July 31, 2011

My Top Ten Zombie Films

This is the last top ten which I will be doing for a while because I'm beginning to bore myself with doing them. I don't want to become the person who creates "The Top Ten Toenail Clippings in Horror Films" even though I'm sure some of you would get a kick out of it.

I'm dedicating this to one of my most frequent commenters, Zombies Everywhere, whose blog, http://www.zombieseverywhere.org, you should all definitely check out if you love zombies.

Dawn of the Dead (Widescreen Unrated Director's Cut)1. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

"A nurse, a policeman, a young married couple, a salesman, and other survivors of a worldwide plague that is producing aggressive, flesh-eating zombies, take refuge in a mega Midwestern shopping mall."

One of the few occasions where I actually prefer the remake over the original although it is only by a hair's breadth. The contemporary setting and far more gruesome zombie make-up effects just make the film more aesthetically pleasing to me. The characters and plot, however, remain much the same with only a few minor differences here and there.

Dawn of the Dead (Ultimate Edition)2. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

"Following an ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead, two Philadelphia SWAT team members, a traffic reporter, and his television-executive girlfriend seek refuge in a secluded shopping mall."

This sequel to "Night of the Living Dead" is thought by many to be the best zombie movie around. Although very much in the same mould as a lot of other post-apocalyptic fables, the use of zombies as the "nemesis to human kind's Utopian ideals" elevates this way out of general low-brow horror/sci-fi. However, the deep and meaningful messages can soon be forgotten in all the action and excitement for those who don't want to think too much. The low-budget make-up effects are a bit ropey now but it doesn't spoil the film in the slightest.

I Walked with a Zombie / The Body Snatcher3. I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

"A young Canadian nurse (Betsy) comes to the West Indies to care for Jessica, the wife of a plantation manager (Paul Holland). Jessica seems to be suffering from a kind of mental paralysis as a result of fever. When she falls in love with Paul, Betsy determines to cure Jessica even if she needs to use a voodoo ceremony, to give Paul what she thinks he wants."

This is the movie which sparked my obsession with the horror genre. Very tame by today's standards but what a great atmosphere and acting. I was lucky enough to find this as a double-feature with "The Body Snatcher" at Big Lots for $3. Jacques Tourneur also directed "Cat People" which is another of my favourite horror films from this era.

Night of the Living Dead4. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

"A group of people hide from bloodthirsty zombies in a farmhouse."

Once considered the greatest horror film of all time, George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" is now looking dated compared to modern gorefests. The low-budget production values, however, still add to a chilling, authentic feel which is not so apparent in the 1990 remake. A computer-coloured version is also available for those who you who don't like black and white... "They're coming to get you, Barbara!"

Re-Animator5. Re-Animator (1985)

"A dedicated student at a medical college and his girlfriend become involved in bizarre experiments centering around the re-animation of dead tissue when an odd new student arrives on campus."

Seriously gory and unpleasantly funny. This near masterpiece only loses out because it has been hacked about so much (no pun intended!) by censors on both sides of the Atlantic. What is left is also far from H.P. Lovecraft's original "Herbert West, Re-animator" short story but is nonetheless a classic piece of 1980s horror fare.

The Return of the Living Dead6. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

"When a bumbling pair of employees at a medical supply warehouse accidentally release a deadly gas into the air, the vapours cause the dead to re-animate as they go on a rampage through Louisville, Kentucky seeking their favourite food, brains."

Yet another horror movie which doesn't know whether to go for laughs or scares but delivers both willy-nilly. This is a great zombie movie with a great soundtrack including music by thrash punk band "The Cramps".

Dead Alive7. Braindead (1992)

"A young man's mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey. She gets sick and dies, at which time she comes back to life, killing and eating dogs, nurses, friends, and neighbours."

Also known as "Dead Alive", this is a highly original and inventively gruesome New Zealand comedy. There are some great lines and probably the most disgustingly pus-filled scenes ever captured on film. Just when you thought the last scene was the most revolting thing you saw, the one you are watching becomes even nastier! All this is tied up in a '50s style setting with "Wallace and Gromit" style camerawork. But this is no cartoon, it's a live action over the top gorefest of blood and snake-like intestines with gruesome animatronic creatures being hacked to obliteration all over the place by our Norman Bates-like hero. This only misses out on the highest marks because it is a comedy. As charming as it may be, if it was a serious zombie-flick it would have rocked even more and probably would have been banned!

Return of the Living Dead 38. Return of the Living Dead III (1993)

"Colonel Reynolds and his group of government scientists continue their work on re-animating the dead for military use. His son Curt and his girlfriend Julie use Dad's security pass to sneak in and watch the proceedings. Later when father and son have a disagreement, Curt and Julie take off on a motorcycle and Julie is killed in an accident. Grief-stricken, Curt takes her body to the lab and brings her back to life. Curt must help Julie deal with her new existence as military agents and local gang members try to find them."

