Category Archives: Maybe Miss
Heading into black comedy horror territory, Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster made his directorial debut with 1970’s The Horror of Frankenstein, a revisionist remake of the studio’s stylish 1957 Gothic horror classic The Curse of Frankenstein – which he also wrote. But it’s quite the disappointment – even to die-hard fans.
With Hammer eyeing up a hipper, younger crowd, Taste the Blood of Dracula’s Ralph Bates takes over the title role of the monster-making Baron from Peter Cushing (who had played it four times) and he portrays him as a psychopathic serial killer and arrogant womanising misogynist who prefers tight breeches to show off his ‘average’ manhood.
Taking its narrative cue from Curse, the Gothic horror parody finds Bates knocking off his dad, claiming his Baronic title and fortune, and heading off to medical school. But, after getting the Dean’s daughter pregnant, he returns to the family castle, where he sets up shop with fellow medical student, Wilhelm Kassner (Graham James, wearing a hideous pink cravat), to create human life using a big chart labelled with numbered body parts.
Once assembled and activated, the new Baron’s creature – played by a pec flexing Dave Prowse (aka bodyguard Julian in A Clockwork Orange and the strongman in Vampire Circus) – starts killing all and sundry for no apparent reason – altough the indignity of having to wear an S&M collar, nappy and red lipstick applied stitch marks could be justifiable.
The studio-bound exteriors (except for a shot of Austria’s Hohenwerfen Castle, and a bridge and churchyard scene shot in North Mymms, Hertfordshire), re-used sets (the castle stonework looks like wallpaper), and ‘toilet humour’ does Sangster a real disservice (something he later admitted); but this lacklustre affair is worth watching for the Hammer glamour on display.
The Vampire Lovers‘ Kate O’Mara, sporting a dodgy accent that’s West Country by way of the Emerald Isle, vamps it up as the ‘accommodating’ chambermaid Alys, while statuesque Veronica Carlson (who was so good in 1969’s Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed) tries her best as needy professor’s daughter, Elizabeth, whose designs on the Baron get short shrift – probably on account of her Heidi hair-do of greasy links of bratwurst.
Both O’Mara and Carlson add some real Hammer glamour to the proceedings, and on a personal note, it has been great to have met them on the convention circuit. Sadly, Kate O’Mara passed away on 30 March 2015, aged 74, from ovarian cancer. Veronica, meanwhile, has become quite the artist and lives with her family in the US.
Dennis Price (now there’s someone I would have loved to have met) and Joan Rice (in her last film role) steal the show as a husband and wife pair of body snatchers, while Jon Finch is totally wasted as the Baron’s former childhood friend turned local copper. He did, however, find his stride in Roman Polanski’s The Tragedy of Macbeth the following year, and Robert Fuest’s The Final Programme in 1973.
Carry on… Young Frankenstein this is not! But it should have been!
The Horror of Frankenstein gets its Blu-ray UK debut (on Doubleplay from 29 January 2018) courtesy of Studiocanal featuring a brand new HD restoration (which only serves to accentuate the ‘wallpaper’ scenery, plastic forest trees and garish costumes).
It does, however, include the featurette, Gallows Humour: Inside The Horror of Frankenstein, which includes some interesting comments from Veronica Carlson about her time on the production, as well as some interesting production trivia from a handful of Hammer experts.
Recently, I got a hold of Universal’s The Mummy: Complete Legacy Collection on Blu-ray, which gave me a chance to revisit not only the Karloff original, but also the 1940’s Kharis Mummy movies, which I had not seen since I was a kid.
Now released in HD for the first time, they sure look great, but – boy! – aren’t they a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns? Here’s a look back at the shuffling mis-adventures of Kharis, the ancient Egyptian avenger…
The Mummy’s Hand, 1940
Starring Dick Foran, George Zucco, Cecil Kellaway.
Director: Christy Cabanne.
Eight years after Boris Karloff donned bandages for Karl Freund’s The Mummy, Universal resuscitated the movie monster (now called Kharis, as Karloff’s Im-Ho-Tep had crumbled to dust) for four new adventures. Cowboy star Tom Tyler is the black-eyed Egyptian avenger restored to life (with the fluid from a handful of Tana leaves) by Andoheb, George Zucco’s-newly appointed High Priest of Karnak, to wreak revenge on the archaeological team who are trying to locate the tomb of the Princess Ananka (whom Kharis tried to raise from the dead back in 1472 BC, but ended getting buried alive with his tongue cut out).
