Thursday, 31 January 2013



Basil Rathbone (Sir Joel Cadman), Herbert Rudley (Dr Gordon Ramsay), Akim Tamiroff (Odo), Patricia Blake (Laurie Monroe), Lon Chaney [Jr] (Mungo), Bela Lugosi (Casimir), Phyllis Stanley (Daphne), John Carradine (Borg), Claire Carleton (Carmona Daily), Tor Johnson (Curry), George Sawaya (K6)

Director – Reginald LeBorg, Screenplay – John C. Higgins, Story – George Drayson Adams, Producer – Howard W. Koch, Photography (b&w) – Gordon Avil, Music – Les Baxter, Photographic Effects – Louis DeWitt & Jack Rabin, Makeup Created by George Bau, Set Design – Bob Kinoshita. Production Company – Bel-Air Productions/Prospect Productions Inc
London, 1872. At Newgate Prison, Dr Gordon Ramsay is about to be executed for the murder of a man but swears he is innocent. The night before he is due to go to the gallows, he is visited by his old mentor, the distinguished physician Sir Joel Cadman. Cadman leaves Ramsay with a dose of the Indian drug mindantera, which will place him into a death-like coma. Ramsay takes it, is certified as dead and is revived at Cadman’s home. Cadman explains that he has saved Ramsay because he needs an assistant for his research. Cadman shows Ramsay his experimental work using mindantera to place patients under while he cuts open and explores their brain, trying to work out which areas control which actions. As he assists, Ramsay becomes horrified to discover that Cadman’s ruthless quest for knowledge has turned all of his subjects into deformed and mindless vegetables that he keeps imprisoned in the basement.
The Black Sleep could be considered the last gasp of the classic genre of the mad scientist film that began with Frankenstein (1931) and reached its peak during the 1940s amid a host of cheap efforts churned out at low-budget studios like Monogram and PRC, usually starring Bela Lugosi. After around 1947, the mad scientist film began to die off with the exception of a few stragglers and the genre instead became preoccupied with alien invaders and atomic monster films. The Black Sleep can be considered a swansong to the era. It brings together some of the most famous genre actors of the 1940s – Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr and John Carradine. There are also a couple of others who are associated with the genre but didn’t so much belong to that decade – Basil Rathbone who was most famous during the 1940s as Sherlock Holmes in the series of films made at Universal and appeared in a number of B horror films at AIP during the 1960s, and wrestler Tor Johnson who was part of the Edward D. Wood Jr stock company in the 1950s. 
The Black Sleep feels like a Monogram/PRC mad scientist film made with a slightly better budget. There are times it seems to almost be taking a more serious minded, less schlocky approach and setting everything amongst the frontier of medical research in 19th Century England – it initially has more in common with a film like Corridors of Blood (1962) than it does with a typical Bela Lugosi film of the last decade. The early sections create a (relative) sense of medically grounded realism, although it is not long before typical tropes of the genre kick in – the ethically challenged scientist; a madman (Lon Chaney Jr) in the house; a mute retainer (Bela Lugosi); deformities of failed experiments kept in the cellar; a scientist’s innocent daughter needing saving; laboratories improbably hidden beneath swivelling fireplaces in the library. Some of this has a modest effect. The main problem is that The Black Sleep is still a low-budgeted film and director Reginald LeBorg lets it take place amid limited sets, which leads to a film that is talky and static at best. Nevertheless, the film stands out mildly because of its better production values and passable direction that elevates what otherwise might have been hackneyed material. 
The name cast are employed with mixed effect. Basil Rathbone gives a wonderfully autocratic performance in the lead – he reminds very much of the role that Peter Cushing solidified as his own in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and sequels the following year. Akim Tamiroff proves a scene-stealer in a wonderfully oily and obsequious role as Rathbone’s Gypsy fixer. Lon Chaney Jr and Bela Lugosi were at best limited actors who only gained the status they had by appearing in hits at early points in their careers and becoming typecast in the horror genre thereafter. Here Chaney has a role that requires him to do one of the two things he did best – play either simple-minded or hulking. Lugosi never gets to do much in what would be his last ever completed role – the only other work he appeared in subsequent to this was the unfinished fragments that were posthumously incorporated into Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Disappointingly, for what was his last real performance, it is one where he gets no lines and is rarely on screen. Both John Carradine and Tor Johnson get even less screen time in their roles as failed experimental subjects who are discovered in the cellar near the end
Director Reginald LeBorg (or frequently credited as Reginald Le Borg) was an Austrian immigrant who worked as a B-budget director in Hollywood between the 1920s to the 1970s, mostly being known for a number of the entries in the Joe Palooka series. His other genre films include:- the Inner Sanctum thrillers Calling Dr Death (1944) and Dead Man’s Eyes (1944); the clairvoyance film Destiny (1944); Jungle Woman (1944), the second in Universal’s series starring Acquanetta as a were-ape woman; The Mummy’s Ghost (1944), the fourth of Universal’s Mummy series; the voodoo film Weird Woman (1944); Voodoo Island (1957); The Flight That Disappeared (1961), an anti-nuclear film about a planeload of people being abducted in mid-flight; the possession film Diary of a Madman (1962); the psychic thriller The Eyes of Annie Jones (1964); and the psycho-thriller So Evil, My Sister (1974). 

Wednesday, 30 January 2013




Christopher Lee (Count Dracula), Dennis Waterman (Simon Carlson), Jenny Hanley (Sarah Framsen), Christopher Matthews (Paul Carlson), Patrick Troughton (Klove), Michael Gwynn (Priest), Wendy Hamilton (Julie), Anoushka Hempel (Tania)
Director – Roy Ward Baker, Screenplay – John Elder [Anthony Hinds], Producer – Aida Young, Photography – Moray Grant, Music – James Bernard, Music Supervisor – Philip Martell, Special Effects – Roger Dicken, Makeup – Wally Schneidermann, Art Direction – Scott MacGregor. Production Company – Hammer/EMI Film Productions.  

After being caught in bed with the burgomaster’s daughter, Paul Carlson flees by jumping into a nearby coach. This deposits him near Castle Dracula where he becomes Dracula’s latest victim. His brother Simon and Simon’s fiancee come searching for him and end up being drawn into the fight against Count Dracula.
Scars of Dracula was the sixth Hammer Dracula film. After a series of reasonably strong entries up until then, Scars of Dracula is the point that is generally measured among Anglo-horror afficionados as being the start of the decline of the series. Indeed, some critics regard Scars of Dracula as the worst entry in the Hammer Dracula series. 
Scars of Dracula proceeds at a tired and sedate pace as though nobody was much interested any more. Indeed, this is the last entry in the Hammer Dracula series made in the traditional sense – the subsequent films seem to be trying to inject some element of novelty such as bringing Dracula into the modern day or pitting him against kung fu. The budget seems stretched in trying to drum up the usual plush interiors and there is a very unconvincing bat on a wire effect. Christopher Lee lends his regal, magisterial presence without ever finding anything to do in the film. 
The story does try to return somewhat to Bram Stoker with mysterious coach trips and with Dracula as courteous host with attendant bride – the film even takes the scene from the Stoker novel where Dracula is seen scaling a wall like a fly. However, the story never amounts to more than sundry runnings around the village and castle interspersed with random neck chompings. The story also seems dependent on an inordinate number of unattended coaches left waiting about for people to get inside them. There is also a much higher degree of sex and sadism than in any other entry in the series. 

Hammer’s other Dracula films are:– Dracula/The Horror of Dracula (1958), The Brides of Dracula (1960), Dracula – Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), The Satanic Rites of Dracula/Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride (1973) and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires/The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula (1974).

Roy Ward Baker became one of the prominent directors to rise in the latter decade of the Anglo-horror industry. Elsewhere, Baker made Quatermass and the Pit/Five Million Years to Earth (1967), Moon Zero Two (1969), The Vampire Lovers (1970), Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires/The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula (1974) at Hammer; Asylum (1972), ... And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973), The Vault of Horror (1973) Amicus; and the post-Amicus The Monster Club (1980).


