Dracula: Hammer Edition 🦇

The Brides of Dracula – 1960, UK, 86m. Director: Terence Fisher. Streaming: Prime

Dracula A.D. 1972 – 1972, UK, 96m. Director: Alan Gibson. Streaming: Max

Dracula: Prince of Darkness1966, UK, 90m. Director: Terence Fisher. Streaming: N/A

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave – 1968, UK, 91m. Director: Freddie Francis. Streaming: Max

Horror of Dracula – 1958, UK, 82m. Director: Terence Fisher. Streaming: Max/Prime, Max/Hulu

The Satanic Rites of Dracula – 1973, UK, 87m. Director: Alan Gibson. Streaming: Shout! TV, Tubi

Scars of Dracula – 1970, UK 95m. Director: Roy Ward Baker. Streaming: N/A

Taste the Blood of Dracula – 1970, UK, 95m. Director: Peter Sasdy. Streaming: N/A

HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) (AKA: Dracula) The first, and best, in the Hammer Dracula series, which, along with The Curse of Frankenstein the year earlier, made international stars out of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. After arriving at Castle Dracula in Romania, Harker (John Van Eyssen), under the guise of a librarian, reveals himself to be a vampire hunter, with a mission to destroy Count Dracula (Lee). Overcome by the Count and his vampire bride (Valerie Gaunt), Harker is ultimately turned into one of the undead and later vanquished by friend and colleague, Dr. Van Helsing (Cushing). Returning to his village, Van Helsing finds himself too late as Dracula has already taken a bite out of Harker’s fiancée, Lucy (Carol Marsh). The first adaptation of Dracula to be shot in color, this lean, robust film is filled with excellent performances, tight direction, and terrific action, including a spectacular demise of the Count in sunlight. Horror of Dracula is simply the best version of the Stoker tale after the 1931 Bela Lugosi classic. A

THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) A loose sequel to Horror of Dracula that’s a continuation of the Van Helsing character played wonderfully in both films by Peter Cushing. The destruction of Count Dracula in the earlier chapter may have left Transylvania free of the monster but the land still crawls with vampires. While traveling through the decrepit countryside, a French school teacher (Yvonne Monlaur) is welcomed into the home of a kind Baroness (Martita Hunt), unaware her son (David Peel) is a vampire. Monlaur manages to escape and is aided by Prof. Van Helsing (Cushing) to protect a nearby all-girls’ school, which Peel has target to select his new brides from. This lacks the punch of its predecessor but delivers an intriguing story and good, well-written characters. Peel is no Christopher Lee but is charismatic enough to carry most of the film—he’s foiled by the scene-stealing Hunt in a rare role usually occupied by more youthful, bimbo-esque actresses. A colorful Hammer vampire epic with a corker of an ending. B+

DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) It’s been ten years since Dracula was destroyed by Van Helsing at the end of Horror of Dracula. The nearby villagers still live in fear of vampires and stake the recently deceased through the heart as a precaution. This doesn’t stop a group of British travelers from spending the night in Castle Dracula where they’re greeted by Klove (Philip Latham), who claims to serve Count Dracula even after his death. The family are eventually dispatched by the servant, with their blood used to bring Dracula (Christopher Lee) back to life—the scene where one of the party is strung up feet-first, has his throat slit, and bleeds out over Dracula’s ashes is particularly gruesome. The survivors of Dracula’s return find refuge in a monastery, which houses a Van Helsing-like monk (Andrew Keir) whose knowledge of vampires is useful in sending Dracula back to Hell. Lee’s return to the role of Dracula after an eight year absence is both welcoming and underwhelming. That’s not to say Dracula: Prince of Darkness isn’t good, because it is, but to a fault. The plot essentially becomes a repeat of both Horror of Dracula and the Dracula-less (and superior) Brides of Dracula dressed up in more blood and shot in beautiful anamorphic widescreen. The climactic battle on a frozen lake is excellent. B

DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) A small village trying to put the pieces back together after Dracula’s reign of terror a year earlier is visited by the Monsignor (Rupert Davies), who discovers the place still lives in fear of the Count. The village is now spiritually defenseless after the local priest (Ewan Hooper) has become disillusioned, a matter made worse when Monsignor, in an act of holy authority, ventures to Castle Dracula to exorcise it only to accidentally resurrect Dracula (Christopher Lee). This being a Hammer movie, the Monsignor is supplied with a busty niece (Veronica Carlson), who Dracula sets his blood-shot eyes on, but not if her square-jawed, atheist beau (Barry Andrews) has anything to say about it. There’s a bit more character development in this one, with an interesting subplot dealing with Dracula’s betrayal of a barmaid (Barbara Ewing, who’s excellent) who’s not only thrown under the bus by the Count but by society. Lee gets more screen time here and he’s foiled nicely in Freddie Francis’s slick direction, which is handsomely mixed with vibrant, Mario Bava-esque lighting/coloring. Good stuff. B+

TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970) A traveling salesman (Roy Kinnear), who’s witness to the destruction of Dracula (Christopher Lee) at the end of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, takes it upon himself to take a vile of the Count’s blood. He later sells Dracula’s blood, along with cloak and ring, to a mysterious Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates) who’s promised three disinterested fat cats excitement in the form of a Black Mass. When offered to drink Dracula’s blood, the trio cower and kill Courtley out of fear, but not before Dracula is resurrected and goes about seeking revenge. Dracula immediately bewitches the beautiful daughter (Linda Hayden) of one of the wealthy gentlemen to kill her father not before she becomes Dracula’s love servant, helping him take a bite out of the local lasses. It’s evident here the Hammer Draculas were starting to show some wear and tear with recycled subplots and characters from previous films in the series. Lee gets less screen time than in the other movies and doesn’t have a whole lot to do—the boring Hayden isn’t much help. In the end, Taste the Blood of Dracula is well-made and entertaining enough, but it never achieves the heights of its predecessors. Peter Cushing is sorely missed. C+

SCARS OF DRACULA (1970) A drop of blood from a bat brings Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) back from the dust, so to speak. A mob torches Dracula’s castle after the discovery of a village girl with bite marks on her neck, only little do they know Drac has escaped and wiped out an entire congregation in gory fashion—one poor barmaid has her eye gouged out, which dangles from the socket in gruesome detail. On the run from an angry aristocrat, whose daughter he recently bedded, a young man by the name of Paul (Christopher Matthews) stumbles upon Castle Dracula and is invited to spend the night by the Count. In an interesting twist on the Bram Stoker novel, Paul becomes the Jonathan Harker character as Dracula’s prisoner, and Paul’s disappearance subsequently sparks an investigation by Paul’s brother (Dennis Waterman) and his fiancée (Jenny Hanley). A lot gorier than the previous films in the series, and Lee gets more screen time (and dialogue). The characters are likable, which helps to generate some suspense along the way. There’s also a clever bit where Dracula’s resting place can only be accessed through a window on the cliff side of the castle. Scar of Dracula may be imperfect but it’s a solid entry in the series and much better than Taste the Blood of Dracula. B

DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) To appeal to a more youthful audience, Hammer transported its most prized film series to the swinging seventies by introducing the viewer to a group of mod youngsters dabbling in black magic. Persuaded by Johnny Alacard (Christopher Neame) to perform a black mass using the ashes of Dracula (collected by Alacard’s ancestor, a follower of Dracula, in 1872), his friends become witness, and ultimately victims, to the Count’s (Christopher Lee) return. But it’s the great granddaughter of his arch nemesis whom Dracula wants, Jessica Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), which Alacard helps Dracula in achieving in hopes of immortality. Peter Cushing’s return to the series after a 12 year hiatus is a sight for sore eyes, although here he plays the grandchild of his Van Helsing character from the earlier films. He gets more screen time than Lee, who’s pushed to the back-burner from the result of Dracula not being able to leave the church grounds he was resurrected from because of deconsecration. A shame considering the sight of Dracula walking about Piccadilly Circus and other famous London landmarks would have given the film the pop it was so desperately striving for—something the next chapter, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, does better. That shouldn’t prevent fans from enjoying this bit of schlocky entertainment. B

THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973) (AKA: Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride) The British Secret Service have infiltrated a secret Satanic sect, which several prominent members of upper crust London society are involved in. After an Agent witnesses the murder and resurrection of a woman by the Satanists, the government calls in Prof. Lorrimore Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), a descendant of Abraham, to help them with their supernatural head-scratcher. Van Helsing discovers the Satanic sect is working for Dracula (Christopher Lee)—disguised as a wealthy agoraphobic named Denham—by blackmailing scientists into developing a new strain of deadly virus that’ll wipe out most of humanity, but not before the Count makes Van Helsing’s granddaughter (Joanna Lumley) one of his brides. Although this wasn’t Hammer’s last Dracula film, it was Lee’s final appearance in the series—Lee later returned to the role of the Count in the unrelated French comedy Dracula and Son. The plot is a whole lotta hubbub, but director Alan Gibson moves the action at a fast pace and delivers several savory scenes of mayhem, including a cellar crawling with Dracula’s hungry wives. As always, Cushing and Lee are in fine form. The Satanic Rites of Dracula might not be the best of the Hammer Draculas, but it’s by far not the worst. B

As of this writing The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is unavailable for viewing.

🎃 Some Vampire Movies for Halloween 🎃

Bram Stoker’s Dracula – 1992, US, 127m. Director: Francis Ford Coppela. Streaming: N/A

Count Yorga, Vampire – 1970, US, 92m. Director: Bob Kelljan. Streaming: N/A

Dracula – 1979, UK, 110m. Director: John Badham. Streaming: Peacock

House of Dark Shadows – 1970, US, 97m. Director: Dan Curtis. Streaming: N/A

Innocent Blood – 1992, US, 116m. Director: John Landis. Streaming: N/A

Stake Land – 2010, US, 98m. Director: Jim Mickle. Streaming: Peacock

Subspecies – 1991, US/Romania, 84m. Director: Ted Nicolaou. Streaming: Tubi

Vampire Circus – 1972, UK, 83m. Director: Robert Young. Streaming: Tubi

Vampires – 1998, Japan/US, 108m. Director: John Carpenter. Streaming: AMC/Prime

BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) It’s not clear whether Dracula author Bram Stoker would have approved of this inaccurate but lavish adaptation of his classic novel. In an effort to bring audiences a more “modern” take on the century-old tale, director Francis Ford Coppola and writer James V. Hart borrowed heavily from the speculative 1972 book In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires, which suggests Dracula was a real person—a 15th century Romanian ruler called Vlad the Impaler. In the film, Vlad (Gary Oldman), after returning from war and discovering his wife dead from suicide, curses himself and his family line by swearing off God for all eternity. Hundreds of years later—now a hideous creature of the night known as Count Dracula—Vlad travels from Transylvania to London, where he falls in love with Mina Murray (Winona Ryder), who Drac believes is the reincarnation of his wife. (Reincarnation is not a plot point from the Stoker novel, but the majority of post-sixties Dracula-inspired films used it as a major subplot, which as far as I’m concerned is a Dark Shadows creation.) Despite the flaky approach to the material—and the questionable casting of Ryder, who often seems out of her depth—this is an undeniably entertaining film filled with rich visual trickery and spectacular makeup FX by Greg Cannom, and Anthony Hopkins nails it as a spirited Van Helsing. The movie’s massive box office ultimately helped with the release of Interview with the Vampire (a better film) two years later. B

COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970) (AKA: The Loves of Count Iorga, Vampire) After arriving in Los Angeles, European transplant Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) tries to woo his new upscale friends with his old-world charm by hosting a séance. Unbeknownst to those involved, Yorga is actually a vampire who’s looking for a third bride to add to his collection of undead wives. Yorga successfully seduces and bites Erica (Judith Lang) and, to the horror of her boyfriend (Michael Murphy), slowly transforms her into a cat-eating creature of the night. Originally conceived as an idea for a porno, Count Yorga, Vampire is a surprisingly intelligent and handsome retelling of the Dracula legend—a wealthy Count takes residence in a foreign, freethinking country, victimizes the local women, and keeps others imprisoned with the help of his Renfield-like assistant—for more modern, New Age audiences. The characters are smart, the pacing is excellent, and the suspense plentiful. In an iconic performance, Quarry is first-rate in one of, if not the best vampire films of the early seventies. Followed by The Return of Count Yorga. B+

DRACULA (1979) John Badham’s lavish but ultimately disappointing update of the Stoker tale moves the action to 1913, but at its core it’s just a remake of the popular stage play and the 1931 film. Ironically, as with Bela Lugosi in the original adaptation, Frank Langella revisits the role of the Count, which he undertook in the stage production revival a year earlier (Langella was nominated for a Tony for his performance). Ignoring the Transylvania scenes entirely, Badham’s Dracula opens in the midst of the creature’s journey to England. After arriving at the picturesque coastal village of Whitby, Dracula takes up residence at Carfax Abbey and makes his move on the neighboring Seward family, lorded over by Dr. Seward (Donald Pleasance), who runs the local sanitarium. After turning Mina Van Helsing (Jan Francis) into one of the undead, Dracula seduces Seward’s daughter, Lucy (Kate Nelligan), into being his new eternal bride of the night, but is thwarted by Lucy’s fiancé, Harker (Trevor Eve), and good old Prof. Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier). A tight script and an undeniably seductive performance by Langella help the film rise above the familiar story—as does the incredible set designs and beautiful country locations. Pleasance is warm, but Nelligan is too cold to muster sympathy for, and Olivier phones in his silly one-note performance. Renfield (Tony Haygarth), here downgraded to an unimportant supporting character, is missed. B

HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970) The drunken groundskeeper (John Karlen) of the great Collinwood Estate believes he’s found hidden treasure, but instead unearths 200-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid). Disguising himself as a cousin from England, Barnabas sets up shop at Collinwood where he bewitches the family, turns young Carolyn (Nancy Barrett) into a lovelorn vampire servant, and falls in love with governess Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) whom Barnabas believes is the reincarnation of his lost love. House of Dark Shadows is essentially a truncated version of the Barnabas storyline from the classic sixties television show, Dark Shadows—a daytime soap opera that used famous horror movie motifs as its central structure. Directed by the show’s creator, Dan Curtis, the film is handsomely photographed—a nice departure from the washed-out look of the series (the show was recorded live on videotape)—and well-acted, including Frid who stands out in a role that didn’t give him much to work with on TV, but here delivers a terrific performance. The climactic “vampire wedding” finale is both gorgeous and gruesome. Followed by Night of Dark Shadows. B+

INNOCENT BLOOD (1992) Marie (Anne Parillaud) is hungry. As Innocent Blood opens, Marie informs the viewer through voiceover narration—and in nothing but her svelte birthday suit—that she hasn’t eaten in six days. And by eating I mean drinking blood. Marie, you see, is a vampire—but she’s a good vampire who only feasts on those she feels deserves to die. Luckily for Marie, she finds an unsavory individual named Sallie “The Shark” Macelli (Robert Loggia), a high-up mob boss Marie targets for her next meal (“I’m in the mood for Italian,” she declares). Marie is interrupted by Sallie’s goons while feasting on him and ultimately ends up transforming Sallie into one of the blood-sucking undead. Soon Pittsburgh is overloaded with goodfella bloodsuckers and it’s up to Marie and cop/love interest Anthony LaPaglia to stop them. John Landis’s splattery follow-up to An American Werewolf in London is not as good as that classic, but does offer the viewer several merits of gruesomeness, including countless torn-off limbs and chewed up throats that erupt like geysers—all expertly handled by FX artist Steve Johnson. The cast is excellent, but their characters feel mostly like stale leftovers from The Godfather. Parillaud is charming but vapid, and LaPaglia doesn’t have the chops to pull off the “big city tough cop” act. Even at its worst, Innocent Blood is harmless fun. C+

STAKE LAND (2010) In an interesting twist on the vampire movie, Stake Land presents its fanged subjects as more of an end-of-the-world plague, in vein of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, but by way of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Vampires have taken over the world and turned America into a war zone; militias run large patches of land and don’t take kindly to strangers. Because vampires aren’t enough to contend with, there are also murderous cults and cannibals running amok. At the center of the story is roughneck Mister (Nick Damici), who takes on newly-orphaned Martin (Connor Paolo) as a sidekick. Much like shooting zombies in the head, Mister teaches Martin the importance of a stake to a vampire heart, along with several other fight tricks. In their search for salvation, Mister and Martin come across several other survivors, including a pregnant country girl (Danielle Harris) and a former nun (Kelly McGillis). There’s more of a focus on character than gore, and for most of the time it pulls the viewer in. Scenes of desolate landscapes and rampant death give the film an authentic apocalyptic vibe, despite the small budget. A voiceover narration supplied by Martin comes off as unnecessary and conspicuous, and an unresolved ending leaves one feeling a little lost. But that was most likely the point of this bleak but honest movie. Followed by The Stakelander. B

SUBSPECIES (1991) In present day Romania, an old vampire (Angus Scrimm, in an oversized fright wig) is murdered by his evil son Radu (Anders Hove) in order to obtain his father’s precious Bloodstone. Radu’s plan is hampered by his brother, Stefan (Michael Watson), who not only wishes to take rightful ownership of the family castle but keep the murderous Radu away from the Bloodstone, which can grant special powers. There isn’t a whole lot of plot happening in Subspecies, as a good chunk of the script is focused on Radu’s stalking and feasting on three grad students. This is intermixed with the centuries-old battle between Evil Radu and Good Stefan, which because of the film’s low budget means we get a lot of talky scenes of Radu taunting Stefan and then running off into the night. Subspecies does have the distinction of being the first American-produced movie to be shot entirely in Bucharest, and the place’s Old World atmosphere helps pull the viewer in, even when the story isn’t working, which unfortunately is quite often. There’s a dull romance between Stefan and one of the American students that never feels believable. Two female victims of Radu inexplicably have their breasts exposed, with one woman tied up in a dungeon and tormented by Radu’s pint-sized minions. The make-up effects by Greg Cannom (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) are really the only noteworthy things about this film. Unless you’re a die hard vampire completist, Subspecies is an easy pass. C

VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972) Fifteen years after vanquishing a vampire (Robert Tayman) and burning down its castle, a plague-ravaged village is visited by a mysterious traveling circus. The village, which seems to be occupied primarily by dolts, believes the attraction to be nothing but a welcoming distraction from the disease—the witnessing of an animal transforming into a man does little to persuade the villagers into thinking there’s something supernatural afoot. The circus, you see, is actually a family of shapeshifting vampires, seeking revenge for the destruction of Tayman by sacrificing the townsfolk’s children in order to bring the vamp back to undead life. Slick and slightly entertaining, but a lack of a sympathetic protagonist keeps a lot of the film from reaching the heights of earlier (and better) Hammer productions. Filled with bared breasts, blood-dripping fangs, and overwrought melodrama. In other words, a typical seventies Hammer flick. C+

VAMPIRES (1998) Killing vampires is not an easy job. It’s such hard work that supreme vampire slayer, Jack Crow (James Woods), and his merry team of badasses throw a big celebration after their destruction of a vampire nest in the New Mexico desert. Having failed to secure the crime scene, Jack and his posse are attacked by the nest’s Master vamp (Thomas Ian Griffith), who takes a bite out of a hooker (Sheryl Lee) and turns her into a half-vampire, half-human with a psychic link to the Master. This proves useful to Jack when he discovers the Master might be the original source of all vampires and is searching for a tool called the Black Cross that can allow all vamps to walk in the sunlight. John Carpenter’s first and only vampire film is an enjoyable, if not fully successful, variation on the modern western; Wood’s gunslinging “cowboy” works in conjunction with Griffith’s outsider, threatening to take over the land of the good people. Although, it’s the horror/vampire elements that make the film work—and when they do Vampires delivers exceptionally good splatter from the fine folks at KNB EFX—the gruesome dispatch of Mark Boone Junior is a highlight. B

The Curious Case of the Howling Sequels

Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf – 1985, UK/US, 90m. Director: Philippe Mora

The Howling III – 1987, Australia, 94m. Director: Philippe Mora

Howling IV: The Original Nightmare – 1988, UK, 91m. Director: John Hough

Howling V: The Rebirth – 1989, Hungary/UK, 95m. Director: Neal Sundstrom

Howling VI: The Freaks – 1991, UK, 101m. Director: Hope Perello

Howling: New Moon Rising – 1995, UK, 90m. Director: Roger Nall, Clive Turner

HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF (1985) The brother of Karen White (played by Dee Wallace in the first Howling) is told by “occult investigator” Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee) that Karen was a werewolf—and the removal of the silver bullet that killed her, prior to her funeral, has reawakened her. Big bro, Ben (Reb Brown), doesn’t believe Stefan—I guess he didn’t see the live newscast at the end of the Dante film—until he witnesses Karen’s hairy resurrection at the church. Ben then joins Stefan, along with Lois Lane wannabe, Jenny (Annie McEnroe), in a quest to destroy all werewolves. Luckily for them, the next full moon marks the tenth millennial birthday of Stirba (Sybil Danning), the Werewolf Queen of Transylvania, at which point all the were-people of the world will be revealed. Why this event happens and how Stefan plans to wipe out the entire werewolf population is never explained—one of the many plot holes that make Howling II the Swiss cheese of bad werewolf flicks. The movie ignores the plot points of the first film and creates a confusing mythology of werewolf lore that never makes sense, such as why garlic works at warding off werewolves, and what Transylvania has to do with anything. One has to wonder if the Old World atmosphere of the Prague filming locations was more convenience than any show of expertise on the part of the filmmakers. Truly terrible, this is an easy contender for the Worst Sequel award. Not even the sight of Chris Lee in punk rock sunglasses is worth sitting through this howler. D

THE HOWLING III (1987) Werewolves are being sighted around the world—well, mostly in Australia, where a sociologist (Barry Otto) is trying to prove their existence. Meanwhile, a young woman (Imogen Annesley) escapes from a backwoods Outback clan of inbred werewolves and ends up in Sydney, where she’s immediately cast in a horror movie called Shapeshifters Part 8! But that’s not all—there’s also a trio of werewolf hitmen nuns, and a defected Russian ballerina who transforms into a wolf while performing on stage. Ignoring the first two Howlings, this third entry in the series is so set in its weird and wacky nature that when the story tries for real drama—werewolf/human relations, anyone?—it descends into overt silliness. Having nothing to do with Gary Brandner’s book, The Howling III: Echoes, this Howling III is stupefyingly dull and loaded with uninteresting characters, chintzy werewolf FX, and lots of plot padding. Only slightly better than Howling II, but what isn’t? D

HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE (1988) As the title suggests, this fourth entry goes back to the original source material of Gary Brandner’s first Howling novel, and ends up being a remake of the 1981 film. Writer Marie (Romy Windsor) lives a busy life in Los Angeles—that is, until she begins having terrifying visions of a nun turning into a demonic wolf. Marie’s husband, Richard (Michael T. Weiss), decides she needs a rest away from city life. He takes her to a cabin in the wilderness, which just happens to border a small, dusty town with a grumpy sheriff who speaks in a Southern accent—in a little bit of foreshadowing, he dismisses Marie’s concerns of howling in the middle of the night. Marie’s constant paranoia turns Richard into a hotheaded jerk, which sends him into the bed of the town’s Marsha-like vamp (Lamya Derval), but by that point it’s too late, as the werewolves begin crawling out of the woodwork. The straightforward plot is refreshing after the incoherent Howling II and III. Unfortunately, Original Nightmare is so steeped in a subplot about the mysterious town that the word “werewolf” is not even mentioned until an hour into its 90-plus minutes. Windsor makes a likable protagonist, and Steven Johnson supplies the climax with some impressive makeup FX, but this is just another cut-and-paste sequel to a superior film. The silly freeze-frame ending—a staple of many eighties horror movies—is a drag. Filmed mostly in South Africa. C

HOWLING V: THE REBIRTH (1989) A medieval Hungarian castle with a mysterious past reopens to the public in present day Budapest, and a group of specifically selected tourists are the first people to step inside the building in over 500 years. It isn’t much of a surprise when a werewolf arrives and makes lunch out of the guests. The situation worsens when a snowstorm traps everybody inside the castle overnight, and the movie turns into a hairy version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. In terms of production value and acting, The Rebirth is one of the better of the Howling sequels, and with a good performance by recognizable character actor, Phil Davis. But too many cutaways from the wolf, mixed with stiff editing, leave the viewer wondering if the filmmakers were intentionally trying to cover up their low budget. This does get points for its whodunit (or, whodawolf?) storyline, and the good cast helps with the slow pacing. Sadly, there isn’t enough meat on these bones to sink your fangs into. This takes more from The Beast Must Die than any of Gary Brandner’s Howling books. C

HOWLING VI: THE FREAKS (1991) Gary Brandner must have made a good chunk of change off these Howling movies. Despite the fact Howling VI: The Freaks is about as far removed from Brandner’s novels as it gets, this film still credits the author as being the inspiration. The plot this time involves a traveling carnival of morbid curiosities, run by the flamboyant Harker (Bruce Payne), whose sideshow includes the typical human oddities like the alligator man and the chicken-head-ripping geek. When Harker discovers mysterious drifter, Ian (Brendan Hughes), is actually a werewolf, he captures the young man and forces him into his menagerie of human creatures. It turns out Harker is actually some sort of vampiric monster himself, who frames Ian for a series of vicious murders—thereby turning the local redneck town against Ian and keeping him chained up as a sideshow freak. Character and story take center stage, and, along with good FX work by Steve Johnson and some actual suspense, Howling VI ends up being the best of the sequels. But, in the end, it’s just another lackluster, albeit above average, Howling, with not nearly enough wolf action. C+

HOWLING: NEW MOON RISING (1995) The title might sound like a new chapter, but this is another incredibly lame sequel connected to the previous films in the never-ending series. A cluster of cattle-slaughters in a small town seems to be the work of a wild animal. The decayed body of a woman is discovered close by and is identified as the werewolf character from Howling V. But more animalistic mutilations follow, with a nearby priest/occult expert believing the spirit of the deceased werewolf has body-jumped into another person. Suspicion falls on a mysterious drifter who’s taken a job at the local redneck bar—but if you’ve seen one or more of these movies you know it’s probably not him. Because of her experiences in Howling IV, the priest thinks the author, Marie (Romy Windsor), can help with the case, but she ends up getting thrown off a balcony and dies. Her connection to the current werewolf plot is never explained. The werewolf reveals themself during the last five minutes, but by that point you won’t give a shit. The werewolf transformation scene is a joke. All of this is intermixed with mundane dialogue and endless scenes of line dancing to really atrocious country music. Lowest common denominator filmmaking—this makes Howling II look good by comparison. F

All the Howling sequels are currently streaming on Tubi. For my review of Joe Dante’s original, The Howling, please go here!

32 Years Later and Tremors is Still the Best Monster Movie Ever

Tremors, 1990

There isn’t a more perfect monster movie than 1990’s TREMORS. In the small, geographically isolated town of Perfection Valley, just outside of the Sierra Nevada mountains, people and animals start turning up dead – not just dead, but torn to pieces. While trying to change their unfulfilled lives by leaving town, best buds and all-around handymen, Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward), stumble upon a couple of murdered road workers just outside of Perfection and head back to warn their friends. Soon they, along with spunky seismology student, Rhonda (Finn Carter), discover that the recent string of deaths were caused by giant, worm-like creatures that travel underground. The trio try to seek help, only to realize the monsters have trapped them in Perfection.

Having to fend for themselves, Val, Earl, Rhonda, and a handful of residents arm themselves with guns, thanks to local married couple and hardcore survivalists, Burt (Michael Gross) and Heather (Reba McEntire). Rhonda eventually figures out the creatures can only move through the loose valley soil, attracted to their prey by vibrations and sound. As the animals – dubbed “graboids” – slowly tear the town to shreds, Earl gets the idea of using a nearby bulldozer to carry everyone safely to the mountains. But when the graboids wise up, it puts a damper on the humans’ plans just as they’re about to reach safety.

What sets Tremors apart from the glut of similarly-themed Weird Monster Movies is its pitch perfect script by S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, and director Ron Underwood. Seamlessly blending comedy and suspense, the film is impeccably designed to work on all levels, and in doing so creates a truly original and infectiously fun movie. The awesome cast undeniably heightens the story, as the actors make the characters their own, including Bacon, Ward, Carter, and especially Gross who steals all his scenes as the know-it-all but lovable Burt. Everyone works well together and has great chemistry, making many of the scenes more intense – these are characters you don’t want to get eaten! As with the best of genre movies, you want to be a part of this world, even if that means being chased by mutant, underground worms.

But what really makes Tremors stand head-and-shoulders above the rest is its endless energy; from beginning to end the film doesn’t have a dull or needless moment. Everything about it works, including the authentic excitement the viewer feels when the monsters break out from underground and set their bloodthirsty tentacles on unsuspecting would-be victims. Underwood keeps the monster attacks tight and thrilling with lightening-quick pacing and unpredictable moments.

A quartet of college friends seeking last minute fun on their sun-filled vacation get more than they bargained for in the 2008 survival shocker, THE RUINS. On their final days at a Mexican resort, two couples, Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and Amy (Jena Malone), and Eric (Shawn Ashmore) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey), are invited by friendly German tourist, Mathias (Joe Anderson), to check out uncharted Mayan ruins. While Amy wants to be lazy in the hotel before their flight home the next day, pre-med student, Jeff, wants to soak in some local culture, so the four join Mathias on his adventure.

After trekking through thick jungle, the group arrives at a pyramid-like structure covered in weird, green vines. Thinking they’ve hit pay dirt, the friends are shocked when they’re surrounded by hostile locals who threaten them with violence, refusing to let them leave the ruins. Jeff and company are forced to the top of the pyramid while the locals keep guard at the bottom. It’s at the top of the mysterious structure that they find several desiccated bodies wrapped in the green vines, as well as an entryway inside the building. Very quickly, the desperate gang discovers the plants covering the structure are alive and thirsty for blood.

