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Showing posts from January, 2009

Frightmare

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1974
Dir. Pete Walker

British director Pete Walker is often over unfairly overlooked in the history of British horror cinema. In a time when Hammer was, well, ‘hammering’ out elaborate gothic fantasies set in far off lands full of superstitious locals, middle class genteel types and otherworldly monsters, Walker was setting his more grimy tales firmly in contemporary England. His horrors spewed out within grotty bed-sits, bleak London streets and hideous seventies décor.

Frightmare explores notions of family, generational conflict and authority, with graphic and, dare I say it, gritty enthusiasm. Taking aim at the ‘liberal’ leanings of British society at the time, particularly the reliability of psychiatric treatments, the film follows the exploits of the deranged and utterly insane Dorothy Yates (Sheila Keith). Released from incarceration after fifteen years, Dorothy is not as reformed or rehabilitated as her carers would like to imagine. As soon as she is released she resumes allevi…

Black Sunday

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1960
Dir. Mario Bava

Aka The Mask of Satan

With Black Sunday, Mario Bava not only directed his first film (if you don’t count Riccardo Freda’s The Vampires, which Bava photographed and finished directing when Freda gave up on it), he also made what many consider to be the definitive Gothic horror film. Adapted from a short story by Nicolaj Gogal, Black Sunday was banned in Britain for eight years, due in large to the brutal opening sequence where Barbara Steele has a mask with spikes inside it forcably fixed to her face.

The diabolical Princess Asa (Steele) and her fiendish servant, are put to death as punishment for her witchcraft and vampirism, and interned in the crypt of her ancestors; but not before she vows to inflict vengeance on the future generations of her family.
Two centuries later, the wheel of the coach carrying the doctors Andre Gorobec and Thomas Kruvajan to a convention buckles, and they are temporarily stranded outside an ancient crypt. Which of course they decide t…

Kill Baby Kill!

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1966
Dir. Mario Bava

Slightly absurd title aside, Kill Baby Kill is without a doubt one of Mario Bava’s most underrated films and an undeniable slice of sublime high-Gothic hokum.
Arriving in an isolated Transylvanian village to investigate the death of a local woman, Dr Paul Eswai (the rather stiff and gauffered Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) is met with suspicion and wariness by the various local types he encounters.
With the help of his assistant Monica (Erika Blank), Paul begins to suspect that something supernatural is occurring in the village. Something that is driving the locals to suicide. Something that appears to have a connection with the crumbling Villa Graps and its sinister inhabitant, Baroness Graps. But what?

Kill Baby Kill is, like quite a few Italian horror films, an exercise in style over substance. But when the style is created by Mario Bava, it is somehow easier to overlook the convoluted and threadbare plot and slight overuse of the 'shock zoom', and just allow o…

Stage Fright

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1987
Dir. Michele Soavi

AKA Bloody Bird
Sound Stage Massacre
Deliria
StageFright: Aquarius

A group of thespians are trapped inside a theatre while rehearsing a production based on the life of a nasty serial killer – who is also lurking inside the theatre and begins to pick off the actors one by one in a series of increasingly grisly ways…

Argento protégé Michele Soavi directed this, his debut film, as something of a homage to Dario Argento. The film is laced with outlandish implausibility and forehead-smacking irrationality, but it is shot through with such unflinching intensity and flair, it manages to retain one’s attention and perhaps even immerse the viewer in a dark and claustrophobic world in which a violent psychopath lurks behind every corner…

Argento’s influence on Soavi is apparent in the film’s visual department: creepy sets and lurid lighting abound in Stage Fright, and while it might be all style over substance – what style it is!

The film begins with what appears to be…

Masque of the Red Death

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1964
Dir. Roger Corman

‘Death has no master.’

What better way to celebrate the Bicentennial of Edgar Allan Poe (only a day late) than to settle back, raise a glass of something shockingly red and full-bodied and feast your eyes upon the visual decadence that is Masque of the Red Death. Based upon one of Poe's most celebrated short stories and starring Poe-adaptation stalwart, and all-round devilishly watchable, Vincent Price, Masque of the Red Death is another Corman adaptation of Poe's work and one of the few films that fully captures the doomladen tone of the morbid writer's best work...

Tyrannical Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) abducts the beautiful young peasant girl Francesca (TV’s Jane Asher) and adjourns to his castle in an attempt to corrupt her innocent soul and offer her as a bride to Satan. Meanwhile, a deadly plague known as the Red Death ravages the countryside around his castle, indiscriminately killing off the local surf population and covering their face…

Night of the Demon

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1957
Dir. Jacques Tourneur

Understated and immensely provocative, Tourneur’s Night of the Demon pays homage to the films the director made with producer Val Lewton in the early 40s (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie and The Leopard Man). Regarded as a classic of the genre, and testament to the power of suggestion and evocation, Night of the Demon is based on a short story by MR James: The Casting of the Runes.

Dana Andrews (sans silver underwear) plays sceptical American psychologist Dr John Holden, who comes to England to investigate and disprove the supposedly supernatural acts of a sinister cult led by Dr Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). Upon his arrival he discovers his friend and colleague Professor Harrington (Maurice Denham) has died under mysterious circumstances. Accompanied by the late professor’s niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins), Holden investigates the matter further only to become ensconced in a dark and uncertain world where the supernatural is frighteningly real.

Much o…

Whistle & I’ll Come to You

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1968
Dir. Jonathan Miller

‘Who is this who is coming?’

Based on a chilling short story titled ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ (first published in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, 1905) by the master of ghost tales MR James, Whistle and I’ll Come to You was adapted by the BBC for their arts Omnibus series.

The story revolves around the cranky and rationally-minded Professor Parkins (Michael Hordern) as he travels to the Norfolk coast for a brief holiday from his academic work. Out on one of his many perambulations, Parkins discovers an old whistle half buried in the grounds of an ancient cemetery. Reading the titular inscription carved into the whistle, Parkins is able to translate the latin verse and discovers it reads ‘Who is this who is coming?’ The professor dismisses it pompously and goes about his introverted daily routines of studying and hiking and further alienating himself from the other guests. Later that day though, as the light fades and the wind howls, Parkins he…

The Black Cat

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1934
Dir. Edgar G. Ulmer

Fifteen years after he was made a prisoner-of-war by his general's betrayal, Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi) has tracked down the old friend who betrayed him; crazed architect and Satanic priest Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff). Poelzig's menacing Hungarian abode, built on the mass grave of 10,000 soldiers who died in WW1 because of his treachery, is the place where the two wage a dark, psychological battle, with the lives and souls of a stranded honey-mooning American couple Joan and Peter Allison (Jacqueline Wells and David Manners) as the wager.

The Black Cat is a significant genre entry for many reasons, the most obvious being that it was the first film that featured both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi together. Despite the title however, The Black Cat does not resemble the titular tale by Edgar Allan Poe. Indeed the only relevance the title bears to the film itself is that Lugosi’s character suffers from Ailurophobia (fear of cats). While a handy p…