23 August 2011

Dog Days and Werewolf Viewings!

Dog Days of Summer Horror!
By Kristin Battestella

Well, well.  What better way to usher in the Dog Star than by releasing our inner lycanthrope viewing pleasures?

Brotherhood of the WolfViewer’s Best Friend

Brotherhood of the Wolf – Yes, the dubbing and/or subtitles in this 2001 French action/horror/period Le Pacte Des Loups will automatically turn off some folks. However, the voiceovers and onscreen readings aren’t hokey at all, and the internal narration helps instead of hinders here. On form stars Vincent Cassel (Eastern Promises) and Monica Bellucci (Under Suspicion) do their own English tracks, and director Christophe Gans (Silent Hill) smartly filmed with little close ups to ease the dub matchings. Beautiful landscapes and photography, lush interiors and costumes add more than enough visual spice; the atmosphere, period music, and candlelight do wonders. The hearsay and speculation builds delightfully along with the mix of American Indian natural beliefs versus French hypocrisy and politics of the time. Though there is a serious overuse of slow motion stylings, 18th century mullets, and too out of place Fu fight choreography, the nudity and brothel scenes do serve a purpose. True it’s not full on horror, uber scary, or that gory. There’s actually little wolfness in the first hour, the beast CGI is iffy, the 2 and ½ hour runtime is a little long, and though both are well done, the period mystery and supernatural cult action are a little inconsistent with each other. Nevertheless, it’s all damn entertaining for a foreign action/horror/period film.  Who knew?

Hammer Horror Series (Brides of Dracula / Curse of the Werewolf / Phantom of the Opera (1962) / Paranoiac / Kiss of the Vampire / Nightmare / Night Creatures / Evil of Frankenstein)Curse of the Werewolf – Oft Hammer director Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula) helms this 1961 Spanish styled wolfy starring a creepy but tragically tormented Oliver Reed (Gladiator), the caring Clifford Evans (The Kiss of the Vampire), and the sad but buxom Yvonne Romain (Circus of Horrors).  As usual, the Spanish portrayals are somewhat stereotypical or plainly English barely disguised as Spanish.  The plot is quite slow to start as well, with plenty of boobs, nasty nobles, injustice, murder, and illicit pregnancies all before we get to the titular plight. Yes, what we get is dang good; it just seems as if we restart 3 times before finally getting to where the film is going. Thankfully, the 18th century style, costumes, and carriages look sweet and colorful.  All the expected horror smoke, mirrors, and perfectly cued music and thunderclaps do their part.  The notion of a cursed child battling for his youth against a wolfish soul is also unique- none of this modern rugged and roguish teen dream business.  Religious subtext and medieval fears also add an extra dimension and it all makes we wish Hammer had done more werewolf pictures.

Dog Soldiers [Blu-ray]Dog Soldiers – I love this 2002 wolf warfare treat from writer and director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Centurion).  Kevin McKidd (Rome), Liam Cunningham (Hunger), and Sean Pertwee (Cold Feet) are delightfully good fun along with the well-paced but no less intense action and slow-brewed but no less scary horror.  There’s lovely photography-both confined, claustrophobic interior camerawork and wide scoping vista displays- to balance the horror siege and guerilla action style.  It’s all natural, too- not over saturated with digital designs.  Though perhaps subpar compared to the fancy effects we expect, the wolfy styles are also sweet. Marshall leaves no time for big 3D panoramic wolf risings when the intimate fighting is on. Why should he? The peril gets across better when you don’t immediately see the werewolves in all their glory, and the paranoia and performance play is allowed the spotlight instead. The humorous nods to the audience, thick accents, harsh language, Brit slang, and disturbingly good gore might be bothersome to some. However, there’s much more good to be had here than any such American hang-ups. Even knowing what happens, this movie gets me every time- and it looks great on blu ray, too. 

