Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"Fright Night Part II" (1988)

12 Days of Halloween 2016 (6)

This film is a bit of a gem. Not that it is truly great. It is really just pretty good. But it is a hard to find, and not too many people have ever seen it. Only screened in around 150 theaters upon its release, it was also limited in its release on home media. It is currently out of print.

Picking up three years after the original, Charlie has headed off to college. Only now he has been convinced by the world that everything he experienced in the first film was just something his imagination cooked up to help him deal with his run in with a serial killer. Vampires do not exist. Cue another vampire moving into his (and Peter Vincent’s) life. (Don’t worry, the film gives us a reason for the plot. It isn’t as if they coincidentally have two vampire encounters.)

The film has generally the same mix of horror, gore, and humor as the first film, just not as quite of a tight plot. The director is Tommy Lee Wallace, who would later go on to direct Stephen King’s It. That gives you a pretty good idea of the tone.

The fun thing here—as in the first film—is the way the story is used to explore bigger ideas. In the first one it was staying true to what you believe even when the rest of the world rejects what you know to be true. Here we get another look at that idea with a twist. Charlie—like a lot of college students—has been exposed to a whole bigger world with clever arguments as to why he is silly to believe what he does. Again—like a lot of college students—he needs to rediscover that what he knows to be true is real even if the rest of the world can’t handle it.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Rest of Hammer's Dracula (and Vampires)

12 Days of Halloween 2016 (5)

Hammer didn’t stop telling vampire stories with their Dracula films, and their Dracula series included a lot more films than it should have. Here is a rundown of their vampire entries:

1. “Dracula” (“The Horror of Dracula” in the US) 1958

The best of the bunch. A fairly straight retelling of the Dracula story. Dracula brought into color cinema!

2. “Brides of Dracula” 1960

An attempt to do Dracula without Dracula.

3. “Kiss of the Vampire” 1963

The Vampire metaphor comes to stand in for more than just evil, drugs and youth culture are examined.

4. “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” 1965

The formula told straight, with hints of a message about moral hypocrisy and the dangers of legalism.

5. “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave” 1968

They get so caught up in their message about the nature of faith that they forget what series they are in.

6. “Taste the Blood of Dracula” 1969

How can you criticize debauchery in an exploitative horror film? They try.

7. “Scars of Dracula” 1970

With this film Hammer descends into exploitative money grabs, and begins to offer up lame horror with lame, embarrassing nudity. None of the next few movies mean anything.

8. “Vampire Lovers” 1970 Skip this.
9. “Lust for a Vampire” 1970 No, really, you want to skip this even more.
10. “Twins of Evil” 1971 Another skippable spectacle, even if it does try to tackle a religious message.
11. “Countess Dracula” 1971 Just another one of their female vampire stories, which means less horror and meaning and mere potential topless women.

12. “Vampire Circus” 1972

This one gets away from the silly nudity and tries to offer a unique take on things.

13. “Dracula A.D. 1972” 1972

Dracula is brought to the current day and gets interesting again briefly.  (But the studio's idea of "cool" feels a little lacking.  See the music below.)

14. “Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter” 1973

Another interesting (?) twist on the genre.

15. “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” 1973 Stay as far away from this mess as you can!

16. “The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires” 1974 In an effort to capitalize on the popularity of Kung-Fu flicks, Hammer tried to mix that genre into their Dracula series. It didn’t work.

17. “Let Me In” 2010

The original Swedish film is better, but this is an interesting and disturbing film.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Domhnall, The Ruler of the World

12 Days of Halloween 2016  (4)
“Hubba, hubba, hubba! Money, money, money! Who do you trust?” -the Joker

He wasn’t your typical killer clown
more of a Red Skelton tinge
white around the eyes
fly-away hair
and a madman drive for revenge

The whole world was out to get him
but he had no shortage of henchmen
disgruntled misfits feeding on power
in their eyes he was the man of the hour

Future is a mystery
no plans or preparation
improvisation is his game
Past is less history,
more nostalgia for things
that may have never been

His enemies abound
but he’ll take them out
one by one
He holds the cards
and the deck is stacked
and he has a great
novelty gun*

Some say he’s a villain
he sees a savior in the mirror
Clown Prince of Crime
America’s greatest jeerer

*baillier la trompe "blow the trumpet" as "act the fool"

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"Taste the Blood of Dracula" (1970)

12 Days of Halloween 2016 3

Things were never terribly strong in the Hammer Dracula series after the first film, but “Taste the Blood” is really where things fall apart. As it stands, the completed film makes little to no sense. It helps to understand that this film was not supposed to be a Dracula story, but the Count was added in when the American distributer insisted. That explains the bizarre events that have Dracula’s servant becoming Dracula after his death, and the fact that he is seeking revenge for the very thing that brought him back.

But nothing really explains Dracula’s behavior. This just isn’t a vampire movie.

The story in a nut-shell. Three Victorian “gentlemen” are the definition of hypocrisy. They play the part of respectable leaders of society. They insist that their children be as virtuous as their reputation. However, they really get together every month to participate the in the most debaucherous behavior their procurer can devise for them. Bored with sin as all hedonists become, they jump at the chance to participate in a black mass. It is more than they are prepared to face, however and they scamper when their guide is killed. Had they stuck around longer, they would have seen him transform into Dracula. Dracula sets out for revenge by possessing and forcing their children to kill them.

Everyone hates a hypocrite, even when most of us fit into the category at one point or another. And horror stories—the traditional morality play—are all about people getting what is coming to them. But you usually have more compelling innocents who are making choices that will save them in the long run. Here, Alice, (a 1970 version of Adele?) is merely a puppet. She is controlled by her father up until she is controlled by Dracula. (It is anyone’s guess why she isn’t turned.) And she is saved, to be controlled presumably, by her savior-boyfriend. I used to think this film was a flawed story with an attempted message. Now I think it is just a failed story with a mess.

Friday, October 21, 2016

"Dracula Has Risen from the Grave" (1968)

12 Days of Halloween 2016 2

For their next film in the Dracula series, Hammer stuck with a thematic concept. “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave” is all about faith. OK, so it is mostly a silly sixties B horror flick, but it really is about faith.

The film begins in an awkward scene set during the last film where an altar boy discovers one of Dracula’s victims in a church. (Apparently Dracula did a lot more than simply pester the couples we saw in the last time, although when he found time to do so is a bit of a mystery. Also, since when does Dracula go into churches?) Jump forward to a year later and Dracula has been killed. However, the town is not at peace, as a Monsignor discovers when he comes to check up on things. The people are too scared to attend Mass because the shadow of Dracula’s castle falls on the building. And, the local priest has completely lost his faith.

The Monsignor forces the priest to accompany him climbing the mountain (didn’t the castle have a road leading to it last time?) to perform an exorcism on the castle. Unfortunately, the priest is too scared to make it all the way, and while the exorcism is being performed, the priest falls, cuts his head, and his blood revives the Count still frozen in the water where he died last time. (Yes, that is as silly as it sounds.)

The rest of the movie sees Dracula controlling the priest to exact revenge on the Monsignor for exorcising the castle. Most of his plot concentrates on the Monsignors niece, Maria, who is in love with a man named Paul. But, brace yourselves! Paul is an atheist!

In the long run, Paul’s atheism and the priest’s loss of faith both keep them from being able to stake the Count. (Turns out, you have to say a prayer to make a staking effective?) But in a second attempt, Dracula is staked with a cross and the priest says the prayer. Paul, with such evidence of God’s power, crosses himself in the end. Has Paul become a believer? Has the priest overcome his doubt with faith?

This is always the approach of horror stories that try to deal with the reality of God. The reality of evil, and perhaps its defeat by the forces of good, is seen as proof of God’s existences. Sort of a twist on the old (erroneous) “you have to have evil or good loses its meaning. But a key element of faith is that it exists where proof is lacking or, to put it another way, when something is demonstrable it does not require faith to be accepted.

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