Archive for the Christopher Lee Category

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Posted in British Horror, Christopher Lee, Frankenstein, Hammer, Hazel Court, Jimmy Sangster, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher on September 16, 2011 by Bill Courtney
THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN
1957/ Director: Terence Fisher/ Writers: Jimmy Sangster , Mary Shelley (novel)

Cast: Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee, Melvyn Hayes, Valerie Gaunt, Paul Hardtmuth
The Curse of Frankenstein is truly a history making movie. Prior to Curse Hammer had had some success as a film studio and with the Quartermass films and X The Unknown found a niche in the horror genre. Curse was their first color film, and what a first it was. The scenes are lush and vibrant as well as chilling and nightmarish. Under the direction of the brilliant Terence Fisher the movie single handedly revives the Gothic horror film. While it was a return to the classic, atmospheric horror themes established in the 30’s by Universal studios, but Hammer would certainly tell the stories with their own style. Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster would turn the focus of the story on the character of Victor Frankenstein rather than the monster. The obsessed doctor and his hideous creation are played by Hammer first timers Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Lee got the role basically because of his 6’4′ height, a feature that almost prevented him from landing the role he would make legendary, that of Count Dracula. However it is Cushing that shines as the driven and insane Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He does frequent himself with hunchbacks as he robs graves but he aligns himself with his brilliant tutor. In later Hammer Frankenstein films the Igor type hunchback is eschewed for career driven young men who fall under Frankenstein’s evil charm. Cushing is dashingly handsome and his face conveys the doctor’s charisma and madness. He is a sociopath really who will let no one stand in the way of his ambitions.

The story essentially follows the classic Frankenstein tale, that of a man whose supreme creation turns into a monster that sets out to destroy its creator. The film has a wrap around narration and opens up with a priest arriving at the jail house where a broken and disheveled Victor await the guillotine. He does seek absolution but just wants someone to believe his incredible story, and that it was a ‘monster’ that murdered his jealous house maid. We are taken back in time to when an already rich and arrogant young Victor Frankenstein meets his brilliant new tutor Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) and the two form a deep connection as time passes. However Victor’s passion run darker and more sinister than Paul’s as he desires to test their live reviving techniques on humans and not just small animals. Paul, though strong willed, is susceptible to Victor’s vision and passion and he is soon cutting corpses from the gallows to use in experiments. As in all Frankenstein stories the sublime nature of Frankenstein’s creation is not its physical form, hewed together from collected body parts, but it is to be the thing’s magnificent mind.

While all of Paul’s and Victor’s experiments are going on the house Victor’s cousin Elizabeth (the lovely Hazel Court) has come to stay following the death of her mother. She and her mother have long been cared for financially by Victor and now the two are to be paired in an arranged marriage. But the ambitious Victor has been dallying with the house keeper Justine (Valerie Gaunt) and whispering sweet nothings in her ear¡­ sweet nothings that while rear their ugly heads and spell Justine’s doom eventually. Paul grows fond of Elizabeth and pleads with her to leave and while she senses his sincerity she is intend on wedding Victor. And Victor in the meantime had solved the problem of how to get a brilliant brain into his patchwork ubermensch, he will simply invite the gifted Professor Bernstein up for dinner and chat, then push him over the banister and kill him in a truly amazing scene that does not look like a dummy was used. Paul is over wrought with disgust at Victor and a conflict ensues in the crypt and the brain is damaged, but Victor continues his experiment to success. But his success nearly kills him. After pleading with Paul for assistance in operating the apparatus he returns to his laboratory to find the creature has been brought back to life in his absence. There is a fantastic scene where Lee quickly unbandages his face and reveals the hideous features of Victor’s dark labors. This scene totally scared the daylights out of as a ten year old staying up and watching this late at night all alone. Hammer was careful not to provoke powerful Universal studios with the monster’s makeup and what they did was a creature that looks bloodless and grotesque, with clumps of mangled flesh hanging from its neck rather than neat stitching scars. Lee’s monster has little time on screen in comparison to Karloff’s, and the time spent is in anguish and despair. The creature looks disgusting and shows its homicidal rage instantly upon seeing its creator. The thing escapes and rather than befriending an old blind man kills him. Paul shoots it in the face and in a rather gory scene for the time.


