The Invisible Halloween Horror Fest

The Invisible Man (2020)

This latest retelling of the classic HG Wells tale focusses on the terrible experiences of Cecelia (Elisabeth Moss). She escapes the home of her wealthy but abusive partner, and hides out with friends, starting to rebuild her life.

Cecelia then hears that her ex-partner has died, and she has inherited a massive fortune. Yet there are a number of strange occurrences that lead Cecelia to believe that she is, in fact, being stalked by her ex – but no one can see him. As the paranoia mounts, and the odd events become more deadly, can Cecelia convince anyone that she’s not crazy?

This modern day version of The Invisible Man updates the central idea well, and does a good job of creating atmosphere and tension. However, I personally find the concept of an invisible villain fairly ridiculous (despite whatever science can be dreamt up to explain it) – and ultimately disengaging.

A nice try, but vampires and werewolves, please.

7/10

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Now this is more like it! Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, the very first of Hammer’s colour Gothic horror films – it’s an absolute classic!

Mary Shelley’s original story is mutated here somewhat, with Victor Frankenstein’s (Cushing) obsession verging on the nefarious. The central narrative remains the same, with the Baron creating his monster from dead bodies and bringing it back to life.

However, it’s the creator, not the creature’s story here. Lee puts in a good performance as a mute and grim monster, but it’s the Baron’s scheming and grisly work that the film concentrates on.

Directed by Terence Fisher, the film looks beautiful: the sumptuous sets not betraying the shoestring budget. It’s fast and pacey, with dollops of technicolour gore and a wonderful James Bernard score. I love this film, The Curse of Frankenstein is Hammer horror at it’s best.

9.5/10

Witchfinder Halloween Horror Fest

Witchfinder General (1968)

The ever reliable Vincent Price, one of the greats of horror, stars in this late sixties classic movie. Price plays Matthew Hopkins, a Witch Finder, at the time of the English Civil War. In reality, Hopkins is using his position for his own sadistic pleasure and monetary gain, whilst the country is in turmoil and the people are blinded by fear and prejudice.

Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy), a young Roundhead soldier, swears to avenge the crimes committed against his fiancée and her uncle, who is tortured and killed by Hopkins. We follow Marshall on his quest, against the backdrop of historical events. Will he be able to rescue his fiancée and end Hopkins’ reign of terror?

Great performances in this film, particularly from Price, make Witchfinder General worth seeing. Despite seeming more like a historical drama than horror film a good deal of the time, it’s still a fairly bewitching (!) folk horror.

7.5/10

Byzantium (2012)

Directed by Neil Jordan, who has also helmed The Company of Wolves and Interview with the Vampire, Byzantium is a modern take on the vampire myth.

Set in a crumbling English seaside town, we follow the fortunes of Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and her mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton). Both are actually two hundred year old vampires, in hiding from a vampire group called the Brethren, who want them eradicated. Whilst Clara sets up a makeshift brothel in the rundown Byzantium hotel, Eleanor attends a local college. Tired of hiding, Eleanor befriends local boy Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), and her tale starts to unravel…

Whilst this film takes some dramatic departures from traditional vampire lore (such as how they come to be, amongst others), Byzantium is such a novel and well told tale that it doesn’t matter. Following Clara and Eleanor as the lead protagonists allows the audience a unique point of view; regardless of the inevitable bloody horror, we can’t help but be dragged along.

Byzantium is definitely recommended; it’s a thrilling tale and looks superb. And I’m not just talking about Gemma Arterton, who is, quite simply, absolutely gorgeous…

8.5/10

Halloween Horror Fest 2020

Good evening, guys and ghouls! Enter, my friends, sit down near the fire and warm yourselves from the cold outside. It’s dark, and many strange things are afoot this night. Listen closely, and I will tell you of them…

Yes, it’s October – and time for another Halloween Horror Fest! Many of you may be feeling that 2020 has been horrible enough, but I’m going to press on anyway. Regular readers will remember that every October, I try to watch a load of spooky or creepy films. Not all of the films may be true horror, but there will always be an element of the bizarre or supernatural that will make them appropriate for this time of year.

