IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966)

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WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966) has always been one of my favorite Toho giant monsters movies.

One reason for this is nostalgia. In addition to its regular play on the popular Saturday afternoon Creature Double Feature back in the day, it also received a much-hyped prime time showing on our local UHF Channel 56 in Boston that had all the neighborhood kids, myself included, chirping about it before, during, and after it was aired.

But the main reason is it’s a darn good movie. Well, at least among films in the Toho canon, and this is no surprise since it was directed by arguably their top director, Ishiro Honda, who also directed the original GODZILLA (1954), THE MYSTERIANS (1957), KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) to name just a few.

I was recently able to view the original Japanese version of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, which includes the Frankenstein references that were removed from the film when it was released in the U.S. back in 1970.

And there are Frankenstein references because WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is a sequel to Toho’s Frankenstein flick, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965). I’m not sure why the Frankenstein connection was initially severed, but it’s too bad it was done, because the film works even better as a Frankenstein movie.

The story of a giant Frankenstein monster and his “brother” is much more intriguing than a story about two random gargantuas. And WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is a better movie than FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, which means it’s one of those rare cases where the sequel is an improvement on the original.

In WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, a mysterious monster is terrorizing the countryside attacking and eating people. It is also avoiding detection, as it always disappears quickly after it attacks, preventing the authorities from being able to stop it. It’s assumed that this is the same creature which escaped from the lab of Dr. Paul Stewart (Russ Tamblyn) and his fellow scientists. Of course, in the original version, this was the Frankenstein monster from FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. Dr. Stewart doesn’t think it’s the same creature, because the one which escaped from his lab was peaceful and would never harm humans.

It’s later discovered that there are two gargantuas, the original who escaped from Stewart’s lab, and a new more menancing one, who is believed to be a sort of clone from the first. These two behemoths eventually do battle. Hence, the war of the gargantuas.

The best part of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is that there are lots of scenes featuring the gargantuas. In lesser Toho movies, you have to sit through long stretches of usually boring dialogue and bland characters while you wait for the monsters to make their appearances. Not so here with WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. These creatures are in this movie a lot. There is a ton of giant monster action.

And director Ishiro Honda, who also wrote the screenplay,  fills this one with a lot of memorable scenes. The film opens with a frightening sequence where a slimy looking giant octopus attacks a ship, only to be deterred by an even scarier looking gargantua, who makes quick work of the octopus before turning his attention to the crew of the ship which he promptly consumes for a yummy dessert

There are a bunch of rather frightening scenes in this one. In spite of this being a silly giant monster movie, there are some dark moments. The scene where a group of hikers encounter the gargantua waiting for them in a dense fog has always been one that gives me the shivers. Likewise, in another sequence on a boat, the gargangtua is seen staring up at the passengers from under the water. We’re gonna need a bigger boat!

And the battle scenes here are second to none. There’s an excellent sequence where the gargantua comes out of the water to attack an airport, and of course, the climactic battle between the two garagantuas is a keeper.

If you’re a fan of the Toho movies, this is one film you do not want to miss, and if you’ve never seen a Toho film, this is a good one to start with, although I do recommend watching FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD first, since this is a sequel to that movie.

All in all, if you love giant monster movie action and want to see an A-list director at the top of his game, then check out WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS.

It’s a gargantuan good time!

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

DOCTOR SLEEP (2019) – Worthy Sequel to THE SHINING

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One of the reasons I enjoyed Stephen King’s novel Doctor Sleep so much was it told a really good story.

As the sequel to The Shining, it told a tale which was far removed from the one told in King’s iconic novel, yet it retained elements from the first novel to satisfy King’s faithful readers. Better yet, its attempt to tell what happened next in the life of young Danny Torrence, seen in Doctor Sleep as an adult, was spot on.

On the strength of its story,  I felt pretty confident that the film version of DOCTOR SLEEP (2019) would be a success, especially since it was being directed by the talented Mike Flanagan.

The good news is I was correct. Not only is DOCTOR SLEEP a really good horror movie, it’s also a worthy sequel to Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980).

Let’s start with that story.

Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is now an adult, and he’s been spending his life bottoming out, an alcoholic, who has turned to booze to block out the awful events of his childhood at the infamous Overlook Hotel. But when he meets Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) his life turns around as Freeman helps Danny get a job and more importantly get sober as he invites Danny to AA meetings.

His mind now clear, Danny is contacted by a young girl Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) who shares his gift for “shining” and the two become psychic “pen pals,” as Abra wants to know more about her gift. All is well, except it isn’t, because there is a group on the prowl known as the True Knot that go around killing people who possess the shining power. They do so because they live off the “steam” or breaths released when their victims are tortured and killed. The True Knot are led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and they are always on the lookout for shining victims to consume.

