Found Footage: Char Man, Home Movie, and The Pyramid

Char Man – 2019, US, 85m. Director: Kurt Ela, Kip Tribble. Streaming: Tubi

Home Movie – 2008, US, 77m. Director: Christopher Denham. Streaming: Tubi

The Pyramid – 2014, Morocco/US, 88m. Director: Grégory Levasseur. Streaming: Max

CHAR MAN (2019) Looking to make a splash in the world of low-budget documentaries, three friends and wannabe filmmakers venture into the wilds of Southern California to film a semi-serious documentary on an urban legend about the so-called Ojai Vampire. The trio’s obviously amateurish skill level takes its toll when none of the men can seem to form a coherent idea about what exactly the movie should focus on. That is until they interview an Ojai historian (Jeff Kober) who informs them of an even better local legend: the Char Man, a sinister name given to a resident who decades earlier murdered his father and was savagely burned in a wildfire. The legend is if you call out for help when you’re in the Char Man’s woods, he’ll come for you. Despite this being the umpteenth movie dealing with a very similar story of woodsy supernatural vengeance, Char Man works (for the most part) thanks to likable characters and a sense of humor. The film’s unsettling aspects largely play out in the mythology surrounding the legend, but the movie as a whole is never truly scary. Still, this is a harmless bit of low-fi, found footage fun for hardcore fans. B

HOME MOVIE (2008) The lives of the parents of a pair of mischievous twins begins to come undone when the siblings dial their inappropriate behavior up a notch. The boy, Jack (Austin Williams), throws dinner plates around, while his sister, Emily (Amber Joy Williams), kills a frog in a vice. None of this is particularly interesting, or surprising, to the viewer since the two children are presented as oddballs the second the film opens. The father (Adrian Pasdar), a minster, is too busy practicing his sermons on-camera—and generally acting like a buffoon—to notice the children’s behavior, while the mother (Cady McClain), despite being a child psychologist, doesn’t seem bothered at all by her kids’ unnatural personalities. I’m not sure if this is the result of lazy writing on the filmmaker’s part, or an intentionally bad character trait. Either way, by the halfway point you won’t really care as Home Movie is utterly predictable and descends into every cliche torn from the found footage handbook. Contrived and about as scary as watching your Aunt Edna’s home movies. D

THE PYRAMID (2014) American archeologists stumble upon a buried, unexplored pyramid in the middle of the Egyptian desert. A father-daughter team of explorers are desperate to uncover an entrance into the underground monument, despite the fact the land is being engulfed in Arab Spring-like protests. They’re repeatedly told by their colleagues of impending danger—a warning confirmed when a poor Arabian porter is met with a blast of toxic gas released from the dig site and his face becomes hideously scarred—but the show must go on. Archeologist Dad (Denis O’Hare) and Daughter (Ashley Hinshaw) get their nervous team to journey to the center of the pyramid, where they’re immediately embroiled in bad air, falling debris, and eventually become a food source for some sort of ancient Bastet creature. All of this is flatly presented with no suspense or surprises, giving the viewer very little reason to care about what happens. The execution of the story can only be described as lazy as the filmmakers present a POV/found-footage setup at the beginning of the film but drop it whenever it’s convenient to the writing. The end credits are the only positive thing The Pyramid can offer its audience. F

Classic Monster Team-Ups

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein – 1948, US, 83m. Director: Charles Barton. Streaming: N/A

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man – 1943, US, 73m. Director: Roy William Neill. Streaming: Peacock

House of Frankenstein – 1944, US, 71m. Director: Erle C. Kenton. Streaming: N/A

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) Two bungling baggage handlers in the form of radio and television stars Bud Abbott and Lou Costello get wrapped in a supernatural plot involving Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolf Man. Abbott and Costello—here called Chick and Wilbur—intercept two crates containing the bodies of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Monster (Glenn Strange) en route to a wax museum called McDougal’s House of Horrors. Chick and Wilbur are told by Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) that Dracula wants to steal his brain and implant it in Frankenstein’s Monster and requests the two lug nuts help him foil Dracula’s plan. Perhaps the best of the Universal Monster team-ups, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a towering achievement because it works as both a horror flick and a comedy—it never feels as if the filmmakers, or Abbott and Costello themselves, are making fun of the characters. They’re not laughing at them but with them, and believe me, folks—there’s a difference! In many ways this is a better monster movie than many of the legitimate horror releases that came before it, and it delivers the monster action in spades, especially during its breathlessly paced final fifteen minutes. The last-minute surprise appearance by another famous character will leave you in stitches. A must-see for any monster lover. A

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) The first of Universal’s Wolf Man sequels (but the fourth for Frankenstein), this picks up four years after the events of The Wolf Man (1941) with sad sack, and presumably dead, Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) being resurrected from his coffin when a couple of dimwitted grave robbers remove the bedding of wolf’s bane. Talbot, still unhappy to be saddled with his curse, seeks help from Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya), whose son was the werewolf which turned Talbot into a monster. Believing Dr. Frankenstein can put Talbot to death permanently, Maleva brings Talbot to the doctor’s castle, where they discovers the body of the Creature (Bela Lugosi) beneath the ruins of the place. One of the first of the monster mash-ups that were popular in the forties—the trend would peak with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948—and featuring a terrific turn by Chaney Jr., who only hinted at his potential in the original film. Unfortunately, Lugosi’s reputation precedes him in a performance that displays his obvious discomfort in the role of the Creature. To be fair, however, Lugosi’s overuse of outstretched arms is because of story continuity error—this version of the Creature was originally written as being blind, an element later excised from the finished film. Despite its limitations, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is a whole lotta fun and delivers plenty of monster mayhem for the avid fan. B+

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) Boris Karloff returns to the Frankenstein universe, not as the Monster but as murderous scientist Gustav Niemann, who after escaping from prison promises his deformed assistant, Daniel (J. Carrol Naish, later stepping into the role of Dr. Frankenstein in the Al Adamson crap classic Dracula vs. Frankenstein), a new body by using Dr. Frankenstein’s formula for creating life. This plan is really a ruse for Niemann to exact revenge on the people who put the doctor in jail for grave robbery years earlier—his devious plot is to give the men who testified against him Lawrence Talbot’s (Lon Chaney Jr.) werewolf curse. Talbot, along with Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), are exhumed from the rubble of Castle Frankenstein (which was destroyed at the end of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man) and with the help of gypsy woman, Ilonka (Elena Verdugo), undergo Niemann’s experiments so they’ll come under his control. Ilonka eventually falls in love with Talbot, which sends the smitten Daniel into a jealous rage. Dracula (John Carradine) makes a brief appearance early on and offers the film the most excitement in the form of a spectacular carriage chase. Talbot’s ongoing moping over his werewolf curse continues, but here it’s not as interesting, or as fleshed out, as in the previous Wolf Man sagas. House of Frankenstein has the dubious feeling of being nothing more than a flashy byproduct of ideas stitched together from other movies. But for most of its short runtime, the movie is a welcoming way of passing the time, especially for the monster maniac. B

More Horror Classics—Dracula’s Daughter, The Raven, and Werewolf of London

Dracula’s Daughter – 1936, US, 71m. Director: Lambert Hillyer. Streaming: Peacock

