Young Halloween Horror Fest

Young Frankenstein (1974)

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

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

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

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

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

8.5/10

The Resident (2011)

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

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

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

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

8/10

Little Shop of Halloween Horror Fests

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

The Wolf Man (1941)

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

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

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

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

9/10

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

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

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

8/10

Lust for a Vampire (1971)

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10

A Symphony of Halloween Horror Fest

King Kong (1933)

Halloween is, for me, all about monster movies.  You can keep the gore-fests, jumpy scares and cheep thrills – monsters are where it’s at.  And you don’t get a better creature feature than King Kong.

Released way back in 1933, this monochrome marvel is still pure excellence.

Daring filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) leads a crew to a long lost island in the middle of nowhere.  There, leading lady Ann Darrow (the legendary Fay Wray) is kidnapped by locals as an offering to their god, Kong.  Kong turns out to be a giant ape, who goes gooey-eyed for the blonde bombshell and fights off numerous prehistoric rivals to keep her safe.

The crew attempt a rescue, but only Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) survives to rescue his sweetheart from her captor.  Denham decides that Kong should be central to his new venture; hatching a plan to capture the ape and take him back to civilisation as his star attraction.

It’s incredible that this film isn’t far off being a century old.  King Kong has a fantastic story and superb special effects that still hold up to this day.  It’s full on entertainment – and one of my favourite films of all time.

But is King Kong horror?  Well, Kong features in my old Horror Top Trumps set – so that qualifies as a definite YES.

10/10

Nosferatu (1922)

More black and white thrills next, with another magnificent movie that really should not be missed.  F W Murnau’s Nosferatu is a chilling piece of early horror cinema, even after all these years.

The film follows the plot of the book Dracula, with a few alterations to (unsuccessfully) avoid claims of plagiarism.  Our hero, Jonathan Harker (or whatever name is used in whichever version you see) is sent to deal with some real estate for the mysterious Count Orlok.  The Count, however, is a vampire – who traps the hero in his castle and makes his way back to Harker’s home town, bringing death with him.

In 1922, the art and language of cinema was still being developed, leading to some strange visuals this movie – such as a ghostly horse and carriage speeding along in a bizarre manner.  Yet the final film is filled with startling, shadowy imagery that maintains a sense of unease, thanks to some genuinely innovative work.

Murnau manages to create some masterful moments of suspense, and Max Schreck as Orlok – whether rising from his grave, or shadow rising eerily up the staircase (a true iconic moment) – is spellbinding.

An early classic of cinema, Nosferatu helped develop cinematic vampire folklore – and still delivers a sense of dread with its uncanny visuals.

10/10

The Viking Halloween Horror Fest

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

The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966)

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

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

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

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

7/10

The Viking Queen (1967)

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

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

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

7/10

Arachnophobia (1990)

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

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

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

8/10

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)

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

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

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

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

8/10

Bride of Halloween Horror Fest (Revisited)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10/10

Silence of the Halloween Horror Fest

We’re well into November now, but I still have a few Halloween horror reviews left to cover.  Bonfire night?  Who cares?!  What fireworks?!

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Jodie Foster plays FBI agent Clarice Starling in this fantastic film, on the trail of serial killer “Buffalo Bill”.  To find the killer she enlists the help of incarcerated psychopath Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter (a superb Anthony Hopkins in a career defining role).  Utilising Lecter’s knowledge to enhance the psychological profile of the killer, the young agent finds herself embroiled in his mind games, as the race to catch Buffalo Bill gains further urgency. lambs

If you’ve never seen this film, see it.  If you have, watch it again.  It won multiple Oscars and is absolutely captivating (no pun intended) on every viewing.  Brilliant performances; scenes that look and feel real; and a chilling story make The Silence of the Lambs unmissable.

True, there are no monsters or supernatural occurrences in this movie.  Yet the sense of unease and tension created in The Silence of the Lambs mark it as a real horror film with chills beyond compare.

10/10

Ghostbusters (1984)

Another film that needs no introduction, though of a vastly different style; Ghostbusters is an 80’s classic.  Featuring a team of scientists who, after finding themselves thrown out of their university, form a new business hunting ghosts, this film has laughs and thrills aplenty.  Taking New York by storm with their paranormal investigations, the Ghostbusters wind up facing a threat that is really out of this world! GB

The three main Ghostbusters – Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis – are all excellent; with Murray in particular looking like he’s having tons of fun.  Ernie Hudson as the fourth member does a good job, but is somewhat underused.  Sigourney Weaver puts in a good performance as the musician caught up in a pan-dimensional event she doesn’t understand.  And keep your eyes on Rick Moranis, who is constantly hilarious.

Highly recommended as some fun Halloween viewing, Ghostbusters mixes a few spooky moments with some very funny scenes.  Add in a great theme tune and some memorable quotes, and you really can’t go wrong.

Who ya gonna call?

9/10

That’s it for another year, thanks for reading Halloween Horror Fest!

Halloween Horror Fest Hollow

Halloween is over, but as ever, I’m behind with reviewing the films I’ve watched this October.  So here we go…

Bigfoot Wars (2014)

Now I’m a big fan of Bigfoot movies.  The Legend of Boggy Creek is, in my book, a total classic.  So I was intrigued by Bigfoot Wars and definitely wasn’t put off by the obvious low budget, straight to video fest that I was letting myself in for. bigfoot

The story, in a nutshell, is this: a small town (named Boggy Creek, interestingly enough) has a problem with marauding Bigfoot abducting the local females.

Unfortunately it is all a bit cheap, at least as far as the script goes.  The sasquatch look pretty scary and manage to introduce a good dose of tension to the proceedings.  However the story is fairly lame and obvious, with rather poor acting and dialogue.  Some guy called C Thomas Howell is the token ex-big name slumming it; but his performance is unintelligible.

As a fan of Bigfoot movies, there was enough here for me to enjoy.  However I couldn’t really recommend Bigfoot Wars to anyone else.

5/10

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Tim Burton directed this version of the Washington Irving story, and it really is superb.  The design and cinematography are spell binding; the story rattles along at a great pace, and the cast is rammed with an unbelievable level of talent. Sleepy

Our old mate Johnny Depp plays Ichabod Crane, who in this version is a detective, sent to the remote town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate some hideous murders.  It appears that the locals are being decapitated by a  Headless Horseman, though why is a mystery.  Crane must use his rational, scientific sensibilities to put a stop to the carnage – though it appears that the events may be of supernatural origin after all…

Apparently this film is Tim Burton’s tribute to Hammer horror; it’s easy to see why with the scenes of stage coaches rolling through gloomy forests.  A cameo from the late, great Christopher Lee further exaggerates the point.  Lashings of blood also help to underscore the tribute to sixties horror.

Sleep Hollow is exceptionally well made – it looks incredible and the story is riveting.  Whilst the motivations are a little convoluted, it all comes together in the end.  Highly recommended for some blood thirsty thrills, and worthy of repeated viewings.

9/10

Halloween Horror Fest of the Dead

The Wolfman (2010)

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to his ancestral home of Blackmoor in order to investigate the disappearance of his brother.  Reunited with this estranged father (Anthony Hopkins), it soon becomes apparent that something wild is stalking with the full moon.  When Lawrence is attacked by the werewolf, he too falls victim to the curse – destined to become the Wolfman when the moon is full… wolfman2

This remake of the classic Universal monster movie is something of an under rated treasure.  It was never going to have the charm of the Lon Chaney Jr original, but there’s a lot of craft and reverence gone into this movie.  The Gothic atmosphere is absolutely top notch and there’s enough blood and shocks to aid the spectacle.  It takes a while for our hero to get to his transformation, but it’s worth the wait.

My only criticism really is the werewolf versus werewolf showdown at the end.  Silly and unnecessary, at least this scene isn’t dragged out too long.

Otherwise The Wolfman is a great horror film in the classic tradition.  It really should have been much more successful.  The film is a much better revisit to the Universal vaults than the disastrous Van Helsing.  The only things they got wrong with this movie was not setting it in Wales, unlike the original.  Especially when you have the magnificent Anthony Hopkins in the cast!

8/10  

Halloween Horror Fest from the Black Lagoon

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

The Fog (1980)

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

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

 fog

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

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

8/10

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

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

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

cfbl

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

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

8/10

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.