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7/10
The antipathy for this film has always baffled me
13 April 2020
Arguably the weakest entry in the series, "The Evil of Frankenstein" is still a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Peter Cushing, the elder statesman of English horror films, turns in a particularly vigorous performance as the relentlessly demonized Baron Victor Frankenstein, while Peter Woodthorpe is excellent as the sulky, sleazy stage hypnotist who gains control of Frankenstein's resurrected creature (Kiwi Kingston). Sure, there's a heavy reliance on formula, but this is a series of films about a doctor who creates misshapen monsters and animates them with electricity, after all. What is the actual difference between a critically acclaimed movie like "The Revenge of Frankenstein" and a 'bad' movie like this one? Is the distinction as sharp as you've been led to believe?

Ultimately I have to judge films--especially genre pictures--according to whether or not I find them enjoyable, and I've been enjoying this one for decades. When was the last time you saw a horror movie as competent (if unspectacular) as "The Evil of Frankenstein"? The fact that it's regarded as a lesser installment in Hammer's Frankenstein franchise underscores the high standard of the studio's output. Forget the critical potshots and allow yourself to be entertained :)
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6/10
Four stranded astronauts follow the Yellow Brick Road...
16 March 2020
There's an awkward charm about the films of David L. Hewitt, an unjustly forgotten contemporary of more lauded schlock directors like Al Adamson (with whom Hewitt often shared the same sets and stable of actors) and Herschell Gordon Lewis. At his best, Hewitt is as bizarrely watchable as Lewis, and that's saying something. His most famous film, "The Wizard of Mars," is a sci-fi recasting of L. Frank Baum's "The Wizard of Oz" and features John Carradine in the title role. Carradine is not literally a wizard but the representative of a vanished Martian civilization; he relates the story of his people's downfall to four astronauts from Earth who have become stranded on the Red Planet. The rest of the cast is interesting, too, especially Roger Gentry (who went on to co-star with Carradine in another Hewitt movie, "Gallery of Horror," and then shared screen time with two members of the Manson Family in "The Ramrodder," a softcore skin flick set in the Old West!) and Vic McGee (who appeared in three other Hewitt productions as well as Ed Wood's "The Sinister Urge," just to round out a fascinating if brief career in SoCal exploitation cinema). "Wizard" suffers from inconsistent pacing and was obviously produced on the cheap, but Hewitt made the most of things--particularly in terms of the visual effects, which he handled himself--and you can see what he might have accomplished with a bigger budget.
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9/10
If there's such a thing as the perfect samurai film, this may be it
24 February 2020
Strong performances, economy of storytelling, abundant action and even a keen sense of class consciousness...Hideo Gosha manages to get just about everything right in his first directorial effort. "Three Outlaw Samurai" stars genre stalwart Tetsuro Tamba as a wandering ronin who decides to aid a group of peasants in their struggle against a cruel magistrate; eventually he is joined by Isamu Nagato as another ronin sympathetic to the plight of the people, and Mikijiro Hira as a more ethically compromised warrior who turns his back on the magistrate at the last minute. I'm not a huge fan of Gosha but he really was on fire here, weaving a fine dramatic tale (without taking three talky, long-assed hours to get his point across) and punctuating it with a number of teeth-grindingly intense fight sequences. Especially good were Nagato's scenes with the spear: it's an unusual weapon for a chambara film, but the actor wields it masterfully under the direction of choreographer Kentaro Yuasa.

You may have encountered other examples of this genre and found them underwhelming, but don't dismiss the samurai film altogether before you've seen Hideo Gosha's debut. I guarantee that "Three Outlaw Samurai" will not disappoint.
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One Step Beyond: Vanishing Point (1960)
Season 2, Episode 23
10/10
My favorite episode of "One Step Beyond"
11 February 2020
Scripted by Larry Marcus and J.G. Ezra and directed by series host John Newland (who himself becomes involved in the story, or at least in its aftermath), 'Vanishing Point' represents a high-water mark for "One Step Beyond," which sometimes struggled to reach the level of quality maintained by its direct competitor "The Twilight Zone." Edward Binns is excellent as an unhappily married man whose equally disillusioned wife (June Vincent) steps into their weekend home one night, shuts the door and disappears without a trace. Fredd Wayne plays a cop who is utterly contemptuous of Binns and sets out to prove that he murdered his wife. But both men are about to learn that an extraordinary phenomenon is at work in the old house...a phenomenon that defies human comprehension.

