Archive for the European Horror Category

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou visits TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2013, B-Movies, Barbara Steele, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, European Horror, Family Secrets, Ghosts!, Gothic Horror, Italian Cinema, Italian Horror with tags , , , , , , on May 23, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965) bbbtcposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

First of all, this movie has one of the greatest titles in the horror pantheon.  Come on, who wouldn’t pay good money to see TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965)? There’s gonna be terror, creatures of some sort, and possibly some graves.  This title is up there with some of Al Adamson’s best movie monikers, like HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS (1970) or BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR (1972).  Fortunately, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE is a much better film than anything Adamson ever attempted, and there’s actually quite a bit of truth in that unbelievable title.  TCFTG is one of many European gothic horror films that found their way across the pond.  These movies, made with little money but lots of imagination, were often stylish and bizarre.  The women were beautiful and possessed only costumes with plunging necklines.  The heroes were strong-jawed, masculine men with hair all over their bodies.  The doctors were all mad.  The castles (of which Europe has in large quantities—hurray for cheap locations!) were always decaying.  And the zoom lens was quite often hyperactive.  It was as if France, Spain, England, and especially Italy were attempting to out-Hammer Hammer Studios.  Sometimes, they did, but often they fell short.  Still, they were dripping with gothic atmosphere and sheer spookiness.

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE has an ace in its pocket, however, as it stars the lovely Barbara Steele, Queen of Euro-horror and the main attraction of such other films as BLACK SUNDAY (1960), PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964), THEY CAME FROM WITHIN (1975), and the original PIRANHA (1978).  Her face was all ice-queen, innocent one minute and warped with wickedness in the next, with cheek-bones that could cut glass.  She often played more than one part in these films: the good sister and the bad or the burned witch and the woman she later possesses.  And she could pull it off!  She had a sort of otherworldly look to her that prevented her from becoming a true box office star, but she could work those horror movies (and the fans) like nobody else, becoming a cult figure later in life.  She’s still working, too, having just starred in THE BUTTERFLY ROOM (2012), an Italian/U.S. co-production that is a disturbing psychological horror film.

Anyway, Barbara Steele is fabulousness personified, and if you’ve never watched her movies, go and rectify that immediately.  Now, on to today’s feature presentation, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE!

The great Barbara Steele in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

The great Barbara Steele in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

Filmed n gloriously moody black and white, we don’t even have to wait five seconds before we get our first fast camera zoom!  A man having a drink in a tavern sees a hand outside the window (Zoom in on that hand!), and he dons his hat and coat and rushes outside into the streets of some unnamed village circa 1920 or so.  He stumbles to his horse, and the animal decides it doesn’t like him any longer, rearing back and kicking the man in the face, opening up his skull in a gruesome scene. 

As credits roll, so does a man driving a primitive automobile to a decaying castle (natch), Villa Hauff.  This is strong-jawed, young attorney, Albert Kovac, played by Walter Brandi (BLOODY PIT OF HORROR,-1965, THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE, 1960, CURSE OF THE BLOOD GHOULS, 1962…oh the sheer joy of those titles!).  He greets the daughter of the deceased Dr. Hauff, Corinne, played by the lovely Mirella Maravidi (I KILL, YOU KILL, 1965).  Albert has been sent for to look over Dr. Hauff’s will, and he isn’t even disturbed that the man is now dead…or by the box of disembodied hands in the foyer!  The daughter takes him to her step-mother, the doctor’s second wife, Cleo, played by the wonderful Barbara Steele.  She informs him that Dr. Hauff has been dead for a year after falling down the stairs.  So, who sent the message to Albert’s office?

A storm comes out of nowhere, and the attorney is invited to spend the night until the weather breaks.  The women are at the villa to transfer Dr. Hauff’s corpse from his grave in the ground to the family crypt, per the dead man’s wishes.  It turns out the good doctor was a practitioner of the black arts, a kind of sorcerer.  And the villa was erected on the ruins of a fifteenth century hospital where the victims of the plague in the area all died after having their hands cut off so they couldn’t spread the disease. 

Before going to bed, the attorney finds a recording from the doctor all about the plague victims that were buried in the garden.  He also claims that he’s summoned the victims from their graves and now he is among them.  Corrine bugs out, claiming she’s seen her father walking the hallways.  Mom, however, doesn’t believe in the supernatural and calms her down a bit. 

