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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Brides Of Dracula

    "Transylvania... land of dark forests, dread mountains, and black, unfathomed lakes.  Still the home of magic and devilry as the 19th century draws to a close.  Count Dracula, monarch of all vampires, is dead, but his disciples live on to spread the cult and corrupt the world."

     "Brides Of Dracula" is a somewhat controversial entry in the immensely popular Hammer series.  It's technically the first sequel to "Horror Of Dracula", yet Dracula himself is not in the film at all.  Don't let that keep you from watching, though, as "Brides of Dracula" is another superb entry in the Hammer series.  Although Lee is sorely missing here, director Terence Howard and the great Peter Cushing more than make up for Lee's lack of presence.

     This entry focuses on the three female vampires that usually accompany Dracula, who are carrying on his evil legacy. The film opens with an ominous and creepy tracking shot of a misty, dark lake that immediately sets the tone- and keeps the exquisite Gothic atmosphere going full force.  It's a fantastic vampire movie.

      Peter Cushing reprises his role as Van Helsing, as he returns to Transylvania to battle the evil bloodsucker Baron Meinster.  The Baron, a follower of the evil Count Dracula, unleashes a plague of vampirism on a small village.  Which turns a school for girls into a den of blood-thirsty vampires, of course. And that's when the fun begins.

      Some fans have dis-owned this sequel, being that Dracula is not in the movie, but that's quite ridiculous.  Even without the great Christopher Lee, "Brides of Dracula" is tremendous fun and a damn fine film on its own.  It's a thoroughly enjoyable slice of Hammer horror. Personally,  I could sit and watch Hammer films all day long, and even though I thought I would be bummed with the absence of Lee,  surprisingly I enjoyed the film for what it was.

The Revenge Of Frankenstein

     Narrowly escaping death by guillotine, Baron Von Frankenstein flees to another city, re-names himself Dr. Stein, and begins his mad experiments yet again...   

      "Curse Of Frankenstein" was hugely successful, and of course a sequel would follow.  The film made stars out of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and though Lee did not return to the sequel, the presence of Cushing and director Terence Howard help make the follow-up just as entertaining.  "The Revenge Of Frankenstein", released in 1958, once again offers the campy and lush delights that the original Hammer film offered so generously. It remains one of the most atmospheric and best put together of all the Hammer films.  Flawless sets, gorgeous cinematography, creepy and atmospheric lighting, and a wickedly funny and macabre humor all make this Hammer feature one of the most memorable. Even for late 50s standards, this movie is surprisingly good and effective.  

     Although "Curse Of Frankenstein" somewhat followed the original story, in this installment the rule book was completely thrown out.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.  This sequel is continually compelling with just as much inventiveness and campiness that the original offered so greatly. In the summer of 1958, with the premier of this sequel and "Horror Of Dracula", the reputation of Hammer was cemented as a viable and extremely profitable franchise.  This was the Golden Age Of Hammer and this was a great, entertaining sequel.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker AKA Night Warning

     Wow.  I just stumbled across a copy of the weirdly named "Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker" from 1983, also known as "Night Warning".  And let me tell you- what a fucking trip. Like, seriously.  It's the story of poor Billy Lynch, who's been raised by his over-protective and slightly off-kilter Aunt Cheryl. Her over-affectionate attitude towards her 17 year-old nephew is off-putting and creepy from the get go, and it only gets more and more weird.  Billy has grown up with Aunt Cheryl since the death of his parents over 14 years ago.  Feeling slightly smothered, he's ready to be on his own when he turns seventeen.  He wants to start college, and is dating a nice girl named Julie (Julia Duffy from "Newhart"!).  But Aunt Cheryl seems to have other ideas about that.  In fact, Aunt Cheryl is two steps from the nuthouse, and has a warped plan to keep Billy at home.  She has concocted a plan to keep him home and with her forever, but her plan backfires, and soon erupts into bloody violence.

     Within the first 15 minutes, unbalanced and lonely Cheryl stabs to death a plumber who refuses her blatant sexual advances. She claims it was self-defense as he tried to rape her, which results in a police investigation.  Into this madness comes another weirdo- a blatantly homophobic detective who's seething anti-gay obsessions are reaching a zenith. The investigation reveals that the plumber was in a gay love affair with Billy's coach at school... and possibly Billy himself. The homophobe detective becomes obsessed with pinning the murder on Billy.  All the while, Aunt Cheryl spirals farther and farther into madness...

