Film Review: Vampire Circus (1972)

Release Date: April 30th, 1972 (UK)
Directed by: Robert Young
Written by: Judson Kinberg, George Baxt, Wilbur Stark
Music by: David Whitaker
Cast: Adrienne Corri, Anthony Higgins, John Moulder-Brown, Lalla Ward, Robin Sachs, Lynne Frederick, David Prowse

Hammer Film Productions, Rank Film Distributors Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 87 Minutes

Review:

“The Circus of Nights! A hundred delights!” – Michael

Vampire Circus is a little known Hammer Studios film from the early 1970s, when they were on their way out as a dominant horror studio. It came out at the same time that Hammer’s Dracula series was winding down.

I have always liked Hammer’s non-Dracula vampire spectacles, however. And to fanboy out a little bit, Vampire Circus has always been a favorite of mine. That may have something to do with Darth Vader himself, David Prowse, being in the film, as well as one of my favorite Doctor Who companions of all-time, the second Romana, Lalla Ward. Realistically, I just love the premise.

The story is pretty original and really fun. A troupe of circus gypsies shows up in town and captivates the people. The reality is that they are vampires out to get revenge on the town for killing their master Count Mitterhaus.

Speaking of which, the opening sequence, which features the original defeat of Mitterhaus, is one of the best things Hammer has ever created. It was also a great way for director Robert Young to start his career, as it was the opening to his first feature film.

Vampire Circus is really imaginative and it certainly isn’t a cookie cutter vampire flick. The circus twist is really cool and freshened things up for the genre. Everything from the live performances to the animal stunts just added a really cool vibe to the picture. It certainly had a bit more flair than other Hammer vampire movies.

Additionally, the cast was really good. I really enjoyed the performances of Adrienne Corri and Anthony Higgins. Higgins was particularly mesmerizing as the sexy male vampire that transforms into a black panther. Skip Martin, as the sinister dwarf, was a big highlight too. He was legitimately scary and intimidating for a little fellow. He played up the creepy clown shtick quite well, before creepy clowns were even a thing.

The style of the film mimics what was the norm for Hammer’s gothic horror pictures. Even if it may have felt dated for the time, its creativity certainly makes up for it being stylistically derivative. Plus there is a naked body painted tiger lady that rolls around all frisky and seductive.

Vampire Circus is probably only a good film for those who love the work of Hammer Studios in their heyday. But if you are one of those people, this is a unique experience that deviates quite well from their typical formula while not venturing so far away that it isn’t a Hammer picture.

Plus, Count Mitterhaus, Emil and the Gypsy Woman were pretty cool villains, as was their troupe of circus themed henchmen.

Film Review: Daigoro vs. Goliath (1972)

Also known as: Kaijū Daifunsen–Daigorō tai Goriasu, lit. The Monsters’ Desperate Battle–Daigoro vs. Goliath (Japan)
Release Date: December 17th, 1972 (Japan)
Directed by: Toshihiro Iijima
Written by: Kitao Chitaba
Music by: Toru Fuyuki
Cast: Hiroshi Inuzuka, Shinsuke Minami, Hachiro Misumi

Tsuburaya Productions, Toho, 84 Minutes

Review:

To celebrate the studio’s tenth anniversary, Tsuburaya Productions put together something special. They also didn’t channel their mega-sized Ultraman franchise or Kaiju Booska, instead they gave us something new and original.

Daigoro vs. Goliath is a very kid friendly kaiju motion picture. It is lighthearted and cute but it is still satisfying for any true fan of the genre. It also has a pretty interesting story and one that is rather original.

The hero kaiju, Daigoro, is raised in captivity due to the guilt people feel over killing his mother years prior. Basically, Daigoro’s mother went on a rampage while she was trying to protect her infant child. The Japanese military defeated her, leaving the infant kaiju helpless. Diagoro survives by donations from the people who feel that it is their duty to take care of him. However, as he keeps growing larger, caring for him is no longer financially viable. The government devises a drug that will control his size. All the while, a meteor strikes Earth, bringing with it, the evil kaiju Goliath. As things tend to go with these pictures, the two giant monsters engage in fisticuffs a few times.

When it comes to special effects, Daigoro vs. Goliath is a mixed bag.

