Film Review: Rockula (1990)

Release Date: February 23rd, 1990
Directed by: Luca Bercovici
Written by: Luca Bercovici, Jefery Levy, Chris Ver Wiel
Music by: Hilary Bercovici, Osunlade, various
Cast: Dean Cameron, Toni Basil, Thomas Dolby, Tawny Fere, Susan Tyrrell, Bo Diddley, Tony Cox

Cannon Films, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Well, you can say that the night is full of danger, but you know, to the night, you’re not a stranger. You know what I mean?” – Phoebe

Man, this was a really weird but also kind of wonderful movie.

And sure, it’s cheesy as all hell but it’s got some real heart and is somewhat endearing. It’s also really cool seeing some seriously legit musicians in this, hamming it up to the max and looking like they were enjoying every minute of making this strange and lively movie.

I don’t even know if I can really consider this a cult classic. It’s not something that anybody talks about, even in circles of film fans that would love something as bonkers as this.

Basically, this is a horror comedy but it’s also a musical full of people like Toni Basil, Thomas Dolby and Bo Diddley. It’s also very much a product of its time and while for new viewers it will certainly feel extremely dated, it’s sort of a time capsule into the weirdest shit that entertainment had to offer as the ’80s shifted into the ’90s.

The movie’s main star is Dean Cameron, who I have enjoyed since first seeing him in Summer School when I was a kid. He always sort of played stoner type characters in C-level comedy films but I always thought of him as a solid, charismatic, comedic actor that probably deserved more rolls at a more mainstream level. I think the biggest thing he was in was Men At Work but he was also somewhat overshadowed by a stacked cast in that one.

Here, Cameron gets to shine and he even gets to perform some musical numbers with the band he throws together to impress the love of his centuries long vampire life.

While the story isn’t anything great, it’s hard not to get lost in this, as all the core characters are pretty entertaining. I especially liked Thomas Dolby in this, as he essentially plays the film’s villain, a new wave British dandy that doesn’t like this vampire kid trying to lure away the girl he sees as his own.

To enjoy this film, though, one probably has to really love the entertainment of its era, as well as pure goofiness. Since I fit that profile, this is a pretty good movie for me to throw on to mindlessly escape from the real world for an hour and a half.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other really odd comedies of the ’80s and early ’90s, especially those with horror themes.

Comic Review: The Lost Boys, Vol. 1

Published: August 15th, 2017
Written by: Tim Seeley
Art by: Scott Godlewski
Based on: The Lost Boys by Janice Fischer, James Jeremias

Vertigo Comics, 143 Pages

Review:

I was kind of excited to give this a read, as it was released under DC’s Vertigo imprint and because it was written by Tim Seeley whose teen horror series Hack/Slash was something that I was a huge fan of for years. Plus, I also enjoy the hell out of the original Lost Boys movie, which this serves as a direct sequel to, taking place in the ’80s and shortly after the first movie.

While I was initially into this, as it rolled on, I sadly became underwhelmed and then disappointed by it.

All the surviving core characters are back but it was a bit jarring seeing the grandpa killed off in the first issue. It came across as sort of dismissive of the character and even though it set up the battle between the heroes and the vampires in the story, it still felt cheap, pointless and disrespectful.

I also found it odd that this takes place in the late ’80s but one of the vampire chicks had the go-to androgynous SJW mental patient hairstyle.

Additionally, the Frog brothers pretty much fuck up and get captured right off the bat, making them essentially damsels-in-distress for the majority of the story.

One thing I did like, though, was that the iconic, buff saxophone player, who we only saw for a few seconds in the movie, is revealed to be a vampire hunter in training and the oil he wears all over his body serves a dual purpose, as it is a repellent for vampires.

Other than that, this was just a waste of my time. I wanted this to be, at the very least, mindless, fun escapism. It was just a half-assed attempt at capitalizing off of a thirty year-old movie and that’s probably why there wasn’t a volume two.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the film series it’s based on and other horror comics by Tim Seeley.

Film Review: The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

Also known as: The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula (US poster title), The Last Warning (UK alternative title)
Release Date: July 11th, 1974 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker, Chang Cheh
Written by: Don Houghton
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, David Chiang, Julie Ege, Robin Stewart, John Forbes-Robertson

Shaw Brothers, Hammer Films, 89 Minutes, 75 Minutes (American edit)

Review:

“I need your mortal coil. I need the form of your miserable carcass. I need your vile image. I need to walk this Earth again, free from these walls, free from this mausoleum. I will return to your temple, in your image Kah. I will recall the Seven Golden Vampires, as my own host. Tools of my vengeance on mankind. I will take on your appearance, your image.” – Dracula

I saw this years ago and while I mostly liked it, I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, revisiting it now.

This film was a co-production between the UK’s Hammer Films, known for their iconic gothic horror pictures, and Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers studio, the masters of classic kung fu flicks.

Somehow, this unusual movie came together like a perfect marriage between the two studios’ very different styles and the end result was something really entertaining, especially for fans of both companies.

I’m not surprised that Christopher Lee didn’t come back to play Dracula once again but I still wish he had, as it would’ve added something extra to the movie. But at least Peter Cushing returned to play another version of the Van Helsing character. I do like the actor that did play the traditional Dracula, however, even if the role was rather limited.

That intro between Dracula and Kah, the Chinese baddie that became his mortal host, was really damn enjoyable: the perfect kind of old school cheese.

Once the story gets to China, it’s really energetic and cool. I love the tone of the film, the martial arts action and the ideas explored in this were really neat and fresh.

I especially love how vivid and almost giallo-esque some of the lighting was in the more surreal horror scenes. However, at times, the movie also looks like what one would expect from a traditional Shaw Brothers kung fu movie.

There’s just a lot of awesome stuff in this film and if you just sit back and enjoy the show, it’s a lot of fun and a great attempt at trying to bring two very different things together in a well-crafted package.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Dracula films, as well as other Shaw Brothers kung fu pictures.

TV Review: Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974–1975)

Original Run: September 13th, 1974 – March 28th, 1975
Created by: Jeff Rice
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice
Music by: various
Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jack Grinnage, Ruth McDevitt 

Francy Productions Inc., Universal Television, ABC, 20 Episodes, 50-51 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve wanted to work my way through all the classic Kolchak material for quite some time. After reviewing the two television movies, I knew it was time to watch the television series, which only ran for a single season of twenty episodes.

Overall, I prefer the two films but the show is where the character and his world really come to life and start to develop its own mythos.

The show is a mixed bag of some great and some mediocre episodes. None of them are bad but some are a bit slow and felt like they were interesting concepts or ideas that didn’t live up to the level of the franchise at its best.

The episodes I dug most I truly loved, though.

Darren McGavin was born to play the role of Carl Kolchak and it’s hard to envision anyone else in the part, even though it was rebooted thirty or so years later with Stuart Townsend. I’ve never seen that version but I may track it down in order to review it. That show failed pretty quickly though and has less episodes than the original.

I think that the quality of the episodes being a bit shaky didn’t have so much to do with the monsters featured but had more to do with the creative teams that worked on them. Some stories felt rushed, some felt slow and the craftsmanship was sometimes lacking. For instance, in one episode the cinematography could look superb for 1970s television while in the following episode, it could look really pedestrian and half assed.

That’s not to say that the show didn’t have a consistent look and feel, it did. It’s just to say that it really stood out when a director would go the extra mile or when a writer took time crafting a solid, more fleshed out script. You could gauge which episodes were made with actual passion and love for the material.

Faults aside, I dig the hell out of this show and the two main characters within it. I love McGavin and Simon Oakland brought an extra level of gravitas. Plus, the two men have incredible chemistry.

While this is a franchise that seems almost forgotten in the early part of the 2020s, it is still historically significant. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have gotten other great, similar shows like The X-Files.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the Kolchak movies before the show, as well as the reboot and The X-Files.

Comic Review: The Saga of Solomon Kane

Published: August 18th, 2009
Written by: Roy Thomas, Doug Moench, various
Art by: various
Based on: characters by Robert E. Howard, characters by Bram Stoker

Marvel Comics (original printing), Dark Horse (reprinted), 416 Pages

Review:

Man, this was one hell of a buy! A great value in fact! I was surprised that I found one in pretty pristine condition on eBay for about twenty bucks.

This collection is pretty special, as it is magazine sized and all in black and white. It’s also over 400 glorious pages! It reprints all of the Solomon Kane magazine format stories from the original Marvel era when they had all the Robert E. Howard publishing rights from the ’70s into the early ’90s.

I’ve read probably half of these stories before, as I own a lot of the issues these tales appeared in but it’s been a really long time and about 50-60 percent of this was new to me.

It seems like this is mostly in chronological order and it allowed for it to read much better as a broader body of work, covering the large passage of time over Kane’s many adventures.

Being that this was made by Marvel, it features some great crossovers with the Marvel version of Dracula, as well as another Robert E. Howard character, Conan. There’s even a story in here that features Frankenstein’s castle.

A lot of the stories here are adapted from Howard’s literary Solomon Kane tales. Having recently read the definitive collection of the literary work, it was really cool seeing some of the same tales brought to life with great art.

All in all, this is now one of my favorite things in my graphic novel collection. It’s a beast of a collection but it’s also something I know I’ll go back to and revisit again and again for the rest of my life.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other comic stories that were featured within the pages of the original Savage Sword of Conan magazine.

Film Review: The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Also known as: I Am Legend, The Naked Terror (working titles), The Damned Walk at Midnight (alternative title)
Release Date: May 6th, 1964
Directed by: Sidney Salkow, Ubaldo B. Ragona
Written by: Logan Swanson, William F. Leicester, Furio M. Monetti, Ubaldo B. Ragona
Based on: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi Stuart

Associated Producers (API), Produzioni La Regina, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Another day to live through. Better get started.” – Robert Morgan

When I was a kid, this was a movie that bored me to tears. I didn’t revisit it again for decades because I thought it was so drab and slow. However, I wanted to give it a fair shot and this time around, I liked it a lot. 

I guess my memories of it weren’t all that accurate either, as I just remembered the scenes of Vincent Price driving around with bodies everywhere and then spending all his time reinforcing his house and lying around on the couch as zombie vampires called his name from outside. All these things do happen, however there is much more to the picture.

We do get flashbacks to the time before the virus completely wrecked the planet. We see Price as a scientist who has a hard time believing what’s happening because it’s… well, so unbelievable. After spending so much time with Price alone, these flashback scenes are a welcome sight, as we get to see him interact with human beings again. All the slow, monotonous stuff served a real purpose with the narrative and tone of the film. Like Price, you yearn for more humans and when you get them, you feel that emotional effect.

Apparently, this film was supposed to be produced and shot by Hammer Films. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen and production moved to an Italian company. They were able to lock down Vincent Price and frankly, despite my poor taste as a kid, the end result is something incredibly worthwhile.

This film also features one of Price’s best performances, which is very reserved and somber. Price acts very much in contrast to what most people remember him for, which was his flamboyant and energetic characters. Seeing Price play his role this way, also adds to the emotional effect of the picture. I’ve seen enough of Price to understand his range and this wasn’t the first or last time he played a softer, more subdued character, but this story might make it his best version of that.

The Last Man On Earth is a film that most horror historians look at really fondly. I had a bad take on it for years and I’m glad that I decided to give it a chance. After seeing it now, I feel like maybe I never finished it, as a kid, as all I remembered from it was the stuff that happened in the first act.

I certainly didn’t remember the ending, which is quite impactful.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: early zombie films, as well as other films based off of this story like The Omega Man and I Am Legend.

Documentary Review: World of Darkness (2017)

Release Date: May 11th, 2017 (Germany)
Directed by: Giles Alderson
Written by: Kevin Lee
Cast: various

Figi Productions, Luckyday, 89 Minutes

Review:

After recently watching a good documentary on Dungeons & Dragons, I wanted to watch this, as it’s about a role-playing community I was more involved in.

In fact, I was involved in a relationship about twenty years ago that found itself wrapped up in this game’s orbit quite a bit. It was fun for the time and even though I wasn’t a die hard player or fan, I enjoyed those in the community I got to know and I really enjoyed the original PC game.

That being said, this is a good recount of the history of the White Wolf company and the fans who loved their products. It also goes into how White Wolf sort of fucked themselves and pissed off those loyal fans, essentially sabotaging future growth and brand loyalty.

I remember when all the shenanigans started and while I didn’t understand (or pay attention) to all the details back then, I do remember how pissed off a lot of people were.

This is an interesting documentary because the story of White Wolf is an interesting one. However, beyond that, this plays like many of the other documentaries about niche fandoms.

Also, it didn’t interview some of the company’s former die hards that felt betrayed. Sure, some people here were miffed by it and added their two cents but I felt like the issues were addressed and quickly brushed under the rug and dismissed, looking forward into the future and what the White Wolf IP rights holders hope will be a lucrative business once again.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about table top gaming, video games and specific fandoms.

Film Review: The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

Also known as: Kiss of Evil (US TV title)
Release Date: September 11th, 1963
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: John Elder
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Clifford Evans, Edward de Souza, Jennifer Daniel, Noel Willman, Barry Warren, Brian Oulton, Noel Howlett

Hammer Films, 88 Minutes, 93 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“When the devil attacks a man or woman with this foul disease of the vampire the unfortunate human being can do one of two things. Either he can seek God through the church and pray for absolution or he can persuade himself that his filthy perversion is some kind of new and wonderful experience to be shared by the favoured few. Then he tries to persuade others to join his new cult.” – Professor Zimmer

Man, this was a really solid Hammer vampire flick and even though I saw it years ago, I didn’t remember it being this good.

The story follows two newlyweds traveling for their honeymoon. They end up in a small Bavarian village in 1910. While there, they come to discover that the people are a bit off. As the story rolls on, we come to learn that the small community is being controlled by a vampire cult that lives in a nearby castle. The cult tricks the newlyweds at a party and abducts the wife, trying to make the husband believe that he arrived there alone. The husband then teams up with a Professor, who lost his daughter to the cult. The two men then seek vengeance against the vampires in an effort to save the young man’s wife.

For a Hammer film that doesn’t feature any of Hammer’s go-to big name actors, this is still on the level of those other movies. Clifford Evans and Edward de Souza had worked for Hammer before and they did hold their own without the help of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Oliver Reed or Andre Morell.

This was directed by Don Sharp, though, and even if he wasn’t one of the top two Hammer directors, he did a good amount of films for the studio over his career and always hit the right mark, tonally and narratively.

This picture looks great but then again, all Hammer films of the 1960s did. It recycles some furniture and other set pieces but that kind of just adds to the overall appeal of the Hammer aesthetic.

Additionally, the climax to this film is superb and I dug the hell out of it. For the time, the special effects worked well and it was cool seeing these vampires meet a sort of ironic demise.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer vampire movies.

Film Review: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Also known as: The Brain of Frankenstein (working title)
Release Date: June 15th, 1948
Directed by: Charles Barton
Written by: John Grant, Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo
Based on: characters by Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Curt Siodmak, H.G. Wells
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange, Lenore Aubert, Jane Randolph, Frank Ferguson, Charles Bradstreet, Vincent Price (voice, uncredited cameo)

Universal International Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Young people making the most of life – while it lasts.” – Dr. Lejos/Dracula

I’m actually surprised that I hadn’t yet reviewed any of the Universal Monsters pictures with Abbot and Costello in them. I have an immense love of both things and having them come together, which they did a handful of times, was really cool.

Overall, this one was always my favorite but I like all of them.

In this one, we don’t just get Frankenstein’s Monster, we also get Dracula, the Wolf Man and a little cameo by the Invisible Man. With that, we also got Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. and a voice cameo by the legendary Vincent Price.

Unfortunately, Boris Karloff didn’t come back to play Frankenstein’s Monster but we did get Glenn Strange, who had already played the monster twice before this and who is really underappreciated in that role.

The only problem with this is one that doesn’t actually effect the film itself but instead, effects the ones that followed. You see, they blew their nut really early by cramming a ton of monsters into this one, so the following movies felt a bit underwhelming after the precedent this one set. But honestly, it’s why this particular one is the best of the lot.

Abbot and Costello are both hilarious per usual and their camaraderie was so solid by this point that they could’ve entertained in their sleep.

All in all, this was a really good horror comedy that took the best parts of two very different things and merged them together very well, not diminishing the performances of the two comedic legends or the coolness of the classic monsters and the legends who played them.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Abbot and Costello monster movies.

Film Review: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Also known as: D (working title)
Release Date: November 10th, 1992 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: James V. Hart
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Wojciech Kilar
Cast: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Billy Campbell, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits, Monica Bellucci, Jay Robinson

Osiris Films, American Zoetrope, Columbia Pictures, 128 Minutes, 155 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Do you believe in destiny? That even the powers of time can be altered for a single purpose? That the luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds… true love?” – Dracula

While I was never a massive fan of this Dracula adaptation, which I will get into, I’ve still always enjoyed it. It’s generally well acted and it looks incredible. I also have to say that it’s stood the test of time, as it doesn’t feel as dated as I thought it would and because many people still talk about it and refer to it as one of their favorite vampire films of all-time.

I think that Francis Ford Coppola did a good job in giving the famous novel some new life and helped to inject vampire movies back into the mainstream consciousness. However, it does fall short of the great 1994 Interview With A Vampire adaptation, as well as some of the other Dracula movies of the past.

This tossed away certain tropes, as Dracula no longer takes on the visual style of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and instead, was reworked with inspiration taken from Catholicism. The hair is different, the costume is different and its sort of refreshing, allowing this movie to actually break the mold and exist as its own thing, as opposed to just another rehash of what Dracula movies had been for sixty years.

The film also uses characters from the book, who were mostly ignored in the countless other adaptations. In a lot of ways, this is very accurate to Stoker’s original work. However, it also has some major differences, which makes it more of Coppola’s Dracula than Stoker’s Dracula.

The biggest of these changes is Dracula’s origin, which now connects him to Vlad the Impaler, a historical ruler of Romania, who fought off and conquered the Turks. Additionally, we see how he becomes a vampire, where the original novel didn’t really answer that question.

Beyond that, this is much more about romance, as Mina has an attraction to Dracula and he allows her to choose him. In the novel, Dracula didn’t care about love and his goal was to move to England and drain it of blood. That being said, I do like this modification that Coppola made and it gives the story more nuance, context and purpose. Plus, these moments between Dracula and Mina were beautifully shot and well acted.

My biggest gripe with the film, which sucks to admit, was that Keanu Reeves was out of his depth. I know that it is popular to criticize his performance in this film but those criticisms aren’t wrong. His British accent is somehow off, feeling forced and unnatural. Also, every time he shares the screen with Gary Oldman, he is outshined by a very wide margin. I guess Christian Slater was originally cast as Jonathan Harker and man, what a different and probably much better movie this could have been, especially when considering Slater and Winona Ryder’s chemistry in Heathers.

A strong positive for me, is that Coppola insisted on using old school effects techniques, as opposed to relying on newly developing CGI technology. The effects shots are really neat and give them film a sort of authenticity that CGI just can’t replicate, even now, nearly thirty years later.

The practical monster effects, the costumes, the hair, the makeup, all of that stuff is phenomenal and it has all held up so well.

I also like that this wasn’t filmed on location and that Coppola did just about everything indoors on massive soundstages. It gives the film a great, classically cinematic look and it reminds me of Hammer’s vampire films, as well as the old Universal Monsters pictures.

Lastly, the score is fucking perfection. Wojciech Kilar created one of the most iconic horror scores of all-time. The main theme of the film is even better, as it has become just as iconic as this film, if not, more so. I wish Kilar did more American movies over the course of his career but between this and his score from The Ninth Gate, he’s one of my favorite composers that I discovered in the ’90s.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a better film than I remembered it being. I still can’t say that it’s on my Mount Rushmore of Dracula adaptations but it’s one of the most unique and coolest versions of the story.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Interview With A Vampire, as well as other vampire films from the late ’80s through mid-’90s.