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

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

In Memoriam – Carrie Fisher

carrie-f

Carrie Fisher

21.10.1956 – 27.12.2016

It is with great sadness that I write this blog post, regarding the passing of Carrie Fisher.  Carrie was a great actress, writer and producer and had an immense impact on my life.

Carrie Fisher was from Hollywood royalty, and had a very successful and creative career both in front and behind the camera.  Without neglecting her many achievements, there was one role that outshone all the others.

Of course, Carrie Fisher was particularly famous for playing Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movies.  Anyone who knows me will know that I have been obsessed with Star Wars since I was five years old, so to lose someone who has been part of my life for so long has been heartbreaking.

The importance of the Leia character cannot be overstated.  The Princess was no stereotypical damsel in distress – rather she was fiesty, confident and in control.  She held a position of authority as a leader in the Rebel Alliance and was at the forefront of all the decision making and events.  She was tough and skilled (ever see her miss with a blaster?) – but also showed compassion and humour.

All of those qualities were massively important and showed me – and other boys of my generation and since – that women could be strong, dynamic and powerful leaders.  Leia was a role model for a generation, not just male or female.

Princess Leia was adored by women the world over and rightly so – she showed the girls that she could be just as brave and heroic as the guys.  She was intelligent and committed and she stood up for what she believed in.

This character was embodied perfectly by Carrie Fisher.  Carrie knew she was part of a big boys club and had fun with it.  In doing do, she created a figure in popular culture who will be admired and respected for generations to come.  Carrie was not without her demons – she would fight them constantly through out her life – but this tenacity was embodied in her portrayal of the Princess at the centre of the galaxy, fighting for a better life.

It’s very disheartening to note that I began my writing in 2016 with two memorial pieces for personal heroes who passed away.  It looks like my last blog of the year will be about another.

So let’s remember what Carrie Fisher – and Princess Leia – represented to so many.  Courage, faith in your beliefs, and the desire to make things better.  Those are qualities that we will all do well to take with us into the future.

Bram Stoker’s Halloween Horror Fest

Dracula (1992)

A difficult one, this.  Undeniably stunning to watch, this version of the classic tale from Director Francis Ford Coppola has many positives.  Unfortunately it also has some screamingly bad inconsistencies, too.

I won’t dwell too long on the plot, as the narrative manages to follow the source novel for the most part.  Suffice to say that Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is despatched to Transylvania to arrange some London real estate for a certain Count Dracula (a brilliant Gary Oldman).  Dracula then relocates to Victorian England, where his cult of vampirism is destined to grow.

Despite following many of the key scenes from Stoker’s original book, and indeed managing to correctly include most of the characters for a change, this isn’t the definitive movie version it claims to be.  Rather, Coppola’s film is scuppered by introducing a ridiculous love story between Dracula and Mina (Winona Ryder) that wasn’t in the book.  So for every brilliantly shot tribute to the novel that Coppola makes, there’s a stake through the heart thanks to the silly romance aspect. drac

The performances vary from superb (Oldman) to annoying (Sadie Frost as Lucy).  Then there’s Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, who can’t decide how far to ram his tongue in his own cheek.

Poor old Keanu always comes under heavy criticism for his work here, and yes, his British accent is truly abominable.  In his defence, however, I would say that he looks exactly as I always imagined Jonathan Harker to look.  So give him a break.  For me, Winona Ryder is much worse – her acting and accent are both wrong, and she also looks totally out of place.

Thank heavens for some authenticity with appearances for much loved characters Dr Seward (Richard E Grant, great job); Arthur Holmwood (perfectly cast as Cary Elwes) and the vampire hunter who was always my favourite, Quincey Morris (Bill Campbell).

If I ignore the stupid desecration that is the Oldman/Ryder romance, then there’s plenty to enjoy.  The sets, costume designs and cinematography are simply beautiful.  There are some ingenious ideas where the laws of physics just do not apply – such as shadows roaming randomly – which create a supernatural world.  And there is enough respect for the novel in various other ways that Coppola’s Dracula is irresistible to watch.  Not to mention plenty of blood and dismemberment, and some true horror.

So despite holding my head in my hands and screaming “WHY?!” to the heavens, Dracula is still a must see.  But please folks, read the book.  Repressed Victorian sexuality and fears of the outsider may be present there, but “Dracula” is no love story.

8/10

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  

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.

Star Wars Episode VII – Why I’m not thrilled about the sequels

Those of you who know me well, will know that I am a fan of Star Wars.  Just ever so slightly.  Oh alright then, I’ve been completely obsessed with that galaxy far, far away since I was five years old.  You may be surprised that this is my first Star Wars themed blog post on the Virtual Hot Tub, infact.  However, you may be more surprised about my feelings for the new Star Wars sequels.

