Hammer’s back…and they’re bringing Christopher Lee with them.

January 15, 2011

Hammer Films was resurrected last year with the critically-acclaimed Let Me In, a remake of the also critically-acclaimed vampire film Let the Right One In. Immediately, people began to complain that this wasn’t Hammer, it was just someone buying the name and slapping it on a horror movie.

I disagree. No, this incarnation of Hammer won’t make the same kind of movies as the beloved British studio did forty or fifty years ago. It wouldn’t survive if it did. Hammer Films from that era are a particular brand, a particular flavor that broke the mold in their time, but would be laughed out of theaters if released as contemporary productions today. So, the new owners of the name are taking what they can from the past and bringing it into the new century. That, to me, means (hopefully) a long line of good, entertaining horror from a studio dedicated to the genre.

Only time will tell. Let Me In was a good start. The next one out of the gate is The Resident, starring Hilary Swank and quintessential Hammer leading man Christopher Lee. Here’s the trailer:

Here’s hoping for the best.


Dracula: Prince of…..Slashers?

October 20, 2010

Every Friday night this month, cable channel Turner Classic Movies has been running three or four Hammer horror films. Thanks to this gift of programming, I’ve been able to catch up on a lot of stuff from the venerable British studio’s catalog that I haven’t seen before, including several of its Dracula flicks and some stand-alone stuff like The Gorgon. I was closing out this past weekend with a look at Dracula: Prince of Darkness when I began to think that something about it was feeling very familiar, but for all the wrong reasons. I knew I hadn’t seen the movie before, and it was playing out differently from the other Hammer Dracula flicks I’d seen. It wasn’t until a half-hour or so into the movie that I nailed it, a revelation that continued to strengthen as the rest of the movie unspooled.

I was watching a slasher film.

It was one particular scene that really brought it home for me, but afterwards I could see that the movie’s very set-up was straight out of Slasher 101. Two couples are vacationing together, travelling the world in order to “broaden their minds” when they find themselves stranded in a remote location near a castle that the locals won’t even acknowledge exists. Cirsumstances lead them right through the front doors of the castle, where they find no people but an otherwise welcoming atmosphere, complete with lit candles and a table set for four. As they stand around debating what to do, one of the men decides to head upstairs – alone- to check things out. And that, as we all know, is a big no-no.

Actually, the guy gets away with it, mainly because his friend promptly joins him in his search. They are soon joined by a hulking man-servant who offers a half-hearted explanation for the mysterious welcome they’ve received, and the four take to it willingly enough, sitting down to enjoy a fine meal before heading off to bed. There’s one suspicious voice among them, a shrewish gal who’s been complaining the whole movie (and, according to another characer, the whole trip), but her concerns fall on deaf ears.

That night, the shrew’s husband repeats Slasher Movie No-No #1, wandering into the strange house alone to investigate some noise or other, actually folllowing the noise into the basement, and this time he pays for it via what appears to be an ice pick in the back. If that ain’t slasher, I don’t know what is.

This turn of events eventually leads to Dracula’s resurrection, something I figured would bring a halt to the slasher movie formula, but the similiarities continue to pile up. Most surprising is that Dracula is portrayed this go-round as a mute killer. Christopher Lee doesn’t utter a word as the Count, instead doing his best Jason Voorhees/Michael Myers impersonation, popping up out of dark places with savage suddenness before disappearing into the shadows again.

The ending comes straight out of slasher lore, too, as our heroes (including the one character who knows all the villain’s secrets, a’ la Dr. Loomis) confront Dracula. There’s a battle, and at the end of the battle the heroes walk away triumphantly, convinced that they’ve vanquished the evil – so convinced, in fact, that they don’t bother to check the body. Hmmm….now where have we seen that before, and how did it work out?

I don’t know if any of the filmmakers behind early slasher classics like Black Christmas or Halloween have seen Dracula: Prince of Darkness, but if so I think they may have been influenced by it. And yes, many of the things mentioned here are staples of all horror, not just slasher films, but the beats here play out so much in tune with so many slasher movies it’s a hard comparison to avoid. The choices made – especially that of removing all the seductive charm of the Count, who I fully expected to have a field day wooing the two lovely ladies n his castle – make for a very different Dracula movie than most.

