This is definitely one of the better of the Hammer films from the 1970s, with an excellent story and production values that make it appear far more expensive than it is. It gets around the standard Ripper movie problem of making the identity of the murderer central; we never find out who the Ripper is (aside that he was nobleman), and the story is instead about his descendant, a young woman who either suffers from traumatizing flashbacks leading her to moments of violence, or who is actually possessed by the spirit of the Ripper. It’s a fascinating way to approach the Ripper mythology without needing to obey the dictates of historical events.

This is definitely one of the better of the Hammer films from the 1970s, with an excellent story and production values that make it appear far more expensive than it is. It gets around the standard Ripper movie problem of making the identity of the murderer central; we never find out who the Ripper is (aside that he was nobleman), and the story is instead about his descendant, a young woman who either suffers from traumatizing flashbacks leading her to moments of violence, or who is actually possessed by the spirit of the Ripper. It’s a fascinating way to approach the Ripper mythology without needing to obey the dictates of historical events.

Continuing with the Jack the Ripper theme, here’s one of the small number of Hammer films that have reached Blu-ray in the U.S., Hands of the Ripper, which was an important transition film in Hammer history with its increase in gore. It combines Ripper mythology with the birth of Freudian psychoanalysis, and makes for one of the better Hammer Gothic horrors of the 1970s.

Continuing with the Jack the Ripper theme, here’s one of the small number of Hammer films that have reached Blu-ray in the U.S., Hands of the Ripper, which was an important transition film in Hammer history with its increase in gore. It combines Ripper mythology with the birth of Freudian psychoanalysis, and makes for one of the better Hammer Gothic horrors of the 1970s.

One of my October reads is a book on Jack the Ripper (The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow, which my sister bought from the author himself after taking one of his famous walking tours of Ripper history), and so curiosity has driven me back to this 2001 version of the Ripper story, which I haven’t seen since it was in theaters. It’s a film that achieves such levels of magnificence is so many areas that it’s cruel to realize that it doesn’t ultimately work. What’s wrong is the human center of the tale, represented by Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, is ho-hum and simply drab. There is little to pull you through the movie aside from witnessing a recreation of the the Ripper slayings.
The version of the Ripper story told here comes from the Alan Moore graphic novel, the first adaptation of his work and the beginning of his long disavowal of such. Moore based From Hell on the “Royal Conspiracy” theory made famous in Stephen Knight’s Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. This has remained the most popular Ripper theory because of its immense entertainment value, even though it is utter hogwash, as I’m sure Alan Moore and the Hughes Brothers were certainly aware.
From Hell looks great and sounds great. It captures the infernal world of Whitechapel in London with amazing visuals, set designs, and meticulous details. It’s a fantastic way to immerse yourself in what the realm of Jack the Ripper must have been like. It’s also amazingly doom-laden, and this must have contributed to its relative failure at the box office. It came out in theaters only a little over a month after the events of 9/11, and I can’t blame people for recoiling from such a bitter, hopeless, ugly tale. Audiences were much more ready to welcome the first Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films, plus Oceans 11 and Monsters Inc. than this.

One of my October reads is a book on Jack the Ripper (The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow, which my sister bought from the author himself after taking one of his famous walking tours of Ripper history), and so curiosity has driven me back to this 2001 version of the Ripper story, which I haven’t seen since it was in theaters. It’s a film that achieves such levels of magnificence is so many areas that it’s cruel to realize that it doesn’t ultimately work. What’s wrong is the human center of the tale, represented by Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, is ho-hum and simply drab. There is little to pull you through the movie aside from witnessing a recreation of the the Ripper slayings.

The version of the Ripper story told here comes from the Alan Moore graphic novel, the first adaptation of his work and the beginning of his long disavowal of such. Moore based From Hell on the “Royal Conspiracy” theory made famous in Stephen Knight’s Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. This has remained the most popular Ripper theory because of its immense entertainment value, even though it is utter hogwash, as I’m sure Alan Moore and the Hughes Brothers were certainly aware.