The Raven – 1935, US, 61m. Director: Lew Landers. Streaming: Peacock

Werewolf of London – 1935, US, 75m. Director: Stuart Walker. Streaming: Peacock

DRACULA’S DAUGHTER (1936) In the aftermath of Dracula’s demise at the end of Dracula (1931), Prof. Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is arrested for the murders of both the Count and Renfield. That same night, a mysterious woman by the name of Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) steals Dracula’s corpse from Scotland Yard and burns the body. All this seems strange until we find out the Countess is a vampire—presumably Dracula’s flesh and blood daughter—and destroying the Count’s body by fire has extinguished her own vampirism. The trick doesn’t seem to work, as Zaleska chows down on a nearby drunkard before retreating to her coffin by the break of dawn. Meanwhile, the disappearance of Dracula’s body results in Van Helsing’s release from police custody (the script never bothers to explain the absence of Mina Seward and John Harker, both of whom were witness to Dracula’s reign of terror in the previous film). Dracula’s Daughter lays on the metaphors thick and fast, with its lesbian subtext being a particularly favorite topic among film scholars, although thematically Zaleska’s sexuality is less important than her need for blood, which the movie back-burners quite substantially. The film never feels like part of the Dracula canon—until the final ten minutes when Zaleska abducts the girlfriend of a shrink (Otto Kruger), taking her back to Dracula’s castle in Transylvania. In the end, Zaleska is betrayed by her manservant (Irving Pichel) and succumbs to her inevitable (at least within the context of these films) departure from the world of the living. Lugosi’s absence is a large detractor. C+

THE RAVEN (1935) Revered surgeon Dr. Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi) is brought out of retirement to do emergency surgery on the daughter (Irene Ware) of prominent Judge Thatcher (Samuel S. Hinds). Vollin ultimately falls in love with the young woman—to the distaste of her father, who expresses his concerns and reminds Vollin of his daughter’s engagement to another man. Unfortunately for Judge Thatcher, Vollin is a madman who keeps homemade torture devices inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe in his underground dungeon. Vollin’s favorite torture method is the infamous pit and pendulum device, to which he straps Thatcher with the aid of his hapless “henchman” (Boris Karloff), an escaped convict Vollin has blackmailed into servitude. Lugosi and Karloff work well together, and the Torture Museum finale is quite the hoot. Coming in at just over an hour, The Raven is an enjoyable bit of B&W horror. B

WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) While searching for a rare flower which only grows in the wilds of Tibet, botanist Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) is bitten by a werewolf. The scientist returns home with flower in hand in order to study the plant’s mysterious properties. Wilfred’s work proves fruitless when he’s transformed into a wolf and goes about terrorizing London’s upper crust (after one high society heiress witnesses the werewolf climbing in through her bedroom window, she’s dismissed as being drunk). The sight of Wilfred-as-werewolf running around the streets at night should be exciting, but a lack of truly likable characters creates a roadblock for the viewer, leaving us unable to care much about what happens to anybody; unlike The Wolf Man‘s Lawrence Talbot, Wilfred Glendon is cold and unsympathetic. But the film is skillfully directed and nicely paced, building to a genuinely fun climax. In the annals of werewolf movies, Werewolf of London isn’t the best—but it’s nowhere near the worst. B

10 to Midnight, Siege, and The Survivor

10 to Midnight – 1983, US, 101m. Director: J. Lee Thompson. Streaming: Tubi

Siege – 1983, Canada, 83m. Director: Paul Donavan, Maura O’Connell. Streaming: Shudder, Tubi

The Survivor – 1981, Australia, 98m. Director: David Hemmings. Streaming: N/A

10 TO MIDNIGHT (1983) Oddball serial killer Warren Stacey (Gene Davis)—who creeps on his unsuspecting victims in nothing but his birthday suit—takes a knife to the women who’ve at one time or another treated him like a putz. This seems a bit hard to believe considering Warren is both handsome and polite when he needs to be. Had the filmmakers cast someone more appropriate for the role, say Joe Spinell, the killer’s motive might have been easier to swallow. But did anyone really want to see Spinell running around naked? Luckily for the local single ladies of the area, hard-boiled homicide detective Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson) is on the case and, along with his newly assigned partner (Andrew Stevens), are hot on Warren’s naked heels. 10 to Midnight has all the traits of a polished thriller, including good acting, slick direction by J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear), and some suspense to go along with the slashing. It runs a little too long but it makes up for it with a slam-bang finale. B

