Reviews (2,479)

  • A woman on a hike in the remote hills of northern Georgia (Jaime King) witnesses something that brings in the authorities (Lala Kent, Tyler Jon Olson & Michael Sirow) and the help of a retired cop from up north (Bruce Willis).

    "Out of Death" (2021) is a sylvan crime thriller that only took nine days to shoot with Willis only working one day of filming, incredibly, which has drawn a feeding frenzy from armchair critics. Expecting the worst, I was amazed at what a decent flick can be made on such a short schedule and shoestring budget. It all comes down to the foundation of having a worthwhile story and a director & crew who know what they're doing and how to efficiently pull it off, which Bill Lawrence (writer), Mike Burns (director) & team do.

    Sure, you could nitpick things like the CGI rain but, beyond such trivial qualms, it delivers the goods for this genre with quality themes and a dash of human interest. The flick effectively touches on things like grief/healing, avarice, political corruption & hypocrisy, injustice, nepotism, incompetence, survival, overcoming weaknesses, personal nobility, retirement, refreshing in the wilderness and the warmth of new relationships. It even throws in some sly amusement.

    Some complain about the music, but it's an homage to "Deliverance" (1972) and well edited into the proceedings. Others nag about the supposedly lame title, but its meaning is obvious: Out of death something good can come. Willis' character is understandably in the doldrums and suddenly finds himself thrust into a life-or-death situation where he rises to the challenge, which ironically pulls him out of the pit of melancholy and grief. It's a similar scenario with Jaime's character.

    Maybe I liked it more than others because I favor survival movies that take place in the woods, like "First Blood" (1982). While it's not on that level, it should be enjoyed by viewers who appreciate modest-budget survival thrillers, such as "Nightmare at Bittercreek" (1988), "Transit" (2012), "Black Rock" (2012) and "Reclaim" (2014). Keep in mind that shooting in the forest ain't easy to pull off.

    Honestly, "Out of Death" gave me increased respect for Bruce who, four months shy of 66 during filming, gave his best for a one-day shoot.

    The film runs 1 hour, 35 minutes, and was shot in Puerto Rico.

    GRADE: B.
  • A rural "boy" gets in trouble with the law (Elvis Presley), but is granted probation and counselling by a psychologist at her home office (Hope Lange). He gets a gig living with his uncle and 'bad girl' step-daughter (Tuesday Weld), but dates a 'good girl' (Millie Perkins) whose father hates him because he pegs him as a ne'er-do-well. Meanwhile the counselor discovers that he has a gift for writing. Can he resolve his personal demons and become a productive member of society? John Ireland and Gary Lockwood play father and son in peripheral roles.

    "Wild in the Country" (1961) was Elvis' 7th movie of the 31 he did. This one's a serious drama with a couple well-placed songs. I'd put it up there with "Blue Hawaii" (1961), "Kid Galahad" (1962) and "Roustabout" (1964), but it's the most dramatic of these and you have to persevere with the mundane set-up of the first half, which some viewers will find boring. The second half, however, pulls the rug out from under you and is quite compelling, not to mention risqué for its time. It's a well-done soap opera with Elvis.

    Presley was 25 during shooting, but I'm assuming his character is supposed to be about 18-21. The therapist is supposed to be quite a bit older, like 10-12 years or so, yet in real-life Hope Lange was only 13.5 months older than Elvis.

    Millie Perkins is one of the most winsome and underrated actresses to appear in an Elvis flick and Tuesday Weld, who was 17 during shooting, isn't anything to sneeze at. Meanwhile Lange ain't no slouch. They're all much appreciated but, in my opinion, the top females to costar in Presley movies are Anne Helm in "Follow That Dream" (1962), Ann-Margret in "Viva Las Vegas" (1964) and Michele Carey in "Live a Little, Love a Little" (1968). I'd cite the 'banana dancer' in "King Creole" (1958), but it was only a bit part.

    The movie runs 1 hour, 54 minutes, and was shot in Napa, Napa Valley, California, and 20th Century Studios, Century City, Los Angeles.

    GRADE: B.
  • A detached chain-smoking private detective in Los Angeles (Elliott Gould) finds himself hounded by the police after driving a friend to Mexico late one night (Jim Bouton). Upon taking a gig by the wife of a writer to find her missing alcoholic husband (Nina van Pallandt & Sterling Hayden) he finds himself staving off gangsters in search of $350,000 (Mark Rydell, David Arkin, etc.) while trying to connect the dots. Henry Gibson is on hand as a Southern Cal quack.

    "The Long Goodbye" (1973) is a crime drama/mystery with Altman's art-film style that takes Raymond Chandler's 1953 novel and transports it to twenty years in the future with muttering Philip Marlowe (Gould) being anachronistic in modern sun-drenched L. A. with its nude sunbathers, all-night supermarkets, swank beach houses, eccentric artists, hedonists, medical quacks, avaricious gangsters and fitness nuts. (Speaking of the latter, watch out for a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in his second film role, although it's just a glorified cameo).

    Screenwriter Leigh Brackett naturally changed a few things in the story with the most radical being a slightly different ending, which offends purists, but totally works for me (for reasons I can't explain because I don't want to spoil anything). These changes plus Altman's quirky flair turned off critics upon the film's initial release, although both Siskel & Ebert gave it a 'Thumbs Up' with Gene liking it even more than Roger. The movie was rereleased with a more accurate ad campaign, utilizing Mad magazine's Jack Davis to do the poster (Google it), wherein it was received better, gaining back some money. It has gone on to become a deserved cult movie in the decades since. Nevertheless, this was pretty much the end of Gould's career as a leading man (although he continued to be a successful working actor).

