THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. (1964) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. (1964) DIRECTED AND CO-PRODUCED BY ROGER CORMAN. DISTRIBUTED BY AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES. BASED ON TWO SHORT STORIES BY EDGAR ALLAN POE: THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, AND HOP-FROG. CINEMATOGRAPHY BY NICOLAS ROEG OF ‘DON’T LOOK NOW’ FAME.
STARRING VINCENT PRICE, HAZEL COURT, PATRICK MAGEE, JANE ASHER, DAVID WESTON, NIGEL GREEN AND JOHN WESTBROOK.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is an excellent addition to Roger Corman’s body of work based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Some people back in the day considered it a bit too ‘arty,’ and Corman himself admits that it is quite arty, but it’s artistic in a gorgeously-coloured, lush way, the way all Corman’s Poe adaptations are equally fabulous to look at.

Vincent Price as the evil Prince Prospero is probably wickeder than he’s ever been before, except maybe as the Witchfinder General in the film of the same name. He’s a really mean customer, that Matthew Hopkins. Prince Prospero gives him a good old run for his money, though.

Prince Prospero is the ruler of a mediaeval village back in the time of the plague and the Black Death, terrible or non-existent sanitation and general all-round misery and privations for those who weren’t princes, basically. It’s the period of history I’d least like to go back to, if I had a time machine. All those boils and weeping open sores and poop flowing unchecked down the streets and what have you, eeuw…

Prospero, a jaded Satanist, lives in his fancy castle above the village and spends his time amusing himself with the debauched antics of his equally jaded courtiers. It’s not a very useful or productive existence, living just to sate oneself with gluttonous feasting, degrading and deviant sexual practises and other kinky perversions. Oooh-er. Crikey, where do I sign up…?

Prospero abducts a beautiful, innocent young girl called Francesca from the village and is thrilled with the thought of initiating her into the evil mysteries of his devil-worshipping ways. He also throws her boyfriend Gino and her father Ludovico (played by hunky character actor Nigel Greene) into his dungeons, where people are tortured and ill-treated for no other reason than Prospero’s pleasure.

Juliana, Prospero’s conniving and very jealous mistress, is tasked with having the ravishing and pure-minded Francesca cleaned up and instructed in the ways of the court. Prior to Francesca’s arrival on the scene, Juliana has been hesitating about taking the last few steps that will turn her into a true Bride of Satan and Prospero’s wife and partner in crime and evil for all eternity, but now that she has competition for the Prince’s heart in the form of this red-headed, naive beauty from the village, she decides she’s ready to take those steps. On her own pretty little head be it, I say…

In the meantime, the plague known as the Red Death- in the film, the Red Death is represented by an actual person- has come to the village. Prospero delights in battening down the castle hatches and leaving the villagers to their terrible fate, and amuses himself with planning a fabulous masked ball, at which no-one will be allowed to wear red.

At the ball, Prospero’s evil sidekick Alfredo experiences a fiery come-uppance at the hands of Hop-Toad, the court jester. Also, a mysterious cloaked figure in red turns up at the ball, despite Prospero’s strict instructions to the contrary. No-one is to wear red at this shindig, remember?

Intrigued and slightly uneasy, Prince Prospero follows the figure in red, with Francesca by his side, through the coloured rooms of his castle. He thinks the fellow might be an emissary of Satan’s, here to give him his reward for all the years of faithful wrong-doing. I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to catch up with the hooded guy in red if I were him…

The cloaked figures in different colours have always given me chills a little bit. Imagine if the world really was ruled by such supernatural beings with almighty powers, and the future of mankind could be read in the cards like it is in the film. To them, we mortals would be no more than chess pieces on a board. Fair give you the willies, it would.

