Scene I Love: Klaus Kinski in David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago


The 1965 film, Doctor Zhivago, is not only notable as one of the many David Lean-directed films to be nominated for Best Picture. It’s also remembered as being one of two Best Picture nominees to feature, albeit in a small role, the madman of European cinema, Klaus Kinski.

In this scene, set in the aftermath of Russia’s communist revolution, Kinski explains why he, despite being a prisoner, is the only free man on the train. Due to his German accent, Kinski was dubbed by actor Robert Rietty and he doesn’t have much screen time but he still manages to steal the movie.

Scene That I Love: Lee Van Cleef Meets Klaus Kinski in For A Few Dollars More


In 1925, on this very date, Lee Van Cleef was born in Somervillve, New Jersey.  In honor of what would have been Lee Van Cleef’s 97th birthday, here he is with Klaus Kinski and Clint Eastwood in For A Few Dollars More.

There’s not a lot of dialogue in this scene but when you had actors like Eastwood, Kinski, and Lee Van Cleef, you didn’t need a lot of dialogue to make an impression.

International Horror Review: Count Dracula (dir by Jess Franco)


Christopher Lee played Dracula in seven horror films and he often said that he hated almost every single one of them.

Christopher Lee, you have to understand, was a fan of Bram Stoker’s original novel and he always wanted to play Dracula the way that Stoker wrote him, as a member of the old nobility who got younger each time he drank blood.  As Lee often explained it, he spent years vainly trying to convince Hammer to do a Dracula film that was faithful to Stoker’s novel but Hammer instead preferred to use Dracula as an almost generic villain, one who was frequently plugged into equally generic films.

At some point, in the late 60s, producer Harry Alan Towers approached Christopher Lee and asked him to play Dracula in a non-Hammer film about the world’s most famous vampire.  At first, Lee refused.  If he was bored with playing Dracula for Hammer, why would he want to play him for someone else?  However, Towers then explained that his version of Dracula would be the first Dracula film to actually be faithful to Stoker’s book.  In fact, along with the presence of Christopher Lee, that would be the film’s major selling point!  Hearing this, Lee agreed.

The resulting film was 1970’s Count Dracula, a German-Spanish-British co-production that was directed by none other than Jess Franco.  Jess Franco, of course, is a beloved figure among many fans of Eurohorror and a bit of a controversial filmmaker.  Some people admired him for his ability to direct atmospheric films while spending very little money.  Others complained that Franco’s films were frequently amateurish and narratively incoherent.  When it comes to Franco, both camps can make a compelling argument.  Personally, I tend to come down on the pro-Franco side of things, particularly when it comes to the films that he made with Towers in the 70s.  For his part, Christopher Lee said he enjoyed working with Franco and they would go on to collaborate on several more films together.

So, what type of film is Jess Franco’s Count Dracula?  Well, Towers did not lie to Lee.  For the most part, Count Dracula remains faithful to plot of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  There’s a few minor differences, of course.  A few characters are combined, which is understandable given that you sometimes need a scorecard to keep up with everyone in the novel.  The ending is a bit more abrupt in the film than it is in the book.  This probably has something to do with the fact that Franco ran out of money before he finished the film.  That was a fairly frequent occurrence on Franco’s films.

That said, film sticks close to the novel.  Jonathan Harker (Frederick Williams) goes to Transylvania and meets Dracula (Christopher Lee, with a mustache), an aging nobleman.  Harker soon finds himself being held prisoner in the castle, a victim of Dracula and his brides.  Though Harker does manage to escape (though not before finding Dracula asleep in his coffin), he ends up at a psychiatric hospital in London.  He meets Dr. Seward (Paul Muller) and Prof. Van Helsing (Herbert Lom).  Eventually, his fiancee Mina (Maria Rohm) and her best friend, Lucy (Soledad Miranda, who was Franco’s muse until he tragic death in a car accident) come to visit him.  Accompanying Lucy is Quincy Morris (Franco regular Jack Taylor), who, in the film, is a combination of two of the novel’s characters, Quincy and Arthur Holmwood.  Meanwhile, a madman named Renfield (Klaus Kinski) babbles about his master and eats bugs.

That said, while the story may stick close to Stoker, this is definitely a Franco film.  The action plays out at its own deliberate pace.  Depending on how much tolerance you have for Franco’s aesthetic, you’ll find this film to be either dream-like or slow.  Personally, I liked the amospheric images and the somewhat ragged editing style.  Whether it was Franco’s intention or not, they gave the film a hallucinatory feel, as if one was watching a nightmare being dreamt by Stoker himself.  At the same time, I can imagine others getting frustrated by the film and I can understand where they’re coming from.  Franco, with his habit of mixing the sensual with a deep sense of ennui, is not for everyone.

Still, it was interesting to see Lee giving a much a different performance as Dracula than he did in the Hammer films.  The Hammer films portrayed Dracula as being animalistic, driven by only his craving for blood.  In Count Dracula, Lee plays with the idea of Dracula being a relic of the old world, someone who has no choice but to watch as civilization changes around him.  While Dracula is undoubtedly evil, Lee plays him with hints of dignity.  Gone is the snarling and growling monster of the Hammer films and instead, this movie features a Dracula who takes an almost Calvinistic approach to his affliction.  He’s accepted his fate.  As he tells Harker, Harker can either choose to enter the castle or not.  In the end, it makes no difference because eventually, someone will enter.  The film also retains the idea of Dracula growing younger in appearance as he drinks blood, which adds a whole other dimension to Dracula’s cravings.  Blood is life and youth, two things that Dracula no longer possesses.

As for the rest of the cast, Klaus Kinski, not surprisingly, throws himself into the role of Renfield.  Reportedly, he ate real bugs for the role.  Herbert Lom seems a bit bored with the role of Van Helsing.  He doesn’t have any of the eccentric energy that we typically associate with the role.  Of course, some of that is due to the fact that, because of scheduling conflicts, Lom and Lee were never on set at the same time.  The scenes where Dracula and Van Helsing confront each other were created through some editing sleight-of-hand.  As is typical with Franco films, sometimes it works and sometimes, it’s extremely obvious that Lom wasn’t actually looking at Lee (or anyone other than the cameraman) when he delivered his lines.

Count Dracula is an interesting take on the story.  It’s a bit uneven, though that’s perhaps not a surprise considering that the production was apparently beset by budgetary problems from the start.  This film is Franco at his least lurid and it’s hard not to miss some Franco’s more sordid impulses.  Watching the film, you get the feeling that Franco was holding back.  But, the visuals are wonderfully dreamy, Kinski is compelling in his insane way, and Lee finally appears to be enjoying the role of Dracula.  It’s actually kind of nice to see.

4 Shots From 4 Klaus Kinski Films


4 Shots From 4 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!

95 years ago today, Klaus Kinski was born in Poland.  Kinski was a brilliant actor who, by all accounts, was an absolute monster in his private life.  Werner Herzog worked with him on several films and reportedly considered murdering him on more than a few occasions.  Herzog, himself, wrote about the time that he had spent in a mental asylum and the time that was diagnosed as being a psychopath.  Because of his talent, he appeared in many great films.  Because of his reputation for being a literal madman, he also missed out on a lot of great roles and spent much of his career appearing in low-budget exploitation flicks.  Many of those films were in the horror genre.

Today, on the anniversary of Kinski’s birth, TSL presents….

4 Shots From 4 Klaus Kinski Films

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

Jack the RIpper (1976, dir by Jess Franco, DPs: Peter Baumgartner and Peter Spoerri)

Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979, dir by Werner Herzog, DP: Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein)

Venom (1981, dir by Piers Haggard, DPs: Denys Coop and Gilbert Taylor)

 

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Schizoid (dir by David Paulsen)


The 1980 film, Schizoid, is all about the things you can do with scissors.

For instance, in the days before email, text messages, and social media, scissors could be used to cut words out of a magazines.  Those words could then be carefully pasted onto construction paper and then sent to an advice columnist like Julie Caffret (Marianna Hill).  Julie is pretty upset when she starts getting the notes, largely because they promise an anonymous reign of terror and murder.  The police, however, say that the notes probably don’t meant anything.  They’re probably just a hoax.  I mean, it’s true that several members of Julie’s therapy group have recently been murdered but the letters all talk about committing murder with a gun.  Whereas the members of the therapy group are being murdered by someone wielding …. SCISSORS!  (Cue that dramatic music.)

Of course, Julie has other things to worry about.  For instance, her ex-husband, Doug (Craig Wasson), is still in her life.  He’s putting up wallpaper in her office.  Or, at least, that’s what he says he’s doing.  It’s hard not to notice that he doesn’t seem to be making much progress with the job.  Plus, he apparently sleeps in the office, which just seems odd.  Then, there’s the building’s creepy maintenance man, Gilbert (Christopher Lloyd), who specializes in making people uncomfortable on elevators.  And then there’s the fact that Julie’s therapist, is played by Klaus Kinski!

Seriously, if you were looking for a therapist, would you go to Klaus Kinski?

From the minute Klaus shows up, it’s pretty obvious that the film wants us to assume that he’s the killer and really, it’s hard not to make that assumption.  We’re so used to seeing Klaus Kinski play evil and villainous characters and, even 30 years after his death, there are so many stories out there about how difficult Klaus Kinski could be to work with in real life that our natural reaction is to believe any character he plays must have a sinister motivation.  In this film, Klaus’s character has an out-of-control teenage daughter (Donna Wilkes) who tries to commit suicide by locking herself in the garage with a running car.  When Klaus takes an axe to the garage door, we’re left to seriously wonder if he’s planning on killing her or if he’s actually trying to save her life.  That said, Schizoid actually makes good use of Kinski’s menacing persona and Kinski himself gives a performance that elevates the entire film.  Kinski actually does manage to keep you guessing as to whether or not the therapist is a monster or if he’s just kind of a jerk.

Schizoid is usually classified as a slasher film, though it actually has more in common with the classic Italian giallo films that it does with any of the Friday the 13th sequels.  The killer’s identity is masked through POV shots and, in typical giallo fashion, the killer wears black gloves while committing his crimes.  We spend a good deal of the film following the police investigation, which is a typical element of the giallo genre but which is usually treated as an afterthought in post-Friday the 13th slasher films.  Much like Fulci’s The New York Ripper, Schizoid is a violent journey into the heart of darkness, a look at a world with no morality and no safety.  Also like Fulci’s film, it’s so shamelessly sleazy that it’s easy to miss the fact that it’s actually rather well-directed and acted.

Schizoid turned out to be a better film that I was expecting.  That said, I still have to wonder why anyone would select Klaus Kinski to be their therapist.

Horror Scenes I Love: Klaus Kinski and Bruno Ganz have dinner in Nosferatu


Nosferatu (1979, dir by Werner Herzog)

Since today is Klaus Kinksi’s birthday, it makes sense that he should be featured in today’s scene of the day.  In this scene from Werner Herzog’s 1979 film, Nosferatu, Klaus Kinski and Bruno Ganz have dinner.  Of course, in this scenario, Bruno Ganz is Jonathan Harker while Kinski is Dracula.

(In the original, silent Nosferatu, Harker’s name was changed to Thomas Hutter while Dracula was called Count Orlok.  By the time Herzog shot his version, the characters were in the public domain and there was no longer any need to pretend that Nosferatu wasn’t an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel.)

Enjoy!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Klaus Kinski Edition


4 Shots From 4 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!

94 years ago today, the infamous but incredibly talented Klaus Kisnki was born.  Though Kinski appeared in many genres of film, he was an actor who seemed to be well-suited for horror films.  Today, we honor that legacy with….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Aguirre The Wrath of God (1972, dir by Werner Herzog)

Nosferatu (1979, dir by Werner Herzog)

Crawlspace (1986, dir by David Schmoeller)

Nosferatu in Venice (1988, dir by Augusto Caminito and Klaus Kinski)

Scenes That I Love: The Finale of Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Happy Birthday, Werner Herzog!)


Werner Herzog and Friend (Image from the documentary The Burden of Dreams)

Since today is Werner Herzog’s birthday, I thought I would share a Herzog scene that I love.

Herzog is such an iconic and eccentric figure that I think there’s a tendency to overlook just how good of a director and a storyteller he actually is.  People just tend to think of him as being the man with the German accent who makes random comments about how the universe is governed by chaos.

But, he’s actually a brilliant director as well and if you need proof, just watch his 1972 film, Aguirre, The Wrath of God.  The scene below is actually from the final few minutes of the film so I guess it’s technically a spoiler if you haven’t seen the film yet.  That said, people who get upset about spoilers are wimps.

Klaus Kinski plays Aguirre, a Spanish conquistador who attempts to conquer the South America by floating down the Amazon River.  Things don’t quite go the way that he intended.  By the end of the film, all of his man are dead and a large amount of monkeys are congregating on his raft.  Has Aguirre conquered the monkeys or have they conquered him?

That’s up to the viewer to decide.

Happy birthday, Werner Herzog!

Song of the Day: Il Grande Silenzio by Ennio Morricone


Today’s song of the day comes from Ennio Morricone’s score for the 1968 spaghetti western, The Great Silence.  Directed by Sergio Corbucci and featuring Jean-Louis Trintigant as a mute bounty hunter and Klaus Kinski as a savage outlaw, The Great Silence is one the darkest of the Italian westerns and Morricone’s elegiac score compliments the mood perfectly.

Previous Entries In Our Tribute To Morricone:

  1. Deborah’s Theme (Once Upon A Time In America)
  2. Violaznioe Violenza (Hitch-Hike)
  3. Come Un Madrigale (Four Flies on Grey Velvet)

Operation Thunderbolt (1977, directed by Menahem Golan)


On June 27th, 1976, four terrorists hijacked an Air France flight and diverted it to Entebbe Airport in Uganda.  With the blessing of dictator Idi Amin and with the help of a deployment of Ugandan soldiers, the terrorists held all of the Israeli passengers hostage while allowing the non-Jewish passengers to leave.  The terrorists issued the usual set of demands.  The Israelis responded with Operation Thunderbolt, a daring July 4th raid on the airport that led to death of all the terrorists and the rescue of the hostages.  Three hostages were killed in the firefight and a fourth — Dora Bloch — was subsequently murdered in a Ugandan hospital by Idi Amin’s secret police.  Only one commando — Yonatan Netanyahu — was lost during the raid.  His younger brother, Benjamin, would later become Prime Minister of Israel.

A year after the the raid on Entebbe, Menahem Golan would direct a film the recreated that heroic moment.  Originally, Operation Thunderbolt was intended to be a Hollywood production, with none other than Steve McQueen playing the role Yonatan Netanyahu.  When McQueen withdraw for the project (as he did from a lot of productions in the 70s), Golan and the project returned to Israel, where it was produced with the help of the Israeli military and the Israeli government.  (Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres are among the notable Israeli leaders who appear as themselves.)  Singer and comedian Yehoram Gaon was cast as Netanyahu while veteran exploitation stars Klaus Kinski and Sybil Danning were cast as the German terrorists.

The end result is a rousing action film that takes a semi-documentary approach to telling its story.  Imagine a less flamboyant version of Golan’s The Delta Force, one that tells a similar story but without the oversized personas of Chuck Norris, Robert Forster, and Lee Marvin.  Though the film celebrates the bravery of Yonni Netanyahu, the emphasis is more on the IDF working as a team than on individual heroics.  (The film open with the IDF running a drill that mirrors the eventual raid on Entebbe, a reminder that Israel and the IDF were determined not to be caught off guard.)  The film is not only a celebration of the strength of the Israeli people but, with the Germanic Kinski and Danning cast the villains, it’s only a very loud cry of “NEVER AGAIN!”  It may be an exciting action film but it’s an action film with a message: Don’t mess with us.

(At the same time, the hijacker portrayed by Klaus Kinski is not presented as being cardboard villain, which may seem surprising given Kinski’s reputation as an actor and Golan’s reputation as a director.  Kinski’s terrorist does get a chance to explain his ideological motivations, with the film presenting him as being more misguided than evil.)

Though I will always consider The Delta Force to be the greatest film ever made (if just for it’s cry of “Beer!  America!” at the end), Operation Thunderbolt features Golan’s best work as a director.  Menahem Golan was a frequently crass director but, with Operation Thunderbolt, it’s obvious that he was motivated by more than just making a hit movie.  Golan’s aim with Operation Thunderbolt was to make a film that would celebrate both Israel and the strength of the Jewish people.  With Operation Thunderbolt, Menahem Golan succeeded.