Tag Vampires

Encounter of the Spooky Kind (1980)

Encounter of the Spooky Kind (1980)

Hapless servant Cheung finds out that his wife has been having an affair with his rich master Tam. Wanting to get Cheung out of the way, Tam enlists the services of an unscrupulous priest to do the deed with black magic so that fingers can’t be pointed back to him. But Cheung turns out to be no pushover and he must battle the supernatural and the uncanny with the help of the priest’s more righteous brother.

 

Cult classics don’t come as any more clear-cut than Encounter of the Spooky Kind, an off-beat kung fu-comedy-horror flick which is sort of like Enter the Dragon meets The Evil Dead. Responsible for kick-starting a whole slew of Hong Kong cinema in the 80s, Encounter of the Spooky Kind is a crazy ride right from the opening scene until the classic showdown at the end. Mixing comedy, horror and martial arts in equal measure, director and actor Sammo Hung crafts a wonderfully ludicrous tale of hopping vampires, black magic and possession.

There’s something for everyone here and each of the different genres are treat well. The horror elements are mainly played out in the opening half. Being from a different culture than we are used to in the West, it may take a while to get used to the fact that the Chinese definitions of vampires are totally different to what we’re used to. Here, they look more like our stereotypical zombies and hop around in a weird trance-like state with arms outstretched. The crusty, decomposing make-up looks good though and there are maggots flying about too to reinforce the fact that these are undead beings. The historical period setting and lavish, colourful sets enhances the atmosphere and mood of the piece, giving it a few Hammer-ish vibes. In many ways, I was reminded of The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, a Hammer-Shaw Brothers production which laid much of the groundwork for this type of film to become successful. Despite the obvious low budget, Encounter of the Spooky Kind features some great make-up and the sets are excellent and the overall effect of the horror is, well, spooky.

With the horror flying around thick and fast to begin with, the action soon takes over in the second half and the kung-fu comes more to the fore. This leads up to a thrilling finale in which the forces of good and evil battle each other which is heavily dosed in Chinese folklore. Hung choreographs a number of impressive fight scenes, including between himself (and a possessed hand) and some policemen or two priests fighting it out with black magic. Playing out alongside both the horror and action is a nice comedic streak. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and there are some laugh out loud moments, particularly Cheung’s encounter with a reanimated corpse which copies his every move, right from taking a leak against the wall to slapping itself in the face.

Sammo Hung plays the role of bumbling oaf Cheung to perfection. You know that Cheung has a heart of gold but a brain the size of a pea and his reactions to the situations he’s thrust into are priceless. Hung demonstrates a Bruce Campbell-esque knack of convincingly portraying that part of his body has become possessed and is acting on its own during an amazing scene inside a restaurant which involves all manner of slapstick and high-octane martial arts. In fact, much of Hung’s comedy comes from physical slapstick and the larger-than-life actor utilises his size to his advantage in a number of hilarious scenes.

Lam Ching Ying also has a small role here as the police inspector. Along with Sammo, Lam was a major factor in this this surge of Hong Kong horror-martial arts and fronted the equally excellent Mr Vampire series until his untimely death. Whilst he’s not in his trademark Taoist priest role, he still manages to shine with a few moments of kung fu and comedy.

If there are quibbles with Encounters of the Spooky Kind, and believe me there are few, it is with the episodic nature of the film. Due to the fact that so many genres are all being blended together, the film does tend to become patchy and the framework linking them all together doesn’t really hold up, leading to long periods where the narrative dulls and the pace lags. You won’t have to wait too long before the pace picks up but the continual stop-start nature gets a little tiresome.

 

It’s hard to find a film which is as all-round fun and entertaining as Encounter of the Spooky Kind. If you have any sort of interest in any of the three major genres this film mixes together, then you should check this out. This, and many of its Hong Kong kung-fu horror comedies, aren’t exactly the easiest films to track down on the West but if you get the opportunity, take it!

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

Monster Brawl (2011)

Monster Brawl (2011)

It’s the fight of the living dead!

Eight classic monsters fight to the death in an explosive wrestling tournament set inside an abandoned and cursed graveyard.

 

That’s about as much story as you’re going to get from Monster Brawl. It’s an ill-fated film with a one-note idea – that of some sort of WWE-style professional wrestling organisation featuring classic horror monsters doing battle with each other – but it doesn’t work as a feature film in the slightest and seems to have been aimed squarely at wrestling fans. Quite simply, this has no real business being classed as a film and it’s more like watching a pay-per-view wrestling event with a handful of matches on the card.

The entire narrative is strung together by the two commentators who attempt to keep the film somewhat cohesive. But there are no character arcs to follow, no plot threads which unwind and no real centrepieces to the film. This gives Monster Brawl a very weird pace but again, it’s supposed to be aping a typical pay-per-view event so you’ll get the big attraction matches every so often with a load of filler build-up in between, as interviews and backstage clips of the competitors attempt to build the next match. Whilst it’s all done with a good heart, it doesn’t make for compelling film. Even the monsters are just there or thereabouts – nothing much is said about them, they have no real back stories or characters. It all makes for a very disjointed film which has no pace whatsoever and no real hook to keep the viewer interested.

To begin with, and the film’s biggest weakness, is that Monster Brawl requires wrestling knowledge, thus immediately alienating a lot of its potential fan base. I am a wrestling fan so it wasn’t rocket science to me to know what is going on but for novices or those with no interest in the ‘sport’ it’s going to be a bit of an ask to understand all of the in-jokes, references and actually give two hoots about what is happening. Plus there is the glaring fact that there is a lot of wrestling! Whilst a film series like Rocky managed to turn its boxing matches into exciting spectacles that non-boxing fans could watch without fuss, it also had characters and story driving them along. There are no characters here save for the two commentators and given the nature of the film, there is never any intention to develop them. Therefore the wrestling matches look just like those you’d seen on television.

The roster of monsters for the film reads as follows: Frankenstein’s monster, a vampire, a swamp monster, a Cyclops, a zombie, a wolfman, a witch and a mummy.The old fashioned monsters vary in their appearance, though one would question the inclusion of such ‘famous’ monsters as the Cyclops as a bit of a cop-out. Where’s The Gill Man? Or even the Phantom of the Opera or Quasimodo? Frankenstein’s monster looks pretty bad ass and the intimidating man under the make-up, Robert Maillet, was a professional wrestler before he switched to making movies like 300 (as the Uber-Immortal).

In fact all of the people playing the monsters were or are wrestlers in real life. So at least the wrestling matches have some degree of choreography and suspension of disbelief to them.  Given that the costumes range from the cumbersome to the silly, the matches work better than they should do, though anyone expecting a Savage-Steamboat classic (commonly heralded as the greatest wrestling match of all time from Wrestlemania III) should perhaps think twice. At times the matches get embarrassing and really hammer home the ‘wrestling is fake’ stigma that many fans like me just cringe at hearing.

Wrestling alumni Jimmy ‘The Mouth of the South’ Hart and Kevin Nash appear in small roles, presumably questioning just how low their careers have dropped since the glory days of headlining main events in WWF/WWE and WCW. And the referee is played by real-life MMA official Herb Dean. Ironically the most famous wrestler in the film, Nash, doesn’t even get chance to bust out any of his famous moves and Hart is literally hanging around the ring for name recognition only and contributes nothing to the film whatsoever. But then again, nothing much does.

Speaking of plummeting careers, Lance Henriksen lends his voice to the film, reciting a load of voiceover soundbytes that could have been lifted out of a Mortal Kombat game. At least he didn’t have to appear in it!

 

Monster Brawl would have worked well as a series of Youtube vignettes but as a film, it’s just a non-starter. These are the sort of low brow gimmicked wrestling matches you might see at a circus or carnival where the novelty value will keep you entertained for one match or so but not for the entire show. As a wrestling fan, this was a major disappointment.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Vampire Lovers, The (1970)

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Beautiful temptress …… or Bloodthirsty monster?

A countess and her daughter attend a ball held by General Spielsdorf. The countess is called away after the death of a friend and her daughter, Marcilla, is allowed to stay with the General and his daughter until she returns. Soon afterwards, the General’s daughter starts to suffer from nightmares, growing weaker by the day and eventually dying from vampire bites. Marcilla disappears and lodges in with Roger Morton and his daughter. Soon the same mysterious illness begins to strike Morton’s daughter, Emma. It turns out that Marcilla is actually Carmilla, a descendant of the Karnstein vampire clan, who have returned to quench their thirst for blood.

 

The Vampire Lovers was made at a time of change for Hammer. New faces were being brought in behind-the-scenes to replace the established old guard and with them came a new wave of horror films, more commercially-aware and which slowly ditched the restrained Gothic pieces of old, replacing them with heaving and more often than not exposed bosoms and greater quantities of bright red blood. The exploitative change in direction was a response to the more shocking European horrors that were beginning to emerge and many consider this the beginning of the end for the studio, which wouldn’t live to see out the rest of the decade. It was ironic that the studio which originally pushed the boundaries of the genre further than they had ever gone in the late 50s and early 60s was now being left behind and made to look out-dated just as they had done to their rivals. That being said, it’s during this period that Hammer produced some of their most interesting work. Proving that there was life in the vampire sub-genre away from Dracula, Hammer loosely adapted the 1872 novel Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu (a novel which pre-dates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by some time) and managed to milk it into a trilogy. The Vampire Lovers is the first of this bold new wave of Hammer films, sleazier and more gratuitous than ever before.