Here we go with the first Horror Fest movie of the year…

Dracula (1958)

What could be better than starting the proceedings with a Hammer classic? Titled Horror of Dracula in the US to differentiate this film from the 1931 Universal version, Hammer films followed up the success of The Curse of Frankenstein with another venture into Gothic horror.

Sadly, the plot of this film veers away from the original novel a great deal, something that always bothered me from first viewing many years ago. I guess the viewer just has to accept that this isn’t a faithful rendering of Bram Stoker’s tale, rather a condensed and re-engineered take on the story.

We still begin with Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen), arriving at Castle Dracula, where he is to take up employment as the Count’s librarian. In reality, Harker is there to destroy Dracula (a superb Christopher Lee) and end the counts reign of vampiric terror. Sadly this is not to be, and Harker meets his end at the fangs of the vampire count. Shortly thereafter, Harker’s vampire hunting colleague Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing – also excellent) is on the trail, and realises that Dracula is on his way to Harker’s home town, to enact revenge and turn the heroes friends and relatives into the undead.

Despite changing the story and confusing characters from the book, this film becomes a hugely enjoyable accomplishment. The sets are superb, James Bernard’s score is iconic and Director Terence Fisher masterfully keeps the suspense and action mounting. Although the gore and erotic undertone were restrained by the censor (something Hammer would deliver more of in the future), it’s a lush colour production that is simply gorgeous to watch.

Michael Gough as Arthur Holmwood, and Melissa Stribling as Mina Holmwood, provide great performances, as do all the cast. But Cushing and Lee elevate the film to mythic status – Lee in particular becoming the embodiment of Dracula with a power and menace that makes his role unforgettable.

Hammer’s Dracula may not be definitive, if you’re a fan of the source novel, but it’s bloody good entertainment.

8/10

Little Shop of Halloween Horror Fests

Halloween may be over, but as usual, I’ve still got a few left over Halloween Horror Fest reviews to write.  So don’t get too comfortable, you’re not safe just yet…

The Wolf Man (1941)

Yes!  This is what it’s all about – classic Universal Monsters!  The Wolf Man is one of my favourite movies of this type.  It’s massively influential – most of the folklore we know about werewolves was actually created for this film – and it’s great fun for Halloween.

Larry Talbot (the legendary Lon Chaney Jr) returns to his ancestral home (actually set in Wales, fact fiends!).  He reconciles with his father (an excellent Claude Rains), and tries to find his place in the community.

When defending a friend from a wolf attack, Larry is bitten by the creature.  Of course, there’s no prizes for guessing that the beast was a werewolf (human alter ego played by another horror legend, Bela Lugosi).  Larry is condemned to become a werewolf too, as his life takes a tragic turn.

The Wolf Man boasts great performances, a fantastic score and a story that is pretty much definitive in the realm of cinematic lycanthropes.  Larry Talbot’s story is both thrilling yet sadly ill-fated.  Iconic make-up effects from Jack Pierce also help to create an unforgettable monster movie that’s amongst the best from Universal.  And it’s set in Wales.

9/10

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Geeky plant shop worker Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) is downtrodden, unsuccessful – and has a crush on his colleague Audrey (Ellen Greene).  Seymour discovers a strange plant which he names Audrey II.  The mysterious plant has an appetite for blood, and flourishes when it feeds on Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend.  Soon the amazing Audrey II becomes a sensation, bringing fame and fortune to Seymour – but at what cost?

Now I’m no fan of musicals, but I’ll make an exception for Little Shop of Horrors.  It has a fun story, some great songs and a quality cast  – including cameos from some comedy greats.  Frank Oz directs, and the whole movie is a gruesome treat from start to finish.  A different, but wholly appropriate, Halloween movie.

8/10

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

The final film for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest is another from my beloved Hammer Films.  Lust for a Vampire forms part of an unofficial trilogy, sandwiched between The Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil, being loosely based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”.

Beautiful Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard) arrives at a girl’s finishing school, situated somewhere vaguely Eastern European.  However, Mircalla is actually a reincarnation of  Carmilla – one of the evil, vampiric Karnstein clan.

The school headmaster (Ralph Bates) pledges his unholy allegiance to Mircalla and visiting author turned school teacher Richard LeStrange (Michael Johnson) falls in love with her.  But pupils and local villagers start to die off – and soon suspicion falls on the Karnstein’s and their demonic resurrection.

