Film Review: Lust For a Vampire (1971)

Also known as: To Love a Vampire (US TV title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Jimmy Sangster
Written by: Tudor Gates
Based on: characters by Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Harry Robinson
Cast: Yutte Stensgaard, Ralph Bates, Barbara Jefford, Suzanna Leigh, Michael Johnson, Helen Christie, Mike Raven, Pippa Steel, Christopher Neame

Hammer Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I spend the whole of last night going through Giles’s researches, and believe me they are powerful evidence.” – Mircalla, “Evidence! Of what?” – Richard Lestrange, “That you are a vampire.” – Mircalla

The second motion picture in The Karnstein Trilogy from Hammer Films, really takes the formula from the first movie and ups the ante quite a bit. In fact, the only thing missing was the great Hammer legends Ingrid Pitt and Peter Cushing. However, the film, as a whole, makes up for the loss of two big stars and is actually kind of bonkers in a near perfect way.

To start, Yutte Stensgaard is incredibly beautiful and she really brought something to this film despite her lack of acting ability. I’ve only ever seen her in one other film: Scream and Scream Again. Needless to say, she didn’t have to say much, she just needed to look sexy, mesmerizing and sinister all at the same time. She achieved this quite well and her presence transcends the screen, which probably goes beyond what was simply written on paper. She has an intensity here and conveys it well.

Additionally, Mike Raven, who barely does much in this, still commanded attention when he appeared. He didn’t act nearly as much as other Hammer actors of note but he is sort of a poor man’s Christopher Lee and therefore very closely resembles Lee’s Dracula while playing the evil Count Karnstein. Just think of Hammer’s Dracula with a goatee and that’s basically Karnstein in this film. He kind of just has to stand there, starring intensely, which he’s damn good at.

The film also features Ralph Bates in a prominent role for the first half of the film. I’ve enjoyed his work in other horror pictures of the era but this is probably my favorite thing that he’s done, as he plays a very different character in contrast to his smarmy, young, good looking visage. Bates shows his range here and does rather well.

Lust For a Vampire also features a young Christopher Neame, just before he became more recognized for his role as Johnny Alucard in 1972’s Dracula A.D. 1972.

Due to the success of The Vampire Lovers and how that spawned a lesbian vampire craze in B-movies, this thing was rushed through production and put out quickly, just as its followup, Twins of Evil, would be.

Regardless of that, this is a better movie than it probably should’ve been. It’s pretty standard Hammer horror but with the sexuality turned way up and probably as far as they could go in 1971 without getting an X rating.

I like the overall Karnstein story and this explores its themes further. It’s an interesting and sexy film that just hits the right notes for those that love Hammer and classic vampire cinema.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the other parts of The Karnstein Trilogy and Countess Dracula, as well as Vampire Circus and Hammer’s Dracula films.

Film Review: Licence to Kill (1989)

Release Date: June 13th, 1989 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Glen
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
Based on: characters by Ian Fleming
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Carey Lowell, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Wayne Newton, Benicio del Toro, Anthony Starke, Priscilla Barnes, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Christopher Neame

Eon Productions, United International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Señor Bond, you got big cojones. You come here, to my place, without references, carrying a piece, throwing around a lot of money… but you should know something: nobody saw you come in, so nobody has to see you go out.” – Franz Sanchez

Timothy Dalton was my favorite James Bond. I know that makes me strange and weird but he was the first Bond on the big screen for me and his movies had a bit more gravitas than those cheesy Roger Moore outings. They also had more gravitas than those later Brosnan films because those went back towards the route of cheese and eventually killed the franchise until Daniel Craig came along and stopped smiling.

Licence to Kill is a very divisive Bond film but then Dalton is a very divisive Bond. The film takes a turn for realism nearly two decades before the Daniel Craig starring Casino Royale. In 1989, that rubbed most people the wrong way. This was the first Bond film to get a PG-13 rating due to that realness and its use of violence. Some people also felt that the more violent bits were too much but I felt that it reflected a Bond franchise that was about to enter the ’90s.

The film boasts some solid action sequences. All the Key West stuff was fantastically shot and looks great by modern standards. The Mexico material also looks incredible, especially the Olympatec Meditation Institute scenes, which were filmed at the Centro Cultural Otomi. The cinematography was pretty standard but the locations didn’t need much razzle dazzle. They really only needed explosions, which there were plenty of.

Robert Davi plays the villain and I can’t think of another actor that could have played the role as well as he did. He had the right look, the right level of intensity and had a predatory presence like a reptile. His top henchman was played by Benicio del Toro in only his second film role.

We also get to see Wayne Newton in a role greater than just a cameo and honestly, I love Newton in this. The film also boasts a collection of other talented actors in supporting roles: Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Anthony Zerbe, Anthony Starke and Priscilla Barnes.

