Film Review: The Monster Club (1981)

Release Date: April 2nd, 1981 (UK)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Edward Abraham, Valerie Abraham
Based on: the works of R. Chetwynd-Hayes
Music by: Douglas Gamley, various
Cast: Vincent Price, John Carradine, Donald Pleasence, Patrick Magee, Stuart Whitman, Britt Ekland, Richard Johnson, Barbara Kellerman, Simon Ward

Chips Productions, Sword & Sorcery, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Can we truly call this a monster club if we do not boast amongst our membership a single member of the human race?” – Eramus

This used to be one of my favorite anthology horror movies when I was a kid and while it wasn’t my first Vincent Price movie, it’s one that I had on VHS and would watch more than any person probably should have.

The film is really a mixed bag, as anthology horror movies tend to go, but most of the stuff contained within is good and amusing. Even if the disintegrating woman at the end of the first story scared the living shit out of me every time I saw it with young eyes. Frankly, it’s still effective and the best special effects shot in the entire film.

This is incredibly low budget but it also makes the best out of its limited resources and I actually like how bad the monster costumes are in the nightclub scenes, which are sprinkled throughout the film as the narrative bookends.

A lot of this film felt overly hokey and I’m not sure if they were specifically aiming for that but it worked and gave it a charm that it wouldn’t have had if it was more serious or had a budget that better hid its flaws. I love that the movie sort of wears its cheapness and absurdity on its sleeve.

My favorite parts of the movie are the bookend bits, mainly because I like the music, the performances and the banter between Vincent Price and John Carradine. I especially love the scene where Price goes on a diatribe about how The Monster Club needs to open up to humans, the best monster that ever lived.

As far as the actual short horror stories go, I like the first one the best. It was actually effective, emotionally and I liked the characters and the simple story. The vampire chapter was the worst one and it’s really just meh. The final story with the village of ghouls was decent and I liked Patrick Magee in it but it’s still far from great and watching it, you just want to get back to the Monster Club scenes.

Overall, I can’t say that this aged well but it will most definitely excite the nostalgia bug for those who loved the horror and music of this era.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’70s and ’80s horror anthologies.

Film Review: And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973)

Also known as: I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream (alternative title)
Release Date: April 27th, 1973 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Roger Marshall
Based on: Fengriffen by David Case
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Ian Ogilvy, Stephanie Beacham

Amicus Productions, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Ghosts galore. Headless horsemen, horseless headsmen, everything.” – Charles Fengriffen

An Amicus horror film that isn’t an anthology? Oh, yes!

I’ve never seen this one, which is surprising, as it features Peter Cushing and Patrick Magee in it. It also stars a young Stephanie Beacham, who I loved in a TV show no one but me remembers anymore called Sister Kate.

This is the story of a newlywed couple who move into the groom’s mansion which is haunted due to a curse placed on it, following a terrible thing that happened on the property years earlier.

It’s fairly predictable but the story is solid with good layers to it. The film also benefits from better acting than pictures like this tend to have.

More than anything, I liked the creepiness of this and in that regard, it felt like it was on a different level than your standard Amicus fair.

loved the effects, especially how they pulled of the severed hand that crawled across the floor. It looked real, effective and for the time, was damn impressive.

In the end, I can hardly call this a horror classic but I do like it better than most Amicus movies. And since that’s a studio whose output I really enjoy, I guess I was somewhat impressed by this.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other non-anthology gothic horror films of the ’60s and ’70s.

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: Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

Also known as: Night Without Sleep, Mischief (working titles)
Release Date: July 18th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Daniel Taradash
Based on: Mischief by Charlotte Armstrong
Music by: Lionel Newman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, Anne Bancroft, Elisha Cook Jr., Jim Backus, Donna Corcoran, Jeanne Cagney, Lurene Tuttle, Verna Felton

20th Century Fox, 76 Minutes

Review:

“You smell like a cooch dancer!” – Eddie Forbes

This is a really interesting film about mental illness. It came out in the 1950s when there wasn’t as much knowledge about the subject but compared to other films from the time, this one is actually really respectful towards mental health. Honestly, Don’t Bother to Knock is probably one of the best movies of its era to actually try and tackle the issue, as it doesn’t make the character struggling with it into a psychotic nutjob.

The film gives top billing to Richard Widmark but the real star of the picture is Marilyn Monroe, who plays a babysitter that mentally breaks down as the story rolls on. I’ve absolutely got to give Monroe props in this role, as she truly comes across as believable and makes you feel for her on a pretty deep level.

In fact, this is one movie that you can point to when people claim that Monroe was just a pretty face. She handled the material with a sort of grace and respect that transcends the picture. And if I’m being straight here, I’ve never been a massive Monroe fan. But her ability to act in this picture was stupendous and it kind of makes me want to reexamine her other roles.

Additionally, Widmark is superb in his role, as are Anne Bancroft, who I wish had more screen time, and the always entertaining character actor Elisha Cook Jr.

This is a sympathetic and intelligently handled picture where the cast figures out something is off with this girl but they ultimately rally around her to give her the help she desperately needs. It’s hard to say what happens to her after the film but you do leave with the feeling that the core characters in this story will be there to help her heal, as opposed to just sending her to an asylum and being done with her uncontrollable antics.

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, who would go on to do a lot of horror and sci-fi pictures, the film is well shot and it shows that the guy had a real skill that his later work might not have showcased nearly as well. While I enjoy the work he did for Hammer and Amicus, the two horror giants of the UK, this may be the best film of his that I’ve seen from an artistic and technical standpoint.

Don’t Bother to Knock has been a film that has been in my Prime Video queue for a long time. I’m glad that I finally got around to giving it a shot, as I was pleasantly surprised by it on just about every level.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other early ’50s film-noir, as well as other early Marilyn Monroe movies.

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: Asylum (1972)

Release Date: November 17th, 1972
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Robert Bloch
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Robert Powell, Herbert Lom, Barry Morse, Patrick Magee, Charlotte Rampling

Amicus Productions, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 88 Minutes

asylum_1972Review:

Amicus was kind of like the lesser known little brother to England’s Hammer Studios, who were the masters of 50s, 60s and 70s gothic horror. In their heyday, they made some horror anthology pictures. I have always been a bigger fan of full length horror pictures with one cohesive story but I like seeing some of the lighter ideas explored in anthology films. Sometimes an idea is good but it doesn’t need 90 minutes.

What drew me to Asylum initially was the fact that it “stars” one of my favorites, Peter Cushing. I put that in parentheses because he is barely in the film. That was pretty common in anthology pictures, however. He wasn’t even the main character of his story though, so it is somewhat disappointing.

The film also features Patrick Magee, who I have loved as an actor due to how great he was in A Clockwork Orange and also for his roles in Barry LyndonThe Masque of the Red Death and Dementia 13.

One story in the anthology features the always beautiful and alluring Britt Ekland and the greatly talented Charlotte Rampling, who is very young in this.

Some of the stories here are fairly creepy but overall, the film isn’t very good. It is a bit slow in some sequences and I found certain points to be boring, actually. The first story, which features crawling disembodied limbs, is the highlight of the film. Everything else goes downhill from there. The Ekland and Rampling story is interesting enough to hold your attention but it isn’t anything entirely new. The final twist ending also isn’t that fantastic, as it has been done a million times over. Granted, it may have felt fresh and unique in 1972.

Asylum is a good enough film to kill some time on a rainy day but it isn’t a classic, by any means. It fits well in the Amicus catalog but they did produce much better films.

Rating: 5.25/10

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

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.