Phew! Horror Channel FrightFest is over for another year and it was probably one of the best ever that I have attended with some great thrills and surprises amongst the 64 film shown over the Bank Holiday weekend at the Cineworld Leicester Square and The Prince Charles Cinema. Now, while I didn’t get to see all of them, I did rather burn out my retinas catching quite a few. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my Top 10, plus a couple pf runner-up faves.
THE TOP 10
• Tragedy Girls
• Cult of Chucky
• Better Watch Out
• King Cohen
• The Bar
• Victor Crowley
• 68 Kill
• Death Note
• Attack of the Adult Babies
Director: Tyler MacIntyre. US. 2017. 93 mins.
If you are a fan of TV’s Scream Queens, then you will certainly LOVE this gleefully camp Heathers meets Scream slasher in which two vain high school besties (played by Deadpool’s Brianna Hildebrand and X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alexandra Shipp) go on a killing spree just to increase their social media standing. With stylish cinematography, charismatic performances, and a smart script (with lots of 1980s horror movie references), this was a real winner at Frightfest.
CULT OF CHUCKY
Director: Don Mancini. US. 2017. 91 mins.
Following a great Twilight Zone-homage from Hatchet’s Adam Green and Joe Lynch, FrightFesters were treated to the World Premiere of the seventh entry in the 30-year-old Killer Doll franchise – and it did not disappoint. This time round, Chucky continues to terrorise poor Mica (Fiona Dourif), who was found guilty of the murders in 2013’s Curse of Chucky. But is she just imagining things because Chuck’s old nemesis Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) seems to have Chucky’s head locked up in a safe? If you want to read more (CLICK HERE). This one will be getting a Halloween release in the UK.
BETTER WATCH OUT
Director: Chris Peckover. Australia/USA 2016. 88 mins.
It’s Christmas, and parents Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen go out for the evening leaving 12-year-old Luke (Pan’s Levi Miller) in the care of his favourite babysitter, 17-year-old Ashley (The Visit’s Olivia DeJonge). But when a brick crashes through the window reading ‘You Leave, You Die’, it sets in motion a series of events that you will not expect. This Yuletide home invasion horror is enormous fun, but also very dark, featuring an intelligent, genre-bending script, and great performances from the young leads – especially Miller. It’s due out in the US on 6 October, and I do hope it gets a UK release soon.
Director: Steve Mitchell. USA 2017. 110 mins
I really enjoyed this fantastic appreciation of maverick US film auteur Larry Cohen, the writer/producer/director behind TV’s The Invaders and genre fare like It’s Alive and The Stuff. Featuring interviews with his former stars like Yaphet (Alien) Kotto and Eric Robert, and admirers like Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams and John Landis, plus with the legend himself (and boy, can he talk!), this is a real must-see. If you want to know more, check out my full review (CLICK HERE).
Director: Alex de la Iglesia. Spain 2017. 104 mins.
This latest effort from the director of Day of the Beast and Witching and Bitching was one of the festival’s big highlights. It’s life as usual at Amparo’s bar in central Madrid until a group of regular customers – including hipster Nacho (Mario Casas), snooty Elena (Blanca Suárez), businessman Andrés (Joaquín Climent) and homeless beggar Israel (Jaime Ordonez) – witness two men being fatally shot as they try to leave. Who is responsible? Why aren’t the police doing anything? And why are there people wearing Hazmat suits in the square? Alex de la Iglesia’s black comic chiller puts human nature under the microscope, and it’s not a pretty picture. Death, selfishness, survival and hypocrisy are all treated with great wit and dark humour.
Director: Dominic Bridges. UK. 2017. 79 mins.
