Straight from video

I knew that when I got the two movie combination called The Naked Torture Show, I was not going to get anything close to movies that lived up to the title.  I expected early 1970s horror schlock and that’s what was delivered.  The only problem was that these movies were taken from video cassette recordings, and it shows.  It is a good reminder that the days of VHS are happily behind us.

As for the movies themselves, there are two:  Flesh Feast and 3 on a MeathookFlesh Feast has a long-in-the-tooth Veronica Lake as a mad scientist who is breeding maggots to somehow do a rejuvenation procedure (the maggots are the ones feasting on the flesh).  The hazy picture can’t disguise the fact that this is a really rotten movie, one that has the trifecta of bad acting, writing and directing.

The plot, such as it is, has Lake teaming up with an arms dealer who is assisting a South American revolutionary group.  The revolutionaries want to restore their commandant to his youthful vigor.  The commandant happens to be Hitler, a twist that is revealed in the last few minutes of the movie, but also on the cover of the DVD.  There are supposedly some good guy government agents, but they do little more than sit around.  In fact, most of the characters just seem to sit around and do nothing, as if waiting for the plot to come to them.  And by the way, there is no nudity and very little torture (except for the unlucky viewer). Quality 2/10, Fun 2/10.

There is plenty of nudity in 3 on a Meathook, but still not any torture.  This movie is supposed a retelling of the Ed Gein story, a real-life tale that served as inspiration for – among other movies and books – Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs.  In fact, it’s obvious that writer/director William Girdler is trying to copy Psycho.  Both the opening and closing of the movie are very similar to Psycho’s.  (Some reviews have made it seem like he was trying to copy the Texas Chainsaw Massacre too, but actually 3 on a Meathook predates it.)

Girdler on his best day has less talent than Hitchcock on his worst, so he makes up the difference with lots of topless girls and a bit of gore.  The movie opens (like Psycho) with a camera moving in towards a building.  Inside, a blonde college girl is just finishing her liaison with her boyfriend.  As she dresses, she explains how she is going to the lake with her three friends, but she won’t say what lake, which may explain why the boyfriend is out of the movie after this scene.

She goes with her three friends (all similarly college-aged and good looking) and they’re quickly skinny dipping in the lake.  They start heading to their cabin when their car breaks down.  No problem, because Billy is driving by in his pick-up truck.  He takes them to his farm house so they can spend the night before getting the car fixed in the morning.  He shares the place with his father, a cranky middle-aged drunk who warns Billy that problems occur when women are near.

The father’s right.  All four are slaughtered during the night, with the first being killed in the bath (I guess a shower scene would have been too much of a ripoff).  After that stabbing, two are killed with a gun and one with a hatchet.  We’re supposed to believe Billy did the killings, but it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain (which may not have been the demographic Girdler was aiming for) that it’s the father who’s doing the killing.  That twist can be seen coming very early, along with the source of the father’s special meat recipe.

After the killings, things slow down considerably, and it becomes a definitely 1970’s style touchy-feely movie as Billy hooks up with a waitress and invites her to spend the next weekend out on the farm.  The waitress brings a friend who will wind up dead soon enough.  Does the waitress-girlfriend live?  I won’t give that little bit away, but in the end, all is revealed, and a la Psycho, we get a muddled psychiatric explanation and close on the father locked up and talking to himself.  For all its flaws, it still beats Flesh Feast, as it is occasionally entertaining.  Quality 3/10, Fun 4/10.

 

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The return of Dracula

Christopher Lee made seven Dracula movies for Hammer Films.  Over the past few weeks, I have gone through the sequence and in this post, I’ll discuss the final two movies (having already discussed the others).

Dracula A.D. 1972 is Hammer’s attempt to modernize the series.  Breaking from any sort of continuity with the previous five films, this movie opens with a prologue set in 1872, with Christopher Lee’s Dracula and Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing in mortal combat (for Cushing, his first reprise of the role since the Christopher Lee-less Brides of Dracula).  At the end of the fight, both will be done for.  Fortunately for Dracula, one of his minions is around to preserve some of his remains and pass them on to a descendant.  Fortunately for Van Helsing, he will also have a descendant who looks remarkably like him.

