Saturday, August 8, 2020

It's another slow week at The Shadow Over Portland office, dammit.


Well, things don't look much better for most Pacific Northwest Horror/Sci Fi/Fantasy Fans at this time.  Despite one bright spot, the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, BC, having reopened, most other theaters that show classic genre films remain shuttered, and it appears most Halloween attractions are announcing their decision to cancel for 2020. 

What do you mean, no haunted houses?

That's just not right!

Still, you can catch some great new films, as many theaters are opting to release movies online.  If you can support such showings, please do so, as the theaters get a cut of your purchase.  And it might help keep them able to open after the current pandemic is over.  

I really don't have much else to say in this edition of the Weekly Update, except to stay safe, keep social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands, and let's all do our best to make Halloween Happen! 

From Ashland, OR, to Vancouver, BC, The Shadow Over Portland has you covered!!

Now Showing/Streaming

Gremlins: A Puppet Story is now streaming, thanks to the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, OR.  Narrated by Chris Walas, Oscar winning special effects master, this is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Joe Dante's classic film Gremlins, and includes incredibly rare photos and videos from Walas' personal archive.  For more details and ticket sales, visit The Hollywood Theatre website

UPDATE: Steaming has been extended to Thursday, August 13.

The Grand Illusion Cinema (1403 NE 50th St in Seattle, WA) is still closed due to the pandemic, but you can stream movies to you home and help support the theater.  Through August 6, you can screen the possession thriller Amulet, directed by Romola Garai, in the comfort of your home.  For more details and to purchase "admission" to the streaming service, visit The Grand Illusion Cinema website and scroll down.

The 99W Drive-In (Hwy 99W (AKA Portland Rd), just west of N. Springbrook Rd) will screen the family sci fi classics ET The Extra-Terrestrial and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back through Sunday.  Showtime is about 9 pm.  The drive-in isn't using a reservation system, but can fit up to 200 vehicles a night.  For more details, visit the Facebook Event Page.


The Grand Illusion Cinema (1403 NE 50th St in Seattle, WA) is still closed due to the pandemic, but you can stream movies to you home and help support the theater.  Through August 20, you can screen writer/director Emily Harris' 2019 version of Sheridan Le Fanu's classic Carmilla in the comfort of your home.  The film focuses on fifteen-year-old Lara (Hannah Rae), isolated from the outside world in her father's vast country estate, and by her strict governess Miss Fontaine (Jessica Raine), until a late night carriage crash brings Carmilla (Devrim Lingnau) into her world.  For more details and to purchase "admission" to the streaming service, visit The Grand Illusion Cinema website and scroll down.

Cancellations/Rescheduled Events


Rose City Comic Con 2020 has been cancelled.  The event return to Portland on September 10 in 2021.  If you have tickets, visit the official website for information on refunds or transferring your ticket to next year's event. 

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The Emerald City Comic Con, scheduled for August 21 to 23, has been cancelled.  The next ECCC will take place March 4 to 7, 2021.  Keep checking back here for more details, at ECCC Facebook Page or the ECCC website.

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Crypticon Seattle has been cancelled for this year.  The con will be back April 30 to May 2 of 2021.  But the con plans some online content this year, and an outdoor festival screening around the weekend of September 18.  For more details on these events, visit the Crypticon Seattle Facebook Page, or the official website.

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The Vampire's Masquerade Ball has been rescheduled from July 25 to Saturday, May 29, 2021.  The event will take place for 9 pm to 2 am at the Portland Art Museum (1119 SW Park Ave in Portland, OR).  For all the details on the rescheduling, visit the Vampire's Masquerade Ball PDX Facebook Page.

The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957)



Good movies about the Yeti or Bigfoot are rare.  Many attempts come off like 1970's motorcycle gang verses monster film Bigfoot, but you can find gems like 2006's Abominable, a solid horror action film that is surprisingly underappreciated.  Hammer's The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas is another example of a good Yeti film, though it's about the creatures in the snow and more about the monsters that share your campsite. 

The film opens with Dr. John Rollason (Peter FREAKING Cushing), his wife Helen, (Maureen Connell), and his assistant Peter Fox (Richard Wattis), who are on a botanical expedition to the Himalayas.  While at the monastery of Rong-buk, they meet another expedition lead by Dr. Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) searching for the legendary Yeti.  Rollason decides to join Friend's expedition, despite protests from Helen, Peter and the Lama (Arnold Marle).  And so they set out to find the creature, which they do when a member of the expedition kills a Yeti exploring their camp.  
 
As expected, mayhem ensues.

Yeah, it's a quick and brief plot synopsis, rather unheard of on this site.  But it pretty much covers what happens in this film.  The surprising thing is the mayhem isn't caused by the Yeti, or even the brutal conditions such an expedition would face on the mountain.  To be honest, both are more a McGuffin for the main conflict of the story, the clash between scientific study verses commercial exploitation.

Think of it, man.
We'd be bigger than Carl Denham.

