Bram Stoker’s Halloween Horror Fest

Dracula (1992)

A difficult one, this.  Undeniably stunning to watch, this version of the classic tale from Director Francis Ford Coppola has many positives.  Unfortunately it also has some screamingly bad inconsistencies, too.

I won’t dwell too long on the plot, as the narrative manages to follow the source novel for the most part.  Suffice to say that Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is despatched to Transylvania to arrange some London real estate for a certain Count Dracula (a brilliant Gary Oldman).  Dracula then relocates to Victorian England, where his cult of vampirism is destined to grow.

Despite following many of the key scenes from Stoker’s original book, and indeed managing to correctly include most of the characters for a change, this isn’t the definitive movie version it claims to be.  Rather, Coppola’s film is scuppered by introducing a ridiculous love story between Dracula and Mina (Winona Ryder) that wasn’t in the book.  So for every brilliantly shot tribute to the novel that Coppola makes, there’s a stake through the heart thanks to the silly romance aspect. drac

The performances vary from superb (Oldman) to annoying (Sadie Frost as Lucy).  Then there’s Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, who can’t decide how far to ram his tongue in his own cheek.

Poor old Keanu always comes under heavy criticism for his work here, and yes, his British accent is truly abominable.  In his defence, however, I would say that he looks exactly as I always imagined Jonathan Harker to look.  So give him a break.  For me, Winona Ryder is much worse – her acting and accent are both wrong, and she also looks totally out of place.

Thank heavens for some authenticity with appearances for much loved characters Dr Seward (Richard E Grant, great job); Arthur Holmwood (perfectly cast as Cary Elwes) and the vampire hunter who was always my favourite, Quincey Morris (Bill Campbell).

If I ignore the stupid desecration that is the Oldman/Ryder romance, then there’s plenty to enjoy.  The sets, costume designs and cinematography are simply beautiful.  There are some ingenious ideas where the laws of physics just do not apply – such as shadows roaming randomly – which create a supernatural world.  And there is enough respect for the novel in various other ways that Coppola’s Dracula is irresistible to watch.  Not to mention plenty of blood and dismemberment, and some true horror.

So despite holding my head in my hands and screaming “WHY?!” to the heavens, Dracula is still a must see.  But please folks, read the book.  Repressed Victorian sexuality and fears of the outsider may be present there, but “Dracula” is no love story.

8/10

Halloween Horror Fest: Prince of Darkness

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

I couldn’t have another Halloween Horror Fest without honouring the wonderful Sir Christopher Lee, who sadly died earlier this year.  So it’s time for another Hammer horror classic with Dracula: Prince of Darkness!

This was the first time that Lee reprised the role of the Count since his performance in the legendary Dracula (or Horror of Dracula in the US) in 1958.  Bizarrely, this time Dracula is silent throughout – not uttering a single word – as Lee claimed he refused to speak the atrocious dialogue.

Following on from the previous film some years later, we encounter four British travellers who wind up at Castle Dracula, despite warnings against going there.  The travellers face some strange goings on, leading ultimately to the true purpose of their welcome at the castle – being used as sacrifice to resurrect the Count.

dpod

It takes a while to get to the key scene of murder and resurrection, though there are several creepy elements in the lead up to it.  This revival of Dracula is quite a blood thirsty and shocking scene, even now.

The rest of the movie sees our heroes trying to evade the vampire whilst finding refuge at a monastery, where Father Sandor (a superb Andrew Keir) steadfastly defends against the Count.

Lee’s Dracula still manages to menace despite the lack of speech, exuding power and malevolence.  Barbara Shelley also gives a fine performance, switching from peevish Helen to deadly yet alluring vampiress.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness is not without it’s faults, but it does posses some witty ideas and a few sly winks to the original source novel.  Add in some terrific performances and the result is Hammer horror defined; it’s worth seeing to witness these traits before they became a cliché.  All the great elements of the famous studio are here – including the greatest Dracula of them all.

8/10

You can read my full tribute to Sir Christopher Lee here.

ScreamAcres Zombie Apocalypse

ScreamAcres at GreenAcres Animal Park

Last week I spent a wild evening desperately trying to escape from a horde of zombies.  For fun!

ScreamAcres is a live action event where people can run around being chased by the undead.  By day GreenAcres is a farm park with animals and playgrounds for the family to enjoy.  By night, however, we were launched directly into the midst of a zombie apocalypse – with soldiers losing their grip on a ramshackle shelter and all hell breaking loose.

I found myself first hauled around who knows where in the dark, in the back of an army truck.  Then we were scanned for signs of the contagious virus inside the base by the soldiers.  After this the hazy grip on civilisation was lost, and we were over run with zombies. scream

There followed an adrenaline fuelled race through the dark, trying to avoid the undead.  Lost amongst disorientating smoke and lights, crawling around a maze and navigating various horrific rooms – all the while avoiding the swarming creatures.

I couldn’t help but get sucked into the whole scenario and whole heartedly become an active participant.  It was very easy to be absorbed into the ScreamAcres world, with dozens of actors creating the roles.

Though nerve-racking, I found myself working out how to avoid the zombies like I was right in the middle of an episode of The Walking Dead.  How do I get past this zombie?  Do I make a noise to distract them?  Crazy thoughts such as these became normal in my attempt to escape.

ScreamAcres was a total thrill; a real life role playing game with genuine frights.  It really made me think too, as I tried to work out the best way to survive the adventure.  The experience is extremely well put together, with a large cast all contributing to the scares and action.