In Lust for a Vampire, Hammer plunge into more sexually explicit themes, resulting in cheap titillation and camp silliness.  This approach has caused the film it’s fair share of harsh criticism over the years.  Indeed, the story is a little cheesy and predictable, but the boobs’n’blood approach has never been an issue for me, unsurprisingly.

In fact, I found that there’s plenty to enjoy in this movie: terrific gothic sets and atmosphere – always the hallmark of Hammer – are really effective here.  It lacks a Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, yet the cast have a decent stab at creating a novel tale.

Any cringe worthiness generated by Lust for a Vampire can just as easily be enjoyed as “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” 70’s kitsch.  An entertaining film that whilst not a major shining jewel in Hammer’s crown, is still pretty much unmissable.

8/10

The Viking Halloween Horror Fest

Well Halloween 2018 is over, sadly.  But there are a few other movies I’ve watched in October as part of my Horror Fest, so here’s a quick overview of them.  I promise to keep this short and sweet…

The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966)

Is this even a horror movie?  I consulted the oracle of all things frightful, my old Horror Top Trumps, and YES – Fu Manchu is in there.  If he’s in that card pack then this counts as horror, as far as I’m concerned. 

Having said that, The Brides of Fu Manchu is more Indiana Jones style adventure than scary movie, despite some gruesome elements.

Fu Manchu is played by Christopher Lee (in make-up, the sort of Hollywood white washing that would quite rightly cause uproar nowadays).  The evil criminal mastermind is kidnapping the daughters of prominent scientists, to bribe them into helping him create a death ray.  It’s up to Scotland Yard’s Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer) to stop him.

The Brides of Fu Manchu is terribly dated.  But if we can all agree to be adults and appreciate that this film was made in another age, reflecting views of an even older age, then it’s quite a rip-roaring yarn.  Take it with a pinch of salt and watch it with a wary eye.

7/10

The Viking Queen (1967)

It’s Hammer, but it’s not really horror!  The Viking Queen is (very) loosely based on the story of Boudica in Roman Britain. 

Here we have the tale of British Queen Salina (played by Carita) and nice Roman leader Justinian (Don Murray) who plan on creating a fair land for all.  And they fall in love.  Predictably, there are grumps on both Briton and Roman sides that conspire to make a right old mess of things for the romantic couple.

On first viewing, I found the historical inaccuracies too much to swallow.  Further viewings have allowed my expectations to be lowered and I’ve begun to enjoy it more.  Not for the history buffs, but The Viking Queen is an enjoyable tale (with some nasty gory bits to remind us it is Hammer, after all).

7/10

Arachnophobia (1990)

It’s Jaws with Spiders!  New doctor in town Jeff Daniels is an arachnophobe, who just happens to move his family to a new town that’s about to become deadly spider central. 

I saw this film in the cinema and don’t think I’ve ever watched it again since.  So I was surprised that it was actually still quite good fun, with the sort of scares that force the viewer to move away from any possible spider hiding places in the living room.

Good fun and quite gruesome in places, it’s too scary for young children (as I found out), although completely obvious plot-wise.  Disconnect brain and enjoy.

8/10

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

Much more suitable for your younger monsters, this animated feature from Dreamworks manages to entertain and pay homage to classic B-movie monsters from the past. 

Susan Murphy (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) is hit by a meteorite that mutates her into a giant, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman character.  She’s whisked off to a top secret military installation and holed up with some other monstrous types.  Eventually the creatures are brought out of confinement to defend earth from an alien invasion.

Monsters vs. Aliens features a great voice cast including Hugh Laurie (a mad scientist/The Fly-like Dr Cockroach), Seth Rogen (as The Blob-like B.O.B.), Will Arnett (as the Missing Link, a Creature from the Black Lagoon specimen) and Kiefer Sutherland as the General in charge.  Rogen in particular is hilarious.

Lots of fun, great animation and a nice message if that’s your thing.  Monster vs. Aliens is a winner.

