Scars of Halloween Horror Fest

Scars of Dracula (1970)

At last, some Hammer! My favourite horror film studio, Hammer Films are at their best telling a gothic tale, which is exactly what we get with Scars of Dracula. Some may find them dated, old fashioned, campy – I love these movies and the wonderful fantasy atmospheres they create.

In Scars of Dracula, we meet Paul (Christopher Matthews). Paul is a bit of a lad – he ends up bailing out of a young ladies boudoir and through a series of misadventures, finds his way to Dracula’s castle. The Count (Christopher Lee, of course) has been resurrected yet again, and together with his faithful assistant Klove (Patrick Trouighton) and vampire bride (Anouska Hempel), Paul’s over night stay becomes permanent.

But have no fear, Pauls brother Simon (the legendary Dennis Waterman) and his fiancée Sarah (lovely Jenny Hanley) decide to find Paul. It’s not long before they encounter the same spooky castle, with it’s creepy servant and menacing Count…

This chapter of Hammer’s Dracula series feels a little disjointed from the previous movies. It was obviously intended as a reboot, though despite some nods to the original source material it feels like a re-tread of all the old clichés. That said, the performances are good (Lee actually gets some dialogue here) and there’s plenty of Hammer atmosphere.

I haven’t watched Scars of Dracula for quite a few years, but I enjoyed more than I thought. There’s more to enjoy than I remembered.

8.5/10

The Werewolf (1956)

A great 50’s creature feature, The Werewolf follows the story of an American community threatened by a savage beast. We meet a lone man with no memory, who transforms into a monster when he’s attacked. The local law enforcement lock down the town and hunt for the creature, whilst those responsible – two scientists who are conducting wild experiments – want to erase the evidence.

This old B&W movie was lots of fun and despite a low budget, it’s well made. My only criticism is that the werewolf in question is a scientific creation, rather than supernatural – but that plays into the script well enough. The Werewolf was surprisingly good and an ideal Halloween watch for a lazy afternoon!

7.5/10

Halloween Horror Fest 2022

Greetings, friends! Welcome to my abode. Don’t be afraid, open the door wide and step inside. It’s cold outside, the rain is lashing down and the wind is howling – come sit by my fire and warm your chilled bones. Pour a drink and relax. I have many stories to tell you this Halloween. Listen closely…

Here we go again with Platinum Al’s traditional Halloween Horror Fest, where I’ll be watching spooky movies and sharing my fetid thoughts on my viewing. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. Here are the first of this year’s celluloid nightmares…

Driller Killer (1979)

Starting off, something different from my usual preferences – an infamous “video nasty”. Here we meet Reno, a troubled artist, struggling to create a masterpiece whilst living in poverty. As the stresses pile up in his everyday life, he resorts to viciously murdering local vagrants as his mental health suffers.

I’m no fan of “slasher” movies, and didn’t expect much from this film – other than being able to tick it off the list. It’s low budget and dated, but rather than a predictable slasher fest, the movie takes it’s time to develop the main character and examine his descent into murderous madness. This slow burn at least demonstrates the film makers grander ambitions, though on the other hand it does slow the movie down.

A surprising approach then, but this art house wannabe doesn’t really achieve much more. “Driller Killer” is worth a watch to – well, yeah – tick it off the list.

5/10

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922)

One hundred undead years old this year, FW Murnau’s Dracula “homage” should need no introduction. Certainly, the appearance of Count Orlok – this film’s Drac substitute – has been magnificently influential, not to mention the many other magical innovations on screen.

The plot is almost directly cloned from Stoker’s novel (indeed my copy even uses the original character names) – a problem which led to the writer’s heirs suing over the unauthorised adaptation. As a result, all copies were to be destroyed. Thankfully, not all prints were extinguished.

Here, our Jonathon Harker (or Hutter) travels to meet Count Orlok (Dracula, obvs) in order to procure property for the nobleman. Orlok is of course a vampire, and after sidestepping Harker/Hutter, travels back to the hero’s home town via a pleasant cruise on a ship called the Demeter.

You don’t really need to know any more. Put it this way, if you’ve never seen this film – you need to watch it. Yes, it’s a silent movie and obviously that dates the picture considerably, but there’s still so much to enjoy. Cinematic vampire lore is being built before our eyes, as well as the language of cinema being explored and developed. These experiments don’t always work, but it’s always fascinating.

