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Review: Dark Shadows

DVD Review

I was familiar with the original Dark Shadows TV when they used to show it on the Sci Fi Channels in the 90s. It was long with complicated story-lines. I was not confident that a faithful film would be successful or that with Tim Burton in the director’s chair there would be much sign of the source material. I’m not really sure who this film is for since I don’t think the liberties taken with characters will please fans of the original TV series and there are much better collaborations between Burton and Depp than this to please their fans.

The wealthy Collins family left for America in 1760 to set up a fish processing factory in a bay they named Collinsport and with the wealth from that business they built a very large house that they called Collinwood. Their son and heir Barnabas grew into Johnny Depp who has a relationship with a servant called Angelique (Eva Green). When Angelique wants more than just sex he rejects her. Unfortunately for Barnabas, Angelique is a powerful witch and she kills his parents.

Barnabas knows that his parents were killed by magic somehow and he studies magic to try to find out how. Later Barnabas falls in love with Josette DePres (Bella Heathcote) and Angelique casts a spell to drive Josette to the edge of a cliff and throw herself to her death in front of Barnabas. A grief-stricken Barnabas throws himself off the cliff too but Angelique casts another spell and turns him into an immortal vampire so he can suffer forever. She then turns the town against him so they capture him in a metal coffin bound with chains and bury him

That’s enough back-story now, the film forwards to 1972 and a young woman who decides to call herself Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) travels on a train to Collinsport. She gets a lift from the station in a VW van from a gang of dope-smoking hippies to the gate of Collinwood. The place has certainly seen betters day and now looks a bit dilapidated and where there would usually be a garden there’s a pumpkin patch. She knocks on the door and it’s opened by the grounds-keeper Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) who is also the butler and cook. Victoria introduces herself and says she’s here for the job of tutor to one of the Collins children. Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer) comes down to greet her and asks her a few questions about 70s current affairs and seems pleased to find Victoria’s view to be archaic and  that she is disinterested in the modern world. Elizabeth tells Victoria about the other people staying there, Elizabeth’s daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his son David (Gulliver McGrath) that Victoria is to tutor, a senile old cook who never says anything and a psychiatrist Dr Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).

Victoria meets everyone at dinner later where Elizabeth introduces her to Roger and Caroline who is dancing to psychedelic music and calling her young cousin a loony. Dr Hoffman staggers down to the dining room drunk. While they are sitting down to dinner David appears covered in a sheet. He gets ridiculed by Caroline and told off by Elizabeth for cutting holes in sheets. He wanted to scare Victoria and she plays along and says she was terrified. While they talk over dinner Caroline gets sent to her room for been cheeky and unpleasant. Victoria learns that they all think David is a bit strange because David talks to his dead mother. Victoria starts backing him up and talks about her thoughts on ghosts and other dimensions but Elizabeth shuts her down.

Later that night Victoria sees the ghost of Josette who tells her “He” is coming. At a construction site in town a digger finds something in the soil and at first they think it’s a gas main but when they dig around it they find it’s metal coffin bound in chains. They open the up the coffin and a very hungry Barnabas comes out and kills all the workers, apologising for this to last man he kills Barnabas heads towards town and we get a sample of what we’re in for when he sees an electric McDonalds sign and thinks it is powered by witchcraft. In town he sees the very strange sight of the 70s filtered through the mind of Tim Burton and even though Collinsport is a fairly quiet small coastal town you’d think it was a trendy swinging town in California.

Barnabas goes to Collinwood and is it not happy with the state of the place. He meets Willie in the pumpkin patch and Barnabas waves his pointy vampire hand around and hypnotises Willie and gets him to tell him what year it is and about the Collins family. He has Willie take him to get cleaned up then Barnabas goes into the house and in the large hall he introduces himself as relative from abroad to David and Caroline. Caroline mocks his archaic speech and mannerisms but David likes him because he’s creepy. Elizabeth enters and of course she recognises him from his portrait above the fire place but she doesn’t believe in the old stories and wants to know who he really is and what he’s up to. To prove that he’s who he say he is he activates a secret door down to a basement and shows her a secret stash of art and treasure. Elizabeth swears him to secrecy and agrees to let him to stay.

At breakfast next morning Elizabeth introduces Barnabas to Roger and then to Dr Hoffman went she makes her appearance. Barnabas says he going to invest in the family fish processing business. Over the years their business has been lost to rival called Angel Bay. Victoria comes down to breakfast and right away Barnabas notices her similarity to his love Josette.

Angel Bay is owned by Angelique and when she hears about the murders of the construction workers wants to know where because she realises it means that Barnabas is back at Collinwood. Angelique heads straight out there and Barnabas is surprised to see her still alive but she’s been around all this time, taking out her anger at being rejected by Barnabas on the whole Collins family. She still wants him but Barnabas is still angry about Josette being killed and then being locked in a coffin for about 200 years

This film has Burton’s style all over it and it is much more a Burton film than it is an adaptation of the Dark Shadows TV series. The films doesn’t settle very easily in any genre since as a comedy it’s not funny, as a horror there are no scares and the dramatic elements are campy and over-played. The characters are very thin with no depth at all. Barnabas Collins in particular is a mere caricature of the character played by Jonathan Fridd in the original TV series which may have been cheap and creaky but at least it had a sense of unease about it. This film is not totally horrible but it isn’t very interesting either

Rating 6.0/10

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Posted by on November 10, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: Dracula

 October Horror Month

This the last film in the Universal Classic monsters box set and it’s the vampire film that everyone knows about even if they have never sat down and watched it. It is based on a successful stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s gothic horror story and it retains a lot of the feel of the play, including the performance of Bela Lugosi. His performance is so memorable that when people think of vampires in general or Dracula in particular it’s the black-suited figure with widow’s peak that comes to mind and you’ll most of the this image used in many Halloween decorations and costumes.

