16 November 2014

Frankenstein: The True Story



Frankenstein: The True Story a Pleasant Adaptation 
By Kristin Battestella


Despite its title, the 1973 British co-production Frankenstein: The True Story does not wholeheartedly adapt Mary Shelley’s timeless classic in its two 90 minute episodes. Once the audience accepts this artistic license, however, the tale told here is a surprisingly serviceable, spirited, and pleasing presentation. 


Upset over his brother’s death, Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting) studies with Henry Clerval (David McCallum), a scientist also seeking to circumvent death and achieve a new Adam with his experimentations. Frankenstein all but abandons his fiancée Elizabeth Fanshawe (Nicola Pagett) as he succeeds in resurrecting such a Creature (Michael Sarrazin) and educating this simple, kind soul. The suspicious Dr. Polidori (James Mason), unfortunately, knows of Clerval’s ideas and demands Frankenstein participate in a second, perfected female creation (Jane Seymour) – one the now ugly and rejected Creature hopes will remain beautiful and love him.
 
Frankenstein: The True Story and long time television director Jack Smight jump right into a confusing start with an accident, a funeral, young Frankenstein in London, and no onscreen clarifications on the passage of time. Slow traveling scenes belie the fast editing or feeling that scenes have been skipped while information is told not shown. The entire first half hour of rushed getting there montages and laboratory construction may well have been excised, for the plot really begins at Victor’s wonderful mad scientist creation – complete with an “It’s alive!” homage to up the ante along with ironically parallel incorruptible dead and mortal made immortal conversation. Dialogue from writers Christopher Isherwood (A Single Man) and Don Bachardy; interesting religious analysis on the sacraments, bread of life, and the Man made flesh; and questions of Man, God, and Prometheus strengthen the depressed, early surgeries and hospital settings. Bodies are stored in a shabby stable in conditions more barbaric than medicinal, and off screen amputations, screams, saw work, and haphazard sewing create the perfect horror mood. Deviations from the source novel are apparent, of course. However, with such a fine premise and examination on the human condition, it’s tough to do much wrong in Frankenstein: The True Story. Though the Creature is raised easily, the flaws in the procedure are soon apparent amid lovely schooling, friendly moments, and well paced studies. Narrating notes from Frankenstein explain the time and development nicely, and a competitive duality between the doctor and his new Adam layer the one on one scenes.


Could this created man outdo his father, a mere man playing God? By the second ninety minute half, the Creature is on his own, learning of the world, and meeting compassion in unlikely places. He both exceeds the possibilities of his predecessor but embodies Frankenstein’s own evils and abomination – a grotesque reaction that is not his fault. This time away from Victor for Episode Two has a much better focus on the Creature as he is taught to be feared and ashamed. Tragically, of course, contentment is not part of his destiny, as he returns to his creator demanding like companionship. The awaiting sinister does become a bit too presto with Chinese mysticism and metaphysical pastiche taking part in the inevitable second lady creation – firewater and bubbles work better than electricity, who knew? After positive explorations with the Creature, the interesting bride-esque plot may also feel unnecessarily tacked on, but this evil reversal sends home the disturbing consequences at play. We so easily love our pretty work but hypocritically despise one turned decrepit or use that originally pure beauty for our own vile purposes and corruption. Frankenstein: The True Story puts a topper on its science fiction and horror moralities with a wild coming out party and a stormy, icy finale.
 
I confess, I’m not much of a Leonard Whiting fan – I always preferred Michael York in Romeo and Juliet instead – and his Victor Frankenstein is somewhat dry and not as charming as the folks onscreen say. We don’t always believe his angry motivation, zest for science, or his love for Elizabeth. Presented early on as the idealistic explorer and brawn of a radical partnership more akin to a grave robbing sidekick, Frankenstein’s characterization gains momentum once he becomes the obsessed, desperate man alone. Victor toes the line in the supposedly good science advancement, but his ambition and potentially slick or shady intentions rise as he educates the Creature. Does he lament when one dies of fright at the sight of his creation? Perhaps, but he is more upset when the monster is no longer a beautiful success. Frankenstein is a parent vicariously using his child for scientific glory but ultimately regrets his embarrassing, shameful son – not that such turnabout stops him from being lured into a second, perfected attempt. The possibility and bane inherent in Frankenstein is indeed complex, and a more nuanced actor or finite direction may have better maximized the sympathetic or sinister extremes. Frankenstein: The True Story brings about Victor’s redemption a little too late, and may deviate too much instead of fully strengthening the interest here.

