19 Reviews (1 New)
A Dark and Scary Place
Eureka Classics releases the two-disc Universal Terror Blu-ray set, incorporating three Boris Karloff films: Night Key (directed by Lloyd Corrigan – 1937 B/W), The Climax (directed by George Waggner – 1944 Colour), and The Black Castle (directed by Nathan H. Juran – 1952 B/W). This is the first retail release for Night Key and The Climax, and the first outing for all three on Blu-ray in the UK. The first print run of 2000 copies include a limited-edition O-card slipcase and a collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Karloff expert Stephen Jacobs (author of Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster). All three films are 1080p 2K scans of the originals. Extras include: Brand new audio commentary tracks on Night Key and The Climax by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby; a brand-new audio commentary track on The Black Castle by author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman (Newman is invariable entertaining, like chatting to a mate down the pub!). There are also Stills Galleries and Trailers.
In Night Key, Boris Karloff plays the inventor of a highly elaborate security system which has been utilised by the police for some years with great success. When the alarm of any premises is silently triggered, a light flashes in police HQ. The number of the light is cross-referenced to an address and a police unit dispatched. However, the inventor believes it is now outdated. He has been working for many years on a radical new system which he attempts to sell once more to the police. Afraid that their expensive system will become useless in light of the new invention, the police take it on but decide to shelve it. The old inventor is horrified he has been duped. To him it is not the money that’s important but the fruition of all his hard work. In order to stress how outmoded the existing system is, he adapts the new one to emit a bridging electrical pulse matching that of the alarm systems and demonstrates he can break into protected establishments. However, a local crime boss and his gang kidnap him and hold his daughter to force him to break into places they can rob. Can this seemingly doddery old scientist turn the table on his captors and free his daughter before it’s too late?
This three-film set is marketed as horror (or, at least, terror); in actuality it is a crime/thriller with a sprinkling of science fiction. Notable for its format which became prevalent during the era of 1950s B-movies, it originates the central cast of the professor, his beautiful daughter, her love interest (in this case a police officer), and the villain – who in this case in just as much the police chief as the crime boss. Although far from edgy, it is imminently watchable. Karloff is convincing in his earnestness, tinged with angst or guilt as he is in many of his offerings. This one is like a Fu Manchu plot without the hammy elements.
In The Climax, Karloff portrays the physician of a theatre opera house. He had fallen in love with the star singer and become so besotted with her that her singing came between them. She subsequently went missing without a trace (but we all suspect what happened to her, don’t we viewers?). Now, ten years later a new young singer has arrived on the scene with a voice which matches the lost star, and the same musical is revived. The physician is devastated to hear the singing of his lost love and goes to extreme lengths to prevent her singing again – including hypnotism, association, and sheer force of will. But he hasn’t counted on the intervention of the woman’s betrothed and the young king.
This one is a difficult one to quantify. It is at times a suspense thriller, a horror, and even a musical. In essence, it follows similar lines to a Phantom of the Opera scenario. There are long, drawn-out stage sequences wherein we are obliged to endure high-pitched shrieking, which is supposed to be one of the greatest voices in the world. This is tempered by the entertaining excitement and eagerness of her fiancé, Franz Munzer, played engagingly by Turhan Bey. A very young Scotty Beckett also puts in a good turn as The King, who amusingly momentarily forgets his etiquette when watching the new starlet sing. It would have been nice to have seen what happens off-film before the beginning, and there would have been the running time available if not for the over-long stage scenes. Karloff’s presence has a calm intensity to the point much is made of his stare, in the same manner as Bela Lugosi’s is lit in a couple of shots during 1931’s Dracula. The dénouement is somewhat reminiscent of House of Wax.
In The Black Castle, a young nobleman knight-of-the-realm travels incognito, under invitation, to Count Karl von Bruno, seeking information on two comrades who he believes have been killed at the Count’s hand. They soon diplomatically butt heads when it is discovered the Count is a cruel and sadistic master, least not to his beautiful, arranged marriage wife. When our hero attempts to spirit her away, they are both imprisoned in the castle’s dungeon. They find help from the most unlikely source when the Count’s doctor offers them a potion which fakes death. This way they can escape the castle. But can the doctor be trusted?
The Black Castle is by far the most entertaining of the three films presented on offer here. Richard Greene takes centre stage as the swashbuckling hero, and Karloff shares the billing with fellow horror star Lon Chaney Jr. as the Count’s gruesome mute dogsbody. Karloff himself is the Count’s doctor, who remains pretty much in the background until the final quarter. Then his presence shines, giving the character an ambiguous quality. The difference is our hero and heroine are offered no choice but to trust him. The castle secret passages, traps and a deadly pool of crocodiles crank up the horror aspect. This is a movie that is wildly underrated in many reviews. Whilst not a strong as the Karloff at Columbia set which I reviewed in April 2021, Universal Terror remains of great interest. All of these gems from the classic horror stars deserve to be treasured.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2022)
Selby Wall (Christina Ricci) is a kind but shy and reserved young woman who lives with overly strict parents. She has no friends but takes to visiting bars desperate to make a connection. Against all the odds, she strikes up a friendship with Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a wayward and luckless ex-sex worker who is determined to put her life back on track. When they become more than friends, Aileen persuades Selby to leave home with the promise of fun and excitement. However, the money soon runs out and, feeling pressure to look after Selby, Aileen returns to prostitution. She is overpowered and brutally raped, finally managing to shoot the man dead with his own gun. This would undoubtedly be considered self-defence; it begins a cycle of robbery and death, most of which Selby is blissfully unaware of. But where will the killing end and what will it do to their uneasy relationship...?
This film is from 2004. Based on a true story, in reality Aileen Wuornos was America’s first female serial killer. Director Patty Jenkins – who helmed Wonder Woman (2017) – conveys the story with both distaste and heartfelt gravitas. The two women are poles apart in terms of background, temperament and attitude and yet come together, both looking for something new in their life. The performances are strong, particularly that of Charlize Theron. You can’t help feeling both horrified and touched by her portrayal. Wuornos was thrown-out on the streets at the age of thirteen to fend for herself. Her profession was a necessary means to an end. The sympathy is gradually mitigated and then overbalanced with violence and murder. It comes across as actions she felt obliged to carry out to keep them together. So, the balance is maintained in the film to suck you in and drag you along like a Bonnie and Clyde-type experience.
Almost 20 years on from the film’s initial outing, Monster gets a brand-new release on Blu-ray in a Limited-Edition Box Set. It incorporates a rigid slipcase, original artwork by Daniel Benneworth-Gray, a Soft Cover Book with new essays by Anton Bitel, Hannah Strong & Shelagh Rowan-Legg, Six Collector’s Art Cards and Special Features – including: an Audio Commentary with writer/director Patty Jenkins, actor/producer Charlize Theron & producer Clark Peterson; Making a Murderer: a new interview with Patty Jenkins; Producing a Monster: a new interview with Brad Wyman; Light From Within: a new interview with director of photography Steven Bernstein; Monster: The Vision and Journey; Based on a True Story: The Making of Monster; Deleted and Extended Scenes with director commentary; and the Original Trailer.
I noticed a few cameo appearances throughout the film, including Jason Voorhees himself Kane Hodder. The ending is inevitable, although very nicely handled. Personally, the enjoyment came through the strength of the characters and the heart portrayed, rather than any violence. The soundtrack is also nicely balanced by events in the movie.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2022)
At a family reading of a will Herman Munster is delighted to learn he has inherited an English estate from an uncle. Now the new Lord Munster, he leaves his job at Gateman, Goodbury & Graves Morticians and moves his family from 1313 Mockingbird Lane to Munster Hall. The three remaining members of the previous Lord’s family are less than enamoured with the decision and when scaring them away fails, they resort to more desperate measures. This involves roping Herman into a dangerous two-family dispute – to be resolved in a sports car race. The other driver has been replaced and is out to kill Herman and wreck his Drag-u-la special. But Herman is more resourceful than expected and also uncovers a counterfeit ring...
The original black and white series of The Munsters ran for 70 episodes between 1964 and 1966, when it began to lose viewers to the Adam West Batman series. This was the first film outing for the show, and the first in technicolor. It was made straight after the series came to an end in 1966, screening at the end of the year as a support movie for Norman Wisdom’s Press for Time. The series creators Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher also produced and co-wrote this one. The full family is intact (Fred Gwynne playing Herman, Yvonne De Carlo as Lily, Al Lewis depicting Grandpa, and Butch Patrick as Eddie), aside from Marilyn (Pat Priest replaced by Debbie Watson). British comedian Terry Thomas is somewhat annoying, portraying a grown man acting like a little spoilt child, but John Carradine pulls off an intriguing butler somewhere between sinister and quirky.
Although this childish slapstick humour is not for me, the script is well-handled for a nonsense run-around. All of the characters are given something to do, rather than aimlessly following others around. Additional plot strands tie-up probably too well together, allowing Grandpa and Herman to embark on a spooky and dangerous snoop around to uncover the counterfeit money, and Marilyn to meet up with a gentleman who turns out to be part of the feuding family – the Munster’s long-time rivals. The car race itself is pretty zany, but an enjoyable romp reminiscent of Genervieve. It’s intriguing to see the Munster family’s horror cosmetics; on the whole they hold up pretty well.
All of those who enjoyed the series re-runs will undoubtedly love this one, but for newcomers it will perhaps appeal more to a younger audience. The only extra is a theatrical trailer.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2022)
Robert Dominici is a piano virtuoso who, at a young age, is diagnosed with a very rare rapid ageing disease. Within a year he degenerates from a good-looking and musically skilled thirty- year-old with the world at his feet to a slow and sick deranged man of eighty. When he kills to cover his secret, Police Inspector Datti is assigned to investigate. But it proves more difficult than he first thought, because witnesses give completely different descriptions after each incident. As time goes by Dominici becomes increasingly unbalanced and phones the inspector to taunt him. Then he learns that a woman is pregnant with his child, and he is suddenly determined to kill the unborn baby to prevent it suffering his own devastating fate...
Off Balance, aka Phantom of Death, is an early release in the Shameless Screen Entertainment collection, which aims to release a number of violent horror or exploitation films, many of which will not have been seen in the UK before. This film's claim to fame (or should that be infamy?) is that it was helmed by Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato. That knowledge doesn't help the first fifteen minutes which is an absolute agony to endure. An overlong mimed piano piece precedes some forced acting and non-linear set pieces which cause you to lose interest before the film has really got going. The curious thing is that I changed my opinion of this movie several times in its duration, but it did gradually grow on me to a certain extent.
I'm not a fan of exploitation or gore-fest movies which have no agenda other than to shock and disgust, I consider them in bad taste. I'm not averse to violent horror, as long as what takes place is conducive to the plot, rather than a series of tedious set-pieces. The Shameless releases are marketed as depraved, vile, disturbing, etc. In this case I was delighted to discover that Phantom doesn't fall into this category. Granted, there are violent murders, but they are over in scant seconds with a small splash of theatre blood and positively no glorification in the acts. This makes you concentrate more on the plot and particularly the characters, which is as it should be.
Donald Pleasence reprises his role of Loomis from John Carpenter's Halloween in all but name, and Michael York appears to grow into his role as he goes along, as if the older his character appears the meatier his acting part should become. When Robert finds out about his rapid-ageing disease, we find out that the film isn't quite linear in its plot. The short scene in which he visits the house of someone with a more advanced stage of the rare disease is the most meaningful of the entire film - and it doesn't last more than a few seconds.
