Posts Tagged ‘Oliver Reed’

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 390 – The Shuttered Room (1967)

May 3, 2019

Did you ever remember a movie from your childhood where you can vividly recollect a number of particular scenes and the gist of the film and yet the title totally eludes you? Worse yet, any attempt to question others in search of an answer elicits nothing but blank stares? A few months ago my brother brought up such a film that we both saw as kids long, long ago which was terrifying enough to that we still remembered certain scenes. Being so young at the time neither of us had even an inkling of a title. But as the cinephile in the family (and more than a bit familiar with classic horror as this blog hopefully has proven)  I thought I should be able to deduce that fleeting title fairly quickly with a few well crafted internet searches. My first attempts were fruitless and the title dogged me for more than a month and after talking about it with my brother on a second visit I was determined to track that sucker down.

I didn’t have much to go on. We both remembered some feral woman either peeking through a barbed hole and otherwise spying on people, the main object of her prying eyes being another woman, her lovely sister. The only other thing I could remember was a haggard looking grey haired elderly lady and that in the finale she and the wild woman burn among the flames of a building fire.

It took awhile but I finally came up with a title – The Shuttered Room – and promptly managed to secure a copy.  In the back of my mind I worried that watching the film today would not live up to my childhood memories and that I may regret finding a turd erasing my fond recollection. My only glimmer of hope was seeing Oliver Reed as one of the stars.

The story is basically about a newlywed (Carol Lynley) reluctantly returning to her childhood home at the urging of her husband (Gig Young).  Sarah Whately has only vague memories of the place and even her parents, never having understood the circumstances in which she was ushered away as a child to be reared in a foster home. Almost as soon as the couple arrive on the island on which her ancestral home is located and Sarah’s identity is revealed to the locals the couple receive a frosty welcome with dire warnings to pack up and leave immediately for their own good. A chance encounter with a bunch of rowdy youths led by Ethan (Reed), Sarah’s cousin, is no more cordial but does come with an invitation to visit her aunt Agatha (Flora Robson) who basically gives the same warning, claiming a “Whately Curse” that has claimed many victims.

But the couple are determined to stay overnight in the mill house despite Sarah’s sporadic feelings of unease. Before long victims do surface as the mysterious individual keeps a keen eye on Sarah and other visitors. Before the couple end up as victims themselves aunt Agatha fesses up to the truth and takes matters into her own hands to end the ‘curse’.

Not only did this movie live up to my memories but I can honestly say that as I watched it and other memories clicked in my mind, it deepened my appreciation for this forgotten jewel of a thriller. Based on a short story by horror heavyweights H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, the film is rife with rattling scenes. From the very beginning in which a man is riding a pallet dragged by a pickup truck next to a barbed wire fence to it’s chilling frankensteinian ending, this film will chill and tingle. The ambiance of the gloomy English coast – I didn’t buy into the notion that this was supposed to be somewhere in Massachusetts – is a perfect setting. While there are little things like a focus on Sarah’s old doll house and Agatha’s servant’s infatuation by hosiery that add to the atmosphere, Reed of course caps all the performances as he was at the peak of his ‘bad boy’ years with the real life facial scars – prominent here – to prove it.

This is not a perfect movie by any means. The prelude to the film gives us a pretty good idea to who and what is up in that attic but leaves just enough to entice us to get the details.Gig was well beyond Lynley in age to their relationship being even remotely believable even as a May-December romance. But the parts that do work do so remarkably. It’s time this movie gets the credit it deserves and that starts by giving it your attention.

Movie Reviews 365 – These are the Damned (1963)

October 12, 2018

 

Famed British production company Hammer Studios ruled horror cinema during the late sixties and early seventies with their lush and bloody Gothic offerings featuring stars like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. But in the earlier days the studio produced more mainstream thrillers, film noir and even Science Fiction films, underpinned by the magnificent Doctor Quatermass series.  One of those oft overlooked gems includes These are the Damned (released in North America simply as The Damned).

An mid aged American businessman visiting a small English seaport village is drawn by a beautiful young girl into an alley where he is brutally beaten and robbed by a gang of motorcycle riding hooligans led by the girls dominating brother King (Oliver Reed). Somewhat remorseful Joan (Shirley Anne Field) befriends Simon (Macdonald Carey) who not only still wants the girl, but hopes to rescue her from the clutches of her ruthless brother.

Escaping King, Joan brings Simon to safe haven she has frequented before, a remote house atop a seaside cliff, but the house is that often used by Freya (Viveca Lindfors) a sculptress who interrupts the couples interlude. Leaving the house Joan and Simon are chased by King and his boys but military personnel are scattered around the cliffside and intercept the two before King can get to them. They later learn they’ve  stumbled upon a highly secretive military operation run by Freya’s husband Bernard (Alexander Knox) in which a handful of kids have been kept completely isolated within chambers in the cliff. But these are no ordinary children as Joan discovers their ice cold skin and complete lack of basic common knowledge and how even Bernard only communicates with them via televised sessions.

The secret of the children may be a key to surviving the cold war’s nuclear crisis but the answer is so disdainful that Freya cannot even believe her own husband is behind the plan. But stumbling upon the children has even more immediate consequences.

This is a quirky one that begins as a rough and tumble troubled youth story that suddenly changes cadence to a dark science fiction mystery. One moment were listening to a rockabilly tune that goes “Black leather. Black leather. Rock rock rock” (trust me it’s catchy and played for all it’s worth) and suddenly we’re dealing with ignorant kiddie captives and military hide-and-seek. Oliver Reed’s King undergoes a similar transition from powerful angry young man to a blabbering and scared wimp.

I had to dig into the background of this one as it reminded me of so much of Village of the Damned (based on John Wyndham’s 1957 The Midwich Cuckoos) that I wondered if one was riding the coattails of the other. As These are the Damned was itself being based on the novel The Children of Light by H.L. Lawrence written in 1962 I have to give Village of the Damned props and readily admit that it (both novel and movie) are better.

It may be inferior but if you like Village of the Damned, spooky kids, or atomic age stories, you’ll enjoy this one.

 

Movie Reviews 358 – Burnt Offerings (1976)

August 18, 2018

Check out this lineup. Karen Black, Oliver Reed, and Bette Davis. Throw in Burgess Meredith for good measure. Now how can anyone pass up a lineup like that and for a horror film no less? Rounding out the talent behind Burnt Offerings, is writer and director Dan Curtis, the man who brought us the original Dark Shadows soap opera and a few other notable horror entries.

When a young family go searching for a house to rent for vacation, wife Marian (Black) can’t believe their luck in finding a slightly rundown 19th-century mansion given the great price offered by the elder brother and sister living in the house. But husband Ben (Reed), already had misgivings even before hearing the slight catch in that they would have to take care of the mother of the old siblings who never leaves her two upper level rooms. When Marian promises that she alone will tend to the old lady, Ben agrees and along with his aunt Elizabeth (Davis) and son Davey (Lee H. Montgomery) move in for the summer.

Even before they move in the sinister house begins it’s work. Slowly taking over Marian who is entranced by the abode, Ben has nearly the opposite experience, becoming irritable and short fused who now suffers dreams about his mother’s funeral. The stakes are raised when Ben nearly takes his own son’s life but when the vibrant and spirited Elizabeth suddenly becomes frail and sickly the family finally faces the house head on.

Lumping this film with the other stock haunted house tales does not do this one justice. If one were to be honest then clearly the main character is the house itself which not only manipulates the family but controlling things like the electricity and other utilities, but it literally transforms itself in front of our eyes.

While the driving force is the residence, the tension is all in the inner conflict it creates among the family members which is why the superlative casting makes all the difference. Davis is not one of the main stars here but not one to ever be outdone she shines here as always. Her career was defined playing strong, commanding stalwart roles which she certainly does here as well – at least at first – but most uncharacteristically her performance is at it’s best when her health starts to fail as a result of mansion interference. It is in those moments of weakness and frailty and during the transition itself that we are subjected to Davis as we’ve never seen before which is a treat in itself.

Take it from me, this is one offering you have to take up.