Monday 24 September 2012

POST No. 100: House of the Long Shadows (1982)

“Please don’t interrupt me while I’m soliloquising!” 
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS may not be the best film Vincent Price ever appeared in. In fact it’s probably not the best thing anyone involved with it worked on, with the possible exception of Desi Arnaz Jr (I know, me neither, he may well be better known in the US, at least I hope so for his sake). But that is definitely one of the best Vincent Price lines ever. It’s presumably courtesy of screenwriter Michael Armstrong, he of MARK OF THE DEVIL infamy, as well as HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR. The latter film is well worth watching on DVD with Armstrong’s commentary, by the way, as it was drastically altered prior to release, with extra sequences inserted directed by Gerry Levy (THE BODY STEALERS - a film no-one except the most obsessive 1960s BritSF movie fiend ever need consider watching) that didn’t add to the main plot at all.
      But I digress. HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is an interesting film. It’s very much a last hurrah for an interestingly disparate group of horror specialists including Price (who appeared in so many marvellous AIP pictures and THEATRE OF BLOOD), John Carradine (whose career really peaked in the Universal era before he appeared in a cavalcade of increasingly awful pictures from the 1950s onwards, - THE HOWLING being a notable exception), Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (who starred in almost everything brilliant about British horror ever), Sheila Keith (who starred in almost everything else brilliant about British horror, namely HOUSE OF WHIPCORD, FRIGHTMARE and other Pete Walker pictures), screenwriter Armstrong, and of course Pete Walker himself, who started making his own nasty brand of horror in the early 1970s with THE FLESH & BLOOD show before moving on to infamous success with HOUSE OF WHIPCORD and others. 
      Getting all these elements together might have seemed a bit daunting even for the most capable of producers. Of course Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of the Cannon Group actually weren't really capable at all - at least not of producing quality cinema (their biggest hit was apparently BREAKDANCE). They did, however, become famous for being able to separate investors from their money so they could  produce films that on the whole lost vast amounts of money due to Cannon giving the public what the public didn’t really want on a regular basis until said investors realised what was going on.
      And that’s one of the problems with HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS. It’s an old dark house thriller. Unfortunately this kind of picture went out of fashion in the early 1940s and never came back. Sadly Walker’s proposed project to Cannon about a murderous aborted foetus back from the dead and looking for revenge was rejected by Golan in favour of a ‘proper horror film’. It's a great shame that the project, called DELIVER US FROM EVIL (what a great title) and also due to be written by Armstrong, never reached the screen. Instead we have HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS. The screenplay was apparently written very quickly in about two weeks and unfortunately it does show, with the film taking ages to get going.   
      Once it does, and the old horror stars are reassembled, each after having their own superb visual introduction, the film is a delight. In the last half an hour or so there are some well-orchestrated nasty murders and you can tell that this is where Walker’s heart is. Sadly the opening half, documenting writer Arnaz’s bet with publisher Richard Todd (presumably driving Walker’s trademark Rolls Royce at the beginning) that he can write a great gothic novel in the tradition of Wuthering Heights isn’t just slow but rambling and uninspired as well. Only Norman Rossington as a deliciously melodramatic Welsh railway station master is worth watching or listening to, and Arnaz and Julie Peasgood as the young leads just don’t have the charisma of the stars of 1930s vehicles such as Barbara Stanwyck or Dick Powell.
      One can’t be too hard on HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, though, as it’s a film that by rights shouldn’t even have existed in the Jason Voorhees / Michael Myers dominated horror cinema of the early 1980s. The leads are an absolute joy, with Vincent Price getting to do what he was always best at (and getting to call Christopher Lee a bitch - which must be a cinematic once and only), Mr Lee doing his very best arrogant and slightly miffed fish out of water bit, Cushing playing around with one of his ‘weak character’ roles - a bit like CREEPING FLESH’s Emmanuel Hildern but without the brains or reckless abandon, and John Carradine doing a nice job of being the slightly incensed elderly master of the house. Sheila Keith is just wonderful as well, and her performance here only makes it all the more regrettable that this was to be her last appearance in a horror subject until the Amicus spoof episode of Steve Coogan’s Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible (And Now The Fearing). The bit players aren’t bad either, with Benny Hill regular Louise English as the pretty girl who gets her face burned off by acid, and Richard Hunter in the typical Walker male role of henpecked weakling of a husband.
      Even Richard Hartley does a creditable job trying to sound like Walker’s regular composer Stanley Myers doing haunted house music, and the location itself is nicely spooky. Apparently the house belonged to a friend of FLESH & BLOOD SHOW screenwriter Alfred Shaughnessy, bringing Walker's horror career full circle as he never made another film after this (shame).
        So as I said HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is an interesting film. Until its recent DVD release I hadn’t seen it since it first came out. Final Cut Entertainment’s transfer is okay, by the way, but the ‘Remastered Widescreen Edition’ doesn’t look anywhere near as good as this picture did when it first came out, or when it was shown on television many moons ago. It does, however, look better than the Guild Home Video release of many years back, plus there are some nice extras of a documentary and a commentary track from Walker.
      But of course now what I REALLY want to see is the script for DELIVER US FROM EVIL...

Friday 21 September 2012

Grabbers (2012)

If you ever go across the sea to may just get your blood drained by a giant tentacled monster from outer space. Unless you’re pissed that is, as alcohol is toxic to it. That’s the premise for this Irish love letter to the great giant monster movies of yesteryear.
Richard Coyle is the Alcoholic Policeman with a Past who has to welcome pretty temporary police officer Ruth Bradley onto a remote island off the coast of Ireland when she arrives to cover his regular colleague’s two weeks of leave. He’s not happy about it and pretty soon he’s even less happy when marine ecologist Russell Tovey starts chatting her up over the body of one of the mutilated whales that have been washed up on the beach overnight. Everyone is baffled by the discovery but that’s because they haven't seen the weird thing from outer space that crash landed in the sea at the beginning of the film. Nor have they seen the horrible fate of the fishermen who happened to be nearby in a prologue scene that wouldn’t be out of place in an old 1970s episode of DR WHO like Terror of the Zygons or Horror of Fang Rock.
It soon becomes apparent that the island is under attack from a great big tentacled gloopy monster that has laid eggs all along the beach. These eggs hatch out, giving rise to a whole load of tiny baby gloopy monsters that are just as hungry for human blood as their parent. The only thing that can deter them is if your blood alcohol levels are punishingly high, which is the excuse for everyone on the island to indulge in a lock-in in the island’s only pub as a storm rages outside and the creatures gather to attack.
Reminding me of everything from Terence Fisher’s 1966 Planet Production ISLAND OF TERROR to Ron Underwood’s TREMORS and the Dr Who I've mentioned above, GRABBERS is an old-fashioned monster movie that’s loads of fun. It’s been described as FATHER TED vs ALIENS and that’s probably the best way to approach it. There’s very little in the film that’s original (the idea of getting pissed to avoid being attacked popped up in William Fruet’s INVASION OF THE BODY SUCKERS aka BLUE MONKEY back in the late 1980s) but there’s a simple pleasure to be had in this movie which apparently has done extremely well in its homeland. The FrightFest screening I attended was apparently the only chance I would get to see GRABBERS ‘in this form’. I can only guess what that means, although admittedly some of the Irish accents at their most drunken might need a bit of dubbing for overseas markets. Other than that it’s a gleeful monster romp with likeable characters, an engaging setting and it deserves to do well.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

I Drink Your Blood (1970)

Lurid, sleazy, daft and amazingly blood drenched for a film made in 1970, David Durston’s horror picture for Jerry Gross was yet another of those films that until recently I had avoided simply because the plot (young boy infects hippies’ meat pies with rabies and turns them into insane killers) sounded too unpleasantly excessive to be any fun. Well I’ve been wrong before and here’s a good example. I should have checked out I DRINK YOUR BLOOD years ago. Of course if I had I would probably have ended up watching one of the numerous cut and hacked about versions out there, so perhaps it’s just as well that I waited for the uncut DVD, and even that came out ten years ago, thus demonstrating that even I’m not able to keep up with everything.
There aren’t that many classic exploitation films that open on a naked man standing behind a strategically placed sword, and it’s quite possible that this is the only one. We find ourselves at a ritual of the naked members of SADOS (Sons And Daughters Of Satan) which is basically a group of spaced out hippies led by Indian leader Bhaskar Chowdury. Unfortunately their chicken-slaying antics are witnessed by a local girl from the nearby town. Two of the gang molest her and, when the group move into the almost-ghost town where she lives, her grandfather Doc Banner, who also happens to be the local vet, goes to the old hotel where they are staying to have it out with them. They beat him up and feed him LSD. The Doc’s twelve year old grandson Pete (Riley Mills - quite possibly the best actor in the film) determines to get revenge. He shoots a wandering rabid dog, extracts some of its blood, and injects it into meat pies which are then sold to the hippies by the local bakery. It’s rather a sparse bakery, by the way, that doesn’t seem to sell anything but the meat pies in question. This is probably quite fortunate as a cream puff or lemon meringue injected with rabid dog blood might arouse suspicion.
The hippies tuck in and pretty soon are wandering around foaming at the mouth and attacking anyone who crosses their path, hacking off limbs with an axe or, in the case of pretty, mute Lynn Lowry, using an electric carving knife in a scene David Durston has proudly remarked was written especially for her. Pretty soon all the construction workers who are building the nearby dam are infected too, and the last twenty minutes is a riot as the remaining few survivors try to get to safety with only the maniacs’ fear of water as an often-hilarious means of defence.
Unless you’re familiar with it, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD doesn’t do what you’re expecting. The opening half an hour prepares you for a hippy version of the old Roger Corman Hell’s Angels pictures of the time before it turns into a crazy, manic, ebullient version of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD but with sleaze and silliness instead of the satire, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing. The murder scenes are way over the top, and once the film gets going it feels like a forerunner for the late 1980s gore epics of Peter Jackson such as BAD TASTE and BRAIN DEAD.  
Really worth taking a look at if you’re a fan of any of the above, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD has already been watched several times at Probert Towers and we’ll no doubt be watching it again when we fancy a dollop of daft, blood-drenched, drive-in craziness. With added hippies.