8/10

The Uncanny Halloween Horror Fest

The Uncanny (1977)

Horror anthology time again now – and though this isn’t Amicus, that company’s Milton Subostky is co-producer.  In The Uncanny, a writer (Peter Cushing) is discussing his new book with his publisher (Ray Milland).  This latest work promotes the concept that cats – ordinary household moggies – are in fact evil.

The writer elaborates on three of his examples.  In the first, an elderly widow leaves all of her wealth to her cats in her will.  She’s killed by her maid, who’s trying to scupper this plan.  The cats then exact a nasty revenge… 

In the second segment, an orphan girl goes to live with her mean relatives, her cat being her only companion.  The girl and her pet receive some pretty bad treatment, until she uses a book of witchcraft to settle the score.

Finally, Donald Pleasence pops up as a dodgy actor in 1930s Hollywood, who bumps off his wife to install his young mistress in her place.  Of course, the cat of the dead ex decides to avenge her death.

All in all, very silly.  Household felines being exposed as malicious masterminds, intent on revenge and controlling the human world?  Utterly ridiculous, of course.  But the film managed to entertain me, despite the dubious premise – largely due to the presence of some fine actors.  The Uncanny is worth exploring if this kind of portmanteau tale intrigues you.

Now – must dash, got to feed the cat.

7/10

Scream and Scream Halloween Horror Fest

Scream and Scream Again (1970)

Now this is a strange little film.  Another Amicus production, though not an anthology this time, Scream and Scream Again is a baffling amalgam of sci-fi, horror, and at least three plots that seem totally unrelated at first.  So in a way, it almost is like a portmanteau horror, bizarrely.

Here we have a vampire killer in London, draining his victims of blood.  There’s also another thread relating to a dictatorship in an obscure European country.  Plus, someone is removing limbs – one by one – from hospital patients.  All very odd and with no connection at all, the audience may assume at first. 

The plot strands eventually come together by the end, but most viewers will be confused beyond caring if they get that far.

Scream and Scream Again proudly proclaims that it stars Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee all in the same film.  However, Cushing is only in one scene (with neither of the other two stars).  Lee and Price both pop up in cameo roles, having only one scene together.

The film does have it’s moments, however.  There’s an extended chase scene as the police pursue the serial killer which is actually quite exciting, despite being dragged out.  And Alfred Marks as the detective in charge puts in an admirable effort.

So yes, a strange little film, and not one with much to recommend it.  Unless, like me, you’re fairly obsessed with British horror films from this time – in which case Scream and Scream Again is worth ticking off your list.

6/10

Halloween Horror Fest 2018

Yes, it’s that time of year again!  The nights are getting shorter, the wind is howling and strange things are afoot.  Halloween is almost upon us – so what better than watching a load of old scary movies to creep you out of an evening?  Yes, it’s time for another Halloween Horror Fest!

I’m starting a bit late this year, but once again I’ll be watching some fantastic (or not so fantastic) horror movies and writing bite-sized reviews.

Let’s start with…

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Classic British horror of the seventies, but from Amicus Productions, not Hammer – this film stars many a great actor in another anthology movie.  The concept is basically a film version of some of the stories featured in the old EC horror comics of the same name (though only a couple are actually from that title).

Five strangers encounter The Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson), deep in the catacombs of a tourist attraction.  The Crypt Keeper then reveals a story for each of the protagonists.   

The first segment features a very lovely Joan Collins, as a housewife who murders her husband on Christmas Eve.  However a homicidal maniac is on the loose, which complicates Joanie’s plan to dispose of her deadly doings.  Despite the festive setting, this is a good start to proceedings.  I may dig this one out again to watch with the family at Christmas – it’ll make a change from Home Alone.

Up next is what I considered the weakest of the stories, though I can imagine it working better in comic book form.  Ian Hendry leaves his wife and family to take off with his bit on the side.  A dream premonition and nasty car crash result in a change of plans.

Peter Cushing pops up in the third tale, putting in a brilliant performance as a kindly old widower.  His snobbish neighbours decide to grind the old gent down so they can get rid of him – but revenge is on the cards.  Although Cushing’s casting is no surprise at all, he does a superb job in this role.

The fourth story is a chilling warning to be careful what you wish for; a ruthless business man (Richard Greene) comes a cropper in what is the most gruesome tale of the five.