Dick Foran is the archaeologist, Steve Banning, and Wallace Ford is his wisecracking sidekick, Babe Jenson; while Cecil Kellaway is the travelling magician who funds their doomed trip, and Peggy Moran is his daughter who gets carried away by Kharis (literally) when Zucco’s Andoheb decides to make her immortal – much to Kharis’ annoyance.
To save on the budget, Kharis’ back-story incorporates Karloff’s incarceration from the 1932 film, while the temple from Universal’s 1940 adventure Green Hell is also re-used as Zucco’s secret lair in the Hill of the Seven Jackals. Looking at it today, the film is a bit of a joke as there’s no real horror on display, suspense or drama (although Tyler’s weird black eyes still disturb). It plays more like a comical adventure serial, and nobody bothered to double-check the hieroglyphics (which are meaningless), the Arabic (misspelled), or doing any historical research (Zucco’s temple is more Mayan than Egyptian, and his character mistakes the Incas as coming from Mexico).
Except for the odd flash of inventiveness that recall Universal’s 1930s glory days when German expressionism informed its production design, it’s a poor start to the Kharis series. Thankfully, Hammer would put their own macabre stamp on the iconic creature when they used this film and its sequel, The Mummy’s Tomb, as the basis for their 1957 Technicolor version.
The Mummy’s Tomb, 1942
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Dick Foran, Turhan Bey.
Director: Harold Young.
30 years after the Banning Expedition desecrated Princess Ananka’s tomb in The Mummy’s Hand, Kharis (who survived his blazing demise) is transported to a cemetery in Mapleton, Massachusetts by Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey, aka the Turkish Delight), under the orders of George Zucco’s expiring Andoheb (who somehow survived being shot multiple times in the previous entry) to hunt down and kill the remaining members of the dig and their descendants.
Purists have often wondered whether it really is Lon Chaney Jr all the time under Jack Pierce’s make-up and bandages (as there are three stunt people also credited, including Eddie Parker); and whether playing a role in which he neither speaks nor is recognisable was a wise career choice. His shuffling Kharis is pretty poor. Moving at a snail’s pace with one lame arm, it’s incredible that any of his victims don’t just run away – instead they stay put (as though frozen in fear), or pretend to be cornered so that he can lunge at them with his one powerful arm (he was supposedly restored partially paralysed in the first film because of a lack of Tana leaf juice) and strangle them to death.
To keep the budget small and to fill out the running time, extensive flashbacks from The Mummy’s Hand are used before we get a repeat of the previous film’s revenge plot – only minus the wise cracks and pratfalls. The film does have some atmospheric cinematography and lighting effects, courtesy of George Robinson (Son of Frankenstein, Tower of London), especially the scenes set in the American gothic-styled cemetery. And it all looks a treat in this HD Blu-ray presentation, although it does show up the rubber mask on the Mummy as well.
Like the first film, it ends with a frightened lovely (Elyse Knox) dressed in another stunning Vera West gown being carted off by Kharis, so that the infatuated High Priest can make her his immortal bride. And, once again, the villain is shot while Kharis goes up in flames…
The Mummy’s Ghost, 1944
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, John Carradine, George Zucco.
Director: Reginald LeBorg
My favourite of the Kharis mummy series, this one starts off just the last two, with George Zucco again playing the withered old High Priest (who seems to have more lives than a cat) who tasks another acolyte, this time a youthful John Carradine (as Youssef Bey) with bringing Ananka and Kharis back home to Egypt.
Bizarrely, Ananka’s protectors aren’t the High Priests of Karnak now, but Arkam. However, those Tana leaves are still lurking about – but with added mythology. Just as wolfbane can cure lyncathropy if prepared during a full moon, the fluid taken from the Tana leaves during the same lunar cycle can usher forth Kharis’ ghost (hence the title).
While the film is basically the same plot as the previous two, director Reginald LeBorg does stir things up by having the Princess reincarnated in the shapely form of former pin-up Ramsay Ames. She plays Amina Mensori, a student of Egyptology who is based in the very same town that Kharis shuffled amok years beforehand. LeBorg brings much flair to the proceedings, and there’s a real effort to make Chaney’s Mummy more menacing looking (BTW: his appearance ended up being used as the template for Aurora’s classic glow in the dark model kit that I have had since I was a kid).
In a clever nod to The Bride of Frankenstein, Ames gets a white streak in her perfectly-coiffured bonnet, which turns pure white as Ananka’s soul takes over (causing her to age rapidly) when Kharis ends up carrying her down into the murky depths of a nearby swamp in the film’s climax.
The Mummy’s Curse, 1944
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Virginia Christine, Martin Kosleck.
Director: Leslie Goodwins.