From Hell looks great and sounds great. It captures the infernal world of Whitechapel in London with amazing visuals, set designs, and meticulous details. It’s a fantastic way to immerse yourself in what the realm of Jack the Ripper must have been like. It’s also amazingly doom-laden, and this must have contributed to its relative failure at the box office. It came out in theaters only a little over a month after the events of 9/11, and I can’t blame people for recoiling from such a bitter, hopeless, ugly tale. Audiences were much more ready to welcome the first Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films, plus Oceans 11 and Monsters Inc. than this.

Some gifs I made from The Mummy (1959).

Although this follows behind Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula (1958), the studios’d 1959 take on The Mummy is still a great movie. (Longer review here.) It has the unsurpassable trio of Cushing-Lee-Fisher, all at the height of their skills. And even if Cushing is playing a less vibrant character than Van Helsing or Victor Frankenstein, he’s still Peter Cushing and Peter Cushing is better than anything that isn’t Peter Cushing any day of the week and that is a fact. I also wish that Franz Reizenstein’s music were better known: it’s the best non-James Bernard Hammer horror score ever.

Although this follows behind Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula (1958), the studios’d 1959 take on The Mummy is still a great movie. (Longer review here.) It has the unsurpassable trio of Cushing-Lee-Fisher, all at the height of their skills. And even if Cushing is playing a less vibrant character than Van Helsing or Victor Frankenstein, he’s still Peter Cushing and Peter Cushing is better than anything that isn’t Peter Cushing any day of the week and that is a fact. I also wish that Franz Reizenstein’s music were better known: it’s the best non-James Bernard Hammer horror score ever.

Best Worst Movie was great, but director Michael Paul Stephenson’s follow-up documentary, a look at three “House Haunters” in a Massachusetts town crafting their Halloween spectacular for their home, is even better. It’s a view of strange hobby but one that anybody who enjoys Halloween will completely endorse without a moment of judgment. I understand how you can let a single art form, and that desire to entertain, to have that one great night, can come to mean everything. And the House Haunters of Fairhaven, MA have richer lives for what they do… even if it turns immensely stressful.
Halloween rules. As one of the subjects of the documentary says: “Christmas and Thanksgiving are family Holidays. Halloween is about the community.”

Best Worst Movie was great, but director Michael Paul Stephenson’s follow-up documentary, a look at three “House Haunters” in a Massachusetts town crafting their Halloween spectacular for their home, is even better. It’s a view of strange hobby but one that anybody who enjoys Halloween will completely endorse without a moment of judgment. I understand how you can let a single art form, and that desire to entertain, to have that one great night, can come to mean everything. And the House Haunters of Fairhaven, MA have richer lives for what they do… even if it turns immensely stressful.

Halloween rules. As one of the subjects of the documentary says: “Christmas and Thanksgiving are family Holidays. Halloween is about the community.”

"Beatniks are out to make it rich…"
Halloween (1978) is a masterpiece of cinema, but the only of the numerous sequels about which I care is the second one, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). Yes, the one without a Shatner-masked serial killer dicing people. Halloween III was John Carpenter and Debra Hill attempting to re-fashion the series as an anthology, each movie a fresh new tale of horror occurring on All Hallows Eve. But Halloween III was a financial disappointment and the series returned to the Shape cutting people up for all the next entries, none of which had any involvement from John Carpenter.
Halloween III is no masterpiece, and the original ideas that (uncredited) screenwriter Nigel Kneale had for an eerier tale, before Dino De Laurentiis pushed for more kills and gore, would have made a better film. Having Carpenter in the actual director’s chair rather than as a producer would have also improved some of the film’s more stilted aspects. But the final result is just loopy enough to enjoy. Stonehenge, crazy novelty toy maker, killer Halloween masks that produce snakes and bugs and laser blasts, and deadly androids… all hurled together in a hodgepodge that also has Tom Atkins in the starring role. Delightful times. And it’s more about “Halloween” than any of the other Halloween movies, even the original.
I do wonder though: if Conal Cochran has managed to invent almost flawless robot duplicates of humans, why is wasting time running a mask and novelty company? (I know, I know, he has some Celtic obligation to slaughter children on October 31st.)

"Beatniks are out to make it rich…"

Halloween (1978) is a masterpiece of cinema, but the only of the numerous sequels about which I care is the second one, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). Yes, the one without a Shatner-masked serial killer dicing people. Halloween III was John Carpenter and Debra Hill attempting to re-fashion the series as an anthology, each movie a fresh new tale of horror occurring on All Hallows Eve. But Halloween III was a financial disappointment and the series returned to the Shape cutting people up for all the next entries, none of which had any involvement from John Carpenter.

Halloween III is no masterpiece, and the original ideas that (uncredited) screenwriter Nigel Kneale had for an eerier tale, before Dino De Laurentiis pushed for more kills and gore, would have made a better film. Having Carpenter in the actual director’s chair rather than as a producer would have also improved some of the film’s more stilted aspects. But the final result is just loopy enough to enjoy. Stonehenge, crazy novelty toy maker, killer Halloween masks that produce snakes and bugs and laser blasts, and deadly androids… all hurled together in a hodgepodge that also has Tom Atkins in the starring role. Delightful times. And it’s more about “Halloween” than any of the other Halloween movies, even the original.

I do wonder though: if Conal Cochran has managed to invent almost flawless robot duplicates of humans, why is wasting time running a mask and novelty company? (I know, I know, he has some Celtic obligation to slaughter children on October 31st.)

Mario Bava: few directors could get so much out of so little. A fantastic visualist with a background in photography and special effects, Bava was an ideal genre director for the days when genre films received budgets that could hardly pay for more than three sets. Black Sunday (international title: The Mask of Satan) is Bava’s first credited film as director and it’s still a ghoulish Gothic thrill. It was considered grotesquely violent in its time, and the few moments of gore still can make people momentarily queasy. (Spiked mask hammered to the face… yeeeowch!) But it’s the film’s superb atmosphere of crypts and crumbling castles, Bava’s energetic direction, and the presence of Barabara Steele that hold sway over viewers today. Black Sunday is a great Halloween season movie that pretty much has everything you want from the holiday.
The current Blu-ray from Kino is the original International version that played most English territories. The cut distributed by AIP in the U.S. has a different score (from Corman regular Les Baxter), different English dub, and shortened running time to reduce the more gruesome shots. Kino planned to release the AIP version to disc as well this year, but canceled it due to rights issues. I prefer the International version, but the AIP version has its own integrity and dedicated fans. I should note that you don’t get Barbara Steele’s actual voice in either one. 

Mario Bava: few directors could get so much out of so little. A fantastic visualist with a background in photography and special effects, Bava was an ideal genre director for the days when genre films received budgets that could hardly pay for more than three sets. Black Sunday (international title: The Mask of Satan) is Bava’s first credited film as director and it’s still a ghoulish Gothic thrill. It was considered grotesquely violent in its time, and the few moments of gore still can make people momentarily queasy. (Spiked mask hammered to the face… yeeeowch!) But it’s the film’s superb atmosphere of crypts and crumbling castles, Bava’s energetic direction, and the presence of Barabara Steele that hold sway over viewers today. Black Sunday is a great Halloween season movie that pretty much has everything you want from the holiday.

The current Blu-ray from Kino is the original International version that played most English territories. The cut distributed by AIP in the U.S. has a different score (from Corman regular Les Baxter), different English dub, and shortened running time to reduce the more gruesome shots. Kino planned to release the AIP version to disc as well this year, but canceled it due to rights issues. I prefer the International version, but the AIP version has its own integrity and dedicated fans. I should note that you don’t get Barbara Steele’s actual voice in either one. 

One of the great October films. One of the great horror films. One of the great films. From one of the great books.
That is all.

One of the great October films. One of the great horror films. One of the great films. From one of the great books.

That is all.

