Halloween Havoc!: Christopher Lee in DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS (Hammer/Warner Brothers. 1966)

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Christopher Lee returns to the role of the undead Count in this direct sequel to Horror of Dracula. The movie even begins with that film’s climactic battle between Dracula and his arch-nemesis Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, who also played Hammer’s Dr. Frankenstein). DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS takes place ten years later, and while not as good as the original, it does have some scary moments.

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Four English tourists are traveling through the Carpathian Mountains, heading to Carlsbad. Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) warns then to steer clear of “the castle”. Their coach driver refuses to take them any further when darkness begins to fall, leaving them stranded. A riderless horse and carriage appears out of nowhere, and they commandeer it to travel the rest of the way. But the horses instead take them straight to the forbidden castle. The door has been left open, and they find a table for four awaiting them. Helen (Barbara Shelley) has an ominous feeling about the place. She screams when she sees a creepy, gaunt figure enter the room. He states his name is Klove (Phillip Latham) and his  Master has left instructions to serve all weary travelers. When the quartet ask if the Master will be joining them for dinner, Klove intones, “He’s dead….his name was Count Dracula.”

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Now the fun really begins, as Helen’s husband Alan (Frances Matthews) snoops around at night, discovering a secret crypt room. Klove murders him and hangs him by his feet, adds ashes to the sepultcher, then slits Alan’s throat. The blood comingles with the ashes, and Count Dracula is reanimated! Klove leads Helen to Alan’s body, where Dracula is waiting. Sporting a pair of blood-shot eyes, he puts the bite on Helen. The other couple, Charles and Diana (no, not THAT Charles and Diana!) manage to escape by brandishing crosses.

Charles and Diana (Charles Tingwell, Suzan Farmer) come across Father Sandor in the woods, who takes them to his monestary. The good Father recounts the legend of Count Dracula to the frightened couple, and introduces then to Ludwig (Thorley Waters), a seemingly harmless former victim of the Count. Ludwig likes to eat flies (shades of Dwight Frye!). Things begin to heat up when Dracula and Klove arrive at the monestary and, with the aid of Ludwig, kidnap Diana. Charles and Father Sandor trek to Castle Dracula to hunt the fiend down, in a unique ending involving “running water” (one of the many ways to stop a vampire, according to legend…in this movie, anyway).

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It is said the reason Lee remains mute during DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKENESS is because he thought the dialogue sucked (yes, pun intended). I didn’t find the rest of the cast’s dialogue too bad, so I wonder just what the problem was all about. Even mute, Lee is an imposing Count, commanding attention in every scene he’s in. Barbara Shelley (VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED) makes a damned good vampire herself, while Phillpi Latham as Klove is appropriately creepy. The movie’s definitely got atmosphere, but it wasn’t sufficiently gory enough for me. DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS is a minor entry in the Lee/Hammer canon, but worth a look nevertheless. Especially during this Halloween season!

Halloween Havoc!: Miriam Hopkins in SAVAGE INTRUDER (Avco Embassy 1970)

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SAVAGE INTRUDER (aka HOLLYWOOD HORROR HOUSE) is the psychotronic slasher version of SUNSET BOULEVARD, with a dash of PSYCHO thrown in for good measure. Glamorous 30s star Miriam Hopkins plays Katherine Packard, an alcoholic has-been, but this is no WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE. It’s demented, sleazy, unsavory, and a good time!

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We start with some stock footage of Hollywood’s Golden Era, then the credits roll over shots of the decrepit Hollywood sign). (If you think you recognize the film premiere of THE DANCING CAVALIER, you’re right! It’s lifted from the film-within-a-film in SINGIN IN THE RAIN). The next scene shows us a young man following a middle-aged woman from a bar. He breaks into her home, conks her on the noggin, and starts sawing off her hand with an electric carving knife! When she wakes up screaming, he pulls out his hatchet and chops her to bits. He’s a serial killer who’s been terrorizing Tinsletown, and he’s played by John David Garfield, son of the late actor. While young Mr. Garfield has his dad’s looks and voice, he’s no chip off the acting block. In fact, he later went behind the cameras to work as an editor. But on with the show….

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A tour bus takes us to the estate of retired actress Katherine Packard (and yes, that’s ex-Stooge Joe Besser as your tour guide). The psycho-killer debarks and introduces himself as “Laurel N. Hardy”, looking for a job as nurse for Miss Packard. The old dame got drunk and fell down the stairs, breaking her leg in the process. Leslie (former SPIDER WOMAN and Oscar winner Gale Sondergaard), the mistress of the house, interviews Hardy, who’s real name is Vic Valance. Vic ingratiates himself with Katherine, and the elderly ex-star falls in love with him (croaking the tune “Taking a Chance on Love” in a scene I hope is supposed to be funny…cause it is!) Vic’s also involved with younger housemaid Greta (Virginia Wing), scandalizing Leslie and cook Mildred (Florence Lake, who costarred opposite Edgar Kennedy in a series of comedy shorts, and was older sister to Dagwood Bumstead himself, Arthur Lake).

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Vic shoots some dope, and has a flashback about his youth. It seems he was an abused child, whose mother was an alcoholic prostitute. He sees her with three or four skeezy dudes slobbering all over her, and takes a hatchet to them. In fact, Vic takes a hatchet to everybody by the end of the movie, leaving him alone in the house with a mannequin made up like Miriam Hopkins. This was Miss Hopkins last role, and she’s a hoot! Chewing the scenery with the best of them, Miriam overacts and plays to the back row, but somehow it works. The scene where Vic takes her to a Hollywood hippie party is high-camp, especially when a midget drug dealer offers her some acid (“The only trips I take are to Europe”, she deadpans). Producer/writer/director Donald Wolfe must’ve been tripping himself when he concocted this vulgar stew. It’s got some suspenseful moments and plenty of gore, and  is a perfect time capsule of late 60s/early 70s Hollywood debauchery.

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Worth seeing for the cast alone, SAVAGE INTRUDER is a unique low-budget shocker that will please any Grindhouse fan. It’s far from the best in the “Aging Star Does Horror” genre, but you won’t be disappointed by this raunchy romp, filmed inside the Norma Talmadge Estate. Put it on your late-night Halloween list, while the kiddos are sleeping, and dive into the delightful decadence of SAVAGE INTRUDER.

Halloween Havoc!: RATTLERS (Boxoffice International 1976)

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I’m not a big fan of snakes. The slithering serpents have given me the creeps since I was a kid. Needless to say, any movie about the crawling creatures (or with specific snake scenes) never fail to send shivers down my spine. Movies like ANACONDA, VENOM, and SSSSS just make me squeamish. (No, I did not see SNAKES ON A PLANE. Too chickenshit!) I can now add RATTLERS to the list of reptilian terrors. Though the film isn’t all that good, it did what it was supposed to do: scare the beejeezus out of me!

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A series of snake attacks befall a California desert town and Sheriff Gates (Tony Ballen) calls in LA herpetologist Dr. Tom Parkinson (Sam Chew). The marauding rattlesnakes are striking unprovoked, and have already caused three deaths. Tom is given an assistant to take photos in the desert. She’s Ann Bradley (Elizabeth Chauvet), a Women’s Libber. Tom, of course, is your typical male chauvinist, unhappy about taking “a girl” with him. This results in some “topical” banter between the two, but you know they’ll fall in love by the end of the flick. The duo find out there’s been some deaths on the local Army base, run by Colonel Stroud (Dan Priest). Also on base is the medical officer, Captain Delaney (Ron Gold), who’s somewhat of a drunk. Tom and Ann discover the snakes have been exposed to CT3, an experimental nerve gas that causes “manic behavior” in the rattlers. The deranged Colonel is responsible for stashing the CT3 in an abandoned mine, and tries to cover his tracks. He gets what’s coming to him, the snake threat is ended, and the lovebirds go to LA for Chinese food.

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RATTLERS is average 70s drive-in fare. The boring talking scenes just serve to set up the unnerving snake attacks, which are handled well. While no classic, if snakes make you jittery, you’ll want to give this one a look. Like I said before, it did what it was supposed to do. It did its job. It scared me. You can’t ask for anything more from a horror film, right?

Halloween Havoc!: EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS (Columbia 1956)

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UFOs have been spotted across the globe. Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and his wife Carol (Joan Taylor) are on their way to the secret headquarters of Operation Skyhook when they’re strafed by a saucer! They tell Carol’s dad, General Hanley (Morris Ankrum) what occurred. The General in turn reports all the satellities they’ve sent up have been destroyed by mysterious forces. When Marvin and his crew send up the next one, the base is attacked by saucers, and the rocket launch incapacitated. Soon General Hanley is captured by the aliens, and Marvin learns to communicate with them. The alien’s intent: destroy Planet Earth! Our weapons are useless against their superior technology! CAN EARTH BE SAVED FROM THE FLYING SAUCER INVASION?!?!

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If you’re a fan of 50s sci-fi, you already know the answer. And if you’re a fan of Sam Katzman movies, you know it’ll be chock full of stock footage and made on a miniscule budget. The saving grace of EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS is the special effects wizardry of Ray Harryhausen. Ray gives us alien spacecrafts instead of the usual giant monsters in this one, and they look fantastic. It’s fun to see Harryhausen’s saucers blowing up famous Washington landmarks (including the Capital building…beware, Congress!).

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Director Fred F. Sears keeps the movie moving along at a brisk clip, so you almost don’t notice the budgetary limitations. Well, almost. The cast perform their parts fine. Movies like EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS aren’t about the acting anyway, it’s all about the space aliens and their weapons of mass destruction. There are two cast members I’d like to single out, though. These guys don’t appear in the film, but you’ll recognize their voices. William Woodson narrates the movie, and if the name doesn’t ring a bell, the voice certainly will. He made a career out of narrating films and TV shows, most notably the 60s series THE INVADERS and the first season of THE ODD COUPLE. The other gentleman portraying the disembodied voice of the alien is Paul Frees. If I took the time to cite even half his credits we’d be here all day, so I’ll just tell you he’s most famous as the voice of Boris Badenov, arch-enemy of Rocky the Flying Squirrel and his pal, Bullwinkle J. Moose! If you want more info, all you’ve got to do is Google.

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EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS is the type of movie where you can just shut your brain off and enjoy. You’ve seen it all before, and you know the good ol’ USA will emerge triumphant. The fun is in getting there, and you’ll enjoy the trip watching EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS. So pop some corn, put your feet up, and get ready to be entertained!

Bloggers Meet & Greet

There’s a blogger’s Meet and Greet today from The Land Down Under….stop in and say hello!

A Momma's View

It’s mid October, Canadian Thanksgiving has passed and the American is approaching fast (well, yes it is kind of…). Down here in Australia we’ve been blessed with some amazing weather once more and in a true Aussie spirit it’s time to crank up the Barbie and put some shrimps on it!

No… not like that! More like this:

And while they are sizzling along I thought we can have a nice catch up! So let’s party blog style!

The rules are easy:

  • Comment on this post and introduce your blog in a short sentence
  • Put the link to your blog in your comment so people can check it out
  • Put a link to a post in the comment that especially touched you (can be one of your posts but can also be a post of another blogger)
  • Check out at least 3 of the other bloggers that have left a…

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Halloween Havoc!: EYES WITHOUT A FACE (Lido Film 1959)

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From the early films of Georges (A TRIP TO THE MOON) Melies, to the horrors of H.G.Clouzot (LE CORBEAU, DIABOLIQUE), to the vampire madness of Jean Rollin, France has a long history with le cinema fantastique. EYES WITHOUT A FACE is one of the most eerie of all French horrors, it’s dreamlike quality capturing the viewer, even with subtitles. I’m not a big fan of foreign films, but EYES WITHOUT A FACE stood out to me as a perfect example of how quiet horror can be just as effective as full-throttle terror.

The story unfolds slowly, deliberately, as we see a woman (Alida Valli) driving down a lonely highway. There’s someone or something in her backseat, bundled up in a hat and topcoat. The woman pulls over when a car comes behind her, nervous, scared. When it passes, she carries what we now see as a female corpse, dropping it into the Siene River. The police fish it out, and Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) identifies it as his missing daughter, Christiane. A funeral is held, where we discover the woman is Genessier’s assistant Louise. Furthermore, the corpse is not Christiane at all…she’s at the doctor’s villa, victim of a disfiguring car crash. Christiane (Edith Scob) wears a mask ala’ The Phantom of the Opera to hide her ugliness. Dr. Genessier was the driver who caused Cristiane’s disfigurement, and he’s been experimenting with skin grafts to give his child a new face, first by practicing on dogs, now using young women. To achieve his goal, Dr. Genessier is cutting off their faces and transplanting them onto daughter Christiane.

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The scenes of Genessier and Louise performing their gruesome operations in his brightly lit laboratory are vivid for a 50s film, moreso then even the British Hammer horrors. You can almost feel them peeling the face off ever so delicately, sending shivers down the viewer’s spine (or at least this viewer!). Most of the movie is done in stark white settings, emphasizing the fact that horrors don’t always happen in the dark. Christiane’s blank-faced mask shows us only her eyes, the fear and horror etched within them. Sound is used to good effect as well, the constant barking of the dogs and chirping of birds conveying the loneliness of Christiane. The denouement to EYES WITHOUT A FACE is particularly frightening, with Genessier getting his comeuppance courtesy of Christiane.

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Cinematographer Eugen Schufftan does a commendable job utilizing light to contrast the bizarre goings-on. Schufftan was one of Europe’s most respected cinematographers. Fleeing his native Germany during the Nazi era, he came to America. Since Scufftan was not in the union, he worked uncredited as cinematographer (often getting a consultant credit) on films by countryman Edgar G Ulmer (HITLER’S MADMAN, BLUEBEARD, STRANGE ILLUSION). Schufftan was warded an Oscar for his black & white filming of THE HUSTLER. Director Georges Franju was a film archivist who’s work as director included the serial flavored JUDEX (1963). EYES WITHOUT A FACE was based on a novel by Jean Roden, and adapted for the screen by the team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. The duo was responsible for the stories that were filmed as DIABOLIQUE, VERTIGO, and Body Parts. Maurice Jarre’s jaunty, incongruous score adds to the film’s oddness. Jarre was one of the most successful composers working in film, with Oscars given for LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, and A PASSGAE TO INDIA. Other notable Jarre works include RYAN’S DAUGHTER, THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, DEAD POETS SOCIETY, and GHOST.

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The cast members were well known in France, but none made an impact here in the States save Alida Valli. The beautiful actress made her American debut in Alfred Hitchcock’s THE PARADINE CASE, then was featured in the classic thriller THE THIRD MAN. Returning to work in Europe in the mid-50s, Valli continued her success abroad, ending her screen career appearing in Dario Argento works like SUSPIRIA and INFERNO. EYES WITHOUT A FACE was first seen in this country in a butchered and dubbed version titled THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DOCTOR FAUSTUS, double billed with THE MANSTER. Thankfully, the original version was restored and shown in this country in 2003. Now readily available, the film is hailed as the classic it truly is, its influence seen in horror movies made around the world. Don’t let the subtitles steer you away from EYES WITHOUT A FACE, for you’ll be missing one of the scariest films in le cinema fantastique.