Five months after the release of The Mummy’s Ghost, Universal rushed out this final sequel for a Christmas release, thus completing Lon Chaney Jr’s trio of turns as the shuffling undead Kharis (although he did spoof the character in an episode of Route 66 in 1962’s Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing). And – except for one sequence – this is the worst of the lot.
Unlike today, Universal had little care for their franchise and totally stuffs up the continuity and mythology by setting this follow-up in Louisiana instead of New England. When the swamp where Kharis and Ananka drowned is planned to be drained the Scripps Museum sends two representatives, Dr James Halsey (Dennis Moore) and an Egyptian colleague Zandaab (Peter Cobb), to retrieve their bodies. Of course, Zanbaab is secretly a high priest of the Arkam set, and he has help in construction worker Ragheb (Martin Kosleck), who has Kharis’ body interred at an old abandoned monastery.
Meanwhile, Princess Ananka emerges from a muddy coffin and ends up a Jane Doe in the care of Halsey and his girl Betty (Kay Harding). Of course, its not long before Kharis arrives on the scene and whisks her away for the final showdown at the monastery… which ends badly for one and all, especially poor Ananka.
This was a rare horror entry from British-born director Leslie Goodwins, who was better at low-budget comedies, and also marked the feature debut of Virginia Christine, who’d go onto light character roles. It’s quite poor, and reeks of racial stereotyping, especially the Cajun Joe character. Chaney only gets one good scene, at the end, as the monastery collapses on him (watch him keep his composure as a heavy brick smashes into his face); and the day-for-night shots are infuriating. But it does have one scene which still haunts, and that’s when Christine’s Ananka emerges from her resting place in the swamp. It’s a striking scene, especially in the way in which Christine plays it.
Of course, Universal couldn’t keep their Mummy down for too long. In 1955, Abbott and Costello got their chance to have a date with Klaris (a pun on Kharis) for their 28th and final film comedy, with Eddie Parker wearing what looks like a onesie decorated with a bandage motif. Except to fans of the comic duo and their verbal gymnastics, this was a poor end to their feature film careers.
Directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen take the helm of this sequel to Jim Mickle’s 2010 indie horror, in which they plunge viewers back into the post-apocalyptic world of the Berserkers, as Martin (Connor Paolo) sets out to find legendary vampire hunter Mister (Nick Damici) after his wife and daughter are murdered by The Mother (Kristina Hughes). But the hideous crone and her bloodsucker brood are the least of his concerns as he comes up against a cannibalistic couple, a vicious gang overseeing a death fight contest, and a deranged religious cult…
From the synopsis, you’d think this would be a gripping, gory thrill ride, but its execution is plodding and uninspired. Shame, as the creature effects are genuinely scary and some of the minor characters showed a glimmer of hope (especially the brave gay couple).
Stake Land II is out on DVD from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment
From writer/director Caradog James and producer John Giwa-Amu, who gave us the inventive 2013 sci-fi The Machine, comes Don’t Knock Twice? starring Katee Sackhoff, Lucy Boynton and Nick Moran.
Sackhoff plays American sculptor Jess, a former addict who has turned her life around and is now settled in the UK with her banker husband (Moran). When she decides to reconnect with Chloe (Boynton), the daughter she was forced to give up nine years ago, she’s shocked to discover that Chloe has only agreed to come and live with her because she’s terrified of a supernatural curse. Chloe claims her boyfriend Danny (Jordan Bolger) was taken by a vengeful child-eating witch and is frightened she’s next on the urban legend’s menu. At first, Jess disbelieves her Chloe, but when she learns that other children have gone missing, Jess sets out to uncover the truth…
I really really enjoyed James and Giwa-Amu’s The Machine (you can read my review here), so I was so looking forward to being surprised once again by the Red and Black Film gang, but their Welsh-filmed horror follow-up – which puts a contemporary spin on Hansel and Gretel and the Baba Yaga legend, with a dash of bit of estranged mother-daughter reconnecting – fails to deliver.
Yes, it’s got a couple of scary moments, as well as solid performances from all involved, but I was left feeling I had seen it all somewhere before. Now, the long-fingered witch make-up is terrific, but its physical movements were too much like The Ring‘s Sadako Yamamura or The Exorcist‘s Linda Blair in full possession mode to really stand out. It’s also very dark – not so much in tone, but in the excessive use of low lighting effects – which had me wondering if the film-makers had run out of budget as well as steam.