Duck You Sucker (or Once Upon a Time in the Revolution, as I wish it were called in the U.S.) takes longer to weave its Sergio Leone spell on me. Where Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America are longer movies with similar deliberate pacing and dependence on time shifts, both of them have me seized early on in their characters and narratives, it isn’t until about the halfway point in Duck You Sucker—specifically the attack on the bridge—that I start to feel the movie’s seduction and an attachment to protagonists Juan and John. After that point, the film starts to reach the hypnotism of Leone’s other great films, and seeing it does bring a greater focus and appreciation to Once Upon a Time in America, with which it shares many similarities. However, I can sense why Leone actually didn’t want to direct the film in the first place (he intended to produce and his usual assistanct director, Giancarlo Santi, direct). Perhaps the political content of the film was not interesting enough for him, and that comes apart in the sense of detachment that pervade large sections of the movie.

Duck You Sucker (or Once Upon a Time in the Revolution, as I wish it were called in the U.S.) takes longer to weave its Sergio Leone spell on me. Where Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America are longer movies with similar deliberate pacing and dependence on time shifts, both of them have me seized early on in their characters and narratives, it isn’t until about the halfway point in Duck You Sucker—specifically the attack on the bridge—that I start to feel the movie’s seduction and an attachment to protagonists Juan and John. After that point, the film starts to reach the hypnotism of Leone’s other great films, and seeing it does bring a greater focus and appreciation to Once Upon a Time in America, with which it shares many similarities. However, I can sense why Leone actually didn’t want to direct the film in the first place (he intended to produce and his usual assistanct director, Giancarlo Santi, direct). Perhaps the political content of the film was not interesting enough for him, and that comes apart in the sense of detachment that pervade large sections of the movie.

October requires viewing at least one movie starring Vincent Price, and here is that last film contained in The Vincent Price Collection that came out last year (with Vol. 2 coming this month). I consider Witchfinder General one of Price’s best movies and arguable his finest performance, which he gave under the arduous situation of the director who didn’t wnat him in the first place and made that clear at every opportunity. 
Unlike most of Price’s horror films, Witchfinder General does not have elements of buoyant camp and dry comedy. It’s brutal, unflinching about its torture, and has a nihilistic conclusion that does feel like you’ve gone made with the main characters. It’s not much of a romp, but it’s a classic and deserving of the accolades it continues to receive.

October requires viewing at least one movie starring Vincent Price, and here is that last film contained in The Vincent Price Collection that came out last year (with Vol. 2 coming this month). I consider Witchfinder General one of Price’s best movies and arguable his finest performance, which he gave under the arduous situation of the director who didn’t wnat him in the first place and made that clear at every opportunity. 

Unlike most of Price’s horror films, Witchfinder General does not have elements of buoyant camp and dry comedy. It’s brutal, unflinching about its torture, and has a nihilistic conclusion that does feel like you’ve gone made with the main characters. It’s not much of a romp, but it’s a classic and deserving of the accolades it continues to receive.

Two Sergio Leone Blu-ray releases in the space of a week! Impressive. Now the only of his seven films not on Hi-Def is The Colossus of Rhodes, and nobody cares much about that one. (I enjoy it, but it doesn’t feel much like a Leone film.) The IMDb now lists Duck, You Sucker's official title as Once Upon a Time in the Revolution, which is the best of the various alternate titles, but Duck, You Sucker is closest to the Italian title, Giu la testa (a colloquial phrase close to “Keep Your Head Down”).
Sleeping Beauty is having its re-debut on Blu-ray after a moratorium period, as Disney likes to pull on collectors. This is meant to coincide with the release of the dreadful Maleficent on Blu, and hopefully this film will erase memories of that horrible error. The new Blu-ray has the same transfer as the old one, and fewer special features.

Two Sergio Leone Blu-ray releases in the space of a week! Impressive. Now the only of his seven films not on Hi-Def is The Colossus of Rhodes, and nobody cares much about that one. (I enjoy it, but it doesn’t feel much like a Leone film.) The IMDb now lists Duck, You Sucker's official title as Once Upon a Time in the Revolution, which is the best of the various alternate titles, but Duck, You Sucker is closest to the Italian title, Giu la testa (a colloquial phrase close to “Keep Your Head Down”).

Sleeping Beauty is having its re-debut on Blu-ray after a moratorium period, as Disney likes to pull on collectors. This is meant to coincide with the release of the dreadful Maleficent on Blu, and hopefully this film will erase memories of that horrible error. The new Blu-ray has the same transfer as the old one, and fewer special features.

I have never felt much affection for Hammer’s first and only take on the werewolf legend, The Curse of the Werewolf. Oliver Reed as a werewolf seems like the most promising concept, but I always felt the movie spent too long in set-up mode with only a short pay-off. In all fairness, this was often a problem Hammer had.
This time I watched the movie immediately after completing the novel on which it is based, The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore, first published in 1933. It’s an exceptional book that combines werewolf terror with an historical novel set against the backdrop of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune.
The Hammer version shifts the setting to Spain for budget reasons; the studio had some standing sets leftover from a Spanish historical drama, so the story was Iberianized. Unfortunately, this means jettisons most of the flavor and political drama of the novel. Many of the same events occur in the movie, but the fervid second half of the novel set among Paris in the throes of war and revolution no longer fits, and the film doesn’t have anything equivalent for thrills. (Hammer couldn’t have afforded the scope of the conclusion of the book, anyway.)
But… I enjoyed The Curse of the Werewolf this time more than I ever have. Part of it was analyzing how it uses elements of the novel, the other part was simply letting go of “werewolf mayhem” as the prime criteria for enjoyment. The full werewolf only appears during the last eight minutes— which is definitely a problem for the pacing—but I was impressed to see how much savagery the movie packs into the first half hour, divorced of any lycanthropy: madness, torture, rape, decrepitude, brutal classism, and a vicious bloody stabbing with what appears to be a metal funnel used to douse enormous candles. The film then goes through its most difficult stretch in the center before the arrival (47 minutes into a 90 minute film) of Oliver Reed as Leon. Reed is great in the part, of course, because he carries with him the lurking sense that he’s about to flip out at any moment and doesn’t need wolf strength to rip our your throat.
What hurts The Curse of the Werewolf most and restrains it from the level of some other Hammer classics is the mentor figure as played by Clifford Evans doesn’t have the gravitas that a Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, or Herbert Lom would have put into the part. This character needs to hold up the middle of the film, and Evans lets it sag.
Here’s a piece of trivia: actor Peter Sallis is in both this and Curse of the Were-Rabbit. (Sallis has done the voice of Wallace since the inception of the Wallace & Gromit series.)

I have never felt much affection for Hammer’s first and only take on the werewolf legend, The Curse of the Werewolf. Oliver Reed as a werewolf seems like the most promising concept, but I always felt the movie spent too long in set-up mode with only a short pay-off. In all fairness, this was often a problem Hammer had.

This time I watched the movie immediately after completing the novel on which it is based, The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore, first published in 1933. It’s an exceptional book that combines werewolf terror with an historical novel set against the backdrop of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune.

The Hammer version shifts the setting to Spain for budget reasons; the studio had some standing sets leftover from a Spanish historical drama, so the story was Iberianized. Unfortunately, this means jettisons most of the flavor and political drama of the novel. Many of the same events occur in the movie, but the fervid second half of the novel set among Paris in the throes of war and revolution no longer fits, and the film doesn’t have anything equivalent for thrills. (Hammer couldn’t have afforded the scope of the conclusion of the book, anyway.)

But… I enjoyed The Curse of the Werewolf this time more than I ever have. Part of it was analyzing how it uses elements of the novel, the other part was simply letting go of “werewolf mayhem” as the prime criteria for enjoyment. The full werewolf only appears during the last eight minutes— which is definitely a problem for the pacing—but I was impressed to see how much savagery the movie packs into the first half hour, divorced of any lycanthropy: madness, torture, rape, decrepitude, brutal classism, and a vicious bloody stabbing with what appears to be a metal funnel used to douse enormous candles. The film then goes through its most difficult stretch in the center before the arrival (47 minutes into a 90 minute film) of Oliver Reed as Leon. Reed is great in the part, of course, because he carries with him the lurking sense that he’s about to flip out at any moment and doesn’t need wolf strength to rip our your throat.

What hurts The Curse of the Werewolf most and restrains it from the level of some other Hammer classics is the mentor figure as played by Clifford Evans doesn’t have the gravitas that a Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, or Herbert Lom would have put into the part. This character needs to hold up the middle of the film, and Evans lets it sag.

