Thursday, 30 July 2015

Ninja Dragon (1986, Godfrey Ho)

 "Ninja Dragon" is the first of the many Richard Harrison / Godfrey Ho ninja atrocities that I have had the caprice of fortune to witness. I remembered thinking it was trippy and amazing, mainly because like most 'motion pictures' spawned from Mr Ho's AAV Creative Unit, it's a weird mash up of footage from totally different films, with the seams (barely) covered via wild edits and terribly dubbed newly scripted dialogue.

                 (This is how you train to be a ninja master: callisthenics in the woods)

This one sports a loosely-integrated plot line about Hong Kong (or is it Shanghai?) gangsters vying for supremacy, without reckoning upon the NINJA SUPREMACY of ninja master Gordon and his mate Dragon, guesting with Harrison's character via photographs and badly-matched footage, which must be seen to be disbelieved.

Gasp at the fact they thought it appropriate to name the sisters "Phoenix and Fanny".

Gawp at the genius of the funeral director (best supporting character in any film ever made, ever!): "REMOVE HATS!!!", "Kneel DOWN!!!!", "FIRST BOW!!!!". The man truly is an immense colossus of a character: a true titan of silver screen supremacy. I was in tears of laughter.

Gape at an aged Richard Harrison and 'Bruce Stallion' (really Paolo Tocha from 'Bloodsport') PLAYING THE GAME OF DEATH!!

They just don't make 'em like this anymore. Unhinged. I just don't know what to think. My mind just still isn't ready to receive what Ho and Harrison are trying to transmit. Alien superbity.

Hobo With A Shotgun (2011, Jason Eisener)

 I can't believe that it took me so long to get round to seeing this flick. I expected an enjoyable timewaster, and whilst this isn't a film that could be described as edifying, wholesome or carrying a socio-political message, it's one of the most fun movies i've seen in a helluva long time!

Rutger Hauer, almost as much a veteran of the cack 'n' sleazy side of cinema as the late lamented Charles Napier, gives his best performance in years here (he hasn't been this cool since he essayed the role of a sightless ninja in "Blind Fury") as the titular transient pushed beyond his limits by an unforgiving society. Great fun is to be had by all as our homeless hero punishes wrongdoers, including that guy from "Lexx" (Brian Downey, clearly relishing his role as the villainous Drake), and protects a hot streetwalker (Molly Dunsworth), whose cute Canadian pronunciation of "oot" made me feel all funny inside, like i was a human with emotions and that.
All good unclean fun, with some of the most hilariously OTT torture and killing scenes i have seen in a long time, Here's to living vicariously through a vigilante vagabond. A demonic derelict of destruction, who's mad as hell and sure ain't gonna take it any more. Genius.

And if that isn't enough, the closing credits song is only 'Run With Us' from '90s cartoon classic "The Raccoons"! Words cannot describe how sublimely silly this is.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Blood of Dracula [aka Blood Is My Heritage] (1957, Herbert L. Strock)

Another of the teen monster fests knocked out by Samuel Z. Arkoff's American International Pictures in the 1950s under the auspices of producer Herman Cohen (whose credits envelop Bela Lugosi meets a Brooklyn Gorilla [1952], through Horrors of the Black Museum [1959], the Holmes vs Jack the Ripper romp A Study in Terror [1965], the quite amazing Trog [1970] to the Italian giallo Watch Me When I Kill [1977]).  Like its stablemates I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (also 1957) and Teenage Werewolf - meets - Teenage Frankenstein How To Make A Monster (1958) we have a heady blend of teenage rebellion, rock 'n' roll and a teenager turned by an adult preying upon their inner demons into a literal monster.

The perils of puberty, eh?
 We open the film with teenage Nancy (Sandra Harrison) being driven by her father and stepmother to Sherwood - not the hideout of the Prince of Thieves but a private girls' prep school run by the benevolent Mrs Thorndyke (Mary Adams).  The fact that Nancy's father has remarried a mere six weeks after her mother's death, and is now in the process of foisting her off into the stifling environment of private school has quite obviously got the poor girl in an emotional whirl, as evidenced by her petulantly attempting to grab the wheel and drive the car off the road to preppy hell.

 'You've taken away my life!', cries Nancy.
'Oh, those beach parties and rock 'n' roll?!?' sneers her wicked stepmother, proving that we are most definitely in the age of a sarong-bedecked Jon Hall in Aloma of the South Seas.

After her first night of torment and taunting by the five girls with whom she is doomed to dorm, Nancy encounters science teacher Miss Branding (Louise Lewis), who has had an eye out for an emotionally conflicted and angry young girl to take part in her nefarious nosferatal experiments.
 'We live in a world ruled by men for men', she says. 'They'll blow up the world with their experiments... isotopes and fall-out... Reckless fools - they search in the wrong place!'  So far, so '50s SF nuclear age paranoia, but Miss Branding has a plan.  'I can unleash the destructive power within a human being!' she claims, and states that Nancy is 'an A-Bomb all by herself'.  And so this overambitious educationalist decides to detonate our sweet hormonal and emotional nuclear device, by submitting her to extra classes of 'special treatment' wherein the troubled teen is hypnotised by an amulet from 'the mountains of Carpathia', an amulet with a cat's eye emblem (harking back to Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur's seminal Cat People (1942), its 1944 sequel The Curse of the Cat People, and the 1957 British Barbara Shelley-starrer Cat Girl, all of which portrayed lethal feminine power and sexuality as feline).

Once Nancy has unleashed her nascent nocturnal self and gone on a blood-drinking spree that takes the lives of her teen tormentors, Miss Branding seems proud of her pet monster.  'How pretty you are after the night... the night belongs to you!' she purrs over her unwilling vampiric victim, who bears an almost post-coital glow after her kill.  Nancy has 'become a woman' through a ritual of blood.

That's just needlessly Freudian, isn't it?

So after more night-time kills, and more OTT nuclear holocaust metaphors courtesy of the local plod ('One wrong word could have the effect of dropping an A-Bomb on Sherwood!') we come as we must to the trite moralistic ending wherein Miss Branding cannot cage the monster within Nancy that she has unleashed (this genie whom you may have nightmares about won't go back in her bottle) and both doctor and monster wind up dead.  'There are powers greater than science, and some things that man is not meant to know!'  Blah blah blah.  That aside, though, a nice little example of the teen monster genre with some decent performances (especially Sandra Harrison as our horrific heroine).

I was a teenage viewer of teenage monster films.  Confession over.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Return of the Vampire (1943 Lew Landers)

Dracula meets the Wolf Man! Ish...
  Bela Lugosi returns as the dreaded vampire Count, here trading under the name of Armand Tesla due to Columbia Pictures being unable to secure copyright to the 'Dracula' name (owned exclusively at the time by Universal). Despite this, Lugosi here gives in my opinion his finest Dracula performance - much improved over his halting and stagey efforts in the Universal classic twelve years previously.
Dracula / Tesla returns from the grave to wreak vengeance upon the vampire hunters who staked him decades previously, after a Nazi blitz raid unearths his tomb and a comedy Cockernee (played as usual by the reliable Billy Bevan) mistakes the stake through his heart for shrapnel and removes it. Lugosi sets his sights on vampirising the lovely Nicki Saunders (Nina Foch, and you can't blame the guy), daughter of Professor Walter Saunders - the Van Helsing stand-in who oversaw his staking in the sepulchre decades before, and even adopts the identity of a German doctor fleeing the Nazis to get closer to his prey. Lugosi gets more top do here than in most of his 1940s horror movies, and rises to the challenge with a great performance.
We also get Matt Willis (not the one from Busted!) as Lon Chaney-a-like werewolf Andreas, in thrall to his vampiric master by night, but yearning to destroy him whilst in tormented human form. Also featuring good solid performances by Frieda Inescort as the decidedly MILFy Lady Jane (pardon my Male Gaze), and Miles Mander (also to be seen in Universal's 1943 The Phantom of the Opera, as well as the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes entries The Pearl of Death and The Scarlet Claw [both 1944] and the classic The Picture of Dorian Gray [1945]) as the disbelieving police inspector. He doesn't believe in werewolves or vampires. Do YOU people? 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Waxwork (1988, Anthony Hickox)

All-Time Great Late '80s Video Funtimes

One of my all-time favourite horror flicks, eagerly rented from the late lamented Vision's Videos when i was but nine years old, to revel in the fun, the gore, and - yes, oh yes indeedy! - the scenes where the lovely Deborah Foreman is chained up and whipped into a frenzy of sweaty ecstasy by the Marquis de Sade. Powerful stuff indeed, which had a profound effect on my hormonal adolescent self, producing very powerful sensations in my brain and body.
A great cast for those of us who waded through many an '80s fantastique flick at the time: Zach Galligan of "Gremlins" fame, Dana Ashbrook, soon after to star in "Twin Peaks" and "Sundown: the Vampire in Retreat", the aforesaid vision of loveliness that is Ms. Foreman, also a "Sundown" alumnus as well as the brilliantly cheesecore "Lobster Man from Mars", Michelle Johnson of "Werewolf", and David Warner and John-Rhys Davies, both from... pretty much everything!
We are treated to a gourmet feast of horror tropes: the mummy, a werewolf, Count Dracula and his alluring vampy brides, "Night of the Living Dead" zombies, and a standout performance from J. Kenneth Campbell as the Marquis de Sade himself, as well as the late lamented Patrick MacNee appearing as the guiding Sir Wilfred, part Van Helsing and part Dr Everett von Scott in his motorised wheelchair.

I defy anyone who's seen seminal scare spoof Carry On Screaming (can such creatures exist?) not to cry 'Frying tonight!' at Warner's waxy demise.

The old video box called it 'more fun than a barrel of mummies' and i really can't put it better than that myself. Genius.
          ('Taste the whip, in love not given lightly / Taste the whip and bleed for me...')

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Damned (1961, Joseph Losey)

Quixotic and capricious he may have been, but former Hollywood enfant terrible and bete noire of the conservative classes Joseph Losey has left behind him an astonishing celluloid legacy - whether one is thinking of immaculate psychodramas such as the Dirk Bogarde vs James Fox spectacular The Servant (1963) or the Harold Pinter authored Accident (1967), the Paths of Glory-esque meditation upon the futility of war and the follies of the militaristic mindset King and Country (1964), or the romantic sweep of L. P. Hartley adaptation The Go-Between (1971).  Perhaps there are folks out there who really dig the pop-art groove and Swinging Sixties psychedelic spy spoofings of Modesty Blaise (1966) (i know i do), or even those demented enough to have a thing for the abortive adaptation of Tennesee Williams' play 'The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore' Boom! (1968) (i suppose watching Richard Burton and Liz Taylor embarrassing themselves might appeal to some).  But enough of this past is prologue preamble!  We are here for other things.
 After making his first feature The Boy With Green Hair (1948), an allegory of the outsider in society and the tragedy exhibited by unreasonable prejudice starring a young Dean Stockwell (yes, Al from Quantum Leap [1989 - 1993], but also The Werewolf of Washington [1973]), and the US English language remake of Fritz Lang's silent Teutonic masterpiece M (1951), Losey soonafter found himself subjected to the interrogations of the McCarthyites of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the grand auto-da-fe of the Torquemadas of the right wing.  Refusing to kowtow to the Committee (his leftist sympathies were well known - he once described Astaire-partnering actress / dancer Ginger Rogers as 'one of the worst Red-baiting, terrifying reactionaries in Hollywood'), Losey left the US to work in the UK.  The Hollywood Hawks' loss was our gain.
 Losey worked in Britain the the '50s under a number of pseudonyms  (including 'Victor Hanbury' for 1954's The Sleeping Tiger) before working with the burgeoning Hammer Films in 1955 and directing under his own name the 29 minute short A Man on the Beach (starring Sir Donald Wolfit of Blood of the Vampire [1958], he did other important stuff too, probably).  this would lead to Losey being employed again by Hammer, after the initial rush of blood to their collective Carreras / Hinds heads from the sci-fi / horror success of The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), to direct a rushed and unofficial 'semi-sequel' entitled X: the Unknown (1956).  This effective Scottish-set chiller (featuring a very young 'Jamie off Doctor Who' Frazer Hines) sadly wasn't completed by Losey after the imported American star of the film (following Hammer's utilisation of the inebriated stylings of Brian Donlevy as Quatermass) Dean Jagger's protestations at working with a man he considered a Communist sympathiser led to his replacement by Ealing Studios' Leslie Norman.

However, Losey's work for Hammer would lead just a few years later to them engaging his talents to direct one of my favourite movies - The Damned.
 Adapted from H. L. Lawrence's novel 'The Children of Light' by Evan Jones (and originally entitled On the Brink), the film begins with yet another American Actor in London, Simon Wells (Macdonald Carey).  Wells is wandering around a south coast town (that they forgot to close down) and generally messing about on his moored boat, as well as a scene in which he regards a war memorial on the promenade - leading to some speculation that Wells is a veteran of the Second World War, fitting in with the film's subtle (and sometimes not so much) themes and ruminations upon warfare, violence and the apocalyptic omnipresence of the Third World War (come, come, nuclear bombs).  Here Simon encounters a young woman named Joan (Shirley Anne Field), who is the bait for a mugging by her elder brother King (the always awesome Oliver Reed, giving full vent to his animalistic violence [well, maybe not so much as in The Curse of the Werewolf (1960), but you get what i mean] in a Brandoesque role) and his gang of street toughs.  'Black Leather, Black Leather' indeed.

 After recovering from his assault, Wells soon finds Joan latching onto him to escape the controlling and incestuous nature of her violent brother.  Their fleeing, and King in hot pursuit, leads to sanctuary (ha!) in the surrounds of a top secret military project run by icy scientist Bernard (Alexander Knox) to breed a race of cold-blooded radioactive children who will one day emerge from their hermetically-sealed world (their home sweet prison) to inherit a world laid waste by the nuclear fallout of World War Three.  These chilling wunderkinder Children of Light have been told that they are aboard a spaceship heading to a new world that they are to colonise (cough, Doctor Who - Invasion of the Dinosaurs, cough).
There is a similarity to be read into the twin threats of both King and Bernard.  Although this seems ludicrous at first (Bernard is a cultured and refined educated man, in seeming binary opposition to King's gangland sociopathy), at least King is an honest threat to makes no pretension about the things that he does, whereas Bernard's gentility masks the fact that not only he as much of a controlling monster as King - a scientist who experiments upon children like an animal vivisectionist in order to achieve his scientific goal.  Bernard does not allow his work to be restricted by morality - and his immoral amorality is seeded long before his brutal gunning down of his artist girlfriend Freya (Viveca Lindfors) once she has discovered his work.
 The film ran into a great many troubles, firstly with Losey's legendary intransigence over final cut hitting the roadblocks of the BBFC in 1961 over their requesting of the editing of the scene wherein King beats Wells.  The cuts, along with others made by Hammer against the auteur's wishes, were finally made for a UK release two years later in 1963, shorn from 96 to 87 minutes.  An American release took even longer, whether it be due to Losey's Stateside reputation, the anti-government nihilism of the film's theme, a general H-Bomb paranoia of the times or a combination of these.  It finally emerged in 1965, shorn of a further ten minutes, under the title of These Are The Damned.
 This troubled history has led to a tragic neglect of this opus, as far as i'm concerned.  It has been neglected by Hammer film scholars who concentrate more on the studio's more famed Gothic horror output as well as by film historians in general.  Like a neglected child locked in the cellar (or, perhaps, a seaside cave bunker) someone has to love it.  I do.

A fantastic fatalistic fantasy.