Horror Scenes That I Love: Dracula vs. Van Helsing in Count Dracula


The 1970 film, Count Dracula, is unique in that it’s a film that stars Christopher Lee but it wasn’t produced by Hammer.  Instead, it was directed by Lee’s friend, the Spanish director Jess Franco.  It was sold as being a far more faithful adaptation of the Dracula story than anything that had been filmed up to that point.  Lee, who frequently bemoaned the quality of the Hammer films, later described Count Dracula as being a personal favorite of the many films in which he appeared.

In the scene, Dracula confronts Herbert Lom’s Prof. Van Helsing.  Lee gets more dialogue in this scene than he did throughout the entirety of Hammer’s Dracula, Prince of Darkness.

Enjoy!

Horror Scenes That I Love: Donald Pleasence Meets Christopher Lee in Death Line


In the 1972 British horror film Death Line (released in the U.S. as Raw Meat), Donald Pleasence gives one of his best performances as Inspector Calhoun, an alcoholic, somewhat fascistic detective who discovers evidence of cannibals in the London Underground.  Since the British government would rather this information not be revealed, a mysterious man played by Christopher Lee is sent to discuss things with Calhoun.

This scene features a meeting between two icons of horror so, of course, I love it.  Pleasence is wonderfully obsessive and Lee is wonderfully menacing.  Since the film is as much about the class struggle as it is about cannibalism, it’s interesting to see the automatic conflict between the working class Calhoun and the definitely upper class character played by Christopher Lee.

Julius Caesar (1970, directed by Stuart Burge)


In ancient Rome, under the direction of Cassius (Richard Johnson), several members of the Senate conspire to kill Julius Caesar (John Gielgud), believing that his death is the only way to preserve the Republic.  Even Caesar’s longtime friend, Brutus (Jason Robards), is brought into the conspiracy.  Unfortunately for the conspirators, after Caesar’s murder, Mark Antony (Charlton Heston) gives his famous speech asking the Romans to lend him their ears and the Roman citizens turn against Caesar’s murderers and instead look to Antony and Octavius (Richard Chamberlain) to lead them.

This was the first adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play to be filmed in color and the assassination of Caesar was portrayed much more graphically than in previous productions.  By the end of the attack, Caesar has been stabbed so many times and there’s so much blood on screen that it doesn’t seem like he should even have the strength to say, “Et tu, Brute?”  Despite the then-modern innovations, this version still feels creaky and stiff.  When Caesar makes his appearance on the Ides of March, all of the conspirators actually stand in a neat line while Caesar enters the Senate.  When Mark Anthony and Brutus make their speeches, the extras playing the Roman citizens looked bored and disinterested.

For most viewers, the appeal of this version of Julius Caesar will be for the cast, which was considered to be all-star in 1970.  Along with Gielgud, Robards, Heston, Johnson, and Chamberlain, the cast also features Robert Vaughn as Casca, Christopher Lee as Artemidorous, Jill Bennett as Calpurnia, and Diana Rigg as Portia.  Surprisingly, it’s Jason Robards, the Broadway veteran, who struggles with Shakespeare’s dialogue, delivering his lines flatly and without much emotion.  Meanwhile, Charlton Heston steals the entire film as Mark Antony, nailing Antony’s funeral oration and proving himself to be much more clever than the conspirators had originally assumed.  (Of course, Mark Antony was the Charlton Heston of his day so I guess it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Heston is perfect in the role.)  I also liked Diana Rigg’s performance in the small role of Portia and Robert Vaughn’s devious interpretation of Casca.

Though he plays Caesar here, John Gielgud previously played Cassius in the 1953 version of Julius Caesar, the one with James Mason and Marlon Brando.  That is still the version to watch if you want to see the definitive adaptation of Julius Caesar.

Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow (1994, directed by Alan Metter)


Russia has a problem.  Mob boss Konstantine Konali (Ron Perlman, slumming) has created a video game so addictive that the people playing it don’t even realize that it’s actually a sophisticated computer virus that allows Konali to take control of almost any security system.  As a result, Moscow has been hit by a string of robberies.  The Moscow police commandant, Nikolaivich Rakov (Christopher Lee, slumming even more than Perlman) knows that he doesn’t have the resources to stop Konali so, as so many have done before him, he decides to contact Commandant Eric Lassard (George Gaynes) and asks for help.

In others words: Police Academy Goes To Russia!

Well, some of the Police Academy graduates get to go.  After the box office failure of City Under Siege, there was a five year hiatus between that movie and the latest (and last) installment in the Police Academy film saga.  During that time, the juvenile boys who made up the franchise’s target audience all grew up and became too cool to admit that they had ever seen a Police Academy film.  By the time Mission to Moscow went into production, most of the stars of Police Academy had also either moved on or desperately wanted to create the impression that they had something better to do than go to Russia to take part in the final stand of an aging franchise.

As a result, Lassard only takes Tacklberry (David Graf), Sound Effects Machine (Michael Winslow), Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook), Harris (G.W. Bailey), and Cadet Connors (Charlie Schlatter) with him to the Russia.  Cadet Connors is a computer expert and he is obviously meant to be the new Steve Guttenberg/Matt McCoy style wiseass.  He ends up falling for a pretty Russian translator (Claire Forlani).  Cadet Connors tries his best but he’s no Carey Mahoney.

Give Mission to Moscow some credit for predicting both the rise of the Russian Mafia and the danger of computer viruses.  Otherwise, Mission to Moscow ends the Police Academy franchise in a desultory manner.  The cast looks old and even the usually reliable Sound Effects Machine doesn’t bring much energy to his shtickPolice Academy: Mission to Moscow was one of the first American movies to be filmed in Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union and it even features an actor standing in for Boris Yeltsin.  In the tradition of a family sitcom doing a special episode of Epcot Center, there’s plenty of footage of the cast standing in front of all of the landmarks but otherwise, Mission to Moscow doesn’t do much with its setting.  It’s interesting as historical trivia but forgettable as a movie.

10 years after the series began, Mission to Moscow brought the Police Academy films to a close, not with a bang but with a very exhausted whimper.  There was a syndicated tv series featuring the Sound Effects Machine that aired in 1997 but I never saw an episode and I was surprised to lean that it even existed.  It’s on YouTube so, someday, I’ll try to watch it.  Not today, though.

 

6 Horror Performances That Deserved An Oscar Nomination


Despite making some inroads as of late, horror films still never quite get the respect that they deserve when it comes Oscar time.  That’s especially true of the performers who regularly appear in horror films.  If it’s rare for a horror movie to receive a best picture nomination, it’s even rarer for someone to get nominated for appearing in one of them.

And yet, it takes as much skill to make a monster compelling as it does a historical figure or a literary character.  In fact, it may take even more skill.  After all, everyone knows that Queen Elizabeth I actually ruled over England and that Atticus Finch was an attorney in the South.  However, everyone also knows that there’s no such things as vampires and that the dead cannot be reanimated or raised as a zombie.  It takes a lot of skill to make a monster seem human.

With that in mind, here are 6 horror performances that deserved, at the very least, an Oscar nomination:

1. Boris Karloff as The Monster in Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein(1935)

The great Boris Karloff is perhaps the most egregious example of a deserving actor who was consistently ignored by the Academy because of the type of films in which he appeared.  In the role of Monster, Karloff was never less than brilliant and he set the standard by which all future monsters are judged.

Dracula (1931, directed by Tod Browning)

2. Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931)

When viewed today, it’s perhaps a little bit too easy to be dismissive of Lugosi’s grandly theatrical interpretation of Dracula.  But, if you can ignore all of the bad imitations that you’ve seen and heard over the years, you’ll discover that Lugosi’s performance is perfect for the film in which he’s appearing.  Indeed, Lugosi’s best moments are the silent ones, when he goes from being a courtly (if vaguely sinister) nobleman to a hungry animal.  In those moments, you see why Lugosi’s performance endures.

3. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho (1960)

Ah, poor Anthony Perkins.  Before he played Norman Bates, he was considered to be something an up-and-coming star and even something of a neurotic romantic lead.  As with Lugosi’s Dracula, we’ve seen so many bad imitations of Perkins’s performance that it’s easy to overlook just how good he is in the role.  He was so perfect as Norman that spent the rest of his career typecast.  And, sadly enough, he didn’t even get a much-deserved Oscar nomination out of it.

4. Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973)

Christopher Lee was one of the great actors and, though he may be best remembered for his horror work, he actually appeared in almost every genre of film imaginable.  Lee was often dismissive of the Dracula films that he made for Hammer so, as much as I’d love to argue that he deserved a nomination for The Horror of Dracula, I’m instead going to suggest that Lee deserved one for the role that he often cited as his favorite, the pagan Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man.  Lee brings the perfect mix of wit and menace to the role and, in the process, shows that not all monsters have to be undead.

5. Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis in Halloween (1978) and Halloween II (1981)

Much as with Lugosi and Anthony Perkins, it’s important (and perhaps a little bit difficult) to separate Pleasence’s performances in these two slasher films with all of the imitations that have followed.  In both films, Pleasence does a great job of playing a man who has been driven to the verge of madness as a result of having spent too much time in the presence of evil.  As potentially dangerous as Sam Loomis sometimes appears to be, there’s no way not to sympathize with him as he continually tries to get people to understand that he wasn’t the one who left Michael escape.  If nothing else, Pleasence deserved a nomination just for his delivery of the line, “As a matter of fact, it was.”

6. Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees in Friday the 13th (1980)

“I’m an old friend of the Christys.”  AGCK!  RUN!

Film Review: The Gorgon (dir by Terence Fisher)


Medusa, who is probably the best-known of the Gorgons who haunt Greek mythology, is a scary creation.

That may seem like a rather obvious statement to make but seriously, let’s consider just how scary Medusa is.  First off, there’s the fact that her hair is made out of snakes.  Snakes are frightening in general.  The other day, Doc caught a grass snake and tried to give it to me by dropping it at my feet.  I have never been quicker to jump away from a cat.  It’s not just Texas grass snakes that frighten me, though.  There’s the rattlesnakes that I used to see when my family was living in New Mexico.  There’s the water moccasin that I once saw swimming in Boggy Creek when I was up in Arkansas.  I’m pretty sure that I once saw a cobra slithering through downtown Denton but all of my friends insist that it was just a water hose that somebody left out.  Well, no matter!  Snakes are scary on their own but they’re even scarier when they’re growing out of someone’s head!

And then there’s the fact that if you look at Medusa or any of her sisters, you turn to stone!  I mean, it just takes one look and boom!  You’re a statue!  I imagine the process of transforming would feel terrible.  Can you even imagine?  Even worse would be someone trying to move your body and accidentally dropping you.  I mean, you could lose a finger!  I guess it wouldn’t matter since you would be dead but still, that would totally suck to lose a finger that way.

First released in 1964 and having since achieved a certain immortality based on frequent TCM showings, The Gorgon is a production of Hammer Film.  The usual Hammer monsters are replaced by Mageara (played by Prudence Hyman), a Gorgon who has somehow found herself in a typical, isolated Hammer village.  Neither Dracula nor Baron von Frankenstein are present in this film, though the actors who played them do have roles.  Christopher Lee is Prof. Karl Meister.  Peter Cushing is Dr. Namaroff.  Together, they solve crimes and hunt the monsters!

Villagers are getting turned to stone and innocent artists are being condemned to die.  We know that it’s all due to the Gorgon but it takes everyone else in the film a while to figure it out.  For instance, Paul (Richard Pasco) has to dig up his father’s grave in order to be convinced that the old man died from being turned to stone.  At first, the only person who truly seems to believe in the Gorgon is Namaroff’s assistant, Carla (played by Hammer films regular, Barbara Shelley).  By the end of the film, of course, everyone knows that Gorgons are real!  Of course, almost everyone has been turned to stone, as well.  Even by the standards of Hammer, the body county is high and the monster is merciless in The Gorgon.

It’s an effective Hammer film, though it’s never quite as much fun as Hammer’s Dracula or Frankenstein films.  The Gorgon takes itself perhaps a tad too seriously but, at the same time, you have to love any film that features both Lee and Cushing working together for once, as opposed to trying to kill each other.  Christopher Lee especially seems to be enjoying himself as Dr. Namaroff.  Lee reportedly grew quickly tired of playing Dracula and his joy of having a different type of role is palpable and perhaps the most likable thing about The Gorgon.  As for the Gorgon herself, she’s properly frightening.  I mean, she has snakes in her hair, after all.

When this movie last aired on TCM, there were technical difficulties during the last seven minutes of the showing.  The screen went blank and then viewers were treated to several different takes of one of the Gorgon’s victims trying to write a letter as he turned to stone.  It kind of freaked everyone out, to be honest.  Had the Gorgons taken over TCM?  Fortunately, order was restored in time for everyone to watch Plague of the Zombies.  Thankfully, things worked out.

Save The Goat!: Curse III: Blood Sacrifice (1991, directed by Sean Barton)


Having absolutely nothing to do with either of the Curse films that preceded it, Curse III: Blood Sacrifice takes place in South Africa during the 1950s.  American Elizabeth (Jenilee Harrison) has just married plantation owner Geoff Armstong (Andre Jacobs) and is still struggling to adjust to living in Africa.  When her sister, Cindy (Jennifer Steyn), comes over for a visit, she and Elizabeth stumble across what appears to be a native ceremony.  When they realize that the local witch doctor is about to sacrifice a goat, Cindy steps on and grabs the goat.  Not happy at being interrupted and needing to make a sacriice to atone for an earlier murder, the witch doctor places a curse on Elizabeth and her entire family.  Later, a rubbery fishman stalks the plantation, using a machete to kill every colonialist it comes across.

Curse III is the best of the Curse films, though that may not be saying much.  The film is largely a standard slasher with a super natural twist, right down to the first victims being horny teens.  However, both the setting and the 1950s time period make the film slightly more interesting than the usual 90s, direct-to-video horror fare, with the curse being the result of a cultural misunderstanding and many of the victims too blinded by their own prejudices to realize how much trouble they are in.  Making what would turn out to be both his first and last film as a director, acclaimed editor Sean Barton showed that he knows how to put together an effective “stalking” scene, wringing out all the atmosphere that he could from that plantation.  Best known for co-starring in the later seasons of Three’s Company, Jenilee Harrison is adequate if not particularly memorable in the lead role but the film is, not surprisingly, stolen by Christopher Lee,  who plays a local doctor and who lends Curse III whatever gravitas it may have.

Scenes That I Love: Jonathan Harker Meets A Vampire Bride in Horror of Dracula


Today’s horror scene that I love comes from the classic 1958 British film, Horror of Dracula.  Horror of Dracula was not only one of my favorite horror films but iit was also a favorite of Gary’s as well and, as I spend today considering how best to honor his memory and his love of cinema, sharing a scene from this film just feels very appropriate.

Horror of Dracula was not only the film that introduced the world to Christopher Lee as Dracula but it was also the film that, for lack of a better term, “rebooted” the whole Dracula legend.  It was the film that showed that Dracula could still be intriguing and frightening in the modern era.  Even more so than the original Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, the Hammer Dracula films — and Lee’s performance as Dracula — have influenced every vampire film that has come out since.

In this scene, Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) leaves his room at Castle Dracula and runs into one of Dracula’s brides (Valerie Gaunt).  Lee’s Dracula doesn’t make an entrance until towards the end of the scene but what an entrance it is!

This scene epitomizes everything that made the Hammer Dracula films so memorable.  You’ve got sex, horror, and Christopher Lee playing Dracula.  What had before merely been the subtext in previous vampire films was revealed by Hammer in all of its glory.

Enjoy!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: End of the World (dir by Charles Band)


The 1977 film End of the World has got a great opening scene.  An obviously distraught priest (played by none other than Christopher Lee!) steps into an isolated diner.  He tells the counterman that he needs to use the phone.  The counterman says, “Sure, father.”  And then suddenly, everything in the dinner starts blowing up.  The phone, the coffee, the pinball machine, everything explodes.  The counterman ends up trying to unsuccessfully throw himself through a window.  The priest, looking rather confused, steps outside of the diner and he runs into …. his exact double!  Christopher Lee meets Christopher Lee!

Again, that’s a great opening and it’s really not a surprise that the rest of the film can’t live up to it.  Once the two Christopher Lees disappear into the darkness, the focus of the story shifts to a scientist named Andrew (Kirk Scott) and his wife, Sylvia (Sue Lyon, who years previously played Lolita).  Andrew spends a lot of time sitting in front of a boxy computer and staring at the screen.  He’s picking up strange transmissions from space and he’s trying to translate them.  Andrew goes home.  He and his wife got a party.  Andrew sits in front of the computer a while longer.  Andrew goes home.  Andrew goes to work.  Andrew keeps staring at the computer….

“Wait,” you’re saying at this point, “isn’t this is a Christopher Lee movie?”

Yes, it is.  Christopher Lee is indeed top-billed and he’s hardly in the movie at all.  I’d like to think that, when asked why by an intrepid reporter why he agreed to star in End of the World, Lee laughed and replied, “For the money, of course.”  But, according to Lee’s autobiography, he did the film because he was told that he would be appearing with a cast of distinguished actors like Jose Ferrer, Dean Jagger, and John Carradine.  Now, Dean Jagger does have a small cameo in the film but Ferrer and Carradine are nowhere to be seen.  Either they left the production or someone lied to Sir Christopher!

Anyway, back to the plot.  Eventually, Andrew figures out that the space transmissions are predicting natural disasters.  We don’t actually see any of these disasters because, after all, this is the end of the world on a very low budget.  But we are assured that the disasters are happening.  Andrew and Sylvia discover that the transmissions are coming from a convent in the middle of the desert.  Andrew and Sylvia go to investigate and they discover that the nuns are….

ALIENS!

Now, this is actually a pretty good twist and there are some vaguely humorous scenes of the the nuns working in a space lab.  It turns out that the nuns (and one of the Christopher Lees) are stranded on this planet because their spaceship broke down.  They don’t really like Earth, considering it to be an ugly and polluted place.  They’re planning on ending the world but they need to leave before the whole place blows up.  They demand that Andrew help them fix their transporter and they’re going to hold Sylvia hostage until he does so….

It’s all a bit silly but, as you’re watching the film, you can’t help but wish that it had been even sillier.  I mean, alien nuns and Father Christopher Lee?  That sounds like the makings of a certain type of classic!  But, unfortunately, the film never fully embraces the full potential of its absurdity.  It takes forever for Andrew and Sylvia to actually reach that convent and even the alien nuns become rather passé after a few minutes.  Christopher Lee is fun to watch as always and his character’s irritation with being stuck on Earth was obviously mirrored by Lee’s irritation with being in the film.  And, despite all else, let’s give credit where credit it is due — the title lives up to its promise.  The world may end in a pile of stock footage but an end is an end.

Anyway, this one is pretty much for Christopher Lee completists only.  Watch the opening and then fast forward to the end.