In conclusion, a better film than I was expecting, and worth a look if you can stay awake through the opening scenes.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2007)
Avian flu wipes out a little village in the Northern Philippines, and appears to spread to a poultry farm just outside Tokyo, Japan, when one of the residents travels to a wedding with a chicken as a gift. The authorities move in to contain the new outbreak, but many more people fall seriously ill, and it is spreading at an uncontrollable rate. As the public panics and natural order quickly dissolves, stripping Japan of its normality, a woman scientist arrives at the central Tokyo hospital with the directive to identify the virus. However, the pressure is on, with deaths now rising into the millions...
Let me begin by stating that, generally speaking, I’m not a big follower of natural disaster movies. It’s normally all about the spectacle rather than the inherent story (in other words, how other people are affected by events). The prospect of sitting through well over two hours of this scenario did not fill me with enthusiasm. I was, however, intrigued with how a Japanese director (in this case, Takahisa Zeze) might approach the depiction of a virus which could effectively break down a stable society.
The first part of the movie is somewhat slow to start, but that is probably due in part to too many characters being forced on the viewer practically simultaneously, and the fact that the initial inferred plot of avian influenza appears completely uninteresting (even if it does seem to spread from the Philippines to Tokyo and the rest of Japan).
Then a strange thing happens. The moment the virus is discovered to be something completely new, and not bird flu after all, events become much more personal as, conversely, the pandemic spreads. The handful of key characters emerge from the seeming cast of thousands, and suddenly we’re given realistic fictional people to identify with and care about.
The idea of the female scientist who is brought in to a hospital to help identify the virus having a past with one of the major doctors might conceivably be seen as being contrived (especially as neither of them look old enough to have much of a past), but it works, giving the isolated human events a central point.
Miraculously, the film turns into something very special, The vast majority of the actors are top notch and highly convincing in their reactions to a multitude of emotional traumas. You never at any point feel that a character is safe; many writers and directors are too protective of their main players, therefore inducing an involuntary predictability, but you never know here who is going to survive and who will perish.
Some people will need a box of tissues, as Pandemic cleverly tugs at the heart strings, and the film concludes on a thought-provoking touch of poignancy. Highly recommended, and worth sticking with though the first half hour of so when I wavered and very nearly prematurely wrote it off.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2011)
Ken Boyd has just returned to his home town after time spent in a psychiatric hospital, addressing problems stemming from his constant torment by the college basketball team. A recluse, a loner, and a closet horror artist, he spends his days working at the ice-cream parlour and suffering verbal abuse in the evenings from his long-suffering and unsympathetic mother. Further confusion and awkwardness sets in when he finds himself the attention of a beautiful young woman, and a daughter he never knew he had. But he hasn’t forgotten his ill-treatment at college, and pretty soon the bodies begin to stack up...
It’s an extremely refreshing viewing experience to be surprised by a film. Having never come across this one before, the title had me believe it might be another sordid fictionalised biopic of a serial killer, or at best a horror-comedy, which seldom works as well as it should. However, even when you do realise the premise of the story, the seemingly standard offering gets lifted by a number ingredients. This is a movie which is much more than the sum of its parts. It cleverly transcends several genres; incorporating, and so potentially appealing to, followers of horror (particularly slasher movies), murder mystery/police procedurals, dark comedy, emotional family tales, and the feel-good factor.
An extra added advantage seen here in all its glory is the obvious chemistry between the actors, allowing the characters to really flesh-out in a relatively short space of time. Kevin Corrigan, who plays the key character of Ken Boyd, brilliantly keeps his part introverted and yet darkly comedic. Lucy Davis plays wannabe girlfriend Stephanie with a skittishness which means she has experienced problems of her own. Barry Bostwick’s portrayal of the sheriff is initially tiresomely lightweight and distracted, but we discover he has layers. He has the backbone to stand up to politicians, and he surprises everyone - even his deputy - by getting to the heart of the matter.
The film is given an emotional poignancy with the sub-plot of Ken’s newly discovered daughter. He has no idea how to react to her; there is a wall he has built around himself, and he isn’t sure he wants to live in the real world any more than going through the motions. Of course, he isn’t used to nice things happening to him, and has difficulties making the adjustments.
Of course, a large percentage of viewers are going to predict the outcome as easily as if it were displayed in subtitles, but that in no way detracts from what is essentially a hugely enjoyable film. I will say I was disappointed with the lack of extras considering this is in Blu-ray format. The Making of... is a scant few minutes long, and there is only a (albeit entertaining) Commentary to accompany it.
On a final note: John Landis was once connected with this movie, but moved on to another project. Director Jack Perez asked if he could still use his name as Executive Producer. Landis agreed and was very pleased with the outcome. Well, why wouldn’t he be?
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2012)
Lt. Ethan Bishop is assigned to Precinct 13 in Anderson, which is being systematically shut-down and moved elsewhere. Only a skeleton crew of the captain, a desk sergeant and two administration women are in place. Bishop is understandably expecting a quiet night, but chaos is about to descend in a manner he could never have predicted. A handful of dangerous prisoners (including the notorious Napoleon "Got a Smoke" Wilson) are being transported by bus to another location, but when one of their number falls seriously ill they are obliged to divert to the nearest police station - namely, Precinct 13. Meanwhile, a man is driving through the district with a little girl. As he stops to make a phone call, the girl goes to get an ice-cream... just as a street gang member is confronting the driver of the van. Consequentially, she is gunned-down. The distraught man drives after the gunman and kills him, but when the rest of the gang appears he is forced to flee for his life to Precinct 13. What follows is all-night assault on the station. If Bishop and the others are to survive, they will need the help of Napoleon Wilson. But can they trust him...?
This is much more than a straightforward street gang shoot-em-up. Carpenter ideally wanted to make a western in the vein of his hero Howard Hawks, but westerns were beginning to become outdated, and he couldn't afford the sets and costumes. So, he elected to do something rather clever; he wrote a then contemporary reworking of Hawks' Rio Bravo, with a siege situation on a police precinct. It's important for the sake of the story that there is only a handful of people holding out in an essentially disused station. The telephone lines are dead so there's no contact with the outside world, and no back-up support from other units. There is also a limited supply of ammunition for the few guns they have. The gang uses silencers so that their gunshots cannot be heard and attract unwanted attention. The Street Thunder gang created by Carpenter is interracial, raising its status to pure retaliation against the police for its surprise shoot-to-kill attack on the gang at the start of the film.
Assault on Precinct 13 was the first of a number of films he would make with a siege theme. He also incorporated a strong woman character (Leigh, named after Leigh Brackett - the writer of Rio Bravo) which he always felt was very important. Carpenter edited the movie under the pseudonym John T. Chance, which was the name of the sheriff in Rio Bravo. There's an element of wry humour present, especially in the scene when the hot potato game is played to decide who goes into the sewer through a manhole cover to seek escape. This is also John Carpenter's first full music score, and he produces a memorable theme said to be influenced slightly by Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song' and the music from the Dirty Harry film.
Remembering what happened on Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13 was the first film he had total control over; something he would insist on from this point onward. The film was released to a muted response in America. The MPAA made Carpenter cut out the scene wherein the little girl is shot dead. This he did, but only in the version sent to the MPAA, thereby sneaking the film out intact. He obviously knew that the entire plot pivoted on this moment, because the avenging man is followed to the precinct. It was its release in Europe which proved momentous, particularly its successful presentation at the 1977 London Film Festival. Irwin Yablans of Compass International saw the film and asked Carpenter to make a movie of his idea for babysitter murders set on Halloween. A classic and timeless movie was about to take the industry by storm.
Extras on this disc consist of a Q&A with John Carpenter & Austin 'Bishop' Stoker, a Carpenter Commentary (always worth listening to, believe me), a Photo Gallery, Trailers and the Music Score.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2008)
Bavaria is the setting for this period piece of madness and incest. Baron Zorn fears his family line of insanity and in-breeding has affected his own offspring. Elizabeth and Emil are kept docile by blood-letting and locked-up in separate rooms. Zorn himself is being treated by the frankly untrustworthy psychiatrist Professor Falkenberg. The truth will finally be revealed, but not before more people die...
By the early 1970s some people felt that Hammer Horror had run its course – particularly in terms of quality and originality. In reality, the company was as prolific as it had been since The Curse of Frankenstein in the late 1950s. However, what we started to see was a very mixed bag. The Horror of Frankenstein, The Devil Rides Out, Dracula AD 1972, and others (including the Hammer House of Horror TV series) proved they were still able to produce the goods. There was a return though to psychological thriller scripts, in some circumstances thinly disguised (or certainly marketed) as horror.
Demons of the Mind (1972) is an odd one. Because the events are non-linear the viewer has no inkling as to what is happening on the screen. Of course, there’s a backstory, but for the majority of the film it seems that a series of hysteria-related set pieces are paraded before us. No one appears to act with any kind of logic or reason. It’s as if the cast was pushed in front of the camera and told to run around like their tail was on fire. Either that or told to go glassy-eyed and pretend they were somewhere else. With Robert Hardy and Patrick Magee as the stars you expect a little more; however, in any situation like this it’s down to the material they are given to work with.
I realise this all stems from the madness of one character, but I don’t think this concept has much mileage. Eking it out over 89 minutes is excruciating. Perhaps if the scenes had been tightened and scripted differently it may have allowed the viewer to engage more sympathetically with the story. I suppose Hammer should be commended for trying something different. Certainly, there’s plenty of graphic violence (including a close-up throat-cutting, a frantic stabbing of keys through a throat, and the impaling of a flaming cross through a torso – to name but a few), which is tempered occasionally by some titillation (I have to say Virginia Wetherell was quite a picture). When presented to EMI they had no idea how to react to it. It couldn’t really be classified under any distinct sub-genre and so EMI didn’t know how to market the thing. In the end it was put out as a support to another movie.
I agree with EMI. It’s a bit of a mess.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2017)
In this, one of a number of Hammer Films being re-released in Doubleplay editions to celebrate 60 years of Hammer Horror, a young woman who has suffered a nervous breakdown and has been undergoing psychological counseling meets and marries a man who has secured a live-in job at a remote boys school. Having been attacked by an intruder with a prosthetic arm at her previous home, she is far from stable, but when her new husband is regularly sent away on errands by the headmaster she is left to her own devices. Attacked again, she suspects the creepy but gentlemanly headmaster, but is he the real enemy...?
It turns out the school suffered a serious fire in the past and was closed. The headmaster bought the building and restored it to its former glory, and now carries on as if nothing happened – except there are no children. He has electrical switches which activate recordings of the children in lessons or in the dining hall. Just that idea is bizarre. Peter Cushing, however, plays the part with formal aplomb (he really was an outstanding actor). He only makes a handful of appearances here, but it’s enough to make his mark. In fact, I believe he only filmed for two or three days.
Joan Collins is suitably snooty as the headmaster’s wife, Ralph Bates is solid enough, and Judy Gleeson spends the whole thing looking stunned and confused – which works well as the fragile victim of the piece. The final moment of the film confirms this is just the right characterisation.
Fear in the Night from 1972 works really well as a suspense thriller rather than out-and out horror. It is one of only a small number of Hammer movies with a then-contemporary rather than period setting. It is undoubtedly the Jimmy Sangster show, as the regular writer turned in the screenplay as well as both producing and directing. It was his final contribution. Check out his great autobiography Do You Want It Good Or Tuesday? He connects the scenes in this film using linking dialogue – even halfway through a sentence – and in one case with a kiss. This gives the false impression of a fast-moving plot. It’s a neat trick.
I first reviewed this movie in 2006 but, as it was part of The Ultimate Hammer Collection Box Set (over 20 films), space and time prevented more than two or three lines. So it’s definitely nice to get this opportunity to review this one in its own right. There’s a short documentary wherein Hammer historians talk about the movie. I’m sure there was a Jimmy Sangster commentary on the disc included with the Collection Box Set, but for some reason it’s not included here.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2017)
Everyone's favourite fictional Chinese tyrant is back (I think I can safely say 'favourite' because there isn't any more, is there?), and once again he has plans of world domination. Can't he just read a book when he's bored like normal people! Believe me when I say his new scheme is completely diabolical. In The Blood of Fu Manchu, he of the droopy moustache plans to poison all his enemies and anyone who has dared to criticise his dodgy accent (sirry iriot!). To achieve this aim he has kidnapped several attractive young women - all in the cause of science, of course (ahem) - and keeps them chained on the walls in skimpy underwear (sounds reasonable to me). A particular small snake from the Brazilian jungle has a poison which will kill a man but not a woman. Once bitten the woman becomes a carrier and can kill a man with a deadly kiss. The women are hypnotised into understanding the plot (or at least the paycheque) and sent to all the major capitals of the world. Top of the list is London, home of the stiff upper lip and tea on the terrace, and in particular the thorn in our bad guy's side Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard...
In Castle of Fu Manchu, an extract of opium and a lot of bubbling chemicals and equipment with huge levers allows our cheeky Chinese chappy to manipulate the oceans. As a demonstration of his power and all-round nastiness he sinks a (blue-tinted) liner. However, his glorified radiogram blows a valve, overloads and sends his installation to kingdom come. Moving his operation to the inconspicuous location of a huge Istanbul castle, he gives the world two weeks to comply with his (unspecified) ultimatums - probably "Watch my DVDs or I'll make more sequels!" By a happy coincidence two weeks is just long enough for our eminently civilised hero Nayland Smith to return from holiday, trace the fiend and put a stop to his shenanigans.
Richard Greene (looking for all the world like Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady) takes on the mantle of Assistant Commissioner Nayland Smith for these two adaptations, worn by Douglas Wilmer in the first three films. Reprising his role from those films is Howard Marion Crawford as every woman's favourite dish, Doctor Petrie (that's a joke, by the way!). Thankfully he's not such a bumbling fool this time, just very British as he complains about lack of tea and his aversion to going abroad.
If these films are supposed to be tongue-in-cheek it makes them easier to accept, if not they're too bad for words... but bad in a way that you can have fun criticising them. For example: the curved blades carried by Fu Manchu's men flap about like cardboard and they don't even make contact when someone is killed; a heart transplant is carried out on a sick professor with no life-support (so why doesn't he die when his old heart is removed, and why is it only a fraction of the size it should be?); and the dialogue is funny or cringe-worthy in several places. The once which really make me chuckle was "He's dead." "What completely?"
This is a single two-sided disc. In my review for Vengeance of Fu Manchu I said the films don't make for an attractive release singularly but they might prove more popular as two films packaged together. So here we are with just that, a two-sided single disc with Blood on one side (that would have been a nice marketing idea) and Castle on the other. Was someone listening? Nah.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2004)
A spate of kidnappings of young women take place in various countries, after which their fathers travel abroad for weeks at a time. It seems the men are all scientists or engineers skilled in the transmission of radio waves, being forced to work under threat of harm to their daughters. The villain of the piece plans to have constructed for him a piece of apparatus compact and powerful enough to direct masses of energy from one point to another. In doing so, he will possess a weapon with which to hold the world to ransom. And who should be behind this dastardly wicked and evil scheme? Why none other than Fu Manchu. What do you mean, you guessed that from the title?...
On the case is Assistant Commissioner Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer) of Scotland Yard, with his regular companion Doctor Petrie (Howard Marion-Crawford), an eminent pathologist. In all but name they are Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson; Smith is too perfect for his own good, and Petrie is an educated but bumbling fool, prompting recall of the Basil Rathbone portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character. For no other reason than it appears logical, Smith suspects his arch nemesis of the kidnappings. Can it be true? Could Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) still be alive? You betcha stick-on-moustache he is! After two attempts at abduction are foiled in London (right outside the Tower!), the third succeeds, and it is then up to Smith to find the underground lair of Fu Manchu before terrible devastation is wreaked in the name of power.
The first demonstration of power is to be the destruction of the Winsor Castle (obviously, they only succeeded in setting it ablaze 25 years or so after the fact!). However, the Winsor Castle turns out to be a ship. The next main target is to be the international peace conference taking place in London. "Quick, men, on to the roof. Destroy that aerial before it picks up EastEnders."
The villain's underground headquarters is reminiscent of a Chinese temple, and the characters within this setting play very much like an episode of Thunderbirds in which Fu Manchu could so easily be The Hood. There's even a pit of peril, in this case containing snakes.
"Mister Tr...acy. I th...think we're g...going to need p...pod five."
"Okay, Brains. Off you go, Virgil. Be careful, son, he has a radio and he's not afraid to use it."
Watch it in glorious SuperOrientNation.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003)
At the end of the last film he said the world would hear again from Fu Manchu and, unfortunately, it was no idle threat. So what could possibly be the latest wicked and abominable scheme to originate from the Chinese mastermind we all love to hate? Apparently, he plans to bore the world into submission by subjecting the masses to an inane and pretty much pointless sequel. Only joking... I think. No, really the Chinese chappy embarks on a quest for the lost plot! At the beginning of the film Fu Manchu is beheaded for his crimes to humanity, in front of his arch enemy and all-round good egg, Nayland Smith. But if you can keep your head when all around you lose theirs, you'll discover that the executed man was only an impostor. And there I was hoping for the shortest film in the series yet!
This time he means to cultivate the Blackhill poppy for use as a weapon. To achieve this Fu Manchu continues his fetish for kidnapping professors and their daughters by taking Professor Muller to work on a secret serum previously known only to a religious order of the Himalayas. There's a bust-up at a museum when the Chinaman's henchmen arrive through the sewers to steal the papers which contain the required formula; it's going badly for the meagre security until the stiff upper lip of Assistant Commissioner Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard gives those Chinese a good piece of his mind. Nevertheless, Fu Manchu gets his claws on the papers and forces the professor to produce the dangerous liquid. A single pint of the extract of Blackhill poppy is enough to kill thousands of people. Above freezing it is harmless, but below freezing it proves lethal. That's a happy coincidence for our evil perpetrator whose demonstration of power, the town of Fleetwick, is suffering from a particularly cold spell. As a result, 3000 inhabitants and soldiers are killed. Fu Manchu then turns his attention further afield, and only Nayland Smith can stop him. Someone fetch that man a cape.
The main four or five characters return yet again for more set piece shenanigans. This is at best mediocre stuff. I think the oriental's masterplan is about to be revealed: he means to wear down us hardworking reviewers. After only three of these films, I'm hoping the world will see rather less of Fu Manchu.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003)
Our dastardly Chinese master criminal returns to the seat of his ancestors (and a very comfy seat it is too) in a province two days from Shanghai. He fakes an earthquake to seal off access to outsiders, before kidnapping a missionary doctor and his daughter, bringing them in across the mountains. Threatening the daughter, he persuades the doctor to surgically change a person to look like his enemy Assistant Commissioner Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard. Miraculously, 48 hours later the facial paint by numbers is completed, and Fu Manchu arranges a switch whilst Smith is holidaying in Ireland. The real Smith is transported as a prisoner to the Chinese province; meanwhile the impostor returns to London, commits murder and is promptly sentenced to death. The Chinaman intends to do the same to prominent law enforcement officers around the world as a demonstration of his power to the underworld. In this manner he will group all the world's main criminal organisations together under his leadership. But has the Fu Man bitten off more than he can chu? (sorry, I couldn't resist that one)...
Here we have another film based on Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu stories. All of the main characters return (Douglas Wilmer as the bogus Smith spending half the movie looking like a corpse freshly pulled from the grave), and the format is pretty much the same. Although this is set around the same period as the Sherlock Holmes tales, there is an element of overacting amidst the formal properness of the educated professional characters which reminded me of The Green Hornet with Bruce Lee and particularly the camp sixties Batman series, but without the fun. The many fight sequences are comical without intending to be so. Large curved blades look to be cut from tin and have painted on bloodstains. Each fighter waits until his opponent is ready before attacking, and Fu Manchu's assassin henchmen go down like a ton of bricks under a good old British bunch-of-fives.
Surely this was money for old rope for our very own master of horror, Christopher Lee. He has very little to do, the main requirements for the part apparently being to look evil and occasionally tweak his moustache. Granted, his villainous part is a thinker rather than a doer, but it seems an incredible waste for such an accomplished actor. I'm sorry to say that the best thing about this film is the scenery which at times is stunning. With no extras apart from the trailer, these films do not appear an attractive purchase. Perhaps two films packaged together as a single release might have been worth a tenner of somebody's money.
According to the conclusion of this film, "The World will hear again from Fu Manchu." I feel another review coming on..
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2003)
Jane is an American zoology student who takes a job at the English isolated cliff-top house of leading anthropologist Doctor Steven Phillip. His work explores the link between apes and man, and involves three subjects: Voodoo, a violent and unruly female; Imp, a friendly and child-like chimp; and Link, a circus-trained ape who is dressed and utilised as a servant companion. After an incident in the lab, Dr Phillip goes missing and Jane is obliged to look after the apes alone. A subtle change in the hierarchy means she effectively becomes trapped in the house as one of the apes displays psychotic tendencies...
Director Richard Franklin had been attempting to get this movie made since 1980 or 1981. He soon realised that men in ape suits wouldn’t work for this project, as it relies on a number of close-ups. It proved a revelation turning to expert animal trainer Ray Berwick, who did not receive a single complaint of animal cruelty when the film was released – due to his exemplary handling of the apes. Link was initially going to be more of a factual concept. Scientific research into violence amongst chimpanzees countered the earlier long-time theory that man is the only species who makes war upon itself. Franklin chose to make the picture in England, his only gripe on the extras interview being an exaggerated comment about everything stopping for tea breaks.
Two aspects combine creatively to make this work. One is the, frankly, truly amazing animal training techniques of Berwick, and the other is the clever filming and editing which ensures we see significantly more than is actually going on. To use a football analogy, this is a game of two halves. It’s true to say that for the first half of the film very little happens. This is setting the scene and building-up to the suspense thriller which follows. The large house on the coast used as the location means there is plenty of space to play with and, more importantly, isolation. A basement that not only houses the main gas supply but which leads out to the rocks at sea level, therefore allowing a temporary means of escape, is believable in this context. Although not fully explained, I liked the addition of wild dogs on the Moor, making it impossible to seek help without a vehicle.
The primary cast are pretty solid in their performances, which was not always the case in 1980s horror flicks. Terence Stamp (Perhaps most fondly remembered for General Zod in Superman II) does a Janet Leigh and goes missing halfway through the running time as Dr Phillip. The mainstay in this – aside from the apes themselves – is Elisabeth Shue, who plays the student Jane. She is undoubtedly best known for her role alongside Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid. She is very good in this movie. There are some interesting cameos, too. Geoffrey Beevers has appeared on television and on stage numerous times, but is remembered by SF enthusiasts for his role as The Master in The Keeper of Traken, alongside Tom Baker in Doctor Who. His real life wife Caroline John (sadly deceased) is also in the movie. She was in Doctor Who many years before, alongside John Pertwee’s Doctor. The unmistakable Kevin Lloyd from The Bill also makes an appearance.
The Blu-ray has a 4K restoration as well as the following extras: An Audio Commentary by Film Historian Lee Gambin and Film Critic Jarret Gahan; An Interview with Film Programmer and Horror Expert Anna Bogutskaya; Deleted Workprint Scenes; An Interview with Director Richard Franklin (Audio Only); and the UK Theatrical Teaser Trailer. I couldn’t sign-off without mentioning the soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith, and in particular the main Link theme. It’s jaunty to the point of being ridiculous… until it is played again at the end of the film. Due to the direction the film takes, the jaunty theme suddenly takes on sinister connotations. There is a demo of the theme on the extra features. Well worth a watch.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2021)
A young woman attempting to pick her life up after a less than acrimonious split with her boyfriend, is looking for a new apartment. She comes across one barely finished, but in a prime location and at a very reasonable price. The owner appears to be a perfect gentleman, but appearances can be deceiving. Very soon, she begins to get the impression that something is seriously amiss - particularly when she invariably wakes up in the morning feeling tired and unwell. As if that isn’t enough, she has a number of unsettling encounters with the landlord’s sinister elderly father. To convince herself she isn’t paranoid, she has a camera system installed. But she remains in imminent peril...
As I opinioned when reviewing Let Me In, news of another outing from Hammer Films is genuinely cause for celebration. The company has a legendary reputation. The Resident has the huge added selling point of starring, alongside Hilary Swain and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, veteran actor Christopher Lee. Although Lee has been at pains to distance himself from his horror icon status over the years (for heaven sakes, WHY?), this is a coming home of sorts - and he proves quite beyond doubt, despite his advanced age, that he still packs a chilling punch.
Nevertheless, after tearing down the drapes and stripping off the wallpaper, this film is simply a stalker thriller, based in an apartment building. I have to say that this has been done a thousand times now; Pacific Heights, John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me, Panic Room, and many in between. In terms of originality... well, it isn’t. However, it is competently plotted and well-structured, and even tense in all the right places. It’s just that it’s predictable and, consequently, the spark of enjoyment flickers and dies pretty early on. Simple ideas are often the best, but there is a limit.
Let’s see something more original next time, Hammer, it’s what we - and you - deserve.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2011)
In 1954 a pregnant woman is the only survivor of a terrible plane crash. Although she later dies at hospital, the baby miraculously survives. She is healthy in every way except she won't wake up. Seven years later a little boy is in hospital with asthma. Against orders he wanders the corridors, and finds a sleeping girl in a secluded room. A nurse tells him the girl has never woken up since being born, and that she is a Sleeping Beauty. The boy looks up the fable in a book and then returns to her bedside, saying, "Wake up. I am a prince," and kissing her. This becomes a daily ritual, even after he is released from hospital. He returns regularly on the bus, bringing her wild flowers and a kiss. In 1972, as a teenage schoolboy he sees a flashback news report of the aircrash and is disgusted with himself that he could ever have forgotten. The ritual begins again. When she eventually does wake up she develops staggeringly quickly from a baby to a normal late teenager. They become very close, but then she drops the bombshell that she was told by someone in her sleep she would be awake for only five days...
What can I say about Sleeping Bride except that it's an unsung masterpiece. It isn't horror or fantasy, but it does have a thoroughly magical quality.
I thought this film from 2000 by Hideo Nakata had simply been thrown in to The Ring Trilogy - Collector's Edition to make the package look better, but this is without doubt the jewel in the crown of the 4-disc set. The balance and pacing couldn't be bettered; we are expertly taken though the emotions of sadness, melancholia, happiness, anger and pain with a gentle manipulation of the viewer. These are characters you really care about.
I enjoyed this one so much that I watched it again only two days later, and I can happily report that the effect was not diminished. Like Mary Poppins: "Perfect in every way."
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2021)
Brenda is a naïve young woman who tells her mother she is pregnant and wants to find the father. In fact, she wants to go to London to find her Prince Charming and have a child with him. Securing a job in a boutique, another girl offers her a room at her place. But when Brenda is betrayed, she walks the streets where she meets a wealthy young man with a dog. Thinking all her prayers have been answered she stays with him, only to discover the man Peter is seriously unhinged, with psychotic tendencies...
Straight On Till Morning is another in the collection of Doubleplay releases from Hammer Films via StudioCanal. In the early 1970s Hammer wanted to go in a new direction, returning in part to their psychological thrillers of the 1950s. This was marketed as a double bill with the similar format Fear in the Night. Straight On Till Morning is quite a departure from their standard horror theme. Hammer’s attempt to be gritty and realistic in the urban hardship of late '60s Liverpool (this was originally screened in 1972) comes over like an amalgamation of Cathy Come Home and Peeping Tom.
Creating a groovy and happening London full with beautiful women and promiscuity makes it all the more surreal when the serpent is revealed in paradise. Rita Tushingham handles the role of the innocent ‘Plain Jane’ very commendably. Shane Briant is infinitely superior in this than the mess that was Demons of the Mind – although he regularly sinks into a trance-like state in both films. As for the very popular James Bolam, he’s woefully underutilised.
This film is directed purposefully off-kilter by Peter Collinson of The Italian Job fame (one of my all-time favourites) by way of shooting through scenery and other objects. However, the choice of music is not good; Roland Shaw’s horrible jazzy music played throughout drives you to distraction.
The ending is left ambiguous as, after Peter mentally tortures Brenda by playing her recordings of him killing his dog and the friend who had betrayed her, he is seen alone and slowly rocking himself. Is Brenda dead? We’ll never know. A bold new approach from Hammer with a shocking plot theme for the time, but which only succeeds in part.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2018)
With acting dignitaries such as Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone on parade here you would be forgiven for thinking Tower of London is a horror film in the vein of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum. Rathbone is of course best known for his portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s super sleuth Sherlock Holmes in a number of films (I have the box set of these and for me he was the ultimate Holmes, with only Peter Cushing coming anywhere close).
However, this black and white movie dating back to 1939 is a purely historical piece dramatising the much despised ascension of Richard III to the throne. This was a blood thirsty time of scheming and treachery which makes contemporary manic machinations seem like a paltry skip through the daisies. Richard is sixth in line to the throne, but he has strong and lamentable ambitions to be king. He has a little cupboard wherein figures of those who stand in his way lead up to the current king. The film – with the help of a little poetic licence – depicts how Richard ruthlessly planned and killed them one-by-one, including the king’s brother the Duke of Clarence (featuring a very young-looking Price) and his two young sons.
Boris Karloff plays the executioner Mord, confidant to Richard and the product of his murderous hand. In true Karloff style he has a bald head, grand bushy eyebrows and a club foot. He does much of Richard’s bidding, but a nice moment in which he appears to suffer a conflict of conscience regarding killing the boys is wasted in the blink of an eye. Rathbone is suitably nasty, manipulating everyone around him. The battle scenes are well-handled by showing great numbers rushing in to confront each other, and then concentrating close-ups on individual skirmishes.
The story was plotted by the history researching Robert N. Lee, who is the brother of the director Rowland V. Lee. The film is well-constructed and tells its tale well, but I did rather feel like I was having a history lesson rather than enjoying an entertaining fictional movie.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2017)
Jill Johnson is a babysitter for Dr and Mrs Mandrakis. Early in the evening she receives a distressing call. A voice on the telephone asks, “Have you checked the children?” This is the first of a series of calls which prompt her to call the police. The children are brutally murdered, and the police find the killer still in their room, but Jill survives because she hadn’t gone upstairs and checked on the kids (not likely, is it?). Seven years later the killer escapes from a psychiatric hospital. Charles Clifford is a police detective turned private investigator, hired by the father of the children to find their killer, Curt Duncan. Clifford suspects Duncan has returned to the city he knows. But also living there is Jill Johnson, now with two children of her own...
Fred Walton’s When a Stranger Calls was released in cinemas in 1979, just a year after John Carpenter’s Halloween. Whether they were aware of each other’s existence is in question, but either way you can’t avoid the similarities. The working title for Halloween was The Babysitter Murders, and there had been a real life event wherein a babysitter and the children had been killed by an unknown assailant. Walton and his fellow scriptwriter Steve Feke loosely did that story as a short film called Sitter (included on this disc), in order get backing to turn it into a feature. Carpenter – who had already gone through this process with his first feature, Dark Star – famously went down the route of the faceless psychopath in the darkness, and the rest is history.
I don’t think Stranger possesses the impact it once had; however, it has got certain strengths. Carol Kane goes for an impactful performance as Jill, which is infinitely better than Lucia Stralser’s somewhat subdued variation in the aforementioned short, Sitter. It’s not so much a vulnerability, as much more intensive and expression-filled shock/horror. Her reaction to receiving a call from the police, telling her they’ve traced the menacing calls to the house she is in, puts a brief shiver down your spine.
Charles Durning as Clifford the P.I. is solid as you would expect an established actor to be, but the surprise here is Tony Beckley. He plays the killer with a lot of uncertainty. It is said that Beckley lacked confidence in the presence of more well-known performers, and so doubted his ability greatly. This comes through strongly as a vulnerability which conflicts with his ‘needs’ – something which is seldom, if ever, seen in the portrayal of a twisted villain. The final scene, wherein he is revealed to be in the bed with Jill, when she believes it to be her husband, is very well handled for a low budget film. (6)
When a Stranger Calls Back (1993) has a young woman babysitting for a couple, when there is a knock at the door. Someone wants to come in and use the phone to ring the vehicle breakdown service. She takes verbal details and assures him she will ring them. When she discovers the phone is dead, she feels it is safer to pretend she has rung. But that is just the beginning of her nightmare. Both of the children are missing, and five years later it starts again when she realises someone is getting into her apartment and making subtle changes to unnerve her. When she reports it to the police, they are far from convinced, simply calling the campus psychologist. This turns out to be Jill Johnson, the babysitter from the original film. She in turn calls in the help of her friend Charles Clifford, who had saved her life. He is convinced the girl is genuine and does not have psychological problems – even after she supposedly attempts suicide. Furthermore, he believes the perpetrator to be a ventriloquist; able to throw his voice to sound like he is outside when he is actually inside with the victim. Jill’s life turns full circle after taking an interest, when the unbalanced new killer turns his attention to her...
This is a made for TV sequel to the first film. Again, there is a prolonged babysitting sequence to start the film, but this time around there is significantly more meat on the bones. It begins as a mystery, and we are actually in the last third of the film before the killer is even seen. Less shocks, you might say, but more inventiveness. It may help that we are already familiar with two of the characters, but for me – as scandalous as it might sound – I think this second film is infinitely the better of the two. (7)
Second Sight Films should be commended here for proving that two films will comfortably fit on one Blu-ray disc, with room to spare for special features. Here we get the short film Sitter – newly restored; and separate interviews with Fred Walton, Carol Kane, Rutanya Alda, and composer Dana Kaproff. There was a 2006 remake of the first film (Walton wasn’t involved) but, although it did okay at the box office, it’s a bit of a non-entity.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2018)
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