When Abra psychically witnesses the True Knot kill a young boy, she tries to stop them, but in doing so, makes her presence known to Rose, who feels the young girl’s strength and decides the True Knot has to have her. Abra reaches out to Danny for help, and it’s at this moment that he realizes his purpose in life: he has to be the one to step up and not only save Abra but put down the True Knot.

It’s a battle that eventually returns Danny to the place of his childhood trauma, the Overlook Hotel.

As I said at the outset, I really like the story told in DOCTOR SLEEP, and the film takes this solid tale and has no trouble putting it on the big screen. The account of what happens next to Danny Torrance makes perfect sense, and the chemistry he shares with new character Abra Stone is genuine and moving. In fact, another strength of both King’s novel and this movie is the characters are fleshed out and compelling.

The only issue I have with these characters, and it’s one I had with the novel as well, is that ultimately, the True Knot are not as omnipotent and deadly as first thought. It’s a case where the duo of Danny and Abra pretty much have the upper hand. I wish their struggle to defeat the True Knot had been a bit more challenging.

The acting is great. Ewan McGregor is perfect as Danny Torrance. It’s interesting that for the role, McGregor said he tried to capture how the voice of Jack Nicholson’s son (Nicholson, of course, played Danny’s father Jack in THE SHINING) would sound, and he didn’t want to completely mimic Nicholson. I’d say McGregor was successful here.

Kyliegh Curran is excellent as Abra Stone. She’s completely convincing as the powerful young teen. Rebecca Ferguson is enticing as the True Knot leader Rose the Hat, but I was disappointed there wasn’t a stronger sensual element to the character. Cliff Curtis adds fine support as Danny’s friend Billy Freeman.

Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is how does this compare to THE SHINING? And the reason this is such a burning question is that the movie THE SHINING was directed by Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest film directors of all time, who put his own visionary stamp on the tale, which is why it is so unlike other movie versions of Stephen King’s works.

Conventional wisdom is that since the late great Stanley Kubrick is not at the helm here, there’s no way DOCTOR SLEEP will measure up. Maybe not, but DOCTOR SLEEP was written and directed by Mike Flanagan who is an exceedingly talented guy.  Flanagan is the man behind the superior Netflix show THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) which was based on the Shirley Jackson novel. It’s one of the scariest TV shows I’ve seen in a while.

Flanagan has also written and directed some really good horror movies, including GERALD’S GAME (2017), another Stephen King adaptation, and HUSH (2016). Now, I’m not arguing that Flanagan is Stanley Kubrick, but you can add DOCTOR SLEEP to the list of high quality horror movies by Mike Flanagan.

The film is strong throughout, and it saves the best for last, when for the film’s climactic battle between Danny and Abra and the True Knot, the characters return to the Overlook Hotel. Flanagan and his crew painstakingly recreated the interiors of the hotel to look exactly like the original in THE SHINING. The result is both chilling and nostalgic.

Incidentally, the name Doctor Sleep comes from the part of the story where Danny works as an orderly at a hospital, and he uses his gift to help dying patients navigate their final moments in this life to the next, and so he earns the nickname “Doctor Sleep” as he helps these folks relax as they enter their final “sleep.”

I really liked DOCTOR SLEEP. Not only is it a worthy sequel to THE SHINING, but it’s also a superior horror movie in its own right.

It’s that rarity among sequels in that it’s more than just a follow-up to the first story. It stands on its own.

—END—

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (2019) – Fun Sequel Provides Another Gory Good Time

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It’s been ten years since ZOMBIELAND (2009), the high-octane zombie horror/comedy which starred Jessie Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin, which makes its sequel, ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (2019) a long time coming.

I really liked ZOMBIELAND when I first saw it at the theaters. The humor was snarky, the screenplay creative, and the laughs frequent. But upon subsequent viewings over the last decade I’ve enjoyed it less as the humor hasn’t held up all that well. So, I can’t say I was chomping at the bit to see the sequel.

That being said, ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP is actually pretty entertaining, and after a slow opening, it picks up speed and continues to get better all the way up to its strong conclusion. If you’re a fan of the original, you’ll definitely enjoy this one, and even if you haven’t seen the first ZOMBIELAND, you still might like this movie, as its comedy and story aren’t really contingent on having seen the first film.

It’s been ten years since we last saw Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahasse (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), and they’re still navigating their way through the zombie apocalypse. When the movie opens, they arrive at a place where they feel safe, the White House.

