Friday, July 29, 2016

TWINS OF EVIL 1971

Superb Late Period Hammer Gothic with Twin Vampiresses & Peter Cushing !!


"The Devil Has Sent Me Twins Of Evil !"



    For the last film in their "Karnstein Trilogy" Hammer unleashed not only the best film of the trilogy, but one that stands among the best of their Gothic horrors. Dismissed by some simply because of the publicity fueled inclusion of Playboy's first "twin" Playmates, it features one of Peter Cushing's finest performances and dripping with Gothic atmosphere it's a wonderful example of Hammer doing what it did best. Sadly, though by this time Hammer's patented trappings of heaving bosoms in tight fitting corsets, shadowy candlelit rooms and mist shrouded graveyards were almost coming passé with the release of THE EXORCIST looming a few years down the road.
    Following 1970's THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and 1971's problematic LUST FOR VAMPIRE, Hammer proved with TWINS that it could successfully take the expanded use of nudity and blood (TWINS is probably one of Hammer's bloodiest) and integrate them into a compelling story. Filmed partially at Pinewood Studios (on sets VAMPIRE CIRCUS would share the following year), it was directed by Hammer one and done John Hough (and in '74 would direct HELL HOUSE) and although marred by some dodgy day for night sequences it's beautifully shot by Dick Bush (THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW and DRACULA A.D. 1972).




    The inclusion of the Malta born twins Mary & Madeline Collinson, was most likely seen as a major marketing plus for Hammer as they had appeared as the first Playmate twins in the October 1970 issue of Playboy. Although one would think that this would lead to bare skin soaked vampire movie, TWINS OF EVIL is quite restrained in its use of the twins in their all their glory and does away with the "wink wink" adolescent wet-dream nude romping of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and the unintentional comedic overtones of LUST FOR A VAMPIRE. Hammer's stills and promo material for TWINS showed quite a bit more of Mary & Madeline then the actual movie does.
     Scripted by Tudor Gates, this like the previous two films in the series was nominally based upon Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu and like LOVERS and LUST doesn't follow and thematic chronology in the series (although there are a few hints concerning the timeline that TWINS might be looked upon as a prequel to the previous entries).

  

     Peter Cushing plays the wonderfully named Gustav Weil who holds sway over the small village of Karnstein located in that usual vague Hammer central Europe location populated entirely by Brits. Heading up a religious organization known as "The Brotherhood", Gustav and his brethren run roughshod over the local countryside as they capture women they feel are of low moral order and/or involved with witchcraft and summarily burn them at the stake. However, things go bad for Gustav one night when he runs afoul of the local Count Karnstein (played with gleeful over-the-top evilness by Damien Thomas) who belittles Weil in front of his followers and sends him slinking home.
      Later the Count while attempting some satanic rituals in his castle (along with his lackey played by Jess Franco regular Dennis Price) revives the vampire form of his deceased relative Mircalla (Kara Wyeth - who would show up in a couple of Monty Python sketches) and without much prodding she turns the Count into a vampire. Into this Gothic brew of witch burning and vampirism Weil's two orphan nieces Maria and Frieda (the Collionson twins) arrive to stay with him and his wife played by the great Kathleen Byron (best remembered as the insane nun from Michael Powell's BLACK NARCISSUS - and sadly not given much to do in her only Hammer outing). It's immediately shown that the newly arrived twins have two distinct personalities with Frida being the more rebellious one while Maria is the more wholesome one.




     The twins enroll at the local school and the hunky male teacher Anton (David Warbeck THE BEYOND & THE ARK OF THE SUN GOD) is initially attracted to Maria, however she begins sneaking out at night for evil doings at the Count's castle and is soon immersed in the vampire world. Meanwhile Frieda is left at home to face the wrath of the increasingly violent and seemingly going slightly mad Gustav. The plot neatly uses the old troupe of "which twin is which" for its blood soaked climax.
     The film while presenting the vampires as supernatural forces of evil also shows Cushing and his followers to be almost as big threat to the community as the amount of lives bloodthirstily taken by them rivals that of the vampires. TWINS also downplays somewhat the lesbian vampire angle that permeated the first two films (although there is a breast biting sequence just for the heck of it) and as mentioned above the film while having some nudity doesn't present it as a the peep show that turned up in VAMPIRE LOVERS. The film is one of the more gorier in the Hammer cannon as the climax features beheading, an axe in the head and stakings along with some beautiful set design in the moss covered tombs and graveyards.
     Cushing is really excellent here (this was the first film he did after the death of his wife) and brings a tremendous amount of pathos to a character that while blinded by religious furor and killing people as a result of his own twisted moral outrage is still somebody that we can find sympathy for. Whether shouting down his subordinates or spitting out evil incantations, Thomas gives his vampire's lines the authority of a Shakespearean actor. It's really hard to make any acting judgement about the Collinson twins as they were both dubbed, but they both seem to carry a blank expressionless look most of the time.











Sunday, July 24, 2016

Podcast - The Whacky World Drive-In


   Thanks to a an invite from Rob Gray over at The Whacky World of Rob S Gray (which is really a cool blog, but thanks to some #!@* blogger bugs I can't link to it in my reading list) I'm going to be participating in a new podcast series he's started up. Called The Whacky World Drive-In, the first episode is up on Podomatic at this link and deals with our musings on growing up with monster stuff and being "monster kids".
   I am honored that Rob asked me to participate in this and we're both looking forward to doing future episodes. Please check it out ! We're on twitter at @driveinwhacky and the email address is whackyworlddrivein@gmail.com.

                                               


  

Saturday, July 23, 2016

DEATHDREAM 1974

aka DEAD OF NIGHT & THE NIGHT ANDY CAME HOME 


"It Wrings The Victims Out.. And Hangs Them Up To Die !!!"



      Although best known to mainstream audiences for PORKY'S and A CHRISTMAS STORY writer/ director Bob Clark was responsible for several interesting low budget horror movies during the 1970's including CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972), BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), along with the best Jack the Ripper movie ever (1979's MURDER BY DECREE) and this fascinating low budget oddity from 1974. Taking the basic concept of the classic horror short story "The Monkey's Paw" it was often lumped in the coming decades zombie movies, but while it contains horror elements, at its core is a story of the breakdown of of a family along with (in it's low budget drive-in horror sort of way) is one the first movies to address the problems of returning Vietnam veterans and for some of them their tragic dependency on narcotics. 
    An early make-up credit for Tom Savini (who himself had just returned from Vietnam), the film is also blessed with an excellent script by Alan Ormsby that while touching on many social and family issues of the time never loses sight of it's horror roots. It's also helped immensely by some excellent work by it's cast including John Marley (THE CAR  and best known as the recipient of the horse head in THE GODFATHER) and Lynn Carlin as the father and mother along with Anya Ormsby (Alan's then wife) and Richard Backus. Playing for several years under various titles, it showed up frequently on late night TV in the late 70's and early 80's (where I first caught it) and finally was given an authorized DVD release by Blue Underground in 2004. 




    Although they've been notified that their son Andy (Backus) has been killed in Vietnam his mother Christine (Carlin) clings to belief that he's alive which causes concern for her husband Charles (Marley) and daughter Cathy (Anya Ormsby) as her relentless conviction seems to be affecting her mental state. One night after hearing a noise in the house the family surprisingly finds Andy standing silently in the darkened entryway. Although they greet him warmly, its obvious that something is amiss as Andy is alternately sullen or smiling darkly. 
    At the same time of Andy's of return a truck driver has been found nearby brutally murdered and his father begins to have suspicions concerning his son who spends most of his time silently rocking back and in forth in his upstairs room. A family doctor attempts to intercede and confronting him he's killed by the increasingly psychotic Andy who has a need for blood in order to sustain himself. The blood craving while initially seen as a vampire type affliction is played out more as an addiction as he uses a syringe to infuse the blood. Screaming at the doctor "I died for you, now you can die for me", Andy seems along with his need for blood to be also lashing out at a society that forget him and other veterans and left him for dead. 




    His sister organizes a double date with herself and her boyfriend  along with Andy and his old girlfriend which descends into a night of horror as just like the fracturing of the family unit, Andy's decent into a zombie like figure fully manifests itself at the all- American pastime of the drive-in. His by now fully developed monster incarnate is driven into the arms of his still sympathetic mother and ends in one of the more touching sequences in 70's horror.  
    Although some of the Vietnam allegories are a bit heavy handed (such as the WWII vet postman) DEATHDREAM remains a very rewarding experience bringing a sense of depth to the characters and making the family drama aspects of the story just as intriguing as the horror elements. Because of that depth and well written characters, along with a straight-forward narration and a simple yet striking shooting style the movie's horror elements almost seem plausible as they neatly dovetail into the plot.
    Backus (who beat out a young Christopher Walken for the role) is superb as the tormented Andy alternately evoking both terror and sympathy and Marley and Carlin are quite believable as the father and mother with Carlin showing a desperate mother trying to hold on to the son she remembers. Alan Ormsby (who worked un-credited here on the make-up) had previously worked with Bob Clark on the interesting CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS in 1972 and would collaborate on the excellent DERANGED (with Clark as an un-credited producer) in 1974. 










Friday, July 22, 2016

Rosalba Neri News # 21 - 99 WOMEN Blu-Ray Coming From Blue Underground.



    Bill Lustig over at Blue Underground has announced a forthcoming Blu-Ray release of Jess Franco's 99 WOMEN from 1969. An upgrade to their earlier DVD release, this will be similar to the previous releases of Franco's MARQUIS DE SADE'S JUSTINE (1969) and EUGENIE (1970) this will be a 3 disc set (BLU/DVD/CD Soundtrack). No word yet on extras or release date.
   Featuring a pretty unbelievable cast including Maria Schell, Herbert Lom, Mercedes McCambridge, Luciana Paluzzi, Maria Rohm and of course Rosalba, 99 WOMEN along with Jack Hill's Filipino productions a few years later set the template for the whole women-in-prison exploitation genre during the 70's and 80's.
    It's nice to see Rosalba featured prominently on the cover (and in much better rendition then the Justine cover) and hopefully she'll make it into some of the extras. The reverse cover art will feature the U.S. one sheet art pictured below (which always reminded me at first glance of a paperback book cover for a Gothic romance). 


  

Monday, July 11, 2016

THE MANSTER 1959/1962

Japanese/American Chiller With A Mid-Life Crisis Afflicted 
Two- Headed Monster Rampaging Through Mid-Century Tokyo !!



"Half Man....Half Monster...!"



     This endearingly cheap and shoddy little Japanese/American co-production was one of those films that seemed to show up (along with with other UA efforts such as I BURY THE LIVING and THE FOUR SKULLS OFJONATHAN DRAKE among others) perpetually on TV during the 60's and early 70's. A true international production, it was filmed in Japan with an American director (with a Japanese crew), a pair of married Brits in leading roles and English speaking Japanese actors filling out the cast. Looking ahead to THE THING WITH TWO HEADS and THE INCREDIBLE TWO HEADED TRANSPLANT, it featured a couple of images that indelibly ingrained on young viewers minds and has some (intentional or not) surprising adult themes lurking in its plot.
     American newspaper man Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley THUNDERBIRDS) is on long term assignment in Tokyo and looking forward to finally being able to go home and be reunited with his patiently waiting wife Linda (Jane Hylton - and actual wife of Dyneley), when he's handed a final assignment to go interview reclusive scientist Dr. Suzuki (Tetsu Nakanura from MOTHRA and THE LAST DINOSAUR).
    Upon arriving at the doctor's laboratory (serendipitously as we'll see located next to a large volcano), the doctor explains that he's working the effect of periodic cosmic rays from outer space and their effect in mutating life on earth. The Dr. confers to his beautiful Eurasian assistant Tara (Terri Zimmern) that he feels that Larry would be the "perfect specimen" for his future experiments.
    Earlier in a pre-credit sequence we were shown the effects of his experiments with a huge hairy beast rampaging through a geisha house (complete with blood splashed across the title card) before the critter is summarily tossed in a handy doorway to the volcano by Dr. Suzuki. In addition he keeps a woman with a horribly disfigured face (a still that was a favorite in FAMOUS MONSTERS & various horror movie books) locked in a cage in his laboratory. It's never really explained what the Doctor's purpose is with these experiments (but what the heck, he makes monsters) and seeing how his two past failed experiments are his brother and wife respectively he falls fairly comfortably into the "mad doctor" category (in addition his lab contains large mutated look plants) .




    In order to keep Larry in Japan Dr. Suzuki offers to show him around the town which translates to piling him with sake, providing him with woman (in particular the alluring Tara) and hot mineral baths with scantily clad geisha girls. Jumping into full mid-life crisis mode, Larry seems all to eager to partake in these indulgences much to the dismay of his wife (who travels to Tokyo to confront him) and his co-workers. Amidst his carrying on Larry transforms into pretty much a total ass and begins another transformation as a lump on his shoulder turns into an eyeball (another unforgettable still for monster kids) which grows into a misshapen head. Donning a trench coat he begins a Jack the Ripper like murder spree offing random women and the occasional priest, while periodically returning to his bachelor pad apartment to brood and yell at his ever sympathetic wife.
    The film while seeming to present the hero as as unwilling recipient of his monstrous tendencies much like Larry Talbot in Universal's Wolfman movies (with the the "curse" here being a medical experiment) it's interesting that the THE MANSTER's main protagonist (once again named Larry) is presented not as sympathetic character but as pretty much a jerk (in fact a really big jerk). THE MANSTER also shows post WWII America's part fascination and still lingering dread of Eastern cultures with the all-American wife waiting at home in her pearls and apron while her husband is seduced by the exotic allure of Japan. For a low budget monster movie there's some quite frankly adult themes lurking around here including Larry's in your face infidelity and the not to subtle references to Tara's past employment as a prostitute servicing the American occupation forces.
    Clocking in at barely 72 min. the film's sometimes ludicrous & no logic plot gets bogged down in the middle with some police procedural and investigation along with Linda's agonizing over Larry's infidelity. It's does reward however with a total bat-shit crazy finale involving an exploding volcano, the ultimate "split" personality (in a scene which truly needs to be seen to be believed) and a mind numbing WTF soliloquy to Tara from Dr. Suzuki (in which he compares themselves to Pierre and Madame Louise Curie ?!) as he realizes the error of his ways.




    Although not the greatest actress in the world by any stretch "one and done" actress (her role here as Tara is her only credit) Terri Zimmern exudes a certain exotic sexuality and wonders why she didn't work more in the upcoming decade. Some accounts claim that was married to co-director William Crane which might explain her lack of an on-going career.
    Released with the film noir like title of THE SPLIT in England, THE MANSTER came stateside in 1962 where its was co-featured (in a really bizarre dbl. feature) with THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DR. FAUSTUS, the re-tilted/re-edited version of Georges Franju's LES YEUX SANS VISAGE (EYES WITHOUT A FACE) - "A Ghastly Elegance That Suggests Tennessee Williams !".








The above screen-caps are from the Retromedia DVD