Severed hands of plague victims in the foyer..l

Severed hands of plague victims in the foyer..l

The next morning, Albert finds that an owl has flown into the engine of his car and destroyed it (What? Does this happen often in Europe?).  During the day, Albert falls for Corinne, Corinne freaks out several times, seeing her father stalking the countryside, and various villagers shake their heads and mumble about the anniversary of Hauff’s death.  The village’s new doctor is murdered, discovered by Corinne and Albert (who don’t seem very worried about it).  The coroner states it is a case of heart failure, even though there are long scratches covering the man’s face and acid burns on his cheeks.  The villagers believe anyone who was present at Hauff’s death (such as this new doctor) is marked to die.  Sure enough, three of the five people who were in the house when Hauff tumbled down the stairs have died mysteriously.  The fourth person on the list of witnesses is murdered and felt up by a pustule-ridden rotten hand.  There is a fifth witness signature, but it’s illegible.  Who will be the fifth victim of the Hauff Curse?

Albert, still hanging around after two days without a client, is present for the disinterment of Dr. Hauff’s corpse.  The gardener opens the casket, revealing an empty grave.  Cleo, wearing one fabulous hat, is stunned by the revelation.  Albert figures out that the fifth name on the list is his boss, who was busy and didn’t come to the Villa Hauff when summoned.  Only, now he really is coming to the moldering manse.  When the attorney, Morgan, shows up, he is instantly attacked by Hauff.  Only, nobody else sees it!

When night falls, all the secrets behind Dr. Hauff’s mysterious death will be disclosed.  Passions will be ignited, and the handless plague victims will rise from their graves to avenge the doctor’s name while unleashing a virulent new strain of the plague.  It’s a creepy, surreal finale that does include terror, graves, and creatures!  Will anyone survive?

Only—if the plague victims’ hands were chopped off and displayed in the foyer—then why do they have hands when emerging from their graves? 

Plague victims rise from the dead in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

Plague victims rise from the dead in TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE is full of spooky atmospheric touches like a maid with her own secrets, cobwebbed corridors, violent thunderstorms, curses, a mute gardener, sweeping music, one eerie song about pure water, odd dubbing, elaborate sets, and creepy sound effects.  Despite the effectiveness of the movie, the director, Massimo Pupillo (BLOODY PIT OF HORROR) didn’t like the end product, so the film was originally credited to producer Ralph Zucker.  In a weird twist, TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE played on a double bill in America with BLOODY PIT OF HORROR!  Wouldn’t that have been a fantastic night at the drive-in?

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE isn’t the best Euro-schlock-horror to be made in this period – it’s no BLACK SUNDAY – but it’s an eerie little film, buoyed by terrific atmosphere and the wonderful Barbara Steele. 

I give it three owls in engines out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

THALE (2012)

Posted in 2013, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, European Horror, Fantasy, Feral people, Foreign Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mythological Creatures, Supernatural, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2013 by knifefighter

THALE (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

thale

The last few years, we’ve been getting some interesting genre films from unlikely places, like RARE EXPORTS (2010), from Finland, which gave us the truth about Santa Claus and his elves (they’re really scary creatures), and TROLLHUNTER (also 2010), from Norway, about a special government agency focused on keeping Norway’s troll population in check. And of course, the films of Lars von Trier, who has been making unusual films in Denmark for several decades now (including the excellent THE KINGDOM, 1994—which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s underrated TV series, KINGDOM HOSPITAL—and more recent films, such as the distrurbing ANTICHRIST (2009) and the end of the world tale MELANCHOLIA (2011).

The new movie THALE (2012), like TROLLHUNTER, is also from Norway, and once again deals with creatures from Norwegian folklore, although instead of being about trolls, this time we learn about the huldras, woodland creatures that appear to us in the form of beautiful women with tails, that are much more dangerous than they appear to be.

