The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Vampire Circus (dir by Robert Young)


One of the greatest Hammer vampire films didn’t even star Christopher Lee.  In fact, it wasn’t even a Dracula film.  Instead, it was the story of a circus.

1971’s Vampire Circus tells the dark story of a Serbian village called Stetl.  Early in the 19th century, the children of Stetl are dying.  The superstitious villagers believe that Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman) might be responsible.  In fact, they suspect that Count Metterhaus might be a vampire!  Why?  Well, first off, he only seems to be around during the night.  Secondly, he lives in a big spooky castle.  Third, he’s a count and don’t all counts eventually become vampires?

Now, it would be nice to say that all this turned out to be a case of the villagers letting their imaginations get the better of them but nope.  It turns out that they’re pretty much right.  One night, the local teacher, Albert Muller (Laurence Payne), sees his own wife, Anna (Domini Blythe) leading a child towards the dark castle.  It turns out that Anna has fallen under the spell of Count Mitterhaus.  The villagers promptly drive a stake through the Count’s heart, though he manages to do two things before dying.  First off, he curses the town and announces that the blood of their children will give him new life.  Secondly, he tells Anna to escape and track down his brother.

Fifteen years later and, as one might expect, Stetl is a town under siege.  However, the town is not being attacked by vampires.  (Not yet anyway.)  Instead, the town has been hit by the plague and, as a result, it’s been isolated from the outside world.  Men with guns have surrounded the town and are under orders to kill anyone who tries to leave or enter.  Some in the village believe that this is the result of the Count’s dying curse while others just see it as more evidence of man’s inhumanity to man.  Regardless, it’s not good situation.

Fortunately, escape arrives in the form of the Circus of the Night!  That’s right, a gypsy carnival suddenly appears in town.  How did it manage to slip by the blockade?  Who knows and who cares?  What’s important is that the villagers, especially their children, need an escape from their grim existence and the Circus seems to offer something for everyone.  There are dancers.  There are acrobats.  There’s the mysterious tiger woman.  There’s a mirror that makes you see strange things.  And, of course, the are vampires….

That’s not really a shock, of course.  The name of the film is Vampire Circus, after all.  What always takes me by surprise is just how ruthless and cruel the vampires are in this film.  Even by the standards of a 1970s Hammer film, this is a blood-filled movie but, even beyond that, the vampires almost exclusively seem to target children.  Fortunately, all of Stetl’s children tend to be a bit obnoxious but it’s still a shock to see two fresh-faced boys get lured into a mirror where they are both promptly attacked by a vampire.  (And don’t even get me started on what happens when one of the vampires comes across a boarding school.)  Make no mistake, this circus is not made up of the type of self-tortured, romanticized vampires that have dominated recent films.  These vampire are utterly viscous and without conscience.  In other words, these vampires are actually frightening.

The members of the circus are, themselves, a memorable bunch.  David Prowse is the hulking strongman.  Lalla Ward and Robin Sachs are the achingly pretty, innocent-faced twin acrobats who greedily drink the blood of anyone foolish enough to wander off with them.  Some members of the circus can transform into animals.  What’s interesting is that not all of the members of the circus are vampires.  Some of them, I guess, are just groupies.

Featuring the reddest blood that you’re ever likely to see and a cast of memorably eccentric character actors, Vampire Circus often feels more like an extremely dark fairy tale than a typical Hammer vampire film.  Clocking in at 87 minutes, Vampire Circus is a briskly paced dream of carnivals and monsters.

 

6 Trailers For 6 Films That Still Scare Lisa


I love horror movies but, unfortunately, many of them tend to get a bit less scary upon repeat viewings.  Once you already know where the vampire is going to be hiding or who the werewolf is going to attack next, it becomes a bit more difficult to fall under in the film’s chilling spell.

So, on this Halloween, I’m going to do a very special edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers.  Here are six trailers for six films that still scare me, even after repeat viewings:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

To be honest, all of the Body Snatcher films scare me, even the really bad ones.  Invasion of the Body Snatchers deals not only with the horror of conformity but also the horror of knowing what’s going on but being helpless to stop it.

The Exorcist (1973)

Maybe it’s because of my Catholic background but, despite the fact that it’s been endlessly imitated, this film scares me every time that I see it.  I think a lot of it has to do with the documentary approach that William Friedkin takes to the material.