SIEGE (1983) (AKA: Self Defense) During a police strike in 1981 Halifax, a small gay bar is attacked by members of the “New Order,” a right-wing militia that, according to one member, “isn’t afraid to say what everyone else is afraid to.” Funny, I never thought the world a place that was ever afraid of expressing hate. A man manages to escape the bar and holes up inside a nearby building, where he’s aided by an apartment full of people having a party. One of the partiers (Tom Nardini)—who just happens to be a survivalist!—wants to stay and protect himself, while his shrill, self-entitled girlfriend (Brenda Bazinet) demands to flee to safety. Eventually more blockheads from the New Order show up with machine guns and turn the building into a war zone, forcing the unsuspecting apartment dwellers to fight back with an improvised arsenal, including a nail gun. All of this could have been engaging had the filmmakers bothered to pump any energy or suspense into the script—think Assault on Precinct 13, which Siege is trying to resemble. The characters are too dopey to feel much sympathy for, with the majority of the gay ones portrayed as cowering wimps. This is one film that would benefit from being remade, especially in today’s political climate. C

THE SURVIVOR (1981) An eerie ghost tale set against the backdrop of a jumbo jet crash and the accident’s only survivor, the pilot (Robert Powell), who, along with others who’ve gotten “too close” to the crash site, begin having supernatural occurrences. A ghoulish photographer who took pictures of the dead bodies—with plans to sell the photos to the tabloids—is haunted by a ghostly little girl. A transient is drowned in a lake by phantom hands after trying to steal the plane’s flight recorder. After having a psychic experience moments before the crash, Jenny Agutter steps in to help Powell solve the mystery of why the plane was taken down, and how he survived unscathed. The intense opening is followed by a solid first hour, with good performances by Powell and Agutter. The last half of the film feels rushed and is somewhat confusing, with a predictable twist ending that’s basically just ripping off Carnival of Souls. This is still an engrossing mystery worth recommending. B

Horror Classics—The Curse of Frankenstein, The Curse of the Werewolf, and Frankenstein

The Curse of Frankenstein – 1957, UK, 83m. Director: Terence Fisher. Streaming: Max

The Curse of the Werewolf – 1961, UK, 93m. Director: Terence Fischer. Streaming: Peacock

Frankenstein – 1931, US, 70m. Director: James Whale. Streaming: Peacock

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) Hammer Films’ first venture into the Frankensteinverse, this colorful (and loose) adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel brought Gothic horror back from the dead. In his desperation to create life, the cold-hearted Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) commits diabolical acts of grave robbery, mutilation, and murder. When he’s not cutting up bodies and playing with brains, Frankenstein is screwing his pretty maid (Valerie Gaunt), who unwisely threatens Victor with blackmail when he refuses to marry her—an act which seals her fate at the hands of Frankenstein’s latest creation: a hideously deformed monster (Christopher Lee) with a damaged mind. A particularly gruesome (especially for its day) version of the tale, Curse of Frankenstein sidesteps all of the book’s metaphorical subtext—although Frankenstein’s close relationship with his teacher-turned-best friend (Robert Urquhard) has a questionable gay undercurrent—and delivers the horror in eye-popping clarity. Cushing and Lee are both in fine form, the pacing is fast, and the action exciting. Highly recommended for the Frankenstein aficionado. Followed by whole slew of sequels. B+