The feature debut from commercials director Dom Bridges and written by Outpost’s Rae Brunton is a twisted fusion of claustrophobic black comedy and urban morality tale, but with a bizarre spin on the home invasion premise. Contortionist Orlan (Javier Botet) secretly moves into the flat of slimy real estate agent Hussein (Mim Shaikh) by occupying the hidden spaces of his flat (like his cupboards and wardrobe). It’s all part of the master of concealment’s plan to slowly unravel Hussein’s life and drive him insane. But does he succeed? Well, hopefully Bridges’ searing comment on race, the house market (and Brexit) will get a proper UK release soon so you can find that out for yourself. Cleverly scripted and with strong performances (especially the double-jointed Botet – whose face is usually hidden behind loads of make-up in films like the new It, The Mummy and Crimson Peak), this is a cracker of a debut from Bridges.
Director: Adam Green. US. 2017.
The big surprise at FrightFest was Adam Green unveiling the world premiere of his fourth entry in the Hatchet series with the film’s star Kane Hodder in attendance. Hatchet 3 survivor Andrew Long (Parry Shen), is now a minor celebrity who ends up back on Crowley’s swamp turf (which has been turned into a tourist attraction) when he agrees to a $1million fee to participate in a TV documentary. But when the crew’s plane crashes and wannabe filmmaker Chloe (Katie Booth) invokes Crowley’s spirit (via clips on the internet), the slaughter begins all over again. Made in secret over two years, this gory fun ride is packed with inventive, and very bloody, kills and some LOL campy humour. It also earned Green a standing ovation following the screening. Green dedicated the film to two masters of the genre – the late George A Romero and Tobe Hooper, who actually passed away on the same day as the screening (26 August).
Director: Trent Haaga. USA. 2017. 93mins
Chip (Criminal Minds’ Matthew Gray Gubler) is a hapless nice guy who pumps sewage for a living and is completely infatuated with his trailer park ex-stripper girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord). But she turns out be crazier than he first imagined when her plan to rob her sugar daddy goes horrible wrong. This fast-paced thriller is full of surprises, great fun and boasts some quite extreme violence.
Dir Adam Wingard. US. 2017. 101 mins.
This Netflix-produced take on the Japanese manga comes from director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) and follows high school student Light Turner (Nat Wolff) who turns self-appointed judge, jury and executioner when he comes across a supernatural notebook in which you write the name of someone you wish to die. When he begins to kill all those he deems unworthy of life, a reclusive detective (Lakeith Stanfield) sets out to end his reign of terror. Featuring great Final Destination-style set pieces, excellent performances, superb John Carpenter-inspired synth score from Atticus Ross and Leopold Ross, and Willem Dafoe voicing Ryuk, the death god who becomes Light’s moral compass, this is not to be missed. Catch it on Netflix now.
ATTACK OF THE ADULT BABIES
Director: Dominic Brunt. UK 2017. 80 mins.
Dominic Brunt is best known as bumbling vet Paddy Kirk in Emmerdale, but he’s also a film director who has shared his passion for all things horror with his writer/actress wife Joanne Mitchell in films like Before Dawn, Bait and now this perverted shocker. A home invasion forces a mother (Kate Coogan) and two teenagers (Kurtis Lowe and Mica Proctor) to break into a country manor to steal some secret documents. Little do they know the stately pile – which is presided over by the mysterious Margaret (Sally Dexter) – is also where high-powered middle-aged men take refuge from daily life by dressing in nappies and having young women in nurses uniforms indulge them in their every perverse nursery whim. But these rich bastards also have another very sick agenda and it involves something quite monstrous in the basement. Brunt’s blunt, bloody and bonkers satire is a gleefully grotesque carnival of bad taste, over the top gore and gross-out scatological humour. It’s like Lindsay Anderson re-making Downton Abbey as a Pete Walker horror with added Benny Hill comedy touches. Just throw in some crazy claymation (courtesy of Lee Hardcastle) and some psychedelic chat with the God of Shit (voiced by Brunt) and you’ve got one of the weirdest British comedies ever made.
I ALSO LIKED…
• Freddy/Eddy – Tini Tuellman’s spine-chilling psycho suspense thriller
• Leatherface – Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s stunning prequel to Texas Chain Saw Massacre
• Canaries – Peter Stray’s alien-invading black comedy
• Veronica – Carlos Algara and Alejandro Martinez-Beltran’s gripping psychological twister
• To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story – a moving documentary about everyone’s favourite Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series (expect my full review soon, but here’s a pic of the legendary stuntman with one of his fans – me!)
Finally, a big thanks to Greg Day (Clout Communications) and the Horror Channel for inviting me back this year.
Larry Cohen is that rare breed of filmmaker, a writer, producer and director whose mantra was to make it on the cheap, on the sly, and on the steal, while always staying true to the vision and the story.
This hugely enjoyable documentary from writer/director Steve Mitchell picks through the American auteur’s 50 year output, which includes such cult fare as Black Caesar, God Told Me To and Q: The Winged Serpent, to highlight Cohen’s maverick approach to film-making – which was mostly borne out of necessity as he detested the interference of major studios (having been stung quite a few times).
Now, I’m a fan of Cohen’s more quirky offerings like It’s Alive and The Stuff, two leftfield projects laced with his unique brand of satire and weirdness, and featuring the mad delights of Michael Moriarty, and I had seen his name attached to thing like the cult 1960s Cold War with aliens drama The Invaders, but I never realised just how truly prolific a screenwriter the native New Yorker has been ever since he started out doing live TV dramas in the 1960s. Even now, in his mid-70s, he writes daily and was responsible for big screen hits like Phone Booth (2002) and Cellular (2004).
After seeing the European Premiere of Mitchell’s documentary at FrightFest, I really ‘need’ to track down Cohen’s more obscure earlier features, like his 1972 directorial debut Bone (also known as Dial RAT for Terror to cash in on the Blaxploitation craze) with Yaphet (Alien) Kotto, and 1977’s The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, his fast and loose biopic with an ageing Broderick Crawford – one of the many Hollywood veterans that Cohen respected and admired and gave work to when no one else did. The others he helped in their dotage included director Sam Fuller, actor Red Buttons (whom he befriended until the day he died) and stroke survivor Bette Davis (who quit Wicked Stepmother, the project he had especially created for her).
A born entertainer (and frustrated stand-up), Cohen is brilliant at self-promotion and self-parody, and this comes through Mitchell’s candid interviews at his LA home (which featured in all of his movies) and on the convention circuit; and also through the anecdotes told by the likes of Martin Scorsese (who reflects on the how Cohen got Robert De Niro and Brian DePalma to pretend to be Jewish for Bernard Herrmann’s funeral), Robert Forster, Eric Roberts, Joe Dante, John Landis and Mick Garris (who gave Cohen his last directing gig on the 2006 Masters of Horror episode Pick Me Up); while a cigar-wielding Fred Williamson got the biggest laughs at the screening when he countered some of Cohen’s wilder claims.
But what really impressed me (that I did not know before) was Cohen’s sly approach to the filmmaking process which was all about the ‘steal’ (and ended up marking his style as a result). This mainly involved shooting without permits on the streets of cities like New York and Washington. One example was when he got to film inside the iconic Chrysler Building for Q: the Winged Serpent using real off-duty police officers and construction workers as extras, and ended up causing total mayhem when he rained fake bullet catridges down on the pedestrians below (impossible today, post 911).
Mitchell – who is best known for penning Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall back in 1988 – is currently screening his doco at festivals around the globe, and hopefully this will create enough buzz to attract a distributor for an eventual release. I, for one, will be looking forward to that – as well as the many hours of extra material (well, as the director remarked, Cohen does likes to talk).
For more on the film, and a look at Cohen’s unfilmed screenplays check out: http://www.larrycohenfilmmaker.com/.