While I like the overall look of the monsters, the suits seem to be cheaper than what was used even in the Ultraman franchise, at the time. Being that this is a big motion picture to commemorate Tsuburaya’s first ten years as a studio, I feel like they could have done a better job constructing the monster costumes. They feel like they are just thrown together or leftover Ultraman kaiju suits that were quickly retrofitted. They fold in on themselves whenever the actors inside move and they just look sort of floppy and chintzy.

However, there are still some fantastic visual effects employed throughout the movie. Most notably, there is some great matte work and composite images. The scenes where Daigoro is in the foreground with tiny people just behind him, whether he is walking across the sand or sleeping on it, look incredible for the era and for something that obviously had a limited budget.

Additionally, a lot of the props came off well even if they were made to be deliberately hokey or just used as comedic devices.

Daigoro vs. Goliath, is happy, lively and amusing. It is entertaining for those who love Tsuburaya’s work, especially in their heyday. While the film isn’t a special effects extravaganza, everything else sort of makes up for it. There are fun characters and the premise is endearing. This isn’t a kaiju classic but it is bizarre enough and unique enough to stick out in a sea of Godzilla clones.

 

Film Review: Solaris (1972) & Solaris (2002)

*written in 2014 when I did these as a double feature.

I spend every November coming down from my month long horror marathon that is October. How do I come down? By having a month long science fiction marathon.

With that, I wanted to rewatch the original Russian Solaris from 1972. I figured that I’d also watch the 2002 American version, as I had never seen it and am a pretty big fan of the original.

So let me get right into each film.

Solaris (1972):

Release Date: May 13th, 1972 (Cannes)
Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky
Written by: Fridrikh Gorenshtein, Andrei Tarkovsky
Based on: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Music by: Eduard Artemyev
Cast: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky, Nikolai Grinko, Anatoly Solonitsyn

Creative Unit of Writers & Cinema Workers, Mosfilm, Unit Four, 166 Minutes

Review:

“You love that which you can lose, yourself, a woman, a country.” – Kris Kelvin

Solaris follows a man who goes to investigate strange happenings at a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. People have claimed to have been seeing weird things. The main character, Kris Kelvin (played by one-time actor V. Statsinskiy) arrives at the station and pretty quickly starts experiencing strange phenomena. Mainly, his wife, who committed suicide years earlier, appears on the ship with no recollection of what happened to her. More weirdness ensues and I can’t say anything else without spoiling too much of the plot.

This version of the film generally follows the novel it was based on but takes some of liberties and comes off as more of a Russian art house film in a science fiction setting than a straight adaptation. The result of that is that this is one of the greatest Russian films of all-time. In fact, it is the best Russian sci-fi film I have ever seen.

It isn’t as epic and grandiose as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which obviously influenced this picture in style, but for its limited budget and coming from a communist country at the height of its power, it is more than interesting and pretty damned impressive.

The acting isn’t what I would call fantastic but it isn’t a distraction. For the time and for employing a one-time actor, there really aren’t any complaints about performance.

This is a beautiful film. It does run a bit slow at times but the story keeps you locked in and the relationship between Kelvin and his resurrected wife gets pretty intense and feels truly authentic.

Solaris (2002):

Release Date: November 29th, 2002
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Steven Soderbergh
Based on: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Music by: Cliff Martinez
Cast: George Clooney, Natascha McElhone

Lightstorm Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Can you tell me what’s happening here?” – Chris Kelvin

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, a director I am not a big fan of, this version of Solaris is quite different.

This film doesn’t attempt to remake the Russian classic. Instead, it tries to make a more faithful adaptation of the book. I can only compare this to being like the remake of The Shining, which was made at the insistence of Stephen King, who thought Kubrick’s version strayed too far away from his source material. Point being, just because this is a better adaptation of the source material, it doesn’t make it a better film.

I like George Clooney and here he plays Chris Kelvin. The name’s spelling was changed by Soderbergh because apparently Americans can’t understand the cooler looking Russian spelling of the name. Anyway, Clooney, who is pretty much always a pimp, is an emasculated version of himself in this movie, as he mopes around over his dead wife and never really shows off that famous Clooney chutzpah.

The sets in this film were done in a pretty cookie cutter early 2000s sci-fi style. Everything was sterile and nothing was inspiring. This film was far from the visual masterpiece of its Russian predecessor. In fact, there was nothing about this film that seemed unique or displayed any sort of real creativity in the design process.

This was a piss poor attempt by Soderbergh, I was basically bored shitless and I fought really hard not to hit “STOP” on the BluRay remote.

So the real question is: does this deserve to be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes it does! Let’s see here… the results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

Film Review: Five Fingers of Death (1972)

Also known as: King Boxer, Tiān xià dì yī quán, lit. Number One Fist in the World (Hong Kong)
Release Date: April 28th, 1972 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Jeong Chang-hwa
Written by: Chiang Yang
Music by: Chen Yung-yu
Cast: Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Wang Chin-feng, Bolo Yeung

Shaw Brothers Studio, 97 Minutes

king-boxerReview:

Five Fingers of Death (or King Boxer, as it’s also known) is a stupendous martial arts film from Hong Kong. It came out just before Bruce Lee helped the genre explode internationally. It may be less popular than the pictures of Lee or Jackie Chan but it is absolutely amazing and I rank it above the majority of Lee and Chan’s work.

The film stars Lo Lieh. While he never became an international superstar like Lee or Chan, he was in a ton of films and worked hard to give great performances on screen. He may not have been as accomplished as those two bigger stars, as far as his fighting abilities, showmanship and charisma but he could still hold his own and was better than most.

The film follows Lieh’s Chao Chih-Hao. He leaves his first teacher to train under a more advanced instructor. While at the new school, he becomes caught up in its rivalry with a local tyrant and his lethal henchmen. Over the course of the film, Chih-Hao impresses his new teacher enough to be given the secret of the Iron Fist technique. Everything comes to a head in a tournament but the film goes beyond the traditional climax, as things continue beyond that.

The film has a lot of intertwined characters and stories but it does a good job of managing it all and giving us a non-traditional plot structure. Just now revisiting it for the first time in years, I’m pretty sure that The Karate Kid, the original one, took the bulk of its story from Five Fingers of Death. Seriously, the more I think about it, the more connections I make between the two films. Except people didn’t get murdered or have their eyeballs ripped out in The Karate Kid.

The fight choreography is really good. The cinematography is also really solid. I have always enjoyed the scenes where Chih-Hao channels the Iron Fist power and the filmmakers use hot red lights to highlight his hands.

Five Fingers of Death has also held up really well, especially in comparison to other Hong Kong kung fu movies. It feels like a top notch production with superior camera work, lighting and a very pristine look.

 

Film Review: Asylum (1972)

Release Date: November 17th, 1972
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Robert Bloch
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Robert Powell, Herbert Lom, Barry Morse, Patrick Magee, Charlotte Rampling

Amicus Productions, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 88 Minutes

asylum_1972Review:

Amicus was kind of like the lesser known little brother to England’s Hammer Studios, who were the masters of 50s, 60s and 70s gothic horror. In their heyday, they made some horror anthology pictures. I have always been a bigger fan of full length horror pictures with one cohesive story but I like seeing some of the lighter ideas explored in anthology films. Sometimes an idea is good but it doesn’t need 90 minutes.

What drew me to Asylum initially was the fact that it “stars” one of my favorites, Peter Cushing. I put that in parentheses because he is barely in the film. That was pretty common in anthology pictures, however. He wasn’t even the main character of his story though, so it is somewhat disappointing.

The film also features Patrick Magee, who I have loved as an actor due to how great he was in A Clockwork Orange and also for his roles in Barry LyndonThe Masque of the Red Death and Dementia 13.

One story in the anthology features the always beautiful and alluring Britt Ekland and the greatly talented Charlotte Rampling, who is very young in this.

Some of the stories here are fairly creepy but overall, the film isn’t very good. It is a bit slow in some sequences and I found certain points to be boring, actually. The first story, which features crawling disembodied limbs, is the highlight of the film. Everything else goes downhill from there. The Ekland and Rampling story is interesting enough to hold your attention but it isn’t anything entirely new. The final twist ending also isn’t that fantastic, as it has been done a million times over. Granted, it may have felt fresh and unique in 1972.

Asylum is a good enough film to kill some time on a rainy day but it isn’t a classic, by any means. It fits well in the Amicus catalog but they did produce much better films.

Film Review: The Godfather (1972)

Release Date: March 15th, 1972 (Loew’s State Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Based on: The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Music by: Nino Rota
Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard Conte, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Abe Vigoda, Alex Rocco, Joe Spinell, Sofia Coppola, Richard Bright

Alfran Productions, Paramount Pictures, 177 Minutes

godfatherReview:

I had a great experience, as I finally got to see The Godfather on the big screen. Like my recent experience of seeing Aliens in the theater, movies just take on a different life when seen in their intended format, much larger and in a dark movie house with other filmgoers there for the love of the picture.

I’ve mentioned before that it is hard to review a masterpiece and this is really no different. In fact, The Godfather goes beyond that. It is a film truly devoid of any real flaws.

I don’t need to talk about the great story and the great acting or how Francis Ford Coppola was at the top of his game – everyone already knows that. The music is perfect, the cinematography is absolutely pristine and tonally, everything is pure magic. I mean, this is a film that has a 9.2 on IMDb. Only one other picture in the entirety of film history is rated higher and that is The Shawshank Redemption.

The Godfather‘s real appeal is that it truly feels timeless. It takes place in the 1940s but was made in the 1970s, yet none of that matters. The world within the film, even now, feels true to itself and incredibly authentic. The Godfather has a certain realism to it missing from most other films, especially the mafia crime genre. It doesn’t feel like Hollywood at all, it feels like you are really a fly on the wall in this family’s home. Even Goodfellas, as great as it is, doesn’t come close to the authenticity of The Godfather.

The film is long, at almost three hours. That is usually a bone of contention with me, but everything in the film feels necessary. Where I feel that certain filmmakers make really long epics in an effort to somehow legitimize their films as something epic and great, The Godfather is one of the few that deserves as much time as it needs. Here, the time is truly needed. At the other end of the spectrum, 2005’s King Kong didn’t need three hours, let alone the extra twenty minutes that brought it to a whopping 200 minutes.

The running time, makes The Godfather feel more like a lengthy miniseries, especially taking into account its sequel, which was even longer. However, it deserves to be seen in the theater. In fact, that is where it should be seen. Not on a small screen where it has existed for the entire duration of my lifetime. I really hope the sequel gets re-released theatrically in the very near future. Hell, I’d even see The Godfather: Part III just to complete the saga on the big screen.

If you have the opportunity to see this in the theater, you need to. And if you’ve never seen the film, you really owe it to yourself to experience it.

Film Review: The Grand Duel (1972)

Also known as: Il Grande duello (Italy), Storm Rider, The Big Showdown
Release Date: December 29th, 1972 (West Germany)
Directed by: Giancarlo Santi
Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi
Music by: Sergio Bardotti, Luis Bacalov
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Alberto Dentice, Marc Mazza, Horst Frank, Klaus Grünberg, Antony Vernon, Dominique Darel

Mount Street Film, Corona Filmproduktion, Terra-Filmkunst, Société Nouvelle de Cinématographie (SNC), Titanus Distribuzione, Cinema Shares International Distribution, 98 Minutes

the-grand-duelReview:

The Grand Duel is a pretty fun and extraordinarily bad ass picture.

It stars Lee Van Cleef as Sheriff Clayton, who is trying to clear the name of a man wanted for the murder of a patriarch of a corrupt political crime family. He has stood up for what is right and has thus lost his sheriff’s star before the start of the film. Regardless, he is still on a quest for justice and to ensure that an innocent man isn’t executed.

The innocent man is played by Alberto Dentice (credited as Peter O’Brien in this film). He was great in this movie and it is unfortunate that this is the only film he has ever been in. He was energetic, entertaining and lovable as the character of prison escapee on-the-run Philipp Wermeer.

The gang that the two heroes have to bring down are quite sinister and each character within the family is pretty unique and memorable. It sets up a really awesome gunfight at the end of the film, hence the film’s title, The Grand Duel.

The film also features probably the most famous spaghetti western theme song not orchestrated by the great Ennio Morricone. It went on to be used in the more famous Kill Bill films by Quentin Tarantino. The score of The Grand Duel was done by Luis Bacalov who has also done the music for spaghetti westerns Django and A Bullet For the General.

The overall story in this movie is really engaging and it moves at a good pace. There are a lot of characters wedged into the film but it doesn’t feel overstuffed. There are several flashback scenes done in high contrast black and white and they are alluringly shot.

This isn’t the best Lee Van Cleef spaghetti western but it is certainly in the upper echelon.