Archive for the Hammer Films Category

In the Spooklight: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

Posted in 1950s Horror, 2010, Christopher Lee films, Classic Films, Evil Doctors!, Frankenstein Movies, Hammer Films, Horror, In the Spooklight, Michael Arruda Reviews, Peter Cushing Films, Reanimated Corpses with tags , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by knifefighter

This is a reprint of my 100th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, which originally appeared in the HWA Newsletter in December 2010.  It’s on THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, one of my all-time favorites, and one of a handful of movies that influenced me at a young age and got me into this horror business in the first place.  Hope you enjoy it.  And don’t forget, my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection – 115 reviews in all— is now available as an EBook at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Thanks for reading.

—Michael Arruda

 IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

By

Michael Arruda

The_Curse_of_Frankenstein_poster

Welcome to the 100th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column.  Woo hoo!  It’s been a fun ride.  Thanks for coming along.

In honor of the occasion, let’s look at THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), Hammer Films’ first horror hit.

To make their Frankenstein movie different from the Universal 1931 original starring Boris Karloff, Hammer Films decided to concentrate more on the doctor rather than on the monster.  Enter Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein.

Hammer Films’ signing of Peter Cushing to play Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was a major coup for the tiny studio which made low-budget movies.  In the 1950s, Peter Cushing had become the most popular actor on British television.  To British audiences, he was a household name.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was Cushing’s first shot at being the lead actor in a theatrical movie, and he doesn’t disappoint.  In fact, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN belongs to Peter Cushing.  He dominates this movie and carries it on his shoulders.  He’s in nearly every scene.

Cushing succeeded in creating a character who was the perfect shade of gray, a villain who was also a hero.  He’s so convincing in this dual persona that we want to see Victor Frankenstein succeed in his quest to create life, even though he murders a few people along the way.

Peter Cushing went on to become an international superstar.  He delivered countless fine performances over the years until his death from cancer in 1994.  Yet, his performance as Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is arguably his best.

Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein

Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein

Like the 1931 version of FRANKENSTEIN before it, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, while based on the book by Mary Shelley, is not overly faithful to the novel and takes lots of liberties with the story.

Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) enlists the aid of his former tutor Paul (Robert Urquhart) to conduct his experiments, to “create the most complex thing known to man- man himself!”  Victor wants his creation to be “born with a lifetime of knowledge” and so he invites the brilliant Professor Bernstein (Paul Hardtmuth) to his house for dinner.  After dinner, Victor promptly murders him.  Later, when Paul confronts Victor and says he’s going to stop him from using the brain, Victor replies with one of the better lines from the movie, “Why?  He has no further use for it.”

Lightning strikes and starts the lab equipment, while Victor is out of the laboratory, and the Creature (Christopher Lee, also in his starring role debut) is brought to life without Victor present, saving him from an “It’s alive!” moment.

Victor opens the door to the laboratory and finds the Creature standing in the doorway alive.  In the film’s most memorable scene, the Creature rips off the mask of bandages covering his face, and the camera tracks into a violent grotesque close-up of the Creature’s hideous face.  It’s a most horrific make-up job by Phil Leakey, and it’s unique to Frankenstein movies, since in all six of the Hammer Frankenstein sequels to follow, this Creature, so chillingly portrayed by Christopher Lee, never appears again.

Christopher Lee as Frankenstein's Creature

Christopher Lee as Frankenstein’s Creature

Lee’s Creature is a murderous beast, and he quickly escapes from the laboratory.  Victor and Paul chase him into the woods, where Paul shoots him in the head, killing him.  Or so he thinks.  Victor promptly digs up the body and brings it back to life again.

Victor performs multiple brain surgeries to improve the Creature, but eventually things get out of hand, as Paul goes to the police just as the Creature escapes again.  The film has a dark conclusion which I won’t give away here.

Over the years, Christopher Lee has been criticized for his portrayal of the Creature in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Sure, Lee’s Creature is not the Karloff monster.   However, the Creature, who appears fleetingly here and there, has an almost Michael Myers quality in this movie, a killer who creeps in the shadows, here one moment, gone the next.

Lee is scary in the role.  His Creature is an insane unpredictable being.  As the Creature, Lee doesn’t speak a word, and he hardly makes a sound, using pantomime skills to bring the character to life.  His performance has always reminded me of a silent film performance, a la Lon Chaney Sr.  Lee captures the almost childlike persona of a new creation born into the world for the first time, albeit a child that’s a homicidal maniac.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN has a great music score by James Bernard.  It’s haunting, ghastly, and memorable.

Director Terence Fisher, arguably Hammer’s best director, is at the helm here.  As he did in all his best movies, Fisher created some truly memorable scenes in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  The Creature’s first appearance is classic, one of the most memorable scenes of its kind.  The scene when Victor murders Professor Bernstein features a great stunt where Victor pushes the Professor off a second floor balcony to his death, and we actually see the stunt double hit the floor head first with a neck breaking thud.  It’s a jarring scene.  And this is 1957.

There are lots of other neat touches as well.  When Victor’s fiancée Elizabeth (Hazel Court) peers into the acid vat in which Victor has been disposing unwanted bodies and body parts, she covers her nose- a great little touch.

Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay is one of his best.  Probably the best written scene is the one where Victor tries to convince Paul how well he has trained his Creature by having the Creature stand, walk, and sit down.  Paul is unimpressed, saying “Is this your perfect physical being, this animal?  Why don’t you ask it a question of advanced physics?  It’s got a brain with a lifetime of knowledge behind it, it should find it simple!”  It’s also a great scene for Christopher Lee, as it’s one of the few times he invokes sympathy for the Creature.

But THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN sinks or swims with Peter Cushing.  Rarely has an actor delivered such a powerful performance in a horror movie.  Cushing is flawless here.  He draws you into Frankenstein’s madness and convinces you he’s right.

If I could give you one gift this holiday season, it would be to watch THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Rediscover it today, more than 50 years after it was made.  It’s time this movie received its due as one of the best ever, which isn’t news to those who saw it in 1957. After all, it was the biggest money maker in Britain that year.

One of its original lobby cards reads “THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN will haunt you forever.”

It will.

