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:  


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! 


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.

12 October 2014

70s Horror Hams!

Hammy 70s Horrors!
By Kristin Battestella

For every great horror movie, there are a dozen so bad they’re good lovably stinky, corny, dated, and trite more horror movies. Here are a few bemusingly decrepit tales from that equally irrepressible seventies decade!

The House That Cried Murder – Hokey feel good music, peace and love fashions, and a romantic country stroll open this 1973 spooky before the under construction isolated house fears, scandal, violence, blood, and pleasing, killer camerawork raise the horror. There’s a little too much telling instead of showing and jumping around in establishing this bored, demented rich girl back-story – it doesn’t seem like there is a complete script or a lot of dialogue yet the depravity remains largely told not seen until the gruesome shockers and terrorizing phone calls build nicely. Robin Strasser’s (One Life to Live) snotty attitude is a bit understandable since dad John Beal (The Vampire) doesn’t like her new husband, but the ladies look too much alike in this poorly lit, flat transfer, and the painful, gritted teeth delivery and wedding scenery go on too long.  Fortunately, the marital torment, frightful organ music, and hazy dream perspectives make for some twists even to the seasoned scary viewer, and the design gets better as the plot escalates. Of course, it looks like there are different versions and runtimes under the video title The Bride, and the little information available here makes this film somewhat elusive. Yes, it looks like crap and has some corny faults but this creepy is entertaining nonetheless.

Jack the Ripper Goes West – This low budget western/horror mash up also called A Knife for the Ladies has the Old West atmosphere thanks to carriages, outdoor filming, and a fun, cardboard town façade. Spooky killer footsteps, unseen murderous perspectives, and a metronome setting the scary beat add some simmering, but skimpy blood, tame skin, and bad music are hokey today. A poor print and low sound doesn’t help, either, and most of the acting is very, very wooden – I think one poker playing saloon gal might actually be a dude! Though the mystery is hampered by a weak lead, confusion, and a meandering shootout, the short hour moves through the body piling motions and corny seeking the clues amid the fumbling frontier who’s who. The town mob even strings up a cliché decoy killer! I’ve probably put more thought into this than they actually did, but there’s a good demented finish here, and it would be cool to see a truly proper horror western crossover. This is a bad but bizarre and harmless macabre for a drinking game or offbeat marathon.

Terror –Eerie credits set the mood for this simply named 1978 murder fest along with period angry mobs, fiery stakes, and fancy frocks before the usual seventies suave, thunderstorms, and cool cars. Then-shocking blood on white innocent parallels and fine editing mimic the onscreen stabbings and accentuate the intense death scenes but also help mask the sparse interiors, pleasant but reused locations, and up close filmmaking. Howling winds, ominous music, freaky phone calls, and killer pursuits create brooding build-ups and scary sequences, yet most of the acting is hokey, characters do stupid things, and I for one was glad when some annoying people finally met their ends! Ironically, the dated British slang feels over the top, even fake and put on, and film within a film feelings fall along the wayside for these accursed but somewhat obnoxious hep cats. Beyond Glynis Barber (Blake’s 7) it’s tough to tell who is who, so we can’t fully appreciate the peril of such random lookalike people. Weak nudity, poor club scenes, and bad onscreen moviemaking are ultimately useless, too, and the precursor slasher standards already feel run of the mill. There’s some mystery as to who’s carrying out this fatal curse upon the family, however the deaths feel haphazardly strung together instead. The finale is also abrupt; I expected a pull the rug out from under twist that never really happens. Fortunately, the titular atmosphere is here and the result is entertaining and effective if mindless. This isn’t as bad or low budget as it could have been and seventies horror fans can have a death tally good time with this one.