A really great storyline reminiscent of Wes Craven's "Deadly Friend" and Stuart Gordon's "Re-Animator" in that what is dead should stay dead. Sarah Douglas has to be the most beautiful zombie you've ever seen! Yes, I do like this film mainly because of her.

The Serpent and the Rainbow9. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

"An anthropologist goes to Haiti after hearing rumours about a drug used by black magic practitioners to turn people into zombies."

This was a very ambitious project for Wes Craven and he almost pulled it off. Lots of gratuitous horror for Wes Craven fans but little real investigation into the practice of voodoo almost turn this into yet another run-of-the-mill zombie movie. However, above par performances and a credible almost "Salvador"-style atmosphere make this one of the best zombie films instead.

The Vineyard10. The Vineyard (1989)

"Dr. Elson Po is one of the world's most famous wine grower. He has a magic potion which has kept him handsome and alive during the centuries. However, the magic which rejuvenates him seem to be less and less effective. As a side project he makes movies and invites a group of young, aspiring actors to his island for a party, believing that the young, handsome actress Jezebel can be his new source of life."

There should be enough horror in this film to satisfy anyone but Dr Po's murderous acts are brutish rather than horrific and the zombies are, unfortunately, not very scary. There are quite a few really unpleasant moments but being very much in the magical mould of "Big Trouble in Little China" tends to take the edge off the proceedings. Still, it's certainly different!

Of course, there are absolutely hundreds (if not thousands) of other zombie films—many of which are little more than glorified home videos made by beered-up friends in their back garden and given away for pennies to distributors of no-budget nasties.

Let me know your favourite zombie films below.

Drag Me to Hell (2009)

"A loan officer who evicts an old woman from her home finds herself the recipient of a supernatural curse. Desperate, she turns to a seer to try and save her soul, while evil forces work to push her to a breaking point."

I was going through a stack of DVDs (which I am about to throw out) earlier today when I discovered that I had an ex-rental copy of "Drag Me to Hell" among them. I realised that I hadn't even reviewed this film yet so I'll do it now as quickly as I can.

"Drag Me to Hell" marked Sam Raimi's long awaited return to directing horror after all those increasingly weaker "Spider-man" movies which really shouldn't interest any of us at all. Although Raimi had been the producer of several horror movies in the last ten years, including "The Grudge" (2004) and "30 Days of Night" (2007), he hadn't actually directed anything in the horror genre since "The Gift" (2000) and that barely qualifies.

Of course, everybody knows Sam Raimi's name because of "The Evil Dead" (1981) and its sequel (or more comedic remake) "Evil Dead II" (1987). With such groundbreaking films as those to his credit, everyone was expecting something quite special. Unfortunately, "Drag Me to Hell" was a polarising experience among horror fans with many of the director's former supporters boycotting the theatrical release of the movie because of its PG-13 rating. Those who did go to see it, came away disappointed because of the overuse of extremely loud music and jump scares.

Having watched both the theatrical release and the "Unrated Director's Cut", I obviously prefer the latter even though it's a bit like saying that I would rather eat my own vomit instead of somebody else's. The clichés are simply too many and the acting too uneven for this to be a good film even though it is still watchable if you keep adjusting the volume.

One of the biggest problems for me (apart from an obvious one that I'll mention in a minute) was that I couldn't empathise with Alison Lohman's character at all. I'm not the biggest fan of banks with their excessive charges anyway but the kind of person that Christine Brown was supposed to be really made me lose interest in her quite quickly. At times I felt like I was watching a horror version of "Clueless" or "Legally Blonde" although both those films are far more entertaining.

Then, of course, there was the sacrifice of one of the sweetest little kittens that I've ever seen in a film. Although it mostly occurred off camera, the corpse was shown and an animatronic version appeared again later.

Basically, any film which involves an animal death makes me angry even if it is necessary to the plot or highlights the extremes to which somebody would go to save their own soul. I was so disgusted by this that there was absolutely no way that I could feel anything for Christine Brown afterwards and, as I said, I wasn't really all that into her to begin with. When the inevitable and predictable end came with all its CGI, I was glad.

I am not going to recommend "Drag Me to Hell" due to the horrific and unnecessary kitten murder which ruined the whole experience. If you've ever seen "Thinner" (1996) or any adaptation of M.R. James' "Casting the Runes" such as "Night of the Demon" (1957), you'll feel like you've already seen all the good bits of "Drag Me to Hell" anyway.

Stake Land (2010)

"Martin was a normal teenage boy before the country collapsed in an empty pit of economic and political disaster. A vampire epidemic has swept across what is left of the nation's abandoned towns and cities, and it's up to Mister, a death dealing, rogue vampire hunter, to get Martin safely north to Canada, the continent's New Eden."

