Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Movie Reviews 284 – Theater of Blood (1973)

January 8, 2017

Theatre of BloodThe late prince of horror Vincent Price had a knack for coming back from the dead and tormenting those who have crossed him in the past. He did it in the role of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, in which he took revenge on the doctors who were unable to save his wife after a car accident injured her (and supposedly killed him). As professor Henry Jarrod, his partner at the House of Wax thought he had killed him for the insurance money before Jarrod started creating remarkably lifelike wax creations of his victims. In Theater of Blood Price once again becomes an afterlife tormentor, this time focusing his daggers on a circle of theater critics who denied him his due.

Rejected a theatrical award he believed was rightfully his, Shakespearian thespian Edward Lionheart (Price) confronts the circle of critics who humiliated him and, snatching the trophy that was withheld, makes one final dramatic posture as he throws himself into the river Thames to end his life. But soon after those very critics start dying one by one, in each case the fatal injuries exemplifying scenes from a Shakespeare play. It does not take long for the police detective on the case to tie the murders into a pattern, the common thread being a playlist of Lionheart’s oeuvres.

Luring his former detractors, Lionheart’s kills are as dramatic as his performances, first reading the defamers back their derisive reviews of particular past performances of his which he has meticulously clipped and saved from newspapers over the years. After each scalding review is brought back to remind the critics of their stinging scrutiny, Edward then fashions their impeding methods of dying based on the very acts of death in those plays. With the final recitals exhausted, his doomed victims get their comeuppance in grisly fates that include quartering, stabbing, heart extraction, force feeding, swashbuckling swords, vat drowning, and (my fave) decapitation.

The few leads the cops have in trying to apprehend Lionheart include tailing his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) and vainly trying to sequester the remaining critics from opportunities to snatch them. But the dimwitted and vain ensemble each have their vices which, exploited by Edward, are often the eventual cause of their ruination.

The prose of Othello, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus are all delightfully mixed in with a few corny one liners to make this film enchanting. Whether you’re a fan of the Bard or not, you’ll relish this film. Honestly, this is the only way I can really sink my teeth into Shakespeare.

Movie Reviews 283 – Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

December 28, 2016

frankenstein-and-the-monster-from-hell

As a tail end baby boomer who loved genre films, when it came to horror the prevalent and easily accessible films were not the Universal studios classics but the Hammer gothic renditions that, pardon the pun, gave new life to the old staples. Those late sixties and early seventies Dracula flicks gushed with the blood the early censors forbade, gave glorious morbid colors to the black and white celluloids, and for good measure threw in a bit of sex taking advantage of that revolution as well. The Karloffs, Lugosis and Chaneys were replaced by Hammer principals Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and I loved every minute of it.

As much as I enjoyed The Curse of the Werewolf, The Horror of Dracula, Quatermass and the Pit or a personal nostalgic favorite The Reptile, it was impossible to catch them all in the pre-videotape, pre-DVD days. And Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell was one of those movies that I never managed to catch. Until now…

Simon (Shane Bryant) is a young doctor infatuated with the work of Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) and vainly tries to recreate some of his experiments in body reanimation as he studies Frankenstein’s notes and publications on the topic. When his hired body snatcher gets caught he leads the police to Simon’s makeshift home lab where he is arrested and brought before a magistrate who summarily sentences him to the local asylum for his crimes. Unfazed, Simon goes to the asylum and immediately runs afoul of the director, who instructs the guards to ‘give him a good washing’. But the spectacle of his torturous cleansing under a high pressured hose with an audience of the other inmates is interrupted by the asylum’s medic, who is none other than Baron Frankenstein himself.

Initially an inmate, Frankenstein had managed to usurp power over the director due to some indiscretions, and then had the director fake Frankenstein’s death in order to assume a new identity. Working within a secret lab in the asylum, Frankenstein has continued his experimentation. Simon immediately recognizes Frankenstein, and devoted as ever, begs him to let him learn more as his apprentice. With his own hands scared and useless, Frankenstein had been using the mute Sarah (Madeline Smith) as his hands for surgical procedures. Learning that Simon is a surgeon by trade, he agrees to let him help with his experiments. But Frankenstein does have some dark secrets he keeps to himself.

Simon soon learns of a monstrous creature (Dave Prowse, a semi Hammer staple himself having played a completely different looking Frankenstein creature in The Horror of Frankenstein) Frankenstein has caged in his lab, but is astounded by the progress Frankenstein has made. But Frankenstein is not as pleased with the shortcomings of his creation – feeble minded and with hands as useless as his own. Fortuitous events in the form of timely passing of other inmates allow Simon and Frankenstein to give the creature new eyes, dextrous hands, and finally a brilliant brain.

But just as Simon begins to take Frankenstein to task on his methods to acquire suitable body parts, the creature goes on a rampage. The end is grisly but almost without skipping a beat Simon and Frankenstein begin planning their next experiment …

While not as highly regarded as many other Hammer horrors, I must say that I was more than pleased upon finally seeing this one. There are a few additional angles lurking in the plot which includes Sarah’s secret, and the past of some of the other inmates. Cushing is more cold and callous than his usual Frankenstein, and the other actors all hold their own. One aspect that may have been received negatively is the unusual, grotesque non-traditional look of the Frankenstein monster, but I thought it’s uniqueness entrancing just the same. The Hammer touches are all present with the gore mostly delivered via the surgical procedures.

Sadly this was the last Frankenstein movie that Hammer made, a tragedy that may be corrected with the recent rivival of the studio.

Movie Reviews 282 – The Toxic Avenger (1984)

December 23, 2016

The Toxic AvengerThe Toxic Avenger was not only an indie horror sensation, it was what made Troma Entertainment a household name in the B-movie industry and introduced us to the straight-laced but dark minded Lloyd Kaufman, producer and frontman for the enterprise. The character of the toxic avenger, now revered and affectionately nicknamed Toxie by fans, became the de facto mascot for the company and spurned a number of sequels over the years, but it all started right here.

Melvin Ferd (Mark Torgl) is a mop slopping human punchbag at the gym he works in, the perennial butt of jokes and target of muscled jocks and workout leotard wearing prima donnas alike. After one particular incident Melvin gets chased by the entire gym and thrown through a second storey window only to land in a barrel of toxic waste that is conveniently located on a parked truck out front. With oozing and bubbling skin he then transforms into a toxic monstrosity taking another dent in his already pathetic social life and any chance of getting a hot chick like those who surround yet despise him.

But things take a turn for the better when he rescues Sarah (Andree Maranda) from a bunch of thugs robbing a restaurant, an act that not only begins his career as a vigilante but ends his search for love and acceptance. From that point he begins to clean up the town of all evil, moving into a dilapidated makeshift home in a junkyard surrounded by bubbling slime and puffing swamp gases. But for a time he is happy as long as Sarah doesn’t accidentally kill him with her cooking.

Unfortunately his efforts to cleanse the town does not sit well with the evil mayor and his crony councilors who practice all manner of illegal activity and strong arm tactics backing their embezzlement and narcotics operations. Worried that Toxie will eventually get to them, they decide to throw all their resources to taking him down while he continues to aid the poor, the elderly, the downtrodden, and any victim of crime.

Pushed to the limits, the mayor manages to get the US army tanks and troops staring down their barrels as Toxie stands in front of his home as the town dwellers, friend and foe stand as an audience to the final showdown.

Like a modern day Frankenstein, Toxie is the embodiment of the outsider who only searches for acceptance in society. But instead of dark gothic drama The Toxic Avenger delivers the story amidst blowups, boobs, and flying bodies. The effects, while decidedly low budget are effective, but most of all fun.

The success of this movie gave rise to three sequels, a Saturday morning cartoon and even a musical. I especially looking forward to watching The Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie if only for the numerous celebrity cameos. And you may want to keep a lookout for Marisa Tomei as she is in this first film. My 15th anniversary DVD was chock full of goodies including a whole bunch of clips showing the Troma studio digs in Manhattan and what other goods lurk in the offices and corridors. I think I spent as much time checking out the Extra Features as I did watching the movie.