Fortunately, Michael Sarrazin (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) as the Creature progresses wonderfully from the seventies pretty perfection and a simple, childlike innocence to a refined achievement mingling in society and ultimately, his creator’s monstrous enemy. While Frankenstein claims his “foreign friend” knows no good language, the Creature impresses operatic friends by speaking French. His would be suave antagonizes Victor, who is actually more barbaric despite his supposedly enlightened work, and the regressing, Neanderthal appearance and perceived monstrosity of Frankenstein reflects in the Creature. His nature is not of his own making, and the Creature weeps at his deformity, growing suicidal and showing empathy where Victor has none. But of course, which one is made to seek violence and outcast by society? In contrast, Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) remains the beautiful object of the Creature’s affection in the latter half of Frankenstein: The True Story. Her ridiculously seventies yet lovely Prima is magically and swiftly resurrected before being well dressed and manipulatively educated as a deceptive seductress. Was Prima innately vile or designed and bred to be so? Why must beauty be used for evil while a would-be kindhearted monster must strive for compassion? 


David McCallum (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) as Henry Clerval has no such morality, accepting payment of whatever alcohol remains in the bottle and casually taking amputated limbs away in his doctor bag to “brush up on his anatomy.” His devil on the shoulder catalyst to Frankenstein and quest to create a superior race or a Bible for the New Age would be wonderfully positive if not for his twisted intentions. Likewise, James Mason (A Star is Born) is an extreme opportunist with no need for delicacy as he commandeers any mind, body, or secrets as desired. What’s all the more sinister, unfortunately, is how he accurately sees the escalation of their life creating deeds, predicting our hatred for our ugly faces and the masks we wear to conceal them. Nicola Pagett (Upstairs, Downstairs), sadly, is the weak link in the ensemble as the wishy washy and perhaps even unnecessary Elizabeth Fanshawe. The pace drags when she is onscreen with Victor and nagging him to speak simply in terms that are “suitable to her sex.” She apparently accepts his abandonment on their wedding night but subsequently, dutifully ends up pregnant. Her love is meant to be a pendulum of good swaying Frankenstein for the better, but after the first half hour, the character goes unseen until the final act, becoming important but falling flat by the tale’s end. Thankfully, billed guest stars such as the fun, not annoying maid Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched), blind and kindhearted peasant Ralph Richardson (The Heiress), and pop up appearances by John Gielgud (Arthur), Doctor Who Tom Baker, and Mrs. Mason Clarissa Kaye accent Frankenstein: The True Story marvelously.

Carriages, footmen, and swans add panache to the idyllic English countryside setting of Frankenstein: The True Story as well – sparkly jewelry, empire gowns, frilly collars, and waistcoats harken to Mary Shelley’s 1818 publication more than the earlier 18th century recounting of the novel. The ladies’ hairstyles may also be too seventies, but lush interiors and woodwork have a surprisingly subdued color palette or antique, patina feeling. Candles, dirty tanks with body parts, and fantastic electrical mechanics mixed with old time telescopes, mirrors, and repurposed millwork make for a realistically tricked out laboratory along with crawling arms, cool goggles, sparks, and crackling sound effects. The Creature’s make up also evolves nicely as he is damaged, burned, shot, and made increasingly unsightly. Late ship bound action, splashing waves, and lightning help forgive some of the phony arctic designs and any dated visual effects or small explosions due to the of the time television budget. Considering the seventies small screen production, Frankenstein: The True Story holds up quite well with very little to date the material save for the awkward introduction on the DVD. The video has no features but does include subtitles for the complete, all-in-one three-hour presentation. 
 

Is Frankenstein: The True Story uneven to start with rushed character development and unnecessary plotting that deviates from the source? Sure. Perhaps this miniseries didn’t need to be as long as it was, and some stray tangents and characters could have been excised for one swift telefilm. Fortunately, a solid examination of the Creature and a strong second half make up for any faults. While attempted twists may sometimes takeaway from the great drama and horrific examination of Man becoming God and die-hard literary enthusiasts may be upset that Frankenstein: The True Story is not truly an of the book verbatim, Frankenstein fans will delight in seeing these new spins on the tried and true theme. Shelley’s gothic science and spirit are here in a pleasant, period marathon of monsters and men run amok.