All I can say is…..phew! I needed a cold shower after this one. The Vampire Lovers is arguably the steamiest film Hammer ever produced. Compare the sexually-deviant vampires in this one with Christopher Lee’s now-stuffy (at the time) Dracula and the difference in tone is amazing within the space of a few years. Though the exploitative elements look tame by today’s standards, I can only imagine the outcry at such explicit sights of lesbian vampires back in the 70s. Nubile, innocent young women wear flimsy nightgowns, take them off for the camera and cavort and fondle each other in vampiric desire. At times the lesbian elements seem to overwhelm the film and with all of the cheap titillation, the viewer can forget that there is meant to be a serious horror film in here somewhere.

The subject matter lends itself to these exploitative elements but make no mistake about it, this is a Hammer film and their visual prowess was still here in force: mysterious mountain-top castles, fog-shrouded cemeteries, creaky mansions and superstitious villages. Costumes are bang on the money for the time period being portrayed and the film still has that Gothic gloss in everything it portrays. It’s just that this time there’s a whole load of saucy lesbianism running rampant throughout! The Technicolour horror elements are still as charming as ever, with fake fangs, neck bites and a rather weak nightmare sequence clearly stamping the date on the proceedings. But there are also a couple of great beheadings and a nasty staking too for good measure, which upped the ante for what the studio usually got away with.

The Vampire Lovers also introduces the horror world to Ingrid Pitt, who would go on to become one of the genre’s most noted actresses with the brief number of appearances she made in the genre. Ms Pitt’s thick Polish accent gives her character a nice exotic European charm to add to the Gothic vibe of the film and she manages to convey predatory evil and being sympathetically sexy at the same time. It’s her other, ahem, attributes that the film makes best use of it. There’s no denying that the late Ms Pitt had an amazing body and the film is happy to show it off at every opportunity. But the character is a tragic one, wanting to be with her young girl lover forever, only to give in to her primal urges and destroy that things she craves the most – love. Pitt’s sad dialogue after she has witnessed the funeral cortege pass by is as good as anything Hammer ever put to the screen.

All-round acting legend Peter Cushing gets top billing but his time was passing for Hammer and his role is more secondary than anything. Cushing is still on top vampire slaying form when he does show up, showing that he’s lost none of his touch when it comes to staking or beheading the creatures of the night. He’s just grossly underused and bookended into the prologue and finale, with little to do in between. Also of mention is the pretty and chaste Madeline Smith, who plays one of the objects of Marcilla’s affections. Smith has this ridiculous English rose natural beauty and quickly became one of my favourite Hammer girls in her few appearances with the studio.

 

The Vampire Lovers is one of Hammer’s most daring films and definitely their most sensual and erotic work, infecting the narrative with an almost dream-like quality. Though the frequently-naked ladies detract from the more serious moments, there is no question that the well-developed characters and progressive themes for the time (a lesbian vampire, there’s one for the feminists!) make this Gothic horror at its finest.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Waxwork (1988)

Waxwork (1988)

Stop On By And Give Afterlife A Try.

When a mysterious waxwork museum comes to town, the enigmatic owner invites two teenage girls to bring a few friends along to a special midnight screening of the exhibit. Once in the museum, the group split up to look at the exhibits but when they cross over the ropes to examine them closer, they find themselves actually in the horror scene on display. Forced to battle vampires, mummies, werewolves and more, the group realise that if you die inside the scene,  you die for real.

 

Ah the 80s. Only in this decade could such a frankly shallow premise have spawned such a gloriously over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek comedy-horror fest. Waxwork is like a warped cross between a slasher film, featuring a group of 80s caricatures being picked off one-by-one in a strange place, and a loving homage to the classic horrors of old. Never scary in the slightest and filled with so much camp, it would make a drag queen blush, Waxwork defines the 80s comedy-horror to a tee. And let’s face it, if you’ve ever been to a waxworks (especially a decent one) then the figures can look a little too life-like for their own good. It’s perfect horror material to mine!