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda

Cinema Knife Fight’s Monstrous Question: BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS WHO NEVER MADE IT

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 50s Horror, 70s Horror, 80s Horror, 90s horror, Campy Movies, Grindhouse, Hammer Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mad Doctors!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Monstrous Question of the Month, Movie History, Paul McMahon Columns, Universal Horror Films, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  MONSTROUS QUESTION
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, William D. Carl, and Paul McMahon

MICHAEL ARRUDA:   Welcome to this month’s MONSTROUS QUESTION column.  Today we’re asking our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters:  Who’s your favorite actor, or actress, in a horror/science fiction movie who didn’t make it big?

In other words, that person who never quite became a star, yet in this one movie or perhaps movies, you just loved him/her.  Name the actor, the movie, and what it was about his/her performance that you liked so much.  You can also comment on why you think this person never became a star.  Of course, in some cases, it’s obvious (the person died suddenly, for example).

So let’s get started.  William, let’s start with you.  Who’s the actor or actress you most wished had made it big?

WILLIAM D. CARL:  Thanks, Michael.  I’m going with Deborah Foreman, who burst onto the screen in the hot VALLEY GIRL in 1983, but she almost immediately gravitated toward the horror genre.

PAUL MCMAHON:  Cool.  Deborah Foreman was one of my picks too!

CARL:  Well, she was a terrific comedian, with a beautiful face and bod to match the bubbly personality; she nearly always played the perky girl next door type who got into some kind of trouble.

Deborah Foreman in VALLEY GIRL.

Deborah Foreman in VALLEY GIRL.

In DESTROYER (1988), she faced a crazed Lyle Alzado in an abandoned prison where she was to play the lead in a women-in-prison film. In 1988, she played ‘the girlfriend’ in WAXWORK, facing off against vampires and her own sexual urges when confronted by De Sade!

L.L. SOARES:  My kind of woman!

CARL:  SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT (1989) found her in another thankless girlfriend role, but she held her own against Bruce Campbell and David Carradine. Later that year she played, yes, another girlfriend in the comedy/horror film LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS. In my heart, however, the lovely Deborah Foreman will always be the twins Buffy and Muffy from 1986’s APRIL FOOL’S DAY, a fun slasher comedy that is buoyed by her dual performance to a point where it makes the movie’s ludicrous twists (almost) palatable.

Foreman had a real knack for comedy and scares, and she knew when to be the growling animalistic twin and when to be sweet and innocent, as she was in most of her roles. I think if someone would’ve let her play something other than the girlfriend, she could have really become a huge star in either comedy or horror. Somehow, she never made it. After a few TV episodes (hello MACGYVER!), she’s disappeared from the scene. Nowadays, she’s a graphic artist and she makes and designs custom furniture.

Sigh.

In my heart, she will always be the beautiful, but mussed Muffy, attacking the last guy alive with one wickedly huge knife. Deborah, we miss you!

MCMAHON:  We certainly do.

ARRUDA:  I miss the Lobster Man from Mars.  Whatever happened to him?

SOARES:  He’s selling fish and chips in New Bedford.

Anyway, my favorite actor who never made it big would have to be Seamus O’Brien, who played Master Sardu in the 1976 movie BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. He is brilliant in the film, and has been described as a kind of a “poor man’s Vincent Price.” But I thought he was so much more. By turns spooky and darkly funny, his performance is nothing short of inspired.

The late great Seamus O'Brien in BLOODSUCKING FREAKS.

The late great Seamus O’Brien in BLOODSUCKING FREAKS.

Born in London in June of 1932, his short film career includes only one other movie credit: a small role in 1975’s THE HAPPY HOOKER, but he also was a stage actor, and was performing in an off-Broadway production of “The Fantasticks” when he died.

And how did he die? He “was stabbed to death while trying to hold a burglar at his apartment on May 14, 1977,” thus ending a promising career in horror/exploitation cinema.

He was only 44 years old.

ARRUDA:  That’s sad.  Some of my picks had tragic ends as well, but we’ll get to those in a moment.  Paul, you want to weigh in?

MCMAHON:  Sure.

The one actress I’ve never been able to forget is Deborah Foreman, who William spoke about a couple of minutes ago.

Deborah Foreman in APRIL FOOL'S DAY.

Deborah Foreman in APRIL FOOL’S DAY.

As he said, Foreman played Muffy/ Buffy in the original APRIL FOOL’S DAY (1986). It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but I remember her having a screen presence that flipped from inviting to evil and back again. I always thought she deserved a more meaningful acting career than WAXWORK (1988) and LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS.

While we’re at it, I’d like to give a shout-out to Emily Perkins from STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990) and the GINGER SNAPS TRILOGY (2000 – 2004).

Emily Perkins in GINGER SNAPS

Emily Perkins in GINGER SNAPS

ARRUDA, SOARES, CARL:  Yo, Emily!

MCMAHON:  Where the heck did she go?

SOARES:  She ran off with the Lobster Man, and they had little Ginger Lobster babies.

ARRUDA:  Really?  I thought the Lobster Man from Mars had a thing for the DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS (1954)?

SOARES:  That was just a fling.

ARRUDA:  Oh.  And here I was thinking Mars was just this ANGRY RED PLANET (1959).  Who knew there was so much lovin’ going on?

MCMAHON:  An actor that leaps to mind is Kevin J. O’Connor, who played Joey in DEEP RISING (1998) and Swann in LORD OF ILLUSIONS (1995). In both roles he disappeared into his character and commanded your attention whenever he was on screen. He works only sporadically now, and doesn’t usually get much to do. I’d love to see him find a role to carve himself into everyone’s memory.

Kevin J. O'Connor in LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

Kevin J. O’Connor in LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

SOARES – Wait a minute here, what’s with all the choices? The question says “Who’s your favorite actor, or actress,” so I obviously assumed it meant one person.  No fair!

ARRUDA (dressed as the Joker): Wait til they get aload of me.

SOARES: Did you say something, Michael?

MCMAHON (ignoring them): Topmost, though, I have always been, and will probably always remain, stymied at the lack of respect for Jeffery DeMunn. DeMunn displayed a hell of a lot of talent as the serial killer Andrei Chikatilo in the underrated CITIZEN X (1995).

Jeffrey Demunn is probably best known as playing Dale on THE WALKING DEAD.

Jeffrey Demunn is probably best known as playing Dale on THE WALKING DEAD.

I saw the remake of THE BLOB (1988) afterwards, and DeMunn impressed me again, playing a Sheriff who genuinely cares for every member of his town. He was given a small role in THE X FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE (1998), in which he had nothing to do.