A group of passengers are on a very rough coach ride in the Transylvanian mountains. Conveniently for he audience an American woman is reading aloud from guide-book about the region. one of the other passengers is a superstitious peasant who worries aloud that it is Walpurgis Night and nosferatu will be abroad. They stop at an inn and everyone gets off

One passenger is an English solicitor called Renfield (Dwight Frye)  and he wants the coach to go onto the Borgo Pass as he has to meet a coach there. The innkeeper is astonished at the idea that there will be a coach meeting him there but when Renfield tells them the coach is to take him to Count Dracula’s castle he begs him to not go and tells him very plainly that Dracula and his three brides are vampires that feed on the blood of the living. Renfield explains he has to go as he has important business with Dracula and tries to dismiss vampires as old stories. The locals know different but it’s clear that Renfield will not be dissuaded. Before the coach leaves an old woman presses a cross into his hand for protection.

In Castle Dracula Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and his three brides emerge from their coffins. The coach gets to Borgo Pass and the coach driver throws Renfield’s luggage down onto the ground then rushes off as quickly as he can. Almost immediately a coach arrives and the driver is Dracula himself. He says nothing as he takes Renfield’s luggage and sets off as soon as Renfield has boarded. The coach races along the rough road, throwing Renfield around a bit and he pokes his head through the window to say something to the coach driver but he can’t see him. He does see a large bat flying just above the heads of the horses. Finally they reach the castle and when Renfield goes to have a word with driver there’s no-one there.

The coach drives off before Renfield can unload his luggage. The huge castle door creaks open and Renfield enters hesitantly. Inside the castle is dilapidated and does not look lived-in for many years. Dracula comes down the massive stone staircase and in a slow deliberate tone he introduces himself and welcomes Renfield. He leads Renfield up the stairs they hear the sound of wolves howling and Dracula says appreciatively “Children of the night. What music they make,“ which doesn’t exactly put Renfield at ease. There is a massive spider web across the stairs which Dracula just passes right through but Renfield has to break through, disturbing the massive spider that made it. Dracula makes an even more worrying  remark about spiders feeding on flies and that blood is the life.

Dracula has a room prepared for Renfield with a large fire and a desk with a meal ready for him and Renfield is glad that somewhere in this place has been set up for comfort. Renfield is here to make arrangements for  Dracula to lease Carfax Abbey in England and to assist him in his move there. All Renfield really needs is Dracula’s signature on the lease. Dracula has arranged a ship to take them to England. Renfield talks about luggage labels and Dracula says he is only taking three boxes. Renfield sits to eat the meal the Dracula has prepared for him. Dracula serves him wine and Renfield asks if he will be drinking too and the Count replies, “I don’t drink – wine,” This line and Lugosi’s delivery has been copied and parodied so much down the decades but his delivery is perfect and the line is a nice little knowing wink to audience. Somehow Renfield cuts his finger and Dracula’s careful control almost breaks at the sight or smell of the fresh blood but he gets control before Renfield notices.

Dracula wishes Renfield a good night and leaves. Moments later the three female vampires appear at his doorway and slowly enter the room totally unseen by Renfield who has gone to open one of the windows. A large bat flies in over him and he passes out. The three women creep to ward their helpless prey but Dracula enter and waves the away from Renfield then he crouches down and feeds on the man himself.

Next night Renfield is in the hold of the Vesta, a schooner headed for England. Stock footage of a ship being battered by storm is cut into the scene. Renfield is talking to one of the three boxes to Dracula who is resting inside and now he’s very changed man full of manic energy and he calls Dracula master. He opens the box and Dracula gets out and leaves the hold followed by the sound of men screaming. Sometime later the ship is being boarded by people who talk about the horror they find such as the ship’s captain found dead tied to the wheel. Renfield cackles in the hold and they hear him. When they open the hatch Renfield is on the steps with a look that just screams madness and he just keeps chuckling as he climbs up.

English: A screenshot from Dracula Italiano: U...

English: A screenshot from Dracula Italiano: Uno screenshot del film Dracula (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In London a flower girl is trying to sell flowers to bustling crowds of people out for the night. Dracula appears and he wants much more than flower and he engulfs her in his cloak and feeds then slips quickly away, leaving the girl’s body to be found by the police. Dracula goes to the opera and he mesmerises an usher to deliver a message to Dr Seward (Herbert Bunston) who is in a box enjoying the opera with his daughter Mina (Helen Chandler), her friend Lucy Weston (Frances Dade) and her fiancé Jonathan Harker (David Manners). On the pretence of overhearing Seward’s name Dracula introduces himself as their new neighbour as Dr Seward operates a sanatorium in the grounds next to Carfax Abbey. The message was that Dr Seward has got a phone call so he leaves. Mina asks Dracula will be fixing the Abbey up but he says he likes the ruins which reminds him of home. His talk of ruined battlements inspires Lucy to recite a morbid poem about death. Mina stops her continuing and Dracula comments there are worse things than death.

Mina is staying with Lucy that night and as they get ready for bed Mina jokes about Dracula’s strange manner and morbid talk but Lucy seems to have found him fascinating and romantic. Mina is happy with her pretty little idiot Jonathan. Dracula is in the street watching Lucy’s window and when she goes to bed he turns into a bat and flies into her room where he changes back into human form and drinks her blood. Next day a team of surgeons are trying to save her life in an operating theatre but she is suffering chronic blood loss and she dies. There is no apparent wound on her body that could have caused it except two strange raised red marks with white centres on her throat.

In Seward’s sanatorium Renfield is trying to stop Martin the orderly from throwing away his spider collection. Martin thought Renfield was only interested in flies but it seems Renfield has moved up a link in the food chain. Dr Seward has called in an expert Dr Abraham Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) to help the investigation of deaths of Lucy and others. Due to Renfield’s obsession with blood Van Helsing decides to test his blood and he seem to confirm the presence of vampire blood in Renfield’s. Seward is deeply sceptical and Van Helsing says that vampires use that scepticism of modern people to operate freely He promise Seward that he will bring him proof that vampires are very real.