With only two days left until "Stake Land" is released on DVD and Blu-ray, I thought I'd better write a review of it so that you can all rush out and get yourself a copy, or not, as the case may be.

"Stake Land" is yet another in a long line of post-apocalyptic road movies. Usually they come brimming with zombies or crazy people but this time we're really lucky and get both. There's a slight variation in that the zombies in "Stake Land" are called vampires but, even though they have fangs, they still look very much like zombies to me.

I'll be completely blunt about this, "Stake Land" is no more a vampire movie than "The Last Man on Earth". If you are expecting transformations into bats, immortals moaning about their longevity, or even glitter, this is not the film for you. These guys are more like a fusion of the feral Klingon-speakers from "30 Days of Night" and the running Rage-zombies from "28 Days Later". There's no humanity left to them at all except, of course, when there are "mutations". Yeah, the backstory tries to be far too complicated for its own good.

Added to this there are a bunch of religious zealots running around who believe that the vampires were sent by God. The social commentary, if that's what it is, has a good swipe at these "Christian" fanatics who are trying to control everybody. I see no Christianity in this "Brotherhood" though because I'm not stupid enough to buy into the film's prejudices. I'm sure less discerning viewers will be more in on the "joke" even if it's yet another clichéd stereotype among so many others in this movie.

Battling against these so-called vampires and nutjobs are a bunch of people you've never heard of plus Kelly McGillis as a nun and Danielle Harris with her eyebrow. Well, to be fair, Danielle Harris couldn't really be in the film without it. She's made more unattractive with a load of padding because her character is supposed to be pregnant. Yuck. No sexy stuff in this film then.

The hero, if I can even call him that, is some teenage kid called Martin (played by Connor Paolo) who is beyond irritating. I have no idea whether it's because of the lack of acting ability or if the character is just intentional awkward but his uselessness will get on your nerves. Having him be the narrator of the film was a poor choice too as it's sometimes hard to tell what the mumbler is saying. It took me until a signpost with graffiti on it appeared later in the film to realise that his older (and more traditionally heroic) vampire-slaying partner was actually named "Mister" and not "Lister" (like Craig Charles' character from "Red Dwarf") as I thought the kid had called him.

Nick Damici plays the aforementioned vampire slayer which is no surprise since the role is not much more than an even surlier version of his character from "Mulberry Street" (2006) which was, of course, another apocalyptic-style movie. The similarities are obvious and intentional as both movies were directed by Jim Mickle.

I'm not sure what to make of Jim Mickle as a director yet. He seems to do a hell-of-a-lot on a small budget but suffers from "Stephen King syndrome" by killing off characters you like and not being able to do endings. The stupid ending of "Stake Land", which I'm not going to spoil for you, was very disappointing. For me, it was such an anticlimax.

Gorehounds (how I hate that term) will undoubtedly love "Stake Land" for all the practical effects and gruesome make-up. There's enough blood and guts to satisfy anyone even if they aren't the mythical slobbering dogs of horror fandom. I'm sure we need a new expression for the kind of people who enjoy gruesome squishiness in horror movies other than the overused "gorehound" as I've yet to encounter anyone with an IQ that low but I'll save that rant for another time. I'm sure there really are some people who will buy this film just for the effects or the kills and couldn't care less about the story.

That's the problem with films of this type. Usually nobody cares about the characters except for the writers as it's all melodrama. I honestly believe that a lot more effort was put into the characterisation in "Stake Land" than in most horror movies but it wasn't enough. There are still a few moments later on involving the return of the bad guy which jump the shark and ruin it all. There's even a disposable black character trope which was just laziness and completely unnecessary.

"Stake Land" is as derivative and formulaic as can be but it's still an enjoyable film because it's played straight. There's no comic relief at all which I think is to be applauded. Although some people might argue that "Stake Land" takes itself too seriously, I disagree. Horror shouldn't ever be comedy. The two elements need a lot of skill to mix well and, nearly every time somebody tries to do it, horror-comedies end up being neither one thing or the other. It's a refreshing change to actually have a real, albeit very generic, horror movie again.

I'm rating "Stake Land" as just average even though I enjoyed all the action in it, it looked good and I almost cared about the characters. It's a very worthy effort but there was nothing here that I haven't seen done before too many times. If you haven't seen a lot of horror films, you could do a lot worse than watch this one.

July 30, 2011

My Top Ten Werewolf Films

Since you all seem to enjoy my top ten lists so much, here's another one that I've thrown together for your entertainment. I think the results may surprise you though as werewolf movies are far from being my favourite part of the horror genre.

An American Werewolf in London1. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

"Two American tourists in Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists."