Lately, he seems to have found favor with Frank Darabount, landing roles in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), THE GREEN MILE (1999) THE MIST (2007), and most recently as Dale on THE WALKING DEAD, but I think the guy deserves a lot more. He’s a top-tier talent who’s been overlooked far too long.

And a bonus…

SOARES: Another one? WTF?

MCMAHON: Brian Yuzna’s first film SOCIETY (1989) featured some of the wildest, most outrageous make-up designs I’ve ever seen. The job was credited to “Screaming Mad George.” His real name is Joji Tani, and while he worked off and on for a while after that, his trail evaporates after 2005.

Special effect genius, Screaming Mad George

Special effect genius, Screaming Mad George

Where the heck did he go?

SOARES: To be honest, he’s not an actor, so he really doesn’t count as an answer to this question, but I still have to agree with you. I’m a huge fan of SOCIETY, a completely underrated movie. And I used to look forward to seeing “Screaming Mad George’s” name in movie credits. He was terrific at making cool effects, and for awhile, you’d see his name everywhere. He was even in the creature effects crew of the original PREDATOR (1987). Where did he go?

ARRUDA:  That’s a good question.  A lot of folks just disappear from the scene.  Often they simply leave the business and continue on with their lives in other careers.

I’ve got a bunch of choices today.  Most of them are well-known, I think, but not as leading actors.

SOARES: A bunch??

ARRUDA: Robert Armstrong, for example, in KING KONG (1933) is quite famous among movie buffs for his role as Carl Denham, and while Armstrong was in fact a very successful character actor, appearing in over 160 movies, he never really made the jump to leading man.  He’s great as Denham in KING KONG, and I’ve always wished he’d played the lead in more movies.

Robert_Armstrong

From the Universal movies, I’m going with Dwight Frye.  Sure, Frye is known today for his scene stealing performances as Renfield in the Lugosi DRACULA (1931) and the hunchbacked assistant Fritz in the Karloff FRANKENSTEIN (1931), and you can find him in bit parts in other Universal monster movies, but that’s it.

Dwight Frye in his most iconic role, as Renfeild in DRACULA (1931).

Dwight Frye in his most iconic role, as Renfeild in DRACULA (1931).

Watch him as Renfield in DRACULA and you can’t help but wish he’d gone on to bigger and better things.

He died young, just 44, of a heart attack, in 1943.

SOARES: Dwight Frye was terrific! Also check him out as Herman Glieb in THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933), another memorable role. He also had a small role, as Wilmer Cook, in THE MALTESE FALCON (1931). He really deserved to become a leading man/villain in horror flicks. He’s better than Lionel Atwill or George Zucco, who got their shots as leads!

ARRUDA: And speaking of DRACULA, I’d also go with Helen Chandler in DRACULA (1931).  She’s often and obviously overlooked in this movie because of the presence of Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, and Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing, but she makes a terrific and feisty Mina.

Helen Chandler as Mina in a famous still from 1931's DRACULA.

Helen Chandler as Mina in a famous still from 1931’s DRACULA.

After a successful stage career, she never quite made it in the movies.  She lived a tragic life, struggling with alcohol and sleeping pill dependency, becoming disfigured in a fire, and eventually living out her days in a sanitarium.

From Hammer Films, I’ve always liked Francis Matthews, who appeared as Peter Cushing’s young assistant Hans in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958), and as heroic Charles Kent in the second Christopher Lee Dracula movie, DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).  He’s been described as an “ineffective” leading man, but I’ve always found his performances topnotch.  Sure, he sounds just like Cary Grant, but so what?  I would have liked to have seen him hit it big.

Francis Matthews with Peter Cushing in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Francis Matthews with Peter Cushing in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Then there’s Andrew Keir, who appeared with Matthews in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS, as Father Sandor.  Keir was a very successful character actor, but as Father Sandor, the lead hero in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS, he dominates his scenes, as he would again in arguably his most famous role as Professor Quatermass in FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967).  But he never reached the level of a Peter Cushing or a Christopher Lee in these movies, but based on his performances, he certainly could have.

Andrew Keir

Andrew Keir

Into the 1970s, I’d go with Jason Miller from THE EXORCIST (1973).  He’s great as young Father Karras.  I would have loved to have seen him act in many more movies, but he kept himself busy as a successful playwright.  He died in 2001.

Jason Miller as Father Karras in THE EXORCIST.

Jason Miller as Father Karras in THE EXORCIST.

SOARES:  I agree about Jason Miller, too. But I’ve got a problem. Bill Carl and I totally followed the rules and chose one person. I thought Paul was bad, but you’re listing so many people it sounds like you’re writing a book on the subject. What’s going on here?

ARRUDA: Where have you been?  We always get carried away with these things.  This is nothing new.  Why haven’t you been paying attention?  Have you been busy writing novels or something?

SOARES:  Yes.

ARRUDA:  There you go.

And from today, I’d go with Idris Elba.  He’s starred in a bunch of movies, including PROMETHEUS (2012) and THOR (2011), but mostly in supporting roles, which is too bad because he’s great in every movie I see him in.  He’s busily acting today, so there’s still time for him to make it big.  This guy needs to make it as a lead actor, and I’m hoping he does.

Idris Elba

Idris Elba

SOARES: Another one! But I have to agree about Elba, he’s great in everything he does. He is more appreciated in his native England, by the way, where he plays the lead in the compelling TV series LUTHER (worth checking out on BBC America). In America, he was pretty memorable as Russell “Stringer” Bell on the HBO series THE WIRE (2002 – 2004), but he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He was even turned down for the lead role in the recent movie ALEX CROSS, so that the role could go to “bigger name” Tyler Perry, who was awful!

ARRUDA: And that’s all we’ve got.

SOARES: Finally! I thought you were doing your dissertation or something!

ARRUDA:  Now that you mention it, it would be a fun idea for a book.

SOARES:  So, until next time, remember that there’s always something new here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. Tell all your movie-loving friends to check out the site!

ARRUDA:  That’s right.  Well, thanks for joining us for this week’s MONSTROUS QUESTION column.  Good night, everybody.

—END—

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Stands in THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2012, Animals Attack, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, British Horror, Family Secrets, Hammer Films, Inheritance!, Revenge!, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on May 24, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961)

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!

