Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Isabelle Stephen

Isabelle Stephen is, without a doubt, a model subject for this series. Not only is she literally a photo model, but since her film debut in 2002, she has appeared in over 20 features and short films, all low-budget efforts, mostly very gory, and all of them horror.

Based in Montreal, Canadian actress Stephen has worked mostly with directors based in and around New York City and New Jersey, including such infamous filmmakers as Bill Zebub and Lloyd Kaufman. Her characters rarely (if ever) make it through the films alive, and her death in Kaufman's anthology film "Tales form the Crapper" was particularly gruesome--where she was raped to death by a giant penis monster.

Stephen's most recent role is a small part in Steve Sessions' forthcoming black magic horror-fest "Sinister," debuting May 3 on DVD. (Watch this space for a review.)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Evil heritage can lead to becoming 'Satan's Slave'

Satan's Slave (aka "Evil Heritage") (1976)
Starring: Candace Glendenning, Michael Gough, Martin Potter, and Barbara Kellerman
Director: Norman J. Warren
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

After her parents die in a sudden car explosion, Catherine (Glendenning) is taken in by her uncle (Gough) and strange nephew (Potter). However, Catherine soon learns that she is more a prisoner than a guest and that her uncle intends to turn her body into the vessel for the spirit of a long-dead witch.

Full of psychic premonitions, creepy Gothic manor houses and their even creepier inhabitants, 1970s-style Satanic rituals with naked chicks writhing on altars, and periodic explosions shocking gore, "Satan's Slave" is a one-stop shop for low-budget British horror from that era.

It may also be the best film from Norman J. Warren, as it more successfully sustains an oppressive atmosphere throughout, features better acting and writing than others I've seen from him, and makes far better use of the same thematic material he explored in "Terror". Furthermore, this is one of those very rare horror films that features a twist ending that actually works! While it probably had a greater impact on audiences in the 1970s--where the habit of ending films with a "it was all just a hoax" was still in the childhood movie-going memories of many, and the downer endings that are now so commonplace so as to be annoying were still somewhat unusual--it still offers a surprising jolt for modern audiences. (And by mentioning the surprise twist and that it will cast a pall on the film's finale won't deaden its impact.)

The film is further elevated by a great cast who all do a fantastic job in their roles. Candace Glendenning strikes just the right balance between vulnerability and independence to make Catherine a very sympathetic heroine, while Michael Gough hams it up as the quietly sinister Satanic cult leader to make his performance fun and engaging. They are ably supported by Martin Potter--whose portrayal of a character with a seemingly docile milquetoast personality is a sinister aspect in itself, because we are introduced to him as he commits a brutal, sexually driven murder--and Barbara Kellerman who comes and goes as a near-complete cypher in the picture but is interesting to watch nonetheless. (In fact, Kellerman's character is the only real complaint I can mount about the script; we never gain any insight whatsoever into her motivations or who she is.)

"Satan's Slave" is one of several pleasant surprises lurking within the better-than-average Mill Creek-manufactured 50-movie DVD multipack "Pure Terror". It's one of the prime reasons to purchase the set. The film is available in other collections, but not as economically as it can be acquired in "Pure Terror".

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Not So Picture Perfect Wednesday: Even on Mars, there's 'That Not So Fresh Feeling'

An illustration for an Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian Tale, or advertising art for Barsoomian feminine hygiene products?

(For the background of this joke, click here, here, and here.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

'Vampirella: The Dracula War' is weak, despite the strong foundation

Vampirella: The Dracula War (1993)
Writers: Kurt Busiek and Tom Sniegoski
Artists: Louis Small Jr., Jim Balent, and Matt Banning
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

When Harris Comics relaunched "Vampirella" in the early 1990s, they did so with a four issue black-and-white deluxe format series "Morning in America". The series featured carefully and beautifully rendered art by Louis La Chance and John Nyberg, and a multi-layered storyline that brought a darkness and sense of horror to the Vampirella strip that had never been present before. The story by Kurt Busiek used the ever reliable Cult of Chaos as villains and deployed the supporting cast from the old series with an effectiveness that hadn't been seen since Archie Goodwin was writing the stories.

