Tag European

Blood Glacier (2013)

Blood Glacier (2013)

Up there, the cold no longer the worst danger….

A team of scientists investigating climate change at a remote outpost in the Austrian Alps come across a mysterious organism which has thawed from the ice and has the ability to blend the DNA of multiple creatures, creating horrifying and very deadly hybrids. When infection spreads to human hosts and with an impending visit by a team of government officials, the group must fight for their lives to survive this terror.

 

With the spectre of The Thing hanging around it from beginning to end, Blood Glacier is a film with an interesting premise full of potential which doesn’t quite click into place. It should be unfair to pair the two films off against each other but when the front cover of the DVD brazenly states “A slice of horror reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing” the film is asking for trouble. Blood Glacier is The Thing-lite and whilst that’s not a bad thing for a lot of the time, you really wish this one would kick in harder during the second half like Carpenter’s legendary sci-fi horror.

Blood Glacier has a strong opening half which sets things up nicely and provides suitable elements of mystery, suspense and a few moments of droll black humour. The atmosphere is sharp, the discovery of the strange glacier and resulting encounter with the mutated fox is unsettling and the scene is set for a thrilling second half. Only this never really materialises, delivering patchy moments of action, scare horror set pieces and a couple of bizarre plot twists. Several scenes are dragged out far longer than needed (for instance, the scene with the characters contemplating putting a dog down) and this kills any sort of momentum that Blood Glacier tries to build up. Just when things get interesting, the film takes its foot off the pedal and slows down. Thankfully, the foreign origins cement the film in reality, avoiding the insulting pitfalls of throwing in good-looking teenage characters and sexual elements like so many American horrors succumb to, and keeping the situation as plausible and believable as possible without getting too silly.

Blood Glacier uses the Alps setting to perfection. Like the greatest isolation horror films, the film conveys the sense of loneliness and sheer desperation of the group of people trapped in the middle of nowhere and facing an abominable monster. The cinematography is fantastic, with the vast natural beauty of the Alps doing the rest of the hard work in really hammering home the scope of the situation. Sadly, the characters populating this lush scenery are rather one-dimensional and unlikable, save for leading man Gerhard Liebmann’s bearded Janek character. The rest of the characters vary between being unpleasant or non-descript and neither is a good thing. Too many characters are introduced at the mid-way point to make any impact upon the film other than provide the monsters with a few more victims.

Blood Glacier earns major brownie points by sticking to practical effects for the most part, bringing to life it’s variety of mutated creatures with gooey old school make-up effects. Thanks to the creative idea behind the DNA mutating everything in its path, the film offers up a host of peculiar and monstrous hybrids including foxes, goats, beetles and eagles and it’s clear that the effects team had a field day coming up with ideas. The only problem is that you don’t get to see enough of them and when you do, they’re usually semi-lit, disguised with rapid cuts and flashy editing and move rather jerky and awkwardly when you do get a glimpse. The creature designers should have had more confidence in their effects because when they do get more than a fleeting moment of screen time, they look nightmarishly horrific. The goat-thing that breaks through a window at one point deserved more screen time.

The creatures don’t get to do that much in the film apart from make a few “boo” appearances and the body count is surprisingly limited as a result. There is enough gore on show to quench the lightest thirst of blood fans but those looking for wall-to-wall splatter will be disappointed. I guess gore wasn’t a priority for director Marvin Kren but given the nature of the DNA-splicing monster, the possibilities for some icky on-screen transformations ala The Thing are almost endless – an untapped wealth of set pieces have been glossed over for whatever reason.

 

I really wanted to love Blood Glacier but found myself disengaged with it. All of the necessary ingredients are present but the resultant blend is underwhelming and leaves you shrugging your shoulders wondering “what if.” It’s by no means the worst example of this genre but it is too light for its own good.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Trackman (2007)

Trackman (2007)

A small group of bank robbers are forced to flee into abandoned underground metro tunnels in Moscow with a handful of hostages when their heist goes lethally wrong. Legend has it that the tunnels are home to a maniacal Chernobyl victim said to be hideously deformed. As the group begin to disappear one-by-one, it turns out that the legend was right.

 

Trackman might well be the first Russian horror film, actually the first Russian film period, that I’ve ever watched. So it’s a bit of a novelty to sit down and experience something made from another country for the first time. Thankfully the DVD came with the original Russian soundtrack and not some terrible dubbing so I was able to experience this in all of its intended national glory – made in a foreign language for a foreign market. One look at the cover and you’d be mistaken for thinking that this was the Russian version of My Bloody Valentine and the similarities aren’t too far from the truth. Sadly Trackman just proves that American influences in the horror genre have infiltrated everywhere across the world. Originality is dead. Instead of being themselves, foreign horror films have the tendency to ape their US counterparts and that’s a bad trend.