A first-rate study of loneliness and existential agony, using the supernatural as a vehicle. If you're a fan of "Twilight Zone" episodes like 'The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine' and 'A Stop at Willoughby,' you'll love this.
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9/10
The best of the UK punk documentaries
13 January 2020
Don Letts deejayed at London's Roxy Club during its brief but enormously significant existence (one hundred days), and was therefore in the perfect position to capture the creativity, the opportunism and the madness on his super 8mm camera. And he documented not only what was happening at the Roxy (X-Ray Spex, Slaughter and the Dogs, Eater with their ridiculous pig's head routine) but also the Heartbreakers, the Clash, the Slits, et al. on tour. The grand finale is footage of the Sex Pistols at Screen on the Green on April 3, 1977, marking the debut of Sid Vicious as the band's bassist. Through it all Letts eschews commentary, allowing the action to speak for itself, and the non-musical interludes (shooting up in the Roxy's restroom, police shutting down an "obscene" window display at London punk boutique BOY, various tour bus antics) give "The Punk Rock Movie" an extra patina of ghostly authenticity. This is true rock history right before your eyes and ears.

Complete, uninterrupted live performances include 'Cranked Up Really High' by Slaughter and the Dogs, 'Walking in the City' ('This Heat') by Generation X, 'Cream in My Jeans' by Wayne County and the Electric Chairs, 'No Brain' by Eater, 'Chinese Rocks' by the Heartbreakers, 'Bad Shape' and 'Limblessly in Love' by Siouxsie and the Banshees, 'Oh, Bondage Up Yours!' by X-Ray Spex, and 'Seventeen' and 'God Save the Queen' by the Sex Pistols.
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5/10
Not too bad, really
8 January 2020
Considering the fact that it was directed by Ed Wood, the man responsible for what's supposed to be the worst movie of all time ("Plan 9 from Outer Space"), "Bride of the Monster" is a surprisingly competent and even watchable effort. As the last in a long line of Poverty Row mad doctor films starring Bela Lugosi, it's far from conspicuously terrible; in fact, we find Lugosi in above-average form. (He pulls out all the stops in his confrontation with George Becwar, delivering a fine, emotionally convincing performance that may have been the high point of his career.) The only thing that significantly mars this film is the flaccid octopus, and with better judgment Wood might have left those scenes to the viewer's imagination.

Not a work of art, but if you're watching something with a title like "Bride of the Monster," art isn't what you're after. As a horror/sci-fi potboiler it works just fine.
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Yojimbo (1961)
7/10
Not my favorite Kurosawa film, but enormously influential (obviously)
8 December 2019
As Kurosawa films go, this one is not my favorite. It's no "Rashomon" and I think a little too much has been made of some of the individual performances, which are workmanlike at best--particularly Toshiro Mifune's as the title character. Essentially Dashiell Hammett's "Red Harvest" set in nineteenth-century Japan (with elements of two other Hammett novels, "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Glass Key," thrown in for good measure), "Yojimbo" functions as a whole rather than as a series of parts. Even Tatsuya Nakadai's celebrated turn as the pistol-toting punk is something that really only works in the context of the movie; I wouldn't point to it as one of the most brilliant cinematic performances of all time. (Nakadai's finest moment under Kurosawa's direction was in "Kagemusha.")

I don't mean to say that "Yojimbo" isn't interesting or entertaining. There are some things I really like about it: Masaru Sato's perversely jaunty score, the uneasy atmosphere of physical and moral decay (accentuated by the stark late autumn setting), Mifune's world-weary ronin being profoundly embarrassed by his own decision to do a good deed. But this is a very, VERY talky film; Kurosawa could have shaved a good half-hour off the dialogue without any loss of effect or coherence. All the physical action--every sword slice, severed arm and spurt of blood--adds up to perhaps sixty seconds, which is odd for a movie based on the rip-roaringly violent "Red Harvest." It's a good film, but it could have been a great one.
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Cat People (1942)
6/10
I can appreciate the effort, but the overall effect is anemic
7 November 2019
Legendary producer Val Lewton's first horror vehicle for RKO, "Cat People" is one of those movies that generally excite critics and film professors more than fans. It's beyond question that "Cat People" occupies an important position in horror cinema history, and students of film should make a point of seeing it...but it's a tough slog. The scenes of implied horror are beautifully executed (and you can see their lingering influence even in more explicit genre films like Terence Fisher's "The Curse of the Werewolf"), but the long passages of dialogue that separate them are tedious and occasionally painful. Neither Simone Simon nor Kent Smith had sufficient screen presence to give the film any weight, and the exquisite tension that characterizes subsequent Lewton productions like "Isle of the Dead" (my personal favorite) and "The Body Snatcher" (his best) is absent here. "Cat People" is an interesting mood piece, but the mood is a little *too* restrained and self-consciously set. Lewton hadn't quite yet mastered his craft.
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4/10
Wang Yu (on his way down) and Jackie Chan (on his way up) meeting briefly in midair
22 September 2019
Ho-hum swordplay drama distinguished only by the fact that it features Jackie Chan in a rare villainous role. Chan was just two years away from superstardom (though from this vantage point, it must have been difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel), while ill-used Wang Yu's career was winding down. His face had begun to look doughy, and his performance as the hero is tired and dispirited. The action is mostly watchable, but the finale relies on a cheap special effects gimmick where good, solid choreography would have served the film much better. Some of the static dialogue scenes could have been trimmed down, too; 104 minutes is a tad lengthy for a low-budget fight flick. Avoid "The Killer Meteors" unless you're intent on seeing every foot of celluloid from Chan's early career.
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7/10
An effective horror film
9 September 2019
"Criminally Insane" is an effective horror film, so anything else you'd like to call it (such as tasteless or crude or exploitative) is superfluous. Director Nick Millard might not have had any money, but he had intelligence and heart and a flair for storytelling--and he obtained a bravura performance from Priscilla Alden as Ethel. (Also good are Lisa Farros as Ethel's pitiable sister and George 'Buck' Flower as the businesslike cop.) In anyone else's hands a movie like this would have become a hopeless grotesquerie, but Millard gave it psychological depth; you'll find yourself wondering what he might have been able to do with an actual budget as you watch the jarring fantasy scenes near the end. One of the best American films of its type, right up there with David Durston's "I Drink Your Blood".
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Berlin (2007)
10/10
The greatest Lou Reed performance ever filmed
31 May 2019
It is an irremediable shame that so few of Lou Reed's live performances were captured on film. There's the 1993 concert movie of The Velvet Underground's reunion, of course, and a handful of solo performances (most of them from Lou's later years except 1983's "A Night with Lou Reed"), but even for the casual fan there's very little to choose from...and for an artist of Reed's caliber it's inexcusably *too* little. Fortunately for us all, one of the options is "Berlin", Julian Schnabel's superlative eighty-minute document of Lou's performance of the album of the same name from beginning to end (plus a lengthy encore). Thirty-three years after the album's release, the "Berlin" song cycle was as vital and compelling as ever, Reed's gritty, unflinching delivery on classics like 'Lady Day' and 'The Bed' enhanced by a twelve-piece band and various backing vocalists including the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. This was not a mechanical run-through of the ten tracks from "Berlin": it was a recreation of the album itself, in both sound and spirit, and it's amazing. (The encore features an exquisitely disturbing rendition of 'Rock Minuet', a late-period masterpiece from Lou's 2000 album "Ecstasy", as well as a couple of Velvet Underground favorites.)

If you're going to own just one Lou Reed concert film, this should be it. "Berlin" is a perfect example of the brilliance of Reed's musical artistry.
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8/10
One of the really good ones--don't miss it.
25 March 2019
Relying on Louis Garfinkle's tense screenplay, a convincingly haunted performance by Richard Boone and atmospheric black-and-white cinematography, "I Bury the Living" is one of the finest psychological horror films. It's not quite on a par with the Val Lewton productions of the previous decade, but it's close. Yes, Theodore Bikel's grizzled old Scotsman will elicit eye rolls from most viewers and the silly cop-out ending does cheapen the proceedings somewhat, but these defects don't spoil the nerve-jangling ride. "Is this really happening? (Wipes cold sweat from brow) Yes, it appears so!" That's essentially the dynamic of this film, and it'll be right up your alley if you're a fan of "The Twilight Zone" or "Carnival of Souls".