      It's a lost gem of a slasher that completely got sidetracked by the likes of big-business horror sequels like "Friday the 13th Part 2" and "Halloween 2".  Although those are great slashers, "Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker" stands out because of its refusal to play by the typical slasher 'rules'.  Nothing is quite what it seems in this movie- in fact, pretty much every character seems a bit off their rocker.  Although the great Susan Tyrell 150% steals the show here.  Her portrayal of Aunt Cheryl is something that needs to be seen to be believed.  She is truly amazing and deserves much more credit than this film gets.  Jimmy McNichol gives an honest portrayal of a young man who just wants his independence, and Bo Svenson is near brilliant as Detective Carlson,who suffers from a severe streak of shocking homophobia.

     This is one ballsy slasher.  Addressing such spicy subjects as homosexuality and incest, "Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker" is a b-movie with a tremendous amount of originality and depth.  It's relatively unknown, and that's kinda sad.  As much as I love slashers, let's be real here.  Most of them are sorry excuses to line up a bunch of unlikable people just to kill them off.  Basically the work of morons with cameras.  But a movie like this one comes along that's slightly more complex, gripping, and original, and just gets ignored.  "Curtains" is another prime example of a lost slasher.

     "Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker" is prime 80s schlock- it's absolutely delicious in every way possible.  Why this movie hasn't achieved major cult status by this point is beyond me.  Susan Tyrell's awe-inspiring performance elevates this movie to a higher plateau for sure- her transformation from over-protective Aunt to full-blown, shrieking madwoman truly needs to be experienced.  And the film itself dares to go where other slashers never dared to go.  It offers so much more than just blood and gore.  It can best be described as a demented soap opera that somehow thinks it's a slasher film.  It could honestly offend many people today- there's no way possible this movie would be made and released in this day and age.  It's way too politically incorrect.  Watching it, I kept feeling as if I should be offended, yet I couldn't tear my eyes away from it.  Bo Svensen's character is truly hateful and homophobic- yet I was having an absolute blast with this movie...  But I think the whole point of all this is to show just how low humans can go with their obsessions.

     There are more and more rumors of an official DVD release, and it should have been available years ago.  This is definitely a one-of-a-kind slasher, and  if you ever somehow stumble across a copy, by all means watch it!  It's shocking, twisted, and all around crazy.

SCARY SOUNDS- Toccata and Fugue In D Minor- Bach

     I can't think of a better piece of music to officially kick off the Halloween season than Bach's immortal and creepy "Toccata And Fugue In D Minor".  It will always be associated with the spooky and the macabre, and it's easy to see why.  It immediately conjures up hoary old images of Dracula's castle, fog swept moors, or the Phantom's lair the instant you hear it.  I love this time of the year...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

HUNKS OF HORROR- Paul (Friday the 13th Part 2)

     Horror movies, most notably slasher films, are notorious for featuring scantily clad, nubile young women being chased by a knife-wielding killer.  Boobs and blood, right?  But not all of us were always looking at the babes.  More often than not, the hotties in horror films were often sadly overlooked.  Growing up on horror films, especially the slashers of the 70s and 80s, some of my first celluloid crushes were on some of these hunks of horror.  So I think they deserve some attention, right?

     I'll start with one of my biggest crushes- blond and sexy John Furey, who played Paul Holt in "Friday the 13th Part 2".  Paul was head counselor of the camp on the outskirts of Camp Crystal Lake, and boyfriend of fiesty Ginny (Amy Steel).  As much as I adore "Friday the 13th Part 2", I'm still sore that Terry (Kirsten Baker) got the nude scene instead of John- I can certainly picture a midnight skinny dip with hunky Paul...  sighs...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Horror of Dracula

        London's Hammer Studios had just scored a smash hit with  "The Curse Of Frankenstein"in 1957, and had successfully put a new spin on Mary Shelley's classic tale.  So it only made sense to follow that one up with the studio's own re-telling of the immortal Count Dracula. "Horror Of Dracula", released in 1958, would be the first of Hammer's wonderfully atmospheric Dracula series.