Tuesday, 29 January 2013


Jennifer Connelly (Jennifer Corvino), Donald Pleasence (John MacGregor), Daria Nicolodi (Frau Bruckner), Dalila DiLazzaro (Headmistress), Federica Mastroianni (Sophie), Patrick Bauchau (Inspector Rudolf Geiger)
Director/Producer – Dario Argento, Screenplay – Dario Argento & Franco Ferrini, Photography – Romano Albani, Insect Photography – Ferdinando Armati, Underwater Photography – Gianlorenzo Battaglia, Special Stage Effects – Tonino Corridori, Insect Effects – Maurizio Garrone, Makeup – Sergio Stivaletti, Production Design – Maurizio Garrone, Nello Giorgetti, Luciano Spadoni & Umberto Turco. Production Company – Dacfilm. Italy. 1985.
Jennifer Corvino, daughter of an American film star, arrives in Switzerland in the area known as ‘The Swiss Transylvania’ to attend the Richard Wagner School for Girls. She arrives at the same time as a killer starts stalking the girls at the school. She is befriended by the wheelchair-ridden Scottish entomologist John MacGregor who discovers that Jennifer has an ability to telepathically communicate with insects. As she explores her newfound ability, Jennifer realises that this also offers a means of discovering the killer’s identity. 
The films of Dario Argento have an extraordinary wildness to them. They cannot be viewed as rational psycho-thrillers or traditional tales of the occult – they are works that exist almost entirely for the sake of displaying scenes of gratuitous sadism, all presented with a wild artistic flair. Argento’s artistic fascination with psychopathology and sadism can take one aback. It is as if Argento treats the human body and its entrails as though it were an artist’s clay that he might pull apart and rearrange as though fascinated to see what sorts of objects might be placed up against or into it 
Many Italo-horrorphiles call Phenomena a slipshod piece of Argento. However, there is much to enjoy – Argento holds one’s attention throughout and the plot is neither any more nor any less coherent than any other Dario Argento film. The setting is admittedly a steal from Suspiria (1977) but Argento only uses it as a springboard and turns the film into a unique detective story. The scenes where Jennifer Connelly realises her psychic powers and starts using the insects to locate the killer are the most fascinating in the film and, although Argento never takes the insect telepathy angle anywhere after introducing it, this slant on a detective story has a uniqueness unlike anything that has ever been done before.
When it comes to his trademark suspense and dismemberment, Argento creates some startling scenes – like where Jennifer Connelly realises that she has been poisoned and starts making herself try to throw up before it affects her. The extended climax is also excellent with wild and weird sequences like where Jennifer Connelly follows a telephone cord down a tunnel into a cellar filled with pools of maggot-ridden dead bodies; or Patrick Bauchau having to break his own hand so that he can get out of a manacle; and Jennifer Connelly’s climactic fight with the killer’s son, being dragged underwater by him as she tries to flee the burning gasoline in the water.
Jennifer Connelly, then only fifteen years old, turns in a reasonably sophisticated performance and Donald Pleasence lends his kindly if aging presence as the wheelchair-ridden scientist.
Dario Argento’s other films are:– The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat O’Nine Tails (1971), Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971), Deep Red (1976), Suspiria (1977), Inferno (1980), Tenebrae/Unsane (1982), Opera/Terror at the Opera (1987), Two Evil Eyes (1990), Trauma (1993), The Stendhal Syndrome (1996), The Phantom of the Opera (1999), Sleepless (2001), The Card Player (2004), Mother of Tears: The Third Mother (2007), Giallo (2009) and Dracula 3D (2012). 

Sunday, 27 January 2013


There are certain actors who have made a reputation for playing multiple characters in the same film. Performers like Peter Sellers, Eddie Murphy and Jerry Lewis are a few that come to mind, but not Tony Randall.  But six roles, as a matter of fact, are what Randall took on in George Pal’s “7 Faces of Dr. Lao.”The film is based on a novel called The Circus of Dr. Lao, originally published in 1935.  
In the film, the mysterious Dr. Lao comes riding into the town of Abalone, Arizona to set up his circus.  The town is experiencing hard times and many residents have been selling their land to the wealthy Clinton Stark, played by Arthur O’Connell, and getting out of town.  Unknown to the townsfolk, Stark is in on plans for the railroad to come through town, making him a big profit on the land he bought cheaply from the residents.  Only a local newspaper man, played by Jon Ericson, suspects that Stark is up to something.
Despite the looming decision the townsfolk face, many decide to attend Lao’s circus.  There they are met by a strange collection of characters…Merlin the magician (yes “the” Merlin), Medusa, The abominable Snowman, the satyr Pan, and fortune tell Apollonius of Tyana…all of whom are played by Randall.  To say the citizens of Abalone have some unique encounters with these sideshow attractions would be an understatement.  Stark has a chat with a talking serpent (a puppet this time, not Randall) who’s face resembles his right down to the moustache, and Barabara Eden as the local librarian literally gets all hot an bothered when watching Pan, who takes a form resembling O’Connell’s character as he plays his flute.  
It’s a scene that is a wee bit uncomfortable to watch in a movie that is supposedly a family film.  As a matter of fact, something in the back of my head tells me that I saw part of this on the Family Classics program on Chicago’s channel 9 as a kid…and being scared to death by the scene where Medusa turns a woman to stone.
George Pal was well known for his work in the fantasy film genre.  Films like “When World’s Collide,” “The War of the Worlds,” and “The Time Machine” make up Pal’s resume…not to mention his series of stop motion animation Puppetoon shorts.  He was no stranger to the world of visual effects.  Though there are a few effects sequences here, this film is driven much more by Randall’s performances.