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2/10
Just about what you'd expect from Dragon Lee and Godfrey Ho
20 January 2019
Lousy production values, Dragon Lee performing his battery of awkward fighting mannerisms (I really hate that stupid back-bobbing thing he does when he goes into the praying mantis stance, almost as much as the inexplicable fact that he appears to be trying to hold his nunchaku in the fold between his palm and wrist, as though he's got floppy little T-Rex hands that can't quite get a grip on the weapon) as felled extras drop to the ground before him, ridiculous hairpieces sliding off their heads...yes, "Martial Monks of Shaolin Temple" is another miserable no-budget effort from director Godfrey Ho and the folks at Filmark/Asso Asia. Do these films have a fan base? Yes. But good god, what kind of wretched twilight people could possibly derive any pleasure from a movie like this?! We're not talking about bad filmmaking: we're talking about utterly *abysmal* filmmaking on every level. It's the sort of device you might employ if you wanted to torture information out of someone without subjecting him to any physical harm. I suffered through it to see the consistently amazing Hwang Jang Lee (Wong Cheng Li) kick his way through the opposition, and for that I give the film two stars. But I did suffer, and so will you if you insist on watching this monstrosity from beginning to end. As anyone who's reading this review must be aware, the talented and dynamic Hwang was slumming in these sad little productions.
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5/10
Weird, awkward mix of martial arts action and T&A
25 November 2018
It's poodle-permed Byong Yu versus the world (dancing lesbian abortionists, a murderous bandit gang and corruption within his own police department) in "The Association", a weird, awkward mix of martial arts action and T&A from Golden Harvest Studios. The high point is a short but superbly choreographed clash between Byong and Hwang In-shik: this occurs roughly halfway through the movie, which thereafter struggles to reach an anticlimax. There's just enough cheesecake to be distracting and the fights are too few, but they're fine examples of GH's signature blend of Chinese and Korean fisticuffs. (Angela Mao Ying gets a chance to shine in the film's opening moments.) Nice-looking sets and costumes, too. All in all, "The Association" is fairly entertaining as long as you don't take it seriously...and how could you?
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6/10
Pretty fair Hammer imitation
4 November 2018
Pretty fair Hammer imitation, the resemblance aided considerably by the presence of screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and lovely female lead Barbara Shelley (who appeared in Hammer films like "The Gorgon" and "Dracula, Prince of Darkness")...but it's Sir Donald Wolfit who carries "Blood of the Vampire". Wolfit is no vampire, however, despite the fact that he's made up to look like Bela Lugosi: he's an unhinged scientist and prison warden who conducts grisly experiments on his inmates in an effort to cure himself of a rare blood disease. The action begins when he enlists the help of a wrongly convicted doctor who has just arrived to serve his sentence.

Hardly a classic, but there's lots of bleak prison atmosphere, bloody mad doctor antics and lush Hammer-esque color. It's obvious that Wolfit would rather have been elsewhere, but I loved watching him summon all his dignity to soldier through a performance that must have seemed many rungs down the ladder from his beloved King Lear. You won't find a more striking example of a gifted actor making the best of things.
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Tsar to Lenin (1937)
8/10
What was and what might have been
6 July 2018
As another reviewer has observed, the narration of this film has a distinctly propagandistic flavor: one that is bound to elicit laughter or even scorn from modern viewers. Assailed from without by a deeply socialist-phobic Europe and from within by intellectual snobbery and a rigid attachment to Marxist dogma (certain aspects of it, at any rate), the Bolsheviks blew it. Eventually they switched gears, but not soon enough to truly salvage their credibility as revolutionaries; their first priority had been to maintain power, and today they are remembered not for shaking the world in 1917 but for the appalling decisions they made afterward. For some reason the atrocities committed by Nicholas II are no longer touched upon, as if everyone had tacitly agreed that they were irrelevant to the discussion. "Tsar to Lenin" demonstrates otherwise, and therein lies its importance. This *was* a necessary and fully justified revolution, and in an age when the working class faces oppression on an almost infinitely greater scale, Lenin's example should be a source of hope for those of us who believe that things can--and must--change. Just be sure that you understand what took place before and after this crucial moment in history.
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9/10
Val Lewton's masterpiece, and possibly Karloff's single greatest performance
24 June 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Boris Karloff was capable of playing a truly nasty villain when the script called for it, and he never had a juicier opportunity than in this film. Bela Lugosi gets a small, thankless role as a simpleminded blackmailer (of whom Karloff's grave-robbing character makes short work), but as Dr. McFarlane the formidable Henry Daniell holds his own against the King. Their scenes together are wonderful, invoking a complex interplay of character conflicts that today's horror movies can't touch. If you know someone who is unfamiliar with the Val Lewton oeuvre but might be receptive to the RKO producer's brand of restrained, psychologically reflective horror, steer him--or her--toward "The Body Snatcher".
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7/10
A bit past their prime, but still a strong performance
13 June 2018
The band's swan song as a touring entity (until 1989, that is), "The Who Rocks America" finds them in slightly battered but still very listenable and watchable form. Kenney Jones has settled comfortably into his role as replacement drummer despite vocalist Roger Daltrey's reported antipathy toward him, and they pack twenty-two songs into their 115-minute set. (A few career highlights like 'Magic Bus', 'Behind Blue Eyes', and 'You Better You Bet' are notably absent.) This is not The Who at the top of their game--Daltrey's voice, in particular, is beginning to display some wear and tear--and therefore not essential, but it's fun for diehard fans. Pete Townsend's playing is fine throughout; he's correctly regarded as a great songwriter, but underrated as a guitarist. Highlights: bassist John Entwistle's performance of 'Boris the Spider'; the 'Pinball Wizard'/'See Me, Feel Me' medley; and 'Naked Eye'.
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The Skyhawk (1974)
7/10
Wong Fei-hung in Thailand
15 May 2018
Beginning in 1949, Kwan Tak-hing portrayed real-life Cantonese martial artist/herbalist/acupuncturist Wong Fei-hung in some seventy films. Four years after the conclusion of that long-running series, Kwan returned to the role in Golden Harvest's "The Skyhawk", a film in which Wong's Confucian ethics clash with the trend toward exaggerated violence in Hong Kong's basher subgenre. This conflict is never resolved, but there's some top-notch fighting as Wong and his young students (Carter Wong, Sammo Hung) challenge an evil gambling boss and his hired thugs (led by shaggy, wild-eyed Hwang In-shik) against the exotic backdrop of Thailand. Kwan Tak-hing was in his late sixties at the time and is doubled in two or three of the more strenuous scenes, but masterfully fends off a legion of much younger opponents with staff, fighting fan and his bare hands. If you've never seen him in action, "The Skyhawk" is a good place to start.
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Videodrome (1983)
6/10
Interesting but ultimately frustrating
11 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Brilliant premise, and even more timely now than it was in 1983. Good performances from James Woods, Deborah Harry and Sonja Smits. Wonderfully queasy special effects. But when a film begins as strongly as does "Videodrome", it's hard to watch it turn into an opaque stew. David Cronenberg poses a vital question (what happens when violence begins to turn people on sexually?) only to leave it unanswered and, while ambiguous endings *can* work in horror and sci-fi, they're best suited to subject matter that's esoteric to begin with. "Videodrome" is just the opposite: the movie addresses such a legitimate real-world issue that it practically screams for a more coherent ending than the one it's got. Cronenberg takes you on an entertaining ride, yes, but don't expect it to make sense. (I found "Shivers" and "Rabid" more satisfying.) Six and a half stars.
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6/10
One of the better films starring Ho Tsung-tao (Bruce Li)
18 March 2018
When Jackie Chan became a Hong Kong superstar in the late '70s, Bruce Lee imitators like Ho Tsung-tao (Bruce Li) and Huang Kin-lung (Bruce Le) found themselves obliged to change with the times. Wearing a yellow tracksuit and clumsily flailing a nunchaku no longer impressed audiences; now they demanded more complex, ambitious fight choreography, resulting in the emergence of a few decent films from the Bruceploitation camp. One of them was "Blind Fist of Bruce", in which Ho plays a browbeaten bank manager who learns kung fu from a blind beggar (Simon Yuen, Jackie Chan's tipsy sifu in "Drunken Master") to fend off a gang of criminals led by Tiger Yang. There's nothing earth-shatteringly good here, but the lengthy final fight is worth sticking around for, and the film as a whole is a considerable improvement on Ho's earlier work. He could have joined the ranks of mid-level stars like Don Wong Tao and Tan Tao-liang had he not already been fatally typecast as a Bruce Lee clone.
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3/10
Yet another film based (very loosely) on the Ed Gein case
15 March 2018
An isolated farmhouse, a surly middle-aged redneck who smokes an unusual kind of meat ("It's the only meat like it in these parts," avers his troubled son), and lots of slinky female victims are the ingredients of this dreary, no-budget "Psycho" knockoff. It's awkwardly funny in spots, but not fun: without all the horror props that played such a major part in his previous film "Asylum of Satan", director William Girdler's limitations are painfully evident. Charles Kissinger turns in a decent performance as the aforementioned purveyor of smoked meat, and there are some appropriately low-rent gore effects by former Herschell Gordon Lewis acolyte Pat Patterson, but the film loses steam about twenty minutes in and never recovers. If you grew up renting horror movies every Friday night at your local VHS outlet, you might be able to muster some affection for "Three on a Meathook"; if not, you'll probably just feel mildly annoyed.
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6/10
Interesting "Slip It In"-era show marred by poor sound
2 March 2018
Greg Ginn and Company play nearly all of the "My War" and "Slip It In" albums in this very intense live performance, along with a smattering of highlights from their earlier EPs. (Bizarrely, this set bypasses the band's career-defining longplayer "Damaged", jumping straight from the 1981 A-side 'Six Pack' to 1984's "My War".) Unfortunately, the audio is conspicuously poor. While less-than-perfect sound is forgivable and even expected in a punk live recording, the mix here is so bad (bootleg quality, in fact) that it constitutes a hindrance. Still fun to watch, but mute the volume on your TV and play Black Flag's "Live '84" instead: it's the same setlist with vastly superior sound.
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7/10
Erik (Professor Petrie) gets the Hammer treatment
19 February 2018
Warning: Spoilers
My favorite version of the oft-filmed Gaston Leroux tale and one of the most attractive costume dramas ever committed to celluloid, Hammer's take on "The Phantom of the Opera" has, unfortunately, gotten lost in the shuffle. Part horror movie, part operetta and part melodramatic love story, it's easy to see how the film might try the patience of present-day viewers...but if you're familiar with this kind of cinematic storytelling, and especially if you're a fan of Hammer Studios and director Terence Fisher, you should see it. Herbert Lom plays a harsh, commanding Phantom, and Heather Sears--by virtue of the fact that she's not movie-star pretty--is a very believable, and likable, Christine. The cast is also enlivened by Michael Gough as the slimy, stereotypically villainous Lord Ambrose d'Arcy, and delightful Hammer regular Thorley Walters as his whipping boy. Edward de Souza is a little stiff as Christine's love interest Harry, but he's the sort of goofy, overly earnest hero you expect in a movie of this type. The horror is restrained; the Phantom's unmasking doesn't occur until the end of the film (and it's a memorably gruesome moment, courtesy of makeup artist Roy Ashton), but you'll find it worth the wait. Seven and a half stars.
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7/10
A milestone in the history of horror cinema
30 January 2018
Predating the German Expressionist movement in film (predating even World War I), this is the granddaddy of them all: the very first full-length horror movie. Being the first, we do not demand perfection from it; this film is as raw as William Burroughs's debut novel "Junky" or the first Stooges album, and suitably so. But the viewer will be pleasantly surprised that "The Student of Prague" still packs a punch after more than a century. From Paul Wegener's haunted, compelling performance as Balduin to the imposing backdrop of Prague with its spectral spires, there is much to appreciate in this film...and on its own terms, not just in its perceptible influence on numerous later productions. (Those who have seen "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", however, will note the visual debt that film's title villain owes to Scapinelli, the leering, top-hatted sorcerer portrayed by John Gottowt in "The Student of Prague".) A must-see for all students of film history.
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