Trackman starts off promisingly as a good-looking, atmospheric film which disastrously falls apart once anything ‘slasher’ starts to happen. Right from the moment the group of robbers and hostages head into the tunnels, the film goes into stylistic overdrive with its constant use of flashy lighting, tilting camerawork and copious shots of the tunnels looking all eerie. The tunnel sets look great and really hark back to the mine from My Bloody Valentine. Damp, claustrophobic and with sinister-looking shadows in every corner of the camera frame, this is not the place you’d want to lost in, let alone stalked by a maniac.

But then once the gloss and sheen has rubbed off, what you’re left with is a derivative slasher which borrows more from American slashers than it does from some of the more gritty, down-to-earth European horrors that have been arriving in the West over the last few years. It’s by-the-numbers stalking and slashing which delivers little of the harsh brutality you’d expect a Russian film to portray. It takes a little too long to get the slashing underway and the film can only run for so long on the fumes of the fancy presentation before it grinds to a halt. There’s natural suspense and tension because the sets are created that way but without anything meaty happening in them, it’s wasted potential. Things do pick up slightly when the Trackman starts killing off the cast. But even then there’s little energy to the proceedings.

Trackman falls into the trap like so many horror films in that it doesn’t provide any sympathetic characters for the audience to relate to. The main characters are all bank robbers and the three hostages they take are helpless women and a useless cop. So just who are supposed to root for? The script tries to turn one of the robbers into the anti-hero of the piece but we can never forget he is a criminal – though it seems one of his female hostages overcomes this rather quickly so that they can forge a Final Girl / rescuer relationship. It’s not fair or me to talk about performances given that the actors were speaking in their native Russian and I was watching with subtitles.

The film overdoes the flashy effects whenever the killer makes an appearance. Gliding through the tunnels in shadows and slow motion with some trippy camera work to accompany him, the effect looks good the first time but by the tenth time, it’s gone into overkill and it gets really tiresome. He tends to spend most of the first half of the film posing and preening for the camera in this fashion. Go and kill someone already!

Eventually he starts doing what we expected him to do – kill. From the book of slasher lore comes a killer that at least looks and dresses the part. With goggles, headwear and boiler suit, and with his penchant for pick axes and collecting human eye balls, the writers have definitely made an effort to make him stand out from the pack. The hulking, methodical killer lacks any sort of personality or memorable character quirks but for the benefits of the film, provides a suitably scary presence in the tunnels. He’s also one of those teleporting killers who can be behind someone one minute and halfway down the tunnel in front of them the next.

Aside from the occasional eyeball-wrenching moments (not nearly as graphic as it sounds), the film is pretty dry when it comes to spilling blood. Even though the killer sports a pick axe (and a flamethrower at one point), Trackman tends to shy away from the gratuitous stuff, resulting in a film which fails to deliver even the easiest of slasher goods. Given the nature of the characters, this isn’t a film where the females are going to get topless either (although judging by how quickly one of them falls for her captor, another half an hour and they’d have been getting married). So the gore and violence should have been Trackman‘s saving grace. Alas it fails to deliver on both counts.

 

There’s nothing overly wrong with Trackman and it’s not a complete dud but given its Russian origins, I was expecting a lot more than another derivative slasher. It’s got the atmosphere and it’s got the killer but it’s a chore to sit through and comes off feeling really lethargic, tired and uninspired. Stick to distilling vodka, comrades.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978)

Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978)

When the price of lust is death!

Susan Stevenson and her brother fly to New Guinea in search of her missing husband and enlist the services of an anthropologist to guide them into the dense rain forest. They set off into the jungle but find out that he was captured by a cannibal tribe and that the same fate awaits them.

 

Ah the Italian exploitation cannibal sub-genre. Such an trashy, graphic and repulsive genre that it’s even hard to want to call them films sometimes because they are so depraved and perverse – I mean who in their right mind comes up with these ideas? They went to lengths that no other films dared to go out of decency and, rightfully as was the case in a few extremes, were banned across the world on the whole, Cannibal Holocaust being the most infamous of the bunch.Unfortunately it’s a sub-genre which cannibalises itself so much that once you’ve seen one of these tropical terrors, then you’ve seen them all.

Although slightly less offensive than some of the other sub-genre, Mountain of the Cannibal God adheres to the basic cannibal story of a group of white explorers (and usually expendable guides) head off into the remote jungle in pursuit of some MacGuffin where they have some minor run-ins with other natives before stumbling upon the cannibal tribe and, in rather unsporting fashion, decide to eat their guests. The film looks more polished than the rest, clearly has a bigger budget and isn’t as nasty as its companions. Everything is done as tastefully as possible – if that is possible in itself, knowing how brutal these films can get. The bad taste is kept to a minimum and the animal violence has been toned down – those who have seen the uncut version of Cannibal Holocaust will attest to the disgraceful and sickening acts of wildlife masochism on display. It is still present however and seems to be a token inclusion in this sub-genre, reflective of the no holds barred raw brutality of nature but more used for shock and horror tactics to disgust the viewer rather than send out any primal messages. It has nothing to do with what is happening on screen which is a travesty.