Max Schreck as Orlok is still one of the creepiest sights in movies, ever. The rat-like visage, the menacing shadow climbing the stairs – still truly ghastly, all these years later. I doubt this vampire will ever die.

10/10

Young Halloween Horror Fest

Young Frankenstein (1974)

For some reason, I thought I’d never seen this Mel Brooks comedy homage to the Universal monster movies, so I bought the DVD. Turns out, I have seen this film – I remembered it as I watched. Even so, the DVD (which cost a fiver) has turned out to be a good investment.

Seann Walsh plays Frederick Frankenstein – sorry, that should be Gene Wilder plays Frederick Frankenstein, or as he pronounces it, “Fronkensteen”. Grandson of the late Victor Frankenstein of monster making infamy, Frederick inherits his family’s Transylvanian estate.

Aided by a beautiful assistant, Inga (Teri Garr) and hunchbacked servant Igor (Marty Feldman, stealing every scene), the younger Frankenstein discovers his grandfathers secret manuscripts. Abandoning his previous scorn of his ancestors work, Frederick decides to resume the experiments and reanimate the dead…

Young Frankenstein turned out to be very enjoyable. It’s genuinely very funny – not every gag works, but there’s enough life in the script to generate some real laugh-out-loud moments. The cast are perfect – Marty Feldman is great, and Peter Boyle as The Monster has both comedy and pathos.

The black and white cinematography is gorgeous, and the sets and scenery make this film a great tribute to the old monster movies. Highly recommended for some light-hearted Halloween fun.

8.5/10

The Resident (2011)

It’s a Hammer film, and Christopher Lee is in it! What more do you need to know? This is the modern incarnation of Hammer, and good old Chris Lee is here to add a touch of class.

Juliet Devereau (Hilary Swank) is an ER doctor, who has split with her husband and rents a too-good-to-true New York apartment from Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). It doesn’t take long for Juliet to feel that something isn’t right. In fact, someone is stalking her, watching her every move, and her life is at risk…

Not supernatural in anyway, this film has more in common with the old thrillers that Hammer used to churn out. The Resident is actually a very suspenseful movie, slow burning at first, but accelerating through paranoia to a violent climax.

It’s great to see Christopher Lee, but the two leads are the real stars. In particular Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a pre-Negan role, showing his masterful ability to personify a charming psychopath.

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

Bride of Halloween Horror Fest (Revisited)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

It was an absolute pleasure to re-watch this total classic of a monster movie.  Bride of Frankenstein features not one, but two iconic Universal creatures; in a multi faceted story directed by James Whale.

As the original movie had been such a success, this sequel shines with a commitment to match it and create something even better – which it does.

Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has survived the events of the first film, and vows never to return to his ghastly experiments.  The creature (a fantastic Boris Karloff) has also survived, and begins to explore his surroundings and grow in experience.  Of course, these adventures inevitably lead to mayhem.

An old tutor of Frankenstein, Dr Pretorius – played with a camp menace by Ernest Thesiger – has a proposition for Henry.  Together, they can combine their skill to create a new monster, a mate for the first.  Events transpire to force Frankenstein to enter into this hell bound, yet inevitable partnership. 

Universal obviously invested heavily in this second Frankenstein movie, the sets are more grand and the special effects really surprisingly good for the time.  Whale is on fine form and the whole film is a real spectacle – I remember being thrilled to see this revered movie for the first time.

Performance wise, Clive is melodramatic in the extreme and his acting appears somewhat dated.  The rest of the cast are magnificent though, Thesiger is delightfully wicked and Elsa Lanchester is unforgettable as the monster’s bride.

The best though is the legendary Karloff, here given much more to do (even being allowed to develop speech, a little like the novel).  His ability to convey emotion and make the audience empathise with a giant, re-animated corpse is astounding.

All in all, Bride of Frankenstein is a classic of the genre.