The danse macabre at the close of the film is a magnificently grim ballet, and Vincent Price seems like he’s loving every second of it. He really throws himself into it, and pirouettes in deadly desperation with the best of them. Great film, great acting, great sets and costumes. Ten out of ten for THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. Poe would be proud.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1781994234

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. (1961) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. (1961) BASED ON THE WRITINGS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY ROGER CORMAN. SCREENPLAY BY RICHARD MATHESON. STARRING VINCENT PRICE AND BARBARA STEELE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a really gorgeous and sumptuous film version of Edgar Allan Poe’s creepy story, and one of the cycle of film adaptations of Poe’s works undertaken by legendary director, Roger Corman.

The magnificent horror legend Vincent Price plays Nicholas Medina, a wealthy nobleman living in (almost) solitary grandeur in his cliff-top Spanish castle by the sea in the middle of the sixteenth century. It’s 1546, to be precise. Nearly time to be getting the dinner on, so…!

Nicholas doesn’t receive many visitors, as a rule, but, as the film starts, a man called Francis Barnard comes to his castle door, demanding to be let in and to be given the details of his sister, Elizabeth’s, recent demise. Nicholas’s sister, Catherine, feels that they have no choice but to let the man in and try to endure his pointed, suspicious questions about his sister Elizabeth’s death.

Elizabeth, by the way, was Nicholas’s beloved wife, who passed away recently under rather mysterious circumstances. Nicholas is still distraught and absolutely bereft at her passing. He loved her with all the intensity and possessiveness of his autocratic heart, and now he almost wishes that he were in the grave alongside her.

We see flashbacks of Nicholas’s perfectly idyllic life with Elizabeth (Barbara Steele), in which they dined, chatted eagerly and played music together, Elizabeth’s speciality being the harpsichord. Their life together might seem a little dull to outsiders, but Nicholas certainly seems to be having a ball with his ravishing young wifey in the flashback clips, and so does Elizabeth, to be fair.

But now Elizabeth is dead, under circumstances that her brother Francis finds highly dubious. Not only that, but harpsichord music is now being heard all over the castle, when everyone knows that the harpsichord was Elizabeth’s favourite instrument and that she was the only person in the house who ever played it.

The maid is claiming to hear her dead mistress’s voice in her bedroom and, then, when Nicholas hears it too, a grisly decision is taken. There is nothing for it but to go down to the crypt in the castle’s cellars and exhume the corpse of Elizabeth Medina. Just to check that she’s really dead, and not wandering around the draughty castle in her flimsy burial shroud saying ‘boo!’ to people when she pops out from behind the drapes to give ’em a heart attack.

Nicholas’s mental state is hanging by a thread at this stage (he physically swoons in virtually every second scene), but down they go, he, Catherine, Dr. Leon (who pronounced Elizabeth dead at the time of her demise) and Francis, Elizabeth’s brother. Down, down, down they go into the dusty, cobwebby bowels of the Medina castle…

Vincent Price is superb at playing widowers-in-mourning. He’s just terrific at it, and also at wearing the doublets and hose and long luxurious dressing-gowns and velvet slippers of Ye Olden Times.

Barbara Steele is the most beautiful and fascinating actress to ever don a wasp-waisted gown in which to play the ghost of herself, and the sets are gloriously-coloured and the torture chamber splendidly, if ghoulishly, equipped. Still, you’d expect that from a torture chamber, wouldn’t you?

Adding the Spanish Inquisition to the plot and the torture chamber as well was an inspired piece of writing, and the possession of Nicholas Medina by his father’s evil ghost a fiendishly delicious twist in its tail. The whole film is truly a feast for the eyes, and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep the viewer’s interest.

The only thing I found puzzling was that the film-makers hired three very similar-looking men to play Dr. Leon, Francis Barnard and Nicholas’s man-servant, Maximilian, who saves the day at the end of the movie.

All three men have short dark hair and similar nondescript faces and are pretty much of identical height and build. Why would the film-makers do that? The men look like three fraternal triplets. I just found the whole thing kind of confusing. It doesn’t detract from the movie in any way; it’s just weird that they didn’t hire actors between whom it was easy to tell the bleedin’ difference…!

