The Plague of Halloween Horror Fest

Halloween may be over, but Platinum Al’s still got a couple of movie reviews for ya! Well, I didn’t get time to write ’em up before bed time on the 31st – so here they are!

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

In a small, remote village in Cornwall, a series of deaths from a strange disease has baffled local doctor Peter Thompson (Brook Williams). He requests assistance from his mentor, Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell), who is accompanied on his journey by his daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare).

When exhuming the plague victims graves reveals a lack of bodies, the doctors are stumped even further. Adding further complication is the tragic and mysterious death of Peter’s wife, Alice (Jacqueline Pearce). Soon, it becomes clear that the local Squire Hamilton (John Carson) – and his band of hedonistic goons – are mixed up in proceedings; with a mixture of voodoo and black magic…

Fans of the Walking Dead, or other modern zombie movies, may find this Hammer production somewhat tame by today’s standards, but there’s a lot to enjoy. The Plague of the Zombies takes a more traditional path with its tale rooted in voodoo, with a clever script that veers away from the usual Gothic creatures employed by Hammer.

Neither Lee or Cushing make an appearance, sadly – but the acting is particularly good never the less, with Andre Morell shining. The Plague of the Zombies is successful entertainment and shows Hammer trying to be innovative with it’s output.

8/10

The Crow (1994)

Our final film for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest is a 1990s classic that made a massive impression on me, when I first viewed it in the cinema.

In a city overrun with crime, musician Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his fiancée are ruthlessly murdered by a criminal gang. One year later, Eric is revived through the spirit magic of a crow, to enact revenge on the killers. One by one, the perpetrators meet brutal ends, but the complicated web of crime continuously unravels, leading Eric to the gangster overlord, Top Dollar (Michael Wincott).

The Crow is a magnificently macabre, dark tale – a violent, action-packed revenge story with gothic supernatural elements. It may not be pure horror, but this twisted superhero drama is definitely pure Halloween. Brandon Lee is the soul of the movie, he’s both prefect and unforgettable in the role of Eric. Sadly, his accidental death during filming adds a haunting tone to the film. Even so, The Crow is a fine testament to Lee.

Visually stunning on the screen, the soundtrack is also fantastic: one of the greatest soundtrack albums ever compiled, it’s a classic of it’s time.

The Crow still has an incredible emotional impact. It’s a simple, moralistic fable wrapped up in a bloody revenge movie – with a sympathetic anti-hero and melancholic tone. Absolute class.

R.I.P. Brandon Lee

10/10

Mid Halloween Horror Fest

Midsommar (2019)

Written and directed by Ari Aster, Midsommar is both very different from the usual horror films, and is utterly captivating. At nearly two and a half hours long, the movie takes it’s time to slowly build a feeling of inevitable dread and reach it’s finale, but I was engrossed.

Dani (Florence Pugh) is grieving from the death of her sister and parents, finding little solace in her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor). Though their relationship is ending, Dani accompanies Christian and his anthropology student friends on a research trip to Sweden, to observe the mid summer rituals of a remote community. Every 90 years is a particularly special celebration, and this year is one of those – thus it’s a rare opportunity for them all.

The friends are welcomed into the commune, and begin to observe their practices and lifestyle in a land where the sun shines almost all day in summer. Gradually, the rituals become more unsettling, as the pagan rites become more and more bizarre and deadly. The isolation of Dani and her friends escalates, as the motivations of their hosts adds to their confusion.

I don’t want to give too much away about this film, as it really is superb. Some viewers will find it too long and drawn out, and the events too obscure and unexplained. But resisting the urge to rush into situations, taking time to develop the painfully unsettling atmosphere and sense of unease is handled spectacularly, I thought. There’s a level of detail in the onscreen clues and themes that is painstaking and engrossing.

Midsommar is folk horror, and comparisons to the wonderful The Wicker Man (1973) are only to be expected. There are a few scenes of brutal violence, but onscreen shocks are relegated to the minimal, sacrificed for an unbearably apprehensive descent to the conclusion. Pugh’s performance is phenomenal, her experiences are heart-breaking and disorientating and she bleeds emotion from the screen.

Deeply disturbing, yet fascinating, this particular folk horror is part mystery and part break up movie. Midsommar has been masterfully conceived and produced, it’s one of the best films – horror or otherwise – I’ve seen in a long time.

9.5/10

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

Halloween Horror Fest of the Black Museum

Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)

London – and there’s a murderer about! As per usual, really. A gruesome killing involving a pair of booby trapped binoculars has the police stumped, and arrogant crime journalist Edmond Bancroft can’t resist winding the cops up in his obsessive quest to find the killer. Bancroft’s research over the years has led to the creation of his own Black Museum, housing artefacts from various crime scenes.