A century later, the plot turns into a rehash of Taste the Blood of Dracula.  In the earlier movie, three bored rich men help resurrect Dracula thinking they’ll find some new entertainment.  In this movie, it’s bored hippies  who assist Dracula’s minion’s descendant in bringing back Dracula.  The first victim will be 1970s B-movie beauty Caroline Munro.

While bringing Dracula to swinging early ’70s London is theoretically a good idea, the movie suffers because Dracula never leaves the desanctified old church he was restored in.  And as is typically the case, the symbols of Christianity come off as an easy way to control the vampire.  Also, the general rule still holds that dark-haired women (such as Munro) die while lighter-haired ones (Stephanie Beacham, playing Van Helsing’s granddaughter) live.  Quality 5/10, Fun 5/10.

The series concludes with the movie’s direct sequel, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, which comes off feeling more like a James Bond film than a Dracula movie.  In this tale, Dracula has entered the modern world as a mysterious billionaire who is orchestrating the end of humanity through a deadly plague.  Helping him are an evil cult which includes some powerful government figures.  Opposing him are various MI-5 sorts, Van Helsing and his granddaughter (now played by Joanna Lumley, who is actually a redhead instead of a blonde!).  Despite bits of cleverness, the series does look like it’s  tired.   Cushing would, however, reprise his Van Helsing role one last time in the kung-fu/vampire film The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, a movie that fits nowhere in the series of other movies.  Quality 5/10, Fun 5/10.

Lee did play Dracula in a non-Hammer movie.  Count Dracula is an attempt by Spanish director Jesus Franco to make a sincere adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel.  For Lee, it must have been refreshing to play Dracula differently.  Franco, however, is a schlock director and even in this, perhaps his best movie, things are only passable.  Franco’s strength is his location selection (filled with creaky old castles), but that can’t atone for a generally slow film that I was hard pressed not to nod off while watching.  Quality: 4/10, Fun 3/10.

 

The horrors conclude

The final count for Horror Movie October:  29.  It wasn’t quite the 31 I was shooting for, but ah, well.  I didn’t have any money riding on it.

The final weekend of movie watching consisted only of movies I’d seen before and enjoyed.  I started by continuing my Christopher Lee – Dracula viewing with Taste the Blood of Dracula. The fourth in the series takes up where number three left off:  with Dracula writhing after being impaled by a cross.  Soon he is a mere puddle of blood which turns into a powder.

A curio dealer who witnessed the “death” takes Dracula’s possessions (cape, etc.) as well as a vial of the powdery blood.  Eventually, he sells the lot to three wealthy gentlemen who are seemingly the cream of society but actually love debauchery.  A Satanist promises them a new level of dark pleasures and uses a combination of his blood and the Dracula powder to create a rather repellent bloody beverage.  Not all goes as planned.  The Satanist is soon dead, but Dracula has replaced him.  He proceeds to prey on the three gentlemen, enslaving one of their daughters in the process.

As is typically the case, the redheads and occasional brunettes (especially if they’re named Lucy) tend to fare far worse than the blondes; also, the promise of salvation through Christianity is heavily played on, leaving the climax a bit underwhelming.  Nonetheless, it’s worth a watch:  Quality 5/10, Fun 6/10.

Following this movie was Scars of Dracula, which doesn’t really fit fully in the continuity of the previous movies.  Yes, it starts with Dracula being resurrected by a vampire bat, but then it relocates to a new castle unlike the previous one.  A young man, fleeing from a false rape charge, winds up Dracula’s captive.  His brother and brother’s girlfriend try to find him.  Since she’s blonde, you know she’ll come out okay, but pity the poor raven-haired barmaid.  This one also features former Dr. Who star Patrick Troughton as Dracula’s servant.  Unlike previous movies, Dracula controls animals in this one, particularly bats.  Though generally considered one of the lesser movies in the sequence, I like it.  Quality 6/10, Fun 7/10.

After this movie was a pair of Vincent Price movies.  Theater of Blood is arguably his best, one that allows Price to ham it up as the vengeful Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart out to get the critics who deprived him of an award he felt he deserved.  Each of the deaths is based on a Shakespeare play, starting with Julius Caesar.  Diana Rigg looks and acts wonderful as Edward’s daughter and partner-in-crime, Edwina.  This movie is filled with dark humor and is an ideal companion piece to The Abominable Dr. Phibes with its similar plot.  Quality: 8/10, Fun 9/10.

Price plays a much grimmer character in Pit and the Pendulum, one of Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations.  In this movie, Price plays the son of a Spanish Inquisitor who is haunted by the ghost of his late wife, played by horror queen Barbara Steele.  It’s actually a ruse played by the wife to drive Price catatonic with insanity, but the plan will backfire.  Her final fate is a truly grim one.  And yes, there is a pit and a very deadly pendulum.  Quality 6/10, Fun 7/10.

Black Sunday, aka, The Mask of Satan, also stars Steele in the role that made her a queen of horror.  She plays two roles:  that of an evil witch who after two centuries, is not as dead as people think, and her young and good-hearted relative who offers the witch a chance at resurrection.  This delightfully moody movie was Mario Bava’s first horror film, and like with Steele, would start a career in the genre.  Quality 7/10, Fun 8/10.

Next on the list was the long-anticipated and well-worth-the-wait Island of Lost Souls.  Among the classic monster movies of the 1930s (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, etc.), Island of Lost Souls stood out as being unavailable on DVD.  And being made in 1932, it is a pre-Code film and it shows.  If it was made five years later, it would have been substantially watered down.

Based on H.G. Wells’s novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, Island of Lost Souls deals with the hero being stuck on the title isle.  At first, it seems like Moreau is performing terrible experiments on men, but he is actually transforming animals into human form, with mixed results.  Moreau (played wonderfully by Charles Laughton) is a god among his subjects, and he relishes the role.  He is also intent on a new experiment:  mating the hero with the Panther Woman (who looks almost human).  When that fails, he engineers an attempted rape of the hero’s fiancee by an animal-man.  This is all the sort of material that would never fly once the Production Code kicked in.  This is a nice gem and one of the classics of the era.  Quality 8/10, Fun 10/10.

Finally, what Halloween month would be complete without Halloween?  Yes, there were slasher movies before this one, but this movie really made the slasher flick a genre.  As has been pointed out by many people many times, this film is almost completely bloodless, relying on suspense where others would rely on gore.  In fact, after Michael Myers kills his sister in the movie’s prologue, there is virtually no violence till the last half hour.  At the time, Donald Pleasance got the top billing, but it winds up being Jamie Lee Curtis who’s the star in what was her movie debut.  Quality 8/10, Fun 9/10.

The horrors continue

With six more horror-related movies under my belt, I’m up to 22 for the month.  Making the full 31 is possible though iffy.

I started out with a pair of Christopher Lee’s Dracula movies through Hammer.  Having watchedHorror of Dracula last week, I felt like working my way through the rest of the sequence.

The actual sequel to Horror is Brides of Dracula in which Peter Cushing reprises his role as Van Helsing, but Lee (and Dracula) are actually never seen.  For Cushing, this would be the last Van Helsing role for a while.  My viewing started with the next movie, Dracula: Prince of Darkness.  In this film, four English tourists wind up in the Carpathian countryside and through a combination of accident and bad judgment, wind up at Dracula’s castle.  For the older couple, this is bad news indeed:  he is sacrificed to raise Dracula from his ashes, and she becomes a vampire.  It is the younger couple who must contend with the resurrected Dracula. 

This is a decent enough movie except for one thing:  Dracula never speaks.  With no lines, Lee still does a good job, but it’s hard to tell if Dracula is anything other than a feral bloodsucking beast.  As with most of these movies, the virtues of Christianity are always promoted, with crosses being used as protection.  Quality: 6/10, Fun 6/10.

Since you can’t keep a good vampire down, Lee is back in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.  Raised again by accident (or is it?), Dracula seeks revenge against the priest who has locked him out of his own castle.  Of course, the priest has a beautiful niece to be victimized along with a barmaid (generally, redheads get the worst of it in these movies, while blondes tend to survive).  It’s up to the boyfriend of the niece to try and set things right; will he be able to overcome his atheism and find the faith necessary to defeat Dracula?  Quality: 6/10, Fun: 6/10.

Since I was on a vampire kick, I went with some other vampire movies I had picked up on a combo pack.  First up, Vampire Wars: Battle for the Universe.  This clunker of a movie is really sci-fi, not horror.  Sometime in the future, humanity has expanded beyond Earth, only to find that every other alien race is a type of vampire.  Battling the vamps are a rag-tag bunch of mercenaries (is there any other sort) who don’t speak English as much as cliche.   The story is utterly formulaic and with little star-power (Michael Ironside is easily the biggest name, followed by one of the lesser Deluises), this should be avoided.  Quality 2/10, Fun 2/10.

The first hint that The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire may not be very horrific comes with the opening words “Hallmark Presents”.  Sure enough, this is actually a Sherlock Holmes story with Matt Frewer as the detective piecing together the clues in a murder mystery supposedly perpetrated by a vampire.  This is actually a Scooby Doo mystery with someone disguised as a vampire for his own nefarious goals.  This one is too talky and with action as tame as a kitten, though not gratingly bad.  Quality 4/10, Fun 3/10.

After these two disappointments, it was nice to come upon a more interesting movie:  Nadja.  Produced by David Lynch, this daughter-of-Dracula story has a definite Lynchian weirdness to it.  Dracula’s daughter Nadja learns of her father’s death and seeks out her twin brother.  In the process, she seduces a woman who happens to be married to Van Helsing’s nephew.  The nephew’s sister is meanwhile acting as nurse to Nadja’s brother.  As with Lynch’s films, this one is strange enough that you have a hard time telling if it’s any good.  I tend to give it the benefit of the doubt:  Quality: 5/10, Fun 6/10.

I ended the string of movies with a non-vampire tale, the classic B-movie Carnival of Souls.  This movie follows a young woman who survives a car accident only to be haunted by mysterious figures.  It is essentially a reworking of the Twilight Zone episode “The Hitchhiker” but done better.  There are minimal special effects, but they aren’t needed.  Throughout the movie, there is an element of mystery that leaves a lot to the imagination.  Are the figures ghosts or demons?  Are they evil, merely mischievous or actually somehow benevolent (probably not the last one)?  Add to that the fact that the main character is too icy to be likeable and you have a horror film that breaks out of some of the early 1960s genre cliches.  Quality: 6/10, Fun: 8/10.  (By the way, my DVD version has a commentary by MST3K’s Mike Nelson.  If you have it too, save it till after you watch it unadorned, or you’ll have a hard time enjoying the creepy qualities.  Also, watch it in black & white, not the colorized version.)

 

Horrors Part 3

What better way to kill time than to spend time watching killings (and other sadistic activities) in a spree of horror films?  Actually, there are lots of equally good or better ways to spend time, but horror movies are pretty nice too.  And over the past few days, I watched ten of them.  That’s sixteen movies in seventeen days.  Maybe I’ll make 31 in October after all.

First up, Scream 4.  This is one I think of as technically horror – it’s got lots of scenes that make you jump and a fair share of blood – but it’s actually another parody of the slasher genre.  With Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courtney Cox all older, it’s time for a new generation of victims.  It is actually a pretty good movie, an improvement over the series nadir of Scream 3 (when you have Jay and Silent Bob appear in a movie, you go from satire to farce).  Quality 7/10, Fun 7/10.

For a different sort of serial killer movie, there is the (deservedly) obscure 2:13.  This one was written by and starred Mark Thompson, half of the radio duo Mark & Brian.  Now I’m a big Mark & Brian fan, so I had a lot of goodwill towards this movie.  Sadly, it is just another slightly below average generic slasher flick.  Thompson is a profiler out to stop a killer; of course, Thompson has his own inner demons to contend with.   It’s not an awful film, but it’s far from a good one.  Quality 4/10, Fun 3/10.

Long before Night of the Living Dead brought the zombie genre to “life”, there was White Zombie, the first zombie movie.  Starring Bela Lugosi, this deals with voodoo-raised zombies (in this case, not truly dead, merely magically enslaved) who are used as very cheap farm labor at a Haitian sugar mill.  A local plantation owner wants to win over the beautiful blonde he has recently met and arranges with Lugosi to make her the title character.  Made in 1932, this fits right in with the great Universal horror movies of the time.  Quality 6/10, Fun 7/10.

Lucio Fulci was one of the great Italian horror directors of the 1970s and ’80s, especially if you liked lots of gore.  Demonia is one of his later works, a tale of evil nuns killed in medieval times but still haunting a Sicilian village.  A young archaeologist feels a strange connection to the monastery where their corpses remain, and soon enough, the deaths begin.  Compared to some Fulci pictures, this one is almost mild in the gore department, but there is one late scene featuring a man being torn in half.  Also, since it is a Fulci movie, there’s got to be a scene involving a gouged eye, and Demonia doesn’t disappoint.  On the other hand, if you’re looking for a fully coherent story, you don’t watch Fulci.  Quality 5/10, Fun 5/10.

Following up on my viewing of Dracula 2000 last week, I watched the straight-to-video sequels Dracula II: Ascension and Dracula III:  Legacy.  This pair of movies really forms two parts of a single story so I will review them together.  Contradicting the conclusion of Dracula 2000 (which had the vampire’s remains safely tucked away in a vault), Dracula II begins with the corpse appearing in a New Orleans morgue and soon winding up the property of some medical students and their professor (who is wheelchair bound, and like seemingly all wheelchair bound scientists, is actually a mad doctor).  Dracula is resurrected but restrained while he is experimented on; the idea is to capture his healing powers without the accompanying evil.  What could go wrong?  Fortunately, Jason Scott Lee is around as a low-rent version of Blade:  he’s a partially vampiric vampire hunter.  By the second movie, Lee and Jason London (the only survivor from the first movie) are off to Romania to stop Dracula once and for all.  By the way, the reason Dracula is played by different actors in all three movies is that he apparently changes form (a la Doctor Who).  Both movies look cheap, have only so-so writing and forgettable acting (except for Lee, whose acting I wish I could forget).  Quality:  4/10, Fun: 3/10.

The three Dracula movies were part of a bargain four pack that also included They.  This movie has Laura Regan (looking very Bridget Fonda-ish) as a psychology student terrorized by demonic beings who lurk in the dark and have a talent for knocking out electronics.  Of course, no one really believes her (except for others who soon disappear themselves).  This film is effective enough, even if it seems like one of those movies you’ve seen a dozen times before.  Quality: 5/10, Fun: 4/10.

Having previously watched White Zombie, I was in the mood for a more typically representative movie in the zombie genre.  The Living Dead of Manchester Morgue is one of the movies made between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of Dead.  A machine that is designed for pest control has the extra effect of raising the dead (and making infants vicious).  A hippie-ish shopkeeper and a young woman are stuck together after a minor accident (in a romantic comedy, this would be a “meet cute”, much as in Good Against Evil).  Even though they catch on about the zombies relatively quickly, the authorities not only don’t believe them, they think the pair are actually the killers.  This is actually a pretty decent movie, and the pastoral setting is a change-of-pace from the normal claustrophobic places.  Quality:  6/10, Fun: 7/10. 

The low point of all the movies would be The Corpse Grinders 2.  The first movie was reasonably awful, but also had a certain charm.  The second one, no.  Although technically a sequel, it’s actually something of a remake dealing with a pair of businessmen out to sell cat food using human corpses as the meat.  Thrown in to the plot for the second movie is a subplot involving aliens who want the cat food to supply their people.  Ted Mikels (who also directed the original) acts in this one in addition to directing.  His casting decisions were apparently based on the idea of finding people who act even worse than he did.  The writing is horrendous; it seems like half the time, the characters don’t even know what to say.  Yes, it is supposed to be a horror-comedy, but it fails as both.  Looking like a home movie, it gets the absolutely worst rating:  Quality 1/10, Fun 1/10.

Finally, there was The Horror of Dracula, Hammer’s semi-remake of the Universal horror classic.  Christopher Lee stars and winds up being arguably the best Dracula of them all.   Though there are many of the classic characters (Mina, Jonathan, Lucy, etc.), their roles are a bit different here.  It makes no difference:  this is a lot of fun to watch.  I’d ramble on more about this one, but this posting is long enough as it is.  Quality 7/10, Fun 8/10.

More October horror

Ten days into the month, and I’ve only watched six horror films.  Actually, seven, if you include Mars Needs Moms, one of those movies that makes you want to pluck your eyes out in punishment for viewing such an atrocity.  It’s not funny (in the supposedly comic moments), it’s poorly written and it looks horrible.  It’s a bad sign when the aliens are more visually appealing than the humans.  I will give it a smidgen of credit for paying homage to B-movie classic Invaders from Mars.  Quality 3/10, Fun 1/10.

Technically, however Mars Needs Moms is not a horror movie.  The three that I did watch were Paranormal Activity 2, Don’t Look in the Basement and Dracula 2000.

If you’ve seen Paranormal Activity, you’ve basically seen the sequel.  Actually, it’s more of a prequel, as this story explains (to some extent) why the first movie’s events occurred.  But overall, it’s more of the same.  Doors opening and closing unexpectedly, objects mysteriously moving, characters who take a while to believe something supernatural is going on, et cetera.  It uses the First Law of Sequels:  repeat the first movie, just make it more. 

In this case, it means increasing the number of people at risk to include a teenage girl, a toddler and a dog (okay, so a dog’s not a person).  There’s also that horror movie stereotype, the old lady (in this case, a nanny of Mexican (?) heritage) who has the old-world/traditional knowledge to possibly counter the demon wreaking havoc.  As in the first film, it uses the Blair Witch Project device of finding lost video, this time aided by a home security system.  It’s not a bad movie, it just isn’t all that original.  Quality 6/10, Fun 5/10.

Interestingly, many of the problems the family of Paranormal Activity 2 seem to be linked to something in the basement.  Therefore, Don’t Look in the Basement could have been a good alternate title.  It’s actually the name of an early 1970s low budget horror flick about mischief at a sanitarium.  At the beginning of the movie, the doctor who runs the place is providing unorthodox treatment to one of his patients, a middle-aged man who thinks he’s a judge.  The treatment has the patient taking out his aggressions with an axe on a piece of wood, but of course, he soon turns on the doctor.

A couple days later, a new nurse arrives, unaware that her employer has met his demise.  The new doctor running the place keeps the nurse on.  Among the patients are a nymphomaniac, a crazy old lady, the “judge” and a gentle giant who has had a lobotomy.  People start getting maimed and killed; the nurse isn’t super bright (or good at her job), but even she can figure out there’s something bad going on.   The big twist can be seen coming a mile away, but somehow, this movie still is pretty entertaining, with some nasty deaths and a bit of suspense.  As for the basement, it doesn’t play much of a part till the last scenes.  Quality 3/10, Fun 6/10.

Back in the late 1990s, there was Scream, which kicked off a whole string of horror (typically slasher) films that were seemingly hipper and with a self-aware sense of humor.  What Scream did well, its imitators did less well in varying degrees:  I Know What You Did Last Summer, Halloween: H20 and Dracula 2000

This final movie I watched when it was first out in the theaters.  It was on a cheapo four-on-a-disk set of horror movies, so I decided to give it another shot.  It’s a movie that isn’t particularly bad or good.  The premise is that Dracula didn’t die back in the late 19th Century and in fact could only be stopped, not killed.  Van Helsing, accidentally infected with a bit of Dracula’s blood, is still around a hundred years later and keeping Dracula’s body locked up in a booby-trapped filled vault. 

Thieves, thinking there’s treasure in the vault, set off a string of events that eventually has Dracula walking the Earth again.  He’s drawn to Van Helsing’s estranged daughter since she has a bit of his blood in her.  Van Helsing may be a bit long in the tooth, but fortunately, he has a young assistant to help the beautiful daughter. 

While the story itself differs a lot from the Bram Stoker novel, that’s not very surprising:  most movie versions do.  There are plenty of references to the original story, including the three vampire “sisters” and the best friend named Lucy.  What is seemingly original to this movie is Dracula’s origin, one that is wonderfully logical but somehow (to me, at least) vaguely unsatisfying.  Quality 6/10, Fun 5/10.

Thus begins October…

…and since October ends with Halloween, this always seems to be a good month for horror movies.  I’d like to do a movie a day in the genre.  It may or may not happen since I principally watch the films on the weekends.  It’d be enough however, to average one a day.

So far, I put my average at 1.5.  I’ve seen three horror movies and this is 10/2.  I watched all three yesterday.  I also watched Priest, which despite its horror trappings (particularly vampires), is not a horror movie.  It is also just a mediocre movie, essentially The Searchers with vampires.  Paul Bettany plays a priest whose niece is kidnapped by a vampire lord who used to be a priest himself.

It should be noted that though there is a lot of symbols from Catholicism, there is actually very little religion in this film.  The priests are really warriors (although they have taken chastity vows).  As in The Searchers, Bettany is intent on either rescuing his niece or killing her if she’s “turned”.  And lest you think it is only that classic western that is being alluded to, there are references to many other films, from Blade Runner to all sorts of westerns and post-apocalyptic flicks.  Unfortunately, if you strip away all the allusions, you find there isn’t much that’s original.  On the plus side, there is Maggie Q (as a priestess) to look at.  Quality 5.0, Fun 5.0.

The first of the three horror films was Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death.  For those who knock Corman as a schlock B-movie director, this is exhibit A to show otherwise (in fact, almost all of his Poe films are well made).  This movie has Vincent Price wonderfully chewing the scenery as the diabolical Prince Prospero, who offers his castle as a refuge for his wealthy friends against the plague of the Red Death. 

Prospero relishes cruelty and the corruption of the innocent.  The innocent in this film is Francesca (played by Jane Asher), a peasant girl who Prospero is making a project of, intending on wooing her into the servitude of Satan.  Hazel Court is Juliana, beautiful but already evil, hence of less interest to Prospero.  While the story is decent enough, it is the look of the film that is often stunning, particularly a sequence of identical rooms that all are a particular color:  yellow, purple, white and finally black.  Quality 7, Fun 8.

Next watched was Scream and Scream Again, a wonderful mess of a movie from 1970.  This movie is the only feature to have all three of the major horror stars of the era:  Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  Unfortunately, the billing is deceptive:  Cushing is only in one scene and Lee just a few.  There is only one scene that features even two of the stars (Lee and Price) and their encounter is barely a minute.  Despite this, however, I enjoy this movie.

During the opening credits, we watch a man jogging around London.  As the credits end, he collapses.  It would seem to be a heart attack, so imagine his surprise when he finds one of his legs missing.  Naturally, he screams.  He will scream again later when he finds the other leg missing as well.

Meanwhile, a serial killer prowls the streets of the city.  He prowls the clubs of swingin’ London and picks up girls to not only strangle them but suck their blood.  Meanwhile again, there are nefarious goings-on in a fictitious but obviously Eastern Bloc country where an officer works his way into power by killing people with a variation of the Vulcan nerve pinch.  Christopher Lee is busy heading some British agency and Price is doing some sort of scientific work.  In other words, there’s a lot going on and it won’t really tie together until the very end of the movie.  Somehow, the complexity of the story adds to the fun:  you don’t often know what’s going on, but you enjoy the ride.  Quality: 6, Fun 7.

Finally, I saw Blood of Ghastly Horror, another entertainingly bad movie directed by Al Adamson.  As is clear from the introduction by producer Sam Sherman, the history of the movie is around as interesting as the movie itself:  in brief, an unsold jewelry heist movie made in the mid ’60s had some extra footage added years later to add a plot line involving brain devices, voodoo and zombies. 

The result, as you might guess, is a mess, with certain characters and plot lines disappearing without explanation.  It’s not without its charm, however, though compared to Adamson’s bad movie classic, Horror of the Blood Monsters, it is clearly second best.   Quality 2, Fun 5.