You’ll love THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. It does credit to Poe’s work, and it’s one of the many jewels in both Roger Corman’s and Vincent Price’s crowns. And scream queen Barbara Steele’s majestic presence is truly the icing on an already fabulous cake.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. (1964) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. (1964) BASED ON THE 1954 NOVEL ‘I AM LEGEND’ BY RICHARD MATHESON. DIRECTED BY UBALDO RAGONA AND SIDNEY SALKOW. STARRING VINCENT PRICE, FRANCA BETTOIA, EMMA DANIELI AND GIACOMO ROSSI-STUART. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Come out, Morgan…!’

(It’s September 2019 and I’ve just finished reading Richard Matheson’s superb short horror novel ‘I AM LEGEND,’ the kind of book I still haven’t given up hope on writing myself one day. Not necessarily about a vampiric apocalypse, but on any horror topic that grabs me.

Books like PSYCHO, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE EXORCIST, JAWS, A KISS BEFORE DYING, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL, CARRIE, PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS provide huge, huge inspiration. A book like that that lives on after you die, that people never get tired of reading or watching in film format, is probably most horror writer’s ultimate goal.

Anyway, the book I AM LEGEND was adapted so faithfully by the film THE LAST MAN ON EARTH that I felt there would be no need to bother you good people with two reviews, one for the book and one for the film. Instead, I’m choosing to share again the review I wrote for THE LAST MAN ON EARTH back in 2016, the year I discovered it for the first time.

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I think this might actually be the best film that horror icon Vincent Price ever made, even though his numerous horror movies for Roger Corman in their Edgar Allan Poe cycle were all beyond fantastic.

It’s just such a grimly bleak and realistic performance he gives in THE LAST MAN ON EARTH that you get to see his ability to really act, as well as his undoubted talent for hamming it up in a doublet and tights, lol. So here we go, anyway, and I hope you enjoy it. ‘Come out, Neville…!’)

This is a brilliant sci-fi horror film from the era that brought us loads of equally great sci-fi horror films. Yep, it sure was a good era for the old sci-fi horror…! I came across it on a box-set I bought back in 2013 for only a tenner called 100 GREATEST HORROR CLASSICS. One hundred old horror movies for only ten quid? Hell, yeah…!

Other films on the set include THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, both starring Lon Chaney Sr., George A. Romero’s zombie classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS and Alfred Hitchcock’s first ever movie, THE LODGER, starring Ivor Novello. Yes, I think it’s that Ivor Novello; who else could it be…?

Anyway, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH manages to be both brilliant and extremely grim at the same time. Horror icon Vincent Price plays Dr. Robert Morgan, a man who has survived a terrible wind-borne plague that’s killed off nearly everyone on earth, except for those whom it turned into bloodthirsty vampiric mutations. These monstrosities become active at night. During the day, they sleep…

Poor old Robert spends the daylight hours tracking down the mutants and staking them through the heart before chucking ’em in a giant pit of fire. Well, I guess he just wants to be sure they’re really dead. Fair enough, lol.

At night, he holes himself up in his gaff while the pathetically weak vampires, including his former work colleague Ben Cortman, bang on his door and beg him feebly to come out so that they can kill him and drink his blood. Naturally, Robert declines this delightful offer. Maybe he likes his blood where it is. I’d be the same myself…!

In any case, his existence as literally the last man on earth is so bleak that the viewer wonders why he doesn’t just end his own life and be done with it. Maybe he’s afraid that he’ll become one of the Walking Un-Dead like the monstrous mutations he grapples with every day and night. Also, we mustn’t forget that the instinct for survival is very strong. There’s always the chance/hope that things might, one day, return to normal. That’s what keeps us going when times are tough.

One miraculous day, however, while out doing his ’rounds,’ Dr. Morgan spies a sight that he never expected to see again; a human female! Is she real? Is she infected with the plague that turned the mutants into the bloodsucking demons they’ve become? And, most importantly, how will this seemingly chance encounter impact upon the already stressed-out Dr. Morgan…?