Renfield is brought in to see Van Helsing and he seems fairly calm and rational but he gets angry when Van Helsing tries to examine his hands. Renfield pleads with Seward to send him away and when he’s pressed for reason he believes that his screams at night may disturb Miss Mina. We see Dracula rising from his coffin and there’s the sound of a wolf howling and Renfield seems to hear Dracula’s voice in the howling. Van Helsing brings out a bunch of herbs that seems to upset Renfield says Van Helsing knows too much. Van Helsing tells Seward that the herb is wolfbane and that it repels vampires. Renfield is taken back to his room and Van Helsing tells Seward to have a close watch kept on him at night. Back in room Renfield has a talk with unseen person who has plans for Mina that Renfield doesn’t like.

Mina is sleeping in her room and Dracula appears and silently creeps up to her and bites her. Next morning Mina tells Jonathan, Seward and Van Helsing about her terrible dreams and she describes what happened the previous night. Jonathan tries to reassure but Van Helsing is concerned. Mina is dressed slightly different with a high collar concealing her neck and she acts defensive when asks if he can examine it. He finds two marks just like the ones found on Lucy’s neck. Jonathan asks what could cause marks like that and with perfect timing a maid enters and introduces Count Dracula.

Seward introduces Van Helsing who right away seems to suspect right away that there’s something not right about him. When Dracula hears about Mina’s nightmares he apologises in case there’s his morbid tales of the old country have excited her imagination. Van Helsing sees that Dracula has no refection in the mirror of a cigar box and he shows this to Seward. He takes the cigar box to Dracula and asks him if he could explain a strange phenomenon then open the box. Dracula bats the box away. Dracula and Van Helsing stand sizing up each other carefully before Dracula says he has to leave and that Van Helsing will explain why.

When Jonathan looks to see Dracula leaving he only sees a large black dog. Van Helsing explains that Dracula is the vampire and he talks about their ability to change form into a bat of a wolf and their need to sleep in the soil of their grave during the day and he must have brought some with him. Jonathan is sceptical. Renfield has escaped his room again and was listening to them. He comes in and tells Jonathan and Seward they had better listen to Van Helsing and is about to say more when a bat enters and he freaks out knowing Dracula can hear him and begs for mercy. Van Helsing asks him about Dracula and Renfield denies even hearing the name before.

While they were talking Mina went out into the garden to meet Dracula who bites her once more. She is found by a nurse who screams then comes to tell Seward that Mina is dead. Seward, Van Helsing and Jonathan rush out into the garden leaving the nurse with Renfield. She faints when Renfield looks at her with his crazy eyes and we see him creeping up on her but don’t see what happened next.

In the garden they find Mina is not dead but she is very weak. There have been reports of a strange woman in white who has been seen biting children. Van Helsing asks when she last saw Lucy and Mina reveals it was recently, well after Lucy died and was buried.

The following day Mina is in a depressed mood and she thinks that she will die just like Lucy did. Jonathan tries reassuring her and turns to Van Helsing for support but says nothing. He wants Mina to come indoors before the sun sets and stay in her room which has been protected with wolfbane. Jonathan wants to take Mina away but Van Helsing insists that they need to keep her somewhere where they can protect her and Seward agrees.

Van Helsing, Jonathan and Seward are in Seward’s office talking about how they can destroy Dracula when Renfield comes in again laughing at so-called rational men talking about vampires. He speaks of his master and how he can make things happen. He speaks of a red mist and a flame of fire that parted to reveal rats, millions of them, full of blood all for him if he obeys his master. Seward takes him to put him back in his room

Once Van Helsing is alone Dracula confronts him. Van Helsing that will search the whole Abbey and find Dracula’s coffin and put a stake through his heart. Dracula tries his mesmeric powers on him but Van Helsing is too strong for him and Van Helsing brings out a cross which drives Dracula away.

Mina is out on the terrace and Jonathan notices something different about her. She seems to be listening to voice of Dracula in her head and is about to bite Jonathan when Van Helsing comes to the rescue with his cross which seems break Dracula’s spell. Mina tells them about how Dracula made her drink his blood. They put Mina in her room again and leave her alone again to do other things while Dracula mesmerises a nurse to make her open the window in Mina’s room and let him in and he carries Mina back to the Abbey.

Van Helsing and Jonathan go to the Abbey to end Dracula permanently. They see Renfield enter th Abbey in front of them and they follow him. Renfield tries to stop Dracula who throws him down the stairs and kills him for leading Van Helsing to him. Dawn breaks and Dracula is forced to flee with Mina to a cellar.

Van Helsing and Jonathan find the cellar and they find Dracula’s coffin. Van Helsing fully expected Mina to have been turned and be lying in the second coffin but she’s not there. Jonathan goes to look for her while Van Helsing goes about the grisly task of staking Dracula who hear dying noisily off screen. Mina screams as Dracula dies and his is spell over her is broken. Jonathan takes her away while Van Helsing says behind clear up.

This film may seem a bit melodramatic to modern horror tastes but when modern vampires are sparkling in the sunlight it is good to remember how they used to be monsters before they became the lifestyle choice for the angsty and sensitive. Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye are definitely the best things about this film.

Rating 8.5/10

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Posted by on October 27, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review:Vampire Circus

October Horror Month

I grew up on the Hammer films in a time before videos were common and older horror films were shown regularly on the four TV channels we had back then. They may sometimes seem tame and cheesy by today standards but there’s still a strong story in this film that still makes it a good watch today

The people of Stettel are very angry with the local Count Mitterhaus, an evil vampire who has been feeding on their children and seducing their women. Led by the village elders they invade the castle and the schoolmaster Müller (Laurence Payne) drives a wooden stake through his heart. As he dies he utters a curse that all of them will die and their children will die to give him life. The schoolmaster’s wife Anna (Domini Blythe) was seduced by Mitterhaus and was helping to him find children to feed on. They force her to run the gauntlet but she escapes back to castle where she drags Mitterhaus down to a crypt and he tells her to seek out his cousin Emil with the Circus of Nights who will know what to do. The villagers destroy the castle with fire and gunpowder but the fire doesn’t reach the crypt where the Count’s body is and Anna escapes.

