International Horror Review: Starship Invasions (dir by Ed Hunt)

Once, during an interview, the distinguished British horror actor, Christopher Lee, was asked to name the worst film in which he had appeared.

Being a very busy actor who appeared in well-over 200 films, Lee paused for a minute to give it some thought and then eventually said that, in 1977, he had appeared in a Canadian science fiction film in which he played a mute alien who was using a suicide ray to conquer Earth. Though he wasn’t quite sure what the title had been, that was his pick for the worst movie in which he had ever appeared.

Now, considering some of the films in which Lee appeared, that’s a bold statement. Was Lee correct? Was that film — which was entitled Starship Invasions — the worst film in which he ever appeared?

Well …. maybe. It’s certainly not one of his best. Lee plays Captain Ramses, who is the leader of the Legion of the Winged Serpents. The legion’s home planet is about to be destroyed by a supernova so he has taken it upon himself to find a new planet to colonize. Earth looks pretty good to him!

Christopher Lee remembered Ramses as being mute. Actually, he communicates through telepathy. We hear his words but his lips never move. The same is true of every alien that appears in the film. And yes, this could be an example of how different and more advanced the aliens are when compared to the humans but a more likely explanation is that it was cheaper to film the outer space scenes without sound and then just dub in the character’s “thoughts” later.

For reasons that are never quite clear, the Legion of the Winged Serpent abducts several Earthlings before then unleashing their suicide ray. Prof. Allan Duncan (Robert Vaughn) is the UFO expert who investigates the abductions before eventually getting abducted himself by a race of good, gray aliens. The gray aliens are determined to save the Earth from the Legion. It’s never really explained why.

Meanwhile, the suicide ray is causing chaos on Earth as people all over are driven to kill themselves and others. And the ray has just been aimed at Duncan’s wife (played by Helen Shaver) so Allan and the good aliens better hurry up and defeat Ramses and the bad aliens!

Is Starship Invasions really that bad? Well, it’s certainly not …. great. Christopher Lee is properly imposing as Ramses but even he occasionally has a “What have I gotten myself into?” look on his face. Most of all, Starship Invasions is very much a product of the 1970s. When Ramses visits a space station, it looks a lot like an incredibly tacky mix of a fitness center and a cocktail lounge. The fashion of both the Earthlings and the aliens is very much of the era. Robert Vaughn wears a turtleneck that just screams “community college history teacher.” The special effects are rather cheap and the plot never makes much sense. The scenes with the suicide ray, however, are surprisingly effective and the film does have a certain campy charm to it, especially if you’re into low-budget 70s sci-fi. Starship Invasions is probably not Christopher Lee’s worst film. It’s just one of his cheapest.

Horror Scenes That I Love: Van Helsing and Dracula Meet in Dracula A.D. 1972

Even in the year 1972, Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) could not escape Prof. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).  Of course, the Van Helsing here was a descendant of the Van Helsing who gave Dracula such a hard time in the 19th century but still, Dracula was not thrilled to see him.

This scene is from Hammer’s Dracula A.D. 1972.  It’s not generally considered to be one of the better Dracula films but I enjoy any chance to see Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (who were the closest of friends off-screen) acting opposite each other.

International Horror Review: The City of the Dead (dir by John Llewellyn Moxey)

The City of the Dead, a 1960 British horror film that is also known as Horror Hotel, takes place in the town of Whitewood, Massachusetts.  (Though it takes place in America, this is a very British film, from the cast to the sensibility.)

Like most small New England towns (or, at the very least, the type of small New England towns that show up in movies like this), Whitewood has been around forever. And it apparently has quite a history, especially where witches and devil worshipers are concerned! In the 17th century, a witch was burned at the stake. Rumor has it that, before she died, she sold her soul to the devil. As long as she arranges for two virgin sacrifices a year, the spirit of the witch can torment Whitewood for as long as she likes.

