Film Review: The Wicker Man (1973)

Also known as: Kult (Poland)
Release Date: December 6th, 1973 (UK)
Directed by: Robin Hardy
Written by: Anthony Shaffer
Based on: Ritual by David Pinner (uncredited)
Music by: Paul Giovanni
Cast: Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Diane Cilento, Aubrey Morris

British Lion Film Corporation, 88 Minutes, 99 Minutes (extended), 94 Minutes (final cut)

Review:

“Do sit down, Sergeant. Shocks are so much better absorbed with the knees bent.” – Lord Summerisle

This is my 2000th film review here on Talking Pulp (formerly Cinespiria) and I wanted to celebrate with one of my all-time favorite films. I also chose this one because I feel like it is now unfairly forgotten due to it having a horrible and justifiably mocked remake. You know, the one with Nicolas Cage screaming about bees.

Additionally, I was actually surprised to find out that I hadn’t reviewed this already, as it is a film I revisit every few years. But I guess I hadn’t seen it since before I started this site in November of 2016.

It’s a pretty haunting and effective film and despite its age, it still works. In fact, I think it may have gotten better over time but that could also be due to modern films not having the same sort of panache as films from this era, especially in regards to horror and suspense thrillers.

The plot to this movie is fairly simple. A detective arrives at a Scottish island in a sea plane. It’s far from civilization and the residents sort of exist in their own world. The detective quickly learns that the whole village is very, very pagan. He’s brought there because a little girl was reported missing. As he investigates, he starts to uncover some really dark things about the village and the mystery behind the missing girl gets weirder and weirder.

The detective is played by Edward Woodward, who American fans will probably most recognize from his hit television show, The Equalizer. His foil and leader of the community is Lord Summerisle, who is played by horror icon and total legend, Christopher Lee.

The cast is rounded out by Hammer horror starlets Britt Ekland and Ingrid Pitt, as well as a few character actors like Aubrey Morris, who is probably most recognized for his role of Mr. Deltoid in A Clockwork Orange.

The film plays like a slow burn but it is a very immersive and engaging experience that lures you in and grabs you around the throat. It builds suspense incredibly well and you’re never really sure what’s going on until you get to the big, incredible finale. In fact, if you’ve never seen this and don’t know where it’s going, it’d be best to go into this film blindly and just experience it completely fresh.

It’s certainly well directed with superb editing but the thing that really stands out is the acting, especially from the two leads. Christopher Lee doesn’t even come into the picture until you’re forty minutes in but once he does, he ups the ante greatly and you feel the pull of his magnetic charm, even if he does feel off and possibly mad.

The Wicker Man is a stupendous horror picture. It’s one of the best to ever exist and it does that by being cerebral, building suspense and dragging out the mystery with perfection. It’s chilling, haunting and pretty fucked up. But it’s also beautiful, kind of serene and makes you think about yourself, your mortality, your morality and it weirdly gives you hope in a hopeless situation, as the hero never relents, never stops doing what he feels is right and stands proud till the very dark end.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other religious or occult horror films of the ’60s and ’70s, as well as the spiritual sequel, The Wicker Tree.

Film Review: Countess Dracula (1971)

Release Date: January 31st, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Sasdy
Written by: Jeremy Paul
Music by: Harry Robertson
Cast: Ingrid Pitt, Nigel Green, Lesley-Anne Down

The Rank Organisation, Hammer Films, 93 Minutes

Review:

“And what will your daughter say? She arrives tomorrow and she’ll find you as young as she is.” – Captain Dobi

The title Countess Dracula was really just used for marketing purposes, as this film has nothing to do with Dracula, whether it be the original Bram Stoker novel or the series of films put out by Hammer.

The story here is very loosely based on the real Hungarian countess, Erzsebest Bathory or Elizabeth Bathory, as she’s more commonly referred to. For those who might not know of her story, she was accused of murdering young girls and bathing in their blood because she believed that it would keep her youthful. Granted, this was never proven and has since become a legend and the basis for a lot of vampire fiction.

Still, it’s a cool story to explore in a film and Hammer would grasp onto just about anything in an effort to turn it into a horror movie. Plus, their Karnstein movies were doing pretty well, the first of which also starred Ingrid Pitt, so lady vampire flicks were all the rage.

While Pitt didn’t return for any more Karnstein movies, she did return for this one to play the erroneously named title character. It was a good choice by her, as this is one of her most memorable roles and it really helped to solidify her as one of Hammer’s top scream queens.

This film actually did fairly well from a critical standpoint as it seemed to be favored over a lot of the other Hammer outings at the time. However, I do think it’s a bit dull when compared to the Karnstein films, as well as Vampire CircusCaptain Kronos and the uber cool and hip Dracula A.D. 1972.

That’s not to say that Pitt wasn’t good in this, she definitely was, as was her co-star, Nigel Green. The film was also impressive from an atmospheric standpoint. It just doesn’t generate the same level of excitement as the other Hammer vampire pictures of the early ’70s, though.