15 November 2014

Found Footage Horrors



Found Footage Split Decisions
By Kristin Battestella


I stumbled into watching this trio of recent found footage styled horror films. Unfortunately, despite some fine performances, period or unusual settings, and interesting storytelling, I am split on all of them thanks to that very discovered, undocumentary design that unites them – or fills them with plot holes. 


Apollo 18 – The website lunartruth.com is presented as the source for this 2011 footage recovery, and the faded lines, pops, and mixes of color or black and white seventies home movies design do nicely along with of the time gear and delightful early space program equipment. The cramped shuttle filming is a little too herky jerky and spastic camera flashes will be difficult for some, but opening interviews with the departing astronauts establish the mood, personalities, and secret situation quickly – perhaps too quickly. Sudden goodbyes, landing on the moon, and already being there for almost a week happen in the first ten minutes before some uneven, extremely slow moments with nothing happening and only the closed captioning to indicate the too soft “What was that?” eerie sounds. There’s no sense of awe, scope, or time to appreciate the possibility of this actually happening because the found footage must remain with onboard cameras and can’t allow for any clarifying movement or outside visuals. The choppy, innate presentation disrupts the intriguing conspiracy aspects – Radio Houston hasn’t exactly been honest but talk of the Department of Defense material is conveniently cut off by gaps in the video. Despite the PG-13 rating, there are some invasive bodily gruesomes and creepy contamination fears, but the chattering rock aliens may actually be unnecessary. With no scoring, the tiniest of spaces, lack of oxygen, desperate reliance on damaged equipment, and only three stranded people in foreign isolation, this should be scarier than it is. The bloody evidence of a Soviet lunar landing gone awry would have been the much more interesting antagonist. Paranoia builds nicely thanks to unexplained injuries, missing objects, and others listening in on the lunar frequencies, but need to know excuses, stupidity, and nonsensical turns can’t disguise the cheating found footage plot holes. The deadly hysteria and upsetting outcome would have been far more dramatic had the audience been able to just clearly see it happen. Whether this footage is being transmitted back to earth or later magically retrieved is never explained, but the end credits roll to the tune of We Three Kings of Orient Are. Say what?



The Last Exorcism – This 2010 ‘discovered’ religious documentary is awkward and pretentious to start with contradictory interviews and a quack minister as its subject. Do we scoff or go with the unscrupulous trick crucifix? Perhaps the lip service narrations provide the desired fakery tone, but there’s no need to overtake the Louisiana visuals and local interviewees’ superstitious state of mind. Patronizing and preachy telling instead of showing may put off viewers, but the talk of demons, Lucifer, and exorcist history add a much needed edge. Bizarre humor and resentment of the camera add dimension as well – hidden filming or distant silent observation build secrecy as blame, suggested mistreatments, and apparent abuses mount. Do the investigation methods of this hack minister encourage superstition where medicine is needed? Is this crappy dog and pony show giving believers what they want helpful or risking a young girl’s life? Medical consequences, spooky circumstances, disturbing familial twists, and freaky camera witnessing escalate the possessed or crazy debate, but hysterical, herky-jerky visuals and swerving camera action are distractingly obvious, taking away from the well done demonic ambiguity because the viewer is overly aware of the confusing, frenetic film making. One too many twists, red herrings, and foreshadowing that gives everything away happen too many times in this frustrating 90 minutes, and like all people who don’t realize they are in a horror movie, no one ever simply leaves or goes for help. Ironically, I’m not sure this is really a horror movie but rather a backwater thriller with tacked on supernatural elements, and I don’t care to see The Last Exorcism Part 2 either.



The Quiet Ones – This 2014 nuHammer mix of science and supernatural has a great atmosphere to start. The isolated British setting, 1974 style, and on form, age appropriate cast lend a serious, mature tone. Cool, old time equipment and clunky cameras add to the grainy film feelings and harken toward a classic Hammer design. Where is the line between evil and mental illness? Do you seek a doctor or a priest for your affliction? These questions and a touch of kinky suggestion are smartly played instead of going for today’s depraved sensationalism. The PG-13 rating wasn’t as bad as I feared, but wise horror viewers can tell the editing is designed to toe the ratings line with near bathtub nudity, scandalous bedrooms, and only a few blood and gory scenes. Mixing the traditional shooting with found footage style designs also seems amiss – calling attention to this gimmicky effect is too on the nose, and the shaky dropping the camera moments feel more funny and annoying than scary startling. We’ve seen better crazed or disturbia elsewhere, so the debate on torturing a young patient in an experiment on possession or illness feels weak amid the series of loosely held together Ghost Hunters bumps and metaphysical double talk. The parapsychology possibilities and unfulfilled back-story on mental repression, evil channeling, and occult history won’t be enough for horror audiences expecting more scares, and the final half hour unravels into a mess of this twist, that twist, a ye olde library research montage, and another twisty twist. This is watchable for younger audiences today, but there is definitely a lingering, unfinished, or too many hands in the pot behind the scenes feeling overshadowing the potential here. I kind of feel like I’ve only seen half the movie and wonder where the rest of the footage is! 




