A Halloween Horror Fest on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Now here’s a film that should need no introduction. Though to be honest, back in the 80s when A Nightmare on Elm Street – and it’s sequels – were hugely popular, I was never a fan. I’ve just never been really into “Slasher” movies – I was investigating the classic Gothic horror of Hammer and Universal at the time, and modern, contemporary films just didn’t grab me.

Never the less, I decided to give Wes Craven’s original another go, just in case I was missing something.

Brief recap: a bunch of kids on Elm Street suffer from terrifying dreams, featuring a crispy faced dude wearing a mask and possessing a gardening glove customised with lethal blades. Yes, it’s evil child murderer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), and he intends not only to provide the kids with some unforgettable nightmares, he also wants to bloodily murderise them.

Revisiting this film was actually a lot of fun, I was surprised how well A Nightmare on Elm Street stood up. Yes, it’s incredibly dated, and ridden with clichés, but hey – these were new, original ideas back in the day. It’s not Gothic horror, but the supernatural elements are well plotted and help create the Krueger mythos.

Englund is great, though he’s more restrained in this first instalment. It’s always great to see John Saxon, who plays a cop here; and there’s an interesting debut from a fresh faced Johnny Depp, playing teenager Glen (who was probably about 40 at the time of filming).

Yes, I have been proven wrong – A Nightmare on Elm Street is actually a pretty damn good movie, with a mix of scares, peril and gore that shows Craven knows what he’s doing. Not the best film eve made, but I’m beginning to see how the cult of Freddy became so formidable. I’ll definitely check out the sequels.

8/10

The Indestructible Man (1956)

Convicted criminal “Butcher” Benton (Lon Chaney Jr.) is going to the electric chair, and he refuses to tell his bank robbing colleagues where the loot is. After being executed, Benton is brought back to life in an experiment. He then commences to seek revenge on his former partners, and the police are left to put the clues together and stop the gruesome murders.

A strange mix of the Frankenstein tale and 1950s cop show, this movie hardly feels like horror, but does have an impressive body count. Chaney has few lines – he’s mute for some reason, when resurrected – and we usually see his intense emotion only in wacky, extreme close up.

No points for originality here, but the film benefits from scenes representing the streets, bars and Burlesque clubs of old Los Angeles. As a period piece, The Indestructible Man is fun – it’s typical drive-in B-movie fare. Ironic that a couple of key scenes actually take place in a drive-in theatre!

6/10

The Halloween Horror Fest Don’t Die

The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

Wow – what a cast! Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits – amongst many others – star in this comedy horror from director Jim Jarmusch.

The Dead Don’t Die tells the story of a zombie apocalypse in a small US town, as we see events unfold from the point of view of two cops on patrol (Murray and Driver). Natural phenomena begins to go awry, and following the murder of two workers in the local diner, events escalate quickly. Soon enough, the police (together with Swinton’s samurai funeral director) scramble to retain control as hordes of zombies take over.

Although there are some wonderful performances in this film – Murray and Driver’s brilliantly understated cops being the best – this film doesn’t really succeed as a comedy or a horror film. The zombie arrival is very slow, and the conclusion seems rushed. The comedy is rarely laugh out loud hilarious, it’s mostly dry humour and deadpan delivery, and there’s a lot to enjoy in the approach that the movie takes.

The Dead Don’t Die follows it’s own path, avoiding the much more in-you-face approach of Zombieland. The film is an enjoyable and worthwhile watch, but it doesn’t quite achieve its potential. It’s more of an Indie arthouse spoof of the genre, but whilst it has it’s own peculiar charms, I was expecting much more. Maybe I should know more about Jim Jarmusch. Who is he, anyway?

7/10

The Mummy (1959)

Frankenstein? Check. Dracula? Check. Next on the horror hitlist for Hammer was The Mummy, and boy does it look great in splendid colour. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are, of course, on hand; as are Terence Fisher (director) and Jimmy Sangster (writer). You can’t go wrong.

It’s 1895, and an archaeological dig in Egypt finds the ancient tomb of of Princess Ananka. John Banning (Cushing) has a broken leg, and can’t enter the tomb, though it’s probably for the best. His dad Stephen does go in, despite the protestation of the Egyptian Mehemet Bey (George Pastell) and is driven mad by… something.

On returning home, Banning senior (Felix Aylmer) is in a nursing home, receiving care for the mentally disturbed. He becomes lucid enough to warn his son that he fears the mummy of Kharis, the high priest will destroy them all for entering the tomb.

Sure enough, the Mummy of Kharis (Lee) is awoken by Bey, and begins to take revenge for the disturbance. Will Banning be able to stop it’s rampage?

Predictably excellent work from Cushing here, as expected. And Lee is imposing as ever as Kharis, looking incredibly grim emerging from a swamp. The film does drag a little in the final third, but with the beautiful sets, a lush score and a decent story, The Mummy is unmissable for any Hammer fan.