Fortunately, a virgin has just arrived in town! Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) is doing a term paper on the history of witchcraft and her very helpful professor, Alan Driscoll (played by the man himself, Christopher Lee), suggested that maybe Nan should visit town and stay at the Raven’s Inn.

As soon as Nan arrives, it becomes obvious to her that there’s something strange about Whitewood. All of the people are so strange and secretive and the streets always seem to be covered in fog. As Nan starts to do her research, she discovers that it will soon be time for the first annual sacrifice. The sacrifice is meant to happen at “The Hour of 13.” What does that mean? Why not go into the basement of the inn and search for some clues….

When Nan never returns from Whitewood, her brother, Dick (Denis Lotis), teams up with her fiance, Bill (Tom Naylor), and they head up to town to investigate. Once Dick arrives in town, he meets Whitewood’s only seemingly normal inhabitant, Pat (Bella St. John). Pat, who had previously befriended Nan and is the daughter of the local (and apparently quite ineffectual) reverend, agrees to help them in their search. Of course, Pat is also apparently the only virgin left in Massachusetts and the time for the second sacrifice is approaching….

Though set in America, The City of the Dead was produced in the UK and features British actors, all of whom do a fairly good job of sounding like natives of New England.  (Much like would happen later with the Italian zombie and cannibal films, this very British film was still made with the a focus on appealing to an American audience.) This deliberately paced film is a masterpiece of mood and menace. Director John Llewellyn Moxey emphasizes atmosphere over jump-scares and the black-and-white cinematography gives the entire film a gothic, dream-like feel. Though he’s not in the film as much as you might expect, Christopher Lee still makes the most of his scenes as Prof. Driscoll and the film’s fiery finale definitely makes an impression.

The City of the Dead is one of those films that, because it has fallen into the public domain, is very easy to find. (It seems to get included in every “50-DVD” box set released by Mill Creek.) It also plays frequently on TCM so keep an eye out for it!

Scene That I Love: Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing Play Pool In The Skull

100 years ago, on this date, Christopher Lee was born in London.  After serving in the secret service during World War II and reportedly inspiring his cousin, Ian Fleming, to create the character of James Bond, Christopher Lee went on to have a legendary acting career.  Though he was best known for playing Dracula, Lee appeared in almost every genre of film and he always gave a good performance.  Even when the film was bad, Lee was good.

Yesterday, for Peter Cushing’s birthday, I shared a scene of him and Lee in The Satanic Rites of Dracula.  Today, for Lee’s birthday, I’m sharing a scene between him and Cushing in 1965’s The Skull.  Though The Skull isn’t one of the strongest films that the pair made for Amicus, it’s worth watching for the performances of Cushing and Lee.  Often cast as rivals on screen, the two were, in reality, the best of friends and Lee often said that he never really emotionally recovered from Cushing’s death.

In the scene below, Lee and Cushing are obviously having a ball trying to outact one another while playing simple game of pool and discussing slightly esoteric concerns.


Scenes That I Love: Peter Cushing Confronts Christopher Lee in The Satanic Rites of Dracula

Today is Peter Cushing’s birthday.  Tomorrow is Christopher Lee’s.

What better way to celebrate than by sharing a scene that I love that features both of them?  1973’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula was one of Hammer’s final Dracula films and, with the action somewhat awkwardly moved to the modern day, it’s also one of the weaker entries.  But it does feature Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, playing Dracula and the latest Van Helsing, and it’s worth watching for that reason.  

Though they often played enemies onscreen, Cushing and Lee were best friends offscreen.  Lee often said that he never really recovered from Cushing’s death in 1994.  Cushing may have spent his career playing villains and obsessive monster hunters but he was said to actually be a kind and rather shy man, an old-fashioned gentlemen who unexpectedly found his fame in horror.  Whereas Lee was a serious student of the esoteric, Cushing preferred to spend his time gardening.