Shock (1977)

Mario Bava’s final film gets me every time.  Even though I now know how many of the big scares were actually pulled off, this movie still makes me jump.  In this film, Daria Nicolodi gives the best performance of her legendary career.

The Shining (1980)

Agck!  Those little girls!  That elevator full of blood!  The way Wendy kept interrupting Jack while he was trying to write!

Sinister (2012)

Sinister gave me nightmares the first time that I saw it and it still does.  That ending.  AGCK!

The Conjuring (2013)

This is definitely one of the best haunted house films to come out over the past ten years.  This film is scary because you actually care about the family in the house.  They’re not just disposable victims.  Also holding up well is The Conjuring 2.

Happy Halloween!

“Happy Halloween!”

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Blood for Dracula (dir by Paul Morrissey)


Count Dracula (played by Udo Kier) has a problem.  In order to stay strong and healthy, he needs a constant supply of virgin blood.  (Or, as Kier puts in, “weergen blood.”)  Unfortunately, he lives in 1920s Romania and apparently, there just aren’t many virgins left in Eastern Europe.

However, Dracula’s assistant, Anton (Arno Juerging) has a solution.  Dracula just needs to move to Italy!  After all, Italy is the home of the Vatican and it’s just been taken over by Mussolini and the fascists.  Surely, no one in Italy is having sex!  Dracula should be able to find all the virgins that he needs in Italy!

So, Dracula climbs into his coffin and Anton drives him to Italy.  Once they arrive, they meet an Italian land owner,  Il Marchese di Fiore (played by Italian neorealist director Vittorio De Sica).  The Marchese is convinced that Dracula is a wealthy nobleman and he says that Dracula can marry any of his four daughters.  He assures Dracula that they’re all virgins but Dracula soon discovers that two of them are not.  It turns out that, thanks to the estate’s Marxist handyman, Mario (Joe Dallesandro), it’s getting as difficult to find a virgin in Italy as it was in Romania!

After completing work on Flesh For Frankenstein, director Paul Morrissey and actors Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, and Arno Juerging immediately started work on Blood for Dracula.  Though Blood for Dracula never quite matches the excesses of Flesh for Frankenstein, it still taps into the same satiric vein that provided the lifeblood that gave life to Flesh for Frankenstein.  Once again, the sets and costumes are ornate.  Once again, the frequently ludicrous dialogue is delivered with the straightest of faces.  Once again, Udo Kier goes over-the-top as a famous monster.  And, once again, Joe Dallesandro plays his role with a thick and anachronistic New York accent and he looks damn good doing it.

Ironically, one of the differences between Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula is that there’s quite a bit less blood in the Dracula film.  Then again, that’s also kind of the point.  Dracula literally can’t find any blood to drink and, as a result, he’s become weak and anemic.  Udo Kier is perhaps the sickliest-looking Dracula in the history of Dracula movies.  By the time that he meets the Marchese’s four daughters, he’s so sick that he literally seems like he might fade away at any second.  As ludicrous as the film sometimes is, you can’t help but sympathize with Dracula.  All he wants is some virgin blood and the communists aren’t even willing to let him have that.  Blood for Dracula is, in its own twisted way, a much more melancholy film than Flesh For Frankenstein.  Or, at least it is until the finale, at which point one character gets violently dismembered but still continues to rant and rave even after losing the majority of their limbs.

When Blood for Dracula was released in 1974, it was originally called Andy Warhol’s Dracula, though Warhol had little to do with the movie beyond allowing his name to be used.  As with Flesh for Frankenstein, Antonio Margheriti was credited in some prints as a co-director, largely so the film could receive financial support from the Italian government.

Sadly, there would be no Andy Warhol’s The Mummy or Andy Warhol’s Wolfman.  One can only imagine what wonders Kier, Dallesandro, and Morrissey could have worked with those.

 

 

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Flesh For Frankenstein (dir by Paul Morrissey)


Here are just a few things to be experienced in 1973’s Flesh For Frankenstein:

A fanatical Baron von Frankenstein (Udo Kier) needs a brain for his latest creation so his assistant, Otto (Arno Jurging) goes out with a giant pair of hedge clippers, snips off a divinity student’s head, and then runs off with it.

An incredibly sexy farmhand named Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) speaks with a thick and very modern New York accent, despite living in Germany in the 19th century.  Meanwhile, everyone around him speaks with an extra-thick German accent.

The Baron announces to Otto, “To know life, you must fuck death in the gall bladder!”

Nicholas has an affair the Baroness von Frankenstein (Monique van Voreen), who in one scene loudly sucks on Nicolas’s armpit.

The Baron gets rather obviously turned on while removing organs from a body.

The Baron’s children decapitate their dolls and take a perverse pleasure in being cruel.  Some of this could possibly be because the Baron and the Baroness are also brother and sister.

The Baron rants and raves about how, by bringing the dead back to life, he will be able to create the perfect Serbian race, one that will only take orders from him and which will …. well, do something.  The Baron has a lot of plans but he’s not always clear on just what exactly the point of it all is.

Speaking of points, one character eventually gets a spear driven through his back an out of his chest.  Despite the fact that his heart is literally hanging off the tip of the spear, he still manages to get out a very long and very emotional monologue before dying.

Now, of course, you have to remember about that scene with the heart is that Flesh for Frankenstein was originally shot in 3D, which means that audiences in 1973 would have literally had that heart dangling over their heads while waiting for that endless monologue to stop.  How the audience would react to that would have a lot to do with whether or not they were in on the joke.

And make no mistake, Flesh For Frankenstein is not a film that’s meant to be taken too seriously.  It’s a satire of …. well, just about everything.  Baron Frankenstein, with his sexual hang-ups and his obsession with creating a perfect male and a perfect female so that they can have perfect Serbian children, is the ultimate parody of the mad scientists who usually populate these films and Udo Keir gives a truly mad performance in the role.  One need only compare Keir’s Frankenstein to the coldly cruel version that Peter Cushing played in Hammer’s “serious” Frankenstein films to see just how much Keir embraced the concept of pure batshit insanity.  Whereas Keir joyfully overacts every moment that he’s on-screen, Joe Dallesandro pokes fun at the traditional image of the strong, silent hero by barely reacting to anything at all.  The film’s nonstop flow of blood parodies the excesses of the horror genre while Nicholas’s affair with the Baroness satirizes not only Marxism but also an infinite number of European art films.  Flesh for Frankenstein is a film that is so deliberately excessive that it often feels as if it’s daring you to stop watching.  Of course, you don’t stop watching because you know the movie will probably start making fun of you as soon as you turn your back on it.

Flesh For Frankenstein is also known as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein.  Warhol actually had little do with the movie, beyond lending his name.  The film was directed by Paul Morrissey, who served as Warhol’s “house director” during the Factory years.  The best Factory films were defined by the combination of Warhol’s detachment with Morrissey’s political and religious conservatism.  With Flesh For Frankenstein, Morrissey not only satirizes what he viewed as being the excesses of European and horor cinema but he also satirizes the fact that there’s an audience for his satire.  Flesh For Frankenstein is definitely not a film for everyone but, in this case, that can be considered a compliment.  It’s an audacious and wonderfully over-the-top movie, one that would be followed by Blood for Dracula.

One final note: Because the film was made in Italy, Antonio Margheriti was credited as being a co-director on the film with Morrissey.  While Margheriti did do some second unit work, it is generally agreed that he was not, in any way, a co-director.  Apparently, Margheriti was credited as being a co-director so that the film could receive financial aid from the Italian government.  This scheme later led to both Margheriti and producer Carlo Ponti being charged with criminal fraud.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Diary of the Dead (dir by George Romero)


I have to admit that I was a little bit hesitant about watching the 2007 film, Diary of the Dead.

It wasn’t that I don’t like zombie movies.  In fact, it was the complete opposite.  I love zombie films and Night of the Living Dead is one of my favorites.  George Romero, of course, went on to make several sequels to Night of the Living DeadDawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Land of the Dead are certifiable horror classics.  However, I had heard mixed things about the two zombie films that Romero directed after Land of the Dead.  Seeing as how Diary of the Dead was Romero’s second-to-last film before he passed away in 2017, I was worried that I would watch the film and discover that I hated it.  I didn’t want experience anything that would tarnish Romero’s cinematic legacy.  It didn’t help my expectations that Diary of the Dead is a found footage film and the conventions of the found footage genre tend to get on my last nerve.