Victor will not give up and digs the beast up and in the last parts of the film it kills the scorned Justine and is discovered by a desperate to understand Elizabeth. While there is moral ambiguity with Cushing’s Frankenstein, a feature not to found in his Van Helsing or other Vampire hunters, he tries to save Elizabeth in the end from the beast he has to destroy. He comes to his senses far too late and in the end he is deserted at the guillotine by Paul and Elizabeth. Could Paul have saved him by verifying the existence of a monster? Or would he have only implicated himself? Did he take it on himself to be Victor’s judge for his horrible crimes? Did Paul fall in love with Elizabeth and see this as a solution to more than one problem?
The film ends with this questions and as we know the story continues in more fine Hammer Frankenstein films. I have the next three in the series and I will get them in due time. Before closing I want to comment on two more things. One is on Terrence Fisher’s marvelous use of interior shots. He does this well in all his films (The Brides of Dracula for another example) and his use of cluttered rooms and exotic interior camera angles is a quality I have long loved in his work. In fact his exterior shots are often bland unless his is using studio sets. The other thing I found noteworthy of this true classic was the score by James Bernard, who scored some of Hammer’s best soundtracks. But this one is simply thrilling and you cannot help but feel Victor’s anguish and fear all the more because of this score.

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THE URANIUM CAFE NECROFILES/VIOLENT MIDNIGHT/CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR /FROGS/BAMBOO SAUCER

Posted in AIP, Barbara Steele, Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Necrofiles, Ray Milland, Sam Elliott on September 2, 2011 by Bill Courtney
VIOLENT MIDNIGHT (aka PYSCHOMANIA)

1963/Director: Richard Hilliard/Writers: Richard Hilliard, Robin Miller

Cast: Lee Philips, Shepperd Strudwick, Jean Hale, Lorraine Rogers, Dick Van Patten, James Farentino

This is a really decent early slasher/stalker style film produced by Del Tenney, who would go on to direct films like The Horror of party Beach, I Eat Your Skin (Zombies) and Curse of the Living Corpse. The direction by Richard Hilliard is stylish and atmospheric. It came out at a time when a spat of films where showing the influence of Hicthcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho. But the film is a cut above the rest in terms of story, acting and imagery. We have a pretty decent police style mystery (with none other than Dick Van Patten, from prime-time’s Eight Is Enough, as the tough talking detective who has two men suspected of some slashing murders in the local college town. There is the tortured artist type (Lee Philips) who paints nude women and has anger issues and a incorrigible punk (James Farentino) who seems the logical suspect but we are thrown a surprise ending that seems more like a Giallo style ending. In fact the film has a few Giallo elements, including a black leather gloved stalker and lots of strange camera shots but the film in fact predates the Giallo genre by a year or two. Bava’s trend sitting Black and Black Lace had yet to be released. Shot in sharp b/w with a good music score it is a must for any fan of stalker/slasher styled films but before they became an actual film genre.

CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR (aka THE CRIMSON CULT, THE CRIMSON ALTAR)

1968/Director: Vernon Sewell/Writers: Mervyn Haisman, Henry Lincoln

Cast: Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Mark Eden, Barbara Steele, Michael Gough, Virginia Wetherell, Rosemarie Reede

Barbara Steele plays the evil witch Lavinia who has placed a curse on the descendants of the small village where she was executed centuries before during the witch trial of Europe and Britain. She looks great all painted green and wearing some sort of horned witches hat. Of course the curse has finally found it way down the line to last of the descendants Robert Manning (Mark Eden) who has come to the village, during the time of the year when it celebrates its wicthy history, to find his missing brother. He attempts to enlist the help of Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff in his search and I think you can imagine how that turns out. The film has that psychedelic feel of the period with mod dances and groovy parties. Sexy women run around in skin tight clothes and the acting is great, of course, but the film over all is not what you might have wanted from all the talent involved. Karloff was ill during the production and I am not sure if his character being confined to a wheelchair was part of the script or was necessary for the ailing actor. Torture chambers and scenes bordering on S/M make this a must see for fans of the 60’s and 70’s witch films.