A staple of VHS rentals in the late-1980’s and early 1990’s – when horror films were becoming increasingly self-reverential thanks to the likes of An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Fright Night (1985) – Waxwork was the directorial debut of Anthony Hickox, the son of Theatre of Blood director Douglas Hickox, and is his love-letter to Universal’s classic monsters as well as contemporary horror icons by way of 1953’s House of Wax.
Gremlins star Zach Galligan is rich douche Mark who is forced to man-up when his high-school pals start disappearing after visiting a waxworks museum that has bizarrely just opened up in an old mansion in their swanky LA neighbourhood.
Run by the mysterious Mr Lincoln (David Warner, dressed like a ’66 Batman villain) and his vertically-challenged assistants, the mansion is a front for their diabolical plan to collect the last remaining souls they need to bring life to 18 effigies of ‘the most evil souls who ever lived’ in order to raise the dead and bring about the end of the world.
After three friends step over the ropes of the exhibits and find themselves at the mercy of a werewolf, Dracula and the Phantom of the Opera, while a chain-smoking detective (Charles McCaughan) has a live burial date with The Mummy, Mark and another of the gang Sarah (Deborah Foreman) discover a link between Mr Lincoln and Mark’s late grandfather – who was fascinated by death and horror.
They then seek out Patrick Macnee’s wheelchair bound Sir Wilfred, a friend of the family, who reveals Lincoln’s diabolical plan. But when Mark and Sarah set out to stop Lincoln, Mark finds himself trapped in a Romero-esque zombie graveyard while Sarah is lured into the Marquis de Sade’s sex stable….
Waxwork certainly ticks lots of boxes. It’s very gory, with great physical effects of heads being ripped off, crushed and exploding, and one particularly gross out scene of a human leg being gorged on as though it were a shoulder of Serrano ham.
It’s got great visual style, with nods to EC Comics and Mario Bava’s colour palette; and packed with little in jokes (I particularly liked the references Vincent’s Price Henry Jarrod in House of Wax: indeed the idea of using real people as waxworks is lifted straight from that classic horror). Even the synth score (always the letdown of movies of this era) from Emmy-nominated composer, Roger Bellon is pretty darn effective.
All-in-all it’s tremendous fun, and now that Lionsgate have resurrected it from the Vestron archives and given it a re-mastered restoration it is well worth a revisit – just mind you don’t step over those ropes.
Film location fans might like to know that Mark’s house (aka the Higgins-Verbeck-Hirsch Mansion in Wiltshire) was also used in William Castle’s The Night Walker, as well as Willard and Ben, and Witchboard.
• Audio commentary with Anthony Hickox and Zach Galligan (after listening to this, I really would like to hang out with these guys).
• The Waxwork Chronicles featurette (This leans quite heavily on the sequel, which I now so want to see. To bad it wasn’t released here as a double bill like in the US).
• The Making of Waxwork (This 30-minute archive featurette is narrated by Patrick Macnee – yeah!!!!)
• Theatrical trailer
• Still gallery
Waxwork is distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK as part of the Vestron Video Collector’s Series
DID YOU KNOW?
The evil souls collected for Waxwork exhibition are:
• The Marquis de Sade
• The Werewolf
• Count Dracula, his son and the Brides of Dracula
• The Phantom of the Opera
• The Mummy
• A zombie
• Frankenstein’s monster
• Jack the Ripper
• The Invisible Man
• A voodoo priest
• A witch
• A snakeman
• Pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers
• Rosemary and her Demonic Baby
• An axe murderer
• A multi-eyed alien
• Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors
• Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Cult of Chucky (2017) | The killer doll strikes again – but is it lucky number seven for Don Mancini and co?
Last night, Horror Channel Frightfest opened with the world premiere of Don Mancini and David Kirschner’s seventh instalment in their Chucky franchise, with some of the cast and crew in attendance, including Mancini, puppeteer Tony Gardner, Fiona Dourif, Ada Hurtig and Jennifer Tilly (who could hardly contain her excitement).