This one is a really obvious choice as it's the horror film that sends me into a nice comfortable sleep the easiest. I don't know why but I find this witty amalgam of previous werewolf movies and fully fledged horror very relaxing. It's still the best werewolf movie to date though. Rick Baker's special effects won an Oscar but the real thrills for me come from Jenny Agutter's steamy shower scene.

Ginger Snaps2. Ginger Snaps (2000)

"This film uses werewolfism as a metaphor for puberty. One of the Fitzgerald sisters, suburban goth girl outcasts, gets bitten by something in the woods (and it ain't a neighborhood dog)."

Just like a low-budget Canadian werewolf version of "Carrie" in many ways but made so much better by having the great looking Katharine Isabelle who gets even sexier as the film progresses, especially when compared to her very odd looking sister. It's a refreshing change to the usual run-of-the-mill werewolf stories as this is from a girls' perspective.

The Curse of the Werewolf3. The Curse of the Werewolf (1960)

"In Spain, Leon is born on Christmas day to a mute servant girl who was raped by a beggar. His mother dies giving birth and he is looked after by Don Alfredo. As a child Leon becomes a werewolf after having been taken hunting."

I like this film enormously. The opening scenes of the werewolf's conception and birth are a bit nasty even for a hardened old horror pro like me. The late Oliver Reed gives such a stunning performance as the wolf man that it's obvious that only a true wild man such as himself could have made this role work.

Dog Soldiers4. Dog Soldiers (2001)

"A routine military exercise turns into a nightmare in the Scotland [sic] wilderness." (Terrible grammar from the IMDb there.)

Pretty routine stuff all round but it came out during the survival horror video games peak and fitted in quite nicely between bouts of "Resident Evil". This would only get an entry level score ordinarily but it's on this list for being British and for having a really good first hour which feels like an episode of "Soldier, Soldier" (which I became quite addicted to watching). Soldiers fighting monsters is not an original idea though.

Full Eclipse5. Full Eclipse (1993)

"The LA police department have a special team of officers with a talent for reducing big-time crime. The team leader has an excellent track record for crime reduction in other big cities, but his methods are unconventional, and so is he - he's a werewolf."

The movie may start well with lots of guns, guns, guns etc., but this is no howling success. Mario Van Peebles, Patsy Kensit, and Paula Marshall are all talented individuals whose talent went to waste in this film. The storyline of crime busting werewolves must have seemed a great idea at the time, but, quite frankly, it needed a better script to make it happen. Still good fun though and Patsy Kensit doing it doggy (or should that be "wolfy"?) style in black leather is enough to keep anyone's interest.

The Company of Wolves6. The Company of Wolves (1984)

"A bag full of symbolic folklore about werewolves, or, rather, their sexual connotation. Granny tells her granddaughter Rosaleen strange, disturbing tales about innocent maidens falling in love with handsome, heavily eyebrowed strangers with a smouldering look in their eyes."

Although made more horrible by the participation of the hateful Angela Lansbury, this is supposed to be a fantasy rather than a horror film. That said, it is gory and unnerving in places and, all in all, is a bloody good collection of werewolves. Sarah Patterson as "Rosaleen" is the most gorgeous piece of jailbait to ever grace our screens. I wonder whatever happened to her?

The Howling (Special Edition)7. The Howling (1981)

"After a bizarre and near fatal encounter with a serial killer, a newswoman is sent to a rehabilitation centre whose inhabitants may not be what they seem."

Once the best werewolf movie ever made but now the special effects lose out to "An American Werewolf in London". Based loosely on Gary Brandner's book of the same name, this is still much better than any of its appalling sequels. Joe Dante provides plenty of thrills, but the script could have been better in places, and for the most part it isn't really scary.

Legend of the Werewolf8. Legend of the Werewolf (1974)

"A baby is brought up by wolves after they kill his parents. As a lad he is taken in by a second-rate travelling show, but one night when he is older he kills one of the troupe and runs away to Paris."

Amicus' attempt at a werewolf movie is not quite as good as Hammer's "The Curse of the Werewolf", but it isn't too far from it by any means and has great performances all round. The scene where the wolf man wakes up back in human form in the zoo was later used in "An American Werewolf in London", but here there is more reason for it to happen since the wolf man works as a zoo keeper.

Silver Bullet9. Silver Bullet (1985)

"Werewolf terrorizes small city where lives Marty Coslaw, - a paralytic boy - his uncle and his sister - the narrator of the story."

Probably one of the first werewolf films that a lot of people watched in the 80s. This adaptation of one of Stephen King's novellas, has a nice feel to it but the certification is all wrong. This should be a PG! It's about really little kids discovering a werewolf and does not deserve the 18 certification in Britain for anything. I have no idea what the rating for it is in the US as I've never seen it on sale anywhere.

The Wolf Man (Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection)10. The Wolf Man (1941)

"A practical man returns to his homeland, is attacked by a creature of folklore, and infected with a horrific disease his disciplined mind tells him can not possibly exist."

The original and best werewolf film apart from "American Werewolf in London". This film made a star of Lon Chaney, jnr., created all the myths about werewolves that would be used throughout Hollywood ever after, and spawned a succession of Universal Monster movies uniting the wolf man often incongruously with the other Universal Monsters. Why is it at the bottom of the list? The poem which gets repeated ad nauseum throughout. If I hear it one more time, I'll smash the TV in with a silver-topped cane.

There are no runners-up this time as the only alternatives are the TV miniseries called "Wilderness" (1996) which was cut so badly for a US DVD release that it's unbearable, "Blood and Chocolate" (2007) which is about as entertaining as "Twilight", and "Wolf" (1994) which I can't ever watch again because of my irrational dislike of James Spader.

Of course, werewolves appear in a lot of other horror movies (and even some comedies), but usually it's with more unintentional humour than the filmmakers imagined.

So there you have it. Agree or disagree? What are your favourite werewolf films?

Snowbeast (1977)

"A Colorado ski resort is besieged by a sub-human beast that commits brutal murders on the slopes."

I actually remember watching this TV movie on British television about a year after it came out and I was still the right age to appreciate it. I now have about half a dozen copies of it scattered throughout my Mill Creek (and EastWestDVD) collection. It's not my favourite film or anything ridiculous like that but it does have a great late '70s vibe to it and is still a pretty solid Yeti movie.

"Snowbeast" suffers from a plot so derivative of "Jaws" that you just have to laugh at the sheer cheek of it all. It's not the only movie to do this as "Blood Beach" was even more of a ripoff and, later, the "Alligator" movies could just as well have been called "Jaws On Land". To be fair, there aren't many ways of making a "Creature Feature" but you would think there would be some attempt back then to be original. For those of us who weren't old enough to see "Jaws" back in the day, "Snowbeast" was a very welcome substitute.

One of the main criticisms about any of these films is either that too much or too little of the creature gets shown. "Snowbeast" actually falls into the latter category since the Yeti (or whatever it is) gets all of a couple of minutes of onscreen time. It's a shame really because, when you do get a close-up, it isn't too bad at all for a guy in a hairy suit.

I nearly always feel sorry for the creature with these kind of movies but somehow I just couldn't in this case because there wasn't enough shown of it to empathise with. Without that, Bo Svenson's change of heart from arguing for the creature to finally joining in the hunt for it is nothing more than formula.

Bo Svenson is the big star in this, of course, and he really is a big guy too. He's massive for an ex-Olympic champion skier and his flared yellow skisuit isn't too flattering. I don't know if he did his own stunts or not, presumably not, but if he did then he skis really well. It's a pity that he doesn't really fit his character. Clint Walker tends to steal all the scenes out from under him although whether he is actually acting or not is another matter.

I didn't really care about either of them too much though because I was trying to place Yvette Mimieux. It dawned on me that she was the dopey Weena from "The Time Machine" (1960) although I really remember her most from a terrible TV movie remake of "Bell, Book and Candle" (1978) which I watched one rainy afternoon. She's very pretty though.

There isn't really much more to say about "Snowbeast" other than there's a lot of snow, some pretty dangerous looking snowmobile driving at one point, lots of skiing, and the creature doesn't have a very happy ending. The final scene was horribly rushed.

The only major problem with "Snowbeast" (which means that I'm only rating it as average) was that there were plenty of places where some tension, jump scares or just some action of any kind could have made a big difference. It's still worth watching for a dollar.

July 29, 2011

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

"Eccentric millionaire Fredrick Loren and his 4th wife, Annabelle, have invited 5 people to the house on Haunted Hill for a 'haunted House' party. Whoever will stay in the house for one night will earn ten thousand dollars each."

I'm sure everyone is already familiar with this famous camp horror classic so I'm not going to spend too much time reviewing it. It's a William "The Tingler" Castle film and yet another vehicle for Vincent Price so what more do you need to know?

Yes, it's low-budget with some laughable special effects but everybody plays things straight and the story never lapses into comedy. In fact the subject matter is quite modern in a bizarre way with adultery, greed and murder very much on the agenda.

Although the title is reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's novel, "The Haunting of Hill House", this shares very little with the later Robert Wise movie, "The Haunting" (1963). There is a ghostly curse as a kind of wraparound subplot but it doesn't really play much of a part except to set the tone for the party Vincent Price has arranged for his guests. I think there are definite homages to Shirley Jackson's story throughout which you will spot but this is a completely different story overall. Elisha Cook's character, Watson Pritchard, is very much a precursor to Roddy McDowell's Benjamin Fischer in "The Legend of Hell House" (1973) too. Shirley Jackon's material obviously went a long way.

Like most black and white movies of this era, there is a great atmosphere provided by the use of that medium. Most people also notice how very pale the blonde Carol Ohmart looks in contrast to everything too. I'm pretty sure that was intentional. She also stands out more than any of the other actors not just because of her beauty but because of her acting ability and sinister intentions of her character. She screams quite effectively at one point too.

The other screamer in this is played by Carolyn Craig. Her character, Nora, is introduced with suitable creepiness by Vincent Price using the words, "Isn't she pretty?" That line is actually delivered in such an inscrutable way that I'm still not sure if it suggests that Vincent Price's character, Frederick Loren, fancies her, wishes she was his wife instead of the one he has, or is just designed to implant the idea of the Emperor's new clothes in our minds. I don't think she's very pretty at all but she can really scream. I had to keep turning the volume down because she shrieks at just about anything and everything and in a most annoying way.

The house itself should be the real star of the show though. It's a weird looking place from the outside and almost as bizarre as the one in the modern remake. The exterior shots were filmed at the historic Ennis House in Los Feliz, California, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. He based the design on ancient Mayan temples. You'll see it crop up in a lot of other movies too over the years including "Blade Runner" (1982) and just about anything based in Los Angeles that needs a mansion for a backdrop. I've even seen it in episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

The interior shots of the house are all studio bound. There's a certain amount of claustrophobia since none of the rooms appear to have any windows and they don't use many of them. It's a pity that the filming couldn't have actually been done inside the Ennis House. I would love to know what that place really looks like on the inside. I probably never will though since it all started to collapse back in 2005 and is currently being renovated.

I suppose I should mention Vincent Price's performance since he is really quite arrogant and downright mean at times in this movie. Although it's possible to sympathise more with Frederick Loren once you know he has been cuckolded, you still can't excuse his sadistic delight and controlling nature. He is a very bad man and you shouldn't let yourself be fooled for a moment that he does anything out of the goodness of his heart. It's a quite fascinating portrayal of a real psychopath with nothing but selfish intentions. The more times I watch "House on Haunted Hill", the more I realise how fantastic Vincent Price actually was and how clever the script of this movie still is.

"House on Haunted Hill" is not without some major flaws as is often the case with any B movie from this era. The sets are pretty sparse looking and the backstory to the characters is often more interesting than anything they present on screen. What seem like plotholes actually aren't though. Everything that happens is done for a reason. No, not just somebody making a cheap movie to make lots of money.

This was probably William Castle's greatest film and, even though we don't have the gimmick skeleton (who also gets a credit) in our own homes, there are some genuinely scary moments and a few things to think about after the fact. I'll let you decide what they are.

Moon of the Wolf (1972)

"After several locals are viciously murdered, a Louisiana sheriff starts to suspect he may be dealing with a werewolf."

"Moon of the Wolf" is yet another public domain staple that turns up in nearly every budget horror DVD pack. I have this on several Mill Creek DVDs and a quite nicely produced EastWestDVD "Double Feature" with "Snowbeast" (1977). The only difference on the EastWestDVD is that Geoffrey Lewis gets the third place credit instead of Bradford Dillman which is only fair since he is the much more internationally recognisable star thanks to "Salem's Lot" and many Clint Eastwood movies.

All the actors in this TV movie were pretty famous at the time. If you ever watch reruns of American TV shows from the '60s and '70s, you'll see their faces cropping up all over the place in a variety of roles. Some of them are still going today.

I've only seen the late David Janssen in various cowboy, police and soldier roles before and he always seemed to play the same part. He could be in any uniform and still be all grumbly and mumbly. I'm not sure that he was dressed appropriately with his shirt unbuttoned nearly all the way to his navel in every scene but I was grateful that his voice was the most decipherable when the poor sound quality of this obviously VHS to DVD transfer made parts of the murder investigation hard to follow. Since his character doesn't really deserve anything further than the routine performance he gives here, I'd have to say that he was still pretty convincing in the sheriff role.

Barbara Rush, on the other hand, ranges from quite exceptional to absolutely awful to watch. She's very, very pretty in spite of her massive, uncomfortable-looking hair and hideously unattractive '70s clothes that make her look pear-shaped. She also doesn't seem to be able to run in those "old lady clothes" either. She has some of the worst reactions and annoying line delivery that I've witnessed outside of a soap opera. I'm assuming that she must have been a soap star at some point since I really don't know that much about her. Soap stars and good acting just don't really go together very often though. I'm not sure if there is supposed to be some kind of romantic thing going on between her character and David Janssen's since there is no chemistry there whatsoever.

As for the others, Bradford Dillman doesn't really convince me either of his class or as being a werewolf though his make-up for the latter part is truly terrible. Geoffrey Lewis is the same as always and no different to his character in "Salem's Lot". I think he was often typecast.

A lot of time is spent on all their characterisation though as the story is 99% police thriller with 1% werewolf. It's a murder mystery more than a horror movie but it just turns out that the killer is a werewolf. There isn't even any action apart from 2 minutes before the end and that is only to fire off some silver bullets and burn a barn down. It's no more boring than an episode of "Murder She Wrote" but it won't satisfy a horror fan.

Even though a story like this might not have been out of place with something like "Kolchak, the Night Stalker" it still wouldn't have been a very memorable episode. I don't think you could even say that there was a real twist to the ending either which is pretty much necessary even for TV.

It's all very predictable stuff and if you can't guess who the werewolf will be from the moment you first see him then there really is something wrong with you. It is so telegraphed that the killer might as well have a glowing sign attached to him saying, "I'm the werewolf, please shoot me at the end of the movie!"

I don't think this a completely terrible movie though. If I had been born at least a decade earlier then I probably would have enjoyed watching this myself one night as a youngster. Unfortunately I am of the age where "Thriller", "Beasts", and "Salem's Lot" are more fondly remembered especially since they were all actually scary. "Moon of the Wolf", unfortunately, is not scary or memorable in any way.

July 28, 2011

The David Tennant scene from Fright Night (2011)

I am not Russell Brand!
David Tennant as the new Peter Vincent.

Back, spawn of Satan!

A bit sexier than Roddy McDowell, eh? I know Emma from "Little Gothic Horrors" likes it. What do you think?

By the way, I am not endorsing this unnecessary remake and will be boycotting it just like all the other unimaginative dreck which comes out.

The Last Man on Earth (1960)

"When a disease turns all of humanity into the living dead, the last man on earth becomes a reluctant vampire hunter."

I don't really need to say a lot about this film since it is the classic which inspired "Night of the Living Dead" (1968) and was remade in 1971 as "The Omega Man". The less said about the second appalling 2007 remake ("I am Legend" starring Will Smith), the better. All these movies are based on Richard Matheson's 1954 novella, but this is the only one where the author actually wrote the screenplay (even though he was dissatisfied enough with the final result to have them change his name on the credits to "Logan Swanson").

Although many people consider this to be Vincent Price's best film, I think he was completely wrong for the role in many ways. He acts in a very fussy and impatient manner throughout, often touching everything and flicking his hands as if they are dirty, to the point where he starts to get quite irritating. Also at 49 years old at the time of making this movie (as the IMDb date of 1964 for "The Last Man on Earth" is wrong), Vincent Price may have the excuse of being an older man, but he was beyond awkward in any of the physical scenes and certainly couldn't even run at the end.

Due to the low budget, Italian location, and general sloppiness of the direction, there are a lot of unintentionally funny mistakes and continuity errors. Most of these involve day changing to night and then back again within the same scene, but others highlight the poor quality of the sets particularly towards the end. Some people love looking for things like this though and, to be honest, none of them really spoil the story.

The thing that I noticed most was that the acting is very uneven. Some of it is very "stagey" and dated while other bits are just embarrassing. Most of it is good enough though, and if you are already a Vincent Price fan, you won't care anyway.

Generally, I liked "The Last Man on Earth". Technically, it's not the best movie in the world, it has very little suspense, no scares whatsoever (and absolutely no gore!), but it does have a certain amount of apocalyptic atmosphere. The story itself is good enough to make you want to stay with it until the end.

July 27, 2011

My Top Ten Vampire Films

With the "Fright Night" remake due to hit cinemas everywhere on August 19th, here's an updated list of my favourite vampire films.

Although I can no longer find my original vampire films list anywhere on this blog, I'm sure that I've posted one before. I've now written so many things in so many places over the years that it could just as easily have been somewhere else. If it ever turns up, it'll be just as fangtastic as this one though some of the titles may be in a different order. The irony of my top ten vampire films list being a remake is, of course, not wasted on me.

Salem's Lot1. Salem's Lot (1979)

"Vampires are invading a small New England town. It's up to a novelist and a young horror fan to save it."

Definitely the best Stephen King miniseries and the most memorable. Directed by Tobe Hooper, of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" fame, this is very scary stuff. The scene with the little Glick boy floating through the window has damaged me for life. Although David Soul will always be thought of as Hutch, he does a credible job as Ben Mears. James Mason is also suitably icy as Straker, but not enough is made of Barlow, his Nosferatu-like master.

Near Dark2. Near Dark (1987)

"A young man reluctantly joins a travelling 'family' of evil vampires, when the girl he'd tried to seduce is part of that group."