FROGS

1972/Director: George McCowan/Writers: Robert Hutchison

Cast: Ray Milland, Sam Elliott, Joan Van Ark, Adam Roarke, Judy Pace, Lynn Borden

One of the first eco-horror or animal attack films API’s Frogs is not really that spooky in any real way and the Frogs themselves pose no threat to anyone except to a wheelchair bound Ray Milland at the films end. Millionaire Jason Crocket (Milland) is not going to let anything ruin his annual 4th of July celebration on his plantation style mansion in the Florida swamps. The celebrations are joined by a recently boatless, and sometimes shirtless, Picket Smith (Sam Elliot). Smith was knocked into the swampy lake waters by Crocket’s typically drunken son Clint, played by Adam Rourke who made some of the better biker films of the late 60’s like Hells Angels on Wheels with co-star Jack Nicholson. Also running around in an extremely tight little yellow 70’s style suit is Jason’s daughter Karen (Joan Van Ark of the Dallas spin-off Knot’s landing). While nothing much ever happens in the film I still found it fun to watch. Sam Elliot is good in his super-macho way in this early role. The deaths actually occur by rebelling against destructive mankind animals like snakes, spiders, alligators and even lizards who can somehow figure out the right combinations of poisons to knock over to kill one party-goer in the hothouse. An interesting synthesizer score that sounds like someone just a new Moog or Arp and was pluncking around on the keys and turning the dials to see what would happen. Strangely interesting film overall.

BAMBOO SAUCER

1968/Director: Frank Telford/Writers: John P. Fulton, Frank Telford

Cast: Dan Duryea, John Ericson, Lois Nettleton    , Bob Hastings, Vincent Beck

Not one of those films too many people have ever heard of and so all the more deserving of a mention here at the Cafe. A cold war period sci-adventure that is mostly for cheese lovers. While the film is campy from the get-go the film makers were trying to make a real science fiction with a message. The American military has information that the Red Chinese are holding onto a downed alien space craft which they are keeping in the super secure location of a run down old church in the undeveloped countryside. A team led by Hank Peters (Dan Duryea in his last role) sneaks into China with little trouble and there run into a team of Russians who are on the same mission. The film focuses not so much on the threat of the aliens but on the message that we have to cooperate as a species in order to survive (too bad, I wish a big bug had jumped out and eaten a Red myself) and the Ruskies and Yanks unite to use the UFO escape the more evil of the three Chinese. The acting is pretty bad and the camera work and editing are worse, but I enjoyed this one anf recommend it.

HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD/1961/ /MARIO BAVA/REG PARK/WOOLNER BROTHERS

Posted in Adventure-Action, Christopher Lee, Mario Bava, Peplum, Reg Park, Woolner Brothers on July 4, 2011 by Bill Courtney
HERCULES IN THYE HAUNTED WORLD (Ercole al Centro Della Terra)
1961/ Directors: Mario Bava/Franco Prosperi/Writer: Mario Bava
Cast: Reg Park, Christopher Lee, Leonora Ruffo, George Ardisson, Marisa Belli, Ida Galli, Franco Giacobini   
  
ALSO KNOWN AS: Hercules at the Center of the Earth, Hercules in the Center of the Earth, Hercules in the Haunted World, Hercules vs. the Vampires, The Vampires vs. Hercules, With Hercules to the Center of the Earth
I was lucky enough to see Mario Bava’s Hercules in the Haunted world at the small Sanctuary Theater at Seattle’s legendary Scarecrow Video. I had seen the film before as a kid in b/w and it just did not compare to seeing a nice print of the film on a big screen. At that time I roughly knew about Bava from Black Sunday and Black Sabbath and that was about it. It would only be until this last year that I got a copy of the film on DVD and watched again and feel safe saying it is one of the best Peplum films ever made and certainly the most gorgeous, thanks to not only Bava’s direction but his work as art director and cinematographer as well. The film is a Woolner Brothers release -who helped to bring many Mario Bava films to the US-and does not star iconic Steve Reeves as the Son of Zeus but this time, in his 2nd Hercules, starred British body builder Reg Park. Reg Park was a pretty good Hercules and if Reeves was to Hercules what Sean Connery was to James Bond then we could think of Reg Park as Roger Moore. Park was stockier and more muscle bound in appearance than Reeves and not as commanding in presence (in my opinion) but he does just fine as the good hearted but often slow witted and easily angered demi-god. Park had played Hercules in the same year’s Hercules and the Captive Women and it is not a bad entry into the Sword and Sorcery genre and will probably get reviewed here eventually.