I think that this film works so well because it taps into those fears we all secretly have. You know, the ones about being one of the sole survivors of some kind of apocalyptic disaster that leaves us on our own battling against zombies and mutants? I’ve always had that fear at the back of my own mind, anyway.

There’s this horrible scenario I think about sometimes where I’m alone in my house in just such a post-apocalyptic situation as we’ve discussed and a mis-shapen shadow suddenly falls across my window. Then I hear a scrabbling at the door. I stay perfectly still but the noise continues. Then there’s the unmistakable sound of someone breaking in… It’s all very ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS (Lucio Fulci), isn’t it?

Another thing that scares people is the thought of a plague or pandemic that wipes out half the world’s population. We’ve had worrisome thoughts like that about different epidemics over the decades: AIDS, swine flu, avian flu and the Ebola virus, to name a few. I’ve literally just read online, actually, about something called the ‘Zika virus.’

It’s not outside the bounds of possibility that something like a plague/pandemic could happen. That’s why films like OUTBREAK, QUARANTINE and RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR are so popular. It’s because, one day, it might just happen here…

I think THE LAST MAN ON EARTH must have been the inspiration for that TREEHOUSE OF HORROR episode of THE SIMPSONS in which Homer Simpson becomes ‘the last man on earth’ after a nuclear bomb wipes out most of the rest of the world. He isn’t remotely bothered by being surrounded by rotting corpses. He actually enjoys having the world to himself for a bit, haha. Until he finds himself being chased by freakish skin-eating mutants, that is…!

Vincent Price puts his heart and soul into his performance as the poor beleaguered Dr. Robert. Did I mention that I met his daughter Victoria Price in November 2015, by the way? I do try to mention that quite regularly, lol. She was having a meet-and-greet at the Irish Film Institute here in Dublin to promote the cookery book her dear old dad co-wrote with her mum and she was absolutely lovely and down-to-earth.

I chose to buy her biography of her dad, though, rather than the cookery book. It was a real whopper of a coffee-table book and it cost an even more whopping sixty quid…! Quite honestly, I’m not much of a Nigella Lawson, anyway. I prefer to spend as little time in the kitchen as I can get away with.

The flashback scenes in THE LAST MAN ON EARTH are excellent and the scenes with the puppy are just heartbreaking. The fact that the film is in black-and-white highlights the starkness of Dr. Robert’s awful situation. If you want to see how he copes with things, watch the film. It’s superb. And don’t answer the door after dark under any circumstances. It might be the mutants…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

THE HAUNTED PALACE. (1963) A VINCENT PRICE/ROGER CORMAN FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Vincent-Price-Blu-ray-Collection

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THE HAUNTED PALACE. (1963) BASED ON THE POEM BY EDGAR ALLAN POE AND ON THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD BY H.P. LOVECRAFT.

DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY ROGER CORMAN.

STARRING VINCENT PRICE, DEBRA PAGET, LON CHANEY JR., FRANK MAXWELL, LEO GORDON AND CATHIE MERCHANT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘And travellers now within that valley,

Through the red-litten windows, see

Vast forms that move fantastically

To a discordant melody;

While, like a rapid ghastly river,

Through the pale door,

A hideous throng rush out forever,

And laugh- but smile no more.’

This is such a lush luxurious film, sort of the cinematic equivalent of a really fancy box of chocolates. The same can be said of all of the films in American International Pictures/Roger Corman’s Poe cycle: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, TALES OF TERROR, THE PREMATURE BURIAL, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, THE RAVEN and THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH. All of these star Vincent Price in the lead role, except for THE PREMATURE BURIAL, in which Ray Milland is on leading man duty.

This film is book-ended by part of a Poe poem, which allows it to be included in the Poe cycle of films, but it’s mainly based on the Lovecraft story, THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD.

I much prefer Poe to Lovecraft; the tentacles thing espoused by the latter isn’t really for me. I love a nice psychological horror story or haunted house tale, and my preferred ‘monsters’ are the Universal ones, lol. Still, there’s much to praise in this visually sumptuous first major filming of a Lovecraft work, even if you can’t help noticing the odd plot-hole.