Kathryn Bigelow's stylish journey into a very different world of the undead with a beautiful soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. It often has the feel of a really dark road movie and there is a surprisingly erotic undercurrent provided by Jenny Wright, but psycho Bill Paxton tends to get all the best scenes and memorable lines. This is what "The Lost Boys" should have been!

Let The Right One In3. Let the Right One In (2008)

"Oscar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl who turns out to be a vampire."

Gore effects are realistic and minimal so think vampire drama rather than horror and you'll be on the right lines. The best analogy is to say that "Let the Right One In" is like a children's version of "The Hunger" (1983) mixed with the kids' scenes from "Near Dark" and "Interview with the Vampire". It also has beautiful cinematography and vicious CGI cats.

Horror of Dracula4. Dracula (1958)

"After Jonathan Harker attacks Dracula at his castle (apparently somewhere in Germany), the vampire travels to a nearby city, where he preys on the family of Harker's fiancée."

Hammer's Dracula (aka "Horror of Dracula") is the quintessential vampire film for all lovers of the genre. It may not be strictly accurate to the book (but then again, what Hammer film is?), but it's certainly the most enjoyable and watchable version ever made. A great atmosphere, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing fighting it out, beautiful actresses, rubber bats on wires, and all done on a budget which wouldn't even pay for Keanu Reeves' voice coach in a more modern production.

Daughters of Darkness (2-Disc Special Edition)5. Daughters of Darkness (1971)

"A newlywed couple are passing through a vacation resort. Their paths cross with a mysterious, strikingly beautiful countess and her aide."

If you want a really sexy Countess Dracula film, forget Hammer and buy this. Although it is a bit slow, this adds to the considerable sexual tension which is unrelenting throughout the film. John Karlen is loathsome as the homosexually repressed husband, but all the women are very beautiful. The downbeat ending is very derivative of "Girl on a Motorcycle" (1968) but that is its only real flaw.

Innocent Blood6. Innocent Blood (1992)

"Marie, a female vampire with a conscience, decides to restrict her feeding requirements to the violent Pittsburgh gangsters who are at large in the city."

Chic French beauty Anne Parillaud (from "Nikita") who plays the sexy Marie is possibly the best reason to watch this romantic comedy/thriller but all horror buffs will love it more for the endless in-jokes and clips from the classic Dracula films. A certain handcuff scene, however, is likely to cause more hot flushes than this movie's fiery climax.

Blade7. Blade (1998)

"A half-vampire, half-mortal man becomes a protector of the mortal race, while slaying evil vampires."

Great special effects, and awesome fight scenes made this the "must see" vampire film of 1999. This is still one of the best vampire action films I have ever seen, if not the best.
There are two poorer sequels featuring far too many CGI effects, but if you really like Wesley Snipes then it is worth buying the trilogy on DVD for all the special features.

Bram Stoker's Dracula8. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

"The vampire comes to England to seduce a visitor's fiancée and inflict havoc in the foreign land."

This is the most ambitious, not to mention the most expensive, try at making the definitive version of the oft-filmed tale. Criticism has been levelled at certain actors not quite managing to retain their assumed nationalities and accents, dude, but the Oscar winning music and costumes tend to cover such lapses.

Lust for a Vampire9. Lust for a Vampire (1971)

"In 1830, forty years to the day since the last manifestation of their dreaded vampirism, the Karnstein heirs use the blood of an innocent to bring forth the evil that is the beautiful Mircalla - or as she was in 1710, Carmilla."

This nicely erotic Hammer horror is often confused with "The Vampire Lovers". This is mainly due to almost identical plots and lots of lesbian bloodsucking. The big difference is that gorgeous Yutte Stensgaard is far more sweet and innocent looking than Ingrid Pitt. Rumour has it that Yutte deeply regrets ever having starred in this film, but she has nothing to be ashamed of at all.

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles10. Interview with the Vampire (1994)

"A vampire tells his epic life story: love, betrayal, loneliness, and hunger."

Anne Rice's book was hardly brilliant but this film tries hard to recreate the best bits even though it doesn't always manage to make them any more interesting. Forget Cruise, Pitt, Rea, Banderas and Slater, it's little Kirsten Dunst as Claudia who steals the show and is the only reason that this gets a place in my top ten.

Vampire films that I didn't include are "Dracula - A.D. 1972" (1972) which is still very underrated, "Fright Night" (1985) because I can't stand Charlie Brewster, "From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996) because Tarantino is far too smug, "The Lost Boys" (1987) because "Near Dark" is better, "Vamp" (1986) because it's too comedic, and "Nosferatu" (1922) because my life isn't long enough to watch boring silent movies with big chunks missing from them.

I also deliberately didn't include any of the "Twilight" movies because, as much as I might like them, I know that most people over the age of 15 don't unless there is something very wrong with them.

What are your favourite vampire films?