Overall, Randall is quite good.  His best performance is as Apollonius, a character he plays without any emotion, which fits a man who is doomed to know every misfortune the people he talks to will face.  The Merlin character didn’t quite work for me, though, coming across as more drunk than eccentric.  But his performance as Dr. Lao is hard to describe.  As the movie begins, you think that Lao is going to be played as the stereotypical “oh, me so solly” type of Asian character. But As the movie progresses, Lao’s voice changes.  Sometimes he speaks with no accent at all, sometimes he takes on the voice of a carnival barker or of other ethnicities all together.  Many viewers will probably feel, as I did, that all the characters in the circus are actually Lao taking on different forms.On a whole, “7 Face of Dr. Lao” is a good family film, though it does get a bit too talky in a few scenes where it tries too hard to be “deep.”
The makeup effects are great, well deserving of the honorary Oscar makeup artist William Tuttle received…the first ever makeup Oscar, predating even “Planet of the Apes.”  But like all film’s with big time makeup effects, the performance of a skilled actor is needed to make it work.  Randall is more than up to the task.
Images: Marcus Brooks


Guy Williams (Sindbad), Heidi Bruhl (Princess Jana), Pedro Armendariz (El Kerim), Abraham Sofaer (Galgo)
Director – Byron Haskin, Screenplay – Harry Relis & Samuel B. West, Producers – Frank & Herman King, Photography – Gunter Sentfleben, Music – Michel Michelet, Music Conductor – Kurt Graunke, Photographic Effects – Tom Howard, Special Effects – Augie Lohman & Lee Zavitz, Art Direction – Isabelle & Werner Schlichting. Production Company – King Brothers.
The sorcerer El Kerim usurps the city of Baristan from its weak king. The princess Jana tries to warn her beloved, Sindbad. Her intentions are discovered by El Kerim who turns men into rocs to bomb Sindbad’s ship with boulders. Sindbad survives and comes to Baristan disguised as a thief to stop El Kerim. However, El Kerim has removed his heart and cannot be killed. And so Sindbad must undertake a perilous journey to the tower where El Kerim’s heart is guarded by a hydra.
Captain Sindbad was one of several productions inspired by the success of Ray Harryhausen’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). Captain Sindbad was a West German production, although the producers imported for the occasion American director Byron Haskin, who had made a number of genre entries such as The War of the Worlds (1953), The Naked Jungle (1954), Conquest of Space (1955) and From the Earth to the Moon (1958), as well as Guy Williams, star of tv’s Zorro (1957-9) and later Lost in Space (1965-8) and several of the supporting cast.
Captain Sindbad is an innocuous juvenile fantasy. It quickly follows the cliches of the Arabian Nights cycle as set down by 7th Voyage and the various cinematic versions of The Thief of Bagdad – the honest sailor who raises rebellion while disguised as a thief, the blackguard vizier usurper who has designs on the princess (who also happens to be the hero’s beloved). It is colourful in a pedestrian, undemanding way that proves mildly entertaining. The scenes with Abraham Sofaer’s magician tend toward the buffoonish
When it comes to the fantasy on display, the conception of the effects work – flying rocs, miniature storms, the hydra, a hand that extends several metres and a pre-Exorcist (1973) head-spinning effect – tends to belie the delivery, although the film tries hard. The film’s great moment of creative corner cutting in the special effects department is having Guy Williams face an invisible dragon. The climactic confrontation with the hydra is a little shabby.

Review: Richard Scheib
Images Marcus Brooks

Friday, 25 January 2013


Director: Val Guest. Writers: Val Guest (screenplay), Maurice Procter (novel)
Stars: Stanley Baker, John Crawford and Donald Pleasence

Based upon the 1954 novel by crime novelist Maurice Procter, a former policeman who served for 19 years with the Halifax police force, Hell Is A City is a highly effective and punchy 1960 British Film Noir/police procedural drama, mostly set on the mean streets of Manchester. 
Made by the famous Hammer film studio and directed and written by one of its star directors, Val Guest (The Quatermass Xperiment, Expresso Bongo, The Day The Earth Caught Fire), Hell Is A City is most notable for a driving, Elmer Bernstein style Crime Jazz score by Stanley Black, Arthur Grant’s (The Curse Of The Werewolf, The Devil Rides Out) lush black and white cinematography depicting a forbidding and mostly vanished post war Manchester and by a fine cast, lead by the irreplaceable Stanley Baker.
The opening titles of the movie set the tone: shot from the back seat of speeding police car, the silhouettes of the driver and his partner face the icky blackness of the night, illuminated by their car headlights, ominous speckles of neon and the street lights of central Manchester, while Stanley Black’s (in the early 1950s he habitually topped the Melody Maker chart of the most-heard musicians on radio) blaring big band soundtrack blasts a suitably portentous accompaniment. Guest transforms Manchester into a twilight vision of urban inferno Manhattan, as it was envisioned by fellow Brit Alexander Mackendrick’s 1957 classic Sweet Smell Of Success. 
Harry Martineau (Stanley Baker: The Cruel Sea, Zulu, Accident) is a tough, dedicated police inspector on the trail of Don Starling (John Crawford: The Enforcer), who escaped from prison after serving 5 years of his 14-year prison sentence for a jewelry robbery, and killed a warden in the process. Inspector Martineau was the arresting officer and knew the troubled Starling from his youth. He suspects Starling will be traveling to Manchester to recover the stolen jewels he hid away before being convicted.
 As Martineau deduces, Starling returns undetected to Manchester and goes to see Laurie Lovett (Charles Morgan: Sergeant Cork), who was in on the jewelry heist. Grateful Starling never turned him in Lovett finds him a place to hide at night. He reveals his plans to get a phony passport and flee the country, but not until he gets all the money he needs to implement his escape. He plans the next day to rob the bookmaker Gus Hawkins (Donald Pleasence: Halloween) of his gambling take with the help of Lovett’s gang.
The robbery expectedly does not go as planned and the gang is forced to disappear in different directions. Starling contacts Gus’ wife Chloe (Billie Whitelaw: The Omen, Frenzy) with whom he previously had an affair. She hides him in the attic located in the bedroom but when Gus takes a peek thinking he heard a noise, he is hit on the head and hospitalized with a concussion as the police take note that Starling has been spotted for the first time in Manchester and thereby connect him to the robbery. As inspector Martineau tracks Starling down, the gang fall one by one, until only the murderer is left.
Upon its release in 1960 Hell Is A City was acclaimed for its realism, bold depiction of violence and gritty Manchester locations, while nominated for two British Academy Awards for Best Screenplay and Most Promising Newcomer for Billie Whitelaw. More than half a century later, the films faults are glaringly obvious ”“ the portrayal of the troubled domestic life of Martineau and his wife is unconvincing (all would be well if she would just submit to his desire to bear him children), American actor John Crawford’s complete inability to muster a halfway convincing English, let alone Mancunian, accent, a somewhat cliched illustration of working class life and the sanitized depiction of the Manchester police force, which is without any single taint of corruption lurking in the shadows.

Yet the fantastic Stanley Baker’s intensely committed performance, which highlights the fact that the obsessed Martineau has really no life outside police work and that he will freely use any degree of emotional blackmail upon those he questions, regardless of the consequences, in order to catch Starling, endures. Coupled with Grant’s striking location photography (very well served by this digitally re-mastered DVD) of vintage Greater Manchester locations (including Piccadilly Gardens, Moss Side, Oldham, Levenshulme and Strangeways prison) and Black’s propulsive score, Hell Is A City remains an exciting proposition.

Images: Marcus Brooks
Review: HERE
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