I remember being sat at this very computer on that day in October 2012, when Disney announced it’s acquisition of Lucasfilm – and the planned seventh episode of the saga.  I was not impressed.

Not that Disney being the home of the saga bothered me.  At the end of the day, Star Wars is a kid’s film – and what better home for it than the House of Mouse?  I have no problem with that.

Final Episode

What bothers me is setting the new films after Return of the Jedi.  The sixth episode has been the final episode for a long time.  Sure, I wanted to see more films back in 1983, when I was a kid.  But as I’ve grown older, I’ve been happy with the conclusion of the series.  It’s an upbeat ending.  The Empire is defeated, the Alliance is victorious – peace and freedom from oppression is restored to the galaxy.  It’s exactly what the story needs, and it’s perfect in it’s intention (if not always it’s execution).

But if that’s not the end, then what’s next?  If the battle against evil goes on, then to some extent the sacrifices and hardships of the “middle” trilogy lose some of the potency.  Of course, in a real world, conflicts and rivalries continue.  But this isn’t the real world, it’s a fairy tale – a big, outer space fairy tale.  And there was no “Snow White 2” or “Revenge of the Wicked Step Mother” when that story arc came to an end.

EU-rrghh

I guess I’m most afraid of the horrors of the Star Wars Expanded Universe taking hold in the film versions.  I did read a lot of EU stories – novels and comics – before Episode I was released.  After that, I gave up on non-canon works as they often featured contradictions to what was appearing on screen, such as the origins of the Death Star.

Much worse than any slight inconsistencies, however, were some of the bafflingly bad concepts splurged onto the page by EU creators.  A criticism of the Star Wars EU is a topic for a whole blog post of it’s own – and I admit it’s not all bad.  I was never a huge fan of the Thrawn trilogy (too much of Zahn’s own creations with ridiculous names, not enough film characters), though other series were much worse.  The big problem I had with the EU though, was the lame device of bringing back the bad guys – Emperor Palpatine returns!  Boba Fett didn’t die!

Oh, come on.

I enjoyed many of the comics and the books set within the time frame of the original movies.  And I think this is where the big problem lies: all those brilliantly dastardly bad guys are dead.  How are they going to replace them?  One thing’s for sure – the new writers have a hell of a lot of work to do.  Let’s hope they steer clear of the EU for inspiration.  I don’t even want any sly nods to keep the fans happy.

New Talent

So talking of the new talent: is JJ Abrams up to the job? To be honest, I have never seen anything that the guy has done, so I can’t comment.  The good news is Lawrence Kasdan, who scripted Episodes V and VI, is back onboard. Thank God.  Why was he never involved in the Star Wars prequels?  Any help with answering that conundrum much appreciated.

Another interesting rumour (or more-than-rumour, these days) is the return of the original cast.  There’s been a huge amount of interest in the return of Hamill, Ford and Fisher to the saga.  I’m not sure about this either, sorry.  Baby Darth Vader in Episode I was hard enough to accept – do I really need to see a 65 year old Luke Skywalker?  I’m not sure about seeing my childhood heroes as old people.  I’d sooner they were timeless and forever as they were at the end of Jedi.

Who else will we see return?  R2-D2 will return, it has been reported.  So what about C3PO?  If we have Luke, Leia and Han, then surely we will need to have Chewie and Lando?  Please bring Chewie along, Lucasfilm – you can’t let him die in one of those awful books!

A New Hope

I don’t want to be totally negative about this new venture.  One thing that does excite me is the news of stand alone movies, possibly featuring lesser characters.  These stories could – and should – occur within the time frame (or immediately preceeding) of the earlier six films.  Again, Episode VI should be the end, but I’d love to see the early years of the Rebel Alliance.  That would be very cool.  More on this in another blog post…

Whatever adventures we experience with Episodes VII to IX, I want to be optimistic.  I’m a Star Wars fan, and I hope my fears above are wrong.  I have my doubts, though I would love them to be cast aside.  Will that happen?  In the words of one wise being: “Difficult to see.  Always in motion is the future.”

Let’s hope the Force is with us.

Captain Blood (1935)

After a long while, I finally added this film to my DVD collection.  Originally released in 1935, Captain Blood is black and white, no CGI – switch off now if this isn’t your thing.  But you’ll be missing something special if you do.

This is the story of a doctor, Peter Blood, who through misfortune and circumstance finds himself a slave in the West Indies.  From here he escapes with his trusty comrades and commandeers a Spanish ship, his only option now a life of piracy.  We follow Captain Blood and his crew’s adventures on the seas. captainblood1

Warner Brothers took a gamble in casting the unknown Errol Flynn in the lead role.  The risk paid off – Flynn lights up the screen from the start.  A star is not so much born as presented fully formed for the audience to adore.  Olivia de Havilland, as Arabella Bishop, also found herself become an established name.  There is real on screen chemistry between the two (they’d go on to star in many other films together); both Flynn and de Havilland captivating throughout.

Director Michael Curtiz employs everything he has to create a spectacle on screen, though surprisingly most of the scenes were shot on sound stages.  Flynn’s sword fight with Basil Rathbone is energetic and deadly.  The final swing-across-the-cavern ship to ship battle is still exciting even now.

Curtiz takes his time telling the back story before we get to the piracy on the high seas.  On first viewing you may wonder when the film will actually get to the pirate part, yet the tale is told well with engaging characters and action.

Captain Blood is golden era Hollywood.  It has escapism, adventure and above all, fun.  Even without a single “Garrrrgh!”, it’s still full of pirate-y goodness.

8/10 

Hallowe’en Horror Fest Must Be Destroyed

Ed Wood (1994)

OK – so Ed Wood doesn’t have any shocks or frights.  Nor does it contain anything remotely supernatural.  Yet it does have Bela Lugosi, Vampira, a Hallowe’en scene and references to some of the worst horror B-movies of all time.

This film charts the career lows (and more lows) of Ed Wood, a man whose movies are largely considered absolute disasters.  Played by Johnny Depp, Wood and his band of misfits blunder from one production to another, with far more enthusiasm than talent.  Thus we see a dramatised version of Wood’s life behind the scenes of such turkeys as Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Spaceed_wood_ver2

Bela Lugosi is played fantastically by Martin Landau, in a role that elicits great sympathy from the audience.  The film also stars Sarah Jessica Parker, the legendary Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette and Lisa Marie as the aforementioned Vampira.  Depp, too, does a riveting job, making Wood likeable – a failed hero the audience can root for.

Directed by Tim Burton, this is a film that I can watch again and again.  You don’t have to be familiar with the works of Wood, but it does add another dimension if you are.  It’s a wonderful film that has, at it’s core, a story of succeeding against the odds.  Sort of.

Not a horror film then, as such, but the fact that Ed Wood features such icons of early horror makes this film an unmissable Hallowe’en treat.

10/10

Day of the Dead (1985)

So it’s post apocalypse and there are zombies everywhere.  There are these survivors holed up in an underground mine/storage facility.  Tensions mount between the survivors –  some being scientists and some military – as they each have their own agendas.  Eventually everything goes belly up and it’s zombie attack time.

I don’t think that gives away too many spoilers – you weren’t expecting anything else, were you?

Director George A Romero was also responsible for the completely thrilling Night of the Living Dead.  He also made Dawn of the Dead, a very fine sequel.  However, for me, Day of the Dead doesn’t quite reach the heights of the two earlier films.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to get your teeth into here, and there are a few genuinely innovative moments.  It’s just harder to relate to people stuck in an underground cavern than it is a shopping mall.

I won’t mention the zombie Bub, a character that I definitely thought was too much.  But check it out, certainly if you’ve seen the other Dead films.

7/10

Son of Hallowe’en Horror Fest

28 Days Later (2002)

When Mrs Platinum Al and I went on our very first date, this was the film she wanted to see.  I’d heard it was good, and being a fan of the Director Danny Boyle’s earlier works (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting) agreed it would be a good choice.  What followed was one of the most extreme cinematic experiences I’ve ever had.  You’ve heard stories about people walking out of the cinema?  I saw that during this screening.  Audience members were getting up and leaving.  I’m sure that it wasn’t because the film was bad – it was because 28 Days Later is utterly terrifying. MV5BNzM2NDYwNjM3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDYxNzk5._V1._SX337_SY500_ (1)

Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in hospital after being in an accident.  Slowly he finds that the world he knew has crumbled, as an infectious virus called “Rage” has decimated the population by turning the victims into violent, mindless killers.  Jim meets other survivors, and together they begin a journey to find a cure for Rage, and safe refuge from the Infected.

28 Days Later was never billed as a zombie flick originally, at least not as I remember it.  Although obviously inspired by zombie movies and other post apocalyptic films, it was promoted as a film exploring what could happen following the outbreak of a pandemic.  Scenes of an abandoned London created emotions of despair that were related, in the press, to the aftermath of 9/11.  Psychologically, the audience is submitted to a world of sheer desperation that pervades every minute.

As a result, 28 Days Later gives us much more than a zombie re-hash.  It has shocks and creates tension in the viewer unlike any other film I have ever seen.  But it also asks questions: how far away are any of us, in a world of road rage and social unrest, from mindless uncontrolled violence?

Quite simply a superb film on every level, 28 Days Later horrifies beyond belief.

10/10