A Bit Iffy

The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! – This 90 minute 1972 period piece from writer and director Andy Milligan (The Ghastly Ones) has some okay late Victorian interiors and costumes – those big poofy orange sleeves are a bit much, however, and the women all have anachronistic long, straight seventies hair. Old World houses, pretty gardens, and sunshiny estates do belie the titular violence, but in addition to British accents and low volume, all the screaming, shouting, and bad acting doesn’t help with the family names and who’s who here. The newlywed plot feels somewhat stupid, and the whole lot of family politics and lycanthrope exposition told rather than shown ironically doesn’t explain much. The genetic experiments and wolfy cures that should be the core are tough to discern, and nonsensical scenes as well as too many characters don’t help. Clearly, the unnecessary rat subplot was done for a depraved add on, and this time away from the lupes lineage does more harm than good. The fast, in your face, almost happy go lucky pace and production should be much slower with a brooding and dark atmosphere, but sadly, the rapid deliveries akin more to the quick and cheap film design instead of horror mood. The entire movie feels like it’s playing at one and a half speed! Although, that may be a good thing for those who want the viewing over quickly, as this picture is definitely not for everyone – I think I zoned out in the middle somewhere! The bad filmmaking is simply too messy to enjoy the potential were-decent happening here, and most of that good stuff occurs only in the final ten minutes. I dare say it might be fun to see this tale remade in a proper, macabre, and gothic fashion. I don’t really want to recommend this, yet it has to be seen to be believed, and for all it’s faulty construction, strangely, there is some demented here that will be right up a stoned, bad film loving viewer’s alley.

So...yeah... ;0)

03 October 2014

Hammer House of Horror

Hammer House of Horror Delightfully Demented
By Kristin Battestella

Long famous for their horror films, Hammer branched into television for the 1980 anthology Hammer House of Horror. Though short lived, this quick dose of frightful holds up nicely.


“Witching Time” starts Disc 1 of the five disc DVD set with period candlelight design, fun film within a film scandals, adultery, and nudity in expected Hammer film fashion. Spooked animals and power outages add atmosphere before the titular witches run amok. Sure the acting is a bit over the top, but this is a morbid mix of hex meets eighties naughty and jealous fantastics that keeps up the twists throughout. “Thirteenth Reunion” adds driving scares, hysterics, and a sardonic awareness of the scary as the hour touches upon women’s rights, weight loss, fat shaming, and sexism. The investigative angles and mystery unravel nicely, and a ghoulish suspense leads to some wild realizations. Denholm Elliott (Raiders of the Lost Ark) stops by Hammer House of Horror next for “Rude Awakening” and its creepy realty, pleasing confusion, eerie fortellings, and circular build up escalate the tension for some great toppers.

Disc 2 continues the scary quality with laboratories and one creepy kid I’d take right back to the orphanage in “Growing Pains.” Though the dead rabbits, dogs gone wild, and LSD shenanigans are not for the faint, there’s an interesting blend of technical talk, parental relationships, and ghostly vengeance. Is this bad science or a more sinister spiritual commentary at work? “The House That Bled to Death” has a moody silent start to establish its macabre, murderous elderly and suspicious realty ala Amityville along with disturbing kid’s parties, some kinky, and judgmental neighbors – I don’t want to say much more. Fine cinematic development raises these horrible happenings, and ahem, cat lovers beware! It’s slow to start, but freaky masks, voodoo spins, and African art contribute to the financial and business pressures, wills, and motives in “Charlie Boy” – not to mention that eponymous, shudder inducing doll. It’s also interesting to see a then-taboo interracial couple dealing with the intercutting crimes, and there’s a good variety of accidents and deaths. The desperation mounts as the murderous thoughts come to fruition. One can’t pick and choose the victims, yet it’s so easy to lose control.

Hammer House of Horror peaks with “The Silent Scream,” starring Peter Cushing, Brian Cox (Troy), wild cats in cages, electricity experiments, past injustices, and natural fears of confinement. While Cushing seems so well intentioned and charming as always, there’s something fishy afoot. Difficulties in readjusting to life on the outside and concentration camp consequences blend wonderfully with the trapped feelings, horror bizarre, disturbing Pavlov’s dog elements, cover your eyes intensity, and unexpected twists. Where is the line between humans and animals? What will we sacrifice under the pressures of confinement? “Children of the Full Moon” handles more traditional fair with kids gone wolfy, stranded honeymooners, and a spooky mansion nearby. Unseen camera perspectives and howls set the monster mood as the suspicion and family macabre build for a fun finish. “Carpathian Eagle” is a bit dated and I might have enjoyed seeing the past evil deeds of the countess more – plus, if you blink you’ll miss 007 himself Pierce Brosnan, too. Fortunately, the mix of old time styles and taxidermy accent the bloodthirsty history, saucy, and violence along with amusing wigs, make up, disguises, and serial killer suspense.