Since the beginning of motion pictures, films have attempted to cast average household pets as evil villains, waiting for their owners to forget them for just one moment before they pounce on them and perform various unspeakable acts upon their persons. From Holmes and Watson facing off against the eerily howling THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939) to the rabid St. Bernard of CUJO (1983) to the human-flesh-addicted felines in THE CORPSE GRINDERS (1971) to the hundreds of starving cats in STRAYS (1991), Hollywood has tried to make man’s best friends into horror movie fodder, with mixed results. For every CUJO, there is a DEVIL DOG, HOUND OF HELL (1978), in which scary music plays over the cutest puppy you’ve ever seen. For every scary cat from PET SEMATARY (1989), we get a killer kitty like the pussycat in THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961), which just happens to be on our drive-in screen tonight!

Amidst a furious lightning storm, an old lady, Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey), reads The Raven aloud to her pussycat, Tabitha, who doesn’t seem very interested in the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. When she glances up, she sees one of her servants, Andrew the butler, with a cudgel, and he promptly bashes her head in while Tabitha watches, unperturbed. The servant drags the old lady outside while the female cook/maid, Clara, watches and the old woman’s husband, Walter (played by Andre’ Morrell of THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, 1959, BEN HUR, 1959, THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, 1965, and BARRY LYNDON, 1975) helps with the corpse. Once in the woods, they quickly bury her in a pre-dug grave. All the while, the cat watches, freaking out the hubbie and the servants to no end. Two days later, Walter calls the police and reports his wife as missing, while the servants try to catch the cat. It seems the animal just keeps staring at them. Clara, the cook, played by the great Freda Jackson (who starred in such fabulous movies as GREAT EXPECTATIONS, 1946, TOM JONES, 1963, and THE VALLEY OF GWANGI, 1969) is especially disturbed by the cat, and she falls into hilarious shrieking fits every time she sees the pussycat. Walter claims the cat “saw everything. It’s a witness, and it needs to be killed.”   Walter and Andrew decide it’s time to send for Ella’s niece, Elizabeth, played by the Queen of British Horror herself, lovely Barbara Shelley (VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, 1960, DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, 1966, FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, 1967, and the titular monster of THE GORGON, 1964). Walter wants to “deal with” Elizabeth so that the will isn’t disputed.

Hammer mainstay Barbara Shelley gets cozy with the kitty.

Meanwhile, Tabitha lures the two evil servants and Walter into the cellar, where Walter admits, “I’d like to brain it. I hate it!  Here kitty-kitty!”  Of course, the scene ends with Walter braining Andrew while the cat/witness escapes. Once again, everyone is terrified of this adorable little pussycat. Walter even sees a dead rat on the floor, neatly arranged by Tabitha, and he has a heart attack. Unfortunately, Walter lives, but the family’s friend and Ella’s protégé, Michael Latimer (played by Conrad Phillips of CIRCUS OF HORRORS, 1960 and SONS AND LOVERS, 1960) becomes concerned with the missing woman and the unnatural fear of the kitty in the household. When he drives Elizabeth to the spooky mansion, he mentions it, and she asks, “You mean to tell me an ordinary domestic cat is terrorizing three grown-ups?”

Andrew, watching over the sick Walter, is clawed in the face by the cat, but the little beast purrs and loves on Elizabeth. Clara tries to poison the feline eyewitness and Arnold chases it to the swamp. The cat waits till he’s on an unsteady log over quicksand before shaking the log and sending the butler to his doom. Soon after, the cat trips the cook/maid, and Clara tumbles down the stairs, breaking her neck.

Uncle Walter, still obsessing over Tabitha, sends for three cousins. He promises them a cut of his inheritance if they find and kill the cat as well as tracking down a hidden will made by Ella, which gives everything to Elizabeth. This sets them off trying to trap the murderous kitty as well as hunting for the will. The wife of one of the cousins takes to suddenly popping into the disabled old man’s bedroom and shouting “UNCLE!” at the top of her lungs, hoping to instigate another heart attack. Her husband, supposedly watching over the recovering uncle, decides to cut him out of the will entirely, and he leaves the window open, a perfect entryway for Tabitha. Our vengeance-fueled feline promptly enters the room, climbs up on the bed, and scares the old man so much he succumbs to a fit, dying in bed.

I CAN HAZ VENGEANCE!

Will the missing documents be found?  Will the cousins “take care” of Elizabeth?  Will the kitty slaughter off the rest of the cast?  Will justice be served?

THE SHADOW OF THE CAT is purported to be a BHP Production. Upon further inspection, it appears this is a subsidiary of the beloved Hammer Films, which only makes sense when you peruse the production credits. Almost all of the actors had starred in or soon would appear in Hammer productions. The film was stylishly directed by John Gilling, who also helmed THE MUMMY’S SHROUD, 1967, THE REPTILE, 1966, and THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, 1966. The effective, shadowy black and white cinematography is by Arthur Grant, who also shot FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, 1967, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, 1968, and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, 1970. The gothic drama reeks of fog and atmosphere, aided immensely by the creepy old Bray House (often utilized for exteriors by Hammer) and that creepy old bog of a swamp. It’s a complete Hammer film without the Hammer moniker. The moody music is by Mikis Theodorakis, who would memorably compose the themes for ZORBA THE GREEK (1964) and SERPICO (1973). It’s a quality production all around, and that’s what makes it so confounding.

Is Tabitha really the villain here?  I hope not, because there is literally NOTHING scary about the kitty-cat killing machine. Every time they show its sweet face, scary music plays, and the audience is supposed to be held in suspense. Instead of terror, this inspires fits of giggles, completely defeating the rest of the production. Everything in the flick is great, with the exception of the cat not being scary. It’s just so cute you want to put its picture on a meme and add funny sayings at the bottom. So you have this well-made movie with an ineffective monster.

Or is the monster supposed to be reflected in the servants and the family. They see their guilt and complicity in Tabitha, and they bump themselves off through their self-doubt and the knowledge of their culpability in Ella’s murder. They are being stalked and murdered by their own subconscious guilt. It’s much more interesting than the killer pussycat movie.

Meow!

