Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965, Freddie Francis)

Another horror anthology from the writer/director of Tales from the Crypt, this one with an even weaker framing story. But now it’s Peter Cushing’s turn to be the arch-villain (vith ze fake german accent), a psychic who predicts very specific supernatural deaths for everyone riding in his train car, including skeptic Christopher Lee.

First, Neil McCallum (of forgotten thriller Catacombs) is an architect who clumsily frees an evil werewolf from inside the walls of old Mrs. Biddulph’s home, faces the consequences.

In the silliest segment, Bill (BBC DJ Alan Freeman) brings home botanist Jeremy Kemp (of Blake Edwards’s Darling Lili) to examine his haunted vine. “A plant like that could take over the world,” Bill is told, before it kills them all.

Next, Roy Castle, who joined Cushing in a Dr. Who movie the same year, is musician Biff Bailey. He travels to the West Indies, disrespects voodoo rituals and makes a jazz arrangement of their sacred music, bringing vengeance in the form of a face-painted black man who appears in Biff’s apartment and murders him. Pretty much the same plot as the Papa Benjamin episode of Thriller a few years earlier.

Roy runs across the movie’s own poster:

For some reason the movie doesn’t save the skeptic’s episode for last. “I live by my vision,” says art critic Christopher Lee, so of course he is blinded in crash. But first, he has a cruel rivalry with painter Michael Gough (The Horse’s Mouth), crushes Gough’s hand in a hit-and-run, then after Gough kills himself the hand follows Lee, causing the blinding crash. At least it’s more eventful than the haunted vine.

Finally young doctor Donald Sutherland (in only his second real film role) brings home new wife Nicole (Jennifer Jayne of MST3K-bait The Crawling Eye). Max Adrian (Delius in Delius) is the only other doctor in town, suspects that the blood-drinking bat-morphing Nicole might be a vampire, convinces Donald to kill her with a stake. Twist: Max Adrian is a vampire using Donald to eliminate his competition, as Donald is carted off to jail.

But wait – they were dead all along!

But wait – if that’s true, what was the point of all the stories? Each passenger, even skeptic Christopher Lee, queasily accepted his own ludicrous tale of future demise, never interjecting “oh I doubt a vine is going to kill my whole family” or “but I’ve never even been to the West Indies,” or “then I won’t dig the werewolf casket out of the lady’s wall, so now do I get to live?” The tales are assumed to take place in the future, since on the train Lee is not blind, and Donald is not in jail. Then they’re all supposedly killed in a train accident, so either Dr. Terror was completely fucking with them or else he was holding them captive with his stories in order that they would die – but without the stories, where else would they have gone? All I’m saying is that Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors might contain some inconsistencies.

Three Musketeers (1973, Richard Lester)

I expected to like this a lot more, considering the last 1970′s Richard Lester star-studded period adaptation I watched. Adapted by the guy who wrote Octopussy and a few later Lester films, which starred some of the Musketeers, so I guess there were no hard feelings all around.

Logan’s Run star Michael York is our excitable young D’Artangnan, who teams with musketeers Oliver Reed (between The Devils and Tommy), Frank Finlay (his follow-up to Shaft In Africa) and Richard Chamberlain (Julie Christie’s husband in Petulia). The evil Cardinal Heston plans to undermine the monarchy by exposing Queen Geraldine Chaplin’s affair with Duke Simon Ward. Heston and his partner Faye Dunaway try to preserve evidence of the affair while the Musketeers ride to their presumed deaths trying to hide it. Doesn’t seem like the most noble use of their talents in service of the king, but whatever, it’s pretty fun. Christopher Lee and Spike Milligan were in there somewhere, too.

Burke and Hare (2011, John Landis)

Perfect example of a movie that works in theory, but lacks something essential. Strong performances by good comic actors (I was happily surprised by Andy Serkis), funny situations and dialogue, strong historical interest, and good energy. So why is it such an average movie? Blame Landis?

Simon “Burke” Pegg tries to buy the favor of feminist actress Isla Fisher, while Hare is content with his wife Lucky (Spaced star Jessica Hynes). The intrigue revolves around head doctors at competing medical schools – old-school Tim Curry, who gets the law on his side, and Tom Wilkinson, who resorts to hiring our heroes to provide him bodies on which to experiment (leading to the undignified death of poor Christopher Lee). Bill Bailey plays a narrating executioner and David Hayman is a gangster who wants protection money but ends up dead in the operating theater. Movie closes on a present-day shot of Burke’s skeleton, still preserved in Edinburgh – perfect ending to a historical black comedy.

I haven’t much to say, so thought I’d end by stealing a native Edinburgh perspective from Shadowplay, but damn it, they haven’t watched this one yet.

Buy from Amazon:
Burke & Hare DVD

Hugo (2011, Martin Scorsese)

Scorsese’s first major non-DiCaprio feature in a decade.

After the films of Georges Méliès aren’t popular anymore, he burns his props, donates his precious drawing robot to a museum and opens a trinket shop in a train station. Museum worker Jude Law takes the robot home to repair it then dies in an explosion. Museum man’s son Hugo, secretly the station’s clock-winder since his drunk uncle (Sexy Beast star Ray Winstone) has disappeared, repairs the mechanical man and, Amelie-like, presents it to Georges Méliès, rekindling his hopes, dreams and love of cinema. Help comes from Méliès wife (Helen McCrory: Tony Blair’s wife in The Queen, Malfoy’s mum in Harry Potter), an author of a book on cinema (Michael Stuhlbarg, star of A Serious Man) and Chloe Moretz, who seems to have gotten younger since her last few films.

Some side plots are loosely integrated – they must be leftovers from the novel. Inspector Cohen has a crush on lovely flower girl Emily Mortimer (of Shutter Island) but is embarrassed by his mechanical leg brace, Christopher Lee is a forbidding/kindhearted book seller, and Richard Griffiths (uncle Monty in Withnail) is doing something or other with Frances de la Tour (in charge of the Albert Finney’s Head science project in Cold Lazarus) and her dog.

Set at the Gare Montparnasse train station where the famous photograph of the train derailment was shot – Hugo must’ve seen the photo because he dreams himself causing it. Some good cinema-reference, a few lovely bits of 3D (and some 90 minutes where I barely noticed the effect), and a nice performance by Ben Kingsley, but ultimately I couldn’t shake the feeling that it’s just a well-made kids movie.

The Mummy (1959, Terence Fisher)

Don’t think I’ve watched a mummy movie since I was eight, because that’s the last time a living mummy seemed scary or interesting (I’m not counting the 1990′s Mummy series, since those were more about poor computer effects than mummies). But for some reason I watched this instead of The Curse of Frankenstein as my annual Hammer horror. And it wasn’t scary or interesting. Not a terrible movie, a classy-looking production but, well, it’s about a mummy. What can you do with that?

Same writer and director as Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein movies, starring Creature/Count Christopher Lee as the mummy and Doctors Frankenstein & Van Helsing Peter Cushing as the wimpy archaeologist who defeats it. Lee appears unbandaged in flashback scenes, a high priest with a forbidden love for a princess (Yvonne Furneaux, title character in something called Frankenstein’s Great Aunt Tillie). He tries to resurrect her after her burial and is caught, mummified alive and buried behind a secret panel in her tomb.

John FrankenHelsing Banning:

However-many years later in 1895, archaeologist Felix Aylmer (of Olivier’s Henry V) digs up the tomb despite warnings about curses. An Egyptian local (George Pastell, actually from Cyprus) who still believes in the ancient gods swears revenge and a couple years later carts the Lee-mummy to Britain and has it assassinate Felix and his buddy. Felix’s son Peter Cushing escapes due to the lucky fact that his wife is the same actress who played the Egyptian princess, and she’s able to override the mummy’s commands.

Christopher Lee, before:

… and after:

Cushing figures out the plot, manages to convince the local police of the facts (it’s rare in a supernatural movie that the police believe the hero’s story), then saunters over to the vengeful Egyptian’s house, introduces himself and insults the man’s silly religion. This of course draws another mummy visit, but this time Cushing is armed – which should lead to the terrific poster artwork with a beam of light passing through a hole in the mummy’s midsection, but sadly doesn’t. Good wins out over evil, assuming Cushing is good – the movie doesn’t mind his participation in the looting of Egypt’s sacred history for the benefit of British museums.

Kind of a slow movie, with flashbacks that repeat whole scenes we just watched 45 minutes earlier. All the IMDB trivia articles are about the various ways Christopher Lee got hurt during the production, but he still stayed with Hammer through the early 70′s.

Buy from Amazon:
The Mummy (Hammer DVD)

The Last Ten Minutes vol. 007

Oh look, netflix streaming has a whole bunch of James Bond movies. I never watched them consistently, saw a couple all the way through and a bunch more in fragments on cable. So this is an attempt to figure out which Bond is which, and which movies were halfway decent.

Thunderball (1965)
Sean Connery is not-so-excitingly rescued by a helicopter, yells some exposition that I didn’t quite catch. Underwater harpoon battle! Black team vs. orange team, heavy casualties. Everyone except Bond is wearing pants. The movie harpoons a shark, booo. I hope the movie ate that shark. Bond catches up with grey-haired eyepatched Largo (Adolfo Celi of Diabolik and The Phantom of Liberty) aboard the Disco Volante – aha – slaps him around while the boat accelerates to Benny Hill speed. He escapes with a girl named Domino (Claudine Auger of A Bay of Blood), who also has no pants. They ditch the Peter Lorre-like fellow who helped rescue her, and escape into a bluescreen sky. Director Terence Young’s third Bond movie – he’d later make Wait Until Dark.

You Only Live Twice (1967)
Connery fails to escape Donald “Dr. Evil” Pleasence by shooting a guy with his cigarette. Lots of men (ninjas, according to IMDB) fight in different-colored outfits. Bond knocks an unpunchable tough guy into a pirahna pool and pushes the button that makes a spacecraft on TV blow up. Pleasence blows the whole base, but every single person escapes anyway, and the same planes drop the same lifeboats as in the last movie. Bond ends up in one with a girl named Kissy (Mie Hama of What’s Up Tiger Lily).

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Jill St. John (of Tashlin & Lewis flick Who’s Minding The Store?) is making a mockery of clothing in her purple/red flag swimsuit. Connery does acrobatics in a suit, while helicopters explode into optical stills. Baddy Blofeld (Charles Gray of the Rocky Horror movies) enters a toy submarine held by a Bond-controlled crane. Connery gleefully wrecking-balls the toy into the control tower until the whole derrick explodes. Nice finale featuring one waiter on fire and another exploding mid-air.

Live and Let Die (1973)
Heroin dealer Yaphet Kotto (of Bone, Alien and the show Homicide) has stolen Roger Moore’s inflation gun, shows off all his silly bad-guy toys (a monorail, waterproof heroin canisters) then threatens Bond and Jane “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” Seymour with death by shark. Every movie so far has featured watery deaths. In the most WTF moment of any movie so far, Bond shoves a compressed-air pellet into Yaphet’s head, turning him into a balloon. The last-minute assassination-attempt is back, and Moore tosses a metal-claw-handed Julius Harris (of Black Caesar) out his train window.

The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
The great Christopher Lee (year after The Wicker Man) is TMWTGG, but Moore shoots him dead before he’s got any lines – shame. Nice scene, all rotating mirrors and neon triangles. Criminals used to put such style into their lairs. Britt Ekland (also of Wicker Man) tosses a guy into subzero liquid (another watery death), then triggers self-destruct with her ass, the least competent of any bond girl so far. He and the girl sail away in an ancient Chinese ship, pausing to dispose of an angry Hervé Villechaize (soon after Greaser’s Palace). These last three were directed by Guy Hamilton, who’d go on to make Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
A boat is blowing up – more water, and oh look, more sharks. Moore is aboard the evil aquatic base, shoots boring Curd Jurgens (star of both a Blue Angel remake and a Threepenny Opera remake), sics Jaws on a shark (a funny joke in the mid-1970′s) and escapes with lovely enemy spy Barbara Bach – codename Triple X, another joke. It all seems rather inert, the least-exciting Bond finale I’ve seen despite Jaws and explosions.

Moonraker (1979)
Oh god, laser gun battles. Moore ejects Michael Lonsdale (!) into space then watches some Star Wars models out the window. Jaws is in love with a girl with pigtails and it’s sweet. He even gets dialogue, helps Bond and Lois Chiles (of Broadcast News) into a shuttle where they play high-stakes space invaders then celebrate with zero-G sex. These last two and You Only Live Twice were directed by Lewis Gilbert, who helmed some thrillers in the 50′s and more recently an Aidan Quinn ghost story.

For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Moore is in a decidedly low-tech mountain hideout, with a full team for once. Punch-out in a church, people thrown through stained glass windows, and another one of those tough guys who just smiles when Bond punches him in the gut. It’s all for some Texas Instruments-looking device which Bond hurls off a cliff so the Russians won’t get it. Not nearly as exciting as the others, with an unsexy PG version of the gag ending from the last few, then a dubbed macaw to close it out. John Glen, editor of the last couple Bond films, is promoted to director and takes the series through License to Kill.

Octopussy (1983)
Hooray for gypsies, acrobats, dancers and sad clowns. This makes up for the drab brownness of the last movie. The title character (Maud Adams, returning from Golden Gun) has a gun and Bond is nowhere to be found. Oh here he is, in a hot air balloon of course. Some Goldeneye-(the video game)-style first-person machine-gunning. Bond on horseback chases down the Afghani/Indian villains’ plane and just rides around on top of it. Louis Jordan (star of Letter from an Unknown Woman) flies his plane into a cliff after Bond and the girl jump to safety. They’ve toned down the sexy ending even further – this is getting out of hand.

Never Say Never Again (1983)
Weird, a non-canonical Bond film from a rival studio, a remake of Thunderball from the director of The Empire Strikes Back featuring the return of Sean Connery. Never having cared about the 007 series, this is not something I ever suspected existed. Connery has a jetpack! He and partner Bernie Casey (of Cleopatra Jones and The Man Who Fell To Earth) scuba into a paper-mache fortress where Max von Sydow reigns, a less-iconic Largo. Bond, as in the original, can be easily recognized as the one without pants. An underwater battle ensues, with worse lighting, much less harpooning, and slightly more Kim Basinger than before. In the would-be sexy postscript scene, Bond dumps Rowan Atkinson into a swimming pool – so, less Benny Hill, more Mr. Bean.

A View to a Kill (1985)
Opens with a disclaimer about baddie Chris Walken’s character name “Zorin” – I wonder what prompted that. Anyway, very excited to see Grace Jones with new wave hair helping out Roger Moore. She explodes while a slick blonde Walken watches from above, as does the proper blonde love interest (Tanya Roberts of The Beastmaster and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Bond dangles from a zeppelin line as Walken tries to shake him loose in the city, accompanied by corny dialogue. Punch-out atop the Golden Gate bridge features lots of bluescreen backdrops, Chris Walken with an axe, and an angry old man with a cartoon stick of dynamite. Postscript involves a camera-equipped robot, chuckling Russians and somehow an even less sexy finale than the Rowan Atkinson one. Come on now, 1980′s.

The Living Daylights (1987)
Roger has been retired to a closet at MGM, and was never heard from again. Tim Dalton is flying a plane around with Maryam d’Abo (of Shootfighter), blowing up a bridge while Arabs wage war below. Hmm, they drive out of a crashing plane in a jeep. Warfare afficionado MITCHELL is blasting away at Bond – thought I remembered him as a good guy in the later ones. Mitchell is dead, so never mind. Ash liked all the whistling in this one.

Corridors of Blood (1958, Robert Day)

“Some day you’ll wiggle that bottom of yours just once too often”

Aw, this wasn’t much of a horror movie. I guess the idea of surgery without anesthesia is pretty horrific, and the local innkeeper is killing homeless people for fun and profit, and it costars two Frankensteins (Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee), so you could definitely call it a horror movie, but it didn’t much feel like one – more of a dark medical drama. Preston Sturges’ The Great Moment comes to mind. I’ve never seen it, but I thought it was also an invention-of-anesthesia drama. IMDB’s summary makes it sound like more of a patent-infringement thriller, so maybe it’s Corridors of Blood meets Flash of Genius (that intermittent-windshield-wiper-invention drama). Of all the horror movies in the world, why did Criterion pick this one?

A tale of two Frankensteins:

Anyway, it wasn’t bad, for what it was. Lee, in only his third horror movie after Hammer’s earliest Frankenstein and Dracula movies, was deliciously sinister, and Karloff is a surprisingly great actor (guess I’d only seen him as Frankenstein before). Greatly enjoyed the scene where he invents laughing gas and goes on a rampage of hilarity, smashing up his lab. So he overdid it there, but usually he’s quite good.

Karloff is powerless before Black Ben:

While Karloff spends the whole movie experimenting on himself, being mocked by his peers and ultimately becoming a useless opium addict tricked into signing false death certificates for the evil innkeeper, the movie blows some time on our romantic young couple (every movie needs one!): his son Jonathan (Francis Matthews of Terence Fisher’s Revenge of Frankenstein and Dracula: Prince of Darkness) and the housekeeper Susan (Betta St. John of The Robe and Horror Hotel). A haughty white-haired fellow at the hospital (Finlay Currie, who played a man with unpronounceable name in I Know Where I’m Going!) mocks Karloff at every opportunity, with a pinched-mouth arched-eyebrow movie-villain expression on his face.

Finlay Currie to young Jonathan: “your tie is ridiculous.”

Karloff dies in the end (Lee might die also – someone threw “vitriol” in his face) but his son picks up his papers and proves him right, demonstrating the importance of anesthesia in a scene which was probably funnier in the Preston Sturges version. Additional players: the evil innkeeper Black Ben is Francis De Wolff (Hound of the Baskervilles, Under Capricorn) and his even-more-evil wife is Adrienne Corri, who went from playing the neighbor girl in Renoir’s The River to a gang-rape victim (not the one killed with a giant phallus) in A Clockwork Orange. As far as anyone knows the director is still alive. His last theatrical feature was 1980′s The Man With Bogart’s Face, which has a hilarious VHS cover.

The Horror of Dracula (1958, Terence Fisher)

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.” – Harker

This was excellent. I knew Hammer Horror was a major hole in my viewing history, but I’d had the wrong idea about it. Somehow assumed it was a studio of low-budget, slow, decorative films a la Blood For Dracula. Here’s Wikipedia on this film’s predecessor, 1957′s The Curse of Frankenstein: “Hammer’s first Gothic horror went into production. The use of colour encouraged a previously unseen level of gore. Until The Curse of Frankenstein horror films had not shown blood in a graphic way, or when they did it was concealed by monochrome photography. In this film, it was bright red, and the camera lingered upon it.” Of course, Hammer’s Dracula eventually went the way of all horror franchises, with increasingly silly sequels culminating in a showdown between Dracula and seven kung-fu brothers.

Jonathan Harker: John Van Eyssen, with a minor part in Quatermass 2 and no future in the cinema:
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Harker roams around doing a lot of actory business for the first ten minutes, meets a girl who asks for help in vague terms, seems like the usual. But Harker isn’t the usual patsy – he’s actually here to kill Dracula. The girl, Drac’s wife, vamps out and Christopher Lee makes an awesome bloodshot-eyed bloody-mouthed action appearance, tossing her aside and biting Harker himself. JH goes into the basement the next day with stakes in hand, but stupidly kills the girl first, waking the main man who takes care of Harker easily.

Valerie Gaunt, also with no future in cinema, returning from Curse of Frankenstein:
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Christopher Lee’s first Dracula movie and my first Hammer horror movie (not counting Moon Zero Two’s appearance on Mystery Science Theater). 36-year-old Lee went from minor roles in minor Powell/Pressburger flicks to the new face of British Horror in just two years.
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Jonathan’s buddy Van Helsing figures things out and goes home to inform the family, but Harker’s girl Lucy dies of vampire-related causes. Lucy is the sister of either Mina or her husband Arthur, I dunno which, and V.H. soon becomes suspicious that Mina is under Dracula’s spell.

I don’t know Peter “Grand Moff Tarkin” Cushing very well. Looks like he didn’t recover from the collapse of his horror career in the late 70′s. He’s very good here, and carries the bulk of the movie.
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I can’t remember who Mina was in the original novel but here, Lucy (Carol Marsh, star of a puppet version of Alice In Wonderland a decade prior) is Jonathan’s wife, and Mina (Melissa Stribling of The League of Gentlemen: the film thriller, not the TV comedy) is the wife of her brother Arthur (Michael Gough of The Small Back Room, later Alfred in the 90′s Batman films).
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Mina gets the familiar marks on her neck and Van Helsing discovers Drac is hiding out in his own cellar. Some vampire hunter. Drac flees, tries to bury Mina (?) and gets killed by sunshine. Way more action-packed than the other Drac stories I’ve seen lately.

Hammer respected Dracula’s death less than Universal did – they had Lee play the Count a bunch more times beginning with Dracula: Prince of Darkness in ’66.

Wikipedia again: “The film was an enormous success, not only in Britain, but also in the USA, where it inspired numerous imitations from, amongst others, Roger Corman and American International Pictures. It also found success on the European continent, where Italian directors and audiences were particularly receptive.”