The great guests continue on Disc 4 with the occult rituals, eerie mirrors, and demonic symbols in “Guardian of the Abyss.” Maybe its small scale compared to the style we expect in Hammer films, but Blake’s 7’s Paul Darrow makes the moody visual effects and beastly masks even better. It’s Avon gone antiquing, people! John Dee history, Elizabethan relics, and cat and mouse pursuits over the titular demonic raisings top these sinister gents, sacrifices, and foretold twists. Likewise, Blake himself Gareth Thomas and Dark Shadows alum Kathryn Leigh Scott have some scary violence, well done hysterical, and heady camera work in “Visitor from the Grave.” Hinted history and a suspicious domestic design add to the murderous cover up, hauntings, and mental instability. The screaming may be too much, but clues, consequences, and séances make for a wild end. Seemingly family friendly to start, “The Two Faces of Evil” picks up a hitchhiker in a slicker and puts a scary stop to the tranquil with a spooky hospital, mute injuries, and a fearful inability to share what has happened. The gaslighting mounts thanks to distorted camera work and a weird, funhouse feeling. This macabre might be too crazy for some but the stitched together memories and menace win out.

The understandably then too shocking “The Mark of Satan” concludes Hammer House of Horror with operating table intrigue and morgue morbid – all those shrouded bodies about while morticians wax nostalgic on drilling into the skull over quotes of Keats and Shelley! How would one relieve the body of a trapped soul or evil within? Bible research, spooky sunglasses, and eerie repetitions of the number 9 are enough to wig one away from Sudoku while odd jump cuts and transitions add to the disturbed feelings and numerology paranoia. Askew film angles, creepy mothers, murder – I don’t want to say any more! There is too much depraved for sensitive viewers, indeed, but this is a befitting topper to finish the series. Yes, it is a bit unusual to have this one odd episode on the last disc with two brief interviews featuring Kathryn Leigh Scott and Mia Nadasi. Naturally, I would have liked more Hammer history and horror analysis or reflection on the time and retrospective thoughts from experts in spoiled contemporary video fashion. However, merely having this once unreleased episode available with a few perks is delightful enough for the Hammer completist.  

Other than knowing this series was made by Hammer and short lived at 13 episodes, I came into viewing Hammer House of Horror relatively unaware – and that’s probably the best way to approach these well done fifty minute eeries. The suspense isn’t stretched thin; remaining well paced and making the macabre feel longer with fully developed cinematic flair across the variously spooky subjects. Though the of the time slang and British accents may be difficult for some audiences without subtitles, the late seventies values, period style, and lovely Hampden locales complete the expected Hammer charm. The per episode introductions on the DVD set also provide some fun background to each tale, including information on the cast and crew or related horror film connections. While some may choose to skip these optional anecdotes in preservation of the plot twists, most are bemusingly spoiler free, and it’s a wonder why more series don’t do this kind of trivia. The teasers to start each hour are likewise quality cliffhangers, and though short, the gothic style credits and opening theme set the Hammer House of Horror mood perfectly. Granted, there is a noticeable over reliance on too many car chases and vehicular perils – most of which are for the sake of the suspense or an easy plot device. With such a short series, detail obsessed viewers will recognize that most of the locations are the same, too. Thankfully, Hammer House of Horror uses this shoestring design to wink at the audience, for it’s as if this same idyllic English countryside is rampant with any and all these creepy happenings.

I wish there was more of the Hammer House of Horror, and this marathon viewing has spoiled me! I want all the great horror anthologies, all on one channel, one right after the other, and give them to me now. For longtime spooky-wise viewers, there may not be enough of the knock your socks off scary spectacle style. Maybe Hammer House of Horror is too dated or obvious and cliché compared to longer lasting compatriot series. Nonetheless, ‘tis a pity that the struggling finances and behind the scenes at Hammer Studios prematurely locked the door on the Hammer House of Horror design, for the mature old time sophistication here remains most definitely atmospheric and sickly entertaining.  

29 September 2014

Country Horror and Scares!