But once that mini-series was over, things started to go wrong. Immediately.

"Vampirella: The Dracula War" collects the first four issues of Harris' monthly "Vampirella" color comics title. The story picks up after the end of "Morning in America" with United States Senator Adam Van Helsing using his political power to wage war against the world-wide forces of the Cult of Chaos and Vampirella and her friend Pendragon serving as his foremost shock-troops. Vampirella and Pendragon travel to Europe where they discover that Chaos's tendrils reach to the highest level of the European Union's leadership, and that their old foe Dracula is poised to seize control of the Continent on behalf of the Mad God he serves.

In concept, it seems like a worthy Vampirella story, one that continues the threads of "Morning in America", but adding back in some of the high adventure and genre-bending action that marked many of the tales of Warren era--in this case, vampires meet international intrigue ala Hammer's "The Satanic Rites of Dracula".

In execution, things are a little less appealing. The story never feels like it quite finds its direction, meandering from encounter to encounter, none of which feel like their building toward anything in particular. Instead of growing excitement, I felt growing boredom as I progressed through the book; I became less interested in how things were going to turn out rather than more with each turn of the page. Worse, the few interesting moments in the book--such as vampires relying on hi-tech to overcome the fact that sunlight is lethal to them--are undone by efforts to strip Vampirella of the things that made her and the series in general such a fun and unique property and reduce her to a run-of-the-mill, ass-kicking, monster-fighting one-note Bad Girl character. Where the post Goodwin and Englehart Vampirella started very quickly to rely too much on camp, the Harris Vampirella started running too far in other direction. While Busiek continues to stay more true to the original Vampirella stories than those who followed him--the return of Vampirella's bat-wings in an example of this--the goal for these references is primarily to expand the notion that much of what we thought we knew from the old series was a Chaos-created lie and that Vampirella's past was so much fantasy. (This approach reached its height with the final gasps of the Harris Vampirella with "Vampirella: Revelations" and "Vampirella: Second Coming", a mini-series that not only wiped out most of the original Warren continuity but most of what Harris had established as well.)

But watching Vampirella be turned from a fun, genre-striding babe to a generic mid-1990s Bad Girl comic book character isn't the worst aspect of "Vampirella: The Dracula War". The biggest disappointment is the artwork, particularly after the great stuff featured in the "Morning in America" series. The layouts are messy and hard to follow, the panels are flat and devoid of any sense of movement even during action scenes, and the coloring is amatuerish to say the least; all three major artists on this book went onto do far better work than what is on display here. (In fact, whoever took Balent's brush away from him and made him the penciller on DC's Catwoman did him a tremendous favor, career-wise.)

Perhaps a new decade and a new publisher will restore her to the glory she once knew (or at least to the level of fun found in the Balent-penciled crossover with Catwoman from 1997)--especially since the early issues have been written by the very talented Eric Trautmann--but as far as the past is concerned, "Vampirella: The Dracula War" should be consigned to the dustbin of comics history.

For more on Vampirella, click here to read reviews of some of the classic stories from the Warren Era at Shades of Gray; or here to view some great Vampirella artwork, as well as her Saturday Scream Queen profile, at Terror Titans.

Princesses of Mars, Part Seven

Let's take another trip to the home of John Carter and Princess Dejah Thoris: Faraway Barsoom, where the beautiful maidens are as mysterious as their headgear and as tough as their metal bras.

By Alex Nino

By Matt Wagner
By Rich Buckler

By Ken Allan

By Marc Laming

By Mike Hoffman

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Courteney Cox

Model-turned-actress Courteney Cox has been working steadily in television since 1984, since landing a part on the Soap Opera "As the World Turns" at the age of 20. She has either starred or had recurring roles in almost a dozen series series, including "Misfits of Science," "Family Ties", "Dirt" and a ten-year stint on ensemble sitcom "Friends".

Throughout the years, she has supplemented her television career with movie roles, most famously, and appropriately for the title of this web-series, Wes Craven's "Scream" movies.

