Friday, June 1, 2018

WHEN HAMMER BROUGHT DRACULA TO THE SEVENTIES

"Dracula A.D. 1972" (1972)
Directed by Alan Gibson

   100 years after Dracula is killed by Van Helsing with the spoke of a carriage wheel, he is brought back to life in a black magic ceremony by Johnny and his groovy friends. The year is now 1972. You would think that Dracula living in the 70's would be the focus of this film, but it isn't. That privilege is reserved for Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows". Coincidentally, Tim Burton claims "Dracula A.D. 1972" as among his favorite films.
   The main focus of the film is Dracula's desire to claim Jessica Van Helsing, a descendant of Drac's old nemesis as one of his vampire brides. Jessica is part of the group of friends, led by the creepy and charismatic Johnny Alucard (That last name is Dracula spelled backward). Being that this is a Hammer Horror film, Dracula is played perfectly by Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing is playing dual roles as Lawrence Van Helsing in the beginning of the film and as Jessica's grandfather, occult expert Lorrimer Van Helsing in modern day 1972.

   "Dracula A.D. 1972" plays it's story straight. Very few moments are meant to be funny on purpose. I feel if this film were remade today, the whole thing would be played for laughs. I dig films that are meant to be representations of current times that have become so old, they become time capsules themselves. Interestingly, the film starts while it's still 1872 on the screen and the font of the opening credits are Gothic. The title of the film appears just as we jump forward to 1972 and the font immediately changes to look contemporary. Nice touch.

   One of the most dated things about this film, (and one of my favorite scenes) is a swinging party featuring live music performed by a band called Stoneground. The party is meant to be seen as an out of control affair, but it's quite tame by today's standards. At one point, it's revealed that the cops have been called and the party guests are trying to estimate how long before they arrive, because it's their plan to leave exactly one minute before.

   The first reel of this film is spent entirely with the young group of friends that make up what will either be the victims or disciples of Dracula, who comes back to life at the 37 minute mark. Although the film mostly plays out with a serious tone, it can be difficult to consider what you're seeing as serious. It has a funky score playing over it that feels like it belongs in a blaxploitation film, and this gives the movie a playful vibe. For a funkier Dracula film, check out "Blacula" (1972).

   Dracula and Lorrimer Van Helsing's final fight in the film is unique, in that you would rarely see a current horror film end with a fight between two old men. As you would expect, good does triumph and the phrase REST IN FINAL PEACE appears on the screen in red. However, this peace will not be final, as 70's Drac returns in the Hammer Horror Film, "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" in 1973.

   I love the 70's.  It's such a bizarre moment in history for fashion, lingo and music. Everything that came out of that decade has aged oddly. This film captures all of it with a British backdrop. Although it's only 96 minutes, if you haven't seen "Dracula A.D. 1972" yet, be prepared for a story that feels leisurely paced. Scenes that don't feature Dracula or the young cast can sometimes drag, but never for long and not without good reason in regards to the plot.

   Is this movie fun? It's not Dracula meets Austin Powers, but if you are fascinated by the 70's, then seeing Hammer's Dracula in this setting is entertaining and the film's pacing plays quicker in repeat viewings. For your first go round, you may want to consider complimenting you viewing experience with an adult beverage. Maybe some wine? After all, Drac is quite fond of the red stuff.


(Artwork by Isaac Keith Martinez)


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

FIVE FOUND FOOTAGE FILM FAVORITES 

   Found footage films have become a regular staple in horror. I like the idea of a found footage film,but often the movie doesn't satisfy me. If I find myself wanting to check out a new horror film, I'm  immediately disappointed when I discover it's a found footage film. Most of the ones that I've seen feel like lazy film making by people who want to make a horror film, but don't have enough creativity, talent and drive to make a film that doesn't rely on long takes (editing is a talent), improvised dialogue and little to no plot.
   Of course, there are good found footage films. Here is a list of films that I feel are not only worthy of your time, but also worthy of space on your DVD/Blu-Ray shelf. These films feature great scripts, top notch performances and even some snazzy special effects.
 
Honorable Mention:
    "Cannibal Holocaust" (1980)
     Directed by Ruggero Deodato
     A group of documentary filmmakers set out to film actual cannibals doing their cannibal thing and lost their lives in the process. Not for everyone. Graphically violent and featuring scenes of real animal death. This doesn't rely on it's boundary pushing violence, though. It's a captivating story with excellent performances.
   This is actually better than any of the films on this list. The only reason this film isn't #1 is because I don't consider it a true found footage film. There's scenes of people watching the film and the making of the footage that is later to be found. Many fans still consider it a found footage film, so I will include it on this list.

5. "Paranormal Activity" (2007)
   Directed by Oren Peli
   This is a haunted house film. Not only that, I consider it one of the greatest haunted house films ever. The footage in the film comes in the form of mostly security cameras throughout the house capturing the ghostly moments. The found footage element and the very natural performances of the cast makes this film believable and legitimately scary.

4. "Troll Hunter" (2010)
     Directed by André Øvredal
    Group of college students set out to make a film about a suspected bear poacher and find out that Trolls exits! This film is exciting and funny. It doesn't show the same creature over and over again, which is part of the appeal. The film features a collection of different trolls that we get to see throughout the film. It's a Norwegian film, so reading subtitles is part of the experience.  

3. "REC" (2007)
     Directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza
     Reporters for a television show are filming a night in the lives of a fire department when the call comes in to help an old woman in an apartment building. Along with the residents of the building, the TV crew and fire fighters become quarantined inside when it's suspected that a virus is loose. People infected with the virus become dangerously violent. This could be enough to make a horror film, but before this film is over, things get supernatural. This Spanish film requires subtitles.
 
2. "The Blair Witch Project" (1999)
     Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
     Three student filmmakers go missing in the woods, on the hunt for the fabled Blair Witch. This is the film that ignited the "Me too. I want to make a found footage film too" revolution. Although, you never see the actual witch in this film, I think this film teaches a great lesson in the "less is more" style of storytelling, relying heavily on the actors reactions to things seen off-screen and sound effects. Sometimes the things I imagine in my mind can't be topped on screen. My favorite thing about this movie is the number of people who thought that it was real back in 1999. That is due to a brilliant online marketing campaign and the fact that found footage films were not common yet, so it was the first of it's kind for most people. 
 
1. "The Last Exorcism" (2010)
      Directed by Daniel Stamm
     The story of a minister who wants to reveal that exorcisms and possession are a fraud. Being that this is a horror film, things don't go his way. I love possession films. I also love southern Gothic folklore. This film mixes both. There are moments in this film that are genuinely creepy as Hell. One of the best exorcism films ever happens to also be this found footage film. The terrific ending has me coming back to this film for repeat viewings. Warning: there is a sequel to this film. It sucks. I guess if you make a terrific possession film, the tradition is to have a lousy sequel. I'm looking at you "Exorcist II: The Heretic".
 
(Artwork by Isaac Keith Martinez) 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A TEENAGER SCORNED 
 
 "The Fury" (1978)
Directed by Brian DePalma

   How does a filmmaker follow an experience as exciting as the adaptation of Stephen King's "Carrie"? How about another film about telekinetic teens? Surely no one would think they could capture lightning in a bottle twice with such a specifically unique premise? Tell that to director Brian DePalma. Yes. Brian DePalma followed up his telekinetic teen film with another telekinetic teen film. Sounds like a risky idea. For a less talented film maker, perhaps.
   
   I love "The Fury" and applaud Brian DePalma's  decision to re-enter the same supernatural waters that he just finished swimming in. If "The Fury" had turned out poorly, I would agree that it was a bad idea to revisit the same concept, especially so soon after "Carrie". "The Fury" does not feel like "Carrie" at all. Even though there are moments of terror, this film does not feel like a horror film, it feels like an action thriller. I do think it mostly appeals to horror fans. The scenes that are like a horror film are so intense, that it feels like this movie was made for horror fans.
  
   Here's a brief synopsis of the film: After a failed assassination attempt on Peter Sandza, a former CIA agent played by Kirk Douglas, he and his son Robin are separated. Peter spends the rest of the film looking for his son. Amy Irving plays Gillian, a telekinetic teen living at a school for young people with unique mental powers. While she's there, she discovers that Robin had stayed there before her and ran away. Peter finds out about Gillian and comes up with a plan to get her to help him find his son. When Peter and Robin reunite things aren't so loving though, as Peter's son is now in with some bad people and he's not the same. He's a telekinetic time bomb!
  
   This film features a death scene that is so remarkable that it's shown from every angle you can think of. If you're one of those people that goes: "Wow! That was so awesome. Let's rewind that scene and watch it again", you won't have to with this one, the movie does it for you. The entire time the scene is being played over and over, my jaw dropped the first time I saw it. I'm still impressed with it and regard it as one of the greatest death scenes in cinema history. It's the last death in the film, so it makes one hell of a finale.
   In order to like this film, you must not compare it to "Carrie". They are two very different films. I hope that one day Brian DePalma makes one more film that features telekinesis as the plot. That way he can have a Telekinetic Trilogy. I can't think of any film director that has a trilogy like that and Brian DePalma is just one film away from completing it. It's either that or complete his "Al Pacino plays a Hispanic gangster" Trilogy.

(Artwork by Isaac Keith Martinez)

Saturday, June 11, 2016


PSYCHO KILLER 

Qu'est-ce que c'est 


"Psycho"
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1960)
"Psycho"
Directed by Gus Van Sant (1998)

   The twist ending to "Psycho" is so famous, it's no longer a surprise. "Psycho" is on a short list of films that most people seeing it for the first time, go into it knowing exactly what to expect. We already know that Soylent Green is people. We already know that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time. We already know that Norman Bates is his mother.
   So, why do we watch "Psycho" if we already know this? Why do we re-watch "Psycho" for that matter? For those who may be viewing it for the first time, it's a right of passage. If you love horror films, you may feel like you haven't earned your membership into the horror club if you haven't seen the classics. Once you see for yourself how brilliant the film is, you want to re-experience this work of art.
  
   "Psycho" is so perfectly crafted, that it would be hard to mess it up if you tried to re-stage it. If you follow the blueprints that is Joseph Stefano's screenplay and Alfred Hitchcock's direction, you could reenact horror elegance. This point could not be made without bringing up Gus Van Sant's 90's remake. This film is so hated for all the wrong reasons. Defending this remake is an uphill battle. Society has already decided that this remake should not be enjoyed by anyone. I believe that people are so protective of the original film, that it makes it impossible for anyone to like the remake without tremendous guilt. Get this. I like the remake. I like the original better, but that's not the point. The point is, if something is perfect to begin with, it's hard to mess it up, if you retrace the steps set forth by the original film's path.

   Why would anyone need to watch this film, if it's exactly the same? For me the answer is simple: The performance of the cast. It is the opportunity to see different actors perform the material. I do believe that no one will ever be able to touch Anthony Perkins' performance of Norman Bates. For me, Vince Vaughn doesn't bring much to the role. However, it is my opinion that the rest of the performances in the 1960s version of "Psycho" feel dated, yet I don't think the written material does. Case in point, I would argue that William H. Macy is better in the role of Milton Arbogast, than Martin Balsam.
   If you remade this film over and over again, it could be an amazing opportunity to see different talented actors perform the different parts. Being that Norman Bates is the dream role to have, it's fun for me to daydream of the actors that I think could bring something special to the role. I imagine Norman played by a young Crispin Glover, Eric Stoltz, Jake Gyllenhaal and Kyle MacLachlan.
 
  That's not where I want it to end though.  I want to see "Psycho" done as a play. I would love to see the Bates Motel on a stage. The taxidermy den would be supremely creepy in person. Not only would I love to see a professional play of "Psycho" but I would love to see it done as a high school play. Imagine some teenage boy taking all of his awkward teenage energy and cramming it into an old woman's dress.
   Maybe I come across as a little psycho myself, but as much as I respect and love the 1960 masterpiece that is "Psycho", I am not so highfalutin that I don't also love "Psycho II" and even the sleazy "Psycho III"!

(Artwork by Isaac Keith Martinez)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

TICK FLICK 

"TICKS" (1993)
Directed by Tony Randel
   
    This direct to video low budget horror film is directed by the man that brought you "Hellbound:Hellraiser II". Unlike Hellraiser, instead of nasty Cenobites, it's full of  ticks that are mutated to huge sizes when "herbal" steroids, used to accelerate the growth of marijuana, drips onto ordinary tick eggs. Not only do these bloodthirsty insects drain you of the red stuff but due to the steroids in their system, after they bite you, you begin to hallucinate.
   The would-be victims in this film, are a group of troubled inner city teens on a wilderness retreat, chaperoned by our second favorite Bosom Buddy, Peter Scolari. Among the teens are a young Seth Green and Alfonso Ribeiro, who portrays "Panic", an unconvincing, yet lovable street thug. Part of this film's charm, are the things that make it unbelievable, such as Panic's very UN-gangsta pants.
   
   Normally, a bunch of mutant ticks would be more than enough to satisfy B-movie fans but this film pulls out more than one threat on our young cast.  Outlaw marijuana growers, a gang of two led by a crime-boss simply known as "Sir", are also in the deep dark woods. You got ticks on the left and criminals on the right, surely that is all these teens must defend themselves from, right? Wrong. In an attempt to kill Panic, Sir accidentally shoots a gasoline can that starts a forest fire. In our third act of the film, the troubled youths are trapped in a cabin with the armed criminals, while the raging fire outside approaches, thus pushing all over-grown ticks to scurry on over to the cabin. What a kerfuffle!
  
    Nature gone wild horror films are usually cautionary tales, the theme being: man is messing everything up, so let's teach man a lesson. The lesson in "Ticks" seems to be: Don't mess with the environment by poisoning it in the name of agriculture. It is definitely a different spin on things to have marijuana be the plant that is being messed with. It feels like the lesson is: Don't smoke weed, but "Ticks" does not play like an anti-drug film. Having tainted marijuana be the catalyst also seems to remind us that crime doesn't pay.
  
   "Ticks" doesn't have the feel of a film that is serving an important message. It simply plays like a fun story with an exciting final act, brought to you by people that did the best that they could with what they had. As much as it may feel like a film that could possibly play campy, it doesn't. Clint Howard does lend some camp to his scenes and the first scene that introduces Panic is a bit corny but it's easy to go along with it. Plus, it has re-watchability.
  
   I first discovered "Ticks" years ago on cable and was very happy when Olive Films released it on Blu-Ray. This movie could make a great double feature with another creepy, crawly film. Maybe one of the many spider-themed horror flicks?

   A member of the creature feature family, "Ticks" is a small film that still has the potential to grow in cult status. Will it stop people from smoking weed? Probably not. In fact, I picture many of "Ticks" fans to be high while they watch it.  Will it stop anyone from tinkering with crops? Doubtful. In the meantime, let's be happy that movies like "Ticks" compliment our wild horror world.
 
(Artwork by Isaac Keith Martinez)





Tuesday, March 29, 2016

 THE AVENGERS OF OZ 


    I've noticed how Marvel's "The Avengers" share traits with the wacky weirdos of "The Wizard Of Oz". Lets focus on the four main members of the super hero team and what they have in common with the group that are off to meet the Wizard.
CAPTAIN AMERICA (Dorothy) : I regard the Captain as the leader of The Avengers. He's the "first avenger" who eventually goes on to become the boss of S.H.I.E.L.D. 
   He's the Dorothy, a stranger in a strange land (somewhere over the rainbow) when he wakes up in modern times. He doesn't quite fit in and he's missed his date with Peggy by 70 years. Wouldn't it be nice to go back to the 1940s where he feels at home, after all there's no place like home.
   Steve Rogers is the level headed kind of guy that is able to lead a rag tag group of misfits on multiple missions to restore their world. 
IRON MAN (The Tin Man) : Iron Man and the Tin Man are both men made of metal. The man inside the Iron Man suit, Tony Stark also has something in common with the Tin Man.
   Before settling down with Pepper Potts, Tony is a womanizing playboy. He goes through his sexual conquests with no regard for the feelings of women. What Tony needs is a heart. What The Tin Man also needs is a heart.
THE HULK (The Cowardly Lion) : Bruce Banner is capable of defending or destroying anyone or anything when he's the big green guy. As The Hulk, he is more than intimidating. Bruce doesn't want to be The Hulk. He is afraid of not being in control while he is The Hulk and the possibility of not being able to return to his non-green form.
   A lion is the king of the jungle. It can hold it's own against anything: animal or man. The Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz" is...well he's just a coward. He needs courage. Bruce also needs courage to become The Hulk by choice when he is needed to help his fellow Avengers.
THOR (The Scarecrow) : Have you ever heard the expression: "If he had brains, he'd be dangerous"? I regard Thor as kind of a naive tourist. He may know his way around Asgard, but he's not the guy to count on for answers on Earth. He's a hell of a fighter and in that sense he's scary (as a scarecrow to crows). Like the Scarecrow, he would add so much more if he only had a brain.
   
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
   Their Wicked Witch may change from film to film, but collectively, this motley crew of super heroes are outsiders, banded together to save us munchkins...I mean humans, from various flying monkeys. As we learn in "The Avengers", making a reference to "The Wizard of Oz" is one thing that is not lost on the Captain.

(Artwork by Isaac Keith Martinez)



Sunday, March 20, 2016

THREE TIMES A CHARM 

   The art of telling a story in three acts has become rare. These days, we have become used to multi-film franchises. I enjoy a good saga, but I still like the idea of telling a story with a simple beginning (Part 1) middle (Part 2) and end (Part 3).
   Here are ten trilogies that I enjoy. They remain entertaining after repeat viewings and I recommend all of them.
 
1. THE EVIL DEAD
("The Evil Dead"/ "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn"/ "Army of Darkness")
 2. BACK TO THE FUTURE
("Back to The Future" Parts 1, 2 & 3) 
3. THE DARK KNIGHT
("Batman Begins"/ "The Dark Knight"/  "The Dark Knight Rises")
4. Dario Argento's THREE MOTHERS Trilogy
("Suspiria"/ "Inferno"/ "Mother of Tears")
5. MEN IN BLACK
("Men In Black" Parts 1, 2 & 3)
6. CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
("Creature From the Black Lagoon/ "Revenge of the Creature"/ "The Creature Walks Among Us")
7. RE-ANIMATOR
("Re-Animator"/ "Bride of Re-Animator"/ "Beyond Re-Animator")
8. HATCHET
("Hatchet" Parts 1, 2 & 3)
9. PORKY'S
("Porky's"/ "Porky's II: The Next Day"/ "Porky's Revenge")
10. EL MARIACHI
("El Mariachi"/ "Desperado"/ "Once Upon a Time in Mexico")
 
(Artwork by Isaac Keith Martinez)