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.


King Solomon’s Mines (1985, directed by J. Lee Thompson)

After her archaeologist father disappears while searching for the fabled mines of King Solomon, Jesse Houston (Sharon Stone) hires famed explorer Allan Quartermain (Richard Chamberlain) to help her find him.  After walking around in the jungle and exploring a nearby village, Allan and Jesse discover that her father has been kidnapped by a German military expedition who want to use King Solomon’s treasure to fund their war effort.  Working with the Germans is Allan’s old enemy, Dogati (John Rhys-Davies).  Allan and Jesse find themselves in a race against time to find the mines before the Germans.  Along the way, they steal an airplane, fight German soldiers on a train, and nearly get cooked alive in a giant cauldron.

Because this is a Cannon film and it was made at the height of Indiana Jones’s popularity and it stars John Rhys-Davies and it has a score that sounds like it was written by someone trying too hard to be John Williams, you might be tempted to think that King Solomon’s Mines is a rip-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  However, there are some crucial differences between Raiders and King Solomon’s Mines.  For instance, Raiders of the Lost Ark took place during World War II.  King Solomon’s Mines takes place during World War I.  Raiders of the Lost Ark had angels that melted a man’s face.  King Solomon’s Mines has a lava pit that makes you explode if you fall into it.  Raiders of the Lost Ark has a big fight in an airfield while King Solomon’s Mines has a big fight at an airfield …. well, wait, I guess they do have a few things in common.

Probably the biggest difference between Raiders of the Lost Ark and King Solomon’s Mines is that Raiders had Harrison Ford and Karen Allen while King Solomon’s Mines has to make due with Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone.  (If the imdb trivia section is to be believed, Sharon Stone was cast because Menahem Golan mistook her for Kathleen Turner.)  Along with generating zero romantic sparks, neither Chamberlain nor Stone come across as if they’ve ever even seen a jungle, much less explored one.  The only time that the two of them are credible as anything other than actors slumming on Cannon’s dime is when they’re yelling at each other.  There’s also a scene where they’re trying to steal an airplane and Chamberlain tells Stone to “reach between your legs and grab it.”  That was funny, I guess.

Along with trying to be an adventure, King Solomon’s Mines also tries to be a comedy.  As a general rule, Cannon films are great when they’re unintentionally funny but not so much when they actually try to be funny.  The film’s idea of comedy is Richard Chamberlain having to do an impromptu jig while someone shoots at his feet.  Add in a healthy dose of casual racism as Allan and Jesse run into a tribe in Africa who want to cook them in a giant stew pot and you’ve got a film so bad that you’ll hardly believe it could have been produced by the same people who gave us Delta Force, which is, of course, the greatest film ever made.

Golan and Globus had enough confidence in King Solomon’s Mines that they shot a sequel before the first film was even released.  Tomorrow, I will force myself to watch and review Allan Quartermain and The Lost City of Gold.  And, after that, I’ll probably go sit in a corner and think about what I’ve done.

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969, directed by Robert Parrish)

In the year 2069, the European Space Exploration Council discovers that there is a planet on the other side of the Sun, one that orbits the same path as the Earth.  Unfortunately, a spy transmits this information to the communists so America and Europe team up to make sure that they reach the planet before the Russians!

(Remember, production started on this movie in 1967, when America and Soviet Union were still competing to see who would be the first to land on the moon.  Of course, by the time Journey to the Far Side of the Sun was released in 1969, America had already landed on the moon and the Russian space program was no longer taken seriously.)

Two astronauts are assigned to a manned mission to explore the new planet.  Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes) is American.  John Kane (Ian Hendry) is British.  After spending three weeks in suspended animation, Ross and Kane awaken to discover themselves orbiting a planet that appears to have much the same atmosphere as Earth.  When their ship crashes into the planet, Kane is fatally injured and Ross is retrieved by a human rescue team!  He’s told that the ship crashed in Mongolia.  Kane and Ross were orbiting Earth all along!

Or were they?  Even though Ross is reunited with his wife and debriefed by Jason Webb (Patrick Wymark), the head of the mission, he soon discovers that things are different.  People who were once right-handed are now left-handed and text is now written from right-to-left instead of left-to-right.  People drive on the wrong side of the road and, after Ross makes love to his wife, she feels like something was different about him.  Ross realizes that he’s on a counter-Earth!