A rather silly premise works well here, thanks to tight direction from Carter Smith, and a suspenseful screenplay adapted by Scott Smith from his own novel. The characters seem real and their plight is handled well by the cast, including Tucker and Malone, both of whom are sympathetic and tough. Credit should be given to Smith for not shying away from the red stuff and delivering some truly cringeworthy moments of self-mutilation.

If you like boats, underwater monsters, and gore, then you’ll love 1998’s DEEP RISING. Sort of a hybrid of Die Hard and Aliens, the movie introduces us to a boatload of mercenaries being taken by hired driver, Finnegan (Treat Williams), to some remote islands in the South China Sea. Finnegan’s nosy mechanic, Joey (Kevin J. O’Connor), stumbles upon the mercenaries’ secret missiles in storage, and before you can say MacGuffin, Finnegan’s boat hits another vessel and stalls out. When they come across a luxury cruise ship just floating in the water, Finnegan and gang think they’ve lucked out, only to find the massive vessel devoid of power and completely empty of humans.

While searching the ship, they come across a handful of people, including the ship’s captain, Canton (Anthony Heald), and resourceful pickpocket, Trillian (Famke Janssen). Finnegan eventually discovers Canton is in cahoots with the mercenaries to destroy the ship as part of an insurance scam, but they’re too late as a vicious horde of tentacled sea monsters invade the boat.

Written and directed by Stephen Sommors (1999’s The Mummy), Deep Rising fires on almost all cylinders and delivers a slam-bang monster ride of a movie. While the action aspect is obviously not as enticing as the horror parts – many of the mercenaries are just cardboard cut-outs from other movies – the film does a good job at blending the two genres into a cohesive whole. While many of the CGI effects are dated, the movie does successfully merge both CG and practical FX in several scenes, including the gruesome death of one of the mercenaries, who’s vomited back up by one of the monsters, his face half-eaten away by the creature’s digestive acid.

The cast is good, especially Williams, Janssen, and O’Connor, who would go on to be Sommor’s right hand man and appear in many of the director’s films, including The Mummy, Van Helsing, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Deep Rising may not be the most original movie ever, but it’s fast, funny, and fun. | Tremors: A+ Deep Rising: B+ The Ruins: B

Made-for-TV Monster Movies

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, 1973

by Frank Pittarese

The ‘70s were the golden age of made-for-TV horror. It was a decade that gave us The Night Stalker, Trilogy of Terror, and Steven Spielberg’s adrenaline-filled Duel. It was also prime-time for monsters, as seen in these three creature features…

GARGOYLES is one of the most memorable monsterfests of the era. When Dr. Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) and his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt) visit the deserts of New Mexico to research his book on demonology, the two inadvertently come into possession of a bizarre animal skull. From that moment on they’re hunted and attacked, as hordes of reptilian gargoyles relentlessly try to reclaim the skull. When one of the gargoyles is killed, the creatures abducts Diana and the monsters’ master plan of global domination is revealed.

Originally airing in November of 1972, this short-length TV classic features unforgettable make-up work by Stan Winston (for which he and his partners won an Emmy). Their designs for the gargoyles are beautifully crafted — especially the creatures’ leader, played to demonic perfection by the late Bernie Casey. These “gar-things,” as biker James Reeger (Scott Glenn) calls them are truly eerie as they creep around in slow motion, stalking their victims (in one shocking moment that haunted my childhood, a gargoyle appears at the foot of Dr. Boley’s bed).

The cast is great. Wilde takes the material very seriously, giving the whole affair some gravitas. Salt — best known for her appearance in Brian De Palma’s Sisters and as Eunice Tate on the sitcom Soap — is full of personality. As the (possibly lustful) focus of the gargoyle leader, she carries the weight of the movie with energy and charm. Grayson Hall, most famous for her run on the original Dark Shadows, gives a brief but delightfully hammy performance as an alcoholic motel manager. But the make-up is the real star here. The gargoyles are entirely believable and nightmarish, even 50 years later. Seek out and enjoy this unique little gem. Often airing on Svengoolie, Gargoyles can also be found streaming on Tubi and IMDB-TV.

For cheesy, Bigfoot-runs-amok thrills, look no further than 1977’s SNOWBEAST. Olympic champion Gar Seberg (Bo Svenson) and his wife, Ellen (Yvette Mimieux), visit a ski resort in the Colorado Rockies just as the annual Snow Carnival is getting underway. But wouldn’t you know it? There’s a killer Bigfoot on the loose (which, not to split hairs, looks more like a Yeti), tearing people to shreds on the slopes. Despite the attacks, resort owner Carrie (Sylvia Sidney) is determined to keep Amity Beach open for the Fourth of July — whoops — I mean keep the resort open for the carnival. That is until the Snowbeast attacks the festival, creating a mob riot and slaughtering some poor woman in her car. The only solution is kill the furball, so Gar, Ellen, Carrie’s grandson Tony (Robert Logan) and the Sheriff head into the woods to bring it down.

This Jaws-by-way-of-Grizzly ripoff isn’t as tense or thrilling as it could have been. The script by Joseph Stefano (Psycho) is serviceable — and there are some tense moments, particular the carnival attack — but the pace is slowed down by long stretches where people…just…ski. They ski for fun, they ski because they’re searching, they ski because Snowbeast is coming. A mild love triangle between the three young leads provides enough characterization to hang your hat on, and Sidney is perky as the tough-as-nails grandma. The monster itself is kept off-camera for the bulk of the film, with the kills and chases shot POV-style. We do see his face a few times, and he sometimes sticks an arm through a window, but the “less is more” execution (probably dictated by the low budget and/or a cheap suit) sort of works here. It’s not the best killer Bigfoot movie out there, but it’s enjoyable. Notorious for appearing in every public domain horror boxed set known to mankind, Snowbeast can be found on Tubi, Amazon Prime, and IMDB-TV. (Not to be confused with 2011’s similar Snow Beast.)

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK was a made-for-TV highlight of 1973. A young couple, Sally (Kim Darby) and Alex (Jim Hutton), move into a large house that Sally inherited from her late grandmother. But when persistently curious Sally unseals a bricked-up fireplace in a locked room, she accidentally frees a host of whispering, gremlin-like creatures. They only come out in the dark…and they want Sally’s soul.

Creepy and memorable — so memorable that Guillermo del Toro produced a big-screen remake in 2010 — this slow-burn really gets under your skin. We know something is up, but everyone, even Sally herself, begins to question her sanity as the raisin-headed little freaks stalk her unrelentingly. Handyman Harris (played by wonderful character actor William Demarest) seems to know the truth behind the house’s dark secrets, but the doubtful Alex won’t hear any crazy talk. The final act, in which Sally desperately tries to save herself from the creatures, are truly tense, and it all leads to a haunting ending. Smartly directed by John Newland (best known for the paranormal anthology series One Step Beyond), Don’t Be Afraid features fantastic creature make-up and vivid mood lighting whenever the little beasts appear. It’s not streaming at the moment, but it’s available on Blu-ray. Watch this version before viewing the less-effective remake.

Gargoyles: A
Snowbeast: B
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: B+

Why “Bog” is the Best Worst Movie You’ve Never Seen

1979’s BOG is the type of movie Ed Wood would have made in the ’50s: a cheerfully inept little monster flick that’s so bad it’s heartwarmingly charming.

While on a fishing excursion in the woods of rural Wisconsin, friends Chuck (Rojay North) and Allan (Glen Voros), and their extremely unhappy wives, Kim (Lou Hunt) and May (Carol Tanner), are attacked by an unseen creature that emerges from the lake. When Kim and May disappear and are later found completely drained of blood, the local police are baffled by the mysterious crime and call in scientists, Ginny Glenn (Gloria DeHaven) and John Warren (Leo Gordon), to help.

