Film Review: El Santo and Blue Demon Vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man (1973)

Also known as: Santo y Blue Demon vs Drácula y el Hombre Lobo (original Mexican title), Santo and Blue (US subtitled version)
Release Date: July 26th, 1973 (Mexico)
Directed by: Miguel M. Delgado
Written by: Alfredo Salazar
Music by: Gustavo Cesar Carrion
Cast: El Santo, Blue Demon, Aldo Monti, Agustin Martinez Solares, Nubia Marti

Cinematográfica Calderón S.A., 90 Minutes

Review:

I have the same sort of love for Mexican lucha libre movies that I do for Japanese tokusatsu. In fact, they’re very similar in a lot of ways, other than lucha pictures don’t tend to feature giant monsters and they always star a big professional wrestling superstar.

In the case of Santo y Blue Demon vs Drácula y el Hombre Lobo, we’ve got a film with two big lucha libre superstars: El Santo and Blue Demon.

But the real treat here is that we’ve also got a pair of classic monsters with Dracula and the Wolf Man. Granted, they aren’t played by Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. or Christopher Lee and Oliver Reed but they’re still classic horror monsters squaring off against lucha libre stars in a showdown for the ages!

Sadly, the showdown is pretty weak and the film doesn’t seem to follow the rules of these two classic monsters, as the Wolf Man is killed alongside Dracula by being impaled by wooden stakes.

Most people in the States will probably find this movie to be unpalatable. Lucha libre is certainly an acquired taste as an athletic competition, as well as in the movies. For those that love it and the legendary lucha stars of yesteryear, this goofy movie will be a lot of fun in its action heavy sequences.

Most of the non-action stuff is pretty boring and its hard for an American such as myself to follow, as all the details are in Spanish and that isn’t my native tongue. I know enough to get by and I get the gist of the plot but tracking down subtitled or dubbed versions of these films is very difficult.

The special effects are bad, the make up is laughable and the sets look like they’re from a community theater production but it all works for what this is.

I actually liked how they filmed the wrestling matches. Instead of doing them in an arena with thousands of screaming fans, they’re done against a solid, colored backdrop with canned cheers added in. While this is a really cheap way to create these wrestling scenes, it fits the strange tone of the film and its clunky, cheap sets. But it also feels otherworldly, which just works here.

Santo y Blue Demon vs Drácula y el Hombre Lobo is not a film that most people will enjoy but out of the long history of lucha libre motion pictures, this is one of the better productions that I’ve seen. Plus, two superstars are better than one.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other movies starring El Santo and/or Blue Demon.

Film Review: Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

Release Date: April, 1974 (Paris Festival of Fantasy Film)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: John Elder
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, David Prowse, Madeline Smith, John Stratton, Patrick Troughton, Bernard Lee

Hammer Film Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, Paramount Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“[after operating eyeballs onto the creature] Now, in approximately one hour, when the narcosis wears off… we shall see.” – Baron Victor Frankenstein

This is the final picture in Hammer Film’s Frankenstein series. I have now revisited and reviewed all of the films that star Peter Cushing. I need to go back and revisit the other one that stars Ralph Bates but that one is a semi-parody and not as serious as the Cushing installments.

As a kid, I always loved this one and I still like it a lot but having now seen it so soon after watching the others, I’d have to say that this one is the slowest. In fact, it drags out in parts and is a little bit boring.

It still has its fair share of excitement and I love that Frankenstein’s monster in this chapter is a “neolithic man”, which just equates to the monster being a massive, hulking brute, covered in lots of fur with an ape-like face. It’s also worth noting that the monster was portrayed by David Prowse, who would go on to be Darth Vader and thus, this was a film with both Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin, three years before their more famous pairing in Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope.

Prowse was also in a lot of Hammer pictures. Certainly not as many as Cushing but this wasn’t a new type of role for him.

The film also stars Shane Briant and Madeline Smith, who many probably remember as Miss Caruso from the James Bond film, Live and Let Die. Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor of Doctor Who fame also has a small role, as does Bernard Lee, the actor who played M in the James Bond movies of the ’60s and ’70s.

