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

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

The Curse of Halloween Horror Fest 2019

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Hammer’s only venture into lycanthrope-based horror in the movies, The Curse of the Werewolf is a great example of the studio doing what they do best.  There’s no Pete or Chris, but we do get an early chance for Oliver Reed to demonstrate his talent.

Apparently the movie was based on a book called “The Werewolf of Paris”; the location shifted to Spain when a planned film about the Spanish Inquisition had to be abandoned – and the Spanish sets were forced onto this production.

Reed plays Leon, who the audience learns has had a troubled upbringing.  Born on Christmas Day and conceived from a rape, Leon is cursed to become a werewolf.  With love and comfort, his curse is kept under control.  He falls for his employers daughter, who is engaged to another man – and soon Leon’s hidden wolf is out of control.

The Curse of the Werewolf is something of a gem in Hammer’s crown.  The story has tension and drama courtesy of Director, Terence Fisher – and the special effects are adequate for the time.  Reed is engaging as Leon, inviting our sympathy though the audience realises he is doomed.

The result is a monster movie that’s both entertaining and moving, with a depth not often witnessed in a Hammer horror.

8/10

Misery (1990)

You can’t beat a bit of Stephen King, and Misery is one of his best – the book is great, the film is a masterful adaptation.

Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is a best selling novelist, who crashes his car on a snowy Colorado road.  He’s rescued and nursed by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who claims to be Paul’s number one fan.  But Wilkes discovers that Sheldon has killed off her beloved character, Misery, and his experience goes downhill faster than his car did.

Trapped in Annie’s house and confined to a wheelchair, how will Paul escape before Annie’s descent into murderous madness is complete?

Directed by Rob Reiner, Misery has tension and pace enough to keep anyone on the edge of their seat.  Caan is excellent; Bates is on Oscar winning form as the disturbed woman switching from kindly to evil in a heartbeat.

There’s nothing supernatural in Misery, but this story is certainly horrific.

9/10