CATACOMB OF TERROR
THE WICKER MAN
1973. Robin Hardy
For a piece of British cinema history and a truly unhinged look into the pagan world then this timeless classic is without doubt the choice.
Set in the remote land of Summerissle devout Christian Police Seargent Howie (Edward Woodward) flies in and sets about investigating the disappearance of a local girl. His questioning of the locals results in the uncovering of many bizarre rituals and unchristian acts which wonderfully build up and certainly unsettle the Seargent as well as the transfixed viewer.
The lands owner Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) is determined to not lets the crops fail and has plans to offer the gods a worthy sacrifice. Lee is in tremendous form as a grinning lunatic clearly embracing the pagan lifestyle and encouraging the rest of the Isle to follow suit.
The ending is still a true shocker and is a genuinely chilling moment.
The cameo role from Britt Ekland is memorable for obvious reasons and Ingrid Pitt has a fleeting part as the librarian.
An unadulterated peach with the insane camera work during the drinking scenes wonderfully executed and the general unstable atmosphere transcending the screen.
1963. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
A film with an abundance of excellent on screen chemistry as each and every main character adds to the overall films intrigue and attraction. The attacking birds play second fiddle in a film where various relationship sub-plots hold the watchers attention.
The main story involves wealthy playgirl Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) and her pursuit of potential lover and all round greaseball Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) to the secluded island of Bodega Bay. Here for no apparent reason the birds attack although reference to the recently bought caged birds is more than obvious and it can be read into the attacks that this is what the wild species are protesting against.
The attacks by the birds are well choreographed and result in some very exciting cinematic moments although the effects are somewhat dated. Blame for these avian assaults is aimed at Daniels by a mother of two children in a local cafe where a discussion takes place about the birds behaviour. A subtle suggestion of Daniels' being paid back for her past wild behaviour is not far away and once again adds depth to the plot.
The horror highlight involves a local resident being found by Brenner's mother (Jessica Tandy) slumped at the side of his bed in bloaked soaked pyjamas with his eye pecked out. A truly unnerving moment and one which highlights Hitchcocks eye (pardon the pun) for a good scare.
A great film from a renowned director who maybe should have dabbled in the horror genre a little more.
1946. Directed by Mark Robson
And yet again we have a classic performance from Boris Karloff, this time as Master George Sims, the head of a brutal asylum. The plot involves a Nell Bowen (Anna Lee) and her interest into St Marys of Bethlehem Asylum and the antics of the aforementioned Master. Bowens curiosity becomes a trifle too close for comfort for Sims and so, in unsettling and sinister fashion, he sets about convinving the board that it is Bowen who is indeed mad. The board commit her whereupon in fine heroine style she makes the most of a bad situation and sets about looking after the inmates and helping them to live in better conditions. Her friend Quaker Hannay (Richard Fraser) tries to help Bowen to gain her release and expose Sims for what he truly is. However the inmates get there first?
Karloff throughout is meditated and subtle as well as obsequiously slimy in his mannerisms towards both his betters and lessers. A hypnotic performance that is excellent in its cinematography and grim ambience as well as being awash with fine acting performances
THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES
1971. Directed by Robert Fuest
Dr Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) is hellbent on revenge here as he seeks to repay terror and death on the 9 doctors who failed to save his wifes life on the operating table. A man of many talents the biblical scholar Phibes bases each of his grisly murders on one of the ten plagues. Ingenius throughout we see his victims fall to frogs, rats, blood, beasts, hail etc. each scene a masterstroke of black comedy and creativity. Hot on the trail of the mad doctor is bumbling Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffery) who plays the role for all its worth with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach.
The drawback of the film are the moments of organ playing by Phibes and dancing with his assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North) but these are few and far between and in some ways add to the madness. The clockwork orchestra is truly insane and the whole film has a feeling of quirky comedy and abstract ideas.
The cast is rich with Terry Thomas (Dr Longstreet) and Joseph Cotten (Dr Vesalius) noteworthy. Definitely one to check out and admire Price at his sinister and unhinged best.
TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA
1970. Directed by Peter Sasdy
For me the pick of the Dracula series with an abundance of shocks and great horror visions that encapsulate everything Hammer studios signify.
The story revolves around three sensation seeking gentlemen, William Harwood (Geoffery Keen), Jeremy Secker (Martin Jarvis) and Samuel Paxton (Peter Sallis) who by day are ethical pillars of society and yet on the last Sunday of every month are out indulging in various deviant practices. On one of these underhand excursions they encounter a Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates) who tempts them into purchasing several of Dracula's belongings from local pawn shopkeeper (Roy Kinnear). Kinnears cameo is a pure joy and his nervous disposition really comes across in fine style.
After the purchase all the 3 gentlemen meet up with Courtley at an abandoned church to carry out a ritual where Bates is at his arrogant and unhinged best. The resulting beating of Bates by the disgusted men results in the re-born Dracula seeking revenge for the death of his servant and thus setting up the rest of the film quite beautifully.
The ritual scenes are fantastic and performances all round are an unadulterated pleasure with Sallis playing an absolute blinder and really transferring his fear and loathing of all that transpires.
An absolute gem and the sub-plots and characters only add flavour to an already mouth-watering mix.
QUATERMASS AND THE PIT
1967. Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Work on the London underground uncovers several skulls from a race of ancient apemen as well as a strange martian spaceship that has strong psychic powers and contains several locust-like creatures with a similarity to the devil. Apparently these creatures came from some far off planet with the idea of conquering earth and controlling its inhabitants. The spacecraft is capable of reactivating the evil and as a result mayhem follows.
Professor Bernard Quatermass (Andrew Keir) is here to save the day and the Professors determination and strong will are well delivered by an actor seemingly born for the role. In fact the film is more reliant on its dialogue and character interaction as well as gripping storyline rather than the incredibly duff special effects (see the marching locusts to get my drift). The whole plot moves along at a steady pace and the finale is adeqate enough for a fairly decent film.
Dated in some respects but still intriguing enough to make good viewing this is not the usual Hammer output the horror afficianado would expect but a good sci/fi romp nonetheless.
SCARS OF DRACULA
1970. Directed by Roy Ward Baker
A real enjoyable vampire romp with Dracula (Christopher Lee) at his finest and with a good story and support cast to boot.
Young romeo Paul Carson (Christopher Matthews) is on the run after upsetting the local Burgomaster (Bob Todd) and finds himself staying at Dracula's castle. The action really starts when after being missing for several days Paul is searched for by his brother Simon (Dennis Waterman) and girlfriend Sarah Framsen (Jenny Hanley) who after coming across the nearby terrified village eventually come into contact with the eerie castle and its undead host.
A powerful film with Dracula's servant Klove (Patrick Troughton) being a truly unhinged character and yet attracting sympathy. Micheal Gwynn plays a sturdy priest role and good old Micheal Ripper adds his usual nervous and suspicious touch.
A real good film this and one to watch over and over with Dracula being exceptionally brutal and demonic.
DRACULA A.D. 1972
1972. Directed by Alan Gibson
70's beatnick Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame) and his trendy cohorts decide to have a bit of fun by holding a Black Mass whereupon Alucard summons the presence of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee). Alucard is the descendant of a gentleman who witnessed a fight which involved the destrustion of the two combatants, namely Lawrence Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) and Dracula. The gentleman gathers up some of the remains of Dracula's ashes as well as his ring. 100 years later and Alucard uses these to summon his master. Unbeknown to Alucard one of his friends at the Mass is Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beecham) grand daughter of Abraham Van Helsing descendant of Lawrence.
The Count is reborn and immediately goes in pursuit of Jessica as a way of punishing the Van Helsing line.
It's a modern day (70's) film with funky music and obscure clothes but it is still highly enjoyable and has some good horror moments. It all adds to the variety of the Dracula series and is worthy of its part therein but Lee has a complete shortage of dialogue and here the film does suffer albeit in a small way.
THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA
1974. Directed by Alan Gibson
A modern day Dracula tale and the last in the Christopher Lee era with the accomplished actor trying his utmost to put in a convincing performance despite some paper thin dialogue and poor backdrops.
The Prince of Darkness is carrying out his evil-doings under the guise of a reclusive property dealer and is hunted down by a Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), a descendant of the great original vampire hunter. It transpires that Dracula has one last treat in for mankind and that is to unleash a new, all-consuming deadly strain of the Bubonic plague.
There are some sinister and unsettling moments but all in all the film lacks the concviction and character of its predecessors. Its still watchable and the fact that its another pairing up of Lee and Cushing will be enough for fans. Personally it wasn't the way to end a sterling series but its worth checking out and completing the set.
DEAD OF NIGHT
1945. Directed by A Cavalcanti, C Crichton, B Dearden and R Hamer
Quite simply a genuine classic and a real quality treat for lovers of the compendium of horror. A fine standard bearer that once stood alone for its originality and composition.
Architect Walter Craig visits a remote country house in the hope of attaining some work whereupon he finds himself reliving his own worst nightmare. The guests he meets there each relate their own personal inexplecible experiences and herein we have a film to savour.
Of ghosts, insanity and deception the ensuing tales quite wonderfully compliment one another and add an abundance of subtle scares rather without being reliant of blood and gore like of many of todays messy offerings. A couple of these chilling yarns remain etched in the memory but the true terror arises from a tale concerning a ventriloquist (Micheal Redgrave) and his deviant dummy. Redgraves' performance is genius and is totally and utterly convincing.
A tale of two golfers and thier quest to win the heart of a desired one is equally memorable albeit for more charming reasons.
The final dream sequence is excellently executed with a few terrifying images to disturb many a nights sleep.
A sheer must and one to relish over and over again.