Film Review: Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

Also known as: Rasputin (Spain)
Release Date: March 6th, 1966 (UK)
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, Richard Pasco, Suzan Farmer, Joss Ackland 

Seven Arts Productions, Hammer Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“When I go to confession I don’t offer God small sins, petty squabbles, jealousies… I offer him sins worth forgiving!” – Grigori Rasputin

This might not be Christopher Lee’s best film but it is certainly one of his greatest performances of all-time and the greatest out of all the Hammer Films pictures he starred in.

The movie is a very loose biopic about Grigori Rasputin, a man whose legend has grown well beyond reality. Still, the guy was damn interesting and gained control over some powerful, influential people.

Also, his death is pretty legendary but I’m not going to rehash all the details about the man and his death. Go to Wikipedia for that, if you’re unfamiliar with it.

This film doesn’t cover Rasputin’s whole life, it just covers the end of it. It essentially starts with some character building and context to setup who he is and then immediately gets into how he “mesmerized” an influential Russian family, causing some serious harm to the people trapped in the gravitational pull of his orbit.

The film also eventually gets to his death. However, being that this was a superb picture for Hammer, I’m actually kind of shocked that they didn’t find a way to resurrect the madman for a series of sequels that would be a lot more horror heavy. It definitely feels like it was a missed opportunity. Plus, I would’ve liked to have seen what a director like Terence Fisher could’ve done had he gotten a crack at the Hammer version of the Rasputin character.

This is well acted and honestly, it really stands out in that regard, compared to other Hammer movies of the time.

Rasputin: The Mad Monk is one of the best motion pictures that Hammer ever made and I feel like it’s sort of been forgotten, as people tend to gravitate more towards the films that feature Dracula, Frankenstein and vampires in general.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films with Christopher Lee.

Film Review: Revenge of the Mysterons From Mars (1981)

Release Date: 1981
Directed by: Robert Lynn, Ken Turner, Brian Burgess
Written by: Tony Barwick
Based on: Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons TV series
Music by: Barry Gray
Cast: Francis Matthews, Ed Bishop, Liz Morgan, Donald Gray

ITC Entertainment, Century 21 Television, Incorporated Television Company, 91 Minutes

Review:

Out of all the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies out there, this was the hardest one to track down. Mainly, because the episode doesn’t exist in any form that I know of and because this “film” is really just four episodes of the ’70s British marionette sci-fi show Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons poorly chopped up and stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster.

Truth be told, the only way I could watch this was by calling in a favor to an old friend, who then had to call other friends, one of which just so happened to have the original American released f.h.e. VHS tape. My friend was then able to copy it digitally and sent me that file. The quality was shitty but that’s because this old video tape was probably warped and sitting in a box in a basement for close to four decades.

Since I am trying to review every single movie ever featured on MST3K, I couldn’t let this one elude me.

So here we are. I’ve seen it but other than completing my mission of reviewing ever MST3K picture, it wasn’t worth the effort.

To start, I’m not a fan of marionette puppet shows. I could never get into Thunderbirds, Stingray or anything like them. I don’t know why because these things are bizarre and weird enough that I think they should interest me but they all mostly turn into a terrible bore after just a few minutes.

So this one was no different.

But it is made worse by the fact that it really was sloppily edited and hard to follow. Sure, my brain kept trying to turn off but the story was an incoherent mess and because it was really four stories, it just didn’t work being wedged together into a single feature.

All in all, I don’t regret having to go through what I did to see this with my own eyes but its one of those things where its all about the journey and not the reward, I guess.

If you have an interest in this, you can actually just watch the show itself, in HD, with Prime Video. I checked that out for a bit and it is much better seeing this in its original form.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other MST3K features that were just sci-fi TV shows edited into full length “films”.

Film Review: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

Also known as: Blood of Frankenstein (working title), I, Frankenstein (alternate title)
Release Date: June 1st, 1958 (US)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: Leonard Salzedo
Cast: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn, Michael Ripper

Hammer Film Productions, 89 Minutes

Review:

“It should have been perfect. I made it to be perfect. If the brain hadn’t been damaged, my work would have been hailed as the greatest scientific achievement of all time. Frankenstein would have been accepted as a genius of science. Instead, he was sent to the guillotine. I swore I would have my revenge. They will never be rid of me!” – Dr. Victor Stein

The Revenge of Frankenstein was the first sequel to The Curse of Frankenstein. It came out pretty quickly, as its predecessor was released just a year earlier. Also, 1958 saw the release of another major Hammer Films movie that also starred Peter Cushing: The Horror of Dracula. Just after that, in 1959, we got The Mummy. Both of of those films kicked off their respected franchises for Hammer. Basically, Cushing was the king of the Universal Monsters remakes in the UK.

Now this isn’t nearly as good as Curse but it isn’t the worst of the Frankenstein sequels either. I feel that the creative process was probably hindered by Hammer Films being spread too thin due to a bunch of films being developed at the same time.

The script is still pretty decent and the story works well in keeping Baron Frankenstein alive and his experiments going.

However, this actually plays more like a drama than a horror film. Sure, there’s a monster but he’s hardly scary and then there’s a man who has been experimented on by Frankenstein and goes mad, dying in the doctor’s arms, yelling his name in front of a bunch of people at a party.

While Baron Frankenstein now exists as Dr. Stein and practices in another town, the yelling of his true name, combined with his likeness, makes the townsfolk very suspicious.

Frankenstein’s assistant in this film is much more on his side than the previous movie and he assists the doctor in faking his own death, once again, so that he can escape, move somewhere else and continue his work. I actually love the final scene in this movie and it firmly establishes that this film isn’t just a sequel but that it’s now an ongoing franchise.

This is an interesting and well crafted chapter in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, even if it is short on terror. It’s carried by the great performance of Peter Cushing, who seems more comfortable in the role and looks like he’s really enjoying the character, which is probably the best role he’s played over his long career.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is a solid outing by Hammer and another good performance by Peter Cushing. I also really enjoyed the performance by Michael Gwynn as a victim of Frankenstein’s work. Gwynn worked in other Hammer films, as well and is probably most recognized as the priest from Scars of Dracula.

Additionally, Francis Matthews was great as Frankenstein’s sinister assistant Dr. Hans Kleve.

In the end, Terence Fisher directed a pretty good sequel to his predecessor that built off of it and set the stage for the chapters after this one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: Corridors of Blood (1958)

Also known as: Doctor From Seven Dials (working title)
Release Date: December, 1958 (UK limited)
Directed by: Robert Day
Written by: Jean Scott Rogers
Music by: Buxton Orr
Cast: Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Betta St. John, Finlay Currie, Francis Matthews, Adrienne Corri, Nigel Green

Amalgamated Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 86 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t stop me. Operations without pain are possible, and I’ll not rest until I’ve proved it to you!” – Dr. Bolton

Despite the catchy title, Corridors of Blood really isn’t a horror film in the way that you’d expect. Sure, it stars Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee, both horror legends, but it plays more like a dark crime drama.

Set in London in 1840, the film follows Dr. Bolton (Karloff), a surgeon that is trying to develop a breakthrough in how surgery is done. Bolton is looking for a way to perform surgery without the patient feeling any pain. He thinks he has figured it out but when he gives a demonstration to a room full of his peers, he fails miserably and is publicly disgraced. Bolton becomes his own guinea pig, as he continually tests his anesthetic on himself. Ultimately, Bolton becomes addicted and becomes a junkie. He then gets pulled into a criminal gang through a blackmail scheme, which leads to Bolton playing a part in the gang’s murderous ways.

To my surprise, I discovered that this was a film that has been added to the Criterion Collection. I actually watched this on the Criterion Channel through FilmStruck. While films like this aren’t normally added to the Collection, I can see why it deserves the recognition and respect.

Mainly, it is one of the best things that Boris Karloff has done in his incredible career. This film really showcases Karloff the actor, as opposed to Karloff the monster. Also, Lee’s performance is one of his most chilling. Plus, anytime you have two legends come together, it is worth a watch.

The film also has a few other notable actors from the era and the horror genre. Francis Matthews, who did some work for Hammer, has a role as a young doctor. We also get to see a very young Adrienne Corri, who starred in Hammer’s fantastic Vampire Circus (one of my favorites), and Nigel Green, who popped up in a lot of stuff, most notably Zulu.

Corridors of Blood sounds like a later Hammer film, when they got more into exploitation, gore and violence. There certainly weren’t corridors of actual blood throughout this movie. The title is quite misleading.

The cinematography looks more like something that is film-noir than just classic horror. I guess that would make it more like the Val Lewton RKO horror pictures than the more commercial and better known Universal Monsters franchise.

Corridors of Blood is a nice surprise if you stumble across it looking for a standard British horror picture from their best horror era. It’s a film with a bad title that doesn’t do it justice and probably deterred a lot of people from giving it a real chance.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The Hammer Films Dracula Series, Part I (1958-1968)

I have to break this into two parts, as there are eight films to review.

Christopher Lee was the greatest actor to ever play Dracula. In fact, he probably also has the most longevity as the character since he played him in seven films for Hammer over what spanned about two decades.

Lee has since gone on to get more notoriety in films outside of horror after playing Saruman in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. He also played Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels. But before all that, he was the king of horror and this series featured him at his most iconic and memorable.

Horror of Dracula (1958):

Also known as: Dracula
Release Date: May 8th, 1958 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling

Hammer Film Productions, Rank Organization, Universal International, 82 Minutes

horror-of-draculaReview:

In the first film, we get a retelling of the classic Bram Stoker tale. Some of the characters are the same but the events differ greatly.

Jonathan Harker arrives at Dracula’s castle. However, in this version, he knows who Dracula is and he is there to destroy him. Before he gets that chance, he ends up a vampire himself. This brings in Van Helsing. In this series he is played by Christopher Lee’s constant co-star and lifelong best friend, Peter Cushing.

Cushing is most famous as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. So this film features two great Star Wars villains as leads. The film also features Michael Gough, who was best known in more modern times as Alfred in the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman films that were released between 1989 and 1997.