Cox has most recently been seen on the big screen in "Scream 4", reuniting with director Craven and fellow original cast-members Neve Cambell and David Arquette for another sequel, ten years after "Scream 3" was released. On television, she is currently starring in "Couger Town," a series about a middle-aged divorced woman trying to recapture her youth.

Although primarily a comedic actor, Cox is counted among the great Scream Queens for being part of the bedrock of one of the most successful, and consistently entertaining, horror movie series of all time. Time and box office receipts will tell if there will be a "Scream 5".

Friday, April 22, 2011

'Scream 4' will entertain if you liked the others

Scream 4 (2011)
Starring: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Emma Roberts, Courtney Cox, Hayden Panettiere, Nico Tortotella, Marley Shelton, Eric Knutson, Rory Culkin, and Anthony Anderson
Director: Wes Craven
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Sidney Prescott (Campbell), once only famous for being the intended victim of the Ghostface Killer and several copycats, is now a successful self-help author who has left the dark terrors of the 1990s far behind. But the past comes back to life in a gruesome fashion when her book tour takes her home to Woodsboro... and yet another Ghostface copycat starts targeting Sidney's cousin (Roberts) and her friends.

There isn't much to say about "Scream 4". Despite all the talk about "new decade, new rules", it pretty much follows the tone and pattern established in the first films of the series, although it's thankfully closer to the first "Scream" in entertainment value than were the sequels.

The formula has seen some updating--with cellphones and social networking sites being prevalent everywhere and a running theme about the increasing prevalence of celebrities who are famous for being famous, and viral YouTube videos who give more people than ever 15 seconds of fame--but it's still the same old "Scream", with plenty of characters making jokes about slasher movie plots and a certain level of playfulness in the structure of film with genre conventions.

And I think the viral video aspect is going to be the driver for the sequels that Craven & Crew have promised if this film is successful enough to warrant them. Perhaps someone can finally do a horror film that fully incorporates the web and modern self-broadcasting technology, something which the filmmakers failed at here and here.

Sidney and series mainstay characters Dewey the Cop (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) have also been updated a bit, with ten years having gone by. Sidney, in keeping with the changes in slasher film cliches now spends more time chasing Ghostface and kicking his ass than being chased by him. Dewey is now at the head of the Woodboro police force and they are a little less buffoonish than in previous films--although still as ineffectual or there wouldn't be a movie. Meanwhile, Gale, the character who was a celebrity journalist in the first films, is trying to recapture her fame in this one. Leaving these central characters in place with some changes to their circumstances and personalities was the right thing to do for the film. Their fates through the course of the movie was also exactly the right thing to do; it's good to see that "new decade, new rules" didn't mean "crap all over the original movies" like it so often does in Hollywood, even when those involved were part of the original productions, as we saw in the god-awful "Halloween: Resurrection".

While few of the new characters are likely to be back in any of the sequels--thanks to the twist-on-a-twist-ending that would probably have had me spewing all kinds of venom if it had been in anything but a "Scream" movie--I hope this film will be the start of many horror appearances for several of them. Emma Roberts did surprisingly well in her role, and Hayden Panettiere was great fun as well, but there was no one who didn't do an excellent job in their parts.

"Scream 4" is one of the better sequels in recent memory, because it updates the right things and leaves everything else as it should be--it was great to learn that the new rules are, essentially, the same as the old rules. If the first ones entertained you, this is worth seeing. The wink-wink formula may not be as fresh as it was in the mid-1990s, but this is a well-crafted movie.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Its got nothing to get in the way of the violence

Kill the Scream Queen (2004)
Starring: Bill Zebub, Deborah Dutch, Debbie D, and Isabelle Stephen
Director: Bill Zebub
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A sexual psychopath and serial killer turned movie-maker (or movie-maker turned sexual psychopath and serial killer) (Zebub) lures wanna-be actresses to an abandoned bar with the promise of being in his horror movie/snuff-film. He then tortures and rapes them.

That is not only a summary of "Kill the Scream Queen", it is the entire content of the film. There is virtually nothing worthwhile here, unless you want your "torture porn" almost completely free of plot and character development, and with a little more actual porn that you find in the "Hostel" and "Saw" movies.

The very low One Star-rating I'm giving this pointless piece of "filmmaking" is based on the one victim that fights back in a big way. Otherwise, most of the girls here are just so much meat--only two show even the slightest glimmer of acting talent--and the filmmaking and effects are pedestrian in the extreme.

Worse, the film is such an amateur effort that the director can't even keep his continuity straight. In one scene, he rips a girl's panties off so he can rape her, yet when he dumps the body, they're back on and they're intact.

(The only positive things I can say is that the "writer and director" of the film didn't attempt to overreach his $1.25 budget. There's also the "message" that gets delivered via film-maker's monologues directed at his victims... that an emphasis on sex and gore over acting and story is ruining the horror genre.)

I like the high concept of the movie... but I just wish a movie had actually been made with it, instead of a collection of clips with girls taking their clothes off and being menaced and killed with nothing else going on.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Tax Day!

Because of a holiday in Washington, DC, American tax payers need to have their taxes to the IRS by today instead of the traditional date of April 15.

Did you do YOUR patriotic duty (according to Joe Biden)? Obama & Friends need a few more trillion dollars to waste!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Gloria Stuart

Beautiful blond Gloria Stuart was lured away from the stage to Hollywood with a contract at Universal Studios and a promise of great things. While she was one of the key faces (and figures) to grace some of the horror genre's cornerstones--like "The Invisible Man" and "The Old, Dark House"--her career never amounted to much. Casting directors and studio executives never really seemed to find a proper use for the mix of delicate beauty and spunk she brought to the screen. By 1946, dissapointed by the lack of traction in her film career, Stuart returned briefly to the stage but then retired from acting.

Three decades later, in 1975, she returned to acting, starting with a role in the made-for-TV horror movie "The Legend of Lizzie Borden." She spent the next twenty-five years playing small and supporting roles in a wide variety of films, with her most famous late-career part coming in 1997's "Titanic".

Stuart passed away in 2010, at the age of 100.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mike Oldfield: Music I Never Tire Of

Ever since I heard "Five Miles Out" on the radio as a kid, I've been in love with Mike Oldfield. To this day, the "Five Miles Out" album, "Ommadawn", "Crisis" and "Discover" are among my most-often played CDs.

The Man, the Myth, the Mike!

So, when it came to deciding what topic would be M for today, I went with Mike Oldfield. I could have gone with Mohammed, but I think I already have plenty of posts about the Perfect Man and the millions of psychopaths who worship him around the world.

But, I figure if "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day 2011" happens on May 20, I'll be talking about Mo-rons and the Perfect Man in this space quite a bit. So, I'm instead going to talk about my favorite modern composer and musician. While I haven't exactly loved his latest two albums, I didn't hate them either. And who knows? Maybe they'll grow on me the way "Earthmoving" and "Amarok" did, but I doubt it... they're just a little too "easy listening" for my ears.

That said, I was writing music reviews for a paper when "Earthmoving" came out, and I panned it like I'd never panned any release before. When I listened to it again some five years later, I had to ask myself "What the hell was I thinking?" It's a different Mike Oldfield effort--being a collection of slightly offbeat pop tunes--but it was petter than the majority of the crap out there and it still is. With "Amarok", one of Oldfield's all instrumental efforts, I hated it until one day I gave it my undivided attention and did nothing but sit and listen; that's when I fell in love with it as I have most of Oldfield's music. I might come around to feeling the same way about "Music of the Spheres" (his most recent release from 2008), but I can't see myself ever liking "Tres Luna" the way I like his other many and widely varied efforts.

Enough talk. Here's some music and some videos to enjoy. And please leave a comment about what YOUR favorite Mike Oldfield record/CD or song is. If you've never encountered Oldfield before, I think you'll find he gives modern popular musicians a run for their money; the videos featured here are for songs that are 20-30 years old.

First up is the song that started it all for me. It's got a great video to boot. Like someone said in the comments at YouTube "This is ART, man!"

Next is a video using a segment of "Tubular Bells II". It spotlights three things Mike Oldfield is most famous for: Great instrumentals, creative use of guitars, and the "Exorcist Theme" (of which this is one of the many variations he's created over the years).

(Of course, Mike Oldfield fans know that the "Exorcist Theme" is really the "Tubular Bells Theme".)

Next is the video for the single version of title track from "Heaven's Open". It's not anything like what I would have visualized, but it's an interesting effort for an interesting song.

Here's a collaboration between Mike Oldfield and Jon Anderson of Yes. Enjoy the trippy video with its quirky animation and weird cinematic trickery, and wait for the ripping guitar solo from Oldfield.

Oldfield has so far only scored one film--"Tubular Bells" predates its use in "The Exorcist"--and here's a selection of that music, along with a video. The film was "The Killing Fields" and the track is titled "Etude."

Finally (for now, at least) here's a song with vocals by Anita Hegerland.

(And if you want more, here are a couple of Oldfield's other collaborations with Hegerland.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Barack Hussein Obama MMMmmmNNNo!

Obama formally began his reelection campaign on April 4, 2011. Here's what the Future says about the Hope and Change he has brought....

Are You In(sane)?

If you don't get the reference in the title of this post, click on this link to visit Cinema Steve for a look at the creepy, borderline un-American degree to which some worship (or worshipped, one hopes) Barack Hussein Obama.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

John Carter's Eternal Love

One of sci-fi/fantasy's great icons is Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars, an "eternal warrior"-type character who finds himself leading two lives, teleporting back and forth between the post-Civil War American West and the other in ancient times on the savage, alien world of Mars (or "Barsoom" as the natives call it).

By Frank Frazetta

The Martian adventures of John Carter were published in 11 novels, with the first in the series being "A Princess of Mars". In in, Carter meets the love of his life (or lives, rather), and she is a presence to a greater or lesser degree in all the books that follow. Burroughs describes her thusly when Carter first lays eyes on her:

And the sight which met my eyes was that of a slender, girlish figure, similar in every detail to the earthly women of my past life... Her face was oval and beautiful in the extreme, her every feature was finely chiseled and exquisite, her eyes large and lustrous and her head surmounted by a mass of coal black, waving hair, caught loosely into a strange yet becoming coiffure. Her skin was of a light reddish copper color, against which the crimson glow of her cheeks and the ruby of her beautifully molded lips shone with a strangely enhancing effect.

She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure.

By Adam Hughes

It perhaps goes without saying given that description that Dejah Thoris has been a favorite subject of fantasy illustrators since her debut in 1917. Over at Shades of Gray, I spotlight some of the best black-and-white illustrations of Dejah Thoris and other Martian Princesses I've come across during my wanderings through the web. Click on the links below to see what John Carter saw, as interpreted by some of fantasy and comicdom's best artists.

Princesses of Mars, Part One

Princesses of Mars, Part Two

Princesses of Mars, Part Three

Princesses of Mars, Part Four

Princesses of Mars, Part Five

Princesses of Mars, Part Six

Princesses of Mars, Part Seven

(Parts Eight through Ten Coming Soon)

Princesses of Mars, Part Six

By Alan Davis
By Leonard Kirk
By Buzz
By Alan Barsani

Monday, April 11, 2011

Infidelity always leads to disaster... and yet they still do it!

Maybe it's because I've never met anyone that I could imagine spending the rest of my life with for a very, very long (and I gave up on the notion over a decade ago), but I can't understand the type of person who would get married and then turn around and cheat on that person. I guess if one is a sociopath such behavior could be expected, but are there really that many sociopaths in the world?

I hope I never understand the sort of impulse that would cause someone to betray another person like that. But what I WOULD like to understand is why anyone would turn around and marry the person that cheated with them on their spouse. Why would you ever want to enter into any sort of permanent arrangement with someone who has proven themselves to be scummy and untrustworthy? Even if you are kindred spirits?

Much talk is spewed about how movies and other popular culture items shame people's behavior. If that was indeed true, wouldn't there be LESS infidelity in the world than more? After all, cheaters NEVER prosper in the movies... they end up framed for murder, stalked by psychos, or just find their lives in ruins in the aftermath.

And real-life cheaters usually don't have fates more impressive than their fictional counterparts... take John Edwards for example. Since he was caught sleeping around on his dying wife, he has not only been exposed as a corrupt weasel, but as a cry-baby coward as well. If people contemplating cheating on their husbands or wives doesn't care about the spouse's feelings, you'd think they'd at least care about what might happen to themselves and their own reputations.

Then again, stupid is as stupid does. Rather like the cheating characters in "Point of Terror" (and thus I segue into a review to keep the blog on track).

Point of Terror (1971)
Starring: Peter Carpenter, Dyanne Thorne, Leslie Sims, Joel Marsten, Paula Mitchell, and Lory Hansen
Director: Alex Nicol
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Lounge singer Tony Trelos (Carpenter) thinks his dreams of stardom are at hand when he becomes the latest boy-toy for the oversexed wife of a record executive (Thorne) and she promises him a record contract. But things get dangerously complicated when her husband (Marsten) turns up dead and Tony falls in love/lust with her stepdaughter (Hansen).

"Point of Terror" is a messy movie that meanders through a predictable "Pride Goeth Before a Fall" story. The tone varies widely from comedy to thriller to horror, but it never stays with one atmosphere long enough to establish whether writer/producer/star Peter Carpenter failed at making an erotic thriller, a horror movie, or a dark comedy. Although the demise of the abusive husband, some of the revelations around Dyanne Thorne's character, and the fact that Tony Trelos is about as dumb as a box of rocks make me wonder if this is a REALLY dry comedy, I THINK Carpenter and director Alex Nicol were trying to make a thriller in the Italian "gaillo" vein. Unfortunately, while they captured the incoherence so dominant in many Italian mysteries and thrillers, they captured none of the style. Worse, scenes with flourishes that were intended to be artistic drag on and on and on and feel more like padding than anything else. (You know you're watching an erotic thriller gone wrong when you are reaching for the remote to fast-forward through the sex scenes because they are boring and the music score under them is nerve-gratingly bad).

The film isn't helped by the fact that the only performer with any screen presence in the whole thing is Dyanne Thorne. As prone as I am to make jokes about her two humongous talents, she actually does have quite a bit of charisma... and it really shows when she's surrounded by the caliber of actors in this film. She pretty much steals the movie from poor Peter Carpenter, although he obviously intended this to be his vehicle of stardom.

Speaking of Carpenter, this is the second of his films that I've watched--the other being "Blood Mania", which he also wrote, produced, and starred in, and which I will be reviewing over at Terror Titans one of these days--and in both cases, I felt that he was an okay actor but simply didn't have much in the way of screen presence... or he simply had the misfortune of always playing against actoresses who outshone him. This was the last of Carpenter's films, and I feel like he was to the 1970s like John King was to the 1940s.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

'Blackout' may put you off the bottle

Blackout (aka "Murder By Proxy") (1954)
Starring: Dane Clark, Elanor Summerfield, Belinda Lee, Andrew Osborn, and Betty Ann Davies
Director: Terence Fisher
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

An American drinking away his sorrows in London (Clark) is offered a large sum of money by a young woman (Lee) if he will marry her. He wakes up the next morning with a pocket full of cash, blood on his coat, and no recollection of happened after his "engagement" in the bar. However, his "wife" is nowhere to by found, and the newspapers are full of the news that her wealthy father was murdered the night before.

"Blackout" may be the best of the film noir-style pictures produced by the venerable British film studio Hammer, first with American B-movie producer Robert Lippert and later with Columbia Pictures. I haven't watched them all, but this one was by far the most interesting of a batch of films that are undeservedly obscure.

Dane Clark excels here as an Everyman who suddenly finds him thrust into a world of deception, intrigue, and murder. The script is expertly paced as the story of his efforts to find out what sort of trouble he is in, so he can find a way out, and the red herrings and plot reversals and surprise twists are all perfectly timed. This is one mystery that will keep you guessing almost up to the very end as to who is behind the killings and why.

The rest of the cast also does a fine job, although Belinda Lee--who plays the girl who marries Clark, either to escape impending forced nuptials or to frame him for murder--was probably hired more for her beauty than her acting talent. She is perfect at playing a distant upper-class snob, but falters when called upon to do anything else. Of course, Lee might just be suffering in comparison to strong and experienced character actors like Clark and Elanor Summerfield--who plays an artist who helps Cook on his quest of discovery, and whose performance and character is so much more lively than Lee's that one hopes that she is the Clark will end up with in the end--as she was just 19 and this was her first major film role.

Then again, good performances from the actors, along with plenty of striking visuals, are to be expected when Terence Fisher is at the helm of a picture. He rarely disappoints, and he doesn't do so with this one, either.

Fans of film noir pictures and well-crafted mysteries will appreciate this film... especially since it comes bundled cheaply with other neglected Hammer Films mysteries.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Dyanne Thorne

Dyanne Thorne is best known for her role as the sadistic Nazi torture Ilsa in a string of gory films mixing sex and torture from the 1970s, but virtually no matter what movie she appeared in, one could rely on her at the very least displaying her two humongous talents prominently.

Prior to playing the character she is most famous for in four films from 1975 to 1977, Thorne's horror resume consisted of "Point of Terror" and "Blood Sabbath" (both from 1971), but most of what she has done otherwise has been sex comedies... and even one or two more "adult oriented" films.

Thorne retired from the screen in 1987. She has a Ph.D. in Divinity and has been putting that to use as an ordained minister at a wedding chapel in Las Vegas, NV.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

'Blood Sabbath' is odd and very 1970s

Blood Sabbath (1971)
Starring: Tony Geary, Dyanne Thorne, Susanne Damante, Sam Gilman, and Steve Gravers
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A Viet Nam vet (Geary) haunted by the war, meets and falls in love with a water nymph (Damante) in an isolated stretch of back country. Desperate to make this impossible relationship work, he sells his soul to the evil leader of a local witch coven (Thorne) for the promise of being able to be with his beloved. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but it all ends very badly.

"Blood Sabbath" is another one of those movies I really wish I could like more. I love the general atmosphere of the film--the story is one more suited for a fantasy setting, with our troubled warrior having fought in the Crusades or the 100 Year War instead of a modern conflict. The characters, the setting, the way the story unfolds... everything has a fairy-tale story book quality to it that stands in odds with the modern trappings of the film. In fact, one possible interpretation of what we see is that it's an "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"-type story with everything that happens is the main character's dying fantasy.

As interesting as the script and atmosphere of the movie is, it is brought low by some pretty awful acting by just about every cast member, and by a special effects team that was either incompetent or not given enough money or time to do even simple jobs right. Nothing says "crappy" like a severed head prop that looks nothing whatsoever like the actor from whom the head was supposed to have been severed. The seemingly unending scenes of naked and semi-naked witches performing jazz dances don't help the movie any either--you know something's wrong with a film when naked chicks can't even seem to spice up the proceedings. (Although, it could also be that I've seen too many movies with witch covens doubling as the Backwood Jazz Ballet Dancers... it seems that being willing to take your shirt off and having some minimum ability to dance were the requirements to be a witch in the 1970s.)

And if there's one thing I'm glad went away with the 1970s, it's the use of crash-zooms and fish-eye lenses to show altered mental states. I don't think it's a bad representation--I've had some fever dreams or my own drug-induced stupors that have felt like that--but I can't think of a time when I didn't see that used in a film where it wasn't overused. This is no exception.

Still, it you've got absolutely nothing else going on, "Blood Sabbath" might be worth checking out just for the quirky fantasy vibe running through the film. It's not worth getting on its own, however; even if you Netflix it, try to find it on a disc with some other film, so you can get your money's worth.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Picture Perfect Special: In the dark, all cats are gray...

... especially if one of them is Catwoman!

Here's a selection of illos of Batman and his oldest and most dedicated "frenemy." (Comics Trivia: On at least one of an infinite number of alternate reality Earths, were marrued after she gave up her thieving ways and he hung up the Batsuit. Their daughter grew up to be the suerpheroine, Huntress. That Bat and Cat are portrayed in the last three drawings.)

Click here to read reviews of graphic novels starring Catwoman over at Cinema Steve.

'Catwoman: The Cat File' is a great heist tale

Catwoman: The Cat File (DC Comics, 1996)
Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artists: Jim Balent and Bob Smith
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

After being apprehended by the Gotham City Police, Catwoman is forced into becoming an operative for a covert government agency that wants her to steal various national treasures and art objects they hope to use for political leverage. The Queen of Cat Burglars is determined to find a way to free herself from their control, but things get really complicated when a European prince whose royal crown she virtually stole off his head decides to exchange her bonds of international espionage for those of holy matrimony.

“The Cat File” reprints stories from issues 15-19 of  the second Catwoman solo series, the beginning of what I consider the an unmatched period of greatness in the character’s publishing history -- one which dates almost as far back as Batman himself. (She first crossed paths with the Caped Crusader in "Batman" #1 in 1940.)

In “The Cat Files,” we’re treated to Catwoman working elaborate heists while trying the scheme her way out from under power of the mysterious Gallant and his far-reaching spy network. In true heist adventure fashion, things often go from bad to worse. By the time Catwoman is standing in front of the altar of marriage, anyone who appreciates a good heist adventure will be eagerly anticipating the mayhem that occurs when virtually every gun-toting character that has appeared previously in the story descends upon the ceremony. And that’s before the helicopter gunships arrive on the scene.

Side-stepping but not invalidating the misbegotten “hooker turned cat-burglar” back-story created by Frank Miller in “Batman: Year Zero”, writers Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench, under the editorial guidance of Denny O’Neil, reconnected the character with her roots as an international adventuress and super-thief, and put her through her paces in a string of fun-filled (and occasionally dark) heist stories and caper tales. The artwork was primarily by Jim Balent, and, while he even early on was drawing his women back-trouble-inducing large breasts, he hadn’t devolved into the fetish-driven grotesqueness that would come later. The art is breezy and energetic and a perfect vehicle for Dixon and Moench’s action-packed tales. Balent also manages to capture the balance between suspense and humor that elevates these stories to the level of great caper tales; only Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder novels is a better example of this kind of adventure fiction.

For a look at a minor DC Comics character in her glory days, a great action/adventure story revolving around a series of heists and international intrique, and for a reminder that there was a time as recent as the 1990s when comic books were fun and worthwhile reading, "The Catfile" is one-stop shopping.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Saturday Scream Queen: Alyssa Milano

Alyssa Milano's first major role came at the age of 13 when she played John Matrix's imperiled daughter in "Commando". She settled into life as a television child star, appearing in numerous movies and a couple of sit-coms ("Who's the Boss?" and the short-lived spin-off show "Living Dolls," which featured Halle Berry in her acting debut).

By the mid-1990s, Milano and her management, apparently wanting to show her "all growed up" took her career down the road of sexually charged B-thrillers and horror films. The most remarkable of these was "Embrace of the Vampire", "Beyond Utopia", "Fear" and "Poison Ivy II". Remarkable doesn't necessarily mean good, but they were all successful ventures for their backers and they're the kind of films that will always appeal to lonely guys in their late teens.

Milano eventually settled back into television long-term in 1998 with "Charmed", a horror-tinged drama about three hot sisters who happen to be witches. While the show featured plenty of monsters and demons and black magic, it was first and foremost about three hot girls being hot girls.

Since "Charmed" came to an end in 2006, Milano has appeared exclusively in comedies, and there's little chance we'll ever again see her get sleazy like she did in the mid-1990s--she has stated in interviews that she is done with that sort thing. That doesn't rule out a return to more classy horror... perhaps an H.P. Lovecraft-based film where she's in Innsmouth and the fish-men drag her into water in a white nightgown?