10/10

Halloween Horror Fest from the Black Lagoon

Yes, you guessed it – more mini reviews of scary movies for the month of October.  As always Halloween is a big deal at the Virtual Hot Tub; we’ve started watching horror films already.  And why not?  Seeing as there’s already Christmas stuff in the shops, I want to (in the words of Alice Cooper) keep Halloween alive…

The Fog (1980)

The town of Antonio Bay is about to celebrate the one hundred year anniversary of its founding.  Yet the towns folk don’t know that their home was built with gold stolen from a ship that was deliberately wrecked.  The fog rolls in and the ghostly crew return, to seek revenge against those who conspired against them all those years ago.

John Carpenter created another horror classic with this film.  Although knocking on a bit, this movie still has some jumps, some gore and oodles of atmosphere.  The concept itself is great, and executed superbly as the fog – and the gruesome undead – take over the small town.

 fog

There’s not much character development or background, but decent performances from Jamie Lee Curtis and her mum, Janet Leigh.  Not to mention Adrienne Barbeau as honey voiced DJ Stevie; watching helplessly from a lighthouse as the mist creeps in towards her home in the distance, her young son waiting…

I hadn’t seen this film for a few years, and forgotten a lot of the detail.  It was refreshing to view it again and appreciate just how good it is.  Not quite up there with The Thing or Halloween, but definitely another cracker from Carpenter.  The Fog is worth your time.

8/10

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Universal unleashed their last classic monster on the silver screen with this gem.  Originally filmed as a 3D feature, Creature from the Black Lagoon gives us the first appearance of the iconic Gill Man.  This genuine old school monochrome piece of art has it all – adventure, mystery, murder and mayhem.

A team of scientists in the Amazon discover some strange fossils, and explore a remote lagoon to learn more.  There they encounter the Creature of the title, a long lost evolutionary throw back – a fish man from another time.  The expedition’s encounter leads to an attempt to capture the Gill Man, who has developed a crush on the sole female in their team (Julie Adams).  The scientific interlopers are bumped off one by one, the tables are turned and the Gill Man claims his prize…

cfbl

This movie really is a blast from the past.  The story is gripping and retains the viewers attention throughout.  Some of the sequences are still very creepy, in particular when the Creature is gliding through the water, observing but unseen by the swimming girl above.  It’s these scenes where the humans are out of their natural element, and in the domain of their nemesis, that still hold the most power.

If you’re a fan of monster movies, like me, then you must see this film (if you haven’t already).  The Creature from the Black Lagoon has cool photography, is well written, and has that brilliant creature design.  It’s B-movie heaven.

8/10

Universal Monsters – Action Figures

Back in the late 1990’s, a series of action figures based on the classic Universal monsters was released by Burger King.  That is, they were give aways with the kids’ meals.  As I love both action figures and classic monsters, I collected the set.

The figures are all 3.75 inches – Star Wars figure size – and each was packaged with a free glow in the dark sticker.  All of the stickers are now on my fridge door.  I’ve dragged the figures out in to the light as Halloween decorations, and they’re pretty cool. P_20141030_135609

Dracula

Based on the Bela Lugosi Dracula from the 1931 film, this vampire comes complete with his own bright red coffin.  Twist the lever at the bottom, and the Count rises to terrorise the night.  It’s a very neat and authentic feature.  Although the likeness to Lugosi isn’t brilliant, it’s still a very impressive toy.

Frankenstein’s Monster

As you can tell from the photo, this monster’s head is translucent.  It’s designed to glow while placed on the accompanying operating table, which emits a light when a button is pressed.  Unfortunately the battery in mine stopped working a long time ago.  The likeness is based on the classic Boris Karloff look.  The translucent effect, whilst a cool play feature, means that the head sculpt can’t be seen that well.  This is a shame, as it’s possibly the best face of the set.

Wolfman

The Wolfman appears with a twist of the lever (like Dracula) from what appears to be a wooden freight box.  Also as with Drac, you can detach the figure from the accessory.  I’ve always been a big fan of the Wolfman, and I love this action figure.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Despite appearing a little chubby, the Creature from the Black Lagoon is very detailed.  He’s also designed to have a light up feature, by pressing his stomach the Creature’s torso glows.  Again, the batteries have long since drained away, and it looks extremely fiddly to replace.

A search on eBay will locate these figures if you’re interested, though you’ll pay a few quid to own the set mint.  Mine aren’t for sale.  I was 25 years old when these toys were released, and I was as excited as a tiny kid when I saw them.  They are monstrously cool!