Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969)

BLOOD OF DRACULA’S CASTLE (1969)
Article 2241 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-5-2007
Posting Date: 10-1-2007
Directed by Al Adamson and Jean Hewitt
Featuring Alexander D’Arcy, John Carradine, Paula Raymond

Dracula, his wife, their evil butler, their homicidal maniac friend, and their hulking handyman rent a castle where they keep women chained up to supply them with blood and for sacrifices to the moon. When the ownership of the castle passes to a young couple who plan to evict the monsters so that they themselves can movie in, complications arise.

This is a rather strange entry in the Al Adamson oeuvre. Though it shares a certain similarity to DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN in that it gives us a wide array of monsters/villains (two vampires, a homicidal maniac who may be a werewolf, a moon-worshiping butler, and a big hulking deformed man), it doesn’t really use them in the same way. The biggest oddity here is in the character of the two vampires; Dracula and his wife are played as an effete upper-class couple who never attack anyone directly; they don’t even suck blood from their victims, but drink it in wine glasses prepared by their butler from the women chained in the basement. These characters alone make me suspect that the movie may have been conceived as a comedy, and the fact that I have something of the same reaction to NIGHTMARE IN WAX , which was also penned by writer Rex Carlton, only strengthens that feeling. It’s pretty mild in comparison with some of Adamson’s other movies, and there are story elements that I don’t care for. For one, in the final moments when the young couple take on all of the villains, four of them are dispatched with far too much ease, and all of the foreshadowing that takes place about the homicidal maniac losing control of himself during the full moon comes to precisely nothing; no transformation takes place of any sort, and, for that matter, he shows virtually no self-control at any time during the movie at all. And though Barbara Bishop is no doubt a very attractive and shapely woman, it’s rather hard to pay any attention to her in her opening scenes, as she keeps being upstaged by dolphins, killer whales, and walruses.

 

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Black Magic (1949)

BLACK MAGIC (1949)
Article 2240 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-4-2007
Posting Date: 9-30-2007
Directed by Gregory Ratoff and Orson Welles
Featuring Orson Welles, Nancy Guild, Akim Tamiroff

A gypsy man discovers that he is a natural hypnotist, and decides to make a fortune off of his ability. When he meets the Viscount who had ordered the execution of his parents and his own whipping and blinding (the latter from which he escaped), he uses his abilities to gain vengeance. Of help to him is a woman who has a startling resemblance to Marie Antoinette. Soon, his lust for power and his love for the woman gain control of him.

You can file this one between SVENGALI and RASPUTIN in the mad hypnotist canon. Like Rasputin, he becomes entangled with the royal family in his pursuit of power, and like SVENGALI, he uses his hypnotism to try to force the woman he loves to love him. With his booming presence and piercing eyes, Orson Welles is ideally cast as the Cagliostro. He is also a character who really existed in history, though the story here takes enormous liberties with the true story; in fact, here Cagliostro is considered responsible for the French revolution. The movie is good but not great; occasionally, some of the acting is awkward and certain scenes feel rushed. Fans of fantastic cinema should recognize both Barry Kroeger and Raymond Burr as Alexandre Dumas, father and son respectively; they appear at the beginning of the movie only to set the scene for the story. My favorite scene involves an attempt by the physicians of Paris to embarrass Cagliostro at the court of King Louis, only to have Cagliostro turn the tables on them.

 

Baron Prasil (1961)

BARON PRASIL (1961)
aka Baron Munchhausen
Article 2239 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-3-2007
Posting Date: 9-29-2007
Directed by Karel Zeman
Featuring Milos Kopecky, Rudolf Jelinek, Jana Brejchova

An astronaut arrives on the moon to discover that Baron Munchhausen is already there ahead of him. The Baron mistakes him for a moon man, and takes him to Earth to introduce him to his world. The astronaut meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman, but the Baron has his eyes on her as well.

If there is any director who I would like to have seen make use of modern CGI technology in crafting his movies, it would have been Karel Zeman. This is not to say that I find any fault at all with the special effects technology that Zeman did use; rather, because he was willing to incorporate any that came his way towards his own ends, I’m very curious as to how he would have used it and to what extent he he would have retained the other forms he already used. I think you’d have to go as far back as Melies himself to find another director who had so much giddy glee in his use of special effects, and this movie is breathtaking to behold; always creative, and decidedly non-realistic. It’s very interesting to have watched him so soon after having watched a Ralph Bakshi film; I’m willing to bet that Bakshi was influenced by Zeman, especially in his use of backgrounds. The story is a charmingly silly piece of chutzpah, in which giant fish, Turkish fleets and cannonball rides all come into play. Nobody made movies like Zeman, and I look forward to seeing more of his oeuvre for this series.

 

The Bat People (1974)

THE BAT PEOPLE (1974)
Article 2235 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-29-2007
Posting Date: 9-25-2007
Directed by Jerry Jameson
Featuring Stewart Moss, Marianne McCandrew, Michael Pataki

A man is bitten by a bat in a cave. He begins to exhibit strange symptoms. People start to die in horrible ways.