(Seriously, nothing makes me throw a shoe at a screen quicker than the sound of someone in a horror movie saying, “Are you filming this?”)

But you know what?

I did watch Diary of the Dead and it’s actually not bad.  It may not reach the heights of Romero’s other zombie films but it’s definitely a worthwhile companion piece.  It opens with news reports about the start of the zombie apocalypse, meaning that Diary of the Dead is meant to take place at roughly the same time as Night of the Living Dead.  (Never mind that Diary of the Dead is full of references to YouTube and blogs and other things that most people probably couldn’t even imagine when Night of the Living Dead first came out.)  A group of film students are in the woods, filming a terrible mummy movie when they first hear reports of the dead coming back to life.  Some say that there’s no way it could be true.  Others say that something must be happening but surely the dead aren’t actually coming back to life.  They soon discover that the dead have indeed returned.

We follow the students as they travel across Pennsylvania, trying to find a place that’s safe from the Dead and discovering that there’s literally no such place left in America.  Along the way, they also discover that the government has no intention of telling the people the truth about what’s happening.  In fact, a group of national guardsmen turn out to be just as dangerous as the zombies.  In their efforts to survive, the students are forced to rely on an underground network of bloggers and video makers.

Diary of the Dead has all of the usual zombie mayhem that you would expect from a film like this but, at the same time, it’s got a lot more on its mind than just the dead returning to life.  Much as he did with Land Of The Dead, Romero uses Diary of the Dead to comment on the state of America under the Patriot Act.  With the government using the zombie apocalypse as an excuse to suspend civil liberties and increase their own power, the film’s characters are forced to depend on new and independent information sources.  It’s not hard to see the parallel that Romero is making between the War on the Living Dead and the War on Terror.  As well, making all of the characters film students allows for some discussion about whether or not horror films should simply concentrate on being scary or whether they should also attempt to deal with real-world issues.  The film leaves little doubt where Romero came down on that issue.

On the negative side, Diary of the Dead struggles a bit to overcome the limitations of its low budget and none of the characters are as compelling as Ben in Night of the Living Dead or Fran in Dawn of the Dead.  At times, you find yourself wishing that Diary of the Dead featured just one actor who was as into their role as Duane C. Jones or Ken Foree were in Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, respectively.  But Diary of the Dead still features enough zombies and enough of Romero’s trademark political subtext to be an acceptable addition to Romero’s vision of the apocalypse.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Humanoids from the Deep (dir by Barbara Peeters)


Some people really hate clowns.

Myself, I really hate ventriloquist’s dummies.

Seriously, those little wooden things totally freak me out.  You know how some of you feel about the painted smile on the clowns ‘face?  Well, that’s how I feel whenever I see the big eyes of a ventriloquist dummy or that mouth with the fake teeth.  And don’t even get me started on those tiny little legs that some of them have!  AGCK!

I mention this because there is a ventriloquist’s dummy in the 1980 film, Humanoids From The Deep.  There’s really no reason for it to be in the film but suddenly, out of nowhere, there it is.  It belongs to a teenager named Billy who, when we first see him, is relaxing in a tent on the beach, trying to get his girlfriend to undress for him and the dummy. Of course, they’re promptly interrupted by a seaweed-covered monster, who rips open the tent, kills Billy, and chases after his girlfriend.  The whole time, the dummy watches with a somewhat quizzical expression on his face.  It’s a strange scene.

Now, I’ve done some research and I’ve discovered that Billy was played by David Strassman, who was (and still is) a professional ventriloquist and his dummy was named …. I do not kid …. Chuck Wood.  So, the whole tent scene was kind of a celebrity cameo.  Roger Corman, who produced the film, said, “You know what?  This movie has blood, nudity, killer fish-men, and rampant misogyny but it’s still missing something!  How about that ventriloquist that I saw on the Tonight Show last night!?”

Anyway, Humanoids From The Deep is basically about what happens when you try to mutate salmon.  You end up with a bunch of pervy fish monsters swarming the beach and trying to make like human/fish babies.  You end up with a lot of dead teens and unplanned pregnancies.  You also end up with the local redneck fisherman (led by Vic Morrow) blaming the local Native Americans, accusing them of killing all of the dogs in town.  Jim Hill (Doug McClure) and his wife, Carol (Cindy Weintraub), try to keep the peace but their efforts are continually tripped up by the fact that almost everyone in town is an idiot.

For instance, despite the fact that there’s been a countless number of murders and rapes and that they’ve all been committed a group of monsters that nobody knows how to fight, the town still decides to hold their annual festival on the pier.  Of course, as soon as the obnoxious DJ starts broadcasting, the humanoids from the deep show up and basically, the entire festival goes to Hell.  And here’s the thing.  The film itself is ugly and mean-spirited and misogynistic but the attack on the festival is totally and completely brilliant.  I mean, it’s one of the greatest monster sieges of all time, largely because the monsters are apparently unstoppable and that humans are so obnoxious that you don’t mind seeing them all die.  I mean, if nothing else, the monster deserve some credit for taking out that DJ.

It all leads to a “surprise” ending, which isn’t particularly surprising but which is so batshit insane that it somehow seems appropriate.

Humanoids From The Deep is an incredibly icky movie, one that has some effective scare scenes but which is way too misogynistic to really be much fun.  (Roger Corman hired Barbara Peeters to direct the film but reportedly brought in a male director to film the movie’s more explicit scenes.)  Oh well.  At least the ventriloquist died.

The TSL’s Horror Drive-In Grindhouse: Attack of the Eye Creatures (dir by Larry Buchanan)


1965’s Attack of the Eye Creatures is an odd little movie.

It starts, as so many bad sci-fi movies do, with Peter Graves narrating about how the government has been keeping an eye on a flying saucers that’s apparently been hovering over the Earth for quite some time.  However, a quick visit to Project Visitor reveals that the soldiers assigned to protect us are more interested in using their monitoring equipment to spy on teenagers making out in their cars!

Agck!

EWWWWWW!

Total invasion of privacy!

Of course, what’s particularly sad about the whole thing is that you know that’s totally what would happen in real life as well.  Give a group of people the power to spy on anyone in the world?  Of course they’re going to end up spying on people fooling around in cars!  That’s one reason why Earth is just as doomed today as it was in 1966.

Anyway, the flying saucer does eventually land.  Unfortunately, our government is too incompetent to do anything about it.  The aliens inside turn out to be …. well, not that impressive.  For one thing, they don’t speak.  There are none of the grandiose threats to conquer the world that we’ve come to expect from aliens.  At the same time, we also don’t have to hear about how the rest of the universe is disappointed in us for polluting our planet and blowing each other up so that’s a good thing.  So often, intergalactic visitors can be so judgmental!  Anyway, these aliens are lumpy and gray and they’ve got several eyes.  They don’t really look that impressive.  Seriously, check this jerk out:

As I said, the government turns out to be pretty useless when it comes to battling the aliens and the local police are skeptical that any intergalactic visitors would bother to land in their crappy little town.  Fortunately, as always happens whenever the controlling legal authorities fail to do their job, there are teenagers and they’re willing to do what needs to be done to protect the world!

Of course, if Stan (John Ashley) and Susan (Cynthia Hull) are going to rally the troops against the aliens, they’re going to have to borrow someone’s phone.  That’s going to mean convincing the local old man to let them use his phone.  The old man, who has had enough of those crazy kids with all their kissing and the jazzy lingo, is more interested in using his shotgun to keep people off his lawn.

Meanwhile, two drunks decide that they want to get in on all this alien business.  They both later die and no one in the movie seems to care.  That’s just the type of movie that this is….

….and if it sounds familiar, that’s probably because you’ve seen the 1957 drive-in classic, Invasion of the Saucer Men!  Basically, in the mid-60s, American International Pictures commissioned Texas filmmaker Larry Buchanan to remake some of their most successful drive-in films.  Apparently, the plan was to sell them to television.  So, Buchanan took the script for Saucer Men, tossed in some scenes of the government spying on people (Buchanan was a noted conspiracy theorist who previously directed The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald), and called his film Attack Of the Eye Creatures!

Yet, while Invasion of the Saucer Men was a genuinely clever sci-fi satire, Attack of the Eye Creatures is done in by Buchanan’s inability to keep his story moving at a steady pace and it doesn’t help that the iconic Saucer Men have been replaced by men who appear to be wearing trash bags.  Attack of the Eye Creatures is an unfortunate remake and one that should be viewed only after you’ve watched Invasion of the Saucer Men and maybe every other public domain sci-fi film that’s currently on YouTube.