Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Movie Reviews 460 – Innocent Blood (1992)

December 3, 2020

Comedies often resort to mixing elements that are immiscible, like oil and water, and having them collide to generate laughs.  Director John Landis was well versed and successful with the formula for such films as Trading Places (rich vs. poor) and Animal House (nobility vs. plebeians).  For Innocent Blood he cast a wider net and made a horror comedy in which a vampire accidentally transmogrifies a mobster kingpin to join the undead, and consequently raises the prospect of him passing on the superpowers that go along with being a bloodsucker onto his underlings and henchmen.

Marie (Anne Parillaud of La Femme Nikita fame) is a conscientious and benevolent vampire roaming the streets of Pittsburgh who carefully chooses her victims, sparing good souls and feasting only ‘less admirable’ human specimens. Venturing out onto the streets for new blood only when absolutely needed, she also makes sure her victims do not fully transform into vampires themselves and end up cursed as she is and creating more victims in their wake.

It is on such a feeding-time night stroll that she bumps into ‘wiseguy’ Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia) as a group of mafiosi leave a restaurant. But sensing Gennaro’s inner righteousness she spares him, instead ending up getting a Limo ride from the don himself, “Sal the Shark” Macelli (Robert Loggia). She has no qualms taking a bite out of him when given the opportunity, but is interrupted before she can deliver a permanent death. Whisked to a mortuary and awaiting an official autopsy, Sal awakens and soon realizes that he no longer has to worry about hindrances like knives or bullets. He then latches onto the idea of turning his own men into vampires eventually creating an unstoppable ‘famiglia’.

Gennaro it turns out, is not a hood at all but an undercover cop who had been working for years to take down Sal’s operation. But recent events have exposed his infiltration and he now intends to fulfill his quest despite being thrown off the case. He finds a surprise helping hand from Maria trying to undo the damage her own actions have unleashed.

Interestingly this comedy sports an R rating, a rarity for that genre, due to scenes of Maria prancing totally nude. But if there were any doubts about it being a comedy the casting of Don Rickles as Sal’s legal beagle should put those thoughts to rest. Other offbeat casting choices that mirror the content include everyone’s favorite Muppetteer Frank Oz (with the unmistakable voice of Bert, Fozzie Bear and Yoda), a cameos by horror stars Dario Argento, Tom Savini, Linnea Quigley, Sam Raimi and even Forrest J. AckermanAngela Bassett plays Gennaro’s boss and you can also check out Tony Siroco, David Proval and Anthony Sisto as goombas long before they were reunited in similar roles in The Sopranos.

The casting is evidence of Landis’ reverence for horror cinema classics and those homages are also seen on the various background television sets playing horror classics throughout the film that you can enjoy as an added drinking game. There is plenty of carnage among the chuckles if any of the aforementioned weren’t enough to warrant a view.

Vampires can also learn a lesson or two such as if you’re going to eat “Italian”, watch out for that garlic.

Movie Reviews 456 – The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

October 29, 2020

While it is no secret that I’m a huge fan of the horror films produced by Hammer studios from their golden age of Gothic classics, when it comes to naming my favorite films produced by them the selection becomes murkier. While one can easily name any of their Frankenstein or Dracula films starring Peter Cushing or Christoher Lee (or even better, both of them together) as great films, I find myself repeatedly going back to other movies that have neither of their marquee stars. I’ve discussed my fondness for The Reptile, but that was mostly from a sentimental perspective as is the case for other favourites like Quatermass and the Pit or The Mutations.

I realized that one reason so many of those are appealing to me is because they all present stories that are unique and original. The Curse of the Werewolf is something in between in that it is a rethread of a common mythological creature and yet the narrative is far from your typical furry werewolf tale, so you get the best of both worlds.

From the very beginning of the film we get a very different ‘origin’ story from the typical bite of a wolf, the definitive genesis of all other werewolf stories I’ve ever seen or read. The film proffers a rather convoluted but intriguing introduction, set in 18th century Spain, that has a dimwitted beggar interrupt a marquis’ wedding ceremony. The outraged marquis has the beggar thrown into the castle dungeon, to be tended to by the dungeon master and his mute daughter. There the beggar is soon forgotten and over the years degenerates into a ragged, raving lunatic, to be cared for by the daughter, now a voluptuous young woman, until she herself is cast into the cell and raped by him. She manages to escape and gain refuge in the home of an academic and his servant where she gives birth to a boy, Leon, only to die moments later to the sounds of a distant howling wolf.

As a young lad Leon experiences nightmarish episodes especially after odd incidents such as when he tasted the blood of an animal after a hunt. Now a young man, Leon (Oliver Reed) endeavours to seek his fortune and find a job. He soon lands a position in a small winery and immediately falls for the owner’s daughter Cristina (Catherine Feller) despite the fact that she is engaged to an aristocrat. Around this time some of the shepherds in the area have had their flock attacked at night, but the attacks are attributed to a shepherd’s dog. Leon’s seizures which had ceased by then return with a vengeance, and now with deadly consequences. Even while not being able to recall his actions, Leon knows all too well that he is responsible. He basically begs that he be locked up, which the authorities only agree to after finding evidence of his involvement in the most recent attack. Leon discovers that there is one thing that will soothe his inner beast and the answer lies with Cristina. But that remedy is now out of his reach as he awaits the next full moon in his cell.

The non traditional lycanthropy story presented rejects a number of other conventions and horror tropes which make this film particularly satisfying viewing. Werewolf staples that we are familiar with such as the deadly silver bullet are preserved but presented in a novel manner, likewise the ‘forbidden love’ aspect that has a surprise twist here. Reed makes the most of his starring role, his very first, and would go on to have a stellar career including many other classic horror films, These are the Damned, The Shuttered Room, and Burnt Offerings to name a few.

Aside from a few crude special effects, the wolf transformation to the fully altered creature is not only realistic but the end result look is exceptional. Viewers are treated with Hammer’s usual resplendent Gothic imagery as well other scenes set in squalid accommodations. The finale takes a page from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame accentuated by a thrilling, teetering rooftop chase with a howling, torch wielding vengeful mob below.

While the film is available in several editions I would heartily recommend getting the Hammer Horror 8-Film Collection that contains seven other equally entertaining Hammer films. Included are Brides of Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, The Kiss of the Vampire, Paranoiac, Nightmare, Night Creatures and The Evil of Dr. Frankenstein. The one drawback to the set is that it is totally bereft of any special features that I would have loved to view, but the price of this edition really can’t be beat, being available in the $20 range. Make it a weeklong Hammer film binge. I did.

 

Movie Reviews 455 – The Lost Boys (1987)

October 23, 2020

 

 

Up until the 70’s any depiction of vampires in films were almost uniquely those in Victorian Gothic settings, the classical representation true to the mythological origins of the creature. The 70’s did give us a few counter-culture ‘modern’ vampires living in contemporary times, but even those were not the typical next door neighbours so much as ‘groovy’, hyped up caricatures of the beast. At least they were no longer confirmed to stormy castles and melodramatic “Good evening!” marble stairway entrées.

It wasn’t until the 80’s and the release of The Lost Boys that we not only got a heavily updated and modern take on the vampire, but a great story and dynamic casting to match for what is now considered a cult classic.

Diane Wiest plays a recently divorced single mother who hauls her two boys, comic book aficionado Sam (Corey Haim) and the older laconic Michael (Jason Patric), from cozy urban Phoenix to the boardwalk seaside community to Santa Carla California to live with her geriatric, hippy taxidermist father (Barnard Hughes).

Cruising the amusement park one evening Michael is awestruck by a beautiful young girl who just goes by the name ‘Star’ (Jami Gertz), but his attempt to get friendlier is interrupted by a quartet of motorcycle hooligans. Their leader (Kiefer Sutherland) entices Michael to join and play along with their daring wild rides. Eventually settling into their cliffside cave abode, a remnant fissure from a long forgotten earthquake, Michael is tricked into drinking blood. This begins a cat-and-mouse game of Michael trying to deal with and concealing his slow transformation into a fully fledged neck bitter from mom while enlisting the help of Sam who in turn engages his new vampire savvy friends from the comic shop, the inimitable Frog brothers; Edgar and Alan [get it?] (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander).

This is a perfect showpiece of 80’s horror that delivers on the creepy elements while keeping a foot in the tamer, flashy aspects of high school comedies of the era, a blend of The Goonies and John Hughes films. It’s macho punks on motorcycles with long flowing hair wearing more earrings and stuffing more shoulder pads any of the girls. While the depiction is ephemeral 80’s, the harrowing score borrows from the past with a cover of The Doors’ People Are Strange, but is indelibly associated with the even chillier theme song Cry Little Sister.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the film is what turned out to be perfect casting from both veterans and newcomers alike. Sutherland had just come off Stand by Me and the two back-to-back films cemented him as the villainous archetype that serves him to this day.  The mousy Wiest and Edward Herrmann who plays her boss and romantic interest seem odd choices at first for a horror movie and yet they both took advantage of the opportunity and managed to fit their square blocks into round hole roles seamlessly. Grandpa Hughes not only steals every scene he’s in, but delivers the surprising memorable last line of the film. The film also marks the humble beginnings of the phenomenon that was thereafter known as “The Two Coreys”, Haim and Feldman becoming teen idols and starring in a string of films together. Sadly, that relationship would eventually succumb to drug fueled lifestyles and darker claims of sexual abuse in the industry that would ultimately claim Haim’s life. Ironically that tumultuous onscreen collaboration would end with Lost Boys: The Tribe, one of a number of sequels, but one in which Haim was so far gone that only a cameo in the end credits could be salvaged from what was already intended just to be a minor role.

Movie Reviews 451 – Empire of the Ants (1977)

September 25, 2020

I’ve already mentioned my myrmecological ventures when I reviewed Phase IV, one of my favorite science fiction movies featuring ants. The high bar of excellence for giant sized ants however was set by magnificent film Them! back in the 50’s but it was only a matter of time before lowbrow American International studios caught up to cash in and give us Empire of the Ants.

While billed as “H.G. Wells’ Empire of the Ants”, let me assure you that this has absolutely nothing to do with the venerated author’s novella other than sharing a title. Instead of normal millimeter sized threats, this film ups the ante (see what I did there?) with Volkswagen sized six-legged Formicidae – that’s fancy talk for ants!

After a minute or two of documentary style scenes of ants in their natural habitats, the varied unique looking genus and species, and sounding off their scientific names the film begins with the requisite biological disaster setup. In this case it is a scene of an offshore boat unloading clearly marked radioactive waste into the ocean soon followed by said oozing barrels washing ashore some nearby beaches and being feasted on by ants. All this before the opening credits, so you know they’re not messing around here.

The film stars a pre-Dynasty Joan Collins, clearly having already mastered playing über bitch roles, as a shady real estate sales lady trying to hawk some Florida swampland to a group of prospective buyers. Having been invited for a free tour of a remote island in the Keys, most of the guests are really there for the free lunch and alcohol which is followed by a boat trip to the designated island which is nothing more than a mock development site with signage for future promised installations. It doesn’t take too long before some start disappearing while on the tour and eventually they have some up close encounters with the buggers that have them heading back to their boat. Of course the ants have already swarmed and destroyed that escape which leads the party – well the dwindling number of survivors anyway – trying to make it across the island to the one other boat there.

Surprisingly they do make it out and are even escorted to the nearest town, but that’s when they encounter things even stranger than the giant ants nobody seems to believe when they try to warn others. I don’t want to spoil where the story goes from here but let’s just say the Alien franchise took a page from this one.

Most of the characters are as phony as the his and hers matching leisure suits they wear (Hey, it was the 70’s man) on top of the equally implausible relationships they forge along the way. Equally ridiculous are the clearly delineated projections in scenes where the behemoth ants occupy a portion of the screen as the actors ‘react’ to non-existent threats. The few scenes where humans do physically engage the insects, they are poorly made flopping fuzzy armatures. Even the periodic pinhole bug’s eye view shots look more like they were filmed with holes from a spaghetti colander than a multi faceted lens.

Now you might think that all these negative comments are to be taken as a warning to avoid this film. Au contraire! This is one of those ‘you must see it to believe it’ films for which I highly recommend at least one viewing. Just have a can of RAID handy. You may want to use it.

Movie Reviews 447 – This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

August 28, 2020

I was thrilled to finally get my hands on one of the late Josė Mojica Marin‘s films. Better known by his alter ego “Coffin Joe” or Zé do Caixão, the character he portrays in his films, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse is the second installment of a trilogy by the legendary Brazilian cult creator who perpetuated the mystique with his signature naturally long fingernails (there was a arcane reason for those), top hat and ghoulish cape.

It took more than forty years to complete the trilogy ending with Embodiment of Evil (2008) his very last feature film, and this one immediately follows the events in At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964), the first film. I have not seen either of those others but this film has enough context from the first to make that unnecessary. The entire series centers on undertaker Zé’s quest to find the perfect woman to conceive his child that will be immortal and perpetuate his bloodline, one that he considered sacred and superior to all others.

The film begins with Zé returning to his home shantytown after having been found innocent of a string of murders due to a lack of evidence. Shunned by almost everyone except a few women who find his rebellious nature appealing, Zé with the help of his trusted scar-faced, hunchback servant Bruno quickly returns to the task of finding suitable mates. They quickly manage to lure six prospective women to his home and begin subjecting them to tests of obedience, fortitude and courage. One in particular, Marcia appears to be a standout, but when the others are shackled in a pit with poisonous snakes, even she balks hearing their dying cries.

With none of the girls satisfying his prerequisites Zé then turns to Laura the daughter of a Colonel who wields the real power in town and is Zé’s main adversary. Despite knowing about all his crimes, Laura professes and even proves her total devotion to Zé, scurrying to him during the middle of a feast celebrating her imminent engagement no less. But Zé learns that he has inadvertently murdered an unborn child. There is nothing more revered to him than the sanctity of a young life and upon learning of his accidental act, he descends into a state of pain and misery culminating in a nightmarish dream of being brought to hell. Upon waking up his ruse has unravelled and must once again face the justice being meted by an unruly mob.

Don’t let the fact that this was largely a low budget labour of love filmed by Coffin Joe and mostly  friends as actors. The film does suffer from a few long winded existential speeches by Zé that touch upon morality, justice and his “Immortality of blood” theology. But those moments aside this is a captivating film with some brilliantly filmed sequences. Filmed in black and white, Coffin Joe chose to film the hell segment in  gloriously nightmarish vibrant colors that would make Dante proud. The plot is quite complex with Zé being cursed at one point, Marcia manipulating a character that looks like a circus strongman, and an attempt to frame Laura’s brother. On the more salacious side, the abducted women are seductive with just a hint of nudity, while the horror is bolstered by a variety of scenes with spiders, maggots, snakes and mice. But as silly as some of it sounds, the film presents a surprisingly entertaining and solid story.

Rue Morgue issue 85

For most of his career Coffin Joe languished in obscurity because his movies were considered subversive by the conservative military dictatorship that ruled Brazil and kept his films from being exposed both at home and abroad. Thankfully they eventually got foreign DVD releases during the eighties which immediately catapulted him into the limelight and earned him the horror cult icon status he richly deserved and which he was able to relish before his passing.

My DVD by Fantoma Films only contained one short interview with Coffin Joe and a few stills as  extra features on the disc, but that was made up by the inclusion of a really nice “DVD sized” mini-comic inside with a nice Zombie story.  One last shout out I’d like to make here is to Rue Morgue magazine in which they featured Coffin Joe in their December 2008 issue. It was my introduction to him and if you can’t track down any of his films I would urge you to track down that issue for a comprehensive overview of his career.

Movie Reviews 445 – The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

August 14, 2020

Roman Polanski is one one those polarising (no pun intended) people who is equally celebrated as an artistic genius and reviled as an accused child rapist. That being said, any time his name comes up it is just as likely that neither his accomplishments nor his deplorable past be the first thing that spring to mind, but an episode in his life that he has been indelibly associated with despite not even being present when it took place.

The event in question of course is the brutal slaying of his wife Sharon Tate, then eight and a half months pregnant with their child at the time, at the hands of Charles Manson’s cult in the first of a two night killing spree in which five people were murdered in early August of 1969. Most accurately filmed in the docu-drama Helter Skelter, and most recently turned on its head in a parody, alternate sequence of events in Quentin Tarantino’s masterful Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, the shocking Tate-Labianca murders remain a historical defining milestone of human heinousness.

Directed by Polanski and starring both he and Tate, The Fearless Vampire Killers was the couples single professional collaboration, and with perhaps the exception of Valley of the Dolls, Tate’s most noted role. Dark associations aside, this movie is something of a standout in Polanski oeuvres as it is a comedy and a far cry from the drama that has been a staple of his illustrious career.

Featuring great cinematography by Douglas Slocombe, a vibrant color palette and assortment of odd looking almost caricature-like characters (I’m including the diminutive, barbed nose Polanski in that group), the film is a treat to watch, at least from a visual perspective. But the plot is a piecemeal of horror and vampire clichés and the comedy, bordering on slapstick at times, isn’t very funny.

A Van Helsing stand-in, Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) travels to Transylvania with his bumbling trusted assistant Alfred (Polanski) hoping to prove his discounted theories on the existence of vampires. After nearly freezing and being rescued and brought to a local pub, they notice the abundance of garlic strings, but any mention of nearby castles or ethereal spirits are rebuffed by the townsfolk. Only when the Innkeeper’s daughter Sarah (Tate) is whisked away in the middle of the night do Abronsius and Alfred have the opportunity to make their way to the mountaintop castle lair of Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) to rescue the dear girl and hopefully put an end to the local scourge.

The film consists of a lot of slinking around the castle, late night snowy sleigh rides, a hunchback to contend with, and last be not least a glorious midnight ball of coiffed and pasty vampires. And while the film has a PG rating there are a number of ‘booby’ close calls. One thing I really love is the theme music which is a catchy chant with a touch of harpsichord.

I suspect that Polanski purists may not revere this film when comparing it to the many great films he has given us over the years. There’s no comparing it to Chinatown, The Pianist, Repulsion, his one other pure horror, the acclaimed Rosemary’s Baby, which he made the very next year, or even The Tenant. Truth be told, most of the attention it does get is due to the historical aspect of Tate’s inclusion. And yet there is still something about it that draws me to rewatch it on occasion. If nothing else, it is unique in many ways.

Movie Reviews 444 – I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958)

August 6, 2020

Marriage is one of those long term commitments that you really have to consider wisely and make sure you have chosen a lifelong soulmate, a person you know from the inside out. But sometimes even the most arduous scrutiny can be thwarted when, for example, your groom to be is abducted and replaced by an alien entity the night before the nuptials.

Such is the case when newlywed Marge (Gloria Talbott) notices something has changed in Bill (Tom Tryon) the moment they tie the knot. While outward appearances have not changed, gone is his easy going demeanor as well as his passion for her. Instead she finds that her husband is now distant, quick-tempered and worst of all, reluctant to engage physical affection. There are other things too, like his fascination with storms and how dogs seem to take an immediate dislike to him. But her concerns are dismissed by those she tries to reach out to.

I Married a Monster from Outer Space is a poor man’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with less sophistication in a script that isn’t as taut, less frantic pacing and not nearly as visionary or novel in concept. However it has a few things that make it worth the watch. The story is a little more layered in the ‘aliens want to colonize Earth’ department with a conceptual twist that would later be swiped and reversed in Mars Needs Women. And while there isn’t a lot of it, the budget special effects work well and add a nice touch of genuine horror to the science fiction centric plot. In place of oozing pods we have a cool enveloping smoke sequence when humans are ‘assimilated’ by the aliens. The film also makes good use of ‘negative film’ when the aliens are portrayed, a technique that will be used often in later years and one that fans of the original Outer Limits television series will be all too familiar with. But by far the standout special effects are the glimpses of the alien ‘faces’ overlaying their human subjects whenever there is a lighting strike. The design of those faces and the aliens as a whole, with crisscrossing masses of musculature, is downright freaky.

With decent performances by the cast, especially the principals, there is enough mystery and intrigue in determining who are the ‘converted’ humans that are now aliens, Andromedans to be exact.. That said, the logic does fail completely in some scenes, notably one where a fellow ‘assimilated’ alien visits Bill who feigns ignorance when directly told to report to ‘the ship’ given other facts about the aliens dictate that he should have known immediately.

The ending is posse predictable but with a twinge of sympathy for the aliens, but as a whole the film is decent  nostalgic popcorn sci-fi horror fare.

Movie Reviews 442 – Green Room (2015)

July 17, 2020

While Sam Peckinpah can lay claim as the progenitor of ultra violence in films, writer director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room proves once again that there are still innovative creators willing to push some of those boundaries further while maintaining a high standard of storytelling as a framework and not just relying on blood and gore as the main draw.

A group of punk rock musicians have an unfortunate streak of botched concerts planned by a promoter who, in a last ditch effort to find them at least one decent gig, refers them to a cousin of his willing to host them in a remote Oregon bar. With an understated warning that his cousin hangs with a ‘rough crowd’ the band heads out hoping to recoup at least enough money to buy some real food and eliminate the need to siphon gas from parked vehicles as they have been doing to get this far.

After a few quick introductions upon arrival and setting up their equipment the band takes to the stage and play, unfazed by the discordant audience, even taunting them with a playlist that includes the lyrics “Nazi punks! Nazi punks! Fuck’em!”. With their performance completed, they gladly collect their pay and start packing the van for whatever comes next. That is until one of the band members, Sam (Alia Shawkat), forgets her phone in their dressing room and Pat (Anton Yelchin) goes back to retrieve it only to stumble upon the body of a young girl in the room full of anxious looking skinheads.

The band is quickly rounded up back into the room and held at gunpoint until it can be decided what to do with the witnesses which include the despondent friend of the deceased (Imogen Poots). While the band pleads for their release promising to keep their noses out of the affair, the burly group confer among themselves as to their next steps and summon Darcy (Patrick Stewart) their evident leader. But with a bit of luck (and a lot of violence) the band regains control within the room, but are locked in. Thus begins a cat and mouse game of wits, proposals, counter-proposals, weapon exchanges, and … more violence.

With violence on par with Straw Dogs, the dire situation of the barricaded victims is further exacerbated by other things they find within their environs. Led by the geriatric leader figure Darcy, their captors are both a cult and a criminal organization, the hierarchy of which is based on the colour of the laces on their Doc Martens. With total command of his often dimwitted followers, Darcy is sharp as a knife, a meticulous planner and always it seems, one step ahead of the band.

Great suspense, excellent acting throughout and another example of the great loss it was to lose Yelchin, an actor who already made a huge mark at such a young age and was destined for so much more until his untimely, and nonsensical demise.

Movie Reviews 441 – Trog (1970)

July 10, 2020

Hollywood is renowned not only for creating larger than life movie stars but for setting some of them up for a  fall later when their shine has withered, and none of those demises have been as shocking as the precipitous drop that befell former Film Noir reigning queen Joan Crawford. Like some of her predecessors, she managed to resurrect her flailing career, first with Mildred Pierce, and even a second time with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? But all that fame and glamour vanished and at the end her final feature film was a low budget horror movie called Trog.

Before I delve into the film itself, I must impart my fascination with this film which I cultivated upon reading a detailed synopsis – with the requisite gory film stills  to go along – in one of those 70’s horror pulp magazines, probably an issue of Famous Monsters. I read that article over and over laying on a mattress in the cargo space of the family’s station wagon on one of our yearly 400 mile vacation treks to the US. While I recognize it now as a modest, even feeble story, my then 10 or 11 year old adventure oriented mind was captivated by it. But without the multitude of media resources available today, it took more than 30 years before I could watch it, resigned to viewing it as an objective adult while at the same time relishing in seeing what my former imagination envisioned.

The story has three young men exploring an underground cave network with internal tributaries that eventually lead two of the spelunkers into the lair of a feral troglodyte. This “Trog” kills one and injures another but the third man escapes and brings his injured colleague to the hospital-laboratory of esteemed anthropologist Dr. Brockton (Crawford). She immediately demands to visit the cave herself and manages to snap a picture of the creature which reveals to her its scientific significance.

With a skeptical police investigating the circumstances of the deceased man, Brockton brazenly lures Trog out and once she has him in her lab begins to study the creature. But having a wild animal within the confines of a small town irks one of the prominent business men (Michael Gough), a longtime nemesis of Brockton, and he has the local council effectively put Trog on trial. But the eventual fate of the beast rests not in any authoritative proclamation of guilt or innocence.

To be sure, while the script attempts to tackle a semi-serious plot of a ‘missing link’ in the human evolutionary progression, the story is rife with plot holes, implausibilities and outright silliness. Crawford puts on a brave face but is resigned to deliver long lifeless monologues urging that science prevail despite her own almost clownish application of ‘science’. While great effort was put into Trog’s facial appearance, the special effects end there, the rest of Trog clearly being a loin-clothed regular man.

There are conflicting claims regarding Crawford’s on set behaviour at the time, numerous claims being that she was persistently drunk and relying on ‘cue cards’ for her lines, others denying the levels of her intemperance. Regardless, she never made a film after this one and to add insult to injury, after she passed away her daughter penned her infamous biography Mommie Dearest, later adapted to film, chronicling her abusive child rearing among other faults.

Hammer alumni director Freddie Francis employed nearly ten minutes of claymation stock footage of dinosaurs created by legendary artists Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen for another project, but even that feels as shoehorned in as some of Crawford’s diatribes. To be sure, this is a train wreck of a film, but one can argue whether the wreck is the film itself, or that of Crawford’s swan song. But sometimes you just have to see the wreck for yourself and I for one enjoy being a passenger on this particular voyage, Time and Time again.

Movie Reviews 439 – The Whip and the Body (1963)

June 26, 2020

I’ve been inordinately busy the last while and had to severely curtail my usual movie viewing habits to just one or two films a week so I decided to treat myself to the equivalent of a “sure thing”, a viewing of a Mario Bava film I have never seen before.

La Frusta e il Corpo has a few surprises, the first being the many alternate English titles it was released under. Mainly found as The Whip and the Body you can also find it as “The Whip and the Flesh”, “Night is the Phantom”, and, most bizarrely, titled simply as “What”. One smaller surprise is the appearance of star Christopher Lee, or should I say not his inclusion but his hairstyle. I’ve never seen him with a plain, side part cut and I actually had to take a double, even triple, take before I was satisfied it was really him I was seeing. But fans of Lee will be delighted to learn that his role is satisfyingly evil and right at home as he plays the part of Victorian era pariah in this multi-layered, dysfunctional family horror drama.

The emphasis on romance, spurned, feigned, hidden, and even violent, is evident with the seductive score from the very first few notes. Kurt (Lee), the outcast son of a elderly Count, returns to the family’s seaside castle to reclaim the entitlements he lost when he was disowned by his father. As it so happens one of the things he lost was the love of Nevenka (Daliah Lavi) recently wed to Kurt’s straight laced brother Christian (Tony Kendall).

Kurt meets up with Nevenka on the beach below the castle cliff and tries to seduce and rekindle her love for him. In doing so he viciously whips the sadomasochistic loving Nevenka as the surf crashes and her screams fade into the night. Despised and unwelcome by all, Kurt becomes the focal suspect when Nevenka fails to return that night. Not only is Kurt a scoundrel, but the very reason he was turned away in the first place was his role in the suicide death of the daughter of the Count’s servant. That girl’s memory is enshrined in a glass case containing a solitary rose and the dagger she used to commit her final deed.

Nevenka is found the following day on the beach, still alive but shaken and that night the very same dagger is used by someone to kill Kurt in his darkened room. The suspects include nearly everybody from Kurt’s dying father, his jealous brother, the servant mother of the girl who killed herself and even his brother’s mistress, his cousin Katia. But apparitions of Kurt and the fact that the dagger used to kill him inexplicably was the one encased point to a supernatural influence at play and even suspicions that Kurt is one of the ‘un-dead’.

While this is clearly a lurid tale with Bava’s signature kaleidoscopic color palette to match, the sexuality is rather surprisingly tame, relying on hints and suggestive dialogue. The film straddles being a Gothic horror and a whodunit mystery with just enough to satisfy both audiences. Many elements such as the seemingly incessant howling winds, slowly turning door handles, muddy boot prints and a swivelling fireplace work well for either genre. All in all, another solid Bava oeuvre.

My DVD from VCI Entertainment features a restored, uncut European version that includes the infamous beach scene (often censored), but oddly retains Bava’s directorial credit listed as pseudonym John M. Old and has opening credits that are a mix of English and Italian. Another peculiarity I’ve never seen before for such a short feature, a mere 88 minutes, is the film being needlessly segmented as Part One and Part Two. I’m sure there is a story behind all these weird aspects of this cut, but sadly the only Special Feature on the DVD was a commentary track by a critic and no separate interviews or featurettes.