It’s an intriguing premise but, unfortunately, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun doesn’t do much with it.  It’s not as if Ross has landed on the Bizarro world, where people say, “Bad Bye” and root for the bad guys at the movies.  Instead, it’s just a world where right-handed people are now left-handed and everyone drives on the opposite side of the road.  Ross theorizes that everything that happens on Earth also happens on Counter-Earth, which means that the other Ross is on Earth, realizing the exact same thing that the first Ross is realizing but who cares because there’s not really any major differences between the two Earths.  Maybe if Counter-Earth had an alternate history where Rome never fell or the Germans won World War II, the movie would be more interesting or at least more like an old episode of Star Trek.  Instead, the movie is all about Ross trying to convince the people on Counter-Earth that he didn’t intentionally abort the mission and that he should be given a chance to return to his Earth.   It’s the driest possible way to approach an interesting premise.

I will say that Journey to the Far Side of the Sun also has one of the strangest endings that I’ve ever seen.  I won’t spoil it here, other than to say that I wonder if the ending was written before or after 2001 made confusing conclusions cool again.

A Movie A Day #307: River of Death (1989, directed by Steve Carver)

In the Amazon, natives are dying of a mysterious disease.  Could it have anything to do with a German war criminal named Wolfgang (played by Robert Vaughn) who is living in a cave that is decorated with a Nazi flag?  A scientist (Victor Melleney) and his daughter, Anna (Sarah Maur Thorp), are determined to find out.  They hire a tough explorer, John Hamilton (Michael Dudikoff), to lead them up the river but John does not do a very good job because the scientist ends up dead and Anna ends up kidnapped.

Everyone tells John to forget about Anna.  Colonel Diaz (Herbert Lom) says that she is dead.  John’s best friend, an arms dealer named Eddie (L.Q. Jones), says that she’s dead.  John refuses to accept that and he organizes an expedition to help track them down.  A strange man (Donald Pleasence) and his assistant (Cynthia Erland) approach John and offer to help.  What John does not know is that the man is actually Heinrich Spaatz, yet another Nazi war criminal.

River of Death is a ridiculous movie but it is entertaining in a way that only a late 80s Michael Dudikoff movie can be.  Though River of Death was a Cannon film, it was produced by the legendary Harry Alan Towers, which is probably why the production standards are higher than the average Menahem Golan quickie.  Dudikoff does a passable imitation of Indiana Jones (and he even gets to do some Apocalypse Now-style narrating) but the real reason to watch the film is to watch veteran actors like Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, Herbert Lom, and L.Q. Jones ham it up.  Vaughn doesn’t even attempt to sound German while Pleasence gives a performance that is strange even by his own considerable standards.

One final note: River of Death was the second-to-last film directed by Steve Carver, who also did Capone, and Big Bad Mama, along with helping to make Chuck Norris a star by directing Lone Wolf McQuade and An Eye For An Eye.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #17: Good Time Girl (dir by David MacDonald)


The 1948 film Good Time Girl is currently available on Netflix and I have to admit that, based on the name alone, I was expecting it to be another somewhat campy exploitation film about juvenile delinquency, something along the lines of Damaged Lives and Gambling With Souls.

And that’s certainly how the film began.  A troubled teenager named Lyla (Diana Dors) has been arrested and is sent to the juvenile court where the concerned Miss Thorpe (Flora Robson) tells Lyla that if she doesn’t change her ways, she could end up just like Gwen Rawlings.  Who is Gwen Rawlings?  That’s what we spend the rest of this short film finding out.

The film shows how Gwen (Jean Kent) was raised in an abusive household and how, at the age of 16, she ran way from home.  The first person she met was the handsome and charming Jimmy (Peter Glenville) who turns out to be a low-level gangster.  (His pinstrip suit and mustache give him away.)  Jimmy gets Gwen a job as a hat-check girl at a club run by the enigmatic Maxey (Herbert Lom).  Gwen meets and falls in love with a musician named Red (Dennis Price) but Red explains that he’s not only too old for her but he’s married as well.  Soon, Gwen is living with Jimmy and Jimmy is regularly abusing her.  When Maxey sees that Jimmy has given her a black eye, he has Jimmy beaten up and fired.  Jimmy responds by slashing Maxey’s face and then framing Gwen for jewelry theft.

Gwen is sent to reform school, where she falls under the influence of the somewhat demonic Roberta (played, in a genuinely menacing performance, by Daniel Day-Lewis’s mother, Jill Balcon).  Reform school only succeeds in making Gwen tougher and angrier.  When a mini-riot breaks out in the cafeteria, Gwen takes advantage of the confusion and escapes.

Back on the streets and with the police searching for her, Gwen falls in with a succession of different criminals.  When she meets two military deserters, it leads to the type of tragedy that could just as easily befall Lyla if Lyla doesn’t change her ways.

This is one of those films where the worst possible thing that could happen always happens and, as a result, it’s all rather melodramatic.  But, as opposed to a film like Reefer Madness or Sex Madness, it never gets so melodramatic that it becomes implausible.  Instead, it’s actually a very watchable portrait of people living on the margins of acceptable society.  Director David MacDonald fills the screen with menacing images and the pace never lags.  The film is also full of great performances from character actors that you’ll probably recognize from countless Hammer horror films.  Herbert Lom is especially impressive as the quietly intimidating Maxey.

I wasn’t expecting much from Good Time Girl but it’s definitely worth watching.

Shattered Politics #49: The Dead Zone (dir by David Cronenberg)


So, it seems like every time that I write a review of any film based on a novel by Stephen King, I always have to start out by explaining that I think, while King’s success is undeniable, the fact that he’s overrated is also undeniable.  It’s a comment that I always make and then I have to deal with people going, “But, Lisa, everyone loves Stephen King!  He’s the most commercially successful author ever!  He’s a modern-day Charles Dickens!”


Make no mistake, I think that Stephen King is a talented writer.  However, I don’t think that he’s the greatest writer that has ever lived and that’s where I often come into conflict with King’s fans.  (Stephen King fans tend to be like religious fanatics when it comes to defending their belief.)  Having read both King’s earlier work and his more recent books, it’s hard for me not to feel that Stephen King has been growing steadily complacent.  There’s a certain self-importance to his prose and his plotting that, for me, is the literary equivalent of nails on chalk board.  If anyone is guilty of believing the most fawning praise of his biggest fans, it would appears to be Stephen King who, to judge from his twitter feed, appears to also believe that he’s our most important cultural critic as well.

(To be honest, I’d probably have more tolerance for King’s attempts at cultural and political criticism if he wasn’t so  predictable about it all.  Stephen King may write best sellers but that doesn’t mean he has anything interesting or unique to say about current events.)

Anyway, since I don’t feel like having to deal with all of that shit all over again, I’m not going to start this review by saying that I think Stephen King is overrated.  In fact … whoops.

Okay, so much for that plan.

Even I have to admit that The Dead Zone is one of Stephen King’s better books.  First off, it’s less than a 1,000 pages long.  Secondly, the hero isn’t a writer who spends all of his time whining about the political preferences of his neighbors.  Third, it deals with all of the “big” issues of faith, destiny, and morality but it does so in a far less heavy-handed manner than most of King’s books.

The Dead Zone is also the basis for one of the better films to be adapted from a Stephen King novel.  Directed by David Cronenberg and starring Christopher Walken, the film’s plot closely follows the novel.  Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is a high school teacher who, after a horrific car crash, spends five years in a coma.  When he finally wakes up, he discovers that his girlfriend, Sarah (Brooke Adams), has married another man.  His mother has become a religious fanatic.  And, perhaps most importantly, whenever Johnny touches anyone, there’s a good chance that he’ll see either the person’s past or a possible future.

Needless to say, Johnny struggles with how to deal with his new powers.  After he helps to catch a local serial killer, Johnny goes into seclusion.  However, when he discovers that Sarah is now volunteering for ambitious politician Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), Johnny goes to a Stillson rally, shakes the man’s hand, and has a vision.  Johnny discovers that, if Stillson is elected to the senate, he’ll eventually become President and then he’ll destroy the world.

Much like The Shining, The Dead Zone benefits from being directed by a filmmaker who was both confident and strong enough to bring his own individual style to the material.  (Usually, when a King adaptation fails, it’s because it followed the source material too closely, as if the film’s producers were scared of upsetting any of King’s constant readers.)  Though the film’s plot may closely follow the novel, the movie itself is still definitely more of a product of David Cronenberg than Stephen King.  Whereas King’s novel devoted a good deal of time to Johnny and Sarah’s relationship, it’s treated as almost an afterthought in Cronenberg’s film.  Whereas King’s novel presented Johnny Smith as being an everyman sort of character, Cronenberg’s film gives us a Johnny who, from the start of the film, is a bit of an outsider even before he starts to see the future.  Whereas King put the reader straight into Johnny’s head, Cronenberg approach is a bit more detached and clinical.  Cronenberg’s Johnny is a bit more of an enigma than King’s version.

Fortunately, Cronenberg was fortunate enough to be able to cast Christopher Walken in the role of Johnny Smith.  King’s preference for the role was Bill Murray.  As odd as it may sound, you can actually imagine Bill Murray in the role when you read King’s book.  But, for Cronenberg’s more detached vision, Walken was the perfect choice.  People tend to spend so much time focusing on Christopher Walken’s quirky screen presence that there’s a tendency to forget that he’s actually a very talented actor as well.  He’s very likable and sympathetic as Johnny and brings a humanity and a sense of humor to the role, which provides a good balance to Cronenberg’s sense of detachment.

The Dead Zone is a good book and it was later turned into an occasionally good (and, just as often, not-so-good) television series.  However, the film is still the best.