Friday, 31 October 2008

Wednesday, 29 October 2008


Another Old Dark House thriller with a cliched plot and a gorilla on the loose. The plots of these films weren't even interchangeable - they were the same. If it wasn't a The Gorilla, it was The Bat or the Octopus, or The Cat. This is actually a pretty enjoyable example of the sub-genre. It stars The Ritz Brothers and features Patsy Kelly and nobody is going to sleep through the amount of noise that quartet can generate. Direction is by veteran film pioneer Allan Dwan who certainly knows how to keep things going at a fast pace - thunder, corpses, red herrings galore, secret panels, clutching hands and, perhaps best of all there is Lionel Atwill looking like he's having great fun and Bela Lugosi who looks like he's highly amused by the silly proceedings. It's hard not to like it. Rating **

Monday, 27 October 2008

NIGHT COMES TOO SOON/The Ghost of Rashmon Hall (1947)

The late Forties and early Fifties saw a proliferation of very low-budget supernatural movies, among them DEATH IS A NUMBER, CASTLE SINISTER and NIGHT COMES TO SOON. This latter title is better known as THE GHOST OF RASHMON (which, oddly, is not the name of the house in the film) and is based on the classic ghost tale The Haunted and the Haunters (which is also known as The House and the Brain). Produced by poverty row producer Harold Baim and starring sephulcre voiced Valentine Dyall, the film is crude in the extreme but charmingly effective in its own way. A young couple, desperate for a place to live, move into a deserted old manor only to discover the house is haunted. They call on a friend (Dyall) to help them investigate. Despite the poor acting and the very crudest of technical credits I happily admit to a slight tingling of the hairs (or what is left of them) on the top of my head. It remains little more than a curiousity but is not without interest. Rating **

Thursday, 23 October 2008


Another tiresome example of an old dark house mystery that doesn't seem to have come to terms with the advent of sound. Even at a mere 63 minutes it is tortuously slow with the actors speaking slowly in deliberately sonorous voices and lots of pregnant pauses, even when they seem to have no dramatic purpose. Frank Strayer (who the following year would direct the far superior THE VAMPIRE BAT) directs as though he is asleep and faces with such material who can blame him. Mischa Auer tries to inject some sinister colour into his character but the chimp looks very unhappy and stressed. Rating *

Sunday, 19 October 2008

BEOWULF (2007)

I believe there is another film based on this story and hopefully it is more successful than this one. Using the same process that gave us both SIN CITY and 300 and directed by Robert Zemekis, this really got off on the wrong foot for me by casting English actor Ray Winstone as the heroic dragonslayer. Now, I actually like Winstone in a modern setting but something goes disastrously wrong when Ray steps back in time. He's a fine actor given material within his range but remains a "geezer" from East London and to hear that accent, which never changes, coming from characters as diverse as Henry VIII, Sweeney Todd, an Arthurian Knight and now a Dark Ages hero just doesn't work dramatically - and here we don't even have Winstone's physical presence as his animated alter ego looks more like Sean Bean. The whole thing comes over as a rather flat comic strip with the monsters coming off better than the humans (and as John Malkovich and Anthony Hopkins are both on call this is no mean under achievement) and the climatic battle between Beowulf and the dragon is undeniably impressive. But the final result is clever rather than being a satisfying. Rating **

Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mum

Saturday, 18 October 2008


Spartacus himself, alias Kirk Douglas, one of the greatest of movie stars has joined the blogging community over on My Space. In honour of this I present my list of my top ten Kirk Douglas films (not in order of preference) :


Wednesday, 15 October 2008


December 31st 1952 Hank Williams, Country singer/songwriter, a legend in his own time, is being driven to a planned concert in Ohio. Depressed, washing down painkillers with alcohol, he fantasises about pulling into one of the roadside bars and giving a New Year Eve Concert. We see that imagined concert as Hank first wows the patrons with his hits then begins to reflect on his troubled life, his drink problems, his failed marriages, his being dismissed from the Grand Ol'Opry. The next morning Williams is found dead in the backseat of his car. I first saw this film in the early 80's when it was shown on English television. At the time I knew little about Hank Williams but I found the film incredibly moving and I've always wanted to see it again. Even I, a big Williams fan now, tend to forget just how many Country classics, came from Williams' pen and many of the most famous are highlighted here but the most remarkable thing about the film is the performance by Sneezy Waters (repeating his stage success) as Hank which is far more than a simple impersonation. It is basically a one man show although there is memorable support when needed by Dixie Seatle, Sean DeWitt, Jackie Warrington and Sean McGann and for once praise must be heaped on the extras whose facial reactions provide a memorable chorus of emotion to the Williams songs. Direction is by David Acomba and screenplay is by Maynard Collins based on his own stage play. A gem that beats I WALK THE LINE hand down. Rating ****

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


This is not a review as such. I've only just gotten around to watching this very funny film about England being taken over by people who obviously want to be guests on the Jeremy Kyle Show. But here's the real reason for this post...see the black guy in the still above ? Does anybody know him ? Some years ago I used to hang out in an Islington Bookshop called Heroes and one of the regular visitors there was a young black guy named Chaplin. I think that might just be Chaplin in the picture. He's not listed on the Imdb but then I don't suppose all the zombies are. Does anybody know ? Rating ***

Sunday, 12 October 2008


Just as the same year's THE PRESTIGE was much cleverer than I initially thought it was, THE ILLUSIONIST is never really as clever as it thinks it is and although the film looks absolutely gorgeous and is very well acted by the leads (I echo everybody else's praise for Paul Giamatti as the increasingly baffled and frustrated police inspector) it has a transparent plot which you could drive a bus through without killing anybody. Edward Norton plays a young man who in his youth had a childhood romance with a young girl of noble birth (Jessica Biel). They are parted and he goes off only to return years later as a successful stage illusionist. They meet again only for his to find that she is betrothed to the sadistic crown prince. They rekindle their affair and when she tries to break off her engagement she is murdered by the prince. Throughout all this Norton is shadowed by a detective who is obsessed by the secret of the illusions. When Norton sets out to prove the prince is a murderer the detective is torn by his responsibility to protect the Royal Family and his moral duty to uncover the truth. What initially seems to be a clever plot begins, sadly, to unravel, when looked at too closely. I will only pick out one instance in which we are led to believe that the fiancee of the crown prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire could be murdered and, presumably buried, without ever being examined by the Royal physicians or the designated Royal undertakers ? I don't think so. I was never taken in by the plot devised by Norton's character for a second and saw it coming very early on. Another weakness of the film is that we are never really let in on the mysteries of the illusions (as we were in THE PRESTIGE which despite its trickery played a pretty straight hand once you understood the rules of the game). It is all very well to show us that Norton can produce wonderful illusions but when a very major plot point depends on him disappearing in front of a full audience while surrounded by police we need some indication of how he makes his escape. I don't wish to be too hard on the film because on the whole I enjoyed it immensely and wouldn't want to put people off seeing it. It will be interesting to see what else director Neil Burger has up his sleeve. Rating ***

Friday, 10 October 2008


  • I was three quarters of the way through Stuart Gordon's straight to video version of THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM and had decided to consign it to the movie wastebin. It's a pretty nasty and voyeristic piece of torture exploitation which is badly acted by everybody except Lance Henriksen, who seems so convincing that psychiatric help seems more needed than praise. No hint of send up from Henriksen! The sets are cheap and the costumes are obviously leftovers from some bigger if not more worthy project. Then the film gets to the sequence from which it takes its title, the pit and the pendulum, and I have to admit that things become a bit more imaginative and actually have something of the atmosphere of Edgar Allan Poe, and this is followed by ten minutes of footage that really delivers a phantasmagoria almost worth of Matthew Lewis's novel "The Monk" although, sadly the the director blows the whole thing with the final syrupy ending. A shame, because it almost redeemed itself. Go watch Roger Corman's version again. Rating *

Thursday, 9 October 2008


LA FEMME INFIDELE is one of Claude Chabrol's greatest films and one of his most subtle explorations of human behaviour. A successful business man lives happily with his wife and son in a beautiful house in the suburbs of Paris. The couple seem very much in love and the husband (brilliantly played by Michel Bouquet) is drifting contentedly into middle-age. Slowly he begins to feel that his wife may be unfaithful. A hired private detective confirms his worst fears. The husband visits the lover (nicely characterised by Maurice Ronet) and tells him that he and his wife have an open relationship but when he sees one of his ammiversary presents to his wife he suddenly kills the lover. A police investigation leads the police to the couple. The strength of the film is in the very subtle way Chabrol shows us everything quite impassively and allows us to interpret what we see. Is the story the husband tells the lover true ? We never know for sure. The murder seems more motivated by the discovery of the anniversary present which indicates an emotional involvement than by the wife's physical infidelity, but we never know for sure. The husband seems content that life will go on as before (although again the subtle symbolism of the jigsaw with a missing piece should not be ignored). The wife's discovery of the evidence against her husband and her destruction of it has been taken by some to indicate that when the police return at the end of the film that they have come to arrest her but these reviewers miss the other evidence of his involvement which is the private detective. Do they come for the husband or the wife. Chabrol doesn't tell us and ultimately it makes no difference to the power of the film which is, above all, a love story. Chabrol (along with Truffaut) has always been one of my favourite directors of the French New Wave and it shows all his strengths and none of his weaknesses. I've used the word subtle several times in this piece and make no apologies for using it again to describe the way the spirit of Hitchcock hovers over this film, especially in the scenes involving the murder and disposal of the corpse. But Chabrol doesn't just ape Hitchcock as, say, Brian De Palma does, and every foot of the movie is unmistakeably Chabrol who has learned from the master rather than being content to simply copy him. I first saw this film nearly forty years ago and it has lost none of its power...I had forgotten, however, just how beautiful and a great actress Stephane Audran is. Rating *****