Further ghastly deaths reveal no clues, and Bancroft admits to his doctor that he’s so engrossed in the proceedings, he goes into a state of shock when one occurs. Following a row with his mistress, after which she is mysteriously (and nastily) decapitated, we soon begin to witness another side to the writer – and his collection of weapons…

Horrors of the Black Museum doesn’t feature many surprises, but it does feature some quite horrific deaths! There’s a great British cast, including Michael Gough as Bancroft in a lurid, bloodthirsty tale. Not supernatural in any way, the plot still manages to hold the attention all these many years later.

8/10

Island of Terror (1966)

Sci-fi horror next, as a remote, tiny island of the east coast of Ireland becomes the scene of horrific deaths – locals are left as just a pile of mush, with no bones remaining in their bodies. Experts from the mainland Dr Stanley (Peter Cushing) and Dr West (Edward Judd) along with West’s lady friend Toni (Carole Gray) head over to investigate, only to be stranded with no immediate way to leave.

A nearby research lab on the island has unwittingly created new, silicon based creatures, which are rapidly multiplying. It’s not long before our heroes, and the remaining islanders, are cornered with no hope of escape against the deadly silicates. Can they find a way to stop the creatures before it’s too late for them all?

This film features a superb cast – Cushing is always a delight, and he’s great here – all giving credible performances that keep the implausible plot grounded. The creatures themselves are really quite terrible – sub-standard Dr Who globs of muck. But Island of Terror comes together nicely, with Director Terence Fisher using his skills to create an apocalyptic, Day of the Triffids style, peril filled movie.

8.5/10

Bucket of Halloween Horror Fest

The Gorgon (1964)

There have been several murders in the village of Vandorf in Central Europe, where the victims bodies are turned to stone. Following the death of his son Bruno, Professor Heitz (Michael Goodliffe) suspects all is not as it seems, and decides to investigate what the locals are hiding – and what they are so afraid of.

The Professor believes something hideous from ancient Greek mythology stalks the area, and seeks the help of Doctor Namaroff (Peter Cushing). Namaroff will not cooperate and the Professor meets his end when he sees the terrible face of Megeara, the Gorgon. Heitz manages to write a letter to his son Paul (Richard Pasco), before he is turned to stone.

Paul Heitz arrives in Vandorf to pick up the investigation, where he finds Namaroff similarly unhelpful. Carla, Namaroff’s assistant, played by Barbara Shelley, promises to assist Paul. But is there any truth to the myth of the Gorgon, and will there be time to solve the mystery before any more deaths occur?

I was sceptical at first, but The Gorgon successfully manages to transplant Greek myth to the more typical Gothic Hammer style. Christopher Lee turns up as Paul’s mentor, Professor Meister, in a great role – and Barbara Shelley is captivating in every scene. The film looks gorgeous, the lighting and shadows creating a stylish atmosphere – you’ll find it hard to look away, even when the Gorgon is on screen! A slightly different, but very fulfilling horror from Hammer.

8.5/10

Halloween Horror Fest 2021

Departing platform 13, the next ghost train to Halloween Horror Fest! Your wait is almost over – through the undulating mist, with a shrill blast of it’s piercing whistle, your carriage has arrived. Collect your belongings, get ready, the journey is about to begin…

Yes folks, that’s right – welcome once again to Halloween Horror Fest, where I will be viewing several macabre movies and providing you with a short, easily digestible overview. Whether old or new, classic or ropey, the month of October always brings the gruesome goodness – and this year Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub will feature plenty of it.

Let’s get the (heads) rolling with these first morsels…

Gremlins (1984)

OK, I know – Gremlins is set during the Christmas period, but come on – it’s still totally appropriate for Halloween. We chose this movie as something we could watch with our own little Wednesday Addams, as freaky family entertainment. And seasonally, this film fits in nicely between now and the end of the year. Like Jack Skellington, this movie can bridge the festivals, too!

Surely you know the story, but for a quick recap: young Billy (Zach Galligan) receives a cute new pet for Christmas, a Mogwai named Gizmo. Gizmo doesn’t need batteries, but he does come with a very definite set of instructions. When these rules are accidentally broken, Billy’s small town is overrun by a throng of small, malicious creatures – all of whom are bent of murderous mayhem.

Excellent design and animatronics make both Gizmo and the ghastly Gremlins a wonderful watch, and though the plot is fairly obvious, Director Joe Dante delivers all the jeopardy and fun the viewer could ask for. Plus, I was very happy as the delightfully beautiful Phoebe Cates is in this movie. A great film to kick off Halloween Horror Fest 2021!