Friday 14 September 2012

Cockneys vs Zombies (2012)

What’s that coming over the hill? A far, far better film than anything with this title deserves to be, that’s what. Starting off on a construction site in London’s East End where vultures loom ominously and incongruously, workmen uncover a crypt sealed up in 1666 by order of King Charles II. Before someone can say “Maybe there’s gold in there,” or just after, actually, two likely lads have broken in, stumbled about a bit, and got attacked by the kind of reanimated skeleton one normally only sees wandering down fashion catwalks. 
Meanwhile Rasmus Hardiker is planning to rob a bank with his utterly incompetent gang so they can save his Grandad (Alan Ford) from being thrown out of the old folks home where he lives with Honor Blackman, Richard Briers, Dudley Sutton in a wheelchair, Tony Selby and his wooden leg, Georgina Hale still playing the trollop after all these years, and a host of other sitcom regulars and bit players that will provoke nods of affectionate nostalgia in those of a certain age, and blank looks from everyone else. 
Rasmus’s gang includes Mental Mickey, who’s had a metal plate inserted into his skull after his exploits in the Iraq war, and Michelle Ryan (ex Bionic Woman revamp) as a safecracker. Mental Mickey isn’t entirely stable, and has a lockup filled with machine guns and other weaponry which needless to say comes in terribly handy at the end of the film. The bank in question is run by obnoxious Tony Gardner and when everything goes wrong despite the entire gang (including Michelle) wearing fake moustaches as disguises they end up taking hostages and escaping from the bank only to find the East End of London in the grip of a zombie apocalypse. Will they get to the care home before Grandad and his chums get eaten?
COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES deserves a UK cinema release, it really does, especially as this is the only country where audiences are likely to get most of the in-jokes and “cultural” references. The soundtrack is great, featuring everything from The Automatic’s title song to the Kaiser Chiefs’ I Predict a Riot to the theme from Grandstand, with cockney chart toppers Chas and Dave providing the end title knees up with a specially composed song about the living dead. A scene in which the slow-moving living dead chase the even slower moving Richard Briers aided only by his Zimmer frame deserves to enter the Britcomedy hall of fame, and the ending rounds off the good-natured jaunty merriment of it all. I liked it far more than I was expecting, and it’s also a delight to see a film in which OAPs end up being the heroes. Congratulations to writers James Moran & Lucas Roche and director Matthias Hoene for making such a good-natured funny horror film in the spirit of SHAUN OF THE DEAD. If there is a sequel only NORTHERNERS vs ZOMBIES could possibly be more entertaining.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Livid (2011)