Highly recommended – if you dare…!

The ScreamAcres website is here.

GreenAcres Animal Park, Mancot, Deeside, Flintshire

01244 531147

Email: info@screamacres.co.uk

Halloween Horror Fest Experience

ParaNorman (2012)

It’s not all full-on mature scares here at the Virtual Hot Tub.  Sometimes it’s fun to watch something that, although definitely supernatural, isn’t strictly horror.  ParaNorman is one such movie. ParaNorman

This animated spectacle is based around a young boy named Norman, who can see (and interact with) the dead.  His uncanny abilities, however, make him a figure of derision amongst others, not to mention being a concern to his family.  Norman’s estranged uncle sets him on a quest to remedy a witch’s curse on their home town, before the dead rise and they all face a grim end…

ParaNorman is beautifully designed and animated, making the whole film a real visual treat.  The characters are great fun, and there’s a decent moral to the tale.  Norman is certainly an outsider, though all the characters are faced with overcoming their prejudices.  There’s certainly enough strange and supernatural phenomena here for this to be suitable Halloween viewing – however I wouldn’t recommend this for very young viewers.  It’s a PG and some of the scenes are somewhat gruesome…

A real feast for the eyes, and a good fun tale to boot!

8/10

Halloween Horror Fest – Vampire Hunter

Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)

I remember being about nine or ten years old, and my Dad telling me he’d stayed up late watching a vampire film the night before.  In it, the vampire hunters buried toads in the ground as a way to detect the undead.  Fast forward to my late teens, and I saw this very scene was part of Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter.  That was pretty exciting, in a very nerdy way!

This film from Hammer studios was something of a departure, as they investigated ways to breathe new life into their usual formula.  Brian Clemens of television’s Avengers fame took on writing and directing duties; adding numerous flourishes to refresh the vampire mythology. Kronos

Captain Kronos (Horst Janson) is the hero of the piece, roaming Europe with his companion Professor Grost (John Cater) and beautiful Carla (Caroline Munro) to rid the land of the undead.  They receive a call for help from old friend Dr Marcus (John Carson), whose village is plagued by a strange form of vampirism.  There follows a hybrid of classic Gothic Hammer horror and swashbuckling adventure, that is full to the brim with novel ideas and variations on traditional vampire folklore.

Originally planned as the first in a series, unfortunately this was not to be.  Changing tastes in horror films led to a decline in the traditional Hammer approach; the studios waning success meant that Kronos was a one-off.  It’s a great shame, as the new approach really pays off.  It’s almost a prototype for Blade (or even the disastrous Van Helsing).

One of my favourite Hammer films, Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter has everything you could want.  The level of detail with regard to vampire lore and the new twist on the familiar are just some of the films strengths.  This film is a true classic and should be enjoyed by all!

Furthermore, I usually hate sequels and remakes – but Captain Kronos would be a great franchise to rise from the dead.  Apparently Tarantino is a fan.  Now that would be interesting…

10/10

Did I mention that the stunning Caroline Munro appears in this film?  Here’s some proof…

Halloween Horror Fest of the Dead

The Wolfman (2010)

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to his ancestral home of Blackmoor in order to investigate the disappearance of his brother.  Reunited with this estranged father (Anthony Hopkins), it soon becomes apparent that something wild is stalking with the full moon.  When Lawrence is attacked by the werewolf, he too falls victim to the curse – destined to become the Wolfman when the moon is full… wolfman2

This remake of the classic Universal monster movie is something of an under rated treasure.  It was never going to have the charm of the Lon Chaney Jr original, but there’s a lot of craft and reverence gone into this movie.  The Gothic atmosphere is absolutely top notch and there’s enough blood and shocks to aid the spectacle.  It takes a while for our hero to get to his transformation, but it’s worth the wait.

My only criticism really is the werewolf versus werewolf showdown at the end.  Silly and unnecessary, at least this scene isn’t dragged out too long.

Otherwise The Wolfman is a great horror film in the classic tradition.  It really should have been much more successful.  The film is a much better revisit to the Universal vaults than the disastrous Van Helsing.  The only things they got wrong with this movie was not setting it in Wales, unlike the original.  Especially when you have the magnificent Anthony Hopkins in the cast!

8/10  

Ale Satan!

It’s time for a Halloween themed tipple at the Virtual Hot Tub, and what could be better than this fine craft beer?

ALE SATAN is from Legion 13, an alternative brand created by Hannibal Helmuerto and Anastasia the IV of Circus of Horrors fame.  You may remember my feature on the last time Mrs Platinum Al and myself visited the circus… P_20141108_150949

The beer is brewed at 6.66%, and is guaranteed to “make you feel devilish”!  It’s a tasty pale ale, which despite it’s strength is actually very enjoyable.  Straight from the bottle, it was quite a lively brew.  It’s described as “stronger than Anastasias’s hair”, and “subtly hopped”.

We ordered a few bottle for last years Halloween shenanigans.  Unfortunately the delivery turned up late, but I forgave them as there were some very cool stickers in the box.  I love stickers!  Especially as the artwork (for the label and stickers etc) were designed by the great Vince Ray, one of my favourite artists.  His style is a perfect match for this brand!

Ale Satan is a mischievous beer with lots of character.  Ideal for any Halloween party, your guests will love it!

The Legion 13 website is here.