Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969 United Kingdom)

Following a long period of cheap-looking productions designed to play as double-features on their home turf, Hammer returned to premium quality with Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. This is Peter Cushing’s definitive portrayal of the Baron. For once a Hammer Frankenstein doesn’t need an actual monster, but lets the baron himself become “more monstrous than the monsters he created”, as the advertisements proclaimed. And for a horror film, you’d have to agree that the locations used for filming were really quite elegant and ornate. The Spengler boarding house and Brandt’s home were exquisitely appointed and furnished, and all the while I kept thinking that they would have been a pretty nice place to live.  [Read more…]

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The Owl Service (Alan Garner)

I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed this book until now. I read it when I was little, and it scared me quite a lot at the time. Now that I am not as much of a scaredy cat I can see it for what it is: an impressive novel originally intended for a juvenile readership but, as these things tend to do, ended up being just as popular with adults. A remarkably subtle and complex fantasy that could also be classed as weird fiction for young adults. The style is fast-paced, sparse, and doesn’t patronize the reader with pages, or even paragraphs of scene-setting. (By the way– it may be bad luck to gaze at an owl. That’s why I chose such a bland cover above instead of the more striking ones featuring our nocturnal feathered friends. Don’t want to tempt fate…) [Read more…]

Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

George Lucas remade one of the finest works of film master Akira Kurosawa, the Western-themed “Hidden Fortress,” with one scene (the fight in the bar) stolen from Yojimbo. Therefore, Star Wars  has a bit of the jittery discomfort of characters trying to fit into a story that wasn’t quite made for them, like people with past life experiences that intrude into the present. Kurosawa’s hero is split not into two but three heroes in Star Wars (four if you include the princess, who has a more prominent role in Star Wars. It is frankly too bad that Star Wars later fell into the hands of Disney and JJ Abrams, becoming a tool solely for cashing in, and a line item on someone’s accounting ledger, but I guess that is probably the way the wafer crumbles in Hollywood. I simply choose to ignore the boring new films… [Read more…]

Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb (1971 Britain)

I’ve been sweating cobs over some major computer problems recently and its been tough trying to write new posts. But while there’s some life in my old Toshiba there’s some hope. Hammer Studios had already peaked and it’s two marquee stars, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, had moved on to greener pastures. Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s “Jewel of the Seven Stars”, which is to say they ripped off a few elements, put Stoker’s name on it, safe in the knowledge that he was long dead and his works had entered the Public Domain. Two directors worked on this because the first one died and a lacklustre disorganization is evident. It’s also hard not to shake the feeling that Hammer horror were already on the way out. [Read more…]

The Evil (1978 USA)

During the 70’s there were tons of haunted house flicks that were either TV films or for the big screen. Among this avalanche popped up The Evil– a brave, camp, even humourous attempt to make a haunted house film in the same style as 1963’s The Haunting. But in a very low budget lackluster way. It’s not too bad but there are a number of reasons why it barely works. The story is very simple…a number of people rent a large old house for a prolonged stay only to find, once they moved in, that something sinister lives there. But they find out too late and become locked in – many terrible things happen before the few remaining survivors confront the evil entity itself and try to defeat it. (There may be some epic spoilers there) [Read more…]

The Lost Weekend (1945 USA)

The now very famous title is obviously a reference to what can happen to the confirmed alcoholic when they feel compelled by their bodies to embark on the mother of all benders. As this is an addiction – or a disease, however you prefer to label it – gaps in time tend to occur quite frequently. The drunk will not remember nor care about the depths they have sunk to, but director Billy Wilder was able to superbly capture all of the squalor on film for his audience. The Lost Weekend is almost beyond reproach in its sobering message, sending a strong no-preaching tone. It has a wonderful, sometimes offbeat, script, a wide character range underscored by a marvelous supporting cast and an often moving lead in Ray Milland, our lush under the microscope, who does a grand job projecting despair and cynicism. [Read more…]

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956 USA)

The Thing From Another World birthed the alien invader film, and the theme proved so popular it quickly became its own genre. Where most of these, especially The War of the Worlds, showed aliens arriving en masse in gigantic spaceships to obliterate humanity from the face of the Earth. The Thing From Another World and its ilk took the same basic idea and ran with it to more invasive places. And Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the finest example. At the time it was made, it was the most terrifying alien invader film to emerge. There are other worthy examples but few have unsettled audiences like this dark and eerie work. [Read more…]

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe (2005)

The Chronicles of Narnia is a film that couldn’t have been made in the 20th century effectively – it relies so heavily on special effects and digital tricks that even attempting to make it without all the digital trickery would have resulted in a B-film, regardless of its budget. With his experience as the special effects guy on several of the Batman films, director and producer Andrew Adamson did manage to put together one hell of a display. With all the visual do-goodery in place, and one of the best stories ever told to drive it forward, there wasn’t a lot to make the Witch and the Wardrobe fail… And of course, it doesn’t. [Read more…]

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury)

One of my favorite “semi-horror” reads. I suppose it could be called “horror” but it doesn’t fit neatly into the mold. The point of view is that of a boy on the brink of manhood as he gets to know more about certain concepts of “good and evil” than he ever really wanted to…the traveling carnivals that moved from town to town, showing up at county fairs, sets the background for this tale–with their mysterious denizens, noisy rides, lights that filled the night while leaving pockets of darkness. The barkers and their “side shows”, the fixed games of “chance” are now a thing of a bygone era. Bradbury paints such a vivid picture of a now-lost bucolic rural life here as to be almost heartbreaking to contemporary readers.  [Read more…]

Dick Tracy (1990 United States)

Warren Beatty carries a lot of baggage for me. I don’t mean that literally. But he’s one of those actors that trigger my harsh judgments. When his career was flagging, like his dwindling youth, he tried to assume the mantle of an ‘intellectual’, hoping to hoodwink the public and media with pretentious crap like Reds. In reality he suffers from egomania and satyriasis. As for this production, I don’t need to Google if Warren dipped his wick in Madonna when the work day was over. Or if she sucked on his twitching lollipop. I just assume this happened. The two of them are so obvious. He could no more control himself (Warren Beatty is the epitome of the working stiff) than the slag heap could at this stage in her career. Is she a ho? Lets just say the last time she felt ‘like a virgin’ would have been in her mother’s womb. [Read more…]

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