Despite the obsession with bats and blood, this is more of a werewolf story than a vampire story. On the other hand, it’s hard to tell; one of things this movie fails to do is set any ground rules on the whys and wherefores on being a werebat. It’s also marred by an overly leisurely pace, too many close-ups of bats (who apparently shriek like hawks) and of eyes. Some odd touches here and there do help a little, but not enough. The seventies-style ending is odd, inconclusive, and not really very satisfying. All in all, this one is pretty forgettable.

 

The Brain (1962)

THE BRAIN (1962)
Article 2186 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-11-2007
Posting Date: 8-7-2007
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Anne Heywood, Peter van Eyck, Cecil Parker

A scientist experimenting with keeping brains alive removes one from the head of an industrialist who died in his laboratory after a plane crash. He then finds himself possessed by the industrialist, and embarks on an attempt to find out who planted the bomb on the plane.

This is the third version of Curt Siodmak’s novel “Donovan’s Brain”. I don’t know which of the three movie versions follows the novel the most closely, but I’m most familiar with the second one (DONOVAN’S BRAIN) and generally consider that the definitive version of the story. When I saw this version years ago, I disliked the fact that it strayed so far from the intent of that earlier version from the fifties, but on viewing it now, I admire the way it manages to take the story in a different direction and still keep it interesting. It is less concerned with the possession of the doctor by the brain (though that still plays into the story), and more concerned about the mystery aspect, and in following this story line, it takes some very interesting turns, and deepens the theme of the “ends justifying the means” that runs through it. In a sense, it’s a bit more reminiscent of D.O.A or THE WALKING DEAD than other versions of the story. It’s also helped by a good performance by Peter Van Eyck, the presence of Bernard Lee from the James Bond movies, and some interesting characters; my favorite is that of the rebellious son who takes revenge on his father by portraying him as a monster in several paintings. Since it’s focused on the mystery aspect, it ends on an ambiguous note since the possession-by-brain plot is never really resolved, but I think it gave the movie a somewhat intriguing touch. It’s not a great movie, but I definitely liked it more on the second viewing.

 

The Black Zoo (1963)

BLACK ZOO (1963)
Article 2138 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-22-2007
Posting Date: 6-20-2007
Directed by Robert Gordon
Featuring Michael Gough, Jeanne Cooper, Rod Lauren

A zoo owner uses his wild animals to dispense with his enemies.

The three movies made by Michael Gough for Herman Cohen in the late fifties and early sixties (HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, KONGA and this one) are something of a piece; Gough plays for all practical purposes the same character in all three: a man who has a smooth way of dealing with the authorities, but is brutal and abusive to those close to him and resorts to murder to do away with his enemies. This is the most obscure of the three movies; it’s nowhere near as good as HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, and even though I think it’s better than KONGA, it’s not as amusing as that one is in the final analysis. Still, I must confess that I’m not a big fan of Cohen’s work; I find it often lacking in subtlety, and there is a tendency toward shrillness (the characters scream at each other a lot). For me, the best things about this one are the presence of some familiar faces; Elisha Cook Jr. pops on the scene just long enough to die a horrible death, Rod Lauren was always interesting playing disturbed teens, and Edward Platt of “Get Smart” fame gets to play the chief of police, and I must admit to being tickled the moment one of the characters calls him “Chief”. My favorite moment is an unexpected one; Michael Gough attends a meeting of animal lovers known as the True Believers, and they give him a young tiger to replace his recently deceased one named Baron, and then they perform a ceremony to transfer Baron’s lost soul into the new beast.

 

The Birds (1963)

THE BIRDS (1963)
Article 2125 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-9-2007
Posting Date: 6-7-2007
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Featuring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy

A rich playgirl goes to Bodega Bay to play a practical joke on a lawyer she met in a pet store. Their lives are interrupted when birds in the area beginning attacking people.

When it comes to his forays into genre territory, Hitchcock’s PSYCHO seems to be the one that garners most of the attention and acclaim. Though that movie certainly deserves it, I prefer this one, his foray into the “nature gone wild” subgenre, and a truly harrowing film in its own right. With this viewing, I couldn’t help but notice how well he develops the characters and situations during the first half of the movie, despite the fact that they don’t really have much to do with the bird attacks which are the central elements to the plot. Actually, this contributes quite a bit to the madness; the bird attacks take on the feel of an interruption of our normal lives as any big disaster does. I also notice how Hitchcock is able to build tension even in scenes that don’t overtly require it; for example, there’s some real tension in the scene with the man in the elevator, even though his only purpose is to pass on information to Tippi Hedren’s character. I also find that the movie (especially in the final scenes) has a strong similarity to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (boarded up house, character in shock, etc.), and I wonder if Romero was influenced by this one. And even though there is some controversy about the ending of the movie (some people are disappointed by it because it promises an event that doesn’t happen), I find it perfect; I’ve always felt that the reason the promised event doesn’t happen is because it doesn’t need to happen, and the final scene, more than any other moment I’ve seen in the movies, leaves me with the feeling that I’m staring right into the face of the apocalypse. Great performances from all abound, with 88-year old Ethel Griffies nearly stealing the movie as an ornithologist.