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 Skull (1965)

Release Date: August 25th, 1965
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Milton Subotsky, Robert Bloch
Based on: The Skull of the Marquis de Sade by Robert Bloch
Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Jill Bennett, Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Michael Gough

Amicus Productions, 83 Minutes

Review:

“All I can say to you is keep away from the skull of the Marquis de Sade!” – Sir Matthew Phillips

I felt like I was going through Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee withdrawals, as it’s actually been awhile since I got to kick back and watch one of their many collaborations. I mean, there were 22 of them and I’ve already reviewed several but I just felt the need to spend some time with two of my three favorite horror legends, especially during this trying COVID-19 self-imposed social exile.

Anyway, I really love The Skull. It’s not the best film with these guys in it and frankly, they don’t share enough scenes but this picture is full of so many great actors from the era, that it is hard not to love. I especially liked seeing Patrick Magee, Nigel Green and Michael Gough pop up in this.

The plot is an interesting one, as it sees Cushing come into possession of the skull of Marquis de Sade. The skull itself is possessed by an evil force, presumably de Sade, and it makes those around it do evil acts. Cushing is driven mad and we even get a moment that shows him murder his best friend, Christopher Lee.

What’s really fun about this movie is how some scenes are shot in regards to the skull. While this is a low budget production and a product of its time, where effects were still fairly primitive, the skull truly becomes its own character because of the simple tricks the filmmakers did.

I love how you see through the skull’s eye sockets in many shots, giving you a first-person perspective of the evil force, as it enchants and takes control of its human vessels. The use of colored light within the skull added a certain mystique to these shots. Also, the way that they made the skull physically float through the air was done to great effect. Even though modern HD televisions make the strings more visible, it still works and most of these effects look really smooth, especially for the mid-’60s.

The tone and atmosphere of the film are also well crafted. The cinematography is effective, especially in regards to the lighting and shot framing. And even though most of the story takes place in what was modern times, it still has a very Victorian feel to it.

Most importantly, this is well acted from all the key players, as they gave this film their all and made it better than it needed to be.

Like most old horror, this relies on the imagination of the viewer. It’s a “less is more” suspenseful thriller that uses your own imagination as its real monster.

While Amicus wasn’t quite at the level of Hammer, the best of their pictures, this being one of them, definitely stood proudly alongside their closest competition.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films. Specifically, those starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Film Review: The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Release Date: June 24th, 1964 (London & Los Angeles premieres)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles Beaumont, R. Wright Campbell
Based on: The Masque of the Red Death and Hop-Frog by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: David Lee
Cast: Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, Patrick Magee, Nigel Green, Robert Brown

American International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Somewhere in the human mind, my dear Francesca, lies the key to our existance. My ancestors tried to find it. And to open the door that separates us from our Creator.” – Prospero

While I can’t talk highly enough about all of the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by Roger Corman and Vincent Price, I really can’t talk highly enough about The Masque of the Red Death, which is one of the best of the lot, as well as the most aesthetically pleasing.

Other than a couple quick scenes, the entirety of this picture takes place within the castle walls of the Satan worshiping Prince Prospero. He has entombed his party guests and a few villagers he spared within the structure in an effort to wait out the “Red Death” outside the castle gates.

While trying to avoid the plague, Prospero tries to influence the young girl he feels he saved from death. He shows her his secrets and opens up about his allegiance to the Devil himself. All the while, the reach of the Red Death works its way into the castle to deliver Prospero’s inevitable and unavoidable fate.

There is also a neat side story that was based on Poe’s Hop-Frog. I liked this mini story within the larger story and how it was all tied together.

I also like that this film re-teamed Price with Hazel Court and also threw in Patrick Magee, Robert Brown and Nigel Green. Now it’s not a star studded cast like what Corman delivered in The Raven, a year earlier, but it is a good ensemble of character actors and ’60s horror icons.

This is a pretty imaginative film that is visually stunning and alluring. The big climax is superb, especially for those who are a fan of Corman’s style when it’s rarely at its artistic apex.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Roger Corman/Vincent Price collaborations.

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