Don’t Knock Twice? is out on VOD and DVD from Signature Entertainment
‘If he really is a ghost… then I won’t be able to kill him’
Out of his depth police officer Jong-goo (Kwak Do Won) investigates a spate of bizarre killings and outbreak of madness seemingly connected to the arrival of a mysterious Japanese man who lives in the outskirts of a remote mountain village. What’s more, Jong-goo is horrified to discover his young daughter, Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee), may have fallen under the stranger’s curse. This prompts him to call on a charismatic shaman (Hwang Jung-min) to free his daughter, but the shaman’s intense exorcism ritual ends up worsening the situation, and forces Jong-goo into confronting the malevolent evil himself.
Breaking box office records in South Korea, and winning Best Film of the Focus Asian Selection and Best Cinematography at the 49th Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival, The Wailing from Na Hong-jin fuses a detective story with Exorcist-styled chills to create an unsettling occult thriller that takes full advantage of the country’s majestic rain-drenched mountain terrain – but! and here’s the ‘But!’… it’s painfully ponderous, and in desperate need of an editors’ eye and some action.
Imagine a modern take on a Kabuki show where every character screams over and over, but very, very slowly. Yes, there are some exciting set pieces (some are funny, others downright scary), but by dwelling on the internal drama of the main characters (who are all excellent by the way, especially Kwak as the corpulent, incompetent cop and Kim as his possessed daughter), the film moves at a snail’s place, which only makes its two hour plus running length feel even longer. It also does a disservice to the film’s best scene – an exorcism that feels frighteningly authentic.
The Wailing is out in UK cinemas and On Demand from 25 November
Odd Thomas (2013) | The late Anton Yelchin stars in a frenetic adaptation of Dean Koontz’s supernatural thriller
‘I SEE DEAD PEOPLE. BUT THEN, BY GOD, I DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT’
In the Californian desert town of Pico Mundo, 20-year-old clairvoyant Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) becomes convinced a mysterious man is connected to some terrible catastrophe that is about to occur. With the help of a kindly police chief (Willem Dafoe) and girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin), Odd then sets out to unravel the mystery…
IN THIS ODD WE DON’T TRUST
Did you know that this life is just a boot camp for the next? Well, that’s the kind of platitudes that pour out of this glossy adaptation of Dean Koontz’s 2003 novel from Stephen Sommers, the man behind those cartoon-like Mummy films with Brendan Fraser. But if he’s hoping for another money-spinning franchise with Koontz’s novel, which has spawned a host of sequels and graphic novels, then he’s missed the mark on this one.
The late Anton Yelchin’s portrayal of Koontz’ dorky clairvoyant ghost buster is just plain annoying. Odd might be a nerd, but he’s also a wisecracking smart-arse whose ‘psychic magnetism’ makes him attractive to every girl he meets. He’s so full of himself, given to cloying statements like ‘Evil is coming and it’s up to me to find out whose holding the gun’, that the film quickly becomes irksome. And this isn’t helped by butt-clenching dialogue like: ‘I’m a woman. We all have issues. It’s what keeps us interesting and you men interested’.
It’s a shame really because the film has a kooky kinetic energy and features some genuinely frightening CGI monsters, the bodach: wraith-like spirits that can literally smell death. But Sommers’ sledgehammer approach makes it hard for the viewer to feel for Odd, especially in the film’s closing moments when our All American hero saves the day but endures a terrible personal loss.
Odd Thomas gets its Film4 premiere screening today at 9pm; and is available on DVD in the UK from Metrodome Distrbution, and can also be rented for £3.45 from Metrodome VOD.
When the BBC1 TV series Doomwatch began hitting the headlines in the early 1970s and shows like On the Buses started heading into cinemas, Tigon’s Tony Tenser rushed out this big-screen spin off in the hope it would become the new Quatermass. But this ‘Chilling Story from Today’s headline’ was not the success that Tigon had hoped for, and ended up sitting on the shelf following its disappointing run in UK cinemas.
An ecological nightmare gone berserk!
A year after an oil tanker sinks off the west coast of England, Doomwatch scientist Dr Del Shaw (Ian Bannen) heads to the isolated island of Balfe to investigate the effects on marine life and discovers the local population have also been affected, creating physical abnormalities and turning the men-folk aggressive. Seeking out the aid of local teacher (Judy Geeson), Shaw then finds he has a battle on his hands trying to convince the locals he wants to help the, while also trying to get the Ministry of Defence and a chemical corporation to accept responsibility for the accident.
Director Peter Sasdy (Countess Dracula), cinematographer Ken Talbot (Hands of the Ripper) and production designer Colin Grimes (Nothing But the Night) do what they can with a script by Clive Exton (10 Rillington Place), that was part thriller, part horror, part ecological drama, and was shot on location around Polkerris and Falmouth in Cornwall and at Pinewood in October 1971.