    It took me a while to acclimate to the muttering private eye trapped in the Bizarro world of Southern Cal approach, not to mention the improvisational feel, but the flick won me over. Being a cat lover, the opening sequence caught my interest, but there's a LOT to like here, including the idea of an old-fashioned honest man pushed around and underestimated by everyone, yet ultimately revealing his expertise and strength (which brings to mind Columbo). To appreciate it, you have to be braced for something different, which of course Altman is known for.

    The film runs 1 hour, 52 minutes, and was shot in Malibu, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Morelos, Mexico.

    GRADE: B.
  • In 1506, a former sorcerer (Vincent Price) aids a lesser magician who has been turned into a raven (Peter Lorre) by a great wizard (Boris Karloff). When he learns that the ghost of his beloved dead wife (Hazel Court) has been seen at the castle of the great wizard, they venture there to find out, along with the sorcerer's daughter and magician's son (Olive Sturgess & Jack Nicholson).

    Directed by Roger Corman and written by Richard Matheson, "The Raven" (1963) is a horror comedy inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's poem, spoofing Corman's Poe flicks that were popular at the time. It's amusing in the manner of the future "Young Frankenstein" (1974), yet in lush color. The trained raven is effective while the stunning Hazel Court is a highlight on the feminine front. Meanwhile there's Nicholson as a strapping young lad.

    Despite being a comedy, fans of Marvel's Dr. Strange might be interested in "The Raven" since some of the concepts clearly inspired Stan Lee & Steve Ditko in the creation of that comic book character. For instance, the idea of a sorcerer supreme and the look of Dr. Strange, who initially resembled Price, as well as the mystic mêlée of the sorcerers at the close, which features not only bolts of magic energy but 'shields' to thwart opposing energies. Dr. Strange's debut in Strange Tales #110 was on the racks a few months following the release of "The Raven."

    After the film was shot in 15 days, the superbly eerie sets were still available for a few days before demolition. Thus Corman acted quickly to concoct a script via Leo Gordon and enlisted Karloff & Nicholson for the quickie project, which turned out to be "The Terror," released five months after this one. Boris said it was amusing the way Roger dashed around with him & the other actors filming scenes just a couple of steps ahead of the wreckers.

    Unlike the goofiness of this film, "The Terror" is a thoroughly serious Gothic Horror in the mold of spooky Hammer flicks, à la "Dracula, Prince of Darkness" (1966). So if you want to see a serious early 60's horror movie utilizing the same superb sets, check it out. It's impossible to compare the two since they're so different in tone, but I favor "The Terror," which features a young Francis Ford Coppola's early directorial work in the formidable section shot in Big Sur, California.

    The film is trim at 1 hour, 26 minutes, and was shot in Los Angeles.

    GRADE: B-
  • From 1794-1815, the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte (Marlon Brando) is chronicled through the eyes of Désirée Clary (Jean Simmons), a young millinery clerk from Marseilles, who is initially infatuated with the future emperor of France, but winds up marrying one of his top generals, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte (Michael Rennie), who remarkably becomes Crown Prince of Sweden and potentially allied with the very forces that oppose Napoleon.

    Based on Annemarie Selinko's hit 1951 novel, "Désirée" (1954) is a costume drama concentrating on the historical love triangle and behind-the-scenes politics. Don't expect any flashes of action, like in Brando's "The Young Lions" (1958).

    While Marlon begrudged the role because he was settling legal issues for walking off the lead role in "The Egyptian" (1954) and thus phoned-in his performance, the movie interestingly made more at the box office than his other 1954 film, the heralded "On the Waterfront." Phoned-in or not, Brando captured the essence of the brooding conquest-obsessed Napoleon and makes the flick worthwhile. But you have to be in the mood for dialogue-driven historical costume drama.

    Whilst the script doesn't elaborate on it, in real-life Bernadotte was named Crown Prince of Sweden for his benevolence toward Swedish POWs, captured by him when he was a Marshal of the French Empire.

    Although curiously becoming King and Queen of Sweden & Norway, neither Jean nor Désirée ever learned to speak Swedish other than "kom," which means "come" in English.

    The movie runs 1 hour, 50 minutes, and was shot in France and California.

    GRADE: B-
  • After years of war victories and accumulated wealth circa 2600 BC, Pharaoh Khufu (Jack Hawkins) becomes obsessed with building an impenetrable tomb for his body & riches, etc. Khufu turns to the brilliant architect and newly acquired slave, Vashtar (James Robertson Justice), to build the Great Pyramid, aka the Pyramid of Cheops or Giza. Joan Collins in on hand as Nellifer, Dewey Martin plays Vashtar's son and Alexis Minotis the high priest of Egypt.

    "Land of the Pharaohs" (1955) is a sword & sandal epic that doesn't overstay its welcome at well under 2 hours. It was director Howard Hawk's first box office failure and so he took four years off from filmmaking to tour Europe before returning with the hit Western "Rio Bravo" (1959). It has since become a cult film and Martin Scorsese admitted that it is one of his favorites.

    The subject is fascinating. The Pyramid of Khufu is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the only one to remain relatively intact. It is estimated to have taken almost three decades to build. There are several theories of its planning & construction and the movie brings this to life for the viewer. The Egyptian government supplied 3000-10,000 extras for the 50-plus day shoot, half of them soldiers. While Jack Hawkins and the actor who plays Vashtar look decidedly European as opposed to anyone from the ancient Egypt region, producers wisely darkened Joan's skin and her potential lover looks serviceably Egyptian.