Sideways, dark, and broken lenses remind us of the camera when motion pictures are by design meant to record the unfolding events whilst making the medium as nonexistent as possible. As you can guess, as inadvertently as I came into viewing them, I am now staying as specifically far away from found footage films as possible. This would be much, much easier, if the entire trend would just, you know, cease.




02 November 2014

Forties Mysteries and Mayhem Returns!


More Forties Mystery and Mayhem!
By Kristin Battestella



Science run amok, family monsters, mistaken identity, mystery, and murder abounds in these wartime tales inspired by classic literatures and period macabre.  



Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Spencer Tracy (Boys Town), Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca), and Lana Turner (Peyton Place) star in this loose 1941 Robert Louis Stevenson adaptation from director Victor Fleming (Gone with the Wind), itself a remake of the 1931 Fredric March award winner. Though available on DVD sets with its predecessor, the heavy-handed religion good and science bad Hayes Code restrictions here hamper the supposedly scandalous talk of whether the soul is in the realm of science or spirit. The slow, talkative start, dated abstract ideals, and dramatic pacing tell the audience about these radical experiments rather than showing the medical dangers. The design also isn’t as impressive as we might expect, for black and white photography and small set pieces don’t illume all the possible Victorian grandeur. Quick animal testings and laboratory montages represent the science fiction while the up close transformations and intimate camerawork remains on the earnest but out of place Tracy– he ironically looks kind of goofy and doesn’t seem all that different as Hyde. Bergman adds some much needed sassy intrigue, and it’s pleasing to see one normally so demure go from saucy and streetwise to submissive and scared thanks to Hyde. Unfortunately, Turner doesn’t have much to do as the suffering fiancée, and her charming society chaste counter balance isn’t well developed. Escalating violence and bemusing dream sequences of the two women, lotus flowers rising, whipping racing horses, and bottle corks popping do much better with the innuendo. We never get the horror depravity one hopes with this tale thanks to the straightforward presentation and fade to black tame, but it’s nonetheless fun to see just for the classic stars going freaky.


The Invisible Man Returns – Smoky atmosphere, great décor, execution tensions, and reprieve desperation start this 1940 sequel featuring a young Vincent Price as the eponymously afflicted. There’s some confusion in how this plot ties in with the 1933 film but the familial connections are explained soon enough. Objects move by themselves thanks to the invisible tricks and the neat see through effects hold up well along with Scotland Yard investigations, a fun laboratory, innocent romance, and elaborate plans. Animal experiment scenes, however, are bittersweet, and Price’s voice is a bit muffled when under wraps for the fainting ladies. His voice isn’t the raspy smooth, mature sound we love, either, but the invisible science debates and ethical questions amid the escalating violence are intriguing. Why look for a cure when the madness is so much fun? A touch of social commentary, a wronged man, an 80-minute built in ticking clock, and a race for an antidote forgive some bumbling cop work and the cliché, hammy colloquialisms, and there’s a wild, dirty, factory finish. But I’m not going to tell you if we see the young, debonair Vincent, hah! 


The Undying Monster – Great ominous music sets the mood along with family curses, stately but sinister seaside locales, tolling bells, barking dogs, and turn of the 19th century styles for this 1942 hour. Gas lamps, old time phones, and period laboratories accent the conversational delivery – which isn’t your typical monster exposition. Foreboding uses of shadows and light, up close camera attacks, and wolf howls keep the action moving while a comical older lady, on the case Scotland Yard, and meddling help are smartly utilized. Beware, there is one scene of canine faint, but this leads to intriguing self-aware discussions on the supernatural versus science and ancestral indiscretions like selling one’s soul to the devil. No one wants to believe what’s happening, and as such, the pleasant horror tone takes a backseat to a proactive who done the violence mystery. The ensemble, however, adds well done banter, antagonism, agendas, and evidence. The scares are wisely used as needed, and the time here doesn’t seem so short thanks to a fun action pursuit finish. This is a well put together little eerie, and I sincerely wonder why contemporary horror films just can’t take everything done right here and maximize all the gothic atmosphere and glory.