But there isn’t enough depth, action or sense of menace to make it work, which also lessens the impact of Tom Smith’s effective makeup. Even the classic Doctor Who serial The Green Death, which used the mutations vs multinationals premise, is way more effective; and we all know how brilliant The Wicker Man turned out, a film which also followed an official’s investigation of a closed island community.
It was disappointing for fans of the TV show to see regulars John Paul and Simon Oates taking a back seat in the film, and their replacements are not that much cop either. Ian Bannen comes off as overly shouty and unempathic, while Judy Geeson seems like a fish out of water as the mainland school teacher who has no connection with the locals. At least she doesn’t eat their fish!
Future Bond star Geoffrey Keen and veteran actor George Sanders put in safe, but dull cameos, but its Shelagh Fraser who brings some unlikely comic relief as the nosey local who possesses the only phone on the island. And keen-eyed viewers will catch future EastEnders‘ star Pam St Clement playing one of the villagers.
Doomwatch has been digitally restored for a Blu-ray and DVD region free release by Screenbound Pictures, available from 20 June 2016
• Read all about the original Doomwatch TV series UK DVD release HERE
The Blood Harvest (2016) | Plot-holes and poverty row production values plague this low-budget serial killer slasher
Do not judge them for what they reap…
Belfast detective Jack Chaplin (Robert Render) is fired over his crazy theories that supernatural forces (namely vampires) are behind a string of horrific murders which left victims with one eye scooped out and their Achilles tendons sliced. Hooking up with his former partner, Detective Hatcher (Jean-Paul Van de Velde), Jack then sets out to uncover the truth and halt rising body count…
The Harvest Is Coming…
In fusing horror with procedural crime, you’d expect this to be a Northern Irish take on the giallo in the tradition of Lucio Fulci or Dario Argento. Well, the attacks (spoiler alert: by two psychos in a banged-up old 1950s car sporting welders masks) are certainly on par with those shock merchants, but the violence is particularly nasty, lacking visual style and finesse, and there’s a lot of talky bits in dimly lit rooms. But it’s the big final reveal that will have you pressing rewind on the DVD to make sure you’re not imagining things. It’s really out of this world – literally!
Plot-holes and poverty row production values aside, fans of extended scenes of senseless violence will get a thrill out of this bloody harvest, which does offer up some effective SFX (which scored a gong at the Freak Show Horror Festival in Florida last year). But aside from some atmospheric location set-ups, the pacing, direction and acting reminded me of the kind of homemade movies that I used to make with my university mates.
This is George Clarke’s sixth feature under his Yellow Fever Productions banner and I’d like to shake his hand for keeping the indie film spirit alive. As he says on his website, ‘It isn’t a crime to follow your dreams’. And it certainly isn’t. But if he’s hoping to become Northern Ireland’s answer to Roger Corman, Jim Wynorski or David DeCoteau, then he might think about upping his game next time round.
BTW: Britain’s Got Talent fans might recognise one of the victims as Matt McCreary, who pranked Simon Cowell in 2015 with a free-running routine.
The Blood Harvest is out on DVD in the UK from Left Films, which includes a making of featurette, bloopers and trailers.
Check out the official website: here
Darkest Day (2014) | Now it’s Brighton’s turn for a zombie apocalypse – but it’s the seagulls you really got to worry about!
Fear What You Will Become
Brooding hero-type Dan (Dan Rickard) wakes up on Brighton beach – amid the incessant squawking of the seaside town’s ubiquitous seagulls – to find the streets deserted and littered with rubbish. Suddenly, an angry drooling mob start chasing him and everything goes all blurry and out of focus. No, he’s not coming down from a bad trip after a night out with the lads, Dan’s just found himself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse…
So begins this ultra low-budget British indie that could have done with a better story and better actors. It also looks nothing like the cool poster. After hooking up with some shouty slacker types, including angsty Sam (Chris Wandell) – who has a really annoying voice – and a nice girl called Kate (Samantha Bolter), Dan discovers the army is tracking him down (he’s got some connection to the virus), so he somehow persuades the group to flee the city. Cue: a bunch of fit blokes in black vests and army gear running away from fast-moving zombies (who look like rabid meth-heads desperate for their next fix?).
The hand-held camera work, fast cut edits and blurred shots attempt to give the film a gritty edge – but it only gave me a headache. The films ends as it began, with Dan on the beach and those bloody seagulls still squawking overhead. If there was story in there, I missed it.
Darkest Day is out on DVD in the UK from Left Films, and includes two trailers, and a Making-Of featurette as extras.