    Although critics decry the subplot in the second half concerning an assassination conspiracy, there's plenty to enjoy in this lush spectacle: cowards thrown to crocodiles, the curious beliefs behind building such a unique colossal structure, the obsession & perseverance it took to see it through, thousands of extras, real vessels in the river, authentic locations, recreations of hauling the 2.5 ton stones, the Pharaoh taking on a bull, death traps, athletic dancing, Joan's youthful beauty, a quality sword fight to the death, the tragic close and Dimitri Tiomkin's great score.

    Lastly, the flick inspires one to look up the actual pyramid, its history and videos of its exterior and innards. It might even inspire you to see it firsthand.

    The film runs 1 hour, 46 minutes, and was shot in Egypt with studio stuff done in Rome.

    GRADE: B.
  • A rural Arizona deputy sheriff (Clint Eastwood) comes to the Big Apple to extradite a prisoner (Don Stroud) while tangling with the chief detective (Lee J. Cobb) and flirting with a probation officer (Susan Clark). Tisha Sterling plays the thug's drug-addicted girlfriend.

    Directed by Don Siegel, "Coogan's Bluff" (1968) is a crime drama/thriller with bits of droll amusement (e.g. New Yorkers constantly making references to Texas, Wyatt, the O. K. Corral and the like). It inspired the TV series McCloud, which aired from 1970-1977; and also was the prototype for Siegel & Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" (1971). The two teamed-up for three other films: "Two Mules for Sister Sara" (1970), "The Beguiled" (1971) and "Escape from Alcatraz" (1977).

    This was the blueprint for Clint's post-Leone cop character, which dominated crime cinema for the next 25-30 years (and arguably longer), including winners like "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" (1974) and "The Gauntlet" (1977). "Coogan's Bluff" may not be as compelling as some of these later movies, and it's certainly dated by comparison (an interesting period piece to view mid-60's Manhattan), but it is entertaining despite the unpalatable depictions of the seedy side of Gotham.

    Speaking of the sordid elements, this was 'cutting edge' at the time and nigh shocking to those not living in the Big City. Eastwood's character, Coogan, will do whatever it takes to bring his man in, even something immoral with a 17 year-old teenager. While he's confident and has several admirable traits, there's also a darker, unpredictable edge.

    There's been some confusion about the eponymous bluff. Although the movie mentions the landmark promontory in upper Manhattan in a deleted scene, it literally refers to Coogan's bluffing his way into the hospital ward to apprehend his prisoner and get out of town, which sets up the events of the rest of the picture. If there's any doubt the lieutenant detective (Cobb) plainly references his bluff.

    In addition to Susan Clark and Tisha Sterling, the female cast includes Melodie Johnson (Millie in the first act) and Meg Myles (Big Red).

    The film is trim at 1 hour, 33 minutes, and was shot in the Mojave Desert, Manhattan and Universal Studios.

    GRADE: B.
  • An American art professor (Clint Eastwood) is coerced back into his former occupation as a government assassin for a couple final hits before retirement. One of the gigs involves an international climb of The Eiger, a mountain in Switzerland, so he has to prepare at a resort in Arizona ran by his buddy (George Kennedy). Thayer David plays the head of the secretive organization while Jack Cassidy is on hand as a foppish nemesis in the desert.

    "The Eiger Sanction" (1975) is a secret agent adventure/thriller that's not as over-the-top as James Bond. Handheld cameras and special equipment were utilized for the climbing sequences wherein Eastwood did his own stuntwork under risky conditions. A British climber, 26 year-old David Knowles, died on The Eiger while making the film. Climber Chic (Charles) Scott was embittered about nearly everything concerning the shooting of the hazardous climbing scenes and you can read his diatribes online. (The proverbial "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" applies).

    The film scores pretty well in the feminine department with Candice Rialson as an art student, Brenda Venus a fitness trainer, Heidi Brühl a dubious wife of one of the climbers and Vonetta McGee a fellow agent. Eastwood was in his prime at the time, the king of cool who effortlessly attracts these ladies.

    The scenic shots in Monument Valley, Utah and Switzerland are alone worth the price of admission, plus there are several quirkily amusing or engaging bits. Meanwhile the score by John Williams is mostly good, but some of it is incongruous for a secret agent thriller (e.g. The curious mellow piece during the climax & end credits). There's something odd about the production in general that makes it unique in the Eastwood canon and explains why it's relatively obscure.

    The movie runs 2 hours, 8 minutes, and was shot in California (Los Angeles, Universal City and Carmel-by-the-Sea), Arizona (Monument Valley), Utah (Zion National Park) and Switzerland (Zurich, Kleine Scheidegg and Eiger/Bernese Alps).

    GRADE: B.
  • While lecturing in China in 1904, Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) learns of a village where vampirism has broken out and investigates it with his son (Robin Stewart) & team (David Chiang, Julie Ege and Szu Shih). It turns out that Dracula is hanging out there disguised as a Taoist high priest.

    "The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires" (1974) was Hammer's final Dracula film wherein producers decided to experiment by hooking up with Shaw Brothers Studio in Hong Kong for a mixed-genre flick that meshes Hammer's Gothic horror with the kung fu craze of the early 70s. Hammer was already experimenting at the time by setting the previous two installments in the modern day.

    Whilst this is the least of the series, it can be somewhat entertaining if you roll with the comic book cheesiness and the martial arts fighting sequences, which resemble choreographed stage dances more than combat, sorta reminiscent of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video (lol).

    Highlights include the spirit of high adventure, the presence of Stewart as Van Helsing's son, the beauty of Julie Ege & Szu Shih, the over-the-top energy and (dubbed) John Forbes-Robertson as Dracula, who looks like Christopher Lee from a distance. But I didn't find myself caring much about the characters and the story isn't very compelling despite loads of action.