The Woman in White –The late Eleanor Parker (The Sound of Music) shines amidst the top hats, frilly collars, carriages, white capes, flowing skirts, and asylum escapes in this spooky but alluring 1948 adaptation of the Wilkie Collins novel. Lovely interiors, telescopic effects, camera tricks, black and white photography, and shadowy lighting designs accentuate the titular figure whilst moving candlelight and brimming fog layer the cemeteries and outdoor scenery. The opening and closing narration and tacked on whimsy feel amiss, and there are some hammy characters and melodramatic over acting. However, Parker is doubly charming, and the ill at ease, mistaken identity and family secrets blend well with the budding romantic triangles. A perfectly scheming Sydney Greenstreet (The Maltese Falcon) adds to the suspicions and Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched) drops an intriguing tidbit or two. Granted, several dated plot points may be amusing – a 2-year engagement is considered urgent? A distant relative institutionalized is scandalous? Fortunately, plot twists increase as the mystery, tension, secret passages, and creepy escalates. The audience is forced to pay attention and seek out the subtleties – even if you’re familiar with the story; this version remains fun to watch as all the switcharoos unfold.



One to Skip


The Invisible Woman – Following The Invisible Man Returns, this 1940 double bill is slow to start with anonymous humor and lighthearted talk of money and loveable, hair brained professors. Let’s put an ad in the paper seeking someone who wants to become invisible! The get back at her nasty boss reason for our supposedly so ballsy and beautiful lady applicant – a model aptly named Kitty – is weak, and the invisibility making machine instead of the previous potions is mostly an unexplained MacGuffin. Beyond Wicked Witch of the West Margaret Hamilton and Stooge Shemp Howard, the sassy house staff is annoying and the numerous coming and going people all look the same. Fun laboratories and experiment effects are pleasing along with the softer, melodic scoring. However, the feminine spins seem wasted on scaring off jerks and clothes off or on innuendo. Crooks are after the invisibility machine, there’s somebody named Foghorn, bad Mexican jokes, and the slapstick – eh, I stopped caring and went to clean my tub drain instead. This is harmless fun and dated girl power if you like forties comedy, but it unfortunately doesn’t match the fantastic dilemmas of its predecessors and replaces them with 70 minutes of overlong and loosely tied platitudes.


29 October 2014

Quirky 80s Horror!


Quirky 80s Horror
By Kristin Battestella



These so bad they’re good or just plain peculiar thirty year odd cult faves, obscurities, and oddities are not for everyone, but I’ll be darn if they aren’t bemusingly spooky and family friendly fun!



Blood Song – The second hand transfer is dark and impossible to see at times and the musical interludes for this 1982 Frankie Avalon slice and dice tale are iffy. The flashback explanations also should have happened sooner instead of falling into cliché harsh parents, teen angst, one step behind cops, and misogynistic boyfriends. Though he’s always suave and it would have been neat to see him against Beach Party type more, Avalon’s juvenile “nobody’s taking my flute away from me!” crazy is a little too hokey to enjoy. Fortunately, the odd music motifs, sincere ensemble, fifties murder/suicide, and old-fashioned feelings layer the plot – and I do genuinely love all the wood paneling! Despite goofy graphic transitions and thinly tied blood donor connections, the eerie hospital escapes and dreams blending with reality remain interesting. No one believing the young protagonist and treating her as if it’s no big deal also feels like an ironic mixing of precursor Halloween –about a vengeful escapee stalking a teen girl – and the subsequent Nightmare on Elm Street – where dreams connect a killer to his next lady victim. Well shot murders, good blood, unique camera design, and a whiff of nudity all do what they are supposed to do while we wait for the inevitable one on one encounters. Viewers can take the good here or enjoy the bemusement. After all, how can an able bodied man not catch up to the falling young girl with a leg injury?


Little Shop of Horrors – Yes, the not horror per se musical song and dance designs of this 1986 stage to screen adaptation will upset hardcore scary fans. Some vocals, voices, and songs will grate on viewers’ ears while dated, cardboard looking, downtrodden set styles and plant puppetry effects will be intolerable to audiences expecting a production with more panache – be it paranormal or musical. What is intended as would be scary, ominous, or sinister in the deadly plant sequences is perhaps ruined by the sing a longs, taking the frightful and humorous to extremes from one minute to the next. Thankfully, there is a welcome nostalgia captured here for fans that appreciate both old time musicals and all in good fun sixties scares. Although they probably won’t realize all the subtitles and mid century innuendo, kids can enjoy the affectionate parody at face value through the smart period looks and charming music sounds of the past. Bemusing cameos and performances by Rick Moranis (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), James Belushi (According to Jim), and John Candy (Who’s Harry Crumb?) put the final bells and whistles into place. My favorite part, however, and one that might be too frightening for the little ones, is Bill Murray (Ghostbusters) as a patient who gets off on receiving the dentistry horrors more the than Elvis gone bad Steve Martin (Roxanne) who gets off on causing such sadistic dental pain. Indeed, this largely sentimental before scary ode isn’t for everyone, but it is directed by Frank Oz aka Yoda, so what did you expect?


Night of the Creeps – A hysterical mini alien shootout – complete with Star Wars jettisons and spacey subtitles – starts this 1986 zombie coed funfest before continuing with a nostalgic, black and white fifties wink. Cool cars, excellent classic radio, and period dames build a sinister atmosphere before moving on to the then-contemporary rad, neon, and shoulder pads. There will be too many try hard, lame-o nerds in love quips for some today, but it’s easy to accept the eighties-ness and the quality if cliché sacrificial, sub textual best friend thanks to bumbling cops, grumpy detectives, and bathroom scares. The freaky circumstances build with ominous intercutting, pleasing creepy crawlies, decrepit zombies, and undead designs. While some characters are better than others – lead Jason Lively (National Lampoon’s European Vacation) being one of the weak points – and foul language and nudity are minimal, the action, expected body count, and sorority shootouts proceed with a ridiculous variety of deaths and absurd fun. Go with it and bring your Aqua Net to the rescue!


Puppet Master – A quirky period opening sets the campy but ominous mood for this 1989 funfest. Add eighties hair and fashions to the seaside hotels, psychics, incense, stuffed dogs, and paranormal gear and plenty of death will follow! The mostly no name cast puts on some bad acting and the puppet effects will be goofy to some, but the peculiar ensemble creates intrigue and this mediums smorgasbord keeps things entertaining – along with these perverted little puppets. Those strong little suckers have some personality! Bemusing puppet perspectives add to the design, and an abstract palette distinguishes the flashbacks and visions as the violent pieces to the puzzle unravel. Some language, nudity, kinky, and sex talk keeps the conversation mature amid otherwise hokey exposition – Egyptian alchemy name dropping yadda yadda – but eerie moments and a shocker or two make up for the nonsensical plot. The approach is dated, even laughable if you think about it too much, but the unintentional humor and the slightly inferior cast are the only flaws here. Purists will have a fit over all the video releases and varying editions and this does remain enjoyable, but still, there are 10 sequels to this movie? Ten?! 


17 October 2014

Bela and Boris Deux!




Bela and Boris Together Again!
By Kristin Battestella



What’s not to love when that diabolical duo Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff get together for a macabre good time? Here’s a dash of Boris, a pinch of Bela, and a whole lot of early Hollywood Mayhem!



Black Friday – Friday the 13th themes, spinning newspapers, old time prisons, last rites, and dead man walking scares for Doctor Karloff start off this 1940 genre bender before a shocking flashback plot, seriously sweet roadsters, intense murder scenes, cool hidden panels, stylish fedoras, and fabulous frocks. The narration and inter title-esque notes onscreen match the brain swapping surgery montage, high-end trains, classy locales, and swanky music – despite the wild medicine making the revenge possible, this feels like a thriller not a dated B sci-fi production. Who are the men in pursuit? Where’s the money? The dramatic music and Jekyll and Hyde personality transformations may be over the top or confusing to some but the fun is in guessing the next victim amid the rooftop shootouts and dames in peril. Though he’s a sinister gangster, Lugosi has very little screen time. He delivers his lines just fine with the right criminal pacing and threat, but his accent does seem too out of place and unexplained. Good time here aside, one does wonder what might have been had Lugosi played the mastermind doctor and Karloff gotten his murderous switch on as originally intended. This kind of crossover could have easily fallen into a woeful mix of abdominal science and cliché cops and robbers, but if Lugosi’s incongruous suave is the only complaint, then hot damn!