Ok, so the plot sounds a bit daft and it’s a very sketchy premise which isn’t overly well-explained (like just who is the waxwork owner, Lincoln, and why is he out to destroy the world). But the beauty with Waxwork is that because the film is basically a series of short films interlocked by the MacGuffin plot about the exhibits coming to life, then every five or ten minutes a new ‘scene’ comes to life which keeps the film fresh and fast-moving. So if werewolves aren’t your thing, then sit tight because a few minutes later you’ll have vampires and then a bit later on some zombies or a mummy. It’s a ‘something for everyone’ approach which is reminiscent of the old Amicus anthologies and works, even if the lesser scenes are unfortunately dragged out longer than the more exciting scenes.

Each scene works on different levels. The zombie scene, with its black and white throwbacks to Night of the Living Dead, adds some much-needed sinister mood and some great zombie make-up but it’s all way too brief. The werewolf scene is well executed, featuring a pre-Lord of the Rings John Rhys-Davies as the man afraid of the full moon and providing some decent werewolf make-up effects as well as a whole batch of deliciously over-the-top gore.  I’ve never been a major vampire fan but the segment here works well, living up to the usual clichés of the sub-genre and featuring some silly comedy moments involving a man chained to a table with half a leg missing. It also stars the stunning Michelle Johnson as the target of the vampire’s affection so it’s easy on the eyes. The mummy scene does what you’d expect a mummy film to do – the numerous Universal Mummy sequels of the 40s proved that the limited narrative couldn’t stretch out too far – and provides the requisite stuntman-in-bandages and Egyptian curses come to life.

The most out-of-place segment comes when the virginal girl (Deborah Foreman of April Fool’s Day fame) enters the sadistic realm of the Maquis de Sade. He’s hardly known as an iconic horror character and the perverse nature of the scene involving sexual torture seems a bit of place with the comedy-horror throwbacks to the wolf man and the mummy. Foreman’s acting in this scene is mesmerizingly erotic but leaves a bit of a weird taste afterwards. It is Waxwork ‘s ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ finale that really spoils the film as ex-Avenger (not the Marvel superhero team but the old TV series) Patrick Macnee and his band of do-gooders storm the museum and engage in mortal combat with the wax exhibits that have come to life. The scene is in total disarray, with people doing what they like on camera and there’s no choreography or anything – just loads of extras fighting each other with anything they can lay their hands upon. It’s hard to keep track of what is going on and it’s almost as if the director just sat back and soaked in the chaos without a clue as to what was intended. All the while Zach Galligan, of Gremlins, has this dozy look on his face an seems almost bemused as the audience as to what is going on.

Waxwork looks to be a decent production though. The museum looks suitably creepy, the individual wax sets look top drawer on their own and then the individual scenes (when the sets come to life) look good as well. Gore is plentiful in that gratuitous 80s style so expect plenty of ludicrous squishy moments, including the mummy crushing a guy’s head under his foot and a werewolf ripping the head off an old man. The gore doesn’t take itself seriously so neither should you. And rounding off the madness is David Warner, who is dressed up like a sinister Willy Wonka and has a hoot as Lincoln, and his two servants: an Eastern European-speaking midget and a giant Lurch-like butler.

 

Nothing really makes much sense but then the film feels like a dozen films all rolled together anyway so just sit back and enjoy Waxwork, a great slice of 80s comedy-horror with a large side-order of ‘fun’ slapped into it. It’s an enjoyable cult film which is sadly hampered from total greatness by a weak plot and disappointing finale.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009)

Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009)

Two no-hopers. One cursed village. One hell of a night!

Best friends Jimmy and Fletch decide to get over girlfriend and job worries by going camping to a place chosen at random. They arrive in Cragwich where they learn that a curse was put upon the village by the vampire Carmilla in which every girl there becomes a lesbian vampire when they turn eighteen. Directed to stay at a remote inn, the duo befriend a group of female tourists but soon they all fall prey to the lesbian vampires who roam the forest. Jimmy and Fletch must join forces with the local vicar when it turns out that Jimmy is a descendant of the lord who killed Carmilla in the first place.

 

In an era of ridiculously straightforwardly titled films which feature exactly what they promise in the title (no ambiguity here!), I’m guessing that someone thought of this title first and then came up with a plot to write around it. Lesbian Vampire Killers has exactly the sort of shock title that would draw anyone to it in much the same way that something like Zombie Strippers or Snakes on a Plane has. Though I’m guessing the more ‘lurid’ elements of this and the Zombie Strippers title are the main attractions to the majority of its clearly male-orientated fan base.

Lesbian Vampire Killers desperately wants to be Shaun of the Dead. Featuring a flavour-of-the-moment comedy duo from TV and pitching the film along similar not-so-serious comedy-horror veins, the film falls flat trying to be funny and never features anything remotely scary. I’m not an avid viewer of anything that James Corden and Matthew Horne have made on British TV so my opinions on them were unbiased going into this. I’ve heard of them but I rarely watch anything on TV nowadays so have never been exposed to the brand of comedy that Corden and Horne provide. I can’t say that I’m overly impressed. Horne comes off the better here, the more likeable of the duo whilst Corden is simply playing up the irritating fat man stereotype to perfection. Maybe with a better script I’d have found them funny but with the exception of a few throwaway lines here and there (“gay werewolves” springs to mind), the laughs are hard to come by. I guess if you’re a fan, then their brand of comedy would appeal to you. However I faced the same issue going into Shaun of the Dead, having never seen anything with Pegg and Frost, but that script was genuinely funny and didn’t rely on me ‘getting’ Pegg and Frost’s comedy shtick.

Lesbian Vampire Killers isn’t that bad in truth but that’s coming from a huge fan of the old Hammer horror films. From a technical standpoint, the film reeks of the same Gothic vibe that the late 60s and early 70s Karnstein trilogy films had and it’s like a modern day throwback. I think they lost a trick here as the film isn’t designed to be a deliberate parody or send-up of anything like Shaun of the Dead was for the zombie genre. Although there are a few weak references to the sub-genre, Lesbian Vampire Killers is played straight, well almost as straight as the barrage of schoolboy humour jokes will allow. There are some amusing moments but there’s nothing side-splitting and the most it’ll get out of you will be a smile or two. British comedy-horror has been getting a revival over the last few years with the lad’s mag culture being the target audience. The likes of this and Doghouse are clearly aimed at the ‘boozy geezer’ crowd where the idea is to get a bunch of mates around and watch in a group setting with a few cans and maybe a curry or burger afterwards. Crude, low brow humour where women are the focus of sexual innuendos and genitalia jokes is the name of the game here and whilst I’m up for a laugh and don’t mind a bit of this type of banter, the jokes soon outstay their welcome. Jokes about penile-shaped swords may be funny the first time but not the tenth time.

If you’re marking the film on what the title delivers then you’ll be disappointed. It’s got vampires in it. It’s got lesbians in it. But those expecting a gratuitous orgy of flesh and blood will be sorely disappointed. Nudity is almost non-existent so you’ll have to make do with the buxom ladies wearing revealing clothing for the most (a major crime considering how hot some of the girls are). And gore-wise, the film is hardly going to set tongues wagging. In fact the older Hammer films contained far more nudity and gore. But this is the underlying problem of Lesbian Vampire Killers – it never knows what it wants to be from the start and tries to do too many things and cover too many bases at once, never fully realising the potential of any of the directions it tries to take.

 

One can’t help but compare Lesbian Vampire Killers to the far superior Shaun of the Dead as two British TV comedy duos attempt to conquer the big screen in comedy-horror settings. Unfortunately, this one tries to hard to sell itself on its title alone and the end result is relatively poor false advertising: it never goes far enough with the laughs, the gore or the nudity and ends up turning into a safe but very lacklustre comedy-horror.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead (2004)

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead (2004)

Everybody is Zombie Fighting!

Two competing Shaolin monks are forced to team together to save Earth from a devastating army of darkness when one of them accidentally awakens the immortal King of the Vampires.

 

Trying to recapture the successful horror-comedy formula that spawned the likes of Encounters of the Spooky Kind and Mr Vampire in the 80s, Shaolin Vs Evil Dead fails pretty miserably. It’s got all the right ingredients: a wise monk, his bumbling apprentices, hopping vampires, rotting corpses, plenty of crazy martial arts and not a care in the world. So where does it all go horribly wrong?

Well Shaolin Vs Evil Dead just doesn’t mix the elements in a very exciting way. Yes we’ve got hopping vampires at the start but there’s no real purpose to them in the plot. We get zombies early on but again there’s little reason for them to be there. Things happen in the film that look pointless and a bit more context and story would have greatly helped to give meaning to everything. For instance why is the white monk travelling from town to town with a line of hopping vampires behind him? (I asked the same question in Mr Vampire – it seems to be a common occurrence in these films) It seems to be included solely for the convenient purpose of the vampires breaking their spells at some point which causes the monk to fight them and put them back under control. It’s hardly the ‘army of darkness’ that the plot promised and the action is very low key. You’d be expecting a whole lot more than it delivers.

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead contains the single-most infuriating ending ever. It’s not even a proper ending. The film just ends abruptly out of nowhere and without a proper resolution to what has been going on. Or so you think because what is worse is that the action continues. You would assume that the end credits would feature outtakes as many films do. But as the credits roll, footage of the big pay-off fight between good and evil is shown in a small box on the left hand side of the screen. We can see hundreds of hopping vampires, explosions and crazy martial arts but there’s no dialogue because the credits music has hit. It clearly looked like the best part of the film and it clearly wasn’t outtake footage – this is all new and unseen footage. Apparently, this was a ‘preview’ of a planned sequel which was eventually made the following year. Whilst one can understand the strategy of such a decision to include previews of the sequel (look at the post-credits sequence in Captain America: The First Avenger and its preview for The Avengers), the decision to just end the film as it did is a disgrace. Nearly everything that is promised in the plot for Shaolin Vs Evil Dead clearly takes place in this little box.

Gordon Liu, who appeared in Kill Bill, does a very good job of stepping up to the role of the white monk, a role personified by the late Ching-Ying Lam in the Mr Vampire movies. This sub-genre sort of died when he did and it’s good to see Liu step up to the plate with a solid performance, reflecting some of Lam’s mannerisms, attitude and ability to get the comedy timing down to a tee.

 

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead isn’t a bad attempt to revive the old Hong Kong horror/comedy genre so popular in the 80s but just fails to capture any charm and magic of those classic films. And that damn ending is a total kick below the belt. I would only recommend this if you had a copy of the sequel on hand to watch straight away to alleviate the pain of the sudden stopping (which I haven’t seen at time of writing, it’s near impossible to track down).

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Seven Mummies (2006)

Seven Mummies (2006)

Greed never dies!

Six escaped convicts and their female hostage make a desperate run for the Mexican border, only to hear out about the lost gold of the Tumacacori from a Native Indian. Stumbling upon an old frontier tow, the group decide that the opportunity to look the treasure is too good to pass. However they don’t realise that the town’s population are vampires and that they don’t want anyone stealing their precious gold.

 

A really confusing and cheap From Dusk Till Dawn rip-off, Seven Mummies is one of the sorriest films I’ve seen for a long time – and I watch a lot of bad films. Sometimes I just can’t get my head around the ideas that films are trying to present – the above plot sounds simple enough to follow but what ensues is a ridiculous mish-mash of ideas of which no attempt has clearly been made to get them to work cohesively.

I’d have thought that the title would give you some clue as to what the convicts would encounter in the desert but alas we get a load of vampires as the main villains of the piece and the mummies themselves don’t show up until the final part – even then you’d be hard-pressed to count seven of them! So, already being misled by the film’s title, you’d look at the cast list on the front cover and it’s full of genre and character actors like Danny Trejo, Billy Drago, Martin Kove and Andrew Bryniarski. Again a misleading venture as most of these guys aren’t on screen for that long and seem to have been thrown in there for name recognition only to put on the DVD cover.

Moving on to the film itself, it’s a mess of badly-written ideas and logic-defying twists and plot. It starts off simplistically enough, with the cons escaping and taking one of the guards as a hostage – simply your generic cons-on-the-run story. But as soon as they meet Danny Trejo’s wise old Indian and get told about the gold, it goes downhill quickly. The director presses the explode button and everything goes out of the window. The cons can either escape across the border or go and look for some mythical treasure so what do they do? Do the convicts question the existence of a town which has come right of the Wild West? Everyone still dresses and talks the same way yet the cons don’t worry about that when they’re getting their leg over. What are the townspeople supposed to be? Vampires? Zombies? Mummies? Some stand there waiting to get shot like zombies whilst others leap around with fangs bared. There is also the fact that the townspeople are portrayed as evil, demonic monsters but most of the cons are written up as assholes too. Just who are we meant to be rooting for?

Interestingly enough, it’s the one sequence in the bar where the townspeople reveal to the cons their true identity, about half way through this mess, that is the film’s best moment – and it’s been lifted right out of From Dusk Till Dawn. The rest of the film involves the town’s evil sheriff and his cronies trying to catch the survivors. I honestly can’t really tell you what is going on after this point because I don’t think anyone knows – not that I had much of a clue what was going on to begin with. The screenplay is a mess with, almost as if the writing team used the scattergun approach and decided to throw everything that they could think of in there with the hope that something stuck a chord with the audience. But there’s nothing holding everything together – no story, no purpose and certainly no logic. With a running time of a meagre seventy-six minutes, even that is too long to sit through this without shuffling around and twiddling your thumbs.

 

Seven Mummies looks highly polished and at least it looks way better than its budget would suggest. However that’s the only thing this film has got for itself. It’s a plagiaristic and downright pathetic mess of incoherency, inconsistency and lack of intelligence – you have been warned!