     "Horror of Dracula" is another lush, Technicolor take on Stoker's novel that became the first vampire movie to incorporate blood, red eyes, and fangs, actually.  There is an unsettling, eerie vibe in pretty much all of the Hammer productions, especially the Dracula series.  Take for instance Dracula's castle- it's nightmarish, creepy, and just plain weird looking.  It's like something hallucinated in a fever dream.  The sunlight also works well in these movies.  Those sun-dappled woods for some reason really gets to me. I can't quite put my finger on what exactly it is, but something about these movies creep me out.

     Director Terence Fisher got rid of the cobwebs, howling wolves, and other Gothic trappings of  Browning's "Dracula", and completely retold the classic story. Christoper Lee makes a fantastic Dracula- with his bloodshot eyes and fangs dripping blood, he is truly startling and eerie.  I would have to say Christopher Lee's Dracula is one of the most frightening of them all- there is just something about Lee and that damn creepy castle that's downright chilling. He inherits the role from Lugosi and completely makes it his own.  And of course Peter Cushing brings to life in my opinion the most iconic Van Helsing of any Dracula film.  He simply is the character.  Critics were shocked and outraged over the explicit bloodletting and Technicolor gore, but the movie is quite tame compared with movies of today.

     Although based on Stoker's famous novel, they don't even bother staying true to it.  Director Terence Howard and writer Jimmy Sangster simply take the characters and make up their own rules along the way.  And it actually works quite well.  Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee successfully re-invented the classic monsters from Universal, and although it makes several deviations from the original novel by Bram Stoker and the Bela Lugosi film version, there is something truly riveting about this re-telling.  It's a gorgeously eerie film that looks sensational.

         "Horror of Dracula" is considered by many horror fans to be one of the greatest vampire films ever made- and it certainly is one of the most gorgeous to look at.  It's truly a lavish production.  These films are marvelous, even the bad ones- and they are strangely addictive as well.  When the mood for Hammer hits, it hits hard.  And these films are perfect to watch in October.  Or any time of the year, for that matter.  Good stuff.  Good stuff, indeed.


The Curse Of Frankenstein

      By 1957, the last time we had seen Frankenstein's monster shambling onscreen was with Abbott & Costello. The shock factor had long since faded.  Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolfman,  had become somewhat stale by the late 50's- basically played for laughs at this point. And the boom of sci-fi/horror films that permeated most of the 50's had rendered the old Universal horror films as rather antiquated. However, a British film studio thankfully decided there was still some life and shocks left in the old monsters, and a film was released that would begin Hammer Films' long legacy in the re-imagining of Universal's Classic Monsters.  

    "The Curse Of Frankenstein" took the horror genre by storm and successfully re-invented the Universal monsters for a whole new generation of fans.  For the first time, movie audiences were treated to the classic tales of Frankenstein, Dracula, and other great horror icons of the past, only now dripping with Technicolor blood and gore.  Not to mention some downright delicious Gothic atmosphere.

      Critics absolutely hated  "The Curse Of Frankenstein" for its depictions of graphic violence, but audiences ate this stuff up in droves. "Curse" was actually the first Hammer film in color, and began the second wave of cinematic horror to pick up where the Universal films left off some 25 years prior.  Fans tend to compare "The Curse Of Frankenstein" to James Whale's original masterpiece, but in the end there's really no point.  The two films are so different from each other that there's really no proper way to compare them.   

     "The Curse Of Frankenstein" became a landmark horror film in its own right, for many reasons.  For one, it's an extremely well-made film.  It's lush, it's moody, and quite solid in its narrative.  Boris Karloff may be the definitive Monster for many purists, but Peter Cushing is arguably the definitive Baron Frankenstein.  He became a star with his portrayal of the mad doctor- he was born to play this role and it made him a horror icon forever.

    Christopher Lee, in his own right, is quite chilling as the Creature.  Maybe not quite as effective as Boris Karloff, but Lee's interpretation certainly terrified audiences of the day, and has become iconic in its own right.  (To be fair, seeing "The Curse Of Frankenstein" for the first time- it is hard to forget Boris Karloff in his shambling, legendary performance.  But there is something rather chilling about Lee's interpretation as well...)  It would also be the beginning of horror history's most famous partnerships- Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

      "The Curse of Frankenstein" is lushly photographed and possesses a sinister, sordid atmosphere- an firmly sets the tone of all Hammer productions to come.  
       Gloomy castles, foggy grounds, and a colossal sense of dread and doom permeate this legendary take on Mary Shelley's classic tale- and are a big part of what makes Hammer Films so special in the first place.  Classic horror all the way. 

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