It’s still a neat story with better than average acting but if a film from the ’70s Hammer vampire lot has to be ranked last, this would be the one.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Hammer’s other vampire films: the Dracula series, The Karnstein TrilogyVampire Circus, etc.

Film Review: The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Release Date: October 4th, 1970 (UK)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Harry Fine, Tudor Gates, Michael Style
Based on: Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Harry Robertson
Cast: Ingrid Pitt, George Cole, Kate O’Mara, Peter Cushing, Dawn Addams, Madeline Smith, Pippa Steel

Fantale Films, Hammer Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“They were all evil and remain evil after death.” – Baron Joachim von Hartog

While the most famous vampire films to come out of Hammer are the ones featuring Christopher Lee as Dracula, there was also The Karnstein Trilogy, which focused on lesbian vampires that didn’t have the weaknesses of sunlight and fire.

This was the first of those three movies, which sort of helped kick off a trend, as other studios in other parts of the world tried to also bank on the vampire lesbian craze, which was pretty racy stuff for 1970.

The story is loosely based off of the second most famous literary vampire story, Carmilla by Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, which was originally published in 1872.

While that novel would serve to give a narrative tone and inspiration to The Karnstein Trilogy, the films really kind of just do their own thing beyond the initial setup.

I’d say that this is the weakest of the three movies within the trilogy but it is still entertaining and it goes to show just how good Ingrid Pitt was in her prime. The woman is stunning, seductive and she has the acting chops to convincingly stand beside some of the other Hammer legends. In this film, she has to share space with the legendary Peter Cushing but the two were able to play off of each other quite well.

The film also stars Madeline Smith, another Hammer regular, in a smaller role. But she always had a certain charisma that made the movies she was in better.

Ultimately, this is an interesting and overtly sexual motion picture. It’s all done as classy as a Hammer movie is capable of but it’s honestly pretty tame when compared to films that borrowed these themes later on. And without this picture, we wouldn’t have gotten the sequels, which I enjoy more, and the knockoffs which kind of became their own subgenre within the vampire subgenre of horror.

Rating: 6.25/10
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: The House That Dripped Blood (1971)

Also known as: Blood Zone (Japan English title), Method for Murder, Waxworks, Sweets to the Sweet, The Cloak (segment titles)
Release Date: February 21st, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Duffell
Written by: Robert Bloch, Russ Jones
Music by: Michael Dress
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Denholm Elliot, Ingrid Pitt, Jon Pertwee, Joss Ackland, Nyree Dawn Porter

Amicus Productions, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 102 Minutes

Review:

“That’s what’s wrong with the present day horrorfilms. There’s no realism. Not like the old ones, the great ones. Frankenstein. Phantom of the Opera. Dracula – the one with Bela Lugosi of course, not this new fellow.” – Paul Henderson

I know that I’ve stated a few times before that I’m not a big fan of anthologies but sometimes there are those rare exceptions like Creepshow. Well, this is one of those rare exceptions.

Amicus is often times confused with Hammer Films, as they were another British studio that made horror pictures in the same era and used a lot of the same stars. They did have a tendency to make a lot of anthology pictures though, where Hammer focused more on classic monsters in the same vein as the Universal Pictures horror films of the ’30s and ’40s.

This one might be the best of Amicus’ horror anthologies, which are really hit or miss for me.

love that we get to see Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in another film, which happened over twenty times in their careers. They don’t share screen time here, unfortunately, as both men star in different stories within this anthology framework. But each is the star of their own segment.

Additionally, we get to see a segment starring Denholm Elliot a.k.a. Marcus Brody of Indiana Jones fame, as well as Jon Pertwee, most famous for playing the third incarnation of the Doctor on Doctor Who. It doesn’t stop there though, as we also get to enjoy the wonderful Ingrid Pitt, a true British scream queen, and Joss Ackland, who I love in just about everything.

While this stacked cast does a lot to make this film work and to legitimize it in a sea of horror from the era, it is the stories and the actual connection that they have that makes this a really enjoyable feature.

This is a small and confined feeling film, as just about every scene takes place in the same house. Each segment focuses on a different owner of the house and how this haunted property finds a way to effect them and bring out their fear.

We have a story about a writer going insane, seeing his imagined killer coming to life. We then get a story that involves a wax recreation of a dead love. Then there is one about a young girl that is a witch who terrorizes her overbearing father. And finally, we get my favorite segment that sees a legendary horror actor come into possession of a mystical cloak that turns the wearer into an actual vampire. There is also a chopped up segment that strings all the tales together.

I wouldn’t say that this is the best horror film put out by Amicus but it is the best one I’ve seen in awhile. That being said, it is in the upper echelon of their pictures and pretty damn enjoyable all around.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other British horror films from Amicus and Hammer from the late ’60s/early ’70s.