Thursday 31 May 2012

Track of the Moon Beast (1976)

Track of the Moon Beast (1976)Track of the Moon Beast should have been great campy fun. After all, this 1976 production is a movie about a man who gets hit by a piece of moon rock and thereby turned into a monster, so it has all the ingredients of a schlock classic. Unfortunately the end result is rather dull.

A meteor is on a collision course, not with the Earth but with the Moon. The impact sends moon rock debris into space and the debris falls on the southwestern United States. One piece falls onto the head of Paul Carlson.

Now you might think that getting hit by a chunk of rock from the Moon would be the end of poor Paul (and you might be relieved at the idea of seeing no more of him because he’s such a crashing bore) but in fact Paul ends up with nothing more than a slight headache.

At least he appears to suffer no more than a mild headache. In fact he has a piece of moon rock embedded in his skull. And we all know what that means. Yes, it means he’s destined to turn into a ravening monster every time there’s a full moon, just like in the local Indian legend.

Track of the Moon Beast (1976)

Johnny Longbow knows all about such things, being a local Indian. He’s also a professor of anthropology at the local college. Paul had been a student of his before he changed his major to mineralogy. Johnny Longbow has always been puzzled by one particular legend, of a lizard monster who is impervious to arrows and goes around killing people. Now he knows the meaning of the legend - it’s about a guy who got hit on the head by a piece of moon rock! Being a professor of anthropology means he can figure stuff like this out.

The local police chief is keen to get Johnny Longbow involved when a series of grisly murders takes place. Johnny explains that the strange footprints and handmarks found at the crime scene mean the crimes were committed by something resembling a tyrannosaurus rex. The police chief decides this is an entirely plausible explanation because after all there could be a tyrannosaurus rex living in the hills nearby.

Track of the Moon Beast (1976)

Pretty soon Paul’s girlfriend Kathy is getting really worried by Paul’s headaches so she takes him to the local hospital. Sure enough it turns out he has a chunk of moon rock in his skull. And since the Moon affects the tides it makes sense that the moon would have an even bigger effect on a guy with a piece of the Moon inside his head. Naturally that would tend to make him turn into a savage lizard monster whenever there’s a full moon. That’s the only possible scientific explanation for his headaches.

The doctors decide to call in a lunar scientist from NASA, because lunar scientists are experts in these sorts of cases, having lots of experience with men turned into monsters by moon rocks. It turns out that the moon rock sets up a kind of energy field. But is there any way of saving Paul?

Track of the Moon Beast (1976)

Yes I know, it all sounds like great fun, and it could have been. Sadly director Richard Ashe falls into the most common trap of low-budget film-making - his movie is much too long and it’s painfully slow. I mean it’s really really slow.

The excruciatingly dull acting doesn’t help. Bad acting would not have been a problem, but this cast is just deadly dull without being fun. The makeup effects are OK by low-budget movie standards but there’s a decided lack of excitement and a lack of action.

Track of the Moon Beast (1976)

This one is in the public domain and the copy I saw was pretty terrible - very very dark. Maybe it would have been more enjoyable had it been a better print but I don’t really think anything would make this movie wildly exciting.

There is a certain amount of fun to be had here, if you’re in the mood for bad 70s science fiction horror movies, but the deadly pacing stops this movie from being the schlock classic it could have been.

Monday 28 May 2012

Mystics in Bali (1981)

Mystics in Bali takes us into the wonderful world of 1980s Indonesian exploitation flm-making. And a delightfully crazy world it is.

A young American woman named Cathy Keen has gone to Bali to learn about black magic. Her Balinese toyboy Mahendra offers to introduce her to the greatest master of leák magic.

Oddly enough although Mahendra knows that leák magic is the blackest of Balinese black magics and is horribly dangerous he’s still happy to get his girlfriend involved.

The master of black magic turns out to be a woman, and she is happy to take on Cathy as a pupil. Although Cathy fancies herself to be a bit of an expert on magic, having studied voodoo and other magical systems, she’s a little bit on the naïve side. It doesn’t occur to her to wonder if the leák queen is really doing all this out of the goodness of her heart or if there will be a Price To Be Paid.

She probably should have started to worry when the leák queen told her she might need to borrow her head for a while. Actually I’d have started worrying earlier than that, when I discovered that my magic teacher liked to consume large quantities of fresh blood before the beginning of the lesson.

Cathy on the other hand has no suspicions at all until it’s too late. And although Mahendra is a nice enough guy he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. When he finally tells his uncle what’s going on his uncle tells him how foolish he’s been. Luckily his uncle is a kind of village elder and a bit of a magic practitioner himself and he has some mantras which he assures Mahendra will protect Cathy from the black magic queen. Unfortunately by this time the relatively harmless old queen has become an incredibly powerful sexy evil young queen, so Mahendra’s uncle has to call in his own uncle who has much greater magical powers. Uncle’s uncle is an old enemy of the queen’s and the stage is set for a magical showdown.

Meanwhile Cathy’s head has been committing murders for the leák queen and it may be too late to save Cathy from the evilness she has unleashed.

The acting is pretty dire but you don’t watch an Indonesian horror movie for the acting. You watch for the outrageousness, the amazing special effects and the general craziness. Mystics in Bali ticks all those boxes. There’s the maniacal laughing of the leák queen, there’s the ever-present mist, there’s the sheer dumbness of the hero and heroine, there’s the over-the-top evil witch queen make-up.

And most of all there are the special effects. All done on a shoestring without access to fancy studio tricks but crude as they are they work. The effects work through their sheer bravado and the obvious enthusiasm of the film-makers. The disembodied flying head with attached entrails has to be seen to be believed. Once you’ve seen it you still won’t believe they actually did it but you won’t forget it. And then there’s the birthing/baby-eating scene. Nothing succeeds like excess is obviously the motto here.

There’s nothing subtle about director H. Tjut Djalil’s approach. He just piles on the outrageousness as quickly as possible.

Mondo Macabro once again delivers the cult movie goods with a great widescreen DVD transfer of one of the wildest and most bizarre movies you’ll ever see. Lady Terminator will always have a special place in my heart since it was my introduction to Indonesian schlock horror but Mystics in Bali is a true classic.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Dr Mabuse vs Scotland Yard (1963)

Fritz Lang's Dr Mabuse - The Gambler, has been a sensation in 1922. It was a film that created several entirely new genres and introduced the diabolical criminal mastermind to cinema.  Lang made a sequel in the early 1930s and a second (excellent) sequel in 1960, The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse. The latter was so successful in Europe that it kicked off a whole series of Dr Mabuse movies. None are as good as Lang’s film but all are fun and all are worth seeing. Dr Mabuse vs Scotland Yard (Scotland Yard jagt Dr. Mabuse) is no exception.

The evil Dr Mabuse is up to his old tricks again. Which is surprising, since he’s dead. But to a diabolical criminal mastermind as cunning as Dr Mabuse death is merely a setback. Even when dead he is most definitely still a very formidable adversary.

This time Dr Mabuse has got his hands on a fiendish brain-control device. Hidden inside a camera it can project a hypnotic ray that turns people into robotic slaves. Dr Mabuse intends to use the device to take over Britain.

This movie is supposedly based on a Bryan Edgar Wallace story so it’s part-krimi and part Dr Mabuse movie, set partly in Germany and partly in Britain. Inspektor Vulpius (Werner Peters) from Hamburg and Major Bill Tern (Peter van Eyck) from Scotland Yard are both investigating the case. Major Tern has the assistance of his mother who is a detective story fan and a bit of an amateur detective. Also on the case is Inspector Joe Wright (Klaus Kinski).

Dr Mabuse is making use of a renegade English scientist who has been given plastic surgery to disguise his identity, and his plans include kidnapping princess Diana (no, not that one, a different one).

It seems that Dr Mabuse may succeed this time since he is able to turn Scotland Yard’s own men against them. Even the indefatigable Inspector Joe Wright finds himself robotised. Is there no answer to this horrible weapon? Perhaps there is. Major Tern’s mother is immune. If Major Tern can just figure out why, he may have a chance. And one other man is immune also - is there a link? Can the answer be found before Dr Mabuse takes over the British government?

As usual with krimis the acting is pretty good. Peter van Eyck makes a good hero. Klaus Kinski is surprisingly heroic, at least until he gets robotised. Wolfgang Priess is an excellent super-villain. As usual the British police are armed to the teeth, although it appears that guns are of little use against such a super-weapon.

Paul May had already had a very long career as a director and he handles matters fairly confidently.

There’s no need for any expensive special effects which is just as well since there was no way that the very limited budget was possibly going to extend that far anyway.

Sinister Cinema’s DVD-R release offers only a fullframe print with an English dubbed soundtrack but picture quality is quite acceptable and it appears to be the only option for non-German speaking audiences.

Dr Mabuse is one of the screen’s greatest villains and fans of the evil doctor will want to check out this installment in his infamous criminal career. Dr Mabuse vs Scotland Yard will not disappoint them.

Monday 21 May 2012

Mistress of Atlantis (1932)

G. W. Pabst's 1932 Mistress of Atlantis (L’Atlantide) is one of several movies based on Pierre Benoit’s superb 1919 novel L’Atlantide (translated into English under the title Queen of Atlantis).

The central idea is that the lost city of Atlantis is not to be found beneath the sea but somewhere in the wastes of the Sahara Desert. The city is found by two officers of the French Foreign Legion, Lieutenant St-Avit and Captain Morange.

The city is ruled by the beautiful Antinea (Brigitte Helm). Is she an immortal goddess? Or a kind of love vampire? Or perhaps both?

There are a number of modern Europeans in the city, all travellers who had been lost in the desert, or lured to Atlantis by some strange occult power of Antinea. Antinea is interested only in men. She has chosen a succession of men to be her lovers. Being Antinea’s lover is a death sentence, but it is a fate enthusiastically embraced by any man who falls under her spell.

But will she choose St-Avit or Morange?

Pabst was a great film-maker, best-known for Pandora’s Box in 1929. I know it might be heresy but I actually prefer the later 1949 Hollywood B-movie version Siren of Atlantis. The Hollywood version makes use of some of the more interesting elements of the story that Pabst’s film unaccountably neglects.

Pabst’s version also suffers from rather lifeless performances by Heinz Klingenberg as Saint-Avit and Gustav Diessl as Morange. On the other hand Brigitte Helm is a splendid and suitably goddess-like Antinea.

I found Gibb McLaughlin to be rather irritating as Count Velovsky, a kind of self-appointed major-domo/master of ceremonies of Atlantis.

There are some good visual touches and the gigantic stone face of Antinea is impressive.

On the whole I felt that the movie failed to capture the atmosphere of Atlantis and the full force of Antinea’s powers over men. So far it seems that no movie version has done justice to the excellence of the novel although the aforementioned 1949 Siren of Atlantis is great fun. The conflict between Saint-Avit and Morange is too muted as well.

The Alpha Video DVD is truly atrocious but this is a difficult movie to find and it’s an interesting enough movie that it’s worth putting up with the terrible transfer.

Saturday 19 May 2012

The Loreley’s Grasp (1974)

The Loreley’s Grasp (Las garras de Lorelei) is a 1974 Amando de Ossorio movie. Which pretty much tells you all you need to know. You know it will be delightfully trashy but quite entertaining and surprisingly original.

He was a Spanish film-maker who tended to avoid werewolves and vampires, preferring to lace his gothic horror trashfests with more offbeat ideas (like the blind zombie Templars of his Blind Dead series).

This time he takes on the legend of the lorelei (or loreley). The Lorelei is actually a large cliff in a bend of the Rhine which has been associated with a legend of a female water demon. Heinrich Heine turned her into a species of siren, fittingly since it was quite common for boats to be wrecked there so the idea of a siren luring boatmen to their doom made sense. What de Ossorio does with the story is actually even more interesting.

In the movie the lorelei is a beautiful mermaid-woman who is the daughter of the god Wotan. At the full moon she turns into a hideous monster who kills people and eats their hearts. She needs the hearts to maintain her eternal life. He gives this a vaguely scientific spin by introducing an eccentric scientist with a theory about mutations and metamorphoses.

The scientist has developed the one weapon capable of killing the lorelei -  a radioactive dagger! Which nicely blends pseudo-science with a suitably legendary kind of motif.

The movie has a contemporary setting in theory but in practice it exists in a kind of time warp reminiscent of Hammer’s gothic horror movie. We have radioactive daggers and a hero who rides a motorcycle (and wears the latest 70s fashions) but the village and the villagers are straight out of Hammer world, a kind of blending of the medieval and the 19th century.