Country Scares Round Up!
By Kristin Battestella

Rednecks, hicks, desolate locales, and backwater crazies certainly make for a bevy of horrors, death, cannibalism, and disturbia. Enjoy the frights herein, y’all!

Creepshow – Terror titans George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead)  and Stephen King (Carrie) present this 1982 anthology featuring a spooky fun cast including Ted Danson (Cheers), Ed Harris (Apollo 13), Leslie Nielson (The Naked Gun), Adrienne Barbeau (Maude), and Hal Holbrook (The Senator). The expected anthology frame blessedly remains as only opening and closing bookends with a few scary winks, letting the animated transitions, red and blue lighting, and comic book styled backgrounds or cell frame designs accent the scary and carry the pulp homage. While some nods are too obviously placed or too humorous for some, the lighthearted, almost camp and endearing at times tone is in keeping with the creators’ nostalgic Tales from the Crypt creepy of yore feeling. The first “Father’s Day” tale is a little short but has a now dated kitsch and gruesomely bemusing result. “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” however, is kind of dead end. It’s surprising that Stephen King can act as the stupid hick so well, but a vegetation meteor run rampant doesn’t have that much impact – no pun intended. Fortunately, the lengthy “Something to Tide You Over” provides pretty but deadly beachy with vengeful tides and a quality, watery comeuppance. “The Crate” has some obnoxiously fun performances to match its hokey, inexplicable monster, and the final “They’re Creeping Up on You” is surely not for people who dislike bugs, namely cockroaches. Lots of cockroaches – many, many cockroaches everywhere! Certainly this can be uneven in scares and brevity as anthologies often are, but all in all, there’s a good, macabre ride here.

Deranged – You’ll never look at Home Alone the same way again after seeing Roberts Blossom in this 1974 AIP slasher! Deaths simmer thanks to fine build ups, suspense, and pursuits – not to mention the gross necrophilia possibilities, skin wearing, morbid transvestite extremes, human bones about the house, and au naturel instruments adding to the macabre ambiance. The sense of dementia, local language, warped small town unassuming, and backwoods suggestion create an ironic old time quaint, accented by bent organ music and askew religious views. Corny narrator Leslie Carlson (Black Christmas) appears in early scenes as an onscreen reporter recounting the Ed Gein true story genesis, but the fourth wall breaks smartly disappear as the second half escalates. Brief nudity and lingerie work with the appropriately dark humor as well while over the top quips, chubby women, fake séances, and bungling sex innuendo match the sinister planning and delicate but twisted craftsmanship. The acting and cast may not be in everyone’s style today, yet the performances fit the material and tone perfectly. Thanks to the sense of past isolation for contemporary audiences, the very effective mood, atmosphere, and disturbia here has aged fairly well, making this one a must see study for horror fans or criminal and psychology scholars in comparison to other Gein inspired pictures. 

Motel Hell – You just know what the secret ingredient is in this 1980 country cannibal thriller! Ironic use of hillbilly music and television evangelist Wolfman Jack contribute to the charming and quaint but disturbed feeling here – the mix of late seventies styles and early farmhouse contentment doesn’t seem dated at all. Hanging pigs and slaughterhouse gore aren’t too over the top, but enough bloody suggestion and touches of nudity and kinky accent the dark humor and bizarre yet sentimental familial relationships. Rory Calhoun (How to Marry a Millionaire) has some sick and disturbing fun here yet remains strangely endearing, heck, even likeable. Vincent Smith’s reducing the riff raff population and keeping the community fed – it all seems like a real win win, and the winking tone pokes fun at this irony without being laugh out loud. The audience can chuckle at the soothing New Age eight track music amid the escalating events and interfering romance. Who’s next? When will the good guys find out? The pig mask and chainsaw duel in the finale are stupid and not scary now, hampering the otherwise bemusing wit and multi layered action. However, all in all this is some down home simmering and well done entertainment.

Skip It!