Since MARTYRS, THE HORDE and L’INTERIEUR, the prospect of watching a modern French horror film has filled me with dread - but in the very best way. While I can’t say I enjoyed any of the above there’s certainly an integrity to the modern French horror movement (they’re bound to call it a movement, aren’t they? or at least their critics will) that means that anything that comes from those shores is at worst worth a watch and at best something really special.
LIVID is a film that falls somewhere between those two pillars. It’s the follow-up to L’INTERIEUR from writer-directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo and while their previous movie had no supernatural elements LIVID plays out like an uneven fairy tale, but the kind you might have found in the Pan Book of Horror Stories, which is interesting as apparently the film was originally going to shoot in the UK.
There’s definitely a distinctly unpleasant, British feel to the opening of the film. Lucy is on her first day as a community nurse. She’s taken around the patients by the older Mrs Wilson and their day culminates in a visit to a huge crumbling mansion on the outskirts of town. Here, seemingly confined to her bed with an oxygen mask over her face and being transfused what looks like black blood, is the ancient Mrs Jessel. Mrs Wilson lets on that there’s meant to be a fabulous treasure hidden somewhere in the house, and later that night Lucy and her fisherman boyfriend Will and his friend Ben come back to steal it.
So far, so ordinary, and as if to emphasise the traditional horror elements of this first half there are even a couple of in-joke nods to AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and, of all things, HALLOWEEN III. But Mrs Jessel has trained in dance at the Tanzacademie in Freiburg and if you don’t know what that means then you need to go back to Dario Argento school right now. Once they break into the house and find rooms filled with grotesque tableaux composed of taxidermy specimens, culminating in Mrs Jessel’s seemingly dead daughter, the film takes a turn for the truly weird and gory. The significance of all those missing children posters we saw at the beginning of the film gets explained, too.
Well, I say explained, but in fact the last half an hour of LIVID doesn’t actually let you understand what’s going on - it just presents you with life in the Jessel house as it is at the moment when Lucy and her friends break in. There’s a laboratory and flashbacks to a dance school and some bloodstained ballerinas all mixed in with a lot of oddness and horror, and the atmosphere is terrific. I’m not a fan of confusing or pretentious horror cinema but I thought LIVID was rather more pleasingly ambiguous. I have no idea what actually happened at the end or what was going on at various points during the proceedings but I did get the feeling that the film-makers knew but were leaving me to work it out for myself. Even if you don’t like that kind of thing LIVID has a certain kind of decaying Gothic European atmosphere nailed perfectly, and for that alone it’s worth watching. In fact out of all the films I listed at the start of this review, this is probably the only one I would want to watch again.

Friday 7 September 2012

Shock Waves (1977)

Nazi zombies! Doesn’t that sound like a great idea for a horror film? Perhaps not an entire subgenre but certainly a film? Of course it does! Of course anyone who’s seen Jean Rollin’s ZOMBIE LAKE, and far more recently OUTPOST II, will know how it’s possible to monumentally waste such a good idea, but fortunately before all of that there was Ken Wiederhorn’s SHOCK WAVES, a film I had steered clear of for many years on the basis that I saw Mr Wiederhorn’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II in the cinema on its initial release, and despite some reviews to the contrary I wasn’t convinced that it was going to be any good.
SHOCK WAVES is certainly patchy, and even for a mid 1970s film it takes a while to get going. What it does have working for it, however are some of the creepiest zombie Nazi sequences ever put on film, including a fair few shot underwater which means that, while SHOCK WAVES will never be considered a classic like Fulci’s ZOMBI 2 or anything by Romero, it’s certainly worth a watch by anyone with a passing interest in the genre.
A group of 1970s young things with awful Laura Ashley dresses (Brooke Adams) and bouffant hairdos (Luke Halpin who, in the interview on the DVD, still has the same hairstyle - well done that man for sticking to his Barry Gibb guns!) are off on some kind of weird pleasure cruise on a boat captained by mad John Carradine who throws the radio overboard and gets killed as soon as there’s not enough money to pay him any more. After encountering a rotting Nazi ship that’s decided to pop up out of the water the yacht runs aground on an island and the survivors eventually stumble across a rotting country house where Peter Cushing lives, looking as if he’s been wearing the same clothes for the last thirty years. Cushing explains that he was responsible for creating a special Nazi Death Corps capable of working underwater without the need to breathe. This zombie regiment has been recruited from psychopaths, sadists, and all the other kinds of people you might think twice about putting into your death squad regiment. It’s therefore perhaps not surprising when Peter reveals that the zombies didn’t behave in quite the way they were supposed to and started attacking everyone. They’re supposed to be safely stored underwater but as we have already seen, they’re now on the march again and are getting closer.
As I’ve mentioned above, where SHOCK WAVES really wins is in its zombies, which have some great makeups by Alan Ormsby and are played by men who seem to be able to hold their breath underwater for a very long time. There are a lot of scenes of them wandering around but Ken Wiederhorn has somehow grasped the kind of magic that’s lacking in many similar pictures where these shots would get boring very quickly. Peter Cushing is obviously in it for marquee value as he doesn’t last long and his info dump could have been achieved with the discovery of a diary. Still, it’s just another little extra that goes a way towards elevating SHOCK WAVES out of the mire of low budget rubbish and into something approaching a minor classic.

Monday 3 September 2012

Isolation (2005)

Nobody told me Ireland has been knocking out some cracking little horror films over the last few years, but with DOROTHY (already reviewed on this site), GRABBERS (coming soon) and this I’m going to give Ireland its own category. Bought blind at the video shop the other day ISOLATION was far better than we were expecting and may just have created a whole new horror subgenre.
All is not well on a remote Irish farm where it never stops raining and the only ground surface seems to consist of mud of varying runny consistencies. Penniless farmer Dan (John Lynch, who’s excellent) has agreed to allow one of his cows to be used in a genetic experiment organised by the obviously villainous John (Marcel Iures). The cow is pregnant but it’s going to be a difficult birth. Vet Orla (Essie Davis) gets bitten by whatever is growing inside the cow during a routine examination, and when the calf is eventually born, after great difficulty, both it and the mother have to be put down. The calf is inexplicably found to also be pregnant, but with a number of mutant hybrid creatures that are presumably a by-product of the experiment. The mutant foetus things aren’t dead, however, and it turns out they have the potential to infect the rest of humankind. John orders the place quarantined and the search is on for the creatures.
I don’t know if there are any grim veterinary horror films out there but ISOLATION may well be the first, and very very good it is, too. The entire film is seriously dark and unpleasant, the characters all feel real, and the animal stuff made me wonder if the picture hadn’t been made by a bunch of vets who wanted to make a horror film. The nail gun they use to kill the calf and its mother looks like the kind of thing that’s probably used in real life, and the horrible gloomy surroundings just add to the sense of nihilism and hopelessness that doesn’t let up for the entire picture.
With all that going on you might think that the appearance of mutant cow foetuses might ruin it all, but not a bit of it. The creatures are barely shown, and when they are there’s not a pixel of CGI in the house - just horrible-looking puppets shown very briefly so as not to diminish their effect. If you need a description the only thing I can liken these weird, bony creatures to is the gun Jude Law makes out of his own teeth in EXISTENZ. In  fact, probably the best way to describe ISOLATION is a Grim Irish Cronenberg Veterinarian Horror picture. I thought it was great and I can’t believe it isn’t better known. It’s on this site because it deserves a lot of love and attention and I hope this review helps it to get some. Much, much more Irish horror, please!

Saturday 1 September 2012

The Possession (2012)

There’s been quite a flood of devil movies from Hollywood in the last couple of years, ranging from the almost unimaginably pompous (THE RITE, in which Anthony Hopkins stars in a piece that felt like James Herriot with priests, and bad James Herriot at that) to the really quite good (THE LAST EXORCISM, which did a great job of using the documentary / found footage format and only stumbled right at the end). In the old days the crappy ripoffs would come from Italy but now Hollywood makes those itself as well (THE DEVIL INSIDE - my review of this hilarious bucket of old cobblers is currently the most popular review on this site). There are more of these movies to come and the latest to hit UK cinema screens is THE POSSESSION.
‘Based on a true story’ says the kind of title card that will have the more cynical among us taking that with a pinch of salt, or possibly even a maxi-pack multi-buy economy sack of it.
So there’s this wooden box that’s owned by an old lady and has something horrible living in it. Before the old lady can somehow destroy it she’s had the crap beaten out of her and the box is for sale as part of a grand clear out because now she’s bandaged up and confined to bed presumably her son thinks she will never need any of her belongings ever again.
The box is bought by Em (Natasha Calls) one of the two young daughters of divorced PE teacher dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan last seen in Hammer’s THE RESIDENT which really wasn’t very good at all). Both Clyde’s profession and his ability to be a bit hopeless (e.g. completely forgetting to attend his elder daughter’s school performance for no good reason) did not endear me to him as a character, but then neither did his irritating ex-wife Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) so it’s left to the kids to steal the show, especially little Em who gets the box open, slips on a ring she finds there and is soon doing her best Linda Blair impersonation before Linda Blair ended up in awful women in prison films. 
There was a demon in the box and it’s trying to take over Em, leading to the very best sequences in the film, including one set in an MRI scanner that’s superbly creepy and something I’ve never seen done before. It’s not a straightforward, find-a-Catholic-priest-who-isn’t-drunk-or-in-prison-to-help kind of demon, though. Having played with the idea of a lamia in his DRAG ME TO HELL here producer Sam Raimi throws a dibbuk at us. Finding this out, Clyde goes off to the Jewish area of town (do all American cities have these?) where I was worried / hoping for a moment that he might encounter Sacha Baron Cohen as the requisite exorcist. He doesn’t, but once the film hits this bit it does all become a bit too silly and in the hands of a different director could have been properly hilarious. As it is director Ole Bornedal plays everything straight so there are no real surprises here.
THE POSSESSION is a reasonable timewaster and has a couple of good scares that will make it worth diehards like me watching it. Everyone else can wait for SINISTER to come out so they can properly have the pants scared off them.