As THALE begins, Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold) are at a house at the edge of the woods, which is also a crime scene. It’s their job to clean things up after the police are done. The two of them are also old friends, and Elvis is filling in for Leo’s usual partner. The two catch up on news about their lives and joke around, when they are told that only half of the victim’s body was found; the other half was most probably carried away by animals that live in the nearby forest. They have to try to find as much else of the corpse as they can, so they start looking around the property, tearing out the floors of the outhouse, etc., when they find a hidden stairway leading down to an underground bunker, which does not appear to have been used for years. Everything is covered in dust, and the canned goods that are stored down there have long since expired.

Elvis finds an old cobweb-shrouded cassette player, and somehow it still works. When he turns it on, the tape inside plays a conversation between a doctor (the victim of the crime they’re cleaning up, presumably), and a girl. Or rather, the doctor does most of the talking (actor Roland Astrand provides the doctor’s voice). We only hear the girl when she screams during a painful procedure.

Who are these people? It’s not long afterwards that the two men find Thale (Silje Reinamo), who appears to be a girl in her 20s, and who has been abandoned in this bunker since the doctor’s death. It seems that she was the subject of his experiments, and there’s something not right about her. Like the fact that she doesn’t speak, but if she touches you, she can project vivid images into your head that “speak” for her.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

As the men try to figure out who and what Thale is, some strange creatures stalk the woods outside, and at one point some nefarious men in gas masks and hazmat suits (and toting guns) arrive. It seems there are several individuals who would like to have access to Thale, now that the doctor isn’t around. Which ones have her best interests at heart, and which ones want to hurt her? Well, that’s for the viewer to find out. And Leo and Elvis are caught in the middle, waiting for their compatriots to show up (they’re delayed).

THALE is an atmospheric little film,  that gives us a good feel for the woods of Norway. The acting here is pretty good. I liked Leo and Elvis a lot, and Silje Reinamo is particularly  good as the otherworldly Thale. Effectively written and directed by Aleksander Nordass (whose other work is mostly short films and TV movies), I thought THALE was an enjoyable horror/fantasy that reveals that there are probably many Norwegian fairy tale creatures who have yet to be explored on film.

Despite its short running time of 76 minutes, I thought THALE fleshed out its characters well, and has a compelling storyline. My only complaint is that the other huldras we see, which are much more animalistic than Thale, are CGI creations that really are not very convincing. For the most part, Nordaas films them from a distance, or fleetingly, but there are times when they are in full view, and they don’t look realistic at all. I think it actually would have been better to go with makeup effects for the creatures in this case; they are just more visceral and not as cartoony as low-budget computer effects.

Aside from this one setback, however, the movie is original and worth seeing. I give THALE three knives.

It was made in 2012, and was shown in Austin, Texas last year as part of the South By Southwest Film Festival, and is getting a brief theatrical run (mostly in arthouse theaters) now. It is also currently available on cable OnDemand.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

 

(Editor’s Note: I was originally planning to see and review the new Ryan Gosling film THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES this weekend, but it was in limited release and wasn’t playing anywhere near me. When it goes into wider release, I’ll be writing about it here).

LL Soares gives THALE  ~three knives.

DARK FLOORS

Posted in 2010, Demons, European Horror, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Pickin' the Carcass with tags , , , , on September 3, 2010 by knifefighter

PICKIN’ THE CARCASS: DARK FLOORS (2008)
By Michael Arruda


After a brief hiatus, my column PICKIN’ THE CARCASS is back.

On the menu this week, it’s DARK FLOORS (2008), a Finnish film starring the heavy metal band Lordi as gruesome monsters that wreak havoc inside a mysterious hospital.

DARK FLOORS is a movie in serious need of some answers.  It’s got a creepy plot, decent acting, stylish directing, and okay writing, but when it comes to providing answers for all that is going on inside its dark universe, it falls smack-dab on the floor.

Ben (Noah Huntley) has taken his young autistic daughter Sarah (Skye Bennett) to a hospital for tests, and when he and Sarah get on an elevator with Sarah’s nurse Emily (Dominique McElligott), a security guard Rick (Leon Herbert), an old man named Tobias (Ronald Pickup) and another man named Jon (William Hope), the elevator loses power.

When this group manages to get off the elevator, they discover an empty hospital.  Seemingly, they’re the only ones left in the building.  How did this happen?  Ah, the first of many unanswered questions!

Thing quickly get weirder, as they discover some dead bodies, including a woman with her eyes gouged out.  So, they’re not alone after all!  Then, there are some strange noises coming from different floors, and the final proof that they’re not alone:  they’re attacked by a group of monsters that look like they walked off the set of the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing)!

As they search the hospital for a way out, Jon, the jerk of the group, expresses his belief that the monsters want Sarah, and if they just give them the girl all will be better.  Of course, this opinion doesn’t sit too well with the others, especially with Sarah’s father, Ben.

The group also notices that the clocks have stopped, and they surmise that time itself has stopped.  Stranger still, they realize later that the noises they’ve heard on different floors-—voices and footsteps—have been none other than themselves (!) on those floors earlier in the evening, as if they’re stuck in recurring parallel universes.  Wow.

What is really going on here?  The members in the group don’t really get a chance to find out, because they’re too busy trying to escape from the monsters which are hell-bent on killing them, and so the movie moves away from its science fiction overtures and becomes a melodramatic struggle for survival, as the group fights to elude the demonic monsters, while trying to find a way out of the hospital.

A lot is going on in DARK FLOORS.  Director Pete Riski certainly keeps things interesting.  In terms of pacing, for the most part DARK FLOORS is a quick ride.  It gets out of the gate fast with bizarre events happening within the first few minutes.  However, later in the movie, things slow down, as there are various scenes where characters slowly roam dark corridors in search of escape routes, and I found myself wishing the gruesome monsters would show up.

Speaking of these monsters, they’re pretty scary-looking.  The make-up job is decent, and I was grateful that these creatures were actually people in make-up rather than CGI creations.  The sound effects used for them are also very effective, as they make lots of frightening roars and growls.

Overall, the acting was pretty good in this one, as well.  While no one stood out, everyone did a competent job.  Noah Huntley in the lead role as Ben was sufficiently good-looking and heroic, while Dominque McElligott as the leading lady, Emily, was sufficiently good-looking and both heroic and vulnerable, strong enough to handle herself at times, but still in need of help from the male hero.

William Hope as Jon made a good jerk, and I found myself throughout this film thinking Hope looked very familiar.  While he appeared recently in SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009) with Robert Downey Jr., the movie from which I remember Hope is much older: ALIENS (1986), where he played Lt. William Gorman, the green military leader who led the troops into battle against the Aliens in James Cameron’s big-budget ALIEN sequel.

The rest of the cast was OK, and Skye Bennett as young Sarah did a good job, too.  Although, to nitpick, her performance didn’t convince me her character was autistic.

Pekka Lehtosaari wrote the screenplay based on an original idea by both director Pete Riski and the heavy metal band Lordi.  So, an entire band had this story idea?  After seeing this movie, I can tell you right now the original idea was something like “We want to play monsters in a movie.”  That’s probably about as detailed as it got!

Still, for two-thirds of this movie, the screenplay by Lehtosaari was my favorite part.  I was really enjoying the story.  I liked the concept of a father and autistic daughter as main characters, and I liked the premise of a small group of survivors alone in a hospital seeking both answers and a way out.  I liked the threat of the demonic monsters; they were scary.  I liked the science fiction aspects of this film, when the group begins to speculate that time has stopped and that they’re in some kind of alternate universe.

But then the final act drops the ball, because it doesn’t provide the necessary answers to the plethora of questions it generates.

For example, how does this happen in the first place?  In other words, just what the hell is really going on?  How is it that everyone disappears in an instant from this hospital?  What are those monsters?  Are they demons?  Are they from hell?  From another world?  Where?

Is Sarah really connected to all this?  It appears so, but if this is the case, and the movie strongly makes this case, then how is she connected?  And why?

Are they really trapped in an alternate universe?  Has time really stopped for them?  Perhaps they’re all dead.  Maybe that’s the answer.  It’s a possibility, but so is the ludicrous idea that Sarah simply dreamt it all.

Then there’s the ending, which is extremely vague. I have a general idea of what I believe the ending means, but again, it’s not clearly explained.

These questions are not the problem.  They’re a lot of fun. It’s the lack of answers that’s a drag.

Now, a movie doesn’t have to explain everything to be good.  Take CLOVERFIELD (2008) for example.  That movie never explains the complete truth about its monster, and it doesn’t suffer for it.  In fact, it makes it more interesting.  But CLOVERFIELD was able to do this because it was such a strong movie, a powerfully frightening plot with a kick-ass scary style.  The audience was having too much fun being scared to care all that much about the origins of the giant monster stomping New York City.

DARK FLOORS is more cerebral.  It generates a lot of mystery with its thrills and chills.  As such, like any good mystery, it only succeeds if its mysterious questions are satisfactorily answered.  And that’s the main problem with DARK FLOORS.  It doesn’t answer the thought-provoking questions it generates with any degree of satisfaction.

Still, I enjoyed watching DARK FLOORS.  Its story drew me in from the start, and it held my attention throughout most of the movie, up until its ambiguous final act.  It had likeable characters who I cared for, and frightening monsters that could easily generate a nightmare or two.  But because it didn’t answer its own questions, it didn’t really rise to the next level.

As a result, DARK FLOORS is only a mediocre excursion into darkness, held back by its inability to see through that darkness with the needed creativity and insight.

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda

Popcorn of the Damned: EURO-FANTASTICO DOUBLE FEATURE

Posted in 2010, Aliens, European Horror, Popcorn of the Damned with tags , , , , , , , on August 10, 2010 by knifefighter

POPCORN OF THE DAMNED: Review of “Euro-Fantastico Double-Feature” DVD
by Craig Shaw Gardner

Tired of endless Hollywood remakes of films that were far better the first time around?  Seen one too many shuffling zombie horde?  Looking for a movie that isn’t about a dozen ways of torturing people that no one could possibly care about (either the people or the torture)?  The good stuff is out there, hidden behind the Raisenets and the Jujubees, even if you have to dig to the bottom of the box.

This is Popcorn of the Damned!

Now for the first kernel:

Recently, VCI entertainment released a disc called the “Euro-Fantastico Double Feature”– a pair of early 60s German thrillers, both dubbed in English and filmed in glorious black and white.  At this time, Germany was one the film capitols of Europe, producing never-ending thrillers blending mystery and the fantastic, including the later Dr. Mabuse thrillers and a seemingly never-ending series of films derived from the books of Edgar Wallace (called “krimis”) which featured all sorts of great pulpy goodness — secret societies, hidden torture chambers, bad guys wearing hoods, etc.

One of the Euro-Fantastico films on this double disc is firmly in this tradition.  THE BLACK COBRA (1965) incorporates a hideously deformed monster, hidden rooms, the illegal drug trade (including Klaus Kinski as an addict!), somebody’s private zoo, copious comedy relief, all capped by a wrestling scene!  And even with all that, the movie’s not particularly good.  It throws so much crap at you during its 95 minute running time it never has a chance to get boring, but it’s directed (by one Rudolf Zehetgruber) with a particular lack of style.  It ends up as a diverting enough way to kill time, but I don’t think it’s worth a second viewing.

(If you want to see a couple of solid krimis, btw, full of atmosphere, crackerjack plots and the requisite hidden rooms, I would direct you to either THE COLLEGE GIRL MURDERS (1967) or DEAD EYES OF LONDON (1939 with Bela Lugosi and remade in German in 1961), both readily available on Amazon.)

The co-feature on this disc is another matter entirely. This 1964 flick is a paranoid, cold war, science fiction thriller with echoes of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, called NO SURVIVORS PLEASE.

The film (co-directed by Hans Albin and Peter Berneis) seems fairly lightweight at first, with a swinging sixties plot taking place around futuristic European architecture.  And then very bad things start to happen. Back in the fifties and sixties, movies would often advertise they were “ripped from today’s headlines!” — and that’s particularly true in the case of SURVIVORS.  The first signs of stock footage in the film reminded me of low budget films everywhere (BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY (1949), anyone?) But then the documentary footage, through clever editing, is integrated into the lives of our characters with chilling  results.

This is the kind of movie where I see a possible plot direction and say “they’ll never go there.”  And then they do.  Without giving away any of the plot, SURVIVORS turns out to be a great, horrific cautionary tale, easily worth the price of the disc.  And another piece of popcorn of the damned!

EURO-FANTASTICO DOUBLE FEATURE.  VCI 8573.  187 MINUTES, FULL FRAME.  NTSC, ALL REGION.

© Copyright 2010 by Craig Shaw Gardner