I FRATI ROSSI/The Red Monks (1988)

C0-produced by Lucio Fulci this confusingly plotted Italian horror movie resurrects the idea of satanic Knight Templars seeking the blood of young virgins (would an old virgin do?) for their rituals. A young Italian noble takes his new bride to his family castle but he keeps disappearing into the dungeons for mysterious reasons. The Templars themselves have pretty cool robes but don't actually do a lot and are certainly no match for their Spanish cousins in TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD and its sequels. The film starts well with a man wandering in the woods encountering a figure playing a violin. The figure is strangely hooded and never clearly seen and creates almost a Jamesian eerieness - followed by the pursuit of a naked female through the castle dungeons and....well after that the film goes rapidly downhill. I may be wrong (I really don't have the inclination to check it) but the castle looked suspiciously like the one in BLOODY PIT OF HORROR but I'm probably wrong. Direction as such is by Gianni Martucci. Rating *

Thursday, 2 October 2008

The Return of Larry Talbot......

I really don't know how I feel about next year's THE WOLF MAN which as you might expect is a remake of the classic 1941 film starring Lon Chaney. I welcome a return to real period set gothic horror movies but....well, I don't think any fan has quite recovered from the debacle that was VAN HELSING and the disappointment of THE MUMMY (to be fair I quite enjoyed the latter but I'd like to have seen old Im-ho-tep given a more traditional resurrection) At the moment the signs look good. It really is about Larry Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) and it features the gypsy Maleva (Geraldine Chaplin) and Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) etc. and the director is Joe JOHNSTON who helmed the charming retro sci-fi film THE ROCKETEER. The stills look encouraging. Well we can only hope....

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


Not a film I ever felt the need to see but the opportunity arose unexpectedly and I thought "Why not ?" Glad I did as PRISCILLA is a gem. Three drag queens buy an old bus, christen it Priscilla, and set off across the Australian Outback to perform their cabaret act at the hotel owned by the former wife of one of the three. The bulk of the film is taken up by their journey across the bleakly beautiful Australian landscape which becomes increasingly surreal as it progresses. The film is extremely funny but some may balk when one of the trio produces his prize piece of Abba memorabilia which turns out to be a bit of one of one of Agnetha Faltskog's turds preserved in a bottle! The film is full of compassion but is never allows itself to become mawkishly sentimental. The performances by the three leads are a revelation. Hugo Weaving is a new name to me (he's in the forthcoming remake of THE WOLFMAN) but one I will now look out for. Guy Pearce is better than I've ever seen him and the real suprise is veteran Terence Stamp giving what is probably a career best performance as the ageing, recently bereaved, transexual Bernadette. Watch for the scene where the three leads perform Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" to an appreciative audience of Aborigines. And who'd have believed a woman could do that with a ping pong ball? I liked it so much I ordered a copy from Amazon while I was watching it. Directed by Stephen Elliott. Rating ****


Sometimes I really don't keep up with the news! I hold my hands up to never having heard of Martin Scorsese's THE KEY TO RESERVA. Martin Scorsese discovers three pages of an unfilmed Alfred Hitchcock project and decides to film just those three pages. He knows nothing of the plot beyond what is on the pages and there is a missing page before the final one. Scorsese's mission is to preserve a film that has never been made! Are you still with me? It is, of course, all a cineaste in-joke which you really have to be into Hitchcock to get or, perhaps more importantly, into the sort of film enthusiast fanaticism that infects Mr. Scorcese - and to a degree - me, and you (as you are reading this blog). If you love Hitchcock or Scorcese, then you'll love THE KEY TO RESERVA. It's great fun and if you don't start laughing out loud thirty seconds before the end my name's not Roger Ebert. Rating ***

Oh, can watch THE KEY TO RESERVA in its entirity at: