CATACOMB OF TERROR
 

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR

1979. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg

Arguable the most renowned 'Haunted House' movie ever made and one that blurs the line between reality and fantasy amongst the general populace. Was it or wasn't it based on a true story - the debate still goes on it seems?

We begin with a newly wed couple George Lutz (James Brolin) and his wife Kathy (Margot Kidder) moving into a large house, (along with Kathy's 2 boys from a previous marriage), in Long Island where several years earlier a family member lost their mind and slaughtered all his relatives in their beds whilst they slept. George and Kathy decide to get the house blessed by friend and catholic priest Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) and it is soon apparent that all is not well within the abode as Delaney is locked in a room with a foul stench, numerous flies and an invisible demon who in no uncertain terms tells the priest to 'Get Out'. Delaney tries to warn the young couple of the uncovered horror but is always impeded by the malignant force. As time passes George becomes more brooding, more temperamental and is constantly cold which in turn increases his anger. Kathy is aware of an unsettling presence, numerous unexplained accidents occur and after some research at a local library they discover that the house is built on a tribal burial ground and a devil worshipper used to live on the land. The tensions and dangers reach a zenith - will the family win through?

Effects wise and for sheer gore this film is ultimately tame but for an unsettling episode of haunted house goings on it is still a worthwhile and slightly plausible watch. Kidder is solid as ever, Brolin a bit wooden but the story is sound enough and once more we have a must for the shelves of the avid horror historian.

   

GHOST SHIP

2003.  Directed by Steve Beck
 
A modern day horror with a familiar theme - a group of people trapped in a spooky place - how unoriginal!  It is difficult though to create a new tale of terror and although this one is routine and predictable it does still have a good atmosphere to intrigue.
 
In 1962 a passenger liner, the Antonia Graza, becomes the scene for a mass murder with all aboard wiped out except for a young girl.  We move to the present day and a group of salvage hunters led by Captain Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) move in for the find of a lifetime after being tipped off by Canadian Air Force Pilot Jack Ferriman (Desmond Harrington) that the liner is still afloat in a remote area of the Bering Sea.  Once aboard numerous supernatural events occur with an obvious thread unravelling and the usual one by one killings taking place.  It could be a flop, it holds its own and is one of those journeys that holds interest through nothing more than good atmospheric sets.  The question remains throughout - can the salvage crew rescue the ship and claim it for their own, what is the young girl who survived the initial horrors still doing on board and will the demonic, dark forces take all life?
 
The short running time help in making this a viewable effort, the odd squeamish scene is delivered adequately and the acting, although operating with a limited script, is still decently done.  There are a lot worse flicks out there and some that really never get going but this one has a gory opening sequence to ride along on and just manages to scrape by before the final corned twist.  Average and worth the odd peek here and there - it will never make classic status though!

   

THE MONSTER CLUB

1981.  Directed by Roy Ward Baker
 
Another envelope of horror this time filled with a tongue in cheek style of horror that is pure self effacing corn but is also highly watchable with many memorable scenes.  There is a book of this film which I had read previously to this latest viewing and both are very much worthy of your attention.
 
After being nibbled on the neck a horror writer, R.Chetwynd-Hayes (John Carradine) is invited to a local monster club by the charming vampire Erasmus (Vincent Price) where he is introduced to many inhuman beasties, 3 of which there is a tale of terror to tell.  The opening story tells of a Shadmock known as Raven (James Laurenson), a tragic creature living a life of almost utter solitude.  Raven advertises for a helper to help him sort out certain belongings and receives the assistance of a lady named Angela (Barbara Kellerman), who has deceptive motives that are plotted by her deviant, greed driven boyfriend (Simon Ward).  A friendship develops, an engagement takes place, a sourness and repulsion erupts - the end result is predicable but does the job.  The second tale is a swift vampire jaunt regarding a bloodsucker (Anthony Steele) comically known as Lintom Busotsky (an anagram of the producer Milton Subotsky) who is hounded by a small team of bureaucratic vampire hunters led by Pickering (Donald Pleasance).  Again no great surprises and with a minor twist at the end but...it still does the job.  The final frolic concerns a movie director choosing a location for his next film that, unbeknown to himself, is filled with flesh eating ghouls.  A real atmospheric piece this and one that keeps the tension high.  This latter yarn has another final turn and rounds off a rewarding watch.  In between each small cutlet of horror we are given several musical interludes and pertinent dialogues that keep the story adhesive and flowing.  The end of the film comes when humans are announced as the most despicable creatures of all and the aforementioned R. Chetwynd-Hayes is made a honorary monster and member of the club.  Cute!
 
I love this style film with its ideal delivery that meets the needs of those with a short span of attention.  A host of names step in and out of the frames including Britt Ekland, Patrick Magee and Geoffrey Bayldon.  You get a few tunes from the likes of B. A. Robertson and UB40 too and so all in all you are dealt a real hotch-potch of entertainment that somehow works.  Some may find this laughable dross but they miss the essence and this is one to get in your collection as soon as.  The book of the film by the way was written by R.Chetwynd-Hayes – double cute!

   

WESTWORLD

1973. Directed by Michael Crichton

Obviously comparisons can be made to this with the later Terminator film (in a very loose sense) with the main connection for me being the lack of input from the main stars and yet still having them make such an impact. This film has that self questioning appeal with 'Which land would I visit' the most obvious one springing to mind. It is these small and often overlooked aspects that can make or break a movie.

We begin with 2 dudes, Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and John Blane (James Brolin) on their way to the new theme amusement park Delos, a place where you are offered 3 virtual worlds in which to live out your fantasy - Roman World, Medieval World and West World. Just watch the excitement in Martins face has they travel to their destination - marvellous. On arrival our two heroes and the rest of the crew are given their costumes and are sent out to live a true escapist dream with no holds barred and all areas of realism covered. Within each world are numerous 'in-character' life-like robots that play out their roles and are there for all your requirements - to love, to converse with, to kill. Martin and Blane are soon into their roles within the Westernised theme area and are having the time of their lives indulging in gambling, drinking, womanising and gun-slinging - it seems ideal, that is until a malfunction within the automatons becomes viral and one dark character (Yul Brynner) becomes the main cause of concern. Now we have a game of life and death...

This film, when stripped out and criticised harshly, is a pretty basic affair with numerous flaws but…what a great idea to ponder well after the final scene. The build up to the final showdown is entertaining enough but it seems there were so many other options to play on. Nevertheless this is a good romp with Brynner mincing along in suitable style and being a real menace. I am surprised this hasn't been blatantly replicated but hey there is time in this age that is void of ideas. In the meantime enjoy this easy classic.

   

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN

1996. Directed by Robert Rodriguez.

A film that loads up with high levels of intrigue and potential and then plummets to depths that really are remarkably...what is the word I seek...ah that's it....shit. A real let down and one that starts to rely on effects and idiot dialogue rather than a well layered plot that reveals itself with slow and steady tension.

Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and his psychopath and rapist brother Richard Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) hold up a bank, kill a few folk, move on and continue the rampage in a convenience store whilst holding a very scared hostage. They take refuge in a motel and successfully hijack a recreational vehicle that contains the fallen pastor Reverend Jacobs (Harvey Keitel) and his son and daughter - the target - to cross the Mexican border. It all sounds fine and dandy and off they head but when the group stop off at the Bikers Bar, known as the Titty Twister, the fun really starts (feel free to exchange fun for 'utter nonsense). Vampires, nudity, punch-ups, corny dialogue, tongue in cheek horror and a whole gamut of low brow tomfoolery will either leave you thoroughly entertained or absolutely deflated. 

The interest levels during the first segment of this film were easily maintained but once the fiasco at the bar breaks out the boredom quickly took root which I feel has even transcended into this brief overview. I really can't be bothered to be over accurate or elaborate with the review of this film and can't find much to recommend for the genuine horror connoisseur - sometimes you just gotta admit defeat.

   

STIGMATA

1999. Directed by Rupert Wainwright

A thought provoking film shot with delicacy and atmosphere at the fore and with the lead lady putting in a decent performance as a happy go lucky girl suddenly dragged in to a world of spiritual malevolence and intrigue.

In Sao Paulo the face of the Virgin Mary appears on the side of a building so a Vatican priest, father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), is sent to check it out. Whilst there a statue of the hallowed lady starts to bleed in a nearby church at the funeral of Father Paulo Alameida (Jack Donner) and so further investigations are necessary. Some rosary beads are stolen from the dead Father’s hand by a young boy who later sells them at a marketplace to a woman who then sends them to her atheist daughter as a present - the plot begins to thicken. Back in the US hairdresser and fancy free lass Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) is the recipient of the beads and soon after starts to suffer from stigmata, a manifestation of the physical wounds Christ received from his crucifixion - is there a connection - it seems quite obvious. Kiernan is soon hot on the trail and eventually uncovers a plot to suppress the coming to light of the Gospel of Thomas, a lost gospel that was written by Jesus and has the potential to throw the whole of the Catholic Church into disarray. It seems that father Almeida was working on the translation of this document, with two others, before he died and is using Ms Paige as a vessel to get his message out in the open - many senior members do not want any of these writings to become public concern and so Kiernan finds himself in an intriguing web which is made more difficult by his increasing emotional feelings for the tragic figure of Paige.

This is a slow moving picture that thrives as a result. The focus is on atmosphere and the politics of religion and the ambience captured is quite ideal for a tale such as this. Byrne and Arquette give fine performances with the latter offering an abundance of emotions throughout and marking her down as an accomplished actress. Rather than full on horror this one has a whole lot more and perhaps not meeting the needs of the blood hungry the film still has decent depth and some solid supporting roles to ponder. 

   

AVP: ALIEN VS PREDATOR

2004. Directed by Paul W. S. Sanderson

The whole concept of this film is about making money via a double spin-off and offering up an all out carnage via two cinematic monsters laden with a cruel and brutal reputation - comic book stuff awaiting to happen but...the director does a little more and keeps this from developing into an all out cheapo showdown in adequate style.

A heat bloom leads to an underground pyramid being discovered in Antarctica and thus an expedition to be the first to uncover it is led by billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen). The team has a guide at the helm, namely Alexa Woods (Sanaa Latha) and it is her role to get the team in, out and back in one piece – as if! When the team arrives at the site they discover a shaft that leads to the centre of the heat source - little do they know that this shaft has been blasted out by a Predator ship that has just returned to this known site to indulge in their favoured hunting games. The team enter further into the pyramid and discover, via some hieroglyphics, that the predators use this construction as a place where they can hunt the ultimate prey, the aliens, by rearing them through human sacrifices and duly using as sport. All hell lets loose when a mother Alien revives from cryogenic stasis and starts to lay eggs to trigger off a new colony. Death comes to all sides in this trinity of warfare.

It was expected to be a real duff do and lack any depth but the film had me entertained albeit on a real base level. The script and acting performances are nothing outrageous and a few of the team are utterly clichéd and irritating but forgetting these minor niggles if you take this for a fun time blow out and just a 'for the hell of it' spectacle then pleasure is to be had. Also this one is now a budget certainty - so why not?

   

PAN'S LABYRINTH
 
2006.  Directed by Guillermo del Toro
 
A horrific tale of fates cruelty loaded with innocent escapism and heart rendering emotion this film is quite honestly a work of magical brilliance. The contrast of characters, the nebulous line between reality and fantasy and the stark face of love, necessity, resistance and brutality all converge and create a minor classic.

Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is a young girl and is thrown into a world of terror as her mum Carmen (Ariadna Gil) is somewhat forced to marry and live with her authoritarian and ultimately insanely focused husband Vidal (Sergo Lopez), a Captain in Franco's army. Ofelia struggles with her new life and seeks solace in a mystical labyrinth she finds besides the new family residence. Here she meets the guardian Pan (Doug Jones) who informs her that she is indeed the long lost Princess of a magical kingdom and that she must complete 3 tasks to discover the entire truth. Alongside this Vidal and his army set to wipe out a small band of resistance troops (the Spanish Maquis) who are fighting against the regions Francoist regime. Ofelia's pregnant mother becomes increasingly ill during this period with Vidal only interested in saving his unborn son rather than his innocent wife - the obsession with this potential heir is terrifying in itself and reveals further layers to the mania within. Within the weave we have Mercedes (Maribel Verdu), Vidal's housekeeper and compassionate revolutionary whom helps the rebellious army whenever she can which, in its ranks, has her brother Pedro (Roger Casamajor) fighting for the cause. All sub plots intertwine, we are led into a fairy tale of darkness and truth where every moment has us spellbound.

In truth I didn't expect much from this Spanish escapade and had it on my DVD shelves for many a month before getting to a serious viewing - what a major oversight and misdirected pre-judgement. The film is a gem, crammed with convincing performances, effects and child-like wonder as well as some serious thought provoking episodes that highlight the viciousness and frailty of the human condition. A necessity for any enthusiast of several sub-genres and one to delight in over and over again. 

   
SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN
 

1970
.  Directed by Gordon Hessler
 

A film I watched when I was about 8 years old and thought was a darn peach. I watched it again later in life and felt the same - now I am doing a brief review - will this conspiracy/sub-horror thriller still hold up?

There are 3 plots going on at the same time here and if concentration wavers the film becomes a muddle. An athlete is having his limbs removed after waking up in a mysterious hospital bed following a suspected heart attack - Dr Browning (Vincent Price) is a doctor involved in some underhand organ and limb transplant scheme. An official from a totalitarian state arrives home and is killed by a man with remarkable strength. Women are being picked up and killed by a vampiric psychopath called Keith (Micheal Gothard) in London, the abrupt Detective Supt. Bellaver (Alfred Marks) and his team are on the case. All three plots intertwine but still many questions are left unanswered. What we have is a mish mash that suggests many things but never really nails home a true definition which may or may not be fully intended but it does leave a final unsatisfied sensation and a wonder as to what the composites going to be used for. The few moments of horror are well delivered, the British feel is attractive, Alfred Marks is a joy as the terse, no nonsense Detective and Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are in the film all too briefly and mainly used as a selling point.

Do I rate this one as highly as originally thought - in truth no. Too convoluted, not enough shock factor and just trying to be something that it really shouldn't want to be. Ok for a quick tootle now and again but to be brutal - no great shakes.

   

THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR

1968. Directed by Vernon Sewell

Insane goings on with a giant lepidopteron specimen out for blood and a mad doctor on a quest to literally die for. A recognisable cast, a distinct feel to the film and with a fantastic storyline this is one of those that tries to be original but comes out as a moment of movie madness.

A coachman, Joe Trigger (Leslie Howard), is driven insane after seeing the perpetrator of several grisly murders and so it is left to Detective Inspector Quennell (Peter Cushing) of Scotland Yard and his assistant, Sergeant Allan (Glynn Edwards) to sort out these grisly goings on. It transpires that the two latest victims are students of local entomology professor Dr. Carl Mallinger (Robert Flemying), who lives with his daughter Clare (Wanda Ventham), and their butler, Granger (Kevin Stoney) - a strange trio indeed. Quennell has a theory regarding a killer eagle on the loose which he duly puts to Mallinger whom comes across as all unsettled and somewhat suspicious - the fact he has a pet eagle is pure cinematic coincidence. Next, and naturalist Frederick Britewell (William Wilde) returns from Africa with a collection of moth pupae for the unhinged Doctor which adds further convolutions to the yarn. Britewell falls in love with the doctor’s daughter but is then killed by...well that would be telling but the hybrid of a werewolf cum vampire cum moth species is something to consider in the meantime.  Eventually we get to the crux of the matter after several clues lead the detectives to a horrifying realisation – can we take it?

The film is utter balderdash, pure tomfoolery of the highest order with no foundations to encourage any sort of belief but...it is a decent escapade that Cushing throws himself into as well as the rest of the cast. The ending is tame, the effects startlingly poor but I have a soft spot for the B-movie attempts and this one is easily enjoyed.
   

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