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) A tyrannical 18th century marques (Anthony Dawson), to the distaste of his new bride, keeps a homeless traveler as a pet in his cellar dungeon. As years pass, the old prisoner becomes crazed and eventually rapes the marques’ mute housemaid (Yvonne Romain) who nine months later bears a cursed child born on Christmas Day. The child grows up to be ill-fated Leon Corledo (Oliver Reed), whose curse is the plight of transforming into a fanged beast once the moon is full. This proves disastrous for Leon’s love life when he starts courting the beautiful Cristina (Catherine Fuller) and ends up spending more time munching on the local peasants by moonlight. Leon’s curse eventually consumes him. With the help of his adoptive parents and a priest, he locks himself in a jail cell to try and subdue his werewolfism—a method subsequently used in future werewolf films. But the bloodlust within Leon is too strong as he breaks out in full wolf mode before he and Cristina can run away to be married. Reed is excellent in his star-making role, and the werewolf makeup is first-rate. The script is unfortunately bogged down in needless melodrama, especially during the first act—although once Reed is in his werewolf getup and prowling the hills looking for fresh blood the film is fun enough. In the end, however, the movie never delivers enough werewolf action. B

FRANKENSTEIN (1931) The original creature feature that influenced generations of monster-loving kids and became a staple of classic horror storytelling. Desperate to prove his “old fashioned” professors wrong, egomaniacal Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) creates life in the form of a hideous creature (Boris Karloff) stitched together from the moldy body parts of the recently deceased. Frankenstein’s success quickly erodes when the creature turns out to be a maladjusted, misunderstood killer—culminating with the murder of a little girl at the hands of the monster, which is both shocking and touching. The terrified villagers form an angry mob to hunt down the monster, building to a fantastic climactic battle between creature and creator inside a windmill. Jack P. Pierce’s iconic makeup merges with Karloff’s surprisingly sympathetic—and humane—performance help to make Frankenstein one of the defining horror films of the thirties. Followed by several sequels, many of which don’t feature Karloff. A

Beyond Dream’s Door, Death Line, and Scream Baby Scream

Beyond Dream’s Door – 1989, US, 80m. Director: Jay Woelfel. Streaming: Shudder, Tubi

Death Line – 1972, UK, 87m. Director: Gary Sherman. Streaming: Prime

Scream Baby Scream – 1969, US, 82m. Director: Jospeh Adler. Streaming: Prime

BEYOND DREAM’S DOOR (1989) This spirited zero-budget effort was apparently made by film students from Ohio State University. A clever concept, but unfortunately the results do not make the grade—an unfocused pastiche of Lovecraftian surrealism and Freddy Krueger gore. Psych student Ben (Nick Baldasare) begins having reoccurring dreams about a sinewy creature and partakes in a school sleep study in the hopes of understanding his nightmares. This proves useless, especially when Ben’s gun-carrying professor (Norm Singer) begins seeing the creature in reality in the form of a small boy. The monster can also look like a seductress who enjoys baring her breasts whenever its convenient. She, along with the child character, are eventually dropped. Other elements start to seep out of Ben’s dreams and effect whomever they come into contact with, including a man who’s face is shredded into a bloody pulp by the monster. None of this makes any sense, with a majority of the story seemingly borrowed from A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Slayer, and other Dream vs. Reality horror movies of the eighties. By the end, Beyond Dream’s Door is nothing more than an interesting idea wrapped in lackluster execution. C

DEATH LINE (1972) (AKA Raw Meat) The disappearance of a government official within London’s underground train system sparks an inquiry at Scotland Yard. Headed by Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance), the investigation leads to other missing persons last seen in or around the same train station. Calhoun’s colleague mentions a legend surrounding the old Victorian rail line, in which an explosion during construction in the late 1800s left people trapped underground—over time the survivors formed a society of diseased, cannibalistic madmen. This urban tale is half right in the form of a sole underground, cannibalistic madman (Hugh Armstrong) who goes on a killing spree after his pockmarked “wife” expires from a form of septicemia in their subterranean lair. Death Line has all of the hallmarks of an early British splatter film, but it’s also intelligently written and superbly directed by Gary Sherman (Dead & Buried), with an almost overwhelming atmosphere of dread. It predates The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with its “meat movie” elements and its sequences of violence are still quite shocking. Christopher Lee’s cameo as an arrogant MI-5 agent is amusing. This is not to be missed. B+

