Posts Tagged ‘Peter Cushing’

Movie Reviews 426 – Shock Waves (1977)

February 27, 2020

As a teenager flipping channels in the wee hours looking for a ‘late-nite’ movie back in the 70’s, (not too many channels to flip through in those days mind you) my remote ‘clicker’ stopped the moment my eyes laid upon a squadron of ashen faced Nazi SS officers synchronously emerging from the still waters of a river. I knew right away that my channel flipping had come to and end for the night, such was the immediate allure to watching Shock Waves.

And up until a little over a week ago when the title appeared a horror movie buy/sell/trade forum I could not recall hearing anything about this title in all those years, but I jumped at the chance to watch it again. If finally getting the DVD in my hands wasn’t a happy enough moment imagine my surprise seeing none other than Peter Cushing and John Carradine as featured stars on the cover. While thrilled, the inclusion of Cushing in particular dumbfounded me as I consider myself fairly knowledgeable in acumen from his days at Hammer, Amicus, AIP and other studios. While odd that I could not remember seeing him in this film, it was so long ago I did not remember anything plot wise. But why had I not come across this title in features and articles discussing those studios? Why had I not in fact heard really anything about this film all those years?

The answer lay in the opening credits which indicated that this was a “Zopix” production, which as it turns out was a company created by the young producers whose only feature film was this single film. Unfortunately, this explains a lot about the quality of the production and the ultimate fate of the film.

You can almost queue the Gilligan’s Island TV show theme as a small chartered boat with a few vacationers touring islands are suddenly caught up in a storm that messes up their navigation and communications, setting them on an uncharted course. The next morning they find themselves next to a hulking, rotting WWII wreck of a ship offshore a small island. With the captain (Carradine) nowhere to be found, they shuffle off to the island only to see his dead body slink across their rowboat’s glass bottomed portal. Once on the island the only signs of civilization they find is a dilapidated and deserted hotel. Rounded up by a blaring phonograph in a hallway they can briefly see an elderly man (Cushing) above them who only warns them to leave before disappearing.

The group then sporadically spot and are attacked by zombie SS men lurking in the jungle foliage and beaches. Eventually they corner the man that turns out to be the former SS commander of The Death Core, experimental super soldiers who turned on their own creator, now haunting him along with the castaways. Their only hope is a dinghy the commander pleaded with them to escape in.

While the motley group includes young Rose (Brooke Adams), handy young crewman Keith (Luke Halpin), a pretentious man and his wife, a mangy drunken cook, and a sporty claustrophobe, overall there isn’t much for them to do other than scamper and die. What tension there is only comes when the goggled and golden haired Nazis are pouncing on them but after a while even that gets repetitive. But Carradine and scared faced Cushing have all too brief roles and are a far cry from their meatier memorable performances.

Disappointed by the film itself, I was hoping that my Blue Underground DVD (reputedly made from one of the producers personal prints as the original negatives have been lost) would contain interviews and other special features that would delve in the making of the film, but I was once again frustrated with only a brief interview Halpin interview.

Sometimes films don’t live up to one’s memories. Shock Waves is borderline satisfactory from a nostalgic point of view, the few moments with Cushing and Carradine, and of course the iconic Nazi scenes. But from a story, script, production point of view all I can say is “Ich war enttäuscht”.

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 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.