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dracula 3000 (2004)

Dracula 3000 (2004)

In space, the sun never rises

A salvage ship on a routine mission in space discovers a transport vessel that had been reported missing 100 years earlier. When the salvage crew boards the vessel, they discover 50 long black coffins and find out that the captain locked himself in his cabin when his crew started acting weird. Opening one of the coffins, one of the salvage crew accidentally cuts his hand, unwittingly unleashing ancient curse – that of Count Dracula.

 

Some of the horror ‘brands’ of the world have sent their antagonists into space in one form or another, usually when the creative teams have failed to come up with any new material for them. Pinhead did it. The Leprechaun did it. Jason Vorhees has done it. So it was a little odd to see one of the oldest horror creations going to finally take the leap into the blackness of outer space. Welcome to the stars, Count Dracula.

If there was one creation that has never needed new material it is Dracula. How many times over the years has the tale of the Count been told on film? Too many to remember but it is a winning story that has never really needed altering. So why the hell send him into space and why turn him into some weak-assed slasher when Dracula has never been about the killing, just the manner in which he does it (that whole seduction thing, using his female victims like cattle when he needs to feed, etc). Having him lurking around a spaceship (in full 19th century outfit I might add) chasing after dudes with guns isn’t what Bram Stoker had in mind when he dreamt up this fiend.

If the idea of Count Dracula turning people into vampires on a spaceship isn’t enough to make you cringe, just check a load of the cast. Casper Van Dien – his last cinematic release was Sleepy Hollow way back in 1999. Since then he’s been churning out countless TV movies like Python and Skeleton Man. Erika Eleniak – one of the hottest pieces of ass on the planet when she was in her Baywatch days but now looks like some skanky LA hooker with a breast job. Coolio – a former rapper who thinks he can act and has ‘starred’ in such genre greats as Red Water and Pterodactyl. The only person who comes out with any shred of decency is Udo Kier who doesn’t actually appear in the film with anyone else: his scenes have simply been taped in a room and played back whenever someone accesses the computer to find out what happened to the crew. It’s a Z-list cast for a Z-list movie.

There’s hardly any blood. There’s nothing scary. There’s no nudity. There’s no special effects budget (as in evidence by the explosion at the end). To say this is the year 3000, the equipment and clothing that they are using looks remarkably old. Dracula is on-screen for a total of about two minutes (kind of defeats the object of calling it Dracula 3000 doesn’t it?), opting to leave the rest of the vampire antics to a hyperactive Coolio pretending to be a vampire. The script is also full of horrible quotes like “”I want to ejaculate on your bozonkas.” I mean what the hell is that really?

I could keep going on and on but the film is one of the biggest wastes of time and effort (if there even was any in the first place) that I’m going to watch. And to top it all off, the film has the worst ending ever. I turned my head for a brief moment and then turned back to see the credits rolling. I had to rewind to make sure the film hadn’t skipped a chapter but it hadn’t!

 

Dracula 3000 will ruin your life if you watch it. Do not watch under any circumstances. Please for the love of all that is horror, do not watch this film!

 

Countess Dracula (1971)

Countess Dracula (1971)

The more she drinks, the prettier she gets

In medieval Europe, the aging Countess Elisabeth rules over her kingdom with the help of her lover, Captain Dobi. However one night she inadvertently discovers that bathing in the blood of young virgins makes her young again. She gets Dobi to start bringing her virgins with the promise that she will marry him. However when she reverts back to a younger age than Dobi, she wants someone of her own age and poses as her own daughter to fall in love with the young soldier who was to marry her.

 

What do you do when a posh man with a fake set of fangs, a tatty black cape and more make-up than a drag queen convention becomes boring and unfashionable? Well that was the dilemma facing Hammer at the end of the 60s when the Dracula series had pretty much run its course. Well the answer is a pleasing one – get Ingrid Pitt in the buff on the screen and pretend she’s the new threat facing Eastern European villagers the world over. Technically not a vampire film, this is based on the infamous story of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a rich aristocrat from Hungary who is believed to have killed around 300 young girls in an attempt to look younger. The similarities with vampirism are evident enough, the only difference being that the countess here just murders her victims instead of sucking their blood.

Admittedly the film is pretty slow and plodding. As with most of Hammer’s films, the film keeps to the same couple of locations and it gets a bit tiresome after the third visit to the dining area, the servants quarters or the courtyard. Characters are always essential to a good Hammer flick and here is no exception. Ingrid Pitt’s Countess Elisabeth is a ruthless, selfish bitch who never for once thinks of anyone else during the film, be it her wannabe lover Captain Dobi, her loyal servants and advisors in the castle or even her own daughter. The way Pitt switches between the role of the older, fragile Elisabeth and the ravishing temptress is one of the highlights here. The scene with Ms Pitt giving herself a bloody sponge bath is one that will certain linger in the mind too and is one of Hammer’s more iconic images of it’s ‘sexing up’ of horror. It’s actually Nigel Green who steals the show here as Dobi. He’s a man obsessed with love and although you can never reason for his actions (kidnapping and murder to name a few), he’s always done it for Elisabeth. The way she cruelly brushes him aside in favour of younger men is pretty harsh on the old fella.

I get the feeling that this film could have done with the talented touch of Terence Fisher in the director’s chair. That’s not to say he’s a bad director, he just doesn’t seem to get the look and feel of the film right, especially for a Hammer film. It’s got a great set (a leftover from a Universal film I believe) which expands on the usual Hammer vision but despite the bigger set, the film itself seems content to keep itself confined. Sasdy seems to be holding a lot back. Whether it was the studio, the censors or the script, the film seems to imply a lot more than actually happens. Yes, Elisabeth does kill a few virgins but there’s not a great deal of scope in the whole thing. It’s all very low key, something that the film should have tried to expand on. No further proof is needed than the final third of the film which ends in a damp squib. Fisher’s talent at creating atmosphere out of nothing is sorely lacking here too.

 

Countess Dracula is a solid Hammer effort held back by a lack of depth to the whole thing. It’s talky and largely uneventful but come on, they don’t make them like this anymore so what’s stopping you from watching Ms Pitt take a sponge bath of blood?

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dracula II: Ascension (2003)

Dracula II: Ascension (2003)

A group of medical students find out that the barbequed dead body that they have just received is in fact a vampire. Realising the potential to use it’s blood to cure one of their own from a crippling disease, they set about trying to resurrect the monster in a remote location. However they don’t account for a priest-turned-vampire hunter who has been tracking the infamous Dracula and believes that he has found his body to destroy once and for all.

 

Dracula 2001 wasn’t particularly enthralling, especially after seeing something like Blade. However horror films with any medium of success in the cinemas must mean that a slew of straight-to-video sequels, which have little to no relevance to the original, will be rattled out. ‘Cashing in’ as you would call it in any other walk of life. Sometimes they’re alright but most of the time they’re just poor imitations or remakes with a lower budget. When you get gullible fools like me rushing to the shelves to rent or buy them when they get released, you’d think I have no right to complain! Anyway enough ranting because all of the ranting in the world isn’t going to make Dracula II: The Ascension any more bearable than it is.

The criminal thing that this film does is wets our appetite with a kick ass opening scene in Romania involving the bad ass (and best part of the film by a mile) Jason Scott Lee as the priest-turned-vampire hunter who dispatches two vampires with some weapons that Blade himself would be proud of. However the film suddenly shifts gears to the team of medical students and the rather dull plot of them trying to resurrect Dracula to use his blood to cure their sick comrade. The priest reappears a few times throughout the film but he’s never given enough screen time considering the explosive start he made. Talk about pulling the rug from underneath you.

Given that the film is about Dracula, it seems stupid to keep him locked up for about three quarters of the running time but that’s exactly what happens here as the Count is chained up for most of the film, only escaping towards the end to set up the inevitable sequel (which was filmed at the same time at this one and involves the same cast and crew). From a technical point of view, the film is up to scratch. It’s got a lot of style going for it, with slow motion action scenes, plenty of blood and some moody sets (the opening in Romania is great – the film should have been set here). It’s not on for too long and the film tries to keep the pace going with an odd twist and turn thrown around. But the problem is that no one cares less about it. The characters are terrible save for the priest and the plot is just an excuse to keep the cast down to minimum by setting it in some remote lab. Ideas were obviously being banded around between the writers but in the end they just ditched them all for a pointless story which goes nowhere.

As I’ve said, the best bit of the film is Jason Scott Lee. He owns the screen every time he is on but that’s maybe because there’s not a lot else to go off. The student cast just waste their times and mine with inept performances, the extremely wooden Craig Sheffer being a particular culprit. Stephen Billington takes over the role of Dracula from Gerard Butler (couldn’t see him wanting to get the fangs back on after hitting it big, can you?) but he looks like a catalogue model gone wrong with his stupid bleached blonde hair. And even Roy Scheider, with his name so visible on the front cover, is given maybe twenty seconds of screen time as a blind cardinal giving advice. Talk about an easy pay day.

 

Dracula II: The Ascension has some neat points but just had no clue what to do with them. The character of Father Uffizi is quality and kicks ass but he’s totally wasted in this pointless sequel which offers nothing and delivers even less.