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.
Outside, the nights are starting to get lighter and Spring is on its merry way. The birds chirp merrily and warmth is returning to the land. Which is completely inappropriate for a review of the new album by Bloody Hammers, “Songs of Unspeakable Terror”. It should be Halloween instead: gloomy and dark with the bizarre and uncanny just outside your door.
Anders Manga (vocals, guitars, bass) and Devallia (keyboards/organ) are the Morticia and Gomez husband and wife team behind Bloody Hammers, a metal/rock/goth creation based in Transylvania County, North Carolina. How’s that for an address? Bet Glenn Danzig’s crying into his Count Chocula cereal.
On this opus, Lily and Herman have left behind their previous established sound of Alice Cooper-style hard rock, crunchy metal and Sisters of Mercy atmos. Entombed alive due to the pandemic, Bloody Hammers have exhumed the bloody corpse of horror punk, in a temporary tribute to the genre.
And it’s huge fun! Fast and furious tracks like “Night to Dismember” and “Waking the Dead” rocket from the crypt like the hounds of hell are on their tail. Huge “whoah-oh” Misfits choruses are of course present and correct. Rousing and energetic, these songs are obvious but loving celebrations of influences that have only been hinted at on previous albums.
There’s macabre melody on “We Are the Damned”, with a choir vocal effect to help power the camp horror feel. “Hands of the Ripper” and “Not of This Earth” are slower, more metal sounding with a grinding riff.
Little of the occasional Andrew Eldritch explorations exist on “Songs of Unspeakable Terror”, though “Lucifers Light” unites guitar and keys into a moody Danzig like ballad. A little more of this approach would still have fitted perfectly however. I don’t know if Devallia can sing, but if she can this was a missed opportunity.
The listener never feels too far removed from the original Bloody Hammers style, however. Likewise this isn’t a simple, derivative rip-off of “Walk Among Us”, even though “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” is a nice radioactive “Hatebreeders” mutation. But whereas the Misfits took their inspiration from monochrome B-movies, Bloody Hammers have changed gears to a Kensington gore-drenched 60’s Technicolor horror fest.
“Songs of Unspeakable Terror” is an album of pure enjoyment, which is just what we need right now. With song titles taken directly from classic Hammer/Amicus movies, a warm rediscovery of horror punk style and some familiar Bloody Hammers rock, you can’t go wrong. Go dig out your Halloween fancy dress, find your “Plan 9 From Outer Space” VHS cassette and get ready for a ghouls night in!
Well, that was a mad old year, wasn’t it? 2020 was more like a bizarre disaster movie than the regular fun ride that we’re used to. A pandemic made hermits of us all; working from home became the new normal for many and travel and events ceased to exist. A year from hell for most of us, though it’s far from over yet.
Here at Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub, we’ve aimed to soldier on and bring you the very best in blogging entertainment. Be it music, skateboards, toys or tat, whatever nonsense I could investigate was delivered with all the expected wit and style.
As is customary at this time, let’s take a look back at the top ten most popular blog posts of last year. Calling it “The Best of 2020” seems somewhat incongruous, but let’s roll with it for traditions sake.
There was a distinct lack of live music in 2020 (Obviously), but quite a few album reviews for my old pals at Ever Metal. This review of Swedish doom metal band Firebreather’s album was the most read at the Virtual Hot Tub.
Yes, the most popular was this food blog, which benefitted from a genuine traditional recipe, and an idea to recreate a Greek holiday vibe with ingredients from the local supermarket.
As travel wasn’t happening this year for most of us, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Greek recipe blog came out on top. It was written as an ode to holidays and Mediterranean sunshine, something that wasn’t a possibility for many last year. I hope you found some nostalgic comfort from this post.
Usually my annual Top 10 has featured a load of comic con events – or similar – at the top of the list. Those events didn’t happen this year, so the Top 10 has a very different flavour. Who knows what 2021 will bring us?
Whatever the strange pan-dimensional cross flux of crazy brings us next, I’d like to thank you all for reading my blog. Please remember to pop by Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub as soon as you can!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hammer’s only venture into lycanthrope-based horror in the movies, The Curse of the Werewolf is a great example of the studio doing what they do best. There’s no Pete or Chris, but we do get an early chance for Oliver Reed to demonstrate his talent.
Apparently the movie was based on a book called “The Werewolf of Paris”; the location shifted to Spain when a planned film about the Spanish Inquisition had to be abandoned – and the Spanish sets were forced onto this production.
Reed plays Leon, who the audience learns has had a troubled upbringing. Born on Christmas Day and conceived from a rape, Leon is cursed to become a werewolf. With love and comfort, his curse is kept under control. He falls for his employers daughter, who is engaged to another man – and soon Leon’s hidden wolf is out of control.
The Curse of the Werewolf is something of a gem in Hammer’s crown. The story has tension and drama courtesy of Director, Terence Fisher – and the special effects are adequate for the time. Reed is engaging as Leon, inviting our sympathy though the audience realises he is doomed.
The result is a monster movie that’s both entertaining and moving, with a depth not often witnessed in a Hammer horror.
You can’t beat a bit of Stephen King, and Misery is one of his best – the book is great, the film is a masterful adaptation.
Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is a best selling novelist, who crashes his car on a snowy Colorado road. He’s rescued and nursed by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who claims to be Paul’s number one fan. But Wilkes discovers that Sheldon has killed off her beloved character, Misery, and his experience goes downhill faster than his car did.
Trapped in Annie’s house and confined to a wheelchair, how will Paul escape before Annie’s descent into murderous madness is complete?
Directed by Rob Reiner, Misery has tension and pace enough to keep anyone on the edge of their seat. Caan is excellent; Bates is on Oscar winning form as the disturbed woman switching from kindly to evil in a heartbeat.
There’s nothing supernatural in Misery, but this story is certainly horrific.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.