    The movie bombed at the box office. Perhaps if they would've titled it "Dracula and the 7 Golden Vampires" (as it was in Hong Kong and Singapore) it would've drawn a bigger audience due to name recognition.

    For those interested, Hammer did nine Dracula-themed films from 1958 to 1974 as follows:

    Horror of Dracula (1958); The Brides of Dracula (1960); Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966); Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968); Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970); Scars of Dracula (1970); Dracula AD 1972 (1972); The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973); and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. Lee played Dracula in all of them except "Brides" and "7 Golden Vampires" while Peter Cushing appears in five of them as a Van Helsing.

    The film runs 1 hour, 29 minutes, and was shot entirely in Hong Kong.

    GRADE: C.
  • The tomb of Ra-Antef, son of Ramesses VIII, is discovered in Egypt by several Egyptologists and the project's backer, an American showman (Fred Clark), wants to exploit the mummy as a traveling sideshow. The situation is complicated by a smooth arts patron (Terence Morgan) whom members of the expedition meet on the vessel returning to London.

    "The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb" (1964) is the second of four Mummy films by Hammer; the others being "The Mummy" (1959), "The Mummy's Shroud" (1967) and "Blood from the Mummy's Tomb" (1971). While they all have similar plots, each can be enjoyed as a standalone movie and I prefer this one to the overrated first flick, which overdid it with the dull Egyptian rituals and citations of sacred scrolls, amongst a couple other flaws. I also prefer it to the minor cult-favorite "Blood from the Mummy's Tomb."

    While towering Christopher Lee made for the most terrifying mummy in the first film, there's more to a mummy flick than the monster. This one throws in a spirit of high adventure with the ship voyage, as well as a thought-provoking back story that is slowly revealed (I'm talking about the story of Ra and his brother), which explores the problem of immortality while stuck in a fallen world. It may sound good at first, but is it really? In other words, eternal life is only agreeable in a redeemed Universe.

    On top of this is the subtle romantic triangle between John (Ronald Howard), Annette (Jeanne Roland) and Adam (Terence Morgan). A critic referred to Annette as a "wanton hussy," but she is actually classy and cultured. Her betrothal to John obviously isn't set in stone in light of her comments to Adam. Plus it's clear that John isn't very interested in Annette while the well-to-do and cultured Adam slickly woos her; and it doesn't hurt that Adam is the more handsome of the two men by far. You don't have to be an Einstein to see why Annette starts to veer toward Adam. Meanwhile she's not portrayed as having casual sex with anyone, so I'm not sure how exactly she could be accused of being a hussy. Roland, incidentally, is part Burmese and went on to play Bond's curvy masseuse in "You Only Live Twice" (1967).

    Elsewhere Fred Clark's character, Alexander King, is a well-developed and entertaining individual. On the surface he's a crass, money-obsessed American promoter but, underneath, he has a spirit of joie de vivre and you can't help but see that he truly wants to share the marvels of Egyptology with the common person. In other words, his motivations aren't entirely selfish; he WANTS to share and educate, albeit in an entertaining and convenient manner, not to mention make loads of lucre doing it. His encounter with a prostitute on the streets of London also reveals a warm heart in a (seemingly) throwaway scene. Lastly, when he comes face-to-face with the mummy, there's initial shock and marvel, but then a smile of carny glee.

    This all reflects exceptional writing that makes "The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb" one of the best in the Hammer series and, arguably, the best.

    The film runs 1 hour, 21 minutes, and was shot at Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, just northwest of London.

    GRADE: B+
  • After relics are taken from a sorceress' tomb in Egypt, she is somehow reincarnated in London (Valerie Leon) in order to get the artifacts back and worse. Andrew Keir and James Villiers play archeologists while Mark Edwards appears as the woman's cool beau.

    "Blood from the Mummy's Tomb" (1971) is the fourth and final Mummy film by Hammer, after "The Mummy" (1959), "The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb" (1964) and "The Mummy's Shroud" (1967). While they all have similar plots, each can be enjoyed as a standalone movie and I prefer this one to the overrated first one, which overdid it with the dull Egyptian rituals and citations of sacred scrolls, amongst a couple other flaws.

    The highlight of "Blood from the Mummy's Tomb" is statuesque Valerie Leon, whose voice was dubbed by actress Olive Gregg. There's a sense of artistry to the filmmaking, which I appreciate. But the story is kind of viewer-unfriendly in the first act due to jumping around to different time frames with little indication, yet everything is eventually explained so no worries.

    Peter Cushing originally played Keir's role, but had to leave the production after a day's shooting to attend to his deathly ill wife. Meanwhile director Seth Holt died suddenly due to heart failure five weeks into production with only a few days left; he was only 47 years-old. Michael Carreras finished the job uncredited.

    The idea of the Egyptian mummy being a beautiful woman was quite original at the time. Of course Tom Cruise & Co. Took the idea to forge 2017's "The Mummy," which is all-around more entertaining. But this one ain't no slouch if you don't mind the limitations of the time period and Hammer-esque films (Amicus, Tigon, AIP, etc.).

    The film runs 1 hour, 34 minutes, and was shot at Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, just northwest of London.

    GRADE: B-
  • In 1897, creepy Count Dracula in Transylvania (Jack Palance) acquires London property from Jonathan Harker (Murray Brown) whereupon he moves and falls for a woman who looks like his wife from 400 years earlier (Fiona Lewis), facing the opposition of Van Helsing & his sidekick (Nigel Davenport and Simon Ward). Penelope Horner is on hand as Mina.

    "Dracula" (1974) was directed by Dan Curtis and written by Richard Matheson based on Bram Stoker's novel of Victorian horror. The undead Count is more sympathetic here in comparison to Christopher Lee's take in the Hammer series, but he's still very formidable, which is particularly shown in the second half.

    While a TV production in America, it was released theatrically overseas and at least had the budget of "Horror of Dracula" (1958). There's some nice mood from the get-go with shots of canines (wannabe wolves) at a castle in Croatia. I love the Gothic/Victorian décor throughout and Palance makes for a convincing Prince of Darkness. While it doesn't beat the 1979 version with Frank Langella or Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version, it's still a worthy interpretation of the oft-done tale.

    The movie runs 1 hour, 37 minutes, and was shot at Trakoscan Castle, Croatia, and the Greater London area, England, including Oakley Court, Windsor (Carfax Abbey).

    GRADE: B.
  • A young man (Christopher Matthews) running from the law ends up at an ominous castle and goes missing. Thus his brother and a friend (Dennis Waterman & Jenny Hanley) travel to the dubious dwelling to find him, but come face-to-face with a formidable fiend (Christopher Lee).

    "Scars of Dracula" (1970) is a sort of reboot of the Hammer series in that it's basically a redo of Lee's first two stabs at the undead Count: "Horror of Dracula" (1958) and "Dracula, Prince of Darkness" (1966), not to mention it mixes in aspects of "Dracula Has Risen from the Grave" (1968) and, most significantly, the plot of "Psycho" (1960). For those who question the latter, just reread the plot description above.

    Some viewers gripe that this one doesn't fit the chronology of the series for a couple of reasons, yet these supposed conundrums are easily explained: Dracula was reduced to dust at the end of the prior film, "Taste the Blood of Dracula" (1970), but Klove had instructions to seek out and acquire the Count's ashes if he was ever slain and bring them back to the castle in Transylvania where one of his creatures of the night would supply the blood necessary to resurrect the Prince of Darkness. As for the differences in the look of the castle, Hammer had moved to a different studio and so of course it looks different than it did when they made "Horror of Dracula" thirteen years earlier.

    Although marred by the cheesy bat sequences, "Scars of Dracula" is one of the more entertaining installments due to the spirited Paul, a bit o' genuine amusement in the first act and a generally compelling story (hey, it worked for "Psycho," why wouldn't it work here?). The female cast doesn't hurt, particularly the lovely Hanley as Sarah, but also Anouska Hempel (Tania), Delia Lindsay (Alice) and Wendy Hamilton (Julie).

    For those interested, Hammer did nine Dracula-themed films from 1958 to 1974 as follows:

    Horror of Dracula (1958); The Brides of Dracula (1960); Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966); Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968); Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970); Scars of Dracula (1970); Dracula AD 1972 (1972); The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973); and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974). Lee plays Dracula in all of them except "Brides" and "7 Golden Vampires" while Peter Cushing appears in five of them as a Van Helsing.

    The film runs 1 hour, 35 minutes, and was shot at Elstree Studios & nearby Scratchwood, just northwest of London.

    GRADE: B.
  • In 1906 London the troubled daughter of Jack the Ripper (Angharad Rees) is taken in by a sympathetic Freudian psychologist (Eric Porter) who wants to study her condition and "fix" her, but she's soon prowling the Whitechapel district. Jane Merrow, Keith Bell and Derek Godfrey are also on hand.

    "Hands of the Ripper" (1971) is Victorian horror from Hammer that's similar to their previous "The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" (1960), but less psychologically fascinating or entertaining.

    Actually the doctor's mental condition is more interesting than that of the girl he's studying: He pulls a "Vertigo" on her by giving her his late wife's room, providing Anna her clothes to wear and is obsessed with healing her because he couldn't heal his wife. At one point he nigh kisses Anna wearing his wife's clothes when the topic of life-after-death surfaces.

    Moreover, his son has picked a 'marred' fiancé and not only can this woman not assuage the doctor's guilt over being unable to heal his wife (since Laura is his son's bride and her 'flaw' is outside his field) he's concerned that his son will suffer the same outcome as himself and it weighs on him.

    The film runs 1 hour, 25 minutes, and was shot at Pinewood Studios, just west of London.

    GRADE: B-
  • A mysterious licentious monk named Grigori Rasputin (Christopher Lee) emerges from western Siberia with powers of healing and hypnosis. He worms his way into favor with the imperial family in prerevolutionary Saint Petersburg, in particular Alexandra (Renée Asherson), but his negative influence and debaucheries prompt conservative opponents to action. The cast is rounded out by Barbara Shelley, Richard Pasco and Francis Matthews.

    "Rasputin: The Mad Monk" (1966) is a Hammer historical drama/thriller with a bit o' horror. It's not a detailed real-life account, but offers the gist of the story in an entertaining manner, which inspires viewers to look up the actual history. Christopher Lee is outstanding as the eponymous character, both commanding and convincing. Meanwhile Shelley is a highlight on the feminine front.

    Rasputin was assassinated in late, 1916. It is said that his corruption of the government was responsible for the rising discontent of Russians, leading to the October revolution the next year and downfall of the monarchy.

    The movie runs 1 hour, 31 minutes, and was shot at Bray Studios, just west of London.

    GRADE: B/B-
  • The life of Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) is detailed from 1939, when her career was on a downswing, to her death in 1977, focusing on her rivalrous relationship with her adopted daughter Christina (Mara Hobel & Diana Scarwid).

    "Mommie Dearest" (1981) is a 'controversial' drama because it dares to reveal the hidden truth about a member of Hollywood royalty, at least according to her first two adopted kids, Christina and Christopher, who have stuck to their guns in the decades since. Sure, the younger twin sisters, Cindy & Cathy, dispute the claims of gross abuse (while admitting Joan was strict), but they were only 3 years-old when Christina was 11 and so weren't present or were simply too young to know what went down with Christina & Christopher. Another thing to consider is that Joan learned a few lessons on parenting in raising the two older kids and therefore was wiser with her treatment of Cindy & Cathy.

    The movie is neither campy nor an "unintentional comedy." This is a dramatic biopic of the final 38 years of Joan's life with concentration on the 40s-50s. It's a great behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood of that period. The viewer becomes privy to Joan's struggles with romance, maintaining success in a challenging career, aging, finances, male chauvinism and... childrearing.

    While Gene Siskel gave the movie a fair 2.5/4 rating, both he and Ebert complained that the picture was too depressing, but that is a one-dimensional perspective. Yes, the abusive episodes aren't fun, but there are only two really bad ones, the wire hanger and the choking sequences. In other words, there's WAY more to this movie than Joan being an abusive monster.

    Speaking of which, the flick is surprisingly evenhanded with the "Queen of the Movies." It shows the good, the bad and the ugly, NOT just the ugly. Near the end of the story it's clear that there was some genuine warmth and care in Christina's relationship with Joan. The ending, however, put the final nail in the coffin (which I'm not going to reveal, even though it's historically documented). Yet the film makes it clear that Joan believed in self-made success because she felt it created character as opposed to everything being handed to the individual. So perhaps in her mind she believed she was doing both Christina & Christopher a favor because she believed they had the talent & aptitude to make it in life just fine without any further help from her.

    Some critics, including Siskel & Ebert, claimed that the movie didn't explain Joan's abusive tendencies with Christina (and Christopher), but it does for anyone who opens their eyes. She was a control-freak and perfectionist, not to mention she clearly developed a spirit of competition with Christina, as observed in the pool scene and, later, the soap opera episode.

    Faye blamed the director for not reining her in during the two extreme scenes of mistreatment but, while these may or may not be slightly overdone, ALL biopics exaggerate things for dramatic purposes. For instance, do you think for a second that, in "Braveheart" (1995), William Wallace really trotted into a Baron's bedchambers on a freakin' horse for a confrontation and was easily able to escape on the horse? That said, I found those two maniacal scenes thoroughly believable. In fact, from my experience these kinds of hysterical incidents happen in practically EVERY family on occasion, hopefully very infrequently (just like in the film). For instance, I've had a few shameful meltdowns over the years that I wouldn't care to elaborate on, how much more so a passionate actress juggling the demands of a Hollywood career and everything that goes with it?

    Speaking of Dunaway's performance, she was perfect for the role and shouldn't be embarrassed by this movie in the least. Critic Pauline Kael rightly emphasized that she gave "a startling, ferocious performance." Furthermore, the movie was a deserved financial hit at the box office and continues to make money decades later as a cult phenomenon. Unfortunately for Faye, it was considered blasphemous to honestly criticize such an icon as Joan Crawford. Evidently people can't handle the truth.

    The film runs 2 hours, 9 minutes, and was shot entirely in the Greater Los Angeles area.

    GRADE: A-
  • In 1910 Scotland, a paralyzed estate-owner (Elio Jotta) dies in a dubious manner and his wife and young doctor (Barbara Steele & Peter Baldwin) experience ghostly happenings, including poltergeist phenomena. Harriet Medin is on hand as the housekeeper.

    "The Ghost" (1963), aka "Lo Spettro," is Italian Gothic horror, a reimagining of the French hit "Les Diaboliques" (1955). It influenced future movies; for instance, the blood from the ceiling was later done in "The Devil's Nightmare" (1971), aka "The Devil Walks at Midnight." Meanwhile the music box angle was used in "For a Few Dollars More" (1965).

    While this is an Italian movie, the cast is international with Steele being English, Baldwin & Medin American and Jotta Italian. Barbara is youthful and bright-eyed at the age of 24 during shooting.

    While the story is simple, the eerie ambiance is to die for. "The Ghost" is worth checking out for anyone interested in ghostly Gothic horror taking place in spooky Euro-styled castles or manors, such as "The Innocents" (1960), "The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" (1960) and "The Tomb of Ligeia" (1964).

    The film runs 1 hour, 36 minutes, and was shot in Rome.

    GRADE: B-
  • After a curious meteor shower creates havoc on Earth, a merchant navy officer (Howard Keel) in England is forced to contend with mobile vegetation-based creatures; meanwhile on an island off of Cornwall a troubled scientist couple working at a lighthouse try to solve the problem (Janette Scott & Kieron Moore).

    "The Day of the Triffids" (1963) is a British creature feature that borrows from "War of the Worlds" of ten years prior (particularly the ending), but it's not in the same league. While the creators did their best to create scary-looking plant monsters, they're just not as formidable as the Martian threat in that other movie. It doesn't help that the females are depicted as dainty, useless screamers (I realize it's a sign of the times but, c'mon, they could do more than stand idly by screaming).

    Still, if you like 50s-60's Brit horror, like "Island of Terror" (1966) and "Night of the Big Heat" (1967), you'll probably appreciate it (it's on par with the former, but not as good as the latter); just don't expect Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee.

    The movie runs 1 hour, 33 minutes and was shot at Shepperton Studios, just west of London, as well as locations in London and Spain.

    GRADE: C.
  • A passenger train traveling from Geneva, Switzerland, to Stockholm, Sweden, is infected by a strain of pneumonic plague via a terrorist. Under questionable orders, the US Colonel in charge of the situation (Burt Lancaster) reroutes the train to Poland where it has to cross a long defunct steel arch bridge.

    "The Cassandra Crossing" (1976) is a disaster thriller that's part train movie and part plague flick. It's not great like the later "Runaway Train" (1985) nor as good as "Outbreak" (1995), but it's almost on par with "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory" (1995).

    Besides Lancaster as the Colonel, the impressive cast includes: Ingrid Thulin as the doctor the Colonel contends with; Richard Harris as a famous neurologist; Sophia Loren his ex-wife; Lee Strasberg a Holocaust survivor; Ava Gardner a wealthy aging lady; Martin Sheen her dubious boy toy; OJ Simpson a "priest"; Ann Turkel a hippie-ish musician; and John Phillip Law the Colonel's subordinate.

    Comparing this to the highest standard of 70's disaster flicks, "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972), it's just not as compelling because "Poseidon" has superior human interest, a more remarkable challenge and better women. Parts of it are quite good though, even great, like the superb sky-view cinematography and the score by Jerry Goldsmith. The last act is thrilling and worth the price of admission, but the first 90 minutes contains too many tedious parts with characters you don't much care about.

    Sophia still looks good at 41 during filming whereas Richard Harris was 45, but looks older. Gardner was 53 during shooting and also looks older, but then the last movie I saw her in debuted a dozen years earlier wherein she was still alluring. Hey, age happens.

    The film runs 2 hours, 8 minutes. Interiors were shot at Cinecittà studios in Rome with exteriors done in France and Switzerland. The steel arch bridge pictured in the movie is in reality the Garabit Viaduct in southern France, designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1880-1884, who later constructed the Eiffel tower.

    GRADE: B-
  • The Communist regime in Romania forces Dracula from his castle (George Hamilton), so he and Renfield (Arte Johnson) fly to New York City to meet a model who has caught the Count's eye (Susan Saint James). Richard Benjamin plays her therapist and Dick Shawn an officer that tries to help solve the vampire happenings.

    "Love at First Bite" (1979) spoofs Dracula flicks and was AIP's most successful film up to that point (an honor that would only last three months, after which "The Amityville Horror" took the crown). It surged Hamilton's career and remains his most profitable movie.

    If you like other classic monster satires, such as "The Vampire Happening" (1971) and "Young Frankenstein" (1974), you should appreciate this one. It puts Dracula in the modern day Big City and milks it for fun. While it's rarely laugh-out-loud funny, it's consistently amusing (or eye-rolling) in a quiet smirks kind of way. There are several cameos of celebs that were popular at the time.

    Although it has been accused of being "racist," it pokes fun of people across the board, whatever their skin color or socioeconomic status. For instance, the beginning makes fun of Romanian Communists followed by superstitious rural villagers (all white people).

    The film runs 1 hour, 36 minutes, and was shot in Manhattan and The Langham Apartments, Los Angeles.

    GRADE: B-
  • Amidst a crumbling castle in 19th century England, a widowed aristocrat (Vincent Price) mourns his wife, but quickly develops a new romantic relationship after meeting the forceful Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd). Yet the soul of Ligeia seems to be haunting the estate and the apparently mesmerized Baron is hiding something.

    Released in late 1964, "The Tomb of Ligeia" is Gothic horror based on the Edgar Allan Poe story from 1838 (which was revised in 1845 with the addition of his 1843 poem "The Conqueror Worm," written by the character Ligeia). This was the last of Roger Corman's eight Poe films from 1960-1964, which all made money but this one made the least, possibly because the quasi-series had run its course and the story was overly complicated. Nevertheless, Corman considered it one of the best of the lot.

    Since the original tale was so short, scriptwriter Robert Towne incorporated elements from other Poe stories, such as the black cat, mesmerism and a hint of necrophilia. The talky story isn't as compelling as Corman's "The Terror" (1963) or even "The Masque of the Red Death" (1964). It's rather boring for the first hour, but there's an effectively creepy payoff in the last act, which ties everything together. Like those previous two films, the sumptuous Gothic ambiance is worth the price of admission and the inclusion of Stonehenge is a highlight. You just have to acclimate to the dated drama-focused goings-on.

    The movie runs 1 hour, 22 minutes and was shot at Shepperton Studios, just west of London, and Castle Acre Priory north of Swaffham, as well as other spots in England, such as Stonehenge, Polesden Lacey and Polzeath, Cornwall, at the southwest tip of Britain (the beach scene).

    GRADE: B-/C+
  • In 1865 England, an aristocrat (Vincent Price) locks his brother (Alister Williamson) in the attic because he was hideously scarred by a Voodoo revenge ritual in Africa. While the Lord woos nubile Elizabeth (Hilary Dwyer) the caged sibling is able to escape with the assistance of his lawyer and a witchdoctor, eventually hiding out with an unscrupulous doctor (Christopher Lee). When the hooded man ventures out of the house horror ensues.

    While "The Oblong Box" (1969) utilizes several Edgar Allan Poe themes, it is nothing like Poe's East Coast sea voyage story from 1844 and simply borrows the title for a tale of Gothic horror in 19th century London. Producers at AIP thought linking Poe to a film would sell more tickets, which is why they dubiously renamed "Witchfinder General" "The Conqueror Worm" for American audiences a year earlier.

    Since "Witchfinder" was a surprise hit (for such a low-budget flick) producers hired the same director, Michael Reeves, and three members of the cast for this project (Price, Dwyer and Rupert Davies). Unfortunately, Reeves fell ill during pre-production and was replaced by Gordon Hessler. The young, promising director was found dead of an accidental overdose less than three months later at the age of 25.

    The cast is fine, the ambiance of Gothic horror is superlative and the females are appealing (Dwyer, Sally Geeson and Uta Levka). Regrettably, the script is filled with nonsensical bits and vagueness. For instance, how is it that no one at the aged brother's funeral knew what he actually looked like? If Edward's disfigurement is the result of a Voodoo ceremony, how does it morph into a contagious disease at the end? Sorry, but weak writing like this doesn't make for great movies.

    Yet I suppose you can sorta put the pieces of the puzzle together if you use your imagination and it's still worth checking out if you like movies such as Corman & Coppola's "The Terror" (1963) and the aforementioned "Witchfinder General." But this is the least of these IMHO.

    The movie runs 1 hour, 36 minutes and was shot at Shepperton Studios, just west of London.

    GRADE: B-/C+
  • A so-called "vampire serial killer" is on the loose in London (Michael Gothard) and a loose connection is made to the mysterious clinic of Dr. Browning (Vincent Price). A curious young doctor eventually pursues this lead for answers (Christopher Matthews). The impressive cast also includes the likes of Christopher Lee, Marshall Jones, Alfred Marks and Peter Cushing in a glorified cameo.

    "Scream and Scream Again" (1970) is a London-based crime/drama and political thriller with a bit o' sci-fi/horror. It meshes superhuman vampiric killers with Nazi-like militarists and Frankenstein-ian doctors. It's a mix of the contemporaneous "The Tormentors" (with a WAY bigger budget) and the later "The Formula" (1980) with the Frankenstein element of "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" (2008). (I realize the latter two came much later; I'm just giving potential viewers an idea of what to expect with this oddity).

    The female cast is decent with Judy Huxtable (Sylvia), Judy Bloom (cop), Yutte Stensgaard (Erika) and Uta Levka (nurse).

    Christopher Wicking's script eliminates a key revelation of Peter Saxon's book ("The Disorientated Man"), which makes the story more mundane and political, which I favor. But the conflicting subplot involving the fictional Eastern European Communistic country could've easily been removed altogether, making the story less confusing and more streamlined. It's like trying to cram a war story into a crime thriller/horror flick.

    The movie runs 1 hour, 35 minutes, and was shot in London and Surrey County, which is just south of the city.

    GRADE: B-/C+
  • On the southern coast of England, a gang of hooligans led by a man named King (Oliver Reed) harass an American yachtsman (Macdonald Carey) and a sculptor living on the shoreline (Viveca Lindfors). Shirley Anne Field plays the gang leader's sister who attracts the yachtsman. All of them are about to learn the secret of the mysterious government installation on the rocky coastline, headed by the character played by Alexander Knox.

    "The Damned," aka "These are the Damned" (1962), is a B&W Hammer flick that mixes drama, mystery and sci-fi with a bit o' horror. Yet don't expect a creature feature; this is way more realistic.

    It was no doubt influenced a little by "Village of the Damned" (1960), but accusations that it's an inferior rendition of "Children of the Damned" are unwarranted since it debuted two years earlier, not to mention the story is very different from either. I would say it's a mixture of those movies along with the later "The Shuttered Room" (1967) and "Messiah of Evil" (1973). Reed's ruffians are reminiscent of the former and the creepy coastal mysteriousness is akin to both. Another one is "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea" (1976).

    Carey brings to mind Robert Mitchum in his older age while Shirley Anne is easy on the eyes. Meanwhile the quirky song in the opening act, "Black Leather Rock," is evocative of the swinging early 60s. From there on the movie gets increasingly melancholy.

    Speaking of which, why is it called "The damned"? Because everyone in the story is damned in one way or another: The artist creates sculptures resembling carbonized cadavers after mass nuclear warfare. The alienation of King's gang is echoed by the physical isolation of the innocent children. The matter-of-fact bureaucrats leading the secret program are so sure of imminent atomic ruin that they're essentially craving it; they've misplaced their humanity to the point that they are more the walking dead than the kids. It's a sad society locked into destruction with practically everything a cancelation of life.

    The film runs 1 hour, 27 minutes, and was shot at Bray Studios, just west of London (interiors) with exteriors done in Weymouth, Portland Bill and Chesil Beach, all on the southern coast of England in Dorset.

    GRADE: B+
  • In wild London of 1874, a reclusive scientist obsessively studies human nature (Paul Massie) while his alluring wife (Dawn Addams) is having a questionable relationship with a smooth gambler (Christopher Lee). The sudden appearance of suave Edward Hyde shakes everything up.

    Released in 1960-1961, "The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" (also known as "Jekyll's Inferno" and "House of Fright") is the second of three Hammer films inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's famous story "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." It was preceded by the horror comedy "The Ugly Duckling" (1959) and followed by "Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde" (1971). (Please notice I said they're "inspired by" and not "based on" Stevenson's novella). The twist in this one is reflected in director Terence Fisher's belief that the charm of evil is more interesting than a brutish monster, at least to adults.

    Hence this is more of a psychological horror film as opposed to a creature feature. The theme of the movie, corresponding to Dr. Jekyll's theories (in this version anyway), is that a person's superior self is caged within the individual, shackled by the constraints of societal rules and conventions. He believed the caged person within is the more progressive. Thus Jekyll basically looks like a Neanderthal whereas Hyde looks and behaves like a progressive libertine. The question is: Is the freed hedonist really "progressive" if he/she is morally degenerate?

    Whilst the flick failed at the box office when released, I found its exploration of human nature fascinating. It helps that the film doesn't forget to throw in numerous entertaining bits, like a snake-dance by the athletic Norma Marla, a long can-can sequence and Dawn Addams' witty verbiage, as well as her jaw-dropping scenes in the last act. Interestingly, Marla has only appeared in two movies and they were both Hammer flicks inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's novella.

    LOOK OUT for a young Oliver Reed as a nightclub bouncer in the first act.

    The movie runs 1 hour, 28 minutes and was shot at Bray Studios, just west of London.

    GRADE: B.
An error has occured. Please try again.