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: Cronos (1993)

Also known as: Chronos, La invención de Cronos (alternate Mexican title)
Release Date: May 3rd, 1993 (Cannes)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro
Music by: Javier Alvarez
Cast: Federico Luppi, Ron Perlman, Claudio Brook, Margarita Isabel, Tamara Shanath

Fondo de Fomento Cinematográfico, Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografía, Universidad de Guadalajara, Iguana Producciones, Ventana Films, Prime Films S.L., October Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“That fucker does nothing but shit and piss all day, and he wants to live longer?” – Angel de la Guardia

Cronos is the film that introduced the world to the talents of one of the most sought after film directors of the last several years, Guillermo del Toro. It was also del Toro’s first feature length film, following his shorts Geometria and Doña Lupe. He also had eight unreleased shorts before those.

This film is a vampire story but not in the traditional sense. While humans become monsters that need blood to survive, it is a uniquely original take on the concept.

In Cronos, there is a device that is in the shape of a golden scarab. Within the scarab is an insect connected to a lot of clock-like gears. The mechanism attaches to a person, taking their blood but giving them youth and vitality. The human then needs to drink blood to feed himself and the machine. An antique dealer and a rich eccentric battle over the ownership of the device with the rich eccentric employing his hulking nephew (Ron Perlman) as his muscle.

The device itself seems like a respectful nod to the Lament Configuration from the Hellraiser film series. It is a tiny mechanical device imbued with supernatural power that physically hurts its possessor while giving them extraordinary gifts and eventually pain and death. I don’t know if this was intentional by del Toro, not that it even matters, but the two devices have a lot of similarities.

While del Toro had a lot of practice making a slew of short films, being that this is his first real feature, it is impressive. It is visually stunning and uncomfortably enchanting. It is a dark fantasy world but feels like it is within the boundaries of reality. It is gritty and beautiful and there is a great balance between light and dark from a visual and narrative standpoint.

The acting is pretty solid and Ron Perlman is really great in this. I kind of wish his part was a bit bigger but it established his long-time friendship and working relationship with del Toro and even though he had a lot of acting credits before this, it kind of feels like a new chapter in his career, moving on from mostly being known behind a lot of makeup as the Beast from the late 80s Beauty and the Beast television series.

I liked this motion picture quite a lot. It doesn’t have as strong of an effect as del Toro’s later pictures but it is certainly his movie and fits well alongside the others.

TV Review: Portraits In Terror (1957)

Release Date: unaired pilot from 1957
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: Gordon Zahler
Cast: Duke Moore, Dudley Manlove, Jeannie Stevens

E.S. Moore & Associates, 1 Episode, 22 Minutes

Review:

Portraits In Terror was a television show that was never to be. It had one episode, its pilot: Final Curtain. Therefore, this is a review of that one episode.

This show was developed by Ed Wood, a man often times referred to as the worst director of all-time. There are directors who are much worse because despite Ed Wood’s lack of technical talent, bad scripts and bizarreness, he still creates films that are beloved. Many because of their flaws but also because there is some sort of magic behind his movies.

Final Curtain, unfortunately, isn’t one of those Wood projects where it captured any sort of magic. It is boring and hard to get through, even at just 22 minutes in length.

The short film or episode, follows a man exploring a playhouse late at night. It is made to be mysterious as this man is drawn into some sort of dark power that is pulling at him. It takes him almost the full twenty minutes to climb up a spiral staircase as we listen to his awfully written inner monologue. Once he gets to the second floor, he discovers that the vampire from the play is standing silent and still in a room. He touches her and she doesn’t react. As he leaves the room, she is smiling. He goes into another room, discovers a coffin, climbs in, THE END.

Final Curtain is not engaging in any way. It is drab and drawn out and really serves no purpose other than Wood having a reason to display a 22 minute inner monologue that tries really hard to be captivating but falls short in every way imaginable.

Film Review: The Monster Squad (1987)

Release Date: August 14th, 1987
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Written by: Shane Black, Fred Dekker
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Andre Gower, Duncan Regehr, Stephen Macht, Stan Shaw, Tom Noonan, Jonathan Gries, Jason Hervey

Home Box Office, Keith Barish Productions, TAFT Entertainment Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 82 Minutes

monster_squadReview:

The Monster Squad is one of the best kids movies from the 1980s. Coming out in the decade when I was a kid, I was more susceptible to the pop culture of this era than any other. Also, when this film came out, these kids were essentially the same age as me. I also loved classic monsters like these kids, so it wasn’t a hard film for me to connect to.