While Ginny and John look into microscopes and hypothesize ideas – and have an awesomely corny and adorable romance on the side – Chuck and Allan take matters into their own, gun-toting hands and go back to the lake to find what killed their wives. In doing so they run into Wallace Fry (Robert Fry), a fedora and overalls-wearing hillbilly (a precursor to Crazy Ralph, perhaps?) who takes Chuck and Allan to see an old hermit named Adrianna (also DeHaven).

Adrianna informs them an ancient fish-monster has been asleep for millennia at the bottom of the lake, and now it’s awakened from fishing dynamite and needs human blood to survive. Chuck and Allan tell the authorities, who seem to have a hard time finding the creature, despite the fact it makes more noise than King Kong on steroids. But, wait – there are also eggs found at the bottom of the lake by a couple of scuba divers, who’re eventually killed and the eggs brought back to Ginny’s lab (which suspiciously looks like a high school science classroom).

I first learned about Bog back in the early ’90s when I saw a VHS of it in the $1 bin at my local video store. I was immediately mesmerized by the colorful if awkward art, and upon watching it was swept up in its amazing awfulness. But like most good bad movies, Bog has a charm to spare. The actors, mostly professionals from way back when, give it their all, especially former MGM star DeHaven, who, considering the material she’s working with, is quite good as both Ginny and Adrianna – Adrianna’s old age make-up looks like it was done with a kit bought at a drug store Halloween sale.

As for the monster itself, well… If you took a large papier-maché fish head and attached it to a lizard costume, you’ll get the picture. But, as I mentioned earlier, the movie’s dime-store aesthetics are what make it so delightful, but so does the cast, with Ann B. Davis lookalike, Tanner, a hoot as cranky May.

Best line: “Do we have a Dracula running around out there?”

Back to the woods it is for the 2014 Bigfoot chiller, EXISTS. Directed by Blair Witch Project‘s Eduardo Sanchez, Exists follows a group of twenty-something friends as they venture into the forest to spend the weekend at a – drumroll, please! – cabin.

Brothers Matt (Samuel Davis) and Brian (Chris Osborn) invite several of their friends to their uncle’s house in the Texas country for the weekend. Upon arriving, Matt hits something with his car; later they hear what sounds like animalistic cries of pain in the woods. Thinking they hit a deer, the gang continue to the house, but stoner Brian, remembering stories his uncle told them as a kid, believes it could be Bigfoot. He quickly sets up GoPro cameras around the property, hoping to capture footage of the beast.

After a night of partying, Matt and friends start to believe Brian’s Bigfoot theory when the house is attacked by a large creature walking on two legs. The group makes a hasty exit the next morning, only to find Matt’s car trashed, with a tree trunk sticking out the windshield. They all decide to fortify the house and wait for the arrive of Matt’s and Brian’s uncle.

Unable to wait, Matt rides his bike to seek help, only to come face-to-face with the massive beast who, in the film’s best scene, pursues Matt in an intense, high-speed chase reminiscent of the water skier chase sequence from Jaws 2. With no help coming, it isn’t long until the helpless group realizes it’s a fight to the death between them and the monster.

In terms of found footage monster movies, Exists isn’t one of the best, but it’s most certainly not one of the worst. While it lacks the grueling horror of Blair Witch Project (and the nail-biting suspense of Willow Creek), Exists is more of a jump-scare funhouse movie and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than that. The film delivers several fun scenes and uses the monster wisely, but keeps it in the shadows and hidden behind the shrubbery in the woods. Sanchez keeps the pace moving fast, which helps with the absence of suspense and the annoyance of its dumb, one-dimensional characters. But, as FF flicks go, Exists is a decent entry in the canon and worth a look for fans.

Concluding this week’s “Creatures in the Woods” theme is the 1979 environmental monster romp, PROPHECY. When all the members of a search-and-rescue team are brutally murdered by a mysterious beast in the wilds of Maine, lumber mill director, Bethel Isely (Richard Dysart), blames a local tribe of Native Americans for the deaths of both the searchers and for a group of missing mill employees. Unsure of how to solve a land dispute between the mill and Native Americans, the Environmental Protection Agency sends Dr. Rob Verne (Robert Foxworth), along with his wife, Maggie (Talia Shire), to Maine to write up a report on the situation.

While researching the area, Rob discovers abnormal wildlife, including oversized salmon and violently aggressive raccoons, one of which attacks Rob and Maggie in their cabin. Later on, Rob is approached by John Hawks (Armand Assante), a Native American who informs Rob that the lumber mill is poisoning the surrounding environment with pollution.

Meanwhile, on a nearby camping excursion, a father and his two children are torn to pieces by a large, mutated, blood-and-pus-dripping bear, the same animal that killed the rescuers earlier. Isely accusing Hawks and his men of the new crimes, but when Rob and Maggie find a deformed and dying bear cub in a fishing net, Rob uses the cub as evidence of Hawk’s innocence. That is until Mama Bear comes looking for her child.

An unfairly criticized film, Prophecy is a solid creature feature with some terrific scenes, including the shocking death of a boy smashed against a rock while helplessly caught inside his sleeping bag. The screenplay (by The Omen‘s David Seltzer) gets too wrapped up in its pollution-as-monster metaphor, especially during the first hour, but director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) makes up for it with brisk direction, a good use of widescreen framing (soaking in the beautiful British Columbia landscapes used as the backdrop for Maine), and an exciting last 30 minutes. A tighter script and this could have been a cult classic. | Bog: AProphecy: B Exists: B

MONSTER MONTH: Here Wolf, There Wolf, Werewolf

The short but prolific werewolf cycle of the early ’80s gave us classics The Howling and An American Werewolf in London. Coming in under the radar is the underappreciated 1985 gem, SILVER BULLET, a fast-paced and immensely enjoyable monster thriller adapted by Stephen King from his own novella. In the summer of 1976, several residents of the small town of Tarker’s Mill are viciously murdered. The locals think a serial killer is responsible, and the authorities shut down the town, even cancelling the popular Fourth of July fireworks celebration.

The town becomes restless as the body count grows and no suspect is brought forward, until wheelchair-bound Marty (Corey Haim) has a close encounter with a large, hairy beast with sharp teeth. Marty believes a werewolf is on the prowl and tries to convince his loving but dysfunctional uncle, Red (Gary Busey), and big sister, Jane (Megan Follows), that they must find the person who’s transforming into the creature and kill them.

While it might lack the visual richness of Howling and polished trickery of American Werewolf, Silver Bullet is a solid film filled with wonderful characters and suspenseful situations. Busey and Haim have great chemistry and feel like genuine family, while Follows has enough spunk and energy to have been the next Jamie Lee Curtis. Director Dan Attias keeps the film moving at a tight pace and builds it up to an exciting, but brief, climax.

When it comes to satisfying endings, 1981’s THE HOWLING sure does give you your money’s worth. After receiving threatening phone calls, TV news reporter, Karen (Dee Wallace), goes undercover to find out if her stalker is the person responsible for a series of brutal murders in the area. When she’s attacked by a man named Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo), who’s shot dead by police, famed psychiatrist, Dr. Waggner (Patrick Macnee), suggests Karen and her husband, Bill (Christopher Stone), spend a week at his woodsy retreat, The Colony. Once there, they meet the doctor’s colorful patients, including leather-clad “nymphomaniac,” Marsha (Elisabeth Brooks), whose got eyes for Bill and might be hiding a dangerous secret.