Here’s a piece of trivia: actor Peter Sallis is in both this and Curse of the Were-Rabbit. (Sallis has done the voice of Wallace since the inception of the Wallace & Gromit series.)

Netflix harshly haggled with me over showing the last 5 minutes of this film on streaming. It was not worth waiting a few hours for Netflix to fix its technical problems to catch the closer of this bland H. P. Lovecraft adaptation. If only it could live up to that poster! (A criticism true for many horror films.)
This was Roger Corman’s and AIP’s second Lovecraft adaptation, and far less successful than The Haunted Palace (based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward). The Dunwich Horror desperately needs a Vincent Price figure to pick it up and give it some atmosphere. Dean Stockwell is a boring Wilbur Whateley, who is changed into a standard sorcerer rather than the grotesque goatish hybrid creature of the short story. Whateley engages in a long and stretched out seduction of Sandra Dee. Most of the elements of Lovecraft’s story are there, but the mystery of the identity of the entity held captive in the Whateley house is downplayed for the seduction, as is the unleashing of the actual horror and its path of destruction in the climax. The sense of the New England Gothic that The Haunted Palace captured so well is almost nowhere to be found here. Sadly, this would be the trend for most Lovecraft adaptations to follow.
One of the screenwriters, Curtis Hanson, went on to a more distinguished career as the director of L.A. Confidential. 

Netflix harshly haggled with me over showing the last 5 minutes of this film on streaming. It was not worth waiting a few hours for Netflix to fix its technical problems to catch the closer of this bland H. P. Lovecraft adaptation. If only it could live up to that poster! (A criticism true for many horror films.)

This was Roger Corman’s and AIP’s second Lovecraft adaptation, and far less successful than The Haunted Palace (based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward). The Dunwich Horror desperately needs a Vincent Price figure to pick it up and give it some atmosphere. Dean Stockwell is a boring Wilbur Whateley, who is changed into a standard sorcerer rather than the grotesque goatish hybrid creature of the short story. Whateley engages in a long and stretched out seduction of Sandra Dee. Most of the elements of Lovecraft’s story are there, but the mystery of the identity of the entity held captive in the Whateley house is downplayed for the seduction, as is the unleashing of the actual horror and its path of destruction in the climax. The sense of the New England Gothic that The Haunted Palace captured so well is almost nowhere to be found here. Sadly, this would be the trend for most Lovecraft adaptations to follow.

One of the screenwriters, Curtis Hanson, went on to a more distinguished career as the director of L.A. Confidential

Welcome to October, The Great Month!
Fright Night is about as light as a horror film can go without turning into a horror-comedy or outright comedy, which makes it an ideal Halloweentime film. Considering that yesterday was the fortieth anniversary of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, one of the most disturbing films ever made, it’s pleasant to watch a horror film that’s, well, sort of adorable. Adorable in a Roddy McDowall sort of way. 
Every time I see this, it’s hard for me not to picture that Roddy McDowall is playing Peter Cushing. I think most people would imagine Vincent Price (the character’s stage name is “Vincent,” after all, and director Tom Holland wanted to cast Vincent Price originally), but the vampire-slayer figure he plays in the fake movies and dresses as is cut-and-dried Peter Cushing.
I haven’t seen the re-make. Nor do I plan to.

Welcome to October, The Great Month!

Fright Night is about as light as a horror film can go without turning into a horror-comedy or outright comedy, which makes it an ideal Halloweentime film. Considering that yesterday was the fortieth anniversary of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, one of the most disturbing films ever made, it’s pleasant to watch a horror film that’s, well, sort of adorable. Adorable in a Roddy McDowall sort of way. 

Every time I see this, it’s hard for me not to picture that Roddy McDowall is playing Peter Cushing. I think most people would imagine Vincent Price (the character’s stage name is “Vincent,” after all, and director Tom Holland wanted to cast Vincent Price originally), but the vampire-slayer figure he plays in the fake movies and dresses as is cut-and-dried Peter Cushing.

I haven’t seen the re-make. Nor do I plan to.