I like the setting of this film, which is an asylum. Frankenstein has taken on another identity and works in secret within the asylum, where there isn’t a shortage of bodies to experiment on and brains to steal.

Frankenstein is obviously still evil but he is nowhere near as dastardly as he was in the previous film, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. But that’s the thing with the Hammer Frankenstein pictures, there just isn’t any real consistency and every film is sort of self-contained. It’s a stark contrast to how they managed their Dracula franchise where most of the films led right into the next chapter.

Being that this is a later Hammer movie, it does have a bit more of a gore factor than their earlier pictures. It isn’t overly gory but there are some scenes that still come off as pretty intense. For instance, there is a scene where the patients within the asylum literally tear someone apart with their bare hands. It happens off screen but we see meat and fluids flying, as well as what’s left of the poor soul after the savage attack.

This is one of the weakest installments of the film series but I still enjoy it quite a bit. The thing is, Hammer was running out of gas by 1974 and there was more competition in the UK from studios like Amicus, who also produced movies in a very similar style to Hammer.

I wouldn’t call this a worthy finale to the film series but The Satanic Rites of Dracula wasn’t a good finale either.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: Mad Max (1979)

Also known as: Interceptor (Italy)
Release Date: April 12th, 1979 (Australia)
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: James McCausland, George Miller, Byron Kennedy
Music by: Brian May
Cast: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Geoff Parry, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward

Kennedy Miller Productions, Crossorads, Mad Max Films, Roadshow Film Distributors, 88 Minutes, 93 Minutes (Special Edition)

Review:

“I am the Nightrider. I’m a fuel injected suicide machine. I am a rocker, I am a roller, I am an out-of-controller!” – Nightrider

The original Mad Max is quite different than its three sequels. It exists in a time where things aren’t as post-apocalyptic as they would become by just the second film in the series. Granted, the apocalypse seems to exist already, to an extent, but the world isn’t as empty and desolate as what we would see just three years later in The Road Warrior.

Max is a cop in this film and it is his duty to intercept terrible people that terrorize the Australian highways. He’s got a badass car, a cool jacket, cool glasses and eventually, an even more badass car.

As much as I enjoy this film, it is actually my least favorite of the four movies to date. It is high octane and balls to the wall nuts when the action is at its peak but it is also the slowest moving chapter in the franchise. But it was also the template for what would come and George Miller would continue to get better and learn new skills as the series rolled on.

This certainly isn’t a weak film, it’s very good. It just feels out of place when looked at within the context of the whole film series. As its own picture, independent of the other three, it’s a really good demolition derby on screen.

I think the thing that holds this back is it is more of an origin story. The thing is, Max doesn’t really become Mad Max until the end when a biker gang murders his wife and infant son. But that intense moment comes late in the film, which only gives us the true Max for the last ten or twenty minutes.

But don’t get me wrong, the story is good and it is necessary to set the stage for what comes after this picture. I’m just not a big fan of origin stories but that’s not this film’s fault, it’s due to how many superhero movies I’ve seen in my three-plus decades on this planet. But if I am being honest, Mad Max predates nearly all of those movies so it certainly isn’t derivative in that regard.

This film feels small though. Especially when compared to the installments after it. That’s also not a bad thing but everything after this has more of an epic feel to it. Also, the world is much more threatening once we move on past this chapter.

Mad Max is a solid motion picture and a good framework for the character and his world. I just seem to get more enjoyment from The Road Warrior and especially from Fury Road, which is damn close to perfection.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: all the other Mad Max films, as well as other post-apocalyptic car and biker movies, most of which were ripoffs of this.

Film Review: Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds (1977)

Also known as: Kyōryū Kaichō no Densetsu, lit. Legend of Dinosaurs and Ominous Birds (Japan), The Legend of Dinosaurs (US alternate title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1977 (Japan)
Directed by: Junji Kurata
Written by: Masaru Igami, Isao Matsumoto, Ichirô Ôtsu
Music by: Masao Yagi
Cast: Tsunehiko Watase, Nobiko Sawa, Shotaro Hayashi

Toei Company, 94 Minutes

Review:

The trailer for this Toei picture is actually infinitely better looking than the film itself. Yes, the scenes from the trailer are in the film but the movie lacks energy and excitement and the action just seems pretty minuscule. Basically, this is a really boring movie and I’m a guy that loves kaiju and tokusatsu films.

