CATACOMB OF TERROR
 

KONGA

1961. Directed by John Lemont

Another tale of gigantism this time with an innocent chimp at the helm who gets the wrong end of a mad scientists stick and eventually comes a cropper - nothing new there then. The fact that the film tries to play on the King Kong legend is laughable but this intriguing journey has much to enjoy.

After a terrible plane crash and being presumed dead botanist and general obnoxious maniac Charles Decker (Michael Gough) returns from Africa with a chimpanzee and ideas towards a serum that can force plants and animals to grow to an enormous size -he has plans to conquer, he has plans to test out his experiments on anyone who gets in his way. Decker uses his serum on the chimp, hypnotises the resultant gorilla (yes I know) to eliminate anyone who stands in his way. The doctors assistant, and current partner, Margaret is infatuated with him and in return for a promise of marriage helps him in carrying out his dastardly deeds, that is until one of the doctors young female students, Sandra Banks (Claire Gordon) catches his eye and his desires focus elsewhere. Decker treats Margaret quite terribly, she eventually susses him for the man he his after watching him try to seduce young Sandra in one of their botanical greenhouses and thus, having access to the serum and the gorillas cage, the outcome is almost obvious.

Effects wise this is a shocker and the story is hardly competing for some kind of originality award but I thoroughly enjoyed watching this again of late and Gough's performances are, although slightly hammed, worthy of anyone's attention. His focus and general maniacal cruelty is a treat for the horror fan and, add to this, the general British essence of the film and we have a jaunt to sit back and just go along with. Nothing too deep, nothing too scary - just good old exploitation entertainment at its most average.
   
THE WITCHES
 
1966
.  Directed by Cyril Frankel  

A quaint English production that relies on suggestion and atmosphere rather than all out disposable horror and gore. It come across as an intriguing watch and has several good acting performances.

Wealthy brother and sister, Stephanie (Kay Walsh) and Alan Bax (Alec McCowen) hire Gwen Mayfield (Joan Fontaine) to become the head teacher of their small private school in a rural town that is somewhat insular and draped in backward ways. Mayfield has recently returned to Britain after suffering a mental breakdown in Africa where she was teaching as a missionary and where she witnessed a witchcraft based rebellion that pushed her over the edge. Soon after her appointment, following a pleasing and tranquil start, suspicions arise when Ms Mayfield uncovers a plot to sacrifice a local girl in a witchcraft ritual, which will supposedly give the leader of the coven eternal life. One of Mayfield's students, Ronnie Dowsett (Martin Stephens), is being harassed by the cult to keep him from protecting Linda (Ingrid Brett), the chosen sacrifice and his current girlfriend, and so the head teacher eventually gets drawn deeper and deeper into the mysterious occurrences and underhand goings on leading up to a finale that is quite bizarre to say the least.

Despite the laughable climax this film is a decent film with weighty performances and unsettling suggestion. If one overlooks comparisons with Hammer’s Wheatley based offerings and of course all things Wickerman this can be taken and thoroughly enjoyed for the quaint slice of timid horror that it is.
   
THE FLY
 
1986.  Directed by David Cronenberg
 

A remake of the Kurt Neuman classic from 1958 this time with a greater emphasis on the gore factor and the relationship between the typical over-enthusiastic scientist and the conveniently easily seduced female reporter (any excuse in the 80's to squeeze a bit of rumpy pumpy in).

Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is an amateur inventor cum scientist and in his spare time has thrown together a transporter of matter which he eventually shows to reporter Veronica Quaife (Geena Davies) whom he is determined to seduce using all his cheesy charm. Of course he duly beds the gullible woman and sets about various transportation experiments eventually leading to using living matter. After a few hiccups things start to run smooth with the futuristic machine so Brundle attempts to transport himself - of course when he does a fly gets in the mix and the DNA of both man and insect are jumbled. The consequences at first seem to be all in favour of the scientist, giving him super fitness and an unsurpassable sexual energy - enter the sex scene (poor indeed). Alas, all things are not as they seem and as days pass our embryonic demon with the semen begins to turn into a fly. The film makes the most of this with many gruesome moments had - finger nails dropping off, teeth falling out, vomiting on food to digest etc. Quaife is heartbroken at this turn of events and as things go from bad to worse the end is a mere lesson in routine predictability.

The film we have here is fine, it has a few good 'ewww' factor moments and it kind of sticks to the original story but...the characters lack any depth whatsoever and there is nothing in the film that holds permanent interest - perhaps there doesn't have to be. All said and done I quite enjoyed this and made comparative mental notes with the original throughout. The fact you have 2 lead characters in the film and hardly anyone else in support puts a whole heap of pressure on the performances and with a story such as this they just hold up - it is still worth a watch though purely for its simple entertainment value.
   