The title Hercules at the Center of the Earth is probably closer to the actual Italian title but the titles Haunted world and Hercules vs. the Vampires conjures up more of a Bavaesque world. The story opens up with Hercules and his friend Theseus (George Ardisson) traveling to the kingdom of Ecalia. His true love Princess Dianira (Leonora Ruffo) is waiting longingly for him. He makes quick work of a band of apparent cutthroats who attack him and Theseus along the way even hurling a huge wagon a few of them. Unbeknownst to Hercules the highway robbers are actually assassins that were sent by the evil Lico played by the always reliable Christopher Lee. To my understanding another British actor dubbed Lee’s voice for the film though it really sounds like him most of the time. When Hercules arrives at Ecalia he discovers that not only has his old friend the king has died and his brother Lico has assumed control of the kingdom but that Dianira has been stricken some strange ailment that has left her in a confused, dreamy state all of the time. Of course we can quickly figure out that it is Lico who has put some spell over Dianira to prevent her from ascending to the throne that is rightfully hers.

Hercules is told by the Oracle Sybil that Dianira’s mind can only be restored by the powers found in the Stone of Forgetfulness located in Pluto’s underworld of Hades, and so Hercules sets off on the quest with Theseus and the less than reliable Telemachus (Franco Giacobini) who plays the obligatory goofy sidekick. Before entering Hades Hercules has a quest he must perform first and that is to retrieve the fabled Golden Apple of the Hesperides. The three set off on a ship and soon find themselves on the mythic island and it strange inhabitants of women who dwell in eternal darkness and Procustes the stone monster. To get at the apple Hercules must climb a huge tree surrounded by raging fires and lightening. All of this world is made the more intriguing by Bava’s often extreme lighting effects and elaborate, though low budget, sets. Hercules retrieves the apple and is soon in Hades where the sets get even more grand and visually stunning. While in Hades Hercules does not do battle with monsters or soldiers so much as with the dangerous elements of Hell itself. In one scene he and Theseus must cross, hand over hand, a rope suspended over a lake of fire to reach the stone of Forgetfulness. There a set backs but the magic stone and Hercules returns to Ecalia to rescue Dianira and confront the evil Lico and his legion of zombies who are all taken care of rather easily by Hercules and the huge pillars he hurls at them. Ultimately that seems to be Hercules’s solution to any major threat. Picking up a huge pillar or boulder above his head and hurling at his adversary or adversaries. I sort of wish he had grabbed a sword and chopped up a few of these zombie creatures. The sets here are done in a fine, classic horror style but the actual action is wanting for the most part. That is not a major issue in my book however. The underground worlds, the palace’s and Oracle’s temple are splendid to behold.

As I said at the beginning sword and sandal/peplum films are not everybody’s cup of coffee. There is most definitely a high level of cheese involved in these projects and some of the films made in this genre are deserving of the designation “bad film.” If you like bad cinema you will not find the genre wanting. Last night I watched a little of a peplum called Colossus and the queen and was literally dumbstruck at how terrible the film was. Of course I can’t wait to get back and finish it when I have the free time. However Hercules Unchained and Hercules in the Haunted World would not fall in this ultra-bad category by any stretch though there are some pretty corny moments. These Greek and Roman were usually treated by there European creators with all the sanctity that Biblical epics were treated by their American counterparts. They suffer however from nearly non-existent budgets and casts of mediocre to poor actors. But they are still lots of fun and I find myself being pulled into the myths and legends the films are trying to retell.

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