Trip with the Teacher – A faded picture, bad seventies styles, bug eye goggles, and tacky music are the least of this 1975 short bus desert escapade gone awry’s problems. The biker badass never comes thanks to brothers just playing at punks and terrorizing women while other characters remain stupid via poor scripting and acting. The rape revenge terror nasty has been done better elsewhere, and the time here aimlessly escalates the violence as it somehow also remains too tame – PG-13 brief nudity and the inability to say dirty words despite such heavy subject matter. We never find out why the perpetrators have such a ‘tude; the teen girls look way too old to not suspect what these jerks want to do to them and thus they remain reactive instead of forward thinking. The skimpy hot pants and catfights may be enough for some viewers along with the innate lecherous and natural isolation, but nothing is done with either. Some bike chases up the ante, but unclear motivations hamper any endearment for the victim or fear of the villain. Are we supposed to care about the bad guy’s malfunction? Sexual violence suggestions should be scary enough, but such implications feel cheap and the revenge empowerment nonexistent – four women can’t subdue one unarmed drunk guy? Everybody watches but no one does anything until a heroic man arrives? Even the end credits have scenes of each player with the women receiving credit over their most degrading shots while the guys have cool smiling stills. Wtf? The possibilities for silent, sinister isolation are lost in weird, artsy, and time wasting clichés here. Yes, walk passed that fully functioning motorcycle as you run into the desert for help!

27 September 2014

Dracula (2013)

Late Dracula Flawed but Still Entertaining
By Kristin Battestella

I was excited for NBC’s 2013 prime time limited series Dracula. However, network demands and a rocky start seem to have unfortunately done in the series’ potential, and gothic, horror, and steampunk audiences are sadly left to wonder what could have been with this entertaining one shot.

The latest suave American inventor in 1896 London is none other than Dracula himself! Posing as Alexander Grayson, Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) seeks vengeance against the corrupt Order of the Dragon with the help of Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann) and R.M. Renfield, Esq. (Nonso Anozie). Meeting Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), however, expedites Dracula’s desire for a vampirism cure. He hires Mina’s paramour Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) as his assistant, using his newspaper know how whilst also romancing the Order’s lead huntsman Lady Jayne Whetherby (Victoria Smurfit) away from her vampire killing duties. Unfortunately, Mina’s best friend Lucy Westerna (Katie McGrath) also has romantic folly on her mind…

Episode 1 “The Blood is Life” jumps right into resurrecting Dracula from his spiky prison in proper bloody fashion, but this first installment feels ironically slow paced with seemingly little actual set up and too many new characters and changes to the Stoker tale audiences were probably expecting to see. Couldn’t Dracula take down these angry, interfering businessmen with supernatural ease? Conflict over fantastic industrialism and wannabe Tesla designs feels unnecessary and takes up valuable narrative for purists, and steampunk enthusiasts – who, despite what the recent mainstream bandwagon would have us believe, have been around for decades – may be put off by these very changes meant to attract such an audience. Though historically based and possibly interesting, the Illuminati-esque Order of the Dragon and its thinly veiled but thickly laid modern technology talk of wireless power versus corrupt oil detracts from Dracula’s opportunities as the tormented villain. “A Whiff of Sulfur” shows Grayson’s blackmail cunning and character conflicts and thus does much better in getting to the action of how and why Dracula was resurrected. Had Dracula begun here with Episode 2 or as a full 90-minute premiere the reasons behind his revenge may have been more hard hitting. Dangling the weekly carrot with flashbacks to start each episode feels uneven, as does the mix of steampunk and seers horrors. Stockholder plots and majority shareholder papers in “Goblin Merchant Men” feel limp or easily played and gay blackmail comes across as too trite. We didn’t need this villainous organization against Dracula’s intimate quest for a solar vaccine – his psychic battles and eerie visions with the seers are far more occult fun then the Order’s gents playing at being bad. Early on Dracula simply can’t decide with which vein it wants to tell its tale, industrial allegory or gothic good times.