THE OMEGA MAN
 
1971
. Directed by Boris Sagal 

A pure 70's rehash of the classic tale 'I Am Legend' by Richard Matheson which, of course, was made into the wonderful movie 'The Last Man On Earth'. This escapade is a lot more slick and as a result a lot less gritty but with Heston at the helm you can't help but smile and enjoy.

The tale revolves around one mans fight to maintain sanity and life as he faces up to an existence alone after a bout of biological warfare has killed most of humanity and left the rest as nocturnal vampire-like creatures who want to kill our in house hero, US Army Colonel and scientist Robert Neville, M.D. (Charlton Heston). These night time devils are albinos and are joined under the name of 'The Family', an almost religious cult hell-bent on changing the direction of society and setting up a new technology free system. Neville is a minor stumbling block to the 'Families' plans and the film primarily revolves around this battle. Neville is eventually captured and found guilty of heresy by the group leader Jonathan Matthias (Anthony Zerbe). It looks as though that our heroes number is up but a mysterious woman, Lisa (Rosalind Cash), whom Neville saw in a shop earlier in the film, comes to his rescue and takes him to a retreat where a few survivors are hiding. Neville has a vaccine which he has used on himself and he plans to restore immunity to Lisa’s brother, Richie (Eric Laneuville) and then the rest of the survivors - the plan may take years. Neville, Lisa and Richie move back to his pad where Richie is treated, a love interest arises, the Family decide to attack - the showdown begins. Plans to escape to the wilderness are on hold - will things turn out bright and sunny or will the Family keep things dark and moonlit?

This is far from a classic, it lacks any bleak and desolate atmosphere and it fails in part to fully expose the psychological state of our main outcast but...if taken as a cheap and cheerful jaunt that is about escapism and putting yourself in a similar situation and wondering what you would do…then the film can be thoroughly warmed to. Heston is always a pleasure, as per his chest gets exposed, he is the charismatic chap that has a realistic outlook and he does give the film believability and life. Again this is another you can pick up cheap - and why shouldn't you?
   

HALLOWEEN 3. THE SEASON OF THE WITCH

1982. Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

A real oddity that bears no resemblance to the rest of the Halloween series and merely uses the name as a vehicle to propel this sub-B Movie effort onto better, undeserved levels of appreciation.

Several days prior to Halloween a shop owner Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry) is chased by some sinister businessmen.  He escapes, collapses, ends up in hospital whereupon he is located by another suited and sinister man and duly killed. The slayer then burns himself alive inside his car. Witness to this final horror is the films lead Dr Dan Challis (Al Berry), who soon hooks up with Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin) who is determined to find out what happened to her father despite the sinister goings-on. Their investigation takes them to the tucked away town of Santa Mira, California, home of the Silver Shamrock Novelties factory which is led by the prosperous Irishman Conal Cochran. Challis and Grimbridge stop at the hotel (cue pointless corned coupling) and learn many things that leads them to the decision that the factory is not all what it seems and their recent output of Halloween masks are set to cause some real head busting devastation - roll the final tear up.

An odd film totally out of sync with the rest of the franchise and one which at first, I thought was half decent, and now feel it is pretty darn crud in many parts. The thing is, if you are a true horror nut, these lo-fi cheapoid products that attempt at being so much and end up becoming a minor squeak will be viewed over and over just for the atmosphere of a certain generic era - well that's my excuse anyway.
   

AMITYVILLE 2: THE POSSESSION

1982. Directed by Damiano Damiani

One of the best films in the Amityville saga with the usual goings on but this time with extra devilry, a darker underlying edge and some well timed and thought out special effects.

An Italian family move into a house built on an ancient burial ground. Mum, Dolores (Rutanya Alda) is a kind hearted lady and deeply religious whereas Dad, Anthony (Burt Young), is abusive and totally against his wife’s beliefs and the church in general. After several unexpected turns of events the strain begins to show and Dolores tries to persuade the local priest, Father Frank Adamsky (James Olson), to bless the house. During this time the eldest son Sonny (Jack Magner) becomes increasingly more sinister and ends up playing a game with his sister Patricia (Patricia Montelli) whom he says can be the model and he the photographer - this leads to incestuous evil and shows another dark layer to a highly absorbing film. Things boil up nicely when Patricia visits a confessional, eventually is found out to be having relations with her demon possessed brother and Adamsky returns from a trip away to find that Sonny has killed his entire family including his youngest brother and sister. Sonny is arrested, the priest wants to get to the bottom of these devilish matters, he frees Sonny from his possession and returns to the house to perform an exorcism - the end is in sight.

This one seems a regular flick at first but becomes darker and darker as things progress. It has a solid tempo, some good interaction between characters and a decent level of tension and suspense throughout. Perhaps the best of the Amityville franchise and certainly one to view several times over.

   

THE WOMAN IN BLACK

2012. Directed by James Watkins

A spine-tingling ghost story primarily built on heavy atmosphere and unsettling suggestion and shot with a slant towards ghostly greys and misted shades that create natural tension.

It is Edwardian England and in a small village 3 young girls walk to a window and fall to their death. Years later we find widowed lawyer Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe) arranging the sale of Eel Marsh House which, by various means, sees him sent to the remote village of Cryphin Gifford where he his given a frosty welcome, to say the least, despite making the acquaintance of Sam Daily (Ciarán Hinds). Even though Kipps is advised to return back to London he visits Eel Marsh House and discovers that the house is actually haunted by a woman in black who lost her son in the marsh and now seeks revenge on the locals children (hence the original 3 who jumped to their deaths). The intrigue begins, the atmosphere becomes saturated with bleakness - we begin a journey into terror.

This effort is more than adequate and despite the crawling pace the overall effect is one of sublime horror. The camera work captures an essence, the general greyness of the film is utterly apt - yes - not one to gush over but one to watch, immerse in and ponder at great length.
   

OCTOPUS

2000. Directed by John Eyres

Sometimes one begins to watch a film and instantly knows that they are going to be palmed off with a clichéd bout of predictable bilge water that, although entertaining, will hardly be thought about again - here is such an instance.

It is the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and a sub is sunk whilst on its way to Havana delivering some rather dubious substance. As the sub sinks the substance is released into the waters - fast forward several years. A terrorist is being transported by a nuclear submarine to the United States, whilst his comrades are planning to hijack his captor’s sub and release their leader. As if this isn't enough for the crew to handle a giant beast is homing in and looking hell-bent on destroying all in its path. It isn't hard to guess what this behemoth of the deep is - the title of the film is a subtle clue, the closest thing you will find to subtlety in this very poor flick – enough said.

Again, picked up as part of a box set, this one has all the makings of a cheapo wash-out and delivers time and time again. The action levels are high, the pace of the film incessant but I doubt you'll be anything other than bored by the halfway mark. The end is obvious, the effects of a period when we thought the ground was breaking - oh hum. One watch and that is it!
   

THEATRE OF DEATH

1967. Directed by Samuel Gallu

The title of this one is purely of an era and when a true horror nut sees the name Christopher Lee involved then it becomes essential viewing with the expected high anticipation.

The Theatre de Morte specialises in horror productions, with at the helm, an unsettled performer with an utter zeal to get things as realistic as possible, namely Phillipe Darvas (Christopher Lee). At an opening night performance where Darvas hypnotises a newcomer known as Nicole Chapelle (Jenny Till) to take part in a production of 'The Witches of Salem', Nicole takes proceedings too far and nearly burns the face of another actress Dani Gireaux (Lelia Goldoni) with a red hot poker. Dani's boyfriend, Dr. Charles Marquis (Julian Glover), who is a police surgeon and is investigating the deaths of several women who are seemingly victims of a vampire, stops the performance. Marquis has suspicions of the murderer and after probing Darvas he is more than a little convinced of his leanings. Meanwhile Darvas takes a liking to Nicole and his behaviour becomes quite invasive. Next day, after Darvas has made certain advances his cape is eventually found and is covered with blood! Is Darvas a vampire? Is Darvas dead? Are we being thrown off track by a blood red herring?

An intriguing film but in truth a difficult one to get through if not in the right mood. The pace is sticky, the atmosphere somewhat cold and the performances not 100% convincing. It should work, it should be a stunner but instead it is an average outing that lacks that finishing touch of class and conviction.
   

WEREWOLF - THE BEAST AMONG US

2012. Directed by Louis Morneau

A modern take on the lycanthropic curse with everything looking promising for a most excellent jaunt. The presentation, the bumph and the general expectation all suggested a classic but what actually transpired was...well, something not really up to scratch.

Charles (Ed Quinn) is a werewolf hunter and has a band of fellow minds to try and help him rid the world of these lycanthropic beasts. The film starts with Charles as a young boy and him witnessing the death of his family at the hands of a werewolf. Before his mum dies she gives him a silver amulet of a howling wolfs-head. We move on to Daniel (Guy Wilson), a young man in a 19th century village who is a protégé of a local doctor, who ends up joining Charles and his gang after they arrive in town and expose a local scam. The group promise to catch a werewolf that has been terrorising the town, a werewolf with a few differences. It turns out that after the solstice this creature will be able to control its transformations at will and move the terrorising to a whole new level – of course the race is on in all its corned glory!

Again we have a film that promises so much and has me hoping for something similar to The Wolfman that was released in 2010. No such thing, this one fails to reach those heights and becomes too action based for its own good and rather overlooks the many chances to build on atmosphere and subtle horror - it seems par for the course in these modern times.

   

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