I have no skill at assembling and painting these beautiful models but I can certainly admire the amazing finished products!
Friday, January 31, 2020
Tuesday, January 28, 2020
I've been reading an issue of Planet Stories from 1941 and enjoying the mad science fiction adventure tales that the magazine featured. It's a strange window into the minds of people trying to envision a future from that troubled time and I find it oddly calming. Even the transposition of obvious nautical ideas to the surface of oceans on Venus feels completely entrancing when seen through this backward glancing lens. Knowing that when these tales were written the world was on the brink of a second world war rather than an age of outward expansion is both fascinating and unsettling. Certainly not for every taste but perfect for my annual pulp dive!
Saturday, January 25, 2020
After the huge success of Hammer’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA the inevitable wave of copycat gothic horror cinema flowed like thick ground fog for nearly two decades. The Italians were quick to jump into the genre and many would say beat the British at their own game. Actor Walter Brandi starred as the hero in three such films in the early 60s each with a stereotypical Dracula styled bloodsucker. SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES (1962) was the last of the trio and pretty much the least. Like all Gothics this one is slowly paced relying on atmosphere, moody photography and sexuality rather than cheap shock effects or gore to sustain interest. With some judicious editing it might even have been a great movie.
As this rather tepid Gothic begins it’s as if we are being dropped into the middle act of a story already in progress. A caped male vampire (Dieter Eppler) and his female consort are being chased through a provincial town by pitchfork and torch bearing villagers. They almost elude the mob but when the female falls behind the sinister male leaves her to be brutally destroyed as he makes his escape. He hides out in the wine cellar of a castle owned by Wolfgang (Walter Brandi) in a coffin that seems to have been prepared for him. The fact that it’s never explained how the vampire got the long box into place or how the castle’s servants could possibly miss it there behind the wine casks is pretty amusing.
The next night Wolfgang is having a gala party for his new bride Louise (Graziella Granata) in the ballroom of the castle. The silent vampire rises from the cellar to join the party and exerts his hypnotic influence over Louise, even dancing a waltz with her as he mesmerizes the beautiful lady. Slipping into her bedroom later in the evening he drinks from her neck as she appears to be experiencing sexual ecstasy. Over the next few days Louise seems to grow weaker, paler and increasingly anemic. Wolfgang sends for the family doctor but after a cursory examination he recommends that the worried husband travel to Vienna and speak to Dr. Nietzsche (Luigi Batzella). This ersatz Van Helsing immediately understands the problem and rushes back to the country castle with Wolfgang, but upon their arrival they learn Louise has died. Wolfgang is devastated and even more stunned when his wife’s body disappears before he can actually see it. Nietzsche organizes a search of the grounds and during this hunt Louise appears to her husband and puts the bite on his neck. But before she can suck much juice the male vampire interrupts her and the two ghouls run off into the night.
Informing the castle servants that only fire and the cross can destroy the monsters they face Dr. Nietzsche sets about finding the vamps hiding place. Of course he can’t locate the coffin behind the wine barrels in the cellar either and Louise is ensconced in a secret underground room anyway. It seems that the unnamed male vampire knew about this hidden room but we are never let in on how. Did he at one time own the castle? Did the Italian language version let us in on his name or history?
While the search goes on Wolfgang is confronted with pretty little maid Corinne who has also been turned into a vampire. She slithers into bed with him and starts sucking his blood which he seems to enjoy in much the same way as his wife. So with Nietzsche hunting undead and the Lord of the manor on his way to joining their ranks all seems lost. Unless they can find that craftily concealed coffin, of course.
One of the standard complaints about gothic horror films is that they are slow or tedious relying on long passages in which little happens to fill out their running times to feature length. While I’ll concede that some movies in the genre are overlong, stretching their story a bit too thin, the very point of the genre is missed by this critique. A big part of the joy of gothic cinema is its creation of an atmosphere of slight detachment or even lassitude that draws the viewer into the story’s otherworldly state of mind. Since most Gothics deal with the supernatural creating this slightly detached mood in the audience is the way these tales seek to suspend our disbelief. A feeling of being carried along by beautiful candle-lit images accompanied by a haunting symphonic score establishes a dreamy mood that I find easy to love. Of course, for folks who lack the patience for several minutes of screen time of characters prowling through castle halls or dank catacombs searching for something these stretches of the story will quickly become dull. Hell! They might even fall asleep!
But even though I love this type of movie I can’t call SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES a particularly great entry in the genre. The energetic opening sequence led me to think we might have an above average entry but as soon as the unnamed vampire lies down in his ‘hidden’ coffin the movie slips into low gear. Nothing wrong with that but unfortunately the film lacks several touches that create a good gothic cinematic experience. Sadly, most of the time the direction is quite flat with several emotional moments ruined by either bad coverage or a lack of creativity. Not that the film is devoid of striking imagery - but for every well played shot there are at least two others that are banal or sloppy. One of the best subtle moments has the shadow of a breeze-blown curtain throw its diamond pattern across a wall behind Dr. Nietzsche causing a fascinating rippling effect. But only a few minutes later during the film’s climax a moment that should be filled with tension is destroyed for a lack of close-ups on the actor’s faces. This slipshod filming makes the final moments of the story frustrating instead of cathartic leaving a bad taste overall.
Also I have to admit that the film could have easily been shortened by at least ten minutes with no loss of story or mood. There is too much time wasted throughout the movie including shots of carriages driving away from locations, pointless repetition of information and repeated trips through the cellar. In a good Gothic this stuff could have added mood but here they’re just padding. Also the English dialog is often laughably bad (a common complaint with these European gothic films) with about half a dozen bizarre non-sequitur lines that had me shaking my head. On the plus side I should mention that the score is a beautiful, lush orchestration that adds a lot to the films effective moments even if the main theme is reused too much. And the ladies of the cast are gorgeous examples of Italian loveliness who show off their charms tastefully and well. There were one or two moments when I thought Miss Granata was going to pop out of her nightgown but her onscreen virtue remains intact. Damned shame, that.
Dark Sky Films’ long out of print DVD of this PD title is a very nice presentation of the movie. The film is letterboxed at 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced. The image is very good and certainly much better than the bootleg TV broadcasts I’ve seen but I think the matte is a little too low. There are several shots that are far too tight on top often distracting the viewer by cutting into leering faces in closeup. The print used is not perfect with occasional nicks, lines and other imperfections but I doubt there are better, easily obtainable source materials. The only audio option is the English dub presented in 2.0 Mono. The soundtrack is serviceable but as I’m curious about certain story points I wish it were possible to see the film in its Italian version. Extras include a still gallery, the US trailer (with the title CURSE OF THE BLOOD-GHOULS) and a 12 minute interview with Dieter Eppler called ‘Interview with a Vampire’. Speaking in his native German with subtitles he relates how he came to play the vampire but never managed to get paid other than an initial wad of cash from a producer.
The print available to watch on Amazon Prime seems to be the same as the old DVD and is a good way to check out this hidden little horror film. If you like gothic bloodsucker tales I recommend it. I've not seen the more recent Retomedia DVD release which pairs it with CRYPT OF TERROR. I do wonder why this hasn't been snapped up for a Blu-Ray release yet as it seems a perfect candidate for rediscovery.
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
One of the great joys of the past couple of years has been seeing my friend Mark get the opportunity to paint covers for the Blu-Ray releases of several classic horror films.
And it seems that he has even more such work in the pipeline for 2020!
These are the kind of covers these excellent films deserve! I hope there are a dozen more on the horizon.
Monday, January 20, 2020
Mark and I cut into this variation on Wells’ ‘Island of Doctor Moreau’ searching for the best parts and throwing out the worst. We disagree on a few elements with me decrying lip gloss and high heels while Mark makes the case for a shortened running time. But we agree on how much the film is improved by the recent HD release on Blu-Ray. This film has spent decades being presented to viewers in terrible prints on sub-par video releases that made it difficult to pay attention to the often excellent qualities onscreen. Now it’s possible to see the movie in a crisp, clear version that allows all the fine work done to be appreciated. Of course, it also allows us to focus on the less well-done aspects too. But this is a film that falls much more on the positive side than the negative and I will keep insisting on that until Mark shuts up!
We don’t stray too far off topic but if there are any odd side roads that you think we should travel down further in the future please let us know. The podcast email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or we can be reached on the show’s FaceBook page. Thanks for listening and we’ll be back soon!
Saturday, January 18, 2020
A friend alerted me to this upcoming toy release and I have say - WOW! It's the Green Slime toy I've always wanted but never thought would exist outside of my fevered imagination. Monstarz will be putting this out in October and if you pre-order it before February 1st the shipping is free. And did I mention the price is only $19.99? Needless to say, I've already put in my order.
Friday, January 17, 2020
Unlike a lot of horror film fans, I’m not against remakes of classic movies. I don’t think most remakes are very good but when they are well made, I’m happy to have a new film to enjoy. This is the second time BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) has been remade and the 2019 version takes a very different tack compared to the earlier films. All three movies place the potential victims as the most interesting characters in the story but this variation goes out if its way to center their problems in the 21st century. As with the touchy subjects underlying the situations in the original film (abortion, misogyny) this new movie puts real world concerns (sexual assault, casual sexism) at the heart of the motivations for the villainous actions. Smartly, the script also allows the victims to fight back in ways that demonstrates how women can and should work together to battle less bloody examples of these problems. With less violence, I would hope! This is a film that I think will grow in my estimation in the coming years once I’ve been able to rewatch it in better circumstances than my less than perfect theatrical viewing. I wish theaters would turn up the volume a bit with movies that spend a lot of time using subtle sound design to enhance the scares.
THE GUN THAT WON THE WEST (1953) – 5BATTLE OF ROGUE RIVER (1954) – 6
KNIVES OUT (2019)- 9
THE LAST OF MRS. CHEYNEY (1937) – 7
KEEP’EM FLYING (1941) – 6
THE CHILL FACTOR (1993) – 4 (terrible supernatural horror that wastes a good setting)
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947) – 8
ASSIGNMENT TERROR (1970) – 6 (rewatch on Blu)
SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964) – 6 (rewatch via MST3K)
SANTA CLAUS (1959)- 6 (rewatch via RiffTrax)
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019) – 6
THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES (2018) – 7
TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950) – 7 (rewatch) (Christmas tree rustlers!)
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) – 10 (rewatch on Blu)
BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019) – 7
TRAPPED ALIVE (1988) – 4 (lame horror tale)
THE KILLING HOUR (1982) – 7 (murder mystery with a psychic twist)
SANTA CLAUS – THE MOVIE (1985) – 5 (fairly mediocre after an interesting start)
ATTACK OF THE MAYAN MUMMY (1964) – 4 (Jerry Warren mangles a 1957 Mexican film)
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Monday, January 13, 2020
Saturday, January 11, 2020
WINCHESTER 73 (1950)
BEND IN THE RIVER (1952)
THE NAKED SPUR (1953)
THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955)
THE FAR COUNTRY (1954)
THE TIN STAR (1957)
And there are more that I haven't even seen yet. Add to this his brilliant Noirs and his fantastic historical epics made in the 60's and Mann may just be one of the greatest Hollywood directors of all time. Maybe a new series for The Bloody Pit focused on his career is needed? I certainly need to make more people aware of his excellent film THE TALL TARGET (1951).
If you haven't seen MAN OF THE WEST do yourself a favor and spend the 99 minutes. You won't regret it. And don't watch the trailer first- it ruins some of the story's surprises that are best left discovered as the film plays.
Wednesday, January 08, 2020
Monday, January 06, 2020
That's right! The publishers of The Creeps magazine are going to bring another new horror anthology to newsstands near you. Or, at least decent bookstore shelves! Or just follow the LINK and pre-order your copy of the first issue due out later this year.