SCREAM BABY SCREAM (1969) Several students studying the works of notorious artist Charles Butler become victim to a ghoulish killer who enjoys surgically disfiguring the faces of his “models” for inspiration for his paintings. Could there be a connection between the mysterious Butler (Larry Swanson) and the murders? The art students are the usual late sixties hippies—there’s even one of those drawn out sequences where our protagonists walk around in a drug-induced state after dropping acid—with no redeeming values aside from producing insipid chit-chat. One of the students—a jerk named Jason (Ross Harris) who’s more talented at having sex without removing his pants than he is using a paint brush—thinks his girlfriend is the latest victim of the model slasher, but the police suspect Jason for her disappearance for specious reasons typically found in these dumb movies. In the end the slasher’s artistic imperative is overcome and his own face is rearranged. The surprise ending rips-off Freaks. Watch that, skip this. D

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

Prince of Darkness, Shadowzone, and Talk to Me

Prince of Darkness – 1987, US, 101m. Director: John Carpenter. Streaming: Peacock

Shadowzone – 1990, US, 89m. Director: J.S. Cardone. Streaming: Tubi

Talk to Me – 2023, Australia, 95m. Director: Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou. Streaming: N/A

PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987) The death of a priest leads to the discovery of a secret sect—not even the Vatican knew of its existence—known as the Brotherhood of Sleep, which operated within a rundown Los Angeles church that contains a mysterious green liquid locked away in the basement. A research team of scientists is brought in to study the goo, which seems to have sentient properties and may, in fact, be Satan itself, or at least a close relative. The team is too busy deciphering archaic scripture and solving mathematical equations to notice the slimy evil slowly influencing the minds of the neighborhood’s lower intelligences, including insects and—gasp!—street people. There’s a bunch of talk about Jesus having been an alien, a church cover-up lasting millennia, and even time travel! It’s all trivial to the film’s real purpose, which is to become yet another possession/slasher variant as characters are whittled down by impalement, stabbing, neck-snapping, and decapitation. The silly plot is further hampered by flat direction by John Carpenter and stiff acting by a mostly uncharismatic cast. There’s some interesting stuff thrown in to keep viewers awake—a man’s body disintegrates into a puddle of bugs and gore. But these scenes are too few and far in between the plodding screenplay. C

SHADOWZONE (1990) You have to admire a movie like Shadowzone. Here’s a film that makes absolutely no sense within the realms of its science-based story, yet it’s professionally made, features good acting and likable characters, and is entertaining enough to carry its largely preposterous story from beginning to end. Square-jawed NASA bigwig David Beecroft is given special access to a top-secret, government-funded research facility (dubbed “Project Shadowzone”) located inside an abandoned underground bunker, where scientists are doing advanced experiments in deep sleep and its dream states. Beecroft’s visit is the result of the death of one of the project’s volunteers—judging from their physiques, these male and female volunteers were apparently chosen based on their centerfold layouts. One of the subjects reaches beyond the normal dream state and into a Lovecraftian dimension filled with ugly, shapeshifting creatures. One of these beings eventually crosses over into the real world and forms the shapes of the characters’ worst nightmares, which for the lab’s in-house cook is a giant, mutated rat. Shadowzone resembles From Beyond in large parts and its story structure seems to have been modeled after Alien. That doesn’t prevent the movie from being highly enjoyable for what it is. Excellent make-up FX by Mark Shostrom (Evil Dead II, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3). B

TALK TO ME (2023) Mia has problems. Not only is the poor high school student trying to recuperate after the untimely (and mysterious) death of her mother, but she has to deal with the fact her ex-boyfriend, whom she still has romantic feelings for, is now playing Double Tap with Mia’s best friend (Alexandra Jensen). The arrival of an evil specter, which attaches to Mia during a Let’s Get Possessed and Live Stream It party, doesn’t help matters, especially after it claims to be the spirit of Mia’s mom. Played by Sophie Wilde, Mia exudes such a healthy amount of energy and brains within the first act of Talk to Me that it becomes all the more disappointing when she transforms into a complete idiot—that cliched character audiences scream at to not go into the basement? Mia goes into the basement. The same can be said for the film itself: after a good start, the script stumbles and turns into a hodgepodge of murky character motivations and predictability, including an ending you can smell coming a mile away. It often feels with some of these films the writers lose interest halfway through working on the script—you know, one of those good concept, poor execution deals. This is all the more disheartening given the overwhelming amount of praise Talk to Me received from critics dubbing it the next great horror flick. It’s not. C

Mark of the Devil, Night Train to Terror, and Seytan

Mark of the Devil – 1970, Germany, 93m. Director: Michael Armstrong. Streaming: Prime, Tubi

Night Train to Terror – 1985, US, 93m. Director: John Carr, Philip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Gregg G. Tallas. Streaming: Roku Channel, Tubi

Seytan – 1974, Turkey, 101m. Director: Metin Erksan. Streaming: Shudder

MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970) As stated in the opening text crawl, this German shocker depicts historically accurate moments from documented cases about the brutal murder of “eight million” people during Europe’s heretical inquisitions—an exaggeration created by exploitative filmmakers for the benefit of sensationalism, which is all this Witchfinder General rip-off seems to care about. The arrival of notorious witch-hunter Cumberland (Herbert Lom) in a small 16th century Austrian village brings to the stake several local people accused of witchcraft. It’s mostly women in various stages of undress who are graphically tortured by way of infamously archaic devices—the stretching rack seems to be a favorite of Cumberland’s, to which a poor woman is strapped before having her tongue ripped out. Unfortunately Mark of the Devil puts so much energy into its death sequences that when it’s not mutilating victims the film is plodding and dull, with much of the English dubbing so hysterically anxiety-ridden it comes off as comedy. Infamously released in theaters handing out “barf bags” to audience members, although the movie is fairly tame by today’s standards. C

NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985) A scattershot anthology that’s actually comprised of scenes stitched together from several unfinished feature-length horror films. While aboard a train heading towards destruction, God and Satan discuss the fate of three individuals, representing three tales of murder, greed, and other distasteful acts of sin. The first vignette features a drunkard (John Phillip Law) committed to a mental hospital, which is actually a front for a business trafficking human organs. The second story is about a struggling musician (Merideth Haze) who joins a secret society called the Death Club that subjects its members to weird experiments, at which one member is randomly killed. In the final segment, a medical doctor (Faith Clift) stumbles upon a several-hundred-years-old plot involving the immortal henchman of Satan. A bizarre hodgepodge of ideas, Night Train to Terror is often too brash and ridiculous to be taken seriously. Yet at the same time, it’s fairly inventive and fun, creating a rough but enjoyable experience for the adventurous viewer. If you expect anything more out of this offbeat cult fiasco, you’re in for a world of hurt. B

SEYTAN (1974) There are remakes, and there are rip-offs. A remake strives to acquire the same quality of production of a film and its story for a new generation. A rip-off ditches quality for quantity by exploiting a popular movie for the sole purpose of making money. Seytan is the latter, a bargain-basement plagiarization of The Exorcist that not only tries to copy that movie’s tone, but also steals entire scenes and dialogue from the William Friedkin film. A literal shot-for-shot clone, Seytan poorly depicts the slow possession of the 12-year-old daughter (Canan Perver) of a single parent (Meral Taygun)—but unlike Ellen Bustyn’s personality-infused movie star mom from The Exorcist, here the mother is a colorless high society rich lady who emits very little emotion besides hysterically bad overacting. A monotonous bore with absolutely no redeeming qualities aside from the unintentionally funny moment here and there. D