Sunday, March 28, 2010

Grave Reviews #7


Director: Tom Holland

Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys, Johnathan Stark.

At the start of the film, Charlie Brewster (Ragsdale) is watching a horror movie show hosted by Peter Vincent (McDowall) who is a Peter Cushingesque horror actor based on Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. For over a year he has been trying to sleep with his pretty, virginal girlfriend Amy (Bearse) only to grow constantly frustrated at her frigidity.

When Amy finally relents, Charlie notices that the vacant house next to his bedroom has two new occupants, who for some reason are carrying a coffin into the basement. He becomes instantly obsessed and Amy storms out angry at Charlie ignoring her.

That night, a prostitute asks Charlie if she has the right address, and he says she needs to go next door to the new neighbours. He mentions the neighbour to his mother who hopes that he isn't gay, and he retorts that he's not (due to the prostitute that he doesn't mention). In his room he hears a scream next door, and the lights next door go out.

At school, Charlie tells his best friend Evil Ed (Geoffreys) about the neighbour and is embarrassed by Amy with a pie in the face when he ignores her once more talking about his mysterious neighbour. He is horrified to see that the woman he saw has turned up dead, and Evil mentions that latest murder victims have been decapitated.

That night he sees a naked woman with one of the men about to do the deed when he freaks out at the long teeth the man has. The man notices Charlie watching him from a dark room, and he closes the window blind with a clawed hand. He sees the two men carry out the dismembered bodies in garbage bags later on, and goes to the police the next day telling them he knows who the serial killer is.

A policeman goes to the house with Charlie and interviews the flatmate Billy Cole who says Jerry is out of town. Charlie notices an old painting that resembles Amy and growing frustrated at Billy lying tells the policeman to check the cellar because Jerry is there sleeping the sleep on the undead away from the burning sun.

The policeman leaves threatening Charlie with imprisonment, and he flees to Evil's house and asks for advice (why is this he watches enough vampire films to know their weaknesses!)  Evil states the most important rule is that a vampire must be invited into a house by the rightful owner to gain entry.

He comes home to find that his mother has invited Jerry over for tea to get to know each other, and Jerry asks for permission to visit anytime. (This is in reference to my last article: Jerry needs permission to enter into a mortal's dwelling, and in asking for repeated permission this could either mean that he needs permission every time, or just states this to torment Charlie who knows the truth).

Later that night Charlie faces off with Jerry in his room barely surviving. Jerry trashs his car in retaliation for interferring with his life and staking his hand with a pencil.

Charlie's next step in gaining help with destroying the vampire is to visit his idol Peter Vincent at the TV studio who has just been fired because of the growing popularity with slasher films compared to jaded vampire films. After hearing Charlie's story, Peter claims Charlie is deranged and leaves.

In desperation to save their friend from commiting murder they visit Peter Vincent and pay him money to perform vampire tests on Jerry with Charlie present in two nights time. They all arrive, Peter hands Jerry tap water still not believing Charlie's claims, and Jerry becomes enamoured with Amy who is the spitting image of his mysterious lost love. They quickly leave however when on a whim Peter looks in a small compact mirror and notices that Jerry does not cast a reflection, dropping and shattering it in shock. Soon after they leave Jerry steps on the broken mirror fragment to realise he has to destroy them all for his own safety.

Jerry stalks them on the way home, turning Evil after he leaves Charlie and Amy and sets him on Peter at his apartment. Amy and Charlie run into a club only for Jerry to kidnap her, killing several bouncers in the process. Evil almost succeeds in killing Peter but since he is a newborn vampire is easily overcome by Peter's crucifix and he jumps through the window.

Jerry contacts Charlie to tell him to return to Jerry's house the next night alone with Peter is he ever wishes to see Amy again. Jerry turns Amy that night, Charlie and Peter come to the house to do battle, only for Peter to realise his crucifix has not effect on Jerry. He must have upmost Faith in the crucifix for it to work on a Master vampire. Billy knocks out Charlie and Peter flees next door to Charlie's house to find Evil in his mother's bed. Evil takes the form of the wolf to kill Peter after crashing through railing luckily stakes Evil with a broken piece. He removes the stake from Evil's reverted human form and leaves to save Charlie once more.

Charlie wakes locked in a room with Amy who is angry with Charlie for abandoning her with Jerry, and attacks Charlie. Peter returns to the house and frees Charlie from the room, and tells Charlie he must kill Jerry if he wishes to save Amy. Peter finds his Faith and wards off Jerry who with the coming sunlight flees to his coffin after the hunters destroy Billy who crumples to goo and bugs after getting staked through the heart.

They find Jerry's coffin in a secret compartment in the basement and are almost overcome unti the begin smashing windows trapping Jerry in bars of sunlight. Breaking an entire window Jerry is pinned to wall and his flesh is flayed by sunlight until he is utterly destroyed. Amy returns to humanity, and Peter returns back to television hosting B-grade Alien invasion films. Charlie and Amy are about to make out when he notices two red eyes in Jerry's old house staring at him, but dismisses them as his imagination. The film ends with Evil laughing, saying "Oh you're so cool Brewster". Peter removing the stake from Evil's body has resurrected him similar to the Dracula films.

This is one of the best vampire movies ever made. The homage to Peter Cushing and old vampire films, the Classical vampire of Jerry Dandridge who can become bat, wolf and mist, his ghoul-like servant Billy and some poor teens who get in over their heads makes a perfect combination along with a pumping 80s soundtrack.

Sarandon has the right amount of charm and menance to portray Dandridge and he rates up their with my favourite evil vampires alongside Radu and Yorga. Classical Vampires are my favourite breed of vampires, and unfortunately they are a dying breed.

 This film is a must for any vampire fan, if you don't own it or at least have never seen it, you should be ashamed of yourself and not call yourself a vampire junkie.

My Grade is A+

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sermons from The Bloody Pulpit #1

Vampires and Invitation into Private Dwellings

After the latest episode of Vampire Diaries last night, it got me thinking about the law of invitation for vampires. This law is not used in every vampire myth and story, lately it was used in Let The Right One In, along with movies such as movies Fright Night and The Lost Boys. Also this was a plot device on TV shows such as Buffy and Angel, and recently in True Blood 

From my knowledge, older stories such as Dracula and Carmilla didn't entertain this rule, and I wonder where it came from, and also which writers/filmakers were the first to use it in their stories?

In Dracula, there is some kind of mirrored law with invitation where Harker must "Enter Freely Of His Own Will" into Dracula's Castle though this could be a magical solution or trick to breaking the will of Harker, and dominating him as the Castle belonged to Dracula.

The first novel that I found to have an invitation revoked was Stephen King's Salem's Lot, while some other popular vampire series such as Rice's The Vampire Chronicles don't use this law at all, and from most of the modern vampire literature I've read over the years, this law seems to be as sparsely used as a vampire's reflection in mirrors.

So I'll put it out to my readers to test their knowledge. What do you know of The Law of Invitation, and what it's origins were, and what do you think of it as a plot device?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Grave Reviews #6

Premature Burial (1962)

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Ray Milland, Hazel Court, Alan Napier, Heather Angel

Based on a Tale by Edgar Allan Poe.

This is the third Poe adaptation out of eight films by Roger Corman and the only one not to star Vincent Price.

Guy Carrell (Milland) develops an increasing level of paranoia from the fear of getting buried alive, when at the start of the film he witnesses a corpse getting exhumed and along with bloody claw marks on the lid of the coffin, the man's features are frozen in torment.

Guy writes a letter to his fiancee Emily (Court) telling her that the wedding is off for her own good. Not impressed with the letter Emily turns up to Guy's mansion unannounced and once getting past Guy's defensive sister Kate (Heather Angel) she learns of Guy's fears that are quickly growing into an obsession. She tells him she loves him unconditionally and will make sure his fear of inherited catalepsy (Guy's believes his father was buried alive in his tomb and heard him screaming the first night) will not get the better of him.

After the wedding, Guy builds a special tomb for himself, with all sorts of failsafes in case his worst fears are realised. The coffin is rigged to open at the slightest movement, and the crypt can open by pullcords that also open secret doors and a ladder with a hatch. If all else fails, there is a cord attached to a bell, food in the pantry and as a last resort poison in a chalice behind the black curtain.

Emily's old friend (and ex-lover) Miles stays in touch and rents a nearby house from Guy so he can work on his medical experiments along with Hazel's Doctor father where they can perform experiments on the body and mind. Miles is interested in the early stages of psychiatry and is intrigued by Guy's dilemma and attempts to help him find a solution.

Guy's hallicinations get worse, from seeing gravediggers stalk him, to an eerie graveside tune whistled only he can hear, to finding a trapped cat behind the walls. Kate demands an ultimatum, his fancy tomb or her with which he chooses her and blows it up with the dynamite, one of the options he had to escape the tomb. Miles comes to his wit's end with Guy's obsession and demands to see the body of Guy's father to prove once and for all that not only was his father not buried alive, but that catelepsy is not an inherited trait.

Upon seeing his father WAS buried alive he immediately falls into a cataleptic state. Emily struggles with her promise not to bury him in the crypt when Miles and her father declare him dead, and they bury him (alive) in the cemetery. Secretly a day later Emily's father has him dug up for medical research, and Guy begins to extract his revenge. He kills the graverobbers and Emily's father, and sneaks around his own house to listen in and discover who betrayed him.

He discovers Emily was behind it all, not only to get to his money, but also to have Miles for herself again although this plan was unknown to Miles himself. Guy kidnaps Emily and takes her to his grave to be buried alive herself as punishment, and after Miles is alerted to the dead graverobbers and Emily's father he gives chase to the cemetery to stop Guy.

Guy is compassionate to Miles, telling him to back off as he knows he played no part. Emily is dying under a foot of gravesoil in the grave, and as Guy gets the better of Miles he is shot dead by his own sister Kate who was aware of Emily's devious plan but was too hesistant to warn Guy because she would not be believed due to Emily's position to Guy. Miles retrieves Emily's suffocated corpse from the grave where Kate shows her the key to Guy's father's tomb tucked in her bosom, and they leave the two cursed lovers to rot in the cemetery.

This was a lush film, beautifully filmed and the sets were wonderfully gothic and necromantic. Like most of Poe's protagonists, Guy was half-mad and dealt with some obscure obsession. The film deviated slightly from the story, inasmuch as Guy's character does not die in the story, but at the end wakes up in a confined space, where at first he believes he is buried alive, but realises he is in berth of a boat, and subsequently overcomes his fear of being buried alive.

Of course this had to be changed from dramatic effect for film, and like Poe's tales adapted for film the end is a tragic one. Ray Milland was a fine substitute for Price, and to be honest I couldn't really see Price in this role, perhaps he turned it down? Hazel Court who plays Emily was in the Masque of the Red Death that I reviewed previously, and seemed to have made a name for herself as villains in Corman's Poe films. Both Milland and Hazel are admirable here, and the story seemed to centre on them mostly with Miles, Kate and others really one having minor parts.

But I watched this film for the gothic scenery and location (along with my love of Poe's literature) and I was not disappointed. Not sure if it's my favourite Poe adapatation yet, as I have to watch The Pit in the Pendulum and The Fall of the House of Usher etc, but this is certainly up there. I remember watching this in my teens years ago on T.V but can't remember whether I enjoyed it, though it must have left some impression.

My Grade is A-.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Grave Reviews #5

The Masque of The Red Death (1964)

Director: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Hazel Court and Jane Asher

Based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe

Prince Prospero (Price) is a right, royal bastard and also a cruel Satanist who rules with an Iron fist over a small medieval European village. At the beginning of the film, a elderly lady from a nearby village is called over by a holy man dressed in red leaning against a tree and gives her a white flower he turns red with a wave of his hand. He commands the woman to take the flower back to her village as a sign of deliverance from Prospero and his evil ways.

Prospero travels to that village on the same night, to give gratitude to them for this years harvest and to invite them to a feast at his Abbey in several days time. He doesn't take kindly to some of the silly villagers giving him lip, so he orders them garrotted only to be pleaded by a village girl named Francesca (Asher) to spare their lives.

Prospero is amused and offers the girl the choice of which one of the two shall survive his wrath, but this is interrupted by a moaning from a nearby hut where he discovers an elderly woman, the same who met the Holy Man, dying of the Red Death. He flees the tent and demands answers. The villagers tell him of a prophecy where they would be spared his tyranny, so in punishment (and also a way to prevent the Death spreading) he orders the village burnt to the ground, taking Francesca, her cheeky lover Gino along with her father Ludivico back to his Abbey.

Back at the Abbey where he is safe from the Red Death, he entertains nearby nobles and grants them a Masquerade Ball in honour of their safety, but all are forbidden to wear red. Juliana (Court), Prospero's current lover is not amused that Francesca has usurped her room, along with her bath and proclaims to Prospero she is prepared to perform the final Satanic rites to ensure her place within the Abbey and at his side, a move Prospero mentions she was not so eager to undergo before the arrival of the peasant girl.

Over the next few days Francesca witnesses Prospero's cruelty but also his realistic philosophy, comparing the black grace of his Dark Lord to Francesca's 'dead' god of 'love'. He states that Satan rules this Earth along with the universe, and that he is a God of Reality and Truth that opens the eyes to those shut by Blind Faith. He demonstrates this by showing her his Falcon kill a bird, and explaining that in the start a Falcon's eyes are sewn shut to give them loyalty and reliance on their master, much like her own dead God has done to her.

Prospero shows Francesca six rooms off the main ballroom, each in a specific style: blue, purple, green, yellow, white, and violet. He explains his father imprisoned a friend in the yellow room for three years, and when he released him he couldn't bear the site of sunlight or daffodils. He stops her at the last room, telling her she is not ready to enter yet, but one day soon with his instruction she will be ready to view its dark secrets beyond.

In the background Juliana is performing her own Black Rites, hoping to become Prospero's equal by becoming Satan's bride, and in the process removing Francesca from the competition. Unluckly for Juliana, Prospero has grown bored of her, and sees a better conquest in corrupting Francesca. Juliana 'helps' Francesca and her friends escape only to be captured by Prospero's who is onto his lover's treachery. He sets a Falcon onto Juliana's face, eviscerating her painfully till her death.

Beforehand he desired to have the two men fight each other to the death, but now at the feast before the Masque, he presents them with five knives, one of them poisoned and demands they each cut their forearm in turn. The poison will kill in five seconds, and Prospero continues with his Christian taunts of 'love thy neighbour' and to put their faith in their God to test it.

After four knives both are unharmed and Francesca's father snatches the last to stab Prospero. He dies on the point of Prospero's sword, and Gino is released back into the wilds to the mercy of the Red Death as a last test of his Faith.  On the road he meets the same Holy Man in red who gives him a tarot card and tells him to return to the castle and wait on the battlements.

At the ball Prospero is thrilled to have finally crushed Francesco's will, who is now prepared to undertake the same Satanic Rites that Juliana was prepared to undergo. Suddenly he spies a Masque guest dressed all in red, and furiously charges after him, catching up with him in the last room, which is painted black and illuminated with red light. He assumes that this guest is his Lord Satan finally come to show his gratitude to his number one servant.

As he follows 'Satan' back through the rooms, Prospero babbles on about how awesome a servant he is, and the guest informs him he is not Satan and that Death bows to no God. The guest waves his robe towards the Masque attendants and they suddenly become stricken with the Red Death, but Prospero is still oblivious and blinded by his own dark faith, much the same way he previously accused Francesca of on numerous occasions. The man in red tells Francesca to leave for the battlements where Gino is waiting for her, and in anger Prospero removes the man's mask to confront his own death, his own visage sweating blood.

The Masque attendees all clamour around a terrified Prospero who tries to escape his fate, and is coerced by the crowd to be lead back into the black room. There the personification of Red Death itself tells Prospero that he shouldn't fear his own death as his own soul died long ago, and with that Prospero succumbs to the illness.
At the end of the film, The Red Death is playing Tarot cards with one of the six survivors of the village, when he is greeted in turn by the personification (among others) of the Black and Yellow Death. Yellow Death has grown weary of the misery he has wrought, which perhaps signals the end of all the plagues across Europe.

The film ends with the line from the story: And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

This film was made by American International Pictures, the same company who made the Count Yorga films, and other Poe adaptations such as The Fall of the House of Usher and the Tomb of Ligeia. The latter films also starring Price who was their star actor much the same that Hammer Horror was to Christopher Lee. When you watch these films though you can see a resemblance in set design and atmosphere, which for a big Hammer fan like myself is quite a treat. To me Roger Corman was the Terrance Fisher of the USA, and produced many star vehicles for Price, and I have enjoyed each of his films which include Premature Burial, The Pit and the Pendulum and the Raven and those I mentioned just before.

Price is charismatic as always and chews every scene he is in. I don't enjoy Price as much as Lee (I can't explain why) but his movies were part of my teenagehood of Horror much as Lee's were. The scenery was lush, and the script wasn't bad (well it came from a Poe story) and I quite enjoyed Price's dialogue, he really stuck it to the peasants and his own noble class though I found his demise at the end a tad hokey.

My Grade is C.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Grave Reviews #4

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Director: Terence Fisher
Screenplay: Richard Matheson
Starring: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray
Based on the novel by author Dennis Wheatley.

Set during the 1930s when the novel was written, The Devil Rides Out tells the tale of Duc de Richleau (Lee) and Rex Van Ryn, who upon Richleau's insistence they visit old friend Simon Aron to discover he is to miss their yearly reunion because he has joined an 'astronomical' society.

Curious about the gathering, Richleau becomes startled when at first he realises the meeting is restricted to 13 members, and they are asked to leave. Wandering around the members' room beforehand, he overhears occult terms and philosophies. His suspicions are confirmed when he invites himself to Simon's observation tower to discover a mini-temple along with a black cockeral and white hen about to be sacrificed to some infernal deity that Simon is to be baptised to.

Knocking Simon out, Richleau kidnaps him and in explaining to his friend Rex that he has studied the Black Arts all his life they begin a cat and mouse game for the very souls of Simon and fellow worshipper Tanith who Rex has fallen for, and leads them into a magical and spiritual battle with the charismatic and dreaded cult leader Mocota (Gray). This leads to various locales such as desecrated churches and haunted groves such as Salisbury Plain where Richleau and his small band catch site of The Angel of Death and The Goat of Mendes (Baphomet) himself.

When Mocota fails in his bid to repossess Simon and Tanith to the circle, he at first summons The Angel of Death to take his enemies out, and only succeeds in killing his disciple Tanith. He kidnaps Peggy, Richleau's niece into using her in a diabolic sacrifice to locate the The Talisman of Set.

Only Richleau's own knowledge of the Black Arts, and his own Faith in God will be enough to save them all from their souls burning in hellish torment as the Darkness desires to claim them all.

I had read some of Wheatley's occult novels many years ago in my youth, namely this one, To the Devil A Daughter (also the film) and The Satanist. Apparently Wheatley's fascination with the occult began during a card game where he prayed to Satan that if he won the game/hand he would devote himself to darkness or something like that.

Well he DID win the game, and it scared the bejesus out of him. Quick as spit, he renounced the Dark Master, named Jesus his saviour and then used his own fear, along with the growing fear of Black Magic in society due to Crowley, the O.T.O, the Golden Dawn and others (which weren't black magicians by the way). I wonder whether he kept the winnings to or gave it away? Anyways for the rest of his life, even though he made a fortune from writing about Black Magic, he always proclaimed that one shouldn't meddle in the Black Arts, for it would destroy your very soul.

Christopher Lee is great in this, and he was the genesis of bringing this tale to Hammer, and as a consequence it was one of their greatest successes. I enjoyed it for two reasons. One you actually get to hear Lee speak more than 10 words compared to his normal role as Dracula, and secondly it still possessed the Hammer charm, and I actually found it quite terrifying in a way. I can imagine back then with the lack of horror films, and also a lack of knowledge of the Black Arts of the general public (compared to today) it would have had the same effect on the audience as The Omen and The Exorcist did ten or so years later.

Mocota is a formidable chap, played with great glee by Charles Gray. He has a great and fearsome hold over his disciples, and possesses some awesome occult powers, powerful enough to summon Baphomet and The Angel of Death to serve him. Various other Dark Lords are mentioned during his rituals such as the Egyptian God Set, so I assume he draws his powers from a variety of dark sources. Besides a powerful mental connection, he can also perform other dark tricks like eye mojo either directly or through his disciples. He can turn glass opaque, summon fog, and illusions such as giant spiders and people, but his greatest power is to be quite charming and persuade those against him that Black Magic is not real, and that Richleau is the disturbed one.

Even though in the end the film came off as a sort of bible-bashing tale, it was still enjoyable and quite suspensful all the way through. On occassion I winced at the stupidity of Richleau's friend Rex who got himself in trouble a few times with his lack of occult knowledge, but if it wasn't for Richleau's interference in the first place, he wouldn't have gotten himself in this predicament.

I was a bit confused with the ending, when Richleau's friend Marie is possessed by some spirit and says a spell that destroys the Satanic Temple and vanquishes all the Satanists. I can only assume it was some guardian angel, though the stretched it a bit more at the very end when time was reversed one complete day, and a summoned Angel of Death resurrects Tanith and hunts down Mocota for the single soul he must take back with him to the Underworld.

My Grade is B.