Finally, a repugnant ex-army Major gets his comeuppance, after mistreating the inhabitants of the hoe for the blind that he’s supposed to be in charge of.  His fate is grim but well deserved!

Tales from the Crypt offers only mild innovation from the usual Amicus product, but is remarkably well done.  Freddie Francis directs and puts together a highly entertaining film that has spine chilling horror and genuinely repulsive moments.  Although a little dated, there’s still plenty to recommend this movie.

8/10 

Halloween Horror Fest Has Risen from the Grave (again)

Beetlejuice (1988)

Time for a change of pace for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest.  Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice is a spooky comedy horror, showcasing more of the Director’s trademark bizarre imagination. 

Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara (Geena Davis) are a happily married couple, living in their dream house.  They wind up dead, due to an unfortunate accident, and haunting their old home.

When a new family move in, who turn out to be less than ideal inhabitants, Adam and Barbara attempt to scare the new householders away.  After all their attempts fail, they’re left with no other choice than to recruit Beetlegeuse (Michael Keaton) to do the job for them.

Keaton is manically brilliant as sleazoid Beetlegeuse; a deranged, disreputable “bio-exorcist” with a seedy demeanour.

Burton manages to keep the film entertaining and lighthearted in his own goofy way.  Beetlejuice never becomes morbid or grim, instead it’s a fun (though dark) fantasy that oozes creativity.

8/10

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

In which good old Christopher Lee returns as Dracula, in his third outing as the Count for Hammer. 

This time around, Drac is out for revenge when is castle is exorcised by the Monsignor (Rupert Davies).  Not having anywhere to hang out, the Count is somewhat peeved and decides to enact his vengeance on the Monsignor’s virginal niece, played by lovely Veronica Carlson.

Hammer courageously attempt to avoid re-treading the same old formula in this film, though in reality the blueprint is never cast too far away.  The actors all do a fine job, including Davies, Carlson and Barry Andrews as Paul, the token heroic figure.

Lee is fantastic of course, with commanding presence and evil red eyes creating a powerful Lord of Vampires.  And the sets look great, like Kiss of the Vampire, bigger and more realistic than earlier efforts.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave isn’t a completely successful entry in the series, but it’s a professionally produced and entertaining film in the Gothic Hammer horror tradition.  Well worth a look.

7/10

The Abominable Halloween Horror Fest

The Babadook (2014)

I had heard that this film was good, and The Babadook didn’t disappoint.  This Australian movie was very impressive.

Centred around a widowed mother and her young son, the film is original and different right from the start.  The young boy, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is having a troubled time; even more so when he encounters a book about Mr Babadook.  Suddenly, his fears of what hides in his room at night become more fraught. 

The mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), eventually becomes embroiled in the uncanny happenings as the Babadook seems to materialise.  Slowly, their relationship – and their existence –  becomes warped by the strange Babadook creature, until their reality threatens to fall apart.

The Babadook is both chilling and innovative; full of suspense and yet also a sharp psychological thriller.  How much are we experiencing for real, and how much is imagination?  This film very cleverly avoids cliche, whilst creating a forbidding atmosphere and genuine tension.

It’s also thought provoking and will stay with you for days afterwards.  Brilliant and highly recommended.

9/10 

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Horror legend Vincent Price stars in this cult classic about an esteemed doctor (and organist), in a terrible tale of revenge and murder.

Phibes’ beloved wife died tragically on the operating table, and he is now driven to kill the medical team he deems responsible.  There follows a series of grisly murders based on the biblical plagues of Egypt, each intricately designed by Phibes. 

There are plenty of moments of dark humour as the police officers attempt to put the clues together and trap the murderer, but Phibes is always one step ahead.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a great film, plenty of gruesome scenes and Vincent Price on top form.  An imaginative soundtrack and beautiful Art Deco set design create a fantasy that is wonderful to watch.  Seriously, the sets are fantastic.

Of course, as a big fan of punk/goth rock veterans The Damned, I was thrilled to put together the connection between this film and “13th Floor Vendetta” on the bands “Black Album”.  Just one of many reasons I thoroughly endorse this quirky little gem of a movie.

Oh, and did I mention that my favourite horror movie beauty Caroline Munro appears as Phibes’ wife (if only in photos)?

8/10