I thought that the Bond Girls were a mixed bag in this film. Carey Lowell was pretty badass and held her own. I liked her a lot and think that she doesn’t get enough credit as one of the great Bond Girls. She certainly had more to offer than the standard “damsels in distress” of the classic Bond pictures. Talisa Soto, however, was more like a useless damsel but to the nth degree. I thought Soto was fine with the material she was given but she didn’t serve much purpose other than being a pretty gold digger that probably deserved to be in a drug kingpin’s web. I don’t think that she was a character that anyone could relate to and really, wouldn’t care about because she’s a greedy woman that lays around all day.

The thing is, I love Timothy Dalton’s Bond. This is the better of his two pictures but sadly, we wouldn’t get anymore with him. Not because no one else liked him but because the James Bond franchise went into a state of limbo for six years, as the rights to the material were being battled over in court. By the time things were settled and GoldenEye was slated for a 1995 release date, Dalton decided to step away.

Licence to Kill is rarely on people’s lips when naming favorite Bond movies. But when someone else mentions it, it usually comes with a fist bump and a stoic, confident nod of admiration because I know that I just met someone with real taste.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The only other Timothy Dalton James Bond movie, The Living Daylights.

Film Review: The ‘Ghostbusters’ Film Series (1984-1989)

For those who haven’t seen these films, you have wasted your time on this planet. In fact, these are films that should be beamed into the brains of unborn babies. This would eliminate any chance of horrible humorless babies coming into the world. America, or the world for that matter, doesn’t need anymore humorless jerks being born to boring parents.

These films are great. The first is much greater but the second is still damn good. So let me get right into these movies.

Ghostbusters (1984):

Release Date: June 7th, 1984 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, William Atherton, Slavitza Jovan, Casey Kasem (cameo)

Black Rhino, Delphi Productions, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

ghostbustersReview:

I was five years-old when this came out. I didn’t see it in the theater because my mum thought it was “too intense”. She was wrong, as I saw it when I was six and fell in love with the film and its cast.

My young mind was exposed to Bill Murray, as well as Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. From that point forward, my lifelong allegiance to those three was solidified. Hell, I also had an allegiance to Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts after this film.

Few films, even great comedy ensembles, are able to assemble a cast this good. Originally, John Belushi was set to play Murray’s part but his death changed things. Eddie Murphy was also cast in the role that went to Ernie Hudson while John Candy had Rick Moranis’ part. All things considered, I’m glad the film turned out the way it did. I think Murray is the gel that makes this unit work.

Great cast aside, the film was fun and original. The story sees three failed scientists and a hired fourth guy go against the paranormal forces that are ravaging 1980s New York City. It is a pretty nonstop film that moves fast from the first scene through the climactic final battle with Gozer the Gozerian.

Peter Venkman is Bill Murray’s greatest character, even though many can just say that he’s playing Bill Murray with a bit more intelligence in the realm of science. It is also Ramis’ and Aykroyd’s most iconic roles. The film is a perfect storm of talent, comedy, action and storytelling.

The special effects, for their time, are top notch and well executed. The diversity in the types of ghosts and supernatural characters is pretty astounding. While this film could’ve played as well with typical one-dimensional ghost characters, the filmmakers got insanely creative and took a lot of liberties.

Ghostbusters isn’t a perfect film.. no, actually, it is.

Rating: 10/10

Ghostbusters II (1989):

Release Date: June 16th, 1989
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd
Music by: Randy Edelman
Cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, Peter MacNicol, Kurt Fuller, Wilhelm von Homburg, Mary Ellen Trainor, Christopher Neame, Chloe Webb (uncredited), Kevin Dunn (uncredited)

Columbia Pictures, 108 Minutes

ghostbusters_iiReview:

It took five years to get a sequel. Many think that it is inferior to the original, and they aren’t wrong. But it is still great and although it doesn’t capture lightning in a bottle a second time, it does retain some of the magic of the first film.

At its worst, it is a continuation of these characters’ lives. With a talented cast, such as this, it is hard to make a bad film, even if a sequel wasn’t necessary.

The entire cast that I mentioned in my write-up about the first movie, returns in this installment. We also get the addition of Peter MacNicol, who was brilliant and really steals the scenes that he is in – a tremendous feat when sharing the screen with Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, Hudson, Weaver and Moranis. I’m surprised that MacNicol hasn’t done more comedy like this.

This chapter sees the Ghostbusters go against Vigo the Carpathian, who is an homage to Rasputin and Vlad Tepes (the real Dracula). He is in search of a baby to be his vessel for reincarnation. It just so happens that Weaver’s character is now the mother of a baby.

While not as outright funny as the first film, the humor is still top notch, the gags are funny and it is just nice to see these guys together again for another two hour romp.

Ghostbusters II isn’t an example of a bad sequel, it is a good sequel. While it wasn’t needed, we got it. It could have been much worse but I am happy with the finished product, regardless.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: The Hammer Films Dracula Series, Part II (1970-1973)

I already covered the first four films in this series. So now on to the final four.

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970):

Release Date: May 7th, 1970 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Sasdy
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Gwen Watford, Linda Hayden, Madeline Smith, Michael Ripper, Ralph Bates, John Carson

Hammer Film Productions, Warner-Pathé Distributors, Warner Bros., 95 Minutes (UK), 91 Minutes (USA)

taste-the-blood-of-draculaReview:

This is one of the darkest of the Hammer studios Dracula films. Actually, I would say that it is the darkest.