Vincent Price plays the titular Charles Dexter Ward who, together with his lovely wife Ann, arrives at the spooky New England harbour village of Arkham in order to take possession of the family residence, the titular Haunted Palace, abandoned for a century or more.

The villagers are all horrified because Ward is the spitting image of his evil ancestor, Joseph Curwen, who was burned at the stake exactly one hundred and ten years earlier for being the male equivalent of a witch.

Curwen was a much more interesting individual than his insipid descendant Ward. In the  mid-1700s, he lured the virginal young women of Arkham to his house and tried to mate them with ancient deities spawned in his vast underground dungeon. Kick-ass, huh…? His ultimate goal was the resurgence of a master race of Old Gods, ‘such as Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth.’

Unfortunately, these dubious ‘matings’ gave rise to several generations of hideous mutant or mutated eyeless monstrosities, some of whom are still alive and kicking and hidden in the locked rooms of the villagers of Arkham by the villagers themselves, whose progeny they are.

Some of the less dangerous, but no less physically shocking, mutants are brought out in force to scare the Wards away from Arkham, but Charles Dexter Ward has a destiny to fulfil, even if he doesn’t quite know it yet, and he opts to stay in his newly-acquired residence. There’s no law against a man living on his own property, is there? Of course there isn’t, more’s the pity for the poor doomed villagers…

To the horror of his loving wife Ann, Ward becomes possessed with the evil spirit of Joseph Curwen, through a magnificent portrait of the latter which hangs in the palace. Determined to carry out Curwen’s unfinished work of creating the master race of ancient gods through the mating of local young beauties with his basement ‘experiments,’ Ward/Curwen gathers around him his undead assistants of old, Simon Orne (Lon Chaney Jr., aka the Wolfman) and Jabez Hutchinson. Now he can pick up where he left off…

He seems to waste a lot of his newly-recovered time in trying to revive his long-dead mistress Hester Tillinghast, and also in revenging himself against the villagers who are direct descendants of the ones who burned Joseph Curwen to death over a century ago.

His two helpers beg him not to waste his time in petty vengeance, but Curwen feels that, after being dead for a hundred and ten years, he’s entitled to a little fun. Well, okay, fine, Master, but will there still be time to create a master race by forcibly mating your terrified wife Ann to the ungodly thing you’ve got hidden in your basement prison? If there is, there is, lol. We’ll have to see…

The movie, as well as being the first of Lovecraft’s works to be filmed, marks the first screen appearance of Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, a sort of mythical Book of the Dead which contains spells for conjuring up those ancient deities we mentioned earlier.

It’s the sort of really cool book which, if it really existed, you’d need permission from the Vatican to consult it, and you could only consult it by accompanying a grim-faced, disapproving elderly clerk in rusty black togs through several locked doors, the keys to which he keeps about his person.

In a huge, book-lined room, he’d take the book out of a locked safe, blow the dust off it and place it reverently on a table, and then he’d watch you like a hawk while you leafed nervously through its yellowed pages, looking for the bits you want to read. Oh, and you’re only allowed to consult the specific pages you’ve requested to see and no more. Can’t you just picture it…?

Vincent Price is perfectly at home in his two roles. Joseph has fancier, frillier togs and a sneerier, more menacing tone of voice than his nineteenth century counterpart, but Vincent Price is well able to chop and change between the two characters.

The sets are gorgeous, the costumes exquisite and the fog rolling in from the sea good and plentiful. The mutants are disturbing, the silhouette of the palace awe-inspiring and Lon Chaney Jr. as cuddly and loveable as ever he was in his Universal Wolfman films of the 1940s.

(I’m sure he thought he was being terribly frightening in that role, lol, but I’ve only ever thought of him as cuddly and loveable, with his cute little furry face and matching clodhoppers…!) 

I heartily recommend this Poe-Lovecraft mash-up. The critics had a lot to say about it- and not all good, either- but that doesn’t mean that it’s not both enjoyable and entertaining. Never mind the critics. What do they know? We’ll make up our own minds. Can I get an answering harrumph…?

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

THE BLACK CAT. (1934) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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THE BLACK CAT. (1934) FROM THE STORY BY EDGAR ALLAN POE. DIRECTED BY EDGAR G. ULMER. PRODUCED BY CARL LAEMMLE, JR. DISTRIBUTED BY UNIVERSAL PICTURES.

STARRING BELA LUGOSI, BORIS KARLOFF, DAVID MANNERS, JULIE BISHOP, LUCILLE LUND, EGON BRECHER AND HARRY CORDING.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This excellent old vintage horror classic has the distinction of being the first film ever to pair Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff together, so it’s a real case of Dracula versus the Mummy, isn’t? My money’s on the Fanged One rather than Mr. Bandages over there, but you never quite know how these things will pan out, do you?

The story begins on a train. American newly-weds Peter (a mystery writer, ironically enough) and Joan Allison are honeymooning in Hungary when they are asked to share their train compartment with a stranger, a handsome and charming Hungarian psychiatrist with an exotic accent by the name of Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi). They’re put out, naturally, as they wanted to be alone, but graciously invite Dr. Werdegast to sit with them nonetheless.

Dr. Werdegast is not just a stranger, but also a strangely intense man with a dark past. He reveals some of it to Peter while Peter’s wife Joan is asleep. She’s every inch the early ‘Thirties starlet, by the way, this one, and she spends most of the film screeching in fear at everything she sees and swooning elegantly into the arms of the nearest man.

Peter is obviously the love of her life and he shouldn’t have any trouble whatsoever controlling this docile, biddable little woman. I imagine he’d only slap her as a result of extreme provocation and not as a matter of course, which is always nice to know.

Anyway, I digressed there, lol. Vitus, who’s en route to visit a friend, as yet un-named, reveals to Peter that he has spent the best years of his life rotting away in a horrible prison in Siberia.

He was captured as a POW during the Great War of 1914-1918 and incarcerated for nearly two whole decades, thanks to the betrayal of a friend. His physical body may have survived the ordeal but his soul is in pieces, such was the horror of the place. His eyes are haunted with the memory of it all, and maybe other memories too that we don’t yet know about.

The young couple and Vitus and his wordless servant Thamal seem to be travelling in the same direction, so they all opt to share a carriage. In the lashing rain, however, the carriage overturns in a mudslide.

The driver is killed and Mrs. Allison, the frail little flower-petal, is injured a tiny bit. Vitus says, well, the friend’s house that I’m going to visit is just up the road a piece, come with me and my friend will fix us all up. So that’s what they do…

The ‘friend’ isn’t really a friend at all but Vitus’s worst enemy, the man whose terrible betrayal led to Vitus’s imprisonment for so long. Boris Karloff plays Hjalmar Poelzig, or ‘Pigslowe,’ if you prefer. Just ask Mrs. Allison. She knows what I mean!

Anyway, Poelzig is an architect who has built a very strange, rather futuristic-looking house in a mountainy region on top of Fort Marmarus, which he commanded during the war. Dr. Werdegast was one of his men.

The odd-looking house is surrounded by the graves of hundreds of soldiers who died in the war. It’s a weird, mysterious and atmospheric place, and the perfect location for the dark events that are about to play out there.

Causing Vitus to be imprisoned for so long is only half of what this sinister Poelzig fella has done to poor Vitus. There’s at least one woman in Poelzig’s household who can testify to just what wrongs have been done to her and Vitus and one other party, who shall remain nameless. Vitus is here to revenge himself on Poelzig, but not until the very end of the film does he know to what extent Poelzig has wronged him.

There’s a supernatural element to the film, of course, as Poelzig is involved in some very dodgy practices with their basis in the occult. Mrs. Allison is in grave danger, as Poelzig has decided he likes the look of her and wants to use her in an upcoming ritual. Well, if he needs a bird who can do little else but squawk and swoon into the arms of the nearest bloke, she’ll do just fine.

