18 October 2017

Another Peter Cushing Trio

Another Peter Cushing Trio!
by Kristin Battestella

Whether he's playing the hero or the villain, there's simply no shortage of old school Peter Cushing frights!

And Now the Screaming Starts! – An amorous and surprisingly fertile ghost reeks havoc for Stephanie Beacham (Dracula A.D. 1972) in this 1973 Amicus period piece co-starring Peter Cushing. The 1795 carriages, antiques, riverside scenery, Oakley Court setting, and 300 year old haunted castle combine for a colonial meets medieval foreboding complete with balcony galleries, sconces, waistcoats, and riding frocks. Unfortunately, the bridal bliss is short lived before disembodied hands, ghoulish faces in the window, and doors opening by themselves lead to a largely unseen assault with plenty of implied terror. Despite sunshine and pleasant outdoor strolls, the darkness is felt with cemeteries, fog, storms, and apparitions causing more screams – which is what it says on the tin. Poor Stephanie must have gotten darn hoarse with the titular minute to minute shouts! Rattling frames on the wall, ghostly choke holds, and falls down the stairs can be bemusing, however phantom winds, cracking mirrors, and evil paintings create enough atmosphere to forgive any chuckles as bodies drop one by one amid family secrets, creepy woodsmen, birthmarks, and blood. Maids are fainting, tonics tossed into the Thames reappear on the bedside table, and the sweet library has a hidden copy of the Malleus Maleficarum detailing this demon sex – but leave it to Dr. Cushing to save the day in one terribly and I mean terribly coiffed wig! The staff says they need a priest not a doctor, and anyone who tries to tell of the family legends and their past debauchery ends up dead before a decadent flashback reveals a nasty noble putting on the unwanted wedding night advances. Grave robbing and cradle shockers are morose fun, but the big secret is kind of obvious, the father and son lookalikes could be explained better, and the violence against women used as supernatural revenge doesn't solve any of the male cruelty that started the hereditary curse in the first place. Although the horror should be tighter and overall there is a certain lacking on the scary panache; the cast, setting, and mood are effective enough to see the screams through for one wild topper.

Corruption – Green scrubs, surgery tables, and swanky tunes open this 1968 for love or horror tale, and it's fun to see suave, convertible driving surgeon Peter Cushing cruising with his younger lady. Sadly, he doesn't quite fit in with the swinging parties or stoned blondes in mini skirts, and the hazy visuals and askew camera angles mirror the congestion as our doc objects to a seedy photographer telling his model gal to take off her dress. The fight over his dame leads to crashing studio lights, burns on her beautiful face, bandages, and skin graphs. Radical new plastic surgeries are to no avail until Big Pete borrows glands from the hospital morgue for his home laboratory complete with microscopes, caged rabbits, scalpels, syringes, and precision lasers. His tender bedside manner belies the medical stress, dabbing the sweaty forehead as he works while pulsing beats and sound effects match the miraculous but temporary healing. His unstable patient wears veils and netted hats, bashing mirrors at her perceived ugliness now that she's said to be washed up after a few months off the fashion scene – when in reality her injuries aren't really that severe. Today make up would easily cover her scars, and they are committing far worse horrors just to maintain her beautiful veneer. She buys her doctor a camera to photograph her, insists his oath to her is more important than his medical morals, and forces this older man to kill to keep her because she is so dependent on his expertise. Our doctor strolls the streets for a five pound hooker – a small price to pay for living tissues amirite – but the newspapers are reporting on his messy crimes and headless victims. The bloody parts are in his medical bag, but Doctor Peter misses killer chances as frenetic editing and askew wide angles reflect his dirty, violent deeds. It's all the guy can take as police, robberies, and pointing fingers botch the operation, and the debonair slips as he's unable to justify each death thanks to interfering hooligans and heady reveals. While different versions of the picture have more skin and gore, some of the pursuits are a bit corny. Beatniks in capes, ladies in pink, and the older Cushing bumbling along the rocky coast – how's a man to work in these conditions? Despite some datedness, the out of control extremes remain an interesting commentary on what a classy older gent is willing to do for his love at the first sign of some younger competition.

Land of the Minotaur Meddling priest Donald Pleasence (Halloween) joins innocent looking but creepy little old cult leader Peter Cushing in this 1976 Greek horror movie with varying versions also called The Devil's Men. Colorful hoods, robed figures, fiery rituals, and titular effigies fit right in with the rustic locales, villas, caves, real ruins, and ancient stonework – but our padre is concerned after several explorers in Winnebagos and hot pants go missing. So what if the archaeologists have no gear to climb nor tools to dig, wear platform shoes, and stumble upon their quarry by chance while letters to the US and flights to Greece happen instantly. Evil Baron Pete is chauffeured about town, casually referring to the pagan history of his family title before laughing at his sacrificial victims' pleas. Old world funerals, shady villagers, uncooperative police, and silenced old ladies add to the bathroom scares, falling chandeliers, and nighttime chases. Tense music accents the strangulations, deserted villages, one on one confrontations, and fatal altars when we hear it. However, the scoring seems largely absent, and in a desperate attempt to be ominous, every single scene has a silent zoom – going overboard with the intercut close ups on everyone's eyes. Restarting with several group disappearances also wastes time, giving the cult away when there was no need for anything before Luan Peters' (Twins of Evil) arrival in search of her boyfriend. Interesting priest and PI buddy aspects – one devout in religion and myth, the other solely about the facts – are undercut by knowing who the cult is and where they are the entire time, and the evil fighters spend more time sitting around doing nothing while the whole town in on it island ritual tries to be The Wicker Man. Poor editing and cut away fates don't create mystery but instead make many things unclear amid poor dialogue and uneven sound. Some of the terrorizing happens for the sake of it, with a lot of tossed in filler delaying the quality attacks in the darkness or dragging the sinister, sacrificial mood. This is certainly flawed, needing both more budget and polish but less runtime and a tighter narrative to compensate for some laughably amateur elements. The good versus evil religious pulls and intriguing character dynamics are wasted by time we get to the freaky finale, yet the fun cast and unique cultural horrors add enough late night entertainment to see the bull to the end.

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