I’m telling you – if you could have thrown a hockey mask on Christopher Lee, put a machete in his hand, and upped the body count into the teens, you’d have a fine entry in the Friday the 13th series here. As it is, it’s a curious but thoroughly entertaining bit of Hammer history. Thans, TCM, for giving me a chance to see it.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the trailer:


Here’s to swimmin’ with bowlegged women….

June 25, 2010

….and here’s to Jaws, which recently turned 35 years old. If there’s a better adventure film out there, I haven’t seen it. It’s amazing how the choices that Steven Spielberg and company were forced to make to contend with unpredictable weather and a malfunctioning shark actually worked for them instead of against them. Reams have been written about the troubled production, but whatever they had to go through to get the film finished was certainly worth it.

To celebrate, I chose a clip that is one of my favorite moments of the movie – the point at which Quint, Hooper and Brody finally bond – just as an ominous barrel appears alongside their boat.


Freddy’s New Nightmare

May 4, 2010

*SPOILER WARNING*

Caught the Nightmare on Elm Street remake today and, much like the remakes that have come before it, I find myself liking some things and not caring for others. When Nightmare 2010 was trying to be its own thing, it did pretty well. When it was trying to walk in its forefather’s footsteps, however, it tripped.

Robert Englund as old school Krueger circa 1984.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen some of the iconic moments the new version tries to recreate from the original, such as Freddy’s gloved hand emerging from Nancy’s bathtub…while Nancy is also in the tub. That’s a straight lift from the original, as is the scene where a ghostly Krueger bends a wall to his will. Neither of these is executed as well as they were in the original, and were really unnecessary to begin with – there are some clever nods to such scenes later in the film (remember Freddy’s tongue licking Nancy through the phone? This time he does it in person, and it’s even ickier than the first time) that work better because they aren’t exact duplicates.

The movie does play with Freddy’s backstory a little more, and while I like what they were going for – hinting that Krueger may not have been guilty of everything his killers believed – it was brought down by ham-handed execution. The kids quickly jump to the conclusion that the accusations they made against Freddy when they were little were made up, and then just as quickly discover that, no, the parents were right and Fred was a perv. That could have been drawn out a little longer and been more effective.

Jackie Early Haley as Freddy 2.0.

Those things aside, though, let’s talk about Freddy. I was worried about anyone other than Robert Englund wielding the glove…until they hired Jackie Earl Haley. Haley brings a sick, twisted sense of sleeze to the character that Englund was just too charming to manage. Don’t get me wrong, Englund still owns the part, but Jackie has brought us a new version that I hope to see a lot more of.

That’s right. I liked this enough to want more. While it was, like all the Platinum Dune remakes thus far, maybe a little too slick and polished to really capture the spirit of the original, I think this one has come closest so far. The nightmares could be a little more surreal, the characters a little more fleshed out, and there could be less reliance on the jump scares, but all in all this new Nightmare holds its own against a pretty tough standard.

*EVEN BIGGER SPOILER ALERT*
(For the record, the movie geek in me really got all fired up when a character named Quentin used a needle full of adrenaline straight to the heart to wake up another character – just like John Travolta did in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Nice.)


Looking back, looking ahead

April 2, 2010

Been a busy couple of months – not busy updating this website, obviously, but busy nonetheless. I’ve been itching to get back here and write about some of the stuff coming up that I’m looking forward to, but haven’t had the time. I don’t really have the time today, but I couldn’t stay away another minute longer.

So, indulge me if you will as I give you a whirlwind tour of what I’ve been doing, what’s coming up, and a couple of things I’m anticipating.

I’ve been slowly building the content over at my Spec Fiction blog for Examiner.com – some cools interviews recently with guys like Jonathan Maberry, who recently adapted the remake of The Wolfman in novel form. I’ll be adding those links to the nonfiction page over the next couple of days. Also, I’ve joined the staff of Horrorworld as the site’s interviewer. I’ll be talking with a new author each month, beginning in April with Roger Ma, author of The Zombie Combat Manual. I’ll make a not here as soon as that one goes live.

As always, new reviews are going up regularly at Dark Scribe, including a belated look at Stephen King’s Under the Dome. I’ve got several in the pipeline there – and will have a look at King’s just-announced surprise novella, Blockade Billy, appearing there as soon as my review copy arrives.

Movie-wise, I finally saw Black Dynamite after months of anticipation, and had a ball with it. I’m looking forward to the upcoming remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street, although not as much as I’m looking forward to the Blu-ray edition of the original, which comes out April 6. If the HD format does for Nightmare what it did for the original Halloween and Friday the 13th, then I’ll be a happy horror fan.

Here’s the trailer for the new Nightmare, just to whet our appetites:

From everything I’ve read, the people behind this remake are looking to take Freddy back the real (and surreal) horror of the first film, and away from the wisecracking anti-hero he eventually became. I hope they get it right, and I hope that the actual movie isn’t simply the exact replica of Wes Craven’s original that the trailers suggest it might be. Jackie Earl Haley seems the perfect choice to fill Robert Englund’s shoes, though.

Okay, that’s it for now. Hopefully it won’t be two months before I’m back again.


Dracula’s Soul Brother

February 2, 2010

I just finished my first viewing of Blacula, and I had to share the love. This is one of those great ’70s flicks that provides both unintentional laughs and a few effective scares, all wrapped up in one great, camp-filled package. William Marshall owns the screen as Mamuwalde, an African prince from the 1800s who seeks out the original Count Dracula’s help in ending the slave trade. Instead, he discovers that the Count is all but a card-carrying member of the KKK. Dracula offers to buy Mamuwalde’s wife, then turns his minions loose on the prince and his bride. Just before sealing them into a vault, Dracula bites Mamuwalde and curses him with both an eternal lust for blood and the nickname “Blacula” in a scene you can see in the trailer below:

Naturally, Mamuwalde is resurrected years later, and pursues a woman who appears to be his reincarnated wife. With a name like Blacula  you might expect a heaping helping of crude stereotypes, but with the exception of a couple of gay antique dealers, that’s mostly held in check. What you will find is a movie that’s surprisingly effective in places. Marshall is an intense, intimidating presence on screen, and when he goes into full vampire mode his eyebrows rival those of fellow ’70s stud Dean Stockwell. All in all I had a great time with this flick, and can’t wait to hunt down the sequel, Scream Blacula Scream.

Now, from a bonafide ’70s success to one that appears to capture the look and feel of what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite film decades. I’m posting a trailer for a movie that I’ve just recently heard about, The House of the Devil. Set in the ’80s, the film apparently uses film techniques and technology from the late ’70s/early ’80s, and is played as straight-up horror. It’s out on DVD this week, and I can’t wait to see it. Here’s a taste:


‘The Wolfman’ cometh

February 2, 2010

I’ve been wanting to write a post for several days now, but things have been busy. I’ve been wanting to let you know about the new short story I’m writing, and about the new reviews (Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror Vol. 3, Under the Dome) that’ll be popping up over the next couple of weeks, about the interviews I’ve been running over on my Examiner.com blog, but there’s just been no time. I’ll get to all that, but not today.

Today, inspired by the interview I’m working on with Jonathan Maberry, who has written the novelization of the upcoming remake of The Wolfman, I thought I’d share the movie’s trailer with you. So here it is:

The Wolfman somehow became the battleground over the last year or so for the practical effects vs. CGI argument that’s been raging ever since Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I’m typically a pro-practical guy, but I’m not against the careful use of computer graphics to augment the final effect. But all of that is beside the point – what I want from The Wolfman is a taste of good old-fashioned Hammer-style horror, with a dash of the contemporary thrown in. I plan on seeing this one as soon as I can, and I’ll let you know if it fills my particular bill.