She Wolf of London [VHS]She Wolf of London – This 1946 short has a would be were-lady running amok in turn of the century England- and yes, it still looks good!  All the hallmarks are here: the disbelieving law, legends of cursed parentage, great button up rigidity hiding the doggy truth.  June Lockhart (Lost in Space) is our lovely distressing damsel-or is she?  However, it’s Sara Haden (Andy Hardy) as her Aunt Martha that’s so juicy, jealous lesbian-esque, and just a bit too wicked stepmother to really be so kind. The dialogue is perhaps too mid century for the onscreen action and it’s all probably too angry chick and not meant for male fans.  Although I suspect that was the point; I never saw a werewolf wear such great frocks and veils! It’s interesting that we don’t see the lycan hysteria as in today’s films- it’s all mostly off-screen attacks and fear of the beast that drives the suspense.  Yes, there’s more obvious mystery fun than true horror. However, the plot is tight and nicely paced, the silver palette crisp, and the angled and crooked photography atmospheric. Beat that!

Werewolf Hunter - Legend of RomasantaWerewolf Hunter – Subtitled The Legend of Romasanta stateside, this 2004 Spanish production boasts a nice cast, smart editing, and lovely 1851 style and decoration.  Sinister as always Julian Sands (Warlock, A Room with a View) is his usual sexy and scary self, of course. The suspense and mystery are well paced; the intercutting between wolf attacks, various points of view, and investigative tactics add uniqueness compared to the typical American herky-jerky contemporary filmmaking. There’s a great wolf to human transformation, too, and a good dose of implied kink with nudity, naturally.  Tension, scares, disturbing deaths and horror despite no seriously overwhelming gore- even if this isn’t truly a 100% werewolf film, everything’s done right here.  After seeing this and Agora, I don’t know why we aren’t receiving more films via Spain.

Werewolf of London / She-Wolf of London (Double Feature)Werewolf of London –Universal’s 1935 lycanthropy tale stars Henry Hull (Lifeboat) as our tormented scientist turned wolfy. Yes, it’s a bit heavy handed on the ‘good Christian England’ versus these exotic evil afflictions and abominations! The Tibet action is a little stereotypical and ill made, and the wolf makeup is not as good looking today.  Thankfully, the scares and screams shine through. The premise is still intriguing, and other onscreen laboratory tricks and period décor look smashing.  The women are perhaps too thirties and in some scenes downright annoying for modern viewers, but again, the juicy moral anguish wins.  Sure, it is probably too Jekyll and Hyde, but so what? The examination of man against beast and science versus morality works 75 years on. Who’d need CGI if we could still make gems like this?

Red Riding Hood [Blu-ray]Be Leary of thy Neighbor’s Pet

Red Riding Hood – The fine cast in this 2011 thriller meets fairytale- Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!), Gary Oldman (Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Virginia Madsen (Candyman) and Julia Christie (Don’t Look Now)- overall aren’t too bad. I dare say the classy elder players are even on form and beyond.  The photography also looks perfect, with rustic medieval village designs and lovely snowbound mountainscapes. It was fun to guess at director Catherine Hardwicke’s (Twilight, big surprise) wolf mystery, suspect and identify the townsfolk, and call all the obvious red herrings whilst keeping in mind all the standard “What big eyes you have…” staples.  Unfortunately, this entire wolf teen dream triangle in the middle ages ala Twilight thing is getting waaayyyy old. Snoozer boys, blurry action bam boom werewolf designs, and a dumb ending stemming directly from this Twihard mess not only taints the tale but undoes all the positives for audiences who don’t want to be fed more googley eyes.  The Company of Wolves was better.


Van Helsing (Widescreen Edition)Van Helsing (2004) – Fans of Hugh Jackman (X-Men), Kate Bekinsale (Underworld), and David Wenham (Lord of the Rings) can enjoy parts of this vampire, wolf, and other random monster menagerie from writer and director Stephen Sommers’ (99 The Mummy good, good Lord no G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra). Tragically, the rest of this overly CGI mess looks like someone forgot to clean the crap out of the cage.  What could have been something morally dark, seriously scary, and religiously anchored in the spirit of the Universal Monster predecessors is instead dumbed down to vampire eggs, fake flying chicks, bad accents, and worse jokes. I can’t believe they thought this was going to be a franchise.  What’s ever scarier: I attempted to read the novelization.  Shudder. Stick with Dracula: Dead and Loving It if you want camp.

