IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970)

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For the first time ever, starring in the same movie together, on the big screen, it’s Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing!

The movie? SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970).

Imagine being able to make that claim. Now imagine botching things so badly, making a movie so awful, that barely anyone today even knows this film exists, let alone that it starred Price, Lee, and Cushing.

The movie? SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN.

Years ago, when I first watched SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, I hated it. And why shouldn’t I have? The movie boasts Price, Lee, and Cushing, but they are hardly in this one at all. The film runs 95 minutes, and the total screen time for all three actors combined is just about 20 minutes! Price is in the film the most, and his character has the biggest connection to the main plot. He and Lee do share one brief scene together, right near the end, but Lee is hardly in the film, and Cushing has only one brief scene.

Then there’s the plot, which makes so little sense it’s ridiculous. Vincent Price is on record in later interviews as saying he never understood the script. He’s not alone.

For someone who was used to Hammer Films which gave Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee the signature roles of their careers, and the Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe films which starred Vincent Price and largely defined Price’s career, to sit down and watch something like SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN was an insult. What. A. Waste.

But hold the negative review! Why? Because a funny thing has happened over the years.

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, has… dare I say it?… aged well.

There’s something unique about the time period between 1965 and 1975, which places SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN smack dab in the middle, where life wasn’t the way it was before or since, and the arts during that decade were different, and so looking at a film like SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN today, it stands out because it is so unlike the structured Hammer Films and Roger Corman movies which came before it. It’s very similar to how Hammer’s own DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) has aged so well. There’s a newfound appreciation for the oddball groovy style of both these movies that didn’t exist before.

So, I gotta say, watching SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN here in 2022, I…. oh boy… actually really liked this movie!

Okay. It still has its ridiculous plot. And Price, Lee, and Cushing are nowhere to be found for the most part, but knowing this going in, and knowing that they’re just going to show up briefly and add what they do to the insanity of this wild, wild plot, is kind of a fun thing.

So, about that plot. Ready? There are multiple storylines going on, and none of them are laid out all that clearly, but that’s okay, because it’s 1970, and that’s how things were. The main plot is about a vampire killer on the streets of London who sexually assaults women and then drains them of blood. He’s also incredibly powerful and would have fit in quite nicely in THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) universe in Las Vegas giving Darren McGavin’s Carl Kolchak a hard time. It’s also interesting to note that the superhuman vampire who outmuscles squads of police officers and scales the side of a massive hill a la Spiderman predates THE NIGHT STALKER by two years!

Here, his name is Keith, and he’s played by Michael Gothard, who would go on to play another strong silent killer in the Roger Moore James Bond flick FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981). Hot on this killer’s trail is Detective Bellaver (Alfred Marks) and his squad of Scotland Yard’s finest, and if there’s anyone who is at all close to being a main character here, it’s Bellaver. Alfred Marks delivers a strong performance as the wise-cracking no-nonsense detective who seems like he would be at home having his own 1970s cop TV show. Tonight it’s BELLAVER, followed by COLUMBO at 9 and KOJAK at 10. He gets some of the best lines in the movie, and he’s actually really, really good. Unfortunately, he’s not Price, Lee, or Cushing, but he is still really, really, good.

Meanwhile, in an undisclosed fascist country, which resembles Nazi Germany, a crackpot of a leader Konratz (Marshall Jones) is busy killing off all his superiors so that he can become top dog on the food chain. He seems to possess a supernatural power for killing.

Then there’s Dr. Browning (Vincent Price) who in his secluded mansion is performing mysterious experiments involving removing the limbs of his patients while they’re still alive, and a la Dr. Frankenstein creating beings piece by piece who have not yet lived.

What do these three plots have in common? Nothing! Actually, that’s not true. They are tied together, and before this one ends, the film does attempt to make sense of it all, and it largely succeeds, although you have to scratch your head for nearly 90 minutes wondering what the f*ck is going on??? But, it seems our maniac friend Konratz is hiring the good Dr. Browning to create superhumans for him, one of which, Keith, has been on the loose in London draining women of their blood.

Far out man. Like, groovy!

And SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN is far out. Like waaay far out. Like past Neptune far out!

For Price, Lee, and Cushing fans, Price fares the best and actually has a few good lines, and of the three horror icons is the only one who gets to really strut his stuff on screen, even if it’s only briefly. Christopher Lee spends his time as Fremont, a top man in the British government, talking on the phone and looking worried. He does show up at the end and has the pleasure of delivering the final plot twist, as if this unstructured script really needs another direction! And, sadly, Peter Cushing has only one scene, to be a victim, done in by the overly ambitious Konratz.

The crazy far out script was written by Christopher Wicking, who also wrote the screenplay for Hammer’s last Mummy movie, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1972), which is also kind of far out, as well as the screenplay for TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1976), Hammer’s last horror movie until 2008, which is really far, far out! So, he has lots of experience with this kind of thing.

Gordon Hessler directed SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Hessler also directed Vincent Price and Christopher Lee in THE OBLONG BOX (1969), a film I like much more than SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Probably Hessler’s best movie would be THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973), featuring the special effects of Ray Harryhausen.

In spite of its ludicrous and choppy plot, SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN does enjoy some neat scenes. There are a couple of really well-done police chases, featuring Detective Bellaver and his Scotland yard crew in hot pursuit of the vampiric Keith. Whenever Vincent Price is onscreen, he provides a vibe in the movie that only Price can, and it’s a shame he’s not the actor who is anchoring this one.

Christopher Matthews as a young doctor snooping around on his own trying to learn the secret of what Price’s Dr. Browning is up to also enjoys some quality scenes. Matthews played Paul in SCARS OF DRACULA (1970), the most violent of the Christopher Lee Dracula films, and he was one of the better parts of that one, until he makes the mistake of discovering Dracula’s coffin.

Unfortunately, the plot involving Konratz and his fascist cronies stands out like a convoluted contrived plot device that seems phony and out of place. It’s the weakest part of the movie. Interestingly enough, in the novel The Disoriented Man by Peter Saxon, on which the screenplay is based, it was a group of aliens who were hiring out Dr. Browning’s handiwork, not dictators in the making. Aliens might have made more sense.

But if it’s sense you’re looking for, you’ve come to the wrong place. You won’t find any in SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN.

You also won’t find much of Price, Lee, or Cushing. Sadly, they would appear all together in only one more movie, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983), which while giving them much more screen time and plenty of scenes together, isn’t any better of a movie than SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN.

But SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN has aged rather well. It’s still a convoluted confusing mess, but somehow with the passage of time it’s become more fun.

This winter, if you’re looking to liven things up a bit, check out SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN.

You’ll be screaming all right, loudly, at your TV, but not for the reasons you expect.

—END–

The Horror! May Means Happy Birthday to Cushing, Lee, and Price

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Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in HORROR EXPRESS (1972)

I often like to post tributes in May to horror icons Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price, as all three of these actors had birthdays in the fifth month of the year, Cushing on May 26, and both Lee and Price on May 27.

This year I’d like to have some fun with their genre of choice, horror! These three actors terrorized movie audiences from the 1950s through the 1980s, with Price actually starting way before that, in the 1940s, and while Lee continued to make movies all the way into the 2000s. The big screen may not see the likes of these three gentlemen ever again.

Each one has their devoted fans with their own ideas as to who is their personal favorite. For me, it’s Peter Cushing, but that doesn’t take away from my admiration and affection for Lee or Price.

For the sake of this column, they are all equally influential.

So, instead, as we celebrate their birthdays here in May 2021, we’ll look at some numbers.

For example, of the three, who made the most horror movies?

By my count, the prize goes to Christopher Lee for appearing in the most horror movies, 57!

Here’s the breakdown:

Christopher Lee: 57

Peter Cushing: 46

Vincent Price: 34

But who caused the most horror on screen? That’s debatable, but we can look at who starred in the most movies with the word “horror” in the title!

Again, the prize goes to Christopher Lee who made five movies with the word “horror” in the title. Strangely, Vincent Price never appeared in a movie with “horror” in the title.

Christopher Lee: 5. HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), HORROR HOTEL (1960), HORROR CASTLE (1963), DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965), HORROR EXPRESS (1972)

Peter Cushing: 3. HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), DR TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965), HORROR EXPRESS (1972),

Vincent Price: 0.

Okay, so what about terror? Who instilled the most terror? Well, again, let’s look at the numbers. Let’s see who made the most movies with the word “terror” in the title? This time the prize goes to Peter Cushing, who starred in three movies with “terror” in the title.

Peter Cushing: 3. DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965), ISLAND OF TERROR (1966), THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR (1968),

Christopher Lee: 2. THE TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961), DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965),

Vincent Price: 2. – TALES OF TERROR (1962), THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963).

Vincent Price in TALES OF TERROR (1962).


So, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this playful tribute to these three icons of horror. Of course, the best way to celebrate their birthdays is to watch one of their movies. So, on that note, I won’t keep you any longer.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

LEADING LADIES: SUZAN FARMER

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Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at lead actresses in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today is an actress mostly known to horror fans for one major horror movie. The actress is Suzan Farmer, and the movie is DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), Hammer Films’ second Dracula movie starring Christopher Lee, and the direct sequel to their mega-hit HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

In DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the undead count is resurrected when his servant murders an unsuspecting guest at the castle and uses the man’s blood to rescuscitate his vampire master. Suzan Farmer plays one of the guests, Diana, who’s married to the brother of the slain sacrificial victim. It’s a memorable performance in a movie that has continued to age well over the years, and is held in much higher regard today than it was upon its initial release back in 1966, when it was widely viewed as an inferior sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA.

Here is a partial look at Suzan Farmer’s career:

THE SUPREME SECRET (1958) – Tess – Farmer’s movie debut in 1958 at the age of 15.

THE CRIMSON BLADE (1963) – Constance Beverley – High seas adventure which takes place in 1648 and also stars Lionel Jeffries, Oliver Reed, June Thorburn, and Hammer regulars Michael Ripper and Duncan Lamont.

THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964) – Angela – Hammer pirate adventure written by Jimmy Sangster and directed by Don Sharp. Starring Christopher Lee, Andrew Keir, Duncan Lamont, and Michael Ripper.

DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965) – Susan Whitley – Farmer plays the daughter of a wheelchair-bound Boris Karloff. She’s stuck in the castle while Karloff conducts bizarre experiments, all the while her boyfriend Stephen (Nick Adams) tries to convince her to leave daddy and get the heck out of there! Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.” Also starring Freda Jackson and Patrick Magee.

DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) – Diana- My favorite Suzan Farmer role and performance. A big reason for this is she’s in some of the best scenes in the movie, certainly the best Dracula scenes. The scene where Dracula (Christopher Lee) attacks her from an open window, and later when he slits open his chest and invites her to drink his blood, are two of the more memorable sequences in the film. Farmer also enjoys playful chemistry with Francis Matthews, who plays her husband Charles. Their dialogue together resonates throughout the movie, and they really do seem like a young married couple very much in love. Farmer also dubbed the high-pitched screams for co-star Barbara Shelley.

RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK (1966) – Vanessa – Shot simultaneously with DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, using many of the same sets and cast, including Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, and Farmer.

PERSECUTION (1974) – Janie Masters – Farmer’s last movie credit is in this thriller starring Lana Turner as an evil mom tormenting her adult son played by Ralph Bates and his family. Also starring Trevor Howard, Patrick Allen, and Ronald Howard.

LEAP IN THE DARK (1980) – Grace- Farmer’s final screen credit was in an episode of this horror anthology TV series.

Indeed, after 1966, the majority of Farmer’s screen appearances were on the small screen on various TV shows.

Suzan Farmer passed away on September 17, 2017 at the age of 75 from cancer.

I hope you enjoyed this brief partial look at the career of Suzan Farmer. She made a lasting impression with only a few appearances in horror films in the 1960s, especially in the Hammer Film DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Speaking of DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, with the recent passing of Barbara Shelley, and six months earlier of Philip Latham who played Dracula’s loyal servant Klove, all the major cast members from that classic Dracula movie are now gone, sadly.

Here’s a toast to them, a wonderful cast in a classic Dracula movie.

Please join me again next time for the next LEADING LADIES column, where we’ll look at the career of another leading actress in the movies, especially horror movies.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

MONSTER MOVIES: THE FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER – The Universal & Hammer Frankenstein Series

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I’ve loved horror movies all my life.

But long before I called them horror movies, I referred to them as Monster Movies. As a kid, it was rare that I would say “I’m going to watch a horror movie.” Instead, it was “time to watch a monster movie!”

Part of this may have been the influence of reading the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, and enjoying all of Forry Ackerman’s affectionate coverage of movie monsters. But the other part certainly was most of the time I was watching movies that had monsters in them!

And so today, I’d like to celebrate some of these monsters, specifically the Frankenstein Monster. Here’s a look at the Frankenstein Monster in the two most important Frankenstein film series, the Universal and Hammer Frankenstein movies, and I rank each Monster performance with the Monster Meter, with four brains being the best and zero brains being the worst. Okay, here we go.

The Universal series:

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The Monster (Boris Karloff) in FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – The Monster – ?- Sure, he was listed in the credits this way, but we all know by now that it was Boris Karloff playing the monster in this original shocker by Universal studios. It was the role that made Karloff a household name, and rightly so. It still remains my all-time favorite Frankenstein Monster performance. Karloff captures the perfect balance between an innocent being recently born with the insane violence of an unstoppable monster. There are several sequences in this movie where Karloff’s Monster is so violent and brutally powerful it still is frightening to watch.

Monster Meter: Four brains.

 

THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) – The Monster – Karloff. This time he was so famous that his name was listed in the credits as only Karloff, but again, it was Boris Karloff playing the role of the Monster in a movie that many critics hail as the best of the Universal Frankenstein movies. It’s certainly more ambitious than FRANKENSTEIN. And Karloff does more with the role, as the Monster even learns how to speak. I still slightly prefer FRANKENSTEIN, but I will say that Karloff’s performances in these two movies are probably the most powerful performances of the Monster ever put on film.

Monster Meter: Four brains.

 

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) – The Monster – Boris Karloff. The third and last time Karloff played the Monster was the least effective. While the film is elaborate and features big budget sets and a stellar cast that also includes Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, and Lionel Atwill, this film begins the sad trend in the Universal Frankestein movies where the Monster simply didn’t do as much as he did in the first two movies. Here, he’s a patient on a slab for most of the film, and once he becomes active, he’s a far cry from the Monster we saw in the first two movies. He doesn’t even speak anymore.

Monster Meter: Three brains.

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The Monster (Lon Chaney Jr. ) in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942)

 

THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) – The Monster – Lon Chaney Jr. As much as I like Lon Chaney Jr., I don’t really like his interpretation of the Monster here. He takes over the role from Boris Karloff, and although he means well, he just doesn’t possess Karloff’s instincts. The attempt is made to make the Monster more active again, but Chaney simply lacks Karloff’s unpredictable ferocity and sympathetic understanding. I will say that this is the one time where Chaney disappoints as a monster, as he of course owned Larry Talbot/The Wolfman, made an effective Dracula in SON OF DRACULA (1943), and I thought played a very frightening Kharis the Mummy in his three MUMMY movies.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

 

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) – The Monster- Bela Lugosi. Lugosi turned down the role in 1931 because the Monster had no dialogue, a decision that haunted the rest of his career, as the film instead launched the career of Boris Karloff who went on to largely overshadow Lugosi as the king of horror over the next two decades. This should have been an awesome role for Lugosi. It made perfect sense story wise, for at the end of the previous film, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, the brain of the manipulative Ygor (Lugosi) was placed inside the Monster. In FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, the Monster was supposed to speak with Ygor’s voice, and be blind, but all his dialogue was cut as were references to the Monster’s blindness. The story goes that because of World War II, Universal balked at having a Frankenstein Monster talking about taking over the world. The sad result was the film makes Lugosi’s performance look silly, as he goes about with his arms outstretched in front of him, walking tentatively. He was doing this of course because he was blind! But the film cut all references to this, and the audience had no idea at the time what the heck was up with Lugosi’s Monster.

Monster Meter: Two and a half brains.

 

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) – The Monster – Glenn Strange – Strange takes over the Monster duties here, in Universal’s first monster fest, also featuring Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, and John Carradine as Dracula. Boris Karloff returns to the series here as the evil Dr. Niemann. Strange is an okay Monster, but he doesn’t have a whole lot to do.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

 

HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) – The Monster – Glenn Strange – Strange returns as the Monster in Universal’s second Monster romp.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

 

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) – The Monster – Glenn Strange – The third time is the charm for Glenn Strange as he gives his best performance as the Monster in this Abbott and Costello comedy which in addition to being hilariously funny is also one of Universal’s best Monster movies! The Monster even talks again! Notable for Bela Lugosi’s return as Dracula, and also once more features Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man. Look fast for Chaney as the Frankenstein Monster in the sequence where he tosses the nurse out the window, as he was filling in for an injured Glenn Strange at the time!

Monster Meter: Three brains.

 

The Hammer series:

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The Creature (Christopher Lee) in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) – The Creature – Christopher Lee. The Hammer Frankenstein series, unlike the Universal series, focused on Victor Frankenstein, played by Peter Cushing, rather than on the Monster. Each Hammer Frankenstein flick featured a different Monster. Poor Christopher Lee received no love back in the day, and his performance as the Creature was widely panned by critics. But you know what? Other than Karloff’s performance in the first two Universal films, Lee delivers the second best performance as a Frankenstein creation! Lee’s Creature is an insane killer, and darting in and out of the shadows, he actually has more of a Michael Meyers vibe going on in this film than a Boris Karloff feel. With horrifying make-up by Philip Leakey, it’s a shame that this Creature only appeared in this one movie. On the other hand, it kinda makes Lee’s performance all the more special. It’s one not to miss!

Monster Meter: Three and a half brains.

 

THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) – The Monster/Karl – Michael Gwynn. This sequel to THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is one of the most intelligent Frankenstein moves ever made. It has a thought-provoking script and phenomenal performances, led by Peter Cushing, reprising his role as Baron Victor Frankenstein. The only trouble is this one forgot to be scary. Plus, the Monster, played here by Michael Gwynn, pales in comparison to Lee’s Creature in the previous film.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

 

THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964) – The Creature – Kiwi Kingston – The Hammer Frankenstein movie most influenced by the Universal series, with the make-up on Australian wrestler Kiwi Kingston reminiscent of the make-up on the Universal Monster. Not a bad entry in the series, but not a very good one either. This one has more action and chills than REVENGE, but its plot is silly and no where near as thought-provoking or as adult as the plots of the first two films in the series.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

 

FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN  (1967) – Christina – Susan Denberg – The Creature in this one is as the title says, a woman, played here by Playboy model Susan Denberg. A good looking— no pun intended— Hammer production that is largely done-in by a weak script that doesn’t make much sense when you really think about it. The best part of this one is the dynamic between Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein and Thorley Walter’s Doctor Hertz, who capture a sort of Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson vibe in this one.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

frankenstein must be destroyed freddie jones

His brain is in someone else’s body. Dr. Brandt/Professor Richter (Freddie Jones) seeks revenge against Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED  (1969) – Professor Richter- Freddie Jones – By far, the darkest and most violent of the Hammer Frankenstein movies, and certainly Peter Cushing’s most villainous turn as Baron Frankenstein. For a lot of fans, this is the best of the Hammer Frankenstein series. It also features a neat script involving brain transplants, and Freddie Jones delivers an exceptional performance as a man whose brain has been transplanted into another man’s body. The scene where he returns home to try to convince his wife, who believes her husband is dead after seeing his mangled body, that he is in fact her husband, that his brain is inside another man’s body, is one of the more emotional scenes ever put in a Frankenstein movie. This one didn’t perform well at the box office and is said to have been director Terence Fisher’s biggest disappointment, as he believed this was a superior film and would be a big hit. The years have proven him right, but at the time, it was not considered a successful Hammer Film. Christopher Lee once said in an interview that he believed this film flopped because it didn’t really have a monster in it, and that’s what fans really wanted. I believe Lee’s observation to be correct.

Monster Meter: Three brains.

 

THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970) – The Monster – David Prowse – Hammer decided to remake THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN with Ralph Bates playing Victor Frankenstein and David Prowse playing the Monster. Unfortunately, this is the worst of the Hammer Frankensteins by a wide margin. David Prowse would go on of course to play Darth Vader in the STAR WARS movies.

Monster Meter: One brain.

 

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974) – The Monster – David Prowse. Peter Cushing returns as Baron Frankenstein for the last time in what is essentially a poor man’s remake of THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Prowse plays a different Monster than the one he played in THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, and by doing so, he becomes the only actor to play a monster more than once in a Hammer Frankenstein Film. This one is all rather mediocre, and since it’s the final film in the series, it’s somewhat of a disappointment as it’s a weak way to finish a superior horror franchise.

Monster Meter: Two brains.

 

And there you have it. A look at the Frankenstein Monster in the Universal and Hammer series.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

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Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

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Print cover
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Ebook cover

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

LEADING LADIES: LORRAINE GARY

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Lorrain Gary

Lorraine Gary in JAWS (1975)

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, the column where we look at lead actresses in the movies, specifically horror movies.

Up today an actress whose claim to fame is pretty much due to one famous movie and its sequels, but that’s okay because her performances in those movies are quite memorable. I’m talking about Lorraine Gary, who played Chief Brody’s wife Ellen in JAWS (1975) and in two of the three JAWS sequels.

I watch JAWS nearly every summer, and it seems with each viewing I notice Lorraine Gary more and more. She certainly never received much praise back in the day. That all went to Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Steven Spielberg, John Williams, and of course, Bruce the shark. But Gary’s performance as Brody’s loyal and caring wife is really good, and in her own subtle way, she enjoys some of the more memorable non-shark moments in JAWS, in a film that is chock-full of classic moments. She also shared wonderful chemistry with Roy Scheider.

She received more screen time in JAWS 2 (1978) and again added solid support in what remains the best of the JAWS sequels. Gary would come out of early acting retirement to appear in the last of the JAWS movies, JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987), a decision that most fans probably wish she hadn’t done, since the fourth and final JAWS movie is by far the worst. And Gary hasn’t made a movie since, which is sad for fans, because she’s very talented, and the movies have missed her.

Here now is a partial look at Lorraine Gary’s career, on today’s LEADING LADIES:

DRAGNET 1967 (1967) – Mrs. Frank- Gary’s first professional acting credit is on the classic police TV series.

MCCLOUD (1970) – Joan Stanford – Gary appears in the second episode of the famous TV series. Dennis Weaver, the star of MCCLOUD, would star in DUEL (1971), directed by a very young Steven Spielberg who would direct Gary four years later in JAWS 1975).

NIGHT GALLERY (1972) –  Barbara Morgan – stars in the season 3 episode of the famous horror anthology TV series entitled “She’ll Be Company For You” which also starred Leonard Nimoy.

THE MARCUS-NELSON MURDERS (1973) -Ruthie- stars in this TV movie which introduced Telly Savalas as Kojak to the TV world.

JAWS (1975) – Ellen Brody – it’s easy to forget that JAWS was Lorraine Gary’s big screen debut. Her natural caring style is front and center here as Brody’s wife. She enjoys many fine moments in the movie, like the scene where she admonishes her husband for not wanting their sons to play in their new boat, but upon seeing a picture of a shark attacking a boat, she changes her tune, “Michael! Did you hear your father? Out of the water now! Now!” to her tearful goodbye as she sends Brody off on his trip to kill the shark on the Orca, with Quint yelling obscenities in the distance. The next time you watch JAWS, pay attention to Gary’s performance. She quietly adds a lot to the movie. She also gets a memorable moment when Hooper joins them for dinner, and she says, “My husband tells me you’re in sharks.”

CAR WASH (1976) – Hysterical lady- memorable bit in this classic comedy.

JAWS 2 (1978) – Ellen Brody- returns along with Roy Scheider for the sequel, and gets more screen time. Again shares strong chemistry with Roy Scheider. The best of the JAWS sequels.

JUST YOU AND ME KID (1979) -Shirl – stars in this comedy with George Burns and Brooke Shields.

1941 (1979) – Joan Douglas – part of a huge cast in Steven Spielberg’s big budget World War II comedy which was a major flop back in the day. Cast includes Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty, John Belushi, Murray Hamilton, Christopher Lee, Tim Matheson, Warren Oates, Robert Stack, Nancy Allen, and John Candy.

JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987) – Ellen Brody- came out of retirement to play Ellen Brody one last time, in what is clearly the worst of the JAWS sequels. Hasn’t made a movie since, which is sad, because Gary is a wonderful talent.

Okay, there you have it, a brief look at the career of Lorraine Gary.

ELLEN BRODY: Martin hates boats. Martin hates water. Martin… Martin sits in his car when we go on the ferry to the mainland. I guess it’s a childhood thing. It’s a… there’s a clinical name for it isn’t there?

BRODY:  Drowning.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

THE HORROR JAR: Peter Cushing As Van Helsing

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Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) goes to work in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, the column where we look at lists pertaining to horror movies.

Up today a look at the number of times Peter Cushing played Van Helsing in the movies. While Cushing played Baron Frankenstein more— he wreaked havoc as Victor Frankenstein six times in the movies— his portrayal of Dracula’s arch nemesis is right behind, as he wielded crucifixes and wooden stakes five times.

Here’s a look:

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Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) taking on Dracula in the famous finale of HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

Director: Terence Fisher. Screenplay: Jimmy Sangster

Known outside the United States simply as DRACULA, this is arguably Hammer Films’ greatest horror movie. It followed immediately upon the heels of Hammer’s first international hit, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), which starred Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the Creature.

Both actors were reunited in HORROR OF DRACULA, with Lee portraying Dracula, and Cushing playing Van Helsing. Yet the film was tailored more for Cushing than for Lee, which made sense, since Cushing had been Britain’s number one TV star for nearly a decade, while Lee was a relative newcomer.  Cushing had the most screen time and was as awesome as ever, yet it was Lee with his ability to do more with less who arguably stole the show with one of the most chilling portrayals of Dracula ever.

Still, for Peter Cushing fans, his first turn as Van Helsing is pretty special. He played the character unlike the way Bram Stoker had written him in the novel DRACULA.  Gone was the wise elderly professor and in his place was a young dashing action hero, expertly played by Cushing. And with Christopher Lee shocking the heck out of the audience throughout the movie, a believable credible Van Helsing was needed. You had to believe that someone could stop Dracula, and Peter Cushing made this happen. It’s no surprise then, that the film’s conclusion, when these two heavyweights meet for the first time in Dracula’s castle, is the most exciting Dracula ending ever filmed.

HORROR OF DRACULA was also the birth of James Bernard’s iconic Dracula music score.

 

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Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) hot on the trail of vampires in THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960).

THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)

Director: Terence Fisher   Screenplay: Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan, Edward Percy

Peter Cushing was right back at it again two year later when he reprised the role in THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960). Unfortunately, Christopher Lee did not share his co-star’s enthusiasm and refused to return to play Dracula, in fear of being typecast. Lee would change his mind several years later.

Anyway,  as a result, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA does not feature Dracula. Instead, it’s a brand new story with a brand new vampire, Baron Meinster (David Peel). While Dracula’s omission may have harmed this one at the box office, that’s one of the few negatives one can find about this classic vampire movie.

Terence Fisher, Hammer’s best director, was at the top of his game here, and for most Hammer fans, this is the best looking and most atmospheric Dracula movie of them all. In fact, for many Hammer Films fans, BRIDES is their all time favorite Hammer Film!

Peter Cushing returns as Van Helsing, and once more his performance is spot-on, without equal. Again, he plays Van Helsing as an energetic, tireless hero, this time sparring with Baron Meinster. Their battles in an old windmill, while not as memorable as the conclusion of HORROR OF DRACULA, are still pretty intense and make for quite the notable ending.

There’s also the added bonus of Van Helsing’s relationship with the beautiful Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur). In a neat piece of drama, while Marianne is engaged to be married to vampire Baron Meinster, at the end of the movie, she ends up in Van Helsing’s arms, not the vampire’s.  The future Mrs. Van Helsing, perhaps?

 

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Once again, it’s Dracula (Christopher Lee) vs. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) in DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

Director: Alan Gibson   Screenplay: Don Houghton

It would be a long time coming before Peter Cushing would play Van Helsing again, twelve years to be exact, and he wouldn’t even be playing the original character but a descendant of the original Van Helsing living in London in 1972, in Hammer Films’ Dracula update DRACULA A.D. 1972 which brought Dracula into the here and now.

The story goes that after the immense success of the TV movie THE NIGHT STALKER (1971) which told the story of a superhuman vampire terrorizing present-day Las Vegas, Hammer decided to get in on the action and bring Dracula into the 1970s as well.

A lot had happened since Christopher Lee had declined to play Dracula again back in 1960. He finally reprised the role in DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), Hammer’s direct sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA, a superior thriller that sadly did not feature Peter Cushing in the cast. And then Lee played the character again in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) which smashed box office records for Hammer and became their biggest money maker ever. Dracula had become Hammer’s bread and butter. Lee reprised the role in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969) and again in THE SCARS OF DRACULA (1970).

With DRACULA A.D. 1972, Hammer finally decided it was time to bring Peter Cushing back into the Dracula series. Unfortunately, the “bringing Dracula into the 1970s” bit did not work out well at all, and the film was a monumental flop at the box office.

The good news is DRACULA A.D. 1972 has only gotten better with age. In 1972, what was considered bad dialogue and sloppy 1970s direction, today is viewed with fond nostalgia, and rather than being met with groans, the campy dialogue is greeted nowadays with loud approving laughter.

And you certainly can’t fault Lee or Cushing for the initial failure of DRACULA A.D. 1972. As expected, both actors deliver topnotch performances, especially Cushing as the original Van Helsing’s descendant, Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing. In 1972, Cushing was closer in age to the way Stoker had originally written the role, but nonetheless he still played the Professor as an action-oriented hero. His scenes where he works with Scotland Yard Inspector Murray (Michael Coles) are some of the best in the movie.

Cushing also gets a lot of memorable lines in this one. In fact, you could make the argument, though no one does, that his best ever Van Helsing performance is right here in DRACULA A.D. 1972. The only part that doesn’t work as well is the climactic confrontation between Van Helsing and Dracula, as it does not contain anywhere near the same energy level as the conclusion to HORROR OF DRACULA.

 

Peter Cushing - satanic rites of dracula.jpg

Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) armed with a crucifix and a silver bullet in THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973).

THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973)

Director: Alan Gibson   Screenplay: Don Houghton

Hammer wasted no time and dove right into production with their next Dracula movie, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973), which reunited the same creative team from DRACULA A.D. 1972, with Alan Gibson once again directing, Don Houghton writing the screenplay, and with Christopher Lee again playing Dracula, and Peter Cushing once more playing Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing. Even Michael Coles reprised his role as Scotland Yard Inspector Murray.

THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA is pretty much a direct sequel to DRACULA A.D. 1972, as the events once again take place in present day London. At the time, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA was considered the superior movie of the two, but the trouble was, back in 1973 so few people saw it, because DRACULA A.D. 1972 had performed so poorly at the box office Hammer was unable to release SATANIC RITES in the United States.

It would take five years for the movie to make it to the U.S., as it was finally released in 1978 with the awful title COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDES. Ugh!

THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA took a page out of James Bond, and had Dracula acting as a sort of James Bond villain hell bent on taking over the world, complete with motorcycle driving henchmen! It was up to Inspector Murray and Professor Van Helsing to stop him!

Strangely, today, DRACULA A.D.1972 is considered the superior movie, as its campiness has aged well, while the convoluted James Bond style plot of SATANIC RITES has not.

Peter Cushing also has fewer memorable scenes as Van Helsing in this one. One of the more memorable sequences does involve Van Helsing confronting Dracula in his high rise office, a scene in which Lee payed Bela Lugosi homage by using a Hungarian accent, but even this scene is somewhat jarring, seeing Dracula seated behind a desk a la Ernest Stavro Blofeld. The only thing missing is his holding a cat, or in this case, perhaps a bat!

The ending to SATANIC RITES is actually very, very good, and in a neat touch, as if to symbolize that the series had finally ended, after Dracula disintegrates into dust, once more the only thing remaining of him is his ring, a homage to the ending to HORROR OF DRACULA. In that movie, Van Helsing left the ring on the floor, and the piece of jewelry proved instrumental in reviving Dracula in DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS. At the end of SATANIC RITES, Cushing’s Van Helsing picks up the ring. Most likely for safe keeping.

The series had ended.

Only, it hadn’t.

 

peter cushing- legend of the seven golden vampires

Peter Cushing plays Van Helsing for the last time in THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974).

THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974)

Director: Roy Ward Baker   Screenplay: Don Houghton

While Christopher Lee had finally had enough and called it quits after playing Dracula seven times for Hammer, the studio decided it still had one more Dracula picture left.

The gimmick this time was it would be their first martial arts Dracula movie. Yep, Dracula’s spirit enters a Chinese warlord, and he returns to China to lead their infamous seven golden vampires.

Hot on Dracula’s trail it’s, you got it! Van Helsing! And Peter Cushing agreed to play the role again, and since this story takes place in 1904, Cushing once again plays the original Van Helsing, a role he hadn’t played since THE BRIDES OF DRACULA in 1960.

As Dracula movies go, THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES is— well, interesting. It did not perform well at the box office, and unlike DRACULA A.D. 1972 hasn’t really developed a cult following, mostly because it’s just so— different. Kung fu fights in a Dracula movie?

I actually like this movie a lot, and I think most of it works well. It’s actually quite the handsome production, well-directed by Roy Ward Baker. It also features one of James Bernard’s best renditions of his famous Dracula score.

And of course you have Peter Cushing playing Van Helsing, sadly for the very last time. Also sad is that he’s missing from most of the action scenes here. While Cushing always played Van Helsing as a physical hero, he wasn’t quite up for the martial arts scenes. That being said, I’ll give you three guesses as to who finally destroys Dracula in this movie, and the first two don’t count

THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES is actually a lot of fun, and today it provides a nice showcase for Peter Cushing’s final movie portrayal of one of his most iconic roles, Dr. Van Helsing.

Okay, there you have it. A look at Peter Cushing’s five movie portrayals of Van Helsing. Now go have some fun and watch some of these!

Hope you enjoyed today’s column and that you’ll join me again next time for another HORROR JAR column where we’ll look at more horror movie lists.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michaell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Netflix’ DRACULA (2020) – New Mini-Series’ Take On Stoker’s Novel Difficult to Digest

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DRACULA (2020), a three-part miniseries available now on Netflix, is brought to us by the same folks who brought us SHERLOCK (2010-2017), which starred Benedict Cumberbatch.

Their take on Bram Stokers’ iconic novel, one of the most revered horror novels in the English language, and one of my personal favorites, is one that pushes the envelope at every turn, so much so that for Dracula purists like myself, the end result is not easy to digest.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like DRACULA. I did. Or, at least parts of it.

But there were more parts that I didn’t like, aspects that made it clear that the series’ makers were sacrificing story and truth for ingenuity and chaos. In short, the goal here seems to have been to make as many dramatic and in-your-face changes as possible to make this a fresh and original take on the tale. The trouble is, at the end of the day, there’s not a whole heck of a lot left that resembles Stoker’s original novel.

This in itself I don’t have a problem with. I’m open to re-imaginings. The problem with this reboot is the bold changes get in the way of the story, and that’s never a good thing. It’s like being aware that an actor is acting. Here, it clearly seemed that changes were being made just for the sake of being different. In short, I think the filmmakers were simply trying too hard.

DRACULA opens with a very ill Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) at a convent being interviewed by Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells), who wants to know as much as possible about his experience at Castle Dracula. Now, in Stoker’s novel, Harker does convalesce in a convent after he escapes from his horrifying ordeal at Castle Dracula, so I thought this was a neat way to open the mini-series.

The events at Castle Dracula then unfold as Harker recounts his story, and it’s in this telling that we first meet Count Dracula (Claes Bang). This is all well and good until it’s revealed that Sister Agatha’s last name is Van Helsing, meaning that in this interpretation, Van Helsing is a nun.

Okay. Stop right here.

Van Helsing is a nun.

Let that sink in for a moment.

My first thought was, okay, a bit dramatic, but I can live with this. I’m on board. I’m ready for this interpretation. But it doesn’t stop there. Van Helsing in this DRACULA is hardly the Van Helsing we’ve seen before. Sure, she’s Dracula’s adversary, but barely, and like other aspects of this version, as the interpretation goes along, it becomes unrelatable, and that simply gets in the way of good storytelling.

So, Part I is mostly the tale of Jonathan Harker’s ordeal at Castle Dracula. Part 2 covers Dracula’s voyage on the ship the Demeter on his way to London, and then Part 3 gets wild and crazy. Without giving too much away, if you’re familiar with Hammer’s DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) you know which direction the third episode takes.

There’s no doubt that Claes Bang’s interpretation of Dracula was meant to be fresh and original, and it is definitely unlike previous takes on the character. Bang’s Dracula has a wise-cracking quip about everything, and he seems to have walked off the set of a Marvel superhero movie. He’d be right at home exchanging barbs with Iron Man and Doctor Strange as he battled them for supremacy of the world. In short, I didn’t like this interpretation. For me, Dracula works best when he is flat-out evil, which is why I’ve always enjoyed every Christopher Lee performance. His Dracula is always evil.

That’s not to say that Bang plays Dracula as a nice guy. His Dracula is definitely a villain, but he’s just a little too colorful for my tastes. That being said, Bang does deliver a powerful performance which grew on me with each episode. So, for me, it’s a case where I thought the actor did a tremendous job but the writing tweaked the character too much for my liking.

Likewise, Dolly Wells does a nice job as Sister Agatha Van Helsing, but again, the writing took this character and did things with her that diminished her impact. For starters, Van Helsing simply isn’t as powerful a presence here as Dracula. That in itself is problematic.

I can’t say then that I was a fan of the teleplay by Mark Gatis and Steven Moffat, where changes seem to have been made solely for the purpose of being different without taking into consideration how it would affect the story. Still, it’s an incredibly ambitious screenplay. There is just so much thrown into this mini-series. That in itself is impressive. But sadly most of it didn’t work for me.

The rest of the cast is okay. The only other cast member who stood out for me was Lydia West as Lucy, who shows up in Part 3. When Dracula finally meets Lucy in Part 3, it makes for some of the most compelling moments in the entire miniseries. I loved this part, mostly because of West’s performance here, as she and Bang share some sensual chemistry, but sadly, this sequence doesn’t last all that long, so as good as it is, it’s far too brief.

Then there’s Mina, here played by Morfydd Clark. Mina is a central character in the novel, and she’s always been one of my favorite characters in the novel. Few movie versions have ever done her justice. In the novel, she’s probably the strongest character, but in the movies, she’s generally reduced to being a victim who needs to be saved by Van Helsing. In this version, she’s barely a blip on the proceedings, which is too bad.

I did like the way this one looked. A lot. Especially the look of Castle Dracula in Part 1. Evidently it’s the same castle exterior that was used in the original NOSFERATU (1922). How cool is that?

I also enjoyed the homages to other classic Draculas, especially to the Hammer Draculas. Early on in Part 1, Dracula is depicted as an old man, as he is in the novel, and the look here resembles Gary Oldman in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992). Later Dracula’s guise resembles Christopher Lee, and then in Part 2, while he’s on the Demeter, his costume mirrors that of Bela Lugosi. I appreciated these touches.

And for Hammer Film fans, there’s an Easter Egg for DRACULA A.D. 1972, and for HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), specifically that film’s classic finale. So I give credit to directors Johnny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, and Damon Thomas for these moments.

But overall, DRACULA struggled to hold my attention. I found its dramatic revisions distracting and far less captivating than the story told in Stoker’s novel.

And while I can comfortably say it was not the version for me, I have a feeling that somewhere down the line I’ll watch it again.

Some day.

 

When I’m ready to once more entertain the notion that Van Helsing is a nun and Dracula a comic book villain.

—END—

 

Picture of the Day: Winter Monsters – HORROR EXPRESS (1972)

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The alien creature early on in HORROR EXPRESS (1972), one of Peter Cushing’s and Christopher Lee’s finest horror movies.

One of my favorite Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing movies is HORROR EXPRESS (1972), a Spanish/British production by director Eugenio Martin.

This horror tale about an alien creature loose on the wintry Trans Siberian Express in 1906 is one of the best movies Cushing and Lee ever made together, and one of the few where they play co-heroes, working together on the train to save the passengers from the murderous alien.

It also features Telly Savalas as a ruthless Russian Captain who shows up at the end with his Russian soldiers to torment both the passengers and the monster. It’s a wild ride, and the fact that it’s not a Hammer Film, and hence plays out like a Spanish horror movie, is all the more refreshing.

Besides Cushing and Lee, the other memorable part of this movie is the alien creature. At first, it shows up inside a monstrously-looking fossil of a possible missing link, in the photo above, and later it enters the bodies of various passengers on the train. But early on, the look of the monster is really cool, and has always been one of my favorite parts of this movie.

And pardon me for indulging in this fantasy, but although this film takes place in 1906, it was filmed in 1972 and retains a 1970s style of filmmaking, complete with zoom shots and a funky soundtrack. So, there’s just something about this one which has always made me imagine Darren McGavin’s Carl Kolchak as a passenger on this train doing his Night Stalker best to help solve the mystery. Kolchak would have been right at home on the HORROR EXPRESS.

Looking for a cool monster to watch this winter? Look no further than the creature in HORROR EXPRESS (1972), one of Peter Cushing’s and Christopher Lee’s best horror movies.

—END—

 

 

MIDSOMMAR (2019) – Mesmerizing, Repulsive Horror Movie Will Churn Your Stomach

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Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) don’t know what they’re getting themselves into in MIDSOMMAR (2019).

MIDSOMMAR (2019) is the most unpleasant film I’ve seen this year.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not really good.

Written and directed by Ari Aster, the man who gave us the critically acclaimed horror movie HEREDITARY (2018), a film I was only lukewarm to because of a key plot reveal midway through which just didn’t work for me, MIDSOMMAR is a mesmerizing, methodical movie that is drawing comparisons to the classic THE WICKER MAN (1973) which starred Christopher Lee and is one of the finest horror movies ever made. The comparison is apt and well-earned. MIDSOMMAR is a very good movie, driven by an exceedingly well-written script by Aster that does so many things right.

The film opens with an emotional pre-credit sequence in which we meet a rather anxious young woman named Dani (Florence Pugh) who’s reacting to a cryptic yet disturbing text from her bipolar sister. She seeks comfort and reassurance from her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), who downplays the text and tells her things will be fine. Christian is on the fence with this relationship, and his best buddies continually urge him to move on from Dani, claiming she’s much too needy and not worth the trouble. But before he can take action, Dani learns that her sister murdered her parents and then took her own life. Needless to say, Dani is devastated and nearly destroyed by this event.

And this is just what happens before the opening credits!

MIDSOMMAR hooked me right away, and I was ready and willing to follow these characters wherever the story led them, which in this case was Sweden.

Christian and his buddies had been planning a trip to Sweden, and because of what had happened with Dani, Christian decides to invite his girlfriend as well. In Sweden, their friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) invites them to spend time at his family’s commune, where they will be celebrating a summer festival.

The commune is odd to say the least, but Dani, Christian, and their friends decide to keep an open mind because, well, that’s what one does, right? These places aren’t really harmful. Are they?

What follows is an increasingly disturbing tale that takes its time building unease and repugnance as the members of this community gradually make their intentions clear, intentions that are anything but harmless.

MIDSOMMAR is a superiorly crafted horror movie. Not all of it works, but enough of it does to make it one of the better films I’ve seen this year. That being said, it’s not a film I want to see again any time soon.

As I said, one of the biggest strengths of this movie is the screenplay by Ari Aster, and it succeeds on two fronts here, the characters and the story.

Aster does a phenomenal job creating the characters here. Dani, even before the murder/suicide, was a broken person, in desperate need of support from family and friends, and she simply wasn’t getting this support. After the murder/suicide, she’s so damaged she’s a random comment away from crying and sobbing. At first, Dani is uncomfortable meeting the folks in Pelle’s community, but as he speaks to her about his own loss, how he lost his own parents, and how these people took him in and gave him a sense of belonging, Dani pivots, gravitating towards the desire to be wanted, to be whole, not broken, and these impulses prevent her from fleeing.

And the reason she’s not feeling whole in the first place is because Christian and his friends are terrible at empathy. Christian and his friends Josh and Mark are cold, emotionless young men, with no sense of loyalty beyond their individual selves. They possess all the passion of a smart phone. They also come off as real people, not clichéd jerks we so often see in movies.

Aster also crafts a compelling story that is on the money from beginning to end, with no distracting plot reveals or twists to be found. This is one where what you see is what you get. The community has some very different ideas, but every time things seem to have gone too far, things are explained, and the guests’ fears are contained. For example, in one of the most brutal scenes in the entire movie, involving the violent deaths of two elderly people, the rationale is that the deaths are actually quite humane, which gets Christian and his buddies rationalizing that “back home we deposit our elderly into nursing homes which these people probably find just as offensive.”

There are some horrific scenes here, some of which are wince-inducing. MIDSOMMAR is indeed scary, not in the jump-scare way, but in the way that gets under your skin and makes you want to leave the theater.

Florence Pugh is excellent as Dani. She captures the character’s pain and insecurities, and as the movie goes on, her changing desires as well. Pugh was also exceptional earlier this year in the lead role in the wrestling comedy FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY (2019), one of my favorite films of 2019. Combined with her work here in MIDSOMMAR, she’s now appeared in two of the better films of the year. Pugh also starred in the TV mini-series THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL (2018).

Jack Reynor is cold and clueless as Christian, who is a complete fail as a boyfriend, yet somehow never comes off as a jerk, but instead as a self-centered small-minded person. William Jackson Harper as Josh and Will Poulter as Mark, are equally as good as Christian’s buddies who are as frosty and self-centered as he is.

Even better is Vilhelm Blomgren as Pelle, their Swedish friend who invites them to his commune, and who later begins to exert an influence on Dani that allows her to see things differently.

MIDSOMMAR takes its sweet time, and this is one issue I had with the film. Its 147 minute running time is a bit much, and I think the story could have been equally effective had it been edited down a good 20-25 minutes.

The photography is outstanding, and the images exceedingly disturbing. Even the simple act of drinking a beverage will sicken you when you realize what the character is drinking.

And while MIDSOMMAR is rightly compared to THE WICKER MAN, it’s not a remake or reimagining of that movie. They just share similar themes and looks.

MIDSOMMAR is a very good movie, a meticulously made horror movie, and it succeeds because it’s not the usual standard by-the-numbers horror movie fare. No jump scares or frightened teenagers walking in dark hallways here. No. In MIDSOMMAR, everything happens in broad daylight, under a bright summer sun, outside, in the seemingly ceaseless beauty of nature.

Except in this case, nature is anything but beautiful. On the contrary, it’s vile, violent, and revulsive.

The horror in MIDSOMMAR will churn your stomach. It’s the type of movie that when the end credits roll and you exit the theater, you’ll be happy to step back into the real world, where you can remind yourself that what you just experienced was only a movie.

—END—

 

PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974)

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golden voyage of sinbad - gold mask

Who is this man with the golden mask?

King Midas?

Nope.

Thanos’ great uncle?

Try again.

It’s the Grand Vizier of Arabia, as played by Douglas Wilmer in the classic adventure/fantasy THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974), featuring the spectacular stop-motion effects of Ray Harryhausen.

I don’t think there’s a movie out there which Ray Harryhausen put his name on that I don’t like. Harryhausen’s special effects are always top-notch, and the films in which they appeared nearly all classics of the genre.

In particular, I especially enjoy Harryhausen’s Sinbad movies. There were three of them: THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974), and SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977). The first two are the best. As to which one is number one in the series, that’s a tough call. I’ve watched both these films a lot, and I have to concede that I find these two equally as good.

Sometimes I slightly prefer THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, and other times it’s THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD. They’re both excellent movies and both feature fantastic effects by Ray Harryhausen.

The production design and costumes in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD are also phenomenal, which brings us to today’s photo, the man with the golden mask. But first a shout out to director Gordon Hessler who also directed THE OBLONG BOX (1969), a lurid and underrated horror flick starring Vincent Price and Christopher Lee. Here, Hessler keeps the pace quick and the action exciting. There’s also a strong sense of mystery and awe throughout.

I saw THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD at the drive-in movies when I was just 10 years-old, and I was instantly a fan. I was drawn into its fantasy world of magic and monsters, and I was particularly intrigued by the man in the golden mask, as pictured above, which I’ve always thought was a really cool look.

In the film, he hires Sinbad to help locate the Fountain of Destiny.

That’s actor Douglas Wilmer behind the mask. Wilmer made a ton of movies and appeared in everything from Hammer Films like THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970), the Peter Sellers PINK PANTHER films, the James Bond flick OCTOPUSSY (1983), the Christopher Lee FU MANCHU movies, Ray Harryhausen’s JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), as well as playing Sherlock Holmes on British TV. Wilmer passed away in 2016 at the age of 96.

John Phillip Law makes for a heroic Sinbad, and the cast also includes Tom Baker as the villain Koura, and the very sexy Caroline Munro.

There’s a lot to like about THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, which is chock full of memorable Ray Harryhausen creations. But for me, the most memorable image from the film is Vizier with his mysterious golden mask.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael