Blu-ray Review: DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS

Scream Factory re-releases the classic Terrence Fisher vampire film on Blu-ray

There’s a vibrancy, urgency and sense of danger about the early Hammer Gothics, especially the ones helmed by the great Terrence Fisher. The studio laid out their stylistic, thematic mission statement with Fisher’s full-color, full-blooded revisits of the Universal monster warhorses – 1957’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and 1958’s HORROR OF DRACULA, respectively – and kept that momentum up, offering more violent, sexually aware, sophisticated and lurid horror movies, a majority of them blasted onto screens in astonishing color. The look and feel of these films (and naturally, the chord they struck with audiences) birthed the later Roger Corman Poe Gothics and the early Italian Gothics of the 1960s, but there’s really nothing quite like those startling, bouncy, signature Hammer romps…

By the time HORROR OF DRACULA’s Christopher Lee returned to the cape with Fisher at the helm in 1966’s DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the worm was already turning with both Hammer and the world of horror cinema in general and thus the picture has perpetually felt a bit late-from-the-gate, a bit trapped between worlds. Fisher had already proved he could make a Dracula picture without Lee (and without Dracula for that matter) with 1960’s thundering BRIDES OF DRACULA (still this writer’s fave of the Hammer Dracula cycle) but revisiting the franchise with the actor, who by now was an international horror movie superstar, was enough of an event that DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS was a huge hit for the studio and kept Lee in costume for the next 7 years. And while DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS pales in comparison to HORROR (and suffers from the lack of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing save for an opening flashback of HORROR’s spastic ending), it’s still an atmospheric, stylish affair and sees Fisher directing with vigor. And Lee, despite playing the part totally mute (according to him because he hated the dialogue, though others have insisted the part was written as such), reminds us why he’s the screen’s definitive Count Dracula.

The film has an effective opening, one that echoes Don Sharp’s 1963  “almost a Dracula film” KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, with a cabal of superstitious villagers carting the corpse of a beautiful dead girl to a pyre where she is to be staked and burned, while her mother screams in protest. Still reeling from the reign of a now-dead Dracula a decade prior, the residents of Karlsbad are simply taking preemptive measures, just in case she might have the dreaded parasitic vampire curse. Their ritual is ripped-down by a one Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), who spits on their small-time terror and reminds them that Dracula is long-gone and insists that the girl passed away  naturally. Keir is the anchor of the film, plowing through the film with energy, humor and charisma and while he doesn’t make you forget Cushing, he’s an effective soon-to-be challenger of Dracula and is a pure joy to watch.

Elsewhere, a quartet of tourists are on a cross-country trip and end up in Karlsbad and more specifically, in Castle Dracula. There Drac’s loyal slave Klove (Phillip Latham) feeds them and puts them up for the night. Of course, it’s all a ruse and soon one of the poor blokes is stabbed, hung upside down and has his throat slashed, where he’s left to bleed out like a butchered pig, his bright tempra-paint gore soaking the ashes of Dracula in his coffin. Almost immediately Drac’s dust congeals like bloody oatmeal and fog seeps out everywhere while slowly, surely the vampire Count is reborn (in a refreshing dose of “reality” in a film that trades in fantasy, Dracula emerges unclothed from his crypt). The victim’s wife is then vampirized and the remaining couple (Barbara Shelley and Francis Matthews) run for their lives, scurrying back into the gregarious Sandor who joins forces with them to put an end to Dracula once and for all (at least until Hammer’s next round, 1968’s DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE).

Scream Factory’s domestic Blu-ray release is packed with pleasure, much of it ported over from previous UK releases of the film. Most importantly, the disc includes a lush 4K interpositive scan of the slightly different US cut and a beautiful HD transfer of the original UK version. A classic commentary with Lee, Shelley, Matthews and Suzan Farmer is thrown in as well as new one with author and horror movie scholar Troy Howarth. There’s also an episode of the British series THE WORLD OF HAMMER, a new doc, trailers and stills.  It’s a fantastic package for Hammer freaks and new members of the fan club and it supports an underrated entry in the canon that serves as the bridge between the “first wave” Hammer Studios and the more explicit incarnation that would soon rear its head at the end of the decade.

 

 

 

Album Review: REIGN OF VENGEANCE – The Final Aeon For All Humans

Metal band’s recent release is a concept album from hell

Arizona-based metal band REIGN OF VENGEANCE has been pumping out ear-bleeding heaviness for well over a decade and their most recent EP “The Final Aeon For All Humans” just might be their most blistering release to date, the apex of what they can do sonically and thematically. Definitely fueled by both heavy metal history as well as heavy classic rock and darker classical music tempered with what feels like a very cinematic atmosphere and armed with soul-shredding vocal attacks (from frontman Marshall Beck), the disc kicks into gear with the politically-oriented track “Fuck the Recession: Kill Those Who Caused It”, a dark, massive song that also comes equipped with a rich, operatic quality. That eloquent bit of metal is chased with the opulent “Amassing Towards the Truth”, which is just as anthemic as the opener and “The Grande Hectacomb” is another brutal, atmospheric and again, cinematic track and it may be the best song on an album full of great, challenging material.

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Blu-ray Review: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME

Canadian 80’s Cult Classic is Superior to its Many Slasher Peers

One of the signature horror films produced by legendary Canadian studio and distributor Cinepix, J. Lee Thompson’s 1981 shocker HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME often gets lumped into the post-FRIDAY THE 13th slasher cesspool but it’s much more than that. Cinepix creative braintrust John Dunning had first found fame in the genre via his “discovery” of David Cronenberg, with he and his partner Andre Link producing both of DC’s first features, SHIVERS and RABID. But Cinepix also co-financed and distributed a wealth of horror and dark fantasy films, including Harry Kumel’s 1971 vampire masterpiece DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS and the notorious ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS. These guys knew the market and when HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13th yielded big box office takes, Dunning and Link put together both this film and George Mihalka’s beloved East Coast killer thriller MY BLOODY VALENTINE. Now, VALENTINE is more of a straight-ahead masked-killer/body-count film, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME plays more like a giallo, with its convoluted mystery and its black-gloved murderer. Both films were distributed by major studios, but BIRTHDAY – the sleazier and more disturbing of the pair – escaped virtually uncut while VALENTINE was famously gutted by the MPAA and Paramount Pictures to secure its R rating.

If we’re comparing the two, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME is the superior picture and that’s because of its director (Thompson was a veteran Hollywood filmmaker whose credits included CAPE FEAR) and for the fact that the story and script are totally loopy.  Dunning hired ILSA scribe John Saxton to come up with this tawdry tale, in which LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE starlet Melissa Sue Anderson appears as high school student Virginia, one of the elite rich-kids who hang=out together, wear grey and black striped scarves and call themselves “The Top 10”. Among that lot are Canadian cult film icons Lesleh Donaldson and Lisa Langlois, the former who is offed quickly and gruesomely in the first reel and the latter who was SUPPOSED to be axed (literally) but, in the final edit, ends up sticking around for the duration of the picture. Anyway, Virginia is having troubles, as she escaped a care-wreck that killed her mom years earlier and now is prone to blackouts and select amnesia. As her pals begin getting systematically slaughtered at the hands of a glove-wearing killer, their corpses mysteriously vanishing, Virginia begins to suspect that she might be to blame. And Thompson makes us believe this too. But IS she? The psychodrama climaxes in one of the truly great and batshit wacky finales in 80’s horror history, at Virginia’s bloody 18th birthday party. Meanwhile THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE icon Glenn Ford looks on, presumably three-sheets to the wind.

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Blu-ray Review: ZOMBIE 4K Restoration

In 1968, the late, great director George A. Romero shocked the world with his film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and turned zombies into the modern nightmare we now know. That film, along with its sequels, pretty much set a new standard for how zombies would be portrayed on film, television and anywhere else. Then in 1979, Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci (THE BEYOND, MANHATTAN BABY) decided to make his first horror film and for my money, one of the most disturbing zombie movies ever committed to celluloid.  ZOMBIE (aka ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS and ZOMBI 2) is pretty much the definitive Italian zombie movie. It followed the success of Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD and was released in Italy (where it was called ZOMBI) as a sequel to that film, while in the United States, it became a quintessential grindhouse movie.

The zombie action kicks in when a mysterious and abandoned boat sails into the New York harbor. Upon investigation, two police officers soon learn the boat isn’t abandoned and are attacked by a gruesome, bloated zombie leaving one of the officers “dead” by the zombie’s bite… yes, we all know what’s gonna eventually happen. The owner of the boat is soon identified and is missing. Luckily his daughter (played by Tisa Farrow) is found, who teams up with a journalist (played by Ian McCulloch, CONTAMINATION) and an adventurous couple before setting off to a mysterious island in hopes of learning what has happened to her father. The highlight of their journey is probably one of the most outrageous sequences you’ll find in any zombie movie… and that sequence is the infamous zombie vs shark underwater fight (this scene alone is worth the price of admission!) Once they reach the island, they meet a scientist (played by Richard Johnson) who fills them in on the horrible proceedings plaguing the island. Now with all that exposition out of the way, Fulci unleashes his horde of zombies upon our cast of characters and the audience can sit back and enjoy that trademark Fulci violence… which there’s plenty of.

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Blu-ray Review: The CRITTERS Collection

Scream Factory Shines a Loving Light on this Fascinating Film Series

In the wake of Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg’s cheeky 1984 monster kid romp GREMLINS, all sorts of savvy producers plotted their own little mean beastie flick, from Charles Band’s GHOULIES to Roger Corman’s MUNCHIE to Stephen Herek’s CRITTERS, And while many of the others have merits (and GHOULIES spun off into an amusing franchise of its own), only CRITTERS seemed to really hit with both critics and audiences, becoming a minor hit and launching three more films that actually carried over narrative arcs and characters. Collected here on this sturdy Blu-ray set from Scream Factory you’ll find all four of the official CRITTERS epics and while some are better than others, all of them serve as lively showcases for their central baddies, the quill-shooting, toothy furballs known galactically as “The Krites”.

Herek’s original 1986 flick is a major dose of country bumpkin fun, as the critters invade the small farming community of Grover’s Bend (a nod to WAR OF THE WORLD’s Grover’s Mill) and set forth to eat everything and everyone they can. Only scrappy kid Brad Brown (Scott Grimes) and his charming, slow-witted pal Charlie (Don Opper) are wise to what’s happening, that is until it’s too late and the lethal tumbleweeds overtake their house. First they eat poor old Billy Zane and then force the house’s matriarch (a somewhat wasted Dee Wallace) to wield a shotgun and protect her brood. Meanwhile, a pair of alien bounty hunters (one played by Terrence Mann, the other – who cannot settle on a human face – occasionally played by Opper) have come to do what they do best: kill Krites.

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THE PRIMEVALS: Legendary “Lost” Movie Launches Crowdfunding Campaign

Iconic FX artist David Allen’s final film set for competition in 2019

The year was 1994. Full Moon founder Charles Band and legendary stop-motion animation effects artist David Allen set out to make what would be the biggest and most ambitious Full Moon movie to date–a long in development passion project of Allen’s that he directed  in Romania and the Italian Alps with a large cast and larger than life sets.

Band and Allen planned for a long post-production period in which Allen would create hundreds of intricately designed and animated effects shots. But when Allen fell ill and passed away in 1999, the highly anticipated film sat unfinished, with Full Moon fans all over the world wondering if they would ever be able to see Allen’s now-mythical magnum opus.

Finally, after decades in the vault, Full Moon is launching a campaign to release David Allen’s THE PRIMEVALS and today, Full Moon launched an Indiegogo campaign today to fulfill David’s vision and bring this larger-than-life-retro-sci-fi epic to lustrous life. With so much of the film shot and so many fans waiting for decades to see it, the campaign’s aim is to finally make that possible.

When released, THE PRIMEVALS Special Edition Blu-ray set will feature two alternate edits of the film. The first will be the new, completed cut overseen by producer Charles Band. The second will be the “director’s cut”– faithfully assembled as David Allen intended and containing special animated storyboards representing the unrealized shots from THE PRIMEVALS. Both films will make for a fascinating comparative study, creating the definitive THE PRIMEVALS experience.  A third disc will premiere a feature-length THE PRIMEVALS documentary from Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures loaded with never before available behind the scenes and archival footage from the many years of this film’s amazing journey.

To investigate and donate to THE PRIMEVALS campaign check out the Ingiegogo page here. And check out the official trailer/promo reel below!

Concert Review: Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin in Toronto

The iconic Italian horror film composer brings the nightmare noise on 2018 tour

The fussin’ and feudin’ behind the scenes of legendary Italian horror soundtrack overlords Goblin are well documented. When Dario Argento roped in young and hungry progressive rock band Cherry Five to add sizzle to Giorgio Gaslini’s score for his 1975 thriller PROFONDO ROSSO, he re-christened them Goblin, his film – re-titled DEEP RED in English territories – was a hit and so was Goblin’s soundtrack record, the “Tubular Bells” inspired title track swiftly setting the bar by which all “giallo” films to follow would bow to.

But with success came the aforementioned infighting and – after the recording of the soundtrack to Argento’s 1977 masterpiece SUSPIRIA – the group soon fell apart, reforming in various incarnations through the years but eventually falling silent. But the legacy of Goblin endured and co-founding member and keyboardist Claudio Simonetti would continue scoring Argento’s films both solo and with other musicians (and, during times of peace, other ex-Goblin members). The band famously re-formed to write the score for Argento’s SLEEPLESS, before collapsing again but later, with the presence of Goblin session player and auxiliary member and keyboardist Maurizio Guarini, Goblin reformed and launched a hugely successful world tour…and then swiftly broke up again! Sheesh!

With Guarini, along with original members Massimo Morante and Fabio Pignatelli (Zombi’s Steve Moore even joined them for a leg of a tour) reforming, performing and recording as Goblin, Simonetti – who had long been the driving creative force of the group during its early days- resurrected a version of his heavy metal-tinted Daemonia project and re-titled this incarnation Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin. It was under this handle that Simonetti re-recorded many signature Goblin scores like PROFONDO ROSSO and ZOMBI (the Italian title of DAWN OF THE DEAD) for Italy’s Rustblade Records and it was this band that blazed into Toronto’s Opera House on November 20th, a gig supporting their 2018 tour playing the SUSPIRIA score live.

And what a mesmerizing performance it was.

Joined by longtime collaborators, guitarist Bruno Previtali and drummer Titta Tani, plus the welcome addition of Italian metal band bassist Cecilia Nappo, Simonetti stood behind his bank of synthesizers and his laptop (which provided necessary backtracks) and immediately dove into making the music for the movie screening behind them: SUSPIRIA. Employing an uncut Italian print, the quartet effortlessly reproduced the experimental, nightmarish wave of strings, keys and percussion that serve as the sonic spine to Argento’s designer, post-mod danse macabre. It was a unique, expertly timed performance, with the players relaxed and focused and the ultimate effect was that of actually sitting in on a scoring session.  It was an incredible experience that intensified during the fiery closing credits climax, when the band stood up and rocked that malevolent theme hard. And I mean hard.

And then, it got harder.

Without taking a break, Simonetti asked the audience if they wanted more, which naturally we did. And the group then blasted into fist pumping, berserkly heavy renditions of cues from MOTHER OF TEARS, DEMONS, TENEBRE (an astonishing performance), DEEP RED and DAWN OF THE DEAD, the latter serving as a moving visual tribute to its late director, George A. Romero. And through it all, Simonetti pounding his keys while Prevali shredded, Tani pummeled and Zappo sort of stole the show, flipping her hair and stomping across the stage like a female Gene Simmons, snarling and astonishing with her brilliant bass-work. She’s a monster and the world should watch her closely. She’s that good.

Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin will continue it’s tour throughout the year, in Canada and the U.S. Check here for dates near you and for the love of Helena Markos, do NOT miss this show. This IS Claudio’s version of Goblin, a tight, menacing beast of a rock band that still feels like it has something to prove. It doesn’t get much better…

 

Blu-ray Review: NIGHTWING and SHADOW OF THE HAWK Double Feature

A pair of strange 1970’s dark fantasy films come to Blu-ray from Millcreek Entertainment

Director Arthur Hiller’s NIGHTWING is one of a handful of films that trade in the terror of killer, disease-ridden bats, a loose, unofficial subgenre that seemingly doesn’t command much fan enthusiasm.  And while 1974’s future-shock chiller CHOSEN SURVIVORS remains my winged-rodent romp of choice, NIGHTWING flies not too far behind. Millcreek Entertainment’s pairing of this bat-attack non-classic on Blu-ray with the ultra-obscure, similarly Native American-steeped creeper SHADOW OF THE HAWK has been labeled a bummer by some collectors who are sneering at the lack of special features (not even a trailer is present), but this writer is indifferent. The important thing is that NIGHTWING looks fantastic here – better than I’ve ever seen it, anyway – and as it’s the movie that matters most, I’m rather stoked by this release.

Based on the intelligent novel by Martin Cruz Smith (who also co-wrote the screenplay), NIGHTWING casts Canadian actor Nick Mancuso (DEATH SHIP) as Youngman Duran, the Deputy of a New Mexico Indian reservation who is investigating a spate of animal deaths, the beasts’ corpses savaged and drained of blood. As the attacks continue, Duran soon realizes that a horde of vampire bats have descended on the community and have now targeted human beings as their next food source. Enter the great David Warner (THE OMEN and so many other classic films), who plays a manic Van Helsing-esque biologist named Payne who has devoted his life to combing the earth and annihilating vampire bats for no other reason save that he firmly believes they are evil incarnate. He’s especially disturbed by the idea of them shitting out the excess blood they drink, a noxious notion hammered home by Payne’s operatic monologues and Warner’s wild-eyed readings of them. It’s hard to nail down a definitive eccentric performance by Warner but this one comes close. It’s truly….bat-shit!

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Exclusive Interview: John Logan Talks Orson Welles, Martin Scorsese, Shakespeare and More

The Tony and Oscar nominated writer discusses the making of underrated Welles biopic RKO 281

In the pages of DELIRIUM #18 (you can purchase that stunning new issue here), playwright-turned-screenwriter John Logan spoke to us in an exlcusive interview about making Ridley Scott’s GLADIATOR, the flying-fox frightfest BATS, Tim Burton’s SWEENEY TODD, his recent collaboration with Scott in ALIEN: COVENANT, his high-concept Gothic series PENNY DREADFUL and his deep abiding love for Hammer Horror and Full Moon’s SUBSPECIES series.

Now, in this addendum to that interview exclusively published here, Logan discusses his stunning script for the Benjamin Ross-directed 1999 HBO cable film RKO 281. The film stars Liev Schrieber as Orson Welles and John Malkovich as Hank Mankiewicz and it details their struggles making and exhibiting what still stands as the most influential and important American movie of all time: Welles’ controversial first film, 1941’s CITIZEN KANE.

Not only does Logan dissect this underrated masterpiece, he also discusses the making of Martin Scorsese’s THE AVIATOR and HUGO as well as his application of Shakespearean drama and character arcs in virtually everything he does.

Enjoy…

DELIRIUM: RKO 281 is one my favorite films – the performances, the dialogue and specifically the relationship you captured between Welles and Mankiewicz, all sharply observed and deeply human. As a writer, did you put any of yourself in what Mankiewicz must have endured at the hands of Welles caustic ego?

JOHN LOGAN: Yeah, of course. I always say that the most important relationship I have artistically is with directors. I’m not a director, I have no interest in directing, it’s not my gift but my closest collaborators are always directors. I worked with great directors both on the page and in TV and movies and it’s brought so much to my work and so I have great respect for that. The best experiences I’ve had in theater and film is when I and the director are speaking the same language, we were all telling the same story. I’ve had those experiences where it’s been difficult and it’s frustrating for all the parties concerned and so the relationship between Welles and Mankiewicz mirrored in a way one of those experiences, where you go into the trenches with a partner and then you realize he’s fighting a cavalry battle while I’m fighting an artillery battle but at the end of the day, after the war is over you can look at your comrade and say, yet we fought this battle together. RKO 281 is a deeply personal story to me because it deals with all the things that are important, which is artistry, the creative spirit, the social responsibility, the personal responsibility of an artist to individual people and the world around him and plus it’s a refracted view on one of the greatest pieces of art ever created, so to get to go into that world with Ridley Scott who I developed and wrote it with, has been incredibly fulfilling.

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Contest: Win a copy of New STAR TREK Art Book!

New tome coming from Titan Books this month

Attention classic sci-fi freaks and superfans! Star Trek: The Art of John Eaves, an extraordinary collection of never-before-seen STAR TREK artwork and concept designs will be published by Titan Books on November 27And DELIRIUM has a couple of copies to giveaway!

Over the past few decades, John Eaves has had a major impact on the look of the STAR TREK universe and played a pivotal role in shaping Gene Roddenberry’s vision. This new book represents the most extensive collection of designs and illustrations created by Eaves, covering his work on STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, ENTERPRISE and DISCOVER and no less than seven further STAR TREK films. With insightful commentary, as well as a foreword by award-winning art director and production designer Herman Zimmerman and Academy Award nominated model designer and special effects artist Greg Jein, this is a must-have for art-lovers and START TREK fans alike.

To win a copy of this massive art book, email chris@fullmoonfeatures.com with the words BEAM ME UP THAT BOOK! in the subject line. Winners will be chosen randomly.

Good luck!