Fortunately, Lady Jayne gets her fight on with the vampire coming out party in “From Darkness to Light,” and guest star Alec Newman (Dune) makes the intrigue between her and Grayson as both lovers and antagonists more complex. These juicy elements should have come a lot sooner in the series in order to hook the audience – energy scenes and power demonstrations are simply not as wondrous to us and feel tacked on amid superior past vampire angst and threats on who knows Grayson isn’t the romantic do gooder scientist he claims to be. Despite an excellent progression on the Van Helsing character and his daylight serum, this lingering, feeling itself out writing and drastic book changes all at once do not work on network television today. Familiar vampire intrigues and an already delightful core story don’t need Ottoman Empire conspiracies, either. Thankfully, “The Devil’s Waltz” continues the great cliffhanger from Episode 4 with sexy dreams and Victorian torture. It’s on the nose perhaps, but also violent, kicked up, creepy yet nonchalant. Up close cinematic filming, askew angles, and dark Frankenstein turns for Van Helsing up the demented fantasy horror along with the delightful Renfield developments. Loyalty, laboratories, predatory blood and violence – the scenes of horror and irony in Dracula are excellent. Subterfuge and deceptions tie together perfectly with vampire sexy, shocking, and tender. “Of Monsters and Men” also ups the saucy and suspicions over Grayson’s plans – daylight meetings increase the intensity and Mina is far more interesting as a snooping Van Helsing assistant. Lady Jayne and Lucy manipulate wonderfully and great skin and bloody special effects keep the pace, confrontations, and toppers entertaining.

The excellent blackmail and character entanglements continue in “Servant to Two Masters,” and Dracula gets close to showing some scandalous for NBC. Primal filming distortions, tempting heartbeats, sensuality, and angsty vamp out resistance accent the simmering man versus nature and himself. Likewise “Come to Die” brings stimulating personal dynamics, and with such medieval takedowns and revelations, it’s baffling why Dracula ever began with generic overreaching revenge. I would rather have seen Lady Jayne’s pursuits and dramatic love triangles before the early Order of the Dragon piecemeal. Renfield and Dracula both play devil and angel on each other’s shoulders as needed while torn arms and impalements remind the audience that Dracula was always going to be a show about vampires – even if the series got away from that foundation at its start. Grayson’s orchestration goes deep, and the Order framework was never needed if “Four Roses” can bring all the abductions and character revelations together like this. The innocent are caught in the bloodbath crosshairs, and the pace upticks thanks to daylight interference and changing allegiances. I don’t want to spoil these final episodes, although “Let There Be Light” does inexplicably return to laying the Order’s purpose on thick when huntsmen versus fangs action and gruesome threats are done better. Bombs, horror violence, and questions on who is really the hero or the villain counter any quibbles. Granted, some maybe, maybe not character fates are unknown thanks to the show’s cancellation and seeds left for more in hopes of continuation remain hanging. Dracula, however, concludes with the confrontations that needed to happen and a quality dramatic finish.

In recalling his early, pale, androgynous roles, it’s surprising that Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) has not played a vampire previously, for he is perfectly cast as both the medieval warrior Vlad Dracula and his incarnation as the Victorian entrepreneur Alexander Grayson. Yes, it’s unusual that he puts on an American twang rather than simply coming from the continent as the Stoker source says. However, Meyers embodies the charisma and scandal nonetheless thanks to animalistic nuances for the more toothy scenes, a sexy stealth making his lady victims so ecstatic, and a well aware, calculating slick. I’m not sure why Grayson is made to drink so much considering Meyers’ off screen alcohol difficulties, but he carefully accents the character within a character suave using the glassware and props. There is unfortunately some flat foil and weak dialogue hampering him, scenes without Meyers tend to drag, and playing politics with a different Order of the Dragon chap each week is a waste of Dracula’s primal potential. Why does Dracula need outside revenge or romance? Why can’t he be a vampire for good energy or bad daylight power for his own motivation? Grayson’s desperation over not being able to keep his proverbial fangs in his pants adds more dimension – his vampire nature is the very thing that mucks up his plans most.

