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Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)

This may be the most awesomely bad poster ever.
This may be the most awesomely bad poster ever.

“The only man alive feared by the walking dead!”
This is blatant false advertising; they’ve clearly never heard of him.

Directed by Brian Clemens
Starring Horst Janson, Caroline Munro, John Cater and Wanda Ventham

A small village in Transylwherever is plagued by a rash of early onset old age, so local physician Doctor Marcus (John Carson) calls on the aid of his old army buddy, the often shirtless Captain Kronos (Janson). Kronos and his friend, the hunchbacked Professor Hieronymus Grost (Cater), arrive with all speed – stopping only to rescue a girl named Carla (Munro) sentenced to the stocks for dancing on a Sunday – and begin an investigation with toads, bells and herbal cigarettes, for they are vampire hunters. Professional vampire hunters.

Continue reading Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974)

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The Vampire Lovers (1970)

I... think I saw a different movie from the one that this poster is talking about.
I… think I saw a different movie from the one that this poster is talking about.

“IF YOU DARE… taste the bloody passion of the BLOOD NYMPHS!”

Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Starring Ingrid Pitt, George Cole, Kate O’Mara, Peter Cushing and Dawn Addams

A young aristocrat, Baron Hartog, decapitates a beautiful vampire, one of the last of the Karnsteins. Years later, a mysterious countess (Addams, in an unnamed role with a handful of speaking lines) leaves her daughter Marcilla (Pitt) in the care of General von Spielsdorf (Cushing) and his daughter, Laura (Pippa Steel). Laura becomes consumed by her friendship with Marcilla and her fear of a great cat that smothers her in her dreams. Then she dies and Marcilla vanishes.

Soon after, Laura’s friend Emma (Madeline Smith) and her father, Mr Norton (Cole) meet a mysterious countess, who entrusts to their care her niece, Carmilla (Pitt). Emma falls into the same fears and fascinations as Laura, and when her father is away Carmilla seduces and then murders the Governess (O’Mara) and the butler, as well as killing the doctor (who gets no action first).

At last, the now aged Hartog leads Morton, the General, and Laura’s fiance to Karnstein Castle to uncover the tomb of the last Karnstein, Mircalla, and destroy her. Continue reading The Vampire Lovers (1970)

The Hammer Horror Drinking Game

dracula drunk
“What was that? Ten shots?” (Image from Dracula: The Dark Prince (2013), which seems like a shoe-in for this site)

Since this seems to be a popular feature, let’s have another go at getting blind drunk through a terrible movie (for those of you who drink). This one is built for classic Hammer gothic horror, but will work for just about anything with a castle and some gore in it.

The master will not join you for dinner, for he does not drink… wine.

Music, please!

  • The film features a ‘name’ monster (Dracula, Frankenstein)! Take a shot
    • In the title! Take a shot
    • But they pretend it’s going to be a surprise! Take a shot
  • A scene takes place in a rustic inn! Take a shot
"No, no; I'm not local. I'm Father Sandor, from Lanarkshire."
“No, no; I’m not local. I’m Father Sandor, from Lanarkshire.”
  • In Eastern Europe! Take a shot
  • But the locals have Devon yokel accents! Take a shot
  • Necklines are a little bit too low for a proper period piece! Take a shot
    • Or for any proper period piece! Take a shot
    • Or for any self-respecting erotic thriller! Take a shot
    • And they actually fall off given the slightest encouragement! Take a shot
  • The monster apparently falls in love with the heroine on first sight! Take a shot
    • And spurns a faithful thrall because of it! Take a shot
  • A vampire is old school enough to cover his neck nibbling with a lifted cape! Take a shot
  • Some poor fool gets bled into a coffin/murdered for parts! Take a shot
When the moon is in the eighth house of Aquarius...
When the moon is in the eighth house of Aquarius…

 

  • A character goes where they clearly shouldn’t! Take a shot
    • Alone! Take a shot
    • And barefoot! Take a shot
  • Characters refuse to respond to obvious danger signs! Take a shot
  • Characters ignore the immense creepiness of a servant or coachman! Take a shot
  • Characters ignore the one member of their party who is aware of how fucked they are! Take a shot
  • The expert throws in a new piece of monster lore! Take a shot
    • Which is a vulnerability! Take a shot
    • And it’s what kills the monster! Take a shot
  • The expert completely overrules an existing piece of monster lore! Take a shot
    • And someone dies for later relying on it! Take a shot
  • BONUS: The vampire doesn’t drink… wine! Empty the bottle

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

dracula prince of darkness blackbox 13
Bloodthirsty vampire lives again! Film at eleven…

“DEAD for Ten Years DRACULA, Prince of Darkness, LIVES AGAIN!”

Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Christopher Lee, Francis Matthews, Andrew Keir and Barbara Shelley

Dracula was dead, to begin with…

After a brief recap of the end of the Hammer interpretation of Dracula (1958) we see a traditional Transylvanian funeral, but the attempt to stake the deceased is interrupted by Father Sandor, Battle Abbot! (Andrew Keir playing a monk, on a horse, with a rifle, fuck yeah!)

Fresh from that triumph, Father Sandor runs into four nice English tourists in the pub and talks a lot about his arse (seriously; man loves warming his backside by the fire and he don’t care who knows it.) He warns the four Kents – bon vivant Charles and his stolid brother Alan, and their wives (who might also be sisters) the plucky Diana and very proper Helen – not to go to Karlsbad. They ignore him, because the guidebook disagrees with him – and if you can’t trust Beidecker, who can you trust? – and wind up in a castle, and in some cases exsanguinated.

Alan is killed to resurrect Dracula, who chomps on Helen and then comes after Diana. Charles and Diana flee to the monastery, Diana is grabbed and Charles and Father Sandor give chase, eventually trapping Dracula on the moat of his castle and dropping him through the frozen surface into running water, ending his evil once and for all*.

What’s wrong with it?

It’s a Hammer horror film, and in many ways the ur-Hammer vampire film. It has a tavern full of West Country yokels, a quartet of dim English tourists, and plenty of Kensington gore.

Christopher Lee is as menacing as always, but criminally underused, having not a single line in the entire movie. According to Lee, this is because he refused to speak the lines that were written, while the writer, Jimmy Sangster (Inside Hammer, 2001), insists that he never wrote any, because ‘vampires don’t chat.’

There is very little new in the film, despite it being a very early entry in the Hammer series, being essentially a retread of the Dracula story but without even getting as far as London. The four tourists are almost criminally dim, especially Alan Kent, whose death seems almost earned.

What’s right with it?

Andrew Keir as Father Sandor and Philip Latham as Dracula’s butler, Klove, are awesome. Keir makes a great battle priest (who loves wamr butts and he cannot lie), and Latham is wonderfully cadaverous (he brought the same sepulchral quality to Lord President Barusa in The Five Doctors).

As an early film, it is at least fairly decorous; the cleavage is under control and the neck nibbling is very discreet. The makers also cared enough to have some proper ritual for the resurrection, rather than just someone getting a paper cut near to his ashes.

The film is actually pretty good for tension in the middle sections, and the FX excellent for 1966.

How bad is it really?

Dracula: Prince of Darkness really isn’t all that bad.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Serving dinner to the hapless travelers, Klove explains that there is no current Count Dracula:

“My master died without issue… in the accepted sense of the term.”

What’s up with…?

  • The least secret passage in the history of passage secretion? Everyone notices the hanging waving in the breeze. Of course, that could be a deliberate trap.
  • The bride scorning? Why does Dracula only want the girls he can’t have?
  • All the monks being called ‘father’? Are they all ordained priests?

Ratings

Production values – Not bad for the time. The Technicolor blood is as always oddly opaque, but it’s a minor quibble. The make-up effects, especially on cadaverousDracula are splendid. 3
Dialogue and performances –  The film suffers somewhat from the start of Hammer’s convention of casting professional rustics as Transylvanian peasants, compete with stage yokel accents. The leads are solid enough, but the dialogue is rarely more than workmanlike. 12
Plot and execution – The plot is fine, as it goes, but suffers from being similar in most of its essentials to the original Dracula (the novel even more than the film). 10
Randomness – The film throws in running water as a new – and eventually terminal – weakness, but otherwise plays it straight down the line. 5
Waste of potential – Along with Dracula and the fairly different Brides of Dracula, this is one of the classics of Hammer’s series. 4

Overall 34%

* Evil can rise as well as fall.

From the Archive – Vampire Circus (1971)

vampire_circus_poster_1

 

“Human fangs ripping throats – no sawdust can soak up the torrent of blood!”

Directed by Robert Young
Starring Adrienne Corri and Laurence Payne

In 19th-century Serbia, the vampire Count Mittenhaus preys on the children of his peasants, lured to him by the village schoolmaster’s wife, Anna. But the schoolmaster finds out, and after a brief debate on the feudal implications of marching on the count’s castle with pitchforks and torches, they do exactly that. After a nasty brawl in which the villagers roundly prove their incompetence (one going so far as to stake the Count in the groin – ouchy, but not good enough) he gets the traditional stake to the heart, his castle is set on fire, and his accomplice is beaten with sticks and thrown into the castle to burn. With his last breath, the Count promises that his killers and their children will all die, and he will rise again, instructing Anna to find his cousin Emil with the Circus of Nights, who will know what to do.

Fifteen years later, it seems as though the curse has struck, as a plague sweeps through the town. The doctor rides to the capital for help, running the roadblocks set up by paranoid neighbouring villages, just as a mysterious circus arrives in town.

So much for plot. There then follows a series of circus acts which should probably have sent any self-respecting, plague-stricken, superstitious 19th century villagers into a blood-crazed rampage of carnage and stake burning – including a sort of interpretative dance number, a panther that turns into a man, and two acrobats who turn into just pain bats. But no, not a hair on their heads is harmed until after the burgomaster’s daughter has been seduced, two small boys exsanguinated, and a family mutilated by the rampaging panther.

After that, the interpretative dancers show up dead, the schoolmaster’s daughter is kidnapped by the circus leader (Corri, playing the girl’s own long-absent mother, natch) and her father and rather effete boyfriend must race to the rescue before one of the vampires remembers to pull the stake out and the Count rises again.

What’s wrong with it?

This is another early 70s Hammer in the vein (drum roll; cymbal crash) of Lust for a Vampire, and suffers from most of the same problems (although not, thank god, from the Strange Love). The heroes and heroines are all such a bunch of drips that you’d root for the villains if only they were much better. As it is, Emil spends his whole time swanning around in a puffy red shirt and tight black pants that make him look like a waiter in a particularly naff tapas bar, and with a perpetually stoned look on his face. You can’t even hate him, because his victims are all so mind-numbingly stupid that its hard to really give a damn.

What’s right with it?

Well, it has more of a plot than many, although it gets a little lost in the later phases. As with most Hammer horrors, some of the victims and vampires are pretty to look at, if only you could get around how damned vapid they all are.

How bad is it really?

It’s certainly better than Lust or Zoltan, and watched with friends can be quite a laugh. Just don’t expect too much.

Best bit?

Without question, the dénouement, where the floppy-fringed hero wards off the revitalised Count by using a crossbow as a crucifix, then puts the bow over his head and fires it, decapitating the Count with the bow string. Adaptation; improvisation.

Better than killing Dracula by tricking him into crawling through a hawthorn bush anyway.

What’s up with?

  • The fact that – under her magical disguise – Anna hasn’t aged a day, despite not being a vampire (she clearly isn’t as she has to remove the daughter’s crucifix)?
  • Anna and Emil feeding the blood to the Count by pouring it on his chest, and without ever once thinking to pull out the stake? Plainly, Emil is something of the family idiot; hence the perpetual look of bemusement no doubt.
  • The twin-sympathetic-pain-I-die-as-you-stake-my-sister shtick?
  • The Count’s cousin being a bloody circus performer? Is he some bastard scion of the family? And are all this family vampires?
  • More weird camera shots? This time, victim cam.

Ratings

Production values – Well, the jump-cut man-into-panther and tumbler-into-badly superimposed bat are almost forgivable for the time, but they go and ruin it all with two things. Firstly, a very slickly done cut from Emil’s boots to the panther’s feet as he goes upstairs to maul a bunch of boarding students by way of a distraction, thus showing they could have done better; and secondly, the stuffed panther attack, as a family are mauled to death by an obvious stuffed toy. 14

Dialogue and performances – A fairly drippy ensemble, without a decent ham among them. The dialogue is largely forgettable, but not wincingly bad. 16

Plot and execution – Uneven to say the least. What starts off as a pretty sturdy revenge and resurrection deal becomes mired in the carnival of bizarreness, and ends in a stock bloodbath. 12

Randomness – The interpretative dance routine is pretty random, even if we aren’t supposed to accept it as a 19th century Serbian original. Other than that, it’s mostly strange, but valid. 8

Waste of Potential – Aside from the fraying of plot and atmosphere towards the end of the film, the material is pretty much given its due. 5

Overall 55%

From the Archive – Zoltan: Hound of Dracula (1978)

Zoltan

Aka Dracula’s Dog; I shit ye not, my friends.

“There’s more to the legend than meets…the throat!”

Directed by Albert Band
Starring Michael Pataki

When Russian soldiers accidentally rouse Dracula’s seneschal, and his angry pooch, Zoltan the vampire dog, set out for the USA, to track down the Count’s last living descendent, whose blood is needed for his resurrection. A police officer from Romania also travels to America, in order to warn the unsuspecting Michael Drake (Pataki) of his peril. Drake is on a caravanning holiday with his wife, children and two Alsatians.

What follows, is 90 minutes of abject boredom, as Zoltan – a big, mean-looking Doberman – bites one dog after another, creating a veritable army of rather unconvincing vampire dogs. Finally, all are destroyed except the mewling vampire puppy, which crawls about over the end credits like he thinks he’s getting a sequel.

What’s wrong with it?

Fundamentally: Nothing happens. I think one person may be bitten in the whole film. The rest is a series of shots of the Drake family searching for their missing pets, and Zoltan giving other dogs hickeys.

Feh.

What’s right with it?

Not a damn thing.

How bad is it really?

Zoltan belongs to a class of seventies horror movie that set new heights in terror: The modern day fashion horror. In these films, there were always lots of horrible trousers, and nothing much happened beyond someone getting killed or laid every fifteen minutes. Unless you count the dogs, there isn’t even that much happening in Zoltan, but there are plenty of terrifying fashion mistakes.

Zoltan is a staggeringly bad piece of film-making, that fails even to raise the unintentional chuckles of Lust for a Vampire.

Best bit?

Don’t make me hurt you.

What’s up with…?

  • This bastard, piece of shit film? I mean seriously? It looks like the crew have gone out into the wilderness and improvised the whole thing with a bunch of really piss-poor actors – who have no idea how to do improv – filmed exactly the length of film they needed, and shown it as is.
  • The vampire dogs?
  • The vampire puppy at the end? This is scary now?
  • Zoltan giving the pooches the Christopher Lee ‘mesmo-stare’ before he bites them? He frankly lacks Lee’s charisma, and is besides, a frikking dog.

Ratings

Production values – Well, the vampire dogs are occasionally spray-painted grey, and have glowing eyes. There’s also a little red-paint blood, but not much. 16

Dialogue and performances – Difficult to say, given that most of the characters are dogs, but pretty awful. Even the dogs don’t really convince, and their motivation is basically: “You’re a dog”. 17

Plot and execution – Big yawn. Sort of ‘dog bites dog; and then another dog’. No tension, no scares, no horror; no interest. 20

Randomness – Not much, aside from the dog. The film really doesn’t have enough ideas to even aspire to randomness. 8

Waste of potential – There might be some mileage somewhere in Dracula’s attack dog, but one can’t hold out too much hope. Nonetheless, there must have been a better film in it than this pile of pants. 12

Overall 73%

From the Archive – Lust for a Vampire (1971)

Lust

Directed by Jimmy Sangster
Starring Michael Johnson and Yutte Stensgaard, and some other people you neither know nor care about

A girl is taken into a carriage by a group of black-clad weirdoes (you’d think the village girls of Transylvania, or in this case Styria, would learn), and her blood is used to resurrect a chesty vampiress.

Itinerant nobleman and author at large, Lestrange (Johnson), turns up in the village, poo-poos the warnings and visits Castle Karnstein, where he is menaced by three random bints from the nearby Miss Simpson’s school for random bints, where respectable girls learn to be random Hammer softcore horror-porn bints in floaty dresses. Blagging a job as an English teacher, Lestrange oils his way about the grounds, makking on new girl Mircalla (Stensgaard) while the gym teacher shoots him dewy-eyed glances, and all in all, pretty much everyone fails to notice that folks are disappearing.

A parade of hapless victims fling themselves onto Mircalla’s waiting fangs, including Lestrange, whom – sadly, since he’s an irritating, oily twerp – she doesn’t kill; just shags to the accompaniment of the horrifying love theme ‘Strange Love’. To cover things up, Mircalla’s equally chesty aunt arrives with her trusty ‘doctor’, ever eager to diagnose ‘a heart attack’, or bump off a nosy policeman.

Then a bishop arrives and they burn down the castle, and Mircalla takes a falling roof-beam through the cleavage.

What’s wrong with it?

In addition to the usual flaws of Hammer horrors – bright red paint for blood, gratuitously plunging necklines, naff dialogue – this film brings us a bevy of new complaints. The necklines don’t so much plunge as hurl themselves over the brink, crashing in a suicidal mania to the floor and leaving many a breast bared, but all in a strangely unerotic way. The lesbian issue is played up, but in a really weird and coy fashion that baffles more than titillates. The sex scenes represent Hammer’s brief and misguided foray into the realms of actual softcore porn, but at the same time that it’s too shallow, plotless and insipid to be good drama, it doesn’t work as porn either.

The dialogue is even worse than usual, and there aren’t even any decent actors. I mean, sure, we usually give up on the male lead in Hammer horror straight off the bat, but the Doctor is so clearly a cheap Christopher Lee knockoff that it’s pathetic to behold. The supporting cast of assorted cretins is not much to write home about, and while Yutte Stensgaard may be easy on the eye, she’s not exactly much of an actress. I dunno; maybe she’s better in Danish. Also, all of the characters are either lecherous morons or vacuous zombies in frocks, so it’s really hard to feel sympathy for any one of them.

And then there’s the song.

Oh God. Nothing I say can possibly prepare you for the song (note, the video is NSFW.)

What’s right with it?

Not much really. Some of the girls are nice to look at, as is the scenery, but that’s about it.

I suppose at least the vampires are pretty boss: sunlight doesn’t work, nor does fire. You have to stake or decapitate these bad boys; no crawling through a thorn hedge to end this one.

How bad is it really?

Lust for a Vampire set a new standard for bad cheesy horror movies. It is vitally important for those who have seen the likes of Dracula, Brides of same, or Twins of Evil, to realise that this is a whole order of magnitude worse. It’s not quite Zoltan Hound of Dracula, but it’s close.

Best bit?

Well…no.

Actually, okay, the way that the doctor just declaims: “A heart attack!” and everyone seems to buy it is pretty rad.

What’s up with…?

  • Mircalla’s dresses, which seem to be designed to fall off? Oh, wait; I know why they did that.
  • The ‘new exercise routine’, based on Greco-Roman dancing? Oh, wait. That would be the cheesecake again.
  • The ‘vampcam’ shots, where the busty victims are required to fondle the lens?
  • The Strange Love. The Strange, strange love? Now that there can be no explanation for.
  • The bishop who just randomly appears when they need him at the end of the film?
  • The fact that none of the central characters do anything against the vampires? Lestrange just stands there and watches the beam plunge through Mircalla.
  • James (gonzohistory) pointed out in the original version of this review that I “didn’t mention the fact that Mircalla is in fact Carmilla, using the single best vampire disguise name since Dr. Ackula! How could that gripping, subtle plot twist have been overlooked? One might almost think that you were delirious with pain and horror during the film.” Of course, this is actually completely in keeping with the original short story, Carmilla by Sheridan le Fanu, in which she not only goes by Mircalla, but also at another point Millarca. She’s like some kind of crazy secret agent vampire!

Ratings

Production values – It’s a Hammer horror film, with all the production values that entails. Plus it was made at a time when they evidently felt the need to drum up takings by adding a few extra inches to a few extra cleavages, so that lowers expectations along with the budget and the necklines. The blood is red paint, and the flashbacks (usually to what happened a few minutes ago) have a really bad filter on them. 15

Dialogue and performances – Almost universally terrible. The doctor delivers ‘a heart attack’ with some aplomb, but even when the actors manage to scrape up some energy, the dialogue is flat and horrible. 18

Plot and execution – Cheesy bisexual vampire in a girl’s school. Shag, kill, shag, kill, kill, shag, shag, Strange Love, kill, shag, kill, stake, The End. That’s pretty much the plot. 20

Randomness – The vampcam, the Greco-Roman cheesecake, the girls school in the mountains right next to the evil castle where young girls get eaten by vampires. And of course, the strange, strange love. 16

Waste of Potential – This was never going to be much of a film with the concept it has, but frankly it still could have been a thousand times better than it ended up. Just for starter, it’s ‘based’ on Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla, and is not just worse than that, but also worse than either of the other two crappy Hammer Horrors ‘based’ on the same short story. 12

Overall 81%