In the scene below, Cushing’s Van Helsing confronts Lee’s Dracula and it’s just fun to watch these two old friends go at each other.  One gets the feeling that Cushing and Lee had a few laughs after the cameras stopped rolling.

Scenes That I Love: Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man

Over the course of his long career, Christopher Lee often cited his performance as the charismatic but ultimately sinister Lord Summerisle in 1973’s The Wicker Man as one of his personal favorites.  It’s easy to see why.  The role not only showcased Lee’s ability to be menacing but it was also one of the few films that allowed him to be witty as well.  Lord Summerisle may be a pagan who maintains his power by sacrificing virgins but he’s still quite charming.  With his longish hair, sideburns, and turtleneck, Lord Summerisle is the perfectly aristocratic 70s rogue.

Today’s scene that I love comes from the original The Wicker Man.  (Sorry, the Nicole Cage “bees” scene from the remake will have to wait for next year’s horrorthon.)  In this scene, Lord Summerisle expalins the ways of the island to a skeptical police detective.  Little does the detective know that he’s already been selected to be the next sacrifice.  Lee’s avuncular performance holds up wonderully.

6 Shots From 6 Christopher Lee Films

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today, we honor the legacy of a man who was not just a great horror star but also a great actor. period  Christopher Lee worked with everyone from Laurence Olivier to Steven Spielberg to Peter Jackson to Martin Scorsese.  Though he turned own the chance to play Dr. No, Lee later did go play a Bond villain in The Man with The Golden Gun.  He was one of those actors who was always great, even if the film wasn’t.

That said, it’s for his horror films that Lee is best known.  He was the scariest Dracula and the most imposing Frankenstein’s Monster.  He played mad scientists, decadent aristocrats, and even the occasional hero.  Christopher Lee was an actor who could do it all and today, we honor him with….

6 Shots From 6 Christopher Lee Films

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957, dir by Terence Fisher, DP: Jack Asher)

The Horror of Dracula (1958, dir by Terence Fisher, DP: Jack Asher)

Rasputin The Mad Monk (1966, dir by Don Sharp, DP: Michael Reed)

Count Dracula (1970, dir by Jess Franco, DP: Manuel Merino and Luciano Trasatti)

Horror Express (1972, dir by Eugenio Martin, DP: Alejandro Ulloa)

The Wicker Man (1973, dir by Robert Hardy. DP: Harry Waxman)

Lisa Marie’s Grindhouse Trailers: 6 Trailers For The 3rd Thursday in October

Well, here we are! It’s the third Thursday in October and that means that it’s time for another edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers!

Since today is Boris Karloff’s birthday, I thought I would devote this edition to everyone’s favorite reanimated corpse, Frankenstein’s Monster! Over the years, there’s been a lot of movies about the Monster. Here are the trailers for six of them!

  1. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Believe it or not, there was a time when it was felt that the story of Frankenstein and his Monster has been played out. With the Universal films bringing in less and less money, many felt that the Monster’s days were behind it. Then, Hammer, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee came along and said, “No! This is what Frankenstein is all about!”

At least, I assume that’s what they said. I hope they did.

2. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1965)

You can’t keep a good Frankenstein down as Jesse James discovered in this 1965 western.

3. Lady Frankenstein (1971)

In this Italian film, the Baron’s daughter continues her father’s scientific experiments! I guess Jesse James wasn’t the only one to meet Frankenstein’s Daughter!

4. Flesh for Frankenstein (a.k.a. Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein) (1973)

Udo Kier is the Baron and Andy Warhol may have been the producer of this film. Or he may have just lended his name out for the money. It depends on who you ask.

5. Blackenstein (1973)

Of course, following the success of Blacula, there was a blaxploitation take on Frankenstein.

6. Frankenhooker (1990)

And, of course, who can forget Frankenhooker?

I hope that your Halloween is full of the type of creativity and scientific curiosity that made the Frankenstein family legendary!