Victoria Smurfit (Ballykissangel) as Lady Jayne may seem shoehorned in to Dracula for no reason or too Selene ala Underworld to start thanks to an off kilter mix of slo mo fights hindering her suspicion of Grayson – she looks unnecessarily played and stupid in not knowing he’s a vampire. Fortunately, her Old World pretty and kick ass make for a unique, sexy conflict, and Jayne’s chemistry, dialogue, physicality, and confidence match Dracula’s game. Her intriguing upmanship with Katie McGrath (Merlin) as Lucy Westerna adds a fresh element as well, and where Mina’s bemoaning seriously impedes Dracula, Jayne and Lucy’s twists work wonderfully. Simply put, McGrath should have played Mina instead. Her flashy style and flirty pish posh perfectly hide Lucy’s subtle lady leanings, and again, this viewer aside is a pleasing character improvement upon Bram. We know the reasons why Lucy may seem too pretentious, but despite these positive strides, Lucy isn’t fully utilized until the later half of the season. Jessica De Gouw (Arrow) as Mina is far too bland in comparison and remains typical as the off and on, wishy washy, maybe reincarnated love interest instead.  It’s quite progressive that she is a Victorian medical student, but Mina is also squeamish and set back with nervousness and romantic idiocy. Her seemingly feminist dreams and juvenile behaviors don’t match the character’s would be strengths nor Grayson’s sophistication, and one wonders why all these people are so desperately enthralled with her.

Likewise, Oliver Jackson-Cohen (World Without End) overplays the wannabe rich and snot reporter Jonathan Harker. The potential for early old-fashioned newspaper designs and muckraker happenings is ruined with his clunky – Harker does not have the who’s who and what’s what finesse to be an insightful investigative reporter and conflict is created purely by his being a jerk or stepping into it with everyone or everything. Along with the equally plodding Order of the Dragon, the character could have been written out with the show no worse for the wear. Blessedly however, Nonso Anozie (Game of Thrones) as R.M. Renfield is an ingeniously urbane henchman. He likes that Grayson is not a “proper” employer and dislikes Dracula’s bouts of morality but stands firm and remains loyal in wise, quiet villainy. This Renfield smartly sees through people, deduces their nature, and will use or dismiss anyone as needed. Another very positive character development for Dracula along with Thomas Kretschmann’s (Avengers: Age of Ultron) cantankerous Professor Van Helsing. Old time medical gear aids his rocky relationship with Dracula and the debating between these expected enemies now allied is meaty fun. Science and revenge both help and hinder, and again, Dracula could have been solely about this search for a desperate daytime cure with Van Helsing’s side dose of revenge. His retribution feels far more believable, and his ruthless motivation leads to some intriguing questions on who is the worse monster on Dracula.

Though not as costume bespectacle as big screen productions of old and a bit too modern in hairstyles, fabrics, low cuts, and pants wearing women, the 19th century style on Dracula is high end, flashy, and colorful – frocks, feathers, jewelry, long coats, and top hats! The elegant men are refreshingly refined alongside quality blood, creepy graves, cobblestone streets, carriages, early cars, and plenty of fog and rainy feelings. Delicate society highs and lows are here along with skeletons, medical gruesomes, and head choppings. Sometimes the false illumination technologies seem overhyped, but dangerous window light and swaths of streetlight make for mood and interesting shadows. CGI rooftop battles are obvious as are Highlander style swordfights and too much slow motion, but thankfully, these designs are gone after the first few episodes. Did someone realize such action was unnecessary? The blink and you miss them opening credits, however, seem trapped in a contemporary blue tinted and steampunk atmosphere – complete with gears and goggles as if NBC felt they had to package the show with such forced edge. Ironically, these expensive production values and showy misfires when compared against the resulting ho hum Friday night numbers are most likely what cooked Dracula’s goose. Different writers and directors across the series created no clear vision of progression, and with only 43 minutes per episode, the story felt like it was just getting started when it was time to stop. I had hoped NBC might develop other gothic properties or literary works for a rotating classy prime time block. However, network television is increasingly cutting its nose to spite its face, and Dracula is no longer available On Demand or Hulu while one awaits the incoming 3-disc set from Netflix. With its faulty start, it was tough enough to watch Dracula from week to week. NBC could have made a real autumn event by having several Dracula episodes airing on back to back nights or even showcased the entire show in the true mini series format of old with two hour television movie chic. Viewer styles have changed and the production team here was simply not up to pace.

Longtime Bram Stoker fans can’t go into this Dracula expecting a faithful book retelling. In fact, the plot as ended feels more like a prequel to the novel we know and love. Yes, it is slow to start. Yes, mixed motivations will have you yelling at the TV. Fortunately, progressive characters, excelling performances, and superior plots save Dracula. Despite its brief life, the intriguing changes, gothic style, and moody spins here are perfect for a sophisticated vampire viewer’s macabre weekend marathon.