20 August 2011

Witchy Films

Which Witch is the Right Witchy Movie?
By Kristin Battestella

Though often woefully inaccurate with a potion of pointy hats, warts, and broomsticks- there’s something, well…magical about a good dose of cinematic witch-ware and brouhaha.

The Craft (Special Edition)The Craft – High school and witchcraft oh my! Boys Breckin Meyer (Clueless) and especially Skeet Ulrich (Scream) are totally lame, but gals Robin Tunney (Empire Records, Prison Break), Neve Campbell (Party of Five, Wild Things), Rachel True (Half & Half), and a crazy good Farizku Balk (Valmont) are still cool. Yes, the music is the same as 1998 sexy witch successor Charmed.  However, even with the nineties smorgasbord of cast and ideas; the supernatural effects are still sweet, and the girls don’t look super ‘96 in the moment bad fashions thanks to the school uniform stylings.  Some of the ‘back on you’ scenes are indeed scary, too- especially if you have a problem with snakes. The wonderful Assumta Serna (Sharpe) and cruel Christine Taylor (The Brady Bunch) round out the light versus dark misuses as well. What girl hasn’t wished ill on the clique wicked or played light as a feather stiff as a board? I’m not sure how accurately portrayed the titular practices are onscreen, but the appreciation here is more intelligent, mature, and consequential than lighthearted broomstick fair. Sophisticated ladies can still enjoy and boys will love the legal jiggle.

WarlockWarlock – Let’s toss in Julian Sands (A Room with a View, Rose Red, Boxing Helena) and this 1989 time traveling scare fest for some juicy- nay badass-equal opportunity magic produced by Roger Corman (House of Usher).  Director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2 and Part 3) does great with the colonial Massachusetts backdrop and carries the demonic mayhem into the eighties with so bad its good style from Lori Singer (Footloose, Fame, or as I simply say, Marc Singer’s sister). Meanwhile, fish out of water witch hunter Richard E. Grant (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) tries to thwart Big W from assembling an evil book that will uncreate existence. Yowza!  Some of the script speaketh from writer David Twohy (The Fugitive, G.I. Jane) is a little tough and the aforementioned datedness hinders some of the design and action, but of a sweeter titular man-witch, there is none- except for the lower in quality but just as kinky Warlock: The Armageddon (1993).

The WitchesThe Witches (1966) – This Hammer Horror wicked fest is chock full of tribal gone awry, polite but suspiciously Stepford townsfolk, creepy grandmas, and obligatory black cats. Let’s admit the effects and finale ritual are hokey, sure.  However, there are a few great shocker moments here along with swift editing and booming music to match the scares.  The mix of seemingly upscale rural England, witchdoctor mayhem, lovely locales, and on form sixties fashion designs work wonderfully as well.  Unfortunately, some may be very wigged out by a bloodless and tame but nonetheless disturbing rabbit butchering.  Again, the mystery unravels a bit in the end, but the debate of youth- too old to play with dolls but none of that naughty naughty with each other!- is doubly interesting along with what else is behind the schoolyard sinister: “A Sabbath, a meeting, an orgy perhaps.”  Naturally, classic Oscar dame Joan Fontaine (Suspicion, Rebecca) in her big screen swansong looks lovely, adds the film’s glue and sophistication, and most importantly doesn’t treat her horror ingénue as if the part was merely some two-bit paycheck. While we always expect such a thespian to put in her all, we don’t expect someone like be-frocked Joan Fontaine to get muddy or down with the bloody ritual. Bubble, cauldron, bubble! A ‘The World of Hammer: Wicked Women’ half hour treat on the DVD was sweet, too.

The Witches of Eastwick (Keepcase)The Witches of Eastwick-  The all star cast- including Cher (Moonstruck), Michelle Pfeiffer (The Fabulous Baker Boys), Jack Nicholson (The Shining), Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking), Veronica Cartwright (Alien), and Carel Struycken (The Addams Family)- looks a little eighties bad fashions and big hair, yes. Granted director George Miller (Mad Max) is little slow to start things until the wicked and deliciously sent up Nicholson lights up the town, and yes, the fun comes a little undone for the big finish. But the ladies look damn great and the fun is a little too naughty for younger audiences, meow!  Though the subtitles don’t exactly match the witty dialogue, the dark comedy and ham up style are just right.  The tennis match, balloons, and poolside delights are all downright silly, yet it’s refreshing that the raunchy and good fun is in what is said, not what is actually shown. Take hint bad modern slasher remakes! There’s room for sexual subtext, demented imagination, and moral insights into the battle of the sexes here, and Sarandon’s buttoned up cellist gets, uh, very passionate about her music!

One Potentially Bad Brew

SPELLBINDERSpellbinder – Though I don’t like Kelly Preston (Twins, or rather John Travolta’s woman who was once shot by Charlie Sheen), am mostly indifferent to Tim Daly (Wings), and Rick Rossovich almost always says cheese about a film (Yes there’s Top Gun and The Terminator, but Pacific Blue anyone?)- this 1988 witch in love shtick is only half bad if you can get passed the leads. Of course, the styles are low eighties dated and the story is slow to start as it gets right to the bedroom kink- naughty but tame and almost nudeless kink- before anything else begins. The cultish mystery becomes much more interesting when director Janet Greek (Babylon 5) gets scary away from the no-chemistry fronts.  Seriously concerned secretary Diana Bellamy (Popular) and for once a good guy cop Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Showdown in Little Toyko) and the warnings they provide are far more tantalizing, as is Audra Lindley (Mrs. Roper on Three’s Company!) as the creepy Mrs. White. The ‘pagan is evil’ portrayal is too heavy handed and Preston’s Valley delivery ruins the exposition of it all, but the coven scares and rituals ala The Wicker Man are perhaps juicy enough to keep this watchable for a late night alone.

For more magical mayhem see our previous insights on...



10 August 2011

More Christoper Lee Hysteria

More Christopher Lee Madness!
By Kristin Battestella

I can’t help myself. I’m neck deep in more Christopher Lee blood, gore, and mayhem!

The Crimson Cult Boris Karloff joins Our Man Christopher in this 1968 witchfest more properly titled Curse of the Crimson Altar.  Director Vernon Sewell (The Blood Beast Terror) lets the onscreen excess speak for itself rather than having headache-inducing camerawork get in the way.  The girls, boobs, whips, dreamy colors, and heady action look great along with the real locations and a spooky English countryside. A wonderfully kooky performance by the late Michael Gough (Batman) and a great in joke- “It's like a house from one of those old horror films.  Yes it's like Boris Karloff is going to pop up at any moment.”- keep the tone relaxed amid the simmering sorcery.  The tactic smartly catches the viewer off guard when the scares jump out, and yes, there are some great shock moments. Lee is his usual perfect as the suave speaking unassuming English uncle- but we should know better!  Likewise, Karloff-in one of his final film roles- is a classy, cranky Professor who collects torture devices.  Surely, he must be up to foul afoot, right?  The voice effect for Barbara Steele (Shivers) is a little annoying, a faithful DVD is tough to find, and leading man Mark Eden (Coronation Street) isn’t really modern star material, I grant you.  However, the smart suspense and sexy scares win out here.

 Horror Express The DVD transfer on this 1973 co-Peter Cushing fright fest is damn bad, ripe with too dark to see images, background noise, and ridiculously soft dialogue and dubbing. The turn of the century Asia locale looks cheap, the archaeology and science of the time stinks, and the editing is poor in my cut up 85 minute print.  Nevertheless, Lee is young, juicy, and rockin’ the porn mustache! This cargo gone wrong tale with a splash of religion and aliens has a fun train bound cast of characters, all of them with something to hide. Sure, the effects are a little hokey, but the less is more mystery does well- and the scary red eyes work. There’s rapid isolation for the evil monsters to run amok, kinky implications, betrayal, tension among passengers, and ambiguity among our boys. Lee and Cushing- both good guys working together for a change!  Add an unexpected and fun appearance by Telly Savalas (Kojak), humor and great quips, even some genuinely scary and jumpy moments along with the contained paranoia and you’ve got a damn fine little horror movie. This one definitely deserves to be cleaned up- hopefully the recent blu-ray does some justice.  As much as I’m against modern remakes- and Lee would have to make a cameo appearance in any update- in the right hands, this contained, fearful formula could work anew.   

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)– Well, in this Hammer’s fifth Dracula themed film, Big C has a sweet intro tying into his previous entry, 1968’s Dracula Has Risen from the Grave.  The occult circumstances leading to Dracula’s resurrection here are also lovely horror treats- creepy organ music, lightning crackles, and bright red oh so delightfully fake blood!  Even if Lee only has about a dozen mostly one-word lines, he’s still enchanting, suave, and lays on the kinky with Linda Hayden (Blood on Satan’s Claw) and Isla Blair (Battle of Britain). What can I say; he knows how to dominate a picture! While this outing suffers a little bit from lack of other stars- it’s tough to enjoy all these Brit blokes who all seem the same- the Victorian flavor, gore, and underlying cheeky are just right. So what if the cult rituals in the titular quest are over the top. You can read into all the blood, life, and naughty symbolism if you want, but Taste is also a lot of fun; everything we expect in a good old midnight movie.  I do grant that the plastic gardens are hokey, but I like that something special and stage-like intimacy where nothing but a good cape, red eyes, and pimpin’ fangs are needed.

Dracula A.D. 1972 Numero 7 brings Dracula back once again-and this time, the titular year is where all the juice happens with Stephanie Beacham (The Colbys) and Caroline Munro (The Spy Who Loved Me).  The swanky scoring is a lot of fun, but director Alan Gibson (also of the follow up Satanic Rites of Dracula) wastes time on dated onscreen band performances. We don’t need lengthy 1972 establishing, and the now retro styles would have look cool old school if they weren’t so dang garish. We poke fun at the psychedelic, sure, but imagine how ugly current slasher horror films brimming with kids in the latest fashions are going to look in 40 years! The annoying hepcats wannabes here make things too bad English; Scream and Scream Again does the formula just a little bit better. Thankfully, Peter Cushing’s return as Grandpa Van Helsing is classier and action pimpin’ then all of the little boys put together! Of course, things kick up when Lee is resurrected and Cushing takes up the fight, but who knew Dracula was down with the swirl?  Pity he is only in a reluctant handful of scenes with another dozen obligatory lines.  

The Satanic Rites of Dracula – This direct sequel and number eight in the Hammer Dracula cannon sticks to the contemporary designs from its 1972 predecessor with more faux Bondian opening titles, breasts, and bad zooms. Though the sets and scenery are a little bland, drab, and not as colorful as the previous outing, the blood, kinky vampire brides, and disturbing rituals get all the horror across just fine. It’s also neat to see tapes, slides, and old style investigations instead of high tech CSI.  The modern spy angle and same old Scotland Yard inspectors are, however, a little ho-hum in overtaking the expected vampness. Van Helsing’s credentials change to fit the themes here, but PC is still sweet- slapping people around to get his answers and taking long contemplative drags on his cigarette.  Big C commands a lot of attention with his strong, distinctive voice and speech, yet his silent and brutal sweeping in and conquering works in his handful of scenes here. There’s something so sensual about not always seeing the actual taking bite, just the fear before and the deadly euphoria after.  Yes, perhaps the ‘spies saving England from vampires’ plot might not always work, but the latent lesbian vampire action and orgasmic stakings go a long way for old school male audiences.

Yes, some of these Lee classics are for definitive fans only.  Most of his massive catalog does indeed fall into the realm of low budget at best and so bad it’s good at worst. But who’s complaining? As one gladiator famously asked, “Are you not entertained?”  I sure am!