8.5/10

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

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

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

Yes, it’s October – which means it’s time once again for Halloween Horror Fest!  Throughout the month on the run up to Halloween, Mrs Platinum Al and I watch some of the horror movies from our creepy collection, and I write a brief review of each for your evil entertainment.

It’s always out and out horror – so long as there’s a general spooky or paranormal element – or monsters! – then the movie is up for consideration.

This is the fifth year running we have attempted this mammoth task.  To keep everyone up to speed, here’s a list of the films that have been viewed over the last few years.

All are listed in alphabetical order.

28 Days Later
28 Weeks Later
30 Days of Night
The Addams Family
Alien
An American Werewolf in London
Big Tits Zombie
Bigfoot Wars
Blacula
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb
Blood on Satan’s Claw
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter
Carrie
Carry on Screaming
Company of Wolves
The Corpse Bride
Countess Dracula
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Dark Shadows
Day of the Dead
Dead Snow
Dead Snow 2
The Devil Rides Out
Dracula AD 1972
Dracula Prince of Darkness
Ed Wood
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
Evil Dead
The Fog
Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman
Friday the 13th
From Dusk Till Dawn
From Hell
Ghost Ship
Ghostbusters
Halloween
The House That Dripped Blood
Lost Boys
Night Watch
Oupost
Para Norman
Paranormal Activity
Paranormal Xperience
Pet Sematary
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
The Raven
Rocky Horror Picture Show
Scream
Shadow of the Vampire
Shaun of the Dead
Silence of the Lambs
Sleepy Hollow
Taste the Blood of Dracula
Theatre of Blood
The Thing (1982)
Vampire Circus
The Vampire Lovers
The Wicker Man
The Wolfman (2010)
The Woman in Black
Zombie Strippers

In Memoriam – Sir Christopher Lee

Lee

Sir Christopher Lee

27.05.1922 – 07.06.2015

I was genuinely saddened to hear that Sir Christopher Lee had passed away.  Over the years Lee had become one of my favourite actors.  Perhaps my absolute favourite.  I certainly own more DVDs of his work than any other star.

My first encounter with Lee’s films would have been the brilliant, still unsurpassed The Three Musketeers (1973).  Or perhaps his turn as one of the best Bond villains ever – in one the best Bond films – Scaramanga, in The Man with the Golden Gun.

It wasn’t until my teens that I was able to catch up with his work for Hammer (and Amicus), when ITV started showing old horror films way past the witching hour with the advent of all night television.  I stayed up late, or recorded them all on the VCR to ensure I saw them all.  Those classic British horror movies captivated me – and still do. Whether playing Frankenstein’s Creature, Dracula, The Mummy – Lee was central to their success.

Monsters had always fascinated me.  I remember drawing them from an early age, though I wasn’t old enough to watch the films.  My early horror experiences came from Marvel comics, and a few movies such as King Kong and Boggy Creek.  Oh, yes – and the series of Fu Manchu movies shown on BBC2; again starring Christopher Lee.

The link to Hammer came from Star Wars.  I loved the cantina scene – still do – with its bizarre creatures; after all, I loved monsters.  Later, a connection from Star Wars would lead me to Hammer – I discovered that Peter Cushing wasn’t just Grand Moff Tarkin.  It was inevitable that I would explore the Gothic creations of the great British horror studio.  So I was understandably thrilled to find out that Christopher Lee would become part of the Star Wars family, as Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones.

Lee had something of a resurgence from the late 1990s.  He started to work with Tim Burton and seemed like he’d found a new home.  Sleepy Hollow (1999) was Burton’s love letter to the old Hammer movies, and Lee would return again and again to participate in the Director’s dark tales.

The fact that Christopher Lee found a new audience over the last decade and a half – with the Lord of the Rings films, even a return to Hammer with The Resident (2011) – is wonderful.  And gratifying for those, like me, who’ve admired his work for a long time.

Let’s not forget the many other talents Lee displayed.  How about releasing Heavy Metal albums in his nineties?  Check them out – they’re great.  And his wartime exploits (Google it) are worthy of a film in their own right.  A life time of incredible achievement.

I had hoped, as people often do, to one day meet my hero in person.  Unrealistic, I know – but Christopher Lee was always the top of my list for the old “three people you would invite to dinner” game.  I would have loved to tell him how big a fan I am of the films he’s helped create.  Alas, that will never happen now.  It’s sad that tiny bit of a dream will never come true.

Thank you Sir Christopher Lee.  Your constant creative progression is an inspiration.  The impact you have had on our imagination – both dreams and nightmares – is your greatest gift.

30 Days of Hallowe’en Horror Fest

OK: so I know Hallowe’en is all over.  It’s November.

And I also know that there are 31 days in October.

But I’ve still got a few short’n’sweet Horror movie reviews for you, which due to scheduling issues I haven’t had chance to write up till now.  So here we go!

30 Days of Night (2007)

The Alaskan town of Barrow is a remote place, and about to become more isolated once the month long night commences.  As the town readies itself, a number of bizarre occurrences foreshadow an unimaginable horror.  For the town will be besieged by a group of blood thirsty vampires, allowed free reign due to the towns people’s disbelief and the ongoing dark. 30-days-of-night-poster-1_6599

This film hauls vampire folklore into the 21st century and breathes life into the (undead) corpse.  The vampires are brutal, savage and powerful.  Their leader, played chillingly by Danny Huston brings an unrelenting nightmare to the people of Barrow.  This is how vampires are supposed to be – the portrayal of the undead in this film is like the re-imagining of the zombies in 28 Days Later.  Suddenly, we are confronted by vampires who are genuinely threatening.

The human leads – Josh Hartnett and lovely Melissa George – also give sympathetic performances.  The audience are presented with characters we can empathise with, and share their fear.

The bleak, snowy landscape creates a hopeless and claustrophobic atmosphere.  The premise of 30 Days of Night is ingenious, and the film delivers admirably.  Recommended viewing, if only to see how ancient vampire myth can be made relevant – and frightening – for today’s audience.

9/10

Carry On Screaming (1966)

Yes, it’s the Carry On gang in a homage of sorts to that other British film institution – Hammer.  Although the plot manages to mix up elements of House of Wax, Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein and the Addams Family, it still manages to make some sense and entertain along the way. Carry_on_screaming_(film)

Sid James is MIA, replaced in this film by Harry H. Corbett of Steptoe and Son fame.  Corbett does an impeccable job as Detective Sergeant Sidney Bung.  Also along are many of the usual faces, including Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Joan Simms and Charles Hawtrey.

The creepy show is stolen though by uber vamp Fenella Fielding as Valeria, in her tight red dress; who manages to smoulder like Lily Munster or (Carolyn Jones) Morticia.  Utterly gorgeous!

It’s one of the better Carry On films in my opinion, and manages to get a few good gags in along with the usual double entendres.  The monsters – Oddbod and Oddbod Junior – scared me to death when I was eight.

Carry On Screaming is great for a bit of light relief from other, truly scary films.  And it manages to create a spooky Gothic vibe, too.

7/10

The Woman in Black (2012)

Hammer studios really got back in the game with this film.  Starring Daniel Radcliffe (yes, Harry Potter) as a young lawyer sent to work in a remote old house, this film manages to inject some real frights. womaninblack

Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) travels from London to his assignment in the North at spooky old Eel Marsh House.  He’s there to examine papers of the deceased owner, but soon finds himself caught between the superstitious (and downright unfriendly) locals and whatever the presence is up at the house.

The Woman in Black was only certified as a 12 in the UK.  Hammer (quite uncharacteristically) shed blood, gore, sex and violence and instead concentrate on a film that has an overdose of jumpy frights.  The film is a classic ghost story, featuring a lonely haunted house that leaves the viewer truly unnerved.  Brilliant!

9/10

And there we have it – the end of another Hallowe’en Horror Fest.  Thank you to anyone who has taken the time to read these reviews.  I hope you had a chillingHalloween!

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!

Horror Top Trumps

Dracula vs Fu Manchu!  The Creature from the Black Lagoon vs Godzilla!  The Wolfman vs Man Eating Plant!  Just a few of the fun confrontations that can occur with this classic Horror Top Trumps game!

Top Trumps is a card game, where the statistics of one card are pitted against another.  Surely you’ve played it?  The most usual sets were cars, aeroplanes or football teams.  There were occasionally sets that were a little more unusual, such as these Horror themed cards.

There were two Horror packs to collect.  Each card featured a different monster and broke down their stats to Physical Strength, Fear Factor, Killing Power and Horror Rating.  All the legendary monsters were present, plus a few others that were more obscure.  So in addition to the characters mentioned above, there were also the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, King Kong, the Thing and more. P_20140505_185808

As a monster obsessed kid, it was a great way to feed my obsessive thirst for knowledge.  I didn’t just play these cards repeatedly, I also studied each one.  For the majority of monsters, I had no idea what film there were from.  Over the years, and thanks to some old horror books I’ve collected, I’ve recognised the characters from published film stills.

Interestingly, though, the character names are quite random.  For example, the card named “Phantom of the Opera” is actually a picture of Dr Phibes.  Similarly, “The Freak” is actually the Reptile from the Hammer movie of the same name.

The artwork on the cards was often quite gruesome also.  There was a rumour I heard for many years that the Horror cards were banned in the early 80’s due to the graphic images.  I doubt that was the case, though illustrations for cards such as The Fiend and Venusian Death Cell were quite bloody.

I’m lucky enough to have collected both Horror Top Trump packs when I was a kid, and I’ve still got them.  They’re not mint condition, and I only have the title card for the second pack.  Never the less, they’re still played with, and bring a gory thrill…