I’m just going to interject here for a moment. One of the reasons this sequel gets off to a slow start is that like lots of other movies, it gets done in by its trailers. There are a lot of gags thrown our way early on, but nearly all of them were already revealed in the film’s trailers. And while this is no fault of the movie, it’s still a thing. There were a lot of gags throughout this movie that would have been funnier had I not seen them already. The good news is there were still plenty of other gags that I hadn’t seen.

Now, back to our story.

Columbus and Wichita have been involved in a relationship over the last ten years, and it’s gotten serious, so much so that Columbus proposes to her, which catches her off guard and freaks her out, and so she declines. Meanwhile, Little Rock is pining for someone her own age. When she meets that someone, a former student from Berkeley, (Avan Jogia), she up and runs off with him.

Worried for her sister, Wichita sets out to find Little Rock, and of course Columbus and Tallahassee join her, and the rest of the film, which all works very well and gets better and better as it goes along, is the story of their search for Little Rock, and their interactions with the people they meet along the way.

One of the reasons ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP works as well as it does is the same team who worked on the first movie is back for this one. The four main actors all returned, as well as director Ruben Fleischer, and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, along with newcomer Dave Callaham.

Fleischer, who also directed VENOM (2018), gives this one the same visual flair as the first movie, including the creative and often humorous zombie kills. Reese amd Wernick also wrote the DEADPOOL movies, and like those movies and the first ZOMBIELAND, the humor is often— biting. Actually, less so in ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP, as more often than not the jokes are just plain zany.

As I said, the film gets off to a slow start, and that’s largely because even though I like the four main characters, seeing them interact again in pretty much the same way as the original movie wasn’t anything new, but as soon as Little Rock hits the road, and the story becomes a new one, things get better. And the film is definitely helped by the addition of some new characters.

Zoey Deutch nearly steals the show as Madison, a ditzy blonde who Columbus saves in a mall, and who for a while becomes his new girlfriend. She’s hilarious in all her scenes, and one of the reasons is she transcends the dumb blonde cliché, and really comes off as a genuine person. Plus she’s very funny.

And Rosario Dawson, as she always is, is excellent as Nevada, and she shares some fun scenes with Tallahassee.

The four principals are all back. Jesse Eisenberg as the snarky Columbus, and his “rules” and ongoing commentary and narration while not as refreshing as they were the first time around, are still generally entertaining.

Speaking of which, Woody Harrelson remains fun to watch as Tallahassee, and of the four, he has some of the best moments in the movie, although I wondered what happened to his love of Twinkies, a running gag from the first movie that is absent here.

I wanted more Emma Stone. As Wichita, she’s on-screen as much as her co-stars, but Stone has simply done so much in the last decade, I wanted this story to revolve more around her character. Sadly, it does not.

And while the story does revolve around Little Rock, Abigail Breslin probably has the least impact here of the original four stars.

One of the “surprises” in the first ZOMBIELAND was the secret cameo by Bill Murray, in a sequence where Columbus actually kills the comedian, mistaking him for a zombie. That gag does come up here in the sequel, and this time the “surprise” happens during the end credits, so don’t leave once the credits roll. Stick around for the extra scene.

I had a lot of fun watching ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP. Its gags are lively and frequent, and its story is one that gets better as it goes along, building to a conclusion that actually gets a bit suspenseful.

In the mood for a bloody good time at the movies? If you don’t mind nonstop messy zombie kills, you’ll enjoy ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP.

It may not have been the most necessary sequel, but it takes what worked best in the first movie and lays it all out there again, telling a new story, that while not as refreshing as the first film, is still a gory good time.

—END—

 

IN THE SHADOWS: FRANCIS MATTHEWS

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Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at character actors in the movies.

Today our focus is on Francis Matthews. If you’re a Hammer Film fan, you’re familiar with Matthews’ work, because of two key performances in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) and DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).

With his distinctive voice, which sounds an awful lot like Cary Grant’s, Matthews made a lasting impression in these Hammer sequels.

Here’s a very brief look at the career of Francis Matthews, focusing mainly on his genre credits:

BHOWANI JUNCTION (1956) – Ranjit Kasel- Matthews’ first big screen credit is in this drama about English/Indian relations directed by George Cukor.  Stars Ava Gardner and Stewart Granger.

francis matthews peter cushing revenge of frankenstein

Francis Matthews and Peter Cushing in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958).

THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) – Doctor Hans Kleve-  Francis Matthews is memorable here as the new young assistant to Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein, or as he is known in this movie since he’s supposed to be dead and is hiding from the authorities, Dr. Stein. Matthews and Cushing share a nice camaraderie in their scenes together, and it’s too bad the series didn’t continue with these two actors. The character of Hans is notable here because at the end of the movie he successfully transplants Dr. Stein’s brain into another body.

CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (1958) – Jonathan Bolton – co-stars with both Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee in this standard shocker featuring Karloff playing a doctor who becomes addicted to the powerful anesthesia he has created and as a result becomes involved in murder. Christopher Lee plays a grave robber named Resurrection Joe, and his supporting performance steals the show. The best part is Karloff and Lee’s climactic battle, pitting one “Frankenstein monster” vs. the other. Neat stuff! Matthews plays it straight as Karloff’s son and protegé.

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Francis Matthews and Christopher Lee in DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).

DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) – Charles Kent – By far, my favorite Francis Matthews’ role. He plays Charles Kent, one of the four guests who find themselves spending the night in Dracula’s castle, and it’s Charles’ brother Alan (Charles Tingwell) who’s murdered by Dracula’s disciple Klove (Philip Latham) who then uses Alan’s blood to resurrect Dracula (Christopher Lee) in one of Hammer’s bloodiest and most gruesome scenes.

Charles then teams up with Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) to hunt down Dracula, but the vampire king complicates things by going after Charles’ wife Diana (Suzan Farmer) first.

This sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), arguably Hammer’s best shocker, is itself a really good movie, and its reputation has only gotten better over the years. Francis Matthews makes for a strong leading man, until that is, he has to face Dracula, which is as it should be. The later Hammer Draculas would stumble by having every random young hero best the vampire king when in all seriousness, that should have been something only the Van Helsings of the world could do.

Also, if you own the Blu-ray version of DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, it includes a rare and very informative commentary by Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Suzan Farmer, and Francis Matthews. All four actors sat down together for a screening of the film, and for most of them it was the first time they had watched the movie in years. All four actors add really neat insights. For instance, during the film’s pre-credit sequence, which begins with the ending of HORROR OF DRACULA, Lee was quick to point out that the ending they were watching was cut from the original version, and this commentary was recorded long before the recent restored version by Hammer.

The Blu-ray also contains rare behind-the-scenes footage on the set of DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS secretly filmed by Francis Matthews’ brother using an 8mm camera.

Sadly, of these four actors, only Barbara Shelley remains with us, as Lee, Matthews, and Suzan Farmer have all since passed away (Farmer in 2017).

RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK (1966) – Ivan – shot nearly simultaneously as DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the film uses the same sets and much of the same cast, including Christopher Lee, Francis Matthews, Barbara Shelley, and Suzan Farmer.

THE SAINT (1964-1967) – Andre/Paul Farley – “To Kill A Saint”/”The Noble Sportsman” – appeared in two episodes of the popular Roger Moore spy show.

THE AVENGERS (1966-1967) – Chivers/Collins – “Mission – Highly Improbable”/”The Thirteenth Hole”- appeared in two episodes of THE AVENGERS TV show.

RUN FOR YOUR WIFE (2012) – Francis Matthews’ final screen credit is in this British comedy.

Francis Matthews has 106 screen credits, and I’ll always remember him for his two noteworthy performances in two of Hammer’s better sequels, THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958) and DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).

Matthews was born on September 2, 1927. He died on June 14, 2014 at the age of 86.

Well, that’s all we have time for today. I hope you enjoyed reading about Francis Matthews, and please join me again next time on the next IN THE SHADOWS when we’ll look at the career at another great character actor in the movies, especially horror movies.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

SHOCK SCENES: DRACULA’S DEMISE- A Look at the Hammer Dracula Endings – Part 4

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SHOCK SCENES:  DRACULA’S DEMISE- A Look at the Hammer Dracula Endings

Part 4

By

Michael Arruda

Welcome to Part 4 of our look at the endings to the Hammer DRACULA series, where we examine how Dracula met his demise in the various Hammer Dracula movies. Previously we looked at the endings to the first six Hammer Dracula pics.  Here in Part 4 we’ll look at the rest of the series.

And remember, if you haven’t seen these films, there are major spoilers here, so proceed with caution.

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DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

Dracula meets the 1970s!

After the success of the Dan Curtis film THE NIGHT STALKER (1972), the movie that introduced reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) to the world and had Kolchak hunting a vampire in present day Las Vegas, Hammer decided that for its next Dracula movie they would take Dracula out of the 19th century and put him in the heart of present day London, which at the time happened to be 1972.

DRACULA A.D. 1972 also marked the return of Peter Cushing to the series, as he played Lorrimer Van Helsing, a descendant of the original Van Helsing.  On paper, it  sounded like a neat idea.  In reality- mostly because “modern day” at the time was the groovin-yeah-baby year of 1972, the film really doesn’t work- at least not the way Hammer intended.  THE NIGHT STALKER, it ain’t!

However, that being said, in spite of it being lambasted by critics and doing poorly at the box office, DRACULA A.D. 1972 is actually a pretty fun movie.  I’ve always really liked this one.  The dialogue is so over the top and overdone, it’s a hoot!  It’s like watching an episode of SCOOBY-DOO.

It’s also a lot of fun seeing Peter Cushing return to the series as Van Helsing, even if he is playing one of Van Helsing’s descendants.  As usual, Christopher Lee doesn’t have a lot to do as Dracula, but he makes the most of his few scenes.

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Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham) isn’t doing her grandfather any favors when she removes the knife from Dracula’s (Christopher Lee) heart during the finale of DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972).

Unfortunately, the ending isn’t anything to brag about, even with Cushing’s Van Helsing battling Lee’s Dracula once again.  Compared to the ending of HORROR OF DRACULA, the ending to DRACULA A.D. 1972 is slow and tired.  There’s a brief chase, this time with Dracula chasing Van Helsing, a brief scuffle, and then an all too easy death scene where Dracula falls into a pit of wooden stakes, set up there earlier by Van Helsing, although how he would know Dracula would fall inside is beyond me!  This is followed by the obligatory and not very impressive Dracula-turns-to-dust scene.

Far out, man!

Not really.

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THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973)

Immediately after the release of DRACULA A.D. 1972, Hammer went into production with their next Dracula movie, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973) which again starred both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and once more took place in the 1970s.

The attempt was made to improve upon DRACULA A.D. 1972, and so in this film the hippies are gone, and instead Dracula acts likes he’s a villain in a James Bond movie as he tries to take over the world with the help of other devil worshiping dignitaries. When Scotland Yard investigates and learns about the satanic cult, they turn to their resident expert, Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).

It’s a fairly interesting plot, but it’s all rather flat, and I’ve always enjoyed DRACULA A.D. 1972 more.  Because DRACULA A.D. 1972 performed so miserably at the box office, Hammer decided not to release SATANIC RITES in the U.S., until that is, five years later when it was released under the ridiculous title COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE in 1978.  The only good thing about the delay was I was 14 at the time, and when it opened at my local theater, it provided me with my first opportunity to see a Hammer horror film on the big screen.  Cool!

The ending to SATANIC RITES is actually a bit better than the ending to DRACULA A.D. 1972.  The confrontation between Dracula and Van Helsing is a bit longer this time.  It starts in a fiery house and then continues outside, as Van Helsing leads Dracula into the woods where he is able to get Dracula caught in a thorn bush.  See, in this movie, thorns are representative of Christ’s crown of thorns and as a result are fatal to vampires.  At least Hammer always remained creative!  Of course, what would a Dracula movie be without a good staking, and so Van Helsing drives a stake through Drac’s heart for good measure, which leads to the undead king’s umpteenth disintegration scene.

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Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) prepares to do battle with Dracula in THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973).

The best part about this ending is that after Dracula disintegrates, all that is left of Dracula is his ring, which hearkens back to the ending of the first film in the series, HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) where Dracula’s ring also remains after his disintegration.  In HORROR OF DRACULA, Van Helsing does not take the ring, and when Dracula is resurrected in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) he wears it again.  This time around, at the end of SATANIC RITES, Van Helsing does take the ring, symbolizing that this time Dracula is truly done for, which is appropriate, since this was the final Christopher Lee film of the series.

I say final “Christopher Lee” film in the series because even though Lee said his days as Dracula were over, Hammer wasn’t finished, and they would bring back Dracula for one more movie, without Lee.

 

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THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974)

This is one weird movie.  After the commercial failure of their previous two Dracula movies, Hammer decided that Dracula in the 1970s was not a good idea, and so their next vampire tale would once more be a period piece. THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES was originally not going to be a Dracula film at all, but simply a vampire movie, but this horror-martial arts combo was co-produced with The Shaw Brothers Company who insisted that since their Asian audiences loved Dracula, that Dracula had to be incorporated into the movie.

And so an introduction was filmed with John Forbes-Robertson hamming it up in thick Joker-like make-up as Dracula, where we see his spirit enter into that of an Asian warrior who had visited Dracula’s castle.  Dracula wants to seek out new blood in the Far East, and now inside a new body, he is able to assemble an army of Kung-fu vampires— the seven golden vampires— without people knowing who he is, except that old nemesis Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is also in the Far East and hot on his trail!

 

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One of the seven golden vampires in THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974), Hammer’s final Dracula movie.

There are martial arts fights galore in this very unique film that somehow actually works.  It also has a fantastic music score by James Bernard.

Unfortunately, the ending is rather lame.  After all that choreographed martial arts fighting, Dracula returns to his old body where he is promptly done in— in very undramatic fashion- by Van Helsing.  It’s a very weak way to end the series.

Aside from the ending,  THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES is actually a pretty enjoyable movie.  And even though he’s not really involved in the fight sequences, Peter Cushing still enjoys lots of screen time as Van Helsing, and as always, he’s excellent.

Look also for the inferior yet worth checking out re-edited version entitled THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA (1974).  This version was originally released in the U.S. as an exploitation flick.  It’s fun to compare the two.  THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES plays out like an elegant atmospheric A-List Hammer vampire movie, whereas THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEETS DRACULA plays like a choppy incoherent blood fest shown at the Drive-In after midnight.  Same movie, different editing.  It’s fascinating to watch these two versions back to back.

So, that about wraps things up.  Thanks for joining me on this four part look at the various Dracula demises in the Hammer Dracula movies.

Join me next time for another SHOCK SCENES when I’ll we’ll look at other memorable scenes in horror movie history.

—END—

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SINISTER 2 (2015)

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Here’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of SINISTER 2 (2015) which went up Sunday night 8/23 at cinemaknifefight.com

Enjoy!

—Michael

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SINISTER 2 (2015)sinister 2

Movie Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: A dimly lit basement. A door opens and MICHAEL ARRUDA enters. He comes upon an old Super 8mm film projector.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA (looking at projector): I haven’t seen one of these in years. This brings back memories from my childhood: watching my 8mm and Super 8 mm versions of the classic Universal and Hammer horror movies. Ah, the good old days! I even remember the introduction of Super 8mm and what a big deal it was. See, it projected a larger picture than standard 8mm.

Unfortunately, this projector is not here today for us to re-watch my old Super 8mm horror movie collection. No, it’s here because it plays an integral role in the movie I’m reviewing today, the utterly forgettable sequel, SINISTER 2 (2015). The 8mm films in this movie are films that show children murdering their families in the most brutal of ways. If SINISTER 2 succeeds at anything, it’s at being an ugly movie.

(Suddenly a group of ghost children appear, sitting around the movie projector.)

GHOST BOY: Jeesh! You’re a downer!

MA: I’m sorry. Snuff films like the ones depicted in today’s movie have a way of dampening my mood. Anyway, welcome to Cinema Knife Fight everyone. I’m Michael Arruda, and today I’m flying solo as my movie reviewing partner L.L. Soares wisely opted out of this one.

(The ghost children giggle.)

MA: What’s so funny?

GHOST CHILDREN (In unison): You’ll see.

MA: Whatever. Anyway, today I’m reviewing SINISTER 2, and if you haven’t figured it out yet by my sour disposition, I didn’t really like this movie. It’s definitely an example of when the sum of the parts do not equal the whole, because there were parts to this film that I actually liked, but as you’ll find out as we continue this review, they just didn’t add up to a complete package.

SINISTER 2 is a sequel to SINISTER (2012) a film that a lot of people liked, but I never warmed up to it. Its tale of a demon who possessed children and made them murder their families while capturing the gruesome killings on film left a bad taste in my mouth. It was just too ugly a tale for me to enjoy. That being said, it did have a well-constructed story that made sense, and it had Ethan Hawke playing the lead, so it had some things going for it even if it didn’t win me over.

SINISTER 2 opens with another grainy snuff film, where we see a family burned alive—oh fun! (Shakes his head).

GHOST BOY: Wouldn’t you like to watch one of our movies?

MA: No. Not at all.

GHOST BOY:   Come on! Watch it!

MA: No! I’m reviewing a movie here. Go find some children to haunt.

In SINISTER 2 we meet the deputy from the first movie, once again played by James Ransone, only now he’s an ex-deputy because he lost his job after the events in the first movie. In that one, he had helped Ethan Hawke’s character investigate the evil that was haunting his family, and because he went behind his boss’s back, he got fired.

Here in SINISTER 2, the deputy goes around burning houses in order to combat the main demon in these movies, Bughuul. The logic behind his actions is questionable at best. The families haunted by Bughuul aren’t killed until they move out of their home, and then when new people move into the house where the murders occurred, Bughuul goes after them. The deputy believes if he burns these houses before new people move in, then Bughuul can’t haunt people. But if he’s constantly burning houses and Bughuul is still around, then obviously his strategy isn’t working. Otherwise, wouldn’t it take the burning down of just one house- the last one Bughuul haunted— to sever the line? I mean, how many houses is Bughuul haunting? Obviously quite a lot! I didn’t really get the reasoning behind the deputy’s actions here.

When the deputy arrives to burn the home where the family from the first film was killed, he finds a woman Courtney Collins (Shannyn Sossamon) secretly living there with her twin sons Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan), hiding out from her jerk of a husband Clint (Lea Coco) who’s trying to locate them so he can get his sons back. Courtney at first believes the deputy is working for her husband and is there to take her boys, but one he assures her that he’s not, that he’s there investigating the house and its connection to the previous owners’ murders—something that doesn’t seem to bother her at all— she allows him to stay on the property.

Again, this plot point left me slightly confused. The deputy arrives at the house prepared to burn it, but once he finds Courtney and her sons living there, he drops those plans and instead begins to investigate the property looking for clues that the demon responsible for the murders, Bughuul, has been there.   Doesn’t he already know this? That’s why he went there in the first place, prepared to burn it down.

And, of course, Bughuul has been there, as a group of ghostly children has already contacted Courtney’s sons and has shown them their special set of home movies, setting the stage for yet another child to murder his family and film the slaughter, unless the deputy can stop them.

(The ghost children cheer.)

If this sounds like your type of thing, then have at it. I’d rather watch THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (2015) reboot any day, and why that stylish film has been bashed so harshly I don’t know, but getting back to today’s movie, SINISTER 2.

As I said, there were parts to this movie that I liked. Let’s start with the cast. I really liked James Ransone in the lead role as the nameless deputy. It was fun to see a lead hero who wasn’t a wise-cracking macho type. He’s probably the most terrified guy in the movie, and yet he’s the one who gunning to stop Bughuul. The deputy is a likeable guy, and Ransone is very good in the role.

GHOST BOY: You gotta watch our movie! Please???

MA: Stop interrupting me! I’m reviewing a movie.

GHOST BOY: We’re gonna show it to you anyway.

MA: Suit yourself. I’m continuing my review.

Likewise, I enjoyed Shannyn Sossamon’s performance as Courtney Collins, the mom who’s constantly on guard and has to utilize all of her energy to combat the relentless efforts of her estranged husband. It’s too bad she couldn’t have used some of this energy to pay attention to what was going on with her two sons and a certain demon. About these supernatural events she’s completely clueless.

And even though Courtney and the deputy aren’t lovers in the story, they share a nice chemistry together.

(A grainy movie starts playing on the screen. MA ignores it.)

The two boys who play her twin sons Dylan and Zach, Robert Daniel Sloan and Dartanian Sloan, who are triplet brothers in real life, are effective enough and do a good job with the “good son, bad son” routine.

(MA hears a familiar voice.)

MA (pointing to the screen): Hey, that’s L.L. Soares!

GHOST BOY: I told you that you needed to see this.

(On screen, we see L.L. SOARES tied to a stake. He’s laughing.)

CHILD’S VOICE ON SCREEN: What are you laughing for?

L.L. SOARES: This is more fun than THE WICKER MAN!

CHILD: Uh, we’re going to kill you.

LS: Yeah, yeah, whatever.

(A hand lights a fire under the stake, and suddenly flames shoot out around LS who pulls out a cigar, lights it, and starts smoking it.)

LS (enjoying the cigar): Nice. Hey, you kids have any linguica? I could go for a barbecue.

CHILD: Why aren’t you dying?

 LS (blows on his cigar, igniting a stream of fire that shoots across the screen and is followed by a high-pitched scream.) Because you are, you little brat!

MA: This is actually pretty cool.

GHOST BOY (quickly turning off projector): That wasn’t supposed to happen. Where’s that other film?

MA: While you’re looking, I’m going on with my review.

And the demon in these movies, Bughuul, in spite of the fact that he resembles Michael Jackson, is one of the scarier-looking film monsters to come along in the past few years. Yet in this movie, that’s about all he does: look scary. Other than this, he does pretty much next to nothing. It’s a real shame, because Bughuul is frightening, and what he does, possess children and make them murder their families, is even more terrifying, and yet he’s been in two movies that have failed to take advantage of these strengths. He deserves to be in a better movie. Here, we see him again showing up on computer screens and in the shadows, but that’s it.

The biggest problem I had with SINISTER 2 was its clumsy storytelling. For starters, it did a very poor job at the outset making connections to the first film, and if you haven’t seen SINISTER, you might not get what’s going on until about half way into the movie.

As I said earlier, I was confused with the deputy’s investigation. First, he’s going to burn down the farmhouse. Then he’s there investigating it.

If Courtney knows what happened to the previous owners of her house, and she says she does, why isn’t she even a little concerned? Especially knowing that a child disappeared there, shouldn’t she be a bit worried about her own kids? I realize she’s focused on hiding from her nut-job of a husband, but still, shouldn’t there be some concern or caution? Evidently not.

More so, the deputy definitely knows. So, why isn’t he warning Courtney about watching her children?

Of course, part of the answer is the gimmick in these movies— that Bughuul makes his move after the family moves out of the house into another house, which is why the deputy keeps telling Courtney not to leave the farmhouse, because he figures she’s safe as long as she stays there. Most of the families do move because Bughuul has been terrorizing them and so they feel their house is haunted and they move, I guess. Like a lot of other things in this movie, that’s not really clear. Strangely, though, in spite of the fact that the ghost children have contacted the twin boys and are showing them the snuff films, there aren’t any other freakish things happening there. Courtney and the boys only leave when her nut of her husband shows up and forces them to do so.

I was surprised at the muddled storytelling because the screenplay was written by the same two guys who wrote the first movie, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. Derrickson also directed the first SINISTER. Part of the problem is there’s not much of a story to tell. Demon haunts child, child will murder family. That’s the premise. The only question is will the deputy be able to stop it?

GHOST BOY: Okay, watch this one! (Turns on projector, and MA looks at screen.)

(The grainy film reveals LS tied to kitchen floor with some sort of electric wiring tied to his leg. He looks sick.)

LS: Wow. That was some party last night.

(Suddenly we see water wash its way towards his body. A tiny child’s hand dips an electrical wire into the water, electrocuting LS, who instead of dying suddenly glows bright green. He then gets up and starts chasing the screaming child around house.)

LS: Come here you little brat! You want to electrocute someone? I’ll show you how do to do it!

(GHOST BOY shuts off film again in frustration.)

MA: I changed my mind. You can keep showing these movies to me. They’re hilarious.

Where was I?

SINISTER 2 also doesn’t have a scary bone in its celluloid body. The only thing remotely frightening in this movie is the films by the ghost children. They are gory, disturbing and dark, and since they involve characters we know nothing about they mean very little and carry very little emotional weight. They also have grown more elaborate, to the point where you doubt a child would be able to pull it off. For example, in one scene the family is hung upside down over a swamp and then lowered so crocodiles can bite off their heads. Did I say this movie was ugly?

And about those 8mm movies—- the murders which took place years ago, I could easily understand using an 8mm camera to film the proceedings, since that’s all that existed back then. But here in present day, wouldn’t the children be using cell phones, smart phones, or digital cameras? Who uses 8mm anymore? They don’t exist! Come on, Bughuul, get into the 21st century already!

Director Ciaran Foy’s idea of being scary is to show us the snuff films. That’s it. There aren’t any creative scares anywhere else in this movie, which is a complete shame. As I’ve already said, the character of the demon Bughuul has tremendous potential to be scary and he’s stuck in a movie like this.

And while I liked the main cast, the supporting cast is forgettable, led by Lea Coco as Courtney’s monster husband Clint, who is such an over-the-top jerk it’s almost unbelievable. When they all sit down to eat, he makes his family wait until he eats first. He beats his son. He verbally abuses his wife. He’s rich and powerful and has the police and local officials in his pocket, yet he looks like a construction worker. If anyone deserves to die in this movie, it’s him, and so when he does get done in, it’s the one satisfying moment in the movie.

SINISTER 2 is a forgettable sequel in a series I wish would cease now. In fact, if there was ever a character in need of a “re-imagining” or a re-boot, it’s the demon Bughuul. Jettison these inferior movies and get him on board in something else. The sooner the better.

I give it one and a half knives, and it gets the half because I like Bughuul and I enjoyed the performances of the four leads in this one.

(Turns to the ghost children).

So, do you have any more movies to show me?

(GHOST BOY turns on the projector and we see the grainy image of several children tied to tiny beds. They are the ghost children.)

MA: Hey, those kids look like you.

(LS suddenly appears on screen holding a chainsaw with a crazed look in his eye. He turns on the chainsaw and charges towards the beds.)

(The GHOST BOY knocks over the projector, and he and the other ghost children flee the basement screaming.)

MA: Well, at least now I know what L.L. was doing instead of reviewing today’s movie. I think he got the better end of the deal.

(EXITS)

–END—