Wednesday, August 24, 2016

HANNAH, QUEEN OF THE VAMPIRES (1973) a.k.a. CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD


Vinegar Syndrome comes through again with a Blu-Ray double feature release that combines a 1970's Euro-Trash vampire movie and a really obscure 1970's British-made stab at a creepy plantation gothic. I wish more video companies would follow this template for films of this type and vintage giving a new audience a chance to see these often overlooked bits of genre history. Sometimes you find a hidden gem. Sometimes.

Hiding behind the title Crypt of the Living Dead is the public domain video standard Hannah, Queen of the Vampires. Until now I had managed to never see this feature because every time I tried the print available was nearly unwatchable. Luckily VS seems to have improved wonderfully on past transfers! Mechanical engineer Chris Bolton (genre regular Andrew Prine) travels to a Turkish locale know to its inhabitants as "Vampire Island" in response to his archaeologist father's death. When he arrives to take care of his father's remains he is taken to the body which is still lying crushed under the heavy stone coffin that supposedly killed him in an - accident! Of course, we know his death was no accident because the film showed us in a prologue that it was actually Mark Damon's character Peter that strangled the man and then deliberately crushed his body to hide the crime. It appears that Peter has completely bought into the island legend and mythical history about the tomb being that of Hannah, the wife of the 13th-century French King Louis VII. The tale insists that the tomb that 'fell' onto the archeologist actually belongs to this Queen and that she was a vampire!


The legend states that Louis was too captivated by the vampire monster's beauty to have her killed so he had her sealed alive in a stone tomb - possibly this one. Chris dismisses this silly superstition and sets about building a contraption to raise the coffin off of his dead father. Peter helps the grief stricken man in his efforts enlisting some locals for muscle but these islanders baulk when it becomes clear that this thing might be the legendary tomb of the vampire queen. Things get worse when they remove the lid to make the task easier and discover a perfectly preserved woman inside! Oh, my. Of course, this is Hannah played by the lovely Spanish actress Teresa Gimpera, and she soon wakes from her several hundred years long snooze to wreak havoc on the islander with the help of a hideous, beastly 'wild man' servant (Ihshan Gedik) who gets his kicks playing around with decapitated heads. This section of the film is done with some nice style and a good handle on how to use a low budget wisely. We see Hannah transforming into a green mist, floating out of her coffin and changing into a wolf as part of her horrific attacks. 


Adding to the complications Chris gets romantically involved with Peter's sister Mary (the wonderful Patty Shepard) who teaches school on the island. By this time Peter is completely under Hannah's influence, helping her in her activities and Chris wants to get his lady love off the island and away from her increasingly crazed brother. The story then becomes a contest between the engineer and Peter for the life of Mary leading to a dark finale.


Hannah, Queen of the Vampires is often derided as a cut-rate vampire film but now that I've finally seen it I have to slightly disagree. No, it is not a great genre film but it has several points in its favor as a better than 'bad' effort. First, it's island locations (shot in Turkey) are very nice, adding immeasurable to the atmosphere and creepy factor. Also, the actors take the proceedings seriously giving the often sub-par dialog more gravitas than it should have. Another good point is that the film's score is unexpectedly quite good adding a lot to the dark proceedings and never feeling out of place. Also, the vampiric sequences are well done and memorable making the supernatural horror elements feel more effective than I expected them to be with Hannah herself posing a striking figure as the silent vampire Queen preying on poor islanders. The film has some missteps with the most serious being that Peter's evil nature should not have been revealed at the beginning of the movie so that more suspense could be generated as things ramp up.

Vinegar Syndrome's Blu presents the U.S. theatrical version of the film restored in 2k from a newly-discovered 35mm negative and it looks very good for such a neglected title. The film looks its age but the colors are vivid with good detail even in darker scenes. The soundtrack is the mono English version fans are familiar with but probably sounding much better than past releases. I doubt this film has ever looked or sounded better on video and this is the best way to evaluate it or reevaluate it if your impressions of it were colored by bad transfers from the past. 

Part two of this double feature up next! 


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Videos of the Star Trek MEGO Toys

Yesterday the video below floated across my Facebook feed and I found it utterly charming. My family had Super 8 cameras but I was never in charge of what was filmed with them or I suspect that I would have documented the hideous destruction of my own MEGO figures as well. Check this video out. It's a window into the 1970's when kids using their imagination in their backyards rarely got recorded in this way. The fact that these Super 8 films survived is really cool and now we can see what being a creative/destructive Star Trek fan in the 1970's looked like. 


If you are curious about the MEGO Star Trek toys here's a collection of the various TV commercials that drove kids into a frenzy of desire to own them. 


Friday, August 19, 2016

Savage Sword of Conan covers


This was the first issue of Marvel's black & White Conan magazine that I owned as a kid. That means it must have been the first one I ever saw because when this one was published I was a major Conan fan and was reading every book or comic with his name attached that I could find. After this issue my collection was spotty so I can only guess that the magazine was not very well distributed in my small town corner of the South. Now I can finally (and cheaply) get most of the entire 235 issue run in convenient bound reprints. The only thing they lack are the color covers so here are a few to delight me when I need to reminisce.













Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Bloody Pit #41 - The James Bond Files


I had such a simple idea for this podcast. I would get together with artist Mark Maddox and we would talk about James Bond films for a while. I'd intercut clips from the relevant films, spice things up with some cool Bond theme songs and boom - cool podcast. That is not what happened.

I had spoken to Mark about trying to focus in on a couple of specific Bond movies that were of significance to him but I expected our conversation to range all over the fifty plus year history of the series. What I did not expect was that we would go so far off topic for so long that the editing process became pure Hell! By the time we were done I knew we were going to have at least two separate shows if I wanted either of them to have any focus. So, after much cutting and pasting I have left only the discussion of various Bond movies with a few slight tangents into related movies that touch on the subject at hand. Mostly.

We start off talking about THUNDERBALL (1965) and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967) because the former was Mark's first Bond film and the latter is one that I, until recently, disliked. We delve into the age when we were first exposed to the James Bond character and what that might mean for how we see the movies as adults. I think Mark's tale of trying to figure out who the hero of THUNDERBALL actually was is hysterical and his young boy view of the character is eye opening. We talk about our favorites and least favorites of the series and this leads to much yelling and threats of bodily harm. Rest assured that no matter how terrible it sounds no one was physically abused during the recording of this podcast. I did mentally abuse Mark but he's used to that by now and all those scars are internal so he should just suck it up and deal!

Of course, we had a great time doing this and I think you'll be able to hear how much fun we're having. Mark is an amazing guy and I always love talking with him. He and I really have to do this kind of thing more often. And if you haven't seen his artwork do yourself a favor and visit his website. He's a very talented man and his stuff continues to stun me with each new painting.


You can reach the podcast at thebloodypit@gmail.com and we'll be glad to hear from you. Send us any comments or suggestions about the James Bond movies or anything else we ramble on about. If you listen to the show through iTunes rating and reviewing the show would help out a lot- that's how a lot of folks learn about podcasts. Thanks for downloading and listening!








Sunday, August 14, 2016

DE PALMA (2016)


Because the famed Belcourt Theater in Nashville has reopened it's doors after extensive renovations I once again have the opportunity to see the occasional documentary on the big screen. Last weekend I ventured into the shiny new place to see DE PALMA (2016) because - of course - I'm a huge fan of director Brian De Palma's movies. I was excited that someone finally decided to talk at length to the man about his work and this film allows us to be a fly on the wall as they go through his entire career movie by movie. That makes for some fascinating stories as we learn De Palma's thoughts about his oeuvre as well as the motivations for specific choices. I loved getting to hear his tales and at times wished we could ask questions too so as to dig into certain themes and influences. I especially wanted more details about the days Steven Spielberg spent on the set of SCARFACE helping set up gunfights and stuntmen. That sounded like a blast!

But in the end I was left wanting more from DE PALMA than the film delivers. It is really only an extended interview and doesn't dig much deeper than it takes to illicit a bunch of cool stories about a man's career. I was hoping for a profound and multifaceted look at De Palma and his movies. As it is, this is more a fantastic DVD extra and less a complete film. I enjoyed it but I hope a better documentary comes along one day with a broader view and maybe a few of his collaborators contributing their thoughts as well. 


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Women Who Kill Me - Helga Liné (again!)










The many faces of the amazing Helga! 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What I Watched in July


July was a busy month with much travel and fun to be had but I still felt the pull of the theater. THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is a fine attempt at getting a film closer to the original character Edgar Rice Burroughs imagined. I think the film is well cast and the historical story they chose for the plot is fascinating. My only real complaints are that Tarzan needed more to do in the story and that some of the humor felt a bit out of place. Some of this I ascribe to the choice of Sam Jackson in a pivotal role. It seems that as the years go on filmmakers want to have Jackson in their movie instead of having the man play a character. The moments when it feels like Jackson the actor is onscreen instead of the character he is playing took me out of the film. The rest was lovely and I would love to see this Tarzan and Jan return for more adventures. It won't happen, but I can dream.


It's the summer and therefore the perfect time for a shark movie! Luckily we have a winner this year and not another useless Sharknado waste of time. THE SHALLOWS is a tight, effective shark vs. human tale that plays out very well from start to finish. The setup is clear, clever and easily makes us sympathetic to the main character. Actress Blake Lively is excellent in the role and the film never has her act in an idiotic way to create tension. She is placed in a terrible situation in a manner that could not have been foreseen and she handles each new problem with intelligence and skills. I was surprised by the smart way the film is written and directed and recommend this to anyone in the mood for a tense, exciting 'animal attacks' movie.


I'd love it if the new GHOSTBUSTERS was good - I might even have some fun with it if it were bad.-  But it turns out to just be pretty damned 'meh'. I cannot figure out what the hell happened here. I think all four of the lead actresses are very funny ladies but only two of them are really given anything funny to do. Those two - Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones  - are often damned funny but they are the only legitimate laughs the film can manage. For some reason it was decided to give the incredibly talented Kristen Wiig the role of straight man which effectively sidelines the brilliant comedienne from the beginning. Why in the name of funny would you do that? Ugh! There are moments of interest and McKinnon certainly gets to shine as the slightly crazed brain of the team but the only things I really remember weeks later are the cameos. Those were fun even if they just occasionally goosed a flat script that needed a lot more laughs. Maybe it's not a good idea to rope your talented cast too tightly to a so-so script.


Defying all cinematic logic THE PURGE films just get more entertaining with each new entry. The latest is a slam-bang action/horror ride that brings back Frank Grillo's character from the previous movie as he now works to protect the only American politician brave enough to stand for ending the annual Purge Night. Of course, the powers that be can't allow this Senator's movement to gain steam so they arrange to have her and her fellow travelers taken out in this year's event. The movie turns into a chase film that ends in by linking the Senator to an underground group with a plan to take out some one percenters themselves. This is exactly the way a good exploitation film should be made - tense, fast, nasty and layered with a harsh social message you'd have to be blind to miss. Roger Corman would be proud!


THE LIST
THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016) - 7
HIGH SCOOL HELLCATS (1958) - 6 (female high school delinquents)
THE 300 SPARTANS (1962) - 7 (a little stiff but good telling of the Greek story)
THUNDERBALL (1965) - 7 (rewatch)
THE SHALLOWS (2016) - 8
IT WAS A COLOSSAL TEENAGE MOVIE MACHINE: THE AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES STORY (2015) - 9 (excellent documentary)
HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS (1987) - 2 (you only thought 2 was bad!)
EL LATIGO (a.k.a. THE WHIP) (1978)- 6 (Mexican pseudo-Zorro adventure)
EL LATIGO CONTRA SATANS (1979)- 6 (basically  Zorro vs. Satan)
DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) - 8 (woo hoo!)
BLACK MAGIC (1949) - 8 (Orson Wells as Cagliostro)
BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952) - 7 (tense, one location suspense tale)
THE LAST DINOSAUR (1977) - 3 (just embarrassing)
JUST DESSERTS (2007) - 9 (rewatch) (brilliant CREEPSHOW doc)
GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)- 5 (not terrible but not good either)
R.O.T.O.R. (1987) - 2 (so bad it hurts and padded out to 90 endless minutes!)
DIABOLICAL SHUDDER (1972)- 6 (creepy cult goings-on in a modern day castle)
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR (2016) - 8 (best one yet)
THE BABYSITTER (1980) - 6 (well done TV movie thriller)
JAWS (1975) - 10 (rewatch)
JAWS 2 (1977) - 7
SUBMISSION OF A WOMAN (1992) - 5 (too long and fairly flat tale of a stalker tormenting a lady)
MANIAC COP (1988) - 7 (rewatch)