Little Shop of Halloween Horror Fests

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

The Wolf Man (1941)

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

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

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

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

9/10

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

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

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

8/10

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

The Viking Halloween Horror Fest

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

The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966)

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

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

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

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

7/10

The Viking Queen (1967)

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

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

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

7/10

Arachnophobia (1990)

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

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

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

8/10

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

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

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

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

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

8/10

The Best of 2017

The New Year is now well underway, and I hope it’s treating you well, dear reader.  There are many more joyous blogs to unleash upon the world in 2018, but for now let’s re-cap some of the most popular from last year.

I’ve done some research, and found the Top Ten most viewed blog posts at the Virtual Hot Tub.

Here they are, in reverse order:

10. 1968 – Gig Review

In May I went to Telford’s Warehouse in Chester to witness for myself the awesome riffage of the mighty 1968.  A fine band – they have a new album coming soon, so don’t delay, dive right in and discover them now!

9. New Set Up – Death Skateboards

Summer saw the arrival of my new Death skateboards deck.  I took some nice photos of the setup looking shiny and new, then thrashed it and shined the graphics.

8. MCM Comic Con 2017 – Part 2

The second part of my blog about visiting MCM Comic Con at the NEC.  Featuring loads of Cosplay photos, which are always popular.

7. Pandan Leaf, Prestatyn

Pandan Leaf is a superb Asian restaurant in Prestatyn, North Wales; I enjoyed a sensational meal there earlier in the year.  A highly recommended place to eat, I hope this little write up helped them out.  Go there if you can.

6. Sci-Fi Weekender 2016 – Bonus Scenes

Sadly I didn’t make it to Sci-Fi Weekender in 2017.  I did have some photos left over from 2016, however, so I could post a pre-Weekender warm up.  This blog includes the now traditional “No Photos!” section.

5. Pentre Fest 2017

Pentre Fest – a weekend of underground, largely unsigned metal – right on my door step.  I went and had a great time.  This blog got more views than the review I wrote of my trip to see the last ever Black Sabbath gig!

4. Sci-Fi Weekender 2016 – The Directors Cut

Wow – I took a lot of pics in 2016.  Several more shared here.  Platinum Al and the gang are back this year, so get ready for some Sci-Fi blog action soon.

3. MCM Comic Con – Part 1

The first part of my MCM Comic Con was far more popular than the second.

2. Ye Olde Kings Head – Mostly Haunted

Things that go bump in the night at an old, haunted pub in Chester was the second most popular blog of 2017.  A great pub and a fun evening, making an interesting blog.

So there have numbers ten down to two on the Virtual Hot Tub Most Popular of 2018 countdown.  But what, I hear you cry, was number 1?

Drum roll please…

1. Dogtown & Z-Boys Playlist

My playlist compiling the songs found on the soundtrack for the frankly awesome Dogtown & Z-Boys movie storms in at number 1. Thus confirming that old school skateboarding and classic rock make an excellent movie, and a not half bad blog.

An honourable mention to the following posts, which although not written in 2017, are still performing amazingly well:

  • Santa Cruz Snowskate (2014)
  • Hammer Glamour (2013)
  • Skateboard Museum: Variflex Joker (2013)

Thanks to YOU, venerable reader, for continuing to make this blog a success.  Stay tuned and visit again, don’t be a stranger.  There are many wondrous delights still to unfold at Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub; come back for a relaxing dip soon.

Chester Comic Con – The Director’s Cut

Chester Comic Con

Sunday 24th September 2017

OK – so remember when I wrote my blog post about Chester Comic Con a while ago?  I ran out of memory space on my WordPress site and couldn’t post all of the photos I had taken.  Almost all made it, but not quite.

Then came Halloween Horror Fest, and although the space issue was solved I didn’t get chance to complete the images taken from Chester.

Until now.

Here, in true George Lucas style, I have re-visited the event and present for your enjoyment, the missing shots taken on that day.

Most of the these bonus pics simply weren’t used due to lack of space; some here are alternative versions of shots used.

Either way, I hope you enjoy.

As well as fantastic Cosplay costumes and various stalls selling all manner of wonders, there were also a few vehicles on display…

As I mentioned in the previous Chester Comic Con blog, I saw a great Q&A session with Martine Beswicke, Caroline Munro and Madeline Smith.  Best thing of the day!

Well done everyone at Chester Comic Con – it was a fab day!  Looking forward to next year.

Halloween Horror Fest Has Risen from the Grave (again)

Beetlejuice (1988)

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

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

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

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

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

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

7/10

The Kiss of Halloween Horror Fest

The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

Do you know what I like best about watching loads of horror movies for Halloween?  I like re-watching the old classics, like this little beauty from Hammer.

Kiss of the Vampire follows a British couple – Gerald and Marianne Harcourt (Edward De Souza and Jennifer Daniel) – on honeymoon somewhere in Europe, around the early years of the twentieth century.  Their car breaks down, and they seek refuge in a nearby hotel.  It’s quite clear, however, that all is not as it seems. 

The couple are invited to dine at the local castle with Dr Ravna (Noel Willman) and his family.  Although Ravna is in fact the undead leader of a vampire cult, hell bent on initiating Marianne into their group.

It’s perhaps not the most original plot, and there’s no Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing in this movie.  Kiss of the Vampire is however a really good film, featuring convincing performances and excellent sets.  The production looks high quality, with intricate, detailed sets that appear more lavish than usual.

Although it takes a while to get moving – this is no roller coaster ride, rather a slow burner –  the quality of the acting and production keeps things entertaining.  Not one for the adrenaline junkies, but a nice master class in old fashioned horror.

7/10

Chester Comic Con

Chester Comic Con

Sunday 24th September 2017

My buddy Dan acquired some tickets and I was off to my first Chester Comic Con.  Amazingly, it was held at that den of drunken depravity, Chester Racecourse.  So for once, that almighty dignity vacuum would feature some actual culture.

To be fair, the racecourse was a pretty good venue.  There was plenty of space, with the indoor stalls surrounding a courtyard where numerous cosplayers, fans and geeks of all types could gather.  As it was decent weather, this outdoor section was a handy addition as it got fairly crowded indoors.

The stalls were many and varied; it was good to see a large number of merchandise stalls selling all manner of collectable paraphernalia.  There was plenty to drool over and spend hard earned cash on.

I picked up some comic books and Lego figures for presents, incredibly managing to resist adding more Funko Pops to my collection (there were lots).  As always with these events, however, there was tons I regretted not picking up later!

The cosplayers at the Con were superb.  There was all manner of fabulous creations on show, as seen here.  You’ve go to admire the dedication, hard work and creativity that goes into making these costumes.  I also think they’re also very brave, it takes some guts to proudly display your geek pride.

Well done to all the cosplayers – costumed heroes, every single one!  And thanks for letting me take your photo for this blog.

A highlight of the day were the Q&A sessions.  I caught a very interesting talk with Christopher Fairbank, who discussed his roles in film and TV from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet to Guardians of the Galaxy – and tons of other stuff.  His recollections provided loads of fascinating insights behind some of the many projects he’s been a part of.

Later on, there was another Q&A with Martine Beswick, Caroline Munro and Madeline Smith.  I’ve met these wonderful ladies before, but it was great to hear them talk about their experiences with Bond, Hammer and beyond.  The session was light hearted and lots of fun, with some genuinely interesting stories. All three came across very well; they were warm and friendly and really happy to be part of the event.  Superb, my favourite bit of the whole day.

All in all, Chester Comic Con was a total success.  It was a great day out and I’ll definitely be repeating the experience next year.  Let’s hope that 2018’s Con is expanded to two days!

The Chester Comic Con website is here.

Well folks, there you have it – for now.  I have a few more photos from the event to share, however I appear to have reached my limit for images with WordPress.  So for now, this is it.

In fact, this may be the end of Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub.

We shall see…

Halloween Horror Fest Rides Out

droThe Devil Rides Out (1968)

Back to the Halloween Horror Fest reviews with this Hammer classic from 1968.  Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley, Britain’s legendary film studio created a film to be proud of with The Devil Rides Out.

It tells the tale of a group of friends reunited to rescue one of their number from the clutches of a Satanic cult.  Simon (Patrick Mower) and Tanith (Nike Arrighi) are to be initiated into the evil group by their leader, Mocata (Charles Gray).  Old pals Rex (Leon Greene) and the incomparable Christopher Lee, as the Duc de Richleau, attempt to rescue their comrades from the forces of darkness.  There ensues a battle between good and evil, with our heroes very souls at risk.

Quite simply, this film looks superb – old houses, vintage cars and some fairly decent special effects amount to a successful production.  The various references to the occult – visual or spoken – seem creepily authentic, even if it’s all just entertainment.

There’s a rare good guy role for Christopher Lee – finally permitted some dialogue in a Hammer film, he delivers a confident and believable performance.  He’s nearly upstaged by Gray, however, whose portrayal of Mocata exudes a suave, sinister menace.

A fantastic film and one of Hammer’s best, it only falls down on a somewhat bizarre ending and a lack of the trademark Hammer Glamour.  Other than those small issues, The Devil Rides Out is a total success.  Such a shame that the studio never really capitalised on this with more of the same.

8/10

Halloween Horror Fest 2016

Welcome to this year’s Halloween Horror Fest!  All through the month of October, I’ll be watching horror movies, monster flicks and general B-movie nonsense, and then sharing a short revue on this here blog.  Hope you enjoy!

First off this year it’s…

Countess Dracula (1971)

Loosely based on the true story of Countess Bathory, who bathed in the blood of virgins, this Hammer tale is suitably lurid and macabre.  It deals in all the classic (or stereotypical, if you prefer) Hammer traits, with gore and a dash of nudity – not to mention horse drawn carriages in the woods, castles and intrigue. countess

Here the widowed Countess is played by the legendary Ingrid Pitt, who makes a startling transformation from ancient crone to voluptuous young beauty when she discovers the restorative powers of virgin’s blood.  With this knowledge, the Countess embarks on a mission to ensnare her younger lover and keep the supply of comely wenches flowing.

There’s also plenty of plotting within the castle walls, leading to some duplicitous goings on and dastardly actions.  Chief amongst these scoundrels is Nigel Green as Dobi, keen to take the place of the Countess’s suitor (Sandor Eles).

Countess Dracula is one of the great Hammer films I remember seeing years ago, inded it was one of the first I ever bought – on VHS – for my collection!  It’s an entertaining film, aided by the deceitful twists and turns of the characters, that stops the film from becoming too run of the mill.

Unlike the real Countess Bathory story, and with this being Hammer, there is of course a supernatural element to the proceedings.  The Countess is magically rejuvenated; Ingrid Pitt at first made up to look old becomes miraculously young and seductive.  But this isn’t a historical docu-drama, it’s Hammer horror – and it’s all about entertainment.

Great fun and a worthy start to this years Halloween Horror Fest!

8/10 ingrid

Halloween Horror Fest: Prince of Darkness

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

I couldn’t have another Halloween Horror Fest without honouring the wonderful Sir Christopher Lee, who sadly died earlier this year.  So it’s time for another Hammer horror classic with Dracula: Prince of Darkness!

This was the first time that Lee reprised the role of the Count since his performance in the legendary Dracula (or Horror of Dracula in the US) in 1958.  Bizarrely, this time Dracula is silent throughout – not uttering a single word – as Lee claimed he refused to speak the atrocious dialogue.

Following on from the previous film some years later, we encounter four British travellers who wind up at Castle Dracula, despite warnings against going there.  The travellers face some strange goings on, leading ultimately to the true purpose of their welcome at the castle – being used as sacrifice to resurrect the Count.

dpod

It takes a while to get to the key scene of murder and resurrection, though there are several creepy elements in the lead up to it.  This revival of Dracula is quite a blood thirsty and shocking scene, even now.

The rest of the movie sees our heroes trying to evade the vampire whilst finding refuge at a monastery, where Father Sandor (a superb Andrew Keir) steadfastly defends against the Count.

Lee’s Dracula still manages to menace despite the lack of speech, exuding power and malevolence.  Barbara Shelley also gives a fine performance, switching from peevish Helen to deadly yet alluring vampiress.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness is not without it’s faults, but it does posses some witty ideas and a few sly winks to the original source novel.  Add in some terrific performances and the result is Hammer horror defined; it’s worth seeing to witness these traits before they became a cliché.  All the great elements of the famous studio are here – including the greatest Dracula of them all.

8/10

You can read my full tribute to Sir Christopher Lee here.