Archive for November, 2011

Black Sabbath (Three faces of Fear!)

Posted in Updates on November 23, 2011 by splatterpictures

Well, one good Mario Bava film deserves another seeing as I have a habit of getting into modes where one thing makes me think of another. In our last discussion I chatted about one of Mario Bava’s most famous horrors, Black Sunday. After the huge success of the film, American International Pictures asked Bava for another picture that would be similar in tone. The big difference is that this movie would be shot in colour which would allow Bava to work to all of his strengths, artistically speaking.

 

Released in 1963 in Italy under the title I Tre volti della paura,  or “The Three Faces of Fear,” and then in 1964 to American audiences under the more familiar, Black Sabbath, the film would take the approach of an anthology. Three separate stories framed under the introduction of Boris Karloff. Karloff was a nice feather in the Cap for Bava and it remains one of his best performances towards the end of his career.

 

Each one of the stories is a different flavour of horror, the first of which is called The Telephone and it stars Michele Mercier. Mercier plays Rosy, a woman who starts to get a series of strange and threatening calls (somewhat akin to Black Christmas although a lot less vulgar). Rosy is at her wits end when it’s revealed the person calling is her ex-pimp Frank who has escaped prison. Instead of calling the police, for some reason she calls her ex-lover Mary (the details of them being a former couple are downplayed through editing and re-dubbing of the English version, however). There really isn’t much more to say about the plot without giving away the twist ending, but overall it’s decent. In my opinion, I consider it the worst of the three stories.

 

 

The second tale is the longest and has the benefit of starring Boris Karloff. It’s called The Wurdalak (Vampire) and the story takes place in 19th century Russia where a young man named Vladimir (Mark Damon) comes across the body of a man who has be decapitated and impaled through the heart, and for some reason takes the knife as a souvenir (what is it about people robbing graves and bodies in Bava movies?).

 

Later he comes across a family in a rural cottage who just so happen to know who the owner of the knife is. It’s their father, Gorcha, (Karloff) who shortly returns. Karloff is great in the role of an angry old man who’s been cursed by the vampire. The rest of the story plays out with him systemically stalking his family and turning them into vampires. The most frustrating thing is how senseless some of the characters are. I guess it could be argued that if it was your own family you might not want to believe they can’t be saved, but man, it pretty much ends up where you’d expect.

 

Of all the stories this one seems the most fleshed out and has the added benefit of Karloff in a juicy role that he clearly had a lot of fun with. This is easily the best story out of the three.

 

The final story is called The Drop of Water and stars Jacqueline Pierreux. She plays a nurse that is sent to prepare the corpse of an elderly woman and, while she is prepping the body, she notices that the old woman is wearing a sapphire ring. When nobody is looking, she takes it for herself. She doesn’t need it, right? She finds out that in life the old woman was a medium and no sooner does she take the ring that weird stuff starts happening. The freakiest thing in this entire story is the makeup on the old woman’s face. Well, it really looks more like an entire mask. When I was younger I actually was afraid of the effect, but now she kinda looks hilarious to me. This is by default the second best story of the film. I give more points to Wurdalak because it’s a little more fleshed out and involves a bigger cast.

 

So there you have it, three stories running the gambit of the horror genre. A killer that stalks their victims, vampires, and ghosts: all good stuff. My biggest complaint doesn’t lie with any of the stories but rather the framework around them.

 

Karloff introduces the movie as himself, the actor and explaining that we will be watching three terrifying tales. Well, it’s good that he tells me how many stories there are but don’t you think they could have done a little better than that? Granted none of the stories are related, but I always prefer an anthology that sets up its stories rather than just having them fire off in rapid succession. All the intro really does is pull me out of the movie. It’s not the only time a horror film has done this. Off the top of my head, Frankenstein and even bride of Frankenstein had their cheesy intros (at the least bride’s was actors in character as opposed to some random guy in a suit). Or even The Coffin Joe movie “At Mightnight I’ll Take Your Soul” had a decent,  if not cheesy intro where someone is talking directly to the camera.

 

To make it worse, the film has an outro with Karloff in full costume from The Wurdalak basically saying goodbye. He’s riding a horse with branches beating past him. For no reason whatsoever it pans out, showing he’s on a fake horse infront of a blue screen with people trotting along with branches to make it seem like he’s moving. It even shows the director filming it. I don’t need to be reminded that I’m watching a movie, I know I’m watching a movie. Nothing drives me crazier than when a film breaks the fourth wall. It’s always just been a pet peeve of mine.

 

Overall this is regarded as a classic and is Bava at his best. My only complaint is the intro and outro, but really it’s minor all things considered. Check it out and, as always, thanks for reading!

 

Come give your grandma a kiss!

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Vampyr 1932 (re-visited)

Posted in Horror Showcase, Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2011 by splatterpictures

One of the first posts I ever did was actually much older pieces I did just for facebook. I discussed vampire movies before 1935. I touched on the films Vampyr, which to this day is one of my favourites. I didn’t really give it the credit it deserved because I was still new at this. So if you’ll indulge me I give you Vampyr re-visited. This was posted on HM.ca awhile ago but I wanted you guys to have it too.

 

 

 

When seeking source material in the early days of horror film, vampires seemed as logical a choice then as they are today. Whether it was Universal’s Dracula or F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, vampires have been the subject of many great stories that shock and awe audiences. The mentioned films, of course, are a more obvious and a less obvious interpretation of Bram Stoker’s work. Unfortunately, the problem with movies based off of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is that, no matter what, it has been interpreted and re-interpreted so many times that it’s hard to watch them without feeling like you’ve seen it all before.

 

Bram Stoker was greatly influenced by Sheridan Le Fanu’s short story, Carmilla. Carmilla would not only influence Stoker, but also inspire a number of films such as 1932’s German film, Vampyr.

 

Vampyr was directed by Carl Dryer who also co-wrote the script with Christen Jul and, while they do borrow from Le Fanu’s work, it’s largely an original story. The film stars Nicolas de Gunzburg who also co-produced the film and provided its main source of income. The rest of the cast (due to cost) is rounded out by unknowns or others who weren’t professional actors.

 

The story revolves around Allan Gray (Gunzburg) who is a paranormal researcher that wanders around the countryside studying things related to the occult. His travels take him to the village of Countempierre which is cursed by a vampire named Marguerite Chopin. Marguerite has been a plague on the village for a long time now, having taken control of most of the villagers who now act as her minions. The leader of these underlings is the town doctor who does most of Marguerite’s dirty work.

 

The vampire has targeted a lone Chateau in the village that is run by an old lord with his two young daughters, Léon and Giséle. During Gray’s stay at this creepy hotel, which seems to be the bastion of the vampire and her servants, the old lord of the manor comes to him in the night and begs for his help, but then quickly leaves. Gray follows the vampire’s minions and witnesses them shoot the old man in the back.

 

It soon becomes pretty clear that, while the people in the manor are aware that something is going on, only the lord seemed to know it was the curse of a vampire. When he visited Gray in the night, he left behind a book that was to be opened upon his death, a book that tells the story of Vampires and Marguerite Chopin.

 

In this world, vampires are servants of the devil that prey on children and young adults. Once bitten, they are cursed and will be driven to kill themselves so that their souls will go to the devil and, though Allan wants to help them, none seem to have much drive to do anything. The eldest daughter, Léon, is eventually taken over by Marguerite’s spell and is bitten, opening her up to the evil of the curse. In probably one of the creepiest scenes in the entire movie, she grins manically and looks about the room.

 

Her younger sister Giséle and even Allan seem totally aloof through the entire film, just blankly walking from one scene to the next, unable to figure out what to do. It’s not until the lord’s head servant reads the book that he discovers the curse can be ended if they find Marguerite Chopin’s grave and drive an iron stake (yeah iron none of that wood crap) into her heart.

 

Eventually the servant locates the grave and ,with Allan`s help (and by help I mean he moves some wood planks that are handed to him), they put an end to the curse once and for all. After the spell is broken, the bulk of the villagers and Léon are freed from the vampires spell. The worst of the henchman, though, are taken out by the spirit of the old lord of the manor in probably the most confusing death scene I’ve ever seen. Seriously, the evil doctor is chased into a flour mill by the superimposed face of the deceased lord, causing him to get smothered and die in the flour.

 

Sounds like a pretty straight forward plot doesn’t it? Let me tell you, Dryer was well known as an eccentric filmmaker and it shows throughout this entire movie from the strange collection of characters that pass from one scene into the next. Through shots of the farmers digging in reverse, disembodied shadows acting on their own along walls, and the purposeful blurring of the camera lens, Dryer relentlessly tries to disorient you. Allan is supposed to be someone lost in his own world and whose reality blurs with fantasy, something Dryer conveys through many different scenes that are, without a doubt, the most confusing but brilliant moments of the film.

 

One scene, in particular, was taken from Allan’s point of view in which he is locked in a casket with a convenient viewing window and carried off. When watching it for the first time, I remember not understanding if what I was seeing was real or something that Allan was just imagining. And that’s the point! To leave the audience uncertain, even confused… and it works! By the time the film ends, you aren’t really sure if what you just watched was supposed to be accepted as real or not.

 

Since this was Dryer’s first sound picture, there are strong indications of his background in silent movies. It showcases fantastic shadow use and minimal dialogue, but that was really more about the cost of sound editing. Ultimately, though, it serves to enhance the bizarre dreamlike mood of the entire film.

 

Anyone who is curious should absolutely check this movie out. I will, however, warn that you should go into it understanding that you will probably be confused and maybe even frustrated at times. But really, with a 73 minute runtime you can’t go wrong.

 

I’ll see you next time and thanks for reading!

 

Now to see what all the fuss is about this "Twilight"

 

 

Black Sunday (1960)

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2011 by splatterpictures

It’s funny that when you think about the major studio horror productions of the 1930’s and 40’s where even the slightest thing that could be considered blasphemous would be edited or cut altogether. A great example of this would be Universal’s Frankenstein.

As the decades moved forward and we hit the 60’s censorship laws had loosened enough to start pushing the boundaries. The U.K’s Hammer productions already had this stuff covered with their take on Dracula, but when it comes to really stepping it up, you can always count on some great stuff coming out of Italy. Keeping Italy in mind, today we’re going to tackle Mario Bava’s Black Sunday AKA the Mask of Satan.

Black Sunday was released in 1960 and was written by Ennio de Concini and Mario Serandrei. Serandrei would work with Bava again three years later on the movie Black Sabbath, starring Boris Karloff.

Bava did assist in the writing and they had all originally intended to adapt the Nikolai Gogol’s 1865 story Viy. They eventually only took small elements of this tale and somehow turned it into a Vampire flick.

The story starts off in 17th century Moldavia where a princess named Asa (played by soon to be iconic scream queen Barbara Steele) is condemned to die for Satanism and Vampirism. Her assistant (although it was her brother in the original Italian cut) Javuto is also condemned and they both have spiky masks of Satan hammered into their faces. While Asa is burned alive she places a curse against her descendants

The film jumps forward 200 years and we’re introduced to the older and wiser Dr. Thomas Kurvajan and the young Dr. Andre Gorobec played by John Richardson. While traveling through the Russian countryside their carrage breaks down and they decide to go exploring. They come across an ancient crypt and rummage through it finding Asa’s grave. Everything is going fine until Dr. Kurvajan is attacked by a giant bat. It’s honestly so random. He actually pulls out a gun and shoots it but in the process is cut and of course it lands on Asa’s grave. (I like how in these vampire movies, the smallest cuts bleed like a faucet.)

Well Asa gains enough power to resurrect her servant Javuto. There is a great scene where he is rising from his grave. They set out to get revenge on their own ancestors who were the ones to condemn them. Asa also wants to become fully resurrected by taking over the body of her descendant Katia (also played by Barbara Steele) that’s basically the plot.

The interesting thing is how much of a throwback to the gothic horrors of the 1930’s and 40’s this movie feels like. The great thing about it really is how it has a nostalgic feel that those movies had, with the fog and all of the grand architecture but it has the benefit of being made in 1960. By benefit I mean the scenes take it a step beyond the older films that it emulates in terms of gore. Iconic images of Asa’s empty sockets crawling with scorpions in one scene and then maggots in another or the close-up on a man’s face while he burns in a fireplace and many more fantastic special effects really make Black Sunday Standout. Not to mention the subject of Satanism was able to be the focal point of the story.

Some awkward cues for me were a lot of oddball moments. There’s a point in the movie where Andrea is at an Inn and asks a lady for a horse so that he can get to Prince Vajda’s castle quickly and before he goes it just stops to check himself in the mirror. I always just found that hilarious. Another weird moment is when the curtain catches on fire. I know that it’s there so that they can find a secret passage by chance but it’s just so random. The last one I’ll mention that really makes me laugh is when Katia faints after seeing her father’s neck wound so Andrea picks her up and along with her brother Constantine carry her to her bed. While she is unconscious in his arms he just checks her out, noticing how beautiful she is…unconscious. The scene was probably supposed to be sweet or maybe even sexy but it comes off as pretty damn creepy to me.

The musical cues are also kind of off for me. There are plenty of moments where music is used to enhance a scene but there are others where it just seems odd. Like long reaction shots where not a lot is actually happening. Maybe they used the music to try and get those scenes to be a little more interesting. That being said during the films climax where Andrea and Javuto are fighting to the death, there is literally no music. Just a lot of awkward grunting and the sounds of scuffling. Maybe it was just the version I had.

While it does follow the same formula as a lot of other vampire films of the day it also has a lot of unique elements that really make it fun to watch. It easily could have been made in colour but the decision to keep it black and white is what made a lot of the films atmosphere and special effects possible. If you’re looking for some classic horror and you haven’t checked this one out I recommend you do so. I’ll see you next time. Thanks for reading.

"With the blast shield down I can hardly see? How am I supposed to fight?"