As a film, this installment is the best in the series. It is some of director Terence Fisher’s best work. It has a great pace, a great atmosphere and the cinematography was total Hammer Horror style, which would become synonymous with the studio and many other studios that tried to knock it off and mimic Hammer’s success. Granted, the style was used in The Curse of Frankenstein a year prior but Fisher’s implementation (and probably invention) of the style was really at its best in these two films.

This movie is greatly acted, greatly directed and the special effects for the late 1950s are pretty damned amazing. Taking into account the limited techniques of that era, the Dracula death scene is pretty cool to watch and I can see where at that time, it would have been awe-inspiring and cutting edge. Hell, it is way more effective than the overabundance of CGI that we get now and it also looked more realistic because what you see on screen was actually physically on the set.

Rating: 9/10

The Brides of Dracula (1960):

Release Date: July 7th, 1960 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan, Edward Percy, Anthony Hinds
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Malcolm Williamson
Cast: Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur, David Peel, Michael Ripper

Hammer Film Productions, Universal International, 85 Minutes

brides-of-draculaReview:

One could argue that this film should be omitted as Christopher Lee is not in it and neither is Dracula.

Peter Cushing returns however, as Van Helsing and this fleshes out his story more, which is good considering that a version of his character doesn’t return to the series until the final two films. Also, this film is directed by Terence Fisher. Regardless of those who don’t consider it part of the series, it is, at the very least, a spiritual successor to Horror of Dracula.

This film follows Baron Meinster (played by David Peel), who is a disciple of Count Dracula. The plot revolves around a girl who comes to town and tickles the Baron’s fancy. However, the Baron has an overbearing mother who literally has him chained up. He is said to be insane. The girl, Marianne, feels for the Baron and grows a bond with him. One thing leads to another, a girl winds up dead and Van Helsing, who just so happens to be in the right place at the right time, suspects vampirism.

This is a pretty good film and it is consistent with Terence Fisher’s great catalog of classic horror gems. Sure, Lee doesn’t reprise his role as Count Dracula but the story is engaging enough to keep one interested and Cushing is good enough to keep any film afloat – even some of the shittier horror films he found himself in throughout the years. This is not one of those shitty films, however.

Rating: 7/10

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966):

Release Date: January 9th, 1966 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster, Anthony Hinds
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Thorley Walters, Francis Matthews

Hammer Film Productions, Seven Arts, Warner-Pathé Distributors, 20th Century Fox, 90 Minutes

dracula-prince-of-darknessReview:

Finally, after an eight year hiatus, Christopher Lee is back as Dracula! And he would remain so for the rest of this iconic series! Unfortunately, Peter Cushing checked out and wouldn’t return until the seventh film in the series Dracula A.D. 1972.

This is my favorite chapter in the series. I find the story to be the most engaging and interesting of all the Hammer Dracula movies. Weirdly, Dracula doesn’t even have a line of dialogue in this film other than a few grunts and noises and intense stares. Truthfully, he doesn’t need words, as his motivations are pretty clear and it actually makes him more frightening and animalistic in this movie. Christopher Lee has a way of telling a story with his eyes and body language and even without words, Dracula felt more like the apex predator that he is in this film than any other Dracula film in history.

This installment is also directed by Terence Fisher and plays like the final part of his Dracula trilogy – encompassing this film and the two before it. This would be his last movie in the series and frankly, after this film, the quality started to decline. Granted, every film was still a positive experience except for the final one.

The plot in this film deals with four Londoners who end up in the Carpathian Mountains on vacation and are warned to stay away from the evil castle on the nearby mountain. Of course, they end up in the castle and are used to resurrect Dracula. The Dracula regeneration scene is pretty spectacular.

This is also the first film in the series to feature a bad ass religious figure taking on the evil vampire lord. They needed someone to fill that Van Helsing spot in the film, so this started the trend of having religious figures combating Count Dracula. This film also uses the formula the best, as Andrew Keir’s Father Sandor was like a kick ass Santa Clause with a high-powered rifle.

Rating: 8/10

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968):

Release Date: November 7th, 1968 (UK)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson, Barbara Ewing, Michael Ripper

Hammer Film Productions, Seven Arts, Warner-Pathé Distributors, Warner Bros., 92 Minutes

dracula_has_risen_from_the_graveReview:

Man, I really enjoy this film too. It brings back the religious protagonist. In this film he is Monsignor Ernest Muller. He is less effective than Father Sandor in the previous chapter and is actually the catalyst that unleashes Dracula, even though he doesn’t realize it.

This film also brought in another protagonist, one who is dating the niece of the Monsignor. This character was more interesting as he was a self-professed atheist that got under the skin of the religious know-it-all. In fact, I feel like they used the dichotomy between the religious man and the non-religious man to make a commentary on the subject within the scenes of this film.

As things would go, Dracula wants the girl, the boyfriend must protect the girl and conflict ensues. While this isn’t the best in the series, the plot is fresh and the series isn’t falling victim to redundancy at this point.

Lastly, the Dracula death scene in this film is phenomenal and beautifully shot; props to the director, Freddie Francis.

Rating: 7/10

Continued in Part II shortly.