Though on the surface it seems less offensive and more mainstream than its counterparts, make no mistake about it,Mountain of the Cannibal God does boast plenty of expected cannibalistic carnage. Dwarf cannibals are punted over cliffs to have their heads smashed on rocks below. Bear traps crush and maim the legs of those unlucky enough to be caught in them. Would-be rapists are castrated for their indiscretions. Stomachs are ripped open and intestines fed to the tribe. The quality of the make-up effects range from the ridiculous to the sublime.

The big difference with this one is the relatively high star power on display. Making the sub-genre a bit more accessible by casting big names, Mountain of the Cannibal God boasts Ursula Andress and Stacy Keach in the lead roles, a decent coup for such a low budget, obscure Italian film.Andress seems to need the role more, agreeing to doff her duds and go naked for an infamous scene in which she is painted head-to-toe and worshipped by the cannibals.Keach was at a career low at this point (no kidding!) and seems more bored than anything but no doubt a free holiday helped to gloss over that issue.

Despite the moments of gore and the decent cast, Mountain of the Cannibal God rarely gets going at any sort of pace. It takes the characters too long to make any sort of progress into the jungle and despite odd moments of non-speaking guides being killed off bydeadly fauna and flora, there’s not a great deal of stuff happening on-screen. Little more than a step-by-step link between set piece scenes, the narrative gears up towards a finale which never once looks like it will deliver anything short of a total dud. Despite all of the cannibal carnage on screen, the film never gives off any sort of realism vibe. You know you’re watching a film and not a snuff movie, though this may be down to the presence of ‘named’ actors instead of obscure ones.

 

Mountain of the Cannibal God merely goes through the usual Italian cannibal exploitation film motions, only this time with the bonus of a famous cast. More professionally made but lacking the raw, nihilistic punch of some of it’s counterparts, it’s neither the best of this sub-genre, nor the worst either.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, The (1974)

The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974)

They tampered with nature – now they must pay the price…

When a series of violent murders take place in a quiet English town, the local police detective believes it to be the work of Satanists and narrows his investigation towards a pair of young newcomers to the town. But in reality, the murders are being committed by zombies, brought to life by an experimental pesticide which uses ultrasonic radiation.

 

Potentially one of the most underrated zombie films of all time and predating the gruesome and colourful flesh-ripping antics of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead by a good four years, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue surely wins the award for the hands-down strangest title concocted. Like many a foreign horror flick (this one being a Spanish production) the film has as many ridiculous names as it has running minutes but you’ll either see it as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie or the title I saw it under for this review. Owing a great deal to Night of the Living Dead, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue is possibly one of the first of the zombie films to show its carnage in glorious colour.

Manchester Morgue, to give it a shorter name for the sake of the review, does what many a zombie film fails to do and that is build strong, believable characters that the audience can sympathise with and get on board with. There are anti-authoritarian and anti-political overtones emanating from the script as the two young newcomers George and Edna, hippy-like in appearance, are blamed for everything by the brash local detective who hates all of their ‘kind.’ Both Ray Lovelock and Christine Galbo are great in their respective roles with Arthur Kennedy being brilliant foil as the arrogant and aggressive detective, stealing the film with lines like “I wish the dead could come back to life, you bastard, so then I could kill you again.” Through Kennedy’s harsh treatment of the duo, and lest we forget the zombies, the duo are put through the ringer in the film and we’re on their side every step on the way.

The film is also able to create a brilliantly unnerving atmosphere, in no small part due to the fantastic cinematography on the gloomy British countryside. There is something unsettling about everything and the way in which Frau manipulates the camera to trick you into thinking that things are lurking in the background or just off-screen is the stuff of nightmares. Sound is also used to great effect too, with the radiation machines emitting a weird noise and the zombies themselves shuffling along with a unique pitch. These are the tools of how to make an effective horror film and they’re used well.

Manchester Morgue does take a while to get going and the first half of the film is standard mystery-thriller stuff which you could see on any TV detective drama. The odd zombie pops up here and there to remind us that it is a zombie film after all but its not until the main characters realise that there are zombies on the prowl that the film finally picks up pace. The gear shift is sudden and the characters soon find themselves doing what all great human characters do in the midst of a zombie onslaught – barricade themselves in somewhere, this time a church. They’re not for long before they head off to the morgue of the title for another showdown and it all moves quickly from here onwards.

The zombies here are smart and hard to kill. They hide when needed, use various objects to smash through doors and don’t die from the usual bullet to the head routine. One of the zombies is also classed as a ‘super zombie’ and is able to bring others back to life by dripping blood in their eyes. It’s one of many daft plot developments that ruin the credibility of the film – our disbelief has been suspended long enough to accept that zombies are on the loose but the script decides to blast that away with silly things like this. Plus there is the whole idea that the zombies are being resurrected by the radiation machine. Zombie films are better when they just appear out of the blue and no explanation is given for them being there. When you start trying to go into scientific detail about them coming back to life, you’re on shaky ground because you need to be able to get your facts right to make it work.

This isn’t all about the gore but for 1974, there is some horrific stuff in here, particularly the scene in which an unlucky nurse is literally ripped apart by three zombies who burst in on her. It’s something that the Godfather of Gore, Lucio Fulci, would have been proud of let alone Tom Savini. The fact that it’s all in graphic colour speaks volumes as to why this film had been banned for so long in the UK.

 

The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue takes a while to get going and lacks the scope of the apocalyptic feel that Romero’s classics have. But there is a real moody atmosphere to it and the film is downright creepy at times, not to mention gory. This is great old school horror film making which gets right underneath your skin before delivering its knockout blows.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ghost Galleon, The (1974)

The Ghost Galleon (1974)

A couple of models, who are staging a publicity stunt in a motorboat on the high seas, mysteriously disappear when they come across a deserted galleon. A search party is sent out to find them, only to stumble across the galleon as well and the horrific cargo to which it contains – the undead Templar Knights.

 

The second sequel to Amando de Ossorio’s highly recommended Tombs of the Blind Dead, The Ghost Galleon is clearly a step back in his vision of where he wanted the series to go. Rather unusually for a horror series, de Ossorio wrote and directed all four Blind Dead films but like so many franchises, budgets were slashed over the course of the films and his grand visions were gradually scaled further and further back. Instead of expanding the story like he did with the first sequel, Return of the Evil Dead, de Ossorio had to confine the Templars to a smaller space than he did before, reducing their menace and possibilities for the development of the story. This is the same sort of stuff we’ve seen before, only on a much smaller scale. After the barn-storming village attack in the last film, this is something of a step back.

Though The Ghost Galleon suffers from a drop in overall quality after the first two films, it is still one of my favourites (actually all four films are pretty fantastic and I’d recommend any of them) because it tries something different with the material. The other films featured the Templars on land near remote villages. This time they are sailing the seas, though quite how they got there after the events of the last film is a bit of a mystery. De Ossorio skips the usual flashback sequences which explains how the Templars came to be but it is most-needed in this one!

As with the other films, The Ghost Galleon is at its strongest when the undead Templars are on the screen. They’re not given an awful lot to do other than walk around slowly and stalk people around the galleon (which isn’t that big either so finding places to stay hidden from them is going to be tricky). But they still look like something out of a dark nightmare and they all march together, they really do send shivers down your spine. Their look hasn’t altered at all over the three films, which is nice to have some continuity, though they don’t seem as vicious as they once were. At numerous times they take their victims below deck to finish them off-screen instead of completing the job in the full view of the camera. In a highlight scene, one of the female characters has her throat slit, leading to a great scene where she tries to scream for help to no avail as the Templars drag her below.

Whilst the Templars are sorely lacking in screen time, the atmosphere isn’t shy of making its presence felt. De Ossorio has one of the best sets of all of the Blind Dead films to play around on here and it’s this which gives the film such a great brooding mood. The galleon looks like something out of a twisted fairytale, full of cobwebs, rotten wood and lots of shadows and fog filling the place nicely. De Ossorio has also added lots of creaking sound effects to boost the chill factor of this ship. You really get the sense that this is an actual old galleon and not some rickety back lot set. Unfortunately the miniature he uses for distance shots would only convince a five year old that it was real.

The story doesn’t make much sense either, with some crazy publicity stunt being the driving force behind the encounter with the Templars instead of their resting place being disturbed. The logic of having the babes in the middle of the sea on some publicity stunt is rather puzzling and best left as a daft MacGuffin. It does, however, introduce the film to a couple of beauties but unfortunately for the red-blooded amongst you, they remain clothed (which is a crying shame given the Templars’ ability in previous films to strip virgins naked). Everything that follows is rather silly as the script finds excuses to get people on board the ship but what the heck, as soon as the Templars start doing their thing, you can forget things like plot. This is a horror film, stripped back to its bare essentials, and De Ossorio attempts to make the best use of it. The chilling final scene alone features a great twist which not only ends the film on a downbeat note but leaves you gagging for the next instalment.

 

The Ghost Galleon is another strong entry into a series which I grossly underrated before I started watching but have become fascinated and enthralled by the sheer originality and downright scary nature of the Templars. It’s brimming with atmosphere and only a low budget spoils what is a decent and entertaining time.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Horror Express (1972)

Horror Express (1972)

Can it be stopped?