I give THE SHADOW OF THE CAT two and a half dead butlers in the bog.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Monstrous Question: BEST HORROR MOVIE MAKE-UP (Part 1 of 4)

Posted in 2012, Christopher Lee films, Frankenstein Movies, Hammer Films, Horror Movie Makeup, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Monstrous Question, Planet of the Apes with tags , , , , , on April 6, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  MONSTROUS QUESTION
Question by Michael Arruda
Featuring Michael Arruda, Dan Keohane, Mark Onspaugh and L.L. Soares
Part 1 of 4

Today’s MONSTROUS QUESTION:  What are your picks for the most memorable makeup jobs in a horror/monster movie?

Our panel was asked to consider the following questions:

–What’s your pick for the best makeup job, that movie monster whose look is the best you’ve ever seen, perhaps your favorite.

–What’s your pick for the most over-the-top embarrassingly campy makeup job?  That monster you can’t help but laugh at?

–And last, simply the worst makeup job, meaning the most disappointing, that time when you looked at the monster and thought, that’s supposed to be scary?  That is the lamest looking monster I’ve ever seen!  The one that is so bad there’s nothing funny about it.

Our panel responds:

##

Up first, it’s MICHAEL ARRUDA:

When I think of monster makeup, I can’t help but think of the classic monster movies from yesteryear.  They’ve always been my favorites and still are today, so most of my choices come from the era of classic horror.

I’m also a big fan of FRANKENSTEIN movies, and a lot of my picks are from FRANKENSTEIN films.

Jack Pierce did the iconic makeup for 1931's FRANKENSTEIN.

For example, two of my favorites are obvious choices, Boris Karloff as the Monster in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), makeup by Jack Pierce, and Christopher Lee as the Creature in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), makeup by Phil Leaky.

Then there’s Karloff again, as Im-Ho-Tep THE MUMMY (1932), makeup by Jack Pierce.

I love Lon Chaney Sr. as THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), makeup by Lon Chaney Sr.

The most underrated for me is Christopher Lee in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), makeup by Phil Leaky.  There’s something very natural and frightening about Lee’s look as Dracula in this movie.  Later on in the Hammer Dracula sequels, he would be made up more heavily, with his flesh looking paler, almost white, and often he’d be photographed with green light aimed at him, and he’d have deep red bloodshot eyes.  But a lot of these effects came off as over-the-top.  There’s none of this present in HORROR OF DRACULA.  When I think of the most frightening Dracula ever, I think of Lee as Dracula in HORROR OF DRACULA, and a lot of this is because of the way he looked.  Very scary.

Christopher Lee as the Prince of Darkness in THE HORROR OF DRACULA (makeup by Phil Leaky).

Speaking of scary, I think the scariest makeup job ever is Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST (1973), make-up by Dick Smith.

But my favorite monster movie makeup probably belongs to Lon Chaney Jr. as THE WOLF MAN, and of Chaney’s many performances in this classic role, my favorite makeup job on Chaney as the Wolf Man is in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943), makeup by Jack Pierce.

And my favorite of all time?  It’s not from a classic horror movie, but from a science fiction movie, and that would be PLANET OF THE APES (1968), makeup by John Chambers and a bunch of other people.  I’m still wowed and impressed by the ape makeup in that movie, as well as in the entire series.

My choice for the best of the campy make-up jobs would be the monster in I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN (1957) makeup by Phillip Scheer.

The worst ever?  The Frankenstein monster in  DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971), makeup by Gary Kent.  It’s the ugliest Frankenstein monster ever, and sadly, the most laughable.

And my choice for the most disappointing make-up job belongs to Hammer’s THE GORGON (1964), makeup by the usually reliable Roy Ashton.  It’s a really cool movie, and stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and it’s directed by Terence Fisher, but when you finally see the Gorgon at the end, it’s horribly fake looking  Couldn’t they have found someone who didn’t mind having real snakes around her head, instead of the fak- looking rubber snakes which didn’t even move?  One of the few times Hammer embarrassed themselves in terms of the monsters they created.

A possible misstep from the great Roy Ashton from THE GORGON.

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

—END Part 1—

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou – BLACK EYE (1974)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Action Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Blaxploitation, Crime Films, Detectives, Hammer Films, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on February 2, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

BLACK EYE (1974)

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!

Fred Williamson was a famous football star, playing for both the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs.  He was also one of the first black action heroes, a muscular, lithe, handsome presence onscreen and off.  He was a hit with the ladies, but he didn’t degrade them in his pictures.  Nicknamed ‘The Hammer’ in his gridiron days, he could fist fight with the best of them, and even better, the cat could act.   The Hammer was nobody’s whipping boy.  Instead, he built a long career by playing smart guys, detectives and cowboys and gangsters with real soul.  Williamson was first noticed in the TV show JULIA, co-starring with the lovely Diahann Carroll.  This was followed by a string of classic blaxploitation films, including HAMMER (1972), BLACK CAESAR (1974), HELL UP IN HARLEM (1973), THAT MAN BOLT (1973), and THREE THE HARD WAY (1974), where he shared billing with two other hot African Americans, Jim Brown and Jim Kelly.  A textbook classic of its kind, THREE THE HARD WAY is a wild ride, but it’s been seen by everyone and is readily available.  You all know I would find something else to discuss here, right?  You bet your sweet…Shut your mouth!

BLACK EYE (1974) is like a Sam Spade plot gone horribly left of center.  In it, Williamson plays Shepherd Stone (natch), a down-on-his-luck private detective with little money in his pocket and an office in the back of a local pub.  He’s been thrown off the force, see, because he kept beating up pushers.  His beautiful girlfriend who lives downstairs (played by the luscious Teresa Graves—a regular on LAUGH IN, she later starred in the TV drama GET CHRISTIE LOVE and the movie OLD DRACULA-1975), is a bisexual who’s started dating an older white woman who owns a modeling agency, played by the great Rosemary Forsyth (SHENANDOAH-1965, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE?-1969  and 2001’s GHOSTS OF MARS).  After interrupting the girls in flagrante, he shamefully returns to his run-down apartment.  But first, he hears a noise in the flat of his neighbor, a hooker who has several side businesses going.  When he investigates, he finds her dead, and an Aryan/Nordic type of man attacks him with a gold-tipped walking stick,  the top of which is sculpted into a dog’s head.  The blond man gets away, and our hero calls the cops, who promptly ask him to help them on this case.  You know, since he’s already involved and all.

Shepherd Stone is also asked to look into the disappearance of a young girl by her father, played by Richard Anderson (FORBIDDEN PLANET-1956 and he was Oscar Goldman on THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN).  These two cases lead Stone to a sordid porno studio, sordid parties of the very rich, sordid broken-down carnivals, and the local church where the girl was last seen.  The church is run by a slimy preacher who may or may not be running a cult, but is certainly running some kind of scam.  Meanwhile, everyone wants the gold dog cane that the blond killer had in the hooker’s apartment.  Once owned by a famous silent film star (BLACK EYE opens with cool silent black and white footage of this actor, making me wonder if I was watching THE ARTIST (2011) again), this cane has been used to smuggle pure heroin into the country.  But by whom?  And who’s willing to kill for it?  The crooked preacher?  The porno producer?  The old gay man who collects movie memorabilia?  Soon, bodies are piling up everywhere Stone turns, the cane gets stolen twice, and everyone beats up everyone in several nifty bare knuckle brawls.  Complete the picture with a decent, bouncy car chase through a bodega slum, lots of sexual innuendo (“You’re a woman.”  “I’m a whole lotta woman!”), a mass baptism scene complete with a hundred hippie Jesus freaks, and a few good twists to the plot by the end.

Fred "The Hammer" Williamson in BLACK EYE.

BLACK EYE (he’s black and a private eye, get it?) was directed by Jack Arnold.  Yes, that Jack Arnold – the director of such classics as THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953), THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), and TARANTULA (1955).  Arnold’s career went south after the 1950s, and he was relegated to directing television shows like PETER GUNN, RAWHIDE, and (say it ain’t so) GILLIGAN’S ISLAND.  In the 1970s, he directed several blaxploitation features, including BLACK EYE.  It’s a long strange journey, but he still keeps the pacing fast, the dialogue snappy, and the people beautiful, baby.

Our feature was written by Mark Haggard (director of THE FIRST NUDIE MUSICAL-1976) and Jim Martin.  It’s not Shakespeare, or even Hammett, but it’s a fun little flick that plays a little dirty while still maintaining a PG rating.  If the plot seems overcomplicated, that’s because it is.  I’m still not sure how one woman fits into the whole bizarre plot, but it doesn’t take away any enjoyment from the movie.  In fact, the whole convoluted thing goes down easy with the popcorn and beer.  Dashiell Hammett himself once claimed he never knew who killed one character in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941).

And this isn’t a writer’s picture, or even a director’s.  This one belongs to the walking charisma that is Fred “The Hammer” Williamson.  With those hangdog eyes, those long sideburns, and that just-eaten-the-canary grin, he is a hero for the time.  He doesn’t use a lot of slang, and he only fights when he must (or when he catches a dope pusher in an arcade), and he’s entirely on the side of the cops, so he doesn’t really fit into the blaxploitation hero paradigm of the early 70s.  He isn’t a pimp or a crook or a gangster.  He’s just a regular Joe, fighting the man to get an honest day’s pay and fighting a predatory lesbian for his woman.  In fact, the whole matter-of-fact handling of the bisexual and lesbian characters in the movie is very evenly handled, surprisingly advanced for its time.  BLACK EYE doesn’t judge.  It’s just the facts, ma’am.  But The Hammer rises above it all and makes it much more enjoyable than it ever should be.  Williamson’s still acting.  In fact, he has four movies scheduled to open next year, including a remake of the brutal 1982 movie, FIGHTING BACKLong may the King reign!

BLACK EYE is available in a nice print from Warner Archive on DVD.

I give BLACK EYE three sordid porn studios out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Fred Williamson hangs out with some hippies in BLACK EYE

VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972)

Posted in 2011, 70s Horror, British Horror, Cinema Knife Fights, Hammer Films, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , , on December 5, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: CLASSIC EDITION
VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A crypt located beneath an old castle. L.L. SOARES lies stretched out on a slab, as MICHAEL ARRUDA stands above him, raising a wooden stake and preparing to plunge it into LS’s heart)

LS: Wait, wait. What are you doing? I was only sleeping!

MA: How do I know you’re only sleeping? How do I know you haven’t been turned into— a vampire!

LS: How about handing me that bag of circus peanuts over there?

MA: Sure. (Hands LS bag of circus peanuts).

LS: I’ve been sleeping so long I’ve built up an appetite. (opens bag and starts eating). Vampires, as you know, don’t eat food.

MA: Good point. Lucky for you, too. I was about to drive a stake through your heart.

LS: I know we disagree a lot, but that’s not reason to get violent!

MA: Sorry. All this vampire circus stuff has made me nervous. Speaking of which, how about we review this week’s movie?

LS: Okay, Since nothing of interest came out in the theaters this week, we ended up reviewing a “classic” of sorts – a vampire film from the legendary Hammer Studios called VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972). By the time this one came out, Hammer had already put out most of its best films, from CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and THE HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) to THE SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) to TWINS OF EVIL (1971).

Since this was later on in Hammer’s history, there’s more blood and nudity by this time. But, sadly, no big stars. Perhaps the biggest star in VAMPIRE CIRCUS is David Prowse, who plays the mute circus strongman. You might know him better as Darth Vader in the first three STAR WARS films. He was the man behind the black mask (with voice provided by James Earl Jones).

MA: He also played the Frankenstein monster in two Hammer Frankenstein movies, THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970), the only Hammer Frankenstein movie NOT to star Peter Cushing, and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974), the final film in the Hammer FRANKENSTEIN series.

LS: And he was the muscleman who carried Patrick Magee around in the last half of Stanley Kubrick’s classic A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971), my favorite Kubrick film. And, it just so happens, Adrienne Corri, who plays Magee’s wife in that movie, Mrs. Alexander (who is raped early on to the tune of “Singing in the Rain”), also played the gypsy woman in VAMPIRE CIRCUS! It’s a small world.

MA: And while you’re right to say there weren’t any big stars in this one, there were two familiar faces for Hammer Films aficionados. Hammer favorite Thorley Walters played the Burgermeister.

LS: The Burgermeister Meisterburger?

MA: No, not him. Anyway, Walters was in lots of Hammer Films, including DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), in which he played a Renfield-type character named Ludwig, and FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967) where he played Baron Frankenstein’s faithful, but absent-minded assistant, Doctor Hertz.

Also, Anthony Corlan (now known as Anthony Higgins) played the vampire Emil, and he played the young hero in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970). Corlan’s actually very good in both movies, and I thought his vampire in VAMPIRE CIRCUS was one of the better parts of the movie.

So what did you think of VAMPIRE CIRCUS? Did it stand the test of time?

LS: I’d seen it as a kid, but I barely remembered any of it. The only scene that still stood out for me was one where a naked woman covered in stripes, like a tiger, fights a man in front of an audience (who happens to be Emil, the panther man).

MA: Yep. That’s the scene I remember, too.

LS: One thing I did notice about VAMPIRE CIRCUS though, is how weird it is. There’s a lot that makes absolutely no sense.

MA: Like what?

LS: Well, let’s start at the beginning. The movie starts out well enough.

MA: The movie starts out great! I think the pre-credit sequences might be the best part of the entire movie.

LS: A young girl is playing when she is approached by Anna Mueller (Domini Blythe) who leads the girl back to the castle of Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman), a vampire. It seems Anna does this pretty often and while she is not a vampire herself, she is the count’s lover (which leads to some nice nude scenes), and thus wants to provide him with nourishment. Anna’s husband, Albert (Laurence Payne), a school teacher, leads an uprising of villagers who break into the castle and stake the vampire. The villagers also punish Anna by whipping her with belts, but she gets away.

When the count is staked, he swears that the children of his attackers will die to bring him back to life.

MA: Now, all of this happens before we even see the title VAMPIRE CIRCUS. Like I said, it’s a pretty strong opening!

LS: Fifteen years later, the town is stricken with a plague that is slowly killing off its citizens. People from nearby villages establish road blocks to keep anyone from getting in and or out, and a doctor, Dr. Kersh (Richard Owens), risks his life to get out and seek medical supplies in the big city.

Some people believe the plague is the result of Count Mitterhau’s curse, although the more intelligent citizens deny any connection. It is about this time that a circus comes to town, The Circus of Nights, featuring a gypsy woman (Adrienne Corri), a dwarf in clown make-up, a strong man (David Prowse), dancers (Milovan and Serena Weber), and brother and sister twins who do an aerial act where they appear to turn into bats, named Helga (Lalla Ward) and Heinrich (Robin Sachs), and some exotic animals, including a tiger, a panther, and a chimpanzee.

It appears that the big cats are shape shifters of some kind and can turn into humans. The panther becomes Emil (Anthony Corlan), who seduces the local Burgermeister’s daughter. Emil, aside from sometimes being a panther, is also a vampire and the cousin of Count Mitterhaus, come back to resurrect his relative and exact revenge on the villagers who staked him.

Up until here, the movie appears to make sense, but as it goes on it just gets weirder and weirder.

For example, are the tiger and the panther shapeshifters or vampires? Emil certainly appears to be some kind of were-panther. The tiger just has one scene as that naked, striped girl (who is quite alluring), who does an erotic dance/battle with Emil as part of the show, and then is never seen again.

The new edition of VAMPIRE CIRCUS by Synapse Films offers the movie in both DVD and Blu-Ray format.

The gypsy woman, the dwarf and the strongman appear to be human (there’s even a moment where it is suggested that the gypsy woman is Albert’s former wife, Anna), and yet they help the vampires exact their revenge. And what about the Mirror of Life – a strange funhouse mirror that allows the vampires to lure in victims (they seem to emerge on the other side in the crypt where Count Mitterhaus lies staked and awaiting his resuscitation.

Albert Mueller’s daughter Dora (Lynne Frederick) returns home from the city (just barely avoiding getting killed by road block gunmen on her way through the woods), and she seems to be a big part of the Count’s revenge.

Then there is the scene where the villagers realize the circus is dangerous and plan to destroy it, yet right after that a full audience is watching the circus acts. Wouldn’t they have been warned to stay away?

MA: Yup, you’d think so. I felt the same way, and I think it’s because the script by Judson Kinberg isn’t very sharp at all. It’s as if the filmmakers came up with the concept— a circus full of vampires— and a central premise— they’ll be in a village to seek revenge upon the villagers for killing one of their own years before— but didn’t have a clue when it came to filling in the blanks. As you’ve pointed out, there are loose ends all over the place.

I read once that this one suffered from cuts which made it confusing when initially released, but I thought that the DVD/streaming versions available now were supposed to be the uncut versions. I think it’s just a bad script.

LS: Emil clearly transforms into a panther several times (and tears his victims apart), even though by the end it is clear that he is a vampire. So which is he? A vampire or a shape-shifter?

MA: This movie doesn’t differentiate between the two. In VAMPIRE CIRCUS, vampires can turn into other animals— not just bats.  Which is kind of a neat when you think about it.

LS: Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I agree that it’s an interesting take on vampires. Also Emil and the twins are constantly dripping blood from their victims onto the body of the Count, which is supposed to revive him, but it seems to take forever.

MA: It’s also extremely fake-looking. The drops of blood look like cartoons.

LS: As the movie continues, less and less of it makes sense. And why didn’t they just pull the stake out of the Count instead of letting it stay there?

MA: I thought the same thing. If they have access to the Count’s body, why not just pull the stake out? It would have saved them a lot of trouble.

LS: And the way characters suddenly find crosses (or cross-shaped objects) at the last minute to ward off a vampire in any given scene gets kind of ludicrous after a while.

MA: Only Peter Cushing can get away with doing this. (laughs).

LS: The cast includes some Hammer regulars, like you said, and a couple of ladies who were more famous in England for who they married. The very pretty Lynne Frederick who plays Dora Mueller later gave up acting to marry Peter Sellers when he was much older, and after that, David Frost. Lalla Ward who plays the vampire “twin” Helga was also the second Romana on DR. WHO where she met Tom Baker (who was The Doctor at the time) and they were married for a brief time. She later married famous biologist (and controversial author) Richard Dawkins!

I didn’t think this was one of Hammer’s better films, but it is interesting at least.

What did you think of it, Michael?

MA: Yeah, I’m with you. Not one of Hammer’s best, but certainly interesting.

I absolutely love the opening to this movie and thought it was the best part of the entire film. It’s a really cool way to open the film. Sadly, the rest of the movie isn’t as good.

The dance sequence with the striped woman is certainly memorable, but that’s about it.

There’s plenty of blood and gore on hand, but it’s dated blood and gore. The blood looks like bright red paint and none of the gore sequences look all that convincing. The film’s heart is in the right place, but its effects are simply dated.