15 years later and Stettel is in trouble again, this time with a mysterious plague that has the local doctor baffled. The neighbouring villages have erected blockades at the roads around Stettel to stop anyone leaving and spreading the plague. Dr Kersch (Richard Owens) wants to get out of the village to the city where he’ll have the resources to find a cure. Their meeting is interrupted by a circus arriving in town lead by a gypsy woman (Adrienne Corri) and Michael the dwarf (Skip Martin). Kersch reasons that if they got in he can get out. Kersch and his son Anton () go to the outskirts of the village and Anton makes a really obvious run for the blockade allowing his father sneak past unseen.

Anton returns to the village and the circus has set up already and almost the whole village is there. Michael greets him as the returning hero. The Burgermeister and his family arrive and are given the prime seats. There are various animals in cages including a tiger and a black panther with jewelled collar. A pair dancers appear, the man dressed as an animal tamer and the woman wearing nothing except a pair of tiny silver panties and stripy make up like a tiger. This all seems a bit sophisticated for a family circus but the villagers all seem to love it.

Next the gypsy woman unlocks the panther cage. The cat runs towards the audience and leaps into the air but when it lands it’s a man called Emil (Anthony Higgins) wearing a shiny pink shirt and he’s also got the same jewelled collar as the panther. The villagers all clap at the clever illusion but it really wasn’t an Illusion. Emil was the panther and he changed mid-leap. He landed right in front of the Burgermeister’s teenage daughter Rosa who is very impressed by Emil. There is a minor panic when Mrs Hauser thinks one of her sons has gone missing and she’s accusing the gypsy woman of stealing him when Emil appears with the boy on his shoulder. Emil had found him looking at the panther cage.

Rosa stays after everyone else to see Emil but the gypsy woman sends her home and sends Emil to escort her. He escorts her to the panther cage where he has sex with her but the gypsy woman warns him is too early for him bite her and he withdraws his vampire fangs. At the castle ruins the gypsy woman gets the circus strongman to clear the rubble and uncover the crypt with Mitterhaus in his coffin. Emil repeats the curse the count put on Stettel and says all the children must die. The gypsy woman asks if they all really have to die and Emil say yes all of them. This the first hint of who the gypsy woman is.

The next night the main act is pair of acrobats Heinrich (Robin Sachs) and Helga (Lalla Ward and I’m going to have geek moment here because I remember her as a companion of the fourth Doctor who was herself a timelord) who leap high into the air and seem to turn into bats. The villagers think it’s all a great trick instead of thinking “Wait a minute they are turning to bats, just like vampires. “ Then Emil does his jumping and changing trick again landing right at Rosa again and there’s a concerned look on the Burgermeister’s face. Michael announces another chance for them to spend money on a hall of mirrors and they give the Burgermeister a free go. Inside it’s just the usual distorted mirrors but the last mirror is different. It looks like a normal mirror at first but then he sees Count Mitterhaus feeding him and he collapses with shock. The Burgermeister has to be helped home by the strongman. Since the doctor hasn’t back yet there’s not much they can do for him except keep him in bed.

Next day the Schilts and Schilt’s mother pay Michael to take them out of the village past the blockades. He takes them deep into the woods and Schilt gets a sense that they’re being followed. They stop for rest and Michael tells them that they’re past the blockade and he collects his payment and runs off. Emil the panther was following them and he tears them all to pieces as a warning to anyone who tries to leave.

Later in the day we see a young woman Dora Müller running past the blockade towards Stettel. She is Mr Müller the schoolmaster’s daughter and girlfriend of Anton. While hiding from the men guarding the blockade she comes across the bodies of the Schilt family and somehow manages to keep quiet.

Dora’s father knows that the Circus has come to destroy them and he hears the Count‘s voice reminding of his curse. Müller protests that Dora is safe in the city but the Count says she’s on her way there right now. Moments later Dora arrives at the circus and meets her father who is naturally not happy to see her there. She tells them what happened to Schilt family and how they were torn apart and everyone thinks of the big cats in the circus. Anton tries to defend the circus to stop everyone going crazy but he’s clearly wrong.

Once everyone is gone the gypsy woman finds the two Hauser boys hiding underneath one of the wagons. She lets them in the hall of mirrors free and when they come to the last mirror they see the acrobats in the reflection but they are not behind them. The acrobats come out of the mirror offer to show the boys how the trick was done. They take the boys into the mirror which leads into a cave where they bite the boys and kill them.

Next day Hauser is searching for his boys and of course he’s blaming the circus but when they find their bodies and see the vampire bite marks their thoughts turn instantly to the Count and his promise of vengeance on them and their children. The Burgermeister has gone crazy and he wants to kill all the animals and Hauser goes with him. They kill the chimpanzee and the tiger but the panther disappears and Emil appears and attacks the Burgermeister causing a fatal heart attack Rosa goes to Emil who bites and kills her.

The acrobat twins try to attack Dora but they can’t because of the cross around her neck. Dora and Anton go back to the schoolhouse but Emil comes and kills a bunch of students staying upstairs. The gypsy woman enters downstairs and rips the cross off Dora’s neck. Now the twins come for them again and they have a showdown in the chapel. Dora kills the twins by stabbing Helga with a huge wooden cross and Heinrich dies too. Because they’re twins or something.

Anton and her father take Dora back to the schoolhouse and leave her with Mrs Hauser while they go off to look for Emil and the gypsy woman. Dr Kersch returns with medicine to treat the plague and a military escort. He’s seen proof of the existence of vampires and tells them that wherever the circus went they found victims of vampires.

