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.

 

Shattered Politics #37: Rosebud (dir by Otto Preminger)


Rosebud_-_1975_-_Film_Poster

Before I review the 1975 film Rosebud, allow me to tell you about how I first discovered the existence of this particular film.

The greatest used bookstore in the world is located in Denton, Texas.  It’s called Recycled Books and it is three stories of pure literary goodness!  (Plus, there are apartments on the top floor where I attended some pretty interesting parties but that’s another story….)  When I was attending the University of North Texas, I used to stop by Recycled Books nearly every day.  One day, I happened to be searching the Film and TV section when I came across a beat-up paperback called Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture.

This book, which was written by Theodore Gershuny, told the story of how the previously acclaimed director Otto Preminger attempted to make a film about terrorism.  Starting with the attempts of Preminger’s son, Erik Lee Preminger, to come up with a workable script and then going on to detail how Peter O’Toole came to replace Robert Mitchum as the star of the film and ending with the film’s disastrous release, Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture proved to be a fascinating read.

After finishing the book, I simply had to see Rosebud for myself.  Unfortunately, at that time, Rosebud had not yet been released on Blu-ray or DVD.  So, I actually ended up ordering an old VHS copy of it.  The tape that I got was not in the best condition but it played well enough and I can now say that, unlike the majority of people in the world, I’ve actually seen Rosebud!

Which is not to say that Rosebud is any good.  It’s not the disaster that I had been led to expect.  In fact, it probably would have been more fun if it had been a disaster, as opposed to being just a forgettable film from a director who was probably capable of better.  Preminger started his career in the 30s and was considered, at one point, to be quite innovative.  He directed Laura and Anatomy of a Murder, two great films.  Unfortunately, there’s really nothing innovative about his direction of Rosebud.  In Gershuny’s book, Preminger comes across like an intelligent and thoughtful man who was too set in his ways to realize that what was shocking in 1959 was no longer that big of a deal in 1975.  (And, needless to say, it’s even less of a big deal in 2015.)

As for what Rosebud‘s about, it’s about a man named Sloat (Richard Attenborough), a former journalist who now lives in a cave in Israel and dreams of establishing a worldwide terrorist network.  Under Sloat’s direction, terrorists storm a yacht named the Rosebud and take the girls on board hostage.  The girls are wealthy and privileged.  Their fathers are judges, senators, and businessmen.  CIA agent Larry Martin (Peter O’Toole) is tasked with tracking down and rescuing the girls.  If it sounds like an action film — well, it’s not.  This is not a prequel to Taken.  Instead, it’s a very talky film that has a few isolated good moments and performances but otherwise, is fairly forgettable.

That said, the film does have an interesting cast.  Peter O’Toole seems bored by his role (and who can blame him?) but Attenborough briefly livens things up in the role of Sloat.  As for the girls being held hostage, they’re not given much to do.  One of them is played by a young Isabelle Huppert.  Long before she would play Samantha on Sex and the City, Kim Cattrall plays a hostage here.  The English hostage is played by Lalla Ward, who is now married to Richard Dawkins.

And then there’s the girl’s parents, who are played by an odd assortment of character actors.  Raf Vallone, an Italian, plays a Greek.  (His daughter, meanwhile, is played by the French Isabelle Huppert.)  Peter Lawford, looking somewhat dazed, shows up as Lalla Ward’s father.  (One of the sadder scenes in Gershuny’s book deals with Lawford’s attempts to remember his lines.)  And than, in the role of Cattrall’s father, we have a very distinguished looking man named John Lindsay.

John Lindsay was the former mayor of New York City, a man who ran for President in 1972 and, three years later, attempted to launch a new career as an actor.  Rosebud was his both his first and final film.  (Rumor has it that Martin Scorsese attempted to convince Lindsay to play Senator Palatine in Taxi Driver but Lindsay turned the role down.)  Lindsay is not particularly memorable in Rosebud.  It’s not so much that Lindsay gives a bad performance as much as it’s just the fact that he has a very bland screen presence.  That blandness probably served him well as a politician but, as an actor — well, let’s just say that John Lindsay was apparently no Fred Thompson.

And so that’s Rosebud.  It’s a film that, much like Maidstone, you can only appreciate if you know what went on behind the scenes.  I can’t really recommend Rosebud but, if you ever come across a battered old copy of Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture in a used bookstore, be sure to buy it!

Seriously, you will not be sorry.

Poll: Which Movie Should Lisa Marie Watch on March 20th?


Anyone who knows me knows that sometimes I just can’t help but love being dominated. 

That’s why, on occasion, I’ll give you, our beloved readers, the option of telling me which film to watch and review.  In the past, you’ve commanded me to watch and review Anatomy of a Murder, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Logan’s Run

Well, here’s your chance to, once again, tell me what to do.  I’ve randomly selected 12 films from my film collection.  Whichever film gets the most votes will be watched and reviewed by me next Tuesday, March 20th.

Here are the films up for consideration:

1) Black Jesus (1968) — This Italian film stars Woody Strode as an African rebel leader who is captured by his country’s right-wing, American-backed dictatorship. 

2) Capote (2005) — Philip Seymour Hoffman was an Oscar for best actor for playing writer Truman Capote in this film that details how Capote came to write his true crime classic, In Cold Blood.  This film was also nominated for best picture.

3) Chappaqua (1966) — In this underground cult classic, drug addict Conrad Rooks seeks treatment in Switzerland while being haunted by a scornful William S. Burroughs.  This film features cameo from Allen Ginsberg, The Fugs, and just about every other cult figure from 1966.

4) Crazy/Beautiful (2001) — Jay Fernandez and Kirsten Dunst have lots and lots of sex.  This was like one of my favorite movies to catch on cable back when I was in high school. 🙂

5) An Education (2008) — In my favorite movie from 2008, Carey Mulligan is a schoolgirl in 1960s England who has a secret affair with an older man (played by Peter Sarsgaard), who has plenty of secrets of his own.  Co-starring Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson, Alfred Molina, and Dominic Cooper (who is to die for, seriously).

6) Female Vampire (1973) — In this atmospheric and ennui-filled film from the infamous Jesus Franco, a female vampire spends the whole movie wandering around naked and dealing with the lost souls who want to join the ranks of the undead. 

7) Nightmare City (1980) — In this gory and fast-paced film from Umberto Lenzi, an accident at a nuclear plant leads to a bunch of blood-thirsty zombies rampaging through both the city and the countryside.  Hugo Stiglitz plays Dean Miller, zombie exterminator!  Nightmare City is probably most remembered for introducing the concept of the fast zombie and for serving as an obvious inspiration for Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.

8) The Other Side of Midnight (1977) — Based on a best-selling novel, The Other Side of Midnight tells the story of a poor French girl who becomes a world-famous actress and who ends up sleeping with apparently every wealthy man in the world.  Meanwhile, the man she loves ends up marrying Susan Sarandon.  Eventually, it all ends with both a hurricane and a murder.  Apparently, this film cost a lot of money to make and it was a notorious box office bomb.  It looks kinda fun to me.

9) Peyton Place (1957) — Also based on a best-selling novel, Peyton Place is about love, sex, and scandal in a small town.  Lana Turner is a repressed woman with a past who struggles to keep her daughter from making the same mistakes.  At the time it was made, it was considered to be quite racy and it was even nominated for best picture.  This film is a personal favorite of mine and it’s pretty much set the template for every single film ever shown on Lifetime.

10) Rosebud (1975) — From director Otto Preminger comes this film about what happens when a bunch of rich girls on a yacht are taken hostage by Islamic extremists.  The film’s diverse cast includes Peter O’Toole, Richard Attenborough, Cliff Gorman, former New York Mayor John Lindsay, former Kennedy in-law Peter Lawford, Raf Vallone, Adrienne Corri, Lalla Ward, Isabelle Huppert, and Kim Cattrall.

11) Valley of the Dolls (1967) — Oh my God, I love this movie so much!  Three aspiring actresses move to the big city and soon become hooked on pills and bad relationship decisions. Every time I watch this movie, I spend hours yelling, “I’m Neely O’Hara, bitch!” at the top of my lungs.

12) Zombie Lake (1981) — From my favorite French director, Jean Rollin, comes this extremely low budget film about a bunch of Nazi zombies who keep coming out of the lake and attacking the nearby village.  Some people claim that this is the worst zombie films ever made.  I disagree.

Please vote below for as many or as few of these films as you want to.  The poll will remain open until March 20th and whichever film gets the most votes will be watched and reviewed by me.

Happy voting!