There is a black cat in the film but he seems to be there only to give Boris the chance to remark sarcastically to a bemused Peter Allison that Bela has a terrible fear of cats. It’s not really integral to the plot.

However, a lot of these old movies liked to be able to say at the beginning of the credits that the movie was inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, whereas in reality the connecting link was often quite tenuous, as it is here. Still, Poe was a popular fellow and, if his name got butts-on-seats, the producers were prepared to use it, see?

The handsome, suave and still young Bela isn’t the villain as such in this one, oddly enough. He wants to avenge himself against the evil Poelzig who is the real villain but, not only that, he’s taken a liking to the pleasant young couple who invited him to share their train compartment and they like him well enough too. (Even though the husband caught Bela stroking the wife’s hair while she was asleep, lol!)

He’s damned if he’s going to let the dastardly Poelzig and his queer V-shaped futuristic hairstyle ruin the young couples’ lives by taking the wife to use as a pawn in his deadly Satanic ritual. The stage is set for a terrific battle of wits between Bela and Boris which might just end in a big bang for someone, but we won’t of course say who. Or is it whom?

Either way, this film is a marvellous watch, with up-tempo classical music playing throughout just as if this were a silent film. Bela is wearing dark lippy and Boris is fully made-up in the style of the stars of silent cinema.

We’re only four years into the talkies by this stage, remember, so the film still retains the look and feel of a silent movie. Luckily for us, though, it’s a talkie and so we get to hear Boris’s charming lithp and Bela talking in his wonderful Dracula voice, which was actually his real accent.

Pre-Code but not, I believe, by much, the film features Satanism, the occult and the skinning alive of a human being and it also hints at abduction, necrophilia, rape and domestic abuse. For a film from the ‘Thirties that’s so old as to be almost a silent movie, it really kicks some serious ass.

What a delicious treat this old black-and-white movie is. It’s only one of a handful of films that were all released with the same title, lol, which must have been terribly confusing for the poor flummoxed viewer. Just how many movies called ‘The Black Cat’ were filmed, anyway? Never mind, dear reader. We don’t need to know. Maybe, as Bela himself remarks in the film, there are more things in heaven and earth…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

VAMPYR. (1932) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Vampyr leone

CARL THEODOR DREYER’S ‘VAMPYR.’ (1932) BASED ON JOSEPH SHERIDAN LE FANU’S WRITINGS, ‘IN A GLASS DARKLY.’ DIRECTED BY CARL THEODOR DREYER.

STARRING JULIAN WEST (BARON NICOLAS DE GUNZBURG), MAURICE SCHUTZ, RENA MANDEL, SYBILLE SCHMITZ, JAN HIERONIMKO, HENRIETTE GERARD AND ALBERT BRAS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘This is the phantasy-experience of young Allan Gray, who engulfed himself in studies of demonology and vampire-lore. Preoccupation with the crazed ideas of past centuries turned him into a dreamer and a fantasist, lost at the border between fantasy and the supernatural.’

This surreal, fog-wreathed German-French early talkie, with so few words of dialogue that it could nearly pass for a silent movie, is the most gorgeous, ethereal and dream-like old vampire film I think I’ve ever seen.

It doesn’t have a linear storyline, in which, say, a Jonathan Harker is ordered by his employer to travel to Transylvania, there to meet with a Count Dracula to discuss a property the Count is desirous of purchasing in England, and then everything that happens after that follows a straight enough course to the climax.

Rather, it’s non-linear and dreamlike, and the lines between fantasy and reality are very much blurred. Also, some of it makes little or no sense but it looks so good ‘n’ spooky that it doesn’t matter in the slightest.

It has a sub-title of THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF ALLAN GRAY, Allan Gray being played by the handsome young aristocrat, Baron Nicolas De Gunzburg, who put up the money for the production in return for being allowed to play the lead role. Well, if it’s your money, then I guess you can ask for that privilege…!

Allan Gray is first seen travelling to an inn close to the village of Courtempierre with his fishing tackle slung over his shoulder. He locks his bedroom door at night because of very uneasy feelings he has about the place, but the sanctity and safety of his chamber is nonetheless breached later that night by a terrified old man.

‘She mustn’t die, do you hear?’ he says cryptically before depositing a wrapped parcel on Allan’s nightstand. ‘TO BE OPENED UPON MY DEATH,’ the old man has written rather ominously on it. It is an ancient book on vampire lore, and the man is the owner of the local chateau, who is at his wits’ end because he and his two adult daughters are under siege by vampires.

Next day, Allan finds this fabulous, rather run-down old chateau, but the master, his nocturnal visitor from last night, has just died in mysterious circumstances. Was he already dead when he came to Allan in the night, begging Allan’s aid for his two daughters? According to the book of ancient vampire lore, much, much stranger things have happened. Allan is involved now, and the fate of the chateau-dwellers is now to be his fate too.

The master’s daughter Leone is confined to bed, her life-blood being drained away from her bit by bit by the local vampire. Two marks like the bite of a rat can be seen on her neck. The scariest sequence in the whole film is when she rises from her sickbed and her eyes follow the progress of an unseen entity around her sickroom, even on the ceiling, while a manic, evil grin adorns her face. Her horrified sister Gisele, played by a beautiful young woman who worked as a Paris photographer’s nude model in real life, looks on helplessly.

Gisele is glad to have Allan’s help with her dreadful problem. The local doctor, played by a Polish poet who’s a dead ringer for Nobel prize-winning scientist Albert Einstein, is in league with the vampire so he’s deliberately not being much help at this terrible time.

The old servant at the chateau is really the hero of the hour. He reads the old book of vampire facts and thus learns what must be done if the chateau, and even the village, is to be saved from this demonic plague of creatures of the night.

He spearheads the operation of tracking the vampire down to an old grave in the churchyard and staking it through the heart with the help of Allan in a scene that bothered the censors greatly back in 1932. He even has a nasty surprise in store for the evil doctor in another scene that drew the censors’ wrath down on the film back in the day.

While Allan is sitting on a bench in the cemetery waiting for the trusty family retainer to bring the staking instruments, he drifts off into two Allans and has an horrific nightmare. He is in his coffin now, not dead but merely paralysed by nefarious means, and he is fully conscious while watching a man above him apply the turnscrew to the coffin nails and lock him away inside his forever-box.

The vampire also looks triumphantly down on him as his coffin screws are nailed down. Then the paralysed Allan sees the sky and the trees above him for the last time as his coffin is carried in a solemn procession to the cemetery. It’s a terrifying scene and one that could easily have inspired film legend Roger Corman when he made THE PREMATURE BURIAL for American International Pictures a few short decades later.

A few random facts about the film now, if you will. No sets were used, the whole thing was shot on location in a real inn, a real but marvellously derelict chateau, a real disused ice-factory (there’s nothing spookier than an abandoned factory, unless it’s an abandoned hospital or mental asylum) and a fully-operational plaster works for the grand finale.

The chateau looks truly magnificent in the film. I especially love the room randomly discovered by Allan in his wanderings (it’s not in the chateau, I think) which contains the old dusty books, the skull and what looks like a child’s skeleton standing intact upon a window-sill. If that’s not a room where you can practise your black magic or study the occult and the dark arts, then I don’t know what is. The whole film is stunning to look at. Catch it if you can at all, that’s my advice to you.

‘Imagine that we are sitting in an ordinary room. Suddenly we are told that there is a corpse behind the door. In an instant, the room we are sitting in is completely altered; everything in it has taken on another look; the light, the atmosphere have changed, though they are physically the same. This is because WE have changed and the objects ARE as we conceive them. That is the effect I want to get in my film.’

Carl Theodor Dreyer on describing to his crew the kind of film he wanted to make.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor