Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride (1973)

aka The Satanic Rites of Dracula
Article 3246 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-9-2010
Posting Date: 7-4-2010
Directed by Alan Gibson
Featuring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Coles
Country: UK
What it is: Updated Vampire mayhem

A group of four VIPs are photographed taking part in Satanic rituals with a fifth unknown person. One of the VIPs is a scientist who develops a deadly strain of bubonic plague. Could Dracula be behind it all?

With this movie I finish off Hammer’s Dracula series, and the only reason I can’t say that it couldn’t have ended on a stranger note is that THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES was just around the corner. Still, this movie is a pretty odd amalgam at that; in fact, if it weren’t for the vampirism touches, this feels more like a Fu Manchu movie than a Dracula movie. In the end, I don’t know why Dracula needs both Satanic rituals AND a deadly bubonic plague virus to spread his evil, and the movie has that “everything but the kitchen sink” air about it. I do get the sense that they were starting to scrape the bottom of the “how to kill the vampire” barrel here, with a hawthorn tree and an indoor sprinkler system called into play to defeat the vampires. Dracula himself comes across as more of a super-villain rather than a creature of ancient evil, and the movie never really gels. Still, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are very good as usual, and despite the silliness factor the movie is entertaining enough.


The Creature with the Blue Hand (1967)

aka Die blaue Hand
Article 3235 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-28-2010
Posting Date: 6-23-2010
Directed by Alfred Vohrer and Samuel M. Sherman
Featuring Harald Leipnitz, Klaus Kinski, Carl Lange
Country: West Germany
What it is: Edgar Wallace mystery

One of a pair of twin brothers is committed to an asylum for the murder of the family gardener. When he is mysteriously helped to escape, he returns to his family home and takes up the identity of his twin brother, who has disappeared. But someone is now killing off the family members with a blue gauntlet of retractable razor-sharp blades. Is the twin being framed…?

One of my memories from my childhood was seeing a big ad in the newspaper for a drive-in double feature of BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT and CREATURE WITH THE BLUE HAND; for some reason, that ad haunted me. I finally got to see the first feature this year for the first time, and was quite disappointed. This, the second feature, I’d first seen years ago when it popped up on my local creature feature; I remember being a little disappointed that there was no real creature, (just someone using that blue gauntlet), but certain scenes in the movie did stick with me. It was only later that I knew the movie was part of the West German krimis of the sixties, and it is the first one I ever saw. I think this one holds up all right, especially if you’re familiar with krimis and know what to expect; the plot is overall confusing, but individual moments work well enough. Most memorable here are the blue hand attacks, and a scene in an asylum involving snakes and rats. The comic relief is subtler than usual here, with an odd butler and a pompous police inspector the primary sources. Years later, extra footage involving cannibalism would be grafted onto the movie by Samuel M. Sherman, an idea which certainly could not have improved the movie at all. All in all, I consider this one of the more enjoyable examples of the krimi form.

Cagliostro (1910)

aka Cagliostro, aventurier, chimiste et magiien
Article 3221 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-13-2010
Posting Date: 6-9-2010
Directed by Camille de Morlhon and Gaston Velle
Featuring Jean Jacquinet, Jacques Normand, Helene Du Montel
Country: France
What it is: Version of the Cagliostro story

Cagliostro kidnaps a gypsy girl and uses his hypnotic powers to turn her into a medium.

Sometimes you just accept these short silent films for what they are, but others you find yourself acutely aware that the story can’t be told in the time allotted. That’s the feeling I had about this one; in terms of story, there is a perfunctory feel about the whole affair here. However, I suspect that it isn’t so much about the story as the special effects; the beginning scene (in which a wizard uses special effects to show Cagliostro the gypsy girl) and a party scene (which is basically Cagliostro using the girl in his magic act) seem to exist solely to make extensive use of camera tricks. Nevertheless, it was nice to see another version of the Cagliostro story; I have had several on my hunt list over the years, but most of them seem unfindable.

Curse of the Fly (1965)

Article 3208 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-31-2010
Posting Date: 5-27-2010
Directed by Don Sharp
Featuring Brian Donlevy, George Baker, Carole Gray
Country: UK
What it is: Mad scientist tale

An escapee from a mental institution meets and falls in love with her rescuer, and they marry. He takes her to his home, where his father has been experimenting with teleportation. However, some of the father’s experiments weren’t quite successful, and what is left of his subjects aren’t entirely human…

This, the second sequel to THE FLY, ditches the human/fly gene mixing of the first two films and tries for some vaguer type of horror. The experimental subjects don’t seem to be crosses with other creatures; they’re just misshapen. The movie has some effective moments, especially when two of the misshapen creatures are teleported together and come out as something truly abominable. However, the movie has its fair share of problems; the situation with the son marrying an escapee from a mental institution (the movie opens with her breaking out dressed only in her underwear and running away) is heavily contrived, the reactions of the characters to various events are hard to swallow, and the acting is variable. It’s one of the movies where I can sense that Brian Donlevy had been drinking; though he’s professional enough, some of his line deliveries seem strange and unfocused. The motivations of the female servant seem very odd; why does she leave the photograph of the escapee’s husband’s previous wife in her bedroom at one point? The slow pace during the first half of the movie also drags things down a bit, though the ending is pretty good. This is a mixed bag.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Article 3207 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-30-2010
Posting Date: 5-26-2010
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Featuring Richard Dreyfuss, Francois Truffaut, Teri Garr
Country: USA
What it is: Alien contact story

When a lineman encounters a UFO, he becomes obsessed with a shape that will lead him to the meaning of his experience.

This beloved UFO movie appears on a lot of people’s best ten lists for science fiction movies. There’s no doubt that in many ways it is a brilliant movie. Spielberg has a truly profound understanding of film language, and the way he has of telling a story and imparting information is wondrous. He also has the ability to come up with some truly impressive crowd scenes. The sense of mystery is strong here, and we feel for the various characters as they try to deal with their lives after their encounters. In many ways, this is a stunning movie.

Yet I resist the movie a little; for some reason, I’m a little disappointed with the ending. This may seem like a ridiculous statement; the ending is a masterpiece of special effects technology at the very least. But for me, the ending lacks a certain emotional resonance that I was hoping for. After doing a lot of thinking about it, I decided the problem is that the ending is a little too heavy on the “awe” end of the scale; in my mind, an encounter with aliens from outer space would have a more complex set of reactions than this. The rest of the movie has touches of fear and paranoia that seem to vanish at the end, and I don’t think they should vanish. Which is not to say that the movie should have a darker ending; I’m just saying that the existence and acknowledgment of that darkness would go a ways toward making the end of the movie a more complete experience.

Nevertheless, I must admit that I found this less of a problem this time than with my previous two viewings of the movie. Spielberg’s vision is breathtaking, and there are new things to be observed on each re-viewing. Whatever its flaws, the movie is a rich experience.

The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)

Article 3202 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-25-2010
Posting Date: 5-21-2010
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Christopher Lee, Richard Greene, Howard Marion-Crawford
Country: West Germany/Italy/Spain/UK/Liechtenstein
What it is: Fu Manchu movie

Fu Manchu plans to take over the world by using a secret formula that turns water into ice.

It took five countries to make this movie? This is the last of the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu movies, which, given the quality of this one, was no great loss. What can you say about a movie in which the big opening action sequence (a confused mess) is made up entirely of footage from two other movies (namely, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (about the Titanic) and THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU), one of which was in black and white? I’d say it was either a sign of desperation or a sign of laziness, but in truth, it was probably the sign of an extremely low budget and the fact that nobody seemed to really care about the production. Most of the rest of the movie is full of dead space; do we really need to see the complete coffin-transportation scene to grasp that the doctor and his nurse have been kidnapped by Fu Manchu? Still, in the movie’s defense, I can say this; despite its obvious weaknesses, it never becomes unwatchable, despite the snail’s pace. And one must also remember that much of this movie’s reputation is due to MST3K fans who are judging it solely from its appearance on that show, where certain scenes are missing and some plot points get lost in the shuffle; the movie does have a plot that can be sorted out, and a certain amount of your attention can be occupied trying to do so. In short, as weak as it is, it’s not one of the worst movies ever made. And one should keep in my mind that my copy is NOT the recent DVD release by Blue Underground, which is reported as having given the movie a much better presentation.

Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)

Article 3200 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-24-2010
Posting Date: 5-19-2010
Directed by Brian Clemens
Featuring Horst Janson, John Carson, Shane Briant
Country: UK
What it is: Interesting period vampire flick

A master swordsman roams the countryside with his hunchbacked assistant in search of vampires.

For attempting to take the vampire concept in an exciting new direction, I applaud Hammer for making this movie. It was the first of an intended series, and I can see how it might have made a dandy one; in particular, I liked the concept that there are different strains of vampires that require different means of dispatching them. Unfortunately, the movie was a box office failure, and, rather than inaugurating a series, it contributed to Hammer’s decline. Upon watching it, I can think of three possible reasons it failed. One is that the title character really needed to be a fun, energetic, fascinating character in his own right, but Horst Janson simply doesn’t fit the bill; though I can’t say he was sleep-walking through the role, he doesn’t appear to be having any fun, leaving John Cater (who does appear to know what is needed here) as Grost the hunchback as the most interesting character here. Secondly, given that the movie does aspire to being at least partially a swashbuckler, it needs to directed with verve and energy to do justice to Brian Clemens’s script; unfortunately, Brian Clemens also undertakes directing for the first and only time in his career, and his pacing is far too deliberate and leaden to bring this one to life. Thirdly, the score itself, which should also energetic and rousing, is for the most part missing in action, and when it is there, it’s aspiring to a dour moodiness instead. The end result is a movie that, despite the interesting script, isn’t anywhere near as much fun as it should be.