9/10

(10/10 from Daughtertron)

Bucket of Blood (1959)

Next up on my viewing list was “Bucket of Blood”, a black and white B-movie from the legendary Roger Corman. It’s a dark comedy horror, set amongst the groovy Beatnik culture of the time, which it explores and satirises at the same time.

Dick Miller (who also appeared in Gremlins, fact fans!) appears as Walter, a not-too-bright café worker who is in awe of the hip clientele. When an accident results in Walter killing a cat, he encases it in modelling clay and the “statue” becomes a minor sensation amongst the beat kids, oblivious to how Walter created such a piece.

Encouraged by those he admires, and through a series of misadventures, Walter ends up graduating to becoming a serial killer as he attempts to increase his artistic prowess and his social standing.

Though low budget, this movie is very watchable – not least because of Miller’s performance and a fast pace. Yes the Beatnik theme dates the film, but “Bucket of Blood” has humour and charm as a movie, even if it is somewhat grisly.

7.5/10

Halloween Horror Fest on Wheels

Well that’s it, it’s November – and my month of watching spooky movies for Halloween Horror Fest 2020 is at an end. Yet don’t be distraught, dear reader – here are the mini reviews of the movies I’ve watched, but not written up till now. Starting with something truly shocking…

Poltergeist (1982)

Shockingly bad, that is. I remember seeing this film in my teens, it scared the crap out of me. I was looking forward to revisiting Poltergeist, widely regarded as a classic horror film – but it was absolutely terrible.

The story centres on a pleasant, well-off family living in a new Californian housing development. It’s all lovely and cutesy-pie until the youngest child starts communicating with ghosts through the TV screen. Then it’s unbelievable jeopardy time, as the little girl is kidnapped by the spirits and taken away to ghost land.

Poltergeist starts well, with some interesting supernatural phenomena in the first 20 minutes. But it quickly abandons any subtlety in favour of big, dumb Hollywood spectacle: and the sheer ridiculousness of it renders the film not scary at all. In fact, I was bored 45 minutes in. A couple of jumpy moments, but very silly and very disappointing.

Compare Poltergeist to The Exorcist, and the latter film – though employing some shock tactics – is far more believable: it seems more real. The Exorcist is still a damn scary movie, and Poltergeist just isn’t.

All very strange, you may think, knowing that Poltergeist was directed by Tobe Hooper, who made the genuinely terrifying Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Unfortunately, someone Spielberged all over this film, leaving a twee load of nonsense and small town USA schmaltz. Old Stevie was involved as writer, producer, possibly even director and tea lady – and his influence shows.

You’d be better off watching the old BBC gem Ghost Watch, that’s far better.

4/10

The Howling (1981)

Another early 80’s horror – and although this one is also somewhat dated, The Howling is actually a pretty cool film.

Karen White (Dee Wallace) is a news reporter, who has a too-close for comfort encounter with a serial killer she’s investigating. To aid her recovery from the trauma, Karen’s therapist Dr Waggner (Patrick Macnee) recommends she recuperates at the The Colony, a remote health resort. Little does Karen realise that the other residents are hiding a secret…

Directed by Joe Dante, The Howling is a very entertaining film. Despite the werewolf transformation scenes now looking a little dated, the overall design and atmosphere are excellent. It also has some humour, a bit of raunch, and plenty of tension to keep everything rolling along quickly.

Released the same year as An American Werewolf in London, The Howling is sadly nowhere near as good as the John Landis classic. American Werewolf is still more terrifying by far. But The Howling is a great popcorn horror for a Halloween evening.

8.5/10

Werewolves on Wheels (1971)

More lycanthropic fun next, with this uber cult horror movie that does exactly what it says on the blood stained tin. Seriously, do I need to summarise the plot for this one?

Here goes: a gang of rowdy bikers – The Devil’s Advocates, no less – have a run in with a Satanic cult, which results in one of them becoming a werewolf. Much bloody carnage ensues. And that’s it.

Cheap and cheesy, this grindhouse exploitation flick is one of my recently discovered favourites. Like a horror version of Easy Rider, it’s certainly a product of it’s time – don’t watch this if high production values and modern Hollywood set pieces are your thing. Tom Cruise fans, walk away now.

The soundtrack is absolutely brilliant however, and the satanic ritual looks pretty grim. If you can forgive the atrocious wolfman make-up, you’ll find a lot to love here. Werewolves on Wheels is a low quality B-movie genre mash up that’s a work of art for any freaks like me.

9/10

And there you go, horror fans – another batch of movies with bite for this year’s Halloween Horror Fest! I’ll be back next October, so long as this pandemic doesn’t blossom into a full-on zombie apocalypse. See you then!

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