This means you should expect a lack of Yeti action in this film, despite what the poster might suggest.  The titular creature doesn't show up until the last five minutes of the film, and are mostly cloaked in shadows.  Man against a force of nature isn't the point of the script.  The central conflict is how man can either learn from, or exploit nature.  And Friend is willing to resort to some pretty horrible acts to get what he wants.  The film's conclusion is solid, siding against the exploitation of nature, no matter the cost to scientific exploration.  Humanity's nature is too greedy, and some things are best left alone.

The script was written by Nigel Kneale, based a similar television movie he scripted called The Creature.  According to internet sources, the film follows most of the beats from the earlier production, though the character of Helen was added for the film.  And Wayne Kinsey, in his book Hammer Films: The Unsung Heroes, wrote that scripts paint the Yeti not as a monster, but a being better than humanity.  I can only speak for the movie version, but as both were written by Kneale, I'm going to assume the two share such similarities.

Should that be the case, I wish Kneale had found a way to keep Rollason devolving into a guest on an episode of Ancient Aliens on The History Channel.  At first, he's portrayed as a serious scientist, gathering evidence on how Yetis might survive on the mountain.  But once Rollason does a brief visual examination of the dead Yeti's face, he begins spouting pseudo-science babble, claiming the creature is over a hundred years old, smarter than humans, probably telepathic and just waiting for humanity to die off before leaving the mountain to populate the Earth.  
 
Yeah, all that after view a Yeti corpse for a few seconds.  While Cushing delivers the lines with a sense of sincerity and conviction, as you'd expect, his proclamations falls flat.  It's basic 50s SCIENCE, rather than actual science, and clashes with the tone of the script.
One can only guess what Rollason would have to say about this Yeti hand.
Possibly something like, "Oh look, they are starting an arms race with us!"

But the conflict between Rollason and Friend makes up the meat of the script, and you'll be surprised how captivating their interactions become.  No surprise that Cushing is terrific in his role, but Tucker is equally good.  The two verbally clash, but are never over-the-top, even as Rollason discovers more of Friend's shady past.  And while some of the revelations might make you want to punch Friend at a point, remember Rollason is near the top of a mountain, making his more docile tone reveal how dependent he is on Friend for his survival.   

Fun little fact about Kneale's reaction to having an American cast in the film.  As you might know, the casting of Brian Donlevy in The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass 2 bothered Kneale.  But he was fine with Tucker being cast, as he felt an American would come off better as the brash explorer looking to exploit nature, rather than learn from it. 

And yes, I've seen some criticism of the film concerning how unsavory the members of the American expedition are portrayed, but I don't feel it's justified.  I do understand why some are taken aback by it, as they don't want to see Americans portrayed in such a villainous manner, but this is a British film and it is how a different country perceives us.  I've seen enough world cinema to know we're not always viewed in the most positive light.  And while it might sting a bit, one must remember American use similar stereotyping of other nationalities in the same manner as this film.  Rather than dismiss such portrayals outright, it's better to realize Americans are not always viewed positively by other countries and understand the reasons for such portrayals.

I'm an American, I've got a gun, and I don't have to take this anymore!

As I mentioned earlier, the character of Helen was an addition to the film's script, but it works.  Connell is no damsel in distress, even though she's left with the Lama as Rollason heads out with Friend's expedition.  However, once her husband is missing, she's the driving force to mount a rescue, despite Fox's objections.  Connell is terrific in the role, allowed to be as capable, or more so, than most of the men in the film.

The Shout Factory release is full of great extras.  It includes, as a special feature, a full HD version, which is incomplete, and a version with five minutes added from a "standard definition source."  I would suggest watching the more complete source, as any picture quality differences wasn't noticeable to me.  But that was likely from being too engrossed with the story to worry about any subtle changes. Other extras include an audio commentary with filmmaker/film historian Ted Newsom, an audio commentary with director Val Guest and screenwriter Nigel Kneale, a theatrical trailer and more.

The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas might not be an action pack Yeti film, but most of those don't really work anyway.  By focusing on an expedition setting out to discover a new species, and the driving force behind the different member, the film starts questioning the importance of scientific discover, when pitted against those eager to exploit such finds.  And, as expected, humanity comes up lacking.

If you'd like to purchase a copy of The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, consider clicking on the Amazon link below.  I'll get a bit of the sale, which will help keep The Shadow Over Portland up and running.

Well, once I figure out how to get it running.  Seems to be some issues.



Thursday, July 30, 2020

More rescheduled events and more drive-in films are happening under The Shadow Over Portland!


Yes, more events have rescheduled, but several have plans to stream movies and events.  So while you might not get the complete con/festival experience, at least you can still enjoy some great content in the comfort of your living room.

What do you mean, no one remembered popcorn?!?!

And if you're tired of hanging around the house, plenty of pop-up drive-ins are springing up and many are showing some great films.  You'll find a few in this edition of the Weekly Update, but be sure to check out the Horror/Sci Fi/Fantasy Calendar for more coming in the next month.