While I have watched a lot of Toei pictures, this one eluded me until I found it at the end of the original first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It was never brought back for the show’s nationally televised run unlike several of their first season features.

Considering the era in which this film was made, it was greatly inspired by Jaws and the Hollywood trend of having giant animals attack humans. Being that this is Japanese though, the animals here are much more fantastical than their more plausible American counterparts. This really is just a standard kaiju movie but one with generic looking monsters that lack the personality of Toho or Daiei’s more famous creatures.

This never got a theatrical release in the United States but it did appear on television in 1987 with a terrible dub track. In all honesty, the atrocious dubbing really hurts the picture and is probably a major reason as to why this plays so poorly. There isn’t a subtitled version of this that I have been able to track down.

If you like this style of film, there are so many that are much better. If you’re a kaiju completist though, you should probably check this out. I doubt it will wow you but at least you can check it off of your list.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Toei’s other kaiju and tokustatu stuff, as well as lower budget, more generic kaiju pictures that don’t feature famous monsters.

Film Review: Killer Fish (1979)

Also known as: Naked Sun (Philippines), Deadly Treasure of the Piranha (Yugoslavia)
Release Date: June 30th, 1979 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Antonio Margheriti
Written by: Michael Rogers
Music by: Guido De Angelis, Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Lee Majors, Karen Black, Margaux Hemingway, Marisa Berenson, James Franciscus

Fawcett-Majors Productions, Victoria Productions, Filmar do Brasil, Paris Filmes, ITC Entertainment, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Are you sure there’s no German blood in you?” – Hans, “Hm-hm. I win my wars.” – Kate Neville

I have watched so many Jaws and Piranha ripoffs over the years that I’m surprised that I had never seen this one or heard of it. Also, the fact that this stars Lee Majors, Karen Black and one of the Hemingway sisters, makes my lack of knowledge about this film even stranger. But it was featured on the latest season of Mystery Science theater 3000, so I had to give it a watch. Plus, I love killer animal movies regardless of them taking place on the water, on land or in the air.

As is the case with most films like this, it’s a real stinker. It also lacks anything to redeem it. Even with a few people I like in the cast, they didn’t do much to help the picture and looked as if they were just collecting a paycheck and trying to rush through this.

It was produced by Lee Majors production company with his wife at the time, Farrah Fawcett. That being said, it’s surprising that he didn’t seem to care much about the quality of his own product.

While this does deal with killer piranhas, they never feel as threatening as the killer fish from Joe Dante’s Piranha, a year earlier. Additionally, the footage and effects of the piranha attacks are pretty shitty.

The one thing that makes this not a direct ripoff of Dante’s classic, is that this is also a heist film. Well, sort of. There isn’t much about the actual heist here, it is just used as a plot device to get the characters to try and turn on each other while trapped on a broken boat surrounded by man eating fishies.

This is far from great and barely entertaining. It’s the kind of bad that is really boring and not actually enjoyable for being terrible. It’s just a total dud. But it also isn’t so bad that I can completely trash it. It’s just well below mediocre, unexciting, uneventful and given no real life by the talent of its top stars.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jaws and Piranha ripoffs of the era.

Film Review: The Day Time Ended (1979)

Also known as: Time Warp, Vortex (working titles), Earth’s Final Fury (TV title), Explosión Galáctica (Spain), Black Thunder (Belgium)
Release Date: November, 1979 (Paris Festival of Fantastic Films)
Directed by: John Cardos
Written by: J. Larry Carroll, Steve Neill, Wayne Schmidt, David Schmoeller
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jim Davis, Dorothy Malone, Christopher Mitchum, Scott Kolden

Charles Band Productions, Compass International Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“Maybe this was all meant to be. This is our new way of life.” – Grant Williams

The Day Time Ended was a low budget sci-fi film put out by Charles Band Productions. I’ve reviewed a few of their films before. They aren’t pictures that receive much acclaim. In fact, they usually receive disdain for their terribly crafted plots, bad acting and laughable special effects.

While this was featured on the most recent season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, it isn’t the first movie by Charles Band Productions that was featured on the show. MST3K also featured Laserblast and that episode went on to be one of their most popular.

Now I can’t call this film unimaginative. And really, other pictures from this studio do seem to have some originality and some creative ambition. Sadly, they’re just executed so poorly and in the case of this movie, it’s a gigantic clusterfuck of too many ideas and concepts battling it out over which is the focal point.

The story is about a house in the desert that somehow time travels do to the effects of a triple supernova and aliens. I don’t know, it’s kind of confusing. Anyway, we get a family holed up in a house and then a barn, as they experience all kinds of zany phenomena: aliens, reptile monsters, a weird UFO drone thing that gets in the house and probably twelve other threats my mind expunged within five minutes.

This is a really f’n weird motion picture. It’s not horrible though, it’s kind of interesting with all its batshittery.

I mean, it’s not a good movie, but I was able to be engaged by it, even if it threw shoddy curveballs right at my face, one after the other for 79 minutes straight.

This is one of those movies that works really well for the MST3K format. It’s not so bad that it’s dull but it is strange and unique enough to provide solid riffing material.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi schlock from Charles Band Productions: Laserblast, Parasite and Metalstorm.

Film Review: The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

Release Date: December 14th, 1974 (Japan)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaize, Clifton James, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 125 Minutes

Review:

“A duel between titans. My golden gun against your Walther PPK. Each of us with a 50-50 chance.” – Francisco Scaramanga

This is the last of the pre-Daniel Craig era James Bond pictures for me to review. And well, I saved one of my favorites for last.

Why do I love this one so much? Well, it has the legendary Christopher Lee as the villain and also features Hervé Villechaize and Britt Ekland, who was one of those early crushes I had as a young kid discovering movies. But I also love the story and the locations in this film. Plus, we even get to see Sheriff J.W. Pepper one more time but sadly for the last time.

As grandiose as James Bond movies are, and this one still lives up to that, the actual threat is smaller, more intimate and very personal. Essentially, James is lured into a duel: one on one, man to man, for all the marbles if those marbles are your own mortality. And there really was no one greater than Christopher Lee to play the role of Francisco Scaramanga, the anti-Bond with his iron sights aimed at Britain’s greatest spy.

Scaramanga was also assisted by Nick Nack, played by the tiny Frenchman Hervé Villechaize, who is most famous for his role on Fantasy Island. Nick Nack was a sinister little shit and amusing in every scene he was in. In the end, his fate is pretty hilarious.

The film spends a lot of time in Asia but primarily features Thailand, which is just a beautiful country. The sights are nice, the action is great and seeing Sheriff Pepper stumble through an exotic land was entertaining.

I loved the opening of this film and it’s one of my favorite in the series, as it sees a hired hitman trying to kill Scaramanga in his maze. The maze was cool and it would return in the climax of the film for the duel between Bond and Scaramanga. I liked the very ’70s style of it and it was inventive and clever and something we hadn’t seen in a Bond film up to this point.

I’d hate to say that Lee really steals the show here but this is very much his movie more than it is Roger Moore’s. Moore is still fantastic in all the ways that make him great but in this film, Lee really proved that he was a major player and should be given more roles of this caliber. At this point, he was typecast as just a horror actor but this showcased his talents at a higher, more mainstream level. He would eventually get other major mainstream roles again but not until the early ’00s, thirty years later, with the roles of Count Dooku in the Stars Wars prequels and Saruman in The Lords of the Rings trilogy. But I doubt Lee would complain, as he loved his horror career and still worked on over 200 pictures.

The Man With the Golden Gun is just a fun, exciting film and it kind of grounds James Bond after the voodoo shenanigans of Live and Let Die. It’s simple, effective and just a good movie.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Roger Moore James Bond movies.