First up, however, was The Dollhouse, a 7-minute short made by Tony’s daughter Kyra, in which she revealed how the franchise has become a family business involving Dourifs, the Mancinis and the Kirschners. This was a great introduction, and also showed just how much passion and commitment has gone into making Chucky such a horror icon.
Next up: Cult of Chucky. Picking up four years after the massacre of her family in Curse of Chucky, an incarcerated Nica (Fiona Dourif) believes she is guilty of the crimes and is transferred to a medium security mental institution.
But when the killer doll starts targeting the inmates, Nica quickly comes to her senses. But no one, including her dubious psychiatrist (Michael Therriault), will believe her.
Her only hope is Chucky’s original nemesis Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), who is now a grown-up survivalist. But Nica had better watch her back as Chucky’s bride, Tiffany (now possessing the body of Jennifer Tilly), has plans of her own…
Over the past three decades and six films, horror fans have watched the tale of the possessed Good Guy doll unfold. The first three were scary were your typical 80s slasher-inspired, the next two took a hit-and-miss comic route, then original creator Don Mancini turned to the dark side with his Hitchcock-inspired Curse of Chucky. Now, he’s ramped up the scare-factor with an insane psychological horror thrill ride for this seventh outing.
Mancini really has fun messing with your head this time round as there are not one but two Good Guy Dolls on the prowl, while the smashed-in head of another is being used as a sadistic plaything by Andy. I, for one, thought Andy and Nica were imagining Chucky was alive until the big reveal halfway through!
Featuring elaborate death scenes and lashings of gore, a great music score and inventive camera-work that makes atmospheric use of the claustrophobic setting – an imposing Brutalist-designed hospital with gleaming white corridors and padded cells, all set in a snowbound prairie land (which gives the whole thing a dreamlike quality); plus some terrific performances from Dorif and co, this is a real treat for Chucky fans. I must say, however, that the film also features one of the most poorly manned mental hospitals in cinema history.
Cult of Chucky is out on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download on 23 October from Universal Pictures UK
A Dark Song (2016) | This terrifying occult head trip should come with a ‘Don’t Try This At Home’ warning
Grief-stricken over the murder of her son, Sophia (Catherine Walker) is desperate for closure (and revenge) and seeks out ceremonial magician Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram), in a bid to communicate with her dead child.
But the arcane ritual she must undertake requires arduous preparation, which risks both hers and Solomon’s mental and physical well-being as they prepare open the gates to the other side…
Winner of the New Visions award at the 2016 Sitges Festival, A Dark Song is an astonishing first effort from director Liam Gavin, chronicling the performance of the Abramelin operation, an intensive 17th-century magic rite that ends in knowledge of and conversation with one’s Holy Guardian Angel. It is well-known amongst occult scholars, including Aleister Crowley, who created his own ritual as part of his Thelema religion.
Gavin sets his supernatural drama in a derelict house in a bleak Welsh countryside where two strangers lock themselves up to perform the elaborate six-month rite, which includes much preparation, including daily pray, chastity and abstinence.
Being a two-hander in a single setting, you’d expect it run out of steam after a while, but Gavin uses the very realistic practicalities of the ritual to weave a compelling dark narrative that allows the two leads to explore hidden depths in order to bring their damaged characters to nervy obsessed life before the real horrors begin.
With the soiled dress sense of Rab C Nesbitt or Andy Pipkin from Little Britain (but minus the laughs), Oram convinces as the dour outsider who is more in tune with the spirit world then the real one; while Walker genuinely disturbs as the grieving mother walking in a tightrope across a black abyss.
Now, most films dealing with the occult tend to focus on the attainment of power, but A Dark Song is all about Sophia’s quest for inner peace (and the ability to forgive) through gnosis. What we get is a harrowing and intense experience in which you can practically feel the power of the ritual emanating through the images and Ray Harman’s sparse score. It’s a bold and inventive piece of indie cinema – just don’t try it at home – you might regret it!
Cockneys vs Zombies (2012) | ‘Bloody Trafalgar!’ this zom-com is just as bloody brilliant as Shaun of the Dead
While geezer brothers Andy and Terry (Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardiker) rob a bank with their cousin (Michelle Ryan), an ancient plague is unleashed on London’s East End turning the locals into zombies. Next stop – the Bow Bells Care Home, where their granddad Ray (Alan Ford) and his fellow residents are trying to fend off the undead horde. Can the trio save the oldies and escape before it’s too late?
This 2012 zom-com combines the witty banter and comic hi-jinks of Carry On films of old with the flashy fast cut edits of a Guy Ritchie-styled mockney crime heist to produce one of the best British comedies in ages. In fact, having seen in countless times now, it’s as bloody brilliant as Shaun of the Dead.
Veteran stars Honor Blackman, Richard Briers and Dudley Sutton get the biggest laughs – especially Briers (who died six months after the film’s release) trying to outwalk the zombies on his zimmer frame. And the Ska-fuelled end credits song Head to Head with the Undead is just so darn catchy, you might find yourself wanting the soundtrack as well (yep, there is one).
Cockneys vs Zombies screens on The Horror Channel on Saturday 19th August at 9.00pm
X Moor (2014) | Some nasty surprises await in the British indie horror – welcome to the lair of the Beast!
With her sights set on fame and fortune, American student journalist Georgia (Melia Kreiling) and her cameraman boyfriend Matt (Nick Blood) head to Exmoor in North Devon to capture footage of a legendary panther that is said to roam the moor.
With the help of an experienced animal tracker Fox (Matt Bonar), the couple set up camp in Slew Wood and begin fixing up 42 cameras to the trees and rocks. But when they uncover the rotting corpses of dozens of young women in the undergrowth, Georgia and Matt realise that Fox has intentionally led them into a serial killer’s dumping ground in a bid to hunt him down… So will they stay or will they go?
From writer/director Luke Hyams comes X Moor, an atmospheric survivalist horror. It’s a handsome looking film, with cool score and credits, and evocative photography of the wet and windy terrain (with Ballymoney, Northern Ireland standing in for Exmoor). The characters are well drawn and the cast is excellent.
Melia Kreiling’s Georgia’s got balls and a conscience and given what she goes through in the course of one night, she’s destined to join the ranks of horror’s other fierce Final Girls. Typically, Nick Blood’s Matt is a bit of a dick, although his relationship with Georgia comes off as playful and genuine. And when he sprains his leg and risks getting hypothermia, you can’t help but feel sorry for him.
Mark Bonnar’s Fox, meanwhile, is the film’s most intriguing character – part menacing, part sympathetic. He provides real gravitas to the proceedings and also one the film’s big shock moments. The other big jump-in-your-seat moment is when one of the six corpses the trio uncover is found to be still alive! That one really got me – as did the idea that the killer (the Beast) drugs his victims and buries them so that he can hunt them down later. That’s just sick!
The film however is ultimately let down by some serious randomness, especially the introduction of Charlene (Jemma O’Brien), the unseen killer’s one-eyed daughter, who is found by Georgia waiting for her father to return from grouse shooting. That was just too leftfield.
Then there’s the messy climax, in which everyone (killer included) make really stupid decisions until its just Georgia left to face her hunter armed with the jaw bone of a deer. What happens next is suppose to be the film’s big shock twist. But it just left me scratching my head and, in the end, there’s no closure for either Georgia or the audience. There’s also a suggestion that there’s more than one killer involved. I really wanted that one explained. The panther, by the way, does make an appearance on one of the CCTV cameras at the very end of the film. Growl!!!
‘Smells like a giant kitty litter’
XMoor gets its UK TV premier on The Horror Channel today (Friday 18 August) at 9pm.
ITV Studios Global Entertainment (ITVS GE) are pleased to announce that the first annual International Thunderbirds Day will take place on 30th September 2017, providing fans all over the world with a date to mark their love of the original Thunderbirds TV series as well as its new-generation revival Thunderbirds Are Go.
The iconic British TV series first aired in the UK on 30th September 1965 and has remained a family favourite for over 50 years; International Thunderbirds Day celebrates the date that Gerry Anderson’s creation first appeared in homes across the UK.
Vue Entertainment will be helping fans across the UK celebrate with a programme of exciting exclusive Thunderbirds Day screenings. This unique event, held at 2.00pm on Saturday 30th September, in 52 venues nationwide (in honour of 52 years of Thunderbirds), will include a never-before nationally screened episode of Thunderbirds in the style of the classic series, filmed in Supermarionation and using audio recordings starring the original cast, followed by two brand new episodes of the hotly anticipated Season 2, Part 2 of Thunderbirds Are Go coming to CITV this Autumn. Suitable for the whole family, fans old and new, or those looking for an introduction to the world of International Rescue, this is a one-off event that is not to be missed.
Fans are encouraged to go dressed as their favourite character (which could be Virgil Tracy, Brains, Parker or Lady Penelope) and post their photos using the hashtag #FAB@Vue to win exclusive prizes!
Tickets are available at https://www.myvue.com/film/thunderbirds-are-fab
The event will be screened in the following cinemas at 2.00pm on Saturday 30th September 2017:
VUE LEEDS KIRKSTALL
VUE BASINGSTOKE FESTIV
VUE LEEDS LIGHT
VUE EDINBURGH OCEAN
VUE STARCITY BIRMINGHAM
VUE FINCHLEY ROAD
VUE MANCHESTER PRINTWORKS
VUE MERTHYR TYDFIL
VUE GLASGOW FORT
VUE CHESHIRE OAKS
VUE CROYDON GRANTS
VUE WEST END
VUE CROYDON PW
David Niven’s super smooth Count Dracula is strapped for cash and renting his Transylvania castle out as an upscale B&B and corporate event facility. But when he uses the blood from four finalists doing a Playboy photo-shoot to resurrect his beloved wife, Vampira (Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’s Teresa Graves), he gets the shock of his life when Vampira turns black.
Packing his coffin, old Drac, his jocular manservant Maltravers (Peter Bayliss) and Vampira leave the Carpathians behind for swinging London and a haunted Hampstead mansion to track down the right ‘donor’ to restore Vampira…
Known as Old Dracula in the US (to cash in on Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein), this 1974 vampire comedy was written by Jeremy Lloyd (of Are You Being Served? and ’Allo ’Allo fame) as a vehicle for David Niven, who brings a real touch of class to director Clive Donner’s Carry On meets Confessions of a Biteable Playmate farce.
One-liner vampire jokes are the order of the day, with the best of them deservedly going to Bayliss, although Niven does get some nifty ones like: ‘That look of horror when they realise that it’s me is so exciting’. Drac’s castle dinner show, complete with creepy organ-playing and flying bats, effectively spoofs Hammer’s horrors, while his gimmicky haunted London pad with its screaming, laughing ghosts, satanic imagery and rat-infested well is a nod to William Castle and AIP’s 1970s shockers.
Lloyd and Donner also pay homage to blaxpoitation and spy flicks by turning Vampira into jive-talking disco queen after watching Black Gunn, and giving Niven some nifty weapons, including a cane with a deadly blade, which he uses to rescue a damsel in distress; while Anthony Newley’s jaunty theme tune sung by UK soul band, The Majestics is played over Bond-esque silhouetted credits. Mind you, Niven blacking up for the film’s final shot may have been misguided.
Psychomania‘s Nicky Henson plays horror writer Marc, who comes under the Count’s hypnotic control in order to put the bite on the likes of Jennie Linden and Veronica Carlson; while sex kitten Linda Hayden makes an early exit when her just-turned waitress Helga gets staked with a crossbow. Comedy actors Bernard Bresslaw and Frank Thornton make their hilarious cameos count, while the other ‘stars’ are the gritty Soho locations and David Whitaker’s funky music that has an air of Geoff Love’s fake 1970’s exotica group Mandingo about it. Fangs for the laughs, folks!
Oh my Lordy, Sydney Pollack’s Castle Keep is a revelation. First thing is the magical Michel Legrand score; second is the gorgeous winter imagery – shot with Panavision perfection by French New Wave legend Henri Decaë; and thirdly, the sterling cast of Hollywood heavyweights, including Burt Lancaster, Peter Falk, Patrick O’Neal and a very nutty Bruce Dern.
Shot in Novi Sab, Serbia using a Disney-like castle (supposedly made out of Styrofoam) as its centrepiece, this dreamlike anti-war satire takes a brave stab at adapting William Eastlake’s offbeat 1965 novel of the same name, which drew on the author’s experiences at the Battle of Bulge.
Burt Lancaster heads the cast as the mercurial one-eyed Major Falcone billeting his remaining soldiers at the Ardennes castle of the Count and Countess of Maldorais (Jean-Pierre Aumont and Astrid Heeren).
With the castle’s position in the direct line of the German advance, Falcone prepares the castle for an assault; much to the concern of Captain Beckman (Patrick O’Neal), an art historian who is using the long waiting time to do an inventory of the castle’s art treasures which he wants saved.
While Beckman and Falcone debate the castle’s fate, the war-weary ragtag squad consisting of a ‘22-gold carat Indian’, cowboy, cook, baker, and minister occupy their free time at a local whorehouse, which is being picketed by Bruce Dern’s band of hymn-singing conscientious objectors.
Although Castle Keep preceded Robert Altman’s groundbreaking M*A*S*H* by a mere five months, it bears much the same style of black comedy, albeit with a strong dose surrealism added in. And this comes from the fact that the film is being told from the perspective of Private Benjamin (Al Freeman Jr), whose wartime experiences have been turned into a book called – yep, you guessed it! Castle Keep.
Among the visual highlights is the Red Queen brothel which, under Altman and Decaë’s visual eye, is turned into a dazzling jewel box hued in Bava-esque colours, and a comical scene in which a Volkswagen racing Beetle seems to have a mind of its own (ala Herbie The Love Bug) and refuses to sink after two soldiers try to shoot holes in it.
Altman peppers the film with imagery that really bangs home his nihilistic anti-war message – best represented in a sequence in which Dern’s fundamentalist Lieutenant leads shell-shocked soldiers Pied Piper-liked through a street under attack – and an underlying theme about class: which bubbles through a sub-plot involving the castle’s aristocratic owners wanting to continue their bloodline by getting the young Countess (symbolising old Europe) to mate with the Major (aka the New World).
Unlike M*A*S*H* however, Castle Keep was a flop on its release – probably on account of the film’s surreal, arthouse approach, and the dialogue – which comes off a little pretentious at times – penned by Daniel Taradash (From Here to Eternity) and Altman’s frequent collaborator David Rayfiel.
Thankfully, however, Powerhouse Films have dragged Castle Keep out the shadows to present a region-free Dual Format Edition as part of the Indicator series so that cult film fans can reappraise this underrated cinematic gem. Now, if only I can find that score….
• High Definition re-master
• Original mono audio
• Alternative 4.0 Surround sound track
• The John Player Lecture with Burt Lancaster (1972, 100 mins): audio recording of an interview conducted by Joan Bakewell at the National Film Theatre, London
• The Lullaby of War (2017, 18 mins): a new interview with actor Tony Bill, who played Lieutenant Amberjack, about his experiences making Castle Keep
• Eastlake at USD (1968, 29 mins): an archival, videotaped interview with author William Eastlake
• Original theatrical trailer
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition booklet with a new essay by Brad Stevens, archival interviews with Sydney Pollack and Burt Lancaster, and original pressbook material