Remember, if you know of something happening in the Pacific Northwest, you can email me at shadowoverportland@live.com, or message me on Facebook.  Provide details and promotional artwork, and I'll post it on the calendar ASAP.

And be safe out there.  Wear your mask, continue social distancing, wash your hands and LET'S MAKE HALLOWEEN HAPPEN!!

From Ashland, OR, to Vancouver, BC, The Shadow Over Portland has you covered

Now Showing/Streaming

Gremlins: A Puppet Story streams through Thursday, July 23, thanks to the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, OR.  Narrated by Chris Walas, Oscar winning special effects master, this is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Joe Dante's classic film Gremlins, and includes incredibly rare photos and videos from Walas' personal archive.  For more details and ticket sales, visit The Hollywood Theatre website

UPDATE: Steaming has been extended to Thursday, August 6.

The Grand Illusion Cinema (1403 NE 50th St in Seattle, WA) is still closed due to the pandemic, but you can stream movies to you home and help support the theater.  Through August 6, you can screen the possession thriller Amulet, directed by Romola Garai, in the comfort of your home.  For more details and to purchase "admission" to the streaming service, visit The Grand Illusion Cinema website and scroll down.

Cancellations/Rescheduled Events


Rose City Comic Con 2020 has been cancelled.  The event return to Portland on September 10 in 2021.  If you have tickets, visit the official website for information on refunds or transferring your ticket to next year's event. 

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The Emerald City Comic Con, scheduled for August 21 to 23, has been cancelled.  The next ECCC will take place March 4 to 7, 2021.  Keep checking back here for more details, at ECCC Facebook Page or the ECCC website.

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Crypticon Seattle has been cancelled for this year.  The con will be back April 30 to May 2 of 2021.  But the con plans some online content this year, and an outdoor festival screening around the weekend of September 18.  For more details on these events, visit the Crypticon Seattle Facebook Page, or the official website.

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The Vampire's Masquerade Ball has been rescheduled from July 25 to Saturday, May 29, 2021.  The event will take place for 9 pm to 2 am at the Portland Art Museum (1119 SW Park Ave in Portland, OR).  For all the details on the rescheduling, visit the Vampire's Masquerade Ball PDX Facebook Page.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Finally, I have some new events to share!


It's been a while since I last worked on the Horror/Sci Fi/Fantasy Calendar, and it was probably for the best.  With the lockdown, changes at work and the shear amount of events being postponed or cancelled, it made for a pretty depressing, challenging couple of month.

Me, wilting under all the stress caused by the pandemic,
or melting in the current heat wave in Portland?
Actually, it works either way. 

And, while I hate to admit we might have more disappointments coming our way in 2020, at least this edition of the Weekly Update has some bright spots.  Chris Walas' film, Gremlins: A Puppet Story, is streaming through Thursday thanks to the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, OR.  The 99W Drive-In in Newburg, OR, is showing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Raiders of the Lost Ark this weekend, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show in September.  Finally, Movies at Marymoor Park in Redmond, WA, has some great films on their drive-in schedule.

Of course, several events have been rescheduled, and you can check out the 2021 section of the calendar for all the updates.  I expect more are coming, and I'll keep the Cancellations/Rescheduled Events section updated as I get word on any changes.

I'll do my best to keep up on all the events, both in person and streaming, but I could use your help.  If you are hosting an event, or know of one, email me at shadowoverportland@live.com with the details and promotional artwork, and I'll get it on the calendar as soon as possible.  I don't want anything slipping through the cracks, even as venues are changing how they get the word out to people.

You can also Message me on Facebook (my current page is Chris McMillan, and you'll notice I'm a BIG Creature from the Black Lagoon fan if you check out my page), but I plan to create a The Shadow Over Portland page later this summer. 

That said, I'm back, I'll do my best to get back to posting updates every Wednesday, and hope every one is safe and healthy.  Take care, Pacific Northwest Horror/Sci Fi/Fantasy Fans, and I'll see you next week!

Until then, wear a mask, keep up social distancing, wash your hands and LET'S MAKE HALLOWEEN HAPPEN!!

From Ashland, OR, to Vancouver, BC, The Shadow Over Portland has you covered.


Now Showing/Streaming

Gremlins: A Puppet Story streams through Thursday, July 23, thanks to the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, OR.  Narrated by Chris Walas, Oscar winning special effects master, this is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Joe Dante's classic film Gremlins, and includes incredibly rare photos and videos from Walas' personal archive.  For more details and ticket sales, visit The Hollywood Theatre website

Cancellations/Rescheduled Events


Rose City Comic Con 2020 has been cancelled.  The event return to Portland on September 10 in 2021.  If you have tickets, visit the official website for information on refunds or transferring your ticket to next year's event. 

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The Emerald City Comic Con, scheduled for August 21 to 23, has been cancelled.  The next ECCC will take place March 4 to 7, 2021.  Keep checking back here for more details, at ECCC Facebook Page or the ECCC website.