The strongman breaks into the schoolhouse and captures Dora and Mrs Hauser and takes them back to the Count’s crypt. When Hauser sees a vision in the mirror at the circus he figures that they are in the Count’s crypt at the castle. The villagers head for the castle ruins and try to find a way down into the crypt and they have to kill the strongman. Anton finds another way in but is attacked by Michael and in the struggle Anton kills Michael. Nton holds up a cross and uses it to keep Emil away but a bat attacks him and he drops the cross. Emil is about to bite Dora but the gypsy woman stops her and gets killed instead. Once dead she changes back into Anna Müller, Dora’s mother. The others manage to break in at this point Emil fights them all off. He struggles with Müller but stabs him though the heart with the same wooden spike he used to kill the Count. Emil dies but Müller also dies of his injuries.

Anton and Dora are just getting their breath back when Count Mitterhaus comes back from the dead. He throws Anton aside and goes for Dora but Anton has a crossbow which he uses as a cross to repel the Count then he puts the crossbow over the Counts head and fires, causing the string on the crossbow to slice off the Count’s head.

Even though there’s no Dracula and no Van Helsing this is a pretty good vampire film from Hammer. It has quite a bit of gore and a fair amount of sex and nudity but then it was made in the 70s when films could be made for adults.

Rating 8.0/10

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Posted by on October 4, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: The Dead Matter

This was a blind buy at a supermarket and it’s a weird low-budget piece of vampire hokum and it prominently features its two big star names on the cover Andrew Divoff and Tom Savini as two rival vampire lords hamming it up in a film so ridiculous that I cannot believe it was not a comedy.

Two vampire hunters McCallister (Jason Carter) and Mark Pym (Brian Van Camp) are fighting off zombies to steal a magic pendant that the evil vampire lord Vellich (Andrew Divoff in distractingIy long grey wig) is using in a ritual.They escape and split up with Mark taking the pendant to be destroyed and McCallister fighting off hordes of vampires or zombies or probably both. The bearer of the pendant can control the dead and that’s why Vellich wants it. Mark manages to get to some sort of altar surrounded by four standing stones. Vellich catches up with him and kills him but some sort of spirits stop him and drive him away from the altar and he leaves empty-handed.

Next day the main character Gretchen (Sean Serino) is standing over her brother’s grave so we know she’s grieving over him. Gretchen has a boyfriend Mike (Tom Nagel) who is incredibly boring. They also have two friends Frank (Christopher Robichaud) who is scientist working for a drug company and Jill (C.B. Spencer) who is a wiccan/pagan/new age whatever and it really feels forced having these mismatched characters as a couple. It is such tired old sexist cliché having the emotional spiritual woman and the sceptical rationalist man. Anyway for whatever stupid reason the writer managed to come up with, they go to the cemetery that night to have a séance at the very same altar from before so that Gretchen can try to talk to her brother. Gretchen finds the pendant and puts it on. They have the séance with Jill chanting some sort of spell out of her grimoire (!) to raise the dead and purple glowy special effects appear to enter them which seem to give them all confusing visions. It also makes the pendant glow.

The next night Gretchen and Mike are having sex when they hear a noise and find a zombie standing in Gretchen’s room. It is the re-animated corpse of Mark Pym but they don’t know that. They freak out and Mike attacks the zombie. Then Gretchen screams at it to go away which makes the pendant glow again and the zombie turns round and leaves. Gretchen quickly realises she can control the zombie with the pendant and wants to keep it around because of something stupid to do with her brother (because she’s grieving and all that) Mike is not at all happy about but since he only has a pout instead of balls he does nothing about it, not even when Gretchen decides to take the zombie to the bar to show to their friends. At the bar Jill takes on look at it and freaks out before going to puke her guts out while Frank takes a bit of convincing before getting very excited about a real zombie. So I guess Jill’s the rational one now.

Meanwhile in the other plot Vellich confronts another vampire lord Sebed (Tom Savini) because Sebed has vampires addicted to some new drug that he has sole supply of. This story meanders around the film before being fully revealed later as having very little to do with them main story. Oh yeah and that McCallister dude is still hunting for the pendant that he knows has not been destroyed.

This film plays this silly story straight for the most part but there’s a montage of Gretchen and the zombie filmed just like this a romance: Gretchen taking the zombie clothes shopping, going on a carousel and eating ice cream together. It’s just totally weird parody and after it’s over the film keeps going and no-one ever mentions it again. I don’t know who I would recommend this film to because it is not very gory, the story is daft and the acting is a bit rubbish. It’s tolerable nonsense that will probably turn up on cable TV.

Rating 5/10

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Posted by on August 1, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: Fright Night (2011)

This remake of Fright Night could be said be to cynical attempt by bunch of Hollywood suits to cash-in on the vampire bandwagon with a film based on a very popular vampire comedy from the 80s. I was going to go and see this at the cinema but decided to wait until it was released on DVD. While this film does have the same characters as the original they are all very different people. It has many of the same scenes but there are many more scenes unique to this film and knowing how the original story went doesn’t really tell you much about this one except in the broadest terms.

Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is a dick-head who ditched his lifelong nerdy friends to hang out with other dick-heads and impress a beautiful girl Amy (Imogen Poots) with how cool and not-nerdy he is. His former friend (Evil) Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) desperately needs to talk to him about their friend Adam going missing. We saw Adam going missing when he got captured while hiding from an unseen vampire that had killed his family the start of the film. Charley is such an insecure dick-head now that even after begging Ed has to threaten him with compromising photos to get his help in investigating Adam’s disappearance. They got to Adam’s house  and Ed tries to convince Charley that his new next door neighbour Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell) is a vampire and is responsible for a string of disappearances in their suburb but that just leads to an argument and Charlie is not convinced.

On his way home from Adam’s house Ed gets chased by one of Charley’s bully dick-head buddies. He evades the bully but falls right into lap of Jerry. When Charley gets home Jerry asks him if can borrow some beer and lingers creepily at the door while Charlie gets him beer from the fridge with Charlie clearly making point of not inviting Jerry in. Jerry talks about Amy and Charley’s mother in way that is ambiguous enough to sound innocent if repeated but with a definite air of threat. Next day at school Charley notices Ed is missing and starts getting worried. He starts watching Jerry and when Doris, a woman he knows, goes into Jerry’s house and he hears screams Charley calls the police but Jerry manages to charm his way out of being investigated. When the police leave Charley sees Jerry leaving in his car so he breaks into Jerry’s house and finds Doris but when they manage to sneak out into the daylight Doris bursts into flame.

Charley tries to get help from Peter Vincent (David Tennant) a Las Vegas magician who also claims to be an expert on vampires in his publicity. Charley cons his way into an interview with Peter by posing as a reporter but when he tells Peter that he really needs his help with a vampire Peter gets him thrown out thinking he’s crazy. Charlie goes home and starts carving stakes and hanging crosses and garlic around the doors and windows. When the door bell rings he rushes to stop his mother Jane (Toni Collette) answering the door but it turns out it’s Amy. Jerry appears at the door soon after but Charlie convinces his mother to not invite Jerry in. They are puzzled to see Jerry go into their back garden with a spade and digging down the gas pipe supplying the house. He ignites the gas and blows up their house. Charlie, Amy and Jane get in a car and try to get away but Jerry is soon on their tail.

It is inevitable this film gets compared to the original and it’s not going to be a favourable comparison. Charley initially less likable, Amy is more blandly standard pretty, Jerry is more thuggish, Peter Vincent is Dr Who. But  in this film those characters fit together in a different way to create a different story. I liked that Charley’s mum did not get conveniently scripted out the story. I’m not keen on the CGI gore and Peter Vincent’s convenient expertise really was a bit much. It is entertaining and has plenty of thrills but is light on the chills.

Rating 7/10

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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review : The Lost Boys

Corey Haim.

Corey Haim

The Lost Boys is a classic 80s vampire film that it is always a real pleasure to watch. It is funny and scary and has a really excellent soundtrack. This film takes the vampire myths and drags them into the 80s and it fully embraces and celebrates the 80s culture that birthed it with music and clothing that gives a great sense of a film set in a real time in real place.

The film opens at night with a POV vamp-cam flying across the sea down to a boardwalk fairground. It’s all bright lights and people having fun but there a lot of punks hanging out. Two different groups start having at go at each other. One group is a bunch of surf nazi all tattoos and shaven head. The other group are all like member of an 80s metal band with long dark coats and big hair. These are our antagonists we see much more of them later but they are led by David (Kiefer Sutherland). A security guard breaks them up before the trouble escalates. Later we see the security guard making his way across an empty car-park to his car but were seeing it from the vamp-cam and a snatch of theme music is playing. The guard look up at the sky and  he is scared by what he sees. He runs for his car but doesn’t make it

Next day Lucy Emerson (Dianne West) is arriving in Santa Carla with her two teenage sons Sam (Corey Haim who tragically died last year. That really came a total shock to me) and Michael (Jason Patric). Santa Carla is is a Californian beach resort town whose glory days are long past. It is busting with the remnants of decades of counterculture,  hippies, punks and surf nazis crowding the streets as Echo and the Bunnymen sing People are Strange. They pass and old tatty “Welcome to Santa Carla” sign and on the back is graffiti  that says “Murder Capital of the World”

Sam is not happy about the move to Santa Carla and the sign is not very reassuring, but clearly Lucy has no choice. They arrive at her father’s house to find him lying his porch looking dead. Sam asks “If he’s dead, can we go back to Phoenix?” at which point Grandpa (Barnard Hughes) gets up, laughing at his own joke. Grandpa is an eccentric character and he’s sporting a Willlie Nelson look. The house is packed with deer antlers and stuffed animals. After Sam has a quick look around he is horrified to find no sign of a TV. While Grandpa is laying down his house rules he says no-one is touch his TV guide when its delivered. Sam ask hopefully if Grandpa has TV and is shattered when Grandpa says “Read the TV guide you don’t need a TV”

That night Sam and Michael go to the board-walk in town. There’s a band playing there, with a big muscular saxophone player Tom Capello singing I Still Believe. Michael catches sight of an attractive young woman Star (Jami Gertz) who is watching him. She leaves and gives Michael a little glance back to see if he is following. Michael does and Sam complains about being at the mercy of his sex glands and goes off to do is his own thing.

Lucy is also on the boardwalk we see there are lots of notices for missing people plastered all over the place, many of them fresh, including one for the security guard from the start of the film. The sheer number is a bit unsettling. Lucy sees a young boy on his own outside a video store and finds he is lost. She takes him into the store and asks the owner Max (Edward Herrman) for helping in finding the boy’s mother. The mother appears seconds later happy to find her son safe and takes him away. Lucy reveal she is looking for a job and indicate Max’s “help wanted” sign in the window.

Sam has spotted a comic book store and despite his way-out trendy clothing  he is a major comic book nerd. Sam really does stand out amongst the freaks, hippies and punks of Santa Carla.and this gets a comment from one the two boys who are working in the store. Sam demonstrates his nerd credentials by criticising the placement of various comic books. The boys introduces themselves as Edgar and Alan Frogg (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) That is just a fantastic pair of the names and Edgar delivers it so straight and its always followed by the unspoken thought “seriously?”  by whoever he’s talking to as they mentally adjust their reality accommodate the Frogg Brothers. The brothers both talk with put-on deep voices under the very mistaken impression that it makes them sound tough so when Edgar presses a vampire comic into his hands and warns him it may save his life he really doesn’t take them seriously.

