Listen, this film is incredible, especially when you consider it was made for $300,000. You did have a strong cast with Cushing, Lee, and Savalas, so that brought the picture up, no doubt about it. Cushing almost didn’t do the film, because he was still grief-stricken over the loss of his wife. Lee convinced him to stay, and it was a good thing that he did, because the two played off of each other wonderfully. As if those two icons weren’t enough, we get to see Kojak himself, Telly Savalas, too! He plays the wild Cossack Captain that really brings a turbulent mood to the movie.

The sets were rather cheap, but with that budget, they did an admirable job. Its been reported that they only used one train car for every scene, readjusting it to accommodate each different need. That’s quite a feat, if you ponder it for a while. The music score was quite good as well, and we have John Cacavas to thank for that addition. There were some gruesome scenes that really were cool, especially for 1972. Cushing sawed a guy’s head open, the effect the creature had on its victims was pretty cool too (bleeding from the eyes, nose, and mouth).

The film has a few twists and turns, so don’t just write it off as something that it is not. Cossacks, a Yeti, zombies, you name it, this film has it all! Do yourself a favor, get out and grab this flick, because it certainly is one that should be in your collection. Severin is distributing it now, and it can be found on their site, Amazon, Ebay, and all the normal DVD haunts.

 

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