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Crypticon Seattle has been cancelled for this year.  The con will be back April 30 to May 2 of 2021.  But the con plans some online content this year, and an outdoor festival screening around the weekend of September 18.  For more details on these events, visit the Crypticon Seattle Facebook Page, or the official website.

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The Vampire's Masquerade Ball has been rescheduled from July 25 to Saturday, May 29, 2021.  The event will take place for 9 pm to 2 am at the Portland Art Museum (1119 SW Park Ave in Portland, OR).  For all the details on the rescheduling, visit the Vampire's Masquerade Ball PDX Facebook Page.

Film Submissions

Submissions are being accepted for the 2020 H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, OR, and the third biennial H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Providence, RI.  And the stars have aligned for you, as you only need to click this FilmFreeway link for all the details on submitting your Lovecraftian short or feature film to BOTH festivals.  Final submission date is July 28, 2020.

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From the people who created the HUMP film festival comes SLAY, a chance for you to make a short horror film (up to 8 minutes in length) and possibly win some cash!  Your film can be terrifying or funny, gory or campy, animated, or whatever your twisted mind can think of.  Prizes will be awarded for the Goriest, Funniest and Scariest film, along with a Best in Show award.  The submission date is Friday, August 7, 2020 at 5 pm PST, and the films will be screened in Portland and Seattle on October 17, 2020.  For more details, visit the SLAY Film Fest website.

July, 2020

Thursday, July 23

The 99W Drive-In (on Highway 99W (AKA Portland Rd), Just west of N Springbrook Rd in Newberg, OR) is showing the best films from two different franchises through July 27.  Catch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Raiders of the Lost Ark this weekend starting around 9:15 pm.  While the drive-in isn't using a reserve system, only 200 vehicles will be able to fit into the lot per night.  Also, the films will not be shown on Saturday night due to a concert film event.  For more details, visit the Facebook Event Page.

Saturday, July 25

Wyrd War (3505 NE Broadway St in Portland, OR) celebrates the one year anniversary of their brick and mortar gallery with Occult Roots of Atavism: Ephemera and Iconography from the Metal Punk Underground today starting at noon.  Only five guest will be admitted into the gallery at a time and masks are required (one will be provided if you don't have one).  For more details on the event, visit the Facebook Event Page.
August, 2020

Wednesday, August 12

Movies at Marymoor Park (6046 W Lake Sammamish Pkway NE in Redmond, WA) presents Raiders of the Lost Art tonight, starting at about 8:30 pm.  Tickets are $25 per carload, but advance purchases are recommended, as space is limited.  For more details, and the official links for ticket sales, visit the Facebook Event Page.

Sunday, August 16


The Meadowlark Comic Con takes place today at the Ramada Medford Hotel and Convention Center (2250 Biddle Rd in Medford, OR).  Guests include Jackey Neyman Jones (Debbie in Manos: The Hands of Fate and Manos Returns, Beyond the Wall of Fear, Dark Zone Thirteen), Eric Roberts (Sharktopus, The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence)) and Eliza Roberts (Schlock, Animal House).  For more details, visit the official website or the Facebook Event Page.

UPDATE: On Monday, July 20, the Meadowlark Comic Con Facebook Page announced a COVID update will be coming soon.   Check the link later in the week for any update.

September, 2020

Friday, September 11

The 99W Drive-In (Hwy 99W (AKA Portland Rd), just west of N Springbrook Rd in Newberg, OR) screens The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with The Denton Delinquents shadow casting the film, tonight and tomorrow.  Due to social distancing, you will have to stay in your car this year.  A second feature has yet to be announced, so keep checking back here, or at the Facebook Event Page, for updates.

 

Monday, July 20, 2020

The Vampire Lovers (1970)


My first viewing of The Vampire Lovers was courtesy of a MGM Movies 4 You Horror pack, including three other films.  I loved the movie, but the audio track sounded like it was recorded in a busy hanger at an airport, with a loud roaring infusing every second (to be fair, the other films didn't have the same issue).  Thankfully, Scream Factory released a superb Blu-ray version several years back, and I couldn't be happier.

Based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla, this film kicked off Hammer's Karnstein Trilogy, which included Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil.  It's also one of the most faithful adaptation of the novella, complete with Carmilla's victims dreaming of a giant cat.  Seriously.

The film opens in 19th century Styria, as Baron Hortog (Douglas Wilmer, Octopussy, Jason and the Argonauts, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) is hunting his sister, who has become a vampire.  He's successful, however, you know he didn't complete the job, as the movie jumps several years ahead at the party of General Spielsdorf (Peter FREAKING Cushing).  A Countess (Dawn Addams, The Vault of Horror), who is attending the party, must leave suddenly to aid a sick friend, and asks the general if she might leave her daughter Marcilla (Ingrid FREAKING Pitt) in his care.  The general is happy to be of assistance, and Marcilla becomes friends with his daughter, Laura (Pippa Steel, AKA Pippa Steele, Lust for a Vampire).  Villagers start dying, as well as Laura, while Marcilla disappears.

