Monday, 30 September 2013

Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

Rasputin is a humble monk, but he has a special gift: he is able to convince people to do as he says and carry out his wishes.  Oh, and he can drink anyone under the table.  So, by virtue of his ability to essentially hypnotise others, Rasputin leaves his monastery, and tries to make a name for himself in St. Petersberg, with eventual designs on ingratiating himself within the Royal Court.  Of course his rise to power makes enemies, some of which want him dead.

This is a fairly forgettable film, doubtlessly historically inaccurate, which is remarkable for only two things as far as I see it.  One: it was filmed back to back with Dracula: Prince of Darkness, using some of the same sets and cast.  Two: Christopher Lee.  He is completely mesmerising in this film, you really can’t take your eyes off him.  In the riotous role of Rasputin, Lee shows a confidence and bravado that never lets up, even to his final scene.  Whether he was directed to play the character like this or whether he just allowed his personality to shine through it doesn’t really matter - he is superb.  I don’t think I’ve seen him in another role where he just lets rip as much as he does here.

Erm, I think that’s about all there is to say.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

When Sir James Forbes receives a letter from his friend Doctor Tompson - a GP in a small distant village - which describes a strange disease that is wiping out villagers, Sir James and his daughter Sylvia pay a visit hoping they can get to the bottom of the mystery.  As with all of the Hammer Horror films, The Plague of the Zombies isn’t very horrible by today’s standards, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t suspense, mystery and a foreboding sense of menace; especially when the enigmatic Squire Hamilton turns up.

It turns out that after the villagers have died of a “plague” (actually a voodoo curse), the bodies are then disinterred and via another voodoo ceremony, become zombies.  These zombies are very much the slow walking variety made famous by Night of the Living Dead, two years later; and as such, their victims are seen to be paralysed with fear before they can be strangled/bitten.  The make-up is pretty good, the zombies all having a suitable recently-dug-up look, and the white eyes are particularly creepy.  The idea that voodoo is behind it all is a nice idea, rather than there just being zombies for no reason; so by the end of the film Sir James and Dr Tompson are clear with what they have to do.  The only thing that was a bit odd was the fact that the zombies were being created for use as a work force in an old mine!  It struck me that zombies probably aren’t the best choice for slave-labour, what with their predisposition for falling apart!  It put me in mind of Boris Karloff’s Mummy finding himself gainful employment for 10 years while waiting for the modern embodiment of Anck-es-en Amon to show up.

The main cast are fine; AndrĂ© Morell and Brook Williams as Sir James and Dr Tompson are both pretty good; serious but then incredulous, yet determined when it matters.  The two ladies Jacqueline Pearce and Diane Clare are both rather wet, but I guess that’s what passes for female victims in this genre at the time.  Certainly John Carson as the mysterious Squire Hamilton has the most memorable role; he gives a suitably sinister performance but manages to present an mask of benevolent normality which hides his true motives.

The Plague of the Zombies is perhaps not deemed a classic and is doubtless overshadowed by Hammer Horrors more illustrious ancestry; however, its inventive story, cool zombies, atmosphere of death, its “rationale” for the zombies and solid lead roles make it an absorbing & very enjoyable movie.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Nanny (1965)

It’s always the films that you have no expectations of that turn out to be real gems.  I certainly didn’t expect a tense thriller which kept me guessing as to who to believe right to the end of the film.  The nanny in question is played by the excellent Bette Davis, and she has worked for the Fane family for many years; however, about 6 years ago there was an accident which resulted in the death of the youngest Fane child, Susy.  Shortly after, Susy’s elder brother Joey was shipped out to a home for disturbed children; but now Joey is coming home, will the past catch up with everyone?

The film is full of mystery as it is not until a good way into the film that we start to get an idea of the history of the nanny (I don’t think she actually had a name), and even then we don’t know whose version to trust.  It is clear that Joey is very mistrustful of Nanny, and at the heart of this relationship is a wonderful performance from Bette Davis and William Dix who plays the role of the 10 year old Joey.  William (who actually was 10 when the film was released) is truly brilliant; he’s very sure of himself and is having none of the fussing that Nanny is foisting upon him.  He is a little cocky but stops short of being arrogant, consequently I loved every scene he was in, and his scenes with Bette Davis were full of an intensity you wouldn’t expect from one so young.

The black and white photography adds to the mysterious ambience of the movie, and there are a few noticeable tracking shots which help give an idea of the size of the Fane house and give the movie a more polished feel than perhaps you might expect.  Actually this might be expected of cameraman Kelvin Pike, who was good enough to get the attention of Stanley Kubrick, consequently he can list The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyssey on his CV.  Everything comes together beautifully; the intriguing plot, the marvellous relationship between Nanny and Joey, the cinematography and the camerawork to give an excellent final product that had me guessing all the way through.  A great and hugely enjoyable Hammer production.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

The Hammer sequel to the 1958 classic Dracula (both directed by Terence Fisher), with a script so bad that Christopher Lee refused to say any of his lines, I nonetheless enjoyed Prince of Darkness.  I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than the “classic” Bela Lugosi Dracula from 1931; for a start there were no rubber bats or armadillos.  The cast are fairly run of the mill 60s horror material, apart from the creepy butler Klove (Philip Latham) who makes a good job of turning a fairly minor part into a sinister and memorable character; and of course Christopher Lee who despite not having any lines has an electrifying presence.

The film begins with a very brief synopsis of the 1958 Dracula (unfortunately not part of my Hammer boxed set), to let us know that Count Dracula is no more.  Of course this means that he has to be resurrected in this film, and the only way that can happen is with human blood.  Our four “heroes” naturally ignore all the warnings about castle Dracula and end up providing the necessary bodily fluids to revive the Count in a surprisingly gruesome scene.  Once resurrected Christopher Lee obviously dominates every scene he is in; his Dracula is so enigmatic and full of menace it is hard to take your eyes off him.

I really like the set for Castle Dracula, it has a very grandiose feel to it as well as managing to be mysterious, with the potential for secret passages everywhere.  In fact the only thing I really didn’t like was the end. Spoiler!  Dracula is killed by running water, but the water seems to be under concrete (though it’s probably ice) which seems to be just outside the castle wall, which is on top of a hill!  Is there really frozen running water at the top of the hill under the foundations of the castle?  I was confused!  However,this doesn’t really spoil what is an entertaining Dracula film with an excellent Christopher Lee and plenty of atmosphere.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

King Kong (1933)

Often considered to be the original and definitive monster movie, despite the animations reminding me of the old Chewits adverts, I nonetheless really enjoyed King Kong.  Only 100 min long it still manages to tell a story that feels that it should belong in a much longer film, however it is not an overbloated behemoth like PJ’s 187 min “monster” film.  Fay Wray is Ann Darrow, with whom Kong becomes obsessed; she does a very good job interacting with the animated monster.  She also manages to sell the fact that by end of the film, Kong has changed from the horrible protagonist of the first half of the film to a creature that deserves our sympathy.  Robert Armstrong as filmmaker Carl Denham and Bruce Cabot as Ann’s love interest John Driscoll are really peripheral characters to Fay Wray’s lead, but they both give solid performances and are completely believable within the terms of the movie.

I’ve mentioned how Kong is a little reminiscent of this, but the animation is ground-breaking for 1933, and the fight with the T-rex is still pretty damn impressive; especially when watching some of the animation 33 years later in One Million Years BC (yup as long again after the turn of the 20th century as King Kong).  What was also ground-breaking was composer Max Steiner’s idea to have the music to in time to the action.  For example when Kong is first trying to undress Ann Darrow; or at least this is what I have been led to believe by Neil Brand in his series on The Sound of Cinema.

A monster movie in every sense; grand in scale, grand in design and excellent performances from Fay Wray and King Kong himself!  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Lake Placid (1999)

Where most movies about an enormous crocodile eating people may try to concentrate on trying to scare and shock people, Lake Placid does its best to make us laugh.  Essentially a B-movie, (in style if not in budget) Lake Placid has one main thing going for it; the script.  Wry, witty and sarcastic the main characters always seem to be taking the piss out of each other as this disparate group of people are all thrown together as events develop.  At the centre of everything is local Sheriff Frank Keough played wonderfully by the under-rated Brendan Gleeson. Bill Pullman (fish & game), Bridget Fonda (museum curator) and Oliver Platt (crocodile hunter) complete the main characters, and all their personalities bounce off each other delightfully, particularly Gleeson and Platt who are always superbly sarcastic to one another.

Gleeson to Platt (who is about to dive into the lake): “I brought a pork chop for luck. Maybe you could hang it around your neck.”

Platt: “That’s sweet. Maybe later you could chew the bark off my big fat log!”

We only see glimpses of eye and teeth for possibly half the film, but when we do see the croc in all its glory for the first time it leaves quite an impression.  Generally it’s a case of less is more, so we don’t see the croc all that much, but the CG elements still look great, and since the animatronic sequences were created by the Stan Winston studio they look as tremendous as you would expect.  None of it is terribly scary, but then that’s not the point.  Sure there are a few gruesome moments in the film, but the emphasis is definitely on the sarcastic humour.  With a clever script and diverse yet great cast, Lake Placid is a very entertaining and funny film. And there’s something endlessly hilarious about Betty White feeding a cow to a giant crocodile shouting “Come and get it!”  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)

Capitalism: A love Story is a documentary by the indefatigable Michael Moore  This time he tackles the state of America’s economy due to the unstoppable force of Capitalism.  Some of the facts that he comes out with are astounding and it’s a wonder the country doesn’t fall apart.  Of course Michael Moore makes documentaries about contentious issues, and for that reason he tends to be shocking, and perhaps a little sensationalist.  So for what is essentially a one-sided account of capitalism we should maybe take some of it with a pinch of salt.  Though one can scarcely believe the completely amoral (if not illegal) behaviour of companies such as Walmart who take out life insurance on their employees (unknown to them) on the off-chance that they die giving the company a healthy payout, while grieving family receive relatively little.  Not to mention the idea of sub-prime lending which helped the world into a financial crisis.  Capitalism: A Love Story is a very interesting film which is likely to make your jaw hit the floor or have you shaking your head in disbelief.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.