Professor Saxton has just found what he claims to be the missing link in human evolution and brings his find aboard the Trans-Siberian Express in order to ship it back to the west. Dr. Wells, a rival scientist, is sceptical and pays a baggage boy to drill a hole in the crate to see what it is. But no one knows that the creature is actually still alive and, by looking into the eyes of its victims, it can boil the brain and absorb their intelligence. What will everyone do with this beast running loose on the train?

 

Horror Express was made a time when Hammer still had a strangle-hold upon the horror market, with their period horrors featuring Frankenstein and Dracula still proving dependable, if somewhat repetitive, outings. This Spanish-British co-production was the third film that director Eugenio Martin had been contracted to make. So using expensive sets from Pancho Villa (notably the train and large sections of track), Horror Express was penned – sort of a scarier version of Agatha Christie’s famous Murder on the Orient Express, only this time with some sort of Yeti-like creature doing the killing. And when you add the two greatest horror stars of their generation, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, to proceedings, the end result is one of the best films of their pairing: Horror Express, a classic low budget horror which is every bit as weird and wonderful as its premise sounds.

A mixture of all manner of classic horror staples, Horror Express throws in stuff from zombies to brain-sucking monsters and religious hokum. There are plot holes a mile wild which are shoved aside, random occurrences which are just simply glossed over and a general sense that the film is heading in one direction whether everything makes sense or not. The isolation scenario is well-used and is a bit reminiscent of The Thing From Another World at times. The cramped hallways of the carriages are used frequently to create a bit of claustrophobia and the feeling that there is no way out even though it’s only a train. Dimly lit baggage cars and dingy lounges add to the notion that something loose on this train would be impossible to locate. For such a confined setting, the film does an admirable job of making it seem like the worst place in the world to be.

The monster itself isn’t around for long before it swaps bodies, which is probably a blessing because it doesn’t look too convincing in its normal Yeti-like form. However the damage it can do is pretty horrific and memorable with the images of its victims’ white, bleeding eyes being one that you certainly won’t forget after viewing. Nor will you forget about cutting someone’s skull open to see their brain as so ably demonstrated by Cushing in this film (a nod to Frankenstein perhaps). The gore factor is pretty high at times, though never over-indulgent, which adds to the 70s cheese of the film. The film is never about cheap thrills and though there are odd traces of camp lingering, the film never once strays into ridiculousness.

As so often in these horror efforts, it’s the stars of the film that make proceedings more viewable than they deserve to be and when you get the two best that the genre has to offer, even the most trite and absurd scripts could sound like Oscar-winning material – and above all, believable. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are marvellous here. The two men share such a chemistry when they’re on screen and it is clear to see that they were very good friends off screen too. Cushing’s wife died shortly before film started and it was Lee’s personal intervention which made Cushing agree to film (Cushing himself had stated that he was just killing time after her death until they would meet again – a tragic statement if ever I heard one). But despite looking a little frail, Cushing being the pro that he was manages to turn in another excellent performance. Lee is his usual bullish self as the more pompous of the two scientists. Through the course of the film, they manage to make the premise sound life-threatening, talking up the danger to everyone and treating the situation with the utmost respect and horror.

Telly Savalas pops up later on in the film and adds some boisterous, energetic demeanour to the film as a rogue Cossask commander who boards the train and arrests everyone. Also of worthy mention is Silvia Tortosa who plays Irina Petrovski – she’s a hottie and adds some glamour to proceedings.

 

Horror Express is a classic dosage of Euro-horror from the 70s: a solid mix of the Gothic Hammer approach with its more liberal Spanish trappings. You can’t go wrong with the two best actors that the genre has ever produced going up against a brain-sucking Yeti on a Trans-Siberian train!

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Rottweiler (2004)

Rottweiler (2004)

Eat. Sleep. Fetch. Kill.

Escaping from a Spanish immigration camp in 2018, Dante heads off to find his lost girlfriend who he left behind after his capture. He is relentlessly pursued by a bounty hunter and his tracker dog ROTT; a vicious rottweiler that had been left for dead and rebuilt ever stronger with fangs and jaws of steel.

 

Sounds like the recipe for a decent horror timewaster, doesn’t it? Some sort of Man’s Best Friend meets The Terminator. Well you’re wrong! If ludicrous special effects, a ‘killer’ rottweiler which just wants to nuzzle up to you, lots of gratuitous nudity, some bizarre plot twists and a close-up of a chicken-in-peril are your thing, then maybe Rottweiler is up your street. For anyone else, this is dog poo on the grandest scale.

Brian Yuzna knows how to turn a silly idea into an effective horror film (The Dentist should never be watched by anyone with a vague phobia of the dentist!) so clearly this film has no business being as plain awful as it is. It could have knowingly winked at it’s audience a few times but it’s played straight up from the get-go and this stonewall approach doesn’t do it any favours. It just goes through the motions from start to finish, never really stringing together an effective story or creating any excitement or scares. Yuzna has completely lost the plot in recent years, basing himself in Spain and making a series of middling horror films like Beneath Still Waters.

The flimsy plot about the prisoner running from the dog is the entire story and it’s nowhere near enough to fill ten minutes, let alone the entire film. There are lots of flashbacks to what happened to Dante in the immigration camp and these are just thrown around wherever in the film with little or no purpose to seemingly pad out some more screen time. It gets confusing when you don’t know whether what is happening is a flashback or the present. Brian Yuzna doesn’t know what type of flick he wants to make and ends up just rehashing elements of horror, revenge flicks and chase films where someone is pursued through the wilderness. The horror element would have worked best had the rottweiler actually been a lot bigger than it was (after all, it was supposed to have been rebuilt so they could have made it huge).

The special effects team commit the cardinal sin of having the dog appear different sizes depending on the situation. In some scenes the rottweiler is an actual dog, gleefully running around the film set wanting to play with some soft toy. In other scenes it’s a fearsome CGI beastie, walking through fire like Satan himself. And in other scenes, the dog is shown in close-up as a cheap-looking puppet head with false teeth. The metal teeth appear at will too – in some scenes the dog has a perma-grin on its face and in other scenes, the teeth are nowhere to be found at all.

The bizarre and downright perverse sexual undercurrent to the film really adds to the problems as well. What’s the first thing you would do if you were being chased by a killer rottweiler with metal teeth that could rip you in two straight away? Why take off your clothes and go and bath in the lake! This leads to one of the longest full frontal male shots I’ve ever seen. But he runs away naked to the house of a horny Spanish woman and her child. The woman holds him at gunpoint for a bit before taking him into her bedroom and romping with him. At the same time, the rottweiler is trying to break into the house but he’s too busy getting his leg over to bother. It’s just bizarre and a bit fantasist on the behalf of Brian Yuzna. The poor dubbing and ropey English-speaking Spanish actors don’t do the film any good either.

 

Rottweiler is just a waste of time from start to finish. A silly plot with no real meat to keep it going, a strange sexual element, ridiculous special effects and some lousy acting really make this the dog’s dinner. A truly awful film and one expects better from Mr Yuzna.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Oasis of the Zombies (1981)

Oasis of the Zombies (1981)

A group of students searching for treasure buried by the German army in the African desert during WWII comes up against an army of Nazi zombies guarding the fortune.

 

Not content with letting fellow exploitation director Jean Rollin butcher the Nazi zombie sub-genre with the abomination that was Zombie Lake, Jesus Franco (who wrote Zombie Lake) took his turn in the director’s seat with Oasis of the Zombies. It’s hard to say which film is worse as not only are both films absolutely terrible zombie films, they may even border on being some of the worst films ever made. Seriously, how hard is it for people to make a decent Nazi zombie film? Unlike other zombie films where loving friends and family are turned into flesh-ripping ghouls, Nazi zombies were evil and sadistic before they were dead. There’s something unnerving about the thought of the most evil people to have ever lived to be immortalized in zombie form, forever to walk the Earth looking for flesh. We thought we were rid of them but they’re back and unstoppable! Maybe even the likes of Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin have been too afraid to tap into this unholy combination for fear of the backlash that they may receive. Whatever is the case, Oasis of the Zombies is hardly going to offend anyone except for lovers of trashy films like myself.

Even worse is that Franco doesn’t even live up to his usual exploitative ways here. There’s little in the way of gratuitous nudity, a lack of any sort of sleaze and perversion of any kind and a total lack of pushing any sort of boundaries which at least his Euro-horrors do (and have been banned for). It’s almost as if Franco is clueless when it comes to proper horror films. Without the writhing orgies of women undressing before him, he’s pretty much a lame duck. Oasis of the Zombies has nothing good going for it except for the fact that the zombies like to pull people into the sand every now and then ala Tremors. But even when people are being pulled under, you can see the man-made hole they are falling into with sand-coloured plastic bin-liners lining the pit. It’s a really bad effect especially when the camera gets so close and can see the bin-liner being ruffled. Incompetence at it’s best. But it’s incompetent across the board.

The film lacks any sort of budget as is evident with the cheapness of everything and total lack of production values. The ‘actors’ look like they were simply some of the crew who chipped in with lines. The sound quality is really bad. Not only are there countless scenes with no sound at all (literally people just walking in silence) but there’s also a terrible piano track that plays up every now and then which is reminiscent of some sleazy porn film.

The zombies do look a lot better than those of Zombie Lake but they’re only on screen for a total of about ten minutes towards the end of the film and they only attack two people. They have suitably rotting faces complete with charred Nazi uniforms but we don’t get to see anything in the way of zombies devouring humans. All they simply do is swarm around their victims and wrestle them to the ground like you see in many other zombie films. But the money shots of throats being bitten out and flesh being torn away are sorely missing. The blurb on the box conjures up images of a feast of flesh but we got scraps – but even these scraps seem like a God’s send when you’ve sat through the rest of the film.

This is simply taken up with people talking monotonously to each other and people walking across sand…..lots of sand. Even at a slim running time of eighty-two minutes, this seems like shameless padding. There is a long flashback scene which takes up most of the film and seemingly uses WWII stock footage of Germans fighting, driving tanks and being blown up. But I want to see zombies, not Saving Private Ryan. At least the desert locations provide a sense of isolation for the film and it makes a change from being stuck in woods or desolated cities and being chased by zombies.

 

You’ll find yourself fingering the fast forward button on your remote a lot if you decide to tackle the abomination that is Oasis of the Zombies, one the worst zombie films ever. I dare anyone to watch Zombie Lake and this in a back-to-back sitting without falling asleep or wishing they were elsewhere.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Mark of the Devil (1970)

Mark of the Devil (1970)

Positively the most horrifying film ever made.

Christian, the protégé of an infamous witch hunter, arrives in a European town to deal with allegations that Albino, the local inquisitor, has been blackmailing women for sexual and financial gain. Whilst there, Christian falls in love with Vanessa, one of the local women. Albino tries to rape her but then accuses her of being a witch when she fights back and slashes his face. When his mentor, Lord Cumberland, arrives in the town, Christian believes he will help him to clear her name. But as Cumberland goes about his own witch hunting activities, Christian realises that he is just as corrupt and sleazy as Albino and begins to see that the witch trials are simply a scam for the clergy to rob innocent people of their land.

 

Mark of the Devil is one of Europe’s sleazy entries into the short-lived ‘witch hunter’ fad of the late 60s and early 70s. Part of its infamy comes from the fact that cinemas offered free sick bags to the audience to prepare them for the horrors that they were about to witness. Dated as it may be today, the exploitative gore and violence still rings home today as the context is still as horrific as ever. Like the other films in the genre, it makes no bones about its stance towards the Catholic Church. Hundreds of thousands of people across Europe were executed for heresy and many suffered appalling torture and prolonged deaths during the Church’s reign.

Mark of the Devil focuses a lot on the corruption of the church’s witch hunting where it sent those that disagreed with its methods to a fiery death and using the entire process as a method to consolidate its grip on power through the use of fear. The torturers justify their actions by stating that it is the work of God, thinly disguising their individual desires of sex, power and blood lust. You’re either with the Church or you’re a witch was their belief and Mark of the Devil explores how this power corrupt many religious men. In doing so they emerge as the Devil incarnate, not those people that suffered under their rule. The point of the film is to show you how hypocritical these holy men were.

Mark of the Devil has often been considered too violent and exploitative to effectively deliver any sort of message but I don’t agree. The scenes of torture could be timid in comparison with the brutal antics of Hostel but when you consider that this is what happened back in the 18th century, the whole piece takes a new sinister meaning. Also take into account the year in which it was filmed and the shocking nature of the footage is quite alarming. Mark of the Devil does live up to its reputation and manages to torture and humiliate some hot women like never before seen in cinema! Young maidens are burnt alive at the stake. They’re stretched out on the rack. They’re branded with hot irons. They’re slashed, poked and prodded to find the Devil’s mark on their bodies. And there’s plenty of lashings too. One unlucky man is tarred and feathered and kicked out of town. In the film’s most iconic image, one young woman has her tongue ripped out. The torture methods are all legitimate though and were used back in the day which makes their inclusion all the more worrying. We’ve heard stories about the unspeakable things that the Church did to people back in the 18th century to force confessions of witch craft and Mark of the Devil takes great pains to show us it in its deplorable glory.

Having said this, I was a little disappointed in how many times the film cuts away from the blood. It’s clever because you’ll think you’ve seen more than you actually have. This brutality is well contrasted against the beautiful cinematography of the Austrian countryside. The locations used are stunning and the sets could have come straight out of one of Hammer’s earlier Gothic horror masterpieces. Surely this seemingly peaceful and tranquil setting isn’t home to such horrors?

The cast is devilishly strong. Veteran Herbert Lom is superb as Lord Cumberland and he uses his low, authoritative voice to deliver some punchy lines. Lom is able to slowly reveal his character’s true personality, turning Cumberland from the intelligent, sophisticated lord we assume he is in the beginning to a man just as cunning, opportunistic and sadistic as Albino. The only difference is that Cumberland is able to hide it using his educated background and noble birth. Genre icon and living legend, Udo Kier, stars in one of his earliest roles. Kier’s youthful looks and piercing blue eyes are put to good use as the innocent Christian and its peculiar seeing him as the straight laced hero instead of a vampire or other monstrous character. Kier’s Christian is the voice of conscience and reason and contrasts with Lom’s bullish and ignorant mindset – who will come out on top in the end?

Olivera Katarina does what her role requires of her and that is to look buxom and comely in her wench outfit and provide the necessary beauty to cause characters to fight over her. The scene stealer of this one is Reggie Nalder, one evil-looking creep who plays his role of the local witch hunter to perfection. He’s a sadistic force in the town who relishes his role in power. He isn’t out to help the church, he’s simply out to get his leg over and have the people in the town fear him. Nalder’s face was actually scarred in a mysterious accident in his twenties (and he gave numerous explanations of the reason over the years) so they’re real, not make-up, and they add to the persona of his slimy villain.

 

Mark of the Devil is nowhere nearly as horrific as it’s reputation would have you believe (isn’t that always the case though?), does contain it’s fair share of clunky writing and dreadful dubbing and takes a few liberties with history but it’s great as an exploitation piece where torture, mutilation and degradation are the order of the day. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re definitely going to enjoy this.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

Who are these unholy savages who hunt out their victims by sound alone?

In the 13th century, there existed a legion of evil knights known as the Templars who conducted black magic rituals and drank virgin’s blood in their quest for eternal life. Executed for their crimes, the Templars were left for the crows to peck out their eyes. In 1970s Portugal, a group of people stumble upon an abandoned Templar monastery, reviving the unholy knights in their quest for eternal life.

 

Anchor Bay has become a staple ingredient of any horror fans’ DVD collection. The company has restored and released many long last classics here in the UK, some great, others not so hot. It’s with great pleasure that the company has now released an excellent five-disc collection of a European horror franchise I knew nothing about – that of The Blind Dead. Four films featuring the unholy Templar Knights were made by Amando de Ossorio and the set contains all of them, restored to their former glory and released for the first time. I’m so glad they did because any horror fan can’t call themselves that unless they’ve seen at least one of these classics.

Tombs of the Blind Dead is oozing atmosphere right from the get-go and relies in this throughout its running time to cover over plot and script weaknesses. Maybe it’s the chilling Gregorian chant soundtrack which gets the blood freezing. Or maybe it’s the really eerie monastery in the village in which the film is set. Or maybe it’s the sight of the undead Templars slowly stalking and searching for their victims knowing that they won’t stop. Once they’re after you, there’s no stopping them and they’ll keep coming. Director Amando de Ossorio has managed to create his own brand of screen monsters with their own mythology and it’s a credit to him that the Templar Knights come off as so scary and credible as they do.

It’s not easy making new monsters stick on the screen but the Templars are so unique in their appearance (at least for 1972) that it’s hard not to forget about them. The make-up effects job on them is excellent with their skeletal visages shrouded in old, worn robes. They move slowly because they hunt by sound (as their eyes were pecked out) which makes them even more deadly than one would expect. You may try and keep quiet but as the film shows, there’s no slowing down your heart beats and pulse rate and this is just like a homing beacon to them. Like lingering zombies, they stumble around in search of blood. You certainly wouldn’t want to get anywhere near these monsters. The resurrection sequence with the Templars rising from their graves is superb, with rotting hands sticking out from the ground and moving tombstones to escape their earthly imprisonment. Whenever they ride on their undead horses, Ossorio opts to slow the film right down and make it almost-silent, giving the horses a horrific phantom element with the only sounds coming from the hooves of their feet clopping off the ground.

Unfortunately Ossorio also drags the rest of the film down to this slow pace and it’s like watching paint dry at times. The first half of the film is excruciatingly dull. Some scenes drag on for ages, including Virginia’s exploration of the town. And like many monster films, it really drags when the Templars aren’t on the screen. The acting isn’t hot (the dubbed version is horrid) and the film is really weak on story apart from the Templar mythology. There’s a fair bit of gore on display (although not as much as I was expecting), some flesh and an underlying theme of sadism with rape and a flashback sequence of a sacrifice adding to its nasty tone.

Thankfully, the final third of the film when the Templars rise is excellent. It’s basically one long sustained scene in which they hunt down and kill the visitors before following one survivor to a passing train where they board and attack the passengers (no one is spared in this scene, even the small child!). It’s a suitably dark and nightmarish ending which just tops the film off the way it should – not some happy go-lucky, everyone is safe, we survived ending.

 

Minor quibbles aside, Tombs of the Blind Dead is a visual and atmospheric shocker from Spain which pulls no punches with its ability to strike terror into the audience. The Templar Knights are easily one of the greatest horror icons to come out of cinema since the early days of the Wolfman and Frankenstein. Tombs of the Blind Dead is essential viewing.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