Tag Archives: British

Rebecca-2020

Rebecca-2020

Director Ben Wheatley

Starring Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristin Scott Thomas

Scott’s Review #1,430

Reviewed June 30, 2024

Grade: A-

Impossible to compare to the legendary 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film, I tried very hard to take the 2020 retelling of Rebecca based on its merits. After all, it’s been eighty years and other attempts have been made mostly forgotten or irrelevant.

Aware of lukewarm reviews by other critics I desperately washed those aside and settled in for a macabre, dark ghostly British thriller.

The film is quite good! Feeling fresh and with a polished cinematic look, I’d describe it as a modern British offering despite being set long ago.

For comparisons, it reminds me of the British television series Downton Abbey (2010-2015) in look and feel. A grandiose estate, dutiful servants, and rank and file of other wealthy and not-so-wealthy characters.

A young newlywed (character nameless) arrives at her husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives in the house long after her death.

The lead actress, Lily James, who at first I couldn’t recall who she was, is most known for Downton Abbey and the 2023 film The Iron Claw.

The character she plays, the insecure second Mrs. de Winter is confused, and haunted requiring terrific acting. James hits it out of the park on that front.

Emotionally abused by her employer, wickedly played by Ann Dowd, she is instantly heroic and likable so we are happy when she graduates from servant to queen bee.

I cringed at first when I realized that the gorgeous and lovely Kristin Scott Thomas was playing the pivotal role of the villainous Mrs. Danvers. Known for the film The English Patient (1996) where she played the romantic Katharine Clifton, I wasn’t sure she’d be able to go so dark.

Boy, was I wrong? It took me a bit to channel out the dastardly performance by Judith Anderson from the original and accept Scott Thomas. She gets better with each scene and even forces the audience to sympathize with her.

Finally, Armie Hammer is good in the lead role of Maxim de Winter. Handsome, sophisticated, and wealthy, he peculiarly fancies a lady’s maid who inexplicably becomes his wife.

We wonder what he sees in her when his deceased wife ‘Rebecca’ was gorgeous, affluent, and a perfectionist. Rebecca was presumed to have drowned in a terrible boating accident but as events unfold we wonder if there’s more to the story.

If only the characters communicated with each other it would have eliminated confusion. Maxim refuses to talk about Rebecca. If his true feelings were revealed he’d have a different kind of second marriage.

Besides the story and the acting, other trimmings make Rebecca circa 2020 worthy of watching.

The cinematography captures crashing waves and high cliffs that provide a haunting mood. The dining room and kitchen sequences brim with goodness and wonderful meals.

The art direction and set design are overall flawless in the presentation.

The costume party that Mrs. de Winter eagerly plans and hopes will admonish the house of any thoughts of Rebecca go wrong which for viewers is a delight because the scene is already rich.  With help from Danvers a regal red costume is designed and prepared to showcase Mrs. de Winter.

When she confidently descends the staircase the startled crowd gasps with fright at the similarities between her and Rebecca. Maxim angrily dismisses her to change outfits while Danvers smirks in the background.

She’s won round one.

The Danvers/Mrs. de Winter feud is my favorite aspect of Rebecca (both original and 2020 versions) so it’s delightful to see it work so well with Scott Thomas and James.

There is nothing quite so satisfying as watching a film with little expectations but finishing feeling fulfilled and still thinking about it the next morning.

I’ll always watch 1940s Rebecca as a treasured friend but Rebecca (2020) quite capably offers a modern spin with good acting and lavish production values.

10 Rillington Place-1971

10 Rillington Place-1971

Director Richard Fleischer

Starring Richard Attenborough, Judy Geeson, John Hurt

Scott’s Review #1,424

Reviewed March 22, 2024

Grade: A

Richard Fleischer has directed films such as Dr. Doolittle (1967) and Soylent Green (1973) that are remembered better than 10 Rillington Place (1971).

That’s a shame because the film is one that I hadn’t seen nor heard of but is chilling, macabre, and masterful in its bleakness and atmosphere.

It’s also wonderfully acted.

One can’t help but notice the stark similarities to Frenzy, an equally disturbing and great 1972 film by Alfred Hitchcock.  Did this film influence the master of suspense to create that one? Only he knows the answer to that question.

Mostly set in one dreary apartment building in London named 10 Rillington Place it tells the true story of the British serial killer John Christie (Richard Attenborough), who committed many of his crimes in the tall terraced house, and the miscarriage of justice involving his neighbor, the simple-minded Timothy Evans (John Hurt).

Timothy was used by John as a scapegoat for the murders.

John is a seemingly model citizen but a killer, as the audience witnesses in the first scene. He poses as a kindly doctor who convinces naive women that he can cure whatever might ail them whether it be aches and pains or making a pesky pregnancy go away.

He usually strangles them to death and buries them in a makeshift graveyard in the pretty garden in front of his residence.

The main story in 10 Rillington Place follows John as he cons a pregnant bride (Judy Geeson) struggling financially to utilize his help and medical methods. John’s dutiful and clueless wife, Ethel (Pat Heywood) slowly discovers her husband’s shenanigans but will she fall prey as his next victim?

Of course, Richard Attenborough steals the show as the demented killer with a calm, cool, and collected exterior. As an average-looking Joe type, he can use his trusting appearance to his advantage.

I’d trust him.

Attenborough became an Academy Award-winning director for 1982’s Gandhi so he knows his craft well. He also directed Cry Freedom in 1987 and Chaplin in 1992.

In actor mode, he is phenomenal in the crazed killer role. His greatest skill is his demeanor. Thoughtful and pondering he never plays psycho or nuts. He is careful but that’s part of his creepiness. With every noise, he peers out the window drawing the living room curtain ever so slightly revealing his face.

Hurt and Geeson are terrific as the young couple with the cards stacked against them. They are simply looking for tranquility and the means to raise their child.

Simplicity is a winning formula and most of the film is subdued thanks to Fleischer’s laid-back direction techniques.

The look of 10 Rillington Place is perfection. The colors are muted and faded giving a dank and depressing look. Even a bright red velvet sofa appears dark and dreary.

As Timothy and Beryl agree to lease the top floor flat this will not bode well for them and somehow we can just sense this.

Towards the end of the film, it is almost too much to bear with the knowledge that John strangles a toddler to death and unceremoniously stuffs the child, wrapped in a blanket in a washroom.

Brilliantly, the murders rarely happen onscreen and with none of the principal characters. That’s what’s so haunting about the film and reminds me of Hitchcock’s Frenzy.

Remember the scene where the necktie killer lures a female victim upstairs to her death? There is silence and a shot of the staircase for seemingly an eternity until the killer descends the stairs.

We know what’s happened.

What we don’t see is sometimes much more frightening than what we do see.

The ghastly reveal at the end of 10 Rillington Place that the story is based on real-life events packed a punch since I didn’t have this knowledge going into the film.

Thankfully, 10 Rillington Place (1971) has received its just desserts in terms of praise and achievement in recent years. This proves that great films are like cream and rise to the top…..eventually.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase-1989

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase-1989

Director Stuart Olme

Starring Stephanie Beacham, Emily Hudson, Aleks Darowska

Scott’s Review #1,418

Reviewed January 20, 2024

Grade: B+

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1989) is a British dark fantasy film directed by Stuart Orme in his theatrical directorial debut. Most notably a rock video director, I am unsure if Orme ever directed another film.

The film is based on the 1962 novel of the same name, written by Joan Aiken which was quite popular with children during the 1960s and beyond.

Similar to the book, the film is set in an alternate history version of nineteenth-century England where wolves roam the countryside. The animals prance around the wintery landscapes causing fear for those humans who spot them.

The experience is playful and escapist with similarities to both Oliver! (1968) and The Witches (1990). Especially in regards to the former some of the action takes place in a bleak workhouse where children are mistreated by adults.

Predictably and satisfying, the evil adults get their comeuppance while the nice children and warm adults live happily ever after. This is a main part of the fun of watching the perilous situations.

The plot centers around two young girls. Bonnie (Emily Hudson) is the daughter of Lord and Lady Willoughby, who live at the grand yet cozy country estate named Willoughby Chase. Lady Willoughby (Eleanor David) is ill, and the couple plan to recuperate basking in the warm sun along the Mediterranean.

In urban London, Bonnie’s cousin, Sylvia (Aleks Darowska), is leaving her impoverished Aunt Jane (Lord Willoughby’s cousin) to keep Bonnie company while her parents are away.

While on the train, she meets a mysterious man, Mr. Grimshaw (Mel Smith) whom they decide to bring back to Willoughby Chase after falling unconscious when wolves attack the train.

Meanwhile, Bonnie and Sylvia’s cousin, Letitia (Stephanie Beacham) is their new governess. She is evil and determined to get rid of the children so that she inherits money and the estate.

Billed as a children’s film, as Oliver! was, some of the sequences may be too much for younger kids. The ferocious wolves may cause fright while a scene involving one of the girls being locked in a chest might cause nightmares.

There is a presumed drowning and another character catches on fire.

For adults, particularly those who enjoyed the book as youngsters the dangerous situations are light fare and merely make Bonnie and Sylvia more heroic and justified in escaping the adult’s clutches.

The art direction and set designs are also a big part of the fun. Numerous scenes of winter and snow-covered roads and pathways are what make The Wolves of Willoughby Chase a perfect watch for a frigid January evening.

I’m not sure if the film would feel as atmospheric in July or August.

The estate where much of the action takes place has a warm and cozy feel. It made me want to curl up by a raging fire with a good book.

There’s an undertone of class distinction when the servants are all dismissed to save money and I questioned why Sylvia and her aunt didn’t simply live on the estate. The poor living amongst the rich is a perfect setup for more meaningful storylines but the intent is more for The Wolves of Willoughby Chase to be fun.

Beacham is delightful while slightly over-the-top playing a fiendish character. Most known for appearing on television’s ‘Dynasty’ the actress has also made British horror films.

I assumed she planned to kill the parents and the girls but what about the aunt?

It doesn’t matter much because her plan is foiled and the girls are reunited with their loved ones.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1989) contains a nice musical score that enhances the adventures. The film is a bit too scary for kids but perfect for young adults and older.

The Rainbow-1989

The Rainbow-1989

Director Ken Russell

Starring Sammi Davis, Paul McGann, Amanda Donohoe

Scott’s Review #1,409

Reviewed November 5, 2023

Grade: A-

Continuing my exploration of more obscure films by the British director comes The Rainbow, a 1989 picture adapted from a 1915 D.H. Lawrence novel.

Russell fans will know that he also adapted 1970s Women in Love from Lawrence so there is a tie-in between films.

Even though The Rainbow was made nearly two decades after Women in Love, it’s a prequel. The antics of the Brangwen sisters are explored as they grow up in rural England specifically one sister’s burgeoning sexuality and desires.

One could take The Rainbow as a feminist film that centers mainly on the eldest sister.

Born to a rich landowner, played by Christopher Gable, in the final days of the Victorian era (the late 1800s), Ursula (Sammi Davis) blossoms into a beautiful young woman full of imagination and promise.

She is quite free-spirited and begins to feel trapped by her surroundings. Still, her life changes when she has an erotic experience with Winifred (Amanda Donohoe), an adventurous and bisexual teacher.

From that point on, Ursula puts all of her passion and creativity into the pursuit of sexual fulfillment. She prefers men and develops a relationship with the dashing Anton (Paul McGann).

But she is constantly frustrated and continues to suffer from anguish and under-fulfillment as her development years go by.

Davis is delightful and mesmerizing as the lead character. Her flowing blonde locks which she eventually cuts give her a wholesome schoolteacher persona. But she is peppered with sassiness and experimentation which Davis flawlessly executes.

Donohoe, who starred in another Russell film, the bizarre The Lair of the White Worm (1988) smolders with sophistication and sensuality. Winifred easily takes Ursula under her wing and teaches her the pleasures of sex.

Eventually marrying Ursula’s wealthy Uncle Henry she doesn’t decline into dull matrimony but remains a mentor and source of temptation to Ursula.

McGann, as Anton brings a boyish yet masculine flavor to the film and succeeds as the main love interest for Ursula. Becoming a soldier, he smolders most during his plentiful nude scenes running around forests and up mountains with Ursula in tow.

These scenes are the zestiest as Russell plugs his all-too-familiar bizarre sequences of lust and bare flesh into the film.

There are many nude scenes to salivate over turning the prim and proper Victorian upper-crust characters into horny animalistic creatures.

The dynamics between Ursula, Anton, and Winifred are my favorite because it’s not played as a traditional love triangle with one pair to root for. It’s more sexual and interesting than that.

Not everything in The Rainbow works, however.

Even though I’m very familiar with Women in Love the connection to that film is tough to capture. Gudrun (the other sister) is the main focus in Women in Love but only has a small role in The Rainbow. To make matters more confusing, Ursula (in The Rainbow) is more similar to the character of Gudrun (in Women in Love).

Also, Glenda Jackson (who plays Gudrun in Women in Love) is cast as the mother in The Rainbow. The role is unspectacular especially compared to the brilliant portrayal Jackson did in Women in Love.

She doesn’t have much to play except being their mother.

I finally decided to stop thinking about Women in Love and enjoy The Rainbow on its own merits.

Admittedly, the final sequence does satisfy as Ursula forges ahead to a new life which brings us back to the start of Women in Love.

Reminiscent of E.M. Forster’s adaptations like A Room with a View (1985), Maurice (1987), or Howards End (1992), the quaint English cottages, landscapes, and villages are wonderful and capture a specific time capsule.

The Rainbow (1989) transported me to another time and offered a character study meshed in sexuality, coming of age, and feminist power.

The House That Dripped Blood-1971

The House That Dripped Blood-1971

Director Peter Duffell

Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing

Scott’s Review #1,408

Reviewed October 31, 2023

Grade: B+

Any horror project including Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing is worth a watch and The House That Dripped Blood (1971) features both actors though sadly not in any scenes together.

The British horror anthology is spooky and perfect for the Halloween season. The action surrounds a hulking house where bad events occur regardless of who inhabits it.

The film is divided into four short stories explaining the circumstances surrounding the individual inhabitants.

The production is low budget which is perfect for a film like this but the title makes it seem bloodier and gorier than it is.

All of the stories were originally written, and subsequently scripted, by Robert Bloch.

Below is a summary, review, and rating of each vignette.

Framework: B+

Shortly after renting an old country house, a well-known film star Paul Henderson mysteriously disappears and Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) from Scotland Yard is called by a local Sergeant to investigate.

Inquiring at the local police station, he is told some of the house’s history.

He soon learns how four tenants met macabre fates.

The ‘Framework’ sequence goes between the vignettes and provides good context but is more or less just the interplay between Inspector and Sergeant.

This serves as an introduction to each chapter and ties the events together.

Method for Murder: A-

Charles Hillyer (Denholm Elliott) is a struggling writer who specializes in horror stories. He and his wife Alice (Joanna Dunham), move into the house thinking it will serve as inspiration. Charles creates a devious character named ‘Dominic’ after he ‘imagines’ seeing him outside a window.

Charles soon starts to see Dominic, who begins stalking and tormenting him.

My second favorite of the four chapters, I all but guessed the ‘twist’ from the get-go but was surprised at the ‘twist on top of a twist’ which pleased me.

It’s great when a villain thinks they’ve gotten away with murder only to be murdered themselves.

Waxworks: B+

Retired stockbroker Philip Grayson (Cushing) moves into the house with plans to read, garden, and relax. Though initially he occupies himself with his hobbies, he quickly becomes lonely. One day, while wandering around town, he happens upon a wax museum.

Grayson explores the museum and finds a sculpture of a dead woman he had been in love with. The museum’s proprietor explains that he based the likeness of the sculpture on his late wife, who had been executed after murdering his best friend.

Despite featuring Cushing, it’s a moderately good story but lacks the compelling nature of a couple of the other vignettes.

It’s less about the house itself and more about the wax museum and obsession is the subject matter.

While decent, Waxworks didn’t blow me away either.

Sweets to the Sweet: A

Widower John Reid (Lee) moves into the house next along with his odd young daughter Jane (Chloe Franks). John hires former teacher Ann Norton (Nyree Dawn Porter) to tutor Jane. Ann bonds with Jane, she helps Jane get over a fear of fire.

Ann suspects John of abusing Jane but is there more to the story? Why doesn’t he let Jane play with other children or toys and do his best to keep her isolated?

Is there something wrong with Jane?

This is the best installment and has a resemblance to The Innocents (1961) featuring a governess and a spooky child. Viewers will find themselves switching alliances with the characters as the story rapidly moves along.

The Cloak: B+

Finally, horror film actor Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee) moves into the house while starring in a vampire film being shot nearby.

Irritated by the lack of maturity or talent from the cast and crew he decides to purchase a realistic cloak worn by his character (who happens to be a vampire). The shop he makes his purchase from is run by the enigmatic Theo von Hartmann (Geoffrey Bayldon) who eerily offers him a black cloak.

This one plays like a Hammer Horror Dracula installment and is good but not great. Less happens within the confines of the house than I’d like and Paul is an unlikable character.

The action on the movie set and in the shop are the best parts.

The Boy Friend-1971

The Boy Friend-1971

Director Ken Russell

Starring Twiggy, Christopher Gable

Scott’s Review #1,407

Reviewed October 27, 2023

Grade: B+

With each Ken Russell film, I see the expectation is for something wacky and I sit back for a schizophrenic roller coaster ride.

His finest efforts like Women in Love (1970), The Devils (1971), and Tommy (1975) offer bombast and weirdness in their way.

The British director decided to take on The Boy Friend (1971), a reworking of a 1953 traditional musical of the same name by Sandy Wilson, and turn it upside down on its ass. Those expecting a conventional affair with cheery sing-along numbers in perfect symmetry will be disappointed.

The messy project has its ups and downs and meanders off course on more than one occasion. With jagged storytelling and dragging sequences, it makes up ground with the sizzling visuals and costumes and offers the audience a glimpse of theatre drama and shenanigans both onstage and offstage.

On its own merits and considering the director is Russell it gets a marginal thumbs up but is nowhere near as fantastic as his other works.

Causing a bit of confusion, the plot is divided into three levels. Level one tells the main story, where, in the south of England in the 1920s, a struggling theatrical troupe is performing a musical about romantic intrigues at a finishing school for young women in the south of France.

The cast awkwardly strives to impress a visiting famous movie director with hopes of fame and fortune. They giggle, improvise, and scheme to get noticed at the risk of upstaging the other cast members.

Next, there is the musical itself. Four of the girls at the school are very forward and acquire boyfriends, but Polly, played by 1960s supermodel Twiggy, is shy and has nobody to take her to the carnival masked ball that night. Tony (Christopher Gable), a messenger boy from a dress shop, brings her a costume, and they fall in love.

Finally, there are extensive fantasy sequences in the film, during which the characters’ dreams and hopes are enacted in music and dance sans dialogue.

Glenda Jackson, who won an Oscar for Russell’s Women in Love returns in an uncredited appearance as the theatre star who Polly must fill in for when she breaks her leg.

The crux of the film is the romance between Polly and Tony. While there is some chemistry between the duo they never completely take off as the centerpiece either.

The cleverness is in the reveal of the twist within the stage production cementing the pair’s connection, as characters in the play.

Nonetheless, there are too many other things going on to care about the lovebirds for very long.

The musical numbers got my attention, especially towards the end of the film. My personal favorite ‘It’s Nicer in Nice’ kickstarts the action with high-caliber energy and shout-outs to other geographical cities in comparison to Nice, France. It’s a fun regional experience with great culture and an upbeat rhythm.

The chirpy ‘It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love’ follows soon after offering a gleeful ending.

The fantasy sequences waste story potential and offer no plot direction but are fun to watch anyway. Dripping with colors and razzle-dazzle the chaotic events are dreamlike and foot-stomping.

Twiggy, with little to no prior film experience, is quite impressive in the lead role. Her voice is strong and her acting skills are more than adequate. What might have been a disaster is not thanks to her talents.

Even though other Ken Russell films are tighter and linear The Boy Friend (1971) is worth the watch, especially for his diehard fans.

Oscar Nominations: Best Music, Adaptation, and Original Song Score

The Satanic Rites of Dracula-1973

The Satanic Rites of Dracula-1973

Director Alan Gibson

Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Joanna Lumley

Scott’s Review #1,405

Reviewed October 16, 2023

Grade: B+

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) is the eighth film in the Hammer Horror Dracula series, and the seventh and final one to feature Christopher Lee in the starring role. It also unites legendary horror actor Peter Cushing with Lee for the third time.

So, the territory and storyline are hardly unchartered and a film like this is for a targeted audience.

For those unclear, Hammer Horror films are a series of low-budget British films produced by the London-based company featuring gothic and fantasy-type films.

Their heyday was from the mid-1950s until the 1970s.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula comes at the end of the horror genre reign of terror but is enjoyable nonetheless. It’s redundant in a way because I’ve seen so many of them by now that there’s little intrigue anymore.

It’s not a surprise anymore what’s going to transpire in the film.

I love these films mostly because of the low budget and the creative and sophisticated sets and art design. But the main selling point is the Lee/Cushing pairing.

After a Secret Service agent barely escapes an English country estate where satanic rituals are being held and later dies Van Helsing (Cushing) is asked to investigate.

He seeks the seven hundred-year-old count (Lee), who is dead and living in London with his vampire bride and a breed of other undead women dressed in red robes.

Van Helsing’s granddaughter Jessica played by Joanna Lumley is introduced as well as another Secret Service agent, Murray (Michael Coles).

The team naturally winds up at the English estate where they discover shenanigans led by a female Chinese vampire (Barbara Yu Ling). They grapple with fire and brimstone as they determinedly attempt to take down Dracula once and for all (yeah right!).

The film is silly but in the best of ways. I enjoyed the very beginning and ending most of all. When the Secret Service agent runs down the vast estate driveway amid darkness the mysterious pursuing motorcycle men provide intrigue, and the plot is hatched.

As fans know well the finale will result in a fiery showdown between good and evil and the benevolent Van Helsing destroys the villainous Dracula with a strong stake to the heart.

This technique is used a few times during The Satanic Rites of Dracula and in comic fashion, a stake and hammer always seem to be at the ready.

But the fun is good besting evil after all and delightful is seeing a vampire’s fangs come into view as the unsuspecting victim gasps in shock or shrieks in terror.

By 1973 Cushing and Lee could probably deliver their dialogue in their sleep and the motivation doesn’t seem to be there. Lee barely appears until the final act.

The introduction of Lumley, well-known to Absolutely Fabulous fans is wise and breathes new life into the familiar characters. She brings a Nancy Drew-type appeal especially as she sneaks into the estate basement to investigate peculiar noises.

A hoot for Hammer Horror fans or fans of British horror but it’s not one of the best in the series. Enjoyable mostly for additional tidbits like howling wind, creepy noises, and lavish drapes, furniture, and various set pieces.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) is a nice watch in October around Halloween.

Mahler-1974

Mahler-1974

Director Ken Russell

Starring Robert Powell, Georgina Hale

Scott’s Review #1,404

Reviewed October 15, 2023

Grade: A

Anyone brave and open-minded enough to expose themselves to a Ken Russell film is in for an experience in great cinema. The British director frequently fuses music, odd visual sequences, and vivid colors into his art.

There is a specific mood one must be in to flourish in the moment and the dream-like perplexities of a film of this ilk but the result will be an appreciation for creativity in filmmaking.

My personal favorite Russell film, and I’m still getting my feet wet in all things Russell, is Women in Love (1970) followed by The Devils (1971), a journey into madness.

Hardly straight-laced, Mahler (1974) conceptualizes the music of the famous Austro-Bohemian composer and delves into the life and times of the man.

Gustav Mahler (Robert Powell) is returning to his home in Vienna, Austria following a stint conducting at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Traveling via train with his wife, Alma (Georgina Hale) he reflects on pivotal moments in his life.

Mahler dwells on memories of his overbearing father, of his once powerful but now failing relationship with Alma, and of the anti-Semitism that forced him to convert to Catholicism.

A garish sequence also reveals the death of his child.

A side story on the train features Alma’s lover, Max (Richard Morant), also on the train, urging her to leave Mahler and get off with him a couple of stops before Vienna.

Russell shifts time quite often so that at first it’s tough to figure out what is happening and more specifically if events are in the past or the future.

But once acclimated it’s easy to reflect on the stages of life and the various players. Better still is to ruminate about the happenings after the credits have rolled.

The best films require some ponderance after they end rather than simply forgetting them fifteen minutes later and Mahler is one of those films.

Knowing Russell, (has anyone seen The Devils?), he sometimes incorporates religion into his work. Mahler, a Jew, is forced to relegate his religion to get his work showcased. So, there is religious conflict and debate.

Mahler’s conversion to Catholicism is expressed by a wacky fantasy sequence in which he undergoes a baptism of fire and blood on a mountaintop, presided over by Cosima Wagner (second wife of the composer, Wagner).

The character wears horrid black lipstick and other odd attire like a Prussian helmet and a bathing suit with a cross on the front and a swastika on the rear.

The sequence is one of the best and technically brilliant with fire, rocks, and mountains on display. It’s also choreographed amazingly well and features unique musical compositions.

The style of Mahler (the film) is visual and artistic but also a chance for classical music fans to appreciate the compositions. Also, for novice fans eager to be introduced to quality music the film is equally as important.

I love my rock n roll like any other red-blooded American but the chance to soak in classical pieces from Mahler and Wagner is a pure treat in cultural goodness.

British actor Robert Powell is cast exceptionally well bearing a stark resemblance to the real Mahler. Oftentimes morose and sullen he is a tortured artist. But the expressions in his work like the song cycle Songs on the Death of Children reveal his complexities.

Powell is successful at exposing the audience to the emotional nuances that often pair with great artists.

Georgina Hale as Alma is just as good. Staunchly supporting her husband but yearning for her slice of the happiness pie she is also conflicted.

Mahler (1974) is a film about filmmaking and art appreciation. Thanks to Russell’s vision he challenges the conventional viewer with a unique journey through the weird and wild but more importantly, the chance to revel in something of brilliance.

The Devils-1971

The Devils-1971

Director Ken Russell

Starring Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave

Scott’s Review #1,403

Reviewed October 4, 2023

Grade: A

Ken Russell, most famous for directing the outstanding Women in Love (1970) and The Who’s Tommy (1975) creates a disturbing opus about perversion and scandal amid the Roman Catholic church during medieval times.

The film’s graphic portrayal of violence, sexuality, and religious blasphemy ignited shocked reactions from censors, and it originally received an X rating in both the United Kingdom and the United States. It was banned in several countries, and heavily edited for exhibition in others.

This alone will pique open-minded and curious viewer’s interests. It sure did mine.

The film is ironically entitled The Devils (1971) and stars Russell stalwart Oliver Reed who also appeared in the aforementioned films.  Reed leads the charge as a sexy, rugged man who beds many women and is the center of a convent full of nuns’ nasty and naughty thoughts.

Vanessa Redgrave also appears as a lustful and evil nun with a hunchback.

During the period of seventeenth-century France, Father Grandier (Reed) was a priest whose unorthodox views on sex and religion influenced a passionate following of nuns, including the sexually obsessed Sister Jeanne (Redgrave).

When the power-hungry Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue) realizes he must eliminate Grandier to gain control of France, Richelieu vows to destroy the man. He portrays Grandier as a Satanist and spearheads a public outcry to destroy the once-loved priest’s reputation.

The Devils is outrageous and bizarre in only the best of possible ways. Who doesn’t love a healthy dose of nun orgies and simulating fellatio on a large candlestick? One nun violently masturbates as another looks on giggling sadistically.

The camera simply loves Reed and Redgrave who it’s interesting to note are not a couple in the film. These British actors were in their heyday in 1971 and both portray roles that must have challenged them tremendously.

Despite being British the film takes place in France getting off to a naughty start with a nearly nude dance performed by skinny Louis XIII (played with wacky delight by Graham Armitage). Rumored to be gay the king traipses around in colorful costumes and later shoots protestants dressed as gorillas for sport.

There are themes of exorcising and burning at the stake and mentions of the warring Catholics and Protestants so there is a seriousness amid the antics and shenanigans.

It took me a little while to become fully immersed in the chaotic land of Loudon, a town in western France where the film is set. In truth, a second viewing really helped me settle in and have a sense of what was going on.

The best films really are like fine wines.

Attempts by Russell to irritate and incite the overly religious are quite satisfying in a wicked way. As much as he mocks religion by making the traditionally sexually conservative filled with lust and animalistic sexual prowess there is much more going on.

Beneath the surface, he challenges the ridiculousness of religion which cinema lovers will embrace and delight in. There are history lessons to be had though and the film provides exceptional details of the political upheavals and tyranny that occurred.

The thunderous musical score by Peter Maxwell Davies is fabulous especially during The Devils final act when a major character endures a broiling on a wooden stake.

Those possessing the wonderful Blu-Ray version of the film can be treated to various outtakes, cast interviews, and behind-the-scenes information.

An added delight for knowledgeable film fans is the inclusion of character actor Murray Melvin, famous for playing Reverand Runt in the classic Barry Lyndon (1975). He plays Father Pierre Barre.

The Devils (1971) is a perverse and operatic extravaganza of lunacy. It’s caked with sex and nudity and blasphemy that I loved every bit of. The dangerous tone can be studied and thought about long after the film ends.

The Return of the Musketeers-1989

The Return of the Musketeers-1989

Director George Lester

Starring Michael York, Oliver Reed, Kim Cattrall

Scott’s Review #1,401

Reviewed September 24, 2023

Grade: B

The Return of the Musketeers (1989) is the third Musketeers film directed by Richard Lester, following 1973’s The Three Musketeers and 1974’s The Four Musketeers.

George MacDonald Fraser wrote each screenplay.

This is key to mention because a strong continuity flow helps the film be fun and charming. The results of the same person directing and writing resonate on screen in several ways. The characters feel truthful and their motivations are clear.

A rich sense of the history of the characters is apparent making the film a pleasing adventure for fans of the franchise.

After ambitious Oliver Cromwell (Alan Howard) overthrows the king, Cardinal Mazarin (Philippe Noiret) enlists a down-and-out D’Artagnan (Michael York) to rally the Musketeers against him.

Porthos (Frank Finlay) accepts the mission at once, but Athos (Oliver Reed) and Aramis (Richard Chamberlain) hesitate at first. Eventually, the three reunite, but they are soon torn apart by infighting and a situation from their past.

They get a chance at redemption when they are sent to England to save the life of King Charles I (Bill Paterson).

There is some slapstick play to endure making The Return of the Musketeers feel juvenile at times when characters are bopped over the head or otherwise trip and fall in silly form.

For this type of adventure film, the plot is too complicated and veers in different directions a shade too often. I wondered more than once if I was in France or England.

This makes the minor characters difficult to keep track of and Christopher Lee’s character of Comte de Rochefort once again has little to do.

The costumes and the French setting are a major victory and the history lessons provided especially the British and French kings and queens are more than fulfilling. We delved into our history books to determine which King Louis reigned when and who was aligned with the film (it’s Louis the XIV during the 1600s).

The point of the film made fifteen years after the second film is to please fans and the result is a swimming success. I’m a sort of fan with my hubby being a big fan and we both enjoyed the resurfacing of familiar characters.

It feels like old-home week. The reunion of the musketeers feels like witnessing a family reunion. As D’Artagnan, Porthos, Athos, and Aramis embraced each other we felt the warmth along with them.

Since the characters played by Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway (Milady) were dead a creative idea was to introduce her daughter to the story, Justine played by Kim Cattrall. Athos also has a son named Raoul, played by C. Thomas Howell.

This provides a further nod to history and introduces compelling lead characters who have a connection to familiar characters.

It is also an example of good writing and storytelling. Despite the characters being new to the audience we already care about them based on their tie to other beloved characters.

Making the film more sentimental, a sad occurrence happened while filming. Actor Roy Kinnear who plays lovable Planchet died following an on-camera accident in which he fell off a horse.

His role was completed by using a stand-in, filmed from the rear, and dubbed-in lines from a voice artist.

The film is dedicated to him.

Reuniting most of the original cast years later makes The Return of the Musketeers (1989) a warm experience. Beautiful costumes locales and history raise the film above expectations considering it’s a third installment.

The Monster Club-1981

The Monster Club-1981

Director Roy Ward Baker

Starring Vincent Price, Donald Pleasence, John Carradine

Scott’s Review #1,378

Reviewed July 16, 2023

Grade: B

Any horror feast including Vincent Price and Donald Pleasence is worth a watch and The Monster Club (1981) features both actors though not in any scenes together.

The British horror anthology is uneven and a tad too silly with only two of the three chapters recommended. They are based on the works of the British horror author R. Chetwynd-Hayes.

The graphics and art direction are surprisingly superior for such a low-budget production.

In between chapters, there is a jarring and unnecessary musical performance by one of the creatures. While sort of fun, it takes away from the continuity and feels thrown in rather than serving any real purpose.

Below is a summary, review, and rating of each vignette.

Prologue: B

Author R. Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine) is approached on a city street by a strange man (Vincent Price) who turns out to be a starving vampire named Eramus.

He bites the writer and takes the confused man to an odd club. It’s a haven for supernatural creatures as they dance, drink, and carry on together.

Eramus introduces three stories about his fellow creatures of the night.

This chapter is relevant to tie the chapters together and any scene involving Price is good in my book. It also serves as a learning experience to explain the different types of creatures but little more.

The Shadmock: A-

Angela (Barbara Kellerman) is a financially struggling woman who takes a job at a secluded mansion owned by Raven (James Laurenson), a creature called a Shadmock.

Along with her greedy boyfriend (Simon Ward), they hatch a plot to steal Raven’s great wealth after he proposes to Angela. When she is caught unlocking Raven’s safe his demonic whistle comes into play at the expense of Angela and her boyfriend.

This chapter has a great setup and an unrequited love vibe. With a Beauty and the Beast comparison, the audience sympathizes with Raven. All he wants is love and the ultimate climax is heartbreaking with the knowledge that he is being duped.

I longed for Angela to come to her senses, dump her boyfriend, and be carried away by Raven but it’s horror after all, and not romance.

Starting slowly, the grotesquely exquisite gothic mansion and the fine luxuries contained are fun to feast one’s eyes on and the sinister conclusion is not to be missed.

The Vampires: B-

A shy young boy (Warren Saire) from a kind family of vampires lives a lonely life where he is bullied at school and his father (Richard Johnson) spends little time with him.

The father is hunted by a team of vampire killers led by Pickering (Donald Pleasance) who attempt to drive a stake through the father and kill him. But the tables are soon turned.

This chapter is cute but uninspired adding more humor than horror to the mix. Pleasance isn’t given a great role and neither is former ‘Bond girl’ Britt Eklund as the supportive mother.

It pales sharply against ‘The Shadmock’ and ‘The Ghouls.

The Ghouls: A

A movie director (Stuart Whitman) scouting locations for his next film pays a visit to an isolated village, Loughville, where the sinister residents refuse to let him leave.

While imprisoned by the ghouls, he meets Luna (Lesley Dunlop), the daughter of a ghoul father (Patrick Magee) who agrees to help him escape. But can Luna or the resident police be trusted?

The Ghouls is my favorite because it feels the most unpredictable and I love the early shots of a movie production studio. The ghostly-looking creatures are appealing because there is an ambiguity about their motives and the secrets beheld in the village.

It’s also fun balancing the sophisticated style of the movie producer against the drudgery of the villagers. Also, the inclusion of actor Magee from A Clockwork Orange (1971) is a win.

Epilogue: B 

At the end of the film, Eramus cheerfully tells the other club members all the imaginative ways that humans have of being horrible to each other and declares that humans are the most despicable monsters of all.

Thus Chetwynd-Hayes is made an honorary monster and member of the club.

The quick chapter is a clever wrap-up to the story and culminates as a bit of a ‘message’ about kindness and humanity.

The Lady Vanishes-1938

The Lady Vanishes-1938

Director Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty

Scott’s Review #1,303

Reviewed September 30, 2022

Grade: A-

The Lady Vanishes (1938) is a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock that I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only seen once. Nonetheless, it resonated well with me after that sole viewing and its influence is palpable.

It’s a film made when Hitchcock was still making films in his native Britain before he took over Hollywood during the 1950s and 1960s. You may wonder why a dusty old film made in the 1930s and not a household name is important but The Lady Vanishes is.

If the film had not been made and more importantly not been a box-office success, films like Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963) might never have been made.

The Lady Vanishes followed three rather unsuccessful efforts by Hitchcock, whose success assured his new film career in America was a go.

The film is not as brilliant as the others mentioned but is pretty damned close. It serves as a blueprint for other Hitchcock films to come.

The train sequences alone conjure thoughts of Strangers on a Train (1951) and North by Northwest (1959) while the romance between the lead actors would become a staple of Hitchcock films.

Finally, the subdued but noticeable inclusion of gay characters, is forever a good debate among cinema lovers, especially Hitchcock fans, as to whether it is or isn’t showcased.

So, The Lady Vanishes is to be celebrated for its influence but also holds up well on its own two feet.

On a train headed for England, a group of travelers is delayed by a dangerous avalanche. Forced into a hotel in the lush European country, beautiful young Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) befriends an elderly woman named Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty).

When the train resumes travel, Iris suffers a bout of unconsciousness after being hit by a potted plant and wakes to find the old woman has mysteriously disappeared. The other passengers vehemently deny that Miss Froy ever existed causing Iris to wonder if she has lost her marbles.

Iris determinedly begins to investigate the matter with the help of another traveler, Gilbert, (Michael Redgrave) as the pair begins to search the train to uncover clues. Naturally, the pair fall in love.

They uncover a mystery, political intrigue, and a who’s who of peculiar characters with secrets to keep hidden.

Lockwood and Redgrave have fantastic chemistry. It’s no secret that Hitchcock intends to bring them together even though Iris is to be married when she returns home. Both Lockwood and Redgrave are easy on the eyes which helps make them rootable.

The pacing of The Lady Vanishes is very good but nowhere as astounding as the sequence of events in North by Northwest, the film it most resembles. That’s why the rough cut analogy springs to mind- the film is a perfect warmup act to the 1959 masterpiece.

From an LGBTQ+ perspective, my money is on the characters of Charters and Caldicott. Ferocious cricket enthusiasts, whose only initial concern is to get back to England to see the last days of a Test match. The ‘friends’ proved so popular with audiences that they returned to the film Night Train to Munich 1940, also starring Lockwood.

Needless to say, the revelations at the end of The Lady Vanishes surprise and satisfy with political, and espionage overtones. Frequently, there is a McGuffin or a who cares about the plot element in Hitchcock films.

The plot shouldn’t be overthought in the film as the real fun is the trimmings that make the suspense so strong. The wit and snappy dialogue make the characters a pleasure to watch.

Providing strong character and stiff upper-lip British humor The Lady Vanishes (1938) is a terrific effort and is the most fun to watch to point out the many elements that make up the Hitchcock masterpieces.

Quadrophenia-1979

Quadrophenia-1979

Director Franc Roddam

Starring Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Sting

Scott’s Review #1,269

Reviewed June 23, 2022

Grade: A-

Fans of the British rock band, The Who will perhaps be mystified by the film Quadrophenia (1979). More specifically, The Who and fans of the exceptional oddity-filled musical film Tommy (1975) will be surprised and somewhat disappointed that Quadrophenia is not patterned after Tommy.

I was uneasy when I realized that very few of the songs from the groundbreaking album of the same name would not be incorporated and that the band themselves would not be appearing.

But that apprehension was short-lived.

Instead, Quadrophenia the film quickly grasped me for the storyline alone and makes up for the lack of music with a gripping tale of teenage angst and conflict amid the streets of London.

Reportedly, the story is at least somewhat derived from the life of Who member Pete Townshend and the concept behind Quadrophenia in the album is the same in the film.

To classify Quadrophenia as a musical or musical drama (I decided to do both) is most generous because that only enhances the fact that it almost isn’t either one. But since it is based on the album and was co-written by Townsend, I decided to throw caution to the wind.

An insecure and angry London youth, Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) escapes the dullness of his mailroom job and the chilliness of London and joins the Mods, a sharply dressed gang constantly feuding with their rivals, the Rockers.

When the Mods and Rockers clash in the coastal town of Brighton, England, it leads to both trouble and an encounter with the lovely Steph (Leslie Ash) whom Jimmy has become smitten with over encounters at the grocery store where she works.

Returning to London and his life of drudgery, Jimmy, who aspires to be like handsome and charismatic Mod leader Ace Face (Sting), becomes even more disillusioned and longs to return to Brighton.

Quadrophenia the film is exceptional because it gets the mood of the lead character right and the audience will undoubtedly respond in turn. He feels that his life is going nowhere and most people can relate in some way to being stuck in first gear or reverse and unable to get out of the mud.

In Jimmy’s mind, his parents are assholes and the girl he longs for is out of his league and therefore out of reach. It’s typical adolescence 101. All he needs are the pimples and a bad hairstyle and he encompasses what it feels like to be a teenager.

This may sound comical but anyone remembering youth will undoubtedly find a glimmer of pain and panic.

Filmmaker, Franc Roddam gets it right.

The best part of the film occurs in the final fifteen minutes when finally and blessedly superior songs by The Who commence, most notably the astounding Love, Reign O’er Me.

In addition to the brilliance of the actual song is the way it’s included. As the camera provides a birds-eye view of the stunning cliffs as Jimmy rides recklessly on his scooter it’s a perilous scene with hints of danger.

Will he crash and burn?

Finally, the scooter is seen crashing over the cliff-top, which is where the film begins with Jimmy walking back against a sunset backdrop. It’s unclear what happens to Jimmy and interpretation can be used.

It raised Quadrophenia from a very good film to an exceptional one.

Another treasured Who song, The Real Me, is included early on amongst the title credits. Other songs appear but are either shortened and/or different versions of what’s expected.

Sometimes fun and comic, other times showing the ugliness of gloomy London and the pains of growing up, Quadrophenia (1979) excels at reminding its audience what it’s like to be restless and unhappy.

Life usually changes for the better but the film is an important reminder of feelings at that age.

The Phantom of the Opera-1962

The Phantom of the Opera-1962

Director Terence Fisher

Starring Herbert Lom, Michael Gough, Heather Sears

Scott’s Review #1,254

Reviewed May 12, 2022

Grade: B+

Probably not the best-known film adaptation of the famous 1910 French novel written by Gaston Leroux, but likely the most horrific. Hammer Horror Productions getting their hands on this is a significant win since the story is perfectly suited for the horror genre.

I’ve not yet seen the 1925 silent film version of The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney which I hear is wonderful so I cannot compare that to this.

The possibilities for a macabre telling are endless and director Terence Fisher, a familiar director in Hammer films, is back at the helm to mix the dreariness of a musty London theater with the creepy face mask of its lonely and wounded inhabitant.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating in this review. It’s impressive to notice the astounding achievements the Horror films obtained by making lemonade out of lemons from a budget perspective. The limited funds necessitated creativity which can be seen in every series frame, especially the colorful sets and costumes.

The Phantom of the Opera (1962) is no different and is even better than some others in the brilliant mix of mood and sympathy for its main victim, specifically the luminous and disfigured ‘phantom’ played by Herbert Lom.

Dastardly Composer Lord Ambrose D’Arcy, wonderfully played by Michael Gough, and his bullied backer, Harry Hunter (Edward De Souza), struggle to find a replacement for the female lead in their new opera after she quits and flees town in the wake of a gruesome theater murder.

When a new prospect, the virginal Christine Charles (Heather Sears), disappears after the advances of Ambrose, Harry cautiously investigates unaware that there is a lonely figure inhabiting the theater.

Meanwhile, a mysterious masked man (Lom) who is eerily familiar with the opera holds Christine captive and offers to groom her to play the part.

He is a mix of crazy and passionate and his plight is sympathetic when what he’s been through is finally explained.

But the atmosphere is what sets The Phantom of the Opera apart from other similar films of the 1960s, even Hammer films.

This is never more evident in an early scene when the camera follows the characters on the misty streets of London, the darkness and shadows becoming prominent as they walk through streets and dark alleys.

Fisher, now five years into his association with the production company has hit his stride. A limited budget might reduce another director to a fretting basket case but the result and ease that he parlays to The Phantom of the Opera are quite beautiful.

Many scenes take place in the theater itself adding a foreboding element to the events. Dusty yet brimming with musicianship and artistic pizzazz, it’s fun to watch the characters sneak around and scheme within the confines of this structure.

Therefore, the mood and trimmings are exquisite without actually being so.

The music sequences are impressive without going on for too long, and despite the locale being switched from Paris to London for obvious reasons, the main being that the actors are British, this doesn’t hamper the overall experience.

The best, and most gruesome scene, occurs when a poor chap swings across the theater stage in a neck rope, dead as a doornail. The creaking sound of the rope as the man swings back and forth is chilling and dubious.

Lom is my favorite actor in the film and his character’s backstory reveal is humanistic and impressive. Who can’t relate to at least once being swindled or cheated out of work that is rightfully theirs?

Gough, also familiar to Hammer Horror fans, is tremendous as the treacherous main villain.

Sears is okay but perhaps not the greatest actress nor the best choice for the role. She’s rather bland and unmemorable.

The Phantom of the Opera (1962) falters a bit when it ends too suddenly, though many Hammer films suffer the same fate.

This film is not for those expecting a grandiose Andrew Lloyd Webber-style musical but for fans of down-and-dirty horror it’s just what the doctor ordered.

The Curse of the Werewolf-1961

The Curse of the Werewolf-1961

Director Terence Fisher

Starring Oliver Reed, Clifford Evans

Scott’s Review #1,219

Reviewed January 15, 2022

Grade: B

Oliver Reed, later famous for films like Oliver! (1968) and Women in Love (1969) made his first starring role in the low-budget Hammer Horror film, The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). He carries the latter third of the film simply because it takes that long for his character to appear.

The film is sectioned into parts and though only a little over one hour and thirty minutes feels quite long. The finale is the best chapter and the others, while good, move too slowly considering the brief running time.

This is the first werewolf film to be colorized and the film was heavily censored upon release.

Hammer horror regular director Terence Fisher is at the helm so there is a soothing and secure feeling for the viewer. We know the quality will persevere and I adored the setting of Spain with its gothic steeples and flavorful culture.

The Curse of the Werewolf is above average but not one of the best in the Hammer series.

Reed plays Leon Corledo, a man with brutal and macabre origins. He is adopted and raised in the home of a kind and respectable Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans). When he leaves Don Alfredo to find work, Leon discovers that he has increasingly violent urges.

Although these fits are somewhat calmed by Leon’s love for the beautiful Cristina (Catherine Feller), he regularly transforms into a werewolf, terrorizing the Spanish countryside.

Before the central part of the story, Leon’s mother is imprisoned and raped by a homeless beggar gone mad. Unfortunately for her, she gives birth on Christmas when the werewolf curse is started. She soon dies and little Leon is taken in by Don and his motherly housekeeper, Teresa.

The middle sequence explains how Leon as a little boy escapes out his bedroom window to kill animals thinking it’s all just a dream. Don and others try to hide Leon’s secret.

The curse doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why does the Christmas holiday make an unwanted newborn “unlucky” and a vicious werewolf? Why is Leon the only werewolf around? Surely, others are born on Christmas day.

Reed is the main draw as the handsome Leon and he makes a lovely mate for Cristina though too few scenes of them exist. It’s not explained why they fall in love other than they are both beautiful and Cristina’s current intended mate is boorish.

But, then again, The Curse of the Werewolf is not a love story so we accept some details with a grain of salt.

Any fan of Hammer horror films wants blood and mayhem and there is a good smattering of each. The dastardly Marquis Siniestro who humiliates the beggar and nearly rapes the servant girl (Leon’s mother) gets it in the back from her with a jagged mirror and the death is bloody and satisfying.

Later, a slutty girl with designs on Leon is ravaged to death by him after he turns into a werewolf on a night with a full moon.

The finale is bittersweet and almost tender when Don must make a horrible decision to kill his son with a silver bullet made with a crucifix to prevent the tortured Leon from killing anymore and suffering a life of misery and regret.

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) is not as satisfying as the Hammer horror films featuring Dracula or containing Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing.

Nobody will ever usurp Lon Chainey Jr.’s frightening portrayal of the wolfman decades earlier but it’s fun seeing Reed take center stage in the film.

There’s also enough to keep Hammer fans entertained.

The Brides of Dracula-1960

The Brides of Dracula-1960

Director Terence Fisher

Starring Peter Cushing, Yvonne Monlaur

Scott’s Review #1,218

Reviewed January 9, 2022

Grade: B+

It’s always impressive to me what Hammer Film Productions do with such a limited budget mostly from a set and art direction perspective. With small funds, they can create gloomy yet beautiful set structures that are highly creative and appear lavish.

To the savvy viewer, this tidbit can make each film a treasure trove of enjoyment if only to look beyond the central activity and notice the style.

The Brides of Dracula (1960) is no exception.

The film is a sequel to the 1958 film Dracula (also known as Horror of Dracula), though the character of Count Dracula does not appear, and is instead mentioned only twice. As fans of these films know Christopher Lee portrays Dracula. Instead, the vicious vampire at the film’s center is Baron Meinster, a disciple of Dracula played by David Peel.

The villain even bites his mother played by Martita Hunt making her undead and terrifying to the residents of a Spanish village.

Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is the hero and must drive a stake through the heart of the vampire baron before he deviously makes innocent Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) his bride.

Cushing is a familiar part of Hammer horror film lore leading the charge as the film’s hero. I love the character because he is heroic and unflinching, always calm, cool, and collected in the face of sheer horror.

The sets are gothic and brilliant, especially the gloomy castle owned by the Baroness and her son. When she invites Marianne to spend the night the girl is treated to a stylish room and a ravishing dinner served by a threatening servant named Greta.

The exteriors are as good as the interiors and portray the village within Transylvania as cozy and homespun. Outside the prominent inn run by the locals is inviting as much as it feels forbidden and haunted.

When Marianne is abandoned in the village by her terrified coach driver we know that secrets or living creatures are waiting to be unearthed.

These atmospheric additions will compel audiences to tune in and enjoy the horrific moments.

Speaking of horror, The Brides of Dracula feels enough like camp and not scary, and comic elements exist throughout. No better example of this is the bumbling and boozy Doctor Tobler played by character actor Miles Malleson.

While many moments are over the top especially when a vampire character bares their fangs in the best hammy way, the film never feels foolish or amateurish.

A huge misstep is naming the film The Brides of Dracula when no Dracula is ever to be found. I incorrectly assumed that the Baron was Dracula until after the final credits had rolled. It’s a sneaky way to capitalize on the name recognition of Dracula.

There are too many fun moments in the film to harbor much resentment. Of the brides, my favorite is Gina, played by Andree Melly who looks the most frightening.

The Brides of Dracula (1960) is an entertaining and pleasing chapter in the Hammer horror catalog. The expected elements include a crucifix and a healthy dose of holy water.

The 39 Steps-1935

The 39 Steps-1935

Director Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll

Scott’s Review #1,212

Reviewed December 26, 2021

Grade: A-

Before Alfred Hitchcock conquered American audiences in the 1950s and 1960s he made a slew of British films many of which are overlooked gems.

The 39 Steps (1935) is a film nestled among that category, providing thrilling escapism and a spy-tinged subject matter that has an everyman on the run.

The plot pattern is very familiar because Hitchcock would use it later in his American films like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and The Wrong Man (1956) to name only two.

Rather than any sort of carbon copy, The 39 Steps instead is a pure delight for any fan of Hitchcock because the viewer can see facets and ideas the director would later bestow on his other films. There is enough originality though to please anyone looking for a good thrill.

It is very loosely based on the 1915 adventure novel The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan.

The story centers on Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian civilian on holiday in London. He unintentionally becomes involved in preventing an organization of spies nicknamed “The 39 Steps” from stealing British military secrets.

After being mistakenly accused of the murder of a counter-espionage agent, Richard flees to Scotland and becomes tangled up with an attractive woman named Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) while hoping to stop the spy ring and clear his name.

It’s a simple story but one that immediately compels the viewer to root for Richard since we know he is innocent. Perhaps he can find a bit of romance along the way with Pamela and stop the bad guys in the process. So there is little ambiguity with how the story is supposed to wind up.

The fun is getting there.

Assuming this isn’t one’s first time watching a Hitchcock film and nearing a hundred years since The 39 Steps was made I sincerely doubt it, there are oodles of sequences to enjoy. If one asks “does this scene seem familiar?” it is because many of them are.

The London music hall theatre and the London Palladium brim with recognition especially after a catchy tune that Richard cannot forget come into play. It’s too easy not to think of Doris Day’s hit “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”, featured as a key element of The Man Who Knew Too Much, or even the London setting itself.

To switch for a moment to another Hitchcock masterpiece, North by Northwest (1959), the frequent dashing across the lands by foot or by locomotion comes into play in a big way in The 39 Steps.

I loathe spending too much time with comparisons because The 39 Steps delivers some goods on its own merits. The action that takes place in the Scottish Highlands is fantastic and a treat for anyone who has been to the lovely and picturesque area.

And Richard’s daring trip aboard the Flying Scotsman expresses train to Scotland is a compelling adventure personified.

The chemistry between Richard and Pamela is decent but not great. It’s not the focal point of the film so I didn’t necessarily mind that. The clear intent was for her first to fear him but then have the characters fall in love. We never really get there but it seems the purpose.

The main villain is Professor Jordan (Godfrey Tearle) who Richard tries to prevent from sending secrets out of the country.

Sure, there are better quality Alfred Hitchcock films to bask in once he got his groove decades later and one can assuredly boast that Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960) are superior films.

But The 39 Steps (1935) is a blueprint of what brilliance the director had in his head at this time and it’s a pure treat to witness.

Tales from the Crypt-1972

Tales from the Crypt-1972

Director Freddie Francis

Starring Joan Collins, Ian Hendry, Robin Phillips

Scott’s Review #1,200

Reviewed November 25, 2021

Grade: A-

Tales from the Crypt (1972) is a delicious British anthology based on stories from the EC Comics series. Each of the five chapters is eerie storytelling that offers horror fans glimpses into the minds of depraved and devilish characters with sinister motivations.

The sheer joy is witnessing their comeuppance.

This film is the predecessor to Vault of Horror from 1973 and can easily be watched as a companion piece.

Below is a summary, review, and rating of each vignette.

Intro

Five strangers are suddenly compelled to go with a tourist group to view old catacombs.

Separated from the main group, the strangers find themselves in a room with the mysterious Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson), who details how each of them may die.

…And All Through The House- A

Joanne Clayton (Joan Collins) brutally kills her husband Richard (Martin Boddey) on Christmas Eve to get her hands on their insurance money.

She prepares to hide his body but hears a radio announcement of a homicidal maniac (Oliver MacGreevy) on the loose.

She sees the killer (who is dressed in a Santa Claus costume) outside her house, but cannot call the police without exposing her crime.

Her daughter is upstairs in her bedroom, unaware.

This is my favorite chapter and is non-stop action. Collins is terrific as the greedy English woman put in peril. The audience will cheer for her to get her just desserts especially after she callously disregards a lovely Christmas gift her husband bought for her.

Reflection of Death- B+

Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry) abandons his family to be with his secretary, Susan Blake (Angela Grant). After they drive off together, they are involved in a car accident. He wakes up, having been thrown clear of the burned car. He tries to hitchhike home, but everyone he meets screams with horror when they see him.

This vignette is slightly confusing as far as the timeline of the events but compelling as we wait to see what Carl’s face looks like and what has happened to Susan and his wife.

Poetic Justice- A

James Elliott (Robin Phillips) lives with his father Edward (David Markham) across from the home of elderly dustman Arthur Edward Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing), who owns several dogs and entertains children in his house.

James hates Arthur’s ramshackle lawn and embarks on a scheme to rid the neighborhood of the old man.

I love seeing Cushing play against type as a kindly grandfatherly character and this chapter is the ultimate revenge fantasy and quite satisfying to see what happens to James.

It’s also a perfect watch on Valentine’s Day since the holiday comes into play.

Wish You Were Here- A-

Businessman Ralph Jason (Richard Greene) is on the verge of financial collapse. His wife Enid (Barbara Murray) notices the inscription on a Chinese statue the couple owns.

They are granted three wishes. Enid decides to wish for a fortune and, surprisingly, the wish comes true, but with dire results.

This one wonderfully cascades a chain of events that leaves the characters in peril. The theme is once again about greed specifically surrounding insurance money. The fast-paced nature is appealing and the ancient Chinese wishes leave one character into eternal suffering.

Blind Alleys- A-

Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick) becomes the new director of a home for the blind and exploits his position to live in luxury with his dog Shane, while his drastic financial cuts on food and heating lessen the residents’ living conditions.

Led by George Carter (Patrick Magee) the residents revolt after a fellow resident dies of hypothermia. Rogers and Shane are locked in the basement where Rogers must navigate through a maze of razor blades and a now ravenous wild dog who will hungrily eat his owner.

Though far-fetched, Blind Alleys is delicious fun and contains my most hated character. This is all the more satisfying as he ‘gets it’ in the end!

Finale

After completing the final tale, the Crypt Keeper reveals that he was not warning them of what would happen, but telling them what has already happened: they have all “died without repentance.

The conclusion does nothing more than put a satisfying cap for the viewer as each character once again pays for their shenanigans.

If…-1968

If…-1968

Director Lindsay Anderson

Starring Malcolm McDowell

Scott’s Review #1,178

Reviewed September 18, 2021

Grade: A

Malcolm McDowell fascinates me. The mere construction of his facial features astounds me, with his crystal blue eyes and sullen smirk it’s tough to tell what he is thinking.

He stars in If… (1968), a satire of the student experience amid a strict upper-class English public school.

It’s McDowell’s film debut which is worth noting.

McDowell, always associated with A Clockwork Orange (1971) first and foremost made several great films in just a few years.

The film follows a group of fed-up pupils, led by Mick Travis (McDowell) who ultimately stage a bloody insurrection at a boys’ boarding school. But is it real or imagined by Mick?

Mick is conflicted when he is caught between the sadistic older boys known as the Whips and the lowly first-year students, affectionately known as Scum, who are forced to do their bidding.

He and his two henchmen, Johnny (David Wood) and Wallace (Richard Warwick) rebel by exhibiting thefts and defiant behavior causing the ire of both the Whips and the school’s out-of-touch administration.

This conflict leads to an unexpected and bloody showdown.

If… was the subject of controversy in 1968 at the time of its release, receiving an X rating for its depictions of violence against school administration and grown-ups. The specific year was a juicy one in cinema as the more edgy and creative fare was being produced in anticipation of the 1970s.

I champion the film and director Lindsay Anderson for having the balls to make a film of this nature sure to piss off and shock the education system and those who simply don’t get what the film is expressing.

One wonders if English rock band Pink Floyd found inspiration in If… while creating their legendary song ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ from 1979.

The Whips are the villains and the school administrators are portrayed as complacent or incompetent so the finale is quite satisfying from a viewer’s perspective.

One will never forget the image of Mick fiendishly standing on a rooftop brandishing a gun and firing determinedly. His other cohorts join in the action to celebrate graduation ceremonies. For them, it’s a delightful moment since all the parents and family members are in attendance.

It’s only a film but I can’t help but wonder how differently the film is perceived by an audience in the post-Columbine era, a vicious school shooting that occurred in the United States, an incident that led to rashes of similar events.

To clarify, since Anderson made a follow-up film to If… with O Lucky Man! in 1973 and starring McDowell as the same character, we can rest easier in the knowledge that the events in If… are purely the imagination of Mick.

It’s a satire.

And what schoolboy or schoolgirl hasn’t fantasized at how delicious it would be to give bullies or other bastards their just deserts for making their lives miserable?

Another takeaway I got from If… is that it doesn’t have to draw the line at being about a prep school at all. Mick and his friends question conformity and rules. Why can’t the viewer do the same in the workplace or in life itself?

I’ve seen the film twice and can never account for the inexplicable changes from color to black and white in various scenes. Anderson claims that this was done for budget reasons but others have done a deeper dive and hypothesized that the color versus black and white has more to do with fantasy.

Whatever the reason it successfully offers a surrealistic measure.

If… (1968) is a wonderful film that is open to interpretation and much open dialogue after viewing it. Isn’t that what cinema is all about? A discussion of the merits and conclusions of a particular film?

Stage Fright-1950

Stage Fright-1950

Director Alfred Hitchcock

Starring Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding

Scott’s Review #1,160

Reviewed July 9, 2021

Grade: A-

Stage Fright (1950) is a British film directed by Alfred Hitchcock before his American invasion.

The film feels like a hybrid British/American project with the leading lady, Jane Wyman, being American, but otherwise is set in London with many British actors.

Hitchcock mixes plenty of film noir influences with the typical thrills and suspense creating an excellent product that flies under the radar when matched against his other films.

Wyman is cast as an attractive aspiring actress who works on her craft by going undercover to solve a mystery. There are Nancy Drew elements and it’s fun to watch Wyman, who would become Mrs. Ronald Reagan before he entered politics and later would become President of the United States.

She reportedly divorced him because she had little interest in entering the political spectrum by association.

The action gets off to a compelling start with two characters driving in a car in clear peril. Hitchcock loved driving scenes like these. It is learned that the police think actor Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) is a murderer, and now they’re on his tail.

He seeks shelter with his ex-girlfriend Eve (Wyman), who drives him to stay in hiding with her father, Commodore Gill (Alastair Sim).

He explains that it was his lover, the famous and snobbish actress Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich), who killed the victim (not coincidentally, her husband). Convinced Jonathan is innocent, Eve plays detective and assumes multiple disguises, slowly developing feelings for Detective Inspector, Wilfred O. Smith (Michael Wilding).

Once embroiled in a web of deception, she realizes that Shakespeare was right and that all the world is a stage.

Wyman is the Hitchcock brunette as opposed to his later fascination with the blonde bombshell. Therefore, her role is more sedate and astute than the sex appeal that would come with Hitchcock’s later characters.

Eve closely resembles the character of Charlie whom Teresa Wright played in 1943’s Shadow of a Doubt. They are both astute and investigative with a mystery to unravel. Interestingly, they both fall for detectives.

All the glasses! Hitchcock’s fetish for women wearing glasses is on full display, especially with the character of Nellie, a cockney opportunist played by Kay Walsh. Look closely and one can spot several minor or background ladies sporting spectacles and even Eve dons a pair as a disguise.

Pat Hitchcock, the director’s daughter, plays a small role as she would in Strangers on a Train (1951) and Psycho (1960).

Speaking of Strangers on a Train, there are similarities to mention.

Both involve a tit-for-tat exchange where one character is requested by another to kill someone in exchange for either a payoff or another form of motivation.

Marlene Dietrich is as sexy as ever in the pivotal role of Charlotte. She is self-centered, self-absorbed, and thoughtless, constantly mispronouncing Eve’s fictitious name and barely noticing that she is covering for her regular maid/dresser.

But is she evil and capable of killing her husband?

Stage Fright has a thrilling finale. In the climax, the audience finally finds out who has been telling the truth who has been lying, and what explanations are revealed. There is a pursuit, an attempted killing, and a shocking death by way of a falling safety curtain, in the theater naturally.

What one would expect from a Hitchcock final act.

The focus on theatrical stage actors is a nice topic and adds to the existing drama as the implication of playing various roles comes into play big time. So is the prominence early on of the Big Ben landmark in London and other location trimmings.

Stage Fright (1950) doesn’t get the love saved for other Hitchcock masterpieces and that’s a shame because the film is excellent.

The Day of the Jackal-1973

The Day of the Jackal-1973

Director Fred Zinnemann

Starring Edward Fox, Michael Lonsdale

Scott’s Review #1,155

Reviewed June 22, 2021

Grade: A

Political thrillers can run the gamut of taut plots involving espionage assassinations, and car chases all woven into the political landscape. They often run the risk of being overly complicated and losing their audience with too much wordiness and not enough meat and potatoes.

The Day of the Jackal (1973), telling the story of an assassination attempt on a world leader is perfectly paced and intriguing offering some titillating elements and nothing run of the mill. It’s not lazy and can be classified as a thinking man’s film.

I loved it.

Certain complexities and trysts experienced by the deadly title character add extra pizazz and spiciness to the already compelling plot.

And the sequences of Paris and its lovely metropolis can aid any film.

A cagey and intelligent underground French paramilitary group is determined to execute President Charles de Gaulle (Adrien Cayla-Legrand), but when numerous attempts on his life fail, they resort to hiring the infamous hitman known as “The Jackal” (Edward Fox).

As he plots to assassinate de Gaulle, he takes out others who stand in his way. Meanwhile, Lebel (Michel Lonsdale), a Parisian police detective, begins to solve the mystery of the killer’s identity.

The film is not in French but in English.

Fox is the major draw. Charismatic, handsome, and athletic, he hardly looks like a fiend.  But that’s just the point. A lesser film would have cast an actor who looks like a killer. With Fox, we get many more intricacies. He beds women…..and men.

Think- a bisexual James Bond.

This is enchanting to see in 1973, though the film is British, and sometimes the Brits were well ahead of American filmmakers in this regard.

The director, Fred Zinneman, is Austrian and boy can he direct.

I wasn’t sure how engaged I would be. After all, the history books can tell us how the assassination attempt ended. It failed. What was the motivation for watching a film, especially one destined to be complicated? I quickly realized that The Day of the Jackal had that special sauce. It’s more than engaging, it’s enthralling.

The audience is meant to root for Lebel to best Fox but there is so much more bubbling under the circumstance. The villain is mysterious and we know almost nothing about him. The ambiguity continues after the film ends. This is a positive to the character and subsequently to the film.

Meanwhile, the hero of the film, the guy after the “Jackal”, is your average, everyday, Joe. He is unexciting but very smart and determined to capture Fox.

Lebel is quite likable for his savviness alone but I still argue many will root for Fox to escape the clutches of Lebel. I know I did.

Great scenes occur in a swanky hotel when Fox becomes intrigued by Madame de Montpellier, played by Delphine Seyrig. He picks up the rich and mysterious woman as they chat in the dining room. He later sneaks into her room and gets the girl.

Whoever cast this woman must have seen the Hitchcock classic Frenzy (1972) because she’s a dead ringer for Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt).

Is it an accident that both meet grisly ends?

Not to be satisfied with merely bedding rich women he goes to a Turkish bath to avoid the police and picks up a French gentleman. It is implied they have a romantic date before the gentleman catches onto Fox’s identity (he is now on the run from the police) and meets his maker in his kitchen.

The Day of the Jackal (1973) is a meticulously crafted film that should be the blueprint for anyone intent on creating a political thriller. It avoids hokey stereotypes or predictability instead offering an edge-of-your-seat experience with nuances for miles.

It’s exceptional on all levels.

Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen-2011

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen-2011

Director Lasse Hallstrom

Starring Ewing McGregor, Emily Blunt

Scott’s Review #1,152

Reviewed June 15, 2021

Grade: B-

Despite exceptional chemistry between leads Ewing McGregor and Emily Blunt, who were also bankable stars in 2011, the romantic comedy Salmon Fishing in The Yemen (2011) is predictable, dull, and lacks a good identity.

It is the feel-good film of the year and that is not meant as a compliment.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s above par as compared to the usual drivel emerging from one of my least favorite genres, the rom-com, but it should offer more than the by-the-numbers plot it churns out.

Someone either felt lazy or was instructed to create a banal film.

With good actors and fabulous locales, I expected more edge from Swedish director, Lass Hallstrom. But, alas, we get something merely adequate.

Doctor Alfred Jones (McGregor) is a fisheries scientist who one day receives an unusual request from a strong businesswoman named Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt). She wants his help in fulfilling a request from a wealthy sheik played by Amr Waked who wants to bring sport fishing to Yemen.

Jones declines at first, but when the British prime minister’s spokeswoman (Kristin Scott Thomas) latches on to the project as a way to improve Middle East relations, he joins in.

Romance blooms as Jones and Harriet work to make the sheik’s dream come true.

If this brief synopsis sounds like it’s taken from a novel that’s because it is and it is as straightforward as you can imagine. The film is based on a 2007 novel which must have been better than the film.

Let’s be fair and clear. McGregor and Blunt are as good as they can be with the material they are given and they succeed in bringing some life to the big screen. The trouble is there isn’t very far to go with their characters. Harriet is a businesswoman with a task at hand. Alfred is a handsome doctor with something she needs. Did I mention he’s a doctor?

Harriet’s romantic interest is hardly a surprise and Hallstrom puts nary any real obstacles in their path towards getting together.

The fact that early in the film Harriet is dating British Special Forces Captain Robert Meyers played by Tom Mison and Alfred is married to a woman named Mary (Rachael Stirling) is laughable after Robert is quickly killed off and Mary is sent away to Geneva for a conference.

Predictably, Alfred and Mary realize their marriage is over.

But wait, there’s more! Robert resurfaces from the dead alive and well. Harriet struggles with her emotions and quickly realizes that her feelings for him have changed leaving her to be with Alfred.

The setup for Harriet and Alfred is as predictable as what peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will taste like.

Poor Kristin Scott Thomas, a fantastic actor is reduced to playing the cliched role of Public Relations Patricia Maxwell. She straightforwardly plays her as aggressive, impatient, and bitchy. The performance doesn’t work well.

Second, to the sweetness of McGregor and Blunt, the locales are thankfully plentiful. Visits to London, Scotland, and Morocco are blessed treats.

A silly subplot of the salmon being removed from British rivers and something about farming goes nowhere and is not worth the effort to go into. Suffice it to say it does little for the film or as a companion to the main plot. The only thing viewers should focus on is Harriet and Alfred’s romantic involvement.

I only recommend Salmon Fishing in The Yemen (2011) for those fans of either McGregor or Blunt or who yearn to escape to a fantasy world with a happily ever after ending.

If one enjoys fishing or fly-fishing (is there a difference?) that may be enough cause to give the film a twirl too.

Otherwise, the film offers nothing that hasn’t been seen countless times before. By the conclusion of the film, I felt weary and bored for so much unchartered potential left on the cutting room floor….or somewhere else.

The Witches-1967

The Witches-1967

Director Cyril Frankel

Starring Joan Fontaine, Kay Walsh

Scott’s Review #1,096

Reviewed December 29, 2020

Grade: B

Legendary film actress Joan Fontaine chose a Hammer horror film as her final role. While not high-brow art, these films are an entertaining treat for horror fans.

They are frequently macabre, clever, and make the most of a small budget.

In The Witches (1967), Fontaine leads the way adding class and huge star quality. The film is good, but not great, with an unfulfilling ending. The cinematography and Fontaine’s involvement are the best aspects.

Also worthy of mention in the acting department is Kay Walsh, a talented British actress, who is terrific as the seemingly kind woman turned crazed witch. She adds professionalism to a pivotal role. The other supporting actors play their parts well to ensure that the craft of acting is respected.

I adore the British flair that Hammer films always have.

Fontaine plays Gwen Mayfield, an English schoolteacher who accepts a new job as the headmistress of the local school in the quaint village of Heddaby. The quiet town is exactly what Gwen needs after suffering a nervous breakdown while residing in Africa.

She experiences a small flirtation with the Reverend Alan Bax (Alec McCowen), who confesses that he is not overly religious. Stephanie is his sister, played by Walsh.

Before long, Gwen becomes immersed in the worlds of two of her students, Ronnie (Martin Stephens) and Linda (Ingrid Brett). Ronnie insists that Linda is being abused, which prompts Gwen to investigate. Meanwhile, Gwen discovers a voodoo doll and sleuths to find out what is going on in the village.

Events lead her to a sanitarium, and finally to a coven of witches, intent on human sacrifice.

The Witches has a late 1960’s look and feel which gives some sophistication. Gwen is draped in stylish clothes and jewelry and wears a cute, trendy bob haircut.

The set design is cool with groovy, colorful furniture that enhances the tight budget to full advantage.  Alan and Stephanie’s estate is particularly impressive with modern furniture, drapes, and various trimmings.

Another positive is the hefty amount of exterior sequences offered.

Director, Cyril Frankel, who directed many episodes of the popular British television series, The Avengers, provides a similar production so The Witches feels like a long episodic series. The luxurious English village is sunny, calming, and atmospheric brightening the atmosphere of the film.

This counterbalances the themes of demons, voodoo, and witches, well.

Frankel builds the story momentum throughout The Witches at a good pace, but this is lost in the final act, which is way too abrupt. During the first three-quarters of the production, we are led to believe that Gwen is either crazy, imagining the strange events, or that one of the townspeople is gaslighting her.

It’s easy to deduce the latter is what is going on, and the fun is figuring out who or who is doing the dirty deeds.

When the culprit is revealed (and it’s displayed on the cover art!), the conclusion is underwhelming. An attempted cemetery human ritual to remove life from Linda and infuse it into Stephanie so that she can live forever is weak.

After an odd sequence of the townspeople dancing and writhing around like nutcases in an unintentionally laugh-out-loud example of overacting, Gwen foils Stephanie’s plan. The witch succumbs to death, a victim of her heinous plan backfiring.

It is hinted that Gwen and Alan (who are revealed to be good) will forge a romance in the future, but I would have liked it if we had gotten more of a taste of their budding attraction during the film. Still, it is likely the two will ride off into the sunset together in safety.

While not as gory as other Hammer films, The Witches (1967) instead casts exceptionally well and tells a decent story, interesting until the low-key finale.

I expected a bit more from the ending, which simmers out instead of electrifying.

Psychomania-1973

Psychomania-1973

Director Don Sharp

Starring Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, George Sanders

Scott’s Review #1,084

Reviewed November 19, 2020

Grade: B-

Psychomania (1973) is a film that has an intriguing premise turned messy and confusing by aspects not coming together.

A motorcycle gang wreaking havoc on their English small town decides to kill themselves and come back from the dead to live forever. They intend to do so with the aid of witchcraft and a sinister cult.

Unfortunately, neither the gang comes back to everlasting life nor does the premise provide an adequate payoff. The film meanders along without much intrigue or interest except for an above-average finale.

But even that is too little, too late.

Renowned film and television actor, George Sanders, famous for powerful roles in classics like Rebecca (1940) and All About Eve (1950), in which he won an Academy Award, and numerous other roles, co-stars as a butler.

His role in Psychomania is barely more than a throwaway part since he does not have much to do. Hardly the crowning achievement of his long career, he committed suicide soon after the shooting wrapped.

Star, Nicky Henson joked that Sanders saw the finished film and overdosed on pills, realizing how far his career had descended. Hopefully, that’s an urban legend.

Beryl Reid, wonderfully bitchy in The Killing of Sister George (1968) as a lesbian soap opera star is similarly downgraded, playing a glamorous matron who gets her kicks by holding seances for her neighbors.

She is the mother of the psychopathic leader of a violent teen gang.

Tom Latham (Henson) is the handsome leader of “The Living Dead”, said motorcycle gang, who enjoy driving around town intimidating folks. He is joined by his pretty girlfriend, Abby (Mary Larkin), who is good-natured and not as rebellious as the others.

Tom has time to flirt with other girls and uses his good looks to his advantage. He is in cahoots with his mother (Reid), and they have a penchant for frogs and black magic.

The gang decides, through Tom’s encouragement, to commit suicide and if they believe in it, they will return as one of the “undead”.

Each follows suit, except for Abby, and engages in ritualistic activities at their hangout, “The Seven Witches”, which is a poor man’s Stonehenge. They decide to kill Abby because of her defiance.

The DVD quality (mine anyway) was atrocious and did the film no favors. My enjoyment would have increased if the luscious English landscape and its vibrant colors could have been capitalized on.

Mrs. Latham’s home, filled with creative antiques and oddities, would have been enhanced with better quality.

The story never comes together. I like the main character Tom and find his sneering and posturing appealing in a light-hearted way. Henson is way too good-looking to be believable as a foreboding and crazy guy, but he sure is easy on the eyes.

No chemistry is to be found between him and Larkin, but they are cast well for this type of film- looks over acting talent. Neither is terrible in the acting department nor great either.

The supporting characters look very British and of the 1970s, which is to be expected. This isn’t an annoyance as much as an astute observance. From the doctors who perform the autopsies to the constables, to the chief inspector, everyone looks their part.

Psychomania has a 1970s look and feel, so it ultimately feels like a dated film because there is not much else to distinguish it from others.

It’s adequate, but not much more.

On the positive, some of the music is chirpy and hip, which adds a bit of an upbeat, contemporary vibe. The numerous motorcycle scenes make me wonder if a motorcycle company has stock in the film but surprisingly works.

The film, targeted as a horror film, is a strange one to categorize. The cult and witchcraft elements give off that vibe. The title of Psychomania (1973) creates a motorcycle/horror effect.

I’m not sure what to make of this film other than a sleazy, greasy, devil-worshipping mess. Poor Don Sharp, well-known for directing many Hammer horror films, seems not to know what to do with the silly script he is handed.

Is it a goofy comedy or straight-ahead horror?

Horror of Dracula-1958

Horror of Dracula-1958

Director Terence Fisher

Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee

Scott’s Review #1,083

Reviewed November 17, 2020

Grade: B+

The first colorized retelling of the classic vampire film starring Bela Lugosi from 1931, Horror of Dracula (1958) infuses style and a modern feel into the production making it a formidable entry compared to the original.

The film launched the popular and delightful British Hammer Horror film series, which included eight Dracula sequels.

British horror films nearly always add macabre elements and a British sophistication that merge class with gothic, and the film is a perfect late-night watch during the Halloween season for maximum effect.

The atmospheric tone is key and will leave horror fans in bliss. The addition of horror stalwarts Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee only increases the pleasures.

On a gloomy night in 1885, a librarian named Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) arrives at Count Dracula’s castle in Romania to begin his new assignment.

Secretly a vampire hunter, he is bitten by a desperate woman, really a vampire, begging for help. Jonathan manages to kill the woman but is then killed by Dracula (Lee). Doctor Van Helsing (Cushing) arrives at the castle to investigate, but Dracula already has designs on Jonathan’s fiancée, Lucy (Carol Marsh).

A battle of good versus evil ensues.

Lee brings sexuality to Dracula that Lugosi lacks, though Lugosi is the creepier of the two. I love the close-up scenes where Dracula bears his enormous fangs and his eyes turn red in good close-up style.

The casting of Lee is perfect as he becomes identifiable even in the first installment. I also love how Lee is tall, giving the character a menacing, foreboding, distinguished look.

Many might secretly welcome him nibbling on their necks!

Cushing, later to be cast as the villain, is wonderful as the empathetic Van Helsing. Lee and Cushing play well against each other. Van Helsing is stoic and confident as he smoothly leads the charge against Dracula and guides Jonathan’s loved ones into unchartered and unimaginable territory. It’s almost as if he has been through this before.

A great scene occurs when Van Helsing arrives in town for a brandy and a drink at the local pub, its inhabitants suspicious and frightened, draping garlic over the entryway and hoping he will leave soon.

The best part of House of Dracula is the atmosphere we are treated to and the color razzles dazzle. The story is good, but the texture powerfully shines through.

Careful not to be too showy, director Terence Fisher, soon to be a Hammer horror main fixture, uses his limited budget to his advantage in clever form.

Fisher realized his project was a colorized version and created a polished-looking, colorful, stained glass window, prevalent in several scenes. Dracula’s castle, especially the bedroom where Jonathan stayed, is part cozy and homespun, part gothic and chilling. The cellar crypt is equally vast yet confining, as the open coffins provide wonders of who lies in them.

The plethora of books elicits a cerebral feeling.

The finale is well done, but not as spectacular as expected. Other parts are better. Van Helsing chases Dracula in a race against the sunrise, ripping curtains down to provide harsh light, and turning Dracula to dust.

I was expecting a little more and more blood or a good stake through the heart. Fortunately, that entertainment was provided earlier in the film.

Having never read the 1897 Gothic horror novel by Bram Stroker (it’s on my list!), the film is pretty on target.

The film bestows creepy elements and sexuality with great color, lighting, and set design. The lesson learned is that a hefty budget and CGI can’t replicate the creative design and good effects.