CATACOMB OF TERROR
 

DRACULA

1931. Directed by Tod Browning

The standard bearer for all ensuing vampiric tales with only Nosferatu being a previously released noteworthy exception.

Renfield (Dwight Frye) travels through the infamous Carpathian mountains to complete the transferral of Carfax Abbey in London to Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) who desires to set up residence in this highly populated capital. Once there Dracula feeds on the blood of Lucy Weston (Frances Dade) then turns to her friend Mina Harker (Helen Chandler) before being discovered to be a vampire by Dr Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan). Along with Mina's fiance John Harker (David Manners) and Dr Jack Seward (Herbert Bunston) a plan is set to seal the Counts doom.

This is the quintessential Dracula movie and although outstripped several times it still has enough originality and eeriness to hold its own. The lack of soundtrack, the subtle sexuality and the general ambience of suspense all add to its character and make it a memorable experience.

 

BRAM STOKERS DRACULA

1992. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

It is always too easy to attempt a remake and fall drastically short of the original and create something which is tantamount to an ignorant insult. In this instance we have no such worry as this remake far outweighs the original in its directorship and overall romanticism. A beautiful film with stunning imagery from start to finish and with some sterling acting performances.

The story is familiar with Jonathon Harker (Keanu Reeves) travelling to the Counts (Gary Oldman) castle to secure a move to England whereupon Dracula moves across the sea to seduce Harkers fiance Mina (Winona Ryder). As well as seducing Mina Dracula feeds on the blood of her closest friend Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost) with concerned friends calling in the assistance of Professor Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins).

The high action moments are wonderfully dissected by some stunning passionate and rather erotic scenes between Ryder and Oldman and all this adds to the texture and general atmosphere of the whole cinematic package.

This is a really impressive offering and in truth you would be hard pressed to find a better vampirical screen production. Oldman is totally outstanding as a Count torn apart by love and hatred and one can only be impressed by the spirited performance.

A movie to savour and adored and a real flag flyer for the remake brigade.

 

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED

1960. Directed by Wolf Rilla

John Wyndhams unsettling tale 'The Midwich Cuckoos' gets an excellent transferral to the big screen in this tale of abduction, alien insemination and dark paranoia.

In the small English village of Midwich the entire population blacks out as an unseen force takes over the area. Upon coming around the occupants are unsure of what actually happened but some months later every woman capable of bearing a child is pregnant. The preganancies are fast and the birth of all the children on the same day sets up a sinister feeling that pervades throughout. The children grow at an incredible rate and the intellect is disturblingly outstanding. At the centre of the plot is the loving couple of George Zellaby (George Sanders) and Anthea Zellaby (Barbara Shelley) whose child David bewilders them with his alarming powers and emotional indifference.

After several cold and calculated killlings the children are deemed a threat and plans are made to stop the menace.

This is a believable film with a foreboding atmosphere. The children are truly wierd and their mind-bending gaze and icy looks are enthralling.

A great story and well worth several viewings to capture the entire essence.

 

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE

1935. Directed by Tod Browning

With malevolent mists, flying bats and wandering vampires this cliched piece uses all the expected visuals and comes out as an average effort marred by a ridiculously twisted finale.

The plot rotates around the death of a prominent community resident and the belief that he died as a result of a vampire attack carried out by a Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Carroll Borland). Professor Zelin (Lionel Barrymore) leads the investigation and the atmosphere builds.

There is a good feeling pervading the film but the main storyline seems slightly confused and time to get to know the characters seems frustratingly short. Lugosi barely speaks and several other performances are insipid when judged against their potential.

Not a personal fave but worth checking out as a horror curio.

 

THE WICKER MAN

2006. Directed by Niel LaBute

A very brave attempt at reworking the original classic of 1973 with this time Edward Malus (Nicholas Cage) as the main investigator involving the case of a missing girl, Willow Woodward. The story is close to the orginal but locations this time are set across the pond in America.

A few extra twists are included in this version with it turning out that the missing girl is indeed Cage's daughter whom he didn't know about until his long past sweetheart contacted him to say she was missing. He travels to Summerisle a place inhabited by pagans and obsessed with sacrifice and unhinged rituals. It has some decent moments but pales in significance to its former self with an all round loss of sinister ambience and twisted, malevolent characters. Sister Summerisle (Ellen Burstyn) is void of character and lacks any real punch in those much needed tete-a-tete mements with Malus.

Some nice touches and references to the original are had with Edward Malus and Willow Woodward being a tribute to the original star Edward Woodward.

Overall quite watchable but lacking any depth of horror and tension. For a film of this potential stature care should have been taken with casting and settings as well as the obvious comparisons that will arise with the original.

 

HOUSE OF DRACULA

1945. Directed by Erle C. Kenton

A sub-standard effort as far as Universal Studios goes with a more than flimsy storyline becoming increasingly laughable throughout. The casting of John Carradine as Count Dracula and Glenn Strange as Frankensteins monster also adds to the below par ambience.

Dr Edelman (Onslo Stevens) is at the centre of the plot as a brilliant doctor capable of miraculously curing the most obscure sickness. Dracula arrives seeking a cure for his vampirism but it seems this is a trick just so that he can get close to Edelmans female and attractive assistant. The wolfman, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr) also turns up, this time seeking a remedy for his lycanthropy. Edelmans initial attemps to cure Talbot fail so the stricken one tries to commit suicide by throwing himself over a nearby cliff into the turbulent seas below.

Edelman follows and is attacked by Talbot who changes back into human form before killing the doctor. It seems they have both uncovered a secret network of underground caves and, incredibly come across the Frankenstein monster who is in a state of suspended animation. Incredible coincidences galore and the plot thickens, or should that be dilutes?

It's not a bad film and lovers of the studio will lap it up, as I did! There are some nice touches and a few expected moment with Stevens the pick of the acting crop. A vital inclusion in the horror vault but definitely could have been better.

 

THE BAT

1959. Directed by Crane Wilbur

A bank manager has embezzled one million dollars in securities and hidden the money in a house known as 'The Oaks' which has recently been purchased by thriller writer Cornelia Van Gorder (Agnes Moorhead). The bank manager is killed before he can retrieve his ill-gotten gains and the house becomes a scene of trickery and danger.

The house has a history, where a mysterious killer known as The Bat has carried out various murders in the past. He reappears amidst a house of deceptive characters and the plot unfolds.

Not a classic and certainly not a duff movie this gets by on atmosphere and decent acting performances.

Price is always value for money and the atmosphere throughout isn't bad at all. Loads of Red Herrings are thrown in to keep you off the trail of who the Bat actually is which helps maintain interest. Overall it is quite a watchable lark!

 

THE CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA

1961. Directed by Roger Corman

A laughable piece of hokum from low budget director Corman who must surely cringe at this ridiculous effort.

Based during a revolution on a Carribean island a crook by the name of Renzo Capetto (Antony Carbone) plans to assist loyalists and the National Treasury to escape the war torn area by boat. Capetto, with his aides, plan to kill off the crew and blame the deaths on a mysterious sea creature. The nonsense really gets going when an actual real-life monster turns-up.

Government Agent XK342 Edward Wain (Robert Towne) gets involved in the action as the film goes rapidly downhill from a lowly start.

In truth this is total dross with shabby acting, a stale storyline and ludicrous special effects all adding to the unwatchable romp. One crook has the ability to impersonate animals which only comes in useful when attracting a female counterpart with whom he falls in love. Part comedy, part horror this is still a bucket of bilge water and I recommend this is one to definitely avoid unless the B-movie market is your thing.

 

HORROR EXPRESS

1973. Directed by Eugenio Martin
 
A real oddity this one with the superb duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee up against an anthropological specimen on a killing spree aboard a classy trans-siberian express train.  It is 1906 in China and Professor Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee) discovers a find of a lifetime in the remote Province of Szechuan.  Being more than a trifle secretive he sets about transporting the relic back to europe aboard the doomed train where he meets up with Dr Wells (Peter Cushing).
 
As the monster thaws a lifeforce is re-ignited and the strange being sets out on a murderous rampage draining its victims of all their knowledge and memories with the intent of returning back to its home.  A home that may not be of this planet. 
 
Cushing and Lee as per usual are thorougly immersed in their roles and draw in the viewer with their adhesive commitment and enthusiasm.  The plot is solid enough and the cameo appearance of Telly Savalas is more than a little interesting.
 
The main horror of this film comes in the form of the monsters victims who come back to life as white, bleeding eyed zombies hellbent on an orgy of blood-letting.  It's a gruesome, unsettling moment and helps bring the film to a subtle boil. The inclusion of a crazed monk Father Pujardov (Alberto De Mendoza) is very choice indeed and his rejection of all that is holy to follow this  malignant ogre he deems as the satanic overlord is genuinely crazed.
 
I have fond nostalgic memories of this film and it's place in any horror collection is more than merited.

 

THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN

1942. Directed by Erle C. Kenton
 
I love the old black and white Frankenstein movies but as far as story goes this is a paper thin escapade that is only watchable due to its place in the celebrated horror vaults of time.  The main problem is that this film has such a standard to achieve due to its unprecedented predecessors and the ground breaking classics they were especially 1 and 2 in the series.  The story is filled with unrealistic coincidences but at the end of the day it's horror, it's Universal and it has a whole bevvy of familiar faces to enjoy - so all isn't that bad.
 
The yarn begins with Ygor (Bela Lugosi) and The Monster (Lon Chaney Jr) surviving yet another drubbing at the hands of the mob whereupon Ygor tracks down the son of Frankenstein Ludwig (Cedric Hardwick) to ask him if he will restore the monster to full strength.  The refusal is met with blackmail and so despite having built a life and family for himself the highly moralistic Ludwig submits.  The story twists and winds with the monster undergoing a brain transplant so as to cure him of his evil ways but Ygor has other plans and the end result is both ludicrous yet entertaining.
 
A nice attempt has been made here to add a new angle to the Frankenstein theme and in some respects succeeds and in others fails.  Lon Chaney Jr had big boots to fill (pardon the pun) when taking over from Boris Karloffs amazing portrayal of The Monster and in actual fact he comes out of it fairly well.  Lugosi plays a good one too and is as sinister and cunning as ever.  With a bit more forethought we could have had another gem but here we have one very much for the fans of the crackling monochrome chiller.

   

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