Michael is still following Star but is disappointed when he finally catches up with her and she leaves with David and his gang on the back of David’s motorcycle. As they drive off she looks regretfully back at Michael. Later we see a couple punks reading comics they stole from the Froggs’ store. Without warning the roof of their car is ripped off and they get dragged off into the air.

Next day Grandpa winds Sam up again by asking if he wants to go to town. In the garage he has a mint condition classic car and Sam is impressed and eager for the run into town, but Grandpa just turns the engine over for a minute then turns it off again “That’s about as close as I like to get to town” and gets out again. Sam burned again.

That night at the board-walk. Sam goes to talk to the Frogg brothers again and they try and convince him that they are vampire hunters and that Santa Carla is a haven for the undead. Once more they press a vampire comic into his hand Edgar shows him their number on the back  Edgar says “pray you never need to call us,” and Sam replies sincerely “I pray I never need to call you” with a brilliant expression on his face

Michael has met up with Star and again she’s about to leave with David and the gang. This time David invites Michael to follow on his bike to the bluff. They race along the beach in the dark and it is very misty all of a sudden. At last minute on instinct Micheal swerves to stop just in time to stop going over a cliff. He’s not happy but David and friends are laughing about it and they invite Michael down to their hideout. They are in an old hotel that fell intoa fault during the large San Francisco earthquake and is now a well furnished cave.

David’s gang are Marko (Alex Winter), Paul (Brooke McCarter),  Dwayne (Billy Wirth), a nine-year-old boy called Laddie for some reason and of course Star. David Gives Michael rice from takeaway someone has brought tin. He starts to eat when David ask how he likes his maggots. David looks down to see the container crawling with maggots and he spits out what he ate. Moments later the container is just full of rice again. David also seems to make Michael see a tub of noodles as a tub of worms.

Now that Michael has been softened up David offers him a drink from an ornate bottle. The atmosphere has changed and now instead of laughing they are hungrily willing Michael on to accept the drink, all except for Star who tries to warn that the drink is blood, but thinks it is another trick and takes a drink and feels a rush going through him s he is changed.

They all ride out to a railway bridge and cross over to the middle. Michael is shocked when each of the gang seems to just leap off to their deaths until he hears them call him from under the bridge where they are hanging. Michael joins them and then a train comes over the bridge shaking it. One by one the gang lose their grip on the bridge and fall off in the misty valley below. Soon Michael is hanging there alone and just before he loses his grip he once more hears the voices of the gang below him. He falls too and lands back in his own bed.

Next day Sam wakes Michael with call from their mother. She wants to Michael stay home and take care of Sam while she goes out for dinner with Max. Michael is looking really rough. Later on in the evening Grandpa is heading out on a date himself and douses himself in window cleaner as a substitute for cologne.

Not long after Grandpa  leaves there there are sounds and lights like a bunch of motorcycles are driving round the house. When Michael opens the door the noises stop and there is no sign of anyone there. Sam goes upstairs and has a bath. He has it full of foam and is listening to music, some old blues duet and he’s singing along to both parts while playing with the suds. His dog /wolf Nanook is sitting at the side of the bath. Downstairs Michael takes a drink of milk from the carton and has a violent vamp-spasm. He looks up and his eyes are glowing yellow instead of bright blue. Hungry for blood he goes up to the bathroom and as he opens the door Sam ducks under the water to rinse himself off and Nanook sees the danger and attacks Michael.

Later Sam comes out of the bathroom confused looking for Micheal and finds him downstairs bleeding from a vicious bite on his hand from Nanook. He tells Sam Nanook was just trying to protect Sam from Michael. Sam then sees Michael’s reflection in a mirror and it is faded and ghostly. Sam freaks, runs upstairs and locks himself in his room. He calls the Froggs and Edgar confirms that is looks like his brother is vampire. His only advice “Kill your brother, you’ll feel better,”  is just not something Sam is ready to do

Michael is having trouble lying down to sleep. His problem is not the sleeping part, but he can’t stop floating off his bed and it gets so bad he ends up floating out of his window. Next door Sam answers a call from Lucy and is reassuring her that everything is fine when suddenly he sees Michael floating outside his window and he just freaks out screaming for help. Michael tries to reassure her on the other extension but she leaves for home right away.

After Sam calms down he lets Michael in and they promise to tell Lucy nothing and try to sort it out together. Sam tries to claim he was just having a nightmare after reading a scary comic and Lucy is exasperated because she knows it’s BS and no-one is telling her anything. Michael goes out to the bluff to see Star who confirms that he is a vampire and that drink really was blood just like she said. The scene turns to sex fairly quickly.

Next day Lucy tries to get some information from Michael but he just slips off to bed. She takes Sam along to Max’s while she drops of a bottle wine to apologise for leaving dinner early. She goes in the gate to leave it on the doorstep and sees Max’s dog Thornn who turns savage and chases her off. Thornn was previously a normal friendly dog that Lucy had already met. Sam connects the dog’s behaviour to hell-hounds used by vampires to protect them in the daytime and calls the Froggs. Sam finds out from Edgar that Michael may still be saved. If he hasn’t killed anyone he is only half-vampire and if the head vampire whose blood he drank is killed then he’ll recover and be human again.

Lucy tells the boys that Max is coming over for dinner to make up for the previous night. Michael is of course going out. Sam sees his chance and calls the Froggs to help him test Max to see if he is the head vampire. Michael is just leaving as Max arrives and Max makes of point of being invited in by David (vamp-alarm beeping). Then Sam shows up with his guests for dinner, the Frogg brothers. Dinner is disaster thanks to the boys attempts to test Max, first with raw garlic instead of parmesan. This merely serves to upset Lucy and leaves them thinking that Max is a normal human.

Michael is gone down at the beach with David and the gang  sitting in a tree. nearby a group of surf nazi are having a beach party drinking and dancing around a bonfire. David has brought Michael here to show him what he is. The gang all fly out of the tree and attack the party group slaughtering them all and tossing their bodies on the fire. Michael is disgusted and successfully battles his own blood-lust. David says to him “You’ll never grow old, never die but you must feed,” and they leave him.

Michael goes back home and ask for Sam’s help. Star appears floating outside Sam’s window and Sam dives under his blanket in fear. Star asks for Michael’s help for herself and Laddie who are also both half vampires. David had in fact intended Michael to be Star’s first kill but clearly that plan was changed when she didn’t do it. Sam tells them he has contacts and as Star flies off again Sam tells her to make sure she doesn’t kill anyone.

Sam calls the Frogg brothers to come round and they all head for the vampire nest in Grandpa’s classic car. Michael takes care of getting Laddie and Star out to car. Sam and the Froggs head off to hunt for the sleeping vampires. When they find them they are shocked to find that they sleep while hanging by their big ugly demon feet from the roof of their cave. They don’t know which one is the head vampire. Edgar suggests killing them all smallest one first. He climbs up a stakes Marko right through the chest. Marko dies but it is a noisy bloody mess and the other vampires all wake up. “You’re dead meat,” David growls at them and chases after them as they run for the exit. He manages to grab Sam but the Froggs pull Sam out into the daylight which burns David and he has to let them go for now.

They race home to get ready David’s retribution that night. Grandpa watches carrying Star and Laddie into the house but he merely asks if they knew the rule about filling the car with gas when they take it without permission. Lucy is going on another date with Max which gets her out of the way. Sam tells Grandpa about widow Johnston expecting him that night. I think you can see Grandpa is just pretending to believe Sam, just like he pretended he didn’t notice them carrying sleeping vampires into the house.

The vampires attack and Nanook kills one in a bath of holy water, saving the Frogg brothers. Sam shoots another one with an arrow right into the stereo system. That leaves David who goes into a flying hand to hand battle with Michael. Michael defeats David but he’s still a vampire because David was not the head vampire.

Lucy returns home with Max and is looking over the mess and trying to understand it. Sam and the Froggs try to explain but then Max takes over because he is really the head vampire. Their tests were useless because Max was invited in by Michael. Max wanted them to all be vampires and be one big happy family to which Edgar quips ” Great, The bloodsucking Brady Bunch,”

Max seizes Sam and threaten to kill him if Lucy does not agree to join him. Just then Grandpa’s truck horn sounds and it crashes through the wall staking Max with a big fence post and killing him.  Michael, Star and Laddie are human again. Grandpa gets out of the truck and just says “One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach, all the damn vampires.”

Rating 9/10

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: Priest

There are creatures called vampires and they have been at war with humans for centuries. Humans have withdrawn inside huge walled cities. The tide of the war is turned in humanity’s favour by the creation of a class of warrior priests with the strength and power to defeat the vampires. The vampires are forced into guarded reservations and the Church declares the war over and disbands the priests. This prologue is told in stills of drawings  like it’s comic book. And indeed this is based on a South Korean comic book series. I have no experience of the source material to judge how close this film is to its source material, so I won’ t be able develop that special hatred that its devoted fans may have for this film.

We get to see a squad of priests inside a vampire hive (not a nest). These vampires are like termites with a queen who produces the eyeless bloodsucking nocturnal predators. The squad includes our hero Priest (Paul Bettany), Priestess (Maggie Q) and a few others including Karl Urban. As they move through the hive the ground gives way beneath them and Karl Urban disappears down a huge hole. Vampires attack them from all sides and some of them make it out alive including Priest and Priestess. Next we go to farm house in the middle of the desert where Owen Pace (Stephen Moyer or Vampire Bill from True Blood) lives with his wife Shannon and his daughter Lucy farming dirt I guess.. They are sitting down to their dinner. Owen says grace and then just as he finishes the house starts shaking. Owen rushes Lucy down into the cellar and tells her to stay there no matter what she hears. Lucy sits in silence as the sounds of a violent struggle upstairs builds then dies way again. She hears footsteps and the door to the cellar is opened by an unseen figure.

Next we see Priest inside a walled city called Cathedral City. The place is a bit like the city in Blade Runner but it’s lot like the one in 1984There are giant video screens with the head of Monsignor Orelas (Christopher Plummer) all over the place reminding people of the importance of obedience to the Church. Priest walks through the city with his hood up but there’s no hiding the cross tattooed on his face. People are afraid of him when they see it. A little boy asks his father who hushes him instead of telling his son that Priest is a super cool vampire killer who saved them from the vampires.

Priest goes to an automated confessional where grainy low quality videos of Orelas are played in response to his confession. It has a very lo-tech/hi-tech steam punk look about it. He meets a young wasteland sheriff called Hicks (Cam Gigandet) who tells him that Priest’s family have been attacked by vampires. His sister-in-law is dead, his brother is critically injured and his niece Lucy has been captured. Hicks loves Lucy and wants Priest’s help to get her back.

The film continues with Priest and Hicks and eventually joined by Priestess to rescue Lucy and battle against a vampire army gathering to attack the walled cities under the command of a mysterious man in a black cowboy hat. They are up against the vampires, their infected human familiars and a group of priests that the church has sent out to stop them. What we get is a reasonably exciting fantasy action adventure film. There is nothing special about it but I did enjoy it while watching it.

It does take a little bit of getting used to unfamiliar use of familiar words such as church, priest and vampire. It might be an effect similar to those electronics instruction manuals that have been twice through very poor translations into another language. Paul Bettany seems to be channelling the same character he used to play Michael in Legion, a film made by the same director Scott Charles Stewart. (Edit: I have since found that the similarity of characters was even stronger since in the source material Priest fights rogue angels and this was changed to vampires at the directors insistence to avoid people claiming he was just making Legion all over again). I liked the decayed cyberpunk slums in the walled cities I would have liked to have seen more of the action take place there.

Rating 6/10

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Entertainment, Film

 

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