I did enjoy Anthony Corlan as the vampire Emil a lot. I thought he made for a very effective vampire. I also liked the way the movie looked. Hammer Films always looked like they were made on a huge budget, which they weren’t, but they never look cheap. VAMPIRE CIRCUS is no exception.

However, there were lots of things I didn’t like about this movie. I’ll start with the direction by Robert Young. I thought this film was dreadfully slow-paced, and during many of the action sequences, the players seemed to be moving in slow motion.

There really weren’t any scary scenes in this one either, and in many of the scenes that were supposed to be scary, the camera would settle on a reaction shot for far too long, which tells me a more graphic shot was cut out and replaced with a reaction shot.

Most of the actors in VAMPIRE CIRCUS overact here, which surprised me, because Hammer Films usually contain strong acting. Not so here, as I thought the acting was a definite weak link in this movie. I liked Corlan as Emil, and that’s about it. Even veteran Thorely Walters hams it up painfully as the Burgermeister.

VAMPIRE CIRCUS could have certainly used the talents of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, director Terence Fisher, and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster. It was not Hammer’s “A” Team working on this one.

And while the circus angle is different, the main story here, of the village preyed upon by a vampire, is nothing new. VAMPIRE CIRCUS suffered from having too many traditional elements— frightened villagers, vampires in castles, buxom maidens.

LS: What’s wrong with buxom maidens?

MA: Nothing. I just threw that in there to see if you were paying attention.

Also of note, VAMPIRE CIRCUS is rated PG, yet it contains nudity, bloodshed, and— while its dated-looking—considerable gore. It contains more horrific elements than many of today’s PG-13 movies. How times have changed!

LS: I didn’t know it was PG here. You’re right, that’s wild, since there’s lots of nudity. But I think in England it was rated X, as were most of the Hammer films, to keep anyone under 18 out of the theaters. What a weird contrast!

MA:  Yup.  It was rated PG upon its initial American release, and it’s still listed as PG today.

LS:  By the way, there are also some cool extras on the Synapse Films version of the DVD/Blu-Ray, including a “Making Of Vampire Circus” short, the theatrical trailer (of course), and a reminiscence of the magazine HOUSE OF HAMMER, featuring lots of screen time by horror author and horror film historian, Phillip Nutman—a friend of our site here.

MA: Cool.  So, all in all, I found VAMPIRE CIRCUS mildly amusing. It’s not as good as I remember it, but it’s not bad and deserves credit for trying to put a new spin on the vampire legend—a circus full of vampires—even though it doesn’t quite succeed at what it sets out to do.

I give VAMPIRE CIRCUS, two knives.

LS: I wasn’t sure if we’d be giving ratings to this one, since it’s an oldie, but since you rated it, I’ll I give VAMPIRE CIRCUS, two and a half knives. I think we’re in agreement in how we felt about this one, but I think I enjoyed it a little bit more than you did.

Like I said, I was a little disappointed with this one, especially with the second half which is a bit out of whack, but overall I enjoyed it. It was nice to watch a Hammer film again—I haven’t watched one in a while, and they did put out a quality product— even when it’s flawed, like this one.

I wish there was more of the tiger girl, though! She was hot! And I wonder why the chimpanzee didn’t transform into a human if the other animals did! Poor chimp! And I’m still not sure what that “Mirror of Life” thing was all about— but I guess it adds a surreal element to it all.

The Tiger Lady from VAMPIRE CIRCUS - one of the film's most memorable characters, despite only appearing in one scene.

MA: Well, that wraps things up here. Let’s get out of this crypt and get some real food.

LS: Sounds good to me. I could go for a nice juicy steak.

MA: Speaking of which, (lifts hammer and stake) I hate to waste a perfectly good pair of vampire hunting weapons. Hmm, I wonder what would happen if I could track down a certain pair of vampire teens, and if a certain wooden stake found its way into a certain pair of hearts—.

LS: I’m certain we’d still have to review the last TWILIGHT movie.

MA: Damn! I’d rather join the circus!

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives VAMPIRE CIRCUS ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives VAMPIRE CIRCUS~two and a half knives.

Monstrous Question: BEST MAD SCIENTIST MOVIE? (4 of 6)

Posted in 1950s Horror, 2011, Frankenstein Movies, Hammer Films, Mad Doctors!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monstrous Question with tags , , , , on August 6, 2011 by knifefighter

MONSTROUS QUESTION
(Part 4 of 6)
Created by Michael Arruda

This month’s MONSTROUS QUESTION comes to us courtesy of our good friend Pete Dudar.

PETE:  Okay, so what’s the best ‘mad scientist’ movie? Is it FRANKENSTEIN? RE-ANIMATOR? THE FLY? We fans want to know.

****

Our panel answers:

MICHAEL ARRUDA:

 

Best mad scientist movie?  Well, for me it’s a no brainer:  THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, Hammer Films’ first horror hit.  It remains my favorite Frankenstein film, and also ranks as one of my all-time favorite horror movies, period!

The main reason I like this one is Cushing’s performance as Baron Victor Frankenstein, and while he can be categorized as a mad scientist, I’ve always felt that one of the strengths of his performance is that Cushing convinces his audience that Victor Frankenstein isn’t mad at all!  He’s just a determined, driven scientist.  So when he says lines like “What am I doing?  I’m harming no one!  Just robbing a few graves!  What doctor or scientist doesn’t do this?  How else are we to learn the complexities of the human body?”  We believe him.  Hands down, best mad scientist:  Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).

And while his performance in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is my favorite, you can’t go wrong with any of his other 6 movie performances as Baron Frankenstein.

Of course, there are plenty of other notable movie mad scientists. Here are a few I like a lot:

-I’m a huge fan of Frankenstein movies, so I’d certainly place Colin Clive high on this list, for his performances as Henry Frankenstein in both FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935).  He’s always been overshadowed by Karloff’s tremendous performance as the Monster in these films, but he’s quite good:  “If I could learn just one of these things, what eternity is like, for example, I wouldn’t care if people did call me crazy!”  And when the monster first comes to life, and after he’s shouted his famous “It’s alive!” lines, he adds in a line cut from the final print for decades and only recently restored, “Now I know what it feels like to be God!”  Madness at its best.

-Fredric March in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931)

-Boris Karloff as Dr. Neimann in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)

-Lionel Atwill as Dr. Bohmer in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942)

-Boris Karloff as Dr. Janos Rukh in THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936)

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda