Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Lee’

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.

Movie Reviews 422 – The House that Dripped Blood (1970)

January 17, 2020

My love for The House that Dripped Blood began long before I saw the film. While there have been many horror films for which my adoration started from reading horror magazines as a kid, in this case it was not because of any article but rather the use of the gorier portion of movie poster (just look at it!) as part of the cover of the september 1971 issue (#86) of Famous Monsters. (Ironically not one of the countless acclaimed Basil Gogos painted covers for that magazine.)

While esteemed Hammer studios produced the bulk of the British horrors of the sixties and seventies, the smaller Amicus Productions who copied Hammer’s Bosoms and Blood formula were known for producing anthology films comprised of three or four self contained stories with a “wrapper” story that tied them all together. (Another fine anthology example being Black Sabbath).

Aside from the beautifully graphic gory poster (surprisingly actually relevant to one of the stories) this film stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee – horror royalty if there ever was – Jon Pertwee (best known as the third doctor in the Doctor Who TV series) and if that weren’t enough, scream queen Ingrid Pitt. I don’t think I would be alone in stating that in this case the house itself – with or without the blood – can be considered a character. While plain looking on the outside, the interior is full of old portraits, statuary, and beautiful ornate carvings. Just the perfect digs for a horror setting.

Famous Monsters issue #86, September 1971

Every one of the four segments in this anthology with styles range from dead serious to mildly amusing are solid stories.

In the first, a horror novelist and his wife rent the house for a short period so that he can finish his latest book. But almost as soon as they settle in the husband begins having apparitions of an ashen faced, gnarly smiling man both in and around the house. While he believes a character from the very book he is writing is the haunting entity, his wife cannot see this man. In the end, there is not one but two delicious twists to the story.

Next is the story of a recently retired stockbroker (Cushing) that buys the house hoping to relax in his golden years, reminiscing memories of some young past lover. As he strolls through the nearby town one afternoon he is enticed by a wax museum that catches his eye. Inside he is shocked when he comes across a ghastly exhibit of a woman holding a platter with a man’s severed head upon it. The troubling aspect is not the horror of the display but the fact that the woman depicted is clearly the woman whose memory he romanticizes.  When an old friend visits him they suffer the same shocking reaction to waxen woman. The woman is one they both loved at some point and both men feel compelled to return to the display. But the man is unable to convince his friend that going back can only lead to some heinous resolution. He was right on that point.

The story starring Christophe Lee has him moving into the house as a single parent to a very young girl. The live in tutor he hires for the daughter notices both his disassociation with the child and a number of strict odd rules he imposes including that she have absolutely no dolls. It turns out he had every good reason for those rules. Too bad the tutor did not know the real reasons before it was too late.

The last segment hilariously depicts Pertwee as conceited old horror actor making yet another vampire film with one of his usual vivacious co-stars (Pitt). Flouting his knowledge of horror and vampires, he purchases a cloak from an antique shop to be used in the film. Not only does the cloak have a surprise for him but so does his co-star. There one particularly clever line where Pertwee brags about his illustrious career playing Dracula while putting down “this new fellow”, clearly a comical reference to Christopher Lee who was at the time the de facto reigning Dracula at Hammer.

Cast aside, genre fans will immediately note the name in the credits of former pulp writer Robert Bloch, best known for penning the original Psycho novel, but who’s talents garnered him Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards.

While my heart will always be with Hammer when it comes to Gothic horror, films like this remind me that other studios like Amicus are good for an occasional bloody drip as well.

Movie Reviews 177 – The Wicker Man (1973)

April 5, 2014

The Wicker ManIt’s hard to take the tagline “The Citizen Kane of horror movies” too seriously, but don’t take it too lightly either. The Wicker Man (not to be confused with the 2006 remake) is a landmark film, and one of the strangest gems you may have overlooked.

The first time I started watching The Wicker Man years ago, I had no idea what I was in for. I thought I was in for a Hammer horror movie, after all, the stars include the great Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt. But this ain’t no Hammer horror although it does qualify as a horror in some respects. Brought to us by British Lion, a company still kicking around today despite it’s meager output over the years, the story of how this movie got made and was then unceremoniously dumped by the company is almost as fascinating as the film itself.

Starting off as a simple police investigation on the remote Scottish island of Summerisle, all we know when constable Howie (Edward Woodward) arrives on the island is that he is not wanted and thwarted in every step in his investigation of a missing girl. Replete with phallic imagery, prancing naked women at every turn and group sex taking place out in the open in front of the local Green Man Inn, Howie is besieged by the pagan pageantry paraded before him. His deep Christian beliefs under assault, his disdain for the townsfolk and the island’s leader, Lord Summerisle (Lee) boil to the surface, almost setting aside the crux of his primary investigation. Little does he realize that it is those very pagan rituals are at the heart of the mystery he is trying to solve.

The Wicker Man-Howie

The audience is confronted along with Howie by the film’s brazen depiction of the May pole rituals the kids play and other islander quirks such as the medicinal remedy of putting a live frog in the mouths of children and a pharmacy that boasts a jar full of foreskins and the embalmed fetus of deformed pigs right next to a jar of bubblegum. (Not as intentional but just as shocking are the garish hairdos sported but Lee, both as a ‘normal’ Lord and then in the finale pagan parade. But that’s just a 70’s thing.) The ending addresses every aspect of the crime Howie was investigating, but we are left with one final shocking scene.

The Wicker Man - masks

The one thought that went through my head as I watched was how great a film it could have been with Peter Cushing as inspector Howie (with all respect to Woodward). Imagine my surprise watching the DVD extra featurette “The Enigma of the Wicker Man” to learn that Cushing was offered the part but could not accept due to other film commitments. It’s a fascinating documentary about the trials and tribulations this movie has undergone from inception, fickle release and eventual cult status and should be savored just as much as the movie.

Movie Reviews 77 – Lust for a Vampire (1971)

November 23, 2012

Here’s a rarity. A Hammer studios vampire horror movie that features neither Peter Cushing nor Christopher Lee (well, more on that later). But fear not, for as the title alone suggests, they make up for it with their other trademarks, namely a bevy of beauties and boobies.

A young author researching a book on the black arts is drawn to Karnstein castle where he has a strange encounter on his first visit. When he finds out that the castle is right next to a finishing school of young women that like to prance and dance on the school grounds (apparently gym class was held outdoors in the Victorian age), he tricks the English teacher into going away and then immediately offers his services as an English teacher (the sly dog). Things get even more mysterious when a new beautiful student arrives that same day. The author quickly falls for the newly arrived Mircalla. Little does he know that she was recently resurrected by Count Karnstein and the Countess and is in fact the infamous Carmilla Karnstein, carrying on the family vampiric curse.

As the bodies start turning up in the village (you expected otherwise?) it is only with the help of a dim-witted school mistress who wants to keep the evidence piling up under wraps to maintain the school’s reputation that allows Mircalla to keep ahead of the law and the townsfolk. Despite the easily recognizable signs that his new girlfriend has issues, even her beau has to be convinced by the physical education teacher, yet another resident beauty at the school, that Mircalla is a vampire. In the end the cops are onto her, her boyfriend is onto her, and well the whole town is onto her.

Oh yes. I mentioned earlier that this movie does not feature Christopher Lee yet when they show a closeup of Count Karnstein’s eyes, I could have sworn that it was a shot of Lee’s iconic ‘bloody eyes’. Researching the matter later, I discovered that I was right. Sadly, this was one of the few truly horrifying scenes. Other than that, I would rate it as a tame Hammer film. And I should point out one other notable oddity that you just don’t expect with Hammer films. This one has a tendency to break out into a few short musical sequences. Now that IS shocking!

Just prior to posting this I found out that this movie is considered a part of a trilogy that includes “The Vampire Lovers” (1970) and “Twins of Evil” (1971). I can see it fitting in with the much superior Vampire Lovers (a must see for Hammer fans), but I have yet to get my hands on Twins of Evil. Ironically, it was an ad for the newly released “Twins of Evil” that clued me in on the trilogy.