Oh, I should mention the appearance of a mysterious vampire on horseback (credited as Man in Black), who shows up briefly.  Well, that's all I'm going to say about him, as he doesn't really do much.

Anyway, the Countess meets Roger Morton (George Cole, Fright, Mary Reilly) after he comes across her broken-down carriage.  She has to depart at all haste, asks Morton to watch her daughter (now named Carmilla), who promptly befriends and seduces his daughter Emma (Madeline Smith, Theater of Blood, Live and Let Die, Taste the Blood of Dracula)...

Yeah, you know where this is going.  Vampire mayhem ensues, the General and the Baron get involved and all race to stop Carmilla from taking Emma and continuing the cycle.

 Just lie back and relax.
And just ignore my teeth in your neck.

As you might expect from Hammer at the time, the film looks gorgeous.  The sets and locations look perfect and the costumes are terrific.  Director Roy Ward Baker (Quatermass and the Pit, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires) keeps the film aligned with the Gothic look of Hammer films at the time.  But he's no Terence Fisher, so the movie just looks fine and little more.

Hammer co-produced the film with American International, who was looking for more explicit films to bring in the audience.  And my, did Hammer deliver, with several scenes featuring graphic (for the time) nudity.  In the book Hammer Glamour, Smith remembers being told by producer Michael Style that the scenes were intended for the Japanese version, which obviously wasn't the case.  She also claims that, at the time, she was so naive that she didn't know what a lesbian was and had no idea what was happening as the giant cat spread across her while she was in bed.

Pitt is wonderful as the vampire seductress.  She's able to convey the right mix of tenderness and predatory actions that makes you wonder if she was planning to spend an undead life with Emma.  Her performance, and her willingness to disrobe, made her the perfect choice for Hammer's Countess Dracula, which was release the following year.

And, as one would expect, Cushing steals the show whenever he's on screen.  Though his role is limited to the start and the climax of the film, one can't imagine this movie being as well remembered without his presence. 

Don't worry, I'm a professional.
I've done this in countless other films.

Smith is perfect as the wide eyed innocent unaware of the vampire in her bedroom, but her performance seems due to her naivety than any actual acting skill (for a much better performance by Smith, check out Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell).  The rest of the cast is fine, but are dealing with rather bland characters who exist only to move the plot along.  It's no fault of theirs, as the script gives them very little to work with, but they do their best.

I mentioned the giant cat twice now, so let's talk about it.  It works in Le Fanu's story, because he doesn't have to show it.  The film does convey the idea of a cat covering Carmilla's victims, but the cinematic results look more like an oversized fur coat pulled over them.  I assume Hammer used it as a way to avoid having Pitt crawling into her victim's bed and causing further issues with the censors.  And Hammer knew they were pushing the limits, as British Board of Film Censors' John Trevelyan had issues with the script, shown to him before production started.  Fortunately, he backed off when the studio informed him the lesbianism was present in the original work, so what could they do, and the filmmakers using the cat imagery to keep the censors at bay.

As for the lesbianism in the film, I'm sure you can find countless other sources delving into the subject in more scholarly details.  But one thing I found interesting is, in the film, Carmilla has no problem killing men, but they tend to be one bite stands (okay, that was bad, I won't do it again).  As for the women in the film, including Emma's governess Mademoiselle Perrodot (Kate O'Mara), Carmilla's attention lingers, seducing and slowly draining them of blood.  And while Perrodot is dispatched quickly as the film reaches its climax, I found myself wishing the filmmakers took a bit more time with Emma and Carmilla before they attempted to flee the Baron's house.  Such a moment could have cemented the sense I got that Carmilla is bringing Emma with her out of love, rather than lust or revenge, and made for a bit more tragic ending.

Of course, the men have to end Carmilla's undead existence and restore the proper order to society.  But again, that's only implied, as the men around Emma seem to be oblivious to the developing relationship between the two.  Still, as with Le Fanu's novella, the subtext is there, whether you want to see it or not.

I have dreams about this moment.
And no, it's not a nightmare. 

The last film produced by Hammer with US backers, The Vampire Lovers is, in a way, the start of the fabled studio's decline.  The studio tried to recapture their audience, which had grown tired of Gothic horror, by bringing Dracula into 1970s London, mixing vampires with kung fu action, and ample amounts of female nudity.  But those plans failed and in 1979, Hammer closed down for almost three decades. And even now, the studio is struggling to find a way to entice audiences into the theaters.

But if you enjoy watching Hammer's glory days, you should add The Vampire Lovers to your collection.  Scream Factory delivers a gorgeous wide-screen transfer on a disc packed with lots of great extras, including Pitt reading Carmilla and an interview with Smith. Worth a purchase, even if you double dip as I did!