The opening scene sees a greedy salesman stumble upon Dracula dying, as this scene is edited together with the closing moments of the previous film. When Dracula dies, this man takes all of his belongings and even collects his blood, which is now in a powder form.

The main group of characters, at least in the first half of the film, are these rich eccentric men and “model citizens” who have a secret club where they dabble in seedy behavior because they are bored with their seemingly humble and moral lives. When they get tired of brothels and their typical seediness, they meet a somewhat insane and possessed young man who leads them to Dracula’s belongings and most importantly, the vampire’s blood. The men are grossed out at the thought of drinking the evil Count’s blood but the crazed young man takes a swig, causing him to cry out in pain as the freaked out rich men beat him to death. In this mayhem, Dracula begins to resurrect.

The rest of the story follows Dracula seeking revenge on the three rich men for some reason. He also fancies all the women and one of their beaus has to become the hero.

I love the plot of this film but after a great setup, the last act is a bit anti-climactic.

Rating: 7/10

Scars of Dracula (1970):

Release Date: November 8th, 1970 (UK)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Patrick Troughton, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, Michael Gwynn, Michael Ripper

Hammer Film Productions, EMI Films, 20th Century Fox, MGM-EMI, 91 Minutes

scars_of_draculaReview:

They didn’t waste time making this film, as it came out just about six months after the previous installment.

This chapter in the series is infamous for being the most violent entry. It isn’t full of stomach-churning gore but it is much more bloody and intense than any other film in the series. I feel like Hammer thought that they had to up the ante somehow and more gore and more blood was the easiest route.

Scars of Dracula reintroduces us to the religious protagonist once again, after we got a break from the formula in the last movie. Although his role is pretty limited to just a few scenes. The religious hero is played by Michael Gwynn. The main protagonist is a young man looking for his missing brother, who finds himself protecting his love. Classic Doctor Who fans should love the fact that the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, plays Count Dracula’s servant.

This is a solid film in the series. Really, none of these movies are bad. It actually does amaze me though, that the quality is still there six films deep.

Rating: 7/10

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972):

Release Date: September 28th, 1972 (UK)
Directed by: Alan Gibson
Written by: Don Houghton
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Mike Vickers
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Caroline Munro, Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame

Hammer Film Productions, Columbia-Warner Distributors, 96 Minutes

dracula_ad_1972Review:

This film freshens things up a bit by bringing Dracula into what was then the modern world. It also brings Van Helsing back to the series (played by the great Peter Cushing once again) as he plays two versions of the character. He plays the original version of Van Helsing in 1872 and then plays his great-grandson, in 1972. Both amazingly look exactly the same.

The story follows a Dracula disciple named Johnny Alucard (“Dracula” spelled backwards) and his attempt to raise the evil count and exact revenge on the Van Helsing family by sacrificing the professor’s niece to the dark lord.

I actually enjoy this film a lot and think that the 1972 setting was great. The teens in the film weren’t annoying and actually were all pretty likable and cool characters. Even the villain, Johnny Alucard had a great presence and is still, to this day, one of my favorite vampire characters in film history. His death was a little bizarre though.

The film also features Caroline Munro as Dracula’s first sacrifice. She was a Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me, a few years, later and she is one of my all-time favorite girls in that film series. Here, she was a bit younger, just as beautiful and really captured the scenes she was in.

Christopher Lee didn’t get as much screen time as I would like but he still owned the scenes he was in and it was nice seeing Dracula and Van Helsing facing off once again.

Rating: 6/10

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973):

Release Date: November 3rd, 1973 (UK)
Directed by: Alan Gibson
Written by: Don Houghton
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Joanna Lumley, Michael Coles, Freddie Jones

Hammer Film Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures, 87 Minutes

the-satanic-rites-of-draculaReview:

This is the final film in the Hammer Dracula series. It is also the weakest.

For the most part, this film is enjoyable because it features Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and it is their final showdown. And frankly, I’ll watch any film with either man in it and especially any film with both of them in it.

Taking place in the modern era, like the previous film, this one misses its mark somewhat. Where its predecessor was campy and fun, this one was extremely dark, fairly gorey and was the first film in the series with lots of gratuitous nudity. In fact, I don’t think there was nudity at all in any of the previous Hammer Dracula movies.

Now I am not one to complain about nudity but the use of it in this film doesn’t really fit the vibe and style of the series. And where I would let kids watch most of the other films, I’d have to keep this one hidden on a higher shelf in my DVD library.

I feel like they should have ended the series with the previous film. This just felt forced and neither Cushing nor Lee looked all that interested in this picture when they were on screen. At least the film before this had some charm.

Rating: 3/10

*There is another film with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. It is “The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires”. Dracula is also in the film but he is not played by Christopher Lee. Also, this isn’t a straight up Hammer Horror film, it is actually a co-produced horror/kung-fu flick that was a collaboration between Hammer and Shaw Brothers (a prominent kung-fu studio at the time). I will review this at some point, I’m sure.