After several nights of strange noises, and following an animal attack on Bill, Karen discovers The Colony is actually a haven of werewolves, and home to Eddie, who’s still very much alive. Adapted from Gary Brandner’s book, screenwriters John Sayles and Terrence H. Winkless wisely injected the story with humor, and in doing so created a truly original werewolf flick. The film’s serious subject matter (attempted rape and PTSD) is nicely evened out with a jokey take on then-popular new age medicine and commune lifestyles. Wallace makes for a sympathetic heroine, but it’s Rob Bottin’s excellent make-up FX that is the real star; the werewolves are perhaps some of the scariest in horror history.

Oscar winner Rick Baker offered up his expertise for WOLF, but unlike An American Werewolf in London, the make-up FX in this 1994 film are merely background dressing. Jack Nicholson stars as mild mannered book editor, Will Randall, who’s bitten by a yellow-eyed wolf while driving through Vermont wilderness. A few days later, and after he’s demoted at work, Will undergoes a mysterious transformation which not only heightens his senses but changes his personality. After discovering his wife (Kate Nelligan) is sleeping with his coworker, Stewart (James Spader), who was offered Will’s position at work, Will forms his own publishing business and begins a romance with his former boss’s daughter, Laura (Michelle Pfeiffer).

It isn’t long until the animal comes completely out of Will as he’s chasing and snacking on deer. His aggressive nature also gets him his old job back, as well as revenge on Stewart, who may be hiding a secret of his own. When Will moves from killing animals to attacking humans, he tries to stop himself before he can’t return from his wolf persona at all.

Not a horror movie in the traditional sense, Wolf is more of a were-drama that’s concerned with character over fangs. Nicholson, with his brooding demeanor, is well cast as Will, as is Spader, who’s his usually slimy-but-charming self as Will’s nemesis. Pfeiffer has good chemistry with Nicholson, but Laura doesn’t have very much to do aside from being the love interest. There’s also a scene where Will seeks help from a worldly old scientist (Om Puri) that’s pure ham and feels unnecessary.

Although it looks great, Wolf is a disappointment. A good cast is wasted on rather lackluster writing and a sluggish pace, and Baker’s make-up effects (briefly seen during the final showdown) are not used to their full potential. Wolf is a drama without much drama, and a horror movie without much horror; it’s a werewolf movie for people who don’t watch werewolf movies. Look for David Schwimmer in a small role as a cop. | The Howling: ASilver Bullet: B+ Wolf: C

MONSTER MONTH: Canadian Parasites and Virgins for Dracula

You’ll never see a more slender and fragile Dracula than you will in the 1974 cult classic, BLOOD FOR DRACULA. With an absence of the fresh blood of virgins he needs in order to survive, a sickly Count Dracula (a perfectly cast Udo Kier) is forced to leave his crumbling castle in 1920s Romania for the lush countryside of Italy. Once there, Dracula and his loyal human assistant, Anton (Arno Juerging), search for pure young women for the Count to dine on, and soon encounter a land baron (Italian director Vittorio De Sica) and his four lovely daughters.

Thinking he’s struck “whergin” gold, Dracula is repelled (literally) when he discovers several of the daughters have already been deflowered by the family’s handyman and all-around stud, Mario (Joe Dallasandro). Mario eventually catches on to Dracula’s antics and tries to save the remaining members of the family before they are bewitched by the Count.

Both an exploitation flick and a thoughtful art piece, Blood for Dracula was the unofficial end of the golden age of the Andy Warhol independent cinema era. Following Flesh for Frankenstein, Dracula is perhaps director Paul Morrissey at his filmmaking best, and although it lacks the visceral gruesomeness of Frankenstein, it’s beautifully shot and elegantly paced. Kier is both hammy and touching in his portrayal of the monster, and there’s no question Morrissey (and an uncredited Pat Hackett) intentionally added campy moments to the screenplay – Dracula needs the blood of virgins to live, yet demands a vegetarian diet from his host.

Dallasandro delivers a stiff but charming performance as the “hero,” while Juerging is so OTT he seems to be in danger of laughing every time he delivers a line. While Blood for Dracula might not be for everyone, I found it sleazy, funny, and surprisingly heartfelt. The blood-soaked ending is a sight to see.

The residents of a posh high-rise apartment building outside of Montreal are terrorized by an army of slug-like parasites in 1975’s SHIVERS. A well-known physician, Dr. Hobbes (Fred Doederlein), murders a young woman named Annabelle and then kills himself inside the Starliner Towers apartment complex. Resident medical doctor, Roger St. Luc (Paul Hampton), discovers that his colleague, Dr. Linsky (Joe Silver), along with Hobbes, had created a man-made parasite that could essentially replace human organs when needed – and Annabelle was their first experimental patient.

Roger finds out that Annabelle was sleeping around with several men in the building, including upstairs neighbor, Nick (Allan Kolman), who, along with several others, is infested with the parasite, turning him – and eventually the entire building – into mindless murderers and rapists.

One of, if not the first, “body horror” subgenre movies that director David Cronenberg invented, Shivers is a somewhat demented take on Night of the Living Dead. The film utilizes its low budget by creating a moody, almost claustrophobic environment. Nearly every scene takes place inside the building; the bright colors of the interiors offset the impending doom of the characters living within. Although Hampton makes for a rather lifeless protagonist, Lynn Lowry adds some energetic flavor as his love interest.

Released in 1988, WAXWORK was a favorite video rental of mine as a kid. It was different from Jason or Freddy; it featured all the old-timey monsters but was hipper than the classic movies. Rewatching the low-budget flick now brings back a lot of memories, and while the movie doesn’t seem as charming as it once did, it’s still very enjoyable.

While walking to class, high-maintenance China (Michelle Johnson) and mousy Sarah (Deborah Foreman) run into a mysterious man named Lincoln (David Warner), who invites them to a midnight showing at his new waxwork museum. Thinking it’ll be better than homework, the girls decide to go and invite their friends, including preppy rich boy, Mark (Zach Galligan), and nerdy Tony (Dana Ashbrook). When they arrive, they discover the museum is filled with wax exhibits of mostly horror movie-related scenes, including Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man.

Upon closer look, these scenes have an uncanny realism to them, and, as some of the characters unfortunately discover, serve as doorways into another world. When Tony steps past the velvet rope of one of the exhibits, he inadvertently enters a misty forest filled with werewolves. Meanwhile, China gets herself trapped in Dracula’s castle and must fight to the death against his army of undead brides in the film’s best (and bloodiest) sequence. When China and Tony fail to return to the real world, it’s up to Mark and Sarah to find out what’s going on and try to stop the supernatural powers of the place.

Sort of an adult variation on The Monster Squad, Waxwork is a spirited splatter flick that never takes itself seriously. It loves the monsters, the movies from which they came and, obviously, influenced a great deal of the scenes. Some chapters deserve a movie of their own – the Mummy segment is atmospheric and juicy – but some are a missed opportunity. The Marquis de Sade (J. Kenneth Campbell) is too jokey and uninvolving to muster up much excitement, although Campbell plays him smartly with a wink-wink vibe. It might be slight, but Waxwork is harmless ’80s bubblegum entertainment. | Blood for Dracula: B+ Shivers and Waxwork: B

MONSTER MONTH: Is Frankenhooker a ’90s Masterpiece?

Frankenhooker, 1990

After getting good notices for directing several Andy Warhol productions, including ’70s underground classic, Heat, filmmaker Paul Morrissey transitioned into horror by taking on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But 1973’s FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN is not your high school teacher’s idea of Frankenstein!

In a lavish country castle in the 1800s, Baron von Frankenstein (Udo Kier) spends most of his time in his secret laboratory stitching together dead body parts – and getting turned on by fondling internal organs – in order to create a master Serbian race that will “take over the world!” With the help of his simpleton assistant, Otto (Arno Juerging), Frankenstein successfully brings to life two of his “human” creations, including a male specimen whose head the Baron took from local aspiring monk, Sacha (Srdjan Zelenovic). When houseboy Nicholas (Joe Dallesandro) recognizes Sacha, he tries to put a stop to Frankenstein’s devious experiments, with dire consequences.

While some might call this a bastardized version of the Frankenstein story, others will delight in its campy excesses and outpouring of cheesy gore and sex. Much like Morrissey’s later Blood for Dracula, Flesh for Frankenstein (filmed in 3-D) is a mix of exploitation and genuine filmmaking: the film works as a tragic fairy tale while also dishing out explicit violence and sexuality. Credit should be given to Morrissey for making Nicholas the sex object over a more traditional woman; Dallesandro spends most of the film completely naked and is continually used by Frankenstein’s wife, Katrin (Monique van Vooren) – who’s also the Baron’s sister – to satisfy her robust sexual appetite. There’s also gay subtext with Sacha, who earlier in the film is smitten with the hunky Nicholas, but converts to religion when he realizes they can never be together.

Funniest line in the film: “Why did you wake me? You know I have insomnia!”

On the same campy, OTT level as Flesh for Frankenstein – and containing just as many, if not more, dismembered body parts – is 1990’s gut-busting classic, FRANKENHOOKER. Professional electrician, and amateur mad scientist, Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz), goes to desperate measures to attempting bringing his fiancée, Elizabeth (Patty Mullen), back to life after she’s mangled by his homemade lawnmower. After Jeffrey steals pieces of her body, including her head, he decides to create the perfect body for Elizabeth by killing several Times Square prostitutes and using their bodies to make the ultimate woman.

It really shouldn’t, but Frankenhooker works on every level. Shot in the same vibrant manner as director Frank Henenlotter’s classic, Basket Case, Frankenhooker is pure, unadulterated, energetic filmmaking at its creative best. The cast is first-rate (including Mullen, whose comedic timing is pitch-perfect), the dialogue snappy (and often hilarious), and the action almost non-stop and genuinely exciting. The film never takes itself seriously and pumps out the gore-drenched comedy with charming verve.

Unfortunately, Frankenstein’s monster doesn’t get nearly enough screen time in the 1945 monster mash-up, HOUSE OF DRACULA. In the course of one night, famed Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens) is visited by both Count Dracula (John Carradine) and Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), a.k.a. the Wolf Man. Wanting to be cured of their vampirism and lycanthropy, respectfully, Dracula and Talbot take up temporary residency in Edlemann’s cliffside castle, where the doctor plans to give Dracula a blood transfusion. Meanwhile, the full moon approaches and Talbot, unable to wait for Edlemann’s cure, tries to throw himself off the cliff but survives and inadvertently discovers the body of Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) in a cave (where the creature died at the end of House of Frankenstein).

Dracula eventually falls for the doctor’s assistant, Miliza (Martha O’Driscoll), and bewitches her, an act Edlemann finds dangerous. During their last transfusion, Edlemann tries to destroy Dracula, only to get caught by the Count, who switches the procedure’s blood flow and transforms the doctor not only into a vampire, but a raving mad scientist.

Lacking the excitement of the earlier Frankenstein movies and the chilling atmosphere of the Lugosi Dracula, House of Dracula doesn’t utilize its famous monsters to their full potential. Instead of pitting the creatures against one another, the somewhat lifeless screenplay spends too much time trying to make them appear sympathetic, especially Talbot, who spends most of the film in a wheelchair with a bandage on his head. Carradine is a fine Lugosi replacement, but Frankenstein’s monster is completely wasted in a rushed climax that’s both confusing and frustrating. | Frankenhooker: AFlesh for Frankenstein: B+ House of Dracula: C

MONSTER MONTH: Giant Bugs and Horny Beasties

As the cold weather begins to dissipate and the flowers start to bloom, I’m digging up monster movies for the month of April. What I love about monster flicks is there’s a lot of them and with a wide variety of breeds: werewolves, vampires, mutants, subterranean beings, underwater creatures, and slew of others.

2006’s FEAST is a spirited, low budget splatter romp in the vein of From Dusk till Dawn, and like that 1996 classic, Feast features a group of larger-than-life personalities stuck inside a desert bar surrounded by creatures. Instead of vampires, predatory monsters of some kind quickly descend upon the bar, bringing a reign of gory terror and even releasing their young inside the building to cause further havoc.

Shot in a frenzied, fast-paced manner, Feast has a great cast – Henry Rollins, Krista Allen, Judah Friedlander, Clu Gulager – and some terrific moments, including several involving the baby monsters. It’s just a shame that when it ended I was expecting something…better. The harried camera work is fine, but director John Gulager (Clu’s son), doesn’t exactly have an eye for clarity; a lot of the action is lost on the viewer, who’s most likely trying to figure out what is going on. But, the strength of the movie’s vitality is its cast and they give it their all, especially Friedlander, who spends most of the runtime soaked in monster puke and maggots.

Coming off the lackluster reception of Memoirs of an Invisible Man, horror auteur John Carpenter returned to his chiller roots with 1995’s crackerjack IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, a visually rich horror-fantasy that would make H.P. Lovecraft proud. Sam Neil stars as P.I. John Trent, who’s hired by a big-time publishing company to locate their most precious asset, Sutter Cane, a Stephen King-like horror writer whose novels sell millions and, as of recently, have been having a negative effect on his legions of fans. Trent, along with Cane’s editor, Linda (Julie Carmen), find Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) hiding out in a Byzantine church in Hobb’s End, a dying town where time doesn’t seem to flow in any logical sense, and where the locals are slowly turning into otherworldly creatures.

Trent eventually realizes he’s entered into another dimension, one where Cane’s writing seemingly comes to gruesome life. This doesn’t bode well when Cane’s newest book is released and opens the supernatural floodgates to the entire reading world. Things get even worse when a film adaptation goes into production…

A splendidly energetic film from beginning to end, Madness is Carpenter in top form. Using his expertise with widescreen framing and knowledge of handling complex monsters, Carpenter doesn’t pretend Madness is The Thing by moving the creatures to the front of the line, but wisely places them in the background, where they cast a more effective shadow. Neil is wonderfully cast as the doubting Thomas, and Prochnow is his usually sinister self while Carmen gives good Julia Sugarbaker vibes. Easily Carpenter’s best film after Big Trouble in Little China.

The low-budget but highly inventive TICKS feels just as fresh and fun as it did when it was released in 1993. A weekend retreat into the woods for a group of troubled inner city youths goes haywire when they’re attacked by large ticks, mutated from a liquid concoction made by a hippie pot farmer (Clint Howard). It isn’t long until the teens and their harried camp counselors (Rosalind Allen and Peter Scolari) are up to their eyeballs in aggressive tick attacks while also dealing with a couple of dangerous backwoods rednecks (Michael Medeiros and Barry Lynch) and a forest fire!

A good cast (which also includes Seth Green, Alfonso Ribeiro, and Ami Dolenz) gives it their all, and writer Brent V. Friedman smartly injects the screenplay with both comedy and self-referential humor, poking fun at itself and the overall horror genre. The mechanical visual effects by K.N.B. EFX are terrific and rival those found in many bigger budgeted movies of the era. If you’re a fan of practical FX monster flicks then Ticks is for you.

In the Mouth of Madness and Ticks: B+ Feast: C+