This film is constantly compared to The Goonies, which was a bigger budget, more popular film that had Steven Spielberg’s and Richard Donner’s names on it. The Monster Squad had Shane Black’s and Fred Dekker’s names on it. At the time, neither were really well known but Dekker had written and directed the pretty stellar Night of the Creeps a year prior. Both men have gone on to make some great films and still work together on some projects. They’re currently working together on a reboot of Predator (Shane Black acted in the original).

Getting back to The Goonies comparison, I find this film to be much better. In fact, I felt that way even in 1987 when this movie came out. To start, you’ve got a group of kids fighting five of the classic Universal Monsters: Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy and the Gillman (or as many call him, “the Creature From the Black Lagoon” or just, “the Creature”.).

While Dracula and the Mummy both look very much like their Universal Monsters incarnations, the other creatures are updated. The Gillman is now scary and frightening, while the Wolf Man is more bad ass. And while still on the monsters, Duncan Regehr (best known as Zorro in the late 80s) was a perfect Dracula, Jon Gries (Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite) did a fantastic job as the human form of the Wolf Man and Tom Noonan (known for being the Ripper in Last Action Hero) truly owned the role of Frankenstein’s monster and should be considered one of the best to play that character.

The other thing that makes this film better than The Goonies, in my opinion, is that the kids are more real. They cursed, they were often times perverts, they watched slasher films and their parents didn’t give a shit and they felt like boys I’d hang out with at school where the Goonies crew was cool but they seemed like a bunch of kids doing their own thing and came off as less authentic and less organic.

I also love the names in this movie. The token fat kid is called “Fat Kid” even though he reminds people that his name is Horace. The creepy old recluse dude that ends up being totally awesome is only ever called “Scary German Guy”. The character of Patrick has a slutty sister that is only ever referred to as “Patrick’s Sister”. By the way, “Fat Kid” is way better than Chunk from The Goonies, as he doesn’t just eat ice cream and do the truffle shuffle. No, the token fat kid in this movie, picks up a shotgun and saves the kids who bullied him – winning their respect.

This film is campy as hell, fun as hell and just a great fucking motion picture. If you love The Goonies but haven’t seen this, you are doing yourself a huge disservice. If you love classic monsters, you definitely need to get off of your ass and watch this now.

Film Review: Near Dark (1987)

Release Date: October 2nd, 1987
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Eric Red, Kathryn Bigelow
Music by: Tangerine Dream
Cast: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Tim Thomerson, Joshua John Miller, Marcie Leeds

Dino De Laurentiis Group, 95 Minutes

near-darkReview:

With the passing of Bill Paxton, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite roles that he played. In fact, this is my favorite Paxton character after Hudson from Aliens.

The problem with Near Dark is that other than Paxton’s great performance as the vampire Severen, there isn’t much else to really get behind.

This film is beloved by many and some have even called it one of the greatest vampire movies ever made. I disagree with that.

Near Dark is dreary and for the most part, not exciting to look at. It is a marriage between the horror and western genre and its setting makes it a dirty, dusty and desolate looking film. It is marred by pretty lackluster cinematography that doesn’t really add any life to it. Sure, it is a contemporary western with vampires, so being dark and dirty makes sense. But it doesn’t need to be nor should it be. The result is a movie that is aesthetically dull.

It also doesn’t help that the story isn’t very interesting and that things happen in it that don’t make a lot of logical sense. There are multiple times where the vampires are outside, then a minute or two later, sunlight is all of a sudden beaming in and burning them. The passage of time is nonsensical and it just exposes the film as being poorly written.

The music by Tangerine Dream is pretty awful. But even that isn’t as bad as the performance by Jenny Wright. Her acting was amateurish and it didn’t help that she had some horrible dialogue.

I do have to point out that the special effects were pretty good though. The scene where the vampire kid is burning while running down the street was well executed, especially for the time. The makeup was also well done, as well as the knife slashing and gunshot effects.

The interesting thing about this movie is that it has three actors from Aliens, which was released just a year prior. The vampire gang is led by Lance Henriksen’s Jesse, his girlfriend is played by Jenette Goldstein and of course you have Bill Paxton.

Near Dark is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who would have a lot of success later on with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. She was also, for a brief time, married to Aliens director James Cameron. Near Dark was the first feature film she directed on her own.

The film also has another James Cameron connection through the Terminator franchise, as Paxton had a small role in the first film and one of his victims in this movie had a small role in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Goldstein also appears in the second Terminator as John Connor’s foster mother.

Regardless of all the negatives, Near Dark certainly isn’t unwatchable. Most people seem to enjoy it. But again, I only really like it because of Bill Paxton’s presence.

Honestly, with as strong as Paxton was, I felt like he should have done more in the film. His character was the only thing fun about the picture.

Film Review: The Bat People (1974)

Also known as: It Lives By Night, It’s Alive
Release Date: January 30th, 1974
Directed by: Jerry Jameson
Written by: Lou Shaw
Cast: Stewart Moss, Marianne McAndrew, Michael Pataki, Paul Carr, Arthur Space

American International Pictures, 95 Minutes

the_bat_peopleReview:

This is one of the many awful creature features put out by American International Pictures, as they were working their way towards eventual bankruptcy. It isn’t clever, it isn’t unique, it isn’t cool, it isn’t scary and it certainly isn’t a good picture by any stretch of the imagination.

The story sees a newly married couple, played by a real married couple, go spelunking in Colorado. The man, a doctor who specializes in bats, is bit by a fruit bat. Somehow, being bit by this fruit bat causes the man to act like a vampire bat.

As the film progresses, he kills people, raises the ire of a dickhead sheriff and slowly starts to turn into a man-bat creature. After having sex with his wife, who is trying to protect him, she turns into a vampire. So a fruit bat bite creates a vampire werebat whose penis turns a woman into a vampire.

My drunk church lady aunt used to come up with wild stories like this to keep us kids from venturing off into doing dangerous stuff.

But seriously, I have come across some really bad movie plots in my day but this is on a new level of stupid. Maybe the fruit bat having mystical powers was explained but I could have missed it, as I was slamming my head into the coffee table throughout most of this movie.

It should go without saying that this film boasts atrocious acting, heinous cinematography, horrible effects, awful stunts and it is painfully long at 95 minutes. It would have been painfully long just watching a 2 minute trailer.

I can’t recommend this film to anyone. It isn’t so bad that it’s good, it is so bad that playing it will cause the Earth to open up and spit demons out to murder anyone within the vicinity of this movie. Luckily, I have some Demon-Away spray repellent and was able to avoid the wrath of Hell. Although, they still tried to throw their poop at me for 95 minutes.

If you feel compelled to suffer through this and to summon the forces of Hell, there is a version of it featured in the final season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The episode is titled It Lives By Night because they hoped by using the alternate title, it might not raise armies of killer demons.

Film Review: Nosferatu (1922)

Also known as: Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, lit. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (Germany)
Release Date: March 4th, 1922 (Germany)
Directed by: F. W. Murnau
Written by: Henrik Galeen
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Hans Erdmann
Cast: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schröder, Alexander Granach, Ruth Landshoff, Wolfgang Heinz

Prana Film, Film Arts Guild, 94 Minutes

nosferatuReview:

F. W. Murnau was one of the greatest directors of his day and not just in Germany. Several of his pictures were huge successes but none are probably as widely known internationally as Nosferatu.

Coming out during the height of German Expressionist film movement and the silent film era, Nosferatu could very well be the most famous silent picture ever made. It is definitely the biggest horror film of its time and seems to have the biggest lasting impact.

Similar to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which predates it by two years, Nosferatu utilized the surreal and dream-like German style. While Caligari is the more surreal of the two, Nosferatu is quite a bit grittier and scarier, overall. While fitting the German Expressionist style, Nosferatu feels more realistic, as it is less stylized than its predecessor. Where Caligari felt like a case of vertigo, Nosferatu delved into the surreal but not in a sense where it feels like a horrific acid trip.

Nosferatu is actually the Dracula story by Bram Stoker. It made some alterations to the characters and some of the events but if you are familiar with the literary version of Dracula, it is quite obvious that this is an adaptation of that iconic novel. The reason that this wasn’t just made to be a direct adaptation of Dracula is due to the filmmakers not being able to secure the rights to the book. Therefore, they changed some things. But this wasn’t without consequence, as the studio had to declare bankruptcy in an effort to dodge a copyright infringement lawsuit from Bram Stoker’s widow. Nosferatu ended up being the only film produced by Prana Film because of this.

Max Schreck, who plays Count Orlok, is one of the best known vampires to ever grace a movie screen. His recognition is well-deserved. He was eerie, sinister and unlike the literary Dracula, he didn’t fit in with society. Schreck was feral and more like a wild animal that couldn’t control his urges. He created some of the most well-known scenes in the silent era and in the long history of horror cinema. To this day, those scenes are still really effective. Schreck’s Count Orlok is one of the greatest interpretations of the Dracula character and one of the greatest horror performances ever filmed. His legacy has transcended film even, as his likeness has been used in several mediums: other films, literature and video games just to name a few. Heck, he even appears in an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Nosferatu was and still is a highly influential work of art. It has inspired countless directors across the globe, Count Orlok is still one of the most iconic monsters in movie history and scenes from the film are still widely used in other bodies of work.