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.

Comic Review: Vampirella and the Scarlet Legion

Published: February 29th, 2012
Written by: Joe Harris
Art by: Jose Malaga

Dynamite Entertainment, 135 Pages

Review:

It’s been a little while since I’ve read a Vampirella comic and this one has been in my Comixology queue for quite some time. In fact, it was the oldest title in my queue, so I figured I’d give it a read.

For the most part, this was kind of cool and I liked the whole mythos surrounding The Scarlet Legion and their ties to Vampirella. This also added in some Aztec mysticism, as Vampirella is essentially elevated as a god to the tribe she encounters in the story.

The plot itself is just okay. It’s got a few twists and surprises but a lot of this feels cookie cutter.

And while I mostly like the art, it lacks energy. The character designs and illustrations are pretty solid but nothing feels very dynamic. The colors are decent but a bit wonky at times, as well.

Overall, this is okay but there are better Vampirella stories out there.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Vampirella comics from her Dynamite era.

Film Review: Crypt of the Vampire (1964)

Also known as: La cripta e l’incubo (original Italian title), Crypt of Horror (UK), Terror In the Crypt (US alternative title)
Release Date: May 27th, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Camillo Mastrocinque
Written by: Tonino Valerii, Ernesto Gastaldi
Based on: Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Christopher Lee, Adriana Ambesi, Pier Anna Quaglia, Freidrich Klauss

E.I. Associates Producers, Hispamer Films, Alta Vista, 82 Minutes

Review:

“It’s so beautiful here. Perhaps nature has purposely set the stage and is waiting for the actors to enter. But who knows if the play is farce … or tragedy. This is a spot where one could come for pleasure … or for death.” – Lyuba

Being that Christopher Lee is one of my favorite actors of all-time, it’s always cool checking out one of his films for the first time. While I’ve seen all the fairly well-known ones and most of his Hammer work, there are those odd ones that have slipped through the cracks over the years. But the guy has close to 300 acting credits to his name, so there are still several of his movies that I haven’t seen.

This one was a low budget production by Italian and Spanish studios that came out during the height of his career, just before he’d make The Devil-Ship Pirates and The Gorgon for Hammer that same year.

Also, this film is an adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, which Hammer would also use as source material for their Karnstein trilogy of films, as well as Captain Kronos.

While Lee was no stranger to vampire films, this one provides him with a very different role. It doesn’t push him into another version of a Dracula character and instead, he plays a human count that is concerned that his daughter may be possessed by an evil spirit that brought his lineage trouble in the past.

This film is kind of slow and pretty drab for the most part. However, what it lacks in energy and poor pacing, it makes up for in atmosphere. This is a dark, haunting picture. The surviving prints of this film that have made it online and in spite of being digital, are of pretty mediocre quality. But this actually seems to work for the film, as it appears darker and in a higher contrast than what was probably originally released.

Overall, this picture looks superb, even with the physical elements working against the physical film that they eventually digitized. It’s not an exciting picture, though, but at least Lee gives a solid, convincing performance and the film convincingly manufactures a thick sense of dread and claustrophobia.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other horror films that Christopher Lee starred in apart from Hammer.

Comic Review: Graveyard Shift, Volume II

Published: June, 2020
Written by: Mark Poulton
Art by: Jon Malin, Anthony George

Haunted Pizza, 48 Pages

Review:

It’s been awhile since the first Graveyard Shift came out but these crowdfunded comics take time.

While I mostly liked the original, I was expecting more out of this one, after the setup. However, I also wasn’t expecting this to be the end of the story, as I know more volumes are planned.

However, this is the end of this story arc, which in totality, comprises about the length of four regular floppy comic book issues.

That being said, while I also enjoyed this one, the plot felt a bit rushed, as I don’t feel like we really got to know these characters well enough in the limited time we had. Add in all the action and cool stuff and the story just didn’t have enough room to breathe and properly develop.

I think that it needs more balance between developing the characters, especially this early, and the big action sequences.

Granted, I would like to read more of these and get to know these characters better. And I hope that they are explored more in the future.

Apart from the story, which I don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t read it yet, I thought that the art was a bit of a step up. Jon Malin didn’t deviate from his style but it feels more polished and refined, here. I’m not sure if he spent a little more time on this volume or if he’s just improved since last year’s release.

Ultimately, this was a fun, great looking read. It’s not my favorite series out of the crowdfunded stuff I’ve supported over the last few years but I would put it in the upper echelon. 

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent Comicsgate books like Richard C. Meyer’s Jawbreakers, which Malin also worked on.

Comic Review: Monster Hunt – One-Shot

Published: June, 2020
Written by: Mike S. Miller
Art by: Mike S. Miller. J. Nanjan Jamberi
Based on: Jawbreakers by Richard C. Meyer, Graveyard Shift by Mark Poulton, Jon Malin

Blacklist Universe, 24 Pages

Review:

I never really wanted to back the original Lonestar comic, as Mike S. Miller rubbed me the wrong way. Eventually, I relented and backed it after hearing his sob story and because it was pushed pretty heavily by Ethan Van Sciver on his YouTube show, Comic Artist Pro Secrets.

I was fairly surprised by it though and I gave it a pretty positive review. I wasn’t 100 percent sure if I’d back the second volume but I did want to back this project, as it was a crossover one-shot featuring characters from different creators within the Comicsgate circle. Well, that is until Mike S. Miller had his forty-third emotional meltdown and left the group because his grapes were sour and his neighbor had kumquats he needed to steal.

You get what you pay for, though, and I knew that this was a soulless cash grab where Mike wanted to ride on the coattails of his peers with more success. I only bought it because it used characters from these other creators. It also took an ungodly amount of time for this to reach my mailbox.

The final result, is a comic that looks good but falls flat and underwhelms. It doesn’t really add anything to any of the franchises it mashes up. It only added pity dollars and swindle duckets to Mike’s bank account.

I wanted to see beyond the disingenuous shuckster that ran this campaign and I wanted this to be as cool as my initial feelings back when Image and Valiant came out with the Deathmate crossover in the early ’90s. This ended up being more of a disappointment than that one though, as it really just throws these characters together, kind of aimlessly, sees them fight a bunch of monsters and then abruptly ends.

In all fairness, I think Mike was limited in how he could use these characters, as they’re all in their own series doing their own thing and this couldn’t really explore them as characters.

Honestly, this just felt kind of weird and sloppily thrown together. Yes, the art is really good and it’s some of the best I’ve seen from Miller but it quickly became obvious that this was what I feared it would be and that’s just a cash grab, piggyback project by a dishonest opportunist.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other comics featuring Lonestar, the Jawbreakers and characters from Graveyard Shift.

Film Review: Count Dracula (1970)

Also known as: Dracula ’71 (alternative US title), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (complete title), Dracula (working title)
Release Date: April 3rd, 1970 (Germany)
Directed by: Jesus Franco
Written by: Augustino Finocchi, Peter Welbeck (English), Jesus Franco (Spanish), Carlo Fadda (Italian), Milo G. Cuccia (Italian), Dietmar Behnke (German)
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski, Frederick Williams, Maria Rohm, Soledad Miranda, Jack Taylor, Paul Muller, Jesus Puente

Filmar Compagnia Cinematografica, Fénix Cooperativa Cinematográfica, Corona Filmproduktion, 98 Minutes

Review:

“One of my race crossed the Danube and destroyed the Turkish host. Though sometimes beaten back, he came again and again then at the end he came again for he alone could triumph. This was a Dracula indeed.” – Count Dracula

Even though Christopher Lee had already played Dracula a half dozen times by 1970, I think it was hard for him to turn down this alternative take on the role, as Spanish director Jesus Franco wanted to make a film that was the closest version of Bram Stoker’s original literary work.

That being said, this is a pretty spot on adaptation of the novel but that also works against it, as a lot of this is boring, drawn out and more focused on drama, as opposed to horror.

The first act of the film is wonderful, well paced, decently acted and it seems to come off without a hitch. However, after that, the story moves at a snail’s pace and the only things in it that are worthwhile are the few scenes with Klaus Kinski as Renfield and the absolutely stunning beauty of Soledad Miranda, who unfortunately died way too young in real life and just barely scratched the surface of her potential.

Jesus Franco would go on to essentially make films that fit the porn category more than anything else but this one is very light on being sexually exploitative and maybe that’s due to Lee’s involvement.

The film is okay but mostly forgettable other than it existing as a Lee Dracula film that isn’t a part of the Hammer continuity.

It was shot and filmed in Spain and that kind of takes you out of the picture when it’s supposed to be set in Romania and England. Watching characters run through castles and streets full of desert sand is a bizarre thing to see in a Dracula film but I digress.

Ultimately, this was cool to see, as it allowed Lee to get more into the literary Dracula without the ham and cheese of the Hammer sequels. It felt closer to the original Hammer film than any of their sequels, as far as the Dracula character goes. However, it’s completely devoid of that Hammer charm, which made those films much more iconic and memorable.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Christopher Lee’s Dracula films from Hammer, as well as Jesus Franco’s other vampire movies.

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: Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974)

Also known as: Kronos (US short title), Vampire Castle (alternative title) 
Release Date: April 7th, 1974 (UK)
Directed by: Brian Clemens
Written by: Brian Clemens
Music by: Laurie Johnson
Cast: Horst Janson, John Carson, Caroline Munro, John Cater

Hammer Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“What he doesn’t know about vampirism wouldn’t fill a flea’s codpiece.” – Kronos

After revisiting and reviewing Hammer’s The Karnstein Trilogy of films, I wanted to go back and watch Captain Kronos, as it features another Karnstein vampire but it isn’t considered part of the other three films. I went into this in my Twins of Evil review, so I won’t rehash it here.

Another reason why I wanted to watch this again was Caroline Munro, who was one of my earliest crushes and frankly, that crush has never worn off. I love her and she’s a lot of fun in this vampire swashbuckler.

This film is pretty great, especially for those who like not just classic Hammer-style horror but also for those who love adventure and a little bit of swashbuckling. Granted, there are no pirate ships and tropical locales here. But our hero, Captain Kronos isn’t afraid of crossing swords with evil.

Kronos, who is a cool character, isn’t alone in his quest to vanquish undead evil. He actually has a small group that works with him, my favorite of which is played by John Carson, a guy who should have been in more Hammer movies because he always has a great presence. While I most associate him with his role as the villain in The Plague of Zombies, a damn enjoyable film, his role here is more fleshed out, more heroic and he just nails the part so well that his death onscreen stings a bit.

We also get a lot of Caroline Munro in this movie and she’s striking gorgeous and always exciting to watch, as she has real charm and she can ham it up in the right way. And that’s a necessary skill in this picture, as it is lighthearted and fun, even if it exists within the sphere of Hammer horror.

This was a cool concept and I assume that it was supposed to be the start of a new vampire-centric franchise for Hammer, as they had just wrapped up the Dracula and Karnstein series of films.

Unfortunately, there weren’t anymore Kronos movies after this one and the world didn’t get to see any further adventures of this awesome hero. I kind of feel cheated.

Although, there would be a comic book miniseries, several years later. One of these days, I’ll round up all the issues and review them.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Karnstein Trilogy and Countess Dracula, as well as Vampire Circus and Hammer’s Dracula films.

Film Review: Twins of Evil (1971)

Also known as: Twins of Dracula, The Evil Twins, The Virgin Vampires, The Gemini Twins (alternative titles) 
Release Date: October 3rd, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: John Hough
Written by: Tudor Gates
Based on: characters by Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Harry Robertson
Cast: Peter Cushing, The Collinson Twins, Dennis Price, Damien Thomas, Katya Wyeth

The Rank Organization, Hammer Films, 87 Minutes

Review:

“[pointing to ancestral portraits] They knew! They didn’t play at being wicked. They worshipped the devil and he taught them delights that you will never know! Of punishment: inflicting and receiving it. Of torture. And death. Yes, of death and of pleasures beyond the grave. Something you could not even comprehend! But I know.” – Count Karnstein

Well, we have reached the third and final chapter in Hammer Film’s The Karnstein Trilogy. It is also my favorite of the three films.

I think that my love of this movie comes from seeing it at a really young age and being captivated by the nude beauty of the Collinson Twins, who were the first twins to be Playboy Playmates. As a pervy little kid in the ’80s, just like every other boy from that decade, my impressionable young mind always liked watching this. But who doesn’t enjoy gorgeous, nude women?

Anyway, personal perviness aside, I like the story in this, as well as how one twin becomes a vampire and actually tries to sacrifice her sister to the witch/vampire hunters that are looking to kill her.

Additionally, Peter Cushing, a fucking legend, just nails his role in this. He plays the head of the witch/vampire hunters and he finds himself torn by the fact that his niece is a vampire that has been seduced by the evil Count Karnstein, his (im)mortal enemy.

I also really liked Damien Thomas as this film’s version of the Count, a different Karnstein than the ones we’ve met in other films but he’s still a part of the same lineage.

The only thing really missing from this movie that was a large part of the previous two was the Carmilla character. I guess she’s run her course and technically she’s dead but how many times did Dracula die in a Hammer movie? Part of me just wishes that Yutte Stensgaard could’ve been back after being the real centerpiece of the previous film. Hell, seeing Ingrid Pitt return to work with Cushing again would’ve been great.

I also like that this film came out in a time of flux for Hammer. It still feels like it could fit in with the visual tone of their ’60s pictures but also has that extra edginess that they’d unleash in the early ’70s. It just feels like it is a perfect bridge between the two eras.

There weren’t any official Karnstein chapters after this but many people consider 1974’s Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter to be the unofficial fourth film, as it features another vampire from the Karnstein lineage. Although, it takes place in England, as opposed to Central Europe. But hey, Dracula traveled.

I’ll review Captain Kronos in the near future.

Rating: 7.25/10
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: Lust For a Vampire (1971)

Also known as: To Love a Vampire (US TV title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Jimmy Sangster
Written by: Tudor Gates
Based on: characters by Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Harry Robinson
Cast: Yutte Stensgaard, Ralph Bates, Barbara Jefford, Suzanna Leigh, Michael Johnson, Helen Christie, Mike Raven, Pippa Steel, Christopher Neame

Hammer Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I spend the whole of last night going through Giles’s researches, and believe me they are powerful evidence.” – Mircalla, “Evidence! Of what?” – Richard Lestrange, “That you are a vampire.” – Mircalla

The second motion picture in The Karnstein Trilogy from Hammer Films, really takes the formula from the first movie and ups the ante quite a bit. In fact, the only thing missing was the great Hammer legends Ingrid Pitt and Peter Cushing. However, the film, as a whole, makes up for the loss of two big stars and is actually kind of bonkers in a near perfect way.

To start, Yutte Stensgaard is incredibly beautiful and she really brought something to this film despite her lack of acting ability. I’ve only ever seen her in one other film: Scream and Scream Again. Needless to say, she didn’t have to say much, she just needed to look sexy, mesmerizing and sinister all at the same time. She achieved this quite well and her presence transcends the screen, which probably goes beyond what was simply written on paper. She has an intensity here and conveys it well.

Additionally, Mike Raven, who barely does much in this, still commanded attention when he appeared. He didn’t act nearly as much as other Hammer actors of note but he is sort of a poor man’s Christopher Lee and therefore very closely resembles Lee’s Dracula while playing the evil Count Karnstein. Just think of Hammer’s Dracula with a goatee and that’s basically Karnstein in this film. He kind of just has to stand there, starring intensely, which he’s damn good at.

The film also features Ralph Bates in a prominent role for the first half of the film. I’ve enjoyed his work in other horror pictures of the era but this is probably my favorite thing that he’s done, as he plays a very different character in contrast to his smarmy, young, good looking visage. Bates shows his range here and does rather well.

Lust For a Vampire also features a young Christopher Neame, just before he became more recognized for his role as Johnny Alucard in 1972’s Dracula A.D. 1972.

Due to the success of The Vampire Lovers and how that spawned a lesbian vampire craze in B-movies, this thing was rushed through production and put out quickly, just as its followup, Twins of Evil, would be.

Regardless of that, this is a better movie than it probably should’ve been. It’s pretty standard Hammer horror but with the sexuality turned way up and probably as far as they could go in 1971 without getting an X rating.

I like the overall Karnstein story and this explores its themes further. It’s an interesting and sexy film that just hits the right notes for those that love Hammer and classic vampire cinema.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the other parts of The Karnstein Trilogy and Countess Dracula, as well as Vampire Circus and Hammer’s Dracula films.