Well, I guess we all know how Hammer tried to sell this film!

If you'd like to buy The Vampire Lovers for your collection, click on the link below and I'll get a few cents from your purchase.  I'm sorry to say, at this time, only the multi-region version is available through Amazon, and it's more expensive than the Region 1 Blu-Ray.  If you want to rent the film instead, visit the second link below.






Thursday, July 16, 2020

Island of Terror (1966)



Being a Monster Kid in Portland, OR, during the 1970s was tough.  Local television stations didn't ever show Hammer horror films, and catching a classic Universal films was a rarity.  When I was in my mid-teens, I was able to watch KATU's Sinister Cinema late Saturday nights, and they did show some fun, but not very memorable films.  But it was very rare to see something like Bride of Frankenstein or anything that might cost a bit of money to pay for screening rights.

But KPTV, at the time an independent station, was the go-to station on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.  Sure, the station would repeat films every year, but some of these movies were AWESOME, and often screened uncut.  And that how I first saw Island of Terror, with the hand whacking moment intact.  It stuck in my mind for years, and a recent re-watch confirms why this film is a must see for classic monster movie fans.  Sure, it's not perfect, but director Terence Fisher keeps things moving and the cast is solid, making the film perfect to watch with a bowl of popcorn and your favorite beverage.

The film opens on Petrie's Island off the coast of Ireland, where residents watch a shipment to Dr. Lawrence Phillips, an oncologist seeking a cure for cancer, being loaded up from a boat for transport to his secluded laboratory.

As you might expect, things don't go well in the lab, which we discover right before a distracting smash cut to the opening credits.  It's jarring and feels more appropriate for the Thunderbirds TV series (which was on air around the same time).  Seriously, watch it and tell me what you think.

Sure, maybe we should wait, but let's not.
What could go wrong?

Soon after, a local walking home at night investigates a cave after hearing something strange within.  Of course, that doesn't end well, as we hear what happens to him and it sounds pretty gruesome.

I do love when sound effects are used instead of visually showing what happens.  It increases the tension when the sound mixing is good (and in this case, it's amazing) and allows one's imagination to speculate on the gory happenings.  It feels like such a lost art in this age of visual effects.

Anyway, the man's wife contacts the local constable, John Harris (Sam Kydd, Moon Zero Two, The Projected Man), who sets out on his bicycle to find the missing man.  Oh, I forgot to mention how isolated this island is, as the locals explain as they watch the shipment to Dr. Phillips being loaded onto a truck.  A weekly ferry, no phone lines, a generator responsible for the electricity.  Yep, they are totally isolated, unless you remember the other island across the water and all the fishing boats moored on the dock.

But let's not nitpick right now, as the Constable finds the missing man in a rather deflated state.  The island's physician, Dr. Reginald Landers, (Eddie Byrne, Star Wars: A New Hope, Jack the Ripper, Hammer's The Mummy) performs an autopsy and finds the corpse is lacking any bones.  Stymied by the autopsy, Landers decides to take the only boat on the island (a bit of a problem for me, as I explained above) to seek the opinion of London pathologist Dr. Brian Stanley (Peter FREAKING Cushing).  Stanley suggest they consult Dr. David West (Edward Judd, First Men in the Moon, The Vault of Horror), a specialist on bone disease.  But they find West a bit busy with his date, wealthy debutante Toni Merrill (Carole Gray, Curse of the Fly, The Brides of Fu Manchu), who is dressed in one of West's shirts after he spilled wine on her dress earlier.

Might as well get the scantily dressed woman scene
out of the way now. 

West is intrigued by the case and agrees to head to the island to investigate.  Toni suggests taking her father's helicopter, which will be quicker than the boat Landers took, as long as she can come along.  But, surprise, the helicopter must return to the mainland, as her father is using it the next day, which strands them on the island.

Yeah, I know you're not really surprised.  And, as this is before cellphones, the lack of land lines to the mainland means they'll have to wait for the helicopter to return the following day for any contact with the mainland. 

Unless someone had a shortwave radio, which you'd expect from such an isolated place.  Oh, sorry, another nitpick.  Let's go on...

West is amazed by the lack of bones in the corpse, and decides that he and Stanley should visit Phillips lab, where they find more boneless bodies.  Taking Phillips' notes, the two try to figure out what happened and how it might connect to the boneless corpse.

Remember, kids, if you go into dark caves at night,
this could happen to you!

Well, it appears Phillips created what are dubbed "silicates," seemingly large single celled organisms that inject a bone-dissolving enzyme into their victims via tentacles sprouting from their heads, than sucking out the sweet bone juice.  And, though the creatures are able to multiply via basic cell division, their hard outer shell makes them impervious to firearms and explosives.  As the silicates move from the isolated lab to the village, the residents only hope is if West and Stanley can discover the creature's weakness, based on the one dead silicate they discovered.

Of course, mayhem ensues.

Okay, this might not be a great film, but it's damn fun.  Director Fisher keeps the film moving at a good pace, with only one scene, as West and Stanley gear up to go into the radioactive storage unit in Phillip's lab, that comes across as an effort to pad out the running time.  The acting is solid all around.  Bryne is good as a country doctor, Judd hits the right amount of arrogance as a specialist, and the supporting cast playing the locals are solid. Even Gray, who's only character traits are to look pretty and scream, does her best with her limited role.

But, as expected, Cushing steals the show.  He has a terrific line as the group boards the helicopter that I'm not going to spoil, and many other great moments throughout the film.  That's not to distract from the rest of the cast, but it's Peter FREAKING Cushing, and you expect him to dominate every scene he's in.

I'm here to stop your reign of terror, Count Dracula.
Oh, terribly sorry, wrong movie. 

So, let's talk about the silicates, the giant single celled organisms threatening the islanders.  When I saw the film on TV in my very early teens, they are terrifying creatures, dividing every six hours to increase their numbers into an unstoppable army.  But now, with a bit of time and college behind me, I realize the idea of such beings able to withstand blunt trauma, gunfire and explosives is pretty far fetched.  Yes, single celled organisms can have tough cell walls, but I doubt it would survive extreme attempts to penetrate it, should such an organism grow to almost human size.  But if you can accept the SCIENCE (you don't say it, you shout it) of the classic 50s monster films, you'll be fine.

I know some reviewers dislike the scene of a silicate splitting on screen, saying it looks like someone poured thick chicken noodle soup onto two models.  I won't argue with that, but given the film's budget, and the time it was made, the effect is fine.  Sure, I'd have loved to see what Rob Botin might have done with the effect, had it been remade in the 80s. 

Sponsored by Campbell soup.
It's mmm mmm good!

The film was released in the United States as a double bill with The Projected Man by Universal Studios.  It seems to have faded into monster movie history for a while, as most legitimate DVD releases were for Region 2 players.  But Scream Factory has released it on Blu-Ray, with the dismemberment scene intact.  The film looks beautiful, and the special features includes a commentary from film historian Dr. Robert J. Kiss and blogger/actor Rick Pruitt, a still gallery and a theatrical trailer.  It also features a reversible cover, which you will want to check out.  Seriously, I switch mine right away, as the second version (unfortunately, I can not find the artist's name) is superior to the retool poster art.  And no, it's not the one at the start of this review.

If you're in the mood for a decent 60s monster movie, Island of Terror is a great choice.  Put your brain on hold, let the magic of 50s SCIENCE take over, and watch Peter Cushing lead a bunch of people against an unstoppable force.  And if you add a bowl of sugary cereal, it might just make you feel like you did watching creature features on a Saturday morning!

So, we're heading to an isolated island with the corpse of a man with no bones?
Let's do it!  What could possibly go wrong?

If you're interested, check out Monster Kid Radio #459, as host Derek M. Koch and artist/filmmaker Frank Dietz discuss the film.  If you're a fan of the classic, and not so classic, monster movies of the past, you need to check it out!

If you want to purchase a copy of Island of Terror, please consider clicking on the link below.  As an Amazon Associate, I'll get a few cents from the sale, which will help keep the lights on at The Shadow Over Portland office.




Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)



The Satanic Rites of Dracula isn't a favorite among Hammer fans.  And I will admit, it's not the best of the series.  But it has some solid moments, several well shot action sequences, and the best interaction between Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing of any of the Hammer Dracula films.  And, now that Warner Bros. has released a Blu-Ray version, it might be time to add it to your collection.

Just so you know, I bought this after listening to Derek M. Koch talk about on his podcast, Monster Kid Radio, back during The Satanic Rites of January themed month.  You can find all the January episodes at this link, including when Derek and I talk about The Devil's Rain.  Seriously, if you love classic genre films, check out MKR.  With his rotating roster of guests, Derek delivers great podcasts every damn week.  And if you enjoy what you're listening to, let Derek know you heard about it at The Shadow Over Portland.

Okay, on with the review.

The film opens in an occult ceremony in an English country home, where four prominent men are witnessing a woman fatally stabbed, yet returning to life.  Meanwhile, in an upstairs room, a MI6 agent, held captive, escapes and manages to reach his superiors before dying.  Upon developing photos taken by their agent, Inspector Murray of Scotland Yard (Michael Coles, playing the character he portrayed in Dracula AD 1972) to minimize any reprisals from the minister seen in the dead agent's photos.  Murray suggest contacting occult expert Professor Lorrimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, playing the same Van Helsing descendant from AD 1972).

Jane (Valerie Van Ost), a secretary present at the meeting, is kidnapped on her way home and is later bitten by Dracula (Christopher Lee).  Murray, Agent Torrence (William Franklyn) and Van Helsing's granddaughter Jessica (Joanna Lumley, replacing Stephanie Beacham from AD 1972) arrive at the house.  While Murray and Torrence enter the house to question cult leader Chin Yang (Barbara Yu Ling), Jessica disregards the men's instructions to stay at the car and enters the basement of the house.  And while she easily avoids the security measures in place, she finds herself overwhelmed by a room full of female vampires, including Jessica.  Upon hearing her screams, Murray and Torrence enter the basement, stake Jane and escape.

I liked you better before you met Dracula,
to tell you the TOOTH.
Yep, that one was bad.

Meanwhile, Van Helsing is visiting his friend Julian Keeley (Freddie Jones), a scientist and one of the four men in the photos taken by the dead agent.  Keeley is designing a virulent strain of the bubonic plague, but before Van Helsing can get more details, he is shot in the head by an intruder.

And you know no screenwriter would ever kill Peter Cushing this early in a Dracula film.  Awaking from the grazing shot, Van Helsing finds Keeley hung as if he'd committed suicide, and the plague samples missing.  Searching the scientist's notes, Van Helsing heads to the office of reclusive property developer D. D. Denham, who funded Keeley's work.

I'll give you one guess as to the real identity of D. D. Denham.  As for his plans, well, you just have to watch the movie.

What, my clever light placement and American accent isn't 
enough to hide my identity?

You can find an inferior version of this film in some Mill Creek collections.  The film is often given its American title, Count Dracula and his Vampire Bride, an edited version release by Dynamite Entertainment in 1979.  The film was green lit before AD 1972 was shot, as everyone expected Dracula's first excursion into the modern age to more successful than the box office results show.  So it took over four years, and an independent distributor, to bring the film to the US, resulting in the film's public domain status.  But I suggest you spring for the Warner Bros. Archive Collection Blu-Ray version released in late 2018.  While it lacks any extras, other than a trailer, it's a beautiful transfer and the best version of the film available.

So you might be wondering why you purchase a copy of a film that Lee, in his autobiography Christopher Lee: Tall, Dark and Gruesome, considers the moment he decided to never revisit the character unless the script was more inline with Stoker's novel.  Well, as I said, the transfer is terrific, presenting some terrific stunts in all their glory.  Also, the mix of police procedural, sci fi and horror is a lot of fun if you're willing to accept the classic Gothic films earlier in the series weren't working and Hammer was trying to forge a new direction for the series. 

Director Alan Gibson (AD 1972) does some solid work, while screenwriter Don Houghton (AD 1972) mixes all the elements well.  Having Murray return to the series avoids the need to have the often awkward scene where the main characters must convince the authorities that supernatural beings exist in modern times.  And the script avoids the major flaw of Dracula AD 1972, which was targeted a younger audience, but had someone's grandfather rush in to save the day.  Just not the way to go, even if that grandfather is played by Peter Cushing.

But this man could beat Chuck Norris.
And I mean it.

But the main reason to add this version to your library is to watch Lee and Cushing.  The two spend more time on screen time together than in their previous two Dracula films (Dracula/Horror of Dracula and Dracula AD 1972) combined.  Okay, I haven't check the timing, but it feels longer and damn it, the two get to verbally spar rather than shout and growl at each other.  The scene with Van Helsing questioning Denhem, even though we all know who is really on the other side of the desk, makes me wish someone had written a scene with Dracula posing as a nobleman earlier in the series, while Van Helsing suspects his true identity.  As we don't have that, this film will have to do, and it's worth the purchase price for that moment, as well as the moment when Van Helsing foils Dracula's plans and the townhouse is burning to the ground around them.

And, honestly, it was great to hear the three note "Drac-U-La" back in the opening credit score, after being ditched in Dracula AD 1972.  Composer John Cacavas merges that element of James Bernard's classic score seamlessly into a more modern opening track, and the results are amazing.

All that said, the final moment is a bit of a letdown.  Having Dracula stumble into a Hawthorn tree (which can kill a vampire in Serbian folklore, and is believed to be the source of the crown of thorns placed upon Jesus during his crucifixion, linking it to other religious icons reported to thwart vampires) and be so incapacitated that Van Helsing can easily stake him, is a bit of a let down.  I'd rather the film end in the fiery townhouse.  But though it doesn't stick the landing, the film is still a lot of fun.

Taken out by a shrubbery.  
The Knights Who Say Ni are laughing their asses off.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula can't be compared to Hammer's glorious earlier films, when the studio was breaking new grounds in horror cinema.  By the late 60s, the Gothic horror was subverted by more modern tales of terror, and Hammer was struggling to stay relevant.  But this film is a decent attempt to bring Dracula into the modern age, and deserves a second look.  And if you're like me, you can't get enough of Cushing and Lee onscreen playing a verbal cat-and-mouse game, rather than another staging of a great action moment.  Sure, the opening to Dracula AD 1972 is amazing, but it's too cool just watching them verbally spar.

Oh, you know you want to know what Dracula is shouting.
Yes, you do.

I'm serious, pick up the Blu-Ray version.  It looks AMAZING, and if you buy it from the link below, you'll send a few cents my way.  And I thank you for that.