The lorelei is terrorising the teachers and students of a girls’ boarding school. It’s a typical gothic horror movie girls’ boarding school - the teachers and pupils all look like models. An experienced local hunter is assigned to protect the school. The women are expecting a grizzled old greybeard but what they get is a hunk called Sigurd on a motorcycle. Which pleases them considerably. This being a horror movie the girls are all man-crazy.

Senior teacher Elke Ackerman (who also looks like a twenty-something model) initially dislikes Sigurd but we all know she really likes him and that romance is going to blossom. There’s also a blind hippie street musician on hand who makes predictions about the lorelei’s activities, but at first no-one believes him.

There’s enough blood and guts on display here to satisfy most gorehounds. There’s also quite a bit of nudity although by 1974 eurohorror standards the nudity is fairly tame. Of course being a Spanish movie it’s possible the movie existed in various versions with varying amounts of nudity and sleaze.

What gives the movie considerable coolness value is the way the lorelei legend is intertwined with the legend of the Nibelungs. We even have Alberic (the dwarf from the Nibelung saga) as the lorelei’s henchman. Plus we have three scantily clad young women who are presumably Rhine maidens, and this gives de Ossorio the opportunity to treat us to a Rhine maiden cat-fight. This is not an opportunity he’s going to let pass.

These two legends prove to be a surprisingly good fit. If you happen to be a fan of either Wagner’s Ring cycle or Fritz Lang’s great movie Die Nibelungen (and I’m a fan of both) you’ll get even more out of this movie.

The set representing the treasure-laden lair of the lorelei is quite impressive. With the bodacious Helga Liné as the lorelei this movie has everything to keep eurotrash fans happy.

A thoroughly enjoyable movie that manages to remain trashy while also being imaginative and original. Highly recommended.

BCI’s DVD is light on extras but does include both Spanish (sub-titled) and English-language versions. It was also released in a two-movie set paired with a Paul Naschy movie, Horror Rises from the Tomb. That’s the edition I have and the transfer on The Loreley’s Grasp is widescreen and extremely good. Whether it’s uncut I can’t be certain, given the possibility it may have originally existed in multiple editions.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)

The House Where Evil Dwells (1982) The House Where Evil Dwells is a ghost movie set in Japan and starring Susan George and Doug McClure - what could possibly go wrong with an idea like that? Unfortunately the answer to that question is - quite a lot.

Alex Curtis (McClure) is an American diplomat in Japan who finds a house to rent for his friends Ted (Edward Albert) and Laura Fletcher (Susan George). Unfortunately it’s a haunted house. Since Ted is into Japanese folklore Alex figures this is a good idea - it will provide him with material. It certainly does that.

In 1840 a samurai caught his wife in flagrante delicto with her lover and chopped them both up. Now their ghosts haunt the house, and history is destined to repeat itself as a romantic triangle develops between Alex, Ted and Laura. An old priest warns Ted that they should never have rented the house but Ted ignores the warning.

You pretty much know what is going to happen from this point on and the movie provides no surprises whatever.
The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)

This US-Japanese co-production was helmed by Kevin Connor. He made some pretty good low-budget movies so I’m inclined not to blame him too much for this one.

The biggest weakness here is Robert Suhosky’s screenplay. It’s all much too obvious. The ghosts take over the characters so there’s no opportunity to explore the psychology of the protagonists. If there’d been the slightest hint of an existing attraction between Alex and Laura, or of a tendency on Ted’s part towards jealousy and violence, in other words if the ghosts were making use of the characters’ own flaws there might have been scope for some interesting psychological exploration. But once the ghosts take them over the characters are mere puppets.

The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)
The script also misses the opportunity to make full use of the Japanese setting. At one point Laura buys some Noh masks but they play no further part in the story. The old priest does put in another appearance but again there is no real attempt to make this a truly Japanese ghost story.

McClure is badly miscast and while Edward Albert tries hard he’s not terribly convincing. Susan George was incapable of giving a bad performance and she’s the only good thing in this movie. She also provides the only real erotic charge.

The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)
I’m a great believer in the principle that you don’t need elaborate social effects in a horror movie, and especially in a ghost movie. The Uninvited, The Haunting and The Innocents were all great ghost movies without  fancy special effects while the Japanese made similarly fine ghost movies like Immortal Love and The Snake Woman's Curse without technical wizardry. But the special effects in The House Where Evil Dwells are crude and clumsy and this combined with the unimaginative writing and unexciting cinematography dooms the movie.

The scene with the ghostly killer crabs is not merely lame, it’s laughable and silly. A ghost story requires atmosphere, and this movie is sadly lacking in that department.

The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)
There’s plenty of gore and plenty of nudity, which just serves to show that no amount of gore and nudity will make a dull film any less dull. It should have been called The Film Where Boredom Dwells.

MGM’s DVD presentation is barebones but it’s a fine transfer. For some reason best known to themselves they include a fullframe transfer as well as a widescreen one

Friday 11 May 2012

The Mysterious Mr Wong (1934)

Mysterious Mr Wong (1934)These was a bit of a vogue in Hollywood in the early 1930s for murder mysteries in a Chinatown setting. These provided the perfect subject matter for the pre-code era, combining exoticism with usually a fair helping of sleaze (white slavery being another favourite pre-code subject). The Mysterious Mr Wong is slightly different - it’s like a Chinatown murder mystery with a dash of Fu Manchu.

The eponymous Mr Wong (played with dash by Bela Lugosi) is a tong gang leader who wants a great deal more power than simple crime can offer. He has heard the legend that the great Chinese sage Confucious distributed twelve gold coins to his followers and that anyone who can collect all twelve coins will thereby gain unlimited occult powers.

Mr Wong has eleven of the coins and is hot on the trail of the twelfth coin. His quest has left behind it a trail of corpses - Mr Wong’s methods of coin collecting do not involve sitting in auction rooms.

The Mysterious Mr Wong (1934)

The series of murders all this has entailed have come to the attention of wise-cracking reporter Jay Barton (Wallace Ford). He doesn’t know what he’s on to but he knows he’s on to something big. He knows this is more than just a tong war.

In between his reporting duties he’s romancing feisty (and also wise-cracking) switchboard operator Peg (Arline Judge), who will find herself drawn into Mr Wong’s web.

The Mysterious Mr Wong (1934)

This is a production by Poverty Row studio Monogram so don’t expect high production values. The movie does however have many of the virtues of the classic Hollywood B-movie - it’s fast-moving, it’s reasonably action-packed and it has some good hardboiled dialogue. Plus it has Bela Lugosi in a role that allows him to have a lot of fun, and it’s a role he makes the most of.

It’s not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination and Wallace Ford is an acquired taste. Personally I quite enjoy fast-talking wise-cracking movie reporters and Wallace Ford does this sort of thing pretty well. Arline Judge is excellent and the banter between the two of them is entertaining.

The Mysterious Mr Wong (1934)

The screenplay doesn’t really capitalise on the potential of the coins idea. We’re not told exactly what powers the coins will confer. While Lugosi is very good the script lets him down a little - he needed to be given more scope for making Mr Wong a full-scale Fu Manchu-type diabolical criminal mastermind. The character of the Chinese secret service agent needed to be developed a bit more as well.

The exotic Chinatown setting and Bela Lugosi make this movie worth seeing, as long as you set your expectations fairly low. Amusing and moderately enjoyable.

The Mysterious Mr Wong (1934)

It’s in the public domain but the transfer on the DVD I saw (from Mill Creek) was actually reasonably OK.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Curse of the Devil (1973)

Curse of the Devil (1973)Curse of the Devil (El retorno de Walpurgis) stars Paul Naschy so it’s no surprise that the lead character is Waldemar Daninsky and he’s a werewolf. Naschy played this character (or variations on this character) eleven times between 1968 and 2004.

Daninsky is always a reluctant and tragic werewolf. He’s always a Polish nobleman. As Naschy explains in an interview included with the DVD the Spanish censors would let horror film-makers get away with a lot more if the central character was not Spanish and the movie was not set in Spain.

It will also come as no great surprise that poor old Waldemar has been cursed. The whole Daninsky family is the subject of a curse, another recurring theme. A distant ancestor had wiped out a coven of witches and the leader of the coven placed a curse on all Daninsky’s descendants. These events in medieval times are covered in a sort of prelude after which we switch to the 19th century where the latest Waldemar Daninsky is about to meet his predestined fate. He shoots a wolf but when he examines the body it is that of a young man. What he doesn’t know is that this young man is a descendant of the witch who cursed him, as foretold by the witch before she was burned.

Curse of the Devil (1973)

Now another coven of witches is about to take its revenge. A young woman is selected to be the agent of this revenge. She seduces Waldemar and turns him to a werewolf in one of the movie’s most arresting scenes - she opens a vein in her wrist, drips blood onto a wolf’s skull and onto Daninsky’s body and then bites him with the skull.

Then comes the arrival of a geologist and his family from Budapest, his family including two beautiful daughters. Daninsky falls in love with the eldest daughter but her sister has designs on him as well. The sister’s attempts to seduce him will have tragic consequences.

Curse of the Devil (1973)

Daninsky doesn’t yet know he is a werewolf but he is having disturbing dreams and a series of murders takes place in the countryside surrounding his castle. They are blamed on an escaped madman but eventually the villagers start to suspect Daninsky, and he discovers his own terrible secret. There is only one escape from the curse of the werewolf - a woman who loves him must plunge a silver dagger into his heart!

As usual Naschy wrote the screenplay himself. Eventually he would take over the directing duties himself as well but this time around Carlos Aured is in the director’s chair and does a competent enough job.

Curse of the Devil (1973)

Naschy was not the greatest actor who ever lived but this is a role that he made his own. No actor has ever played a werewolf more often than Naschy. Naschy returned to the werewolf theme again and again and was responsible for perhaps the most fully elaborated version of the myth. He had fallen in love with Universal’s The Wolf Man as a youngster and it became an obsession.

In a Spanish horror movie of this era (Curse of the Devil came out in 1973) you expect a mix of gothic horror and sleaze and that’s exactly what you get here. If you like Paul Naschy werewolf movies (as I do) you’ll like this one.

Curse of the Devil (1973)

Anchor Bay’s DVD presentation is an excellent uncut widescreen transfer with a 15-minute interview with Nashy included as an extra.

Sunday 6 May 2012

Goliath and the Dragon (1960)

Goliath and the Dragon (La vendetta di Ercole) pretty much provides everything you could want in a peplum. It has musclemen, it has sinister villains, it has a beautiful but scheming princess, it has action and it has monsters. Including an actual dragon! The monsters are goofy-looking and the special effects are crude and unconvincing. As far as I’m concerned those aren’t faults, they’re bonuses!

As the original Italian title suggests this 1960 production is actually a Hercules movie but presumably the American distributors thought Goliath and the Dragon had a better ring to it than than The Vengeance of Hercules.

Goliath has successfully completed the tasks set for him by the gods and now he’s looking forward to the quiet life with his family. Of course that’s not going to happen. He’s going to be caught up in the machinations of the evil King Eurystheus (or Eurito in the dubbed version). His younger brother will also unwittingly cause him all sorts of grief.

The plot is convoluted indeed. The main plot concerns a woman named Thea, whose father was responsible for the deaths of Goliath’s parents. As you might expect Goliath is less than pleased when he finds out his kid brother Illus wants to marry Thea, but he’s not half as annoyed as the evil King Eurystheus who also wants to marry Thea. He wants to marry her to establish his right to her father’s kingdom.

Eurystheus wants Illus out of the way, but mostly he wants Goliath out of the way. He is cooking up a scheme to carve out a major empire for himself but he can’t be certain of the support of his unscrupulous allies as long as Goliath lives. His chief henchman has come up with a complicated plan to persuade the beautiful but scheming Alcinoe to persuade Illus to poison Goliath. His henchman is in love with Alcinoe but she falls in love with Goliath when he rescues her from a marauding bear and she decides to give up her evil scheming, apart from scheming to get Goliath.

There are numerous other sub-plots which I won’t go into in detail, mostly because I couldn’t follow all of them! Goliath has one other major problem to deal with - the gods have told him his brother will become king of Thea’s father’s kingdom but it will cost the life of the woman who loves Goliath. Goliath assumes (reasonably enough) that this prophecy refers to his wife Dejanira but what he’s overlooked is that the Greek gods like to mess about about with mortals by making ambiguous prophecies.

During the course of his adventures Goliath takes on a monstrous three-headed dog, a bear, an elephant (used by King Eurystheus as an executioner), snakes and of course a dragon. The dragon is about as scary as Barney the Dinosaur. It’s actually a really cute dragon but we’re supposed to see it as a fearsome monster. Goliath also gets to demonstrate his physical prowess by demolishing several palaces, including his own. He’s a rather hot-headed superhero and the gods have made him pretty angry and when he’s angry he demolishes buildings.

Mark Forest plays Goliath. He’s not the world’s most exciting actor but these movies fortunately don’t call for great acting skills. Broderick Crawford sports a rather impressive facial scar and he’s effective enough as the wicked but cowardly Eurystheus. The actresses aren’t required to do much apart from looking glamorous which they manage successfully enough. Alcinoe probably needed to be a bit sexier but that’s a minor quibble.

While the monsters are delightfully lame the movie is in other respects fairly impressive visually. Vittorio Cottafavi handles the directing duties quite competently.

Something Weird Video present this movie on DVD in its correct aspect ratio in a very nice letterboxed print, accompanied by a plethora of extras including a second complete peplum.

If you have any kind of love for this genre then you’ll find plenty to enjoy in Goliath and the Dragon.

Friday 4 May 2012

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Frankenstein Created Woman, released in 1967, was the fourth entry in Hammer’s Frankenstein cycle, and marks Terence Fisher’s return to the Frankenstein movies (the third film had been directed by Freddie Francis). It’s also one of the best of their Frankenstein films.

This one really hits the ground running. We start with a rather scene of the guillotining of a laughing murderer, witnessed by his young son Hans. Then we switch to a superbly atmospheric scene in which Baron Frankenstein himself is returned from the dead by his two assistants, one of whom is the boy who had watched his father’s execution. The other is the dotty but devoted Dr Hertz (Thorley Walters).

Baron Frankenstein’s latest experiments are concerned with the soul. He regards the conquest of physical death, the death of the body, as being almost too easy. But what of the soul? When does it leave the body, and can it be captured? What he needs are some more experimental subjects, people only just dead so that their souls are likely to be easier to capture. He will soon get the subjects he wants.

He has sent Hans off to the local inn to buy some champagne. There we are introduced to three degenerate upper-class ruffians, Anton, Karl and Johann. They are amusing themselves by tormenting the innkeeper’s daughter Christina (Susan Denberg). She has been disfigured and crippled in an accident and is an easy target for their cruel games, except that Hans happens to be in love with her and in the fight that subsequently breaks out one of Christina’s tormentors is left with a bloody nose. The local constabulary are called and we find that Hans is regarded with some suspicion - as the son of a murderer he is considered to be potentially violent by definition plus he works for Baron Frankenstein, a man universally regarded with fear and dislike.

This assumption of inherited violence will have unfortunate consequences for young Hans. It will lead him to the guillotine as well, and indirectly lead to poor Christina’s death. But the story is not over yet for either of them. Baron Frankenstein gains possession of Christina’s body and Hans’ soul, and restores Christina to life, but with Hans’ soul as well as her own in her body. Her body is no considerably better than new - the disfigured broken girl is now a stunning young woman. But Hans wants revenge.

This is the kind of movie that always interested Terence Fisher, offering the opportunity to examine issues of good and evil, guilt and punishment, the soul vs the body. It’s also the sort of movie that Peter Cushing could really get his teeth into.

This is Peter Cushing at his best. His Baron Frankenstein isn’t quite evil but he is in his own way monstrous. He’s monstrous because he has convinced himself that his genius gives him the right to disregard society’s rules, but he is still troubled by twinges of conscience. The mad scientist whose arrogance and determination to pursue knowledge at any cost leads him to commit crimes against humanity is of course a cliché, but it’s not a cliché the way Cushing plays it. In most cases such characters end up as comic-book villains, but Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein is much more subtle. And he’s aware of his own ethical dilemmas.

Susan Denberg plays Christina, both the crippled ugly duckling Christina and the beautiful Christina created by Frankestein. Her qualification for the role was that she’d been Playboy’s Playmate of the Month for August 1966. But she’s actually quite good in what is a reasonably demanding dual role. Her acting career went nowhere but this was apparently due more to personal problems than to a lack of talent.

Thorley Walters gets more screen time than usual. It’s the kind of role he could play in his sleep but he’s delightful as always.

Robert Morris as Hans is pretty good as well - the casting for this movie really was very successful.

This is Hammer’s A team in action - Terence Fisher directing, Anthony Hinds writing the script, Bernard Robinson doing the production design and Arthur Grant as director of photography. The result is a stylish, classy, intelligent and very entertaining horror film. One of Hammer’s best.

Optimum’s Region 2 DVD is a pretty good widescreen print (the screencaps are not from this release).

Frankenstein Created Woman is very highly recommended.