The Invisible Ray – Bela and Boris team for this 1936 science fiction 80 minutes – complete with a fun disclaimer suggesting that scientific fact was once thought of as the fantastics we are about to see. Add a stormy introduction, creepy old ladies, wild electricity, misunderstood demonstrations, and a cool mix of old world interiors with crazy science devices and the mood is set. The pretty ingénues and similar men are a bit standard and their love triangle distracts somewhat from our horror maestros, but the romance could be worse. Though he’s rocking a sweet goatee, we don’t see Lugosi as Dr. Benet as much as mad scientist Karloff. However, their neat Freud and Jung differences and reluctant but respectful allied approach is a treat. Yes, the talk of catching rays of light from Andromeda is preposterous, but our boys are so earnest in their cause that the audience goes along with the newspaper headlines, cool welding masks, and sizzling laboratory sounds. Some expert viewers may dislike all this faux jargon hooey in addition to the stereotypical tribal designs and the cliché safari scenes, but the old time science remains likeable as does pleasant outdoor footage and the radioactive, vengeful, and literally glowing Karloff.



The Raven – He’s hamming it up and quoting death as his talisman – Bela Lugosi is creepy as ever behind his doctor’s mask and a suave god complex for this 1935 Poe based hour. The bearded, raspy, demented looking Boris Karloff (also of the unrelated 1963 mash up of the same name with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre) is trying to reform his criminal ways, but Lugosi’s twisted doctoring wrenches that! This quick plot wastes no time thanks to car accidents, desperate medicine, titular quotes, mad love, and torture gear. Though not a full on, proper adaptation of the famed poem, great shadows, interiors, organ music, furs, fedoras, and screams accent the obsessed with Poe layers and madcap style. A large ensemble can make it tough to tell who is who, and we don’t see much of the Poe-esque devices or their violence compared to the torture porn we expect today. However, the time here is steeped in an entertaining interwar gothic atmosphere – the wild contraptions are fun yet there are poignant moments and comeuppance amid the haunted house attraction mayhem. Edgar aficionados and fans of the cast will enjoy the uncanny charm here.



This trio appears on The Bela Lugosi Collection release, a double sided single disc also featuring Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Black Cat, which we’ve previously reviewed here. Ironically, this set in itself is more like a Lugosi and Karloff twice the fun gathering. Four of the five features celebrate the duo – and sometimes there’s a lot more Boris than Bela. Not all the titles are horror-centric, either but showcase more pre-war science fiction designs. I nitpick and there are no features, but The Bela Lugosi Collection is an affordable video with heaps of Poe inspiration. The short runtimes are perfect for an entertaining marathon, and there’s really no excuse not to watch!
 

14 October 2014

More from Horror Addicts.net!



Hello again, Thinkers!


It being October, of course, we have plenty more Horror Film essays and articles at  Horror Addicts.net! Not only can you HEAR Yours Truly on the Horror Addicts podcast, but you can read up on several of our fearful frights including:  


http://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/

Follow the Kbatz” tag for ALL my reviews and essays at HorrorAddicts.net! 



Want even MORE Horror? Stop by the Horror Blogger Alliance for the Halloween Blog Carnival! 

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13 October 2014

Demonic Viewings III


Demonic Viewings III
By Kristin Battestella


Now’s the time of year to get your demented on with this creepy quartet of devilish delights, occult macabre, witchy history, and a hint of classic sadism for good measure!


Devils of Darkness – The British accents, French flair, and uneven sounds may be tough or too slow for some to enjoy this 1965 vampires meets occult adventure, but those are the only quibbles here thanks to superior 1588 cemeteries, fog, red capes, coffins, bats, curses, and plenty of death. Then modern cars, swanky music, antiques, typewriters, and country manors are also sweet, and ritual All Soul’s Day re-enactments, sixties hair, pale skin, cat eye makeup, and cool fashions add to the fun. Witty puns and writer suspicions create a self-aware horror investigation as the witchcraft history and black magic mythos builds nicely– complete with a library research visit! Cave in action, suave but sinister strangers, and superstitious village folk expand the simmering, eerie atmosphere while howling winds and fiery rituals scare without resorting to the excessive bloodworks or unnecessary nudity that would become the standard within a decade. The audience doesn’t see any vampire bites – we only have talk of neck marks and terms like undead or living dead – but jealous vamp ladies accelerate the plot along with strategic sprinkles of bright red, cult talismans, the satanic, daylight fears, and nightly feedings. Obviously, Satanism and vampirism don’t have to go hand in hand or are often misunderstood combinations. However, this remains a well-paced and smartly put together blend of occult quality and vampire unique for classic horror fans.


Legacy of Satan – Talk of celestial alignments, blood, and flesh start this 1974 occultster written, edited, and directed by Gerard Damiano (Deep Throat, Devil in Miss Jones).  Along with sexy unions, creepy ritual chanting, and jarring but effective up close camera work, eerie shadows, chained subjects and shiny red robes set the mood – so what if those giant crescent moon necklace pendants are ridiculously oversized and the rituals largely happen in a devoid, dark room.  Woefully bad and obnoxious, siren-esque music contributes to the annoy crazy ladies, and the bad acting, lookalike people, and over the top evil prophecy double talk hamper what could have been interested God versus the Devil conversations or punishment and repression possibilities. The audience has no reason to care about the anonymous hokey players, and there might actually be more fun to be had here on mute. Some bright colors, cool clothes, and patterns of the era are appealing, but the lack of true nudity and skimpy sacrifices writhing about in kinky invisibility will be either too short or overlong depending on how saucy you like your horror. At under 70 minutes, the pace moves from one heady ritual scene to the next, but the overall tone is ironically tame and lacking despite a few bloody attacks and quality deaths. The action is confusing and this is all really quite nonsensical, yet I found it strangely badly watchable nonetheless.



 

Satan’s Slave – If you have a bad feeling about your upcoming family trip to the country, you aren’t supposed to go! Candace Glendenning’s (Tower of Evil) visions of past witch persecutions pepper this 1976 saucy with early and often rituals, nudity, and sexual violence – the seventies bush, lesbian ceremony suggestions, titillation whippings, and exploitation brandings won’t be for everyone, indeed. Toss in seemingly classy doctoring uncle Michael Gough (Batman Returns) along with the creepy houses, fiery car accidents, snakes, and cemeteries and the ancestral connections, sacrifices, and devilish devotions are complete. Spooky winds, a fine score, lovely exteriors, and wayward elevators add to the smooth deaths and blood despite a whiff of laughable film trickery. Though part of the print is dark and does jump as if missing footage has been restored – the widescreen edition on the Mill Creek Gorehouse set is missing the scissors assault scene but other once censored violence appears intact – shadows and lighting are well staged. Some exposition is surprising but the intercut revelation keeps up the juicy pace, and there will be penalties for talking, of course. The mystery as to who is doing the occultness or how deep the murderous tendencies and necromancy go build nicely with some eerie turns and a fun finish. So why is the only seventies tenderly sex scene the one between the more than kissing cousins? Ewww!


The Whip and the Body – The suave, scandalous, sadistic Christopher Lee has a kinky good time with the lovely Daliah Lavi (The Silencers) for this moody 1963 treat from director Mario Bava (Black Sunday). Superb music, lightning, howling winds, and all kinds of eerie sound effects accent the horses, waterfront locales, crypts, and secret passages while gothic Victorian waistcoats and hoopskirts feel medieval thanks to the Old World setting and decorum. Blue lighting and scary shadows draft a hazy, lucid atmosphere, and in camera movement and zooms create an uneasy, unsettled stage for the cast, relying on their fear and building ours as the not at rest spirits go bump in the night. The pace may be slow, laid back, or simplistic to modern audiences, but intriguing characters and family conflicts add to the murderous suspicion – surely, a ghost can’t be committing these crimes! While we only see unlaced dressings or bare backs, there is more than a whiff of naughty in the titular beatings, illicit beachfront romance, and twisted love of violence transcending the grave. Lee adds an alluring tone to these scares, and Lavi certainly does petrified well! Due to some unfortunate dubbing, it is weird to not hear Lee’s booming voice, and I wish there was some magical way to restore his recording. Luckily, the voiceovers don’t mismatch anyone’s lips too much, mostly. Contemporary viewers may find some of this dialogue and delivery amusing, but the script is fairly taut thanks to excellent haunts, a ghostly, simmering feeling, and a shocker or two. Some scenes here certainly gave me the wiggins, and I don’t know why this film was so obscure and rather tough to find before the recent blu-ray release. This one is definitely worth the look for gothic lovers and fans of the sophisticated style or classy cast and crew.