Film Review: The Deadly Bees (1966)

Release Date: December 23rd, 1966 (Deming, New Mexico)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Robert Bloch, Anthony Marriott
Based on: A Taste for Honey by Gerald Heard
Music by: Wilfred Josephs
Cast: Suzanne Leigh, Guy Doleman, Frank Finlay, Michael Ripper, Katy Wild, Michael Gwynn

Amicus Productions, Paramount Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“[Referring to a liquid he has] I’ve made this especially for you, Vicki.” – H.W. Manfred

The Deadly Bees has a really low rating on IMDb and pretty much everywhere else you might look. Despite what seems to be most people’s disdain for the film, I actually like it.

I think this may be due to my love of British horror from this era but I’ll always have a pretty big soft spot for Amicus Productions, along with Hammer Films: the two studios that really made their mark in the ’60s and ’70s and epitomize the second wave of classic horror.

The Deadly Bees was also lampooned by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in one of the later seasons. I understand why it was rife with material to riff but there is still something truly eerie and effective about the film.

The biggest factor working against the movie is the special effects where the bee attacks are concerned. I mean, even for the ’60s, it’s kind of horrible. All of these scenes are comprised of victims flailing around, simulating a bee attack with yellowish bee blobs superimposed over the screen. It’s really bizarre looking and I know that funds on these sort of pictures were very limited but it bogs the rest of the film down in its cheap hokiness.

The plot is actually decent, most of the characters are good and there is a predictable twist at the end but I think it still works and it doesn’t diminish the feeling of dread when the damsel is in mortal danger.

The film also features Michael Ripper and Michael Gwynn, two actors that you’d see pop up in several Amicus and Hammer films.

I thought that Suzanne Leigh was pretty good in this and put in a convincing performance. She truly is an old school beauty and with that, has an enchanting presence.

Guy Doleman did a good job too, as you never really knew where he stood in the story. Was he an evil bastard or was he just kind of a jerk?

The Deadly Bees does have some issues but I don’t think any of them outweigh the positives to the point that this deserves a 3.6 out of 10 on IMDb. I think that its inclusion on MST3K has negatively effected the public’s view of the film. It’s far from the worst movie that you’ll see on MST3K.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films of the ’60s and ’70s.

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: Moon Zero Two (1969)

Also known as: Alerte Satellite 02 (France), Gangsters na Lua (Brazil)
Release Date: October 20th, 1969 (Denmark)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Michael Carreras, Martin Davison, Frank Hardman, Gavin Lyall
Music by: Don Ellis
Cast: James Olson, Catherine Schell, Warren Mitchell, Adrienne Corri, Michael Ripper

Hammer Films, Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, 100 Minutes

Review:

“If we’re gonna play, we’re gonna play by my rules!
[flips the artificial gravity switch, so the bar fight is now happening in slow motion]” – Kemp

Moon Zero Two was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000 but it isn’t as bad as such an honor would suggest. Sure, it is fairly terrible and bizarre and also, incredibly dated. However, it is a wee bit better than other schlocky ’60s space movies.

First of all, it was made by Hammer Films in the UK. The studio famous for their re-imagining of classic Universal Monsters characters. They gave us Christopher Lee’s Dracula and Mummy, Peter Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein and Van Helsing and a slew of other offshoots, sequels and stylish gothic horror remakes. They also dabbled in straight up sci-fi too with the respected Quartermass films.

This film is also directed by Roy Ward Baker, who was hired by Hammer to helm several films. One of those being one of the Quartermass movies. Baker wasn’t as great as Terence Fisher but he was still pretty accomplished and had a lot of good experience under his belt.

I guess the real problem with Moon Zero Two and why MST3K had to take shots at it, is the overall style of the film. It is low budget, boasts shoddy effects, silly costumes, silly hair and looks like a retro-futuristic 1960s relic. But at the same time, those are also the things that make this movie kind of cool.

The film also stars one of Hammer’s scream queens, Adrienne Corri, who was fantastic in Vampire Circus and probably most famous as the home invasion rape victim in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Catherine Schell is also in this and she would go on to be in the similar styled television series Space: 1999. In fact, I think this movie had some influence on the style of that iconic British show.

Moon Zero Two came out at the height of the space race when everyone was lunar crazy. But it takes that and gives an interesting twist to a film that is really just about a real estate scam. This was also marketed as “The first western on the Moon”. I don’t really get the western vibe from it and IMDb doesn’t categorize it as such but I guess the Moon’s surface can look like the wilderness of the Old West if you squint and ignore the lunar rovers.

I like this hokey, groovy motion picture. I can’t realistically give it a good rating but it certainly isn’t going to be run through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer either. It exists in this weird limbo between good and bad but with a peculiar stylistic panache that keeps its head above the muck.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Space: 1999, the Hammer Quartermass films, When Dinosaurs Ruled the EarthOne Million Years B.C. and At the Earth’s Core.

Film Review: The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

Also known as: The Zombies
Release Date: January 9th, 1966 (UK)
Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: Peter Bryan
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: André Morell, Diane Clare, Brook Williams, Jacqueline Pearce, John Carson, Alexander Davion, Michael Ripper

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

Review:

“I, I find all kinds of witchcraft slightly nauseating and this I find absolutely disgusting.” – Sir James Forbes

The Plague of the Zombies is truly the embodiment of a classic Hammer horror picture. Considering it is one that doesn’t star Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee makes it even more impressive. Also, it wasn’t even directed by Hammer’s top dog Terence Fisher. Yet, it somehow perfectly captures the quality, tone and vibe of a true Hammer classic.

Director John Gilling only did a handful of pictures for Hammer. Still, he really made something that embodied their style and feels like some of their earlier, better known work such as The Curse of FrankensteinHorror of Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

When singling out famous monster types, this is Hammer’s quintessential zombie movie in the same way that The Curse of the Werewolf was their quintessential werewolf picture. Hammer had vampires covered with at least a dozen movies.

This is also a zombie movie of the really old school pre-George A. Romero era. It features zombies created through the use of voodoo, which has always been the coolest type of zombie, in my opinion.

One thing that really makes this picture great is the performance of André Morell. He was really Hammer’s third biggest male star and he easily fills the void of this picture not having Cushing or Lee in it. Morell is underappreciated as a classic horror icon and this is one of his best films and performances. I wish this picture was a bit better known by horror aficionados.

In addition to Morell, John Carson puts in one of the best villainous performances in Hammer history. His evil voodoo practicing Squire is intimidating, haunting and weirdly alluring at the same time. Plus, voodoo in horror has always been a thing I’ve loved and this guy fits the part as the rich aristocratic British gentleman with his Haitian servants and horde of undead henchmen.

The Plague of the Zombies is a pretty perfect Hammer movie. It fits in perfectly with the best films in their oeuvre. Plus, it has zombies, voodoo and is a whole lot of fun.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

*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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Continued in Part II shortly.