Tag Humanoids/Mutants

Ghoul, The (1975)

The Ghoul (1975)

A former missionary to India keeps his crazed, cannibalistic son locked away in the attic of his country house in order to keep him from killing to eat. When a group of people in a cross-country race stop off at the house, it is only a matter of time before the son escapes to feed.

 

British horror in the 70s was at its lowest point. Hammer and Amicus had been churning out the same horrors for years with dwindling results and a new breed of horror was emerging from America with the likes of Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Audiences didn’t want to keep watching Dracula, Frankenstein or other monsters stalking victims through Gothic settings. Some people foolishly stuck to the formula that had brought about the greatest success in the hope that people would eventually come full circle again but all it did was expose how poor and one-dimensional the films had become.

Tyburn Films was a new studio established by Kevin Francis, son of horror director Freddie Francis, that attempted to replicate the Hammer formula at a time when everyone else was trying not to replicate it. What we got was a handful of competently-made but ultimately weak and feeble horror outings that may have scared people back in the early 60s but looked woefully short of imagination and scares in the mid-70s. The Ghoul is one such outing.

The Ghoul might as well have begun with characters saying “been there, done that and got the t-shirt” because it’s so routine, unimaginative and uneventful. The story itself is very thin and it plods along way too slowly to do anything effective. There’s lots of padding early on with the antics of the racers taking up the bulk of the early running time. Even when they do get to the country house, they spend too much time doing very little of note. Freddie Francis’ direction is competent but so devoid of energy and life. He lets the film play out like an elongated sketch that should have been short and snappy but was dragged out to full feature-length levels.

Whilst the film is well shot, with plenty of fog-drenched moors and remote locations, it just doesn’t do anything with it. There’s no atmosphere, no sense of dread or foreboding or worthwhile build-up to the eventual reveal of the cannibal. Typically of old school horror films, the monster isn’t revealed until the very end of the film and its no surprise to find out that it’s a big let down. The ‘ghoul’ of the title is simply a man with a bit of green paint on his face. It’s hardly going to make you wet your pants, especially as he looks to be wearing a huge nappy and waddles across the floor like he has just done something naughty in it.

It’s a shame because it’s got good pedigree with the cast and crew: director Freddie Francis is a British horror legend, helming some of Amicus’ most popular anthology films as well as a few Hammer films; writer Anthony Hinds produced some of Hammer’s best early outings; both Peter Cushing (no introduction needed!) and Veronica Carlson starred in their fair share of Hammer horrors; John Hurt would shoot to fame when an alien burst out of his chest a few years later in Alien; and Ian McCullough starred in his fair share of late 70s/early 80s Italian exploitation horrors. Cushing does what he does best and that is improve the watchability of any rubbish film simply by his performance. This was three years on from the death of his wife, from which he never really recovered, and apparently he broke down a few times during filming. It’s not one of his best performances, if you can call it that, as he seems to be portraying himself – a heartbroken man full of grief and mourning. He chose the right character to play but probably at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. John Hurt pops up as the crazy gardener.

 

The Ghoul isn’t going to win any horror awards with its pedestrian, lifeless formula being about ten years out of date. It’s harmless enough but just a chore to sit through the same old, same old time and time again.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Blood Beast Terror, The (1968)

The Blood Beast Terror (1968)

Detective Quennell investigates a series of murders in which the victims are found drained of blood with huge claws marks over their bodies. His investigation takes him to good friend and entomologist Karl Mallinger. Here he finds out that Mallinger has been conducting experiments that have caused his daughter to morph into a giant Death’s Head moth and she has been killing the men who are attracted to her.

 

Peter Cushing once remarked that The Blood Beast Terror was the worst film he ever took part in and he’s probably not too far from the truth. The Anglo-horror era in Britain in the 50s and 60s saw plenty of international smash hits churned out from the likes of Hammer. But there were also a few lesser known studios which wanted a piece of the pie and tried to muscle in on the market to little avail. This one is from a studio called Tigon who made the excellent The Witchfinder General but then struggled to keep the hits coming. It’s easy to see why they’re forgotten about when people continually talk about Hammer and Amicus.

The Blood Beast Terror is a complete mess. Even the worst of Hammer films usually had some form of coherent plot which made sense no matter how stupid some of them became. Here, there is nothing done to explain anything that happens. No doubt you’re wondering what the hell the plot is all about and it’s never explained throughout the course of the film. We don’t know how Mallinger managed to create a moth that big, let alone one that can change appearance between human and moth in the blink of an eye. Nor does it explain why the moth becomes a vampire, desperately needing blood to survive as opposed to nectar or whatever moths eat to stay alive. I guess any reasons would have been silly but at least we’d have a reason! It’s better than clutching at straws.

The film itself is terribly flat. Not a great deal happens. There’s a pointless subplot with Mallinger’s servant who continually harasses Mallinger’s eagle pet with a big stick before it pecks him to death and that plot thread ends. There’s a few deaths scattered around with a splash of blood on some of the bodies but nothing to get worked up over. The music adds nothing to the film whatsoever, with lots of misplaced and badly-timed cues of music which detract from some of the film’s most serious moments.

At least the acting is pretty reasonable with Peter Cushing being flawless as always (despite the absurdity of the material on hand) and Robert Flemyng being a bit of a turncoat as Mallinger. It’s the sort of role that Cushing can do in his sleep but one which he approaches with his traditional professionalism and ability to turn even the worst dialogue into intelligent science and fact. Wanda Ventham stars as the ill-fated ‘moth woman’ and it’s a thankless task. The moth costume looks ridiculous – fancy dress hire quality with its black bodysuit, big red eyes and some tacked-on wings.

The finale where Cushing builds a huge fire to attract the moth to it is so badly timed and rushed that it’s over before it begins. There’s one shot of something flying towards the fire but the lens seems to have been out of focus so it’s hard to explain what it is. Then the film ends. I had to read up on it in order to understand just what happened because it was all so quick and sudden. If there is one positive, it’s the great in-joke as some students put on a play of Frankenstein in Mallinger’s house. Cushing’s character peers through the window and smiles at the play, a self-referential wink to one of his greatest performances in The Curse of Frankenstein.

 

Cushing was right. The Blood Beast Terror was the worst film he ever starred in, through no fault of his own – but almost everyone else’s. It’s awful and not the way I want to remember British horror.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Reptile, The (1966)

The Reptile (1966)

Half woman – half snake!

Harry and his wife Valerie travel to Cornwall to investigate the mysterious death of his brother Charles. With the help of a few locals, they believe the death to have been the result of a snake bite and their search to find the cause leads them to Dr Franklyn. Harry discovers that Franklyn’s daughter was abducted by a snake cult when he was researching in Borneo and now possess the ability to transform herself into a snake.

 

After Hammer had begun to run out of ideas for their major franchises (Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy were growing stale quickly) and with their remakes of secondary Universal horror films not being as successful (namely The Curse of the Werewolf and The Phantom of the Opera), they turned their attention to stand alone films in the hope that they’d strike gold and hit another winning formula by their own making. Unfortunately, with the trio of films they made in the mid-60s (The Gorgon, The Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile), all Hammer did was virtually replace the traditional Universal monsters with a similar substitute.

So what we have in The Reptile is basically a vampire film in all but an appearance of Van Helsing and Count Dracula. Heck, the creature even leaves two small bite marks in the neck. Although at least when Dracula featured, you’d be guaranteed a gruesome staking somewhere along the line. But Hammer has always been a seal of quality and despite the rather unoriginal premise they hit another winner in The Reptile.

Shot back-to-back with The Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile shares many of the same sets and cast, not to mention director John Gilling. From a business perspective it makes perfect sense. From someone who watched them back-to-back, it’s not ideal as it’s easy to mix the two films up. Not so much an outright horror film but more of a murder mystery at times, The Reptile is a rather timid effort from Hammer that isn’t going to smash any awards for excellence. It’s got a reputation for being a bit of minor Hammer classic but I just don’t see that here. Maybe if there was something slightly original on display here – I mean the film is basically Dracula with a snake-woman. In fact the script is so muddled at time that I’m wondering whether Hammer didn’t just alter one of the planned scripts for the Dracula sequels.

The creature is not well thought out at all. It kills for no apparent reason and does so randomly – it’s not for revenge and it’s not because it needs food. It’s just pot luck (and highly unfortunate) for any of the minor characters who stumble upon it during the duration of the film. The creature itself doesn’t look particularly menacing or scary but given Hammer’s relative lack of experience in conjuring up new monsters and the practical limitations of what they could create with make-up effects, it’s not that bad and the less you see of it, the more intimidating it becomes. In fact the damage that the creature does is more unsettling, with the bodies that it leaves behind looking like ghostly visions of death, drained of their blood. Being a female monster also makes it somewhat unique for the time.

The Reptile is Hammer horror to the bone though. The quaint setting, the varying village characters, the lucid colours, the mood and the music is all as it should be in a Hammer flick. It’s all steady stuff but nothing groundbreaking. Up until the finale, the film moves along rather slowly and although director John Gilling does manage to create some atmosphere with the remote village setting, it’s all wasted because a) we know that the killer is in fact a reptile of some kind (hence the title) and b) the film is too uninteresting for us to even care about anything else. The finale is rather weakly staged and it ends with a bit of a whimper but given the nature of reptiles, it makes perfect sense – it’s just not great material for a rip-roaring film finale. I’m sure if this was made today there’d be all manner of explosions and daft things going on but here the film ends on a rather bum note, a very flat and uninspired conclusion to what has been a rather flat and uninspiring film.

 

If Hammer had tried to do something different instead of obviously re-designing a vampire film, then maybe The Reptile would have worked out. But the similarities are too much and you’d be best off sticking with Count Dracula and his cronies as opposed to this slimy snake. Better yet, the counterpart production, The Plague of the Zombies, is a definite classic not to be missed. I guess all of the effort went into making that one.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