Tuesday, 31 August 2010


Henry Cass's BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE is one of those oddities thrown up in the wake of the success of the early Hammer films. Unlike Regal's duo of Karloffian thrillers - GRIP OF THE STRANGLER and CORRIDORS OF BLOOD - this one was not only in colour but had some legitimate Hammer blood in the form of a script by Jimmy Sangster. Despite the title (and the poster) it is not a genuine supernatural vampire tale but belongs rather to that sub-genre that also includes films as diverse as Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE and Ferroni's THE MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN and, as such is closely allied to the traditions of Paris's infamous Grand Guignol Theatre which has taken on an unhealthy turn in the recent crop of "torture porn" films. A doctor experimenting, none to conventionally, with blood diseases is executed for vampirism and a stake driven through his heart. Luckily a drunken medic is on hand to give him a heart transplant (this is Transylvania in 1873 after all said and done!) and a decade later we find him up to his old experiments while working as the governor of a prison for the criminally insane. Sadistic guards (headed by the later Labour MP Andrew Faulds), beatings, attempted rapes and human experiments are the order of the day until the evil Dr.Callistratus is unmasked and shares the fate of Franju's Dr, Genessier by literally going to the dogs. It's bright and garishly coloured like its Hammer rivals and has a more than interesting cast headed by Sir Donald Wolfit - last of the flamboyant barnstorming actor/managers of British theatre - and scream queen Barbara Shelley. The film's hero is Vincent Ball who is one of those Australian actors who, along with Bud Tingwell and others, made there names in British B-movies and television before returning down under to resume successful careers in their homeland. If you look quickly during the pre-credit sequence you will see Anglo-Indian actor Milton Reid who is fondly remembered as the mulatto mute in Hammer's CAPTAIN CLEGG. Comedy veterans Bernard Bresslaw and John LeMesurier both have small roles and LeMesurier's old friend (and mine) Denis Shaw turns up without any dialogue as a blacksmith. Special mention must be made of actor Victor Maddern, a long time stalwart of English movies, who brings a touch of humanity to the mad doctor's deformed and murderous assistant.Of personal interest to me is an appearance by actor George Murcell who for several years ran a successful theatre in a disused church in a street where I was living in London. Director Cass is best known for his 1949 romantic drama THE GLASS MOUNTAIN. Rating ***

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


Modernising Sherlock Holmes never seems a good idea although in the past a few film-makers have attempted it without coming completely unstuck. There was a film with Raymond Massey where Holmes had a modern (for the Thirties) office and, of course, the Universal Pictures series of B-movies starring Basil Rathbone set Holmes and Watson down in the dark days of World War Two and provides some first class entertainment for everybody except the most rigid purists. So, modernising is not, in reality, quite as bad as it seems at first. The news that the BBC were producing a new series which relocated Holmes in the London of 2010 did seem a bit worrying but with writers like Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis on hand all has turned out well...very well indeed. The first series consists of three feature length films (more promised for the future) with the first being based on Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet - with a new back story but keeping John Watson's return from Afghanistan (how little things have changed), Holmes and Watson's first meeting, taking the rooms in Baker Street and Mrs.Hudson and Lestrade and the new title A Study in Pink. The second ventured into Sax Rohmer territory but had nods to both The Sign of Four and the Rathbone SPIDER WOMAN. The last of the three episodes pays homage to several Doyle stories including The Bruce Partington Plans and The Five Orange Pips and in a wonderfully creepy scene to Rondo Hatton's Creeper in PEARL OF DEATH. The casting is faultless with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, Martin Freeman as Dr.Watson , Rupert Graves as Lestrade, Mark Gattiss as Mycroft and Una Stubbs as Mrs,Hudson. Each modernisation is carefully thought out from Dr.Watson being a blogger to Holmes "This is a three nicotine patch problem!" and just incase you are wondering, yes, James Moriarty turns up and.....oh well, just buy the DVD (as an extra you get the 60 minute unaired pilot film)....trust me, I'm a blogger.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

SUSPECT/ The Risk (1960)

The Boulting Brothers, Roy and John, were already well into their stride as producers and directors of a string of classic social comedies when they took a diversion to make this almost forgotten and rather tame spy drama centered on a group of scientists who discover that their research can be used for germ warfare. It's all rather lacklustre and the main interest today is in the excellent cast of British character actors. Peter Cushing is excellent as the project boss and Tony Britton and Virgina Maskell are reliable leads. Good support comes from such reliables as Ian Bannen, Donald Pleasence, Thorley Walters and Sam Kydd. Spike Milligan is on hand to do some comedy relief with a chimpanzee which is obviously designed to lift the rather one note tone of the film but it seems overly silly and completely out of place. Watch it for its cast if little else. Rating **

IKARIE XB 1/Voyage to the End of the Universe (1963)

Stylistically sitting somewhere between SOLARIS and early STAR TREK this interesting Czech sci-fi drama about a spaceship voyaging to Alpha Centauri is pointed to as an influence on not only SOLARIS but 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY and even ALIEN. As it predates all these films it is hard to argue with that view. The film takes a psychological viewpoint as the crew face and overcome various problems on their journey. Most intriguing is the discovery of a derelict Earth spaceship from the 20th Century full of the corpses of humans wearing evening dress and who seemingly died while drinking champagne and gambling - perhaps, given the political regime in the country of origin at the time, a comment on the corrupt West. The version viewed is the original Czech version, letterboxed and sub-titled, rather than the dubbed and slightly re-edited version (with a different ending) that was released in America as VOYAGE TO THE END OF THE UNIVERSE. Rating ****