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

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

Halloween Horror Fest 2020

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…

Dracula (1958)

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.

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

The Uncanny Halloween Horror Fest

The Uncanny (1977)

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.

Now – must dash, got to feed the cat.

7/10

Scream and Scream Halloween Horror Fest

Scream and Scream Again (1970)

Now this is a strange little film.  Another Amicus production, though not an anthology this time, Scream and Scream Again is a baffling amalgam of sci-fi, horror, and at least three plots that seem totally unrelated at first.  So in a way, it almost is like a portmanteau horror, bizarrely.

Here we have a vampire killer in London, draining his victims of blood.  There’s also another thread relating to a dictatorship in an obscure European country.  Plus, someone is removing limbs – one by one – from hospital patients.  All very odd and with no connection at all, the audience may assume at first. 

The plot strands eventually come together by the end, but most viewers will be confused beyond caring if they get that far.

Scream and Scream Again proudly proclaims that it stars Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee all in the same film.  However, Cushing is only in one scene (with neither of the other two stars).  Lee and Price both pop up in cameo roles, having only one scene together.

The film does have it’s moments, however.  There’s an extended chase scene as the police pursue the serial killer which is actually quite exciting, despite being dragged out.  And Alfred Marks as the detective in charge puts in an admirable effort.

So yes, a strange little film, and not one with much to recommend it.  Unless, like me, you’re fairly obsessed with British horror films from this time – in which case Scream and Scream Again is worth ticking off your list.

6/10

Halloween Horror Fest 2018

Yes, it’s that time of year again!  The nights are getting shorter, the wind is howling and strange things are afoot.  Halloween is almost upon us – so what better than watching a load of old scary movies to creep you out of an evening?  Yes, it’s time for another Halloween Horror Fest!

I’m starting a bit late this year, but once again I’ll be watching some fantastic (or not so fantastic) horror movies and writing bite-sized reviews.

Let’s start with…

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Classic British horror of the seventies, but from Amicus Productions, not Hammer – this film stars many a great actor in another anthology movie.  The concept is basically a film version of some of the stories featured in the old EC horror comics of the same name (though only a couple are actually from that title).

Five strangers encounter The Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson), deep in the catacombs of a tourist attraction.  The Crypt Keeper then reveals a story for each of the protagonists.   

The first segment features a very lovely Joan Collins, as a housewife who murders her husband on Christmas Eve.  However a homicidal maniac is on the loose, which complicates Joanie’s plan to dispose of her deadly doings.  Despite the festive setting, this is a good start to proceedings.  I may dig this one out again to watch with the family at Christmas – it’ll make a change from Home Alone.

Up next is what I considered the weakest of the stories, though I can imagine it working better in comic book form.  Ian Hendry leaves his wife and family to take off with his bit on the side.  A dream premonition and nasty car crash result in a change of plans.

Peter Cushing pops up in the third tale, putting in a brilliant performance as a kindly old widower.  His snobbish neighbours decide to grind the old gent down so they can get rid of him – but revenge is on the cards.  Although Cushing’s casting is no surprise at all, he does a superb job in this role.

The fourth story is a chilling warning to be careful what you wish for; a ruthless business man (Richard Greene) comes a cropper in what is the most gruesome tale of the five.

Finally, a repugnant ex-army Major gets his comeuppance, after mistreating the inhabitants of the hoe for the blind that he’s supposed to be in charge of.  His fate is grim but well deserved!

Tales from the Crypt offers only mild innovation from the usual Amicus product, but is remarkably well done.  Freddie Francis directs and puts together a highly entertaining film that has spine chilling horror and genuinely repulsive moments.  Although a little dated, there’s still plenty to recommend this movie.

8/10 

From Beyond the Halloween Horror Fest

The Omen (1976)

Widely regarded as a classic of the horror genre, I was never a huge fan of this movie when I first viewed it as a teen in the late 80’s.  Despite the high regard that The Omen was held in by my peers, I just didn’t find it that scary.

Watching the film again now, though, I was much more impressed by the clever story and formidable performances. 

Gregory Peck plays Robert Thorn, a US Ambassador in Italy.  When his wife, played by Lee Remick, has a stillborn child, Thorn is approached by a priest to adopt another baby as their own.  They name the child Damien, and following the family’s move to London strange things begin to happen.

A priest (Patrick Troughton) warns Thorn that the boy is the Antichrist.  Though sceptical at first, Thorn begins to investigate with a photo journalist (David Warner) also caught up in the case.  Death and destruction is always on their heels, but is it deadly coincidence or evil incarnate?

Excellent performances and a tight, fast paced narrative made The Omen far more interesting this time around.  The Director, Richard Donner, does a good job of creating a malevolent atmosphere and the chills keep coming.

Creepy rather than jump-out-of-your-skin scary, never the less The Omen stays in the mind long after the finale.  Far better than I’d given it credit for.

8/10

From Beyond the Grave (1974)

I remember first seeing this film years ago – a late night showing on TV when I got home from the pub!

From Beyond the Grave is another Amicus anthology movie.  Featuring four short stories, they are linked together by Peter Cushing’s antiques and curiosity shop, Temptations Ltd – which bookends all the events.

In the first segment, David Warner (again) buys an old mirror that brings an uninvited, murderous guest to his home.  The second, and best story, features Donald Pleasence and daughter in a weird tale of witchcraft.

The third instalment is more comedic, as a medium is involved in exorcising a demon from a business man’s life.

Finally, Ian Ogilvy and Lesley-Anne Down are confronted with a time travelling satanist in what is a far fetched, but very tense tale.

It’s all great campy 70’s horror fun, and I have a lot of love for this film.  There are several great British actors, all doing a fine job – and plenty of atmospheric chills. From Beyond the Grave is slightly dated but immensely entertaining.

7/10